Wednesday, 29 February 2012
Dolphin Browser HD listens, makes Webzine an optional plugin, and makes it easier to open links in a new tab
Dolphin Browser HD is probably the best web browser for Android. Its gesture control options are way better than what the competition has to offer, the bookmark sidebar works really well, and its extendability with plugins is pretty good too.
And the latest update makes it better.
The controversial Webzine feature has been pulled out of the main app, but if you really want to keep it you can add it back by installing the new Webzine add-on.
Two add-ons (the two most popular according to Dolphin) are now built into the browser, sort of. The web-to-PDF plugin and the screenshot add-on appear in the add-on sidebar, but you still have to download them if you want to use them. If you don't want them the placeholders stay in your add-on tab you're out of luck. There's no way to delete the dead shortcuts from your sidebar.
But maybe that will be fixed in a future update. After I complained about Dolphin's unencrypted backups they added encryption.
More good news: they finally got rid of the background tab popup. Now the menu that appears when you long-tap a link just gives you the two obvious choices (switch to new tab, or open it in the background) without the need for unchecking a "remember my choice" checkbox over and over again.
So yes, Dolphin listens.
It really listens now, because Dolphin added voice control too. You can navigate, search, and bookmark by shaking your phone and talking to your browser. It's an experimental feature that's really slow and fails often, but that may improve in future updates. If you don't want Dolphin to eavesdrop you can switch it off in the settings screen.
Minor annoyance fix: the sidebar sensitivity is reduced, so you no longer open them by accident when you just want to scroll horizontally in a web page.
Dolphin seems to learn from its mistakes, so I guess they managed to resist the temptation to reintroduce some sort of phone home behaviour. If not, I'm sure the Dolphin watchers in the xda forums will catch them soon enough.
• Dolphin HD (Android Market)
• Dolphin Mini (Android Market)
Labels: web browsers
Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Dood's Music Streamer and TinyShark are two apps that let you stream and download music from Grooveshark for free. You don't even need a Grooveshark account!
Dood's Music Streamer used to be the better app, but a new layout and badly placed ads were not an improvement at all.
TinyShark is a pretty good Grooveshark client too, even though its user interface is rather clunky. It doesn't need Adobe Flash anymore, and it can now scrobble your tracks to last.fm.
March 1, 2012 update: Dood's Music Streamer is updated and works again.
September 4, 2012 update: Last time I checked TinyShark was no longer available in the Google Play Store. But you can download the APK elsewhere. The app still works for now, until Grooveshark changes their setup again.
October 19, 2012 update: Dood's Music Streamer got booted from the Google Play Store, but you can download it straight from the developers website.
• Dood's Music Streamer straight from its maker
• TinyShark (Exigo Software)
Monday, 27 February 2012
Need a new image editor
Flashing CyanogenMod to get rid of Motoblur was a great move, except for a few things. I had to sign up with Swype to get their beta test app, because the built-in Swype version wouldn't restore in a working state to my custom ROM. And the built-in picture editing tools were gone, including Kodak Perfect Touch.
Cell phone cameras still can't replace the real thing, and you often need to process the pictures shot with your phone to make them look good. Kodak Perfect Touch corrects brightness, contrast, and colors with a single click, and usually with great results. But when I flashed a new ROM I had to look for an alternative, because the photo editing tools from my Motorola stock ROM don't work in CyanogenMod (if anyone knows a way to make them work in non-stock ROMs, please let me know).
Apps that downsize
The Android Market has many free image editors, but most of them have so many limitations that they're useless.
For example, Easy Photo Editor (by CBS Co., Ltd.),
Apps that keep your resolution
Magix Camera MX and Easy Photo Editor (by Paradise Android) (edit: and Aviary too) keep your pictures at their original resolution for free. These apps have one click image touchup, and you can tweak brightness, contrast, colors, and saturation by hand. They both come with red eye removal and effects like sepia.
