I’ve had my Droid for five months now, and in those five months it has changed my life. The reason: apps.
Apps are not new. The iPhone may have perfected the distribution of them, but it certainly didn’t invent them. I had apps on my Windows Mobile phone, and before that on my Handspring Visor. In fact, you can trace apps back to the original Apple Newton PDA. (Okay, so Apple DID invent them…just not when people think they did).
But the combination of a phone, GPS, accelerometer, camera, speakerphone and touch screen have given apps a whole new life. So what apps have transformed my life? Well, besides browsing the web, reading e-mail and calling people, I’ve discovered lots of new apps.
Apps That Have Rocked My World
Besides e-mail and a web browser, there are several apps which have changed the way I do things. Some I use daily, others only when traveling or in certain circumstances. But all have proved to be invaluable.
- Google Maps: Location, Voice Navigation & Geo-Search
Google Maps rocks. I can call up a map wherever I am, look up directions, get turn-by-turn directions read aloud, or search for “restaurants” or “wawa” and see close locations immediately overlaid on a map. All for free. During a recent trip, this helped us not only not get lost, but helped find good places to eat along the highway.
- Facebook: Stay Connected
I’ve enjoyed being able to quickly see what all my friends are doing, update my status or check out photo albums from the built-in Facebook app. Though it took me a while to figure out how to open up links people had posted in their status updates (long press the status update and a menu appears).
- ShopSavvy: Cheapest Price
Scan any barcode with the camera and ShopSavvy tells you the price of the item locally or on the web, for both new and used items. Click through to go to get directions or go to the web site, or save the item to a wish list to remember later. The one feature I haven’t used yet are the price alerts where you can get alerted when an item drops below a set price. I use this all the time when I go into stores to compare prices and remember what I might want to buy in the future. I haven’t bought any big ticket items yet, but I imagine once I do, this app is going to save me a lot of money.
- Where: News & Weather
Local weather, news, gas prices, coupons and more. I didn’t think I would use Where as much as I have when I first installed it. But it provides easy access to the weather and the news without having to have two separate apps for those.
- Pandora: Streaming Music
With Pandora installed, I can listen to music anywhere. The best use I’ve found is in my car while driving. My car stereo has an audio-in jack that I plug the phone into so I can listen to music over my car speakers. Or I stick the phone in my shirt pocket while working around the house and have music with me as I wander.
- Movies: Trailers, To Watch List, Netflix Queue
Now when I want to watch a trailer, I just open up Movies by Flixster. Besides the basic info (summary, ratings, showtimes), one click adds the movie to my NetFlix queue or my watch list.
- Aldiko: eBooks
I didn’t think I would like reading on a phone screen. But the convenience of having dozens of books in your pocket, the super-high resolution of the Droid screen and the ease of use of Aldiko has changed my mind. Especially for those times when I’m stuck waiting with nothing to read. While the book selection isn’t great (mostly classics or romance novels), you can import any ePub book you download and I just discovered Calibre, which allows dozens of different e-book formats, including PDFs, to be converted to ePub for reading in Aldiko.
- Car Cast: Podcasts
For those long drives, Car Cast provides hours of talk radio without worrying about reception. I previously was using Google Listen, but the podcast downloading and queue management are much better in Car Cast (though not perfect). It also has big buttons that are ideal when driving.
- OI Shopping: Lists
OI Shopping provides an easy way to compile shorts lists in different categories, like apps to download, books to read, or things to buy for the house. Extensions allow you to enter voice notes, export to CSV files or back up your lists, but I haven’t used any of those yet.
- TimeCatcher: Time Tracking
Aimed mainly at consultants who need to track time for different clients, I use TimeCatcher as an activity log, to track where I’m using my time (in theory to use my time more effectively–but that hasn’t happened yet). Unlike other time trackers, you don’t have to setup your clients and activities beforehand; just enter them as text and they’ll be remembered from then on. Phone calls are automatically “catched” and displayed in the notification bar, so you can easily track time spent talking to people without needing to manually add the time. For producing reports, you can simply e-mail a CSV file of all your time to yourself from within the app. I then have an Excel spreadsheet I use to summarize my time by day and by category so I can see when I’m spending my time on what things.
Apps Still In Limbo
Some apps I’m holding out hope for. These are apps which might rock my world in the future, but for one reason or another aren’t there yet.
- Smart Alarm Clock: Sleep Cycle Alarm
The Theory: Place your phone next to you on your bed and let your phone detect the optimal time to wake you up so you’re most refereshed. Smart Alarm Clock uses the accelerometer in the Droid to detect when you are tossing & turning versus lying still, apparently an indicator of REM sleep. The alarm then wakes you up within a window of time (eg: anytime from 7:30 – 8:00am) when you are in your lightest sleep.
