Reasons To Root Your Android Device


I frequently see posts where people are asking for the benefits of rooting an Android phone or tablet.  So, instead of rethinking and rewriting the list every time, I’m just going to link them to this pre-existing list.

The List

    1. Get rid of bloatware.
    2. Increase security & privacy.
    3. Integrate Google Voice into the OS (depends on which firmware “ROM” you get).
    4. XPosed with tons of modules for enhanced capabilities.
    5. FolderMount to move ANY app to SD (better than app2SD)… ALWAYS works!
    6. Become a wifi hotspot without paying your carrier DOUBLE for the same internet.
    7. Share internet via cable without paying your carrier DOUBLE for the same internet.
    8. Granular (per permission, per app) security for all apps.
    9. Increased storage space due to removed bloatware.
    10. Backing up all apps.
    11. Keeping multiple versions of backed up apps (Titanium Backup) so you can roll back to an older version when an update totally hoses needed functionality or adds in app advertisements.
    12. Block phone calls and texts from specific numbers (at the OS level).
    13. NANDROID backups (entire, bit-for-bit copy of your entire setup).

All the items above, explained

    1. Get rid of bloatware.
      1. Bloatware is software pre-installed by the manufacturer and carrier that you are not allowed to uninstall.  It’s usually crap that you’ll never use and uses up your valuable storage space that you could be using for your own stuff.
    2. Increase security & privacy.
      1. Contrary to popular opinion, rooting your phone does not automatically reduce your security.  In fact, you can add powerful security control that you will never have with an unrooted deviced.
    3. Integrate Google Voice into the OS (depends on which firmware “ROM” you get).
      1. I don’t keep up with every feature of every alternative firmware (also, mistakenly called “ROMs”), but I do know that Cyanogenmod has Google Voice support integrated into the OS (they call it “Voice+”).  If you have an expensive texting plan, you can cancel it and use your free Google Voice # for texting.  The unrooted downside is you can only use Google Hangouts or the old Google Voice app to send or receive texts.  If you want to use another texting app, like Chomp, Textra, or any of the others, you’re S.O.L.  But with Cyanogenmod, you can connect Voice+ (a feature in the OS settings) to your Google Voice account and suddenly all texting apps can send and receive texts with Google Voice.
    4. XPosed with tons of modules for enhanced capabilities.
      1. XPosed is an app for rooted Android devices and it has many “modules” that you can download for great features like giving you the ability to disable any permission you want from any app.  So if a game wants your contacts, you can block it.  That’s just one of hundreds of things you can do with XPosed.
    5. FolderMount to move ANY app to SD (better than app2SD)… ALWAYS works!
      1. FolderMount is not a feature, a concept, or an OS Setting.  It’s simply an app available in the PlayStore that let’s you move an apps program folder and/or data folder to your larger SD storage (internal or external) and it tricks the app into thinking it’s still in the original location, so the app continues to work.  All other apps that move apps to SD cards fail with some apps because they don’t trick the apps into thinking they’re still in their original location.
      2. Moving your apps to SD frees up your internal storage for more apps so you don’t have to pick and choose which apps to uninstall when you want to install a new one because you’re just out of space.
    6. Become a wifi hotspot without paying your carrier DOUBLE for the same internet.
      1. Many phones have this feature disabled by the carriers because they don’t want you having this ability.  Other carriers provide their own version of this on your phone, but when you use it, it notifies the carrier that you’re doing it and the carrier charges you extra money.  It’s really none of their damned business.  You’re already paying for the internet access and the bandwidth.  With a rooted phone, you can turn your phone into a wifi hotspot and it won’t freaking send a pointless message back to the carrier to say, HEY!  This user is using what he’s already paid for!  Let’s double-charge him!
    7. Share internet via cable without paying your carrier DOUBLE for the same internet.
      1. Similar to making your phone a wifi hotspot, you can plug a cable between your phone and a laptop or PC and let it connect to the internet through your phone.
    8. Granular (per permission, per app) security for all apps.
      1. Every app you install has a FIXED set of permissions.  When you install the app, you’re presented with the list.  You can either accept ALL those permission or NONE of them (by not installing the app).  With a rooted phone, you can install an app, then go and turn OFF individual permissions you don’t want the app to have.  (This increases your security and privacy by light years!)
    9. Increased storage space due to removed bloatware.
      1. This one is self-explanatory.
    10. Backing up all apps.
      1. You can back up your installed apps and their data, then restore them later.  This is ridiculously useful.
    11. Keeping multiple versions of backed up apps.
      1. (Titanium Backup) so you can roll back to an older version when an update totally hoses needed functionality or adds in app advertisements.  So, so, so, sooooooooo useful!
    12. Block phone calls and texts from specific numbers (at the OS level).
      1. Got one too many calls from “Rachel, from ‘Card Services’?”  Add the incoming phone number to your block list.  This is NOT an app.  It’s a feature of the OS (depending on whether you install a firmware that has it).  The phone never rings or wakes up… it’s just totally blocked and ignored.
    13. NANDROID backups (entire, bit-for-bit copy of your entire setup).
      1. You can make an exact copy of your phone, as-is.  Then restore it later, EXACTLY is it is at the moment you make your backup.  This is good for many things, including making a backup before you start experimenting with changes.  Screw it up?  Just restore from your backup.

Can you think of any other benefits of rooting your Android device?  Share them with us in the comments below.

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Encrypt All The Things! [A Guide]

So, Microsoft Windows 10 sends your private data to Microsoft (E-Mail and private files in private folders (read the EULA if you don’t believe me), your employer is snooping on your web traffic at work, local hackers are packet sniffing your web traffic at the coffee shop, your neighbors are hacking your home wi-fi, cloud providers have access to your files, thiefs have access to everything on your laptop or phone when you lose them in public, and don’t even get me started on the NSA and all the things THEY have access to (hint:  It’s everything, including your phone calls), not to mention your ISPs and rogue, tin-pot tyrannical dictatorship governments around the world.