Easy Photo Editor is based on Aviary,
Edit: the app is updated, the .nomedia file is gone. It would be nice if a future update would let us choose our own save folder. For example, saving the edited image to the original folder would make it a lot easier to find. An option to save the original file name with a custom suffix would be a welcome addition too.
Another edit: Aviary now keeps your image resolution up to
Camera MX has white balance correction and some effects that Easy Photo Editor doesn't have. like lomo and sketch. Camera MX also has a built-in camera app, but you're better off with the stock camera or Camera360 Ultimate.
Yet another edit: Aviary and Easy Photo Editor now save all exif data!
• Easy Photo Editor by Paradise Android
• Magix Camera MX
Wednesday, 22 February 2012
Android doesn't need task killers to free up your RAM. Just mention "task killer" on any Android forum and a million people will shout that task killers are bad. Always and everywhere.
Task killers are bad if you use them the wrong way. Many task killers automatically kill apps at random, and then Android puts them back into RAM, and the task killer takes 'em out again, and then Android reloads them, and then...
Apps loaded in memory usually sit quietly in the background. They don't use any processor cycles, they don't eat your battery, and they go away by themselves if other apps ask for RAM.
But some apps do not keep quiet in the background. Google Maps is a notorious offender that keeps its network location service active when you don't need it. Facebook keeps going online after you move away, and if you try to log out it punishes you by deliberately forgetting your password. Shazam won't stay quiet either. When you exit the app, it keeps going online in the background to do who-knows-what. If you don't start the app, it still goes online all by itself when Android caches it in RAM for future use.
So even though task killers usually do more harm than good, keep in mind that there are exceptions. Sometimes there are very good reasons to kick apps out of memory after you're done with them. Just don't let them kill apps at random, but only zap those apps that really need to go away.
• Bomb That Task
Saturday, 18 February 2012
There are many good reasons to ditch your stock alarm clock and wake up with an alternative alarm clock app on your Android phone instead.
Timers4Me comes with an alarm clock (in addition to a stopwatch and countdown timer), but not a very good one. My favorite alarm clock app for now is Alarms Solo.
But that may change, because MRKAlarm looks very promising. If the app matures and the bugs get ironed out it may become the default alarm clock on my phone.
MRKAlarm is free, and it doesn't have any ads. It has a PayPal donation link hidden in its About screen, but that doesn't work on my phone so for now I have a good excuse for not donating until it gets fixed ;)
It has a simple user interface, lots of options, and some features that you won't find elsewhere.
You can choose between the alarm tones in SD card/media/audio/alarms folder (if you added any in there), but it won't use Androids built-in alarm sounds (not on my phone anyway). On the bright side, you can choose any mp3 as an alarm tone, and it doesn't stop there. You can select multiple songs to wake you up with a playlist.
What makes the app unique is its calendar integration. You can set an alarm for every weekday, and then open the calendar tab to auto-disable the alarm on public holidays, days marked as vacation, etc. Instead of shutting off the alarm you can also make it ring later on holidays.
When the alarm rings it wakes up your screen and pops a large snooze button and a small shut up button. A "slide to stop" option to avoid dismissing an alarm by accident would be nice to have, but it's not a dealbreaker. Of course you can set your own snooze interval in the alarm settings. The alarm doesn't need to start at full force, because you can make the volume increase gradually over a period up to a minute.
Nice touch: you can set quiet hours and choose what should happen during that time. You can either silence the app, make it shake instead or scream, or play the alarms at a lower volume. And you can tell the app to sound an alarm when your battery level drops below a critical value.
Things to fix
Update: most issues are fixed in new versions.
MRKAlarm only uses sounds from your SD card.
MRKAlarm is not ready to replace Alarms Solo on my phone yet, but it has lots of potential. With a few more options, tricks and tweaks and it could easily become the best alarm clock app on the Android Market. Take it for a test drive to see for yourself.
• MRKAlarm in the Android Market
• MRK Alarm on xda (forum discussion, do post your ideas)
• Alarms Solo
Friday, 17 February 2012
QuickDic is one of the better free offline dictionary apps for Android if you want to translate words into english, or from english into other languages.
