December 28, 2011
Like many people, I am forever hunting for applications which extend the functionality of my device, and increase its abilities. Without bursting into song about my favorite things, here are three Android applications that make my life easier, and my device much more useful.
Tasker – Android Automation Gone Wild (~5.50 purchased from dev, ~6.50 purchased through market)
Tasker has been around a while, and much has been said about it, but I think it worth mentioning again. This gem of an app allows the user to automate almost anything on the device – without root, and without being an Android (or any kind) of programmer.
The concept (and the UI) can be intimidating initially, but after a little poking around, the power becomes apparent. As described on the Tasker web site, “Tasker performs Tasks (sets of actions) based on Contexts (application, time and/or date, location, events) in user-defined Profiles or home screen widgets.” From something as simple as turning the screen off automatically if you place the phone face-down to as complicated as a fully-functional alarm clock with snooze, or even automated NANDROID backups, Tasker can replace the functionality of several applications, saving you valuable space on your device.
In addition, Tasker can improve battery life in several ways. First, by replacing several applications with the functionality of Tasker, there are fewer programs running in the background. Second, you can use Tasker to automate turning on and off different services – like turning on GPS when opening Google Maps, and off when exiting, or turning on your WiFi automatically when you get to certain locations, and off again when you leave.
My Tasker Profiles
Things I’ve done with Tasker:
Automatically change my sound “profile” (ringer, notification, system volumes) at different times of the day, complete with an emergency volume over-ride if certain individuals call at night (I have teenagers and an aging mother).
A widget that “remembers” what sound profile was active and toggles between that and silence (great for meetings any time of day).
A custom alarm clock that wakes me exactly the way I want to be wakened (I am NOT a morning person).
A second alarm clock that only rings on specified Saturdays, for an enrichment education class that I teach.
Change the screen timeout if the device is plugged in; turn the screen off if the device is placed face-down.
Start my WiFi when I get (near) home, turn it off when I leave.
The direct purchase version offers an additional feature not available in the market version, and that is file encryption. Although I purchased the direct version, I have not tried this yet.
Despite the struggle of learning the concepts (and, to some extent, navigating the UI), Tasker can be well worth your time. The Tasker website also has a WIKI with numerous walk-thoughs and downloadable examples, graded by difficulty, which can be accessed directly from the UI. The UI also allows you to backup and restore your data.
Smart Shortcuts – A smarter folder alternative(Free)
"Tools" Smart Shortcut
Android FROYO introduced the ability to create folders to organize applications and other shortcuts. Smart Shortcuts does this, but handles them much better. For example, if you install a new application and want to add it to your games folder, using the built in folders in Android, this new application will be sorted at the end of the list, irrespective of where it belongs alphabetically. Without recreating the entire folder, you cannot change this.
Smart Shortcuts will automatically sort your new application alphabetically when you add it to an existing shortcut (folder). Also, with Smart Shortcuts, you can change the icon associated with each shortcut. Except in Go Launcher EX, I haven’t found any other launchers that let you do this to Android folders. Further, if you uninstall an application, then later re-install it, Smart Shortcuts remembers what category(-ies) you had previously assigned, and automatically puts the application back into its respective shortcut(s).
In addition to creating application shortcuts, you can create bookmark, contact, file/folder and “freestyle” shortcuts. Freestyle shortcuts are simply shortcuts that have a mixture of application, bookmark, contact or file/folder links.
Smart Shortcuts has a simple, intuitive interface for managing your shortcuts. This interface also allows you to backup and restore your settings.
MultIcon – Vacuum-pack your shortcuts (Free)
My home screen
If you are like me, you prefer having the things you do the most immediately at your fingertips, rather than scrolling through several pages of launcher screens to find what you are looking for. This nifty, intuitive little application allows you to put multiple shortcuts in a single “space” on your home screen.
The default is to place 4 shortcuts in a single space, and for most devices, this is probably a comfortable number. Further, for each of the widget styles available, you can configure the number of columns and rows available when you create the widget. For example, on the 1×1 widget, you can configure it to have up to 36 spots (3 columns and 12 rows). On a phone, this is entirely too many (the icons are almost too tiny to see, much less select accurately), and even on a tablet this is a bit extreme, unless you are able to “stretch” the widget, or configure the number of rows and columns (of the home screen) it occupies. Even at 4 links per widget, however, you can quadruple the number of spaces available on your home screen.
If you don’t want to use all the “spaces” created by a MultIcon widget, you can set them to blanks – I like to use every other spot, so that my icons are staggered diagonally. Until you define what goes in each space, touching the space will launch the manager, which allows you to specify what to want in that spot. After the spaces are all assigned, if you want to change what is there, you can open the application and select “Edit Widgets”, which places all the widgets into a modifiable state.
In addition to shortcuts for applications, you can place other shortcuts (including Smart Shortcuts, Tasker Task widgets, Playlists, individual mailboxes, direct dial or direct text links and several others, depending on what is installed on your device), and several control toggle-widgets (WiFi, Airplane Mode, BlueTooth, etc, and even a toggle for edit mode).
The downside to Smart Shortcuts and MultIcon is that they do run in the background, and therefore are a drain on your battery. However, I have found the drain negligible, and the benefit of making my device work better for me is worth the trade-off.
Not all the best things in life are free, but two out of three ain’t bad!