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Monthly Archives: March, 2013

How to Save Battery on Android

Batteries suck. Before Farhad Manjoo made it cool to point out the conundrum of faster network speeds bumping up against the limits of Li-Po/Li-Ion batteries, I posted my own skepticism about how LTE and other “advancements” in mobile technology were necessarily hemmed in by the relatively poor state of batteries. Even a device as carefully crafted as the Nexus 4 can struggle when confronted with a power-user’s layering of music playback, social networking, news readers/RSS clients, and document/photo processing. And even the iPhone 5, despite Apple’s own claims, is no hero in this regard.

On Android, these battery issues are compounded by the OS’s relatively loose restrictions on what apps can do. Whereas iOS tightly controls what any app can do while active or suspended (in the background), Android apps are often free to continually wake-up the phone even during sleep and in turn tax its already inadequate battery. With that in mind, let’s look at five relatively simple steps for getting better battery life:

1. If You Don’t Use it, Uninstall it!

How many apps do you actually use? The number is probably smaller than the number of apps you currently have installed. If there’s some game that curiously needs access to your call logs,  an ad-filled video app, or reader that you haven’t touched in ages, then please, please uninstall it! God only knows what it’s doing in the background while you (and your phone) are sleeping.

2. Use a Battery Manager

Screenshot_2013-03-31-11-45-43

Battery Widget Reborn

These tools are a dime a dozen, and some of them are sketchy. I recommend Battery Widget Reborn, which is a paid app that pins a battery percentage level to your status bar and lets you set automatic “night mode” or Airplane Mode times (it can’t put the phone into Airplane Mode on Jelly Bean or later, so it does a less-comprehensive “night mode” instead, which is similar except you can still receive calls/SMS). It also estimates battery life time remaining and gives helpful statistics about average battery life, as well as deltas for how long it takes for 1% of the battery to dissipate. Also includes a flashlight, in case you ever need that (and don’t have a flashlight app/real flashlight already).

3. Avoid Vibration

Screenshot_2013-03-31-10-57-31

Disable Vibrate When Ringing and everything below it.

There are no Good Vibrations in the battery-life world. Vibration is a gimmick that is both annoying and relatively hard on your battery. But avoiding it isn’t as simple as just changing your ringtone – you’ll also need to disable all haptic feedback and other input-related vibration, which luckily is easy to do on Android 4.0+. Simply open up Settings -> Sounds and disable Vibrate When Ringing, Dial Pad Touch Tones, Touch Sounds, Screen Lock Sound, and Vibrate on Touch, too. Individual apps may also have their own settings for vibration notifications, too, so you’ll need to enable them as well.

4. Don’t be Afraid of 2G

Screenshot_2013-03-31-10-57-08

Click More…

Screenshot_2013-03-31-10-57-14

Click Mobile Networks

Screenshot_2013-03-31-10-57-20

Select Use Only 2G Networks

 

3G (to say nothing of LTE) is a battery hog. It requires a high level of power and is always seeking new signals to optimize its strength. If you don’t need blazing fast speeds for apps like Google Now/Maps or for your Web browsing, then don’t be afraid to enable a 2G-only connection under Settings -> More -> Mobile Networks -> Use Only 2G Networks. This can improve that aforementioned 1% battery delta by an astonishing 2-3 minutes. On AT&T, this means using EDGE, which is hardly “fast” if you’re a speed demon, but does just fine with email or light Web browsing.

5. Pay for Your Apps

This may seem like an odd suggestion, but free apps are sneaky. They trade their low, low price for all sorts of ad-running, tracking, and other inconspicuous means. Facebook is absolutely criminal in this regard: it’s one of the most battery-intensive Android apps out there (Google+ is, too, but is a bit harder to detach from the stock Android experience due to its outstanding Instant Upload and Hangouts features). Twitter is, too, which is why I recommend using a Twitter client if possible, since they refresh less often and don’t require nearly as much sync maintenance. And if possible, you should pay for your apps: paid apps are often higher-quality and more transparent in what types of permissions they require and which tasks they perform.

