Tag Archives: 2012

Best Android Apps to start off 2013

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2012-12-26 21.38.05Here are my “Best of” Android apps to start off with in 2013.

I’ll list them by category and explain the purpose of each one and why I’m choosing it.  Each category will be a separate post because, as you can see of the length of the list, it would be quite long if it were all in one post.  Each bulleted category below is a LINK to the article about the apps in that category.  The list of categories below will only have hotlinks to articles for which I’ve completed.  Keep checking back as I post more articles… one for each category below.

Phone/Communication Apps
Finance
Shopping (Everything here is FREE)
Imaging
Utilities
Audio
Games
Calculators
File Management
Security
Geo Location
Launchers
Productivity
Social
News & Reference
Time (Clocks/Alarms/Calendars, etc…)
Networking
Weather

Phone/Communication Apps

These apps have to do with phone calling features or communicating with IM or Texting or live video communication.

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Best Android Apps to start off 2013 (Phone/Communication Apps)

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This article is one of a series of articles about the best Android apps available as of the beginning of 2013.  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 2013.  Let’s get started with the Phone/Communication category, which lists the best phone and communication apps available at the ending of 2012 and beginning of 2013.

Google Voice

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Google Voice is, by far, one of the most valuable FREE Android apps available. 

There’s a LOT of confusion and misinformation about what this app is.  So, let me first explain what it is NOT!

Google voice:

  • IS NOT a replacement for your phone’s dialer.
  • IS NOT a VOIP app (It doesn’t let you make calls over the internet, bypassing your carrier’s minutes).
  • IS NOT JUST an app.  It’s also a service available from many devices and software.

So, if it’s not the above, then WHAT is it?

It’s two parts, so let’s list them, then explain them:

  1. It’s a SERVICE provided by Google (not an app).
  2. There’s also an Android app, using the same name, that provides a UI to the Google Voice services.

Note that you MUST first create a Google Voice account.  If you already have a GMail account or any other Google account like a Google+ account, just log in to it, then go to http://voice.google.com and activate your voice service, get a new phone# (it’ll walk you through it) and then make at least one phone call from GMAIL via your web browser (that’ll activate the voice chat features you’ll need for greater features I describe further down in this article).

The SERVICE:

Google Voice as a service is a service in the same sense that Google Search is a service or that Google Maps is a service.  The mapping technology actually lives on the Google servers, distributed across the planet.  They provide multiple UIs to access the mapping service, like the web UI at http://maps.google.com and the iOS Google Maps app and the Android Google Maps app, and Google Earth for Windows (and many other platforms).  Google Voice is also a service that’s hosted on Google’s server farms and there are many UIs available for Google Voice too, including the web interface at http://voice.google.com and the Android App available in the Google Play store here.

The Google Voice service provides the following features:

  • A free phone number from any area code in the United States (and many other countries).
    • Note that a “phone number” is not a “phone line”.  It’s JUST a number!
  • Free voice mail.
    • V-Mail available from a web UI.
    • V-Mail forwarded to your e-mail.
    • Access via a web browser.
    • Access via any real phone.
    • Access via the Google Voice app on Android.
  • SMS Texting (via any of the available UIs (web browser, Android App, iOS app, certain hardware, and many 3rd party apps)).
  • Telemarketer blocking.
  • Individual number blocking.
  • Caller ID.
  • Make/Receive phone calls via your PC’s browser (in G-Mail).
  • Conference calling.
  • 3 way calling.
  • Call hold.
  • Call forwarding.
  • Forward incoming calls to any real phone (like your cell, your work phone, your home phone, etc…)
  • Plus many other features.

