Your Android phone comes with pretty good basic apps and capabilities. But of course you want to make that sucker work harder. Here’s how to upgrade your phone for a better experience. All apps are free unless noted. No rooting required!
Upgrade the basics
- Better browsing: Dolphin Browser HD offers tabbed browsing, voice commands, and a LastPass plugin that fills in usernames and passwords for you. (To use the LastPass plugin You’ll need a LastPass premium account for $12/year.) The Android versions of Firefox and Chrome both sync bookmarks and other data with their desktop versions.
- Better texting: Handcent has all the usual text features, plus it lets you blacklist spammy numbers and even ignore all texts from numbers that aren’t in your contacts. In Handcent, go to Menu > Security & Privacy > Filter settings. Check “Unknown number filter” to block non-contacts. Check “Mark as read” to turn off notifications for filtered texts. Open “Current Mode” to choose how to treat filtered texts.
- Better voicemail: Google Voice provides text transcripts and lets you check voicemails from your phone or any computer with your Google login.
- Better email: K9 has powerful filtering features and talks to Tasker ($6.49), the amazing app that makes your Android perform all sorts of custom tasks. We’ll talk more about Tasker in a later post.
- Better photos: Pro HDR Camera takes three rapid-fire photos at different light levels, then combines them for extra-crisp pics. ProCapture ($3.99) provides panorama, burst, wideshot, and tons of other options.
- Better photo gallery: Give JustPictures your login info for Facebook, Flickr, and other photo services, and it’ll combine all your local and online pictures into a single set of browsable galleries.
- Better ringtones: Do you have a favorite song that you’d like to sample for a ringtone? Ringdroid lets you load any mp3 on your phone, select just the piece you want, and save it as a ringtone.
Back up your data and love the cloud
When you use Android, the Google cloud is your friend. The email on your phone automagically syncs with Gmail in the cloud — and it applies the same filters and labels as “desktop” Gmail. Your Google Calendar entries and contacts are also synched (check and make sure your phone’s manufacturer didn’t default to something wonky like saving contacts only to the phone).
If you’re using Chrome for Android and have account sync set up in your desktop browser, you’ll instantly get your previously open tabs on your phone. Thank you, cloud!
More backup and cloud fun for Android:
- Back up texts: Backup to Gmail ($1.99) automatically backs up text messages and call history to your Gmail.
- Back up photos: PicPush ($2.99 after 30-day trial) automatically uploads photos as you take them. It’ll upload to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, Dropbox, and other services, or to all of them at once. If you’re a Google Plus user, your photos are uploaded automatically to the Google cloud. Dropbox for Android also has an auto-upload feature for photos; go into the app’s settings and select “Turn on Camera Upload.” They say they’ll even give you free extra storage space just for using it.
- Back up anything: If you set up Dropbox on your phone and your desktop computer, you can easily drag and drop files to share between devices. If you want to automate your Dropboxing, get FolderSync Lite. Give it your Dropbox login and tell it which folders to monitor on your phone, and it’ll automatically transfer files on any schedule you specify. FolderSync Premium ($2.29) supports more accounts and connects with Tasker.
- Keep your music in the cloud: Sync up your music with Amazon MP3, Google Play Music, AudioGalaxy, Rdio, Spotify, MOG and/or any other music streaming services. Some like Amazon charge by the track, others offer all-you-can-eat plans for a few dollars a month. Some let you store selected files locally in case you’re offline and still need to rawk.