Use Android? Get the Latest Outlook.com App Update

Android users rejoice, especially if you also use Outlook.com. Microsoft announced on April 16 via their Outlook Blog that they have updated their Android app for Outlook.com. The update is not an incremental update by any stretch of imagination. It is a complete overhaul, and it looks beautiful.

Outlook.com Android app
Outlook.com Android app

 

As you can see above, the first thing that you notice is the overhaul of the user interface. The look is now distinctively “Metro”, looking very much like the Windows Phone and Windows 8 mail apps as also Outlook.com on the web.

Besides the visual changes, some new features were also added to the app. Conversation view for messages is now introduced in the app. In addition, there is also a “mark as junk” label which, I am surprised was left out all this time. Finally, the app now allows for viewing messages by read/unread status and provides the ability to view only flagged messages.

Outlook.com Android app contetxtual menu
Outlook.com Android app contetxtual menu

 

It is worth noting that despite Android “supporting” Exchange ActiveSync (EAS) protocol, Microsoft were forced to build their own app for Outlook.com because, as per Microsoft, different versions of Android have different implementations of EAS. In order to provide a consistent experience across devices, it was felt necessary to build a separate app. This seems to fall in line with how Android works, given that their email client is not stellar, and how Google itself has chosen to build a GMail app for its own service.

If you use Hotmail/Outlook.com and have an Android device, this is a must-have. Download it here.

 

Images from the Office Blogs.

Editor’s Pick of the Week: Skifta

Welcome to the third edition of Editor’s Pick of the Week. This week, our editor, Simon, tells us about a very nifty DLNA/UPnP app for Android – Skifta. 

With the recent trend of shipping devices with less and less local storage, in a very transparent attempt and pushing users towards the cloud, users are left with either giving up “owning” their media, or picking and choosing what to store directly on their devices. If you’re inclined enough to have set up a DLNA or UPnP media store in your home network, then you might want to take a look at Skifta for Android.

Skifta is much more than a DLNA/UPnP app. It is developed by Qualcomm Atheros, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, they make the chips that are likely powering the mobile device you’re reading this on. Skifta is DLNA certified (it was actually the first Android application to be DLNA certified), fully supports the UPnP standard, and if QCT has their way, will be pre-packaged in a wide range of devices.

Most DLNA/UPnP applications support client and server mode. That is, you can either host media and push it to a device in server mode, or you can use client mode, and pull media to your device. Skifta does both, but also has the addition of local storage support for when you’re offline or not within range of your home network.

Skifta is very straight forward to use, as you basically have 3 options before you start listening to music or watching movies. Firstly, where do you want to get this content from? Local or remote. Second, where are you playing it to? Local or remote. Third, what do you want to play? If you’re smart enough to answer those 3 simple questions, you’ll be enjoying your media wherever you want, in no time flat.

 

Upon selecting a file to play, Skifta will immediately attempt to buffer the entire song over whichever connection you have available to the media server. If you’re using an 802.11n network, this happens very quickly. Almost instantly. It would be nice if the application would load the next few songs in the album in order to reduce “seek” time when moving to, or skipping, a track. The lower blue indicator line indicates buffer status.

While Skifta does display embedded album art, this is only shown on the “now playing” screen. Instead of thumbnails when selecting tracks, a small placeholder icon is used to denote a folder, audio track, video file, or picture. While it doesn’t detract at all from usage, it would be a nice bit of polish to have.

Skifta also doesn’t seem to do any caching of any sort, even if the network was remembered. This means your entire library is polled every time you reconnect. This isn’t a large issue with the proliferation of fast wireless networks, but if you’re offloading media storage to a dedicated machine because your device doesn’t have enough local space, you’re going to be adding up the seconds that it takes to load a large library.

Like most 3rd party audio players, Skifta sticks itself into the notification drawer, but 2 icons are present. One indicates the network you are connected to, the other shows your media information about the media being played. Unfortunately there are no media controls, but tapping will bring you to the according screen.

All in all, Skifta might not be jam-packed with features and fluff, but it does a perfect job at pulling or pushing media around from a DLNA/UPnP server. If you’re looking for a fast and stable media player, Skifta by Qualcomm Atheros is a great app.

