How to get the most out of an android device?
September 16, 2012 5:24 PM   Subscribe

So I followed my own advice and I now own a Galaxy Nexus. It's my first android experience. Help me get the most out of it.

1) I'd like to be able to use Google Voice to make and receive calls via wifi even if I take the sim card out, as long as I have a wireless network. How can I make that happen? Right now, my google voice account can only do texts in the above without a sim card.

2) I'd like to occasionally hit a switch and have whatever browser I'm using spoof desktop information, so that I'm treated like a computer instead of like a mobile device. What's the best way to do that?

3) I'd like to (without paying extra) find a way to turn the phone into a mobile hotspot. Are there programs for this?

4) I'd like at least one turn-based RPG timewaster like Shining in the Darkness, Phantasy Star, Wizardy series, or Final Fantasy. Pay is fine, if it's good.

5) Any other random apps I should try, or settings/tricks that I should know about?
posted by jsturgill to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Swype! Best input method in the universe. Try it for a week; you'll either be weirded out by it or it'll change your mobile life.
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:29 PM on September 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'd like to (without paying extra) find a way to turn the phone into a mobile hotspot. Are there programs for this?

Re: No. 3, this will depend on your carrier and/or your willingness to root your phone. I'm not an expert on this, so I hope someone who knows more about this than me will chime in, but I'm pretty sure that most of the major carriers can analyze the data coming from your unrooted phone and will charge you extra if you use your phone as a wireless hotspot. The only way to do this without being detected, as far as I know, is to root your phone. But I'd love to be wrong on this, so if anyone knows a way to do this without rooting and/or being charged, please chime in!
posted by limeonaire at 5:38 PM on September 16, 2012

Not only is Swype amazing, since they were acquired by Nuance it now includes Nuance's speech to text, which is much better than the built-in Google dictation. I dictate 20-page papers with it, it's so amazing.

Get Google Docs. It's great on Android.
posted by Tehhund at 5:50 PM on September 16, 2012

1) GrooVe IP is an app that lets you use your data connect to make Google Voice calls.

3) The ability to use your phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot should be a built-in feature on the Galaxy Nexus. Check under Settings, Wireless & Networks, Tethering & portable hotspot. (various carriers will treat this usage in different ways, check your carrier for details)
posted by dcjd at 5:50 PM on September 16, 2012

The menu in Chrome has a "Request desktop version" option.
posted by akgerber at 6:10 PM on September 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Dolphin Browser make it easy to change the User Agent to Desktop if you need to. Plus it's a pretty awesome browser.
posted by octothorpe at 6:26 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh and I never got the hang of Swype (although I know lots of people love it) but I love the SwiftKey keyboard. It does word prediction that's so good that it's often a little creepy.
posted by octothorpe at 6:28 PM on September 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Regarding the mobile hotspot, this is built in to your phone, though T-Mobile may disable it (they didn't used to.) To find out, go into the settings, then find the wireless/networking settings, then look for tethering. Be sure to set a password.

You should definitely try SwiftKey. It's the shiz.
posted by !Jim at 7:00 PM on September 16, 2012

Mobile hotspot: Try FoxFi ( No rooting required. Most carriers have it removed from the play store, I think, but you can still download the apk to an sd card and install it from there.
posted by retypepassword at 8:02 PM on September 16, 2012

I'd like to occasionally hit a switch and have whatever browser I'm using spoof desktop information, so that I'm treated like a computer instead of like a mobile device. What's the best way to do that?

It's built in! In Browser, hit the menu button by the address bar (the 3 vertically stacked boxes/dots) and hit "Request desktop site".

I'm also a big fan of the quick controls that give you an on screen arc of options. To try this out, hit menu then settings. Hit labs at the bottom and then check the "Quick controls" box. Now when you're browsing just use your thumb to touch and hold on the edge of the screen.

