Monday, 4 August 2014

Why my Google Maps is old

Google Maps from way back then

Google updates its Maps app every once in a while, adding new features, upgrading existing functionality, and squashing the occasional bug.

But I haven't updated my copy of Google Maps for Android for over a year. Not on my phone, not on my tablet. Here's why:

Maps without paying for data roaming

A great feature of an ancient Google Maps update was the ability to store maps on your memory card for offline use. Mapping out a route still requires a live internet connection, but route planning only uses a tiny fraction of the data that the maps themselves gobble up.

That's not much of an issue on WiFi or an unlimited data plan, but what if you're roaming in a country where data costs a fortune and free WiFi is non-existant in most places?

If you're just using the app as a city map the answer is easy: download the map when you're on WiFi or before you leave your country, then use it for free as you walk the streets

If you're driving in a country with expensive data and no free WiFi on the highways (that's just about every country on the planet if you cross the border), you can download the route over WiFi in your hotel, or grudgingly pay the international bytes for grabbing the route, and then hit the road without paying anything extra.

But all of this only works if you store the maps you need onboard.

Google gives, Google takes

Three years ago Google Maps for Android finally offered the possibility to download maps for offline use. At first, it was limited to tiny little blocks of 15x15 miles, but since you could download ten of them you could easily fit an entire metropolis on your phone.

And then things got better. Two years ago the download limit increased to about 80 MB (enough for really big cities). Instead of ten maps you could only download six, but the increased size per map meant that you could fit small countries on your phone's memory card.

Too bad that a later update cut things back down again. Sometime last year the maximum download size reduced to the point where large cities wouldn't fit on a map.

London and Paris are too big

Try to download a map of all of London within the M25 with a recent version of Google Maps and you'll face with the message: "Area too large. Zoom in." That sucks big time if you want to move between Central London and your friends place out in the suburbs.

Compare that to the old Google Maps which would hold the Greater London Area including the airports, all the way from Luton and Stansted to Heathrow, City, and Gatwick.

Paris? Same problem. Recent editions of Google Maps won't store Charles de Gaulle airport and Versailles on the same map, whereas the old version holds all of Paris and its distant suburbs all away to the far-out Beauvais airport, deceptively labeled "Paris" by unscrupulous discount airlines like Ryanair.

Good old Google Maps stores Brussels and Antwerp and the highway that connects them in a single download, new Google Maps won't.

And in The Netherlands a single old Google Maps download gets you the four biggest cities of the Randstad conurbation. Use your quota of six stored maps and you can put the entire country on your Android gadget. The new Maps app doesn't get anywhere near that.

Check the screenshots in the picture for the difference between old and new. It makes a world of difference, or at least a city or two.

Newer is not always better

Sure, I could store much larger parts of the world in apps that use OpenStreetMap (e.g. OsmAnd or MapFactor), but those maps often fail to deliver outside the major cities in Europe and America, especially on the navigation part.

So that's why I keep a copy of good old Google Maps v6.14 on my Androids, and not the current version (v8.20.0 as of August 4, 2014). The features in the update just can't compete with the extra onboard storage of my vintage Google Maps.

• Big maps: Google Maps 6.14.x on xda (scroll through the pages, there are many different versions)
• Small maps: latest Google Maps in the Google Play Store

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Saturday, 21 June 2014

Live football and match highlights on Android: dodge the scams and see the goals


The Dutch kicked Spain in the cojones, Costa Rica surpised everyone, and the English wish they were never born. The 2014 World Cup couldn't have had a better start.

And there's more to come. Lots more.

But what if you're trapped at work, stuck on the beach, locked in a train, or anywhere else with no tv in sight?

Then you pull out your phone or tablet and watch the games on your Android, of course!

The minefield of the Play Store

The Google Play Store is full of apps to watch live football streams. Missed the game? Plenty of apps to watch the highlights too, so if you didn't see Ghana tame the Germans you have a second chance.

There's a tiny little problem.

Most football streaming apps and highlight viewers bomb your screen with popup ads that won't go away. Tap the tiny little "close" button and they dump even more annoying spam on your display. And when you finally killed the last ad, the video won't play.

