Tag Archives: Android

Free Video Chat Options While Social Distancing

If you’re like me, your family and friends are spread out over several states and even internationally. But, one of the good things that have come out of our shelter in place or self-quarantining orders is that many of us have a little more time on our hands to reach out and catch up. The descriptions of the options below refer to the free version of each of these platforms. The paid versions offer more features. 

Depending on the purpose of your chat, some platforms are better suited than others. Zoom surged in popularity once everyone started teleworking, but has been plagued with security concerns in recent weeks. Don’t worry – there are plenty of other options for you to choose from. 

My office has been using Jitsi for our team meetings but is a solid option for non-work related chats too. Compatible with Android, Mac OS X, Windows, and Linux systems, you can join a meeting through the Jitsi app or directly from your browser without creating an account – the meeting organizer simply sends a link to the “room” you’ll be meeting in. Users can customize the meeting URL and exchange messages and emojis during the video conference through an integrated chat.

Google Hangouts allows you to video chat with up to 25 people, with up to ten of you visible onscreen at once. It’s arguably the most user-friendly. seamlessly integrates with Google Calendar and Gmail, and doesn’t cap the amount of time you can chat where others set a time limit. Zoom, for example, limits you to 40 minutes if there are three or more people on the call. Google Hangouts has an app on iOS and Android but works just as well on your desktop or laptop. It also  

Your family and friends are likely familiar with Facebook’s Messenger app which we primarily used for sending messages. But it also offers a video chat option, making it a solid choice for those who are on the social media platform all the time anyway and may not be comfortable with creating another account or figuring out a different platform. To start a chat, simply go to Messenger, type the names of your Friends you’d like to chat within the “To:” field, then click on the video camera icon in the top right corner. Facebook will call them, all they have to do is answer the call. 

If you’re an Apple device user, FaceTime that wants to chat with other Apple users, FaceTime is the way to go. If you have an iPhone, iPad or Mac, it operates seamlessly, letting you start a video chat with up to 32 of your contacts (remember, iOS users only) just as you would a phone call or text message. If your Wi-Fi or data connection is weak or you have a poor phone signal, you have the option to do an audio-only call. 

Skype, the granddaddy of them all, is available for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac, offers video and audio calling, and a messaging feature. Its user-friendly interface supports up to 50 people on the same audio call but the number of video callers depends on what device you’re using.  You can also record, save and share your video calls, and even incorporate live captions and subtitles. 

Houseparty is currently the third most downloaded app on the iOS app store in the United States — behind Zoom and TikTok — and comes top in the United Kingdom. Available on Android, iPadOS (for iPad users) and macOS (for Mac users), the app allows “partygoers” to chat, take quizzes, and play games like “Heads Up,” and “Quick Draw.” Once you’ve downloaded the app, you can add your “friends” via your contacts or by pairing with Facebook or Snapchat. Users can invite up to eight friends to join their a “party” and there is the option to “lock” the party so that only invited guests can join.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Boost Your Phone’s Data Connection or Signal Strength

By Tracey Dowdy

If you have you ever been in an area where your device shows plenty of signal strength, but you can’t get pages to load, messages won’t send, photos don’t download, you know how frustrating it can be. There are any number of reasons your phone seems “stuck” – sometimes it’s the carrier, sometimes it’s the phone itself.

Of course, everyone’s go-to hack is to turn on Airplane mode for a few seconds, then turn it back off, but times when that’s not enough, there are other options.

To quote our favorite IT guy Roy, “Have you tried turning it off and on again?” Remember, your phone is a handheld computer, so restarting it works for all the same reasons restarting your laptop can resolve issues. You can get similar results by taking the SIM card out and putting it back in place while the phone is turned on. Use the tool that came with the phone, or if that’s nowhere handy, use an unfolded paper clip. Heads up, iPhone XS, XS Max, XR or Pixel 3 users, your SIM card is embedded in the hardware, so this isn’t an option for you.