You want your data to stay out of their hands and eyes?  Then you’d better put on your foil hat, pull up a chair, and pay attention to this how-to on encrypting all your data and all your communications (including phone calls!) and some best practices thrown in for good measure.

From a high level, here are the things we’ll be encrypting.  I’ll break them up into separate articles, because it would be quite a lot to take in all at once.  I’ll be writing these articles over the next couple of weeks, so check back here to see this topic list change from black text to hot links to the published articles.

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Extending Xamarin Forms


This is Keith’s second part to his earlier session on Introduction to XAML Forms.

Below are my in-session notes:

  • JetBrains dotPeek is a Windows app to help with XAML.  Extremely valuable according to Keith.
  • Demo was in Xamarin Studio (on Mac).  A little more stable than Visual Studio 2015 right now.
  • When starting new project, you have check boxes for target platforms (iOS & Android).
  • UITests projected created for you, by default.
  • Be sure to get latest packages because they’re updated frequently.
  • Creating a new XAML form creates a XAML file and a C# code behind file.
  • Inside XAML <ContentPage>, type in your new controls.
  • He created an Audio Recorder class to record some audio.
  • He’ll be targeting iPhone for this demo.
  • Data binding with BindableProperty type:
    • public static BindableProperty fileNMeProperty = BindableProperty.Create(“FileName”, typeof(string));
    • public string FileName{ get{ return (string)this.GetValue(FileNameProperty);} set{this.SetValue(FileNameProperty, value);}
  • MessagingCenter class lets you communicate between the layers (I presume he means between the code behind layer and the XAML layer).
  • C# code that’s native to the target platform is auto-generated (I think).
  • He built and deployed his demo to his iPhone and recorded his voice.  We didn’t hear the playback, but he swears it played back.  Don’t worry, we trust you Keith. 🙂
  • He created a “renderer” for a platform specific feature (>> on list items on iOS).  It will not fail on other platforms, it just won’t show it.

Introduction to Xamarin

CodeStock 2015 is the biggest CodeStock, by almost double this years hosted at the Knoxville World’s Fair park Convention Center.  It’s our first year having it at this convention center.  Below are my notes on the intro to Xamarin Forms session.

Xamarin is a cross platform development tool to let you write mobile apps once and deploy to Android, iOS, or Windows Phone.  It’s not from Microsoft, but it’s a .Net platform that allows you to write  your code in C# (and now supports F#).  Below are my in-session notes.



  • Xamarin FORMS adds shared UI Code (this is new) – No more platform specific.
  • Xamerin has been around since 2000, so not a new or fly by night company.
  • They negotiate on pricing.
  • You have to pay TWICE if you want BOTH iOS And Android. UGH!
  • Xamerin forms is only for Enterprise. DOUBLE UGH!
  • Mac is required for iOS. TRIPPLE UGH!
  • Cloud testing available
    • Automatically test your app on hundreds of mobile devices. Select what to test on. They have a room in Europ filled with hundreds of phones and tablets.
    • Captures screen shots, etc…
  • Xamarin University – $1,995 per developer – Instructor live training. Free for a month right now – but there’s a catch. Only 2 of the courses are available
    • intro – what we’re about
    • and very first one (how to use it)
  • Paid gives you 3 months access to business tier – because you need it to go through the training.
  • Not only can you use C#, but you can also use F#.
  • You HAVE to know the specifics of each platform (iOS & Android)
  • Tools
    • Xamarin Studio (PC or Mac)
    • Visual Studio plugin for VS 2010 and higher (requires biz or enterprise or starter, just not indie)
  • If you want to build for Windows Phone, you have to have Visual Studio.
  • Xamarin Studio doesn’t support iOS
  • VS supports both iOS and Android
  • Xamarin Android Player (emulator) faster than Google’s. Runs on Windows & OSX
  • They have a few images (Lollipop image is available)
  • Doesn’t work well with Windows Phone emulator.
  • Xamarin supports Android Wear, Apple Watch, & Microsoft Band
  • about 90% of code can be shared across platforms
  • PCL = Portable Class Libraries used for the “core” code in multi-platform applications.
  • About 80% of a Xamarin Forms app will be located here.
  • Rosylin compiler already supported in Xamarin.
  • Xamarin Forms
    • Xamarin UI controls are an abstraction above each platform’s native controls, but compile down to platform specific controls. Provides a native experience on each platform.
    • Layouts are common screen layouts that you can choose from.
    • Yes, you can nest layouts in them.
    • Forms made with XAML. — MVVM as a result.
    • Can also do it with code.
    • Extensibility
      • Can embed custom views anywhere.
      • Call platform APIs via shared services.
      • You can go full native API if you want (kind of defeats the purpose of using Xamarin though)
  • Custom Renderers
    • You can override a renderer for a specific platform.
  • Xamarin Forms
    • Reflection will be a problem on iOS because there’s no runtime on iOS.
    • App Quality control
    • Xamarin Insights
      • Real time monitoring, track crashes, know of user problems before they report, get user’s e-mail address, etc…


My Love/Hate Relationship with and a serious flaw in their service

I love  I love their selection.  I love their prices.  I love their return policies.  I love my Prime membership.  I love their delivery options and prices and speed.

But, has a nasty, horrible flaw.   And it’s horrible on multiple levels.  Let me explain the flaw and then how it’s exacerbated by them:

The Technical Flaw

For the past week or so, I’ve been having trouble logging into my account.   It started with an e-mail message I got that looks exactly like a phishing email message… you know the kind… That warns you that someone might have been messing with your account so they had to lock your account and that you need to click this link in the email to log in to “verify” you account?

Yeah, that’s what I got.  But all the links in the e-mail went to the actual site, which was unusual, because everything else about the e-mail threw up ALL the red flags of a phishing scam, so I simply ignored it.  But, no less than a day later, I started having trouble logging in.  I KNOW my login credentials I was using were correct because they’re stored in LastPass and LastPass is the one that enters them into the form.  Also, the Amazon app on my phone suddenly couldn’t log in either.

So, I went through the “I forgot my password” routine, had some e-mail sent to me with a link to change my password.  I changed it, but I STILL couldn’t log in.  I changed it again and I STILL couldn’t log in.  I changed it again and I STILL couldn’t log in.  I tried the latest, newest PW on my phone and I STILL couldn’t log in.  I tried it from Chrome, from FireFox, from the app on the phone, from Chrome Beta on the phone… all with the same failure.

I called tech support and after an hour and 14 minutes, talking to 2 agents, I was able to confirm (well, I was able to prove to them) that the problem was indeed on their end.

The problem is the CAPTCHA image they’re displaying in my browser for me to read and type in the letters is a DIFFERENT captcha than what their server thinks it sent me.  For example, if the image they send has the text VRB7TC in it, their server THINKS it sent me an image with KFB98RX in it, so when I type the right text, it still thinks it’s wrong.  But, somewhere between 2 to 7 tries, it eventually gets it right.  But if I log out and back in again, I go through the same nightmare.

How do I know it’s a CAPTCHA problem on their end?

Two reasons:

  1. While on tech support, the agent read to me the CAPTCHA text that their server said it sent me.  It was NOTHING like the captcha text on my screen.
  2. The agent finally admitted this is a problem they know about.

They actually willfully make this problem worse

  1. They wasted my time and they wasted two of their agents time by willfully lying to me, giving me the following lies:
    1. It’s my fault for logging in and out so often, causing my account to get locked out (BTW, it was never locked out)
    2. I need to upgrade my browser (I have the latest version of Chrome and FireFox on Linux and Chrome Beta on Android AND their own app on Android (also latest version) failed too).
    3. Told me I need to clear my cache.
    4. Told me it’s because of cookies that I need to delete.
    5. Telling me (I’m a web developer, just so you know) that even though I’m typing in the right password, my browser is sending the wrong one.  (This gets 7 out of 4 Pinocchios… Yes, you read that right).  Yes, I educated them on how this works.
  2. Not admitting early on that this is a known problem.

It gets worse!

After I berated the second level agent that all of his excuses were bullshit and explained in precise detail WHY they were, he finally admitted that this is a KNOWN PROBLEM!  This is AFTER he said he opened a ticket for me.

A KNOWN PROBLEM???  WTF didn’t he tell me that at 1 minute into the call?  Why drag me along for over an hour?

I asked when I should expect it to work for me.  He responded with gibberish and no answer.

I asked again, “When will this be fixed for me”.  He reordered the words of his gibberish with no answer.

I asked a third time, “But when will this be fixed for me?”.  Again, gibberish.

I asked a fourth time, “When will this get fixed for me?”.  This time he said, “Soon.  They’re actively working on it”.

My next obvious question was, “WHEN?”.  Him:  “Soon”.

Me:  “How long have you known about this problem?”

Him:  “Well, it was caused by security updates in your browser”.

Me:  “How long have you known about this problem?”

Him:  “It’s when the browsers made a security change that caused this to start happenning.”

Me:  “How long ago did this start?  I’m concerned that you’re not giving this the attention it needs.”

Him:  “We found out about it in October 2014”

Me:  “WHAT?!?!?!  You’ve known about this for SIX MONTHS?!?!?!?  And it’s STILL not fixed?  This is UNNACCEPTABLE for a company as big as Amazon.  This is CRITICAL and you should have had programmers working on it as a priority one and should have had it fixed on DAY ONE!  This is the CORE of your business!  If we can’t log in, we can’t buy anything!”

The call ended politely and he acknowledged that it was not a good situation, but I was left with ZERO resolution.  Nothing changed.  It’s still broken, and they’re not really going to do anything about it.

THAT’S what’s so insane and inexcusable about it.

Before you shout, “BUT IT WORKS JUST FINE FOR ME!”, let’s make perfectly clear, this is not a global problem.  It happens on some accounts.  Unfortunately, mine is one of them, and they have no idea why and don’t appear to be doing anything about it.

The Silver Lining and tiny shred of hope

The agent told me they are beta testing 2 factor authentication (though the agent didn’t know that’s what it’s called and kept calling it “a way for you to enter a code when logging in”.  After interrogating him, I was able to determine it is actually 2-factor authentication.

He showed me where, on the website, to activate it, but sadly, it was not available to me.  I asked him to add me to the beta.  He said he can’t and that it is just rolling out to random people over a period of time.

If you’re interested, this is where you can find it:

  1. Go to your Account page.
  2. Scroll down to Settings.
  3. Underneath “Forgot your password” and above “1-Click Settings”, there will be a new item.  I don’t know the text, but it will be something like “2 factor authentication”.


Amazon 2 factor

If you don’t see it, that means you haven’t been given the roll out of the newer version of their website, and no, you cannot call up and ask to be put on it.  Trust me, I tried.  They can’t do it.

I find it amazing that Amazon could let such a serious flaw go on for half a year (so far).  This is the kind of bug you give top priority to and put programmers on it until it is completely resolved.

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Cyanogenmod 12 Lollipop initial review


I just installed CM12 last night on my T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S4.  Here are my thoughts and experiences so far.  Keep in mind, this is only after a few hours of use.  Also, I’m commenting on both Cyanogenmod 12 and Lollipop.