To switch to desktop mode, slide to the wrench on top of the arc, then slide onto the phone icon and let go. Do the same to go back to mobile mode.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:05 PM on September 16, 2012

Regarding mobile hotspot stuff/tethering, if you happen to be on Verizon, read this. It spells out in incredible detail under what sorts of plans/services you're allowed to use mobile hotspot on your phone without being charged extra, and when you will be charged extra for using them, as of this August, after the company's FCC tethering settlement. In my case, for instance, I still can't use mobile hotspot apps for free on my phone because I have an old unlimited data plan, with terms/conditions that prohibit it.
posted by limeonaire at 8:10 PM on September 16, 2012

Response by poster: I have the stock phone from Google and found the hotspot setup stuff. T-Mobile wants to charge 15 for tethering. Does anyone have any experience with them? Will they notice the tethering and throttle or try to charge me extra?
posted by jsturgill at 8:12 PM on September 16, 2012

I use tethering pretty regularly on my phone and they haven't ever given me any flack for it.

If you're super-concerned about it though, be aware that they've been saying for like... years... that they're going to crack down. I think worst-case you'd pay the $15 one month and then just cancel it the next.
posted by !Jim at 8:18 PM on September 16, 2012

Ooh ooh ooh! You have to try Speedx 3D. Coolest accelerometer racing game I've ever seen... and I'm not even that into racing games. Also Orbital. It's a really cool puzzle game, and the two-player mode works very well. Both games have good background music, too.
posted by fullerenedream at 8:32 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

1. You can also use the Tapatalk app, which is free. I think you can also pay a fee to get better voice quality.

2. If you are using Chrome, there is a "request desktop site" option in the menu.

4. Square Enix has released ports of Final Fantasy 1 and 3 on Android.
posted by meowzilla at 9:00 PM on September 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

My understanding is that T-Mobile checks the User Agent string, and anything that isn't android gets flagged and redirected to a sign-up page. So you might even get flagged if you use a browser spoof, but I think they just redirect you rather than charging you out the gate so it would be easy to test.

On the other hand, https and vpn traffic won't be affected, and you can always use your laptop browser to spoof an android type UA-string - or possibly no UA-string at all.
posted by Sparx at 10:02 PM on September 16, 2012

DialerOne is a fantastic replacement for the stock dialer app. Chrome is a good replacement for the stock browser, since at least for one thing, JavaScript will execute much faster in it. Consider signing up for Google Voice.

If you have Gmail or play Blizzard games, you should take advantage of your new smartphone to enable two-factor authentication for both services (your phone turns into an authentication token with the help of the Google Authenticator or the Mobile Authenticator)

Get the zxing barcode scanner. Get Google Goggles. Google Goggles will allow you to take pictures of things and then use Google's various technologies on them. One particularly fantastic example is translation of foreign printed text.

Your device has an NFC chip. Check out Google Wallet. Paying for things with NFC is magic.

Lastly, when I got my Nexus, my third Android device, my friend recommended Light Flow Lite, which I've been very impressed with. Your device has one large RGB LED below the screen, and with Light Flow, you can program it to respond in a customizable fashion to all manner of alerts.
posted by eak at 10:55 PM on September 16, 2012

I literally got my first android phone last week, a Galaxy Nexus. This leaves me in the awkward situation of having my parents know more about a technology than I do. So I was searching Mefi to catch up on the years of progress, and this was the first hit. Yay!

1) no clue.

2) nthing Chrome having this as an option.

3) It's built into the phone, as stated above. If T-Mobile is filtering by useragent, time to set up a VPN.

4) Time wasters: Angry birds is the classic. Major Mayhem is pretty fun. I hear Neuroshima Hex is available, if you lean the turnbased strategy direction. SGT puzzles is a neat collection of computer generated puzzles.

Going by my trusty source of information, GameFAQs, apparently Square produced a new sprite based game for mobile (android port Real Soon Now...). I expected Sting would have jumped on iOS and Android but apparently they're focusing on PSP.

A lot of the mobile games are based on two premises: selling advertising based on your personal information, and a freemium / In Game Purchase model. Blood brothers seems to fit the latter model into an RPG format.

5) There is a free, non privacy invading flashlight app specific to the Nexus Galaxy, with a 1x1 on/off widget.

Hacker keyboard is verra nice if you interface with systems via ssh.

Your device supports JellyBean, so if you haven't upgraded, there's some new features, like location aware alerts. New devices will run Chrome as the default browser.
posted by pwnguin at 11:35 PM on September 16, 2012

3) I'd like to (without paying extra) find a way to turn the phone into a mobile hotspot. Are there programs for this?

