Android? Why?

Android? Why?

Sep 15, 2014

Talk about first world problems…

I was faced with a problem recently. I had an upgrade to burn, and I didn’t feel like burning it. Now, to give some context here, I love mobile technology. If I could afford it, I would buy EVERY mobile device on EVERY platform. Literally. Just to play with ’em. I love my technology that much.

I’m a bit more circumspect when it comes to my daily driver. For a device to earn that honor, it has to do a lot, as I am a picky boss. I could go on and on about my specific mobile needs, but that is a post for another day. Suffice to say, my HTC EVO LTE 4G was getting a bit long in the tooth, I had been due for an upgrade for about 12 months and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to upgrade devices, much less what I wanted to upgrade to.

I faced the same issue when I was looking to replace my original HTC EVO 4G.  No horrible need to get new hardware… and eventually I did the easy thing and stayed with the new EVO. Like the original, this one was unlocked and rooted within minutes of getting home, and I went ahead and immersed myself in the glories of refreshed hardware and newer custom puzzle

When its all said and done, I like holding on to devices. I skipped the HTC One M7, not because it was not a fantastic device, but because it wasn’t enough of an increased value proposition for me at that time. Free and clear? It might have tempted me, but I didn’t see myself spending the cash for what wasn’t enough of an upgrade for my needs at that specific time.

Part of the problem is that since I review hardware, formally and informally, I’ve developed a “what’s next” syndrome. Can it be that I have unconsciously insulated myself from the lure of the never-ending new Android devices? Maybe. I’d be insolvent otherwise.  At this point in the game, when all the features are measured, it just feels like there is a serious degree of parity. And I believe that in the end, this is Android’s hidden strength: the OEMs are forced to shoot for the stars while simultaneously dragging each other on an upward trajectory. this is why, for me at least, picking a new device is delightfully difficult. Look at all the choices, and the competitive prices. We can choose to be very, very picky.

So, in the end, it boiled down to a very simplistic reason. Most current-ish devices can do what I want the way I want them; most are sleek, and several have a lot of third-party accessories.

So what ended up being the choice maker for me?  Wait for it… I liked the aluminum uni-body of the HTC One M8. So there.

Don’t judge me. Android allows folks to be frivolous.

[Image courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr Creative Commons]

Tumblr Android App Gets An Update

Tumblr Android App Gets An Update

Nov 14, 2013

Tumblr 1

Tumblr developers have released an update that features a couple of sweet improvements. Now it supports Photosets, with several images being uploaded for the same post, landscape mode for a more screen-like experience, and allows gifs to be played from the dashboard. The app can be downloaded for free from here: Tumblr on Google Play.

Olympic Athletes’ Hub Released On Google Play

Olympic Athletes’ Hub Released On Google Play

Nov 5, 2013

Olympic Athletes' Hub 2

Olympic Athletes’ Hub contains information on all Olympic athletes of the upcoming Olympic Games in Sochi. Everyone interested in the online information about the athletes, their secrets, or just wants to follow closely on the contestants, can do so within this free app. It also contains all their social media accounts, so you can see their own thoughts about the Olympics. Olympic Athletes’ Hub can be downloaded for free from here: Olympic Athletes’ Hub on Google Play.

The Hills Are Greener: Up and Down

The Hills Are Greener: Up and Down

Jan 28, 2013

When comparing iOS and Android, there’s a fairly curious dichotomy between the two platforms and their patrons, Apple and Google.

Apple’s stock took a hit recently based off of what some may consider misconceptions. One, Apple posted record revenues and profits yet saw their stock take a dip on the unconfirmed rumors of iPhone 5 orders being cut, and their failure to hit analyst projections.

Meanwhile on Android, Google’s running into problems with stocking their Nexus and Chromebook devices. The Nexus 4 has been sold out for weeks. The Nexus 10 has been sold out for a while as well. Even the Samsung Chromebook has been sold out for…well, I don’t recall ever seeing it actually on sale. Perhaps it never was. Even in retail stores it’s still sold out.

Yet, these show how far apart the two companies are: Apple, who are extremely susceptible to the rumor scene, can ahve massive dips in stock prices based solely on rumor and speculation, never mind if it’s actually true, as Tim Cook seemed to hint at. But at least Apple can sell iPhones – while stock was tight early on, things started to even out and it’s a lot easier now to go and buy a new iPhone 5.

