Last week I was finally able to buy something I have always wanted – a Google Android mobile phone. For ages, it was either an Android or an iPhone and the Droid won when it came to price and flexibility (and me being a Google fanboy didn’t hurt either!). As soon as I took it home, and it was activated, I started browsing for the right free Android apps to put on it.
This can take a while because the Android Market, which is the Google equivalent of the Apple iTunes store, has lots of good stuff. Granted not as much stuff as the Apple iTunes store, but it’s slowly getting there. So, just like a kid in a candy store, you are likely to start installing everything to see what it is all like.
But in the long term, you can’t install everything you find (phone performance would take a serious hit if you installed the kitchen sink) so finally you have to scale back to the best, most essential apps.
To help all you fellow new Android users out, here’s the ones I personally consider to be keepers. After less than a week, I am still looking and refining my phone but the following are ones I will find really hard to get rid of. To find them, just go to the Android Market on your phone and search for them.
As someone who makes his living online, being able to chat to my colleagues and other contacts is a must. Pidgin is my favourite IM app but until they make a mobile version of their software, Meebo seems to be the best option for multi-client instant messaging.
An online account from the Meebo website doesn’t seem to be needed for this app. Just add your instant messaging ID’s and passwords and log in. You may be asked to confirm all your contacts again (it asked me to confirm 5 of my contacts who have been on my Pidgin IM list for over a year) and then you will see everyone in a neat vertical list.
If you are more of an AIM fan, check out the Android app Hi AIM. Yahoo Messenger fans can download Hi Yahoo, ICQ users have ICQLive (does anyone still use ICQ?) and Windows Live Messenger users can use Hi MSN Beta. But honestly, if you use more than one of these apps (and who doesn’t these days?) then Meebo is an easier tidier option.
Another of my requirements, when buying the Android phone, was that it had to be able to run Skype. Not all mobiles can run the Skype Lite app (my partner bought a Palm Pre phone last week and then discovered that it doesn’t run Skype. Boy is she unhappy!).
The Skype Lite app (as it name suggests) is a slimmed down bare-bones app that allows you to call your Skype contacts via your mobile (so very useful for national and international calls). You can also instant message your contacts.
But what Skype Lite will NOT do (at least for me here in Germany) is allow me to send SMS messages, which is rather inconvenient as I am a big SMS sender. You also can’t receive video.
Nevertheless Skype Lite is an extremely useful app to have on your mobile phone and absolutely essential if you need to make a national or international call (and you don’t want to pay your mobile company’s extortionate standard rates).
The next essential thing I needed on my phone was a good Twitter app. As someone who is really getting into the swing of twittering, I needed something other than visiting of the site. I needed a proper app which would allow me to follow / unfollow people as well as do other things such as make changes to my Twitter profile. I found it in Twidroid.
Twidroid allows you to do virtually everything you can do on the regular Twitter site, as well as give you a nice clean easy to navigate interface to read and respond to tweets. You can also read peoples profiles and follow / unfollow them.
If that wasn’t enough, you can also be notified on your Android desktop when new tweets have arrived (and you can choose what notification tone you want). But having this one is actually a battery drainer so I chose to switch it off. As well as a battery killer, it is also a productivity killer. I don’t want to be looking at my phone every 5 minutes reading the latest tweets. I can easily wait a couple of hours and then scroll through them all in one go.
I am not THAT much into Facebook but every now and then I like to visit the site and see what my friends are saying. Android has a nice Facebook app which, like the Twitter app, puts everything into a nice compact easy-to-read format.
You can like / dislike entries, write on peoples walls, comment, upload photos, poke people, send friend and invite requests and much more.
One of the things I really like is that, to refresh the app, you just need to shake your phone! That’s right, find out who has just poked you by shaking the Droid.
Again you can be notified on the Android notification bar at the top when new updates come in (as well as get an unique sound to alert you). But once again, these features are battery drainers and if you have a battery which runs out after a day, then it would be best to switch off all the instant notifications.
The phone shouldn’t only be for work but also for play. It should be able to relax you when you’re feeling a bit stressed out. Until Android develops a back massage app, then Last.FM is the best app for you to close your eyes for 5 minutes and unwind.
Just like the website, the Last.FM app allows you to
- Log into your account and listen to music.
- Choose a radio station (or start a new one),
- Say who you like listening to and the Last.FM app will find similar artists and play them.
- Like / dislike the currently playing song
- Skip to the next song
The quality of the music sound will depend entirely on your phone speakers but my Android phone came with headphones and the Last.FM music sounds fine through them.
In the next post, we will discuss the next 5 free Android apps you should be putting on your Android phone. In the meantime, what do you think of these 5? Do you have these ones or do you prefer better free alternatives? Let us know what you think in the comments, and stay tuned for part two.