Cover for Android makes your lock screen smarter and contextual

Contextual mobile apps have been on rise for quite a sometime now. Google Now has been one of the best things about Android (though it is on iOS now) and then you have Aviate Launcher created by former Google employees.

Cover is a fresh new take on Android lock screen. It replaces it with something more intelligent and contextual.

Cover

Cover lets you peek into apps directly from the lock screen. It shows three sets of icons, that keep on changing based on your app usage.

The basic idea here is that, you can just wake your device, slide from the app icon – which you want to open and get the stuff done. So you don’t have to unlock your device, search for the app, launch it.

Cover asks for your Home and Work address when you set it up. It needs this, as it shows different set of apps, if it detects that you’re at Work. It also uses motion detection to know if you’re travelling.

Other handy features include jumping between apps by sliding from top right corner (which you can customise).

Peeking at apps from lock screen works well, i.e. no lag what so ever.

The app is only available on US Play Store, but apparently, you can download the APK and install it – from the link below.

Link: Cover APK

Dive into nostalgia with OpenEmu Console Emulator for Mac

Here’s a christmas present for all you video gaming nerds who played the epic 8-bit and 16-bit console games of past.

OpenEmu – a console game emulator, lets you run all the pixel games seamlessly.

OpenEmu

As the name suggests, it’s an open source project and a few days back, stable release of Mac app has been out.

To get started, download the Mac app from OpenEmu’s website. Also download the Starter Game pack, and drop them in the app to import. That’s all you have to do, to install a game, i.e. just drop the ROM file.

The app’s design is strikingly good, which is not something you expect from a console emulator. You can build collections, categorise your games and rate them.

Games can be played in fullscreen and can be saved for resuming at a later time.

You can even plug in your game pad/controller and use it just like that. I tried with my Xbox 360 controller and it worked fine, though I did needed to install the Mac-specific driver. Controls can be changed in the preferences window.

On a whole, it’s a polished and well made app. Also free, so why not give it a try?

Link: OpenEmu

RailYatri: Get Push Notifications Alerts on Train Related Updates on Android

If you are travelling by Indian Railways, it is a little difficult to track train updates on a phone. While IRTC website has its own reputation for being mocked for booking tickets, tracking updates is difficult. There is option of using Rail Radar which tracks train updates on a Google Map layout. Personally, I found RailYatri a useful website on my last train travel and hence I was tested out their Android app released recently.

Get updates from your favourite trains, routes and stations
Get updates from your favourite trains, routes and stations

The RailYatri app allowed me to choose from over 5000 trains and 8000 location. I could also set some stations and certain routes as my favourites. The big change is the push notification on various alerts like train delays and more. This means we do not have to track train status on a PC or phone but get updates automatically.

Ideally the app will use stations and trains marked favourites to push notifications on the phones. The alert cards on the app will show details like train cancellations, delayed start, accident sites, fog updates and more. So ideally these favourites should be set as soon as your trip is planned and not just on the day of the journey.

If you do not own an Android phone, try using the RailYatri.in website and set SMS alerts for updates on certain trains and routes.

Do try out the app and drop in your comments.

Link: RailYatri Android App

Twitter updates its Mac app, brings image previews and refined design

While Twitter frequently updates its Android and iPhone apps, that’s not the case with the Mac app. Back in the year, it got updated when everyone thought it’ll be discontinued.

A few days back, they brought another update to the app, making it more inline with design of their Mobile apps.

Twitter for Mac

The stand out feature is, the Mac app will now show image previews, i.e. you don’t have to click the pic.twitter.com links to view images. This is obviously a very basic feature which the app has missed. Don’t want images filling your timeline? You can turn it off in settings.

Next up, is a more refined design for Twitter profiles, tweet details page and so on.

You can now see the cover image (or whatever it is called) on profiles page and it looks much better overall. Tweet details page now show all the mentions (not previously), retweets, favourites a tweet has got.