If you’re still having trouble, either Apple or Android’s support pages may be your next stop. Both allow you to type in the issue you’re having and will direct you to a list of possible solutions, or prompt you to engage with a support team member either through Live Chat or phone call.

Apple’s support page for iPhone does highlight two features that may save you the trouble of waiting for Live Chat or a phone call. Carriers regularly update their settings, and it’s essential that you keep up with them, just as it is with updates to your phone’s software as it optimizes your connectivity. To see if you’re due for an update, open Settings > General > About on your phone. If there’s an update to be installed, you’ll be prompted to download it.

As something of a last resort, you can refresh your network settings.  I say as a last resort because refreshing also means you’ll have to reset all your saved Wi-Fi passwords, VPN connections and any custom APN settings for users on carriers that require additional setup. If you have those passwords saved and are okay with the other set-up steps, go to Settings > General > Reset > Reset Network Settings. Once you confirm your selection, the phone will restart. Don’t forget to reconnect your phone to your home and work Wi-Fi networks.

Finally, as a last last resort, you can contact your wireless carrier. Sometimes signal issues can be traced to a cell tower being down in your area, the fiber optic cable may have been damaged in a storm or by construction crews, or perhaps there’s not adequate coverage in your area. If this is the case, you may need a network extender that will boost the signal and act as a mini cellphone tower.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Prevent Data Mining in Android Apps

By Tracey Dowdy

 At a time when sites like Facebook, Google, Amazon, and others are facing scrutiny for their data breaches as well as data mining, it comes as no surprise that over 1,000 Android apps have been doing more than a little harvesting of their own. Not only are they violating your privacy, they’re doing it behind your back, and without your consent.

Research has found that some apps – with no permissions enabled – actually piggyback off other apps you’ve given permission, even pulling data from your Wi-Fi connection. If you’ve ever seen ads in one app or your browser for an item you searched for in a completely different app, that’s data mining at work.  The good news is that Android Q is nearing release, and Google has promised it has security patches coming to correct the issue.

In the meantime, there are steps you can take to limit the amount of spying those apps can do.

Use common sense when giving apps permission to access data. Think about it – if it’s necessary for the app to have access to your location in order for it to function – e.g. Google Maps – then allow permission. On the other hand, do the developers over at Candy Crush need to know your location? Should they have access to your contacts or camera? Be especially mindful if an app asks for access to your microphone – last year it was discovered that the official La Liga league app used the microphone and GPS of user’s smartphones to surreptitiously identify venues broadcasting matches. But you can easily prevent this by denying an app permission to access unnecessary data in the first place.

Another simple way to limit access is to enable or disable app permissions one by one. When you install an app, disable permissions, then go back and turn on specific permissions individually.

  • Go to Settings
  • Select Apps or Application Manager
  • Choose the app that you want to change by selecting
  • Choose which permissions to turn on and off, for example, your microphone or camera.

You can also allow Google Play Protect, built into Android, to scan for potentially dangerous or invasive apps.

  • Go to Settings
  • Choose Security
  • Select Google Play Protect. A list will populate with all apps that have been scanned with any suspicious apps flagged as potentially dangerous.

Another smart option is to turn off Location Services, a prime target for trackers.

Go to Settings 

  • Tap Location
  • Select Google Location Settings
  • Toggle off for Location Reporting and Location History
  • You can also delete your location history
  • If you need your location enabled for a specific app, you can manually toggle it on then toggle off again when you’re done.

One final way to protect your privacy is by disabling location services in your photos.

  • Go to the Photos app.
  • Tap the menu and choose
  • Select Remove geo location.

Another way is to open the photo, tap the three stacked dots, select Info and choose No location. You can also go into a submenu below the map and click Remove Location.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


Apps to Get Your Family Outdoors

By Tracey Dowdy

Using a smartphone or tablet doesn’t have to mean screen time or inactive play. Use these apps and websites to have real world adventures with your kids this summer and become amateur bird watchers, citizen scientists, and amateur astronomers.

