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2 weeks ago

Your phone is part Android and part Google, and probably part Samsung

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The software on every Android phone is different because it comes from several different places.

This is a question that pops up from time to time, but because the Google Pixel ships with different apps and services — namely Google Assistant — than other phones it's become a little more frequent. We saw the same thing when Google Wallet first appeared, and we'll see it again when the next phone from Google has something others don't.

People get a little confused — rightfully so — about what comes with Android and what apps and services are from Google or Samsung or any other company. In other words, why do I have this app and not this app? Not everyone keeps up to date on mobile tech, so if you're coming from an iPhone where there are four or five different models to choose from but even last year's models have the same software on them you might expect it to be the same way on Android.

Android comes in lots of flavors.

To answer that, you need to remember how Android is distributed to the people who make our phones.

Android isn't a thing that can be wrapped up and given or sold to a company to install. Companies like Samsung have access to the code itself and can build it into almost anything they want. As long as the final product meets the criteria given by Google to make sure it's compatible with applications built for its version, Samsung can have at it with the rest and add to it. That's why Android is so different when you compare phones from one company to phones from another.

Google adds software to Android

But a good bit of Android is still the same, even if the icons and colors are changed. That's because there are specific apps — both part of the source code as well as apps made by Google for their web services which are not part of Android's code but needed to get permission to use Google's Play Store — which also isn't part of the Android code. These are what we call "Google Apps." They are made so you can use Google's products and services on the phone, and they are there for two reasons.

Google adds a few bloatware apps, too.

The first is because some of them need to be installed on every single phone to make sure all the apps in Google Play will work. Even if you never open it, you need a few apps like Chrome installed on your LG V20 or whatever phone you have to make sure it can run apps from the Play Store. The other is that these are the services Google wants you to be able to use out of the box. Google gets it's way here because it's an all or nothing agreement — if you want the phone you're making to be able to use the Play Store, you have to also include these other apps. At least for now, because the EU doesn't like that (and maybe they are right).

The actual agreement about what apps need to be there and what ones don't can change from time to time but some are always part of it:

  • Gmail
  • Google Calendar
  • Chrome
  • Google Search
  • Google Talkback
  • Various apps needed to synchronize all these services

Every phone that has the Google Play Store preinstalled will have these core apps. The model or version doesn't matter. Some are necessary, others are there because Google just wants us to see them. And many of them aren't part of the Andriod code so won't be available for phones built without Google Play Store access.

The company who made your phone is next

The next step is the people who made your phone adding their software or the apps a wireless carrier requests installed. These are included for the same reasons Google apps are. Some of them are essential so things on the phone can work. Others are for services and apps they want you to be able to use right away. And there can be a lot of differences here.

Samsung adds a ton of features and apps to help use them.

Using Samsung as our example again, a very high-end phone like the Galaxy S7 edge or the new Galaxy S8 we expect to see soon will have exclusive features, Right now, these are Samsung's best phones and they want you to think they are worth the cost when compared to other models that are cheaper. Verizon (or AT&T or any other wireless company) does exactly the same thing and has some apps put in place to make sure you see them right away or to help you pay your bill.

Of course, none of these apps go along with Android. All of these apps belong to Samsung and Verizon (in our example) respectively. Models made for specific regions and models made for different carriers can vary a little bit. But this is how the people who made the phone and the people who sell the phone want it to be, and they are really choosy. They want you to be a happy customer and try to offer a mix of features and apps so that there is something there everyone will like,

But what about Google Assistant!

This same process applies to phones sold by Google. Every Nexus Phone and every Pixel phone have all had the core apps from Google to be compatible and to make sure you see an app like Gmail so you don't go looking for a replacement. Sometimes we see a phone sold by Google with an exclusive app from Google. Like Google Assistant.

Google Assistant is there because Google thinks that some people will find it a reason to buy their phone instead of somebody else's, and probably because it is so much easier to deploy on a phone that they can update directly and isn't going to sell tens of millions of units, Slower sales mean far fewer chances for a particular bug to affect as many people.

Google uses Assistant as a selling point for the pixel, but it's also branching out.

We've already seen Google Assistant announced as coming to Android TV and Android Wear. Companies like NVIDIA and Sony and LG will have it in their 2017 lineup. There is no word from Google about Assistant becoming available for any other phone including their own Nexus 6P. Some of us here at Android Central are pretty sure it will because Google loves data. My guess is that they will try to get it into the Play Store eventually so hundreds of millions of people have a chance to use it.

This can all be a bit confusing if you're used to iOS or even Windows or BlackBerry. It gets even more confusing when you see different phones on different versions of Android and they have different features. But it's also a reason so many people prefer an Android phone. There are so many choices that one of them will be what you're looking for.

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2 weeks ago

How to watch Super Bowl LI on your Android phone or tablet

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How to watch Super Bowl LI on your Android phone or tablet

How can I watch the Super Bowl on my Android phone? Depends: live or after the fact?

