Software bloat in the Android software ecosystem causes more problems than any other issue. Poorly written apps, particularly ad-supported apps, constantly draw on your handset’s wireless components, waking the kernel and overall diminishing performance and battery life. Uninstalling bad apps and replacing them with better apps provides the best solution. This article lists ten great apps that provide lightweight alternatives to particularly bad software.
Bad apps, for example, often require GPS/internet permissions and start at boot. Because of this combination, they also have a nasty potential to constantly access the internet, without your knowledge. Not all apps are guilty of this form of excess, although the worst offenders, such as Angry Birds, do so because they generate targeted ads.
In determining the “better” apps, I looked at the various network and GPS permissions required by each program and whether or not an app automatically started itself. Also, none of the ten apps listed showed any appreciable increase in battery drain, according to an analysis by Better Battery Stats.
The recently open-sourced Permission Explorer allows users to analyze the various permissions granted to each app. I place this app first, because it allows users to look at apps with potential privacy violations.
In a nutshell, it helps knowing what permissions your apps require. One that I find particularly troubling is READ_CONTACTS, which allows an app to examine your contacts list.
Most browsers tend to suffer from over-design and, consequently, bloat.
Aminaked, an XDA developer cognizant of Android’s weight problem, created Naked Browser as a response, stripping away the useless features packed into most Android browsers. As such, Naked ranks among the fastest of web browsers on the mobile platform.
Aside from its speed, Naked offers outstanding privacy features, unlike my previous favorite browser, Dolphin, which has some disturbingly invasive practices.
It’s also surprisingly feature rich, despite the lack of bloat. It includes such augmentations as one-finger zoom, multiple tabs and a great deal more. Although visually sparse, Naked Browser compares favorably to all its competition. If you download only one of these apps, make sure it’s Naked.
As far as offline Wiki readers go, WikiDroyd offers the most efficient experience, with no drawback. It also lacks any start up triggers, meaning it doesn’t automatically open up when the phone boots, or upon any other trigger.
One of WikiDroyd’s best features is its ability to download language-specific Wiki dumps for offline consumption. Make sure your phone has a power source available because the full English language Wiki takes up 6 gigabytes.
Scan Master, aside from being one of the best scanning apps for Android, also offers a remarkably lightweight experience. Although the linked version purportedly includes ads, I have yet to even see a banner or popup.
As you can tell from the screenshot, one of my favorite uses for Scan Master is for copying my club cards. It also provides text enhancement and auto-cropping. These features make Scan Master indispensable for students and small businesses.
Zeam Launcher has received many positive reviews on MakeUseOf for its simplicity and speed.
While it seems to over-provision itself with permissions, particularly GPS and internet access, Zeam doesn’t cause any reduction in system performance and battery life.
The official Craigslist app provides seamless browsing, in many ways superior to the browser-based experience. Also, it requests minimal permissions and lacks any start up triggers, so it won’t run without your explicit permission.
AirCalc is easily one of the best, frill-free calculators in the Android app ecosystem. Unlike similar software, AirCalc simply overlays itself over other apps, so it can function while you use another app.
I find AirCalc most useful on a tablet, where there’s space to position the overlaid calculator.
While Ovo offers one of the best and most simplistic experiences for Android users seeking a timer or stopwatch, Ultimate StopWatch and Timer exceeds even Ovo’s minimalism, as it lacks any start up triggers. In short, absolutely nothing starts it up except tapping on the app.
Erez Zukerman wrote a fantastic review (which the developer turned into a plaque and framed) on Ovo.
Ovo compares quite well to other timer apps. However, despite its superior functionality, I prefer Ultimate StopWatch for its extreme minimalism.
Aside from being one of the best Reddit apps, Reddionic lacks any auto-start or advertising features.
Erez wrote a quick setup guide for Reddionic, which I highly suggest reading.
SwallowCatcher is probably the most minimal podcatcher available for Android, as well as being open-source. It best combines with Dropbox, as it has no innate podcast search feature. Therefore you must export your podcast player’s playlist to an OPML file, which then can transfer to your phone from Dropbox.
Alternately, it can grab podcasts from QR codes. Just use the “Add a Feed” feature.
Overall, SwallowCatcher provides an extremely barebones and minimal experience.
And Three You’ve Already Heard of…
- Barcode Scanner: Danny Stieben did a great write-up on Barcode Scanner.
- MX Player: It’s the VLC Player of Android media players.
- ES File Manager: ES File Mananger really does offer the best functionality out of all the Android file managers out there.
The ridiculous amount of bloat and adware attached to the average Android app has had a deleterious impact on battery life and performance. Fortunately, there exist many minimal and free alternatives to apps that we commonly use. The 13 apps listed here are by no means the only lean and battery efficient apps on the market, although they make for a good starting point if you seek to slim your phone down.
Out of the 13, my favorite app is Naked Browser. Not only does it compare favorably in terms of speed to other similar apps, it also brings far better security.
Have any favorite, lean and bloat-free Android app? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credits: Robot via MorgueFile.com