Thursday, 29 December 2011
My favorite app to put yellow sticky notes all over my homescreens is seNotes. It comes in sizes as small as a 1x1 widget, it's free, it has no ads, and it never goes online.
It briefly lost its 1x1 widget in an update though, but fortunately not for long. It came back in another update the day after.
A pleasant surprise: you can restore lost notes by long-tapping an empty note, and then hitting "paste from note."
A not so pleasant surprise: the updates increased the font size. This means that notes display less information. I guess bigger text is nice if you're old and your eyes are not what they used to be, but I like to squeeze as much information as possible in the limited space of my homescreens. seNotes would be a lot better if we could simply choose our own preferred font size from the options.
seNotes could also learn something from Papyrus Ex. This notes app saves your notes as plain text files on your memory card, so you can easily back 'em up, sync 'em with Dropbox or any other cloud storage service, share 'em with other phones and computers and tablets, and import new notes simply by dropping a text file on your phone. If seNotes would store its notes as plain text you could even store 'em in a shared folder with Papyrus so all your notes would be available as yellow stickies on your homescreens and organised in a notebook app.
You can send your seNotes to Papyrus with the share menu option, but automatically sharing them through a shared folder would be a lot more convenient. Maybe in a future update? If Papyrus would add an option along the lines of "send to seNotes" we'd have a winning team!
• Papyrus Ex
Tuesday, 27 December 2011
K-9 Mail is the best free email client for Android. It has a million ways to tweak, customise, alter, change, modify... It does POP3, IMAP, MS Exchange, push email, and it gives you full control over which mail folders to sync and which folders to leave alone.
The canine has been updated twice in December to kill a bunch of
Now if they would only clean up that ugly dogface of an app icon..
• K-9 Mail (Android Market)
• K-9 Mail (Google Code)
Thursday, 22 December 2011
Bloat and junk
Your phone manufacturer or network operator may have filled your Android phone with bloatware and other junk, such as Myspace, Carrier IQ, a bunch of live wallpapers, etc.
It's tempting to delete all that junk from your phone, but this usually means that you can't update Android the normal way because the update program will complain about missing bits and pieces. And when you need to get something on your phone fixed under warranty you'll have to reinstall all the junk before unrooting.
But there's another way to deal with unwanted junk. Apps like Titanium and MyBackup can "freeze" Android apps. This way they stay on your phone, but they disappear from your app drawer and won't run. If you need to get your phone back to a state suitable to receive updates or repairs under warranty you can unfreeze the junk, unroot your phone, then reroot and refreeze when your phone is updated or repaired.
Unfortunately the freeze features of Titanium and MyBackup are only available in the paid versions.
Bloat Freezer by Trey Holland promises to freeze your apps for free. It sort of delivers: it doesn't cost you any money, but you pay a price anyway.
Obnoxious advertising and market abuse
Bloat Freezer is infected with the most obnoxious type of mobile adverting ever invented: Airpush. This advertising
Bloat Freezer has a history of malware-like bahaviour. It used to sabotage AdFree and AdAway by infecting your Android hosts file to unblock blocked ad servers.
There used to be an ad-free version of Bloat Freezer. People bought it and paid for it, but then it was pulled from the market. The people who paid Trey Holland for an ad-free app can't use it anymore and are stuck with the ad-infected version. They didn't get a refund.
But Trey has another trick up his sleeve. Now you can remove his Airpush ads for free, but you'll play along with a blackmail-like market rating scam. You're supposed to ask for an activation code by email, but you only get it if you leave a five star rating on the Android Market plus a positive review.
Usually apps with Airpush get lots of one star ratings and matching negative comments. By blackmailing you into giving five stars plus public praise Bloat Freezer abuses the most annoying advertising method to inflate its ratings and turn the market feedback system into a PR
Stay away from Bloat Freezer and use one of the alternatives instead. If you really want to try Trey Hollands piece of blackmailware, ask for the Airpush removal code and then go back to the market to edit your feedback. Change your rating into a single star and use the comment box to tell everybody what you really think about this kind of Airpush abuse.
