We just upgraded our phones to Android Smart Phones. It’s like having another computer to setup! We finally settled on the apps we like, and life seems easier, especially now that I’m no longer constantly messing with the device.
Last week I was at the world science fiction convention. Instead of my laptop, I only brought the phone. Doing this was an experiment. Would I miss the bigger screen and keyboard? I didn’t! Only having the phone was great. What really impressed me was being able to load, process, and post photos from my big honking DSLR camera on this small device. It was so fast and easy. I’ll post about my photography setup another day.
For now, here are my favorite general apps yet so far:
I now consider this a mandatory keyboard replacement for touch devices. I switched to it right away, while my wife continued to use the default keyboard. After a few weeks I convinced her to try it. Took, oh, about a minute for her to be totally won over. It’s one of those word suggesting keyboards. As you type it tries to guess what word you want and displays it’s best three guesses. Touch the word and it’s inserted with a space. The phone’s default keyboard had this feature as well, but the logic behind the word suggestions is leaps ahead with SwiftKey. It effectively samples and learns your words choices and makes better guesses. I discovered you can also enter words without apostrophes and it’ll suggest it with the apostrophe, thus avoiding that extra step of accessing shifted characters. It also recognizes when you backspace to a word and suggests different forms of the word, like adding “ed” or “ing”. This keyboard makes typing longer text messages on a tiny touch keyboard a reasonable task. Yet so far, I was only caught once by it accidentally inserting the wrong word, and that was because I didn’t realize at first that the best thing to do is always touch a suggested word instead of pressing the space bar, as the space bar inserts the center suggestion, which is not always what you want. After a few days it all started feeling natural, the software had learned my style, and no more wrong word picks. Highly recommended.
This app is also mandatory for me. With my old phone I was always putting it in vibrate mode for meetings or shows, and then forgetting I’d shushed it. It would often vibrate unheard in another room until I remembered to turn the ringer back on. Shush automatically allows quickly and easily setting a time period that the phone should remain in quiet mode. Go into an hour long meeting, set it to one hour. Go to the movies, set it for two hours or so. It’s easy to use, as it automatically pops up the Shush time selection screen whenever you use the volume rocker to set the volume to zero. Highly recommended.
Juice Defender Ultimate
One more mandatory app for me. One problem with smart phones is they can be battery hogs. This app allows setting schedules for power hungry connections and syncing, and setting times of the day to automatically enter a sleeping quiet mode. It helps control screen brightness, and generally just helps make the battery last longer. Work very well, though some apps still can drain the battery in less than a day if you spend way too many hours with your eyes glued to the screen. It also handles automatically switching to your regularly used Wi-Fi connections based on learned GPS locations, thus avoiding overuse of the 4G or 3G data links without constantly having to choose a Wi-Fi connection. Highly recommended.
ES File Explorer
I’m a computer guy. I like full access and control of my system drives. This file explorer gives me that. It makes it easy to open, copy, move, and rename files between various storage locations. It gives me fast access to the main drive, the external card, plugged-in devices, LAN drives (like my networked Synology Raid), FTP servers, etc.. A Favorites feature makes it easy to jump to often used folders. I can now easily use the phone to manage files without having to connect the phone to a computer first.
Evernote is an easy to use list and note taker that keeps notes, photos, recorded notes, and attachments in cloud storage. It’s interface is good because it’s made for small screens and allows easy sharing. There are also lots of plug-ins available for browsers. Good way to maintain notes and to-do lists.
This is the calender program I settled on. The main reason I chose it was how well it synced multiple Google Calenders. It allows me to quickly toggle which of many calenders are shown on the phones calender, both those you can modify and those you can’t. This allows me to sync my wife’s schedule, my daughter’s schedule (my wife and I both maintain this one together), and my schedule, along with overlaying a holiday calender, 5 day weather calender, and birthday/events calender. With a single press I can toggle between just my schedule and everyone’s schedule together. It’s not as graphically pretty as some calender apps, but I actually like that because it uses every pixel for data, and that gives you more detail when looking at a month calender on a small phone screen. Now that we have a single calender with everyone’s schedules on it there should be fewer surprises, like those late school meetings my wife would forget to tell me about.
I’ve been using personal email servers for a long time and have multiple e-mail addresses. I also like to download all my e-mails for searching and archiving rather than trusting them on a cloud service like Gmail. So, while my wife just uses the built-in GMail client, I decided on MailDroid. It just works more like a good old mail client. It also allows archiving e-mails into your own folders, and flagging emails, including as spam. The feature that probably won me over was how it handled advanced email viewing: it automatically downloads only the text, but turn the phone to landscape and press one icon and it displays the email full screen with all graphics and formatting. Makes for very easy reading on a phone. This is not a program I think everyone will love. GMail users will likely want to stick to the GMail client, and others may prefer a simpler programs with a prettier interface, but it does what I need very well.
MX Player Pro
Plays back many video file formats and includes multiprocessor support. Just a good video player.
Find Me Gluten Free
A program to find restaurants that can handle gluten-free diets. Easier to use than the Yelp interface.
Out of Milk
My wife and I use this to update the grocery list. We maintain one list and update it whenever we think of something that should be added. You can cross items off with a swipe as you pick them up, and it includes a barcode scanner. A simple one purpose tool without being overly complex.
These are a set of tools including a Flashlight, Compass, Level, Ruler, Protractor, Sound Meter, Vibrometer, Distance Measuring Tool.
A remote control program for Windows, which I can use to control the computer connected to our TV. Includes additional menus for media playback and web browsing. Gives me some access to the living room’s media computer when the mini-wireless keyboard is missing.
MDScan & CamCard
MDScan is an easy way to take photos of documents and have them stored as a single PDF file. It does a good job of very quickly straightening and cleaning up pages to make them readable. CamCard is a similar program except specifically for business cards. I like these, but the phone is too new to tell how often I’ll ultimately use them.
And here are some more apps now on the phone:
- Amazon Kindle
- Amazon Mobile (for buying stuff or price lookups)
- Dolphin Browser (a better phone browser than the default)
- EJay (LiveJournal App, for checking the blogs of the last holdouts)
- Google Maps
- Google Sky Map
- Google Voice (we mostly use it for free texting when needed)
- QR Droid & RedLaser
- Skype (works very well on my phone, but a data and power hog)
- TuneIn Radio Pro