Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Must Have Android Apps

Just over a month ago, I joined the smartphone club. It wasn't that I was putting it off exactly, it's just that there was something about a contract. My network carrier, Sprint, had me on the hook for two years with a phone that made RAZRs look trendy and sleek. I'm fine with simplicity, and after enduring 24 months with a Touch Pro 2 (phone-that-shall-not-be-named), I was seriously entertaining the idea of getting a bare bones phone, and leaving the other gadgetry for the birds. But there was one smartphone function I could not live without and forced my hand: GPS. I couldn't care less about cameras and gyrometers and apps (or so I thought), but having access to Google Maps at all times was too crucial to forgo. So I ran the numbers and got me a gorgeous Nexus S 4g and things are super. The Nexus S 4g runs the Android operating system, so I had access to all of those Apps and proceeded to go a little App crazy. After a few weeks, the really valuable ones tended to rise to the top and crappier ones tended to collect dust on my SD card. I'm here to share the best of the lot so that you might not waste your time and bandwidth downloading, installing and deleting worthless Apps. If you have an iPhone, these are probably available in some capacity through iTunes. If you don't have a smartphone at all, please proceed to the nearest exit.

Amazon App Store -The Amazon App Store App is fantastic for two reasons: first, they offer a free Paid App every day, sometimes crappy, usually awesome and second, they offer many popular Apps for a much lower price than the Android store. Additionally, if you download something from them and need to reset your phone, they'll all be there waiting for you when you log in again, which is more than I can say for the Android store (they only save the Apps you purchase).

Allrecipes- Allrecipes.com is one of my favorite websites, so it's only fitting that their App is just as wonderful. In addition to having many of the sites recipes searchable in a mobile format (MUCH more intuitive and easier to read on a phone), they also offer a "Dinner Spinner" that asks you to plug in some basic information and will spit out recipes that fit your criteria. It's generally pretty good, although it couldn't find me any pork beverages :(

Audiogalaxy- Audiogalaxy is a great alternative to the "cloud". You simply download the app and download the desktop application on your home computer, link up your music library, and voila! As long as your computer is on and the app is open on it, you will be able to stream your entire music library to your phone seamlessly. Much faster than uploading everything to a 3rd party (Google, Amazon) while protecting your privacy at the same time.

BeyondPod - This is my go-to podcast App, and has saved me the needlessly complicated process of finding/downloading/syncing in iTunes I used to deal with. You simply search for Podcasts you like, subscribe, and they are automatically updated every day and can be downloaded or streamed for your listening pleasure.  you can mark them as read or pause and pick back up where you left off at a later time, all within the App itself. In the free version you have to manually download/refresh the podcasts, but even this is INFINITELY easier than the iTunes mess.

Craigslist - This may not be valuable for many of ya'll, but lately this App has been a godsend. Instead of searching the Craigslist swamp for Kitchen Islands, the App allows you to specify everything within the App, whether you have a maximum price or want to avoid listings without photos. The BEST part is that once you have your list of results, the Craigslist will tell you how old the listings are (to the MINUTE) and show the picture alongside the listing title. Rather than having to open up interesting ads into tabs until your browser self-destructs, you can instantly tell if that coffee table is a piece of shit.

Dolphin HD- By far the best web browser for Android phones. Fast and simple, but with enough add-ons to  make your head spin. Allows you to open links in new tabs, save bookmarks to your homepage, and even store passwords securely. As close to a real browser experience as you'll find on a phone.

Evernote - Great way to take/share notes on your phone and automatically syncs them to your online account for reviewing later. Many more features I haven't even tried yet.

Instant Heart Rate - This app is just cool. Somehow, by holding your finger up to the camera, this app calculates your heart rate with impressive accuracy. The science behind it sounds legit, so I feel comfortable sharing it, though please consult a trained professional instead of your telephone if you are experiencing heart trouble.

Google Reader - A great way to browse Google reader on the go. Nearly as functional as the site itself, albeit in a smaller package. Can share, star and like items as well as click on links to be directed to the full page. Everything it needs to be.

Google Voice - Google Voice is priceless because you never have to listen to another voicemail again. Well, you'll probably still have to listen to it again, because Google's speech to text needs some work, but still, not only does it transcribe every voicemail for you, it saves them for you, regardless of what happens to your phone. It also does the same for text messages, which is nice and also terrifying.

Mint - Mint.com is the best money management tool on earth, and the mobile able only improves it, allowing you to check account balances, set budgets and tag purchases on your phone. It is great peace of mind to have everything in one central location, and to receive emails if you go over budget or have any suspicious charges.

Movies - On the surface, movies is a standard theater locator/showtime app, but on the inside, it is closely linked with the premier movie review website, Rottentomatoes.com. Thus, whenever you view/search for a movie in Movies, you will see its tomatometer score and a list of links to reviews from top critics. By far the best way to find out if a movie is worth your time, even more so than IMDB.

Netflix - Without the streaming functionality, the Netflix app would be little more than a way to view and edit your Queue on the fly, but since streaming was activated on most Android devices, this App has become invaluable and pushed me over the edge to become a Netflix subscriber.

Old Time Radio- And now for something completely different. This app holds thousands of old radio programs, from The Green Hornet to The Lone Ranger, and all completely free. It's neat to hear the old series in their original format and most have held up well, and show you a glimpse of the power radio once had.

Plume - If you use Twitter, do yourself a favor and download Plume. I tried a few other Twitter apps, but this one blows them all away in simplicity and features. Updates frequently, makes it extremely easy to follow, retweet and mention people as well as click on tweeted links. It even saves your spot if you close the App and reopen it at a later time, something extremely useful that you don't realize you need until you have it.

Read it Later - A mobile version of the popular browser plug-in that allows you to "save" webpages (articles) to read when you have more time. I know I've tagged tons of articles using this to read when I'm on a bus or subway or just feeling like a long, satisfying read. It perfectly syncs saved pages from your browser also.

Starbucks - This app is a double-edged sword. Using it, your phone can generate a unique bar code for the barista to scan at Starbucks and instantly withdraw money from your Gold Card account. You can easily see how many rewards you have earned and set up a minimum balance, below which Starbucks will automatically initiate a withdrawal from your bank account.
Pro: Makes buying coffee easy.
Con: Makes buying coffee TOO easy.

Swype - Before Swype, I used SwiftKey, which was an admirable improvement from the stock Android keyboard, in that it viewed your texts and emails and understood your habits and vocabulary, but still relied on the old 'hunt and peck' style of texting. Swype obliterates Swiftkey. It is insanely fast, and somehow gets better the longer and more complicated words get. Sometimes it can get hung up with pronouns, etc, but after a quick addition to the dictionary, it is right back up to speed. The newest version allows you to easily select all and cut/paste from within Swype, making it all the more valuable. Give it a try and you will never go back.

Where's My Droid? - A precious App that kicks into action when you need it most, Where's My Droid? is activated by a "trigger" word, that can do anything from Ring loudly for 5 minutes when you lose your phone in the couch, to email you GPS coordinates when your phone is stolen. Don't say I didn't warn you.

WootWatcher - A great way to check all Woot and Woot-affiliated websites every day, and automatically alerts you to new listings and Wootoffs. Extremely easy to toggle between listings and buy using the App. Almost TOO easy.

Yelp - A mobile version of the de facto rating website. Better in many ways than the website in that it automatically detects your location and recommends restaurants/shops. Allows you to filter by price and proximity as well as view recommended dishes and organize reviews in a myriad of ways. A great way to discover a new town or just to try something new close to home.

Phew. This post was a lot longer than I thought it would be. Stay tuned for a second Game-centric App post in the near future.

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