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Favourite Android Apps

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For a while now I've been meaning to write a blog post about my favourite Android apps, a list which is ever changing, but the failure yesterday of my old friend the Hudl 2 has thrown this into sharp focus as I've ordered an Amazon Fire HD 8 2017 to replace it. The Fire HD runs Android's fork of Android 5.0 called Fire OS and they have their own play store so I've been looking at what I can get easily and what I'm going to have to side load.

Anyway, here's my list. Hopefully you might find something you like too - so long as you're not on the Dark Side. Note that in this list if there's a choice between a free version of the app (usually with adverts or with some features disabled) and a paid for version I will be linking to the paid for version.

Infrastructure

Nova Launcher Prime describes itself as "the original and most polished customizable launcher for modern Android" - yup, can't argue with that.

Nova Launcher gives you a clean desktop and app draw experience which, especially if your phone has some horrible proprietary interface rather than the generic Android one, you will be grateful for. There is a free version too but the Prime is cheap (and often on special offer). I put it on all my Android phones and tablets.


Rotation Lock Adaptive is a clever little app that controls screen rotation. Normally with Android you having to pick between locking your screen into landscape or portrait mode or have it unlocked where it has the annoying habit of rotating when you don't want it to (I get this a lot when I'm browsing lying down).

with Rotation Lock Adaptive when the device rotates it puts up a ghost button in the centre of the screen for a few seconds. Tap that and the screen rotates. Ignore it and it stays in the same orientation.

Again there is a free version too but if you find this useful then the author deserves rewarding.

Core Apps

Don't get me wrong, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the Google Chrome app which comes with Android but Mozilla's Firefox has one big advantage: once you've installed it you can go into the menu and select "Tools|Add-ons" and add the ad-blocker of your choice without needing to root the phone first.

I use uBlock Origin which is a lightweight ad blocker which seems to perform well, both here and on my desktop, but it's also got AdBlock Plus if you prefer that.


Solid Explorer is a file manager and what a file manager. Not only does it intelligently manage files on your local device, both internally and on the SD card, if you have one, but it can also manage files in cloud storage.

There's a long list of available cloud storage types and protocols but the ones I use are: Dropbox, ownCloud, and SFTP - the last to access two different PCs on our home network. Others available which I may use in future include Box and Google Drive.


Pushbullet is one of those apps that's hard to explain (CNET described it as "the app you never knew you needed") but I'll try. You can install this on both your Android devices and all your web browsers on your desktops and laptops.

Once you've done that then you can do tricks like:

  • "push" a URL of a web page from one device to another - so if you're reading about something on your desktop and want to open it in the browser on your phone (perhaps because there's a download link in there for something which you want on your phone) then Pushbullet lets you do that. You share the URL to Pushbullet and indicate which destination it's to go to and Pushbullet sends it over.
  • "push" a file from one device to another. So handy if, for example, you take a photo with your phone but them want to post about it from your desktop.
  • Receive, and dismiss, all or selected phone notifications on your desktop. I tend to mute most of those pretty quickly with one notable exception which is ...
  • Receive SMSs on your desktop, and reply to them there too.

I really don't know where I'd be without Pushbullet.


Our Groceries Shopping List is the first app I ever recommended to someone (and they loved it). In essence it's your shopping list, on your phone.

If you have a "Do It Now" philosophy of life, as I do, then it works really well. As soon as you realise you need something on your next shop you open the app and put it on the list.

Where it scores over a simple document is that:

  • it knows what you've bought before - so you only have to type a character or two each time.
  • you can organise things into areas - so if you know where in your favourite supermarket everything is then it will put them in order for you when you're shopping.
  • it's cloud based - so you can have this on all your devices, and there's a web version so you can also add groceries from your desktop.
  • you can share the list with other members of your household, so anyone can add items onto one common list.

This app has made us a far more efficient shoppers: we get what we wanted, we shop faster, and I don't forget to buy things we need.


18/11/17: I'm stopping recommending this app for now as it's stopped working with Royal Mail which, for most people here, is the most common carrier. I have reported it. Stunned silence from the developer so far.

Pretty much everyone does at least some shopping online these days and most of the time they give you a tracking number so you can go onto the carrier's web site and track the package. But that's tedious to say the least.

Deliveries Package Tracker solves that problem for you. It knows about a huge number of carriers around the world, including all the big players in the UK like Royal Mail, Parcelforce, DPD, Yodel, Amazon, Collect+, DHL, FedEx, and Hermes.

So you put the details of your parcel into it and it tracks it for you, giving you an alert every time there's an update.

We do a lot of our shopping over the Internet, about the only things we don't buy that way now is food, so it's invaluable.