Game day approacheth! Super Bowl parties shall abound, but what if you can't make it to one? What if you're stuck somewhere without a TV? What if you wanna watch the Super Bowl in the bath? You can — on your Android phone or tablet. But how?

Here's how:

In the U.S.

If you're in the U.S., lucky you! You have more options than most for watching the Super Bowl live. If you can't be around for the live game, you still have options to watch after the fact.

Fox Sports GO

This is your best option for watching the Super Bowl live. The Fox Sports GO app will be streaming the game in its entirety, including commercials. The real kicker? It's free. You won't need to prove you're a cable subscriber or any of those shenanigans. Just download the app and the game is yours.

Download: Fox Sports GO (Free)

NFL Mobile (Verizon customers only)

If you're with Verizon, you also get to watch the Super Bowl for free with the NFL Mobile app. Hell, if you want to switch to Verizon, know that next year you'll get all the regular season and playoff games, as well as the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl for free.

Download: NFL Mobile (free, with in-app purchases)

Outside the U.S.

Unless you have a TV subscription, there's unfortunately no way to stream the Super Bowl live and for free on your Android phone or tablet, though there are paid options.

Canada only: CTV GO

If you have a cable subscription that includes CTV, you'll be able to live stream the Super Bowl in the CTV GO app, with proof of subscription.

Download: CTV GO (free)

U.K., India, and everywhere else: NFL Game Pass

This option isn't cheap, but it's virtually the only way you'll see the Super Bowl on your Android phone or tablet. For $34.99 USD, you get the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl (now passed), as well as access to the NFL Network 24/7, coach's film, game replays, and more through February 17, 2017.

For $35, it might not seem worth it, but for the die-hard NFL fan living outside the U.S., it's really your only option.

Subscribe to NFL Game Pass ($34.99)

That's pretty much it

If you're wanting to watch Super Bowl LI on your Android phone or tablet, those are really your only options at this point, aside from some less-than-legal shenanigans.

How are you watching this year? Got another option for streaming on Android? Let us know in the comments below!

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2 weeks ago

From the Editor's Desk: The 2017 flagship challenge

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Fira Barcelona

Tell me why I should care about your phone for more than a couple of months.

The lack of a Samsung Galaxy S8 launch at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona presents an opportunity for everyone else with a smartphone (or smartwatch, or tablet, or whatever) to sell. And sure enough, the mess of press conferences now scheduled for the afternoon of February 26 shows just how many rival manufacturers have stepped in to fill the publicity vacuum. LG, Huawei, Moto and Nokia will all showcase new phones on MWC press day. BlackBerry Mobile does its thing the day before. Sony's going the day after. (To say nothing of Samsung itself, which is expected to show off the long overdue Tab S3 at its own Barcelona event on the 26th.)

Why will I still care about your thing in two months time, when I can go buy a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus?

It's a great opportunity for these guys to soak up some of the clicks, eyeballs and mindshare normally reserved for a new Galaxy S launch. But everyone intending to unveil a new flagship also has to answer one question: Why will I still care about your thing in two months time, when I can go buy a Galaxy S8 or S8 Plus. If, as reported, Samsung has first dibs on the Snapdragon 835, many of the high-end offerings breaking cover in Barcelona could look decidedly dated not long after launch. The likes of LG and Sony will need to make a strong case for why their thing, running last year's chip, is competitive with Samsung's upcoming thing, using its direct successor.

(That's less of an issue for Huawei, by the way, which is likely to use its own Kirin chips in the P10, expected to break cover on February 26. Vertical integration!)

Squaring up to the GS8 with older hardware isn't an impossible feat, but it certainly is a challenge. Maybe the reason to care is an amazing, unconventional camera, or epic battery life. Or some crazy hitherto unforeseen software feature. I have high hopes for the G6. For LG in recent years, that X-factor has been camera tech, and I'm looking forward to a generational leap forward from the G5 and V20's cameras.

For Sony, the challenge is more about proving why it's still relevant. Its Xperia X series phones were competent enough, but entirely forgettable next to the GS7 and Google Pixel. Sony's killer feature used to be camera tech. It's been a long time since it was the best at that. (Outside of the sensors its imaging division sells to other vendors, of course.) I'm not really sure what Sony can do to make an exciting phone for 2017, given the design and technical path it seems intent on pursuing, and the state of the competition. Hopefully someone in Japan has a better idea.

I'm not really sure what Sony can do to make an exciting phone for 2017.

Like I said earlier, China's Huawei isn't affected by Qualcomm's roadmap as much as everyone else. Despite the fact that it's still getting nowhere in the U.S. (ZDNet's Matt Miller has a good write-up on the challenges for Huawei in the Trump era), an early launch for the P10, with a few important upgrades from the Mate 9, could see it securing a spot as the major Android alternative to Samsung in Western Europe. In the UK, the P9 was picked up by all four major networks, and the product itself stands to be much better this year.

But the P10 needs to be more than just a smaller Mate 9 if it's to avoid being steamrolled by the GS8. Like everyone else, the case for Huawei to make on February 26 is "Yeah, you could wait another two months, but we have something that's just as good today."

