Yann Vernier’s Blog

2011-08-10

Useful Android addons

Filed under: Android, Gadgets — yannv @ 09:30

It had to happen. Given my gadget mania, physical wear, and Nokia’s new direction (straight down the drain), the replacement for my E71 has at last been selected, and it’s an Android phone.

I still required a physical keyboard, GPS, extensibility and tethering. On the wishlist were high resolution screen, good battery, openness and good platform support (like the scripting support for the E71 did not get). So I ended up with a HTC Desire Z, seemingly also known as Vision or G2.

With a background from PalmOS and Symbian, I had some demands for the PIM portion of the device. Unlimited reminders, a readable calendar, and note taking. From the E71 days, I also use the map quite frequently, so preloading maps was important. And a SSH client for remotely accessing my shell accounts. Reading up on Android, I found the default installs are a bit of a crapshoot (in particular, the HTC was unnecessarily sluggish), but the platform can be mixed and matched rather well. So I set about finding tools.

Basic system

I went for CyanogenMod, as I love to tinker, it listed a few attractive features, and a friend uses it as well. As it turned out, starting it up took a bit more effort than expected (the instructions I found were wrong), and some of the listed features were absent (in particular, camera focus controls). It’s quite possible some of the features I started searching for later were actually included in HTC’s offering; I do not know.

Calendar

Some searching online, browsing through reviews and examining screenshots, led me to install Jorte. It is a calendar with a focus on plain looks, but with many options and a slightly more direct interface than the original calendar. I hit two little gotchas in setting it up, however: First, set it to use Google’s calendar for storage, not its own, or repeated events won’t work. Second, in order to avoid duplicated alerts, turn alerts off in the old calendar, and find the oddly named “When not notifying at Google Calendar mode”; this setting must be off to enable Jorte’s alerts. I’m not yet entirely certain what to use in the end; the one thing I’ve not found in Jorte that Calendar has is selecting time graphically (tap a time to create an event).

A particular feature I’ll probably want to find later on is recurring tasks. Mainly for chores like shopping and laundry, these would be tasks that show up as reminders a set time after they’ve been completed.

Messaging

Email

I installed K-9 Mail, as well as APG for PGP support. It offers usable IMAP support including folders.

SMS

I had initially thought I’d be adding something for this, perhaps chomp.. but the default Messaging app looks good enough to me.

Remote access

I use ConnectBot for SSH access. The version I installed doesn’t recognize the Tab key, and I have to mess with the software keyboard to get < or >, but it’s a start.

Note taking

This section quite baffled me. There was no apparent note taking included; neither text nor scribbles. So I searched and found Note Everything. While it’s the first app so far to have a Pro variant, the difference is only in extra features; there are no ads to suffer, and the free version is quite usable. It offers text, doodle and audio notes. The latter two are quite basic (though at least easy to export), but the text notes can stand a little closer inspection. You can organize notes in folders, put them on the home screen as widgets (although only their title shows up), and even link them together WikiStyle.

Calculator and unit converter

Lots of options, as usual, but the one I’m using currently is handyCalc. The one gripe is that there’s no soft keypad for hexadecimal entry. It does a lot of other things, however, like equation system solving, editable history, custom variables and functions, and graphs. The advanced features may require going through the demo or tutorial, but luckily that is included. It also covers units and currencies.

GPS stuff

For geocaching, I installed (by advice from a friend) c:geo. It works well, including custom directions (by coordinates plus bearing and distance), online logging, and compass. I added Geohash Droid for geohashing, which seems much more basic but usable. It does link to the day’s wiki page. And of course, there’s Maps – and the addon to precache areas, which I found under the Labs menu choice.

Data auditing

This is another surprising omission. I couldn’t find how much traffic I had been using on my cellular data plan, so I installed 3G Watchdog. There are some reports of inaccuracy, and it can only log traffic from when it is installed, so I’ll see how it holds up. The Pro variant allows tracking each application, which could come in really handy.

Shortcuts

Not an app, but quite helpful – beyond categorizing your apps into folders, putting apps (and particular views inside) on the home screen, and multitasking, I find I can bind pretty much the whole keyboard to jump directly to my apps. This is done in Settings→Applications→Quick launch, where Search+letter can be bound.

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