Discover New Music & Support The Artists Who Make It With Earbits Radio

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What do you do when you feel like new music? If you like popular music, the radio is still a great place to turn to. Services like Twitter #music, Band of the Day or Exfm are also great ways to find new music on the go. If, however, you’re craving some fresh tunes from artists you’ve never heard of before, and also want to support them without breaking your pocket, you need to check out Earbits, and especially Earbits for Android (iPhone coming soon).

Being a fantastic way to discover new music, I’ve already mentioned Earbits in a previous post about great ways to find music you’ve never heard of before. Only a Web app at the time, Earbits has come a long way since then, and now features an Android app, and offers not only a way to discover new music, but to also help you support the artists you find, and expand your own collection of music accordingly. Oh, and did I mention it’s free, completely ad free and available worldwide? What more can you ask for?

Note: In the post below, I am checking out Earbits’s Android app, but you can enjoy the same features and more on the Web app as well, with full syncing between mobile and Web interfaces.

Discover Music AND Support Artists? Show Me How!

You must be wondering how you can support artists without actually paying money, right? Well, you’re more than welcome to buy some albums if you find something you love, but this is not what Earbits is about. Let’s start from the beginning.

When you first launch Earbits, the app will scan your device for music you already have. It will then analyze this music and use it to provide recommendations for new music. Cool, so far, but nothing you won’t find elsewhere.

earbits-1

The interesting part begins once this scan is complete. Once it’s done, you’ll find yourself looking at Earbits’s simple interface which includes four tabs: home, channels, artists, and account. Once you start playing some music, you can return to this main screen by swiping the player to the right.

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The best way to go from here would be to choose one of the recommended channels in your “home” tab. I went with alternative rock to start with, but later discovered that indie rock and indie pop are much more to my liking, so explore these for a while to find which one is best.

Worried about losing yourself in all-new music? Earbits understands you. Your recommended Earbits channels are in fact a mix of music you already have on your device, and new music tailored to your tastes. How much of which? That’s for you to decide!

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Added new music to your collection? All you have to do is tell Earbits to re-analyze your music to take it into account and get some fresh recommendations.

It’s now time to pick a channel, sit back, and listen to your personalized music mix. Hear something you like? A quick slide to the left will reveal the artist’s biography, along with some photographs, so you can get to know them better.

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So what’s this about supporting the artists? And how can Earbits exist without ads or commercials? Simple: Earbits features up and coming artists, which you can support if you want to, and in return you earn “groovies”. In order to do this, you’re going to have to connect Earbits with your Facebook account, or log in using your Earbits account, and when a great new song comes up on your channel, you can choose how you’d like to support the artist.

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For signing up to the artist’s newsletter you’ll receive 50 groovies, and for sharing the track with your friends on Facebook you’ll receive 100 groovies. So you’re supporting the artists by spreading the word, and getting these groovies in exchange. If you’re using the Web app, there are many more ways to earn groovies such as following the artist on Twitter, Liking them on Facebook, etc. Many of these features will be integrated into the mobile app soon.

So what are these groovies good for? On-demand music! Every time you tap the star button to add a song to your favorites, the whole album is added to your “artists” tab. Want to listen to more from this artist? It now appears alongside the music you actually own, with the track you already favorited clearly marked. But if you want to listen to more, you’ll have to spend 10 groovies per song. Your own music remains completely free, of course. All your favorites are synced between the mobile and Web app, so you can listen for groovies anywhere.

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You start your Earbits journey with 500 groovies already in your pocket, which mean you can listen to 50 songs without doing anything before you run out. Trust me, though, you’re about to discover music so awesome, you’ll be earning these groovies before you know it.

And This Is Free?

I know, it’s hard to believe, but no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find a single way to pay Earbits a dime. There’s no way to buy groovies for money, and no Premium version of the app. You listen to new music for free, collect new albums you like, and listen to them by paying with groovies you earned by supporting the artists you found. It’s a win-win game for users, artists and the app, and a brilliant one at that.

No, you won’t find artists like Radiohead or Lady Gaga on Earbits, but you don’t need an app for that. Earbits is all about discovering new artists, and mixing excellent new music with good old tracks you already love.

Check out: Earbits for Android / Earbits on the Web

How do you discover new music? Do you know of other ways I should check out? Have some Earbits experiences to share? Let us know in the comments.

Tis The Season: 8 Great Shopping Apps

With Thanksgiving passing into memory, we now have to prepare for one of the most joyous and festive holidays of the year: Christmas! And, for better or worse, Christmas is the season where we need to shop, shop, shop for gifts. Unfortunately, for those who don’t have the time or energy, shopping can be a big pain in the neck.

On the other hand, with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets, you could make the entire shopping experience much less stressful by utilizing a few key Android apps. Instead of wandering around a mall for hours on end, now you can shop at your own leisure right from your couch, your bed, or wherever else.

Looking for catalogs? Not sure what to buy? Seeking out a few deals and coupons? Want to compare prices to find the best value? I’ve got a little bit of each in the form of 8 free shopping apps for Android, so keep reading!

