Hope a hopeless new Android user
December 19, 2012 9:23 AM   Subscribe

[I am old/paranoid/a special snowflake filter] I am a Mac person. I have mostly avoided google products in my life, and am not eager for google to know everything about me. I just got a Nexus S (because it was the free option). How can I use my phone most effectively for email and calendars/reminders? [Lots of tedious old person details inside]

First, I'm old: For the first time in my life, I feel overwhelmed and unmotivated by my new toy. I just want it to be set up to take care of the things I need, and when I read online about various customizations etc, my eyes glaze over. So please be gentle in explaining any technical solutions to me.

2nd, I'm paranoid: I really don't like google knowing every aspect of my life. If I have to just go over to gmail and google calendar and google everything else because it's so much simpler, I will, but I'm trying to avoid it.

3rd: I'm a special snowflake. I've avoided a smart phone until now because I don't want to spend more time online than I already do. But I decided to switch because I kept missing appointments and I wanted a device on my body to remind me to get where I need to be.

Specifically, what I want my phone to do:

- I want to have a calendar that reminds me of appointments etc, and that I can easily sync/coordinate with my girlfriend's calendar (she's happily a google user).

- I want to use to-do list type functions, and be able to make notes at work that I can review later.

- I want to be able to use my email. My primary account is an sbcglobal one, and at home I use a mail client and download my mail. Have avoided the cloud as much as I can up until this point. I am willing to switch to gmail as my primary account, but I'd rather avoid it.

- I want to use a few key apps, mostly at work. (I'm a nurse, so will need some nursey-related apps).

- I do want to use the phone for music and a couple fun things too (not even sure what those fun things are!) but that's a lower priority.

- I don't want to spend too much time on this. An initial setup time is OK, but once it's all set up, I want it to just stay set up.

Thanks for reading this long post!
posted by latkes to Technology (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
As a broad overview: Yes, you have other options as far as mail and calendaring go when using android, but it's clearly designed around google's services and that goes double for Nexus devices that are free of OEM or carrier customization. To use google's services, all you have to do is sign in with your google account. To use something else, you'll have to find separate apps and make sure that, for example, your calendar app properly handles mail invites from your mail app. Saying "you'll be fighting it every step of the way" is a bit overly dramatic, but it's one account and one password vs. whatever you manage to cobble together.
posted by Oktober at 9:29 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Since it's a Nexus device, I believe Google Calendar is your only option. I suppose there are 3rd-party apps available in the Google Play Store, but in terms of security Google will be the safest. Almost all 3rd-party apps are going to store and use at least some of your personal information.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:31 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have to be honest. You are going to hate your phone if you don't use google services. That's what it was designed to do. If you didn't want to use google services, you should have bought an apple or a blackberry or something.
posted by empath at 9:34 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can easily use your existing e-mail account with the device; the built-in mail client will handle this fine. You probably won't get push e-mail (that's where the e-mail server sends your e-mail to your phone the moment it arrives) but you can set your phone to check for new mail every 5 or 10 minutes and that'll probably be good enough. (GMail does give you push, for what it's worth.) If you need more features than built-in mail, there are lots of mail apps in the Play Store. I use Kaiten myself; it's pretty good.

Your best bet for calendaring is probably Google Calendar. If you have access to an Exchange server you could use Touchdown or another Outlook client for that, but Google Calendar support is built into the OS at a fundamental level so everything works better with GCal. There are lots of calendar widgets that will display your next appointment(s) right on your home screen; I use one called Smooth Calendar.

You have many options for music. Mog, Rdio, Slacker, Pandora, and Rhapsody all have Android apps. I personally have Mog and generally like it. Ten bucks a month and you can listen to whatever you want, whenever you want. If you're going to be away from data (or just don't want to use your megabytes) you can download music to the phone's memory and play it from there instead, with many of those services. If you have radio stations you like to listen to, I suggest TuneIn.

If you have your own collection of music you want to be able to listen to on the phone, you have two choices: AudioGalaxy and Google Play. AudioGalaxy is a server you set up on your home computer; on your phone, you are listening to the actual file stored on your computer, being streamed to you. Google Play works more like iTunes Match in the Apple ecosystem: they figure out what songs you have on your computer, and then give you access to those same songs through their service, but you are listening to their copy of the song, not your own, so you don't have to leave your computer on all the time.

