Tag Archives: Android

Do not Install Minecraft on your Mobile

Towers in Minecraft Pocket Edition
Towers in Minecraft Pocket Edition

Just don’t. You will lose hours of your time, run your battery down and if you just get the free demo version, probably buy the full version. Finally the mobile version of Minecraft now works with more handsets. Minecraft, as you probably know, is a popular indie game that features an 8-bit aesthetic and gameplay options that range from vicious survival to peaceful sandbox.

Until just recently, the only mobile version was optimised for Xperia, and as I have a Samsung Galaxy S, that was not very useful. Fortunately this has recently changed, so now if your phone is running Android 2.1 or higher you can run it. Both paid and demo versions of Minecraft Pocket Edition let you build whatever you want in a sandbox mode. Neither version has the survival mode, though the paid version has more blocks to build with, and the ability to save worlds between sessions.

Aside from some very occasional tearing, the graphics looked good, and the game ran smoothly. Minecraft’s visual style seemed to work well for the limited capabilities of mobile. It did kill the battery, which should be no surprise considering the load it puts on both the screen and the hardware, and given how easy it is to lose yourself even in sandbox mode, this is not a game you should play when you are more than an hour away from being able to charge your phone.

Should you get Minecraft Pocket Edition?
Should you get Minecraft Pocket Edition?

If you have an Android mobile, and you enjoy 3D world creation games with a sandbox mode, you should get Minecraft Pocket Edition. If you prefer to not run your battery down at the worst possible moment, because you just had to finish that castle while waiting for the bus, then you might want to avoid it.

TL;DR

  • Addictive and fun game
  • Devours time
  • Murders battery life

The Google+ App for Android (& iPhone)

Google+ on Mobile
Google+ on Mobile

Previously you would have had to ask an Android user just how good Google+ can be on mobile, at least until the iOS version was released today. The mobile experience is, in my opinion, the most compelling reason that Google+ will build a userbase. As good as the the mobile site is, the app Google released for Android handsets and the iPhone is light years ahead of both the mobile site and its competition.

Facebook versus Google+

Google+'s mobile features
Google+'s mobile features

The Facebook app for Android does not look good next to the one for Google+, and is barely usable in most situations. Unlike the Facebook app, Google+ starts fast and is easy to navigate through. Both apps start on a screen of buttons, linking to the app’s functions, but Facebook also tries to display recent photos from your stream, which in some situations kills performance and gets in the way of doing whatever task I opened it for in the first place. I can’t say that Google+ has replaced Facebook for me on my phone, because I stopped using Facebook on mobile ages ago. It really was that bad.

Living with Google+

Image, location and text updates
Image, location and text updates

Basic activities such as posting updates, images and locations are integrated and painless, though there is no option to attach links, even using contextual sharing through the phone’s browser. Selecting the Circles to share the post with is simple, and managing them through the app is easy.

Life Through a Lens List Circle

Circles are cool.  They are a great way to manage who you talk to and separate people into discrete groups by relationship, interests, location and hair colour, and keep these groups up-to-date as circumstances change. However, no-one is ever actually going to do this as the time needed grows with the size of one’s social network, and those that try will go mad, or give up.

I only ever seem to use just two of the Circles I’ve created: everyone I’m connected to on Google+, and everyone except those that post too much. It is the second Circle I spend all my time in, which is why it’s frustrating when Google+ defaults to the unfiltered stream, and even more so on mobile.

Google+ supports lots of text, images, videos and comments, and the number of updates per pageview is low, especially on mobile. Consequently, noise management on Google+ is important, maybe even more so than on other platforms like Twitter.

All Circles or your own?
All Circles or your own?

In the Google+ mobile app the stream has three default views: Nearby, All Circles and Incoming. Nearby is for public posts near where you are, Incoming is for people who are not in your Circles but who are following you, and All Circles is for all of your Circles.

The app lets you swipe from one to other, which in itself is cool, and you can add additional Circles to these three as well. But it will always open on All Circles. This is very annoying, especially when my 3G decides the year is 1999 and it therefore doesn’t exist.

Ideally Google+ also needs to allow its users to create Circles based on who isn’t being followed rather than who is. It would be even cooler if you could create Circles based on which Circles to exclude. A ‘Stream’ minus ‘Noisy People’ Circle would be cool, as would ‘People I’ve Met’ minus ‘Work People’.

You could of course set up a Circle including everyone except the noisy people, and this would be a good idea too, assuming you are only connected to 20 people. Circles managed by inclusion really don’t look like they will scale well.

And of course, Google+ still needs to let the user decide what they want their default stream to be.

Group Messaging via Huddles

There is only one thing that might make it worth micro-managing Circles: Huddle. Google+’s group messaging feature is actually a good reason to go to the effort of creating and curating small Circles of people who occupy a very specific part of your life, just so you can message them as a group. From your phone. Easily.

