Blog

Favorite Android Utility Apps

Every year I try to avoid "resolutions," but that doesn't mean I don't take inventory and try to make changes where needed. Over the coming weeks, I'll cover some of my favorite apps on various platforms. I use iOS, Android, Mac and Windows, so hopefully at least one of the posts will be useful to every reader.

The following Android apps do not require root privileges. Some are paid apps, but most have a free version or trial. I believe in paying for apps I rely on because the app ecosystem is ripe with apps that do not get maintained over time when there is no clear support model for the developer.

These are the Android utility apps that have made me more productive on my HTC One M8:

1Password

1Password is a great password manager on its surface, but I've come to use it for so much more over the last few months. It can be used to securely store credit cards, identity data like Social Security cards, software license keys and even secure notes. The Android version includes the option of a custom keyboard that will populate usernames and passwords automatically with the touch of a button.

1Password also has Mac, Windows and iOS versions that all sync reliably so that your passwords and more are available on every major platform.

Texpand Pro

Texpand Pro is a text expander/text automation app. I've used TextExpander from Smile Software on Mac and iOS for years, but was never satisfied with the Android alternatives until Texpand Pro came along. While it doesn't sync with TextExpander (importing snippets from a TextExpander Sync/export would be a great feature to add), adding snippets is very intuitive and the app follows modern Material Design guidelines. Backup and restore options are available in the app settings, so moving to a new device shouldn't be much work. Some other notable feature are as follows:

  • Write phrase snippets to user dictionary
  • Import snippets from user dictionary entries
  • Hovering expansion button that floats as recognized phrases/abbreviations are typed

I do not use the last feature, personally, but I can see how it would be useful for some. I keep it simple and just expand snippets using a short abbreviation. For example, when I type scb it automatically expands to my full conference bridge phone number and ID. It makes creating meeting invites a snap.

Twilight

Twilight's premise is simple; blue light from your device is bad when you need to go to sleep. Reading on phones and tablets trick our bodies into trying to stay awake. Twilight tweaks the color of your screen so that the bad blue light is filtered. You control how aggressive the filter performs and it will even allow you to dim the screen more than turning the standard brightness setting all the way down. Twilight has the option to automatically enable/disable based on on sunrise/sunset for your current location. You can also set it to start/stop at specific times. If you want to read more about what blue light is doing to your brain at night, the developers put several great references in the app description on Google Play.

Android 30|30 - InstaFetch

Android 30|30 is a series on Tech & Coffee that aims to highlight 30 awesomely useful Android apps in way more than 30 days. Just click the app name in the heading below to be taken to the Android Market.

InstaFetch by ImmSoft

Recently, there has been a lot of talk regarding "read later" or "text-only reading" apps. This is mostly due to Readability launching their Android and iOS apps, but it warrants highlighting a great app that has been around for a long time. InstaFetch is an Instapaper app for Android. Unfortunately, there isn't an official Instapaper app for the Android platform at this time, but as someone who has used the service pretty much every single day of my life for the last 4 years, I can tell you that InstaFetch offers a great user experience.

Instapaper is a "read later" service that allows you to save links (via a bookmarklet in your desktop browser, the Share To menu in Android and tons of other ways) that you want to read sometime in the future. Where the service really shines, however, is in the feature that takes just the text (and a few pictures) from the article, and cuts out all of the 'crap' that you'd see if you were trying to read the article on the original source website.

You can see from the screenshot below, it becomes like reading website articles in an eBook format. It takes all the multiple pages, ads and other non-critical information that is displayed on the page, and removes them. Many people have heard of "distraction-free" writing applications for both desktop and mobile systems. I like to think of InstaPaper (and in turn, InstaFetch) as my distraction-free reading environment. As I scan stories throughout the day in my Google Reader RSS, I simply send those long-form stories that I want to read in the evenings to InstaPaper. When I'm home, or in line somewhere, I crank up InstaFetch on my phone and there's my articles in a wonderfully simple interface.

Why I like InstaFetch so much is pretty simple. It includes features that the official iOS InstaPaper offers, but that **no other** Android InstaPaper app can touch. It has folders support, which means that items I have moved to folders for longer-term retention are still available to me via the app. It also allows me to move articles into folders, which seems basic, but some other apps don't offer that. It has font and dark/light UI choices. I prefer to read on my mobile device with a black background and white text. This is both for eyestrain reduction and most importantly, battery life savings. The one feature that I have not used often (most likely due to my podcast addiction) is the Listen feature. InstaFetch will allow you to listen to the text of an article as the Android text-to-speech engine parses the text and reads it aloud. This is a really great feature, just not one that I have used a great deal. It even supports changing the pitch and speed of the voice, and supports using 3rd party voices that can be downloaded from the Google Play Store. InstaFetch requires that you have an InstaPaper subscription, which is a whopping $1/month. For the ads that my eyes don't have to ignore alone, this is a great investment. _Edit: InstaFetch does not require an InstaPaper subscription, however, it is still a nice way to support the creator of the InstaPaper service/API that the InstaFetch app is making so great on Android._

I really believe that there are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to this stuff. Those that use InstaPaper, and those that don't. If you don't, you're either not consuming nearly as much content as those that are or, more likely, you're the bearer of the eyeballs that those ad companies are aiming to distract. Check out InstaPaper as a service and InstaFetch as a great Android app and see what its like to read with focus and efficiency.

