PhoneMyPC

PhoneMyPC

Sep 24, 2010

Remote desktop is one feature that’s been around forever but never seems to break into the realm mass adoption. And with laptops and now tablets becoming more and more portable, needing to log in to your home computer (if you even have one) seems less and less relevant. But why worry when apps like PhoneMyPC are still plugging away at the age old remote desktop question. And hey, they do a pretty darn good job at a simple, seamless way to log on to any Windows PC with an internet connection.

Setup
The most dreary aspect of remote desktop is always the setup (and those who have edited port forwarding on their router config now what I’m talkin’ about). PhoneMyPC, however makes it completely pain free. Just download their desktop app (Windows only) and install. Then just type in a user name and password you want to use, download the Android app from the Market and use that same login to see your PC. Whichever PC’s you have used with said login name automatically appear in the app, and you are one tap away from remote control heaven. This simple process differs from other apps on the Market that just interface with Windows’ built-in remote desktop client.

More Than One Way to Party
Once you log in to your computer you get a list of fun stuff to do. Besides the normal “control my PC from afar” mode of operation, PhoneMyPC offers some interesting and possibly extremely useful features. The first on the list is remote mouse and keyboard control. This lets you use your phone’s touch screen as a touch pad. I found the tracking very accurate. Tap to click, long tap to right click and click your joystick to drag. Not only that but you can pull up your virtual or hard keyboard and get typing. I could see this being really useful for a media center PC. Your phone is now a great couch remote and input device.

The other extra features that seem more like icing than real meat. For example: “snapshot” and “live” view, are like “read-only” views. Maybe if you want to spy on your kids this could be useful.

Other features like “execute actions” which lets you run programs with command functions, and also an emulation of windows task manager appeal to the advanced user set.

Interact with your PC
So, how does PhoneMyPC perform at its most important task? Admirably well. You get an overview of your desktop that you can pinch to zoom in to. Just tap anywhere for a mouse click (much like the mouse control view). The joystick on my Incredible acted like a mouse pointer however and middle button provided a click as expected. Dragging was not so easy, however, as long taps trigger right clicks. One is supposed to be able to drag by pressing the trackball button, but I couldn’t figure it out.

The response time was quite respectable, even over 3g. The screen redraws are sometimes sluggish, but you can change the display quality setting from low to high with 5 gradients to balance the bandwidth. I found the medium quality display was both readable and snappy.

For a real life test I decided to attempt to email my self a document and see how frustrating it would (or wouldn’t) be. So, I logged in and went down to the task bar in search of the file explorer. After I found it, I zoomed in to tap on my documents folder. It only took one tap and I was in. Once I found my file I long-tapped to open the context menu. No problems so far. Then I found the ‘send to email’ item and up popped Thunderbird . I had to zoom out to find the section of the screen it was in. Now, entering my address was the only place I messed up. The typing with the virtual keyboard was a bit laggy, and I accidentally tapped my friends name instead of my own. This was quickly corrected and before I knew it, the file was on its way and landing in the inbox on my phone.

Not bad if I do say so myself. It’s great if you leave your computer at home and want quick access to files. Don’t expect to be able to watch videos from your computer on your phone of course, but controlling your PC is no problem. There is one big quirk to this app: if your screen times out, the app completely closes. That means you will have to completely relaunch it any time your screen turns off. Strange but true.

So there you have it. While remote desktop may only be essential for IT administrators, it can be very useful for a sizable subset of users. For a simple and fun solution, PhoneMyPC will definitely have you covered.

Extended Controls

Extended Controls

Sep 23, 2010

A favorite past time of any Android user is tweaking one’s home screen to utmost perfection. And unlike our iPhone loving friends, we can actually do something besides just rearrange our apps and put them in folders. On tap for your home customization fix today is a super duper fantastic widget with an incredibly creative name: Extended Controls. What does it do, you ask? Why, it extends the power control widget that comes on Android with some awesome features. And it’ll only cost you 79 Euro cents!

