Our favorite gadgets of the past year

Our favorite gadgets of the past year

Apr 28, 2017

Frankly, mobility is all about the gadgets. In Android land, we love the plethora of slick pocketable machines and stash-able tablets, but we always love to see those jazzy accessories that use mobile devices to extend their own functionality.

We have seen quite a few of these, and we are going over — fondly — which ones we liked best. Just to be clear, we are giving high marks to affordability, ease of use and the ability ro cater to cross-platform households.

Here we go:

Jabra Elite *Truly* Wireless Earbuds

Jabra brings its considerable experience in the bluetooth telephony accessory field to this sleek piece. It works in tandem and as a single piece, can be used for streaming and phone calls, and ships with several mini-pieces that help with fit.

Stilo Stylus

I still rock a Palm every now and then… just to have a chance at using the stylus. Look, with more virtual keyboards recognizing handwriting entry, a good stylus is back in vogue.

Stilo makes a really, really good stylus, good enough to displace others from the go bag.

Linksys EA9500 Gigabit Router

Yep… so this one is surprising, but when you factor in the mobile controls and how well the app works, you’ll never go to something so backwards as a “regular” router again. You’re welcome.

Roidmi Bluetooth FM Modulator

FM Modulators are so last year, no? This is one is sleek, is app-supported, works to provide an extra slot, and… works quite well.

Nyrius Smart Outlet

This is your connected home starting piece. Think about it: a wireless outlet socket that essentially allows you to control whatever is plugged in by the tap of an app.

Dog & Bone Locksmart Mini Wireless Padlock

Keys are my kryptonite. But hey, this lock is powered by a bluetooth connected app hosted on the Android phone. I never lose my phone. See?

From the Editor’s Desk: to S8 or not to S8?

From the Editor’s Desk: to S8 or not to S8?

Apr 20, 2017

Samsung has grown on me.

I disliked the company’s first few Android offerings, and my dislike solidified after spending time with the atrociously named Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch — seriously, the Galaxy SII. After dealing with that Gingerbread-laden device, I mostly discounted anything that had TouchWiz.

I somewhat appreciated the gains made with the S III, but really started to thaw towards Samsung again with the advent of the S5. For its time, it was cutting edge, and had a wide range of accessories that made it a better option for more people.

Last year, I made a serious decision.

Picking a device manufacturer admittedly does not rate as “monumental” for most folks, but I am who I am, and I deliberate about such things for awfully long periods. To cut along story short, I ended up with a Galaxy S7 edge, the (then) Samsung flagship. My plan was simple: root it, make it mine — as in keep the looks and advanced functionality — and carry on.

But then I stumbled upon Samsung Pay, and began to use it a good deal. That killed rooting, because I didn’t want to trip Knox. I grew to appreciate the optimized UI overlay, and for everything else, I could use third-party apps to tweak.

I have been using the S7e as my daily driver for months.

And now, the S8 is here. Do I stay or do I go?

At this point, I don’t know. I have really enjoyed the mini-ecosystem, and the new devices are gorgeous. Yes, the fingerprint scanner location bothers me, but I don’t use the one I have now. And then, there is Samsung Pay.

And the other new devices, popping all over the place. Is the S8 a big enough upgrade over the S7?

But I could also wait for the S9.

I love choice…

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year!!!

Jan 1, 2017

We made it through 2016!

Here’s to a new year… new gadgets, more innovation and an ever-improving platform.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

My App Addiction: Chrome Remote Desktop

My App Addiction: Chrome Remote Desktop

Dec 10, 2016

So…

I am a huge fan of mobility. When it’s all said and done, the ability to do most things unencumbered by stationary desktops is invaluable beyond measure. I’m able to manage most aspects of my daily life reasonably well from my Android-powered smartphone. Outside of wi-fi connectivity, the internet connectivity is great to have, and opens the doors to being able to things far, far from home.

I don’t even fear provider outages anymore. It’s all about pocket power.

Still, every now and then, it is necessary to get on Ol’ Trusty. The desktop still manages all sorts of peripherals (like wireless hard drives and the like) and there are some apps that just don’t translate to Chrome OS or Android.

That’s where one of my favorite applications, Chrome Remote Desktop, comes in and fills several gaps admirably.

What this app does is to, in essence, link Chrome browser on Windows and Mac machines to Android and/or Chromebooks. When set up properly, it is possible to pipe in to one’s desktop remotely. In practice, this allows me to access my main desktop from my Chromebook and my Samsung S7 Edge and iPad, if I so need.

