What are "essential" apps for a new smartphone owner?
July 8, 2016 3:36 PM   Subscribe

Okay, so I don't like recurring monthly bills. I've had a TracFone flip phone for a few years but they're discontinuing 2G service. Their upgrade program allowed me to get an Android smartphone for a decent price, so I've done that. I really am not wanting to use the phone for much, but I would like it to at least be a bit more augmented than it currently is. What apps should I consider?

The thing you need to realize is, TracFone is a pay-as-you-go service. I buy minutes (and by extension texts and data). The data is not unlimited, but is not something I am afraid to use (I use wifi connection when I can).

I've lived a life up until here in 2016 where I primarily use a desktop computer, and have an iPad that I take when I travel (wifi only). I'm mostly okay with walking away from the internet for extended periods of time. I'm so connected when I am in my house, taking regular breaks when I walk out the front door is something I look forward to.

All that said, I have installed twitter and skype on the new phone. I'd be curious to know what apps people have found are GENUINELY USEFUL for times away from home for various reasons, so I can consider whether or not they would also be useful for my life. I'm not looking to live "the smartphone lifestyle", but I would like to put some more things on my phone that would be truly helpful in various situations and circumstances.

I know that YMMV may vary when it comes to "situations and circumstances" so I'm not going to pooh-pooh suggestions. Help me make my smartphone be a useful object instead of just a fancy phone-call-and-texting device!
posted by hippybear to Computers & Internet (41 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
Google Maps, and Maps.ME for offline maps, are the most useful apps on my phone.
posted by quaking fajita at 3:48 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Man, this is pretty hard to answer because the 2 things you call out are two things which I (a non-apologetic extremely heavy smartphone user) don't have downloaded.

So... what do you do not on a phone that you could or might be easier on a phone (list making? pencil games?), and what do you do on a computer? Because that's what you need on your phone.

For me, the stuff I use a lot is:

- Google Maps with local maps downloaded for offline use
- Crosswords (a crossword puzzle app, obviously, which I do on the bus)
- Kindle App
- A shopping list app (using the Alexa one right now because we add things to our shopping list at home through the Echo, but anything so that you can keep track and then when you're in the store you can go "oh wait what was on the list?" and it's all right there!)
- Gmail
- Google Authenticator (because if you use gmail and you don't have 2 factor authentication you need to).
- Google Calendar & Widget
- RSS Reader (I use Feedly)
- Duolingo (learning Spanish!)
- Uber & Lyft for if I need a ride (cabs are not really an option where I am most of the time)
- NextBus for public transportation knowledge
- App for tracking my running (I've gone through a few of these including runkeeper & mapmyrun, but actually just using Google's MyTracks now)
- Banking apps (primary use case is depositing checks)
- Weather apps & widgets
- Period tracking apps & widgets (I don't believe that's relevant to your life, but you know, dropping it in here for other people. I use OvuView)
posted by brainmouse at 3:48 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Do you have public transportation where you live? I find several apps related to the MBTA to be highly useful and many public transportation systems offer good apps to help people use them.
posted by briank at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I guess I should say, the phone came pre-installed with a suite of Google apps including Chrome, Gmail, Maps, YouTube, Drive, PlayMusic, PlayVideo, Hangouts, Photos, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Voice Search.

I didn't realize those weren't preinstalled on all Android phones.
posted by hippybear at 3:53 PM on July 8, 2016


A flashlight app
posted by srboisvert at 3:57 PM on July 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


Waze for navigation.
Shazam for song recognition.
Instagram for applying filters to your pics to make them look much better (try to be subtle, everyone recognizes their filters now).
WhatsApp, especially if you have friends overseas. It seems to be the standard app for communication outside of the US.
Skyscanner for airline tickets.
posted by Dragonness at 3:58 PM on July 8, 2016


A non-app thing I find ridiculously useful for tracking my activity level with android is Google Timeline - it's not an app - it just depends on your phone's GPS being enabled. It will tell you where you've been and how long it took to get there. So excellent for zero effort tracking of walking and cycling if you're counting calories.
posted by srboisvert at 4:08 PM on July 8, 2016


The only apps I really use are Pocket, Spotify, Shazam, Duolingo, Key Ring, and Cookie Jam. Of those, I'd really only say Pocket and Shazam are essential. Pocket is helpful because, if you sync when you're connected to wifi, your articles are available offline. Shazam is fun because it actually helps you discover things, and it doesn't use many resources. Key Ring is nice if you want to get rid of your wallet.

