Five obscure Android apps that should be on your must-use list


Lost among the scores of available Android apps are some specialized tools that might really come in handy. Tom Merritt runs through a few you may not have come across.

If you’re an Android user, you know the Google Play Store is filled with apps — many of which are outstanding, but some of which… are not. Finding a few of the hidden, lesser-known gems isn’t a terribly challenging task, but it can take a while. So to save you a bit of time, I searched the Play Store and came up with five apps you may never have heard of but might benefit from using. Let’s see if any of them fits your bill.

1: Greenify

Greenify (Figure A) will help you identify any apps on your phone that are misbehaving and place them into hibernation. This will effectively save your device battery from prematurely draining. But unlike some other apps that prevent a suspect app from working, Greenify allows you to continue using the application in question. It hibernates suspicious apps only when they are not in use, thus preventing them from draining your battery.

Figure A

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Greenify itself uses little in the way of resources. At most, it uses 5 MB of RAM, zero CPU, and zero battery. A word of warning: Do NOT Greenify your alarm clock, instant messaging, or widget-enabled apps — and DO verify the impact of Greenifying apps you rely on. You also should know that on a non-rooted device, you must manually hibernate apps (which requires just a single tap of the hibernation button). You can automate this process via an accessibility service Greenify provides. The only caveat to using the accessibility service is that Greenify will observe your interactions with apps and retrieve window content. Some users might consider this a bit too intrusive and prefer to handle the hibernate process manually.

2: ProxyDroid

ProxyDroid (REQUIRES ROOT) makes setting a proxy on your Android device incredibly simple. This free app (Figure B) supports HTTP/HTTPS/SOCKS4/SOCKS5 proxy, as well as basic, NTLM, and NTLMv2 authentication methods. With ProxyDroid you can set up a proxy for an individual app or several apps. By unsetting the global proxy feature, you can select specific apps. You can also set up multiple profiles, which means you can set a proxy for certain apps and another for yet more apps.

Figure B

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As far as proxy apps are concerned, ProxyDroid makes it worth taking the time to root your device. You’ll also find a handy widget for enabling/disabling proxies. Note that when you use the widget, you must have selected the profile to be active within the ProxyDroid settings window. If you’re looking for the single most powerful proxy app available, root your phone and look no further than ProxyDroid.

3: Total Commander

Total Commander (Figure C) is, by far, one of the ugliest file managers you’ll ever use. It is also one of the best. If offers a built-in text editor, properties dialog, FTP/sFTP/WebDAV/OBEX support, plug-ins for cloud services, and features that let you copy/move whole subdirectories, drag and drop, zip/unzip/rar, select/unselect groups of files, search, select a range of files/folders, and much more.

Figure C

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Total commander is like getting the old-school UNIX Midnight Commander on your Android device… only with an updated feature set and a slightly updated interface. One cool interface feature: If you’re viewing in portrait mode, Total Commander displays a single pane. However, when viewing in landscape mode, you see a dual-pane interface.

4: RedLaser Barcode & QR Scanner

RedLaser (Figure D) is a great price-comparison shopping app. Just scan a barcode and it will crawl the internet and display the best online prices available. From there, you can tap the top price to open the item in a web browser and purchase it.

Figure D

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I have found that RedLaser has one of the fastest barcodes scanners available. You won’t waste time trying to line up the camera to the laser. In fact, RedLaser picks up the barcode almost before you have the item/camera lined up — it’s that fast. You can also get local pricing, facts about a product, and reviews. When scanning food items, you’ll get a ton of relevant details, such as allergen information. You can also scan and save your loyalty cards into the app, so you don’t have to pull out your keys or wallet to use those cards (and you can see deals associated with each card).

5: Ambio

When you’re traveling for business, you often wind up in unfamiliar locations (and sometimes in less-than-ideal hotels). Ambio (Figure E) is an ambient sound generator that can help you sleep or focus on the task at hand.

Figure E

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If you can’t sleep because there’s just too much quiet, Ambio will soothe you into slumber with the sounds of the ocean, rain, ticking clocks, fans, airplane cabins, heartbeats, white noise, and much more. And if you don’t like the included sounds, you can download more (including premium sounds). You can even pause sounds and create your own mixes (combining four sounds to create the perfect cacophony of noise to make you forget you’re in an unfamiliar hotel bed trying desperately to get enough sleep to make the next day of work possible.

Source: Techgig.

New iPhone feature will completely transform how you use apps.


