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3 months ago

Is sideloading APK files considered piracy?

73

Is sideloading an Android app considered piracy? Yes. No. Maybe. It depends.

Recently, we got a question from someone new to Android about sideloading apps. For the most part, this isn't something you do (or can do) on iOS and seeing people in the comments of articles here and elsewhere about getting APK files online and sideloading them was a little confusing. Along with some confirmation about the hows and the whys, the meat of the question centered around piracy.

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3 months ago

Best UK transport apps for Android

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Google Maps offers the best all around experience when you are looking for easy ways to get around the UK. With plenty of options on route and mode, it can help you to get where you need to be as efficiently as possible.

Best overall

Google Maps

See at Play Store

Google Maps is pretty much the undisputed master of getting from point A to point B, no matter where you are. Google Maps can show you the easiest way to get around by walking, driving, or finding public transit. There are options to add stops on your journey, as well as avoiding highways or tolls along the way.

You can also access nearby places by checking out the Explore tab. This will show you nearby restaurants, gas stations, and more with top rated recommendations. Google Maps has up-to-date traffic conditions, which means that you'll know before you hit a problem spot when navigating in the car.

If you're on a longer trip, it's also easy to program in stops along your way. This lets you ensure that you get back on track as quickly as possible.

Bottom line: Google Maps gives you a great overall experience whether you're traveling by car, truck or train, and easily lets you find great local places to find a bite to eat.

One more thing: If you're concerned about having data, you can also download areas that can be perused offline.

Why Google Maps is the best

Google Maps delivers you a little bit of everything, making it easy to get around even if you have no clue where you are.

There are dozens of apps that can help you get around, but none of them are quite as accurate or as all-encompassing as Google Maps has become. It covers just about every mode of transportation, and will also show you the different routes that you can take along the way. Absolutely free, it may even come preloaded on your phone, making it hassle free to use.

Google Maps also has tons of features that you can choose to use. You can save the locations of favorite restaurants, or your friends houses. If you use Google Calendar it will also show you the locations of upcoming events in your calendar. If you need to find food, you can see local restaurants and their reviews from customers.

One of the greatest features that Google Maps offers, though, is the ability to adjust your route. You can choose to avoid tolls and highways, as well as add stops on your trip. You can also see up to date traffic conditions while driving, which means that it's easy to avoid accidents a few miles down the road.

The best for cities

Citymapper

CityMapper

See at Play Store

If you spend a lot of time in the city, then Citymapper goes above and beyond what Google Maps has to offer. You can easily get wherever you need to go, so long as it is within one of the app's supported cities, like Manchester or Birmingham. There are detailed routes for public transit, as well as integration with Uber and even rain-safe routes to keep you dry during a downpour.

Citymapper even offers Android Wear support, so that you don't need to keep an eye on your phone to keep from getting lost. Their Uber integration is also well done, letting you know if prices are surging. The biggest problem with the app is that it isn't available for every city, but the list is always expanding.

Bottom line: Citymapper can make getting around in the city a breeze, you'll just want to make sure you're in a supported city before downloading and installing it.

One more thing: The SmartCommute feature can help you find the fastest and most cost effective routes for your commute.

Best for the Tube

Tube Map London Underground

Tube Map London Underground

See at Play Store

While having access to all public transit might be good, having a dedicated app to help you navigate the Tube is a good call. Tube Map London Underground is officially licensed by TfL and it is jam packed with just about anything you need to know. You get access to a zoomable map of the rail network, complete with every station. Tapping a station will get you more info, like departures, service info, and Wi-Fi coverage.

You can also use the route planner, which is especially handy for anyone not familiar with the city. This includes choosing between a fast route, or an easy one. You can also see how long it will take to walk between stations if there is a backup. You can even check out disruptions, and social media to help plan your trip.

Bottom line: Tube Map London Underground is the best aid to keep you up to date and getting where you need to go using the Tube.

One more thing: The basic app is free, but to get access to every feature you'll need to upgrade to the Pro version.

Best ride share

Uber

Uber

See at Play Store

Whether you're visiting the UK, or you're just trying to get to work, driving yourself isn't always an option. If you're looking for a ride share to use while in the city, then you can trust Uber. While they aren't accessible from anywhere, you can check coverage before you download the app.

Once you've signed it, and set up a payment method, you're good to go. Uber is super convenient when staying in the city, and is often a lot cheaper and easier than using a taxi or public transit. You just want to keep an eye on choosing the correct level of service for your ride, and make sure that you are aware of any surge pricing before requesting a ride.

Bottom line: Uber is an accessible, easy, and often cheap way of getting around while in supported cities.

One more thing: Using Uber is a great way to go out for drinks, and not have to worry about a designated driver at the end of the night.

Best for driving

Waze

Waze

See at Play Store

If you're getting from point A to point B, then having an app to keep you on course is a solid choice. Waze is particularly handy for avoiding congestion and traffic spots before you hit them. While information from Waze is included in Google Maps, the standalone app is well worth downloading.

