Gmail Android app adds unified inbox, conversation view, and smarter search

gmail all inboxes

Google’s latest update to the Android Gmail app will be a breath of fresh air for anyone who juggles several email addresses.

The first big change is a unified inbox for all your email accounts: whether you have multiple Gmail addresses, POP/IMAP mail (including Yahoo and Outlook.com), or an Exchange server. Your mail from all these will be display together neatly in a single “All inboxes” view. Of course, you can still use the drop-down menu to select a specific mail account if you only want to see those messages, or if you need to access one of its folders.

gmail mobile drawer

The Gmail app has long since shown those long Gmail email threads in a “conversation” view that lets you see the whole long chain of replies and re-replies. Now, the app will do the same for your Yahoo, Outlook, and POP/IMAP accounts as well.

gmail conversations view

The unified inbox and threaded views are the big news, but there are a few smaller improvements tucked into this app update. Autocomplete for search is faster and smarter, animations have been refined, and preview attachments are larger so you can see what’s inside without opening them up. Plus, you can save those attachments to Google Drive with a single tap of the Drive icon

Nuzzel for Android creates a curated feed of the news your friends are reading

nuzzel android

It curates news stories shared by your friends on Twitter and Facebook, presenting them in a simple stream that you can scroll through. Or if you prefer, it can repackage articles into a daily email. The new Nuzzel for Android joins existing versions for iOS and the web.

nuzzel for android

The Android version is well thought out, with layout and animations adhering to Google’sMaterial Design guidelines. Content is broken up into cards, with a prominent reshare button if you want to send an article to someone else.

You’ll need to login with a Twitter or Facebook account so Nuzzel can mine your social feeds. Nuzzel also offers featured feeds, which are collections of articles from the accounts of public figures.

Android Installer Vulnerability Affecting 49.5 Percent of Devices

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Security researchers at Palo Alto Networks claim to have found a vulnerability in Android versions ranging from v2.3 (Gingerbread) to v4.3_r0.9 (Jelly Bean) that allows attackers to gain full access to compromised devices. The bug pertains to the fact that in vulnerable versions of Android there are no checks at the time of installation of whether an app’s permissions actually match those advertised to the user during installation. The vulnerability only affects apps installed from third-party app stores.

Palo Alto Networks says the vulnerability, which it is calling Android Installer Hijacking, is of the ‘Time-of-Check to Time-of-Use (TOCTTOU)’ type, and allows attackers to mask the permissions of an app being installed between the check page (which lists the permissions) and the actual installation of the apk file.

Essentially, the system service PackageInstaller on affected devices does not verify the apk file at the time of installation, only prior to displaying the permissions – this means the app installed can have different permissions from what are shown. This could allow access to user data including passwords.

The firm says as of Google’s March 2015 Android distribution numbers, affected devices account for roughly 49.5 percent of active Android devices. Palo Alto Networks adds that back in January 2014 when it discovered the vulnerability, which it is calling Android Installer Hijacking, the security flaw affected 89.4 percent of active Android devices.

In February last year however, Palo Alto Networks says it informed Google’s Android Security Team, and then informed Samsung in March, and Amazon (the vulnerability includes devices accessing Amazon Appstore for Android) in September, so that patches could be issued.

A quote by the Google team on the security firm’s blog post says, “Android Open Source Project includes patches for this issue for Android 4.3 and later,” and adds that the Team “has not detected any attempts to exploit this vulnerability on user devices.”

Amazon on the other hand recommends users should download the latest version of the Amazon Appstore for Android, which it says gets “updated automatically on Fire devices and for 3rd party Android devices it can be updated via www.amazon.com/getappstore.”

Palo Alto Networks itself has released an app to the Google Play store that allows users to check if their devices are affected by the Android Installer Hijacking vulnerability. It adds that Samsung and Amazon have released fixes for their affected devices, which included those running on Fire OS.

Cyanogen, BLU to Launch Android Phone Without Google Services This Year

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We already know that Cyanogen’s CEO, Kirt McMaster, has been trying to take Android away from Google; though not literally. McMaster’s aggressive stand towards Google seems to be taking the CyanogenMod custom ROM maker to new heights.

Cyanogen has confirmed that it will launch a BLU-made smartphone later this year. The highlight of the smartphone will be that it won’t include any Google services or apps.

