Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Cobolt FM adds sleep timer

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.

Cobolt FM plays radio on your Android phone without the geographical restrictions of the official app. Cobolt FM works for non-subscribers too.

It precaches songs for almost gapless playback, has a button for one-tap access to your page, and now it has a sleep timer too.

Unfortunately the sleep timer is buried at the bottom of the settings screen. And that's not the only shortcoming of the user interface. The design of the app is a work in progress, future updates should improve its look and feel.

Competing player KLastFM looks a little better. But only with an ad blocker like AdAway, because the ad banner is really ugly. It sits very close to the playback controls. So close that it makes you wonder if it's deliberately set up to encourage accidental taps. And KLastFM doesn't have a sleeptimer (yet).

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.

Cobolt FM (Google Play Store)
KLastFM (Opera Software)

Want a free ride on Grooveshark instead?

TinyShark and Dood's Music Streamer

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Monday, 21 May 2012

ES File Explorer adds Google Drive

Android file managers are getting more and more cloudy. X-plore and ES File Explorer recently added SkyDrive, and X-plore has Google Drive too. It looks like these two apps are in a sort of "I have more cloud storage servers than you" contest. That's a good thing for anyone who uses those apps. ES and X-plore, keep fighting!

ES File Explorer took the lead again, so now it has Google Drive too. This in addition to Dropbox, box, SugarSync, and SkyDrive.

ES File Explorer also has an FTP server in addition to its FTP client. The FTP server is still burried deep down in the settings menu, but now you can send an FTP server shortcut to your homescreen to get in there a little faster. It's better than nothing, but a future update would improve things a lot if it adds an FTP server toggle to the FTP tab.

Not that I want to complain too much, because ES File Explorer is the best file manager for Android and X-plore has a long way to go before it can compete. ES File Manager makes and extracts zip archives, opens rar files, backs up apps like Titanium (which won't back up itself), talks with Samba servers, and sends shortcuts to files and folders to your homescreens. And in true Android spirit (does anyone pay for apps?) ES File Explorer doesn't cost a penny.

ES File Explorer

The competition:


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Saturday, 19 May 2012

Dolphin browser spring cleaning, gestures need a finishing touch


My favourite feature of Dolphin Browser HD is the custom gesture option. A swipe to switch tabs, an arrow to go to the next page, a cross to close the current tab, etc.

But when Dolphin decided to glue the gesture button to the bottom left corner without the old but useful option to move it to the other side I was not amused.

Fortunately Dolphin listened. The option to choose your own corner returned in the latest update of the app.

Almost perfect. It would be even better when I could choose different corners depending on whether I use my phone in portrait or landscape mode.

When you're right-handed, the bottom left corner is within easy reach of your thumb when you're phone is in portrait mode. In landscape mode things turn different. Now my thumb is close to the bottom right, and the bottom left is hard to reach. For left-handed people it's the other way 'round, which is why the position of frequently used buttons should always be left to the preferences of the user. As phone screens get bigger and bigger, the bottom right will be out of reach for the left-handed, and the right-handed won't reach the bottom left.

So Dolphin should expand its gesture button location settings. My choice would be "bottom left in portrait mode, bottom right in landscape view." If you're left-handed you'd want it the other way around. The best way would be to let us drag'n'drop the gesture button to our own preferred location on the screen, which could be different corners depending on the screen orientation.

Cleaning up

Dolphin cleaned up its user interface too. You can manage your bookmarks straight from the bookmarks bar. The quick access button is gone. That's not a big loss, because almost all of its functions are built into the menu. Except for one: your browsing history is buried in a counterintuitive place in the bookmarks bar, and you can't create a custom gesture for quick access to your history.

The gestures screen overlay could be a bit more transparent too.

Finally, sometimes you want to clean things up yourself, but Dolphin makes you tap way too much to throw out the trash. Clearing your cookies, passwords, history, etcetera requires a trip to the depths of the settings screen (this deserves a prominent place in the main menu!), and no matter what you select to throw out, Dolphin won't remember it. Next time you want to clean things up only the top three entries (cache, history, HTML5 data) are checked, and you have to retap everything else. Clearing the default entries takes six taps, zapping cookies and passwords takes even more.

But like all apps, Dolphin will be a work in progress forever. Let's see if future updates make the chore of cleaning up a bit less tedious. Maybe they can add a cookie manager too? And a Tapatalkblocker and a BugMeNot add-on? And and and...