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Apple’s new operating system for mobile phones and tablets, iOS 8, is slated to release in the fall, and one of its features will transform how you use your apps.
Apple calls it Extensibility, and it basically allows your apps to share both information and functionality with one another, which means less time spent switching among apps.
Let’s say you have a favorite app for editing your photos, such as Adobe Photoshop Express.
Before Extensibility, you would need to be inside Photoshop Express to use its editing tools. But with Extensibility, you’ll be able to access those same editing tools right from within Apple’s native Photos app. The editing tools from Photoshop Express would act as the “extension” in this case, and the Photos app would then have access to that extension, allowing you to take advantage of Photoshop Express’ unique features and functionality even from within outside apps.

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Agile Bits
Popular password management app 1Password has already demonstrated how it will use Extensibility to let users easily fill in password info from within any app. Before, you had to boot up 1Password, copy the password for a site or app, and then open the site or app and paste it in. But Extensibility eliminates those extra steps. Other apps can plug into 1Password and let you use it without opening a separate app.

So how does it work?

There are different types of extensions depending on how and where they will share information with other apps. Apple wants to prevent apps from simply having full access to all of the information in your other apps, so extensions are focused on particular functions and tasks, like Share, Action, and Photo Editing.

It’s important to note that an app won’t be able to randomly request important info from another app without your consent. You have complete control over when an app makes a request to use an extension, meaning an app can’t request your PayPal password from 1Password unless you ask it to.

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Besides being secure, Extensibility means more information at your fingertips, and faster.

Apple, for example, is allowing extensions to plug directly into your iPhone’s Notification Center, where it will act as a widget. If you want to stay up to date on the latest scores, you could enable ESPN’s Sports Center app to see its extension in Notification Center, allowing you to quickly check out what’s going on without opening the Sports Center app.

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MacRumors
You won’t only be able to glimpse information from within Notification Center; extensions will also let you take action.

Say you were using the Philips Hue app to control your smart light bulbs. Right now, that’s all done within the app. But Philips has shown off an iOS 8 concept for an extension that would let you turn on and off your smart lighting, even select some pre-set mood lighting, all from a simple swipe up of the Notification Center.

At its WWDC conference in June, Apple highlighted how an eBay extension would allow you to keep track of auctions from within Notification Center. And because extensions can also include actions, you’re even able to place a bid without opening the app.

Extensions can also be used to share things to your favorite social media site. Apple has limited sharing features integrated into iOS 7, but iOS 8 will usher in the ability for any social media app to design its own extension.

Say you’re browsing the internet using Safari. With Extensibility, you’ll be able to tap the image, select which social media website or app you’d like to share the picture with, and you’re done.

Extensibility even extends to core Apple software, like its keyboard. If another app has a keyboard that you like better than Apple’s, simply enabling a keyboard extension will give users the ability to replace Apple’s keyboard with their own.

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Apple
At its heart, Extensibility will both remove friction and empower preference, letting users take their favorite app’s killer feature and use it from within another app.

It’s a giant step in the right direction for Apple, and it means that apps will no longer have to compromise on polish in the name of being able to “do it all.” Instead, they’ll be able to focus on creating a unique experience that users will be able to take with them into other apps.

Extensibility will be available when iOS 8 launches as a free download this fall.

Hands on with the Audi A3 with Android Auto


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Google wants to be everywhere. It’s on your desktop, in your pocket, on your wrist and now in your car. Well maybe not your current car. But possibly your next car.

At today’s Google I/O developer event, the search giant showed off Android Auto. Like Apple’s Car Play, the feature lets you make calls, control and listen to your music, and get you where you’re going all without having to grab your phone and potentially put your life and the lives of others in danger.

We got a quick demo of Android Auto in a red Audi A3 on the second floor of Moscone West. While a giant screen in the foreground played scenes of cars driving along worlds from around the world, we were presented with the system.

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Google wants you to make sure that the system doesn’t want you to read. Instead of visual cues or text of what you’re asking for, a voice gives you a voice cue. Ask the car to navigate to Fresno, CA and the car will respond, “Navigating to Fresno, CA.” It’s pretty slick but if the car has an issue understanding what you’re saying or its reply is phonetically correct but not technically correct you could end up at the wrong location.

Still, anything that keeps your phone out of your hand and your eyes on the road is great. The audio app integration is great. In addition to Google Music, there are 10 apps ready to go including Spotify, Pandora and MLB At Bat. While the main screen looks the same with a color skin to match the app, each app can add its own categories to the navigation. You can also make voice calls and reply to texts with you voice.

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The system is part of the Open Automotive Alliance. In addition to the Audi, there was a Kia with the system installed. Cars from Mazda, Ford, Subaru, Volkswagen and others should be on the road in the future. Until then, keep your phone in your bag while you drive.

