All about Google Chrome & Google Chrome OS

02 Jun 12 Chrome OS Grows Up

The first version of Google’s Chrome OS wasn’t much more than a Chrome browser window with a few apps. It felt more like a statement — “Who needs local storage?” — than an operating system you could rely on.

A year and a half later, the latest version of the Chrome OS adds some of the features of a more traditional OS: a file manager (hooray!), a desktop and the ability to use storage connected through a USB port. Google’s Cloud Print system even makes it fairly easy to print.

The only thing that’s missing is the ability to keep writing, working on a spreadsheet or reading email when you’re offline. We used to have that capability through Google Gears, but since Google shut down that project last winter, services like GMail and Google Drive work only when you have a connection. (Google Senior Vice President of Chrome Apps Sundar Pichai reportedly told the audience at All Things D this week that Google Drive offline is coming in five weeks.)

The advantages of the Chrome OS remain the same. The new Samsung Series 5 550 Chromebook I tested shuts down in less than 5 seconds and starts up again in less than 10. When you log in, there’s no waiting for programs to load. You go right back to the last browser window you were working in, with all the same tabs you had open before you shut down. Jumping from window to window (that’s right — now you can have more than one) is instantaneous. And while all new machines are fast, it’s hard to imagine what would slow down a Chromebook over time — there’s no registry to get junked up and no local software to leave debris on your hard drive. Battery life is great, too. I was able to work a full day on a single charge.

And, unlike previous incarnations, you now get a significant price break for buying a Chromebook: The machine I tried, with a 12.1-inch display, costs $449. The Samsung Series 5 13.3-inch Windows model costs about $400 more.

Chrome’s new file manager is rudimentary, but its very existence is a big deal. It comes up as a browser tab that shows the different storage devices on your machine. There’s Downloads, which sits on the 16GB SSD drive. You can also store files on a USB drive or a memory card. You can move files from one storage device to another, though you don’t have the drag-and-drop convenience of most operating systems — you have to copy and paste them.

Chrome OS Grows UpThe very basic file manager in Chrome OS.

Printing through Google Cloud Print was simple, even though I didn’t have access to an official Cloud printer. I set up cloud printing on my desktop at work (it’s a setting within the Chrome browser), then the Chromebook could use any printer my desktop could access, including printers on the PCWorld network.

Chrome OS now has a desktop, though you likely won’t spend much time there. There’s a taskbar, where you can put shortcuts to apps you use frequently, and a status area that reports things like Wi-Fi connection status and battery life. But I couldn’t find a way to put a shortcut to an app or file on the desktop itself — it’s really just a pretty picture.

Chrome OS Grows UpThe Chrome OS desktop looks pretty, but doesn’t do a lot.

You can now use multiple windows in Chrome, though they’re all just separate browser windows. Still, that can be helpful — you can jump from one window to another with Alt-Tab or with a special function button. Each window has something that looks like a Windows maximize button, but it operates four ways through gestures. If you click on it and drag down, the window minimizes. Drag up and it goes full screen. Drag to the left or right and the window docks on either side, taking up half the screen. It’s a fun innovation.

Chrome OS Grows UpYou can now work with multiple windows in Chrome OS.

The Chromebook still features its quirky keyboard. The biggest quirk is the lack of a Caps Lock key — that’s replaced with a pretty unnecessary search button. All the search button does is open a new tab, something that’s easily done with Ctrl-T. If you miss Caps Lock, you can restore it through the Chromebook’s settings. Other unconventional keyboard choices work better. I like the function button for switching between windows and one for toggling between full screen and normal mode. There are also dedicated forward, back and reload buttons, which make lots of sense for a notebook built for the web. Hit Ctrl and the Search button and you’ll go to an smartphone-like grid of shortcuts to your apps. And if you have a better memory than I do, you can learn the dozens of keyboard shortcuts — hit Ctrl+Alt+? for a full list.

Chrome OS Grows UpHit a keyboard shortcut and you see links to your apps in a smartphone-like grid.

As much as I liked the Chromebook I tested, it had one fatal flaw. I’ve left it to the end of this review because I hope that it’s just a failing of my particular test machine and not one that’s endemic to the Samsung Chromebooks. The problem: My Chromebook would regularly lose its connection to the web — kind of a big deal for a notebook built to work almost entirely online.

I noticed the problem both at work and at home. In both cases, I had other systems on the same Wi-Fi network at the same time and they never seemed to lose their connection. I tried using a mobile hotspot and experienced the same problems. In some cases when I had connection problems, the status area would report that it was trying to reconnect to my Wi-Fi network. In other instances, it would report it was firmly on my Wi-Fi network, even though the browser was unable to reach the web. When I tried surfing from my other system on the same network at the same time, I had no problem. A Samsung representative said she hadn’t heard about similar problems with other test machines. I’ll work with the company to troubleshoot the problem and update this story with what I find out.

All in all, the Chrome OS and Chromebooks seem to have made vast strides forward. It’ll never be a good solution for people who are often away from a web connection (though it does have a built-in Verizon wireless broadband connection — you get 100MB per month free and can pay for more) or depend on sophisticated desktop software. Or for those who don’t want to have their whole life wrapped up in the Google solar system of Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, etc.

But if much of what you do happens in the cloud anyway, a Chromebook has a lot of advantages — it’s cheaper, fast, simple to operate and gets great battery life. Google’s other OS has grown up a lot in the past year and a half. Chromebooks are already a good option for many people. If Google can add the ability to do significant work offline, all laptop buyers should give them serious consideration.

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30 May 12 Google Chrome OS, Take Two: New Software And Chromebooks

New Chromebook
(click image for larger view)

In conjunction with a Chrome OS update that incorporates a more traditional desktop user interface, Google and its hardware partner Samsung on Tuesday plan to introduce two Chrome OS devices, the Samsung Chromebook Series 5 550 and the Samsung Chromebox 3.

The Series 5 550 is an improved Chrome OS notebook. The Chromebox, first mentioned at CES in January and revealed through a TigerDirect online store listing on Friday, is a small desktop Chrome OS computer that requires a separate keyboard, mouse, and display.

