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June 02 2020


You Can Now Delete Your Old Facebook Posts in Bulk

It’s now easier to delete your old Facebook posts, either individually or in bulk. This will help anyone looking to move on in life, and erase the evidence of their past. Whether that’s in order to remove reminders of an ex-partner or to secure a new career.

When Facebook Posts Come Back to Haunt You

Facebook has been around for so long now that most of its users are very different people than they were when they joined the social network. They’re older and (hopefully) wiser, and they’re unlikely to want old Facebook posts to come back to haunt them.

To help avoid that fate, Facebook has launched Manage Activity, which lets you remove old posts from Facebook. You can either send them to an Archive (which hides them from everyone but you) or Trash them completely (which deletes them completely after 30 days).

How to Delete Your Old Facebook Posts

Once you have access to the Manage Activity feature, you can remove old posts at will. All you need to do is open your Activity Log and click Manage Activity. You’ll then be given the option to Manage Your Posts, with them all listed in chronological order.

If the post or posts you want to delete is recent, you can just scroll down to find it. However, you can also employ filters to narrow your results. Just press the Filters button and filter your posts by Category, Date, or People. All of which are self-explanatory.

Once you have found the post or posts you’re looking for, select them and then click either Archive or Trash. Archive hides posts from view to everyone but you. Trash removes posts from Facebook completely after 30 days (allowing you to change your mind).

Facebook is launching Manage Activity first on Facebook Lite and the Facebook mobile apps for Android and iOS. It will take several weeks to reach everyone, so you may not see it immediately. The social network has also promised to bring it to desktop in the future.

Manage Activity Is Better Late Than Never

Manage Activity is a good (albeit extremely overdue) tool we wish Facebook had launched years ago. How many people have lost their jobs or had relationships ruined thanks to old Facebook posts coming back to haunt them? Still, it’s better late than never.

Seeing as we’ve mentioned it in this article, here’s everything you need to know about Facebook Lite. And for anyone who’s really worried about the privacy implications of using Facebook, here’s what deactivating or deleting Facebook really means.

Read the full article: You Can Now Delete Your Old Facebook Posts in Bulk


5 Common Internet of Things (IoT) Security Issues and Fixes

Internet of Things (IoT) devices might secure you against street crime but they don’t do a great job guarding you against privacy invasions. This article explains some of those privacy concerns and how to fix them.

Let’s start by looking at the ways that IoT devices can breach your privacy, and how to avoid them.

1. IoT Home Hub Devices Record Everything

Some devices, such as Google Home and the Amazon Echo, constantly listen to their surroundings. This ensures they hear you when you say their “hotword”, or activation word, which initiates audio recording.

Of course, something that’s always listening to you poses a privacy risk in itself. There has been a lot of speculation about whether these devices are always sending recorded information home, even if the user has not activated it via its hotword.

Even if this speculation isn’t based in truth, it is a fact that home hub operators receive private voice logs after the device mistakenly heard their hotword. The BBC reported that Apple and Google have stopped its employees from playing back recordings from home hubs. This was after third-party contractors discovered they were listening to intimate moments that were accidentally recorded.

How to Fix IoT Devices Always Listening to You

While popular smart home hubs have check boxes you can tick to tell them not to monitor your voice, who knows what’s going on in the background? Imagine if a stranger was sitting in on all of your discussions, and you simply made them promise not to tell anyone what it hears. Would you trust that stranger with your private information?

As such, the best way to fix this IoT security issue is to never allow it to occur. Don’t purchase smart devices that have a 24/7 listening capability (if possible). Always-listening devices are identifiable if they’re marketed as offering voice-activation, as they need constant monitoring to listen out for commands.

2. They Can Be Hacked From the Outside

A big draw for IoT devices is their ability to receive commands from the internet. This allows users to control smart home devices from any location in the world.

This feature isn’t perfect, though. While remote smart home control allows location-independent control and monitoring of your home, it also opens the door for hackers to do the same. Hacking is one of the scariest IoT privacy concerns, as people all around the world can gain access to your home uninvited.

It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it’s, unfortunately, a reality. Trend Micro claims their software blocked 5 million hacking attempts on IoT cameras, 75 percent of which were brute force attacks.

How to Fix IoT Problems With Remote Hacking

To fix this problem, you need to set up a proper remote system that can keep hackers out.  Given that hackers are mostly using brute force techniques to break in, your system needs to be strong enough to resist a barrage of attempts.

Secure your account with a strong password, and use a two-factor authentication device if it’s supported. These will both stop a hacker from getting easy access to your home.

3. Devices Don’t Use Encryption

This is a giant red flag for anyone who cares about their privacy. Zscaler reported that from the 56 million transactions that passed through their cloud from IoT sources, 90% of them were sent as plain text. This means no effort was made to encrypt them whatsoever; anyone could analyze the packets and extract its data.

How to Fix IoT’s Lack of Encryption

Only use IoT devices that properly encrypt their data. Hopefully, the product will state its encryption type on the box or advertising. If it doesn’t, it’s a good idea to play it safe and not purchase it.

At the very least, you could get it and take care of what data you send; never use it for anything you wouldn’t want someone else to see.

Another option is to use a VPN’s encryption scheme on your network, like OpenVPN. Some routers allow for the user to configure a virtual private network, or VPN, on it. A VPN installed on a router allows the user to encrypt and route all their traffic through a third-party server. That would prevent any third-party snoops from inspecting whatever data is transferred between you and the end point.

4. IoT Devices Aren’t Properly Updated

Devices that undergo pressure from hacking attempts should be properly equipped with the ability to receive patches. If an exploit is found in a device, the news can spread quickly amongst the internet, which puts every owner of that device at risk.

A security patch is the best way to combat these flaws as they appear over time. However, the world of IoT has some severe patching issues. Devices may have very barebones support after release or have no means of being patched whatsoever.

A device may have the foundations for security patches, but in the quick world of IoT, the company behind it may go out of business, leaving the device stranded without updates.

How to Fix It

Unfortunately, there’s no way you can actively patch your IoT devices. Fortunately, you can take measures into your own hands by choosing companies with a good reputation or look for open source IoT devices

Putting your faith in a start-up may mean their lack of experience will cause slower updates; that is if they don’t go out of business. Larger businesses will have more experience, faster patch response times, and are far less likely to fold.

5. Devices Use Default Factory Passwords

A default password is a hacker’s favorite way of cracking devices. Some companies will give each device an individual password to prevent this flaw, but others will set the same password for all the devices they create.

If the users of these devices don’t bother changing the password, hackers can learn of the factory default login information and test it on all the devices they can find. They’re bound to find a few that still has the out-of-the-box credentials, which gives them unprecedented access over the device.

The default password problem is so bad, WeLiveSecurity reported on how California has banned any device that shipped with a default password.

How to Fix It

If any devices you purchase have a default password, change it right away. Keeping the old password is leaving the door open for any potential hackers that know the credentials for your particular device.

Improving Your IoT Security

IoT is currently full of security holes, which makes it hard to trust them with your privacy. By taking some proper precautions, you can enjoy IoT devices without handing over your details to hackers.

One highly effective method for improving IoT security is using a virtual private network (VPN) with either a router or a Pi-Hole. VPNs can disguise the location of where your IoT traffic originates. However, it requires that the user install a Pi-Hole (which is a Raspberry Pi that routes traffic through a VPN) or install a VPN on their router.

Read the full article: 5 Common Internet of Things (IoT) Security Issues and Fixes

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4 Dating App Privacy Disasters and How to Protect Yourself

Dating apps have revolutionized the way people meet in the modern world—making it easier than ever to find romantic partners who share your hobbies, interests, and goals.

However, like most new technology, they also bring various concerns. With the launch of Facebook Dating, these concerns have only been heightened due to the company’s track record around private data.

We spoke to Anna Collard, the Managing Director of KnowBe4 Africa, to find out some of the privacy risks that platforms like Facebook Dating and other dating apps pose to users. Here are five of the biggest privacy disasters and risks these apps can expose us to.

1. Company Data Use

The primary privacy concern from dating apps like Facebook Dating is not breaches or leaks, but the data harvesting from the providers themselves.

“What many people don’t know is that their personal information is worth a lot of money to companies. There’s that saying: personal information is the new oil,” Collard notes.

“These companies don’t just make money by finding a mate for you. They make money by collecting your information and building profiles and then selling that information,” she adds.

At the end of the day, Facebook is one of the biggest advertising platforms online. This means your dating profile activity and data could be shared for targeted advertising

The company, however, claims it will keep your Dating profile separate from your Facebook profile separate. But there are already instances where the data between your dating profile and regular profile are shared. For example, Facebook Dating suggests matches based on your groups and events.

It’s also possible that the extent of data sharing between Facebook services will increase in the future, as the company has done after its acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.

“Even though Facebook claims that they will keep the Facebook Dating app completely separate from the general Facebook app, I don’t think that what Facebook says can necessarily be trusted,” Collard said.

After all, companies are able to update their terms of service at a later stage. Facebook has already reneged on the commitment to not show advertising on WhatsApp, with plans to add ads to the app’s Status feature.

How to Improve Dating-App Privacy

You can limit the amount of data collected by companies by adjusting your privacy settings and carefully reading the terms of services to understand exactly what information is collected.

However, the best way to avoid data harvesting is to avoid the services completely. This is not always possible in the digital era, but you can aim to be more selective in which services you use.

Collard notes that we should reconsider whether we want a single company to have a monopoly on so much personal information, from dating to business information.

She also adds that you should post anything on an app that you wouldn’t want to become public knowledge, since this is always a risk.

2. Private Data Leaks and Breaches

The extent of data harvesting in dating apps already compromises privacy, but this issue is compounded by security breaches and data leaks.

With private data proving so valuable, it’s a frequent target of hackers and cybercriminals. For Collard, security breaches aren’t a matter of if it happens, but when it happens.

The consequences of a dating-site data breach can be far-reaching. Collard points out that after the Ashley Madison leak, people who had used their work email addresses for the site were at risk of being identified by their employers.

“Any sort of social media account carries some privacy risks, but if you look at what you’re sharing on these dating sites, it’s much more sensitive information,” she notes.

Furthermore, the more third parties or apps your data is shared with, the more points or nodes there are for cybercriminals to target.

How to Avoid Getting Your Social Media Data Leaked

There’s nothing a user can do to prevent data breaches on the platform’s side. However, you can take some precautions.

These include not reusing passwords, usernames, or email addresses across platforms.

Collard suggests that dating app users, especially those sharing sensitive information such as HIV status or sexual preferences, should set up a completely unique email address and profile when configuring Facebook accounts, if possible.

When a dating platform requires you to sign in with your Facebook profile, or another pre-existing profile, it prevents you from mitigating the risk of breaches.

3. Cyberstalking and Stalking Risks

Since the goal of dating apps is to meet up and go on dates, they present a unique physical risk that most other apps don’t have. It’s important to be aware of this and to be selective in arranging dates.

When it comes to cyberstalking, there are multiple ways for people to link your dating profile to your other online profiles. This is especially true if you re-use usernames and profile pictures across sites.

Cyberstalking is a risk on any social platform, but dating apps can result in cyberstalking turning into physical stalking.

Furthermore, if you link your Instagram profile to your dating profile, geo-tagging your pictures can make it much easier to find the places you frequent, such as your workplace or favorite café.

“If you use an account name on, let’s say Tinder, that you use somewhere else, it’s very easy for even non-technical people to find out who you really are. You have to be really careful that whatever you set up there—that you don’t expose who you are and where you live,” Collard says.

How to Reduce Cyberstalking Risks

To mitigate the physical risk of meeting up, Collard suggests the following tips:

  • Meet in public places.
  • Get to know someone before being alone with them.

When it comes to cyberstalking, it’s important to reduce the risk by keeping your dating profile separate from other profiles that can be used to identify you or your workplace. In order to keep your profiles separate, take the following precautions:

  • Use unique images of yourself
  • Never post or share your home address
  • Don’t share any identifying information that makes harassment and stalking easier for strangers.
  • Keep private communications within the dating app’s chat client for as long as possible, since they don’t require you to share a phone number like other chat apps.

4. Data Used for Extortion and Discrimination

As Collard points out, dating apps have more sensitive personal data than the average social media app.

This includes sexual preferences, fetishes, dating preferences, HIV status, and other private information that can be used to extort or discriminate against individuals.

Extortion and discrimination can happen when data is leaked or when a person’s identity is linked to a dating account. This is especially true in contexts or countries where this information attracts significant stigma or in countries where homosexuality is illegal.

How to Avoid Cyber-Extortion

Again, use caution regarding who you trust and what personal data you share on dating apps. Follow these simple tips:

  • Use a unique email address for a dating profile.
  • Do not share intimate images that can be used to blackmail you.
  • Read the privacy policy and terms-of-service of dating sites and apps to see what data they share with third parties.

Stay Safe on Online Dating Platforms

Dating apps always carry privacy risks, but make sure to take precautions when choosing to use a platform.

Always take into account a company’s track record with user privacy and data. And most of all, stay safe.

Read the full article: 4 Dating App Privacy Disasters and How to Protect Yourself


5 Ways a Free VPS Can Endanger Your Privacy

Looking for a free VPS? Before we get started, we should discuss what a VPS is.

A virtual private server (VPS) is a virtualized server remotely hosted on a machine owned (or leased) by an internet hosting provider. The machine itself is physical, while the VPS is part of a virtual environment, and the operating system which you will choose is a server OS.

VPS hosting is not usually described as affordable. For hosting websites with high-performance requirements, you’re looking at $50 a month, minimum. Usually aimed at business customers, a VPS often comes with some useful features like SSL/HTTPS built in. Such servers are typically used for online stores.

Using a VPS as a personal VPN, however, requires far less in the way of hardware resources. This makes it the perfect solution for hosting your VPN.

Whether you plan to use a VPS long term or just to try it out, you might consider a free VPS host. While some VPS hosts offer free trials, often these are little more than a scam, a gateway to your bank details.

Worse still, that’s just the beginning.

1. Free VPS Located in a Place With Sketchy Laws

When you’re looking to subscribe to a hosted VPN, one of the most important considerations is its location. It’s an advantage if the service resides in a nation without data retention laws. Better still is a VPN host that doesn’t fall under the auspices of the 5-Eyes surveillance alliance.

Similarly, if you’re planning to set up a personal VPN on a free VPS host, the location of the VPS server is paramount.

While this may not be your only privacy concern, if the VPS isn’t registered in a safe location, avoid it.

2. Can You Trust the Free VPS Host With Your Data?

You need to trust the VPS host before you sign up for it.

Signing up for a service means submitting your personal data as part of the sign-up process. For free trials, you may also need to use a credit card. Once you’ve done that and your account is created, you’ll need to set up your VPS (which involves installing the server software onto the virtualized server).

Another issue is whether logs are kept of your activity. Can you trust the VPS not to retain logs of when you log on, your IP address, or monitor your connection of evidence of activity? Can you be certain that this information won’t then be sold to advertisers or given away under legal duress?

No, you can’t.

3. A Free VPS Could Be a “Man in the Middle”

The potential for security and privacy abuses by the owner of a free VPS doesn’t end there.

A man-in-the-middle attack (MITM) occurs when you log into what appears to be a legitimate destination (a router, server, or website). The MITM attacker then uses the fake or compromised destination to capture your login, passwords, and other personal data. These scams usually go after financial information.

