“How To Do The Cool Stuff”™- For Android Smartphones

 

In a sea of 600,000+ Android Apps, how do you ever find ones that really work?

Because you subscribe to GreatStuffThatWorks, you have us to do the leg (or finger) work for you.

Our focus today is on ways your Android smartphone can make life easier or more fun. 

Most of the descriptions below will apply to Android Smartphones running the Ice Cream Sandwich operating software.

You say “Ice Cream what?” It’s just the name Google gave its Android operating system version 4.x.x.

To see if you’re already enjoying Ice Cream, Go to: Settings, About Phone and scroll down to “Android Version”. If it says your version is 4.0.4 or higher, you’re at least at the Ice Cream Sandwich level or beyond.

If you’re not, many of these tips could still work for you.  If you have the option to upgrade to Version 4.x.x, I’d recommend it. Although it will work and look differently, I’ve found it to be operationally better designed, more attractive and pretty easy to get used to quickly.


11 Tips And Apps To Make Real Life A Little Bit Easier

Using Your Android Phone

 

1.) Rescue Your Phone. Without using a phone locator program, this low tech setting will give you a fighting chance to get your phone back if it gets left behind.

Go to Settings, Security, Owner Info.  In the text box you see, type in your own version of this message:

“If Found, Please Call 415-555-5555. Thank You! Paul G.”

After you enter this, tap the Back button on your phone. The keyboard will disappear and above the text you just entered will be a check box next to “Show Owner Info On Lock Screen”. Check this box.

Now if you leave your locked phone anywhere, the moment someone turns it on to see who’s it is, the banner with your contact info scrolls across the top of the screen with your alternate contact number to reach you.

Of course, be sure to use a number other than your cell phone number so you can have someone contacted that can let you know someone’s trying to return your phone.

 

2.) Know Who’s Calling Without Looking. Here’s a handy way to screen calls that is probably less disturbing than your JZ ringtone.

Go to Settings, Accessibility, Caller ID Readout. Tap this menu item and it opens three choices. Select “Caller ID then Ring”.

Now when someone calls it will tell you once who it is and then go to your regular ring.

 

3.) Drive Safer. Ever drive and try to dial on a smartphone? We shouldn’t be dialing at all or at least using Voice Dialing when in the car.  

But we all know not every car has Bluetooth and everyone doesn’t use a portable headset or will pull over to dial.

To help address this unfortunate reality, the “Direct Dial” widget can make dialing any of the numbers in your contacts “one touch” from a home screen, radically cutting the “eyes off the road” time of the normal multi-step process. (Direct Dial is also great for emergency numbers.)

Once set up (described below), just tap your contact’s icon and it automatically dials them. Nothing else to do. You’re connected.

To make it quicker to visually identify one from another, the icon includes any picture you have associated with that contact.

Here’s how to do it:

First, Go to the home screen you want to put the Direct Dial on (that has an empty space). Press the “Apps” circle at the bottom of the screen. Touch “Widgets” at the top of the Apps listing screen. Scroll widget screens to locate the “Direct Dial” icon. Press and Hold the icon until it links to your Contacts list. Choose the  number you want to make a One Touch dial. Done.

Now the new “Direct Dial” icon is placed on your screen ready to roll. Just touch it and it dials that person with no other actions required.

 

4.) End App Wandering. Ever turn on your smartphone and your apps are moved around or missing?

What’s causing this wandering is objects or body parts pressing against the screen when its on in your pocket or purse.

Here’s a simple way to end the wanderlust. Every time you’re done with what you’re doing on your phone, end by quickly pressing the Off Button. This will put your phone into standby and the screen will go black.

This will help you in several ways:

A.) It will prevent your icons from drifting or disappearing from your home screens when in your pocket or purse.

B.) It will save battery power by not waiting for the screen to time out to Off.

C.) It will assure your phone goes to its Lock screen as soon as you’re done, so it’s remains secure.

It’s a simple, helpful habit to develop with any touch screen phone.

 

5.) Razr ReBoot Trick. If you have a one of the new Motorola Razr’s, now built without a removable battery, you might want to know how to quickly Reboot the phone if one of your programs freeze it up.

Here’s the secret:

Press and Hold the Power Button and the Down Volume button simultaneously for about 5-8 seconds until the phone screen goes black. Release the buttons and wait for the Razr to reboot. This action will usually clear Android’s head back to normal, keeping everything else intact.

 

6.) QR Droid. Have you noticed those black and white speckled boxes on ads or in newspapers? They’re called QR (Quick Read or Quick Response) codes and they’re now becoming helpful far beyond advertizing use.

For example, more and more papers or magazines are placing a QR code at the end of an article. When you scan the code with your smartphone reader, they can instantly stream a video to your phone with additional, relevant information.  The Wall Street Journal print edition is using this very effectively now. 

This specific QR reader app is exceptional in both its design and features. It makes not only decoding, but creating for a variety of uses easy and quick.

Click Here.  I’ll show you how it works!

 

7.) Miracle – Epocrates.  Have a friend or family member taking several medications and worried the drugs might be creating conflicts with each other?