Other than that, you can use Chrome for everything else you need. Oversimplifying, but you get the idea.
posted by kevinbelt at 4:12 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Mapfactor for offline navigation and Google Keep for notes and shopping lists.
posted by irisclara at 4:16 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Honestly - a simple game that doesn't require data use when you're playing - so like Tetris or Bejeweled or Threes - can be REALLY helpful when you're bored or waiting for something.

The basics that come installed - maps, mail, weather, alarms, calendar, etc. are definitely really helpful but if you're looking to specifically download something. So I'd just suggest using them. I'm constantly using my calendar and reminders to track everything I have to deal with.

I also use something called Round (on iPhone) to track my pills. So a pill-tracker if you're someone that takes pills or wants to track that you took your vitamins or whatever is helpful. As is a period tracking app.

Possibly your bank or credit card may have an app that's way easier to log into or use rather than their mobile web browser. It can be helpful for checking your balance on the go. However my bank's mobile website is just fine for me.

Otherwise I'm a heavy phone user with a few games, social media, photos, and photo editors. I have like 10 photo editing apps. But they aren't required if you don't use the social media stuff in the first place.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:17 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Banking, Netflix/Shomi, Overdrive and Kobo for reading, a couple puzzle games I can play offline and a white noise app for nights I am away from home tend to be my go-to apps.

Also have social media, Pinterest and a rotation of games I play casually and frequently change.
posted by MandaSayGrr at 4:45 PM on July 8, 2016


There's an app called "Where's My Droid?" that will allow you to make the phone ring, remotely, even if it is on silent or vibrate. This is really useful! But only if you install it before you lose your phone.
posted by needs more cowbell at 4:50 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Smartphone apps I use often enough that I'd recommend someone new to the 21st century adapt them:

- I doubt this applies to you, but the first app I ever downloaded was a period tracker. I get pinged the day I'm supposed to start my period (among other useful features). It's amazing.

- Yelp. I don't even know what I'd do if I suddenly found myself without the ability to search for the nearest coffee shop or lunch place or Bed Bath & Beyond location no matter where I am.

- Waze or Google Maps. Both offer turn by turn directions and are far superior to the built-in maps app. (Though maybe if you have an Android Google Maps is your built-in maps app?) Waze also has the ability to tell you there's an accident ahead, police nearby, obstacle in the road, etc. which can be helpful even on familiar turf.

- I have a few different music and podcast apps, all of which are useful in certain specific contexts, and which will depend on how you prefer to access your audio media. Ongoing favorites include Audible, Pandora, and Stitcher.

- Facebook duh. Really any social media that interests you. Instagram is a gamechanger. I've also found the Pinterest app useful a few times as a reminder of ideas I had or things I liked when shopping, getting a haircut, and the like.

- VENMO. Up there with yelp for "how did life even work before I had the ability to funnel money out of my checking account and into a friend's checking account on a moment's notice?" Never say "I'll get you next time" or "I owe you a beer" ever again.

- Lyft/Uber, no explanation needed

- games. so many games. any game you like, you can probably get it for your phone.

- Fandango, if you go to the movies a lot and like the ability to be sitting in a coffee shop, think "I'd like to go to a movie", and have tickets reserved and waiting for you without having to talk to a human.

- food delivery apps. This is one of those evil things I actually wish I didn't have access to. I use Postmates more than is entirely appropriate. Seamless is a little less extravagant, and there are a ton of others out there as well (look at different apps to see which services are more popular in your area).
posted by Sara C. at 5:09 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


First and foremost: Antivirus and firewall software. Avast is apparently the best one going at the moment.