CloudCal gives a different, and I think somewhat superior, take on the Google Calendar. The navigation has a bit of a learning curve but once you get past that it's really rather fine.

I have its widget taking up most of the space on one of the screen of each of my Android devices.

Social Meeja

Over the years I think I've tried every Twitter app out there. Highlights included Plume, Tweetdeck (RIP), and Hootsuite but I'm finding Talon hard to beat.

The only weakness I've found to it, and this may not apply to you, is that it's limited to only work with a maximum of two Twitter accounts and I've currently got seven active ones so I can't do all my tweeting from there. But it's good enough.

One hint though: don't use the in-app browser. In "Settings|Other Options|Web Browser" tell it to use "Chrome Custom Tabs" (which will invoke Firefox so long as you've disabled Chrome first).


BaconReader Premium is an app for reading reddit and it's worked very well for me - to the point where I've not considered even bothering to try their own Android app which was released a little while ago now.

Photos

If you find the standard phone app a bit limiting and want an experience close to an SLR then Camera FV-5 is the answer with some great additional features.

What you actually get varies a bit depending on how much of the camera interface is exposed to software but I've found it to pretty much always be better than the generic offering.


Photo Editor is another application which is likely to appeal to you if you're already a photographer as it provides you with the sort of nuts and bolts photo editing tools you want. So this isn't an "editor" which simply put effects on your photo (yawn!), instead it lets you do things like crop, rotate, and resize and also to change the levels, hue, saturation, sharpness etc etc. All the usual things you'd expect from a real photo editor.

I find it invaluable when I'm out and about and take a photo which I want to post to social meeja. For a start you can get your photos down to a size that Twitter will accept (and also save yourself some mobile bandwidth) but it's also great for a little cropping or adjusting of curves to clean the photo up before posting.

By The Sea Side

If, like us, you live by the sea or if you just visit it (and who doesn't?) then here's a couple of really useful apps.

MarineTraffic uses a network of AIS receivers around the world to pick up and decode the positions from all merchant ships and an increasing number of leisure craft so that you can quickly identify what ships you're seeing, where they came from, and where they're going to.


Tides Near Me identifies your location via GPS and then offers you a list of nearly tide stations. Pick one and it will tell you the time of the next high and low tides as well as the times of sunrise and sunset.

Other Special Interests

BeyondPod is a podcast manager - so it slurps podcasts onto your device for your listening pleasure. If you like podcasts then this is the app for you.


 

GPS Status gives you access to the GPS in your device so you can see exactly what it's up to and also choose how the results are displayed.

Most usefully you can choose to show your position using OS grid reference rather than WGS84 latitude and longitude.

Outwith the Play Store

All the apps above are available from the Google Play Store but there's other places to look too and in some cases you can find really good apps there. The best place is FDroid. Download and install the app (you will need to change the setting in security to allow apps from "unknown sources") and then you're in business. Here's my favourite apps from there.


K9-Mail is by far the best mail client around for "pro" users. It just works and I can't recommend it enough.

Actually you can get K9-Mail from the Play Store but if you want to install Face Slim - and you will if you use FaceBook - then you're going to have to get FDroid so you may was well get K9-Mail from there too as new versions come to FDroid sooner than the Play Store.


Face Slim is a Facebook app. It scores over their own app in two important ways. Firstly it uses a lot less resources. I found the native app chewed up battery life something rotten.

Secondly it filters your feed so you don't see any adverts.

And Finally ...

In closing I should mention one more app. If you want to send Facebook messages on your phone you have to install their app to do this and again it is, in my limited experience of it, not good to have on your phone. But if you must receive Facebook messages then there is an alternative which comes from Facebook themselves oddly enough but it isn't available in the Play Store if you're in the UK.

Facebook Messenger Lite is an app aimed at third world countries with poor internet connections. It's designed for 2G networks and areas with slow or unstable internet connections. If you don't have a connection, your messages will be delivered when you have signal. It works on most Android phones - you can use it on almost any type of Android phone, new or old.

You can side load it, just like FDroid above, from APK Mirror.

And here's a neat thing: APK Mirror let you subscribe to upgrades via Pushbullet. So they will then "push" you a notification every time they get an update so that you can install the latest version.


So there's just a few apps which I think are likely to be fairly generally useful. There's a lot more I use although many of them are specific to me, like the GWR app which I use to find train times and purchase tickets ... for which I get Nectar points, which I can check on my Nectar app ... and spend on eBay with my eBay app. And so it goes on.

Anyway I hope this list helps people if they're looking around for new apps to help them out. And do let me know if you come across anything you think is better ...

Tags: Android Written 08/06/17

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