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    How Google's Pixel Phones Can Succeed Where Nexus Failed

    For nearly seven years, Google's Nexus program has been the showcase for Android in its purest form. There was some concern after the Nexus One flopped that Google wouldn't do another one, but every year since we've had at least one Nexus device—except this year. All signs point to the end of Nexus and the expansion of the Pixel brand. This is Google's chance to take what was great about the Nexus line and shake things up to push Android as a whole forward in new ways. Here's how that might go down.

    Dual Pixels

    Google seems set to launch two phones on October 4th, the Pixel and Pixel XL. Both will be manufactured by HTC, but there won't be the usual OEM branding as there always was on Nexus phones. The party line this time around is "Designed by Google." The Nexus program was about making Android look good, but Pixel is about Google.

    Even by the most optimistic measurements, Nexus phones have been a niche product at best. Google has essentially been subsidizing the Nexus program to promote Android. Android has grown up now, so it doesn't need that kind of coddling. With the Pixel re-branding, Google may be looking to actually compete with OEMs. This is something Android enthusiasts have been hoping for all along. No more compromises, no more "good for the price" Nexus devices. These could be viable flagship-level devices.

    Google Play App Roundup: Allo, The Bug Butcher, and Dog Sled Saga

    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.

    Allo

    After months of waiting, Google has finally released the much-anticipated Allo chat app. It was a surprised when Google announced Allo at I/O this year. It had been trying to merge its disparate chat platforms into a single entity in recent years, but Hangouts has become a lumbering behemoth because of it. Allo is a completely different—it's faster, simpler, and has Google AI built-in. Can you actually get people to use it, though?

    Allo is based on your phone number, thus it's only for phones. That's the first major hurdle to switching, actually. Hangouts works on the web, on tablets, and on phones. With Allo, you register your phone number, then input a confirmation code that is delivered. After that's done, anyone that has your phone number you in their Allo contact list. It's a bit like WhatsApp.

    The basic chatting features are fun. You can do things like make text larger or smaller to shout/whisper or send a huge number of stickers. Allo also offers smart replies based on the context of your conversations, which can help speed up idle chitchat. This is all part of the Google Assistant, which is manifested as a chatbot you can call upon at any time.

    When you're chatting with someone else, you can use @google to issue commands to the bot. You can ask it for restaurant listings, directions, weather reports, and general search data. In these chats, both parties can see the responses from Google. There's also a dedicated Assistant chat where it's just you and the bot. This is handy if you want to have Google set calendar appointments or pull up your recent photos in private.

    Speaking of private, Allo offers a truly private communication mode. If you start an Incognito chat in the app with one or more of your contacts, it will be end-to-end encrypted and the messages expire after a set amount of time. Because Google can't access the content of these chats, you won't have access to the Assistant.

    Allo still feels a little early—it doesn't support SMS, except to send Allo invites to your contacts and relay messages across an awkward SMS relay. Then there's the single-device approach. Not only can you only use Allo on phones, but it only works on a single phone. That means if you get a new device or simply switch to another one, you have to re-register with Allo and all your chats, settings, and profile information are reset. It's a real pain if you switch devices.

    Allo is definitely something to try, but it's only going to be useful if you can convince your friends to start using it. Right now, I don't think there's a compelling reason to stop using Hangouts, but Assistant has some potential.

    Google Play App Roundup: Solid Explorer, One More Jump, and Monolithic

    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.

    Solid Explorer

    Solid Explorer is obviously not a new app, but it's just gotten a big update, which has been in testing for months. We haven't talked about this app for a long time, so it's time to check in on what is, I think, undeniably the best file manager on Android. Front and center in the latest update are some Nougat improvements and support for fingerprint-based file encryption. This is the most robust implementation of this feature I've seen yet on Android.

    Solid Explorer's original claim to fame was its fantastic multi-pane implementation. You can have two locations open at once, and easily move items between the two. That's still present in the new v2.2 update of course, but there's added support for Nougat's split-screen mode. That means it'll open in split screen without any annoying warnings and will behave itself without any weird crashing or UI errors.

    As for the file encryption feature, there are several reasons I think this is the best implementation on Android. When you choose the file or folder you want to encrypt, the app will pull up a dialog so you can set a password. Encryption is done with AES256, which is essentially uncrackable. The only potentially weak link is your password, but with Solid Explorer, you don't have to worry about that.

    Devices with a fingerprint scanner on Android 6.0 or higher can set the secure unlock method for a file to be the user's registered fingerprint. There's a checkbox in the encryption dialog to allow this. If you enable it, you can decrypt a file simply by touching the sensor, allowing you to use a long and annoying password to encrypt as you don't have to type it in every time. The files you encrypt also keep their file name, simply gaining a .sec extension. That makes it easy to know what you're opening. There's also an option to have the source file scrubbed when you encrypt.

    After decrypting a file, you can open it normally. However, Solid Explorer smartly re-encrypts automatically when you close it. This is not a particularly flashy aspect of the feature, but probably one that makes it actually useful. If you had to re-encrypt files every time, you probably wouldn't use them as much.