4. Is the Free VPS Free of Vulnerabilities?

Whether the free VPS host offers Windows or Linux, vulnerabilities can always exist.

After all, why would the owner of a free VPS spend time updating software and hardware? They’ve probably got paid customers to service. Checking the available operating systems and ensuring they’re regularly updated is wise whatever VPS you’re using.

But if the VPS environment isn’t offering up-to-date OS options, there’s a risk that your VPN installation can be subverted. Consider, for example, the hardware vulnerabilities in AMD and Intel processors, Meltdown and Spectre. If mitigation isn’t in place for these flaws, they can potentially be exploited.

While an extreme example, it nevertheless illustrates that the VPS host is not obliged to maintain a free server.

5. A Free VPS Server Could Be a Scam

Finally, very few genuine free VPS services are available. Among those that are, the aim is almost certainly to onboard potential customers with the promise of gratis hosting. While the trial-period offers are oftentimes legitimate, a few disreputable hosts abuse the concept.

When a scam is in operation, the free VPS does not exist. Victims are encouraged to sign up, choose the free VPS option, but provide card details. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the free VPS doesn’t exist.

Instead, it is a scam, and victims’ credit cards are charged.

Given how freely scammers misuse their victims’ data (see above), don’t expect this to be the end of it.

Forget Free VPS Providers

Free trials are useful. Whenever a reputable VPS offers them, they’re worth trying before buying.

However, free VPS providers that don’t have that layer of trust should be avoided. Privacy is key when hosting a VPN. If you cannot trust your VPS host with a single item in this list, then it’s time to reconsider.

Instead, host your personal VPN on a paid VPS from a trusted provider. Two of the better VPN providers out there include Mullvad VPN and Windscribe VPN.

Read the full article: 5 Ways a Free VPS Can Endanger Your Privacy


CactusVPN Review: Can a Free VPN Option Make It Less Prickly?

Most people interested in privacy or who stream Netflix need a VPN. You might only need it for your browser. Or you could require a full-VPN service to protect all your internet traffic. But what’s the right solution for your privacy concerns? CactusVPN offers most of what users need.

Is CactusVPN Right for You?

Subscribing to a virtual private network (VPN) means you can protect your privacy, particularly when using public Wi-Fi. It can also block electronic surveillance, and potentially frustrate advertising. A VPN can also protect against ISP throttling and geo-location blocking, if you ever need Netflix from another country (or if you want American Netflix). But all that is not the same thing as security from surveillance.

No VPN will protect you from physical surveillance. Members of your household can monitor internet activity regardless of whether you use a VPN. A VPN is designed more for domestic users than anyone else. Political journalists, dissidents, freedom fighters, and anyone wishing to learn restricted information publicly available elsewhere in the world should only rely on a VPN in conjunction with encrypted messaging (e.g. Signal) or accessing the internet via Tor.

However, if you’re comfortable with the inherent limitations of all VPN technology, CactusVPN offers relatively inexpensive plans ranging in price from $3.20 for the full package or as low as $2.27 for a less private way to bypass streaming geo-restrictions on Netflix.

Is Your Subscription Safe With CactusVPN?

Being able to trust your VPN is vital. If there is no trust, there is no point in using the service. The idea that a VPN might take your money and run, provide a substandard service, renege on its guarantees and features, and even share your logs with a third party, should be enough to make you look elsewhere.

According to their About page, CactusVPN was formed by three friends in 2011 and operates 27 high-speed VPN servers across 15 countries. Its headquarters is in Moldova (in Eastern Europe).

Moldova is not a member of the European Union so it is not under any existing or future data-sharing obligation. Similarly, it is not a Five Eyes group (FVEY) member, so there is no legal requirement for CactusVPN to share data with Anglo-sphere security services.

The CactusVPN philosophy is simple:

We believe everyone deserves privacy and freedom, we believe internet should be safe for everyone; we believe people shouldn’t be afraid of using the internet.

CactusVPN Free vs. Pro Features

To give you the full CactusVPN experience, both the free and pro (or paid) versions of the app include the same features. While the VPN service is wise to provide this, 24 hours probably isn’t long enough to fully appreciate any service.

The following features are all available in both CactusVPN free and pro modes.

Internet Kill Switch

A vital feature found in all good VPN clients, an internet kill switch cuts access if the VPN connection drops. A lot of different causes can cause a VPN to suddenly cut out. And most computers are designed to reestablish an internet connection as soon as the VPN drops. Without a kill switch, this automatically exposes your location to a variety of sources.

A kill switch in theory blocks all connection after a VPN drops. This means all internet is blocked until you manually reconnect to the VPN or close the client.

CactusVPN’s Apps Killer

CactusVPN, aside from offering a dedicated kill switch, offers a feature called “Apps Killer”. Apps Killer prevents only certain apps, that you select, from connecting to the internet. One scenario is blocking access to the internet during a DDoS attack on an online game. Meanwhile, if you’re torrenting with CactusVPN, Apps Killer will close your torrent client if the VPN connection goes down. This will conceal torrenting activity from your ISP, even in the event of a VPN outage. In theory, at least.

In practice, a kill switch is just another layer of identity protection.

Sort Servers by Speed

Need to find the fastest server? Like many VPN clients, CactusVPN has a drop-down menu to choose from the library of servers. While this is sorted by location by default, the list can be reorganized to Sort by speed. It’s a useful feature which we hope other VPNs will introduce.

Note that whatever server you choose will be affected by the basic speed of your internet connection. See below for speed testing results.

Easy Server Switching

As stated, the server can be easily switched to any other location. This is again via the drop-down menu, where the new server (in any city or country) can be selected. A short wait is needed while the VPN reconnects.

Easy VPN Protocol Switching

VPN protocol switching is also a feature, although this can only be done between connections. SSTP, OpenVPN, L2TP, PPTP, and IKEv2 protocols are all available via the Settings screen. We’ve written about the various advantages of VPN protocols, such as OpenVPN vs. IPSec and SSTP.

DNS Leak protection

Also in the settings screen is the option to enable DNS leak protection. Three servers can be used here: CactusVPN DNS, Google DNS, and OpenDNS.

DNS leakage has been a major problem for VPN services over the years. Having leak protection is always an advantage, but it’s curious to see it disabled by default. It may be that the service provider has disabled leak protection in order to improve VPN reliability. After all, many browsers can be manually set to prevent WebRTC leaks—at the cost of website compatibility.

Smart DNS

An alternative mode is bundled with CactusVPN: Smart DNS. This is an alternative to a VPN, intended to enable region-blocked streaming without the load of VPN encryption and other VPN features. Intended for streaming video, it’s ideal for viewing Netflix on CactusVPN.

VPN Apps for All OSes

CactusVPN offers apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android and Android TV, Fire TV, and extensions for Chrome and Firefox browsers. As such, you should be able to use the service on all your devices. There is also support for other hardware via OpenVPN.

For the Fire Stick, CactusVPN offers a (free for 24 hours) VPN app.

Download: CactusVPN for the Fire Stick (24-Hours Free)

Money Back Guarantee

On top of it all, CactusVPN offers disappointed customers their money back.

Its money-back guarantee comes into play if you’re unable to connect to the CactusVPN VPN or Smart DNS servers. This is a 30-day refund policy acts like a parachute if you subscribe after trying the CactusVPN free version.

CactusVPN Security and Privacy

An insecure VPN is of no use whatsoever. Knowing the strength of security and privacy before buying a subscription is a huge advantage. Fortunately, CactusVPN’s free option can prove advantageous here.

Shared IP Address

This is a useful security feature that prevents activity being traced to your device. Instead, a shared IP address is used, grouping CactusVPN users together.


CactusVPN employs an interesting approach to encryption, utilizing both 128- and 256-bit AES encryption. While this might seem archaic, their reasoning is compelling:

The AES-128 is very strong and it cannot be cracked through full-scale search on the key. Although you may be entitled to think that longer keys offer more security benefits, the truth is that an algorithm can’t be ‘less broken’ than ‘not broken’. So there is no additional benefit for security from cranking up the key size to 256 bits.

In addition, CactusVPN highlights that a 256-bit AES connection will use 40% more CPU. As such, their argument is that there are computer resource trade-offs between security and computational overhead.

Meanwhile, several VPN protocols are on offer with CactusVPN: SSTP, L2TP/IPSec, OpenVPN, IKEv2/IPSec, SoftEther and PPTP. Which option is best depends on your activity. Overall, OpenVPN is perhaps the most desirable, but not always practical to set up. CactusVPN recommends OpenVPN and SoftEther for torrenting, however, and OpenVPN for security.

Logging Policy

A major concern for privacy advocates using VPNs is the logging policy (as with warrant canaries, we are agnostic about the realities of logging policies). Is the data of customer activity available to third parties?

CactusVPN has a “guaranteed no-logs policy” which they hope will generate trust. Their policy states:

…we will not store any data relating to your activities while using any of our privacy solutions, and will not record, monitor, log or store any of your information. CactusVPN also guarantees that none of your information will be passed on to a third party.

In addition, they do not store “…any IP addresses, traffic logs, connection timestamps, used bandwidth or session duration information that could be traced to a single person.”

In truth, logging policies are not very enforceable outside the legal jurisdiction in which the host company resides. They are generally designed to protect the host company against consumer violations of said policy, not the customer.

CactusVPN Speed Test

A VPN reduces the speed of your internet connection—sometimes a lot. So, it’s worth knowing in advance just how much the speed will be lost.

We’ve tested CactusVPN with premium speed-testing service Speedtest.net. Note that this test was performed on a broadband fiber FTTC (Fiber to the Cabinet) local loop.

First, the speed test without CactusVPN connected:

As you can see, the speed is 41.47Mbps down, 10.05Mbps up, with a ping of 14 meters per second.

Via a VPN server in London:

39.63Mbps down, 9.57Mbps up, 17 m/s.

Finally, a CactusVPN server in Zurich, Switzerland:

Notice the difference in ping rate: 39.33Mbps down, 9.29Mbps up, a ping of 43 milliseconds.

So, with local servers, the CactusVPN speed is good, although ping rate (understandably) degrades with distance.

Smart DNS Speed Test

In addition to testing the speed of the CactusVPN, we also looked at speed using the Smart DNS feature. After all, there’s no point advertising a fast alternative to VPN for video streaming if it isn’t fast enough.

With the Smart DNS mode enabled, the results are:

As you can see, the result is a 39.23Mbps download, and 10.09Mbps upload score. Ping is 14 milliseconds to a DNS server around 40 miles (64.37 km) away.

CactusVPN Customer Service Options

Several support options are available from CactusVPN. Foremost among these is the Submit ticket option in the client app. Available alongside a Save logs button, both are found in the Help screen (a doctor’s bag in the top-left corner), accompanied by links for the ToS, Blog, Refund Policy, and more.

Clicking Submit ticket opens the relevant page on the CactusVPN website, saving you time looking for the link. Note that all contact with CactusVPN is via the support ticket screen. While they operate social media accounts (such as @CactusVPN on Twitter) the response will always be to raise a support ticket.

You can also start a live chat during business hours. This will typically appear unprompted while you browse the site.

The Support tab on the website, meanwhile, features a collection of tutorials, an FAQ, and other guided sections.

Should You Subscribe to CactusVPN?

With all of this considered, you should be ready to decide: CactusVPN, or another service?

Overall, we found it a competent VPN service. While the Windows client crashed on one occasion while switching protocols, it was otherwise stable. It’s ideal for most activities: CactusVPN connects to Netflix libraries around the world without any problem; you can use Cactus VPN servers for torrenting. CactusVPN is also safe to use for online shopping and protecting your device on public Wi-Fi.

General usage for browsing yielded good results. However, one incident caused concern: a visit to this very site via the CactusVPN server in Kansas, USA. The resulting web page was a “520 Web server is returning an unknown error”, which didn’t occur when browsing VPN Proof normally. This appears to be a common issue with free VPNs, a good reason for avoiding them. Of course, CactusVPN is not a free VPN, but might need to take steps to avoid 520 errors.

For privacy concerns, it offers a mature, considered no-logging policy that should ensure CactusVPN earns your consideration as a VPN option.

On the other hand, not all the features were interesting. While the Smart DNS mode is useful, it’s probably more suited to streaming video through a game console than as an alternative mode on your PC.

Still not certain? Use the CactusVPN free trial to help make your mind up.

Read the full article: CactusVPN Review: Can a Free VPN Option Make It Less Prickly?


The 4 Best Windows Screenshot Apps and Tools


A good screenshot app is an essential part of your Windows toolkit. Screenshots let you capture funny moments as well as important information, or document problems to show others.

But what is the best screenshot tool for Windows? Let’s look at several top screengrab options and see which is best for your needs.

1. The Best Basic Screenshot Tool: Snipping Tool / Snip & Sketch

Windows Snipping Tool Home

If you’re using a computer where you can’t download any software or just need a basic screenshot, Windows has two built-in tools for taking screenshots that will serve you well.

The Snipping Tool, available from Windows 7 onward, is the classic version. It lets you capture screenshots in several modes and provides a few simple markup tools.

On Windows 10, we recommend using the newer Snip & Sketch tool, which is accessible anywhere thanks to a keyboard shortcut. It also features a few enhancements over the Snipping Tool. See our guide to the Snipping Tool to master using both of these apps.

Windows 10 Snip Sketch Editor

If you rarely take screenshots, these might be enough for you. But for frequent use, especially if you need to mark up your shots after taking them, we highly recommend checking out a better screen capture tool.

2. The Best Free Screen Capture Tool for Most People: PicPick

PicPick Home

PicPick is an excellent choice for anyone who needs more than the Snipping Tool can provide. It’s free for personal use and includes several features to improve your screenshot process.

The interface for PicPick looks quite similar to Microsoft Office apps, making it familiar for anyone who’s used the Office suite. It includes more screen capture options than Snip & Sketch.

For instance, Scrolling Window lets you capture long webpages all at once instead of having to stitch multiple shots together.

After you capture an image, PicPick really shines with its image editor. The Effects menu includes quick access to pixelation, watermarking, contrast adjustment, and similar. The Stamps menu lets you quickly add arrows and numbered bubbles to illustrate steps.

You can add highlights, as well as text and shapes in any color you choose. And the editor features tabs, allowing you to work on several images at once.

PicPick Editor

After you’re done editing, the Share tab lets you upload to Imgur, cloud storage, or social media pages. You can also email your image right from this menu.

Combine this handy feature set with extra graphical tools like a magnifier and crosshair to determine screen coordinates, and PicPick offers an attractive package for most people.

We recommend giving it a try if you’re new to screenshots, then moving onto one of the tools below if it doesn’t fit your needs.

Download: PicPick (Free for home use)

3. The Best Powerful Screen Capture Tool: ShareX

ShareX Home

If you’re a screenshot enthusiast looking for an app that does pretty much everything, ShareX is the answer. It’s completely free and offers an impressive suite of features that you’d usually expect to find in paid tools.

In addition to the usual capture modes, you can choose any app window from a list to capture it instantly. ShareX also lets you take easy screen recordings in GIF format, plus it has a Scrolling capture feature like PicPick.

That’s just the beginning of what ShareX has to offer. After you capture a screenshot, it includes an image editor with easy options to blur, crop, highlight, add a mouse cursor icon, and much more. It’s not quite as clean as PicPick, but still easy to use.