I have the same phone but am in Canada on the least expensive network ($25 per month unlimited everything). When I try to alter the hotspot options, they're disabled. However... if I use a widget to turn the hotspot on/off, it works fine. I use Widgetsoid and recommend it even if you don't need this feature as it does many other things.

5) Any other random apps I should try, or settings/tricks that I should know about?

My most used apps:

Nova Launcher
Catch Notes
Endomondo Pro
Clip Ninja
Current Caller ID
Do Not Disturb
Alarm Clock Plus
Friendcaster Pro
Jelly Defense
Letris 2
Weather Eye
posted by dobbs at 6:11 AM on September 17, 2012

Add me to the list of people who prefer SwiftKey over Swype. That's not to say that Swype isn't good. Both work really well and are far better than the default keyboard.

Google Wallet seems to be really neat but if you're with Verizon it's blocked because they're developing a competing product that will use NFC for payments.

There's ways to sideload the app and it allegedly works but I'm very wary about installing something that I can't get directly from Google.
posted by Gev at 6:56 AM on September 17, 2012

1. No idea, sounds like google had to give a concession to the carriers. (no, no they'll need a SIM to make this work, we're not sidestepping you!) I imagine a custom ROM could work around this.

2. Chrome has a 'request desktop version' in options.

3. Pay tmobile or root is typically the response here. I did find Foxfi works around this by serving the internet over bluetooth. No as nice as wifi, but works and is free.

4. Dunno, rarely play games on phones.

5. Swype is pretty awesome. SlideIT is a good competitor.

There's nothing shady about sideloading swype. The swype people don't want to sell it to end users, they want carriers or OEMs to buy it in bulk. They allow legitimate access to a beta of the newest swype via a sideloaded apk. I use it and love it. I can't go back to the old touchscreen hunt and peck.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:22 AM on September 17, 2012

I tethered on my Nexus S for over a year without incident. Seemingly at random, I started getting blocked while trying to tether with a notice that it would cost $15. I called T-Mobile and complained and they refused to relent. I didn't want to pay for tethering so I just stopped. I tried it recently and it's been working again. No blocking from T-Mobile, and no extra charges.

What I'm trying to say is: tethering's at least worth a shot.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:35 AM on September 17, 2012

Response by poster: Forgot to ask about music players. The default google play music app isn't so great. Songbird's layout is better, except for the parts that are even more irritating. On windows I'm sold on Foobar2000 as the best, simplest, clearest music player, if that says anything about what I'd like to see.

I'm also curious about how to add album art, as some of my albums have art on the phone and some don't. I'd like to just manually add an image to the folder, perhaps, or something similar that doesn't require an app. Worst case, an app is fine.
posted by jsturgill at 6:01 PM on September 17, 2012

Hey, this question was a while ago, but I use the (ridiculously-named) Play Music app to play music, because it syncs automatically from my PC so I can listen to my music on my phone and in a web browser on other computers. It's actually not a very good app, but the convenience of the syncing everything all over the places overrides the shittiness of the app for me.
posted by !Jim at 10:44 AM on September 22, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, I settled on the play app as well. My most common use is "shuffle all", and it has that, and so fine. Songbird seemed to use more power, be a little buggier, and its lock screen widget took over the whole screen, forcing you to minimize it to log in.

As far as apps go, GrooveIP has veen great. Phone calls via google voice over IP, any time there is a connection, with or without sim card. So worth the money.

Swiftkeys: worth the money.

The api-using, non-root requiring OpenVPN app has worked well.

I'm liking Catch notes.

Dolphin browser so far seems like the best of the lot. Hopefully they aren't stealing all my personal information.

I want to try Swype, but I don't particularly want to install beta software, love it, and then have to take it off when it starts crashing my phone every time I use it. Any way to get it installed legitimately on the stock phone?
posted by jsturgill at 9:21 PM on September 22, 2012

I want to try Swype, but I don't particularly want to install beta software, love it, and then have to take it off when it starts crashing my phone every time I use it.

I've been using Skype for about 18 months. Obviously, I use it many times each day. It has never crashed or crashed my phone.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:17 AM on September 24, 2012

Response by poster: Did Swype auto-correct itself to skype? :)

Are you using the beta?
posted by jsturgill at 12:10 PM on September 24, 2012

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