Friday, 29 June 2012

New maps for OsmAnd render better and faster: how to download as many maps as you like?

New OsmAnd

OsmAnd is a great free offline navigation app. If you're in an area with adequate OpenStreetMap coverage the offline capabilities of OsmAnd blow Google Maps away.

An old OsmAnd problem was that its map rendering was very slow. An app update and new map format speeds things up a lot. It's more accurate too, so coastal areas are no longer rendered underwater. Offline routing is improved as well, and the user interface looks a bit cleaner.

The old OsmAnd maps don't work in the new OsmAnd app, so you have to redownload 'em all.

Unlimited maps

The bad news: you can download maps from the OsmAnd download screen, but there's a limit of 16 10 downloads and voices count as downloads too.

The good news: there are ways to bypass the download limit. And there's a good reason for bypassing the limit. The maps from OpenStreetMap are made by people like you and me for free. Selling the hard work of all those volunteers is plain wrong.

You can download maps without limits from or, unzip 'em, and put 'em in sdcard\osmand. Make sure you download recent maps, not old maps in the old incompatible format.

To download as many maps as you like from within OsmAnd you have to reset the counter. One way is to enter the app manager and clear the OsmAnd settings. You'll have to reconfigure all your settings, but the download counter is reset to zero by a data wipe.

Tip: Configure OsmAnd, then make a Titanium backup before you download any maps. When you hit the download limit you just restore the Titanium backup to start with a clean slate without losing your settings. It doesn't have to be a Titanium backup, any app that can backup apps with their settings will do the job.

Update: Don't want to bounce back and forth between Titanium and OsmAnd to grab some new maps? As aelmahmoudy kindly pointed out in the comments below, you can also download the maps and voices from Maybe one day someone will make an Android app that does the downloading for you (scheduled please!) and puts 'em the right folder all by itself.

Other maps

Google Maps lets you cache small maps offline, but you need an internet connection to calculate routes to navigate. Route 66 wants money for voice navigation, but first time users get a free one month trial. Install Route 66 just before your vacation so you can use your free month to the max. Route 66 reads your SIM card details to see if you qualify for a free month of voice navigation, so if you pop a disposable prepaid SIM into your phone...

NavFree pulls its maps from OpenStreetMap just like OsmAnd does, but the files are a lot smaller. You can save almost half the space if you use NavFree, which can be useful if you want to store a lot of maps for many states and countries. Unfortunately NavFree has ads (OsmAnd doesn't) and it requires an internet connection to search for addresses. OsmAnd can search offline (which explains the bigger map files).

OsmAnd (Google Play Store)

Google Maps
NavFree (Google Play Store)

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Thursday, 28 June 2012

Google Maps goes offline again: you win some, you lose some

Offline again

Google Maps for Android used to require a live internet connection for everything. Not good if you're driving in the middle of nowhere without any internet in sight. And definitely not good if you're roaming abroad and every byte of data costs a fortune in international roaming charges.

And then Google Maps experimented with offline maps. They were quite limited: you could only download up to 10 blocks of 15x15 miles, and they expired after a month. It was better than nothing, but nowhere near as good as OsmAnd or Nokia Maps. Someone should definitely port Nokia Maps to Android, because its HTML5 version is watered down too much.

And now Google is done testing its offline maps and sends it to the real world.

You win some

The new Google Maps lets you download larger areas. No matter how big your city is, you can download all of it, including its suburbs. You can't download entire countries except for mini states like Monaco. Your maps are limited to chunks of about 80 MB no matter how much space you have available on your phone.

You lose some

The number of maps you can download went down. You can now only download 6 maps, so if you're planning to move around a lot Google Maps won't cut it.

When you update Google Maps all your old maps (those 15x15 mile chunks) go up in smoke, so you have to download your offline maps again.

If you can. Because many places are "unavailable for download" and I'm not talking about the North Pole. If you're heading to the mediterranean beaches this summer you can forget about bringing offline Google maps with you. Spain, Portugal, and Italy are among the countries that Google Maps refuses to download.

August 2012 update: You can download maps of Portugal now, but Spain is still out.

Not really offline

OK, you're about to travel in an area for which Google does not block map downloads. Now you can navigate offline, right?

Wrong! Google Maps still needs internet to search places on the map, and you have to go online to use turn-by-turn navigation. WiFi on the highway is few and far between, so if you pay for international data roaming you have to look for other navigation apps.

