Get Mobile Notification on your PC with PushBullet

Pushbullet-640x401 Everything has been done to death so when someone thinks of something so simple and yet so useful, well, you gotta hand it to them.

PushBullet is one of those apps that resides both on your mobile and your Desktop PC that deserves attention. Why? Coz for the longest time, everyone wanted something like this but no one bothered to do it as it just seems…well too simple to be of any serious use.

There are other ways to achieve what PushBullet does, but as a complete package, there are no competitors.

The Great Mobile Disconnect

Push notifications on your mobile reside on your mobile, and each time  you get a notification from your mobile app, you have to pick up your device to reply and read those messages.

pushbullet-autocomplete

While on the desktop, you could be looking for some information and when you find a link you need to pass on to your mobile device, you can’t because the only way is to use Evernote or Google Keep, pasting the URL, and getting that on your mobile device.

How about the time you wanted to pass on an image from your mobile to your desktop? The fastest way was actually to save it to Dropbox and have that file saved back locally on your desktop PC hard drive. That’s like taking the scenic route to the book store.

PushBullet can do this and more. It can also make use of your mobile functions like replying your SMS from your desktop computer as long as the two are connected.

PushBullet on PC

Currently, it supports browsers such as Safari, Opera, Chrome and Firefox. The sharing of links and files is pretty solid except for maybe large files which will take a while to send over to your mobile device. There is another app, Caast.me, which is similar but uses a QR code to connect your mobile to your PC browser.

For Pushbullet, the connection is done only once on your computer, that is once you link your mobile to your account, it will forever be there. To add more desktops, tablets and phones, you just click to add on your profile dashboard and you’re done.

pushbullet

What’s more you can also message your friend who are PushBullet users. If they are not PushBullet users, they will be notified to join up. I know this sounds kinda lame, since IM is probably the most abused and misused feature on mobile these days and with so many providers already offering IM services, it cease to be a unique selling point. But when integrated as a package, I can see the difference in the overall workflow experience.

PushBullet Workflow

This is what sets everything apart. As a stand alone app on your mobile, you can say that it is pretty useless as the only feature it has which differentiates itself from the rest is the news channel subscriptions.

There are several news channels or news aggregators which you can subscribe to for free—allowing you to periodically receive the latest news on the Internet. It doesn’t have proper news channels like CNN or NYT but it does support a host of industry channels from gaming to tech happenings. Beyond that, it offers nothing else for mobile users.

However for people who work from desktop PCs and mobile devices, this is a very handy tool as files and links gets passed around easily and shared with people on your IM list.

What’s more, you can also have project group mates who you might want to send URL links to instead of writing them an email. And who reads emails these days? When you get 100s a day, it gets pretty lame trying to sieve through them, and these are work emails and not the spam variety you find on supermarket shelves.

The UX is very well thought out. On mobile, it sits there as any standard app without IM capabilities. So there is no fussing around. You can also turn off the pushed notifications whenever you like or have them pushed ONLY while you are connected on WIFI.

The folks at PushBullet are still building this beast of a service in the hope of being bought out. I think they have done a great job coming this far. Lets hope it stays that way. I can already the hawks in the Internet industry descending on them to take them out. What they provide is inherently very simple but it is the way that it is delivered that makes them world class.

 

Keeping a Mobile Diary

tumblr_inline_mt28u2XV5j1qz4rgpThe recent paranoia about the NSA going after your private information has left a bitter after taste for many of us. So what is private anymore? What about your diary or daily journal?

There are two schools of thought. The diary can be a private place, but some might prefer to show it off online. Some may just want to record their darkest days in writing and never share it with the world.

If you have a need to keep a daily journal of some sort, the last place you’d keep them would be Facebook or Instagram. turning your daily thoughts and feelings into words has consequences.

Then you have the problem of monetization. Cloud based diary platforms need to make money to fund their service. A cloud based service that is free is probably a good idea but you will find them shutting down if it proves to be unprofitable. Every diary platform startup is looking to social media as a means of monetization. Who knows? Mark Zuckerberg could just drop by your front door and buy you up. This was the case for DAYS for iOS where Yahoo snapped them up out of the blue.

Diary for Mobile for iOS and Android

5961828658_f833712413

This is actually the web app for the service Diary.com. It is not a bad site and addresses the simple issue of having both private and public pages. Public pages are for people to read your stuff, so don’t post porn.

Besides this, the site also supports pictures, which you are free to add at anytime but unfortunately, there isn’t any room for video.

For people looking for the most basic option of having to write and post pictures of their daily life, Diary Mobile is probably a good place to start. The short learning curve means you’d be posting in no time at all.

For users who want are aiming to have something more social, like a journal or blog. This fits the cake nicely but there are huge differences between the two mobile version. The iOS version is straight laced, no editing after posting, no task list. Whereas the Android version has this and more but the picture posting capabilities  are non-functioning at the time of review.

DAYRE for iOS and Android 

onthesamepage_blog_dayre_app

Public diary. It’s a good start but users are few at the moment and if you are looking for followers, it might not be the place as it has yet to gain much user traction. For writing, it is not the best option as there is a 500 character limit on your post. As a visual diary with a few words thrown in. It has its appeal.

