Sunday, 29 January 2012

Free radio for everybody everywhere: CoboltFM fixed, KLastFM updated

Update 1: CoboltFM and KLastFM are dead. changed things for the worse and pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone. Believe it or not, most of the planet can't stream anymore even if they pay. refugees can still stream custom radio stations from Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer.

Update 2: Liquid Bear still plays radio on Android.

The music mafia industry is a strange beast. You'd say they'd be happy with as free advertising for their artists and music, but they want money in addition to publicity.

Problem: has to get the money from subscription fees or advertising, and they only manage to get enough income from advertising in Germany, the USA, and the UK. I don't know why they don't team up with Google's advertising program instead of reinventing the wheel, but the ugly result is that you can only listen to streaming radio if you're located in one of the three lucky countries. Even if you're a paying subscriber in one of the other 200 countries the official app won't play music on your Android phone. That sucks, because music and the internet shouldn't be locked up behind borders.

The good news: there are two Android apps that fix the problem. Both are based on the alternative client aLastFM.

Update: CoboltFM and KLastFM are dead. changed things for the worse and pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone. Believe it or not, most of the planet can't stream anymore even if they pay. refugees can still stream custom radio stations from Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer.


KLastFM plays radio everywhere on the planet, no matter if you are a paying subscriber or a freeloader. The interface is ugly, scrobbling is often erratic, and if you don't use an ad blocker the banner is very annoying, but it delivers your radio fix for free.

The latest update squashes some bugs and cleans up the user interface a bit. It's still not a beauty, but it works. And if you don't like it there's CoboltFM.

KLastFM (Opera Software)


CoboltFM plays radio for free anywhere on the planet. The app is open source, it doesn't have the freezes and missed scrobbles of KLastFM, it precaches tracks so you don't have to wait so long between songs, and there's a direct link to your profile page when you hit the menu button. It doesn't have any ads either.

Old versions would often fail to load your radio stations, but so far the latest edition of CoboltFM always connects on my phone. If CoboltFM works for you it's a better app than KLastFM.

CoboltFM (Google Play Store)

Update 1: CoboltFM and KLastFM are dead. changed things for the worse and pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone. Believe it or not, most of the planet can't stream anymore even if they pay. refugees can still stream custom radio stations from Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer.

Update 2: Liquid Bear still plays radio on Android.

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Thursday, 26 January 2012

AirCalc floats a calculator on top of other apps

If you need to calculate something and use the result in another app, you can switch back and forth between your calculator and other apps by long-pressing the home button.

But AirCalc gives you another option.

AirCalc is a calculator that floats on top of other apps. Your office suite, your web browser, your email app, whatever you like. The basic functions (+, -, *, /) are on its main screen, and a handfull of other options (sin, cos, tan, log, pi, etc.) are a swipe away.

It doesn't have too many mathematical functions, and if you switch from portrait to landscape view you may lose the bottom half of the calculator, but it does the job for quick'n'dirty calculations when you don't want to switch between screens.

AirCalc (Android Market)

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Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Offline maps and some offline navigation: Locus, OsmAnd, and Route 66

Google Maps can store maps for many locations on your phone for offline viewing, but only in small blocks, which may not be enough for you. It doesn't have true offline navigation either, because you need to connect with Google to calculate your route.

Enter the alternatives: Locus, OsmAnd, and Route 66.


Locus can show maps from many different sources with the Map Tweak addon. Google Maps, Nokia Maps, Bing, Yahoo, Open Street Maps, MapQuest, and many more. It doesn't do true offline navigation, but it lets you calculate routes online and save them for offline use. Unfortunately that only works in the paid version.

What makes the free version of Locus unique is that it lets you download maps from all its online sources to your phone for offline browsing, with a limit of 10.000 map tiles per day. This is nowhere near enough to cover a city like Paris or London in sufficient detail, because you really need the maximum zoom level for all those tiny little streets and alleys. However, if you manage to grab an old copy (v1.9.4 or older), the limit is 25.000 tiles which covers cities like Amsterdam or Lisbon, and Paris within the Périphérique. If you want the suburbs as well you'll have to finish your download the next day, but that's still better than grabbing the bits and pieces over a week with the new 10.000 tile limit.