The Good

  • Battery performance seems to be better.  The jury is still out, but so far, it seems like it’s taking longer for it to drain.
  • New stuff… Just… It’s new, and that gets my jollies.
  • Multiple users – You can now have multiple user accounts, just like on Windows.
  • Super SU is no longer needed.  That functionality is now built in (Settings/Developer Options/Root Access
  • More settings options
  • Uses the more efficient and faster DART instead of the old DALVIK.
  • Lock screen can be set to randomly change where the numbers are on the number pad when you enter your PIN.  This prevents people from determining what your PIN is by looking at smudges on your screen (this is a REALISTIC hacking method that actually works… well, it DID until now).
  • Battery screen shows how much estimated time you have remaining and when charging, tells you estimated time to a full charge.

The Bad

  • Gallery app is gone
  • XPosed framework doesn’t work (that’s not CM’s fault… but still, it’s worth noting because that is so very important to many of us).
  • FolderMount doesn’t work.  Again, not CM’s fault, but holy cow!  A power user can’t really use a 16GB phone without it + an external SD card.
  • Bright backgrounds everywhere cause unnecessary drain on the battery on screen types that are more efficient with fewer white pixels.
  • Bright backgrounds hurt my eyes when I wake up and use my phone or have been in a dark room for a while, like watching TV at night.
  • Lots of things still don’t work on Lollipop that did on Kit-Kat.  Again, not the fault of CM… just an issue you have to consider before upgrading.
  • On the battery screen, the most used item is “Miscellaneous”, which doesn’t help me diagnose what’s using the most battery.
  • Lots of apps crashing… many are Google apps.  And yes!  I did, in fact, flash the latest GAPPS for Lollipop!

The Ugly

This is all opinion, of course, so like or dislike whatever you like or dislike.  Don’t get mad… Seriously!  Don’t get mad!  Here are the things I dislike, visually.

  • Flat… flatness EVERYWHERE!  I know!  The people that LIKE it are VERY VERY VERY vocal about it, so much so that people that do NOT like it feel intimidated to mention that they don’t care for the latest craze in flatness that’s not really new anymore.
  • More white backgrounds… Looking more and more like that other phone platform.  I personally prefer dark backgrounds on most things on my phone for aesthetics, less strain on my eyes, and improved battery performance.
  • When I tap a link to bring up a web page, it prompts me for which browser I want to use, which is fine, but that prompt MUST be broken, because it just looks so wrong.  It’s not a card, like most things on Lollipop.  It’s not a popup window.  It’s a half-window that appears to have failed to scroll up all the way.  The 3rd option in the list is only halfway drawn and is cut off at the bottom of the screen.  This is one of the ugliest UI design element I’ve ever seen.  I’m going to give the benefit of the doubt and call this a bug.  [Update: A reader pointed out that this must be a bug since this doesn’t happen on their CM12 install on their phone]
  • image


My overall impression?

While there are many improvements, the things lacking and the crashing, I’ve already decided I need to go back to CM11 KitKat until Xposed framework and FolderMount are working again and fewer things are crashing.

CM12 is still in nightly builds and has not yet released a stable build, so some bugs and missing features are to be expected and CM12 was only made available for my particular phone in the last few days, so it’s still hot off the alpha press, so to speak.

I shouldn’t have to say this, because it’s so abundantly, blatantly obvious, but…

Your mileage may vary depending on how you use your device and which device you have.  Not everyone uses their phone the same way and not everyone has the SAME phone and not everyone uses the SAME APPS.  So, if it works for you, and my overall impression gets you mad… CHILL!  It’s just an OS, dude!  Smile

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Is Samsung really cloning all the Google Apps?

Last year, there was an image floating around the net, supposedly showing all the cloned apps that Samsung has made of the Google apps.  Today, there’s an updated one for 2014 with even MORE apps in it.  The claim is that Samsung is cloning existing Google apps and making their own.  Then the people passing this around are espousing some kind of evil intent on the part of Samsung.


Let’s examine each one.  First, here’s a listing of all the apps in the popular meme going around:


Now, on each line, let’s highlight which app came out first in green… the Samsung app or the Google app:


As you can see, the vast majority of these apps came from Samsung first, NOT Google!  So, now that you know that, you can help the proliferation of the actual truth by:

  1. Not spreading the false information.
  2. Correcting people when THEY spread the false information.

Additionally, not all of these apps are direct comparisons and in many of them, the Samsung version has minor or major advantages.

Some apps that need special mention…


Camera vs. Camera

The Samsung camera app was not only out YEARS before the Google camera was released to the play store for all phones, but the Samsung camera is actually quite good.  In fact, it’s superior to the Google camera app in functionality.  It was won much praise.  Now, it’s not better on ALL accounts, but it WAS first.  The Google camera has the much coveted PhotoSphere feature though.

Chrome vs. “Internet”

Chrome was only recently released.  Before that, Samsung HAD to provide a browser and they could NOT provide Chrome… because it didn’t exist!  Also, Samsung’s browser has a few features that Chrome doesn’t like the ability to scroll pages by simply nodding your head without touching the screen.

Chromecast vs. Samsung Link

Again, Samsung Link was out YEARS before Chromecast.  Additionally, the two are not directly comparable.  Chromecast is intended for use with additional hardware.  Samsung Link was designed to communicate with multiple devices.

Google “Device Policy” vs. Samsung “Knox”

Aside from being first (not a clone), Samsung Knox and Google “Device Policy” are not exactly the same thing, though there IS some overlap.  Samsung Knox has two primary features:

  1. Divide the user’s phone into two, untouching environments (work vs. personal) so apps and settings in one don’t affect the other.
  2. Provide very strong security to give Samsung devices the OK from corporate I.T. departments, giving them the ability to control the “work” side of the user’s phone without interfering with the user’s personal side.

Google’s “Google Apps Device Policy” is intended for admins and users of Google Apps.  It does not divide a phone into a work area and a personal area AND it arrived AFTER Samsung Knox.