Really offline

If your area is adequately mapped by OpenStreetMap there are some truly offline navigation options for free. My favourite free offline navigation app is OsmAnd. It lets you download entire countries, and it can do everything offline. Searching, route calculation, turn-by-turn voice navigation, OsmAnd has it all and it doesn't cost a penny.

Google Maps

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Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Image editor Aviary keeps exif data


Android picture editor Aviary is built into apps like Easy Photo Editor, but a recent update makes Aviary work as a stand-alone app too. Most image editing apps downsample your pictures, but Aviary saves pictures up to 12 megapixels at their original resolution.

Like just about every other Android image editor, Aviary used to lose your exif tags. But not anymore. Aviary learned to keep the exifs, sort of. The only exif problem left is the date tag. The "date picture taken" tag is very useful. Not only to remind you of the day and time you shot the picture, but also because gallery apps use it to sort images by date.

However, Aviary changes the date you made the picture to the date you edited the picture. You lose information, and the sort order in your gallery gets out of sequence. If you edit the picture of the appetizer it will appear after dessert.

Maybe the next Aviary update can leave the date tag alone? There's no need to change it, because files already have a "date modified" property to indicate when you changed them.

Update: date tag issue fixed! Aviary now keeps your exif tags the way you want them.

A grid view in the built-in picture gallery would also be a welcome addition.

Easy Photo Editor

Easy Photo Editor was the first free image editor in the Android Market, err Google Play Store that didn't throw your exif tags away. It uses the Aviary engine, so both apps look like twin brothers and they share the same set of editing tools (brightness, contrast, colors, saturation, effects like sepia, red eye removal, and one click touchup).


The difference between Aviary and Easy Photo Editor? There are three two differences that matter:

Aviary is ad free. Easy Photo Editor has ads unless you use a junkfilter like AdAway. Psychologists agree that ads are a source of stress and unhappiness, so blocking them is good for your health.

Aviary lets you choose the output folder of your edited pictures. Easy Photo Editor doesn't let you choose. You can move your edited files around with gallery app QuickPic. You can also use a normal file manager for that, but then you may end up with ghost thumbnails in your gallery.

What makes Easy Photo Editor win for now is that it doesn't change the "date picture taken" tag. It does change the "date modified" flag of the image file, but QuickPic lets you replace "date modified" by "date picture taken" to restore the order in your gallery sequence.

Easy Photo Editor

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Thursday, 21 June 2012

Math Formulary miscalculated the impact of Airpush and LeadBolt

Popups and notification spam

Everybody hates shady businesses like Airpush and LeadBolt that spam your notification bar with advertisements. Those ads come bundled with apps, but unlike normal ad banners Airpush and LeadBolt push their ads into your Android notification bar when you're not using the app. Imagine: you use an app once a month, but it pollutes your notification bar with junk each and every day! Who wouldn't hit the uninstall button right away?

Adware like Airpush and LeadBolt is no different from the junk that used to come bundled with Kazaa (anyone still remember them?). That malware from days gone by filled your computer with popups with such a high frequency that people made alternative Kazaa versions (Kazaa Lite) that had the adware stripped out.

Ratings down the drain

The Google Play Store has a rating and comment system. Guess what happens to a good app that turns into spamware because its developer gets too greedy?

Yep, you guessed right. The app in this example, Math Formulary, used to get a truckload of praise and over a thousand 4* and 5* ratings. But then an update to the app sneaked LeadBolt in. The Play Store comments instantly turned into battery acid and the 1* ratings piled up. That single star was one too many, but unfortunately you can't punish greedy devs with zero stars.

A long time ago the well known app ApnDroid experimented with Airpush. It didn't last long. The maker of ApnDroid quickly figured out that adding notification spam ads was a mistake, pulled the crapware out of his app, and apologised to his users. Voice assistant Iris experimented with notification ads but pulled them out again. The author of Math Formulary should follow their example.

Update: The author of Math Formulary found out that adding LeadBolt spam was a bad idea. The push ads are gone in version 2.6. They've been replaced by banner ads and a nag screen that nags you when you exit the app with the back button.

