Archives

Starting off with Android? Here’s a list of essential apps..

imageLately, a couple of friends have gotten themselves Android phones and have asked me for a couple of tips on which apps to start off with. I’m coming up on about one full year of fiddling around with Android now, and have been through and tossed dozens and dozens of apps (as usual). I’ve got a list of my votes for cream of the crop below, but first, a layout tip. Set your homescreens up in a useful, ergonomic fashion. Some flavors of Android give you a default set of widgets on several homescreens and I can’t help but think that plenty of people just “get used to” the layout they’re given and decide it’s not worth the trouble of tinkering. Trust me, it is. Widgets are extremely useful and a very powerful part of the Android system, and with a little arrangement you can actually cut out several fingertaps because you’ll have arranged your desktop in such a way that your info is instantly available when you look at your phone. You’ll only need to do this once, maybe twice until you’re comfortable. I haven’t changed my desktop layout in maybe three months now. It just works really well for me. Time, date, weather and quick call icons plus some essential apps on the main page, calendar info to the right and Twitter, Barnacle, my to-do list and a couple of news apps on the left. Even my wife’s layout is more complex than that, but like I said, mine works for me.

Now, on to the apps!

Jorte: Strange name, but it’s an awesome free calendar application. It can synchronize with a Google calendar or an exchange/corporate one, and even syncs with Google Tasks. The real power of the app comes in its almost frighteningly huge number of widgets. There are daily, weekly, monthly and task view widgets available in every size from 1×1 through 4×4 allowing you complete freedom to design one of your homescreens with the productivity view that suits you best. Install Jorte, hook it into your calendar and decide which one (or two) of its widgets you like the best. I use the 4×3 month-view and a 4×2 task view (yes, I have 4×5 icons available on my homescreen, more on that in a sec). If you don’t use the widget(s), the app itself is still a fantastic replacement calendar tool.

LauncherPro: Android gives you a standard “home” application – the system that controls the number of desktops you have, number of icons on the desktop etc. LauncherPro is a “home screen replacement” which extends the capabilities of your homescreen environment, giving you the ability to have more icons on each screen, a great scrollable “dock” at the bottom, more homescreens (up to seven, if that floats your boat) and everyone raves about how smooth it is visually. It’s free, but you can pay for additional features.

World Forecast Clock: This is a nice widget app that shows you the time, date and weather for a particular city. Being Australian, I have two of these widgets – one showing the current time/date in Brisbane AUST and the other showing details for my current city of residence in Arizona USA.

K9 Mail: This is a “killer app” for Android. Nobody should be without it. It’s an email application, with a huge amount of features. Forget about using the built-in apps, this one runs rings around them. Can save email/attachments on your card etc. And it’s completely free.

AndExplorer: Once you get well and truly stuck into Android you’ll want to start nosing around your directories on your SD card. This is a nice, small and free file browser. I like it because there’s a nice big button at the top that you can click to jump straight to the root dir of your SD card. And because it’s free.

BeyondPod: If you like reading news on your device, immerse yourself in the world of RSS with BeyondPod. Can sync with Google Reader and update feeds on a schedule. I set mine to update all feeds once every 8 hours, ie 3 times a day. Then the phone is jam packed with fresh news from Engadget, Gizmodo etc for me to read when I’m eating lunch or when I’m (cough) waiting in traffic (cough). Free, but you can pay for additional functionality.

NoteEverything: This is a fantastic app for writing notes – text notes, picture notes, and checklists. I use it as an electronic shopping list. It’s comprehensive, straightforward and just one of those apps that you can’t do without.

Facebook: Blah blah blah, not much to be said about this one, eh? Unfortunately it doesn’t support multiple accounts. Oh, what’s that? You use your real name on there and why would ever want to do anything else? Shame on you. *8-) Android’s FB app isn’t as good as the iPhone one, apparently because only one dude was in charge of writing it and Google “poached” him (pissing off the Zuck in the process) but development has started on it again so it should catch up in terms of features soon.

Multicon: I would have recommended More Icons Widget at one stage, but this one’s free and does just as much. It’s an absolutely essential addition to your homescreen. Basically it takes the form of a widget, but within the widget you can create smaller “icons”, effectively allowing you to have a huge amount of icons on your desktop instead of being constrained to 4×4 (or indeed 4×5 with LauncherPro). Icons can be shortcuts too, so I’m using this to have a sort of “dialer bar” with icons allowing me to quickly text, email and call my wife. YMMV, of course. You can create as many of these icon-containing widgets as you like.

Timeriffic: This is another awesome idea. Basically this app controls settings on your phone based on time of day. Like their description says, you can have the program “unmute audio @ 7am; turn off vibrate and audio at 10pm for sweet dreams.” I have this set up to decrease my phone volume at 9am (work) so I don’t annoy my coworkers, increase it again at 6pm, drop the brightness to lowest at 11pm and mute the phone, and reset stuff (including unmute) at 6:44am before my alarm goes off at 6:45am. All completely automatic. For more functionality (but not free), check out apps like Settings Profiles (hey, they have a lite version now, I never knew!) and the big daddy app of this genre, the ever-popular Locale. Ten bucks for the latter is a little steep though.

