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3 months ago

Pick between four great lifetime VPN subscriptions with huge savings

With how much of our life is online these days security is something that you need to be focused on. Ensuring that your connection is secure when you are entering your banking details or composing those private emails should be something that you think about each time you connect to the internet. Unfortunately, you can't always connect to your home Wi-Fi, but using a VPN can get you a much safer connection, but that comes at a cost.

VPN subscriptions can get pricey, but not all of them have to be. There are a number of great options out there, some of which you can pay for by the year, but there are also some that come with a one-time lifetime fee. If you are looking to take advantage of a lifetime license, you can do some pretty afforadably right now. Here are some of the best deals you can get on a lifetime VPN subscription.

HotSpot Shield

  • Regular Price: $99.95
  • Deal Price & Savings: $49.99 (49% off)
  • Key feature: Best Connection Speeds

Of the variety of VPN services that are out there, HotSpot Shield offers some of the best connection speeds available. You can connect to 20 different virtual networks around the world to keep your browsing secure, bypass local censorship to view additional content and much more with it. You can take your public Wi-Fi sessions private in just one click and much more with HotSpot Shield VPN.

See at Android Central Offers

Windscribe VPN

  • Regular Price: $900
  • Deal Price & Savings: $49.99 (94% off)
  • Key feature: Browser Extension

Ease of use is definitely one of the strong points for Windscribe VPN, and the browser extension is a big part of that. In just a few clicks you can be connected to a secure network on which you can block most ads and not leave a trace of what you've been up to. You can use Windscribe VPN on all your devices at the same time, so you never have to sacrifice your security to browse on a different device.

See at Android Central Offers

VPN Unlimited

  • Regular Price: $499.99
  • Deal Price & Savings: $20 (94% off)
  • Key feature: The Price

You simply can not go wrong with the price of VPN Unlimited at just $20. With servers in 53 different locations, which span accross 39 countries, you'll be able to quickly and easily switch between servers while on the go. Securing your browsing sessions is super simple, and you have unlimited bandwith and unlimited high speed connectivity. For less than a nice dinner out on the town you could have a lifetime of access to a great VPN service.

See at Android Central Offers

VPNSecure: Lifetime Subscription

  • Regular Price: $450
  • Deal Price & Savings: $39 (91% off)
  • Key feature: Anti-Logging Policy

One of the biggest things that sets VPNSecure apart from the competition is its anti-logging policy, meaning that nothing you do will be logged and tracked. You can connect up to five devices at the same time, so you don't have to worry about ending a session on one device to start on another, and you also have unlimited bandwith. You'll also have access to servers in more than 46 countries, a hidden IP address and more with VPNSecure.

See at Android Central Offers

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3 months ago

Netflix may finally roll out offline playback, but not in the U.S.

21

Offline playback is coming to Netflix. Just not in the U.S.

Earlier this year, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said that he was "open-minded" about bringing offline playback to the service. In an interview with CNBC, Netflix COO Ted Sarandos said that the company is "looking at" enabling the feature, with initial rollout expected in countries with limited internet availability:

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3 months ago

Best Transit App

4

Best overall

Citymapper

See at Google Play

Citymapper is the best transit app that you can use on your Android phone, as long as you are in a supported city. When you need help traversing larger cities, like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle or any number of international cities, that is where Citymapper comes in. The app can factor in buses, trains, subways, bikes and cabs, removing the daunting task of figuring out how to get from point A to B in the fastest or least stressful way possible.

Citymapper pulls all of this information into one place so you can check out the available options and see which is best for you. From directions that use the bus, subway, rail and even bikes, Citymapper will help you find the best place to get on the transportation method nearest you, and which stop you will want to get off. If you are one to travel into smaller cities, you may find that Citymapper doesn't yet offer support for it. Luckily, Citymapper is always looking to expand the areas that it supports and you can easily suggest a new location to be added.

Citymapper is a free app, but you are at the mercy of the locations that they pick to support.

Bottom line: If you often find yourself in big cities that you don't know your way around, you'll want to make sure that Citymapper is installed on your phone and ready to go.

One more thing: As of now the number of cities that are fully supported are somewhat limited, but if you are traveling to big cities this app will serve you well.

Why Citymapper is the best

A powerful app that brings all your local transit options to one place.

Citymapper is your best bet for getting around a new city, as long as it is one of the supported cities by the app. Whether you are looking to take a train to the other side of town, or take a bus to a different section, Citymapper pulls all the data into one place. You can easily see on the map how long it will take you to get somewhere with each transportation method, allowing you to easily pick the one that best meets your needs.

