AMBER Alerts and Android: What you need to know

Emergency alerts on your Android smartphone are a good thing — even if they are a bit annoying sometimes!

Every so often — or frequently, depending on your tolerance level — you get an emergency alert on your phone. That horrible blaring of the emergency tone, the buzzing the vibration motor, and then the grim news. Someone’s missing. Or there’s a severe weather alert headed your way. Suddenly and without warning, your phone’s scaring the hell out of you. It’s bad enough during the day, and downright dreadful in the dead of night.

And that’s the idea.

The U.S. carriers have worked with the federal government to come up with a way to push alerts to your Android smartphone to warn you about dangerous weather, missing persons or other matters of grave national importance. The point is they want you to see this information in hopes that it could save your life — or someone else’s.

Here’s what you need to know about these emergency alerts and how you can control them on your Android phone.

What kind of emergency alerts are there?

There are three (or four, depending on how you’re counting) types of emergency alerts you can receive on your Android. They’re grouped into the less-dangerous-sounding “Cell Broadcast” heading, and include:

  • Extreme threats: Classified as threats to your life and property, like an impending catastrophic weather event like a hurricane or tsunami.
  • Severe threats: Less serious than the extreme threats, these could be the same types of situations, but on a smaller scale — stay safe, but you won’t need to pack up the car and head for the hills.
  • AMBER alerts: These are specific alerts aimed at locating a missing child. Technically AMBER stands for “America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response.” But it was named for Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old who was kidnapped and killed in 1996. AMBER alerts can appear to be a bit cryptic, giving you the location of the alert, a car license plate number and the make, model, and color of the vehicle.
  • Presidential alerts: These alerts will often fall into the “extreme threats” category, but are issued directly by the President of the United States and cannot be turned off in your phone’s settings.

What does an emergency or AMBER alert sound like?

It’s loud and annoying — particularly if you have a phone with really good speakers, or are with several people who have their phones out.

You’ll likely also find your phone is vibrating when an alert is issued.

How can I turn off emergency alerts on my Android?

Though you don’t have a choice as to whether you receive the presidential alerts, you can turn off the other types of alerts. We would recommend leaving them on, though, as the information could help you (or help you help someone else) in a time of danger. But if you want to familiarize yourself with the settings or tweak their parameters, here’s how you do it.

The settings will be found in a different place depending on what phone you have (yay, Android!) but the common theme is that the settings will be called “Cell Broadcasts.” The best way to start looking for them is to open up your settings, and if you have a search function to simply type in “cell broadcasts” or “emergency” — chances are the phone will present you with the settings right away. If you don’t have a search function, look under your sound, notification or display settings.

Here’s now things look in Android 7.1 Nougat, Android 6.0 Marshmallow and on a modern Samsung phone.

Depending on your phone, you’ll be able to toggle each of the alerts independently, choose how they alert you and whether or not they vibrate when you receive one.

Other helpful links for emergency and AMBER alerts

If you want to learn more about how emergency alerts are handled, we’ve compiled a group of handy resources:

This article was originally published in March, 2014. It was recently updated in November 2016 with up-to-date information about the AMBER Alert system running on the most recent versions of Android.

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Google announces 2017 Google Play Award winners

Here are Google’s picks for the best apps in the Google Play Store.

As part of the Google I/O festivities, Google held a ceremony to announce the winners of the 2nd annual Google Play Awards.

With over 85 billion downloads from the Google Play Store, it’s always nice to see Google give some praise to the most innovative and interesting apps of the past year. Google has highlighted 12 apps this year, each chosen for its outstanding user experience or social impact.

Standout Indie: Mushroom 11

Mushroom 11 is a super interesting puzzle game in which you take control of a shapeshifting fungus as you make your way across an apocalyptic wasteland.

This game features challenging puzzles and fantastically fluid controls. Definitely worth checking out!

Download: Mushroom 11 ($4.99)

Standout Startup: HOOKED

HOOKED is a storytelling app that tells its story one text at a time. This app lives up to its name by drawing you into its library of mysterious stories, presented as a series of chat logs.

