Category: Android App Review

Review – Microsoft Arrow Launcher – The Best Launcher for Microsoft Users

Earlier this week I posted a review of the Nova Launcher for Android.  In that review, I pointed out that if you are looking for a launcher that has a whole load of knobs to turn, it is the best option for you.  But for those of you who aren’t interested in turning all the knobs or, more particularly, are deep in the Microsoft ecosystem, there is a solid option for you too.  The Microsoft Arrow Launcher.

Arrow Launcher doesn’t have the configurability of Nova Launcher nor does it pretend to have them.  Instead, Microsoft has taken this launcher and focused it on productivity.  Contacts, apps and documents are easily accessible from the launcher, getting you editing that Word file quicker and with few taps than opening the app itself.  But it also does all this with speed and battery friendliness that makes it a great option even for those who don’t necessarily use the Office apps.

I’ve been running Microsoft Arrow Launcher on my Nextbit Robin for the past few weeks and I have no problem giving it a thumbs up.  It works great, has enough configurability for those want to tweak a little bit and gets you deep into the Office apps without having to fuss with it.  Here’s my review and thoughts on Arrow Launcher.

Review – Nova Launcher – The Ultimate Android Launcher?

Over the course of the past few months, there have been two important changes on the Android launcher front.  The first was the announcement of the Google Pixel and its still exclusive launcher back in October.  Then came news last month that the Google Now Launcher is being removed from the Play Store this month.  This latter bit of news has caused a lot of questions in the Android community with users looking for alternative launchers.  That’s were Nova Launcher comes into the picture.

While there are literally dozens of launchers in the Play Store, Nova Launcher remains one of the most loved and used.  But is it the best?  That’s going to depend on what you want and expect out of a launcher.  If you like seemingly endless configuration and customization, you would be hard pressed to find anything better than Nova.  There are a huge number of configuration changes you can make in the launcher, from how your App Drawer is accessed, presented and even your icons for apps.  It is truly impressive and even if you just want to run things “out of the box” with Nova, you likely won’t be disappointed.

Review – Snocru – The Ultimate Tracking App for Skiers & Snowboarders

I am apologetically addicted to skiing.  I love tech and my career but at 9 times out of 10, if you ask me what I’m thinking about, I’m going to tell you skiing.  2017 has been a great season for me so far and like many skiers and riders, I want to keep track of where I’ve been, how fast I’ve gone and how many vertical feet I’ve skied in a day.  One of the best and most complete apps for this is Snocru.  The app allows you to track all of these statistics for the day and does it in a battery friendly way.  Snocru also lets you link up with friends who are skiing with you so you can compare stats and share that information with each other or on social networks like Facebook.

I’ve been using the app for the past few weeks to track my skiing and it has quickly become a must-have app for me.  If you are a skier or snowboarder, you will probably find it a must-have app too.

Review – Withings Blood Pressure Monitor – An Excellent Tool to Monitor Heart Health

Like many aspects of healthy living, understanding your blood pressure and the impact it has on your body is critical.  This is especially true for those with a genetic predisposition to heart disease and high blood pressure.  High blood pressure can have long term damaging impacts on your body that can include heart attack and stroke.  Monitoring your blood pressure and your pulse can be done at home with the Withing Blood Pressure Monitor.

The Withing Blood Pressure Monitor allows you to take your blood pressure at home, leveraging the Withings app on your Android or iOS phone to keep track of it on a daily or weekly basis.  While it is not as accurate as a medical office checking your blood pressure, it does serve as a solid tool to help you understand what you eat, drink, weight and exercise do to your blood pressure.  I’ve been using the Withings Blood Pressure Monitor for many months as part of keep track of my blood pressure as heart disease runs in my family.  It has become an valuable tool, giving me information that I can readily share with my doctor to discuss and make dietary or lifestyle changes.  Here is my review of this great medical tool.

Review – Sleep as Android – Wellness Begins With Good Sleep

Sleep is a critical part of any healthy lifestyle.  Getting the proper amount of restful sleep not only helps with your psychological wellness but also has other health benefits when it comes to general well being and fitness.  Sadly, most Americas struggle to get the proper amount of sleep each night or have poor quality of sleep.  Sleep as Android is an app that allows you to measure your sleep, the quality of that sleep, and integrate that data with apps like Google Fit.  By having the app running on your phone next to you as you sleep, it will track your sleep cycles, see trends and even record noises as you sleep to see if you are snoring or, worse, suffering from Sleep Apnea.