Secondly, if you end up keeping any data on your phone at all (such as photos you've taken with it), a backup app is a very good idea. Titanium Backup is very popular.

If you're not happy with PlayMusic, there's plenty of alternatives to try. (That's pretty much true of any default app...)

GPS - I use HERE Maps, which includes an optional alert when you're going X mph (configurable) over the local limit as well as notification of speed camera locations (regularly updated), and I like the GPS screen better. That's what I use when I have a specific destination in mind. However, I also use Google Maps for finding things other than a simple route-to-destination - such as nearby gas stations, restaurants, aquarium supply stores, etc. etc.

And if you really want to get nerdy, there are many altitude and compass apps available as well.

Calendar - I use Google Calendar, since I already have a Gmail account and calendar. When I update my calendar on my laptop, it's automatically synced to my phone app.

Shopping list - I use Out of Milk.

If you use public transportation, look for an app that tracks bus arrival times, calculates routes, shows nearby stops, etc. for your local system.

Flashlight - Uses the camera's strobe light (bonus points if it lets you put a widget on your lockscreen so you can start without having to unlock the phone first).

Camera - I use Camera MX, which works well with my camera and includes features for tweaking your shots (crop, brightness/contrast, color saturation and temperature, white balance, etc).

Alarm clock - I use Dock Clock. I can set multiple alarms (ex. M-F 7am, Sa-Su 9am) and sounds, I can set to automatically start when I dock the phone at night to charge it, and it has a lot of options for setting a clock screen that doesn't blind me in the middle of the night but is still visible when I look at it.

Notes - Handier and more legible than scribbling on a scrap of paper, and easier to find than a pen when you're out and about. I use ColorNote.

Weather forecast - I understand 1Weather is the most "accurate" (gets its data from NOAA).

Google Sky Map is a really fun/handy one to have if you like checking out stars/planets/constellations/etc. Same goes for Google Earth, though I end up using that more on my laptop since the phone screen's so small.

Nifty utilities such as Calculator, Timer/stopwatch, QR code reader, bubble level ... I'm surprised how often these come in handy.
posted by Greg_Ace at 5:19 PM on July 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I use dropbox as a dead-simple way to get photos off of my phone and onto my computer. Obviously Google provides their own services here, but I find dropbox to be particularly seamless.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 5:28 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I got my first smartphone this year as well (or what the rest of the world, myself excluded, is now apparently referring to as just "a phone"). The apps that I have gotten the most use out of in the past few months are from AccuWeather, Spotify, and Headspace. The AccuWeather app gives me instant access to the hourly forecast. Spotify allows me the option to download playlists onto my phone so I don't have to pay to stream music (well, aside from the monthly access fee I was paying already) when I am away from a wifi connection. The Headspace app is nice because now I don't have to open up my laptop every time I want to use the service.

Things I don't have on my phone:

1. Anything Facebook related. I have more than enough access to Facebook via my laptop. Facebook does not need my phone contacts (though they likely have them anyway through everyone else I am friends with). I don't need to spend anymore time in that world than I already do.

2. Games. I did download a few games when I first got my phone. 2048 is especially sleek on a touchscreen. The problem was I ended up getting sucked in too frequently. Also playing games on the touchscreen, even for short intervals, disagrees with my thumbs and caused my De Quervain's tendonitis to flair up. If they aren't on there, I won't have the temptation to play them.
posted by TheCavorter at 5:36 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'll just quickly list the ones I use most frequently except for the Google suite of apps:
- MyFitnessPal
- Flashlight
- Car Home Ultra (if your phone slides into a mount in your car it's great)
- Dropbox
- Remember the Milk
- Pinboard
- KeePassDroid
- RealCalc
- Flipboard
- ES File Explorer (great for finding/moving files on your phone)
- May not apply to you, but since I'm an Amazon Prime member: Amazon, Amazon Music, Amazon Photos

Enjoy your new phone
posted by forthright at 5:54 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


A tide table app, one with a nice graph.

