Archive for the ‘Tips’ Category

No Lock Turns Off Android's Slide-to-Unlock Gesture

Android only: If you’re entirely confident in your pockets, your purse, or your butt being unable to accidentally dial people or launch loud apps accidentally, go ahead and grab No Lock. The Android app simply disable’s Android’s slider-based lock screen.

And that’s the only thing it does, really, replacing the usual slide gesture with a simple button to tap. As Download Squad points out, the very nifty Taskerapp can disable the lock screen, and even do so under just certain times or conditions (among many other things), but this app requires much less work.

No Lock Turns Off Android's Slide-to-Unlock GestureIt’s a free download for Android phones, available in the Market, and you can scan the QR code at left to grab it.

No Lock [AppBrain via Download Squad]

Send Android Photos Straight to Dropbox

Posted: December 15, 2010 in Tips

While you can share and take photos from the Dropbox app on both iOS and Android, reader Java-Princess shows us that on Android, all you need to do is start up the Dropbox app and hit your phone’s camera button.

If you start the Dropbox app on an Android phone before using the camera, your pics save to your Dropbox folder and from there automatically sync to your PC or Mac, no thinking necessary.

It isn’t anything revolutionary that you couldn’t to before, but it is much faster than the more well-known method (which involves going into Dropbox, hit the menu button, pressing “New”, and choosing Picture from the menu). Instead, you can just open up the Dropbox app, hit the camera button on your phone, and snap away. Any pictures you take will automatically be saved to your Dropbox folder, which is certainly a heck of a lot faster than transferring them to your PC yourself.

 

Pumping your smartphone’s 3G/4G data into your laptop, or “tethering,” seems like a convenient and money-saving productivity hack. But is tethering as fast or reliable as a dedicated wireless modem or MyFi? Here’s what you should know before you tether.

Tethering is a service you can purchase from your cellular carrier—a basic kind of on/off switch, with a little extra software, to allow you to connect your phone by USB, Wi-Fi, or Bluetooth to your laptop and utilize the phone’s cellular internet through your normal browser, email client, and other net-needing apps. Most carriers charge for the privilege of using the web they’re serving up to your phone on something other than your phone. But, then again, some mobile apps can do the job for free, on Androids, iPhones, and other platforms.

Free? Yep, free—beyond the cost of your phone’s data plan, that is. So why would any sucker pay their carrier for tethering, or a 3G card, or a “MyFi”? A free, occasional tethering solution may, indeed, be the most practical solution for some users, and some tight situations. But here’s what you should know.

Phone Tethering Might Not Be Quite as Fast as a Stand-Alone Device

Tethering apps are small in size and fairly quick to start up, once you’ve set up both ends of the connection—the app on your phone, and the software needed on your PC. And they are, basically, pulling down the same 3G, 4G, CDMA, or whatever signal your carrier would give you on a dedicated USB card or portable device. So shouldn’t they be just as efficient as those dedicated devices?

In theory, maybe. In real life, not so much.

I’m a T-Mobile subscriber with a data plan in Buffalo no high-speed HSPA+ for us yet, and not quite the country’s fastest 3G. I’m toting a Nexus One, which still has the built-in USB and Wi-Fi Hotspot tethering options built in. Measuring my phone’s connection through the SpeedTest.net app, and then tethering my laptop to run the same test, I found that my phone averaged about 3.0 Megabits per second, while USB tethering options came in at around 2.3. That’s not to say that, in some bandwidth tests, that tethering didn’t approach that speed. But all things being equal, tethering apps like PDAnet and Tether didn’t seem to consistently deliver the same speeds to my laptop that I could get on the phone alone.

Want proof? Here are my test results, using built-in Android tethering (Nexus One/Froyo only, at this point), PDAnet, and Tether:

Carriers (Generally) Won’t Catch You Tethering, But They Will Profit From Your Overages

I know two different people who told me, after obtaining a Droid X on Verizon Wireless and an EVO 4G on Sprint, that they would be dropping their home internet connections. “With tethering,” their pitch went, “and only using email and the web, really, I’ll save at least $30 a month.”

Neither person was able to actually box up the cable modem and return it. That’s because no cellular data plan, in the U.S. at least, is really “unlimited,” despite whatever naming scheme they use. Once you go over a “soft” limit of 2 or 5 GB of data usage—or 200 MB, if you’re on a discount plan—your connection will be throttled to something like a 2G crawl, and/or you bill starts growing exponentially. And if you start using your phone like a primary modem, you will inevitably meet the money-minded folks on the other end of that pipeline.

Having dug around the web in as many geeky corners and forums I could think of—iPhone forums, XDA Android developers’ boards, and elsewhere—and obsessive web searching, I found that the answer seems to be somewhere between “They don’t know that you’re tethering” and “They might know, but it only matters if you’re over your limit or hurting their network.” For our purposes, a request from your phone for a web address looks the same, because once your phone’s antenna and hardware makes the data exchange, it could go to your phone’s browser, your laptop’s browser through PDAnet, or anywhere.