NOTE:  Android L will be incorporating Samsung’s Knox security.  Not only did Samsung NOT copy Google, not only was Samsung FIRST, but Google is now taking actual parts of Samsung Knox and embedding it into the base Android OS.

GMail vs. Samsung “EMail”

Yet again, Samsung was first with their EMail client (as was every other Android device maker).  GMail is a relatively newcomer to the Android E-Mail client scene.

Also, the GMail app works ONLY with GMail.  It does NOT work with any other E-Mail service.  Samsung’s E-Mail app is a general purpose E-Mail client app.  it works with ALL POP3 and IMAP email (including GMail).  It also works with Microsoft Exchange.  In addition to that, it also enforces Exchange’s security policies.

These apps are only barely comparable, but, as stated above, Samsung’s E-Mail client was out YEARS before GMail.

Google vs. S-Voice


Do I need to say this?  OK, I’ll do it just to be complete:  S-Voice was out long before Google’s app.  S-Voice was available as far back as AT LEAST the Galaxy S2 (as of this writing, the S5 is the current Galaxy phone).  That’s several years ago.  “Google Now” came out YEARS later.

Additionally, S-Voice has more local features than Google’s app does for integrating with the phone.  “Google Now” is slowly catching up though on the local features, but is still not there yet.   They overlap in many areas and each has features the other doesn’t.  S-Voice is also FASTER than “Google Now” in search test results.

Hangouts vs. Chat-On

Google Hangouts is another relatively NEW comer to the game.  Chat-On has been around longer AND it integrates with more chat services.  Hangouts uses ONLY Google chat services.

Keep Vs. S-Note

Not only has S-Note been out since AT LEAST the Galaxy S2 and Google Keep only recently came out, but S-Note’s functionality is vastly superior to Google Keep.  S-Note is a highly functional and very mature note taking app.  Google Keep is like notepad in comparison.

Google Photos vs. Samsung Gallery

Google Photos only came out in very recent history.  Samsung Gallery has been out almost since the beginning of Android time.

Google Play Games vs. Samsung S-Console

Once again, Samsung’s was out first.  It may be confusing to some people because S-Console went by another name in prior version.

Google “Play Movies & TV” vs. Samsung “Watch On”


As with everything else, Samsung was first.  BUT, these two apps shouldn’t really be compared.  Samsung’s “Watch On” is an app that turns a Samsung Galaxy S4 or S5 (and I think some of the Samsung Note models) into a universal remote control for your TVs, DVD players, and other set top devices using the IR blaster built into certain Android devices.  Google “Play Movies & TV” is essentially digital media online store.

Google “Remote Control” vs. Samsung “Smart remote”

Yet again, Samsung was first, but again, these two apps shouldn’t be compared.  The Google app is really called, “Remote Control for Google TV”.  It’s an app that lets you control your Google TV device (which is so new, it’s umbilical cord hasn’t even been cut yet.  Samsung Smart Remote is essentially a scaled down version of “Watch On”.

There’s a growing, vocal community of people that really really hate Samsung.  Some of it is justified and some of it is not.  One of the memes that just won’t stop is that Samsung is going in a direction away from Google.  That may or may not be true, but the evidence provided to support that claim is the false list above.

In fact, almost all Android phone makers provide many NON Google versions of these apps, especially a browser and e-mail client, because until recently, Google provided no browser and they STILL don’t provide a general use e-mail client.  Other apps that ARE overlaps of Google apps are so, with both Samsung and others, because there WERE NO Google equivalents when those apps were made.


All of the above was just historical facts.  The following is a bit of opinion…

Even if Samsung were or is intentionally making an ecosystem that doesn’t rely on Google, can you blame them?  Well, sure, you CAN.  But SHOULD you?  Does it make sense for ANY company to have so much of their business rely upon another company that’s not under their control?  of course not.  Every company wants to be in control of their own destiny.  So, I personally do not blame Samsung IF that is what they’re doing.

Now, what about the CUSTOMERS?  What’s best for THEM?  Is it a GOOD or a BAD thing for customers IF Samsung is actually INTENTIONALLY positioning themselves to survive WITHOUT relying on Google?

Of course.  Why?  Because if you’ve read this far, you are clearly an Android supporter and if you support Android, you almost certainly support it for many reasons, one of the big ones being that Android provides CHOICE.  Not just choice for something other than Apple, but choice WITHIN the Android platform.  If Google Maps is the ONLY mapping program out there, then you have no choice but to use it.  BUT, if there is competition, even IF you choose to continue to use ONLY the Google version, the mere existence of the competition will keep Google on their toes and incorporate features sooner than they would have had the competition not done it AND will cause Google to add features they may not have thought of to start with.


Competition and choice are GOOD things and THAT’S why you love Android.  NO ONE IS FORCING YOU USE THE SAMSUNG APPS NOR EVEN TO BUY A SAMSUNG PHONE!  Even if you want the Samsung hardware, but not the apps, YOU CAN DO THAT!  (if you root it, of course).

Dragon Touch Tablet–High End Hardware–Low End Price


This is going to be a quick and short review.  The Dragon Touch 9.7” Android tablet by TabletExpress (as U.S. company) has fairly high hardware specs considering its low price of $179.99.  Most tablets that size are much more expensive.  But, it’s not just a 9.7” screen tablet, it also has a ridiculously high resolution of 2048×1536 (again, hi res for that price).  It also sports a Rockchips RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU at 1.8Ghz per core.


Here are the specs:

  • 9.7” screen
  • 2,048×1,536 pixels “Retina” display
  • Rockchips RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU at 1.8Ghz per core
  • Front and rear cameras
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • MicroUSB port (data only, not for charging)
  • HDMI port
  • Headphone jack
  • SD card slot, up to 64GB
  • 12v DC proprietary adapter
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean
  • 16GB internal storage
  • 2GB RAM
  • Wifi

Here’s an unboxing of it:

The Good:

  • 9.7” screen
  • 2,048×1,536 pixels “Retina” display
  • Rockchips RK3188 Quad Core Cortex A9 CPU at 1.8Ghz per core
  • MicroUSB port (data only, not for charging)
  • HDMI port
  • SD card slot, up to 64GB
  • Screen Protector

Remember, this “goodness” is all based on getting this for $179.99.

