Sunday, 23 December 2012

SopCast fixes Jelly Bean sound issue and adds recording


TV isn't global. If you're traveling abroad and you want to see the game of your favourite team, you can zap through all the channels without luck. If you try to catch a stream from the official supplier, it probably refuses to play in other countries. For example, eredivisielive.nl sells streams for all the dutch football matches, but only in The Netherlands. If you try to watch Ajax play from anywhere else the site will bluntly tell you that its streams are not for sale outside the country.

That's where the Android version of SopCast comes to the rescue. It uses BitTorrent-like technology to send live sports and other video to your phone or tablet. If you're traveling in countries that don't care about your favourite sport SopCast is often the only way to see your team play.

SopCast used to be silent on Jelly Bean, but not anymore. The update to version 0.9.0 fixed the missing sound problem.

The new SopCast can record video too, so you can watch the streamed stuff later. That could be useful when your team is playing a dozen or so time zones away.

If you don't have time to watch the full match, GoalTV by Frezya Mobile plays the highlights.

SopCast (sopcast.com)
GoalTV app from Frezya Mobile
voetbal.site666.info for your SopCast links and other ways to live games and highlights


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Saturday, 22 December 2012

Tame your apps: AFWall+ speeds up and kills bugs


Tame our apps

You don't want every app on your phone to go online without limits, especially those apps that only go online to download ads or send out your personal data to who-knows-where. That's why having a firewall is a good idea, and AFWall+ is a good choice. You need to root your Android phone or tablet to make it work, though.

Choose your weapon

AFWall+ works on Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean, where DroidWall has problems. AFWall+ lets you set separate permissions for WiFi, normal data, and roaming data, which DroidWall and LBE Privacy Guard won't let you do. It can put a "new app installed"  notification in your status bar so you don't forget to set rules for new apps, DroidWall and avast won't remind you. And AFWall+ solves DroidWalls "leaky boots" problem most of the time, although it still leaks a bit if you force a reboot by popping your battery out and back in.

New

DroidWall successor AFWall+ got a lot faster with the latest update. And you can speed it up even more by switching off the app icons. That used to leave an ugly empty space on the left side of your screen, but now all the checkboxes and icons realign to fit. On my phone only the checkboxes realigned by themselves, the icons on top only moved after I restarted the app.

AFWall+ hasn't been around very long, but there are not many bugs. One bug that plagued my phone was that trying to open the firewall log used to hang the app if the log was empty, but I haven't seen that happening since the update to version 1.1.4.

The "disable 3G rules when connected to USB" option has gone out for repairs. When the bugs are squashed the feature will return.

AFWall+ now displays the app UID next to the app name, just like DroidWall always did. This can be useful if data logging apps only tell you which UID has been going online and you want to stick a name to the number. Most people don't really care about UIDs, so they're switched off by default. If you want to see them you have to switch 'em on in the settings screen.

AFWall+ (Google Play Store)
AFWall+ on xda

other stand-alone firewalls:

Android Firewall by jtschohl
DroidWall

security apps with built-in firewalls:

avast!
LBE Privacy Guard


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Friday, 21 December 2012

Android Underground goes twitter


There are many ways to keep up to date with android underground.

You can come to this site once in a while, or you can get updates mailed to your inbox or sent to your RSS feed reader. And you can check the mix of 18 (and counting) Android blogs at androidblogmix.site666.info, because lots of sites know more than one.

Or you can follow android underground on Twitter. If you hurry you can be the first follower and be the first to get tweets about how to make sure you own your phone instead of the other way 'round.
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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

VoIP app Viber adds smilies and custom ringtones, forgets off switch


Smilies, group chats, and system sounds

Updates for VoIP and chat app Viber are few and far between, but they managed to squeeze one in before this year runs out.

New: smilies. Not a lot of them, but you gotta start somewhere. Viber now has stickers (very big smilies) too. Messaging on Viber may seem irrelevant, because if your gadget runs Viber it can run WhatsApp too and that's the SMS replacement of choice for most of the world. But if WhatsApp stops its ever-extending free trials and really turns into a paid app, competing apps like Viber and imo may take over.

The Viber programmers didn't just add eye candy, they threw in a bit of function too. Viber now does group chats with up to 40 people, so you can do big time group sexting.  And now you can tell Viber to use your Android system sounds instead of its own built-in ringtones.

A few updates ago Viber picked up the annoying habit of opening the "all contacts" tab by default (even with "show all contacts" switched off in the settings), which is useless for most people because most of their contacts are not on Viber. But now Viber opens in the Viber contacts tab again. Unfortunately you still can't block contacts, because Viber thinks you want to talk with anyone who's in your Android phone book. It didn't occur to the Viber team that you may add some people (like your ex or your boss) to your phone book to block their calls and messages. Viber won't let you set individual ringtones for contacts, so you can't ignore contacts by setting a silent ringtone for them.

Speaking of phone functions (the core business of Viber): voicemail for Viber would be a welcome addition. Especially if it comes with an option to send some contacts straight to your voicemailbox.

Viber still won't shut up

There's no easy way to switch Viber off or stop it from autostarting everytime you boot your phone. There's an off switch, but it doesn't work because Viber believes that you want to be available for all calls whenever your phone has a live internet connection. They probably never heard of international data charges. Tip: use AFWall+ or the firewall from avast to keep Viber away from your expensive data roaming connection.

The off switch built into Viber is not really an off switch, because the Cloud to Device Messaging service keeps listening for incoming Viber communications and will launch the app if something comes in. You can prevent Viber autostarts with apps like Gemini App Manager and ROM Toolbox, but that's inconvenient, requires root access, and you need to be a bit tech literate to make it work. Of course you can freeze Viber when you want it to keep quiet, and unfreeze it when you're available again. App Quarantine will do it for free, from the app itself or from a widget.

Why does Viber refuse to add a real off switch? There may be a commercial reason for not including an off switch that works. Viber will add paid services to its free features, and a Viber that doesn't run is a Viber that doesn't make money. But really, Viber, sometimes you need to be incommunicado for Viber calls without killing your internet connection or going into airplane mode. Stop behaving like a bunch of stubborn fools and go add a switch to put control where it needs to be: in the hands of the user.

Finally, Viber needs a public API so it can be part of a multi-network app. Chat and VoIP fragmentation is getting worse, so something needs to be done.

Viber

some competing apps:

Skype
Vonage
CSipSimple
Nimbuzz
imo
WhatsApp



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Monday, 17 December 2012

Liquid Bear still plays last.fm on Android



When last.fm killed its radio stations for most of the world, KLastFM and CoboltFM stopped playing.

But that doesn't mean that last.fm radio for Android is dead, because alternative last.fm player Liquid Bear rocks on.

Liquid Bear uses a trick to bypass all those silly last.fm restrictions: it uses your last.fm data to make playlists, and then pulls the songs from vk.com (the russian answer to Facebook). This means that you need a last.fm account and a vk.com account, but you can simply make an "empty" vk.com account with a fantasy name to tap into its music collection.

That's a clever solution that other apps might use as well. CoboltFM and KLastFM could use the vk.com route, or they could play custom last.fm radio stations by pulling the songs from Grooveshark. Grooveshark clients like Dood's Music Streamer and TinyShark could integrate last.fm in a similar way.

Liquid Bear has three main tabs. The left tab is the current playlist, which is built from whatever you select in the right tab. This tab lets you make last.fm-like radio stations based on tags, artists, your own last.fm library or the music libraries of your friends, etc. The central tab shows what's playing now, with album art and playback controls.

Want to see lyrics? You can load 'em from the playback tab (hit the drop-shaped icon) or by long-tapping a song in the playlist.