When I first moved into my house, I lacked cable internet for a week. I used my G1 and its Cyanogen-powered tethering to get my Lifehacker work done, but that was it—no YouTube, no leisure browsing, just straight HTML posts and image editing. If I needed evening internet beyond email, I went to a coffee shop. I managed to avoid T-Mobile’s wrath and stay under 5 GB. Both acquaintances received stern letters from Verizon and Sprint about their overages, and both argued the confusion of “unlimited data plans.” In the end, they might have escaped some overage fees, but dropped the freedom-from-cable idea.

Tethering Burns Out Batteries—Even Over Self-Charging USB

If you’re going to rely on tethering to save your butt on a long-distance train ride, or for more than an hour without a plugged-in laptop, you’d better bring an extra battery—or two.

Using the built-in tethering on my Nexus One, and toting a spare battery, I wanted to see how long I could last on an Amtrak train, heading West-to-East, when I recently found myself doing just that. Starting from Buffalo’s Exchange Street station, I made it to just past Utica before my phone shut down to save itself, and felt as hot as a griddle cake. And that was with the phone connected via USB, so therefore drawing a low level of charge from the plugged-in laptop.

It’s not just the continuous data pulling that chugs down battery juice—it’s going in and out of service, switching between service levels (GPRS to EDGE to 3G and back), and laptop apps that draw on a steady stream of data. Most smartphone apps are written to respect the platform they’re on, while standard computer applications generally assume you’re plugged in and connected to some kind of decent Wi-Fi.

It’s not an issue if you have smartphone battery backups galore, but most of us don’t. And when you run out of tethering power, you’re also without a phone until you can charge back up.

With an Unofficial Tether, You Can’t Get Righteously Ticked at Bad Service

Obvious, perhaps, but when you’re paying for your tethered connection, or a dedicated USB device or MyFi-style portable hotspot, it’s your prerogative to get righteously angry at the drop-offs in coverage where coverage is expected, to measure your speeds and report just how sad they are, and get credits for data usage that wasn’t really warranted. If you’re make-shifting your phone into a 3G/4G modem, you’re just another phone customer—and as long as you have basic voice coverage, your carrier won’t care quite so much that your Gmail SSL connection is taking forever.

Bottom Line: Use Unofficial Tether as a Make-Due Email and Data Sync Tool

From personal testing, anecdotes from web users and acquaintances, and some research into the nature of “unlimited” data plans, we can draw a few conclusions:

  • Tethering is not a long-term mobile data solution
  • The Thought Police won’t mace and handcuff you for hooking up your laptop through unofficial means, but your natural inclination to open just One More Tab could easily lead to a bigger bill and stern carrier letter.
  • You need extra phone batteries to reliably tether for more than 30 minutes at a time.
  • You won’t get top speeds while tethering, so make accommodations: sync simple text files through Dropbox rather than open Google Docs sessions, and batch together your online actions through apps like the very Gmail-friendly Thunderbird.

[Article clipped from Lifehacker]

With the next Android release, Google could get around to fixing its app Market’s weaknesses—and maybe you’ll get that update this year. In the meantime, AppBrain does a spectacular job of making apps easier to search, install, share, and manage.

Why bother with a third-party app manager? Because AppBrain primarily provides a better three-step app experience—Search, Install, Update—for Android apps than the default Market, especially on phones that aren’t caught up to the Android 2.2 experience.

You can read all about it over at Gizmodo.

WHAT IS AN ODEX FILE?

In Android file system, applications come in packages with the extension .apk. These application packages, or APKs contain certain .odex files whose supposed function is to save space. These ‘odex’ files are actually collections of parts of an application that are optimized before booting. Doing so speeds up the boot process, as it preloads part of an application. On the other hand, it also makes hacking those applications difficult because a part of the coding has already been extracted to another location before execution.

THEN COMES DEODEX

Deodexing is basically repackaging of these APKs in a certain way, such that they are reassembled into classes.dex files. By doing that, all pieces of an application package are put together back in one place, thus eliminating the worry of a modified APK conflicting with some separate odexed parts.

In summary, Deodexed ROMs (or APKs) have all their application packages put back together in one place, allowing for easy modification such as theming. Since no pieces of code are coming from any external location, custom ROMs or APKs are always deodexed to ensure integrity.

HOW THIS WORKS

For the more geeky amongst us, Android OS uses a Java-based virtual machine for running applications, called the Dalvik Virtual Machine. A deodexed, or .dex file contains the cache used by this virtual machine (referred to as Dalvik-cache) for a program, and it is stored inside the APK. An .odex file, on the other hand, is an optimized version of this same .dex file that is stored next to the APK as opposed to inside it. Android applies this technique by default to all the system applications.

Now, when an Android-based system is booting, the davlik cache for the Davlik VM is built using these .odex files, allowing the OS to learn in advance what applications will be loaded, and thus speeds up the booting process.

By deodexing these APKs, a developer actually puts the .odex files back inside their respective APK packages. Since all code is now contained within the APK itself, it becomes possible to modify any application package without conflicting with the operating system’s execution environment.

ADVANTAGES & DISADVANTAGES

The advantage of deodexing is in modification possibilities. This is most widely used in custom ROMs and themes. A developer building a custom ROM would almost always choose to deodex the ROM package first, since that would not only allow him to modify various APKs, but also leave room for post-install theming.

On the other hand, since the .odex files were supposed to quickly build the dalvik cache, removing them would mean longer initial boot times. However, this is true only for the first ever boot after deodexing, since the cache would still get built over time as applications are used. Longer boot times may only be seen again if the dalvik cache is wiped for some reason.

For a casual user, the main implication is in theming possibilities. Themes for android come in APKs too, and if you want to modify any of those, you should always choose a dedoexed custom ROM. [via AddictiveTips]

8pen (Gesture-based)
The newest and most ambitious of the bunch, 8pen redesigns the mobile touch keyboard completely by splitting the keyboard area into quadrants. To type, you swipe circles around the quadrants that specify letters based on what quadrant your circle started and ended in. The 8pen keyboard takes dedication and time to learn, but once you do, text entry is very fast with big targets fit for big fingers. You can program certain gestures to output frequently used phrases, too. For example, a circle could output your email address or full name. The 8pen keyboard is free in the Android Market.

Pros: 8pen’s large quadrants and function keys are almost impossible to miss. Custom gestures for frequently-used phrases is a powerful time saver.

Cons: 8pen’s learning curve is extremely steep. Plan to work through the 8pen tutorial and spend at least 20 minutes just learning the placement of the letters in the quadrants.
Skip to 1:18 to go right to seeing what it’s like to type with 8pen:

Graffiti (Gesture-based)
Like Google’s own Gesture Search input, Graffiti offers Palm-like writing on your Android device. To use it, draw a letter similar to the way you would with a pen on a piece of paper onto the touch canvas. Graffiti is free in the Android Market.

Pros: No pecking, just intuitive swiping, familiar to Palm graffiti lovers.

Cons: There’s a medium learning curve while getting all of Graffiti’s gestures down pat; also, tapping a letter key takes a lot less time than swiping it out Graffiti-style.

Graffiti demonstration:

SlideIT (Gesture-based on traditional keyboard layout)
Similar to Swype and ShapeWriter, SlideIT is a gesture-based keyboard that uses the key layout you already know. To type a word, slide your finger from letter to letter on a standard QWERTY keyboard. SlideIT involves a bit of getting-used-to, but once you’re there, it’s easy to type very fast even with some inaccuracy in your gestures. SlideIT is about $8 (depending on the exchange rate) right now in the Android Market.

Pros: Easy to learn gestures for people who don’t like pecking; also offers a graffiti mode.

Cons: Takes some time to teach it words it doesn’t know through old-school pecking, like proper names.

SlideIT demonstration:

ThickButtons (Traditional keys)
ThickButtons is the same keyboard layout you already know, but it integrates smart text prediction into the keys themselves. With ThickButtons enabled, as you type, it enlarges the particular keys it anticipates you want to tap next based on the word you’re inputting. ThickButtons is free in the Android Market.

Pros: Zero learning curve.

Cons: Removes Android’s voice input button from the keyboard.

Demonstration:

SwiftKey (Traditional keys)
SwiftKey is also a traditional keyboard, but with souped-up text prediction smarts. Instead of basing its predictions only on the letters of the current word you’re typing, it also uses the word that appeared before it. It learns how you write as you use it, and will predict words in phrases you type often. SwiftKey is free in the Android Market.

Pros: Virtually no learning curve and highly accurate predictions. Also adds other shortcuts, like the ability to swipe across the keyboard to delete the last word you typed.

Cons: SwiftKey crashed my Nexus One once, right after installation, and requires you install a language module to enable predictions.

SwiftKey demonstration:

Mobile keyboard preferences are a personal thing, but out of all five, I liked two of these keyboards the best. If you’re into gesture-based input, go with SlideIT. If you like tapping as usual but just want better text prediction, SwiftKey is a great start—with ThickButtons a close second.

And, of course, there is Swype. But I don’t really think there is any need to review that one anyways. 🙂

Until our smartphones are smart enough to read our minds, happy hunting, pecking, and sliding. [Gizmodo]

If you love the bokeh-style wallpaper you see all over the web and on people’s’ desktops but you haven’t found the perfect color or pattern combo for your taste, this simple Photoshop tutorial will show you how to make custom bokeh wallpaper.

Graphics editing tutorial and design blog Abduzeedo shares a simple tutorial for creating your own awesome bokeh wallpaper. You’ll need a copy of Photoshop (or the patience to translate the steps into GIMP) and a few minutes of free time—no source image or external tools are needed.

Watch the video above to see the tutorial in action or visit the link below to follow it step-by-step with pictures and additional tips. If you like to do things the analog way check out how to make your own DIY bokeh-shaping filters (we made some here) or buy the pre-made Bokeh Masters Kit for boken-altering fun without all the box-cutter DIY action.

Awesome Digital Bokeh Effect in Photoshop [Abduzeedo via MakeUseOf]

Source: Lifehacker