Amazon / eBay

free shopping apps for android

At this point, I would say that it’s beyond arguable that Amazon and eBay are the two largest online shopping sites in the world. Amazon covers departments from Household Goods to Electronics to Office Supplies – it has everything and if you need something, there’s a 99% chance that Amazon has it. As for eBay, there’s just so much activity with over 100 million members.

The Amazon app offers a simple and clean interface for you to search and browse items, read reviews, compare prices, share items with friends, and make purchases. Over the years, Amazon has made their website into an online shopping haven, and their app is quickly reaching that same status.

If you intend to shop on eBay, the eBay app is nearly an essential. It makes it easy to search and browse the listings. If you need to check on past orders or manage your eBay activity, you can do that, too. And for those of you who aren’t just buying, you can also sell items with ease in the app.

Craigslist

shopping apps for android

Like eBay, Craigslist is all about user-to-user buying and selling. Though the listings on Craigslist aren’t as search-friendly as eBay might be, there are still a lot of great items to find and purchase. As long as you don’t need to buy a specific item brand new, you can browse Craigslist for the chance of coming across a fantastic item at an affordable price.

The great thing about Craigslist is that you aren’t limited to browsing. Using this app, you can put up your own personal ad telling others that you’re seeking to buy a particular item. In the US alone, Craigslist has over 60 million active members per month.

Groupon / LivingSocial

shopping apps for android

If you’re looking for deals that will absolutely blow your mind, you’ll love the Groupon and LivingSocial apps. For those of you who don’t know, Groupon and LivingSocial are services where retailers can offer up items for massive, limited-time-only discounts.

The Groupon app is a great way to receive daily updates on the latest deals. Restaurant discounts, salon and spa packages, membership coupons, clothing sales, vacation deals – you name it, you’ll find it. With this app, not only can you buy and redeem discount deals, but the app will track your deals and notify you when they’re due for expiration.

LivingSocial is like Groupon but with a greater focus on locality. It’ll help you find the best deals and discounts in your area. Clothing deals, restaurant promotions, activities and events–all of them are hand-picked by LivingSocial and delivered straight to you. Great for the solo thrifter and for families looking for excitement.

The Coupons App

Tis The Season: 8 Great Shopping Apps android shopping the coupon app

For even more coupon love, you can check out the The Coupons App. With it, you’ll always have the latest coupons and deals right at your fingertips–whether it’s for retail stores, restaurants, gas stations, and more. In particular, The Coupons App can give you heads-up notice of big sales, even before they go live.

The app lets you search and save coupons as well as letting you scan barcodes for price comparisons. It also comes equipped with a home screen widget that lets you browse through real-time coupons and daily deals. It can even keep you up to date on the cheapest gas stations around you.

ShopSavvy / RedLaser

free shopping apps for android

Speaking of barcode and QR code scanners, here are two of the best on Android: ShopSavvy and RedLaser. Scanners like these allow you to gain instant access to information about the item you’re scanning. This information can be used to check online stocking options, price comparisons, sales, and more.

ShopSavvy claims to be the original barcode scanner for Android. With it, you just scan an object and you’ll find the best prices for that item, both online and locally. In their latest update, you can store your credit card information and use a one-swipe-purchase to instantly buy items from top retailers like Walmart, Target, and Rakuten.com.

RedLaser may not be the original, but it’s the best. Acting as both a barcode and QR code scanner, it can take a scanned item and search through thousands of online and local retailers to find the best prices for you. In addition to price charts, you’ll get product descriptions, reviews, ratings and more. Even buy things through the app if you’d like!

Conclusion

I hope that the holiday shopping season won’t be too hectic for you, but with these free shopping apps for Android, that hope can turn into a guarantee. Now you don’t have to worry too much about rushing to the store, fighting through big crowds and long lines, only to discover that certain items are all out of stock.

What do you think? Have you used these apps before? Any other apps that deserve to be on this list? Share your thoughts and comments with us!

Image Credit: Shopping Cart Icon Via Shutterstock

Zombie-shooter Dead Trigger 2 Launched On Android & Ios; Desktop Coming Soon

Developer Madfinger Games has launched its much-awaited sequel to the zombie-shooting game that took the touchscreen world by storm last year. Dead Trigger 2 is free to download on both the Google Play Store and iTunes App Store, and the devs plan to launch versions for Steam, Mac and Facebook soon.

How good was the original Dead Trigger, the first person zombie shooter arcade game launched last year? Apart from amassing over 22 million downloads, it made it to both our Best Android Games and Best iPhone Games lists.

Dead Trigger 2 improves on its predecessor’s successes with a more detailed storyline. This time, the game has a real-time, never-ending story, where each update shifts the action to different locations across the globe, making you fight local zombies in Shanghai one day and in the middle of a desert in Africa the next.

While the first title was no slouch in the graphics department, Madfinger claims the new one has been boosted with gorgeous visuals, including realistic water reflections, dynamic shadows, dynamic light projectors, dynamic grass, per-pixel lighting and advanced ragdoll physics.

The game has new modes and weapons like shooting from a chopper, shooting rocket-strapped ‘combat chickens’ at the enemy, and much more. Gamers will also need to team up with in-game non-playing characters to complete some missions.

There are plenty more zombie-killing games, but Dead Trigger 2 seems very promising and can now be downloaded for free from the Play Store and the App Store.

