If you have been following me along my journey to find my next smartphone, you know I recently made the transition from the iPhone 4S to the Galaxy Note2. How am I liking it? Well, I answered that here.
But it hasn’t all been a bed of roses and before that article, I wrote this article, in which I explained how my first days using Android were a nightmare. So how did I get from that to loving my Note 2 and the Android ecosystem?
The answer is, I changed my mindset. I am not going to start a philosophical debate about iOS vs Android, we have all surely had enough of that. But the bottom line is this. In order to be fully prepared to abandon iOS and my iPhone, which as many have said before “Just works”, I had to understand a very fundamental principle about Android.
iOS was engineered to work out of the box. The software was made by Apple as was the hardware. Not the case with Android. While many people view this as a disadvantage, it is actually Android’s biggest selling point. I alluded to this at the end of my last post but when choosing between iOS and Android, you are in essence choosing between Apple and you.
iOS and the way it behaves is something in the hands of Apple. The way Android behaves? Well that is entirely up to you. And so, before I was ready to fully enjoy Android, I had to do some tweaking, some personalizing, some making-it-my own. Once I did that, my Note 2 was quickly transformed from a device that doesn’t “just work” to a powerhouse that works for me 24/7 and knows exactly what I want it to do and how I want it to do it.
So how did I achieve this effect? Here is a short list of the apps I installed to customize my Note 2 and make it do the things I wanted it to do.
Jellybean 4.2 Keyboard with Multi Swype Gestures: Every device/platform has that one thing you use to show people when trying to convince them how awesome your phone is. Well, this is that one thing. Obviously, one of the biggest advantages of an open OS like Android is the ability to change everything and what better place to start then the text input method? Trust me when I tell you, I tried em all. Swype, Swiftkey, Keymonk, Samsung keyboard, and many more. For now, the Jellybean keyboard with swype and the ability to use two hands (something I learned about from the developer of Keymonk) is my keyboard of choice, with Keymonk coming in at a close second. I know many people like Swiftkey, as do I, but I found that I type at an insanely rapid speed with this keyboard and obviously, the ability to type out long words with a single two-handed swype is a great conversation starter. This is one thing we will never see on iPhone and iPhone users wont know what they are missing until they try this app.
Chrome: “But Chrome is on iOS too!”. No, no, you did NOT just compare Chrome on Android to Chrome on iOS. Well, I am not going to go into the technology that powers these two “identical” mobile browsers but suffice to say, comparing Chrome on iOS to Chrome on Android is like comparing Firefox to Internet Explorer 6, no less. Chrome for Android is a fantastic browser and truth be told, despite many recommendations, I did not even try Dolphin, as I have absolutely zero complaints with Chrome on Android. It just works so perfectly, and the fact that I can make it my default browser across the whole phone, well that is enough of a differentiator over its long lost brother, Chrome for iOS.
Echofon / Tweetings: This is a sore topic for me. Let me just start by saying, I am completely and utterly in love with Tweetbot on iOS. I tried every single Twitter app on iOS over the years, and Tweetbot trumps them all, by far. And so when my best option on Android was Plume or Twicca, as a heavy Twitter user, that was a deal breaker. Then came Tweetings and Echofon. I literally switch between these two apps on a daily basis and I am still trying to figure out which will fill the void left by Tweetbot. Both are fantastic Twitter apps. If I had to sum up the differences, I would say Echofon is prettier and faster but Tweetings could not be more advanced. Every single feature you can imagine is possible in Tweetings, which is not the case with Echofon. Either way, these two apps are far and beyond the two best Twitter apps on the Android platform. Oh, and both of these apps have real push notifications, something most Twitter Android apps do not have.
Flipboard: This app falls under a totally different and somewhat shocking category. I file Flipboard on my Note 2 under “The apps that are better on Android than they are on iOS”. Before you iOS fans attack, this was not the case up until a few weeks ago when Flipboard released the audio section in its Android app. But here is the thing. With the 5.5” screen on the Note 2, combined with its quad core 1.6 CPU, the beautiful gestures in Flipboard and the stunning graphics pop out faster and in a way, the 3.5”-4” iPhone display can only dream of. Flipboard on the Note 2 is a blog-reading, Twitter-consuming, Facebook-posting geek’s dreams come true.
Holo Launcher/Notifier: Trust me when I tell you, I tried almost all launcher/locker combinations out there. OK, maybe not all but the major ones including GoTo, Nova, Go, and so many more. I chose Holo for many reasons. One of my biggest challenges with Android was getting used to Notifications. I like the way iOS shows me how many missed notifications I have for each app with a little number on the app itself. Well, Holo adds that functionality to Android and it does it pretty elegantly. Holo also has endless customization options that I will not go into here but I will say that it is the best launcher I have found to date.
Screen Notifications: OK, Google, I get the whole “Download an app to customize your phone’s behavior, but this is pushing it. You know how the iPhone lights up and shows you when you get a notification, which you can then choose to ignore or engage by swiping the notification to open the app? Well, when I am in a meeting, I want to see when an email comes in and decide whether it is important enough to interrupt the meeting to read. All I need is for my Note 2 to turn on when I get an incoming notification. Is that too much to ask? Apparently, it is. Well, this app does exactly that. You choose which apps you want to enable and as soon as that app gets a notification, your screen turns on and you can then see the notification bar on top. Simple but sadly necessary.
‘OK, folks, let there be no misunderstandings. These are just six of tens of apps I installed on my Note 2. If you want some more great Android app recommendations, check out my post on Google+ here and see the comments.
From what I can tell, most Android users don’t know about most of these apps with Flipboard being the exception. Which leads me to my biggest complaint about Android, Google Play. It is an utter mess and no wonder Android developers are having a difficult time monetizing their Android apps. People can’t find them! But that is a topic for another time and I am also fairly convinced Google knows about this issue and is working on a solution as we speak.
All in all, the above list includes are six great apps that helped me bring my Note 2 to the next level and I hope you find them equally as useful.