Entries Tagged as 'Android'

Android – Must Have Apps

So you have an Android device… and you haven’t figured out what all you can do with it… hopefully my short list of “must have” apps will help you.

  • Google Maps with Navigation – free application from Google that provides turn-by-turn directions.  Provided your Android device has a GPS receiver, and you either pre-plan your routes while connected to WiFi of have a generous (unlimited) data plan, this is definitely an app that’s hard to live without.
  • Google Voice – must have way to take control of your phone; used with a Google Voice number it’s a good way to give yourself extra features on your phone for free.  Also, you’ll want Google Voice Callback if you want to take advantage of any numbers you can specify free from airtime.
  • Google Music – good selection for most people for a streaming music service.  It’s totally free, allows up to 20,000 songs, and it works well.
  • Amazon MP3 – this is a good selection for people with a large amount of music who don’t mind paying $20 per year for the ability to store unlimited songs on Amazon.
  • Hacker’s Keyboard – free application that provides a very configurable on-screen keyboard.  While I prefer the slide out keyboard on my Droid, on my Xoom I don’t have that option.  Hacker’s Keyboard allows you to pick between several layouts, as well as control the height of the keyboard in both landscape and portrait mode.  Much better than any other free (or paid) keyboard I’ve found for Android.
  • Opera Mobile – the default (crippled) Chrome browser for Android is horrible, and FireFox for Android isn’t any better.  As bizarre as it might seem, Opera Mobile is by far the best browse I’ve found for Android.  It’ll operate in a desktop or micro browser mode, and while on a small screen it might not always be easy to view a web site, Opera Mobile will allow you to.  Opera Mobile does take a little getting used to — but it’s worth it the price (free).  Do not confuse this with Opera Mini, that’s not the version you want.
  • Amazon Appstore for Android – nice addition, and the paid app free every day often has a useful application.
  • Super Tool Box – a free (or paid for the pro version) application that provides a veritable Swiss army knife of functionality.  A good application to start with to see how many of your needs it addresses.  The pro version was offered as an Amazon paid app for free.
  • ezPDF Reader or ezPDF Reader Lite – very good PDF reader, and it was offered as an Amazon paid app for free.
  • ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner or Barcode Scanner – applications that allows you to scan the UPC code of an item on a store shelf and get competitive pricing locally and online.
  • netTALK Smartphone – free application that allows you to make outbound VoIP calls using WiFi or your data plan.  This app will not work with Honeycomb at the moment.  Using this app does not require a netTALK VoIP (TALK DUO) account, nor at the moment can you integrate it with a netTALK VoIP account
  • Dropbox – free application with free cloud storage that allows you to backup your configuration (also, Google backups up some of your device’s configuration when using Gingerbread or newer).
  • File Manager or Fiele Manager HD (Honeycomb) – great file manager’s; and I actually prefer the standard File Manager, but this is going to be somewhat a personal preference; both are free.
  • Gas Buddy – good tool for finding lower priced fuel when on the road, my only negative comment on this is that it doesn’t interface with Google Navigation (or any navigation), but does provide a map function.
  • GPS Test – great little tool to make sure your GPS is working properly.
  • Root Checker – simple tool to allow you to check to insure that your device is properly rooted.
  • FreeTethering or Wireless Tether for Root Users or Easy Tether or Easy Tether Lite – these apps provide the ability to tether a computer (laptop) to your device; check on which will work with your devices and check your carrier to see if there are any restrictions on tethering.
  • ClockworkMod Recovery – replacement recovery system for Android devices; this requires a rooted device, and allows the flashing of custom ROMs.  There are a number of recovery replacements for Android – ClockworkMod Recovery is one of the best, and free.
  • ClockworkMod ROM Manager – very nice tool to locate, install, and mange customer ROMs.  The free version will likely do all you need, but I recommend supporting the developer by purchasing the pro key (that also unlocks a few more capabilities).
  • Titanium Backup – great application for backing up and recovering applications (a must have if you’re going to flash custom ROMs).  The free version will likely do all you need, but I recommend supporting the developer by purchasing the pro key (that also unlocks more capabilities, and makes it a little easier for you to do restores and backups).

There are many other applications that you’ll probably find useful; but the above list should get you started.  I’ll probably add to this list over time and re-publish it.