The playlist is also the place where Liquid Bear shows that it needs some work done. You can't change the order of the songs in the list, the search box shows white text on a light grey background (it may be different on your phone or tablet), deleting songs ahead of the currently playing track pauses playback, and removing songs already played stops the current track and skips to the next. The playback screen shows elapsed time but doesn't show the song duration, even though it could: if you pull the playback slider it shows how much time remains, so Liquid Bear could show that in the empty space next to the forward button.
Edit: an update added remaining time to the playback screen.

But these are minor shortcomings for an app that does what other last.fm players can do no more.

Liquid Bear is free, and I couldn't find any ads in it. It's definitely worth a try, so head to the Google Play Store to get a copy.

Liquid Bear


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Sunday, 16 December 2012

Last.fm won't sing for Android anymore, Grooveshark app Dood's Music Streamer keeps playing (and so does Liquid Bear)


Last.fm is dead

The founders of last.fm left the company a long time ago. CBS, the current owners, try to milk the worlds most popular music service to the last penny. As a result, last.fm radio streaming is now only available in less than 5% of the countries on the planet. Germans, americans, and british can listen for free on the last.fm website, or for money in the desktop client. In Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, and Brazil you can listen with a paid subscription. The rest of the world is not allowed to listen to last.fm, not even if you pay.

There were ways around these ridiculous geographic restrictions, but no more. Alternative last.fm apps CoboltFM and KLastFM are really dead now. Last.fm, pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone, and most of the planet can't stream at all.

Grooveshark rocks on

Are you a last.fm refugee looking for alternatives? Then Grooveshark is for you. It's a global jukebox with more music than anyone else, and with the right apps it's available worldwide. For free.

My favourite Grooveshark app is Dood's Music Streamer. You can search music, play it, download it, and it can turn your play queue into custom radio stations. It scrobbles everything you play to last.fm too.

Dood's Music Streamer plays custom radio stations based on your play queue. It's not as good as the custom last.fm radio stations, because Grooveshark only looks at your current play queue whereas last.fm uses your entire scrobble history to build your personal radio station. But with last.fm being dead and buried, Grooveshark radio in Dood's Music Streamer is better than nothing.

There are other Android Grooveshark apps, but they don't turn your playlists into radio stations.

Update: Liquid Bear still plays last.fm radio on Android.

Dood's Music Streamer
Liquid Bear


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Saturday, 15 December 2012

VideoMix streams movies and tv shows on your Android phone or tablet



December 27 update: Google made VideoMix remove the adult category, because Play Store rules suck and Larry Page is still a virgin. You can get the uncensored movies back by restoring a backup of VideoMix v1.1.1. Tip: use a backup app to switch between v1.1.1 and the latest version.

Movies and tv shows from many places

Movie and tv show streamer Ice Stream is dead. Nobody knows if it will resurrect or if it's gone forever, but the good news is that there's another app to stream or download video to your Android device. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it does the job.

VideoMix starts up with a screen full of links to movies (probably recently added, or most popular, or whatever), but it's easy to tap to the content you want through the icon bar on top of the start screen. If you know what you're looking for, tap the search icon in the top right of the screen. If you want to browse through the many movies and tv shows available, hit the icon left of the search icon to get a list of content divided in tabs for movies and tv shows, and more tabs for things like genres. VideoMix links to a truckload of movies and tv shows, and streams them directly to your favourite Android video player.

Sometimes VideoMix can't find a single file for the video you're looking for, but that doesn't happen very often. It usually finds many sources for every movie or tv show. The free version only lets you stream from one of the links it finds, but that's usually enough to play the file so there's no need to buy the app.

Want to know if there's a new episode for your favourite tv show out there? VideoMix comes with optional notifications to tell you if there's something new for you to watch

Companion apps

MX Player played every VideoMix file I threw at it. VideoMix won't download files to your memory card by itself, but if you want to download videos instead of streaming them you can send them from VideoMix to Advanced Download Manager.

Tip: if you want to have a choice between streaming and downloading, do NOT set a video app as default action when the "complete action using..." screen pops up. If you accidentally set a default action, you can fire up your app manager and clear the settings for VideoMix to get your choices back. VideoMix could make things easier by including the Android share menu. This way you could set a default video player and send links to the download manager anyway. Maybe they'll do it in a future update?

The VideoMix notifications for new episodes require some autostart triggers, which you can kill with apps like Gemini App Manager or ROM Toolbox. If you installed Advanced Download Manager, you may also want to switch its autostart triggers off.

Get it while supplies last

VideoMix is available in the Google Play Store. If it's no longer there, a Google search for "VideoMix apk" will get you a list of many copies of the app, but you never know what additional payload they may carry. So get a copy from the Play Store before Google kicks it out.

Video Mix (Google Play Store)

December 27 update: Google made VideoMix remove the adult category, because Play Store rules suck and Larry Page is still a virgin. You can get the uncensored movies back by restoring a backup of VideoMix v1.1.1. Tip: use a backup app to switch between v1.1.1 and the latest version.

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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Facebook snoops and sucks faster than ever



Speed

The number one Facebook complaint in the Google Play Store comments: it's sloooooooow!

But not anymore, because Facebook ditched HTML5 and went native. That's techspeak for: the app is a lot faster now. And it is faster indeed. Since Facebook for Android got rid of HTML5 its speed increased a lot.

Nope, I'm not the first to write about the speed increase. But most sites out there just copy what Facebook said about its update and only write about the speed increase. They ignore what Facebook does to your battery, your data, and your money, probably because they didn't bother to test the app before writing about it.

If you look beyond the Play Store description and Facebooks own press release you'll find that Facebook may have ditched HTML5, but it didn't ditch its bad habits.

Data and battery juice

When you get out of Facebook by hitting the back or home button you'd expect the app to keep quiet, unless you told it to sync by itself.

But Facebook doesn't keep quiet. When you switch all notifications and sync options off, it still goes online behind your back. The damage adds up to megabytes per day, which can be very expensive on international data roaming connections. Worse yet, Facebook won't allow your phone to enter deep sleep, so Facebook sucks your battery dry even when you're not using it.

You don't even have to launch the Facebook app for it, because it has so many autostart triggers that only a very good autostart manager can tame it.

What data goes from your phone to Facebook and back when you're not using Facebook? Your guess is as good as mine, because Facebook won't tell us what's going on in the background.

You could switch off all data roaming on your phone to keep Facebook from making your phone bill explode, but this also keeps apps like WhatsApp (cheap, hardly any data usage) offline. If you want to keep Facebook under control without killing other apps you have to freeze Facebook with apps like Titanium, use a firewall when roaming, silence it with a task killer after use (apps like Facebook are one of the reasons why Android task killers sometimes make sense), or simply get rid of it. If you want to use Facebook without the data-guzzling battery-draining official app you could simply use the mobile website, but then you'll have to scroll past the "go install our mobile app" ad everytime. Friendcaster is a good alternative. The way Friendcaster lets you swipe through its tabs beats what Facebooks own app has to offer.

Facebook (if you have unlimited data and don't care about battery life)
Friendcaster


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Monday, 3 December 2012

Bad news: alternative last.fm apps CoboltFM and KLastFM are dead


Update 1: CoboltFM and KLastFM are really dead now. Last.fm changed things for the worse and pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone. Believe it or not, most of the planet can't stream anymore even if they pay. Last.fm refugees can still stream custom radio stations from Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer.

Update 2: Liquid Bear still plays last.fm radio on Android.


There's a problem with last.fm. Not with last.fm itself, but with the music industry that imposes stupid rules as if the days of sheet music and 78 RPM never ended. Last.fm is supposed to be a global music community, but if you want to listen to last.fm radio stations on your phone or tablet you'll find that last.fm is not so global anymore. Not because last.fm wants it, but because "recording industry" is an alien word that means greed in english.

