After a seven week wait, I've finally taken delivery of a shiny Nexus 4 smartphone. At the time of writing, it's next to impossible to get hold of in a hurry, unless you're prepared to spend big money. So big in fact, it must be tempting for those with the patience to sell theirs on, at massive profit, and then buy another when the dust settles.
I'm most definitely keeping hold of mine however and have begun the process of transferring my apps across. Since this is my third Android phone (HTC Hero and HTC Desire S RIP) I've amassed a lot of apps and I thought it might be a good idea to share with potential first time Android phone owners which applications have stood the test of time.
Dropbox is an absolute must for any device. I run it on my phone, my iPad, a Linux based laptop and my Windows laptop. Sign up for free and you're given 2GB storage. Enough for a ton of documents and photographs and Dropbox will make them all easily available to you automatically across all your gadgets. Recent developments to the smartphone version introduced the ability to automatically upload your photos to your account, preserving precious memories and making them instantly available to you on your bigger connected screens. Having access to all my documents, PDFs, photos and other files makes this the first app I install on anything.
I recently reviewed Google Music against Spotify and found a lot to like. I now use it daily and, like Dropbox, it gives me easy convenient access to my music and playlists across all my devices, without having to manage the collection separately in each place. Music is streamed, so a good internet connection is necessary to get the best out of it, but playlists, songs or entire albums can also be 'pinned' for offline access.
One of the Nexus 4's limitations is that it has 16GB of storage and no possibility of expanding with a memory card. I've made a dedicated playlist for the phone that has all my favourites in and a local copy is stored, so when an internet connection is not available, I still have plenty of tunes to enjoy. A fantastic app, backed up by a nice store to buy new stuff.
Android has come a long way since my original HTC Hero. I loved it at the time, but there were certain things it didn't do well. More recent versions of the operating system have resolved most of my woes, back then I'd have to install lots of apps to make the user experience exactly how I wanted it. These days, there is really only one problem for me that has driven me to need an app to solve. Opening the menu reveals page after page of apps and quickly searching out the one I want, especially when on the move is frustratingly slow. That's where SayIt comes in and it very much does what it says on the tin. Add the widget and simply tap and say the name of the app you want and it opens within a moment. It's quick, useful and probably the only voice controlled application I can see myself using on a regular basis. Tap the other side of the widget and you're presented with a list of your most commonly opened apps. Useful for when talking to your phone seems inappropriate!
Apple is often cricised for it's vice like grip over what is allowed to be sold on their App Store. Whilst the headlines usually highlight the perfectly legitimate apps that have been kept out for some spurious reason, it does help that little can slip through to actally do your phone harm. With Google's Android, you're much more free to install whatever you like, which is great, but as with other freedoms in life, it's better done with some protection. AVG is well known in the Windows world for its excellent antvirus product and now they're offering to protect your phone too. Not only from viruses and malcious apps either; it will also protect you from going over your mobile data limits and give you some remote lock and wipe capabilities, should the phone fall into the wrong hands. Essential.
I love texting as much as the next man/woman/teen-hidden-in-a-hoodie and have enjoyed unlimited texts in recent years. But, more recently I've been sending less and less. No, I've not gone all quiet, I've just moved to Whatsapp. Free for the first year and 69p per year after that, Whatsapp is a cross between text, instant messaging and picture messaging and it's becoming a phenomenon. After installation it neatly reads your contacts and shows you everyone who also has Whatsapp installed. Send them a message and a tick will appear when its delivered. A second tick will appear when its been read. Should your friend be present at the time, they'll show as 'Online' and 'typing' if they start a reply immediately. Suddenly, a text can become a realtime conversation! If you want a group chat, that's possible too and it's great fun. Picture mesages have always been expensive on mobiles, but with Whatsapp you can send them free and they'll only use the slightest sip of your data plan. This one could mark the end of traditional text messaging.
Smartphones, in spite of their comparatively small screens do a reasonable job of surfing the internet. Webpages are often optimised for mobile use and screen resolutions now rival that of laptops! But still, the screen is small and it's not always a pleasure to do; unless you install Flipboard that is. What Flipboard does is repackage the best of the internet into a sort of mobile magazine and any sense of compromise is gone. It's beautiful. Pick from Flipboard's curated websites by catagory (EG 'Technology' or 'Auto'), or choose your own using RSS feeds and you can 'flip' your way through the headlines, dipping into the ones that stand out to read the article, all making the best use of your screen. This was great on the HTC Desire, but if you have a big screen phone like the Nexus 4, wow it looks good!
Whilst it might seem old fashioned in this interactive day and age, sometimes it's nice just to kick back and watch some telly. YouTube and Netflix do a great job of providing video on demand, but it's TV Catchup I love giving live access to the major UK free to view terrestrial channels. It's free to download and use and all you have to do is skip past an advert each time you channel change. Picture quality will obviously vary on your connection speed and it will eat into your mobile data plan, but generally it's very watchable and again, with a modern mobile's quality screen, you won't find yourself squinting.
My final honorable mention cheats my original theme somewhat as I haven't had it all that long. I've included it though, as I already know it's essential and wanted to recommend it. Ever since Google retired their 'Listen' podcast app, I've been hunting for an alternative. Podcasts are like radio shows, but you control when you listen to them. I don't an need all singing all dancing app, I follow only 5 shows regularly and just wanted a simple means to download them for a listen on a walk or in the car. If you're the same, or new to podcasting, OneCast is a great place to start. It's easy to search out programmes of interest from the thousands available and build a short list of favourites. A tap on a show reveals the available episodes, which can then be streamed immediately, or downloaded to listen to anytime. Simple as that.
Whilst the millions of apps that we can download from app-stores have definitely changed and improved the way we use our phones, there are a vast amount that may be only used a couple of times before bordom sets in or something better is released. The above apps for me have faced down the competition and won. Their new home on my Nexus 4 is assured and their widgets wil be swiped at regularly. If you've not tried any of them before, I strongly recommend a look.