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    Google Play App Roundup: Falcon Pro 3, The Witcher Battle Arena, and Flockers

    I don't know if you could say there are too many apps out there, but there are certainly enough that it can be hard to find the ones worth your time. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup is seeking to solve. Every week we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps in the Play Store. Just click the app name to head right to the Play Store and check things out for yourself.

    This week a Twitter classic returns, the battle is on, and the sheep want out.

    Falcon Pro 3

    The much anticipated Falcon Pro 3 Twitter client came out a recently, but I decided to give this one a few weeks to bake. The developer, for whatever reason, decided to release the app barely a month after he announced he was working on it. It was missing some very basic features, and in the process the dev lost much of the goodwill he had gained from the original Falcon Pro. That app is famous for being the first to fall victim to Twitter's API limits, but now it's back as a new app. Is it worth checking out yet?

    Falcon Pro 3 will look familiar to anyone who clung to the original Falcon Pro even after it was pulled from the Play Store. The UI is dark gray with a very clean overall look. The redesign includes support for material design UI touches and animations, but it doesn't look out of place on older versions of Android either. The status bar is dark blue, and the nav bar is set to translucent.

    The app is split up into scrollable columns, with the main timeline being on the left. Scrolling is buttery smooth and I quite like the subtle separation between the tweets. Some apps seem to run together too much and it can be hard to tell at a glance which tweet an in-line image is associated with. You also get a column for mentions be default, but you can add more with lists, searches, favorites, and so on.

    On the left is a slide-out nav bar, but it's not actually a nav bar. It just looks like one. This is actually a list of interactions on Twitter like replies, favorites and retweets. Falcon Pro 3 uses a smart refresh setting to update more or less live in the background. It was similar with the old FP app, and it seems to work well. You have the option to set a standard refresh interval, though.

    The app itself is reliable and has all the features you'd expect from a Twitter client now. At launch it didn't have any settings or support for DMs, which was really odd. There are still no options for themes, which doesn't bother me too much. Falcon Pro 3 looks fine as is. One thing I am missing is a widget. That's not a deal breaker for everyone, but it irks me. When a widget is added, I could see Falcon Pro 3 becoming my go-to client.

    You can give the app a try for free with sample lists, but you can't add an account until you buy the full version via an in-app purchase ($3.99). Each additional account you add costs $1.99, but that transfers to all your devices. This might seem weird, but each of those accounts takes up a Twitter API token. With a limited supply, the extra IAP keeps people from using more than they absolutely need. I'm fine with this, personally.

    Testing: Dell Venue 8 7000 Tablet

    Last week, I wrote about some of the products that we missed seeing at CES, but would get hands-on time with to test soon. One of them was Dell's new Venue 8 7000 tablet (terrible name, agreed), which attracted a lot of attention for its thin-bezel design and use of Intel's latest Atom processor to run Android. This tablet was actually released alongside CES, and I received mine late last week. While I'll be using and testing it for several more weeks before we shoot a video review, I wanted to share some initial thoughts, as well as get some feedback from you guys who also use Android tablets.

    So first, the design of this tablet. Ever since the very first iPhone was released in 2007, users and device designers have been trying to figure out what to make about the bezel around a touchscreen. It's generally considered that the narrower the bezel around a screen the better, though the absence of a sizeable bezel changes the way you can hold a phone or tablet. Case in point, the slimmer bezels on the iPad Mini change the practical ways to comfortably orient and grip that tablet as compared to the full-sized iPad. With the Venue 8 7000, Dell's designers have decided that an 8-inch tablet can work best without much bezel on three of its sizes, and an extended "chin" to pack hardware at the bottom. It's a striking design for sure.

    Compared to the iPad Mini, the Venue 8 7000 looks futuristic. The 8.4-inch 2560x1600 screen has a 16:10 aspect ratio, so it's actually less wide than the Mini's. Even including its left and right bezel, Dell's tablet almost fits within the confines of the Mini's screen. The "forehead" bezel of the Venue is the same width as the sides', and the uniformity of bezel space around the top of the tablet is very visually pleasing. While reading a Kindle book, flipping through photos, and browsing webpages, I felt a little more connected to the content on the Venue than on the iPad--the tablet feels more like a window for digital content than any other smartphone or tablet I've previously used. It's a peculiar distinction, but that's the psychological power of thin bezels.

    Ergonomically, the Venue 8 7000 is comfortable to use, too. I was afraid that the thick "chin" at the bottom would limit how I could hold this tablet--and it does, in that it's best used in portrait orientation with the fat bezel at the bottom. But its size and weight made holding the tablet with one hand or gripping with two at the bottom very usable. At 6mm thick and .66 pounds, it's very comparable to the iPad Mini--the slight thickness advantage isn't all that noticeable. The only complaint I have so far is that gripping the bottom of the tablet, as when for thumb typing, can obscure part of the speakers--which aren't great to begin with. The headphone jack is on the bottom left, which is what I used for most of my time with the tablet so far.

