Theme Thursday: Tasker and Minimalistic Text

Theme Thursday: Tasker and Minimalistic Text

Aug 2, 2012

I have written before about using Minimalistic Text as a great addition to any home screen. Any plain or overdone home screen can instantly get a modern, sleek makeover by adding text based icons or notifications to the home screen. Because Minimalistic Text supports any .ttf font the possibilities are pretty much limitless, and are only limited by available time and creativity. Well, kind of. My only gripe with Minimalistic Text is that the available automatic display options are slightly limited to just basic functions such as time, date, calendar events, and weather.

I usually hide the notification bar in GO Launcher and as such I miss out on some important notifications especially using two different emails on my phone. There is no way to display missed alerts though Minimalistic Text alone so a third party application is needed because MT does support local variables. For this I used Tasker, which, comparatively, is pretty expensive as far as apps go but its still only the price of a good McDonald’s trip.

Now I am not going to lie, Tasker is a big boy’s tool for Android, and I tried to dive headfirst and only got confused quickly. The key is to download the already created templates on the Wiki website through the ‘Browse Examples’ command in the menu. These require some tinkering but most moderately experienced users can figure out what to do relatively quickly. This is really one of a hundred uses for Tasker as it is an incredibly powerful app and I could probably spend a year writing weekly blog posts on all of Tasker’s uses, but for this post it basically serves as a conduit to tell Minimalistic Text that there is a notification.

After setting these variables up in Minimalistic Text, everything is ready to be edited. The downloaded example showed missed calls, GMails, and text messages but I copied and edited the Gmail one to display notifications for my Ohio State BuckeyeMail account as well. Adding fonts to MT is easy as importing some from a computer into a single folder then scanning that folder inside of Minimalistic Text. Once everything is set up enjoy crafting a great home screen that, if done correctly, will definitely make those iPhone owners jealous.

Theme Thursday: Text Clock Pro

Theme Thursday: Text Clock Pro

Jul 5, 2012

I wasn’t initially planning on doing another Theme Thursday on a live wallpaper but Text Clock Pro really caught my eye and I knew I had to spread the word. Designers Biegert and Funk brought the world the beauty and simplicity of the cleverly designed QlockTwo. In short, this clock is a square field of seemingly random unlit letters that light up to tell the time in 5 minute increments. For example, if the time is 5:46, the clock would read “It is a quarter til 6 o’clock.” The big draw for the QlockTwo is the sleek, minimal, and, dare I say, sexy design as the jet black glossy square face with the thin, bright white san-seriff text creating an amazing contrast. Well, with a design that is so simple to replicate it was only a matter of time before this amazingly popular design made it to Android in some form, and Text Clock Pro does not disappoint.

It would have been almost too easy for someone to just quickly code up a widget that quickly replicates its real life counterpart. However, what Text Clock Pro does is takes the idea of the clock and allows for expanded user customization as well as making it a live wallpaper. I am torn about whether or not the idea to make Text Clock Pro a live wallpaper is a brilliant idea or a limiting one, but I have to say I find that it looks stunning even as it slides behind existing widgets. And it does look stunning, everything about this wallpaper is beautiful, including all the included fonts to choose from. For Pro customers there is the option to change the ratio from the original square configuration to a smaller 15×8 rectangle. Is it worth the buck to upgrade from Lite to Pro? That entirely depends on the user and I cannot say that the Pro version is necessarily a bad deal, because, come on, it’s a buck.

The biggest selling point to this app is its simplicity and its perfect customization options that allow any user to tailor the wallpaper to suit their liking. Looking at the app’s Play page the examples are gorgeous and the possibilities are sky high. At the very least, a must try for any Android owner, Text Clock Pro brings any phone one step closer to phone perfection.

Theme Thursday: Typo

Theme Thursday: Typo

Feb 23, 2012

Another week, another theme, and we have one last GO Launcher theme for a while; this week we’ve dug up a nice little theme called Typo White. While nothing crazy or outlandish, for those looking to give their phone a cool retro-pop-art look, this might do the trick. Typo replaces the stock system apps with amazing text-based icons that do a great job to incorporate the app they are representing. It is very easy to tell that the developer here went the extra mile to put that elusive polish onto a app that could have easily just been passed off as another tired theme. The major issue, however, is the lack of these icons, for a theme a big goal is to make everything uniform and a major way is by making as many theme icons as possible. While gorgeous, the selection of only stock Android apps does disappoint as it still makes non-standard apps look slightly out of place.

But looking past this, when everything is as planned, this theme is kind of curiously striking. I enjoy the almost retro look of the wallpaper and the total loss of 3-D effect is something novel and a great change of pace. The tiny text icons and the included wallpaper gives a nice retro look, although the bright, flat white background will take a toll on battery life. Fortunately, Typo also comes in a bold dark theme that plays just the same as the white but presumably is less of a burden on our already overtaxed batteries.