Meanwhile, Google should be facing severe stock questions, in that even in dealing with multiple suppliers, they can’t provide adequate numbers of devices to meet their demand, what’s going to happen when they finally start to take advantage of their Motorola acquisition? Will they be able to produce enough stock to meet up with demand? Or will the short supplies of Nexus devices turn people off? I still want a Nexus 4, but the lack of availability of one helped turn me into an iPhone 5 owner (though I’d still like one for testing!). I’d love a Samsung Chromebook too, but good luck buying one. I sometimes pop into Best Buy to see if they have them, but nope.

Google is in a good position of where they know that people want to buy their phones and tablets from them. Long-term, that’s a good thing. But confidence in doing so needs to be built, and for the Nexus devices to have been out of stock this long is surely throwing off people who would have otherwise bought them by now. Compare this to Apple, who are able to make enough phones and tablets for everyone, yet fear that they may have too many is throwing off their stock price.

It’s a crazy world in the land of Apple vs. Google.

Theme Thursday: ColorWarp

Theme Thursday: ColorWarp

Oct 25, 2012

For those here who are looking for a way to add a little craziness to their phone, or even something to add that slight touch of wonkiness. For Willy Wonka fans there is a great theme that will certainly transform any Android running ADW Launcher into something that certainly will be more festive and colorful. This week on Theme Thursday, we are looking at a crazy and wonderfully simple theme in ColorWarp. Honestly, I did not have very high hopes coming into this week, but I was pleasantly surprised. The effect given by this crazy and off kilter theme really added a lovable touch to my phone, but beware, the effect may not be liked by all and is targeted at a very specific audience.

The inevitable shortcoming in all themes is the limited amount of custom icons. Some themes have a ton, and some have a disappointing few, but with Color Warp, ever icon has a themed pair because all ColorWarp does is invert these icons to create a bizarro icon that really brings a great and unexpected splash of color. Spending a cool $1.50 delivers some great, and appropriate wallpapers that really add to the intended impression. Whether this is worth it is up for debate, there is a Lite version and with plenty of good trippy wallpapers on the web the only real reason to donate would simply be convenience and kindness to the developer.

In total, anyone who is looking to make their phone a little more interesting should make sure to check out either version of ColorWarp as it will bring a truly unified and unique look to the typically reserved Android home screen. It has been a while since I have seen a theme that is truly this unique and offers a way to completely overhaul an entire launcher this seamlessly. The change really is stunning and delivers a great sense of quirkiness and keep it slightly askew.

Flipboard Review

Flipboard Review

Jul 11, 2012

I have always liked the idea of RSS readers and news apps, but I can easily say that the execution of these are somewhat disappointing. I want to like Google Reader but the constant managing of notifications and having to navigate to the actual story webpage are small things that just spoil the experience for me. I’m interested in the news more than smaller blogs, so maybe RSS was not really the best fit for me anyway. After maybe half a day of not checking up I would come home to 100+ notifications from all my major news outlets. I am very partial to certain news organizations but I still like to get other sides of the story. Looking for an RSS reader that also doubles as a news aggregator I stumbled upon Flipboard, and needless to say, I was impressed.

I fell in love with Flipboard the moment I started using it on my Droid. The whole app, visually is set up in square tiles that, literally, flip, up and down to reveal the next page on content. These tiles contain the different sources that are incredibly user customizable like the popular Metro user interface on new Window’s products. Simply pick some topics of interest; say, Technology, Sports, and Photography, and those tiles show up and contain news about each topic. Those stories are presented with a huge photo along with the title of the article and news source, and clicking on the title brings the full story, not just a link to an external webpage.

More than just a news aggregator, Flipboard offers the ability to include specific blogs in the news feed. The list of blogs available is impressive and there is the ability to add some through RSS. I love how these news stories and blog feeds are treated equally and being able to quickly switch between the two is so convenient. There is Facebook and Twitter integration and they do a good job, but it is not something that will replace their standard apps. There is also the option to create and account and back up everything for quick recovery, which I had to use, and went without a hitch.

So to tie this whole thing together I will give a quick run-through of a specific combination for anyone having a hard time putting this all together. Pulling open the app displays a large, WP7 Metro style 3×2 grid of tiles with everything that is normally read on the internet, on any smartphone in a gorgeous presentation. Flipboard is the closest I have seen a app of its kind come to actually reading a newspaper or magazine on my phone. For anyone looking for an app that is the perfect marriage of aggregated news, social networking, and RSS all tied up in an incredibly gorgeous and innovative presentation look no further. Flipboard is an amazing app and probably one of the most perfect news readers available.

