05
Mar
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It's been a busy month in the Android app world, particularly if you want useful tools or visual tweaks. There's one big app that we're not featuring in this roundup: the Google Now Launcher, AKA the Google Experience Launcher. We're omitting it from the main list because it's only compatible with Nexus and GPE devices - even the few standard Android devices that have been upgraded to KitKat can't play with it unmodified.

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TimePIN

If you want a truly secure device, you need either a PIN code or a password. If even that isn't enough, then you need to check out TimePIN, a way of constantly changing your PIN code based on your phone's clock time. The app will change the device PIN once every minute, making the 4-digit code the same as the numerical time by default. This gives you an ever-shifting code that's impossible to guess unless someone knows you're using the app.

Want something even more secure? TimePIN has you covered. You can add modifiers to your code, so that the PIN itself changes in predictable ways but still adjusts to the time. For example, you can add a +2 modifier to the numeric time, so the PIN at 12:00 would be 3422. Doubles, offsets, and reverses are available as well - there's a staggering amount of secure variety on display here. If you forget your PIN or modifier, you can get back into your device with a built-in failsafe.

DemoPin MainActivity Offset

TimePIN is a free download with a cheap $2 in-app purchase to unlock all the modifiers and extra features. Best of all, the app requires no root permissions and works with Android 4.0.3 and up. If you keep sensitive information on your phone (and who doesn't) and you're at risk of having it lost or stolen, you need to check this one out.

Muzei

Roman Nurik is a big name in the world of advanced Android apps thanks to his work on DashClock. His latest app is more focused on aesthetics, but it keeps the same dedication to customizability and expandability that made DashClock such a hit. Muzei is a live wallpaper that rotates paintings from famous collections and/or your own collection of photos.

Nifty Gaussian blur and diming effects can keep the focus on your homescreen content, and a quick double-tap of an empty area will temporarily clear up the background for a good look-see. Want to see it without any distractions at all? Just open the Muzei app itself for a miniature museum of famous art. The photos or paintings will rotate on your home screen. The app is free and open source - it's already got more than 100,000 downloads.

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Best of all, Muzei has an open developer API for extensions. There have already been quite a few notable extensions published, with many tying the live wallpaper into popular photo services like 500px and Reddit. There are also tools for integration with Tasker and Dropbox. Want to see all of them? Check out the Muzei tag on Android Police for an updated list of stories.

AlarmPad

Most people make do with the default alarm application on their phone or tablet - after all, how many features do you need to wake up? If you said "all of them," AlarmPad is for you. This dynamic app combines a standard alarm clock with an OSX-style widget board, allowing you to instantly see an itinerary of upcoming calendar events and weather.

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But wait, there's more! AlarmPad also lets you save notes for each alarm, giving you contextual information about each one. There's also some surprisingly advanced voice integration: in addition to leaving voice notes on each alarm for yourself, you can dismiss an alarm with a vocal command, which should cut down on that mad scramble to silence your phone in the morning. Dismissing an alarm manually automatically brings up an itinerary and weather.

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The UI for AlarmPad is gorgeous, and it includes a selection of widgets as well. The free version includes advertising and a five-alarm limit, but you can remove both with just a buck.

SlideLock

SlideLock is an alternative third-party lockscreen that puts the focus on heads-up information rather than, well, screen unlocking. It will move all of your active notifications into an easy-to-read area just below the lockscreen clock. That makes seeing all your notifications that much faster, and you won't have to completely unlock your phone for a quick glance at the text or email. Drag each notification to the left to dismiss them, or to the right to open the relevant application.

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The app includes a few visual options, mostly centered around the notification bar (which replaces the default one from Android - there's no way to access the standard notification shade without unlocking your phone). SlideLock also includes the capability to block apps from displaying notifications on the lockscreen, handily filtering out the ones that don't require your immediate attention.

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Unfortunately there's no real security function in SlideLock - if you use it, you'll have to go without a PIN, pattern, or password, or else use double lockscreens. The app is a free download, but the $2.73 pro version available via in-app purchase adds the capability to change the lockscreen wallpaper and a few advanced behavior options.

Basecamp

I'll admit, the official Basecamp app is probably only in this list because it's the project management system that we use here at Android Police. That said, if you had been forced to rely on the web interface for literally years while iOS was sitting pretty with its own app, you'd be stoked as well. The native Android app lets Basecamp users and subscribers do pretty much everything that the full desktop browser version does.

