AVG Android Performance Apps

AVGAnti-virus outfit AVG have released a suite of small Android apps which aim to improve the performance of your smartphone or tablet. The free apps Cleaner, TuneUp and Uninstaller all help to keep your device ticking over smoothly. Here’s what each app offers.

AVG Memory & Cache Cleaner – The Cleaner apps cleans out all the cruft and detritus that accumulates on your smartphone or tablet in caches, downloads and histories. Overtime, this material can build-up and have a significant impact on functionality. For example, on my tablet the Play Store sometimes gets stuck and can’t upgrade an app until I clear out its cache and this app sorts it out. The app provides plenty of options to clear out certain sets of information while leaving others intact but the best feature is the Auto Clean which lets the user set how often the Cleaner app removes the rubbish. I have mine set to clear out once a week and I’m regularly seeing 100 MB or over being tidied up.

AVG Cleaner

AVG Battery Saver & TuneUp – This app has four distinct parts, Task Killer, Battery Consumption, Data Usage and Storage Usage, which together are less focussed that the other two apps. However, this doesn’t stop them being useful.

  • Task Killer is self-explanatory and kills user-selected tasks and processes. I think tasks are the same as running apps and processes are equivalent to background processes, but this could be clearer. Helpfully the tasks can be ordered by memory use so you can see which apps are hogging the space.
  • Battery Consumption lets the user setup a power saving mode by turning off various radios and other options. When the battery level reaches this level, the power saving mode is entered automatically.
  • Data Usage does what it says, monitoring the data used by the phone and alerting you when it gets to a predefined level. There are quite a few options around setting volume and reset dates but there doesn’t seem to be any discrimination between 3G and Wifi data which would be a useful enhancement.
  • Finally, Storage Usage shows the apps that use the most storage space with the option to uninstall the worst offenders. There’s an overlap here with the Uninstaller app but it’s no big deal.

AVG TuneUp

AVG Uninstaller – The Uninstaller app doesn’t just uninstall apps, though it seems to do this competently enough. What it does do is present different views of apps on the device so that you can make an informed choice as whether to uninstall an app or not. The four views provided are by usage, by data, by battery and by storage. Personally, I find by usage the most useful as it lets you see the apps that you really never use and aren’t going to miss. There’s a weekly reminder feature which reviews the app usage and recommends apps for uninstallation based on lack of use.

The other Uninstaller views could be useful if you are having a problem, but I already know that Ingress is consuming a large percentage of my battery. The storage view is handy too if you are wondering where your memory has gone but that option didn’t throw up too many surprises for me either.

AVG Uninstall

Overall, these are all handy little apps that are worth the free download. If you’ve already got AVG Antivirus, you’ll find that these apps integrate into the Antivirus app so you can launch Cleaner and Uninstaller from within Antivirus. The Battery Saver and TuneUp app’s functionality is already built-in to the Antivirus app so this app is not required if you have AVG Antivirus.

The only irritating aspect of these apps is the advertising. It’s not that I’m against the advertising per se – the apps are free after all – but it’s that the adverts are for apps that I’ve installed already! AVG, please don’t waste the screen real estate for apps I’ve got, and if you were to introduce paid versions, I’d buy them.

All are available to download from the Play Store. Tomorrow, I’ll be looking at two other AVG apps, Privacy Fix and Image Shrink & Share.

Day One: A Journal for the 21st Century

day one iconDay One is a journal for the digital age. I decided several months ago to start keeping a daily journal. Many people were recommending Day One on the Mac and iOs but I resisted, thinking the price was too high. It is $9.99 for the Mac app and $4.99 for the iOs version. I tried a couple of free journals including vJournal, but I wasn’t satisfied. Finally I decided to put down the money for Day One on both iOs and the Mac.

If you are going to start a digital journal and are in the Apple ecosphere then Day One is well worth the price. The first thing you will notice when you open up Day One is that it is well made and designed app. Along the left hand side you have a plus button which opens up a new entry window. Below that you can pull up your previous entries either in list form or by calendar date. You can also find the post you have starred as important and also set a daily reminder. Across the top of the window , you can add tags, location and images.

You can use Day One this way and it is worth the price.  However by combining a script by Brett Terpstra called Slogger, with Dropbox or iCloud and IFTTT along with Hazel you can do so much more, including having any image you post to Tumblr, InstagramFlickr or Facebook go into your Journal. Drafts an iOs app will also work with Day One. To set some of this up does require working in the terminal and some work with a script. If you take your time and follow the directions provided in the links in this post, you should be ok. Once you have it set up though, you can have things sent to Day One automatically,personally I love this option.

