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QuickBooks launches new Making Tax Digital resources

Techradar - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 05:21

With less than six months to go until the official start of the Making Tax Digital (MTD) initiative, many businesses are utterly unprepared for the change, risking major fines through non-compliance, research has found.

A report from Intuit QuickBooks states that half of the UK’s SMBs (50%) have never even heard of the Making Tax Digital initiative. 

The accounting software provider firm recently surveyed 510 small business owners and sole traders that fall into this category, and further found that less than one in four (22%) know what they need to do to even be compliant with MTD.

From April 1, 2022, the UK’s VAT registered small businesses and sole owners with a turnover of less than $117,000 will have to start reporting their VAT digitally.

Making Tax Digital, soon

Most of the respondents (57%) don’t know when they need to comply with MTD rules, while 59% are either unsure, or lacking confidence in managing the switch to MTD. 

So far, less than a fifth (19%) started planning for the MTD deadline, while a tenth (11%) plan on leaving the task just before the deadline. Among those that haven’t started planning yet, 40% weren’t aware they needed to, a quarter (23%) don’t know where to start, and a fifth (22%) didn’t have the time to be bothered.

What’s more - a quarter (27%) of the respondents said they will “never” start planning for MTD.

Helping SMBs make tax digital

To help small businesses navigate the potentially confusing changes, QuickBooks launched its new QuickBooks Guide to Making Tax Digital – a source of “useful content and expert guidance”. 

The company said it will be continually updating the guide with new resources, including Ask the Expert video Q&As, webinars, a ‘jargon buster’ glossary, case studies, and how-to-videos.

It seems as UK’s businesses have a lot on their plate. Even among companies above the turnover threshold, for which MTD has been mandatory for months now, many are yet to make the jump. Last August, a report from automated "Purchase to Pay" provider, Yooz, found that four in five businesses are simply unprepared. 

For those businesses, finding compatible tax software seems to be the main issue. While a handful (3%) haven’t even considered adapting to MTD’s requirements, 12% thought about it, but are yet to start.

Making Tax Digital is the UK government’s attempt at simplifying, digitizing, and modernizing the tax reporting process. Instead of being required to file one large document every year, businesses will have to keep digital records of their accounts, using only software approved by the HMRC, every quarter.

For individuals, they are required to send the information directly to HMRC via a personal account.

Square's new tools want to help your SMB recover after the pandemic

Techradar - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 04:50

Digital payments firm Square is launching two new products for UK businesses looking to bounce back from the pandemic.

Square Loyalty and Square Marketing hope to help “even the playing field” for businesses of all shapes and sizes, and “help business owners add value to their existing offering."

Square Marketing is essentially an email marketing product. It allows businesses to create, send, and track email marketing campaigns. Businesses can prepare one-time email blasts, as well as personalized automations. Furthermore, the tool offers real-time tracking, through the Square Marketing Dashboard, providing a detailed insight on active campaigns, open and clickthrough rates, as well as attributable sales.

Square Loyalty, as the name suggests, allows businesses to quickly build loyalty programs. Setting up a customized loyalty program, the company claims, is easy, empowering businesses to turn one-time visitors into regulars, simply and efficiently. 

Square Loyalty enables omnichannel selling, as it allows businesses to reward customers regardless of if they choose to make a purchase in-store, or online. What’s more, it is fully integrated into business point-of-sale and websites, with no extra devices, logins, or paper punch cards needed.

“Square is helping its sellers bring more value to their customers by expanding the ecosystem of products and services in the UK,” said Saumil Mehta, General Manager of Customers and Square Point of Sale. ”We’re excited to be helping them on the road to recovery with the addition of these new tools that help sellers retain and re-engage their customers.”

Helping SMBs in the post-pandemic world

The company believes it’s leveling the playing field as these types of tools were usually reserved for “big business” only. 

“It’s been a challenging couple of years for businesses and it’s more important than ever for sellers to stand out from competitors and see the impact on their business,” said Lizzie Barclay, Head of UK Marketing at Square. 

“We’ve seen the demand for tools like Square Loyalty and Square Marketing build-up for a while and we’re delighted to be launching them into such an innovative and savvy market.” 

What is the Norton Ultimate Help Desk?

Techradar - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 04:05

Norton Ultimate Help Desk is a service from the reputable antivirus provider that aims to fix any issues you have with your PC, mobile phone and a range of other miscellaneous technical bugbears.

Essentially, it's on-demand tech help from Norton that’s provided 24/7, every day of the year, so you can get assistance whenever you need it.

The Ultimate Help Desk offers a range of troubleshooting benefits and other perks, and, in this article, we’ll take a look at exactly what you’re getting from this package.

To find out more and subscribe head to the following links:
Norton US | Norton UK | Norton Australia

What is Norton Ultimate Help Desk?

Norton Ultimate Help Desk is fundamentally a service that lets you call Norton (or use online chat) at any time of the day and speak to an expert about any IT problem you’re experiencing. It’s like having a personal IT help desk, essentially.

You can get help for something going wrong with your PC, issues related to smartphones or tablets, and troubleshooting with other hardware such as, for example, your network setup or router, printing problems, software going awry, and more besides.

That’s the first point to bear in mind here: there’s a lot that Norton experts will help with - and that does, of course, include virus removal as you might expect from the renowned antivirus maker.

Furthermore, Norton Ultimate Help Desk provides additional services, which include tuning up a sluggish PC to make it run faster. We have a more comprehensive list of the package's features below.

With a subscription plan, you can make unlimited calls to Ultimate Help Desk (although there is an option to pay for just a one-off call if you don’t want to subscribe). When contacted, Norton experts can access your PC remotely to help diagnose and resolve problems (and so you’ll need a ‘high-speed’ internet connection to facilitate this, the company notes).

Norton Ultimate Help Desk website showing customer calling

(Image credit: NortonLifeLock)
What devices can I use Norton Ultimate Help Desk on?

This service can be used with Windows 10 (not including Windows 10 S Mode, or Windows on ARM machines) or Windows 8 PCs, and Macs running OS X 10.5 or newer. You must have admin access for the computer in question.

For phones, Android 6 or better is supported, and iOS 7 or newer.

A ‘high-speed’ internet connection is required to enable Norton technicians to remotely connect to and work on your system. The service is provided with the English language only.

Note that Norton will run an initial system test of your device to determine for sure if it can provide the Ultimate Help Desk service for you. If not, you’ll be refunded.

Norton Ultimate Help Desk: what features does it have?

There’s a host of troubleshooting features available here, and some interesting extras like system optimization that we’ve already touched on. Our highlights of the Ultimate Help Desk service are as follows:

Advanced Diagnostics & Resolution

If you’ve got a serious gremlin in the works with your device, a Norton expert will be on hand to tackle the problem and implement a solution. For example, you might have a situation where your PC is suffering from a persistent crash, one that’s frustrating you by occurring regularly, and this is the kind of thorny issue that the Help Desk should be able to deal with.

Network & Mobile Support

Norton can help set up your home network or get devices working on it. So, for example, if you’ve just bought a new laptop, a tech expert can help you connect it to your Wi-Fi network at home.

OS Upgrades

Is your operating system ready for an upgrade? Maybe to Windows 11? Norton can talk you through any upgrade process if you feel intimidated at the prospect, and keeping your device up-to-date is crucial for robust security (updates contain a whole raft of elements like patches against new exploits).

Norton Ultimate Help Desk website showing Norton Expert

(Image credit: NortonLifeLock)

Software Support

As well as looking after your OS, a Norton expert can help you with any software issues you might have, such as setting up Outlook email.

Computer Tune Up

Think your PC is running slowly? Norton Ultimate Help Desk offers what it describes as a “comprehensive inspection and repair service” to help streamline your system and get it running more efficiently. That includes optimizing settings and freeing up resources wherever possible.

Virus Removal

Should malware strike your system, as you would hope from an antivirus software company, Norton can get on the case and help clear up the mess.

Backup Setup

Unsure about how to perform a backup of your system or important files? Norton can help you run a backup locally to an external drive, or to a cloud service, with various popular cloud providers catered for (such as Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive).

How much does Norton Ultimate Help Desk cost?

The prices and packages available differ from country-to-country, but at the time of writing Norton Ultimate Help Desk costs:

US:
Single Use - $69.99
Monthly - $19.99
Annual - $149.99
To sign up in the US, click here

UK:
Single Use - £59.99
Annual - £99.99
To sign up in the UK, click here

Australia:
Single Use - $74.99
Single Use for Norton subscribers - $14.99
To sign up in Australia, click here

Museums Use Technology to Stir Interest in the Artistic Past

NYT Technology - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 04:00
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, is using modern technology to stir appreciation for ancient artistry — including an Athenian potter’s transformative “discovery” of red.

Zuckerberg to Be Added to Facebook Privacy Suit

NYT Technology - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 04:00
The District of Columbia case, which grew out of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, could expose the chief executive to financial and other penalties.

Bolsonaro's Pandemic Response Draws Claim of Crimes Against Humanity

NYT Technology - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 03:16
A report from lawmakers initially said Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with mass homicide and genocide, accusing him of letting Covid-19 spread in a failed bid for herd immunity.

Is Facebook about to re-brand with a new name next week?

Techradar - Wed, 10/20/2021 - 00:42

Facebook will soon change its name, a new report suggests, as it seeks to demonstrate that it has expanded beyond its social media roots, and has its sights firmly set on creating future products such as the metaverse.

According to The Verge, it’s as yet unclear whether the name change will come to the Facebook platform itself, or whether the rebranding will take the form of a new parent company for Facebook to sit under, alongside other Facebook-owned brands including Instagram, WhatsApp and Oculus.

The Verge’s report quotes “a source with direct knowledge of the matter,” who claims Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg will discuss the name change at the upcoming Facebook Connect conference on October 28.

TechRadar reached out to Facebook for comment on the matter, though a spokesperson for the company would only say: “We don’t comment on rumor or speculation.”

Our take: Facebook by any other name

It makes sense that Facebook would want to rebrand to better reflect the various products and brands it now runs, such as the virtual-reality focused Oculus. We saw a similar strategy back in 2015 when Google restructured and created a new parent company for itself named Alphabet, with the Google suite of products and services becoming a subsidiary under that new parent.

Six years on, it’s safe to say the DNA of Google hasn’t changed all that much, and similarly, the creation of a new parent company for Facebook may have little effect on Facebook’s current range of products and services, and is likely more focused on future ambitions.

With that said, it must be acknowledged that Facebook is in the midst of a brand crisis. Last month, The Wall Street Journal released “The Facebook Files” – a controversial set of leaked documents that showed Facebook had conducted its own research into Instagram’s negative impact on the mental health of teenagers.

The whistleblower soon revealed herself as former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, who has since testified to the United States Senate regarding what she claims are harmful practices at the social giant.

If Mark Zuckerberg is to announce plans to change the name of Facebook on October 28, it's also a convenient excuse to put some space between the company’s other brands and the dark reputation its social media platform has earned.

Boeing Deepens NASA Starliner Probe, Prompting More Delays

NYT Technology - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 17:53
The Starliner capsule for NASA crews is now unlikely to have another orbital flight test until the middle of next year.

Facebook to Pay $14 Million to Settle Worker Discrimination Claims

NYT Technology - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 16:33
The Justice Department sued the company in December, arguing that Facebook had declined to “recruit, consider or hire” qualified United States workers for more than 2,000 positions.

Brave has launched its own search engine to topple Google

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 16:00

Following a public beta for its new search engine back in June, Brave Software has announced that Brave Search is now officially available.

Beginning today, the company's search engine will be the default for new Brave Browser users in the US, Canada and the United Kingdom. The company's search engine also replaces Qwant in France and DuckDuckGo in Germany as the default search engine for users of its browser in those countries.

While existing Brave users will keep their chosen search engine as the default, they can also set Brave Search as the default search engine if they prefer. To do so, users will need to manage their search engine settings on Brave for Desktop, Android and iOS.

  • We've put together a list of the best browsers available
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CEO and co-founder of Brave, Brendan Eich explained in a press release how Brave Search provides a more privacy-focused alternative to other search engines, saying:

“Brave Search has grown significantly since its release last June, with nearly 80 million queries per month. Our users are pleased with the comprehensive privacy solution that Brave Search provides against Big Tech by being integrated into our browser. As we know from experience in many browsers, the default setting is crucial for adoption, and Brave Search has reached the quality and critical mass needed to become our default search option, and to offer our users a seamless privacy-by-default online experience.” 

Web Discovery Project

In addition to making Brave Search the default in its browser, Brave Software is also launching a privacy-preserving system for users to anonymously contribute data to help improve its search index called the Web Discovery Project (WDP).

Users will need to opt-in to the WDP and the new project protects user privacy and anonymity by design so that contributed data cannot be linked to them or their devices as well as to a set of users to prevent deanonymization.

At the same time, the WDP represents a fundamental shift in how a search index is built to serve relevant results to Brave Search users. Unlike with other search providers, the WDP is designed in such a way that all of the data it receives is unlinkable which makes it impossible to build profiles or sessions of project contributors.

In order for a URL to be sent to the project it needs to visited independently by a large number of people and this is achieved by using the STAR cryptographic protocol. The WDP also runs automatically while a user is browsing the web so it requires no effort on the part of contributors.

Interested users can test out Brave Search for themselves and contribute to the Web Discovery Project by upgrading Brave Browser to the latest version or heading to search.brave.com in the browser of their choice.

NetSuite is adding banking tools to its software

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 14:30

NetSuite has announced at its SuiteWorld 2021 virtual event that it will bring banking tools to its ERP software in an effort to help organizations improve forecasting and make more strategic cash decisions.

The company's new SuiteBanking offering is the first unified suite that embeds fintech into cloud ERP to help customers automate key financial processes and gain full visibility into cash flow.

By bringing together automated accounts payable and accounts receivable processes, NetSuite wants to make it faster and easier to pay bills, send invoices and get paid all from within its existing software.

EVP at Oracle NetSuite, Evan Goldberg provided further insight on SuiteBanking and how the new offering will help organizations save time in a press release, saying:

"Growing organizations cannot afford to have teams of people entering data, dealing with banks, monitoring transactions from multiple systems, and manually processing vendor payments. The time saved from automating these processes could be spent on strategic projects that help drive further growth for the organization. SuiteBanking is the first step in bringing the worlds of ERP and fintech together. It will help our customers automate all of these processes in one single suite and increase visibility and control so they can maintain healthy cash flow as they grow." 

SuiteBanking 

By accelerating accounts payable and accounts receivable processes, SuiteBanking improves cash flow while automation provides organizations with greater control over their expenses, increases the effectiveness of accounting processes and provides detailed insights all in one system.

Through its new unified system, NetSuite eliminates the need to collect and normalize data from other departments and systems which can help save finance teams dozens of hours each month.

Additionally, integrations with banking partners such as HSBC give the company's customers convenient access to a wide variety of financial services including a global digital wallet and virtual payment card. While HSBS is the first SuiteBanking alliance partner, NetSuite plans to add others going forward.

By eliminating manual data entry, NetSuite's SuiteBanking will not only save time for organizations but will likely help boost the productivity of their employees as well.

Android 12 release date, features, supported devices and what to know

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 13:22

Android 12 was confirmed back at Google IO 2021 in June, showcasing a revamped look and features that focus more on privacy and interactivity.

We've since seen the public beta release show off refreshed notifications, better screenshot support, one-handed mode and much more.

And after the Pixel 6 launch event, Google launched the software update, and it's available now for older Pixel phones – though the company hasn't confirmed which phones are compatible (we suspected the Pixel 3 might be the oldest phone to get the update given it was the threshold for the Android 12 beta).

Android 12 is the 2021 update for Google's Android operating system, building on 2020's Android 11, which some phones still don't have. But this is more than just an iterative update - Google describes it as the biggest design change in Android's history, and it certainly shows.

Some users can download the Android 12 beta now, which may still be valuable for non-Pixel owners of the Xiaomi Mi 11, OnePlus 9 and other beta-compatible phones. You'll find a full list below, while for instructions head to our how to get the Android 12 beta on your phone guide.

As for the final version, it's now live on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), but expect the recently-announced Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro to come with Android 12 sometime after the Launch Event.

The new Pixel phones will most likely be one of the first to ship with the update. If you have another (non-Pixel) Android phone you'll likely have to wait a bit longer, as each company needs to make sure the latest update works with their existing phones.

We've listed all the official Android 12 features that have been showcased at Google IO and in the subsequent betas, and we'll update this article as soon as we discover more – and continue updating it as Android 12 rolls out to phones and the subsequent beta releases.

Cut to the chase
  • What is it? The next big Android update
  • When is it out? October 19
  • What's the biggest feature? Refreshed, unified UI
  • How much will it cost? It's free!
Android 12 release date

Android 12 was announced at Google IO 2021, and is was launched on the Android Open Source Project (AOSP) on October 4. Shortly after the Google Pixel 6 launched on October 19, Android 12 became available for older Pixel phones, though the company hasn't released an official compatibility list.

Then, devices from Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Tecno, Vivo, and Xiaomi are set to get Android 12 later this year.

It will be up to device manufacturers to bring Android 12 to your phone though, and that often takes months to do, so don’t be surprised if your specific handset isn't able to update to Android 12 until 2022.

