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Favorite App Honorable Mention July 6, 2013

Posted by shwaldman in Technology.
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I was remiss in not adding a sixth app to the list on my last post. I only found out about this app last week from Lifehacker. But this one isn’t really an app. It is more of a GUI (graphical user interface) over haul.

Many of the Android phone have slightly different GUIs that are installed by the cell phone manufacturer or the cellular service provider. I believe my phone has Touch Wiz which is good enough. It is fast and easy to use.

But at the suggestion of the editors at Lifehacker on their weekly podcast a few weeks ago I installed Nova Launcher. It is just as fast, but it does a few things better. First is that the home screens rotate and the widgets adjust accordingly.

Next, with Touch Wiz, you are limited to six home screens and as you cycle through them it stops at the end. But with Nova Launcher, the screens cycle around in a circle. I also like the way it actually looks like a box with corners as you change screens.

And finally, while this seems like such a minor nitpicky thing, it doea group better. With Touch Wiz you can only see one or two items in a group while it is closed. But with this GUI, you can see at least four or five. It makes groups much more worthwhile.

I highly recommend this app to anyone running Jelly Bean.


Favorite Android Apps June 18, 2013

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I moved from iOS to Android in December. I pulled a lot of my same apps from Apple iPod Touch to Samsung phone. But there were some things that are differently and needed Android-specific functions. I suppose this isn’t just a review of Android apps, but I am pretty sure some of them run better or have different functionality because of the different features on Google operating system (like flash support).

So what are my top favorite apps I go to on a regular basis? What I need on my phone are apps that I can use and make my life easier. I have not figured out how to incorporate Evernote and other all-encompassing productivity apps like it into my work flow. But have lots of apps that have unique and valuable features, all available in the Google Play Store. I am not going to bother to cover the core Google Apps. And I am use going to list them as I see or think about them, not in any particular order.

playerpro PlayerPro – This is a great audio player. It costs $4.95 and I don’t like paying for things I don’t have to! It is worth the money. It has all the features I was looking for. It an equalizer, though I don’t use it much. It has a Sleep Timer, which I use all the time. it can be setup to appear on the locked home screen and/or in the notification bar (or not). Many different skins are available (though I just use the default). It handles playlist and allows creation/modification very easily. And it auto-creation recently played and recently added which I find helpful. The one small feature I would like them to add some timer indicator once you start the sleep timer. It also does not do a great job with videos, but I stick it audio use and love it. It could also use a x2 playback mode, but I don’t miss it too much.

airsync Air Sync for Double Twist – Coming from iOS which I used with my MacBook and iTunes, I needed something that would automate getting my files to my device. After a few syncing issues, I have been using this app with very little effort. Once configured, it just works (as long as the DoubleTwist app is running on my laptop). It is a little annoying that it needs to have the screen active during the sync and doesn’t know what to do when I accidentally hit the screen shutoff button during a sync, but very minor issue. It automatically pulls all my smart playlists from iTunes and transfers the selected ones to my phone. It works well and have only had one or two videos that would not transcode correctly. The other thing that is disappointing is that it will not (yet) sync play count back to iTunes. They say it is coming, but I am not sure it would work if I am using PlayerPro rather than the DoubleTwist audio player anyway. It costs $4.99 and is worth every penny not to have to plug my phone into my computer (ever)!

sdrescan The next app was not something I knew I would need when I moved to Android. I knew for months I would need DoubleTwist. But after a few syncs and not seeing my content, I did some research online. It turns out that the Android OS did not know I was adding content through the Sync. So, the amazing problem solvers of the web created apps like SDrescan. It has a simple function to just check my SD card for content and reindex it for the OS and it only takes a couple of seconds on a 64 GB (half full) card. Simply and it works. Free. The only drawback is that you have to hit a button to close the app when it is done its work, but it is also nice to know when it was done.

tasker The one big thing I did like about iOS and Apple in general is how locked down they are. I get they are trying to protect the average user, but for people who want to take control of their devices, Android is the place to be. And the app that truly takes that responsibility is Tasker. Tasker runs in the background and makes your device do what you say when you want it – without having to do anything! Once you configure your phone to do something when something happens, it just does it. For example, this is what I use it for:
a) At 10pm, put all external sound to quiet.
b) When connected to my home network, turn off Mobile data.
c) When I leave my home network, turn mobile data and bluetooth back on and turn off wi-fi.
d) I have run SDrescan every morning so I know anything came to my phone via AirSync will show up.
It costs $2.99, but it makes phone automation very handy and easy.

rr3 The absolute Best Car Racing Game – and it is free – has to be Real Racing 3. It has incredible graphics and life-like physics. It provides different camera angles and all of them make you fee like you are there. Simply amazing. They have tons of actual car models that you buy for game money that you earn from each race. You also have to fix your car based on the damage you have done during the races. Race clean and have less repairs. It has multiplayer but it is only in time-shifted against Facebook friends or other random users. I wish you could connect over wi-fi or bluetooth and race friends, but that is the only gripe. I can not understand how this one is free.
Update: At the beginning of July, EA overhauled this game interface. The game play itself did not change, nor did existing progress in the game. But requirements around repairing vehicles has been simplified and a set of time trial races have been added to each race series – which has the effect of lowering progress percent across all series temporarily. I like this new race mode since it gives a better sense how you compare as a driver across the world.