As you can tell I have become a big fan of Day One. I use it as a personal journal, however I do know some people who use Day One as a business journal. There are some problems with Day One, first is there is no trial version, I think a lot of people stay away from Day One because of the price. If there was a trial version I think they would be hooked. The second problem is security. You can set up a password to lock down Day One, however you cannot encrypt the entries. If you are on a Mac or iOs and are interested in starting an electronic journal I would recommend Day One.

Fake Bad Piggies Malware Hits Google Play, Android Phones

Bad-PiggiesIf you are a fan of the Angry Birds series, then you know about Bad Piggies – a sequel to the popular bird game. Security company F-Secure detected there was a faux app in the Play store that looked and felt like the Bad Piggies by Rovio. However, this app had a slight alteration to the name (Bad Pigs) and a different developer name.

Since the detection, Google Play has removed this malware version from their store. Unfortunately  10,000 downloads have occurred since May 25, 2013. The app asks the user for permission to do more than just push notification and simple data collection.

If any app asks for more information – including full access to your location and personal information, you should remove the app and report it. Usually trojanized apps are popular games, since they see more downloads.

Bad Piggies is a free app that sees between 10,000 – 50,000 app downloads on Google Play. It is available on Android and iOS apps, along with Mac and PC.

If you are one of the duped app users, simply delete the app through Android App Manager.

Audio Evolution Mobile App

Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 is a powerful multitrack audio recorder for Android that is somewhat reminiscent of Adobe Audition 1.5 in both form and function. Priced at $7.45 US, the app is a real bargain for anyone looking to do serious multitrack audio recording and editing on an Android tablet or smartphone.

Back a few years ago I switched from Windows to Mac, and Adobe Audition 1.5 is one of the pieces of software I had to let go of on a day-to-day basis in order to end the endless frustration of dealing with Windows. Newer versions of Adobe Audition have never struck me as having the same appeal of Adobe Audition 1.5.

It might be just me and the way I relate to software interfaces, but I’ve never had much use for Garageband on either the Mac or on my iPad. I was able to make use of Apple’s Soundtrack app, but it was just never as quick or as easy as Adobe Audition 1.5 was in quickly cranking out a tightly-edited piece of audio.

Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 was easy for me to instantly make use of. The software maker suggests that you download the trial version to try on your particular Android hardware before you buy it, to make sure it will work for you. I downloaded the trial version onto my Galaxy S3 smartphone, and quickly determined that it would not only work but that I really liked the software and the way it worked. I uninstalled the trial version and purchased the full paid version and was able to crank out an hour-long edited recording quite easily with a minimum of confusion.

The software vendor makes it very clear that Audio Evolution Mobile 1.7.2 cannot directly output into the MP3 audio file format because of MP3 file format licensing issues. The app can output mixdown files to WAV, AIFF, FLAC or OGG file formats.

Of course the podcast file format standard is MP3, so in order to be able to convert the mixdown files to the MP3 file format, I downloaded the free MediaConverter app that converts files using the open-source FFMPEG libraries from many different file formats to MP3.

To add ID3 tags to the converted MP3 files, I installed the free MP3dit app that is able to edit ID3 tags for many different audio file formats.

To upload the MP3 file to my podcast server, I use the free ANDftp FTP client for Android.

Finally, to make the WordPress post I simply go to a browser such as Firefox for Android to the regular full browser view, log in and make the post as I would on a regular desktop or laptop computer.

To be honest, the last step is the hardest to accomplish on a tablet device. WordPress just isn’t laid out in a very touchscreen-friendly manner, but it can be made to work in a pinch.

From a podcaster standpoint, the mobile device recording, editing and posting software is slowly getting there.

Voxer Walkie-Talkie App

For several years, I’ve made heavy use of the Heytell walkie-talkie app on both iOS and Android devices. Heytell is functional, but it has its problems from time to time. I have continued to my eye out for worthy walkie-talkie app alternatives.

I originally tried out the Voxer app upwards of two years ago. At that time, I found that Voxer just wasn’t a worthy replacement for Heytell. For one thing, I found the Voxer audio quality to be fairly poor compared to Heytell’s audio quality. I left Voxer installed on my devices, but contined to make use of Heytell.

Recently my youngest brother contacted me via Voxer and I started noticing the app once again. I noticed that not only had the audio quality improved, but other useful features had been added and the overall performance of the app is now quite robust.

