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

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

    Boomerang Notifications

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Science Journal

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Best of Google I/O 2016: Android N, Daydream VR, and More

    Google I/O is now in its 10th year, and Google brought it back to the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View where it started. I/O is always big on news, especially in the last few years as Google announced developer previews of upcoming versions of Android. This year, we already have the Android N dev preview, but that didn't stop Google from showing off some cool new features. There are also big changes coming to Chrome OS, messaging, and more.

    Let's take a look at all of Google's I/O 2016 highlights.

    Android N

    The existence of Android N wasn't the big reveal this year. We're actually getting quite familiar with this pre-release OS after two developer previews. The third preview was released at I/O, and Google also talked about some more features coming to Android N.

    There were, of course, demos of things like multi-window and the revamped notifications. We knew all about that, though. Possibly the most interesting new tidbit about Android N is the support for what Google is calling seamless updates. If you've ever used a Chromebook, it'll be very similar. In fact, the Android team borrowed some code from Chrome OS to do this.

    Right now, getting an OTA update, though joyous, is a pain in the butt. You have to restart your device, wait for the OS to unpack and install, then sit through the app optimization process. Devices that ship with Android N won't have to do any of that. Instead, updates will happen in the background as soon as they're available (like a Chromebook). The next time you restart, your phone or tablet will simply boot into the updated OS and that's it.

    So how is this magic possible? Android N will support dual system partitions. The one you're actively using will be online and the other will be offline. When a system update is ready, it will be installed in the offline partition while the device is still in use. Upon reboot, the offline partition becomes online and online becomes offline. Not only is this a faster way to do updates, it provides a fallback in case a bad update breaks something. The device can just boot into the old system and try the update again.

    Google Play App Roundup: Slash Keyboard, Bushido Bear, and Leap Day

    Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but it's the apps that make that possible. 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 stuff. 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.

    Slash Keyboard

    You might have caught the news last week that Google released a keyboard app for iOS called Gboard. Its claim to fame is that it has Google search built right in. You can grab results and paste them in without leaving the app. That's not available on Android yet (weirdly), but there's actually an app that came out a few weeks back called Slash keyboard that has similar features. It's pretty relevant now, though.

    They call it Slash Keyboard because you trigger all its special search features by adding a slash to whatever you're typing. It works in any app too. For example, you're typing a message and making plans to meet up. You want to send them the location of some bar or restaurant, but switching apps is a pain. Just type /maps and enter your search term. The results appear in a scrollable bar right above the keyboard. When you tap a result, it will be pasted into the text field.

    That's just one possible use case. This keyboard app supports more than 20 services including Google search, Twitter, Giphy, Spotify, YouTube, and more. There's also a cool /pin command that instantly shares your current location. The keyboard will start suggesting slashes as soon as you enter one, but there's also a quick access bar at the top of the keyboard that starts your favorite slashes instantly. You can change the order or disable the bar entirely.

    Slash also includes custom slashes, which are basically shortcodes you can input to automatically expand into your chosen text. You might make one for your address or other contact info you don't want to type all the time.

    As for its performance as an actual keyboard, Slash does well. I wouldn't say it's my favorite keyboard, mostly because it lacks swipe input, which I use often. The theme does fit with Android, and you might not even notice at first it's not the stock keyboard. My only real UI complaint is that Slash takes up a lot of vertical space when you're performing searches. I don't know that there's really a way to solve that, though.

    Slash Keyboard is free and worth a look if you like the idea of Gboard.

    Google Play App Roundup: App Volume Control, Gangfort, and Hungry Shark World

    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.

    App Volume Control

    Volume control on Android has changed repeatedly in the last few iterations, and OEMs often change the way this feature works. It can be a pain to simply make sure you have sound when you want it, and no sound when you don't. App Volume Control is a new app that aims to make it simple by automating the process. Well, the setup isn't particularly simple, but after that it's smooth sailing.

    App Volume Control will need accessibility access on your device, which it uses to manage your volume levels down to the smallest detail depending on the app you have open. For example, maybe you want to keep your phone completely silent except for media volume when you open a music or video player. So, just find those apps in the main App Volume Control list and turn them on for automation. Then, choose the volume levels you want to control and save.