The Android Market has a link to report malicious apps. Use it! I'm sure that offering to remove ads in exchange for fake ratings violates the small print.
Update: Bloat Freezer has disappeared from the Android Market again. I guess Google doesn't like Trey Hollands business ethics either.
• Bloat Freezer (no link until Trey Holland cleans up his app)
• App Quarantine (completely free, no ads whatsoever)
• SystemCleanup (can kill and freeze unwanted apps)
• NoBloat (backs up, removes, and restores apps)
Labels: system tools
Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Hear a strange song and want to know what's playing? There's Shazam, there's SoundHound, and there's SoundTracking.
All these apps do the same thing. The record about ten seconds of music, turn it into a digital fingerprint, and check for a match in their database.
Three is a crowd
Shazam and SoundHound have been around for ages, SoundTracking is the new kid on the block. It uses the Gracenote database to identify music, so SoundTracking taps into the largest database of the three.
Which of the three apps is the better one? That's hard to tell, because all of them sometimes fail to identify a track and then you'll want to use one of the others. All three have their problems. For example, Shazam started to misbehave after a recent update and it's not fixed yet.
SoundTracking has a couple of very annoying flaws.
You need to enter your Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare account details to use SoundTracking, because its song identification is added as an afterthought. It first and foremost wants to publish the music you listen to on your social networks. You probably don't want to do that everytime you play a song, but the "create a post" button is the biggest button on its startup screen. If you're not on Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare, you have to make an account there anyway or else SoundTracking won't let you in.
To tag a song you have to tap a tiny little button in the corner of the screen, and then tap once more on the "Music ID" link. Open app, wait for it to log in, tap small button in the corner, then again on the Music ID button... by the time SoundTracking starts recording the song is probably over. The next version of the app should have a "tag now" button on the start screen that starts recording right away without waiting for anything. A "record now" widget would be a welcome feature too.
While SoundTracking is recording and matching you better not look at it, because it pollutes your phone with a really ugly and annoying screen of flickering bright squares. Whoever designed that must have a financial interest in a company that sells anti-epileptic drugs.
The settings have a problem remembering things. When you switch off all the email notification options, the entry that sends you mail when someone "follows" you gets reactivated all by itself. The push notifications when someone "loves" your post refuses to stay unchecked too, but when you switch off everything in the push settings screen that's just a cosmetic error.
When you exit the app with the back or home button it keeps sending data in the background, but not as bad as the totally messed up Shazam version.
As for the quality of its song identification service, it usually works. Sometimes it can't figure out what's playing or it returns the wrong song, especially when the music gets more obscure. SoundTracking managed to get my Monobloco and Baaba Maal tracks right, but it didn't recognise Marabi by Mafikizolo. Strange bug: when you record silence SoundTracking sometimes spits out a random song.
SoundHound and Shazam don't always get it right either, but at least they make it a lot easier to tag what's playing without unnecessary clicks and waits. SoundTracking has potential, but its social networking options get in the way of music identification.
Erase your tracks
If you had enough of SoundTracking and you want to delete your account, you're in for a nasty surprise. You can't. Maybe they'll let you escape in the future, but they've been working on it for a year and you still can't delete your SoundTracking account.
But you can make SoundTracking forget about you by feeding them some fake data:
1) Make a temporary email address like email@example.com and use it to make a temporary Twitter or Facebook account.
2) Go to your SoundTracking profile page and link SoundTracking to your temporary Facebook or Twitter account.
3) Unlink your normal Twitter/Facebook/whatever accounts from SoundTracking. Delete your name and other private data from your SoundTracking profile, and feed it your soon-to-be-abandoned temporary email address.
4) Deactivate or delete your temporary Twitter/Facebook account and kill your temporary email address, or just abandon your bogus accounts until they expire by themselves.
Now you're still caught in SoundTrackings web, but all info they'll have on you will be useless. For all practical purposes SoundTracking lost track of you.
Tuesday, 20 December 2011
Adobe made a stupid mistake when they removed text reflow from their Android PDF reader.
Text reflow is an essential feature for any PDF reader that has to display PDFs on small phone screens in a way that's fit for reading.
