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In an earlier post, I discussed purchasing SoloKeys – physical USB devices for two-factor authentication – on one of my computers. Thus far, I have been very satisfied with my SoloKeys and have used them to add extra security to several of my important accounts.

The one downside of physical security keys is that they do not enjoy universal support from services that allow for two-factor authentication. For those services, the next best option is an authenticator app, which can be used to scan a QR code, which the app then interprets as a six-number pass-code that changes every 30 seconds (forgive me for the non-technical description).

Limited Authenticator App Options for Old Devices

The fact that authenticator apps generally run on mobile devices was a problem for me. My BlackBerry Classic is still a great phone, but its app support is somewhat limited. The Classic runs an old version of Android that was heavily modified into the now-legacy BlackBerry 10 operating system. I found no authenticator applications that were readily available for it. The same applied even more strongly for my seven-year old Kindle Fire HDX. While this Kindle is still snappy for all Kindle-related purposes, its application support is very limited. That is an accurate assessment before we even note that the Fire HDX lacks a front-facing camera.

Purchasing a Cheap New Android Tablet: The Vankyo MatrixPad S7

Not wanting to rely on SMS or email for two-factor authentication, I looked for a cheap Android tablet. I settled on purchasing a new Vankyo MatrixPad S7 from Amazon, which cost only $60 after applying a coupon. While the specs of the MatrixPad S7 would leave those expecting great things from their tablets wanting, I primarily wanted it for use as an authenticator, lite web browsing, and simple applications. I concluded that the MatrixPad S7 suited my needs.

Relying Mostly on Free and Open Source Android Applications

I decided that I would rely on Google services, which are built into the Android operating system, as little as possible. In so doing, I outfitted my new tablet with apps from the F-Droid free open source repository. Most importantly, I installed the free and open source Aegis Authenticator app for my two-factor authenticator needs. I am happy to report that it is working well, and I will offer more detailed thoughts on it in the future.

It would have been admittedly depressing for me to only use my new toy as a glorified authenticator. I gradually found some additional applications to install to add more functionality to my new device. For example, I installed KDE Connect, which allows me to sync my tablet with my phone and my primary desktop computer (I also figured out how to add it to my BlackBerry and Kindle). I also installed Bitwarden for an extra way to access my passwords, and the DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser, which I had interested in trying.

Discovering the Free and Open Source Kiss Launcer

It was not until a few days had elapsed that I looked at the limited selection of launchers in the F-Droid repository, essentially new home screens. While I am sure that my many readers with fancy phones are familiar with all sorts of launchers, but it was a relatively new concept to me. After testing a few, I settled on the sleek and very aesthetic Kiss Launcher, which replaced my cumbersome default launcher with a neat toolbar at the bottom of the screen and my most recently used applications running up the left-hand side. The toolbar along the bottom can perform web searches in a selected browser and pull up any one of my installed apps. Below, you will find a picture of my current launch screen.

Screenshot of Vankyo MatrixPad S7 using the free and open source Kiss Launcher - an example of an aesthetic digital environment.
Screenshot.

For my launch screen background, I used a cover picture from one of my favorite movies, Makoto Shinkai’s “5 Centimeters Per Second” – a movie that I will have more to say about in future posts. Note how the applications in my history sit neatly on one side of my home screen while the two characters – Takaki and Kanae, stand on the other. The top of the cover poster has the name of the movie and additional information. At first, the launcher displayed my most recently opened 13 applications, meaning that they extended all the way to the top of my screen. In the settings, I reduced the number to 10, and they now stop just below the title on the movie poster.

Consider the Aesthetic Digital Environment

Technology is often unaesthetic, but it does not always have to be that way. Why should your phone, tablet, or computer have an unappealing background or appearance when you can give it a pleasant appearance to greet you every time you turn it on? Every time I need to go through the process of unlocking my tablet and pulling up my authenticator app to, with hope, enter in the six-number code before it expires, I am greeted by a pretty and well-ordered layout. Save for the ethical hackers and brutally efficient programmers who live in consoles and window managers, working to create an aesthetic digital environment is a worthwhile endeavor. If you agree, have a look at your phone, tablet, or desktop environment and see what you can do to improve its appearance.