A song that plays in Elzas (Germany) won't play 5 miles down the road in Alsace (France). What plays in Seattle doesn't play in Vancouver. It works in San Diego but not in Tijuana.

If you're in Germany, the UK, or the USA, last.fm plays on your mobile device. But if last.fm detects that your IP address is from one of the other 200 countries on the planet it only plays the sound of silence (and I don't mean that old song that your grandma listened to in Central Park). It won't even play if you have a paid last.fm subscription. For most of the planet, listening to last.fm on any mobile device is verboten.

The www is meant to be world wide. That's why there are Android apps out there that repair last.fm so you can listen on your mobile phone or tablet, no matter where in the world you are.

But then I received this email from last.fm:

Changes to Last.fm Radio

Hello, android underground.

We're writing you to let you know that there will soon be a change to Last.fm radio that may affect you. Our stats show that you've listened to radio through an application that uses our old streaming protocol. On 1 December we will deprecate this old protocol, so in some applications radio will no longer work.

If you would like to continue enjoying Last.fm Radio, consider upgrading to a new application or using http://www.last.fm/listen

Thanks,
The Last.fm Team

Would CoboltFM and KLastFM stop working?

It's the third of December now for half of the planet. In Asia, Australia, Africa, and most of Europe it's already the fourth. Both apps still play last.fm radio as if nothing happened. Maybe the old streaming protocol still works, maybe CoboltFM and KLastFM use the new protocol, maybe there's another reason why last.fm keeps singing on my Android phone.

Stay tuned.

Update 1: CoboltFM and KLastFM are really dead now. Last.fm changed things for the worse and pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone. Believe it or not, most of the planet can't stream anymore even if they pay. Last.fm refugees can still stream custom radio stations from Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer.

Update 2: Liquid Bear still plays last.fm radio on Android.


Play last.fm radio with CoboltFM and KLastFM, play Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer and TinyShark

Dood's Music Streamer has a Grooveshark radio function which is somewhat like last.fm radio
Liquid Bear


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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Addons Detector catches apps that spam your homescreen


As if ad banners, click walls, and notification spam are not enough, some apps fill your homescreen and browser bookmarks with links to their advertisers. And many apps do so without telling you in advance or asking for permission first.

If you install a couple of apps and find a bunch of icons leading to junk, it can be hard to find out which app polluted your homescreen and your bookmarks. Google should require full disclosure of all advertising and tracking in apps before you install them, and kick developers who fail to ask for your permission out of its Google Play Store. Unfortunately Google doesn't seem to care, so we need to find out what's lurking inside our apps by having a look ourselves.

That's why Addons Detector keeps its eyes open. It scans all your apps and tells you which banner farms they sleep with, which stats collectors they send your data to without asking first, and which permissions apps grab even though you don't want to give 'em everything they ask for.

And now Addons Detector tells you which apps are guilty of dumping spam links on your homescreens.

Addons Detector only detects malware, adware, spamware, and other junkware. It doesn't remove it. To get rid of anything you don't want you can either uninstall the offending apps, or tame them with firewalls, ad blockers, and permissions managers.

Addons Detector (Google Play Store)

Fight spam and scary permissions (rooted phone required):

AdAway (blocks ads in apps and websites)
LBE Privacy Guard (lets you control which permissions your apps get)
AFWall+ (firewall)


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Saturday, 1 December 2012

Google Calendar needs tasks and more integration with the rest of Android


You can make Android apps talk with each other through the share menu, but that's not always enough. The calendar app that ships with Android is a prime example of something that needs more integration with the rest of the stock apps.

There are plenty of task managers out there in the Google Play Store to remind you to buy milk and beer, clean the bathroom, buy a bag of weed for your grandma who was young in the sixties, and to finish the paper that you should have published six months ago.

Many of those task apps and to-do services tap into Google Tasks.

Google Tasks gets really intimate with Google Calendar in your web browser, so why do they behave like strangers on Android?

Back when I used an old Nokia with Symbian, the calendar app included tasks, birthdays, and just about everything else to which you could stick a date. Google should have a good look at this old calendar app, and learn from it.

There are more opportunities for integration. My contacts list stores birthdays, weddings, and other anniversaries. So why does the stock calendar app doesn't know anything about the dates stored in my stock contacts app?

Some phones are tightly integrated with Facebook. Wouldn't it be nice if you could import the birthdays of your Facebook contacts into your Google calendar with a single tap on a button? Or does Google deliberately leave this feature out to switch to Google+?

Speaking of Google+, now here's an example of something that should not get mixed in with everything. I don't want to sign up with Google+ just so I can tell you what I think about your app in the Google Play Store.

As with all things Android, integration is good, but it should always be optional and never required.
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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Forcing Google+ for Google Play Store feedback is a stupid idea


Google+ wants you, even if you don't want Google+

Tried to rate an app or leave a comment on an Android app in the Google Play Store lately? Then you must have seen the popup telling you that Play Store feedback now requires a Google+ account, and that your real name and your picture will be posted right next to your comment.

Don't want a Google+ account? Too bad, but that means you can no longer leave any feedback on any app on the Google Play Store.

You may be tempted to create a fake Google+ account for Play Store feedback, but Google won't have it. If the Googlebot detects a fantasy name, it threatens to kill your account.

Honesty requires anonymity

Want to give your honest opinion about apps like Sexy Hot Live Wallpaper, RememberYourPills, Angry Birds, GayDateDroid, or the self-help app of Alcoholics Anonymous? Still want to do so if your real name is forcibly stuck to it, out in the open for anyone to read? And your picture too?

Psychologists and market researchers know that honest opinions require anonymity. That's why surveys always tell you in clear big letters that your name or any personal info will NOT be linked to your feedback. There's a reason why you can vote for a new government without telling anyone who you voted for.

What if you have a job in the US Army and you'd like to share your honest opinion about one of the many Wikileaks apps?

By requiring a Google+ account to leave Play Store feedback Google is asking for a flood of fake Google+ accounts. By posting the names and pictures of minors next to their Angry Birds ratings Google will break the laws of many countries. And by removing anonymity, the Play Store ratings will be even more unreliable than they already are. If your Play Store comments can be linked back to your name by anyone on the planet, many people will no longer voice dissenting views off the beaten track. Instead, they'll give socially acceptable, politically correct, middle of the road opinions. Or they keep their mouths and keyboards shut and you won't see their opinions at all.

What was Google thinking? Were they thinking at all? Google should do the right thing and drop their Google+ requirement. Linking your Google+ account to your Play Store ratings should be optional, not mandatory. Isn't the whole idea about Android that the choice is yours, not theirs?

Really, Google, there are better ways to increase your Google+ user base to try pass Facebook. There's no need to abuse Android for that. If Google doesn't pull the Google+ requirement from the Play Store then Anonymous should have a party on the servers of Google+.


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Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Skype for Android keeps waking up the dead


Skype for your Android phone or tablet isn't as good as it used to be since they yanked out the tabs. Too bad Skype updates fix security issues (old Skype versions are not safe at all), so keeping ancient versions is comes at a price.

The last update adds MSN accounts. In case you missed it, Microsoft p3wns Skype and they're crossbreeding it with their own old chat network. And the sound of your Skype calls improved a little. It's still no match for standard SIP or Viber, but it got a tiny little bit closer.

Got an Android tablet? The new Skype only works in landscape mode, which can be very annoying, especially on the smaller 7" tablets.