-The ScreenGrab Team

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15 Useful Android Widgets

Widgets are a quintessential Android feature and one of its clearest differences with iOS. The best widgets provide convenient, live-updating streams of information, easy customization, and rapid access to important functionalities, all from your home screen. In many cases, they can replace the static app icons that you usually use to launch apps. Here are 15 of my favorite Android widgets for Android Jelly Bean and later:

Dashclock Widget

I’ve written multiple articles about this amazing widget. It can become the default lockscreen for your device, and it supports clickable mini-widgets/extensions for virtually every app or service on your phone.

Simple Dialer Widget

If you make calls with your phone, this free widget is a must. It provides a full-screen widget that lists the contacts from the stock People (contacts) app. Each contact is tappable, meaning that you can call them straight from the widget.

Beautiful Widgets Pro

Nice collection of weather, clock, and date widgets, with support for Daydream (Android 4.2+).

Tiny Flashlight + LCD

The most popular flashlight app for Android, and for good reason. Its colorful lockscreen widget lets you get your flashlight in a flash. And why not? You shouldn’t need to unlock and hunt down the flashlight app when you need it in a pinch.

Sound Search for Google Play

A built-in Shazam which analyzes audio and links you to the track in Google Play. It has a great lockscreen widget, which is essential when you need to tag a song before it’s over.

Widget Calculator

A full-screen sleek calculator widget. Like many of the other selections here, it supports lockscreen widgets and as such is handy for calculating tips etc.

Holo Clock

A nifty blue analog/digital hybrid clock. It fits perfectly with icon packs like SMPL Blue. It also clicks-thru to the Clock app so you can manage your alarms, stopwatch, etc.

UCCW

Highly customizable widget with tons of compatible themes and icon packs. Use it for a clock, weather, or as a shortcut to any app.

Reddit is Fun Golden Platinum

This is the best Reddit client I’ve used on Android. Its widget lets you pick a specific subreddit to monitor, and then it lets you scroll thru hot topics and go directly to links and comments from the widget.

Falcon Pro

Full-screen scrollable widgets are the bee’s-kness on Jelly Bean, and Falcon Pro (already one of the best Twitter clients in existence, alongside Tweetbot and TweetDeck) is the cream of the crop in this field. It lets you refresh your feed, compose, or toggle between mentions/timeline from the widget.

Minimalistic Text

This widget presents stylish, plain text readouts of things like weather, time/date, and phone statistics. It’s highly customizable.

Google Keep

I love Google Keep. And its scrollable widget lets you go through all of your color-coded notes, or create new notes/photos/recordings.

Google+

I usually set it to the What’s Hot filter since I don’t have many friends on G+ yet. Also works on the lockscreen.

Flipboard

A nice widget to keep tabs on news and Facebook (I don’t use the Facebook app for Android).

Eye in Sky

The best weather app on Android, and its stylish widget only strengthens its case. It has customizable color schemes, a host of cute icon packs, and read-outs for the entire week ahead.

-The ScreenGrab Team

Google Keep is a Keeper

Quick – name a 1st-party native iOS app that has no Android equivalent! GameCenter? Ok, you got me on that one. But let’s talk about apps that users actually use. The answer is actually Notes, Apple’s plain-Jane notes app. Despite its simplicity and skeuomorphic design, Notes is a useful tool, with the kind of raw reliability and speed that you expect from pen and paper. Plus, it syncs to iCloud and lets you continue working on your Mac. Android has no similar system app. Luckily for us, however, Google has just released Keep, its own Holo answer to Notes and (to a lesser extent, I think) Evernote and Dropbox.

You can download Keep right here. And you should download it, if you’re running Android 4.0+ (and you should be!). Keep is a notes-taking app that lets you create text and lists, or save photos and webpages. It lets you color-code notes for differentiation, which is a surprisingly novel and neat touch. To tie it all together, it has an excellent widget that lets you scroll thru your notes or quickly add new ones. Here are some screengrabs:

Keep

Making a note in Google Keep.