I run the latest version of Locus, but whenever I want to download a map I load up my old Locus v1.9.4 from my Titanium backup. When I'm done downloading I restore the new version. You don't need Titanium, you can use MyBackup too.

The free version of Locus has a very annoying ad banner on the map screen that's easily tapped by accident. When the ads can't be downloaded because there's no internet connection or if you run an ad blocker like AdAway they are replaced by an advertisement for the paid version of Locus, but not in all versions. Sometimes the screen stays fully free of advertising.

Locus has vector maps too, but they come from Open Street Maps and they're only useful with a paid addon. They render real slow too.

Locus (Android Market)
Locus Map Tweak addon (Android Market) to get more maps sources
• Locus v1.9.4 for the old 25.000 map tile downloads (let me know if you're interested and I'll share the APK)


OsmAnd uses vector maps from Open Street Maps. Too bad if your region of interest is outside the USA or northern Europe, because in the rest of the world OSM is often full of blank spots outside the major cities. On the bright side, OsmAnd has true offline navigation. You'll need to pay if you want all the features of the latest version, but downloading maps for offline use and offline navigation works pretty well in the free older version of OsmAnd+ on the xda forums. Just don't expect navigation to work as well as in Google Maps, Navigon, etc.
Update: offline navigation works in the free version from the Android Market Google Play Store too.

OsmAnd and OsmAnd+ for free

Route 66

It took Route 66 ages to build an Android version, but now that it hit the Android Market it's worth a try. The maps in Route 66 are usually way better than Open Street Maps, and its vector maps size is quite friendly to your SD card limits. You get a month of free offline navigation too, and it works very well. After the free trial runs out navigation becomes very expensive, but if you don't pay you get to keep the free offline maps to browse. My advice: install Route 66 before you go on vacation to get the maximum out of your free month.

Route 66 (Android Market)

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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Comodo joins the Android antivirus club

Whether antivirus apps for Android phones are useful or not is still topic of debate. If you're of the "better safe than sorry" type, if you shop outside the Android Market, or if you want to use the extra features that most Android security suites throw in it makes sense to pick the right weapon.

Comodo makes the best free firewall and HIPS program for Windows, but not the best antivirus app. Comodo for Android lacks a firewall, doesn't do HIPS, and the rest of the app doesn't lead the pack either.

As far as virus detection goes, Lookout versus Comodo versus avast doesn't make any real world difference yet. In the current Android world, the extra features are what matters.

And that's where Comodo is no match for the competition.

The task manager in Comodo doesn't add anything to Androids built-in app control panel, and both are nowhere near as fast as the task manager in AirDroid. Not that I want to fire up the task killer debate, but sometimes it's nice to kill apps like Google Maps or WhatsApp without having to wait for Androids own slow native task manager.

Comodo doesn't have any "find my phone" or remote lock and wipe features. Avast wins, because they have a pretty good way to find, lock, and wipe missing phones and unlike Lookout avast gives it away for free.

So what's in Comodo that you might want to use? The task scheduler is very limited. It may be useful to auto-switch to flight mode at night, but there is no shortage of better task schedulers on the Android Market and many of them are free. Call blocking? Plenty of superiour options out there. Which leaves the "private space" of Comodo. This lets you password-protect contacts and messages. A useful feature, but there are plenty of other apps that do it better.

Comodo is a work in progress, but in its present state it's un unfinished product that doesn't compete with avast.

Comodo (Android Market)

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Monday, 2 January 2012

Offline maps and navigation: get OsmAnd+ for free

The offline map and navigation capabilities of Google Maps are so limited that they're of little use yet. You could pay for apps like Route 66 or Navigon, or you could wait until someone ports Nokia Maps to Android if that's ever gonna happen.

Enter OsmAnd. It can use the online maps of Google, Microsoft, and others, but its unique selling point is the combination of locally stored maps from Open Street Maps and true offline navigation.

