2 months ago

Microsoft is surprisingly close to making a decent Android phone


A Microsoft-based Android phone may not be for everyone, but it seems more than likely we'll see one soon.

Anytime you see the words Microsoft and Android in the same sentence suggesting a new products, fans will come out of the woodwork to remind everyone of that dark time four years ago when Verizon forced Bing on a bunch of phones. In the minds of these users, the event was followed by a grand angry rebellion that banished Bing to the Netherspire and restored Google to its rightful place at the top of our phones and tablets. The people had spoken, Microsoft had been defeated, and there's no need to consider ever going down that dark road again.

The truth is a little less exciting, with Google inviting manufacturers to participate in legally binding agreements that ensured Google search sat atop everything in exchange for access to the Play Store, but the end result isn't all that different. Microsoft could make its own phone without access to the Google Play Store, but that usually ends poorly for everyone involved. In order to have their apps and services installed on something running Google-powered Android, Microsoft needed to go the long way and offer compelling apps that users would want to install and use instead of the pre-loaded Google counterparts.

You may not be aware of it, but Microsoft is surprisingly close to making this a reality.

The key to making an app people will actually consider using in replacement of Google's defaults these days, in many cases, is to go all out and try to replace all of Google's apps at once. Google's integration and cross-app functionality makes it hard to replace a single app with something that doesn't play nice with the rest, even if that one app has features you prefer. Going all in and replacing the whole suite of Google apps isn't easy, but Microsoft has been slowly moving in that direction for years now.

Microsoft as the default on an Android phone starts to look not only feature complete, but downright enjoyable.

Mobile versions of Office apps to replace Drive, Outlook to replace Gmail, OneNote to handle Keep, Skype for messaging and video chat, Groove Music instead of Google Play Music, Nokia Here to replace Maps, and of course OneDrive to connect them all together an offer cloud storage. This handles your basics, and even two years ago might have been enough to help people make the switch, but Google's integration goes a lot deeper than cross-app chatter nowadays.

Microsoft needed Cortana to replace voice search and act as a virtual assistant now that Google Now was baked in to all of the search functions. Between Arrow Launcher and Next Lockscreen for personalized access to apps and features, and half a dozen clever extras like Word Lens and On{X}, Microsoft as the default on an Android phone starts to look not only feature complete, but downright enjoyable.

The one big gap in Microsoft's plan for total Google Service replacement at the moment is a browser. While there are dozens of alternatives to Google's Chrome in the Play Store, it'd be nice to eventually see Edge come to Android with some of the features that make it interesting on Windows 10.

Looking at all of these apps installed and used in place of the current Google Apps demonstrates just how close the company is to a complete thought.

Perhaps more important than drawing on a web page in screenshot form and better overall performance is the continued integration efforts. Things like in-app searches like Chrome has, or the ability to quickly export a line from a website to OneNote, or even the ability to save something you're downloading from the web directly to OneDrive. There's a lot of potential there, and Microsoft has clearly demonstrated the potential to make this happen.

If the long-term goal for Microsoft's adoption of Android is to make a phone with this software deeply embedded in the system, either through continued cooperation with Cyanogen or a full on Microsoft-made Android phone with all of this software onboard, looking at all of these apps installed and used in place of the current Google apps demonstrates just how close the company is to a complete thought. It may not be what many Google fans are looking for in a smartphone, but it could absolutely be what Windows 10 users who aren't interested in the current crop of Windows-based phones are looking for, and that group isn't nearly as small as many Android enthusiasts would like to think it is.

Microsoft and Verizon messed up a couple of years ago by trying to force something on everyone, and as it stands right now trying to assemble all of Microsoft's apps into a cohesive thought out of the box is a lot of work, but there's a place somewhere in the middle that could have genuine appeal if done in a way that offers this complete alternative way of doing things in a compelling package. If nothing else, it'd be interesting to see that middle ground come to life.