The good news is that Adobe is willing to learn from their mistakes. They updated their app again and put text reflow back in.
The bad news is that the resurrected text reflow option is well hidden. Tapping the menu button does nothing. To reflow your text you now have to tap near the top of the screen and hit the icon that looks like a page. The next version should put the reflow option back into the menu, because that's where you look first when you want to play with the settings.
• Adobe Reader (Android Market)
The (very) old Adobe Reader version 10.0.2 still comes with text reflow in the menu:
• Adobe Reader 10.0.2 at ftp://ftp.adobe.com/pub/adobe/reader/android/10.x/10.0.2/
• Adobe Reader 10.0.2 for Android on Google
Monday, 19 December 2011
Did you keep your old Android Market for the "Just in" tab? Then you might as well unfreeze the market updater, because the Just in tab doesn't work anymore.
It's not completely gone, but the stream of fresh apps has dried up. Now when you tap "Just in" in your old market you get a selection of apps from the "top new paid" and "top new free" pages of the new market.
This makes it harder to discover new apps that still have to gain enough momentum to make it to the top lists. On the other hand, it makes it harder for spammers to trick the system with fake updates. Of course it would be way better if Google would find another way to fight market spam, but then they'd have to moderate the market to some extent and that costs time and money.
There are a few alternatives for the Just in tab. You could look at the new entries in forums like i-Pmart, Mobilism, and Noeman, or check Android app blogs like androidcentral and MobileCruze, but this only gets you a very small selection of new apps and it can be difficult to tell legit apps and warez apart.
The closest thing to the dead Just in tab is the Latest Android apps page on AppBrain, but it's not even close to the Just in tab of the old Android Market.
The new market versions are like an overcrowded shopping mall for music, games, junk, and bloat. And oh yeah, they also have an app store thrown in. Before you throw out your old market, make a backup. You may want to go back, because versions up to v2.3.6 are clean and uncluttered.
• Old Android Market (v2.3.6) on xda
• Latest Android apps page on AppBrain
Labels: app stores
Saturday, 17 December 2011
The most popular free antivirus app for Android is Lookout, but for how long? Avast is done beta testing. The paint is not dry yet, but it already blows Lookout out of the water.
Whether you really need a virus scanner on your Android phone is open for debate. I'd say better safe than sorry, especially if you're one of those people who likes to try lots of new apps from all over the internet.
But what makes avast really worth installing are its other features. Where other security apps see rooting as the root of all evil, avast adds extra security options to rooted phones that can make the difference between keeping your phone safe or having your data stolen.
If your phone is rooted (and if you read this blog you probably rooted your phone the day you took it out of the box) avast doubles as a firewall. It doesn't have the custom scripts and logging that DroidWall does, but it has something else. Just like DroidWall, avast can stop apps from going online through WiFi, mobile data, or both. But avast gives you an extra option: you can allow apps to use your data connection in your own country, but not when roaming abroad.
Find, lock, and wipe lost phones
And now for the number one reason to grab a copy of avast from the market: its lost phone options.
Avast can locate your phone, make it scream, SMS you its new phone number if someone changes the SIM card, lock it, wipe it (and your SD card too), block access to the settings, force the data connection to stay on so you don't lose track of your phone, and even make its anti-theft/lost phone features survive a hard reset.
The remote control options only work by SMS, but avast promised that they will add web-based control early 2012. Something to look out for, although I guess Lookout has a different view.
Update: web-based remote control has arrived.
Other security apps have remote control features too, but avast gives it all away for free.
• avast! (Android Market)
Friday, 16 December 2011
How to find out what song's playing? SoundHound or Shazam? Two know more than one, so I keep both.
But when I updated Shazam it started to do strange things. The "vibrate on tag" option that I switched off insisted on reactivating all by itself. And instead of sitting quietly in the background after I was done Shazamming, it kept going online and ate over a megabyte of data every day even when I didn't use the app. A megabyte or two may not sound like a big deal, but just go abroad and you'll soon find that a useless megabyte per day on an expensive roaming connection adds up real quick.