Math Formulary
Algebra Cheat Sheet (this one doesn't spam your notification bar)

Detect which apps spam your notification bar

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Monday, 18 June 2012

Custom reminder times come for free in Business Calendar Free

Need to set a calendar reminder that makes noise 1h15 min before the appointment starts? What about two hours and a half so it doesn't start screeming during a meeting? Or any other time that the list of presets in the stock Google calendar app doesn't cater for?

Pocket Informant and CalenGoo can do it, but they want your money. If you were looking for a free calendar app with your own custom reminders you were out of luck.

But not anymore. Business Calendar comes in two flavors. There's a paid version without ads, and a free version with ads from AdMob. Of course with a rooted phone and an app like AdAway...

Business Calendar has a clean uncluttered interface. Its event entry screen has a narrow strip on the right side that shows how the appointment you're about to enter fits in the rest of your schedule. That's a very useful feature.

And the reminder time entry box has a "individual reminder" field that lets you enter any reminder time you like. Seventeen minutes, eight hours, three days and a half, two weeks, anything goes. Every calendar app should let you do this, but few do.

There's room for improvement, though. You can't set time zones, you can't make events repeat every other week (most competing calendar apps can't do that either), the widgets are nowhere near as good as those in Smooth Calendar or Jorte, the week view only shows days in columns, and the zoom function (great feature) works very well in week view but not in month view (where you need it more).

And the swipe gestures are a little inconsistent. The agenda view is a vertical list of entries, so you scroll through it with vertical swipes. That makes sense. Horizontal swipes to scroll through the days and weeks make sense too. But scrolling through the months requires a vertical swipe, because a horizontal move takes you to a "half week" layout. Vertical in agenda view, horizontal to scroll through days, weeks, and months, maybe a future update will make the scrolls and swipes more intuititive?

Business Calendar force closed and made my phone freeze a bit too often. If stability of the app goes up and the swipes get more consistent Business Calendar could become my default calendar.
Edit: a few updates killed the bugs. The force-closes are a thing of the past. Business Calendar is now my default calendar app.

Business Calendar Free

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Sunday, 17 June 2012

Métro for Android not in the Google Play Store yet, so sideload it

Back in my Symbian days I used a great app called Métro. This app looks up public transport connections and lets you choose between the fastest way or the least transfers route.

But when I jumped the sinking Symbian ship and moved to Android I couldn't take Métro with me. I forgot about it for a while, but then I accidentally landed on the Métro site and found an Android version waiting for me. Yay!

Métro lets you download subway, bus, tram, train, and ferry connections for hundreds of cities. All the big metropolises are covered, and many smaller towns are included too. Enter your starting point and destination and Métro calculates the best way to get there.

Downloading cities is a bit of a chore because you have to grab them one by one. Multiselect would be very welcome in a future update. On the bright side, once you have your favourite cities on your phone you can update them with a single "update all" button.

Métro doesn't show network maps yet. In the early days of the app that made sense, because storage and memory of Nokias and Blackberries and palms were quite limited back then. But now that SD cards have dozens of gigabytes waiting to be filled network maps would be a welcome addition.

If you don't know where the nearest station is, Métro can use your GPS or network location to find it for you. It takes street adresses as input too, but this requires an internet connection which may turn out expensive when you're roaming abroad. A share menu entry to send stops and stations to Google Maps would be a welcome addition too, and and and...

Anyway, maybe I'm asking for too much. If you want a quick offline way to find the best connection from one station to another, Métro does an excellent job.

Métro at (not in the Google Play Store yet)

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Saturday, 16 June 2012

WinZip for Android doesn't zip

There are plenty of Android apps that can zip and unzip your files for you. File managers like ES File Explorer have zipping and unzipping built in, and they support other formats too. If you want more, there are apps like ArchiDroid that open almost every compression format under the sun.

And now WinZip enters the Android scene. Better late than never, you may say, but it's way too early to release WinZip for Android in its current state.

Because WinZip for Android sucks. Really. It's totally useless.

WinZip for Android unzips zips. Big deal, there are hundreds of Android apps that unzip zips. Many of them don't just extract zips, they create zip files too. But not WinZip, because it only knows how to open 'em, not how to make them.

WinZip only opens zips, it ignores all the other compression formats out there.

Can its user interface save the app? Nope. The back button doesn't take you to the previous folder, it only exits WinZip. The only way to move up is through an on screen button, and once you're in a zip even that doesn't work anymore.

