Control who is allowed to add you to WhatsApp Groups

WhatsApp’s Group feature is quite handy to chat with a small to medium sized group of people; think of your local gaming group, parents whose children go to the same class, or smaller clubs that try to keep everyone informed about events and happenings.

One of the main issues up until now that WhatsApp users may have experienced when it comes to the Groups feature, was that anyone could add anyone to a group. If that sounds familiar to Facebook’s handling of its Groups feature, you are not mistaken.

WhatsApp offered no option to limit the Groups feature to a user’s list of contacts or specific contacts. Anyone could add you to a group and while you could leave it again or block the group admin to ensure that you are not added again, it usually meant that your phone number was exposed to the group in the meantime.

whatsapp block adding groups

The Facebook-owned company rolled out a new feature to the application’s privacy settings in 2019 that provided users of the service with options to limit who could add a WhatsApp user to groups.

The default is still set to Everyone but it can now be changed. Here is how that is done:

  1. Open WhatsApp on your mobile device.
  2. Select Menu > Settings.
  3. In Settings, select Account > Privacy.
  4. Tap on the new “Groups” setting in the Privacy listing. WhatsApp displays three options:
    1. Everyone — the default setting; means, everyone may add you to Groups.
    2. My Contacts — limits the people who can add you to Groups to your contacts.
    3. My Contacts except — limits the list of users further by excluding certain contacts.
  5. Select Done once you have made the change.

Selecting My Contacts or My Contacts except ensures that people that you don’t have in your contacts list add you to Groups in WhatsApp.  It is still possible that private links are sent to you in WhatsApp with invitations to join a particular group. These expire automatically in 72 hours though.

WhatsApp seems to have removed the Nobody option that was available in previous versions. You may replicate it by selecting the “My contacts except” option and adding most or all of your contacts to the list of exceptions.

Closing Words

WhatsApp users who have been plagued by unwanted invited to Groups have now an option to block these invites in the future. All it takes is a quick change in the application’s settings to limit the group adding permission to a user’s contacts, part of contacts, or nobody.

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Google stops rollout of Chrome 79 for Android

Google has stopped the rollout of Chrome 79 for Android. The new stable version of the mobile web browser was released last week for supported desktop and mobile operating systems.

Shortly after the release of Chrome 79 for Android, users started to post on the official Chrome Help forum claiming that data available in Chrome 78 was not migrated to Chrome 79. According to Google, the new version rolled out to 50% of the entire userbase already.

Developers too started to report the issue on the Chromium bug tracking site stating that the update to Chrome 79 would clear localstorage and websql.

chrome 79 android issue

While Chrome works fine when it comes to opening websites in the browser, it is applications that rely on WebView functionality that are affected by the bug. Some applications that are available on Google Play use the component to provide access to a website or web application, and these use local storage options such as WebSQL or localStorage to save user data locally.

In other words: any data that has been stored locally by the app, e.g. personalization and customization of the application, files, or credentials, are not loaded anymore. It appears that Google migrated data but forgot to include several key locations during migration. Further analysis revealed that the data is still there but that it is not loaded anymore by the applications.

One developer stated that encrypted login information from users was no longer available and that users who could not remember their login information could not access their accounts anymore according to Zdnet.

From a user perspective, it looks as if everything has been reset and that led to a high number of negative reviews for said applications on the official Play Store. Problem is, the anger, which is understandable, is directed against the wrong targets. Developers are not responsible for the issue but they face the consequences.

Google engineers are still discussing a solution for the issue. While it is possible to migrate data, it could potentially overwrite new data created by users since the update was performed.

Closing Words

Google stopped the rollout of Chrome 79 for Android and there is little that users can do currently. Those already upgraded to Chrome 79 face the bug and need to wait for Google to fix it. Whether that will result in a restoration of the data remains to be seen.

Now You: Are you affected by the issue?

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Vivaldi releases second Beta of its Android browser

Vivaldi Technologies, the company behind the Vivaldi web browser, released the second Beta of the upcoming Vivaldi mobile browser for Android on December 5, 2019.

The company released the first, long-awaited, version of its Android browser back in September and has been working on improvements since then.

The new version is already available on Google Play. Users who have installed the previous beta may notice that it is updated automatically eventually; users who don’t want to wait can force the update in the Google Play application or the browser’s Play Store webpage.

vivaldi beta 2 android

Vivaldi Beta 2 for Android is a big update that introduces new features and changes to the mobile browser. As is the case with most Vivaldi updates, a lot of development time went into improving the browser’s usability.

