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April 6, 2011 8:49 PM   Subscribe

Help me take advantage of my Samsung Nexus S Android cleverpants-phone.

I recently bought a Samsung Nexus S (the Google phone), which is my first "smartphone". I've had it for not quite a week and haven't played around with it too extensively, but it's a fun little device.

I fear the expense and potential of it is wasted without me getting the best out of it. And so I turn to you generous folk, who in your wisdom, either have this exact same phone or a recentish Android phone and do all kinds of amazing things with it.

I'm after: the best apps, the best hints and tips, the best "wow" factor stuff, anything and everything that has made your Nexus/Android not just a cute toy, but an essential and useful digital Leatherman.

I already have the usual stuff like Evernote (very handy) and a few other bits and pieces, but for the sake of this question assume I am starting from scratch with the thing and tell me how to make it sing.
posted by tumid dahlia to Technology (20 answers total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
So move your life to gmail, if you haven't already. The contact, calendar and email sync is very good. Get a generic car mount as the navigation app is amazing and as good if not better than a dedicated GPS device. And a microusb car charger - it will burn a lot of battery while in nav mode.

Other than that the only game I play a lot on android is WordUp, a boggle clone.
posted by GuyZero at 8:59 PM on April 6, 2011

I have the Galaxy S, and some of my favorite apps are:
Anypost: Posts pictures to your FB/Tumbler/Twitter feed in one shot
Astrid Tasks
Barcode Scanner
C25K Lite (Running)
Dropbox: Syncs with your desktop
Google Earth/Goggles/Skymap/Voice/Shopper
Soundhound and/or Shazam
posted by holterbarbour at 9:02 PM on April 6, 2011

Things that make people go wow: Google skymap and bubble level. Everyone loves the bubble level.

If you have kids, the best app I own is baby esp ... tracks feeding, diapers, etc.... but most importantly medicine times and doses AND it syncs. So when my husband gets the virus-having toddler up at 5 am after I was up with him until 2, he doesn't have to wake me to find out the most recent Tylenol dose ... his phone already knows. (I've also been tracking my own meds with it while sick ... so much nicer not to try to remember when I last had cold meds!)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:12 PM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, if Walgreens is your pharmacy, I freaking love their app, especially bar code scan prescription refills!

I also like gas buddy and use a traffic app, those are useful.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:15 PM on April 6, 2011

Can't you tether for free from the Nexus? There must be some additional carrier issues there too, but your phone as a portal for your other devices is pretty awesome
posted by Chekhovian at 10:28 PM on April 6, 2011

The Nexus S is one of the best phones for hacking because it comes with an unlocked bootloader. You can load custom ROMs on it which can increase functionality. An absolutely essential resource for anyone that wants to get the most out of an Android phone is the XDA-developers site. The Nexus S forums are here; you can find further instructions under the "Android Development" subforum.

Other suggestions:

check out LauncherPro, ADWLauncher, and SPB Shell 3D. These are home-screen replacements that add extra functions to the homescreen. I prefer LauncherPro because it comes with some great new widgets.

Seconding using Google Voice as your voicemail service.

Tasker is a swiss-army knife application that enables a wide range of functions based on location, time, and context. For instance, you can tell your phone, via Tasker, "I want my ringtone to be X when I am in location Y". There's a learning curve but it's really powerful.
posted by ofthestrait at 10:47 PM on April 6, 2011

Google Maps + GPS is just an amazing thing to have around town. Street view has a "compass mode", in which the view corresponds to where you point the phone.

You can add shortcuts on the screen to directions/navigation (and other things) - I've got one-click transit directions to several places (from my current location).

Google Talk. The Dictionary.com app is also pretty handy.

Being able to set up a Wi-Fi hotspot so you can use 3G data on laptops when there's no Wi-Fi.
posted by parudox at 10:51 PM on April 6, 2011

Response by poster: ofthestrait, I was curious about changing bootloaders and stuff but am fearful of bricking the thing. What are the chances?
posted by tumid dahlia at 12:43 AM on April 7, 2011

Seconding the Launcher, Dropbox, Google Skymaps, Google Goggles recommendations. I love, love, love the XBMC remote, but that's only useful if you have an XBMC setup. The Kaleidoscope app is amusing fun. K-9 Mail is hands-down the best mail app for IMAP accounts. I hugely prefer the Dolphin Browser HD to the stock browser app. The gStrings Free tuner is handy if you play music and want a tuner.

A lot of banks and airlines have specific apps - e.g. Air New Zealand have an app that'll generate a QR code on your screen that their check-in systems can use to print you your check-in pass without queuing.

If you paint MixMate is cool - it will "look" at an item in the camera and then tell you which paints (e.g. Windsor & Newton) you need to mix to get that colour.

If you had an old-school Palm Pilot, consider the Graffiti add-on.

Third-party SMS tools (Handcent, GoSMS) offer superior SMS to the default app. Likewise there's a huge range of replacements for the stock Android camera app which is, let's be honest, a bit shit. I ended up clicking a couple of bucks for Vignette, but the Camera360 and AdvancedCamera all have their enthusiasts. There's also a lot of cool little special-use cameras out there as well; RetroCamera simulates Holgas, Kodaks, and so on.

I find some of the live wallpapers oddly soothing.

ofthestrait, I was curious about changing bootloaders and stuff but am fearful of bricking the thing. What are the chances?

