I’m a big fan of Android. I got my first Android phone (an HTC Hero) just over a year ago and it ran the 1.5 (Cupcake) version of Android. I’m now on my second phone (Orange San Francisco aka zteZTE Blade). They’ve both been rooted and had custom ROMs installed. It’s incredible how far Android has come in the last 12months and the capacity to customise is neverending. A couple of weeks ago I managed to get hold of an Advent Vega Android tablet from the limited stock that has been made available so far. 2011 will undoubtedly be the year that Android Tablets go mainstream.
Here’s a quick rundown of the essential apps that have fought for space on my homescreens over the last year…
LauncherPro is based on the standard Android launcher but with lots of extra features. It lets you change the number of home screens available, change the number of rows and columns per homescreen, change the shortcuts in the dock and lots more. A recent update provided a handy pop-up bubble info on certain dock icons which shows missed calls, unread sms or gives quick access to browser bookmarks. The paid version also lets you resize any homescreen widget and it works surprisingly well with most widgets (I found this particularly handy on my tablet). Another bonus of the paid version is a suite of home screen widgets (bookmarks, twitter, facbook etc) with a consistent slick design.
Google Maps (with Navigation)
When the Google Maps website was first launched for desktop browsers it was a quantum leap forward compared to the competition at the time (multimap anyone?). A few years later and the launch of StreetView had people across the world clicking down their own street on their computer screen. That all of that functionality and more besides is now available in the palm of you hand is a sign of how quickly the state-of-the-art marches forward. Turn-by-turn directions, with voice guidance has some fantastic features, streetview works incredibly well and the latest version 5 update adds some really useful features (compass mode ensures that the map is always oriented to the direction that you’re facing). A must have, and worth updating if you don’t have the latest version.
Before I got an Android phone I had a WindowsMobile handset with a slide out querty keyboard. Getting used to a touch screen keyboard took a while and I’ve tried out lots of different version (ThickButtons, SwiftKey, and I even stuck with the crazy 8pen for a couple of weeks). I always keep returning to Swype though. Rather than tap every letter of each word, you just place your finger on the first letter and then trace a path through each subsequent letter only lifting your finger when you get to the last letter of the word. It takes a little while to get used to, and it helps if you know the location of every letter on the keyboard without having to search around, but once you get the hang of it, it becomes a very fast way to type. Not yet available in the Marketplace as it’s still officially in Beta, so get it from http://beta.swype.com
Touiteur (now Plume)
Touiteur (pronounced like “Twitter” but with a French accent), is a very usable and great looking twitter client. It has all the key features – supports multiple accounts, geotagging, in-line photo previews, conversation history, several desktop widgets etc. Some prefer the speed of TweetDeck but for me the latest version of Touiteur is barely any slower. It’s currently undergoing a rebrand to a new name (Plume) at the request of the Twitter folks who claim that the app name could be confused with their name.
If you’re a keen walker or cyclist then this could be a great app for you. Start it recording and it will track your movements using your phone’s GPS and provide a map showing a track of where you’ve been. It also shows stats of how far you’ve travelled, average and max speed, elevation changes etc. When you stop recording the track can be uploaded to Google Maps, or saved to the SD card as a GPX file which is a standard file format for GPS tracks which can be used in many different applications. I use it when I go out taking photographs to record my location automatically as I take my pictures, I then have software on my PC (GeoSetter) which uses the GPX file to geotag each picture. For joggers there are probably better apps () which give you more useful information about your current and target pace.
There are so many apps available in the marketplace for applying neat effects to your photos that it’s hard to know which one is best. I like Retro Camera becuase of its slick simpe interface and because there aren’t too many options to play with. The effects are all based on real classic cameras so you pick from one of the five camera options and take your photo. I’d like to have the option of importing a photo from my gallery and have Retro Camera work it’s magic rather than having to take a new photo with the camera, but that’s my only criticism. The effects are quite complicated so can take a while to process on slower phones but it’s worth the wait for effects like this…
One of the best features of Android is the ability to replace core features of the operating system like the keyboard or stock SMS app. If you want an alternative to the standard Android SMS (or the one that your operator provided) app then Handcent is well worth a try. You can switch to this app (or back to the original) without losing any of your messages so you’ve got nothing to lose. It has a nice popup alert when you get a new message (which lets you fire off a quick reply without having to dive into the full app). It has all the other essentials like conversation view, MMS support, profile pictures and it lets you customise everything from text colour to background images.
I love this game. I might be addicted to this game. Most of the people I know who have an Android phone also play this game a lot (though slightly less than me!). Controls are simple – touch the left side of the screen to turn left, touch the right side of the screen to turn right. It’s pedal to the metal all the way, so there’s no accellerator or brake controls to master. The full paid-for version has 8 different tracks and 5 different cars to choose from all with different characteristics. The free version has just a couple of cars and tracks. There’s an online leaderboard so you can compare your times against the best in the world (I’m currently 18th on the first track – I did say I loved this game!).
I’ll be honest: I never liked scrabble. The board game always took too long and I spent most of the game hoping that there couldn’t be many more letters left in the bag. The great thing about having the game on your phone is that you don’t need to play the game in one sitting. Just play one move now and forget about it until tomorrow. Or, if you love Scrabble, play 5 games simultaneously, all against different opponents. You chan choose to play against friends that you invite, or against random opponents. There’s also a basic chat app so you can fire insults at your opponent for playing words that you’re sure they don’t know the meaning of.
I could explain the concept of this game, but the fact is it would take too long to explain and the explanation would be confusing. Install the game, play it for 30seconds and you’ll understand exactly what you need to do. It’s beautifully simple, and with no fancy graphics, but it’s highly addictive. This is one of those perfect apps for casual gaming: play it while waiting for a friend, while queuing at the supermarket checkout, while sitting on the… bus!
An alternative music player with an innovative navigation interface. Albums are displayed as the faces of a cube, flicking up or down with rotate the cube an move through your library artist by artist. Flicking left or right will move through the letters of the alphabet to allow your to quickly jump to the album you want. It sounds slow and cumbersome, but it works incredibly well. Screenshots don’t do it justice, you need to see it action to really appreciate it.
You’re sat in a bar and a song starts playing. Your mate says it’s Tracy Chapman, you say it’s a cover by one of those girls from the Sugababes. Who’s right? Fire up Shazam on your phone, let it listen to a few seconds of the song and it will tell the track title, artist and release date. That might be how you use the app, or you might just use it with songs that you know just to amaze your friends and how good the app is! It works surprisingly well even in noisy environments.
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