The Android App:

The Google Voice Android app is just one of many front ends to the Google Voice Service.  The Android app is available here in the Google Play store.  Note that the Google Voice service is supported by MORE than just the Google Voice app available from Google.  There are many other apps that add significant value to the Google Voice service, two of which I’ll include in this article.  Installing the Google Voice app on your Android Device (which does NOT have to be a Phone!!!) will give you the following features:

  • Free, unlimited SMS texting (just like your expensive texting plan, but free).
  • Google Chat, including video chat.
  • Make calls from your Android device through your GV number (don’t confuse this with VOIP.  This feature will NOT make a call over your internet connection.  It just uses your regular cell phone minutes, but it’ll dial your GV # first, then from there, make an outgoing call from your GV# so that the party you’re calling will see your GV# on their caller ID and not your cell phone number (this feature is only available on phones, BTW, not tablets or other Android devices).

The free texting service is reason alone to install this app.  Click the link in the prior sentence to read all about it, with full instructions on how to do it.  Do that, then cancel your expensive texting plan and have your cell provider BLOCK texting from your phone so you don’t accidentally send text messages using your carrier’s expensive plan.

Groove IP:

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Groove IP is an app in the Google Play store.  There are 2 versions, the lite, free version available here, and the full featured, paid version available here.

This app is a 3rd party app that uses the Google Voice service (so, you need a free Google Voice account), but provides something fundamentally important on your Android device that the Google Voice app does NOT! 

It let’s you make and receive phone calls directly to and from your Google Voice number over the internet.  This is a very very important distinction that so many people have a difficult time understanding.  Remember, the Google Voice app does NOT exist to let you make phone calls over the internet, bypassing your phone carrier’s expensive minutes plan.  Groove IP DOES!!!  Groove IP turns your phone or tablet (any Android device with a speaker, microphone, and internet connection) into a phone that uses ONLY your Google Voice account.  If you make or receive a call to or from your Google Voice # 2012-12-26 20.20.26with this app, YOUR CELL PHONE PROVIDER IS UNAWARE OF THE CALL AND SEES IT ONLY AS INTERNET USAGE!!!!  Why do I keep underlining, bolding, and italicizing these things?  Because I have to explain this to people about a dozen times before it sinks in.  I don’t know why, because it seems pretty simple, but I think people have a preconceived idea of what the Google Voice app does and just can’t move past that.  This app WILL let you make and receive phone calls using ONLY your data connection.  It will NOT be recorded as a phone call made with your cell phone provider.  It will NOT use up minutes on your minutes plan, as the image above claims.

You start the app, log in with your Google account, and this app gives you its own phone dialer.  From here, you can make a call, as long as you have a decent internet connection.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a wifi connection or via the cell towers… just as long as it’s an internet connection.

As long as this app is on and logged in (and there’s a setting to make it do that when the phone powers on), if someone calls your Google Voice number, you can answer it with this app and carry on a normal “phone” conversation… and it’s all FREE (meaning it won’t use your plan’s minutes).  Of course, if you have a limited data plan, you’ll need to monitor usage, but it’s pretty small in usage.  (Sprint and T-Mobile customers still have unlimited data plans available).

Yes, you can STILL use your regular dialer and still make and receive calls using your regular cell phone number.

If you install this on a tablet, your tablet becomes a phone!  YES, REALLY!

The difference between the paid version and the free version is the free version limits your use to JUST your wifi connection.  So, if you have a tablet that doesn’t have cellular data capabilities, there’s no advantage to buying the paid version.  Just install the free version.  If you have a tablet with cellular data capabilities, the paid version lets you continue to use your tablet as a phone any where you have coverage.  Ditto for your phone.  Of course, there are no minutes used when talking on a call made or received with this app.

Talkatone

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2012-12-26 20.41.24Talkatone is almost identical to Groove IP, so rather than repeating everything I’ve already said, read the Groove IP review above, then continue here for the few differences.

OK, now that you’ve read the Groove IP section above, let’s continue…

In addition to all the features listed above for Groove IP, this all also provides texting over your Google Voice account and lets you send pictures to other Google chat users.  So, this app overlaps in features with the Google Voice app (texting).

This app is also available on iOS.