“We’re focused a lot on speed because that was one of the things we were not very happy with last year,” said Caesar Sengupta, director of Chrome OS at Google, in a phone interview.

The Series 5 550 ($449/$549 w/3G) features an Intel Core processor, a step up in terms of processing power from the Intel Atom chips in last year’s models. It’s 2.5 times faster on the v8 benchmark than the old Series 5, according to Sengupta.

With a 12.1-inch, 1280 x 800 display, the Series 5 550 weighs 3.3 lbs. and boasts 6 hours of battery life, or 6.5 days in standby mode. It includes 4 GB of RAM, built-in dual band Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Gigabit Ethernet, and a 3G modem option. There’s an HD camera, two USB 2.0 ports, a 4-in-1 memory card slot, and a DisplayPort++ connector that can accommodate HDMI, DVI, or VGA monitors.

[ How big are the stakes for Google? Read Google's Chromebook Gamble. ]

The Series 3 Chromebox ($329) is a small computer akin to the Mac Mini. It scores 3.5x faster than last year’s Chromebook on the v8 benchmark and sports six USB 2.0 ports, 2 DisplayPort++ connectors, DVI single link output, and support for Bluetooth 3.0. Both the Chromebox and Series 5 550 Chromebook now support hardware accelerated graphics, which makes Web page scrolling much quicker and makes the Chrome OS devices more suitable for Web-based games.

The new hardware will be running the latest version of Chrome OS, R19, which offers a much more traditional desktop user interface. Previously, the Chrome browser was locked in place and could not be moved to reveal a desktop below it. Version R19 restores the desktop metaphor by allowing browser windows to be moved and by adding a new app launch and the ability to customize desktop images. It also includes the ability to view Office files, stored locally or on Google Drive. So much for talk that computer users no longer need files.

This shift to a more familiar interface will soon be accompanied by Google Drive integration. Now available through the Chrome OS beta channel, Sengupta says this feature will reach general release in June, around the time of Google IO, the company’s annual developer conference. Google Drive will effectively be the file system for Google’s hardware. It will run offline and online and sync files across other computers, like Macs and PCs, so that the user’s files can be accessed across multiple devices.

In addition, Google plans to release a beta version of Chrome Remote Desktop, which will allow users of Google’s Chrome browser to access remote OS X or Windows computers from any device with Chrome installed.

Sengupta also said that offline editing will be coming to Google Docs in a matter of weeks. He said the feature is presently being tested internally at Google and will be rolled out as soon as it’s ready.

A year ago, Google, Samsung, and Acer launched the first hardware running Chrome OS in an effort to improve the computing experience. While these Chromebooks were available through online retailers, they didn’t sell very much to consumers.

Sengupta didn’t offer specifics about Chromebook usage metrics but made it clear that Google didn’t expect cloud-based computing to become the norm immediately. “Our goal is a fairly long-term one,” he said. “We’re trying to change the world of computing.”

Google plans to expand its Chromebook marketing outreach: In June, expect to start seeing Chrome Zones in select Best Buy stores, where potential customers can test Chrome OS hardware.

But the Chromebook value proposition–easier, more affordable computer management and administration–wasn’t really tailored to appeal to consumers; it was designed to ease the suffering of IT managers by automating chores like system patching.

“We think there’s a lot of promise for Chrome OS in businesses,” said Rajen Sheth, group product manager for Chrome for Business. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in retail for systems in stores, or call centers.”

How much interest? Not enough to disclose sales figures, but enough to have a few noteworthy business customers lined up to test a new way of working. Retailer Dillard’s intends to deploy hundreds of Chromeboxes in about half of its 304 U.S. stores. Education company Kaplan, in conjunction with call center company Genesys, intends to move its New York City call center to online real-time communication protocol WebRTC and Chromeboxes. Mollen Clinics expects to use 4,500 Chromebooks in its mobile immunization clinics in Wal-Mart and Sam’s Clubs locations. And the California State Library intends to distribute 1,000 Chromebooks to libraries around the state for patrons to borrow.

Sheth says that the updated version of Chrome OS and the new Chrome hardware solve a lot of issues that businesses had with the first release. He cites the ability to view Office files and Google Drive integration as examples of changes that will make Chrome OS more palatable to businesses.

The updated hardware also comes with improved features for administrators, such as auto-update controls, auto-enrollment, open-network configuration and additional reporting features.

“When the user get the Chromebooks and logs in, that device knows it’s part of the organization and will automatically configure itself,” said Sheth, adding that this should make Chrome OS devices even more compelling to organizations concerned about total cost of ownership.

“Our biggest goal with the new management functionality is to make it so you can grab a Chromebook of a delivery truck and hand it to a user without the involvement of IT,” said Sheth. “With a PC, that’s not possible. It has to be imaged.”

Perhaps the most compelling feature for businesses is a new pricing model. Google initially offered Chromebooks to businesses under a subscription model. That’s no longer being offered.

“The major feedback we heard from businesses is that they want to be able to purchase once and be done with it,” said Sheth.

The new plan works as follows: After purchasing the hardware, businesses and schools can buy lifetime management and support for $150 and $30, respectively.

The second coming of Chrome OS might just be enough to turn Google’s experiment into a real market. But if not, there’s always next year. “We’re deeply committed to this,” said Sengupta. “It’s a step in the journey.”

At this year’s InformationWeek 500 Conference C-level execs will gather to discuss how they’re rewriting the old IT rulebook and accelerating business execution. At the St. Regis Monarch Beach, Dana Point, Calif., Sept. 9-11.

05/29/2012: Corrected education pricing.

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24 May 12 HTC One S Android phone

It’s not easy to compete with the iPhone and the wonder of iTunes gaming.

Ever since Apple first unveiled its touchscreen masterpiece back in 2007 (seems like eons longer, doesn’t it?), the world’s other smartphone manufacturers have been long chasing their tails.