Something that should have changed but didn't: Skype still makes noise when it shouldn't. Skype shouts at you when you start it up, it screams at you when you shut it down, and its dialpad tones are so loud that they caused a riot at my local cemetery. Microsoft, please let me switch off those annoying dialpad sounds so the dead in the graveyard can sleep. There's really no need to send out deafening beeps everytime I push a button. Now that Skype ate MSN it's even more about text chat than it was already. Now fix your app and let people send out texts without waking up the neighborhood.

Skype v1.0.0.983 still has tabs, and it doesn't make noise unless you ask it to.

Skype (Google Play)
skype.com
Skype 1.0.0.983 (on i-Pmart, a site with a dark side, beware of the dog)

p.s. I'm still waiting for a multi-network VoIP app that unites Skype, Viber, SIP, Vonage, Google Voice etc. in a single interface.

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Thursday, 15 November 2012

DroidWall forks: AFWall+ and Android Firewall


The maker of Android firewall DroidWall sold it to antivirus maker avast. DroidWall didn't get developed any further, and when Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean) spread around trouble started.

But because the source code for DroidWall was out in the open, others jumped in to keep DroidWall alive.

Android Firewall by jtschohl is one of the DroidWall forks. It looks just like the old app, but it works on ICS and Jelly Bean too.

AFWall+ is even better. It lets you split online permissions into permission to go online by WiFi, normal data, and roaming data, so you don't need avast for that. When I wrote on this site that AFWall+ would be even better with a "clear log file" button right inside the log itself, its maker said he'd build it into his app and the next day it was there.

It also fixes the old DroidWall problem of leaking data in the seconds between Android starting and the firewall waking up, so no more leaky boots. Well, most of the time. If your phone freezes and you have to reboot it by pulling the battery, the next boot still leaks. But after a normal shutdown (including auto-shutdown when your battery is empty) the next boot is waterproof.

Tiny little AFWall+ problem: updates share the version number of the old versions. On my phone versions 1.03, 1.04, and 1.05 were labeled by Titanium as version 103, which makes it difficult to keep backups of different versions of the app. And you're gonna need those backups, because the app is still in an experimental state and updates can introduce new bugs. On the bright side, bug fixes are very speedy.

So which firewall is the right one for your phone?

If you're on ICS or newer, there's no point in keeping the old DroidWall. If you run an older version of Android, DroidWall is still not the best choice because it leaks on boot.

Android Firewall by jtschohl works on Android 4.x too, but AFWall+ is a better choice. AFWall+ reduced the leaky boots issue, and its separate settings for data roaming are really useful when you're traveling and you don't want your wallet emptied by data hungry autostarting apps.

If you're gonna test all these firewalls yourself, remember to switch off your old firewall when you activate a new one. Running two firewalls at the same time is not a good idea.

stand-alone firewalls:

AFWall+ on xda
AFWall+ (Google Play Store)
Android Firewall by jtschohl
DroidWall

firewalls built into other security apps:

avast!
LBE Privacy Guard


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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Android chat app imo: a facelift gone bad



Update: imo is dead!

One app to rule them all...

Multi-network instant messenger imo is one of my favourite weapons against chat network fragmentation. Instead of running a bunch of apps that only talk to one network each, imo lets me squeeze most of 'em into a single app. Only WhatsApp and Viber play difficult.

And then imo released an extreme makeover of their app. It looks completely different from the previous version. According to the description on its Google Play Store page the new imo has a "beautiful new streamlined design."

They're wrong. The new design is neither streamlined nor beautiful. They managed to do just about everything wrong that they could do wrong.

Whiteout

First thing you see when you launch an app is its icon. The new imo icon is a big white rectangle with rounded corners (Apple, go sue 'em!) which looks horrible on most homescreen backgrounds, except for the 0.000001% who wallpapered their homescreens to look like a field of snow.

When you get into the app you'll notice that the mostly white user interface is even whiter than it used to be. A bright white background works for paper and eBook readers, but it's a really bad idea for apps that run on backlit displays (read: most Android phones and tablets). If your Android gadget has an AMOLED screen things get even worse, because all those bright white pixels suck your battery dry.

This is where imo could have improved their design. A simple button in the settings to switch between a light and a dark theme would do the job. After all, Android is all about customising everything until it works and looks they way you want it. If I wanted one-size-fits-all designs I would have bought that other phone. You know, the one with a patent on rounded rectangles.

Tabs and taps

The old imo had a very simple and effective tab design. A tab for your contacts, a tab for your chats, and another tab for your accounts. It worked so well that you'd even forgive them for ignoring the menu button and the action bar overflow menu.

The new imo lost the tab with your chats. Your open chats now sit on top of your contacts, making the long list even longer. It also makes the contacts you're talking with appear twice in the list, which makes the clutter even worse. Swiping through your open chat windows? That's something of the past.

The accounts tab is something of the past too. It turned into a window that you can get into by swiping to a new tab that's full of things that would fit better under a menu button or overflow menu. Signing in and out of your accounts now takes an extra tap compared to the old version.

Heads off

The old imo had the annoying habit of putting all your Facebook contacts in their own contact group. Taking them out and moving them around was pointless, because next time you logged into imo they automatically reappeared in the Facebook group.

That problem got fixed with a sledgehammer. The new imo won't let you group your contacts into lists at all. That's not just a cosmetic issue, it gets in the way of functionality too. If you enable Facebook chat in imo your contacts tab gets cluttered with hundreds of Facebook friends that you never chat with, which makes it hard to find the contacts that really matter. There used to be a time when Motorola and others would add a "helpful" option to auto-insert your Facebook friends into your Android phone book. One look at the giant monster killer list of contacts was enough for most people to switch that option off.

To make up for the long list, imo added a cure that's worse than the disease. There's a contact search bar on the bottom of the tab that pops up whenever you scroll around. Most of the time it just gets in the way, it's useless clutter on phones with a search button, and for phones without real buttons the search option would be more at home in the action bar.

Next new "feature:" your contacts lost their head. Avatars on chat networks, forums, social networks, and the contact list of your phone are sqare pictures. For some reason imo decided to make all those square pictures round by cutting the corners with a guillotine. If your friends faces are not exactly in the middle of the image imo bluntly chops off their heads.

Power gone

Good old imo came with two very useful switches. One button to switch autostart on or off, because not everyone wants all their chat apps to launch automatically when they boot their phone. The other button was to let you choose whether imo should automatically sign you into your accounts upon app launch, or wait for you to tap a button to sign in.

The new imo automatically starts on boot, and there's no off switch. The only way to stop it from autostarting is by taming imo with an autostart manager.

You can't let imo auto-sign you into your accounts either. Now you always have to flick the switch yourself, each and everytime you fire up the app.

Taking your startup choices away is a really bad decision. Why does imo need to copy the bad habits of WhatsApp and Viber?

The new fresh imo may be very white, but it's not green at all. The battery consumption went up since the update, which is something that an app meant to run for hours on end should avoid at all costs.

Finally, imo inherited an annoyance introduced in a previous update. Its status bar icon is always grey, no matter if imo is online or not. Why not offer a choice of green when connected, red when incommunicado, orange when connected to some of your networks but not all?

Why keep imo?

With so many "improvements" that don't improve anything, you may be tempted to look for another chat app. According to the Google Play Store comments you're not alone. The new dumbed down user interface annoys lots of people. Not because it's new, but because it kills function.

Unfortunately it's really hard to escape from imo. There are two reasons for that. First, imo lets you sign into multiple accounts on the same chat network, which most instant messenger apps won't let you do. Second, imo has Skype chat, which was yanked out of competing apps like Nimbuzz and fring.

So I keep imo on my phone. Not the crippled new version 3.0.0, but the much better v2.7.5 that I backed up before updating. I'm gonna keep the old version until imo cleans up the mess.

the latest imo (Google Play Store)
imo v2.7.5 (Google search, watch out what you download)

Update: imo is dead!