In the meantime, the new software is out in beta for select devices now, including phones from Oppo, Nokia, OnePlus, Xiaomi, ZTE, Asus, TCL and iQOO - as well as plenty of Pixel devices. You can find the full list in the section below.

Google Pixel 6 event

(Image credit: Google) Android 12 compatibility

Android 12 will likely roll out to the majority of phones that came out in the last year or two, though some may be waiting a long time for it. It's guaranteed to hit every modern Pixel handset though, probably from the Pixel 3 onwards to the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro, given that the Pixel 3 and 4a models support the beta.

Speaking of the beta, we can look at the list of compatible phones for that to get some clues as to which might be first in line for the finished Android 12. They are as follows:

We expect all of these would get the final Android 12 release, and likely quite quickly (with the Pixel phones getting it on day one). Major recent handsets like the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 and Z Flip 3 are sure to as well though, and even most lower end and less popular phones probably will, if they're recent.

Google itself has said that devices from Samsung, OnePlus, Oppo, Realme, Tecno, Vivo, and Xiaomi will get Android 12 this year.

In terms of the beta though it's worth noting that all of the phones listed above other than the Pixel phones are running a developer preview, which is really only intended for developers, and is likely to be a lot less stable than the public beta running on Pixel phones, so we’d think twice about downloading it. Even in the public beta though you can expect bugs.

Android 12

(Image credit: Google) Android 12: Refreshed UI

Google has announced a new Material Design language for Android 12, called Material You, which is a rethink of the whole UI across the operating system.

The current beta brings more rounded buttons, more varied colors, smoother motion and animations, and much more.

The company calls it color extraction, where you can pick a wallpaper and the system will automatically apply the dominant, complimentary and best looking colors from it to the rest of the UI, including the notification shade, the lock screen, and volume controls.

Google made it a mission to make sure that Android 12 is indeed on the new Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro phones, which feature an in-screen fingerprint sensor, improved cameras and much more.

Material You will be best on #Pixel6.The colors, the camera, the form, and what’s on the screen all work together in a single, fluid experience. (9/13) pic.twitter.com/K6BRF9ZKEYAugust 2, 2021

See more

This time, it looks as though Google have developed the phones and Android 12 in-tandem, resulting in a release that's going to show more unification than what came before in previous Pixel phones.

So everything is much more unified this time, something which Google was keen to highlight. Before, the color scheme and even the fonts would look mismatched, but here, everything has been redesigned to look as unified as possible in Android 12.

This customizable theme is also coming to Google's web apps by the end of the year.

Widgets see a redesign too, looking much more rounded this time. Due to iOS 14 showcasing widgets last year, and now iOS 15 bringing widgets to the iPad, it only made sense for Android 12 to see a redesign in this area too, where its appearance will match the color extraction you've picked.

Android 12: Privacy and security

Google have made it a point this year of making sure that privacy is at the center of Android 12. The company repeated the point of privacy being at the forefront this year, and that includes Android 12.

The Android Private Compute Core is the engine behind Android 12's privacy features, making sure that the apps and the phone are following the privacy settings enabled by you.

To start with, the new privacy dashboard gives you an overall view of apps using the phone's location, camera, contacts, and much more.

However, a nice touch here is a simple overview in the form of a pie chart, of what has been accessed by the apps over the last 24 hours. 

The notification center also has a quick access to disable any features of the phone that an app is using. For example, if Facebook is using the microphone while you're using another app, this part of notification center will show you explicitly that Facebook is using the microphone. Pressing this will disable the use of it to Facebook, and other apps if you wish.

Adding to this, Android 12 will also ask you for permission from an app to use a feature of the phone. You can select to allow it while running the app, only once, or not at all.

You can also opt to only provide an approximate location to some apps, such as weather apps which don't need to know exactly where you are.

And with features like Live Caption, Now Playing and Smart Reply, all of the audio and language processing happens on your device, so the data isn't sent elsewhere.

There's also locked folders, available across apps, which allow you to lock a specific folder with a fingerprint.

And there's the ability to unlock a Chromebook using your phone. Similar to the Apple Watch unlock feature for an Apple Mac, it will be a matter of having your Android 12 smartphone near to a Chromebook, and it will bring you to the home screen.

Finally, when using an app such as the camera, there will be a subtle UI hint that certain features of the camera are being used, similar to how it shows in Apple's iOS 15.

Other features of Android 12

Android 12

(Image credit: Google)

Google has confirmed a multitude of smaller features, one to highlight is app hibernation. If there's an app that you don't use often, you go to its settings in App info, and remove its permissions and space. However, you can restore it easily if you need to.

Beta 3 brings an interesting improvement when rotating the display. Face detection is now involved, where the front camera of your phone will detect when it's time to go either portrait or landscape. Google tout that the latency has been reduced by 25% thanks to this.

When held down, the power button will now bring up Google Assistant, a much easier method of summoning the service for a query when needed.

A new built-in remote is also now standard in Android 12, so if you have a TV that runs on Android, or just a Chromecast, you can use your phone to browse through your favorite shows.

The media player that shows in your Quick Settings has also seen an improvement, where you can allow certain apps to use this. This can work well if you're switching between Spotify and YouTube, and you just want to keep using Spotify.

Google IO 2021

(Image credit: Google)

Alongside this, a new feature called Car Key enables you to unlock your compatible smart car with your phone. This will allow you to unlock, lock and even start the engine from your smartphone.

It uses UWB (ultra-wideband) technology, meaning that you can walk up to your car and it'll unlock, without you even having to take your phone out. 

You'll also be able to share digital access to your vehicle with others – allowing you to lend your car to a friend without giving them a physical key and allowing them access for a period of time.

In a slight nod to its competitor, Google is also touting better support for third-party app stores.

Google's password manager is also being redeveloped, with a cross-platform integration across your Google apps and devices.

Android 12

(Image credit: Google)

And photo modes will support a new format – AVIF, which promises similar compression to JPEG but at better quality, as seen in the examples the Android team gave (above) in an online developer session. Note the difference in cloud detail.

Android 12 also promises to make your device faster and more responsive. Google claims that it reduces the CPU time needed for core system services by up to 22% and reduces the use of big cores by the system server by up to 15%, all of which should also mean improved battery life.

Quick tap arrived with the first beta release, mirroring an accessibility feature from the iPhones running iOS 14. By tapping the back of the phone, you can customize it to take a screenshot, control media, show notifications, or even open a specific app.

Downloading and playing games look to be more straightforward in Android 12, where you can start a new game before the download has even finished. This harkens back to the features that the PlayStation consoles bring, saving you having to wait for a few hours for a game to finish installing.

Android 12 beta screenshots

(Image credit: Google)

Google has also confirmed that it will be prepping Android 12 to be more accommodating of third party app stores and installers like the Amazon App Store, APKUpdater and Samsung Galaxy Apps, to name a few.

Currently, third party app stores require direct user permissions to manage and update apps on their platform, but it looks like this change will allow third party stores to directly manage and update apps.

The process might not necessarily be a cakewalk for third party app store developers, however. They will first need to opt in to allow the feature to be used, and a specific “update packages without user action” permission will also need to be held by the store. As such, some vetting may take place on Google's behalf first.

We Won’t Forget WeWork’s Meltdown

NYT Technology - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 12:52
Start-up implosions don’t matter to most people. But the feelings of unfairness affect us all.

Windows 11 features, release date and everything you need to know

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 11:29

Microsoft has now released Windows 11 as a free upgrade for people running Windows 10, and on this page you'll find out everything you need to know about the new operating system.

From the Windows 11 price and release date, to how to download it and what the best Windows 11 features are, we answer all of your burning questions.

If you'd like to try it out, we have a guide on how to download and install Windows 11. As with any operating system launch, there are some issues, so make sure you check out our how to fix common Windows 11 problems guide if you encounter any.

From what we’ve seen during our Windows 11 review, this new operating system brings numerous improvements, such as an attractive, modern design, better security and new ways to find and download apps. 

So far, it’s shaped up to be a promising operating system, even if there are still opportunities for deeper improvements. And, if you’re currently using Windows 10, you’ll be happy to know that you'll be eligible for a free upgrade to Windows 11, provided that your laptop or PC meets the strict minimum system requirements that Microsoft has put into place in the name of future security. 

Just bear in mind that there's still some confusion as to what these system requirements are due to a component called TPM (Trusted Platform Module). Right now, it looks like Microsoft isn't going to budge on its requirement that your device is equipped with a TPM 2.0 in order to run a fully supported version of the new OS.

Now that Windows 11 has been released, let’s take a look at what the new operating system has on offer, from its updated features to the benefits it has for users over Windows 10. 

Windows 11: Cut to the chase
  • What is it? Windows 11 is the successor to Windows 10
  • When is it out? October 5
  • How much does it cost? Free (if you already have Windows 10)
Windows 11 release date 

Microsoft launched Windows 11 on October 5 as a free upgrade, though some people were able to install it a day early on October 4.

Microsoft will be rolling out the update to eligible devices over the coming months, with users being notified when the update is available for them.

However, you can also download Windows 11 right now from the Windows 11 download page.

Many laptop and PC makers have also confirmed that many of their new products will come with Windows 11 preinstalled. This includes Microsoft's new Surface Pro 8, Surface Go 3 and Surface Laptop Studio devices, which were launched to coincide with Windows 11's release date.

As perfect as 11.11 *would* be, we just couldn't wait any longer to make #Windows11 available. Get it October 5th, and read all about it now.August 31, 2021

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There is also going to be a yearly update of the new operating system, similar to Apple's efforts with macOS.

While Microsoft released a tool that allowed you to see if your desktop PC or laptop will be able to run Windows 11, it was confirmed to be buggy, giving erroneous results for machines that would have no problem in running the update.

However, another tool has been released which gives you much clearer detail for how eligible for PC is.

Windows 11 Recovery screen, showing the rollback to Windows 10 unavailable

(Image credit: TechRadar) Windows 11 system requirements

There's been a lot of discussion as to which devices are eligible for Windows 11. Regardless of the TPM requirement, others are simply wondering if they need to look to upgrade their PC or laptop soon.

Microsoft has published the requirements for the update which you view below:

  • Processor: 1 gigahertz (GHz) or faster with at least two cores on a compatible 64-bit processor or SoC
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Storage: 64GB
  • System Firmware: UEFI, Secure Boot capable
  • TPM: Trusted Platform Module 2.0
  • Graphics Card: DirectX 12 or later with WDDM 2.0 driver
  • Display: 720p, 8-bit per color channel, at least 9-inch diagonal
  • Internet Connection and Microsoft Account: Windows 11 Home requires an active internet connection and a Microsoft Account to complete initial, first-use setup of the operating system, or when switching a device out of Windows 11 Home in S-mode.

Windows 11 virtual desktops

(Image credit: Microsoft) How to download Windows 11

We have a handy guide on how to download Windows 11, which gives you all the information you need now that the final version has been released.

It's a relatively simple process, as long as your PC meets Windows 11's minimum system requirements.

Windows 11 update showing as available

(Image credit: TechRadar)

There's also an option to downgrade to Windows 10 if you are experiencing issues with Windows 11. This is available in the current Insider builds, but you can only do it within 10 days of upgrading your machine, otherwise a clean install has to be done in order to go to Windows 10.

How to download Windows 11 ISO for a clean install

If you'd like to perform a fresh install of Windows 11, rather than upgrading from Windows 10 (or earlier), then you'll need to download the Windows 11 ISO file.

Doing a clean install takes a bit more time, and you'll need to reinstall all of your apps and restore your files if you've backed them up (which you should do before you start), but there are many benefits of doing a clean install of Windows 11.

For a start, you'll get a much better performing PC, and if you were encountering any issues with Windows 10, a clean install can help fix some of these. Over the years your PC's hard drive may become filled with unwanted apps and files, so a clean install can get rid of all of that.

If that's the way you want to install the operating system, then check out our guide on how to download the Windows 11 ISO for more advice.

How to upgrade to Windows 11 without TPM 2.0

Some people have found that they are unable to install Windows 11 due to the requirement for PCs to have TPM 2.0 support.

This is a relatively little known security feature, but it's caused some people a fair bit of frustration as they've found they've been unable to install Windows 11.

We do have a guide to enable TPM 2.0 if needed, but you may be out of luck if your PC doesn't support it.

However, there is a way to upgrade to Windows 11 without TPM 2.0, but this should only be done by people who are really desperate to run Windows 11 despite not meeting the system requirements.

Back view of a man using a laptop with Windows 11's Microsoft Store app open

(Image credit: Foxy burrow / Shutterstock / Microsoft) How to downgrade from Windows 11 to Windows 10

There may be an occasion however, where you may need to revert back to Windows 10. This could be due to an app not being compatible as yet, or Windows 11 doesn't take kindly to a component in your PC.

Fortunately we have a guide ready that can take you through this, step by step.

Windows 11 price

Windows 11 is a free update for existing Windows users – you'll need to be online to download, install and activate Home versions, and you'll need to have a Microsoft account when installing it on or upgrading your PC or tablet.

Windows 11 will also come pre-installed for free on new PCs and laptops as well, though you should check before you buy to make sure. In some cases, new laptops and PCs may still be sold with Windows 10, and you'll have to upgrade for free yourself.

Windows 11 product keys for fresh installs will likely go on sale in 2022, but we don't know how much it'll cost.

It could cost as much as Windows 10 licences originally sold for: Windows 10 Home cost £119.99/$139 and Windows 10 Pro sold for £219.99/$199.99, so we could see similar prices for Windows 11.

So far Microsoft has released the hardware requirements for Windows 11, but there's confusion over TPM (Trusted Platform Module) and whether the company are pushing hard over the minimum threshold for which devices are eligible to be updated to the new version.

While we've got a handy explainer for you that goes into TPM, hardware vendors can still offer new machines with Windows 11 that won't need this requirement, albeit with good reason to.

Should you upgrade to Windows 11?

Now that Windows 11 is out, and it's a free upgrade, many people will be keen to download it and try it out. But should you upgrade to Windows 11?

In our opinion, for many people it'll be worth not upgrading to Windows 11 just yet. This is because it's still early days, and there are several problems that need fixing first. For example, some people are reporting that Windows 11 is slowing down their internet connections.

Microsoft is aware of most of these issues and is working on fixes. That means by holding off from installing Windows 11 for a while, you'll give Microsoft a chance to release updates to fix those problems. Then, when you do finally install Windows 11 in a few week's or month's time, things should run much smoother.

We also spoke to several industry experts, and they all agree that people - and businesses - shouldn't rush to install Windows 11 just yet.

Sonic Mania running on Windows11

(Image credit: TechRadar) How to run Windows 11 in macOS Monterey

You may want to have the best of both worlds sometime, especially if your day job involves running both operating systems.

Thankfully we've put together a guide to show you how to do exactly that.

Windows 11 features

There are improvements across the board in Windows 11, with Microsoft promising that updates will be 40% smaller, and touting Windows 11 as "the most secure release yet".

The taskbar is optimized for touch as well as mouse peripherals, and is now renamed the dock.

New multitasking features are also on offer thanks to a feature called Snap Layouts, which enables you to arrange multiple windows across the screen, not just side by side, but in columns, sections and more.

Windows 11 checker

There's now a much-improved health check app found in Settings, where Windows 11 will recommend you to turn down the brightness for example, change the power saving mode of the battery and much more.

Windows 11 Health Check

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Another feature is Snap Groups, where you can go back to previously snapped windows from the dock, so for example you can go to your email app, Edge browser windows or anything else without having to snap them back to the previous view again.

There's also improved multi-monitor support, so when you reconnect an external monitor, Windows 11 remembers the previous positions of the windows that were on that monitor.

There's even an estimated installation time for Windows Update, so you can see whether you need to hold off from updating your PC until later in the day.

Teams is also integrated to the dock, so you can easily join in with meetings and family calls. This looks like the first inkling of Skype disappearing from Windows, especially with the Skype sounds being heard in the demo when a call was incoming.

The Microsoft Store in Windows 11 showing Amazon Apps

(Image credit: Microsoft)

The Microsoft Store is finally seeing a redesign, with better-curated content, and a better options for managing your purchased shows, such as mirroring them to your television. Apps such as Disney+, Adobe Creative Cloud, Pinterest and more are already in this redesigned store for Windows 11, ready to go.

WPA, EWP and Win32 apps are now all in the Microsoft Store, ready to go. If a developer has a commerce engine, they can keep 100% of the revenue brought from the Microsoft Store.

Android apps are also ready for Windows 11, discoverable from the Microsoft Store, via the Amazon App Store, so you can download TikTok and more, ready to use on your PC or tablet.

We suspect that the reason why Amazon are allowing their version of the store instead of Google, may be to do with the .APK filename being replaced from August.

The new store opens up possibilities for other applications to arrive in Windows 11, even Apple's iMessage, which could follow iTunes and Safari.

Windows 11 showing Edge extensions in the new Microsoft Store

(Image credit: TechRadar) Windows 11 Home vs Windows 11 Pro

Depending on what you currently use your system for, you may need to consider if you will be upgrading to standard Home version of Windows 11, or if you need to bump up to Windows 11 Pro, Microsoft's enterprise version of the operating system. Regardless of what your preference may be, both have the same minimum system requirements so you'll need to meet those standards regardless of what version you side with.

