App and game reviews by Mobilism's Android Reviews team
Jan 11th, 2018, 7:00 pm
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App: Floating Apps (multitasking) v4.4.6
Developer: LWi s.r.o.
Category: Productivity
Price: $3.99 (On Sale for $1.99)
IAP: $1.00 - $20.00 per item (Donations)

Ever since Android's timely inception back in 2008 to today's much more robust versions featured on extremely sophisticated modern devices, true multitasking still leaves much to be desired as a whole. Casual Android users, technically uninitiated folks and transplants from Windows or Mac PCs find this to be inconvenient, while the demanding power user is still scornfully baffled at the lack of running apps in multiple windows on hardware more powerful than a desktop. One can certainly switch between running apps full screen with the Recent Apps button, though this can be tedious for large tasks and can risk losing data and time due to Android's automatic memory management system. You forgot to save that text file of the 173 things you pasted from your Web browser to a text editor after hitting the Recent Apps button 346 times switching between them, only to find the text editor completely reset with your data nowhere to be found. What do you want for $800+, a real computer? Yes, that's right, we do!

Samsung initially made the big technology breakthrough with their phones in recent years with their proprietary multi-window support, giving us a glimmer of hope that the future had indeed finally arrived. What we actually got was a half-baked split-screen system that only ran apps with independent developer support, which were few and far in between. And what if we need more than two apps windowed at once? Hopefully, there will soon be a day where all of your apps will run windowed with as many running as memory allows, though for now we have Floating Apps to offer a decent compromise for the sake of good old productivity. For being such a relatively small installation package at under 22 megabytes, Floating Apps packs a great deal of useful tools that will leave you wondering how you survived this long without it. The average Android user will find these tools to be quite useful, but most disgruntled Android veterans who crave a streamlined workflow experience should find Floating Apps to be essential in everyday application. So, what's in the box and how does this work exactly?


Widgets Gone Wild!

Since Android doesn't natively support windowed apps in any form, the real magic vested in Floating Apps is the simple fact that each included application in the package actually runs as an independent widget. This system allows fully adjustable customized windows to float on top of anything currently running underneath them, and also offers a low memory footprint with reusable native code for each window. Each window can be resized by dragging the bottom right corner to suit your work space, then moved around and placed by dragging the window by the header bar area. Each window has several menu options, very similar to Microsoft Windows, where you may also save the window size and location by default. This can save quite a bit of time if you have frequent and redundant tasks, or simply dread adjusting windows constantly and/or prefer things in a specific order. Depending on the app, several other unique options are available in the window's menu to make life easier, such as adding and editing bookmarks in the Web browser. I've tried some dedicated browsers that took me twenty minutes trying to figure out how to even access my bookmarks, but things are very logically laid out in every app within this package.

Not to be outdone in the dimensions settings, the windows in Floating Apps can be customized to your liking with very specific color configurations for several components. Backgrounds, dividers, text, status boxes and other various aspects can have custom color and size settings to suit your tastes and save your eyes. Using Floating Apps on a ten inch tablet is brilliant, but displaying a reasonable text size is critical to see what you're actually doing. It's evident that quite a bit of consideration and care has gone into making each app as pleasant and functional as can possibly be...for mere widgets! Not to discount the clever efforts of the developer whatsoever, but we are accustomed to seeing apps fill the entire screen often thinking there is more than meets the eye than what we are actually seeing. However, this is not always the case with developers creating alternative third-party apps using another company's scaled-down API set that could omit some basic functionality.

The entire idea of Floating Apps immediately leads one to wonder if this package will allow them to delete their current dedicated apps to use this package in their place. The answer is 'possibly', but not entirely more than likely. It really depends on the individual and what they want out of Android, but these widgets are specifically designed for speed, convenience and multitasking at the core level. Even as well done as they are, these widgets individually don't offer a bevy of advanced features and functions that could persuade power users to delete all their favorite old apps, though as a group of tools combined they are very powerful due to streamlined workflow and convenience factors. Although, for those with very little internal storage and/or a lack of a SD card, it's a lucrative thought, especially for a phone with limited resources that eats battery with unnecessary apps running in the background. For a practical example, if you aren't into social media too much, Twitter and Facebook would be worth deleting to free some space as the widgets are quite functional for casual use. There are also little caveats involved in this decision as third-party apps using the Twitter API will not allow you to post images with tweets. Correct me if I'm wrong, but having tried at least six different Twitter alternatives, not one would allow this, or at least in any obvious fashion. Depending on your habits, usage traits and other various factors, the choice is yours to make if you really want to clean your device to save hundreds of megabytes of storage space.


