Category Archives: android

android ringtones, alarms and notifications the easy way

clock vector

Lot’s of smartphones come with software tools from the phone’s manufacturer to easily sync data, add ringtones, media etc. Most of those tools however suck so hard, they can suck a golf ball through a garden-hose.

With Android however you don’t need to install that crapware as you can get access to your sd card easily by hooking it up using a good old USB cable (miniUSB probably). But how do you add those nifty mp3 ringtones you so carefully crafted from your favourite top-40 breakcore hits?
Or how about notifications when you receive a new text-message, a tweet or whatever? How about those alarms? I mean, waking up to that dreadful rooster or old-fashioned analogue ring is only making it worse to get up in the morning to go to work.

Well, all that can be done by simply creating some folders in the root of your SD card and putting some mp3 or wav files in it.

So those folder names to use are:

  • Ringtones
  • Alarms
  • Notifications

That’s it!
Once your phone has re-indexed the sd-card’s content, you’ll see the files appear in your ringtone, alarm & notification lists.

Photo by postbear, cc-licensed.

fixing a slow loading android home screen

slow down

I have this Android phone and it rocks. It rocks because it’s slick and fast and it allows me to does all this neato geek stuff I love so much. But then I press my home button and it takes the damn thing 6 to 7 seconds to display my home screen icons. The background image is there instantaneously.
Whoosh!

But it takes the home screen 6 seconds (or 7) to load all the icons and widgets. 6 seconds in Hell if you ask me! This happens every time I exit the browser, or Tweetdeck, or any other of those lovely geeky apps I run. 6 bloody seconds which turns this awesome piece of technology into something that makes you want to throw it against the nearest brick wall and see it explode into a shower of tiny blinking silicone and glass particles.

Well, maybe not. It’s a tad expensive to do that.
So what was I to do? Root my phone? Install a custom ROM? Hard factory reset? Use a different launcher? All of this takes time, work and erases your personal settings, which blows. So off to some Googling to try to find out what’s causing the dreaded delays before we do anything drastic.

I soon came up with 3 possible culprits:

  1. I moved some apps to the SD card recently. SD cards read slower than RAM.
  2. The Widgets. It’s always the damn widgets right? Those little CPU hogging bitches!?
  3. Something fishy with memory management.

Sounds vague this last one doesn’t it? I came up with that after reading somewhere that the Android OS leaves apps in memory for as long as it can (so they load blindingly fast once started), but if it runs short of memory it kills a “random” app. I’m not sure how random this is, but my idea was that if the Launcher app gets killed for the benefit of something else, that would explain the slow loading. After all, every time you hit that home button  it loads widgets, icons and folders you placed on your multi-page home-screen into memory from scratch.

I decided to test this by killing (aka uninstalling) a bunch of (oh the irony!) performance tuning/monitoring apps that ran as services on my not-so-awesome-anymore phone. In your Android Settings menu goto Applications > Active Service to see which ones are running and how much memory they consume. A pretty bar in the bottom also displays your phone’s available memory. I didn’t have a lot of green in there, so I figured that might be it.

Turns out I was right. After uninstalling the services and freeing up a bunch of memory I had returned the awesome! My home screen was appearing instantly after pressing the home button and scrolled smoothly left and right at every flick of my thumb.

So watch out with those memory guzzling services folks, they can turn your sweet phone into a piece of unusable junk in no time.

Photo by aftab, cc-licensed.

your smartphone is watching you

56/365: I-Spy.

I started playing around with Foursquare to see what all the fuss was about with those “hey look at me I’m at the grocery store” apps. On itself Foursquare turns this whole thing into a little game where you earn points and merit badges for exploring new and exciting places, which stimulates you to explore even more new and exciting places. It’s fun.

What I learned additionally while playing around with it, is that even without the GPS active on the phone, or the WiFi-localization mode which exists on any Android & iPhone device, Foursquare could figure out where I was pretty damn accurately.

So how does it do this?

Android for example can determine a phone’s location by using GPS, WiFi and cell-tower signals. So while some applications don’t work well without a GPS signal, it’s not really required to get a (not so accurate) fix on your location. So all any app really needs is an internet connection, your cellphone network data and possible some WiFi network info to get a pretty darn accurate idea where you are. Without even using the GPS function on your phone. Interesting.

This isn’t something shocking and new, but it is something to keep in mind when you’re installing random apps on your phone. These apps only need internet access to send your approximate location to whoever wants to know. No other security restrictions required.

EFF posted this interesting article about what cell-phone companies can do with the location data they collect from your phone. But with the advent of the smartphone, anyone who writes an app might be doing the same.

Photo by practicalowl, cc-licensed.

your smartphone as a remote music controller

Where's the remote Snickers?!

So you’re using your PC and the geekyist free media player around to pump your beats into the living room while you’re sitting in your cough reading your Twitter feed on your Android phone. Then this totally awesome tune gets streamed and you just want to turn up the volume a notch or two. Damn it! That means you’ll have to get out of that comfy seat of yours and walk a few metres through your living room and physically turn a knob (or press the keys to activate a hot-key to turn down the volume as you can easily do that with Foobar). Walk!? A few metres!? This is 2011 AD FFS! We have wireless networks and all sorts of marvellous technology invented to avoid having to physically move about and do stuff.