Audubon Bird Guide

audubonThe Audubon Bird Guide has a catalog identifying over 800 birds with information on their appearance, habitat, behavior and migration patterns. Take the app outdoors and find Birds with eBird, a “free online program that allows birders to track their sightings, while other birders watch and search in real-time.” Amateur birders track their location, each bird they saw, how many of each species, where and how long they were outdoors, and then jump to the eBird website and click “Submit Observations” to upload their information. There’s even an un-official eBird challenge to submit at least one list a day for one year, even if you only bird watch for a few minutes.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Night Sky

night skyNight Sky takes the expanse of the night sky and puts it in your child’s hands. Just point your phone’s camera at the heavens and using geo-tracking, Night Sky will identify the stars and planets above your head. Use Stargazing Conditions to identify the best night to look for constellations and planets or combine Stargazing Conditions with World Traveler to see the conditions in an area you’re traveling to. The app includes music, sound effects, 3D Earth Mode, satellite tracking and you can connect with other star gazers through the Night Sky™ Community.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes, Google Play, Amazon

Meet the Insects

meet the insectsDid you know the animal with the most species on earth is insects? Well now you do! Meet the Insects is crammed with facts about every species you can think of, from butterflies to beetles. Choose Forest, Village and Water, or Grass editions to identify bugs in your backyard, on a camping trip or anywhere else you come across creepy-crawlies. Kids can learn more about each species through videos and photos, create a journal to keep track of what they’ve seen, or take a quiz to see how much they’ve learned.

Cost: $4.99 per edition
Availability: iTunes

Nature’s Notebook

natures notebookNature’s Notebook makes kids citizen scientists by having them create an account at usanpn.org and start logging their observations of the natural world around them. Kids choose an environment like a park or their backyard and then become amateur naturalists by recording the plants and animals they see as well as changes in behaviors and seasons. All their observations are logged in the Nature’s Notebook database which then helps scientists track climate change and animal behaviors around the globe.

Cost: Free
Availability:  iTunes, Google Play


leafsnapThe Smithsonian Institution, University of Maryland and Columbia University have combined forces to create Leafsnap. Users take photos of leaves and through visual recognition software, Leafsnap identifies the tree species. The app has beautiful, high quality images of leaves, flowers, fruits, petioles, seeds, and bark found in the Northeastern United States and Canada.

Cost: Free
Availability: iTunes

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.



Apps to Download Before a Family Flight

By Tracey Dowdy

There’s a great debate at my house. As far as I’m concerned, vacation starts the minute I turn on my auto-reply and walk out of my office. For my husband, vacation starts once we’re at our destination and bags are unpacked. That’s probably because he does most of the driving if it’s a road trip, or arranges the tickets if we’re flying. That naturally makes me chief baby wrangler and child entertainer, no small task depending on the length of the trip.

Flying can be especially challenging with little ones, as the anticipation of the trip coupled with long wait times at ticketing, security, the gate, and then the flight itself – all while surrounded by strangers – can be overwhelming.

These apps can keep your kids entertained or distract them when they’re getting restless, so no matter when you think vacation starts, it gets off on the right foot.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

caterpillarThe Very Hungry Caterpillar app bundle (ages 2+) gives kids the opportunity to interact with Eric Carle’s classic – and very hungry – caterpillar. The bundle includes four apps that allow kids to create their very own hungry caterpillar, feed him, learn about colors, shapes and counting, and learn to recognize simple words, plus many other fun adventures all through non-competitive, imaginative play.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows
Price: $6.99

Tiny Airport

airportTiny Airport (ages 3-6) takes kids through three different scenes starting with their arrival by taxi and check-in through boarding and getting to fly the plane themselves. With over 100 separate animations, kids will sort bags, go through a check list and start the plane and discover what a dog is doing on the runway. Tiny Airport includes some timed activities and challenges for older kids.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99

Toca Vacation

vacationToca Vacation is part of the Toca Life series of apps designed with free and imaginative play in mind. Kids can interact with a host of characters as they decide where to vacation, where to stay and what to do when they arrive. Options are exactly what kids would enjoy in real life – jumping on the hotel bed, digging for shells and buried treasure at the beach, or enjoying an ice cream with their friends.