You see, there are some operations that are still a little more fluid on a desktop. Other times, it is a unique problem; for example, the other day, I needed a particular account password on the road. I do have a password vault with both mobile and desktop clients, but I had entered this new password in the day before, and hadn’t synced both clients. One quick CRD session later, I had the password I needed (and then synced the password vault clients for good measure).

Another scenario is the occasional need for an alternative browser when using my Chromebook. I sometimes find it easier to just pipe in to the home desktop.

With the right resolution, I feel like I am right at home, sitting at my desk.

Chrome Remote Desktop isn’t perfect; I’m not that big a fan of keeping a desktop machine on and running indefinitely, but hey, it is a simple solution that has the benefit of being relatively lightweight and cross-platform.

crd1

My App Addiction: Minimalistic Text

My App Addiction: Minimalistic Text

Nov 16, 2016

Admittedly, a lot of what framed my initial Android impressions came from comparisons with other operating systems. For instance, the whole concept of launchers was something I picked up from Palm. Calendar management? BlackBerry baby.

And so on…

Customization on Android was something I had to see to believe and understand. Having an device I could tailor to my own tastes was something I really enjoyed.

There are a couple of apps that did make the change more palatable, and Devmil’s Minimalistic Text is near the top of the list. I thought the feature set was — is — groovy indeed.

And what does it do? Well, Minimalistic Text makes widgets sexier. Now, when that is viewed from the perspective of one that is new to Android and the beauty of widgets to begin with, you’ll understand why this app excites me.

In a nutshell, it allows one to customize said widgets… really, one is able to make his/her own. It provides a range of templates, and then allows one to tweak its appearance, down to the color and shadow effect. One can make a widget based on date, weather, battery meter and the like. You can even create one out of straight text. Then, one can make it look just perfect, using a serious color selector and other tools.

One fine function is the ability to assign taps. This allows you to, say, create a text widget and make it invoke another app or action. On my main device, I have a week bar widget (with the actual day of the week highlighted); tapping on it invokes a customized agenda widget. But I can also assign a double tap action, and with that, I have a custom weather widget.

It really allows me to pack in a lot of information that is easily accessible in a clean way. That’s a major reason why Minimalistc Text is on every main Android driver I have owned.

What? You’re Not Rooting?!!! (Pt 2)

What? You’re Not Rooting?!!! (Pt 2)

Sep 30, 2016

First, it might make sense to get into the specific reasons that I root. A major one is the ability to really customize the look and feel of my device. For example, one thing I liked was the ability to create an “invisible lockscreen” on my phone. Hidden icons and latent access that made my phone fairly unusable without a formal lockscreen. I can still do a lot of that with Nova.

Another thing rooting worked for me is/was to was allow me to expand on Google Now functionality. With specific tools, I could add the number of keyword-driven actions I could perform. With Commandr for Google Now, a few commands do require root, but not a lot; as such, I figure a stock device wouldn’t hurt me too bad with regards to this.

A real big one for me is the use of Tasker. I use this quite a lot, and would miss it a lot too. With Tasker, I can automate a lot of tasks, like running backups and creating group events (like tapping on Google Maps invokes Launch GPS – Increase Screen Brightness sequence.) Or, using Google Now to create tasks in Toodledo. Now, some of this can be replicated in other ways, but hey.

When it’s all said and done, the truth is that Android continues to get better. Yes, device manufacturers and the telcos don’t make it easy to root, but it might be the maturity of the OS that ends up reducing the rooting minority. In any case, there are easy-to-root devices that thrive.

There will always probably be a rooting community that pushes the boundaries, and don’t see myself stopping tinkering permanently. I just really like the fact that it doesn’t feel mandatory any more.

Rooting is becoming more of a pastime than an ownership ritual, and that’s a GREAT thing.

What? You’re Not Rooting?!!! (Pt 1)

A few years back, I was listening to a podcast hosted by Android sage Phil Nickinson, and heard him say something that a lot of die-hard Android heads probably considered crazy.

Phil said he no longer roots his Android devices.

Okay, you have to see this in context. Nickinson is the editor of Android Central, one of the most renown tech sites in the world. Outside XDA, it probably is the biggest repository for rooting (getting administrative rights) information on the web. For a lot of Android users, AC is the source for everything Android modding.

So when Phil (as interpreted by me) said he had reached a point where he felt stock Android was good enough, it says a lot.

Quite a deal.