I’ll also publish some additional Android resources on eBooks, CAN/ODB II (for your automobile), as well as some rooted device helpful hints.

LibreOffice announced for Web, iOS, Android

The Libre Office project announced today that they will officially support web browsers, iOS, and Android according to The Document Foundation.

Libre Office which formed from the community open source of Open Office and the work done by go-oo.org has primarily focused on being an office suite for the current times rather than trying to compete with or take market from Microsoft Office, and expanding into venues to support phones and tablets is a reasonable path, and one that many have been asking for for quite some time.

No specific time line has been announced, but there had already been some work done on porting to mobile platforms.

Google Music – Beta

Google has launched their cloud based streaming music service as a beta; you can request an invitation (using a Gmail account) via the link below.

What does it get you?

Well, up to 20,000 songs in your cloud storage; play back support on most Android devices; play back support from a browser; and an upload program that will sync your library to the cloud.

Not bad for free.

Apple provides a similar service for $25 per year; there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store.  The main differences being that there’s no Android support (basically devices iTunes supports is supported), and Apple actually finger prints the files and serves their iTune version of the music rather than your copy (likely at a higher bit rate — they, of course, don’t incur the storage overhead).

Amazon provides a similar service for $20 per year (you also get some storage for other files); and there’s no limit to the amount of music you can store, but you might find their uploader is a little less friendly to use (OK — to be fair it’s been updated since I tested it — so maybe not).

You can play with the free 5GB version of the Amazon service and decide if you like it, and it’s worth the $20 (I was hoping they’d just bundle it into Prime — but if they’re serious about Hulu they really need to start Al-a-cart charges for services, or Prime is going to have to go up).

Anyway, if you have an Android device, I highly recommend you go ahead and request an invite to the Google Music Beta — you can try the Amazon out as well… if you have an iOS device, you’re probably stuck with the Apple solution (but you’re an Apple customer, so you’re used to having to shell out money for everything).

Also, the Amazon tablets will reportedly ship with a free Prime subscription, possibly a free year of cloud storage might be thrown in as well (that’s speculation on my part).

http://music.google.com/about/

Screen Protectors

First, let me start by saying that any screen protector is better than no screen protector at all on a touch screen; but let me assure you that all screen protectors are not created the same.

Most screen protector vendors will tell you that their screen protector is made from “military grade” PET — and that’s not an expensive plastic, so we’d expect all screen protectors to be made of a layer of PET; but generally better screen protectors have additional layers of materials deposited on them.

The finish of the screen protector greatly affects it’s performance.  Generally you’ll want a matte finish — there are some applications where you may want a glossy finish, but for the most part you will not.  The matte finish will help reduce glare, as well as make those annoying fingerprints less obvious.

The “feel” of the various materials will vary greatly.  I personally like “soft” finishes where I can actually feel the material give slightly.  The extremely hard finishes I find unpleasant; though that would be exactly what you wanted if you were using a stylus.

The method of application will also vary.  Most of the inexpensive screen protectors ship with two thin plastic layers on each side, and one side will have adhesive (that’s generally the one with the “red” label).  Better screen protectors generally use a “wet” application where you use a small amount of fluid provided (which is essentially water and a mild, clear soap).  By far the wet methods are much easier to install and much easier to align perfectly.  Regardless of which application method the screen protector requires it’s important to make sure you clean your touch display so that it is absolutely spotless — which is one reason why you may want to apply the screen protector immediately after opening up the box and removing the protective film on the device.

Finally, check to see if your screen protector comes with a guarantee.  That may change the long term price of what you’re paying for the screen protector (though remember, for warranty claims you’ll likely need to return the screen protector — so there is shipping involved).

What screen protector do I think is the best — Zagg.  Their invisibleSHIELDs have lifetime warranties, a great feel, extremely durable, and easy to install.

But, Zagg screen protectors are expensive… and you just may not want to spend that for a screen protector; so you have to weigh everything I’ve said against your wallet.

But remember — any screen protector is better than no screen protector… so if you can’t justify the price of a Zagg, check your favorite places and find a good price on something that will protect your investment in your phone or tablet.

CyanogenMod 7.1.0

While loading customer firmware on a smartphone isn’t something new (I did that with my HTC Touch Pro and HTC Touch Pro 2 Windows mobile devices years ago) it is something that is very easy to do with Android handsets.