A couple of other thoughts this Superb Owl 🦉🏈 weekend.

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2 weeks ago

Unlocked Moto Z units receiving Nougat update in the U.S.

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It's February, which means the unlocked Moto Z is beginning to get Nougat.

As promised, Motorola is now rolling out Android 7.0 Nougat to the unlocked variant of the Moto Z in the U.S., a wait that, for many, was far too long.

The company told Android Central last month that it wouldn't be until February that the unlocked Moto Z would begin getting upgraded to Android 7.0, well after the Verizon edition, which was released over two months earlier.

Motorola USA hasn't acknowledged the rollout yet, which appears to be happening in small chunks to minimize problems, but a few people have contacted Android Central noting that their units have been upgraded.

The company also said that it would begin pushing the Nougat update to the Moto Z Play sometime in March.

Motorola has come under fire in recent months for falling behind other manufacturers in getting the latest version of Android to its devices, especially since, when it was owned by Google (but still run independently), it was second only to its parent company in issuing updates to its devices.

Moto Z, Moto Z Force and Moto Z Play

Motorola Verizon

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2 weeks ago

Surgeon Simulator ER review: Botched but alive

 Botched but alive

I'm alone in a sterile operating room, a cut-open patient lying in front of me. I see ribs, lungs, a liver. I didn't train for this! Should I use the bonesaw or the hammer to get through the ribs? The hammer is closer — I'll use it.

If you've played Surgeon Simulator on PC, you're familiar with the inherent wackiness that Bossa Studios injects into their games. But does their gory VR title, what they've appended Experience Reality, hold up on PlayStation VR?

Read more at VR Heads!

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2 weeks ago

If you're not doing this with all your accounts, you're doing it wrong

20

If you're not using a password manager and two-step authentication, you're most likely doing things wrong.*

This 4-minute video may change your life. Or at least convince you that strong passwords and two-factor authentication are a must.

Oh, wait. You already use a password manager? You already have 2FA on all your accounts? Great. But chances are you know someone who doesn't. And you have got to share this video with them. We're to the point that these basic security measures are a must. (Don't believe me? Ask this guy.)

Some MUST-HAVE links that go along with this little rant:

Repeat: Strong, unique passwords and two-factor authorization are two of the most important things you can do online.

Subscribing to Modern Dad is a third. You can do that here!!!

*Unless you're one of those people who has a crazy sort of brain that can do a one-time password sort of thing mentally. In which case remind me to buy you a beer and never ask how you do such a thing.

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2 weeks ago

Snag a great discount on a 256GB microSD card at Amazon UK!

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Need more storage for your phone or tablet? How about this whopping 256GB Sandisk Ultra from Amazon UK that's available right now for just £111.99. That's a £57 saving over its regular retail price and gives an awful lot of storage for not a huge sum of money.

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2 weeks ago

Google just showed us the future of Android: The web is your app store

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Do you want Andromeda? Because this is how you make Andromeda.

I remember thinking last November (2016 if you're reading this from the future), while watching speakers at the Chrome Dev Summit, that Google remembered how important the web was several times. Not the internet where data files back and forth, but the web, the part of that internet you see through a web browser.

Whether you're using Chrome or another program that is built for seeing all the things on the web, or a component in another app that can show you a part of the web that's meaningful and relevant to what you're doing right this moment, the web is a powerful medium for all things. It's also one of the first user experiences we all had and our children may have.

The web was was the first look at what we call User Experience for all things tech.

OK, maybe remember isn't the right word here. Google has spent countless amounts of money and time building tools to both make the web and see the web. The Chrome browser has gone from an amateurish side project into a full-fledged operating system that's so well connected it just works no matter where your things are (or where an apps things are) in the world as long as they are on a server.

Chrome OS leverages the internet — all the tubes and data pipes that put almost anything digital within our reach — and uses the web as a way for us to see and hear it all. Terms like "online" and "offline" can blur in Chrome OS because almost every user interface is a web page and everything these apps can do is done the same way as a web page 10,000 miles away would do it.

There are a lot of amazing things happening at Google that are overshadowed by Android.

It has also been very busy adopting existing and building new web standards, making it easier for anyone to distribute everything through the internet with a friendly web interface and trying to get the internet to more places so more people can be a part of the web and everything else it has to offer. Google has not sat idly by whilst it watches Android slowly become the dominant computing platform in the world. It's been busy preparing for what's next and laying the foundation for what comes after what's next.

And we got to see a glimpse of what's next through a short post on the Chromium blog about Progressive Web Apps (PWAs). The web can become a global app store and our phones can be a tool to see a web interface that can do almost anything.

At first glance, it sounds like we're just seeing a better way to put bookmarks on our home screens. And in a sense we are. We will be able to tap a button or click a mouse pointer on a link that drops an icon on our phone or Chromebook and maybe one day the Chrome browser on other platforms to take us to something the developers of that webpage want us to see. That sure sounds like a browser bookmark. The difference is what we can't see without diving into everything happening behind the fancy icon.