It seemed that there was no way to stop it. Worse yet, Android insisted on auto-loading Shazam into memory even when I didn't touch the app. And then it went eating data in the background and defaulting back to shaking on tagging.
Edit: The single tag method is only a temporary fix. After a while Shazam picks up its bad habits again.
Edit 2: Like v3.6.1, Shazam v3.8.1 doesn't leak data, but versions 3.8.2 and 3.9.0 do.
• Shazam (Android Market)
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Skype remembers your password again, transfers files, movies, pictures, and still makes annoying noises
If you make VoIP calls through standard SIP servers you have plenty of Android apps to choose from, but for Skype you're stuck with the official client.
And that client sucks.
Noise, ads, death of tabs
There's no way to switch off the dialpad tones (loud annoying beeps), and if you're just connecting for a quiet text chat Skype insists on sounding its startup and shutdown sounds at deafening volume unless you downgrade to a very old version.
The old Skype lets you set your own call ringtone, the new Skype only plays the default Skype tone. Another benefit of vintage Skype is its tabbed interface, which is way better than the new layout that requires detours through the start screen.
One more reason to be old skool: the ancient versions are free of ads. The ads don't matter much yet because they only invade your phone if you're in the USA, UK, or Germany, but other countries will get them later. You won't see the ads if you have Skype credit or any other paid service active, so keeping a balance of a few pennies may be worth the trouble even if you only use Skypes free features. And there's no reason to pay for Skype, because there are plenty of SIP VoIP operators that offer better rates and better sound quality than the overpriced SkypeOut.
If you keep the old tabbed version you won't get video calls. Not a big deal, because video calling gets old real quick unless you're hooked on cyber sex. Unfortunately you'll also miss out on the new features in the latest update: file transfers. Not just pictures and movies, but any file you want. Of course there's email, but sending pictures straight from a chat screen is a nice touch.
The old Skype remembered your password. Later versions forgot and made you retype your password everytime you'd log in. But the latest edition remembers your password again.
Sometime during the series of updates the background service that persisted after closing the app went away too. If you go to the settings and disable the Skype status notification the background proces called "MainService" won't even show up in your list of running services, but then your notification bar won't tell you if you're signed in or not.
After a bad start and slipping downhill Skype for Android took a small step up from downright horrible to simply mediocre. It's not enough to make me ditch the old ad-free tabbed version yet, but future versions might change that.
I wonder what's gonna happen first: Skype cleaning up their act or someone coding an alternative Skype client or a real Skype plugin for CSipSimple? Maybe Skype will return to Nimbuzz and fring someday? This would help fight the chat and VoIP fragmentation that's pushing us back to the dark ages.
• Skype (Android Market)
• Skype 18.104.22.1683 (Google) (last tabbed ad-free version)
Tuesday, 13 December 2011
Want to stream songs from Grooveshark to your phone or tablet for free? Without signing up for an account? With Android you can!
Dood's Music Streamer
Dood's Music Streamer pulls songs from Grooveshark. It's playlist and radio support, buffering, and widget are done pretty well. If you copy the buffered tracks from Dood's SD card folder you can even use it as an mp3 downloader, although it only grabs tracks at the 128 kbps bitrate set by Grooveshark. It can scrobble your tracks to last.fm too.
Unfortunately today's update to version 1.2.3 is a big step in the wrong direction. The shuffle and repeat buttons were set nicely apart until v1.2.2, but now they're way too close to the previous/play/pause/next buttons. The elapsed time and song duration moved to a new place on top of the album art instead of near the time bar were they should have stayed. You can switch back to the old layout in the settings menu, but on my phone switching to the old layout gives me white text on a light grey background so I'm stuck with the new interface.
The worst new "feature" is a very annoying and ugly ad banner that sits so close to the tabs that its maker must be hoping for accidental clicks on his ads when you're trying to switch from your playqueue to the search tab or "now playing" screen. Yep, I'm sure the Grooveshark audience really wants to click on bingo advertisements!
Updates are meant to improve things, but the switch from version 1.2.2 to 1.2.3 does the opposite.
