androidiness

I have an android phone now. How about a geek-out moment: Here’s some apps and stuff that I like.

1) F-Droid: This is the first app I should have installed. It’s an alternative app market that only includes Free Libre Software. Most of the following can be found here.

2) WiFi Keyboard: This should have been the second app I installed: does what it says on the tin – uses your wifi connection to let you type on your Android phone using your computer’s keyboard. A must if you plan on using the command line and don’t have a hardware keyboard on your phone.

3) Android Terminal Emulator: Speaking of the command line, this is a standard terminal emulator. People say that it’s not worth the bother without root access, but I like having a familiar interface to browse, copy, and edit things. Incidentally, using this for a while has me loving vi, since there’s no package manager to install emacs or any other command line programs that don’t just come with the shell. Be sure to change the app’s settings so you can actually read the text.

4) Astrid: A task manager with a handy desktop widget to remind you what needs done. Very fast and easy to use, syncs to Google tasks, Remember the Milk and one other thing, and has a lot of features, but not intrusively many.

5) Dropbox: They’re going to repossess my neckbeard, but I love dropbox. I know there are Free alternatives out there: both SpiderOak and UbuntuOne have Free Software clients. I’ve tried both, as well as Carbonite, and none are as nice as dropbox. It’s free-gratis (Carbonite and SpiderOak are pay services, IIRC, and UbuntuOne provides only 2G free), stunningly cross-platform compatible, has a simple and intuitive UI, is fairly fast, has a lot of storage for a free service, and it also has the advantage of being what my work uses. Moreover, it comes with decent text & html readers: I’m not sure what I’d be using (other than vi) to read text and html docs without this.

6) WhereRing: This FLOSS alternative to Chronos, Tasker, Locale or Settings Profile silences your ringer when you go to a predefined location. I’ve plugged in all the courthouses and movie theaters I’m likely to go to. I’ve seen it work, too. Great little thing.

7) AndLess: This plays lossless audio files that Android won’t play out of the box. Since all my CDs are ripped to FLAC and I’m too lazy to convert them, this is handy. It also has a Bookmark function that’s nice for podcasts or audio books.

While I’m on the subject, however, I’ve decided that the Android phone is not the best tool for the job when it comes to listening to music and podcasts: with my trusty Cowon E2 clipped to a belt loop, I have the tactile feedback of actual buttons so I don’t need to look at it, and it is always at hand so I don’t need to pull it in and out of a pocket every time I want to change tracks or volume. (***EDIT*** Although, to be fair, the phone came with earbuds that have FF, RW, and Play/pause hardware buttons on them, and the phone has hardware volume buttons, but:
-I like to string the cord under a jacket so it doesn’t catch on things. That puts the controls out of reach.
-The controls don’t seem to work with AndLess (haven’t tried very hard – they might).
-They’re white. I hate white earphones for a number of reasons. Back when few people had MP3 players, the easily visible white earphones were a good way to announce you had a fancy toy, and get yourself mugged. I like things that look more subtle, and don’t suffer from a Mac-related identity crisis.)

8) Firefox Beta: This is not available through FDroid, and I’m not certain source is available while it’s in Beta. In any case, it’s terrific. If you have Firefox Sync installed on your desktop computers, the android app knows as much as you want it to about your browsing history, saved logins, bookmarks, etc (it’s very customizable). Very nice UI with tabbed browsing cleverly incorporated in a way that doesn’t vie for screen space.

On the subject of browsers, there may be a trick like this for Firefox, but the following is for the default Android browser; one of the things I was hoping to be able to do with the Android was to listen to BBC radio shows like the Archers, and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, which are available to people in the US via the beeb’s iPlayer site. The site won’t let you play the shows if you open iPlayer normaly in the Android browser (at least not in the US), and there’s not an app for it that is alleged to work in the US, but if you follow these instructions, you can play radio shows from the website.

1. Open the web browser on your smartphone.
2. Type: “about:debug” in the address bar and click on Go
3. Nothing will change on the screen
4. Select “Settings”
5. Scroll way down until you find the “UAString”
6. Change the UAString setting from “Android” to “Desktop”
7. Hit the Back button to save the setting

That was posted as a workaround for Hulu that didn’t, er, work around things any more. But it did get me yesterdays Archers episode from iPlayer.

9) Jamendo: If you don’t know what Jamendo is, check out the site. The app is really nice. It replaced LibreDroid as the way I stream Creative Commons music on the Android (LibreDroid seemed to feed me synth metal no matter what I asked for, and to loop the same song over and over).

10) Sketcher: This is open source, but not Free Software. It, along with Draw(er) are Android ports of the drawing program Harmony, whose creator makes source available, but has, as far as I can tell, not assigned a license to it. I chose Sketcher because I saw that its creator offered source, while Drawer’s creator didn’t appear to. It’s a fun little app with a lot of interesting brushes, but the lack of an ability to vary the size of the brush limits it somewhat. It shows off the minute detail with which the phone’s screen can track your digits.

A few Honorable Mentions:
-Android VNC: Control your desktop computer remotely with a miniature replica of the desktop. It’s painfully difficult to do this with the Android touch screen, but awesome nonetheless.
-Frozen Bubble: I once had Snood installed on a Palm IIIxe. I lost days worth of my life to that game. Frozen Bubble is like Snood only more so, and FLOSS. Oh dear.
-Mustard: An identi.ca client. It works pretty well, but it doesn’t link to conversations “in context” which is the huge advantage identi.ca has over Twitter. There are two other identi.ca clients I know of for Android: Android Microblog, and StatusNet’s own app. Microblog would crash frequently for me, and still didn’t show context. Statusnet showed context but took about 60 seconds to accomplish anything.
***EDIT*** Mustard does show ‘dents in context, if you know how to do it. I’m also trying out another app called Denta, which the maker of Mustard contributed the context function to.
***Edit, edit*** after trying Denta with Macno’s stuff, and poking around the settings in Mustard a bit more, I discovered that Mustard is a freaking awesome Identica client, and would definitely be in the top ten if I had understood it better when I wrote this.

-MyTracks & NPR News: One’s a workout (running / biking) tracker, and the other is a streaming radio player. What do they have in common? The Apache license, source available for download, AND a EULA that seems targeted at restricting all of the Four Freedoms. I haven’t used either all that much, but I seem to have discovered that I’m unable to get any Iowa NPR stations.
-Prey: service to track a lost phone. Gives me some peace of mind.
-Tricorder: Free Software that looks, sounds and functions like its name.
-Pony Express: A podcatcher and identi.ca client for only two podcasts and identi.ca groups, but it is really good software. I hope this project spins off a decent standalone podcatcher and identi.ca client.
-Wordnik: My favorite social media attuned, free culture aware online dictionary.
-File Expert: I haven’t installed or tried this yet, but it sounds awesome. In addition to being a file manager (by default android doesn’t have a way to show you the file hierarchy) it uses ftp and Samba to let you move stuff between your phone and other devices with the greatest of ease. I’m also hoping there’s a way to use the Samba connection to print stuff directly from the phone.
-Droid Comic Viewer, aka ACV: Displays comic book files (eg .cbz). I’ve been reading old Little Nemo in Slumberland comics in it: they certainly weren’t made with being read on such a small screen in mind, but I can’t imagine an app that could take any more of the pain out of trying to do so.

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