After you’re done editing, ShareX allows you to upload to many image-hosting services, including Imgur, Flickr, and Google Photos. It also supports adding photos to cloud storage like Dropbox and OneDrive.

For maximum efficiency, you can define custom tasks that run every time you take a screenshot.

For example, you might choose to save the screenshot, copy it to your clipboard, and open it in ShareX’s editor. It also lets you define steps to run automatically after you upload the image, so you might shorten the URL and copy it to your clipboard.

ShareX Sharing Options

ShareX has a lot more to offer, including tools like a color picker and ruler, as well as tons of settings and hotkeys to customize. It might overwhelm people who only take screenshots occasionally, but you can’t expect much more for free.

Download: ShareX (Free)

4. The Best Premium Screenshot Tool: Snagit

Snagit Editor

Snagit is the luxury option in the screenshot tool world. While its price tag of $50 might seem excessive compared to the capable free options above, it’s worth the investment for anyone who uses screenshots regularly.

The impressive Snagit feature list is too long to detail here, but some of the standouts include:

  • The Library, which holds all of your captured images and divides them by which app or website you took them from.
  • A Simplify tool, which lets you remove unnecessary info from a screenshot. It automatically generates shapes and icons using colors pulled from the image.
  • OCR, which allows you to grab text from an image and use it elsewhere. You can also select some text and use the Edit text option to change the wording inside a screenshot.
  • Video capture, which is great for creating short screencasts when a screenshot isn’t enough.
  • A huge library of stamps for adding common OS elements like loading symbols, toggle switches, and much more.
  • An excellent support library to help you learn how to use the software and get help if something goes wrong.

Snagit has a truly staggering amount of features, and it gets better all the time. But unless you work with screenshots all the time, it’s probably overkill for you.

After a free trial, the initial $49.95 purchase lets you use the current version of Snagit for as long as you like. You can add on a year of maintenance for $12.49, which guarantees you’ll get the next major version of Snagit when it launches and includes some other perks too.

Download: Snagit ($49.95, free trial available)

What About Greenshot?

For a long time, Greenshot was the preferred Windows screenshot tool of many. It offered easy capture tools, a handy and straightforward editor, and a variety of sharing options. However, at the time of writing, Greenshot has not seen an update since August 2017.

While you can still use Greenshot if you really like it, we don’t recommend using apps that have been abandoned for years. All the above options receive regular updates, and are thus safer and include more features.

What’s Your Favorite Clipping Tool for Windows?

We’ve taken a look at several free screen capture tools for Windows, plus Snagit as a premium option. Chances are that one of them will fit your needs nicely, whether you just need something basic or want advanced sharing options.

Of course, there are many other screenshot programs available, but most offer similar features to the above. The best test is integrating them into your workflow for a while so you can explore their features fully.

Meanwhile, if you want to take video recordings of your desktop, check out the best screencasting apps instead.

Image Credit: Greg Brave/Shutterstock

Read the full article: The 4 Best Windows Screenshot Apps and Tools


The 5 Best Fitness Trackers With Heart Rate Monitoring


Fitness trackers have changed the way we exercise. Not only do they motivate us to stay active, but the wrist-worn devices also record data so we can chart our progress.

All fitness trackers feature a pedometer for counting steps as standard. Alongside that, though, a heart rate monitor can be invaluable to help you reach your fitness goals.

Here are the best fitness trackers with heart rate monitoring available today.

1. Fitbit Charge 4

Fitbit Charge 4 Fitbit Charge 4 Buy Now On Amazon $149.95

The Fitbit Charge 4 is the best fitness tracker available today. The company was the first to popularize the wearable device. Despite widening its range to smartwatches, it has always maintained a focus on its core fitness trackers. The Charge 4 is the latest in the Charge line up and has a range of features that make it worth the money.

Alongside a pedometer and heart rate monitor, the Charge 4 also includes built-in GPS so you can track your workouts without your phone. The heart rate monitor is always on, so it monitors your pulse throughout the day, and even while you sleep. There’s an NFC chip too, which enables the company’s contactless payment service, Fitbit Pay.

The Fitbit Charge 4 includes sleep tracking as well, so you can see how well you rested using the Fitbit mobile and web app. Unlike some wearables, the battery lasts up to seven days on a single charge, so you won’t have to recharge it each night either.

The device is designed to be a complete fitness companion, so there are on-device workouts courtesy of Fitbit Premium, although this training service requires a subscription.

Before investing, take a look at our review of the Fitbit Charge 3, the previous iteration of the company’s flagship fitness tracker.

2. Xiaomi Mi Band 4

Xiaomi Mi Band 4 Xiaomi Mi Band 4 Buy Now On Amazon $36.00

While the Fitbit Charge 4 is considered the best fitness tracker, it is also among the most expensive. Additionally, Google acquired Fitbit in late-2019, raising privacy concerns and casting doubt on the future of the brand. The Xiaomi Mi Band 4, however, makes an excellent alternative and is the best affordable fitness tracker available today.

Despite the low price, the device is feature-packed and has some of the best fitness tracking hardware. The Mi Band 4 uses Bluetooth 5.0, includes a 135mAh battery for 20-day usage, and is waterproof up to 50 meters. Unlike the competition, the tracker also includes a color screen, which makes it easier to quickly check your stats. Notably, there’s even a swim tracking feature, so you can keep an eye on your underwater progress, too.

The heart rate monitor runs continuously, collecting data to the Mi Band 4. If you download the Mi Fit app on your smartphone, you can sync the data across and view it on your mobile device. The fitness tracker also supports notifications, so you can check messages, alerts from your favorite apps, and see incoming calls from your wrist.

If you’re interested in this affordable fitness tracker, check out our review of the Mi Band 3, the predecessor to the Mi Band 4.

3. Apple Watch

Apple Watch Apple Watch Buy Now On Amazon $414.00

Although most smartwatches come equipped with fitness tracking capabilities, they aren’t made for fitness activities. However, there is one exception; the Apple Watch. The device focuses on health, wellbeing, and fitness, with a range of hardware and software to help you achieve your goals. Primary among them is the high-quality heart rate monitoring.

This feature is so effective, it can analyze your heart’s electrical rhythms and determine if you are experiencing a medical emergency. In that event, the Apple Watch will even contact the emergency services on your behalf. Of course, this is a fail-safe only if the worst were to happen. There are plenty of other fitness features included on the Apple Watch.

As you’d expect, there is close integration between the Apple Watch, the data it collects, and Apple’s other services. The data syncs to your iPhone and is collated in the Health app which can be accessed through your Apple account. In has GPS built-in for location tracking and real-time directions and is water-resistant up to 50 meters. You can personalize your Apple Watch with alternative straps, too.

4. Garmin vivosmart 4

Garmin vivosmart 4 Garmin vivosmart 4 Buy Now On Amazon $97.43

Fitbit has positioned itself as a fitness brand for everyone. However, fitness enthusiasts often opt for Garmin’s products instead. The Garmin vivosmart 4 is the company’s primary fitness tracker. At first glance, the device looks like many other fitness trackers, but it’s the internal hardware and Garmin’s software that make this tracker worth the money.

It is one of only a handful of fitness trackers that can monitor your blood oxygen levels while you sleep. Although the vivosmart 4 is not a medical device, your nighttime blood oxygen levels may give an early warning of medical conditions like sleep apnea. This sensor is coupled with the company’s well-regarded heart rate monitoring.

The built-in heart rate monitor informs some of the wearable’s other functions. For instance, it can track your estimated stress levels and Vo2 Max. If you feel stressed, or the device suggests you might be, you can use the wrist-based relaxation breathing timer to take a moment for yourself. There are other wellbeing features like timers and tracking for walks, runs, strength training, swimming, and yoga.

5. Oura Ring

Oura Ring fitness tracker

It’s possible that you aren’t interested in a wrist-worn fitness tracker. Perhaps you’d rather wear a traditional wristwatch, or just don’t like the idea of a cluttered forearm. In that case, the Oura Ring may be the best fitness tracker for you. As the name suggests, this is a fitness tracking smart ring, with sensors lining the inside.

Despite being much smaller than many fitness trackers, it still has a lot of the same features. The Oura Ring can measure your heart rate, monitor your sleep, and track your steps. The ring comes equipped with infrared LEDs, temperature sensors, an accelerometer, and a gyroscope to provide all-day monitoring.

Like the other fitness trackers on offer here, there is a dedicated Oura app used for syncing the data from the ring to your device. From there, it can sync with your mobile platform’s health service, either Google Fit or Apple Health. The Oura ring uses wireless charging to provide up to seven days’ worth of use from a one hour charge. The titanium ring is water-resistant and only weighs 0.25 ounces.

The Best Fitness Tracker for Your Goals

Fitness trackers strike a balance between features, cost, and usability. They are comfortable to wear, unobtrusive, and often have superior battery life when compared to smartwatches. Notably, the Apple Watch is an exception and is a worthwhile fitness tracker and smartwatch.

That said, smartwatches tend to serve a different purpose. So, there’d be no reason you couldn’t enjoy the features of both. If you’re considering investing in a wrist-worn wearable, consider one of the best affordable smartwatches.

Read the full article: The 5 Best Fitness Trackers With Heart Rate Monitoring


22 Essential iPhone Keyboard Tips and Tricks


Apple’s mobile devices are great productivity machines, brimming with apps for getting work done on the go. You might be using intelligent email apps and smart task management apps, but have you considered upgrading your iOS keyboard game?

There are small tricks for the keyboard on your iPhone or iPad that end up saving a lot of time, taps, and frustration down the line. If you type a lot on your iPhone or iPad, here are all the best keyboard tips and tricks for you to learn.

1. Use QuickPath to Type With Swipes

QuickPath swipe line on iPhone keyboard

The QuickPath feature on your iPhone keyboard makes it possible to type faster than ever by swiping instead of tapping. All you need to do is swipe from one letter to the next until you’ve spelled an entire word, then lift your finger to make it appear onscreen.

If QuickPath misinterprets your swipes, tap the delete button once to delete the entire word. Then swipe it out again or start tapping to type as usual.

2. Drag and Drop the Cursor

Drag and drop cursor in Notes app

You often need to move the cursor on your iPhone or iPad to start typing somewhere new. Apple makes it easy to do so by allowing you to drag and drop the cursor wherever you want it, no matter which app you’re using.

3. Use Trackpad Mode for Better Cursor Control

3D touch keyboard trackpad mode

Tap and hold on the Space button to make the keyboard transform into a trackpad. Without lifting your finger, slide across this trackpad area to move the cursor exactly where you want it to be, including the middle of a word.

You can even use this keyboard trick mode to select text on your iPhone or iPad screen. While moving the cursor, tap with a second finger to start selecting text.

If your iPhone supports 3D Touch, press firmly to enter trackpad mode anywhere on the keyboard, without needing to hold the space button. Squeeze again to start selecting text.

On an iPad, enter trackpad mode by moving two fingers across the keyboard. You can’t select text at the same time with this method, unfortunately.

4. Double or Triple-Tap to Select

Selected text in Notes app

Double-tap to select a single word or triple-tap to select the entire paragraph. After you do so, use the popup menu to edit the text. This iOS and iPadOS keyboard tip makes it easy to select text to copy and cut from your iPhone or iPad.

5. Pinch to Copy, Cut, and Paste

Copy alert from Notes app

Pinch in with three fingers to copy the selected text on your iPhone or iPad. Then pinch a second time to cut the selection. After moving the cursor somewhere new, pinch out with three fingers to paste your selection.

These keyboard gesture tricks are easiest to use on an iPad, where you have more space. If you have an iPad Pro, there are other Smart Keyboard shortcuts you can use to copy and paste as well.

6. Copy and Paste With the Universal Clipboard

If you use multiple Apple devices—an iPhone and an iPad, for example—you can use the universal clipboard to copy text from one device and paste it to the other. There’s nothing special you need to do for this; simply use the standard copy and paste functions on each device.

If it doesn’t work, make sure both devices are connected to the same network with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth turned on. Also, make sure they’re both using the same Apple ID account.

7. Swipe to Undo and Redo

Undo alert from Notes app

If you make a mistake while typing, swipe from right-to-left with three fingers to undo your last action. You can do this multiple times to keep undoing the last edits you made or the last words you typed.

If you accidentally use undo too many times, swipe from left-to-right with three fingers to redo instead.

8. Shake to Undo

shake to undo

Swiping with three fingers can be fiddly on a small iPhone screen. Fortunately, you can also shake your entire iPhone or iPad to undo as well. You need to do this with a bit of vigor. After you do so, a popup appears to ask if you’d like to undo your last action.

9. Replace a Double Space With a Period

You don’t have to go into the punctuation keyboard after typing a sentence—simply double-tap the Space button to automatically type a period. This simple keyboard trick makes it much easier to type long paragraphs quickly on your iPhone or iPad.

10. Shift Key Tricks on Your iPhone and iPad Keyboard

shifty key gesture

Swipe directly from the Shift key to the letter you want to capitalize. To use this trick on an iPad, you need to make the keyboard smaller, but once you do so you can access other characters with it as well.

You can also tap on the Shift key twice to turn on Caps Lock for your iPhone or iPad keyboard, shown by an extra line on the Shift icon. Alternatively, tap and hold on the Shift key with one finger while tapping on the letter you want to capitalize with another.

11. Swipe Across From Numbers and Punctuation

numeric key swipe gesture

When typing on your iPhone or iPad, you should see a 123 or an ABC button in the bottom-left corner for alternative keyboards. To quickly type a number, punctuation mark, or letter, just swipe from this button to the character you want.

This is a super quick trick for typing numbers and punctuation on your iPhone without switching keyboards.

12. Pull Down for Alternate Characters on iPad

iPad keyboard pulling down to number

On an iPad, you should see gray numbers and punctuation marks above each letter on the keyboard. Simply swipe down on a letter and release to type the gray character instead of the black one. This tip makes it simple to type numbers and punctuation marks on an iPad keyboard.

13. Tap and Hold on a Letter for More Options

Alternate characters for letter A on iPhone keyboard

Foreign languages frequently use accented characters or alternative punctuation marks that you rarely find in English. The easiest way to type these characters on an iPhone or iPad keyboard is to tap and hold on a letter, revealing all the available variations.

That might include accented versions of a particular letter (à, á, and â) or alternative punctuation marks (¿, ¡, and €). You can also use this keyboard trick to change the color of your iPhone and iPad emojis.

14. Disable QuickType for More Space

Predictive option in Keyboard settings on iPhone

Alongside auto-correct, the keyboard in iOS and iPadOS also has a predictive text feature that Apple calls QuickType. It appears at the top of the keyboard showing three words it thinks you want to type. Tap one of these words at any time so you don’t need to finish typing it, or disable the feature entirely to get more space on your screen.

To disable the QuickType predictions, go to Settings > General > Keyboard and turn off Predictive. This keyboard secret is particularly useful on devices with a smaller screen, like the iPhone SE.

15. Create Custom Text Replacement Shortcuts

text replacement

With Text Replacement, you can expand text shortcuts into complete words, phrases, or sentences that you type frequently. This could be your email address, your postal address, or any boilerplate text you find yourself using a lot.

Open the Settings app on your iPhone or iPad and go to General > Keyboard > Text Replacement. Tap the Add (+) button and type out the complete phrase along with the shortcut you want to use. Be sure to make your shortcut unique, so you won’t type it by mistake.