So you download another app, only to find out that's it's the same worthless app with a different name, a different icon, and a different developer account from the same scammer.

But what about the Play Store ratings? Forget about them! You can be sure that 99,9% are from the app developers themselves. And most of the one star ratings come from the makers of competing apps.

Many football streaming apps are not worth their electrons, some work to some extent, and a few of them are really good.


This app has live streams and match highlights. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. If big teams are involved, there's usually a stream or two. Or more. Small teams from small leagues often have to do without. Unfortunately you'll only find out when you click the match. Football+ doesn't have an option to filter streamless games out of the list.

Football+ (Google Play Store)

Football live stream (R.I.P.)

This app from used to be my favorite. It worked really well, and had a no-nonsense clean interface. Too bad its servers stopped responding a long time ago. I really want this app to score again.

Football Soccer Highlights and FootyGoal

These two apps have no live matches, but they are are a good source of game highlights after the match.
FootyGoal is listed in the Play Store as Football Highlights World Cup, but it appears as FootyGoal in your app drawer.
FootyGoal and Football Clip Highlights show the same clips from the same source. FootyGoal has a better user interface, but Football Clip Highlights starts its clips directly in full screen mode.

Football Soccer Highlights (Google Play Store)
FootyGoal (Google Play Store)

Football Highlight

I just removed this app from my phones and tablets. Its match list hasn't been updated in months, and the old videos don't even load anymore. The app disappeared from the Play Store too. Bye bye.

• Gone.

Shadow TV

This general internet tv app has lots of channels from all over the world. Plenty of sports channels too, and some of them show live football. You have to try 'em too see what's on, because that's the only way to find out which of the many channels have a game on. Or look 'em up in an online tv guide.

Shadow TV (Google Play Store)

Soccer Live Streaming

Anyone who calls football "soccer" should be hanged, diced, and fed to the crocodiles. With that out of the way, on to the app itself.
Soccer Live Streaming lists lots of live matches ranging from the big leagues to the lower divisions of countries that nobody ever heard of. Just because a match is listed doesn't mean it has a live stream. You won't know until after you try to open it, because the list itself won't tell you. The bigger the teams, the more chance that there's a stream available.

Soccer Live Streaming (Google Play Store)


This bittorrent-like peer-to-peer streaming video app is filled to the brim with high quality live tv streams. There's plenty of live football in SopCast. The app has its own built-in list of channels, but this only shows a tiny fraction of what's available. Too bad SopCast has some spam streams too. Some big league streams are nothing but a static image pointing to a spammy website. To find all the matches live on SopCast you have to search sites like

SopCast (Original version. It's not in the Play Store, so you need to sideload it.)

SopCast Android

Did I just write that SopCast is not in the Google Play Store? It is in there, sort of. Someone called mrGhost2014 took the official version of SopCast apart, added his own ad screen, and shoved it into the Play Store. It's no different from the real SopCast, except for the extra ads.
Stay away from this ripoff. Sideload the real thing and report mrGhost2014 to Google to get this clone pulled out.

SopCast Android (Google Play Store ripoff clone. Sideload the real thing instead!)


This app, listed in the Google Play Store as Live Streams, has a clean user interface and live streams that work, although many of them look very pixelated on a tablet. Streams doesn't just play football, it has other sports too. Too bad it doesn't handle transitions from landscape to portrait mode very well. If you tilt your screen it says "source streams not found." Fortunately you can get them back by returning to the game list and opening the streams again.

Streams (Google Play Store)

Watch Football Live

This app is packed with tv streams, including football. Sometimes the back button won't work, and then the only way to stop a stream is to kill the app.

Watch Football Live

Watch Football Live Stream

This is just a frontend for a website with streams in Flash format. Sometimes the streams work, often they don't. Either way, most streams are full of incredibly annoying popup ads that refuse to go away. If you dare to click the "close" button you're punished with even more ads.

• Kicked from the Play Store. Nobody will miss you.

