Top 5 Most Practical Android Apps (in my opinion)

I’m relatively new to Android, having had my Motorola Atrix for only a few weeks (though I’ve had a Galaxy Tab for a few months). I spent the first week deciding between an Atrix I picked up on Kijiji and a Nexus S I got Rogers to send me as an upgrade. I ended up choosing the Atrix for various reasons, but that’s another post entirely :)

The most important things for me in a mobile device are ease/speed of use, battery life, and functionality. To these ends I’ve done ample research and experimentation with various utility and personalization apps. My previous 3 phones were Blackberries, and while they cover my first two needs exceedingly well – they fall flat on any functionality beyond messaging and telephony.

My search to make my Android as easy to use as my blackberry has lead me to several excellent apps that help bridge the gap for me. So here’s a list of the 10 most practical Android apps, as far as I’m concerned.

5. WhatsApp Messenger

Coming from a Blackberry, I was really missing BBM. Texting is fine, but I tend to have ongoing conversations throughout the day, at least with a few people in my life, and BBM just always felt more conducive to that. WhatsApp is the closest thing I found to BMM and it manages to do the job quite nicely.

I got my girlfriend to install it on her Blackberry and it works very similarly to the BBM environment we’re so used to. It’s fast (pretty much instant), shows nice threaded conversations, doesn’t have a character limit and, though it may seem silly, it’s nice to also have a long list of standardized emoticons that all parties in a conversation can see! :)

Best of all, it’s free! If you have limited text messaging in a month, get the people you text most with to download this app and you can enjoy more fluid conversation and essentially free texting, even if you’re travelling – or live long distance! WhatsApp uses either your 3G or WIFI. It doesn’t take much data to send messages, and if you have access to WIFI you can bypass your carrier completely!

Cost: Free for one year ($1.99/year after)

Download WhatsApp!

4. No Lock

Something that has always annoyed me about iPhones and Android phones alike is the redundant “swipe-to-unlock” you get after PRESSING THE UNLOCK BUTTON. Sorry, didn’t mean to yell.

I’m sure some people value this extra step between them and their phones, but I can’t imagine why. The worst part about unlock screens is that they are often a bit tricky to unlock with one hand. The standard swipe gesture seems to require my thumb to go just slightly farther than is comfortable and I end up having to do it 2 or 3 times. On Android phones I think there are alternatives to this swipe gesture for unlocking.. but why?

For my purposes the unlock button (power button, volume rocker, etc.) is more than enough protection from pocket dialing or other unwanted operations. When I grab my phone, I want to unlock it one and go!

No Lock allows me to choose what buttons will wake up the phone/screen, and once it’s on – I can use it! Imagine that!

Cost: Free

Download No Lock!

3. Smart Keyboard Pro

Frankly, this app is the main reason I think I’m staying with Android. I’ve owned 3 iPhones and tried all my friends’ Android devices in the past. The one thing that kept me going back to my Berry was the physical keyboard. I type a lot on my mobile, and being able to quickly input text is one the the essential functions of my phone.

I was pretty hesitant about being able to go soft, until I tried this app. I don’t know how, but the typing experience with it is significantly better than any other soft keyboard I’ve ever used. And believe me, I’ve tried to make the switch.

Maybe it’s the immense customization it allows. Maybe it’s just better keypress recognition. Maybe it’s the superior correction engine/dictionary. I have no idea. But if you hate virtual keyboards, this app might actually make you hate them less. I was amazed.

Cost: Free to try, $2.78 to buy

Download Smart Keyboard Trial!

2. Beautiful Widgets

Beautiful Widgets are just that, beautiful. The clock/date/weather is the best looking and functioning widget I found on the market, allowing you to customize just about everything. For example; when I press the clock – it brings me to my alarm clock app, when I press the weather animation – it brings me to the weather forecast, when I press the date – it brings me to my calendar, and so on…

I also love the toggle widgets, since I don’t have Android 2.3.4 yet (don’t let me down Moto). These toggles allow me to toggle the screen rotate, WIFI, silent, vibrate, and other settings, right from one of my home screens. Essential if you don’t have Gingerbread yet!

This app has many other features, but these one’s alone make it worth taking a look!

Cost: $2.78

Download Beautiful Widgets!

1. Launcher Pro

Launcher Pro was a must for me on my Atrix, because I really don’t like Motorola’s Android skin: MotoBlur. Launcher adds some great customization to your phone’s interface and, in my case, sped up tasks like switching between home screens and opening the app drawer.

Launcher also provides a handful of widgets that work well, though I’m currently not using any of them. However, all the widgets I do use can benefit from the great widget resizing feature that Launcher provides!

Cost: Free (Upgrade to Plus for $3.36)

Download Launcher Pro!

These Apps are indispensable, if perhaps not quite as exciting.

Juice Defender

Lookout Mobile Secuirty

I hope this list helps you make your Android phone a bit more useful! I know they did it for me!

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  • Tyler

    Hey Nick! Fellow Edmontonian here, nice to see another Android enthusiast on reddit :) I develop web-based apps and do call centre telecommunications stuff myself.

    I have an og Droid, and am gonna get the Droid 3 when it comes out next week. I’m jealous of your Atrix a bit, I love the concept, but I gotta have a slide out kb.

    My comments on your app recommendations:

    #2 Beautiful Widgets and #1 Launcher Pro are indeed awesome :)

    #3 Smart Keyboard
    I personally use the slide out kb when I’m SSH’d into a server or somesuch, but for email and IM where accuracy is less important Swype is definitely tops in my book. As soon as they get the bugs worked out of SwiftKeyX I’ll probably switch to that though. It derives it’s predictive text completion from your message, document and email history so that it’s highly personalized. Sweet for when it recognizes long evil URLs or physical addresses and pops them in for you. I did a write up if you’re interested:

    HM Lookout
    I personally find it a little lacking. I evaluated a bunch of security apps a little while ago and would definitely recommend Cerberus:

    Also, for sheer coolness Remote Web Desktop can’t be beat! It’s a VNC app for your phone. You need to be rooted, but that’s easy enough. It even has a built in web and ftp server!

    Cheers mate!

    • Nick

      Hey Tyler! Thanks for the insightful comments!!

      I’ve been a hard nosed physical keyboard-ist for years now. Making the switch to virtual was not something I thought I’d ever do. Smart keyboard for whatever reason seems to allow me to get through my text input the fastest, but I don’t know if I gave swipe enough of a chance. I tried it for sure, but I just felt slowed down by it. I find keyboards to be a very personal preference :p I’m so used to the thumb-tapping that I think when I found the app that kept up with me best doing what I’m used to I was just enamored!

      I’ve pretty much installed lookout and not done much else. It was recommended to be by others, but I had a feeling there must be something better out there.. I will give Cerberus a go for sure!! Thanks!

      I’m hoping The next update for the Atrix unlocks the bootloader, if not I’ll just root it the slightly less elegant way. I’m new to the ecosystem, but I doubt I’ll find it too tough. Whenevr I get around to that I will definitely check out your Remote Desktop app!

      Thanks again for all the great feedback man! Cheers!

  • Tyler

    BTW, your article title says “Top 5 Most Practical Android Apps (in my opinion)” but your article text says “So here’s a list of the 10 most useful Android apps, as far as I’m concerned.”

    • Nick

      Ha! That’s left over from when I changed the title and then didn’t revise my article – cause I’m smart like that :p

      Thanks for catching that for me! Fixed it now :)

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