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BlueStacks vs Andy – The best Android emulators on PC

Posted by wicked August - 5 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off

BlueStacks has long been the gold standard for Android emulators on PC. It’s the name everyone knows and BlueStacks always seems to be doing something interesting. However, a new challenger has hit the floor. It’s called Andy. Can it take on the long-time champ? Let’s take a look!


BlueStacks 1 Android emulator

BlueStacks interface is extremely easy to use.

Ease of use and setup

Our first category is ease of use and setup. After all, what good is an emulator if you can’t figure out how to use it, right?

BlueStacks
For Bluestacks, setting things up was ridiculously easy. You go to the site, download the application, install it, and go. It’s super easy. Once you’re inside you can browse and install various games and access them on the bar at the top. When it comes to ease of use and setting things up, Bluestacks is practically idiot proof.

Andy
Andy started out the same way. Downloading and installing the app was easy. I did have a problem actually getting it to run but thanks to their support. I was able to figure out the problem. Once you actually start it up, it runs like any Android phone or tablet so the interface familiar.

Andy does get some points for having a good support staff. They use Facebook as their support page and their people are generally pretty knowledgeable. In fact, shout out to Charlie from Andy because he’s the dude that helped me.

Winner: BlueStacks


BlueStacks 2 Android emulator

Both emulators handled light to moderate gaming relatively well.

Gaming

One of the bigger reasons people want Android on their computer is so they can play some games on it. Thankfully, both Andy and BlueStacks support gaming.

BlueStacks
In Bluestacks, it appears as though the main focus is for gaming. They don’t really recommend any normal applications and we assume the recommended games are ones that have been tested with Bluestacks. The games run fairly well. You can get ones in the Play Store that aren’t listed in Bluestacks recommendations but they tend to run a little clunkier than the recommended ones.

Andy
Andy focuses on an overall experience and offers a lot. It plays games well and in some cases, like Clash of Clans, it actually plays the game better than Bluestacks in terms of stability. This is especially true for network-based games which seemed to load a lot faster on Andy. Andy does have a remote option where you can use your device as a controller for better gaming support if you so choose. BlueStacks does allow game controller support as well but it requires a wired controller.

Winner: Andy


Andy 3 android emulator

Andy handles most Android applications with ease.

Productivity

The other really big reason people want Android on their PC is for productivity purposes. It’s a fun operating system to have but it can also help get some work done.

BlueStacks
Here Bluestacks doesn’t fail utterly but it comes close. It doesn’t seem to like to run regular Android apps as well it does games and that’s a shame. For instance, there was an excruciating amount of lag when simply typing in Google Drive. It doesn’t recommend any productivity apps so you have to go out of your way to find them. Really, Bluestacks wants to be a gaming emulator and it shows here. That said, there are a few productivity apps that do work well so if you need it for something very light, it could still work.

Andy
Like we stated earlier, Andy focuses on a more rounded experience and this is where it shows. The same sort of problems I was having on Bluestacks weren’t present in Andy. The Google Drive lag wasn’t present, apps loaded quickly and worked well. It’s also worth noting here that Andy can run things like Hangouts, and third party launchers, deliver notifications, and even use widgets. It also runs a higher version of Android than Bluestacks and that means you’ll have a higher app compatibility as well as better app stability.

Winner: Andy


Andy 4 Android emulator

Andy gives you the option to use custom launchers and widgets.

Misc features

We’ve talked about the big stuff, but what about the little things? They matter too!

BlueStacks
Bluestacks is pretty much a what-you-see-is-what-you-get deal. In a small way, simplicity is elegance and that means there isn’t as much guess work. That said you can sync Bluestacks with your Android devices to sync app data, texts, and the like if you wanted to. You can also sideload applications which is a fairly simple process. Overall, there are some things, but really not that many.

Andy
You can do pretty much anything with Andy that you can do with an Android phone. That includes sideloading applications, putting files on there from your computer if need be, file browsing, and some stuff we mentioned earlier like fully functioning notifications, widgets, and you can even root it if you need to.

One of the things I really liked personally was the ability to install third party launchers. Since it runs pretty much like any Android device, you can customize it like any Android device so between the custom launchers, wallpapers, widgets, icon packs, etc, you can turn Andy into a little window of customization and make it really yours.

The last thing I want to mention here is the ability to change the specs of Andy. It runs in a virtual machine which is actually customizable. You can open up the Virtual Box that comes with Andy and give it some extra RAM, change how many CPU cores it has, and various other small things as well. Beware, this is advanced user stuff, but you can totally go in there and give this bad boy 3GB of RAM instead of one and actually improve the performance.

Winner: Andy


Andy 1 Android emulator

Bottom line: BlueStacks will need to improve to retake its crown.

Overall

Overall, picking which one is better really depends on your needs. If you need something super simple that plays some light games and you really don’t need it to do much else, then Bluestacks is still probably your best bet. After all, like we said earlier, there is an advantage to having simplicity.

However, if you’re willing to go through the slightly more complicated set up process, then Andy is by far the more full-featured Android emulator. It’s way better for customization and productivity and, in some cases, even better at gaming. With the power user stuff available like root and adding resources, Andy is simply a better option for more demographics.

Winner: Andy


Wrap up

What do you think? Did we score this fairly? Which one would you pick? Let us know your thoughts and stories in the comments below.
Download Andy here
Download BlueStacks here


Source: BlueStacks (official website), Andy (official website);

HD Widgets review (version 4) + Colourform and Kairo

Posted by wicked May - 21 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off


HD Widgets is one of the most popular and successful widget packs in the history of Android. Back when people were looking for a suitable replacement for the once-iconic HTC Sense clock, HD Widgets was one of the apps available that could fill that void. They’ve recently released version 4 of HD Widgets along with a big update to Colourform and released a new theme called Kairo. Let’s check them out! As usual, if you’d rather watch than read, the review video is above!