Update 1: Dood's latest edition removes the ads from the now playing screen, but they still pollute the rest of the app in a way that makes it much too easy to click by accident. It would be better if the ad banner would move to the bottom of the screen, away from the tabs.
Update 2: AdAway now blocks the ads in Dood's Music Streamer. The cat and mouse game goes on!
Dood's step back made me try TinyShark.
TinyShark is good for playing the tracks you searched for, but forget about Grooveshark radio stations.
TinyShark comes with a music downloader add-on which you'll have to download separately. On the bright side, this beats pulling cryptically numbered tracks out of Dood's cache folder.
The verdict: Dood's Music Streamer versus TinyShark
Dood's beats TinyShark at most things, except track downloading. If you don't use an ad blocker Dood's update is so annoying that it makes TinyShark an attractive option,
• TinyShark (Exigo Software)
• Dood's Music Streamer straight from its maker
Update: Grooveshark changed, old versions of Dood's no longer work.
Monday, 12 December 2011
iPhoners may believe that Flash is dead, but if you ever tried to book a table from a restaurant homepage or watch video on non-YouTube sites you know better. Without Flash you'll stay hungry and miss out on lots of content. Flash for mobile is slowly dying, but it's gonna stay a necessary evil for years to come.
Adobe released yet another update to squash bugs and patch security holes. Unfortunately you have to reapply privacy and security settings that you may have set before.
Since early October Flash adds an icon in your app drawer that takes you to its Flash player settings page. There are two things to play with: "Local Storage" lets you block Flash supercookies that are usually set by annoying advertisers to follow you around on the web. The "Peer-Assisted Networking" page lets you save mobile data by switching peer-assisted networking off.
If you disabled local storage and peer-assisted networking before you better hit the Flash settings again. When I updated Flash both features were automatically reset to allow all, so I had to tame Flash again.
Don't forget to fire up the settings manager in all your Flash-enabled browsers, because your Flash settings for the stock browser don't carry over to Dolphin or Skyfire, and vice versa.
A security update that undoes your security settings... don't do this again, Adobe. Next update I expect my settings to stay.
• Flash (Android Market)
Adobe pulled Flash out of the Android Market Google Play Store and doesn't maintain Flash for Android anymore. If your Flashless phone stumbles upon a website that requires Flash (plenty of them still do) you can install and run an archived copy of Flash.
Friday, 9 December 2011
Plenty of apps ask for internet permission to phone home, download ads, or for no apparent reason at all. Android won't let you keep apps offline through its settings (it should have a built-in permissions manager!), but if your phone is rooted you can tell your apps who's boss.
DroidWall is an outgoing firewall that lets you deny internet permissions. You can tell apps not to use WiFi, to stay away from cellular data, or both. It comes with a blacklist, a whitelist, and a widget to quickly toggle the firewall on and off
The previous update added app icons to the application list (which slowed down loading a lot), but stopped displaying the UIDs.
The latest update (to version 1.5.6) shows the UIDs again. It keeps showing app icons, but now it loads them in a background process so you can start editing online permissions before DroidWall is done grabbing the icons. This speeds things up to the pre-icon levels.
Keep in mind that DroidWall is not totally waterproof. When you boot your phone there's a brief period in which other apps may start before DroidWall does. If you don't want DroidWall to leak in the seconds after booting your phone, switch off WiFi and mobile data before you shut your phone down.
• DroidWall (Google code)
• DroidWall (Android Market)
Update: DroidWall out, AFWall+ in. It's better than DroidWall, and AFWall+ doesn't leak when you boot your phone.
Friday, 2 December 2011
Web browser Dolphin HD now encrypts your backups, adds off switch to webzine toggle, ditches exit menu
Dolphin HD is a strange animal. It has the best features of any Android web browser: well designed tabs, a very useful bookmark sidebar, and its highly customisable gesture controls leave the competition gasping for air.
But this marine mammal has a fishy side. You need a rooted phone and a bit of Android hosts file editing to stop it from calling the mothership, and its backup feature may put info out in the open on your SD card that should be locked.
Encrypted backups, finally!