The UI is clunky. You are given a choice of blogging using locations, words, video or with pictures. Location information is optional of course if you want to keep you blogging destination secret. The inclusion of cartoon stickers somehow seems to create the impression that it is more for the young and if you happen to be a hip brand for youngsters, it could be a good place to start.

Like most photo sharing apps, the app gives you a range of preset filters to color your world. Not the most imaginative option but it does the job. Images and topics can be hash tagged for easier searches but exploring the community is a bit of a hit or miss affair. There is no way around this. It is very similar to Instagram and limits your text post to under 500 characters. The chronological post platform isn’t conducive for marketing and you don’t automatically get a grid view of all your post.

Dayre doesn’t have a web browser interface and this means it only exist on mobile. It might give you web access eventually but it could be quite a while in waiting.

DAYS for iOS

Yahoo made quite a splash when they purchased this new startup which publishes a timeline diary that is more photo centric. The visual diary catalogs what you capture on a daily basis and arranges them as a daily post. You can only post items from a day ago rather than post as you go along.

daysscreenie-730x640

Sharing is possible by connecting it to Facebook but that’s hardly a innovation these days. I like the concept of Days but its execution is flawed. The UI profile reminds me more of a photo sharing site than a visual diary. That said, there is nothing stopping you from doing the same with your current Instagram feed.

What’s more, you don’t get to enter much information. It does however recognize photos that are taken in a quick sequence and puts them together as an animated gif.

The time stamp of your photos are basically put up in bold before you upload them to your visual time line. Each of these represents the hours of the day and it up to you to add some captions to them.

There is no separate blogging feature where you can go “Dear Diary…yada yada yada yada….”. That said, it might suit those who have little to say or prefer to let their pictures speak for them.

Memoires: the Diary for Android

This is an app created by a Victor Nakonechny, and it is probably one of the best examples of an old world diary made current with the help of technology. There is no public post, no web platform for social discovery. Nada.

fJcz15NvsFTLQgoCPadwhFWvNwxZ3W4B1kZUhlWHJYVf1N6LFMoIISU-t6oKOTp0HQ=h310

It is a private diary app that has everything you need to pen your journal and file it away in secret to the cloud. Even the NSA would have a hard time getting to it once you encrypt it. You can add voice notes, location information, pictures and weather information. Data then can be encrypted for safe keeping. This is probably the best way to keep a private journal, and by syncing it to cloud storage, it can be  kept anywhere you choose. Full marks for it being a private journal of sorts.

Backkom Diary

mzl.mabsaain.320x480-75-1

Designed to work on with the Samsung Galaxy Note series of devices, this has gotta be the most whimsical of all diary apps. There is a non-pen version on the Samsung Store but haven’t seen it on the Google Playstore. It’s been around since the first Galaxy note and I don’t know if it was meant for kids or grown ups who want to be kids. The app is clunky to navigate. It even has a calendar function which you add birthdays, anniversaries, etc for good measure.

Backkom is really the name of a animated character named Bernard the Polar Bear, where in South Korea, he’s known as Backkom. Not sure if you’d swing with this but the whimsical tone and UI does turn people off. Again, this is not a social or cloud storage based diary. Your pictures and scribblings are saved to the device itself and there is no way of exporting. Personally, it functions better as a To-do list. There are alarms that you can set but beyond this, not much else.

Choosing a Platform that Suits You

I hate to say this but the free wheeling days of a the startup is over. After the consolidation of social media platforms, the big names in SNS are not buying up diary platforms to integrate to their existing social media properties. Facebook probably might buy one up eventually as this is the missing puzzle from their suite but Google already has the capability by integrating its blogging platform, blogspot.com, into G+. Mobile only access is probably one of the difficult justifications for a diary. What if you have no access to your mobile device, how would you put in an entry?

If you want to be publicly noticed by the NSA, then keep a journal or a blog online. Those diary apps are not going to win you a legion of followers unless you’re a porn star. The only advantage a mobile diary is that you have access to it as long as you are free to write or record plenty of pictures at the end of the day.

There are plenty of other diary apps out there which are competing for social interaction. I could review dozens on iOS and Android platforms so take your time to shop around for one that suits you best.

Android Holo User Interface Craze

nexusae0_PIE-03032014-PNG_thumb

When one speaks of design, the Android platform is a wild place. I have written previously about getting custom ROMs and launchers for your device but the one that stumps people most these days is the use of the term ‘holo’ for User Experience (UX) and User Interface  (UI) Design. The UI is open to manufacturers to determine, thus you have TouchWiz, Sense UI and even Xperia UI just to name a few.

Google on the other hand presents its own stock standard UI which is still evolving and one of the design principles behind the UI is the Holo design theme. You can browse this site to find out more about how the Holo theme is implemented by third party app developers. You can also add your own custom Holo theme app from some weird folks who just ‘skin‘ a current app by taking it apart and reapplying the Holo theme but do beware, these have to be downloaded outside of the Playstore so you have to enable app installations from a third party in your settings menu.

1

Note the icon changes and tiny design modifications to the official Instagram App

How Holo can it Be?

Design fragmentation is a bad thing but not entirely so. You get a personalized look and feel and it makes it pretty unique except that Google doesn’t like it. Since ICS 4.0, Google has added pressure on manufacturers to conform to certain design rules. These Holo design rules are to be applied across board to any manufacturer that ships Google Android with the official Playstore. The Holo design API is standard with the SDK and cannot be removed by manufacturers so any app developer can make use of these design APIs to create a Holo-fied app.

