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    Google Play App Roundup: Duo, Deus Ex GO, and It's A Space Thing

    Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.

    Duo

    Google announced two new chat apps at I/O last spring, and now the first of the two is available. Google Duo is a video chat application that's designed from the ground up to be easy. It's not as feature-rich as Hangouts, but it works much, much better for simple 1-on-1 video chats.

    Google has made it clear that Duo will be the consumer-focused video chat solution going forward as it makes Hangouts a more business-focused product. So, Duo is tied you your phone number, in an attempt to make it easier to get people using it. When you first open the app you need to verify your number by SMS.

    Starting a call is as easy as tapping the big call button at the bottom of the screen—it's basically the only button in the app. After you've been using Duo, your frequent contacts will show up there too. Your contact list will appear with Duo users up at the top. Those who have not installed Duo yet are shown below that with the option to send them an invitation to the app. If you select a Duo user, the call will start immediately.

    The default functionality on Android includes Knock Knock, a way to see who's calling you before you pick up. When you place a call, your video will be live before the other person answers. That means they can see you before deciding whether or not to answer, like looking through a peephole in a door. This only happens if you are in the other person's contact list, though. Knock Knock is neat, but also a little weird to dismiss a call when your friend's face is staring expectantly at you from the screen.

    The latency in Duo video chats seems very good, and the video is alright. It's not mindblowing quality, at least in my experience. There is a toggle in the settings to turn off the data saving feature, which makes it look nicer. According to Google, Duo is using a protocol called Quic that allows for better video compression. It can also hand the call over between WiFi and cellular data as needed. The only controls of importance when you're in a call are mute and a front/rear camera toggle.

    Duo seems like a fine video chat app, but its success will depend on how many of your friends and family you can convince to install it. I would not be surprised to see Google start bundling Duo (and Allo) with the Google apps package for all phones.

    Google Play App Roundup: Inkwire, Mars: Mars, and Reigns

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    Inkwire

    Remote support is always messy in one way or another. Sometimes in more than one way, even. Android's security measures make true remote control of a phone or tablet tough to do, and even when you do have the tools in place, your capabilities are limited. Inkwire is a new remote assistance app that works within Android's limitations in a way that makes it easy to set up and use.

    As long as you've got an internet connection, Inkwire will work. That's because it's not relying on actually controlling the remote device. Inkwire lets you pain on top of the screen so the person on the other end can tap what you tell them to. This simpler approach is much easier to implement on a wide range of devices, and doesn't come with as many security risks. People who recently had their TeamViewer accounts hacked can certainly speak to that.

    To start a session on your device, just open Inkwire and confirm screen sharing. You'll get a code that can be shared with the other party. After inputting that in the Inkwire app, they'll be able to see what's happening on your screen, and draw lines for you to see. They can indicate a button or menu item for you to tap, which might even be preferable to true remote access. This way, you're engaged with the process and can learn what to do yourself. The same app on your phone can also be used to connect to someone else if you're on the other side of the situation.

    Sending doodles on the screen is all well and good, but what if a line doesn't get the point across? Inkwire also has voice chat built-in. Simply activate the toggle on your device (the person sharing their screen must do this) and you'll be able to talk through the process in addition to seeing things drawn on your screen.

    The delay in the streaming is surprisingly low when using Inkwire, but the image you get isn't super-high quality. There's some visible artifacting and some blurriness that can make small text a little hard to read. Still, it's more than good enough to help someone figure out what's busted.

    Inkwire is free and is still in beta. However, the listing just went live in the Play Store for everyone. There might be a few bugs to deal with, but it seems stable for me on LTE and WiFi.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (August 2016)

    If there has ever been a time to be wary of buying a new Android phone, this is it. We're mere days or weeks away from the release of Android 7.0 Nougat and some new Nexus phones, and you definitely want to give those a look before you make any firm decisions. There are also plenty of questions about which devices will get speed updates, which will ship with Nougat, and what will be left behind. Let's dig in and take a look at the lay of the land so you can make the right call.

    Carrier phones

    If you're dead set on picking up a phone from your carrier, you might still be safe to buy a device right now. The new Nexus phones will most likely be sold unlocked, and there's nothing on the carriers that's going to be getting an update particularly soon. The top pick as far as carrier devices is still the Galaxy S7.

    The Samsung Galaxy S7 feels like a solid device when you pick it up. It has a solid metal and glass design with IP68 water resistance. The glass back will, however, collect fingerprints and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it.

    Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, but it had a good reason. There's more room inside for a bigger battery now. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. With the aid of Android 6.0's Doze Mode, both these devices have great battery life.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone looks undeniably cool, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the narrower metal band around the rim due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design. Both displays have very accurate, rich colors and the brightness gets very high outdoors for good visibility.

    Google Play App Roundup: Dropbox Paper, Riptide GP: Renegade, and FIE Swordplay

    Well, your phone or tablet might be cool, but it could be a lot cooler with the right apps. So what? Spend like mad until you find the apps that suit your needs? Nah, just read the weekly Google Play App Roundup here on Tested. We strive to bring you the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app name to head to the Play Store.

    Dropbox Paper

    At present, Google Docs is the go-to platform for team-based document creation and editing. It's not that it's perfect, but it's the most feature complete and it plugs into a platform that almost everyone uses. Dropbox is trying its hand at making documents work with its popular cloud storage platform. It's called Dropbox Paper, and you can give it a shot right now.

    Dropbox Paper is still in beta on Android, but so has Google Maps navigation for the last seven years. There's not a ton to screw up in a document editor, and indeed, Dropbox Paper gets most things right out of the gate. It's existed on the web for about a year, but it was in closed beta and lacking some important features. With the Mobile release, Paper is getting more useful. For example, tables are more handy with adjustable width and you can create image galleries. The app is a bit more focused, though.

    Paper is more basic than something like Microsoft's Office suite, but right now it doesn't come with an added fee. You can log into Paper using Dropbox, but you'll need to actually sign up for Paper first—the signup flow isn't great. Once you get in, you'll be presented with a series of sample documents to play with and see how the app works.

    When you create a new document, it's a blank canvas to drop your thoughts into. There are no templates or special tools. So we're mainly talking about text-based documents here. If you need to create complicated spreadsheets or presentations, you should stick with Google or Microsoft. There's a toolbar that floats just above your keyboard that lets you access text indent, photos, and text modes. If you want to add bullets, headings, and so on, that's where you need to go.

    I think the most confusing thing in this initial release is the use of rich media like photos and videos. Paper will expand YouTube video, for example, but it doesn't seem to work in the app right now. I can add photos, but removing them is either not possible or just bugged at the moment.

    As with similar products, adding other people to your documents as collaborators is a big part of the appeal. You can invite people via email, allowing them to set up a Paper account and add things to your documents. Each addition is marked with the username so you can keep track of who's doing what. You can also add comments to the document. You can @mention people to send a push notification to them as well. This works in text and in comments.

    Dropbox Paper is interesting, and it has a lot of good features for the first mobile release. It seems more focused on planning and team-focused activities right now, as opposed to generating content. I'd never use it in place of Google Docs to get things done, for example. That could change one day, though.

    Google Play App Roundup: Prisma, Snakebird, and Quaser One

    If you're going to be supporting app development on Android (and you should), you might as well pay for the best content you can. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is all about. This is where you can come every week to find out what's new and cool on Android. Just follow the links to the Play Store.

    Prisma

    The photo filter app Prisma has been spectacularly popular on iOS for a couple months, and now it has arrived on Android. This app is completely free and has no ads. I'm not sure how the company plans to make money, but it's already tearing up the charts in the Play Store. It's not the first app to apply filters to your images, but it goes about it in a very unusual way with the power of AI.

    Prisma's interface is pretty limited. When you open it, you'll be able to snap a photo from the app, or import one you've already taken. Photos taken in the app are just 1080x1080 pixels, and even when you import a photo is will have you crop it down to a square. The next step is where all the magic happens.

    Prisma has more than two dozen filters , but they aren't filters like you'd see in Instagram or Lightroom. Prisma uses server-based processing to deconstruct your photo and rebuild it with a completely different style. The result is a complete metamorphosis of your photo that looks much more complete than simply overlaying things on top of it.

    The AI that Prisma uses to do this processing needs a lot more power than your phone has, so all the hard work is done on Prisma's servers. That means you will need an internet connection to use the app. Additionally, processing photos takes a pretty long time. The images captured by Prisma are much smaller than the ones that come from your camera, so those can usually be passed through a new filter in 15 seconds or so. A photo you import might take as long as 30-45 seconds to come back. You can switch between filters you've already tried on an image without waiting, though.

    When the edit is ready, you can swipe left and right to change the blending of the new version with the unaltered one. This happens locally on the device, so you won't have to wait for the servers again. From there, you can save the photo or share it directly via the system share menu. Although, this seems a little buggy with some apps. The app's servers are also occasionally overloaded, meaning you'll have to wait a few minutes to try another filter. Still, it's pretty fun to play around with.