PCMag put some of the transit apps head to head and said:

For New York, Citymapper gave by far the best routes. It tells you which section of the train to get on for the easiest transfers, and even offers "rain safe" routes which are underground as much as possible. It had all of the oddball non-NYC Transit options in the New York metro area. Its bikeshare option (shown at left) clearly shows how many bikes are available and where to drop them off. It's only available in 30 cities, but I found it the clearest and best routing engine for most point-to-point routes.

The beauty of Citymapper is in its simplicity: you only need to open the app from your location and tell it where you want to go, and the extensive database will take into account the various means of getting somewhere — bus, subway, tram, even walking — to determine the ideal route. It's even smart enough to tell you when to leave to get there at a particular time, or which door to exit from to emerge from a subway closest to your location. The app is well-designed and extremely intuitive, and it functions as a replacement for Google Maps in every way but for driving directions.

Best for all locations

Google Maps

See at Google Play

If you are looking for options in the most places possible, Google Maps is likely your best bet. While the other apps specialize in particular cities, Google is a bit more generic. This can be a good and bad thing at the same time. Sure, you'll have more information at your fingertips with Google Maps, but the overall density of information may not be as high.

Once you find your location on the map, you'll be able to pick between driving, taking a bus, train routes, walking directions and more. From the settings you'll be able to set a time you want to leave or arrive so that you can see accurate commute options for that trip.

Bottom line: If versatility is what you are looking for, Google Maps may be your best bet. It won't offer all the options that other apps will, but you will have support in the most cities.

One more thing: Be sure to turn the traffic option on so you are able to see where you will hit delays on your journey.

Best for offline

Transit

See at Google Play

Transit offers support in more than 120 cities already both in and out of the U.S. From an easy way to grab step-by-step directions to get you around a new city to real-time predictions of when the next train or bus may arrive, Transit is quite powerful. The built-in map will show you where your train is, notifications of when to get off at your stop and more so you won't get lost in that new city.

Whether you have an internet connection or not you'll be able to view the schedule for upcoming departures, check estimated time of arrivals (ETAs) and even request an Uber if no other method of transportation meets your needs. It has support for nearly all methods of transportation, including ferry, Uber, bus, rail, train, bike, car2go and others.

Transit is a great alternative to Citymapper and a great addition to Google Maps for those times you may need more in-depth information about getting around where you are.

Bottom line: Transit offers support for more cities than Citymapper does, but its feature set isn't quiet as extensive.

One more thing: You'll have great support for a list of U.S. cities, and you can also use it in many cities in Canada, Europe, and Australia.

Best to customize

Transit Directions by Moovit

See at Google Play

Transit Directions by Moovit offers support for more than 1,200 cities around the world, which is far more than many of the other apps out there. Just because it supports more cities doesn't mean it's the best though. The interface is a bit different than others, and some may find that it works for them and others will be turned off and go back to another option.

The features within the app are great, though. With live directions that notify you when to get off at your stop, real-time arrival information, a favorites screen to quickly access places you frequently visit and more, there is no shortage of information in the app. The Moovit widget will help you keep an eye on your favorite destinations and travel lines to make sure things are operating as normal, and you can receive a notifications for service alerts when things aren't running as usual.

Bottom line: If the other options haven't met your needs, Moovit may be able to slide in with the assist. It offers similar features to the others, but with support for more cities.

One more thing: Service alerts will help keep you on top of your travel, even when you aren't looking at it with notifications of delays or other issues that will affect your travel.

Conclusion

Depending where you live or where you will be visiting, one app may work better than the others. If you are in a supported city, Citymapper is the way to go. If you aren't in one of them, you should suggest for it to be the next supported city, and then check out one of the other options. Don't want to have multiple apps installed to do this for you? Google Maps may be the way to go, but you may not see all your available routes this way.

Best overall

Citymapper

See at Google Play

Citymapper is the best transit app that you can use on your Android phone, as long as you are in a supported city. When you need help traversing larger cities, like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle or any number of international cities, that is where Citymapper comes in. The app can factor in buses, trains, subways, bikes and cabs, removing the daunting task of figuring out how to get from point A to B in the fastest or least stressful way possible.

Citymapper pulls all of this information into one place so you can check out the available options and see which is best for you. From directions that use the bus, subway, rail and even bikes, Citymapper will help you find the best place to get on the transportation method nearest you, and which stop you will want to get off. If you are one to travel into smaller cities, you may find that Citymapper doesn't yet offer support for it. Luckily, Citymapper is always looking to expand the areas that it supports and you can easily suggest a new location to be added.