There are also a ton of to-do list apps. You might look at Wunderlist; you can access your to-dos from their Web site or from the phone. They also have desktop apps for Mac and Windows.
posted by kindall at 9:37 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can use other services, but a Google phone will be way, way, waaaaaaaaaaaayyyy more convenient, easier, etc if you give in to the Google side.

Google calendar, gmail, and contacts, all work really well.
posted by zippy at 9:39 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I use the Android-Sync app to sync my Outlook calendar on my desktop with my Android phone.
posted by Carbolic at 9:39 AM on December 19, 2012


If you want to share access with your girlfriend's calendar and she uses google, then I'd say bite the bullet and use google's calendar.

There's a ton of to-do list apps; many of which use functionality from google, many which don't. I mostly use "do it tomorrow" ; it doens't use google, but that's increasingly a problem, as for instance my wife can't add tasks for me. I haven't made time to play more with todo apps.

I like the app k-9 for email which isn't gmail. For your existing use, I'd set your computer to not auto download your email, configure your phone to use imap (or if imap isn't available, use pop3 but leave the mail on the server). That way, you have instant access do your new email, but when you get home, it's moved to your local system.

One of the great things about smartphones, is that once the setup is done most things should just work. I try not to check my work email too often, but when I do there's no problem; just start up k-9.

I don't know what your existing music setup is, but you can likely do some cifs or windows file sharing and make the music available to stream or copy. This works for videos; I use ES file manager to navigate to the file, and am happy with MX Player as it plays pretty much everything I have.
posted by nobeagle at 9:44 AM on December 19, 2012


Here's what I did to sync my Mac with my now-dead Android phone:

For mail, yeah, use gmail. Set up a gmail account and give it the login details of your "real" account. I've switched to an iPhone and I'm STILL routing my mail through gmail because of its great spam trapping.

For calendars and contacts, you can sync through Apple's cloud. I used this Android app. It dumps stuff into the Android's standard calendar, so you can use whatever calendar app/widget you like. You can also subscribe to your girlfriend's calendar via google.

For notes, you want Evernote. Runs on Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, and the web. Tons of my life lives in it now.

I used Astrid for todo. I'd put stuff into it via their web client when I was on my Mac; there's Android and iOS apps.

For syncing music, I used Salling Media Sync. It runs in your menu bar on your Mac and lets you choose iTunes playlists to keep synced.
posted by egypturnash at 9:57 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can do it, and easily.

1) Sit back, relax, this stuff is fun.

2) You can sync your iCal calendar with an app like iSync. You will need to set up and use a google calendar to see your girlfriend's calendar, though - but the calendar app will show you events for both once you have it set up.

3) You can configure your phone's mail client to use SBC Global's mail server.

4) Music and photo sync is super easy with Double-Twist.

5) Wunderlist and Evernote are great multi-platform list and note-taking apps.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:09 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have a Galaxy Nexus and I am even more paranoid than it sounds like you are about refusing to give Google any way to track me. I theoretically have a Google account, because my friends send me google-docs and I need to look at them, but I have never entered those credentials into any part of my phone.

The email system sort of works. I can read my mail, but I can't send messages, and the phone gives me no feedback about why. Fortunately, I don't often need to send email from my phone.

The browser works fine and is most of what I use the phone for.

The calendar is useless. Its only data store is the Google server; you can't do anything with it without connecting it to an account.

Transferring contacts into the new phone from my Blackberry was excruciatingly difficult. In the end it would have been easier to write them all down by hand and type them back in.

The Maps app is annoying because it constantly pesters me to sign in with a Google account, but as long as I keep blowing it off, it actually does work.

It's very difficult to install other apps because their pages always shunt me back to the Google Play store, which I can't use because it requires a google account. Every now and then I am able to find a pirated version of the "APK" file somewhere else on the 'net - this is how I can play "Words with Friends".

The camera is nice.

Like you, I'm using this phone because it was free (I worked for Google at the time and they gave us all phones as a Christmas bonus). But I wouldn't recommend it for someone who is unwilling to sign their digital life over to Google. It's just clunky and annoying.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:17 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can use Outlook.com (Microsoft's Gmail competitor) with the Outlook.com app on Android. Reviews on the app aren't good, but it would keep your information out of Google's hands, if that's what you want.

Instructions here.

You might be able to setup Outlook.com as an Exchange ActiveSync Account (meaning everything just syncs automatically) using these instructions.