PA 4.4 HALO - ABDW

Holo is very similar to Apple’s iOS 7, and Jonny Ive was reported to have ripped design elements from Android to fit the new Apple UI. Chief among the elements is the flat design look, where colors are muted and cooler in appearance.

Custom ROMs are not Spared

Even custom ROM developer, Paranoid Android is moving to that sphere with design elements implemented using Holo Theme. These guys rock. They have redesigned the whole UI to give a different experience to the user. The main difference as you can see here is the use of a PIE type navigation where you can touch and hold the screen to bring up a PIE type navigation wheel.

2014-03-04 - 1

But before you jump in to download this particular custom ROM, let me remind you that it is only applicable for the Google Nexus line of devices. Putting it into your Galaxy or HTC device will probably brick your set.

Changing the Look and Feel

There are still  other ways to change the look and feel of your User Interface without resorting to a custom ROM job. The folks at mycolorscreen.com have a beta app which is nearing completion. It has a tonne of User features for your home screen to give it a more personal touch with the Themer App. Zooper Widgets, which are highly popular and customisable, has been integrated into the Themer App fold. So you can literally design a Zooper widget to fit any Android screen and sell it as your own on the Playstore.

unnamed

So far, the app has yet to exit Beta testing after a copyright claim from Apple threw a spanner in the works. Apparently someone had ripped off icon elements from iOS7 in one of the home launchers and Apple took action. There are plenty of Holo type home screen launchers available but you have to wait till the Themer app goes prime time. Until then, your best option for a custom UI is to flash a custom ROM.

Movies on Android: Showbox Option

Hulu-App-Coming-to-iPad-Subscription-Planned-Unconfirmed-2Content is king so they say and for some sinister reason, you can’t get all the content you want unless you do this illegally. This has been the case for fan of TV series and Movies from the US as you can’t buy anything legally unless its on a DVD. The iTunes store and Google Play store is no different. The latest stuff on TV never makes it here. Movies do of course provided you have a Playtstore or Appstore account.

screen480x480

Where I live, I have Google hasn’t yet given me the freedom to buy TV programs or Movies. Bummer. Instead, Google themselves expects you to consume movies by ripping your own DVD, which is a pain of course. I am not going to tackle the question of copyright. That’s a minefield as leasing to own a copy versus owning a copy is two different things. Hollywood prefers the leasing model. You don’t own the movie when you buy it offline.

The question of copyright and a right to copy is as old as prostitution itself. If you have seen a movie, does it mean it is against the law to keep a copy? After all, what is this about the rental and ownership thing? Just coz you bought a legal DVD of the movie, doesn’t mean you can’t rip it and load it onto your device. The question goes on and on.

Chinese Connection

China for some reason, streams movies via the Internet to some of its mobile app like Sohu, LeTV and PPTV. Problem is, some of the streams are blocked but some Hollywood, China, Taiwan and HK movies are available.

HJoA5L_k7vfwplo_DnKR0PmU96TDngygkqKkJKDUrMI_LMW-985uy0SkaeCba-FC-Iuf=h900

The next problem is, it is all in Chinese. The navigation and titles are all in Chinese but that should not stop you from browsing content as there are thumbnails of the moves on display. These apps are totally legit, and I have not heard of anyone trying to take them down.

Getting Hulu or Going for Netflix

I have explored this on a previous post on VPN, and you can of course spoof your IP address just to watch the latest TV shows on Hulu or Netflix. There are apps that do this but with limited bandwidth. I streamed a program called BBC Top Gear and the 45 min took up roughly 400MB of data. You need to download the BBC TV streaming app to do this.  So if you are addicted to the latest Sherlock Holmes series, you are better off with a VPN subscription to spoof you location and watch all the content you want till the cows come home. Or if you wish, you could also install a little known plug-in for Firefox and Chrome browsers called “proxmate”. It helps to spoof your IP and lets you consume all the TV and Movies you want on Hulu, HBO or Netflix (some may need a paid subscription)

UPDATE: 30 April. 2014 Hulu has actively blocked VPS. Viewers from overseas cannot use a VPN to watch movies.

Russian Movie Connection

I am not allowed to tell you where but you can drop by to showbox.me to find out where to get this app. I must say that it rocks. It is the best streaming movie/TV app found on the Internet and it is free. I first discovered this app on the Playstore and since then it was yanked out of the list. I remained faithful so I downloaded it again later whenever it got updated.

Screenshot_2013-11-28-03-09-17

The Russians have no use for Hollywood and they have made this app just to get Hollywood all riled up. I must say they are doing a damn good job because I found the app to be formidable vitriol as several DMCA orders were sent to get them to take it down. So they did. But that doesn’t mean you can install in on your Android.

Within the app, you’ll find a treasure trove of all the latest TV shows from Hollywood. I watched the whole season of Sleepy Hallow while taking a peek at Breaking Bad. The site allows you to stream directly to your device or store the file for watching later. Due to bandwidth limitation, each login is only allowed one slot for either downloading or streaming.