Source: Madfinger Games

Home Automation With Raspberry Pi And Arduino

We’ve talked about the relative merits of Arduino and Raspberry Pi before – they each have their strengths. They needn’t be an either or choice though – combine them to get the best of both worlds. Home automation is the perfect candidate for this. The home automation market is flooded with expensive consumer systems, incompatible with one another and costly to install. If you have a Raspberry Pi and an Arduino, you can basically achieve the same thing at a fraction of the price, assuming you’re willing to put in the time and the effort.

Update: Since this article was written, I’ve discovered OpenHAB, a free and open source home automation platform that runs on Raspberry Pi and can be integrated with a huge range of off-the-shelf smart home kit as well as Arduino. Check out the video below for a sneak peak, then head on over to our Getting Started with OpenHAB on Raspberry Pi guide to learn more. 

Heimcontrol.js by Willi Thiel is a Node.js app built to run on Raspberry Pi. Combined with an Arduino and some off-the-shelf remote control sockets, it makes controlling AC appliances easy. You can add temperature sensors, and even control your TV – but we’ll be keeping things basic today and extending the project in a later tutorial.

Here’s a breakdown of the project:

  • The Raspberry Pi will act as the brains and the gateway of operations – it will run a Node app, tied to a Mongo database, and serve the front-end interface to any web browser.
  • An Arduino, powered from the Pi, will interface between the electronics – radio control power switches, for now.

To do this, you will need:

  • Arduino and a Raspberry Pi
  • Some remote controlled sockets and controller (I used these)
  • Powered USB hub

RC-sockets

Before we begin, here’s a demo video from the project creator himself.

Start Afresh

We’re going to use Raspian for this project, and I’d strongly suggest starting from a fresh install if you’ve previously performed other hacks and such. Download the latest Raspian image, copy it to your SD card, and be sure to expand the filesystem and enable SSH. The rest of this guide will assume you’ve done so, and are connecting over SSH using the default user.

If you haven’t done this before, this video explains the process of preparing your SD card in OS X:

And this one for Windows users:

Preparation

The installation process is quite laborious, and derived from the instructions here. Unfortunately, these were outdated or not designed for Raspian, so I’ve adjusted them heavily below. The codes below can mostly be pasted in blocks – you needn’t paste one by one. Since we’re compiling a few things on the Pi itself, be warned that this entire process will take a long time. I would say go make yourself a cup of tea – but when I say a “long time”, I mean the best part of a day – so 178 cups would be more appropriate.

All commands should be typed into the Terminal, and you may need to press Enter at some points. These first few commands will update the system and install pre-requisites:

sudo apt-get update   sudo apt-get upgrade  sudo apt-get install git-core git scons build-essential scons libpcre++-dev xulrunner-dev libboost-dev libboost-program-options-dev libboost-thread-dev libboost-filesystem-dev  

Next we need to install Node:

sudo mkdir /opt/node  wget http://nodejs.org/dist/v0.10.2/node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi.tar.gz  tar xvzf node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi.tar.gz  sudo cp -r node-v0.10.2-linux-arm-pi/* /opt/node  sudo ln -s /opt/node/bin/node /usr/local/bin/node  sudo ln -s /opt/node/bin/npm /usr/local/bin/npm  

Add a PATH variable to your profile so that the OS knows where Node is located. Use the nano text editor as follows:

sudo nano /etc/profile  

Locate the line that says export PATH and replace it with:

NODE_JS_HOME="/opt/node"  PATH="$PATH:$NODE_JS_HOME/bin"  export PATH  

Hit Ctrl-X to exit, and Y to save.

You may need to log out and in again for the path changes to take effect, but you can test with the command:

which node  

If you don’t get any output pointing to the Node binary, something went wrong.

Mongo

The next job is to install Mongo. Mongo is a document-based No-SQL database increasingly used by web apps. Unfortunately, this will take forever to install as we have to compile it. While running the following commands you’ll get a lot of errors like:

{standard input}:13085: Warning: swp{b} use is deprecated for this architecture  

Don’t worry about these. So, run these commands to install Mongo:

git clone git://github.com/RickP/mongopi.git  cd mongopi  scons  sudo scons --prefix=/opt/mongo install   scons -c  

When that’s finished, we need a little more setup first to fix permission issues and make sure it’s running on startup.

sudo useradd mongodb  sudo mkdir /data/dbb  sudo chown $USER /data/db  cd /etc/init.d  sudo wget -O mongodb https://gist.github.com/ni-c/fd4df404bda6e87fb718/raw/36d45897cd943fbd6d071c096eb4b71b37d0fcbb/mongodb.sh  sudo chmod +x mongodb  sudo update-rc.d mongodb defaults  mongod

This last command will launch the Mongo server, and you’ll need to open a new Terminal to continue with the other commands. I’m not entirely confident of this step, so if anyone can correct this in the comments on how to have mongod launching automatically on start up, it would be much appreciated. For now, it works, just not elegantly.

sudo shutdown -r now

Finally, it’s time to install the Heimcontrol.js Node application.

cd ~pi  git clone git://github.com/ni-c/heimcontrol.js.git  cd heimcontrol.js  npm install  

You can start running the app by typing

  node heimcontrol.js  

At this point, you should be able to access the control interface with http://localhost:8080 from the Pi, or replace localhost with the IP address if you’re accessing it from a different computer (and you could also set up port forwarding to access it from anywhere in the world), so I’d encourage you to poke around and check all is working with the database before attaching the Arduino.