Citymapper is a free app, but you are at the mercy of the locations that they pick to support.

Bottom line: If you often find yourself in big cities that you don't know your way around, you'll want to make sure that Citymapper is installed on your phone and ready to go.

One more thing: As of now the number of cities that are fully supported are somewhat limited, but if you are traveling to big cities this app will serve you well.

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3 months ago

Pokémon Go to bring daily and weekly bonuses for active users

27

Niantic has posted news about an upcoming update for the Pokémon Go app, and a big feature of it will be daily bonuses for catching the lil' buggers. The bonuses will get better each consecutive day, and look to be an easy way to score experience points, Stardust and additional items from PokéStop visits.

We want to provide you a detailed look at a new feature coming soon to Pokémon GO - Daily bonuses! Trainers will soon be able to receive a bonus for certain daily activities, including catching a Pokémon or visiting a PokéStop once a day. You'll earn a larger bonus if you do this seven days in a row!

Catching a Pokémon every day will earn the following bonus:

  • 500 XP
  • 600 Stardust

Catching a Pokémon every day for 7 days straight will earn the following larger bonus:

  • 2,000 XP
  • 2,400 Stardust

Visiting a PokéStop and spinning the Photo Disc every day will earn the following bonus:

  • 500 XP
  • A number of additional items

Visiting a PokéStop every day for 7 days straight will earn the following larger bonus:

  • 2,000 XP
  • A greater number of additional items

If you catch a Pokémon at any time on Tuesday local time, you'll be eligible for the next daily bonus on Wednesday at 12 AM local time.

While the huge numbers of new daily players of Pokémon Go don't match the initial release numbers, the game is still extremely popular and making money for Niantic. Frequent updates and additional features and rewards are part of the reason. Love Pokémon or hate Pokémon, there's no denying that Niantic knows how to make a great app that plenty of people love. Updates like this show they also have a plan to keep them interested.

No word from Niantic about when we'll see the update other than coming soon. We'll take a look when it gets here.

Pokémon Go

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3 months ago

Best Android Launchers

590
Action Launcher 3 on the LG V20

For the most customization, slickest features and latest Google design influences, Action Launcher 3 is the best launcher available.

Best overall

Action Launcher 3

Action Launcher

See at Google Play

Action Launcher brings a ton of thoughtful features plus lots of additional tweaks that you expect from a custom launcher. Replace the traditional app drawer with a slide-in Quickdrawer, maximize on-screen real estate with Shutters and tweak the home screen search bar with the customizable Quickbar. Beyond that, Action Launcher also offers theming options, suggestions for app icon replacements and a beta feature to normalize icon sizes.

At the same time, Action Launcher regularly incorporates the latest design and features from Google's own launcher, meaning you don't have to loose that Google feel when you get all of these extra features. For example those using Action Launcher on Android 7.1 today can already access to new app shortcut features from the home screen.

The best features of Action Launcher 3 require a paid upgrade to the Plus version, but it's worth every penny.

Bottom line: If you're feeling bored with your phone's launcher and want a feature-packed replacement, Action Launcher has you covered.

One more thing: You don't have to pay for Action Launcher's Plus features, but you really should if you plan to use it full-time.

Why Action Launcher 3 is the best

A super powerful launcher with plenty of slick customization options.

Action Launcher can be as simple or as feature-packed as you want it to be, depending on how you set it up. All of the tools are there to keep your home screens looking minimalistic while providing tons of features and options to make the most of the available space. Shutters and Quickcuts turn your app icons into so much more, while the customizable Quickbar takes what other launchers use as dead space and turns it into exactly what you want.

If you want co change the entire theme of your phone but don't want to fiddle around finding all of the pieces yourself, Action Launcher's theme engine helps you customize things so it all looks neat and tidy — including custom app icons — without all of the legwork. But if you don't mess with themes, you know you're getting a great Material Design look with inspiration from the latest Pixel phones, even if you haven't updated to Nougat just yet.

For just $4.99 you can unlock all of Action Launcher 3's features, and you really should give it a look if your current launcher is leaving a bit to be desired.

Best clean look

Google Now Launcher

Google Now Launcher

See at Google Play

If you want the clean, simple home screen experience just as Google intended, you'll want to use the Google Now Launcher. This is the launcher that's pre-installed on Nexus phones, and it's all about giving you a basic but extremely quick experience with access to your apps and widgets — and of course Google Now is just a single swipe away.

