Now fully optimized for Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, Spotify for Android (free to Premium subscribers, $9.99/month) is one of the most gorgeous Android apps I’ve ever seen, and I dare say better than Spotify for iPhone.
A top-to-bottom makeover this month adds buttery smooth navigation, faster streaming (320kbps) for higher-quality sound, eye-popping album art, and a few other power features. All it needs is support for local files, and I’m ready to delete all my other music players.
For the uninitiated, Spotify (4.5 stars, free) is an online music service that lets you play songs from a mainstream-heavy library of more than 15 million tracks, build playlists, and get recommendations from other members or from Spotify’s own recommendation engine. Upgrading to a Premium account removes ad interruptions, and lets you store playlists offline (up to 3,333 tracks), and sync your account to an unlimited number of mobile devices. Trust me, it’s worth it. If you don’t have Premium, you can (and absolutely should) sign up for a free 30-day trial to enjoy our Editors’ Choice pick for premium music services on your Android device.
If you’d rather not pay a dime and don’t mind being unable to listen to individual tracks or albums on demand, Songza is the Editors’ Choice among free music services, and it supports iOS and Android. Slacker Radio ($9.99, 4.5 stars), another Editors’ Choice pick on the PC and iPad, serves tons of streaming radio stations. For a pure cloud-based music player, Google Play Music is a solid option, but you can only share a full stream with Google+ members and you can only add music you’ve purchased through Google Play.
Better Look and Feel
Spotify for Android looks more like Spotify for iPad (4 stars) than Spotify on an iPhone or desktop. The app sheds Spotify’s original black and green color scheme for lots of clean lines, white space, and grey trim. Graphics, particularly album covers, are so vivid they almost pop. It’s a beautiful way to play music on a tablet.
Navigation is faster and snappier, too, thanks to lots of buttery-smooth scrolling and swiping. For example, you can swipe left to access your Settings menu to open your playlists, Inbox, Friends list, song recommendations, and search box. The menu simply layers on top of an existing page.
Better Than the iPhone Version?
This is the first Android app I’ve reviewed that performs better than its iPhone counterpart. Not only is it faster and more intuitive, it also ports a few awesome desktop features.
Sound quality is better. You can now stream or download tracks at a deliciously high 320kbps, called Extreme mode. It’ll hog your data, so use it sparingly or with Wi-Fi. Spotify for Android also now supports gapless playback and crossfading between tracks, so there aren’t any abrupt pauses.
Looking for new music? From Settings, tap What’s New to see trending songs and playlists among Spotify friends and members located near you, or swipe through a slick carousel of new albums. This section is limited to only five options each, however. The desktop client recommends twice the amount. Spotify for Android also lets you build perfect playlists. For instance it adds Spotify’s Play Queue, a scrollable list that displays what songs lie ahead of your currently playing track. You can drop in tracks at any time, even if you’re listening to someone else’s playlist.
Adding two desktop-only features would make this app just about flawless. It needs to support locally stored files so I could finally delete iTunes. And it needs to support Spotify’s new app ecosystem, which I considered an awesome feature in my review of the desktop service. Spotify apps are simply third-party curated playlists; you’ll find big name apps from Last.fm, Songkick, and Rolling Stone magazine.
An Incentive to Upgrade
Spotify, our Editors’ Choice pick for premium music players on Android, is an incredible service that has essentially eliminated my need to ever buy music again. And it clearly understands mobile: Spotify for Android is a gorgeously designed app, approaching all the features offered by its desktop client. If it ever supports locally stored files, I’m deleting all my music player and music storage apps. Highly recommended.
Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405831,00.asp
When Instagram first came out on the iPhone in 2010, it was a trailblazer. The elegantly-designed app let iPhone users capture and format Web content for offline consumption. Meanwhile Android users were left in the dark—until now, two years later. Was it worth the wait? Instapaper for Android ($2.99) offers a smooth, elegant interface, but like so many iOS cult favorites that port to Android (Instagram, Temple Run), it’s not as feature-rich as existing Android alternatives. Pocket (Free, 4 stars) and InstaFetch (free) do more, and they are free.
But if you’ve been using Instapaper on an iOS device for awhile, it may be worth adding Android support so you can synch across platforms.
How to Clip Articles
Start by creating an account with your email address and user name; you’ll need this login information to access your Instapaper from other platforms.
Now you’re ready to start saving Web content to consume offline. There are a few ways you can add content to Instagram. The easiest is probably from a desktop browser (Chrome, Firefox, IE), which requires you to drag a “Read Later” bookmarklet into your bookmarks toolbar. As you surf simply click the bookmarklet to immediately save content to your archive.
The Android app automatically adds Instapaper to your list of sharing options within your mobile browser, email, social networks, Google Play, and hundreds of other sources of Web content. You can also email links to a personal Read Later email address.
