Android based phones are the most popular smartphones on the market today. Android is easily outselling the iPhone and is available on every major mobile carrier. New users often struggle to really get the most out of their Android handset. Common criticisms of Android would likely evaporate if more users knew ways to maximize the benefit of their Android handset. Here are some applications, tips and tricks that I have found to really boost the usefulness of my Android phone.
Managing Your Battery Life
A criticism that I hear often is that android phones have very poor battery life. That was certainly true with the earliest models, and it can still be true with the newer handsets. Fortunately, there are a number of tools for managing your battery life that will help you squeeze the most from your Android phone’s battery.
Some of the features of Android are not needed on a constant basis. These include Bluetooth, WiFi and GPS. These features can quickly drain the phone battery if they are running continuously. Fortunately, Android version 1.6 added some tools to make it easier to switch these items off in order to increase battery life. There is a widget you can add to your phone’s desktop that allows you to switch these features ON and OFF with a single touch. Many applications have the ability to toggle these ON and OFF as well so if an application needs one of these features, it can activate it.
Another frustrating aspect of managing your battery life on Android is that the default battery meter only displays a color: green, yellow and red to indicate how much battery power remains. This can make it harder to gauge if an application is draining your battery more quickly than normal.
Battery Meter Lite is a free application that includes a battery remaining notification. When this notification is enabled a battery icon with the percentage of battery remaining will appear in your notification area. This makes it much easier to manage your battery life because you know exactly how much battery power remains.
Sometimes you want to know what tasks are running and have a way to stop a running task. This is especially true if you have an older Android phone with a slow processor. System Panel Lite is a great application for this. If you have ever used a Unix based operating system or Linux, System Panel Lite will remind you of the top application. It provides a list of actively running processes and inactive but cached processes. It also gives you some handy charts of the current CPU usage and memory usage. Clicking on a running application, you can see the individual application’s CPU and memory usage and you have the option of killing the process. By default, system processes are hidden from view but there is an option in settings to see the Android system processes as well.
Getting More from Messaging
When I first got my Android phone, I hated the default messaging application. I quickly discovered Handcent SMS, a free application that replaces the default messaging application. Handcent features a threaded interface to allow you to visually see the back and forth conversation you are having via SMS. It also allows sending pictures via MMS and saving MMS attachments. You can set Handcent as the default messaging application on Android. Handcent will also provide notifications for new SMS messages. The notification can be customized a bit, including what color your phone LED should flash when you have new messages. When you switch to Handcent, you will need to go into the default messaging application and turn off its notifications. Otherwise, you will get two notifications each time you receive a message.
Ditch Your iPod
Let’s face it – carrying a phone and a music player is a pain. Fortunately, you can easily replace your iPod with your Android phone. The default music player that ships with Android is agreeably nothing to write home about. The interface is very simple and frankly, quite boring. However, you can easily replace it with the Cubed Media Player from the Android market.
Cubed is a free media player with a somewhat unique user interface. Album artwork appears in a 3-dimensional cube. By rotating the cube up or down, you can browse through your album artwork in a fashion very similar to iPod’s cover flow. Rotating the cube to the left or right allows you to alphabetically flip through your collection. This is a great application for turning your Android phone into a fully featured media player.
Of course, playing the media on the phone is only half of the equation. One of the benefits of an iPod is that it synchronizes with iTunes. iTunes also makes organizing your library easy and adds tags and album artwork to your media library. Media Monkey is an application that is available as a free and a premium version. The free version has a great number of features. Media Monkey organizes your media library and allows you to edit tags and add album artwork. When I began to use Media Monkey, I discovered that it was capable of finding artwork for a number of albums for which iTunes did not have artwork. The biggest advantage of Media Monkey for Android users though is that it can sync media with any Android handset. The combination of Media Monkey and Cubed makes any Android phone a real competitor to an iPod.
Android is a very capable mobile platform, but it can be overwhelming to new users at first. A few simple applications can greatly improve how useful your Android phone is and allow you to get much more out of it. Have a favorite application or found a setting that allows you to get more out of your Android phone?