    Google Play App Roundup: Flytube, Dots and Co., and Rooms of Doom

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    Flytube

    For all its multitasking abilities, Android is still not completely there with true multitasking. That is, having more than one thing on the screen at a time. Some devices have a version of this (that isn't very good), and Android 7.0 is supposed to expand support for split-screen. But even that isn't going to make a proper floating video player possible right away. That's what Flytube is. It takes any YouTube video and puts it in a floating window.

    Setting up Flytube will vary depending on your device. You'll need to clear defaults for YouTube (however you go about that on your device) so that Flytube will be an option when you click on a video link. The opening tutorial walks you through a few tests to make sure it works correctly.

    When you tap on a YouTube video, Flytube opens and starts playback. It looks like a tiny web frame to me, based on the controls. It works well enough, though. By default, the video will snap to the edge of your screen, but you can drag it around anywhere you like. You have access to closed captioning, but all the other YouTube settings are unavailable.

    The standard window size seems alright for a phone, but it's somewhat small for a tablet. If you upgrade to the full version for $0.99, you can resize the video window with a small corner drag indicator. This also gets rid of the banner ad in the app itself. Speaking of the Flytube app, you can search for videos and open them in Flytube windows from here, even if you don't have it set as the default.

    Flytube maintains good framerates as you're doing other things, as long as your phone is reasonably powerful. I've seen no issues with the apps I'm using while Flytube is playing in the foreground. Note, it won't continue playing while the screen is off -- you still need YouTube Red for that.

    Google Play App Roundup: Storm it, Dead Venture, and Super Stickman Golf 3

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    Storm it

    Some would argue that Twitter's main strength over the years has also been its main limitation. Tweets can only be 140 characters in length (at least for now). Every time the company has speculated about making tweets longer, the reaction from the community has been swift and negative. Still, there are times you might want to express an idea on Twitter that's longer than 140 characters. Posting multiple tweets is a pain, but "Storm it" makes the process easier.

    The name of the app comes from "tweetstorm," which is the term often used when someone posts multiple tweets in quick succession on a single topic. The problem is figuring out where to split things up and posting them quickly enough that they'll appear nearby in the stream. Storm it does all the hard work for you.

    After you log into your Twitter account in Storm it, you'll get a blank canvas upon which you can scrawl your ideas -- rant, rave, or just a thought that's too long for one tweet. The cool thing here it that Storm it will be smart about where to break your text up into individual tweets. It won't just stop mid-word, but your sentences will still get chopped in half if they don't fit in one tweet. It also adds numbering so people can tell which order to read the tweets.

    Down at the bottom is a Storm it button. Now, I would have thought that this would give you some sort of preview of confirmation dialog, but it doesn't. When you press that button, all your queued tweets are sent. You'll get a status screen to show you as each one is posted. If you want to preview the chopped up version of your text, you can tap the eye icon on the far left of the Storm it button. It's probably a good idea to do that.

    The settings are sparse -- all you have is the choice of two different formats for the numbering appended to your tweets. There's also a history menu that shows you past tweetstorms, both sent (stormed) and unsent (forecasted -- ha). Unsent storms can be edited and sent from this menu.

    Storm it has admittedly narrow appeal, but it does it's job well without a bunch of added cruft. It's also free.

    Google Play App Roundup: ASAP Launcher, Pokémon GO, and Titan Quest

    You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.

    ASAP Launcher

    There are plenty of alternative launchers on Android, some of which are very mature and feature-rich. They all have a lot of features in common, though. ASAP Launcher is brand new, and it's markedly different than those other launchers. It has a very clean material look with custom "cards" on the home screen for features like weather, contacts, and calendar. One thing it doesn't have is widgets. How very odd.

    There's one regular home screen panel in ASAP Launcher, and even that one has some unusual modifications. At the top is a single built-in widget with the date, google voice search button, weather, and music controls. At the bottom are five app icons of your choosing. You can drag up from the bottom or open an expanded dock that has two more rows of icons for the apps you use most. This improves over time, but you can also manually pin apps to the list.

    If you want to get at the rest of your apps, drag in from the left to open the scrollable drawer. This reminds me very much of the QuickDrawer in Action Launcher, which I really like. You can scroll along normally, or drag along the letters toward the right to fast-scroll. A search bar at the top of the list lets you type the first few letters of an app as well. Drag in from the right side of the screen and you get a configurable quick settings panel.

