One of the most awesomest things about owning and using an Android smartphone is the fact that you can customize it to the way you want it – listening iPhone 6 users? – often just by adding a cool few apps. Over time I’ve identified a quartet of apps (all free except for one) which are essential tools to install, and which make things so easy I wonder why Android doesn’t have these features embedded as standard?
There are no words to describe just how great this little app is, because it fundamentally solves one of my big bugbears about handset security. The fact is I like to keep my phone content locked behind some kind of security, either pattern or PIN number, to deter casual access in case I mislay the phone. But a huge downside is the fact that I have to unlock every time I want to use the phone when I’m at home, which I consider a safe environment.
With this app I can set multiple ‘friendly’ WiFi network areas, which will automatically unlock the phone until I leave those locations. I can also set it so that WiFi on the phone is switched on when I arrive, and also switched off when I leave somewhere. It’s perfect for controlling safe access to my phone data, while making it easier to use without having to lift a finger, just set and forget. Oh and you can do exactly the same thing with Bluetooth, which is terrific for in-car use.
It’s the only app on this list which is not free (you do get 7 days free trial though), but it’s definitely worth every penny of the $4.99/£2.99 fee, which lets you use it on unlimited devices per account. Awesome.
2. Call PopOut
Answering your phone when a call comes in is a basic right of humanity, if we remember right, so how come it can be so annoyingly tricky sometimes? Especially if you’re deep in the bowels of another app or a game and a call comes in midway? Well with this free tool, you will always be just one press away from answering or rejecting a call, and better still, you will know exactly who it is who’s calling before you make that decision.
A quick swipe of the finger on the face photo icon of your caller lets you reject, mute or answer the incoming call and you don’t have to leave what you’re doing and interrupt your focus. Brilliant!
One of the great things about Android is how useful the notification bar has become, a little treasure trove of incoming messages and information. But it can be a hassle to have to swipe down to catch these messages when they arrive, especially if you’re busy doing something else. Which is why this Echo app is so cool. It moves the notification messages to your lock screen, so you can see them instantly when you press the power button to wake your handset.
It sounds like a small thing, but in fact it can save a heap of time if you’re constantly getting notifications all day, for SMS texts, system messages, missed calls, emails and the like. Having these messages one press away makes them so easy to access, and the best part is this app works flawlessly with just about every other app, which means you don’t have to change settings to get what you want. It turns your phone into a proper personal assistant. Fabulous.
Strictly speaking Pushbullet is more of a complete system than just an app, but it qualifies for my essential list simply because it’s a superb tool for managing information on your phone and across different devices, including your computers. We’ve reviewed it a couple of times before, so suffice to say it’s one of the most useful things you can stick on your phone.
When you need to move an image from phone to phone (or phone to computer), send over a map reference, or a link or simply a shopping list, just select what you want and use Pushbullet to transfer it in a second or two. It’s really that easy. Perfect for transferring addresses from computer to phone for the satnav, or copying recipes from the PC browser to tablet for the kitchen. Oh so perfectly useful.