Android App Review Special, Part 2: Most Used/Excellent Apps in my “Tools” Category

I’ve decided to back out of writing about every single one of my favorite apps in each of my Smart Shortcuts folders because my Smart Shortcuts review, in hindsight, was ridiculously long; so here’s how I’m going to do this.  I’m going give my Top (upto) 5 in each category a good reviewin’, and then do honorable mentions.  This will save me time, save you from having to read a tome, and still do the apps and their developers justice.

Let me add an additional disclaimer; none of my writing is based off of other articles I’ve read.  If it looks like I’ve copied/pasted another article, please tell me, because I’d love to avoid that.  I’m just writing about my experiences with the apps that I use, in the hopes other people benefit from it – and because it’s strangely fun.

So… Tools.  I have a pretty broad definition for ‘Tools’ when it comes to my Android apps; boils down to ‘anything on my phone that has a practical application in my everyday life, or something that helps me tweak and fix my phone’.  I struggled a lot to only include five of these apps, because 1. I have a lot of them and 2. They’re all so awesome.  After sifting out the ones that are only for rooted users, only for troubleshooting, only for minor tweaks to the phone, or stuff that only works on the Galaxy Nexus, I still have a bunch to talk about.  We’ll go with five, then honorably mention the rest.

AirDroid (beta) Sand Studio

Free

This program, still only in beta, is amazing for being free.  Get it while you can!

What this does is essentially control and manipulate many aspects of your phone wirelessly through your web browser.  I use it every day when I’m at home; it’s how I pull the screenshots off my phone for these reviews. Right now I’m goofing around in my phone while it’s on the other side of the room, where the most convenient outlet is available to charge the phone at.

The setup is so easy; you just make sure your phone is connected to your home WiFi, and launch AirDroid.  I disabled my WiFi for the screenshot above as not to give away the awesome name of my WiFi network, but normally it will show you the WiFi you’re connected to, and two boxes – one with a URL, and another with a password.  You go to the webpage, put in the 4 character password, and boom; you’re in.  That’s it.

Through this easy to use interface, you can transfer files back and forth between phone and computer; install, uninstall, back up and search your apps (can’t play your apps through your browser, but hey, you never know what these guys will come up with); use copy/paste between your phone and computer (How many times have we tried this and THOUGHT it’d work because we’re idiots?  I’m up to 6, before this application); manipulate your contacts, set up ringtones, read/send/etc your texts, play music… so much.  So much functionality for nothin’.  Awesome.

This app won’t always be free, or at least, it shouldn’t be; if a final version does come out where the dev wants to charge for a part of it, I will tell him to shut up and take my money.  This ain’t the first review of this app; it was a finalist for App of the Year for a LOT of the major Android sites.

Alarm Clock Xtreme Angle Labs

Ad-Supported Free, Ad Free Version for $1.99 available

Not the sexiest app on my list, but easily the most valuable.  It is likely because of this app on my Droid 2 that I’m still employed. (sidenote: the icon in the upper-left of the screenshot is from AirDroid being on!)

Despite its Mt. Dew chugging-inspired name, this alarm clock app is probably the best one I’ve ever used.  It has a very deep set of options for waking you up and for turning it off; for examples; you can have it allow only two hits of ‘Snooze’ before it refuses to turn off until you solve 3 math problems.  You can have it refuse to turn off until you shake the hell out of your phone.  You can make the snooze duration shrink after every hit of the button.  You can have it use one of your songs completely at random to blast you out of bed.  Hell, to make absolutely sure you get up, you can make the alarm impossible to turn off until you put the phone into your car dock (or pop your phone’s battery).  This app is ideal for heavy-sleeping, terrible-at-getting-out-of-bed people such as myself.

Barcode Scanner ZXing Team

Free

This app is old news.  It has between 10,000,000 and 50,000,000 installs according to its Market link.  If you’re reading this, you likely already have this app.  Just recently, I’ve found it to be invaluable at work.

Like many of you, while at work I am trapped behind a corporate firewall.  That means if a website is remotely interesting or useful for any reason, it’s likely blocked.  A hundred years ago when Android was a kid, if we wanted to see this site on our phone as an alternative to not seeing it, we had to open our browsers and type in the whole URL manually, or e-mail ourselves the link… not anymore.  Now, as you saw in the screenshot, IE, Firefox, and Chrome all have plug-ins that will generate a QR code for you to scan and quickly view on your phone.  Now when you find a blocked link, just make a QR code for the page, scan it, and view that page in Android-powered freedom.