Update includes other small things like refined iconography.

The best part of the app is that, no features are taken out. It’s the same iconic Mac app designed by Loren Britcher. The scrolling and transitions are just as smooth as before.

Twitter for Mac still does not have every single feature power users expect. And that’s why Tweetbot exists. For example, the Mac doesn’t sync timeline position with Mobile apps. Tweetbot does it perfectly.

Personally, I still love and use Twitter for Mac, that might change if Tweetbot comes to Android (highly unlikely).

Link: Twitter for Mac

An iPad Mini user’s review of the Nexus 7 tablet

My experience with tablets is not really old. It started about six months ago when I got myself an iPad Mini. The Apple device was something I was very happy with but I was looking forward to the new Nexus 7 tablet being released in India.

Though the Nexus 7 was introduced in the US back in July, but it has been available in India only since the past week. As my iPad Mini is a hit with my family members, it is used by all of them. Hence, I decided to order myself a Nexus 7 on the Play store and sure enough I got the delivery in just a couple of days.

Nexus 7 on table
Nexus 7 (2013) running Android 4.4

Nexus 7 – Solid Hardware

The first thing that hit me was how small the device actually is. The iPad Mini is about 5.3 inches wide while the Nexus 7 is about 4.4 inches wide. The height of both devices were the same. I was a little apprehensive if the Nexus 7 would work out for me with such a small screen. Compared to an iPad Mini it looks pretty small.

Nexus 7 vs iPad Mini Screens
Nexus 7 (left) might have a smaller screen but the display is much sharper than the iPad Mini

The small size concerns were quickly dismissed as I found the Nexus 7 screen brilliant. It supports 1920 X 1200 HD resolution with 323 ppi (pixels per inch). The iPad Mini supports about 163 ppi with 1024 X 720 resolution display. Forget all the spec numbers, the display performance of Nexus 7 is simply great.

The Nexus 7 (2013) obviously has a lot more power with Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 Pro (1.5 GHz). The Nexus 7 has 32 GB storage and 2 GB RAM (other variants are with 16 GB and 32 GB with 4G) which is a great deal of storage space.

The rear facing camera is 5MP and the front facing camera is 1.2 MP. The 3950 mAh battery promises 9 hours of active use. It is still early days to see if it as good as the iPad Mini.

Android 4.4 on Nexus 7

It is a bit difficult to see how greatly the Android 4.4 has improved the performance of the Nexus 7 as the first thing I did with Nexus 7 was to get it updated to Android 4.4. With guaranteed update to Android KitKat, ideally the update shows up in notifications within moments of setting up the tablet.

Android 4.4 allows hotword detection which allows users to start a search by just saying “OK Google”. With this addition, Google Now is miles ahead of Apple’s SIRI. To switch on hotword detection, open the Google Search app and look up Settings >> Voice >> Select Hotword detection. If the Hotword detection option is not visible change the language to English (US) and the option will show up.

Google Now Voice Settings
Hotword Detection is a new feature with Android 4.4

I also saw a new app called QuickOffice which helps creates documents, spreadsheets and presentations. QuickOffice seemed to be very closely integrated with Google Drive.

Finally I saw a new feature in the device settings called Printing. I have not tested this out but it links up to Cloud Print or HP Print Service.

Widgets are a good idea on a tablet!

I am not a big fan of widgets on my Nexus 4 phone, though it is one of the most cited advantage over iOS by Android fans. But with a tablet, the screen is a lot bigger and widgets suddenly seemed more useful on a tablet. I have currently chosen Google Now widget.

The notifications on Android are much better in the sense I can carry out actions like delete, share images and more with notifications that show up.

What Nexus 7 does not get right

Google does offer tablet only apps on Play store and most of them are pretty decent. But Android simply is nowhere close to the variety that iOS offers for tablets. As I stated in the beginning of this article that my iPad Mini is used by members of my family and not just me. This is because of the variety of apps and how simple it is to use as a device. I have personally seen even a seven year old confidently operate the iPad Mini.