You may remember my previous review of a similar widget app, SwitchPro Widget. Extended Controls is very similar. It mimics the style of the original power control widget and gives you tons of customizable options. You can change the icon style, background transparency, and even the shape and color of the indicator.

Extended control gives you a myriad of toggles to add to your home screen. Some of my favorite are the toggle for sd card mount and torch (flashlight for those on the west side of the Atlantic). Like SwitchPro Widget, you can set your widget size from 1 to 4 spaces wide. But Extended Control lets you cram as many toggles as you want on there. If you see the screen shot below you can abserve the rather ridiculous possibilities this option affords you.

My hands down, favorite feature of Extended Control is the ability to edit widgets after you place them on your home screen. Just run the app in your app list and it will give you a list of widgets and you can go in and tweak them to your pleasure. Not only that, but you can enable a modify button the widget itself for easy editing.

Users seem to reporting some bugs at present, like the APN toggle not working. However, I had no trouble getting it to work on my HTC Incredible after I switched the setting to have it control the mobile network directly.

I think we can all agree the the stock power control widget leaves much to be desired. So it is imperative for any self respecting Androider to get a souped up control widget like Extended Control. So is this the best one out there? That’s not so easy to say. I advise all to check it out, try it, and see if you like it. Either way you’ll certainly find it worth your .79 Euro.

Gentle Alarm

Gentle Alarm

Sep 22, 2010

Gentle Alarm, the top rated paid alarm app in the Android Market, boasts a ton of features and snazzy graphics. It also claims to be able to wake you during light sleep, which lends to its “gentle” moniker. Obviously, I can’t verify this claim in my review—a peer review study would be more suitable for that. I can say, however, that it’s a fabulous alarm app. And while it is indeed “gentle,” its touted special features don’t really live up to the hype.

Since Gentle Alarm has so many features, I’ll give a rundown (pun intended) of what it has to offer.

Main Screen
When you open up Gentle Alarm, you may mistake it for your home screen (I’ve accidently swiped at it); your wallpaper is prominently displayed with the current time and date and the next active alarm. You can tap the next alarm for a context menu that gives you many related options. Up top is a bar with a power button that turns on and off all the alarms, along with four big menu buttons: “Quick Alarm,” “Alarms,” “Profiles,” and “Night Display.”

Setting Alarms
The bulk of the settings in each alarm resides in the Profile section. In this way, you can keep different settings together for different scenarios. I’ve got a profile of alarms that wake me up and alarms for just alerts. For each profile, you have a range of options for sounds, including ringtones, any music file, auto-playlists by genre or artist, M3u playlists, or just vibrate. You can also set the snooze time, fade in, and duration of alarms. The duration is how long the alarm will play before it snoozes automatically–great for lazy folks like me. You can also set the display brightness and even have a “rising sun” effect that fades the screen in with the alarm. If you’re worried about sleeping through, you can set a “safe alarm” that rings (incredibly loud) after your first alarm if you don’t hit snooze. For a feature lover like me, this plethora is great. But it can be overwhelming—and the relentless tip screens that pop up everywhere don’t help. If you get annoyed with those, just make sure you hit “don’t show again” and they’ll go away.

Power Manager Full

Power Manager Full

Sep 20, 2010

Battery life. We all want it, yet we don’t want to sacrifice our thin, light, and always connected phones for it. So what’s the answer? Well you can slap on a big fat extended battery. But why go through all that trouble when you can just install an app for $0.99 and be done with it? Well that’s what Power Manager Full might lead you to believe. However, what looks too good to be true usually is.

Power Manager Full is a profile manager that lets you toggle different options for different circumstances. For example you can set your screen brightness and screen time out to different levels for when your phone is plugged in or at different battery levels. You can also turn on or off wifi, bluetooth, or gps. The app also claims to add a “new setting,” allowing you to set a screen time-out when you are on a call.