Offline navigation is only available in the paid version (OsmAnd+) from the Android Market, but you can grab a free copy of OsmAnd+ from the xda forums.
Update: the free version of OsmAnd has offline navigation too.

Map rendering is a bit slow and the navigation part is still under construction. One way streets and roundabouts can be a problem and the routing can take strange twists and turns. Since the offline maps come from Open Street Maps the quality varies wildly. They're OK in the northwest of Europe and the heavily populated parts of the USA, but outside the major cities in the rest of the world you'll find that many streets are missing. But hey, it's free, and you can always help OSM improve their maps!

OsmAnd+ (free version at xda)
OsmAnd (Android Market/Google Play Store)
OsmAnd at

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Sunday, 1 January 2012

Google's new year's resolutions for 2012

Google Android
If only...

We at Google know that we're far from perfect. But we've seen the error of our ways, so in 2012 we will:

Split the read phone state and identity permissions, and do the same for other permissions that shouldn't be grouped together.

Make sure that contacts synced to Gmail and back reappear on your phone exactly as they were. "Al's Pizza (open 'till midnight)" will no longer return as "till midnight), Al's Pizza (open." We will save and restore all contact pictures, custom ringtone settings, URLs, notes, and each and every custom entry without exception. Not for some contacts, but for all contacts. Because "most" is not enough.

We will update the Google calendar app to allow custom reminder time entry. The current set of predefined times doesn't cut it, because sometimes you really need to sound that alarm exactly 1 hour and 45 minutes before the meeting. Or 55 minutes or 7 hours or whatever fits your schedule. We'll also integrate the calendar and tasks apps into one app that shows your tasks and reminders and calendar entries together in one unified widget. Ever seen the old calendar of Symbian?

We'll change the Android Market rules. App publishers must disclose the source of their advertisements in the market description, or else their accounts will be killed. Anyone who puts malware like Airpush in their apps will be shot at dawn and fed to the crocodiles.

Of course we'll allow apps that root your phone in the Market. And porn too. Really, the Android Market has plenty of offensive gun apps so it makes no sense that nudity and rooting are verboten. We'll let Apple and Microsoft be anal retentive, but we at Google will let you decide what's good for you.

We'll code two way call recording into Android. No more need to record the other end from the loudspeaker or mess with custom ROMs just to record a call. If your local laws require beeps or other warnings before and during recordings we'll let you activate them in the options menu.

Google Maps for Android will have true and full offline navigation, and we'll let you preload vector maps for entire states and countries instead of the current pathetic 15x15 mile 80 MB snippets. If Navigon can fit the entire planet on an SD card then so can we. We'll have a good look at Nokia Maps and learn from it. We're ashamed that we haven't done so yet.

There will be an LBE Privacy Guard-like permissions manager in Android, including an avast-like firewall. We might even buy PDroid and make it a native part of Android so there'll be no more need for alternative ROMs and deodexing to close the many many many security holes and privacy leaks in your phone.

The Android Market will get a new "rollback" button to get rid of app updates that break things instead of fixing them. And we'll let you open links in tabs in the Market app, just like any web browser can do. This will make it way easier to compare competing apps side by side.

Did we say we wanted to make phone manufacturers deliver Android updates for 18 months after launching their phones? Oops! That was a stupid mistake! A year and a half post launch is nowhere near enough. High-end phones are usually sold with two-year contracts and two-year warranties, so we'll enforce a two-year update policy. The timer starts running when the phone is taken off the market so everyone gets the benefit of two years, not just those that bought their device on launch day. Of course this is just a temporary measure until we cut out the middle man. We will force cell phone builders and carriers to provide their customisations and bloatware as an optional package on top of Android instead of shoving it inside the system. Carriers and manufacturers may add to Android, but they may no longer replace anything. This way you can always update your copy of Android straight from Google.

If we break our new year's resolutions you may smash our windows and throw apples at us.

Happy 2012!

Google, wake up! And now that you've pwn3d Motorola you have no excuse for not building a phone that will last until 2013 on a single battery charge.

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