My Droid A855 (that’s the original Verizon Droid — and I actually have two) with it’s slow 600 MHz ARM processor has been running Gingerbread (2.3) for almost a year; and as of last night the handset I carry has been updated to the third build of Gingerbread.

Why?

Well, Android is far from a finished and polished product; and Froyo (2.2) which is officially supported on the phone lacks a number of features.

To take advantage of a custom ROM you first need to root your phone (which has other advantages besides just allowing you to install a custom ROM, but if you’re going to root — you definitely want a custom ROM).

Once you’ve rooted your device, you can choose between a number of different custom ROMs — I try and go for stability; and I’ve tried a number of different ROMs, CyanogenMod is the one I’ve settled on.

Also, if you purchased an HP Touchpad — CyanogenMod has an Alpha release of Android for you… that may make your tablet a great deal more usable.

CyanogenMod.com

Kit Kat – Android 4.4 / 4.4.2

My Nexus 4 and my two Nexus 7s updated to Kit Kat about a month ago and other than Google+ becoming far more pervasive I can’t say I’ve really seen any improvements that matter much to me (yes, I’m aware that “under the hood” there are some substantial changes)…

Some things I have noticed (that I’m not happy with) are:

  • Bluetooth shuts off and cannot be turned back on until you reboot the device.
  • Bluetooth will disconnect and reconnect (by itself) from devices that worked perfectly under Jelly Bean.
  • Devices reboot periodically by themselves (without asking for confirmation — probably more often than you realize since you’re not using them continuously).
  • Devices freeze; sometimes they respond after a couple minutes — sometimes you have to power cycle them (I haven’t had a case where I had to force a reboot yet).

I’m hopeful I won’t see this on my Nexus 5 (when I start using it after the first of the year), but from what I’ve read in the forums I’m not the only one seeing stability issues with Kit Kat, and it appears to be on all devices that have received updates — including the Nexus 5.

I’m afraid this is another case of people who work on Android not really using (or testing) the product well before it hits the street — and while I don’t feel that Google employees working on Android should be forced to trade out their iPhones, I do feel that a substantial number of the engineers working on Android should have to use the latest release (maybe replace their desk phones with cellular handsets that run the latest Android version to help debug the hardware and software).

Bottom line — you might want to hold off on your move from Jelly Bean to Kit Kat until Google releases a few more updates.


 

Android: Kit Kat

Motorola Xoom MZ604 and Vizio VTAB1008

I picked up a Motorola Xoom MZ604 (US WiFi only) several months ago when the prices dropped (actually a package with a few accessories), and another a week or so ago when Target put the Xoom and portfolio case on sale for $399…  The Xoom runs Honeycomb (Android 3.2).

I also picked up two of the Vizio VTAB 1008 about the same time I purchased the second Xoom at Sam’s Club when they dropped the price to $194 (I got the Vizio cases at Walmart for $19 each since I didn’t care for the accessory package Sam’s Club had — or the price).  The VTAB runs Gingerbread (Android 2.3).

And yes, I have two Motorola Droid A855 handsets as well — so I currently have six Android devices; and I’ll consider a quad-core running Ice Cream Sandwidth (aka ICS, Android 4) when those come out.  My Droid is running Gingerbreak (Android 2.3) — and, no, it’s not an official release; the official release for a Droid is Froyo (Android 2.2),

I’ve rooted the Droid, the Xoom as well as the VTAB; and I’ll write up a review for each of the Xoom and the VTAB in the next several days and get them posted (if you really want a solid, reasonably priced Android handset with a slide out keyboard, the Droid, or the Droid 2, or the Droid 2 Global are great alternatives; but I see no need to review devices that are not currently produced or nearing end-of-life).

There are a lot of tablets out there on the market; but the Xoom is a great dual core 10.1″ tablet, and the VTAB is a pretty good buy for a single core 8″ tablet.

Now keep in mind that all 8″ (and 7″) tablets aren’t the same.  Many do not have GPS or Bluetooth.  Not only does the Vizio have that, but it also has IR (Infrared) and will act as an entertainment remote control (which I’ll probably toss the Neo Pronto I have aside in favor of just keeping the Vizio handy).