There are numerous benefits to Windows 11 Pro, though mostly security related to protect businesses and organizations to keep data safe, with features like Windows Information Protection (abbreviated to WIP).

Another difference you'll see between Windows 11 Home and Pro is when you’re setting it up for the first time, as with the Home version you'll need to set it up with an internet connection and a Microsoft account. 

Windows 11 doesn't have either of these restrictions, which may tempt some non-enterprise users into buying the Pro version of the operating system to avoid using a Microsoft account. Windows 11 Home PCs also can’t be joined to Active Directory, which are often used on business devices to control access to certain applications and resources.

You can find a full list of the differences between Windows 11 Home and Windows 11 Pro over on the official Microsoft comparison page.

A new look for Windows 11

Fluent Design is the new name for the look of Windows 11. Across the board everything looks more modern and fresh, with rounded windows and apps such as Snipping Tool seeing huge improvements in years.

One of the biggest changes users will notice is that the Start menu has been moved to the center of the screen – and it's now "cloud powered", so it dynamically changes depending on the time of day, and the content you're working with.

If you're using the Insider Build, there's already ways of customizing the taskbar and the start menu, including moving the icons back to the left.

Light Mode and Dark Mode are here too, with a unified design across the operating system, with colorful wallpapers to choose from as well.

Windows 11 showing Microsoft Store

(Image credit: Shutterstock - Gorodenkoff / Microsoft)

Windows Widgets are back in Windows 11, accessible via the dock, with Microsoft touting AI-powered dynamic features that enable widgets, as with the Start menu, to change depending on the apps you're using and the time of day. On the touchscreen, you can slide from the left on the desktop to have widgets appear.

There are plenty to choose from, such as the weather, Bing maps, news, and more.

These will be available for third-parties as well, so you may see as many widgets available to pick as there are on Apple's iOS and iPadOS operating systems.

Many apps are being redesigned for Windows 11, such as the Photos, Snipping Tool and Paint apps, bringing them in line with the Fluent Design language.

Windows 11 widgets displayed on the new Microsoft operating system

(Image credit: Microsoft) Gaming on Windows 11

Gaming will be a much bigger focus in Windows 11, with the sluggish and frustrating-to-use Windows 10 Xbox app replaced by a new Game Pass app that enables you to buy, manage and remove games, making it easier for you to access and download games, from Doom Eternal to – soon – Halo Infinite.

HDR will also be supported on compatible machines, offering improved lighting and contrast for gaming and viewing media. Direct Storage is also here, with the main game assets able to be downloaded and installed, enabling you to play your games even faster than before.

Wi-Fi

(Image credit: Shutterstock) Improved Wi-Fi in Windows 11

It looks like Windows 11 could come with a decent upgrade to your device's Wi-Fi capabilities, as Qualcomm announced it has worked with Microsoft, along with other laptop makers and even Valve, to bring Wi-Fi Dual Station with Qualcomm 4-stream DBS technology to compatible machines.

We explain more about how this will boost Wi-Fi in Windows 11, but it looks like it will be particularly useful for gamers, as it will use multiple Wi-Fi bands at once to help reduce latency. This could be a killer feature for Windows 11.

Streets of Rage 4 running on Windows 11

(Image credit: TechRadar) Windows 11 Touch improvements

Tablet mode has been one of Windows' weaker points ever since Windows 8, and the new tablet features that Microsoft showed off for Windows 11 could be key to the operating system's fortunes, especially with future Surface products in the pipeline from Microsoft – to have a new, numbered operating system for its upcoming tablets could be a big selling point for new users.

At the event, Microsoft touted bigger touch targets and easier ways to move windows around, and better rotate optimizations, for example in how windows are rearranged, so you don't lose track of the applications you were using.

Gestures used with the trackpad of the Surface models are also coming to the touchscreen, bringing in some familiarity here. Haptics is also coming to Windows 11 when you use a stylus for better feedback when drawing or sketching.

The touch keyboard has also been redesigned, with a smaller keyboard just for your thumb, and emojis ready to be used. Microsoft says dictation will also be improved, alongside voice commands, with 'delete that' options and more. 

Sonic Mania screenshot in Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft) Add a personalized touch to Windows 11

Microsoft has certainly given Windows 11 a more modern look than what we saw in Windows 10, but there's always the risk that it might not be to your taste. No need to worry though, as it takes very little time and effort – and, pleasingly, no money! – to inject some personality into Windows 11, customizing the look of the operating system in various ways to make it your own.

Perhaps the easiest way to completely change the look of Windows 11 is to apply a new theme, and there are a good handful of options already available for you to try out, but if the ones that come with the OS don't suit you, you can download more from the Microsoft Store.

There are also familiar customizations such as setting a personal desktop background as either a static image or a slideshow, and you can tweak system color options – including dark mode. You can even make adjustments to the taskbar if you like, so your finalized Windows 11 doesn't need to look anything like the out-of-box version of the OS.

Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft) Are there issues with Windows 11?

No new operating system will have a completely flawless launch, so despite being in beta through the Windows Insider Program, a few issues have already popped up. Thankfully the ones discovered so far are nothing serious and some of them are only appearing for a few users so if you wanted to start downloading the OS on launch day, don't let this stop you.

The biggest problem on Microsoft’s status page for Windows 11 listing known issues is compatibility problems with Intel Killer network drivers which is causing websites and video streams to be slow and sluggish. A memory leak issue has also been reported on Reddit, with at least some folks are finding that when they close an instance of File Explorer, it isn’t releasing the RAM it used.

We have a run-through of most of the currently known issues with Windows 11 and we will be keeping this up to date as more reports come in with any new Windows 11 problems and how you can fix them, but nothing system-breaking has appeared so far.

Windows 11 running on a laptop

(Image credit: Microsoft) What devices are shipping with Windows 11?

If you tuned into Microsoft's Surface event on September 22 then you might already have seen that Windows 11 will be pre-installed onto the Surface Pro 8, Surface Go 3, and the Surface Laptop Studio. This isn't surprising as all these products have been released on the same date that Windows 11 became available for public download so Microsoft will want to push its latest operating system.

If the Microsoft Surface family of products isn't your style though, other brands like Dell, Asus and HP have all released pages online that specify what devices are Windows 11 ready. Note that many won't come with the new operating system installed, but as they all meet the minimum system requirements, you can simply buy the laptop or 2-in-1 as normal and then update it yourself. 

Surface Pro 8 outside on a table showing Windows 11 desktop

(Image credit: Future) Microsoft claims Windows 11 is a "new era for the PC"

It's worth remembering that Windows 11 is the first major upgrade to the software platform since the launch of Windows 10 back in July 2015, and so marks a crucial point for Microsoft.

Heralding its new offering as "an exciting milestone in the history of Windows", Panos Panay, Microsoft's Chief Product Officer for Windows and Devices noted that, "a new era for the PC begins today".

In a company blog post, Panay added that "there's never been a better time to buy a PC", and that, "whether it’s to work, create, connect, learn or play, the PC will continue to play a relevant and lasting role in our lives. No other ecosystem has the breadth and scale that the Windows ecosystem does to meet the needs of people whether they’re creators, developers, students and educators, business and gamers at every price point and in every form factor."

Windows 11 home menu

(Image credit: Microsoft) Should you install Windows 11?

As the saying goes, good things come to those who wait. While it may be tempting to give Windows 11 a try straight away, we recommend holding on a few days, or even weeks, before you grab the new operating system.

Why? After all, our Windows 11 review is pretty glowing, and it brings plenty of new features that many people will be keen to try out.

However, every major operating system launch comes with its fair share of issues, as we've mentioned above, so getting the very best experience might require letting other people do the early testing for you. Microsoft will be working hard to identify and fix problems as they occur, which is why it’s a good idea to hold fire for a few days or weeks. Let other people encounter those problems first, then in a few weeks, download Windows 11 safe in the knowledge that most problems will be fixed.

This is especially important if you were planning to install it onto a PC that you use daily, such as for work or study. If it’s working fine with Windows 10, it’s best to hold off for the moment. Otherwise, you may find that Windows 11 has messed a few things up, and you’re stuck with a PC that’s not working correctly.

A glitchy version of the Windows 11 image

(Image credit: Future) How to spot fake Windows 11 downloads

Windows 11 is out now, and it's relatively easy to download and install it, but this does mean that you should be vigilant about where you download Windows 11 from, as there are fake downloads out there that could catch you out.

To make sure you're only installing the official release, only download Windows 11 from Microsoft itself.

You should also check out our guide on how to spot fake Windows 11 downloads for more information on keeping yourself protected.

Angry man ripping out his hair in front of his laptop

(Image credit: Shutterstock) Issues with Cloud Gaming on Windows 11

Cloud gaming platform Shadow has told its users that they shouldn’t try to install the Windows 11 upgrade for Windows 10 just yet – advice that could be well heeded by all PC gamers, who should at least have caution at the forefront of their minds.

With Windows 11 being previously available to the public as a beta via the Windows Insider Program,  It's possible that bugs have been detected as Shadow asserts that it isn’t ready for cloud PC installations in an email to subscribers.

The email states: “Today, Microsoft will officially launch Windows 11. Its release will be gradual, with potential bugs and issues early on. With this in mind, we will monitor the initial performances of Windows 11 before taking any action.

“This will allow us to guarantee strong performances and an overall high quality of service when we do make the eventual transition to Windows 11. Please do not update your Shadow to Windows 11 until further notice.”

The email concludes by letting subscribers know that they’ll be told when Windows 11 is ready to go on their cloud PC installation, and in the meantime, the Shadow team will continue to run tests on the OS to ensure suitability and that the service is “fully optimized” for Windows 11.

This is only a single provider, but if you use Cloud Gaming services then you may need to ask around for other experiences using Windows 11 before you give it a try yourself.

Windows 11 notifications hero

(Image credit: Microsoft) How to manage notifications in Windows 11

You almost certainly have a selection of apps installed on your computer, and many of these use notifications to let you know about things. A news app can alert you to the latest headlines, an email app will let you know when you have new mail, and your chat app will inform you of new messages that need your attention. 

Thankfully, you can set all this up in Windows 11 with relative ease, or turn them off completely if you don't like the interruption. If you're happy with the current Windows 10 experience (in which notifications are displayed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen, just above the clock in the Taskbar) then great news – you won't have to do any configuration as this is the default for Microsoft's latest OS.

Fort everything else though, there are plenty of ways for you to adjust your notifications in Windows 11 to best suit your needs.

Windows 11

(Image credit: Microsoft) How to manage power options in Windows 11

Microsoft has always given Windows users a good deal of control over how their computer uses power, and this is something that continues with Windows 11. 

While managing power consumption may be something that you most readily associate with laptops and a desire to maximize battery life, power options can also play an important role for desktop users.

Desktop user may not have to worry about how long a battery is going to last, but Windows 11's power option remains important. Thankfully, Windows 11 has made it easier than ever to keep track of power consumption, Sleep Mode and detecting what apps are draining your device's battery life.

Focus Assist

(Image credit: Microsoft) How to us Focus Assist in Windows 11

Do you ever get distracted when you should be doing something important? Your computer is supposed to be a tool to help you get things done. This might mean getting on with work, playing games, watching movies, writing emails, or just browsing the web, but there are all manner of distractions that can pull you away from what you're trying to do. 

If you're sick of being pestered by notifications when you're trying to do something else, you could benefit from Windows 11's Focus assist feature. This is a simple but powerful function of Windows 11 that enables you to configure rules that determine when notifications about new emails, messages and so on are muted.

There are many customization options that let you do things like set a schedule, create priority lists and you can even optimize for different monitors if you use multiple displays. 

Windows 11 virtual desktops

(Image credit: Microsoft) How to use virtual desktops in Windows 11

Windows 11 offers excellent support for virtual desktops, which allow you to use several desktops, and switch between them easily. This allows you to keep organised  by having separate desktops for work and pleasure, for example.

It's a great way to have some of the productivity benefits of multiple monitors, but with a single screen, so check out our guide on how to use virtual desktops in Windows 11 for an in-depth look into this feature.

Splunk wants to kick off the next generation of digital transformation

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 09:28

Splunk has unveiled a range of updates to its cloud tools as it looks to help businesses of all sized maintain their digital progress.

At the company's .conf 2021 event, new upgrades were revealed to Splunk Cloud Platform and Splunk Enterprise, aiming to ease the digital transformation journey for businesses all over the world.

As many organizations look to kickstart their digital journey following the pandemic, Splunk says it can help in offering a range of platforms and tools geared towards getting the most out of the mountains of data generated by many companies today.

Strong data foundation

“Over the past eighteen months, the transformative power of data moved to the forefront of how organizations have been reinventing themselves and their customer experiences. In an unpredictable world, organizations with a strong data foundation thrived despite unforeseen changes,” said Shawn Bice, President of Products and Technology, Splunk.

“As we enter this next era of opportunity, we understand the responsibility and partnership with our customers, and Splunk is committed to their success. Data is everywhere - public clouds, on-premises data centers, the edge, apps, third party tools - and Splunk will be right there with our customers to help them turn data into doing.”

The cloud journey can still prove difficult for many businesses, but Splunk says that its Cloud Platform can help provide extra flexibility and reliability for its customers. Among the additions to Splunk Cloud Platform are a new Data Manager tool to help data onboarding from AWS, Microsoft 365 and Google Cloud, and new Ingest Actions that allow customers to action data in motion, meaning they can filter, route and even redact data to Splunk or external AWS S3 storage.

A boosted Federated Search feature provides customers with a unified search experience across all their deployment types in a single search bar, allowing them to quicky track down the exact data they want.

Finally, the company is introducing workload pricing, allowing Splunk Cloud Platform customers to buy based on the exact infrastructure used to deliver services, meaning no one should pay over the limit.

Desperate for Workers, Restaurants Turn to Robots

NYT Technology - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 08:22
They can make French fries, mix drinks and even clean toilets, and they never ask for a raise. But they also break down.

Is Apple backing down on Safari’s tab redesign in macOS 12?

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 08:18

In the run up to the launches of macOS 12 Monterey and iOS 15.1, a blogger has spotted another update in the design of Safari 15, where tabs are now reverting back to how they originally looked.

Apple’s web browser has seen some huge changes since a redesign was announced back at WWDC earlier this year, such as adding Tab Groups, an updated look, and support for extensions.

But in the following months, feedback from users has apparently made the company change course on some of the more radical changes Safari 15 was going to introduce.

The new tabs looked more like floating panels below the address bar, which took up more space, while not being clear in which window was active, which confused users.

With tabs now back to how they were, the new update is a mix of old and new, with a compromise that should have been there from the start.

When will the new update arrive?

With macOS 12 Monterey launching on October 25, alongside new Macbooks, and iOS 15.1 arriving soon after, Safari and its old tab design will also be arriving alongside those new operating systems.

Safari 15 brings extensions to both macOS and iOS, so you can install features from third-party developers, such as translators, password managers, and more. Alongside this, you can have Tab Groups which lets you organize your tabs across devices.

However, if you don’t like the new-look tabs, you can revert back to how tabs used to look by going to Settings > Safari and selecting ‘Compact Tab Bar’.

Analysis: Safari 15 should have been a separate release

Safari 15’s redesign has already been changed a few times due to the negative feedback between WWDC and the upcoming release of macOS 12 Monterey.

The version that first arrived in an early version of iOS 15 in June was confusing and almost unusable for some people, as it was difficult to discover menu options and even select links in a web page, due to the address bar being a floating object.

While the version that shipped with the final release of iOS 15 in September was a massive improvement, some issues still remained on macOS and iPadOS. Thankfully, this upcoming version seems to fix most of these remaining problems, but all of this could have been avoided.

Safari on iPadOS 15 Beta

(Image credit: Apple)

In previous years, Apple has released some features with a beta tag, making users aware that it could change or be removed. Siri had this, Portrait Mode had this, and perhaps Safari 15 should have had this. It may also be better for Safari to be made available as a separate download, rather than being bundled with the macOS or iOS updates.

However, we’re at a point where Safari 15 is still being refined while the major software updates and hardware are being released. The next time another major app from Apple sees a redesign, perhaps it may be better for it to be labelled as beta, so Apple can gauge user feedback, and not annoy anyone, first.

Via Daring Fireball

Google Chat is finally getting this fundamental messaging feature

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 06:52

Google has announced it is pushing out a simple but important new feature for its instant messaging service, Chat.

As per the company’s latest blog post, Google Chat and Spaces (the group chat equivalent) will soon benefit from the ability to mark messages as read or unread, on both mobile and desktop.

“Marking a message as unread can help remind you to return to it later in Chat. In 1:1 and group DMs, you can mark a thread as unread starting from a particular message,” wrote Google.

To access the functionality, users can hover over a relevant message and select the dedicated “mark as unread” button from the pop-up menu.

The new feature is rolling out incrementally, but should be available to all Google account holders by early November.

Google Chat upgrade

Although Google has invested plenty of energy and resources into its Workspace suite since the start of the pandemic, the company’s messaging service has lagged behind the competition in more ways than one.

With the ability to mark messages as unread, Google is at least addressing one of the insufficiencies separating Chat from the likes of Slack and Teams. But the company still has a long way to go.

Although the Google Chat progressive web app (PWA) offers more flexibility and functionality than the old browser extension, it’s not as slick as the native clients offered by other services on the market.