The Nexus 7 runs on Android which can be customized but with customization comes personality and that means I doubt a Nexus 7 tablet would become a family device. Also my Nexus 7 froze in its first hour when I was checking the front facing camera. It got fixed after I put my device in “Safe Mode”. I removed an app that I had recently downloaded and the issue was fixed. This never happened to my iPad Mini. There is no “Safe Mode” and I have never come across any app on iOS that crashes the device.

That said, if you are looking for a tablet with an awesome display screen, then the Nexus 7 tablet is a good buy at Rs. 24,000 (23,999) for a 32 GB Wifi version. A comparable iPad Mini with 32 GB storage is almost Rs. 28,000 but as I mentioned has a much inferior display. A iPad Mini with retina display with 32 GB storage is currently sold at $500 in the US.

Do drop in your comments and views.

Link: Nexus 7

Store and sync your open tabs and files with a single click

While researching something online, you might get an important call or need to go somewhere to a important meeting. That can be irritating especially as you need to save your files and sync them over Google Drive or Dropbox and save your browser tabs with a handy extension. CupCloud gets both syncing files and tabs working with a single click.

Firstly download CupCloud and install it on your computer. It works with Windows and OS X. I have tested it only on my Windows PC.

Now start working and when ever you need to save a bunch of tabs and word and excel documents open on your computer, just start the CupCloud software and click on “Cup”.

How Cup Cloud Works
How Cup Cloud Works

Once done, it will store all your open tabs and files with a single click.

Save  and manage multiple collections of tabs and files you need
Save and manage multiple collections of tabs and files you need

If you create an account with Cup Cloud, you can open and sync tabs and folders across different computers. Currently Cup Cloud supports Chrome, Safari and among browsers. It also supports MS Word, Excel and Power Point files along with support for Windows Explorer and Mac Finder.

Do note that the product is still in beta and promises to support more file types.

Do try out Cup Cloud and let me know what you think of it in your comments.

Link: Cup Cloud

OS X Mavericks: Faster performance, Longer battery life, Better Apps

It’s that time of the year when Apple releases an update to their desktop operating system and the power users try to use and experience every bit of it.

A few days back, during a special event, Apple released OS X Mavericks. I’ve been using it for 3-4 days and here’s what I think about it.

Note: I tested Mavericks on a year old 13″ MacBook Pro – which isn’t too new, nor too old.

OS X Mavericks

Finder Tabs and Tags

I’m starting with Finder because it’s easily one of the most used apps on my Mac. Thankfully, Apple did bring two features to this. Both of these features are practically useful too.

Finder Tabs look no different from Safari tabs. You hit CMD+T, and a new tab gets added. You can then switch between them and even transfer files by dropping over them.

Even CMD+Click-ing a folder now results in a new tab, instead of a window. If you have multiple Finder tabs, you can merge them. Click on the video below.

Next up is Finder Tags. The first thing you’ll notice is that, the colourful tags looks popped out in the Finder app, where everything is monochrome. That’s for bad or good, I don’t know.

Tags appear in the sidebar and are assigned a colour. Tags can contain files and folders. I’m personally using it to group folders. For example, I have a ‘code’ tag which lists all the folders where I have code.

Tags

Tags can be added to documents right away and will be synced via iCloud.

Tags in documents

Safari

Safari is not my default browser, not even in Mavericks, but it still impressed me with some of its new features.

Safari

To start, they tweaked the UI a bit – removing the faux 3D effect from new tab page. The feature that stands out is, the new Sidebar. It brings Bookmarks, Reading list and Shared links under single column.

Shared links is a new feature which grabs all the links from your Twitter timeline (and LinkedIn!) and lets you browse through links one after the other. It does a really good job at that.

Other neat additions include iCloud keychain which fills and remembers secure passwords for you. I use LastPass myself and many use 1Password, but nevertheless it’s a fine addition.

