Is your Android Smartphone Serving Up Steaming Spam?

Ok, if you’ve got an Apple iPhone, this isn’t for you.  You have a product that is made within what they call a “walled garden”.  Basically one company controls the hardware and the software that gets onto the phone – Apple.   If you want your software to be on the iPhone, you the developer have to submit your software to a review by Apple so that it’s not going to do anything naughty.

You know, like serve up a steaming spam sandwich.

Android is a different beast.  Google isn’t really reviewing the software that gets put onto your tablets or your phones as thoroughly.  As a result, there is a lot of software that is written by “some guy over a weekend”.  That’s great, given the right guy.

The problem is that when you have a spammer out there who has a desire to make money through criminal methods, they’ll do all sorts of things.

The trick is that you really don’t want to be the first person to install a program.  Sometimes, you don’t want to be the 1000th person. 

There are a lot of apps on the “Google Play” store that are hacked versions of the real software.  That is how you get your virus installed.   You see two versions of an app and one says it’s the full version and its Free! so you install the app.  Open it and now you’re a spammer too.   If your device is a tablet computer using Wifi to get to the internet, it’s a nuisance.  If you are using a smartphone and have a limited data contract, it’s a very expensive nuisance.

So here are a few helpful hints:

  • First, make sure that you aren’t installing apps that are questionable.  
  • Read the reviews for the apps.  
  • If there are few reviews or there are a lot of low ratings (1 or 2 stars) don’t install it.   
  • Check the permissions and make sure that you’re not giving away full access.  Most free apps are actually paid by flashing ads on the screen and will require internet access.
  • Consider if you really do need that new game.
  • Remember, you are safest if you don’t install any apps, but if you do you have to take responsibility and do the research.

Furthermore, install an antivirus program and make sure it is updated frequently.  Just like on Windows, you need to make sure that your antivirus has the latest updates.   I use Lookout Security on Android because it was suggested to me by an Android Guru and I have seen reviews outside of the whole Google Play scene saying it was worth using.  Granted there are some bad reviews, but 23 to 1 in favor of the app.

You also should find where to check for your data usage.  On my phone, the T-Mobile app will do that for me, as long as I am not on Wifi Calling.  On newer operating systems such as Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” (or ICS), it is in your Settings at the Data Usage tab.  There’s a handy graph there that I miss when I go back to the phone.   It will tell you which programs are hogging up your bandwidth.   If your newest game is now your biggest data user, you have a problem there and consider removing that program via “Google Play” immediately. 

They just put out a newer version 4.1 called Jelly Bean, so now I’ll have to wait for an update if one ever becomes available.   Older devices will never run it, newer ones may or may not, it depends if the company that made it will support the older hardware.

For example, I expect “TuneIn” to have high usage since I leave it running playing music all day from a few select web radio stations.  I do NOT expect Solitaire to have high data usage at all.  It basically is a judgement call, it expects you to watch what’s happening and control your own data usage.

Remember that smartphone in your pocket is a computer.  It needs to be looked after from time to time, just like the desktop or laptop computer at home or work.

Tweaking your Android Tablet or Phone for Speed with Cyanogen Mod

All the sudden I have ended up with an Android Phone and an Android Tablet.

I got the phone when I realized my old phone was a year past contract and beginning to fail.  Two more years with T-Mo, actually at this point around 18 months, and the phone was “Free”.  So far, T-Mobile has been good to me, so I’m perfectly OK with that.

A friend in Atlanta was shopping.  Made an impulse purchase of a Nook Color e-book reader and didn’t like it.  He was commiserating with me about it and I suggested he try to load up the full Android operating system.  That was a challenge that took him about three afternoons of “playing around”.  Once it was over, he had the idea of “Ok, now what do I do with Yet-Another-Tablet”.   It ended up on the shelf, then in a box, and now resides in my house.

The reason why he gave it to me was that he has a newer Motorola Xoom that runs much faster.  It’s a much smoother experience because it’s like a V8 to my little Nook’s 4 Cylinders.   The Nook is fine for what I do with it, and it was a nice surprise present.

Lately I had been reading up on the thing.  Seems like the hardware you have in a Nook Color is fine if you’re just reading a book.  I’m using it with the full operating system and not something pared down.  Having loaded Cyanogen Mod 7 on the thing with all the Google Apps, it was doing what everyone seemed to notice, it was a bit laggy.   You’d swipe your finger across the screen and it wasn’t quite as responsive as you’d like.   It felt like someone had slowed it down and I wasn’t sure why.  Start the Browser and a Weather App and it would be almost painful to use.

After poking around under the hood, I noticed that Google Search, Tune In, and a few other programs were running from earlier after having dismissed them.  So to be fair I restarted the machine and noticed that Google Search and Tune In were back. 

If you have an Android Phone or Tablet, you probably have some of these “Widgets” running on your desktops.  iPads have 1 desktop, Androids have multiple, My tablet has six as does the phone.

A Widget is basically a program that runs on the device and on the desktop that does something someone felt was useful.  In the case of Android, they all have Google Search on the desktop and because it is a Widget, It runs constantly.  I got rid of that.  Hold your finger on a Widget for a few seconds and you can move it.  You can also drag it into the trashcan that appears helpfully on the top or bottom of the screen.

Google Search App went into the trash.  It’s still there in my icon list of programs, just not started. 
I did the same thing for the TuneIn Widget and the Clock. 

Sure, search is useful, but I do have a browser for that and in the Post PC Era, we’re all working from the browser anyway.  That’s what Steve Jobs said, and many other “experts” did as well.   I’m repeating them here, if you live in a browser it doesn’t matter what kind of computer you use to get to the web, does it?  That computer can be a clunky desktop, a sleek tablet, or a versatile laptop – it simply doesn’t matter.

So now instead of having all those Widgets blinking at me, I now have a bare desktop that looks like something out of the box when you start Windows or Mac OSX.  A few icons, and a little control strip at the bottom of the screen.

Oh, it runs markedly faster, and markedly cooler.   You see if you aren’t using the software, you don’t need it eating up your battery or your processor. 

So the Helpful Hint is, if you don’t need it, don’t run it.  Drag the Widget off the screen and gain back some speed.  In my case it felt like another half speed on top of what I was doing.   I say felt because I’m not really interested in doing the whole benchmarking thing.

I tried the same thing on the phone, and not everything will drag off.  T-Mobile decided that the LG MyTouch needed all sorts of T-Mobile-centric software.  On a PC we call it Crapware.  I’ll be searching for a way to uninstall that stuff later.  For now, Search is gone as well as a few other pages worth of “Chaff”.

Remember, Touch and Hold brings up your pop-up menu and you can drag that Widget away so it won’t run constantly on your tablet.