HD widgets review

Functionality

Okay so what is HD Widgets? HD Widgets is an app that provides you with a number of clock, weather, indicator, toggle, and other widgets that you can use to adorn your home screens. It’s one of the most popular and consistent widget packages in the history of Android and it’s only been getting better. It provides a number of widgets in various sizes that you can customize a whole bunch.

With the release of version 4 comes a lot of features. Most notable are a few new widgets such as the 7 and 10 day forecast widgets, location based widgets, single-column widgets, and smart weather stat widgets that are now included. There is also a new interface with sidebar navigation as well as an hourly bar graph for your weather if you choose to use it.

Along with version 4 came an update to the Colourform add on. It’s mostly things to make it compatible with HD Widgets version 4. If you’re not familiar with Colourform it is a theme pack that contains a lot more bright colors to give you more options for your widgets.

Also new with the HD Widgets version 4 release is their new Kairo theme. This is a flat and minimal theme to help augment the Kit Kat experience. You can apply the Kairo theme to over 60 widgets across HD Widgets and with it comes a huge array of colors and potential options. It was specifically designed for the new widgets that came with version 4 although it does work with most widgets that are already present as well.

In short, HD Widgets version 4 is a huge step up from what it used to be. It has always arguably been one of the best widget packs of all time and with the version 4 release, the Colourform update, and the Kairo launch, it’s added hundreds of new options and they all look really good.


HD widgets kairo

Design

It’s hard to judge the design of HD Widgets because you can make the widgets look pretty much how you want. They come in a plethora of sizes from one by one to gigantic tablet sizes if you need those. To use Colourform and Kairo –after you purchase them of course- you use the button at the top to access them. Most widgets have Colourform and Kairo support.

Colourform has been around for a while and it’s nice to see it get updated as well. It definitely adds some unique and very colorful options for those who prefer their experience be a little brighter. Kairo packs a lot of that same punch but with everything flattened out, you can give your widgets a more sophisticated, minimal look that works really well with existing Kit Kat theme elements.

The app that comes along with the widgets has changed as well. It used to be a solid weather app that showed you some good information and it was clean. With the update, HD Widgets sees a UI change that conforms better to the Android design standard as it now contains a pull out menu.

For the most part, it’s essentially re-arranging the old information. You can still collect weather from WeatherBug, AccuWeather, and Weather Underground but it actually displays more weather data than it used to. You can get weather alerts in the widgets now and there is now a graph available that shows the weather on an hourly basis.


HD Widgets Colourform

PROS
  • Version 4.0 update was huge with a lot of new stuff.
  • Colourform update was also pretty substantial.
  • New Kairo theme is beautiful.
  • Free versions of Kairo and Colourform available to use.
  • The new UI changes in the actual app are both pleasing and functional.
  • You can create a widget to fit literally any theme.
CONS
  • If you don’t run Android 4.0.3 and up, you can’t use any of these apps.
  • Minor bugs here and there, including a known Kit Kat bug that deletes widgets.

9.0

Overall, if you like widgets, HD Widgets is what you want to get. It has a bunch of sizes in a bunch of colors and styles and they perform a bunch of tasks. Personally, I’ve been using HD Widgets for years and it’s usually among the first apps I download when I get a new phone. If you’ve been watching my review videos for a while, you know I don’t say very often.

Kairo and Colourform do a phenomenal job to augment an already solid experience. Between those two themes and the stock themes, you should have no problem finding exactly the kind of widget that you’re looking for. Yes, there is a problem here and there, but you can’t name an app that doesn’t so in the grand scheme of things, HD Widgets is a serious win and if you’re into widgets, click the button below to check it out.
To download Colourform, click here.
To download Kairo, click here.

google play

 

Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition review

Posted by wicked May - 13 - 2014 - Tuesday Comments Off


Baldur’s Gate was originally released for PC back in 1998 and critics claimed that it was responsible for the revival of the RPG genre on PC. The highly customizable game had features that few games had and put it in a world that was huge and expansive. Now, an enhanced edition has been released for Android. Can it hold up to the original? Let’s take a look. As always, you can watch it above if you prefer.


Baldur's Gate review

Game play

If you’ve played Baldur’s Gate before a lot of this won’t feel new to you. However, the last time you played it, you probably played it with a keyboard and mouse which allowed for a lot of action at once. In this version, you’ll be playing with touch controls and believe me the experience is vastly different.

You can do pretty much everything you used to be able to do. Attack, cast and learn spells, pick up and use items, switch between characters and all of the other things you’re used to being able to do. For those who have never played before. Your character and another character named Imoen are lifelong friends who embark on an adventure to save Baldur’s Gate from sinister forces. It is a very long adventure.

Along the way you meet new friends and digest a lot of story. The game can go for well over 40 hours even if you’re a quick game player. For first time players, it’ll likely be much longer than that. Comparatively speaking, Baldur’s Gate is one of the largest, longest, and most complex games ever to be released on Android.

That’s really it for the game play. You start the game, you play the story, and the story ends. It is worth mentioning that there are 2 additional characters available as in app purchases along with a voice set and a portrait set. You can use these to augment your experience and customize your characters a little bit.


Baldur's Gate review

Mechanics

The mechanics are where things start to get tricky. Where there were once hot keys, keyboard commands, and mouse movement, there are now touch controls. Admittedly, things are a lot slower on mobile than they were on PC. You tap on areas to navigate to them or on objects to interact with them. This includes staircases, doors, chests, traps, people, enemies, and general navigation.

On the left side there are icons that open various things such as your spell list, inventory, journal, character sheet, as well as buttons that let you rest and pause the game. Resting of course also doubles as the way you learn spells and pausing the game is an essential element to get your party in order during intense moments of the game because touch controls simply aren’t fast enough.

On the right side is your party list where you can switch between characters as well as a few buttons that do things like raise and lower character names on screen and show objects. On the bottom is the action bar where you choose what special abilities, attacks, spells, and items you use.

Pretty much everything in the game is tapping. You tap to move, tap to attack, and tap to select things. So there really aren’t any weird swipe or gesture commands. In the journal you can take down your own notes and use the device keyboard for that.