Widget

The Google Keep widget.

But most importantly, it syncs automatically to your Google Drive. Before now, I had been using the excellent Simple Notepad, which syncs to Dropbox (where I have only a basic account), but I’ll probably switch now, since I’m a fan of consolidation and not having to juggle between various incompatible services/apps. There’s some truth to the claim that Keep could be an “Evernote killer.” I had found myself using Evernote less and less recently, not only because I had less storage there than on Google Drive, but because I had begun using the Save to Google Drive extension in Chrome to save almost anything remotely interesting that I came across on the Web.

What’s overlooked in all the hoopla about Keep v. Evernote, however, is how Keep further pushes diehard Android users away from Dropbox, and how it shows off Google’s new cross-platform strategy against Apple. Since Google already matched Dropbox’s Camera Upload feature with its own Instant Upload feature in Google+ (and attendant photo sync with G+/Picasa in the stock Gallery app for Android), it now has in Drive/Keep some of the note taking features that a host of 3rd-party apps have already hooked-in to Dropbox, too. And since your Keep notes can be accessed from Google Drive, Google now has an answer to, of all things, Apple’s stock note-taking app, which is an important front in the battle for a smooth cross-device experience.

11 Great Android Exclusive Apps (That Someone Might Actually Use)

My previous attempt at an Android-exclusive apps was short and there have been some changes since it was released, including the release of an iOS version of the outstanding Field Trip app. With that in mind, here’s a new list of the 11 best (usable) Android-only applications. As with the last list, we are focusing on apps that appeal to a wide consumer base and not necessarily to hardcore modders and tinkerers.

PAUL the App

PAUL

PAUL the App

PAUL from Inmobly saves video and audio from sources such as Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, YouTube, CNN, and ESPN. It does all of its caching over Wi-Fi, so you don’t have to worry about data overages and can watch your videos without delay or buffering while on the subway or mobile.

PushBullet

PushBullet

PushBullet by PushBullet, Inc.

This app has really been growing on me. It’s a simple but novel concept. By using the PushBullet website or its handy Chrome extension, you can push links, files, notes, and/or lists directly to your Android device. The rich Jelly Bean notifications then let you go directly to that file/link or (in the case of a list or note) views its contents.

Falcon Pro

Falcon Pro

Falcon Pro by Joaquim Verges

This is a beautiful, richly-featured Twitter client with easy search and organization, as well as a built-in media browser that lets you read articles, view photos, and watch videos from within the app.

Friday

Fridayed

Friday by Dexetra

Friday does a bit of everything. It serves mainly as a journal of all your activity: phone calls, SMS, Facebook updates, Tweets, Last.fm scrobbles, and Foursquare checkins. You can also document activity using any of its templates (movies you’re watching, books you’re reading, etc.) or write from scratch. A plugin called Trails lets you also track your activity via GPS, so that you can see info like “At the corner or State and Madison, you listened to ‘Salamander’ by Zomby.” It then uses this information to suggest new activities to you.

AirDroid

AirDroid

AirDroid by Sand Studio

AirDroid is a device management tool that pairs your Android device with a Web app. Simply launch AirDroid and then enter the given code into its Web app and you can then view all of your phone’s contents from your browser. You can send SMS from your desktop, delete and add files, manage your device’s clipboard, and browse your photos/videos. I wrote a short review of it earlier.

Dashclock Widget

DW Widget

A sample Dashcock Widget.

One of my favorites. It displays lots of custom info (unread Gmail/SMS, weather, Calendar) on your lockscreen, plus it’s highly customizable with lots of cool extensions that provide other info and tasks.

Notif Pro

Notif Pro

Notif Pro by Eric Carboni

This is a minimalist reminders/notifications app that is much easier to use and more lightweight than most to-do apps. It lets you create rich Jelly Bean notifications with lists, photos, and Holo icons.

