Theme Thursday: Thanksgiving

Theme Thursday: Thanksgiving

Nov 22, 2012

Thanksgiving is officially upon us, and while the local radio stations are already playing Christmas music I think it is appropriate to take at least a second to acknowledge this great holiday. Seasonal themes are always a bit of an oddity because they only get utilized for a very small part of the year and yet there are always an abundance as well as an associating demand for them. But it always seems that once their associated holiday is over they fade back to obscurity and become forgotten. But not today, today I pluck a lucky theme out of the fold and give it its rightful day in the sun. Creative names apparently are not very becoming to the app developers behind these as this weeks theme is simply, Thanksgiving for GO Launcher.

I chose this theme for a few reasons, the first being that it was simply the most creative. The hand-drawn icons are adorable and upon closer inspection I realized that what at first seemed like random themed pictures were actually very clever icons that had some association with the app they represent. For example, the Facebook icon is two pieces of wheat that are leaning in such a way that they loosely form the letter f. All the icons are very charming and they really convey a great sense of the feeling of Thanksgiving and I also appreciate the included wallpaper which adds some fun and allows this theme to not feel tacky and over worn.

There are not many icons for this theme but unfortunately this is not very surprising as including a whole suite of hand drawn and colored icons is a lot to ask for a theme that will only be used for about two weeks in the year. Still, it would have been nice to see a little more attention paid as there are a few stock Android applications that remain unthemed.

Overall, though this is a great theme that really makes Turkey Day a little more festive and is sure to get anyone in the mood to spend an entire fall day eating and watching football.

Theme Thursday: ICS for CM7

Theme Thursday: ICS for CM7

Nov 8, 2012

As with a few past Theme Thursdays we will be looking at themes for the most popular ROM for rooted Android phones and that is CyanogenMod. Most people who run CyanogenMod use it because they want something that their current phone does not give them, and for a majority of people that reason is Ice Cream Sandwich. Because phone carriers are so reluctant to upgrade even year old phones to Google’s newer OS, a good amount of these owners have looked to rooting in order to get their phones looking the way they want. I personally have a love/hate relationship with ICS; I enjoy everything right up to the icons. Ice Cream Sandwich’s thin lines and dark complexion are very attractive but I feel the bright and oversized icons to be out of place.

Well never mind what I think because I feel that I am probably in the minority here and the questionable icons have not stopped me from getting an ICS theme for my CM7. There are a few ICS themes for CM7, and I have tried a few but my favorite by far has to be the one by Sonny Sekhon, who has a large and impressive list of CyanogenMod themes. Like most themes there are not much performance tweaks and everything about the phone remains CM7 except it just looks better, and wow it does look better. The developer does a great job of making sure that everything here was themed correctly and after looking at my friend’s ICS phone I found it hard to tell many differences in the way the phones looked.

CyanogenMod 9 comes with its own proprietary launcher, Trebuchet, but CM7 still uses ADW Launcher to handle the home screen. Unfortunately, this app does not have a corresponding ADW Launcher theme but it does have one for LauncherPro. I find this kind of weird and I do not usually like having multiple launchers on my phone as I feel it bogs the home screen down for some reason, but ultimately it is not a deal breaker as the launcher skin looks great as well.

So anyone who has a rooted phone with CyanogenMod 7 I highly recommend looking into grabbing Sonny Sekhon’s Ice Cream Sandwich theme and give that “aging” phone a breath of life.

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.

Theme Thursday: TouchPal Contacts

Theme Thursday: TouchPal Contacts

Oct 18, 2012

Most Android users do not really consider the Dialer or contact app as something that can be customized. It it what controls the most basic function of a phone, calling people. Now I don’t have a big problem with how Android handles their contact lists and the dialer, but I am not a fan of how specific manufacturers skin over the stock Android system. My least favorite overskin has to be HTC’s Sense UI, and seeing as this blog post deals with customization it makes sense to look at something that generally remains untouched.

My choice here was the highly rated TouchPal Contacts, which offers a whole suite of customization apps, but I am going to specifically be concentrated on their contact/dialer app. This offers some specific advantages over a stock dialer, and even some of the older versions of CyanogenMod 7 which does not come with a T9 dialer. My personal favorite is the ability to quickly set an away status which will set the phone to silent and also answer an incoming call with an away text. There are other apps and ways of doing this but I found that using TouchPal is quicker and offers some more customization options.