Make Sure you have a Malware Scanner

As with all apps installed via an independent source, make sure you have a malware scanner in place before you do so. The reason is simple. Every APK can be taken apart and reassembled without you ever knowing loaded with malware code.

Aside from this, you should be quite safe. ShowBox is an app that thrives on advertising. So if you happen to like the app, all you have to do is click the link.

Apple iOS users will be the biggest losers as the only way to get illegal apps onto a device is to jailbreak the device. But there is an option, that is to get a proxy server in China and install the Sohu, PPTV Chinese apps from the Appstore.

Morally, what you are doing is wrong as you are depriving the movie and TV moguls from making money from your TV station or movie cineplex however if censorship is your main problem from where you are living, then be prepared to be blown away with this app. It simply rocks.

Suck it Up with Clean Master

Clean_Master_App“Massstarrr, the House is very Messy!”

“Well Igor, CLEAN it up!”

Android suffers from one major problem. Juggling files in RAM storage and leaving a ton of trash files behind. Those of you unlucky enough to own 1GB RAM devices, you’ll know what I mean. Apps that promised some form of house cleaning can be found all over the playstore, and many do NOT warn you that your RAM is dangerous close to being overstuffed…that is until Clean Master came along.

First, I normally do not spend much time testing utility types apps but this one has won me over. The app is one that tells me whenever I am near the limit of my RAM storage and this happens quite often.

Why Your RAM is Stuffed

I have mentioned this before and I will mention it again. One of the biggest culprit for junk files is Social Media. Each time you fetch a Facebook newsfeed or an Instagram post, the files are stored in RAM. Over the course of a day, you will have more and more junk files than you care to imagine. A single newsfeed refresh on Facebook can yield as much as 1MB of files and once you start browsing your newsfeed, it starts to fetch even MORE files. The breathing room for your device gets squeezed and that’s when you start to realize that it gets slow and turgid. This addiction to mass Social Media Consumption is what drives people nuts. They want their device to be quick all the time but they only have themselves to blame.

Screenshot_2013-03-03-20-34-03

The other big users of RAM are games online or multiplayer. You may not know how this feels until you start to see glitches in speed. Your gaming starts to stall and lag. You know the deal here when you see it.

Clean Master Rocks

Flushing the toilet after use is probably the best way forward but mobile devices aren’t made for cache flushing on its own. Clean Master identifies the problem and alerts you about it. It’s up to you to take that notification seriously. The app can be used for both normal and rooted access. For rooted access, you can grant it Super user privileges.

Screenshots_2014-01-08-22-55-55

But Clean Master does more than this. It also monitors your App usage, warning you that some apps haven’t been used and you should junk them. For instance you may have downloaded an app and totally forgotten about it. Clean Master makes a note of all those apps that don’t have much attention and suggest that you eject them from storage. It also tracks your internal storage files, allowing you to clean up that forgotten video porn you  downloaded while waiting for your boss to get back from lunch.

Unlike other RAM cleaning apps, Clean Master monitors your RAM state constantly while leaving a very small footprint. For now, there is no banner advertising and from the looks of it, they could go PRO by asking for a fee later.

Android’s operating system can never be as efficient as iOS because of Google took the multi tasking route. iOS is more linear in its RAM usage and this is also the same reason why Apple never gives you much RAM to play with in the first place. By limiting the RAM on the iPhone 5s to just 1GB, you can see why iOS can never be truly multitasking. Apps that are in the background will stay stuck until you bring it up front. That is why so many side loading apps that promises background operation don’t work.

Android users have to contend with the constant house cleaning as part of the Android structure, but those background apps keep humming along without you having to do a thing. Files can be uploaded to cloud storage as a background process and two apps can be running and sharing the same resource and computing power.

There is no one perfect operation system and as long as you’re aware of this, you get to keep working the way you do on Android.

Make your Day with Memes

hero-1

Memes. I have had a love hate relationship with them from day one. Hated the loud, badass, vulgar and stupid ones that are very American in culture. Memes are often created with pop culture icons from Hollywood, using stolen pictures from the Internet.

On the flip side, the Memes also gave birth to the Insta-Text, where words and pictures mix together in a seemingly fertile jelly of self expression. These memes are then posted on Instagram, the Polaroid snapshot of today — emblazoned with words of wisdom and cliched quotes. There is nothing risque about them, something which we all seem to associate with the memes of today.

Memematics on your Mobile

This is actually a spin-off topic while researching for my other blog, techmystique hosted on WordPress. It was a study on how people could generate content and in the process create content that was worth passing around.

Having assessed the apps on both the Appstore and Playstore, I have listed down some of the stuff you an get online that works out for both iOS and Android. There are basically two types of photo editing apps, one type is for beautifying your photos by allowing you edit and add filters to change the exposure while another type works by adding layered text onto the image.

Memes are created using the latter, and to make it more user friendly, these apps are built with a variety of graphics and font add-ons.

screen1136x1136

Rhonna Design and Over

My personal fav has to be Rhonna Design App, which of course is only available on iOS and recently on Android. On the iPhone, it’s a pain when are born with big fingers. For this, the Hobbit wins hands down. Stabbing at the small screen is a tough task, much tougher than trying to destroy the Ring by tossing it into a Mordor volcano.

screen568x568Rhonna creates beautiful design motifs that is included in the app but there are extra font packs and graphics available via a in-app purchase method. The Android version is just catching up and has yet to allow full screen editing.