(If you don't need this you really need to get out on the water more :-)
posted by sammyo at 6:06 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


My life would be a smoking ruin if I didn't have Keep to help me track tasks and organize minutiae.
posted by workerant at 6:27 PM on July 8, 2016


I am also a reluctant recent joiner of the cel movement, and the only app I use is whatsapp so I can send texts and pictures to friends overseas, and have group chats with anyone
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 6:31 PM on July 8, 2016


There's an obscure app called "Llama" that's a location-aware phone manager that uses cell towers to find your location so you don't run down the battery with GPS. You "teach" it different locations you go to -- home, work, library, bar -- and it can then automatically adjust your volume level, brightness, etc., according to where you are, so that in the library it mutes all your notifications but maybe your mom's calls, but at the bar it vibrates and is super-loud so you can hear it over the noise. You can also use it to adjust to day/night settings, so it's not so bright at night. I also have it adjust so the screen doesn't rotate at night so I can lie in bed and read sideways instead of having the darn screen constantly flip itself. There are other similar apps (Tasker is a popular one), but Llama is free, can use cell tower locations, and is a relatively low learning curve.

I like Google Keep (their sticky note program) for making notes to myself on my phone that I can then access on my computer later, as I am terrible for the whole "have a fleeting thought that's really important, forget it seconds later" thing.

Less-critical, more fun -- I probably use Feedly (RSS reader) more than any other app, it's basically my newspaper and it's nice to be able to browse it while waiting at the doctor's office or whatever. (This may be something you are specifically NOT interested in, tho.) If you stargaze, I prefer Star Chart. And if you birdwatch, iBird.

I also like having a breaking news app -- I use "Breaking News" which is from NBC, of all the ones I've tried it's the one that most closely matches my own estimation of what actually counts as breaking news -- NO KIM KARDASHIAN YOU ARE COOL BUT YOU'RE NOT BREAKING NEWS -- and isn't constantly notifying my phone of stupid shit, while allowing me to create local and regional alerts for smaller nearby stories. But that again may be something you're specifically trying to avoid, the immediate always-on alerts.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I downloaded Privacy Flashlight, because it doesn't need a lot of invasive access. I do not synch anything. I get gmail off the web, so it updates out in space and doesn't keep using my phone data. I turn off location. I use private browsing. I keep background data off on most of the apps except firefox, Youtube, and the operating system. I don't synch the phone with my email contacts because I want to be able to easily search my contacts I call, not every email I ever responded to. I have had this android phone for a couple of years and have downloaded few programs. I did use it as my sole internet access for a year and a half. I do have facebook on the phone, but I don't give the number to facebook. I just use the message program that comes with my phone. It has a lot of nice apps already.
posted by Oyéah at 7:48 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


What do you like to do? What's going to be useful or fun for you will depend a lot on what your life is like. But here are some of the apps I use a lot:

I'm really into going to local events, like plays and concerts, so I have a few apps on my phone that allow me to browse what's coming up and that alert me when discount tickets to fun things become available. Goldstar is particularly good for this if they're active in your city, because you can set it up to alert you when tickets for something you're interested in get discounted. I think Ticketmaster may have a similar app just for buying tickets to things.

Waze if you drive a lot, to give you directions that include re-routing you around traffic. Or, if you take taxis, Lyft or Uber are often cheaper and more convenient. And a public transportation app if you live in or frequently travel to a place that has it, to tell you when trains or buses will arrive.

The ACLU has an app for each of the 50 states that allows you to record video and send it directly to them. I have it on my phone and have used it more than once to record when I saw someone getting arrested or harassed by police, just in case the person got hurt or something happened, because I like the idea of police being accountable, and I want to do my part to contribute to that. The benefit of this app is that the video is saved by the ACLU even if your phone is later seized or broken or wiped clean, so the video can't become conveniently lost if someone sees you recording and decides they don't want it to exist.

Some restaurants have apps that allow you to place and pay for orders to pick up later and that keep track of your rewards points if they have a rewards program. Starbucks, for example, has a pretty good rewards program on its app. OpenTable for restaurant reservations on the go. happen to be in. Yelp for restaurant reviews if I want to know what's good in the neighborhood happen to be in.