Adding more about the partnership, BLU CEO, Samuel Ohev-Zion, noted that the phone will probably preload Amazon’s Appstore for Android for downloading apps instead of Google Play, and Opera as the mobile browser instead of Chrome. Other apps expected to be preloaded on the BLU-made Cyanogen phone are Nokia’s Here maps, Spotify as the music app, as well as Dropbox and OneDrive for cloud storage. He even added that Microsoft’s Cortana can be used on the phone, replacing the likes of Google’s voice search while Bing can replace normal Google search. “When these other apps are deeply integrated into the phone, most of the time they perform better than the Google apps,” said Ohev-Zion, adding that plans have not yet been finalised. For the uninitiated, BLU is an American company that has launched few mid-range Android smartphones, which are available via Best Buy and other big retailers in the country.

A recent report in-line with the current report suggested that Microsoft was in talks with Cyanogen to preload its suite of apps on the company’s OS.

Kirt McMaster in an interview with Miguel Helft of Forbes said, “We’re putting a bullet through Google’s head.” McMaster’s stance clearly pointed to Cyanogen’s new partnership with BLU and the release of an Android phone without Google’s suite of mobile apps. McMaster stressed on the fact that Google’s Android has room for more customisations.

Cyanogen, the company behind CyanogenMod custom ROM, recently announced it raised $110 million (approximately Rs. 684 crores) in overall funding that involved industry heavyweights such as Twitter, Qualcomm, Telefonica, Rupert Murdoch as well as India-based Premji Invest

Run this Installer Hijacking Scanner app to see if your older Android phone

android malware

This app could save your older Android phone from being hijacked. Specifically, theInstaller Hijacking Scanner app from the Google Play store is designed to check for a vulnerability that was discovered over a year ago and still hasn’t been resolved.

Palo Alto Networks revealed information Tuesday about a critical vulnerability affecting Android. The flaw was initially discovered in January, 2014. Palo Alto Networks has been working closely with Google and Android device manufacturers to resolve the issue since then. The flaw, dubbed “Android Installer Hijacking,” is estimated to impact nearly half of all Android devices.

The vulnerability affects the Time-of-Check to Time-of-Use (TOCTTOU) function of Android. Exploiting the flaw allows an attacker to hijack app installation and replace or modify an otherwise benign Android app installation with malware without the user’s knowledge. According to Palo Alto Networks the malicious app is able to gain full access to the compromised device—including usernames, passwords, and other sensitive data.

The issue is a problem only when downloading apps from third-party repositories. Apps installed from Google Play are downloaded to a protected space within the file system. Third-party app stores, on the other hand, typically download files to unprotected storage and installed directly from there. The TOCTTOU flaw enables an attacker to modify or replace the file during installation without alerting the user.

The issue is mainly a concern for users that install apps from third-party app stores on older Android devices. Palo Alto Networks claims that the flaw exists in Android 2.3, 4.0.3-4.0.4, 4.1.x, and 4.2.x. Some Android 4.3 implementations have also been found vulnerable.

One of the primary benefits of Android is also one of its biggest concerns. The volume and diversity of Android devices leaves many Android users stuck with outdated versions of the OS. Androd 4.4 KitKat was released in October of 2013 and has already been supplanted by Android 5.0 Lollipop yet less than 40 percent of Android users have received that update. Meanwhile, Google has stopped supporting Android 4.3 and earlier versions—leaving more than half of Android users to rely on the Android community to patch vulnerabilities or just fend for themselves.

At the time the vulnerability was discovered, it affected almost 90 percent of the Android devices in use. Thanks to attrition and updates to more current versions of Android, that number has dropped to just under 50 percent. The Android device doesn’t need to be rooted to be vulnerable, but rooted devices are predictably more vulnerable, according to Palo Alto Networks.

Based on these facts, mitigation seems relatively simple. You should update your device to Android 4.3—or preferably 4.4—or later if at all possible. Regardless, you should stick to downloading apps from the official Google Play store.

The four best podcast apps for Android phones

android podcast apps

Podcasts remain a lively and popular forum for online broadcasting, even with a name that calls back to the era of the iPod.

As an Android user you’ve probably long broken free of the Apple ecosystem, so there will be no searching through iTunes to sync up podcasts with an iPhone. No, you want your podcasts your way, quickly and conveniently on your Android phone.

Fortunately, there’s a top class of podcast apps that stand out from the wide variety of options in the Play Store. They vary in price and approach to podcast organization and discovery, but all of them will connect you to your favorite shows or help you find new ones with ease.