Further, while Google has worked to deliver new synergies between Chat and its other products (Drive, Meet, Calendar etc.), the service does not benefit from a deep range of third-party integrations in the same way others do.

That said, the signs suggest Google is aware of these kinds of shortcomings. Last week, for instance, the firm announced it will increase its investment in the Workspace app marketplace, with a view to helping customers squeeze more value from its productivity software.

The best free Android apps of 2021: the best apps in the Google Play Store

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 05:54

Finding the best free android apps on the Google Play Store can be a real chore, what with all the options out there. Who knew, when Google launched Android 13 years ago, that there would be this many available apps to choose from. You can find one to cater for every need, whim, or desire. And, a lot of them come with that magic price tag, free, so that you’re just a few clicks away from taking your phone to the next level.

But, just because there’s such a glut of apps out there doesn’t mean that most of them are quality. There’s a lot that you should probably skip. In fact,  the Play Store gives you a lot of tools to parse through all the noise, from Editor’s Picks for different categories to recommendations for new releases or for apps based on your prior downloads.

You can also narrow the search by reading reviews and ratings or searching for an app you have and seeing what similar results pop up.

With that said, there are so many in the store’s library, that a free android app that’s worth downloading can still get lost in the shuffle. To help you find the best android apps that are free, we’ve collected our top picks here to make sure you have all the apps you could want or need on your phone or tablet, sorted into categories so you can more easily find what you're looking for.  

Best new free Android app

Every few weeks we add a new app to this list and you'll find the latest addition below.

Screenshots showing Google Keep

(Image credit: Google) Google Keep

Google Keep isn’t new, but it is one of the best note-taking and list-making apps around, rivalling the likes of Evernote.

In fact, if you don’t want to pay a subscription then Google Keep arguably has the edge over Evernote, as some features that come at a premium on that are free here – such as the ability to make and sync notes across unlimited devices.

You can also share and collaborate on notes, color code them, add photos, record voice memos (which Keep will transcribe), set location based reminders, add labels, and access Google Keep on most types of devices, including Android and Apple phones and tablets, computers, and even Wear OS smartwatches.

Aesthetically we’re not huge fans of it, and we’d really like to see the option to password or fingerprint protect either individual notes or the entire app, but for the most part Google Keep is a feature-packed app that’s quick and easy to use, and it’s completely free.

Our favorite free Android apps for painting, drawing, sketching, design and animation.

Color by Numbers Oil Painting

(Image credit: Veraxen Ltd) Color by Numbers Oil Painting

There are loads of coloring apps on Android but Color by Numbers Oil Painting is one of the best, as it contains hundreds of great, intricate pictures across a range of categories (such as ‘birds’ and ‘still life’), with more images added every day.

Coloring these images is simple and intuitive. There are numbers at the bottom of the screen, each of which represents a color and the part of an image that should be filled in that shade. Tapping on a number highlights all relevant parts of the image, which you can then tap on to fill in the correct shade.

It sounds easy, but when images can have dozens of different numbers with numerous tiny sections of the image taken up by each, it can take a lot of time to fill them all in.

To make things more straightforward, you can tap a bucket icon to automatically fill in all parts of the image related to a given number, but you have to watch adverts to do this unless you feel like paying, and anyway, it feels a bit like cheating. Better to fill each image in manually. It’s more satisfying that way, and more of a project.

The only issue we have with Color by Numbers Oil Painting is the sheer number of adverts, as you also have to watch at least one when you start a new image, and at various other times. Subscribing gets rid of these, and unlocks even more images, but at $19.99 / £19.99 per month or $39.99 / £39.99 per year, we can’t really recommend that unless you’re really using the app a lot.

Tattoodo

Tattoodo

If you’re looking for tattoo inspiration then Tattoodo is a great place to start. The app has an enormous number of tattoo images, which you can browse, or you can follow tattooists to see their designs, or search for a specific style or image.

Tattoos that you like can be saved so you can easily find the image again, and Tattoodo also lets you find nearby tattoo shops, upload images of your own tattoos, book appointments and request consultations.

That’s just half the app though – albeit the half that most people will probably be interested in. But Tattoodo also lets you set up an artist account, which allows tattooists to add their tattoo studio and portfolio to the app and makes them visible to numerous potential customers.

Google Arts & Culture

Google Arts & Culture

We’ve written about Google Arts & Culture before, but it’s worth highlighting again, as the app has been steadily updated with new content and features.

In fact, there’s an almost overwhelming amount of content tucked away inside this free app. You can, for example, view high-quality versions of famous artworks and zoom in close for a better look at them. You can also see 360-degree videos and – with the help of a VR headset – virtual reality tours of museums and other attractions.

You can also tour many of these sites using Street View, with both exteriors and interiors covered. There are also articles, information on local events and exhibits, the ability to save favorite artworks to easily return to later, and lots more.

And if you make it to an exhibit in the real world, you can also use Google Arts & Culture to learn more about artworks, simply by pointing your phone’s camera at them. If you have even a passing interest in art or culture, this is an essential download.

Over

Over

Over could be the app to take your social media game to the next level, as it has all the tools you need to create stylish designs full of photos, images and text, fit for Instagram, Facebook and most other social sites or even for use on posters and flyers.

The app lets you select from a range of canvas sizes, many of which exactly line up with the sizes used by popular social sites, then lets you add images and text to them, with various options available, including a range of fonts, the ability to adjust colors and positioning, and more.

Over also includes plenty of pre-made graphics to spice up your projects, and when you’re done creating you can easily share your design to other apps or save it as a JPG or PNG.

The basic tools are mostly free, but power users might want to pay for the Pro subscription, as this gives you access to more of everything: more fonts, more graphics, plus a database of templates, so you don’t have to build up your designs from scratch.

Houzz

Houzz

Redecorating or improving your home can be a daunting prospect, but Houzz could make it a little bit more manageable.

It could do that by inspiring you through its library of millions of photos, showing exteriors and interiors of various styles.

It could also do that by giving you a single storefront to find and buy all the furniture and other items you need, even going so far as to let you see products in your home, using augmented reality.

And it can do that by helping you find experts – such as architects and builders – to do the hard work for you.

If you’re planning to take on the task yourself then there are also plenty of articles on hand to help, as well as the ability to ask the Houzz community for advice.

Sticker Maker

Sticker Maker

If you use WhatsApp, you’re probably aware that the service has finally added support for stickers, so as well as emojis and GIFs you can now send larger emoji-like images. But while there are plenty of sticker packs to choose from there’s also – thanks to Sticker Maker – the option to make your own.

The app first has you create a new ‘sticker pack’ which you can name, then simply load up an image on your phone and cut out the part of the image that you want to use as a sticker. You can do this freehand or use tools in the app to cut a perfect square or circle.

You can also rotate the image if you want and then save it to your pack when you’re happy. Packs can contain up to 30 stickers, but need at least three. Once you’ve made at least three you’ll be able to send the pack to WhatsApp, where you can use your custom stickers just like any others.

If you later want to add or remove stickers from the pack, you can do that. You can also make additional packs if you have more than 30 sticker ideas or just want to keep the packs themed.

Sticker Maker is a slick app, and a useful one for anyone who likes WhatsApp stickers but just wishes they were more personalized.

Pexels

Pexels

Pexels is a database of photos that you can use for free for any purpose, including commercial uses, with no attribution needed (though it notes that attributions are still appreciated).

You can search using keywords or browse trending images, while tapping the photographer behind a photo will show you their other work on Pexels and let you follow them, so you never miss anything new that they upload.

You can also ‘like’ and collect photos within Pexels and if you want to take them outside the app you can easily share them with Instagram or other apps, save them as your wallpaper, or simply download them.

But Pexels also lets you become one of the photographers, as you can upload any of your own photos to the app for other people to use. However you choose to use Pexels though, it’s a slick, beautiful app.

SketchBook

SketchBook

SketchBook isn’t a new app, but while many of the features used to cost money, it’s now completely free, making it worth revisiting.

The features that are now free include more than 130 brush presets, customizable canvas sizes, various rulers, high quality image imports and more.

And that’s on top of all the basic tools that were already free, such as a layer editor and pen mode, all of which combine to make this one of the most generous free sketching apps available on Android.

Coming from Autodesk, the power of SketchBook should come as no surprise, but it’s an app that seemed worth the money previously and is now utterly essential if you’ve even toyed with the idea of digital sketching.

Bitmoji

Bitmoji

Ever wanted your own custom emoji and stickers that star you, rather than a generic face? Then you should definitely download Bitmoji.

This lets you recreate your likeness in cartoon form, with loads of tools available to make the look as perfect as possible. Then you can choose an outfit and get access to dozens if not hundreds of stickers, each of which feature you.

These can be shared to various chat and social apps, but Bitmoji has deeper integration with Gboard, letting you share its stickers direct from the keyboard. It can also be linked to your Snapchat account, making your Bitmoji your Snapchat avatar.

You can alter the look of your Bitmoji at any time, so if you change your own hairstyle you can change theirs to match, or just give them a new outfit, and new stickers and customization options are being added over time, so you shouldn’t get bored.

Our favorite free Android apps for shooting, sorting and editing photos and videos.

DSLR Photography Training apps - Capture Pal

(Image credit: Capture Pal) DSLR Photography Training apps - Capture Pal

If you want to take better photos then – whether you’re a beginner or more advanced – Capture Pal should be able to help.

The app is basically designed as a reference manual and cheat sheet, covering most of the basics – such as the exposure triangle and metering – along with guides to shooting various landscapes, portraits, cities, events, and nature.

It’s all clearly laid out so the right information is never hard to find, and Capture Pal talks you through preparation and any specific gear you’ll need for a type of shoot, as well as walking you through the shoot itself, with a range of handy tips.

You can also add notes to any of the sections, so you can easily use Capture Pal like a photography notebook too, and there’s also the ability to post photos, tips, and questions to the community – or view and reply to those posted by others.

 Video Diary

(Image credit: 1SE) 1 Second Everyday: Video Diary

1 Second Everyday: Video Diary is a way to document your life – one second at a time. The app lets you shoot a one-second clip every day, then you can mash them together to create a video that shows all of them.

Early on that won’t amount to much, but once you’ve been using 1 Second Everyday for months or years it can make for a significant video. You can then share the resulting video if you want, and all of this functionality is free – along with some basic editing tools, the ability to attach a written journal entry to your days, and optionally get daily reminders to record.

Upgrade to 1 Second Everyday Pro and you can back your clips up online, record two separate snippets each day, use clips of up to three seconds rather than just one, add music, and more.

Doing so isn’t cheap – it costs $49.99 / £45.99 per year and even more if you pay monthly – so it’s fortunate that you get so much for free.

Adobe Photoshop Camera

(Image credit: Adobe) Adobe Photoshop Camera

Adobe offers all sorts of apps and most of them are good, with Adobe Photoshop Camera being no exception. Don’t let the Photoshop name fool you though – this is a simple free Android app for applying filters to your photos, but it does a good job of it.

You can see how filters will look before even taking a photo, and there are over 80 to choose from, including ones aimed specifically at certain things, such as food or the sky.

Photoshop Camera will also often suggest the filters it thinks are best based on what you’re shooting, and switching between filters is simple – a swipe on the screen swaps between variations on the same one (for example different pop art effects), while along the bottom of the screen there are totally different filters that you can swap to with a tap.

Once you’ve taken a shot you can edit it in-app, with tools that let you adjust highlights, vibrance, exposure, saturation, and the like. There are also tools specifically for improving portrait shots, such as bokeh and face lighting. If you like filters then Photoshop Camera should have everything you need.

Curator

Curator

Curator claims to be the first gallery app that organizes your photos using AI entirely offline, giving you the search power of something like Google Photos, without compromising on your privacy.

It works well too. The first time you launch the app it will analyze and assign tags to all of your photos (which can take a long time), then if you search using a keyword, such as ‘beach’ or ‘cat’, it will show you every image containing that.

Curator has a nice interface too, with two themes and the ability to view albums, all images, or all of the tags that have been assigned.

Albums can be renamed and favorited, photos can be moved between albums and there are gesture controls, to help you navigate the interface faster. There are also new features on the way, such as private folders and shared albums.

If you don’t care about the added privacy offered by Curator, then Google Photos is still the better app. Not least because it backs up your images and gives you access to them from other devices, but Curator is a strong alternative for those who prefer to keep their online presence to a minimum.

Photo Map

Photo Map

Photo Map is simply a world map that displays your photos over the parts of the world that you took them in.

Zoom out and you’ll likely just see a single thumbnail of one of your images over each country that you’ve snapped shots in, but zoom further in and you will see photos grouped into much smaller areas too.

The thumbnails also have a number on them, telling you how many photos are in that gallery. You can easily see them all and enlarge them with a tap.

There are a few options, such as the ability to change the look of the map or add terrain or satellite imagery to it, but mostly it’s just a great and simple idea – a visual way of separating your photos based on where they were taken. This is definitely one for those who like to travel!

Photo Map is free to use, but a one-off $1.49/£1.29 IAP will get rid of adverts.

Picai

Picai

If you love slathering filters all over your photos then there’s a good chance you’ll love Picai, as it makes the process a lot smarter than most apps.

But this isn’t just a tool for sticking filters on photos you’ve already taken (though you can do that too). Rather, it’s a camera app. Simply point it at something you want to photograph and it will use AI to detect what you’re looking at, even going so far as to provide a text pop-up telling you what it sees.

From there it will automatically choose filters that it thinks would be a good fit and overlay two of them on the viewfinder – one on the left half, the other on the right. That means you can see what a filter will look like before you even take a photo.

If you’re happy with one, you can swipe horizontally across it to select it, or you can swipe up or down to cycle through filters. It’s a clever idea, well implemented and completely free.

PhotoDirector

PhotoDirector

PhotoDirector is one of the more powerful and polished photo editing apps available on Android. It’s got you covered for fun filters, frames and effects, but it gives you more control than some of its peers. For example, you can adjust the strength of effects and choose to apply them globally or selectively.

You get a lot of control over the core image too, as you can adjust the white balance, saturation, hue, sharpness, tone and more.

You can also rotate, crop or mirror the image, cut out sections, adjust the perspective, and if you’ve taken a portrait remove red-eye. There’s more here, too much to list, but suffice it to say, PhotoDirector is a comprehensive app.

You’re not limited to just editing photos you’ve already taken either; there’s also a camera component, allowing you to take new shots and see how effects and filters will look before you’ve even taken a picture.

PhotoDirector is free to download and use. There’s an optional subscription for £2.59 (around US$3.70) per month if you want to unlock additional tools, remove adverts and improve the output quality, but the core app is already far more generous than most free offerings.

LightX Photo Editor

LightX Photo Editor

There are loads of filter apps and photo fixers on Android, but LightX Photo Editor is one of a much smaller number of comprehensive editing apps.

It has plenty of filters, as well as tools for sharpening images and removing blemishes, and much more besides.

You can tweak the hue, saturation and tone, adjust the focus, add a frame, sticker or text, merge images, create collages, flip, crop and rotate, draw on pictures and change the perspective.

All of that is free, though there’s an optional IAP to remove adverts and add a few extra features.

Whether you opt for the free or paid version, LightX is a powerful, feature-packed app that should suit most mobile photo-editing needs.

Motion Stills

Motion Stills

It’s not often that Google’s apps come to iOS before Android, but Motion Stills did, as it was designed to stabilize Live Photos, so they’d come out smoother. Now though it’s out on Android too, letting you shoot a short video clip which the app stabilizes.

Clips that you shoot can be saved as a video or a looping GIF and then shared on social media, and Motion Stills also lets you use a ‘Fast Forward’ mode, which will condense up to a minute of footage into a shorter clip. This too is stabilized, to keep it smooth, and you can pick the playback speed.

Motion Stills only works for new footage – so you can’t import and stabilize anything you’ve already shot (though if you just want to turn old footage into a GIF there are plenty of other apps that will do that).

But for anything new you shoot Motion Stills is a great way to make a GIF or short video and ensure footage remains smooth. It’s fast too, as footage is stabilized in real time, so you don’t need to wait for it to process your clip, and it’s completely free.

Our favorite free Android apps for learning new things, from history to music to coding and beyond.

(Image credit: Google) Read Along by Google

Read Along by Google is aimed at helping young children to read. It has a collection of kid-friendly stories that they read along to aloud, and the app listens, so it knows if they get words right or not.

There are also word games, such as one where they have to read as many words from a long list as they can in a short period of time, and one where they have to drag letters into the right order to spell a word.

Success in these games and in reading stories rewards them with stars, which are both a mark of progress and unlock rewards, while a report card keeps track of how long they’ve spent reading today and in the last seven days.

Read Along by Google is also colorful, and easy enough to navigate that it shouldn’t need much supervision. As it’s completely free and doesn’t require internet access it’s well worth checking out if you have a child with basic alphabet knowledge who’s looking to strengthen their reading skills.

Time Immersive

(Image credit: TechRadar) Time Immersive

Time Immersive is designed as a way to bring you closer to Time’s journalism through augmented and virtual reality.

At the time of writing there are two experiences on there, one focused on the Amazon, and the other on the Apollo 11 moon landing. In either case, you can either project a related landscape (the Amazon rainforest for example) over a flat surface in augmented reality or view it in virtual reality using a Cardboard headset.

