Essential Android Apps

It’s been a while since I upgraded to an Android phone and I thought I’d share some of the apps that I find invaluable.

The downside I find with Android is there are fewer quality apps i.e. well designed user interface, few bugs and fulfils its goal well. And to top it off, they’re usually buried beneath a huge range of rubbish and spam because there is no approval process for developers unlike for Apple’s iOS. That said, I really like all the widgets available for customising the homescreens with and there are some great "Live Wallpapers" on the Market.

Note that these apps were installed on an HTC Desire. As Android phones have various combinations of hardware, they might not work with your phone.

Essentials

3G Watchdog

A brilliant ad free little app that keeps track of your data usage with a small widget (top-right, in the left screenshot) to show how much of your quota you’ve used up for a set period of time. If you use a lot of ad supported apps or go online a lot then this is very much a must since some mobile service providers charge a premium once you are over quota..

3G Watchdog Widget     3G Watchdog

SystemPanel

Another great ad free app. The help file is so comprehensive you can learn how the Android manages resources. Just like the Task Manager in Windows, you can find out what apps are running and just how much resources they are using up such as CPU time, RAM. Easy for finding how what apps are crashing or slowing down your phone.

Once the stock video player had locked itself up on my phone and in the end, it wasted away the entire battery overnight so it’s good to use this to check if anyway’s processing away in the background.

SystemPanel     SystemPanel

Aegislab Antivirus AppScan and Lookout

As I mentioned earlier, Android Market’s screening process isn’t as strict as Apple’s unfortunately. I know because I work in the software development sector and have developed mobile apps before. In fact, there’s no approval process at all for Android whereas iOS can take weeks to months.

This means malicious apps get into the market and with the recently discovered DroidDream code, you might want to install some form of scanner for your phone although this kind of software is still in its infancy. The good news is they both take up little resources and will only eat up battery power when you install a new app.

Aegislab Antivirus (previously called “AppScan”) can also tell you what apps are actually sending/receiving data and how much. It even lets you know what apps have ads before you even run them to help save on the small data allowance phones have.

Lookout Security     Aegislab Antivirus

Battery Indicator

The battery in the top-right corner isn’t really much an indicator considering how it only has 3 statuses so if you want more precise info i.e. in percentage you can get this which adds a battery icon in the status bar. When you open up the notifications tray, it also shows you what has been using up all the battery and what temperature it runs at.

While we’re on the subject of battery power, you might want to consider picking up a USB portable battery pack that lets you charge any USB device on the move.

Battery Indicator     Battery Indicator

Apps 2 SD

You’ll want one of these apps because the lower-end Android phones come with very little internal memory unlike the iPhone and some apps just won’t let you install to the SD memory card. That’s why you’ll want to install ones that do allow you onto the card but unfortunately it’s a pain to run through every app via settings. These apps make it easier to move apps around.

Another option would be to flash your phone with a custom ROM that lets you use your SD card to as extra memory. I would suggest going with Starburst which has the Data2SD scripts pre-implemented for you because it doesn’t affect the widgets unlike the App2SD script.

Other Apps

ColorNote

Very handy for having notes displayed on your home screen. Shame it doesn’t let you choose whether it’s text or a sketched drawing. You can see the little green and yellow widgets in the homescreen screenshots above.

ColorNote     ColorNote

PowerAMP

Not free but probably the best audio player there is with plenty of format support including FLAC. I like how you can play by folder or playlist and, how it fills in the border around the album art. A large 10 band equaliser means you can adjust the sound to suit your tastes or listening gear too. It supports Asian character sets too so you don’t have to worry about East Asian characters such as Japanese appearing as gibberish.

As I mentioned in "A Guide to Better Audio" before, phones don’ t have very good sound output to honour lossless audio or good earphones but, sometimes you just don’t want to carry so many gadgets about and travel light.

PowerAMP for Android     PowerAMP

TweetDeck

Ad free and great for keeping track of popular social networks such as Twitter and Facebook you might be using. View from the last post you viewed, URL shortener, image uploader all inside.

Tweetdeck for Android     Tweetdeck for Android

K9-Mail

The built-in Android Mail app isn’t very good because it stores all your e-mail in your phone’s scarce internal memory. You also have to delete e-mails twice and one by one too before they’re gone for good.

On the other hand, while K9-Mail isn’t the prettiest looking e-mail app it’s open source and free, letting you handle e-mails much easily and store them on your SD memory card instead.

K9 Mail     K9-Mail

Alarm Clock Xtreme (Paid)

My Nokia phone used to have an alarm that crescendoed when it rang i.e. it raises the volume gradually instead of blasting at full volume right away. Android’s built-in alarm doesn’t do this and this is where this app comes in. You can even add a few maths sum in to get your mind warmed up for the day although I haven’t tried it!

Alarm Clock Xtreme     Alarm Clock Xtreme

gvSIG Mini Maps, MapDroyd, Sygic GPS Navigation

Google Maps maybe great but lets face it… When you’re on limited mobile bandwidth, re-downloading maps isn’t exactly cost effective. Especially when you’re overseas and roaming. Even the latest update to add some cached feature doesn’t really help.

There are two free offline map solutions. Mini Maps lets you cache everything you have already seen so they don’t have to be re-downloaded again and has some limited navigation features. Mapdroyd on the other hand, has no navigation but allows you to store full maps fully for use.

Both don’t have very good search functions however so if you want a good paid solution, try Sygic’s GPS Navigation app that also lets you store complete maps offline and has improved its satnav pretty well since version 11.

gvSIG Mini Maps     Sygic GPS Navigation

Language Input Support

Unlike the iPhone which has excellent support for all the common European and Far East languages, the Android isn’t so comprehensive. It doesn’t support handwriting for Chinese, only Pinyin and no Japanese input either.