The search button doesn't do anything when you're in WinZip. You can't search for zips, and WinZip won't let you search inside zips either.

The only useful button sits outside WinZip. It's called "uninstall." In its present state WinZip for Android is no match for ArchiDroid, ES File Explorer, or any of the other thousand competing apps in the Google Play store. The WinZip programmers still have a lot of work to do if they want to turn their Android app into more than the waste of bytes that it is now.

WinZip for Android
ES File Explorer

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Friday, 15 June 2012

AdAway adds Airpush detector, Addons Detector detects more

Spamming and spying

Ad banners are not only annoying, they're an attack on your privacy too. Adsense, AdMob, and all the other banner farms out there track your online behaviour across apps and sites in as much detail as technically possible. You wouldn't accept your tv tracking you 1984-style, so why would you accept it from your phone?

Some apps even insist on running ads on your phone when you're not running the apps themselves. Their dirty trick: they use shady companies like Airpush and LeadBolt who abuse the new possibilities that mobile phones bring. Unfortunately there are plenty more similar spamvertisers out there.

Advertisers like Airpush and LeadBolt spam your Android notification bar with ads. They pop up often, even when you're not running the apps that brought them. Worse yet, many apps never tell you that they come with Airpush or LeadBolt spamware built in. They just keep you guessing. Plenty of people have panicked because they thought their phone was infected by a virus. You can't blame them, because ad scams like Airpush and LeadBolt behave like a virus.


Time to stand up and defend yourself. If you receive ads in your notification bar and you don't know which app sneaked them in, there are ways to find out.

My favourite banner blocker AdAway got updated and has a new button in the menu. It's called "Scan for Adware" and that's what it does. Run the scan and it will list the apps on your phone that have malicious advertising built in. Tap the app name and AdAware takes you straight to the uninstall screen so you can get rid of the ad-infested junkware.

You should definitely keep a copy of AdAway to block banners, but there's a more thorough way to scan for adware. Addons Detector by denper scans your apps for privacy violations. Banner ads with tracking code, status bar spam like Airpush and LeadBolt, licensing schemes that keep phoning home long after you've paid for your apps, user stats grabbers that analyse your app usage without asking your permission, and more.

Use AdAway, Addons Detector, LBE Privacy Guard or PDroid, and DroidWall to keep your phone clean and make your private data stay private.

AdAway (alternative download links, no longer in Play Store)
Addons Detector

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Friday, 8 June 2012

Hotspot Shield VPN loses quit button, uninstall button takes over

If you have a promiscuous phone that jumps on any open WiFi network whenever it can, your Android device works as advertised.

Unfortunately there's a risk. The WiFi network may be set up by someone trying to grab your passwords, or it may simply be leaky because security is not set up properly.

Enter Virtual Private Networks. These are secure tunnels in unsecure networks. Even if the messenger cannot be trusted, a VPN ensures that the messenger can't read your message.

VPN usually costs money, because your data has to travel through a secure server and bandwidth doesn't come for free. But there are free options.

Hotspot Shield VPN tunnels your data for free. Well, not really free, because the app has ads from banner farms that want to track your surfing behaviour, but those are easy to get rid of.

The bad news: it doesn't work for everyone. Some people report that Hotspot Shield VPN killed their internet connection, so make sure you backup your WiFi settings before you let Hotspot Shield VPN do its thing.

The good news: Hotspot Shield VPN works for me. It's a bit slow, but if the alternative is feeding my passwords into an unencrypted public WiFi network I'd rather trade in some speed to keep my private data private.

The app is not designed very well. Its user interface needs some polishing, and the latest update (to version 0.4.13) made things even more of a mess. The old "quit" button is gone. You can shut down Hotspot Shield VPN with a task killer when you're done with it, or you can hit the uninstall button that's built into the app. The button doesn't uninstall anything, but it shuts down the app like the old quit button used to do.
Update: Hotspot Shield VPN added a deceptive quit button that doesn't work.

Maybe the next update will clean things up again?

Hotspot Shield VPN

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Tuesday, 5 June 2012

BugMeNot moves to Android share menu

Don't want to sign up and log in to visit a site? stores user names and passwords of "public" accounts to get you in.

There's an Android app for it too. You can copy/paste the offending URL into it to get the login data, but the latest version makes things a bit easier. The update brings BugMeNot to the share menu, so you can launch it straight from your web browser with the URL filled in.