Safari can also send you notifications from websites, even when it’s not running. There are just a bunch of websites which support this now – including New York Times, NBA.com and few more. It’s a really powerful addition to a browser.

NYT

The two finger swipe back gesture works better than ever, as caching is done well. On a whole, it’s a tad faster.

Notification center

Debuted in Mountain Lion, Notification center is a pretty useful addition to OS X. A lot of apps support it now and Apple has made it even better in Mavericks. Taking cues from Android, Apple has made notification in OS X actionable.

Replying to Facebook Messages

Let’s say you received a message, you can reply to it, without actually opening the Messages app. Received a FaceTime call? Same thing. There will be an API for third party apps to include this functionality.

Previously, you could post to Facebook and Twitter from the Notification center, now you can even send iMessages.

New toys to play with

Apple has brought in two new system apps in Mavericks – Maps and iBooks. Both of these make Mac play well with iOS devices.

Apple Maps

Everyone remembers the Apple Maps debacle, with that in mind, I didn’t expect much from the Maps app – but to my surprise, it was very good. Keeping the data aside (which is what Maps lacks), the UX is really good. It’s a whole lot better than using Google Maps’ web app.

Maps

Pinch to zoom and panning work smoothly and everything feels faster. Some of the satellite imagery is stunning and look great in full screen. You can add bookmarks and they get synced via iCloud.

In spite of all this, Apple Maps will probably never replace Google Maps for me. Especially because, now that Google has Waze, you can expect even more accurate data in Google Maps.

iBooks

iBooks in Mavericks bring in a simple way to purchase and read books. The library is pretty vast and there are a lot of free books too.

iBooks

The reading interface gets everything out of the way and you can customise the look of it (fonts and all). iBooks can be interactive too, including having embedded videos, though I didn’t try any such book yet.

Performance and Battery life

By far, the biggest change in Mavericks has to be the underneath performance and battery life tweaks. This is a great news for MacBook users, as you not only get more out of your existing RAM, but also get extra battery life.

After over 3 days of usage, I observed over 6-6.5 hours of battery life on continuous usage- as supposed to 5.5 hours on Mountain Lion. The difference will be huge in the new MacBook Air with Haswell processors.

Technically speaking, Apple introduced App Nap, Timer Coalescing and Compressed Memory. You can learn more about them at Apple’s site.

Better performance means, the App Store app no longer stutters, LaunchPad is smoother, Safari is snappier, etc. Ultimately, you have to use Mavericks to understand the underneath improvements.

Death of Linen

While Apple didn’t slap the flat interface they have in iOS 7, on OS X – they did made a few UI tweaks. The linen background which can be seen all over the OS, is now replaced with a solid background.

Take a look at the Notification center, Mission Control and LaunchPad. Dashboard has got a new background too.

Calendar

Apps like Calendar, Contacts and Notes have been redesigned. I think Calendar looks good with no faux leather. I hardly use Contacts and Notes, but they look nice too. Icons of these apps are still the same, though.

What Apple has yet to fix

So Mavericks is indeed a good update for OS X. That doesn’t mean it’s all gold, though. Here are few thing Apple will have to concentrate on.

Messages

Every OS X user knows that the Messages app is a mess. Mavericks doesn’t change that. The icon badge count in the dock keeps going crazy. It lags like crazy and the order of messages get swapped. Sometimes the iMessage service itself is down.

Apple clearly has to do something about this.

Bugs

Are there bugs in Mavericks? Yes. Are they really intrusive and keep you from updating? No. Does Apple has to fix them? Indeed.

Bug

Best example is the bug in Finder app. Just open few Finder windows and close – to reproduce this bug. I had to do a killall Finder to get rid of this.

Conclusion

OS X Mavericks improves Apple’s desktop operating system in quite a few areas. It makes your Mac faster, long last and brings useful features. It’s indeed an incremental update – but that’s what most OS X updates have been.