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Saturday, 10 November 2012

Official Facebook app sucks your battery dry when it sleeps, use Friendcaster instead


Task killers are not always useless

Task killers are useless on Android phones and tablets, right? Because Android is so good at managing memory that you should just leave inactive apps sit quietly in the background. You're battery doesn't care about what's cached in RAM.

Except that not all apps keep quiet in the background. Apps like Shazam and Google Maps keep going online when you're not using them, even though you thought that they were doing nothing except being cached for future use.

And then there's Facebook. That's the most famous misbehaving battery killing app out there.

Facebook, the app that never sleeps

Want to see what Facebook does behind your back? Use Facebook for a while, then leave the app. Now do something else, go to work, fall asleep, whatever, but don't touch the Facebook icon on your homescreen. Of course you don't have any Facebook widgets running, you switched off Facebook notifications, you don't let anything sync by itself, etc. It doesn't matter. Even if you switch all its background activity off, Facebook stays awake and goes online to phone home for no good reason at all. Facebook empties your wallet if you're travelling abroad and pay a fortune for data roaming.

And there's more bad news. When Facebook sits in the background "doing nothing" it prevents your phone from entering deep sleep. And by not letting your phone sleep, your battery burns more fuel than a space shuttle.




Kill Facebook before it kills your battery

Check out the screenshots. When my phone is in deep sleep it eats about 0.5% of battery juice per hour. This is with WiFi on so WhatsApp and Viber can listen to incoming C2DMs (cloud to device messages). But to keep the burn rate down to half of a percent I have to make absolutely sure that Facebook is gone out of memory and stays out of memory.

Because when Facebook is "cached in the background doing nothing" the battery consumption goes up four times (!) to 2% per hour. That's the difference between over a week of standby time (no Facebook) or just a day or two.

If you really must use the Facebook app but you don't want your battery to burn electrons like an SUV going uphill on a gravel path, make sure that Facebook stops after you're done with it.

You can kill it with the stock Android app manager, but this is a tedious job. Killing Facebook requires automation. Facebook is the living evidence that sometimes task killers make sense.

Of course there's no point killing Facebook if it keeps relaunching itself. Plug the charger into your phone and Facebook will start up by itself. It stays launched when you unplug the power cable. Connect your phone to a computer by USB cable? Same thing. Any connectivity change (WiFi on, WiFi off, WiFi-to-data or vice versa) makes Facebook autorun. Use an app like Gemini App Manager to switch all Facebooks autostart triggers off.

But there's a better way. Just remove the official Facebook app from your phone. It doesn't just eat data and drink battery juice in its sleep, it's a terrible app for many other reasons too.

Facebook alternatives (no, not Google+)

You can Facebook in your web browser. Or you can use Friendcaster, an alternative Facebook client that's way better than Facebooks own poor excuse for an app. It's a lot faster than Facebooks own app. And there's more: Friendcaster can handle multiple Facebook accounts. That's really useful on a shared Android tablet, or if you have a personal Facebook account and another one for your business, or if you have multiple personalities.

Friendcaster has a truckload of autostart triggers of its own (switch 'em off if you like), but if you uncheck "alert for Facebook notifications" in its settings menu then Friendcaster won't go online behind your back. Better yet, Friendcaster won't keep your phone awake all the time like the official Facebook app does. Look at your battery stats to see the difference.

Friendcaster


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Friday, 9 November 2012

Firewalls for Android: AFWall+ succeeds DroidWall


Just about every Android app in the Google Play Store asks for full internet permission, but not all of them need it from a user point of view (if you're the developer of the app you probably have a different opinion). Many apps work perfectly offline, and only want to go online to load ad banners, track your movements, steal your address book, or worse.

The good news is that Android has a couple of firewall apps to keep those apps offline.

The most famous Android firewall is DroidWall. You can blacklist apps to keep 'em offline, or whitelist apps so only they can go online and the rest can't. You can keep your apps away from WiFi, mobile data, or both. It's one of the first apps to install after you root your phone or tablet. Unfortunately DroidWall hasn't been updated in ages, and it probably stays that way.

There are some alternatives for DroidWall. LBE Privacy Guard has a firewall built in, but DroidWall does it better. Antivirus app avast has a firewall built in too, and it gives you even more choice because you can choose to keep apps away from all mobile data networks, or only when roaming. Too bad that avast doesn't log your apps attempts to go online the way DroidWall does.

But now there's a new firewall that combines DroidWall and avast. AFWall+ is meant to continue where DroidWall stopped. It looks a lot like DroidWall, because it's built on the same code. But AFWall adds a few goodies that DroidWall doesn't have.

The best reason to replace DroidWall is that AFWall+ splits mobile data access in roaming and non-roaming, just like avast does. It can notify you when you install new apps, so you don't forget to blacklist or whitelist them. And AFWall+ lets you switch off app icons to speed up loading. This is a major improvement over DroidWall, which can be very slow if it has a lot of icons to fetch and show.

DroidWall used to block the wrong apps after restoring them from a backup because their identification numbers change. AFWall+ is smarter: it keeps track of the package names of your apps instead, so it blocks the right apps after you remove and restore them, like when you install a new ROM.

There are a few minor issues. The menu is pretty bare, because most options sit in a Ice Cream Sandwich/Jelly Bean-like overflow menu on what Google calls the action bar. I'm not a fan of that overflow menu button. It sits on the top right of the screen, which is harder to reach than the menu button on the bottom left. Of course it's different if you're left-handed, and if your shiny new Android device doesn't have an old skool menu button the overflow menu is the only way in.

Another minor thing: you can't clear the log from the log screen itself. You have to leave the log, get back into the overflow menu, and then hit the "clear log" button.

AFWall+ is still young, and updates come frequently. Sometimes they introduce new bugs. For example, one update caused the app to crash when you tried to see the log or the blocking rules. But the developer of the app fixes things quickly: it took just a day to fix the crash bug. I'd still make a backup off AFWall+ before you install any update, just to be on the safe side.

AFWall+ is not in the Google Play Store yet, but that's just a matter of time. For now you can grab a copy from GitHub and read more about it on the xda forums.
Update: it's in the Play Store now.

Keep in mind that running two firewalls is like wearing two condoms. It causes a lot of friction and it doesn't make things any safer. So if you replace DroidWall with AFWall+, make sure to switch off your old firewall.

AFWall+ on xda
AFWall+ (Google Play Store)

more firewalls:

DroidWall
LBE Privacy Guard (permissions manager and firewall)
avast! (antivirus, anti theft, find my phone, firewall)

Before you start thinking that a firewall blocks all unwanted connections, keep in mind that there are a few seconds in between booting Android and your firewall waking up. Any app that launches before your firewall has a few seconds to go online until your firewall gets out of bed. Except AFWall+, which doesn't leak when your phone boots.

Update: AFWall+ fixed the leaky boots. I rebooted my phone a few times to check if anything managed to sneak through, but all apps blocked by AFWall+ were blocked right from the start. The only time I saw data leaking through AFWall+ was when my phone froze and I had to reboot it by pulling the battery. But after a normal shutdown (either by pushing the power button or after an empty battery triggers automatic shutdown) AFWall+ is waterproof.


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Thursday, 8 November 2012

Alternative Grooveshark and last.fm app roundup: Dood's Music Streamer, TinyShark, BlueStream, GrooveMobile, KLastFM, CoboltFM


Playing your music across the border

Last.fm radio stations and Grooveshark on demand streaming are cool additions to the mp3s on your memory card, but unfortunately music streaming services often come with geographic restrictions that ignore the basics of the world wide web.