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Surprisingly, this isn't just half-hearted repackaging of the mobile Basecamp website. No, it's a full Holo interface for the service, complete with swiping tabs, easy comments, and hooks into just about every nook and cranny of the expansive project management suite. Basecamp will tie in with Google Calendar if you wish, though most people tend to keep those separately. It supports access to multiple projects, though you can only log in with one end-user account at a time.

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Basecamp is a free app download, but you won't be able to access it unless you (or more likely your employer) pay for the service. The interface is surprisingly scalable, working equally well on both phones and tablets.

Auto Finder

We've featured plenty of "find my car" apps on the site, but they all have one fatal flaw: you have to remember to activate the app when you park. Forget it, and the app is just a useless slot in your drawer. Say hello to Auto Finder, an app that runs in the background and detects whenever you're driving. When you stop and get out, it will automatically log the location of you car via GPS

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Auto Finder uses Google's activity APIs to distinguish between car and on-foot movement, so you'll never have to manually set your location. That also means that it should work even if you're just a passenger (though I imagine frequent bus users might find some of their public transit trips in the queue). As long as it's running in the background, you should never have to worry about wandering the desolate parking lots ever again.

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Surprisingly, Auto Finder has an almost non-existent impact on battery life - I'm betting that it's only active when the API detects a change in motion type, not during the entire trip. Don't let the IAP indicator fool you; the app is completely free, there's just a handy donate button included in the menu.

My Paid Apps

The decision to change the "My Apps" history from only paid apps to everything you've ever downloaded on any device is easily the most frustrating change to ever hit the Play Store. Seriously, Google, can we get a toggle or something? Until that time, users who are tired of seeing hundreds of free entries in the list can try My Paid Apps to see, well, just their paid apps.

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Just sign in with your Google account and you can see all the apps that you've paid for, handily sorted by name, date, or category. There are also tabs for other Google Play Store purchases, like movies, music, and IAP. For an Android blogger who's literally downloaded thousands of free and paid apps, this kind of thing is invaluable.

Honorable Mentions

That's it for the apps in February. Remember that the web version of the Play Store now has a handy in-app purchase indicator just like the mobile version, and so do our Playboard.me widgets.

Michael Crider
Michael is a native Texan and a former graphic designer. He's been covering technology in general and Android in particular since 2011. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.

  • martyhalpern

    There are still some issues with the "My Paid Apps" app, and I've been in touch with the developer to point these out. For example, the list still shows refunded apps; my list in particular shows duplicate consecutive app purchases that I obviously didn't make, and the like. So the app provides a starting point, and I'm looking forward to some code tightening from the dev.

    • Alvin Brinson

      Similar issues here. It shows some apps duplicated, with the US $ amount and the € euro amount on the other. Sometimes it shows the Euro price and not the US price.. sometimes they're just duplicated. It also shows refunded apps and a couple I'm pretty sure I never remember buying (and don't have listed as bought when I click on them).. Possible that they were free and the developer changed to paid?

      It also shows the Nexus 4 16GB that Google mysteriously cancelled on me when I ordered it ... ending up in my getting stuck with an 8GB Nexus 4 instead since I thought the 16gb was out of stock...

      • martyhalpern

        The dev mentioned this to me, about the various currencies, which is all on how Google maintains the data. I think the only way to handle this would be a conversion algorithm, but then every currency where the Play Store does business would need to be included.

  • pmdis

    "make do", not "make due"

  • Chris Crosby

    Really would like the Muzei wallpaper but it's a trade off between the Knock On/Off feature or the focused feature on my Lg G2. :/

    • Spoot

      If you use a custom launcher (e,g Nova) you can still Knock On, and Knock Off using the status bar, with double tapping on the desktop focusing the image.

      • Chris Crosby

        I actually use Nova, with the gesture double tap to activate the app Screen Off. I like the minimal look and the ability to Knock Off anywhere.

        • Spoot

          Fair enough, yeah, Nova is awesome. Just pointing out that you could disable your gesture and use the status bar to knock off as a compromise.

          • Chris Crosby

            Thank you. Sorry if it came across rude, not intended.

          • Spoot

            Oh it didn't, don't worry.

  • Matthew Fry

    I'm still waiting for SkipLock + TimePIN integration. The TimePIN dev promised me it was coming.

  • David Martin

    Certainly apps are the most needed tools to safeguard a device. Once my device was hacked , so, since that day I have been using a security app in my device. I got it from http://www.softwaregold.net/softreview/

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