Flipster Pro for Facebook

Flipster Pro for Facebook

Flipster Pro displaying a Facebook NewsFeed

The official Facebook app is a battery-drainer that has the added annoyance of being unstable. Flipster Pro is a Facebook client that has a sleek, customizable aesthetic and all of the functionality (messages, chat, news) that you expect from Facebook.

Beautiful Widgets Pro

BW Pro

Beautiful Widgets Pro working on an Android 4.2.2 Daydream.

Android’s ability to display widgets is often cited as one of its strong-suits, but one really needs to use Beautiful Widgets Pro to see just how much can be done with widgets. BW Pro can display weather, time, battery and date widgets, and it can display them on the homescreen, lockscreen, or the Android 4.2+ Daydream/screensaver.

Press

Press for Google Reader

Press RSS client.

I don’t dabble much in RSS on mobile, but when I did, I loved this dead-simple but reliable RSS client. Fortunately, it shall survive the Google Reader apocalypse as it transitions over to some other backends.

Mr. Number

Mr. Number

Mr. Number’s settings menu

Mr. Number uses deep access to your phone to block unwanted calls and texts. You can lookup numbers you don’t know to see if they are suspected spammers or telemarketers, and then reroute them to voicemail or hang up on them automatically.

-The ScreenGrab Team

15 of the Best, Fastest Chrome Extensions

Looking to deck-out Chrome with useful buttons (and make your URL bar smaller)? Here’s a round-up of some of the most popular, easiest-to-use, and productivity-enhancing extensions for Google’s browser:

1. AdBlock

AdBlock blocks all ads on the Internet (although you can, during setup, opt to give Google’s display ads a pass; individual domains may be greenlighted later, too). It’s technically free (as a pay-what-you-want download), and as such I dont understand why people still complain about things like this.

2. Pocket

Pocket’s dead-simple concept (save an entire page, permanently) for viewing later) for consuming content is addictive. Simply click to save anything for later. It beautifully reformats text for reading and even saves videos.

3. PushBullet

You’ll need an Android phone/tablet with Jelly Bean and the PushBullet app in order to use this. PushBullet speedily pushes links, files, or lists to your Android devices, so that they pop-up in your notification menu or even in the enormously popular DashClock Widget (if you have enabled the PushBullet extension). From there, you can tap them to have instant access to their contents. I was skeptical at first since I could already easily save things to Google Drive or Pocket, but PushBullet is perfect for making sure that you can send things like PDFs or URLs in particular to your phone with minimal hassle and maximum speed.

4. Save to Google Drive

Self-explanatory: it saves just about anything to Google Drive.

5. Google +1 Button

This is useful not only for sharing things to G+, but for seeing how many others have already shared the same page to G+, too. It’s a neat diagnostics tool combined with a social tool.

6. AddThis

AddThis can share the current page or selected content with a variety of social networks, including Facebook, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and others.

7. Google Dictionary

A useful in-browser dictionary, it also lets you double-click words on any page to get a popup definition.

8. Google Similar Pages

This extension fetches a list of pages similar to your current webpage.

9. PicMonkey

Saves all or some of the images on the current page so that you can edit them in the PicMonkey app for Chrome.

10. User-Agent Switcher

This lets you use different user-agent strings in Chrome. Can be especially useful for the ARM Samsung Chromebook, which some sites interpret as a mobile device.

11. Knew Tab

A great alternative to the default tab. It shows weather, unread Gmail count, RSS feed, Facebook notifications and messages, and time.

12. Missing E

This is a feature-rich extension that gives you some more options for how your Tumblr dashboard appears and operates.

13. Fabulous

A neat Facebook extension which lets you change the color scheme, block ads, style fonts, and create custom UI elements like a photo pane at the wright and a sticky pad.

14. Magic Actions for YouTube

This extension lets you run YouTube in night mode (with black background) and adds some extra controls such as volume adjustment via trackpad gestures.

15. Google Translate

Translates the entire current page.

-The ScreenGrab Team