    The toughest part of using this app is just making sense of all the options. Android phones expose a ton of volume control options, and App Volume Control takes advantage of every one. Not only can you set the media, ring, alarm, notification, and system volume, you can choose different settings depending on how the sound is being played. The default mode is the phone speakers, but you can change the setting for headset and Bluetooth audio independently.

    And all that is just for starters. Literally, just when starting an app. Each app has a tab for starting and another for closing. The default setting in the second tab is to restore the previous volume when you leave an automated app, but you can also pick a custom setting with the same level of granularity as above. You even get a little toast notification to let you know App Volume Control is working (can be disabled in the settings).

    App Volume Control runs a service in the background to manage all this, but it doesn't seem to have any effect on performance or battery life in my testing. I'd like it if the app were a little more attractive or laid out better (it reminds me a little of setting up a Tasker profile right now), but it does what it's supposed to. The free version has a persistent ad at the bottom, but there's a pro version that you can buy for $0.99 that doesn't have that.

    The Best Android Smartphones for Your Network (May 2016)

    The first round of 2016 Android flagships are all out in the open, and that means you've got a serious decision to make if the time has come for an upgrade. The best Android phones are priced near or over $700, so you don't want to make the wrong decision. That's a lot of coin to spend on a phone if you don't like it. Samsung was the undisputed winner last month on the carrier side, but this month the HTC 10 is up for preorder.

    Carrier Phones

    The Galaxy S7 has a very similar overall aesthetic to the Galaxy S6, but it makes several important changes. It's not a revolutionary device, but it really focuses on the GS6's shortcomings. There will be deals on the GS6, but don't let the similar looks fool you. The GS7 is a much better phone and it's worth the cost.

    Samsung is using a metal and glass unibody design for the GS7. So yes, that means fingerprints and the potential of a cracked back if you drop the GS7. The designers took an unusual step, though. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker so the camera hump is flush with the back, and there's more room inside for a bigger battery. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

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

    The Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge have new Super AMOLED panels with the same 1440p resolution as last year. The GS7 is 5.1-inches, while the Edge variant has a larger 5.5-inch display. The Edge, of course, has a screen that curves down on the left and right edge. I don't think the Edge is as comfortable because of the narrower band around the screen. There are a few software features that are intended to take advantage of the curved panel, but none of them are necessary. The real reason to get this version of the device is that it looks really cool.

    Everything You Need to Know About Fingerprint Sensors on Android

    Android phones started sporting fingerprint sensors years ago, but the technology was still too early to make a big impact on the experience. After Apple introduced Touch ID on the iPhone, Android OEMs came back to fingerprint reader tech with renewed interest. Thanks to improved hardware, it has become a feature people actually want on Android. However, not all fingerprint readers on Android are created equal. Here's how they differ, and how users can maximize their usefulness today.

    Speed and accuracy

    Having a phone that unlocks quickly from a fingerprint is good, but sometimes accuracy is actually preferable. One of the primary things to consider here is how you wake up the phone. Take the Nexus phones for example -- you can tap the rear-facing Nexus Imprint sensor to wake and unlock the phone. It happens quickly and is highly accurate. If you want to see the lock screen without unlocking, there's a dedicated power button on the side. The Honor 5X is similar, and works quite well.

    The G5, on the other hand, has the power button combined with the rear-facing sensor. If you press the button so you can just check your notifications on the lock screen, it's probably going to read your fingerprint because the sensor is very fast to react. That might not be what you want in this scenario because fast doesn't mean accurate. The G5's sensor misses more often than the Nexus phones, so you may get a rejected print. When that happens, you have to lift your finger and tap again should you decided to unlock. It's annoying. So here, you might prefer the sensor was slower and more accurate. The V10 suffers from the same issue, but it seems a bit more accurate to me at least.

    Google Play App Roundup: Radon, Exploding Kittens, and Zenge

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

    Radon

    Google has made a lot of cool APIs available to app developers, and many of them get a lot of use. One API that I think has gotten short shrift is Nearby. The Nearby API was announced about a year ago as a way for devices to talk to each other with a minimum of setup. Radon is a new app that makes sharing content between devices super-easy by using the Nearby API.