Hardware

Eventually I’d like a hardwired relay, but for now I’ll be using the safer option of radio-controlled switches.

I’ve used some reasonably cheap £20 sets from Maplin which come with 3 sockets, and opened up the remote control so I could interface directly with the 433 MHz chip inside. I found the instructions for this here.

rc-controller-hack

You can also purchase individual 433 MHz transmitters ready for use on eBay or from hobby electronics suppliers. All you need to is connect the VCC to 5 V on the Arduino, the GNDs, and a single control pin – remember which one you used. (Schematic by Willi Thiel)

arduino-rcswitch

The plugin works by sending “tristate codes”, but these will vary by manufacturer. Refer to the RCSwitch documentation to find your exact codes. This wiki guide may help also.

Communication with the Arduino is done using a Node library called duino. Stop the Heimcontrol app if it’s running and install the Arduino bridge using the following command.

npm install duino  

The Arduino must have this code uploaded – I suggest you copy and paste to install this from a different computer. It’s essentially a listener program that responds to serial commands from the Pi, but there’s nothing to stop you extending it with your own features.

rc-settings

With the web app launched, go to the Settings menu -> Arduino.

heimcontrol-menu-settings

From there you can add a new item, choosing RCSwitch method, the pin of your transmitter, and the tristate address code. Remember to save, then head back to the main screen screen for your new button.

rcswitch-setting

Bugs:

After many hours of debugging the code, I found single digit pin numbers weren’t working – make sure your transmitter is placed on pin 10 to be sure.

I also found that the Arduino plugin was hardcoded with incorrect final bits for the tristate codes my receivers needed. A little explanation first: tristate codes consist of 3 bytes of information. The first determines us the network number (1-4), and the second provides the transceiver address (again, 1-4, producing a maximum of 16 addressable sockets). The final byte consists of two bits of padding, plus 2 bits for on/off. Unfortunately, the final byte is hardcoded in to the Arduino plugin – and in my case, the on/off code was incorrect.

I had to manually edit the plugins/arduino/index.js to use the correct codes. If you’re using the same remote control sockets as I am, change lines 80 onwards to:

// Send RC code  if (item.value) {    return that.pins[item.pin].triState(item.code + "FFFF");//change from FF0F  } else {    return that.pins[item.pin].triState(item.code + "FFF0");//change from FF00  }

Here’s a demo video of everything working:

I’m going to leave it here at this point, but sensor readings and IR remotes are also supported. I’ll probably revisit these at a later date with some more enhancements. If this has all been a little too complex for you, perhaps check out my Arduino internet control project.

Image Credits: Door Bell Via Flickr

3 Great Radar Storm Trackers For The Android Phone

radar storm trackerAs the recent tragic tornados in the American southeast once again proved – as well as the massive flooding across the midwest – weather is a force to be reckoned with. Even today, with all of our technology, we can do nothing more than get out of the way of nature’s wrath.

Before you do that however, you have to know there is reason to worry. Although the national weather services almost always catch dangerous situations as or before they develop, it’s not practical to carry a weather radio everywhere. You can however carry your Android – and load it up with useful radar storm tracker apps.

My-Cast Weather Lite

radar storm tracker

There are more weather gadgets, radar apps and forecast apps available on Android that you can shake a stick at. After going through all of them I could find, there was one that I kept coming back to – My-Cast Weather Lite.

This radar storm tracker app really does it all. It includes current conditions, forecasts, maps and alerts. There are plenty of apps on Android that provide local radar coverage, but only a handful of them provide radar coverage and local weather alerts and a clear, easy to read forecast.

As if that weren’t enough, My-Cast Weather Lite also provides an RSS weather news feed that can be found in the social section. This news feed isn’t meant to provide you with current weather news (that’s what alerts are for) but it does provide interesting information about recent weather events.

Local Weather Apps

storm tracker with gps

When it comes to weather, local information is always the most relevant. There’s always weather somewhere, but it’s only important to you if it’s where you are.

Often, local weather apps made by news organizations are a great choice for information. This caught me by surprise, at first – local news and high-tech don’t associate in my mind – but after trying out some local apps produced by various channels, I found that their quality is usually on par or better than your average Android weather app.

Better yet, these apps often provide the best local information, such as forecasts and weather alerts. The radar storm trackers in these apps usually do a better job of highlighting potential dangers than the radar you’ll find in an app that’s built to cover an entire country, continent or the world.

Rainy Days

radar storm tracker

I like My-Cast Weather Lite, but it is a full-fledged app, not just a radar storm tracker. Those who are looking for the radar and nothing more should consider Rainy Days.

There’s not much to this radar storm tracker app, really. It takes radar information and places it on Google Maps. There is a time-lapse available which covers an hour of time at once. The radar information available is detailed, and it’s possible to zoom in close and check out the weather above your home.

My biggest beef with this app is the lack of alerts. This decreases the usefulness of the app in dangerous situations, but if you just want a radar storm tracker to watch a line of storms you know is coming, Rainy Days will do well.