Next time you’re using the keyboard on your iPhone or iPad, type out the shortcut then hit Space to make it expand into the complete phrase.

16. Reject Autocorrect Replacements

Popup showing alternate spellings for a word

Your iPhone or iPad automatically corrects misspelled words as you type, often doing such a good job that you don’t even notice. But it isn’t perfect. Sometimes autocorrect replaces a word it thinks you spelled wrong with something totally different.

To undo these autocorrect mistakes, tap the Delete button until you get back to the replaced word. A popup menu appears with alternative replacements, including what you originally typed on the left. Tap any of the options to use that word instead.

17. Use the Microphone to Dictate Text

Dictation keyboard on iPhone

Why type when you can speak to your iPhone or iPad instead? Both iOS and iPadOS have a built-in dictation feature in the keyboard that works impressively well, even when you aren’t connected to the internet.

While the keyboard is open, tap on the Microphone icon in the bottom-right corner and start dictating. When you’re finished, tap the Keyboard icon to stop. Your iPhone or iPad underlines any words that might be wrong in blue.

18. Look Up Dictionary Definitions

You can look up the definition of a word you just typed without leaving your app using this handy iPhone and iPad trick. All you need to do is double-tap to select a word, then tap Look Up from the popup menu.

It’s also possible to do this when reading in the Books app or browsing the web in Safari. In fact, there are lots of other hidden Safari tricks like this you could learn as well.

19. Try Landscape Mode on Plus-Sized iPhones

essential ios keyboard tips and tricks 4

If you’re using an iPhone Plus model, turn your iPhone sideways to use the keyboard in landscape mode. Alongside the regular set of keys, this also lets you cut, copy, paste, and access formatting tools right alongside the keyboard.

20. Enable One-Handed Typing

One-handed keyboard on iPhone

If you’ve ever struggled to reach across the keyboard while using your iPhone with one hand, this is the trick for you. The one-handed keyboard shifts the keyboard to the left or right of your screen, making it easier to reach with a single hand.

Tap and hold the Keyboard or Emoji icon in the bottom-left corner to reveal a popup menu, then tap the left or right-handed keyboard at the bottom.

After your keyboard moves to the side of the screen, tap the large arrow that appears to move it back to the center when you’re finished.

21. Shrink, Move, and Split the iPad Keyboard

Small keyboard on iPad

Pinch in with two fingers on the center of the keyboard to shrink to an iPhone-sized keyboard. Drag and drop using the bar at the bottom to move this keyboard anywhere on the screen. And pinch out to go back to normal. You can also swipe to type using QuickPath on this smaller keyboard.

Alternatively, to split your iPad keyboard in two, pinch out with two fingers from the center of the keyboard. It should separate into two halves—one at either side of the screen—letting you type with your thumbs. Pinch the two halves together to go back to normal.

22. Hide the Keyboard

Sometimes the keyboard appears when you don’t need it. When this happens, it takes up half the screen and makes it difficult to see what’s beneath. Simply swipe down from the center of your iPhone or iPad screen to hide the keyboard in these situations.

Do More With Third-Party iPhone Keyboards

All these tips and tricks make the iPhone and iPad keyboard pretty awesome, but it’s not the only option. There are plenty of third-party keyboards available to download from the App Store which add completely new typing options as well.

Google’s Gboard keyboard has an integrated Google search bar. Fleksy lets you use gestures to type. And Chroma injects exciting colors to your keyboard. Find out more about these keyboards and more in our rundown of the best iPhone keyboard apps.

Read the full article: 22 Essential iPhone Keyboard Tips and Tricks


A Complete Guide to Default Mac Apps and What They Do


Like most operating systems, your Mac comes loaded with a handful of default apps that cover all kinds of use cases: office work, web browsing, email, tasks, navigation, photo management, music, and much more.

While Apple has generally done a great job in naming these apps, you may still be confused by what they do or whether you actually need some of them. This is true whether you’re a recent convert to macOS or a satisfied Mac veteran.

We’ll walk through all of the default applications that come installed with Apple’s desktop operating system, explain what they do, and whether you should care about them or not. You’ll find all these apps inside the Applications folder in Finder.

Default Mac Apps: A to D

App Store: The App Store is the place to install and update Apple-approved apps on your system. You can also install the latest major macOS versions through the App Store, though the latest versions of macOS now update through System Preferences.

Mac App Store Discover View

Automator: This app provides a way for you to automate hundreds of different system actions that you can combine and use to perform complex tasks without any programming or scripting knowledge. While it’s not a necessity, learning it can really come in handy.

Books: Books is like iTunes for ebooks. It comes with a built-in store where you can purchase thousands of titles (including recent mainstream releases) or you can import your own if you have ebooks on your system. You can easily use it as an ebook reader and manager, plus it supports both EPUB and PDF formats.

Calculator: You can easily use this app on a daily basis, whether to update personal budgets, calculate estimated tax payments, or just offload a bit of mental math.

Calendar: This app is a clean and efficient way to manage your day-to-day tasks. It may not be the most advanced calendar available, but it’s more than enough for most users. Plus, it syncs with iCloud. Be sure to check out our Mac Calendar tips to get the most out of it.

Calendar App Mac-Year View

Chess: We’re not sure why Chess is a system application protected with System Integrity Protection. Regardless, Chess is just a straightforward offline-only chess app.

Contacts: This app is essentially a digital Rolodex that stores contact information on your friends, family members, and acquaintances. It syncs with iCloud, allowing you to access those contacts in other apps like Mail. Plus, if you have an iPhone or iPad, you can sync your contracts with those devices.

Dictionary: A simple but potentially useful app if you ever need access to a dictionary, thesaurus, or Wikipedia. Provided by the New Oxford American Dictionary and Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus, respectively.

DVD Player: This app is obsolete at this point. Modern MacBooks, iMacs, and other Apple machines don’t come equipped with DVD drives anymore, so DVD Player is only useful if you have an external DVD drive. Many thought it disappeared with macOS Mojave, but if you need it, just enter “DVD Player” into Spotlight to open it.

Built-In Mac Apps: F to K

FaceTime: FaceTime is Apple’s proprietary video and audio calling service. This means you can only use it with Apple devices, though. If you have friends or family on Windows or Android, you’ll need Skype, Google Hangouts, or another video calling app.

Find My: Apple combined the older Find My iPhone and Find My Friends apps into a single app called Find My, which is now available on macOS. The Find My app is useful for locating people that share their location with you, as well as your own devices.

Font Book: macOS comes with a built-in font management utility that makes it easy to install, preview, and delete font families from your system. Font Book can separate system fonts from user-installed fonts, making it easier to know what you’ve installed.

fontbook mac

GarageBand: A simple and intuitive music studio that you can use to create loops, music, or even podcasts. A lot of new musicians use this as a stepping stone to more complex apps like Logic Pro X. It’s so useful that this app alone is the reason why some Windows users convert to macOS. See our GarageBand guide to get started with it.

Home: If you have a HomePod or smart home devices, you can use the Home app to manage them all. You can quickly turn lights on and off, adjust your thermostat, and set up automations for your smart home with it.

iMovie: A simple and intuitive movie editor that’s a lot like GarageBand for movies. You can import raw clips and images, edit them together, and polish off with text, music, and basic post-processing effects.

iMovie App Mac-My Project

iTunes (macOS Mojave and earlier): Everyone knows about iTunes—even those who have never touched a Mac. Over the years, it morphed into an all-in-one media manager for music, movies, TV shows, and iOS devices. With macOS Catalina, Apple replaced iTunes with the Music, Podcasts, and TV apps. But if you have an older Mac, you can still use it to manage music and other forms of media.

Image Capture: If you have a scanner or camera connected to your computer, you can use Image Capture to take images. Some older digital cameras may rely on an app like Image Capture to import directly from the device, but most now have Wi-Fi sharing (or you can just pop the SD card into your reader).

Keynote: Keynote is Apple’s answer to Microsoft PowerPoint. With it, you can create all kinds of interesting presentations ranging from simple and elegant to complex and advanced, especially once you’ve learned a few Keynote tricks. It can import and export to PowerPoint formats, so there’s no need to worry about compatibility.

Basic Mac Apps: L to N

Launchpad: Launchpad is a simple launcher to help you open apps installed on your Mac, even though you also have Spotlight (Cmd + Space) to do this. Access Launchpad by hitting F4 or by clicking the icon in your Dock.

Mail: The default app for managing email accounts and inboxes. You can do simple tasks like reading and sending emails, or go further and set up Mail rules for handing incoming messages automatically.

Maps: Apple Maps offers a familiar experience if you’ve used the app on iOS. It’s a straightforward way to explore an area or get directions. You can also send directions straight to your iPhone or iPad via the Share button.

drop pin apple maps

Messages: Messages lets you send and receive messages with other iMessage users. These messages can include photos, audio clips, and other kinds of files. If you have an iPhone, you can also use Messages to send SMS and MMS texts.

Mission Control: When you activate Mission Control, everything “zooms out” so you can see all active apps at once. This makes it easy to switch from one app to another without using Cmd + Tab a bunch of times, especially if you have tons of apps open. It’s also great for managing multiple virtual desktops.

Music: For managing your music library and listening to Apple radio stations, the Music app is the tool you need. You can create playlists, get song lyrics, and handle your tunes in one spot.

Music App Mac-Browse View

News: You can stay up to date on local and international news headlines from sources around the world with the News app. And if you follow your favorites, you can create a personalized news feed.

Notes: If you don’t already use Evernote or OneNote, Apple Notes is worth a try. It’s a simple service, but integrates with iCloud so it’s a great option if you use both macOS and iOS. If you do end up using the app, master these Notes tips for maximum productivity.

Numbers: Just as Keynote is macOS version of PowerPoint, Numbers is Apple’s alternative to Excel. The name is slightly awkward, especially when looking for help online, but it’s still a great app. If you do a lot of spreadsheet work, you’ll use this one a lot.

Pre-Installed Mac Apps: P to R

Pages: Completing the iWork suite, this is Apple’s alternative to Microsoft Word. The trend holds true, as the app is simple and straightforward. For getting words on a page, it does all you need.

Photo Booth: Need to take a photo or video of yourself? Photo Booth can do that using your Mac’s built-in camera or an externally connected camera. It offers three modes: single photo, four quick photos, or a movie clip. You can also add over 25 different effects if you want to have some fun.

Photos: A central library that makes it easy to organize and manage your photos and videos. It won’t take photos or videos (use Photo Booth for that) but it’s great for storing albums and creating “projects” like slideshows, prints, cards, and similar. It can even edit RAW files, but serious photographers should consider Lightroom instead.

Podcasts: Browse for new podcasts, listen to episodes, create stations, and manage your library with the Podcasts app.

Podcasts App Mac-Browse View

Preview: macOS’s default image viewer. If you view a lot of photos or regularly read PDFs, prepare to use Preview often. It can also handle other file types, including raw camera output, PowerPoint presentations, and Photoshop PSDs.

QuickTime Player: The default video player for macOS. Aside from the basics, QuickTime Player comes with a lot of other useful functionality, including the ability to record audio, record your screen, splice videos, and upload to YouTube. It’s also one of the best video converter apps for macOS.

Reminders: You might think Reminders is an alarm app—which is true since it does have alarm functionality—but it’s actually a to-do list app. Create several lists with multiple items in each list, then set alarms on individual items if you wish (according to time or when you enter a location). It syncs to your iOS devices through iCloud and supports recurring alerts too.

Default Mac Apps: S to V

Safari: Safari is your Mac’s default browser, and thus your window to the internet. A lot of people recommend Chrome over Safari, but there are several good reasons why you shouldn’t use Chrome on a Mac.

Stickies: Stickies lets you create and maintain “sticky notes” that sit on your desktop. This concept was popular years ago, but now that we have dedicated note and reminder apps, Stickies is usually little more than unnecessary clutter.

Stocks: If you work in finance or participate in investments, the Stocks app keeps you in the loop with the stock market.

Stocks App Mac-Dow Jones View

TextEdit: TextEdit is a simple text editor that’s more akin to Notepad than Word or Pages. It works fine for simple text editing. But if you need something more powerful, look elsewhere.

Time Machine: Time Machine is the built-in backup solution for your Mac, so knowing how to use Time Machine is essential. The app makes it easy to migrate your personal data to a fresh Mac installation or restore your system to a previous point in case of major issues.

TV: Watch television shows, movies, and original Apple TV+ content with the TV app on your Mac. You can find new shows to watch, check out the Kids section, and manage your library.

TV App Mac-Movies View

Voice Memos: Record and manage voice memos from all your devices with Voice Memos on your Mac. If you prefer recording notes to yourself instead of jotting them down, the app works great. You can also edit recordings if needed.

Apps Inside the macOS Utilities Folder

The Utilities subfolder inside Applications contains a handful of system utilities that may or may not be useful to you on a day-to-day basis. However, most of them will likely come in handy at one point or another, so let’s take a look at them.

Activity Monitor: Similar to Task Manager on Windows, but more in-depth. View everything from CPU usage and energy impact per process to total RAM availability, and overall network activity. It’s one of the most important built-in system utilities.

AirPort Utility: Used to set up and manage AirPort devices (AirPort Express, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Time Capsule), which are Apple’s proprietary line of Wi-Fi cards and routers. Apple discontinued the AirPort line in April 2018, so you shouldn’t need this utility unless you still own one of these devices.

Audio MIDI Setup: Set up and manage audio devices on your system, including MIDI devices like keyboards.

Bluetooth File Exchange: Configure Bluetooth connections with nearby compatible devices.

mac default app bluetooth

Boot Camp Assistant: Create and manage a dual-boot configuration, allowing your system to boot into either macOS or Windows. It’s the preferred method for installing Windows on your Mac.

ColorSync Utility: Grants finer controls over the color display and color profiles of your system. If your colors look off and you’re sure that it isn’t caused by a color-shifting app like F.lux, then you may want to tinker around with it.

Console: A tool that lets you view various system logs and diagnostic reports. Very useful for finding and troubleshooting system errors once you learn how to use it.

Digital Color Meter: A handy utility that displays the color value of any pixel on your screen. It can even display color values in other formats, such as Adobe RGB.


Disk Utility: A tool that gives you basic information and control over your disk drives. It’s the recommended way to erase disk drives, including USB and external devices.

Grapher: Enter one or more mathematical equations and Grapher will graph them for you.

Keychain Access: A password manager that syncs with iCloud. Use it to store website logins, Wi-Fi network passcodes, and other sensitive information. And because you don’t need to remember your passwords anymore, you can have it generate complex passwords for better protection.

Migration Assistant: A quick wizard for migrating your personal to onto your current system, either from another Mac, a Windows PC, another drive, or a Time Machine backup.

Screenshot: What was once called the Grab app on Mac before macOS Mojave is now called Screenshot. You can use this tool to capture stills and recordings of your screen.

Script Editor: Lets you create AppleScript scripts, which can perform complex tasks involving apps on your system or the system itself. It’s frequently used for task automation as it’s more powerful (but also more advanced) than Automator.

System Information: Provides deep-level information involving the hardware, software, and network of your system. For example, if you want to know the manufactured part number of your RAM modules, this is where you’d look.

MacBook Model Identifier

Terminal: A command-line utility for Mac. The default shell is Bash, meaning that the command line experience between a fresh install of Mac and most Linux distros is nearly identical. Learning the command line is a great way to get more control over your system.