TM Laser Enigma Brings Improvements to the TM Laser Formula

TM Laser Enigma Brings Improvements to the TM Laser Formula

Apr 11, 2012

For whatever reason, I have always had a problem sticking with a mobile game for more than a week or so. It seems like most of the games are receptive and the endless levels are like putting a carrot on an infinitely long stick. Puzzle games are more of my ilk because they present a simple, more cerebral challenge that do not rely on timing or finicky gyroscopic tilting. A while back I reviewed a nice puzzle game called TM.Lazor, and in that review I talked about how with a little touching up this game could really gain some momentum and become very popular because the core gameplay was so solid and challenging.

Well that major update has been released into the wild and I am proud to say that so far there is a marked improvement on both the styling and quality of the puzzles. There certainly is an added “enigma” in this edition’s puzzle complexity and overall cleverness. I found that completing these challenges to be much more satisfying then in the previous iteration. TM Laser Enigma, along with its predecessor, gives that feeling of impossibility when looking at a new challenge, a feeling that is championed only with a sudden realization moments before making the finishing move. This balance of being hard but fair is tough and is not always found in modern mobile games.

TM Laser Enigma makes several other marked improvements in the overall interface and design of the app. There is an option to upgrade the look of the lasers as well as better looking laser pylons and pieces. The whole game has a much more vibrant feel and the colorful lasers really pop due to the darker backdrop. Overall, I am impressed with the update for one of my personal favorite Android games. For everyone who is a fan of puzzle games I highly recommend checking out TM Laser Enigma.

KickStarter Spotlight: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

KickStarter Spotlight: Trigger Happy Camera Remote

Mar 9, 2012

A photographer at heart, any app that enhances the use of a camera is worth investigating in my book. This week our KickStarter Spotlight looks into an app that would potentially be a huge benefit to those who frequently stare down the lens. The app is called Trigger Happy Camera Remote, and it is a great idea that allows photographers to remotely control their dSLR cameras remotely, giving greater flexibility and relieving headaches with group photos. THCR comes with a cable that connects the phone and camera, with current support being fairly expansive including most modern Cannon and Nikons as well as a few others. This cable connects to the the standard headphone jack, making it universal and compatible with any Android or iOS phone.

The simplicity of this app is its biggest asset; the main functionality is to act as a basic remote. Touch the button and the camera takes the shot. For those who want more, and to help justify the hefty $70 price tag, THCR allows the user to adjust most of the functionality of the flash bulb, i.e. setting up time lapse photos and long exposures. Features in development include using the camera on the phone to take light readings and face detection.

For those who continued reading after seeing the price, it is steep, and Trigger Happy Camera Remote needs to deliver high end features that perform. The light readings need to be accurate enough that serious photographers will actually look to replace their light meters with their phones. Also, be sure to remember that the cost of the cable is included into the price, and I am sure that getting the hookups for specific cameras was not expressly cheap.

After all this, I encourage everyone to look into donating to this ambitious app. Those who are serious photographers and want to be on the edge of technology should keep an eye on Trigger Happy Camera Remote because this is where the future is headed.

KickStarter Spotlight: ROBOTA: Vengeance

KickStarter Spotlight: ROBOTA: Vengeance

Mar 2, 2012

Set in the universe from acclaimed film production designer, Doug Chiang, ROBOTA: Vengeance is a game based off the popular ROBOTA illustrated novels, published in 2003. In this fantasy world dinosaurs and fighting robots clash in epic battles and suffer gut wrenching moral quandaries. No, that was not a typo, I did just say “dinosaurs and fighting robots.” ROBOTA is just the typical post-apocalyptic Jurassic Park, I, Robot hybrid, except all the robots are modeled after General Grievous. The artwork for the novel is quite stunning and the early screen shots seem to hold up quite well, especially considering that they are both very early in production and made for mobile devices.

The goal for the production team was to create gameplay similar, and hopefully superior, to the acclaimed Infinity Blade series and wrap it inside this already fully realized world. Like most modern games, character customization is a fundamental element to gameplay as well as the reliance on touch controls so expect a lot of frenetic swiping and tapping. The main story mode begins with a nameless robotic character awakening to find himself abandoned and unaware of his past. The premise for the whole ROBOTA universe is that humans at some point in the future learn how to transcend their mortal bodies for a more rugged machine frame. The book explores the struggle between lust for power and retention of humanity, so expect those themes to become an integral aspect of the game, forcing the player to make tough, moral decisions.