Baldur's Gate review

PROS
  • Long and complex story means a lot of game play.
  • Graphics and music are above average.
  • In app purchases that are actually worth buying.
  • Multiplayer support.
  • Loads of character and story customization.
CONS
  • No Google Play Services.
  • Can be buggy for some.
  • Complicated controls can overwhelm new players.
  • Mechanics can be tedious for some people.

8.0

Overall, whether or not you will like this game or hate this game depends on what kind of gamer you are. If you’re strictly casual like Angry Birds or even Clash of Clans, you may not like this title. If you’re a PC or console gamer looking for that level of game on Android, you very well may like this title. If you get to play it without most of the bugs that are being reported, it’s a long and amazing game that pretty much any RPG enthusiast will enjoy.

It does have its problems but fans of the series and the genre can likely get passed them to enjoy the game. It’s $9.99 which is a little steep but in all fairness this isn’t your standard $1 game. If you want to try it out, we’ll have a link posted in the written companion which is in the video description.

google play

 

Google Helpouts – Everything you need to know

Posted by wicked May - 9 - 2014 - Friday Comments Off

Google Helpouts is a newer service out of Google that wants to get people the help they need. Of course, you can search for anything on the internet and get it for free and many people are asking why they should use Google Helpouts. In this review, we’ll find out the answer to that question.


Google Helpouts review

Functionality

A lot of people know about Helpouts already but we’ll go over it again for those who may not know. Helpouts is a platform where people can go to find help. You simply to go the site, type in the subject, and you’ll be given the option to have a live person help you over video chat. Think of it like tech support but for almost any subject and you chat with a person face to face instead of over a phone or in a text chat.

Okay so here’s how it works. First you need to develop a problem. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen but in the event that it does, you would go to helpouts.google.com either search for your problem or you can scroll down and browse the various categories. It can take a minute as a keyword can bring a lot of results from a lot of categories, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find what you’re looking for.

Once you find the Helpout, your next step is to get into it. You can start a Helpout right away or you can schedule one for later if your problem can be solved at a later date. Sometimes you have to schedule it because not all helpouts are immediately available. This is a common with popular Helpouts.

During this process you’ll also need to secure a payment method for a Helpouts chat if it’s not a free one. You’ll need Google Wallet for this. If you don’t have one, it’s fairly easy to set up. Once you have secured your payment method you’re ready to go.

Once you’ve completed these steps, you simply have your Helpouts and that’s it. Helpout sessions can short or long depending on your spending limit and your scheduled time. If you’ve ever been in a hangouts video call before, then you know how they work. You simply have a video call with someone that you’re paying to help you.

You can also perform this entire process through the Android application if you so choose. The application can do everything the web version can and that’s always comforting. So if your problem is either somewhere where you don’t have a computer or it’s because your computer is broken, you can still access a Helpouts if need be.


Google Helpouts

How can I use this?

So how can you use this? For anything really. I went diving in to see what topics I could find and there really is a bunch of unique stuff. You can find anything from yoga poses and food preparation to creating 3D parallax video clips out of 2D photographs. Simple concepts like tech support to more complex things like writing a novel. It even has weird and specifically specialized stuff like Aquaphonics and balloon animal instructions.

Critics of Helpouts have pointed out that you can find most of this stuff on the internet free of charge and that’s true. You can find tutorials for pretty much anything that explains how to do pretty much everything.

However, there is an inherent advantage to having someone knowledgeable to interact with and you don’t get that advantage when you read a WikiHow link. Having someone there to answer your specific questions and concerns can help streamline the learning process and reduce the amount of troubleshooting time significantly.


Google Helpouts Android

The good

Okay, let’s take a look at what’s good about Helpouts.

  • The website and the Android app work pretty much the same way so you can do whatever you want on both of them. This is a rare instance where the mobile platform and the web platform achieve near perfect parity and I always have respect for that because I don’t see it very often.
  • Helpouts has a vast number of topics. You can find help, obtain analysis, or learn about pretty much anything and Google is adding new topics all the time.
  • For the most part, Helpouts are reasonably priced. There are also free ones available if you’re looking to just try out the platform.
  • You can never argue the advantage of having someone live there to talk about your specific problem. Sometimes, you just need someone to sit down and walk you through a problem or a process so you can understand how it works and Helpouts delivers exactly that.
  • It’s a Google service which means it integrates with other Google products. If you use Hangouts and Google Wallet –and chances are if you use Android you have both of these things- then you already have all the tools you need to use Helpouts.
  • Thanks to Google’s strict approval process, most Helpouts are hosted by people who know what’s up in their particular topic. In most cases, this is not amateur hour.
  • Finally, it’s really easy to use. The mechanics are very simple because it is just a video chat over Hangouts with a professional that you pay for. There are no difficult parts about the process.

The bad

Of course, like any service there are some cons too. So here’s the bad.

  • Some Helpouts can be rather expensive. Granted, in most cases, the people who run them are seasoned professionals and it is how much you’d usually pay for that level of help anyway. However, people on a budget have expressed that they wish some of the pricing was cheaper.
  • There are some country restrictions. I don’t have a definitive list on where it does or does not work but you’ll know when you try to do a Helpouts. Also, if you want to host a Helpouts, the country limitations are much more restrictive.
  • Finding the right topic can require some creative searching as a few keywords overlap. For instance, if you search for “driving help”, you won’t get any results for driving a car but you’ll get a bunch for Google Drive help. So if you search for something and the results you were expecting do not come up, try using different keywords.

Google Helpouts review 2

Final thoughts

Overall, this is an amazing platform. It has its detractors but so does everything ever and in this case I would highly recommend that you try it out for yourself to see if you like it. There are free topics to get your feet wet and it’s a great way to get personalized help in a surprisingly wide range of subjects. Seriously, even balloon animals.

The interface is easy to navigate and the process of paying for and getting into a Helpouts is as straightforward as you can reasonably expect it to be. There are some limitations here and there, sure, but the benefits of using Helpouts outweigh the limitations by a fairly large margin. If you want to try it out, simply head to helpouts.google.com to get started or if you want to try the Android app, just click on the button below.