First impressions: Samsung Galaxy K Zoom


K Zoom is surprisingly light for what it offers. It weighs just 200 grams and that makes a big difference in how well it feels in hands. At 20mm, it is also quite slim.

K Zoom is surprisingly light for what it offers. It weighs just 200 grams and that makes a big difference in how well it feels in hands. At 20mm, it is also quite slim.

SINGAPORE: Samsung is trying to break into the camera market with its Android-powered cameras for the last two years. It had some success but not as much as it would have liked to. Combining a smartphone and a camera in single device is not easy and on earlier occasions when we reviewed cameras we found that often cons outweighed pros in these devices.

Galaxy K Zoom looks like a device that may have more pros than cons.

The biggest difference between K Zoom and earlier Galaxy cameras is the design. K Zoom is surprisingly light for what it offers. It weighs just 200 grams and that makes a big difference in how well it feels in hands. At 20mm, it is also quite slim. While it was possible to carry earlier Galaxy cameras into pocket, K Zoom is the first device in the series that we feel would easily slip into the pocket, almost like a phablet.

Earlier Galaxy cameras were awkward to use as smartphones. The lens bulge was too big on them. But K Zoom can be used as a smartphone without too many compromises. The lens bulge in the device is surprisingly flat compared to what earlier Galaxy cameras had. Samsung claims that in K Zoom it is using a different (and unique) lens that retracts to form a very compact module.

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In terms of design, K Zoom borrows heavily from the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy S3. The back cover of K Zoom uses the same matte finish plastic found on Galaxy S5. This feels good in hand. The overall design, with its rounded corners and a curved back, is similar to that of Galaxy S3. Ergonomically, the design is good and makes using K Zoom easier despite its bulk.

The device runs a modified version of Android kitKat. Unlike Galaxy phones, K Zoom has a hardware button for camera. When the device is locked and the screen is off, this camera button can be used to quickly access the camera app.

The device we checked out had good performance and we did not see any lag.

But the screen did not seem as nice as what users get on the high-end Galaxy phones. The screen shows vibrant and punchy colours (it is AMOLED panel) but the brightness and sharpness is not as good as what Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy S5 screens offer. For the sharpness bit, the reason is simple: unlike the Full HD screen in flagship Galaxy phones, Samsung is using 720p screen in K Zoom.

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We took some photos with K Zoom in the low light scene. The performance seemed acceptable, though not exceptional. But question on image quality is something that we can only answer properly after using the device for a while.

In the past, Galaxy cameras have offers decent image quality. However, they have also carried a rather high price for what they offer.

The design of K Zoom is definitely attractive and practical. The performance seems good. We will take a better look at the image quality offered by K Zoom and the price is something that Samsung would reveal when it launches the device in India. However, even if the Galaxy camera offers image quality similar to what earlier Galaxy cameras had managed but comes with somewhat better price, we feel it may turn out to be a good competitor for the conventional cameras.

Nikon 3300 is a great entry-level camera at affordable price


nikon3300_505_041814060608The first thing that amazed me when I picked up the Nikon D3300, was how light it was. Weighing in at a mere 460 gms (with battery & CF card), this is also its lightest DSLR or Digital SLR camera ever. But don’t let the misnomer of being Nikon entry-level camera fool you. This baby is packed with features that are usually found on more expensive models.

It has a 24 MP sensor like its predecessor, but removes its low pass filter, resulting in sharper. crisper images. The new Expeed 4 processor lets users shoot 100 large-quality JPEGs continuously at a top speed of 5fps. It’s increased ISO lets them shoot almost in the dark without flash, albeit with some noise or grain in the picture.

I took the camera with me to try out in the zoo.

nikon350_041814060446The camera auto focuses extremely fast, and is also pretty good in tracking flying birds, the built in motor drive fast enough to capture the birds effortlessly soaring through the air.

Though do remember that the camera lacks a built-in AF motor, requiring AF-S lenses in order to be able to autofocus. All your older Nikon lenses do work, though you need to focus them manually.

The camera also moves equipped with an effect mode that allows in camera editing functions like panorama. Vivid, pop and toy camera, across both still and video resulting in some wacky special effects.

nikon32_041814060454The only negatives are the lack of an in built WiFi and more importantly for me, no in built motor in the camera, which means that only AFS lenses can autofocus.

I feel that the D3300 is a great entry level camera. I would definitely recommend buying it, especially for people who want to take good photos at an affordable price. So what are you waiting for? Buy it and start shooting…

Microsoft to offer Windows for free on phones, tablets


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Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella at the build conference. PHOTO: Reuters

Microsoft Corp is to give away its Windows operating system for free to makers of smartphones and small tablets for consumers as it seeks to make more of an impact on those fast-growing markets and counter the massive success of Google Inc’s free Android platform.