If you have a web browser you can run a web app — the next step is making those apps part of Android.

If you're technically inclined, check out what Paul Kinlan has to say at Google's Web Developer site to see how this is so much more than a bookmark. We've heard about instant apps that run on-demand yet are still Android applications.

This is a similar, yet different, way to merge the internet, the web and the thing in your hands you use to see it. These new ways for PWAs to become part of Android use an Android app that's built and installed on the fly through Chrome to connect with an application that is running on a web server. And Google's development tools mean that things we never thought of as a "web page" can be done on that server and displayed on the screen you're looking at. Things like games, or accounting software or a virtual reality tour of a museum. Things that we usually have to install on our phones.

This is what Chrome OS does so well. The things you see in an app might just be things happening in a server room and you wouldn't know the difference.

It doesn't have to matter where things are stored or where they are processed as long as the user interface is on our screen. This new PWA integration is how that gets started.

If you read through Kinlan's breakdown you'll find that there are some really interesting things coming. An app that runs on the web will be able to use cloud messaging and give you the same notifications you get from an app installed locally. A web app will be able to open and process other files, which could be local or stored on another server somewhere. Things you create with a PWA can be stored locally, managed by Chrome using its permissions and secured storage and shared with other apps and other people using the same intents that a local app does. Again — just like Chrome OS. Most exciting of all is that getting all of this to work on other browsers is happening. Google wants to make the web your new app store, and more.

If Andromeda is some sort of merging of Chrome and Android, this is the beginning of it.

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2 weeks ago

How to play Steam games on PlayStation VR

How to play Steam games on PlayStation VR

Can I play PC games on my PSVR?

Sony's entry into the virtual reality world has so far been a hit — their head-mounted display is as comfortable as they get, and the library of quality games continues to grow. For some of you, however, PlayStation VR games might not be enough. Besides, you have that enormous Steam library sitting there just begging to be played.

Thanks to the developers of Odd Sheep Games and their software, Trinus PSVR, you can now enjoy both VR and non-VR games from your Steam library on PSVR. If this is something you've always wanted to do, we're here to show you how to get it all set up.

Read more at VR Heads!

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2 weeks ago

Best Credit Card-Sized Battery Chargers

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Best wallet-friendly credit card sized battery chargers

The benefits of a power bank in one small, compact package!

If you find your phone tapped out of battery power often, no doubt you've probably looked into portable power banks. If you like the idea of having extra power with you, but dislike having to carry around the extra weight, you may love these super small and thin power packs!

You'll notice that while super portable, these power banks aren't always the most feature-laden. If size doesn't matter and you're are looking for USB-C and QuickCharge capable battery packs you'll need to look for something a little larger.

Updated February 2017: When it comes to power banks that are as close to credit card-sized as possible, these are still your best options.

GMLYE Ultra-Thin

The GMYLE Ultra-Thin power pack has a capacity of 2,500mAh, which is more than enough to extend your phone's battery life for a marathon session of Pokémon GO.

The GMYLE is only about 5mm in thickness and about the same width and height as a credit card, so you don't have to worry about finding space to carry this thing around.

It starts around $17, and even comes with built-in Micro-USB and Lightning cables, which saves you the trouble of keeping track of your charging cords.

See at Amazon

PowerJet Ultra-Compact pocket power bank

Power Theory's PowerJet Ultra-Compact pocket power bank manages to pack a surprisingly big capacity at 4,600mAh, more than enough power to completely charge a Galaxy S7 and have a little left over.

The PowerJet also comes with a built-in Micro-USB cable, so you don't have to carry around a cord with you at all times. Plus, there is a little LED indicator which will flash red when it's at 10% capacity or less, so you know when it's time to charge it.

Due to its impressive capacity, the PowerJet does retail a bit higher than some of the competition, usually starting around $40.

See at Amazon

TravelCard Charger

Truly designed with portability in mind, the TravelCard Charger is a mere 4.7mm thick, making it actually small enough to fit inside your wallet with ease.

[The Wircutter] loved the how easy the TravelCard is to haul around.

"Only 5 mm thick and can charge an iPhone about halfway. It's pricey for the capacity, but very convenient."

While its capacity is only 1,500mAh, it does have a few key features that are included in every power bank this size. The LED indicator will let you know when it's time to fill it up again, and it even has the ability to be charged while charging your device, so you should have no problem killing two birds with one stone.

You can get the TravelCard with built-in cable for Micro-USB or Lightning, so you shouldn't spend time having to untangle cords while you're on the go.

See at Amazon

Lankoo power bank

The Lankoo power bank is for the serious power consumer. It's got a capacity of 5,000mAh, meaning any phone you've got should be able to get a full charge from the Lankoo.

On top of its impressive capacity, the Lankoo also offers a fast charging speed. Its one USB port is certified 5V 2.1A charging speeds, meaning it shouldn't take you too long to recharge any phone.

The added bonus of the Lankoo, it comes in all sorts of fancy designs and colors making it visibly stand out from the rest of the competition.