VLC for Android (Finally) Released for Select Devices

The popular open source media player, VLC for Android by the VideoLAN team after several months of waiting. For what it is most known for, it supports almost all types of audio and video files a and brings a decent user interface. Different ports of Android by individual developers had been floating for Android a while, but they all were too buggy to use. This port has been made by the official team and is very stable, at least on supported devices.

Download from Play Store: VLC Beta (NEON version) (Amusingly, the app is not available to residents of USA and Canada. No problem, I’ve uploaded its APK, which you can find at the end.)

vlc music vlc

Unlike most of the media players, VLC can play both videos as well as songs. The UI is fully made up of orange & black colors and has some decent audio/video control options. It features support for headphones control, like automatic resuming of songs, etc., and supports subtitles too.

vlc video playback (1) vlc video playback (2)

It literally plays almost any video format you throw at it like MKV, FLV, MP4, etc. Volume can be changed by swiping up or down on the screen while a video is playing, something, which we have been seeing in almost every video players. One drawback of VLC is that it sometimes lags while trying to render full HD (1080p) videos smoothly.

Apart from the normal functions, it can also stream videos from a URL. VLC is currently in its initial stage of development and doesn’t sport any advanced capabilities such as an equalizer, automatic fetching of album art or lyrics, sleep timer, etc.

Overall, VLC is just a decent media player at this stage. On the desktop, the biggest reasons for VLC  being a popular media (especially video) player are — Simple UI, small size and support for nearly any file format. But the case is different on Android and I’m very skeptical whether these features are going to prove advantageous for VLC as they have already been available on several media player. That said, I’m really looking forward to its future builds hoping for some cool new features when it sheds its ‘beta’ tag.

VLC is currently in beta, contains a few bugs and might lag on some devices. At present, it only supports a small bunch of smartphones that have ARMv7 processors with NEON architecture and won’t work on phones with ARMv6 or non-NEON processors. However, the team does plan to support more devices very soon. The VLC team currently recommends the following phones for smooth playback:

  • Galaxy Nexus
  • HTC One X
  • Samsung Galaxy S3
  • Motorola Defy
  • HTC Desire
  • Nexus one

If your phone is not officially supported by the app, you might still want to download its APK and test it on your phone. You can download the VLC APK here.

Twitter for Windows Phone Gets Updated: Notifications, Finally!

Twitter for Windows Phone is one of those apps  that was available at launch, but it has seen very few updates over the past 2 years. The most important feature that was missing was notifications. In the latest update, the app finally received the ability to receive notifications.

Not only are notifications well implemented (they use a push notifications server vs. generic background agents), they are fast. Very fast. I see toasts almost instantaneously. The “other fixes” in this update seem to have made the app generally faster to refresh tweets, a common problem with all twitter clients on Windows Phone. If the app receives the ability to reply all on tweets, this may become my go-to twitter client on Windows Phone. That is huge, considering I had actually uninstalled the app from my phone because I had zero hope of it getting any meaningful updates!

Here are some screenshots of the settings added in this update, related to notifications. I also noticed they have added the ability to pin lists to the Start Screen and manage list membership, which I am not sure was possible before this update.

 

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings Screen

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings Screen

 

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings For Mentions

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings For Mentions

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings For Favorites

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings For Favorites

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings For Retweets

Twitter for Windows Phone Notifications Settings For Retweets

 

Twitter for Windows Phone Toast Notification

Twitter for Windows Phone Toast Notification

Twitter for Windows Phone - Pinning Lists to Start Screen

Twitter for Windows Phone – Pinning Lists to Start Screen

Twitter for Windows Phone - Manage List Membership

Twitter for Windows Phone – Manage List Membership

Don’t get me wrong. The app is not complete. Besides the reply-all feature that I mentioned above, there are some other features in apps like Rowi, Carbon and Mehdoh that I like to see in a twitter client, least of which is Tweet Marker support so read status of tweets is sync-ed across multiple apps and platforms. Regardless, I am now not ashamed to recommend Twitter for Windows Phone as a twitter client for the platform.

Transfer Files from a PC to your Android Phone in Just a Click with FilePush App

Transferring files such as a song or a photo from a desktop to a mobile/tablet could be a cumbersome task for some people as it involves messing with long data cables and micro-SD card adapters. Meet Filepush, a new application for Android that solves this problem elegantly.

