Ok, so there are probably a hundred more professional forums and blog posts out there about this topic and if you’re a major Android enthusiast you’ve probably already read them and you won’t learn anything new here. However, assuming you’re one of my friends who seem to be jumping on the Android bandwagon like I did, I thought I’d save you some time figuring out how to do to the cool things on your Droid phone, specifically the Droid X. However, the Apps I talk about below will work on most any Android phone. I just have the X to test them on.
I’m going to focus this article on apps to make life easier, not phone configuration, though I’ll certainly amend it if there are comments requesting more information… I love to receive feedback of any kind.
Things Apple iPhone Users will notice:
First off, I’m an iPhone convert. Let’s state that clearly upfront. I’ve had an iPhone and basically lived on the thing for the past three years, so I’m qualified to speak on the differences of the two devices.
Battery Life: Not much change. Both the iPhone and the X use a lot of battery if you’re using a lot of apps. The biggest change is that the X can truly multitask and maintain many open apps at once, where the iPhone even with IOS4 really can’t. So, if you’re an X user coming from iPhone you might think the X battery sucks. No… just remember to close your open programs! The Android operating system is a computer… it’s not a phone.
If you run 47 applications at the same time on your laptop computer, your laptop battery dies faster and the machine is more sluggish. Remember to turn off your apps! If you want a cool program to help with this, see ATK, mentioned later. Having said that, the first day I had my Droid X I killed the battery in 4 hours. Now that I know how to manage my open apps and now that I’ve finished “playing” with everything it usually lasts me one full day. It should be noted that I usually have an audio book running constantly (as in ALL DAY) via blue tooth. I get 6 hours of constant streaming audio from my phone before my headset dies, then I get another 4 or 6 hours via my 3.5 mm headset before the phone itself dies. I think running an iPod app for 10 hours per day is pretty OK with me for a phone considering I’m talking, texting, googling, etc all day as well.
Apps: There’s basically an app for everything for your X that you had on your iPhone. Sometimes they aren’t made by the same company but it seems that even in the few weeks I’ve had my Droid, new apps from my favorite vendors are being ported over to the Android OS (Logmein Ignition and Audible to name a few).
Things you must have!
Yes I realize I’m being a little snarky here by saying you absolutely MUST have these apps, but I think they’re all just great apps that everyone can enjoy and we’ll all need at one time or another.
I’ll try to list them in order of importance.
AppBrain App Market: Your android phone has a built in feature called “Market” which allows you to browse the android store and download free and paid applications. However, after spending four hours pressing Download, Install, OK, (swipe), Open; you’ll quickly find it tedious to install apps one at a time. Specifically because just like a computer, the Android OS prompts you for each and every program you download.
AppBrain is awesome! Simply download the app onto your phone. Then using your PC, go to www.appbrain.com and login using your Google account. You don’t need a separate account to use the web site. Once you’re there, you can choose from all the possible apps you want. When you see one you like, choose “Install” and then go on to the next app. Click all the apps you want to install while you’re here.
Now, open AppBrain on your phone and press “Sync with AppBrain” on the bottom left menu. Now you’ll see all those apps appear on your list. Press “perform Installs” and the program will auto install all your apps for you. Yes, you still have to press “install” 40 times but it’s all together at the same time so it’s still much faster.
In short, it makes finding and installing apps a much less headache-filled process.
Advanced Task Killer: FREE (often referred to as ATK) I battled whether this should be your first or second priority app. Either way it’s way up there on the list. It’s the single most used app on my phone.
Basically you set it to run every X hours (I run it once per hour). Your phone has 512 mb of internal memory for running programs. As you open more and more programs you’ll often discover that you’re down to 47mb of available memory and your phone is running sluggish.
Open the program, and check the green box next to every single app you don’t need running. Then press KILL APPS. That’s it. I set mine to run once per hour and it keeps my X running at over 100MB most all the time, usually over 140 or so. Running it also saves your battery a LOT of drain time.
A few notes about this:
- If you set the program to auto start with your phone it will run every time the phone comes on, but if you choose to kill ATK when you kill programs, then you cut it off and it won’t run every hour. Be sure NOT to check the box beside ATK when you set up your kill list.
- The program remembers your settings so it will always kill the same apps each time and always leave alone the ones you told it to skip each time.