Each font/graphic pack can be purchased separately from Rhonna’s in-app purchase feature and these are priced at US$0.99 a pop. Good to go once you have the graphic pack or font of your choice. The downside of Rhonna’s app is that it is not free. Nor is there a free version for you to play with before buying it.

Over-App-620x353

Over app on the other hand uses similar Jedi mind tricks to get you to buy their graphics and font packs but at least they allow you to edit and save your stuff in a rectangular format. Over still has much refining to do as it’s quite limited in terms of choices.

Both Over and Rhonna Design apps allow you to download your own font, OTF or TFF types only, to your iDevice but you need to upload them to Dropbox or Box storage and open them within the app when prompted to do so. Android users probably have it easier by using iFont app but using it within the app is still a bit of a mystery for now. Over is currently only available on iOS.

Overly, PicLab & InsPhoto for Android

To be fair, Rhonna Design’s App is probably the best on offer for mobile but it does not support importing of graphics from custom sources; for this you need Photofy.

Photofy, available to both Android and iOS is the closest thing so far to being able to give you beautiful graphics and buying the unlock version allows you to import up to 24 custom designs of your own creation. The downside of Photofy is that it crops to a square format and is very rigid in its approach to adding elements on screen. For Android users, you probably need to use Rhonna Design and Photofy at the same time to create something really unique with a corporate logo.

save-and-share

Photofy is a good app, but there just “so-so” when it comes to features and capability. There are loads of free content like mottos, quotes and cute text options. The sheer number of optional insta-text is what makes it super unique and the best choice for those with a wild imagination. Photofy is promising a new revised cropping tool for the app in future updates.

The editing options are less than satisfying. For one, you can’t add more than two elements and there is no avenue to import third party fonts for use within the app.

For corporate use,  Photofy is the best choice. Companies who use Instagram will find the freedom to import their own logos most useful. On the other hand, I don’t like the one line text caption that you are allowed to use for any of your images, furthermore, there is no way to skip the customary requirement for a graphic image added to your photo in the first instance.

In its own way, the app is pretty rigid in its approach. PicLab, which is also found on the Android platform doesn’t quite cut it as all it does is add text over your image.

IMG_2993

There are a few others that do exactly what PicLab does, so I won’t mention them here as they are not game changers. InsPhoto is similar in that respect. You can add text and enhance the image with a variety of settings but you can’t add graphic layers to it.

IMG_2975

Overly, which is still in Beta is not a clone of the Over app on iOS. I won’t add anything here on Overly as it has yet to make a proper debut and even if you take it for a spin, you’d get the idea that the app still needs a fair amount of work to be really useful.

Photo App Conclusions

Not all photo apps are made the same. There are so many free ones these days that we often cloud our home screens with them. Bear in mind that many are not suitable for meme making. Those with more complex editing options have a much steeper learning curve but you’ll get use to it soon enough. These apps work by adding layer upon layer of graphics over your original photo, decorating it before finally flattening the image as a JPG. Not many apps can do that but such editing options adds to the complexity. Therein lies the attraction, it becomes a blank canvas where your creativity is set free to make a simple picture more attractive. So prepare to amaze your friends with those one of a kind Memes from yours truly.

Lift Off: Android Launchers Review

screen-final

Android’s winning feature has to be its customization capabilities. Stock standard home screens can be an incredible bore and Google has even addressed this in KitKat, where you can select a custom launcher of your preference from the settings menu.

Home Screen Launchers offer you a way out of your standard Smartphone UI (user interface) and Apple iOS user can’t help but look on in envy as you show off a new home screen every day of the week. But sadly, not many devices will allow you this freedom. First you need plenty of RAM and a fast processor. Quad Core is best, dual core…not so much — with at least 2GB of RAM. Here is a run down on some that I have tested on various devices, for both Tablets and Smartphones.

AVIATE

Still in beta, this is made by ex-Googlers and based around the Google Now card concept. This is an extremely intelligent launcher that is developed to be more functional than beautiful. The card concept isn’t something that will make ducks take to water, as the rectangular boxes that represent your widgets may put fashionistas. The home screen is multi faceted as it detects your location and this is what sets it apart from the rest.

screen-spaces

Aviate has three custom functions, that is to segment the apps you’d use while at home, work or when going places. For example when it detects that you are at work, it offers you a chance to pull out a productivity drawer which has all the apps you’d be normally using. When at home, it gives a different drawer for home use, like maybe playing music or watching videos. You add apps to each of the drawers or download the suggested app. These drawers will also carry app suggestions from the Aviate should it be empty.

The ‘going places’ drawer is the most interesting. You have a choice of bar and foodspotting apps as well as Four Square check ins. For me, I don’t use four squares so you can replace some of these suggested apps with one you’d normally use.

Widget support is rather weak as not all third party custom widgets are supported. However the standard ones that come with it is enough to keep most people happy.

The no nonsense approach is probably best for the more rational users who do not like the clutter of seemingly artistic UI touches. Aviate also scores well for memory and storage usage as there isn’t much going on behind the scenes to take away the user experience.  For now, Aviate is only available on Smartphones but I suspect a Tablet version isn’t far off.

