Wednesday, August 29, 2012

My favorite Android Apps

After months enjoying my Android Smartphone, I was thinking it is a good time to share which apps I love and use most. In order to try to avoid becoming another one of those "apps of the week" clones, I will concentrate solely on Android exclusive apps and this article will just be a one off. So without further ado, let's get to it!

High end Android phones are at the forefront of technology. Leading the race with awesome, big screens, multi-core CPUs and huge amounts of RAM, these beasts unsurprisingly tend to be energy hungry. The end result is that, even if the newer devices and Android versions are offering battery life that surpasses that of smartphones half as big and powerful, you may find yourself eating your battery entirely in less than a day. Juice Defender is the perfect choice to change this. I have consistently been getting an average of more than twice my standard battery life by using it. These days it is strange for me to recharge my phone before 48+ hours of standard use. A must have.

An iPhone user's wet dream, AirDroid makes managing your phone simple and enjoyable. Forget cables, software or license dependencies and constantly being forced to use and update software you didn't want in the first place. AirDroid only requires a Wifi connection your phone and computer share and any Internet browser of your choice. After that, anything from sending messages from your computer to easily viewing the contents of your phone, remaining battery life, available phone and SD card storage or up/downloading files is easy and fast. Can't afford to miss it!

If you are a music lover as I am and want the power of your smartphone to take its music player closer to what desktop computer music players are, PlayerPro is for you. If you have ever wrestled with iTunes, you surely know the pain of finding/updating album artwork so it looks decent on your device, specially for bands that are not very popular. Similarly, something as simple as wanting to read lyrics to a song requires a process that is anything but intuitive. PlayerPro removes all these barriers while adding top notch features. Updating album artwork from your device is as easy as it gets, just tap and hold, find the artwork from any of the sources provided (Internet likely being the main one) and update it, simple as that. Same applies to lyrics, which can be viewed and/or downloaded with just a couple taps. A powerful EQ and FX suite, Artist and Album info/reviews and even the ability to play video are the icing on the cake for this incredible music player. As good as it gets.

Still in Beta stages but already very solid, VLC comes to Android to stay, always a good thing. The most powerful Video Player out there will soon rock our Android devices at full throttle, how's that for good news.

Once again sorely missed in iOS soil, a file manager like ES File Explorer can truly make a difference. With a very intuitive interface (albeit a bit too non-natively looking for my taste), one can do all kinds of file management tasks, including multiple-select ones. An ace.

There are many situations in day to day activities that will require your phone to be set to mute or vibrate only. Shush makes this as easy as it gets. Simply lower your phone's volume and the app will pop (even from the lock screen), asking you how long the phone should be put on mute/vibrate. The phone will automatically go back to normal status after the selected time completes.

An entire set of tools in your hands. From a metal detector (!) to a compass, several levels, rulers, sound meter, vibrometer and even distance, width and height measurements, Smart Tools has it all. In fact, I believe it should actually be named something like Magic Tools, it truly is amazing that it can do what it does.

Last but certainly not least, Swiftkey is one of my all time favorite Android apps. Making the most of Android's open spirit, Swiftkey replaces the stock keyboard of your smartphone and takes things to a whole new level. Android 4.1 has made a huge step forward in the same direction, but I still believe Swiftkey is several steps ahead (and miles away from any alternative outside of Android). After a few minutes getting used to it, you will never look back!

As is always the case with these lists, there are many more awesome apps that I have not listed here. These are just a few I use often and find amazing myself, so please feel free to post your own favorites in the comments section.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Back from Holidays!

Yes, officially back in the game after a much deserved holiday. Playing with Chakra now to get a taste of it and of KDE SC 4.9... Review coming soon!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

KDE SC 4.9 available now!

KDE SC 4.9 is in now, timely arriving to its summer date. This release is dedicated to the memory of one of the project's contributors, Claire Lotion:

"This release is dedicated to the memory of KDE contributor Claire Lotion. Claire's vibrant personality and enthusiasm were an inspiration to many in our community, and her pioneering work on the format, scope and frequency of our developer meetings changed the way we go about implementing our mission today. Through these and other activities she left a notable mark on the software we are able to release to you today, and we are grateful for and humbled by her efforts."

KDE SC 4.9 has a strong focus on quality and stability, always a very welcome initiative on any project. In the case of KDE, this is particularly relevant, because it consistently receives negative feedback around a much improved but still shaky foundation:

"The KDE Quality Team was set up earlier this year with a goal to improve the general levels of quality and stability in KDE software. Special attention was given to identifying and fixing regressions from previous releases. This was a top priority because it ensures improvement with each release.

The Team also set up a more rigorous testing process for releases starting with beta versions. New testing volunteers received training; and several testing intensive days were held. Rather than traditional exploratory testing, testers were assigned to focus on specific areas that had changed since previous releases. For several critical components, full testing checklists were developed and used. The team found many important issues early and worked with developers to make sure they were fixed. The Team itself reported over 160 bugs with the beta and RC releases, many of which have now been fixed. Other beta and RC users added considerably to the number of bugs reported. These efforts are important because they allow developers to concentrate on fixing issues."

KDE SC 4.9 is being labeled "best release ever" by its creators, but it may be so in a "quiet" kind of way. While the improvements are there, they are not of the very explicit kind that we are used to (ie, lots of new features). Instead, we should get a much more stable release, one that has received lots of attention to detail, bug-fixing and stability... Benefits that should be "felt", rather than "seen". Personally, I can't wait to get it, it is exactly what I wanted for a long time!

To get a bit into specifics, here's a bit of a summary of what the Official ANNOUNCEMENT had to say:

KDE SC 4.9 incorporates substantial improvements to core elements in Workspaces, such as KWin, Dolphin and Activities. The latter seems to continue its trend to give us more isolation for each activity, this time around allowing files to be activity-specific, thus making the whole concept a lot more attractive and useful. Activity encryption for private tasks is now possible. Dolphin is empowered with more powerful metadata management, as well as versioning capabilities thanks to the Mercurial plugin. KWin incorporates a revamped and improved Task switcher section and better performance for wobbly windows (yay!). Last but not least, Konsole now allows searching for words using KDE Web shortcuts, as well as changing directories from the UI.

In terms of application changes, the most significant fix belongs in Okular, which is now capable of saving and printing annotations in an PDF. Okular becomes even more powerful and is probably the best document viewer available. Kopete also gets a bit of attention (strange, now that KDE seems to be pushing KDE Telepathy one would expect Kopete to be left aside, but I guess any improvement is always welcome).

The idea is that the whole of KDE has been analyzed, scrutinized, then stabilized and improved, which is as good as it gets, if you ask me. How far those improvements have got and whether this is the stable KDE SC we all want remains to be seen, but I can only applaud this effort from the KDE community. Bravo!