If what I’ve said just isn’t hitting those strings and pushing those buttons, what if I told you that you could try it at a discount. For a limited time, if you use the promo code ANDROID-AUTH, you can get $20 off of your first paid Helpout. There’s also a link you can follow below that’ll help you automatically redeem that. So now you have $20 to try out your first Helpout and really, is there any reason not to try it?
Click here to get $20 off your first Helpouts session! (Limited time only)
Get it on Google Play

Farmville 2 for Android review

Posted by wicked April - 23 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off


Farmville has always been a massive success. It was one of the original Facebook games that took the world by storm and has earned millions upon millions of fans as well as detractors. Farmville 2 came and only helped bolster the aging franchise. Now, we have Farmville 2 for Android. How does it stack up against current Android games and how does it stack up against the desktop version? In this review, we’ll find out. If you’d rather watch than read, the video is posted above.


Farmville 2 for Android

If you’ve played Farmville before, this will all seem familiar.

Game play

If you’ve played Farmville before there is going to be very little about this game that you don’t already know. The basic game play elements remain pretty much the same. You plant crops, feed animals, build things, craft and sell items, expand your farm, complete missions, and all that jazz just like you would on the desktop variant of Farmville 2. There are a few things that you can do that you can’t do in the desktop version, like foraging for items, but even those things follow a familiar pattern in mechanics.

There are a few differences. You cannot set down plots of dirt and plant whatever you want. Now each plot of dirt can only grow one kind of crop at a time and you must build various plots in order to get various crops. That may seem restrictive but Zynga makes up for it by removing other restrictions. Insofar as I can tell, water appears to be infinite and you no longer need energy to craft items.

The game connects to both Facebook and Google+ and it also has Google Play Games achievements if you’re into using those. It features the similar mechanic of asking friends for various items in-game so make sure you know someone else who is playing, otherwise some of the missions will start to get really hard to complete. There are also in-app purchases that can get you coins, keys, and speed grow stuff should you want those but you can get along just fine without them.

Perhaps the most interesting part of this game is the connectivity. You can connect this new farm of yours to your existing Farmville 2 account on Facebook if you have one. It’s a little bit of a pain to get it connected sometimes but once you do, you can ship items between farms and that was actually kinda cool.

One fun thing I did was ship water to my desktop farm because water is severely limited there. You can only ship from farm to farm a couple of times a day so if you do intend on enjoying this game play mechanic, make sure you take full advantage. Otherwise you’ll have to wait hours for your next delivery.


Farmville 2 for Android

The graphics are crisp and clean. The controls are easy and organized.

Design

The design is nothing special for an Android title but it isn’t bad either. It’s essentially the same graphics as the desktop variant but they are sharp and colorful which is a plus. The screen is laid out in a manner that is easy to understand and getting to the various parts of the game isn’t difficult or confusing at all which is also a big plus.

Like all Farmville games, the longer you play the more cramped your farm gets and even after just a few hours I found myself re-arranging items on my farm so I didn’t accidentally click the wrong thing. I suppose that’s unavoidable after a point and thus will be something everyone has to deal with eventually.

Overall, the design is fairly good. The controls are designed in a manner that makes sense and the interface is easy to move around. You can’t really ask for much more than that.


Farmville 2 for Android

Water is infinite. Really.

The good

Okay so here’s what we liked.

  • The ability to ship to your desktop farm is awesome. Especially since the mobile app gives you unlimited water and things that usually take hours to make, like flour, can be accomplished fairly quickly on the mobile game. People who play both versions will definitely find this feature extremely useful. Oh, and you can ship items from the desktop version to the mobile version too, so it does work both ways.
  • The mechanics and controls are simple to understand and easy to use. Things do pretty much what you expect them to do and work how you expect them to work.
  • The graphics are sharp and colorful. One of the hallmarks of the Farmville series is having a game that’s fun to look at and the mobile version is no exception.
  • It has Google Play Games services, cloud saving, and social media connectivity with Facebook and Google+. These are all good things.
  • Lastly, it doesn’t have the restrictions that other games in this category have. You’re not bottlenecked by energy or water. I played this game for several hours without being required to stop. There are in app purchases but if you use your resources wisely they’re almost entirely unnecessary.

The bad

And here’s the bad.

  • You probably should have all your other apps closed out before playing this game. I had a bunch of apps running in the background before attempting my first time and it kind of lagged a little bit on my Note 3. I can see people who multitask heavily having performance issues and people who have older phones may also have performance issues.
  • This is a Farmville game and, thus, uses the same Farmville mechanics. This means there will come a point where you realize that all you’re really doing is watering plants, harvesting plants, making things out of plants, etc. The repetitive nature of the title is definitely one of its biggest weaknesses.
  • You will need to have friends on Facebook to unlock the full potential of this game. Like all Farmville games, Zynga really promotes the social gaming aspect of their titles and if you don’t use Facebook or have Facebook friends who play, you may end up getting stuck at some parts of the game. You can buy your way passed them using items provided in game or buy your way passed them using real money and I feel like people are not going to like that second option.

Farmville 2 for Android

Final thoughts

Overall, I was surprisingly impressed with Farmville 2. The mechanics are friendly and familiar, if a bit repetitive but frankly if you are interested in this game you know that already. The integration with the desktop variant brings an element of uniqueness that you simply don’t see in similar titles and I liked that a whole bunch.

That said, if you don’t have friends who play this game and you don’t play the desktop variant, the mobile game will feel a little lacking. Farmville 2 on mobile is supposed to be played with Farmville 2 on desktop and with other people who play both games.

