Apps: Making the Smartphone Smarter
Considering the sophistication of the latest “smartphones,” their calling capabilities seem like afterthoughts. From video to voice to text features, the current crop of mobile phones, or “handsets,” offer true multitasking in compact containers.
With the popularity of Google’s mobile phone operating system “Android,” the connection between the web, desktops and assorted devices is becoming more streamlined. To facilitate these new functions, users become quickly aware of the “apps” that make this all possible.
Like their desktop counterparts, Android features an everexpanding list of programs—apps–that add greater functionality to your handset. Certainly choice is a great thing here. However, when starting out, it helps to begin with a few basics.
In the case of the Google Market Place, the official Android apps site, the choices are overwhelming. From free apps, to small version of desktop programs, there are programs that can make your Android a little easier to use without spending a dime (see below for a list of some favorites).
Like the web, when it comes to browsers, there are options. The Android OS has one built in, but it is basic. Opera, the innovative browser from Norway, has been a popular one that includes flash support and syncing with the desktop version. The only downside is that it is a large file. For older phones and slow connections they also have a mini version that is substantially lighter.
In terms of speed, flash support and features, the oddly named Dolphin browser, and its various versions, is one impressive responsive performer. A popular program, it includes an easy-to-find exit button – a feature frequently absent in the competition.
If social networking be your focus, Skyfire is a fast-paced browser that includes video downloads compressed by their servers so that lagging is reduced, even eliminated. Recently, the pliable Firefox has entered the Android world. Freshly out of beta, the final version shows promise,but in my testing it is a bit buggy with some sites not displaying well, and it still has oddly long start up times.
Should you be dependent on Microsoft Office, Google is making the transition easier with Think Free Office. Depending on your model of phone, plan and carrier, this included app provides a website and a way to open, edit and save Office documents online at no charge.
Some companies have embraced Android as a viable platform. Yahoo, with both an email client and messaging client, offers those same services scaled to a handset. Syncing your current accounts with your mobile is easy, and the email interface is a model of simplicity. If that were not enough, they have a plug-in that permits video chat.
If you’re a fan of Real Player, a nearly ubiquitous program that is still required for content on many sites, they have one with the essential features intact. Although still awaiting a final release, from my experiences the program works well enough for daily use. Winamp, the onetime favorite on college campuses, is back with a full featured mobile version for those familiar with that program and seeking interoperability with this longtime favorite application. It also syncs with your desktop, a common feature with many music/video file players.
One standard that has been around is AOL messenger. Again set up is easy enough, however if you are looking for video and email support, that has yet to arrive in a full version officially released by AOL. ICQ, one of the early messenger programs, has managed to make the migration to Android with a mini version.
Transferring files, from desktop to phone can be a labor. Luckily, you have options. All Share, an application built into Android phones allows you to easily sync music and image files to your windows 7 pc with minimal effort without cables. If you need more comprehensive file sharing, there are some great free options.
By using swiFTP, a small ftp client for Android used in tandem with Es File Explorer, you can set up your own file sharing on your phone allowing you to transfer files wirelessly. It is a winning combo and provides the kind of networking capacity one would expect to see on the desktop.
Remembering pass codes to various sites can be problematic at best. Fortunately, KeePass has a smaller version that allows for you took keep all those codes on hand. The one thing you will need to do this–and the software requests it and provides a link to do so–is the file browser OI file Explorer. If you tend to forget codes, this could be a must have application.
A big advantage with Google is the extensive range of offerings it provides for free online and available for their phones as well. One of the biggest advantages would be the Gmail client that allows you to easily access your email. If you need directions, Google Maps and a full navigation system are at your disposal with Android.
Photoshop, the venerable program for the pros has actually released an imaging and editing program that allows Android users to not only upload files to their free Photoshop Express accounts, but Twitter and Facebook as well. Speaking of which, both of those social sites have their own respective Android apps as well.
With the numbers of new programs growing daily, there is virtually an app for every need. But it is reassuring to know that there are a multitude of free and open source options that provide a wealth of features without breaking the bank.