Count HTC among the companies battling oh-so-hard to catch up. But after a shaky 2011, it reinvents itself with the new HTC One S. And this almost-invisible smartphone, a T-Mobile offering that debuted in early May, just may make you think about putting down your iPhone and giving Android another chance.

My experience with Android phones has long been this: They traditionally pack a lot of firepower, presenting intriguing hardware and ideas and applications. But often, the package is clunky and bugs abound, leading me back towards the overwhelming polish of the slightly underpowered iPhone.

No such issues here. Sure, the HTC One S makes some concessions, but it also oozes polish and class, delivering an Android experience like no other.

It all starts with the unbelievably tiny and light chassis. At 0.31 inches thick, the One S is actually only slightly skinnier than the iPhone 4S (0.37 inches), and it can’t touch Motorola’s Droid Razr (0.28 inches). But somehow, the One S manages to make both phones feel chunky by comparison. It simply FEELS thinner, sliding into your back jeans pocket so comfortably that you will sometimes even forget it’s there.

Soft edges, crafted from a delightfully smooth anodized aluminum, frame the entire device, gently tapering along the outskirts. It’s a decidedly sophisticated look — not like that bulky-feeling Razr — that you’ll be proud to tote around, and even the excessively large camera lens on the back (which has a well-wrought purpose) can’t detract.

The phone is built for Android’s newest iteration, Ice Cream Sandwich, so you get three capacitive buttons — Back, Home and Recent Apps — on the front. A power button and 3.5mm headphone jack sit on top. On the left side is a micro-USB port, and on the right is volume rocker. HTC also attractively displays LED lighting icons (charging and the like) in a unique way; they seem to be housed in the top of the casing beneath the speakers, completely unnoticeable when they are not in use.

A terrifically large 4.3-inch, 960×540-pixel Super-AMOLED screen adorns most of the front of the device, and it’s absolutely beautiful to use. I tested the colors with an episode of “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” streamed over Netflix (the One S includes some solid proprietary movie software, but most people will, inevitably, gravitate back to Netflix), and the screen produced incredibly deep blacks, and vibrant colors overall. No, it’s not quite Retina, but the larger screen real estate actually compensates, making for a far more comfortable viewing experience.

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20 May 12 This Tiny PC Runs Linux and Android 4.0–and Costs Just $74

Over the past few months there have been no fewer than three tiny, cheap Linux PCs making headlines, and now there’s a fourth to add to the list.

linux pcFirst we saw the Raspberry Pi and the Cotton Candy devices emerge; then, almost exactly a month ago I wrote about the Mele A1000, a small ARM device that sells with Android but can be configured to run Ubuntu Linux as well.

The latest to appear? None other than the MK802 micro-PC, a USB-sized device priced at $74 that runs Android 4.0 and Linux.

This is turning into a veritable smorgasbord of choices, and I believe it’s just the beginning of a real revolution in computing.

1080p HDMI Video Output

Featuring a single-core 1.5GHz AllWinner A10 Cortex A8 ARM processor, Android 4.0, 512MB of DDR3 high-capacity memory, and WiFi connectivity, the MK802 is now available on Aliexpress for $74 including free shipping to the United States via China Post.

The MK802The MK802 (Credit: CNXSoft. Click image to enlarge.)With a MALI400 graphics processing unit, the device from Chinese brand rikomagic features 4GB Flash storage, a microSD slot, and two USB ports: one full-sized and one micro, according to CNXSoft. Video output is via 1080p HDMI–an HDMI cable needs to be added separately–and users can tap either an Android virtual keyboard or add a wireless mouse and keyboard.

Perhaps best of all is that users can run Ubuntu, Debian, or another Linux distribution of their choice via microSD card.

A New Category of PCs

It’s true that this device is more expensive than the $35 Raspberry Pi, but it’s also cheaper than the $199 Cotton Candy. It’s very comparable to the $70 Mele 1000.

The bottom line, though, is that this is yet another choice for those seeking a low-cost computing option, and once again it’s powered by ARM and Linux–both the Android variety and more traditional forms, if so desired.

There will surely continue to be a place for the many high-priced computing options in this world, but it’s endlessly exciting to imagine what new innovations these tiny, cheap, Linux PCs will enable.

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14 May 12 How To Root Android Phones

With hundreds of Android devices on the market, many users are curious about how they can root their phones to have full control of their phone.  If you’re thinking about rooting your phone, let’s see how you can benefit from it, the pros and cons and even how you can do it for the phone you have now.


What is rooting?

Rooting is a procedure where the user can gain access to the operating system of the phone.  For a second, picture your phone as a desktop computer.  If you were to log on your desktop computer as a guest, you wouldn’t have a lot of options, would you?  When you root an Android device, this is going to give you the freedom of changing anything in the system that the default system generally doesn’t allow you to do.  In desktop terms, you’ll now gain access as an administrator user.  Rooting is very similar to the iPhone jailbreaking situation.

Will I lose data and apps?

One of the biggest concerns that Android users have is if data and apps will be destroyed.  Thankfully, all of your apps will stay intact.  In fact, you probably won’t see much of a difference since the rooting process will just shift a few files around.  Yes, serious problems can happen, but it’s very rare.

Why should I root?

Rooting is a great way to have more freedom with your phone.  Wouldn’t it be cool to change the colors on your wallpaper?  What if you could download apps that make your Android faster?  By pushing the restrictive permissions aside, you’ll have full control of your phone.

The Pros of Rooting

Freedom – While the Android already gives you freedom to download just about any app on the Android Marketplace, rooting will take you one step further giving you complete control.  With a rooted phone, you’ll be able to disable permissions, use FTP clients, customize your home screen, over clock the CPU and tether your phone to treat it like a hotspot.

Backing Up Data – There are many great apps that work solely with rooted phones.  One of the biggest reasons that people root is based on the backup functions.  With certain apps such as Titanium Backup, users can click a button and backup their data from anywhere.

Moving Apps – The problem with a standard Android phone is that when apps are downloaded, it can take up a lot of internal memory.  With a rooted phone, users can have move apps to the SD card and not have them eat up that memory.

