Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Gadget Goodies 10 -- Android Apps 2

We only got to three of our Top 10 “go to” Android apps, last week.  There are a couple of instances where John’s list separated things I’d combine, as you’ll see.  So, let’s get going, again, with John’s #7.

Starting with the second one first, I’ve used ADW EX.  It’s one of the best there is.  I think it’s more flexible than Nova, which is similar and very popular.
 
Swapps looks like a great idea.  While I haven’t used Swapps, I have used Swipepad and Unity Launcher, which are similar in idea.  And I really like the side menu quick access.  But, if you have a lot of apps installed, including some that don’t give a choice about running in the background, there can be a performance hit by adding another layer of activity.
 
For me, there’s an alternative.  And note that I said “for me”.  There’s nothing as personal on a device as how you make it look and act.  John’s choice isn’t necessarily mine.  And my choice may not be to your liking.  Anyway, I ended up with Action Launcher, which combines most of the flexibility of the ADW EX Launcher with a built in side menu.  The best of both worlds with a slightly smaller performance hit.  The menu has two sides – apps and widgets.  To install a widget in Jellybean, just swipe it onto the place you want it.
 
Action Launcher has two features not found in other launchers.  Shutters is the ability to access a widget via its app icon.  That’s unique in that the screen only has the icon normally showing.  Tap the icon and it then opens the widget in its own box.  There’s also Covers, which allows creating a small menu off one icon that can be tapped to open the app or swiped to open the menu.  You modify the icon to become either a Cover or a Shutter and that has no effect on the same icon placed elsewhere in the system.
 
I’ve ended up uninstalling my other launchers and using Action Launcher on both my phone and my tablet.  Even though there are slight differences in each, it allows using pretty much the same actions to do things on both, instead of doing things one way on my phone and differently on the tablet.  And, because my choice of launchers is so integral to how I can do things, Action Launcher has to be my #1.

I have Gas Buddy on my phone.  It’s really useful.  But I ‘m a city boy.  I use mass transit to get to most places I need to be.  This isn’t one of my Top 10, but it’s a “must have” extra for those times I’m riding with someone and we want the cheapest gas price.
 
    #5 - Business Calendar
    This is a calendar app I've been using almost as long as I've been using Android. When I got my first device, the original Galaxy S, this was one of Amazon's free apps of the day. Would I have paid $5 for it right off the bat? Maybe, at the time, because it offered a lot of widgets. Back then, there weren't a whole lot of calendar widget options, and Business Calendar offers a widget I've yet to find elsewhere in a view that I like - A 4x4 Week View that can be tweaked from 1 day to 14 days. It's one reason this app is always one of my first 5 downloads when setting up a new device.
    Granted, this app may not be for everyone. I've tried Pocket Informant, which allows for tasks and calendar together, and I just prefer to have them separate.
I’m with John on this one.  Business Calendar is easy to set up and both the app and widgets are well designed.  The task function is separate and beta for now.  It will be integrated in the future.  The design has a lot of similarities to Pocket Informant, which I also use.  I also like Pocket Informant’s integration of contacts and calendar, making your contact list another view.  And importing specified contacts into calendar events is a breeze.  But….
 
Early versions of the latest version (PI3) were very slow to start and didn’t always load up.  I started looking for an alternative because I expected PI2 (which worked fine) to eventually become unsupported, John’s mention of Business Calendar got me to take a look.  And just out of curiosity, I just reinstalled PI3, again.  Both now work properly on both of my devices.  I like Business Calendar’s UI better.  But I prefer some of the extra features of PI.  Both have a free or trial version, so try both and see which works for you.  Right now, I have both installed.  I rely on my calendar to keep my life sorted out, which makes either one or both my #4.

I’ll throw in one of my extras, here.  I tend toward Agenda view for my preferred calendar widget view.  Simple Calendar Widget is excellent at that.  It displays date on the left, a separator line, and the agenda on the right. Each element can be modified – font, size, color of each item, and transparency.  In my case, I prefer leaving it mostly at default, changing only the line color and making the background fully transparent.

    #4 - K9 Mail
    Always in my top 5 apps, K9 just released a major update that overhauled the UI of the app. I've always loved K9 because of how it works with IMAP idle. I get my work email pushed instantly to my phone, sometimes beating Outlook on my desktop.
    K9 has a really nice Share feature, which has been moved to the "Reply" button in the new update. Previously what I would do is leave emails in my inbox until I took care of them. Now, if the email contains a Task I need to take care of, I "Share" it to my Task list, and as I mentioned earlier, I now have a visual reminder of what needs to be done. I'm finding I'm better about accomplishing items in a timely manner this way.
    I did hear from a friend today that K9 doesn't play nice with Exchange folders, and I did notice when I added my gmail account today that it added some folders, and I had to go in and change my default folders. It's never done that with my .edu email. Right here it's fair to mention that I kind of prefer the stock Gmail app for Gmail...it just works right, and all my labels are intact in that app.
K9, because I use email a lot to communicate, is my #5.  I also like Samsung’s unified email client.  Both have things better than the other.  But neither has anything major enough to say one is really better than the other.  At least for me.

Once again, we hit more detail than I thought.  Which means there’s at least one more installment, next week, to get through the full list.  Have our comparisons, so far, helped you find the right tools for you?

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