Saturday, April 09, 2011

Android Essential Apps

Having received a new Android phone last week, here are a few apps that I consider to be essential. Now this doesn't focus on those apps that actually shipped with the device. On my Samsung Captivate I would consider the following to be essential (and you can see that some are brain-dead choices: Phone, Browser, Contacts, Messaging, Gallery, Camera, Voice Search, Calendar, Maps, Memo, Navigate, Calculator, Market, Voice Recorder, and Email, in no particular order). 

The following are the things that I've downloaded and subsequently found my self using daily. I'll also list a few apps that I've found to be NON-essential, though I expected them to be essential.

Essential Apps
Gmail. You need a gmail account to use the phone anyway. Get the Gmail app and use it. I've previously described how to set up Gmail for use with your Lotus Notes client. This app allows you to easily use it on the Android device as well. Routing your mail through Gmail means that it doesn't matter where you are, or what device you're using, you see the same mail. You could do this through your browser, but the dedicated app is much better.

AWESync, This doesn't run on the Android device... it runs on the PC or notebook on which Lotus Notes is installed, and synchronizes your Lotus Notes Calendar, Contacts,  and Tasks, as well as a Notebook of your choice, with the Google equivalents. The Notebook gets synchronized with Google Docs. Since the Android phone already syncs the Calendar, Contacts and Tasks with your Google account, this has end result of synchronizing your phone with Lotus Notes without additional conduits.

File Expert. According to Geeksoft, this is "the best Android file managing and sharing app". They're right. An Android device is a computer, not a phone. It does, however, have hardware and software support for some phone functions. When using it as a computer (as you do with any app), you should have some control over the file system. Not only that, but you should be able to use some of the prodigious memory (in my case, 32GB SDRAM) as a flash drive in a pinch. So some form of file manager is needed. File Expert stands out because it doesn't limit your file management to the device. This is an FTP server. Why run one on your Android phone? Simple... it's the easiest way to manage files on the device, bar none. It's pretty cramped on that 4" display. With the FTP server active on the Android, I simply use an FTP client (in my case, FileZilla) on my laptop to wirelessly connect to the device and explore and manage the filesystem using the large, convenient laptop display. Or, I can turn on File Expert's web server and browse the filesystem with Firefox or any other browser. In return, I can browse the shared folders on my laptop from the phone. This is simply excellent.

KeePassDroid. KeyPass is one of my essential apps anywhere. It is an encrypted database that not only keeps all of my passwords safe, but automatically generates secure passwords for me. A major security no-no is to use the same password everywhere. KeePass can generate a new password for every account. It's also great for keeping other sensitive data that's just hard to remember: lock combinations, account numbers, etc.

Dropbox. Having KeePass on the desktop and on the Android device is great, but they need to be synchronized. Dropbox does that by maintaining the files on a remote server. Anything placed in the Dropbox folder on a synchronized device gets copied to the server and distributed to your other devices that are linked to the same Dropbox account. Here it is for your PC, as well.

Tricorder by Moonblink. OK, this sounds frivolous, but it's not. It's a little Swiss army knife disguised as a Trekkie toy. Tricorder utilizes the real-world sensors on your Android device to provide GPS coordinates, compass, level, and WiFi signal analyzer. That's several other applications you don't need to download. It also provides a magnetic flux metrics, an acoustic analyzer, and a solar activity report. These aren't so useful, but they sure are cool.

GasBuddy. If you drive, this is essential. GasBuddy will display the gas prices of the stations that are closest to you, allowing you to always select the cheapest product. Simple.

FuelLog. Once you've set up your car, enter the fuel price, amount purchased, and odometer reading each time you fill up the tank. Fuel log will track your car's fuel mileage.

Google Books. Why is an ebook reader "essential"? That's like asking why air is essential. Reading is for your mind what diet and exercise are for your body. This particular reader stands out because of the way it integrates with your other computers. Buying a book or selecting a free one, places it in your "My Books" collection on Google's servers. When you begin reading on the Android device, it's downloaded to the device... you don't have to remain connected to the network, so the reader is still useful even when you're in Flight Mode, with all the radios turned off. HOWEVER, if you are connected then your current progress in the book is saved as you read. Then, if you continue the book on another device --- say, your laptop -- then you simply continue from where you were on the previous device. There is a huge selection of books, and plenty of them are free. Some other stand-outs in this category of app are the Kindle reader, The Nook reader, Adobe Acrobat and CoolReader. I use them all, but then I'm a voracious reader.

OliveOfficePremium. For most office app needs, simply bookmark in your phone's browser. You can read most office docs, and can create spreadsheets and word processor docs. These are stored in your Google account, so they're accessible from any device without sync. However, OliveOffice Premium goes a step beyond. It not only can access and edit the files in your Google Docs account; it can also access the files in your DropBox. This feature promotes it from also-ran to essential.


YouTube. It's not just for talking cat videos... YouTube is now a respected entertainment and information source. However, I don't consider it essential because even with a 4-inch screen (pretty roomy by phone stanadards), the videos aren't terribly legible. In a pinch it will do, but it's better to use a laptop or netbook for viewing.

Doodler. It's nice to have a little drawing app to quickly jot down a visual idea. I used it quite a lot on my PalmOS device. However, it's not nearly so useful on and Android device, despite the larger screen, because someone, somewhere, decided that a stylus was not a good idea. For the record, that person was wrong. It's essential for artists, for handwriting recognition, and for signature capture. The lack of decent stylus support on the Android (and iPhone) is a serious deficiency.
Google Sky Map. Not essential, but wickedly cool, and really the best tool EVER if you're into stargazing. Just hold the phone up to a section of the sky and Sky Map will identify the stars there. It works by leveraging your GPS, compass, and accelerometers to determine what to display. If you're looking for something in particular, the Search feature displays an arrow to direct you where to turn. If you own a telescope, you'll like this a lot.


Anonymous outbound email filtering said...

Android is also working on a more robust email application.

April 28, 2011 at 11:05 PM  

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