Carriers – Don’t want to be locked in with the cell phone carrier that you have now?  Rooting can give you the freedom of choosing any cell phone carrier that you want.

The Cons of Rooting

Warranty – One of the main reasons that people shy away from rooting their Android is because it can potentially void your service provider warranty.   Keep in mind that most rooting processes can be reverted though if this were to happen.  In certain circumstances, there have been reports where users have damaged their data due to rooting improperly.  As long as you follow directions step-by-step, there’s no reason you shouldn’t have this kind of problem.

Data Loss – As touched upon earlier, you can risk the chance of losing all of your data and apps.  To prevent this from happening, just make sure that you backup all of your data ahead of time.  That way, if the worst case scenario does happen, you can restore all of your previous settings.

Buggy – Again, this is not common but some roots can cause the phone to be buggy and glitchy.  This will solely depend upon what route you’ll take when rooting your phone.

How to Root

Rooting can be done through several applications that run directly on your desktop.  One application in particular named SuperOneClick is by far the most popular application used by root junkies.  This application can be run either on Windows or Linux operating systems.  There are other software programs that can be used aside from SuperOneClick such as Unlock Root, Universal Androot and Z4Root.  No matter what software you use, most work the same way with the instructions noted below.

Now, before we start with this process, there are some models that don’t work with this software.  The phones that don’t work are listed below:

  • EVO 4G
  • Incredible by Droid
  • HTC Desire GSM, CDMA and Aria
  • Eric
  • Wildfire

If your phone isn’t on that list, you can follow the directions listed below to successfully root your phone.  If your phone is on the list, you’ll have to take extra steps.  The best way to find these steps is by searching your model plus the word root via a search engine query.  Be forewarned that you should do this at your own risk!

  1. Install the SuperOneClick software online.  This can be done by searching online as there are many resources available.   When found, download it directly to your desktop.  Make sure that you’re running the latest .NET Framework v2.0.
  2. Enable the USB debugging from your Android device.  This can be done by tapping menu, clicking settings applications settings.  On the settings menu, click “enable USB debugging.”
  3. After debugging, make sure that your SD isn’t mounted.  Tap your menu button, and click “SD Card Phone Storage.”  Look for “Unmount SD Card” and click this.
  4. Once these settings have been changed, it’s now time to run the SuperOneClick software on your desktop.  This can be done by double-clicking the SuperOneClick.exe file.  A dialog box should pop up.
  5. Once this box is up, plug your Android into your computer using the USB line.  Click the “root” button on your desktop.  Wait for it to root.  If successfully rooted, you’ll get a success message.  If you receive an error, there’s a good chance your phone isn’t compatible.

Apps Recommended

Your Android phone should successfully be rooted by now if you followed the prompts above.  Now that your Android has been rooted, it’s recommended that you download apps so that you can successfully play around with your phone and files.  Listed below are some apps that most download in order to manage files, execute scripts and manage apps.  It’s highly recommended that you download the apps listed or find an alternative that performs the same job.

  • ES File Explorer:  This file manager app is designed for heavy root users.  You’ll be able to get access to an entire file system, change permissions and even explore data directories.  Beyond file management, this app also has a security manager, SMB client and FTP to transfer files from your PC.
  • Silent App Uninstaller:   Silent App allows you to remove unwanted apps with a click of a button.  The problem with an Android that isn’t rooted is that files can be left on your phone unknowingly.  This app will make sure that every file associated with that app is wiped off your phone.
  • CPU Tuner:  CPU tuner will help regulate the CPU speed and connections.  It will also help save battery power.  With sophisticated features, you’ll be able to create options based on your battery level and can even toggle WiFi and CPU settings.
  • SSH Tunnel:  SSH Tunnel will make sure that no one can drop in and eavesdrop while you’re on a public WiFi network or hotspot.  Since there are a variety of apps that can hack Android devices on hotpots, you’ll want to make sure that you’re protected.


When rooting your phone, just make sure that you do your homework first.  You’ll want to make sure that it is something that you’ll truly enjoy.  Remember that even if you don’t like what you’re seeing, you can always change your phone back to the way it was.  If you’re having a hard time with the instructions working above, or you’re finding that your phone doesn’t root, it probably means that your phone isn’t meant for that software package.  Instead, it’s recommended that you search your exact phone model online to see exactly how you can root your phone.  No matter what Android device you own, you can root it some way or another.

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12 May 12 How To Use Android

How To Use AndroidAndroid is awesome and powerful, but it has, shall we say, a learning curve. That scares some people away. After all, iOS is so intuitive that babies can use it. Literally. But you’re not a baby.

Android may require a little effort to learn and set up, but you get a tangible return on that investment: A properly configured Android phone can get you the stuff you want faster and with less work than any other mobile operating system.

These tips will get you started exploring. Don’t stop! Once you’re comfortable with the basics, customizing your phone is actually kind of fun. Many of us fell in love with technology because the process of mastering it brought with it a sense of accomplishment. And once you get an Android phone tailored to your needs, you just might realize you don’t want something that’s all set up right out of the box—because nothing beats a custom fit.

The Most Basic Basics

• Most of you will be guided through the set-up process the first time you hit the power button. Don’t skip it. Especially not the part where you add your Google account. If you missed it in the setup, just go to Settings Accounts Sync. Then decide what stuff you want to sync. I sync everything with my personal Google account, and then for my work account I just sync Gmail, Calendar, Contacts, and Docs.

• Once you’re at the main screen, check out that little bar at the top; that’s your notification window. Drag it down and you can see all of your incoming notifications (text messages, emails, calendar appointments, etc). If your phone is running Android 4.0 (aka Ice Cream Sandwich) or later, you can dismiss individual notifications by swiping them off with your finger.

• The app drawer is at the bottom of your screen. Tap it, and behold the icons for every app on your phone. That’s essentially what the iOS home screen is (just a bunch of apps). Android goes a different direction, borrowing the desktop metaphor from computers. So you have a desktop you can organize and customize, and you have an app drawer where you can see everything.