Users of the Android version of Vivaldi find a whole assortment of new features in the Settings:

  • Swipe to close tab — Can be enabled in the Settings to quickly close open tabs in the Tab Switcher by swiping them to the left or right of the screen.
  • Show scrollbars on internal pages — The option displays scrollbars on Vivaldi’s internal pages which provides a position indicator.
  • Always show desktop site — When enabled, tries to load the desktop version of visited sites automatically instead of mobile pages.

But there is more. It is now possible to delete all bookmarks and notes marked for deletion with a single tap on the “empty trash” icon.

The browser’s Start page received several improvements as well. Vivaldi added drag & drop support to the Speed Dials to allow them to be rearranged by the user. A long-tap displays a context menu with options such as edit or delete, and a tap on the plus icon adds a new Speed Dial to the current folder.

The Vivaldi Search widget may be placed on the home screen to run searches directly from it (without opening Vivaldi first).

Additionally, there is support for running the beta 2 of the browser on Chromebooks, improved stability, and thinner icons in the UI.

Closing Words

It is too early to give a final verdict but if Vivaldi Technologies manages to add as many features and options to the Android version as it has added to the desktop version, it could easily become as successful. Not all Internet users want customizations and options but those who do, may have something to look forward to.

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Opera 55 Stable for Android is out: here is what is new

Opera Software released a new stable version of the web browser on December 5, 2019. The new Opera 55 web browser for Android devices includes a new Night Mode and improved keyboard dimming functionality.

The new version of the mobile web browser should be offered to Android users soon via Play Store updates. It may also be downloaded from Google Play (and other sources) manually.

The major new feature of Opera 55 for Android is the browser’s redesigned Night Mode. It is disabled by default but may be activated with a tap on the Opera icon and the toggling of Night Mode in the menu.

opera 55 night mode

You may customize Night Mode functionality in the browser’s settings. Just tap on Night Mode there to open the configuration page. There you find the following options in Opera 55:

  • Change the color temperature to alter blue light emission.
  • Change the dimming.
  • Toggle the use of the dark theme.
  • Enable dark web pages. The feature enables a dark theme for sites that don’t support dark themes by default.
  • Enable the new dim keyboard feature; this requires an additional permission as the browser uses an overlay to dim the keyboard on the device.
  • Schedule Night Mode so that it is enabled during a specific period, e.g. from sunset to sunrise or custom period.

With Night Mode enabled, Opera for Android will display webpages that are opened in the mobile browser accordingly. It makes sense to use Night Mode together with Dark Mode on the deice and the extra dark web page and dim keyboard modes.

All taken together paint the entire screen in darker colors that may make the whole experience more enjoyable in the morning and at night, and may also improve sleep.

Opera Software calls it Super Dark Mode when all Night Mode features are enabled. The browser takes care of the UI, webpages, and keyboard that may be displayed when it is active.

Now You: do you prefer regular or dark modes?

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Microsoft adds Math Helper to its Bing application for mobiles

Microsoft Math Helper, or Microsoft Math, is a new feature of Microsoft’s Bing application for Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS operating system.

The idea behind Microsoft Math is not new; scan an equation to get step-by-step explanations on how to solve it. Microsoft added additional bits of information such as visualization or help to the application that adds to the overall value.

Microsoft Math Helper

microsoft math helper

I tested the Android application of Microsoft Bing / Math Helper but the Apple iOS version works similarly.

The core functionality of Math Helper worked surprisingly well considering that my handwriting is not the prettiest. The app scanned handwritten and printed equations without issues and provided a solution for these after sending them to Bing.

The sending part is a clear downside as the processing is not done on the mobile device but in the cloud. Users of the app need to make sure that the capture does not contain any important information or data.

Apart from scanning equations, Math Helper supports typing equations directly in a calculator or using touch to write them directly on the screen. These equations are also submitted to Microsoft before results are returned.

math helper

Results are presented step by step by the application. Steps are explained in the application, e.g. when something is multiplied or subtracted. The app displays a graph on the results page, and if multiple variables are used in the equation, solutions for all are provided.

Math Helper remembers calculations and a tap on the notes icon in the interface displays the history.  Options to clear previous calculations or to pin important ones are provided on the page.

Closing Words

Microsoft Math Helper is a useful application, e.g. for pupils to verify the results of calculations or for parents to better understand or verify these calculations. Math problems can be added using the mobile device’s camera, typed using a calculator, or added using touch.  The app supports different types of equations and other calculations.

One downside to using the application is that it works only with the Bing app (as it is integrated in the app), and that it requires an active Internet connection as it won’t return any results otherwise.

Applications like Photomath, available for Android and iOS as well, provide similar functionality but without Internet connection requirement.