Pocket Casts wears the crown well

If you want a podcast app that looks great and is easy to pick up and use, go with Pocket Casts ($3.99). Its layout is very eye-catching, with a tile-formatted display that scrolls through popular and recommended podcasts. The overall interface is a good example of Material Design, complete with the slide-out side menu and a finger-friendly layout.

pocket casts

If you’re new to podcasts it’s worth checking out the featured or trending sections to see what’s out there. Podcasts in these sections range from the serious and newsy (like those from NPR) to the ridiculous (like the Adam Carolla podcast). Want something else? Just search or use the category filter if there’s something in particular you’re after.

The main menu is one of the app’s best design elements. It gives you a quick glance of your downloaded podcasts, video, audio, or any custom categories you create. When you subscribe to a podcast, you can choose whether it will download over any data connection or stick to Wi-Fi only.

The Chromecast button is also front and center—just tap it to send your audio or video to a connected TV.

The only feature that should be more prominent is the ability to check out a list of episodes. Right now you have to hit the subscribe button before you can dig down to discover specific titles of past episodes.

Player FM syncs your podcasts to the desktop

Along with being a well-designed and full-featured podcast app, Player FMsolves the one problem of moving away from iTunes: the ability to find and play podcasts on the desktop.

player fm

So create an account (Google sign-in is available) and any podcasts you find and save will be synced up with the Player FM web app, which means Chromebook users are in luck, too.

The app is free, which makes it a compelling choice if you’re a light podcast user and aren’t ready to commit to a favorite paid app. However, the Player FM team says it’s rolling out a Gold subscription option, which will give you an unlimited number of subscriptions to store. Currently you’re limited to 20 at the free level.

DoggCatcher is a customizable contender

The name may sound a little odd, but DoggCatcher ($2.99) is another good option for tracking down and playing new or undiscovered podcasts.

Its interface offers hints of Google’s Material Design aesthetic, but there’s are also several cups of Holo (the preferred design from the days of Jelly Bean).

doggcatcher podcasts

Nonethless, the layout works well for helping you find new podcasts, as DoggCatcher breaks up the discovery section by audio, video, or news. You can import any existing episodes you have if they’re in the OPML format, or find them by RSS feed.

The best way to find new podcasts is to head to the Subscribe section from the slide out menu, as you can browse through categories or get recommendations based on your history once you use the app more frequently.

One neat trick: you can customize the size of the audio player. Tap it once to make it larger and another time to hide it, giving more space to scroll through lists and find feeds. DoggCatcher also drops in a useful sleep timer, which lets you determine when the podcast fades away in case you doze off while listening. You’re also able to create as many categories as you wish if you want to keep your list of subscriptions nice and tidy.

BeyondPod is search friendly

The interface takes a little more work to figure out than the other choices here, but there’s a lot to like in BeyondPod (free trial, $6.99 in-app upgrade). It has a good look, and smartly puts a search bar within easy reach from the top-right menu.

beyondpod

One signature feature is that you can get a snippet of each feed by hitting the preview button. If you like what you hear, you can then touch Subscribe and look forward to new episodes to download when they’re ready. It has a great breakdown for finding feeds, letting you search by publisher, country of origin, or many other choices that are enjoyable to just browse through.

You can customize how many episodes stay on your device if storage becomes a concern. Chromecast support is also here, which is useful if you want to watch a Ted talk or take in the video that is becoming more common with podcasts.

The free download lets you try out all the features for seven days – otherwise Chromecast support, device synchronization, and automatic podcast downloads disappear unless you opt for the in-app upgrade.

If you like BeyondPod and are feeling adventurous you can join the BeyondPod Beta, which will let you test drive new features before they go live.

No matter your choice, you should be happy with one of these selections as they all do the basics and have developed their own strengths. If there’s a particular podcasting app you’re fond of let us know about it in the comments, as you can never have enough choice with Android apps.

Android 5.0 Lollipop Gets New 'On-Body Detection' Smart Lock

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Apart from ‘Trusted devices’ and ‘Trusted places’ for smart locking/ unlocking your Android phone, Google has rolled out a new ‘On-body detection’ mode to the Smart Lock menu. With the option, users can keep their devices unlocked depending upon the proximity to their body.The feature was first spotted by Android Police on Friday, and is also working for us on a Google Nexus 4 smartphone running Android 5.0.1 Lollipop alongside Google Play Services v7.0.97.