    In case you're not aware, Nearby is a set of tools that can allow devices to pair and exchange information using Bluetooth, WiFi, and ultrasonic pulses. It's similar to the guest mode on the Chromecast in that it uses ultrasonic tones to pair with devices that aren't on the same WiFi network. You'll have to approve Radon to use Nearby services when you first start it. After that, you can simply share things to Radon from the system sharing menu.

    Radon is not intended to push large amounts of data, so you'll be able to share things like links, videos, and so on. Radon opens when selected and begins looking for other devices in the vicinity running Radon. The receiving phone just needs to have the app open, and it'll start searching for a sender. When the devices spot each other, the content will be pushed over immediately. The app itself has a snazzy material UI with a purple and pink theme.

    The main barrier to entry here is that both parties need to have Radon running. That means getting people to install it. The app includes quick links to the app and a QR code to help your friends get the app installed. Radon is free, and the lack of any signup process makes it at least feasible to get people on board.

    Testing: The LG G5 Android Smartphone

    LG has been chasing its hometown rival Samsung in the Android ecosystem for years now, but it's never managed to beat Samsung. The LG G5 is LG's attempt to address concerns about its materials and design while also keeping the features that set it apart from other Android OEMs. The G5 has an aluminum frame, whereas past phones were plastic. At the same time, it keeps the removable battery and adds a system of modular accessories. Is this enough to make for a compelling flagship phone?

    I've been using the G5 for a few weeks, so let's see how it stacks up to the competition.

    Design and Display

    The G5 is an aluminum phone, which is a big deal for LG. In the past, it has been criticized for sticking with plastic materials while its competition used more impressive metal and glass designs. However, the way LG is using aluminum is probably not the way you would have expected. In fact, there's been a lot of argument about this on the internet.

    So here's the deal: the G5 is a metal phone, but it doesn't feel like one. There's a thick layer of synthetic polymer primer on top of the metal that hides the antennas on the back panel. Most metal phones have those plastic lines across the back (think iPhone), but LG decided it wanted to hide those. The solution seems bizarre to me because part of the appeal of a metal phone is that it feels like metal. The upshot of all this is the smooth back (if you like that), and a more rigid frame that allows for the unique battery system (more on that shortly).

    Also on the back is the power button with built-in fingerprint sensor. The volume rocker has, sadly, moved back to the side of the phone. I quite liked it on the back with previous LG phones. The fingerprint sensor works well enough, but it's not as good as the ones from Google, Samsung, and HTC.

    On the bottom is the mono speaker, which is fine, and the new USB 3.0 Type-C port. The Type-C port will mean ditching all your old cables, but this is the standard of the future. Best we all just get with the program. The addition of Quick Charge 3.0 is nice as well.

    LG has again gone with a 2560x1440 resolution LCD—it was the first mainstream OEM to do that with the LG G3 two years ago. The G4 was an improvement over that phone, and the G5 improves even further. The colors are solid and accurate without any of the blown out reds of some LCDs that are trying to emulate AMOLED. With the high resolution, this 5.3-inch panel is very dense and produces crisp images. The outdoor brightness is impressive as well. Some people are noticing some backlight bleed, but I haven't seen that one my unit.

    Google Play App Roundup: Screenshot Join, Redcon, and Warhammer Freeblade

    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.

    Screenshot Join

    One of my favorite features Samsung built into its newer Galaxy phones is the scrolling screenshot. Whenever you take a screenshot, you have the option of automatically scrolling down and stitching the next screen onto it. Screenshot Join is a new app that gives you similar results on any Android phone. It's not quite as easy, but it seems to get the job done more easily than using a general photo editor.

    To start, you'll need to snap all the screenshots you want to stitch together using your phone's native button combination. With that accomplished, it's time to open Screenshot Join. The app offers the option of exploring just the screenshot folder or using the Android file picker to see all recent images. Odds are the screenshot option will be easier.

    After selecting the first and second photos, you'll be taken to an interface with a split screen allowing you to line up the spot where the images match. It's sort of like sliding the second pic under the first one until the stitch isn't visible anymore. Note, you can pick vertical or side-by-side orientation for the photos. Vertical will probably be more common.

    So, that leaves you with two joined screenshots as one file. What if you want more? Just hit the arrow action button and you'll go back to the image selection interface with the new stitched image as the top photo. Add the next image in the series to the bottom and go through the process of lining it up again.