I use Mint.com to track my spending, and the app is very good.

My bank has an app that allows me to take a photograph of a check and then deposit it virtually, so I never have to go the bank to cash a check. That has been a huge help.

Some travel sites will give you extra points if you use the app instead of the website. I know Expedia does, so I use their app, and then I get discounts when I book flights or hotels.

I'm on Yelp for restaurant reviews if I want to know what's good in the neighborhood happen to be in.more than I probably should be, but my feed is a lot of news and commentary, so I end up using it for most of my daily news reading. But yeah, some app where you can read the news, and that might alert you if something big breaks that you might want to know about.

I wear a pedometer, but I know a lot of people who have pedometer apps on their phones so that they can keep track of their daily steps. Also, if you do exercise like running or biking or hiking where you're likely to take your phone with you, there are specialized apps like MapMyRun that will help you create a training plan and track your exercise. (And if you don't exercise but might want to, Couch-to-5K has an app that will overlay the walk/run instructions over the music of your choice.)

A podcast app, especially if it lets you download podcasts on wifi and then listen to them offline. This American Life has an app that for a one-time payment of $2.99 gives you access to every episode ever produced. I get a lot of use out of that.

I have the Kindle app on my phone even though I usually also have my Kindle with me, but it has definitely saved me from boredom on several occasions when I left my Kindle at home. So, something to let you read books.

I take a lot of photos on my phone, and there are various apps that allow you to edit the photos right on your phone and then send them out to have prints made of them, either to pick up at a local store or to be mailed to you. It's a great way to easily get prints of your digital photos, which I like because I still want to be able to hang photos on my wall or send them to family or just have a physical copy. FreePrints is what I use currently--you get 85 prints per month for "free" if you pay $2-10 in shipping--but I've also just used the CVS Photo app in the past, and then you pick up the prints at your local store.

Venmo, if your friends use it, allows you to send money back and forth. It's great for things like splitting the check at restaurants.

Weather.com has a really simple app. I know I could surf to their website, but I love being able to wake up in the morning and in two clicks know what the weather will be like all day.

That's what I use. But the bottom line is that anything you do on the internet, there's probably an app for it, and if you want to be able to do it on your phone, the app may well make that easier than trying to navigate the website on the tiny screen.
posted by decathecting at 7:51 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


A podcast app, so that you can easily download podcasts and play them while driving or walking. (I use Podcast Addict.) VLC is useful for live streaming, too. (Live streaming The Best Show, in particular, for me.)
posted by Francolin at 8:08 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Away from home, the three indispensable apps for me are Maps, Yelp and a Gas price app.
posted by cnc at 8:30 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Since you want to minimize your data usage you should definitely get Opera Max which not only cuts down data used by a ton but also lets you block certain apps completely from using mobile data (but allow them to use wifi). Very useful for apps that you don't care about getting updates on if you don't have wifi access.

Chrome also has a Data Saver mode that you can turn on in the settings that will cut down Chrome's data usage.

Banking apps are very useful, I love being able to deposit checks easily. Google Keep is a pretty good notes app and works well as a shopping list if you don't want to have a whole seperate app just for shopping lists.

A podcast app is a really nice thing to have, especially if you have a lengthy commute. Podcast Addict is the one I have (and love), you can also stream episodes if you are on wifi and don't want to download.

No one's suggested a keyboard replacement app yet so you may want to look into that. The stock keyboard app that phones tend to come with is usually very basic and there are definitely better ones out there. Having peronalized suggestions and a customizable layout makes typing on the phone a lot more bearable. I have ai.type keyboard but Swiftkey is also pretty good and there are lots of other choices.