    The cards are what you see if you swipe left or right instead of more home screen panels. There's one for frequent contacts, weather, calendar, and notes. You can rearrange or disable any of them from the settings. I think the weather one is very well-done, as is the frequent contact card. The calendar is fine, but frankly a whole screen is overkill for just a scrolling list. If there were more details shown, then we'd be in business. The notes panel feels unnecessary to me.

    All the above features are included for free, but a sub-$2 pro upgrade adds things like unread counts, custom icon packs, and additional themes. ASAP has a lot of potential, and I hope the developer keeps the improvements coming.

    The Best Alternative Home Screen Apps on Android

    From the earliest days of Android, alternative home screens have been one of the most interesting app categories. So much of what you do on your phone starts with the launcher, and Android let's you completely change it. The top replacement home screens have changed a lot over the years with old classics like Launcher Pro falling into disrepair. At the same time, new home screens like Nova appear in the Play Store to fill in the gaps. Let's take a look at the top Android home screens and see what they offer.

    Nova Launcher

    Nova is considered by many to be the most customizable and fully fleshed out launcher for Android. It's a true chameleon among launchers that can be made to look almost any way you want with an intimidatingly long list of features. Once you get acclimated to Nova, you'll probably find a lot to like here.

    I think Nova probably adheres the best to Android ever-changing design guidelines. As soon as Google has a new quirk, Nova is updated with a matching option. And it usually is an option. Almost every visual element in Nova can be tweaked to your heart's content. There are dozens of ways to display folders, a ton of home screen scrolling effects, at least 15 or 20 ways to display the Google search bar, and that's just scratching the surface.

    Some of the distinctive features in Nova include an automated night mode that makes most of the launcher less hard on your eyes, an extremely comprehensive gesture system that lets you operate almost every function with a swipe, and icon scaling that makes oddly sized icons fit in with everything else. I'm particularly impressed with how accurate the icon scaling is. Nova's gestures are cool too, but they can make you phone almost completely unusable for someone else. If you control everything with a gesture, no one will know where anything is. Maybe you want that, though?

    Because Google has not opened the search features up, you won't get easy access to Google Now. The closest you can get is opening the search app with a gesture. Nova Launcher is free to try with a limited feature set, and you can upgrade to the full version for $4.99.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (July 2016)

    We are quickly approaching a new Android release with the official unveiling of Android 7.0 Nougat, and not all phones will be getting that software quickly. That makes your decisions at this time somewhat more complicated. There are some great phones available from your carrier, but unlocked phones get updates faster. What's an Android nerd to do? Let's sort it all out.

    Carrier Phones

    Things are simpler on the carrier side this month with very little change. You should consider the Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10. If you're on AT&T, you won't be able to get the HTC 10 direct, so that's an easier choice. What of the LG G5? I think the only reason you should pick that phone up is if you really, truly cannot live without a removable battery.

    Let's start with the Galaxy S7, and why you might want it. Samsung is still using a solid metla and glass design for the GS7. The glass back will collect fingerprints like mad and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, which might not sound desirable, but there's more room inside for a bigger battery now. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

    The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery, and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones are also water resistant, which the Galaxy S6 wasn't. The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone does look very nice, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the larger size and narrower metal band around the rim due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design.

    Samsung is using a Snapdragon 820, which is a quad-core 64-bit SoC that's easily as fast as last year's octa-core parts. The GS7 also has 4GB of RAM, and it multitasks much better than the GS6. There's also a microSD card slot in these phones, another improvement over the Galaxy S6, but it doesn't support adoptable storage in Android 6.0.

    Samsung is using a 12MP camera sensor this year, and the performance is really impressive. It has excellent low-light clarity and color balance, and the outdoor shots are realistic and vibrant. Samsung also implemented an autofocus technology that lets it use all the available pixels to locate the subject. I've found this to be faster than any other phone, even those with laser autofocus sensors.

    Google Play App Roundup: Smart Wallpapers, Redungeon, and CSR Racing 2

    We're really getting spoiled these days. There are great Android apps coming out all the time, but it can still be hard to find them amid all the clutter. The Google Play App Roundup is all about clearing the junk out of the way so you can find the best apps. Just click on the app name to go straight to the Google Play Store and pick up the app.

    Smart Wallpapers

    Live Wallpapers have existed since Android 2.1, and I'm always mildly surprised when a new version of Android comes out with support for them. Google has essentially ignored live wallpapers for years, but third-party developers have managed to do some cool things without completely killing battery life. The latest example of innovative live wallpaper design is Smart Wallpapers. They behave like static images, except there are embedded live device stats.