    You can add as many images as you like to the final product before saving. It's a little more tedious than I'd like, and some sort of finer control while lining the images up would be appreciated. Still, Screenshot Join is faster at this than the alternatives and it's free. You will have to put up with a few ads when attaching images, though.

    Google Play App Roundup: Quote, Toby: The Secret Mine, and Velociraptor

    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.

    Quote

    The number of RSS readers ballooned a few years ago when Google announce it was retiring Reader. People who had never really used an RSS reader before thought Reader sounded like a good idea, and developers were there to provide alternatives. Many of them plug into one service or another, so what you're really looking for is a good front end. The newly released Quote (from the developer of Fenix for Twitter) has a clean design with support for popular feed aggregator services.

    You can log into Quote with Feedly or Inoreader accounts. The pro upgrade includes the ability to have multiple accounts as well. The main screen shows you your overall counts at the top, collections in the middle, and individual subscriptions at the bottom. The layout is much less dense than some apps, and if you have a huge list of subscriptions, it might seem sub-optimal. For most people, it's a much more friendly and easy UI to get used to.

    Whenever you tap through to a different list, you can always swipe back to return to the previous screen. Swipe gestures are used throughout Quote to keep the UI clean and avoid the cluttered toolbars and menus you get with many other RSS readers. There's also a neat swipe gesture to mark items as read or unread.

    The reading interface is one of the best I've seen in an RSS reader, and this is just the first public release. It's full screen, so the status bar hides when you scroll down. At the bottom is a toolbar that also hides, including buttons to skip to the next/previous feed item, star a post, and change your reading mode. Most sites limit the RSS feed to just snippets, so Quote lets you open in the browser, or more interestingly open "readability" mode. That just grabs the full text and renders it in the Quote UI. It feels completely native.

    Like any self-respecting RSS reader, Quote has support for syncing your subscriptions for offline reading. This can be triggered automatically in the background or only when you open the app. However, you can choose to exclude images from that or only allow them to be downloaded on WiFi.

    The free version of Quote has two themes to choose from, as well as some ads. For $2.49 you get the pro version with two more themes (the sepia looks great) and no ads. You should check out the free version and see if it's right for you. This is great for a first release.

    Google Play App Roundup: Scarlett for Chromecast, Pokémon TCG, and Chameleon Run

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

    Scarlett for Chromecast

    Google's Cast screensaver is okay, but there's not much to it even after customizing with the Cast app's backdrops. Scarlett for Chromecast aims to make your Chromecast or Android TV a little more useful by turning it into a dashboard for information.

    To use Scarlett, you'll need to have a Chromecast or Android TV (obviously). Just open the app on your phone and tap the Cast button to select the target. You'll immediately get a feed of information dictated by your settings. Scarlett offers to set all this up on your first run, but you can edit the settings later.

    The feed includes content from YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and more. Facebook and Pinterest are apparently coming soon. The bulk of the interface is taken up with the current item in the feed list. If it's a video, you can play it on the TV and control via the app. Other content cycles through automatically every 30 seconds. The app can also advance through feed items with a swipe. You can also open any of the content on your phone from the app. After logging in, your Twitter timeline and YouTube playlists will be accessible in Scarlett, which is pretty cool.

    The dashboard is accessible in the second tab of Scarlett. Selecting that will kick the TV over into that mode. It's a bit less interactive, consisting of weather, a clock, and images from 500px cycling through. It's more like the standard Cast screen with a few more features. The last tab is for search, which is handled by voice input. That allows you to look for specific content and have it appear on the TV screen inside Scarlett.

    Scarlett for Chromecast is still in the early stages of development, but it's a really solid idea with lots of room to add functionality. It's free too. You should check it out if you've got a Google Cast device connected to your TV.

    The Best Android Smartphones for Your Network (April 2016)

    The season of 2016 flagship smartphones is in full swing now with big phones from both Samsung and LG. If you held off upgrading last year, the time is approaching for you to make a decision. You could wait a few more weeks and find out what HTC has lined up for this year, but you've got plenty of great options now as well. Let's see where things stand right now.

    Photo credit: Răzvan Băltărețu via Creative Commons

    Carrier Phones

    If you're looking to pick up a phone from your carrier of choice right now, there are two devices you should be looking at -- the LG G5 and Samsung Galaxy S7. Both have their strong points, but I think the Galaxy S7 has the edge. Let's start there.