Sleep as Android, however, is so much more.  It can serve as your alarm clock, can play soothing sounds to help you relax and get to sleep and gently wake you up in the morning.  It is an all-in-one app for your sleeping.  I’ve been using the app since the beginning of 2017 as I am focusing on making sure I get the right amount of sleep each day.  It has been an eye opening app for me and has become a daily part of my life as I try to live a healthy – and rested – lifestyle.  Here’s my review.

Review of F1 2016 – A Worthy But Not Perfect F1 Game

As a Formula One fan, the desire to play a reasonably realistic game based on real drivers, teams and circuits has been there for a long time.  The challenge has been the lack of such a game.  Sure the console games are fantastic from Codemasters but on mobile devices – both Android and iOS – there were F1-style games but nothing that would truly satisfy a fan of the sport.  That changed when Codemasters, the developer behind the console F1 games, released their mobile centric game, F1 2016.  While it doesn’t have the level of controls or customizations that the console level game has, F1 2016 is a remarkably well developed game with outstanding graphics, real teams, real drivers and, of course, real circuits.

I have been playing F1 2016 since the day it was released and I will admit, despite the hype, that I was skeptical that it would be a good game playing experience.  Happily, I’m wrong.  It is a great playing experience.  It’s not perfect but it is fun and challenging and that should keep F1 fans who want to turn a few laps at Monaco, Spa or Silverstone, happy and satisfied.

Review of MLB At Bat – A Baseball Fan’s Dream App

The 2016 Major League Baseball season is just a couple of weeks away from starting with the hopes and dreams of players and fans refreshed once again for a long season.  Baseball has been played professionally for 147 years and while Android and mobile apps haven’t been around nearly that long, the powers that be at MLB have built arguably one of the best sports league apps available today.  MLB At Bat is simply a requirement for baseball fans to follow the league and their favorite team.  With a wealth of information available for free in the app, the subscription service adds even more content including live audio broadcasts, pitching and even a Game of the Week to watch without requiring an MLB.TV subscription.  If you are a baseball fan, do yourself a favor and download MLB At Bat.  You won’t regret it.

Review Of The Official F1 App For Android

The 2016 Formula One season kicks off this weekend in Melbourne, Australia in what promises to be an interesting season.  Mercedes has dominated F1 the last couple of years but all eyes are on Ferrari as they look potent in pre-season testing while Williams, Force India and Red Bull scrap to stay in the hunt each weekend.  And don’t forget that in 2016 there is a new F1 team from America:  HaaS F1.  Whether you are an old fan like me or new to the sport, the Official F1 app for Android is a must-have app.  Regardless if you use the free version of the app or get the extra benefits of the premium monthly service, there is a wealth of information about the teams, drivers, and news from around the paddock with the premium service bringing some great live action and radio at each race.  Overall it is a solid app but there are a few things that could stand a bit of improvement. Here is my review.

Review of IndyCar – The Required Season Companion

I am a big racing fan. Each Fall, usually in October and November my sports watching goes to nearly zero. Baseball and racing are done until March the next year. One series I love to watch is IndyCar. The US-based open wheel series has struggled for many years but competition is better now than it has been for decades. New aero packages after the death of Dan Wheldon in 2012 (which, ironically, he was testing for the league during the 2011 season) have tightened up the racing and with F1 winner Juan Montoya returning last year (and winning the Indy 500), the 2016 is shaping up to be one of the best.

Along the way, IndyCar has done a great job of continually improving their app for Android.  The app, designed for both Android phones and tablets, brings all of the season information as well as news and highlights from your favorite driver and team.  While the 2015 version of the app was solid, the recently released 2016 version has built upon that platform.  There is a huge amount of information on the series, teams and drivers to be found in the app which will keep you completely up-to-date with all the happenings of the series.  If you like the IndyCar series, this app is really a must have for you.  It is on par with having MLB at Bat for baseball fans.  It’s essential and dare I say a required download.

Review of Pocket Casts – The Standard for Podcast Apps

Like many of you who are reading this, I spend a good portion of my day listening to podcasts.  Whether it is news, information or simply a bit of relaxing fun, podcasts are a part of my routine that I would sorely miss if it were not there.  The challenge is finding a podcast app that works across my devices yet gives me a lot of power to control when content is downloaded, when it is streamed and equally as important, when it is cleaned off my device after I’m done watching or listening.  For me, Pocket Casts from Shifty Jelly is the go-to app.