#1 CL Live

This app appears as "Football Stream World Cup Live" in the Google Play Store, and as #1 CL Live on your home screen. It used to be in the Play Store as #1 Football Live, but that version is gone. I'm sure it will be pulled from the Play Store again in the near future, and then it will come back with yet another name. Even with an ad blocker running this app throws ads all over your screen. It shows streams in Flash and other formats, but you only get to see them after you've chased all the ads away and then some more. To be honest, this is a horrible app. The only reason I didn't throw this (cr)app out yet is that it sometimes plays streams that all my other streaming apps won't play.
Warning: this app has push notifications. Enter the settings screen and switch them off! While you're at it, open your autorun manager and kill all its autostart triggers too. And don't forget to fire up your permissions manager and chain down everything but internet access.

#1 CL Live (Google Play Store)

Play it safe

Be careful with apps like these. They're in it for the money and their business ethics are often questionable. Make sure to use an electronic condom on them. I wouldn't run any of the apps above without an ad blocker like AdAway. Use a good permissions manager like Xprivacy to take away all the Android permissions that they can do without. They need internet access, and some apps need permission to launch your video player, but that's all you have to give them.

Apps like these come and go. They're often pulled from the Play Store, and then they return with a different name. Shady developers copy them to slap their own ads on. Football streaming is a bit like music downloading back in the days of Kazaa. Don't forget to switch your brain on when you play with these apps.

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Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Play Store hides internet permissions: what was Google smoking?

The Google Play Store changed a bit last week. Not just the app, but the mobile website too. Some of these changes are good, some are incredibly stupid. Whoever is responsible for "simplifying" the app permissions should be forced to eat a dozen iPhones.

Play Store mobile website

Opening the Play Store in your mobile web browser used to be horrible. You'd get the desktop layout, an overload of crazy scripts slowed things down to a Nokia N95 on GPRS (that's the old mobile version of a dialup modem), and every tap would spawn a popup with most of the information out of sight beyond the edge of the screen.

But now the Play Store website has a real mobile version. It's still clumsy and slow, but at least you can see most of the information without scrolling your thumbs to pieces.

But why would anyone care about a mobile site if you've got the Play Store app on your Android already? There are two good reasons:

1) Sometimes the Play Store app spits out an inexplicable error with a cryptic number. Installing the app from the mobile website usually fixes things.
2) The website makes it easy to install or update apps on different Android phones and tablets, without having to open the Play Store app on each of your devices.

Some info in plain sight

When the Play Store app started to show whether an app had "in-app purchases," it did so where the app update date used to be. Wanted to find out when the app was updated? You had to expand the description and scroll all the way down to find out. Some app store descriptions are really long. Twenty testimonials followed by thirty competing app names and fifty spammy keywords means a lot of scrolling to get to the info you want.

The new Play Store puts version number, update date, app size, and a link to the app permissions together at the bottom of the screen without need to expand the entire app description. That makes it a lot easier to see if the update is really new, and not an old update that you skipped because it broke the app.

Permissions? Just bend over and spread 'em!

When you hit "install" or "update," the Play Store pops a list of app permissions in your face. If you know what's good for you, you read them. If you've traded your brain for a free McJunk Happy Meal, you click "I agree" on everything and pay the price.

Most people take the Happy Meal, and Google likes it that way.

The new simplified app permissions screen looks like a good idea at first glance. But when you try to expand the permissions you don't get the full list. Instead, you get a heavily dumbed down version that doesn't tell you anything useful.

For example, when you expand "Location" the extra info reads: "uses the device's location." Duh! Does it use network location, GPS, or both? When you expand "Identity" you get the similarly useless "uses one or more of: accounts on the device, profile data." What's that supposed to mean? Can an app with access to "profile data" read my phone number and email address, yes or no?

It gets worse! When you allow an app to auto-update, it used to ask you if you'd accept any new permissions. But not anymore. If the new permissions are in the same "permissions group" as a previously granted permission, Google assumes that you'll accept any new permission from that group. It won't even tell you about those new permissions. If an app was allowed to read your texts, an update can grab permission to send them too without your knowledge. If you allowed an app to get your rather course network location, a new permission that lets the app drain your battery to pinpoint you by GPS is granted automatically without notice. Yes, that's creepy indeed.

And the internet permission is missing!

