A while back, I talked about my top five iPad apps, which could probably have been taken as my top five tablet apps, as I don’t think any of them were iOS only; today, I’m instead going to talk about my top five phone apps. Unlike the iPad apps, which were whimsical and fun, these ones are all about pure functionality… these are the apps that I would install immediately upon buying a new phone.
[Full disclosure: While I might be wedded to my iPad, when it comes to phones, I am an Android man through and through. This undoubtedly informs my choice of apps somewhat.]
There is an excellent chance you’re already aware of this app, in which case you should feel free to move onto the next one (which there’s an excellent chance you may not be aware of); however, if you’ve not encountered WhatsApp before, it is definitely worth downloading. At it’s core, all it does is allow you to send text messages via wifi, which doesn’t sound very impressive, particularly if you have unlimited texts each month anyway. However, it does have a couple of benefits that make it worth considering. Firstly, many places (including my office at work, which is what prompted me to download it in the first place) have no network coverage, but free wi-fi; WhatsApp can be a convenient workaround if regular texting is off the table. Secondly, you can send picture messages for free (many contracts include unlimited SMS, but charge for MMS) and at better resolutions.
I’ve only encountered this one very recently, but I’m already impressed with what I’ve seen. It basically allows your phone and computer to communicate indirectly through your Google account. You can “push” a link from your phone to your computer and it will automatically open in a new tab (I tried to send a romantic picture to my wife this way, but she thought it was a pop-up and instincitive closed it without looking); you can push photos and files in the other direction too if you desire. Importantly, your phone and computer don’t need to be co-located or even online at the same time to do these things; you can throw a link to your computer when it’s off and it will pop up when you next open a browser session.
The other use of this app, is that it can be set to display any notifications from your phone on your computer. Some notifications (e.g. SMS messages) can even be replied to from your computer. This is of less use to me, as I have a smart watch that has similar functionality, but for a home worker, there are definitely situations that this could be helpful.
Unlike all the other apps in the list, Pushbullet feels like it’s still a work in progress, but I suspect that it’s the sort of thing that will become ubiquitous in the future, once it gets itself really established.
It took me a long time to convert to Evernote, as initially I wasn’t a fan of the fact that all my notes were online. However, since installing the app on my phone, I have now fully embraced my online note taking – it’s a great way to take advantage of the strengths of different devices. I can quickly create shopping list on my computer (which is easier to type on), then check off the items on my phone (which is easier to carry round the supermarket). If I happen across an article on the internet that will be long and annoying to read on a tiny screen, I can share the link to Evernote and read it on my iPad at a later date (I even have a specific folder for such links, so that they don’t get forgotten about). My to-do list is accessable from any device, which makes adding things to it a lot easier (though crossing them off is still just as rare an event). Combined with Pushbullet, Evernote really ensures that my phone (which is ok, but not crazily high spec) doesn’t limit my productivity.
As phones have gotten more advanced, they’ve tried to make their music libraries more involved, pulling in all the track information to organise your music. I have actually found this a very frustrating feature, as it never works quite how I want it to – if I organise by album title, albums by one artist don’t appear together; if I organise by artist, compilation albums can cause issues; when I finally get everything sorted (through innovative use of the “album artist” information), there’s inevitably one album that refuses to sort tracks in the correct order, no matter how perfectly the track number information has been entered.
Clean Music is the simplest music app possible, as it ignores all metadata and just works off the folder/file names. Ten minutes of up front effort to make sure that the folders are all named “artist – album” (or occasionally “classical – compilation title”) and everything is exactly where it needs to be. Not for everyone certainly, but for those who have a rather patchwork mp3 collection from many different sources, it does provide an elegant solution.
If there was ever a reason to use Android over another phone OS, Tasker would be it. Tasker allows you to set up automated actions, based on certain events or the status of your phone. Even for those who aren’t that tech savvy, there are some easy tricks that can be set up (for example, disabling the display timeout when the camera is active), but for those willing to do a bit of research and fiddling around, there are so many potential options. I have it set to auto-respond to text messages while I’m driving, toggle between wifi and mobile data with a single button press, change display settings based on time of day and what apps are open… throw in a smart watch and there’s even more options (including my favourite – don’t require a PIN to unlock when in range of my watch). This is the app that will keep me with Android over iOS for the foreseeable future (since I can’t imagine Apple allowing an app with such control over its OS).