This would not be a Theme Thursday without the option to change a theme or two. The quantity of themes is not very great but what they lack in number they make up in quality. These themes are all very well done and they all look great. There is also a large variation in styles here ranging from simple, minimalistic to ornate and detailed. Other unique features are gesture dialing, which is always a plus. Being able to immediately dial a specific contact without pressing a button is amazing and is a great conveinence.

Like some other apps of its kind there are some proprietary features that facilitate extended interaction with other TouchPal users. These include social media interaction and contact exchange. A cool feature is the ability to update specific social media networks directly from the app, but this is largely superfluous
because there are a hundred of other apps and widgets that fulfill this need without opening an app.

In conclusion, anyone looking for a better looking and more useful dialer app be sure to definitely check out TouchPal Contacts.

Theme Thursday: JAMT for CyanogenMod 7

Theme Thursday: JAMT for CyanogenMod 7

Oct 11, 2012

As my EVO 4G gracefully nears the end of its life I figured that now was as good of a time as ever to finally commit and root my phone. My mod of choice was CyanogenMod7 which is the highest version available for the EVO. I have been wanting to do this for some time and after doing so I have to say that I am glad I did. But this blog post is not about rooting and modding, as it is all about the wonderful world of themes. So I decided this week, in celebration, to do this Theme Thursday on my favorite CM7 theme (so far).

That lucky theme is called JAMT, which stands for ‘Just Another Minimalistic Theme’ and it comes in two distinct styles, black and white. For today I will be looking at specifically the white one, because, well, its cooler. The advantage to themeing the whole operating system instead of simply the launcher is that all the apps that fall under that OS are now themed in accordance with each other; bringing an enveloping, unified, and custom feel to any phone. This means that the messenger, dialer, contacts, clock, ect apps all have the same styling which is radically different than the more Gingerbread-esque that CyanogenMod delivers.

Judging from some of my past Theme Thursdays, it is easy to determine that I am a huge fan of minimalistic themes, and minimalism in general. So choosing JAMT was really a natural choice for me and it is one that I do not regret. The beauty of this comes in the simple way everything is portrayed; with the dialer relying on stark black and white as well as some well chosen shades of gray in the menus. The status bar looks great and gives almost a Windows Phone 7 feel to the whole thing. Even apps like Facebook and GMail are tweaked to adhere to the white , sterile regime.

One problem is the fact the the standard ADW Launcher does not follow suit as it is not a real part of CM7. I found this setback to be not a problem as I simply downloaded the ‘Elegant’ theme which fit right in with a nice white background. Other than that setting up this theme is no harder than downloading it from the Play Store and selecting it in a list, and unlike other themes in the past because it lays right on top of the OS there is no performance lost in the process. I would almost root my phone solely just to get access to themeing the OS like this.

Theme Thursday: Awesome Nature Wallpaper

Theme Thursday: Awesome Nature Wallpaper

Oct 4, 2012

Being a small-time photographer I will always take time out to recognize those who enjoy the art as much as I do. A while ago I heard about an app that featured nothing but landscape photography by an amazing travel photographer, Yegor Korzh, and I decided to check it out. The app is simply a collection of his photographs that can be set as a rotating wallpaper. All the settings are here to put the user in full control and there is even options to include apps from other sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and (shudder) Instagram.

The photos are grouped in a handful of sections based on their attributes and each photo can be placed into a favorites folder. All of Yegor’s photos can be displayed on a constant cycle, and I wholeheartedly recommend this because every photo is just stunning. Upon unlocking, the user is greeted with a brand new, unbelievably epic, landscape shot that is guaranteed to leave anyone speechless for a while. I was amazed, not just with the incredible quality of the photographs, all of which are presented in the highest-resolution, but with the caliber of the app which is top-knotch. To be honest, I was not expecting much from the menus of this app but the large amount of customization options as well as photo sources make sure that everything is at just the right balance.