One App To Rule Them All

We now know how these apps generally work, but what does Floating Apps contain that will make our lives easier and more productive? Currently the developer is boasting a total of 41 apps in total within this suite of tools, though the attentive folks will count 42 total here in my review. Here is the current exhaustive list of apps in no particular order, in case you had any doubts of inclusivity: application menu, active windows menu, add note, barcode reader, Web bookmarks, Web browser, calculator, calendar, camera, clock, compass, contacts, countdown clock, phone dialer, dice & coin roller, document viewer, Facebook, file browser, flashlight, Google map, Google+, image viewer, app launcher, lists, music player, notes, paint, sound recorder, search Google, search Wikipedia, stopwatch, system info, tally counter, task killer, text editor, text translate, Twitter, video player, WiFi manager, YouTube, 2048 and color matching games.

Looking at that list, just imagine how you do things currently, then picture yourself having any combination of these apps on the screen all at one time. Need to copy 47 businesses and phone numbers from a Web browser, look up their street addresses, enter the info into your dialer, make an alphabetically ordered list, then send it to a friend on Facebook? With every app on the screen at once, you'll never have to repetitively tap the Recent Apps button 372 times ever again. Nearly every base is covered from social media to utilities to entertainment, and it's really only limited to your limits of multitasking, device memory and screen space.

For the sake of demonstrating how cool these apps are, I simply have to mention the star of the show in the package, which would be the YouTube app. Let's be honest here, Google's version has gone down the tubes over the years. Google itself has gone down the tubes, but that's another story entirely. The biggest complaint from nearly everyone is they want you to pay $10 per month for YouTube Red to be able to play videos in a window, or listen to music videos while the app is minimized, among other things. Be aware that our comrades at Google decided to cap unattended streaming of YouTube content to one hour, so you won't be having chamber music running all night with no interaction, unfortunately. Floating apps will display videos in any windowed size you wish, plus any audio will play with the widget minimized with no issues. I had an entire album playing through the YouTube app minimized while I was downloading images from the Web browser, then using the file browser to rename them serially...all on one screen without 'tabbing out' like usual. In my benchmark comparison, the official YouTube app takes almost ten full seconds just to launch on my Nexus 10 tablet with nothing immediately running, while the Floating Apps YouTube version pops up in just a fraction of a second. I can already be watching a windowed video for a good eight seconds before Google's behemoth even thinks about rearing its ugly head. This is what Floating Apps is all about, and it's also what YouTube should be, but isn't by any means. Again, you take what you need to do into consideration, then fire up the apps required to get it done quickly and efficiently.

Also, I have an unusual and somewhat uncanny fondness for file managers. I've tried every single one on the Android market before finally settling on X-Plore as my main weapon of choice. Naturally, I was eager to test the Floating Apps file browser to compare basic functionality, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. It offers custom bookmarked storage locations, handy preset system locations and even supports root access! By the gods, we have a victor! However, I would love to see SMB access built in to be able to transfer files across network locations, but that might be pushing it a bit. Due to this omission, I had to 'tab out' to X-Plore to grab files remotely and copy them to local storage to work on, but getting rid of Google's lagging YouTube definitely made up for it. I will submit my request to the developer and see where that leads, but it's a minor feature that might lead to major problems for a widget.


Always Within Reach

So, we have a large arsenal of useful and efficient apps that are probably ten times more fun to play with than standard full screen versions, but how do we manage all these? This is where Floating Apps rolls out the options in a big way, and I won't be able to cover every method available because of the versatility involved. One option to access all these tools is in a configurable static notification that is accessible with a quick swipe down. A settings icon can be tapped from there to edit options, along with an active windows menu icon to manage running apps, plus another icon for global active windows settings. Tapping the notification itself will pull up a full screen view of all available app shortcuts, which can be customized in settings. Matter of fact, just about everything can be customized, and there is a lot to play with to get everything to your liking.