Google believes you don't need to know about internet permissions

According to Google:

"These days, apps typically access the internet, so network communication permissions including the "full internet access" permission have been moved out of the primary permissions screen."

Whoever is responsible for that deserves a slow and painful death. Really.

When I install an app that can read my contacts list I definitely want to know if it has internet permission, because the combination of access to contacts and internet can bomb you and everyone in your contacts list with unstoppable spam.

When I install an app that encrypts my passwords and credit card number, I definitely don't want that app to have internet access.

There are plenty of other reasons why "network communication permissions" are the most important on the list. Any app that can go online should have that permission displayed in big bold type on top of the permissions list!

Of course Google doesn't want that. "These days, apps typically access the internet" indeed, and often for the sole purpose of downloading ads and sending data to Google Analytics. Collecting data for online advertising and throwing banner ads on your phone or tablet is the reason why Google made Android, so obviously they'd rather not have you wondering why an icon pack or a battery widget wants to go online. Just buy the Happy Meal. No need to ask questions, Big Google knows what's good for you.

You can still see whether an app grabs internet permissions or not, but now you have to scroll to the bottom of the Play Store listing, tap "view details" under the permissions header, and look for your reading glasses. The "full network access" permission is hidden in tiny small light grey print under the heading "Other," as if the most important permission of them all is not important at all.

Grab back the keys

The Android permissions system is a broken mess. If you don't want to say "OK Google" to anything but voice search, you have to wrestle the keys back into your own hands. Here's how:

XPrivacy, Android's most comprehensive permissions manager

AFWall+, the best firewall for Android

AdAway and other Android ad blockers

Why Google should make its own ad blocker
Addons Detector exposes spyware and adware

Stop Google, Facebook, and other Big Brothers from tracking everything you do on your Android

Dump the Happy Meal. Root your phones and tablets and pick your Android permissions à la carte.

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Tuesday, 29 April 2014

NFC apps: when are they gonna grow up?

If your phone is fairy recent (and it's not an iPhone), there's a good chance that it has a Near Field Communication chip. Your Android tablet probably has one too.

But is it good for anything else than reading public transport chipcards?

Things to scan that you already have

Your passport probably has an RFID chip in it. And your ATM card, your credit card, your drivers license. Grab NFC TagInfo from the Google Play Store, scan your cards, and see a bunch of numbers that don't make any sense to you. Get NFC Passport Reader and you can see what your passport is hiding in its chip.

That was useful, wasn't it?

Share your WiFi password, but not by NFC

An NFC sticker on your wireless router, or on the wall, and you don't have to tell your guests your WiFi password anymore, and they don't have to type it into their gadgets either. Just a tap on the NFC tag and they're connected. Cool, no?

There are plenty of apps out there to share your WiFi data. NFC Wifi, Instant NFC WiFi, NFC Wifi Reader, WifiTap WiFi NFC, InstaWifi, just to name a few. There are plenty of apps out there to share your router password to your visitors.

And that's where the trouble starts.

You can write an NFC tag with your WiFi details in it, but your friends can't read it unless they have the same app installed. If they have another app the tag pretends there's no app at all and pops a link to the Play Store where your guests can download the WiFi share app... after manually setting up the WiFi connection that they tried to set up automatically with your NFC tag.

There seems to be a universal format that should be independent of the app itself. Your tag writer should know about that universal format, and their tag reader should know it too. In real life you're better off dropping the data in a QR code. No matter what QR scanner your friends use, they'll be able to read your universally coded router credentials.

Hand out your contact info

How many business cards have you thrown away already? Put a few hundred people together in a meeting and they'll waste a tree on business cards alone.

Now here's where NFC could safe the day (and the planet). Because there is a universal contact format called vCard. It's been doing the rounds since Fred Flintstone was a young boy and Dino was a puppy (even my ancient Nokias could handle vCard, and that was way before the smartphone rage started), and every device with an address book in it can read it.

Again, plenty of apps out there to do the dirty work. NFC Business Card is one of them. Just make sure that you choose the universal vCard format, and not a proprietory knockoff.

Too bad you need an NFC tag with enough storage to hold your collection of middle names, phone numbers, emails, URLs, home address, business address, etc. The cheapest tags barely hold your name and email.