Platform: iOS, Android, Kindle Fire
Price: $2.99

Eli Explorer

eliEli Explorer (ages 5 and under) teaches kids age appropriate words and short phrases in 10 different languages, spoken by native speakers. Kids join Eli as he travels the world, exploring caves, jungles, forests and mountaintops. Order a glass of milk at a monkey tree bar, or dive into an undersea cave and listen to a monster band. The animation is simple yet engaging and very user friendly as kids need only tap and drag to interact with the game.

Platform: iOS
Price: $1.99

Plum’s Creaturizer

creaturizerPlum’s Creaturizer (ages 4+) is based on the PBS KIDS web-original PLUM LANDING, a show dedicated to helping kids develop a love for and an appreciation of nature. The app allows kids to create their own wild creature by choosing from over 100 body parts and then take their creature outdoors and “photobomb” them into a scene. Kids can complete missions for their creature, answer questions about its life, diet and habitat, or watch a slideshow capturing “a day in the life” of their creation. All their creatures are saved in your device’s camera roll and to the in-app gallery.

Platform: iOS, Android, Windows, Nook
Price: Free

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Google Now Tips for Android Users

By Tracey Dowdy

If you’re using an Android phone, you are well aware of all the handy features offered by Google Now, Google’s intelligent personal assistant. You can tell it to set an alarm, launch an app, or give commands like “Call my mother” or “Email my boss” when you customize your contacts. You can even can switch to a British accent and suddenly you have your very own Mr. Carson to make you feel very Downton Abbey-esque.

Some of the features on this list have been around for awhile, some are new, but all can help you make the most of your pocket personal assistant.

  • Never forget where you parked again. If like me, you get lost walking around your kitchen table, you’ll love that Google Now will recognize when you’ve stopped driving, pinpoint the spot, and display the location as a card. It won’t tell you what parking space you’re in, but it will give you enough information so you’ll know which side of the parking lot or garage you parked.
  • How Tweet it is. I know, I know, that’s a terrible pun, but did you know can Tweet without opening the app simply by saying, “Post to Twitter…” and then rattle off those 140 characters? Well now you do.
  • Be precise. Google Now allows you to ask specific questions like “Will it rain on Thursday?” or “Can you play Ed Sheeran’s Thinking Out Loud?” You can also make more complex requests like “Remind me to take chicken out of the freezer when I get home” and Google will use your phone’s location-based services to create a reminder. There’s a great list of 70+ ‘Okay Google’ voice commands here.
  • “I know it’s in here somewhere…” Use the search bar to find everything from music to messages. Type in the keywords and Google will go through your phone and pull up matches. To customize what gets included in the search, go to Settings > Phone Search.

  • Guys, grammar is important. There are miles of difference between “Let’s eat, grandma!” and “Lets eat grandma!” Google Now allows you to include punctuation and smileys when you dictate. Simply say, “Hey comma please set the DVR to record Walking Dead period” or “Thank you for the flowers smiley face,” which sounds like you’re calling someone “smiley face” but Google Now knows what you mean.
  • Shazam everything. Not only can you find out what song is playing by saying, “What am I listening to?” (and have the option to purchase the song), but you can also use the same feature with live TV. Just say “Listen to TV” and Google Now will provide additional information about whatever movie or show you’re watching.
  • History repeats itself. If you’re okay with Google keeping a record of what you’ve searched for, Google Now will create cards displaying your recent Web history. Because it’s intuitive, it recognizes patterns in the topics you search for and will direct you to additional information. It will also alert you to blog updates for sites you regularly visit.
  • This is your pilot speaking. Well, not actually, but you can track flights through a dedicated Google Now card. Search by flight number and the next time you launch Google Now you’ll see the card with updated flight information. (Web history has to be activated in order for this feature to work.)