Dolphin HD

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Friday, 18 May 2012

I don't want Tapatalk, so stop spamming me

There are plenty of discussion boards all over the web, and some of them are really useful. Unfortunately, many of them hate mobile browsers.

Search Google for any topic and there will be forum discussions in the search results. Hit one of those forum threads on your Android phone and you'll see a popup that tries to spam you into buying Tapatalk or similar forum reader apps. Some sites (xda, for example) even have their own forum app. As if anyone is gonna install an app that works for one forum only... next we'll be installing apps that only load a single website. Oh wait...

The most annoying thing about all those Tapatalk and Forum Runner popups is that they keep coming back. The only way to get them out of the way for a while is by allowing them to set a cookie on your phone, and keeping that cookie installed. If your browser deletes all cookies upon shutdown (you know, to try make the advertisers forget you) the Tapatalk popups never end. And junkfilters like AdAway or AdFree can't touch them, because the Tapatalk spam loads from a javascript on the forum site itself.

I wonder if those forums get a kickback on the app sales, because I can think of no other reason why any forum would allow such an annoying stream of popups to launch from their sites. A simple unobtrusive text link on the bottom of their website would do the job without making their sites look like an online casino that promises free pr0n and browser toolbars full of "interesting offers tailored to your interests." Maybe it's the Vigilink affiliate advertising spam in Tapatalk that makes forum admins drool with dollar signs in their eyes?

(Yes, this site has ads too. Feel free to block them, you're equally welcome if you do. Just block "" and you'll never see those Google ads again.)

If anyone knows a way to kill the Tapatalk popups without having to make my mobile browser pretend to be a desktop browser or allow the Tapatalk cookies to stay on my phone forever, please leave a comment or hit the contact link on the bottom of this page.

Those Tapatalk popups have to die. All of them.

p.s. When I searched "block Tapatalk popup" on my phone, the built-in error correction automatically changed "popup" into "poop." Android is even smarter than I thought!

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

BugMeNot for Android

Many sites want you to sign up and log in before they let you do anything. Not all, though. The xda forums saw the light a long time ago, and they removed the login requirement to download apps from their forum.

But there are plenty of sites that want you to sign up, hand over your email address, and log in whenever you want to read or download something. This can get annoying real quick, especially for sites that you plan to use only once.

Enter BugMeNot. This service at uses community-generated login/password data to use sites without signing up for an account.

And now there is an Android app for it. Copy/paste the offending URL into the app, then copy/paste the login data back into your web browser to sign in without signing up.

Bug to spray away: special characters often show up as little rectangles or other crazy symbols, and those logins don't work. BugMeNot should learn how to deal with different character encoding formats.

Edit: Good news! A BugMeNot update killed the bug.

BugMeNot won't remember anything, so if you visit a site more often you have to feed the URL into the BugMeNot app over and over again. A bookmark feature in BugMeNot would make the app a lot better. It could use some browser integration too. It would be really convenient to hit the "share" button in your mobile browser, tap BugMeNot, and have the login details automatically filled into the form fields.

Edit: BugMeNot is now available from the share menu and takes you straight to the passwords. You still have to copy/paste 'em into the form fields yourself, but maybe that will be automated in a future update? A BugMeNot add-on for Dolphin would be great too.

For now you might as well bookmark in your browser, but if the app matures a bit it may become a welcome addition to your arsenal of useful Android apps.

BugMeNot on Google Play

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

X-plore adds SkyDrive

X-plore for Android started as an unusable app, got fixed, and is now fully functional. Swiping between two explorer screens makes moving files a lot easier than with the classic single screen setup of most file managers. X-plore is still ugly as hell and things like FTP servers deserve their own screen, but maybe the next few updates will do something about that.

The latest update expanded its cloud support. X-plore already talked to Dropbox,, SugarSync, and Google Drive, and now it connects to SkyDrive too. Good stuff, because SkyDrive comes with more free storage space than the competition.

The back button still takes you to your homescreen instead of to the previous folder, which is completely useless. We already have the home button to go to our homescreen.

While X-plore is cleaning up their app you may want to give ES File Explorer a shot.

ES File Explorer

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Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Firefox for Android wins Flash, loses sidebar

Flash outdated? Most artists have sites that require Flash, and if you try to check restaurant opening hours or book a table you'll find that nine out of ten restaurant sites don't work if your browser can't handle Flash.

The good news: after Dolphin, the stock browser, and many other Android browsers, the latest beta test version of Firefox does Flash too.

