A couple of months ago my trusty flip phone finally circled the drain after several years of unfaltering service. So I bit the bullet and upgraded to a smartphone. All I really wanted was a phone with a decent camera, but as I soon found out the only option for that was to go with the smartphone. I’d been dragging my feet on the upgrade for a while despite the constant pleas from Her Indoors. I’m not sure what it is about these phones that I dislike so much. I’m a serious tech geek in all other aspects of life, and I’m an early-adopter on most other pieces of technology. However, with regards to phones I tend to lean more into crotchety old man status. I think it is probably the way people constantly rely on them to relay every painfully useless morsel of information about their life to those in their social circle. At the same time they make people more socially inept. I see groups of friends gathered together to have a pint, but rather than being present with their mates they’ve got their faces focused on their mobile device. People are constantly answering messages, checking emails, doing web searches while in the middle of a conversation with no indication of what they are doing. It’s rude. In my mind it’s the same as turning your back on someone that is talking to you mid-sentence and engaging someone else in a conversation. Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a rant against mobile devices. They are amazingly versatile and powerful pieces of technology, and they can be very useful if configured properly. In the end I purchased HTC’s Incredible 2 because it had a great combination of features, and I’m not an Apple fanboy.
So after a few months of use I thought I’d put together an incomplete list of applications that allow the mobile device to actually be somewhat smart and marginally useful. Of course Android devices come preloaded with a crapload of questionably useful applications. The top preloaded apps on the Droid are: Camera, Flashlight, Kindle, YouTube, Google Maps, Navigation, and Quick Office. To be fair these are the only preloaded apps that I ever use. All of the dozens of other applications that are preloaded are just wasted space and are particularly annoying since you cannot uninstall them. Lame.
Over the course of a few months I have downloaded and uninstalled dozens of apps that I thought were cool or useful, but here are the ones that remain. These apps are all free, by the way. So here is Daniel P. Daniel’s list of essential free Android apps for your device in no particular order…actually let’s do this in the order that I downloaded them, shall we?
1. SoundHound: Ever wonder who the artist is that is singing a song while you’re buzzing down the highway? Want to settle an argument about which album the song was on? What is that song anyway? Identify it with this gem.
2. Google Earth: This is easily the most powerful free app on the market. You can use Google Earth to fly around the planet with the swipe of a finger. I found this app surprisingly useful on a recent hunting expedition in Routt National Forest. Since this app finds your location via satellite it will work in areas that have no cell service. If you pre-load the maps of the areas you plan on visiting this single free app will replace your compass, GPS, and maps. If you are looking for a more full-bodied GPS/ Topo map application check GAIA GPS (http://www.gaiagps.com/), but it is not free.
3. ConvertPad: ConvertPad is a simple and powerful unit converter. Nothing glamorous here, just a full-featured app that is fast and easy to use.
4. BJCPDroid: This is a must have for any beer snobs in the group. BJCPDroid gives you the beer judge certification program style guidelines in the palm of your hand. Fully searchable by style, and it even comes with a standard reference meter to gauge the color of the beer in your other hand.
5. Gmail: I think we all know what this is.
6. Facebook: Although it takes a bit of getting used to the interface, the Facebook app gives you everything you need to post drunken pictures of yourself online and check in from the stall of your favorite Mexican restaurant’s bathroom.
7. MP3 Ringtone Box: Apparently every smartphone user needs to have the annoying capacity to customize ringtones to every person in their contact list, and the preloaded apps that come with the Droid are surprisingly dismal. This application makes millions of popular mp3 ringtones and sounds available to you for free. The best part of this app is that you can also create your own ringtones from mp3 sound files via their sound editor.
8. Zedge: This has a pretty good list of pre-edited ringtones and notification sounds, but I prefer the Ringtone Box app above for most of my ringtones.
9. Google Goggles: This is a surprisingly under-marketed piece of software. It allows you to perform a web search by simply taking a picture. Goggles uses image recognition technology to recognize objects and return relevant search results. Identifies products, famous landmarks, storefronts, artwork, and popular images found online. Goggles can translate words in English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian. You can scan barcodes to get product information, scan QR codes to extract information, add contacts by scanning business cards or QR codes, and even solve Sudoku puzzles. Nice work Google.
10. Google Sky Map: This is the sister app to Google Earth. Simply point your phone anywhere in the sky, and the Google Sky Map will instantly turn Cousin Billy Bob into Copernicus.
11. RealCalc: This is a simple to use scientific calculator. ‘Nuff said.
12. Alarm Clock Xtreme: I find it annoying that the Droid doesn’t come preloaded with an alarm clock. I mean, how am I supposed to know when I’ve been sleeping too long at my desk? Anyway, this app is great, and it comes with loads of possibilities for customization.
13. TED Mobile: TED is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting ideas worth spreading. It started out in 1984 as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. The talks are inspiring and enlightening. Much better that scanning YouTube for people getting kicked in the crotch…well, pretty close.
14. Photoshop Express: This app allows you to edit and share photos virtually anywhere. Simply touch to crop, rotate, adjust color, and add artistic effects. Then send them into cyberspace.
15. Spirit Level Plus: Finally! I don’t need to carry my four-foot level around wherever I go. Everybody carries a level around with them, right? Well now you can.
16. IMDb: Handheld access to the international film and movie database. This app is essentially the movie version of SoundHound. I just use it to settle arguments.
17. Baby monitor: Baby Monitor is an app that helps you in watching your baby even when you don’t want to be in the same room with it. If your baby is asleep and you are in another room, the baby monitor will detect if your baby is crying and alert you by a call or a text message to whatever phone number you like.
18. Random Mahjong: Awesome app for killing time while dropping the deuce.
19. Vlingo: Vlingo combines voice to text technology with its "intent engine" to help you quickly complete your desired action. Simply speak to your phone or type a command through the action bar to get just about anything done while on the go. I find this application immensely useful while driving. However, talking at my phone makes me feel like a weirdass, so I only use this app when I’m alone.
20. GEICO BroStache: Yeah, yeah. I know it’s silly.
21. Google+: G+ is Facebook’s up-and-coming competition, and (like I said before) I’m an early adopter. This app would be a whole lot cooler if it had the “What’s Hot” links that standard G+ has.
22. Pandora: The Droid operating system comes preloaded with Slacker, but I already have all of my stations figured out on Pandora. I can’t be bothered to do the same on Slacker, so here we are.
23. SwiftKey X: The stock keyboard for the android is OK at predictive text, but the SwiftKey X keyboard steps it up a huge notch and has mastered the art of predictive conversation. It is fast, customizable, and uses swipe gestures, which makes this a necessary addition to the “must have” apps.
These mobile devices can be customized to be as unique as their owners, and not everyone uses them in the same way. However, I think this is a pretty good starting point for any new Android owners out there. What do you think? Am I missing any big hitters?