You almost never see a screen larger than 7 inches for this price.  Remember, the Nexus 7 is only 7 inches, only has a resolution of 1920×1200, same amount of RAM and internal storage, and is only 1.5Ghz and NO SD card slot for expandability and IT costs $229.  Hardware wise, this thing kicks butt, especially for the price.

That screen resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 is insanely high for such a cheap tablet.  Even many more expensive tablets don’t even have that resolution.

The processor is a fairly fast Quad Core with a higher clock speed than what you get with the much more expensive (and small) Nexus 7.

It has an HDMI port so you can view it directly on your computer monitor or HDTV.  That can turn it into a game console or a cheap way to show the family photos and videos while on the go or to give presentations.

The Micro USB port is both a pro and a con.  Since we’re in the “Good” section, let’s focus on the good.  This is pretty standard on Android devices and any device without a MicroUSB port would be a joke.

It comes with 2GB of RAM and 8, 16, or 32GB of storage.  I’m reviewing the 16GB version here.  It also has a Micro SD card slot so you can add up to 64GB of more storage.  “Officially” it supports up to 32GB, but reviews on say that 64GB cards do indeed work.

The build quality is pretty robust too.  It doesn’t feel like a light piece of plastic.  This thing is solid.

It also comes with a screen protector already installed for you!

Google Play:

Yes!  This tablet has all the Google Goodness, including the Google Play store.  I do have to mention this because many tablets in this price range do NOT have any of the Google software and lack the Google Play store.

The Bad:

  • Front and rear cameras
  • MicroUSB port (data only, not for charging)
  • 12v DC proprietary adapter
  • Android 4.2 Jelly Bean

Let me first say that the good outweighs the bad.  I highly recommend this tablet.

BUT!  It’s not perfect.  For example, the front and rear cameras are both only 2 megapixels and the quality is not that great.  So, you’re not going to use this for keepsake photos and videos, but it’s good enough for scanning barcodes and doing video chats.

The MicroUSB port does NOT charge the device!  This is a pretty important thing to note because to charge it, you have to use their supplied, proprietary charger with a  very short 2 foot cord.

Also, the OS is not the latest.  It comes preinstalled with Android 4.2 Jellybean.  Today’s version of Android is 4.4.4 Kit Kat and the next major release, code named “Android L” is just around the corner.  I can’t confirm this, but rumors are that there will be no updates for this.  BUT, Jelly Bean 4.2 is a robust and powerful version of Android and as long as you update Google Play Services from the Google Play store, you’re going to get most of the important updates from Google.

In spite of the powerful hardware, it’s quite laggy and choppy.  My wife hasn’t complained, but my son noticed and I noticed and the reviewers on Amazon noticed.  Read below on “Make it better” for a fix.

The Box Contents:

There’s absolutely no paperwork or manuals in the box.  You get the tablet, the charger, a Micro USB to standard USB (PC to tablet) cable, and a USB PC female adapter cable.  I mean, one end plugs into the MicroUSB data port on your tablet and the other end is an open USB female port so you can plug in things like PC mice, keyboards, and external hard drives.

Make it Better:

For the technically capable… You can root this tablet with TPSparkyRoot.  Once rooted, you can then flash an alternative firmware (more commonly mislabeled as a “ROM”) and reports are that it makes this thing liquid smooth, like butter.


For the money, you’ll have a really hard time finding this much bang for the buck.  With the screen resolution so high, and a decent enough size screen, you can even remote control your high-end desktop PCs with it.   –>Get it here<–

Best Android Apps to Start Off 2014 (SHOPPING)

All these apps are free.  This article is one of a series of articles about the best Android apps available as of the beginning of 2014.  Click here for the main article that includes links to this article and links to all the other categories of “The Best Of” apps for beginning 2014.  This article is for the shopping apps category available at the beginning of 2014.


2014-02-03 00.47.08The Amazon app [phones] [tablets] (not to be confused with the Amazon App Store, also reviewed below) is a native front end to the Amazon online store (not the app store).  This provides most of the features in the web site (if not all of them… I’ve, by no means, researched each and every feature of this massive web site).

This app is useful for obvious reasons in addition to the fact that you can be browsing in a brick and mortar store, like Wal-Mart, pick up an actual item off the shelf and scan its barcode into this app and it’ll tell you what you can get it for on Amazon.

I won’t go into extreme detail of what this app does.  If you’re familiar with, you already have a good idea.  You can, of course, track your orders with this app too.  Not much has changed from my review of it last year.  It’s still a good, solid app and I highly recommend it, even if you don’t purchase anything from them, at least you can do some comparison price shopping while walking around inside other stores.


2014-02-03 00.52.30Amazon App Store

Download Here.  One of the great things about Android is that you’re NOT locked into just ONE app store, like you are with iOS and Windows Phone.  You don’t have to root or “jail brake” your Android phone to install another app store.  It’s perfectly legitimate to do so on Android and is activated with just a simple settings change on any Android phone or tablet.

The Amazon Android App Store is a direct competitor to the Google Play app store that’s pre-installed on almost every Android device made (with the exception of the really cheap and crappy Chinese Android products).

This app has been improved significantly from this time last year.  It still has some issues though.  For example, it still doesn’t have a “What’s New” section for each app.  Apps are not updated nearly as often here as they are in the Google Play Store.  Installing an app seems to take significantly longer and they do NOT install in the background.  You HAVE to wait until the app finishes installing before leaving the App Store, or next time you come back to the App Store, you’ll find (even days or weeks later), that it hasn’t finished installing your app yet.

