Most Useful Android Apps

This is my review of some of my favourite Android apps. This list also includes many apps which are exclusive to Android and should be tried by people who have recently switched to Android from iPhones.

My Personal List of Must Haves:

Tasker (Complete Phone Automation): This is not a free app. But if there is one app which I would ask every Android user to buy, then that would be Tasker. The number of things you can do with Tasker is perhaps only limited by your imagination. Here are some of the things I use Tasker for and this is only a subset of what Tasker can do:

  • Make my phone go Silent whenever I connect to my University WiFi. It becomes normal when I come out of the WiFi range. (Need not even be connected to the WiFi). You could also have it location based and in that case Tasker would use your GPS signal.
  • Switch off Autorotate, Dim the Display and Reduce Ringer volume in the night: The autorotate off in the night is useful when using the phone lying in bed and the Dim Display and the reduced Ringer and notification volume makes sure I don’t get irritated if someone does call.
  • Send Automatic Text Message to specified number when you reach work (or any place you like): I used to use it when I used to work to let my parents know that I have reached safely.
  • Send Automatic Text Message when you leave a place: You could use it to let your parents or your roommate know that you have started from work and would be home soon.
  • Switch Off Display going to sleep when a particular app is open: Suppose you are reading a novel or navigating around using the map on your phone, you wouldn’t want to keep touching the phone constantly just to keep the screen awake. Tasker can help you out there.
  • Switch Off Mobile Data, WiFi, Reduce Screen Brightness when Battery level goes below a set percentage level: Saves battery and makes sure your phone doesn’t die on you unexpectedly.
  • Tons of other uses such as setting your Calendar entry, Setting alarm when something happens, Run scripts based on some trigger, Call a particular number when something happens and more.

PushBullet: Another of my must have apps. Especially for people who are generally sitting in front of a computer and often forget checking their phones (I am one of them). This app sends all your phone notifications to your computer with the help of a chrome extension. So anytime you get a Call, Text Message, Ping on IM or anything it shows up on your computer as well for a brief time and then fades away. I was a bit skeptical about how useful it would be but once I started using it, it has become one of my must have apps and I have the pushbullet extension installed on all my computers.

Pushover: Another pushy app :P. Again this is not a free app but very useful if you use IFTTT (Another service I very highly recommend). If you use IFTTT then you can use Pushover to get the IFTTT notifications instead of getting them on your email or as a text message which I find mighty useful. But this app leans more towards the side of the geeky and might not be for all.

And following are some of the apps which I would recommend though they are not must-haves like the top 3:

File Managers: One of the things which separates Android from iPhones is that Android implements a proper file system. So you can see the directory structure, you can change system files and browse files just like how you would browse them on a windows explorer. To do this one of my favourite File Manager is called ES File Manager.  You can also send files and images directly from the file manager and I believe this is not possible in the iPhone.

Live Wallpapers: Though purely aesthetic, this is also a neat feature of Android. The ability to have moving wallpapers or wallpapers which change regularly. And many of them look really pretty. One of my favourite Live wallpaper is called PaperLand.  And if you are a fan of the pictures of 500px and you would like them as your phone wallpaper then you should try out 500 Firepaper. I generally use of these 2 live wallpapers if I am not using any of my own pictures as my wallpaper.

Custom Keyboards: Another one of Android’s unique and very useful features is the ability to use any keyboard you like. You are not stuck with the keyboard which comes as default and some of the third party ones are really good. My favourite third party keyboards are: Swype and Swiftkey.

LED Control: If your phone has an LED you can adjust the color of the LED for particular apps. To do this you can try LightFlow Lite. I personally don’t use it because the custom ROM which I use (CM11) supports custom LED lights natively.

Alarm Clock Apps: Though the stock alarm clock app works fine, there are some other Alarm clock apps on Android worth trying. You could try Alarm Clock Xtreme in which you can disable the option to snooze and you can set it to make you solve a Math problem to turn off the alarm. By the time you figure out the problem, you would be wide awake. My current favourite is Warmly which has a beautiful set of alarm tones based on the early morning noises (think omelette cooking on the stove or the sound of morning radio or the soft meowing of your cat next to your bed or 6 other awesome tones like this) which increases very gradually and you wake up fresh instead of getting irritated because of the alarm. Another really pretty alarm clock app is Timely which was recently acquired by Google.

Brightness Controls: Another useful feature which is overlooked by many. It is scientifically proven that reddish light is the least disruptive of sleep and blue is the most. So you can set your android phone to automatically get a reddish tinge when it is night and it becomes normal during the day time. The apps which do this are: Twilight and Lux. They are similar to f.lux for windows which is also recommended to all :).


One awesome added Bonus of using Android: You can play Ingress! This is a virtual reality game developed by Google where you roam around your neighbourhood capturing portals from the opposing faction :).



CM10.1 Stable has been Released

CyanogenMod remains my favorite ROM inspite of various other really popular ROMs such as AOKP and Paranoid Android coming up. And recently CM team declared that their latest ROM can be considered stable for everyday use. (As per me it was already stable for quite some time). So go ahead and check out the CM10.1 download page to see if your device is in the list of devices for which the stable ROM is available. Most of the popular devices such as HTC One X, Samsung Galaxy S III and the Sony Xperia Z are already on the list.

About CM10.1: It is a one of the most popular custom ROMs which acts as the base for various ROMs such as AOKP. It is based on Android 4.2.2.


As many of you know, Google recently announced Android 4.2 which is an updated version of Jellybean with some extra features. Today I flashed CM10.1 on my Galaxy S2 to try out Android 4.2 :).

These are the changes I noticed in 4.2 when compared to 4.1:

Quick Menu:

The first thing you notice in the small icon on the top right corner when you pull down the notification drawer. Clicking this takes you to the quick menu where you get some of the often used shortcuts. I believe this can be further customized though I am yet to try it. You can also access the quick menu directly by sliding down the notification drawer with 2 fingers. A pretty neat touch.


Lockscreen Widgets:

Another thing which is immediately noticeable is the lockscreen widget option. When you unlock the device the edges of the screen glow. And if you slide from one edge to the middle, you get a different lockscreen similar to changing the homescreens and you can have your message, or your gmail inbox or Google+ posts or the calendar entries on your lockscreen. I do not know what other widgets are available. I am still installing all the apps.


Completely New Camera Interface:

The new camera interface in JB is so awesome and intuitive that now it makes me wonder why no one ever thought about it earlier on a touchscreen device. Changing all the settings is so easy and fast. And it looks very cool too :). A screenshot of me taking a photo of the monitor at home. These controls come magically around the point where you touch the screen and you can slide into one of the settings for further options.


Swyping support on the Default Keyboard:

Though this feature is available on most of the Android phones by installing Swype Keyboard or SlideIt Keyboard or other custom keyboards, it is good to know that it is now supported natively in the default keyboard. And it does not affect touch typing for people who prefer touch typing over swiping. (Though I prefer swiping )


Android version of Screensavers which you can set to turn on when you device is charging or on a dock. I personally din find it much useful except for the clock screensaver. But the clock daydream in CM10.1 is slightly buggy. So I switched it off.

Much Better Clock App:

The Clock App in 4.2 is much better then the clock on 4.1. It is minimalistic in design and much more functional with world timings and other options.

Best Features of Jelly Bean

ImageUpdate to our favourite OS is here and I updated my phone today. There are a handful of awesome new features in JB. As soon as you boot, what you notice immediately is the new found fluidity in the operations and the new animations. This is the first time that I am actually noticing animations in Android. And the animations are nice. I just hope HTC Samsung etc don’t go ahead and again spoil all this. Then without further ado I’ll go tell you the other nice changes that I observed:

  • Super High Res contact images! I know its not important for some but I love it. Though only the contact who have G+ profiles have high res images till now. I would have to play around a bit.
  • The best change: Notification system. Maybe the strongest point in Android has been made even stronger. The new notification system alone makes JB awesome. You can see your whole text msgs in Notifications. Your email. You can respond to them from the notification drag down itself. You would rarely have to unlock your screen with JB! 😛
  • Google Now. Another innovative feature from Google. Yet to use it fully. Had already got it when I was using ICS with the instructions from XDA. It does faithfully show me the traffic exactly when I am about to go to work with the directions. Same when returning. Also shows the weather. Din get any more cards besides that. But according to Google it will improve with usage. Let us see.
  • Widgets move around and re-size automatically. Not a big one. But still cool. You should try this out.

Everything on the whole feels smoother and faster now. As smooth as butter! That is why Google has named it Project Butter. I’ll update the post when I find more interesting stuff.

Easiest Way to Root your S2!

If you have been using your Android phone for quite sometime, you would have definitely heard of rooting being mentioned somewhere.If you want to know actually about what is rooting and what are its advantages, you can read my post “Android Rooted“.

So now you know all about rooting and can’t wait to get your Galaxy S2 rooted. I’ll tell you the easiest way to root your phone. But before you do that I want to warn you about few things:

  • This method is only for a device running stock ROM. That is if you have never rooted your phone before.
  • Rooting might void your warranty (You can unroot it and install stock ROM back and make it appear like it was never rooted but that is little advanced)
  • Be sure to keep more than 60% charge on your device and all your Samsung drivers before you root your phone.

Rooting (Step by Step)

  • To root your phone you need a software called Odin. You can download Odin by clicking here -> Download.
  • Check your kernel version by going to Settings->About Phone and get the correct CF Root file for your kernel from thisthread on XDA.
  • Unzip the which you downloaded for your kernel and you should get a .tar file.
  • Make sure Kies is not running.
  • Disconnect your phone from your computer and start Odin. It will look like this. (The box becomes yellow after you connect phone)
  • Click PDA button and select the .tar file you just got.
  • Put your phone in Download mode (By switching it off and then holding Volume Down + Menu + Power button).
  • Connect your phone to your computer.
  • Click the start button when you see the box yellow as in the screenshot above.
  • Wait for phone to Reboot.
  • Voila! You have root.

What has changed in your phone:

  • You got root. 😛
  • An application called Superuser would have been installed which is used to grant root permission to other apps.
  • Clockwork Recovery Mod has been installed replacing your normal Recovery. To access CWM, switch off you phone and then hold Volume Up + Menu + Power Button. Using CWM you can flash any other custom ROM or kernel or CWM flashable app you want. Use Volume up and down keys to navigate in CWM and Power button to select.

I hope this post helped. Users of other Android phones can also use similar steps to root their phone. But you would have to find the CF kernel for that yourself. Or there are other ways about which I’ll write about later. Also I would like to thank Chainfire who has developed the CF kernel.

CM9 for Galaxy S2

Finally the official ICS for Galaxy S2 is out and there is very slight difference from the leaked ROMs which were available from Jan. The same boring Touchwiz for a launcher. Though this is actually a minor annoyance. Nova and Apex are available in the market now and they are brilliant launcher replacements for Android 4.0. BUT what actually is the biggest deal breaker for me are the other changes, the default apps, and lockscreen. The People App, The Dialer, even the Gmail App have been  spoiled by Samsung.

Stock ICS vs Sammy's Touchwiz

The lockscreen is a joke compared to the ICS lockscreen. Infact the older one for GB with the sliding lockscreen image was better. And when you get a call there is no slider to answer the call, its just an icon which you have to move to answer the call something similar to the lockscreen which is blasphemy for me after seeing how beautifully its implemented in ICS.

I decided that the solution to all this was to go to AOSP Rom. AOSP stands for Android Open Source Project which is roughly the stock Android in all its glory with no crapware. And the most popular AOSP ROM out there is Cyanogenmod and there is a reason for the popularity. At the moment the CM ICS ROM for S2 is a nightly which means it is still under development. But trust me I have been using it for a month now and as long as you follow the instructions you will not get any problems whatsoever. I have tried many custom ROMs based on Sammy’s android. I dunno how the developers call their ROMs stable. The custom ROMs were buggy with many freezes and force closes(called FCs). CM9 I have had a freeze once, just once when using the CM Music player (a delight of a player compared to Sammy’s default player). I restarted the phone and haven’t had a problem since. And mind you, that was an older nightly. The current nightlies must be even better.

But I want to warn you before you jump over to CM9! There are few issues which were never a big deal for me but it maybe a big deal for you.

Known Issues:

1. The Video recording has been fixed 🙂

2. The FM Radio does not work. A pretty minor annoyance and according to the developer they are not bothered about it. Which means it might never work. Realistically most of us like our FM Radio being there but never really use it. So I don’t think its a big deal. And we have podcasts and streaming radios which work perfectly. And you can use an App called TuneIn Radio Pro which has many local radio stations which you can listen to. I have a pretty good data plan so streaming music is more then enough for me when I am bored with the 5gb of music already stored on my phone.

3. The MTP to transfer data through the data cable does not work. It might seem a big deal but it really is a very minor annoyance if you have a wifi network nearby to which both your computer and phone should be connected. If you do, use Airdroid or something similar to transfer files to and from the phone. And I like this method so much more now that I doubt I would use the cable to transfer data even when it starts working. BUT this might be a big issue if you do not have a wifi network nearby.The MTP issue has been resolved 🙂

4. The facebook sync has been broken in the latest nightlies. There is a solution to it using HaxSync from the Play Store which actually gives you a little more syncing options. But it is a paid app though pretty cheap.

Issues reported by some users and not experienced by all:

  • Wifi issues reported by some. I do not have a proper idea about it because none of the people I know have experienced it.

How to Install:

Now if you are OK with the issues and want to experience true ICS awesomeness read the first post in here for detailed instructions on how to get CM9. I would just dumb it down a bit for you.

  • Root your phone and get a working Clockwork Recovery.
  • Download the latest CM9 build and the Gapps for CM9 from the link in the XDA Post.
  • Copy both the zips to your phone memory.
  • Reboot your phone into recovery by shutting down and when the phone is starting holding the Volume Up + Power + Menu button.
  • <Optional> Do a Nandroid Backup if this is your first time experimenting (A good choice even otherwise).
  • Flash update-cm-9-2012*.zip (The latest build which you downloaded)
  • Flash Gapps.
  • Do a Data Wipe/Factory Reset.
  • Reboot and Enjoy AOSP ICS 😀

Awesomeness of CM9:

Even though CM9 is still in development it already has some pretty cool features apart from the fact that it gives you a pure untainted Android experience without any crapware. But before that maybe we could see the benefits of having AOSP Android as against stock:

  • The default theme, UI, Launcher everything looks so much prettier.
  • Default ICS lockscreen is awesome when compared to the joke by Samsung.
  • You get proper re-sizable widgets.
  • Fullscreen caller images when making and receiving calls.
  • .
  • The Dialer and People App look much better and the swipe left right switches Tabs instead of Calling or Messaging as  in Samsung’s ROM. Some might not like this but for me its much better then reaching out to the top of the screen to switch tabs. The Tabs are also better organised.
  • The ICS Clock App is a fully functional Bedside clock replacement with different color schemes to suite your taste.
  • The Calendar and the Calculator apps also have been improved.
  • The signal bar changes colors to indicate the status of whether your phone is synced with Google or not. Grey – Not Synced, Blue – Synced.
  • You don’t see time in the Status Bar when the screen is locked as the time is already displayed on the lockscreen. As soon as you unlock it the time is there on the status bar. Very subtle and thoughtful.
  • CRT Off effect when you lock your phone. Eye Candy but pretty neat! 🙂

What CM9 Adds to AOSP:

  • The CM Music Player: Functional and the Album Art at the background is a nice touch. Nice player compared to the Stock or Sammy’s Music player though it needs little work and it is a work in progress.
  • The Battery Percentage at the indicator.
  • DSP Manager
  • Profiles – Something similar to old Nokia phones. A pretty neat feature where you can set predefined sound settings for different situations like Work, Home etc and change them easily.
  • Awesome Default Ringtone! 😀
  • Custom CPU Governers
  • Running Android 4.0.4 even before many Nexus devices!

These are some of the things I could think of. There are plenty of other features on the way! And the ROM is very fast, stable with no FC or restarts till now unlike the other Custom ROMS based on Sammy’s Android. Give it a try and it will be really really hard for you to go back to Sammy’s ROM even if you miss the video recording.

Android Rooted!

Recently I rooted my Galaxy S2, after lot of thought mind you. But it turns out that rooting is one of the simplest things you can do with your phone to get lot of control on it. There are complicated methods of rooting but there are some damn simple ones as well! I’ll try to explain from the start so that those of you who are considering rooting will understand the process completely.

What is meant by Rooting and Android Phone?

Those of you with a computer background and who have used Linux will know what is a root user. In windows terms, root user is the administrator of the system who has the privileges to make any changes to the system. And this is exactly what Rooting does to an Android phone. It gives you Administrator privileges with which you can even change the system settings and remove stuff which were there by default in the phone. But be warned, “With great power, comes great responsibility!”. You have to be careful once you root the phone as now you have the power to mess up the whole device and even brick it. (Bricking means messing up with some critical stuff which makes your phone unbootable and it becomes similar to a brick which does nothing). If you do not know what you are doing, better don’t do it. Rooting also voids the warranty of your phone.

<Slightly advanced stuff. Beginners can safely ignore> But not always, if you are lucky. Because if you had just rooted your phone and you did not change the recovery, then you can easily flash a stock ROM, which removes root and makes your phone almost new and your warranty will hold. Except for the kernel counter (Even this can be reset with a USB Jig).

Advantages of Rooting (For Non Geeks):

  • You can remove all the bloatware which comes preinstalled with your phone which you cannot normally uninstall. For each application, make sure that removing it will not harm the system.
  • You can use Wireless Tether.
  • You can use Titanium Backup which is a really awesome app. With it you can do a full backup of all your data, system files, application data, schedule backups. Lots of stuff. Definite must have if you root your phone.
  • There are many Free Apps for Android which display Ads for being free. Sometimes its unobtrusive but sometimes it really spoils the user experience. The solution: AdFree. Its an App which blocks all the Ads at the system level and makes the free applications much more usable.

Advantages of Rooting (For People willing to experiment more):

  • Custom ROMS – Change everything about your phone. And by everything I actually mean it! If you like changing themes to make your phone feel different you should check out custom ROMS :). And there are some brilliant ROMs, some based on AOSP* Android like Cyanogenmod (My fav), Miui, and many other ROMS.
  • Custom Kernel: ROM can be thought of the part of Android the user actually interacts with, the User Interface and the Apps part. Kernel on the other hand is the base of the ROM which acts as the connect between the UI and the Hardware. So with a custom Kernel you can fine tune the hardware performance of your phone and even add new features(No UI changes). For example my Galaxy S2 does not have a notification LED. But with a custom Kernel I can make the Backlight of the Menu and Back buttons blink when I get any notification.
  • Complete Automation of you Phone – Using the awesome Tasker. Yes, Tasker runs even on Non Rooted phones but its full potential is unlocked only by rooting your phone which gives Tasker so much more power.
  • Controlling the Speed and Behavior of you Phone: This using SetCPU through which you can actually control the processor speed of your phone to control the phones performance and with that you can improve the battery life.
  • Encrypt all Internet Traffic on your phone: Using an app called SSH Tunnel you can encrypt all network traffic from your phone giving you some safety when using public Wifi hotspots. According to me this is a must-have for everyone not just for Geeks.

Guide to root your phone coming up very soon. Do check out the forum on for almost all info about your phone. And also check out this page on the brilliant Lifehacker.

Task Killers for Android and why you should not use them!

Recently I was talking to a friend who was complaining about his phone restarting often. And then he himself found out the problem which was the task killer in his phone. And I was surprised to hear that he even used Task Killers. On a Galaxy S2! What most ppl do not know is Task Killers are bad for Android!


How Android Works

In Android, when you close an App it does not get closed completely. It stays in the memory and goes to the background but it does not use up any process or any resources unless its doing something at the background. So having an App in the memory is never a bad thing and the Android system is designed to have it like this so that the app can be restarted again whenever needed. When you do run low on memory, the system uses a smart algorithm based on how often an App is used and when it was used the last time, to decide on which app to terminate to free up some RAM. And Android does it very well because it is designed to work best when most of the RAM is being used.  On Android, having your RAM nearly full is a good thing which most users do not understand. The main performance and battery issues are caused because of CPU bottleneck which no Task Killer Monitors.


What Task Killers Do

Task Killer convince you that the bad battery life and poor performance are because of the low free RAM on your Android phone. So they insist on closing as many Applications as possible. In Android having an application in memory takes up considerably less resources than having to stop and restart the application over and over again. And this is exactly what is done by task killers. Closing some background applications might even lead to instability and every time an app has to restart it takes up a lot of CPU resource slowing down your phone.


What You Should Do

So do yourself a favor and uninstall the Task Killer from your phone. If you do have bloatware which you do not want running, I suggest rooting your phone. And use an application like Watchdog to monitor the CPU usage of all the apps. You really need not worry about the RAM on Android (at least not in Froyo, Gingerbread and Higher).

Android 2.3.6 Changelog

Yesterday, I flashed the latest official 2.3.6 firmware for my Galaxy S II using Odin. And I am more than happy with it. Here are the changes which I observed:


  • When you scroll down or up a list, the list does not bounce when you reach the end like it used to earlier. Instead the list just stops and you get a blue flash at the corner. Does not improve anything but one of the first changes I noticed.
  • One of the more welcome changes was the change in font. The system wide text has become bolder! I did not see this mentioned in any of the other changelogs and its a very subtle change, but its definitely there.
  • The preinstalled Swype keyboard has been updated. Another welcome change. Though it is not the latest Swype with dragon dictation and prediction it is still an improvement over the old which I was getting really bored with.
  • Another welcome change, Battery Life. The standby battery life to be exact has been improved considerably. You will notice this change in your first day of update. Very pleased :).
  • Stock Music Player: Better default album arts for songs where you do not have album arts. These ones look much better then the old ones. Also when increase the volume above 12 points it gives you a warning message that listening to music in high volume may damage your ears (and it comes only when you have headsets connected! ^_^ )
  • Shutter Animation in the Camera app when you click photos.
  • Videos now play even in Portrait mode.
  • When you change the tabs in the stock browser there is a nice animation now.
  • The New Message button in the Messaging app has been made wider and easier to hit.
  • And everything in general feels more smooth and snappier around the OS.