How To Use Android• Settings. There’s a gear-shaped icon in your app drawer, but there are shortcuts. In phones runnings Android 4.0 or higher you can find your settings in the notification window. Just drag it down and click Settings to open it up. If you’re using Android 2.3 (Gingerbread) or lower, from the desktop, you just hit your menu button, and then select Settings.

• How the hell do you get to the menu within apps? Within most apps in Android 4.0 the menu button looks like three vertical dots. Why do three dots represent a menu? I have no idea, but it does. In Android 2.3 and below, use the physical menu button.

Clean House

You see all of those icons and widgets that came pre-placed on your desktop? Get rid of them. They’re mostly carrier or manufacturer junk, and it’s better to start with a clean slate. To banish something you don’t want, long-press it, then drag it to Remove (that doesn’t uninstall the app, it just takes the shortcut off your desktop). If you see something that you love and you know you want to keep, drag it over to a screen off to the side for now.


How To Use AndroidSo after you’ve set up your Google account, open up the Play Store (the Android Market) at least once and sign in (it’s in your app drawer, looks like a grocery bag with a dumb triangular icon on it). After that, you should be able to install everything through the Play tab on your computer’s web browser (it’s in that black bar at the top of Gmail, etc). This makes browsing through apps and installing them stupid easy. You just click Install and you’re done—the app will automatically install on your phone over the air. You can also just click these links on your phone, or browse through the Play Store on your phone, but it’s way easier this way.

One thing first. In the Play Store app on your phone, hit Menu (the three dots) Settings, and scroll down to “Auto-add widgets.” You want to UNcheck that, otherwise your pristine desktop is going to get mighty cluttered.

Okay, here are some apps to get you started. Clicking them will take you to their Play Store page where you can just click Install:

• Keyboards. In most cases you’re going to want to install a replacement keyboard. There are tons of options, and there’s probably a perfect one for you, depending on what you like. If you’re coming from iOS (or have iPhone envy) check out iTap (paid/free). Sliding keyboards (like Swype) are a super popular, where you drag your finger between letters. If you don’t have Swype pre-installed on your phone, try SlideIT. Personally, I really like SwiftKey X with its spookily good text prediction, but some whom I’ve recommended it to hate it. (No accounting for taste.) There are dozens of others you can play with.

Quick Profiles lets you switch a bunch of settings all at once. Handy, especially for turning off all your ringers, but leaving your alarm on loud. The paid upgrade has a rather handy widget.

• While there are some benefits to using the stock text messaging app, Handcent SMS is a replacement app for text messaging that is vastly more customizable. You can enable popups for messages and even assign different notification tones for different contacts. If you use it, make sure you make it your default messaging app and turn off notifications in the stock app, otherwise you’ll get double notifications. Alternatively, if you’ve made the switch to Google Voice, it can completely replace your text and voice message apps.

• Social stuff. You can grab apps for Facebook, Twitter (or a Twitter client like TweetCaster), Instagram, GroupMe, Foursquare, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and others.

• Other stuff we like. Dropbox, Evernote, Kindle, Yelp, Google Reader, Spotify, Netflix, and so on. If you’ve heard of an app, it’s very likely in the Play Store. Just browse around, pay attention to ratings, and experiment. (Oh, not neccessarily neccessary, but check out Samurai II: Vengeance. That game is so damn fun.)

Embrace the Widget

Yes, it’s a dumb name, but widgets are worth it: They put a live information and instant controls right on your homescreen. Want to see your upcoming appointments? Try CalWidget. Everyone should have an LED flashlight widget on their desktop (turn it on/off right from the home screen). For the current weather (in your city or another), check out The Weather Channel. Install the Power Control and Music widgets (that come preloaded in Android). Keep up on your social media with the Twitter or Foursquare widgets. Why do these things? Because you can control your music, turn on/off Wi-Fi, adjust your screen’s brightness, see your next appointment, turn on your LED flashlight, all without even having to open an app. You can do these things with a single touch, swipe, or just a glance to your desktop. It’s incredibly convenient. Many widgets are resizable and scrollable. Do not fear the widget.

Get Organized

Once you’ve installed a bunch of stuff, take like 10 mins and organize your homescreen. Think of it as your actual desk. If you just pile everything on there randomly, it’s going to be messy and it will only cause you frustration. But if you place things deliberately, so you know where everything lives, you can get to what you want without even thinking about it. You only have to do this once (and you can always tweak at will).

How To Use AndroidTo move apps to the desktop, just open the app drawer, long-press the app, and then drag it to the home screen. Dragging one app onto another creates a folder (which you can then label, if you want). In stock Android 4.0, widgets are installed through the app drawer—just click on the widgets tab and drag the one you want to the desktop. In Android 2.3, and some skinned versions (like HTC Sense 4.0) add widgets by long-pressing on the homescreen.

How To Use AndroidPut the stuff you will use most often right up front on the center home screen. Things you’ll use often on the screens just to the right and left. On one of my screens there’s nothing but shortcuts to my “favorite” contacts (which I marked with a star) and my Power Control widget. On another, there are folders labeled “Social Apps,” “Games,” and a bunch of other semi-frequently used stuff. Your resulting home screen might look something like this one. Is it pristine and beautiful? No. Is it highly functional and easy to use? Yes. Take the time to make your homescreen yours. You’ll be happy you did.


Put some tunes on there. Either mount it to your computer via USB and drag some music over, or give Google Music a shot. Get the uploader on your desktop and upload a bunch of your music folders or your whole iTunes library. You get to store something like 20,000 songs free. Import some pictures and videos too, while you’re at it. If you’re using Android 3.0 or higher and you are a Mac user, download the Android File Transfer utility. That may make transfering files via USB a little easier.

Other Tweaks

• If you’re running Android 4.0 or above, set up Face Unlock. It’s kind of a gimmicky, but it’s fun and it saves time (usually). Settings Security Screen lock Face Unlock. Once you’ve set it up do the “Improve face matching” thing a few times at different angles (especially from a bit lower, because we usually look down on our phones) and in different light. It works pretty well.