Filepush - wireless file transfer from pc to android

filepush-app

Filepush is a small app that can transfer files from a desktop to your Android phone (or a tablet) with just a click. Right-click a file and send it to your phone — it’s that simple.

The user interface is so simple that there is nothing to talk about it. And that is probably the best part of it — it does it job, over, no fancy features.

Setting up Filepush is a very easy job and all you have to do is install the app & register your device using your Google account. It requires a tiny desktop client to be installed on your PC, but only Windows is supported at this moment; Sorry Mac users, no cookie for you this time. There are two modes of transferring files — first, locally over WiFi, when both devices are on the same WiFi network and second, through Google Drive.

filepush-desktop-client

After the installation part, you can configure the default download folder on your phone. The developer is also working on adding a couple of more features such as an option for filtering files which would save files to different folders according to their file formats, like songs to a ‘music’ folder and PDFs to a ‘documents’ folder, which he says should be completed in about a week or so.

Until now, Airdroid was the best workaround I could find for remotely transferring files, but it’s not seamless. Filepush is seamless. Just click a file, walk away from the PC with your phone and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.

Download Filepush from Play Store: FilePush ($1.2) | FilePush Trial (Free)

Aviary Launches an Amazing Standalone Photo Editing App for Android and iPhone

Aviary, a well-known web based image editor service that is often popularly called as the ‘online Photoshop’, has just released a standalone photo editing application for Android and iPhone. While this is a new release for iPhone users, Aviary was already available for Android for long, but only as a plugin which enabled users to edit photos on-the-fly by sharing them from the Gallery.

The application is a fully featured photo editor and brings many of the photo editing goodness from its web counterpart (Phoenix).

The user interface of Aviary is very intuitive and simple. The home screen features your recent photos in a scrollable list from where you can directly open the photo for editing, capture a new photo using the Camera or import one from the gallery. Next, the editing tools are present at the bottom as a list that can be scrolled horizontally. Their positions can also be customized according to your needs by going into Settings.

 

Aviary offers a lot of photo editing tools to choose from. While I usually stay away from Instagram-like photo editing apps for Android that de-colorize my photos with some vintage effects, Aviary has some pleasant photo effects such as Soft Focus, Reflex and some more.

There is a bunch of other editing tools present as well for re-touching photo such as adjusting Warmth, Saturation, Contrast, fixing red-eye, adding blur and some more.

Apart from these, Aviary also offers a cool Stickers tool, which, as the name suggests, gives a number of stickers that can be added to a photo.

funny meme
An example meme, not made by me though.

A meme option is also present for adding caption to photos, which will definitely please a lot of people who love making memes and sharing them on Facebook, Reddit and other social sites.

My only gripe with the application is the absence of an Undo button. If I accidentally add a sticker on to a photo, then there is no way to remove it and resetting the photo is the only option left.

Overall, Aviary is a nice photo editing application. Obviously, you cannot expect a mobile app to replace your powerful desktop photo editing suite, but Aviary should certainly fulfill most of your basic photo editing tasks.

Download it from: App Store | Google Play Store (free)

Instapaper comes to Android, Let’s you Save Web Pages for Offline Reading [Application Review]

Instapaper

Instapaper, after being an iOS exclusive app for about two years, has finally entered the Android store with its official application. For those who are unaware, Instapaper is a web service that elegantly saves your web-pages for offline reading – in a very clean layout, minus any distractions.

The basic idea of Instapaper is very simple; if you are reading an article in your desktop/mobile browser, but don’t have enough time to complete it – send it to Instapaper by either using a browser bookmarklet or share button (in mobile) and Instapaper will be instantly download it to your phone for offline reading, in a clean layout with all the obtrusive elements, like ads etc., stripped out.

Although this basic idea sounds very plain, it is a good example of how even a simple idea can turn into a handy service that millions of people use every day.

Download from Play Store: Instapaper ($2.99)

Key Features

The user interface of Instapaper is quite well-built, very minimal, but still packs some powerful features that sets it apart from other similar applications.

Saving Multi-page Articles using the web bookmarklet

Saving multi-page articles is probably where Instapaper’s strongest feature lies. This distinct feature really comes in handy when a long article is divided into more than one page, like gadget reviews etc.

