Sleeping With the Enemy II: Picking the Sheets

Oh you fancy, huh?

Catching up on all the iPhone letdown this morning [and really, can it even be considered letdown? iOS5 will soothe all your wounds anyway], I did what I’m sure most of us did: mulled over potential future cellular plans when it comes time to re-up my contract.  Which reminded me again of how much I’ve enjoyed life with an Android phone, and left me wondering if I would jump to Apple or get a beefier Android handset?  That decision will be for another time.

What’s been most surprising about the Android experience for me is how rapidly the Android Market has grown into a beefy alternative to the behemoth known as the Apple AppStore. Even though I cited the discrepancy between the two as a con for the OS, there really isn’t a whole lot most people want to do with an iPhone that can’t be done with an Android device.

That said, if there’s one thing Apple has Android beat on, its organization.  This is primarily due to the more closed nature of Apple’s platform, every app has to be vetted by someone at Apple; Google makes no such demand of Android developers, meaning the Android Market can seem somewhat overwhelming and anarchic when you start digging around [so much Korean!]. So I thought, “Why not share the apps I think are essential to the Android experience?”

Point of clarity: Some apps are just gimmes, so I won’t waste your time telling you that you need the Facebook app on your phone, stuff like that.  I’m choosing to focus more on Android-specific apps, or apps that I feel perform better for certain tasks than the official release. For example:

Tweetdeck. (Free)There are a million Twiiter apps available these days [literally a million], and the official Twitter app is no slouch either. Given that I’ve always found the desktop version of Tweetdeck to be a bit of an overkill for most users, why endorse the mobile version?  Space, for one.

You’ll see me mention this a few times, but one of the major critiques of Android devices can be the built in storage, pre-SD card.  My Wildfire has a paltry 512MB of storage on it, meaning I sometimes have to clear half my apps out before I can download a new one and transfer it to the card.  The official Twitter client was a bit too much of a space hog for my tastes. Tweetdeck does everything the Twitter client does [photo sharing, location posting, etc] but uses significantly less space, and can seamlessly incorporate your Facebook, Twitter accounts, Foursquare and LinkedIn feeds into one stream, and makes checking mentions and messages as easy as swiping. The Twitter app of choice.

Vignette ($3.89) and/or FX Camera (Free): If there’s one thing Android users might covet from their iPhone’d brethren, it’s Instagram.  The hipster-photo app of choice lit a fire under most amateur phone photographers, and there’s nary a Facebook profile pic that doesn’t look like a Polaroid as a result.  The Android market has no shortage of  pretenders to the throne, but the two that do it most successfully are Vignette and FX Camera.  The latter is basic but effective free effects processor with presets for Toy Camera, Polaroid, Fisheye, and Mirror Image effects. Vignette is a much more robust version of the same thing, offering dozens of colour and exposure effects, as well as borders.  Most people can probably get by with FX Camera, but the customization [maybe too much so] of Vignette made it worth the four bucks to me. [SPECIAL MENTION: Pixl-o-matic (Free) can also be useful to some in the sense that it allows you to go back to photos you’ve already taken and add those oh-so-retro effects to them, even if some of them are beyond silly].

Google Listen (Free): I came late to Podcasting, and I still don’t listen to many, but I have about five or six that I check in with regularly.  A lot of Android users like BeyondPod, and it’s certainly a very good podcast management app [and has the added bonus of letting you control the player from your phone’s lock screen].  Google Listen might not have that functionality yet [it’s still in its ‘Google Labs’ form], and it isn’t quite as intuitive out of the box, but I’ve come to love its clean look and the ease with which it syncs with my Google Reader feeds [everything Google works better with Android]. Set up the app to refresh your feeds in the middle of the night, set downloads to go only when a Wifi network is accessible to save your data usage, and wake up in the morning with a full queue of new episodes for your enjoyment.

Pulse News (Free): Possibly one the most beautiful useful app on the whole Market is Pulse News, an RSS reader with a gorgeously slick interface.  Once you’re set up, all the top stories on all your favourite sites can be browsed through this one app.  The tiled, “mosaic” design is clean and easily browsable, and you can sync Pulse with Instapaper, to save stories for later reading.  A great app that unfortunately runs a little sluggishly on my Wildfire, but would be awesome on a handset with a beefier processor. 

Catch Notes (Free):  When you first start browsing recommended Android apps, you will always come across Evernote.  Everybody and their grandmother seems to love Evernote. I do not love Evernote. For a couple of reasons.

One:  very possibly I am just a loser, but it feels to me like Evernote is just trying to reinvent the wheel.  I don’t need my note taking app to be synced up with some cloud based account, requiring yet another registration process I’m likely to forget about five minutes after I’ve done it.  I just want to jot a to-do list or record a voice memo. It’s not rocket science.

Two: Evernote, like a lot of apps for Android, has its own Widget.  Android widgets are just like widgets for Dashboard or Windows 7.  They basically run all the time and keep you provided with constant information.  Widgets are nice and all, but you’ll never use all the ones available.  Plus [and this is the big one] widgets mean an app can’t be moved to the SD card.  I don’t know why this is, it just is.  With built-in storage is always at such a premium, not being able to move an app to the SD card is a pain in the ass.

Catch Notes does everything Evernote does, and in a genius move, offers their widget as a separate download, allowing people like me to move the app to the card, and allowing people with better phones to have the full functionality if they want it.  That’s called respect, people.

Super KO Boxing 2 (Free):  Because these phones are supposed to be FUN, too!  One of the home screens on my phone is packed with games, your usual puzzler fare, Angry Birds Rio [free on Android!], a couple action-RPGs, but nothing has impressed me more than Super KO Boxing.  An unabashed clone of Super Punch-Out!!!, the game runs smooth as silk even on my phone [though it would be better with a larger screen], the action is quick, characters are funny, and the game is loaded with three circuit modes, unique exhibition opponents and challenge modes.  All for the low price of zero.  The ads that keep the game free are barely noticeable and never intrusive.  As perfect a pick up and play experience as you can find on any platform.

And I could go on and on, about the greatness of the Opera Mini browser, or how the WordPress Android app has never crashed on me like the iOS almost always does, or how Soundhound is every bit as cool as Shazam, with the added bonus of recognizing songs when you hum them into the phone, there’s much to love on the Android Market once you start knowing what to look for.

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