On top of knowing about accidents and traffic, you'll also be able to see fuel prices, and the presence of police. All information displayed within Waze is added by users, meaning that you'll get real time updates as you head wherever you're going. This is especially handy if you're heading towards traffic, because you'll see drivers reporting as it gets better — or worse.

Bottom line: Waze uses community reporting to deliver real-time up to date traffic conditions, as well as the presence of police, and local fuel prices.

One more thing: As you travel while using Waze, you'll slowly unlock the various different reporting features.

Conclusion

While Google Maps can't do absolutely everything, it does its level best to try. From exploring the area around you to navigating your way across the country, Google has you covered. It's easy to save locations, add stops, and even avoid highways or tolls. Google Maps even delivers up to date traffic conditions as you drive to ensure that you get where you're going with as few complications as possible.

Best overall

Google Maps

See at Play Store

Google Maps is pretty much the undisputed master of getting from point A to point B, no matter where you are. Google Maps can show you the easiest way to get around by walking, driving, or finding public transit. There are options to add stops on your journey, as well as avoiding highways or tolls along the way.

You can also access nearby places by checking out the Explore tab. This will show you nearby restaurants, gas stations, and more with top rated recommendations. Google Maps has up-to-date traffic conditions, which means that you'll know before you hit a problem spot when navigating in the car.

If you're on a longer trip, it's also easy to program in stops along your way. This lets you ensure that you get back on track as quickly as possible.

Bottom line: Google Maps gives you a great overall experience whether you're traveling by car, truck or train, and easily lets you find great local places to find a bite to eat.

One more thing: If you're concerned about having data, you can also download areas that can be perused offline.

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3 months ago

What those scary app permissions mean

Knowing when to be concerned over application permissions and when not to be is tricky. And important.

We've all heard stories about bad apps that want to steal your valuable data and ship it off overseas, and those discussions always end with one thing -- someone says you need to read an app's permissions before you install it. Well, that's fine, but there is a small problem -- how do you know what the heck those permissions mean? Something like System tools: automatically start at boot is easy enough to decipher and understand but plenty of others aren't so easy. The problem is that apps may have a good reason to use them because several different things can be covered by one permission and there's no good place to see exactly what they all mean.

Let's take a look at some common permissions that sound really scary. Hopefully, This will help you have a better grasp on why a developer might want a certain permission or why they shouldn't be asking for it.

Services that cost you money — directly call phone numbers

When you warn me that something is going to cost me money, and you have my attention.This permission means an app can automatically make a phone call. Every app can launch the default dialer and even fill in the number, but unless this permission is granted you have to press the call button. Things like Dialer replacements, Google Voice, or anything tied to your phone dialer needs to have this permission. If an application asks for this but should have nothing to do with making calls, find out why from the folks who put in in Google Play before you install it.

Sometimes it's not obvious why an app needs permission to do something that is useful and safe.

Services that cost you money — receive and send SMS or MMS

Again with the costing me money. Subscription SMS services are an easy way for a crook to make money, so this is one to keep an eye on. Your favorite SMS apps will need this (that makes sense) but so will an app that allows you to edit or take a picture and send it to a friend. Apps that can share any media will probably have this setting, It's needed to use the intent to share anything through an SMS or MMS message. If an app can't send anything to anyone, you should check why the developers need this.

Your personal information — read/write your contacts

An email client or any type of messenger uses this permission to do exactly what it says — read your contacts. But so will something like a home screen widget that can hold a shortcut to a person. Or Twitter or Facebook — they want to be able to find friends of yours who also use their service or make it easy for you to spam the ones who don't. "Contacts" is a broad term because so much information can be stored for an individual contact. We see this one on games that have leaderboards a lot, too. Anything that can put you in touch with anyone else will probably need this permission.

Permission to write to your contacts follows the same logic — if an app can add a friend it might need this permission to do it. In this case "write" means modify or add to your contacts list, not write a message to a contact.

Your personal information — read/write calendar events

This one is pretty simple. It only does one thing — read your default calendar. Some apps will need to have access to your calendar. Besides obvious reasons to need this one, apps that can do things like reminding you when it's time to take medicine or automatically tell you about an upcoming trip might do that by reading your calendar. If an app needs to do something at any point in the future reading the calendar is a valid permission request. If it doesn't, find out what it wants to do before you install.

Writing calendar events is a common thing to need for an app that has a legitimate reason to read them. If it's not obvious why an app needs these permissions, the description in the Play Store should tell you more. If you're still not sure, ask the developer.

Phone calls — read phone status and identity

This is the most abused and least understood permission of them all. You need to understand that this permission covers two different things that shouldn't be lumped together. There are a lot of good reasons to need to read your phone state. A game is a great example. You might be doing your thing and playing a game when all the sudden your phone rings. The game needs to step back and let the incoming call notification have control of your screen. The call request can take control (and does) but the game needs to know that so it can stop the action in the background until you get back to it. It can do this when the phone status changes.

It's important to know which ID an app is asking for.

