After several instances where my old phone had proven inadequate for my job I finally decided to get a smartphone. I wasn’t sure what to go with so after careful deliberation I opted for the new Droid 2.
Coming from a old regular phone and a old Blackberry I was quite surprised how robust and fast these things are. It was also a nice to see the Android platform finally after hearing so much about it – it’s sleek, fast and has an intuitive interface.
.. but I wanted more. Being a self proclaimed geek I wanted to know what can I do with this thing. Inevitably it will be eventually rooted and full blown customizations will make this phone a true delight to own. Until then what could I do with it? Well let’s see!
Unfortunately I’ve been disappointed with the selection. It seems primarily people choose the official AIM client or opt for Meebo IM. There is also a fairly promising Trillian application coming along however it’s still in beta and tends to crash fairly often.
There are two fundamental things that are missing from all of the applications I’ve tried:
1) No OTR implementation / support
2) No proxy configuration
Why are these options missing in every client? These seem like no-brainer features – especially for a device that’s typically out on foreign networks. Hopefully one exists that encompasses these features – if so let me know!
I haven’t looked too hard however one thing I noticed was the lack of IDLE support for the bundled in mail client. It also didn’t have common functionality such as being able to set the time or interval to fetch e-mails from a remote server. Luckily there seems to be a De facto replacement called K-9 Mail. For all intents and purposes it should replace the default mail client and be used exclusively. It has full IDLE support as well as being able to specify when to download mail. It’s simple, fast and does its job perfectly.
One of my primary desires was to have a phone that could offer me a somewhat pleasurable SSH experience if I needed it (ever try to fix a server on a small Blackberry?). One of our customers @bryanwp recommended ConnectBot. After using it for a mere five minutes it became abundantly clear why this was “the” SSH client to use. Aside from a simple and clear interface it provided something that is lacking (at least natively) in a lot of SSH applications: port forwarding. This allows you (amongst other things) to create a way to tunnel network traffic for an application over SSH. Unfortunately a lot of the applications don’t have any options for proxy settings.
Another cool use for port forwarding is it allows me to connect to my desktop computer via SSH. I’m behind a router however there is no need for any fancy routing – using remote forwarding from my desktop allows me to easily setup tunnels that my phone can access. Using this method I’m able to securely SSH into my desktop, use VNC securely, stream music / download files from home, use my home network (white list approach on servers, etc) and pretty much anything I could do if I was on LAN.
Finally a phone with good Google Voice implementation (duh). The Google Voice support is simple and perfect. It has a simple inbox for your text messages and a few settings. Aside from that it integrating seamlessly with your phone. Outgoing calls you can direct through Google Voice or your primary number. Text messages is the same allowing you to select which service to go through. One cool perk is Google Voice offers free CA based calling while Verizon doesn’t – this is ideal for a company such as ours where several employees are on the border and travel fairly often.
Yes you can even VNC to remote computer from your phone. Using android-vnc-viewer you can connect to any VNC server. It’s actually a far better experience than I imagined possible and already have had a couple of uses for quick / small tasks that I needed to do while not at home.
I use this in conjunction with ConnectBot and SSH port forwarding to allow me to use a secure connection to my desktop while on foreign networks – I recommend you do the same.
LauncherPro is a home screen replacement for your Droid – think of it as a windows manager. I haven’t tried too many others and the ones I have not nearly long enough to judge how good they are (performance, features, etc) however I’ve been using LP for a few days and feel I’ve come to appreciate some of its features:
- Multiple Docks. – This allows you to have a scrollable dock in addition to desktops. This has proven to be my primary means of launching applications as it doesn’t give me enough space to fill it with junk but just enough for repeated use applications.
- Dock Gestures – This allows you to assign an action to each of the icons in your doc that is activated by a swipe. These are extremely useful. If I swipe my Dialer icon it will open a Add Contact page. If I swipe my Messages icon it will start a new Google Voice text message and so forth.
- Widgets – They look amazing and have amazing reviews. However until I fully explore my home screen replacements I’m not buying the upgrade to the full version until I’m exhaust the alternatives. They however do seem to be worth noting.
- Launcher Pro Shortcuts – These are shortcuts on crack. They allow full custom control over your shortcuts that allow some distinct advantages over normal shortcuts. Succinctly put it allows you to tap into the Intent class of the Android platform to allow you to communicate with applications directly (sending data to them, etc).
There are several applications similar to this however RunKeeper has given me a flawless experience from the beginning so I see no reason to try the others.
RunKeeper allows you to track your runs / jogs / biking via GPS. It shows you some useful statistics such as elevation climb, your pace during the route, mile markers and others. It will also log your route on a Google Map to allow you to easily see what path you took.
There is also an option to sync your activities to the RunKeeper.com website which allows you to break down your activity even further.
Google Gesture Search
It quickly becomes evident that you may need additional means of searching for things on your phone. I find Google Gesture Search to be a quick way to accurately search your phone in the quickest manner. Simply put you start writing letters out using your finger and it lists matches accordingly.
It also has an option to be triggered by a “Double Flip” however I find this to be unnaturaland a pain to do. I instead place it in one of my docks.
This is a suprisingly useful application. It allows you to scan different types of barcodes and reads the data. It then gives you options to use that data in some way (open a browser, market, contact, etc).
It also seems to be a popular way to distribute application links (as seen through this post). You however can use it to store contact information as well:
Out of all of the to-do list applications this one is my favorite. It’s fast and simple but offers small features th at set it apart from the others. One neat feature is if you click on a task you can start a timer, tag support and integration with Remember The Milk for remote syncing / integration.
This is a simple application form PayPal to .. well do PayPal based things. It has a simple mobile friendly interface and allows you to perform basic operations such as sending money, withdrawing money, and a few other things.
You can also setup a “mobile PIN” to allow for fast logins via your phone – this is extremely useful for people who have very long passwords.
This is a paid application however I find it wonderful as it adds a handful of high quality widgets for your phone. The show stopper being the weather widget which is very aesthetically pleasing however the others equally as useful allowing for toggling of ringer modes, WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS and a few others.
This application is mind numbingly simple. You start it and it scans your phone for music, pictures and videos. It then can starts a server and shares them using DLNA. This allows you to easily share content from your phone to most media centric devices such as the XBOX or PS3.
This is a very simple application that allows you to start a FTP server on your phone. This allows you to easily transfer files between your computer and phone using simply a FTP client. It supports basic authentication and simple permission based rules (allow connections from what network(s)).
That wraps up some of my favorite uses / applications for the Android platform. If you have any suggestions please don’t hesitate to make a comment!