QuickDic pulls its dictionaries from Wiktionary. Its dictionaries for Western European languages are very good (the dictionaries for other languages not so), and once you've downloaded your dictionaries into QuickDic you can look up words while abroad without dealing with international data roaming charges.
The app is lightning fast. Its uncompressed dictionaries take a lot of space, but that's what those giant microSD cards are for.
Its user interface is minimalist, but managing your dictionaries got a little easier in recent updates. The dictionary list could be designed better, but the new option to switch languages by long-pressing the language button is definitely an improvement. The bug that kept pulling you into the dictionary list is gone too.
What QuickDic needs now is better dictionaries for non-european languages, and language pairs with a base language other than english. But that's in the hands of the folks at Wiktionary.
Other free offline dictionary apps:
• Euro Dictionary and DictionaryForMIDs
• Offline dictionaries
Labels: dictionaries and translation
Thursday, 16 February 2012
You're in a bar, there's some obscure song on that you like, and you want to know which one it is. So you dig out your phone, fire up an app, record a few seconds, and get the artist and title in return.
There are a couple of apps for this, which all share the same idea: record a few seconds of music, create a digital fingerprint from the recording, and compare it with the fingerprints in an online database. If it finds a match, it will tell you what's playing. If it doesn't find a match, you can try again with another app. All apps are better at identifying american and european music than exotic stuff, but you have to try something really obscure local interest-only music to make all apps fail.
Different apps, different databases. Someone should code a meta track identification app that searches all the music databases at once. Of course you could use different apps one after another, but this takes a lot longer, and you risk running out of time. You don't want the song to end before your last identification app has had a chance to record and match.
Until someone codes a meta app, you can only shoot one gun at a time.
But which gun?
TrackID used to be a Sony Ericsson phone-only app, but not anymore. It appeared on the Android Market a few months ago, but not everywhere.
The number of supported countries has grown a lot since then, so it's probably available in your country by now. You don't need a Sony phone, because any Android phone will do. There's a bit of Sony Ericsson branding on the main screen, but in such a modest font size that you'll barely notice.
What sets TrackID apart from similar apps is that it uses the Gracenote database, which is bigger than what the competition taps into.
TrackID ties your search history to your SIM card, so if you pop in another card your list of previously searched songs is gone. No big deal, really. What is a big deal is that TrackID has gotten less accurate after a few updates that were meant to speed up the app. It now records less seconds, which results in more fails and false positives that require a new recording and search. Especially for acoustic sessions without drums or other beats.
Even so, TrackID is the best of the lot.
Shazam is the oldest, most well know app for finding songs. It's database is nowhere near as big as Gracenote, but Shazam usually does a pretty good job at finding the right artist if a song is covered by more than one.
Unfortunately Shazam is a bit buggy. If often switches the "vibrate on tag" feature on all by itself, no matter how often I switch it off again. And there's some sort of network traffic going on between the Shazam app and who-knows-where when Shazam is supposed to sit quietly in the background doing nothing. This data leak disappeared a few weeks ago, but later updates brought it back. If you have a backup copy of version 3.8.1 somewhere, give it a shot. This is the most recent version that doesn't drip data in the background on my phone.
Just like Shazam, the database of SoundHound is nowhere near as big as the Gracenote database used by TrackID. And SoundHound suffers from featuritis. They are adding so many bells and whistles that the app is getting a bit bloated. But SoundHound has a few things going for it that make it stand out from the competition.
SoundHound is very tolerant to background noise. Good stuff, because you can't tell the entire bar to shut up just because you're pointing your phone at some music. It can sometimes identify tracks if you sing or hum them, but it's a hit'n'miss feature with more misses than hits. Still, it may be your only way to identify live music. SoundHound is faster than Shazam and TrackID, but not so much faster to make it matter.