Microsoft’s move, announced at its annual developers conference in San Francisco, is an attempt to broaden the small user base of mobile versions of Windows, in the hope that more customers will end up using Microsoft’s money-making, cloud-based services such as Skype and Office.

Up to now, Microsoft has charged phone and tablet makers between $5 and $15 per device to use its Windows system, as it has done successfully at higher prices for many years with Windows on personal computers. Hardware makers factor the cost of that into the sale price of each device.

That model has been obliterated in the past few years by the fast adoption of Google’s Android system for phones and tablets, which hardware makers quickly embraced and now accounts for more than 75 per cent of all smartphones sold last year. Apple Inc’s iPhone and iPad account for most of the rest of the mobile computing market.

By contrast, Windows-powered phones held only 3 per cent of the global smartphone market last year. Windows tablets have only about 2 per cent of the tablet market, according to tech research firm Gartner.

FREE MONEY

Microsoft’s move to make Windows free for some consumer devices bucks a central tenet of Bill Gates’ original philosophy, that software should be paid for, which led to Microsoft’s massive financial success over the last four decades. But analysts said it is a realistic reaction to the runaway success of free Android.

“Microsoft is facing challenges on the mobile and tablet fronts and need to change their strategy to move the growth needle, this is a good and logical first step,” said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets.

Windows will be free for companies making phones and tablets with screen sizes under nine inches (23 cm) for the consumer market. A license fee will still apply for business devices.

It comes a week after new Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella unveiled new versions of Word, PowerPoint and Excel applications for Apple Inc’s iPad. A year’s free subscription to Microsoft’s cloud-based Office 365 service will be offered on the new devices running the free Windows, Microsoft said.

Both moves show that Microsoft is now more interested in gaining market share for its cloud-based services such as Office on any platform or device, rather than its traditional approach of putting Windows at the center of everything it does and extending its influence from there.

In the new era of mobile computing, Nadella acknowledged Microsoft’s underdog status.

“We are going to innovate with a challenger mindset,” said Nadella in a question and answer session at the developer conference.

“We are not coming at this as some incumbent trying to do the next version of Windows, we are going to come at this by innovating in every dimension.”

Nadella did not have a snappy answer to the question of what Microsoft’s overarching mission now was, after it had achieved its original goal of putting a computer on every desk and in every home. Instead he elaborated on remarks he made last week about the importance of mobile devices as everything we do becomes digitized and connected to the internet.

“Our vision, simply put, is to thrive in this world of mobile first, cloud first,” said Nadella. “Our goal is to really build platforms, create the best end-user experiences, the best developer opportunities and IT infrastructure for this ubiquitous computing world.”

SIRI RIVAL

Also at the gathering, Microsoft formally announced it has developed a voice activated phone assistant feature called Cortana, a direct rival to Apple’s Siri.

The feature has been rumored for some months and a test version was demonstrated at the event by Joe Belfiore, a Windows Phone executive.

The Cortana service, which can take verbal instructions to search the Web, set alarms, make calls and a host of other actions, is still in beta testing but will soon be a standard feature on Windows phones, said Belfiore.

He announced that the latest version of Microsoft’s smartphone software, called Windows Phone 8.1, will be rolled out to consumers as a downloadable upgrade in the next few months, and new phones running the software will be in stores by late April or early May.
(Reuters)

How Google keeps its employees happy and productive


The popular search engine Google leads in keeping its employees in a good mood.

The popular search engine Google leads in keeping its employees in a good mood.

LONDON: From laundry facilities to volleyball courts, from nap areas to a slide connecting work floors, the popular search engine Google leads in keeping its employees in a good mood.

And this has resulted in a higher productivity, a 12% boost at work, a research said, adding that the firm may actually have hit the right idea that happy employees do work harder.

“The driving force seems to be that the happier workers use their time more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality,” said Daniel Sgroi from department of economics at University of Warwick in Britain.

According to the researchers, Google was at the forefront of improving its employees’ happiness with its perks that include free food, buses and gyms along with sports courts and even a slide to get between floors.

In a series of lab tests, they found happiness made people 12% more productive.

The study included four different experiments with more than 700 participants.

The participants were either shown a comedy movie clip or treated to free chocolate, drinks and fruits.

Others were enquired about recent family tragedies to assess whether lower levels of happiness were later associated with lower levels of productivity.

Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and as a result employee satisfaction has risen, concluded the researchers in the study published in the journal of Labour Economics.