One thing I really like about the Amazon Android App Store is their Free App Of The Day.  Every day, they GIVE AWAY a PAID app.  In other words, it’s an app that’s NOT free on any other day, but on THAT day, you get it for free!

To Install It:

On your phone, go to Settings –> Security –> Unknown Sources

and make sure it’s checked.

Then go to this URL to download it to your phone (or Google search for “Amazon App Store”).


Amazon Price Check

2014-02-03 00.59.01This app [Amazon App Store] [Google Play] lets you scan barcodes while in a real store and compare the prices to Amazon… Not sure why this is a different app from the Amazon app, which provides the same functionality.


2012-12-31 18.42.002014-02-03 01.04.41

This is a nicer and more responsive native app [Amazon App Store] [Google Play] than trying to use the ebay website from your mobile browser.  If you’re familiar with ebay, you already know what you can do with this app.  If not, just look at these screen shots and those should pretty much tell you what you need to know.  On the left is my screen shot from last year (logged in).  On the right, from this year (not logged in).

Best Buy2012-12-31 18.43.472012-12-31 18.44.45

[Google Play] This is a front end to the Best Buy web site and is very useful when you’re in a physical Best Buy store.  If you’ll notice, most products have a ticket on the shelf with a price, a small description, and a 2D QR bar code.  Scan it with this app and you’ll get the full details of the product.  No significant changes from last year’s review, though I’ll point out that I now seem to lose my logon and have to continuously log on.  Since my passwords are long and complex and stored in LastPass, this is very frustrating.

You can also check the balance of your Best Buy gift cards by simply taking a picture of the back of your gift card.

If you’re a RewardsZone member (and if not, WHY NOT?), you can check on your RewardZone points and even display your RewardZone points on your phone to the cashier at checkout to redeem your points, instead of printing them out at home and bringing them in.  You’ll save ink, paper, time, frustration, and money… an the “green” Nazis will sprinkle their happy happy fairy dust on you.


2012-12-31 18.45.502012-12-31 18.45.20Game Stop

I no longer recommend this app.  It tracks too much of your information.  I’ve uninstalled it.

2014-02-03 01.14.42FedEx

[Amazon App Store] [Google Play] The FedEx app is highly useful when you’re tracking a packing you’ve either sent or are expecting to receive (such as one you ordered with say, the Amazon app).  The screen shot to the right pretty much sums up what this app does.  It’s short and simple… It does the things you expect and nothing fancy.


2014-02-03 01.16.432014-02-03 01.17.35UPS

[Amazon App Store] [Google Play] The UPS app is similar to the FedEx app.  It does the same thing, except for UPS shipments.  No surprises here.  New this year (since my review last year) is the “UPS My Choice” feature.

QR Droid & Barcode Scanner

2014-02-03 01.24.382014-02-03 01.25.23[Amazon App Store] [Google Play] Both apps “QR Droid” and “Barcode Scanner” let you scan those 2D barcodes you’re seeing everywhere.  They usually represent a URL and it’s extremely convenient to scan them in places like BestBuy on product tags on the shelves or on movie posters or even on web sites on your desktop computer to load up the URL on your phone.  Installing QR Droid also gives you the ability to create your OWN QR Codes.  For example, you can send a contact from your contacts to it and it’ll display as a QR code on your screen.  Someone else can scan your screen with their phone and receive your contact.  If you’re on a web page, you can share the web page to the app and it’ll produce a QR Code with the URL encoded in it.  You can save it and e-mail it or publish it on your website, or show it on your screen to let someone else scan it.  But, since we’re in the “Shopping” apps category here, you can use it to scan 2D QR Codes in stores to get more information on the products and to even compare prices.


2012-12-31 19.07.39Kroger

[Google Play] The Kroger app is a master app for all the stores shown in the screen shot:

  • Kroger
  • Baker’s
  • CityMarket
  • Dillons
  • Food4Less
  • Food4Less Fremont
  • Foods Co
  • Fred Meyer
  • Fry’s
  • Gerbes
  • JayC Food Stores
  • King Suupers
  • Owen’s
  • Pay Less Super Markets
  • QFC Quality Food Centers
  • Ralphs
  • Smith’s

2014-02-03 01.28.25Kroger is the parent company for all these grocery stores.  This app works with all of them.  If you have a customer loyalty card at any of these stores (and if you don’t, WHY NOT?) they all work at all those stores.  This app will let you browse coupons and add them to your card.  When you check out, if you’ve put any of those products in your cart, when you swipe your card at the register, all those coupons are applied.  You can check your fuel points too and see the weekly ads.  This is a MUST HAVE app if you shop at any of these grocery stores.


That’s not a typo.  That’s actually what it’s called.  This app is dropped from last year’s recommendation because it appears it’s no longer available.

Google Shopper2012-12-31 20.37.39

Google went on a rampage last year, axing many apps.  Google Shopper was one of them.  So, this is no longer available.  But see “Google Offers” below.  But, here’s my review from last year:  Google Shopper integrates with “Barcode Scanner” (reviewed above).  Scan any barcode and this app will find multiple sources for that product.  This is probably the best way to find the best price on anything.  Use this when shopping in any physical store to decide whether or not it’s worth buying that product in your hands now, or somewhere else.

Google Offers

image2014-02-03 01.33.05

New on this year’s list, Google Offers, I believe, is somewhat of a replacement for Google Shopper.  I have chosen to NOT install it because you have to enable both GPS location services AND location history.  That’s too much for my personal taste, but if you don’t mind your personal location being tracked and recorded, then this app can provide you some savings.  From their description:

“Now with Google Offers, you don’t have to pay to get offers. No need to buy them, just save offers to your account and redeem with your phone when you shop.

The app helps you discover relevant offers from local businesses and big brands, and keeps track of offers you find on Google Search, Maps, and more.