    Google Play App Roundup: Lightroom Mobile, Sky Gamblers: Storm Raiders, and Manual Camera

    Apps move quickly on Android. No sooner have you found an app you can get cozy with, a better alternative has come along. We're here to make sure you're ahead of the curve -- that you're always on the bleeding edge. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is for. Just click on the links to head to Google Play and get the best new apps and games for your device.

    This week you can take better pics, edit them more skilfully, and shot down some unrelated planes.

    Lightroom Mobile

    Adobe launched a version of its popular Lightroom photo processing app on iOS last year, but now its finally on Android too. You'll need a Creative Cloud subscription to use it past 30 days, but you can give it a shot for free. I can't claim this app is everything we might have wanted--I will get to its shortcomings soon.

    Lightroom is the de facto way to process and tweak photos on the desktop. The mobile version isn't as robust, even on iOS, but it's a cool additional perk for Creative Cloud subscribers. In the desktop client, you can check off one or more collections to automatically sync to the mobile app. This lets you make changes to photos on the go, which then sync back to the full-resolution files on the desktop.

    When you're working with Lightroom on Android, its not actually making changes to a RAW file. Adobe does some behind-the-scenes magic to generate a smaller image based on a .DNG file. Manipulating a real RAW file on a mobile device would be pretty slow. Of course, it would be nice to have the option. You can't drop RAW files from your phone into the Lightroom app directly. That's really only a problem for Lollipop phones that can spit out RAW files directly, but you could still move those to your computer to sync. You get better results with RAW files synced from the desktop Lightroom, but you can import JPEGs from the phone locally as well.

    Another weird issue with Lightroom is that you can't install it on tablets. Yeah, that's a big lolwut for me. If anything, it seems backward. It works on almost any phone, and you can actually sideload the APK on a tablet. However, the app's UI isn't really designed for a tablet. It works, but doesn't make good use of the screen space.

    When you select a photo from one of your collections, Lightroom shows three (unlabeled) icons at the bottom--adjustments, filters, and cropping. Each icon pulls up a row of controls at the bottom in the screen. You can tap with two fingers to see image metadata and three to see what the image looked like before you started making changes.

    The draw of Lightroom is simply that it tends to offer very good results. If you shoot RAW, it can help you produce some great images. Even if you're editing JPEGs with it, the filters are very high-quality. You shouldn't think of this as an app that you need to pay $10 per month for photo editing on the go. It's an accessory for those using Lightroom and Photoshop on the desktop. Both programs are included with the basic $10 Photographer's plan, but the more expensive plans for the full suite of Adobe apps give you access to Lightroom Mobile too.

    CES 2015: Razer Forge TV and Turret for Couch Gaming

    Had enough of set top boxes for your living room setup yet? We're going to see a bunch of Android TV devices this year, including Razer's Forge TV box. We chat with Razer's reps about what Forge TV can do, how it streams PC games, and what the gaming company thinks will solve the challenge of mouse and keyboard use on the couch. (This video was shot with a Sony PXW-X70 camera, which we're testing. Thanks to B&H for providing us with gear for CES!)

    Testing: Google Nexus 6 Smartphone

    For most of 2014 it looked like we weren't going to see a new Nexus phone at all, but the rumors turned out to be wrong and Google announced the Nexus 6 alongside the Nexus 9. The Nexus 6 is the most expensive Nexus flagship phone ever made, and it's also by far the largest. It marks Motorola's first attempt at a Nexus as well.

    With so many changes to the Nexus strategy, you're probably wondering how it all turned out. Well, let's dig in.

    Yes, It's a Very Large Phone

    The Nexus 6 packs a 5.96-inch AMOLED display clocking in at 2560x1440. This has become the new top-of-the-line for a premium smartphone, but it hasn't always turned out well. For example, the LG G3 has a 1440p LCD, but it's rather dim. The Nexus 6's screen compares favorably to the competition with average brightness and power consumption. The pixel density is a whopping 493 PPI, which is all you could ever need on a screen that size. As for burn-in, I'm not seeing any.

    Surrounding that huge screen are narrow bezels that keep the device itself from being as huge as it might have been. Don't get me wrong, it's a big phone, but Motorola has improved its industrial design lately and can manage slimmer bezels. It also helps that the screen glass curves down to meet the edge of the phone just like the new Moto X. You can hold the Nexus 6 in one hand, and even use it a little if you've got an average size mitt, but any prolonged use needs to be done with two hands.

