10 “Must-have” Android apps for general consumers

Title says it all, and here they are:

  1. Lightning LauncherFirst things first. Not many android users, especially those dealing with the older versions of HTC sense are content with the default UI. Common replacements are the GO Launcher, and Apex. But the thing with these two is that they can take up a nice amount of memory, especially GO launcher. On phones with high-specs, this may go un-noticed, but even on Dual-cores, the GO Launcher can cause a visible lag. To avoid this, for users that want naught but productivity, Lightning Launcher is a great option. It’s damn light, (at times it may take not more than just 2MB!) It’s extremely simple yet very customizeable, and once you get the hang of it, you can adjust it exactly to suit your requirements, but on the minus side, setting up, and getting used to it can be taxing and time consuming. In my opinion, lightning launcher is to android what lxde is to ubuntu. For those who prefer a more user-friendly, and slightly-less-bland, yet damn-light UI, they can go for Smart Launcher.
  2. Smart LauncherIn terms of weight, this ones my second favorite, and currently my primary launcher application. Smart Launcher is, in terms of design, a bit different. The home screen is more like a lock-screen sort of design, the top half of which can be dedicated to a widget (it features a clock by default), and the lower part can hold a virtually unlimited amount of icons dedicated to applications and shortcuts. Swiping from the edge, or pressing the menu button, or touching the menu icon, all would take you to the  App Drawer, where the apps are all sorted into categories (and you are free to move them from one categ. to another.)  That’s pretty much it. It’s pretty much customizeable too. You can alter the home-screen icons to a number of presets, and you can also apply themes and icon-packs.
  3. Aptoide: Aptoide is a store-of-stores. Especially on Devices that don’t support the Play-Store, Aptiode comes real handy. It’s like a portal where people can create their own stores and upload applications, but that was the developer side. For general consumers, aptoide works great for searching for and installing applications not available on the playstore, or those that aren’t really free. Just try once, and you’d know. It has to be manually downloaded and installed. Available for Download at aptoide.com
  4. Astro and ES File ExplorerRivals, and since i never explored the former much, I cannot say which one’s better but in terms of personal preference, ES is. ES is user-friendly and simply packed with features. And has a clean user-friendly interface. You can use it to access files over FTP, Bluetooth, LAN, and of course you can add your SKydrive, U1, and other cloud accounts. Has an inbuilt App Manager, Download Manager and other usuals. However, the one thing it doesnt have and Astro does is a cool, proper Task Manager. It is however available as an independent app called the ES Task Manager, but I never liked it much. Astro also offers integration for your Facebook account, but it’s the interface of Astro which I just couldn’t get myself to like. Nevertheless I keep both.
  5. Kingsoft OfficeDocuments to Go, and Office Suite Pro aren’t exactly free, and buying such stuff for mobile devices might not exactly be a very cost effective solution for users who don’t really need to use these apps much, and to be honest, i never ever used the full version of either. Kingsoft office offers a Writer, a presentation tool, and a spreadsheet, and that is pretty much all one might need on a mobile device. Not really low on formatting features either, so for a general user, Kingsoft Office won’t be a bad choice. It’s pretty user friendly too.
  6. Inkpad NotepadA simpler alternative to Evernote. Inkpad notepad is a plain notepad, which kinda resembles the iOS notes app in terms of design. All your notes are synced to inkpadnotepad.com. Free version only allows upto four syncs per day, and this could be irritating for some users, and especially when it keeps on notifying you with every sync. Still for a general user, not a bad choice, since Evernote can take some time getting used to.
  7. Myscript CalculatorIs a fun, and useful application which allows you to write mathematical expressions as you would on paper, and solves them. Does support all the functions your default calculator app does, and only provides an easier way to interact and avoid confusion.
  8. Clean Master and All-In-One-ToolboxBoth are great Optimizers. Clean Master offers an easy to use interface, while the latter might offer an extra tool or two. Both have a one-touch-memory-boost button, and both offer widgets for the home-screen. A bonus feature of Clean-master’s is that it adds a button to your default launchers homescreen after the first boost. Both offer junk, history and AppData cleaners, and App Managers. All-in-one-toolbox however offers a number of features that clean-master doesnt, like an inbuilt file-manager, Cache Cleaner, Apk managers, startup apps e.t.c.
  9. PicsArtThe best photo-editor available for Android. Has everything one might need, but the feature that I really like is the Draw mode, which sort of is a mini version of PS running in your mobile complete with support for Layers.
  10. Offline English Dictionary by LivioThe best Dictionary app available for Android. The definitions are from Wiktionary, but this one works offline.
 