So if you fall into that category, you should enjoy this game quite a bit because it complements the experience you’re already having. If you don’t, you may still enjoy this game but not as much and for not as long. If you didn’t like Farmville before watching this video, you’re not going to like it now and you probably shouldn’t play it at all. In any case, it is free to play so there’s no harm in at least trying it out for yourself. If you’re interested, click the button below to get started!
Get it on Google Play

Google Camera review

Posted by wicked April - 16 - 2014 - Wednesday Comments Off


Google Camera was released to the Google Play Store today. For those with Nexus devices running Kit Kat, there isn’t much about the Google Play app that should be new. However, if you have a non-Nexus Android device, you’ve likely not seen the official Google Camera before and this is a great chance to check it out for yourself. Is it any good? In this review we’ll find out. If you would rather watch it than read it, check out the video above.


Google Camera Review

Functionality

Okay, so this is a camera app which means it does camera app things like taking video and pictures. The camera app comes with five modes including Panorama Mode, Photosphere Mode, regular Camera Mode, Video Mode, and a new thing called Lens Blur mode. The regular video and camera modes are pretty much self-explanatory.

Panorama and Photosphere Mode are a little wonky to use but when you get a good photo with them, you can get some really awesome stuff. It works by starting out with a single picture and then you must follow the dots to create a complete panorama or photosphere. Depending on whether or not you have high quality or low quality enabled in the settings, it can take a minute to process and render everything but the photos usually come out looking really good.

Lens Blur Mode allows you to take a picture that keeps the subject of your photo in focus while making the background blurry. This is a popular depth of field effect that is enjoyed predominately by people who have DSLR cameras. If the blur is too much or too little, you can adjust the level of blur after the photo is taken.

That’s really it folks. There is a settings menu where you can adjust various resolutions and quality settings. I wasn’t able to find any options to change the storage location if you were wondering about that.


Google Camera Review

Design

For a camera app, it’s fairly well designed. You can change your camera mode at any point by sliding to the right from anywhere and the modes will slide out from the left side. If you want to view any photos you’ve taken, you simply side your finger to the left and it’ll open your most recently taken photo. It’s worth noting that this doesn’t come with a gallery app so you’ll need to use the one installed on your device or go download Google Photos if you want the complete Google experience.

The settings are set up in a way that’s easy to understand. They seem a little bare bones but you can adjust the front and rear facing camera resolution, turn location on and off, and turn on manual exposure if you need it.

There are other fun little design choices. When you zoom in and out using pinch to zoom you see two little bars that will show you how zoomed in the camera is. At the bottom are some quick settings icons for flash, exposure, changing from front facing to rear camera, and an icon to add a three by three grid.


Google Camera Review

The good

Okay so here’s what we liked.

  • Panorama Mode, Lens Blur Mode, and Photosphere Mode are really fun and easy to use. The camera guides you to taking really good pictures and although rendering and processing take a while, the results usually look quite nice.
  • The interface is simple and easy to use. You’re never more than a swipe or a click away from pretty much anything in the app. Switching modes is as simple as sliding the options out and clicking on them. The quick settings, accessing the gallery, and pretty much everything is right there just off screen for easy access.
  • It does what it says it does. All the features worked as intended. I personally didn’t experience any crashes or issues. Once you learn how the various modes work, there shouldn’t be any problems using them.
  • There are little design things that are pretty fun. The dual line zoom meter bar thing is fun to use and when you’re in video mode, it’ll try to get you to shoot in landscape mode by using a spinning icon. You can still shoot in portrait mode but let’s face it, no one likes it when people shoot in portrait mode and it appears as though Google is trying to remind people of that.

The bad

And here’s the bad.

  • Its simplicity is its greatest strength but also its greatest weakness. If you’re used to the more complicated settings of other camera apps, then this is going to feel a little bit lacking for some people. You can’t adjust ISO, white balance, there are no filters, and there are no features like image stabilization. It’s really pretty basic stuff.
  • Some people have already begun complaining of various bugs. There isn’t a single bug that’s affecting everyone but little things that are affecting people. One such experience that I’ve heard a few times is the app crashing when using Lens Blur mode. A second is a lack of HDR on a lot of devices. I haven’t had any of these issues but they apparently exist depending on your device and version of Kit Kat.
  • My last problem is the lack of options when it comes to storage. If you have a device that has an external SD card, you can’t use it for storage. In fact, you can’t change the storage location at all. This is likely because of the Kit Kat SD card limitation problem that a lot of people don’t like so I hope your internal memory card has enough space because that is where your photos are going.

Google Camera review

Final thoughts

Overall, this is a solid camera app. It brings a lot of those nifty Google Camera-only features like Photosphere to devices that don’t normally have that feature available. The design is breathtakingly fresh and enjoyable and nothing about Google Camera is difficult to use. The only issue seems to be the few bugs that people are experiencing. That said, I do hope more features get integrated eventually because it is very simple but almost a little too simple.

Ron Amadeo from Ars Technica did an app tear down and found code hinting to an advanced settings feature that I hope becomes a reality and a Timelapse feature that sounds fairly cool. Here’s hoping those get introduced in future updates. Until then, Google Camera is a great application as long as you keep things in perspective. It doesn’t give you the level of control of other apps, but you really get that vibe that it’s not supposed to. If you’re looking for something different in a camera app, it’s definitely worth downloading this one to give it a shot.
Get it on Google Play








Microsoft Office for Android review

Posted by wicked March - 31 - 2014 - Monday Comments Off


Microsoft Office for Android was first released in late Summer 2013. Unfortunately it required an Office 365 subscription to even use and that turned a lot of people off to the idea of using Microsoft’s venerable Office on their devices. A couple of weeks ago the app became free to use for Android device owners and interest in Microsoft on Android skyrocketed for the first time probably ever. So in this review, we’ll see if it’s an office app worth your time. As usual you can watch it above or read it below.


Microsoft Office for Android review

Functionality

Okay so there’s very little about Microsoft Office that you don’t already know. You know about Microsoft Word, Spreadsheet, and PowerPoint, what they do, and how they work. So thankfully this part of the review won’t take very long. As you can imagine, the mobile version of Office contains these three things and you can use them to create and edit documents, presentations, and spreadsheets.