See at Amazon

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2 weeks ago

Best Twitter Apps for Android

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Video preview is awesome

Update 3 Feb 2017: Fenix developer is working on a new app, so it has been replaced with Flamingo.

Best Overall

Twitter

See at Play Store

There's always been something to be said for first-party apps, but not always for Twitter's. Twitter apps are diverse, and the official app in years past has been considered a bit underwhelming. The layout isn't customizable and the ads aren't removable (as they are on most third-party clients), but Twitter's app has improved greatly over the last months and now serves quite well as the daily Twitter app of millions, including 80% of our polled readers.

Twitter's app is ad-supported but free, and the better this app gets, the harder it is to sell users on paid alternatives. Twitter's app is also the first to get any new features, from live streaming video like the Presidential Debates and NFL Football.

For years, the last holdout for many users to using the official app was its blindingly white theme. Last year finally brought a dark theme to the official Twitter app and brought in thousands of users who are now using it to Tweet through their nightly insomnia.

Bottom line: The official app may lack frills and customization, but it gets features first and finally has a night theme.

One more thing: This is the only free Twitter app to make our list, and while you pay for features and customization, it's comforting that the best Twitter app is still the free one.

Why the official Twitter app is the best

Years ago, even a year ago, it was a tough sell to push the official Twitter app over the numerous third-party apps out there that were more flexible, more functional, more fashionable, but times have changed, and so has the official Twitter app.

Each time Twitter unveils a new feature, such as images not counting towards the 140 character limit or quoting tweets, it becomes a waiting game to see which Twitter apps get updated and when. When a feature rolls out, the official Twitter app usually sees it in under 48 hours.

With the introduction of a dark theme on the official Twitter app finally rolled out last summer, the official app took its final step towards becoming the daily app for a lot of users who didn't care to be blinded while tweeting in bed. Dark blue isn't AMOLED black which every other app on this offers, but it's still easy on the eyes and that's enough for users who want the official app and the latest features.

One of the features from the official app that hasn't replicated in most Twitter apps (including the rest of the apps on this list) is the ability to preview videos on mute in the timeline and in tweet views. Being able to watch a muted video without leaving the timeline helps me browse in public without too much fear of being disruptive, and for captions videos like ABC News, I can watch the whole thing in my timeline and move on.

Best for layout

Talon

Talon's layout is tops.

See at Play Store

Talon has been around for a while now, and it continues to earn its keep on this list by being a dependable, smartly laid-out Twitter app with just enough customization to let us tweak the app to our likings without letting us get lost in a sea of toggles, list styles and buttons. Talon's layout is compact without feeling tight, it offers excellent in-line media sizing and quoted tweet styles, and it offers dual-page options in landscape mode, which work excellently on larger phones and tablets.

Talon also has excellent controls for background syncing, notification control, and memory management. If you need a Twitter app that won't bump a bunch of apps out of your cache or take up too much space on a 16GB phone without a microSD card slot. You can also cut down on what Talon pulls while off Wi-Fi, if you're not lucky enough to still be holding on to an unlimited data plan.

Bottom line: Talon's customization is not too little, not too much, it's just right, and it's a layout that I miss whenever I switch to any other Twitter client.

One more thing: Talon is battery and memory-conscious, allowing you to tweak how many tweets, mentions, and messages to store in the database, as well as allowing storage-strapped users to clear Talon's database to free up room whenever needed.

Best for theming

Flamingo

Flamingo is bright and bold with its theming

See at Play Store

Flamingo is a relative newcomer in the Twitter client market, but it already has quite a following, and it's easy to see why. Flamingo is not a Twitter app you can just install and go with, it's an app that begs to be tweaked, customized, and done up to suit your style. It feels great once you have everything set up and to your liking, but until you find that sweet spot, you're going to have to muddle around with the layout and layout settings.

Once you have that layout set up, theming this app is wonderful and ridiculously detailed. Pick the Primary color, the background color, the tweet text color, the quote text color, the RT badge color, you can theme and customize quite literally everything in the app. While I wish more default themes were available, and while I wish more color choices were available, the themes here are still the most comprehensive and awesome we've seen in a Twitter app.

Bottom-line: Flamingo is new, bright, bold, and beautiful. And once you've got things dialed in, this is a twitter app that will make your feed work for you and keep it easy on the eyes.

One more thing: Widgets for twitter usually suck, especially for theming, but Flamingo does Twitter widgets right, letting you pick the opacity and colors for the widget that looks and fits best with your home screen layout.

Best for power users

Tweetings

Bring on the statistics!

See at Play Store

Tweetings is an app with a lot of bells and whistles — literal whistles — to play around with, but a few things set it apart. The first and most obvious is a stats panel that will come in with a swipe from the right side of the screen, as opposed to a swipe right on the screen, which will go to the next tab. This stats tab shows how much activity you've gotten today, how many likes your tweets have gotten, and so forth. If you're a professional or at least a power user this tab will be very useful, but for most, it's an interesting page, even if it reminds us how few likes we got today.

