Tag Archives: google play

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

5 Alternatives to Some Popular Android Apps

Bored of all the same-old free “must-have” Android apps that top the charts? There are a number of alternative, richly featured apps that do the same thing (or tap into the same service), plus, as an added perk, many of them are Android-only.

Flipster Pro (over Facebook)

Facebook’s Android app is ugly, slow, and unreliable. The Web app via Chrome is somehow a much better experience. But luckily, you don’t have to put up with either of them. Flipster is a nice Holo client for Facebook which gives you full functionality within a sleek design.

Falcon Pro (over Twitter)

I wrote about this great Twitter client before, but now it’s even better since it has a gorgeous 4×4 scrollable widget of Tweets. Its built-in browser lets you read articles, view photos, and watch videos without every leaving the app.

Notif Pro (over Wunderlist/Any.do)

Notif Pro does more by doing less. There’s really nothing to the “app” itself – it simply exists to make up your textual, visual, or list-based reminders, and then pins them (along with a custom Holo icon of your choice) to the status bar.

Eye in the Sky (w/Pro Key) (over WeatherBug and The Weather Channel)

Tim Clark’s exclusively Android weather app is a sublime marriage of style and substance. It has a beautiful widget that can forecast your city’s weather for the whole week, with a bevy of stylish icon packs to choose from. It also has a persistent in-status bar notification that gives terse assessments like “Slighty Cloudy. Ice Fog. Cool.”

Snapseed (over Instagram)

Ok, so this may be a bridge too far for some, but Snapseed is a great way to initiate actual reactions and +1s in Google+, which is so central to the “stock Android” experience, after all. It has some robust editing features that let your crop, rotate, filter, and tune your image, and it can share it directly to G+ with a button. Maybe it’s not a replacement for Instagram, but it’s something fun to run alongside Instagram.

-The ScreenGrab Team

5 Near-Console-Quality Games for the 1st Gen Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 is a quiet, unassuming device: small, with a sheepishly textured back and bezel that make it feel like an old book. But under the hood, it is rocking some serious power. It has a Nvidia Tegra 3 system-on-a-chip which not only provides outstanding battery life, but also gives it the ability to push major gaming graphics, whose beauty is basically unprecedented on a mobile device.

Mobile games are huge, but often regarded as a separate category from their console predecessors and contemporaries. “Mobile” conjures up simple, addictive fun like Pudding Monsters HD, Angry Birds Space, and Ruzzle, but not the intense graphics of something like Dead Space or Far Cry 3. This dichotomy is crumbling faster than many realize, however, especially on Android, where more sophisticated GPUs allow for envelope-pushing detail and performance.

I mostly use my Nexus 7 as a gaming device now, with almost other tasks except for heavy reading assigned instead to my Nexus 4. I’ve picked out five Android games that exploit the Nexus 7’s Tegra-powered guts with impressive results.

1. Dead Trigger

Price: FREE

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Zombies: there is no more timeless, redoubtable theme for HD gaming (see also: Resident Evil, ZombiU, Zombie Driver below). Dead Trigger is somehow free despite the crispness of its first-person shooter gameplay and the sophistication of its graphics. Just look at that screen grab: the Tegra 3 is particularly good at handling water/moisture, which often drips from overhead and distracts you as you try to cleave/shoot your way thru the zombie hoards. But it’s a beautiful distraction. Developer Madfinger Games, who also made Shadowgun, have devised a simple and efficient control scheme that makes even the theoretically complex first-person shooter genre workable with touch control only. Move with your left hand, and look/shoot/reload with your right.

2. Zombie Driver THD

Price: $1.75 USD

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More zombies, inevitably. Zombie Driver lets you live the dream of driving around in a beat-up taxi, outfitted with rocket launchers and machine guns, shooting humanoid and cynoid zombies alike. It has lots of spoken dialogue, too, which adds to its richness and console-like quality.

3. Samurai II: Vengeance THD

Price: $2.99

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Did you like those anime sequences in Kill Bill? If so, then you’ll love Samurai II: Vengeance THD. Every bit as violent as the other games here (and with over the top death sequences in which characters seem to have garden hoses for veins), it lets you control a samurai who is exacting his prolonged, messy, and presumably very personal revenge on a bunch of ninjas and monks. The game takes advantage of pastel colors and animation (rotating windmills, lanterns fluttering in the wind) better than any mobile game I’ve ever played.

4. Bane of Yoto: Episode I

Price: FREE

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Bane of Yoto is an episodic interactive novel. It’s not a traditional game per se; you don’t shoot, maim, or perform inexplicable quests for anyone. Instead, you simply read and swipe away text. But Yoto’s real focus is its artwork, which is colorful, rich, deep, and simultaneously airy and earthy – you’re simply along for the ride. Replaying the game also unlocks new sequences and items to collect, so this game has some shelf life, too.

5. Dark Meadow: The Pact

Price: FREE

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The creme de la creme – an atmospheric, visually stunning, dialogue-driven mystery that’s free.  The fluidity of movement and animation is shocking, and the gesture-based combat controls make you wonder how games like this weren’t always built for touch rather than mouse/keyboard/stylus.

-The ScreenGrab Team

Pudding Monsters HD

Game: Pudding Monsters HD

Platforms: iOS, Android

Rating: 90%

ZeptoLab has become one of the most recognizable names in mobile app development, thanks to the ubiquitous Cut the Rope, which has become a gaming staple alongside the Angry Birds franchise, Words with Friends, and Draw Something. Now they’re back with another blockbluster, the oxymoronic Pudding Monsters HD (because, after all, what kind of pudding isn’t cute and non-monstrous?). Whereas Cut the Rope focused on slicing cords, ropes, and strings to get a piece of candy into a reptile’s mouth, Pudding Monsters HD is about googly-eyed pieces of red, blue, purple and green pudding who are trying to unite with each other and gobble up stars.