    It actually does feel a lot like a blown-up Moto X--even the buttons on the right side are a dead ringer for the Moto X's buttons. The only difference here is that they've been moved down toward the middle of the device so they're easier to reach. One improvement from the Moto X is the inclusion of stereo front-facing speakers. The Moto X only has one.

    The back panel feels like the Moto X too. It's made of a soft, somewhat grippy plastic emblazoned with the traditional Nexus logo. I wasn't as in love with the larger dimple on the 2014 Moto X, but happily, the Nexus 6 has the smaller plastic dimple seen in the first-gen Moto X. It's in just the right place for your index finger to rest and helps to stabilize the device while you're holding it.

    Google Play App Roundup: Fliktu, Crossy Road, and Spectrum

    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

    This week sharing gets better, a chicken crosses the road, and you avoid touching the sides.

    Fliktu

    There have been various attempts to improve Android's sharing menu, which has long been a strength of the platform. Even Google has made some changes to the way it works in Android 5.0, but Fliktu takes things a step further. This app replaces the system dialog completely and adds some interesting new gesture-based features.

    Fliktu actually ties into three different actions--sharing, links, and the clipboard. You have to enable each one individually, which might take a few minutes, but the app guides you through setting all the defaults. When you're set up with sharing, the Fliktu interface simply pops up at the bottom of the screen instead of your native system UI. This gives you three sharing targets in the top row, but you can drag up to see the rest of the list. This is similar to what you get with most stock implementations, but it's just the tip of the iceberg.

    This app learns which apps you share to the most, but it also takes into account the context in which you hit the share button. This should allow for better sorting of the share options in the list, but you can also pin targets in the top three spots, if you like. Selecting anything from the list hands the data off to the other app normally. The only shortcoming here is that some apps (like Chrome) implement their own sharing menu separate from the system UI, so Fliktu can't replace them.

    Links also plug into Fliktu quite nicely, and this is where the gestures come into play. When you tap a link, Fliktu is actually acting as the default link handler. If you do nothing, it passes the link along to your default browser a second later. If you flick or shake the phone after tapping, Fliktu opens and you can direct the link to any other app that has registered itself with the system as a browser or sharing target.

    As a rule, I don't like shaking as a user interaction. It tends to disrupt the experience of using a phone, and you might have to change your grip on the device. It simply takes too long. However, Fliktu has configurable sensitivity settings, and I find the lower ones quite reasonable. You really just have to jostle the device a bit to trigger Fliktu at the right moment.

    The clipboard integration works in much the same way. After copying a link, you can shake the device to pull up Fliktu and send it off to a sharing target.

    Fliktu is only $0.99, and it does some neat stuff. Even if you don't want to mess around with shaking your phone, the regular sharing menu enhancements are worth checking out.

    Android in 2014: The Year in Review (and 2015 Resolutions!)

    There were big hits and big misses in 2014 when it comes to Android. Some phones that should have been home runs were disappointments, while others proved surprisingly popular. At the same time, Google embarked on one of the most significant UI transformations in Android's history. Yes, a lot has happened, but what will the next year bring? Let's look back at the ups and downs and see if we can figure out some of Android's new year's resolutions.

    Flagship Hits and Misses

    Looking at the Galaxy S5 in a vacuum, it's a good phone. Samsung has improved its software experience, the camera is fantastic, and the design is well… it's fine. It's just not very exciting, and that proved disastrous for Samsung in 2014. Instead of showering Samsung with sales and accolades, consumers largely shrugged their shoulders and passed on the GS5. Some sources have reported sales of the device were 40% lower than expectations.

    In response to this, Samsung has changed up its product development team and started experimenting with more premium materials. Devices like the Galaxy Alpha and Note 4 are examples of the beginning of this transformation. It also seems likely that a planned Google Play Edition GS5, which popped up in a few leaks, was canceled in the wake of poor sales.

    Samsung learned a hard lesson from the Galaxy S5. It didn't look different enough to impress people who care about aesthetics, and the specs weren't enough of a jump to appeal to the spec-obsessed. It was a perfect nexus of blandness. With profits slumping, 2015 will be a big test for Samsung--it needs to make a premium flagship phone that recaptures the prestige it lost last year.

    Samsung was struggling with its flagship, but hometown rival LG had reason to celebrate. The LG G3 was announced a mere eight months after the G2, but it made a few significant improvements. LG's laser autofocus system put Samsung's phase detect tech to shame, and the industrial design, while still heavily based on plastic, felt surprisingly premium with slim bezels and cool rear-facing buttons. Even the software was a vast improvement for LG.

