This week's Friday 5 includes several spiffy updates to Adobe Photoshop Express, Cortana on your Android lock screen, Vudu selling $2 HD movies, a cool update to Nova Launcher notifications, and Google adding Web searches to Gboard for iOS.
Vudu (Android, iOS) is one of many services where you can buy and rent new movies to stream, but Vudu might have just gotten an edge on the competition. Of the 100,000+ movies on Vudu, about 8,000 can now be bought for $2 if you use the mobile app to scan the UPC of the corresponding Blu-ray case. If Vudu has a match for that bar code, a permanent copy of the streamable version (as opposed to a rental of it) is yours after you fork over the fee. If you have the DVD instead of the Blu-ray, Vudu offers to add the HD stream to your Vudu library for $5. You can then stream the movie using the Vudu app, wherever you have a Netflix-grade Internet connection, whenever you want. Note that this offer does not currently extend to TV shows.
Nova Launcher is a free app that replaces the default Android home screen and apps drawer with highly customizable looks and navigation. You can change your app icons, search tools, fonts, dock behavior, and a bunch more. This week, Nova added a small contextual notifier it calls a Dynamic Badge next to each app icon. For example, the phone app will indicate if you've missed a call recently; Hangouts can show you who is sending messages; and app folders can display a thumbnail preview of their contents. All of this is visible without you having to open the folder or app. The Dynamic Badge feature is currently limited to the beta version of Nova Launcher, but you should be OK to try the beta -- the developer has a reputation for high-quality apps; you're less likely to experience crashes or weirdness than you are with other betas.
Adobe Photoshop Express
Photoshop Express (Android, iOS) is the mobile version of Adobe's popular image editor, and version 3.3 just brought a collection of shiny updates and additions. For one, Adobe updated the core rendering engine, which means it should be snappier now. Photoshop Express will also straighten images automatically, reduce noise in photos taken in dim light, let you customize the size and image quality of the image when you're ready to save your changes, and send your shots directly to Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp, among others. The basic version of Photoshop Express is free.
Cortana is Microsoft's digital voice assistant, like Apple's Siri or the Google Assistant. Now you can put Cortana on the lock screen of your your Android phone or tablet, if you have version 4.4 or greater of the mobile OS. When you set up Cortana, it will ask for access to your contacts, calendar, microphone, location, search history, text messages and "other information on your device," because it basically acts as a replacement for Google's built-in assistant AI. If you have a Windows 10 PC with Cortana enabled, you can sync info (like calendar events and contacts) between your PC and Android.
Gboard is a virtual keyboard by Google that originally launched on iPhones and iPads. This week the company integrated Google Search in Gboard. This isn't as beefy a solution as the Google App, which gives mobile users access to Google's conversational AI, which can offer updates on news, traffic, and sports scores. Gboard notably lacks voice-based search, for example. But you can copy the URLs of search results to your clipboard to share or paste into a browser, and the search function works no matter which app is using the keyboard.