Meewella | Fragments

The Life of P

Tag: android

Reappearance

The once-regular Android app updates began to feel redundant as my preferred apps became increasingly static, the only changes being that I moved back to the Google defaults for things like Calendar and SMS. Recently, however, there have been a few changes that are worth highlighting. For reference my current Android devices are a Google Pixel and Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet.

Evie: After a couple of days’ use, Evie became the default launcher (home screen) on my phone. Having lauded Action Launcher for years, it was a surprise to find how swiftly it won me over but a few well-designed gestures made it that little bit faster in day-to-day use — swipe down to search and you can immediately start typing; swipe up to see a full list of installed apps with an alphabetically quick selector on the side. For now I am still using Action Launcher on my tablet, although that too could change. I do miss Action Launcher’s “covers” (hybrid app icons that open folders when swiped) but that’s the only real drawback.

Google Home: Having tried both Amazon Alexa and Google Home, both have excellent features but Google’s voice-recognition is still superior and its natively integrated features work more smoothly than Alexa’s “skills”. The reason I highlight the app is that it includes a feature than many people have missed. Although Google Home speakers do not yet support bluetooth audio, you can still cast all audio from your phone using the Home app, even if your music app doesn’t natively support Google cast. It will work with Chromecast devices as well. Given the choice, casting from an individual app is still preferable because you won’t have booming notifications interrupting your music.

GoneMAD Music Player: A highly customisable player for those who want their interface to work in a very specific way, the real reason I switched was for a player that could display my music library by Album Artist (rather than just by Artist). It’s a small thing, but with a huge library it’s a huge help and sadly lacking in most Android music players. It also natively supports Google cast, so I can stream music out to my Google Home speaker and other devices.

Pocket Casts: Unlike iOS, there is no default podcasting app on Android but I tend to change very rarely. Pocket Casts’ ability easily to synchronise subscriptions and how far through you have listened to an individual podcast between multiple devices (including streaming through a web browser if you so desire) is its standout feature.

Pushbullet: Pushbullet is one of those powerful utilities that, like Tasker, adds such fundamental functionality that it instantly feels like it must always have been there. Initially developed to allow notification mirroring between devices, including to your desktop PC, it was swiftly iterated to allow interactivity like responding directly to text messages from your PC and pushing files or web pages from one device to another. The addition of end-to-end encryption between all your devices seals the deal.

Solid Explorer: A fully featured file browser that replaced ES File Explorer after its ad-fuelled fall from grace. It has the same features like accessing network and cloud storage as well as local files. In landscape mode you can view two folders simultaneously, making it easy to copy from one to the other.

Signal: Although Whatsapp has now implemented end-to-end encryption, its ownership by Facebook still leaves some concerns. Signal, the successor of TextSecure is the messaging app I would recommend for privacy. Like Whatsapp it uses your mobile number as an identifier so you don’t need to create an account. It is open source so the encryption protocol is community vetted and even has a recommendation from Edward Snowden! The downside is that obviously it can only send encrypted messages when the recipient is also using the system.

VRTV: With increasing amounts of virtual reality video and relatively inexpensive headsets using Google’s Cardboard or newer Daydream standards, it is nice to have a single app that supports both. Smooth video playback with limited headtracking drift and support for the Daydream controller. For its hands-free HUD controls, AAA VR Cinema is also worth a look if you don’t need Daydream support.

VSCO: For a while I was told my Instagram account is “cheating” because most of the photographs I post are taken with my dSLR. Best not tell anyone that I also do not edit photos with Instagram filters. I prefer the less destructive filters and finer tuning available through VSCO, resulting in less image degradation in exchange for pleasant hues. Although VSCO has its own sharing platform, you can eschew that and share out to Instagram or any other app to post the results. Also worth mentioning is Prisma which is the opposite extreme, using strong filters to alter your images more fundamentally until they resemble fine art rather than photographs.

Appearances

Posh AndroidAnother year, another Nexus and it is time for another round-up of Android apps. Despite having had the Nexus 5 since its launch a few months ago, I have only just flashed CyanogenMod 11. With each consecutive release of stock Android there seem to be fewer reasons to switch to a custom ROM. The major features for me are the built-in equaliser and the recent addition of WhisperPush for encrypted SMS.