Google to be the “real-life version” of SkyNet?

Google, that started as a search engine that gained global popularity, and parallel to searching, the only thing it offered was a home page light-enough for you to test your internet connection, but that doesn’t at all mean that it wasn’t awesome enough them. A whole lot of people owe their success to it, as it helped numerous youngsters with their homework and school projects, and thus if they are successful now, Google might have contributed a whole lot into their success. According to it’s wiki article, Google started in 1998, but it has now come a long way from being just a search engine.

Then came other products. Gmail, in 2007 or 8, (and something by the name of Google Wave followed too , but it wasnt very successful,)  which soon became a rival to Hotmail and YMail. Well, OK, Hotmail isn’t the primary thing of Microsoft’s. MS was the first software company, it brought computers to the world to be consumed by normal people and we respect that. Who cares if Bing never got as popular as Google, MS isnt all about search engines either.  As for Yahoo, Okay, Google beat their search engine, but loyal ymail lovers still like it, and well their messenger is still respected more than Google’s talk.

Ah yes, Google Talk eh? Well, this one, a messenger would fall in the same category as Windows Live messenger and Yahoo’s messenger, however, once again, Not very successful. Earlier this year, It was renamed to Hangouts, and perhaps a few newer features were introduced, like using phone numbers to find friends e.t.c. The kind of thing Viber and WhatsApp are famous for, but still, consumers like me prefer sticking to the older, and original ones, i.e. the two mentioned above.

Then there’s the Google Drive. Cloud storage, and rival to Microsoft’s Skydrive. I like and respect both, and both have their pros and cons and in my opinion, both are equal on the whole, plus again, MS isn’t famous for being a provider of cloud storage. Google Docs, an online office productivity suite, the MS counterpart for which is the Office online. Both are great.

Then there’s Google+, a Social network by google, that perhaps isnt very popular as Facebook and twitter, yet the 3rd in terms of preferrence. This can be proved by the fact that most websites, for contact, or upvotes/reccommendation provide three buttons. One from Twitter, one from Facebook, and another from Google+. But still, not exactly on the top eh? Another is Picasa, which is a photosharing cloud-storage, and perhaps might be considered a rival to Yahoo’s Flickr. However, from what I know,Flickr is more popular.

Youtube, the primary place on the web to look for Videos too is owned by Google, though perhaps not started by them, but it’s improving a whole lot, and one cant say that Google didnt contribute to it.

AngularJS, a Javascript Library and framework, Google’s, and rivals a number of others that fall in the similar category and is certainly gaining popularity and quite some fan base in  the world of developers. The Google App engine provides free hosting for web apps, rather like Heroku. And that’s not all, The Google Apps are a set of productivity tools, for businesses and individuals, that help with setting up and managing websites. Then the Google Developer tools are good and the Google Analytics Tools help a lot with SEO, and keeping track of site traffic. Oh and Blogger is a great place for normal(s) to start a blog.

Google Maps, rival to iPhone’s maps, and the primary GPS service of most users nowadays, and it’s streetview is known to have captured some seriously interesting stuff. Google Earth is a similar product but it provides an interactive, fun interface where you can explore the earth. Similar products are Google Mars, Google Moon, and Google Sky.

But that’s not all, these products dont even contribute to perhaps half of Google’s fame. There’s more. In 2008, Google launched Android. A Linux based, free and open-source Operating system for Mobile devices, and the first ever android device to apppear in the market was the HTC Dream. Android gained popularity real quick, and especially with the release of the Galaxy Y and other Galaxy devices, it soon got ‘fan-ned’ by a large percentage of the world, and became a rival to iOS. Android devices are manufactured by the leading company of the present, Samsung, Sony, and HTC, and of course, Google’s own Nexus devices, one of which is launched every year. Could Android kick iOS out of the market? maybe if they play well, as they are in a position to.

The same year, they’d lauched Google Chrome. The top web-browser of the present, that soon became another alternative to internet explorer alongside Mozilla’s Firefox. Well, Internet Explorer’s had it’s day, still respected.

As Chrome got popular and computing moved closer to the cloud, Google seized the chance and launched Chrome OS. Another Linux Based OS, damn lightweight, and this time for slightly more desktop devices. The idea behind Chrome OS was something like this. Every day, millions of users boot into their computers, and once it’s fully loaded, the double-click the icon of their web-browser and start off with whatever they want to do, but dont really do much outside the browser, so they are more or less logging into their OS just to be able to use the browser, so what if your browser was your OS?
Chrome OS’s source code is publicly available, however, it isnt available for download and comes preinstalled in Chromebooks, that are laptops officially built for the OS.