Conclusion

Talking about the weather is one of the most mundane topics in the world, but knowing about the weather can literally save your life. Storms don’t mess around, and they go where they want. Knowing that severe weather is headed your way means you can find shelter or move out of the way before you’re in danger.

Forget Twitter’s Official Android App, Use These Apps Instead

Twitter is setting trends and starting conversations, which is just one of the reasons you need Twitter in your life now. It’s a medium and a social network that is perfect for the mobile phone. But the official Twitter for Android app has plenty of problems.

For starters, the Twitter app lets you mute annoying people while still following them, but you can’t mute specific keywords or hashtags. Anyone who has had to sit through a trend they aren’t interested in, or a Twitter campaign or contest, will know what this is like. The app also won’t save drafts, won’t auto-expand Instagram photos or Imgur links, and much more.

It has its plus points, of course, and I wouldn’t recommend uninstalling Twitter for Android. Having the app installed makes it easy to sign in securely with two-factor authentication, no matter which third-party app you use. Plus, the official app is the first to get updated with new features like photos and unlimited word count in Direct Mentions (DMs).

But for your everyday tweeting, forget about the official app. Like with the best Twitter apps for iPhone, use one of these alternatives instead.

Fenix for Twitter

Best for: Phones

Price: $4.99

Ads: None

fenix-for-android

Fenix is the premium Android app for the Twitter power user. It supports everything you would want, and more. Plus, the app is drop-dead gorgeous, even more so than the fluid and free Carbon and several others.

There is lots to love about Fenix, whether it’s seamlessly switching between accounts, muting users and hashtags, auto-loading Instagram links, and much more. Fenix is also among the only apps to offer you the ability to see who has favorited, retweeted, and followed you — you can check all that in the “Activity” tab.

Fenix is also super customizable, letting you tweak the theme to how you like it, set your notifications when and where you want them to show, and so on. One of my favorite features of Fenix is that you can tell it to update your feed in real-time while on WiFi, but set a refresh interval of a few minutes while on mobile, thus saving battery and data while on the move. The app supports several gestures and has a built-in browser so you never have to leave the app.

And yes, Fenix is completely free of ads. That $5 is worth your phone’s battery and your peace of mind.

Plume for Twitter

Best for: Tablets (and Phones too), Widget

Price: Free ($4.99 for Premium)

Ads: Yes (Unlock Premium to Disable Ads)

plume-for-twitter

For a long time, Plume was my preferred Twitter client. It’s simple, it’s quick, it’s good-looking, and it just gets the job done. If you’re used to the default Twitter app, you will have no time in adjusting to Plume. Honestly, considering you can try Plume for free, I’d recommend you give this one a shot if you are moving away from Twitter for the first time.

Plume’s default interface is quite similar to Twitter anyway, but you will notice there is a lot more you can do with it. For instance, your columns can have a lot more than just your Timeline, Mentions, and DMs — you can also add Lists to unclutter your feed, Favorites, Saved Searches, and more.

However, unlike Fenix, you won’t see when someone has favorited a tweet or followed you. This can be inconvenient as more and more people are using “Favorite” as the equivalent of the “Like” button on Facebook (You know, as a way to acknowledge that they read your tweet).

Plume is also among the few Twitter apps for Android with a great tablet interface. On tablets, Plume makes great use of the extra space available, especially when you want to read a conversation without losing your place in your timeline.

Buffer

Best for: Scheduling Tweets

Price: Free

Ads: No

Buffer-for-android

Buffer is now the best way to schedule tweets for the future, so if that’s what you want, just get this app and stop looking elsewhere. The service’s claim to fame is how it analyzes your timeline and your tweets to figure out when your tweets will be read by the most people, and automatically schedules them accordingly.

Of course, you can manually set a time for the future too, and you can even add multiple accounts. Buffer’s analytics tool will also help you figure out which tweets were read the most, so that you have better insight in what your followers are looking for from you.

TweetsPie

Best for: Non-Regular Twitter Users

Price: Free

Ads: No

tweetspie-android

I love the concept of TweetsPie, even though it’s not for a power user like me. This app is meant for someone who doesn’t check Twitter regularly. When you start it, TweetsPie will scan your timeline for the 21 top-retweeted tweets from the last 600 sent by people you follow. It’s perfect to sift through the Twitter overload.

For any tweet, you can favorite it, retweet it yourself, or choose to hide the user if you’re uninterested in their tweets. You can’t reply though; for that, you’ll need a separate Twitter app, like the ones mentioned above.

In the app’s options, you can also change the settings to show RTs by friends; that means the app is scanning the most retweeted tweets sent by anyone (even if you are not following them) as long as that tweet was something your friends interacted with.

Other Contenders

Tweetcaster

Tweetcaster (Free)

Tweetcaster’s incredible feature set almost got it picked as one of the best Twitter apps. The interface is dated, but the robust search engine and the trends tracker are reason enough to give this one a try.

Unfollowers

Unfollowers (Free)

Unfollowers shows you people that you follow who aren’t following you back and vice versa, as well as those who followed or unfollowed you recently. It has several other filters and features that basically turn it into a recommendation engine for who should be on your Twitter timeline and who you need to dump.