Note to use these custom keyboards you must…

  1. Install the app.
  2. Go to settings, keyboard and languages and enable the app.
  3. Touch and hold on the text box you want to type in.
  4. Choose "Input Select" from the menu that pops up.
  5. You can now switch to the custom keyboard you want.

MultiLing Keyboard

One keyboard for all languages which in my case is Chinese, Japanese and Korean input. The only downsides are its prediction isn’t good, you must download all the language plugin apps separately and the Kanji handwriting recognition isn’t too great. As far as Japanese is concerned, you can enter using Kana or Romaji.

MultiLing Keyboard     MultiLing Keyboard - Korean

Japanese Input – OpenWNN

If you’re familiar with Iroha (the order of Kana) or want to know what’s it like typing on a Japanese mobile keypad, you can try this. Rotating your phone to landscape mode allows you to type in Romaji.

Chinese Handwriting Input – SCUT gPen

For Chinese support, it depends whether you are already familiar with Pinyin or not. If you prefer handwriting like I do (so I don’t forget how to write!) you’ll want to use this. It has some good text prediction but unfortunately, it doesn’t support HK Cantonese characters.

OpenWNN     Chinse Handwriting SCUT gPen

Chinese & Japanese Dictionaries – JED, Hanping CE

It’s great that you can access the internet to look up words but it wastes more battery and uses up bandwidth whereas an offline one doesn’t. Here are two good free apps for looking up Chinese and Japanese words.

JED is a two way dictionary for Japanese with good examples, pronunciation guide and even how to write Kanji! Be aware it does track your location though as revealed in the permissions and description.

Hanping CE is ad supported and gives you minimal two way translation.

JED - Japanese dictionary     Hanping Chinese Dictionary

Games

The games department isn’t as ripe as the iPhone – far from it. Probably because of how easy it is to install pirated apps to the Android compared to iPhones. While I would like to see companies such as Square-Enix developing games for the Android and to see quality games such as Cut The Rope, they just aren’t there at the moment.

However, there are a few hidden gems for the Android – all paid for unless specified otherwise.

Hexage seems to be one of the few game developers that realise onscreen controls don’t work very well because their games play well. On-screen controls just aren’t responsive enough and when you’re “button mashing” it feels like you’re abusing the touch screen. So, you won’t find any on-screen pad action games here.

Game Developer Story, Hot Springs Story, Grand Prix Story
Kairosoft

Game Dev Story is a great little sim that got localised thanks to the Western games press. Keep a business running, employ staff, train them and try to produce an award winning game. Extremely replayable if you enjoy sims and watching stats change! GP is the most addictive one for me personally because instead of just getting the title and genre correct like Game Dev, you have lots of parts to combine properly!

Game Dev Story     Hot Springs Story

Totemo
Hexage

Totemo is a twist on all the more common “connect 3 symbols” games such as Jewel Quest where you have to link spirits together.

Graphics don’t look too bad too with all the lighting effects taking advantage of the on-chip graphics hardware.

Totemo

Buka
Hexage

Buka is game where you help a little blue ball called Buka journey through space while protecting him from enemies. Hold your finger on the screen to charge, slide it to where you want to ignite an explosion to blow up enemies. Simple but fun.

Buka

Plants vs Zombies

One of the few popular games ported from Apple’s iOS. A cuter version of Defence Towers where you plant well… plants to defend your garden against a horde of zombies. Very easy to beat and only available via Amazon App Market at the moment. It was free on the first day it was launched by now paid only.

Personally I prefer to play it on the big screen. The PS3 version has a lot of more content in it ^^;

Plants vs Zombies

Glow Hockey

Basically air hockey that you find at amusements but with a neon glow. A bit of arcade fun is good once in a while and the AI puts up a fair challenge.

Glow Hockey     Glow Hockey

Majesty

An old PC game port from 2000. It’s kind of like an RTS except you simply build and watch your units go about doing their own things. No micro-managing like in Starcraft but still fun! If you like this you’ll probably like the re-make Majesty 2 on PC!

Majesty for Android

Speedx 3D

If you want some motion control similar to some Wii casual games, here’s one for you. Rotate your phone left and right to dodge incoming blocks. Simple to play, hard to master.

Speedx 3D

Leave Devil Alone

Want something harder than Plants vs Zombies? Place little demons to help fend off heroes and cast spells while you’re at it. The more heroes you kill, the more blood is spilt and the more spells you can cast. All complete with the same cute graphics.

You’ll find quite a bit of "Engrish" from this Chinese developer app.

Leave Devil Alone

Pocket Legends (Free)

Who would have thought MMORPGs would reach mobile phones? I think this is one of the few or perhaps even the only one… At least for Android! It’s free to play, no ads and the graphics don’t look bad too. That is… unless you don’t like cute animals! Controls are pretty smooth for touch screen only phones and you have the usual quests and interactions with other players.

Some call it "WoW but with furries." The downside is because it’s on a mobile, it’s mostly casual players who play so you won’t find large groups of players gathering for raids or to fight a rare tough monster. Most of the time people will trawl dungeons together but disappear half way through.

Pocket Legends

Angry Birds (Free, Ads Supported)

And one more originating from Apple’s iOS. I think everyone knows Angry Birds by now considering how my non-gamer acquaintances have played it. For Android it’s ad supported which means eating up the data allowance. For those of you in the dark, you sling wingless birds to kill grinning green pigs for revenge. To make things harder there are many obstacles in your way but the birds also have their own abilities to use.

I don’t really like the game but I thought I’d mention this considering its popularity. Lots of levels to beat.

Angry Birds

And that’s all the apps I have to share for this time round. I will post again once I’ve built up another set of interesting Android apps which will probably be games ^^;

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