    LG probably didn't move as many units as Samsung did, but it wasn't expecting to. Still, the LG G3 stands out as one of the best devices of 2014. The jump to a 1440p LCD might have been a bit premature, but you can't win every time. LG is in a good place going into 2015, but it needs to be careful about competing too directly with the Note series. That's still a product segment that Samsung completely dominates.

    If there was one 2014 flagship that set the stage for a great 2015, it was the HTC One M8. This device had a lot going for it, and it sold fairly well. After years of sinking revenue, HTC saw a notable uptick following the M8's launch. This device was, however, held back by a somewhat small battery and weird Duo Camera feature. The 4MP Ultrapixel sensor simply doesn't cut it anymore, but HTC must know that by now. My suspicion is that the Duo Camera was the best HTC could come up with given supply chain problems. With a few tweaks, the M9 could be the phone to beat in 2015.

    Google Play App Roundup: Tutanota, Knights of the Old Republic, and SXPD

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about--helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

    This week we've got secure email, the force, and comic book biker chicks.

    Tutanota

    Secure messaging sometimes comes with an annoying amount of setup, but the newly arrived Tutanota app for Android makes it all relatively simple. After you set up a Tutanota account, you can send email instantly with the option to include end-to-end encryption. You can send secure messages to any address, and the recipient doesn't have to jump through too many hoops.

    When composing a message in Tutanota, there is a button above the body field where you can set "confidential" or not. All messages sent to other Tutanota users are automatically end-to-end encrypted and can be read without any extra steps. For other emails, that confidential switch comes with a password option. This should be a phrase or code that you've agreed upon ahead of time, presumably in-person or via some other secure means.

    The recipient of a secure message at their regular email address will actually just get a message from you stating there is a confidential message available with a link. This opens Tutanota in the browser and asks for the password. After entering it, the message is decrypted and can be viewed and replied to. Alternatively, they can make a new Tutanota address to carry on the conversation. You can, of course, leave off the encryption and send a regular email too.

    Tutanota is handy because there's little to no set up to deal with aside from pre-sharing the password. If both parties have Tutanota, it's just like a regular email thread. Even attachments are encrypted. If you're a more technical user, Tutanota is open source, so you can head over to GitHub and audit the service's code.

    The app itself is pretty barebones. You can send emails, attach files, invite contacts, and that's pretty much it. It seems fast enough, but it doesn't understand the Android back button. Instead of going back a screen, it just exits. I'd like to see a few more tweaks to the UI and functionality, but for sending secure emails, Tutanota seems like a good option.

    The 10 Best Android Apps and Games of 2014

    We've seen a ton of great apps on Android in the last 12 months, but some of them stand out from the rest. After whittling down the contenders, we're left with the best things you can install on your phone or tablet, and here are all 10 of them -- the best apps and games of 2014.

    Today Calendar

    Google's official Android calendar app has been updated for Lollipop, but Today Calendar was there first. This app was originally based on the AOSP calendar and has since been heavily modified. It has a great split month/agenda view rather like Fantastical on iOS and the UI looks amazing on Android 5.0. Even on earlier version you get a lot of great visuals. The full version costs $5, but it's worth the price.

    Link Bubble

    Few apps have saved as much time in small increments as Link Bubble. This app works within the fundamentally modal nature of most Android devices to make web browsing more convenient. When a webpage loads, you're stuck looking at a blank screen during the wait. Link Bubble is essentially a floating browser that loads pages in the background so you can continue doing other things until you're ready to view it. Until then it sits in a chat head-like bubble. You can even stack multiple pages to read later. The full version will run you $3.99.

    Google Play App Roundup: Cram, Hearthstone, and GTA: Chinatown Wars

    You 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 where we work to bring you the best new apps on Android. Just click links to head to the Play Store

    This week your pictures shrink, car collecting gets serious, and it's time for theft of the grand auto variety.

    Cram

    Device makers are constantly increasing the megapixel counts of cameras, but the size of internal storage is still hovering around 16GB. Bigger images take up a lot more space, and not all devices even have removable storage as an option. Enter Cram, which promises to reduce the size of your snapshots by 60% or more without making them look like junk.

    A jpeg is already a compressed image file, the quality of which depends on how the compression algorithm used. Cram is simply a way to compress the image further, and it claims that can be done without affecting the overall quality or reducing the resolution.

    There are a few ways to use Cram, the safest being manually, one image at a time to start. Simply choose the folder and file you want to shrink, and let the app do its thing. The images themselves are added to a new folder on your device, but the app gives you the option of deleting the old version at the end of the process. There's also a toggle in the settings to have this happen automatically.