    Solid Explorer includes a 14-day trial of all the features, if you want to give it a shot. After that, it's a $1.99 in-app purchase to unlock permanently. If you're looking for a good file explorer and have any interest in protecting your files, this is a good method.

    Google Play App Roundup: Conscient, Outfolded, and Bit Bit Blocks

    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.

    Conscient

    Automation apps have been one of the best selling point for Android as a whole over the years. With a little setup, you can make your phone respond to your real world situation in a very cool way. The apps that do this have varying levels of complexity. Tasker is popular for instance, but it's very difficult to learn. Conscient aims to make it quick and easy to setup simple automation features without a heavy service running in the background. Interested? It's free to try.

    Conscient uses the Google Awareness API, which means the app itself doesn't need to run its own service in the background to keep track of what you're doing. That means better performance and battery life without any of the bugs you see with third-party implementations. Google's Awareness API can relay various device conditions (contexts) to the app like headphones plugged/unplugged, running, walking, in a vehicle, and cycling.

    To set up a "fence" in Conscient, you have to choose a context or a combination of contexts. You might want to have something happen when headphones are plugged in or you're in a car. There are also options for things like running and headphones plugged in. The next step is picking an action to trigger when a context is activated. You can have an app or shortcut launched. This is not as powerful as what you can get with other automation apps, but it's not supposed to be. If you use another automation app like Tasker, you can plug activities from that into Conscient as the trigger.

    There are two ways to launch fences in Conscient; immediate and notifications. The default is notification, which pops up a notification when a context is active you you can launch it in a single tap. The immediate version simple triggers the action.

    I've tested Conscient with a number of different settings, and all of them see to work reliably. It sometimes takes a few seconds for the app to recognize that I'm in a vehicle, for example, but that's down to the Awareness API more than the app. I haven't noticed any impact on battery life, either.

    The free version can run up to three concurrent fences at a time. After that, you need to upgrade to the pro version for $0.99 (but you can pay more if you want to support the dev). It's worth checking out if you're in the market for a simple automation app that won't murder your device's performance.

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (September 2016)

    It's a tumultuous time for Android phones; new Nexus (or Pixel?) phones are expected in the next few weeks, the Note 7 is exploding, and LG is getting ready to move on from the disappointing G5. If you're in the market for a new phone, you might be wondering what to get. Well, you should probably still try to wait it out for unlocked phones, but on the carrier side the choice is still clear. Let's break it down.

    Carrier phones

    In recent months, I've recommended the Galaxy S7 with the HTC 10 as a solid alternative. Well, the HTC 10 appears to be falling flat. T-Mobile has already dropped it, and the price hasn't really come down to competitive levels. At this point, I think you're much better off getting the Galaxy S7, or you can wait just a little longer for the V20.

    Let's go over what makes the Galaxy S7 a good purchase right now. It has some of the best hardware you'll find on a smartphone right now. Despite being made largely of glass, the Galaxy S7 is a surprisingly solid phone. It's IP68 water resistant, and the metal rim around the edge gives it some heft. The rear glass panel is curved slightly to make it more comfortable in the hand.

    Samsung made the GS7 about a millimeter thicker than the GS6, but that leaves more room inside for a bigger battery now. The slightly thicker frame means the regular GS7 has a 3000mAh battery and the GS7 Edge has 3600mAh. With the aid of Android 6.0's Doze Mode, both these devices have great battery life. That'll only get better with Android 7.0 Nougat, which I'll get to later.

    Google Play App Roundup: CTRL-F, Particular, and CELL 13

    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.

    CTRL-F

    Good old control-f is one of the most useful keyboard shortcuts, though some people still don't even realise it's a thing. Crazy, right? What if control-f existed in real life? I'm sure people would want to know about that. CTRL-F for Android aims to be just that, a real world version of the find command. It won't find anything, but it's pretty good at scanning text and making it searchable.

    CTRL-F is basically a fancy interface for optical character recognition with search built right in. To start using CTRL-F, simply find a document you want to search, and use the app to snap a photo (or import an existing image). Printed text works best, and the font needs to be at least somewhat conventional. Really weird stuff might now be detected correctly. After you take the photo, CTRL-F lets you frame the text for better detection.

    The app then processes the image by straightening the font and reading it. It supports over 50 languages, but I only tested it in English. The entire scanning process takes about 20 seconds for a single dense page of text. The processed image you get looks like a very high-contrast version of the photo you took, but behind the scenes is a full searchable text document.

    The accuracy is surprisingly good for most documents. I've found that glossy materials tend to cause more issues than those on matte paper. Varying fonts also seem to cause issues. Searching is fast and accurate most of the time, though. All the documents you've imported and had scanned will remain available from the main screen in CTRL-F.

    The data in CTRL-F isn't stored as some wonky non-standard file. If you want to export a searchable PDF, the option is available in the overflow menu. I'd like to see some sort of batch processing mode in CTRL-F, but the current functionality isn't bad, especially when you consider it's free.