- You might see a lot of programs you think you need on, such as Dialer, Contacts, Voice Command, etc. Don’t worry. You can kill them anyway. The next time your phone needs them it will reboot them in less than a second.
Lookout Mobile Security: Remember, this is not a phone with computer functions, it’s a computer with phone functions. As such, yes it’s susceptible to viruses. Lookout is a free app that scans your app downloads and your files for viruses. it also provides a backup utility to back up your photos, sd card data, contacts, and most everything else onto the www.mylookout.com web site. You can even use the web site to track your phone if it’s lost or stolen or to set off a “screaming” alarm to help you find it if you KNOW it’s around the house somewhere but can’t find it.
PrivacyStar with Caller ID: Here’s a MUST have for people who live on their phone for work and business calls. Personally I hate people who call me with a blocked number. If you block your number, I don’t answer. If you have a Private number, I don’t answer. And if I KNOW you are my ex-girlfriends college loan collection company who refuses to stop calling me instead of her, then… I don’t answer. However, this normally means I still have to actually HEAR you call me and be annoyed enough to press the Ignore button. No more!
Privacy star has a few features that I enabled right when I installed it. First, you can (don’t have to) block all unknown callers, private callers, AND callers who’s number is listed in the national blacklist of telemarketing hell-spawn!
I couldn’t wait for the first time that college loan company called me. Sure enough they called again that same day just like they do almost every day. I answered the phone, recognized who it was and hung up on them. Then I loaded PrivacyStar, checked the call log and pressed “lookup number” which allows you to search who they are right from inside the program. Cool. Now I pressed “block number” and checked and sure enough it put them in my block list.
NOTE: There is a built-in Android feature that you can do to ANYONE in your phone’s address book called “Send to voicemail” which means you' don’t ever have to answer certain calls if you don’t want to. However you still have to listen to the automated message because they’d clog up my voicemail. Instead, using PrivacyStar, the phone actually answers their call for a split second, then hangs up on them, meaning they can’t leave me a voicemail. If they call me 150 times, who cares? My phone automatically hangs up on them 150 times. They can never leave me a voicemail again. Additionally it removes them from my call log so I don’t even have to be bothered knowing they called.
So, in case you’re one of those people who keep getting hung up on and don’t know why? Try unblocking your number and you might get through!
WidgetLocker Lockscreen $1.99
This is a really must have app for me. You’re familiar with the iPhone’s screenlock probably. (the feature that locks the screen after x amount of minutes so you don’t accidentally pocketdial someone) The Android has one too. After x minutes the screen locks and you have to swipe, type your code, or do your pattern unlock in order to open the main screen. Well, I listen to audiobooks all day, and I call my wife a lot each day. I’d love to be able to do these two tasks without having to unlock my phone each time, especially since my lock activates in 2 minutes.
This app turns your lock screen into another “home” screen. You can put widgets on it just like any other screen. Me personally, I put a widget for audible audiobook player on my screen so I can hit play/pause without having to unlock my screen. Now if I need to stop listening to my music or book so I can do something, I don’t have to take out the phone, swipe unlock, code unlock, press Apps, select audible, then press pause. Instead I take out the phone, press pause. Done. Much faster.
There’s a lot of other cool ideas for using this app. A friend of mine gave me the idea to put a shortcut to yourself on your phone. What happens if you lose the phone and it’s locked? No one can unlock it to know who it belongs to and call you back right? Now I just have a speed dial to my alternate number on the home screen so anyone who picks up my phone can call me back directly. Very cool app!
PDA Net Free Edition (Free): (Geeks only) If you don’t know what tethering is, just ignore this one. If you DO know what tethering is and don’t want to pay Verizon for the privelege of using it, get this app! Basically this app lets you connect to your laptop or netbook or whatever other PC you want to, via either Bluetooth or via USB cable and use your phone’s 3G connection to surf the net on your device.
The speed test image you see here was taken on my laptop using my Droid X as the broadband modem. That’s not too darned shabby considering I live in the boonies!