Mr. Number

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2012-12-26 20.42.01Mr. Number (available here in the Google Play store) is invaluable in that it shows you who’s calling, even if they’re caller ID information is blocked.  It’s especially useful for avoiding telemarketers (or bill collectors).  It gathers information from other Mr. Number users who mark their incoming calls as spam or not, which is sent back up to the Mr. Number servers and if they ever call you, then Mr. Number steps in immediately, before you answer, to tell you.  Then, you can 2012-12-26 20.42.35just ignore the call, force it to hang up on them, or block them.  You’ll never receive a call from them again.

Absolutely Invaluable!

Mr. Number is NOT the only app/service that provides this capability, but it’s one of the most popular.  Popularity is important with this kind of app because its database of spammers is crowd sourced.  The bigger the crowd, the more extensive their database of spammers, bill collectors, and survey takers.

This app is also available on iOS.  That’s important because it increases the pool of people contributing to the data.

 

Call Master

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Call Master (available here in the Google Play store) is similar to Mr. Number, but much more powerful.  It requires a rooted phone.  It can dig in underneath your native phone and do some extra powerful stuff that a regular app just can’t do without root access.  This is definitely an app for power users, but it is very very powerful.

From its description in the Google Play store:

Advantages:

★ Your phone never rings
★ Your screen never turns on
★ Private call and SMS inbox with log sweeper
★ Reject unknown, withheld and private numbers
★ Password protection
★ Route message content to other numbers
★ Clear frequent call lists

Features:

★ Block MMS before download
★ Filter SMS by content
★ Text variable creation, routing and replies
★ Global regex and wildcard filters
★ Custom notification icons
★ Vibration and LED feedback
★ Backup encryption and password protection
★ Powerful logging and sorting system
★ Number testing
★ Independent contact library for total privacy
★ Profile scheduling
★ Light and dark themes

YP Mobile

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YP Mobile (available here in the Google Play store) provides your basic yellow pages phone book, plus the familiar stuff you find in other “local services” apps for finding restaurants, gas prices, etc… 

Not much more to say about it.  This app is no more or less special than others of its type, but I’m including it as one in that type of category.  Others are Yahoo!, Yelp, and Where.  Personally, I find Google Maps a superior tool for finding local businesses and their phone numbers as it shows a map of your results, so you can see, visually, immediately, what’s close by, then just tap whichever one you want on the map to get the details and phone numbers.

You Chime In

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

Conclusion

This completes my list of “Best” phone-specific apps available to start off 2013.  There are, of course, other communication types of apps and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  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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CodeStock 2012: Adaptive and Responsive Web Design

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imageBelow are my notes taken during CodeStock 2012’s “Adaptive and Responsive Web Design” hosted by:

Steve Bodnar ( @SteveBodnar )
www.geeksandgurus.com

 

 

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In this session we learned how HTML5 lets us design our web apps to automatically adjust to all sorts of different sized browsers.  See links in notes below for sites with examples.  Resize your browser to large and small and watch the sites automatically adapt.

Raw notes, as I typed them in class below:


  • How to make your sites work on any HTML/Javascript device regardless of browser or device.
  • RELEVANT CONCEPTS
    • App vs. site
    • Graceful degradation
    • Progressive enhancement
    • Others…
  • GRACEFUL DEGRADATION
    • Downgrade gracefully when features aren’t available in browser. User should not notice.
    • Design on most advanced browser then adapt to lower browsers
  • PROGRESSIVE ENHANCEMENT
    • Focused on content, not browsers
    • Builds for least capable devices
  • STRAGEGIES
    • Start with lowest
    • Design for semantics and structure
    • Add features appropriate for baseline devices
    • Add features appropriate for accessibility
    • Add layout markup and style sheets for structural layout
    • Add baseline presentational style sheets using link
    • Add behavior (scripts, css hover, etc.)
    • Add workarounds/hacks for recalcitrant browsers
    • Define styles for modern graphical browsers.
  • ADAPTIVE WEB DESIGN
    • Not clear divide between this and response web design. Responsive is more specific
    • Creating interfaces that adapt
        • (use firefox user agent switcher to render as other devices)
        • Using progressive enhancement
        • Examples of adapting
          • If device can access location, enable location-based behavior
          • If device supports touch, enable touch-friendly ui
          • If device supports html5, use it
        • Mobile First
  • RESPONSIVE WEB DESIGN
    • Fluid Grids
    • Fluid Images and Media
    • Media Queries
    • (site takes shape of browser).
    • MediaQueries.es for examples of adaptive web design.
    • ASP.NET MVC 4 provides adaptive in default project.
    • @media keyword in CSS.
    • Resolution independence
  • MOBILE FIRST
    • Embrace constraints, don’t fight them.
    • Ony eyeball, one thumb
      • Forces you to focus
        • What content must be delivered?
        • Is chrome necessary?
        • Rich context aware applications.
  • ACCESSIBILITY
    • Design for all visitors
      • Screen readers
      • Color blindness
      • Hearing impaired
      • Navigation, images, forms
    • Not just about design for people with disabilities
  • BROWSER GRADES
    • C-Grade
      • Based level of support
      • Identified, incapable, antiquated and rare
    • A-Grade
      • Highest level of support
      • Identified, capable, modern and common
    • X-Grade
      • Unknown, fringe or rare browsers as well as browsers on which development has ceased.
  • TOOLS
    • CSS
      • Embrace CSS
        • CSS Zen Garden csszengarden.com
          • Links on right switch CSS to completely change the site with zero HTML change.
        • CSS1k.com
          • Examples of what 1KB of CSS can do to how a website looks.
  • HTML5
    • Clark Sell and Brandon Satrom
    • Microsofties
    • At CodeMash
    • HTML
    • CSS3
    • JavaScript
    • Semantic HTML
      • <div>
      • <div id = “header”>
      • <header>
      • <article>
      • <time>
    • Data attributes
      • Any attribute that starts with “data-” will be treated as a storage area for private data
      • <data-role>
      • <data-role = “header”>
      • <data-role=”footer”>
    • Viewport (browsers tell you what resolution they can handle – phones will lie)
      • Visual Viewport
        • The part of the page that’s currently on-screen
      • Layout Viewport
        • Doesn’t change in size or shape
        • Varies per browser
  • MEDIA QUERIES (w3 site has it all)
    • Width
    • Height
    • Device-width
    • Devbice-height
    • Orientation
    • Aspect-ratio
    • Device-aspect-ratio
    • Color
    • Color-index
    • Others.
  • FRAMEWORKS
    • MVC 4
    • Twitter bootstrap twitter.github.com/bootstrap
  • EVERYONE AGREES
  • Emulators
    • Shrinking your browser isn’t a perfect example.
    • Use real emulators if you have them.
    • Android-emulator.org
      • Has emulators for multiple mobiles including Ios
  • RESOURCES
    • Alistapart.com
    • Css3pie.com – to get IE 6-9 capable of rendering several of the most useful css3 decoration features.
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Quicken 2010 bugs

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Update 2012-03-03

This is just an online, public bug report about bugs in Quicken 2010. I’m hoping that publishing them will quicken (pardon the pun) Intuit into fixing them.