Then you can move your phone (or your head) to view it from different distances and angles, while relevant journalism is narrated to you. There are also points of interest that you can tap on to get an image or video with related commentary.

It’s an engaging experience, mostly currently held back just by the lack of content. But it’s well worth a download given that it’s free, and will have more content added over time.

Duolingo

(Image credit: TechRadar) Duolingo

If you’ve ever tried using an app to learn a language then you’ve almost certainly come across Duolingo. So why are we highlighting it? Well, it’s very, very good, and its features and language selection have improved vastly over the years, so it’s worth revisiting.

Duolingo has a massive library of languages to choose from, covering everything from French, Spanish and German, to Japanese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Swedish, Hebrew and beyond.

Pick a language that you want to learn, and you’ll then be taken through fun bite-sized lessons that gradually teach it to you. The whole process is colorfully presented and has lots of gamification. This won’t work for everyone, but we find it helps keep us motived, as does the ability to compete with friends. Best of all, Duolingo is almost completely free, though you can pay to remove ads and unlock a few extra features.

Tree ID – British Trees

Tree ID – British Trees

Tree ID – British Trees is mostly one for UK users, but if you have any interest in trees then it could be worth a download wherever you are.

The main purpose of the app is to help you identify trees. It covers trees that are either native to the UK and common non-native ones, and you can work out which one you’re looking at by answering a series of questions.

Start by picking a feature, such as the leaf, bark or flower, and the app will ask you to describe it, showing you images and descriptions of different possibilities so you can drill down. For example, if you choose to focus on the leaf, you can then pick between ‘needles’, ‘scales’ and several other kinds of leaf, then select the color. After that, the app should be able to tell what tree you’re looking at.

Once it finds the tree, it will show you photos and all sorts of details, such as where it’s typically found, how to identify it, what it’s used for, what threats it faces and even any associated mythology or symbolism.

There’s also a map of where specific trees are found in the UK, to which you can add your finds. And if you just want to browse British trees, you can do that too, with an A-Z of them built into the app.

SmartPlant

SmartPlant

SmartPlant is a database of plants, including care information for most of them, such as how much and often to water them and where to place them.

You can search for a plant by name, browse by category, or scan a barcode or snap a picture for the app to identify, then you’re presented with images and details.

You can save plants to a wish list or tell the app that you have the plant already, and if you do the latter then it will add entries to an in-app calendar, telling you the optimal times of the year to do specific things with it, such as when to move it into direct sunlight.

With an optional $3.99/£3.99 monthly subscription you can also message experts to get more specific advice and answers to any plant-related questions you might have, but even the free version of the app is worth having to build up a database of your plants and get basic care instructions.

Big Bang AR

Big Bang AR

You might have read about the birth of the universe, but with Big Bang AR, you can see it. The app takes you on a journey starting 13.8 billion years ago, covering the Big Bang through to the development of Earth.

It does this with the help of augmented reality, letting you view the universe through your phone and look around by moving your handset. At points you can even do things like hold out your hand and see the Big Bang happen in your palm.

There will also be points where you can tap on things for additional information, and the journey is narrated by Tilda Swinton, so it’s engagingly delivered and it’s well worth experiencing at least once.

St John Ambulance First Aid

St John Ambulance First Aid

The St John Ambulance First Aid app isn’t new, but it is worth highlighting as it could save a life. It includes a selection of situations that you can choose from, such as ‘chest pain’ and ‘choking’, then talks you step by step through what you should do to help a person with these issues.

There are also guides to useful techniques that you might need, such as CPR, and the app – while functional rather than stylish – is easy to navigate.

Whether you ultimately choose St John Ambulance First Aid or not, we’d strongly recommend having at least one first aid app on your device - and this is one of the best.

StudySmarter

StudySmarter

StudySmarter aims to help you do just that. When you first launch the app, you can pick your area of study from numerous categories, such as law and mathematics, then you get access to various flashcards aimed at teaching you the subject.

But better yet, you can create your own flashcards and optionally share them with the rest of the StudySmarter community. Speaking of the community, there’s also an area where they can ask and answer questions related to subjects.

StudySmarter users can also upload documents related to a subject, ensuring they have access to all their study materials within the app and also giving access to other users, and users can even add their own subjects to the app.

The result is an app with a whole lot of potential, because as the user base grows, so will the number of study aids. Right now, the content is somewhat limited, meaning it’s most useful just as a way to create and use flashcards, but as a free download that’s enough to recommend it and if enough people take to it then StudySmarter could one day be a very smart way to study.

StorySign

StorySign

StorySign is designed to help deaf children learn to read, by translating children’s books into sign language.

To do this you need not just the app but supported books too, which at the time of writing in the UK is limited to just Where’s Spot?, but more are expected to be added.

With book in hand, just point your phone’s camera at the page and an animated character in StorySign will read the page in sign language. And children will know which words are being signed as the word will be highlighted. As such they’ll both be able to enjoy the books unsupervised and learn to read in the process.

While the content of StorySign is somewhat limited so far, there’s a lot of talent involved, with Aardman Animations (the company behind Wallace and Gromit) designing it and Huawei AI powering it, while Penguin Random House has partnered with it to supply classic children’s books to the app.

Even in its limited form, StorySign is well worth trying if you have a deaf child young enough to appreciate it, but we expect that this is one app that will just keep getting better as its library grows.

Scripts

Scripts

Scripts is a language-learning app focused specifically on learning to write and read in Chinese, Japanese or Korean. These languages are among the trickiest to learn as each one has a unique alphabet, but Scripts gives you a fighting chance.

It does this by showing you letters from the language you choose to learn, and then taking you through short exercises which see you swipe across your screen to draw the letter yourself. Initially you’ll be swiping across an outline of the letter, but it quickly moves on to just showing the letter at the top of the screen or not showing it at all, so you really have to learn to progress.

You’ll repeat the same letter a lot, but the exercises are all bite-sized, and so is your study, as you can only practice for five minutes each day unless you pay.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as everyone should be able to fit in five minutes of learning, but if you do want more you can pay $10.99/£10.49 per month, with discounts if you commit to a year.

That gives you unlimited time, removes adverts, lets you access Scripts offline and gives you full access to Drops. We’ve covered Drops previously but it too is a language learning app, but it’s broader, rather than just being focused on the alphabet. 

Khan Academy Kids

Khan Academy Kids

Khan Academy Kids is packed full of games and activities designed to entertain and educate young children.

From sorting objects based on their color, to selecting the right letter to complete a word, to drawing and a whole lot more, there are apparently thousands of activities in here, and while we haven’t tested that many, the ones we have tested are varied and well put together, with colorful drawings, songs and sound effects.

Most of the interactions use simple tap and swipe gestures, so most children should be able to navigate the app comfortably. A colorful character sits in the corner, and can be tapped whenever help is needed.

There’s a lot here, and Khan Academy Kids should be suitable whether you want something your kid can do on their own, or something they can play through together with you.

Our favorite free Android apps for having fun on your phone or tablet, through watching videos, reading, socializing and more.

Screenshots showing Clubhouse

(Image credit: Alpha Exploration Co.) Clubhouse

Clubhouse is an app you might have heard of, as it’s been making waves on iOS for a while, and now it’s finally available for Android too.

So what is Clubhouse? It’s an audio-only hangout app where you can find or start discussions about various topics. And if you’d rather not talk, you can join these discussions as a listener too.

These discussions can be with friends, random internet users, or in some cases known names, and you can also follow people and ‘clubs’ so you won’t miss discussions that you might be interested in.

Clubhouse is an interesting idea, though not without its issues when it comes to moderation. It’s certainly doing well, with a sea of imitators rising up already, so it’s worth checking out just to see what all the fuss is about if nothing else.

Screenshots showing the Swell app

(Image credit: Anecure Inc) Swell

Is audio the future of social media? With the growing popularity of services like Clubhouse it very well might be, and an Android app called Swell is also trying to get in on the act.

Swell essentially lets you record and listen to mini podcasts. These can be movie or book reviews, reactions to a news story, interviews, advice, or any number of other things, and anyone can record and share their own.

While setting up a profile you’ll be asked which topics interest you. This will affect what appears on your feed, but you can also just search for anything else.

You can follow users so you never miss their content, and leave voice replies to peoples’ posts – essentially allowing you to build up an audio conversation. You can also set up invite-only groups, for more private conversations.

It’s a solid app, with the main issue currently being the one most new social networks and similar services face – the need to get users. At the time of writing there’s not a huge amount of content, but hopefully it will swell over time.

eko - You Control The Story

(Image credit: eko.com) eko - You Control The Story

eko - You Control The Story sits somewhere between the ill-fated Quibi with its selection of short shows, and a game. The app offers a selection of shows - including scripted comedies and dramas - and lets you make decisions about what characters do at key points, changing how they play out.

Each episode of these shows is short – usually under 10 minutes, but since you’re making decisions there’s plenty of replay/rewatch value. And it’s not limited to fiction – there’s also for example a travel show that lets you choose what to see.

Impressively, eko is also free, though it’s not devoid of advertising within the content – Walmart is quite heavily pushed in some of its shows, for example.

Still, it’s good fun, and while the quality of the content is variable there should be some that’s worth your time. The bigger problem is that there’s just not all that much content on there at the moment, but its library should continue to grow, if it avoids Quibi’s fate.

RBdigital

(Image credit: Recorded Books Inc.) RBdigital

RBdigital aims to bring libraries into the modern age, by letting you borrow ebooks, audiobooks, magazines, comics, videos, and more on your phone or tablet.

While these are digital copies, you’re still borrowing them from your local library, which means you need to be signed up there to register here. There’s a chance then that your library won’t support RBdigital, but if not it probably works with a similar service.

The availability of content will also vary by library, just like it would if you were actually borrowing physical copies of things, and just like a real library you can only borrow things for a certain amount of time. But this way you can borrow and return things without ever setting foot in the physical building.

Co-Star Personalized Astrology

(Image credit: Co–Star Astrology Society) Co-Star Personalized Astrology

Astrology isn’t for everyone, but if it’s an interest of yours – or something you’re curious about exploring – then Co-Star Personalized Astrology is the free Android app for you.

The app provides predictions based on a map of the sky at the precise time of your birth (down to the minute), and that’s used alongside NASA data to track the movement of the planets. Using that data, Co-Star’s AI is then able to craft you personalized, precise horoscopes, so it’s surprisingly scientific.

The app is pleasant to use too, with a stylish black and white design that puts your latest horoscope front and center – but with tabs to delve around into different dates and sections too.

It’s unlikely to convert the skeptical, but it’s an impressively detailed and well-designed app for those with an astrology interest.

(Image credit: zoom.us) Zoom Cloud Meetings

Zoom is an app that probably needs no introduction, with millions turning to it in place of in-person meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But, if somehow you haven’t yet come across it, it’s worth highlighting, as it’s the video call app of choice for so many for a reason.

For one thing, it’s feature-packed, offering things like meetings with up to 100 participants, custom backgrounds, screen sharing (with audio), a safe driving mode, and plenty more besides.

It’s also very easy to use, and available across most devices, including Android, iOS, Windows, and Mac. It’s mostly free to use as well, with one-to-one meetings being unlimited for free, and group meetings being limited to 40 minutes. For more than that you can opt for a monthly subscription – but even then, only the host needs to pay.

Byte

(Image credit: Byte Inc) Byte

Byte is basically a successor to Vine (it was even developed by one of Vine’s co-founders), and it’s a very similar idea – you can shoot a looping six-second video and then share it with the world.

If you’re not feeling very creative then you can also simply watch other people’s content, and it’s easy to find things as there are numerous categories you can choose from, such as ‘comedy’, ‘pets’, ‘art’, ‘food’, and loads more, along with a section that highlights new and trending videos.

If you find content you like then you can easily follow the user to help you keep up with all their future videos, and you can comment on and like videos too.

The actual video creation tools are very limited at the time of writing – you can shoot one in-app or import one from your phone, but there’s not much in the way of filters, effects or editing tools. We suspect some of that will be added over time though, and even in its current state, Byte does a decent job of filling the hole left by Vine.

Ablo

(Image credit: MassiveMedia) Ablo

For a long time the internet has ensured distance is no longer a barrier to making friends and connections, and now Ablo aims to ensure language isn’t either.

The app in many ways is like so many other apps and services – it puts you in a text conversation with a random other person. Where it differs is that you can type in your own language and it will automatically (and more or less instantly) translate the message to the language of the person you’re talking to.

It seems to do a very good job of this as well. The interactions we’ve had in the app generally read as if the person speaks English well albeit not as their first language, but in fact they weren’t typing in English at all (you can be sure of this because you can also tap to see the message in the language it was sent in).

Impressively you can even switch to video chat and get live translated subtitles. Ablo also lets you create a profile, add friends, and once you’ve used it a bit you unlock the ability to choose which country you want to connect to. It’s a great app – so good in fact that it was awarded ‘Best app of 2019’ by Google.

Xbox Game Pass

(Image credit: Microsoft) Xbox Game Pass

Xbox Game Pass is the best thing to happen to Xbox in a long time. It provides you with a large and ever-growing library of games – including brand new Xbox exclusives - for a reasonable monthly subscription. And it’s not limited just to Xbox – there’s also a version for PC, which confusingly has the same name.

As for the Android app, that gives you a convenient way to browse through all the games from your phone. You can see new arrivals or filter games based on genre and platform (Xbox One or PC). You can also get alerts when new games are added, and even set games to download from your phone, so they’ll be ready to play when you get home.

You can also purchase included games at a discount, if you don’t want to risk losing access to them, and add games to a ‘Play later’ screen, which helps you keep track of things you’re interested in, but don’t necessarily want to download or play right now. All in all, the Xbox Game Pass Android app is a nicely laid out way to interact with a great service whenever you’re away from your PC or console.

It’s only really useful if you’re subscribed to Xbox Game Pass of course, but if you have an Xbox or a gaming PC then you really probably should be.

Threads from Instagram

(Image credit: Instagram) Threads from Instagram

Threads from Instagram is a way to focus just on your close Instagram friends. It’s a separate Android app that prompts you to sign into using your Instagram account, then select close friends and groups with whom you’ll share photos and videos, rather than sharing them with the whole of Instagram.

The app isn’t just built for relative privacy though, it’s also built for speed, allowing you to share snaps straight from the viewfinder with two taps.

You can also message close friends using this app (though you can still use the main Instagram app for this as well), and there are optional statuses that you can select from (such as ‘studying’ or ‘at home’). Or you can enable automatic statuses to have the app automatically create and share them periodically based on your location. These too will only be shared with close friends.

There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but Threads is a handy way to make your Instagram experience more intimate and less public, whether you use it along with the main app or instead.

Goodreads

Image credit: Goodreads (Image credit: Future) Goodreads

If you’re much of a reader then you’ve probably already come across Goodreads, and if you haven’t then you really should.

Goodreads lets you log the books you’ve read and those you want to read, so you’ll never forget about a book.

You can also rate and review books, and read the reviews others have written. There are lots of tools for finding new things to read too, including personalized recommendations based on what you’ve read previously, genres and ‘best of’ lists to browse through.

You can follow friends to see what they’re reading, and take part in reading challenges where you aim to read a certain number of books in a year. Plus there are handy tools, like the ability to scan a book cover to instantly search for the book on Goodreads. There’s a lot here, and it’s well worth digging into.

Letterboxd

Letterboxd

If you’re a movie lover then you might already know about Letterboxd, and if you don’t you should. It lets you keep track of movies you’ve watched, add them to your list with a single tap, review them, give them a star rating, and say when you watched them.

It also lets you keep track of what you want to watch, thanks to a comprehensive film database and the ability to add films to a watch list – again with a single tap.

Letterboxd helps you discover films by highlighting what’s currently popular, and offering thousands of lists created by users of the app. These lists all have a theme, and while that’s sometimes as simple as someone’s favorite movies, usually it’s a lot more interesting than that, for example one list is titled “They aren’t films, they’re experiences”.

Of course, you can also make lists of your own, and Letterboxd is a bit of a social network too, letting you follow other users and comment on their lists.

Our favorite free Android apps for working out, reducing stress and crafting meals.

Fastic

(Image credit: Fastic GmbH) Fastic

Fastic is one of the very best free Android apps available for intermittent fasting. That, for those who don’t know, is an eating schedule that involves only eating during a certain window of the day, with the most common form likely being 16:8 – meaning an eight hour eating window, then 16 hours (much of which you’ll be asleep for anyway) when you don’t eat.

With Fastic you can pick from 12 different intermittent fasting plans, and the app offers a timer so you can keep track of fasting periods, as well as keeping a record of the days and durations of your fast.

It also has a cute, appealing look, and explains what happens to your body during the different fasting stages, which is really interesting if you haven’t already read up on that.

Fastic also includes a water tracker, to make sure you stay hydrated, and there are no adverts. All of that is free, but if you pay for a subscription then you also get access to a guided fasting program with a daily schedule that adapts to your needs, plus loads of resources, nutrition plans complete with recipes, and the ability to track your eating habits.

There’s a lot here, but it’s the free stuff that we mostly recommend Fastic for, as it offers more without payment than most rival apps.

(Image credit: BreezoMeter) Air Quality Index BreezoMeter

Not all air is equal, and Air Quality Index BreezoMeter highlights the invisible differences, so you have a better idea of what you’re breathing.