VoiceOver Utility: A screen reader tool for visually impaired users.

Making the Most of Your Mac’s Apps

Hopefully this overview helps Mac newcomers figure out what apps are on their system. While some of the default Mac apps are excellent, you probably won’t need a lot of others except in specific cases.

For more info on the best of these apps, check out handy features of the best default Mac apps. We’ve also looked at the best Mac apps if the defaults aren’t enough for you.

Read the full article: A Complete Guide to Default Mac Apps and What They Do


How to Watch Netflix Natively on Linux

Netflix has been available natively on Linux for some time, but it hasn’t always been easy to watch.

Without the right setup, it’s not going to work. Fortunately, with the right software, Netflix will run on any current Linux distribution.

Follow the steps below to watch videos from your Netflix library on Linux.

The Evolution of Netflix on Linux

At one time, accessing Netflix on Linux was difficult. A specific version of Google Chrome was needed, complete with Encrypted Media Extension (EME) support. Chrome additionally required a specific version of Mozilla Network Security Services and a User Agent Switcher extension. (Changing the User Agent is a method of tricking a website that you’re using a different operating system or browser).

Watch Netflix on Linux

Today, all you need to do is open netflix.com in Google Chrome and log into your account. Within seconds you’ll be able to seamlessly watch Netflix content. Additionally, you have the option to turn Netflix into a Desktop Application via Google Chrome’s Web-App tools (see below).

Which Browsers Play Netflix on Linux?

For the best results playing Netflix in your browser on Linux, stick to Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox.

While other browsers might boast Netflix support (such as Vivaldi or Opera) Chrome and Firefox are the most reliable.

Google Chrome

If Chrome isn’t already installed on your Linux distribution you can find it at www.google.com/chrome/.

No additional software or plugins are available for Chrome to stream Netflix videos. Simply visit the site as explained above and enjoy. Other Chromium-based browsers should also work, but your mileage may vary.

If Google Chrome isn’t to your taste, rely on it as a backup when your preferred browser won’t play Netflix. Usually this is only a short-term hiccup that can be fixed a day or so later with a new update.

Mozilla Firefox

Access your Netflix watchlist on Linux

If your distro has Mozilla Firefox preinstalled you can also watch Linux on Netflix. However, some tweaking is required.

  • First, ensure you have the latest version of Firefox installed.
  • Next, visit netflix.com and sign into your account.
  • You’ll spot a message at the top of the screen, advising you that additional software is required. Click Enable DRM.
  • Wait while the additional software is installed.
  • Refresh the page if necessary, then play your chosen video.

If Netflix won’t work on Firefox on Linux, check the following:

  • In your browser address bar, enter about:preferences#content.
  • On the General tab, look for Digital Rights Management (DRM) Content.
  • Ensure the box next to Play DRM-controlled Content is checked.
  • Open a new tab then enter about:addons.
  • Find Plugins then confirm that OpenH264 and Widevine are Enabled (set as Always Activate).

Configure Widevine to watch Netflix on Linux in Firefox

  • Finally, if necessary, restart Firefox.

You should now be able to play Netflix videos in Firefox.

Want to Watch US Netflix on Linux? You Need a VPN

With Netflix available through your browser, you’ll be able to access your library, view recommendations, and use the service exactly how you might through your TV, game console, or mobile app.

But if you need to access a Netflix library from another country (such as Netflix US), you will need a VPN. A virtual private network that supports Netflix lets you fool the website as to your whereabouts. So, if you’re in France, select a VPN server in the USA to access Netflix’s US library.

Not all VPNs support video streaming through Netflix. Check our list of the best VPN services to get started.

Is There a Netflix Desktop App for Linux?

At one point you could install an app for Netflix. This unofficial tool was in reality a Windows app and came bundled with Wine. This no longer works, but you can create a Desktop Application on Linux using Chrome’s “Add to desktop” feature.

  • Open Google Chrome
  • Go to netflix.com
  • Login to your account
  • Click the Chrome menu button (three dots in the top right of the Chrome browser)
  • Select More tools > Add to desktop.
  • In the dialog box click Add.
  • Check Open as window.
  • Click OK to confirm.

Now you should have a shortcut on your desktop. Double click to launch Netflix in its own Chrome window.

Watch Netflix on Linux With Kodi

Another way you can watch Netflix on your Linux PC is via the Kodi media center software. This comes with some limitations, however—there is currently no support for 4K streaming. You’ll be limited instead to a maximum of 1080p.

If you have Kodi installed you can use an unofficial Netflix add-on to access your account. Note that this requires providing your account credentials to a third-party app—another good reason to be using a VPN.

Start by installing Kodi in the terminal. Update and upgrade first:

sudo apt update && sudo apt upgrade

You’re ready to install Kodi:

sudo apt install kodi

Next, download the repository for the Netflix addon.

Download: CastagnaIT for Kodi (Free)

Save this to your Linux PC. In Kodi, open the Add-ons browser and select Install from zip file.

Browse in Kodi to the download location and install the repository file repository.castagnait-1.0.x.zip.

Click Back to find the add-ons browser again. Select Install from Repository and find the CastagnaIT repo. Browse this for the Netflix add-on and Install.

Ubuntu users should be done here. However, distros from other branches should install these tools:

sudo apt install build-essential python-dev python-pip python-setuptools

pip install --user pycryptodomex

You can now launch the Netflix add-on in Kodi, sign into your account, and access all the movies and shows.

Netflix Natively and Easily on Linux!

Thanks to all the efforts on various sides we now have Netflix natively on Linux without applying any workarounds. You just need a modern browser, or you can watch Netflix using a Kodi add-on.

Need to watch Netflix’s US library? In that case, you need a VPN. We recommend ExpressVPN, which offers a 49% discount to MakeUseOf readers.

Looking for something to watch? Use these tools to find movies and TV shows on Netflix.

Read the full article: How to Watch Netflix Natively on Linux


How to Play Video Smoothly on Your PC: Here’s What You Need

Watching choppy video playback is like sailing choppy waters: rough, frightening, and may lead to nausea. While modern hardware can handle most tasks you can throw at it, every so often, you’ll encounter an issue. Choppy video playback, whether through a DVD or online, happens.

Here’s how to fix it!

What Factors Affect Video Playback Quality?

Smooth video playback boils down to a few hardware and software choices. These choices affect offline and online video playback differently. Here’s what can negatively affect video playback:

  1. An outdated media player
  2. A low-performance PC which would stifle high-quality Blu-ray playback
  3. A souped-up PC, but a bad internet connection

Whatever the case, smooth video playback is within your sights.

Two other factors impact playback quality: offline or online video.

Offline Video Playback Quality

Choppy offline video playback concerns playing video from video files or DVDs. This is different from online video playback, due to network connection or other service issues (more on these in a moment).

There are certain steps you can take to ensure smooth video playback with an offline source.

  1. Update your media player
  2. Install and update video and audio codecs
  3. Check your hardware capabilities
  4. Update your GPU drivers

Let’s take a look at those steps in a little more detail.

1. Update Your Media Player

The first thing to do is to update your media player. There are many excellent free video players for Windows. If you use a third-party media player, head to the company’s website and download the latest software version.

2. Install and Update Video and Audio Codecs

Second, ensure that all video and audio codecs are installed properly. Codecs, to put it simply, process audio and video data. Sometimes certain video formats are not playable on your PC. This is because you do not have the appropriate video codec installed.

Codecs sometimes become damaged or corrupted, which may lead to jarring playback. To fix them, download, and install codec packs.

Microsoft has an official codec pack for these exact purposes. Download the file, then double-click to install, following the on-screen instructions.

Video codecs are a little confusing. If you want to learn more, here’s all you need to know about video codecs, containers, and compression.

3. Check Your Hardware Is Capable

Ensure that your PC is within the hardware range necessary to playback these videos. Video formats come with different qualities that determine their ease of playback.

For example, a 1080p video playing at 30 FPS (frames per second) will require slightly less performance than the same video at 60 FPS. The difference grows when comparing 1080p video with 4K or UHD video.

The same goes for video rendering. While video playback consumes less performance than video rendering, both involve PC performance. Generally, the more powerful hardware you have, the better the video playback will be. If you have very old hardware, video playback can struggle for a few reasons.

For instance, an old 5400RPM hard drive (or even a 4800RPM) might struggle to process a massive 4K video file quickly enough for stable video playback. You might run into similar issues using a drastically underpowered CPU, or if the system has a seriously small amount of RAM.

There are solutions for these issues. For example, the VLC media player is well known to assist with smooth video playback on older hardware. Or, you might have an older system with a discreet graphics processing unit (GPU). Some media players can use the GPU hardware acceleration to shift some of the video processing load from the CPU, helping video playback.

There is no exact rule of thumb for minimum hardware required for smooth video playback. If you have a PC built in the last few years, you should not struggle with offline video playback of 4K and other high-resolution video formats.

Hardware and Video Encoding

There are other issues with hardware, such as GPU and video encoding compatibility issues. Even some modern GPUs that can play the latest games on high settings won’t work with certain video encoding types.

If you have a modern GPU and powerful system yet still encounter video playback issues, double-check if your GPU supports the video encoding type you’re trying to use.

vlc media player show codec information

4. Update Your GPU Drivers

Fourth, and finally, ensure you install up-to-date GPU drivers.

The GPU drivers will allow for the maximum output of your hardware. As the CPU and GPU are often the main indicators of PC performance, updating their drivers will ensure video playback. At the very least, it can eliminate some video playback stuttering issues.

Find out how to replace outdated Windows drivers with our handy guide.

Online Video Playback Quality

Smooth online video playback often comes with the same requirements as offline video playback. Yet, there are a few additional parameters to look out for.

  1. Is your internet fast enough?
  2. Are other programs using your internet?
  3. Disable hardware acceleration in the browser
  4. Update your web browser

1. Is Your Internet Fast Enough?

The first question you must ask for online video playback relates to your internet speed. Streaming Full HD, UHD, and 4K video online is a data-intensive task. The data requirements vary slightly, but in general, you need:

  • 2-4Mbps for standard-definition video playback
  • 5-10Mbps for high definition video playback
  • 25Mbps minimum for 4K video playback

There are variations between online video streaming services, too. Netflix requires at least 3Mbps for standard-definition video playback, whereas Amazon Prime Video requires just 0.9Mbps.

With online video playback, a faster internet connection will always yield better results.

2. Are Other Programs Using Your internet?

Second, ensure you are not clogging your network with data-hungry programs.

You can do this by right-clicking on your Taskbar and selecting Task Manager. You will see the Processes tab of your Task Manager.

Click on Network tab (and percentage number indicating network usage) to see which programs other than your browser are hogging up data.

windows task manager show network use

That also goes for RAM usage. Remember, smooth online playback requires optimal hardware.

Click on the Memory tab to order your selection from most usage to least. Right-click any program not necessary for video playback (that is also not essential to your PC use) and select End task. This will free up some performance power.

The Windows Task Manager is a versatile tool. Here are some Windows Task Manager tricks you can use to manage your system better.

3. Disable Hardware Acceleration in Browser

Third, disable hardware acceleration.

Hardware acceleration allows browsers to hand off certain tasks to certain hardware parts. While your CPU can render, say, 3D models, it’s better to use a specialized hardware component, such as the GPU, to render that model.

That’s because it can do so more quickly and usually has more processing power available to complete the activity. Sometimes this process can lead to playback issues.

Check the Video Player Type

Google Chrome is permanently disabling Flash Player at the end of 2020. The majority of browsers are switching to HTML5, a more secure and stable video playback option. If the video player is attempting to use a Flash Player, your browser may no longer support that option.

As Adobe will stop officially supporting Flash at the end of 2020, the Flash Player will become (even more!) insecure.

4. Update Your Web Browser

Update your web browser. Current browser versions can handle high-quality video playback, as more video repository sites like YouTube allow for higher quality footage uploads. Old browser versions, or bugged browser versions, may limit video playback.

How to Smooth Out Choppy Video

To summarize, here’s how you stop your video playback problems:

  1. Are you using the most recent version of your media player?
  2. Do you have the codecs required to watch that video format?
  3. Is your hardware powerful enough?
  4. Do you have the latest drivers installed?
  5. Is something clogging up your network or consume your RAM or CPU capacity?
  6. Have you disabled your browser’s hardware acceleration?
  7. Is your web browser up-to-date?

Fortunately, ensuring smooth video playback is a simple and non-invasive procedure.

VLC Media Player is one of the world’s most popular video players. Here are the best VLC features you’re not using—but absolutely should be!

Image Credit: Dmitriy Kozhanov/Shutterstock

Read the full article: How to Play Video Smoothly on Your PC: Here’s What You Need


No Birthday Cake? Send a Virtual Cake With These 6 Celebratory Sites

If you’re celebrating someone’s birthday overseas, or you simply don’t have excellent baking skills, why not send a virtual cake over the internet? They may not taste as good as the real thing, but a virtual birthday cake is a fun way to celebrate a special occasion if you can’t get a physical one.

Let’s explore the best virtual cake makers on the internet.

Virtual Cake Images and GIFs

If you’re not looking for a full birthday greeting, you can send a virtual cake image or GIF. You could attach one to an email, or send it over any messenger app for an easy way to wish someone a happy birthday.

1. NameThatCake

The NameThatCake website

NameThatCake does all the hard work by providing virtual cakes with your recipient’s name on it. All you need to do is look through the cakes and pick out the one that matches the special person’s name.

NameThatCake achieves this by hunting down and uploading photos of real cakes with names on them. The website claims that every photo they upload is copyright-free, so you need not worry about stealing someone else’s photo.

NameThatCake also has cakes for mothers and fathers day, cakes with “I love you” on them, and cakes that have numbers on them for birth years. Once you find a cake you like, you can attach it to an email or even print it off in a letter to a friend.

2. BirthdayCake24

The BirthdayCake24 website

If NameThatCake doesn’t have the name you’re looking for, why not write your own? BirthdayCake24 gives you a nice selection of cakes to choose from, each with editable text to enter your recipient’s name.

Some will allow you to edit the whole message, and some will even let you upload a custom photo to personalize your cake. Just enter what you want to change, then save the result to your PC or share the unique URL that’s generated.

BirthdayCake24 also has an excellent selection of GIF images you can customize. Just enter the text you want on the cake, and the website will generate a fully-animated GIF that you can share with your friends. The website also features generators for happy birthday messages and invitations, so it’s a useful one-stop-shop for all your celebratory needs.

3. Tenor

The Tenor website

Tenor by itself isn’t a birthday cake website. It’s actually a huge database of GIFs designed for you to pick out and choose the ones you want. However, if you search for birthday cake GIFs, you’ll find a lot of images explicitly designed to send to friends or include in a birthday greeting.

Once you find the cake GIF you want to send, click on it, then look for the black “Caption” button at the bottom right. If you click this, you can add a touch of personalization to your GIF before you send it. If you want even more control, try a GIF app to edit or annotate your image.

Happy Birthday Cake e-Cards

Fancy combining a card and a cake into one, easy-to-make package? Then be sure to check out these great e-card websites that let you create a card with a fantastic cake on it.

4. Paperless Post

The Paperless Post website

Paperless Post, as the name suggests, aims to make the art of card-sending totally virtual. For example, it comes complete with a digital envelope that opens up to reveal the card within.