You don't get advanced options for extra gestures or themes, but some people prefer a simple layout and Google Now Launcher absolutely delivers in that respect. It's updated regularly by Google as well, though the future is uncertain with the Pixel phones now shipping with their own different launcher.

Bottom line: Use the Google Now launcher if you're looking for high stability and a consistent Android experience. Pair it with the Google Keyboard for the full experience.

One more thing: Things are a bit in flux right now in terms of the launcher on Nexuses versus Pixels — this launcher may soon take on a new look in the future.

Best to customize

Nova Launcher

Nova Launcher

See at Google Play

Nova is a massively popular launcher that offers a whole bunch of animation options, folder views and home screen behaviors. One particularly cool addition is swipe actions, which allow app icons to act as a folder with a swipe, or a standard app launch with a tap, similar to Action Launcher's feature.

Theming Nova with custom icons and custom wallpapers is easy, especially with the Google Drive integration. You can back up your Nova layouts and themes directly to the cloud service of your choice, and restore backups directly from the cloud, too, which can make setting up a new phone a great deal easier than putting everything back how you like it manually.

Nova is a highly functional launcher that can be as subtle or as loud as you like, making it completely unique if you spend the time tweaking it.

Bottom line: If you're willing to tweak things a bit, and are going for an exact look, Nova Launcher could be the one for you.

One more thing: Consider the $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock its more advanced features with the "Prime" upgrade.

Conclusion

Home Screen launchers are heavily influenced by personal taste, and while not everyone wants the same things from their launcher the robust feature set of Action Launcher can be the best choice for most people. It offers great features, lots of customization choices and integrates the latest design guidelines from Google.

Best overall

Action Launcher 3

Action Launcher

See at Google Play

Action Launcher brings a ton of thoughtful features plus tons of additional tweaks that you expect from a custom launcher. Replace the traditional app drawer with a slide-in Quickdrawer, maximize on-screen real estate with Shutters and tweak the home screen search bar with the customizable Quickbar. Beyond that, Action Launcher also offers theming options, suggestions for app icon replacements and a beta feature to normalize icon sizes.

At the same time, Action Launcher regularly incorporates the latest design and features from Google's own launcher, meaning you don't have to loose that Google feel when you get all of these extra features. For example those using Action Launcher on Android 7.1 today can already access to new app shortcut features from the home screen.

The best features of Action Launcher 3 require a paid upgrade to the Plus version, but it's worth every penny.

Bottom line: If you're feeling bored with your phone's launcher and want a feature-packed replacement, Action Launcher has you covered.

One more thing: You don't have to pay for Action Launcher's Plus features, but you really should if you plan to use it full-time.

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3 months ago

Google is officially cracking down on Play Store fraud

42

Integrity is a loaded word, but it's one that Google takes particularly seriously given the skeptics who have questioned the reliability of Android's Play Store.

Google has announced that it's rolling out improved detection and filtering systems to help rid the visibility of less-than-stellar applications in Android's app marketplace. This includes apps from developers who may have attempted to manipulate the placement of their apps through illegitimate means such as fraudulent installs, fake reviews, and even incentivized ratings. As written in the Android Developers Blog:

These attempts not only violate the Google Play Developer Policy but also harm our community of developers by hindering their chances of being discovered or recommended through our systems. Ultimately, they put the end users at risk of making wrong decisions based on inaccurate, unauthentic information.

As a user, you won't have to worry about much on your end. If there's an app in the Play Store that's engaging in unethical practices, Google's systems will detect it and filter it out of your search results. Developers will also be fine as long as they continue to abide by the Google Play Developer Policy. Google also asks that developers take caution with third-party marketing agencies that promote apps to ensure that they also follow the rules.

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3 months ago

Best weather app for Android

280

Accuweather is a feature-rich simple to navigate weather app that has great support and incredibly detailed local data thanks to its weather station network.

Best overall

Accuweather

$2.99

Accuweather

See on Google Play

You might be using Accuweather right now on your Android, whether you know it or not. The longtime weather service powers the weather data on many apps and widgets, including those pre-loaded on many handsets by manufacturers. They use Accuweather for a reason: it's dependable and damn accurate.

And why should you use Accuweather? That accuracy here is combined with a clean, concise app that is easy to navigate and easy to understand.

Bottom-line: Accuweather is the forecasting brains behind many a weather app, but its own app is simple, stable, and gets the job done in style.