And it’s free.

So why wait? Open the App Store app, update. It’ll take around a hour to install Mavericks, apart from the gigantic 5.29GB download.

Did you try Mavericks? We are interested to know what you think about it!

Send callers customized text messages if you are busy with Smart Responder

Smart Responder is an app that disconnects an incoming phone call and sends a text message to the caller if the phone user is busy, for example driving a car or is in a meeting.

By default, 5 instances come packed with the app. They are : Driving, Meeting, Theatre, Prayer, School. When you’re at the temple, you may choose the Prayer mode to disconnect the calls and an auto-response ‘At Prayer’ will be sent. Similarly, you can choose the other instances. But at one time, you may choose only one particular instance.

Smart Responder

Also, you can create your own instances. You should give a Title and a Message to create instances of your own. You can also long press the pre-loaded 5 instances to change the Title / Message.

Deleting the default 5 instances is not possible which is unfortunate as not everyone is blogs or is still young enough to be in school or college but the app allows deleting instances created by yourself.

Once you’re done with all your jobs, you may disable the enabled instances and you can close the app.

Link: Smart Responder

Ghost: Kickstarter-backed Blogging platform releases to public

WordPress, being the most popular CMS, needs no introduction for most people. It’s everywhere, literally (even on the blog you’re on, right now). While, WordPress is great, it is becoming increasingly bloated and complex for simple blogging.

Ghost is a popular Kickstarter project, backed by quite a lot of people in its early stages. The catch here is that, Ghost wants to do only one thing, and that is to be a blogging platform.

dashboard

Internally, there are huge differences between WordPress and Ghost. The former is apparently based on PHP and MySQL. The latter doesn’t use any of those. Ghost is written entirely in Javascript and basing on Node.js, which is like the coolest thing right now in web development.

Node.js is a platform for running Javascript on the server (JS was meant to be a client side language) and build highly scalable apps, using asynchronous aka non-blocking I/O. This means that, Ghost will be much faster, scalable and simpler to manage.

Like in WordPress, theming is a big deal in Ghost too. Because it’s based off JS, Ghost uses HandlebarsJS, a popular Javascript templating library. It’s much simpler than say, writing WP themes in PHP. Take a look at the image below for reference.

WordPress Vs. Ghost in Theming

With all the technology aside, Ghost is well designed and easy to use. The web app is responsive, so it works just fine on mobiles. The dashboard is informative and shows numbers on overall reach of your blog.

In short, Ghost seems to be perfect for small blogs. It lets you concentrate on content, rather than managing the blog.

Ghost is free, open source and public. You can download it today, throw it on localhost and give it a try.

Link: Ghost

Themer: A single-step solution for personalising your Android

We love customising our Android phones, don’t we all? Launchers play a huge role in this and the Play store is filled with hundreds, or may be thousands of them. There’s just too much choice for the users in this aspect.

Themer too is a launcher, but different. Read on.

Themer

Customizing an Android phone is obviously a multiple step process. You have to gather a lot of stuff, like a good wallpaper, a well designed icon pack, widgets and apply all this to your launcher. Everyone will agree that this is a tedious process. Themer tries to fix this.

The app is developed by the people at MyColorScreen – a great community of Android geeks showing off their customised Android homescreens.

At its core, Themer lets you browse through themes and download/apply them with a single tap. Each theme can have its own set of icons, widgets, background and all.

I wish themes from MyColorScreen were available. If they can make this happen, it’ll be a huge break through, as the mods on MyColorScreen are simply stunning (go have a look!).

In my testing (using a Galaxy Nexus), I found Themer to be a bit slow, but it really depends on how bulky the theme is.

Personally, I still continue to use Nova launcher, but I’ll switch surely if the themes get better.

Themer is not yet released for public, but you can hit the link below to sign up for its beta (you get mailed an access code after few days).

Link: Themer