    As for the quality of the reduced images, you've got three tiers to choose from--quality, balanced, and size. The default mode favors quality, but even then I'm seeing upward of 60% file size reductions. If you crank it up to favor size, the resulting file is even smaller. Try as I might, I can't detect any difference between old and new with the app set to favor quality. Since the resolution is unaffected, you can still crop the photo as needed.

    If you're mainly sharing photos from your phone to online services, I think you could get away with decreasing the file size even more. I can tell the difference between the original and compressed image when the settings favor size reduction, but only when cropping and zooming. That's not going to matter so much on Instagram or Facebook.

    Cram offers 300 image reductions for free, at which time you can get unlimited use for a single $1.99 in-app purchase. At that point, it's safe to allow the app to process an entire folder of images. Cram is definitely something you should check out if you find yourself struggling to make it work with a 16GB phone.

    12 Days of Tested Christmas: Android Wear

    For the ninth day of Tested Christmas, Norm extols the virtues of Android Wear. We've tested both the Pebble and two Android Wear watches, and the latter platform is proving the case for smart watches as useful complements to smart phones.

    Google Play App Roundup: Action Launcher 3, Inferno 2, and Scrolls

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

    This week it's time for a home screen makeover, shooters get glowing, and Mojang is back.

    Action Launcher 3

    The original Action Launcher came out a few years back, aiming to do things a little differently than the other AOSP-based home screens. The way Action Launcher handled (and continues to handle) widgets is unique among similar apps, and it adopted a different approach to finding your apps. Now Action Launcher has been redesigned around more modern Android code, and the result is the big v3 update. There are a few new features, and some old features are being left behind.

    Action Launcher took its name from the Android action bar, which it implemented on the home screen. This was in the early-ish days of Holo, so people (read: nerds) were all over the idea of the action bar. It was a unifying force in Android UI design. Action Launcher 3 still offers the action bar UI (with a Lollipop flair), but the default layout is more straightforward. There's a search bar with a hamburger icon that, when pressed, reveals the Actino Launcher Quickdrawer with all your apps.

    I'm quite fond of the Quickdrawer UI. There's an alphabetical column that you can drag up and down to scroll through the list, or just tap and drag the old-fashioned way. There's something new about the Quickdrawer and search box--they're really colorful. The big new fUI tweak in Action Launcher 3 is called Quicktheme. The launcher can pull colors out of your background image and apply them automatically to folders, the search box, Quickdrawer, and status bar (if you have the full action bar UI turned on). It even works with the excellent Muzei live wallpaper.

    Covers and Shutters are also carried over from the old version of Action Launcher. Shutters are pop-up versions of widgets that you can trigger by swiping up on the icon of an app on your home screen. I find these pretty useful as I tend to run a widget-heavy home screen. It only takes one or two pages in Action Launcher to accommodate everything I need. Covers are basically folders that show a single app icon. Tap on it to launch that app, or swipe to open the hidden folder.

    Action Launcher also drops a few features from the older version including the Quickpage, which was a slide-out home screen panel on the right side of the screen. Icon scaling and Icon pack support is also missing at launch. The developer says icon packs will probably be supported in early 2015, but there's no easy way to change your icons now without root.

    The new Action Launcher is also very snappy in my testing with a variety of phones and tablets. It does lack a few features that were in the previous build, but this is a complete rewrite of the app, and several of those features were labeled as experimental anyway. This is a paid update, though. That doesn't particularly bother me because Action Launcher 3 really overhauls the look and feel.

    The old version will continue to exist as the unlocker app is being updated as a full version of the paid AL2. Action Launcher 3 is free to try, but all the cool features are behind a $4.99 paywall.

    In Brief: Android Wear Gets Major Update

    Woot! As promised, Google is releasing a huge update to Android Wear today that'll finally allow developers and users to create custom watch faces. As outlined in this blog post, the update includes an official Watch Face API that lets devs program any watch face design, just like they would an app. And just like apps, Android Wear users can download those faces from Google Play--a bunch of new faces have already been released to coincide with this launch. Other updates include the ability to undo swiping away a Google Now card, a theater mode to completely dim the screen and mute notifications, and a new quick settings menu that you activate by swiping down on a watch face. All really useful stuff that Google has learned from user requests and feedback. The updates are rolling out this week to the existing six Android Gear watches.

    Norman 2
    Google Play App Roundup: Shou.TV, World of Tanks Blitz, and Jet Car Stunts 2

    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.

    This week streaming your gameplay gets easier, the tanks roll in, and it's time to strap rockets to your car.