The app gives you an overall air quality score out of 100 for your location (or any other location that you search for), as well as telling you what the score usually is at that time of day. The data is gathered from thousands of air quality monitoring stations all over the world, among other sources, and you can go way beyond just a score.

With a tap you can also see exactly what you’re actually breathing in a given area, and you can also view a pollen forecast (split into different types of pollen), plus a five-hour air quality forecast, a real-time color-coded air quality map, and information on your personal daily exposure to different air qualities.

So Air Quality Index BreezoMeter is a full featured app, and all of that is completely free, though if you want to get rid of adverts you can do that for $1.99/£1.99 per month.

(Image credit: Google) Screen Stopwatch

Google has released a number of ‘digital wellbeing experiments’ – apps that aim to make you more aware of how much you use your phone, and Screen Stopwatch is one of the more successful ones.

It turns your wallpaper into a big stopwatch that counts every second your phone’s screen is on, so at the end of the day you can see exactly how long you’ve spent looking at it.

That’s all it does, but it looks fairly good, so you probably won’t mind having it as your wallpaper, and the large amount of black in it should help marginally extend the battery life of phones with OLED screens (as they won’t have to light the black pixels). Though those gains will probably be countered by the slightly increased juice drain of having a live wallpaper.

In any case, having a running screen time total that you can’t really escape is a great way to ensure you’re always aware of just how much you really use your phone – and if the numbers surprise you, it might even help you reduce your usage.

Feeleat

(Image credit: Feelhealth) Feeleat

Feeleat is designed to help you develop a healthy relationship with food by better understanding how different foods and eating habits affect you.

It’s essentially a food diary, but as well as writing down what you eat and when, you also record any related emotions and symptoms, along with where you ate, who with, how hungry you were, and the duration of the meal.

Through this you can build up a log, and gain a clearer idea of the impact these factors have on you. This can have a number of potential benefits, from identifying food types that you react badly to, to helping you eat more healthily or only when you’re suitably hungry.

Feeleat also lets you list and work towards goals, has an advice section full of tips on healthy eating, and includes recipes and meal examples.

Logging your meals can perhaps feel like a bit of a chore, but if you regularly feel ill, unhealthy or guilty as a result of your food choices it could be well worth the hassle.

Pocketcoach – Anxiety Helper

(Image credit: TechRadar) Pocketcoach – Anxiety Helper

Pocketcoach is a self-help app with a particular focus on dealing with anxiety. At the time of writing it contains four courses – one focused on learning to calm down, one on handling worries, one on coping with panic, and one on handling anxiety in social situations.

Each of these contains a large number of lessons, where a digital ‘coach’ will talk you through how to handle these things. The lessons each last a few minutes and the app seems to suggest tackling one a day, but you’re not restricted to that.

Pocketcoach also has a number of exercises, which are delivered through audio and include elements of mindfulness, CBT and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

As Pocketcoach is quick to point out, this isn’t a replacement for therapy, but it’s a lot better than nothing if you do struggle with anxiety and it could also work well alongside therapy. It’s nicely presented, designed by experts, and could genuinely help and support you.

Power Plate

(Image credit: Performance Health Systems / TechRadar) Power Plate

Power Plates are starting to crop up more and more in gyms, but it’s not always obvious how to use them. The Power Plate app can help though, with a series of videos teaching you the basics.

Even if you’re already a Power Plate pro though, the app is still worth a look, as it also has dozens of workout videos to follow, divided based on their duration – so whether you just want a quick 10-minute or less workout or something more substantial, you can quickly find an appropriate one.

There’s a community section too, where people mostly ask and answer questions – so if you’re still confused once you’ve run through the tutorial videos, you should be able to find help here.

And if anyone reading this is a coach or trainer with access to a Power Plate, there are even videos in the app designed for you, offering coaching tips.

Mission Adventure

(Image credit: Light Arc Studio / TechRadar) Mission Adventure

In the age of phones and tablets, it can be hard to get young kids out of the house and active. Ironically, a free Android app could be the solution.

Mission Adventure makes going on a walk more fun by giving children a story to follow and even participate in. First an adult sets a route in the app, with a number of markers along the way. Then you set off, following the route, with Mission Adventure chiming in whenever you reach a waypoint.

The app will sometimes ask simple general knowledge questions related to the story. Other times it will ask you to make a decision that affects how the story plays out, and other times still it might ask you to run to the next waypoint, justifying it by saying that you’re chasing someone, or being chased.

For free, this all plays out against the backdrop of a pirate adventure, but there are other story packs that can also be purchased. Each story has three chapters, with each walk forming one chapter. Given that questions can be answered wrong and decisions made differently, there’s a fair bit of replay value too.

Brewtime

(Image credit: Devx s.r.o.) Brewtime

Brewtime is a simple app for a simple activity: making coffee. Or, more specifically, making the perfect cup of coffee.

Whether you use a French press, V60, AeroPress, Chemex, Moka pot, vacuum pot or Clever Dripper, Brewtime will guide you through the process step by step, complete with a timer for how long you should spend on each step, and details of the exact amount of coffee, water, and temperature recommended. It will also keep a timeline of all the coffees you’ve made with its timer.

It’s a basic app – you only get one coffee recipe for each preparation method, and not all methods are accounted for. But if yours is, and you like the recipe provided, then this is an easy way to upgrade your morning beverage.

Our favorite free Android apps for making music, listening to music, finding podcasts and everything else to do with audio.

Pocket Casts

(Image credit: Podcast Media LLC / TechRadar) Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts has long been one of our very favorite podcast players, but it was also a premium app. Now though, the Android app has gone free, making it a candidate for this list for the first time.

Despite the app now being free, you won’t have to put up with adverts or limited features – everything people paid for in the past is still here, along with the promise of future updates.

Features include variable speed playback, the option to boost the volume of voices, trim silent sections, control playback from a Wear OS watch, and a whole lot more, all wrapped up in an intuitive interface that makes finding and subscribing to podcasts a breeze.

There’s also a new subscription option called Pocket Casts Plus, which adds desktop apps, new themes and the ability to upload audio files to Pocket Casts, but for most people the free version will be plenty.

Mubert

(Image credit: TechRadar) Mubert

Want to listen to music that no one else has heard? With Mubert you can. It uses AI paired with a sample database to generate music to fit various genres and situations. So whether you’re working or trying to sleep, it will create something suitable.

You can also tell Mubert if you particularly like or dislike the music it generates, and it will learn from that, so over time the music it generates becomes more personalized to your tastes.

Anything you want to be able to listen to again you can favorite, but otherwise you’ll be getting a new soundscape every time you load up the app or a stream.

The core features are free, but for $6.99/£8.99 per month (with discounts available for paying yearly) you can get access to a larger and ever-expanding sample base, along with other features, such as the ability to change the intensity of the music. That’s a high price when the core features are free, but could be worth it if you get a lot of use out of the app.

Shazam

(Image credit: TechRadar) Shazam

Shazam is far from new, and chances are you already know about it, but it’s worth highlighting as it has been improved over the years.

But first, if you don’t know what it is: Shazam can identify music by listening through your phone’s speaker.

Originally this involved launching the Shazam app and tapping a big button on its main screen, but since launch the developer has added an ‘Auto Shazam’ feature, which allows Shazam to listen for music al all times.

If you don’t want it quite that ever-present then you can instead simply set it to start listening the second you launch the app, so you don’t have to tap any additional buttons.

And most recently ‘Pop-Up Shazam’ was added, which lets you identify music when using other apps without having to jump back to the main Shazam app.

Shazam can now identify music that’s played through headphones on your handset, and can even go beyond music, using visual recognition to identify posters, books and more.

There’s also Wear OS support, and once you’ve identified a track you can access it on Spotify or Apple Music with a link from Shazam.

Spotify Stations

(Image credit: Spotify) Spotify Stations

Spotify Stations is a more streamlined alternative to the main Spotify app, but before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth noting that at the time of writing this one is just for those in the US or Australia (though we imagine it will launch more widely over time).

With that caveat out the way – Spotify Stations lets you listen to playlists (or ‘Stations’), rather than selecting specific songs or albums.

These stations might focus on a genre, or a mood or activity. For example you could get a ‘Relaxing jazz’ station, or a ‘Workout’ one. You can also create stations based around a selection of musicians that you like.

But mostly Spotify Stations seems to be aimed at getting you listening faster, without any typing or searching, and helping you discover new music, something which it gets better at over time, as it learns what sorts of things you like.

A lot of this stuff is in the main Spotify app too, but here it’s front and center, without any distractions.

You need a Spotify account to use Stations, but you don’t need to be a paying member. However, if you are, you’ll be able to skip an unlimited number of tracks, and won’t have to put up with adverts.

Swoot

Swoot

Swoot aims to make podcasts social, by sharing what you’re listening to with any friends who also use the app.

This is primarily useful to help you find new podcasts to listen to, especially as there’s also a recommendation feature, which lets you actively recommend a podcast to friends in the app (optionally adding text to explain why you recommend it).

Swoot also has a ‘Trending’ tab, so you can see what’s popular with people who aren’t on your friends list, and beyond all that it’s a basic but competent podcast player, letting you subscribe to podcasts, download episodes so you can listen offline, and change the playback speed.

The interface could use some work – it’s fine but a bit bland in appearance, but otherwise this is a great app if you have friends who are as into podcasts as you.

Endel

Endel

Endel creates soundscapes to help you relax, help you focus, help you sleep or for when you’re on the go.

Unlike some apps such as TaoMix 2 you can’t customize the sounds, but what Endel can do is access time, location and weather data, and even your heart rate if you have a monitor and give it access to your health data, and it uses this information to tailor the soundscapes to your current situation.

Beyond picking a mode you can also set a timer if you want it to shut off after a certain amount of time, but that’s about all. This is a simple, stripped back app on the surface, that’s doing lots behind the scenes to ensure it’s properly personalized.

It’s also an attractive, easy to navigate app, so whether you want something to drown out the background noise, bring on sleep or motivate you to keep moving, Endel could be a good choice.

Louder.me

Louder.me

Louder.me aims to both help listeners discover new independent music, and musicians get their music out there – and maybe even win cash prizes in the process.

As a listener, you can hear samples of independent songs in the arcade section of the app. If you like what you hear you can heart it and there’s also the option to listen to the full track or add it to a playlist.

But the tournament section is perhaps the most interesting part of Louder.me. This pits the 64 songs with the highest rating in arcade mode against each other.

It pairs them up – so there are 32 pairs of songs - and lets you listen to samples (or the whole song if you’d prefer) and then say which of each pair you preferred. Over a number of rounds and eliminations a winner is ultimately declared, winning $1,000. Of course, even the losers get extra exposure this way.

As a musician you have to use the website to upload your tracks to Louder.me – that functionality isn’t offered in the app, but as a listener the app somewhat gamifies the listening experience, making for a fun twist on music discovery.

Aroundsound Audio Recorder

Aroundsound Audio Recorder

Aroundsound Audio Recorder is a seemingly simple audio recording app with a surprising amount to it.

It’s designed to allow you to quickly and easily record any sound with a single tap - be it a conversation, the wind in the trees, or anything else.

Recordings are saved automatically, named based on the time of day, and given a location tag. Tapping on a recording then plays it back. Simple.

You can also adjust the recording quality, pause a recording and continue the same recording later, trim a recording or edit out unimportant parts, and share recordings with people or apps as a web link, so there’s no need for others to have the Aroundsound app or to download a file in order to listen to your recordings.

You can also change the names of your recordings and add bookmarks to important points in them, so you can easily find the key parts later. These bookmarks can even have a note attached. Plus, you can back up your recordings to the cloud, so they’ll never get lost.

There’s a lot here, but most of its stays out of the way, so if you want to stick to the basics you won’t find endless buttons and toggles intruding on the experience.

Sound Amplifier

Sound Amplifier

Sound Amplifier is an app from Google designed to enhance audio when using headphones. Well, we say an app, but it won’t appear in your app drawer and you can’t launch it as such. Instead, you’ll find it in the Accessibility section of your phone’s main settings screen, and only when wired headphones are connected.

Once there, you can reduce unwanted sounds, adjust the mic volume and boost or fine tune the audio from one or both sides of your headphones.

The primary purposes of the app are to make sound clearer by increasing quiet sounds without over-boosting loud sounds, and to reduce background noise so you can better focus on the audio.

It did a fairly good job in our tests, but there’s one major issue, namely the need for wired headphones. This of course is a problem for anyone who prefers to go wireless, and even more of a problem on the ever-growing number of phones that lack a 3.5mm headphone port.

The app also seems as though it could really benefit those with hearing issues, yet many such people use wireless hearing aids, which won’t be compatible with it. Hopefully Google will drop the need for wires before too long.

Radio by Deezer

Radio by Deezer

Radio by Deezer is a slick if slightly basic radio player app, and although it comes from Deezer (a company known primarily for its Spotify-like subscription service) it’s free to use.

The app has around 30,000 FM and online radio stations sorted into various categories, such as ‘pop’ and ‘rock’. So you can browse them that way, or search for a specific station.

Stations that you recently played or play the most often will be added to lists on the ‘My Stations’ tab, though in a weird omission there’s no way to manually add stations to your favorites.

You can however favorite songs that are being played, but unless you have a Deezer subscription this will just show you a list of them, rather than actually letting you listen to them again.

It’s an app that needs work, but it looks good, is easy to navigate and makes for a great companion to the main Deezer service.

BBC Sounds

BBC Sounds

BBC Sounds brings all of the BBC’s live radio content and podcasts to one app, so you can listen live on your phone, and subscribe to and stream podcasts.

BBC Sounds also lets you pick up where you left off on another device, so if you get halfway through a podcast on your phone, you’ll be able to start from that point on your tablet automatically. It can also recommend content based on what you’ve been listening to, so it’s a good way to discover new things.

It’s basically iPlayer for radio (in fact the plan is for it to ultimately replace BBC iPlayer Radio) and if you listen to a lot of BBC content it’s arguably a smarter, better choice than listening on a radio or using another podcast app.

At the moment the BBC Sounds app is UK-only, but given that the iPlayer Radio app is available globally we wouldn’t be surprised if BBC Sounds is one day too.

SW True-Fi Beta

SW True-Fi Beta

SW True-Fi Beta aims to maximize the potential of your headphones by tuning sound settings specific to the headphones you have plugged in. You do this by selecting yours from a long list of supported headphones, then True-Fi does the rest.

But you can also adjust the sound according your age and make manual tweaks to aspects of it, such as the bass.

The adjustments only work when playing music through the SW True-Fi Beta app, but that needn’t be a problem, as not only can it play local music files, it can also connect to Spotify and play music from there.

Not all headphones are currently supported, which is the main limitation of the app, but if yours aren’t then you can contact the company to ask them to be added.

Phonograph Music Player

Phonograph Music Player

While many of us have moved to streaming music, there is still a place for locally stored music on Android, and Phonograph is one of the better players.

Phonograph puts aesthetics and ease of use first, so it’s always pleasant to operate. The app has a Material Design look that fits with Google’s vision of Android, but it’s also packed full of album art and color, so there’s never a dull screen.

You can also customize the colors and overall theme and look of the app, while the color of the main ‘now playing’ screen will change based on the album artwork of the current track.

The layout is simple too, with your music library sorted by song, album, artist or playlist, and you can switch between views with a swipe, while most other options are no more than a tap away.

Although not as feature-packed as some players, Phonograph has a number of handy extras and toggles, like gapless playback, information and images pulled automatically from Last.fm, a sleep timer, widgets and lock screen controls.

Our favorite free Android apps for taking notes, writing and editing documents and generally working on the move.

Fleksy

(Image credit: TechRadar) Fleksy

Fleksy is an alternative keyboard for your phone, and has a lot going for it, including the fact that it’s regularly updated with new features.

One recent addition at the time of writing is ‘Fleksyapps’, which lets you use a number of apps – such a Yelp and YouTube – from within the keyboard, so you can check the weather, look up nearby restaurants, watch and share videos, and more, all without moving away from the app that you’re currently typing in.

Fleksy also supports GIFs, gesture controls, and a huge amount of customization, as you can choose between numerous themes and extensions, and change the size of the keyboard.

One major omission at the moment is swipe typing, but Fleksy claims to be working on this. In the meantime, if you’re happy to tap keys the old fashioned way, then Fleksy is a great way to do it.

Email - mail with TypeApp

Email - mail with TypeApp

In the wake of Google killing Inbox there will probably be lots of people looking for a new home for their email. Fortunately, there’s no shortage of options. We’ve recently highlighted Spark as one strong alternative and Email - mail with TypeApp is another.

This has been around for a long time, has strong user reviews and is regularly updated, which is reassuring.

Features include quiet hours, read receipts, support for multiple email accounts, a unified inbox, Android Wear support, multiple themes, widgets, an integrated calendar, configurable menus and more.

Email - mail with TypeApp also has a ‘People Switch’ which puts emails from actual people at the top of your inbox, ahead of marketing emails and the like.

We’re not the biggest fans of some parts of the design – while your inboxes look good the settings screens don’t – but for features, this one’s hard to beat.

Spark

Spark

Google might have discontinued Inbox, but Spark has arrived to fill the gap. Already a hit on iOS, Spark aims to stand out from the email app crowd with handy features like a smart inbox, which puts important emails at the top.