The real question here is: does this actually translate into increased battery life? Well, it depends. Yes, setting your screen at a lower brightness will prolong battery life. Also, turning off bluetooth and wifi will also increase battery life. But you might be asking: I keep my brightness on auto and my bluetooth and wifi off anyway, will this app help me? Probably not. Also, claiming that a in-call time-out is a new setting is a bit of a stretch. There is a proximity sensor for that very reason.

I also found that the default settings on this app were too aggressive. My screen kept dimming when I was reading in my RSS reader. Not only that, but editing the profiles is a bit confusing. When you tap on a profile there is a pop-up that says what profile you just tapped on – but nothing actually happens. You have to long press the profile to edit it.

Power Manager full does give you some added automation if you want different things to happen when you plug your phone in. However, there are apps that use your location as a trigger that I find much more useful. For example: turning your wifi on while at home. As far as battery savings, this app will do nothing for you if already do the most prudent things such as keeping your screen brightness down and you wifi and bluetooth off.

I’ve got an idea. Instead of paying $0.99 for an app like this we can put that money towards funding scientific research for new battery tech. Because it seems like this problem just isn’t going away on its own. And while I applaud developers attempting to assuage the problem, I think more honestly marketing ones product is a better approach.

SoundHound

SoundHound

Sep 13, 2010

Is there really any wonder left in the world? With music recognizing apps like SoundHound, the answer is a definitive no. You see all you have to do is fire this baby up, point it at some music and it tells you the song. Now don’t get me wrong, instant gratification is what smart phones are all about. However, I don’t see much more than the “wow” effect in this app—especially for the $4.99 price tag.

SoundHound works. It scored 100% on recognizing songs on several radio stations (save for the live bluegrass on NPR). It also recognized “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” after I sang them like a fool into my cell phone. After SoundHound recognizes a song, it gives you the lyrics and also lets you listen to a clip to verify. You can share them on a variety of sites, and can also buy the .mp3 from amazon.com.

SlideIT Keyboard

SlideIT Keyboard

Sep 10, 2010

Ah touchscreens. We love them, yet we hate typing on them. Since before the days of Palm Pilot, developers have been thinking up creative ways to get text in to small screens. Recently, a certain type of input has become really hot—that is tracing your finger along an on-screen qwerty instead of tapping on individual keys. And for Android, there is only one of these available…in the Market. It’s called SlideIT, and while it has some stiff competition in the space, it really hold its own as an innovative and convenient way to get your thoughts from brain to screen.

SwitchPro Widget

SwitchPro Widget

Sep 9, 2010

One of the things that always keeps me jazzed is the liberal app aproval policy in the Android market. It lets developers improve on just about any feature in Android, without Google getting all hot and bothered. SwitchPro Widget is just such an example. It takes the simple “power control” widget available on any Andoid phone and really tricks it out. Its nearly unlimited combinations will keep anyone who wants customizable toggles happy.

SwitchPro Widget looks a lot like the power control widget that comes with Android—except you get complete control. Want a single widget that turns on your camera flash? Done. Want a widget with seven different buttons? You got it. You can also change the color of the indicator and make the widget
translucent.

RadioTime Review

RadioTime Review

Sep 8, 2010

In the world of smartphone apps, one area where innovation has resulted in immense consumer satisfaction is online streaming radio. You get tons of interesting, free content any time you want. The RadioTime app is one such innovation, which stands out due to its ability pull together a lot of content in an efficient manner with no settings or complicated options getting in the way.

On the surface, RadioTime is just another streaming radio app with a selection of genres and search. But beyond just getting a general list of stations, you get a local list and also a list of podcasts on the genre or subject. At the very end of the list you get the chance to “explore” what ever genre you are in. Here you can search by most popular or location. All in all, it gives you a concise and comprehensive look on the most popular online options for any style of music or type of talk radio you are looking for.