    Shou.TV

    You are probably aware of Twitch, the game streaming service that Amazon recently acquired for nearly $1 billion. Nvidia is the only OEM that has built Twitch into its Android build so you can stream games, but Shou.TV wants to offer a similar service for all Android users to enjoy. Well, not all, but more. This app uses the screen recording functionality built into Android 5.0 (and with root for earlier versions) to stream and save gameplay videos. Of course, you could use it to make screen recordings of whatever you want.

    When you open Shou.TV on your Lollipop device, it will ask for permission to start capturing the screen. You'll have to make an account or use Google/Facebook to sign in. This sets up a Shou.TV profile page for you where others can go to watch your live game streaming. It's worth checking out the settings before you make your first video, though. For some reason the developers decided to set MKV as the default video container. You'll probably want to change that to MP4 for better compatibility. You can also adjust the resolution and bitrate--the default is 720p and 8 Mpbs.

    The app has three tabs for checking out featured videos and filtering by game. When you're ready to broadcast, just head to that tab in the app. Add a name for the stream and what game you're playing, then hit broadcast. The stream will go live on your Shou.TV page with a delay of about 10 seconds. A small floating widget on the screen will let you chat with viewers and toggle the front camera on and off. You also have access to privacy settings, which require you enable Shou.TV as an accessibility service.

    You should definitely take a look at the privacy options. It lists all the apps on your device so you can choose which ones you want to exclude from recordings. So, for example, you're playing a game, and you hop into a flagged app like Gmail. The video feed will blur out (with a privacy message) until you're back in an approved app. It's very handy.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (November 2014)

    The top OEMs have now laid their cards on the table. All the major phones of late 2014 are available for purchase, and you've got some decisions to make. We won't see anymore big announcements until CES in January, but more likely February at Mobile World Congress. This is one of those rare times you can buy a phone and not immediately feel like you missed out when something better comes along two weeks later. But which one to get?

    The Nexus 6 is big news this month, but a number of other phones still have a lot to offer.

    AT&T

    If you're on AT&T, you've got a number of really good options. The Nexus 6 is certainly one of them, but it's a huge phone. There's also the much smaller Moto X and the somewhat smaller LG G3. Truly an embarrassment of riches.

    Let's start with the LG G3 before we got to Motorola's offerings. At 5.5-inches, the LG G3 is a sizeable phone. That big LCD does come with an excellent 2560x1440 resolution. Surprisingly, LG manages to make the overall device not feel too huge. The bezels are incredibly thin and there are no buttons around the edges. Instead, LG stuck those on the back, and they're quite useful in that position. The back is smooth plastic, but it's not of the sketchy Samsung variety--it actually feels solid for a phone with a removable back.

    The LG G3 is packing some impressive hardware even several months after launch including 3GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a Snapdragon 801, and 32GB of storage with a microSD card slot. The device is fast, but probably not quite as snappy as the Moto X or Nexus 6. The battery life is very good, though. The high resolution of the G3 limits screen time to about 5 hours, but it can make it a few days in standby. The software is also very reliable in that it won't start wakelocking for no reason.

    The G3's 13MP camera is the same resolution as the Moto X and the Nexus 6, but it's probably a little better than either in actual performance. Low-light shots are good and it focuses super-quick with the laser range-finder right next to the lens.

    LG's Android skin has gotten surprisingly good in the last year. It's no longer just aping Samsung, and there aren't too many unnecessary additional features. The skin isn't very heavy and the choice of colors isn't nearly as garish as TouchWiz. The fact that LG is now finally using the proper on-screen buttons setup is hugely encouraging too. LG didn't load the G3 down with marginally useful features, instead sticking with a few good ones like guest mode and Knock Code. Knock Code is a particularly cool feature that lets you securely unlock the phone while also waking it up with a series of taps on the screen.

    Testing: Google Nexus 9 Android Tablet

    Google's Nexus 9 is a big departure from past Android tablets in several ways, not least of which that it has a 4:3 aspect ratio. It's also a 64-bit tablet with a more premium price point. There's no followup to the 2013 Nexus 7 with its low price. A lot of the early reviews were mixed, but does the N9 seem better after a few updates? I've been living with the Nexus 9 as my main tablet for the last few weeks, so let's figure it out.

    Design and Build Quality

    You've probably heard it said many times that the Nexus 9 bears a striking resemblance to a scaled up Nexus 5. Well, that's definitely true. The back is made of the same soft touch plastic as Google's 2013 flagship phone. The rim around the edge is made of aluminum, though. It seems like there's some variation in how that plastic back sits. Some units have a little bit off give as the plastic pops out from the frame in the middle. This isn't an issue in my unit, and I suspect it won't happen on newly manufactured tablets. Even in the worst cases, it doesn't seem like a structural issue, just annoying.