The latter problem is fixed in the latest update. The old versions didn't encrypt their backups, but the latest version does. I guess a bit of complaining on blogs like this helps ;) Head to the settings and set a password to make sure nobody can grab login cookies and other sensitive data from Dolphins backup files on your memory card.
A bunch of off switches
More new stuff that puts you in control: get rid of the confirmation screen that pops up when you you exit Dolphin with the back button, dump the annoying "rate me" nag screen, and disable the webzine toggle. If you choose to keep webzine on Dolphin will send the URLs you visit to its webzine server, but if you opt out your surfing habits should remain private. If not, I'm sure the folks at the xda forums will find out real soon.
Links in new tab dialog still flawed
Something that didn't change: when you open a link in a new tab and choose between switching to the new tab or opening it in the background, the "remember my decision" checkbox is still checked by default. This doesn't make any sense. If the box was unchecked, you'd only have to check it once. But because it's checked by default you have to uncheck it over and over again. Even worse: if you allow Dolphin to remember your choice by accident it's really hard to make it forget again. Restoring your settings from a backup (if you have one) or resetting to default settings is the only way out.
• Dolphin Browser (Android Market)
Labels: web browsers
Thursday, 1 December 2011
WiFiKill is a tool that turns Android phones into rogue access points. The first version could break internet connections of all devices connected to the same router. An update allows attackers to redirect their victims to any IP address of their choice. This makes it possible to spy on you, steal your passwords, and more. And there are other apps that do the same evil things.
Wifi Protector detects rogue access points, and if your phone is rooted it can protect you against their evilness. Like all security apps Wifi Protector is not 100% waterproof, but the latest update does a better job than the previous versions.
Wifi Protector costs a euro if you get it from the Android Market, but it's free if you download it from the xda forum. You can't use the Android Market to update the free version, so you'll need to get the new APK from xda and install it over the old copy.
• more about Wifi Protector (android underground)
• Wifi Protector (xda forum, free, download link at the bottom of the opening post)
• Wifi Protector (gurkedev, not free)
Many Android apps demand full internet access to collect usage stats and other info, to show ads from banner farms that track your location and online behaviour, and to do other things that you may not want them to do.
DroidWall is an outgoing firewall for Android that lets you revoke the internet permission that you didn't want to hand out to begin with. You can tell apps not to use WiFi, to stay away from cellular data, or both. The latest version added a bit of eye candy (application icons in the app list) and lists new apps on top of the list so you don't have to scroll all over the place to keep your freshly installed apps offline. There's a price to pay, though. Although the changelog promises that the app list doesn't reload when it doesn't need to, I often have to wait a long time before my list of apps loads since the update. Maybe the app icons or moving new apps to the top slow things down more than expected?
Update: the latest version loads the icons in a background process, so you can edit your app list before the icons are done loading.
DroidWall has one major flaw: when you boot your phone blocked apps may start before DroidWall does, so there's a brief period in which DroidWall can be leaky. It's probably due to the way Android is set up, but it's annoying anyway.
• DroidWall (Google code)
• DroidWall (Android Market)
Update: DroidWall out, AFWall+ in. Unlike DroidWall, AFWall+ doesn't leak when you boot your phone.
Whether Android antivirus apps are useful or useless is a topic of hot debate. Some people argue that bad apps are kicked out of the Android Market before the antivirus apps learn how to detect them. On the other hand, you can't exclude the possibility that an antivirus app updates its virus database before Google cleans up its shop. If you install apps from other sources an antivirus app will definitely add a much needed extra layer of protection.
Just keep in mind that no antivirus app catches everything. Lookout, the most popular free antivirus app for Android, is no exception. It's good at catching test viruses, but you never know how long a real virus manages to escape detection in the wild.
But even though you shouldn't rely too much on virus scanners, there are other reasons to get a copy of Lookout. The free version can back up your contacts, so you can keep an extra copy in addition to your Google backup. If your phone goes missing, Lookout can locate it and make it scream. The latest update fixes some bugs, but the makers of Lookout didn't say which bugs.
• Lookout (Android Market)