You know how some apps seem like The Greatest Invention In The World one day, and a waste of your storage space the next? These ones don’t. As the editor of this site, I’ve read every article we’ve published, and checked out a lot more apps that we haven’t covered yet; this roundup covers those rare apps that started awesome and stayed awesome.
You might think that a stopwatch app is hard to get wrong. Well, I’ve tried a few, and a lot of them do manage to screw it up. Stopwatch & Timer has a few features that seem obvious, even necessary, once you start using it, but that similar apps miss out: a landscape view with huge numbers; a setting to force the screen to stay on while the timer’s running; and an icon that sits in the bar at the top of the screen, which actually shows the number of seconds or minutes that have ticked away, so that you can keep track of it while you’re doing other things on your phone. It does other things, too, but those features alone make it perfect.
I had to go back and re-read Sam Cater’s review of this app to remind myself of what it does better than the stock SMS app — not because it doesn’t do much, but because I take all its features for granted, now. The number one feature for me is the popup: when you get a text, it displays the message right there on the screen, iPhone-style, so you can read and respond immediately (or the next time you pick up your phone). You can mark it as read without responding by hitting the X, or mark it as unread and opt to respond later by hitting “Todo”, which makes it sit in your Notifications box so you don’t lose track of it.
I mentioned this app in the very first article on this site, and have continued to use it every day since then. It’s a great alarm clock, with a ton of customisation features: select specific playlists, pick how long your snooze lasts, pick how many times you’re allowed to hit snooze, and so on. Its namesake comes from how you can set a quieter “pre-alarm” to play before your actual alarm, which will only wake you up if you were in a lighter phase of sleep anyway. I’ve set it to force me to correctly answer three arithmetic questions to turn it off; that makes sure I’m awake, and is also sharpening my mental math skills!
Clipper+ keeps a list of every piece of text you copy; at any time, you can promote any of these to a “snippet”, which is stored in a separate list. Both lists are accessible via an icon in your Notifications, and you need only tap one of the items to copy it to your clipboard. When would you ever actually use that, though? Well, I use my email address as a login for dozens of sites, and it’s over 30 characters long, which is a bit of a pain to type on a mobile keyboard; with Clipper+ it’s just a few taps away.
Connor Turnbull covered Shazam (and its main competitor SoundHound) in a How To article some time ago. Each app does the same kind of thing: hold it up to some music, wait a few seconds, and it’ll tell you what tune it is. Shazam has a decent interface, and has free unlimited identification through to the end of the year, but after that point it’ll revert back to only letting you identify a few tracks per month. You can’t go wrong with either app; I’ve just got no real reason to switch.
Browse to a website on your computer, hit a button, and it’ll automatically load in your phone’s browser. Pick a location in Google Maps, hit the same button, and it’ll load in the Maps app. Watch a video on YouTube, hit the button — you can guess what happens. This is cool as a geeky toy, but it frequently comes in useful when I want to continue reading an article on my Android, or call a company whose number is on their website, or in a surprising number of other occasions.
When I switched from HTC Sense to CyanogenMod 7, I really missed the Sense Contacts app — the stock Android one is so bare. GO Contacts makes up for it, though: once again, I can use T9 dialing (so 2411 will find my friend Bill as well as anyone with “2411” in their phone number), and quickly search through my contacts. As an added bonus, it looks clean, too.
It’s hard to believe that Android doesn’t have a stock note-taking app. There are some great simple apps on the Market — like the Sticky Note widget, which keeps a single note on your home screen — and some great complex apps, too — like Evernote and Springpad — but few that fit the gap in the middle. Extensive Notes is just right; it has a huge number of features, while still making it very easy to write a simple text note and retrieve it later
Obviously this is not going to be useful to everyone in the world, but if you ever go to London, you should buy this app (along with an Oyster card). Enter a start point and a finish point (each of which can be a station, a place of interest, a post code, or your current GPS location) and it’ll show you the best routes to get from one to the other, via train, tube, bus, boat, and foot. It’s a well-designed wrapper for the official Transport for London website, with the very important feature that it automatically saves the journey details of the last few searches you did, so that you can refer back to them when you’re on the Underground with no phone signal.
Taking screenshots on Android is quite a hassle. Other apps get around this by saving a picture when you shake it, or yell at it, or hit a certain button combination, but it’s a pain to do all of that, and you still have to transfer the pictures from the phone to your computer in order to use them anywhere. PicMe’s solution to this is brilliant: when you load it, it gives you a URL you can browse to on your desktop browser; upon loading that page, a screenshot of your phone at that moment appears, and you can simply right-click to save it. It can even run on some non-rooted devices, unlike most screenshot apps.
Since you use Android, there’s a good chance you use other Google products too, like Gmail, Contacts, and Calendar. If so, you’re probably used to having a lot of your communications stored in the cloud, so you don’t have to worry about losing them if something bad happens to your computer. SMS Backup+ brings that same peace of mind to your phone communications: it automatically syncs your SMS and MMS data to your Gmail account, and your call log to your Google Calendar. One more thing not to worry about.