The app automatically updates itself with new images and, while the rotating slideshow is only available on the premium version, it is just over a buck. For one dollar anyone can effortlessly have a nearly unlimited resource of top quality and absolutely stunning landscape photography on their phone. There are some good deals on the Play Store but I cannot think of many that are better than this. So come out and support a truly talented artist and get some incredible eye candy in the process.

Theme Thursday: Zeam Launcher

Theme Thursday: Zeam Launcher

Sep 13, 2012

A sad but inevitable aspect of life with a smartphone is the day that phone starts to lag behind and goes from a state of the art speed demon to a plodding grandfather. The use of custom launchers can really take their toll on older phones as they are constantly becoming more complex and adding features that use increasingly more and more memory. Sometimes in order to find a simple solution is to take a step back from the more familiar launchers and try a less-familar one that values being lightweight over being crammed full of features. After cruising around the Play store I stumbled across a highly rated but little known launcher named Zeam.

I will preface the rest of this review by saying that anyone looking for a launcher to be a straight replacement for popular, full-featured launcher like GO Launcher EX or ADWLauncher. Zeam Launcher is specifically designed for people who want a fast and efficient experience and not for those who want the frankly unnecessary bells and whistles that tend to bog down other launchers. Call it minimalistic or bare bones, but the bottom line is that Zeam Launcher is the fastest launcher that I have ever tested on my phone. Every touch is registered immediately and I might even say that Zeam is more responsive and snappier than HTC’s stock Sense UI.

That being said, the customization options are very, very thin. Even though I know Zeam is aiming to be that way, there are still very few options for even some of the most basic options. A bulk of the options are centered around the number of panels and the way they are oriented and interract. Beyond editing the number of rows and collums there are not many more options when it comes to how the icons look or behave; as there is no option to edit icons for applications.

Even with the negatives, Zeam Launcher is definitely something that anyone cursed with an aging smartphone should look into. There are just enough customization options here to make it worth the very conveinient increase in performance.

Theme Thursday: Ubuntu HD for GO Launcher

Theme Thursday: Ubuntu HD for GO Launcher

Aug 30, 2012

Many people have not heard about Ubuntu or even have the slightest idea as to what Linux is. As a Linux user for over a few years I have come to enjoy the simple and attractive styling of Linux’s most popular distro. While surfing the Google Play store looking for a clean and new theme for my phone I figured why not try to emulate the operating system that I was currently using. There are a myriad of Ubuntu options on the Play store but the one I am going to look at this week will be Ubuntu HD by developer Shivmanas.

Fortunately for Ubunutu HD it lives up to its HD suffix by delivering great, high quality icons that really reflect the nature of Ubuntu’s core styling. There are a large selection of icons and because the change is subtle, non-custom icons do not look out of place. This makes for a very seamless and well constructed theme because there is not that abrupt of a difference between the theme icons and the loners that plagues most other themes. A nice touch that is somewhat controversial is the change of the home button to a Ubuntu logo. I was wary of this at first because I felt that it may have been taking the theme too far, but it truly ties the whole thing together nicely. Besides, it can always be changed in GO Launcher.

However, my favorite part of this app has to be the amazing wallpapers that are pretty much ripped right from Ubuntu. I love the wallpapers that cycle through the Linux distro and I am elated that the developer chose to include those in this theme. The whole theme wraps up nicely and looks great as a sum of its parts. For anyone who is a Ubuntu fan or is just looking for a bright, mature, and clean theme I would strongly recommend taking a look at Ubuntu HD for GO Launcher.

Theme Thursday: Missed It!

Theme Thursday: Missed It!

Aug 23, 2012

Many custom launchers have the option to remove the status bar, which makes for a much cleaner look but obviously leaves the user without the very helpful notification bar. A while ago I did a Theme Thursday post about using Tasker in conjunction with Minimalistic Text to give a nice and highly customizable text notification widget, but this week I found a slightly easier way that, while not containing the high amount of customization as the Tasker and Minimalistic Text combo, still delivers a high quality widget that looks great. Simply called Missed It!, this app takes the middle-man out of the widget experience and combines the two jobs of Tasker and Minimalistic Text into one, simple app.

