Arguably, you have to have a fair bit history on the web to remember the glory days of the Opera browser. Few people nowadays tend to give it credit, but it is, unquestionably the birth place of many modern browser features, we have come to take for granted. Despite its obscure popularity status, the Opera team is still pushing boundaries and innovating to this day.
The Opera VPN is a no-frills VPN solution offered absolutely free of charge. You can just install it on your Andorid or iOS device and route all your traffic through one of Opera's VPN with a single button. Naturally, the best use for such a feature is to get around pesky regional restrictions on certain sites. Opera currently offers servers in Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore and the US, and you can connect to any of them. The provided bandwidth is also pretty good and even works for streaming some video.
The app itself has two extra bonus features as well. One is an AdBlocker, while the other can scan the network you are currently connected to and do a security assessment.
Google has now grown to such a scale, that users can easily get lost in the sea of applications, platforms and projects it has to offer. And that is only from an end-user standpoint. Developers have exponentially more to dig through in the way of services and APIs. Thus, it is easy for a given new app to go unnoticed. I feel this is mostly the case with the new Google Trips platform, which is really a shame.
If you travel a lot, or simply yearn for a no-frills all-in-one tourist experience while abroad, get the Google Trip app on Android or iOS right now. It has you covered every step of the way through your trip. It can track flights, tickets, reservations, travel and commute options. Then, when you arrive, you can use the app for navigating around unfamiliar places. You can also get useful suggestions throughout the day based on location and time. Best of all, Google Trips can cache everything for you and work without an active data connection.
Samsung Game Tuner
This is definitely a more niche choice on my end, but if you have a fairly recent Samsung handset and tend to regularly play games on it, this is definitely a must-have. The title pretty much says it all - Game Tuner lets you really fine-tune your gaming experience. The level of control over the graphic aspects the app enables is actually pretty astonishing and almost up to par with a PC gaming experience.
You can set frame rate caps, tweak texture quality and even scale back the resolution. This can be done on a per-app basis or through setting up profiles of your liking. Most setting are already done out-of-the-box, so the experience can be zero-configuration as well.
If you are like me, then you tend to accumulate lots of apps on your phone. Some are pretty straight-forward (an activity or two), do their job and don't get in the way, others are pesky IMs and social networks like Facebook, that tend to boggle up resources left and right. Then there are also the least reputable and shady apps that can't even be found on the Play Store. Whatever the culprit might be, the bottom line is that many apps tend to leave nasty services running in the background, sucking up your data and battery.
Closing your recent apps helps in some cases, but more often than not, you have to know what to look for and dig through the Developer menu to get to the list of running services and properly free your resources. That is definitely a chore we can all live without - enter ShutAPP.
It can be considered somewhat of a direct competitor to the Greenify app. Shut app is quite a bit more recent and I personally find it more straight-forward. What it offers is a single click solution to clearing all running services. It has a whitelist, so you don't accidentally kill anything you need running in the background. And there is also a convenient floating widget that counts the number of services, eligible for cleaning, that are active at any moment.
The Facebook issue is definitely not a new one and solutions are plentiful. However, this is arguably the most elegant one yet. The problem with everyone's favorite social giant is that it is quite frivolous when it comes to resource management on Android.
Since everybody and their aunt is using the network nowadays, most of us are kind of forced to download both the main Facebook app and the Messenger and suffer their obvious adverse effect to battery life. Don't believe the problem is so big? Just do a quick Google search or simply open Running services in the Developer menu and start counting how many instances the two apps have between them.
Facebook lite is a great alternative, courtesy of the social giant itself. It was created mostly out of necessity, since the whole platform has now grown so out of proportion that it can boggle down less powerful handsets and with a bad internet connection. Luckily, Facebook is now offering the Lite version outside developing markets as well. You do sacrifice some polish, but all the core functionality of both the Facebook and Messenger apps is all there in one lightweight package.
We won't be diving into the ongoing battle on the personal assistant scene. However, we will state that Microsoft's Cortana does have a bit of extra charm and character that helps it somewhat stick out from the competition. Also, if you are a Windows user and have jumped on the Windows 10 wagon, chances are you are already interacting with the playful circular AI, at least on some level.
This year Microsoft also made good on its promise to branch Cortana outside the realm of Windows on PC or Mobile and into the much more mainstream Android platform. The app is now available for free, in beta on the Play Store and you should definitely give it a spin. It syncs surprisingly well with its Windows 10 counterpart and you might just appreciate the seamless exchange of info and notifications back and forth.
Now dubbed Gboard, Google's keyboard replacement has a few new tricks up its sleeve. There is a built-in Google search function, which lets you do quick searches from within the keyboard, without leaving the app. You can also search for GIFs and images and paste them within compatible apps. So far on Android, the compatible apps only include Google's own apps. However, Gboard is available on iOS as well, where said feature works across many more third-party apps.
Gboard is also a lot smarter when it comes to text prediction, now with support for multiple simultaneously selected languages.
Not strictly new, but new to me, Drivvo helps me in keeping track of car-related expenses such as refuels, services, and general expenses.
While not perfect, I like Drivvo because it allows me to punch in refueling data quickly and easily and I now have a nice graph of fuel consumption for as long as I've had the car. Not that having the data is terribly useful - I still have to fill up that tank to go places.
The free version is enough for basic tracking. Sadly, the pro version of the app is not a one-time purchase. It's based on monthly, quarterly and yearly subscription plan. The benefits you get are no ads, data export in CSV/Excel, and extended graphics.
PhotoScan by Google Photos
I have a bunch of childhood photos taken with cheap plastic film cameras (such were the times), with the actual films long lost so I jumped at the opportunity to digitize them without the hassle of having them scanned. There's not much resolution in a 13x9cm print from 25 years ago anyway, so the 5MP that PhotoScan now offers is enough (unlike the 2MP when the app was first launched). The one tiny caveat is that it doesn't work on Google's own Pixel XL - perhaps I should have done my digitizing while I still held on to my trusty Note5.