There are a couple different things your phone can do to provide a unique identity. Every phone has a device identifier that's different from every other one and it can be exposed without sharing any private information. When you see how many people are using a particular version of Android in a chart from Google, they are using this device ID to help get those numbers. When you go to Google Play you get counted and since every number is different you only get counted once. This number is also the best way for an app that can store settings or favorites in the cloud to tie them to you and only you. This is the ID we want to share because it can only tell what phone you have and what software is on it so none of your data is exposed.

This permission is also required for an app to read a different unique ID — your IMEI number. Your IMEI number is how your phone company connects your phone to you — your address, your name and everything else you would need to provide to buy a phone that can prove who you are. That data is hard to get — there is a minimum of three different secure and encrypted database servers between it and any of your account data, but it's not impossible to get. Because we've all seen stories about big telco companies exposing random user data from time to time, this is not something you want to be sharing for no good reason.

Since you have no way of knowing which ID an app asking for this will grab, say no when you see this one unless you know why they want it and what they're doing with it.

Your precise location — GPS and network-based location

If an app needs to know where you are it needs to ask for your location. A rough location through something like a Wi-Fi AP database works well enough for a lot of things but sometimes you need to get precise and that's a second permission request.

The need for your precise location can be determined by a little guesstimation. Does this app need to know what is within 50 yards of me? If the answer is yes, it needs a precise location. An app that tells someone who is wheelchair bound where the mall elevators or bathrooms are (those exist, and kudos to the people who make them happen) needs your precise location. An app that tells you what's on sale at Target when you get in the parking lot doesn't. Of course, any app with a map or that gives you directions needs to pinpoint your location, too.

And sometimes apps with ads in them need this just for the ad company. It's up to you to decide if you need those apps bad enough.

Your personal information — Modify/delete SD card contents

This is the permission that allows an app to read or write to your phone's external storage. This used to give an application free run to look at your data, change that data, delete that data and add more data anywhere on your SD card. This is a little confusing because they don't necessarily mean the little SD card that you can take out of the phone. In Android, your phone storage is referred to as an SD card in the file system. The little SD card is external storage. This was needed to support storing system-wide data on your removable memory card back when it was first developed. It hasn't changed because changing the name would break a lot of apps.

How apps can read from your storage changes as Google tries to balance convenience with security.

Google has done a lot to make this permission harmless. With each version, they refine the ways an application can get access to only the information it needs. But there are still people out there running older versions that may mean this permission is a little more serious. If you're one of them, make sure you trust the app before you install it.

There's a second reason why I'm listing this one. Any application that was written for API level 4 (Android 1.6 Donut) or lower gets this permission by default. There aren't very many of those apps around. But it's a way for an app that didn't come from Google Play to get access it shouldn't have if your phone is running an older version of Android. What harm can come from this depends on what type of data you have on your phone's storage.

Phones running Android 7 Nougat and apps built for phones running Android 7 use scoped directory access and this one is finally laid to rest.

Network communication — full network access

This permission means exactly what it says. An app wants to be able to send requests and get a response through the network (Wi-Fi or your phone's data connection). Besides apps that use the internet for something obvious, apps with ads in them need this one.

While this is a fairly harmless permission when it comes to your personal information, it can use your data allotment without you realizing it. We hate paying for extra data as much as you do. Use airplane mode when you're low on data and if you find an app that should work offline but doesn't, uninstall it. There are too many good apps to fool with ones that don't follow the best practices.

There are many other, less suspicious permissions too. An app that takes pictures needs to control your hardware. Netflix needs to keep your screen awake for the 90 minutes you're not touching the screen. A ringer profile widget needs access to your settings. When you come across a permission that seems out of place, usually a bit of deductive reasoning can figure out why an app is requesting it. If not, read comments in Google Play, and ask questions in the forums. Don't just install anything you feel uneasy about, and don't automatically assume the worst.

Most apps in Google Play aren't out to steal your data or your money.

Remember, most of the people writing apps just want to make a little money or are doing it because it's fun. Apps that exist to farm your data are few and far between. And sometimes developers will make a mistake — it's not hard to get Android to ask for a permission an app isn't using and it's easy to overlook those errors when you're building them.

Android is getting a lot better than it used to be when it comes to permissions. There's a good chance you can deny any of these after you install an app through your phone's settings and some of the most common "scary sounding" permissions are going away altogether. But with so many different phones having so many different versions of Android this information can mean more to some people than others.

We'll keep this updated as things change.

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3 months ago

Five must-have games for your Oculus Rift

Consider this your Oculus Rift starter kit.

There's a lot going on in the Oculus Store, which is the primary place you get games for your Rift headset. Titles range wildly when it comes to price and description, due in no small part to Oculus pulling content that was originally made for the Samsung Gear VR into the store so you can experience it in a higher resolution. It's a lot to take in, and that's only going to get more interesting when you start playing games for your Oculus Rift that come from Steam instead of the Oculus Store.

To help you get started with your Oculus Rift, we've put together a quick lift of titles everyone should have in their library in order to fully appreciate this incredible VR experience.

