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Google announced the Nexus 5 and Android 4.4 KitKat today. Being a tech nerd, it triggered some thoughts. They started on twitter, but here they are a little more thought out.

  • It’s sad that Verizon still won’t embrace open handsets on their network. My contract is up in 3 months and it can’t come soon enough. 
  • Now that the Nexus 5 is in the hands of reviewers, the new Hangouts APK with SMS integration should follow I hope. I’m waiting (not so) patiently for Android Police to get on that.
  • Why did Google have a huge presentation for some new photo filters, and not for a big Android release and new flagship phone? 
  • And lastly, why is the Galaxy Nexus being left out of the 4.4 upgrade? Google is making a big point of claiming that KitKat supports 512MB devices. Way to lead by example guys.

Common Sense Android App: Wi-Fi Matic


This is super useful, especially for those concerned about battery life. This app automatically turns your Wi-Fi on or off depending on your current location. It uses cell tower data instead of GPS in order to not drain battery.

The setup is very easy. Once activated, the app keeps your Wi-Fi off by default. When you want to connect to a network, turn on Wi-Fi and connect as usual. It will then automatically turn it off when you leave the area, but remember the location and turn it back on when you return.

The app is completely free and available in the Google Play Store

Common Sense Android App: Light Flow

If you don’t own a Samsung Galaxy Nexus or HTC Nexus One, move along. I guess this app works for other phones in a limited capacity, but from what I can tell I would just as well skip it. However, if you have one of the two mentioned phones, this app is a must.

Light Flow lets you completely customize your build in multi-color LED for notifications. What it does is make sure that the LED blinks a specified color for any notification that your phone receives, that way you can tell exactly what kind of message is waiting for you even with the screen off. It supports all the built in apps like Voice Mail, Messaging, and Gmail, as well as third party apps like Foursquare and Tweetdeck. It can also activate the LED for low battery, no signal, bluetooth connectivity, etc.

This functionality should really just be built in, and is on some custom roms. To me, it is indispensable. You can pick it up in the Google Play Store for $1.99. There is also a "Lite" version that doesn’t have as much third-party app support. 

Digital Comics. Finally.


UPDATE: I’ve since changed my tune on this. I am now almost exclusively using the Comixology app. It has the best selection, the reading experience beats everyone else, the prices are fair, and they have sales all the time. They still don’t have DC collected titles but the individual price usually isn’t too much more expensive and buying on Amazon is always available as well.

Amazon just updated their Kindle for Android app to support digital comics. Previously this functionality was only available on the Kindle Fire. This is app finally figures out how digital comics should work.

I have been reading pirated comics for years. Not because it’s free, but because it’s been a lot easier than official channels. This is the same argument that consumers have been trying to make for years with other digital media as well. Until the past year or so, there was not a convenient way to read digital comics on the go. Before, your only option was on the computer. Now both major comic publishers (Marvel and DC), as well as minor companies have apps through Comixology. Those apps are pretty nice but come with disadvantages galore, the main one being price. There is no discount for buying multiple comics; you can’t buy compiled graphic novels (my preferred reading method) and there is no cheaper subscription model like with physical comics.

The other major downfall of current digital comic consumption is the actual reading mechanics, which even the pirated comic readers fall short with. Everything is fine on a large screen such as a computer or tablet, but not when you want to read one on a smaller phone screen. The official apps work great when comics are specifically made for them. There is a zoom function that will enlarge each panel as you go, but the older comics that I tested didn’t have this “smart” zoom capability and were limited to a manual zoom and pan on each page. The pirated comic readers have the same manual zoom function.

In my opinion, Amazon fixes both of these issues. While some people may prefer reading a comic at a time as they come out, I like waiting for a storyline to complete before I read it. It’s also cheaper this way because you purchase a compiled graphic novel instead of each comic. Amazon offers graphic novels to purchase and they seem to be cheaper than their physical counter parts. Amazon also offers the best reading experience on a phone. You just double tap on a section and it will automatically enlarge the panel or chunk of text, for every comic. Then you just swipe to the left like you would normally turn a page and it goes to the next section.

The two downsides to Amazon, currently, is that their selection seems to be limited to major DC titles and their affiliates, and no individual comic purchases. However, I can ignore both personally because I happen to favor DC comics and graphic novels. Plus, both of these could easily be changed in the future. If you’re a comic fan at all, I think this is the new way to go for digital comic reading. 

Alfred, and the Future of the Check-In

I was finally able to use an app called Alfred that I downloaded after hearing that it’s developer, Clever Sense, was just bought out by Google. The app is like a smarter version of Yelp. It too is used to find places to go, but uses a different method than just general categories.

To start out, a user has to “teach” the app what kinds of places to find by answering a series of questions like the one in the picture. It uses this information as well as other Alfred users with similar choices to personalize suggestions. When looking for suggestions, instead of generic restaurants/bars/entertainment/etc categories, it uses more specific things like brunch/dessert/drinks/etc. In my opinion that is way more convenient. My favorite option is the Brunch category because I never know who actually has it besides common places such as IHOP or Denny’s.

I’ve read a few articles saying that Google might be using Alfred to contribute to a Siri competitor, but I assume that it will be used to assist with location check-ins (in addition). No one effectively uses check-in based suggestions yet and this could be a competition killer. By integrating Alfred with Google+/Latitude check-ins, it would cut down on the initial teaching that Alfred needs. It could also keep track of which friends check in with you and make suggestions in the future based on who you’re with.

The only check-in service that I see consistently used across my social networks is Foursquare. Google check-ins, via Google+ or Latitude, never really took off, even with the newer Places part of their Maps app. Facebook check-ins took a sharp dive after the first few weeks. In my opinion, the reason why Foursquare keeps going is that it provides a reason to actually check in to everything instead of just times when you want to say something about the place/location. This reason may only be worthless, arbitrary points and achievement badges, but it provides a goal and creates a little competition among your friends. Alfred could provide its own “reason” since it would be helping future suggestions.

I think that if Google successfully integrates Alfred with a check-in service, but also creates some sort of achievement system a la Foursquare, they could actually pry people away from their existing check-in apps because they would be providing an actual useful service in addition to the generic check-in.

Common Sense Android App: Shiprack Package Tracker

If you do most of your Christmas shopping online nowadays, a good app to track packages is a must. There are a ton of package tracking apps for Android; some that are a little prettier, and most with support for more carriers (although this has you covered for anything in North America). The feature that sets this app apart though is that it’s the only one (that I’ve found) that you don’t have to manually enter tracking numbers.

Once the app is downloaded, you register your email address and then send any shipping notifications to their email. It will then scour the email for tracking numbers and automatically add them to your app. It even supports the automatic forwarding feature that you can do with a filter in Gmail so the whole process becomes automatic.

The main interface is nice too. It presents all the relevant information you need right from the start. The only downside are the ads. Most of the time I’m not bothered at all by in app ads, but these ones change quickly and the colors contrast to the main program so they can be distracting. However, they can be easily disabled by a $0.99 in-app purchase.

Download it from the Android Market for free right here.

Thanks to Lifehacker for finding this one in their “Best Package Tracker for Android" post, even though it was actually a runner up.

EDIT: Also, this app has push notifications instead of polling. Way better for battery life.

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