When creating and editing, you have the basic tools like editing and control. You can use some basic formatting should you need it. It’s not nearly as powerful as the desktop apps or the Office 365 web apps. That’s a shame and we hope they increase functionality eventually but aside from some tweaks here and there it’s going be difficult to prepare full featured documents and presentations on the mobile version.

It’s fairly simple and that’s about all the app does in terms of pure functionality. However, there is more going on under the hood. Using Microsoft Office requires a Microsoft account. Once you have that you’ll automatically get some storage for Microsoft’s OneDrive service which you may know by its prior name which SkyDrive.

Currently you get 7GB for free and there’s a promotion for now that gives you an extra 3GB if you download the OneDrive app and use it to upload your photos from your Android device.
Everything you do in the Microsoft Office app is saved and drawn from your OneDrive account much like how every document you make in Google Drive is also stored in Google Drive. There is very little difference between the two fundamentally and for that, Microsoft does deserve a little praise.


Microsoft Office for Android review 2

Design

In terms of design, Office actually looks pretty good. Moving around the app is simple so no one should be getting lost. It uses some of the Android design guidelines such as the swiping tabs and using the logo at the top to go back to previous pages. Inside the files, it’s easy to navigate around your documents.

It saves every file to OneDrive so you can’t really go surfing around your device storage so don’t plan on being able to do that. The interface is overall very simplistic and the controls in apps are pretty simplistic too. Really, nothing is too difficult.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t tedious. In order to get the full experience, you’ll have to download the OneDrive app as well. That’s really the only good way to navigate your OneDrive account. When you open documents in OneDrive, it’ll open in Microsoft Office but the Office app doesn’t surf the OneDrive account very well. That, we thought, was a poor design choice.


Microsoft Office for Android 3

The good

So here’s what we liked about Office

  • It’s Microsoft actually giving it the old college try. Their first attempt at an Office app was not the most popular option and it didn’t work all that well. Now that it’s free and it’s been overhauled and integrated with OneDrive, it is suddenly much better than it used to be.
  • One of the biggest complaints about non-Microsoft Office apps is how it wrecks the formatting of Microsoft Office documents. That should no longer be a problem.
  • You are forced to use OneDrive for your storage for this app and that sucks, but they give you 7GB free so it’s not all that bad. You can get 3GB more for a limited time by downloading the OneDrive app and giving it permission to upload your camera stuff. So you can start with 10GB and even though Google Drive gives you more, at least Microsoft doesn’t leave you in the dirt in terms of cloud storage.
  • Full integration with OneDrive means that if you download the OneDrive app on your PC and have an internet connection, you have full control over the documents on both platforms without any difficulty. Office on mobile can open any document in OneDrive as can the PC Office app as well as the Office 365 web app. Multi-platform integration is never bad. Ever.
  • Lastly, the design isn’t terrible. Microsoft has developed some questionable mobile apps for Android in the past and this does not fall into that category. It doesn’t follow all of the Android design suggestions, but it follows a few of them and the app design positively reflects that.

The bad

And here’s what we didn’t like so much.

  • We would’ve liked to see more formatting tools. You can do the basic stuff like bold, underline, italics, color, and size, but things like adding images, advanced formatting, and others aren’t present and that’s disappointing.
  • Integration with OneDrive is fantastic and I love that, but knowing when to use which app for which purposes is a little hard to get used to. Like if you need to open a document, you’ll find it easier in OneDrive rather than the Office app and that’s disorienting. Also, your only storage option is OneDrive although you can download files from OneDrive if you have to.
  • Despite the good design, the controls are a little tedious. When you open a document, you have to click the pencil icon at the top in order to edit it. That extra step kind of screws with the brain because you’re kinda used to just opening the document and go. That, along with the way the app lets you see formatting options can be tedious and even a little frustrating.
  • There are very few (if any) tablets supported. It’s 2014, that’s just inexcusable at this point.

Microsoft Office for Android review 4

Final thoughts

Here’s the bottom line with Microsoft Office mobile. It’s a lot better than I was expecting it to be. Given prior experiences with Microsoft applications, there wasn’t that expectation that this would be directly comparable to the best Android has to offer. As it turns out, it is directly comparable and Microsoft has a pretty good app here.

That said, you won’t be concocting epic documents with this app. You can edit them and create some basic stuff but the hard work will still have to be done on either the web app or the desktop app. In any case, if you’re an Office user and you have Android, I highly recommend you check this app out.

Get it on Google Play


    







Opera Max App Review

Posted by wicked March - 30 - 2014 - Sunday Comments Off


Opera Max is being released in open beta to users around the world. It’s from the makers of the popular Opera Browser and they’re known for coming out with some pretty good applications. Is this app worth your time? In this review, we’ll find out. As usual, you can read it below or watch it above.


Opera Max

Functionality

Okay so what does Opera Max actually do? It is a standalone application that routes your internet traffic through its servers and compresses the data before it gets sent to your phone. This sounds complicated but it really isn’t. When browsing the web, you are essentially just downloading a bunch of stuff. Videos, images, advertisements, webpages, etc are all downloaded to your device using your data connection and then displayed for you.

What Opera Max does is it takes all that stuff and makes it smaller before sending it to your device. That means you use less of your data to get essentially the same content. This may not sound like a big deal but when you’re on a 1GB/month data plan, anything that helps stretch that data further is something that could be useful and in this case, it’s Opera Max.

Along with the data compression service, Opera Max lets you see what apps are using data and when. There are time stamps to show when apps use data so you know if something is borrowing your data connection when you’re not using it. There is also a function to block apps from using data so ones that update frequently –we’re looking at your Facebook- can be kept under control.

That’s really it folks. You install it, open it, and enable it and it pretty much takes care of everything else. It should be noted that it cannot save you data on encrypted apps because encrypted data is not routed through Opera servers. That stuff gets sent straight to your device.


Opera Max 2

How can I use this?

So how can you use this? It’s very simple, really. This is a classic “fire and forget” application so there’s really not much for you to do. You enable Opera Max and it essentially just works in the background to save you data. You can then use the app to block access from apps that you don’t want using your data all the time and overall it gives you more control over your own data usage.