Read More at VR Heads!

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3 months ago

LineageOS already supports almost 70 builds with SU options

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They're back, and they're running strong.

It may feel good for a handful of knuckleheads to stand up and talk about how they "totally called" the epic collapse of Cyanogen, Inc. but as usual there's a far more interesting story here. The open source, community-run program that so many people around the world have used for years, lives on. The shift from CyanogenMod to LineageOS is significant, returning a team of people working on an alternative version of Android to a place free of criticism regarding corporate influence and making it abundantly clear that the core philosophy is supporting as many phones as possible with as similar a feature set as possible.

If you weren't excited about LineageOS as an alternative to the aging version of Android running on your older phone, it may be time to take another look. As of today the downloads page is offering nearly 70 options to download across 13 hardware manufacturers, and it's only going to get bigger from here.

It'll be a while before LineageOS is built up to the level of its predecessor, but as a first week what is already available astounds.

LineageOS downloads have reached what they call "nightly" build status, a step above "experimental" in terms of stability. Don't let the name fool you, though, the LineageOS team isn't pumping out a new build for each phone every night just yet. Some builds are already several days old, but the volume of available options for phones is significant. Also on the LineageOS downloads page is a list of options for adding or removing Super User from your build, which means you can set your phone up as a solid experimentation phone or set up as a daily driver without the obvious hole in security caused by SU access.

It'll be a while before LineageOS is built up to the level of its predecessor, but as a first week what is already available astounds. Be sure to check out the downloads page for yourself if you're thinking about giving this particular flavor of Android a try.

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3 months ago

How to produce beautiful, artistic photos on Android

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Here's how to edit photos when you're on the road with just your smartphone (or tablet!).

Going somewhere? Packing is tough enough. The last thing you want to do is have to worry about whether you have all the proper hardware to produce well composed, vibrant photography for sharing online. When I travel, I like to reflect on the photos I've snapped every few days. It's my way of appreciating the fact that we live on such a beautiful planet, but I don't want to have to bust out my laptop to do this.

Enter your smartphone (or tablet!). With displays becoming higher resolution and better able to reproduce colors than your standard wide-screen monitor, there's really no reason to carry all that hardware with you just to put out a pretty photo. With a couple of adapters and helpful applications, you can edit your photos just as easily on the go.

Figure out your methodology

First thing's first: how will you shoot your masterpieces? For my vacation in New Zealand, I brought two smartphones: the Galaxy S7 Edge and the Pixel XL. That was really all I needed! Sometimes, I'll bring my trust little entry-level DSLR or borrow my husband's professional-grade kit. Regardless of what you have in tow, you'll want to equip yourself with the proper arsenal of apps.

Shooting with a smartphone

You can shoot with any smartphone, really, but be realistic about the quality of the photos you'll be posting if you're shooting with something low-end to mid-range—like the Honor 6X, for instance. If you're wielding a flagship like the aforementioned devices, however, you can tweak a couple of settings to get the most out of that fixed rear lens.

If you're serious about adjusting the various hues of a photo, you'll want to turn on RAW capture if your smartphone allows it. This means every photo will be shot as a DNG file rather than a JPEG. The advantage is that the file type retains more information than the compressed JPEG would, though you'll have to actively process the photo yourself before it's shareable with the Internet.

On a device like the Galaxy S7 edge, Samsung saves both the RAW and JPEG file to the device so that you can instantly share one photo and then edit it more thoroughly later on. For the purpose of this column, however, you'll be able to edit those DNG files with the right Android app.

If you're serious about adjusting the various hues of a photo, you'll want to turn on RAW capture.

Be forewarned that on most devices, you'll have to enter "Pro mode" before you can select the option to shoot in RAW. This requires that you manually adjust elements like the exposure and shutter speed before you can snap a picture. Also, consider investing in a worthy smartphone tripod if you're headed this route. I did, and though it adds a bit of bulk to packing, landscape shots taken with my smartphone have never looked better.

Shooting with a DSLR

If you're planning to edit photos taken with your DSLR, check to see if your phone or tablet supports USB On-The-Go (OTG) first by downloading this app. If it turns out your device is compatible, grab a USB-connected card reader from a place like Amazon. You can choose between adapters that are compatible with your device's charging port or adapters that allow you to connect any USB flash drive or card reader.

Thanks to Android's "sharing" mechanism, you can open those photos directly in the editing app of your choice.

We've also got a helpful primer on how to properly connect USB flash storage to your Android device. The same steps apply to a USB card reader, too. When you're ready to edit, you can plug in the SD card into your phone and browse through the files like you would on a regular computer. And thanks to Android's "sharing" mechanism, you can open those photos directly in the editing app of your choice.

See at Amazon

Choose your applications

Adobe Lightroom

If you've used the desktop app, you know that Adobe Lightroom is one of the primo titles for making your smartphone photos look their absolute best. Lightroom mobile boasts much of the same functionality as the full suite, including the ability to individually adjust hue, saturation, contrast, brightness, white balance, sharpness, and tone. There are also helpful filters to choose from if you're feeling creative, including filters that correspond directly to the type of smartphone you're shooting with.

