Android apps I use, November 2016

Last year I wrote a self-indulgent post about Android apps I use, with some details and explanations. It’s time for an update!

As much as it is an indulgent list, it has served a secondary purpose: the act of looking at the device and compiling a list encourages me to consider the apps I’m listing, and whether I really use them or need them. As mentioned in the original post, I’ve been wary of platform lock-in and dependency. I’ve also increasingly attempted to remove non-essential notifications and temptations for idle browsing.

Currently used on Nexus 5

Not a whole lot has changed. In rough order of use:

  • Firefox: now my only browser. I haven’t had any problems with websites not working. A few too many community messages from Mozilla pop up in the app, but not yet at a level where I’d seek out an Android Iceweasel.
  • VX ConnectBot: replaceable with any other decent SSH client with private/public key support. It appears it hasn’t been updated in three years so I might look to see if there’s anything newer and better. Mosh support might be nice, I suppose?
  • MAPS.ME: offline maps renderer and router. I have some reservations towards the bloat that seems to be making its way in (e.g. hotel ads), and the potential direction of the app now that it has VC funding, but not yet enough to drive me away or try to compile from source without the annoying parts.
  • Citymapper: used slightly less frequently used now that I cycle more and MAPS.ME has cycle routing; it was useful when I was brand new in Berlin though.
  • Neko Atsume: I’ve been playing this for a year and have yet to get bored. A perfect example of a smartphone game.
  • Nova launcher: more configurable than default Android 5 launcher, I use Nova to disable a bunch of UI I don’t use and change app icons.
  • LEO: a German dictionary. A lifesaver for my first few months in Germany, though it somehow keeps on putting the bits of grammar I care about the most at the end of a very long scroll list.
  • Google Translate: machine translation of sentences has a long way to go – with a year’s worth of learning I can easily pick out errors in translations into German. Still, it is handy as a first-reference or a double-check when translating longer sentences.
  • Duolingo: I’m now using it more as I’m trying to improve German. It has pretty clear limitations as far as language learning is concerned, but the easy daily practice is handy.
  • Number26, sorry, I mean N26: a German app-bank. The big draw for me was its English support. Uses smartphone camera to verify identity, which made it quick and convenient to set up an account. Live smartphone notifications of card use are neat, though I’m unsure if necessary if I was confident in their fraud policies. Fees are starting to slowly crop up, and cash handling is a bit of a hassle: very limited options for depositing and increasingly restricted options for withdrawing cash. I’ve been slowly thinking of switching to a lower-tech bank, but have not yet attempted it to see how aggravating that might be.
  • BVG FahrInfo: The official Berlin transit app — I use it for purchasing tickets on my phone. Convenient and fast when I have my phone and ID card with me, but otherwise, paper tickets are the same price. If I needed to quit using VC-supported Citymapper the trip planner would come in handy, but I wouldn’t say it’s better.
  • Music player: to be honest, I’ve forgotten which app this is exactly and current Android makes it a pain to find the exact app ID/URL. As far as I recall, it’s the Music app from Cyanogen, installed from an APK. It works decently, less buggy than Play Music was when I switched in… late 2015? I’ve recently been thinking of grabbing the version of the Music app from my Android 2.3 Nexus One, as it is impressively no-nonsense. For a music player, unless it’s foobar2000, the less the better.
  • MuPDF: a good, basic PDF reader that removes a dependency on Google Docs for newer Android versions.
  • Simple Last.fm Scrobbler: A simpler alternative to the Last.fm app since all I was doing was scrobbling anyway.
  • Total Commander: I finally got fed up with ES File Explorer bloating up, including sketchy spyware-like bits. TC has worked well so far, I’m happy to recommend it (though I would have preferred an open-source application).
  • Skype: I’ve been using this less and less, as it’s gotten easier and cheaper to simply call over standard phone lines and I’ve had less use for video chats. It’s been handy for calls when I’m not near a laptop, though.

Google Cloud

Not that many changes. I haven’t made myself independent, though I’ve been decreasing use a bit.

  • Calendar: I’ve gotten my stuff together and set up a self-hosted Kanboard, so I was able to move most of the to-do tasks out of my calendar. The process is not yet complete, but I’m closer to being realistically able to edit a calendar on desktop and consume an ICS feed in a simple smartphone calendar app.
  • Hangouts: I’ve counted, and I have four contacts I actively talk to on Hangouts, two of whom are family. If push came to shove I would definitely be able to go without, particularly with an XMPP client instead.
  • Gmail: pretty much exactly as before. I don’t get a lot of email so I don’t really care strongly. I still write notes as Gmail drafts, because they get backed up and are easily accessible on the web version afterwards. It is still too easy to discard a draft with no undo. I currently like Gmail as an app well enough, but when I move to self-hosting my mail I would be happy with a decent IMAP client.
  • People / Contacts: it’s nice to get contacts synced down and have phone numbers, emails, and addresses in one place, but my contact list is not huge or frequently updated. Not necessarily crucial, especially if the replacement platform supports a standard import/export format.
  • Maps: I’m still trying to limit my use of Google Maps, and to be honest it hasn’t been that difficult. Their POI database is good, but OpenStreetMap data isn’t far behind, particularly in Germany. The satellite imagery is occasionally handy or interesting.
  • Google app: used occasionally for richer search, such as football scores. I also have a launcher shortcut to the weather search result page, which is pretty good.
  • Google Authenticator: for two-factor auth. This is an open standard so presumably I could just use a different implementation.