A few days back, Google announced the release of a Chrome Apps launcher for MacOSX. The Chrome Apps were originally a feature offered by the browser. More like extensions perhaps, but slightly more ‘applications’. They are also well integrated into the Chrome OS of course and are the main software for Chrome-OS. The thing about them is that they are totally on the web, they dont have to be installed. All you need is a launcher, which could be either the launcher itself, or the ChromeOS (which has a similar launcher of course) or the chrome web browser.
But they released the launchers for MacOSX and Windows? And I also read that apps are being made for Android and iOS too, however i couldnt find an Android app on the playStore… not yet.

So, as these launchers are out, a number of people might try these, and some, with high speed connections and normal use, might get too comfortable with their apps, that they are gonna try out when they try the launcher, and when they do, the apps would get popular and some users’ use might not extend beyond using these apps, and this is how some might consider switching to Chrome OS itself.. + chromebooks are real cheap and thus attract buyers.

Android is becoming like the primary OS for smartphones, and soon their might come a time, when, like I posted before, they might merge the two projects.
Merging would result in a whole lot of improvements in ChromeOS, and then people might actually start using it, if it has the integration that i look forward to seeing, and using.

Just look how Google is expanding. Started as a search engine and now its the leading company of the web, and with the passage of time, It’s trying on every field or bit there is to IT. Then that Google glass. They can actually monitor, and see exactly what you are doing using that thing. People use gmail as their primary email, Drive to store data, buy domains and hosting from google, walk with a pair of spec on their noses that too was developed by google and records what they see.

It’s like WE the CONSUMERS are being CONSUMED by technology, when it should be the other way round. If anything close to Skynet exists or ever will.. It’s Google.

 

Google Nose

Ages ago, many of us noticed the addition of a strangely catching tab on Googles pages. Some ignored, with the presumption that it’s another new product by Google, while some investigated.
The idea, as it said on the Google Nose’s home page was that users could actually sniff stuff they search for. An example they themselves gave in a screenshot was “wet dog.” As you click on the Nose button, it’d instruct you to bring your nose close to the screen and sniff, and when you do, the screen would go all frosty at places, but you won’t even get a whiff of what a wet dog is supposed to smell like, cause the whole Google Nose thing was nothing but an April fool joke!

 

What I’d love to see happen

Chromium OS, and Android, both are light-weight, open-source OSs developed by Google, improving and getting popular, gradually, over time.

I think it’s only a matter of time before Google adds features for fully integrating one into other and soon, eradicating either of the two names and merging the two projects, into a single one, an OS available for both desktop and mobile devices.

 

Chromecast

Came across the term for the first time when I was checking out stuff on the play Store. It’s another project by Google, which in itself is naught but like a USB flash drive, but there’s more to it.
The Chromecast enables you to enjoy media content on your HDTV. Means if for example you come across a YouTube Video, while checking out your Facebook feeds, all you have to do is look for and press the chromecast button. It would prompt you with a list of available devices, selecting any of which would play the content on whatever device you chose. To do so, what you are gonna need is true chromecast USB device of course which has to be plugged into the TV.

Here, a link to the official video:
The Chromecast

 

Cloud Services – Quick Reviews

With the passage of time, as ‘everything is moving to the cloud’ (pardon my excessive use of this quote, but it does really sum things up), the use of cloud storage is becoming common, and there are dozens of such services on the cloud each with its own uniquity, now the questions that arise are, “which one of them is the best?” “which one should i go for?” “can we really trust them with our data?” e.t.c. So, in this post, I’m going to talk a bit about the most popular (or at least the ones i prefer) cloud services on the web.

Microsoft’s Skydrive(formerly Windows Live Folders): Microsoft’s own cloud, that offers about 7GB of free storage. Apps are available for Windows, MacOSX and Mobile Devices i.e. Android and iOS. These apps are well integrated once you fully install them and do offer a Sync feature, but the best thing about SkyDrive is that it serves well as both: “access-through-browser” service and when installed, it can sync files between your PC and SkyDrive very well too. The Web Interface is what most people love about Skydrive, and you can also create and to some extent, edit documents e.t.c. It has this own great photo viewer, e.t.c. So on the whole, Skydrive isn’t too bad.

Google Drive: Taking into account the factors stated in the description of skydrive, Google Drive is perhaps the only other such service that’s in any way close to Skydrive. Google however offers 15GB, and, the photos and documents don’t take up storage space on the google drive, so it doesn’t really matter, and in fact, the later feature is good. About the Document thing, they can be created through Google Docs. Interface is good and clean and it too offers applications so that you can sync between PC and Drive.