Lightroom mobile also lets you sign in to your Adobe account, so if you're already a Creative Cloud subscriber, you can log in to access your archived albums and all the metadata. And if your smartphone doesn't employ a "Pro mode," Lightroom mobile comes with the ability to shoot DNG files baked into the camera mode.

Download Adobe Lightroom (Free)

Snapseed

You're an Android user, so you're already entrenched in the Google life. Stick with the family by downloading Snapseed, Google's photo editing suite. The app comes with 25 different tools and filters, including a healing brush and HDR tuner. What's more: Any time you apply a filter, you can tap an icon in the upper right-hand corner to toggle between the before and after. Snapseed also supports DNG files.

When you're finished editing, you can easily share to any of your favorite social networks. For a little more flair, choose between the different frames or add a bit of context with a stylized text caption.

Download Snapseed (Free)

Pixlr

Pixlr claims it offers over 2 million combinations of free effects, overlays, and filters. I can't personally confirm that, but I can say that, anecdotally, I'm sometimes overwhelmed by Pixlr precisely because of its breadth of features. In addition to the standard filters and adjustments, Pixlr lets you do things like create collages, layer multiple photos, and stylize your images. There's also a favorites button in case you get into an editing groove and you don't want to have to recall your steps each time.

When you're finished editing, you can share externally or save the photo to your device at maximum resolution.

Download Pixlr (Free)

Accept the limitations

For those of you who are new to the concept of editing photos with your smartphone, be aware of the limitations. For one, you can only work on one image at a time, and you're likely doing so with a sensitive setup — one wrong flick of the SD card adapter and every edit could disappear before you even have the chance to export. Transferring and editing RAW files also drains your battery, so if you're in the editing process while in transit, for instance, be sure you're tethered to a high capacity battery pack.

But you're likely not reading this article if you're a professional photographer because there's nothing mentioned here that you don't already know. Well, I'd ask you to please consider leaving a comment and letting us know of any other tips you might have for editing photos on the go!

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3 months ago

Google's 'new and improved' Contributor program is accepting early sign-ups

2

Welcome back, Contributor. Sort of.

As Google promised when the original Contributor program was entirely erased earlier this month, a replacement is on the way. There aren't many details yet, and it's not clear if this will look anything like the original service that killed ads in exchange for a monthly fee from users, but at least we know it's not dead forever right?

Instead of a dead page, Google's Contributor site now includes a link to a Google Form where you can ask to be a part of early trials for the "new and improved" Contributor. Amazingly, the URL for this sign up page includes the words "sign up disabled" but the link on the page clearly works. No one outside of Mountain View knows what that means yet, but as long as the core idea remains there's a good chance this will be perfect for those who can't stand ads but also want to support the sites they love.

Go forth and sign up for that early access, and be sure to drop us a line if you get to try anything cool before we do!

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3 months ago

Android Nougat: Everything you need to know

83

With Android Nougat, Google is refining the experience instead of reinventing it.

Android Nougat is Google's way of refining what we already have and adding some essential features to an operating system they were already happy with.

The past two years have shown us how Google was shifting its design language on the phones it sells itself and the apps and services that come on your phone. Android itself has followed this trend, and with Marshmallow, we saw a flat but bold design that tied everything together.

Android Nougat doesn't make major changes to the way your phone looks or the way it "feels", but what Google has done under the hood brings some new features — and much-needed polish — to our favorite smartphone operating system.

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3 months ago

Master Python with this in-depth training bundle, now over 90% off

Just about everything relies on some type of code nowadays. Cars are computerized; we use computers all day long, and we're glued to our smartphones from sunup to sundown. Python is a major coding language for apps and it's an excellent tool if you're wanting to enter the field of software development, especially if you want to build apps for a living.

But you can't just learn to code with Python overnight. You need training, and Python may not be offered at your college of choice. Or, you already have a full-time job and don't have the time to attend classes, day or night. You need online courses and you need to be able to take them at your leisure — even if that means it takes a couple years.

The Python Power Coder Bonus Bundle is a great way for you to get started and to learn to build apps from scratch and learn web programming, as well as other applicable skills that you can use to forge your career as an app developer or programmer. You'll get lifetime access to eight courses, totaling roughly 70 hours of content, and you'll build 17 apps during your studies.

Were you to go anywhere else for these courses, you'd end up paying $1075. But right now through Android Central Digital Offers, you'll only pay $44 for the whole bundle. That's eight courses, over 600 lessons, and about 70 hours of content for over 95% off.

Master Python for much less! Learn More

It's a great time to get into the world of app development and programming for the web, but you first need the tools to get a foot in the door. Python is one of the biggest coding languages when it comes to apps and learning to use it and use it well is an invaluable asset right now. But don't pay over $1000 for courses. Get the Python Power Coder Bonus Bundle for only $44 through Android Central Digital Offers.

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3 months ago

Uber is bringing its food delivery service to India

1

Uber's on-demand online food delivery service is coming to India.