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Three normal red puddings and a slimy green pudding.

Pudding Monsters HD has simple controls – simply slide the puddings around to try and and smash them into each other. A level is considered complete when all the puddings are united into one giant, monstrous pudding. The star squares indicated in the shot above are likely familiar to anyone who has played Cut the Rope – your performance in each level is measured by how many stars you attain. An interesting wrinkle to Pudding Monsters HD’s gameplay, however, is how it only considers you have to “mastered” a level when you have completed it by getting 0, 1, 2, and 3 stars in separate playthrus. For me, this meant playing it thru again and getting 0 or 1 stars on many levels, since I had tried hard to get at least two stars on each level the first time thru.

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Hypnotic purple puddings.

In the style of Angry Birds (but perhaps with better variety and flexibility in terms of the gameplay options it opens up), Pudding Monsters HD gradually grants you access to new puddings with new powers, and to machines/props that can be manipulated in each level.

Red pudding – this is the standard pudding. It has no powers.

Green pudding – these puddings leave behind a slimy trail when slid. Other puddings can be slid onto the trail and have their momentum halted by the slime, meaning that they’ll stick in the location.

Purple puddings – these come in groups. Moving any one of them in a given direction moves all the others in the same direction.

Blue puddings – these puddings are asleep and have to be “woken up” by having puddings of other colors smashed into them.

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A red pudding near some cloning machines.

In addition to the houses, TVs, and coffee cups which create natural barriers to the puddings’ progress, there are also springs which bounce a pudding’s progress back, ice blocks which block progress one time only, and cloning machines which replicate any pudding which passes thru them. The springs and blocks are particularly useful – you must restart any level in which any of your puddings slides off the table, since that sliding makes the creation of the merged pudding monster impossible.

As fun as Pudding Monsters HD is, it’s also perhaps too short and easy. This is perhaps excusable since it’s a new game. ZeptoLab has also promised new levels soon. I’m hoping that they can inflect Pudding Monsters HD with some of the difficulty found in the later stages of Cut the Rope, when trying to even complete a level becomes maddening (but in a good/can’t-wait-to-try-it-again later way).

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Red and blue puddings.

The game is $0.99 USD. Like Cut the Rope, it offers the option of paid upgrades in the form of purchasable “mushrooms” or items that let you create a gigantic pudding monster with no effort, allowing you to capture all the star blocks on the board.

While it can be completed in just an hour or two, this seems like a game with a solid future and plenty of room for expansion and diversification.

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Victory! A merged pudding monster.

-The ScreenGrab Team

 

 

AirDroid

A tweet a while back from The Verge’s Joshua Topolsky, about a “nuts” app called AirDroid, inspired me to try out that same app on my Nexus 4. After experimenting with it over the past week, I’ve come to see it as an invaluable, futuristic utility for device management. It feels like something that Google could easily buy and make into a standard service for all Android devices.

AirDroid allows for very nuanced file management and manipulation of your Android phone, but its setup is dead simple. Download the free Android app and start it up. It gives you a URL and an access code. Once you input the code on the Web, the page transforms into a vaguely Linux-like desktop which mirrors (or reinterprets, more nearly) your phone’s entire file structure. You can see all of your text messages, photos, and contacts, as well as apps and what’s currently on your clipboard.

One of the underrated aspects of the Android platform is how independent it remains from traditional PCs and Macs. There’s no syncing or real need for cables (especially now that devices like the Nexus 4 support inductive charging) and the platform had no equivalent of the bloated desktop iTunes 11. Sure, curious users can explore a device’s file system on their PC via cable, or send an app from the Google Play desktop site to an Android device that is using the same Google Account. But these are fringe features. Most Android users have devices that are PC-agnostic.

The flip side of this agnosticism is Android’s unparalleled openness, which lets it be manipulated at a level that iOS (for instance) all but prevents. AirDroid is perhaps the most polished example of remote Android management, such that I think that it may be worth Google’s while to acquire it and make it a standard Android tool, perhaps even as a Chrome extension that would play nicely with the increasingly chic Chromebook line.

A few useful things about AirDroid:

1. Easy file upload of basically any file format or size, without iTunes’ restrictions on folders etc.

2. Send a URL to your phone for later – sort of a like a mini-Pocket.

3. Easily sideload apps from non-Play sources.

Granted, these are niche use cases that appeal mainly to geeks like me. But they have real value since they create what I think is the first real semblance of a coherent multiscreen experience between Google gadgets in particular – it gives me a robust tool for manipulating my Nexus 4, even from the lightweight Web-only world of my Chromebook. It enriches both gadgets – the Nexus 4 becomes an even more flexible device and repository for all sorts of files, while the Chromebook becomes a management tool while sacrificing none of its minimalist appeal.

Google has already stated that it wants to provide a truly seamless multiscreen experience, but so far this has been difficult due to Android fragmentation and Google’s considerable deficit vis-a-vis Apple when it comes to creating fully integrated hardware/software that just works together, like the Mac and the iPhone via iCloud (imperfect as the latter still is). AirDroid is a sleek, sneaky way of experiencing Android on your desktop and having more control over the inside of your phone, which is so often a total black box. Google should buy it and use it to further integrate the experience they provide, especially now that Google is working directly on hardware with Motorola and postulating that someday Chrome and Android will converge.

App rating: 77%

-The ScreenGrab Team