Themer

Mycolorscreen’s Themer offers the best options for styling your home screen but is very complex to use. This project started with a website called MycolorScreen.com, where people shared home screen designs. It graduated to a whole new level with the Themer launcher.

ku-bigpic

The folks at Themer even bought out Zooper Widgets in the process, making it the defacto widget customization tool which you can use. This is not to say that it won’t work with your other widgets, just that it might not work as well as it should.

I will not talk about the bugs here since this is still in Beta and it works well on any quad-core 2GB ram device. That said, you will experience performance issues with dual core 1GB devices. The widgets and the number of customized screens you can add is very enticing for fashion conscious users but as usual, it comes at a price as the more widgets you add, more resources will be consumed.

Themer’s business model created around  brand sponsored home packs for you to decorate your home screens. This means the launcher will remain free. Sponsored branding will generate  revenue to pay off the development cost of Themer and I do think that’s a great idea. You can customized each Theme with Zooper Widgets and this is where it gets a bit complicated. Size, color, looks can be changed but it does take time. Predesigned themes can also have several scrolling home screens for you to customize so you can be spending hours tinkering with the look. The moment you start adding more home screens and widgets, the overall responsiveness will be affected.

Themer also pays individual designers a small fee for designing a great launch packs which you can download and use for free. Not sure if this will transition to a paying model as the app is still in Beta.

Themer is available only for Smartphone use for now.

Espier iOS 7

Espier is a German word for spy. So I am not too sure if you’d be compromising your safety if you used this. Built as an iOS7 look alike and developed by some folks from China. Espier gives your Android device a Jony Ive look without having to pay for Apple hardware. It looks good and works on a unique business model. The launcher has its own hub where some of the functionality have to be purchased. What I like about the Espier is that it works pretty much like the Apple version, right down to the multi touch to remove apps from your home screen or folder. It has a notification bar widget which you can add on to give it a more authentic Apple feel but at a price. Some of the features like widgets cost money, and widgets are proprietary. You can’t add stuff on a home screen like you would on other launchers.

espier-launcher-ios7-cap-android

On a quad core, 1GB RAM device, it worked ok. There were momentary hiccups with the icons but the responsiveness wasn’t affected. On dual core 1GB devices, user responsiveness was akin to prodding a dead possum to life. To be fair, the look and feel of iOS is looking very dated. The Jony Ive look is way over hyped and a tad boring but then again, you can have this look for cheap on Android hardware—and on a larger screen too.

Espier will work on both Smartphones and Tablets.

Buzz Launcher

Looks and feels very similar to Themer, which an option to download themes designed by users. Each theme can be made with a host of widgets and Buzz Launcher, which like Themer, offers its own widgets as a separate download. Users can also add third party widgets.

buzz_launcher_720

Buzz isn’t meant for dual core 1GB devices. Some of the theme packs designed by users make use of a wide range of third party widgets to the point that it overloads the RAM. There are simpler home themes which do far less device resource but if you are a power user, you need a faster device with a minimum of 2GB of ram.

Buzz is available now, and there is a lot of activity from designers who offer their own themes. The missing widgets for the custom themes can be directly downloaded from the Play store, but not all of them are free. Some designers have made use of paid widgets so you need to replace this with something to your liking.

Overall responsiveness depends on the theme and number of widgets it uses. It might just scrap through with a 1GB RAM dual core device but you soon get bored and want to try some hipster home screen that is resource intensive. Widgets don’t always work due to lower RAM so you have been warned. It was slow and turgid on 1GB dual core devices when I tested it.

What makes this a winner is the sheer variety of Theme Packs which you can download for free. It is bewildering!

Buzz will work on both Smartphones and Tablets.

Hipsters Look Out!

Just coz you can hijack your own homescreen doesn’t mean that it will work on all devices. I have always said that having enough available RAM is very important if you want to have a custom screen, a fast quad core processor is preferable over dual core.

Android KitKat’s was designed from the ground up to take advantage of custom home launchers by selecting it from the home menu. What’s more KitKat is also more efficient in juggling storage and RAM, though I have not personally tested it, I am sure it will work better than what you have experienced on Jelly Bean.

There are also dozens of other home launchers which I haven’t reviewed so remember that any custom home launcher you install will have their own quirks. Each widget you add on your home screen will affect your RAM availability. The more widgets you have, the harder it will be for your device to keep up. So don’t go reporting bugs and slow performance issues when your device just doesn’t have the muscle to do the heavy lifting.

Home screen Launchers are the darlings of the Android world. Apple iOS can’t even come close. Five years ago, the Apple home screen revealed by Steve Jobs was ground breaking but by today’s standard, it is merely functional. This is why Android rocks and will continue to do so for a long time to come.

Android KitKat: No Surprises

android-kitkat-4.4-kit-kat-8

The world is flat. I don’t have an issue with it but this flat design approach is probably taking it a step in the wrong direction when it comes aesthetics as Apple fan boys hated it. But let’s not go postal over this. Feature wise there isn’t much to talk about except the following:-

Google Now is the Home Screen

Yea, but only for the stock standard KitKat, so if you have Touch Wiz or some other launcher working ontop of this, you won’t see much of it. This sort of optimization is going to encourage more telco and manufacturer bloatware, which you can’t remove but have to put to sleep manually using the Android App Manager.

