Thursday, 29 March 2012

Free image editing: Aviary and Easy Photo Editor keep your resolution and your exif tags

There are plenty of free image editors for Android out there, but all of them suffer from major flaws. Most free image editors downsize your pictures to a single megapixel or so. They're either unable or unwilling to preserve your image resolution. And all (free) image editors lose your exif tags.

Correction: all (free) image editors lose your exif tags, except for one two. And if your camera shoots up to 8 12 megapixels you get to keep them all.


Aviary is an image editor that doesn't install as a normal app. It works as a plugin which you can fire up from your gallery share menu. An icon in the app drawer for quick access without going through the gallery would be nice, but not essential.

Edit: An Aviary update added an icon. You can now launch it like any other app.

Aviary used to downsample your pictures, but now it keeps them all up to 8 12 megapixels.

Unfortunately Aviary loses your exif tags. That may not sound like a big deal until you want to find out exactly when and where you shot the picture. That info is in the exif tags, but it gets lost if you run it through Aviary. Without the original "date picture taken" tag your gallery will use the "last modified" date instead, which will mess up the sequence of pictures in your gallery. If you edit the picture of the appetizers it will appear in your gallery after dessert and cigars.

Aviary is working on a fix, but nobody knows when it will be ready.

Update: Fixed! Aviary now keeps your exif tags the way you want them.

Easy Photo Editor

Easy Photo Editor looks like Aviary because it is built on Aviary, but there are a few differences between the apps. Easy Photo Editor has ads, but those are easily tamed with apps like AdAway. It doesn't let you choose your own folder to save edited pictures, so you'll have to move 'em with a file manager or an app like QuickPic after you're done editing. Not a big deal either, but a fix would be welcome anyway.

The big difference is that Easy Photo Editor learned to preserve your exif data. It took a few updates and a bit of trial and error, but the good news is that it works. Easy Photo Editor still changes the "last modified" date of your image file, but QuickPic comes with an option to repair that.

Update: Not a difference anymore. Aviary now keeps your exif tags the way you want them.

Which one?

Aviary or Easy Photo Editor, tough choice. Easy Photo Editor is a wrapper around Aviary, so both apps come with the same set of editing tools: brightness, contrast, colors, saturation, effects like sepia, red eye removal, and one click touchup.

Aviary lets you choose your own target folder, and it doesn't have ads. For now I use Easy Photo Editor Aviary because it's the only way to keep my exif tags. That may change with a future update of either app (for example, neither app does white balance correction yet). Let them compete and improve, it's good for us.

Easy Photo Editor by Paradise Android (make sure you get the right one, and not the piece of junk from CBS Co., Ltd.)

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Thursday, 8 March 2012

Chat and VoIP app Nimbuzz dumbed down and dumped

Why do good apps let themselves go bad by removing useful features? Back in my Symbian days Nimbuzz was my favorite chat and VoIP app because it connected to just about anything, but good things never last.

First Nimbuzz lost Skype, then Nimbuzz lost a lot of instant messaging networks.

Apart from VoIP using SIP, Nimbuzz lets you chat on MSN, Google Talk, Facebook Chat, and Yahoo Messenger.

Gone are the days when Nimbuzz unified a dozen or so instant messaging networks. There are only four left, so if you use AIM/ICQ, Hyves, MySpace etc. Nimbuzz is no longer for you.

Not that it matters to me, because when I switched to Android I dumped Nimbuzz anyway. CSipSimple is way better for VoIP, and imo is a much better chat app with a dozen networks including Skype chat and all Jabber networks. Better yet, imo lets you add as many accounts as you like. Nimbuzz will only let you connect to one single account per network. In return for the reduced features Nimbuzz displays an ad that even AdAway won't block. As for Skype, they're forcing every competing client to drop their VoIP network so you're stuck with their own app.

• Nimbuzz (no link because they're no longer worth it)

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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

ROM Toolbox doubles as a fully functional free autostart manager

There are plenty of custom ROMs for Android phones out there, and plenty of apps to manage all these ROMs.