The ‘On-body detection’ feature essentially keeps the device unlocked (once unlocked) till the time user is holding it or is near the body (pocket or handbag). This is helpful when you leave the device somewhere and as soon as it goes out of your body’s proximity it gets locked, even before the sleep and lock time.

Unfortunately the new On-body detection smart lock feature cannot differentiate between different bodies, so when you hand an unlocked smartphone with the feature enabled to someone it will stay unlocked. Also, if users have Trusted devices or Trusted places features enabled alongside, the device may stay unlocked even after it is out of proximity.

“This feature uses you device’s accelerometer to detect whether your device is still being carried on the body. If your device detects that it’s no longer being held, your device won’t stay unlocked [..] If you unlock your device and hand it to someone else, your device also stays unlocked as long as the other person continues to hold or carry it,” reads the On-body detection feature’s brief note.

The feature is also reported to be working for non-Nexus devices running versions higher than Android 5.0 apart from the latest Google Play services version 7.0.97.

To remind you, Google during the MWC 2015 trade show introduced the Google Play Services 7.0 with new APIs for developers. Notably, the search giant launched its Google Play Services 6.5 last year in November.

LG G Pad Tablets to Start Receiving Android 5.0 Lollipop Update This Month

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LG on Sunday announced that the Android 5.0 Lollipop update will be rolled out to G Pad 7.0, G Pad 8.0, G Pad 8.3 and G Pad 10.1 tablets, starting this month in Korea. The rollout is expected to finish by mid-April in the country. The company has not provided a time-frame for the global release of the updates however.The Korean company didn’t announce any changelog for the Android 5.0 Lollipopupdate, but said that the upgrade is bold with Google Material Design and with the new Android Runtime (ART), the overall speed has been increased as well.

Recently, LG India confirmed that the Android 5.0 Lollipop update for its 2013 flagship smartphone, the G2, will be rolling out this year. While replying to a user, LG India said, “The Lollipop update for LG G2 is expected in Q2 2015. Stay tuned!”

Previously, the company had shipped Android 5.0 Lollipop to its flagship the LG G3smartphone and the G Pad 8.3 Google Play Edition only.

Last week, the LG G Pad 8.0 was made available to buy in India at Rs. 17,999 via a third-party online retailer. Initially announced in May last year, the LG G Pad 8.0 was rolled out in the European region in August and was expected to follow to Central and South America, Asia and CIS regions gradually thereafter.

The LG G Pad 8.0 comes in two variants, a Wi-Fi only model and a LTE model. The one available in India via Snapdeal is the Wi-Fi only model. Both models are identical in terms of specifications apart from the 4G connectivity option.

How to Use Programmable NFC Tags With Your Android Phone

Your Android phone’s NFC hardware is for more than just transferring content and using mobile payments. You can buy cheap, programmable NFC tags and have your phone automatically perform actions when you touch them.

For example, you could place NFC tags on your bedside table, near your front door, in your car, and on your desk at work. Tapping your phone against them or placing it down on them could automatically select device settings that makes sense in that location.

You’ll need just two things for this. First, you’ll need an Android phone with NFC hardware in it — and most Android phones will now offer that. Lower-end Android phones may not include NFC hardware to keep costs low. You can perform a web search for your model of phone and “NFC” or just open its Settings screen. You’ll find the NFC option under more Wireless & networks options. Obviously, the NFC hardware must be enabled for everything else here to work.

Second, you’ll need programmable NFC tags. Search for NFC tags on a site like Amazon.com and you’ll find them available for a fairly low price. Some manufacturers make their own, branded ones — but you don’t need tags made by your Android phone’s manufacturer.

These tags don’t have batteries in them, but they do have a bit of memory. When you place your phone’s NFC reader near them, the NFC reader provides power to the tag, and can read the data from the tag. The tags are programmable, so you can write whatever data you want into the tag from your phone.

You’ll now need an app that can program the tags. Android doesn’t include one, but you cansearch for “nfc tags” on Google Play to find a lot of apps that can handle this for you — including free ones. For example, the NFC Tools app will let you write data to a tag and read the data already on tags.

Install such an app, open it, and choose the data you’d like to write to a tag. You may be able to lock a tag so it can’t be reprogrammed, which may be good if you’re leaving that tag in a public area. However, that means you will never be able to change the data on the tag in the future, so don’t use this option unless you have a good reason to.