I don’t know anything about ScanLife, so I can’t endorse their products; it was just one of the first of many results in my Google search for QR code browser plug-ins.

Cerberus LSDroid

Free 7-day trial, lifetime license for 2.99€ (Right around 6 bucks)

Android phones are bloody expensive.  When I had a flip phone I didn’t think a lot about phone security, because if I lost my phone, oh well.  Once I went Android though, I started to care a lot more.  Cerberus is a sick anti-theft and phone locator app with a ton of features.  It doesn’t bog your phone down, has great devs, and is awesomely reliable.

I haven’t lost my phone or had it stolen (knock on wood) but if I do, I’m going to find it and I’m going to catch that sucker.  I’ve tested a bit, and everything the devs say the app can do, it does, and better than I ever expected.  Once your phone is not around, you just log into Cerberus’ website, and… sheesh.  There’s no way to paraphrase what the phone can do without cheapening the simple message about what it does.  So, from the Market description:

It has three ways to protect your device:
– Remote control through the website http://www.cerberusapp.com
– Remote control via text messages
– SIM Checker (for devices that have a SIM card): you will automatically receive alerts if someone uses your phone with an unauthorized SIM card

Remote control allows you to perform many operations on your device, like:
– Locate and track it
– Start a loud alarm, even if the device is set to silent mode
– Wipe the internal memory and the SD card
– Hide Cerberus from the app drawer
– Lock the device with a code
– Record audio from the microphone
– Get a list of last calls sent and received
– Get information about network and operator the device is connected to
– And much more!

With all that, plus additional security measures for rooted phones, this will be on every phone I have until the developer stops supporting it.

Tiny Flashlight + LED Nikolay Ananiev

Ad-Supported Free

Part tool and part toy, Tiny Flashlight is the best flashlight app available on the Market.  It turns your screen or your camera flash into a flashlight.  I can’t tell you how many times this has come in handy for me; when I dropped my black wallet stepping out of my car at night, when I want to walk to the bedroom late at night after turning off all the lights in the living room, while changing a tire after getting a flat… it’s a lifesaver.  I’m not in the habit of carrying an actual flashlight with me, nor was I ever; now I’m perfectly justified for being a bad Boy Scout.

Aside from those features, it has other stuff.  You can make the screen flashlight color any color; turn your camera flash into a strobe light if you want to have an imprompto rave or maliciously cause someone to have a seizure; have a police-light style flashing one to… I don’t know what with, but it has a lot of toy aspects as well.

The best part of the app is the widget; its just an on/off button for the camera LED flashlight.  Perfect!  *click* Let there be light!

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

  • TeamViewer – Free remote desktop to your personal computer from your Android phone from anywhere.  It was hard not to put this in the top 5.  Works perfectly.
  • Uninstaller – Fast, free, quick uninstaller, from the makers of Smart Shortcuts.  Not much to add.
  • DiskUsage – see exactly what is taking up room on your sd card or phone.  Super smooth interface.  Great for figuring out how to free up space.
  • Google Translate – It is Google Translate.  Helpful if you’re dumb like me and only speak/read English.
  • Smart Rotator – nifty app that allows you to decide which apps are allowed to rotate your screen and which are not.

Thanks for reading!  Tell me what you thought, in the comments or hit the Contact page!  What’d I leave out that’s on your list?  I want more cool apps too!

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4 thoughts on “Android App Review Special, Part 2: Most Used/Excellent Apps in my “Tools” Category

  1. Surprisingly, I use a few of these apps myself. Question: does a phone need virus protection? What kind of security issues are there for going to bank websites and the like? Just curious. Right now I have an AVG app just because. LOL

    • Unless you’re in the habit of downloading seedy, suspicious looking shit apps at random from the app store, no, virus protection isn’t necessary at all… yet.
      This may change at some point, but thus far the only viruses/exploits aimed at Android phones have come through the Android Market (not through websites or anything) – and for the most part, they’re easy to spot. They have wacky permissions, shit reviews, and quite often bad engrish.

      • This is true, but that is why it’s so important to read the negative comments about an app before downloading it. Let me revise my statement about antivirus apps – they’re a good idea if you’re going to try apps that are brand-spanking new (that is, not a lot of comments on ’em). Out of the bunch, I would recommend one of the latest and greatest – avast! Mobile Security.

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