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    Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 vs. Nvidia Tegra K1: The Value of 64-bit on Android

    Odds are good that if you buy a high-end Android device in the next few months, it's going to be packing either the Qualcomm Snapdragon 805 or Nvidia Tegra K1 SoC. We're at a pivotal moment in Android hardware as OEMs begin gearing up for the switch to 64-bit architectures, but only one of these chips has a 64-bit option. Let's take a look at where Nvidia and Qualcomm are going with their respective platforms, and whether or not you should hold out for a 64-bit device.

    ARM, but not from ARM

    The overwhelming majority of computing hardware in Android devices is ARM-based. Intel has successfully muscled its way into the market with updated x86 Atom parts. Android supports x86 and a few OEMs make tablets with Atom, but it's nowhere near as popular as ARM. All throughout the recent history of mobile devices, ARM has been the core architecture, but not all ARM chips are created equal.

    When we're talking about ARM SoCs (systems-on-a-chip), we're actually talking about more than the CPU component. There's also the GPU, memory controller, digital signal processor, and more. We'll get to that later--the first point of distinction between the Snapdragon 805 and the Tegra K1 is in the way they implement the ARM architecture.

    Chip makers have the option of licensing ARM's Cortex cores and building a chip around them. That's what Samsung and many smaller firms do. Qualcomm has for a long time licensed the ARM instruction set, which is ARMv7 for 32-bit and ARMv8 for 64-bit. These licenses are considerably more expensive than just getting a stock ARM core, but it allows Qualcomm to design its own custom CPU core for SoCs, and that's just what it's been doing ever since its Scorpion core for the original Snapdragon SoC in late 2008.

    Everything You Should Know About Android 5.0 Lollipop

    Google took the unprecedented step of offering an early developer preview of Android L (now Android 5.0 Lollipop) last spring. We knew this version of Android was going to be a big shift, something for which developers would need to plan. However, it wasn't until the recent official announcement that it became clear how massive this change would be. Android 5.0 is a break from the past, and in many ways a complete reinvention of the platform.

    Here's what you need to know about Android 5.0, the most significant update the platform has ever seen. It's enough to change what most people think of Google's mobile operating system, and I'm really excited about it.

    Bye-bye battery woes

    If you can recall one of the long-time complaints about Android, it's very possible Android 5.0 addresses it. For example, don't you hate how Android phones always seem to have questionable battery life unless they're equipped with a huge battery? Well, no more. Lollipop is supposed to improve battery life noticeably.

    I've been testing the latest developer preview of Android Lollipop, which is API-complete according to Google. Both the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 are managing at least a third more battery life than before. This is thanks to Google's so-called Project Volta, an initiative in Android 5.0 to address those nagging battery life concerns. Granted, this is not the final version of Lollipop, but the difference is astounding.

    A major component of the battery life improvements have to do with a better system of managing background processes. Android does multitasking by permitting any app to wake the phone and keep it awake so it can perform an action. In the event of an error or incompatibility, these "wakelocks" can last too long and drain the battery. I tend to follow the sleep stats of my devices closely because I have to install so many apps on a daily basis. Android 5.0 appears to keep things running incredibly smoothly. When devices are in sleep mode, the processor is in deep sleep (i.e. not wakelocked) about 90% of the time. Absolutely amazing.

    Android 5.0 also includes an approximation of remaining battery life in the settings and on the lock screen when charging. After letting the Nexus 7 calibrate for a few cycles, it reports a full week of standby time, and I believe it. In the event you do run low on battery life, there's a new system-level battery saver mode that disables animations, background data, vibration, and lowers the screen brightness.

    Google Play App Roundup: Inbox, République, and Deep Loot

    A new week has dawned, but you can ease the transition with some new apps and games. You've come to the right place, too. This is the Google Play App Roundup, the weekly feature where we tell you what's new and cool in Google Play.Just hit the links to zoom right to the Play Store.

    This week email is changing again, they are watching, and there's treasure to be found.

    Inbox

    There is no denying that Gmail completely changed the way we think about using email, but that was all the way back in 2004. It's about time for Google to take another shot at improving email communication, and Inbox is it. Google has been working on Inbox behind the scenes for a while now under the codename Bigtop. This service plugs into your Gmail account and applies many of the features and algorithms used in Google Now to make your email less about when messages arrive and more about what they mean.

    Inbox is based around bundles, or types of messages that fall into general categories. If you use the Gmail categories that were added last year, this is a similar idea, but much more expansive. For example, you've got a bundle for purchases where all the messages you receive that look like receipts will end up. Maybe a meeting invitation will produce a handy calendar reminder with Inbox. When emails come in, you can open the thread from your main inbox view, but something in a bundle opens the full bundle as a timeline (today, yesterday, etc). Using Inbox is definitely an adjustment--there's no doubt about that.

