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The best launcher for Android, and nine alternatives

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One of Android’s main strengths has always been customization. You can tinker and tweak until you realize the home screen of your dreams. The easiest and most straightforward way to completely change up the aesthetic of your interface is to employ an Android launcher. With a launcher you can change the color scheme, icons, backgrounds, and lots of other details to define your ideal home screen, app drawer, and widget combo. But just what is the best launcher for Android? Read on to find our top pick and nine alternatives worth trying out.

If you’re into Android customization you should also check out the best free live wallpapers for Android, the best Android widgets, and maybe even look into rooting your Android phone.

The best launcher for Android

Nova Launcher

Nova Launcher

The Nova Launcher offers an excellent array of different features, allowing you to quickly achieve an elegant look without compromising on performance. You can change animations, colors, layouts, icons, and more. Spring $5 for the Prime version and you can customize gestures, unlock extra scroll effects, and more, but the free version should be enough for most people to create the precise look and feel they’re craving. There’s even a way to get the Google feed to show up on the left of the home screen, just like on the Google Now Launcher.

Google Play Store

And the rest

Hola Launcher

Hola Launcher app

Rather than bring new features to your mobile device, the Hola Launcher optimizes from the inside-out to ensure the best possible user experience. It will help you to identify bloatware and uninstall useless apps to improve battery life. Best of all, its rotary-style UI elegantly switches between your favorite Android apps and quick access shortcuts, making it possible to handle phablets with just one hand.

Google Play Store

Z Launcher Beta

Z Launcher Beta app

Why waste time scrolling through an endless list of apps or tap out the name of the app you’re looking for, when there is an even more intuitive way to search through your mobile device? Simply draw the first letter of your desired app with your finger, and Z Launcher will figure out a list of apps that matches your on-screen scribble. Besides simplifying search, this Nokia-developed launcher also learns your most often used apps and brings them to your home screen.

Google Play Store

Action Launcher: Pixel Edition ($5)

Action Launcher app

If you’re still waiting for your upgrade to Android Nougat, then you might consider dropping $5 to get the Action Launcher: Pixel Edition. It offers some of the some of the best features of the Google Pixel Launcher, like the Google Pill and round icons. You’ll also be able to enjoy gesture controls and app shortcuts.

Google Play Store

Go Launcher

Go Launcher app

Go Launcher is another extremely popular, highly customizable launcher that lets you revamp almost every aspect of the home screen. Go Launcher offers not only a bare-bones Android-style launcher, but also an extremely popular theme system that users can download new themes from. There are hundreds of these themes available on the Play Store, and they come in all sorts of styles.

Google Play Store

Launcher 8 WP Style

Launcher8 WP Style app

Laucher 8 WP Style is good if you’re a fan of the vertical style and block-based nature of Windows 10. It gives the look of the tile-based Windows Modern UI, but without losing all the functionality of Android. You can customize using the standard Windows Modern UI color pallet, or you can add your own custom colors into the mix.

Google Play Store

Yahoo Aviate Launcher

Yahoo Aviate Launcher app

More a caring assistant than a traditional mobile launcher, Yahoo Aviate is all about anticipating your needs over the course of a day. The launcher automatically reorganizes your home screen to put your most used apps at different times and in different locations, right at your fingertips when you need them.

Google Play Store

Apex Launcher

Apex Launcher app

Apex Launcher is for control freaks who love tweaks and customization. Mess with the size of just about everything and the gesture commands to get your ideal experience. A power user’s dream, Apex isn’t just easy to modify, it runs extremely smoothly as well.

Google Play Store

Arrow Launcher

Arrow Launcher

Arrow Launcher from Microsoft offers a simple and beautiful way to customize your Android experience. The launcher has three home pages: a People page with contacts, an Apps page with frequent and new apps, and a Notes page with all your reminders.  Arrow will also change your wallpaper automatically if you want.

Google Play Store

C Launcher

C Launcher app

C Launcher is all about speed and optimization. It does everything it can to reduce battery drain on your device, monitoring performance and keeping everything streamlined. A built-in clean up feature eliminates clutter and unnecessary files that build up over time and start to lag the device, and an app installer makes it easy to get rid of apps you long stopped using.

Google Play Store

***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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These scientists beat the bookies — until the online casino shut them down

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Why it matters to you

There’s no sure thing in gambling, online or otherwise, and if you find a way to game the system, you’ll eventually get caught.

It’s nearly impossible to win money betting on sports, and that’s by design. Whether it’s online or at a casino, the bookmakers who set the betting odds for sports gambling have an array of statistical tools at their disposal to ensure the numbers are always in their favor. But they also have to account for the human factor, and this is where a team of scientists came up with a way to use the bookies’ own calculations against them.