Like I said, I’ll do a complete review on each of the devices; and with the Xoom I’ll contrast and compare it to the other devices I considered.

The bottom line — if you’re looking for a tablet, this is the year of the tablet; there are going to be lots of them offered at very attractive prices over the holiday season, and I suspect you’ll find quite a few even better deals once the CES show announcements hit the press after the first of the year.

Do your homework, and know what you want, and determine what you’re willing to pay.

Xoom

Several weeks ago I purchased a Motorola Xoom (WiFi only model), I’d looked at the Acer, the Asus, the Samsung, and read up on the Thrive — I decided that the Xoom was the best candidate of the available Android/Honeycomb tablets available now.

I’m happy with my purchase, and it’s amazing how quickly a “gadget” can find its way into your everyday life.

I will write a lengthy review of the Xoom to let you know everything I like about it, and the things I really don’t think are that great… plus I’ll write a post on my rooting adventure (after all, it’s Android, why wouldn’t you root it).

Let me just close with it’s a great tool, and if you’re willing to carry something like that with you it gives you incredible access to books, news, entertainment, information…

I do expect that prices for 10″ tablets will continue to come down… but I’d definitely recommend you only consider a dual-core (or better) tablet.

Cloud Storage

 There are tons of free (and paid) cloud storage services… and you can use more than one of them (I actually use all of the following myself).

 

Amazon

Amazon changes their cloud storage option fairly often, currently it’s 5GB free with 250 songs — the subscription for storage and music storage are separate now.

 

Box

50GB of storage.  Works with Windows, Max, Android, and iOS – plus there are several other apps that allow easy migration of files to Box.

 

DropBox 

2GB of storage plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up (there are other bonuses you can get as well).    Works with Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and BlackBerry.

 

GoogleDrive

If you have a Google GMail account (or Google App account) you already have this, just sign in to activate it.  Works with Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.  NOTE:  Google Music is stored separately.

 

SkyDrive

If you have an MSN, HotMail, Live or any other Microsoft hosted/provided account you already have access to it.  Works with Windows, Android, iOS — probably others as well.  The storage amount you get seems to vary based on when you sign up.

 

Ubuntu One

5GB of storage, plus an extra 500MB for using the above link to sign up.  Works with Windows, Mac, Ubuntu (Linux), Android, and iOS – plus can be used automatically to store large Thunderbird attachments (great if you’re sending the same attachment to several people).

nextbook 7S 7″ Tablet

BigLots has the nextbook 7S 7″ Tablet running Android 4.o (Ice Cream Sandwitch – ICS) on special this weekend for $89.99 (regularly $99.99, and only $72.00 if you have a Rewards 20% off coupon).

The tablet has a 7″ resistive screen with 800×400 resolution, a 1GB Rockchip 2918 ARM Cortex A-8 processor, 512MB RAM, 4GB of flash, and an SD slot.  And while ICS is loaded, there’s no Google Play Store (you can resolve that with a hacked ROM — see FreakTab.com), but the one thing you will not be able to “fix” is the resistive screen.

While it’s a good resistive screen, and it supports multi-point touch — it requires way too much pressure to be comfortable to use.

One other thing I noticed, was when I tried to stream music (using Amazon) the tablet lost it’s internet connection — my Xoom on the other side of the desk had no issues playing the exact same song; and while I did eventually get the nextbook to play streaming music, the tablet was very sluggish while doing so (my songs are encoded at 320kps), plus I was unimpressed with the quality of the speaker (there is a headphone jack on it).

Also, the tablet (like most budget ones) lacks both Bluetooth and GPS.

The last (minor) thing I noted was that there were some issues with rendering along the notification area, I don’t think nextbook got everything resized quite right for this 7″ model (text would be cut off or overlapping an icon).  Like I said, very minor — but I’m not sure it’d be high on their list to fix since they just came out with a capacitive version of this tablet (and the resistive version hasn’t been out that long).

My advice, hold out for the slew of multi-core Android 4.0 tablets that will hit the streets this Summer at a price about twice what this one sells for — those will be from “bigger” companies that are likely to support them for longer.  Though if you just can’t afford more for a tablet, this is probably one of your best choices (plus the hacker community has already taken to this tablet).

nextbook 7S

nextbook 7S