• You probably don’t want your phone to ring every time you get a freaking email. To turn off the sounds for email, open Gmail and go to Settings (your email account) Ringtone vibrate. then set it to silent. You’ll have to do that on each of your accounts separately, which is annoying, but I guess some people have important email accounts and unimportant ones (you can also set it so certain labels will ring—handy when you have an email-happy boss).

• Not only can you use any MP3 you have saved on your phone as your default ringtone, but did you know you can assign specific ringtones to specific contacts? You’ll know your BFF is calling without even having to look at your phone. The easiest way to do it is with a free app called Ringtone Maker. It lets you set the in/out points of a song if you want, built in fades, and assign it to specific contacts if you want. Super easy.

• Voice commands. Siri isn’t the only game in town, in fact, as we’ve shown, in some ways Android’s voice actions are superior to their iOS sister’s. In Android 2.3 and below you can long-press the search button to activate voice actions, which was a very nice feature and is sadly absent in the newest versions. In Android 4.0 you’ll have to use the Google Search bar on your desktop. Just tap the mic and make your demands. Android is also very good at taking dictation. Whenever you’re entering text, look for the mic icon on your keyboard to use the built in speech-to-text features.

There are tons and tons of other tips and tricks. Do you have some favorites that you love to tell new Android users? Shout them out in the comments. We may even add it to our list if its good enough. In the meantime, have fun getting to know your new exobrain.

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21 Apr 12 iHome for Android not just Apple any more

Most of us by now have heard of the company iHome, and their broad selection of iPod based music systems. Well, having heard the call and seen the desire of the Android fans, they have responded. Releasing three models that are designed to work with most Android based phones. Giving you the same options and sound that only the Apple fanboys had access to previously.

Starting with a compact unit that includes a clock and FM radio, the IC50 has a unique feature that allows it to work with the many positions of the micro USB port on the Android phones. Their solution is to use a sliding dock that will allow you to center up the phone on the stand to provide a stable mount. This is something that they had not had to deal with previously with the Apple devices. Though it may be small, the IC50 still can crank out some good tunes with their EXB bass enhancement tuning to get the most out of its size. And with the FM radio, and alarm clock you can set it up to wake you with either your phone music, the radio or the classic beeping noise we all grew up with.

The next offering is a small wedge shape stand they call the iC3 that also provides the the sliding USB option so that you can use a wide range of phones as well as some tablets. Though lacking the radio and clock features, it is still capable of providing you the ability to charge your device and give you excellent sound quality. With their Reson8 technology incorporated into the stand, you should be able to get surprising bass from this device as well.

The last accessory they will be introducing has not made its presence yet, but should be available sometime this summer. It will be called the iC16 and is expected to provide an alarm clock and also the ability to be portable. At the same time it is going to be able to charge your phones. With the option of being portable we might expect a lighter device and styling to make it easier to carry yet still give you the functionality we expect from iHome.

Hopefully with these new Android based devices coming out from a company as big as iHome, we could expect to see more and more options for the Android fans from them as well as other companies. No doubt the others will wait to see how well they sell, but if they take off, the one paving the way should also be the winner. As a side note, both of these stands were shown on the iHome web page but were taken down within hours of going up. However they are both still available from with the iC50 coming in at $49.99 and the iC3 for $39.99. The projected price of the soon to be available iC16 should be $59.99.

[via Android Authority]

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21 Apr 12 Samsung Galaxy Tab 2 review: Very good Android tablet value for the price

At $250, the new Samsung tablet, which will be available April 22nd,  is strong competition for Amazon’s $199 Kindle Fire but – given Apple’s market domination – it’s far from an iPad killer. Still, its price, light weight and small footprint could dissuade at least some people from spending $499 for a third generation iPad or even $399 for an iPad 2.

The Tab 2 measures 7.6  x 4.8 x .42 inches and weighs 12.2 ounces. The Kindle Fire is pretty close to the same size and slightly heavier at 14.6 ounces. The new iPad, though of course longer and wider, is actually thinner (.37 inches) and weighs 1.44 pounds.

Its technical specs are generally lower than that of the iPad as well as Samsung’s earlier Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus, but the new Tab 2 is equipped with Google’s new Ice Cream Sandwich Android operating system, a cool “Peel” TV remote control app (coupled with an IR blaster), front and rear cameras and you get 50 GB of free Dropbox cloud storage that works with the Tab’s camera app so that pictures you snap are automatically synced to the cloud.

Peel remote control app lets you personalize your program guide.

Adequate hardware

The hardware itself is nothing to get too excited about. Like the earlier Galaxy Tab 7.0, it sports a dual core 1-Ghz processor that’s actually a bit slower than its predecessor’s 1.2 Ghz version, while keeping the same 1024 by 600 TFT LCD screen. It has the same 3 megapixel rear-facing camera but the front facing camera has been downgraded from 2 megapixels to VGA quality.  Even though it has only eight gigabytes of storage, it has a slot for a Micro SD card which means you can easily and cheaply add up to 32 GB additional storage (32 GB cards start at under $20).

By contrast, the Kindle Fire also has a 1024 by 600 pixel 7-inch screen, but doesn’t even have one camera, let alone two.  It too has 8 GB of storage and that’s it. There is no MicroSD Card slot.

And while the Kindle Fire and Samsung are approximately the same size, the Tab’s gun metal gray case is softer and slightly less boxy.

Bottom ridge of Tab2 (left side of picture) shows stereo speakers and proprietary USB connector.

There are two stereo speakers on the bottom of the device which put out surprisingly clear and loud sound. Unlike some other devices I’ve used, I didn’t have to plug in an external speakers to hear the device over the noise of my indoor bicycle while using it to watch video while exercising.

Unfortunately, Samsung uses a proprietary USB cable for power and data instead of the standard micro-USB cables used on most other company’s Android devices. There’s nothing wrong with Samsung’s cable, but if you misplace it or lose it, it’s not as convenient to replace as a standard micro USB cable. Of course, Apple uses its own proprietary cable, but the enormous popularity of iOS devices make those easy to come by.

