Friday, February 25, 2011

My Top 5 Android Apps

I finally reached the point at which Nokia's waste-of-space E63 handset could be tolerated no longer, bit the bullet and paid for an early upgrade to HTC's Wildfire, running Google's Android operating system. A couple of months later I can safely say it's the best unnecessary expenditure I've made in a while: it does so much more than the E63, and it does it without freezing, restarting itself and generally winding me up on a minute-by-minute basis.

But I'll stop waffling: this isn't an appraisal of the Wildfire, nor a bitter retrospective of the uselessness of Nokia's so-called business 'smart' phone. It's a quick list of the five apps I've found most useful in the couple of months since I purchased a phone running the Android software.

All of these apps are available for download via the Android Marketplace and, because I'm a cheap git, they're all free.

5. Evernote
I was looking for an app I could use just for jotting down notes, thoughts, ideas and the like. While I'm using my laptop I generally use Windows Notepad for this purpose (makes sense, right?), so I was looking for the same kind of thing for my phone. Then it hit me, like a slowly reversing refuse lorry, that it'd be useful to be able to synchronise the notes I make between my phone and laptop. Lo, did Evernote appear, shining as it descended from the heavens.
Evernote has now replaced Notepad as my scribbler of choice, largely because it allows me to easily access the same mental dribblings from whichever device I happen to be using: install the Evernote app on your phone and its sister app on your desktop (or laptop) PC, and you're away. You can also save photos, videos, audio recordings and other stuff as notes, rather than just being limited to text. I think you can also make certain notes public, but I haven't experimented with that yet.

[Actually, I just have. Here's one I made about thirty seconds earlier: A shared Evernote Notebook]

4. Tweetdeck
After Twitter's own official android app was updated and subsequently didn't work properly any more, I gave this a try, largely because it's what I use on my laptop. It's a lot more customisable than the official app and doesn't mess the dates up and make it look like people are tweeting you from the future, which is a big plus in my book. You can set up your own columns which collect together tweets from lists, searches or hashtags and then synchronise these between your mobile and the PC app. You can set individual refresh times (including 'manual') for each column, which is a useful feature, and you can also include your Facebook, Buzz, Foursquare and other social profile updates in the feeds, keeping everything in one place.

If you're a twit you can follow me here: @TeaKayB

3. Amazon Kindle
Even if you don't own a Kindle, this is a great app to have: it allows you to read any of the hundreds of free ebooks downloadable from Amazon's Kindle store (you can read the ones you have to pay for too, obviously, but you're here because you want freebies, right?) on the move. There's also an app for your PC or Mac, and the two synchronise with each other without fuss. If you do have a Kindle (I love mine to bits), this app is essential: it synchronises not only the ebooks themselves, but also information such as where you have read to with each one- you can read a few chapters on your mobile, pick up your Kindle and carry on from wherever you got to, and then read a bit more from the right place on your PC.

2. Google Reader
As you're reading this blog, the chances are that you read some others too. Google's Reader is a web-based app that allows you to keep track of all of the blogs that you follow without having to visit each one individually- the app does that for you, and puts everything in one place. The Google Reader app for Android gets all that information and turns it into a mobile-friendly format. It's a fairly young app and there are a couple of things that need to be addressed before it's perfect, but on the whole it's a must-have app for anyone who follows more than a couple of blogs and wants to keep up to date on the move.

1. Google maps (with Latitude and Navigation)
The Google maps app for Android does pretty much what Google maps on the web does, but with the benefit of some extra location-based goodies. With GPS it's amazing, but if you don't have a phone with this feature, it can have a pretty good stab at estimating where you are based on Wifi network data and/or mobile phone mast signals. Once it has this information you can use the maps app as a real-time turn-by-turn routefinder, either on foot or in a vehicle (be careful with data costs, though, obviously). Latitude is an opt-in feature of the maps app that allows you to share your current location in real-time with people you specify within Latitude. This feature uses some data and battery power in the background, but not so much that I've noticed it amongst my monthly usage and allowance.

Your comments, please!

  • Which android apps do you find most useful and/or entertaining?
  • Is there anything you want to be able to do with your android phone that you haven't yet found an app for?