There is an app and a PC component to this little program so be sure you’ve installed it and tested it at home before you actually need it on the road. It only takes a few seconds to configure and it CAN be done from the road but that process isn’t as easy for the non-geek to setup. Setting it up at home following the instructions takes less than 2 minutes and worked great on my Windows 7x64 laptop. If you’re still running XP, don’t ask me I don’t know, but you probably aren’t reading this because you most likely don’t own a Droid phone if you’re running XP on your laptop anymore. (Work VNC users are excluded from that scathe)
iSyncr for PC (Free) Want to be able to sync your iTunes playlists to your Android? This is the easiest way I’ve seen to do it. Load iTunes on your PC, load the program on your PC. Choose the playlists to sync, and boom. It’s easy to use, fast to transfer, and it remembers the playlists you prefer so you don’t have to set it up each time.
It also has an option to remove other playlists you’ve previously installed so you can easily keep the SD card from getting full. I have over 100 playlists and over 100,000 tracks in iTunes so this program was a lifesaver for me.
Note: It will NOT copy DRM music. (This means if you purchased your songs and they have digital rights management features on them, it can’t copy them. It’s not a limitation of the phone, but instead a limitation of Android.)
Weather Widget: (FREE) This isn’t a must have, but I really get a lot of use out of it. It’s a great animated weather widget for your phone that shows your current weather and forecast for the next three days.
As you can see, the test image shows London on a rainy day. When you unlock your phone, no matter what screen you open to, you’ll see a preview of that day’s weather on your screen. If it’s supposed to be overcast you’ll see a brief cloud animation scroll over your screen. Friday was the first day we’d had rain out here in 87 days and when I opened the phone the first time that day the animation showed rain drops running down my screen and then these wipers come outta nowhere and clear it off. It’s not really super-awesome but that it itself was enough to make me like it and want to keep it.
Dropbox (Free): Dropbox is a wonderful tool, and let me digress a moment to make a request. Dropbox rewards it users by offering them more space if they refer people. They basically give you 2 gb of free storage on their server to share and backup files for free. If you install the app on multiple computers and refer friends you can earn up to 10 gb of free space. To get that extra free space all I have to do is have you use my link when you sign up. I need about 24 more people to earn the full potential 10 GB. If you don’t already use it and you DO sign up, please do so from my link and I’ll get the credit for it, and 250MB of extra space in my account! To sign up using my link, just click here.
Now, here’s another difference between iPhone and Android. Since the Android OS has more space (at least on the Droid X, Droid 2, and others) you get a full featured version of Dropbox on your phone, so it’s really really easy to transfer files to and from your PC to your phone without ever having to actually connect a cable!
Barcode Scanner: This app is just what it looks like. It scans Barcodes, QR Codes, and Data Matrix codes. If you want to see a cool use for the barcode scanner reading QR codes, download the app and then scan the image you see below with it… watch what happens. If you don’t know what a QR code it, or don’t have a smart phone, then just look at the pretty picture…. whooooooo.
MP3 Music Download: Personally I think this app might actually break some laws, but Google seems to be allowing it so I’m going to use it as long as they’ll legally let me.
Open the app, enter an artist, song name, album name, etc. It searches some database ( I can’t seem to determine which one) and then you click the song you want, press download, and voila… you just got a free MP3. I’ve even tried it with some obscure artists and it works great. It works over your 3G connection so you don’t need wi-fi to download. And in case you’re curious, it puts the mp3 files in /sdcard/media/music so your audio programs can easily locate it and play it.
Astro File Manager (Free): This is a great app for viewing and manipulating files on your phone and your SD card. Yes, the Droid ships with a program called “files” which acts as a basic file manager, but it’s like comparing drag and drop with Windows 3.1. It easily allows you to select multiple files and cut, copy, paste them elsewhere on your phone’s card or internal memory. Great little app to have. You won’t use it daily but when you need to find a song or file you downloaded you’ll be glad you have it.
Astro Player Beta (Free): This is another great freebie from the guys at MNRF. Does your Android phone already have a music player and video player? Yes. Does it suck? yes. Astro is a pretty nice music and vide player for Android, but the best feature about it is that it supports multiple codecs that the android natively doesn’t, such as M4A files (which means you can move your itunes songs over and play them). It also supports bookmarks, podcasts, auto-resume, lyrics, FM radio and more. So, just go get it already.
I’ve been an audible member for 5 years and I have a huge collection of audiobooks. Here’s the difference between using Audible on an iPhone/iPod and using it on Android:
- Open browser on PC and go to audible.