As we noted earlier, it does not work on encrypted apps. So in order to get the full benefit of Opera Max, you may have to relegate a lot of your activity to your browser. This means using the browser for things like YouTube, Facebook and others that the app itself may not fully support. That way the data can be compressed and you can start using less data on more stuff.


Opera Max 3

The good

Okay so here’s what we liked.

  • It’s a really good idea for an app. We still live in a world where many carriers restrict how much data you can use and sometimes a couple of GB per month won’t cut it and for many, Opera Max can help.
  • We really liked the Block Apps feature. Even if it can’t save you data on encrypted apps, it can still prevent them from accessing the internet without your permission and this alone can save you hundreds of MB per month. Especially from social media apps that like to update constantly.
  • For the most part, it’s fairly easy to use. You open the app, you enable it, and then you go about your business as usual. There are no overcomplicated set up processes.
  • Lastly, we liked the level of information it gives you. You can see exactly which apps use what data and when. This can be a real eye opener for people because a lot of apps use more data that they would initially think or use a lot of data in the background without their knowledge. Even if you don’t engage in Opera Max’s data saving services, it’s still pretty nifty to see what is using your connection.

The bad

And here’s what we didn’t like so much.

  • It doesn’t support IPv6 and this can be a real bummer. When it detects that you have that, it suggests that you simply change your APN settings. For some this won’t be a big deal but for many this is a complicated task. You can still use the other features of the app, but you won’t get any data savings until they either support IPv6 or you decide to go through with learning how to change your APN.
  • There isn’t a readily available list of popular apps that are encrypted and even the screenshots are a little ambiguous. So figuring out when and how to save data can be a bit of a pain. In that same vein, most savings take place in the mobile web browser and not as much in applications so many may be turned off by the prospect of using their mobile browser instead of applications for more things.
  • Since the app is essentially a VPN service, you may experience slower web browsing depending on things like your distance from the nearest server. Also, because it does compress data, you may also notice some lower quality images and video.

Opera Max 4

Final thoughts

Overall, Opera Max is a solid app. It has its problems but none of them are bad enough to decrease the overall value. If used properly, this app can save you a lot of data. If you’re on a limited data plan and are on a carrier than uses overage charges, this app may very well actually save you money and that’s never a bad thing.

Even without the data saving mechanism, the app is still pretty useful. Being able to block apps from using your data alone makes it worth checking out because we all use apps that use our data religiously for updates. Best of all, it’s free to use so there’s really no reason not to check it out. Use the button below to get started.
Get it on Google Play


    







Newsbeat review – Android Authority

Posted by wicked March - 29 - 2014 - Saturday Comments Off


Newsbeat is a new app that is really truly different. It’s a news aggregator like your standard news app or RSS app but instead of just delivering news for you to read, Newsbeat will read you the news. If you’re like me and read articles pretty much all day, being able to listen to it for once instead of reading sounds like a great idea. In this review, we’ll see just how good it is. As usual you can watch it above if you don’t want to read it.


newsbeat review 1

Functionality

Okay so what does this app do? It’s a news aggregator not unlike RSS. You tell it your interests and what publications you like and it will fetch news from sources that report on that kind of news. What’s interesting is that while you get the option to read the articles, you also get the option to listen to them. That’s right; this app will read the news to you in a news radio style format so you don’t have to read it.

The voices aren’t perfect but they are pretty good. They even have voice inflections to make them sound real. Some who have used the app already have stated preference between the male and female voice, but frankly both are about equal. There is still that robotic tone every now and then, especially when they try to pronounce difficult words or people’s names but they do well at sounding real enough to where it isn’t distracting when listening to the news.

The app goes the whole nine yards to make it sound like a radio show. When you open the app, it’ll greet you by name if you have your name entered into the app. It’ll give you your local traffic rundown sometimes which I thought was a nice touch. It then proceeds to read the news articles back to back until there are none left. When it reads articles, it’ll state the source and the author in a manner you’d expect a radio host to do.

Of course, you do still have the option to read the news. You can pause at any time and scroll through articles on your own if you prefer. The only real issue we found was a lack of sources. It seems to take more from local publications and worldwide news sources so you don’t get too many options when it comes to where it reads the news from.


newsbeat 2

Design

The design is pretty decent. It’s not overly colorful but it is easy to navigate so no one should have any problems figuring out where to go. There is a hamburger menu on the left side where you can check out the app preferences or get to the news. Articles have two interfaces. You can look at them one at a time or use a second interface to swipe through them if you prefer. It was a little laggy here and there but not so much to make the app unpleasant.

Once the voices start to read the news, there will be a notification that pops up. You can swipe it away without interrupting the voices but it apparently comes back after a short time which can get annoying if you’re OCD about keeping your notification drawer cleared out. In the notification there are skip buttons as well as a pause and play button so you can skip news or pause it if need be.


Newsbeat review 3

The good

  • This app is just a great idea. Reading article after article can be tedious and trying to keep up with the news all day that way can be tiring and frustrating. With this, you turn it on, connect some headphones or a speaker if need be, and let some robot people read you the news. It is much less stressful on your eyes too since you don’t have to stare at a little screen to read it if you don’t want to.
  • The voices are actually really good. As mentioned there are moments where they sound blatantly robotic and you never shake the knowledge that they are fake voices but they read the news so you don’t have to and they do it pretty well. This includes small things like pronunciation that a lot of robot voices screw up.
  • The app strings together the intro when you open the app, the local news, and each story in the flavor of a radio show. This includes short music bursts between stories and specific phrasing that you’d hear in a radio show. The male and female voices also interchange occasionally giving the illusion of multiple hosts. These aesthetics are purely atmospheric and not really functional, but it makes the whole thing sound coherent and it makes the experience more enjoyable.
  • Lastly, the app content is fairly customizable. While the sources are lacking, you still get to choose what topics you see. If you have no interest in, say, politics, then it won’t read you any political news.

