Android apps I use, March 2019

When I got my Moto G5 in January 2018, I didn’t sign it into my Google account. That’s generally worked well, but there’s been catches when it comes to getting apps. Here’s a few notes.

I’ve been trying to limit my use of my smartphone, including to avoid vendor lock-in to Google/Android. I also have a bit of a problem compulsively checking for updates and news, so as much as possible I try to not have many apps. But so far I’ve felt I need a few.

I previously made lists of apps I was using in November 2016 and in January 2015, and this post is sort of an update to those.

Thist post includes some words about 2018 for background and historical reasons. If you want, you can jump to the list as of March 2019.

Apps in 2018

On work Nexus 6P

I was cheating initially. I had an employer-issued Android phone which was connected to my work Google account and could get apps on that phone with no problem. I used, in roughly descending frequency:

(See the 2016 post for more info about most of the apps)

  • Nova launcher
  • Firefox
  • ConnectBot – connecting to irssi which connected to IRC and Google Hangouts via BitlBee
  • Maps.me
  • Gmail – used for work account and sometimes personal account (I enabled and disabled the personal account depending on much I needed it and how much I disliked Google at the moment)
  • Camera – good pictures, terrible ergonomics
  • Neko Atsume – but my notes in March 2018 were “I am getting over it…”
  • Google Maps – also used sometimes in addition to Maps.me
  • LEO – a German dictionary
  • Google Calendar
  • BVG FahrInfo – used for checking real-time transit departures; I used to use it for smartphone tickets but switched back to paper tickets for simplicity
  • N26 – an app bank, the app is required for some banking functions
  • Keepass2Android Offline – password manager
  • Skype – with my personal account, sometimes used for video calls or intercontinental audio calls
  • KVV.mobil – used for one-way bike trips on Nextbike in Berlin (the app is for Karlsruhe, but supported Nextbike to allow people in our Berlin office to use a company allowance)
  • Hangouts – used on personal account mainly for sharing cute pictures

Installed but didn’t really use frequently:

  • DB Ausflug – a Deutsche Bahn promotional app, it suggested a few nice-looking places in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, but none of them were really that close and we didn’t end up going
  • Emmy – a e-bike-scooter sharing service; I kept it in case it came in handy, but it turned out that I didn’t use it after summer 2017. At one point I also installed Coup, a competing e-bike-scooter sharing service, but uninstalled it earlier because Emmy’s scooters came with two helmets and Coup’s with only one helmet, and for one person Coup wasn’t much better than Emmy.
  • Moovel German app (com.daimler.moovel.android, the 2018 one) – used it for car2go five times in 2017, but none in 2018 (I had a company allowance, but didn’t enjoy driving or parking in the city)
  • DriveNow – I actually used it only once since my previous apps listing, for a discretionary BMW i3 electric drive in 2017; I kept the app just in case

Apps that my work needed: Google Authenticator, Okta Verify, Slack, Zoom (for work video or audio calls)

Standard built-in apps: Calculator, Clock, Downloads (basic file manager in disguise), Google app (used for its good weather forecast view), Messages (SMS), Phone, Photos, Google Play Store, Wallpapers (pretty pictures changing daily)

On personal Moto G5

I didn’t connect my personal phone to the Play Store. Android allows installation of apps from any source, but the problem can be in obtaining the apps in the first place. There are a number of alternate app stores/app collections, of which I’ve used F-Droid, an app catalogue with only Free Software. Some apps are available as APK files from their creators, although that does mean you have to check for updates manually. Many apps are available via a range of more-or-less-legitimate “APK mirrors” which download the apps from Play Store and mirror them for free download, but the question is always of legitimacy and security (do I trust that the bank app binary from this mirror doesn’t steal my credentials?). Some developers actively request removals of their apps from APK mirrors.

Initially, I installed:

  • Nova launcher, obtained from APKMirror.com
  • Firefox, installed from APK; Mozilla provides official APKs with some clicking through
  • Maps.me, installed from APK; official APKs available with two clicks from the homepage
  • F-Droid installed from APK from their website, and through it:
    • andOTP – for two-factor authentication codes
    • Simple Calendar – it was okay, but seemed to have timezone bugs for all-day events, resulting in those being offset
    • Ghost Commander
    • MuPDF
    • “Music” app – worked well, though it could have been a little prettier; not sure which exact one it was
    • OSMTracker – pretty good GPS track / GPX recorder
    • Simple Last.fm Scrobbler
    • SNotepad – a decent basic notepad

In 2019

My Google Play workaround went away with my work phone. Since October 2018 I have kept the following apps on my phone:

  • F-Droid software repository, first installed from official web APK, then self-updating
  • launcher: initially Nova from APKMirror as mentioned above; since replaced with FAST app search (from F-Droid) – a launcher which is only a text search field and a list of apps ordered by frequency of use – a bit more minimal than I’ve been used to, but has been working well enough
  • ConnectBot (from F-Droid)
  • Firefox – installed and updated from APK; Mozilla provides official APKs with some clicking through
  • Maps.me – installed and updated from APK; official APKs available with two clicks from the homepage. I’m getting ready to switch to a commercial OpenStreetMap viewer, perhaps OsmAnd, but haven’t made the jump yet.
  • K-9 Mail (from F-Droid): installed as a test, I found it feeds my compulsive personality, so I’m not sure if I like having it
  • Odyssey music player (from F-Droid): works well enough
  • Simple Last.fm Scrobbler (from F-Droid)
  • Ghost Commander (from F-Droid) – works alright, though it took me a day of confusion before I understood why it could not compress a directory on the SD card to the SD card (because it doesn’t write to SD card, only reads)
  • SNotepad (from F-Droid) – basic notepad, saves notes to plain text files, works well enough
  • Communauto – a floating carshare in Toronto; I got it from APKMirror and used twice so far in 2019 for late-night trips to the airport
  • N26 – installed by copying the binaries installed via Play Store from my work phone and putting on my personal phone
  • Mapillary – crowd-sourced street-level imagery with better licensing; useful for OpenStreetMap surveying. I installed it from seemingly official but not publicized APK (linked from Github question about direct download of Mapillary APK)
  • OSMTracker (from F-Droid) – pretty good GPS track / GPX recorder
  • MuPDF (from F-Droid) – PDF and media viewer
  • Keepass2Android Offline – password manager, used for logging into things by manually copying in the password database from my computer. I’m not actually sure how I got it, it was either copied off my work phone or from an APK somewhere. I thought it was from F-Droid but that turns out to have been incorrect.

Built-in apps I kept: Calculator, Camera, Clock, Contacts, Downloads (Storage Access Framework, the basic file manager), FM Radio, Messages (SMS), Phone, Wallpapers (although it sometimes crashes and sets my wallpaper to an unattractive default)

Built-in apps I kept but don’t really use: Google search app, Moto settings app, Voice Search (seemingly not able to deactivate it)

Beyond the problems with N26, I haven’t really had major problems not being on the Play Store. The biggest thing I can recall was not being able to get the app for Maven, a carshare system, to work, as it required some Google subsystem or another that I didn’t have. Annoyingly, their website gives no details about types of cars available or the pricing. Get the app, please! (And give us all your personal information.)

Not being able to see or send cute pictures via Hangouts is a bit of a bummer, though. My workaround of using a laptop is not quite the same.

Changes since 2016

Since my app listing as of November 2016:

  • Total Commander replaced by Ghost Commander, driven by what’s available on F-Droid
  • VX ConnectBot replaced by ConnectBot, as ConnectBot was revived and seems fine, no need for forks
  • Citymapper not installed – I haven’t really need it, as I don’t take transit as much and the transit system in Toronto isn’t really complex enough to need it
  • Neko Atsume not installed: all the feels; but it wasn’t really interesting me for a while in 2017 and 2018. Maybe I’ll restart and go through it again sometime.
  • LEO not installed, using the website when I need it
  • Nova launcher replaced by FAST launcher – it’s enough for my purposes, and in being on F-Droid easier to get
  • Google Translate not installed – using the website when I need it, which isn’t really often
  • Duolingo not installed – I had finished the German and Vietnamese lesson trees; I now know more German than Duolingo can teach me, but remember none of the Vietnamese it tried to teach me
  • Google cloud, including Hangouts, Calendar, Gmail, synced Contacts: largely replaced with using the web apps on my laptop; Google Maps replaced with Maps.me and occasionally using the web version on my laptop; stopped using Google Keep
  • Apps I previously noted as “convenience apps” and didn’t bother trying to install: BBC Weather (I usually use the Environment Canada weather website and don’t bother with multi-city weather information), Barclays and Barclays Pingit, ZXing / Barcode Scanner (I think the built-in Android camera has QR code recognition now), Slack (neither need nor want it on my personal phone), PinDroid
  • Apps I previous noted as “used rarely” and didn’t bother trying to install: GPS Status and GPSLogger (replaced with OSMTracker from F-Droid), Wikipedia Beta, WordPress, OpenKeychain

Challenges

Right now my biggest problem is N26. The fintech-startup-app-bank requires using the app on a supported smartphone to do things like authorize transfers. I initially installed it by copying it from my work phone, but the version I got is no longer supported for authorizing transfers and needs an update. Moreover, it looks like the bank has requested the APK to be removed from the most popular (and thus relatively-most-trustworthy) APK mirrors.

In long term I will close the N26 account, but still need it for a few more months. It might be possible to log into my Google account on an Android simulator, get the app in the simulator, then copy it over to the phone, but that’s very hacky, and I don’t really have information on my phone that would be a huge concern stopping me from logging in to the account on the actual phone. So I might do that, and check for some other app updates while I’m at it.