Friday, July 1, 2011

UPDATE: Apology about lack of updates.

Have been busy on other items, such as updating my Hubpages hubs on Android, and my day job. :)

Someone asked why don't I have screenshots for my reviews. I don't really have an answer. I guess it just didn't occur to me.

So, reviews are now getting at least one screenshot each.

Any way, enjoy the reviews.

AAQR: LBE Privacy Guard (free)

LBE Privacy Guard,
screenshot via Appbrain
LBE Privacy Guard for Android takes the "SuperUser" whitelist approach to all sorts of "permissions" on your Android phone, if you take your privacy VERY seriously. It gets a bit annoying if you have a lot of apps, but it is pretty interesting app.

Basically, the app can tell which app is accessing what, and intercepts the call. For example, "Expenses Manager" intercepts stuff that costs money, such as sending SMS, calling phone numbers, and so on. When an app does that, you have to specifically allow the app to do so (similar to the way "SuperUser" whitelists an app) else the request is denied by default in 10 seconds.

The various "managers" let you control which apps have access to which permissions. The Security Log shows you which apps accessed what permission.

This app controls app permissions in real-time, in case you did not see all the permissions it needs when it installed. It gets a little annoying if you have a lot of apps to approve, but it does seem to work. Definitely give it a try.
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AAQR: TouchPal Keyboard (free)

TouchPal Keyboard
via Appbrain
TouchPal Keyboard is a Chinese/English keyboard from CooTek that is very good in binlingual input. It also has multiple layouts (regular QWERTY, SureType QWERTY w/ 2 letters per key, and so on) for English and both Pinyin and Handwriting input for Chinese. You can even mix language input (no mode swapping needed, app autodetects input language) and voice and handwriting input, even for Chinese.

It also supports whole sentence input for Chinese, instead of one character at a time. What's more, you can do tap-slide on the buttons to directly input the symbol, instead of jumping to a separate symbols layout.

Worth tying at least. Gestures need to be fixed or made more useful.

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AAQR: Maxthon Browser (free)

Maxthon Browser
screenshot via Appbrain
Maxthon for Windows started out as "MyIE2", a customized version of Internet Explorer. Now Maxthon is a genuine dual engine Trident (Internet Explorer) and Webkit (Chrome) browser that can automatically sense and choose the appropriate engine for optimal display of the content. In late 2010 they launched Maxthon Mobile Browser (for Android). Is it any good? Sort of.

At 2MB, this browser is not exactly lightweight, but speed is decent. In practice it doesn't seem any different from say, Miren or Dolphin (not Dolphin Mini). It has tabs, themes, and all the major features. On the other hand, it just doesn't "feel" that different from any other browser. Gestures are available in Dolphin (though it's arguable that the implementation here is better). Switch WAP/WWW is just changing user agent, and that was in Skyfire for a long time. Download manager seem to be the only unique feature.

I guess you can try it. They have a tablet version but no indicatio on what's special about it.
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Pocket Cast Update: Developer seem to know about problems

I emailed the developers regarding the problem I was having with Pocket Casts podcatcher. Basically it doesn't play any of the podcasts, whether downloaded or streamed. The audio player just doesn't work. I have CM7.02, and tried again with CM7.1RC1. Neither worked.

The developer says wait for next version, 2.8. So apparently they are aware of the problems some users are having.

Stay tuned. Interface is nice and clean. If it plays, I'll be much more impressed.
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Monday, June 27, 2011

AAQR: Solitaire Deluxe (only available on Amazon Appstore)

Solitaire Deluxe
screenshot via Amazon Appstore
Solitaire Deluxe was given away a few days ago on Amazon Appstore. It is a very pretty implementation of various solitaire playing card games, from pyramid to klondike and a few in between. It also adds accomplishments and in-game "currency" or points to get perks like new card backs, new backgrounds, and so on. My only complaint with this game is its HUGE size and slow-startup... 17 MB in size! Fortunately, Move2SD shrank the size down to less than 2MB, but that's still a lot for just a game.

The production values are quite good, and there are various modes to play. I am just not sure if it's worth $4.99 (regular price). Furthermore, there's some rumblings among reviewers that the app lets you buy more ingame currency (with real money through micro purchases) to unlock more games. You start with 70 plays free, but what happens when that runs out on an app you already paid for? Hmmm...

Rating: try it, maybe? When they offer a demo...
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AAQR: Pocket Cast (free on Amazon for 27-JUN-2011, else paid) Podcatcher

Pocket Casts Library Screen
screenshot via Amazon Appstore
Pocket Cast is an impressive debut podcast searcher / player (aka Podcatcher) for Android. However, there are a few quirks that prevents it from being the best podcatcher for Android period.

Upon entering the app, you're presented with a mere 5 buttons along the bottom. It's clean, and the initial "help" screen explains that those buttons are.

Library -- index of all your podcasts subscribed to, with a number indicating how many episodes are available.

Listen -- which podcast is playing (video or audio)

Refresh -- presents which subscriptions have downloads available, and whether to stream or download offline

Search -- add new subscriptions to your library

Setup -- settings and whatnot

The interface is VERY clean, so the initial impression is very good. However, the problem here is mostly under the hood.

I start by adding some of my own favorite podcasts. 

The search interface is not bad, as you can search, browse by subject, browse by network (TWIT, CNET, NPR, etc.) There is an "import" function but it asks you to import the OPML file manually by looking for a .TXT file. Huh?! This is Android, not DOS! I mean, this doesn't even integrate with Google Reader! Still, this is how most podcatchers operate. However, the interface leaves a little to be desired. Instead of being able to subscribe right from the list view, I must click through to the "detailed description" page of the podcast, and hit "add" from there. This is annoying and not necessary. 

I went into settings and things started to look bad. Offline downloads cannot be cleaned up by date (keep only last X epsiodes) or by space (keep only 1 GB worth offline). The ONLY automation you are allowed is delete after full playback. Otherwise, it's deleting the downloads individually, purge all played, or purge all (played or not). The max refresh to find new podcasts is every 3 hours (else it's manual), but this is more of a nitpick. This is starting to get annoying. 

I go to the "refresh" screen, and this is where the app starts to really look bad. It automatically picks up 2 episodes (or is that two weeks?) from each podcast stream. You can't adjust this threshold (that I can find). From there, you can choose to download or stream. I chose a few to download, intending to try it out. 

In the "library" view, your only choice is 3 x 5 grid view of the "picture" shown as icon. While it's nice and big and readable if there's text inside, not all podcasts use a useful picture WITH description. For example, the podcast "Inspiring Words of Encouragement" just have the guy's portrait, no words at all. Unless I know the stuff intimately, how would I know what podcast that was without clicking through?

So how does it perform when it comes to actually playing a podcast?

Unfortunately, it failed terribly. I cannot get a SINGLE podcast to play, either streaming OR offline. I tried half a dozen different shows, and not obscure shows, but major ones like CNET's Buzz Out Loud, Leo Laporte's The Tech Guy, and so on. NADA. I click on "play", and bounces me right back to the library screen. Else, it force closed (which happened multiple times during testing).

I admit, I have an older phone, OG Droid with CM 7.02 (I have problem with 7.03 keep boot looping on me)  However, this should not be an issue. All OTHER podcatchers I tested work just FINE on my OG Droid.

I hate to say this, but this app ain't worth the download, even if it's free. You may have better luck with it on a different Android device, but for me, this app is a total bust.

Rating: skip it (until the bugs get fixed, or if you can try it within 15 minute refund window)
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