TL;DR

  • It is better than the Facebook app. By lots.
  • The app is stripped down compared to the desktop version, and does not include Hangouts or Sparks, but does include Huddle.
  • Circles sound cool, until you try to manage them over time.
  • Not being able to choose a particular Circle as your default stream is annoying.

My Apps for 2010

My Android Phone
My Android Phone

Last year a lot of cool stuff was released for Android, with a great mix of awesome ideas and great executions for mobile. But as a user, the real test is what ended up on your home screen and which apps you use practically every day.

My Must Haves

The home screen of my phone (Samsung Galaxy S) only has nine icons: three folders and five apps, and the Power Control widget. I left four spaces on the right hand side empty because I have a bad habit of holding the phone there and accidentally opening whatever is there. The apps that made the cut are:

As well as these five there is another I consider a must have, Remote Notifier. It runs on both your phone and your computer, and displays alerts from your phone on your desktop using your WiFi. If, like me, you leave your phone on silent on the other side of the house, a message popping up everytime someone calls or texts or when your phone is running low on power is very useful.

The Useful

There are a couple of other apps that, while I don’t use them daily, are still very handy to have. These are the ones I keep in folders – that extra click to access them isn’t a big deal like it would be with my email.

  • Dropbox
    • Simplifies moving files around in general, and especially for mobile. The app lets you access your own online storage from your phone, through a browser or any computer where it is installed and you can either upload, download or share.
  • Evernote
    • What the name says – you make notes. But you can do with with images, text, audio and files. Then you tag and organise them for access from anywhere, and any machine.
  • Google Reader/FeedSquares
    • I still have not made up my mind on which is the better RSS reader. The Google one seems to perform better, but I love the navigation in Feedsquares.
  • WordPress
    • Write blog post drafts and publish from your phone. Very, very handy.
  • Winamp
    • A very good music player, and it syncs via WiFi with your computer, so you can update your music and playlists.
  • Aura
    • It’s an EVE Online thing. If you want to keep an eye on your assets, market orders and skill queue, it’s great. If none of this means anything to you, don’t worry about it.
  • ThinkFree Office
    • I am sure it does a lot of cool stuff, but mostly I use it for reading PDFs, usually after downloading them from my Dropbox account, and before tagging the interesting ones for Evernote. It does this very well, and fast.
  • Daily Briefing
    • It is synced to my Google Calendar and is a Samsung app that came with the phone.

I, like most smartphone users, have a lot of other apps installed on my phone. Some of them are kind of meh, and others I have not used enough to have an opinion yet. The ones listed above are the stand-outs for me.

TL;DR

If you have an Android phone, this stuff is pretty cool. Check it out.

What are the ones that you love?

CamCard, Business Cards & Less Typing

CamCard
CamCard, how to avoid too much typing

Business cards are archaic. Inscribing some information on a piece of ex-living flora is not a perfect fit for a digital world. Getting the information from its dead tree format into a useable form is annoying. Unless the card has something like a QR code or a smartphone app like CamCard.

CamCard scans a photo of the business card and imports the details it recognises to your phone’s contacts. It is mostly accurate and any errors it picks up can be corrected when you get to preview the information imported, before it is added to your contacts. Unlike information sharing apps like Bump, you won’t be restricted by who may or may not have it installed and set up. CamCard works with normal business cards, as they have been for decades.

The other week my boss was at a conference. He had just recently installed CamCard on his iPhone, and loved it. It scanned cards fast, and mostly accurately. The cost of the full app in the end was worth it, especially compared to how much time he would have lost had he had to enter the details manually.

CamCard works well, and can save heaps of time. While I wish Bump was more widespread, rendering business cards obsolete, for now there is a need for apps like CamCard.

My6sense on Android

My6Sense for Android
My6Sense for Android

My6Sense is one of the most used apps I have installed on my phone. It combines Facebook, Twitter, Google Buzz and RSS feeds in the one place and sorts it based on user behaviour.

The app is good at following links from Google Buzz and Twitter. Facebook and Google Buzz comments are supported, and so are likes. The app can also share any content through Google Buzz, Twitter and Facebook, as well as whatever options the phone can provide.

The biggest problem I had with My6Sense was the lack of good OPML support for importing my feeds on Google Reader. As a result my install of My6Sense is biased towards Google Buzz and Facebook. My6Sense also comes preloaded with a range of ‘Popular Feeds’, which are easily removed.

My6Sense’s ‘Digital Intuition’ and how the app’s learning process is tracked for the user is really cool. The ‘Your Digital Intuition’ progress bar encourages the user to continue to use My6Sense by giving feedback on activity and managing the user’s expectations with the one feature.

It would also be great if it could mark Google Reader feeds as read and if there was a mechanism for dropping Tweets, Google Buzz and Facebook updates faster out of the relevant list as their value drops faster than a blog post.

My6Sense is a very good app for skimming through and managing the large volume of content most people end up being buried in.

TL;DR

  • Makes it easy to quickly browse through feeds, which is great for mobile phone usage.
  • Lets you know how good it thinks it is at sorting your feeds.