Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

My Essential List of Android Apps, Part 1

OnePlus One App DrawerI have used Android since the Nexus One. That was in 2010. Over the years, I’ve installed too many apps, most I don’t use anymore. This is probably also true for many other Android users. I recently set out to identify the apps that I really use, and the list is surprisingly concise.

Every time I reset or upgrade my phone, I’ve always had “stuff” restored from the cloud. When I upgraded my OnePlus One’s ROM recently, I elected to setup the phone as a new device. This will be a clean phone, without anything automatically restored back. The apps that do end up in the phone are ones that I specifically choose to download again, apart from, of course, those that came with the ROM itself.

With over a million apps in the Google Play store, it is not surprising that many of us have installed hundreds of apps. Or thousands, depending on how adventurous you are and how much time you have on your hands. Once a while, it’s good to do some housekeeping.

This is part one of a two part post. In this part, I list those apps that you’d need to install from the Play store. The next part will mention notable apps that are typically included in the ROM, and add some concluding remarks.

Agenda Widget Plus (paid): This widget displays your agenda, i.e. upcoming calendar events and tasks. I put it on my home screen to keep me reminded about upcoming things that I need to do. The nice thing about this widget is that it is very customisable, and in particular, I configure it to be both compact and minimalistic, so that I can see as many upcoming events as possible. This is a paid app; a free one, Agenda Widget, is also available.

Amazon Shopping: I don’t really do that much shopping on my mobile phone. However, I installed this app for the convenience of having easy access to Amazon while on my phone. For example, I might come across an item while browsing at a brick and mortar store, and want to check the pricing on Amazon. It’s a simple matter of just scanning the item’s barcode. If I read about a product on my phone, such as through Facebook or other apps, and which I might be interested to purchase, I can easily check purchasing options on Amazon. I can also easily check on my saved shopping cart or follow-up on current orders. It’s all about convenience.

Android Wear: No, I don’t have an Android Wear watch. I do have a Pebble, and the Android Wear app is required for the Pebble to carry out Android Wear actions. The Android Wear app simply needs to be installed.

Barcode Scanner: This app scans conventional barcodes as well as QR-codes and Data Matrix codes. These codes can contain text, URLs, contact cards, etc. It’s an easy mechanism to scan something to bring up information on your phone.

BlackVue: This app is for use with the popular BlackVue in-car camera recorders. I have the DR500GW-HD, which I had reviewed. You can view live video, or retrieve and playback saved recording on the camera. It’s also used to configure the camera.

Dots: I don’t play many games, and as you’d see, I don’t have many installed in my phone. But sometimes, I do need some distraction, to kill time, or something that sends me looking for some mindless game to play. That’s where Dots comes to the rescue. To be honest, this game isn’t that mindless, at least not if you do want to score your best.

Facebook: Who doesn’t have Facebook these days?

Feedly: After the demise of Google Reader, I’ve come to turn to Feedly for my news reading needs. It’s powered by RSS, so you can basically add any RSS feed to Feedly, and it’ll help you keep abreast of all news as they are posted on the Internet. No need to check all your favourite sites manually. This is one of those apps that is a companion to the web or desktop client, so your experience and usage across devices are kept in sync.

Fruit Ninja (paid): Like Dots, this is another one of the few games I have in my phone. This is more mindless than Dots. Mindless games can be quite fun too. There’s also a free version of Fruit Ninja available.

Google Authenticator: This is a 2FA token implemented in software, supporting both TOTP and HOTP algorithms. TOTP, defined in RFC 6238, is popularly used by Google, Facebook, and many others. It’ll be really nice if our banks replaced hardware tokens with this. The phone is really the best hardware security token, because you’d more likely to keep your phone with you, and notice when it has gone missing.

JuiceSSH (paid): This is an SSH client, typically used by system administrators to remotely connect to their Unix servers. Lots of typing is needed, and it’s awfully difficult to type on a phone, though a Bluetooth keyboard, if available, does help somewhat. I often need to use this app, but it’s a lifesaver when it’s needed. It’s the difference between being able to fix something right now, right away, instead of heading home or to office to get to a computer to get the work done.

Messenger: This refers to the Facebook Messenger app. If you try to access your messages in the Facebook app, you’ll be made to download this app. Interestingly, while you can mute chat notifications through the mobile app, such an option isn’t available through the desktop web interface. I suppose muting is far more important on your mobile, or perhaps Facebook picked up some ideas from their WhatsApp acquisition.

