We've lost count of the number of times we've been walking down the street and someone too busy staring at their smartphone has bumped straight into us. Sascha Affolter's Transparent Screen app for Android phone and Android tablet aims to help make such people more aware of their surroundings.

The Transparent Screen app lets you do whatever you want on your phone - write a message, play a game, even read PCAdvisor.co.uk - and continue to see where you're going, without needing to take your eyes off the screen. This is made possible by the use of a live image feed from the device's camera, laid on top of the standard interface.

To begin using the free Transparent Screen app while you're out and about, simply click its shortcut in your phone's Apps menu and tap the large button marked 'Start & Stop'. Pay £1.45 for the Pro version, and simply launching the app will trigger the camera overlay. The Pro version also turns off the effect when the screen times out (in the free version you must re-enter the app and tap the 'Start & Stop' button, or pull down the notifications bar and click the 'Tap here to stop' entry). See also: Best Android Apps.

Transparent Screen might be more useful if it were able to add a menu option to other phone applications to invoke its function; as things stand, you must exit whatever you're doing, start up the Transparent Screen app, and then return to the task at hand.

Your screen type and the amount of sunlight beaming down will affect how easy it is to see the camera image, but a slider in the Settings menu lets you control its transparency. Indoors, we had no problem viewing what was onscreen at either end of the scale, but found backgrounds that use several different colours or screens where there's lots going on could complicate things.

It's also possible to alter the camera resolution in the Settings menu, although we don't recommend it. Any increase to the resolution puts more of a strain on your smartphone's hardware; given that you're already asking it to multitask, a single-core processor could begin to struggle. We certainly found our Sony Ericsson Xperia Arc to be significantly slower with the video feed set to 640x480 pixels. The developer has set a 176x144-pixel resolution as the default, which is also the minimum - you can bump this up to 320x240, 352x288, 480x320 or 640x480 pixels.

It matters not whether you're holding the phone in a portrait or landscape fashion. Interestingly, though, an option in the Settings menu lets you rotate the camera by 90, 180 or 270 degrees. We have no idea why anyone would want to do this, since it would simply confuse their ability to make sense of the goings on around them.

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Transparent Screen: Specs

  • Google Android 2.2 or later
  • 86kb available memory
  • cameraphone
  • Google Android 2.2 or later
  • 86kb available memory
  • cameraphone


Our main gripe with the Transparent Screen app is that we're not sure we should be encouraging people to continue using their smartphone at a time when it's simply not safe. Apart from anything else, walking down the road with your handset on full view is an invitation to opportunists to snatch it away. On the other hand, Transparent Screen might just help prevent these people from walking out into the road and getting hit by a bus. It may be useful for some people on some occasions, but we can't help thinking it's something of a gimmick.

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