Feb 23, 2012 (04:02 AM EST)
10 Android App Hidden Gems
Read the Original Article at InformationWeek
Words With Friends? Check. Skype, Netflix? You have them, of course. What else is out there?
With more than 400,000 selections in Google's Android Market, not to mention the thousands of apps in Amazon's Appstore for Android, and in other app bazaars, it's not easy for you to uncover hidden gems. But there are still buzzworthy apps which, for whatever reason, haven't gotten a lot of play from the press or public.
The easiest way to find interesting apps, of course, is to frequent the app markets and sample the wares, search for apps that interest you, and check out the top-rated user picks and editors' choices. Need more guidance? Try using recommendation apps that help you find more apps, such as Best Apps Market's BAM and One! tools.
But while Android smartphone users have an abundance of apps to wade through, their Android tablet-toting counterparts have the opposite problem--a dearth of choices. The anemic selection of apps for Android slates is no secret, of course, and several factors are to blame. For instance, consumers have been cool to Android tablets to date, a fact that has damped developer interest.
The fragmentation of the Android platform hasn't helped either. According to Google, most Android phones and tablets are still running Gingerbread, despite the fact that newer versions, including tablet-friendly Honeycomb (Android 3.x) and Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.x), are available.
Indeed, Android as a tablet OS is very much a work in progress--a fact that also dampens enthusiam among some app developers.
Among our 10 sleeper picks, each offers something a little different, in some cases adding a mobile feature that you didn't know you absolutely, positively needed, or, wanted, until somebody told you about it. Glympse, for instance, gives other mobile and PC users a real-time view of your location. And Car Locator is an essential tool for drivers who've forgotten where they've parked. Couldn't happen to you, you say? Consider this dangerous traveler's cocktail: a business trip, a rental car, and an unfamiliar city. Add in a late night at some urban haunt and, you'll soon see the value of an app that helps you find your vehicle.
We'll admit that the term "sleeper app" is vague. After all, a useful, innovative app generally grabs some sort of buzz, and we're not suggesting that all of our picks are complete unknowns. In fact, you may already have heard of a few them. Perhaps you've installed some of them. If so, great! If not, here are 10 nifty apps worth checking out.
Say you're running late for a business meeting, and your coworkers want to know exactly where you are. Glympse is free app that lets you share your location for an amount of time that you specify. You send a "Glympse" of your location to a recipient (using the person's phone number), and he or she can see your location in real time on a map.
One cool thing about Glympse is that recipients don't have to download an app to use the service. Rather, they receive your notifications on a mobile phone or PC, and then click on a Web link to find you. Of course, you could call or text while driving, but that's often unsafe--and even illegal, depending on where you live.
A long time ago, I forgot where I parked my car at a San Francisco Giants game at Candlestick Park. My friend and I roamed the lot like idiots, eventually finding my vehicle once the lot was nearly empty. No, we weren't drunk--a fact that makes the story even more embarrassing.
Too bad Car Locator wasn't around back then. This $3.99 Android app uses your phone's GPS and compass, working in conjunction with Google Maps, to help you find your lost ride. If you're not sure Car Locator is worth its $4 price--hey, maybe your sense of direction is spot-on--check out the trial version first.
Not everybody loves virtual keyboards, and their physical counterparts often aren't much better, particularly for taking notes. Quill is a handwriting note-taking app for tablets running Android 3.1 and up. It allows you to export PDFs to Evernote and other productivity apps. For artistic types, Quill's "fountain pen" mode recognizes pen pressure: The more you press, the thicker the line.
According to the app's developer, Quill works best on tablets that can distinguish the active pen (digitizer) from finger touches, and can sense pen pressure. The best hardware devices for Quill include the Lenovo ThinkPad Tablet, the HTC Flyer (upgraded to Honeycomb), and the HTC Jetstream.
AutoRotate Switch, a simple yet effective app, provides an easier way to lock the screen orientation of your Android device. That's handy for when you want to avoid those annoying flip-flops between landscape and portrait mode. Rather than fuss with Android's settings, you simply tap the AutoRotate shortcut button on the home screen. Alternatively, you can access the app by pressing and holding your Android device's Search key.
Did your doctor tell you to take it easy? Give your bum ticker a rest? I know, I know--not always easy in today's stressed-out world. But Azumio's Instant Heart Rate makes it easy to check your heart rate--just to make sure everything's OK. Place the tip of your index finger on your Android phone's camera, and this app shows your heart rate within a couple of seconds. It displays a real-time chart of your heart beats too. The 99-cent Pro version keeps a history of your heart-rate measurements as well.
Intuit's Mint is a popular online service for managing your money. But did you know it's now an Android tablet app too? The free app works with slates running Android 3.0 (Honeycomb) or newer. It lets you manage all of your personal finance accounts--checking, savings, credit cards, and so on--in one place. Your information automatically syncs with Mint.com and with Mint apps running on your other mobile devices. The Android tablet version has a few advantages compared to the mobile phone edition, including an offline mode, new spending graphs, and an updated overview page.
It's easy to burn through your mobile data plan's monthly allotment of bits, particularly if you run a lot of streaming video (Netflix fans, I'm looking at you) and data-gobbling background apps. Onavo, a free Android app, helps you manage your data plan to avoid those painful and pricey overages. It includes three widgets, including a Live Data Usage tool that shows which apps are using data in real time. One particularly handy feature is Onavo's ability to restrict specific data-hogging apps to Wi-Fi--a good way to save your 3G/4G allowance for other uses.
SlideIT Keyboard isn't the least expensive touchscreen keyboard for Android, but it may very well be the best. This $5.99 app replaces your device's stock keyboard and is chock full of enhancements, including Swype-style finger-sliding to input text, word prediction, a customizable and resizable keyboard, speech-to-text capabilities, and support for more than three dozen languages. If $6 is too pricey, consider SwiftKey X, a $2.99 alternative keyboard with impressive word-prediction skills.
Cloud services are not for everyone. Maybe you're concerned about potential online security breaches. Or perhaps you manage a lot of data and don't want to be saddled with yet another monthly fee. Cloud provider Dropbox, for instance, offers 2 GB of free online storage--but if you want more, you'll pay $10 per month, or $99 per year, for 50 GB.
WiFi File Explorer Pro is a cloud-free alternative for managing files between your Android device and computer. As its name suggests, this nifty 99-cent app allows you to use a Web browser to download, upload, copy, ZIP, and stream files via Wi-Fi. It also supports thumbnails for pictures and videos, and allows multiple batch file transfers to save time.
A mobile app ... from the Internet Revenue Service? Hey, don't laugh. IRS2Go is a convenient way to find out the status of your tax refund--assuming you're getting one, of course. The app also offers an easy way to subscribe to IRS tax updates via email, and to the IRS News Twitter feed. The tax collector's free app has IRS contact numbers for individual filers, businesses, other organizations--and even for victims of identity theft. Don't worry, there's no Audit button.