See also

Here are the bugs I’ve found so far:
  • Upgrade Notification Bug: [added this entry 2012-01-15]  Upon starting Quicken Home & Business 2010, I’m presented with this ugly window that IS NOT RESIZABLE!
    • image
  • Online payments lost: [added this entry on 2011-05-20] Sometimes, as soon as you enter a new, repeating online payment, as soon as you hit save, it goes nowhere.  You have to set it all up again.
  • Online payment amount changed: [added this entry on 2011-05-20] Enter an online payment by entering the amount first, then choose the payee, and it will replace the amount you entered with whatever the last amount was you sent to that payee.  If you don’t notice it, THAT’s the amount of money that’s sent.  This can cost you A LOT!
  • Repeating payment schedule changed: [added this entry on 2011-05-20] While entering a repeating payment, enter the schedule (weekly, every 2 weeks, monthly, etc…) and choose something other than monthly, then mark it as “repeating online payment” and it will CHANGE it to MONTHLY, regardless of what you had before. This can cause you in late fees or it can cost you by sending it out too often by not having enough for your other payments.
  • Super Slow Downloads: [added this entry on 2011-04-16] Ever since an update a few months ago (around the time Quicken 2011 was introduced), Quicken 2010’s download transactions went from mere seconds to several MINUTES.  There are a LOT of complaints about this.  There is speculation that they introduced this bug on purpose to entice people to spend money on Quicken 2011.
    • [Updated 2012-03-03]  I timed it today.  It took ELEVEN MINUTES!!!! on a 50mb/s data connection!  This is completely unacceptable! It’s only downloading data measured in KiloBytes.  There’s no reason for it to take 11 minutes.  In that amount of time, I could download 4.1 BILLION bytes of information… That’s almost 2 DVDs worth.  For comparison, let’s give Quicken the benefit of the doubt and assume that what it downloaded was a full megabyte (that’s a gross over-estimate).  With my data connection, that should take 6.25 seconds… Let’s even grant it a ridiculous 10 seconds of delay for each bank it needs to connect to and another ridiculous 10 seconds for each account.  With my setup, that’s 4 banks and 7 accounts.  So that’s an extra 110 seconds we’re granting to it, plus the 6.25 seconds for the actual 1 megabyte of actual data makes 116.5 seconds as an unreasonably high allowance… about 2 minutes, yet it’s taking it 11 minutes!
  • 1st download NEVER works: [added this entry on 2011-04-16] This goes along with the super slow downloads mentioned above.  At the same moment the slow downloads happened, this new bug happened.  After waiting several minutes on the downloads, it never works and pops up the download window again, forcing you to go through the process a second time.  It’s only after the SECOND download attempt that anything ever gets transmitted.
  • Sometimes, accepting a downloaded transaction causes Quicken 2010 to crash.  First though, when clicking the “Accept” button, the register flickers for about 1000 milliseconds (about 1 full second), then the program crashes (this is on Windows 7 Ultimate with all the latest service updates).  Quicken version = Quicken Home & Business 2010 Release 5.
  • No Sound:  Quicken has several sounds for different events like startup (a short tune), accept transaction (cha-ching), and others.  All of a sudden, Quicken 2009 (yes, 2009) stopped playing sounds.  Yes, the play sounds option is indeed checked and yes, sound works in all other programs (this is not my first time messing with a computer, BTW 🙂  I upgraded to Quicken 2010 at the first of the year.  The upgrade involved uninstalling Quicken 2009, then freshly installing 2010.  The sounds worked… for about a week or two, then they stopped again.
  • File corruption:  This is a serious issue.  EVERY TIME I call Quicken support with a problem, they claim the file is corrupt.  This seems to be their excuse for all bugs in the software.  They want to dismiss any issue as a bug and claim it’s a corrupt file.  Fine, it’s a corrupt file.  Now, fix Quicken so it STOPS CORRUPTING my files!  This has been going on through at least 3 versions of Quicken (2007, 2009, 2010 (I skipped 2008)).  A bug this serious requires a complete rewrite of their file access data layer routines.