EasyTether Pro Review

EasyTether Pro Review

Aug 30, 2010

Tethering. You know, siphoning the internet connection from your phone to your computer. Everybody talks about it, yet nobody seems to know just what the deal is. You might know that certain phones on certain carriers offer this feature—for an add-on price of up to $60. You also may have heard of people getting charged hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in data fees because they “illegally” tethered their phone. One app in the Android market hopes to clear up this fog of uncertainty, and that app is EasyTether Pro.

To try out the virtues of EasyTether Pro and see if the app lives up to its name, I decided to test it out on my latest road trip from New York to Atlanta. After downloading the app on my phone and firing it up, it started a nice setup wizard. First, I was told to choose my PC’s operating system. At the moment, only Windows XP/Vista/7 (32 and 64 bit) and Ubuntu/Fedora are supported. (Mac is supposedly “coming soon.”) Then, I was directed to a website to download the installer of EasyTether’s desktop client. After it finished, I mounted my phone’s sd card and launched the installer on my laptop. The software requires installing a driver on your computer. A warning pops up asking if I really want to install it…you bet I do. My virus scanner has no problem so I trudge on.

Launch-X Pro Review

Launch-X Pro Review

Aug 26, 2010

Ah, the Android home screen. It’s the first argument in any Android vs. iPhone debate. Not only can you put all kinds of widgets and shortcuts there, but you can replace the stock home altogether. I mean, your iPhone toting friends only just got wallpapers. Anyway, the way I like to keep my home screen is neat and tidy. I keep most widgets on screens adjacent to my main page so I can appreciate a nice nature-scene wallpaper. Launch-X Pro is a handy and very customizable widget that has furthered my goal of home screen tidiness. And at .99, it might be your ticket to home screen bliss.

Launch-X Pro has two parts: the application and the widgets. In the app you can create widgets that appear as a row of shortcuts on your home screen. You can select up to 49 shortcuts split into 7 different pages within each widget. Besides apps and contacts, anything that appears in the “shortcuts” menu when you add items to your home screen can be added.

SystemPanel App / Task Manager Review

SystemPanel App / Task Manager Review

Aug 24, 2010

Ever wonder just how much ram is being used by your apps? How about what speed your processor is running at RIGHT now? Want to magically increase your battery life with one simple click? Sorry that last one just ‘aint gonna happen. SystemPanel App will certainly tell you whats going on with your Android phone, though—and in great detail at that. However, just what use it holds, especially with the changes in the way Froyo manages memory, is not really clear.

The SystemPanel app has a gauge on its main screen for just about every aspect of your phone’s internals. At the top, there are pie charts for CPU percentage, memory, and storage, along with bars with CPU clock clock speed, and network traffic. These gauges update in real time—just do some scrolling in the app and you’ll see the CPU gauge jump up. Prominently displayed below that is a list of active applications and their memory usage. At the bottom there are three large buttons: one for refreshing the data, end all tasks, and menu.

xScope Browser (Web File Task) Review

xScope Browser (Web File Task) Review

Aug 23, 2010

With such a capable browser already included in Android—and especially with HTC’s souped up iteration on their latest Sense devices, any Android owner might wonder why they should plop down $2.99 of their hard-earned cash on a third party browser. Well, in the case of xScope it may be worth it, if its plethora of added features speak to you. However, with choice comes complexity; and for the most part, users will be satisfied with the stock browser option.

The most useful feature of xScope is the tabbed browsing. With the stock browser, I often don’t even realize I have tabs open until I get the error message saying I have too many open. It’s just too cumbersome to hit menu, windows and then search for a tab. xScope gives you the tabbed look you’re used to on your desktop and allows you to swipe between them with a side-wipe gesture. Sweet! To open a new tab, hit the plus button–to close it, tap the top of the tab you are currently viewing. The menu also slides to the left to unveil menu items, such as search and select text. Other cool features include the option to download .mp3’s and movies instead of streaming them. My absolute favorite feature: using the volume keys to page scroll.