Tweetings takes an unusual step with verified user tweets, putting the verified badge over the avatar rather than next to the name. This can be useful for regular users as well as power users, as it's easier to spy the verified icon (or lack thereof) on an account avatar far easier than checking past a potentially long name and handle for one before RTing a fake account, as I have done about half a dozen times.

Bottom line: Tweetings is a hell of a Twitter client, but it truly comes alive for users who want to dig into statistics and trends to expand their reach and diversify their feeds. For the rest of us, it's an interesting client that will let us get as much or as little technical as we like.

One more thing: Tweetings by default has play sound on send turned on, and while it sounds and feel like you just launched a torpedo (hey, maybe we found Trump's Twitter app), you're probably going to want to turn it off before you get in trouble for tweeting during an all-hands meeting. Not that I'd know anything about that.

Conclusion

There's a lot of really great Twitter apps out there if you want to get down and dirty with customization, theming, and the nitty gritty of tweeting from the toilet, but for the large majority of users the first-party — and free — official Twitter app will be more than enough to get them by. If you want to customize your experience, the third-party apps are waiting in the wings, ad-free versions in hand.

Best overall

Twitter

Video preview FTW

See at Play Store

There's always been something to be said for first-party apps, but not always for Twitter's. Twitter apps are diverse, and the official app in years past has been considered a bit underwhelming. The layout isn't customizable and the ads aren't removable (as they are on most third-party clients), but Twitter's app has improved greatly over the last months and now serves quite well as the daily Twitter app of millions, including 80% of our polled readers.

Twitter's app is ad-supported but free, and the better this app gets, the harder it is to sell users on paid alternatives. Twitter's app is also the first to get any new features, from live streaming video like the Presidential Debates and NFL Football.

For years, the last holdout for many users to using the official app was its blindingly white theme. Last year finally brought a dark theme to the official Twitter app and brought in thousands of users who are now using it to Tweet through their nightly insomnia.

Bottom line: The official app may lack frills and customization, but it gets features first and finally has a night theme.

One more thing: This is the only free Twitter app to make our list, and while you pay for features and customization, it's comforting that the best Twitter app is still the free one.

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2 weeks ago

Android Central Offers is giving away a Google hardware package, and it could be yours

Interested in all of the new stuff from Google this year but don't have the cash to purchase it all for yourself? Wouldn't it be sweet if there was some way you could try and win a bunch of it that didn't cost you any money? Well, there is, and your chance to do it is here now!

Enter now to win! Learn More

That's right, you can enter now to win a sweet Google hardware giveaway from Android Central Offers. The process is super simple, and should only take a few seconds to complete, so there is no excuse to not enter to win now!

Entering now will score you a chance to win:

  • Google Pixel
  • Google Daydream View
  • Google Home

Don't miss your chance to win this giveaway! Learn More

The prize pack is worth over $850, but entering it is completely free! All you have to do is hit this link, sign up to enter, and wait for the drawing. There isn't much time left before the winner is announced, so be sure to get your entry in sooner than later so you don't miss out!

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2 weeks ago

Why would Google pull the Google Now Launcher from the Play Store?

59

War. War never changes — but Google's mind does.

There is some indication that Google is pulling the Google Now Launcher from the Play Store sometime before the end of March 2017 (Q1). Besides trying to find out more details about this one, we're also left wondering why?

Let's start at the beginning. The Google Now Launcher is a home screen manager that Google made using the Android launcher code as a base. Originally only for the Nexus 5, it later expanded to include all Nexus and Google Play edition phones. Eventually, every phone that has Android 4.1 or later could go to Google Play and install it like any other launcher. It is also the launcher that comes with recent Nexus phones, including the Nexus 6P and Nexus 5X.

The Google Now part of the Google Now Launcher is still here and can be used by the people who made your phone.

It's not an open source Android thing — it's an app made by Google that might come with your phone but isn't part of Android the same way Google Keep is. It's exactly like ASUS' Zen Launcher in this respect — built using the Android code as a base, part of the out-of-the-box software on some phones and available for everybody in the Play Store.

It's a two-piece system

But there is a big difference in how it works because the Google Now Launcher is made of two parts. The "launcher" part — the screen where you can put icons and folders or widgets — and the Google Now part, where you can swipe to the right and see all your Google Now cards.

The launcher portion was pretty basic as far as Android launchers go. You could have more than one screen and fill them with widgets and shortcuts to your apps, but the only additional feature was access to Google Now. The basic look is what appealed to some of us and what turned some of us off because other launchers can do so much more. Having access to Google Now cards was also a reason folks installed it, along with the hot word detection so you could activate the voice assistant without pushing or tapping any buttons. If you never tried it, it's worth having a look before it goes the way of Google Reader and flies off into the sunset.

Only half is going away

Without getting too technical, let's try to sort out what's happening. If the app is pulled from Google Play you'll not be able to go install it unless you installed it previously (so go install it right now). In that sense, the app is gone. But the best part of the app — the Google Now cards and voice integration — hasn't been killed off, it's been given away.

Download: Google Now Launcher (free)

Google Now is already on your phone; the launcher was just a shortcut to get there.