The bad news: the sidebars are gone. Maybe they looked to much like the Dolphin sidebars? Your tabs are now in a pulldown menu next to the address bar. A side effect of this is that the address bar is always visible, which is not a good idea for a browser that's meant to work on small screens where every pixel counts.

Text rendering sometimes goes wrong and the double tap to zoom option is erratic on many pages since the update from beta 13 to beta 14. Sometimes it works, but when it doesn't work pinch to zoom is the only way to resize. Doesn't sound like a big deal until you try to pinch while your other hand is busy holding your bag or your girlfriend. And your pinches don't hold: if you return to a resized page with the back button you'll have to resize it again. Firefox won't remember your zoom level, not even during a single browsing session.
Update: Most of these problems are fixed in Firefox Beta 15.

Firefox Beta 14 comes with a new start screen, which resembles the start screens of other mobile browsers. But where the default start screens of browsers like Dolphin are optional, the new Firefox start screen is not. Gone is the option of launching Firefox straight into your own custom homepage. The new Firefox always launches with its new start screen whether you like it or not.

Scrolling doesn't always work well, especially on pages with frames. If a page has iframes you won't be able to scroll outside the iframe, which makes large parts of the page totally inaccessible. Now don't counter that iframes are ancient history, because there's an entire internet full of interesting sites that still use them and many of them will never switch to style sheets.

There are lots of things to fix in the next beta. Flash in Beta 14 works pretty good, but I'll keep Firefox Beta 13 from my Titanium backup until the new bugs are dead (edit: many of them are fixed in Firefox Beta 15) and the forced start screen goes away. Not that I'm gonna miss much, because I usually surf with Dolphin HD. I only use Firefox for Android for its save to PDF feature, which works better than in any other Android browser. Firefox is my favourite browser on my notebooks and desktops, but its Android version is no match for Dolphin, Boat Browser, Maxthon, Opera, or even for the stock browser.

Bonus tip: if you use Flash in Firefox you may want to edit your Flash privacy and security settings.

Firefox Beta
Dolphin HD

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Monday, 14 May 2012

ES File Explorer adds SkyDrive and an FTP server

ES File Explorer is an excellent file manager to handle files and folders on your phone and in the cloud, and to pingpong them back and forth to your computer. It creates and extracts zip archives too, and it opens rar files. It comes with a couple of optional plugins. The app manager can back up apps like Titanium (which won't back up itself), and the bookmark manager is very good at sending shortcuts to files and folders to your homescreens.

ES File Explorer already connected to Dropbox, SugarSync, and box, and now it lets you into SkyDrive too. That's good news, because SkyDrive gives you more free storage space than its competitors.

Of course it still supports Samba servers, and it still works as an FTP client. The FTP client now does FTPS too, which helps keep your files safe from eavesdroppers.

Great new feature: ES File Explorer now comes with a built-in FTP server! This makes it a lot easier to transfer files from your phone to your computer and the other way 'round. Unfortunately the new FTP server is very well hidden. You have to open the settings, then go into the remote settings screen, and only then you'll find the on/off switch for the FTP server which is counterintuitively called "remote manage."

Urgently needed in the next update: an on/off switch for the FTP server right in the main menu. Even better: just give the FTP server its own tab next to the local file manager, the FTP client, and the cloud storage tab. That tab could have an on/off switch with plenty of room left for the IP address, port number, etc.

Keep in mind that if you enter system folders with root access enabled ES File Explorer will generate a bit of network traffic. The amount of data is barely enough to send out some usage statistics, but unfortunately the developer of ES File Explorer leaves us guessing what's inside those bytes. If all of you ask about it in your Google Play Store comments or email the developer ( maybe we'll find out?

ES File Explorer (Google Play Store)

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Friday, 4 May 2012

AirDroid makes your phone and computer talk more

Look, no cables!

Nothing to install on your computer, no USB cable to plug into anything. AirDroid makes your phone talk to your computer over the air.

Yep, there are more of those. Including junk programmed by phone manufacturers. Motorola Phone Portal looks like it came as an afterthought.

AirDroid leaves the competition in the dust. It lets you manage apps and save backups of them, and it connects you with your pictures, movies, songs, and other files. Bonus feature if your phone is rooted: show your home screens on your computer and make screenshots of them.

The latest update beefs up the security of the computer-to-phone connection, lets you split the AirDroid browser window into multiple desktops, and speeds up app management. The new option of logging in by scanning a QR code may be useful for those who're too lazy to type a six digit password.