Uber has announced that its standalone food delivery app UberEATS will be making its debut in India shortly. The service is currently available in 58 cities around the world, and will launch in at least six cities across India.

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3 months ago

Google Calendar: Ultimate Guide

21

Everything you need to know about Google Calendar.

Google Calendar is an amazing and useful app because it's more than that — it's a cross-platform service that is as elegant as it is versatile.

It starts by being pre-loaded on your Android phone, tablet or Chromebook, and it goes from there. It's on the web, and it's on iOS. You can use it by yourself or share it with others. You can even subscribe to public calendars that are separate but perfectly integrated into your own. And the best part is that it syncs seamlessly in the Google Cloud, so you never have to worry that you've lost something.

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3 months ago

The problem with Android permissions is too much information and not enough information all at once

23

People freaking out over an Android app's permissions again was overdue.

It's a regular happening in the tech press. An app has questionable permissions and people freak out about it. Sometimes it's warranted, but most of the time it's because the people freaking out don't understand the Android permission model or haven't taken the time to see what reasons an app might have to need those seemingly sketchy permissions. And it's Google's fault. Sorry, Google, we love you, but this is all yours.

There are two ways to handle letting the user (that's you and me) know what an app needs to do or needs to see in order to function. One way is to plainly state everything up front before that user installs it so they know exactly what can be done and seen. In other words, the Android way (mostly). Another way is to carefully screen each and every app and have the user trust your screening process and know that the app isn't doing anything out of the ordinary. This is the Apple way. Both are good in some ways and bad in some ways.

It's Serenity and crew's job at iMore to tackle iOS issues on this front if it needs tackling— they're more knowledgeable about them than I am — but we really need to talk about Android permissions here and why they need some attention from big G.

I'm going to pick on our own Android Central app here because I can look through the code or build it myself and know exactly what it does, what it can do, and why. Let's start with what makes people freak out because there is a good example right in the picture above — prevent device from sleeping.

Why in the hell does an app to read a blog need to keep your phone locked awake? I don't blame you at all if this is the first thing you think. In fact, I want it to be the first thing everyone thinks because we all need to be a little skeptical when it comes to software that we install on our phones. But our app has no intention of keeping your phone running all the time, and unless there's a bug somewhere it doesn't. We need that permission so that the screen doesn't shut off while you're reading this.

Tell us what those permissions mean and we'll freak out less.

There are two very big issues here that Google can fix. One is hard but the other is easy, Like delicious pie easy. The hard one is to continue building out the APIs until we have one that can only keep the screen on. Let background data and everything else sleep until it's used and keep the CPU idling unless it needs to ramp up for something else a user is doing. That's all we're using the prevent device from sleeping permission for anyway. If Google makes that API, we'll switch to it. Until then, we need permission to keep your whole phone up and running even when we're not doing anything in the background.

The second and easier thing that needs to be done is to give more information here. Once you decide that you're going to give the user all the info about which permissions an app needs, you need to go a step further when you list them. What we have right now is either too much information or not enough information.

I am a nerd. I don't even try to hide it. Plenty of the people reading this will also be nerds. What we see now on Google Play when permissions are shown was written by nerds for nerds. I understand it, my fellow nerds understand it, but a normal person who just wants to install a cool new app might not. Consider this:

  • Prevent your device from sleeping. This application needs to keep your phone from going into a sleep state. This can only happen while the app is running and shown on your screen and may not be processor intensive. If you have any questions you should ask the developer using the contact information at the bottom of the page.

That took me like 30 seconds to bang out on my keyboard. (And 20 more to fix the typos because I think I can type really fast without looking at my keyboard but I actually can't.) It's not the greatest explanation of what this permission might mean, but it's a metric shitload better that what we have now. The people at Google are way smarter about Android than I am (but I challenge any and all comers to test my knowledge on Dunmer lore) and could do this even better. If they did, it would help people who actually bother to read the permissions when they see Twitter melting about an app needing GPS data because it's a free ad-driven app that needs GPS to show you those "relevant" Target ads when you're in the Target parking lot.

The Android permission model needs to be refined and explained. And not by nerds.

This isn't a new problem. Since Android became popular people have seen too much information about needed permissions without enough information about those permissions and what they mean. Then they (rightfully) freak out about it. I enjoy those freakouts. I get to sit back and watch people actually care about mobile security and their precious personal data for a day or two. But the app developers surely aren't very happy when it happens to them, and they are the reason Android is as popular as it is.

So how 'bout it Google? Can you make a change to give us everything we need to know when we actually look at an app's permissions without going to the Android Developer site and reading a bunch of documentation about them? We'll love you more.

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3 months ago

Meitu — What you need to know about privacy and the filtering app

15

[record scratch] [freeze frame] [shot of Phil in Meitu app]

Yep, that's me. You're probably wondering how I ended up here ...

Every now and then we get hit with an app that seems to just take over. The latest — and god help me, I'm about to talk about selfies — is called Meitu. There's almost no way that you haven't seen it — or at least the results from it — in the past week or so.

It's one of those apps that takes your pictures and filters the hell out of them until you get something that looks like you, but not you. ln this case, you get a sort of China doll thing. It's available for iOS (in the App Store) and Android (on Google Play), and there's a good chance you've already seen it being shared all over Facebook and Instagram.

But you might want to think twice before you install it.

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So here's the gist. You take a picture either with the Meitu app, or use one you've already snapped. The app then makeups the hell out of you in a LOT of different ways. The kids love this stuff. The cool new feature everyone's talking about, though, is the "hand-drawn" filter. It'll take a shot of you — or someone else — and change you up.

And that's great. It's a lot of fun. I feel pretty already.

But there's also a reason why you might not want to install Meitu.

Apps that are loaded up with tracking code — analytics — aren't anything new. Pretty much every single app (or website) you've ever used has had some sort of analytics tracking built in. Developers need to know how their products are being used. But questions have been raised about the way they're implemented in Meitu, and rightly so. Particularly because it harvests your phone's unique IMEI number. There are better and less-sensitive ways to identify a device.

For its part, Meitu has said that the red flags are because the app originally was coded for use in China, which has to do things behind a government-controlled firewall. Fair enough. But that doesn't mean that's the right way to code things for the rest of the world. Ultimately, you're giving access to a lot of your data just slap some makeup on your mug. Choose wisely, and stay vigilant.

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3 months ago

Best Chromebook apps

22

Make the most of your Chromebook with these apps.

Your Chromebook is a safe, inexpensive, and simple portal the internet but it can do so much more. Whether you want to get productive, have a little fun or keep in touch you'll find an app to help do it in the Chrome Web Store. Here's the short — and ever-changing — list of ones we think you have to try.

Polarr Photo Editor

One area where Chromebooks have traditionally been lacking is media creation tools. Photoshop for Chrome is a real thing, but it requires you to have an Adobe education license for Creative Cloud and live in North America. If you meet these qualifications you should definitely have a look, but for the rest of us, there is Polarr Photo Editor.

Polarr is beautifully done, filled with features and is extremely lightweight. It's an offline app so you can work without an internet connection and it's the best way to edit photographs on your Chromebook. Whether you need to turn RAW files into great photos or just touch up something before you share it on Facebook, Polarr Photo Editor can handle the job.

See at the Chrome Web Store

Skype

We're cheating a little bit here, but access to Skype is important enough to allow it.

Skype on the web now supports text chat and phones calls using standard internet communication protocols — that means it works on your Chromebook.

There are many different communication apps available — including Google's own Hangouts — but for many Skype is the de facto standard. Using your Skype account and Microsoft's official website, all you need to do is log and start Skyping.

For those who want it, there are also several launchers at the Chrome Web Store that let you launch the Skype site in its own window through an icon, but we think a bookmark is just as good.

Skype Online

Any.do

Any.do is one of the best ways to stay organized. It's a task manager, reminder list, calendar, and organizer all in one and it syncs across all your devices. It's also quite the looker!

Using the Any.do app for Chrome gives you the same tools and features as the client for your phone (Android and iOS) does plus the ability to drag and drop attachments, notes, and tasks using your Chromebook's trackpad. Any.do is scalable and great for keeping track of a few reminders or as a complete organization tool for your entire team.

See at the Chrome Web Store

Office Online

Your Chromebook gives you access to everything Google Docs has to offer. While that's more than enough productivity for some of us, if you work in a Microsoft environment Office Online is a must-have.

Using the same subscription you hold for the full version of Office for Windows or Mac, you get access to all the tools and features using your Microsoft account. You can view, edit and create files in Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Sway right from your Chromebook and synchronization with your OneDrive account means they are accessible anywhere. You can also work locally when you're not connected to the internet.

If you're a Microsoft Office user, Office Online is a no-brainer.

See at the Chrome Web Store

StreamDor

No list of great Chrome apps would be complete without StreamDor.

The internet is huge, and it's filled with awesome content if you know where to find it. StreamDor is a list of 20,000 movies that you can stream for free. Everything is legal and above the board, and there's no funny stuff going on.

The list is refreshed daily and you'll find old favorites as well as recent hits at high quality from sites like YouTube or Vimeo. While StreamDor doesn't serve any content themselves, the app is the perfect way to find it all in one place. It's free and a great way to relax during some down time.

See at the Chrome Web Store

Mighty Text

If you're still waiting for Android apps on your Chromebook, or you just don't want to install everything from Google Play, Mighty Text is a great way to get all your notifications.

Don't let the name fool you. Might Text is awesome and lets you read, reply and send SMS messages using your regular phone number. But it can also forward any notification from your phone right to your Chromebook screen. Folks who use an app like this will tell you how cool this is, and once you try it you'll be doing the same. It's one of those apps you'll wish you had tried earlier.

See at the Chrome Web Store

Your best?

Everyone has favorites. Jump in the comments and tell us what your best Chrome apps are! Sometimes jewels are easy to overlook when you have so many choices so you're helping everyone when you tell us what apps we need to check out.

This post was updated in January 2017 to stay current and list the best Chrome apps.

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3 months ago

Best apps for learning a language

11

Rosetta Stone delivers a solid foundation for learning a new language.

Best overall

Learn languages: Rosetta Stone

See at Store

Rosetta Stone is already well known as a great way to begin learning a new language, but you may not have realized that it was available on your phone. With access to 28 different languages, a slow and steady pace that is great for building up your confidence, and optional live-tutoring, there is a reason that Rosetta Stone is king when it comes to language learning apps. Whether you're aiming to learn for fun, or you want to become fluent, this is a great place to start. This program will let you learn how to speak, write and read in a new language, with an emphasis on building confidence in pronunciation and the ability to sync progress across your desktop or mobile device.

Bottom line: Rosetta Stone delivers an excellent foundation for learning a new language with a program that focuses on practical conversational skills. With the addition of teaching you how to read, write, and listen for a rounded experience.

One more thing: While you do have to pay for the full version, you can access the first module of any language for free to try it out.

Why Rosetta Stone is the best

Rosetta Stone makes sure that the fundamentals are pounded into your head and offers features that make sure you're confident about what you're hearing, saying, and writing.

When it comes to language apps, Rosetta Stone may already be the first software you think of. There's good reason for that too. For years Rosetta Stone has dominated language learning on PC and it's mobile version is just as solid. While getting access to the full program is a bit pricy, if you'll motivated to really learn a new language it's worth the hit to your wallet in the long run.

Jill Duffy of PCMag gave it high marks for a foundation in a new language.

"Rosetta Stone is a wonderful, polished, and technically competent language-learning program, especially for beginners who are looking to build a foundation of knowledge on their own time."

While Rosetta Stone does have it's limitations, for those without a background in the language they're trying to learn, this is the most solid all around program. While it can be repetitive, that's to make sure that your new vocabulary sticks in your brain. At higher levels you'll also be able to read to the program while it listens to your pronunciation. Additionally it employs games likes bingo to help your association between individual words and their meanings.

One of the biggest perks to Rosetta Stone is how they introduce everything. Immersion is the key to learning with Rosetta Stone, combined with deductive reasoning. At time you'll need to guess a new word, but it's made easier by giving you choices of other words that you've already learned.

Best free

Duolingo

See at Store

While price isn't an option for some people, if you're looking for the best way to begin learning a new language on a budget then Duolingo is definitely the best bet. This free app has access to 20 different languages to learn from Vietnamese and Irish to Spanish and German. Unlike most other programs, Duolingo employs XP and leaderboards so that you can learn with your friends and turns language into a game to be played.

Each language is a little bit different, and the more popular languages do have access to far more module lessons. Each one starts out the same though. You'll deal with the basics before moving on to phrases and language specific lessons. The leaderboards will show you which friends on facebook use the app and will let you compete against each other. By completing modules you'll also earn EXP and Lingots which you can use to purchase extra modules. If you're learning with friends, you can also start clubs which allows you to turn learning a language into a group activity.

Bottom line: Duolingo makes learning a language fun, and with it's social aspects it's easy to learn a language with friends. Absolutely free, you never need to pay a penny in order to learn everything it has to offer.

One more thing: Duolingo also allows people coming back to a language to test past the basics and jump right back into learning new content.

Best for the rest

Babbel

See at Store

If you're looking for a solid middle of the road option for learning a new language, then Babbel ought to be your go to. It offers a subscription for access to the full catalog, but it isn't nearly as expensive as picking up a copy of Rosetta Stone. Each language is made up of a variety of courses from beginning vocabulary to grammar and writing in the language you are learning.

Each lesson must be downloaded to your phone, but they only take a moment or two and then you can properly jump in. Those lessons are also fairly short, making them easy to rock through when you're sitting on the train during your commute. There are currently 14 languages in the Babbel arsenal, from Spanish to Brazilian Portugese.

Bottom line: Babbel offers an affordable middle of the road option for learning a new language. There are 14 different languages available, with plenty of courses to get you working towards fluency in a new language.

One more thing: Each language must be downloaded as a different app, which can be a bit bulky if you download more than one at a time.

Best overall

Learn languages: Rosetta Stone

See at Store

Rosetta Stone is already well known as a great way to begin learning a new language, but you may not have realized that it was available on your phone. With access to 28 different languages, a slow and steady pace that is great for building up your confidence, and optional live-tutoring, there is a reason that Rosetta Stone is king when it comes to language learning apps. Whether you're aiming to learn for fun, or you want to become fluent, this is a great place to start. This program will let you learn how to speak, write and read in a new language, with an emphasis on building confidence in pronunciation and the ability to sync progress across your desktop or mobile device.

Bottom line: Rosetta Stone delivers an excellent foundation for learning a new language with a program that focuses on practical conversational skills. With the addition of teaching you how to read, write, and listen for a rounded experience.

One more thing: While you do have to pay for the full version, you can access the first module of any language for free to try it out.

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