    The Galaxy S7 does look a lot like the Galaxy S6, but it makes several improvements that users were asking for last year. There will be deals on the GS6, but don't let the similar looks fool you. The GS7 is a much better phone and it's worth the cost.

    Samsung is using a metal and glass unibody design for the GS7. The designers took an unusual step, though. Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker so the camera hump is flush with the back, and there's more room inside for a bigger battery. The glass panel on the back also has curved edges to make it more comfortable in your hand.

    The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery, and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. Both phones are also water resistant, which is a feature Samsung dropped from the GS6. There's also a microSD card slot in these phones, another improvement over the Galaxy S6, but it shares the same tray as the SIM card, making swaps difficult.

    Google Play App Roundup: Monospace Writer, Hammer Bomb, and Ultraflow 2

    Despite being a search company, Google hasn't really made it very easy to find the apps you're looking for. That's why we do the Google Play App Roundup. Here you'll find the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app link to head right to the Play Store to download for yourself.

    Monospace Writer

    The Google Drive quite is pre-installed on every Android device, but it packs in a lot of features that many people don't want when they are writing on a mobile device. Let's face it, doing any significant amount of writing on a touchscreen isn't ideal, but Monospace might make things easier. This app has been in beta for a few months, but now it's available to everyone. Plus, it's free to try.

    With Monospace, you just start typing and add formatting along the way. The toolbar at the top only has a few buttons for color theme, undo, and sharing. The theme options are helpful if you're working in a dark or bright environment, and the dark theme has an optional AMOLED true black mode. All the formatting commands are accessed by highlighting text with a double-tap or long-press. You can bold, italicize, underline, strikethrough (pro), add bullets, and more. It's smart to keep all this stuff out of the way until you need it, and when you do see it, it's in the same area of the screen you just tapped to highlight.

    Having all this only exist on your Android device wouldn't be very useful, so Monospace has syncing abilities too. You can connect to Dropbox to access your documents on other devices and stay in sync. With the $4 pro upgrade, you can also use Google Docs to automatically sync. That's more useful option as the files are accessible in the Docs editor more easily. Monospace saves files as text with markdown, so it can be copied into various other programs and services. There's also a plain text export option.

    When creating files in Monospace, you may notice that there's no apparent way to organize into folders. You actually can, and it's very cool. Monospace uses hashtags for organization. At the end of your document, add a hashtag (#name) to set a folder. The app will create a folder and add the document to it. You can also create nested folders with hashtags (#name#anothername). One of my favorite features is the ability to quickly encrypt important information by adding the #encrypted hashtag. The app will ask for a passcode, and you'll have to enter that to decrypt the file each time.

    Monospace Writer is a great option if you're looking for a minimalist text editor on Android. It's still quite capable even without the pro upgrade, but the $4 price tag is fair for what you get.

    Testing: The Samsung Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge Smartphones

    Samsung is by far the largest and most successful Android device maker on the planet, and its flagship Galaxy phone is the biggest release each year. For a lot of Android users, the annual Galaxy phone is Android. Last year, Samsung made significant changes to the Galaxy S6 that included a unibody metal and glass design, and the loss of a few features.

    This year's Galaxy S7 brings a lot of those features back and adds a few new tricks. Let's take a closer look at how this phone stacks up to the competition.

    Design and Display

    Just like last year, there are two versions of the Galaxy S7, regular and Edge. Unlike last year, the Edge model has a larger screen than the regular GS7. Both phones include many of the same features, so most of this goes for both, except where noted. The Galaxy S7 shares a lot with the Galaxy S6 in overall appearance. The front and back are both Gorilla Glass, but the rear panel curves slightly toward the edges. That makes it nicer in the hand compared to the completely flat GS6.

    The aluminum band around the middle has a matte finish that makes the phone a bit less slippery. We are still talking about a glass phone, though, which is going to be more apt to leap from your grip than a plastic one (it's also a fingerprint magnet). The GS7 is also a bit easier to hold because Samsung made it about 1mm thicker this year. That's remarkable when every year they've been crowing about having the slimmest phone ever. Now, the extra thickness allowed Samsung to add a large 3000mAh battery to the GS7 and a 3600mAh to the GS7 Edge. They're water-resistant as well, something that was dropped from the Galaxy S6. This might not be an essential feature for everyone, but it's very nice to have.

