Essential Android Apps, 3 Months Later

Android Almost 3 months ago, I wrote about the Android applications that I found myself coming depend on.  With the release of paid applications on the Android Market, the quality of products has been rising and I’ve found that I’ve adjusted my must have list a little.

Apps I still use

Exchange by TouchDown

I still love this for my corporate Exchange access.  NitroDesk is doing a great job of adding new features and fixing bugs when they crop up.  In January I was still using version 1.  Since then, they’ve come out with v 2.0 which including, among many other things, push support.  Currently I am beta testing a new version which I am uncertain whether or not I can talk specifically about, just suffice it to say the new big-ticket item is very nice.

The NitroDesk support continues to be superior with most responses coming within a few hours at the most.  These guys simply get it.  I have checked out a couple of other Exchange clients and they just don’t come close.

 The Weather Channel

Not much to say about this one.  They have had a few updates, but nothing new and exciting, still the app simply works and it works well.  Sometimes, if it aint broke, you don’t fix it.

Quickpedia

I find myself struggling to remember details about topics that crop in conversations all of the time.  Quickpedia gives me what I consider to be the best mobile UI wrapper around the content from Wikipedia available.   Whether I’m looking up the discography for a band, or reading up on the science behind natural harmonics on your guitar, the information is formatted to look good on a mobile device including grouping the information by section allowing you to see a quick overview of the the types of information available.

Rings Extended

In my previous post, this was an honorable mention.  I suppose that was due to the fact that you almost never see this application.  The truth; however, is that you always use it.  It replaces the standard ringtone picker application allowing you to customize rings by using built-in tones or sounds, music or tracks on your SD card.

New Additions

Steel

The built in web browser is very nice; however there are a few features that it simply doesn’t have yet.  While the next version of Android (1.5, cupcake, whatever) may address them, Steel fills the gap in the interim.  Steel gives you full screen browsing, auto rotation when you turn your phone sideways, touch zooming, flip navigation between windows and a soft (on-screen) keyboard.

Steel uses the base Webkit engine that the built in browser uses, it simply adds a UI on top of it that should have been included in the first place.

SplashID

The folks at Splash Data have been making password management that syncs desktop with mobile for a while now.  They have versions for most popular mobile platforms including Android, WinMo, iPhone, Palm, Blackberry and Symbian Series 60.  For years I’ve enjoyed having my passwords stored in a secure environment on my desktop and my mobile device (formerly on WinMo) and now that SplashID has an Android client, I’m once again feeling safe :)

Useful Switchers

This is a quick-toggle application for many of the frequently used system settings.  It allows you with a click to toggle WiFi, Bluetooth, Auto Sync, GPS and more.  This little app is fast, and has a great looking, simple to understand interface.

Gone Missing

These are applications that were on my original list but have since lost their place in my my device for various reasons.

aTrackDog

This was the only way to really keep apps up to date without manually searching them out.  It was a great app, but since RC33 was released with the automatic updates listed in the market, my downloads section, it became redundant.

I see now that they have added some features to make it appealing again, including updates to non-market applications and a few other features.  I may give this another try, but for the moment it’s not on my device.

Power Manager

This app was designed really well.  It gives quick access to some of the settings that affect your battery life, such as WiFi, GPS and brightness.  A very nice features is the automatic triggers which will change settings to a certain profile.  For example, if your battery gets down below 30%, it may turn off GPS and WiFi.

Why did I get rid of it?  3 reasons:

  1. The main reason is that the developer changed it to a 3 day trial which you could upgrade to the full version.  He did this without adequate warning (I simply updated since my marketplace told me one was available) and did not leave the original free version available.  While it is only $0.99, and I would have likely paid for it, the manner in which it was done did not sit well with me.
  2. All of the quick settings toggles (and many more) are now available from Useful Switchers.
  3. I rarely let my phone get below the 30% threshold that I had set for turning off WiFi.

While it sounds like he may have made the free version available on his website (instead of the market place)

Conclusion

This is not an exhaustive list of the applications I have installed and use, but they are the apps that, if I had to do a hard reset, I’d likely install right away.  That says a lot about them regarding their usefulness and the way the work their way into your day-to-day routine.