You can use Paperless Post for many different occasions, including setting up a “virtual party.” However, they have a great range of birthday cake cards to choose from.

Some of them are free, and some require payment of “coins” to use. You can filter out the paid cards by clicking the “Free” checkbox in the filters on the left. However, Paperless Post will still attempt to charge you for additional elements, which you need to remove before you can get a genuinely free e-card.

5. OpenMe

The OpenMe website

If you prefer a completely free option, try OpenMe instead. It doesn’t have the same style and glamor as Paperless Post, but it does have the advantage of never asking for a price tag.

OpenMe has a few interesting traits that make it shine. For one, OpenMe will actually email you when the recipient opens the card; no more wondering if they’ve seen it yet! If the recipient loves it, they can use OpenMe to send a thank-you reply back.

OpenMe also supports group signings. If you want to send a special birthday treat, you can “pass” the card around for different people to sign it. That way, you can get one big card with everyone’s name in it for a more memorable card.

Of course, if you’re only interested in birthday cake-related cards, you can perform a search to find them.

6. Hallmark

The Hallmark website

If you want the finesse and style that only an official Hallmark card can provide, you’ll be pleased to learn that they have their own e-card range too. These include fun little animations that you can preview before you send. This is handy for finding the right card to match your recipient.

You can type your own message, which appears in a clear font. However, if you feel this is too digital for your liking, you can “add handwriting” to the card. This changes the font to some pre-set ones that look like you hand-wrote the card.

If you’re bad with well-wishes, you can use Hallmark’s expertise to help you out. Using the “Add a Hallmark Sentiment” button, you can select from one of many premade sentences to suit your recipient.

Unfortunately, Hallmark’s easy card creator isn’t free. They do ask for a $5 monthly membership fee before you can send your creation. As such, this might be best for someone who mails a lot of e-cards, rather than a one-time use.

Making Someone’s Birthday Special

Sometimes you won’t be able to send a real cake to someone on time. These digital “birthday cakes” aren’t the perfect replacement but they are thoughtful enough. Now you know how to create a virtual cake and send it to whoever needs that special cheer.

If you want something more than just a cake, why not try our selection of birthday memes?

Read the full article: No Birthday Cake? Send a Virtual Cake With These 6 Celebratory Sites


The 6 Best Sites to Download Karaoke Music Without Words

Do you love singing and feel alive when you’ve got a microphone in your hand? If so, karaoke is perfect for you because you can sing along to your favorite songs and feel like a music star.

To help you out, we’ve rounded up the best places to download karaoke music. These are songs without the vocals and just the background music.

All of these services offer free karaoke music without spoken lyrics, so you’ll be up and singing in no time.

1. Sing King

Sing King

Sing King is a very popular YouTube channel that is constantly uploading the latest music hits in karaoke versions.

Not only do the videos have great songs from the likes of Ed Sheeran, Ariana Grande, and John Legend with just the instruments, but it also shows the lyrics in time so that you can sing exactly the right words.

If you want to download these videos from YouTube so that you can play them locally without an internet connection, check out our guide on free ways to download any video.

2. Karaoke Version

Karaoke Version

Karaoke Version is an incredibly powerful karaoke website. Rather than having original songs, they have a vast catalog of their own cover versions. However, they sound very close to the originals, especially in the instrumentals.

The most impressive part is that you can isolate specific instruments in turn. For example, you could choose to only have the guitar playing or the drums. This means that you could not only sing along but fill in for an instrument too.

While many of the songs on Karaoke Version cost a couple of dollars, there are over 150 free karaoke pieces you can download. This selection features many traditional and retro songs, some of which are available in multiple languages.

3. SingSnap


SingSnap deems itself the “largest online karaoke community”. It encourages you to upload your own karaoke videos and check out those by other members. You could even duet with someone else in the community.

Browse by genre or by what’s hot, then get singing. You can record your efforts as you go and set them public to be rated by other members. You can also save those recordings to your hard drive and upload them to YouTube to share with your other friends.

Although SingSnap has free songs to choose from, most benefit comes from a paid membership that costs $12/month or $120/year. With this you can store unlimited recordings, get access to lots more songs, and use the key and pitch changer to improve your vocals.

4. Sing2Music


Sing2Music is targeted at “serious musicians” who want to record professional cover versions of songs. Sing2Music produce their own versions, often in an acoustic style or in different keys, for people to sing over.

Of course, these tracks still work equally well for karaoke, although they’re not exactly the same as the original songs. Simply search for a song or artist and you can then stream the song on loads of platforms, like Spotify or Apple Music.

If you want to take your singing to the next level up from karaoke and try a professional cover recording, check out our beginner’s guide to making music with Audacity.

5. Youka


Youka used to be available as an online service, but now it’s a program that you have to download to your computer. However, it’s well worth it because it can separate the lyrics and music from any YouTube music video using artificial intelligence. It’s available for Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Once you have Youka open, you can use the search bar at the top to look for a music video on YouTube. Just enter the name of the song or the artist and you will see the results appear beneath.

Click the thumbnail of the song you want to sing to, then wait a while for the program to download and process the video. You will see progress information appear the top—don’t worry if it seems to be doing nothing, just be patient. Once done, it will then automatically start playing the instrumental version with the lyrics underneath.

You can use the Audio dropdown beneath the video to switch between the original, the instruments, and the vocals. Also, use the Captions dropdown to change how the lyrics appear.

6. Singa

Singa is an app for Android and iOS. With this, you can always have karaoke tracks available at your fingertips, ready for you to bust out a stunning performance at any moment.

With over 80000 songs available from different genres and eras, Singa is bound to have something that you want to sing along to. It even has curated mood playlists, so if you don’t know what you want to sing then you can discover something new easily.

Singa is free for a certain number of songs, but after that you can either take up a 30 day free trial or buy a monthly membership.

Download: Singa for Android | iOS (Free)

Make Your Own Karaoke Tracks

Rather than downloading existing karaoke tracks, it’s also quite easy to make your own using music that you already own. For this, you need to download free music software Audacity.

Audacity vocal remover

Open the song you want to remove the words from in Audacity. Then press Ctrl + A to select the track and go to Effects > Vocal Remover. Test the various Removal choice dropdown options to see which sounds the best.

Once you’re satisfied, click OK. To save the track, go to File > Save other > Export as MP3.

Voilà! You just created your own karaoke track—an instrumental without the words.

For more advice on this method, including how to handle when the vocals are placed differently in the audio mix, see our guide on how to remove vocals from songs.

Listen to Free Music Online

These are some of the best karaoke services to get the music to your favorite songs without words. You can use them to practice your singing at home, before hitting up your local karaoke bar to impress friends and strangers alike.

If you’ve had enough of your own voice and want to listen to the originals, we’ve got you covered. Here are ways to listen to free music online.

Read the full article: The 6 Best Sites to Download Karaoke Music Without Words


This Bundle Contains Everything You Need to Pass Three Top Project Manager Exams

In these uncertain times, job security is not as strong as usual. The best way to protect yourself is to climb the career ladder. There are many great leadership roles open right now, but you may need some certifications to prove your management skills. The Project Management Certifications Tests + Courses Bundle helps you prepare for three top exams, with 41 hours of prep. You can get the bundle now for just $24.99 at MakeUseOf Deals.

Prove Your Skills

From engineering to marketing, companies in every industry need good project managers. Perhaps that’s why PMP-certified professionals earn $105k on average, according to Payscale.

If a six-figure salary sounds appealing, this bundle is definitely worth your attention. Through in-depth video tutorials, you learn everything you need to know in order to earn three top certifications: PMP, CAPM, and PMI-RPM.

Each course focuses on a particular exam, covering 100% of the syllabus. You learn through concise videos, before challenging yourself with a full-length mock exam. The courses offer 2,900 unique questions, in total.

Along with extensive prep, the courses help you acquire the required contact hours for entering each exam. With lifetime access included, you can prepare at your own pace.

Ultimate Prep for $24.99

The content in this bundle is worth $199.70 all together, but you can grab it now for just $24.99.

Read the full article: This Bundle Contains Everything You Need to Pass Three Top Project Manager Exams


5 Heart-Healthy Exercises for a Free Cardio Workout at Home

Cardio Workouts at Home

For a healthy heart and active lungs, you need movement. But what do you do in restricted space? Get your heart pumping with these free cardio workouts for the home, both with and without equipment.

If you search for cardio exercises at home, you tend to find high-intensity workout routines. In this article, we tried to find exercises that are accessible to anyone, especially beginners and seniors. From skipping a rope to sitting in a chair and boxing, you can get a good cardio workout at home with these guides.

1. Crossrope (Web, Android, iOS): Beginner’s Guide to Jumping Rope

Crossrope's beginner's guide to to jumping rope teaches the basics of skipping rope for adults so you avoid injury

You’ve done it as a kid, you’ve seen boxers and movie stars do it on the big screen, now it’s time for you to pick up the rope and start jumping. As an adult though, you need to know a few basics to ensure proper technique so you don’t injure yourself or aggravate any body parts.

Crossrope is a wonderful app and community for skipping rope. Start with their thorough beginner’s guide to jumping rope. You’ll learn the correct size of rope to buy, the best weight for beginners, and a few simple techniques to get started.

Through short videos, you’ll learn how to position your hands and body, the right way to jump to cause minimum impact on joints, and how to avoid double-unders.

Crossrope’s guide also gives a few basic drills to start skipping rope with. Once you master these, download the Crossrope app for advanced practices and routines. A few features and the best beginner workouts are free, but you’ll need to pay to unlock the full set.

Not only is jumping rope great for the heart, but it’s also good for weight loss. One hour of jumping rope burns over 1000 calories, compared to 300 calories from one hour of walking.

Download: Crossrope for Android | iOS (Free)

2. Bowflex (YouTube): 5 Short Videos of No-Equipment Cardio Workouts at Home

Bowflex offers free cardio workout Youtube videos

Home exercise equipment manufacturer Bowflex doesn’t believe all workouts need their products. The company’s YouTube channel has five excellent no-equipment cardio workout videos that you can do at home or anywhere else.

  1. 4-Minute Cardio Workout for Your Heart: This is the best beginner cardio exercise at home, no matter what your current fitness level is. The coach guides you with his voice while his assistants demonstrate each routine. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about doing it.
  2. 8-Minute Cardio Workout for Your Heart: The longer workout is for those who are breezing through the 4-minute cardio exercise.
  3. 2-Minute Cardio Warm-up: Before you start cardio exercises by Bowflex or anyone else, get the blood flowing and activate your muscles. This cardio warm-up is better than just stretching and then jumping into a workout.
  4. 5-Minute Cardio Blast: This is a high-intensity workout for those who don’t find the four or eight minute versions to be challenging.
  5. 6 Cardio Exercises You Can Do at Home: Bowflex teaches six cardio exercises that don’t need any equipment and can be done anywhere. You can create your own cardio workout set by mixing them up.

Bowflex’s YouTube channel has plenty of other free exercises worth checking out. And if you can get equipment, there are way more things you can enjoy.

3. Indoor Bicycle (Web): Buy or Build a Bike Trainer Stand to Cycle at Home

Turn any bicycle into an indoor exercise bike with DIY bike rollers or bike stands

The Peloton bicycle has become one of the most popular ways to stay heart-healthy at home. But it costs a pretty penny. If you don’t want to buy an exercise bike, you can actually turn any bicycle into an indoor bike for cycling. Generally, you have two options: buy a bike stand or build one yourself.

There are two types of stands: roller and trainer. The roller stand gives you more feedback, but it is harder of the two to build. The bike trainer stand has less feedback but the internet is filled with several DIY tutorials on how to make one yourself. Check out these three links for all your DIY indoor bicycle needs.

  1. Instructables: DIY Bike Rollers
  2. Instructables: Indoor Bike Trainer
  3. CNET: DIY Peloton Bike for Cheap

Bike trainer stands are a great option for someone who wants to switch between indoor and outdoor cycling, as the weather and circumstances demand. One of the most well-reviewed and affordable units is the BalanceForm Bike Trainer Stand, so that’s a good place to start.

BalanceForm Bike Trainer Stand BalanceForm Bike Trainer Stand Buy Now On Amazon $99.99

4. 10-Minute Home Cardio Workout (Web): Heart Healthy Exercises From AHA and NHS

American Hearts Association offers a free 10-minute heart healthy cardio workout

The American Heart Association (AHA) in the US and the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) are leading authorities on heart-related matters. Both official bodies released a 10-minute cardio workout anyone can do at home to keep your heart healthy and fit.

The AHA’s 10-minute workout requires no special equipment, but you’ll need a chair for some activities. Each exercise comes with clear instructions, and you need to do it for 30 seconds. Follow that up with 30 seconds of mild cardio, like marching or jogging in place. You can also mix up the activities with dumbbells and weights to add intensity.

The NHS’s 10-minute cardio workout has five exercises: rocket jumps, star jumps, squats, tap backs, and burpees. Each exercise needs a set of 15 to 24 repetitions, done fast enough to fit into 30 seconds. Then you rest for 30 seconds and do the set again. This is sure to get your heart pumping.

Pick either routine and stick to it, don’t waste time comparing the benefits of the two. Whatever gets you to stay fit at home is the better exercise for you.

5. More Life Health Seniors (YouTube): Cardio Workouts for Seniors at Home

More Life Health Seniors teaches seniors how to stay fit and healthy at home with standing and sitting cardio exercises

Most of the above exercises are too strenuous for seniors, given the other health issues that age brings. More Life Health Seniors is a YouTube fitness channel dedicated to workouts for seniors. And they have a few low-intensity ways to stay hearty healthy from home.

The main video to check out is the Seniors’ Cardio Workout, a nine minute exercise session with simple movements to get your heart rate up. Coach Mike takes you through several exercises at the right pace for an elderly person, while staying good-humored throughout. If you want to go to the next level, try the advanced cardio workout for seniors, which involves weights.

More Life Health Seniors also has a series of seated workouts for those with mobility issues. That’s right, you can get your heart pumping while sitting in a chair with Mike’s Boxing for Seniors, a 14-minute cardio workout, and a five-minute Seated Cardio Workout for Seniors.

Free Live Workout Classes

The selections in this article are all completed workouts. But there’s a different engagement and fun in exercising live to a coach. And you can do that at home too. Try these best free live workout classes, where most of the coaches focus on cardio activities regularly.

Read the full article: 5 Heart-Healthy Exercises for a Free Cardio Workout at Home

June 01 2020


What Is PGP? How Pretty Good Privacy Works, Explained

If you’re concerned about online and electronic privacy, encryption is the best thing to set your mind at ease. By using strong encryption protocols, you can make sure that your data is safe from prying eyes, and that only the people who you decide should see your information have access to it.

One of the most common methods for encryption is called PGP. This article will guide you through what PGP is, what it’s good for, and how to use it.

What Is PGP?

PGP stands for “Pretty Good Privacy.” PGP is most often used for sending encrypted messages between two people. It works by encrypting a message using a public key that’s tied to a specific user; when that user receives the message, they use a private key that’s known only to them to decrypt it.

Unsure what a public key or a private key is? Check out these basic encryption terms before reading on. It’ll help make encryption terminology much easier to understand.

This system ensures that it’s easy to send encrypted communications because the only thing needed to encrypt a message is a public key and the proper PGP program. But it’s also quite safe, as messages can only be decrypted with privately known keys that are password-protected.