Now You: do you use educational applications like Math Helper or Photomath?

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Mozilla Taiwan releases Firefox Lite 2.0 for Android

Mozilla has created several Android web browsers in the recent past: from classic Firefox and Firefox Preview to Firefox Focus and Firefox Lite.

Firefox Lite 1.0 was released last year by Mozilla Taiwan; it is a mobile browser that, besides its name, does not have much in common with Firefox for Android (or the desktop).

The browser uses Chromium WebView and not Mozilla’s own rendering engine to display websites. One advantage of that is that it is very lightweight (roughly 5 Megabytes) in comparison. Firefox Lite’s availability is limited to several regions in Asia. Users from other regions may download the APK file from mirror sites such as APK Pure to install it on their devices. The installation itself is not restricted.

Some functionality, e.g. the display of coupons and deals, is limited to certain geographic regions such as India or Indonesia.

firefox lite 2.0

Firefox Lite 2.0 improves the mobile browser in several meaningful ways. The main idea of the browser, to create a lightweight mobile browser with a focus on privacy and the saving of data. The browser’s Turbo Mode is activated by default; it blocks known trackers and most of the advertising on the Internet which in turn reduces the amount of data that needs to be transferred to display websites in the browser.

Firefox Lite offers no controls to manage the blocking other than turning Turbo Mode on or off. While it does reduce the time it takes to load sites that display advertisement, it offers no option to add trackers to the list or whitelist sites.

The browser uses Google as the default search engine but there is an option in the settings to change it to DuckDuckGo. It does not seem possible to add other search engines to it though. As far as settings are concerned, you may want to disable the sending of usage data to Mozilla while you are there.

The browser displays several controls when you tap on the settings icon in the main interface. It features an option to block the loading of images which will further speed up the loading of sites. Firefox Lite users may also capture entire webpages using the built-in screenshot tool designed to provide read-only access to these webpages even when offline.

The homepage of the browser is divided into two main parts. The main area links to news and gaming sections, the lower speed dial pane to 15 websites. Custom sites may be added to the section and a long-tap on any of the 15 sites displays options to remove it from the listing.

The news interface divides news into different sections such as world, business or technology. The interface itself lists titles, the source and the time it has been released only; a tap opens the original source in the browser.

The gaming interface lists several game categories on start but a tap on a game loads the game right away on the device. A long-tap on a game displays options to pin it to the home screen for quick access.

A shopping icon is placed prominently next to the search/address bar in Firefox Lite 2.0. A click opens the browser’s Smart Shopping Search which redirects to a special tabbed-interface of the browser to look at results on Google, eBay, Amazon, and other sites.

Closing Words

Firefox Lite 2.0 is a lightweight browser for Android that is designed to eliminate most of the tracking and advertisement on the Internet. The browser has a handful of interesting features, e.g. the screenshot functionality that is built-in, but lacks customization options.

Additionally, it has little in common with the main Firefox browser for Android other than its name and the fact that it is developed by Mozilla Taiwan.

Now You: What is your take on Firefox Lite? (via Sören Hentzschel)

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How to enforce Dark Mode in many apps on Android

Lately, I have been switching programs and applications over to Dark Mode whenever possible on my Android devices to save battery and improve visibility especially in the morning and at night.

Some applications do support dark themes or dark mode, and Android does too natively. On my Google Pixel 3a, one of the first things that I did was enable Dark Mode in the Settings. Several native applications, including Settings, Google Chrome, or the Play Store applications started to switch to Dark Mode automatically when I made the change.

Others did not however which meant that the device switched between dark and light mode whenever I switched apps that supported it and those that did not.

Starting with Android Q, a system-wide dark mode was introduced but the feature does not enforce dark mode on applications. If an app supports it, it may switch to dark mode automatically but if it does not, the default or selected theme is used instead.

Android Q comes with a developer option to enforce Dark Mode. The effect of enabling the option is that many apps use a dark interface instead of the default one. The setting does not work for all applications though; WhatsApp keeps its light interface even after enabling the option and so do other apps such as Google Maps.

Note: The following instructions apply to a Google Pixel 3a device that is more or less stock Android. The features that you need to enabled may not be present in other Android devices, or they may be located somewhere else in the Settings. If you have found them in a different location, feel free to leave a comment to inform others about it.

force dark mode android

Here is what you need to do:

  1. Open up the Settings on your Android device and select Display.
  2. Toggle the Dark theme option to enabled.

The setting enables Dark theme on the device but does not enforce it. You need to open the Developer Options in the second step to make another configuration change to force it.