One of the key features that makes Voxer extremely useful to me is that I can easily pass through poor and changing mobile data performance areas, and Voxer is able to robustly adapt to the changing data connectivity conditions. Even in marginal connectivity areas all outgoing Voxer messages are eventually transmitted to the recipient as connectivity permits. All incoming Voxer messages likewise come in as connectivity permits.

Another really nice feature of Voxer is that it allows unlimited message length. It’s possible to talk and not arbitrarily get cut off after 20 seconds. Also, unlike Heytell there are never any “full” inboxes to contend with. It’s possible to leave plenty of messages for your recipient and they will be waiting for them on their device when they get time to listen to them. This is really a great feature if you are trying to give someone how-to instructions.

Voxer also has the ability to text chat as well as transmit photos back and forth. Additonally, Voxer puts a GPS stamp on each transmitted message, so it is possible to see a map of exactly where either you or your recipient was when a particular message was transmitted.

Walkie-talkie apps on mobile devices can be extremely useful. When you don’t have the time or the inclination to make a phone call, yet have need to communicate with someone, a walkie-talkie app is extremely useful. With both Android and iOS versions, Voxer is the best free walkie-talkie currently app available.

Finally Mobile Streaming Becomes Truly Practical

I remember driving around back in the early 1980’s dreaming of what it might be like if I could listen to what I wanted when I wanted to. Back in those days, in many areas of the country, there was nothing to listen to but farm reports and hog prices. AM and FM stations would quickly fade in and out. Driving cross-country it was necessary to constantly change stations as they faded in and out, often vainly searching for something worthwhile to listen to.

When podcasting came along in 2004, in many ways it was the answer to that dream. Suddenly there was new content to listen to, on demand, on a wide variety of topics. It had to be downloaded and put onto a player in advance.

The past few years I’ve been experimenting with mobile streaming. For a long time, it just wasn’t practical in rural areas. Pandora would generally work better than all the other streaming services, but attempting to stream regular radio stations or even podcasts was generally not going to work.

However, now things have changed once again. With the widespread deployment of LTE mobile networks, successful casual streaming all kinds of different audio is not only possible, but practical in most of the areas I’m driving in. This opens up yet another new world of possibility.

Podcasting itself is a good case in point for something that came together because enough bandwidth was available. MP3 files had been around for a long time. Computers had already had the capability of recording digital audio for quite a number of years. RSS had been around for a while. All of these things converged and became something new.

Today I’m spending a lot of time with the Stitcher app on my Google Nexus 7 here in my truck, suction-cupped to the truck’s windshield and connected to stereo speakers via Bluetooth. Stitcher makes a great streaming mobile radio service. Now that the mobile data network is good enough in most areas to make streaming practical in the real world, new possibilities have opened up.

All of these things have been around a while. Stitcher is not new. The streaming concept has been around for quite a number of years. Podcasting as well has been around for probably at least nine years. What is different is now I don’t have to fuss with downloading them ahead of time. I really like the way stitcher lets you search for a keyword or two and then sequentially plays the different podcasts that showed up in the search. I find myself on a voyage of discovery, bumping in to podcasts I’ve never heard of. Because everything is on demand, like watching Netflix or Amazon streaming video, if I find an audio podcast I don’t like I simply skip ahead to the next one.

I can’t predict exactly how this will eventually develop. However, I can say, now that the mobile data bandwidth is a reality, there’s something here, and it’s pretty interesting. It beats the heck out of listening to farm reports or hog prices. It also beats having to fumble around with an iPod and auxiliary audio cables.

Buffalo MiniStation Air Review

Buffalo LogoThe Buffalo MiniStation Air is “wireless streaming storage” for smartphones and tablets that provides 500 GB of extra space. Simply, it’s a 500 GB portable hard drive with wifi and complementary apps for Android and iOS. The idea is that the MiniStation Air connects to your PC or laptop via USB 3 and gets loaded up with stacks of music and video which can then be played via an app when out-and-about. It’s a great idea, but how does it stack up against “the cloud” and other solutions such as Pogoplug? Let’s find out.

Buffalo MiniStation Air Box

The MiniStation Air itself is a small black and grey unit, 130 x 84 x 23 mm. The top is a polished black surface with four pinprick status LEDs embedded in it and the sides and bottom are a silvery-grey with buttons and connectors on two of the sides.