As in my last review for the GO Launcher theme Touch, Typo really benefits from a nice text widget to display the date and time due to its flat, 2-D nature. For the regret-free price of free, those sporting GO Launcher should at least take a cursory look into Typo White or Typo Black.

Theme Thursday: Touch for GO Launcher

Theme Thursday: Touch for GO Launcher

Feb 16, 2012

I’ve always been a sucker for clean, minimalist user interfaces. For me, a phone home screen should be something that can be shown off even if that might mean a subtle loss of convenience. For a while now my main home tile has been completely devoid of the usual assortment of widgets, containing instead purely aesthetic widgets that add a small layer of class onto an otherwise pragmatic piece of tech. In this week’s Theme Thursday I’m going to look at not just a basic theme, but two more additional widgets that can bestow incredible power in making a launcher its own small piece of art.

First and foremost is the GO Launcher theme called “Touch.” This is probably the weakest part of my home page right now as the custom icons are not spectacular and the great background could probably just be found on Google Images. Small touches are nice, such as a simple, white app drawer, but I would not declare this two dollar theme a great value. Touch puts a white border around every app on the home screen which does go a way to delivering some great continuity, but it would be nice to at least have the option to disable this feature. For those using GO Locker there is also a free locker theme that works well and goes a long way to tie everything together.

Two great widgets that really break the mold from the classic HTC Sense UI-style of plastic looking 3-D widgets are Minimalistic Text and BobClockD3. BobClockD3 is a clock app that displays the time vertically with flat san-serifed text. While the customization options are thin, there is ample room for creativity. For those looking for a simple way to give their phone a facelift I would highly recommend checking out BobClockD3, and it being free removes pretty much any argument against it.

In total contrast is Minimalistic Text, playing a legitimate “Linux” to BobClockD3’s “Windows” this app gives total control over text display on the home screen. There is a myriad of display options here, ranging from time as text, to battery percentage, and even RAM usage. After some practice of the initially confusing workspace it becomes easy and fun to add text to the home screen and give it the truly modern look that it has been lacking.

So give it a shot, regain aesthetic control of the cellular domain and create a modern minimalist masterpiece that will turn heads and draw compliments.

Voxer Walkie Talkie Review

Voxer Walkie Talkie Review

Jan 31, 2012

Every day technology gives me new and better and more exciting ways to communicate with the people in my life. But it does of course come at a cost. Phoning people costs paid minutes, and texting costs to send and receive. There are also times when I need to impart a lot of information to someone but either don’t want to type it all out on my phone, or don’t want to disturb them with a phone call. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave a voice mail but skip the step of calling their phone?

Voxer markets itself as a walkie-talkie app for phones. Essentially it offers users the opportunity to leave messages for their friends that can be retrieved any time the recipient is free to do so. Messages can be text, but the better feature is the voice option. Hold down the button and talk freely into the microphone. No need to save the message – as soon as the record button is released the message is queued in the recipient’s inbox. I’ve used this feature to co-ordinate detailed plans while I’m walking and can’t text and the other person is getting ready to meet me and can’t be on the phone at that moment. It lets them listen to the message whenever they have a few seconds, without dialing into their voicemail box.

Even better, it really does function as a walkie-talkie if the recipient is in the program at the same time. There’s no need to say “over” at the end of each message – they are all time-stamped and play in order. They’re saved for quite some time, so I’ve also enjoyed going back and listening to random conversations I have had.

I really feel like I need to stress that this is a free app. I don’t know how much money it saves, using data to send messages vs paying for phone minutes, but I know that it has saved me time. Also there is something very appealing about using my phone as a walkie-talkie. It is great, and I wish more of my friends had it. If I could get them all to download it I actually think I’d make very few direct phone calls. There simply wouldn’t be a need to.

I have experienced some bugginess in it though. Or rather I should say my test partner did. He found that sometimes, rather than playing back the audio, the app would just freeze or play static. And I found that sometimes I couldn’t hear the messages he left me unless I took my headphones out and listened to it through the external speaker. A bit odd, but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it in the slightest.

Siesta Text App Review

Siesta Text App Review

Dec 22, 2011

In an earlier blog post I briefly mentioned a 2 dollar app called Siesta Text. I’ve spent a few days with this app and after a few initial problems I found Siesta Text to be very useful, especially for the holidays and other social events. Be warned, however, if you use third party messaging services such as the very popular Handcent. Siesta Text does not play nice with Handcent or GO SMS, but I was able to work around this in Handcent by deselecting Handcent as the default messaging app. This doesn’t affect how Handcent works; it will still send notifications, and you also need to disable notifications in Android’s stock messaging service because it becomes active again. Doing this allows Siesta Text to gain access to your text messages that GO SMS and Handcent intercept.

