Thursday, 10 January 2013
Little widget with lots of info
I like my calendar widget to cram a lot of useful information into a tiny space. In my current setup my homescreen shows my next five appointments in a tiny 2x1 widget. This leaves plenty of space for more important things on my main homescreen, such as my music player widget.
The widget that comes with Jorte Calendar has more customization options than any other calendar widget. There's one problem, though. The Jorte widget opens Jorte Calendar when tapped, and there's no way to change that. As long as Jorte doesn't add custom reminder time entry to its calendar app I keep my appointments in Business Calendar Free. So I need another app to throw a calendar widget on my screen.
My current weapon of choice is Smooth Calendar. Its widget can be as big or as small as you like, there are plenty of ways to customize the calendar text, and lots of other options to tweak its appearance.
A recent update added even more options to change the looks of Smooth Calendar.
The new Smooth Calendar removed the limits on how many calendar entries you could throw into your widget. More entries need bigger widgets, unless you make the text smaller. The update lets you choose your own font size, so you can put lots of small text into a tiny space, or big text into a big area. The amount of unused space around the widget text got reduced too, although Smooth Calendar still wastes valuable screen estate on the left side when you switch off the calendar color bar.
More goodies: separate layout settings for widgets in portrait and landscape mode, and a new widget background. Of course you can still leave the background transparent. The widgets are not scrollable yet, but who knows what future updates will bring?
Bugs ate the new features
Too bad the new features introduced a jungle full of new bugs. The option to select your own calendar app to launch upon tapping the widget broke, but was quickly fixed. Widget text can spill beyond the "original style" background, and this did not get fixed. Force-closes when choosing a background color for your widget remained a problem, too.
These issues (and others) resulted in a flood of negative Google Play Store comments, which were addressed by an update that removed most of the new features. The version that works for me is version 188.8.131.52, which has most the new features but not many of the new bugs. Unfortunately the current play Store version is v184.108.40.206, which has most new features removed in an attempt to squash the bugs. The Play Store doesn't let you roll back to older versions (something that Google should fix!). If you have an older version with the new features still in them and it doesn't keep crashing, hang on to your backups until the app gets sorted out.
• Smooth Calendar
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Swype, don't type
If your Android phone manufacturer or carrier didn't install Swype on your phone, there are many good reasons to install it yourself. After climbing over a very low learning curve Swype is the fastest way to enter text on a phone, and it beats standard keyboards on tablets too.
There are similar keyboard apps, but Swype is free.
Swype works offline, its handwriting input doesn't require internet either, so the only reason to allow Swype to go online is for voice input.
Don't register, just download
A major annoyance of Swype used to be that if it didn't come preinstalled, you had to sign up for the beta test program. Making yet another account somewhere just to install a keyboard? Ugh! Fortunately Swype has seen the light, so now you can download and install Swype Beta without signing up to anything.
Swype still won't let you download its keyboard directly, though. Instead it hands out a Swype installer, which downloads the keyboard to your phone and gets it installed. If your phone came with Swype preloaded, the Swype installer will add an extra copy to your phone. This new extra copy usually has more features than the Swype app (if any) that came with your phone out of the box.
You can firewall the installer offline after it has done its job. You can even uninstall the installer, the keyboard stays where it is and keeps working. Of course you can force the Swype keyboard itself offline with a firewall (after downloading language packs, of course). Keeping Swype offline kills the voice text entry part of the app, but it also ensures that the passwords and credit card numbers you Swype into your Android apps won't leave your phone through Swype. You may also want to use apps like PDroid or LBE Privacy Guard to make sure Swype Beta doesn't grab your location info.
Can't read you, don't speak your language
The app is called Swype Beta for a reason. Typing and swyping works really well, but the handwriting feature is erratic, especially for languages with accented letters, tildes, and other symbols that the english language does without. Inserting foreign words into an english text is a sure way to confuse the handwriting mode of Swype. Even when I stick to plain english, Swype often chokes on my handwritten letters that Google Gesture Search has no problems with.
Swype can only use one language at a time. It would be nice if a future version of Swype would cater for bilingual Swypers by letting them activate multiple languages simultaneously. In the current modus operandi Swype runs into trouble when you mix languages, and the autocorrect option turns your multilingual writing into a complete mess. Exempli gratia, a ménage à trois between english, french, and español is very fehlerhaft in Swype. Swype, if you want world domination you should fix your language issues today rather than mañana, capiche?
Another annoyance (one that keeps me using the old preinstalled copy that came with my phone): the current version of Swype Beta rings a very loud beep when it doesn't recognize a word, and there's no way to switch this noise off short of putting your entire phone in silent mode.