Buffalo MiniStation Air

This is a USB 3.0 device which is immediately apparently from the shape of the connector. (Apologies for using stock photos but my own photos were all rubbish).

Buffalo MiniStation Air USB3

Connecting the MiniStation Air to the PC was simply a case of plugging it in with the device appearing as a removable drive. Copying media files took no time at all thanks to the USB 3 connection. It works with USB 2 as well, things just take a bit longer.

Once the Air is loaded up, it can be disconnected from the PC and then powered up on its own. At this point, the MiniStation Air is broadcasting a wifi signal (802.11n/g/b) and it’s easy to connect to it using the SSID and passkey details provided on the bottom of the Air.

Browsing the MiniStation Air

To get the MiniStation Air to work fully with smartphones and tablets, Buffalo provide an app for both Android and iOS which can be downloaded from the application app store. I was only able to test out the Android version, but once installed, it’s easy to browse the files and folders on the Air.

Music PlayerPlaying music or watching videos is just a case of tapping on the file. Photos and music are handled within the app, but videos are handed over to the default video player on the device. Movies started up within a couple of seconds (if that) and music started almost instantly. The music player is basic and as with many of these devices, doesn’t correctly pick up track tags, so albums are arranged alphabetically rather than in track order.

There isn’t a full “HD” app for the tablets, but there is some differentiation between tablets and smartphones. For example, on a tablet, pictures are previewed alongside the folder but this doesn’t happen on a smartphone, even when rotated to landscape. However, the four expanding arrows in the toolbar at the bottom shows that this isn’t a native tablet app.

Tablet Preview

The Edit part of the app allows files to be up- and downloaded from the MiniStation Air. It’s the usual check-box / select operation affair but for the small numbers of files that are likely to be transferred this way, it’s fine.

The Settings area provides access to the SSID and passkey plus other details such as hostname and workgroup. Nothing particularly unexpected here but the MiniStation Air has one last trick up its sleeve. The Air can be connected to another wifi network, preferably one that has a connection to the Internet. This means that although the smartphone is connected to the Air’s wifi, an onward connection to the Internet is provided for other queries or web surfing while listening to music. It’s pretty slick and very handy. It’s also something Buffalo should make a bit more obvious.

Performance-wise, it says that the Air can support eight simultaneous connections with three HD streams. I tested two HD simultaneous streams and it worked flawlessly. Battery life is claimed to be “up to 4 hours” and I wouldn’t disagree – I saw over three hours with a mix of video and music. The Air is powered and recharged via USB so it’s easy enough to hook it up for extended operation.

Any problems? Not really. A couple of wishes, though. First, a Windows / Mac app to use the MiniStation Air wirelessly would be good. Second, some kind of security on the device would be handy as being portable, it’s going to be awfully easy to lose. Finally, an SSD version with longer battery life but perhaps less storage would be interesting but probably too expensive to be considered.

Overall, the MiniStation Air is a good product that will appeal to those smartphone and tablet users who need more-than-average storage…much more than average. The Air is available now from all good retailers with a street price of £100-£120.

The MiniStation Air app was tested on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone and a Motorola Xoom 2 ME tablet.

Thanks to Buffalo for the loan of the MiniStation Air.

 

Pogoplug Mobile Review

Pogoplug LogoThe cloud is definitely where it’s at right now, but what if you don’t like the idea the idea of Google, Dropbox et al looking after your data? Then you might be interested in a Pogoplug, which allows you to create your own cloud storage that’s only limited by the size of the hard disk. A Pogoplug is a hardware gadget that connects USB storage devices to your local LAN and then makes the space available across the Internet, effectively creating a personal cloud. The data is stored in your control and if more storage is needed, plug-in a bigger hard drive.

On review here is the Pogoplug Mobile, the 3rd generation of Pogoplug device from Cloud Engines. It offers a single USB port plus an SD card slot along with the network port and power socket. Newer Pogoplugs come with USB3 ports, but as the maximum speed of the Pogoplug cloud is always going to be the speed of the Internet connection, the faster transfer speeds of USB3 are unlikely to be a significant benefit. For testing, I used a 64 GB memory stick, rather than a hard drive, which means that the unit will run silently with minimal power consumption.

Pogoplug Packaging

The Pogoplug website has downloads for Windows, Macs and Linux, and the relevant app stores have versions for Android, iOS, Blackberry and legendary WebOS. I was able to try the Windows, Linux, Android and WebOS versions. The Windows version connects to the Pogoplug and presents it as a drive letter, allowing most Windows applications to use the Pogoplug transparently. The Pogoplug software has additional backup functionality as well, which may be useful for some people. The Linux version is command line only but anyone familiar with Linux will have no trouble getting the Pogoplug mounted into the filesystem.