Two-factor authentication (for google, amazon etc) is a lot easier with a smartphone since you can now use an app for it rather than getting a text with a code. (And if you don't have two factor authentication on everything that offers it you really should.) Google Authenticator is okay but I prefer Authy which has a lot more features and can even be accessed with from Chrome on your computer (in case you don't have your phone).
posted by kassila at 8:37 PM on July 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dark Sky is "hyperlocal" weather information that will send you notifications when rain is about to begin.
posted by stoneandstar at 8:53 PM on July 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


The apps that see the most use on my phone:

Kindle (books! To read! That synchronize bookmarks between my phone and my tablets so I can switch from a tiny page to a bigger one when I'm at home. Substitute whichever e-book source you're most comfortable giving money to.)

Maps (Google's, even though I'm on an iPhone. They have better coverage of bus and biking directions.)

OneBusAway (bus time estimates for Seattle area buses, if you take the bus a lot then look for a similar app for your area)

Twitter (I like Tweetbot but that's Apple-only, it does a better job of handling multiple accounts than the stock app, I know there's a bunch of Android options as well.)

Evernote (cloud notebook synchs between phone/tablets/computer, this is where I keep all my writing and notes and whatnot. Has clients for Mac/Win/iOS/Android. Warning: the Win10 client is currently a mess, avoid it. There are similar services from other companies, this is the one I've been using for a while.)

IM clients for wherever your friends can be found. Most of my circles currently use Telegram so that's what I mostly use right now, I also have Google Hangouts from when all my friends were on that.

Square (take credit cards when I sell stuff at comic cons. Also I tend to use Square's "Cash" app to settle debts with friends.)

My bank's app. Move money around and deposit checks from the phone.

Dark Sky. "Hyper-local weather forecast".

Not sure how much data any of these eat.
posted by egypturnash at 8:57 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


* Google Maps
* Yelp
* Bank app
* Kindle (not sure it's the best, just use it because it hooks up with Amazon)
* Gmail is the best mail app, I think
* Google Calendar, Sheets, Docs
* Dropbox
* Workflowy (for lists. Although tbf, I often just text myself one-off to-do items, errands, and appointments, and then search my texts. Suboptimal approach, I know)
* I have two Ruler apps, equally useful (should delete one)
* Sound Meter, to work out how loud things are*
* Viber (for long distance calls)
* Spotify - this streams music, will eat data, unless you get a lot of memory and save things locally. (I don't use any Google media apps. I also don't use the voice control thing, hate that)
* SoundCloud
* SoundHound
* Avast
* Another Period Tracker person
* Lose It (calorie counting)
* Eat This Much (helps you plan meals to meet particular macronutrient targets within a given calorie range; am mostly concerned with protein)
* Simple Workout Log (best workout log ever)
* HIIT Interval Training Timer
* Paced Breathing is my favourite new one, helps you do what it says. I hate meditating, but I can match my breathing pace to a set rhythm :/

*I'm sensitive to noise anyway, carry ear plugs with me for when it gets to be painful in obvious places like clubs etc. One day, was curious about how loud things were, downloaded this; discovered the subway often hits 80+ dB. So sometimes if I'm like, "I feel unwell and overwhelmed" but can't put my finger on why, like I'm already fed etc. and not otherwise perturbed, it occurs to me to check the noise level, and it often turns out that it's just very loud where I am, and I remember to put the ear plugs in, which makes me feel 10 x better.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:46 PM on July 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Flixter is something I use a surprising amount, but then I'm a dinosaur who likes to go to movies in large buildings rather than watch them on my phone. It includes Fandango, so you can get tickets to the multiplex, but it also includes the two independent movie theaters in my town. Lots of information, easy to use.
posted by kestralwing at 10:27 PM on July 8, 2016


Forgot to mention the Guardian app. I actually subscribed digitally to the Guardian for awhile, but SO MANY problems with billing I finally just cancelled. Then I downloaded the Guardian app and get most of the paper that way. (And I send them a donation occasionally so there will be somewhere for the next Edward Snowden to send leaks to.)
posted by kestralwing at 10:29 PM on July 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Honestly - a simple game that doesn't require data use when you're playing - so like Tetris or Bejeweled or Threes - can be REALLY helpful when you're bored or waiting for something.