TwiEgo

TwiEgo (Free)

Twitter’s basic search on mobile is pathetic. If you want to accurately find a tweet, TwiEgo is the closest you’ll get. It has all the search parameters of Twitter’s Advanced Search feature, and you can even save those search keywords to refer to them later.

Carbon, Falcon Pro 3, Talon, and Tweetings are all worth considering, and you can click these links to read our thoughts on each of them.

What’s Missing in Twitter?

What one feature is the default Twitter app missing that you want to see included? For me, it’s muting any keyword or hashtag. What about you?

Image Credits:Android vs. Alien by JD Hancock via Flickr

Wakelock Detector: Find Out Which Apps Drain Your Battery Due To Wakelock Feature [android]

On Android, the apps use the feature called “wakelock” to keep your smartphone running even after you turned it off. This feature is used by the apps to complete an operation (e.g. getting updates from the Internet) even if you decide to turn off your phone.  So if you ever wondered why your screen doesn’t turn off automatically when it should or find your phone battery drained even after you exited all the apps and turned off the screen, it is due to the wakelock feature.

However, the wakelock feature is sometimes abused by some apps that stop your phone from turning off for much longer periods than necessary, which drains your battery dramatically. Check out Wakelock Detector. It is an Android app that lets you see which apps use the wakelock feature the most by checking wakelock usage history for each app. Using this information you can easily find out which apps are draining your battery.

which apps drain battery android

To try it out, install the app on your phone, charge your phone above 90% and unplug the cable. Give it a time (1-2 hours) to accumulate wakelock usage statistics. Then run the Wakelock Detector to view the usage statistics sorted by usage of each app. The apps at the top are the ones draining your battery.

Wakelocks are categorized into 2 types – CPU awake (partial wakelock) and Screen awake (full wakelock). CPU awake is when an app is running in the background with the screen turned off. Screen awake is when an app keeps your phone fully turned on including the screen.

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Features:

  • Shows which apps are abusing the wakelock feature on the Android device.
  • Currently running applications are shown in green colour.
  • Shows both CPU wakelock (Partial wakelock) and (Full wakelock).
  • Free to use.
  • Similar tools – Battery compare.

Check out Wakelock Detector @ https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.uzumapps.wakelockdetector

App Master: A Simple, Clean, Friendly Way To Bulk Uninstall Android Apps

We’ve previously shown you a number of ways to bulk uninstall apps you don’t use. First and foremost amongst those was Titanium Backup (reviewed here, and again mentioned as an uninstall tool here). And while $6.20 Titanium Backup is truly a stellar utility and does get the job done, it is primarily a backup utility, with uninstallation features thrown in just for good measure. What if there was a bulk-uninstall tool that was focused just on that one task, making it as easy as possible? Well, there is: $2.60 utility App Master. If you click that Google Play link, you will see the base utility is free, but we are going to purchase its unlocker so we can get a feel for its full power and convenience.

Before you continue, you should know that to really make use of App Master, your phone must be rooted. If you’re unsure about how to root your phone or what that even means, you should read our Android Rooting Guide.

Initial Impressions And Paying Up

If you are familiar with uninstalling apps using Titanium Backup, you will notice a number of key differences when you first launch App Master:

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Right off the bat, the key advantages we get here:

  • A more focused experience: App Master is only about uninstalling your apps. With Titanium Backup, you must navigate submenus and an ocean of batch actions until you get to the uninstall feature. App Master puts it front and center.
  • A more modern look and feel: Titanium Backup literally looks like the granddad of Android apps. It’s been there forever, and it shows. App Master looks far better.
  • Better and safer usability: When you access Titanium Backup’s batch uninstall mode, all of your apps are selected for removal by default. Needless to say, that’s risky – and you must tap Deselect all to avoid them all being removed. This is not an issue with App Master – nothing is selected by default.
  • Better information about every app on your system: Titanium Backup lists only names; App Master shows icons, names, sizes, and update dates.
  • Clearer filtering: As you can see above, App Master cleanly separates user apps from system apps, without you having to fiddle with any complicated filters (something Titanium Backup requires).

With the app installed, it’s time to unlock it. Note that while it is much cheaper than Titanium Backup, it is not nearly as versatile – so price isn’t one of the advantages listed above. Here’s what unlocking looks like:

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Of course, in between these two screenshots there’s a Google Play step where you actually get the unlocker and pay up. The unlocker is a separate app, which is better than in-app purchases because it can be more easily backed up, and does not require you to log into App Master with an account.

Above you can also see what the unlocker gives you. Our whole point here is the “batch silent uninstall” feature, which basically means you can select a number of apps for removal and App Master uninstalls them all without you having to confirm each individually (a major pain when trying to clean out your phone).

Selecting Apps For Removal

Okay, so now’s the time to select some apps for removal. A couple of things to note about this step:

  • The big touch targets make it easy to select apps. The entire row is a tap target – touch anywhere to select that app for removal.
  • If you see an app on the list but aren’t sure what it does, it’s easy to find out:

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For example, I saw Holo Light Minimal, but wasn’t sure whether it was a theme or an icon pack. Tapping its tri-dot button and then Market detail clarified that in an instant: I was taken to its Google Play page where I could clearly see it’s an icon pack I’m not using at the moment, so it’s safe to remove.