Researcher Lisandro Kaunitz of the University of Tokyo and a few of his friends from around the world devised a mathematical system that let them consistently make money betting on soccer games online. The MIT Technology Review has all the details on the system they used, but to understand it, you have to know how sports betting actually works.

When bookmakers set the odds on a particular match, they use historical data and sophisticated analysis to predict the most likely outcome, and then set the odds of a win, loss, or draw accordingly. Certain teams are more popular than others, of course, and tend to draw more betting action, especially on big events like the Super Bowl. As a result, the oddsmakers may adjust the betting line by a few points one way or the other to compensate for this bias.

Kaunitz and colleagues devised a system that consistently identified betting opportunities that favored them rather than the house. They tracked odds offered by online betting companies on soccer matches and calculated the average odds to discover any outliers. Then they analyzed whether a bet on the outlier matches would favor them or not.

To test their system, they analyzed the results of 479,440 soccer games played between 2005 and 2015. This simulation delivered a return of 3.5 percent. “For an imaginary stake of $50 per bet, this corresponds to an equivalent profit of $98,865 across 56,435 bets,” they said. A random simulation yielded a return of  negative 3.2 percent, or a loss of $93,000.

“At this point we decided to place bets with real money,” Kaunitz said. Over a five-month period, their 256 different $50 bets paid off 47.2 percent of the time, and they made a profit of $957.50, an impressive return of 8.5 percent.

But then down came the banhammer.

The online casinos would no longer accept their wagers, or would limit them to amounts as small as $1.25. “The sports betting industry has the freedom to publicize and offer odds to their clients, but those clients are expected to lose,” Kaunitz said. “If they are successful, they can be restricted from betting.”

One of the bookmakers used by the team told the New Scientist it’s the casino’s prerogative to restrict certain bets. “This can be for a number of reasons, including bonus abuse and taking proportionately more than their fair share of special offers and enhanced prices, which are designed for the many rather than a few,” said the spokesman.

What did they do with their winnings? Kaunitz and his wife splurged on a nice dinner in Tokyo. “We were excited, but it’s worth mentioning – you need to spend a lot of time to do it,” he said.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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Enlightened Equipment’s Enigma Quilt let us sleep warm and pack light

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If you ask a car person what they obsess over, it’s horsepower. For truck enthusiasts, they point to towing capacity. When you pose this same question to a hiker or backpacker, there’s no question the answer is pack weight. Hours are spent cutting excess strap lengths, meticulously weighing each item, and even trimming the length of a toothbrush handle, all to shave those precious ounces.

To put our own obsession over pack weight to the test, we decided to pack Enlightened Equipment’s Enigma Quilt for a trip through the woods. The ideal minimalist quilt when weight and simplicity are critical, it added a bit of a spring to our step and had us feeling as if we were walking in the clouds. After all, it was intently designed to decrease weight and space in a pack and to simplify a backpacker’s sleep system while keeping them warm — something we found it to accomplish with ease.

Carefully constructed

Specifically, the Enigma features a round sewn-closed foot box which provided more room for our feet while reducing dead air space that needs to be heated. With the foot box sewn closed, it required no fuss or adjustment and shedding the zipper shaved even more weight. This foot box should also prove to be perfect for cold weather trips, as it would help reduce drafts while maintaining maximum warmth.

Founded by avid backpacker, Tim Marshal, Enlightened Equipment specializes in creating custom-to-order ultralight equipment for anyone looking to spend time outdoors and who desires to experience it in the most comfortable way possible.

enlightened equipment enigma quilt review 9

“A few years after getting into hiking, I went on a quick overnight with some friends,” Marshal told Digital Trends. “They were both lightweight, bordering on ultralight, and gave me a hard time about my 30-pound load for a one-night outing. One of them gave me Ray Jardine’s book and after reading it I was sold. That year [2005], my family got me all the ‘Ray-Way‘ kits for Christmas and I spent the winter building Ray’s gear.”

Tim began making improvements to the actual kits and started developing his own unique designs, ultimately leading to what he makes today.

In the pack and on the trail

For our trip, we tested a six foot long Enigma with 850 down rated at 30 degrees. At first, we were skeptical — it’s not just light, it’s ultralight. At just 15.44 ounces and compressed in its stuff sack, the Enigma is not much larger than a softball, making it feel deceptively delicate. Herein sparked our doubts.

