My Five Essential Android Apps

by on January 21, 2015

One thing that I realised I forgot to mention in my review of the Yoga Tablet 2 were the apps that I’ve been using on it. Oops!

So, to rectify that, here’s my five Android apps that I can’t live without. Some of them may be available for iDevices and Windows devices as well, so make sure you check out the appropriate app stores to see if they are!

App #1 – SwiftKey

Cost: Free

I’ve been a SwiftKey user for years, ever since my first Android phone, the original HTC Desire. In fact, it was the first app I paid for. Since then, the app has become free so there’s no excuse for not giving it a go.

SwiftKey replaces your devices keyboard with a highly intelligent and quite customizable alternative. Once installed, you can set it about learning from your Gmail account, text messages, Facebook posts, Twitter feed and RSS feed, amongst other things. Once it’s analysed that, it will pick up on phrases you use often and will be able to predict, with a good level of accuracy, what word (or words) you’re likely to use next – for example, it knows that when I type the word “Phantom”, the next three words are most likely going to be “of the Opera”, and it’s usually right. It will also learn as you type, so if you don’t want the app snooping through your personal data it can learn from that as well.

Besides that, it has excellent autocorrect functionality – it and the Windows Phone keyboard are the only two that I can happily mash at blindly and get something that resembles what I was trying to convey. Also present is swipe typing, where you draw over the letters you want to use and it will enter the word. SwiftKey can also now sync its database between all your devices, so that you don’t need to reteach it on all your devices – something I found frustrating on older versions as it meant that some devices would know some of the words I used but the others would not. It also has emoji support but it’s a little bit rough – hopefully something they’ll improve on soon.

App #2 – LastPass

Cost: Free app, but requires paid LastPass Premium subscription

Before I used LastPass, I was lazy. I had about three passwords that I used depending on what the complexity requirements (and limitations) of the website I was signing up for were, which is A Very Bad Idea.

Now that I use LastPass, so long as I remember my passphrase to decrypt the password vault, pretty much all of my passwords are fifty plus long strings of gibberish that I don’t have to remember (with some exceptions for sites that insist upon shorter passwords for whatever reason, which just become shorter strings of gibberish that I don’t remember)

And therein lies the problem – as wonderful as SwiftKey is, typing in fifty characters of gibberish is painful. The LastPass app fixes that problem. Once you’ve provided it with your passphrase, it’ll pop up a little red floating bubble whenever it detects a password field. Click it, and you can either have it fill the fields in automatically or copy the password and paste it into the password field manually.

The main downside is that it requires a paid subscription to use the mobile apps – but that’s fair enough considering that the developers have to make money somehow. However, if you are a university student, you can get a once off six month free version of LastPass Premium, which is what got me hooked on it, here.

App #3 – Timeriffic

Cost: Free

Like most people, I sleep. Also like most people, I don’t like to be interrupted when I sleep. Most phones will have some kind of “quiet hours” function where no sound is made between specified hours.

But there’s a problem with that. At least, for me on my LG G3. Like some people, on weekends I sleep in. Well, like to. And the inbuilt quite mode doesn’t let you specify an alternate schedule for weekends – it has to either not run on weekends or run at the same time as it does during the week.

Enter Timeriffic. I have it set up so that, during the week, my phone stops making noise at 10pm, and then starts making noise from 7am. On the weekends, it stops at 10pm but starts at 10am the next day, so that I can get a sleep in if desired. And if I do happen to wake up early, I can just bump up the volume manually and it will respect that.

It can also do other things, too – for example you can have it shut off Bluetooth and\or Wi-Fi, set a lower screen brightness, and many other features. It also supports profiles, so you can have a profile for when you’re working, say, and then one for when you’re on holidays without having to manually configure it each time.

App #4 – OneDrive

Cost: Free, but paid upgrades for storage available

Yes, yes, I know it’s not Google Drive, which is what I should be using on Android apparently, but I’ve never liked Google Drive, or Google Docs for that matter (rarely have I wanted a Word document mangled beyond all reasonable recognition which Google Docs so generously will do for you). But OneDrive ties in nicely with all my Windows devices (laptops and desktops) and my Office 365 subscription, which provides generous storage space there.

I like to use OneDrive for uploading photos for use on my computer, as well as accessing documents that I’ve saved there when on the go and it’s impractical or impossible to pull out my laptop. It has built in viewers for the Office file formats, so documents will be rendered with some degree of legibility – that said, don’t use it with any expectation that complex documents will render correctly.

You can have it set up so that it automatically uploads photos you take on your phone to OneDrive, either straight away or when you’re on a Wi-Fi network (handy if you have a data limit that counts uploads or if you often encounter poor data speeds when not on Wi-Fi) which will grant you some extra storage space. You can also supplement your storage space by inviting friends to use the service, buying space for an annual fee or getting an Office 365 subscription, which is handy if you plan on storing a lot of data.

There is one strange issue that pops up occasionally for me with it – it will randomly forget who I am, and insist that I sign in again. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often, but it’s frustrating when it does.

App #5 – MyFitnessPal

Cost: Free

Fun fact: this app, combined with visiting a gym regularly, helped me lose 21kg in 9 months – a feat I thought would take twice that amount of time at least.

Essentially, it’s a calorie counter (after all, most weight loss is a simple case of calories in being under calories out) – you punch in what your goals are (lose, gain or maintain weight), the foods you eat, what exercise you do and it will keep track of the results and at the end of each day provide a guess based on what you did that day as to what your weight would be after a certain period of time.

As you desire, you can punch in your weight and you can keep track of your progress there, and once you reach your goals you’ll be prompted to update them accordingly.

With regards to food entry, you can either search manually, something I’ve found to be awfully hit and miss, or scan the product’s barcode, which tends to be more successful. You can also enter recipes for foods that you cook often so that you need only select them and add them to the diary, or if you encounter a packaged food that nobody has added you can add it too. That said, most foods you encounter that aren’t your own recipes are likely to be recognised by the app.

I use it in conjunction with a Fitbit Flex, so it takes into account calories burnt via the walking I do over the course of the day. It can also talk to a great number of devices and services, including but not limited to the aforementioned Fitbit, Jawbone, Microsoft Health, RunKeeper and Withings.

It is, however, a strangely glitchy app. It seems to have random moments where it forgets how to do maths and suggest that a portion of food will have several billion calories briefly before getting the correct figure. It also suggested one day that in five weeks I would weigh 000.0%1$s – whatever that is. Some user submitted foods can be incorrect, however you can always correct them.

So, what are your apps that you can’t live without? Do you have any alternatives to the ones I use that you think I should check out? Let me know in the comments!

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