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2 months ago

Cut down on driving distractions with Hold the Wheel for Android Wear


Technology has advanced to a point where most of us have a minimum of one piece with us wherever we go. While being always connected in great in many ways, it's not always awesome when your phone starts going off while you are driving. While advancements in docks, and voice commands have made it easier to drive without distractions, it's a better idea to just put the phone down while you are operating a vehicle. Hold the Phone is a great app that works with Android Wear to make sure that putting your phone down, doesn't mean not answering your messages. This app detects when you're driving, and shoots off customized auto-reply messages to texts and calls, and we've got all the details for you here.

Hold the Wheel is a fantastic app if you're of a mind to keep your hands on the wheel and off your tech while driving. While this is an Android Wear compatible app, the detailed options are all going to be found on your phone. The main screen shows whether you are in Drive mode or not inside of a big red bubble at the upper left of your screen.

While in Drive mode, Hold the Wheel gives you the option to send replies to sms messages, or phone calls. You can choose to turn these automated messages on or off, as well as personalizing them. This can be especially handy if you're in the middle of a long drive when you get a message.

In the settings of the app, you have a few interesting options. You can choose to only respond to numbers with a particular prefix, such as a country code. Silent mode means you won't see-or hear-any notifications about messages or calls while you are driving. You can also change between automatic detection of being in a vehicle, and turning it on manually.

Your Smartwatch has access to quite a few of these options as well, making it easier to adjust things without having to pull out your smartphone. Each option is available on, or off, when it comes to options on your android wear device. These options include the activity detection, responding to phone calls, responding to sms messages, and turning the silent mode on or off.

The app worked quite well, and definitely helped to cut down on distractions in the car. If you end up riding along often, you'll probably want to turn the activity detection feature off though. If you're in the car, it will mute message notifications even though you aren't the driver. Thankfully it's easy to switch on or off, and it really isn't a big drawback. It's just the app doing the job that it's supposed to, and that's the point.

Hold the Wheel is available now in the Google Play Store and even better, it's absolutely free. If you're looking to cut down on your driving distractions, or you know somebody who is, then this is a fantastic app to take a look at. Since it doesn't cost anything, there isn't a good reason not to check it out. That is, unless you have a different app that you prefer. Tell us about it in the comments!

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2 months ago

AC editors' apps of the week: TransPlan, Weather Timeline, Skyward and more


Our weekly app picks

It's Appday Sunday and that means we're back with more of our favorites to share. Every week we bring a handful of great apps to the table and share them with everyone. Sometimes they are new apps, sometimes old standards, but every time they are apps we love to use.

Give these a look and then take a minute to tell us all about the apps you are using and love so we can give them a try. We all find some of our favorites right in the comments on these posts!

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2 months ago

Cyclopong for Android Wear brings an old classic back to life


Pong is one of those games that can still be enjoyable. Rather, the many iterations of it that have shown up over the years, have us continuing to enjoy a game that is decades old. Android Wear has the newest twist on this classic from Spooky House Studios, in the form of Cyclopong.

Cyclopong is a deceivingly difficult game to play. It follow the age old idea behind Pong, with a bouncing ball and paddles that keep it inside the play space. Unlike ages past, Cyclopong gives you three paddles that rotate in a circle. Your goal is to keep that ball within the circle. It seems simple, it is simple. That can be the hard part.

The controls are very, very easy. Tap the screen and the panels will begin to rotate clockwise, tap again and they're double back counterclockwise. This adds a whole new level of difficulty as there are far stranger angles than you might be used to.Timing things is far trickier with three rotating panels, but it adds a really fun and challenging twist on things.

Seems easy, but it's got a learning curve that will probably have you grumbling until you get the hang of things. Once you do get the hang of it, it becomes wickedly fun. You'll soon be trying to beat your high score, if only for your own benefit. There aren't any levels, or achievements to be found here, just a new spin on a retro classic.

There are no real settings to play with here, and that's not surprising for such a simple game. One of the few things that doesn't work quite as well is the notification pop-up when you get a new high score. It can be distracting and make your miss on timing to keep going. But hey, you're playing a game on a watch so you kinda did this to yourself.

