What are the things every Android Phone needs?
December 18, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

I just got a Samsung Stratosphere LTE, my first smartphone and first Android device. I'm not looking to use it as a mini computer (i have an iPad for that) but I am interested in how to best use it as a phone and what capabilities or apps are available that don't have an iOS equivalent or work better than their counterparts. What super-neat abilities does a Stratosphere have that might not be immediately apparent?
posted by The Whelk to Technology (8 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have any knowledge of iOS apps, but Google Sky Map is really cool. I also use Google MyTracks to record my mountainbike rides and upload them to my maps and google docs. Also I use Grooveshark a lot in the car (but you need a subscription).

Oh, and if you use google Chrome as a browser on your computer, there is a plugin and its android app called Chrome2phone that sends links or highlighted text to your android phone. Its been useful for various things.
posted by czytm at 9:24 AM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Voice recognition aka Speech-to-text. Anywhere that you can get a keyboard (I.e. any text field) you can use Google's free built-in voice input to generate text. You can Google "android speech to text" to find details. I like the built-in option pretty well, but once I got hooked on it I tried a few other things and I much prefer Nuance software FlexT9 input - Definitely worth the five dollars because now I can dictate all of my e-mails.
posted by Tehhund at 10:01 AM on December 18, 2011

Possibly relevant.
posted by Tehhund at 7:38 PM on December 18, 2011

To activate the speech recognition, press and hold the search button (the magnifying glass).
posted by fake at 9:03 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

A few things that Android does that I don't believe the iphone does:
1. Widgets. An obvious one, but stick the weather forecast or your twitter feed on your homescreen.

2. Ubiquitous data sharing between apps. Take a photo, hit share and any app you have installed that knows what to do with photos will be there (facebook, twitter, gmail, your image resizing or editing app). Find a great website? Hit share and the same thing.

3. Ability to replace pretty much anything. Keyboards are the big one, I like Swype, but also the stock browser, music or video player, whatever. This goes beyond just allowing you to install another browser, you can also set it as the default so that links clicked in your email app open in it (or the other way, email addresses clicking on the web will open in whichever email program you want.

4. A nice thing I was playing with today that I don't think the ios SDK would allow is AirDroid. Start it up on your phone while on your home or work wifi and you can control your phone from the browser on your desktop. In particular you get a nice interface into your SMS app to allow sending and reading with a real keyboard.

Free turn-by-turn voice direction in maps is nice too. (And you can search for directions on your desktop and then use chrome2phone mentioned above to send them over to your phone).
posted by markr at 1:29 AM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

1. Install the Amazon App Store and check in every day for a new free app.

2. Install Llama, and you can make your phone time/location aware and have it react accordingly. (Turn off Wifi when you leave the house, set to silent when you enter the office, etc etc.) Tasker will let you do all of this and more, but is a lot trickier to use, and isn't free.

3. As mentioned above, install Swype. (Unless it came with your phone.)

4. Ditch the stock Browser. Dolphin is my preferred browser, though lots of people like Opera, and Firefox is constantly improving.

5. It looks like the Stratosphere doesn't have a physical LED. If you want a functional equivalent, try NoLED. It allows you to have notifications show as a single colored pixel on a black screen. Because of the AMOLED screen, this barely uses any battery, and you can configure it to be even more conservative (like to turn off after 15 minutes so it doesn't keep showing it if you're not around.) Plus, you can use different colors/icons for different types of notifications.

6. I would also recommend replacing the stock TouchWiz launched with LauncherPro, ADW Launcher, or GOLauncher. But this is a personal preference. The important thing is that you can if you want to.

7. If you don't like your lockscreen, try WidgetLocker.

All of this assumes you don't plan on rooting. If you do, I have a much longer list for you.
posted by SpiffyRob at 6:10 AM on December 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

All of this assumes you don't plan on rooting. If you do, I have a much longer list for you.

