The 10 Best Apps of 2018, According to Google

iStock.com/hocus-focus
iStock.com/hocus-focus

One common complaint about the YouTube app is that you need a premium membership to keep listening to audio after you've closed out of the app. Despite this inconvenience, the free version of the YouTube app is still wildly popular. After all, it’s the most downloaded iPhone app of 2018, according to CNN’s analysis of Apple data, and the company’s cable-free YouTube TV app is also this year’s “fan favorite” among Android users.

Apple’s list of the most downloaded apps of the year and Google’s picks for the best Android apps of 2018 paint a pretty clear picture of how we’ve been spending (or wasting) our time. And it’s clear that we can’t get enough of social media. After YouTube, the top downloaded free iPhone apps are Instagram, Snapchat, Messenger, and Facebook.

Avatar-creating app Bitmoji, which was the most downloaded app last year, dropped to sixth place in the latest ranking. Snapchat, which owns Bitmoji, also dropped one spot from last year. The social media app reportedly lost 3 million users last summer after an unpopular redesign.

Two photo editing tools—Facetune and Kirakira+—are this year’s most popular paid apps, while Fortnite is the most popular game.

Some of Google’s picks for the best Android apps, on the other hand, are less widely known. Take, for instance, the language-learning app Drops—its top recommendation. The Duolingo competitor offers lessons in 31 languages, including two Spanish variations (Castilian and Latin-American), Cantonese, Arabic, and even native Hawaiian.

Here are a few other apps that Google recommends, many of which are also available for iOS:

1. Vimage: Add animations to photos
2. Scout FM: Listen to podcasts
3. Slowly: Send “snail mail” to pen pals around the world
4. Luci: Keep track of lucid dreams
5. Mimo: Learn to write code
6. MasterClass: Learn how to cook, act, and more
7. Just a Line: Draw with augmented reality
8. 10% Happier: Learn to meditate
9. Notion: Track your productivity
10. Sift: Shop smarter and get refunds when prices drop

[h/t CNN]

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

Amazon
Amazon
As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Google Is Tracking Everything You Do With Its ‘Smart’ Features—Here’s How to Make That Stop

Maybe you don't want Google seeing how many exclamation points you use in your emails.
Maybe you don't want Google seeing how many exclamation points you use in your emails.
Taryn Elliott, Pexels

Since we don’t all have personal assistants to draft emails and update our calendars, Google has tried to fill the void with ‘smart’ features across Gmail, Google Chat, and Google Meet. These automatic processes cover everything from email filtering and predictive text to notifications about upcoming bills and travel itineraries. But such personalized assistance requires a certain amount of personal data.

For example, to suggest email replies that match what you’d choose to write on your own—or remind you about important emails you’ve yet to reply to—Google needs to know quite a bit about how you write and what you consider important. And that involves tracking your actions when using Google services.

For some people, Google’s helpful hints might save enough time and energy to justify giving up full privacy. If you’re not one of them, here’s how to disable the ‘smart’ features.

As Simplemost explains, first open Gmail and click the gear icon (settings) in the upper right corner of the page. Select ‘See all settings,’ which should default to the ‘General’ tab. Next to ‘Smart Compose,’ ‘Smart Compose personalization,’ and ‘Smart Reply,’ choose the ‘Off’ options. Next to ‘Nudges,’ uncheck both boxes (which will stop suggestions about what emails you should answer or follow up on). Then, switch from the ‘General’ tab to ‘Inbox’ and scroll down to ‘Importance markers.’ Choose ‘No markers’ and ‘Don’t use my past actions to predict which messages are important.’

Seeing these settings might make you wonder what other information you’ve unwittingly given Google access to. Fortunately, there’s a pretty easy way to customize it. If you open the ‘Accounts’ tab (beside ‘Inbox’) and choose ‘Google Account settings,’ there’s an option to ‘Take the Privacy Checkup.’ That service will walk you through all the privacy settings, including activity tracking on Google sites, ad personalization, and more.

[h/t Simplemost]