Screenshots

Android 30|30 Series - Status Update

The App of Life

As a proud parent of two young boys, and a hard working employee of my "day job", it was already difficult to keep up with a consistent flow of posts... That being said, I was making a good go of it. Unfortunately, the app called "life" decided to Force Close on a family member. As we work to console (ironic that I think of this word in the tech meaning more often than the human act of comforting) one another, I let posting to T&C take a backseat to the things that it should. I'm posting this only because the last entry in the Android 30|30 series actually got the most views of any others based on some awesome cross-promotion on the part of the developer of the app I highlighted. I felt like I got some new eyes, and then almost instantaneously gave them nothing new to read and it deserved some explanation.

Android 30|30 - 1Weather

Android 30|30 is a new series on Tech & Coffee that aims to highlight 30 awesomely useful Android apps in just 30 days. Just click the app name in the heading below to be taken to the Android Market.

1Weather by OneLouder Apps

Let me start by saying I have never been a huge fan of "weather apps" in general. I have lived a great deal of my life feeling like if I wanted to know the weather, I'd look out the window. I do, however, have a family and making plans any number of days out is pretty much impossible in the state of Florida without checking the 3-day forecast for impending tropical doom. I saw tons of weather apps in the Android Market, and simply had no desire to install any of them. Beyond trying out a few skins for the weather component of Beautiful Widgets, I had never really found anything that made me want to look at the weather on my mobile device.

That all changed when I saw the 1Weather app interface. The screenshots below will say everything needed about how amazing this app is, however, I'll touch on a few of the features that have won me over into believing that pocket meteorology is not just for every day beach-goers. The app offers the ability to setup severe weather alerts, view live updating radar feeds, view weather photo gallery shots and will even let the user view weather related tweets from the area based on location. All of this is offered in one of the best UI presentations that Android has seen from any app, regardless of purpose.

The only suggestions that I would have requested from the initial release have been added with a recent update. The app now allows you an in-app purchase to remove the ads (which intelligently promote the developer's other app offerings) and change the background of the interface. All around amazing is the best way to describe how checking the weather feels when using this application.

Screenshots

Android 30|30 - EasyRSS

Android 30|30 is a new series on Tech & Coffee that aims to highlight 30 awesomely useful Android apps in just 30 days. Just click the app name in the heading below to be taken to the Android Market.

EasyRSS by Sun Zheng

If you are a Google Reader user, you know how hard it is to find exactly what you're looking for in the way of a mobile client for Android. I have tried many (Official Google Reader app, d7, Feedly, Pulse, etc.) over the years, but each one left me wanting something close, yet slightly different. I enjoy a Pulse-like experience on a tablet, however, on my phone I am really a fan of text and lists. My wish list for the ideal phone Google Reader app was as follows:

  • Syncs with Google Reader automatically
  • Fast pulling in of new items and navigation
  • Clean UI with a great font
  • Volume Key navigation option
  • Ability to easily share out to other apps (i.e. Plume, G+, etc.)
  • Dark Theme (black background, light text) for reading view

EasyRSS meets all of these with the exception of the last (which I'm hoping a note to the developer can get this on the "coming soon" feature list). The app is gorgeous. I haven't seen a list-style UI this beautiful in an Android RSS app, but it reminds me of how I felt when I first saw the Reeder app on iOS. The interface for sharing and/or starring an article is unobtrusive and useful. I can't really do the app's UI justice, which is why this post includes multiple screenshots. Even the Settings UI is beautiful.

The app is "snappy" in all interfaces I've used and the effect as you scroll vertically through articles, when you have them open in full-screen, has a nice elastic bounce effect. The volume key navigation is perfect as well (has been buggy with other apps I've used). Other than a dark theme option, the only other feature that I'd love to see in future updates would be a browser internal to the app, so that you can go to the full view of the article without leaving the EasyRSS UI. I've seen that implemented in other apps (some great, some not so great), but I think that this developer would do it quite well given the current interfaces. If you love RSS, and you're a Google Reader die hard like myself, please do yourself the favor of giving EasyRSS a try, you won't be disappointed.

Screenshots