- Browse and find your audiobook, purchase it.
- Install audible download manager on your PC.
- Browse to My Library and choose your file and press “download”
- The audible download manager will download it, open iTunes, and then convert the book to iTunes format and put it in your library.
- Connect your Apple iPod or iPhone
- Press Sync
- Disconnect iPod or iPhone
- Play (total time required 30 minutes minumum)
Using Audible on the Android
- Open the app.
- Search for title.
- Press download
- Press Play (total time required: about 5 minutes and only that long because you have to wait for the download to finish.)
If you are an audiobook lover yourself, I have hundreds of titles that are DRM free and are already iPod/iPhone/Android compatible. If you have Dropbox, I can send ‘em to ya!
HandyCalc (Free): Yes, the Droid ships with a calculator but it’s clunky and kind of junky. This is a free app that performs basic calculations, has a memory so you can see your previous calculation (great if you make FFM- Fat Fingered Mistakes) and it also does all the engineering, algebraic, and geometric functions as well as having a good graphing calculator. I’ve replaced the default calculator with this one for my own purposes and have really used it a lot so far.
Bubble (For you carpenters out there) Now, before you think this is just another gimmick toy, let me assure you it’s not. Yes, it’s a levelling bubble, and if you don’t do carpentry you’d probably never have a use for it. I, however, do lots of carpentry and I have over half a dozen levels, laser levels, and laser gimbals in my toolbox.
Thinking that this phone was just a phone, I was again surprised to find out how wrong I was. The Droid X has a 6-axis accelerometer and amazingly precise internal gyroscopic features. (It also has a built-in magnetometer, so yes your Droid X can actually tell you EXACTLY where true north is. You hikers have no excuse to ever be lost again!)
Now, onto the program. I keep my droid in a case to protect it, which naturally means the phone doesn’t actually sit level when I set it down, especially back down because the phone tilts up slightly. I took the phone, 2 lasers, and 3 beam levels and setup a test for the phone. Once I set the phone on a truly flat surface I could Zero the bubble and tell the app that this new plane was level. I calibrated all 6 sides of the phone to perfect zero and then took it to work doing a roofing job. I didn’t even know it when I downloaded but this thing even tells roof pitch for rafters.. and it’s dead level with every device I compare it against. My iPhone was nifty, but it can’t tell the difference between 358 degrees and 360. My Droid X can tell the difference between 360 degrees and 359.0381… pretty fan-freakin-tastic in my opinion.
HOW TO PRESERVE YOUR DROID BATTERY
- Use ATK to kill unnecessary programs.
- Brightness: Go to Settings, Display, Brightness and try turning your brightness ALL THE WAY down.. you’ll see it’s still pretty bright even on the lowest setting. I keep mine on the lowest setting possible unless I’m in direct sunlight all day.
- Don’t Rush: As soon as you buy your phone, DO NOT go playing with it! Let it charge on the AC Wall Charger for at least an hour. You can play with it while it’s charging, but don’t try to use it without giving it a full charge first. Your battery needs to be conditioned when it’s first used. I know that’s confusing to some people, but just trust me. Give it 1 full charge before you unplug it and you’ll be a much happier X customer in the long term. (Just ask Bill!)
- Disable Hardware: Your phone comes with 4 icons for turning on/off features of the phone. I put these on my second home screen on the top. They are Wifi, Bluetooth, GPS, and Airplane mode. Do I use my GPS? Sure. Do I use it all the time? Nope. I keep my wi-fi and GPS turned off unless I need them. This saves a LOT of battery time. Are you fretting over your wi-fi speed? Relax. Try actually using the 3g speed on Verizon and you’ll probably never use your wi-fi again. I don’t. My 3g internet is 1mb per second down and .5 mb per second up.. that’s fast enough for almost anything I want to do on my phone.
Ok. I’ve spent most of 5 hours preparing this post and I truly hope you’ve all enjoyed it. If you can think of some apps I haven’t rated or used yet that I’d like, feel free to comment and let me know.
NOTE TO FACEBOOK USERS: If you’re seeing this on my facebook notes page, please don’t comment there. Comment on the actual blog post at http://carolinaregion.blogspot.com
Thanks all. I’m off to… well, do something besides sit here at this PC and talk to all of you!