If you have some that you think are essential, questions about any of these apps or criticism about some of my choices (please back it up!) please leave a comment!

Aessential Android Apps

android Now that I’ve been using my Android powered T-Moble G1 for several weeks, I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the applications that I find essential.  They range from true productivity to mindless time sucks, so take each as it is intended!

TouchDown for Android and Exchange

This is a great application giving access to my company Exchange server.  The UI and feature set is very nice.  I have access to my inbox, calendar and contacts.  It also has the ability to get to my other private folders.

The folks at NitroDesk have done a nice job of keeping the UI familiar for both Android and Outlook users.  It will, if you configure it properly work in the background and integrates with the standard Android notification system.

TouchDown seems to be developing fairly quickly and their team is quite responsive to questions via email.

aTrackDogaTrackDog

This is a great application that helps you keep your installed apps up to date.  It checks multiple sources to ensure your applications are running at the latest release and gives you an easy shortcut to update them if it finds that they are not.

The Weather Channel

This is a nicely done, good looking weather app.  Not only does it give you the standard current conditions and forecasts, you can also download the latest Weather Channel video for your area and it integrates with maps to show you local weather stations and their reported conditions.

Shazam Shazam

This one is just cool.  So you’re out and about town one day, maybe riding with a buddy in his/her car.  The radio is playing some random music station when a song comes on that you want to know more about.  You whip out your G1 and fire up Shazam and let it listen to the song for a few seconds.  It goes and figures out what the song is, the artist and even lets you look it up on Amazon or search YouTube for videos.  I still get giddy when it tells me about some song that I had no idea what it was.  Wicked!

Power Manager

Let’s face it, the battery life on the G1 isn’t the greatest.  This little app gives you power profiles that will let you switch quickly and will even apply them when circumstances dictate.  Out of the box, for example, when your battery drops below 30% it turns off your WiFi and GPS automatically and shortens the time before the screen dims when inactive.  As a side-benefit, it also gives you quick access to toggle your WiFi, GPS, cell tower locations and bluetooth.  It’s a must have!

Solitaire

Ok, so this is a total time waster.  I don’t know what it is about solitaire, but it is a great way to spend that time in a waiting room.  This one includes Klondike, Spider and Freecell.

Honorable Mentions

There are quite a few more that I”ve installed and many that I use fairly often, but those above are the ones that I find I really would miss if they weren’t there.  Here they are in no particular order:

Do you have any favorite applications not listed here?  Let me know what they are and why, I’m always looking for new ones!

Is Science Fiction finally coming through?

For years science fiction authors have written about fantastic technologies that will make our lives easier, more fun, and generally better in many ways and ever since we have been wistfully dreaming of those times.

Now it seems that there are a lot of things new announcements and products that fulfill some of those visions.  Here are some of the cool items you may not have heard about.

Video on Demand Evolution

Cable companies have had limited video on demand for quite a while now, and more recently companies like Joost, Netflix and Hulu have began bringing us a whiter variety of programming available to watch what when want to when we want to watch it.  The networks are getting the hint by making some of their shows available as well; however until now most of these choice required you to sit in front of your computer unless you were among the small percentage of folks that have some sort of media center integrated with your audio-video system.

We have seen set-top appliances that allow us to stream this content to our sets, but that is still yet another piece of equipment to have in your living room, something many wives simply do not like.

image Recently some television makes have announced their sets will support streaming with no other device, and they will do it over Wi-Fi.  LG announced 2 of their lines will support NetFlix, CinemaNow and YouTube, while Vizio unveiled models that not only stream NetFlix, Blockbuster, Amazon and Yahoo!, but it will also support images from Flickr, streaming music from Pandora and Rhapsody and more.  Not to be left behind, Sony announced the ability to stream from Yahoo!, Amazon, YouTube, Slacker(sm) and more..  I would also be remiss to mention that the XBox360 got streaming movies from Netflix last year, and with applications like PlayOn Media Server you can get your Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, ESPN and CBS on the XBox, Playstation 3 and soon the Wii.  All we need now is to replace the actual screen with a hologram ala The Minority Report and we will have arrived!