    All your labels from Gmail are there, but they are of secondary importance in Inbox. The bundles can't really be altered as they're looking for specific things in your email to categorize. Inbox also pulls out relevant information in a very Google Now sort of way. For example, you could get tracking information for a package right in the main inbox screen. You can add conversations to any of the bundles, though. Anything you think is particularly important, be it bundled or not, can be pinned in the app. Those pinned messages and reminders can be accessed by toggling the pin switch at the top of the app.

    Managing your email with Inbox is also atypical of a traditional email app. You can't delete anything with Inbox. Instead, it has options to mark things as done or snooze them. Done is essentially the equivalent of archiving in regular Gmail, but triggered with a swipe to the right. It basically treats emails as tasks. You can also snooze an email with a swipe to the left. That will present options to have it reappear at the top of Inbox at a certain time.

    The app itself is very in-line with Google's new material design aesthetic. There's a floating action button for composing new messages, the slide-out nav menu, and plenty of bold colors. On Lollipop devices, it also has the full hero color up top for the status bar and app switcher header (but not in the dev preview build). Interestingly, some of the Android L animations are missing from the buttons.

    Inbox is currently invite only, but Google is handing out quite a few now and all current users have three invites each. I feel like Inbox could make a lot of sense for those who don't get a ton of email or who haven't worked to organize their mail already. If you've already got a system of labels and actions in place to deal with a large volume of email, Inbox would be more of an adjustment.

    Tested In-Depth: Moto X (2014)

    After testing the new Moto X Android smartphone for a month, Will and Norm sit to down to discuss how its three most important features: the display, camera, and battery life compare against today's top Android phones. How does Motorola's spin on Android compare to the stock version? Plus, does the custom wood back look and feel any good?

    Google Play App Roundup: Potential, iPollute, and Talon Plus

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    This week your battery has a new best friend, clay gets dirty, and Twitter gets pretty.

    Potential

    As the cost of Android devices come down, it's increasingly likely that you might find yourself in possession of more than one of them. However, have you ever picked one up to find the battery is dead? Well, that won't happen if you install Potential on them.

    Potential runs a background service that syncs the state of your battery between devices. Just open Potential and you get a card for each of your connected devices (you need to make an account) with the battery level and state of Bluetooth and WiFi. Each device should sync the battery percentage on a regular basis, and the length of time since the last update will be listed on each card.

    You can remotely toggle WiFi or Bluetooth on and of your devices to save power, but that's as far as the direct interaction goes. Well, you can choose a name for each phone or tablet. By default it's just the device model ID.

    The above functionality is free, but a small in-app purchase is required to enable what I would say is the coolest feature of Potential--push notifications. In the settings of Potential you can choose a battery threshold at which you'd like to be notified. When one of your devices hits that number, you'll find out about it no matter which one you're actively using. So if you've got your phone handy during the day, Potential will let you know if your tablet is running low on juice.

    The app itself is nice and clean. I've already mentioned the cards, but Potential also includes a few Material Design animations and UI elements. There aren't a ton of options yet, but the developer cautions it's still a beta product. With that in mind I'd also note there have been a few instances where one of my devices decided it was going to stop syncing. For the most part, though, Potential is a solid app.

    Google Announces Nexus 6 Phone, Nexus 9 Tablet

    Nexus 6. Nexus 9. Nexus Player. All made their official debut today in Google's announcement of the next generation of Nexus devices. They all, of course, run Android L. Or as it's now officially named, Android 5.0 Lollipop. The Nexus 6 is made by Motorola, and looks like a larger version of the recently-released Moto X (my review next week!). It has a Quad HD 2560x1440 OLED display, which is likely the same screen used in Samsung's Galaxy Note 4. It'll run Qualcomm's latest Snapdragon 805 processor, clocked at 2.7GHz, which is a step up from the 801 processor found in the majority of 2014 flagship phones. But most importantly, it'll have a 3220 mAh battery, a significant boost from the 2300 mAh battery in the current Moto X. That may be its most important feature. The Nexus 6 will be available for preorder on Oct 29th, under contract for all major US carriers and also sold as an unlocked GSM phone for $650. Ouch. For users of [relatively] smaller phones, Google will continue to offer the Nexus 5, though no updates in internal hardware are expected.

    On the tablet side, HTC is making Google's Nexus 9, which has a 8.9" 2048x1536 IPS LCD screen. That's a 4:3 ratio screen, which is a good thing for a tablet this size. It'll run Nvidia's Tegra K1 SoC, with 2GB of RAM, and a 6700mAh battery. Pricing is listed at $400 for 16GB and $480 for 32GB, with an LTE model selling later this year for $600. No microSD storage. Pre-orders begin on Friday and it'll ship on November 3rd. I think the pricing on this tablet makes the Nvidia tablet that much more appealing, especially with its expandability and media output options.