One more thing: Accuweather's Minutecast is a marvel and while it's easy to find and read on the main app, it's omitted from its Android Wear app, where it really would do the most good.

Why Accuweather is the best

AccuWeather is one of the more established weather sites out there today, and it has a sizable Android following not only because of a simple yet feature-rich app, but also because AccuWeather powers a plethora of widgets and third-party weather apps. AccuWeather's first-party app is a bright affair, with the simple white (or black) background broken up with big pictures, charts, and ads, though those can be removed by upgrading to AccuWeather Platinum.

The detailed charts for both hourly and daily temperatures also scored big, making it easy for users to judge coming conditions more quickly and easily than reading a slew of numbers. AccuWeather also has regional video forecasts a la The Weather Channel and support for Android Wear, putting the forecast and conditions on your wrist for your convenience.

Best for widget users

1Weather

$1.99

1Weather

See on Google Play

1Weather got a big update at the beginning of September, bringing the app at last to Material Design. 1Weather has always been a beautiful weather app, featuring one of the best dark themes we have encountered… but that dark theme is now broken up with Material Design's bland white cards. These cards aren't themeable like the rest of the app, as you can change the background theme, you can change the icon set from white to black, and you can theme the widgets a multitude of ways… but we can't switch the cards from white back to that beautiful black.

Functionally, there are very few flaws we've found in our extended use of 1Weather, and most of them can be attributed to the horizontal, tabbed layout 1Weather uses, such as the disconnect between reaching the map and interacting with it, as you have to tap an expand button before you can zoom or move the map. There are ads in 1Weather that can be removed with a one-time in-app purchase. It even has Android Wear support, though rather than an app it comes in the form of three-card notifications for current conditions and immediate forecast and one-card notifications for alerts, each with customized background images.

Bottom-line: 1Weather is a beautiful weather app with a layout to match, featuring the best weather widgets for anywhere in the world that isn't Walt Disney World.

One more thing: If you have a child that's interested in what the weather terms we often look at mean, 1Weather is an app that can help teach them a bit more about the weather. When you tap on any of the stats on the bottom of the main page, it will give you explanations of that term and some helpful hints as to what they mean — for instance, that when barometric pressure is dropping there's a good chance a storm is coming.

Best for visual weather

Yahoo Weather

Free

Yahoo Weather

See on Google Play

Yahoo takes the honor in this humble writer's eyes for being the prettiest weather app, but when it comes to weather apps, pretty can't be all it has. Yahoo Weather is powered by Weather Underground, so it's forecasts and data have the accuracy of its nationwide network of personal weather stations.

The background images for the app are pulled from Flickr, Yahoo's picture service, so if you're looking at picturesque locations like New York City or Walt Disney World, you're likely to get a new and beautiful image every time to go into the app. If you're in a more remote location, those pictures will be more generic. The layout for Yahoo Weather is nice if you like to check multiple locations quickly, as you scroll up and down for the data about one location, then scroll side to side to switch between locations.

Bottom-line: Beautiful and backed by WeatherUnderground's robust network of weather stations, Yahoo is a visual marvel and great for users looking to check weather in multiple places quickly.

One more thing: Yahoo doesn't allow you to get rid of ads, but there are at least not that many of them, with a single ad between the forecast and radar and then a list of Yahoo's many Android apps in the menu shade between your locations and settings.

Best Layout

Dark Sky

$2.99/year

Dark Sky

See on Google Play

Dark Sky is one of the most popular weather apps for ... that other platform ... and it finally came to Android earlier this year. Dark Sky's claim to fame is that its "hyperlocal" accuracy can tell you within minutes of when it's actually going to rain. In addition to that it's got your basic weather information — current temperature, highs and lows, what it actually feels like, etc. You also get precipitation information, windspeed, humidity and UV index.

You can get detailed information on the week ahead, hour by hour. A handy map feature shows you where the rain (and snow) is, worldwide, at any given time. And you've got a wealth of notification options, including a daily summary, next-hour precipitation, severe weather alerts, and custom alerts based off your own variables. Also, Dark Sky features a dedicated do-not-disturb mode so you won't be bothered in the middle of the night (but as someone living in Tornado Alley, I highly advise against it).

Bottom-line: Dark Sky is a bright, brainy weather app that can go beyond how the weather looks by the numbers and tell you how it feels.

One more thing: Dark Sky is free, but some of the more up-to-the-minute options will require a $2.99-a-year (that's $3 every 365 days) subscription. When the app launched on Android, this model drew quite a lot ire, but detailed weather information and a well-supported weather app all year for the price of a large cup of coffee is a bargain.