Hello is my new preferred SMS app. It takes some design cues from Google Hangouts (into which Google merged its text messaging app) but its tabs are more usable and it is beautifully minimalist.

Google Play Music unexpectedly became my default music player because of their exceptional cloud mirroring service. It will mirror your entire music collection (up 20,000 songs) irrespective of where you obtained the music and make it available to stream anywhere via the app or desktop browsers. If the song is already in Google’s library, you do not even have to upload it first. The app makes great use of full-screen album artwork, and losing Poweramp‘s impressive equaliser was alleviated by CyanogenMod’s in-built option.

SolCalendar and Cal are both vying for the position of default calendar app. Cal may be the prettier with its animations and integration with the Any.do To-do List, but SolCalendar’s clean UI offers better usability. Or at least it will as soon as addresses are clickable to launch mapping/navigation, which is a major drawback at present.

Feedly became most popular replacement feed reader when Google shelved Reader last year to much consternation from users. Fortunately Feedly’s qulity on the desktop is matched by a great mobile app for swiping through subscriptions and then putting the text of stories front and centre.

Timely is a stunningly beautiful alarm clock app, with the usual extras like a stopwatch, but also cloud synchronisation of alarms. Its “smart rise” feature was an interesting idea with gradually increasing volume over an extended period of time but as a light sleeper I found it woke me almost instantly.

Muzei is an simple live wallpaper from Google employee Roman Nurik who became prominent for producing the Dashclock lock screen widget.  Muzei cycles artwork on your home screen with a gaussian blur applied until double-tapped to prevent it being distracting. Like Dashclock it supports extensions and a dozens emerged within days (such as National Geographic and Flickr).

Otherwise things remain largely unchanged:

Utilities — It can be assumed I use pretty much all of the Google suite of apps, with their acquisition of Quickoffice making it my default document viewer. SwiftKey has not been challenged as my keyboard of choice. Tasker is still at the centre of automating phone functionality. Despite Chrome‘s prominence and briefly trying Mercury, Dolphin remains my browser of choice. ES File Explorer is my preferred file manager, particularly for easy access to shared network content. Evernote remains one of my most-used apps for storing and retrieving information, although I also use Pocket for reading web content later. Light Flow allows for granular customisation of notification lights. For cloud storage I now use Google Drive, Dropbox and Box for different aspects. SMS Backup+ syncs my text messages with GMail and now boasts WhatsApp support.

MediaDoggCatcher remains my podcast aggregator with DICE Player for video playback of nearly anything (along with the YouTube and Vimeo apps). Google Play Music has removed the need for other streaming apps for music I own but I still use SoundCloud. Meanwhile I have switched to Yatse as an XBMC remote which has provided a smoother experience.

Misc — I am split between the overhauled official Twitter app and newcomer Talon. BeWeather still provides both a weather app and the integrated clock widget on my home screen. Whilst I have always enjoyed its attractive weather animations, what keeps it on top is the at-a-glance hour by hour graph for the day that shows you exactly when it is likely to rain.

Approval

Android ArmyTen months and a new phone on from my last round-up of Android apps, it is time for an update on what I am now running on my Nexus 4. On the ROM side, I have now moved back to the CyanogenMod camp, with 10.1 sporting the latest Jelly Bean goodies with a host of additional tweaks. The inclusion of very stable milestone builds in addition to the usual pre-release nightlies is a welcome change.

Swiftkey 4 is once again my default keyboard, although I have spent the past year shifting between Swiftkey, Swype and even the new Jelly Bean stock keyboard. It was the inclusion of swiping with Swiftkey Flow that ultimately won me back.

Action Launcher recently became my default home screen for its subtly improved usability with a new gesture-based approach that fits better with the Android’s “Holo” design language than standard launchers. It is also discounted for the next few days. The super-smooth Nova Launcher remains my second favourite.

Poweramp is a fantastic music player that puts album artwork front and centre both in the main player and its replacement lockscreen (which operates whilst you have music playing). Factor in its impressive graphic equaliser and it is easy to recommend.

Carbon, a new twitter client, seemed like vapourware for much of the past year. Now that it is finally in the wild, it proves to be an exceptionally stylish, gesture-focused twitter client that’s a pleasure to use. It may lack some features a power user may desire, but it has become my default client. As a free app, hopefully development will continue despite twitter’s apparent war on third parties.

Carbon is also, somewhat confusingly, the name of a powerful new sync/backup app from maker of the ClockworkMod recovery tool. The free version will allow you to restore from a PC, the paid version supports cloud restore too.

Press is the first Google Reader client to impress me enough that I have actually started to read my feeds regularly on mobile devices (rather than simply using Currents to browse a small number of optimised sites).

Media: I continue to use DoggCatcher for podcasts, DICE Player for video playback of nearly anything (along with the YouTube and Vimeo apps), SoundCloud and Amazon MP3 for streaming music and SoundHound to identify songs. Meanwhile XBMC Remote controls my XBMC home theatre PC and SmartGlass interacts with my Xbox, nominally for now but presumably more as time goes on.

Utilities: The “automate anything” Tasker remains the most powerful app for Android and thankfully its ageing UI is finally getting a refresh with the beta I have been trialling. Dolphin remains my chosen web browser. Evernote continues to expand its role as my digital brain with the addition of Hello, which mimics human memory by ditching alphabetical lists of contact names for a chronological stream of faces. Dropbox is my go-to cloud storage option (I’d love to switch to the considerably more secure SpiderOak, but cannot until they offer mobile uploads), though rival Box is luring users with increased storage. SMS Backup+ replicates my text messages as conversations in Gmail so that they are backed up and searchable. I only use Full Screen Caller ID for texts, but being able to see hi-res photos of the sender is both more personal and faster to identify at a distance.

Misc: Now that the official Facebook app has finally been rewritten properly from the ground up, I have switched back from the still impressive third party Friendcaster. Pocket lets me save and view webpages from a browser (desktop or mobile) for reading later. DashClock is an extendable replacement for the Android 4.2 lockscreen clock widget, which can display calendar entries, weather, alarms, unread messages and more. It was designed by a Google engineer and is frankly what the default ought to be!

Appreciation

It has been another year since the last in the (unexpectedly popular) series exploring the Android apps I am running and, whilst I continue to use most of those, there are a host of new entrants worth mentioning. First off on the ROM-front, I currently run AOKP (that’s the Android Open Kang Project), which includes most of the latest features from CyanogenMod 9, with Nova Launcher for my home screen. These maintain the general Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich UI, whilst providing a series of tweaks.

SwiftKey 3 (beta) has just replaced Swype on my phone — I have always been a fan on tablet — because its predictive algorithm is so good that even one-handed I have found it faster than Swype. I still think it will be a matter of preference but thanks to Joe for giving me the nudge to check out the new beta. They certainly deserve their Webby!

DoggCatcher is my podcast app of choice. It can be set automatically to download audio and video podcasts when on wifi so that your selections are ready to consume once you leave, even if you have no signal. It also supports video playback through third party players like my next selection.

DICE Player is an excellent video player available in paid or ad-supported flavours. Aside from its smooth playback of HD footage in a range of formats, including .mkv, it includes advanced features like variable speed and subtitle support.

CyanogenMod 9 Music, developed for CyanogenMod, is a limited modification of the stock ICS player but it is worth switching out for its tweaks to the notification panel controls, allowing a full set of playback controls and direct closing of the app. Meanwhile I am trying out Apollo which is being merged with CM9 for future releases, though I feel it still needs some work.

Mi File Explorer is also extracted from another ROM, this time MIUI. It’s a very pretty file explorer with all the functionality you would expect (other than root access). However, the in-development Solid Explorer may replace it, with its two-panel drag-and-drop interface (and root access).

Wunderlist is the last of the “utility” apps. It is a basic but easy to use list-making app that has just edged out Astrid as my favourite. Meanwhile, if you are in London, London Transport Live is a must-have.