    Finally, Google announced a streaming box that'll run Android TV--their latest effort in the set-top space. Nexus Player will be made by Asus and looks like your typical set-top puck with power, HDMI, and 802.11AC MIMO Wi-Fi connectivity for your standard slew of streaming services. It has 8GB of internal storage and a simple remote that supports voice search, and Google is selling a gamepad accessory to support Android games. The Nexus Player will go on sale on November 3rd

    Watch Google's announcement video for the new line of Nexus devices below.

    Google Play App Roundup: Autodesk SketchBook, Haegemonia: Legions of Iron, and Tower Dwellers

    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

    This week there's a new drawing tool, a classic space RTS, and a new take on tower defense.

    Autodesk SketchBook

    Autodesk has had a number of drawing tools in the Play Store for a few years, but recently it decided to change up its offerings. The previously available Pro version of SketchBook has been pulled--as in, it's not even listed for previous buyers. In its place is a new freemium version of Sketchbook with a much more robust set of tools.

    If you bought the original SketchBook app, you really ought to request a refund through Google. Completely separate from the new app, the removal of the old version was not a very user-friendly decision. Now that we have that out of the way, I'll just say the new app is a marked improvement over the old one. It's the mobile version of AutoDesk's professional level desktop app for artists and designers. That version costs $60 for a license, but the full version of the Android app is only $3.99.

    Even if you don't want to upgrade, SketchBook offers a lot of good features. The interface is pushed toward the edges of the screen and is configurable, which is an improvement over the old SketchBook Pro, which could get in the way a bit. Toward the left are your basic tools like the brushes and erasers. There are 10 presets included in the free version too. This is a drawing app first and foremost, so there aren't going to be Photoshop-style editing tools. If you sign in with a free SketchBook account, the app will enable a few more features to make your doodles ever better including layer control, symmetry mode, and selection tools.

    You can use a finger or stylus to draw in SketchBook, but there's enhanced support for the pressure-sensitive S Pen on Samsung devices. This adds palm rejection support, but you can also have multitouch gestures (for zooming, rotating, and panning) on at the same time. There's synthetic pressure-sensitivity for everyone else, and it works fairly well. Basically, the larger the area covered by a touch input, the greater the assumed pressure. The ink laid down on the simulated canvas behaves like the real thing--you can blend and smudge it to produce the desired effects.

    That full version upgrade adds over 100 brushes to the app, and you can tweak them all to your liking. Line thickness, hardness, opacity, and more are all fully configurable. The enhanced selection tools will be familiar to anyone who has used Photoshop. There's a lasso, magic wand, and the traditional rectangle/ellipse tools. This is just scratching the surface of what's included in the full version upgrade. Serious artists (i.e. not me) will probably appreciate features like the custom guidelines and full Copic color library.

    The new SketchBook for Android is a great drawing app, but it's probably overkill for most people. If you're artistically inclined, though, $3.99 is a good price for everything you get.

    Google Play App Roundup: MyScript Smart Note, Hellraid: The Escape, and Nimble Squiggles

    There are a great many apps in the Play Store. Some of them are good, and some of them are not so good. Which ones are which, though? The best way to find out is to check our Google Play App Roundup. Every week we bring you the best new, and newly updated apps in the store. Just click the links to head right to the Play Store and download everything for yourself.

    MyScript Smart Note

    I don't always need to calculate things on my phone or tablet, but sometimes I play with the MyScript Calculator just for fun. It uses incredibly good handwriting recognition to create and solve mathematical equations as you input them. Now the developer has turned that technology to the note taking arena with MyScript Smart Note. It's still scary accurate--it even understands things I have trouble reading immediately after I write them.

    You can have multiple notebooks to organize your thoughts in MyScript Smart Note, but the free version limits you to a single entry with 10 pages. Upon opening a notebook, the app presents you with two toolbars at the top of the screen. One is for writing input and the other is drawing. The only difference is that the app won't try to turn your drawings into letters. Both have adjustable colors and line thickness, but the writing panel also includes font options.

    When you start writing in MyScript Smart Note, the app will transcribe your words into text, but only behind the scenes. So you can still have your own handwriting, while also having the text searchable. Writing on a touchscreen is never quite as easy as writing on paper, so I find my handwriting is a little less legible, which is why the font transcription is so useful. Just pick a font from the list and Smart Note will turn your writing into standard text as you go.

    The app also has a series of gestures that can be used to edit text without resorting to any keyboard nonsense. For example, a strikethrough will delete something, and drawing a vertical line through a word will insert a space. But what about the actual writing? You can use your finger or a stylus. Devices with their own built-in styluses like the Galaxy Note series and Nvidia Shield will probably work best as they have proper palm rejection. Smart Note does include this functionality, but it's not perfect.