The first thing to do after opening this app is to pick what notifications are going to be displayed. There is a short list of the usual phone functions, such as missed calls and text messages as well as another list that displays notifications for the rest of the applications. As in Minimalistic Text there is a bevvy of customization options and I will go as far to say that I almost prefer this app than Minimalistic Text; simply because it is more user friendly and with a little patience no idea is too big to be represented. Fonts are easy to import and certain variables can be shared with other applications and widgets which adds some extended Tasker-like use to Missed It!.

It is hard to see how this app escaped my gaze for so long but after some work I feel like my set up with Tasker feeding Minimalistic Text might have finally met its match. Missed It! is a premium app but at only $1.25 it is a steal, and I even failed to mentioned the ability to display Missed It! on a custom locker with stunning results. For anyone who does not feel like wading through the messy details of Tasker, or pay its exorbitant price tag, should take a hard look at Missed It!, because it is quickly becoming one of my new favorite home screen modification tools.

Theme Thursday: Forest for GO Launcher

Theme Thursday: Forest for GO Launcher

Aug 16, 2012

While it’s easy to presume that Android Rundown readers are manly men who like manly themes for their manly Android phones, it never hurts to throw a shout out to the ladies. That is why this week I took a look at a theme that will bring any honest Disney-loving princess back to the magical world of enchanted forests and talking animals. Specifically, the theme is simply titled, Forest and was created by Freedom Design; who, somehow, do not have an entry on the Theme Thursday columns yet.

While there is no direct Disney correlations the colorful and intricate icons will remind anyone of the magical forests and extraordinary fantasy that the company is known for. Small vines delicately coil themselves around a piece of paper in the Messages icon while the Settings icon features a gear surrounded by a flowering wreath. Actually, any League of Legends player should find these slightly familiar as they do bear an odd resemblance to the game’s interior jungles.

However, like most themes that feature radically different designs, Forest offers a disappointingly few number of icons and the contrast when seeing the quaint, rustic cabin that is the Market icon placed next to a bright and very modern Flipboard icon is fairly jarring and really removes the illusion. It is nice to see that they are continually rolling out new icons for more popular apps but there still are not nearly enough to give any unified look to a phone. One thing that did surprise me was the wallpapers. It would have been really easy to just phone that in, but because this is a “premium” app, the standards need to be a little higher. Fortunately, Forest delivers; and while it may not be the most macho wallpaper and most guys would rather be caught dead than be found sporting it, there is no denying it is high quality and easy on the eyes.

Settling in for just under $2 there is some risk associated with the purchase but as long as the home screen retains familiar and stock Android apps this theme should whisk any former princess off to their fantasy forest every time they open their phone.

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: Cyrix GO Holistic Theme

Theme Thursday: Cyrix GO Holistic Theme

Jul 26, 2012

The great part about the GO Launcher Dev Team products is that they all operate seamlessly in and amongst themselves. When running GO Launcher it makes more sense to go all out and use some of the other GO products such as GO SMS or GO Locker. I have used all of these and while GO SMS is not my favorite SMS application, it is more than serviceable. However, until the advent of GO Holistic themes there was no real way to synchronize one unified theme between all the GO applications because developers that created GO Launcher themes did not always create a companion GO SMS or GO Locker theme. GO Holistic themes are themes that incorporate all the GO apps under one single download which eliminates having to download and manage multiple separate versions of themes and then go through and individually change everything manually.

The theme, specifically, that is spotlighted today is Cyrix by a persistent favorite here on Theme Thursday, ZT.art. The theme opts for a very cool black and teal design that is very popular yet I am still on the fence. Fortunately everything is executed wonderfully and the theme looks great and the whole theme has a high level of refinement that make it look very professional. I would have liked to have seen a little more variation in the theme, however as the matte black background is somewhat boring and this is especially demonstrated in the GO SMS portion of the theme.

My favorite part of this theme has to be the locker. Remaining battery life is elegantly displayed as a fading colorful circle around the date and time. The circle changes color depending on how much battery life is remaining; passing off the information almost subconsciously. The best designs are the ones that give the information that is needed almost without the user knowing it and that is exactly how the locker works.

So for those who are a fan of the teal on black color scheme, I strongly recommend giving Cyrix GO Holistic theme a try; it is a very well done theme that helps tie all GO apps together under a unified theme.