So, that is my top 5. I use others and when I get to it, I will definitely do another post, but I have been meaning to get this one out, so I hope people read and enjoy.

Android Jelly Bean 4.1.1 running on a Galaxy Note II April 28, 2013

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Technology.
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Android on Galaxy

When the original Galaxy Note came out in October 2011, I was very interested. It almost had all the features and functions that got me to switch to the dark side of smartphone data plans. But it wasn’t quite there yet. The stylus did not get great reviews. The screen size was big and ready for the uses it was designed for, but the software was not. The Android operating system was at 2.3, Gingerbread. And there was a lot it did right, but it did not measure up to the stability, features and applications available on Apple’s iOS. I have heard many of the tech pundits recognize the Jelly Bean is the turning point.

A year later, it was a amazing how much had changed. Moore’s Law says that technology doubles every 18 months and I think this was very evident in both the hardware and the software. The Galaxy Note II is a far superior device. It is ready for prime time. Here is why:

The cool factor on all the features of this phone make it hard to summarize, so I will try to list all the things I am enjoying.

1) How to do a screen capture? Run the side of your hand across the screen like a karate chop.
2) Many of the native applications (Email, Gallery, Browser, Messaging, Polaris Office, S Note, and Video Player) can be resized into a multi-window feature to operate multiple applications at once. And while you can combine these applications, you can also use these with any other application at the same time.
3) The S-Pen. Period. End of Sentence. Okay, so maybe more details are necessary…
a) If desired, it will pop-up the S-Pen application when you take out the pen
b) S-Pen alert will sound alarm if you walk away without the stylus
c) Handwriting recognition and it works well and can be used instead of the keyboard or just to take notes.
d) Programmable quick commands allow you to launch with a gesture
e) Sensitive to 1,024 levels of pressure.
4) MHL adapter allows you to output 1080p to any HDMI device, TV or projector.
5) Application widgets available with Android 4.1 are awesome
6) The active wall paper displaying the weather in the background of each screen is amazing. The screen shots above were taken at night, which is why the screen is dark.
7) There are several applications that I love but I think I will have to save the details for another post. My favorites are: Tasker, Player Pro, Double Twist with Air Sync, Any.Do, Waze, Real Racing 3 and of course, Pandora, Chrome, Sketchbook.

I feel like I am a paid commercial for this phone, tablet, phalet whatever you want to call it. Maybe Samsung will send me their next phone for my review. I can not wait to see how they can improve this device. I think it is near perfect already.

Next Up: My favorite Android applications

Welcome to Android April 26, 2013

Posted by shwaldman in Technology.
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In December, I finally took the leap. Actually, two giant steps. Step 1 was from basic feature phone with no internet and a 3rd Gen Apple iPod to a SmartPhone. It was a big step because I could not justify the extra $40 a month. I am still not sure I can justify it but I have to say it is nice always having access to, well, everything. So, Step 2, not an easy decision. I have a Mac Book Pro and have deeply embedded in iTunes with apps and constant podcast listening for the last four or five years.

Step 2 – iPhone 5 or one of the multitude of Android phone options? With all the apps I had used and had data with and a major addiction to my iTunes podcast subscriptions, it would have been an easy decision to go with the latest Apple phone. But, I guess I am not settling for the easy route lately. (I moved to OS X in 2009 because I wanted to experience a different OS than what I will always deal with at work.)

So, then which Device/Manufacturer? HTC, Google, Motorola, Samsung, LG? They all make great phones and in terms of hardware, they are typically outmatching Apple at every turn. How to decide? To me, since I consume so much content on my device, it was an easy decision. I went with the biggest screen of any phone on the market, the Galaxy Note II, which was released just after Thanksgiving 2012. I got the big screen and the built in stylus which, turns out is a good gimmick that I used a lot for the first couple of months, but haven’t used too much recently.

I did I make the right decision? Absolutely. I am so glad, I went with Android and the Note II. Do I think I need the $40 data plan still? I am still not sure about this. I have managed to use an average of less than half of my 2 GB data plan each month. I do love having Internet wherever I am, but after being always on at work, I don’t need to be always on outside the office and house too.

Next Up: My first four months with Android…