The Reality: I keep worrying about knocking the phone off the bed and it apparently needs training to be more accurate. Sleeping in a bed with a partner also makes the detection algorithm more difficult. A premium version is supposed to correct this, but hasn’t been released yet.
- Gentle Alarm: Alarm On Steroids
Gentle Alarm takes a different tack toward waking you up at the right time. It uses a pre-alarm, a quiet alarm that you’ll only hear if you’re in a light sleep, to wake you so you’re refreshed and well-rested. It works on the theory that your sleep cycles get shorter the longer you sleep, and are about an hour long after 7-8 hours. So if a pre-alarm can try waking you at 7:30am and if that doesn’t work, the real alarm will wake you at 8:00am. One of those times you’re almost sure to be in a light sleep. And you don’t have to worry about tossing your phone off your bed while you sleep.
For the customization freak, Gentle Alarm provides a multitude of options. More than you could ever imagine an alarm clock to have. You can set a ringtone or MP3 as your alarm sound, the amount of time it takes for the alarm to fade in (so you’re not woken suddenly), the maximum number of times you can snooze, how long the snooze is for and whether you have to solve a puzzle to turn off the alarm (and how difficult that puzzle should be). Separate settings are included for the pre-alarm versus the main alarm and you can set up separate profiles for different types of alarms. There’s even a special “Night” mode that turns off your cell phone so you can sleep soundly.
- Mileage: Track Car Maintenance
Track your gas spending and mileage using this handy app. Mileage calculates various statistics on your gas usage and provides pretty charts of your average gas price, average mileage, distance between fill-ups and more. It also lets you track and set oil changes and other regular car maintenance services.
- Calorie Counter: Track Calories, Weight & Exercise
Look up the calories of any food by searching, browsing or scanning its bar code. Calorie Counter tracks your eating throughout the day, your weight and your exercise. The latest release adds a “Saved Meals” feature so you can save food you eat regularly as a group. Though I’m still waiting for a more general “recipe” function to add my own recipes and the ability to add foods not in their database.
- NPR News: Listen to NPR
Listen to individual NPR news bulletins and read articles without having to download full podcasts. Great idea, but NPR News is still buggy and doesn’t give you feedback when you add items into your listen queue. I keep it on my Droid hoping a future update fixes the problems.
- Inventory Droid: Track Your Stuff
Scan or photograph any item to track and catalogue it. Arrange items into categories and track lending. Right now I’ve started scanning my books, but I can see expanding this, such as to create an insurance inventory for the house. There are several inventory apps out there, but Inventory Droid supports exporting to CSV, photo inventories, custom fields and loan reminders. It would be good if they added warranty tracking support too.
- Qik & Camera: Photos & Videos
The camera is a 5 mega-pixel camera, which is more than twice my old 2.1 mega-pixel HP camera. It also doubles as a video recorder, shooting DVD quality video (though probably not as good as a dedicated camera). With Qik, you can stream video directly to the web live, allowing others to see what you are seeing. So far I’ve just used this to video my sister’s store and show it to others, but I can imagine going to a concert or performance and streaming it to others who couldn’t attend. Qik also keeps a copy of the video for viewing later.
- ConnectBot: SSH & Telnet
ConnectBot is an open source SSH & telnet client with lots of options. Nuff said.
- WiFinder: Wi-Fi Hotspot Locator
When I used to drive to Raleigh a lot, I often needed to find an open hotspot to check my mail in between meetings. But booting up your laptop to look for hotspots is a pain. I wish I had WiFinder back then to quickly check whether a hotspot was available. I haven’t needed this recently, but I keep it on my Droid just in case.
- Healthy Recipes: Recipe Database
Browse through healthy receipes from SparkRecipes. Health Recipes includes ingredients, directions and full nutritional info. The best thing though are all the options you can use to browse for recipes. The normal category, course and cuisine are there, but you can also search by dietary needs, special occasion or total number of calories. It also let’s you easily add favorites or share recipes with others.
- Talk To Me: Voice Translation
Talk to Me is just cool. Speak any sentence in English and have it translated into Spanish, French, German or Italian and spoken back to you. You also get both the English text it recognized and the translated text.
Apps for Fun
The apps I mentioned above were all practical apps. The apps below are the ones just for fun.
- Mystique: 3-D horror adventure game
- Funny Jokes: Compendium of user-submitted jokes
- Coloroid: Simple puzzle game
- Cat Sounds: Different cat sounds to freak out your cat or dog with
- AlphaMixer: Create as many words as you can from a set of letters
- WordGame: Timed Scrabble-like game. Create words from seven tiles. Draw new tiles are you create words.