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5 Android Apps I Can’t Live Without (and Why)

5 Android AppsBack in June Ethan began an informal series on ProfHacker with his 5 Applications I Simply Can’t Live Without (and Why). He followed that 5 WordPress Plugins I Simply Can’t Live Without (and Why), and the popular 5 iPad Applications I Simply Can’t…well, you get the idea.

The idea of 5 [Insert Cool Software Here] I Can’t Live Without (and Why) has endless, useful variations, such as Brian’s list of 5 essential iPod Touch apps, and now, my own contribution to the series, in which I’ll shift the focus onto the Android operating system. With a mere 50,000 or so applications, the Android Market pales in comparison to Apple’s App Store, but it can nonetheless be difficult to find the perfect app to fit your needs. So I’ll run through 5 essential Android apps that work for me. As with the other 5 [Insert Cool Software Here] posts, I am not recommending any specific applications so much as I am opening a discussion about Android apps, in which we share new apps and trade tips for ones we already know about.

My Methodology

My title claims that “I can’t live without” these 5 apps, and I have the research to prove it. I’ve had my Verizon Droid Incredible since early May and over the past four months I’ve installed dozens of applications from the Android Market. So many applications, in fact, that I can’t even keep track of what’s on the phone anymore. How do I know which ones are truly essential?

Easy.

I erased everything.

I totally wiped clean my Incredible with a hard reset, restoring the device to its stock condition.

After a day or two with the phone in its off-the-shelf state, it became obvious to me which Android apps I missed the most. These were the ones I couldn’t live without.

My Caveats

I won’t focus on any of the stock applications (though Google Maps is undeniably the killer app on the phone), nor on any application I use frequently but not expressly for productivity, such as the slick RunKeeper GPS/running log, or the fantastic AppBrain, which creates an online backup of your apps. I’ll also leave aside apps that change the interface of Android, like the SwiftKey Beta replacement keyboard.

With these caveats out of the way, allow me to introduce the 5 Android apps I can’t live without:

(1) Dropbox

Dropbox was one of the first apps I reinstalled on my phone after wiping it clean. We mention Dropbox on ProfHacker a lot, and there’s a reason. Dropbox is great for making off-site backups, but when it comes to the Android, what I value most is the ease with which I can share files between my laptop, my iPod Touch, and my Android phone. It’s a dead simple way to keep your essential files available, wherever you are, on whatever device.

(2) PDANet

I always seem to be traveling, or working somewhere that is not my home or campus office, and PDANet is essential for keeping me connected to the Internet when there’s no wifi available. I’m using PDANet right now, in fact, as I compose this, sitting in a local coffee shop with my laptop tethered to my phone. There’s a free version of PDANet, which works for any http: website, but the money I spent on the paid version—which allows me to visit secure https:// sites (as well as use SFTP and SSH)—was some of the best money I ever spent on software. And tethering via PDANet doesn’t cost you anything from your carrier. If you’ve already got a mobile data plan (and if you have an Android phone you do), then tethering is not only free, it’s priceless.

(3) Astrid

Astrid is a to-do/task management app, and its killer feature is its ability to sync seamlessly with the popular Remember the Milk site. There’s an official RTM Android app, but it’s only available if you’re a “Pro” (i.e. paying) Remember the Milk user, which costs $25/year. Astrid is free, ad-free, and feature-packed, including amusing reminder messages when you’ve ignored an item on your to-do list too long (“Feel good about yourself! Let’s go!” just popped up, for example, encouraging me to finish writing my syllabi).

(4) Tweetdeck

I count most of the time I spend on Twitter as professional development, and I’m always on the lookout for the perfect Twitter app. I used to use Twitter’s official Android app, but since the Tweetdeck beta came along, I haven’t opened Twitter for Android once. I’ve also removed all the other Twitter apps from my device. The latest version of Tweetdeck for Android features adjustable font sizes, multiple Twitter accounts, and fine-grained notifications for each data stream (your main feed, replies to you, and direct messages).

(5) Google Voice

Ryan provided an excellent introduction to Google Voice on ProfHacker, and the Android version of Google Voice does everything Ryan explains, and then some. While many users like the traffic control GV gives you over incoming calls, my favorite feature is its ability to take over your phone’s voicemail. When somebody calls and I don’t answer, Google Voice takes the message instead of Verizon, and the app becomes a kind of visual voicemail service. But the best part is that GV makes a transcription of every voicemail message and mails it to you. This works so well that I’ve begun using Google Voice as a voice recorder: I call my own voicemail and leave a message; Google then sends me a workable transcription of that message, which I can return to later. I’ve left myself dozens of notes this way—usually brilliant thoughts that occur to me during idle moments when I’m not quite idle enough to write them down.

What’s Missing?

Of course, once I reinstalled these 5 apps, I didn’t stop there. I continued reinstalling many more, including several that might have made this list. I’ll be looking more closely at one of these—3Banana—in an upcoming ProfHacker post. But what do you think I missed? What are your essential Android apps? What app couldn’t you live without on your Android phone? Let us know in the comments!

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