Anyway, even with these shortcomings Swype is one of the best touchscreen keyboards out there, so give it a shot.
• Swype Beta
Another good keyboard (too bad it doesn't Swype):
• MultiLing Keyboard
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Since last.fm slammed the door shut for mobile listeners, KLastFM and CoboltFM stopped playing. Fortunately Liquid Bear plays last.fm radio by using a smart trick. It gets the playlists from last.fm and the music from vk.com. The app has a simple and effective tab layout, and it pulls lyrics in if you long-tap a song in the play queue or hit the drop-shaped button in the playback tab.
You need a vk.com account to listen, but you can simply make an account with a fantasy name and never visit vk.com again.
Liquid Bear shows the remaining track time in addition to elapsed time since the December 31, 2012 update, and you don't need a last.fm account anymore. It helps to have a last.fm account, though. Without an account Liquid Bear plays music, but it won't use your personal music library or scrobble anything to last.fm.
The January 6, 2013 update adds an equalizer and a button to choose which version of a song to play if vk.com has multiple copies.
Edit: sort of fixed in an update. Now it doesn't crash the app, but just restarts the song.
Liquid Bear still won't let you change the sort order of the play queue. Maybe in the next version?
Edit: fixed in an update. You can now remove tracks from the queue without stopping the music or crashing the app.
• Liquid Bear
Saturday, 5 January 2013
QuickDic is one of the better free offline dictionary apps for Android. It has a minimalist interface, it doesn't have ads, it only asks for Android permissions it really needs, and it's fast.
It's dictionaries are pretty good too, as long as one of the languages in the pair is english. And since they're stored on your phone, you can look up words abroad without paying for international data roaming.
The latest update adds more language pairs. It's a good idea to update the dictionaries you already downloaded, because they've got more words now. New: single language dictionaries with thorough descriptions, etymology, and an experimental text-to-speech feature that didn't work on my phone. I could see the reference to the ogg sound files, but they didn't do anything. Well, you have to start somewhere. Hopefully the next update will sort the speech thing out.
More good Android dictionary apps:
• Euro Dictionary and DictionaryForMIDs
Labels: dictionaries and translation
Friday, 4 January 2013
Note: this story is very Motorola-centered.
TuneWiki eats Connected Music Player
Bought a Motorola Android phone? It probably came preloaded with a music app called Connected Music Player. This Jack of all trades plays the music stored on your memory card, grabs lyrics from TuneWiki, identifies songs with SoundHound, plays FM radio and SHOUTcast streams, and connects to YouTube music videos too.
Surprise: the Google Play Store has an update! It's called TuneWiki-CMP and replaces the music app that came preloaded on your Motorola gadget. Well, sort of.
Connected Music Player was not a very good music player to begin with. Instead of focussing on the core business (playing music, and playing it well), the makers chose to bloat their app with gimmicks that get old real quick. Update or not, it still can't sort your music by genre or folder. This doesn't matter if you only have a few dozen songs on your phone, but if you have a thousand tracks and the number of albums and artists runs in the hundreds, sorting by artist, album, or title is not enough.
Useless feature in, useful feature out
The update adds a gimmick that turns lyrics into artistic text, which nobody will use. Unfortunately the built-in SoundHound search is missing from the update.
The update reminded me to remove this piece of bloatware from my phone. I replaced it with a few apps that only do one job, and do it good.
Surprisingly, there are not many good free music players out there. My default music player is PlayerPro, but there's no free version. The free version of WinAmp has SHOUTcast radio built in, but is rather crippled anyway. For example, WinAmp want money for its equalizer, gapless playback, and to play online audio streams. RealPlayer and doubleTwist don't cut it either. Google Play Music censors songs with explicit lyrics when you try to store them in the cloud, but it plays your locally stored music the way the artist intended, expletives included. Google Play Music is the best totally free music player on the Play Store, but there's a better app outside the Google app store. For a completely free no-nonsense app that sorts your music by mp3 tags and folders and just plays music this version of MIUI Music is the best option, even though it's old.
My radio streams come from TuneIn Radio. You may want to control this app by switching off the run-at-boot and bluetooth state autorun triggers, or else it starts eating data behind your back. But when you tame it with apps like Gemini App Manager or ROM Toolbox then TuneIn behaves well.
The Google Play Store is remarkably short on FM radio apps. My radio app of choice is the stand-alone FM radio app from Motorola, which you can download from xda.
You can get SoundHound from the Google Play Store, or use Shazam, or TrackID. These apps tap into different databases, so if you want to improve your chances of tagging some obscure track nobody ever heard about just install all three apps.
That's a lot of apps instead of the single Connected Music Player, but each of these apps outperforms the music app that Motorola preloaded on your phone.