DroidWall: The Aptly Named Android Firewall Solution

Installing Android applications can sometimes be a risky operation. A list of permissions requested by the application pops up before installation, but how many people actually read those? Even if you do read them, they can often leave you puzzled as to why that application needs that permission.

I recently installed a newly-released game on my phone, and, like usual, took a look at the permissions it requested: full internet access (fair enough), read phone state and identity (wait, what? Why would it need that?), and access my location (alarm bells are definitely going off now). Since the game appeared to have fairly decent production values and was free, I was wary that its creators might be using an alternative revenue model, such selling user information to third parties.

Call me paranoid, but I’d rather err on the side of caution. I started looking around for a way to easily log Android network traffic to see if I could discover what data the application was actually transmitting, but stumbled upon something so much better: DroidWall.

VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: DroidWall requires root access to work at all. If you don’t have root, DroidWall will not function.

DroidWall lets you leverage the power of Linux’s iptables using a simple front-end interface. In a nutshell, it lets you block specific applications from accessing the Internet.

Even better, DroidWall is incredibly easy to configure. On the application’s main screen you’re presented with two modes of operation: white list or black list (toggle between the two by clicking on the header where the mode is displayed). When in white list mode, you select which applications you want to grant access to the internet (useful if there are only a few applications you want to give internet access). Black list mode is just the opposite. You select applications that you wish to block (useful when you only want to block access from a few applications). DroidWall also lets you decide on a per-application basis if you want to block 3G, Wi-Fi, or both, which can be useful if want to ensure that data-hog applications aren’t syncing while on 3G.

Once you’ve made your decisions, simply hit the Menu key, enable the firewall (if it isn’t already enabled), and hit ‘Apply rules.’ DroidWall will request Superuser permissions and the rules you defined will take effect immediately.

Be careful when selecting which applications you want to block, as blocking the wrong one could cause your phone to act rather strangely. For example, blocking the Linux kernel would probably be a bad idea.

If you want to be sure DroidWall is working, it also comes with a logging feature that can be enabled in the options menu. The log can be viewed via the ‘Show log’ option, also found in the options menu.

Conclusion

For all I know, the data the application was collecting may have been harmless. Usage metrics are often collected by game developers and studied to try and make the game better. However, since the game was new to the Market and I wasn’t familiar with the publisher, I decided it was best to not take a chance. DroidWall made it easy to use a built in Linux feature to simply block that application from accessing the Internet.

DroidWall can be downloaded for free from the Android market via the QR code below. If you really like it, consider donating at the project’s Google Code page.

Create and Sync Notes on your Desktop, Phone, and the Web with Simplenote

Ever have an idea that you’re sure is going to make you rich, only to have forgotten it by the time you get home? Or how about the time you spent all week making a list of things you need the next time you go shopping, only to forget where you put it when the time finally came?  With Simplenote for iPhone (and other iOS devices like the iPod Touch), that’s all in the past.

Simplenote is a simple text editing service that allows you create, save, and view text notes.  The service can be accessed in a variety of different ways. The easiest way is to simply set up an account online and use the browser text editor. There is also a desktop application that you can download. This application saves your notes to your computer with the option to sync to your online account, which can be useful if you are in an area without WiFi.

The Simplenote app for iPhone and iPod Touch allows you to write and read notes on the go while syncing to your online account. (I’m actually writing this review with my iPod touch.)

Simplenote for iPhone and iPod Touch make it easy to add notes on the go.

A new feature to Simplenote is the addition of tags – these allow you to set one or more tags to each note. These tags can aid in searching for specific notes. Also, it’s now possible to look through older versions of notes you’ve created.

Tags can be useful when searching through lots of notes.

I have been looking to a program/app like Simplenote for quite some time. The whole interface is simple and fast, but it comes with a compromise: you won’t find auto formatting or spell check here. Simplenote probably wouldn’t be the best thing to write your next big novel on, but it works great for quickly jotting down information for use at a later time.

Amazon Releases Kindle for Android App

In another big step towards expanding their grip on the E-Book market, Amazon recently released a version of their Kindle software for Android.  The Kindle was originally a hardware device for reading digital books, and Amazon has since made the software available on other devices like the iPhone and iPad.

The Kindle software is free and gives you access to Amazon’s library of 600,000+ digital books, which typically cost $9.99 each.

The Kindle for Android app is my first experience with E-Books; even though I read a lot, I just haven’t been able to give up my printed-on-paper books yet.  Since the Kindle software has been expanding to other devices, though, I’ve been much more eager to check it out, and I like the idea of having my entire library available digitally on a single device.

I’m impressed with Kindle for Android, which I’m told is almost identical to the Kindle app for iPhone/iPad.  I was extremely leery about using it on a small screen (I use the app on a Motorola Droid with a 3.7″ screen), but I was pleasantly surprised to find a good balance between readable text size and keeping as much text as possible on the screen at once.