Go to the Google Play store and download the free version of the app Epocrates. This app will let you enter the different medications by name and then tell you if there are known potential issues to watch for.

It also gives you a Drug Reference to check usage and dosage, a Pill ID to identify what a pill is by its physical characteristics, Manufacturer Contact Information for a wide selection of drug manufacturers, Doc Alerts on a variety of subjects, even a section with Calculators, like for the Body Mass Index, for a quick check on your numbers and more.

This app, in one of its free or paid versions, is said to be the app most doctors have on their own phones.

It’s a great way to help keep you or your loved ones a little bit safer from prescription conflicts.

 

8.) Battery Conservation. Battery drain is just a reality of life with a Smartphone. Even if you’re now benefiting from our GreatStuffThatWorks “Best Smartphone” recommendation, the Razr Maxx, saving battery power is just smart.

Here are two great ways to do it more easily:

1.) Power Control Widget. Create a clear space on one of your home screens for a widget that will take up about 1/4 of your screen. (this will be worth the real estate use).

Press the Apps icon at the bottom of your screen if you have Android Version 4.0.4, or go there however your phone is set up.  (On the previous software version, call Gingerbread, you press and hold on a blank area of the screen until the Apps/Widgets menu pops up) Select Widgets. Look for the Power Control widget and select it.

This one widget will give you fast On/Off access to the 5 major power drains on your phone.
 
WiFi, Bluetooth, GPS, Background Syncing and Screen Brightness. The screen brightness button let’s you quickly adjust the level from Low, Medium to High. This is especially handy for when in outdoor bright sun to help see the screen, like when taking Photos. And “Auto Brightness” to regulate brightness itself based upon conditions. (an “A” will display in the center of the sun icon).

To maximize your battery life or if  you notice your battery is getting low, you can quickly turn off services or adjust the screen brightness lower to stretch your remaining power.

2.) . If you have a Motorola Razr, you get another really helpful power saver that does it for you automatically! Most people don’t have any idea what this really valuable app can do for them.

This Motorola exclusive app can tell your phone when it should be saving your battery automatically for you. (The app will do many other things for you automatically, but we’ll just cover this one application and you can play with the rest.)

>Go to Apps, and find the Smart Actions app. Open it and you will see several Pre-made programs listed to get you going. (You can also create your own as you get comfortable playing with the suggested configurations.)

Look for the “Battery Extender” Smart Action that is listed and tap it to open the configurations. At the top of the screen you will see a section labeled “Triggers.” This is where you tell your phone under what conditions it should do something to help you. (saving your battery power, in this case).

A battery-like icon will slide left and right so you can “engage” or “dis-engage” the specific trigger shown. If you want to add additional Triggers not listed on the display, touch the “+” sign to the right of the word Triggers and it will open all the Trigger options you can choose from.

The first thing to do is decide under what conditions (triggers) you want your phone to do something.

For this example, when the following conditions are all present, we want our phone to automatically disable specific power draining services.

Back on the “Battery Extender” menu screen, I suggest adding the following Triggers (circumstances) listed below, if they are not already there.

Add the Triggers: Display, Charging, Motion Detector.

Once added, tap each one to open it’s settings.

>We want Display set to Off, Charging set to Not Charging, and Motion Detection set to No Movement.

This means when our Display is off, we are not charging the phone and there is no motion for several minutes, the Actions will be triggered. These combined circumstances indicate we are not actively using the phone and therefore aren’t getting any advantage from leaving these services on draining power.

After they’re installed, be sure to slide each icon against the left side of window to “connect” it. (you’ll hear a click)

Now scroll the screen up to see the “Actions” section of the screen.

Here’s where you tell your phone what to do when the Trigger conditions are met. The “+” here will show the complete list of Actions available to you.

Add the “GPS”, “Background Sync” and the “Bluetooth” Actions here and click them to the side to “connect” them.

At the very top of the screen tap “Save” and you’re done.

I’ve now told my phone that when my phone is sitting, I don’t need Satellite Location, my apps being constantly updated or my Bluetooth system looking for a device to connect with and so my phone automatically shuts those services off. Pretty cool, huh?

If you want to check at anytime if these services are off or on, just slide your home screen over to the Power Control widget I told you about and adjust accordingly.

 

9.) Cool Flashlight App. There are a lot of apps that make your phone act like a flashlight, but this one is the best I’ve found for all it offers.

Tiny Flashlight+LED in the Google Play store is well designed and versatile.

On the LED flashlight setting, you get not only an easy on/off switch that clicks to confirm, but the percentage of power left in your phones battery is clearly displayed on the same screen. A very valuable piece of information.

But the LED flashlight is just one of 8 different light functions you can choose from.

* Front Screen Illumination
* SOS LED Flashing, and you can vary the speed to save battery.
* Strobe Light
* Stop Light
* Variable Light Bulb. Slide your finger up/down the bulb to brighten or dim
* Variable Color Screen. Swipe left and right to change colors, up / down to change intensity
* Police Lights. I’ll let you figure out what to do with this one.

