The Android Apps
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Android, a word that means mechanical man, is more recently also the name of the world's most popular operating system for smartphones and tablet computers. It was announced in June 2014 that there are over 1 billion Android users. This OS is based on Linux (as is Macintosh OS X) and is currently developed by Google. Sounds like Google owns it, but it's in the public domain so actually anyone can work up their own version of it. Google does own the Play Store, where everyone gets their little Android programs, or “apps,” to run on their devices, and for good reason: the Play Store is the only safe place to get these apps. Currently there are over a million of them in the Play Store. Go anyplace else to download and install apps, and you run the risk of viruses and worse.

Apps vs. browsing
Android ships with Google's Chrome browser as well as another one that's just called Browser. These browsers work in a pinch, but browsing on a smartphone or a little tablet like the lenovo A1000 that this writer uses is tough on the eyes and much slower when compared with Internet Explorer or Safari on a desktop computer. That's because most web sites are made for computer displays and not really for squeezing into smartphone and tablet screens. A more sensible approach is to use one or more Android apps for news, another for weather, and so forth. Each app gives you the information you're looking for and presents it formatted for the tiny screen. You'll likely see an ad or two but nothing like the adstorm that the browsers show, even with pop-ups blocked.

John's favorite apps
Between the pre-installed and those downloaded from the Play Store, the lenovo tablet has 46 apps in it. This is a group that gets culled on a regular basis and and only a few are used regularly. Here follow the recommended few:

For news: HuffPost (free, updated 10-1-14), BBC News (free, updated 11-25-14), and Fox News (free, updated 10-27-14). Always check the menu of an app to see good and less-obvious ways of getting around in it, and check the app's Settings as presented in Android's own Settings app for ways to personalize the app. You may find a way to make the text larger, for instance.

For weather: The Weather Channel (free, updated 12-18-14). It's quick and thorough, though the ad sometimes seen at the Current Weather screen is large and too easy to hit by mistake.

To read email: Email (pre-installed, updated 6-18-14), an app that comes with Android and is easy to set up and use with all kinds of email accounts, and Gmail (free, updated 12-16-14), an app for just reading Google Mail.

To follow sports and favorite teams: CBS Sports (free, updated 12-15-14) for sports news stories, MLB Scores (free, updated 10-8-14) and NFL Scores (free, updated 10-10-14) for schedules and scores in just those sports.

To follow the stars: Stellarium ($2.49, updated 12-28-14).  Shows a realistic and accurate night sky map as you'd see with the naked eye, or with binoculars, or with a telescope, depending on how you zoom it.

For local traffic: Total Traffic (free, updated 6-11-14). Real-time traffic detail on zoomable maps of any local area in the US. Know before you go.

To get apps: the Play Store (pre-installed, updated frequently in the background). You use it to uninstall apps, too.

A further word about security (of course)
Besides getting apps only at the Play Store, Android users must be careful about some other security issues:

You may have noticed that the Favorite Apps section above does not include any for banking or shopping. The apps of bigger banks may be safer because these banks are targeted more frequently and so must do a better job in the fight against the thieves.

When connected to an open wi-fi access point like at the local library, anything and everything you read and send must be considered available to anyone else who is also connected to that network, unless you use something like Hotspot Shield VPN Proxy, a free app that keeps you and everything you read and type a secret. It's available at the Play Store.

Whichever device you get may affect the timeliness of your updates. That's why Nexus, for example, are among the safest Android smartphones and tablets.

Some third-party keyboards may tend to log your keystrokes for “good” purposes, like word-completion. This may cause what you are typing to be broadcast online and thus could be intercepted by thieves.

If you're thinking of getting a used, older device, know that the later versions of Android are more secure. It would pay to make sure you will be able to update Android on it.
January 11, 2015

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