There are lots of features aimed at helping you reach Inbox Zero too, with tools like snooze, send later, quick replies, a smart search, collaboration tools and more.

Despite offering lots of features, Spark is also easy to navigate, with a clean, simple interface that makes interacting with your email as pain-free as possible. Oh, and it’s totally free.

HiHello Contact Exchange

HiHello Contact Exchange

Business cards are a somewhat dated concept but they still serve a purpose, so in an attempt to bring them into the 21st century, HiHello Contact Exchange makes them digital and even easier to share than the physical kind.

The app lets you create multiple different cards containing different information. You might for example have a work card that contains your work email and job title, while a personal card could have your personal email and Facebook link.

Lots of different things can be added to each card though, including your phone number, website, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Twitter and more.

To share a card you just launch the HiHello app, tap on the card you want to share, tap the share button to display a QR code and then the person receiving it simply points their phone camera at the QR code to get it.

Alternatively you can email or text the card to someone, so unlike a conventional business card they don’t need to be physically present to receive it. And the card can be saved to their phone’s address book, meaning they don’t need the HiHello app themselves.

Notes by Firefox

Notes by Firefox

Notes by Firefox is a very simple note-taking app, ideal if you just want to jot down basic notes without wrestling overbearing interfaces and unwanted options.

The look is minimalist, with a mostly white screen housing all your current notes. You can tap on one to open and edit it, tap the plus button to make a new note, or tap the minus next to a note to delete it. There are a few formatting options – you can create bullet points or numbered lists, add headings and use bold and italics, but that’s about it.

However, Notes by Firefox does have a few tricks up its sleeve, as it syncs between your Android device and the Firefox browser on your desktop, so you can access your notes from multiple devices, and they’re secured with end-to-end encryption.

Other than that, this is a basic app, but if you’re not a power user it should be all you need, and it’s completely free.

Quip

Quip

Quip is an office suite built for teams, as not only can you create documents and spreadsheets, you can also share them with others and work on them collaboratively.

It supports real-time messaging too and while this app will mostly be of use for teams of people who work together it could also be used for other things, such as shared grocery lists and to-do lists.

You can access it all from your phone, tablet or computer, so you’ll never be far from the work and information you need, and Quip is quite full-featured when it comes to actually creating documents and spreadsheets, as for example it supports over 400 spreadsheet functions.

You probably won’t want to make much use of them from a phone, but if you’re on a tablet then Quip is a great way to work on the move, and even on a phone it can be good for reading, editing and commenting on work.

Otter Voice Notes

Otter Voice Notes

Otter Voice Notes is a voice recorder, but that’s just the beginning. It also uses AI to automatically turn the recordings into written text so you can read them back rather than having to listen to them.

The app also lets you search for keywords, so you can find exactly the piece of information you’re looking for in seconds, even in long recordings. This all makes it a great tool for recording meetings, lectures and the like, especially since Otter can be trained to recognize voices and you can tag who’s talking, so that even in text form you can see the true flow of a conversation.

You can also create groups with other Otter users if you want to share recordings, and all of your recordings are saved in the cloud so you can access them anywhere and don’t have to store them on your Android device.

The text transcription isn’t perfect (though Otter claims it will get better over time if it’s you talking, as it gets to know your voice better), but it’s reasonably accurate in our experience and you can always go in and make changes to the text manually.

Files by Google

Files by Google

Chances are you already have some kind of file manager on your phone, but Files by Google is still worthy of attention, as it’s made by Google and has many rivals beat.

There’s two parts to it. First, the ‘Storage’ section which highlights all the ways you might be able to clear space on your device, such as by deleting duplicate or large files, moving files to your SD card and deleting rarely used apps.

Then there’s the ‘Files’ section, which is a file explorer, letting you dive into the folders on your phone so you can find, open, rename, delete or share specific files.

The whole app is colorful and easy to navigate as well, with an interface seemingly inspired by Google Now’s cards.

Our favorite free Android apps for improving productivity, whether through to-do lists, focus timers or other tools.

Wateria

(Image credit: Virality Studio) Wateria

Wateria is a simple app that could help you keep your plants alive – especially if you struggle to remember to water them.

It’s a reminder app focused purely on reminding you to water your plants. Simply enter the type of plant, how frequently you want to water it, and how soon you want the first reminder to appear, and Wateria will prod you every time the plant is due to be watered. Tap a button in the app to say you’ve watered it, and the timer will reset.

So it’s a bit more useful for this than a simple calendar reminder, since the water schedule doesn’t reset until you’ve actually watered the plant. Wateria is especially useful if you have multiple plants that all need watering on different schedules, as you can easily keep track of them all in one place.

The app has a cute design, letting you choose from a range of different cartoony images to represent each of your plants, and as well as watering reminders it can show you daily plant care tips. But water reminders are the focus, and it does those very well.

Task Air

(Image credit: Julien Lefebvre) Task Air

There are loads of to-do list apps available for Android, but whether it’s through a clunky interface or an ugly design, a lot of them aren’t that satisfying to use. Task Air though is in our opinion.

Visually it’s great, with a minimalist, clean look that’s stylish without being busy. Navigating the app is similarly slick, with a few different task categories you can switch between with a tap (such as work, personal, groceries, or today). Or you can choose to view all your tasks on one screen.

Adding new tasks is also quick and easy, and you can choose whether to continue displaying completed tasks (with a tick beside them) or not. There are also both light and dark themes, and there’s no need to set up an account.

Task Air is also free – though you can optionally pay a one-off fee to remove adverts. If there’s a downside, it’s that Task Air is an offline app. That can be a good thing, as it means you don’t need an internet connection to use it, but it also means you can’t back up your to-do list or access it from multiple devices.

Just For Today – Daily Planner

(Image credit: Adam Lyttle) Just For Today – Daily Planner

Just For Today is in many ways much like any other to-do list app. You have a list of things that you want to do, the ability to add notes to tasks, and you can tick them off when they’re complete.

How it differs is that it keeps you in the present, as all of the tasks are just for the current day. In the morning it wipes the slate clean and you assign new tasks for the day ahead. The idea is to keep you from thinking or worrying about the future or the past, and there’s also an incentive to get things done that day – since if you don’t you’ll have to add them again tomorrow.

In this way, Just For Today could also help you build up routines and positive habits, since it requires you to take things one day at a time, and not just leave a task incomplete for weeks on end.

Just For Today is also attractively presented, and splits tasks into morning, afternoon, and evening sections, so your day has clear divisions. It won’t be for everyone, but if you find your to-do lists tend to get overwhelming then it could definitely be for you.

WhatWeWant

(Image credit: TechRadar) WhatWeWant

Some of the best gifts are expensive. That’s just a fact of life. But WhatWeWant provides an easy way for people to split the cost, so a group of friends or family can get a combined gift for someone.

You can start out by uploading information on a gift you’re hoping to raise funds for – whether it’s for you or someone else. This can include an image, description, URL, price, and what occasion the gift is for. Then you can share the listing with anyone you want using a link, or even make it visible to the general public, and from there people can start contributing.

Contributions are held in a secure account and can only be withdrawn once 75% of the gift cost has been raised, and while the focus is on gifts, you can also crowdfund other things, such as holidays and parties.

The app is slick and polished, and the only real downside is that it charges a small fee on each donation, but it has to make its money somewhere.

Arrive – Package Tracker

(Image credit: Shopify Inc.) Arrive – Package Tracker

If you’re always ordering things online then Arrive – Package Tracker could become one of your favorite Android apps, as it lets you track all of your parcels, all in one place, and it can do so automatically.

Simply connect it to your Gmail account and Arrive will scan your inbox for anything you’ve ordered, adding tracking information to the Arrive app.

You can see more or less as much in the app as you can from a web browser, including live maps if the retailer offers them. You can also get a notification when a parcel has been delivered.

If you don’t have Gmail – or don’t always use it when placing orders – then Arrive is a little less useful, as while you can link other emails to it you have to manually enter tracking numbers for details to show in the app, whereas with Gmail the experience is seamless.

As such while it’s worth a try for any online shopping fanatics, it’s near essential for those who happen to use accounts linked to Gmail for said shopping.

Yelp

(Image credit: Yelp) Yelp

Yelp can be seen as something of an alternative to Trip Advisor, but with a focus on food, shopping, and services, such as plumbers and hairdressers.

Like Trip Advisor it has been around for a long time, but the free Android app has continually improved, such as with the relatively recent addition of personalization, letting you pick your favorite types of cuisine from a fairly extensive list, along with any other dietary requirements and preferences, such as vegetarian or gluten-free.

This will affect the restaurants that are highlighted on your home screen and in search, but with or without these preferences you’ll be able to see and search for restaurants, bars, coffee shops, petrol stations, shopping, and more in your area.

Each listing includes pictures, user reviews, the address and website link, opening hours, and most other information you might want. You can of course also leave your own reviews and photos. In some cases you can even make reservations or order takeaway straight from the app, making this a great tool whether you plan to eat in or out.

Yahoo Mail

(Image credit: TechRadar) Yahoo Mail

Yahoo Mail is an email app but it doesn’t require you to use Yahoo’s email service, despite the name. In fact, you can link any other email account to it. If you link multiples you can easily keep them separate and even have different themes for each, and there’s plenty more here to help it stand head and shoulders above most other free email apps.

A real highlight of Yahoo Mail is its filters, letting you just see emails from people (as opposed to companies), or just see mailing lists you’re subscribed to (allowing you to quickly unsubscribe with just one tap), or just see attachments, travel documents, receipts, and other things.

Yahoo Mail also lets you add a PIN or fingerprint security and even customize what if any gesture controls you want active. So whatever you might think of Yahoo email, don’t overlook Yahoo Mail.

Microsoft To Do

(Image credit: Microsoft / TechRadar) Microsoft To Do

There’s a huge number of free to-do list apps on Google Play, but very few that stand out. Microsoft To Do is one that manages to rise above the rest though.

The company aims to make this better than Wunderlist (which it also owns) and it has arguably achieved that. If not, it’s certainly close.

It took a while to reach this point, but now Microsoft To Do offers a polished, pretty interface that’s easy to navigate and feature-packed.

What sort of features, you ask? You can choose from numerous different sorting options for each list, decide whether or not to hide completed entries, tag important items as, well, important, customize the color scheme of each list individually, collaborate on lists, and more.

If that’s enough to tempt you away from Wunderlist, making the switch is painless as there’s the option to import your Wunderlist content.

Ideal Flatmate

(Image credit: Ideal Flatmate / TechRadar) Ideal Flatmate

Ideal Flatmate is designed as a way to find, well, the ideal flatmate. Part of its appeal is a quiz you can take, answering questions about the type of flatmate you are and what you’re looking for in another flatmate. It will then match you with people who had similar results. In that sense it’s a bit closer to a dating app than a typical rental service.

You can also create a profile, filling in a bit more information about yourself and the sort of flatmate you’re looking for (such as ages and genders).

And if you don’t want to wait for the matches to roll in you can simply browse through available properties and message the landlord or potential flatmate if you’re interested.

You can also list your own property if you already have a place and are looking for a tenant. It seems like you have to do this from the Ideal Flatmate website at the time of writing, but once listed you can manage enquiries from the app.

The big issue with Ideal Flatmate is that it’s UK-only, and right now there’s a reasonable but not enormous number of listings, but now that there’s an app available it’s sure to grow in popularity.

Post-it

(Image credit: 3M Company / TechRadar) Post-it

Post-it essentially gives Post-it notes a digital upgrade, letting you create boards full of virtual Post-it notes on your Android device.

You can type a note, write one by hand, or sketch on one, give it a color, and add to a board (which you can also name). You can also take a photo of a physical note and add that to a board.

Notes can at any time be edited or moved between boards, making for a colorful to-do list and note-taking app.

Post-it is perhaps a bit fussier than many note-taking apps, but if you’re a fan of real-world Post-its then this is definitely worth a look, either as a replacement or supplement to them.

Google Go

(Image credit: Google / TechRadar) Google Go

If you ever find yourself running low on data before your monthly allowance refreshes, then Google Go could be for you. This free Android app is a lightweight alternative to Chrome and other browsers. And when we say lightweight, we really mean it – the app comes in at just 7MB in size, and it uses up to 40% less data than searching in other browsers.

It’s also designed to work fast even on slow connections, which could be handy if you’re in an area with poor coverage, or roaming abroad where speeds might not be as fast as at home.

And while it’s lightweight, it doesn’t lack features. You can search for GIFs, search with your voice, and even get information from Google Lens by taking a photo of something – take a photo of text, for example, and you can have it spoken aloud or translated.

Crono

(Image credit: CronoApp / TechRadar) Crono

If you’re working at a computer then you probably don’t want to be constantly turning to check your phone. And with Crono, you don’t have to.

The Android app - when paired with a Chrome extension - mirrors your phone notifications onto your desktop browser. Not only can you see messages this way, you can also reply to them, with Crono supporting replies from SMS, WhatsApp and supposedly all other chat and email apps (though we haven’t tested absolutely everything).

You can also dismiss phone calls, share your clipboard, and if you clear notifications from Crono on your browser it will also clear them from your phone. Plus, if you misplace your phone you can ring it from your browser.

Crono isn’t the only app of this type, but it works well and doesn’t ask for any money.

Lock My Phone for Study

(Image credit: Thomas Kahn) Lock My Phone for Study

One of the more interesting features found on the OnePlus 7 Pro is called Zen Mode, a mode which locks your phone for 20 minutes, so you can’t use it even if you reboot it. It’s essentially a nuclear option for keeping you from phone-based distractions, but it’s one that appealed to a lot of people.

If you don’t have a OnePlus handset, you’re not out of luck, as a similar app – dubbed Lock My Phone for Study - has been created for other phones.

This lets you completely lock your phone for a duration of your choice, but handily it also has location-based locks, so you can set your phone to only lock when you’re in the vicinity of a certain location, and recurring locks, so your phone will lock at the same time every day.

You can still access lock screen shortcuts and answer calls though, so you’re not completely cut off from the world.

You can set up one ‘lock’ at a time for free, which should be all most people will need, but for a $1/£1 IAP you unlock the ability to have unlimited locks set up at once, which will be necessary if you want recurring locks, location-based locks and one-off locks all running at the same time.

Splitwise

(Image credit: TechRadar) Splitwise

If you’re constantly splitting bills with friends, family, housemates, or anyone else, then Splitwise could simplify things. It’s designed for keeping a running total of who owes what. Just tell the app who paid, how much and how the bill should be divided, and the app will log who owes how much and to whom.

That’s useful, but it gets even more so after multiple transactions, as Splitwise will ensure the totals owed by and to each person account for all transactions.

This also means there’s potentially less stress to pay people back immediately – the total is always shown in the app, and if you subsequently pay for something, their share will be deducted from what you previously owed. So you can just keep a running total and settle up as frequently or rarely as you – and the people you’re splitting with – want.

In the US, Splitwise is even better, as you can make payments directly from the app using PayPal and Venmo integrations. Still, whatever country you’re in, it’s worth having.

Firefox Preview

(Image credit: TechRadar) Firefox Preview

Firefox Preview is for anyone who wants Firefox but faster, and potentially a bit less stable. It’s an early version of Firefox Fenix – a new browser from the company that could one day replace the main Firefox Android browser.

Even in preview form it’s up to two times faster, as well as having a new look and features that help it stand out from the main Firefox app, and most other mobile browsers.

The focus so far seems to be on privacy (with tracking protection enabled by default) and tab management (with a ‘Collections’ tool that lets you create folders full of pages related to a specific theme, project or other grouping).

It’s a good start, and while there might be bugs, Firefox Preview feels more polished than you might expect, so if you want a taste of the browsing future today, this is the way to get it.

Our favorite free Android apps for customizing and improving the security of your device.

Screenshots showing WellPaper

(Image credit: OneLab by OnePlus) WellPaper

When is wallpaper more than just wallpaper? When it’s WellPaper, an app from an experimental software team within OnePlus – though you can install it on just about any Android phone.

WellPaper gives you a choice of three wallpapers to choose from for your phone, which isn’t many, but they’re all designed to visualize how you use your phone.

One of the wallpapers has six neon rings of different colors, with each representing a different app category (games, social, lifestyle and communication, tools, information and business, and entertainment). The thickness of each ring will change based on how much you use apps in each category.

The other two wallpapers are much the same idea, but one presents the data in colored tiles, and one in colored circles.

So you’re getting wallpaper that gradually shifts as the day goes on, and gives you an insight into which apps you’re spending the most time with. Then within the app itself you can see a detailed breakdown of exactly how much time you’ve actually spent using different apps and app types.

Each wallpaper looks good too, and it uses very little battery life, unlike some live wallpapers.

 Fast, private, and safe DNS + Firewall

(Image credit: Celzero) BraveDNS: Fast, private, and safe DNS + Firewall

BraveDNS offers two major functions in one, the first of which is strongly hinted at by the name – it can connect you to an encrypted DNS (domain name system) server, which helps you both circumvent censorship (which could block you from reaching websites) and avoid being redirected to fake websites, thereby making the internet safer and potentially more open.

BraveDNS also includes a firewall, which you can configure to stop any or all apps from accessing the internet either when you’re not using them or when your device is locked. This doesn’t just stop apps running wild with your data allowance, as more importantly it can also protect you from surveillance and other threats that rogue apps might pose.