  1. If you have Developer Options in Settings already skip to step 4.
  2. Open the Settings and go to About Phone.
  3. Tap on the Build Number multiple times until you get a notification that Developer Options have been enabled.
  4. Select Settings > System > Advanced > Developer Options.
  5. Enable Override force-dark under “Hardware Accelerated Rendering”.

Many apps will use a dark theme once you make the change.

Now you: do you prefer dark or light mode?

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Cloudflare's Warp VPN is now available to all: a first look

Cloud provider Cloudflare launched its privacy-focused DNS service 1.1.1.1 in 2018 and published apps for Android and iOS in the same year.

The company announced its Warp vpn service in April 2019 and invited users from all over the world to join a waiting list to test it.

The once-restricted VPN service is now available to everyone who downloads and installs the company’s 1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet application for Android or iOS.

Warp establishes a VPN connection on the device to route traffic through Cloudflare servers; this hides the device’s IP address and may improve performance. Cloudflare suggests that Warp+ users see a 30% improvement in performance on average when loading websites.

Tip: if you are looking for a DNS solution, check out Adguard DNS.

Cloudflare Warp

cloudflare vpn warp

The 1.1.1.1 application installs a VPN profile on the user’s device when the option is selected. Cloudflare promises that it collects “as little data as possible” and that it won’t “sell, rent, share or otherwise disclose” personal information.

The app displays the terms on first start; these reveal what Cloudflare collects and what it does with the data. Data may include the app installation id, the amount of data transferred through Cloudflare’s network, and the average speed.

The registration ID is a unique random number that is assigned to each profile. Cloudflare notes that it is used for the referral system. The basic version of Warp is free and it has no traffic restrictions. Warp+ is an add-on service that improves the performance of connections made on the device by “avoiding traffic jams” and picking the fastest routes.

Users may refer others to receive up to 1 Gigabyte of Warp+ traffic for free per month. Each referral that meets the criteria adds 100 Megabytes to the referring account. The second option that is available is to pay $4 per month to get Warp+ Unlimited which enables Warp+ for the duration of the subscription.

The Cloudflare DNS service 1.1.1.1 is always enabled and it may also be used without Warp if that is desired.

The application works automatically once you have set up the VPN connection. It requires no registration. The main interface displays a huge toggle to connect and disconnect the VPN. The 1.1.1.1 app displays a prompt when you disconnect that lists the following options:

  • Pause for 15 minutes.
  • Pause for 1 hour.
  • Pause for this Wi-Fi.
  • Until I turn it back on.

The pause for this Wi-Fi option requires that you give the app location permissions. On Android, you get a notification that informs you when you are connected and controls to stop the connection from the notification area.

The app has just a few settings. You may switch from using 1.1.1.1 with Warp to just 1.1.1.1 there, enable the dark theme, and open the connection options to disable the app for select applications.

Some applications may not work correctly when you are connected to the VPN; this may be the case for applications that restrict content regionally. Use the whitelist to exclude these to continue using them.

Two connection options — protocol options and tunnel mode — were grayed out in the Android version that I tested.

Experience

I ran several speed tests to test the performance of the service. The speed tests, e.g, Fast.com, were promising as the connection was maxed out when I ran them. It is possible that this may change in the coming weeks when more and more users start to use the application.

I did not notice any improvements in regards to the loading of websites but the loading was certainly not slower than before. I did not test Warp+ but plan to do so in the future to see if it speeds up the loading significantly.

All sites and services that I tried worked fine and without hitches. It needs to be noted that the app does not include any content blocking or protective features that other applications of its kind sometimes offer.

The 1.1.1.1 application gives users no control over servers and regions that it connects to. In fact, there is zero information about the server and region that you get connected to while using the application.

A quick IP check revealed that Cloudflare routed me through data servers in Germany. I would have preferred an option to pick another region/country.

Closing Words

Cloudflare’s 1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet application brings the company’s DNS server and VPN service to Android and iOS. The VPN is free to use and without bandwidth limitations, but it limits options and features, and gives no control over regions and servers. Performance was excellent on the other hand and you get the benefits of being connected to a VPN.

Cloudflare is not without criticism though and there will certainly be Internet users who won’t go anywhere near the application. Privacy-wise, I’m worried about the unique ID associated with an account even though Cloudflare states that it is only used for the referral system. It may be better than requiring users to create an account to use the application, however.

Now You: Do you use VPN apps?

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Keep track of all subscriptions on your Android device

Subscriptions – Manage your regular expenses is a free application for Google’s Android operating system to keep an overview of subscriptions.

Subscription-based services, apps, games and other products are on the rise on the Internet and in technology. You may subscribe to media services such as Netflix, storage services, subscribe to Office and other software solutions, to game streaming and flatrate services, online news services, and more.