    You can set Smart Wallpapers like any LWP by going through the system interface. However, to customize you should open the Smart Wallpapers app itself. At the top you can pick which data points you'd like to add to the wallpaper (up to 8). The free version of the app only includes a few, but the full version ($0.99) includes things like network speed, steps (Google Fit), missed calls, message count, storage usage, and so on.

    You can access this information is other ways, of course. You could even use widgets to see it on the home screen. The advantage of Smart Wallpapers is that the stats are part of the background. That means you can place other icons and widgets around (or on top of) the readouts. The settings app even has an interface where you can preview and move the data widgets around. Wherever you place them is where they'll be on the actual wallpaper applied on your device. This works fine for the most part, but I really wish the app could snap the widgets into columns or rows so it wasn't such a pain to line things up.

    Adding a wallpaper image is the other side of customizing Smart Wallpapers. It includes a few options, but you can also add your own. The readouts are white, so a darker image is best. The color of the numeric values can be changed, but not the gauges.

    I think Smart Wallpapers is very interesting, and could be ideal for someone working on a minimalist home screen setup. It works nicely with the Marshmallow UI tuner, which allows you to remove icons from the status bar. With Smart Wallpapers, you can just put that data on the home screen.

    What Killing the 3.5mm Headphone Jack Could Mean for Android Phones

    When choosing a new smartphone, it's often hard to find something with literally every feature you want. You might have to go without things like wireless charging or the latest and greatest processor in order to get the best overall fit. However, one thing you haven't had to worry about losing is the headphone jack. That may well be a real concern in the not too distant future.

    Motorola is has announced the Moto Z without a headphone jack, and although this isn't the first foray into Android phones without a standard 3.5mm jack, it's certainly the most high profile.

    Headphone History

    In some ways, this feels like a real blast from the past. The first few Android phones in 2008 and 2009 didn't have headphone jacks either. Back then, HTC was fond of the extUSB port, a tweaked version of a standard miniUSB with a few extra pins that could carry analog audio. This graced such iconic devices as the HTC Dream (T-Mobile G1) and HTC Magic (Google Ion/T-Mobile MyTouch 3G). A version of the latter was re-released later with a 3.5mm headphone jack because let's face it, not having a headphone jack is annoying.

    A headphone jack is the standard way of outputting analog audio, but the early experiments in jackless phones were doing that as well. You could use an adapter for the extUSB port to get a standard 3.5mm jack, or use headphones with extUSB. I think about four of those ever existed because it was far too early to ditch the 3.5mm jack.

    However you get audio out of your phone, it needs to be an analog signal when it reached your ears -- something has to process the digital signal, and thus far that has always happened in the phone with a DAC (digital to analog converter). Some phones have toyed with using more powerful, high-end DACs for a supposedly better audio experience. LG even sells a DAC module for the G5 in some markets.

    A few OEMs think that the move to the reversible USB Type-C plug is the perfect time to get rid of the old standard, but it might not be a clean break with the past.

    Google Play App Roundup: Calendar Widget: Agenda, Rodeo Stampede, and Zombieville USA 2

    Another week is upon us, and that means it's time to check out the state of the Google Play Store. Your phone is only a shadow of itself without the best apps, so it's a good thing we're here to save the day. Just click on the app name to pull up the Google Play Store so you can try things out for yourself.

    Calendar Widget: Agenda

    A few years ago, Candl Apps released the "Month" calendar widget, and it was a pretty big success. Now, the developer has published Calendar Widget: Agenda. You can probably guess what it does from the name. Like Month, this app comes with a multiple skins and a couple extra features but directly related to your schedule.

    There's no entry for Agenda in your app drawer after installing. It's settings are only available from the widget after you've placed it in there home screen, so go ahead and do that. There's only one size in the weather list, but it's resizable to add small as 2x2 or as large as whatever your device's maximum grid size is. To change the theme, tap the settings gear on the widget.

    There centerpiece of this app is the assortment of neat themes for the widget. A few look like tweaked versions of the stock Google Calendar widget, and none of them are super-weird or unattractive. I particularly like the ones that separate the days out as cards. When selecting a theme, you also have the option of tweaking the colors and opacity.

    Like other agenda widgets, you can scroll through to get a look at all the event coming up on your calendars. In the settings, you can choose which calendars you want shown on the widget if you've got more than one attached to your account. There's also an option to have weather shown next to each day. This is part of the full version upgrade, though.

