Ask the Android.AppStorm Editor #2

It’s time for another “Ask the Editor” post today. Thanks for all the questions you’ve been sending in; it’s great to be able to help you out with your Android issues. Keep them coming!

This time we’re talking about budget Android tablets, widgets, launchers, and permissions.

Read on for plenty of useful Android knowledge. I hope you’ll find it handy for our own situation as well!

Is there any 7-inch Android tablet (the type that runs the official Android Market) coming for under $200? I need one for school!

– Chris

Coby offers a few 7-inch Android tablets: the MID7015, the MID7025, and the MID7026 (how do they come up with these names?!)

The Coby MID7026

Each of these sells for less than $200 and runs Android 2.1 or 2.3, but none of them comes with the official Android Market; they all come with AppsLib, a separate Android marketplace.

However, it is possible to root at least the MID7015 and then to install the official Market on it, as explained in this forum thread, so I imagine it’ll soon be possible to do the same with the other Coby tablets, if it’s not already.

Alternatively, you could grab a Nook Color from Barnes & Noble; it’s a little out of your price range at $250, but can be rooted to run Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) and the Android Market.

Books? Pfft. Give me apps!

I’m a newbie to the smartphone stuff, so be gentle with me. What is the difference between an app and a widget?

– Raymundo

Let me illustrate this with a screenshot:

My homescreen

An app is like a piece of computer software; you press an icon, the app loads, and you can use it. The camera and the gallery apps are good examples; each one takes up the full screen of your phone while it’s in use.

Some apps can also run in the background; in the top-left corner of my screen, you can see icons indicating that I’m running JuiceDefender and Gentle Alarm. They’re always on, in the background, though I can bring them to the foreground if need be.

You can also see three widgets on the screen:

  • On the top row, I have a clock, which always displays the current time; I don’t have to tap it to update it or anything like that.
  • On the second row, I have a button that I can use to turn on my phone’s torch; this isn’t an icon that loads a separate app to active the LED; hitting the button immediately toggles it.
  • On the third row, I have a widget that displays information about whether WiFi, Bluetooth, syncing, and so on, are turned on, and lets me change the state of any of them immediately.

So, widgets are like simple apps that are visible and useable right from your home screen, without having to load a full-screen app. They’re generally used to display some information that you want to have to hand often (like battery status, the time, weather info, or Facebook feeds), to let you toggle things quickly (like your torch or your WiFi), or to let you make quick updates to social networks.

And, of course, some of them are just silly.

What is the best launcher for Android that is free?

– Raymundo

Hey Raymundo, check out Alex’s recent roundup of home screen launchers and the comments on that post for a great selection. Personally, I’m using ADW.Launcher at the moment, and am pretty impressed with it.

Take a look at our recent poll, Which Home Screen Launcher Are You Using?, as well; that’ll give you some idea of which launchers our other readers rate highly.

Finally, check out Metro UI for something a bit different: a launcher based on Windows Phone 7 that’s proving quite popular.

What kind of dangers are involved if I allow apps access to several resources (such as contacts)?

– Urs

When you install an app, it will ask you to grant it certain permissions, which the app developer has marked that the app needs in order to run correctly. You can see a list of these permissions, with descriptions, on the Android Market website, under the Permissions tab for a given app.

For example, the Facebook for Android app asks for the FINE (GPS) LOCATION permission, described as:

Access fine location sources such as the Global Positioning System on the device, where available. Malicious applications can use this to determine where you are, and may consume additional battery power.

Sounds pretty scary! Facebook asks you for this permission so that it can let you “check in” to places on Facebook Places.

The trouble is, even if you never intend to use Facebook Places, you have to grant Facebook for Android this permission in order to install it; it’s all or nothing. (Facebook would have to release a separate, Places-free app in order to let you opt-out of giving it access to your GPS location.) Once you install Facebook for Android, it can access your location at any time, because you granted it free reign over that information.

Now, I’m sure that Facebook isn’t going to steal your information and start tracking your every move! If they got caught, it would surely be bad publicity for them. But apps and widgets from unknown developers may well be trying to do this. If ever you try to install a simple clock, and it asks for permission to access your list of contacts… well, be wary.

You can see what permissions you’ve already granted to installed apps in Settings | Manage Applications | «Application Name»:

Permissions for the Facebook for Android app

If the developer decides to request a few more permissions in an update for an app that you’ve already installed, don’t worry: Android won’t auto-update your app to the new version; you’ll need to explicitly grant the new permissions.

Didn’t See Your Question?

If you asked a question but didn’t have it answered today, don’t worry! I’ll do my best to get to it in a future week, either in a post like this or by covering it in a separate article. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to answer every question that’s sent in.

If you’d like to submit another question for the next time around, you can do so here: