So after about two weeks of fooling around with our Android-based phones, I have to admit these little things are pretty slick… but you probably already knew that, and I am not really here to write about the phone today. Instead, we are going to talk about apps, because if there is one thing I love, it is modularity. Oh, and the best part of all these apps? Yeah, they are free.
Do not leave home without…
AppBrain – Think of it as the better, faster, stronger version of the Android Market. Not only does it allow you to browse apps on your phone, but you can also synchronize your account with the webpage, and browse, install, uninstall, and otherwise manage applications from there. Additionally, it has a pretty comprehensive review database, and offers relatively intelligent recommendations if you are running out of bright, new, shiny things to try.
Fast Web Installer – Well, this program was great until Google dorked it up with Market 2.12. However, before that particular version, this little app worked with AppBrain to streamline the whole “find a program on the AppBrain webpage, and install it on your phone” process. Now, I am not really sure what it does…
JuiceDefender – One of the costs of having an always-connected-in-every-way phone is that it will drain its battery like it has a short circuit, and the Incredible is not known for having a particularly large battery to begin with. In its free form, this app effectively disables your phone’s data connection if its screen is off, if you are not using it very much, and if its battery is really low. It will, however, allow for programs to “phone home” once every certain amount of time… and, really, how connected do you need to be? Anecdotally, battery life has been significantly improved on both our phones, though the level of control is not terribly significant until you pay-to-play. Regardless, I still manage to annihilate my battery in a day’s use…
Lookout Mobile Security – Your phone is now a portable computer, and, like all computers, people can do evil things with it. Lookout claims to monitor your phone for malware, spyware, and other virus-like software; backup your contacts (though that is somewhat superfluous if you synch with GMail); and find your phone if you lose it (assuming someone turns it on…) – I have no real way of knowing whether or not it works, but it probably does not hurt. If you send them some money, you can also remotely lock or wipe your phone, shoudl it fall into someone else’s hands.
WeatherBug – Simply put, this program beats the pants off the Weather Channel, HTC Sense, and every other company’s weather program I have tested. It updates quickly, it can adjust its data based off your physical location without any input from you (assuming you let it), its widget shows actually useful information, it can keep track of weather alerts, it even gives you live-ish pictures from local weather-related webcams – this is pretty much the next best thing to having a weather sensor station strapped to your back.
Skyfire – The onboard Android internet web-browser works just fine, but if you want to view the internet like it was meant to be seen, just on a really tiny screen, this is pretty much the app for you. Flash is supported, pinch-to-zoom works (assuming Android 2.0 or better), and you can still send “mobile device” headers to webpages if you really want to.
Google Maps – Your phone should have come with this, but if it did not, you need to get it. Free, voice-guided GPS, finding points of interest around you and examining their reviews and recommendations, checking traffic, getting street- and “satellite”-level views, and all of the other functionalities of Google Maps are available to you at your fingertips. It can be a little slow to download all of its information, and its accuracy is only as good as you let it, or it can get a fix (and your phone is not a GPS device), but it beats the pants off a fold-up map and a phonebook.
GasBuddy – This webpage has been around for… well… a while now, but their mobile app takes the crowdsourcing concept to the next level – not only can you update gas station prices while you are actually at the pump (which saves you from having to note down the prices and punch them in later), but your passengers can also search for the cheapest gas while you are scooting down the highway. Of course, the information is only as good as what people update it with, so doing your part helps (and supposedly you can win free gas for inputting prices, but given the number of ways that system could be abused, do not go holding your breath).
Google Shopper – Show it the cover art, barcode, or text of damned near any book, DVD, CD, piece of software, or any other major, easily-identifiable product, and it will hop on the cortex and point you at all of the relevant information concerning it, including prices at other retailers. Now you can check, at the store, whether that [insert item here] is actually a good deal, or if they are just marking it down from an absurdly high initial price.
Advanced Task Killer (Froyo) – The “Froyo” part is only necessary if you actually have Android 2.2… At any rate, some folks find this program useful, some do not – I fall in the former camp, if only because Android seems to have an annoying tendency of allowing programs I have never used to randomly start and do stuff in the background. A lot of this is due to their automatic updates, which I have done my best to turn off, and a lot of this is due to Verizon not permitting me to uninstall as many things as I might like, which can be remedied by rooting (if I ever sum up the nerve to do so), but ATK is a good interim solution. If nothing else, in addition to hogging memory, those programs are costing you battery time.
Congress – Learn who your congresscritters are (for those of you who do not know already) based off your GPS location, scan their bios, track bills, check the schedule, see how votes fell out, and even read your politicians’ tweets, all from your phone. For anyone who wants to keep abreast of the political happenings in our country, in as damned close to real-time as you can get without planting your arse in front of C-SPAN 24 hours a day, this will probably keep you happy. For the rest of us, it is another layer of accounting on our duly-elected representatives.
FoxyRing – So this one is interesting… you set the minimum and maximum volumes you would like the program to use, and once every user-settable period of time, the program wakes up, takes a sound sample of the ambient noise of the room you are in, and adjusts the ringer accordingly, ensuring that your ZOMGLOUD “Oops I did it again” does not go off at the library, or that you cannot hear your mom calling while you are at the bar. Better yet, you can have the program shut the phone up entirely for one period a day – like, say, when you are sleeping.
WordPress – Ok, this one only matters if you have a WordPress-powered weblog, but if you do, get it… at least if you want to be able to manage comments, publish posts, and otherwise keep track of your weblog wherever you are.
United States Constitution – Do I really need to explain this one (aside from pointing out that it not only includes the Constitution, but also imoprtant pieces of history regarding that document, the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Gettysburg Address, and a fair number of other important American documents)?
You might find a use for…
Reader – Pulse is prettier, but this is the official Google Reader app, and therefore synchronizes with your web-based version of that program, and offers all of the same functionalities. Given I use Google Reader exclusively, this is a win for me.
Amazon.com – Amazon, optimized for your phone. The only reason it is down here is because Shopper can search for products you have in front of you a little better, and because browsing Amazon on a tiny screen is a pain, even with their made-for-tiny-screens program.
Google Goggles – Take a picture of something, and it will do its absolute best to return a Google result for you, up to and including translating some languages. It is not perfect, and it does not work on everything, but it shows how crazy mobile devices can be these days.
Barcode Scanner – In the category of “do one thing and do it well”, this app is probably at the top. It takes “standard”/one-dimensional/UPC-style bar codes, and those crazy, pixellated, two-dimensional QRcodes (like my current avatar), and turns them into useful information – either a Google search on the product in question, or a human-readable translation of what the QRcode wants your phone to do.
Tokaplot – I firmly believe there is no such thing as too much information – the key is just presenting it in a reasonable fashion. Tokaplot can display two separate tracks of any of 9 different sensor data readings on your home screen, allowing you to track, say, battery percentage and free memroy (like I do) with a glance… yeah, that little battery icon in the taskbar does the same thing, but I like a little more resolution in my metrics.
FlightView – Frequent flyers should go use TripIt (because, frankly, it is awesome), but the rest of us just want to know our fligth is on time, what gate it is arriving at, and how far we need to run to get to the next one – this app accomplishes all of that, and does so pretty simply.
Package Buddy or Parcels – Even after using both to track a bevy of packages, I honestly have no idea which is better, but, in the end, they both do the same thing – take tracking numbers from an amazing number of shipping services, and keep an eye on your packages for you. You can have them update their checking as often as you like, show you a map of your box’s progress across the world, and even take you to the shipper’s webpage if you do not believe your app. OCD types and Crufflers may now rejoice.
Astro File Manager – Want to know what Android’s insides look like? This can show you… but do not expect it to be pretty. It can also SFTP, zip things up, and most other things you would expect a file explorer to be capable of doing, including search for files, which is way more necessary than it should be.
Mileage – Think of it as the your-car-centric version of GasBuddy, and my only gripe is that those two programs cannot interface. Basically, feed it what the gas price was at the station, how much you put in the car, and your odometer reading, and it will start tracking relevant statistics for your car, which can then be exported as CSV or SQL. For those of us who have been doing this for years with pen and paper, this might be an improvement.
Wifi Analyzer – Shows the strengths, channels, and other pertinent information of the wifi networks your phone can pick up, which might help you diagnose why yours is not working so well.
Ulysse Gizmos – Compass, speedometer, GPS satellite fix displayer, bubble level, clinometer, magnometer, waypoint tracker, and more, all rolled up into one program. Aside from being a battery hog, and my needing to fix the Incredible’s magnetic sensor, this thing is pretty cool.
Zillow – After having spent the better part of two years househunting, I can tell you just how useful Zillow is. This app puts the full power of that particular webpage in your pocket, and the ability to drive up to a for-sale sign and pull up all of the pertinent information about a house, right there, on the spot, is an appealing thing indeed.
Google Skymap – Never again have to guess what constellation you are gazing at… not only can this little app name them for you, but it also displays the sky like you would see it, based on where you are pointing your phone (assuming your hardware can support that functionality).
Camera 360, FxCamera, and/or Retro Camera – On-phone postprocessing options are available, but somewhat limited for mobile phones, so the other alternative is just taking the pictures with all of the various special effects you might want – these three programs give you that ability. With Lomo, Holga, Polaroid, Diana, toy cameras, Hipstamatic, black-and-white, fisheye, Warhol, and even tilt-shifting functionalities available to you, odds are you can make up for the occasionally questionable quality of phone cameras by making it look like it was supposed to be that way.
USAA Mobile – If you have an account at USAA, you should probably get this app, especially since the bank won an award for being “the first bank in the nation to offer remote deposit capability with the release of the Deposit@Mobile® application last August, 2009″.
You might be entertained by…
Angry Birds – Really, just get it. There is no good way to explain it without you concluding I am insane, so download it, play it, and see how it goes. And if you like it, get the holiday version, too.
Spaghetti Marshmallows – It is probably just as well that, as a child, I never learned about the structural engineering functionalities that simple dried starch and air-blown sugar have… but I can now enjoy most of the fun with none of the mess.
Tower Raiders – A relatively simplistic take on the tower-defense games that used to take the internet by storm, but one that can definitely suck up your spare time if you are not careful.
Star Traders RPG – Games like this have existed under many names (such as “Trade Wars”, and even “Drug Wars”, if you look outside of the scifi genre), and on pretty much every mobile platform known to mankind, and this appears to be the concept’s beachhead on Android… but it does have some rough spots (most notably the inability to see what other planets are buying/selling goods at, or even see what you paid for your goods when selling them). Still, just about every app on the market is a work in progress, so we will see where it goes.
Flight Director – This style of games must be an outgrowth of increasingly-accurate touchscreens, but the basic premise is to draw the paths you want incoming planes to take in order to land them safely… and, oh, by the way, all planes fly at the same altitude, and can, and will, run into one another if you draw appropriately-intersecting paths.
Cargo! – Pretty much the core purpose of ISyE in game form… you have a factory comprised of various workstations, you have incoming product, you have workers, and you have a demand for outgoing product – your job is to maximize the output in the minimum amount of time. It is rather entertaining and more than a little challenging, but it is unfortunately hampered by having very small things you must be able to click on and manage. In other news, if the author were not Hungarian, I would have sworn I saw something exactly like this as a programming language demonstration at Tech…
Atomic Bomber – Droppin’ warheads on Soviet foreheads. Where can you go wrong?
Magic TG Tracker – Keep track of your, and your opponent’s, life, poison counters, mana, and tournament stats, all from your phone. Y’know… if paper gets too hard.
Android really needs…
– A way to see, monitor, and individually control updates from all apps in one central place. Sure, there is the “Accounts & Sync” settings area, but that can only address whether or not programs can update from the internet or not in total, and only gives granular control over specific, limited programs (generally those that came with the phone). I am looking for a way to control the update settings (on/off, frequency, notification type, etc.) for all apps installed on the phone, all in one place, and that does not appear to exist – let me know if I am wrong.
– A Brownells app. Duh.
– A shot timer. There was at least on on the Android Market once upon a time, and there is still at least one in development, but an actual, functional one would be nice, especially given that Taurus and Surefire and even Rob Pincus all have shot timer apps for iThings.
– An inherent overclocking/underclocking application. Sure, overclocking can kill phones… so turn off that part of the program until people acknowledge that using it will void their warranty. But underclocking could go a long way to solving the next problem…
– Better battery life. Maybe this can be accomplished with better communications control, maybe this requires the actual core OS to change how and when it runs things, and maybe this is just a general problem with Android (which it is), but it really needs to improve.