Also Peggle, Solitaire City, Collapse.
posted by fairmettle at 2:07 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another vote for Llama. I have three locations set: Home, Work and Free Wifi. I like to keep my wifi off unless I am directly using it because of privacy issues, and Llama will switch it on and off depending on my proximity to a known and trusted signal.
The Free Wifi location is anywhere I have a connection, instead of one for every single coffeeshop or bar that I go to.
I also have it switch to silent at work during certain days and hours when I work with the public.
And I have it switch to normal ringer whenever I leave a known location.
It is not as deep as Tasker, but easier to grasp and set up.
posted by Tunierikson at 3:30 AM on July 9, 2016


Pocket is helpful because, if you sync when you're connected to wifi, your articles are available offline.

Beware of the storage issues with Pocket. It won't use SIM memory and can very easily fill up your phones built in memory if you are a heavy user like me.
posted by srboisvert at 5:50 AM on July 9, 2016


There's an app called "Where's My Droid?" that will allow you to make the phone ring, remotely, even if it is on silent or vibrate. This is really useful! But only if you install it before you lose your phone.

This feature is available on android via google now if you type 'locate my phone'. No installs necessary.
posted by srboisvert at 6:01 AM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


I use my phone mostly for checking soccer scores, listening to podcasts, reading the Guardian, and tracking the bus. So - Fotmob (or Forza), Podcast Addict, the Guardian app, and OneBusAway. Obviously there are apps for any other sport you may be interested in, if that's important to you. Also the TuneIn radio app gives me so much access to stuff to listen to (Luxuria Music is my favorite channel) that I don't really need or want Spotify.
posted by plasticpalacealice at 8:48 AM on July 9, 2016


I have an iPhone and I use Pillboxie to remind me to take my meds. There is probably a comparable Android app. It's so helpful!
posted by radioamy at 10:00 AM on July 9, 2016


Your password utility, which means even if your house is swept away you can continue to access all your online stuff. (I couldn't live without 1Password, which has Windows, iOS, Android & Mac versions with Dropbox Sync.)

Coupled with a Dropbox client, so you can share crucial public info.
posted by Jesse the K at 1:34 PM on July 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


Bona fides: I recently switched to Google Fi's metered data plan, and my first smartphone ran a $100/year T-mobile voice/text only plan. Data sipping smartphones are definitely an upgrade over flip phones.

The first set of apps declutters your life by obsoleting existing special purpose gadgets:
- flashlight. Your camera has an LED flash, and can be used as a flashlight. The newest android versions have a built in flashlight UI, there's a lot of flashlight apps. Just be careful about not burning out the flash, and the ones with ad support (network downloaded ads).
- music player. I uploaded my music collection to Google Play and that's sufficient. It caches music locally, but I really don't listen to a lot of music these days, more of a podcast person. there's a downloaded only toggle to prevent you from accidentally grabbing your library over cellular.
- GPS. Navigating foreign cities is much less intimidating this way. Google Maps is excellent here, and they bought and integrated Waze tech.
- Camera. The stock camera is pretty good. There's neat stuff like photosphere to stitch spherical panoramas together. Obviously there's no mechanical zoom, but the decently high quality and omnipresence lends itself towards taking many utility pictures. I have a ton of pictures of server crashes, serial numbers, etc on my phone from work, and when I travel, it's useful for documenting where I parked. Tried using it to display store loyalty cards, but most lazer scanners are tuned for a specific light frequency your display can't emit. Donno how KeyRing works, maybe I should try it out.
- alarm clock. My old alarm clock had four alarm settings: A, B, A and B and off. Stock clock app lets you set an alarm for your work schedule, and sleep in on your days off, without the anxiety in the pit of your stomach as you realize you need to wake up enough to check that you set your alarm. And it syncs to the cellular network, so you don't have to adjust for daylight savings etc.
- watch Pretty much obsoleted by featurephones, though smartwatches are trying to make a comeback. The stock clock app also has a timer, and a stopwatch (but I still use my microwave timer for cooking timers because habits die hard).
- Calendar. Google Calendar will pop up with reminders for your appointments, and has a widget for the day's agenda. Network oriented, but pretty lightweight.
- calculator. Useful the grocery store for price per unit comparisons.
- cue cat. Remember this? ZXing's Barcode Scanner uses the camera to replace it and works with a variety of not-barcodes. Open source, no ads, no snooping.
- pager. Aka SMS recepticle; we use PagerDuty, so I get plenty of alerts to my phone. As a featurephone user you're aware of this.
- USB thumb drive. As long as a cable is available, I no longer require one, except at work for computer booting purposes.
- remote control. Varies by phone hardware, but my first smartphone had an IR port. Modern android can also remote control Chromecasts, I think?
- checklist/notepad Google Keep has a checklist feature that I kind of abuse. I have a Minimums template checklist of things I want to keep a minimum supply of, sorted by room of the house. Before I go to the store, I make a copy of it to a Shopping list, and walk through the house checking things I still have sufficient supply of. Then I delete all the checked items, and I have a concise shopping list.