Cyclopong is another great game available on your Android Wear, and It's available now for free on the Google Play Store. With a very simple, but tricky premise it provides plenty of enjoyment when you need to take a step away from the real world. If you're a fan of simple games, or you're jonesing for something to remind you of Pong, make sure you check it out!

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2 months ago

Microsoft acquires Echo Lockscreen creators Double Labs


Microsoft has confirmed the company has bought Double Labs, a startup based in Palo Alto, California that created the popular Android app Echo Notification Lockscreen. Microsoft has already released a similar app for Android, Next Lock Screen.

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2 months ago

Best cooking apps for NFL game day BBQ


The 2015 NFL season is nearly upon us, which means you might be hosting a party or two. Whether you're firing up a ton of ribs on the BBQ for a veritable army of football fanatics, or just want to impress your small circle of friends with some bitchin' nachos, these cooking apps for Android will help you shop and cook with ease.

Though we're trying to zero in on apps that are perfect for the barbeque, you'll likely find a lot of apps here that are good for day-to-day cooking too. Getting ideas for what to make, building up shopping lists, and planning out meal schedules aren't uncommon features in these apps.

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2 months ago

Straw now lets you search Bing for images to add to your polls


Popular mobile polling app Straw has grabbed a new update that brings the ability to search Bing for images right from the poll creation screen.

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2 months ago

Fight through the day with Watch Warriors on Android Wear


Sometimes the day seems too long, too busy, and you feel you would belong better in another time. Or maybe you just really like being in touch with your inner warrior. Watch Warriors on Android Wear has these awesome faces to make sure you don't have the face the day alone.

Watch Warriors is a super simple watch face. It doesn't display the weather, or give you customization options. At all. It displays the time out in simple block lettering that is easy to read whether the face is active or not. What the face does have, are 5 fantastic different faces to choose from.

Each face is a different warrior to help get you through the day. They more or less follow common RPG stereotypes, and each one is illustrated in simple colors with a bold, blocky illustration style. You can choose between the Brawler, Necromancer, Inn Keep, Ninja, or Archeress. They all display well in active and ambient mode, and are designed to fit a round or square watch face. It is a shame that you can't adjust the colors or customize anything, but each face is still really well done.

Each face is sufficiently different from the last. Most of them do well in full sunlight, the exception being Bones the Necromancer. His colors tend to get rather washed out, because he's animated in mostly whites and light grays. By comparison Myliel the Archeress and Tiny the Brawler both are easily visible.

All told, Watch Warriors for Android Wear is an awesome and stylized face that lets you sport one of five tiny warriors on your wrist. Whether you like having backup in the form of a brawler, or you just like letting your geek flag fly with an archeress, they can be an awesome addition to your lineup. Available for $0.99 over on the Google Play Store, we recommend it for anyone who likes a dash of fantasy in their day to day life.

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2 months ago

Periscope now lets you broadcast in landscape


Periscope, a popular live-streaming app, now allows you to start, and view broadcasts in both portrait and landscape modes. Previously, Periscope only offered portrait support, which left many users requesting the ability to shoot in landscape.

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2 months ago

Google rolls out redesigned Wallet app to Google Play


Possibly in preparation for the upcoming release of Android Pay, Google has released a brand new Google Wallet app into the wild on Google Play.

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2 months ago

You Sunk brings battleship warfare to your Android Wear Device


Finding fun games to play on all of your screens has become something most — if not all — do. So far the pickings on Android Wear devices has been pretty slim, and with good reason. The battery life concerns alone are enough to make you wonder. You Sunk might be changing that, with a fun and engaging game available to be played entirely from your wrist. Sink enemy battleships, avoid hitting friendly ships, and knock enemy torpedos out before they sink you.

You need to time things so that ships go down on your first volley as well, or you may end up having to shoot down multiple enemy missiles aimed for you.