Camera apps: my scepticism when it comes to phone cameras remains unaltered, but I still enjoy trying out the latest imaging apps. My favourite straight shooting choice is Camera ZOOM FX. AfterFocus is a powerful tool for creating artificial depth-of-field effects to mimic SLR-taken shots. For more substantial filters Pixlr-o-matic offers the most advanced tools, whilst Instagram trades on ease of use and social integration (I wondered upon the popular app’s Android debut whether it would get me sharing more photos on the go — the answer is not so much).

Browsers/Readers: For web browsing I have found the speed of the default ICS browser to be excellent. However my old favourite Dolphin Browser HD and Google’s own Chrome are worth considering. A leaked release of Flipboard provided a visually appealing way to flip through news and social media updates in an image-focused way (not dissimilar to the latest release of the Google+ app). However, my preferred news reader is Google Currents for its crisp, clean appearance which makes it incredibly easy to read. Although it only supports publications that have been specifically designed for it, most of my favourites are on offer. Finally, Pocket (previously Read-It-Later) lets you store and later read webpages you come across either on your phone or on a desktop browser with the respective plugin.

Musically Sociable

Today I am plugging a couple of musical selections linked predominantly by their social effect on my life. First up is a new music video from jazz singer/pianist Anthony Strong, For Once In My Life from his Delovely EP. Anthony is an old school friend of mine (as in we went to school together, not that he is old school). Anthony is the sort of person whose talent would be infuriating if he were not such a lovely, unassuming chap. He was also responsible for my initial introduction to some of London’s top burlesque performers, while he performed on that circuit. That has certainly led to a few of the more memorable nights out in the past few years. Unfortunately we seem to have reached a point where his releasing a CD or video is what reminds me that we are long overdue a drink. Therefore it is terribly important that you support him so that he can keep making great music and I can remember to catch up with him.

Next up, Amanda Palmer is again using Kickstarter to crowdsource funding but this time it is a little more ambitious: raising funds outside of a label to produce and promote her new album and an accompanying artbook, and to embark upon a worldwide tour with a new band. Any donation above a dollar nets a copy of the album, and backers have access to the first single now. This return to a patronage system (albeit a distributed one: people have donated anywhere between $1 and $10,000 each) is, she proclaims, the future of music and I am inclined to agree. I am always fascinated by the varied fans she has hidden amongst my friends, who crawl out of the woodwork whenever I mention her, whilst the crowds at her gigs are amongst the easiest to strike up a conversation and connect with if I find myself there alone — after all, at least half of them are guaranteed to be Neil Gaiman fans too. This summer she plays a sold-out London gig the day Jenna and her family arrive. Having been able to witness Jenna’s first real gig experience back in New Orleans (it was A Perfect Circle), accompanying her to her first London gig is almost as enticing a prospect.

If you happen not to care about music then, aside from the fact you have no soul, you may wish to check out the following:

Samsung Galaxy Nexus

From the time it was announced, I was relatively the sure the Samsung Galaxy Nexus would be my next phone. The Nexus lines of phones are developed by Google with a manufacturing partner and are used to introduce each major revision of Android, in this case version 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, which is one of the most significant changes the OS has gone through. As a result separating a review of the phone from the new software is almost impossible, so for the most part I won’t try.

Most immediately striking is the screen, an incredible 4.65″ 720p high definition display. Despite the size, the phone’s slim, curved build means it doesn’t feel large or unwieldy as I had feared. Many reviewers have criticised the plastic housing, but it keeps the handset lightweight and the textured back provides easy grip. The build quality is high and the moment the screen lights up, the handset feels anything but cheap.

The biggest UI change is that the front now boasts zero buttons, not even the capacitive ones that have become standard on most Android models. Instead soft keys are built into the OS, with the advantage that they can rotate based on orientation and disappear entirely for full screen video. The deep blacks of the Super AMOLED display is perfect for this, so you would be forgiven for mistaking them for old-style capacitive buttons. It’s no secret that I am proponent of buttons for their tactile ease of use without looking at the handset, but there is no denying the beauty of the flawless obsidian slab when the phone is off. The only thing I really miss from my HTC Desire is the optical trackpad for swiftly relocating a text entry cursor by a space or two.