    If you buy the full version upgrade via in-app purchase for about $3, the app will gain unlimited notebooks and pages, drag and drop between notebooks, and data export to PDF, Evernote, and more. If you are taking a lot of notes, MyScript Smart Note is something you should consider incorporating into your life.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (September 2014)

    So many phones, but most people only get the chance to decide which one to buy every year or two. It's a tough decision, and one you don't want to screw up. If you must have the best of the best, you've come to the right place. We're going to dissect the current state of the Android offerings on each of the big four US carrier and tell you what your best bet is.

    This month the Moto X is on the scene, the Note 4 is ready to ship, and LG continues to impress.

    AT&T

    There are a few new devices that have hit AT&T stores in the last few weeks, not least among them is the new Moto X. Not all carriers offer the device, so AT&T customers in particular should take a close look at this phone. Of course, the LG G3 is still a top phone on AT&T with a different feature set. So which one should you get?

    Let's start with the new Moto X, which just started shipping in the last week or so. The device looks similar to last year's Moto X, but the screen size has been bumped up from 4.7-inches to 5.2-inches. The resolution has increased as well to 1080p. The AMOLED panel used here is very similar to the one on the Galaxy S5, so it's very nice. The device isn't as good for one-handed use, but the curved design feels very comfortable to hold. The curved glass edges are also a joy.

    The new Moto X also has 2GB of RAM, a Snapdragon 801, and a 2300mAh battery. The smallish battery is a sticking point for some--it won't be able to eke out multi-day battery life like the LG G3 can, but it will get you through a full day with a bit to spare. The more sophisticated metal casing and ample customization choices are awesome too. You can get different back/front colors, materials, and accents. The Moto Maker stuff is a big selling point.

    On the software side, the Moto X ships with Android 4.4.4 with a promised update to Android L as soon as it's ready. Motorola is keen on saying the X runs "pure" Android without andy heavy skins or unnecessary features. Motorola instead adds new features to Android that really make a difference in the way the device works. For example, Moto Display shows notifications on the screen while the device is asleep. You can even wave your hand over the phone to wake the screen up. It also listens for voice commands while asleep, whether it's charging or not. Other Android devices can only do that when charging.

    Motorola's 13MP camera is still not the finest sensor on an Android device, but it's better than it was last year. The stock interface should also make it easier for Motorola to get the phone updated to Android L in a timely manner. AT&T is offering the new Moto X for just $99 on contract.

    The other device you should consider is a big departure from the Moto X. The LG G3 is a phone that creeps solidly into phablet territory with a 5.5-inch 1440P LCD. The device does, however have very narrow bezels that makes it feel less gigantic than you'd expect. LG is also continuing with its tradition of placing the power and volume buttons on the back. They're really easily accessible, and the presence of this structure gives you a bit more leverage when holding the device.

    Testing: The Moto 360 Android Wear Smartwatch

    Android Wear was announced way back in March of 2014, but it wasn't until July that we could actually buy smartwatches running Google's wearable software. The LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live were capable watches, but they weren't jaw dropping in terms of their design--rectangular screens on a plastic band. These debut devices were perhaps best as demos of Android Wear--a hint of what was to come. Now the Motorola Moto 360 has arrived, and while it's still in short supply, units are slowly are slowly trickling out for excited Android fans.

    The internet waited through six solid months of buildup for this device with its round LCD, but was it worth the wait? I've been using the Moto 360 every day for a month, having forsaken my G Watch, and have learned some interesting things about Motorola's latest wearable. Here's what you should know before you decide to slap one on your wrist.

    The Screen is Great, and Not Just Because it's Round

    The Moto 360's defining characteristic is the screen--it's round. All previous smartwatches (even those before Android Wear) have been square. Round LCDs have been rare throughout the history of mobile technology partially because they're harder to manufacture, but also because they aren't as usable in most cases. One notable example of the round screen was the Motorola Aura, a luxury feature phone released in 2008 for over $2000. We've come a long way.

    The Moto 360's display is striking, with a beveled edge, clean lines, and narrow bezels. The resolution is 320x280, which is okay for a device that's 1.56-inches in diameter. If you stick it up next to your face, you can make out the pixels, but farther away you can't. The thing about the Moto 360's screen you might not know is that it's overall gorgeous. The resolution simply doesn't tell the whole story.

    The LCD is gapless and right up next to the glass, giving the 360 almost perfect viewing angles. The colors are also vibrant by LCD standards. The 360's screen is very bright too. One of the failings of the LG G Watch is that the brightness is rather mediocre, even at maximum. That makes it a little tough to see outdoors, but the Moto 360 shines brightly. It even has an ambient light that automatically adjusts the brightness so you can see in indoors and out.