Matching the incredible success and scale of Infinity Blade is a tall order for from an independent studio, but SiXiTS has the manpower; pulling developers who worked on high profile movies games such as Star Wars, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, FIFA, Need for Speed, and SKATE as well as the aforementioned Doug Chiang. As of this writing this project is still in dire need of some funding and any help is welcomed. Because, come on, DINOSAURS and FIGHTING ROBOTS.

AirDroid Exposes Google’s Lack of Desktop App

AirDroid Exposes Google’s Lack of Desktop App

Jan 12, 2012

The main calling card for Android is that it’s supposed to be the anti-iOS. Apple has their sterilized operating system that requires very little user interaction in the depths of the software. If Apple is a modern day Acura, then Android is supposedly that classic Mustang that you can pop the hood of and get your hands dirty. Unfortunately, finding the file structure behind Android on your computer has proven to be a challenge that for the most part involves putting your phone into Debug Mode and running an SDK.

Enter AirDroid. AirDroid is a very powerful app that will make your life easier if you spend a lot of time using both your phone and computer, such as myself. AirDroid allows the user to bring their Android device up on their computer through any browser and use it as a kind of media manager. Your music, ringtones, photos, and files are all browsable here and you also have an option to manage your applications. The application manager is nice and is a better way of managing apps than the usual way of going though your phone’s settings. Other options include being able to manage your contacts, delete items in your call log, and there’s even a handy little link to the Android Market.

My favorite feature, however, is the ability to view and send text messages directly from your computer. Just as long as your phone is connected to the same WiFi network and the AirDroid app is open, you have the ability to send text messages from your computer without touching your phone. This is very beneficial for me because I am always leaving my phone behind, but I am usually on my laptop. While surfing the web I can glance at the next tab and check to see if I have an awaiting text message instead of fumbling around for my phone. If the idea of me fumbling like a buffoon for my phone reminds you of bad late night informercial, don’t worry, I am aware how lazy I might sound. But seriously, the one thing keeping phones from taking over the digital world is the fact that typing on them is a lesson in futility. I did a whole blog post on three completely different keyboards for Android and I still get frustrated with the one that I deemed my favorite. A physical keyboard, you might say, that comes at the expense of bulk and a smaller screen. Don’t underestimate the luxury of being able to click over and type a text message from your laptop.

The app itself has problems, most notably is that it is slow at times. This isn’t too much of a surprise when thinking about what it’s doing and how it’s not privy to the kind of resources Google Developers are. I’m hoping that Google realizes the market for a product like this, and delivers a desktop app that will fully integrate the experience of your phone with your computer. Google has the resources and I can’t conceive that making a desktop companion would make consume too much time there in Mountain View. Sure, DoubleTwist is being touted as the iTunes for Android but that does nothing to solve the file managing, and just like iTunes, DoubleTwist is slow and bloated. Besides, it’s honestly about time that Google releases an application that allows users to look into their phones without having to throw them into Debug mode. I know this may be a fool’s prayer but after using AirDroid for a few days and seeing some of the problems and promise in this solid app, I feel that if a small developer and Google’s main competition can do it, why can’t there be an official desktop app for Android?

See Your City From Hundreds of Other Perspectives with Trover

See Your City From Hundreds of Other Perspectives with Trover

Oct 20, 2011

Trover is a new service that allows users from all around the world to share photos of their favorite spots though a simple, elegant grid. Considering Trover launched just this April, the amount of members that it has compiled since then is certainly impressive. The service now boasts more then 100,000 “Trovers” in over 160 countries, which is even more impressive knowing that the service originally launched solely for the iPhone. But now it’s out on Android and the question is: how much of an impact will this service have? Like Zaarly, which I talk about more here, Trover is held back only through the cooperation of its users. They are what really makes this product work.

Trover is essentially a giant commonplace for people to post pictures about their favorite spots which are geotagged on a map. Think of it as a less organized Yelp. A short description about the spot is included and there is a Thank button and a comment field. The ‘Thank’ button is basically a ‘like’ button, or a +1 button for you Google+ people. However, Trover is not the Michelin Guide Book; every entry is recorded by some user that you probably don’t know and while your login is your Facebook account, this is still the internet, people. This open world works both for and against Trover. For example, looking up places near me around the Ohio State Campus I found a great photo of a secluded dock set back in a swamp at a nearby park which would be a great place to go hiking with my girlfriend.

Isn't this Romantic?