Featuring a wealth of content, Pocket Casts works on my Android phones and tablets and allows me to synchronize my content so I can keep all of them up-to-date with my latest podcasts.  I can listen or watch podcasts directly from within the app and when I am done, the app has an automatic clean up that deletes it from all of my devices so I’m not taking up storage space on content I’ve consumed.  I have been using the app for about a month now and having tried many of the podcasts apps in the Google Play Store, this is the one that quickly became and continues to be the benchmark for such apps.  At $3.99 for the Android version, it isn’t the cheapest podcast app available but I think it is one of the best and well worth the price.

Pocket Casts – $3.99 – Download Now

Review of Project Fi – Ready For Prime Time

I have been an AT&T customer since 1997.  The only time I wasn’t actively using a mobile device on AT&T was when I lived in England and even then I kept my account so when I did move back I would be able to get a SIM and up and going within minutes.  When the opportunity came up to review Project Fi, I was unsure because after such a long time with one carrier, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bother with the messiness of switching.  So I met the review halfway.  I kept my old number on AT&T and when I set up Project Fi on my Nexus 6, I requested a new number.  The thought was, if things went pear shaped, I could simply shut off the Fi service and nobody would be the wiser (as I had just forwarded my old AT&T number to my new Fi number).

I will be cancelling my AT&T service at the end of this month.

After using Project Fi for the past month, in multiple locations throughout the United States, I have been so overwhelmingly pleased with the service and quality of data throughput that I will not be looking back.  Indeed in some locations, I have had virtually no signal on AT&T while I have had 3G coverage with Fi.  Add to that a powerful and informative dedicated app along with a pricing model that just makes sense, you have what I think is the model that should be scaring the poop out of the major carriers.

What Is Project Fi?

I’ll start by giving everyone a little bit of background on Project Fi, a side project that Google started last year.  It is what is known as a Mobile Network Virtual Operator, or MNVO. Google doesn’t actually own the cell towers or physical equipment. Instead, they purchase service from an established carrier and rebrand it.  In the case of Google, the bought service from both T-Mobile and Sprint, assuring that they would have coverage for their customers.  This is not a new concept here in the United States or in Europe but what makes Project Fi unique is how Google has gone about doing this with the Nexus 6, Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P.

In those three devices, Google has built in the ability to switch between the T-Mobile GSM network and the Sprint Spark (CDMA) network on-the-fly.  Which ever has the stronger signal in the area you are in at the time wins.  Doing this is nothing short of engineering gymnastics. To get a device to switch antennas and carrier modes actively is extremely difficult.  Then Google went one step further.  In the Nexus devices it will switch between these two carriers and Wi-Fi.  So now if you have strong, good quality Wi-Fi it will leverage that for your calls and if that signal starts to drop, it will seamlessly hand the call of to one of the carriers so you don’t lose the call.  You, as a user, don’t have to do anything to make this happen.

This monumental engineering effort is why you don’t see a generic Project Fi SIM for every device.  To really take advantage of the service, you have to have the multiple array of antennas in the device and the software engineered for the handoffs between the carriers and Wi-Fi.  That is no small feat.  You can also see where there is a lot that could go wrong with this process and user experience and call quality would suffer.  That has not been the case at all since I have moved to Fi and in fact I would contend that data throughput and voice call quality has been superior to my other carrier everywhere I have been with the service.

Review of The Official NHL for Android App – A Must Have for Fans of Stick & Puck

With the 2015-2016 National Hockey League season starting this week here in the US and Canada, you can get ready to keep up with your favorite teams and players with the official NHL for Android app.  The app is full of news, video highlights, social network feeds, stats and standings from across the league and you can configure the app to focus just on your favorite team – because really? As a Colorado Avalanche fan do I care about what’s going on with the Dallas Stars?  No, not really. 🙂

The NHL for Android app runs on Android phones and tablets and if you are a NHL Gamecenter subscriber, you can watch live action from across the league right on your devices.  I’ve often said that the best sports league app in my opinion is the MLB At Bat app for Major League Baseball but the NHL for Android app is undoubtedly just as good.  If you love stick & puck, you need to have this app on your phone or tablet.

Official NHL for Android App – Free – Download Now