Thank the Cyber Gods there’s a Foobar plugin to fix just that! With this swell plugin called “HTTP Control” you can access your running Foobar2000 instance by surfing to it from your smartphone or fancy iPad. All you need is a link to you dedicated media-playing PC’s IP address and the assigned port in the plugin’s settings. Don’t forget to give that PC a fixed IP so the link stays the same. Otherwise you’ll end up having to get out of your couch anyway to figure out what  bleedin’ IP your box got through DHCP after all.

If you’d rather go native with an Android app because that web thing takes too much effort to set up, you can with this Foobar2000 controller app. I’ve used it for a while now and it’s mighty dandy!

Photo by threefatcats, cc-licensed.

motorola support jungle

Moto

Last time I was in need of some Motorola support I found out they have tons of channels available on the internet, but hardly any where you get some actual answers to your questions. The user support forum for example is just that. Populated by users trying to help out, but mostly you run into complaining & whining users claiming it’s the last Moto phone they bought. Ever.

I did run into another channel over at the GetSatisfaction site where I did get a quick and correct response when trying to find out how to remove the MotoNav app from my Android device. Good to know there’s a place where people seem to listen after all. It’s just too bad it’s so hard to find.

Photo by 96dpi, cc-licensed.

making your blog go mobile

Mobile! It’s the latest and greatest of the buzzes isn’t it? But it’s damn right too, because more and more people are starting to use their mobile devices to reach out into the fabulous and marvellous inter-webs to do all sorts of productive things like using twitter, visiting reddit, tumbler and 4chan or read interesting articles on websites and blogs (probably being posted in their twitter stream) about kittens.

So let it be known that in the year 2010 A.D. you better bloody well have a mobile version of your website online or you’re going to miss out. Well, maybe not miss out, but you won’t be one of the cool kids (see photo) for sure! So how do you join the club of the hip and mobile-ready web sites?

Lot’s and lot’s of programming, l33t CSS skills and plenty of testing on all sorts of devices will get you there.

Or if you’re running a WordPress blog, you can also check out these two plugins which basically turn your old fashion 2009 blog into a futuristic mobile-touch-screen-enabled piece of awesomeness!

  • WpTouch: turns your blog into it’s touch-friendly html self and allows people with iPhones and Android devices (among others) to easily tap and click around with their greasy thumbs.
  • WordPress Mobile Edition: the name sort of gives it away doesn’t it? This baby enables those poor sobs who still have and oldskool smartphone without a touch-screen to use your site as well.

You can run them both to make sure you aren’t missing a single mobile hit on your site.
Very 2010.
Very hip.

Photo by Kid Paparazzi, cc-licensed.

wicked android apps

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Since I dipped my feet into the Android pool I can now also start spewing out lists of those not to be missed Android apps. Well frankly most of the list I’ve seen are stuffed with things I don’t find that practical so I’m going to stick with stuff that’s actually useful. Or stuff that I’m using at least daily, or almost daily myself.

Here it is:

  1. The stock browser: That’s right. No fancy Dolphin stuff for me plz. I still find this one better because the Dolphin tabs take up too much space anyway. The bookmark feature with preview is also nice. Just one thing I’m missing here (and in other browsers), that’s being able to scroll left/right to another open window. Why didn’t anyone think of that?
  2. Stock energy manager. Clearly the fastest way to switch on/off wifi/bluetooth/screen brightness/etc straight from your browsers home screen. Plenty of apps for this in the market, but why bother installing anything else if the stock one is great.
  3. Catch.com notes. This is a note keeping app which syncs between your Android and the web. You can login on the website with your Google account (big plus) so it takes only a second to setup. It’s simple and fast to edit notes on the phone or from your desktop which makes this a very good in-the-cloud notepad app. The notes support you to add links and photo’s to them (taken straight from the phone’s cam) and let you set a reminder at a specific date and time in case you really shouldn’t forget something. Really handy.
  4. FBReader: an Open Source (bonus point) eBook reader supporting the most common formats. The simply UI (bonus point) is fast and reading is a breeze. I’ve seen fancy things with fake a bookshelf and all but that’s just memory hogging eye candy. Lot’s of tweak-able settings to make sure it behaves just the way you want it. Nice. Did I mention it’s Open Source goodness?
  5. Barcode scanner: this one is great if you see a QR code somewhere which contains the link to an app you want to try. Just point your cam at the screen and wham-bam, it scans it, reads it and gives you a nicely clickable link to download that super-app. Life couldn’t be easier. This thing also scans regular retail bar codes and allows you to look up the article and compare prices. Life has again never been easier.
  6. LED light. There are a few fake-flashlight apps out there that simply light up your phone’s screen. Lame isn’t it? This one is different. It takes advantage of your phone’s LED flashlight instead. If your phone has a LED flash, this is the way to go. With a Milestone for example (my phone btw, but you probably guessed that) you don’t really need a flashlight anymore if you have this app. Awesome. Might be a bloody expensive phone but it’s also a flashlight! Totally makes it worth it right?
  7. Advanced Task Killer Free: It kills your active tasks. Nice. Well, it is nice cause in a lot of cases you don’t even know what’s running on the phone and sucking up resources. I also set it to kill itself. Yes. I’m evil like that.
  8. Tweetdeck. This must the the best Twitter client for Android out there. I’ve tried the original one from Twitter one and the Frenchy Touiteur but Tweetdeck roshambo’s both of them hard. I don’t fancy the desktop version much but this twitter client simply pwnz. Also does Facebook btw. Meh.

So. Any totally awesome apps not in there that you’re using? Feel free to drop them in the comments!

Picture by Solo, cc-licensed.