Works on 512MB of RAM

As silly as it sounds, but not many devices are shipping with 512MB these days. And even if the stock standard KitKat will only be less of 512MB of code, manufacturers will put in their own bloatware ontop of it so don’t go celebrating this by buying a round of drinks for all your buddies at the bar.

QuickOffice is Free

It has been free since Google bought it out and now comes as part of KitKat. The app gets updated automatically via Playstore so it resides as part of the OS, the bad news is that you might not be able to delete it to free up storage.

Third Party Cloud Storage for Photos and Media

No big deal here. You could already use Box or Dropbox to upload content automatically to the cloud. You can even auto upload to G+. With Gallery integration, you can how back up all your photos of the day to Cloud Storage for sharing or self whoring.

Hangout with SMS, forget FB Messenger

Yes, Hangouts has been improved to take on every sensible communicative process including MMS and SMS. Time to dump your Facebook Messenger app! This will no doubt cause a lot of pain in the patukis  for Zuckerberg and gang who had earlier intended to hijack your messaging app.

Emoji for your Keyboard

No more fiddling around with those icons, it comes free with your standard Google keyboard, which I don’t use anyway. Emoji might change that as you can use this icon pack instead of purchasing those proprietary icon packs when expressing your angst.

Air Printing is now a reality

Wifi is handy, you got a printer on a network, you could just send that PDF you got to the printer in the office. There is a printer hub which printer manufacturers can now release an option for. No more messing around with the network copier and printer for those who hate doing manual labor.

Immersive Mode Full Screen

No more dodgy notifications, jarring buttons or status bars. You go full screen with the app the moment an app launches for media playback. Multi touch support is from the center of the display. Not bad not but nothing great.

44ktikat3jidj

Memory and Storage Optimization

Probably the most important feature that you can’t see. Android has a pretty weird way of dealing with memory/storage and optimizing the process is going to make apps more  efficient. This could mean more fluid app dynamics and leave plenty of room for gaming and social media distractions.

When can I get KitKat?

If you are running stock standard Android, you can get it now but there is a caveat. It won’t work on the Galaxy Nexus, its innards are too old to support the new firmware.

Samsung and HTC will take a good six months before it decides which sets will get an update. As far as I remember, Samsung promised a Jellybean update for GN 1 and it never came, though I was told it was rolled out to certain countries. KitKat isn’t a massive improvement, it is an update to sort out some user experience issues and memory grabs by apps that were poorly coded.

Like iOS7, it is more aesthetics than features. Samsung would be loath to release an update but the smaller KitKat foot print could give them more room to inject more bloatware. For now, you best bet would be Cynogenmod, those band of independent developers have promised to release a 4.4 update as soon as they can pare down the code.

The only visible thing you’d be getting from KitKat are the icons. Since the stock standard KitKat will carry the new and improved icon pack, device manufacturers won’t see the need to skin them into another form.

Who Will be Getting KitKat?

New devices from all he major brands with the exception of Motorola of course—who now offer only stock standard Android. HTC and Samsung will have their own interpretation of a home screen so you won’t be cursed with a Google alternative. The majority of devices with a minimum of 1GB RAM will be able to run KitKat — preferably with a dual core processor.

One Version to Rule them All!

Fragmentation was pretty bad with Android Gingerbread and Honeycomb. This fork has now been unified. All devices shipping with Honeycomb for Tablets can now offer KitKat and this is of particular interest for tablets and phones offered in third world countries where only 512MB of RAM is often the defacto standard for cheap knock offs.

To a large extent, KitKat is like iOS 7. Nothing to shout about, has some nice optimization which you won’t see much of and can be incredibly boring for those who want more. Google Now with Voice command is given more prominence but if you happen to speak with a lisp, chances are you won’t be using it.

Free to use Word Processors for Android

quickoffice-logo1

I still remember the days where term ‘wordprocessor’ was used to indicate an over glorified typewriter. I used WordStar on a Apple II, so I know how far this has been going on.

Over a decade ago, I told someone that office tools needed to be moved into the cloud so that you don’t have to pay those expensive licenses to Microsoft for use of their office Suite. This was before Google and just around the time of the decline of Netscape.

Today, with Google Docs, we can do this, all free of course with your Google account but we have all know now that this works best on paper . So when Google decided to buy out QuickOffice and gave it for free to Android users, everyone rejoiced.

The only users who didn’t were those who had paid for QuickOffice before it went the freeware route.

screen480x480

QuickOffice Versus Polaris Office Versus Kingsoft Office

Cloud based office tools like Office365 and Google Docs need you to be online to use. This is fine if you are working form a desktop. When you are offline, you’re better off with a mobile app that does just this.

There are three office programs which I am familiar with, there are more but I don’t usually go for them as I need a spell check feature. Having been schooled into the British system, I have to revert to American spelling when I write online and this is where the spelling gets choked up. I don’t do presentations nor do I like doing it on a tablet or mobile device. The problem is the workflow. To add and edit, add, save and create files on mobile devices is a slow process.

On my Android Tablets, you should be able to find about three different type of Office tools. Namely, Quickoffice, Polaris Office and Kingsoft Office. I had to test drive the word processors before deciding which best suited me.