There are also ways to sync Yahoo mail, calendar and contacts with Android, but these are changing at the moment, so anything you do now may change. Definitely another option, though.
posted by cnc at 10:36 AM on December 19, 2012


So, right, unlike Mars up there, at the very least you're going to want to create a "dummy" google account that'll let you install apps
posted by Oktober at 10:46 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately consumer gmail is removing support for ActiveSync as of a few days ago.
posted by GuyZero at 10:49 AM on December 19, 2012


I want to have a calendar that reminds me of appointments etc, and that I can easily sync/coordinate with my girlfriend's calendar (she's happily a google user).

Google Calendar will be by far the easiest option here.

I want to use to-do list type functions, and be able to make notes at work that I can review later.

Are you taking notes on your phone that you don't want anywhere else, or notes that you can access anywhere at any time? If it's the former, any old notetaking app will do, and Android has a fantastic voice-to-text capability. As in, you could dictate an essay and you'd probably only have to a fix a few things, mainly proper nouns. If it's the latter, Evernote is fantastic and can be used anywhere.

I want to be able to use my email. My primary account is an sbcglobal one, and at home I use a mail client and download my mail. Have avoided the cloud as much as I can up until this point. I am willing to switch to gmail as my primary account, but I'd rather avoid it.

You can use the stock e-mail app (which is separate from the GMail one) for this. Check SBC's and/or Google's website for how to set it up.

I want to use a few key apps, mostly at work. (I'm a nurse, so will need some nursey-related apps).

As pointed out above, to access Google's Play Store, you'll need a dummy Google account. There are 3rd-party app stores, but apart from Amazon's they're relatively unprotected and IIRC most of them (Amazon included) require an account somewhere. To be honest, I'd just stick with Play Store and/or Amazon, since if your device ever goes kaput or you upgrade your phone, you can redownload it with no worries and if it's a paid app, no extra charges.

I do want to use the phone for music and a couple fun things too (not even sure what those fun things are!) but that's a lower priority.

There's a bunch of alternatives included up above, but the stock Play Music app will detect any music you put in the Music folder. If you have MP3s on your computer, you can set up the phone to be read by a computer as an external drive and copy them there.

I don't want to spend too much time on this. An initial setup time is OK, but once it's all set up, I want it to just stay set up.

The Google account would be the quickest way to do this, but is really only needed for Calendar and if you need to download apps. Everything else you could do without setting up an account at all.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:06 AM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Blackberry would be the way to go, and they are coming out with a new phone in a couple of months.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:17 AM on December 19, 2012


Android phones are made to work with Google services, and do not work well outside of them. If you don't want Google up in your business, sell or return the Nexus S and get a non-Android phone.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:32 AM on December 19, 2012


If SBCGlobal doesn't offer IMAP access you should get a GMail address, set it to receive emails from your old SBCGlobal account via POP, and use the Gmail address on your phone. This is the case with Comcast and probably many other ISPs: they want to get out of the mail-hosting business and the way they are killing it is by not offering IMAP. (And even providers that do offer IMAP often don't offer IMAP Idle, so you'll only get messages after a fairly long and variable delay.) Personally I would use Gmail for the push features alone.

AFAIK, Zoho Calendar is the only alternative to Google Calendar that even comes remotely close to feature parity.

But honestly, you're going to end up cobbling together a bunch of random services to get around the way the phone is designed to be used. If you really hate Google that much you should probably get a different phone ... but I don't think that any of the other phones, esp. the iPhone, are any better in terms of not tying your entire life into a particular company's creepy ecosystem. (And Blackberry openly cooperates with creepy regimes worldwide to provide mobile email eavesdropping; they don't even try for the warm-n-fuzzy "don't be evil" schtick that Apple/Google do.) Pick your poison and move on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:47 AM on December 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


OK, thanks all. I have buckled and submitted to google. I am attempting to remain calm setting up all the new crap, but really it's not as hard as I thought it was.
posted by latkes at 8:18 PM on December 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just a reminder that you can specify exactly what you want Google to connect to (or not) by going into your settings. There should be a section called "Personal" with several subsections. If you don't like the location services and/or GPS, go to "Location access" and disable the appropriate functions. Under "Security," you can check "Unknown sources" if you want to install apps manually. Also, if you've created a Google Account, there's another section labeled "Accounts" where you can select which Google Apps you want to enable syncing for, and it also links to the settings for Maps/Latitude, Search, Location, and Google+ so you can disable location reporting/sharing and manage your search history and the like. You can also use their Dashboard website to see what exactly they're collecting and if possible turn off that collection.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:11 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


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