Another method to get your apps running is to use a hiding horizontal launcher bar on either side of the screen that also scrolls vertically depending on the number of shortcuts you choose. This operates the same as popular launcher bars on the market with sensitivity and opacity settings to get the perfect look and response. Your existing apps may also be added to this launcher bar to possibly replace any you might already be running. You can also opt for a floating icon and customize that to display what you prefer if you need it more immediately handy and accessible. That floating icon can also be dragged to wherever you desire, putting it out of the way to be able to truly multitask properly.

If that wasn't enough, you can create individual shortcut icons on the screen for your apps, just like standard Android launcher icons. You can even create custom Web app shortcuts that will display mini Web pages for anything you might find on the Internet. You can, for example, create a Web app for a currency converter Web page that will pop up a window with everything you need while chatting in Textra. Honestly, there are other custom apps you can create that I haven't even tested because there is so much to this suite of goodies that it could take months to comb over completely. The developers spared no expense to get this right, and there are no other options for such an experience on Android such as Floating Apps.

However, all things being equal, with such a massive collection of handy tools with this level of customization and styling, it will take some time to get acquainted with all the features. As the apps themselves are relatively self-explanatory and intuitive, setting everything up to your taste and understanding their full potential has a learning curve as far as you care to delve. I'd much rather have too much to play with than not enough, and the developer keeps adding more apps and features as time goes forward. The more I think about how I can use the apps, the more comes to mind in terms of fast access and personal application. Once you get used to doing things in this fashion, Floating Apps will allow you to expand your workflow to take on more tasks simultaneously, then probably add more apps in future updates to add to the fun.


Extending Extended Extensions

For those power users rubbing their hands together scheming about various methods to push Floating Apps to the limits utilizing technical wizardry and Android automation from third-party vendors, you would be rewarded for your efforts. With some curious experimentation and relatively low time investment, it's quite possible to integrate an automation package to launch several apps at once and have them scaled and placed exactly where you need them with a single tap of a button. For the chronically stylish people out there, there are several solutions on the market for complete gesture control to launch what you need according to different user-programmed swiping patterns on the screen. While you're at it, a voice recognition app might be able to yield the same results with zero taps if you feel so inclined to explore such a thing. If there is a specific configuration of apps that you frequently use together, methods such as these would get you up and running in no time to complete your task with a minimum of fuss and effort. The more time you spend considering different ways to efficiently use Floating Apps, the more time you'll save in the run long by not adhering to conventional standards of typical operation.


Nothing To Lose, Everything To Gain

Considering the history of Android and the slow progress it's made to arrive at the latest operating system without any true multitasking solutions, Floating Apps is currently the champion of its own crusade. Others have tried, but failed miserably due to lackluster support, uninterested developers and weak implementation of something that should be a priority level addition to Android. As an added perk to the Floating Apps package, the developer is all ears and very responsive to bug reports, new app requests and features to add to an already impressive suite of critical tools for everyday use. It's been updated at least five times in the past two weeks alone to optimize older and newer devices, getting everyone's devices up to speed and maximum working order. The only aspects that would somewhat limit use of Floating Apps is system memory and/or screen real estate on smaller phones, though it shines like a bright star on larger tablets with numerous windows open at once.

Another lucrative aspect is that the IAP options are simply for donations to further development of the app, and as it stands of this writing, Floating Apps is on sale 50% for the paltry sum of $1.99 out the door. Just having a decent text editor floating above a Web browser alone is worthy of this price, but there are currently 41 total included apps at your disposal to play with to extend your productivity in a myriad of ways. This is something that has been sorely missing from Android for so many years that it doesn't take much persuasion or convincing to try it out, especially at this generous price point.

Pros:
  • Multitasking at its finest level.
  • 41 included apps with more coming.
  • Customization of windows with memory.
  • Several different unique launcher options.
  • Tiny installation with low memory footprint.
  • Fantastic developer support with suggestions considered.

Cons:
  • A bit of a learning curve.
  • File browser could use SMB.
  • This won't be on sale forever!

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Reviewer rating: Image
Device/OS used: Nexus 7 2013, Nexus 10, ZTE ZMax Pro / KitKat v4.4.4, Marshmallow v6.0.1

Purchase at Google Play
Homepage: www.floatingapps.net
Mobilism: Floating Apps (multitasking) v4.4.6 [Patched]


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Jan 11th, 2018, 7:00 pm