    The light sensor brings us to the "flat tire." That's the internet euphemism for the slice missing from the display at the bottom. It's about 5mm tall and completely black. This is where the ambient light sensor peeks out, as well as the area where the display connects to the mainboard inside the watch. Motorola explains this was a necessary compromise to avoid having a larger bezel. I'll admit this is a bit off-putting at first, but you get used to it. Some watch faces don't take into account the gap, though, which makes it look worse.

    Google Play App Roundup: Weather Timeline, Anomaly Defenders, and Cardinal Quest 2

    Another week has dawned, and you're probably wondering what's new in the Play Store. Surely everyone starts off the week wondering that same thing, and that's why the Google Play App Roundup exists. Just click the link to head right to Google Play.

    This week we've got a new way to check the weather, the final chapter in a tower defense/offence franchise, and a roguelike game that's sure to get your pulse racing.

    Weather Timeline

    There are as many weather apps as there are clouds in the sky, but this one does things a little differently. Weather Timeline shows you the current conditions and forecast as a vertically scrollable timeline, and it has a slick Android L design that will work on all your pre-L devices.

    You can set multiple locations in the app to be displayed as separate cards on the main screen. Tap on any of them to open the timeline. The top card will be the current conditions, but below that you get general information about the next hour, 48 hours, and week. This is just a glanceable snippet of info--the details are below that. Each day in the weekly forecast has its own card with high/low temperatures and a neat little animated weather icon. Tapping on any of them will open a timeline of approximate temperatures (the same is true for the current day card).

    Up at the top of the timeline is a button to open the weather radar, which appears with a cool L-style wipe effect. The radar in Weather Timeline isn't the best I've ever seen, but it gets the job done. The map does use a floating action button to change the view type, which is a valid use case--some devs are going a little crazy with the action button.

    The interface makes it very easy to quickly glance at the timeline and see what's coming up. In addition to the icons on each card, they are also color-coded. Yellow cards mean a sunny forecast, whereas blue ones indicate rain. The yellow cards also fade to gray on the timeline when the sun sets. This same color theme is carrier over to the home screen widgets, which are reasonably good. I'd like to see a few more options for layout and opacity.

    One particularly neat feature in Weather Timeline is the Time Machine. The app is powered by forecast.io, which aggregates weather data and uses it to model future patterns. It's obviously not going to know for sure what the weather is going to be in six months or a year, but it can estimate based on past data points. Weather Timeline lets you zoom to any point in the next 20-ish years to see a probable forecast. This is mostly for fun, but you do get a sweet DeLorean animation when you activate Time Machine.

    Weather Timeline is $0.99 in the Play Store, and I think it's worth checking out if you want a different kind of weather app. It has already gotten a few solid updates, and the dev is working on adding Android Wear support.

    How Google Should Improve Android Wear to Fend Off Apple Watch

    Apple has been rumored to be working on a watch for a few years, but unlike all that speculation about a TV, the Apple Watch turns out to be real. It's really no surprise--the competition is getting into wearables in a big way. Android Wear and the Apple Watch are aimed at perfecting a growth area for mobile devices. Almost everyone who wants a smartphone or tablet already has one, but a smartwatch is something new.

    Android Wear has the early lead, but now that Apple has unveiled its approach to wearable computing, the heat is on Google to clean up Wear's rough edges--here's what I think needs to happen.

    It Doesn't Always Have to be About Voice

    Both Android Wear and the Apple Watch are big on voice interaction, but more so on the Android side of things. Apple has Siri, which is a capable voice-activated assistant, but Google Now and voice search on Android Wear is plugged into a giant matrix of information. Google is working hard to make natural language work on all devices running Google Search, and voice is a good interface method for Android Wear. However, Google might want offer some more options in the next version of Wear.

    Android Wear's over-reliance on voice input is especially clear when you want to open an app on the watch. With a voice command, you just tell the watch to "start [app name]." If you aren't in a situation where talking at your wrist is possible, you have to open the search interface, tap once, scroll down, tap on 'start,' then scroll down to find and launch the app. That's more than a little ridiculous. There are apps like Wear Mini Launcher that make app launching much easier, but how many people will know to install that? Google ought to realize you can't always shout commands at your wrist.

    Similarly, Google allows you to respond to messages received on your phone via Android Wear. Voice replies are, of course, vastly superior to any keyboard you could ever cram into a 1.5-inch screen. However, Android Wear doesn't even have good support for quick replies. There are a few default options built into the OS, but if yes, no, ok, and a few others don't get the point across, you'll have to get the phone out or use voice. This would be a really simple fix--you could simply add custom quick replies through the Android Wear phone app.