    The buttons are positioned on the right side (in portrait mode) and they aren't awesome. I'm not sure why so many OEMs have trouble getting buttons right, but it happens all the time. The N9's buttons are mushy and have low travel. On some units, they are almost flush with the side of the tablet. Mine isn't that bad, all things considered. It could be better, though. It's sounding like newer tablets aren't suffering from this particular defect.

    The question you have to ask is, does the Nexus 9 feel premium? The unsatisfying answer is "kind of." The device itself is solid and doesn't flex. It feels dense, but not too heavy. The buttons are definitely a sticking point and the back will be divisive. I really like soft touch surfaces, myself. I'll take a soft touch plastic device over metal any day--they're just easier to hold. It does get fingerprint-y, but that's the price you pay.

    Google says the nexus 9 is 7.95mm thick, but I feel like that might be a tiny bit generous. It's still definitely under 10mm and it seems better balanced than most tablets. Overall, the Nexus 9 doesn't quite feel like a $399 tablet. That's not to say it feels lousy, or anything.

    Google Play App Roundup: Opera Mini Beta, Godus, and Sleep Attack TD

    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.

    This week your browsing gets fast and experimental, you become a god, and there's a new tower defense in town.

    Opera Mini Beta

    Opera Mini has existed longer than Android itself, having originally been used as a lightweight browser for feature phones that couldn't handle full websites. It has found other uses over the years, and still has a large following, even on modern devices thanks to its bandwidth-saving features. Now there's a new beta listing for Opera Mini and it's a substantial improvement over the stable release.

    The basic premise is not terribly dissimilar from a feature Google has built into Chrome. Instead of accessing a web page directly, data is received by a remote server and compressed before hitting your device. This can result in an overall increase in loading speed, but also big bandwidth savings. Google swaps out images with smaller webp files and streamlines the code. However, Opera Mini kind of takes a scorched Earth approach. It lowers image quality, removes most scripts, and simplifies the page layout. This can save as much as 90% of the bandwidth on a heavy page.

    The Opera Mini Beta includes three different layout options--classic, phone, and tablet. The classic option is the default, and it's most like what you see on the current stable version (but with a cleaner white UI). Classic has a persistent bar at the bottom of the screen with access to forward/back, quick dial shortcuts, and Opera settings. The phone layout maximizes the available space by putting everything in the address bar and pop out settings menu. This is basically what Chrome does. The tablet layout is like the phone option, but it has the tabs visible at the top of the screen rather than behind a button. It doesn't matter what device you have, you can use any of these.

    The Opera menu button includes a neat little pie chart showing you how much data you're saving overall. The app says that I'm saving about 60% compared to what I would have otherwise used. That compares to about 35% with Chrome. Tapping on the graph takes you to a timeline for the week so you can track your usage and see savings over time. This is also where you can adjust the quality of images. I left it on high, but turning that down could probably push that 60% savings quite a lot higher.

    Page formatting seems better in the beta than in Opera Mini's stable release. It's definitely still a little bit wonky, though. The way text is laid out in columns is usually awkward and any clever CSS trickery is probably going to be busted. Video also doesn't work in Opera Mini. On the upside, performance is crazy-good. These stripped down pages scroll smoothly even on older devices.

    The main draw here is the data saving, which is great if you're stuck on a slower/throttled connection or have a very low data cap. The speed boost might be of interest to users of slower phones and tablets too. If you've been using the stable version, there's no reason to avoid the beta.

    Google Play App Roundup: Kingdom Rush Origins, Sleep Better, and The Banner Saga

    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.

    This week the king of tower defense returns, you get to sleep better (maybe), and probably the prettiest game ever on Android.

    Sleep Better

    Runtastic is known for, as its name implies, running-oriented apps. However, the developer's newest app has nothing to do with running. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sleep Better is a sleep tracking app that uses your phone's accelerometer to monitor your sleep habits and wake you up at the right time.

    This isn't really a new idea, but all you have to do with Sleep Better is plug in your phone at night and set it next to your pillow at night. Plugging it in is necessary because the app wakelocks the phone so it can monitor movement with the accelerometer. Likewise, you want to keep it close to you and not a significant other who may also be in the bed. It is, after all, supposed to be responding to your tossing and turning.

    Sleep Better can estimate from your movement when you're sleeping lightly, deeply, or just awake for short periods of time. When you start the app, there's an option to set an alarm time, but it won't actually wake you right at that time. Sleep better waits until it detects that you're not sleeping deeply, and tries to gently rouse you from slumber with a fade-in alarm. This should, ideally, make you feel less groggy when you wake up.