This is where Trover shines, showing you places off the beaten path that are great small places that you’d have a hard time finding in a typical guide book. Where Trover fails are the entries that are more or less useless. Setting my position in Times Square, I found a lot of random meaningless entries, like one of two bikes chained to a stand or another of some pigeons on the sidewalk. This creates an over-saturation of information. New York is such a huge city that there where hundreds of ‘Discoveries’ within a half mile radius of my location, every unnecessary post just increases the odds of missing something notable.

Overall though, Trover does bring something very exciting and unique which is important because it needs to be able to differentiate itself from other user recommendation apps such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. They do this by being very visual and by sorting attractions by distance away. Also, Trover applies to any kind of location from restaurants to parks to sidewalk vendors. Trover allows the user to be more spontaneous than Yelp, and the ability to simply pull out a phone and see places that other people recommend is very powerful. A nice setting in Trover is the ability to switch between locations that are within walking, biking, and driving distances, which is a great solution for those boring afternoon dilemmas where there doesn’t seem to be anything to do. Technically Trover has the potential to completely remove those kinds of days from our lives completely. I’m not saying that it will, but in looking at its capabilities Trover asks all the users in your area if they have a spot they recommend visiting. It is all about finding and sharing the little known gems in your area.

We’ll see if this service takes off, because there definitely are many opportunities to lose focus. It will be very tempting to open the service to advertising, for example, and the whole community vibe will be lost, spoiled by the corporate hand. But if we’ve learned anything in these past few years, it would be to never underestimate the power of social integration. If it can be shared, tweeted or posted, chances are it will. People will never stop wanting to discover new, undiscovered spots. If Trover manages to stay the course and keep this an intimate service that lets you see the same city from the viewpoint of hundreds of different perspectives the sky is the limit and Trover will become a household name in the future.

Zaarly: The Inverted Alternative to eBay and Craigslist

Zaarly: The Inverted Alternative to eBay and Craigslist

Oct 17, 2011

Zaarly, a service that has received both publicity and financial support from Hollywood, works as a reverse eBay, allowing people who are looking for basically anything to post what they want and the price they’re willing to pay for it. They aim to create a service where the consumer names the price instead to choosing from a million posts on eBay or Craigslist. For example, if you are looking to sell your PS3, Zaarly shows how much people are willing to pay for a PS3 instead of allowing you to set the price. This works best on their website because it allows you to search the entire United States whereas the mobile app restricts you to searching to places within driving distance. Unfortunately, Zaarly does not settle disputes and every sale is final, so there is the inherent risk of dealing with people you don’t know. This aside, payment is simple and credit cards are accepted.

The beauty of Zaarly is that nobody posts everything they’re willing to sell on eBay or Craigslist. Zaarly makes it easy to just pick up your phone and check to see if you have something that people around you are willing to pay for. The odds of someone nearby owning something that I would post are actually higher than I initially thought. I tried the service out and just posted a random request to see if I would get any responses. At first glance I only saw about 12 posts in about a 20 mile radius from my location of Columbus, Ohio, and was initially discouraged. However, I posted that I was looking for a lightly used skateboard for around $35, and within 24 hours I already had messages from three different people within 10 miles of my house. Frankly, I was incredibly impressed. The problem is that in order for Zaarly to achieve its potential it needs users. Zaarly is a service that is 95% based on P2P interaction, and for small towns the lack of populace is a major issue because finding deals in your area is what Zaarly is all about.

Because everything is focused on local interaction, privacy is a big deal with Zaarly, and this is both a good thing and a bad thing. Usernames are not shown to anyone in the searches and as far as I can tell is purely for login purposes only. Every time someone sends you a message about a product they’re just listed as “Them” and there are no usernames on posts in your area. This does make things kind of confusing when searching through multiple offers on a single product, and it’s impossible to rate users to avoid or recommend like at eBay. It is reassuring that Zaarly never shows any user any personal information; leaving it completely up to you about disclosing your address, phone number, or name. I was worried about how calling another person would be handled and I think that Zaarly handles this perfectly. Instead of having you directly call the user’s cell phone, Zaarly calls you from a random number and anonymously calls the other person. With all these giant websites like Facebook and Google coming under such heavy fire for their privacy intrusions, its refreshing to see user privacy handled so seriously, even if it might have been a little overdone.

I am totally impressed with this service and will continue to use it in the future even though the mobile app is not as solid and refined as the full website. It will be interesting to see if Zaarly can gain tracking in urban areas, which is really what it’s designed for, because this great idea is wholly depended on the amount of users.