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<firstimage=”//static.makeuseof.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/image-123.jpg”>On a scale of one to ten, how smart is your smartphone, really? It may be smart enough to handle email, or help you navigate unfamiliar urban landscapes. But is it smart enough to turn off the GPS when you plug it back in at home? Or does it have the brains to turn on the ringer once you’ve left work?
Some of the old Android pros in the audience may be thinking right about now “hey, that sounds an awful lot like what Tasker for Android can do”. And you know what, you’d be right to think that. But here at MakeUseOf, we only write about free applications and tools… and this is where Llama for Android comes in.
If you already know Tasker, you can think of Llama as its free cousin, with a quirkier personality, who’s easier to get along with, and is a tad less brainy. If you don’t know Tasker, you can think of Llama as the most powerful customization software for your phone money can’t buy.
After installing Llama and running it for the first time, you’ll be greeted with this extensive help text:
This is one developer who’s obviously expecting people to read their help. If you’ve never used customization software before, do resist the urge to tap the “Okey doke!” button and read these prompts. You won’t regret it.
Immediately after tapping “Okay doke!”, you’re greeted with yet another peppy help message:
Locations are an integral part of Llama’s life, and yet it manages to do without using GPS or WiFi (at least by default). It works by checking to see what signal masts (“cells”) your phone is talking to. That’s brilliant because it doesn’t take up any additional battery power and provides a fairly reliable location signal, especially in a dense urban jungle. Eager to get started, I quickly tapped “Groovy” and then tapped the first entry on the list, which said “Home“:
Oops… What’s that now? You see what I mean about reading those help prompts? It clearly says above, “Long-tap the area for your current location“. Okay, long-tap it is:
Ah, that’s much better. I then chose “Start Learning Area“, to help Llama find out and remember what cells it finds around my home. It then asked me the next obvious question:
I had a while before I next needed to pop out, so I told Llama I’m going to be around for at least 30 minutes (I had to scroll the list for that). It then returned me to the Areas list:
If I had reception for more than one cell in my home, I could now take my phone for a quick trip around my mansion and have it detect all available cells. They would all automatically go into the Home location, helping Llama pinpoint it that much better in the future. As it was, I was content to keep touring the interface. I decided to take a look at the settings:
Here too, the author’s preference for longer help texts shows. Each setting is painstakingly detailed right in the menu, making a separate manual less necessary, and Llama easier to get along with. There was a button entitle “Experimental Stuff” with help text that said “Here be dragons“. Naturally, I just had to tap it:
So here we discover Llama has additional location modes, for the curious and those living in areas where cellular masts are few and far between. You can use a GPS, use WiFi (i.e, check to see if you’re near certain networks), and even periodically check for Bluetooth devices. All settings were marked EXTREMELY EXPERIMENTAL (all-caps courtesy of the author), and seeing as how I live in a very cell-dense area, I saw no need to try them out. I guess I wasn’t feeling that risqué after all. Onwards!
Llama’s main building blocks are “events” and “profiles“. Let’s start by looking at events first. An event is made up of “conditions” and “actions“. To cut out the jargon, a simple example would be that you pair the phone with your Bluetooth earpiece (condition) and it switches to Silent Mode (actions).
Now let’s look at what some of these conditions may be:
As you can see, there are quite a few. Help is just a tap away, for each of them. This is one thoroughly documented app, in case you haven’t noticed. Calendar Event is a pretty interesting condition:
So if you mark your meetings with the word “meeting” (“project meeting” etc), you could use Llama to have your phone switch to silent just as soon as a meeting starts. You can also have more than one condition per event:
Here, the event would execute only if I’m in a scheduled meeting between 9:00am and 5:00pm. Now let’s add an action:
We’ve added an action to change the Profile into Quiet when this event happens. In simple terms, it means my phone will automatically switch to silent when I go into a meeting, but only if that meeting happens sometime between 9am and 5pm. So late meetings might just get interrupted… too bad, right?
But what’s this “Profile” thing, and where did it come from? Well, I’m glad you asked:
You can think of a profile as a “set of settings”. If you’ve ever had a Nokia phone before, the concept would be instantly recognizable. Let’s take a quick look at some of what you can find in a profile:
Ringtone volume, notification volume, vibration, the specific ringtone and/or notification tone for that profile, the media volume, alarm volume, and any other type of volume or sound your phone can possibly make. In short, profiles provide you with granular control over your phone’s speaker. So, for example, you can have a profile that only rings, softly, but doesn’t make any sound when you get an SMS or an email/chat message.
Last but not least, let’s look at the Recent tab:
This is a history of the cellular masts your phone recently used. As you can see, I’ve used a cell other than my default home one. I could add it to an existing area or use it to create a new area. This is handy because it lets me teach Llama about locations after the fact, in case I didn’t have time to train it while I was at the office (for example).
If you’ve made it all the way here, then you already know how awesome Llama is. But in case you just skimmed the article, let me spell it out for you: Llama is an amazing piece of software for your phone, and gives Tasker a real run for its money. It’s free, friendly, playful and powerful. If you don’t own Tasker but always wanted to automate your phone, get Llama right now.