For example, Grooveshark doesn't like germans. If you have a german IP address it won't sing for you. And Grooveshark and Google have a rather difficult relationship. The official Grooveshark app gets kicked out of the Google Play Store on a regular basis. It made a few comebacks, but it hasn't been around in the Play Store for a while now. Maybe it comes back, maybe it won't.

Last.fm isn't very global either. The germans, english, and americans can listen to last.fm radio stations for free, but only on a desktop or notebook computer. If you want to listen on your phone or tablet you have to pay for a subscription. Yes, you read that right. If your computer is smaller than a netbook and runs Android instead of Windows your music comes at a higher price. Outside the three lucky countries everyone has to pay for last.fm.

But even if you pay that doesn't mean you can listen where you want to listen. Outside Germany, USA, and the UK you can't listen to any last.fm music on your phone or tablet. Not even if you buy a thousand paid subscriptions.

But hey, you've got an Android gadget, and Android gadget users don't take no for an answer. With the right apps you can break through the borders and listen to last.fm and Grooveshark all over the planet.

Last.fm

Two alternative last.fm apps play music anywhere in the world, no matter if you have a paid subscription or not.

CoboltFM is the lesser known app, which may explain why Google didn't boot it from their app store yet. It's the best last.fm client I found so far, even though its user interface is a mess. It can do almost gapless playback by precaching the next song, it comes with a menu button to launch your own last.fm page with a single tap, and it has a sleep timer. You have to be awake to find it, though. The sleep timer is buried deep down in the settings menu.

KLastFM doesn't have a sleep timer, but its user interface is a lot better. You need to run an ad blocker for that better user interface, because KLastFM puts its ad banners very close to the playback buttons to encourage accidental clicks. Google kicked the app out of the Google Play Store, but there are plenty of other places to get a copy.

Needless to say, both apps scrobble what they play to last.fm.

CoboltFM (Google Play Store)
KLastFM (Opera Software)

Update 1: CoboltFM and KLastFM are dead. Last.fm changed things for the worse and pulled the plug on free streaming for almost everyone. Believe it or not, most of the planet can't stream anymore even if they pay. Last.fm refugees can still stream custom radio stations from Grooveshark with Dood's Music Streamer.

Update 2: Liquid Bear still plays last.fm radio on Android.


Grooveshark

Bluestream is the worst Grooveshark player from the pack. There are long gaps between songs, because Bluestream doesn't prebuffer. Searching for music or hitting the play button often pops up a connection error that only goes away after you try again a couple of times. The user interface is downright horrible. Tabs for the different parts of the app are in a very thin strip on the bottom of your screen, and you can't reorder tracks in the play queue. It doesn't scrobble to last.fm either. On the bright side, it's still available in the Google Play Store.

GrooveMobile has been around on Windows Mobile for a long time, but its Android counterpart is still in its infancy. This may explain why the censors of the Google Play Store didn't find it yet. It's got a built-in equaliser, but no play queue. You can work around that by making an ad hoc playlist, but there's no workaround for the absense of Grooveshark radio stations or the lack of last.fm scrobbling. It looks promising anyway, so check for GrooveMobile updates that make things better.

TinyShark has been around a bit longer. Long enough to get kicked out of the Google Play Store. Its user interface sucks, it doesn't precache music so there are gaps between songs, and it won't play Grooveshark radio stations either. On the bright side, it can scrobble your tracks to last.fm

Dood's Music Streamer is the best Android Grooveshark app. Too bad its ad banners are strategically placed to attract accidental clicks, but that's what ad blockers are for. It buffers the next track for almost gapless playback, it plays Grooveshark radio stations, its playlist is well organized, it has a very functional widget, and it can scrobble your songs to last.fm too. It's not in the Google Play Store anymore, but there's a world wide web out there...

Bluestream (Google Play Store)
GrooveMobile
TinyShark
Dood's Music Streamer


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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Are Android users obsessed with the weather?


Every tech site, discussion forum, and Lifehacker clone on the web has a bunch of "post your homescreen" threads. Tech blog The Verge started yet another one. All those screenshots tell a lot about the different mobile operating systems.

iPhoners always post the same thing: a grid of apps with a wallpaper behind them and a clock icon that's stuck at a quarter past ten. Except for those that Think Different®, 'cos they got folders too. Makes me think of that Monty Python movie where Brian shouts "you're all individuals" and the crowd replies with "yes we are!"

No Blackberry screenshots, because Blackberry users hide in a corner for fear of being found out as a Blackberry owner. And Windows Phone owners don't bother to reply. They keep quiet, all three of them.

And then there are the Android homescreens. Now that's a different story. No two Android phones look alike, and the homescreens are often a gem of creativity.

But there's one common theme in all those screens. Custom launchers and individual wallpapers aside, there's something that you'll find on virtually every Android homescreen picture ever posted on the web. And I'm not talking about the customary Angry Birds shortcut.

Scroll through the Android homescreen pictures and you can't miss the fact that 99.99999% of them has a big shiny weather widget as the main attraction. Temperatures, wind speeds, pictures of clouds, the forecast for tomorrow and the day after, it's all there. The weather widget usually takes up half the screen or more.

Why?

Where I live it rains so much that we pay taxes to keep the water out. Half the country sitting below sea level might also have something to do with this. And it's often freezing cold, especially this time of the year. The ever-present wind that comes in straight from the North Sea doesn't make things any better. It blows the Scottish weather our way. 'Nuff said.

So the last thing I need is a giant homescreen widget that keeps reminding me of what I'd rather forget.

Yes, I know that things are different if you live on a tropical island and you spend all day on the beach drinking coconut rum under a palm tree. A weather widget that shows nothing but "Friday: sunny, 28 ºC, Saturday: blue sky, 31 ºC, Sunday: high tide at noon, 29 ºC" looks really good. And so does a calendar that reads "Monday: Surf Class, Tuesday: Restock the bar on the boat, Wednesday: Waterskiing, Thursday: BBQ at the pool." But in such a place you'd have no need for a weather widget at all.

So what's going on here? Do all meteorologists have an Android phone? Are all Android users meteorologists? Do Androids never go out so they need their phone to tell them if it's winter or summer out there? Or did they just miss the off switch to remove the weather from their clock widget?

I can see the point of a calendar on your central screen. Or a music widget on your main homescreen. Or your email or the number of minutes and texts that you have left this month.

But the weather? On your main screen so you see it everytime you pull out your phone? Each and every time? With an extra copy on your lockscreen so no raindrop flies by undetected?

If you can explain why weather widgets are so popular you'll receive a generous reward. First prize: the raincloud that decided to relieve itself right when I was biking under it. Second prize: a big bag of northwestern wind. Third prize: a pound of sleet. Wait, make that a kilo.

So leave a comment or hit the email link below to fill me in.


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Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Android task killers are evil, that's why I like Bomb That Task and Automatic Task Killer


Task killers are ba-ha-ha-ha-ad!

Mention "task killer" on any Android forum and a million know-it-alls will call you a n00b because even your grandma knows that task killers turn your Android phone into a battery-guzzling crash test dummy of an iPhone.

Because the built-in memory management is sooooo good that you should just let every process run wild, duh!

It's not about memory

Sure, memory management in all but the oldest versions of Android is good. Unless you run Doughnut or Cupcake (Android versions used by the caveman long ago) there's no need to free up RAM. Most apps that show up in your running tasks list are just sitting silently in the background doing nothing, waiting to spring to life when you need them. On Android, empty memory is wasted memory. Not always, but most of the time.

But what if those silent background tasks are not so silent after all? What if they go online behind your back, or suck your battery dry by preventing your phone from entering deep sleep?