There’s also a Settings area to let you customize the apps behaviors.

Two other nice features of this app is it keeps the LED light lit, even when you put your phone into Standby, letting you black out the main screen to save battery. It also lets you press Home and move to any other screen without turning off the LED light. Nice.  

More than 1 million 5 star ratings means a lot of other people seem to like this app too.

 

10.) A Little Home Screen Zen For You…………..

Koi for Android. If sitting by a beautiful Koi pond takes your stress away, then I have a treat for you.

Now the Koi can rescue you anywhere you and your phone may go. 

Koi Live Wallpaper by Kittehface Software (in Google Play market), is probably the most fun you’ve had with fish without getting wet. And it costs all of $.99 for the full option version, or free with less ways to have fun with your new friends.

FYI: I recommend the paid version because you can customize it quickly to be one of the coolest live wallpapers our research has found yet! 

I tested it on a Motorola Razr Maxx operating on the Ice Cream Sandwich software (Android version 4.0.4).  With it’s beautiful screen detail, the graphics are just stunning.

Now here’s the “cool stuff” you can do:

First, with the very sophisticated graphics Koi Live Wallpaper has, the Koi have both an amazingly natural motion and look. This app is also optimized for both an Android phone and tablet.

In the paid version, you get to:

* Choose the number and type (20 different kinds) of Koi in your pond.

* Set their individual size as you choose them, using a variable slide control. (virtual doping!)

* Choose from 14 different background settings (as of this writing) that your Koi will swim above, from Aquarium to Fountain (my favorite), Pompeii to Sea Floor, all very realistic and in beautiful detail.  

* Set the “Camera pan” speed, ie. how quickly the background animation elements move.

* Add your own custom background. And Kittehface Software periodically adds new backgrounds inside software updates.

* Accessorize your scene by setting the number of Lily Pads or Sea Flowers you want to float by. 

* Play “Mother Nature” and make it automatically rain on your pond along with setting the rate of the raindrops.  If you touch or drag your finger across the pond you can “Watch the infinite ripples connect to the universe, Grasshopper. (Remember Kung Fu? From old re-runs, of course.)

But here’s the coolest trick: If you check “Startle Fish” in the settings menu (paid version), when you tap a fish… it scurries away from you!

And if you double tap on the screen, you feed your fishy friends and they all rush to the center of the screen! How cool is that!

The app is so Zen to look at, I moved everything on my phones’s Home screen to one screen over so my new best friends remain full screen throughout the day.

A few useful details to know:

A.) When you install Koi Live Wallpaper, it doesn’t require any “permissions” in the paid or free version, so all your data stays put on your device. (Nice).

B.) In several days of testing I have noticed a little additional battery drain on my Razr Maxx. If you notice any, you might try slowing down the rate of the animations to reduce how frequently they trigger.

But it may be more likely, however, that my constant checking on the fish (or showing them off to friends) affected my battery usage more than anything else. 

C.) If you’re on Verizon and upgraded to the Ice Cream Sandwich software version, this app is optimized for it. They just recently also adapted the app for  the new Android Jelly Bean software too. (now on some tablets).   This app is beautifully designed, rated  4.7 stars in Google Play and the closest thing to “On Demand” meditation.  

Last, but definitely not least……….

 

11.) WeatherPro Weather Forecasting App 

There are all sorts of Weather apps. HTC and many third party Android developers add weather info to clock widgets, live wallpaper and more.

But most are quite sparse on detailed, multi-day information other than temperature and forecast.

WeatherPro (available in Google Play) in a very good free version, has great, multi-day detailed information, beautifully presented and easy to navigate.

Inside this well designed app you get:

* Today’s weather forecast, high / low and current temperature and wind speed. 

* “Feels Like” temperature, Dew point, Relative Humidity and Barometric Pressure. 

* By swiping to the right you get the day’s forecast broken down in Hourly segments, with the predicted minutes of sun that hour, predicted probability for precipitation, number of inches of rain and wind speed. 

* Swipe again on a specific hour and you get a larger display of the information plus the Relative Humidity percentage.

* At the bottom of the screen you get the graphs the data came from, like a bar graph of the hourly predicted minutes of sunshine, etc. 

* You also get “in motion” graphics for both Radar and Satellite weather images. These are very nicely done and include a “You Are Here” GPS dot on the screen for a reference point. 

By tapping the “More” icon at the bottom you get access to WeatherPro’s Settings, Air Pressure maps, Weather News menus, a map of European water temperatures,  along with a view of the features you’ll get if you decide to upgrade from the free to the paid version (currently $5.00/year.)  

The paid version includes: Mountain and Hiking weather, 14 vs 7 day forecasts, Precipitation type radar, Precipitation radar forecast, up to 10 hours of Radar/Satellite coverage, UV Indexes and current water temperatures for the North and Baltic Seas, the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands and the Caribbean.

It all adds up to a well designed, deeply detailed, easy to use app that I believe you’ll find valuable to consult daily.

And that’s a wrap!  All the best, Paul

 

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