New stories are added daily, and there’s even an option to upload your own stories for others to read. It’s strangely addictive despite its occasionally cheesy storylines.

Download: HOOKED (Free)

Best Android Wear Experience: Runtastic Running & Fitness

It probably comes as little surprise that a fitness app would win the the award for Best Android Wear Experience.

Runtastic is one of the best fitness tracker apps you can use and is especially worth checking out if you’ve got a new Android Wear 2.0 watch or are planning to pick one up to revamp your summer fitness routine.

Download: Runtastic Running & Fitness (Free, or $4.99 for Pro version)

Best TV Experience: Red Bull TV

From the best in extreme sports to music festivals, Red Bull delivers endless entertainment — enough so that you may forget they also sell energy drinks!

Red Bull TV wins the award for its TV Experience, which will be worth keeping in mind the next time they have some guy free-fall from space.

Download: Red Bull TV (Free)

Best VR Experience: Virtual Virtual Reality

We imagine that this category is going to be getting very competitive over the next few years. This year’s winner is Virtual Virtual Reality, which is built around a really fun concept of strapping on different VR headsets within a VR setting — similar to the dream within a dream scenario from Inception.

This Daydream VR app is currently on sale for half off, so there’s no better time to check it out!

Download: Virtual Virtual Reality ($4.49)

Best AR Experience: WOORLD

We should be seeing more Tango-enabled phones to take advantage of Augmented Reality. When you finally get your hands on one, check out WOORLD.

It’s a great showcase for the quirky side of AR, and is intuitive enough for anyone to pick up and play.

Download: WOORLD (Free)

Best Apps for Kids: Animal Jam – Play Wild!

For those looking for more kid-friendly apps to keep the young ones occupied in the back seat, Google gives the nod to Animal Jam.

Set in a fun and cartoony 3D world, your kid will learn about animals and their real-life habitats while playing fun games. There’s also a social aspect for chatting in-game, with the developers committed to providing a safe online playground for kids.

Download: Animal Jam – Play Wild! (Free w/IAPs)

Best Multiplayer Game: Hearthstone

Hearthstone is still going strong three years on from its launch on Android. Developed by Blizzard, it’s a social card game based in the same universe as World of Warcraft.

If you’re brand new and interested in checking it out, there’s great tutorial and single player modes to help teach you the basics and learn strategies before you move on to facing online opponents. Keep in mind that if you want to get serious here, you’re going to need to buy some in-game expansion packs.

Download: Hearthstone (Free w/IAPs)

Best App: Memrise

The big prize of Best App went to Memrise, an intuitive app to assist you in learning a new language. Over 15 million people are using Memrise to learn a new language by playing games, watching videos from native speakers to offer social contexts, with more resources to help you along. It’s free to try out, so what do you have to lose?

Also, check out the developer’s “What’s New” update for its reaction to winning the award for Best App. It’s pretty swell!

Download: Memrise (Free)

Best Game: Transformers: Forged to Fight

Join Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Waspinator, Rhinox, Grimlock, Soundwave and many more of your favorite bots in Transformers: Forged to Fight. Personally, I’m kind of surprised to see this game pick up the top spot — It certainly wouldn’t top my list.

Then again, who doesn’t love a good ol’ fashioned robot fight?

Download: Transformers: Forged to Fight (Free w/IAPs)

Best Accessibility Experience: IFTTT

If you’ve been looking into connecting all of your smart devices around your home into a fully automated system, you’ve probably already looked into IFTTT. Using custom Applets, IFTTT lets you connect hundreds of apps and devices in seemingly endless orientations — and of course there’s support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, so you can control everything with your voice.

Definitely an app you’ll want to have on your phone in the years to come.

Download: IFTTT (Free)

Best Social Impact: ShareTheMeal

ShareTheMeal is a charity developed by the UN World Food Programme that lets you feed a child with a simple tap on your phone. It only takes about $.50 a day to feed a child for a day. There are 20 times as many smartphone users as there are hungry children. You do the math.

With several ongoing famines around the world, we should all do our small part to make a difference. Apps like this are a great showcase of how technology can be used to make a positive impact.

Download: ShareTheMeal

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