    Google Play App Roundup: Klara, Exit Hero, and Hex Defender

    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.

    Klara

    Weather apps have always been a big part of the mobile application ecosystem, ever since the earliest days when we just had to decide if we hated Weatherbug or Weather Channel less. There are much better choice these days, and Klara the newest one. This is a forecast-focused weather app that uses a timeline interface, but it's not a knockoff of the popular Weather Timeline app.

    Klara's main interface is laid out in a series of tabs across the top of the screen. The one on the left that Klara opens to first is the one you'll probably look at the most -- temperature and precipitation. The current conditions are on the far left of the timeline. You can tap and drag across the scale at the bottom to move the indicator. As you do, the data shown by the app changes to match the chosen time.

    Across the top you have temperature and conditions (denoted by icons). In the middle is a graph of temperature forecasts. This is a nice way to visualize things, but I wish it was bound to some real scale on the Y-axis. It seems to use the lowest point on the graph as the bottom of the graph. Making the current conditions more easily accessible would be smart too. Precipitation is shown at the bottom as a series of blue bars. The taller they are, the more precipitation per hour.

    The other three tabs are set up in a similar way, but they show different data (except for the condition icons, which are on all the screens). The next one over shows you wind speed and direction. Again, the present time is on the far left, then the next few days extend off to the right. The next tab is cloud cover, and the last one has pressure and humidity. This one has the most data, but it's of less use to most people.

    In addition to the main UI as described above, there's an extended forecast screen with less detail that is accessible from the slide-out nav menu. There's a widget too, which is an essential feature of weather apps as far as I'm concerned. It's clean and shows the forecast data well. I just wish (again) current conditions were more easily discerned.

    There are a few things that need to be improved in Klara, but it's a well-designed app and it's completely free right now.

    Google Play App Roundup: WhaToDo, Monster Mountain, and Rayman Classic

    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.

    WhaToDo

    The age-old question of what to do when you're planning a trip can be solved with searching and reading of guides, but the aptly named WhaToDo app just tells you what to do with a pleasant material interface and location-based deals. You can even book tickets and reservations right from the app.

    WhaToDo supports a fair number of cities, but it's far from everywhere. Most of the more common destinations I could think of are available in the app, though. There are apparently about 1000 destinations available in the app. To find a city, just use the search bar at the top. If WhaToDo has results, they will be split up into tabs along the top. There's also a floating action button at the bottom of the screen that switches between the list view and a map.

    The first tab is all the most popular options, then you've got attractions, shows, tours, and so on. Each item WhaToDo has a full description page with photos, videos, duration, and more. There's an integrated Google Maps page to help you figure out where it is as well.

    If you decide to book something, the app includes full support for booking tickets. I'm impressed that this isn't just a webframe or something, but an actual function of the native app. You can get select tickets, enter payment info, and access them easily from the reservation section of the slide-out nav menu. The bookings are apparently all handled by the company that makes the app, and there are exclusive deals on events that are only available in the app.

    The design of WhaToDo is a rather good example of what material design can look like when it's done right. The navigation is self-explanatory with the scrolling tabs, and there are animations throughout that don't get in the way of using the app. WhaToDo seems like a solid way to plan a trip.

    Our 5 Favorite Features in the Android N Developer Preview

    Google has taken the wraps off the next version of Android a little early this year. We weren't expecting to get a glimpse of Android N until Google I/O in May, but here we are with a developer preview. If you don't have a device to install it on, don't worry. I've been playing with the dev preview for the last few days to see how it works.

    After taking N for a spin, I've picked out the 5 coolest and most important changes in this version of Android.

    Multi-Window

    After over a year of tantalizing hints in AOSP, Google has finally shown us with true multitasking will look like on Android. I don't think it's any secret that Google wanted to have multi-window done a long time ago -- the pieces have been buried in Android since the Nexus 9 came out. It's still rough around the edges, but this might finally make Android tablets genuinely useful devices.

    There's nothing to turn on in Android N to make multi-window work. All the apps on your device can be opened in split-screen mode, but developers are being asked to set a flag that explicitly allows it. If you open an app that doesn't have official support (all apps right now), you'll get a toast warning that things might break. An app that has been designed to scale to different screen sizes should render just fine, though.