Go on...
posted by phyllary at 10:49 PM on December 21, 2011

You can also replace your dialer... I prefer Dialer One

There are lots of things you can do to visually alter your phone and make it look different. alternative launchers, adding widgets, changing icons... but I'm not really going to go much into detail on that.

You, I believe, have swype built in to the stratosphere. Menu, Settings, Language and Keyboards, Enable Swype if it's not enabled, change any settings. You can switch between keyboards by pressing and holding in any place you can type and selecting input methods.

swype is awesome, letting you arguably input text much faster, one handed, and not worry greatly about accuracy or even looking at the screen... the latest beta has added nuance voice input, which is the same stuff siri uses. Of course you bought something with a physical keyboard, so maybe that isn't a huge concern. That said, there are several custom keyboards that, in addition to working onscreen, work with physical keyboards by putting text suggestions on the screen, which can speed your typing and help you spell check. One of those swiftkey X, a program that learns what you tend to write which you can customize by letting it scan your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail and SMS. It feels almost psychic... Swype is fast, but if you have to type something long, I like swiftkey X... and thankfully I can switch back and forth.

You can also use alternative SMS apps. I prefer Handcent... it's been passed by Go SMS in terms of popularity, but I suspect that is more because Go has free apps for a bunch of stuff and cross promotes. Anyway it has a few features your built in SMS app may not, and just generally looks nicer. You can also use a dark theme, more on that later. There's also a free encrpyted SMS app from Whisper Core

Oh, and Android has live wallpapers.. some of these are merely pretty moving backgrounds, but some let you include info about your phone behind your apps.

AMOLED screens save battery life the darker the stuff on your screen, since black colors use less battery. Since Android multitasks apps more robustly then ios, battery life can be more of a concern, and the screen is one of the biggest drains. Of course you can also get extra batteries.

Oh, and there are alternative marketplaces, instead of just buying stuff from itunes. Both GetJar and the amazon marketplace often offer free paid apps.. amazon does a one a day free app, which has provided a number of cool apps over time.

What else... well you have some built in stuff that is just cool. Free voice guided turn by turn navigation.

The built in calendar widget, if it's the google one, sucks. It only displays one event. You can get plenty of free replacements that do better on the market.

Replacement lockscreens like WidgetLocker let you do stuff like add controls for your music player to your lockscreen, or sliding controls to open specific apps you use regularly.

I also can't recommend google voice enough. You can use it even if you don't want to use your google voice number as free transcription of your voicemail. Plus you can access your voicemail online. If you use Google Voice as your number, you can do all sorts of awesome tricks.

Also, you may have to download the latest version from the market, but Google voice search has commands. It can't do a bunch of stuff that Siri can (Check out Vlingo for something like that, which Nuance incidentally just bought, or the forthcoming Google Majel), but it's handy to set alarms for a period of time in the future or a specific time just by saying it, get directions or a map or go directly to navigation.

The other thing, and this may or may not be useful for you, is to remember android is a linux flavor, which means a lot of stuff written for linux has been ported.

Finally, I'd point out that current privacy laws don't protect cell phones well, and searching them doesn't require any real legal justification, and there are devices cops can carry around to just suck relevant data from them.

With android you can do stuff about this. For example http://whispersys.com/index.html provides text secure, which lets you send SMS securely between phones which have the app, but also encrypts all your SMSs, whether sent encrypted or not. There are also password managers, including a version of KeePass for Android. Finally I believe iphones have a free find my phone app built in, where as Android does not. The wireless installation lets programs like Plan B install over the network, so you can install a find my phone afterwards, but it may be better to install a program before hand. Depending on how sensitive your phone usage will be, you may want a security app that can lock the phone or do a remote wipe. Some of them activate when a new SIM card is put in automatically. Norton Mobile Security Beta is the only currently free one that has all the good security features. Since it's Beta, Webroot mobile Security's paid option may be a better long term choice, as its currently the cheapest with such features offered at 15 bucks a year.
posted by gryftir at 2:54 AM on December 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

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