Note that a lot above is stuff you can technically already do, but the friction is diminished when you don't have to carry multiple devices or connect three things together. The second list is about things smartphones kinda invented:

- podcast. When I'm driving or walking somewhere, I like to listen to podcasts. I use AntennaPod to get that done. I have about 30 subscriptions, but really only about 10 are professional enough to fastidiously follow a published schedule. AntennaPod has very customizable download rules, so you can avoid data charges. Since my commute is pretty short, I've started speeding up playback, something you can't do with FM radios. Open source, no ads, no snooping.
- deposit checks. basically my only purpose for smartphone banking apps is to deposit checks. The technology to take pictures and upload them to the internet has been around for a while, but only after smartphones glued wifi and cameras together did we get to avoid trips to the ATM.
- dashboard widgets. I'm lumping together here all the widgets for various apps. 5 day weather forecast (I really wish I had a 1 day precipitation forecast widget), antennapod controls, priority inbox / email, today's agenda on the calendar, Trello cards, Google Fi data usage. These sorts of things can be useful for at a glance consultation, or filling up interstitial waiting times.

The final list is a set of things that are basically desktop apps (or related):
- ConnectBot. I use it to connect into an IRC screen session. the particular fork I use has swipe and tap gestures for irssi. Open Source, no ads, no snooping.
- Hacker's Keyboard relatedly, Hacker's Keyboard is an alternative on screen keyboard with all the keys a terminal might need. Open Source, no network required, no ads, no snooping.
- sgt-puzzles. I'm limiting myself to one specific game recommendation, and it's a huge collection of puzzles. Open source, no network required, no ads, no snooping.
- email. Email is still mostly a desktop thing personally, but Priority Inbox is sort of a game changer. Basically the same system that marks things as spam can be trained to mark things as Actually Worth Paying Attention to. Because this is unique per user, your filter will start off okay but improve with time. Important mail will trigger a notification, so if family emails me during the work day, I'll see it, but the rest of the crap I get can be checked once a day tops. It syncs specific folders / tags, so if you have a lot of mail for an automated thing, it won't be sent to you over cellular if you tag it and skip the inbox. Attachments are prefetched only over wifi. Mail itself is very cheap, esp without the headers.
posted by pwnguin at 3:09 AM on July 10, 2016 [1 favorite]


If This, Then That is an app and website that will let you set up things like having all of your Photos saved to your Dropbox account automatically. They have lots of things you can do with your Android phone.
posted by soelo at 8:35 AM on July 14, 2016


Thanks for the recommendations, everyone! I ended up downloading Keep, Dropbox, 1Weather, Sky Map, Privacy Flashlight, Dark Sky, and (not recommended) Sensor Box (which I used to learn that I cannot play Pokemon Go on my phone because it doesn't have a gyroscope).

I'll be looking back at this list as I use my phone more and perhaps want more functionality.

Really appreciate the insightful feedback on this question! Thanks so much!
posted by hippybear at 11:29 AM on July 16, 2016 [1 favorite]


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