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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.

App Highlight: Pocket Casts

Pocket Casts is an app for listening to, discovering and managing podcasts. This post will focus on the Android version, which is available on the Google Play Store for $3.99.

Over the years I've used several podcast apps but have stuck with Pocket Casts for two reasons. The first is that it is cross-platform. It has an iOS version and a recently launched desktop web app that make listening to podcasts across multiple platforms seamless.  The other reason is the app's design.  The app is beautifully designed and the developer frequently updates it to make it fit in with the current UI decisions of the platform itself.

From discovering new podcasts to downloading (or streaming) ones that you're already subscribed to, Pocket Casts makes the entire process elegant and intuitive.  If you're new to listening to podcasts, it has a Discover section where you can view what podcasts are popular in different genres.  You can even browse through podcast networks so that all shows on that network are available in a single view.  No matter how you discover a podcast, a full show description is available and you just tap a button to subscribe to ones you like.  Once subscribed, you can select how many downloaded episodes to keep and you can have all new episodes automatically download any time you are connected to WiFi.  It makes managing podcast updates something you never have to think about. 

The player interface is designed with advanced users in mind, however, the careful placement of controls doesn't overburden even the casual listener. It makes accessing things like show notes (which allows links to be opened), the Up Next playlist and playback speed controls accessible, but not distracting. Podcast artwork is front and center in this view and it is presented beautifully.

Here's a short demo of the app so you can see some of the features mentioned above in action:

App Highlight: Croma

Croma for Android is a lovely app for managing and creating color palettes. It is available for free on the Google Play Store and offers enhanced functionality via in-app purchase.

If you've ever done design work, you know how much a good color palette can make all the difference. Croma is designed with Android's new Material Design asthetic, which makes it feel all the more fresh. As the quick walk-through video shows, creating a palette (complete with color code values) from an existing image is simple and elegant.

Lift

I mentioned in the previous post that this month I'm working to build a new habit by writing 500 words each day. To track the progress for this habit, as well as others I am working on, I am using an app called Lift. Lift has been around for awhile now, but when I looked at it in the past it did not offer an Android version. Using the iPhone version on my iPad was less than an optimal experience, but with the Android app available, it's a great choice for me.

Overview

Lift is designed to make creating, finding and tracking goals or habits simple. You can browse what habits have already been created by other users and see how many participants they have. You can add your own habits if the one you are looking for does not already exist. You can even mark a habit private so that other Lift users cannot see that you are a participant.

Social Features

I'm not using the app for the social features that it offers, however, they seem to be helpful to those that do. From simple positive feedback/reinforcement to the ability to ask questions of other habit participants, Lift gives you the ability to interact with other users to motivate you to succeed. Some goals are even sponsored by experts that then make themselves available for question and answer sessions in the app. I have noticed that this is typically also tied to a chance for the expert to market themselves or their services, but I can understand why they see the opportunity as a good one for both parties.

Design

A big part of what makes me want to use an app is the design and user experience. Many Android apps feel out of place when the iOS version came first. Lift is an exception. The Android app is great and feels like it was developed with the Android platform in mind. The user interface is very clean and minimal, yet informative and clear as to the progress on each goal or habit.

Don't Break the Chain

The value in having an app like Lift is that it gives you a very visual and material way to measure how you are executing on your goals. It adds the achievement of checking a box each day. The idea of not "breaking the chain" is a large component in building any habit. You don't want to kill the streak, and having an app that shows you that really does seem to have a motivating effect.