Mobility and More

Of course everyone knows about the iPhone.  What you may not have heard of are the new generations coming with the Android operating system, with the T-Mobile G1 being the first to market.  BlackBerry and Palm have also provided significant updates to their operating system given us many choice for little computers walking around in our hands with functionality from GPS navigation to price comparisons via scanned bar codes.  Oh, and they still let us talk to people too!

This revolution in mobility is beginning to make its way into other devices.  Android has been spotted as the underlying OS for new desktop phones and with its easy to use interface it makes it perfect for other embedded devices.  Can you imaging having a microwave or oven that you can set up to come on at certain times more easily, or a refrigerator that will let you know you are running low on milk via SMS before you come home?

Automotive

The newest Microsoft Sync is pruported to read your text messages as they come in, and even recognize your voice commands for not only calling, but for interacting with the navigation system and all of your music as well.

Oh, and since you asked (I know you were going to!) the flying car is making progress.  There are still a lot of issues from logistics to infrastructure and more, but it looks like there are some very smart folks working towards making the ultimate sci-fi dream a reality.

There’s far too many other gadgets to go into without turning this post into the size if War and Peace, but be assured that it is an exciting time in technology!

The truth about the T-Mobile G1 Android powered phone.

In a word (or two)…it rocks!

Recently I wrote about the initial unboxing of the twin G1’s my wife and I purchased.  I have not had it for a little over a week and a half so I thought it was time to share some of my thoughts on the experience so far.

The User Interface

image The UI is fairly intuitive.  As I stated in my previous post, my wife never had to open the Getting Started book.  That was fabulous.  The sliding and scrolling actions seem very smooth and natural.  I really like that.

I like having a home screen that is easily customizable.  Moving icons and widgets around is as easy as a tap ‘n hold.  Additional feedback is given via a brief vibration when the item is ready to move.

The notification system is great.  Icons appearing in the top that expand with a quick drag to see the details is a much better system than I was use to with Windows Mobile.

Setup

Getting my Gmail settings going was easy.  Now I can get to my mail or calendar with 1 icon tap, and the interface for Gmail is based on the web version complete with threads and labels.  Very nice!

Contacts also come from Gmail.  This was a bit of a struggle at first.  Most of my Gmail contacts were still in the suggested contacts state which meant I had some work to do in order to get them into my phone properly.  In addition, most did not have phone numbers associated with them and I am afraid I am a ways off from making that happen.  I am a little gun-shy about importing them from my SIM card as I feel this might create a bunch of duplicate entries that I would have to go back to correct, but I will admit I have not tried it yet.

Operation

image For the most part things are very easy to do.  Making calls, sending text, etc.  The one thing I have noticed that is a bit of a drawback comes when you want to change your settings.  Most items are accessed through the settings menu, so changing your ringer profile, toggling WiFi or Bluetooth, etc…  Fortunately, there are some very nice, free apps that put these items into one easy place.  It would have been nice out of the box, but the solution wasn’t difficult.

The battery life is ok considering everything it does and the amount of use I’ve been putting it through.  Watching videos, using the GPS with Google Maps in street view (and compass mode!), browsing the web via WiFi.  These things tend to drain the battery so you can’t expect too much.  I’m charging it about once a day with a 24 hour usage bringing me between 25% and 60% of remaining life.  Not terrible by any means.

YouTube.  Wow, this is very cool!  I have watched many videos, used search and went into the popular categories.  Over WiFi the quality is great, and even using the EDGE network (we get 3G in March) the video performance is more than fair.  I did not have high hopes for the EDGE scenario; however it looks like they scale the quality down to a level that allows the stream to work with the slower network, yet it is still quite viewable.

The Android Market

image There are a lot of cool applications, and many more that are not so cool, available in the market.  I’ve personally sampled close to a hundred already and I’ve narrowed my current install set to around 20-25 that I use.  The installer and uninstaller seems to work well.  I haven’t run into any problems yet, although I’ve heard that some people have had issues.