Instapaper strips URLs down to basic text and images, although dynamic images (PHP scripts) like those on Facebook or news homepages, appear as broken links. When you save a YouTube video, the URL only saves text. Pocket supports dynamic images, though you can only stream a saved video when you’re connected to the Internet.
Like its competitors, Instagram lets you customize the appearance of your clipped articles. You can adjust fonts, font sizes, margins, backlighting, etc. I see this as more of a “nice to have” feature than a necessity.
One thing this app really needs is pagination for reading long texts, as well as the ability to search within texts.
When Instagram first launched on iOS in 2010, Instagram founder Marco Arment famously swore he’d never create an Android version so he could focus instead on iOS support. Arment farmed out Android development to Mobelux, the folks behind Tumblr for iPhone and Android.
I’ve tried and really liked the iPhone version, which also syncs with your social networks. I don’t feel that pull on Android. There are just too many other free, better-performing rivals on Android, namely Pocket and InstaFetch. If you’re looking for a full-fledged organizational app that not only saves Web content for offline reading, but stores documents, checklists, and more, check out Evernote, an Editors’ Choice pick for note-taking apps.
Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2405748,00.asp
Haters love to hate, and giant egos are at stake whenever a cult iPhone app takes months, or in Instagram’s case, years, to be ported to Android. Cross-platform comparisons are made. Allegiances have formed around similar apps. Android users expect something to brag about to their iPhone frenemies.
Nearly two years after the iPhone version debuted, Instagram for Android has finally arrived in Google Play.
Instagram is a social networking tool centered on photos, and works similarly to Twitter (bonus trivia: Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom came from Twitter). The app lets you put folksy effects on dull photos with a single tap, and quickly share them on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.
Feature-wise, you’ll find more filters and editing tools in Android 4.0′s stock camera, and Android photo app favorites like Vignette and Lightbox offer far more filtering options. However, Instagram boasts the most robust social community running 15 million strong.
After a typical signup process, you can scroll through photo streams of other members and opt to follow them. There are plenty of celebrities to follow, but unlike in Twitter, Instagram offers no way to verify users’ accounts. So you’ll have to decide for yourself if that’s really Taylor Swift or the Biebs whose streams you are following. Instagram doesn’t have to be a wild-west sharing free-for-all; you can also set your photo stream to private, so that only users you approve can see it.
Take photos within the app, or select photos from your device to edit. Instagram offers 17 filters in total, plus the option to turn on or off a frame. Apart from sepia and black and white, the rest of the filters struck me as different shades of, well, folksy and low-res. The number of filters pales in comparison to Vignette’s 62 filters and 21 frames. Nor are Instagram’s filters as interesting as Lightbox’s 16, which include 8-bit, Fisheye, and Redscale. Even Instagram on iOS has a couple more filters.
In his review of the iPhone version of Instagram, my colleague Michael Muchmore said he found the effects gimmicky. True, I’d never normally think to “lomo” up a picture I took on a phone, but once I started experimenting with different filters, the hipster in me was hooked. I mean, who wouldn’t want to give a photo of a paper cup the “1977″ filter, which makes it more washed out and textured?
Sharing on Instagram borrows a lot from Twitter’s setup and interface. Once you finish adding your effects, you can geotag your photo and tick boxes for sharing on Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, and Tumblr. By default, the photo is also uploaded to your Instagram photo feed, which is visible to anyone who follows you (unless you’ve made it private, of course).
It would be nicer if you could save the photo to your device as you can with, well, every other photo-effects app.
You can easily waste hours surfing quirky and funny photos, thanks to a tab at the bottom of your feed called Popular. When you click this, the app opens a grid of the most “hearted” photos at that moment. It’s a great time suck, especially if you like cute cats and emo-filtered landscapes. However Instagram could really use a button that lets you re-share other users’ photos you like, kind of like Twitter’s retweet function or the reblog feature on Tumblr. I suppose that would bring up too many copyright and ownership questions, however.
I tested Instragram on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.0.2 and, as expected for a pilot version, experienced a few crashes. Within two days, it’s already been updated to version 1.0.2 with bug fixes. Worse, I’ve also read that the app is incompatible with the camera drivers in many HTC devices, like the One X and Sensation 4G.
Instagram for Android’s strength relies on its robust photo community, rather than photo editing utility. It’s a simple, fun way to discover and instantly share photos with friends and strangers, but in terms of editing it’s even less useful than the stock Android camera. Stilll, after playing with Instagram for a while, I could start to feel the pull of addiction. It’s just so quick and easy to create and share a folksy snapshot of my life. Instagram isn’t a perfect app, but its popularity is easy to understand.
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Article source: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2402663,00.asp