It's time again for delve into the Google Play Store and find the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Click on the link for each app to head right to the Google Play Store and you can have the app for your very own.
This week file management gets easier, Meons need saving, and notifications get tweaked.
Solid Explorer Beta is polished and functional
File management is something that Apple's iOS platform has completely ignored, while Android has always had an open file system. But the implementation of that open file system has occasionally been detrimental to the OS. Still, many users value the freedom that system affords us. Google has not built its own file browser on Android but third-party solutions have worked to fill in this gap. The newest tool in this space is Solid Explorer Beta, and I’m impressed with it.
Solid Explorer has a dual-pane viewer like some other apps, but it’s very smart about how it uses that view. In portrait mode, only one scrollable list is visible. Swipe to the right, and you get the second. You can leave these viewers in different directories to more easily move files. In landscape mode, you get both windows next to each other. The interface is also fabulous for tablets.
We’re accustomed to being able to drag and drop files with desktop file managers, but that’s much harder to do with a touch input system. Solid Explorer handles all this in a novel way by making icons and file names behave differently in the app. Sound confusing? Well, it is a little bit unusual at first.
Find any file on your device, and long-press the file icon next to it. The icon pops out, and you can drag it anywhere you want. Move over to the side of the screen in portrait mode, and the interface will slide over to the other file browser. Drop the icon, and the file is moved (you can change the default action in the settings). Tapping on the file icons will start multiselect. When you’ve tapped on the entries you want, just long-press and drag like before. If you tap on a file, it will open normally. Long-pressing on the file name pulls up the usual raft of options.
It took a little time to get used to, but I think the interface is very good in Solid Explorer. It has some Ice Cream Sandwich elements, but it doesn’t just take Google’s image assets and paste them in. There is a file hierarchy bar at the top that allows you to tap and go to any directory higher up in the current thread (much like Windows 7). At the bottom is what could be called an Action Bar. The menu button is on the right, but you also get buttons for sorting, filtering, and a few more options.
I’m very happy with the smoothness of scrolling in this first release, and the file icons look amazing. It has an OSX-level of polish. Solid Explorer isn’t just a pretty face, though. It has the features to match. It has root access, theming support, local network storage, Dropbox/Box support, and customizable indexing.
Solid Explorer is free, but don’t be surprised if it becomes a paid app after the beta. It’s definitely good enough to charge for.
Meon is a cute game that's easy to get into
One of the hallmarks of a good mobile game is that it has a simple concept with intuitive game play that teaches you as you rules as you go. Meon is just such a game. In each level of Meon you have to use various objects to light up the all the Meons to set them free. It starts simple, but this puzzler gets devilishly complex as the levels go on.
Each level has at least one light source, usually in the form of a white beam of light. Some Meons are white, but most are other colors. You have to arrange the light source, mirrors, prisms, filters and splitters to illuminate the Meons with the right color light. Sound simple? Well, it only starts like that.
The thing that makes some of these puzzles mind-bending is that you can move the light sources anywhere you want, but cannot change their orientation. If it is pointing left, you can’t direct the beam elsewhere without a mirror or splitter. Some of these levels can get very tricky when you only have one light source and a lot of Meons to save.
The graphics are cute and vibrant, but not terribly advanced. I think for the kind of game it is you don’t need stunning visuals, though. On an AMOLED screen, the negative space and brilliant glowing Meons are really striking. There is also no lag at all with the Galaxy Nexus, but that isn’t too surprising.
Meon is one of those games that feels very compelling in part because it doesn’t require all of your attention. You can slide objects around, ruminate on the problem, look away, then go back to it with a different perspective. The levels are also very well-designed. When you solve a puzzle, you get a real sense of accomplishment.
Meon isn’t the most advanced game on Android, but it has the makings of a great title. It’s attractive, simple, and compelling. A version of Meon was out on Windows Mobile years ago, and it's aged well. The price is also quite reasonable at just $0.99.
NotifierPro makes your notifications even better
Android’s notification system is, without a doubt, the bet on a mobile platform with the additions made in Ice Cream Sandwich. NotifierPro is an app that takes advantage of the open APIs in Android to make your notifications just a little more useful. There are a few things that Android on tablets will do with notifications that phones just don’t. That’s not a problem with NotifierPro.
When you install the app, it won’t work unless you do a little setup. Open the app, and it will give you the link to your device settings for Accessibility Services. Make sure NotifierPro is enabled, but don’t worry about the scary warning Android throws up. The accessibility stuff has to be turned on so the NofifierPro service can read your system notifications.
There are a ton of settings in NotifierPro, which I really like to see. By default, when a notification comes in, NotifierPro will slide down a banner at the top of the screen. This covers the status bar and is about twice as tall as the bar by itself. You can tap on it to launch the notification normally, swipe to the right to dismiss, and swipe to the left to mute notifications from that app or contact. The upshot here is that the notifications are visible even when you are in a full-screen app.
This has always been one of the few issues I’ve had with the Android notification system on phones. In most games, the status bar is hidden so you don’t know what that notification you just got is all about. On tablets, the status bar at the bottom is always visible, so the notifications are as well. NotifierPro is an elegant way to get the same functionality on a phone.
NotifierPro will have a number of your apps monitored by default, but you can go through and toggle them on and off as you like. There are also settings for the location of the banner, duration, theme, and a whole lot more. The paid version of NotifierPro comes with even more features like contact pictures, reminders, quiet hours, and individual settings for each app.
There are a few tweaks you’ll want to make, though. I found that setting the app to not wake the phone up makes the most sense. Regular notifications don’t turn on the screen, so NotifierPro shouldn’t either. I also prefer to have the banner at the bottom of the screen. It’s easier to access since it doesn’t require pulling down the notification shade.
I’m very impressed that this app doesn’t feel awkward, or totally apart from the system. That’s a risk when you go around replacing a basic part of the system. The only hint of weirdness is that you will still stack up notifications in the status bar even if you clear the NotifierPro banners. Android doesn’t give apps access to clearing notifications in that way. I’m not too bothered by that; it’s actually nice to have a record of notifications so you don’t lose track of them.
NotifierPro has plenty of features in the free version, but the paid upgrade adds a bit extra for a little under $3. There also some paid themes you can buy for either version.
That's it for this week, folks. Make sure you let me know if you find an app that is worthy of being featured on the weekly Google Play App Roundup.