Facebook: guilty as charged

The worst "silent" process "doing nothing" on my phone in what's supposed to be the background is Facebook, and that's just one of its many flaws. It came preinstalled on my Motorola, but even if it didn't there'd be no escape for me. If I remove it my girlfriend will kill me, but if I just let Facebook do its thing my phone turns into an insomniac that burns the midnight oil my battery.

When Facebook "sits quietly cached in the background" it keeps phoning home, even with all its notifications switched off and the refresh interval set to never. Of course it does. I wouldn't expect anything else from an app that exists for the sole purpose of tracking every step you take to sell you out to its advertisers.

Facebook quietly burns many megabytes of data in the background, which is really nice if you're travelling and pay for international data roaming. And that's not all. Facebook prevents my phone from entering deep sleep. This more than quadruples standby battery drain. Yes, really. When my phone sits idle it burns 0.5% of battery juice per hour, but when Facebook is "cached in the background doing nothing" it drinks at least 2% every hour. Just think about it: if I leave my phone alone for a day I lose half my battery load just because Facebook sits in the background doing nothing useful. What more reason do you need to take countermeasures?

Of course you're better of kicking the Facebook app out of your phone and use an alternative Facebook client like Friendcaster instead (you'll lose the Facebook phonebook folder from Facebook v1.5.2 and older), but there are other misbehaving apps that are not so easy to replace.

Repeat offenders

Shazam is another reason to use a task killer. When you're done tagging music Shazam doesn't go away, but it keeps waking up to send data back home. What data and why? Shazam won't tell you. But my battery stats tell me that when Shazam sits in the background doing nothing my battery drains as fast as the gas tank of a fully loaded SUV on an uphill dirt track.

Google Maps keeps the network location service active when you don't need it. Of course you can toggle the network location service off whenever you're done with it, but unlike GPS the network location service is resistant to one-tap widgets so you have to dig into the Android settings everytime. To cut a long story short, Google Maps is an excellent candidate for the hit list of your task manager.

And there's more than Facebook and Maps. Goggles, camera apps, anything with periodic polling or push notifications that you can't switch off, there's no shortage of apps that waste your battery because they weren't taught to shut up. Anything that wakes up your phone when you want it to stay asleep drains your battery and should be assasinated. Especially if it goes online when it shouldn't.

Kill your autostarts

As any xda forum geek will tell you, killing apps doesn't make sense if they relaunch over and over again. You stop them, they restart, you kill them again, they resurrect, you shoot 'em with a silver bullet, they get up again, etcetera. You'll see your battery go up in flames if you allow this to happen.

So before you tell your task manager to go on a killing spree, you should tell your phone not to let your bad apps autostart.

ROM Toolbox has a pretty good autostart manager built in. It lets you stop apps from launching when you boot your phone, and throws in a bunch of other autostart triggers. Network change, SD card mounting, widget update, and much more.

Gemini App Manager has even more autostart triggers, and this is what I use to tame Facebook, Google Maps, and over a dozen other apps.

Choose your weapon

Now that you've decided to use a task killer to shoot rogue apps and dealt with the autostart triggers it's time to choose the right task killer. That's not an easy task, because most task killers in the Google Play Store are crap.

Most task killers use the shotgun approach. They kill all running tasks without exception, because this allows them to tell you they've freed up a billion gigabytes of memory. Totally useless, because we all know that freeing up memory makes no sense. Some task killers come with an ignore list that lets you enter a couple of apps that should not be killed, but this approach is the wrong way 'round.

A good task killer doesn't have an ignore list, and it doesn't try to free as much memory as it can. Instead, a good task killer doesn't kill anything unless you explicitly tell it what to kill, and when to kill it.

The built-in task killer that came with my Motorola phone did a good job. It didn't have many options, it simply let me enter a list of apps to be killed two minutes after the display timed out. That was enough for me. But then I switched to CyanogenMod, and Motorolas task manager refused to work there. So I had to dig up a suitable alternative from in between the massive load of crapware that pollutes the Google Play Store.

After testing dozens of useless apps that give task killers a bad name I found two apps worth trying.

Bomb That Task

Bomb That Task kills the apps you choose when your display blacks out, or after a delay that you choose. If Android plays difficult then Bomb That Task uses its root access to do what I want no matter what Android thinks of it. Another nice touch: you can tell it not to kill anything in the middle of a phone call.

Too bad that Bomb That Task didn't kill apps if I set a delay. Even without a delay it often failed to kill Facebook, the app that needs killing more than any other app. The Bomb force-closed a bit too often too.  Maybe it's because Bomb That Task hasn't been updated in ages?

Fortunately I found an alternative that does the job.

Automatic Task Killer by S.Tashibana

Automatic Task Killer by S.Tashibana kills apps right after your screen switches off, or after a delay of your choice. A delay can be useful if you have a very short display timeout. In contrast to Bomb That Task, Automatic Task Killer managed to kill the selected tasks whether I set a delay or not.

Just make sure you DroidWall Automatic Task Killer offline and use PDroid or LBE Privacy Guard to deny GPS access. Wasting battery power to poll your location and to download ads defeats the purpose of an app that's meant to save your battery, so just say no to location-based advertising.

Take-home message

I'd use Bomb That Task if its delay option would work for me and if it wouldn't crash so much. Automatic Task Killer doesn't have these issues. So far I didn't find an app that Automatic Task Killer couldn't kill, so it's my weapon of choice for now. If you know of a better app, feel free to post a comment or hit the contact link on the bottom of this page.

Remember, task killers are only useful to stop apps from going online behind your back or polling your location or otherwise refusing to shut up when they should. Don't try to shoot apps to free up RAM, because this really makes no sense unless you run an ancient version of Android. And don't forget to tweak the autostart triggers of the apps that you kill, or else your task killer will do more harm than good.

Bomb That Task
Automatic Task Killer by S.Tashibana (not to be confused with similar apps of the same name)
• Gemini App Manager and ROM Toolbox

more ways to save your bandwidth and battery:

Make your battery last longer without dumbing down your smartphone
DroidWall keeps nosy apps offline
AdAway because you don't want ads to drain your battery
LBE Privacy Guard to tell apps not to hammer your GPS (among other things)
Use Friendcaster instead of the official Facebook app


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Tuesday, 23 October 2012

New WiFiKill supports ICS and JB but stops after 5 minutes unless you pay


WiFiKill turns your Android phone or tablet into a rogue access point that lets you kill internet access for any device that falls into your trap. You can simply drop packets to keep your target devices offline, or redirect them to any IP address you like. That could be a page that reads "ur fone is haz been pwn3d muahahahaha," but it could also be a fake PayPal login page if you're really evil and you like to spend some time in jail.

You can use WiFiKill to keep your neighbors off your network, to steal Facebook passwords, to kick everyone in your local Starbucks off the internet, or to be the obnoxious spotty teen that puts your entire school offline because all the girls run off with the other guys.

It works on all WiFi networks that your phone or tablet can connect to, whether they're encrypted or not. But before you go on a killing spree, keep in mind that WiFiKill doesn't spoof your MAC address. The local network administrator will ban your device if he has a working brain cell, and WiFiKill can land you in court or out of a job or both.

The old WiFiKill had one tiny little problem. It worked without any problem on Gingerbread, Froyo, and earlier, but on Android 4.x (Ice Cream Sandwich, Jelly Bean) you had to switch off your phones WiFi before stopping WiFiKill, otherwise it would make your phone reboot.

Todays update solves this problem. You can now safely kill WiFiKill no matter what flavour of Android you run.

Too bad the update comes at a price. The old WiFiKill would run for as long as you'd like, but the new edition stops working after 5 minutes unless you pay for it. And its developer promised to add even more limitations to the free version later on. The new WiFiKill only works on Android 4+, so if you run an older version you'll need the old version of the app.