The Android app is simple and straightforward with a couple of nice tricks up its sleeve. Broadly you can browse files in a directory fashion or you can view music, photos and movies in a tag or meta-data based fashion, As expected, there are viewers and players for the media, though movies get handed over to the default app rather than playing within the Pogoplug app. The music player is basic and has one really irritating flaw; it doesn’t seem to be able to pick up the track number from the mp3 files and consequently orders tracks alphabetically when playing albums. This really needs to be fixed.

Back viewPerformance-wise, the Pogoplug is always going to be limited by the upload (rather than download) speed of the broadband connection when outside of the home. This usually meant a little bit of buffering before playing music but once the playback got underway, there was rarely any stuttering. There were occasional times when folders refused to refresh but my suspicion is that any problems were down to the local data connection on my phone rather than a problem with the Pogoplug. YMMV. Inside my home, the performance was excellent.

In common with other social and cloud apps, the Pogoplug app has automatic uploading of pictures and video from the devices camera. It’s also possible to set the folder where the uploaded images are to go. Frankly, this is brilliant as my wife is hopeless at remembering to copy photos off her smartphone so by setting up the Pogoplug app on her phone, any photos she takes get automatically transferred. On occasion, a photo would sometimes fail to completely upload; again I suspect the loss of 3G connectivity than any fundamental problem, but the error checking could be improved. It’s also possible to upload any image from within the photo Gallery app.

As with most cloud solutions, you can also share with friends and family, using either the app or the web interface. It’s straightforward – select the folder you want to share, select who you want to share with and an email is sent to them with the relevant link. It’s an easy way to share photos of Junior with grandma and grandpa.

Any downsides? Only two that i can see….first, there’s no direct integration with any other apps that I could find. Quickoffice and other office apps typically allow access straight into Google Drive or Dropbox but none seemed to work with a Pogoplug. Effectively I had to download a Word doc to the phone, do my edits in QuickOffice and then upload the doc back to the Pogoplug. Not slick.

The second is that when I was at home and on the same subnet as the Pogoplug, Internet access to Pogoplug’s servers was still needed, presumably to check authorisation privileges. Normally, it’s not going to be an issue, but it would be handy to have a way to bypass this when working locally and the connection to the Internet goes down.

Overall, the Pogoplug is a handy device that gives you control over your data rather than entrusting it to a megacorp. A few glitches spoil what is otherwise a neat little solution that potentially gives as much data storage space as you need, without paying per GB per annum. For the low cost of the Pogoplug unit (about $50 / £35), it’s a bargain.

Disclaimer – this was a personally purchased device.

iOnRoad Turns Your Old Car into a High-Tech Safety Machine

The slogan “Turn your smartphone into a personal driving assisstant” should give you a quick overview of exactly what iOnRoad is all about.  The smartphone app works in conjunction with the camera in your phone to watch what is going on in front of you and warn you of things like if you are getting too close to another vehicle or of lane drift.

The app is built to work in all light conditions, including at night, and gives audio alerts when it detects any dangers.  iOnRoad claims the app uses 30 percent less battery power than your mapping app.  The iOnRoad app is currently free, but will be $9.99 soon.  You can find it in the Android Market, but it will be coming to iPhone later as well.  There are a lot more cool little features to this, but you will have to watch the video below to learn about them.  You can find out more at iOnRoad.

Interview by Todd Cochrane of Geek News Central for the TechPodcast Network.

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RHP Multimedia MirrorCase for Sneaky Snaps

RHP Multimedia MirrorCaseAfter years in surveillance industry, RHP Multimedia have gone out on their own with MirrorCase, an iPhone case for taking sneaky photos. Andy and Courtney take a peek with John Palmeri.

Taking a photograph with a smartphone (or any camera for that matter) is somewhat obvious and there are times when you’d like to be a little more discrete. The MirrorCase is an iPhone case with an angled mirror which allows a photo or video to be taken when the iPhone is held horizontally. A free camera app is included which has a “boss” mode, showing a fake app screen with a flick of the finger.

The MirrorCase is on pre-order at the moment for $80, with deliveries expected before the summer. An iPad version is in development.

Interview by Andy McCaskey and Courtney Wallin of SDR News and RV News Net.

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