Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tasker. Part 1.

Tasker interface
Tasker interface
If you want to set your Android device on a whole new level then Tasker is your choice. Even if you don't, Tasker would help you a lot.

Introduction

So what is a Tasker? Tasker is an app, that can be downloaded from here. Credits to it's creator - Pent. It is a paid app and costs £2.99 ~ $4.67. Current version of Tasker is 4.7b4m.
Tasker is here to automate your everyday routine and much more.

How it works

From the very beginning Tasker has 3 tabs: 
  • Profiles;
  • Tasks;
  • Scenes.
But let's first uncheck the beginning box. To do that you'll have to go to the menu->Preferences->UI->Beginner Mode (unchecked).
Now there is a 4th tab available - Vars.
To create simple applications we are going to use just Profiles and Tasks tabs. In order to create a complex applications and triggers we are going to use Vars tab as well. 
Scenes tab is optional in my opinion.

Tasks

Tasks is a core of the Tasker. Tasks are there to tell the system what you want it to do. Tasks may be simple and tasks may be very complex, it is all up to your imagination.
Here is an example of simple task: 
  • Go to a tab Tasks; 
  • Press "+" sign;
  • Give a field a relevant name (let's name it VolumeOff);
  • Press "+" sign;
  • Choose Audio;
  • Press Interrupt Mode.
There you go. Then choose from a drop-down list option "None". Leave the rest options (If, Label) untouched for now. Then press top left corner with left arrow or just simply press back on your phone. Now you've got your first task set up. Press back again and you can see "VolumeOff" on the list in the Tasks tab.

That was the basic concept of creating a task.

Profiles

Tasker end result
End result
Profile is a condition, a trigger when you want your task to get activated. 
Let's create a profile that would trigger our task "VolumeOff".
Go to tab Profiles. Press "+" sign. Then choose Time from the list of options. Now set desirable time, let's say From 23:00 To 23:00. Leave the Repeat box unchecked. Then press back (the same way as in tasks) and choose VolumeOff from the appeared list. Now you can see a profile appeared in the Profiles tab named 23:00. Click on it and you will find the time trigger on the left and the task that will be triggered at that time on the right. If you press and hold on a profile you'll get the option to rename it (big "A" on the top). Let's call it NightMode.

Now when it's 23:00 the task VolumeOff will be triggered and interruption mode will be set to None.
In the end you should have something like on the right picture. The bottom part of the Tasker may be ignored, it is called Projects which we'll configure later on.


To be continued

That was just a beginning and the example was very basic and quite primitive. But gradually we'll get into more complex stuff.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review ROM MIUI 2.7.20



ROM MIUI 2.7.20

Amongst the ROMs



There are plenty of ROMs out there. “Out there” means mostly on XDA scene. Basically all of the ROMs are divided into two categories: based on Samsung software and the ones based on Android Open Source Project (AOSP). If we talk about Samsung we mean Stock ROM and its deviations and if we talk about AOSP we usually mean CyanagonMod 9 (CM9) and its deviations.

MIUI is a Samsung based ROM but differs from the others in a very unique way.

Introduction

MIUI is a Chinese project that has been started quite a while ago and now we can see it is a complete and complex ROM (at least for our device). It is under a heavy development for a lot of Android devices. Some of them are complete and polished and some of them are quite raw.
The current version of ROM for Samsung Galaxy S2 is 2.7.20. It can be found here on the official website. The new version comes up every Friday.

Installation and starting up.

The best way to install it is the fresh installation. So back up, do factory reset and you are good to go. The Titanium Backup will help you to restore all your apps you’ve had with the previous ROM. The next updates can be easily loaded via Updater app in MIUI.
Here is how your desktop should look like

Homescreen

It was a little bit changed from original one but you get the picture don’t you.
The lockscreen is informative and simple:

Lockscreen

Lockscreen


Interface

The whole MIUI is a kind of interface that goes through the system: from homescreen to settings. The ROM is very much themed and that is the main reason why you should try it.

Folders

MIUI homescreen supports folders, so we can arrange some icons together thematically. But it won’t be that easy to actually put those icons you need in to the folder, you’ve got to be very precise doing it by navigating an icon directly on the folder.
Folders can be rearranged inside and renamed.