Some of the applications fill a definite hole in the out-of-the-box UI, but as stated earlier, they are fairly easy to find and install.  Others are nice add-ons that can help in certain situations, and still more are great time wasters :D

Here is a list of some of my favorites:

  • aTrackDog – This helps you stay apprised of updates to your other installed applications.  – Must have!
  • Power Manager – Has automated, customizable profiles for different power situations.  I like the way it turns off my Wi-Fi if my battery level drops below 30%.
  • aSettings – This app puts most of the toggles you need (WiFi, Bluetooth, Ringer profile, GPS…) on 1 screen.  I set up a home screen shortcut to it.
  • Scoreboard – Sport score update application written by the Google folks.  Does a very nice job.
  • ConnectBot – A little ssh client used to connect to linux boxes.
  • PhoneFlix – Allows management of your Netflix queue from your phone.
  • Ringdroid – A nice application for creating ring tones from your MP3 files.  It lets you choose the portion of the song to save out as a ringtone file.
  • The Schwartz Unleashed – A total time-waster, light-saber application, but very cool!
  • The Weather Channel – Exactly what it sounds like, get current conditions and forecasts.  Even does videos.
  • Twidoid – For all your Twitter needs.
  • QuickPedia – Mobile interface for Wikipedia.  It includes nice formatting of the articles.
  • wpToGo – Nice blogger client if you happen to have a WordPress blog.

Summary

I am very happy with the phone.  My wife seems to really like it as well.  So far things have gone smooth and the decision seems to be a good one.  My overall opinion is that it is a good phone and if you are in the market for something like this, I would recommend it.

I Am Android

image The cell phone I’ve used for the past year and a half finally gave up the ghost.  I was using an HTC P4300, one from the touch screen family of HTC phones.  For the most part, it was OK as a phone platform; however, the Windows Mobile 5 operating system did have it’s issues.  I believe that I had to hard reset it to factory defaults and reinstall and configure my system 4 or 5 times during it’s life span.  That’s not terrible for someone in the tech industry, but your average phone user would probably find it irritating.

The phone recently went into the mode where it decides to start rebooting itself continually until it is plugged in to its power source making it utterly unusable, so it was time to start shopping.

I looked at some of the comparable upgrade options in the HTC, WinMo family.  There were some promising modes, but alas my carrier only had 1, and it was roughly 8-10 months old.  Considering the price tag approaching $350 USD. I decided that it was bit more than I really wanted to spend.

My options were to move to the Crack…er…BlackBerry.  I’ve never really like them so other options simply did not have the capabilities I wanted and needed.

imageOn to another carrier!  T-Mobile has the G1 (on the HTC Dream) running the Linux based Android system.  Here is a platform that has most of what I need and I have the ability to write my own applications for it, as I did with Windows Mobile.  I decided it was time for a switch.

At the same time my wife’s phone has been giving her fits.  She was ready for something new as well.  At first, all she wanted was a phone; however, the more we talked the more we came to realize that she really wanted more than that.  One of her highest priorities was the ability to easily get to her GMail account from her handset so we decided to get her a G1 as well.

I must admit that I was a bit worried.  I’d read some reviews that knock the so called “Google Phone” for not having a UI as polished as the iPhone.  While my wife is more tech-savvy than many that are not part of the tech sector, I did not want her to struggle with her telephone.

After talking it through, we went ahead with the order.  Due to the demand, the phones were not in stock in the store so we had to wait, anxiously , for them to arrive.

Our new G1’s arrived by UPS on a cold Tuesday evening.  After charging them up and flipping through the getting started guide to make sure it was easy to follow, I handed the guide and phone to my wife and grabbed mine to start setting it up and exploring the Android Market.

45 minutes later, from the other side of the couch, I heard a sound that brought me back to my youth.  It was the familiar song denoted the start of a game of Pac-Man.  I had seen it in the app market, so I had to laugh a bit and ask my wife what was going on.

Me: “Wife, what’cha got there?”

Wife: “shhh…oh..oh!!!! Dang it!” <followed by the bwoop bwoop of Pac-Man dying>

Wife: “I downloaded Pac-Man, this is SO COOL!”

Me: “Good, so you’re feeling OK with the phone?”

Wife: “Yeah, it’s pretty cool.”

Me: “Did you get your GMail set up?”

Wife: “Yeah, and my calendar is there too.”

Me: “Great!”

Wife: “Yeah”…pauses…”You know, It says a lot about a product when you are able to set everything up you want to without cracking open the book at all.”

Epic win for the Android in my opinion.  Thanks Google & T1!