Playing the game might be more fun that it ought to be, and that's a good thing. You shoot down enemy vessels while trying to make sure that neither you, nor friendly ships in the water go down instead. Your radar will let you know where other naval vessels are sailing, which is handy particularly if there is a torpedo coming your way. To navigate the high seas you just need to swipe left or right, and your periscope view will swing, showing you what is in that portion of the sea. You need to time things so that ships go down on your first volley as well, or you may end up having to shoot down multiple enemy missiles aimed for you. It's a simple premise, and the gameplay is just as simple, but it's an awesome way to simulate playing an old school Nintendo, and right from your wrist.

The gameplay has three difficulty levels; easy, medium and hard. The game itself is both simple, and addictive. The top half of your screen is what you see looking out of a periscope, or view finder. At the bottom of the screen is a radar showing you other vessels, an array of missiles you can use, and a red button used to fire your ammunition.

Ships appear at variant distances, which means you need to time when your torpedos are fired to make sure they hit. Enemy ships appear in black, and will fire missiles at you as well, they are red shapes moving towards you through the water. To avoid getting blown up, shoot the enemy torpedo while it, or they are inbound. Be careful when you're firing though, white ships are friendly and blowing them up will end the game for you.

The game is split into levels, and they become progressively harder as you move along. Up at the top of the screen, you'll see your high score displayed. There are three different kinds of ammunition to use, and each one is a bit different. This comes in handy when enemy ships try to hide behind friendly vessels to keep you from sinking them.

From top to bottom, You Sunk is a fun, addictive game. It's challenging without being frustrating, and getting your high score up can easily become addictive. For the awesome price of free, it's definitely worth at least a look. With the variety it offers, and a different take on what an Android Wear game looks like, we definitely recommend checking this one out.

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2 months ago

Google Play developers now have access to better quests, stats, and reports in games


Mobile game developers have to do a ton of things that aren't making games in order to better understand how to reach new audiences and keep their existing users playing. While many users rely on Google Play Games for keeping score against their friends, on the developer side there's a set of tools that feed user feedback and player activity to the developer. Today Google is announcing some significant improvements to the way developers see why users stop playing their games, as well as a few easier ways to give users more to do.

Analytics are always a critical part of mobile apps, especially when determining the churn rate. The new Player Time Series Explorer lets developers see the way each user plays the game, including where in the game they go, what buttons are pressed, what purchases are made, and at what point the users stops playing. If a game gets overly complicated or boring at one particular point, developers will be able to see that in this timeline of use and course correct as necessary.

Developers will also have access to a new suite of reports, including a 28 x 28 day retention grid and an events viewer for showing developers how users do in contest and quest modes within their games. Through a new Player Stats API, developers will be able to track down big spenders who play occasionally and zero spenders who play constantly and offer special in-game bonuses and offerings to shift their experience more towards the middle of the chart. This API also includes better welcome back messages for users who haven't played your game in a while.

Finally, the Quests section of the developer console has been improved to make it easier to quickly create quests and rewards for Google Play Games. This includes repeating Quests and a quick clone function for existing Quests, as well as a schedule function for special events developers plan to host inside their games.

For users, this means developers are going to have tools to offer better experiences for long term gameplay. It's a bunch of small steps toward a better overall gaming setup, which developers will be able to start using very soon.

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2 months ago

Get ready for 30-second video ads on Instagram


Previously limited to select brands in the US, Instagram has announced broad changes to its advertising platform that gives companies of all sizes in over 30 countries the ability to serve ads on the service.

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2 months ago

Pandora's Day Pass will offer ad-free listening for a dollar a day


Pandora has a new way for infrequent users to listen ad-free with the newly-announced Day Pass.

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2 months ago

eBay for Android makes buying and selling even easier


Online commerce giant eBay has launched a brand new version of its app for Android, which they call eBay 4.0. This update is meant to offer a more personalized eBay experience for both buyers and sellers, making it easier to browse through offers and find deals, as well as manage your own sales.

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