The bad

  • This app seriously needs more sources. We assume they’ll be adding more as time goes but for the time being there aren’t all that many places to draw news from. So don’t expect to be able to follow your favorite blogs like Android Authority just yet.
  • While the topics are fairly customizable, they aren’t totally customizable. For instance, I like hockey but I dislike pretty much every other sport. I can have the app deliver sports news, but not specifically hockey news. So it’ll read me a bunch of football free agent signings that I don’t care about before it’ll read me the Columbus Blue Jackets game recap. That’s just one example, there are plenty of others.
  • The playback controls, notifications, etc are a little wonky sometimes. Clearing out a notification usually results in it coming back a few minutes later and the app has started reading articles before on its own when a story hits the news feed. It’s not terrible but some more control over the controls would be nice.

Newsbeat review 4

Final thoughts

If you’re into RSS and reading the news, this app presents a unique premise that is difficult to pass up. It’s not difficult to read while on a subway or a train but if you’re driving or walking it’s probably more convenient to listen to the news rather than try to read it and this app shines in those kinds of situations.

We wish there were more sources. That’s about the only weakness that Newsbeat has and unfortunately it’s a pretty bad one to have. We’re sure they’ll add more eventually but until then you’re stuck with the biggest dogs in media who don’t already do the best reporting on things. Even so, the app is wonderfully done and we recommend you give it a shot if only to see if you like it.
Get it on Google Play


    







Link Bubble Review

Posted by wicked March - 27 - 2014 - Thursday Comments Off


Link Bubble is a new application from Chris Lacy, the developer behind Action Launcher. In this truly unique app, you load links in the background and only bring them forward when you want them. In this review, we’ll take a look at the finer points of Link Bubble and determine just how good it is. If you want to watch it instead of read it, the video is embedded above.


Link Bubble review

Functionality

So what does Link Bubble actually do? It’s a floating window web browser that opens links in the background so you don’t lose your spot in whatever it is that you’re doing. This can be helpful for a number of reasons especially if you surf the web fairly frequently. What happens is you find a link, then you click on it, and Link Bubble will have a little floating icon that lets you know when the target is finished loading.

There are two ways to use this app. You can have the auto-open enabled which will pop the website up as soon as it has loaded. Or you can go into the settings, disable the auto-open, and then the site will load in the background and you can deal with it as you please. The developer recently updated the app to make this easier and the option to change this is now labeled better.

Other than the main function, you can share links to practically anywhere. In the top left is your main sharing service which can be changed in the settings to whatever you want. In the top right is the full list of places to share if you’re sharing elsewhere. If you want to close a page, you literally fling it toward the bottom of your screen to close it. If you want to close all of your bubbles, you manually drag one bubble to the bottom and wait for it to say “close all” and then let go.

Overall, it’s a fairly easy and simple app to use. Once you get the flinging bubbles thing down, controlling everything is practically second nature and you can go on with your business while Link Bubble takes care of links in the background. If you’re a fan of measuring stats, there is even a function that will show you how much time you’ve saved by not waiting for websites to load.


Link Bubble review 2

Design

Link Bubble’s design is very minimal. When you’re not using it, it’s like it’s not even there and when you are using it, it’s just a floating window with a couple of floating icons. Everything is organized in a manner that makes sense. It takes a second to logically explain why there are two share buttons but really that’s just so you can expedite sharing to the service you regularly use, which we ended up finding quite useful.

The big design elements are the controls. Flinging the bubbles around to make them do your bidding seems a little off putting at first because you’re not usually used to flinging anything on an Android phone. However –like we stated earlier- once you get used to it, you can fly through your open tabs. It does not take long to get used to.


Link Bubble review 3

The good

Okay so here’s what we liked.

  • This is truly unlike anything I’ve ever used before. If I were asked if there apps that could perform the same functionality, I would draw a blank. It’s technically a web browser, but the way it operates is unlike any other browser.
  • For people who browse on a frequent basis, opening up a lot of links at once and dealing with them later is infinitely preferable to opening a link, then going back to the app, then opening another link, et cetera. It really does save you a lot of time.
  • So far we’ve seen virtually no incompatibilities. It opened pretty much all of the content we asked it to without too much of a problem. I’m sure there are some sites or video streaming formats the app doesn’t support, but I couldn’t find them.
  • You can customize the share buttons to whatever you want them to be. So if you’re a Twitter person, you can make your quick share to Twitter or if you’re a Google+ fan, you can change it to Google+. This was a nice add on.
  • Perhaps my favorite part of the app is how browser loading times don’t matter. If it takes 15 seconds to load a web page, so be it. You’re not sitting there waiting for it. You can go do your own thing until it’s done.

The bad

And here’s what we didn’t like so much

  • There is a wide, gaping chasm between the paid and free version. I’m not complaining about prices or anything because the price is very reasonable, but you can’t really experience the brilliance of this app on the free version. Arguably its best feature is the ability to open an assemblage of links, let them load in the background, and then browse through them at your leisure. The free version limits you to a single tab so users of the free version won’t get that experience.
  • We did run into some occasional lag and a force close or two. It’s a new release so it’s not a big deal and we’re sure future stability and performance improvements will rectify these issues, but they are there nevertheless.

Link Bubble review 4

Final thoughts

Overall, this is an amazing app. When you fork in the $4.99 for the paid version, you will literally cut the time you spend staring at a blank web browser waiting for a page to load to almost zero. It makes surfing social media more enjoyable because in my experience, I found that I was clicking links I may not have otherwise clicked because I don’t have to wait around for them to open or worry about losing my place in the other app. So it’s allowed me to have a more rich experience on my device.
It did have a few very minor issues but most of those will likely be fixed in coming releases. Between the moment I started reviewing this app and the moment I released this video, there have already been two updates and that’s encouraging. At the very least, you should try the free version. It doesn’t give you the full experience but it gives you an idea of what you’re in for and what you’re in for is pretty awesome. Click the button below to get started!
Get it on Google Play