Android has undergone a major visual overhaul that streamlines the UI while making the experience more consistent throughout, which will hopefully influence third party apps. The larger screen means more elements in the notification tray can be visual, with incoming texts and emails identified by sender photos. Multitasking is brought to the fore, with a dedicated app switching button (items can be dismissed from the list with a simple swipe). Elsewhere, such as the new People app, design cues have been taken from Windows Phone 7 with swipe-able panels. All the slick new visuals are smooth and responsive thanks to the dual core processor under the hood.

The only real negative is for those who use their phone as a primary camera. While Samsung’s own Galaxy SII has arguably the best mobile camera on the market to date, the Nexus camera does not stack up against its siblings. Its speed is certainly impressive, now boasting zero shutter lag, but the quality of the 5MP sensor is average. For my part I rarely use the camera on a phone so this one drawback did little to dissuade me.

Extra features? The lack of removable storage may ruffle some feathers but the 16GB included (with a 32GB model on its way) should suffice for most, though it does mean you may not be able to carry around your entire music library. NFC is present even though mobile payments have yet to take off in a meaningful way. Finally, face unlock is Android’s “Siri” — a feature that is great in marketing ads but a total gimmick when it comes to real world use (broadly it works but it’s likely to be slower, fails in dim light and can be duped by photographs). After a week’s use, battery life is as one would expect from any top-end smartphone: you’ll eke out a day but don’t expect more, and if you hammer it with video playback on a commute you may find yourself needing to charge up at work.

The Galaxy Nexus is without a doubt the best Android phone to date and, in all honesty, the best phone I have ever tried. There is, of course, not one ideal phone for everyone. Those who rely on their phone’s camera or need extra space for their music may be better served by the Galaxy S II, which will see an Ice Cream Sandwich update in due course. For those who are seriously into touchscreen gaming on the go, the growing Android library of games still lags behind the iPhone at present. For everyone else, I cannot recommend new Nexus, with its unrivalled combination of beauty and features, highly enough.

Apparently

It’s been almost a year since I shared the Android apps residing on my phone, and I figured it was time for an update. Android’s growth in that time has, after all, been unfathomably fast. Many are still there, but much has also changed. The biggest shift is that I’ve left the default HTC Sense version of Android behind, in favour of 3rd party ROMs (as Android is open source, the community will often provide more frequent updates than the handset manufacturers). The hybrid MIUI initially tempted me to root my phone but ultimately it was CyanogenMod, with the lure of the latest Gingerbread Android 2.3, that has stuck it out. As for the apps I’m now running, as before I’ll attempt to list them in approximate order to regularity/usefulness:

Swype revolutionised text entry on a touchscreen, and I cannot praise it highly enough. Unfortunately they are targeting OEMs rather than selling the app to consumers directly, but they have reopened free beta applications for those who want to give it a whirl. I doubt I could switch back.

Dolphin Browser HD and the newly released Firefox mobile are currently vying for dominance as my browser of choice. The latter brings desktop synchronisation, but still feels slightly sluggish compared to my existing favourite.

Jorte is easily the best calendar app available for Android, which will consolidate your Google calendar with Exchange and brings widgets in every conceivable configuration.

Tasker is designed for power users and essentially lets me automate my phone’s operation by setting conditions and results, with incredibly granular options. For example, it knows I’m in the office when it connects to the building’s wifi network and immediately switches to silent mode, reverting when I leave. It knows I’m in bed if it is plugged in at night, so it switches off all data traffic, reactivating it shortly before I wake so that any email is ready and waiting. Along with Swype, losing this would probably prevent me switching to another platform.

Dropbox, which everyone ought to use for cloud-syncing between machines, is the simplest way to swiftly move files to your phone without the hassle of cables.

Evernote has become increasingly central to the way I organise important or merely interesting information, and having it all at my fingertips on the move is ideal. Particularly business cards.