Best Simple App

The Weather Channel

Free

The Weather Channel

See on Google Play

The Weather Channel app has undergone some changes in recent times, and most of them have improved the app greatly. The layout is much slicker and simpler than before, having ditched its previous UI for one big, long continuous scroll.

As you scroll you get to more detailed information, like daily forecasts, radar, even social options and what the weather is like in some ski resorts. The Weather Channel is one of the most well known sources of forecast information on the planet, and their latest Android app takes out the complicated and makes it ultra simple to see what you need to see.

Bottom-line: The Weather Channel is one of the most recognized and trusted names in weather, and their app is simple without skimping on details.

One more thing: Like Yahoo, The Weather Channel has no paid/premium version to get rid of the ads. Unlike Yahoo, The Weather Channel slips in ad after ad as you scroll.

Best overall

Accuweather

$2.99

Accuweather

See on Google Play

You might be using Accuweather right now on your Android, whether you know it or not. The longtime weather service powers the weather data on many apps and widgets, including those pre-loaded on many handsets by manufacturers. They use Accuweather for a reason: it's dependable and damn accurate.

And why should you use Accuweather? That accuracy here is combined with a clean, concise app that is easy to navigate and easy to understand.

Bottom-line: Accuweather is the forecasting brains behind many a weather app, but its own app is simple, stable, and gets the job done in style.

One more thing: Accuweather's Minutecast is a marvel and while it's easy to find and read on the main app, it's omitted from its Android Wear app, where it really would do the most good.

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3 months ago

Become a CompTIA certified IT professional with hundreds off this comprehensive training bundle

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Getting started in the IT field can be difficult at the beginning. There is so much that you should know, so many certifications that you will want to have, and it can get quite expensive in a short amount of time. You could spend lots of money and time to learn the basics and get started, or you could do it in your free time at an affordable price.

For just $60 you can get started with this bundle that offers all the information you need to get a bunch of certifications under your belt. Many spend that $60 each month on things like coffee, fast food, and other frivolous stuff, so why not put it towards getting these five certifications?

With this bundle you can train for these certificates:

  • CompTIA A+ certification is widely in demand globally, as it offers the initial momentum to get into the technology vertical
  • CompTIA Network+ certification accelerates professionals to leap high in the technology vertical
  • CompTIA Security+ SYO-401 will accelerate professionals even further
  • CompTIA Cloud Essentials, Cloud + certification is a globally recognized certification in IT service management
  • CompTIA Cloud Essentials Professional certification demonstrates one's knowledge on cloud from a business & technical perspective

Normally priced at over $4000, this huge 98% savings is something you won't want to pass up. You'll have the materials you need to get tons of certifications and jump start your IT career. The information can be accessed online or on your phone, and it will be available for two years, so you can study at your own leisure.

If you are seriously considering a change in careers, you'll want to grab this bundle at just $60 instead of its regular $4100 price tag.

See at Android Central Digital Offers

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4 months ago

Google Assistant reviews and what they mean for Google Home

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Assistant needs to grow fast for Google Home to be great.

Google has made it quite clear that Assistant is the future. It's in every aspect of your phone, ready to jump into a conversation at a moment's notice, and soon will occupy a physical space in your house thanks to Google Home. This is the evolution of so many different things Google has tried over the years, and the initial response to Assistant has been mostly positive. It's clear there's room to grow, especially when it comes to something you can have a conversation with, but the building blocks are solid.

The big question is what the current form of Assistant will be like for Google Home, and what kind of rapid change and growth is going to be needed for Assistant to be helpful as more than just a mobile chat companion.

Smarter than your smart home

The first step for Google Home is the most obvious. It needs to be able to talk to the things in your house, and it needs to do so well. We've seen examples of using Google Home to launch video apps and play files on a Chromecast, but right now those features don't work well in Assistant. Saying "OK Google" right now about something on Netflix isn't all that functional, even if you're just looking for specific episodes of a show or cast members within an episode. This is all information Assistant should have access to, and should happen well before users are asking to play a video on the television.

It's going to feel like magic to a lot of people.

Google apps being able to talk to Google products is table stakes, though. Google Home needs to be able to talk to connected home equipment in a way that feels natural. Right now we have IFTTT triggers that are just about as organic as what you get through Amazon Echo. As long as you line the words up just right, it'll get the job done. Google Home needs to take a step further and really integrate with your connected house. You need to be able to ask what the inside temperature is, and when the answer gets you saying, "That's a little cold," have your Nest thermostat respond by turning the heat up a couple of degrees. The individual pieces exist for this already, but it's up to Google to make sure the interaction feels natural.