    You can enter multi-window mode while you've got an app open by long-pressing the overview button. This will kick your current app into the top half of the screen and open the recent app list in the bottom half. Simply choose the app you want in that half, and you're all set. The other way is to long-press and drag a card in the recent app list up to the top of the screen.The divider between the top and bottom app can be dragged to give one app or the other more space too. If the app you want to run in multi-window isn't in the recent list, you can hit home to find and open it, which kicks you back into split-screen mode.

    Exiting multi-window is a bit awkward right now. To go back the standard full-screen apps, you have to drag that separator all the way to the top or bottom of the screen. That maximizes one of the apps and closes the other. None of this is set in stone, of course. Google will probably make changes to this over the course of the developer preview and in the final version of Android N.

    Google Play App Roundup: Join, DIRAC, and Universal Copy

    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.

    Join

    For me and many others, Pushbullet has been an indispensable part of the Android experience for years. It's has consistently added features and improved the ones it already had over that time, but it does cost money now. It was inevitable that people would try to build replacements, and now the most prominent of these apps is out of beta. It's called Join.

    Like Pushbullet, Join connects all your devices, making it easier to transfer text, files, and other content between them. Join implements most of the core features of Pushbullet, but I'd say it's overall not as clean or easy to use. It is still early, though.

    After you install Join on your phone, you need to get it on your other devices too. There are some browser extensions, a Windows app, and a web interface. To push a link, text, or file, you can either share it to Join or open the app and find the device you want to send to. It has a messaging-style layout rather like Pushbullet (sorry, these comparisons have to happen). The pushing seems to work well, but it uses your personal Google Drive for file pushing. Some people might like this, but it will clutter things up if you use it for other uses. I also don't see any way to push files to other people.

    Notification mirroring is one of Pushbullet's most important features, at least to me. It takes all the notification content from your phone and mirrors it on a desktop. Join has that same feature, but setting it up is a bit of a pain. You have to manually select each app you want to push notifications. There's no indication in the app that you need to do that until you venture several levels deep in the settings. Along with notifications, are SMS replies. You can reply to SMS directly from your computer, which is pretty handy.

    The SMS stuff and clipboard syncing are two features that are partially or totally restricted to Pushbullet's pro plan. Join allows unlimited access to both with the full version of the app. Clipboard syncing works well for me, but the bubbles that pop up on the phone to make sharing to a specific device just get in the way, so I turned them off.

    Join has a robust feature set, and if you've never used Pushbullet, this might be a good way to go. Join is free to try, but a $3.99 in-app purchase is needed to continue using it and remove the ads. It isn't quite as full featured or as reliable as Pushbullet, but it's close.

    Google Play App Roundup: Xcerpt for Twitter, Thumb Drift, and Rocketfella

    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.

    Xcerpt for Twitter

    Twitter is rumored to be planning a feature that will let you tweet more than 140 characters, but that's currently the limit. So what if you want to tweet something a little more detailed? Xcerpt has an interesting take on that. With this app, you can use a screenshot to build a custom image that is embedded in your tweet, giving you space to talk about the content too.

    To start, you fine a page that you want to share and take a screenshot. Then, head over to Xcerpt and use it to choose that screenshot. You want to make sure the screen has the text you want to share clearly visible. The next step has you crop the screenshot down to get rid of all the extraneous elements possible around the text. Xcerpt uses OCR (I believe) to process the text and insert it into a clean little frame.

    You have the option of selecting and highlighting text to add emphasis or call attention to a choice quote. This interface has a second tap at the top where you can modify the source for the image. The app is very smart about pulling that automatically, but you are also able to paste in a URL if it gets it wrong.

    When you've assembled all the pieces, you'll have to log into Twitter to send the Tweet from Xcerpt. What you get is a post with a link to the source, the image with the text you've framed, and whatever you what to add to the body of the tweet. You should have about 100 characters left after the two links. Because most Twitter clients automatically show images in the stream, it makes your Tweet much more eye catching. You can also just save the image to your gallery if you want to Tweet it from another app.

    Not everyone will have a use for Xcerpt, but those that do will find it gets the job done quite well. If you find yourself bumping into the character limit when sharing links, you might want to give it a shot.