Folder content

Folder renaming



App-Drawer

First timer will definitely be trying to find where the app-drawer is. But there is nothing like that here. Instead you have to swipe the screen into the right direction and you will see all the shortcuts are located there and you can move them however you like. Too bad they can’t be sorted by name.

Widgets

No need to say MIUI homescreen supports widgets. 

Widgets


Widgets



Status bar

Status bar here is transparent but works the same way as a usual one - swipe to open it. Once it’s opened we’ll see this:

Status bar


Looks about the same as it appears with original status bar, the only difference is - it has tabs at the bottom: Notifications and Toggles. Notifications comes up by default, with Toggles we can switch some options Off and On.

Toggles


Themes

Themes in MIUI are managed beautifully via a special Themes app. 

Local themes

Also themes can be viewed and downloaded from Internet via Online tab:

Online themes


Mixed tab allows us to change separate attributes of the theme:

Mixed themes

Chinese hieroglyphs are all over the theme. But it’s not that bad as it seems. They appears just sometimes with some themes.

Effects

There are quite a few transition effects: Class, Classic (no overshoot), Crossfade, Falldown, Page, Cascading, Rotation, 3D Cube.

Transition effects

Here is a short video of Transition effects in action:



Personally I like “Page” effect the most.

Settings

We’ve got two kind of settings: MIUI Launcher Settings and ROM Settings.

Settings menu



Launcher Settings

Launcher settings contains just a few options: Transition Effects (been mentioned earlier), Wallpaper Scroll Type (by theme, center, left, right), Grid Layout Type (4x4, 4x5), General Settings (keep in memory and icon shadow switchers). 

Launcher settings

Keep in memory - “keeps launcher from exiting in low memory”.
Icon shadow - “Turn on/off the shadow on home screen icons”.

ROM Settings

These settings are divided into two categories: Common Settings and Full Settings.

Common settings:

Common settings

Full Settings:

Full settings

Basically common settings are the Full settings but in compact mode.

Apps

There are two very good apps that come with MIUI - File Explorer and Music.

File Explorer

It is very intuitive file manager. Divided into three tabs: Browse, SD Card and MiDrive.

Browse tab shows all the content your phone has by categories. Also it show how much of space your content takes.

Browse tab

SD Card simply shows folders and files you’ve got on your device.

SD Card tab

File operations are well thought as well - just hold the folder/file you need and a new interface will come up.

File/folders operations

MiDrive plays a role of a Cloud, that would allow you to store and synchronise all the stuff you’ve put there between your devices via the XIAOMI account.

MiDrive


Music

The interface is simple and clean.

Music app album art

Just touch the screen and it will show you lyrics.

Music app lyrics

This music app has many good options:
  • Auto download album art. Won’t download exactly the right art though.
  • Auto download lyrics. Lyrics can be wrong sometimes.
  • Listen to online music. Mostly in Chinese language and won’t play any music saying that it cannot be played, format is not supported or file does not exist.
  • Enable pop-ups. “To confirm downloading of song”.
  • Filter by size
  • Filter by duration
  • Filter by folder
  • Use embedded album art
  • Listen and download
  • Screen stays awake
  • Store last position
  • Shake to skip (with shake sensitivity). Works really well.
  • Skip only when screen is active
  • Display lyrics
  • Display album art
  • Display spectogram
  • Fade settings



Music Settings


Music Settings

Music Settings

But it does not support scrobbling.
The app is good, but it can’t be compared to Poweramp or Winamp.

Experience

From the first load I’ve noticed some struggling doing homescreen transactions. But it happens only when you go through the screens first time. Can’t say MIUI is very smooth, sometimes it is sluggish. The best thing about MIUI is its design. You are just going to like it straight away.

The only big letdown about this ROM is a consumption. MIUI is a battery drainer. But it can be partly solved by using another kernel, for example Siyah Kernel which I’ve recently flashed on it.

Info

Overall MIUI is very configurable with a very good set of apps and stable ROM with some lack of battery saving. Not super-fast and not so slow - it is average.

Here is a short video of MIUI in action:




Monday, June 25, 2012

Review TouchWiz UX Launcher

TouchWiz UX - stepping up to a new level

Barrowed and ported

In the beginning of May a new flagman among smartphones has been announced and then in a couple of weeks it's been already released to the public. Yes it is the Samsung Galaxy S3. Fortunately the base of Samsung firmware has not been chaged dramaticly and therefore it has allowed developers to barrow some stuff from S3 and port it to S2. One of the most interesting in my opinion is a new launcher called TouchWiz UX. 