Due to the space-saving size, we were able to fit our entire sleep system, quilt, and sleep mat in the sleeping bag pocket of our backpack, in turn making extra room in the main compartment. This allowed us to make the decision to switch to a smaller pack, along with a combined saving of over 2 pounds in base pack weight. While on the trail, the hike was pleasant with a lighter, smaller pack and we were able to enjoy what may have been a more challenging 12-mile hike toting a heavier load.

Concerning our testing climate, our camp sat at just over 7,000 feet and the overnight temperatures hovered around roughly 35 degrees. Both nights we experienced a comfortable rest, though the quilt was a big difference for anyone used to a mummy bag. With the lack of a zipper and hood, the bag felt a bit drafty but not terribly cold. Packing up to head back out on the trail also made us really appreciate the Enigma’s size and weight all over again.

Placing the order

Even just visiting Enlightened Equipment’s website is like being a kid in a candy store. There are options to buy pre-constructed bags and quilts but the fun is in the fully customizable options. The Enigma uses DownTek-treated water repellant 850, 900, or 950 down, and temperature ratings can be custom selected from 50 to 0-degrees Fahrenheit. Length and width are also customly selected from short to extra-long, and slim to extra-wide.

The custom options don’t stop there as Enlightened offers 16 exterior and nine interior colors to choose from. These custom options do take time to deliver, as an average build and ship time for down filled products is roughly five to seven weeks — synthetic filled products even take two to four weeks.

“Time is our biggest challenge,” Marshal added. “I think we lose more customers to time than any other brand or company out there making gear. We can’t grow fast enough, launch new products soon enough, or deliver products quick enough. Time is our biggest frustration.”

Our final verdict

If you’re planning on making the jump into ultra-light backpacking or are a minimalist hiker, this bag is a no-brainer. It’s extremely light, compact, and provides you the customizable options to design it to meet your specific demands.

During our test, the quilt performed as we would have expected in terms of thermal capability. What particularly blew us away was its weight and ability to dramatically save space in our kit. We did experience a snag on the outer shell of the quilt which caused a small tear, and without a readily identifiable culprit, there was a mild question about the abrasion resistance of the material used. Currently, the answer to this question seems to exist only after we’ve put in months of use.

For now, Enlightened Equipment’s Enigma Quilt is a great addition to any camping quiver and one we wouldn’t want to leave home without.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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The Walking Dead’ creator Robert Kirkman dishes deep on his next big project

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Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead comics, as well as the Outcast and Thief of Thieves comic books, has crafted a brand new adventure called Oblivion Song. His latest comic focuses on a very different post apocalyptic story line where zombies have been replaced by predatory aliens and the hero, Nathan Cole, is a scientist who wears a cool cape. The story involves a dimensional rift that occurred a decade prior to the storyline, killing 20,000 people. The cosmic event swapped out a 30 square mile piece of downtown Philadelphia with an alien world, trapping humans in an alien world, and unfriendly aliens on earth. Cole has the unique ability to travel between these two dimensions at will, which means he contends with both alien foes and survivalist humans – neither of which are fun to deal with.

His latest comic focuses on a very different post apocalyptic story.

Kirkman has been even busier than usual, of late. AMC brings Season 8 of The Walking Dead to the small screen on Oct. 22, while companion show Fear the Walking Dead continues to explore a storyline within the same universe. He’s also creator and star of a new six-part docu-series on AMC, Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics, which premieres Nov. 12.

Season 2 of Kirkman’s third adapted series, Outcast, is set to premiere later this year on Cinemax, while his Thief of Thieves comic is also in development at AMC as a new show. Invincible, another Kirkman comic, is being adapted for the big screen by Seth Rogen at Universal Pictures, and his company, Skybound Entertainment, just signed a first-look deal to develop television projects for Amazon Studios.

In this exclusive interview, Kirkman talks about his inspiration for his newest comic book world, offers his take on why the comic book industry needs to change, and explains how the world’s most popular television show continues to evolve.

Digital Trends: What was the inspiration for Oblivion?

Robert Kirkman: Around ten years ago I read an article about how [legendary comic artist] Jack Kirby had never done a run on Batman, and how it would have been cool if he had brought his zany ideas and wackiness to a Batman book. It started making me think what would Jack Kirby’s Batman have been like?  What kind of Gotham City would he have created? And what kind of tools would Jack Kirby have given him? If you think about it, there would be crazy weapons that Jack Kirby would have given him in the ‘70s that he would be using now like the Batman canon. So I started thinking about this cool superhero idea with some crazy technology and gothic locations. And over the course of a decade it changed and morphed every year until it was completely unrecognizable from that. So I’d like to be able to say it wasn’t because of an article about Batman, but it really was.

