The Android Market keeps growing and phone choices are slowly growing, but finding the best, most useful stuff remains a challenge. We're helping out with a roundup of 10 apps that get things done and make life easier.
As always, we heartily welcome your own suggestions for useful, productive, or just awesome Android apps in the comments.
What sets Astrid apart from the many, many task/to-do managers out there? Two great features. One is its mostly seamless synchronisation with cloud-based task manager Remember the Milk, which can happen in the background or when you hit "Sync". The other is its turbo-charged nagging powers. Astrid places itself in your notification area when a task is due and literally forces you to head over to the task to get rid of that nagging little squid-like icon. That's right—hitting "Clear Notifications" won't kill your to-do, and when you arrive at Astrid's home screen, it pops up the thing that needs doing with a rotating phrase, like "Do it and you'll feel better" or "Are you ready, tiger?" That might sound annoying to some, but to those whose thumbs are quick to put things off, Astrid is just the right kind of cure. Finally, if you're into the whole geolocation thing, Astrid can plug into Locale, the awesome conditional phone manager mentioned in a previous Android round-up, to do things like remind you to buy stamps when you're near a post office, or drop off those clothes in your boot whenever you're near a charity store.
It must be said that SnapPhoto is not the most stable of applications. When it does work, though, it adds a slew of photo geek tools to your camera with a slide-out top panel. ISO controls, automatic or custom white balance, stabilising software, effects, and, perhaps most helpful, a timer are available, along with quality and size modifiers. Reviewers' consensus and personal experience find that the app gets less stable the more shots one takes, but for pulling off one key frame with your phone, it's definitely worth the price.
It's a free, full-featured podcast client for Android—not an easy thing to find. It sports a few small ads that run along the bottom of the screen, but they're far from intrusive. ACast can search popular podcast databases to find your podcast feeds or accept manual URL entries, and lets you set up whether it updates, downloads, or streams your shows over Wi-Fi only or through a mobile network. The app's own podcast player allows for auto-queueing of downloaded items, but those happy with Android's own minimal music player (assuming they exist) can simply play their tunes as normal. Be sure to hit up ACast's flush settings menu to customise how and when your shows are culled from the net.
When Android's "Donut" revision lands, users will have a dedicated widget for one-click settings changes. In the meantime, Rounded Labs offers up five separate one-square widgets that simply turn Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and your phone ringer on or off, and change your screen brightness with every tap. The GPS widget actually sends you to a settings dialog to click once more and toggle GPS, but two clicks are definitely better than four.
Sherpa's not the first app that finds the stuff around you using GPS or Wi-Fi location, but it might be the most personalised. Sherpa's results come in a familiar map layout or a revolving "carousel," and are filtered by the time of day—it theoretically won't send you to a dry cleaners at 3 a.m. unless it's an 24-hour spot. Sherpa also "learns" from what you've previously selected, so that it presents Caribou Coffee shops when you're visiting Raleigh if you've looked for them in Atlanta. It could stand to move a bit faster, but it hooks in well to Android's native map, email and location tools, and might just discover something new for you right across from where you're standing.
If Locale's uber-customisation and multi-part settings are a bit too much for your needs, and you just want your phone not to ring at night and buzz while you're at work, Sound Manager is what you should grab. The basic screen lets you set individual volumes, so notifications are silent while ringtones are audible, for instance. The scheduling capabilities are where it's at though, given that most of us work, sleep, eat, and do other ritual activities we'd rather not have interrupted by new Twitter direct messages or emailed Amazon shipping alerts.
We've mentioned this Windows/Android app combo before, but it's worth noting again because it still works, and it's still probably the easiest way to turn a phone connection into a connection of last resort for your laptop. Uncooperative eateries and ransom-pushing airports can be bypassed with a simple click of Connect on both the phone and a Windows taskbar item. The bummer is that it requires having a USB cable connection between the handset and the computer, but otherwise it provides a decent hook-up for low-bandwidth necessities. (Original post)
Like its iPhone counterpart, Amazon's app can "remember" whatever you take a picture of and send to it with reasonably amazing accuracy. Where the Android app surpasses it is in its barcode scanning ability. If an item you want to save to a wishlist, suggest to a friend, or note for your own purchase later doesn't photograph well, or can't be found by Amazon, the bar code will almost always hit the nail on the head. Whatever you do in the app is also noted in your Amazon account, so it makes for a great list builder, whether or not you've got the time to tinker right there in the store. (Original post)
Astro is one of those apps you wish wasn't necessary, but are glad a developer took the time to whip it up. It's basically a serious file browser, one that can download (nearly) any file you feel a URL for, pass files on your SD card along to the Gmail client for attaching, find the files that your music or movie player can't seem to find on their own (insert grumbling here), and back up your downloaded applications to your SD card. You won't use it too often, but you'll be glad it's there when you need it.
Okay, so you could theoretically call this a goofy tenth item tacked onto a list of nine perfectly productive apps. But that theory assumes you'll never be stuck in an unbearably long line, terminal or car ride, and desperately want to engage in a little Tower-Defense-like action with eye-catching Tron-style graphics. The free version contains only one level at Normal difficulty, but it's more than enough to keep a casual defender captivated. From notably extensive testing, this also doesn't appear to be as much of a battery drainer as other Android games.