Where to get from

The guy who ported TouchWiz UX calls himself Smando. Here is the XDA-Developers page devoted to this launcher and some attributes like icons and widgets. 
At the moment the latest version is 1.6 beta2 (can be taken here), and supports two kind of grids: 4x5 and 5x5. In this review will be used 4x5 because it is a stock layout for Samsung Galaxy S3. Also I have installed the icons and widgets to make a picture more complex.


Experience

Homescreen

Screens transition goes very smoothly accompanied with beautiful animation. There is only one transition effect though.

Homescreen


Transition effect

By default there is a search widget on the homescreen that allows us to find any app on a device or google information for us. Usual option nowadays. 
Dock is static and app-drawer shortcut there is static as well.
When you touch the app-drawer icon it looks like a drawer appears from the dock. Again the transition is very smooth. Pressing a back button drawer kind of goes back to the dock.


There are two ways to change a homescreen, first one is to swipe it and the second one is to move it via a homescreen indicator that located right between the homescreen and the dock. The indicator needs to be touched and hold to be transformed into the motion engine. Transition effect in this case changes - the screens now overlap each other.


Overlapping transition effect

Launcher supports folders. Folders look simple and at the same time informative, they can reflect up to 6 icons that contain inside.



Folder must be created first. This can be done via a menu. After that you just gather all the shortcuts you need in it. A folder can be renamed. 

The other way to create a folder is to move an icon from the app-drawer to the dock "Create folder" icon that appears only when we intend to move an icon from the app-drawer. 


In general when we start to move anything either on drawer or homescreen the Dock either transforms to 4 options bar or just changes the app-drawer icon to rubbish bin icon appropriately:

  • Create folder: creates folder with an app in it
  • Create page: not yet implemented
  • App info: shows the same info as the "Apps" in settings does
  • Delete: beautifully animated bin



Dock optional menu


App-Drawer

There is not much to say about drawer. It has got two tabs: Apps and Widgets. Also it has one "arrow down" button that leads to Downloaded apps drawer. 
Any app can be hidden from the drawer via "Hide applications" option in the menu.


Drawer menu


Hidden apps


There is only one transition effect here that plainly changes the drawer pages. The other faster way to move between the pages is to use the same kind of indicator as the homescreen has.


Drawer indicator transition


Application drawer is very limitedly editable: all we can do is to swap the shortcut places - that is it. It can't be even sorted by the name so you've got to search through the whole drawer looking for the app you need. Hopefully "sorting" option will be added to this launcher in future.


UXSettings


There are not many options to tweak with either. TouchWiz UX launcher has got a very simple menu: 
  • AppDrawer's columns: 3-6
  • AppDrawer's columns (landscape): 4-7
  • AppDrawer's raws: 4-7
  • AppDrawer's raws (landscape-locked):  3
  • Dock icons: 4-7
  • Icon text: On and Off
  • Apps icon position: 1-5
  • Fixed wallpaper: set the wallpaper either one-screen or multi-screen
  • Rotation: On and Off
  • Badge font size: 3-18
  • IconPacks: activates IconPacks support

Settings 1

Settings 2

Bug or not

Once playing with the launcher I've pressed a home button 4 times in a row and a whole launcher reversed the colours to opposite ones. Black became white, green became red and so on. It takes the same actions to revert.
I tried to take a screenshot but it had not reflect the "negativeness" on the taken picture.
Later on as someone told me this feature/bug is related to Siyah Kernel. 

Impressions and conclusions

Regardless lack of options and functionality this launcher has a very smooth interface. It runs fast and responsive so definitely worths a try.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Review Nova Launcher Prime

Nova Launcher Prime - breaking the limits.

As we all know Samsung has its own launcher called TouchWiz, at least for official Samsung based ICS ROMs. AOSP based ICS ROMs have their own launcher that CyanogenMod implemented, called Trebuchet. 
Android software developers have not waited too long and made a couple of alternatives, such as Apex Launcher followed with Apex Launcher Pro and Nova Launcher followed with Nova Launcher Prime. Both of them are aimed to expand the limits and bring some new features upon the default launchers.