    You get a handful of themes in the free download. Most of them are the note generic ones, but for $1.49 you can get another dozen themes and the aforementioned weather feature.

    Google Play App Roundup: ADW Launcher 2.0, Lost Frontier, and _PRISM

    You probably want more apps, but more than that, you want the right ones. That's what we're here to deliver with the weekly Google Play App Roundup. This is where you'll find the best new and newly updated apps and games on Android. Just click the links to head right to Google Play.

    ADW Launcher 2.0

    Anyone who has used Android devices for a few years has probably heard of ADW Launcher. It was one of the best custom home screens for Android in the days before Nova appeared on the scene. It hasn't been updated in years, but the developer has reappeared with a beta release of ADW 2.0, and you can give it a shot right now.

    This is a completely redesigned version of ADW that seems competitive with the top alternative launchers today. Note: you'll have to opt into the beta test for this app before the new version will show up for you. It's using the same listing as the original app, so install that one and your devices will update to the beta automatically.

    ADW 2.0 is highly configurable and colorful, a good mix of qualities from other launchers. At the top of your screen is a Google search bar, but that's actually a custom widget. You can modify it, or even create entirely new widgets for that spot or anywhere else on your home screen. These widgets aren't as powerful as the various standalone apps that let you build custom widgets, but you can do some neat stuff. It does lead to some unnecessary complication, though. An example: ADW's custom all-in-one widget add-on defaults to celcius. If you want to use Fahrenheit, you have to actually go into the widget editor, find the temperature layer, and change it to imperial. It's a very "power user" way to do things.

    The launcher also has an automated theme engine built-in, which is one of the things I really like about Action Launcher. By default, it's based on your wallpaper image. Your search bar, app drawer, and folder background will pull colors from the wallpaper. You can change the colors in settings if you like. In another nod to Action Launcher, you can set folders to show only the top icon (launched with a tap), but still make the rest of the folder accessible with a swipe.

    I really like the way ADW groups widgets and makes managing your home screens easier. However, some of the features here aren't completely obvious. For instance, it took me a minute of experimenting to figure out how to get rid of a home screen panel. It's beta, so I assume that the tutorial will be fleshed out before the final release. In the app drawer, there's also a categorization option for apps, but it's all manual. That's fine if you want things a certain way and don't mind organizing everything by hand.

    ADW 2.0 does all the basic stuff you'd expect from a custom launcher like gestures, page transition effects, and icon packs. Almost all of this is available for free in the new beta, but you can upgrade to the full version for $2.99. The free version does have a "promo apps" icon, which is essentially an ad. You can remove it from your "all apps" category to hide it, though.

    Google Play App Roundup: Opera News and Search, Heroes of Loot 2, and PKTBALL

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    Opera News and Search

    Opera has been making browsers for Android since the early days, and there are several versions of its existing mini and standard browsers in the store right now. The new Opera News and Search browser is a little different. It focuses on recommending content in the browser and making it easier to read. It's a bit like a browser with a stripped down RSS feed inside.

    When you first open Opera News and Search, you'll see a start screen with a search/URL field at the top and news headlines below that. Right now the biggest issue is that some of the content Opera shows you be default is kind of garbage. I don't personally care about a "crazy hack that will dry your nails in seconds." Luckily, that's just the main feed. You can slide over to the Discover tab to see specific topics like technology, design, and so on. You can check them out there or subscribe to get dedicated news tabs and a better mix of things in your main list. When you tap on a story, you have the option of loading it in a text-only reading mode too.

    Your main search/news tabs remain open at all times in the home tab, but you can open others and use Opera like any other browser. Simply use the search bar or the tab button in the bottom toolbar to get on your way. The home button will always take you back to the main tab with all the news content. You'll get notifications for breaking news as well.

    If you have an Opera account, this browser can sync your tab history, reading list, and bookmarks. As is customary in Opera browsers, there's also an option to enable server-side compression to save mobile data while browsing. Private browsing is supported as well via the tab management screen. Anything loaded in private mode will not be saved in cache or your browsing history.

    The new Opera is experimental, so there are probably going to be some bugs. It's also only available in the US right now (at least officially). At its heart, the new Opera is running the same engine as the other full-scale version (non-Mini), meaning Chromium. The Opera implementation is fast and page rendering is spot-on.

    It does seem rather well put together for a first release. If Opera improves user control over the news feed, this could be a capable alternative to Chrome and a nice improvement over the current Opera browser.