You can use them straight away, or the app will remind you next time you’re near the store. Then, all you do is open the app to show your offer at checkout—no printing needed.”

Gift Shopper Pro ($0.99)


[Google Play] [Amazon App Store] New on this year’s list.  This was a free app of the Day on the Amazon App Store, so I got it free.  This is a great app for keeping track of gifts you’re buying for loved ones for any holiday or occasion you need to track.  It is tablet friendly as well.


T-Mobile MobileLife

2014-02-03 01.41.452014-02-03 01.41.32Available for free [Amazon App Store] (and likely pre-installed) for T-Mobile customers, this app does many things, but my family uses it for a shared and immediately live shopping list.  Whenever I discover I’m out or running low on something, I’ll pull my phone out and enter it onto our shopping list.  When my wife or I are getting groceries, we’ll pull out this list on our phones and check off the items as we put them in our buggy.  What’s great is if I remember something after my wife has already left for the store, I just add it to the list, and she’ll see it while she’s shopping.  A non-carrier specific shared shopping list app that’s very popular is  “Out Of Milk” [Amazon App Store] [Google Play]


You Chime In

What are some of YOUR favorite apps in this category?  Let us know in the comments below.


This completes my list of “Best” shopping apps available to start off 2014.  There are, of course, other shopping of apps and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  Some of these are the apps in this category that I use on a daily basis and install on a new phone or tablet as soon as I get it.

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This article is one of a series of articles about the best Android apps available as of the beginning of 2014.  Click here for the main article that includes links to this article and links to all the other categories of “The Best Of” apps for beginning 2014.  This article is for the Financial apps category, which lists the best banking, debt, and financial apps available at the beginning of 2014.  Most of these apps are free or very cheap.

Google Wallet

imageNOTICE!  Google Wallet used to be just for phones with NFC, and was also blocked by many carriers and wouldn’t install on many phones.  Google has significantly changed what Google Wallet is now.  Now, it is your Google money account.  With it you have access to transactions from the Google Play store (apps, music, movies, books, etc…).  You can also send money to friend through it, as well as make NFC payments at your local retailers (even make local purchases WITHOUT NFC!).  Google Wallet now works on just about any phone on just about any carrier.

If you enable location services (let it see your GPS), then it can notify you of nearby deals.


Debt Payoff Planner ($0.99)

imageDebt Payoff Planner lets you enter all of your debts, their interest rates, minimum payments due on each, what you can afford each month towards paying off debt, and it will show you the best way to pay down those debts to get it paid off the earliest, paying the least amount in interest.

It will produce payoff tables, showing you each debut, how much to apply to it, on what days.  It’s very simple to use and doesn’t require you to understand the complexities of compound interest or anything like that.  All you need to know is how much you owe on each, what their interest rates are, their minimum payments, and how much you can afford to apply towards your debts each month.  It does all the complex work for you and shows you simple payment plans.


aCar (free & paid)

imageaCar keeps track of your auto expenses, including fuel costs, repair and service records and costs, and can show you where you’re spending the most and will even calculate your mileage that you’re getting.  There’s both a free version and a paid version that gives you some nice graphs and reports.

Each time you fill up, enter the number of gallons you purchased, your total price (or price/gallon) and your current mileage.  It’ll figure out the rest.

This does take due diligence on your part to stay current and enter it every time.


adSense Dashboard (free)

imageDo you use Google ads for a side income on your websites and blogs (or perhaps your own apps)?  adSense Dashboard shows you your earnings in a nice, clean dashboard UI.





You can also choose views for:

  • Overview (the dashboard)
  • Sites
  • Custom Channels
  • URL channels
  • Ad units
  • Graphs
  • Reports

Google AdSense (Free)

imageMuch like adSense Dashboard, Google’s AdSense provides you a different kind of view of your Google ad income.  Of course, it looks more like the Google Now Cards interface.

Google’s version also has notifications, much like the notification drop down in their Google+ mobile app, so if there are any notifications on your account, you can see them from the bell menu.

Quicken 2013 and Quicken 2014


If you use Quicken on your desktop, then you have access to the free, mobile app.  Though the mobile app is free, the desktop app (required) is not free.  There’s a version for Quicken 2013 and one for Quicken 2014.  From inside your desktop application, you have it sync with your Quicken Cloud account, then on your mobile device, you log into your cloud account and you can view all your accounts from your mobile.  Additionally, you can finally enter transactions directly from your mobile device.  This has created a new level of convenience in the Quicken software.  You can enter your transactions at the time you write your checks, rather than downloading them and going through your checkbook register to validate.

Just be aware of the MANY bugs in Quicken software!


Financial Calculators (Free)


Financial Calculators is a free app, and despite the pluralness of the name, it’s a single app, but it does have multiple calculators in it.

Most (if not all) of the many calculators in this app provide multiple fields for you to enter.  You can leave some out and it will auto-calculate the values of the others (provided you gave it enough information).

Rather than explain each calculator in this app (there are MANY), here’s a screen shot of the top of the list (there are more):

2014-02-03 00.06.19


Your Bank’s mobile apps


Of course, I can’t provide a review of every single bank’s and credit card company’s apps.  Instead, I’ll explain what you can expect from most of them in 2014:  For bank apps, you should have access to your checking transactions.  You should also have the ability to make deposits from home (or anywhere) via your mobile app.  You simply sign the back of the check you received, then use your bank’s app to take photos of the front and the back, then tell the mobile app how much the check is.  The app will do OCR on the routing number and account number of the check, then make those funds immediately available to you.  No more rushing to the bank during their highly useless hours (openning an hour or to after you go to work, and closing an hour before you leave work).



This is just a small fraction of what’s available as far as financial apps are concerned.  Search the Google Play store for your own bank’s or credit card’s apps.  They can be quite convenient.

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