Truth be told, I was never a fan of Polaris Office, a Korean developed office suite that has very basic features. It works almost like a basic word processors with very basic functions. I didn’t test drive the spreadsheet as that is something I don’t really use either. Google owned QuickIOffice offers one of the poorest workflow performance so far. I don’t mind the minimalist approach to its design and UX, but it is almost like using an electric typewriter.

btQidx_JWihAGcqgRfQth_QZ6DcAIh0-zKgUS3lTxBueYsy2rFmAHkWWwg1AR0TywaI=h900

QuickOffice document formatting can be found on the top right hand corner and that’s all you are getting!

Polaris is way better than QuickOffice I am afraid. For one, it will open any word file format. QuickOffice has given me errors and problems on opening files in both .docx and .doc. But the limitations of the office suite is probably one big caveat. How Infraware has gotten away with it so far boils down to its Korean roots. Polaris is given free with every Samsung Android device. So if they made a dollar on every Samsung device sold, they would be millionaires.

QuickOffice supports a document spell check and has a ‘check as you type’ feature to correct words and spelling. You can choose to go and resolve the spelling as you type or do it at the end of the document when you are done. Words and suggestions for spelling is supported with a dictionary and it relatively intuitive. Aside from this, both Polaris and QuickOffice don’t seem to fall very far from the same tree.

Behold the King!

programa-kingsoft-office-para-sistema-operacional-android-1335306868752_956x500

China founded Kingsoft rules the roost when it comes to Office tools. They are way better than some of the PAID Office Apps and will totally kick Microsoft Office365 into hyperspace. And yes, Kingsoft Office is FREE.

Now its feature rich UI design is a welcome change from the minimalist type word processors like QuickOffice and Polaris Office but it comes at a price. It is heavy on RAM usage and there are issues such as lag, sudden crashes and a less than stellar spell check function.

There is no ‘check as you type’ feature and the word suggestions are poor. It could not point out the correct spelling for spelling error syntax like “dont” for “don’t”. This Neanderthal intelligence is probably the one that irks me the most.

Conclusion?

Apparently there is no clear winner. All of them suffer from some handicap and at times, I wish the developers would pay more attention to the user experience (UX) and not the user interface (UI).

The biggest losers are Microsoft, which until this day refuses to put up a challenger in the hope that people will buy into their Windows RT platform just to access the Office Suite. Microsoft has one app on Android called OneNote which is more for note taking just like EverNote. All three provide some support for Cloud based storage, which I  abhor since there will be a time where data lines become inaccessible with no way to retrieve your files when you most need it.

There is much hope on Kingsoft, which for some reason has put out a desktop PC version of their Office suite. They seem to be pouring in loads of money to develop a very ambitious and free office suite. So let’s keep our fingers cross and hope that they will get it right in the next upgrade.

Lastly, I do not think I would write an entire book using a mobile wordprocessing app for one reason—user experience. Typing is far more rewarding on a physical keyboard than an onscreen version. The tactile feel is just right for you to keep your fingers moving. With a touch screen keyboard it’s just not the same. I still dream of using the IBM Keyboard that was made with a buckling spring. Fortunately it is still manufactured by Unicom but only for the PC and Mac.

img_screen_5

Camera360 updated with Neutered capture Resolution

camera360_iconAs a FREE camera app on the Android, there is nothing in my books that works better than Camera360 Ultimate. I have installed it in all my android devices and yes, it rocks but the latest update had me fuming.

For the last four months, I have used this on my Apple iPod Touch 5G and realize that there are distinct differences in how it was working. The Apple version of the app (also free) has captured widespread appeal because of its “real-time live view” function. This means that when you choose any effect, you can see it in real-time on what it actually looks like before capture—which unlike the Android version where you only get to see what the effected image would look like after having captured it. Thus the Android version still has some way to go before it gets to the stage of being on equal footing with the iPhone version.

New UI & Controls

I think the new UI is great. Slide the button to the left to get effect mode (filters) and slide right to get scene modes (for preset scene selection). Scene mode isn’t the same as you find in a digital camera, instead, it gives you access to  selection of preset scenes which you include part of the image.

There is also WB support now, whereas in earlier versions, this was not always available on all phones. The app has also been updated to support cloud integration and more social sharing sites beyond Facebook and Flickr to include Twitter too. But G+ support is still missing! The rests are of course China based SNS which you won’t be using unless you read and write Chinese.

Capture Resolution Problem

Sharing files are great but the captured image resolution now only supports up to 3 megapixels only on Android devices. I know this sucks but apparently the slew of new devices has made it difficult for the folks at Chengdu, China to have backward compatibility with all Android phones.

Frankly, I think that 3 megapixels is far too low. I think 5 megapixel should suffice and I have written to Pinguo Technology to change this. Now if you are only sharing your pictures online, 3 megapixel is ample. But if you are shooting to keep some of your photos for print later, then 5 megapixel should make the cut. By truncating it to 3 megapixel, your choices are restricted.

Conclusion

Yes, I am annoyed at the changes but it still remains one of the best FREE camera apps on the planet for your Android and iPhone. Yes, you may not believe me but you can go download it on your iDevice and use it and probably stop bothering to use any other camera app thereafter. I know I have.

**UPDATED** May 15 2013. 

Picture Size has been updated to 6 megapixel capture from 3 megapixel! 

 

IMG_1259