In addition to encryption, PGP also allows for digital signatures. By signing your encrypted message with your private key, you provide a way for the recipient to see if the message content has been changed. If even a single letter in the message is changed before it’s decrypted, the signature will be invalidated, alerting the recipient to foul play.

What’s the Difference Between PGP, OpenPGP, and GnuPG?

Throughout this article, I’ll be discussing both PGP and Gnu Privacy Guard (GnuPG, or GPG).

GPG is an open-source implementation of PGP, and works on the same principles. Unless you’re going to be buying a PGP-enabled product from Symantec, the company that currently owns the PGP copyright and company, you’ll likely be using GPG.

Here’s a quick history of PGP, OpenPGP, and GPG.

PGP: Developed by Phil Zimmerman in 1991, PGP is one of the most enduring digital encryption methods and the most popular email encryption tool. Now owned by Symantec but licensed by thousands of companies.

OpenPGP: Up until 1992, cryptography featured on the US Munitions List as an Auxiliary Military Equipment. Which meant exporting Zimmerman’s PGP tool to international countries was a serious crime. In fact, Zimmerman was investigated for breaching the Arms Export Control Act, such was the power of the PGP encryption tool at the time.

Due to those restrictions, the OpenPGP Working Group was formed with help from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IEFT). The creation of an open-source PGP version eliminated the issues regarding the export of cryptography while ensuring anyone could make use of the encryption tool.

GnuPG: GnuPG (GPG) is an implementation of the OpenPGP standard and is considered a strong alternative to Symantec’s PGP.

Importantly, encryption algorithms are interchangeable between these options. They are designed to work together to allow users the option to use one or the other without losing access to important data.

PGP Keys Explained Quickly

The mathematical mechanics of PGP are extremely complicated. However, the video below will give you a general idea of how the system works.

PGP encryption uses a combination of symmetric key encryption (a single-use key) and public key encryption (keys unique to the recipient).

How Secure Is PGP?

It’s impossible to say that any particular encryption method is 100 percent secure. That said, PGP is generally regarded as being extremely safe. The two-key system, digital signatures, and the fact that PGP is open-source and has been heavily vetted by the public all contribute to its reputation as one of the best encryption protocols.

World-renowned security expert Bruce Schneier once called PGP, “the closest you’re likely to get to military-grade encryption,” and PGP.net says that there are “no practical weaknesses.”

So, is PGP secure? Well, Edward Snowden used PGP to send files to Glenn Greenwald when he broke the story that kicked off a lot of interest in encryption. And if it’s good enough for Snowden, it’s good enough for most—if not all—of the other people who need to encrypt things.


PGP Encryption Algorithms

Different types of encryption algorithms can be used with PGP, though the RSA algorithm is quite common. If you’ve never heard of RSA encryption, rest assured that it’s really, really strong. RSA features on our list of common encryption algorithms, which provides more detail.

According to DigiCert, it would take a standard desktop computer many quadrillions of years to crack a 2048-bit RSA SSL certificate.

That means that if you’d started trying to crack that certificate at the time of the Big Bang, you wouldn’t finish before the end of the universe. 2048-bit RSA is commonly used as a standard algorithm for PGP.

Gnu Privacy Guard uses the AES algorithm by default. AES is one of the strongest publicly available encryption algorithms. For reference, if the US government specifies something as top secret, it carries AES-256 encryption. And if it is good enough for the national security agencies and government, it is good enough for you.

While crypt-analysts and crypto-enthusiasts could argue all day over the best algorithm to use, GnuPG says that “GnuPG’s algorithms are so well-designed for what they do that there is no single ‘best.’ There’s just a lot of personal, subjective choice.”

Getting Started with PGP and GPG for Email in 4 Steps

You know a bit more about how PGP works. Now you can put it into practice.

1. Download GPG Tools for Your System

As mentioned, PGP is a licensed encryption tool that Symantec owns. You can use the GnuPG as a free and open-source alternative.

GPG is a command line-only application. If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can use a GPG tool with a visual interface instead.

  • Windows: Head over to Gpg4win and download the tools.
  • macOS: Download the tools from GPG Tools.
  • Linux: You can download GPA. Some Linux distros, such as Ubuntu, have a GPG version installed already, such as SeaHorse or Passwords and Keys.

You’ll also need to make sure that you have the proper tools for your email client.

For example, Apple Mail has built-in support for PGP. The Gpg4win installer contains an option for encryption within Outlook. Enigmail allows you to encrypt email in Thunderbird, while tools like Mailvelope and Flowcrypt let you use your PGP keys for webmail.

2. Generate Your Public and Private Keys

Depending on the software you use, you’ll use different methods to generate new keys.

In GPG Suite on macOS, you just have to click on New. You enter some details, like your name and the key type. You’ll also have to decide whether or not to upload your public key to a key server.

gpg suite macos encryption key generation

In general, this is a good idea, as it will allow others to find your public key and send you encrypted messages, even if you haven’t communicated previously. However, if you’re just getting started with PGP, you may want to hold off on uploading, as you can’t change your name or email address once you upload it.

The key generation process is similar in other tools, too. The example below is from the Gpg4win Privacy Assistant Key Manager. It guides you through the key creation process.

gpg4win gpa generate keys

3. Enable PGP In Your Email Client

Again, the process to enable PGP encryption in your email client will vary. The best way to find out what you need to do exactly is to search through the email client help files. Alternatively, complete an internet search for “[email client name] enable PGP.”

For example, the macOS GPG Suite installs the PGP add-on for Apple Mail and adds the necessary information and icons automatically. Whereas, you’ll have to import your encryption keys into Microsoft Outlook manually.

microsoft outlook import security certificates encryption

If you want to find out more about importing and creating keys, you can sign-up for our free email security course, which covers this and much more in greater detail.

4. Get Public Keys for Your Contacts

You’re now ready to send PGP-signed emails! However, there is one more important step. For someone to decrypt an email that you send them, you need their public key. The easiest way is to swap keys personally, be that via email, instant message, or otherwise.

You can post your public key to your website or Twitter bio if you want, as there is no risk posting your public key. Just ensure that it is your public key and not your private key—that’s the bit that must remain secure at all times.

There are several public keyservers you can search for public keys belonging to your friends, family, colleagues, or otherwise.

On macOS, GPG Keychain Access, part of GPG Tools, allows you to search for keys from directly within the app. There are also keyserver search tools online, too, such as the PGP Global Directory or the MIT PGP Public Key Server. Once you find a key for your contact, you should download it and import it into your app using the specific procedures required.

PGP File Encryption

Although plenty of open-source, free email encryption tools use PGP, the number of file-encryption options is much smaller.

Still, some implementations do allow users to encrypt files using PGP. For example, Windows users can use Gpg4win’s Kleopatra to encrypt a file or folder using the same encryption keys as your email account. Windows users can also check out Cryptophane, an open-source tool for signing and encrypting with PGP.

Mac and Linux users will likely want to use Seahorse. Alternatively, you can use GPG via the command line. Here’s how you encrypt files using GPG using the Linux command line.

gpg encryption linux command line

However, if you want individual file or folder encryption on your local system, Windows users should check out how to encrypt using VeraCrypt.

PGP Makes Encryption Easy for Everyone

You don’t have to understand the complicated cryptomaths behind PGP to know that it’s a great encryption system. And you don’t have to be a computer genius to take advantage of it to encrypt your emails and files, significantly increasing your online and electronic safety. By downloading just a few tools, you can start encrypting sensitive information today.

Don’t forget to check out our article on the most secure email providers, many of which come with integrated encryption tools. They make encryption even easier!

Read the full article: What Is PGP? How Pretty Good Privacy Works, Explained


How to Get the Stock Android Experience on Any Phone


Google’s Pixel devices are the best pure Android phones. But you can get that stock Android experience on any phone, without rooting.

Essentially, you will have to download a stock Android launcher and a few apps that give you the vanilla Android flavor. It’s really simple, meaning anyone can do it without much technical know-how. We’ll walk you through what to do.

1. Get the Best Stock Android Launcher

Google has its own Pixel launcher, but it’s only available for Pixel phones. But third-party developers have made even better stock Android launchers, which give you the feel of pure Android while adding more features. So to get that stock Android experience, start by downloading Lawnchair 2.

Once you download and install Lawnchair, set it as the default launcher on your device. You can do this by tapping Home > Remember my choice > Lawnchair. Or you can go to Settings > Apps & notifications > Advanced > Default apps > Home app.

These settings menus can vary depending on which Android phone you use, but it’s generally similar. Use the search bar at the top of Settings to look for “launcher” or “home” if you can’t find it.

Lawnchair looks and feels a lot like the stock Android launcher on Pixel phones. The Google search bar is at the bottom, the date and temperature show at the top, and the icons have a stock look. Swipe up from the bottom to access your app drawer.

Download: Lawnchair 2 for Android (Free)

2. Enable Google Feed for a Pure Android Experience

In vanilla Android, you also have access to the Google Feed when you swipe left on the homescreen. Lawnchair offers this as an add-on. Go to Lawnchair Lawnfeed and download the APK. You’ll have to manually sideload the Android app.

Lawnfeed starts automatically after you install it, but in case there’s an issue, restart your phone. If you still don’t see it, long-press in any empty space on the home screen to see the Lawnchair menu, then tap Home settings > Plugins > Switch on Display Google App and try again.

3. Get Google Icons, Theme, and Style

A big part of the stock Android launcher is the icon style and pack. You can reproduce these through both a downloaded Google Pixel icon pack and settings in Lawnchair.

Once you download and install the Pixel Q icon pack linked below, go back to Lawnchair menu > Home settings > Themes > Icon Packs and select Pixel Q Icon Pack.

Next, go back to Themes and tap Change Icon Shape, followed by Circle. To finish up, in Themes, tap More Settings and enable Create Adaptive Icons, Create Adaptive Icons for Icon Pack, and Color Backgrounds.

Download: Pixel Q—icon pack for Android (Free)

4. Get the Best Stock Android Notification Shade

Lawnchair might be the best stock Android launcher, but it won’t change how the notifications shade looks when you swipe it down. The best stock Android notification shade app is Power Shade.

Install it and go through the steps to grant it access at different levels. Android requires several permissions to get Power Shade up and running. On some Android versions, you’ll need to give Power Shade permission for each app to interact with it. It’s a pain to set up, but if you want the pure Android experience, you’ll need to do it.

Power Shade’s default blue color is also not the same as what Android uses. But since it’s one of the best apps to personalize Android’s notification shade, you can switch the color. Go to Power Shade Settings > Colors and input the stock Android blue hex color code #4885ED.

Download: Power Shade for Android (Free, in-app purchases available)

5. Get Google Wallpapers and Pixel Live Wallpapers

The stock Android launcher needs the default Google or Pixel wallpapers to complete the transformation. The good news is that many of Google’s default wallpapers are already available through an official wallpapers app from the company.

But on the best pure Android phones, you also get Live Wallpapers. The folks at XDA Developers have turned this into a free download of Google stock wallpapers. Get the latest APK Mirror from the forum post below.

After downloading and installing both, go to the Wallpapers app. Use a static wallpaper or scroll down to Live Wallpapers and choose what you like. You can even set wallpapers to automatically change every day.

Download: Wallpapers by Google for Android (Free)
Download: Pixel Wallpapers from XDA Developers (Free)

6. Download Stock Google Android Apps

After setting up the personalization features above, you next need Google-made apps for the final step. Not all of them are available on the Play Store, so you will need to manually install some APKs.

Google lets non-Pixel Android phones install the Phone app. It isn’t compatible with all devices yet, so if it doesn’t work with yours, check for Google Phone APK on APKMirror.

Apart from Phone, you should also get the stock Android Contacts app. This will let you back up and sync contacts across Google services. Messages by Google is available for all phones on the Play Store, and it’s a capable SMS app that executes the basics perfectly.

Gboard, the stock Google Android keyboard, is now available on all phones. It’s also probably the best keyboard app available, apart from maybe SwiftKey. If you aren’t using it already, give it a try.

Download: Phone for Android (Free)
Download: Contacts for Android (Free)
Download: Messages for Android (Free)
Download: Gboard for Android (Free)

7. Get the Stock Google Camera App for Any Android Phone

Download the Google Camera app mod from XDA Developers

The newer Pixel phones are legendary for their night photography modes. A lot of that credit goes to the default Google Camera app. It’s primed to extract the most out of that phone camera’s ability.

Like Google’s other apps, you download the Google Camera app on non-Pixel phones through the Play Store. Naturally, you’ll want it to work the the same magic that it does on Pixel phones. However, this takes a bit of extra work.

Your best bet is an add-on called the GCam Mod. On XDA Developers Forums, check the Google Camera Port Hub. This is where developers modify the GCam app to make its magic work with different phones. You’ll have to download the right GCam Mod for your phone, after going through the forums. And even then, some features might be missing.

Generally, I recommend sticking to the camera app your phone came with. Manufacturers have already primed that app for your phone. But if you want the full Google experience, the Port Hub is where you’ll find help.

Download: Google Camera for Android (Free)

8. Forget About Lock Screen Replacements

Lawnchair and Power Shade can’t change the Lock Screen. In fact, the era of lock screen replacements is over. Android now has strict restrictions on what lock screen apps can do, now that fingerprint scanners and even face identification are part of it.

A few lock screen replacement apps are still around, like Ava Lockscreen. But in our tests, after a short time of use, the phone defaulted back to its original lock screen. Comments show this is a common error on most phones that have their own custom UI, like Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei, and others.

So your best bet is to dive into system settings and change what you can about the lockscreen manually. It probably won’t be much, but as long as the wallpaper and the apps look like stock Android, it’s a step in the right direction.

Is Stock Android Better?

Through these steps, you’ll get the stock Android experience with just a few app downloads and no rooting. Yes, there are still a few omissions, but it’s largely as good as owning a Pixel phone. In fact, it’s even better in some regards, since Lawnchair and Power Shade are more customizable than the stock Android launcher and notification shade.

That said, it’s not the pure Android experience you get through manufacturers like Motorola. If you want all those benefits of stock Android, you will need to root your phone and install a custom ROM.

Read the full article: How to Get the Stock Android Experience on Any Phone


The Best Science Fiction Books for Geeks: 10 Absolutely Worth Reading


With so many great science fiction novels available, readers really are spoiled for choice. Some involve artificial intelligence. Others are grand space-operas. And some have even been banned from public distribution for dubious reasons.

Every geek has to start somewhere. If you want to build a library of must-have sci-fi novels and novellas, here are the best science fiction books of all time—redefining the genre, gaining cult status, and being adapted for film, television, and radio.

1. The Time Machine

This is the go-to book about traversing the fourth dimension. Science fiction legend H.G. Wells definitively presents the concept and term for a vehicle that can physically breach the fabric of space-time to deliver a person into another time.

The story involves an unnamed Time Traveler going into the far future and is wrought with social and political metaphors. The Earth is on the brink of solar annihilation, and society has devolved into two breeds: the peaceful Eloi; and the violent, animalistic Morlocks.

This book is the source of a number of science fiction story devices, including our dying sun and the conflicting classes of humanity.

2. The War of the Worlds

Just as Wells codified time travel, he also begat the alien invasion story with The War of the Worlds. It’s a tale of survival during an alien incursion, in a thinly-veiled commentary on British colonialism.