FoxyRing is so unobtrusive I actually forgot to include it in this list at first, simply running in the background and altering your ringer’s volume depending on the level of ambient noise.

SMS Backup+ I also forgot as it too runs quietly in the background, backing up SMS conversations to GMail so I can empty my phone but still keep the messages. It tags them with a separate label so they don’t clutter my inbox.

Remote Notifier ensures I never miss calls or messages at home when glued to a computer while my phone is in another room. Unobtrusive pop-ups let me know whatever my phone needs to tell me.

Kindle from Amazon makes your phone a viable e-reader (for short periods at least), with access to a range of free older books.

JuiceDefender keeps an eye on your phone’s data connectivity to maximise battery life, though with a dock on my desk at work this has become less of an issue.

WaveSecure may seem pricey at $20 per year, but it’s my security app of choice, allowing me to lock down my phone when lost and either locate or wipe it.

Pulse is a great news aggregator that presents stories in an attractive digital magazine style. You can select from a wide range of feeds in its collection, but the ability to connect to Google Reader makes bringing in your own a cinch. I have, however, experienced instability issues.

Google Goggles is a project from the labs that allows you to perform searches by snapping a photo. This can be merely to find the source of an image or more information about a product, but new features are continually added. It can now provide information on classic works of art, interpret QR codes and even solve Sudoku.

Fancy Widget is an integrated clock, date and weather widget for your main home screen, similar to that found in HTC’s Sense UI but more customisable.

Google Listen is its podcast app which, while perhaps not the prettiest UI, is still the best way to organise and consume your podcasts.

ShopSavvy hasn’t received as much use as I expected (partly because I now shop for media almost exclusively online) but the ease with which it scans barcodes and runs price comparisons makes it essential if you do find yourself in one of those archaic brick-and-mortar store.

mSpot, in contrast to other cloud music services now requiring payment, remains free and even bumped up storage to 5GB of your own music. It compresses uploads so that 5GB is larger — and lower in quality — than it sounds. My phone is certainly not my media player of choice, but it’s a nice fallback when my Cowon J3 is out of juice.

Vignette and Photoshop Express are my favourites for taking and editing photos respectively.

Appsolutely

A long post today that just covers the Android apps I currently use and recommend. If that doesn’t interest you, here’s my review of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans instead.

To keep an eye on the latest app releases check out Android Tapp and Revision3’s daily App Judgment show, which covers  both Android and iPhone. You’ll notice there aren’t direct links to the app marketplace below. That’s because unfortunately the Android marketplace doesn’t quite work like that at present although its redesign is soon to launch with Google’s I/O conference in progress right now.

So here’s what I use in approximate order of regularity/usefulness:

Dolphin Browser HD is currently the best Android web browser for high-end phones. A slick interface, tabbed browsing and very smooth pinch-to-zoom.

Astro File Manager is self-explanatory: the easiest way to browse files on your phone, especially if you download and install apps outside the Android marketplace.

Lookout is an all-in-one security package with cloud backup, anti-virus scanning (primarily to protect you PC when you attach your phone) and the ability remotely to locate (and, if stolen, wipe) your phone from any browser. Paid alternative WaveSecure is also very well reviewed.

Last.fm and Spotify are both great streaming music services. The former is free, while the latter requires that you are a premium subscriber to use the mobile app. Still, that entire library available anywhere isn’t bad for £10 a month.

Catch That Bus is the first and only app I’ve purchased to date and is a bargain at £1.79. It uses Google Maps and overlays UK bus stops. Select one and you’ll see a live board with expected arrival times. No more wondering whether it’s worth waiting at a bus stop.

JuiceDefender saves battery life by regulating your data connection and wifi, but it can interfere with streaming media services like Spotify.

Evernote brands itself as a “digital brain” for storing and searching notes, pictures and clips from websites. Not only can you now access it anywhere, but you can use your phone’s camera to snap photos, which Evernote will scan with OCR to make any text searchable.

ShopSavvy lets you scan product barcodes while shopping and will provide details and price comparison with both retail and online stores.

Dropbox is an service I already recommend for cloud-syncing files on desktops, and now you can access all of those files remotely from your phone too.

