Top 5 Android Apps – Part 2 – Stock Replacements

Continuing on with my “Top 5” series, I’m going to discuss my top 5 favorite “stock replacement” apps.  These are applications that provide similar functionality to standard Android apps included on every phone, but in my opinion, are better than the standard app.  These apps may have additional customization features, or just plain work better than what Android came with.

  1. ADW.Launcher (Free) – I’ve written about this app before, but I can’t recommend it (or its competing app LauncherPro) enough.  Both apps provide so much more than the stock launchers for Android do.  HTC users with Sense UI may not need the change, but if you’re not running Sense, you should be running one of these.  I personally prefer ADW.Launcher right now thanks to the addition of themes.  There are many themes in the Android Market that range from free to a couple dollars, and can change the look of your setup drastically.  ADW also has many customization options that allow you to setup your home screens anyway you please.  If you’re a widget fan, LauncherPro Plus may be a great choice for you.  The developer has added a great widget set to his launcher.  Regardless of which you choose, I highly encourage you to try out one or both of these.  You’ll be glad you did.
  2. WidgetLocker Lockscreen ($1.99) – If you’ve ever wished you could put something on your lock screen besides the clock, you really should try WidgetLocker.  WidgetLocker allows you to add widgets and application shortcuts right on your lock screen.  He’s also added custom slider options, so you can move the sliders around, add multiple ones to perform different functions, or remove them altogether!  My screenshot shows how I like mine, but you can go wild with it!
  3. Beautiful Widgets (~$2.05) – If you’ve got an Android phone, this is a must-have application.  The developer started with the idea of re-creating the HTC clock widget for non-HTC devices, but he’s gone way beyond that now.  The main widget shows you the current date/time and weather for your location.  There are over 100 themes to change how it looks, and many customization options beyond that as well.  My favorite feature is the ability to launch any application by clicking on the clock, calendar, and weather sections.  If you like live wallpapers, he’s even created a live wallpaper that shows you the current weather.  Included with the main widget are several other widgets for your phone that allow you to toggle wifi, bluetooth, ring volume, etc.  I keep mine on my WidgetLocker Lockscreen so it’s there every time I wake up my phone.
  4. Handcent SMS (free) – I use Handcent primarily for the pop-up notification of incoming texts.  Beyond that, though, Handcent can do a lot more.  From that pop-up, you can type (or talk) a quick response without having to open up the full conversation.  When you do open up the full app, you can customize just about everything, from the theme of the app to individual ringtones for each person.  I’m amazed that this app is free – he could probably sell it for $5-10 and rack up a ton of sales.
  5. SwitchPro Widget ($0.99) – The Power Control widget is nice – allowing you to control Wifi, bluetooth, etc., but it’s not very customizable.  This is where SwitchPro Widget comes in.  It provides all of the capability of the Power Control widget, but is much more flexible.  Only want a couple buttons? You can create a 1×1 widget with 1-2 buttons.  Want a lot? You can add up to 7 buttons to a 1×4 widget.  SwitchPro also provides more options for what you can control.  It adds things like a flashlight, auto rotation lock, screen timeout, and more.  You can also customize the color of the icons and the background, so if you’ve got a theme, it’s much easier to make this fit. 

While the stock Android system is pretty good, its real power lies in the ability for apps to customize and even outright replace the stock applications.  Android is very flexible in allowing users to change default applications – even without root access that everyone can “create” a phone experience that fits their needs.  I’d love to see some comments about your favorite stock replacement apps. 

Next week I’ll touch on my top 5 favorite “unknown” applications – applications that aren’t famous apps like Beautiful Widgets or Handcent SMS.

Top 5 Android Apps – Part 1

Thanks to a post on a forum I frequent, I’ve decided to put together a five-part series discussing my favorite applications.  For part 1, I’m going to list my top 5 “everyday” applications, i.e. applications that I use every day and are the reason my wife says I’m “married to my phone.”

  1. Touiteur Premium (Free/~$2.70 Premium) –  Touiteur is my favorite Twitter application.  Since it came out, it’s had the best user interface, and the developers have gone on to make it a full-feature application.  The free version provides many options, but purchasing the Premium version unlocks all the options, and in my opinion it’s well worth the upgrade.
  2. Locale ($9.99 + $0 – $0.99 for plugins) – Locale is my favorite automation application.  It ensures that my phone doesn’t ring at work, but always does at home.  It launches Touiteur when I dock it at work.  It also launches Slacker Radio when I plug in headphones.  I have about a dozen scenarios plugged into Locale, and I can always count on them to work.  Yes this app is expensive, and yes many of the plugins aren’t free, but it’s been well worth it to me.  I did try out Tasker, but I didn’t find it nearly as easy to use as Locale.  I also find the priorty setup of Locale more to my liking. 
  3. Folder Organizer (~$1.35) – Folder Organizer is really much more than the app name suggests.  It does allow you to group your applications into folders for your home screens, but it also allows you to add Bookmarks, Contacts, or other app shortcuts into folders.  Folder Organizer also lets you change the icon and the name of the application, making it easy to theme your icons to match your phone theme. There is a free version that only works with Applications called Apps Organizer as well.
  4. NewsRob Pro (Free/~$6.75 Pro) – NewsRob is a mobile source for Google Reader feeds.  It syncs with Google Reader, maintaining your read/unread status both ways.  While the mobile Google Reader is very good, NewsRob has ways of handling sites that don’t provide the full article in the feed.  NewsRob can auto display the full website, a stripped down version of the website, or an Instapaper version of the webpage if you desire.  This makes it much easier (and faster) to read through my feed as I don’t have to wait for the web page to load.  Background sync means I always have new items to read, and I can even read in areas with no service.  The free version is now ad supported, but the full version is worth it if you’re an RSS junkie.
  5. Slacker Radio – After going back and forth between Pandora and Slacker, I’ve settled on Slacker.  This has more to do with the music service than the application itself, but the app does work well on my Droid.  I found that with Pandora, my stations began to all play the same songs after awhile.  Slacker’s song logic doesn’t run all my songs together, and I can actually keep separate playlists.