WiFiKill is for sale in the Google Play Store for now, but it's a likely candidate for getting booted out of the Google app store. And then you may end up paying for a dead app. The free versions have ads, but they're easy to kill.

Want to protect yourself against WiFiKill? Then Wifi Protector is your friend and your enemies enemy. Bonus tip: WiFiKill auto-checks for updates and this feature doesn't come with an off switch, but if you block WiFiKill with DroidWall it keeps working without auto-updating.

New WiFiKill (free, Android 4+ only, five minute limit)
Old WiFiKill (free, no limits)
WiFiKill on xda

Useful tools to add to WiFiKill:
AdAway
DroidWall
Wifi Protector


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Monday, 22 October 2012

Can I delete that system app without killing my phone?



Your Android phone or tablet came loaded with bloatware because its manufacturer thought you'd like it, or because the maker of the bloatware paid to get their merchandise included. If you bought your phone "for free" on a contract then your mobile phone operator added even more junk.

All those unwanted apps have some nasty habits. They autostart and won't shut up, they phone home and steal your data and drive up your internet bill. You have many good reasons to get rid of all that crapware.

But...

...all that crapware often has cryptic names that don't tell you what the apps are doing and if your phone breaks if you freeze or uninstall them. So you Google the cryptic app name to see what it does, only to find a bunch of links to forums with "safe to remove" lists that may work for whoever wrote them but not necessarily for you. Who knows what really happens when you remove AdminFeedNotifier or freeze oma1motService.apk?

So here's a list of apps that are either safe to remove or should be left untouched. You're the only one who can decide what your Android phone or tablet needs, and this list helps you make an informed decision before it's too late and you end up with a device that refuses to boot.

Did you know that Google Maps voice navigation needs TtsService.apk? That com.android.systemui is geekspeak for your Android nofification bar? That RichTextCommon sucks your battery dry and drives your data bill through the roof? Or that you don't need MediaSync.apk to sync your media?

The Android APK list on android underground aims to tell you what those apps really do, if they're safe to remove, or why you shouldn't touch them if you don't want to reinstall your ROM from scratch.

It's a work in progress that depends on you, so if you spot some errors or have something to add to the list then please hit the contact link on the bottom of the page or leave a comment on this blog post.

The android underground Android system APK list


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Saturday, 20 October 2012

Widgetsoid alive and kicking, could use a finishing touch

 
Update with growing pains

Ultraversatile widget creator Widgetsoid received a massive update last week. Although the changes are not that spectacular, the app was completely rewritten and the format of the old widgets was no longer compatible with the new app. You had to rebuild all your widgets from scratch.

Widgetsoid can toggle WiFi, GPS, display brightness and just about anything else that can be toggled in Android. You can put shortcuts to apps and settings screens in widgets to make 'em take up less space than they would occupy as normal icons in your homescreen grid.

The update from v3 to v4 added two-storey widgets, among other things. And where the old Widgetsoid required a PhD in rocket science to create a widget, the new version made things a bit easier by simplifying the user interface. So now you only need an MSc degree to make it work.

Too bad the update was bitten by bugs so hard that I had to keep the old version for a while. The new edition made things crash a bit too often to be useful.

But now the bugs are squashed. Maybe not all of them, but the new Widgetsoid is ready for human consumption. The "rounded corners" option for widgets with custom colors still doesn't work, but that's a minor issue that bit all the previous versions too. The next step should be to make the app easier to use, and to stop cluttering the root folder of my microSD card.

Confusingly simple

The number of tabs in the widget building screen went down. A lot. All widget elements are now hidden under a single button called "toggles." Sounds simple, right? Unless you want to add a shortcut instead of a toggle. The shortcuts are counterintuitively hidden under a button called "Application" in the "Add New Toggle" screen.

Putting everything under one button labeled "toggles" is confusingly simple. Splitting the "add toggle" button into a toggle and a shortcut button would make things a lot easier to find.

And then the shortcut menu could use a facelift.

Hidden shortcuts

Adding a shortcut to a settings screen (bluetooth, WiFi, GPS, app manager, whatever) takes a confusing series of steps. First you have to hit "Add New Toggle" to add a shortcut that's not a toggle. Then you have to tap "Application" to add a shortcut that's not an aplication. Which lands you into a long list of apps, with some settings screen shortcuts in between.

But not all settings screens. For example, a shortcut to the Android app settings menu requires more than "simply" hitting "new toggle" and "application." When you're in the screen to add apps you have to hit the tiny little wrench icon on top of your screen to get a list of all possible settings shortcuts. This is so easy to overlook that you're likely to miss a lot of the possible settings shortcuts.

Wouldn't it be a lot easier if all shortcuts to settings were stacked under an entry called "settings" in the shortcut list instead of scattered in between your apps and hidden under an icon?

SD card clutter

The old Widgetsoid would create a single folder on your SD card. The folder was called ".widgetsoid" including the leading dot to hide it from some file managers. The new widgetsoid puts a folder called "Widgetsoid" on your memory card. No leading dot, so it appears in addition to the old folder.

So far, so good. Delete the old folder, stick with the new folder.

Until you add a settings shortcut from the hard-to-find settings list, because then Widgetsoid dumps a file called "dslv_state.txt" on your card. Not inside the Widgetsoid folder, but bang in the root of your memory card. As if things are not cluttered enough already with all those apps dumping files and folders there in a totally unorganised way.

I'd welcome a new Widgetsoid that would keep ALL its files in one single folder, with an option to let me choose the location of said folder so I can move it out of the way. SD/Android/data/Widgetsoid sounds like a good location for me. SD/Android/data/ is where many other apps put their folders so I don't have to scroll past them whenever I fire up a file manager to hunt down a PDF or text file.

Future Widgetsoid

Most bugs are fixed, now the user interface needs a minor overhaul and the SD card clutter should be cleaned up. The new Widgetsoid is a great app, but its present state resembles a beta test version

Widgetsoid
Widgetsoid v3.4.4 (old version, for if v4.x doesn't work for you)


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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Use text-based Google Now (sort of) on any device, no Android required



Google Now is Googles fresh new virtual assistant. You ask a question, it gives you an answer. It can tell you the weather, whether your flight is on time or not, how many miles to the moon, the half-time score of your favourite football team, if there's a traffic jam on your way home, the nearest sushi place, and much more. Of course it also works as a dictionary, calculator, currency converter, ...

But you need an Android phone or tablet to use Google Now. And not just any Android, but Ice Cream Sandwich or Jelly Bean or newer.

Unless you settle for a lighter version. No matter what device you use, you can get the same answers if you ask your questions to Google Talk chatbot guru@googlelabs.com.

And when I say any device, I mean any device. As long as it can connect with Google Talk you're in. You could use imo on Android, fring on Symbian, Trillian on your PC, and of course Googles own Google Talk app. It even works with the chat app on your Blackberry or iPad.

You have to type or swype or your questions, though. And the chatbot doesn't talk to you, it only writes to you. This is a bonus in classrooms where you don't want your teachers to find out you're cheating, in public transport where talk on phones is annoying for everyone, in your local techno club where the noise deafens everyone and everything including your phone, etc. And if you want to talk'n'listen anyway, just use your phones text-to-speak feature. You don't get the "I predict what you're gonna ask and tell you before you ask it" part of Google Now either, which is bad if you don't value your privacy and good if you do.

This pseudo-Google Now is nothing new, really. Google launched it a year and a half ago, but nobody really noticed. But now that you heard about it, give it a test spin. Add guru@googlelabs.com to your favourite instant messaging app and ask ahead. Want more? Then use Voice Search with Voice Actions or one of its many spinoffs to search your phone and the web and control your phone as well (Siri wasn't that new after all).


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