Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Gadget Goodies 11 -- Android Apps 3

This is the third post in a series about “must have”Android apps.  We’re using John Vincent’s list as our foundation.  I’ve added my thoughts to those.  You’ll note that, while he and I have some where we match, there are quite a few where we differ.  That’s not because my choices are better than his or his are better than mine.  We all have different ways of doing things and different preferences.  Our hope is that, by giving you both our preferences, we give you a solid foundation from which to explore if what we like is also best for you or to find something else that is.  So, let’s get back to our list.

    #3 - Swype+Dragon 
Keyboards are probably the most personal thing there is on a phone or tablet.  We all have our ways of doing things and our own preferences.  I’ve used Swype in some form since I was using a Windows Mobile phone, with the exception of my Treo Pro and Blackberry phones.  So, Swype was the first thing I looked for to install on my Galaxy Tab.  When I got my Note 2, the Samsung default keyboard included swiping and a decent dictionary, which kept me from initially installing any alternatives.  But that didn’t last very long.
Right about the time I started thinking of adding Swype to my Note 2 keyboard arsenal, people that I respected started raving about the newest Swiftkey.  At the same time, Swype announced a beta program for a new version.  There I was with three swiping keyboards, each with its own benefits.  Samsung did put out at least one more keyboard update.  Swiftkey and Swype seemed to putting out updates in similar fashion to the US and Russia during the cold war arms race.  More usability, better dictionary handling, etc.  I was bouncing between the three, depending on who had the latest update.  Over time, like John, I’ve pretty much zeroed in on Swype and Swiftkey as my main keyboards.

Most recently, I've been trying another keyboard, Kii, that shows real promise.  Kii worked well on my Note 2, but there was a difference on my tablet. The keyboard layout was quite different on the tablet.  The other issue has been that word accuracy is much worse on the tablet.  Word choices weren't always even close in context and I found it sometimes spewing gibberish for 8 or 10 extra characters.  In other words, it still needs work.  So, right now, Swiftkey is my main driver.  But who knows what somebody’s next update will do to that standing.  They’re all keyboards, so I’ll keep it to one slot on the list.  Since I already made the UI, via Action Launcher, #1, the keyboard is such an essential that it has to be #2.
    #1 - Widget Locker
    Except for your homescreen, the lock screen is the screen you look at most on your phone. There are times you will turn your phone on, see the lockscreen, see that there's no notifications, and turn the phone off without even unlocking it.
    Having the right widgets and notifications on your lockscreen can be a huge timesaver during the day. It may not seem like a lot to unlock your phone and check your email app, but those seconds turn into minutes.
    Widget Locker will always have a special place in my heart, even if Android progresses to really freeing up our lock screens. WL was the very first Android app I ever spent money on, and I've definitely gotten my money out of it. 
    There is so much flexibility in this can customize the beejeebers out of your lockscreen. Widgets, apps, are only limited by the number of pixels on your lock screen. There are many extensions for it as well - one of those that I use is Tesla Unread plugin...allows for unread count on message and email icons on your lockscreen. There are many custom "locks" as well available for widget locker.
I agree with everything John says about Widget Locker.  It’s a great app.  But I’m also very double minded about this one.  While I like having more detailed weather and a Bible verse visible on my lockscreen, I’m also aware of that it’s an extra layer stealing more resources and battery life.  So are the widgets I add to make it display what I want.  Which means Widget Locker resides below my #10, simply because it’s likely to be one of the first that might be removed to get back some battery life or restore some speed.
That leaves my #8, #9, and #10 slots.  Twenty years of my work life relied on weather.  Since then, some health things also can be prevented from being too much of a hassle if I pay attention to conditions.  Which probably makes weather apps my #8 category.  My personal preference has been Weatherbug, partly because I could set the app to use the readings from a weather station that’s less than a mile from my home and even closer to the church where I help out.  I've since switched to BeWeather, something I discovered courtesy of my jaunt into Blackberry land.  It's as accurate and informative as Weatherbug and has a reading location even closer to home.
Accuweather, The Weather Channel, and Android Weather all have their benefits.  But they also aren’t as accurate for where I spend most of my time.  For example, Android Weather pinpoints the 6x8 block area where I live by the area name.  But the temperatures reported are very different from the localized ones given by Weatherbug and BeWeather. 
Weather apps definitely highlight “your mileage may vary”.  You need to find out, as best as possible, where each gets its weather data from for the places you frequent.  Or choose one and ignore the rest.  Temperature and forecasts can vary, depending on where the data comes from.  You probably want to avoid “mix and match” with widgets from one or more and using a different app.  I’ve seen temperatures and forecasts vary considerably.  For me, I can live with a two degree variation and slight forecast differences.  But greater variation calls into question who is more accurate.  So, pick an app and stick with it, at least till it seems to be incorrect too often.  That will eliminate a lot of frustration.
Social Media comes in at #9.  Although my blog related stuff (most of the writing, all the promotion) gets done on my computer, much of my Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn one-on-one happens on my phone.  Which is why I get to fix typos. <grin>

My #10 goes to my reading apps.  Amazon Kindle, Google Currents, Flipboard, Reader+.  I do a lot of reading on my phone.

John added some honorable mentions:
  • Honorable mentions: (any of these apps easily could have been #10 on the list:)
  • PowerAmp
  • Pandora
  • Chrome
  • Dropbox
  • Docs2Go
  • LinkedIn
  • Google Drive
  • YouVersion Bible
  • Amazon Kindle
Some of those fit into my broader categories.  But that list highlights that a Top 10 could be a Top 15 and miss a few  Certainly web, utility, and music apps deserve to be in our "must have" lists.  And most are as personal a choice as our keyboards.
    John made some overall comments that are worth considering as we close.

    • "Which brings me to a closing point about Android - I've used iOS, BlackBerry, WindowsPhone... Android offers the most flexibility. You literally make the phone how you want it. Don't like a certain stock app? There's probably dozens of replacements in the Google Play store."
      There are John’s and my favorites.  What fills your Top 10?

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