Ubuntu One: Ubuntu One, my favorite, unlike the above two, has apps for all three platforms, offers 5GB of Storage and has an awesome Sync. Despite how lame the phrase ‘awesome Sync’ sounds, i really mean it. I never really could ever make efficient use of cloud services until i tried Ubuntu One. Google Drive can be troublesome when installing and Skydrive’s Sync features were kinda limited to special folders back then, and neither offered the speed and everything that Ubuntu One did. It merely flows, but the major drawback about it is that the Web interface doesn’t really go beyond listing the files and offering a few basic features like ‘delete’ and ‘download.’ And you might find that it doesn’t run as smooth on Windows as it does on Ubuntu itself, but then that’s what it was made for.

Bitcasa: Bitcasa offers about 10GB of free storage, and has a nice and clean interface. It too offers applications for Windows, Mac, and phones, but my usage of Bitcasa never went beyond creating and account and installing its chrome extension. I never really tried its apps so i cant say much about it. However I created the account in order to use it like a DropBox, where i can throw files when i have to. However what I liked about BitCasa was it’s Chrome Extension that allowed you to directly download stuff to your bitcasa drive, and thus beside ever download button is a ‘download to bitcasa’ button.

Flickr: Flickr is a photosharing website, backed by Yahoo, which, according to what it says on its home, offers about 1TB of free storage space, which you might not ever run out of. So if you have to store huge masses of pictures. Go for Flickr.

CloudApp: CloudApp is the best cloud service that exists. It’s quick and amazingly user-friendly, but it’s only available for MacOSX.

These  were the cloud services I normally use and prefer. As for the Question about ‘trust’, well, all i can say is that Microsoft are what brought computers to us, and thus have been in the game for ages. So i doubt that they care about what a single user from millions in his 196th country is storing on their servers, and as for Google, well, you trust google with quite a lot already + u use their email services. Clouds like bitcasa can be a problem, as even I didn’t really hear anything about it. I just came across it somewhere and liked it; tried it. Flickr’s Yahoo’s.

 

Where’s the ‘Innovation’?

Two days back, Sony unveiled its Xperia Z1 smartphone, that packs a 2.2Ghz Quad-core processor and a 20.7MP camera, and the same magnificent display, perhaps that’s a little larger too, and that’s the point. Every now and then, a new phone comes out, and it’s pretty hard to choose the best among them, as the competition is tough, but what exactly is it that a day-newer smartphone carries? A slightly better processor? perhaps an extremely high-res camera? or a water proof display? Or…Just a larger screen.

If this is what makes one phone superior over the other, then it’s no competition, considering that one carries better hardware, and thus is bound to perform better. Comparing a dual-core HTC with a Quad-core Samsung, or comparing the Water-proof Xperia with a normal Huawei, or a 41MP Lumia with any camera-ed device is similar to comparing a tank with a Vespa (no offence meant).

When Steve Jobs first introduced the iPhone, in 2007, it didn’t pack a Quad-core either, but it really hit the market, and people fell in love with the idea, cause it was one. The idea behind the iPhone wasn’t to sell Dual-cores or water-proof phones, or integrated cameras,  or even fancy touch screens, but it was the Revolutionary UI that set it apart from others. If you dont get it, simply watch the video,( it’s available on Youtube, so i wont bother sharing a link.)

And soon, support for something similar was ported into Android, which arrived a bit earlier than the iOS, and yet, the latter is considered to be superior, (though personally, i love both.) That Android is what powers up most of todays’ smartphones, and the best of which is itself based on Steve Jobs Revolutionary UI.

True that Samsung introduced the ‘smart pause’ and the ‘eye focus’ is another rumored release, but even these two, though a huge leap, aren’t exactly needed, nor are they going to make life better for us.. They are simply building up on the same thing and adding to it, whatever they see, but this won’t do. They are supposed to be building mobile devices but going on the wrong track by enlarging the screen with every release. Similarly, it’s good for the phones to carry a camera, but the phone is not supposed to be a camera. The eye tracking thing of Samsung’s, is in itself, good, but do we really need it? though it sounds pretty simpler, it might put strain to the eyes, and it might be a bit error-prone, and what’s the point of it being in a phone? 

