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.
Lockscreen feeling a little boring? Why not toss the whole thing out and try something different? Many third-party lockscreens are a bit awkward and lack features, but SlideLock seems like it does some cool stuff. SlideLock stands in for your stock lockscreen and replicates the notifications from the notification shade so you can deal with them without unlocking the phone.
SlideLock has a clean interface with a clock, date, and custom (optional) status bar.
Unlocking our phones is quite the hassle. Sticking a PIN or password on the lock screen is your most reliable option, but inputting that information every time admittedly gets old. There's face unlock, but that's too easy to circumvent. As for fingerprint scanning? The required hardware isn't exactly widespread. So now Descartes Biometrics is offering users the ability to unlock their smartphones... using their ears.
Once installed, ERGO serves as your phone's lockscreen.
We're slap bang in the middle of CES at the moment, but if you're full up on wearables and Android-powered ovens, take a break and check out the best apps of 2013's final month. Below in no particular order you'll find our favorite new apps that debuted during the holiday season. There were a ton of significant app updates, of course, but these are the best new entries from December, along with a few honorable mentions.
Android's lock screen hasn't really changed since 4.2, but app developers keep coming up with new ways to wow us. Case in point: Cover. This alternative lockscreen replaces the default screen with a selection of quick-launch app icons, not unlike some of the manufacturer skins out there. But unlike TouchWiz or Sense, Cover automatically learns which apps you use at what times, and it comes with a ton of impressive UI features.
If you're a regular user of the iHeartRadio service, there's a big update waiting for you in the Play Store. The most useful addition in the new version of the Android app is undoubtedly the expanded control options: you can now pause, play, or advance your streaming music on the lockscreen or the new notification. The notification is even expandable - are you watching this, Pandora?
The user interface gets a fancy new slide-out menu, accessible from the main player and home screens.
The Android lockscreen has been slowly evolving over the years, and it's got a respectable feature set these days. But sometimes rethinking a feature can provide a better overall experience. Cover is a new beta lockscreen alternative that tries to learn where you are and what you're most likely to need access to, then put it right there on the lockscreen. It's a compelling approach, but how is it?
Google has been fiddling with the way lockscreen media controls should work since Ice Cream Sandwich, and they've gotten yet another makeover in KitKat. When a supported app like Google Play Music, Netflix, or Play Movies is running in the background (Chromecast-only in the last two instances) you get a full screen display of the artwork associated with the content on the lockscreen. It offers some new functionality too.
You can still navigate around to other lockscreen widgets and the album art will still be there – it essentially takes the place of your background.
It took us a little longer than usual this time, but we're finally back with a short selection of last month's best new apps. It wasn't easy to narrow them down, but those readers who don't have time, spare cash, or patience enough for our longer semi-weekly roundups can't go wrong with the five apps we've chosen. If, by some chance, none of the apps below suit your fancy, we've got plenty of runners up too.