Add traditional products and subscriptions such as mobile phone, Internet and TV plans to the mix, and you end up with an ever increasing number of subscriptions that you need to track.  It is difficult to keep an eye on the monthly and yearly expenses as well as renewal periods.

Do you know how much money you spend monthly/yearly on subscriptions?

The free Android application Subscriptions – Manage your regular expenses, yes that is the name, provides you with options to manage all subscriptions.

Managing subscriptions on Android

manage subscriptions android app

When you start the application on an Android device for the first time you are asked to pick a currency; this is the main currency that the app sets automatically when you add or edit subscriptions. You may create subscriptions in other currencies but need to switch to these manually during creation.

A tap on the plus icon opens the “add subscription” page. There you add the monthly, yearly or one-time fees, pick a name and add optional information such as a description and notes, date of first payment, the payment method, and a color or label.

The application lists all subscriptions in the main interface. It highlights the monthly cost of each subscription by default but you may switch that to the yearly view instead. The overview page displays the total that you pay per month or year depending on your selection.

Subscriptions – Manage your regular expenses supports filters on the page that you may activate. It is possible to filter by label, if you added them or by payment method. The latter is quite useful as it could help you list all services that may need updating, e.g. when the used Credit Card expired or is about to expire.

Subscriptions may be sorted by name, price, or next billing date in ascending or descending order.

A tap on the settings button displays all available options in an overlay. You may hide or show the time until the next payment is due, display labels, turn on night mode, change the default currency, or back up the data.

Closing Words

Subscriptions – Manage your regular expenses is a useful application for Android to keep track of subscriptions. The app displays monthly and yearly totals, highlights upcoming payments, and supports labels and notes to make things more comfortable.

Keeping track of subscriptions is the primary purpose of the application but it can in theory also be used as a reminder application. The application lacks notifications and synchronization options on the other hand which means that you need to open the app whenever you want to check upcoming subscriptions.

Now you: how do you keep track of subscriptions?

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Google Play Pass: the pros and cons

Google unveiled the subscription-based service Google Play Pass for the company’s Android operating system on September 23, 2019.

Google Play Pass gives subscribers access to “more than 350 apps and games”  that are “free of ads, in-app purchases and upfront payments”. Google promises that new apps and games will get added on a monthly basis.

The company launched Play Pass alongside a promotional offer that provides access for $1.99 in the first 12 months instead of the regular price of $4.99 per month; the offer expires on October 10, 2019. The service requires Android version 4.4 and above.

google play pass

Subscribers may install any of the included apps and games, and use them on their devices. Additionally, Play Pass subscribers may share the subscription with up to five family members.

The official Play Pass page lists some of the included apps and games but not all of them. You may check out the entire list of games and apps on Imgur.

Games include Titan Quest, Space Marshals, LIMBO, Thimbleweed Park, Stardew Valley, Star Wars: KOTOR, and This is the Police.

Apps include Moon+ Reader Pro, Dictionary.com Premium, Photo Studio Pro, EnPass Password Manager, and AccuWeather.

What are the pros and cons of subscribing to Google Play Pass?

Here is why you may want to subscribe to Google Play Pass:

  • You get access to over 350 commercial apps and games that don’t include ads or in-game purchases.
  • You may share the games and apps with up to five family members.

Here is why you may not want to (or can’t) subscribe to Google Play Pass:

  • Google Play Pass is only available in the United States.
  • The selection of apps and games is okay at best; only a few games and apps stand out and you may be better off buying these outright.
  • Apps and games are not exclusive, and many have been in sales in the past.
  • It is unclear how many new apps and games will be added to the service, and if apps or games may also be removed.
  • You pay the subscription even if you don’t use Play Pass at all or only for some of the games and apps).
  • If you unsubscribe, you lose access to all games and apps.

Closing Words

Price and selection plays an important role. If you hurry, you could subscribe in the first year for a little less than $24 in total. The price increases to a little less than $60 per year once the promotional offer expires.

Is it worth it?

Google Play Pass may be worth it if you would have paid more in total for applications, games, and in-app purchases than the subscription price. It needs to be noted that access is lost when you unsubscribe and that you need to factor that in as well.

Some users might use the same strategy that they use for media subscription services such as Netflix. Instead of paying for an entire year, they subscribe for a month or two to watch the shows and movies that they are interested in.

The strategy should work well for the games that are offered but may not be that successful for apps as you may want to use them throughout the entire year and not for just a month or two.

All in all, I’d say that most Android users may be better off buying apps and games outright especially since usage is not time limited.

Now You: Will you subscribe to Google Play Pass?

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