This step is joyfully simple, and is the whole point of App Master: Just scroll through the list and select all the stuff you’d like to get rid of. Then, when you’re ready, tap the big Uninstall button at the bottom of the screen:

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As you can see in the right screenshot above, App Master will then confirm, and by default offer to move your apps to an internal “recycle bin.” This is nice if you don’t use Titanium Backup, but really, I hope you already have some sort of robust backup strategy in place – in which case, you’re not going to need this.

Once you confirm, it’s time to get busy:

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This is when you’ll first see App Master prompting for root permission – right before it actually needs that permission to do what you told it. It will then backup each app (if you told it to) and remove it.

A Closer Look At The Recycle Bin

Most experienced users will already have a backup strategy in place, and so may not need or want the internal backup feature (“recycle bin”). Still, I wanted to give you a closer look at it, because it does make App Master more accessible to beginners. After all, removing apps in bulk is scary, and being able to set them aside for later retrieval makes the process more palatable. Here’s what it looks like:

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You can see which apps you’ve placed in the bin, and easily restore them. You can also remove individual apps from the recycle bin (i.e, permanently delete them), or empty the recycle bin in one fell swoop:

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Better Than Titanium Backup… For App Removal

If you are looking for an accessible, simple, and straightforward way to bulk-remove apps from your Android Device, it is safe to say App Master would serve your needs better than Titanium Backup. I remain a loyal Titanium Backup user for what it was originally meant to do – backing up your Android apps – but when it comes to uninstalling things, App Master’s just plain better.

What do you use to bulk-remove apps you don’t use? Will you be giving App Master a try? Let me know in the comments.

Ican’t: 5 Things Android Users Take For Granted And Iphone Users Just Can’t Do

android vs iphoneHave you ever thought that there might be a reason Android users brag about their customizability? Sure, as an iPhone user, you can add and configure apps, change your wallpaper, and otherwise make yourself feel at home. But at the end of the day, you’ve only changed a few small details. If you happen to have jailbreaked your iPhone to run Cydia and are enjoying some of the best Cydia tweaks, you can do more. But users with stock iOS are able to do much less. Don’t believe me? Check out these different things that Android users can do but iOS users cannot.

From changing your keyboard to using a live wallpaper to putting an entirely new face on your phone (in the form of a launcher), Android lets you customize your phones in remarkably flexible ways.

Keyboards

android vs iphone
If you don’t like the keyboard on your iPhone, tough luck. Without jailbreaking the device, there’s no way to get a different keyboard app on your iPhone. On the contrary, Android is built to allow users to choose between different installed keyboards, from the very capable default keyboard to Swype to SwiftKey. This not only allows for different looking keyboards, but also different typing mechanisms (tapping versus swiping) and prediction algorithms for those fast typers with low accuracy. I’m not saying that the iPhone’s keyboard is bad, but I highly doubt that every iPhone user likes it and those picky users will just have to endure.

Home Screen Mechanics

iCan't: 5 Things Android Users Take For Granted and iPhone Users Just Can't Do icant icons
The iPhone’s home screen is one of the most iconic features of the iOS platform — big icons in a 4×4 grid (or 4×5 grid with the iPhone 5) and four buttons along the bottom bar for commonly accessed apps. Besides changing the wallpaper and rearranging the order of the icons, there’s nothing that the iPhone user can do to change how it looks. For example, a mechanic that annoy me would be the fact that I cannot move an icon from the very top of the screen to the very bottom — all icons fill in row by row. At least iPhone users can move their icons onto a new page.

Widgets

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Android launchers also have another cool feature that is entirely lacking in iOS — widgets. These nifty tools can be placed anywhere in your home screens and offer quick access to the related app’s functionality. For example, the Wunderlist widget will display your to-do list, the New York Times widget can be configured to show the latest news, and weather widgets can show the forecast for your location. Widgets can usually be resized, too.

Launchers

things you can do with android
I absolutely love the default Android launcher, but others may want to use other alternatives. With Android, you can install additional launchers and choose which one you’d like to use. Each launcher can offer different functionality, such as themes and the ability to add more pages to your home screen. With iOS, this is also completely impossible as Apple wants everyone using the same launcher.

Wallpapers

android vs iphone
Android includes some creative features with wallpapers to give your phone a nice touch with small details. Whenever you set a new image as your wallpaper, you can choose how you’d like to resize it, as well as determine whether the image should be “scrollable” or not. When set to scrollable, the wallpaper moves left and right as you switch between different pages in your home screen. Otherwise, the wallpaper would remain completely still as you switch between pages in your home screen. Additionally, Android also offers the use of live, animated wallpapers. These cool wallpapers are similar to Windows Vista’s DreamScene wallpapers; however, are more appropriate on a smartphone as they usually include smooth animations and other computer-generated objects, and not a real-life video. Some live wallpapers animate on their own, while others react to the user’s touch. They can be pretty fun to mess around with, and with (usually) minimal battery impact.

Android vs iPhone – Conclusion

Believe me now? Android users can change some significant stuff to their phones, without having to resort to rooting or installing custom ROMs. I’m sure this list isn’t entirely inclusive of all things Android users can do that iPhone users cannot, but it gives you a good idea of how you can do more with Android.