That part of the Google Now Launcher is also part of the Google app. Every Android phone that has Play Store access has the Google app installed, and what you see when you slide right to look at your cards is part of what the Google app does. It's also the reason why people who root their phone can add the cards to Action Launcher — they are already there on every phone. The Google Now Launcher just gave a way to trigger it.

Alongside removing the launcher app, Google is now allowing access to those bits of the Google app through a new Search Launcher Services API. What that means is any company that's an official Android partner can include the Google Now panel on their own launcher. They can take the base Android code and the new API and have a basic home screen launcher that does the same things the Google Now Launcher did without changing anything. They also can change the base code to do a lot more things and still include the Google now bits and pieces. This makes for an easy fix for companies like Motorola who ship their phones using the Google Now Launcher.

What about my Nexus?

Your Nexus will still use the Google Now launcher, and there is no reason to think it will be any different. The launcher part — your home screens and widgets — is mostly made of a few visual changes put on top of the launcher code that's part of Android, and any changes to Android that affects it will be included in any updates.

The Google Now part is updated and maintained through the Google app. We haven't seen any update in the Play Store for Google Now Launcher since November 2015, because there's nothing to update on the home screen side. It's literally just the Android code with some tweaks to "beautify" the look.

There's zero indication that this means the next Nexus update will include the Pixel launcher. Until someone says differently, expect to see zero changes to what you have now and have had since you bought your Nexus.

I can't wait for Google Now integration with Nova Launcher!

That's not going to happen. At least not right now.

Only the people who are building Android phones and are official partners can build the Search Launcher Services into their home screen launchers. That means people like Samsung or LG can do it, but not the folks from TeslaCoil Software who build and distribute Nova Launcher. Or any other developer who doesn't work for an official Google partner.

The integration is done at the system level. That means apps and services that have elevated permissions and access to things apps from Google Play do not have. Only the people making the Android software that runs on your phone can install a system-level application. This is a good thing. You don't want an app you downloaded to be able to do anything outside of itself.

Not allowing apps you install to have more access to the system software is a good thing in general. Not having a program for trusted developers to submit an exception is not.

What's not such a good thing is that there is no path for trusted developers to join the ranks of Android manufacturers. The folks who make Nova Launcher, or Action Launcher or any of the very professional system tools need a way to integrate Google Now without asking their users to root their phones. These are some of the best Android apps available and can be a reason someone chooses an Android phone over an iPhone.

What happens with Android O?

Nobody knows anything except that the home screen launcher won't be called Google Now Launcher. There has to be a launcher app because that's how you get to every other app. Nobody knows what the next version of Android will have for its launcher, but it will have one.

I use Google Now Launcher on my phone, so what should I do?

Nothing. If you like Google Now Launcher, keep using it. Nobody is taking it away from your phone and it's still going to keep working the same way it always has. Remember, the actual launcher part hasn't been touched or updated in well over a year. Any improvements to Google Now, they way the shortcuts or hot word detection works or how it integrates with your phone will come from the Google app like they always have.

Everything will work the same way it always has if you use Google Now Launcher.

Google has taken things we love and killed them off before. It's understandable if your initial reaction to this is thinking that Google is just dropping all support for everything but the Pixel. But that's not really the case. It's more like spring cleaning, where things you don't use any longer are either taken to the curb or given to someone else who can use them. Google has given the Google Now part to all of its partners and doesn't use the rest, so it's tossing it.

The people who were told this information (it wasn't for the public to see) understand what's happening and why this is great news for them. What we need to know is that nothing's changing except that an icon and link in the Play Store are going to disappear, and the next phone we buy is going to be using a new way to do the same thing.

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2 weeks ago

Samsung Galaxy A5 + A3 launch in the UK: Flagship features come to an affordable price point

10
Galaxy A5 + A3

Glass construction, water resistance, and latest Samsung UI arrive in new 4.7 and 5.2-inch handsets.

Samsung has unleashed the latest devices in its mid-priced A series on the UK, with the arrival of the 2017 variants of the Galaxy A3 and A5. As in previous years, Samsung has brought a smattering of high-end features to a more affordable price point through the pint-sized 4.7-inch A3, and the larger 5.2-inch A5.

Both phones share a similar glass and metal construction, much like Samsung's higher-end offerings, along with the IP68-rated water and dust resistance that comes as standard with the Galaxy S7. In fact, aside from a few differences in port and button placement, the A5 is the spitting image of its more expensive sibling. (In fact, it one-ups the GS7 in one small but notable area, shipping with a more up-to-date USB-C port.)

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2 weeks ago

Fire Emblem Heroes review: Shining brightly on Android

7

Nintendo proves they know how to bring their franchises to mobile with Fire Emblem: Heroes.

I should preface this review by saying this was actually my first Fire Emblem game, so I came into this game with fresh eyes on the entire franchise as well. As such I'm able to provide, I think, a truly honest opinion of how well this game works without being swayed by the fan service scattered throughout.

