I Joined the Dark Side

Back in 2010 I was really looking forward to the upcoming MeeGo phones by Nokia, but alas, it was not to be. My five-year-old phone started dropping its connection now and then for no apparent reason, so it was time to upgrade. Unfortunately all the phones out there seemed to be either mini-tablets or otherwise not living up to my requirements, but a few weeks after I’d stopped looking I almost accidentally came across the Sony Ericsson xPeria ray. It combined two features very important to me: it is not a small tablet and it has a nice resolution, resulting in nigh 300 PPI. Can I get the latter on desktop monitors please, instead of that paltry 1080p HD that seems to be popular right now?

I intend to document some of the apps I’ve installed and why, and perhaps also why I quickly uninstalled some others. To that extent it’s more of a public note to self, but who knows — it might just help to someone else.

Sense Analog Clock Widget
Because none of the other clock widgets were big enough. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a big clock to be the first thing I see. The weather, system info and configurable click actions are a nice touch.
K-9 Mail
The default e-mail client was alright, but not really any better than what my old SE s500i gave me over half a decade ago. Besides, it’s mostly just the default client with some bells and whistles.
K9 Mail Unread Count Icon
Unlike the default e-mail client, K-9 Mail doesn’t display the number of unread messages in its icon. This widget takes care of that.
Keyboard from Android 2.3
I like the default Android 2.3 keyboard better than the one Sony Ericsson included. You can choose your preferred keyboard by long-pressing on a text-input field. Among the advantages are that it’s easier to type symbols and you can change languages by a simple swipe on the space bar. Besides, it has a speech recognition button built-in so you don’t necessarily have to type on the screen.
AndFTP
I tried a few FTP programs. Most were lacking in the SFTP department. However, I think it may not ask before it overwrites files.
Dropbox
Heck, it’s useful. Besides, they give you 500MB of extra free storage.
ArchiDroid
I need to extract files sometimes. Duh.
OI File Manager and Open Manager
I haven’t decided which one I like better, but it’s preposterous that something like this wasn’t included by default. Did I mention my feature phone came with a basic file manager?
Barcode Scanner
Very straightforward. It scans those funky QR code blocks without any fluff.
QR Bookmarklet
This one actually isn’t for my phone, but for my regular browser. I saved it among my bookmarklets and gave it the nickname “qr”. Now if I want to open any page on my phone, I can just type “qr” and use Barcode Scanner.
Opera Mobile and Opera Mini
Are any other browsers even in the same league? Mobile for Wi-Fi, Turbo for when a real browser might be required on the go, and Mini for true data saving. Also consider Firefox. The default Webkit browser is bearable, but basically awful. Note that while Opera Mobile supports options like site preferences, adding them is a bit of a pain due to the lack of a simple interface.
Battery Widget
I like a big battery indicator — and the little one it adds to the notification bar has an actual number so you know what’s going on.
Screebl Beta
The best argument for those motion sensors yet. It disables or holds back the screen timeout while the phone is in your hand and can speed it up when you lay it down.
Timeriffic
Again, it seems like this should be included by default. Set your phone up to stfu at night and whenever else you don’t want it to ring. You can also change some other settings if you want, but for me it makes more sense to turn e.g. Wi-Fi on manually.
OpenOffice Document Reader
LibreOffice is my preferred office application after HTML + CSS rendered to PDF with Prince. I may want to look up something in one of my documents on the go.
wifi AutoSyncAutoToggle widget
I don’t really want my phone wasting CPU or data on syncing unless I’m on WLAN. This takes care of that. Don’t forget to tell your applications to obey this setting. Other applications, most notably Google Play Store, don’t necessarily live by this setting, but sport options like “update or sync over Wi-Fi only.”
SD Tools
I don’t know if I’d recommend installing it per se, but benchmarking the speed might interesting for comparison.
Maps With Me
It’s a lot like Google Maps, except it’s based on OpenStreetMaps and offline. There are more OSM apps out there, but most I’ve tried seem to be less fluid, uglier, or default to turning the GPS on. I’m just looking at having a decent 2D map just in case — I’ve got an actual GPS with a bigger screen (albeit sadly with a much lower PPI value) for driving. Surprisingly, although I also gave a few commercial applications a try, their 2D maps didn’t seem nearly as usable as the Google Maps or Maps With Me varieties. The commercial apps have loads of POIs though, which might sometimes be useful.
Aard Dictionary
In a similar vein, I’ve now got The Collaborative International Dictionary of English and the entirety of Wikipedia on my phone. It’s not only useful for when you don’t want to use data: it’s actually really, really fast. There are more dictionaries available, or you can make your own. The only downside I can think of is that SVGs (which presumably shouldn’t take too much extra space) are missing from the files.

Android is certainly usable, but ultimately it’s too Apple-ish for my tastes. It’s also a bit annoying that by default everything’s set up to use data all the time. I understand that connectivity is a big factor of the device, but it’s no wonder people complain about low battery life if their phones are synchronizing all kinds of things every few minutes. If I’m on the go I can live with checking for new e-mail manually to conserve both data usage and battery life. Ultimately, while I’m happy with my new phone, I hope real GNU/Linux will be available before I have to buy a new one again.

1 Comment

  1. A few years down the line I would add SystemCleanup as an absolute must. Back when I bought my phone I’d have liked at least double the memory and storage, but I figured 512MB RAM and 1GB built-in storage should do the trick. In 2014 that assumption somewhat breaks down. You can run e.g. CyanogenMod completely without the space-guzzling Google apps because most of what you want is on F-Droid, but with SystemCleanup you can simply force big apps like Dropbox, Google Maps, and Google Search to live on your SD card. I imagine it simply does some symlinking under the hood, but it’s easier this way. Of course, on slower SD cards this will be way too slow, but what’s cheaper anyway? A €30 new fast microSD card or a €300 new phone (in which you can probably reuse your microSD card when you eventually buy one).

    September 23, 2014 @ 10:43Permalink
    Frans

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