I've used the Xcyanogen tools to mod my Xperia X10 Mini Pro, since Sony have abandoned it on 2.1, and it's been a very smooth experience, no problems. Obviously different models vary, but a popular phone like yours has lots of tutorials and so on. That said, why bother until you run out of things you can do with the stock build?

Rooting it's well worthwhile, though, since you can uninstall crapware that ships stock on the phone.
posted by rodgerd at 12:49 AM on April 7, 2011

If you are part of a house with multiple iPhone/blackberry/android users, ourgroceries is an insanely useful app.

Phoneweaver is a very handy profile manager- worth every one of the $3 I spent on it.
posted by cholly at 12:58 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have the Nexus One, but I think my advice is mostly applicable to the Nexus S as well. My recommendations fall into three categories: apps, root, ROM.

For apps, Gmail + Google Contacts + Google Calendar are very good. I cannot easily imagine ever switching to a non-Google mail service, short of Google and/or civilization imploding. Same goes for Google Voice and Google Maps.

I also really like AgendaWidget - it's better than the built-in Google calendar widget for viewing multiple calendars.

Root: lets you uninstall some pre-installed apps and also tether (at least, on my phone, which came with AmazonMP3 and Facebook, neither normally uninstallable - yech).

ROM: Cyanogenmod. Why? This ROM is very popular and generally well tested, also typically months ahead of the official carrier-vetted updates. When Google does something cool in AndroidOS, you'll get it from Cyanogenmod while your carrier is taking their sweet time deciding whether or not to release it.
posted by zippy at 1:03 AM on April 7, 2011

I'll second Astrid Tasks.
k9 mail is a brilliant email client if you have more than one IMAP address (yes, gmail too) you check frequently.

And I know a Brisbanian, but if you're ever in Sydney, TripView is brilliant for public transport.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:52 AM on April 7, 2011

you're a Brisbanian
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 1:56 AM on April 7, 2011

Rooting it's well worthwhile, though, since you can uninstall crapware that ships stock on the phone.

The Nexus S is one of the few that ship with raw Android and no crapware.

Personally the things I love on my droid are:
- Maps/Turn-by-turn Navigation. You really can never get lost again
- Handcent is a nice texting app
- Winamp for Android is much better than the default music app and can sync with desktop winamp.
- Craigslist Notification does periodic searches and alerts me when there's something I'm looking for
- WeatherBug is very handy
- Listen is a pretty good podcast app
- Google Reader is a native rss reader
posted by octothorpe at 5:17 AM on April 7, 2011

Bricking is close to impossible with the Nexus line. Seriously. They're awesome. Flashing a new ROM takes maybe ten minutes. Five of those are deciding which ROM to flash, but you should flash CyanogenMod because it's just the best. Really it is. I love it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:55 AM on April 7, 2011

tricorder: gives a direct feed from all your phones sensors (including which particular gps satellites are overhead at the moment) as well as current SOHO solar images, in full star trek format, complete with woowoowoo sound. free.
layar: for all your augmented reality needs...play pacman in the backyard! find invisible public art! (and other local stuff) free.
magic doodle: as good, if not better than, photoshop. on your phone. editable brushes, layer support, really nice color choices in the built in palettes, intuitive. free.
fart sound board: the talking fart elephant that comes with it is far funnier than it deserves to be. free.
fx camera: good retro camera/polaroid/fisheye/mod camera effects. free.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:58 AM on April 7, 2011

The monocle function in Yelp's app frequently amazes everyone I show it too. Get it!
posted by Big_B at 11:17 AM on April 7, 2011

I switched from an iPhone 4 to the Nexus S since December. The above comments address applications, but I'd like to talk a bit about accessories.

Smartphones suck battery life quickly. You can optimize battery life some by doing things like shutting off 3G and dimming your screen, but spare chargers and batteries are handy.

If you buy a generic charger, makes sure the output is at least .7 amps. .5 amps (which includes most USB ports on computers) will work, but is slow.

The port on your Nexus S is called a Micro USB, not a Mini USB. You can use any Micro USB accessory with this phone.

I own all of the below linked items and have no affiliation with any of the the vendors below other than being a customer.

You can buy Blackberry branded Micro USB cables from Amazon for 1.36/each. At that price, it is reasonable to buy extras for work/school/car/purse.

Get yourself a case for $10 and a 6 pack of screen covers for 7, and your device is a bit more rugged.

A car window mount is handy if you drive and want to use the GPS or Navigation functionality.

I have not found a quality dual usb car charger yet - good for car trips, charge your phone and another device (ipod etc) simultaneously.

If you have battery life issues, a non-obvious solution is to buy a spare battery or two. Seidio makes a slightly higher capacity battery, but for $45 you could buy a couple OEM standard batteries.
posted by enfa at 11:21 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you haven't mastered the voice actions, those are pretty awesome when you get the hang of it (e.g. instructing the phone to send a text to someone and dictating that text all with your voice). Here are instructions from Google.
posted by ultraviolet catastrophe at 12:07 PM on April 7, 2011

I have a Galaxy S phone, and really like Slide Screen as an alternate home screen. The version in the Android Market is old – they’ve been working on a major update for a while, and it is very stable. Download it at the Larva Labs support forums at Get Satisfaction.
posted by SirNovember at 1:14 PM on April 7, 2011

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