Apps to stay away from
SoundTracking taps into the Gracenote database like TrackID does, but SoundTracking comes with mandatory social network login (and you can't remove your Facebook or Twitter account from their files once you give it to SoundTracking), requires way too many taps on your screen to start tagging, and comes with a user interface that looks like it was designed by a blind monkey on LSD.
MusicID from Gravity Mobile, Inc. wants money to do what the other apps do for free. Worse yet, MusicID rarely works at all.
Use TrackID whenever possible because it taps into the largest database, use SoundHound in noisy places, and try Shazam if the other two fail.
Shoot first, ask later.
If app one fails, the song may be over before you can give app two and three a shot. But there's an easy way out of that. Just record the music with any sound recorder of your choice (e.g. the app you use to record phone calls or make voice notes). Now you have all the time in the world to play back your recording with TrackID, SoundHound, and Shazam running. It's the most foolproof way to ensure that the song doesn't stop before you tag it.
And I still want that meta app that polls all the databases. More chance of a positive ID, less chance of false positives. Any coder up for the challenge?
Update: SoundHound was caught sending your GPS location and other private data out to its own server whenever you launch the app, and also whenever you boot your phone if you have the SoundHound widget on your homescreen. If you don't want to share your location with SoundHound HQ, you should block its location access with an app like LBE Privacy Guard.
If TrackID is not available in the Android Market for you, you can get a copy (but not the most recent) from the xda forums:
• TrackID on xda
(there's a very old copy in the opening post, and more recent copies on page 2)
Wednesday, 15 February 2012
If you want to display all sorts of phone info, toggle things on and off from a widget, and more, Widgetsoid is the most versatile widget app out there.
It is also rather complex. Widgetsoid has a steep learning curve and it's user interface is a mess.
But once you get over that, you can make widgets to toggle just about everything. WiFi, bluetooth, GPS, data by switching it off, and data by renaming your access points ApnDroid-style. And then there's brightness, sound, auto sync, flashlight, battery stats, network info, and a million more things that you can toggle, check, or make shortcuts to. And if that's not enough, you can customise your widgets with plenty options. Custom transparency, custom icons and labels and indicators, and much more. Don't want widgets on your home screen? Widgetsoid can put its stuff in your notification bar instead.
Widgetsoid has been updated a few times lately. The most important changes:
- One-click GPS toggle for Gingerbread and Ice Cream Sandwich (not all ROMs supported, though).
- You can make a CPU frequency toggle to overclock or underclock and quickly go back to normal.
- You can now display the WiFi network name as the WiFi icon label.
- The WiFi toggle icon can indicate the signal strength in the same way as your WiFi icon in the Android notification bar. Useful if you have a minimal homescreen with the notification bar out of sight.
Tuesday, 14 February 2012
With all those chat networks out there, you can either install a homescreen full of apps for each network, or use a multi network app like imo.
With imo you can chat on MSN, Google Talk, Skype, Yahoo IM, ICQ, AIM, Facebook Chat, all Jabber networks, and more.
You could also use an XMPP client for that, but then you'll have to find a server that will let you talk to all your networks. With imo it's a lot easier.
You can't chat on WhatsApp or Viber with imo (maybe they're working on it?), but you can try a new experimental imo feature: free voice calls. Yep, that's right: imo goes VoIP! It only works if the other end runs imo too, but if you can talk all your friends into using imo it's like a crossbreed of WhatsApp and Viber on steroids.
The new imo eats less data and battery, and its user interface got a new layer of paint too. It makes things look more Ice Cream Sandwichy, but of course I always find something to bitch about. The old imo made its notification bar icon change colors depending on your connection status, so you could see if you were online or incommunicado without opening the app. The new imo icon is grey and stays grey no matter if you're connected or not. Maybe the imo coders can do something about that in the next update? Some other changes didn't go down that well either. Judging from the Market comments, I'm not the only one who thinks it's a stupid idea to rename the Networks tab into Me. And the smilies in imo are still all of the green Android type. Maybe someone can make a classic yellow smiley pack for imo?