    Checking in: Is Google Now on Tap Still a Disappointment?

    Google addressed several long-standing complaints when it announced Android 6.0 Marshmallow last year including battery life and Android's kludge of a permission model. An unexpected treat was Google Now on Tap. This feature was supposed to provide contextual search and actions based on your screen contents, and it sounded truly exciting. In practice, On Tap has been slow to prove itself useful.

    Maybe you don't bother to look at On Tap anymore, but you might want to take another look. It has gained a few cool features as we move into the Nougat era. You just need to know they're present.

    Promises, Promises

    Google Now on Tap promised to leverage the power of Google's machine learning algorithms to extract context from your phone. When activated, the feature would search the text for actionable items like an address, contact name, package tracking numbers, and more. This saves you from copying and pasting things or running manual searches. Well, it's supposed to.

    Google Play App Roundup: Taskbar, Auralux: Constellations, and Kerflux

    It's time again to dive into the Google Play Store and see what apps we can find. Every week we find the best new and newly updated apps for the Roundup, and this week is no exception. Just click on the app name to head to the Play Store.

    Taskbar

    Android 7.0 Nougat has launched, and with it comes support for split-screen multitasking. There's also a "freeform" window mode that allows a more traditional desktop way of managing windows, but that's limited to Android TV for now... unless you give the new Taskbar app a shot. This is basically a fancy app switcher that works on all Android devices, but on Nougat phones and tablets, it can bring apps up in freeform windows.

    Let's talk about what Taskbar does before we get into the nuances of freeform windows. When Taskbar is running, you get an expandable bar that's a little like a Windows taskbar. It shows recently opened apps, which you can then tap to launch. There's also a launcher icon in Taskbar that lets you access all your apps. Apps that you use frequently can also be pinned to taskbar so you won't have to go digging for them.

    When it's collapsed, Taskbar is just a small translucent arrow in the lower left corner of the screen. I haven't accidentally triggered it at all, so it's not problematic when I'm using the device. There is, however, an ongoing notification when the service is running. It provides quick access to the settings, though.

    As for freeform windows, you will need to be on Nougat, or course. You also need to either toggle a setting in developer options or use an ADB command from your computer to enable the feature. Once enabled, you can trigger freeform mode from your home screen by opening Taskbar and pressing the launcher button several times. This is the first bit of jank, but this is an unofficial feature. That's really to be expected. When the home screen fades away, leaving only the wallpaper, you're in freeform mode. Now, any app you launch will pop up as a floating, resizable window.

    I've tested this with a number of apps with good results. As long as something can run in split-screen, it should be fine in freeform. You can drag them around and change the size as needed to get things done more efficiently. However, kicking them over into split-screen mode will probably break the UI. This seems to be a problem with the system at this time, but again, it's an unofficial feature.

    You can leave freeform mode at any time by hitting the home button, The apps you have in freeform will remain accessible as pop-up windows in your multitasking screen, but you can clear them if you'd like to relaunch in standard or split-screen mode.

    Taskbar is a neat app, even if you're not going to play around with freeform mode, and it's free.

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

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

    Duo

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Are Modular Android Phones the Next Big Thing, or Just the Next Big Fad?

    Smartphones have become very similar over the years as manufacturing processes have improved and premium materials become less expensive. To combat the wave of "sameness" OEMs are always out to differentiate their devices in hopes of boosting sales and finding the next big thing in mobile devices. The latest trend is modular phones from the likes of Motorola and LG. Is this going to catch on with devices like Google Ara (supposedly) on the horizon, or will we look back at modular designs like the 3D display of 2016?

    What is a modular phone in 2016?

    There are two high-profile modular devices on the market right now, the LG G5 and the Moto Z. I think both these devices push the limits of what could reasonably be called "modular" in a traditional sense. You aren't really replacing important hardware components, but rather adding new components. "Snap-on accessories" might be a better term.

    The LG G5 has a removable bottom chin that can be replaced with a different module. The upshot of this design is that is makes the battery removable. The main issue with this approach to modularity is that there's only so much you can do with a tiny chin on the bottom of the phone. There are only two modules available—a camera grip and a HiFi audio module (which isn't even sold in the US). That's it.

    Meanwhile, the Moto Z simply has a flat back panel with contacts at the bottom that connect to the Moto Mod accessories. Motorola has more devices room to work with as Mods can cover the entire back of the device. It has batteries, a projector, stereo speakers, and more on the way. The Mods are rather expensive, though. That projector add-on is $300, almost half the cost of the phone.

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

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

    Inkwire

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

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

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

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

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

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

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (August 2016)

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

    Carrier phones

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Dropbox Paper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Prisma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Flytube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Storm it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ASAP Launcher

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

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

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

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

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

    The Best Alternative Home Screen Apps on Android

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

    Nova Launcher

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

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

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

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

    The Best Unlocked and Carrier Android Smartphone (July 2016)

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

    Carrier Phones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Smart Wallpapers

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

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

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

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

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