    When you've shaken off the last remnants of sleep, there's a graph you can check out to see how well you slept (along with weather, which is a nice touch). The graph shows yellow as light sleep, green as deep sleep, and the red peaks are times you were awake. Either before or after waking up, you can add tags to your sleep like stressful day, high caffeine consumption, worked out, and so on. This helps you track the activities that have the most impact on your sleep.

    Sleep Better also matches your sleep up to phases of the moon, which allegedly has some effect. I'm skeptical, though. There's also a dream journal, which you can use if you like. Although I feel like the the basic sleep tracking and data aggregation is the more attractive aspect. It seems to work well enough.

    All the basic stuff is free, but a $1.99 in-app pro upgrade is required to access some of the long-term stats and to remove the ad at the bottom of the screen. The app itself is rather attractive with a mostly material design theme with nice animations and a slide-out nav bar.Sleep Better is worth checking out.

    Google Play App Roundup: C Notify, Flyhunter Origins, and Turbo Dismount

    It's time for another installment of the Google Play App Roundup. This is the weekly event where we tell you what's new and cool in on Android. Fire up your phone and click the app names to head right to the Google Play Store so you can try things for yourself.

    This week notifications go for a trip outside the status bar, flies must be swatted, and crashes are encouraged.

    C Notice

    The enhanced notification access that Google rolled out in 4.3 has allowed a whole new generation of apps to put your notifications in more places. Sometimes that ends up not being a very good idea, and others it fills a niche that needed attention. I'm not positive which of these describes C Notice, but it's at least really neat to try. This app puts all your notifications in floating chat head-like bubbles that can be managed with swipe gestures.

    So here's the gist of it--you grant C Notice notification access and choose the apps that it can display. The next time one of those apps produces an Android notification, it appears in a floating bubble at the edge of the screen. Multiple apps will stack up under a little three-dot header that you can use to drag the stack around. Tapping on an individual icon opens a popup window with the notification text, from which you can open the app that spawned the notification.

    When you've got one or more floating notification bubbles, you also have the option of managing them with a quick swipe. If you swipe up on an icon, you dismiss that one notification, Swipe down and all notifications are dismissed. Clearing notifications from this app also clears them from the system notification shade. Swiping to the left on an icon will immediately open the app it came from, but this is just the basic functionality.

    There's also a prime version of the app that can be unlocked with a $1.49 in-app purchase. This unlocks individual app notification icons. You don't have to turn this on, but it could be quite useful in some instances. The individual icons can be moved around the screen however you like, rather than being tethered to that three-dot header. I probably wouldn't recommend this on smaller phones, but on a phablet or tablet, the individual icons could be really useful.

    C Notice can also be set to wake the screen when a new notification comes in, which some people consider an indispensable feature. You'll only want to do that if you limit the apps that can appear in C Notice. Maybe just messaging and social apps. The app is smart enough to use the proximity sensor to keep the screen off should the phone be in your pocket or face down.

    There's plenty of functionality in C Notify, and you can access most of it for free. It's worth a look.

    Why Android Tablets are Finally Moving to 4:3 Screen Aspect Ratios

    The very first true Android tablet was the original 7-inch Samsung Galaxy Tab, which was announced more than four years ago. Samsung actually sneaked that one in under Google's radar as the search giant wasn't technically prepared for non-phone Android devices. Still, the form factor stuck, and most of the Android slates we've seen over the years have looked very much like that device--they've all been widescreen. Well, until now.

    The Nexus 9 is the first mainstream Android tablet that has come with a 4:3 screen ratio (like the iPad) instead of 16:9 (like a TV). So, why'd it take so long?

    Supply and Demand

    Android tablets started to pop up in Asia a few months before the Galaxy Tab was official. These were not "real" Android tablets in the sense that there were no Google services built in. In fact, many of them weren't even referred to as tablets, but as MIDs (mobile internet devices) or PMPs (personal media players). These too were widescreen devices because that's what was available.

    Apple has long had a stranglehold on its supply chain. Hardware manufacturers happily line up to build whatever part Apple wants because they know Apple's going to want a zillion of them. That means steady business and an improved reputation in the industry. It was no problem finding suppliers for the iPad's 4:3 screen, but an Android OEM that only needed a few thousand panels wouldn't have such an easy time at a point when almost all LCDs were widescreen.

    As tablets were starting to take off, another product category was dying a long overdue death. Of course I'm referring to Netbooks. These machines were the hot new thing only a few years before, but the abysmal performance and razor-thin profit margins caused OEMs and users to collaboratively call it quits. That left plenty of 7-10-inch Netbook panels sitting around that could be repurposed for cheap tablets. That's what a lot of these early devices were using, which served to solidify the idea that Android tablets were wide.