Android OS Monitor: No self-respecting geek should be without this (or a similar) app. It’s a task monitor like you get on Windows. Provides an animated tray icon showing you how much CPU power is being used, run the app from the windowshade area and you can see a list of all apps, their cpu %usage and more. Has other stuff like network interface info, established TCP/IP connections and some other tech data. Free.

Meebo: I’m not a big IM’er (I use it for work but not really anytime outside of that) but if you are, check out Meebo. The app can either hook you into Yahoo, AIM, ICQ, MSN, Google Talk etc, or else it can link you to your account on the meebo.com website. On their site, create an account and then add in all your other IM accounts, and you can then log into multiple IM systems from one central “middleman” concept. Handy, unless you’re paranoid and think that Johnny Meebo might steal your shizzle. In which case, please sell your Android phone since Johnny Google is far worse..

FBReader: There are two great ebook readers on Android. The most popular is Aldiko which has a fantastic interface and some awesome features, pretty much rivalling the iPhone’s flagship ebook reader app Stanza. But I prefer FBReader. It just loads faster and takes me straight into a book if I’m in the middle of one, rather than jumping to the bookshelf mode and forcing me to reopen the book I’m reading. Both are free; ebooks are typically not (unless you get stuff from Project Gutenberg). A hint –> get the awesome but sluggish Calibre prog for Windows if you’re considering hardcore ebook reading. By which I mean “you intend to read a lot of ebooks in the future”.

Gentle Alarm: My favourite alarm clock app. Set an alarm (like your favourite MP3 – I myself have Visa Röster’s Human Race Subtune 4 as my wake-up alarm of choice) to play a minimum volume, and a duration that should pass before the gradually-increasing volume hits maximum. After the trial, the app can fire your alarm on every day except Wednesday to convince you to buy it. Pfft. I just use my iPod alarm on Wednesdays. *8-) This prog also has a unique “pre-alarm” feature, where it does a tiny beep about 30 mins before the main alarm fires, to kind of gently “nudge you up” from delta to alpha sleep in preparation for wakey wakey time.

Universal Androot: Android OS’s typically come “locked down” by the provider/manufacturer. Meaning that there are certain system-level things that you are not permitted from doing. You need to hack the system and gain “superuser” rights before a new world of functionality opens up for you. Most people don’t need this. If you’re a nerd who just got Android, you need it. Unless you’re a Mac nerd, in which case you’re not a nerd at all and you don’t need it. But I digress. The method of gaining superuser permission on Android is commonly known as “rooting your phone”, a term which may make some Aussies chuckle. *8-) Once rooted you can run programs like Barnacle (a program which shares your phone’s internet via adhoc wifi) and Titanium Backup, which backs up your entire phone to the SD card but for some arcane reason needs root access to do it.

Handcent SMS or ChompSMS: Both of these free apps replace the default text messaging app, and both of them have immense amounts of customizability. They’re really neck-and-neck in terms of which one you’d want to use, but my preference leans toward Handcent – purely because Chomp forces you to use the “bubble conversation” visual style made famous on the iPhone, and I prefer text that isn’t encapsulated in gay crystalline speech bubbles. YMMV.

Supacount: Just a simple countdown app, but you can have multiple timers running simultaneously if you so choose.

And now for the last-but-not-leasts:

Yelp is great for finding local food reviews and “checking in” to restaurants during a visit. Touiteur is the best Twitter client on Android, and has a great widget too (although TweetCaster is really close behind). Better Cut allows you to create shortcuts on your desktop but select your own names for them rather than being stuck with the default app name. Dolphin HD is probably the most popular browser replacement on Android. CacheMate is for rooted phones only and allows you to clean out caches and junk to restore free space periodically. Quick Settings is a great control panel program for fiddling just about every setting on Android. Got To Do is a task/to-do app, which allows you to sync with the hugely popular Toodledo website (you don’t have a free Toodledo account> – GO GET ONE NOW!) and gives you a task list widget to help keep you organized. WidgetLocker allows you to put widgets on your lock screen so, for example, you can see your calendar or to-do list while your phone is still locked (== awesome). Voice Recorder allows you to record your voice – duh! SpringPad is a free note-taking app that syncs your info with the website – have a look at the website and create a free account to see everything it can do before you decide if you’d like the app.

And finally, if you have the cash, you might like to invest in the mighty Tasker. At $6.30, it’s not cheap, but it does everything. Don’t believe me? Check out the tour of the app’s capabilities on its website. After viewing the tour, I guarantee you’ll be pleased you invested in an Android phone.

The End. Comments welcomed. Seacrest out – phew!