My 5 Essential Android Applications

And, one Android program to avoid.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

There are lots of lists of the best Android applications. As the proud owner of a new Motorola Droid 2 and in-house tech. support for my wife's Droid Pro, though, I started thinking about what the essential applications are for a new Android phone user.

Everyone uses devices in different ways. What works for me, may not work for you. Here's where I'm coming from: I use my smartphone first as a phone and then as a way to receive information. I don't try to work on a phone--even the over-sized Droid X.

I'm also not interested in texting. For some reason, even though instant messaging (IM) is second-nature to me, texting just never worked for me. If, like many other people, though texting is your life, I recommend you give chompSMS a try.

My friends who use it tell me they like that it includes contact pictures, signatures, and blacklisting to keep creeps off their phone. What they really love though is that they can text for free with their other friends who are using chompSMS. Free texting is a win in anyone's book.

For my personal list though my first essential application is:

1. Essential Voice

I've liked Google Voice since the day it came out. Actually, since I was a beta tester, I liked it even before Google Voice officially launched. With it, you can control all your various phone numbers--work, home, mobile, you name it--from a single, central phone number. And, it adds most of the features of a private branch exchange (PBX)--call forwarding, voice mail, and even voice to text-to my phone.

The mobile version of Google Voice puts all that goodness into my smartphone. I can also keep my mobile number private by setting the app. to let me make all my calls from my Google Voice number. What I like most about it though is that I can send all my unanswered calls to all my numbers to my Google Voice Voicemail. Once there, I'm automatically get a voice to text summary of the call on e-mail. Since I hate to be interrupted by unexpected phone-calls that feature alone would make Google Voice a must on any of my phones.

2. Essential File Sharing

I hate it when I need to look at a document and I don't have a copy on me. I have files on my Mint 10 Linux-powered ThinkPad; I have files on my openSUSE-powered servers; some on my iPad, and others scattered hither and yon. You get the idea. That's where Dropbox comes in.

Dropbox, which works on Android, Linux, and pretty much every desktop and mobile operating system around gives you a master file directory in the cloud. The program automatically syncs my files so no matter where I go, if I have my phone I can still get to them when I need them.

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Essential E-Book Readers, GPS, and An App to Avoid

3. Essential E-Book Readers

This is the one area where I don't have a clear favorite. My favorite e-reader program is Stanza. Unfortunately, you can't get it on Android. It's only available on Apple's iPhone family. With Stanza's parent company now owned by Amazon, it seems highly unlikely that Stanza will ever be ported to Android. Darn it.

That said, there are a wide variety of e-book readers for Android. In addition, Google has just released its own e-bookstore and application. Of all these e-book applications, I prefer Amazon Kindle and Aldiko.

4) Essential Music Players

If you're like me and you really like music and Android, you're probably wishing that Google would hurry up and get the Honeycomb music player out. In the meantime, I'm using TuneWiki. It's a good player that includes an interesting assortment of special features such as being able to display lyrics, social networking, and you can use it as the interface for popular online music services like Slacker, Last.fm, and SHOUTcast.

In addition, I also use the Pandora music service a lot. If, like me, you also like good, old-fashioned over-the-air radio, and some of the more esoteric Internet-only radio stations like those on SomaFM and Asheville FM, I also recommend TuneIn. It's a handy and enjoyable way to turn your Android phone into a universal radio. The '60s transistor radio lives on in Android. Who knew?

5. Essential Directions

In my car I have a Magellan Roadmate 1700 7" GPS. As GPS devices go, it's honking huge. It does not come out of my car. When I'm on foot, or I've just flown into a new city, I use my Droid 2 as an impromptu GPS.

If I'm just going to be cruising around a trade show convention center I'll use Google Maps for Mobile. If I wanted to really replace my GPS with an Android app., I'd bite the bullet and pay the money for CoPilot. For $4.99, with live traffic and weather updates, it's as good as many dedicated GPS devices and a heck of a lot cheaper.

Last, but not least,

The program everyone recommends that you shouldn't use

Hands up. Who reading this story, really know what Android is doing with its applications? OK, that's me, Android developers and a few other people. So why would so many of you think that you can do a better job of managing your phone with Advanced Task Killer then Android can do on its own? Unlike Windows, Android is not a system that needs constant junk removal and patching to keep in good, running shape.

For example, if you use Advanced Task Killer you'll see applications "running" that you think shouldn't be running, so you kill them. Think again. Android is designed to allow background applications to quietly sit so that they'll be ready to go with their last used state. Except for taking up a small amount of memory, they're not draining your battery or eating up system resources.

Trust me, you're much better off letting Android manage Android. If you can't resist trying to tweak your applications just use Android's built-in option: Settings>Apps>Manage Apps>Running Apps and pick the app you want to kill and run a Force Stop.

You really don't need, or for that matter, want Advanced Task Killer. I've seen numerous problems up to and including phones that needed to be powered off and on again to get back into working shape after over-enthusiastic task killing. Just Android manage Android and you'll be a lot happier.

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