Upcoming Android devices like the Motorola Droid X will offer much larger screens (the Droid X has a 4.3″ screen), which will dramatically improve your reading experience.

Kindle books can be downloaded pseudo-directly from the application.  A mobile version of the Kindle book store opens in your browser where you can view the Kindle library and purchase books.  Those books are then instantly sent to your device, and I was very impressed with how seamless the process was.

If you already have purchased Kindle books, you can view your personal library directly from the application.

You can also check out a free sample of Kindle books before making a purchase, which is great to see how the book translates to a small screen.

Now like I said, I’m pretty new to the whole E-Book thing.  If you’re a little more serious, you should check out what Kevin has to say about why the Kindle sucks (regarding the copy protection Amazon uses on their books) and his review of the Aldiko E-Book reader for Android, which gives access to a huge library of DRM-free books.

To download Kindle for Android, search the Android Market for “Kindle” or scan the QR code on the right with the Barcode Scanner app.

Timerrific for Android: A Great Way to Forget Your Phone’s Settings

Let’s face it, the Locale app for Android was awesome.  Being a product of MIT graduates, Locale is a simple and easy way to manage your Android phone’s settings through profiles triggered via either a GPS location or a specific time frame.  And let me tell you, it was slick.

When I was close to my apartment, my ringtone would change from a polite jingle to “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult.  At school, my phone would automatically set itself to vibrate between the hours of 8 AM and 3 PM.  I could even use specific contacts to trigger brightness settings, vibrate mode, and my Wifi module.  I loved that app… that is, until they asked me for ten dollars to keep using it.

Since then I have been tempted to drain my bank account to acquire Locale, but fortunately something else in the Market caught my eye.

Timeriffic

Welcome into the arena the free app called Timeriffic (which you can find via search in the Android Market or by scanning the code on the right with the Barcode Scanner app).  It’s a neat little program that allows you to use profiles based on timed situations to change phone settings (sound vaguely familiar?)

From the menu, profiles can be created based on personal situations that occur during the days of the week.  Once configured, blocks of time can be added inside these profiles by pressing and holding them and selecting “Insert New Action.”  These “Timed Actions” are the meat of the program, forcing settings to change based on what the day and time is.

Using Timeriffic

Here’s a simple example: let’s assume you are at work five days a week.  After creating the profile “Stupid Job,” you can then add a starting timed action for Monday through Friday at 8:00 AM  to set your phone to “Vibrate” or “Mute.”  Then, once the grueling day is done at 5:00 PM, you can create another timed action for the week to reverse the settings back to full volume.

Create a Profile...
...Set Your Time...
...And Pick the Settings

In the main interface, the Timeriffic system shows a green dot to tell what Timed Action is currently in session and a blue dot to tell which Timed Action will soon be triggered.  Besides changing ring volume and vibrate, Timed Actions can also turn on and off features like Wifi, Airplane Mode, Bluetooth, and even the brightness of your phone.  Sadly, changing the default ringtone is not an option at this time.

Conclusion

So is Timerrific the answer to my prayers?  Well, yes and no.  I admit that settings like brightness, ringtone, and Wifi are way cooler to automatically turn on when you enter a GPS mapped location, but when it comes to my personal Android settings, I believe the cliché “Time is money” is better than “Location, location, location.”

Image credit: p_kirn

Use AppAware To Find New and Interesting Android Applications

While there are plenty of great applications available for Android, it can sometimes be difficult to find them. The Android Market doesn’t do a very good job of showcasing applications, so you’ll usually see the same twenty or so apps on its front page. If you want to find those buried gems, you’re forced to scroll through an endless list and click on the applications that appear promising.

Thankfully, there’s an application that can help relieve you of this tedium. AppAware tracks all application installations, upgrades, and uninstallations for users who have installed AppAware.  This allows you to view which applications are being installed the most and is usually a pretty good indicator if they are worth checking out.

AppAware is incredibly easy to use. On the main page you can see what applications other people are installing, updating, and uninstalling in real time. A check mark is placed next to apps you already have installed. By long clicking on an entry you can see more options for it, including a link to its Market page.

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Clicking on the bar graph in the bottom left brings you to a list of the most active applications. You can see which applications are being installed, updated, and removed the most in the past hour, day, or week. You can also check out the list of Featured Apps, which estimates the best applications based on the number of installs and removals.

Clicking the Menu button on your phone while on the main page takes you to the settings page where there are a couple of entries worth noting. You can connect AppAware to your Twitter account, which not only allows you to tweet your activity, but also associates all your activity with a profile that others can view.

For those with privacy concerns, the settings page also lets you disable the sharing of your application activity completely. You’ll still be able to see what others are installing, but your own data won’t be collected.

Scan to download AppAware

AppAware is a free download for Android-based devices and can be found by searching the Android Market for AppAware or scanning the code to the right with the Barcode Scanner application.

Do you know of any other great Android applications? Let us know about them in the comments!

Image credit: AppAware