I tend to root my devices, and have done so with every main device I have used since I moved to Android moons ago. It has never been about celebrating geekhood — though I do admit to falling prey to an over-inflated sense of “why not?” — or getting round legalities. I like being able to have full control of my gadgets, and expanding upon the functionality of an OS is something that has been well worth the time. In many ways, I have continued to use Android because of the ability to root: I can do a lot, and cannot replicate it elsewhere. I tend not to upgrade every year anymore, and I avoid contracts, so having a rooted device helps keep me on track.

But with my latest acquisition — the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge — I might be leaning towards Phil’s madness.

Why?

Simple.

There may not be a need to any more. For my needs, at least. I could conceivably use this device without ever going S-Off, and actually intend to.

And the reasons aren’t that crazy.

From the Editor’s Desk: Road Trippin’!

From the Editor’s Desk: Road Trippin’!

Jun 27, 2016

2016 has been a pretty good so far.

Great new products, plenty of great concepts, and on the device front, competition is very fierce. It’s a tech lover’s nirvana, and we are barely halfway through.

Stateside, it’s summer time… just about, mostly, kinda. The seasonal anthem is all Fresh Prince and Jazzy Jeff, with cookouts becoming the norm and suntan is in high demand.

Visibility is good, the sun comes up early and it’s the perfect time to travel, and the automobile is the tool of kings.

Now, when I was a kid, road trips were painful. Nothing to do but read, look outside, sleep or bicker, and four kids in the back seat of a micro sedan left a LOT to be desired.

Things have changed.

It makes sense that the malleable concept of technological mobility has to converge with a physical one. Android Auto, for instance, is an ever-growing initiative that looks to organically pair Android devices with one’s appropriately equipped vehicle. And then there is the wealth of car accessories that continue to be released, all with one objective in mind: improving users mobile experience.

Creating a hands-free experience? Device holders so the backseat drivers become backseat movie watchers? FM modulators that refine older school solutions? Off-road helpers? Wireless chargers? Navigation apps? Heck, even portable “smart” gadgets that shorten a trip? Bluetooth accessories?

Yep, yep and yep!

As usual, we at Android Rundown are quite happy to ride the wave. In the coming weeks, we’ll be taking a look at several products, from simple to fairly complex. You know… tools that make one’s life on the road more enjoyable.

We have gear from Magellan, Roidmi, TYLT and other innovative accessory makers on tap.

Fun times ahead… keep tuned to our hardware reviews. You’re sure to find something you like for the road.

My Upgrade Conundrum: An HTC M9 Mini-Review — A Look Back

Frankly, working with technology has its perks. We get to see the coolest new software and gadget all while never really falling out of love with the old. It’s a fun diversion, and hard to complain about.

I have found a way though.

When it comes to picking a daily driver on Android, the problem of choice arises. Everybody has a worthy flagship that looks good; just about all of them carry the main features people on the go crave, and every generation sees one or two introduce something especially cool that might set them apart — for a short time. Other device makers either co-opt the feature or create a better one, and the cycle gloriously repeats.

The fight to be a cut above the rest is definitely a boon to Android OS users.

Full disclosure: I am a huge fan of HTC software. The company has been front and center with Android since the beginning, and its recent devices, back to the M7, exemplify what happens when cool software is merged with Android; My One M8 is still my device of choice.

Still, I have looked at going for a spell with another manufacturer, not necessarily because I am unhappy with HTC hardware, but more because I can, and wouldn’t mine having extended time with something new. Samsung has me yearning, LG is tempting, and Huawei continues to be intriguing.

Unfortunately, I have had a lot time with the HTC One M9. Darn.

The specs are well known; what it underscores is the great concept of finding a winning solution, and sticking to it. The exterior still manages to feel premium, and HTC’s softawre overlay is still beloved… even in 2016. It’s a device that is easily relevant far into the feature (hey, like I said, I’m still rocking my M8 as my daily driver).

My biggest wish? HTC stays in the Android hardware business for the long haul. Please.

New York, New York…

New York, New York…

Jun 29, 2015

I might be giving up my reputation as a mover and shaker here, but New York City frazzles me. The Big Apple is busy, crowded, and literally never sleeps. Since moving away, I don’t necessarily miss the bright lights, but I can’t help but feeling a small sense of homecoming on the occasions that I return.

Walking own 34th, I did enjoy the sights, some of them old, some new. In the knick-knack shops that carry a lot of the keepsakes visitors treasure, one gets to see the same mini-statuettes, t-shirts, bedazzled hats and I LOVE NY paraphernalia that are as much a part of the experience as the landmarks. One thing that stood out was the sheer amount of mobile technology that is front and center in these stores. Even in the tight spaces, there is serious shelf space allocated to phones, cameras, selfie sticks, headphones… even drones. One hates to window shop, but it really cannot be helped; it’s a tech feen’s paradise.

I remember riding subways way back when. It was an impersonal affair, with the occasional appearance of a tape-laden Walkman. Now, it is still just as impersonal, but I was fascinated by how much of tech melting spot a single carverse could be. New Yorkers, as always, are not that enthralled with only the big brands. Beats headphones and iPhones were all over the place, but so where other brands. And yes, Android definitely has mindshare, with several devices from different manufacturers. When the Wall Street crowd hit the train, the technology pieces on display were pretty impressive. Just about everybody had a smartdevice of some kind, and a set of headphones to match. Power players in business suits rocking fitness bands.

The WTC Memorial was a whirlwind of activity, with a seemingly endless sea of people sharing in honoring those whose loss united the world. It was a somber moment, and touching those names is something one won’t soon forget. It was the one place that we saw the most selfie sticks, but they were probably used here rarely.

It’s a different world, and it is helped along, observed and recorded with personal gizmos most of us take for granted.

New York… technology melting pot.

From the Editor’s Desk: Connecting the Dots

From the Editor’s Desk: Connecting the Dots

Feb 11, 2015

In hindsight, it seems so obvious.

As we made the technological transition from cellular phones to full-fledged pocket computers capable of wireless connectivity, life started to become more, well, connected. First came the apps. Simple utilities, web portals and easy games morphed into powerful applications that mimicked desktop versions. The accessories have transformed as well, from the ubiquitous cases to specialty equipment that rival standalone hardware.

Now we’re at the precipice of the (gasp!) Internet of Things… you know… where the web becomes the great unifier. By default, and because of its mobile nature, the smartphone has become the hub of the burgeoning connected home. Apple-based software tends to get the vast majority of companion applications, but Android can’t be ignored, and as such, the number of products hat can be manipulated on the go continue to increase exponentially.

At Android Rundown, we couldn’t be happier. Taking a look at current and upcoming products, it’s easy to see why: connected sockets, home controls, door cameras and even door locks, controlled from one’s Android device. Connected solutions are upending the traditional home security segment, with legacy tech companies joining some interesting startups in bringing some nice stuff to market. Competition is bringing the prices down too, such that the prices of connected products need not induce high blood pressure. Scales, toothbrushes, even crockpots are getting the connected treatment, and frankly, it just makes so much sense to use one’s most accessible gadget as the centerpiece.

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to look at even more connected products from a variety of companies. We’ll give some insight into how these solutions fare in the real world, and how they just might make your life easier.

We’re still looking at several health-related products, so there will be plenty of hardware analysis to go with our usual batch of application reviews. It’s gonna be fun.

Stay tuned!

Regards,

Tre L

Happy New Year from Android Rundown

Happy New Year from Android Rundown

Jan 1, 2015

It was a great year for Android users.

We saw some fantastic applications. We got to see some of the best flagships from a host of OEMs. We also witnessed some truly interesting accessories and affiliated gadgets.

If upcoming CES is any indication, 2015 might do the impossible: topple 2015 in terms of applications, gadgets and tech-related stuff. Expect to see more cross-platform innovation, and an increased focus on extended functionality.

On the application front, the iOS app gap still exists, but it is ever-shrinking. In the last year, simultaneous iOS-Android application releases became more commonplace. Android is a valuable option for most developers, from the big houses to the single-person Indie shops, and that is great for consumers. And reviewers.

The foundation OS got better too. We all speculated on its name, but were still mostly wowed by Lollipop. better yet, it’s being deployed faster and wider. Material Design is something we have really come to appreciate, too. As more developers embrace it, it is giving Android a more unified feel. And Google’s suite of in-house offerings get better and better, from Inbox to Calendar to Maps and beyond.

If I had to guess, I suspect we might see HTC look to build on the mindshare it grabbed with the M8. The rumors about the follow-up are in high gear. LG is becoming more of a household Android name, so I would love to see some more products from them. Samsung? Well, we all know the BMOC is going o wanna rebound from what it considers a rough year (though we’re sure several companies would love such a “rough” year). Huaweii… Sharp… Lenovo… we could go on and on, and we can’t wait.

As the Connected Home becomes a more tangible concept, we look forward to see how manufacturers bake in Android compatibility into their products.

When it’s all said and done, we can’t promise much, and don’t claim to be fortune-tellers. Still, with a serious degree of certainty, we can proclaim 2015 is gonna be a great year for the tech enthusiast.

Happy New Year.