Configuring font, text size and more

Instapaper also lets you configure text with different fonts, text sizes, alignment etc., along with an option for switching to ‘Dark Mode’ that makes reading easier in low light conditions, specially at night. What’s impressive about this feature is that Instapaper can automatically enable Dark Mode at night after detecting sunset time in your network location.

FoldersThe app also offers folders for organizing articles for when you’ve a lot of articles to deal with. A small yet worthy feature is the presence of dots under every article which represent the percentage of article that you’ve completed reading.

The only gripe with Instapaper is its inability to include videos in articles, which might be a bummer for a few people. Other than this drawback, Instapaper is a solid application.

Wrap Up

The Good
  • It can save multi-page articles
  • Automatic switching to dark mode
  • Folder organization
  • Simple User Interface
The Bad
  • Doesn’t support videos in articles
I’ve been a Pocket (formerly Read it Later) user for a long time and it does the same job of saving pages for offline reading, but after using Instapaper, I must say that I’m tempted to switch to Instapaper for its elegant interface and features that I’ve pointed above. The application comes with a price tag of $2.99 and is worth giving a shot.

Windows 8 Release Preview App Overview: Cocktail Flow

On May 31, Microsoft made available the next milestone in their development of Windows 8 — the Windows 8 Release Preview. I have it installed and running on two laptops and while my colleague Abhishek Baxi has covered some topics about the operating system itself, I look at one of the most beautiful apps in the Windows Store at the moment, Cocktail Flow.

Windows Phone users will recognize the name, since it was one of the first apps available on the platform and it is one which truly utilizes the Metro design philosophies. Since the launch of this app on Windows Phone, the creators of this app, Team Distinction have released versions for iPhone, Android and Android tablets.

In case you are not familiar with the app, it is designed to help you make cocktails. It provides the capability to search by base or mixer drink, by type (cocktail, shooter, etc.) and also by a combination of what you have “in your cabinet”. While the concept of a bartender-style app is not new, the way it has been designed makes the app simply beautiful to look at and a pleasure to use. What follows is a screenshot tour of the various features of their latest version, that for Windows 8.

Once you open the app, you are brought to a beautiful panorama of selections you can make to look for information about cocktails. You can see drinks by kind of drinks, by color, by type of drinks, etc.

 

Cocktail Flow Main Screen

Main screen

 

Cocktail Flow Main Screen More Selections

Main screen with more selections

 

Once you click through one of those selections, you are brought to a list of drinks. You can swipe across to see more drinks.

 

Cocktail Flow Whiskey-based Drinks

Whiskey-based drinks

Cocktail Flow Vodka-based Drinks

Vodka-based drinks

Cocktail Flow Green-colored Drinks

Green-colored drinks

Cocktail Flow Shooters

Shooters

If you want to see what kind of cocktails you can make with what you have, you can use the “cabinet” view which lets you mark the spirits, mixers, and liqueurs you have and it adds drinks which you can make from those selections, in the “My Bar” section.

Cocktail Flow My Bar Spirits

My Bar: Choose your spirits

Cocktail Flow My Bar Mixers

My Bar: Choose your mixers

Cocktail Flow My Bar More Mixers

My Bar: More mixers

Cocktail Flow My Bar Liqueurs

My Bar: Liqueurs

Cocktail Flow My Bar Cocktails

My Bar: Cocktails which you can make

 

See the next page for cocktail details screen, adding as a favorite, pinning to Start Screen, etc.

Bengaluru On The Go – A Must Have iPhone/iPod Touch App for Every Bangalore Based Commuter

With traffic in Bangalore soaring to new heights, more and more people have started commuting to their workplaces by means of public transport. Getting around a huge city like Bangalore can be quite daunting, especially if you’re new to the city.

Bengaluru On The Go aims to be the app to help you sort out the commuting scene. Developed by Mumbai-based Angry Goo Dev, Bengaluru On The Go is their second app on public transport, the first app being Mumbai On The Go.

The opening screen of Bengaluru On The Go is very nicely laid out, with 4 icons showing the different means of transportation of which infomation can be viewed through the app.