    Google Play App Roundup: Flamingo, Sky Force Reloaded, and NeoWars

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    Flamingo

    Twitter recently resurrected the much-loved app Fenix from the grave after it ran out of tokens. From this we learned that the company is now willing to work with developers who have run out of auth tokens, so it's a bit safer for developers to invest their time and energy into Twitter apps. The first new Twitter app of interest in a long time is Flamingo, which was made by the developer of the fabulous Weather Timeline app. It's still in beta, but Flamingo get a lot of things right.

    Flamingo has three main columns across the top, and they're the right columns. You have the timeline, mentions, and messages. So many apps clutter the main interface with unnecessary streams. You can, however, rearrange, add, and remove columns from the main app UI. Flamingo puts all the other stuff in the slide-out navigation menu where it's supposed to be. You can swipe to navigate between columns or tap on the headers. Tapping on the header will also move you to the top of your current stream, an essential feature for me in Twitter apps.

    The way you interact with tweets is well-designed in Flamingo as well. Tapping on a tweet pulls up in-line action buttons to reply, retweet, like, and so on. A long-press opens the tweet in a new screen with full conversation history. I love that you can drag down to close these screens, as well as images that you've opened. If you are supposed to see replies to something in your timeline (i.e. you follow both people) those will be shown in-line, which is very handy. I also quite like the way links and quoted tweets show up in colorful boxes in the timeline tweet. It's easy to follow what's going on at a glance here.

    One of Flamingo's main selling points is the abundance of themes. It comes with a dozen presets, and you can design your own theme by picking colors. The default "blue bird" theme is pretty good, but there are plenty of other nice ones including an AMOLED dark theme.

    Flamingo doesn't have settings for refresh speed, so I'm assuming the notifications are handled as push messages. The only toggle I can find is one to defer notifications to save battery. Presumably this batches notifications so your phone won't wake up constantly to deliver them. I'd like a little more clarity on this.

    I'm really impressed with the design and reliability of Flamingo at such an early stage. I'm personally missing a widget. I use home screen widgets to browse Twitter almost as much as I use the actual app, so it's a must have feature for me. If the developer can get that sorted out, i could easily make Flamingo my full-time Twitter client, and it's only $0.99.

    The Best Android Smartphones for Your Network (June 2016)

    There have already been some big device launches this year, and several of 2015's Android flagships are starting to get a bit long in the tooth. So, what are you supposed to do if the time has come to upgrade? You can get something a bit older that costs a bit less and appeals to you more, or pick up the latest and greatest. And of course, there's always something big just around the corner. Let's get the lay of the Android land.

    Carrier Phones

    On the carrier side, I think there are only two devices to seriously consider; the Galaxy S7 and the HTC 10. If you're on AT&T, that decision is even easier, which I'll get to shortly. First, the Galaxy S7 has some strong points regardless of the carrier you're on.

    Samsung is using a metal and glass unibody design for the GS7, which feels extremely solid. However, you will collect fingerprints like mad and you could damage the body of the phone if you drop it. The designers took an unusual step this year. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6 so the camera hump is flush with the back, and there's more room inside for a bigger battery. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

    The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery, and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones are also water resistant, which is a feature Samsung dropped from the GS6. There's also a microSD card slot in these phones, another improvement over the Galaxy S6, but it doesn't support adoptable storage in Android 6.0.

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels at 2560x1440 resolution. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. The Edge phone does look very nice, but it's not as comfortable to hold thanks to the larger size and narrower metal band around the perimeter due to the Edge screen. None of the software features that are supposed to take advantage of the Edge display really do anything special. Most of them would work on the regular phone too. It's just an arbitrary attempt to justify the design.

    Tested: The HTC 10 Android Smartphone

    There was a time when HTC was the top Android OEM -- in fact, it was the first Android OEM too. Its fortunes changed after several disappointing release cycles, and now the future of HTC is uncertain. The company needed a hit in 2016, a device that proves it deserves to remain in the top tier of Android OEMs. Its best shot is the HTC 10. This phone is make or break for HTC, so let's find out which it is.

    Design and Display

    Aluminum unibody designs have been HTC's hallmark for several generations, but if you ask fans of the One series, they'll often say that the M7 was HTC's best chassis. It was a little more rough around the edges, but the design was sleek, angular, and clean. The more rounded body of the M8 and M9 were a step backward in my eyes, but the HTC 10 returns HTC's aluminum design to greatness.