  • Renaming Rules: This is quite an annoying bug. I personally do not want Quicken to rename my payees, yet there seems to be NO WAY to prevent Quicken from doing so. I participated in 3 online tech support chats and 2 call-back phone support incidents in the last week. NONE of their suggestions worked AND they refuse to accept that this is a bug. Here’s the problem: When you download transactions using PC Banking, then go and accept your transactions, Quicken will suggest renaming rules… actually, it will DICTATE renaming rules. You cannot tell it “No”. Furthermore, the dialog box that pops up informing you of the new dictatorial renaming rules being forced on you, has a check box that says something like “don’t inform me of renaming rules again”. There are 2 problems with this.
    1. I believe that checking it only causes Quicken to not inform you of new renaming rules, but it’ll still make new renaming rules.
    2. You only have 2 buttons “Apply” and “Cancel”. If you click “Apply”, it’ll apply the rule(s) that it’s showing you. I think that’s the only way to enforce the checkbox for “don’t tell me anymore”. If you click “cancel”, you’re canceling the dialog box and therefore canceling your check box “don’t tell me anymore” which means it’ll continue to tell you. Also, canceling the dialog box does not prevent it from enforcing the rule.
    • This has been a bug since at least Quicken 2007. image
    • I’ve reported this problem at least a dozen times to Quicken support since 2007.  It wasn’t until early to mid 2009 that they finally acknowledged that this was a bug and I was told that this was being fixed.  Well, many Quicken 2009 updates later AND a major new version (2010), this bug still remains.
    • Update (2011-01-29):  After building a new machine, installing Windows 7 Ultimate, and installing Quicken 2010…  Below is my bug report to Intuit:
      • I’m on tech support with Pankaj right now who is directing me to enter the bug report here.  Note that I’ve been reporting this since Quicken 2007 and nothing has been done about it.
      • Bug:  “Renaming Rules” always apply.
      • When installing and setting up Quicken, I told it to NOT use renaming rules (it’s really important that I’m able to distinguish between the different walmart stores I shop at and not have them all renamed to “walmart”, losing all info about WHICH walmart (same for any other chain store with multiple locations).
      • When I downloaded transactions, automatically added them to my register.  Fine.  But after a few weeks of using my fresh install of Quicken 2010, it stopped showing transactions as cleared and my paycheck didn’t show up, so I went to edit->preferences->downloaded transactions.
        I unchecked “Automatically add downloaded transactions to register”.  I did pay VERY CLOSE attention to the 3 check boxes relating to renaming rules.  The 1st and last checkboxes were UNCHECKED and the middle one was checked (but disabled).  I changed nothing relating to renaming rules.  I clicked OK.
      • Immediately, the downloaded transactions showed up in a list at the bottom of the screen (this is good).  When I clicked on the first one and clicked “Accept”, a box popped up “Quicken has created a renaming rule for USAA”?!?!?!?!?  WHY?  This is a BUG!  There was no option to tell it “NO”.  I was on tech support and he told me to click “OK” and that it wouldn’t apply the rule.  We went back into quicken preferences and the 3 check boxes for renaming WERE ALL CHECKED!
      • We unchecked them, clicked OK and went back to the downloaded transactions at the bottom of the screen and accepted the next one which did not pop up with renaming rules.  BUT, with Quicken 2007 AND with my prior machine with Quicken 2010, this always happens again after my next download.
      • Again, I’ve been complaining about this since Quicken 2007 when this feature was introduced.  It’s NEVER worked right for people that doe NOT want renaming rules.
      • Please see my blog post where I discuss this bug as well as many other Quicken 2010 and 2009 bugs:
      • http://csharpner.blogspot.com/2010/02/quicken-2010-bugs.html
      • Check out the comments at the bottom of the blog entry.  Clearly this is a bug that many people have been frustrated with since 2007.
    • Update (2011-05-24):  This bug just reared it’s ugly head again!  I’ve not changed ANY preference, yet I was just prompted for renaming “Wendys”:image
      • Again, there’s no way to tell it no as clicking the “Don’t offer to rename my payees again” and then clicking “cancel” (so that it won’t rename) will ignore my option on the check box, since that’s what “cancel” buttons do.
      • This time, it didn’t force the renaming rule, but it should never have suggested it at all.
      • Here are my renaming preferences as they existed immediately after clicking “cancel” in the dialog above:image
      • And here are the existing rules (there should be NONE!):
      • image

See also

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