Finally, one of the most significant differences between Android and iOS is the level of customization Android allows. Users can download third party apps like Commandr for Google Now that will read your text messages aloud, switching Wi-Fi on or off, pausing music or raising and lowering the volume of your ringtone along with a multitude of other features. The possibilities are almost endless.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

‘I’ll Take That To Go’: Rating the Top Fast Food Apps

By Tracey Dowdy

Because we live in a world where a Drive Thru is no longer fast enough, fast food restaurants have taken things to the next level, introducing apps to get you in and out more quickly without compromising customer satisfaction. It’s all about creating and maintaining that customer base, so alongside offering healthier food options and rewards programs, they’ve developed apps designed to save time and money and keep you coming back for more.

But not all apps are created equal. Depending on your priorities and preferences, some are definitely better than others.

burger kingThe Burger King app is straightforward and user friendly with easy to find to find locations, nutrition information and plenty of coupons. Mobile payment is an option via PayPal, BK® Crown Card, or a Virtual Card, so you can order, prepay and pick up your order fuss-free. The downside to the app is that prices are not listed and Value Menu items are scattered throughout their respective categories, so eating on a budget or trying to stay under a specific dollar amount can be tricky.

mcdonaldsThe McDonald’s app lets you view the menu but lacks the option to order online. The biggest draw is the number of coupons. Once you’ve created an account and chosen your local “home base” restaurant, the app will send you offers like BOGO’s or dollar-off coupons which is convenient considering the app doesn’t list prices and, like Burger King, value menu items don’t have their own listing. Because you can’t order online, the app primarily functions as a handheld menu and coupon resource.

taco bellTaco Bell may not be everyone’s top choice but their app is one of the better options in the fast food game. Menu items are presented with prices and with photos, because really who can remember the difference between a gordita and a chalupa? Pre-payment is available via credit or gift cards and nutrition information is easily accessible. Perhaps the best feature is that once you check out, the app asks if you’re picking up in-store or via drive-thru. Once you’re within a specific distance of the location, check in and they then prepare your order. Walk in, wait for your name to be called, and voila! fast fast food.

wendys1Unlike some of the other fast food burger options, Wendy’s doesn’t ask you to create an account or choose a “home base” location but brings up menu options and nutrition information right away. The “Right Size” value menu is easy to find, another option McDonalds and BK fail to offer. One unique feature is the option to donate to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption from within the app. The biggest drawback with the Wendy’s app is that mobile ordering is limited to Phoenix, Portland, Austin and Columbus municipal areas only and mobile payment is limited to those participating locations.

dominoes1Dominoes hands down has the best fast food app out there. Create an account at Dominoes.com and complete your profile with details like your favorite pizza, pick up or delivery, address and credit card information. This information creates your “Easy Order,” which is accessible from whatever digital platform you choose to order from, and that’s an extensive list. Users can order on their smartphone via SMS or by tweeting the pizza emoji to #Easyorder or to @Dominos and then confirming the order by Twitter direct message.

Users also have the option to order through Samsung Smart TVs, Ford Sync, Apple Wear, Android Wear or Pebble smartwatches, and Dominos own native mobile app. The app offers both national and local coupons and payment options include cash, credit, debit or Domino’s gift card.

All the fast food apps listed above are available for iPhone and Android.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

App Review: Highlights Every Day

When my daughter was in Kindergarten, there was a LOT I didn’t know. Sometimes asking other parents was simple enough depending on the opportunity and I was constantly looking for recommendations on great books to read to her and with her.