The fact that Samsung’s new Tab has less than stellar processing power shouldn’t be a big deal for anyone who’s mostly using it to consume content. I tested it by reading a Kindle book, watching Netflix and YouTube video and doing some email and web surfing and had no performance issues. The model I tested is Wi-Fi only. Yes, it’s a bit more sluggish than a third generation iPad but we’re talking a second or two here and there which isn’t likely to bother most users.

Virtual buttons

Like the Kindle Fire (but unlike the iPad) there is no home button on the front. There are virtual buttons on the bottom of the Samsung that bring up the home screen and task manager along with a back button and one that takes a snapshot of the screen. These virtual buttons reposition themselves as you change the screen’s orientation between portrait and landscape.

Google’s Ice Cream Sandwich plus Samsung’s proprietary Touch Whiz skin provides a clean interface and allows for smooth scrolling between screens with no noticeable lag. Although I would prefer that Samsung and other phone and tablet makers avoid putting their own skins on top of Android, the current version of Touch Whiz isn’t overly intrusive.

Samsung loads up the new Tab with a number of its own apps including a media hub, music hub and game hub. There is also a Samsung Apps icon that takes you to the company’s own app store.

Number keys where they belong

Tab 2′s keyboard has numeric keys above alphabetic keyboard

This may be a small thing, but I really appreciate that the standard on-screen keyboard that pops up on the device has a row of number keys above the standard alphabetic keys just as on a traditional PC keyboard. I really appreciated not having to press a special key to bring up the number keys, especially when entering my passwords which, for security reasons, typically have numbers in them.

Consumer or business tablet?

The bundled apps that come with the Galaxy Tab 2 help position it as mostly a consumer device. But the nice thing about Android tablets is that they are extensible and just as iPads are finding their way into the enterprise, it’s certainly possible to use this device for business tasks such as email, web access, sales presentations, as a quick reference tool or for any business related Android apps that work well on a seven inch screen. Just to see if it could be done, I paired the Tab 2 via Bluetooth with an Apple wireless keyboard and did some typing, but even with a keyboard, it’s hard to imagine using the Tab, with its small screen, as a laptop replacement.

Overall impression

How a device feels in your hand and performs is a lot more important than its technical specs and, when it comes to the user experience, Samsung gets high marks. Its smooth physical design, small and light weight form factor and up-to-date software and operating system come together to make the Tab 2 an excellent choice for budget-minded tablet buyers or those who simply want a portable media consumption device.

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19 Apr 12 Xtex’s $150 Android Tablet Takes Aim at Kindle Fire

Xtex's $150 Android Tablet Takes Aim at Kindle FireThe My Tablet 7, a 7-inch Android tablet from Xtex, is gunning for the Kindle Fire, undercutting Amazon’s device with a $150 price tag and topping the Fire with some specs.

The My Tablet 7 may not be the best-looking tablet around but it comes loaded with the latest version of Android Ice Cream Sandwich, 4.0.3, and a 7-inch display with 800-by-480 pixel resolution, which is below the $200 Kindle Fire’s 1024-by-600 pixel display. The Xtex tablet also runs on a 1.5GHz processor under-clocked to 1GHz, while the Fire runs on a 1GHz dual-core chip. From here on, it gets better.

Xtex's $150 Android Tablet Takes Aim at Kindle FireThe $150 tablet runs on 1GB of RAM, double what’s inside the Kindle Fire, and also double the Fire’s built-in storage, starting at 16GB, and expandable via SD card with an additional up to 32GB. It’s also slightly lighter and thinner according to the manufacturer’s specs.

There’s a 2-mgepiaxel front-facing camera for video chats, notably missing from the Fire, but there’s no camera on the back. The tablet has, however, a variety of ports: there’s a full–size USB port, a mini USB port and a mini HDMI port that can output 1080p HD videos.

Battery life could make or break My Tablet 7, but no official battery tests have been performed. Xtex says that it under-clocked the CPU so that the 3200Mah battery can give between 5 and 6 hours of use, which is at its best still below the 7 to 8 hours you can get on a Kindle fire, given that you have Wi-Fi turned off (you can get substantially less with Wi-Fi on).

Xtex's $150 Android Tablet Takes Aim at Kindle FireThe Xtex My Tablet 7 is not a bad tablet for its price, if you are looking for something low-end for kids to play games on or watch videos and download apps. $50 extra would get you a slightly better screen and battery life with the Kindle Fire or the Nook Tablet, with their own app stores and content ecosystem.

But if you can get over the average screen and battery life, for $150 you can get a My Tablet 7 in black, white or pink. It’s not available yet in any stores, but it can be ordered online, with an estimated shipping time of 7 to 10 days.

Cheap and small Android tablets seem to be gaining momentum. Amazon sold more than 3 million Kindle Fires, more than any other Android tablet manufacturer, while Samsung is prepping its own small and inexpensive tablets. Even Google is working on its own cheap Android tablet, to sell it for under $200.

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19 Apr 12 How to run the new Chrome OS environment without a Chromebook

Google is revamping its Chrome OS platform with a new desktop environment and window management system. We took a close look at the user interface improvements earlier this week in a detailed hands-on report. In our review, we explained how advanced users can install the experimental new interface on a Chromebook by enabling the developer update channel.

Of course, that only works if you have a Chromebook. After we published our review, we heard from many readers who wanted to test the latest experimental version of Chrome OS on conventional hardware. In this tutorial, we will explain how to install a third-party build of Google’s operating system in a virtualized environment or on a bootable thumb drive.

Chrome OS is a Linux-based operating system that largely consists of open source software. Independent developers can download the source code from a public repository and compile their own builds of the platform. Google uses the name Chromium OS to distinguish the underlying open source project from the commercial version of the operating system that is shipped by hardware manufacturers.

A third-party build that is based on the code from the open source software repositories is technically called Chromium OS, and is branded accordingly. That’s what we are going to be working with in this tutorial. When you get it up and running, you will notice that the browser icon is blue instead of the usual red, green, and yellow.

Google provides detailed instructions that explain how to download the source code, compile all of the components, and generate a bootable system image. The process is a bit involved, however, and isn’t really intended for enthusiasts who just want to try the software. Fortunately, somebody else has already done all the work.

Liam McLoughlin, who is known as Hexxeh on the Internet, routinely generates up-to-date builds of Chromium OS and publishes them on his website for people to download. He offers two separate flavors of the operating system: vanilla and lime. The vanilla builds are more closely aligned with upstream whereas the lime builds include broader hardware support and additional components, such as a Java plugin.

McLoughlin generates new builds every day using the very latest code from the Chromium OS project. That means his recent builds include the Aura-based user interface and other new features that we looked at in our review. In addition to a standard disk image that is suitable for writing to a USB thumb drive, he also supplies a VirtualBox disk image that can be used to easily set up a virtualized Chromium OS environment.

Before we begin, it’s worth noting that running Chromium OS on a regular computer is not the same as running Chrome OS on a Chromebook. There are some distinctive hardware features in Chromebooks that you generally won’t find in regular netbooks and laptops. One key difference is that Chromebooks have a verified boot mechanism that checks at startup to make sure the operating system hasn’t been compromised.

That feature requires specialized hardware and a signed kernel that is supplied by a hardware manufacturer. It’s obviously not a feature that you are going to get when you run Chromium OS on a regular netbook. It’s also worth noting that these Chromium OS builds aren’t as tightly locked down as the standard Chrome OS. You get a full shell and have broader filesystem access.

Testing Hexxeh’s Chromium OS build

The process of obtaining a Chromium OS disk image and writing it to a USB thumb drive is different for each operating system. Hexxeh supplies a utility for Mac OS X that largely automates the entire process. The tool will download the Chromium OS build specified by the user and then write it to a USB thumb drive.

The Chromium OS disk creator tool for Mac OS X

A similar tool is currently being developed for Windows, but isn’t available yet. Windows users will have to download a disk image from Hexxeh’s website and then use a third-party tool to write it to a USB thumb drive. Hexxeh recommends using Image Writer for Windows, which has a pretty self-explanatory user interface.

Linux users will have to use the dd command at the command line to write the disk image to a USB thumb drive. For reasons that aren’t entirely clear to me, the user-friendly USB disk creator tool that comes bundled with Ubuntu seems to consistently fail with the Chromium OS disk image. The dd command, which is the method that Hexxeh recommends, works perfectly. Please note that dd is unforgiving and can do nasty things to your hard drive if you feed it the wrong parameters.

To download the disk image manually, which you will need to do on Windows or Linux, visit Hexxeh’s website and click the USB thumb drive icon next to the latest build. I chose to use the vanilla flavor, which ended up working pretty well on my hardware. The disk image is compressed in a zip archive, with a total download size of 256MB. Hexxeh recommends installing it on a USB storage device that is at least 4GB.

After you write the image to a USB thumb drive, you can get a complete Chromium OS experience by booting from the device. The vast majority of modern PCs natively support USB booting, but you may need to jump through some hoops to get it to work. On most computers, it’s a simple matter of activating a boot device selection menu during startup. On some computers, you might need to go into the bios and manually configure the boot device order.

I tested Hexxeh’s Chromium OS builds on my HP netbook. When the HP logo appears during startup, I have to press the escape key to get to the boot menu and then F9 to get to the boot device selection list. The list lets me choose between booting from the built-in hard drive or the USB thumb drive.

Booting from a USB drive is obviously a lot slower than booting from an internal SSD, so it’s going to take a bit longer than it would on a Chromebook. The process is still pretty fast, however. You will see the Chromium OS logo on the screen for a few moments while the system is booting. When it finishes, you will be presented with the platform’s initial setup wizard. It will walk you through the steps of setting up your WiFi network and user account.

You only have to go through this setup process the first time that you boot the operating system from the USB thumb drive. On subsequent startups, you will instead see the login screen. After you get past the setup or login screen, you will see the Chromium OS desktop in all its Aura-enabled glory.

Hexxeh’s vanilla build worked mostly as expected on my HP netbook, but I encountered several minor hardware problems. The Synaptics clickpad on the netbook proved especially problematic and couldn’t handle click-and-drag operations reliably. I also encountered some difficulty getting the system to resume from a suspended state during my tests.

I had no trouble with WiFi, however, which worked perfectly out of the box. You might see different results, depending on your hardware. If you encounter serious hardware problems, you might want to check and see if your system is better supported by the Lime build.


As noted above, Hexxeh provides VirtualBox disk images alongside the USB images. The VirtualBox images are useful if you want to test Chromium OS in a virtualized environment instead of running it natively on hardware. The image is supplied in a VDI file, which is VirtualBox’s standard virtual disk format.

When you create a new virtual machine in VirtualBox and reach the step where it prompts you to specify a virtual hard disk, click the “Use existing hard disk” option. Next, click the folder icon to the right of the disk selection list. You will see a file selection dialog, which you can use to select the VDI file.

Configuring the Chromium OS VDI in VirtualBox

The vanilla Chromium OS build works well in VirtualBox, though you won’t be able to take advantage of the VirtualBox features that require guest additions. I had some minor issues with cursor control and had to select the option to disable mouse integration from the Machine menu.


Hexxeh’s builds are currently aimed at supporting conventional x86 hardware, but he’s also exploring other possibilities. In a recent Twitter post, he demonstrated an ARM build of Chromium OS booting on the $35 Raspberry Pi Linux computer. It’s possible that the enthusiast community will bring the platform to a variety of other hardware devices and form factors.

Using the instructions in this article, you should be able to get a taste of what Google is going to offer with the next generation of Chrome OS, including the much-improved user interface. Although running a third-party build on conventional hardware probably isn’t practical for day-to-day use, it’s an easy way to explore the capabilities of Google’s operating system without having to purchase a Chromebook.

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