ROM Toolbox is one of them. Its latest update kills some bugs and adds some features. Obviously ROM Toolbox manages ROMs, but is does much more than that. So much more that it's a useful app even if your phone runs a stock ROM.

Its ROM manager installs ROMs and other zips, and lets you back up your current ROM. It can also reboot your phone into recovery mode so you don't have to keep power and volume down pressed on boot or whatever key combo sends your phone to the recovery console. ROM Toolbox is not as good as ROM Manager by ClockworkMod, but it's got the basics covered.

And not just the basics. ROM Toolbox is a kind of swiss army knive to tinker with your Android system. It does eye candy like themes, custom boot logos, fonts and status bar icons, and more. There's a bare bones CPU tweaker, a build.prop file editor (might be useful if you want to impersonate another phone), a file browser and a terminal emulator, an app manager (too bad that its best features are only available in the paid version), and ROM Toolbox can block ads too.

There are plenty of dedicated apps that do all these things better, but ROM Toolbox puts it all in one package. And it has one killer feature that makes the app a useful addition to your phone no matter what ROM you use, stock ROMs included.

That killer feature is its autostart manager.

There are plenty of apps that stop other apps from autostarting when your phone boots up, but ROM Toolbox goes further. It can prevent autostarting on boot, it can stop apps from autostarting on connectivity change (mobile data to WiFi, etc.), it stops Google Maps from snooping online whenever you charge your phone, it keeps pushy apps like JaxtrSMS asleep when your WiFi wakes up, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of other events that can trigger apps to launch, and ROM Toolbox lets you control all of them.

Autostarts only does it for money, Autorun Manager limits most of its useful features to its paid version, but ROM Toolbox does all its autostart management for free.

My swiss army knive is a useful tool even though I only use its corkscrew. ROM Toolbox is a useful tool even though I only use its autostart manager.

ROM Toolbox on the Android Market Google play

Update: Gemini is another great free autostart manager. It doesn't have all the extra bells and whistles that ROM Toolbox has, but Gemini lets you control some extra autostart receivers that are ignored by other autostart managers.

Gemini App Manager (Google play)

Another update: Autostarts is available for free from F-Droid.

Autostarts (F-Droid)

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Friday, 2 March 2012

LBE Privacy Guard update gives you even more control over your apps

Android permissions suck

The way Android handles app permissions is totally wrong. When you install an app, it asks for permissions like internet access, ability to snoop in your address book, get your location, send SMSs without warning you, and other scary stuff. You may want to grant some permissions, but Android won't let you. You either have to allow all requested permissions, or don't install the app at all.

To make things worse, permissions are grouped in such a way that dangerous capabilities can piggyback along with innocent permissions. For example, the "read phone state" permission makes sense for media players, because this allows them to keep quiet when you receive a phone call in the middle of a song. But for some reason this permission is part of a permission called "read phone state and identity." Phone state, OK, but that doesn't mean I want your app to read my phone number and IMEI. Phone numbers and IMEI addresses are way too easily abused as undeletable tracking cookies by unethical advertisers. The phone state and identity permission definitely needs to be split in some future version of Android.

Until Google cleans up the permission system we need to work around the flaws by using a permission manager.

LBE Privacy Guard turns your phone back into your phone

LBE Privacy Guard is the best Android permissions manager out there. OK, PDroid may be better, but it's a lot harder to use and has to be tailored to your specific phone/software combo. So for now LBE Privacy Guard is the best app that combines permission management with ease of use.

LBE Privacy Guard includes a firewall (which you can even configure to block LBE itself), but DroidWall and avast are better at keeping apps offline. LBE also includes a data manager, but there are better data managers out there.

The reason to use LBE is for its other features. You can grant or deny access to your contacts, messages, phone number, location, and other info that you rather not share with every app that wants to snoop around. And you can deny permission to make phone calls or send SMSs without your consent. This can protect you against rogue apps that try to steal your money by sending texts to premium numbers on their own.

You can do many of these things with Permissions Denied, but LBE Privacy Guard is a lot smarter. Instead of simply denying permissions (which makes many apps crash), LBE sends bogus data to nosy apps that ask too much. This way they don't have all those scary permissions, but they think that they still do.

What's new?

First the bad news. LBE Privacy Guard version 3.0.1008 has a small but annoying cosmetic bug. When you open the permissions screen for any app it displays "LBE Privacy Guard" in the title bar instead of the name of the app you're editing. It's not a big deal, because it still edits the permissions for the app you've chosen, but it looks a little sloppy.
Edit: this bug got fixed in the update of March 7, 2012.

Now the good news. LBE's user interface is simplified by splitting the main screen in three sections: firewall, permissions manager, and settings. The permissions manager is the most important part. It has all the permission controls of the previous version, and a new permission set for you to tweak.

The new permission in the list is called "call monitoring." This includes changing your ringer volume. Apps that use this permission include VoIP apps, and they have a very good reason for that. If you receive a phone call while Skyping, you don't want your ringtone to blast at full volume when you have your phone pressed to your ear. Some VoIP apps can also integrate with your dialler so calls are automatically routed over cheap VoIP instead of your carriers expensive phone service. The call monitoring permission also lets you control your ringer volume with apps like Quick Settings.

The other features of LBE remain the same. You can tell apps to stay away from your messages, contacts list, call logs, and location info. You can make sure that apps can't call out or send text messages on their own. And if apps want to know your phone number or IMEI for no good good reason, you can tell them no.

LBE Privacy Guard requires root access to do it's job, and so do the apps that work great in combination with LBE: DroidWall, avast, and AdAway.

With usage stats and crash reports switched off my phone and my router didn't show any LBE traffic (unless I pushed the "check for updates" button). When I told LBE to go online while blocking its traffic traffic with DroidWall it really got blocked: my DroidWall log showed that LBEs packets were blocked, and my routers log showed that LBE didn't punch any holes in DroidWall.

LBE Privacy Guard (Android Market)

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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Avira Android Security locks and finds lost phones for free

Avira stays in touch with your lost phone

Avira is known for its desktop virus scanner, but now they're on Android too. Not with a virus scanner, but with an app that lets you limit the damage if your phone is lost or stolen.

Avira Android Security doesn't do anything on its own, but works with an account on When you log into the Avira web console you can locate and lock your phone, or make it scream. It won't remotely wipe your phone yet, but they're working on it.

The web console can also show your phones battery level, so you can give up trying to find your phone and wipe out your private data instead before your battery runs out.

Glitch: on my Motorola Defy (stock ROM) Avira displays white text on a light grey background.

Reason for concern: when you sign up with Avira you give them permission to email you product updates, offers, and anything else that Avira might want to spam you with. There's no opt-out method yet, and although it's easy to make an Avira account there's no way to remove it (yet?). To be on the safe side I'd use a disposable email address to sign up.

Avira versus avast!

Sounds familiar? Avast does the same things, but in a different way.

You remotely control avast by SMS. Avira only works through its web interface.
Update: avast anti-theft now works by SMS and by web interface.

SMS control only works if you have another mobile phone nearby, web control only works if your phone is online. Avast can turn on your phones internet through SMS, but Avira has no way to talk to your phone if its internet connection is switched off.

To improve your chances of getting in touch with your missing phone, both apps should work on providing both SMS and web control. Avast is busy working on a web interface, but Avira doesn't say anything about plans to include SMS control.

Avast can switch your GPS on if you send it the right SMS command. Avira can't, so if your phone goes missing without GPS enabled Avira will never find it.

Avira is easy to remove, avast is protected by a PIN code and it has an "undeletable" stealth anti-theft mode for rooted phones that survives a hard reset. It can only be removed by unauthorised thieves if they manage to flash your ROM.

Avast has a built-in firewall and call/SMS filtering. Avira doesn't.

And Avira still has to add remote wipe. Avast already has it.

Avira is in early beta testing stage and it shows. Avast beats Avira at almost everything, except online control. Until avast adds a web interface to talk to your phone I'll keep both avast and Avira installed.
Update: now that avast has its web interface there's no more reason to keep Avira on your phone.

Avira (Android Market)

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