When my daughter moved into 1st grade her amazing teacher, Mrs. Arone, introduced us to Highlights Magazine, which served the dual purpose of suggesting great books for kids her age while also donating some for use in the classroom. We loved getting the magazine and picking more than a dozen books from the list for us to read at home. It felt very much like a curated list of great reads, which saved us time for more nighttime reading before sleep.

Now, fast-forward a few years, and yes, there is an app for that! Highlights Every Day can be downloaded on your iPhone or Android device and it has been reimagined as an all-new digital experience. It features hundreds of fun facts, puzzles, jokes, quizzes, videos, stories and a lot more.

If you have kids between the ages of 6 and 12 they can learn about the world around them and enjoy hundreds of activities with a new issue delivered EVERY DAY!


Specific features include:

  • Exclusive videos, including joke reels, animated learning clips and Ask Highlights Kids shorts
  • Engaging stories, poems and reading activities
  • Skill-building Hidden Pictures® puzzles, mazes, word clues and more
  • Fascinating interactive quizzes
  • Hundreds of activities — there’s always something new to play

The app is available for phone and tablet and it is a great way to keep kids entertained with content that is safe and also educational in a fun way.


  • Monthly subscription: $7.99/month (or just 23¢ per day for 5 new daily activities)
  • Free 30-day trial

Download on iTunes here: http://bit.ly/1Tcg7sy

Download on the Android Play Store here: http://apple.co/1XsWsEV

What are some of your favorite resources for young children?

The Online Mom received a promotional fee for participating in the Highlights Every Day program

6 Must-Have Photo Editing Apps

By Tracey Dowdy

Remember picking up your photos from the drug store and out of a roll of 24 you’d end up with maybe 12-15 decent photos worthy of being framed or put in your album? Then along came digital cameras and we said goodbye to paying for blurry heads-cropped-out eyes-closed photos.

The photo gods have smiled upon us once again, gifting us with photo editing, so those, ahem, once-in-a-lifetime snaps can be so airbrushed and filtered that we look like we’re in a spread for People Magazine.

Whether you’re new to editing or an old pro, you’re trying to get that perfect selfie for Instagram, or you want to frame your holiday memories, these apps can help you make the most of your photos.


VSCO is a good option for those just starting out with mobile photo editing. It’s tool kit is great for adjusting the exposure, sharpness and color of your photos, and all edits are non-destructive making it a very forgiving option for beginning editors. There are online tutorials (not accessible from the app) that offer tips and support. Users can share photos to social media and options vary depending whether you’re using an iOS or Android device.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free with in-app purchases available


Facetune is specifically designed as a portrait editor. Editing tools allow you to whiten teeth, erase wrinkles, blemishes, or dark circles, and even add hair so you too can have a hairline that moves forward with age just like Jude Law. You can even blur the background to make sure you’re the center of attention, just as you should be.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $3.99


Darkroom balances ease of use with more advanced editing tools, making it very user friendly. You can edit photos without importing and there’s no stress with its infinite “undo” history. Use the Curves editor to create the perfect tone for your photo by adjusting the hue, saturation, and luminance of the images. If you upgrade to the Pro-Kit you can even create, edit, and share your own filters.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom includes its own in-app camera. More than just portraits, Lightroom offers a full spectrum of editing tools and allows you to carry your favorite edits across photos. Seamlessly share your photos on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr, and even jump back to the original photo with one click.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free


PicsArt is a great option for those who really want to get creative. Packed with hundreds of tools, users can use their imagination for editing, creating camera shots, collages and digital drawings. PicsArt is collaborative so you can share your work with others for editing help or compete in photography, photo editing, drawing, and graphic design contests.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free

Autodesk Pixlr Mobile

Autodesk Pixlr Mobile offers an excellent array of features including stickers, borders, filters, and overlays alongside basic editing tools like exposure and sharpness. Users can create collages and caption images with a variety of fonts and share photos to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or through email. The free version includes ads.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: free, upgrade to ad-free paid version for $1.99

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.