Built-in functionality

I use these, but I don’t need the exact app. They are pretty basic functionality that should be available on pretty much any platform:

  • Calculator: absolutely vanilla
  • Camera: not much to say about it, I just want to be able to disable flash and that’s about it. I’ve started using its “HDR+” and panorama modes more often, and they’re nice enough, but not job-critical.
  • Clock: used for a timer, time in other timezones, and sometimes alarm

Convenience apps

Nice-to-have or handy things that aren’t really critical:

  • BBC Weather: I no longer use it as my main weather source, but I keep it around as its implementation of multi-city information is pretty good. Very not-critical though.
  • Barclays, Barclays Pingit: Less use now that I don’t use my UK account much. I will probably uninstall them when I sort out outstanding UK banking things.
  • ZXing / Barcode Scanner: a no-nonsense app of the kind that’s good to have, not used often, but when want to use it you value it being quick to access and quick to use. Though ZXing is excellent, I’m not attached to this particular app. Any decent barcode/QR code scanner will work.
  • Google Keep: I still use it for shopping and packing lists, though I’ve recently rediscovered the pen and the post-it note so my usage will hopefully drop a bit; it’s still useful for longer lists though. Main value is fairly good sync between web and mobile. Main drag is increasing amount of features I don’t need.
  • Keepass2Android (Offline): used to get passwords I saved in my desktop KeePassX. I don’t really do a lot of logging-in on my phone, so any problems wouldn’t be huge, but it seems to work alright. Two-way sync appears to be missing (but doing it in a secure-and-open-source way appears to be difficult in general), this isn’t a problem for me as I don’t update passwords on my phone.
  • PinDroid: useful for saving links with Android intents to save links as “read later”. My use is rather write-heavy, and I only occasionally search from this app. I could use m.pinboard.in fairly easily.
  • Slack: installed hesitantly for a programming project. If the project takes off, I’ll try to use Slack only on desktop, but for now, the phone app is handy for quickly checking in on new things every 2 or 3 days.

Used rarely

  • DriveNow: floating carshare, used when moving flats within Berlin with a few boxes. I’ve not used it much as parking tends to be a pain and either transit or bike frequently end up being almost as fast.
  • GPS Status, GPSLogger: sometimes handy, but in practice I’ve used them only occasionally for finding speed of buses/trains I’ve travelled on and for tracking a hike. I’m not married to the particular apps, I’d think they would be mostly interchangeable on other platforms.
  • Wikipedia Beta: Neat idea, particularly the nearby articles functionality; in practice I don’t use it a lot.
  • WordPress: easier than trying to log in to WordPress with a mobile browser, though that says more about WordPress than about anything else. I’ve mostly used it for checking in on things in drafts — any serious writing is done on a real keyboard.
  • OpenKeychain: PGP key management and encryption/decryption, though I don’t really use it.
  • Phone: default Android app. I use it very rarely (just counted now, 6 phone calls in last 3 months). The SIP integration is useful.

Stopped using

Bigger changes since the last post:

  • ES File Manager: got too bloated and creepy, replaced with Total Commander
  • Starbucks: my motivation to use it in London dropped off when the rewards program was downgraded, and in Berlin there aren’t any good locations for me. As a larger trend, I’ve stopped going to cafes with a laptop.
  • Tube Assistant: good app, but I moved out of London
  • Opera Mobile: wasn’t really using it as Firefox is enough
  • Play Music: only used it for playing music from device, and it was amusingly buggy
  • Last.fm: only used it for scrobbling, and replaced with simpler Simple Last.fm Scrobbler
  • Flickr, XE currency rates: not used frequently, I can just use the website
  • OpenTTD, Transport Tycoon Lite: touch-only interaction is not quite enough for the game and the small screen is annoying

Tried since last post but removed

  • MOOMIN Welcome to Moominvalley: This is a Farmville clone skinned with Moomin characters. It was cute initially, but quickly got addicting — not in a good way — and I eventually got myself to delete it by realizing that farming larger and larger parts of Moominvalley and collecting “friends” by getting them to stay in your area full-time is quite un-Moomin.
  • K-9 Email: installed as part of research in IMAP alternatives. It’s workable, but I don’t find it better than the Gmail app, and without switching the underlying email store to self-hosted there’s no real point using it.
  • Pokemon GO: I got into it kind of late, but it’s the same 10 Pokemon over and over where I live. I had never played Pokemon before, but I was a bit turned off by the collect-then-trade-in model as noted by Eevee. Finally uninstalled after I didn’t really enjoy it during a trip overseas either.

On Galaxy Tab

I have the original 7″ Galaxy Tab, running Android 2.2. I don’t use it much, but when I do, I use the following:

  • Old versions of Opera Mini and Opera Mobile, because Firefox is too slow
  • Dune II: someone ported/hacked this (possibly via OpenDune) onto Android a while back. It works surprisingly well on the Galaxy Tab: touchscreen input is reasonably compatible with Dune II’s use of one mouse button to control everything, and the 600px-high resolution matches the screen that would have likely been used to play the real thing. I’ve spent a few evenings with the game and hope to spend more.
  • VLC: for an MMS radio stream that won’t work in any other player I tried
  • BatteryBot: still useful here, as the battery is now wonky and more insight helps
  • Holo Launcher: slightly more customizable than the Samsung/Android default. It might be a bit faster, or that might be placebo.

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