It's unclear any of this will be available when Google Home launches, which could be a problem. Google Home needs to take Assistant and make it immediately aware of what is connected to the network at home and know what can be controlled and what can be integrated with as you set it up for the first time. If that happens, it's going to feel like magic to a lot of people.

A compelling morning companion

Anyone who uses Amazon Echo in more than one room knows the benefits of using Alexa as a morning companion. Setting a timer for your breakfast as it cooks, hearing a quick recap of news, and checking in on traffic patterns are all daily things that can be made much more useful by Google Home. Alexa isn't aware of the route you take to work, the news sources you regularly check, or the shows you stream to your Chromecast. You have to program all of that yourself, and even when you do the results are a little mechanical. Google Home should excel in this area, creating personalized morning briefs based on your activity and making sure the route you take to work is clear for you should be something it does with ease.

What will be even more interesting is what happens when Google Home is able to take things one step further. To hear on the Home speaker or your phone as a reminder that Game of Thrones is going to come on in 20 minutes, or to remind you as you walk into the grocery store that you have things on your grocery list that need to be picked up. There's a lot of cross chatter between phone and Home that could be automated well through Assistant, and while it may not be something Google can do out of the box it's something Assistant will be able to personalize over time.

Whole family support

The biggest challenge Google has right now, the thing that is a bigger problem on Home than it is on Echo because of how integrated Assistant is supposed to become, is support for multiple accounts. I want my son to be able to ask for the next episode of Aphmau's MyStreet and not have weird Minecraft videos show up in my YouTube recommended feed. I should be able to ask for a list of restaurants in the area and have Assistant highlight favorites based on where I've been before, and not have that list contaminated by my spouse ordering pizza when I'm not around. If my oldest daughter asks Google Home what is on the schedule for today, it shouldn't respond with my list of meetings.

Google Home becomes a lot less useful when it lets anyone who walks into my house contaminate my Search, Maps, and Youtube results.

There's no doubt this is incredibly complicated, and probably will be a problem at launch, but it's something Google can and hopefully will solve before too long. This is a company that has struggled with the idea of multiple accounts on things like Android TV in the past, and adding a Family Plan with shared content isn't a solution for it on Google Home. I need to know my daughter can ask for something to be streamed to Chromecast under the content restriction guidelines I set for her, and not the content restriction guidelines I set for myself. If this is really going to be something Google expect the whole family to use, it needs to include multiple user voice training and multiple account login management.

The alternative is what we have with Amazon Echo right now. I have a to-do list full of things like "scratch your butt" and "pick up 500 jars of pickles" because my kids can add things to my account with no authorization from me. I have a streaming radio preset that includes two versions of songs from Frozen and every Perry Gripp song ever because my kids like to listen to silly things while I'm cooking in the kitchen. Google Home becomes a lot less useful when it lets anyone who walks into my house contaminate my Search, Maps, and YouTube results. And you can bet I'll respond by messing with every Google Home I see when visiting other people's houses.

Surviving the early days

Google is a company built by making things and improving them as they get more data from users. That's not a bad thing, and in fact has lead to some impressive revolutions in how we look at email and automation. That having been said, Google Home is supposed to be the first step in a future where we talk to our computers in the comfort of our own living rooms and don't look insane doing so.

It's not going to be perfect right away, but some assurances from Google that this is not just Assistant in a box would be nice. As great as Assistant is right now, it's not a home assistant yet and it's not quite ready to compete with Amazon Echo in several respects. There's little stopping Google from making sure that's no longer true by the time Home launches, and that's going to be the experience that really matters.

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4 months ago

Pocket Casts picks up major update with Nougat features, shareable lists, and much more

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Pocket Casts is a great podcast app loaded with features. You can easily subscribe to your favorite podcasts, and a sync option allows you to pick up from where you left off across devices, and on the web.

The app has picked up a significant update to version 6.0 that adds several Nougat features, including support for multi-window mode, app shortcuts, audio effects while streaming, and the ability to create shareable lists of your favorite podcasts.

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4 months ago

Vine to shut down app 'in the coming months'

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Vine is nearing its final loop.

Twitter-owned video sharing app Vine has announced it will be shutting down "in the coming months." The social network built entirely on sharing and viewing auto-looping 6-second videos has been around since 2013, coming in and out of popularity independently of Twitter.