    Google Play App Roundup: Noyze Volume Panel, Goat Simulator, and daWindci Deluxe

    An app might only cost a buck or two, but if you end up buying things that don't strike your fancy, that could add up to a lot of wasted money. It's best to go into the Play Store with some idea of what's a safe bet. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is here to do--it's the best new stuff every week. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store and test it out yourself

    This week there's a new volume control app, a game about being a Goat, and a lovely atmospheric puzzler.

    Noyze Volume Panel

    Android has had volume management apps since the very beginning as there is no support for a single hardware mute switch, a la the iPhone. Most of these apps rely on an app or widget that you have to find and use. Noyze Volume Panel is cool in that it plugs right into the hardware volume toggles to give you UI tweaks, quick access to multiple volume controls, and a few more neat features. Additionally, you don't need root access, just Android 4.3 or higher.

    Setting up Noyze is a little more involved than most apps. Because it's plugging into a hardware feature, it needs to enabled as an accessibility service. The app will give you a link the the settings menu to enable it, but you'll also need notification access (another trip to the settings) for the full effect--more on that later. The default behavior of Noyze is that instead of the floating volume panel popup that most Android devices have, you'll get a clean volume overlay on the status bar when you change the volume.

    The settings in Noyze are fairly extensive with a number of vastly different themes. You'll need to upgrade to the full version for $1.49 to get access to all of them, but the free ones are good too. Most of the themes are aping some other device or ROM like Paranoid Android (pictured here), iOS, or MIUI. A few are just different takes on standard Android controls. Several volume panel themes also come with built-in playback controls, which is actually really useful. This feature is also why you'll have to add Noyze to the notification service.

    I also quite like that the foreground and accent colors can be changed to better match your system theme. The addition of a custom time out is also much appreciated. Delving into the other settings areas is a good idea because this app is modifying a system function, which can cause some issues. For example, Noyze will pop up every time you take a screenshot with the volume down + power shortcut. Luckily, there's a setting to ignore long-presses of the volume buttons. You can also link together all your individual volumes and assign app shortcuts to a long-press of the up or down toggle. I'm not saying the developer thought of everything, but he thought of a lot.

    There is no discernable lag on any of the devices I've tested Noyze on, but it was a little reluctant to start on one or two until I had fully restarted. There is a helper notification that can be enabled in the settings to make sure the app isn't closed in the background, but a device with 2GB of RAM or more shouldn't have an issue. Even if you don't need the additional features of the pro version, Noyze is a capable app with no ads.

    Google Play App Roundup: Amazon Instant Video, Block Fortress, and Phantom Rift

    It's that time of the week again. Time to shake off the weekend vibe and get back to work. But you can probably spare a few minutes to check out some new apps. This is the Tested Google Play App Roundup, which is where we tell you about the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just follow the links to Google Play.

    Amazon Instant Video

    What universe is this? It's hard to believe, but there is finally a way to play Amazon Instant Video on your non-Amazon Android phone. Don't get too excited--Amazon is going about this in its characteristically bizarre way. There's not an Instant Video app in the Play Store, but Amazon has updated the standard shopping app to be something of an omnibus of all its digital content. That's kind of interesting in and of itself.

    The Amazon app will now include a play button when viewing listings for Instant Video titles. This includes things you'd have to buy or rent, as well as free video for those with a Prime account. The first time you try to play a video, something unusual will happen. Rather than loading the video, you will be asked to install the Instant Video app. However, it's not in the Play Store. Instead, it will be downloaded by the Amazon app and you'll have to allow unknown sources in the settings to install it. Why it wouldn't just be put in the Play Store is beyond me.

    Another thing to know--the Instant Video app is only officially available on phones. If you are using the tablet version of Amazon's app, you won't see the video content at all. Even installing the phone version on a tablet won't offer the option to install the Instant Video client. It's not the end of the world, though. The Instant Video APK can be sideloaded, but it won't allow you to stream any videos because of a "license error." This is an artificial blockade by Amazon.

    The playback interface is about what you'd expect. It has support for captions and hides on-screen nav buttons correctly. It also pulls up a thumbnail preview when you scrub through the timeline. Video quality was solid on all the devices I tested with as well. One more missing piece of the puzzle is Chromecast support--Amazon would probably prefer you bought a Fire TV. The main Amazon app also includes its other Appstore content, but you still need the actually Appstore client for licensing purposes.

    It's frustrating to see so many limitations on Instant Video for Android, but it's better than nothing. I can only hope that Amazon wises up and makes this content available on the platforms on which people want to use it.

    Google Play App Roundup: Boxer, CounterSpy, and Bio Inc

    There are far too many apps flowing into the Play Store on a daily basis to find all the good stuff yourself. This is the problem that Google Play App Roundup seeks 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 there's a cool new mail client, a game about sneaking, and a biomedical strategy simulator.