These are just five of the apps that I use every day on my phone.  In the coming weeks I’ll list my favorite “stock replacement” apps, “relatively unknown” apps, apps for rooted users, and games.  If you have some apps that you love and use every day, leave the details in the comments.  I’m always on the lookout for great apps.

Secunia PSI – The Security tool every windows user should be running

Lets be honest, Windows security is not the easiest thing to manage.  On top of the Microsoft products, there exist the 3rd party programs that tend to be forgotten about. Microsoft has made great progress with the security of Windows in its most recent releases of Windows 7 and Office 2010, but that’s only part of the solution. The Microsoft update website and built in Microsoft update utility in Windows Vista and Windows 7 have helped a great deal with keeping Microsoft products up to date, but these are far from all of the programs that most people run.  Persons crafting malicious code such as viruses, malware, etc know this and are targeting other programs too.  These 3rd party programs do not have a common updater and each must be updated on its own, for example, programs like Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Acrobat, Java, and Firefox, just to name a few. It is a lot for the average user to do, especially considering there is no general update policy (IE, Patch Tuesday) with most vendors, and announcements about updates are quiet.

Enter Secunia PSI. This is a free (for personal use) program put out by the Secunia company. They specialize in finding exploits and providing monitoring software.  PSI (Personal Security Inspector) is a tool that scans the programs on your hard drive and then does version checks against its vast list of known exploits.  It then notifies you of older versions and tells you where you need to go to fix them. The program is great for finding those programs you rarely use and forget about when updating.

The program is smart. For Microsoft websites it knows to open them in Internet Explorer so the download tools will work. It also allows you to rescan specific programs after you update them instead of spending time to rescan your entire drive.  It also offers the ability to ignore a specific program if for instance you need the older version for a custom tool to work.  It will run in the background and notify you when new updates are available or new known exploits exist.   It also offers an advanced mode which offers more features and details.  In advanced mode PSI will tell you about products you have installed that are no longer supported by their vendors and any known exploits that exist in them.

Secunia also offers a product called OSI (Online Security Inspector) which is a great tool as well. It is similar to PSI but does not require you to install anything. However, it does require Java to run in the browser.  While not as thorough as PSI, it’s similar in operation and usage.

In conclusion, this is a great tool that is very thorough and easy enough to use that every user should have this in their tool box and run it as part of a biweekly security audit.  It really helps to inform users of out of date software that could leave their computer vulnerable. While PSI is targeted for personal use, they offer a corporate version that is a paid version. Its functionality is similar but it also offers many more features.

Update #1 (9-3-2010)

Since this article was originally posted Secunia has come out with a new version of its PSI security tool that is currently in beta. It is called Secunia PSI 2.0. You can grab a copy for free here. The big feature that this adds is the ability to install updates silently and automatically if you choose for your vulnerable software. I think this could be a great feature especially for people who don’t want to deal with always having to update their computers.

Tweak Windows 7

For those of you who used Tweak UI for the earlier version of Windows, here’s an application you’ll love that allows you to tweak most aspects of Windows Vista and 7.  It’s called Ultimate Windows Tweaker, and I found it to be very useful today while setting up a couple of Win 7 machines.

The 345KB application has a small footprint, and is contained entirely in the executable so no installation is necessary.  It also only displays options that pertain to the OS version your running it on.  Just fire it up, and over 150 customizable aspects of Windows are at your finger tips, no digging through countless steps to access them.

If you’re like me, and you want Windows to operate exactly as you want, not how Microsoft thinks you want it, you owe it to your self to download a copy and give it a try.

Hijinks Reviews: The Jim and Frank Mysteries – The Blood River Files

Publisher: Chillingo Ltd
Platform: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad
Cost: $0.99 [iTunes Link] – for a limited time
Released: Jul 09, 2010
Version Reviewed: 1.0

I stumbled across The Jim and Frank Mysteries the other day, as I was perusing the App Store on my iPod. It was receiving 4.5 out of 5 stars on only about 45 ratings, boasted over 20 hours of engaging gameplay, and it warned of being a “TIME LIMITED INTRODUCTORY PRICE!” I’d recently played the Chillingo game Pro Zombie Soccer and enjoyed it, so for $.99, I figured I’d give it a try. In short, I’d like to congratulate Chillingo for going 2 for 2. Continue reading Hijinks Reviews: The Jim and Frank Mysteries – The Blood River Files