    The HTC 10 body is milled from a solid piece of aluminum with a glass front that blends smoothly into the metal edges. I was admittedly worried about the giant chamfer that encircles the rear panel of this phone. However, it gives the frame a distinctive shape and actually makes it very comfortable in the hand. It's a heavy, dense phone, but only a little more so than the Samsung Galaxy S7. The HTC 10 looks and feels like an expensive piece of technology.

    You will probably notice that HTC's obsession with front-facing speakers appears to be over. The A9 didn't have them, and neither does the HTC 10. There are actually two speakers, though. One is in the earpiece and the other is on the bottom edge of the phone. The stereo sound this phone produces isn't as good as older HTC phones (tinnier and less power in the lows), but it's better than phones that only have one bottom-firing speaker.

    Google Play App Roundup: Boomerang Notifications, Tiny Tower, and Crashing Season

    A new week has dawned, and with it comes a new list of great things happening on Android. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what needs to be on your phone or tablet right now. Just click the links to head to Google Play and grab these apps for yourself.

    Boomerang Notifications

    It always strikes me as weird that there are so many apps out there that seek to improve on Android's notification system. At every stage of the game, it's been the best notification scheme of any platform, but there are always edge cases that encourage someone to try something different. Sometimes it's even a cool addition, as in the case of Boomerang. It turns your notifications into recurring reminders and archives them for you.

    Boomerang plugs into the Android notification listener service, so you'll be asked to enable that during setup. All modern Android phones have this feature, and it's used by a lot of apps. It uses this access to read and save the text from your notifications, but not all notifications. Boomerang makes the most sense when you choose specific apps for it to manage. These will probably be the apps you get the most notifications from like Gmail, your messaging app of choice, and social apps.

    Once you've selected active apps in the list, Boomerang will monitor for those notifications. When you swipe away a notification, Boomerang will pop up a notification asking you if you want to save it for later (this will go away on its own after a few seconds). You can also choose to add a reminder in addition to saving. This is the "boomerang" part of the app -- it comes back to you. There's also a persistent notification for Boomerang that shows you the current number of saved notifications you have. I'm not crazy about persistent notifications, but this is the sort of app that really needs one to make sure it operates as intended.

    When you open Boomerang from the notification or shortcut, it shows you the saved notifications. Tapping on them launches as if you'd tapped on the original notification, and a long press lets you set a reminder. This can be handy in the event you need to reply to someone later, but you don't want to deal with it at that moment. Boomerang saves you from messing around with launching other apps just to set reminders about a notification. This is just one step.

    Boomerang Notifications is free, which is a little surprising. I would have at least expected some sort of premium version in-app purchase. There's no reason not to at least give this a shot.

    Google Play App Roundup: Science Journal, Air Attack, and Assassin's Creed Identity

    Android devices do a lot of neat stuff out of the box, but you can always load it up with new apps to make if do more stuff. And maybe some games for good measure. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new on Android. Just hit the links to head to the Play Store.

    Science Journal

    Your smartphone is bristling with sensors, so why not use them to do some basic science? Google has released a new app that helps you run simple experiments with your phone called Science Journal. It's mostly aimed at getting students interested in science and the process of running experiments, but everyone can learn a little something.

    Science Journal accesses three sensors in your phone: the light sensor, accelerometer, and the microphone. In the main interface, you can switch between each of these outputs to see live data as a single number or a graph. In addition, the accelerometer data is split up into X, Y, and Z axis readings. Of course, the app is a super-slick example of material design with bright colors and cool animations.

    Down at the bottom of the screen is a toolbar and timecode. This is where you record your data. Simply hit the record button and the sensor data will be archived. You can organize each data set into different experiments and add notes to them as well. The graphs (both live and archived) respond to pinch zoom gestures.

    You might be surprised how sensitive the sensors in your phone are, especially the accelerometer. Because this part is designed to measure g-forces, it reads gravitational acceleration at rest, and it's pretty close to the 9.8m/s^2 number we all learned in school. We often think of acceleration in terms of velocity relative to the ground, but this app encourages you to think about it a little differently. For example, in freefall, the Z-axis reads 0 instead of 9.8-ish. I was even able to use the accelerometer to measure my heart rate by laying the phone on my chest.

    At the top of Science Journal is a button that links the app with external devices. You probably don't have any of these, but the Google Making and Science Initiative website lists some kits Google helped to design with companies like Sparkfun that will connect to the app, usually via an Arduino. All the data acquired through the app, via both internal and external sensors, can be exported as a CSV file.

    The app is free and fun to play around with if nothing else. If you have kids, you might want to use this as a learning opportunity.