Keep it secret

An NFC tag can work like a key. For example, you could encrypt notes on your Android with a key stored in an NFC tag glued to your wallet.

Crypto NFC does just that.

It doesn't do it very well, though. The app is clearly a work in progress with a long way to go. You can write notes with it, and edit them later on, but you can't delete them. You can't back 'em up either. As for sharing them with other devices, maybe sometime in the future?

And the color scheme is terrible, with no way to change it.

But the number one reason for not using the app (yet): there's no fallback mechanism if your tag gets lost or damaged. No password you can enter just in case. The only way to protect yourself against tag loss is to make a bunch of key tags and hope that at least one of them survives your violence and sloppiness.

Wake up!

NFC Alarm Clock should get you out of bed like a bucket of cold water can. Write a tag, set an alarm with the app, and now it won't stop making noise until you tap your phone against the tag, which you glue to your coffee machine, bathroom door, or another strategic location far away from your bed.

Great idea, if it works. The app can be buggy, so check for missed alarms before you use it to wake up for your own wedding. It won't do repeat alarms. You can't even set your own alarm tone or alarm volume.

And it's too easy to cheat the alarm and stay in bed anyway. You can shut it up by switching off your phone, or rebooting it, or killing the app from Androids built-in app manager, or by long-pressing the back button if you're using the most popular custom ROM out there.

So have your mom keep that bucket of cold water ready anyway.

Or use Puzzle Alarm Clock. It comes with NFC tagging too (and QR codes), and is way more developed and way less buggy. And it's got recurring alarms too. The increasing alarm volume option alone makes it better than the alarm clock app with NFC in its name.

Get paid to tap

Billing your work by the hour? By the minute? No need to watch the clock because NFC Time Tracking does that for you. Just write NFC tags for your billable projects and tap your timesheet together.

Automate things

Silencing your phone or switching to airplane mode by tapping a tag on your desk is not useful. It's micromanaging to the extreme, because a long-press on your power button doesn't take much longer and you don't even have to be anywhere near your tag for that.

Come to think of it, most location-based actions are better done with Llama. No need for any tags at all, just set and forget and walk into the right place. Done.

The one useful static location tag is the sticker next to your bed that lets you tap silent mode on at night and off in the morning. Although the "off in the morning" part would be better suited for an NFC-less out-of-WiFi-range trigger so you can have your morning coffee without hearing your boss call to ask why you're late again.

It gets different for things that move around a lot, like your car, passport, shoes, or computer.

An NFC tag on the dashboard is a great way to autoswitch from WiFi to mobile data, turn on your GPS (if your phone is rooted), launch your navigation app, and fire up your music player all with a single click on the but... err I mean a single tap on your NFC sticker.

Tap your passport (if it has an RFID chip) and auto-launch your mobile boarding pass, turn up the brightness, and disable auto-rotation to speed you past the bagage dropoff machine, the security checkpoint, and the gate.

Tap the NFC tag on your sneakers and get your running tracker rolling.

Do you often tether your laptop or tablet to your phone? Stick a tag on your computer and one tap gets your phone hotspot running. It saves you a tap on your hotspot widget. Yep, that's not much, but with a rooted phone it can also save you the trouble of unlocking your screen. Oh wait, we're micromanaging the taps again.

Location-based If This Then That app Llama reads NFC tags too, but if you want a dedicated NFC task runner there are plenty of apps to choose from. Here they come:

NFC apps

General tag reader
NFC TagInfo

Passport reader
NFC Passport Reader

WiFi password taggers
Instant NFC WiFi
NFC Wifi Reader (companion app: NFC Wifi Writer)
WifiTap WiFi NFC
They're not compatible with each other. Yes, that sucks!

vCard writer
NFC Business Card

Note encrypter
Crypto NFC

Alarm clock
Puzzle Alarm Clock
NFC Alarm Clock

Time tracker
NFC Time Tracking

If This Then That apps
Llama (cell location and NFC tags)
AnyTAG NFC Launcher
NFC Tasks and NFC Tools
NFC Actions
NFC Tag Control
NFC TagWriter by NXP
NFC Smart Q

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