Photoshop.com Mobile is obviously nothing like the desktop version but offers a handful of really useful tools to improve images taken with a phone camera.

TaskPanel lets you kill off apps individually or en masse. Android’s multitasking implementation means that the OS will automatically prioritise and close unused apps when it runs out of memory, so this should be unnecessary. But in some cases you may prefer to keep things tidy yourself and it can improve battery life.

Twitter and Engadget both have official apps that, while not particularly special, do stand out for their slick interfaces.

Quickpedia let you browse wikipedia and is noteable mainly in that it includes suggestions for search. This on a pocketable phone is probably the next best thing to owning The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.

Shazam is a neat little app that will listen to a snippet of music and identify it, all for no charge.

Barcode Scanner may sound odd for a phone but the Android community often shares apps and links using QR codes (2D barcodes). Simply snap one, even directly off another screen, with your phone camera rather than fiddling around with the keyboard.

Yelp and Aloqa are both goods ways to find local restaurants and entertainment.

Layar is an augmented reality app which means it uses the phone’s camera to display the world around you with overlayed information. They’re a great glimpse into the future but I feel aren’t quite smooth enough for general use yet.

Flixster Movies brings current film info, showtimes and trailers to your phone.

c:geo is great for entering the world of geocaching.

Compass lets you – wait, do I really have to explain this one?

Whew, any I missed that you think should have been on here? As always, let me know.

HTC Desire is the ‘droid you’ve been looking for

Having finally caught up with the modern mobile world on buying the HTC Desire, I have been reluctant to discuss it. The main reason is that nothing but gushing praise would seem rather biased so I wanted to find some faults too. That took time.

As you probably guessed it’s a phenomenal device. I’m not going to repeat others’ “iPhone killer” rhetoric here because it’s irrelevant – with or without Apple’s product, this is a powerhouse of a smartphone and, for me, the best on the market to date. A large capacitive touchscreen with a high-res 800×480 AMOLED display, it looks stunningly crisp with vibrant colours and smooth transitions. Its 1GHz Snapdragon processor makes it fly, coupled with the Android operating system.

Android is a slightly geekier OS than the iPhone’s, but HTC’s Sense user interface sits on top, with attractive widgets that allow for easy customisation and show a lot of info at a glance (e.g. FriendStream which combines friends’ Facebook and Twitter updates). For me it fixes the Nexus One control flaws by inverting them: the touch-sensitive buttons are now physical, while the trackball is replaced with an optical trackpad that is great for fine cursor movement. It’s not secret that I like the tactile feedback of buttons and would still prefer a slide-out physical keyboard, but as soft keyboards go the Desire’s is one of the best I’ve tried.

Now a mature platform, the Android Marketplace has a wealth of apps. Numerically it is still far behind the Apple’s App Store (and isn’t as easy to browse), but most high-quality apps (other than games) are now cross-platform or have equivalents. Android’s open system makes it attractive and easier to develop for, without the need for official approval, so it certainly has the potential to grow rapidly.

The contacts list seamlessly merges my GMail address book with Facebook contacts, including importing profile pics to identify people. Multitasking is a breeze on the Desire, allowing you to stream music with the Spotify app while browsing the web, pausing  and resuming everything automatically to receive a call. Other neat tricks include Google’s turn-by-turn SatNav, recently rolled out in the UK, and Flash support, which is welcome but certainly leaves room for improvement.

Video looks gorgeous on the vibrant screen although AMOLED does wash out dramatically in direct sunlight. Codec support is rather limited at present, meaning you’ll need to convert most video files. Previously a nightmare, these days this it is simplified drastically by doubleTwist. Sound quality for voice calls is fine, but I found music playback is rather average: excellent clarity but a lack of depth with virtually non-existent bass. Of a course a phone will never compete with a dedicated PMP and I readily admit I’ve spoiled my ears with Cowon players, but this confirms I will still require a second device.

I’ll discuss specific apps I’m using in a future post.

"Lack of imagination is an occupational hazard for an apex predator."

(CC) BY-NC 2005-2019 Priyan Meewella

Up ↑