Work to do

AirDroid shows your text messages, but it won't back them up. It won't show MMSs either, and it has trouble displaying messages from different time zones in the correct order.

The contact manager ignores most of your address book fields. It handles names, numbers, notes, and nothing else. AirDroid definitely needs to learn how to read and edit each and every bit of data in your contacts list.


AirDroid is useful without a computer too. Its built-in task manager gets you to your running apps much faster than the stock app manager, which will save you a bit of time when you quickly want to kill some misbehaving apps.

Save your shift key: the AirDroid passwords are not case sensitive.

Warning: the ringtone manager has a deceptive "in use" label. It only labels active tones if they're used by Android itself. It ignores tones used by non-stock apps like VoIP, WhatsApp, or your favourite calendar and alarm clock apps.

AirDroid (Google Play)

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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Iris drops Airpush and learns new tricks, but Jeannie still looks better

When Apple pushed their voice control app as a new invention the Android ecosystem spawned a dozen or more apps to chat with, read your mail, send your texts, and tell you where to find the nearest topless bar.

The best of the lot is Jeannie (built on Voice Actions from Google), which is more accurate than any other talking phone slave assistant, including Siri. But Iris sounds better. The name, that is, because the voice itself is limited by the text-to-speak engine that you have installed on your phone.

Like Siri, Iris can engage in mindless chitchat when you've got nothing better to do. She can fetch info from the web too. And her latest makeover makes her open apps for you, read your mail, write your texts, set your alarm clock, and write calendar entries. Nope, she won't fetch you a beer yet.

I would have totally trashed Iris if she would still be infected by Airpush, because every app developer who uses the most annoying mobile advertising system ever invented deserves to be shot at dawn. Fortunately the makers of Iris have seen the light and scrubbed all traces of Airpush from their daughter.

Too bad that Iris makes me push a button everytime I say something to her, or else she won't listen. Having to touch the screen over and over again is a bad idea for apps that are supposed to keep your hands on the wheel. Don't ask her why she's like that, because she'll reply with utter nonsense.


Her friend (or enemy, with girls the distinction is very subtle):


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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

File manager X-plore learns about touchscreens

X-plore was the best file manager for my Nokia back when Symbian was the best mobile operating system.

Times changed, Symbian died, touchscreens grew up and became useful, and X-plore failed to catch up. Its first Android attempt was a disaster.

But a few updates later X-plore got the hang of it. Their lineup of cloud storage services is growing (it's got Dropbox,, SugarSync, and Google Drive), and they figured out that what works for keypads doesn't work for touchscreens.

The user interface still looks like a construction site after a hurricane, but at least it's usable now. The useless on-screen menu button is gone, you can select multiple files and folders (it only took some checkboxes), and X-plore will use your own media apps if you don't like its built-in player.

Swiping between two explorer windows is a great feature too.

There's still a lot to fix, though. Making the app look less ugly shouldn't be too hard, and it would really help if the back button of my phone would take me back to the previous folder instead of duplicating the function of my home button.

Keep the updates coming in. And if you uninstalled X-plore upon first sight, you might want to give it a second chance. X-plore is no match for ES File Explorer, but I'm sure they're working on it.

X-plore (Google Play)
X-plore (Lonely Cat Games)

ES File Explorer

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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Vonage update shows VoIP rate

If Skype doesn't cut it, there are plenty of other VoIP choices for your Android phone.

One of them is Vonage. Just like Skype, Viber, imo, fring, and Nimbuzz, Vonage calls are free if the other end runs Vonage too. You can also call normal phone numbers in the USA, Canada, and Puerto Rico for free, but this is a limited time offer that probably won't last forever.

Like almost all other VoIP services, Vonage comes with an instant messenger service too.

Advantage of Vonage over Skype, fring, and Nimbuzz: Vonage sounds a lot better, on par with CSipSimple and Viber.

Advantage of Vonage over Viber: you can switch Vonage off without having to resort to elaborate root-requiring tricks.

Advantage of Vonage over many other VoIP services: the other end of the call sees your real phone number.

The latest Vonage update adds location and photo sharing. It shows the call rate (in US$ only, maybe other currencies will follow?) in your contact details, so you don't have to look up rates on their website. Vonage is a bit cheaper than Skype, but a lot more expensive than the VoIP services from betamax.

Vonage (Google Play Store)

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