The floating touch / motion control, rumored to be in some model of Xperia, and the latter in SmartTVs, is pretty advanced too, but we dont need all this in our phones.. People prefer simplicity. Microsoft could have introduced it in their windows phones ages ago if they wanted too, seeing as we’ve seen something similar yet better in the XBox, but they dont have to or need to. The Simple UI of the Windows Phone 7+ is an example, of how they are keeping it simple, and how people are loving it.

The MotoX introduced the talk to your phone thing, and that was kinda something new, and so was the shake to open camera, though they are minor improvements, but do fall in the category next to the the Huawei’s Screen Temperature, HTC Zoe, and the Samsung’s counterpart to Zoe.

Nowadays, all improvements that are made to the smartphones are enlarging the screen or making it persistent, better RAMs or CPUs e.t.c., or perhaps in terms of better software, but it’s still the same smartphone. Where’s all the creativity, the innovation? Are they really running out of ideas?

 

The Moto X’s Specifications

I dint bother to mention it in the other post cause it was way to heavy already but those like me who wont rest until they see a table of specs, well here it is:

Width 65.3 Height 129.3mm
Curve 5.6 -10.4mm
Display 4.7″ AMOLED (RGB) / HD 720p
Weight 130G
Battery 2200 mAh. Mixed usage up to 24 hours

Rear Camera 10MP CLEAR PIXEL (RGBC) / LED Flash / 1080p video (30fps)
Front Camera 2MP 1080p HD video

Operating system Android 4.2.2
Architecture Motorola X8 Mobile Computing System
RAM 2 GB

Storage 16 GB standard, 32 GB version available online. 2 years 50GB storage free on Google Drive
Bluetooth 4.0 LE + EDR
WiFi 802.11a/g/b/n/ac (dual band capable), mobile hotspot
Bands GSM/GPRS/EDGE UMTS/HSPA + up to 42 Mbps CDMA/EVDO Rev. A (CDMA model only) 4G – LTE

 

 

The Moto X – Another release that redefines smartphones

Moto X

The Moto X, another upcoming state-of-the-art smartphone, of whose release date, i myself am unaware kinda redefines the term smartphones, and gives its company quite a rise in the world-of-smartphones. Before the launch, the leaks, the rumors, Motorolla wasnt exactly the best choice, nor did much people ever even bother to consider it (but well, no offence meant.  And well the same story goes for Samsung)

So anyways, the Always Ready smartphone Designed By You, that has a Quick Capture feature to ensure that you Never Miss a Shot, really does has it all, and it could be quite some boost for the company which has by the way been acquired by Google.

Starting with the Motomaker. Notice the phrase ‘Designed by You’ that i used above?
Yes it means what it means. The Motomaker is, or is gonna be, a website where you are gonna customize your order before buying it. Customization includes choosing colors for the back and front, and even accents which refers to stuff like the Volume buttons and well the border round the rear camera. You can even add a signature at the back, which is similar to the iPod Engravings. And well you can choose a case too.

But that was the Styling bit. Then comes Features, where you can choose between 16 and 32GB storage, add a custom greeting on startup, Oh and you also have the option of connecting your google account right there.

After Features, We have Accessories, A wall charger is included, and you can also add-on Earphones (color of your choice 😉 ). That’s it! The phone will be shipped to you within 4 days.

The Motomaker; kinda a demo video

So that was the Motomaker; no it doesnt end here; now to the Quick Capture which involves starting the camera app with a flick of the wrist. Useful! especially when you are in the middle of those moments when you hardly have a second to waste.

Here’s an example:

But what’s this Always Ready thing?
This merely refers to the fact that the phone is always responding to you when you want it to. You can simply talk to it. Give it orders, tell it what to do. This is pretty close to Siri found in iPhones.

See how he said ‘Ok, Google now’ and the phone went into Listening Mode.

Well, that was it. I know the features arent exactly totally unheard-of or unimaginable but well its definitely worth a shot.

By the way, do check out the Videos if you havent already.

 

 

Let me google that for you

Let me google that for you

LMGTFY is a tool, or more like a sarcastic search spider, that tells google to search for whatever keywords you input. The actual idea behind it is that some annoying jerks keep on asking you stuff every now and then, without bothering to research (at all) themselves, and finally, there comes a time when you give up and tell them to google whatever it is that they want to know.

LMGTFY generates a link, that you can send to any such jerk, and it actually googles the query for them. Confused? eh?

Here’s an example (click on the following link):

http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=Anas+Ismail+Khan

 

Google driverless car

It’s a project, led by Google engineer Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-inventor of Google Street View. No need to tell you what its about as the name says it all.

Well, Thrun’s team did succeed in making this award winning vehicle called Stanley, and this happened back in 2005 and this car won some DARPA challenge.