What’s your favorite feature of your Android or iOS device? What do you wish it could have that the competitor has? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Ricky Romero

5 Things Ios & Android Can Still Learn From Windows Phone

Windows Phone might not be the platform Microsoft (and others) hoped for, but it can still teach iOS and Android a thing or two.

Do you use a Windows Phone? Perhaps you tried the platform but went back to Android or iOS (or even BlackBerry). While it might not sell in the same volumes as the iPhone or Android handsets, Windows Phone still has its place in the smartphone market, if only to push the market leaders to improve their operating systems and make better handsets.

Here are five ways iOS and Android can improve in the coming years.

Faster Results With Fewer Taps

We’ll start with the time it takes to perform particular tasks. Windows Phone launched with a few surprises, one being the speed with which a photo could be snapped and uploaded to Facebook. Microsoft didn’t need to display any “sequence shortened” captions on their adverts for the platform.

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For instance, a photo can be uploaded to Facebook in just three steps, and fewer if you use Facebook as your default photo upload location.

Since then, iOS and Android have caught up, but the speed of the Windows Phone 8.1 UI continues to impress. For instance, finding the app you want is a case of swiping left, tapping the first letter you see to display the index, then tapping the first letter of the app you want.

Finding an app on your iPhone or Android device means opening the app drawer, and scrolling. Then scrolling some more, perhaps for a while.

Windows Phone is littered with these neat shortcuts to save time, meaning that you can do more, quicker.

Smartphones Need A High Quality Camera

The Nokia Lumia series of phones (particularly 9xx and 10xx) devices feature superior Carl Zeiss lenses and image processing making them the best Windows Phone camera devices and in some ways superior to the iPhone’s camera.

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Meanwhile, Android devices from Motorola, Samsung and even Sony have struggled with cameras. When the Nokia Lumias can be used to create stunning films like these, it’s clear that this aspect of the Windows Phone platform is particularly attractive (and the main reason I still own my Nokia).

This comparison of the HTC One M7, Nokia Lumia 920 and iPhone 5 illustrates the differences and similarities. Clearly, Google needs to address this weakness across the Android family, perhaps by insisting on a specification for better quality cameras.

Easier Access To Beta Releases & Previews

Although Apple has made it easier for iPhone and iPad users to try the beta version of iOS 8, it has taken some time to get this far (eight releases!) and still requires a $99 per year fee.

For Windows Phone developers and those interested in preview releases (such as the Developer Preview of Windows Phone 8.1) this sort of access is available free.

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Limiting a beta release to those who have paid for developer status seems shortsighted, and likely to result in problems that would have been overcome by making it more widely available. This is the tactic Microsoft has used, and it has helped with bug fixing and building up interest in Windows Phone 8.1 and Cortana.

Enjoying beta versions of Android releases isn’t usually possible, although if you’re interested you can probably find a custom ROM developer who could do with some bug spotting.

Want To Avoid Jailbreak? Work With The Hackers

Jailbreaking the iPhone and iPad has been a popular pastime for users who wish to gain more control over its settings and add apps that require an enhanced level of permissions.

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On Windows Phone, no such problem exists. This isn’t because Windows Phone has a smaller market, either; unlocking phones to make customizations and install custom ROMs pretty much began on Windows Mobile (before the community largely centred around XDA-developers.com migrated to Android around 2007).

Microsoft has been very clever in engaging with the hacker community, starting with the token-based unlock system for Windows Phone 7 and latterly with making it easy to run self-developed apps using a developer account.

So far Microsoft’s support for this community has acted as a form of evangelism, and is a tactic Apple could certainly benefit from, if only to save them the bother of patching the various Jailbreak vulnerabilities every few months.

Give Your Personal Digital Assistant “Character”

One of the big successes of Windows Phone 8.1 has been the introduction of Cortana, a virtual digital assistant in the mould of Siri on iOS. Where Cortana differs, however, is in the charm and warmth of the voice artist, Jen Taylor, who also voices the fictional Cortana in the Halo series. As well as being incredibly useful, you’ll find that Cortana is also pretty funny.

Siri is arguably part of the way to having something approaching character (obviously difficult for an inanimate object) and Apple clearly realise that there is some importance in developing this side of their tool to promote wider use.

Google, however, is light years behind with Google Now, which is otherwise a very useful voice search system. Forcing the user to read results can be problematic, however, especially while driving, which is a shame as Android has several good car mode apps.

Let’s All Learn From Windows Phone

As we wind down our coverage of Windows Phone at MakeUseOf, it is important to recognise that the platform remains popular in certain territories. For instance, it’s impossible to switch on a TV in the UK without seeing a Nokia Lumia being used by an actor, and this product placement has resulted in some strong sales.

But failing to meet the expectations of experienced market analysts despite the backing of a multi-billion dollar corporation is a staggering failure.

If the world is to learn anything from Windows Phone, it is probably that it Microsoft squandered a significant share of the market that it had with Windows Mobile and failed to regain it with improved hardware and a superior OS.

Where do you stand on Windows Phone? Are you surprised by its performance in the marketplace? Tell us in the comments.