The first thing you're going to notice about Fire Emblem: Heroes game is just how beautiful everything is. The artwork, animation, and sound design here is on point. From the opening cut screen to the menu screens to the fantastic battle transitions and animations, this game just has a really great flow to it and played smooth as butter on the Google Pixel I reviewed it on. Fans of the series are really going to appreciate the loving care that the developers put into this — while folks like myself who are new to the series get a faithful adaptation to introduce them to the franchise's lore.

From the opening cut screen to the menu screens to the fantastic battle transitions and animations, this game just has a really great flow to it.

There are multiple modes of play, but the main one you'll start with is Story Maps — the main campaign for Fire Emblem: Heroes. As the story goes, the noble heroes of the Askran Kingdom are putting up a fight against Princess Veronica and the Emblian Empire, which seeks to to rule all worlds. A powerful summoner (you) arrives just in the nick of time, with the ability to summon and control Heroes from across all worlds to join the Askran army. You set off to different worlds to free the heroes who have been cast under Princess Veronica's spell by defeating them on the battlefield.

If you're familiar with Fire Emblem's battle mechanics already, you're going to love how well they work on a full touch screen. There's a lot of strategy and tactics to learn and master in Fire Emblem, but fortunately the learning curve is gradual for beginners. There are several different types of heroes, but the main three are red, green and blue, with colourless heroes thrown in as well. The first few chapters in the story mode really help to establish the basics of combat, while you learn the Rock, Paper, Scissors-style battle and figure out how to best position your heroes around the battlefield. It's simple and easy to grasp, and before too long I was developing my own strategy for moving my heroes into the best position to defend and attack.

Arena Duels are especially intriguing, as you're able to test your mettle against other players in quick battles, though it certainly won't feel like a PvP experience.

Once you've worked your way through the first few chapters in Story Maps, you'll unlock other modes: Special Maps, Arena Duels, Training Tower and a fifth mode you unlock once you've completed the main campaign. These modes allow you to train and level up your heroes and offer you more ways to play beyond the story mode. This really adds some much needed depth to the game, as you're also able to go back and replay chapters of the story mode with a new lineup of heroes if you wish to test out new battle strategies and tactics. Arena Duels are especially intriguing, as you're able to test your mettle against other players in quick battles, though it certainly won't feel like a PvP experience.

Nevertheless, if you manage to link enough Arena Duel wins together, you can work your way up the global player ranks. It definitely feels like this will become the centrepiece of the game once you've worked your way through the main storyline. If you've got friends who are playing, you can add each other by tapping the glowing stone in the bottom left corner of the home menu and adding them via their unique friend ID.

A big part of this game, as your role of summoner would suggest, is summoning other heroes to join your cause. This is done, first and foremost, by collecting Orbs by completing chapters in story mode — or through in-app purchases, though it is much more satisfying to unlock them through the spoils of victory. From the Summon menu, you're able to choose the color of hero you wish to summon, which certainly helps to balance out your army's hero types. You're able to assemble and swipe through five assembled teams of heroes — a mix of new characters alongside fan favorites from previous titles.

One of the only complaints I've had with the game so far is the lack of explanation for everything you can do from the main menu before heading into battle.

One of the only complaints I've had with the game so far is the lack of explanation for everything you can do from the main menu before heading into battle. Perhaps I'm just the type to rush into battle, but I was completely unaware how valuable it would be to upgrade my castle, which is hidden in the Shop menu. Doing so greatly increases the amount of experience points your heroes earn in battle, and is something you'll probably want to do early and often when you're first starting out. Beyond the previously mentioned Orbs, there's also a ton of other items and different currency items that you'll collect and have no idea what to do with them. Maybe that's just my own ignorance from being new to the series or not spending enough time digging through the menu system, but I'd much rather spend my time battling.

Battling is limited by your stamina meter which automatically refill, but you're also given 50 stamina points and missions costs are low, meaning you really won't run out too often unless you're really grinding hard. When that does happen, you can simply spend some time tweaking your teams and upgrading your heroes in the shop menu while you wait for the meter to recharge. There's always something to do.

After seeing mixed reviews from the iOS release of Super Mario Run, I must admit I was somewhat skeptical of what we were going to get with Fire Emblem: Heroes. There's many ways for a free-to-play game to be bogged down by lame mechanics that either force you to wait or pay to progress, but Nintendo has done a great job of keeping everything balanced and fun. From all that I've read and my own experience playing the game, this feels like a really pure entry into a franchise that so many people adore. It would have been easy to give us a direct port of one of the handheld Fire Emblem games or, worse yet, a watered down game that's been "optimized for mobile" (and profits).

Perhaps most important of all, it's clear even to someone with no previous experience with the Fire Emblem franchise that a lot of thought and care went into creating a fully fleshed out gaming experience for the mobile audience. In the relatively short time that I've spent playing Fire Emblem: Heroes since its release, I'm finding myself loving it more and more. Having not bought into the pre-release hype at all, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying this game.

Download: Fire Emblem: Heroes (Free w/IAPs)

Android Gaming

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