Android’s been around for more than a year, and in that time developers have whipped up some great apps. Whether you’re a new Android owner or a pro looking for new tools, these 10 great and free apps belong in your arsenal.
We’re going to skip right over the apps that are just so common, universal and well replicated on other mobile platforms that a user with a need will probably hunt them down — Facebook, Evernote, Remember the Milk, and endless Twitter clients, widgets and apps. We’ve also skipped over Google’s own neat apps, android parental control, like Navigation and Googles, that are (or will be) included standard on new Android phones. Instead, we’re aiming to shine a little light on apps that quietly excellent functionality for those who download them.
In some ways, this is a vote for the potential of Layar as much as the practical application. Walking around with your phone and seeing Wikipedia subjects, apartments for sale, and what Twitter users have raved about through your phone is a pretty neat thing, and potentially helpful when you’re looking for things to do in a new city. But as Layar continues to add new layers, and as camera and mobile processing power continue to improve, Layar could become a lot more interesting than it already is. One thing worth mentioning is that if you don’t like the 3D camera view, or like the looks of yourself while using it, Layar can just show you points of interest on a Google-type map. Either way you use it, it’s an intriguing look at what’s happening just around the corner.
Until the latest upgrade, we couldn’t have really called Listen a king among podcast apps — it had a few irksome bugs, one of them being the loss of episodes and, sometimes, subscriptions. Now, however, Google’s own app does a great job not only of finding audio content, but it exports your subscriptions to be managed in Google Reader, ensuring a full feed backup and easier retrieval of past episodes you want to head back and hear. If you need more fine-grained podcast control, try ACast, but Listen will work for most. (Original post)
You can drop a lot of neat things on your Android home screen, but you can’t quite get one-click access to everything in your phone’s settings and extras. AnyCut doesn’t have a great interface, and it might take some trial and error before you get to exactly what you’re looking for. Soon enough, though, you’ll have access to the deepest guts of your settings, so switching 3G on and off, enabling location services, and other tricks are easy to pull off.
There’s no browser syncing on the Android — yet (c’mon, Mozilla, get on that Firefox Mobile!). In the meantime, there’s Secrets, a secure, KeePass-compatible, master-password-locked vault for all your passwords. It’s not that hard to export your passwords from your desktop or laptop onto your SD card, and with full-text search finally implemented, Secrets is a lot more convenient for those oh-shoot-what’s-that-username-again moments.
You use your Android smartphone differently than your desktop computer. You don’t work with files and shortcuts, so much as you check in on the streams of data you care about — email, text messages, Facebook and Twitter, chat, and the like. SlideScreen replaces, or just augments, if you’d like, your phone’s home screen, creating row after row of messages and feeds. Slide the centre info bar up and down to look at more or less of your items, swipe to the right to dismiss items as read, and revel in having all your data on hand at once. SlideScreen also replaces the standard application tray, giving you 8 slots to put your most frequently access apps, and tucking all the others into a rolling deck below. It’s a total makeover for your phone, in other words — one that might just make you fall in love all over again with the concept of mobile data.
OK, at first we were pretty sceptical of Google’s Shopper app, since it seemed like just a mashup of Google’s own Goggles and barcode-smart apps likes ShopSavvy. Then we actually used Shopper, and were amazed at both how accurately it picked up both barcodes and simple cover shots, and at how very fast it worked. Turns out, according to one developer who appeared on This Week in Google, Shopper is actually uploading image data to Google’s servers as it captures it, and decodes barcodes right on the phone. Speed for speed’s sake is nice, sure, but it’s pretty nice not to have to stand in front of a book display for a whole two minutes, waving your phone around a bunch of books you’re trying to competitively price. Shopper answers the “Can I buy this cheaper” question, and answers it quickly. (AU ed note — that’s not necessarily much use for an Australian shopper, but it’s definitely a concept with potential.)
PDANet is the easiest way to use your phone’s cellular net connection as a makeshift internet access point, for those hard-up situations when you just need to get online somehow, anyhow. The free version always offers basic internet access, but restricts secure site connections after a trial period. The paid version isn’t cheap ($US30), but it is the easiest of the three ways we know how to tether an Android phone. For the cost of nothing, we’ll take some basic web site browsing — because, hey, can’t you get to Gmail on your phone if you really need it?
3. TasKiller Free
Like your regular computer, your Android phone runs more slowly and bogs down more often if it has a multitude of apps running constantly in the background. Few apps provide a direct, easy “Quit” option, though, and the phone’s own process manager is a pain. Enter TasKiller, a free multi-app closer that works from its standard icon, or as one of a number of widgets you can add to your home screen for one-click streamlining. The free version serves up ads and lacks a few advanced features, but generally serves the needs of anyone who’s sick of needing to actually reset their phone just to clear up space for, you know, phone calls and such.
This one’s free only until March 31, so be sure to jump on it if you think there’s even a remote chance you’ll want some killer security tools available to you. WaveSecure not only backs up your contacts, SMS messages, photos and videos, and other files to the developer’s cloud for later restoring if your phone gets lost, but can lock down a phone when you’re stashing it for a while, locate a phone with GPS or text message triangulation (seriously), and, as a final option, pull off a total and complete remote wipe if you fear all is lost. Powerful peace of mind, especially for the price.
1. ASTRO File Manager
This is one of those apps you hope gets some attention, if only to be bought by Google or otherwise integrated into the basic phone software. ASTRO File Manager does a great job of letting you navigate files on your SD card and accessible internal memory, sure, but it also has its own built-in task killer, backs up applications, can send files as email attachments (not all that easy or intuitive from the mail client, for some reason), and much more. It’s the Leatherman of Android utilities, and a must-have on any serious geek’s phone.
To each their own, of course, but we’d love to hear what Android apps you consider crucial to your own phone in the comments. We tend toward free, but if you’ve found a cheap app that’s worth a few bucks, our Android-loving readers, and developers, would likely be glad for the referral.