The Apex Launcher and Apex Launcher Pro have been reviewed before and they do a very good job when it comes to the interface. But today we are going to have a deep look into the Nova Launcher Prime along with mentioning all the differences between Prime (paid) and free version of this launcher.

Intro

There are two versions: Nova Launcher, which is free, and Nova Launcher Prime, which is a paid version and costs $4. The latest version at the moment of writing this article is 1.1.4. 
First thing one should do with the new ICS ROM is to put a new launcher on it. The explanation is simple, new launcher will give you more options and functions, if you are not going to use all of them it's fine but you are definitely going to use some of them. The only question you will be left with is whether you need to get a free version or a paid one. Nova Launcher have both that worth to look at.
Both versions have got quite a good user rating - 4.6-4.7 out of 5. But let us see what is the difference between them. Nova Launcher Pro is basically the same Nova Launcher but with a few more options unlocked. As Google Play suggests here they are:
  • Drawer groups
  • Gestures
  • Hide apps
  • Dock swipes
  • Unread counts
  • More scroll effects
So what the Nova Launcher is...

Interface

The interface have gotten a few new features that can be seen right away. Firstly, the screen transition is cube now. Secondly, dock is changed and can be swiped left or right. Also a few new shortcuts appeared in the dock: speech recognition, drawer and homescreen thumbnail switcher.
Here is how my homescreen looks after a couple of arrangements.

Homescreen

You can notice the clocks in the dock, they actually show the correct time, means Nova Launcher supports widgets in dock feature. But let us explore it.

Nova Launcher features

If we press home button on the phone we can see homescreen thumbnails appear - 5 thumbnails in total.

Homescreen thumbnails

Drawer has two additional functions that allow to configure the Apps tab and Widgets tab.
Double touch on Apps tab pops up a list of possible options to be displayed: All, My Apps, New, Downloaded and Configure...

Drawer tab menu


Configure... will lead us to the menu where we can hide the apps and reorganize the whole drawer. 

Hidden Apps


Therefore we can set up Tabs and create Folders in the drawer however we wish.

Drawer Groups

Created folder in the drawer

Every shortcut on the homescreen is editable. Dock shortcuts can be set by two parameters: icon and swipe action.

Shortcut menu

On the picture it clearly can be seen that Swipe Action comes only with Prime version of Nova Launcher.

Swipe action choice

Menu and Settings

The menu contains 4 paragraphs: Wallpaper, Manage apps, Nova Settings, System settings (pay attention only the Settings word in "Nova Settings" starts from capital "S" letter, all the rest are small).
Settings are divided into 8 main categories:
  • Desktop
  • Drawer
  • Dock
  • Look and feel
  • Gestures and Buttons
  • Unread Counts
  • Backup
  • Labs
Settings

Desktop

Desktop settings

That contains the following options:
  1. Desktop Grid. From 2x2 to 7x7.
  2. Width Margin: None, Small, Medium, Large.
  3. Height Margin None, Small, Medium, Large.
  4. Persistent Search Bar. Responsible for the search bar with options: Never, Landscape only and Always.
  5. Home Screens. Controls home screens quantity and arrangement.
  6. Scroll Effect: None, Cube, Card Stack, Tablet, Revolving Door, Flip, Flip Vertical, In and Out, Accordion.
  7. Wallpaper scrolling: Off, On, Reverse, Static-only, Delayed.
  8. Infinite scroll.
  9. Label Icons. Option to display the names under the icons (shortcuts).
  10. Resize all widgets. Allows to resize all the widgets on the screen regardless their native size.

Drawer

Drawer settings

Drawer allows us to set up these settings:
  1. Scroll EffectNone, Cube, Card Stack, Tablet, Revolving Door, Flip, Flip Vertical, In and Out, Accordion.
  2. Background Transparency. Linear range from minimum to maximum.
  3. Drawer Style: Vertical, Horizontal.
  4. Widgets in Drawer
  5. Drawer Groups. Drawer groups have been mentioned earlier and they allow to configure Tabs and Folders in the drawer.
  6. Folders first. This option sets a sorting priority - folders first then apps.
  7. Hide Apps. Have been mentioned earlier on the picture and allow to hide apps from the drawer.