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4 months ago

Video calls are now live on WhatsApp beta!

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The beta client for WhatsApp picked up an update to 2.16.318, bringing the ability to make video calls. When you tap the call icon, you now have the option of choosing between a voice call or video call. The interface itself is similar to what we've seen with the voice calls. You can start a new call from the Calls tab, or from within a conversation window by selecting the call icon.

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4 months ago

Android Pay links up with Visa Checkout and Masterpass for quicker online payments

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Google just loves making it even simpler to buy things online.

Alongside Google's initiative to have Android Pay be a standalone mobile payment solution for e-commerce sites, it has also today announced a partnership that will let Android Pay users use their payment methods anywhere that Visa Checkout and Mastercard Masterpass are accepted. That means any site that has integrated with Visa Checkout or Masterpass is now available for you to pay via Android Pay on your phone once you link your accounts.

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4 months ago

Here's a great read about embedded AOSP to get your geek juices flowing

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A start to finish primer on embedded Android from people who do it professionally is a must read for anyone who likes to roll up their sleeves and dig into things.

Android was designed for mobile devices, but it's pretty scalable and actually not very difficult to get it to run on a long list of mobile and non-mobile embedded things. Of course, the difficulty is relative so you'll need to be familiar with a few things. That's where this great document from the folks at Stanfy comes into the picture.

Stanfy is a group of mobile software developers. They build and design software for iOS and Android, but the also develop custom Android firmware. Mixed in amongst their showcase of apps for phones and wearables, they've built a really nice document about embedded Android. They explain what it is, what it isn't, how it can be used and how to get started. They even go the extra mile and have a tutorial for building AOSP from start to finish.

The guide does a great job of breaking down some pretty technical lingo into language for most everyone. If you're a complete novice you'll need to use the power of Google a time or two to understand everything, but if you're familiar with it all you'll still be able to learn something. I've been monkeying around with the Android source code since 2009 and I still got a lot out of it. I'm a step closer to bringing my Nexus Q back to life!

It's a great Sunday read, so go have a look.

Stanfy's Embeded Android Guide

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4 months ago

Android Pay no longer works if you unlock your bootloader, and that's a good thing

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Android Pay

Yes, Google has blocked Android Pay if you unlock your bootloader. My biggest question about it all is 'why did it take so long?'

Quietly and without any fanfare, Google disabled the ability for Android Pay to make payments on phones with unlocked bootloaders; landing in line with its previously held policy of not allowing rooted phones to access the payment system. It's frustrating to some, but it's the right move and it's in line with Google's vision for the security of its platform and services.

Android, as built by Google and not modified or having native security features disabled, is really secure. Security chief Adrian Ludwig speculates that one day we'll see U.S. presidents use Android (thanks, Obama) because it's safe and you have complete control over where and how your data is shared. But all that goes away once you start changing settings, enable USB communication or unlock your bootloader.

An unlocked bootloader is not secure, and when money is involved security is paramount.

It can be frustrating for a power user or enthusiast, but it's time we realize that Android is not built just for us. It's built for everyone — including people who may have unlocked their bootloader without understanding the implications of it all. These are the people who need to be protected from something on their phone that might be able to get access to their bank account or credit card information.

This doesn't just protect the person with the unlocked bootloader, either. When a bank or card issuer has to eat the cost of a fraudulent charge, it doesn't happily consider it a fact of doing business — it wants to limit these instances as much as possible. Interest rates and service fees are how the banks and card issuers make money from us, and raising one or the other (or both) is what happens when the expenditures column get's bigger due to fraudulent charges from insecure systems. In some cases, the banks and card issuers just skip payment methods like Android Pay altogether before they get to that point. By keeping Android Pay from running on potentially compromised phones, it helps Google get more companies on board. For example, Chase took forever to join Android Pay — and there are plenty of other banks yet to join. Not doing everything possible to make the service secure would be a great way to scare them off and keep it from happening.

Thankfully, you don't have to unlock your bootloader to manually update your phone since you can sideload update packages if you're impatient. Maybe one day developers will make use of Android's native app data backup service so we won't have to use Titanium or something similar to keep our app data in place. In the meantime, if we unlock the bootloader we lose Android Pay. It's that simple.

Google's not trying to stop anyone from unlocking their phone's bootloader, nor is it trying to turn Android into something that's not "hacker friendly" (the good kind of hacker). We can still unlock the bootloader to root or to run a different version of Android or just because we want to, but we can't use Android Pay — a service owned by Google and never intended to be open — if we do it.

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