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 Top Android Hacks of 2013

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PostSubject: Top Android Hacks of 2013   Tue Jun 18, 2013 7:37 am

iPhone users can be pretty cocky about their awesome devices. After all, how often have you heard the obnoxious “It just works!” mantra from your iPhone-owning buddies? But while iOS might “just work,” it only works one way—Apple’s way.
    
If you don’t buy into Apple’s locked-down, un-customizable operating system, Android is where it’s at. Why? Because Android is an open source project. The code is freely available on the web (check it out at source.android.com) for anyone to tool around with. Don’t like what stock Android does, or how it looks, or how it sucks your phone’s battery life? “Root” your phone—the process of accessing and altering the operating system—and change it any way you like. Or wait until someone else changes it and download their changes. “A lot of people just don’t realize how much their phone can be improved from the stock condition it comes in,” says Seth Hornby, co-founder of One Click Root. “There are tons of apps that can only be used after rooting, including backup apps, battery life boosters, and my personal favorite—given how intrusive mobile ads have become—ad blockers.”
    
Of course, not everyone wants to get way down in the weeds like that. So we’ve rounded up several cool ways to hack your Android experience, only a few of which require rooting. So go ahead and customize your Android phone—and laugh in iPhone users’ faces!

1) Dig in deep
Many of the cooler Android tweaks require root access. Although rooting an Android phone is often compared to jailbreaking an iPhone, it’s not quite the same thing. Jailbreaking an iPhone lets you download apps that are not in Apple’s App Store—a feature that Android allows right off the bat. Rooting, on the other hand, lets you change the look, feel, and features of the Android operating system.
    
Rooting can be a little tricky, and the exact method varies from device to device. You can do it yourself—just find the rooting instructions online for your device (Android Central has a thorough list at androidcentral.com/root). Be careful to pick the correct device, though, since not all similarly-named phones have the same instructions.
    
If you’d rather leave rooting to the pros, try a software such as One Click Root ($29.95 for supported phones, free for unsupported phones; oneclickroot.com). One Click Root does the work for you: It downloads and installs drivers, executes the root, and has built-in fail-safes to ensure your phone doesn’t end up an expensive brick. Although it’s a bit pricey, that $30 comes with a guarantee that your phone will be rooted and customer support.
    
Rooting your phone is, for the most part, relatively simple, whether you do it yourself or use software. But you should still be careful: If you do something wrong, such as not following the instructions correctly, you can mess up your phone. Also, if your carrier or phonemaker finds out you’ve rooted your phone, they can decline to honor your warranty. (You can easily un-root a phone, however). Finally, rooting your phone may leave you vulnerable to unsavory apps—so be very careful about what you download.

2) Change things up
Once you’ve rooted your phone, you can start tweaking your Android experience. The easiest way to do this is to use a custom ROM, or a “rebuilt or modified version of the Android operating system,” according to Hornby. One of the most popular ROMs is CyanogenMod (free; cyanogenmod.com), which offers several cool visual and performance improvements. If you’re new to ROMs, Clockwork Mod can help simplify the process with its ROM Manager (free; clockworkmod.com).
    
Here are just a few of the things you can do with CyanogenMod: Download and install themes (you can find these in the Google Play store), underclock your device to save battery life (or overclock it for performance), add calendars and weather info to the lock screen, use any song on your phone as a ringtone, and browse the web privately. “Custom ROMs are why most people root their phones,” Hornby says. “They can really make your phone look cool and stand out. And the performance tweaks can help a lot, too.”

3) Add life to your launcher
Unrooted Android users don’t have to be stuck with the stock Android look, thanks to custom launchers. The “launcher” covers the general look of Android: Animations, icons, the app drawer, the shortcut dock, etc. Nova Launcher (free; Google Play) lets you change the accent color of the launcher, replace icons, continuously scroll through your home screens, and hide unused apps. ADW.Launcher (free; Google Play) lets you add more shortcuts to the dock, change the way your app drawer looks, and features thousands of skins and themes, many of which can be downloaded from Google Play. Launcher 8 (free; Google Play) gives your Android phone a Windows Phone 8-style makeover, with different-sized tiles, widget tiles, and custom colors.

4) Text different
The standard Android texting app is pretty boring. It’s got preset colors, no support for background photos, and basic sans-serif fonts. But rooted and non-rooted users can mix up their texting experience with free apps such as chompSMS (free; chompsms.com) and HandCent (free; handcent.com). These apps let you transform your texts with backgrounds, custom text bubbles and colors, and pre-made themes, so you never have to look at white-on-black again. You can even change fonts with extra font packs and choose custom notifiers for your notification bar. Pro-tip: If want to use one of these apps as your main texting app, be sure to turn off the notifications in the native texting app. You can’t get rid of the native texting app, but it’ll never bother you again.

5) Block ads
Many Android apps—especially games—are free, mostly because they’re ad-supported. If you hate seeing ads pop up while you’re playing Angry Birds, you’re not alone. Hornby says that one of the most popular apps that users download after rooting is AdAway (free; f-droid.org). 
AdAway isn’t currently available on Google Play, because Google recently scrubbed all ad-blocking apps from its store. However, you can still grab it through free app catalog F-Droid. To do this, you’ll first need to enable apps to be installed on your phone from unknown sources. Go to Settings > Security > Device Administation, and check the box next to Unknown sources. Then download F-Droid (free; f-droid.org) and search for AdAway. Once installed, the hack blocks ads in both websites and apps, and has a blacklist—in case some ads are still showing up—and a whitelist for ads you want to show. Remember that the developers who make free, ad-supported apps need to make a living somehow, so you may want to whitelist the ads for the games you really like.

6) Back up your texts to Gmail
Android automatically backs up your apps and contacts, but what about your texts and call log? There’s finally a way to back up your text messages, using a simple, unobtrusive app called SMS Backup+ (free; Google Play). Setup is simple: just enable IMAP in your Gmail account (Settings > Forwarding and POP/IMAP > Enable IMAP), download the free app, and connect it to your account. Turn on “Auto backup,” and your text messages, picture messages, and call log entries will be automatically downloaded and saved to your Gmail account under a separate label. If you lose your phone, you can also use the app to restore text messages and call logs, though not picture messages.


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