    Boxer

    The official Gmail app does a pretty good job when it comes to managing email on Android, but maybe you want something with a few more options, or you don't use a Google address all the time. There are plenty of options out there, but the newly released Boxer email client is one of the best I've ever come across. It might even be good enough to replace the Gmail app for some.

    Boxer supports Gmail, Exchange, Outlook, Yahoo, Hotmail, iCloud, AOL, Office 365, and generic IMAP and POP3 accounts. The setup process is painless and configures the settings automatically based on the type of email address you add. Like the regular Gmail app, it has push notifications for new messages and includes rich Android notifications.

    If you're using a Gmail account, Boxer has built-in support for labels, stars, and threaded messages. Although, I've noticed a few threads broken up for some reason. The interface is very light and clean with a modern Android aesthetic. The navigation panel provides quick access to all your labels and folders too. Boxer scales appropriately to phones and tablets, with a two-pane UI for tablets.

    The message list is typical of mail clients at first glance, but there's something very cool going on behind the scenes. Boxer has swipe controls that can be used to manage messages, but they're much more powerful than the swipe actions for Gmail and other apps. The left and right swipe directions are split up into short and long swipes. For example, a short swipe to the left might archive a message, whereas a long swipe deletes it. The right swipes can add a label for a short swipe, and trigger a quick reply for a long one.

    What's more, you can use the swipe controls on more than one message at a time by multi-selecting and then swiping on any of the selected messages. It's an incredibly powerful tool, but you have to pay up to take full advantage of it. The free version of Boxer does not include the option to change the default swipe actions, but you can get the pro version for $9.99 through an in-app purchase. Yeah, that's a lot for a mobile app, but inviting five of your friends will also unlock the pro version. It's also $9.99 for Exchange support, unfortunately.

    I haven't had any issues sending or receiving messages in Boxer, and I've actually gotten quite used to the swipe actions. I also really appreciate the integration with Evernote and Dropbox. I'm not sure if Boxer will replace Gmail for me, but it's an impressive app nonetheless.

    The Best Android Smartphone for Your Network (August 2014)

    Big things are happening in the Android phone ecosystem these days. With a gaggle of phone announcements in the last few days, it's time to check in on the options you have on the big four US carriers. There are plenty of compelling options, but is now the time to wait it out? Let's go over your options.

    AT&T

    AT&T will be carrying the Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the new Moto X in the next few weeks. If you find yourself on Ma Bell, you need to decide if the current options are compelling enough to take the plunge or if you need to wait it out. If you're in need of a new device right now, there are two options--the LG G3 and the Samsung Galaxy S5.

    Starting with LG's new flagship, the G3 is pushing past 1080p as the first major OEM to put a 1440p screen on a smartphone.The G3 is plastic with a removable back and a 3000mAh (removable) battery, but the plastic LG uses actually feels rather nice as far as plastic goes. The design is overall very slick and the rear-facing buttons work extremely well. The narrow bezels also make the large screen somewhat manageable.

    As for the specs, you're looking at a Snapdragon 801, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, and a 5.5-inch 2560x1440 LCD. It's a real beast of a phone. I like the screen in general, but it is a little on the dim side. The colors are more dull than you'd see on AMOLED and the contrast could be higher. On the subject of battery life, the G3 seems to perform about the same as the GS5 over the course of a day. Note, the screen will suck down more power when it's running, but the standby time is great.

    The 13MP camera on the G3 uses laser autofocusing and it actually works as advertised. Even in a dark room, the G3 can focus when other devices simply fail. It also takes above average low-light shots. In bright light, it takes fabulous pictures.

    LG has also cleaned up its software act this year. The version of KitKat on the G3 is responsive and mostly free of junk you won't use. Samsung still includes more stuff you'll never use, but LG seems focused on a few things. One of the main selling points is Knock Code, which lets you wake and unlock the phone with a series of screen taps. It's really neat.

    This is a $200 phone on contract, and I'd say it's safe to buy this device on AT&T right now, even with big things on the way.

    Testing: The LG G3 Android Smartphone

    Just a few years ago LG was not considered a serious player in most smartphone markets. The most desirable devices the company made all wore Google's Nexus badge, but its own phones fell victim to questionable software and the whims of partner carriers. The LG G2 won some fans for its slick design and passable software, but it's the new LG G3 that might have a shot at completing LG's Android turnaround.

    LG isn't playing second banana to Samsung in South Korea or anywhere else this time around. In fact, the G3 is a contender for the best flagship phone of 2014. Let's take a closer look at what it's like to live with this device and its 5.5-inch 1440p screen.