You still need to copy the login details back to your browser. Maybe a future BugMeNot update can automate that too?

BugMeNot on Google Play

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Saturday, 2 June 2012

SopCast launches your favourite channels a little faster

If you're in a place that doesn't show the match of your football team, SopCast comes to the rescue. It uses BitTorrent-like technology to deliver live sports and other streaming video to your phone. Great when you're traveling in countries that don't care about your favourite sport.

It works quite well on Windows. It works on Android too, but there's still a lot of work to do before SopCast for Android is ready to leave beta testing.

The latest update cuts down on bugs, and it makes launching your favourite channel a bit easier. The URL entry button moved up to the middle of the main menu, and you only need to enter the channel number to make it work.

Missed the match? GoalTV from Frezya Mobile fetches the highlights for you.

SopCast (
SopCast on xda (for the latest beta versions)
GoalTV app from Frezya Mobile for your SopCast links and other ways to live games and highlights

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Friday, 1 June 2012

Google Calendar behind the times

Task, memo, birthday integration

Back in my Symbian days I could schedule four types of events in the built-in calendar of my Nokia. Meetings, memos, anniversaries, and to-dos.

The advantages of having memos and to do lists integrated in a single app and a single widget are obvious. Anniversaries (birthdays etc.) could fit in one of the other categories, but having them as a separate type with a separate icon makes 'em easy to spot. And setting reminders is a lot easier too.


Anniversaries last from midnight to midnight, but setting a birthday as an all day event in Google Calendar is not a good idea. Google Calendar can only handle reminders before an event, not during an event. If you want to be reminded of a birthday, Google Calendar only lets you set a reminder for the day before. Having the reminder sound on the day itself makes more sense, unless you want to call to say happy birthday on the night before. And you don't want to show up at the party a day early. Workaround: set a time for birthdays until Google wakes up and codes a fix.

More reminder issues: the Google Calendar app won't let you set your own reminder times. You can only choose from a list of presets that just doesn't cut it. Want to be reminded an hour and a half before an appointment? The list of presets only offers one or two hours in advance. Too late too make it in time, too early if you don't want your phone to ring a reminder in the middle of the previous meeting.

There's a way out, but it requires a trip to the Google Play store to buy Pocket Informant or CalenGoo. If you don't want to pay for a calendar app, point your web browser to to set a custom reminder. If 3rd party apps and Googles own website are able to let you enter any reminder time you want, why can't the built-in calendar app do it? Custom reminder times could and should have been in the Android calendar app from day one.

Time zones

Enter the times of your flights, and risk missing your flight back home because Google Calendar shifts the times.

Airlines don't bother you with time zones. They just give you the departure and arrival times followed by a line that says "all times are local." They have a very good reason for that.

But Google Calendar times are tied to the time zone your phone was in when you entered the times. Your early morning flight to Europe moves six hours in your calendar when you arrive at JFK and the Android clock switches from CET to EST. If you're from Dublin and agree to meet your friend from Athens in a restaurant in Paris at 8 PM you better not let Google Calendar have its way, or you'll arrive at 9 and find your friend waiting since 7.

You could do the maths yourself and convert the times to compensate for your calendar drift, or switch off automatic time setting and manually change your clock (not your time zone) when you get out of your plane. It's how people used to change their watch before phones replaced watches.

Recent versions of the calendar app let you choose time zones for the start and end of an entry, but your calendar and its widgets will show the wrong time until you arrive in the matching time zone. You still have to do the conversion if someone across the ocean asks you at what time to pick you up at the airport. Or write the local times in the subject field instead of relying on your calendars erratic times. Or manually switch your phone to the destination time zone, and back.

Why enter time zones in your calendar? For international conference calls. Another reason: make your calendar wake you up in the middle of the night to watch Barcelona-Real Madrid in your japanese hotel room, because that's afternoon in Europe. If we add up conference calls and football games Google calendar still gets it wrong 99.99% of the time.

And it's so easy to fix! Just let us choose between time zone agnostic and time zone aware. The default behaviour of Google Calendar should be "all times are local unless I say they're not." It's how you'd write times in a paper calendar, and it matches the "all times are local" airline method. Let the 0.001% who fill their days with conference calls flip a switch in the settings to change their defaults instead of annoying everyone else.

Google, tell your calendar to adapt to people instead of the other way 'round.

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