Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

My Essential List of Android Apps, Part 2

OnePlus One App DrawerOur smartphones pick up too many apps over the years, but we don’t really use all of them. This is a continuation of a two part post on My Essential List of Android Apps, which began with apps I’ve installed from the Google Play store. This part looks at typically stock apps, as well as other general remarks.

My current smartphone is the OnePlus One, installed with CyanogenMod 12.1 nightlies ROM. CyanogenMod is a really powerful ROM. It extends the official AOSP (Android Open Source Project) with lots of customisability, but still leaves you with pretty much the same AOSP experience.

Stock apps are those that are typically included with the device out-of-the-box, or with the ROM (firmware) that you install into the phone. This may possibly vary from device to device. CyanogenMod nightlies, for example, has its own browser, not Google Chrome, unless you additionally install an appropriate Google Apps package.

In the earlier times, I would load up several 3rd party apps simply because the stock ones weren’t good enough. It’s been long enough, today we have Android 5.0 Lollipop, and plenty of stock apps are pretty good. There are some instances when I prefer them over some 3rd party app.

Calculator: This is very handy whenever you need to get some quick calculations done. The app looks very basic, but you can slide-to-left to reveal a bunch more calculator functions, including the ability to work with hexadecimal and binary numbers. To be honest, the user interface is really cumbersome if you need to access anything beyond the most basic functions, but sometimes when you don’t have any other calculators, this is certainly better than having to work out the math with pen and paper. (Then again, you might not even have pen and paper handy.)

Calendar: Yes, my calendar is complicated enough I depend on it to keep track of appointments. Google’s stock calendar is perfectly functional for me, no need to get any 3rd party apps.

Camera: Google Camera is pretty good. It has some neat features like HDR, panorama and photo sphere. CyanogenMod’s stock camera is pretty good too, though it is missing on the photo sphere feature. It doesn’t bother me too much though. While writing this post, I realised that the Camera running in my phone is neither CyanogenMod’s stock nor Google Camera. It’s probably the stock AOSP camera (com.android.camera2). The AOSP stock camera is missing quite a bit of features.

Chrome: I use Chrome on my desktop, so it makes sense to run the same on my phone. Your browser tabs are sync’ed across all running Chrome sessions, so you can use your phone to access a tab that you have opened in another browser session, such as one running on your desktop PC. Alternatively, when you’re back at your desktop, you can open a tab that you had been at on your phone. This is simply a synchronising the URLs. Chrome doesn’t actually preserve the position on the page, data you’ve entered, or other session information.

Clock: What else, I need to tell time, and I need to set alarms.

Contacts: This is the stock “phone book” app. A long time ago, I had used alternative apps like aContacts, but these days the stock Contacts is perfectly functional and works good enough for my needs.

Drive: I use Drive to keep some documents easily accessible across all my devices. Along with Docs, Sheets and Slides, I get easy on-the-go access to both view and edit my documents. Some documents are saved locally, which is convenient way of ensuring that documents are not only kept in sync across multiple devices, including possibly those used by other people, and yet remain accessibly without network connectivity. One of my use case is about maintaining and distributing “emergency information”.

Gallery: The stock Google photo gallery app is called Photos. I use CyanogenMod’s stock Gallery app instead. I prefer this because, first, I’m more familiar with it and, secondly, it doesn’t try to turn my photo library into a cloud-based experience.

Gmail: All my email accounts are now hosted with Google, either in Gmail itself or Google Apps. Life is much simpler with a single email interface.

Hangouts: I’ve been using Google Talk for a long time, after having moved out of ICQ, Yahoo, and MSN. Most of my contacts were then on Talk, and now Hangouts. At some point when Google enabled Hangouts to also handle SMS text messages, I also set Hangouts as my default SMS text messaging app.

Keep: Instead of using a note-taking app like Evernote, I decided to use Keep. It’s a lot more basic than Evernote. But without having to pay any service fee, I get to use it across all my devices, including my Mac and (occasionally used) iPad. Yes, I know Evernote’s basic tier is free. I didn’t like the idea of the caps on the basic tier.

Maps: The stock map app in pretty good, no need for paid apps. Whether it’s for getting driving directions or locating a destination on foot, Maps is tremendously helpful. It can show traffic congestion map, so you can decide on an alternative route. Some locations in Singapore have buildings depicted in 3D. Some buildings, particularly the malls, can be zoomed in to show floor-by-floor indoor layout plans. There’s offline map mode, in case you’re going to take your phone somewhere without data, such as on an overseas trip.

Music: I don’t usually use my phone for music. It’s just a few rare occasions only that I turn to the Music app.

Phone: It’s for making phone calls, what else.

Play Store: This is Google’s app store, though which I get all my apps that isn’t stock in the ROM, so of course this is an important app.

Settings: This is where you change all the phone’s settings. Essential app, certainly.

Translate: I found this tremendously helpful while travelling in Japan. It can translate between quite a handful of languages. Apart from speaking to it, you can also have it take a picture and it can recognise text from there.

YouTube: Like Chrome, it’s really nice that your YouTube experience on the phone is kept in sync with the desktop. YouTube on smartphone has got some cool tricks too, including the ability to play a video directly to a supported media player, such as WD TV Live. This is different from the Android casting feature in Lollipop.

So that’s basically it. These days, most things you need, if there isn’t a native mobile app, will like have a mobile web that works really well. Chrome on the phone becomes the window the the world.

People who root their phones may also have an additional app called SuperSU. In the case of CyanogenMod 12.1, which I currently use, root is built into the ROM, and there’s no need for further apps.

Notice that my needs are pretty simple too. I don’t have many games, I don’t install Twitter or Instagram, and certainly don’t sign up with all the latest social networks or messaging networks. I did get on Telegram. Just briefly. But I reckoned that Hangouts was good enough. It gets tiring to have to deal with half dozen apps that do about the same thing.

This post is about stock apps. Don’t forget to check out part 1 on 3rd party apps. What apps do you use on your Android smartphone?

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