Dock

Dock settings

Dock has got a few options to tackle with as well:

  1. Enable Dock
  2. Dock Pages. Up to 5 swipeable docks.
  3. Dock Icons. Up to 7 icons in the Dock.
  4. Width Margin: None, Small, Medium, Large.
  5. Show Scroll Indicator. The same indicator for both - Dock and Desktop.
  6. Show Divider. Means to be between the dock and desktop.
  7. Infinite Scroll. Scrolling without limits.
  8. Show Shadow. "Shadow at top and bottom of screen, most noticeable on light wallpapers.
  9. Dock as Overlay. Appears always on top, the best to use it in pair with dock toggle gesture.

Look and feel

Look and feel settings

  1. Screen Orientation: Default, Auto-rotate, Force Portrait, Force Landscape.
  2. Scroll Speed. There are 5 kinds of speed: Relaxed (gives more space to animation), Stock (the same as in stock launcher), Nova (speed and animation are well-balanced), Fast (more speed and less animation), Faster than light (almost no animation but speed). At this point I found Relaxed and Nova scroll speeds to be the best.
  3. Animation Speed. Goes the same as for scroll speed but relates to transition animation.
  4. Show Notification Bar. Simply disables or enable the notification bar.
  5. Folder Preview. Contains 3 views: Stack, Grid and Fan. 
  6. Folder Background. None, Circle, Square, Platform, Custom

Gestures and buttons

Gestures settings

  1. Home Button. Home button can be assigned to execute a certain action or to run a certain app.
  2. Only on Default Screen. Let the Home Button  work only when you are on default screen.
  3. Long-press Menu. Has the same options as Home Button.  
  4. Pinch in. The same set of options as for Home Button.
  5. Pinch out The same set of options as for Home Button.
  6. Swipe up.  The same set of options as for Home Button.
  7. Swipe down.  The same set of options as for Home Button.
  8. Double tap.  The same set of options as for Home Button.
  9. Swipe up (Two fingers).  The same set of options as for Home Button.
  10. Swipe down (Two fingers).  The same set of options as for Home Button.
  11. Rotate counter-clockwise.  The same set of options as for Home Button.
  12. Rotate clockwise.  The same set of options as for Home Button.

Unread Counts 

This function is responsible for sms and email counts and must be installed separately as a plugin. Counts SMS, missed calls and Gmail letters. Also can count Google Talk conversations. And even more functionality with paid Missed it! plugin.

Unread Uncounts settings

  1. Badge Style: Holo and Classic. The difference is in colours.
  2. Badge Position: Top-left, Top-right, Bottom-left, Bottom-right.
  3. Gmail. Allows to count Gmail unread messages.
  4. Provider. Available just two: TeslaUnread (free) and Missed it (paid)! Missed it! is very configurable and can be used with any lockscreen without a need to unlock your phone. 

Backup

Backup settings

  1. Backup
  2. Restore
  3. File Location. Sets up the location of backup files.
  4. Restore Widgets Faster. Allows to restore widgets one by one.

Labs

Labs settings

  1. Private Beta. Only for beta testers.
  2. Big Grid Size Options. Expands the Desktop grid size option to 16x16.
  3. Any size Widget in Dock. With this function (not completely finished) we are allowed to place the bigger widgets in the Dock. I've managed to put an Apollo player widget sized 4x1 there and it worked fine.
  4. Upside down screen. Basically forces upside down orientation.
  5. Debug. Related to Broken Wallpaper Scrolling that manages some zooming issues and works only on certain devices (Samsung Galaxy S2 doesn't need this function).
Going through the settings you can clearly see what comes with Prime version. All the Prime version options are marked with a blue ribbon. So if you just installed Nova Launcher free version it is easier to decide for yourself whether you need the Prime version and what you will pay for exactly.

Desktop and Drawer scroll effects

Scroll effects is the vast area where you can see the difference between paid and free versions of Nova Launcher. Paid version have gotten 6 more effects. Here is a short video showing all of them in action:


The logical conclusion

Using this launcher for a couple of weeks I did not encounter any force closes. That means the Nova Launcher Prime is stable. Launcher runs very smooth with no lags. Should I mention the ROM it was running on: CM9 20120524 powered by kernel Siyah 3.2.4.
A lot of useful functions and options. Almost anything is flexible and can be changed up to your needs. 
Another important point that Nova Launcher is under heavy development and constantly get more and more new features. Therefore the updates are quite frequent. 
The only launcher that goes on par with Nova Launcher is Apex Launcher and can be considered as a rival.

Here is a short video of Nova Launcher Prime in action: