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 :).

ADDED BONUS:

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 :).

 

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ANDROID 4.2 CHANGELOG

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.

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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.

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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.

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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 )


DayDreams:

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.

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).