Mi Fit: This is the official companion phone app for the Mi Band. It tracks your steps, runs, and sleep.

mydlink Lite: If you have any D-Link IP cameras, this is the app used to remotely connect to the camera to view live video.

MyTransport Singapore: Originally, I turned to MyTransport as the definitive app for bus arrival timings that works for both SBS Transit and SMRT Buses, and one that works most reliably. Nowadays, this app has grown to add so much functionality that public transport commuters, drivers, and arguably the cab-riding public may find some use with it. Back to the bit on buses. Did you know the bus arrival timings now indicate the crowdedness of the bus? Oh yes, the idea that our Transport Minister had talked about when he first came onboard in the last general election has finally materialised.

ownCloud (paid): The public cloud is beautiful, but I still prefer to own my own data in some cases. I run my own ownCloud server, and the mobile ownCloud client is how I access my private cloud storage from my phone. The desktop apps, for both Mac and Windows, are free.

Pages Manager: This is Facebook’s app for managing Pages on Facebook. This is how I post and/or manage posts from my phone.

Pebble: This is the official companion phone app for the Pebble smartwatch, which is required if you use the Pebble or Pebble Steel. This app communicates with the smartwatch to deliver notifications, load and unload apps, etc.

PLAYBULB X: This is the official companion phone app for the Playbulb Candle Bluetooth LED candle light. The app communicates with the Playbulb Candle to turn on or off the light, change the colours, or set a variety of lighting effects.

PlayMemories Mobile: This is Sony’s official mobile app for a variety of their digital cameras. You can use this to transfer images from the camera to the phone. You can either select the images from the phone or from the camera. Additionally, you can use the app as a remote live viewfinder of the camera, and capture shots remotely, allowing you compose photos from creative or odd angles. I previously used this with RX100 camera, and now use it with my Sony Alpha a6000.

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Scanadu Scout: Another companion app again, this time for the Scanadu Scout Medical Scanner. This is one of the most interesting projects, at least to me, that I’ve backed through a crowdfunding site. The Scanadu Scout scans temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen level, and blood pressure. In some ways it’s been likened to the medical tricorder from Star Trek. Really fascinating.

Shazam Encore (paid): Sometimes I hear a music, and just have to know its name. It’s Shazam to the rescue. Shazam Encore is the paid version of the free Shazam app.

SoundHound: This is basically an alternative to Shazam. Sometimes when Shazam doesn’t catch the song, SoundHound might.

Titanium Backup: Every time you reset your phone, or if you upgrade/change phones, you typically lose all your app data. Ideally, these apps should have synced their data to Google, but many don’t. Titanium Backup backs up your apps, and the apps’ data. In the old days, this was particularly important to me too as I was regularly flashing my own Android builds and needing to reset the phone from time to time. Note that Titanium Backup requires that your phone is rooted.

Titanium Backup PRO Key (paid): This is the paid key to unlock the pro features in the Titanium Backup app mentioned above.

Torque Pro (paid): This app communicates with a Bluetooth OBD dongle, which attaches to the OBD port on a car to give you realtime insights about what your car is doing. OBD also enables you to obtain fault codes and various other data. This is paid version of the Torque Lite app. Check out my post on tapping into the Engine Control Unit. Bluetooth OBD dongles can be gotten from China, at sites like AliExpress, for really very cheap.

WhatsApp: For many people, WhatsApp has pretty much replaced SMS text messages. Nowadays, you can also access WhatsApp through a web browser, enabling you to send and receive messages from a computer. Yay, I can use a proper keyboard to type my messages.

WordPress: I do most of my blog posting through a web browser. Occasionally, however, I might need to correct a typo, approve comments, or something simple, and this WordPress mobile app allows me to do them easily. It can be configured work with either a WordPress.com hosted blog, or a self-hosted blog, and you can have more than one blog configured.

As mentioned earlier, these are just the apps installed from the Google Play store. There are several more worthy of mention, even though I don’t use them anymore, for one reason or other. This includes AirDroid, Dropbox and Evernote. There are yet more stock apps, i.e. those that come with the ROM, that I also use quite a bit. Read more about them, as well as other remarks, in my next post.

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