More apps, more users, and more upgrades for all kinds of phones—2010 was a good year for Android. We gave Google's smartphone operating system some in-depth, how-to attention this past year, too. Here's the most popular of our Android-centered stuff.
Photo remixed from an original by Matt Katzenberger.
Android's Market for apps remains, to this very day, a pretty big haystack to sort through, with only a few official helpers and a few unofficial sorters to guide the newcomer. We hope our Lifehacker Pack for Android got new users off on the right foot, and gave experienced 'Droiders second thoughts about an app or two they'd overlooked.
A precursor to the post above, back when you might have been able to say that there weren't that many unique and wonderful Android apps. Looking back, there were some typically nerdy picks (Secrets, AnyCut), one pick that was more about the future (Layar), and a few solids we still stand by (PDAnet and Shopper, in particular).
Adam Pash is not afraid to tell you who the winner is, in each category of function and usability, across the two major smartphone platforms. Since he'd taken the time to declare all those winners, Adam Dachis also thought he'd go ahead and chart up the winners, so you get an idea of where each phone's strengths lie.
If ever there was a better argument for the power of a relatively open mobile platform than Tasker, we haven't been able to write about it. Upon discovering Tasker, we were immediately taken with its potential uses. You can totally automate what happens when something else happens, in multiple steps, as complex or simple as you want to make it. Set up an Ultimate Morning Alarm, so that at 6 a.m. every day, your calendar app launches, a chosen song starts playing, and your phone says, in its robotic voice, "Good morning, Mr. Smith!" Or have that happen only when your battery level is above 20 percent—it's all up to you.
For the most part, Gina's rundown of your options for connecting your Android 3G service to your laptop hold true. You can "root" your phone to get your tether going, run a somewhat complicated proxy app, or buy a solution like PDAnet.
"Let me preface all of this by saying that for many-not all-the switch from iPhone to Android will feel like being covered in band-aids and ripping each one off over the course of a few weeks. This is not because there's anything particularly wrong with either mobile operating system, but because they have different paradigms. Android and iPhone feel different, look different, and accomplish things in sometimes very different manners ... If you decide to ditch your iPhone and give Android a try, be prepared for a little culture shock."
Google must realise by now what a tease it is when it comes to Android versions. There are lots of early hints floating around the hardcore Andro-blogs, followed by an official unveiling, then a core group of developers and serious Android enthusiasts have the new thing on their phone. Then—months pass, and customised versions roll out only to the luckiest of a few phone owners. Regardless! We toured around Android 2.2 "FroYo" soon after its official debut, then updated the post when people started actually using it.
What makes an Android app "evil"? Nothing so bad, really. But lots of apps, both officially available and otherwise, let users knock down the glass walls enacted around their favourite technology. Send SMS for free, sync to iTunes without an iPhone, replace your manufacturer's goofy "customized" interface, and get lots of other benefits you're artificially removed from with these apps.
There was a time, early in Android's life, when a task killer seemed like something you'd need. But Google eventually got a reign on how third-party apps could act, and task killers became more harmful than helping. Still, many users seemed to swear by them, so Whitson explored just what they can and can't really do.
Once you've taken the leap into rooting your phone, you're now free to install a new bootloader and load in any firmware you can find that works with your phone. And there are lots of them. We break down the unique features, and sad shortcomings, of the third-party ROMS available for Android.
Your shortcuts, widgets, bottom-screen buttons, home screens and app tray can all be replaced. No, seriously—just because HTMotoLGsung decided your phone should look just so doesn't mean you need to stick with it. Whitson reviewed the three major home screen launcher replacements. How do you know they work? Read almost any post in which a shortcoming of Android is mentioned, or fixed, and you'll see in the comments a note that, of course, "LauncherPro/ADW already does this."
Android's great for productivity—not just shuttling work documents and replying to emails, but automating and expediting the things you do every day. Things like send a text message in a busy situation, make and check off lists, opening links on your mobile browser, moving files around, and never, ever emailing yourself again. These are the apps we found most central to our mission in the Android ecosystem.
You turn on an Android phone, enter your Google credentials, and then, what? All those icons, different screens a swipe away ... and it all seems to get slower, eventually. Here's our best tips for making your home screen efficient, packing in handy shortcuts, and keeping your apps organized and accessible.
We told you we loved Tasker. After playing around a bit and learning its ways, we came up with a few ways to have your SMS read to you while driving, to scale back your data usage (and, in conjunction, battery drain) at night or idle periods, to pick from all your audio apps when headphones are inserted, and explained how to import and export profiles found on other sites and among geeky friends.
Quite a few apps claim to help you track and locate your stolen electronics, and incriminate those who stole them. Prey, however, is open source and free for most users. So we put it to the test by having Whitson "steal" a MacBook from Kevin. A ridiculous video involving old-timey titles and explanation ensued.
"As Android's popularity grows, it's commonly compared feature-for-feature to the iPhone, and one of its biggest shortcomings (in the eyes of many users) is its lackluster Music app. For the most part, it works just fine ... Beyond that, it doesn't offer much. Luckily, quite a few other music players have surfaced, each with their own distinct niche and set of features. Here's a look at four of the best alternatives and what they have to offer."
For most users, there are a few tools at their disposal to deal with the sluggishness resulting from a stuffed or just generally underpowered phone. Removing misbehaving apps, trying alternative home screens, and cleaning up your home screen (hey, covered above!) are a few of them. If you've gone ahead and rooted, well, you've got quite a few more avenues of improvement you can try.
That's the year in Android at Lifehacker, at least as far as per-post popularity goes. What was your favourite post or topic this year? What would you like to see covered in the future? Give us your reflections and requests in the comments.