Afterwards, you can tap the tag against the NFC reader on the back of your phone, and it’ll copy that data to the tag’s memory. Place the tag in a convenient location for the action you chose.

Using the Tags

Next, you’ll need an app that will respond to the tags. For example, if you used NFC Tools to write data to your tags, you can install the NFC Tasks app. When your phone reads an NFC tag you’ve written instructions to, the NFC Tools app will read the instructions from that NFC tag and perform them.

You can then just place the tags somewhere convenient. Place them on a table, and then place your phone on them when you want to perform the action. Fasten them to a wall near a door if you want to tap your phone against a tag when you leave or enter an area. It’s up to you what you want to use these tags for. The uses are practically endless.

For example, if you regularly need to set an hour-long timer when you do your laundry, you can program an NFC tag to start an hour-long timer and place it next to your laundry machine. Set your phone down on that tag or tap it and it’ll start the laundry rimer. If you regularly pair your phone with a Bluetooth keyboard, you could affix an NFC tag to the back of the keyboard and tap your phone against it to automatically go through the Bluetooth pairing process.

Or, you can set up a tag with your Wi-Fi details, and guests can just tap their phones against the NFC tag to connect to your Wi-Fi network without locating it and entering a passcode. They would need an appropriate app installed on their phone to do this, however.

The five things Android finally got right with Android 5.1

Android 5.1 is here (at this time only for Nexus devices), and it tidies up Google’s operating system with some extra niceties that help you zip through various tasks. Here are the details as to what’s new and how it spruces up the overall utility and performance of Android.

Quick toggle settings for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

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You you can now change which Wi-Fi network and Bluetooth device you’re connected to without the need to maneuver through the settings menu.

When you swipe down with two fingers to the Quick Settings panel, you’ll notice tiny arrows below the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth sections. These indicate a pop-out menu is available. When you touch there, you’ll see a list of available Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth networks that you’ve previously paired with. Just touch the one you want to switch to it.

Also take note: your Wi-Fi connectivity is getting smarter. Your phone and tablet will remember Wi-Fi connections with limited or no access and won’t reconnect to them in the future. Handy for when you you’re back at that same hotel conference room with the terrible network.

Better security with Device Protection

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Android’s new Device Protection feature steps up your phone or tablet’s security. However, it’s only for the Nexus 6, 9, and devices that “ship with Android 5.1.”  So if you have a Nexus 5 you’re out of luck for now.

If your device is lost or stolen, it will stay locked until you sign in with your Google account, even if someone were to perform a factory reset. To enable it, you need to have a secured lock screen with a pin or pattern and be signed in to the device with your Google account.

Improvements to Priority Mode

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The Priority Mode first came out with Android 5.0, snoozing alerts until you flipped them back on or for a set period of time. You can trigger it by touching either of the volume buttons.

Now, however, you can set it until your next alarm, which means you can set it right before going to bed and know that notifications will come back to life when you wake up. Android even detects if the alarm is set by a third-party app – not just the default Clock option.

Don’t forget that if you have an Android Wear smartwatch the notification preferences extend there as well.

Volume and Alarm noise changes

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The volume buttons also get smarter when it comes to changing the noise level for audio and the alarm. For example, when you go into the Clock app and press the volume key, it will turn up or down the noise level for the alarm. Previously it would just call up the generic volume adjustment for the sound on the phone. Android will recognize if you’re in a music app and do the same, changing the sound level for the current usage.

Also, whenever you touch the volume button you’ll see an alarm bell next to the sound meter. If you’re in the Clock app, touching the bell will kick you over to the Priority Mode menu. Otherwise, it will instantly put your phone on vibrate.

Multi-SIM and HD voice capabilities finally arrive

HD voice calling nexus 520x822 The five things Android finally got right with Android 5.1

The Nexus 6, and eventually a larger batch of devices that get Android 5.1, will work on networks with HD Voice capabilities. While some Android manufacturers may have built this support in on their own, it will simplify things down the line for this to come as a native feature of Android.

Also, Android will now support phones with a multi-SIM setup. This is useful for international travel as you won’t have to swap out SIM cards when changing from one network to another.

There are a lot of other hidden gems inside Android 5.1, such as some extra animations and an overall zippier performance. If you’re one of the few to be eligible for the update be on the lookout for it. Otherwise, these improvements will at least give you an indication of what the future of Android holds.