BraveDNS also lets you view network and DNS logs, so you can keep tabs on DNS queries and incoming and outgoing internet traffic on your device.

This might all sound complicated, but the great thing about BraveDNS is that it’s also very simple to use, with clear controls and a big start/stop button for the main DNS and firewall features.

Morph

(Image credit: TechRadar) Morph

Google has launched a number of ‘digital wellbeing’ experiments, and Morph is one of the more successful.

The Android app is a colorful, minimalist launcher that replaces your usual home screen with one that changes based on where you are and what you’re doing. You can set up multiple different home screens for different scenarios, such as when you’re working, or when you’re working out. Give each a name and select either the days and times that they should be used, or the location.

So for example you might set your ‘work’ home screen to be displayed during working hours, while one for ‘exercise’ could show up when your phone detects that you’re at the gym.

Within each of these home screens you also select the apps that you want to be able to access. Any that you haven’t selected won’t be available, and any notifications from them will be blocked. So the idea is to only have access to the apps that you really want or need in any given situation.

For better or worse you can always manually change which home screen you’re viewing, edit which apps you have access to, or quit Morph altogether. So if you really want to check Facebook while you should be studying, Morph won’t actually stop you, it just gives you a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Vivaldi Browser Beta

(Image credit: Vivaldi Technologies / TechRadar) Vivaldi Browser Beta

Vivaldi isn’t a big name in browsers, but it has a loyal following on PC, as it’s more feature-packed and flexible than most of the competition, and now with Vivaldi Browser Beta the company is hoping to make the same mark on mobile.

As well as the normal features like bookmarks, private browsing, a customizable search engine and the like you also get a number of extras here.

Highlights include a Speed Dial, which places links to sites of your choice on every new tab you open, and the unusual ability to take and save notes from within the app while browsing.

Vivaldi Browser Beta also allows you to sync your data across devices, take screenshots of both the visible part of a page and the whole webpage, clone your tabs, quickly switch between search engines using a shortcut key when typing in the address bar, and more.

Don’t be surprised if even more features are added as this free Android app moves through and out of beta too. This one’s worth keeping an eye on.

Everyday – Calendar Widget

(Image credit: TechRadar) Everyday – Calendar Widget

At first glance, Everyday – Calendar Widget might struggle to stand out. It is, after all, simply a pair of widgets for your phone’s calendar, and we’ve seen calendar widgets before.

Where this has a bit of an edge though, is not in functionality so much as customization, because you can completely change the look, choosing your own primary, secondary and background colors, as well as primary and secondary text colors, corner size and background opacity.

You can also choose the starting day of the week, how many days and events to display, whether to show past and declined events, and more besides.

One of the two widgets shows your agenda, so you can see upcoming events from your home screen, while the other gives a more zoomed out view of your calendar, showing two weeks at a time, but not including the actual entries until you tap on a day.

Standard stuff then, but if you like the idea of a calendar widget but need it to look a certain way, then Everyday – Calendar Widget could well do the job.

Abstruct – Wallpapers in 4K

Abstruct – Wallpapers in 4K

There are loads of wallpaper apps on Google Play, but Abstruct is one of very few that we’ve felt compelled to spend money on – and much of the app is free too.

It’s crafted by the person responsible for the official OnePlus wallpapers, and you’ll find those in this app, but there are also many, many more that he’s made that aren’t used by OnePlus.

They’re all somewhat abstract, but some are altered paintings or landscapes, while others are completely digital creations across a number of themes. There’s quite a lot of variety and many of them look absolutely stunning, especially as they’re delivered in up to 4K quality.

There are over 300 wallpapers in all, and you can get around half of them for free, while the rest are unlocked for just $1.99/£1.99.

LockBox

LockBox

LockBox is a simple, secure way to store information that you want to keep handy but don’t want to risk anyone unauthorized getting access to.

The app has a simple interface letting you type out basic text notes and put them in named folders. But these notes are automatically encrypted (using AES-256 bit encryption with PBKDF2 SHA-256 and salted hashes), so they’re more secure than your average note app, and as LockBox stores data in the cloud you can access it anywhere.

The sorts of things the app imagines you storing include passport numbers, social security numbers, credit card information and the like, but you can use it for anything.

The app also requires a password or fingerprint to login to of course, so if someone gets access to your device, they won’t get access to your notes.

Hide Camera Hole

Hide Camera Hole

Some phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 now have punch-hole cameras cut into the screen. These eliminate the need for a bezel or notch, but it means there’s a potentially distracting circle in the corner of your phone’s display instead.

Hide Camera Hole is one of several apps that tries to address this by supplying a selection of wallpapers designed to, well, hide the camera hole. In many cases that just means a dark area where the camera is, while others will have a similar circle in the image, positioned to line up with the camera.

You can adjust colors and positioning, ensuring the wallpaper fits perfectly, and the app has wallpapers that account for both single and dual-lens cameras on either the right or left of the display. Indeed, that’s one of the main advantages to this app over some others, which are focused just on the Galaxy S10 range and don’t work with other handsets.

App Tiles

App Tiles

Your Android device likely has all sorts of shortcuts on its notifications screen and you can probably customize which ones are displayed, but what you probably can’t do is add shortcuts to apps.

App Tiles adds that option, letting you create up to six shortcuts to apps of your choice, meaning whatever screen you’re on you’ll always be able to swipe down to display your shortcuts, tap on the relevant app and be taken straight to it. For apps that you use a lot, this could be a real time-saver.

App Tiles is easy to set up – it doesn’t require you to change any settings on your phone, just launch it and assign apps. App Tiles does have adverts, but you’ll only have to put up with them when you’re setting it up. Once the shortcuts are in place you never have to launch the App Tiles app itself again.

 Faster & Safer Internet

1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet

If you ever use public Wi-Fi networks, then 1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet is for you. That’s because public Wi-Fi is notoriously lacking in privacy and security. There’s a chance the provider will sell your browsing data and it also allows other people – if they have the skills – to snoop on your browsing data.

But 1.1.1.1 helps stop either of those things from happening by changing your DNS resolver to one managed by Cloudflare (the company that makes this app). It promises never to sell your data or use it to target adverts, and by browsing through Cloudflare you’re also hiding your data from any other potential snoopers.

As an added bonus, you might even get a speed boost, as Cloudflare’s DNS resolver is the fastest public one. The app is also completely free and easy to use – there’s just a single toggle to turn 1.1.1.1 on or off. That’s it.

Our favorite free Android apps for planning a holiday, checking the weather and getting around without getting lost.

 Ski Tracker, Resort Maps, Snow Conditions

(Image credit: Breakpoint Studio) Slopes: Ski Tracker, Resort Maps, Snow Conditions

Slopes: Ski Tracker is one of the most comprehensive ski and snowboard apps available for Android – one that’s useful both at the resort and when planning a trip.

The main feature of Slopes is arguably its run tracking. Hit ‘Go’ and leave the app running in your pocket, and it will track your top speed, average speed, vertical distance, time on the slopes, and build up a map of the runs and lifts you took – complete with lift names for major resorts.

It doesn’t need a phone signal to track you, just a GPS connection, and it’s designed to be light on your phone’s battery, so you can use it all day.

Slopes also lets you compete with friends on private leaderboards, and it has all sorts of resort details, including ski maps, weather forecasts, snow conditions, elevation, trail difficulty, and user-generated stats, such as how much of your day you’re likely to spend on lifts.

Some of this stuff will be useful when deciding what ski resort to go to, and almost all of it will be useful once you’re there. Much of the stuff in Slopes is free too, but for some of the stats, along with offline trail maps and speed heatmaps, you’ll need to upgrade to Slopes Premium – but there are various subscription options available, along with a free trial.

Polarsteps

Polarsteps

There are all sorts of apps designed for journaling your travels, but Polarsteps can do much of the work automatically.

The app will track where you’ve been and add photos from your travels, giving you a map and gallery of all your trips, simply by having the app running in the background on your phone.

You can make trips manually and add any photos it missed, but creating trips automatically means you’ll have at least a partial record of your adventures without doing anything.

This might sound like it would hammer your phone’s battery, but in fact Polarsteps is designed to only use around 4% each day and it doesn’t even need to be connected to the internet, which is ideal if you’re traveling somewhere where data costs extra.

You can keep your trips private or share them with friends and family, and by following people in the app you can see their journeys as they happen. Polarsteps is also nice to look at, easy to use and completely free, making it near essential for anyone who wants a visual record of their trips.

Overdrop

Overdrop

Overdrop is yet another weather app, but it stands out more for its widgets than its forecasting skills.

It has quite a lot of them, and many are beautifully designed, showing some combination of the weather, time, day, date and battery level. We’d be surprised if you can’t find one you like, and while some are reserved for the paid Overdrop Pro app, many are free.

Beyond that, Overdrop is a perfectly accomplished weather app, with seven-day forecasts, nice animated illustrations, and information on things like cloud cover and humidity.

 Weather Maps

Ventusky: Weather Maps

There’s a lot more to the weather than you’ll generally see in a typical forecast, and it can be a lot more interesting – and beautiful – than a simple temperature reading.

Ventusky knows this, as it makes forecasts more engaging by including an attractive weather map and wind animation, complete with the current temperature shown on the map, so you can see exactly which areas are what temperature at a glance.

Hourly forecasts let you see how the weather will change over the day and tapping on any hour or day will adjust the weather map accordingly.

You can also view weekly charts of the temperature, precipitation and wind, so you can see how much it varies over time.

Sunrise and sunset times are also available, so there’s a lot to sink your teeth into, but really Ventusky is all about that weather map and wind animation, which shows the motion and direction of the wind in a mesmerizing way.

Facebook Local

Facebook Local

Facebook Local is all about finding events and attractions nearby. It links to your Facebook account then shows a bunch of events listed on Facebook that are near your current or home location, or another place of your choice.

Some of these will be from friends and pages that you follow, but it will also dig up other local public events, so you’re likely to discover things that you wouldn’t have found on your main Facebook feed.

You can filter events and attraction by type, date, location or time, view them on a map and add them to your Facebook calendar, so it’s simple to control what you see and keep track of what you’re interested in. You can also add your phone calendar to the app, so you can see and manage everything in one place.

More or less all of this stuff can be found on Facebook itself, but Facebook Local is a much more focused way to find out what’s going on around you, without all of Facebook’s many distractions, so it’s worth having on your phone even if you already have the main Facebook app.

Moovit

Moovit

Moovit is the only app you need to navigate public transport wherever you might be in the world.

Simply enter a destination and it will tell you how to get there from your current location (or you can set a different start point).

Moovit will give you various route options using different forms of transport by default, but you can tell it to only include certain kinds of public transport, or to minimize walking or transfers.

Select a route to see full step by step instructions or get live navigation. The app will tell you exactly where to go and even alert you when you’re nearing your stop so you don’t need to stare at your phone screen the entire journey.

There are also timetables for buses and trains and you can save your favorite destinations or transit lines to quickly get directions and timetables in future.

Moovit also has widgets, offline maps, and transport information for thousands of cities in over 80 countries. We weren’t kidding when we said it’s the only public transport app you’ll need.

Citymapper

Citymapper

Arriving in a brand new city is always exciting but it can also be a little daunting, especially if you need to get around using public transport. Citymapper is a brilliant app that brings you real-time information on public transport for cities around the world.

You can easily plan your route using all kinds of transport, from buses to ferries, and you can be kept up to date with real-time data, including any disruptions or cancellations. An essential app for any city-bound traveler.

Best Linux distros for small businesses in 2021

Techradar - Tue, 10/19/2021 - 05:34

The best Linux distros for small businesses provide a platform that emphasizes stability, support, and other important business considerations.

Linux has become increasingly friendly for use by individuals and businesses, partly as an attempt to lure users away from Windows, but also because Linux has come to power not just the wider internet but also most cloud services.

This means while Linux may seem like an intimidating option at first, it could actually be helpful in the longer run for those who need to develop their wider IT skills without proving so much of a challenge as initially feared.

As Linux is free it means you don't have to worry about licensing fees, and there are a number of virtual machine software platforms that will allow you to install different Linux (or other operating systems) on your existing computer. In fact, Windows 10 now famously ships with Linux as a virtual machine environment.

However, if you would prefer to avoid virtual machines you could instead use an older desktop PC and simply install a Linux distro as the main operating system. Most Linux distros have low resource needs, but do watch out that any hardware drivers you need are provided.

So what's the best choice for your small business? We've approached this selection with a few criteria in mind. Stability must come first: if you're putting a distro to work, uptime is critical. Since we are talking about small businesses here, the distros should also be easy to deploy, configure and manage. Solid support provision comes a close third.

Here therefore are the options we think are best Linux distros for small business users.

We've also featured these Linux guides:

(Image credit: NethServer) 1. NethServer

For point-and-click server rollouts

Zero costEasy to deploy and administerProfessional support options

Although server deployments require a certain level of expertise and understanding of the base technologies, sometimes you need to deploy servers in a snap. Setting up the popular server platforms is an involved process and involves pulling server software and manually editing the configuration files in a command-line text editor. While there certainly are deployments that require such kind of meticulous involvement, most can use some level of automation. 

The NethServer distro started as a fork of SME Server with the goal of easing the configuration of the servers. The distro is based on CentOS and helps you roll-out all kinds of servers without mucking about with configuration files. You can deploy and configure just about every aspect of your deployed servers through a browser-based interface.

You can use NethServer to set up a web filter, a mail server, file server, web server, firewall, VPN, Slack-like team chat, and more. While you can use all its features for free, NethServer does offer several tiers of professional support options.

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(Image credit: ClearOS) 2. ClearOS

A distro administered entirely from a web interface

Graphical administration interfaceAmple documentationCommercial support options

ClearOS is a CentOS-based distro that’s designed as an alternative to commercial options like Red Hat Enterprise Server or Windows Small Business Server. There are several editions of ClearOS including a community-supported edition that is offered as a no-cost free download. 

You can use the community edition of ClearOS to roll out all kinds of network services including a content filter, firewall, an intrusion detection system, a bandwidth manager, domain controller, mail server, and more. Additionally you can also purchase additional server functionalities from its marketplace.

The best thing about ClearOS is its ease of deployment. You can use the distro to rollout complex network servers and services from a web-based management interface. 

Not only is the interface intuitive to use, it’s designed to help you conduct regular maintenance and administration tasks with a few clicks. Still, the project has ample documentation and in fact you can access module-specific help from within the administration interface itself.

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(Image credit: Univention) 3. Univention Corporate Server

The most comprehensive option in terms of supported servers

Lots of serversOnline demoVirtual images

Based on Debian, Univention Corporate Server (UCS) too offers the convenience of an easy-to-use web-based administration panel to easily deploy and manage servers, without dropping down to the command-line. However, unlike the other distros, where possible, UCS uses Docker containers to deploy the different servers and services.

UCS also provides a pretty comprehensive list of servers, boasting of supporting over 90  different modules separated into over a dozen categories, such as identity management, infrastructure, collaboration and groupware, security, virtualization, and more. Thanks to its comprehensive nature, you’ll have to spend some time familiarizing yourself with its peculiarities. However, the distro has ample documentation and videos to ease the process.

The distro is available in multiple editions including a freely available Core edition, which doesn’t differ from the paid editions in terms of features. The paid editions however include support and other benefits. In addition to an installable image, UCS also provides the choice of pre-installed images for both VMWare and VirtualBox, for easier deployment.

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(Image credit: Zentyal) 4. Zentyal

Another good option for rolling out pre-configured servers

Appealing interfaceFree and paid editionsOptional certified training

Zentyal is in the same league as ClearOS, NethServer and Univention, in that it allows you to rollout and administer services across your network from the convenience of a graphical interface, although its offering isn’t as wide as some of its peers. 

Based on Ubuntu, the latest version of Zentyal is available in a couple of variants and the exact number of servers available for deployment vary between the two. There’s the freely available Development Edition that offers a small set of servers as compared to the full featured but paid main edition. 

That said, the Development Edition ships with a wide variety of Gateway, Mail, Infrastructure, and Directory and Domain functions. Once installed, you can configure these services from the web interface itself. Zentyal’s dashboard is visually appealing and is made up of several widgets that you can reposition as per your requirements. 

Zentyal’s dashboard also provides quick links to the Documentation and other useful material for an administrator, such as Certified Training. 

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(Image credit: Ubuntu) 5. Ubuntu

Linux for home and business

Very well supported by communityLTS gives you long-term stabilityOption of paid tech support

As the most popular desktop distribution of Linux, Ubuntu’s reputation might lead you to think that it’s best suited to home users. While Ubuntu's stability and flexibility for end users is very solid, there's also a free-to-use Ubuntu Server version to handle your backend tasks. 

One of Ubuntu's strongest features is the level of support it benefits from. The vast user base means there's a raft of technical documentation available, and its generous community has answered just about every question you might have.

Ubuntu is released twice a year in April and October. The April releases, after every two years, are tagged LTS which stands for Long Term Support, and unlike the regular release, the LTS releases are maintained for five years. 

For greater control and management, small businesses can buy a subscription to the Ubuntu Advantage program. All plans give you an additional five years of support (for a total of 10 years) as well as additional features such as kernel live patching, the Landscape on-prem systems management tool, and more.

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