Ignoring this issue, Siesta Text really brings a lot to the table for a relatively low price. In case you aren’t familiar with the aforementioned blog post; it dealt with ways to unplug for the holidays while not completing dropping off the face of the earth. Siesta Text allows you to set an away message similar to away messages frequently used for work emails; this works for by sending out a custom text message to those who call or text you. Other than the issue between third-party messaging applications, Siesta Text runs extremely well and, other than a few force closures, I found no performance issues with the app.

This app allows you to save up to 20 different away messages which can be set to repeat for specific time periods. For example, if you have a meeting every Monday morning from 10-11 am Siesta Text will automatically silence your phone and send an away message to those trying to reach you. Calls and text messages still display as they normally would so you can answer if you want and there is a built in limit to how many times Siesta Text will respond to one phone number.

Overall, Siesta Text is a great idea followed up with great execution and a helpful dev team to boot. I would recommend giving Siesta Text a shot even if it means doing some finagling with your current messaging client.

Unplug for the Holidays

Unplug for the Holidays

Dec 19, 2011

Anyone with teenagers knows that around the holidays that it is frustrating to get teens off their phones, and it’s even more frustrating when your own phone goes off during a quiet dinner with the family. Sometimes it would be nice to just unplug. The problem with turning your phone off or just putting it on silent is that those calling have no way of knowing what you’re doing, which can lead to some frustrated and confused family and friends.

A company called First Orion has had an app aptly named PrivacyStar that allows you to block and trace phone numbers and text messages, but theres a hidden feature in this app that allows you to set a kind of away message for the holidays. While not applying to text messages, this will send any incoming call straight to voice mail and send them an away message text. After doing a few tests I was impressed at how well this worked. Texts were sent immediately and would arrive to the phone before my voice mail intro was finished. This wouldn’t work with landlines but then again, nothing will.

This feature is hidden in the settings menu because PrivacyStar is really intended to be used as a means to block texts and calls from unwanted persons including telemarketers. The service costs $2.99 a month but the app is free for a 7 day free trial. Seeing how other away messaging apps cost money for the few days this holiday taking advantage of this free week seems worth it.

PrivacyStar Home Screen

Maybe even investing two dollars into an app like Siesta Text is also a solution, which does the same text message response to phone calls and responds to text messages as well as text messages. Think of some of the applications: when at a meeting, you gain the peace of mind knowing that your phone will not go off and those trying to call you will not become frustrated in their efforts to reach you. Also, something like this is the perfect compliment to those with long commutes; allowing you to not be distracted by trying to show people that you’ve received their messages.

So for this holiday I would recommend taking advantage of PrivacyStar’s free trial, and if the automated away messaging service strikes your fancy, look into investing further.

Vlingo Review

Vlingo Review

Dec 14, 2011

With the launch of the iPhone 4S and iOS 5, Apple introduced Siri, your own personal assistant fembot. While it isn’t likely that anything as polished and professionally done as Siri will be available to Android users anytime soon, Vlingo makes an impressive alternative for fans of the green robot. Vlingo’s biggest asset, aside from its amazing voice recognition, is knowing when to stop and not try to directly challenge Siri. Vlingo is much more than a voice command app; it’s also a hub for text messaging, social networking, web search, maps, and more.

I will come out and say it: I’ve never been a big fan of Google Voice Commands. I feel that the commands have to be too specific and there aren’t enough options even though it is incredibly accurate. So that’s why I’m surprised that I enjoy using Vlingo so much. It’s quick, accurate, and forgiving. And when writing a text message for example, everything is done within Vlingo, forgoing the need to open more apps and slow down the process. Another surprising thing is how accurate it is in determining the usually unorthodox names of surrounding places. I found it to be rare that it couldn’t understand what I was looking for.

There is also a hands free mode for those who use their phones in the car and this can be activated by simply calling out “Hey Vlingo.” This option is still in beta mode but seems very polished, and the option to read text messages back to you works very well, but I found that if you’re using a messaging app that has pop up notifications they do appear in front of the app, making you look away and close the pop up before having Vlingo read it to you.

Going with a very cool color scheme, the design of Vlingo is very easy on the eyes. The blue, orange, and black color scheme with transparent tiles, custom icons, and the giant blue “Speak It” button make this one attractive app. There are also four widgets that come baked in: your standard search widget, a bar that gives quick access to four voice commands, and two individual voice command and text reading toggles.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this app to heavy users, those who have long commutes, and those who love voice commands. Oh, did I mention that it’s free?