Bus

The Bus section is probably the place where you’ll spend most of the time using the app. The app allows you to search for buses as per bus stop, bus number and also from a specific location to a target destination.

Tapping on the bus stop brings up a comprehensive list of bus stops from which you can board the bus. Thankfully, there’s also a search feature which means that you don’t have to wade through list of bus stops that you aren’t interested in. Tapping on a specific station brings up a list of all buses that pass through this. The thing which had me confused the first time when I checked this section is that all the views are linked – so tapping on a bus stop brings up a list of buses, tapping on a specific bus brings list of all stops through which the bus goes. Clicking on the bus stop again brings up a list of bus stops – see what I mean?

 

There’s no logical “end” to this app, which is a good and a bad thing. It’s pretty nifty if you’re going from one end of the city to other, with no direct bus linking them, so this keeps the flow of the travel. On the bad side, if you don’t notice this behavior, you’ll end up being confused as to where you are. Thankfully, there’s a “Home” button on the right hand corner of every view, so there’s a easy way to get back to the home screen.

In addition to bus stops and individual bus listings, there’s also an info button which brings up general information about BMTC bus passes and the like.

Taxi & Auto

The Taxi section is mainly informational, showing the day & night time charges and contact information of couple of Taxi services in Bangalore. The auto section, however, has a nice dial listing the distance reading and it’s corresponding day and night reading. Much like the bus section, there’s a search bar in the auto section as well so you can just enter the distance and get the fare amount.

The fares are accurate to the latest revision and sourced from Bangalore Traffic Police, Bengaluru On The Go developer Mikhail Madnani informed me when I had asked him if the fares were up-to-date.

Metro

With Namma Metro running in limited areas of Bangalore, Bengaluru On The Go also features a section dedicated to Namma Metro. With timing information, fares for token and group fares, map of the Namma Metro, Bengaluru on the Go features just about anything that you would want to know about Namma Metro.

Conclusion

While there are few apps in the App Store focusing on public transport in Bangalore, none of them have integrated all the four means as nicely as Bengaluru On The Go. Probably one of the best features of Bengaluru On The Go is that the entire app is self contained, hence it works offline even if you do not have a data connection or if your cell phone is out of network coverage. The design of the app seems a bit dull, but Angry Goo Dev are working on revamping the design of the app soon.

Bengaluru on the Go is a paid app, available for $1.99 on the App Store. While it seems relatively steep, considering the time & effort saved trying to find information from going to one place to another makes it totally worth the sticker price.

My recommendation: If you’re in Bangalore and have an iPhone or an iPod Touch, you must have this on your apps list. Grab it from the App Store.

Windows 8: A Fantastic Opportunity for Developers

Windows 8 Start Screen

There has been a lot of discussion about Windows 8, Metro-style apps, Intel vs ARM, etc., from the time Windows 8 Developer Preview was released at //build/ last year. A lot of the discussion and debates have to do with unclear communication and secrecy from the Windows team at Microsoft. For example, what exactly is the deal with Windows on ARM devices? Are they going to be a hard cutoff from today’s Windows and not have a desktop experience at all, or will they have a desktop experience? Will the desktop experience be open for all developers or only certain developers (like Microsoft Office) to provide signed apps for ARM which use a restricted desktop?

(Ed: On February 9, Steven Sinofsky posted details about Windows on ARM on the Building Windows 8 Blog, so some of the secrecy has been taken away. However, the points made here are in fact reinforced by the details revealed in the post.)

Those discussions and speculations aside, I truly believe Windows 8 is a huge opportunity for developers. In this post, I will tell you why I believe so. First of all, some math: According to Canalys, there were 415MM PCs sold in 2011. This is after accounting for a decline in sales per original projections! Even though smartphones have exceeded the number of PCs sold, that PC sales number is still a very large number.

Now, let’s assume that those 415MM PCs are split 60-40 with regard to sales to businesses vs. consumers. Taking a round number of 400MM PCs a year gives us about 160MM PCs sold to consumers a year. I am ignoring business PCs for now because let’s face it – they are not going to Windows 8 for some time, and even if they do, there is a strong likelihood of them turning off Metro via IT policies. Consumers on the other hand, won’t have the ability to turn it off, and all new PCs will ship with Windows 8 (Intel or ARM).