These are a few of my favorite things
Google+: The Missing Manual just entered the review phase, after months of effort by yours truly and O’Reilly’s very capable team. So now is a good time to peek above ground and look around. Scoping out the Android landscape, there’s a lot to see. Ice Cream Sandwich, or Android 4.0, is on its way, promising a unified, simplified foundation for smartphones and tablets. As soon as I can get my head around it, an update to the Complete Android Guide should follow.
As a kind of warm-up, and as a way to clear the air, I thought I’d note the apps, features, and little tricks I’ve found to be essential to enjoying an Android phone since I first picked up a G1 in June 2009. More than just my latest obsessions, these Android bits have stuck with me a long time, or significantly changed my experience. First up, the apps, with other tricks to follow.
I've left out all the things that are more of a matter of taste--app launchers, to-do managers, Twitter clients, and so on. What's left are the apps I think just about anyone using Android would find useful. Enjoy.
Alarm Clock Xtreme: It’s a tough one for a self-aware Android fan to start out with, because the design is so full of buttons and settings and less-than-elegant transitions, but it’s a very good alarm app. I particularly dig having to do math problems to “earn” a snooze or dismissal.
Amazon Kindle: Not enough people know that you can read anything you buy for a Kindle on an Android, and that the experience is pretty darned good.
ClipStore: Ever had to juggle more than one copy/paste operation, or needed to call up something you copied a while back? ClipStore watches your Android clipboard, copies text from it every so many seconds, and makes it easy to call it back up. Really handy when you’re trying to pull off a good bit of writing or quick editing.
Dropbox: On a standard desktop or laptop computer, you drop a file into your Dropbox folder, and it’s saved on the web, and then updated on all your other computers, too. On an Android (or iPhone), Dropbox is a great way to get at those files without having to connect with a cable, and also a simple way to share anything.
Goggles: The stated purpose (take a picture and search for anything) is nifty, if truly hit-or-miss. I use it for the deeper features: barcode/QR code scanning, and scanning business cards for easy contact adding.
Google+: I’m obviously partial. But even if you never used the social network itself, the Instant Upload feature is amazing, automatically uploading your smartphone photos to Google’s servers for easy sharing.
PdaNet 3.02: If you want to use your phone’s internet connection as a regular connection for your laptop, buy a tethering plan from your cellular provider. If you need just a quick connection now and then, as a backup, grab PdaNet. The free version limits the sites you can connect to, so pay for PdaNet if you find yourself really leaning on it.
RockPlayerLite: It’s the Android equivalent of VLC Player: an app that plays nearly any kind of media file you throw at it. Handy for plane or train rides where you don’t have time to convert a video for viewing.
Shopper: Scan anything with a barcode, or snap a picture of any book, DVD, or video game cover, and Shopper will tell you how much it costs at a whole bunch of online and brick-and-mortar stores. Even better, you’ll see what stores nearby are selling it for, and sometimes exactly how many they have of that item in stock.
Square: You go out to restaurants, bars, and other places you need cash, right? With this app (and the free card-reading device and bank account setup), you can take credit card payments, and so make settling bills and I.O.U.s really easy.
Torch: If your phone has a decent LED-based camera flash on it, find a “flashlight” app for it by searching out your phone model and “flashlight” in the Market. It’s like the camera function itself--not as good as an actual flashlight, but good enough, and you always have it with you.
Unlock with WiFi: You really, really need to enable some kind of lock-screen security on your Android phone. Left open to the wrong people, it has your entire Gmail life, and maybe even sensitive data right on the device. But unlocking your phone when you’re at home, or at the office, shouldn’t be a pain. This app disabled security locks when you’re connected to Wi-Fi networks you add to a list.
Voice Actions Plus: This is pre-installed on some newer Android phones, but if you don’t see it in your main app list, you don’t have it. Hold down your Search button anywhere, and you can pull off a few neat tricks: text or email people with your voice, listen to music, get a map or directions, or write a “note to self” (email yourself). Nowhere close to the iPhone’s Siri in terms of recognition or versatility, but nicer than having to type everything.