    Surprisingly Small for a Huge Phone

    The LG G3 has a huge 5.5-inch screen, which makes it one of the larger phones we've used. However, the size of the overall device is within a few millimeters of the Galaxy S5 with its 5.1-inch display. LG has been focusing on slimming down its devices in recent years, and the G3 is the culmination of those efforts. It's almost all screen on the front. I'm not aware of another phone that has narrower bezels than the G3 (other than that new Sharp Aquos device).

    One of LG's favorite hardware twists is the rear-facing button cluster. Whereas most phones have the power and volume buttons on the side, LG places them on the back. This helps make the sides a bit slimmer and it turns out to be surprisingly convenient. The power button is almost exactly where your finger falls when you hold the device. It's reminiscent of Motorola's dimple on the back of the Moto X, except it actually does something.

    Google Play App Roundup: Google News and Weather, Back to Bed, and Month

    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.

    This week Google finally updates one of its old apps, you go back to bed, and calendars get pretty.

    Google News and Weather

    Google included a neat news and weather widget in stock Android back in the Froyo days. This widget has continued to exist over the years, but never saw an update--until now. The News and Weather Widget had been updated and added to the Play Store for most devices. It's pretty awesome.

    This is actually an app and a widget, but the app portion has been expanded quite a bit with this update. It used to do almost nothing. You've got two choices for widgets. One is a simple 3x1 widget that can be set to display weather, news, or both. This one isn't resizable, though. That makes it a little hard to fit into your homescreen layout.

    The other widget is 2x2, but that's just the default size. It can be changed and the content will be reorganized dynamically. Weather is up at the top and there's a scrollable list of news stories below. Tapping on any of the headlines sends you straight to the browser, but the weather boots you to the full News and Weather app.

    You won't get as much weather data in this app as you would in a dedicated app. Expanding the weather section at the top offers weather and precipitation graphs. Each news story has a drop down that shows related headlines as well. The default view is all the top stories, but the slide out navigation menu can be used to change news categories.

    I've tested this app on devices like the LG G3 and Nexus 5 and it works the same on both. It's responsive and very modern looking. This is another example of Google bringing its preferred Android experience to more devices. The app works well, but I'd say the reason to use it is the cool widgets. It's free, so check it out.

    Tested In-Depth: Amazon Fire Phone

    We were curious when Amazon announced their Fire phone, and intrigued by the Dynamic Perspective and Firefly features that Amazon claims sets its handset apart from other flagship smartphones. So we bought a Fire phone to test and show you how those features work--or rather, how they don't really work well. Here's why we couldn't wait to return this phone for a refund after testing.

    Google Play App Roundup: Afterlight, Deep Under the Sky, and Snapshot

    It's time to make your phone better not through hard work and determination, but by installing some apps. That's a lot easier. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we find the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. Hit the links to open the Play Store.

    This week we've got a few new ways to get better photos, plus some alien jellyfish.

    Afterlight

    In the realm of image editing on iOS, Afterlight is one of the most popular options. This app has amassed a huge number of downloads in spite of the $0.99 price tag in a sea of free alternatives. Surely there must be something to it then, right? Now is your chance to find out as this image editor has arrived in the Play Store.

    Afterlight, like many other editing apps, lets you either choose an existing image from your device, or snap a new one on the spot. The built-in camera app is reasonably good, but on Android you're further ahead to use the stock camera interface on your phone. You can use the gallery app of your choice to select the image, and I quite like that it gives you a larger preview of the selected image before importing. It's great if you've taken a few pics of the same scene to make sure you got a good one.

    The buttons along the bottom of the screen open up different sets of tools in a row directly above them. As you can probably guess, each one tweaks a different facet of the image. The far left button is for general edits. There are tools for brightness, saturation, color temperature, highlights, exposure, and so on. Afterlight has more tools than most other apps, but it's still a long way from something like Photoshop Touch. Cropping, rotation, and other tools of that sort are available under a different button. There's also an auto-fix tool that seem fairly accurate, though it seems to have a tendency to blow some images out. Annoyingly, the icons for individual tweaks aren't all easy to work out, and there are no labels.

    One of those buttons down there opens the filter menu, which will be contentious as usual. If you're into adding filters to photos, the ones in Afterlight are pretty good. There are a few dozen of them split up into categories, and you can change the strength of each. They don't seem to destroy detail like some filters do. There's an irksome little detail here--several of the filters are locked until you share Afterlight on Facebook. Technically, you just have to tap the share button and back out, but still. The only other bit of walled-off content is the instant film effect pack. If that's the sort of thing you need (why), you will have to pay an additional $0.99 via an in-app purchase.

    At the end of all your tweaking, Afterlight gives you direct sharing to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a local save option. The Android sharing menu is also supported. The tree-level quality selector at the top of the screen is a nice touch as well. If you're just sending something to Instagram, there's no reason to save it at full res. Note, the default top setting maxes out at 2048 px wide, but you can change that in the settings so you don't lose any quality.