You’ll find many familiar sci-fi tropes here: A technologically superior alien force; humans as cattle; walking robot ships; and subpar human resistance. It’s been adapted many times, notably the 1938 radio broadcast, narrated by Orson Welles.

3. I, Robot

Isaac Asimov devised the Three Laws of Robotics, governing what machines can and cannot do—notably, that they can’t harm humans or themselves, and must carry out instructions given by humans.

These developed in the short stories from his 1950 collection, I, Robot. They’re quantified in “Runaround,” a tense tale in which the conflict between the laws cause deadly confusion in a positronic brain.

Are the Three Laws applicable to real-world artificial intelligence? The fact they’ve entered scientific discourse is testament to the importance of Asimov’s works.

These laws also form the basis for some of your favorite films and TV series about robots and robotics, including Humans (2015-18), Big Hero 6 (2014), and Westworld (both Michael Crichton’s 1973 movie and the HBO show it inspired).

4. 2001: A Space Odyssey

You’ll surely have heard of (if not seen) Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Unlike the other novels on this list, Arthur C. Clarke’s dense novel was written concurrently with its film adaptation, but certainly has a charm of its own.

Unlike the film, the book is hard science, so makes for an engaging read. It also explains the movie’s plot more clearly, especially regarding the monoliths and their relation to humanity.

5. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Philip K. Dick’s meditation on artificial life inspired the classic sci-fi noir film, Blade Runner. However, if you were to compare them, you’d see a substantial gulf.

The book focuses more on identity and emotion than the mechanics of electronic lifeforms (including the eponymous electric sheep). Importantly, it asks whether something created can have the same relevance as something natural.

6. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams’ radio-play-turned-novel is pure lunacy—which is why it should ideally be read in once sitting. It’s less a novel and more a series of stories strung together into one big continuity.

The Earth is immediately destroyed, leaving Arthur Dent, armed only with a towel and his dressing gown, to traverse the universe with his friend, Ford Prefect. It’s absurd and hilarious. Douglas Adams wrote it without having a clear structure, meaning you’re on as unexpected an adventure as Dent.

7. Neuromancer

In William Gibson’s Neuromancer, human minds interface with the Matrix, an interconnected cyber network that will seem very familiar to readers. Chase, the protagonist, has been rendered incapable of jacking into the Matrix after a past crime, and he’ll do anything to regain this ability.

The book left a considerable mark on the genre. Some have speculated that the Matrix in Neuromancer became the blueprint for the modern internet, in a metaphorical sense if not a strictly-technical one.

It is also filled with a number of great descriptive phrases, including a killer opening line, “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

8. Fahrenheit 451

If you’re looking for great opening lines, Fahrenheit 451 has one of the best: “It was a pleasure to burn.”

Sci-fi isn’t always about spaceships and technological marvels. Ray Bradbury’s seminal novel presents a dystopian world in which what we now call “political correctness” has reached the nth degree. The population is scared of new ideas, and so books are destroyed. Our unlikely main character is Guy Montag, a fireman—that is, someone in charge of burning books.

It’s a startling take on what our world might become if we shy away from deviations from the norm. It’s utterly chilling but strangely life-affirming too, and will stay with you long after you’ve turned that final page.

9. Snow Crash

In this 1992 book, humans interact on the “Metaverse,” a next-generation internet integrating virtual reality; this technology is sure to remind you of VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift. A mysterious virus called Snow Crash has started infiltrating Metaverse users’ brains, and it’s up to hacker Hiro to stop it.

Originally conceived as a graphic novel, Snow Crash is an action-packed thriller; it might come as a surprise, then, to learn that the plot derives from Sumerian mythology.

If you’ve referred to an online persona as an “avatar”, you alluded to Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. Similarly, the novel inspired both Google Earth and Second Life. The effect this underappreciated book has had on modern culture is massive.

10. Ready Player One

Ready Player One is as much a nostalgia trip as it is a novel. Ernest Cline’s tale posits that, by 2045, a massively multiplayer online game (MMO) will have largely replaced face-to-face communication.

The protagonist, Wade Watts, is obsessed with finding a treasure hidden within the game that requires extensive knowledge of an esoteric subject: 1980s pop culture.

Ready Player One revels in niche references, so if you have even a passing interest in video game trivia, this book definitely deserves a place on your bookshelf. It’s an interesting examination of vintage technology and the reverence some people have for it.

1980s nostalgia is particularly popular right now, so here’s everything you need to know about retro gaming.

Are These the Best Sci-Fi Books Ever Written?

Of course, this list is just the tip of the iceberg, but acts as a solid foundation to any science fiction collection. From these essential titles, you can go on to explore the realms of J.R.R. Tolkien, the dystopias of George Orwell, and the whimsies of Terry Pratchett.

And if you’re looking to expand your library beyond solely sci-fi novels, keep up to date with our list of the best books to read right now.

Read the full article: The Best Science Fiction Books for Geeks: 10 Absolutely Worth Reading


Heads Up! How to Play Charades on Your Phone

Charades! is a fun smartphone game that will brighten up any situation and is perfect for families and friends to play together. Most modern games involve a single person using a single phone, staring down at their screen and blocking out everyone around them, but not this one.

Charades! is a truly social smartphone game. You simply select a category, hold it up to your forehead so that your friends can see the word or phrase but you can’t, and then they try to get you to guess what the word or phrase is.

We’re going to tell you everything you need to know about Charades!, including where to get it and how to play it.

What Is Charades?

Charades is a party game which originated in the 19th century. Rules of the game vary, but generally players silently act out a word or phrase and everyone else has to guess what it is.

Charades! is a digital version of the game available for Android and iOS. It’s fun, easy to understand, and is a great game to play with a group of people when you want to kill some time.

You might be familiar with an app called Heads Up!, which is one of the fun iPhone party games we recommend, and was popularized on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show. It’s very similar to the Charades! app. In fact, both the Google Play Store and Apple App Store are flooded with clones. For our money, Charades! is the best.

Download: Charades! for Android | iOS (Free, in-app purchases available)

What Modes Are Available for Charades!?

Charades home

Launch Charades! and you will see a brightly colored app with simple navigation. From the home screen, you have a couple of options: Quick Play or Versus.

Quick Play just pits a single person against a group—one person guessing, and the group shouting hints.

The Versus mode allows you to keep score between two teams who will try to get their respective partners to guess correctly, more like in traditional charades. With this mode you can choose the number of teams (two, three, or four) and number of rounds (three, five, or seven).

After choosing your mode, you can scroll through the list of available categories like Movies or Music. Select a category to begin the game or tap the heart icon on the category to add it your Favorites (accessible on the left-hand menu) for easier accessibility.

Many categories are free, though there are some that you need to pay to unlock which we’ll cover later.

How to Make Your Own Cards in Charades!

Charades custom deck

Tap the Custom section on the left-hand menu and you can create your own cards for a more personalized experience.

Tap Add New Deck and you can give your custom deck a name. There is a tab here called Others, where theoretically you enter a category ID to download decks that other people have made, but the network functionality of the app appears to be broken.

With your deck created, tap it from the list and then choose Add cards. Add as many cards as you want. The more the better if you want to keep the games harder.

When you want to play your own deck, return to the Custom menu, tap the deck you want, then choose Play.

How to Play Charades!

Charades ingame

The guesser is supposed to hold the game to their forehead, but it isn’t completely necessary; you can hold it out in front of your chest as long as you can’t see the screen and the others can.

After you press Play, the screen will say “Place On Forehead”. You then can hold onto the phone for a moment, but the second you flip it around and hold it up to your forehead, a five second countdown will begin before it starts.

Your friends then need to shout or act out hints so that you can figure out what is displayed on the screen.

If you guess correctly, tilt the phone downwards to mark it as correct, the screen will flash green, and the game will move onto the next word.

If you can’t figure out the answer, tilt the phone upwards, the screen will flash red, and it will pass and mark the answer as incorrect.

Charades! can sometimes be a bit over sensitive registering movement, so be careful not to move your hands too much when holding the phone else you might accidentally mark something as correct or pass.

When your time is up, Charades! will tally up your score and you can review all the ones you missed. If you’re playing Versus, you then hand it to the next team for their turn.

How Much Does Charades! Cost?

Charades store

While Charades! is a free game, it is powered by ads and in-app purchases. There will often be an advert displayed at the bottom edge of the screen and it will sometimes interrupt you on the home screen and after games for a full-screen advert.

You can permanently remove adverts for a one-time payment of $0.99. To do this, navigate to the Store from the left-hand menu.

Within the Store, you will see that you can buy coins. This is an in-game currency used to unlock new categories, which are priced at 100 coins. It costs $3.99 to get 500 coins and remove adverts, which makes it $0.80 per category. There is also the option to just get 500 coins, without the advert removal, but since this also costs $3.99 you should avoid it.

To get some free coins, you can watch a 30-second advert. This will reward you with 25 coins when you have finished watching the advert. You can do this repeatedly to stack up the coins and save paying any money.

How to Customize Charades!?

Charades settings

Navigate to Settings on the left-hand menu to see the customization options.

Only a few customizations exist here: changing the round time to 60, 90, or 120 seconds, toggling bonus time, and toggling sound effects. The sound effects actually can come in handy for the person holding the phone, since they can’t see the screen to know if their twist of the hand worked properly, but the “pass” and “correct” noises can get annoying if you play a lot.

On the other hand, bonus time is a neat feature that adds two seconds to your playing time when you get a question right. It’s a small change that probably won’t affect gameplay much, but it’s nice that they include the option instead of forcing you one way or the other.

Find More Mobile Games Worth Playing

Whether you play on Android or iOS, Charades! is a blast to play. It’s an exciting way to waste some time while hanging out with friends, and is fun for all ages.

Looking for more mobile games to play? Here’s how to find new mobile games worth playing.

Read the full article: Heads Up! How to Play Charades on Your Phone


The 4 Best Tools to Manage Your MP3 Music Collection


Managing your MP3 library can be both confusing and frustrating. Allowing your music to pile up, without any organization, can spell disaster down the line. The problem of poorly-managed MP3s can spread to other devices too. Especially if you move your music around between your laptop and, for example, your smartphone.

Thankfully, there are plenty of tools available to help you get a handle on your MP3 management. So, here’s a selection of tools to help you cure your music management migraine.

1. MediaMonkey

screenshot of MediaMonkey editing artwork

MediaMonkey doubles up as both a music player and MP3-organizer software. This makes it a great tool to have on your desktop. Before you jump in and grab MediaMonkey, it is worth noting that this isn’t a lightweight app. It is a very comprehensive way to keep your music collection in check. This means beginners may struggle with the various tools available.

If MediaMonkey is of interest, though, then there is a whole world of MP3 management ahead of you. Firstly, you can organize your music based on the genre, year, artist name, or album title. This means finding files will be much easier. Not only that, but you can edit the tags for every single music file. The software includes multiple tools that can even do this for you, automatically!

Whether your MP3 collection is made up of podcasts, audiobooks, or plain old music, MediaMonkey offers consistency across the board. MediaMonkey will allow you to get your playlists in check, too, with full playlist creation and editing. In addition, every time you add music to the library folders on your hard drive, MediaMonkey will update it upon its next launch.

One final feature we would like to highlight is the ability to share your music across devices. So, if your computer is set up as your media server, you can connect your smartphone to it wirelessly and play files remotely. This means you don’t even need to physically store the music on your smartphone, which makes organizing MP3s even easier! A Pro version is also available which adds many more features to the free version of the app.

Download: MediaMonkey for Windows (Free, Gold edition available)
Download: MediaMonkey for Android (Free, Pro edition available)
Note: MediaMonkey is also available for macOS as a Wineskin application

2. MusicBrainz Picard

MusicBrainz Picard main screen

MusicBrainz Picard is a cross-platform, open-source MP3 organizing software. It is available for Windows, macOS, Linux, Haiku, FreeBSD, and OpenBSD.  Best of all, it is completely free! That means you can get your music collection in order without shelling out for an expensive package. Plus, it supports a huge range of formats. So, whether you have MP3, WAV, or FLAC files, MusicBrainz Picard is on hand to get it all looking ship shape.

One of the best features, though, has to be the AcoustID song identifier. Even the most organized MP3 collection is going to have tracks with very little or no metadata. Perhaps even the track has been titled incorrectly. The AcoustID feature works by checking a track’s “audio fingerprint” against a database of songs. If it finds a match, it will fill out the tag data for you, saving you the job.

Of course, you can still edit all of the metadata yourself, too. Clicking on an MP3 file that MusicBrainz Picard has found will bring up the editing pane. This will display the current data, along with any missing entries. You can add these yourself using text entry. The more metadata matches up with, say, other tracks on an album, the more organized your MP3 collection will be. You won’t have random MP3 files littering your hard drive!

Download: MusicBrainz Picard (Free)

3. Mp3tag

Mp3tag Editor in editing mode

Mp3tag is superb if you have a large number of rogue MP3 files. This is because it has a really cool batch converter. That means you can grab a whole bunch of your MP3s and let Mp3tag get busy sorting through them. You can also edit the metadata yourself. It is pretty similar to MusicBrainz Picard in terms of what it is capable of, aside from the batch converter. It can actually use the MusicBrainz database to grab file info.

Despite the name, Mp3tag supports a whole host of popular (and some less so) media formats. The app also supports cover art for albums, EPs, and singles. This will save the cover art to the file itself. So, not only will your music be organized, but it will also look the part as you scroll through your MP3s.

The app is also appealing as it allows you to export your library data. With HTML, RTF, and CSV exports all available, you will be able to see exactly what is in your collection. All in a nice tabular format. This will help you keep track of what is there and data can be organized in any way that suits you. You can download Mp3tag for Windows and macOS.

Download: Mp3tag (Free)

4. Apple Music

Apple Music main screen

Some people love Apple Music and some people hate it. However, there is no denying the fact that it is a great tool for organizing your music. If you have an existing MP3 collection then, by-and-large, you can import it into Apple Music and let the program do all of the organizing for you. It will collect tracks from albums together under one album title, add art, and name all the tracks correctly. You just have to sit back and let Apple Music do the dirty work.

This isn’t always a perfect exercise. If your ID3 tags aren’t consistent, then Apple Music might not recognize that certain tracks belong to a collection. In this case, you might be best to use an ID3 tag remover first. This will grant you a clean slate, which means you can then run your music through Apple Music without a hitch. With ID3 tags removed, Apple Music should be able to arrange your music the way it should be arranged, if it couldn’t in the first instance.

Obviously, Apple Music also has the advantage of being a multimedia player, so you can organize ALL of your media libraries with it. Once you have added your MP3 files to Apple Music, it is all available to see with nice, shiny artwork, correct titles, and correct artist names. Apple Music is a very functional MP3 organizer and player that will have your music collection looking tip-top, taking much of the heartache out of managing your media.

Download: Apple Music (Free)
Note: Windows users can still download iTunes (Free)

The Best MP3 Organizer for You

Whether you’re a seasoned digital music pro, or you’ve only just entered the world of digital music from physical formats, there are plenty of tools out there to help you with your MP3 management.

Apple Music, combined with a tag remover, will organize your MP3 collection perfectly. So, all of your MP3 files will be ordered by artist name and broken down into album folders, making them very easy to find.

If you’d like a dedicated device to play your newly organized MP3 files, check out the best standalone MP3 players for all budgets.

Read the full article: The 4 Best Tools to Manage Your MP3 Music Collection

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