And then another dimension popped into it about the complacency that we have as a society; how we can just ignore things no matter how bad they are. If you think about a big chunk of Philadelphia disappearing one day, and you fast forward ten years to where it’s like a thing in a museum that people talk about sometimes, but it’s not really that big a part of our lives; how weird is that? There’s just a lot going on in the story. And there’s a lot of inspiration from different places, and it kind of morphs into this madness.

Do you see TV or film potential for Oblivion Song given the success of The Walking Dead and Outcast?

I’m not just slumming it as a comic in the hopes that it will be made into a television show or movie.

The potential is always there. Just because of everything that’s gone on with me with Walking Dead and everything, people are always interested in what new things I have going on. So it’s something that’s always in the back of my mind. When you write something for a comic book medium the pages don’t move, it’s all static images and there’s no sound. So there’s certain limitations. But I’ll be writing a scene and be like, “Oh, if this ever gets made into a movie or a television show we can actually do this with this scene.” So that’s something that I think about.

But I love the comic book medium, so I’m not like just slumming it as a comic in the hopes that it will be made as a television show or movie. I don’t really care if it ever gets made into a movie or a TV show. The comic is the thing I love. And the fact that that exists is enough for me, but there’s a very good chance that it will happen. We’ll see.

With The Walking Dead you deal with a lot of themes like hope and hopeless situations. What kind of themes will readers expect in Oblivion Song

I like to say this is an apocalypse adjacent story. There’s very much apocalyptic themes that are present in here with the dimension of Oblivion that people have been living in for ten years. It’s somewhat similar to The Walking Dead in that they’ve had to survive without resources and discover a new way of life. But we’re very much coming into their space after they’ve already established that, so it’s much different in that they’ve already put the processes together and we’re not watching that struggle over time.

As far as themes go, it’s not as dire as The Walking Dead is. It’s a very uplifting story to a certain extent because we’re focusing on one guy who is unwilling to give up on these people, who is continue to champion their cause despite the fact that the population at large has abandoned them to a certain extent. That is somewhat more hopeful than something like The Walking Dead.

What are the challenges of upping the ante in The Walking Dead TV series each season?

The comic book series is a real big help for us in that respect because as we’re upping the ante on the television show, we know the next four or five different levels that we can go to with the comic book series. So we have a road map, to a certain extent, mapping out the jumps and the things that we can do to keep people interested.

robert kirkman walking dead season 8

Anytime you set out to tell a story over the course of many, many years, you have to have things built in that are going to escalate things so that the audience can remain invested. That’s something that’s been very much a part of the process of doing the comic book series and that’s helping the longevity of the show.

How have you seen new technologies like virtual reality and augmented reality open up new opportunities for The Walking Dead franchise across gaming and storytelling in general?

We’re doing a lot of stuff behind-the-scenes with VR and AR.  It’s public that we’ve partnered with Skydance to work on a VR game for The Walking Dead and there’s just tremendous opportunity there because The Walking Dead is successful because it is so personal to people. The core of the story being about how someone survives in the apocalypse, how they deal with the loss of family members and how personal things are for the characters — and VR being a medium that puts you at the center of the story — lends itself very well. So we’re going to be able to explore a lot of themes in The Walking Dead because of that, and break some new ground and do some cool different things with VR because of that.

You have a new docu-series on AMC, Robert Kirkman’s Secret History of Comics. What are your thoughts on the current state of the comic book industry, given the wealth of mature content?

The industry has over-corrected to prove it’s not a medium for children.

Comic books are a medium just like anything else. You can do material that’s explicitly for children. You can do material that’s explicitly for all ages, and you can do things that are more mature. It’s just a storytelling medium more than anything else, so it’s up to the creator to treat the medium with respect and really dig into the character and the nuances of things and tell the stories that they want to tell.

I don’t think there’s any special trick to making a comic book appeal to an adult reader. If anything, the industry as it is right now has over-corrected since the ‘80s to try and prove that it’s not a medium for children. Now we find ourselves in a place where the majority of the readership is adult, and we’re striving to get back to being able to sell comics to kids, which is something that’s very important for the medium. So we’re at an interesting place with comics.

Do you see there being another swing in comics, TV, and film aimed at younger audiences?

If you look at the sales charts, the majority of what’s successful in comics does appeal to a mature audience. And for the future of every medium you need to be appealing to a younger generation so that you can continue to funnel in new readers that you know love experiencing that medium and want to continue experiencing it for years to come. I’m not going to preach doom and gloom or anything like that, but it is something that we’ll need to address moving forward.

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***This post originally published on Digital Trends***

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