Android apps that you don’t want to miss

Few bloggers on earth can refrain from posting about their favorite apps. So can’t I.
But I want to keep it on the tech side of things – no games (well, maybe one or two)…


This post is updated regularly:

  • May 13, 2011 – first list of apps posted
  • May 31, 2011 – Swiftkey, best Google apps

Keyboard / Typing


This keyboard replacement is simply an incredible app! It scans your existing correspondence (emails, SMS messages, Facebook and Twitter postings) and builds a database from the words you use. While you are typing a new text SwiftKey constantly proposes the most likely word that you want to type. It also proposes the most likely next word – so you will often find yourself just accepting three or four words in a row because they make up a phrase that you often use. I rarely have to type complete words – most of them are correctly predicted by the app long before I finish typing them. The software is so impressive that it sometimes feels like it is reading your thoughts. And it constantly learns and improves with every new sentence that you are typing. Writing in different languages (like English and German in my case) is possible without any switching – SwiftKey simply recognizes which language you are typing in.
Extremely impressive and highly recommendable!


There is a whole range of free Google apps. I recommend most of them. Some of them are preinstalled on all Android phones (like Google Maps). Nevertheless you should download and install them once again from Android Market because the preinstalled versions will never update. And the updates can actually be quite considerable. So go to market and renew your major Android apps (Gmail, Google Maps, Google Search, YouTube).

Here is a list of available Google apps to my knowledge:

  • Google Docs improves the handling of the Google online office suite (spreadsheets, documents, presentations). It works better than accessing the system with a web browser.
  • Google Translate works better than accessing the Google translator with a web browser.
  • Google Maps has improved a lot over the last year. Many new features – a must-have. It includes Latitude (to locate your friends), Places (to find and rate shops and suppliers), and most important: Navigation. Google Navigation has seen some major progress in 2010/11. Its traffic prediction is based on the movement data of other users of the app. This leads to very up-to-date traffic jam indications and astonishingly accurate travel time predictions. It effectively chooses alternative routes if the direct one is jammed. The voice commands and the tilted 3D-view are impeccable.
  • Street View on Google Maps adds the well known on-site view to Google Maps.
  • Google Sky Map is a gorgeous app. Point your phone towards any object in the sky at night and it shows you the stars, constellations and planets that you see in that direction.
  • Google Earth – do I need to explain that one?
  • Blogger is the Android app to manage your blog on the Blogger platform (former Blogspot).
  • There are more than 30 other Google apps, i.e. Goggles, Voice Search, My Tracks, and many others. You will find the complete and up-to-date list here.

Network tools

Overlook Fing

If you are interested in all network ports and services available within the WIFI network you are currently logged in, then this is a great gadget. With the touch of a button it reveals all IPs, ports, MACs, manufacturers, and resolved DNS names in the network you are connected to. Basic network params like connection speed, gateway and DNS server address, and subnet mask are shown too. It is indeed a port scanner, so don’t expect to go unnoticed if you use it in a high-security corporate environment!

WiFinder and Wifi Analyzer

The major (and often unknown) potential of these apps is to analyze signal conditions in the coverage area of your WIFI. You have to select a channel for your WIFI that is as far away from channels used in your neighborhood as possible. Do NOT rely on auto-channel mechanisms in your router or access point – the decision has to be taken at the location of the receiver, not at the location of the sender! So switch the auto-channel option off in your access point, check the WIFI coverage close to all receivers in your network using one of these apps, and decide for a channel that is unaffected by other WIFI networks.
WiFinder is sufficient for the task. Wifi Analyzer is still better, showing (among many other) Gaussian bell curves to depict the mutual influence between WIFIs on adjacent channels.

Data Exchange

File Expert

I tested several file managers. The well known and wide spread Astro did not become my favorite. File Expert has a clean user interface and is faster to use. The developers keep adding functions constantly. It can access SMB file mounts (Windows shares) out of the box. It also has a build in FTP server which makes it very easy to exchange data between two Android smart phones. Right now you still need an FTP client (AndFTP is good!) on one of the Androids, but the developers of File Expert have announced to include such a client too. A second option to transfer data between gadgets is the Web Share function – a built-in simple HTTP server that can be started and allows other machines in the network to access files on your Android using a web browser.


A common space in the cloud to share data between all your PCs, Macs, Smartphones…
Usage is extremely simple (just drag&drop on PCs and Macs or forward the files to the app on your smartphone). 2GB of space are free, more can be bought. The free space is sufficient to quickly exchange images and the like. Protected and public folders can be created. Access to folders can be granted to friends simply by sending them a special URL.


This is one of the apps that spreads among smartphone users (Android and iPhone!) like a disease – and for a good reason. It is simply a great idea: echange files and contacts between smartphones (even between iPhones and Androids) by bumping the phones against each other. You better do it gently: hold them in your hands and knock the hands against each other – not the gadgets themselves.
Images are reduced during transfer to 1024×768, so if you want to transfer full resolution, you still need a File Manager or the Drop Box app (both listed above) or similar solutions.

Email clients

K-9 Mail

I had problems with the standard email client on my Defy – it used to hang regularly and refuse to poll new emails (or get them pushed). I couldn’t help but restart Android about once a day to get it working again. While I use an independant email provider, my wife is using her Defy with her Gmail account and does not experience similar problems, so I guess the native Android email client has problems with non-Gmail accounts.

Anyway, K9 did solve my problems instantly. It is THE email client of choice for Android, supporting both POP3 and IMAP including push transfer.


RunKeeper, Runtastic, Cardio Trainer

Your smartphone can be a great companion when you are running/jogging or cycling. An app can track your trail, speed, altitude, give you audio feedback about time, distance and pace, and keep a log of your activities.

I intensively tested and compared 3 products. My final decision is not based on the app alone, but also on the accompanying website that you will most likely use to track your statistics, see your overall results, find new tracks and get in touch with the community.

The three candidates are rather similar in app functionality and they all mark the upper end of current development. The respective websites however differ a lot. While Cardio Trainer is a nice app the website evaluation functions fall back behind the other two apps. Runtastic and RunKeeper look quite similar in many parts. I had problems with several parts of the Runtastic website (looks like they did not yet finish all of the comunity functions). In the end RunKeeper has the best overall system and also the leading app to my mind. The app does not ask for too many rights and also the Facebook app (that allows you to post/boast about your activities in the community) does not ask more rights than it really needs. While I was prepared to buy the best of the three apps, the free RunKeeper version has all major features activated right from the start, including audio cues (so does Cardio Trainer, but as said, its website is rather weak).

By the way: Transfering your tracking data between each of these sports apps is easy using the import/export functions for GPX files (usually this is done in the website of the app provider). So you can test them one by one and transfer the data of all your test runs to your favorite app in the end. While I did that I found it interesting to see that the exactly same tracking data, when imported into another app, yields different run lengths and elevation results. This is most likely the result of the data filtering math that is done inside each of the apps to distinguish between precise GPS fixes and outliers under bad signal conditions. Cardio Trainer even offers a choice in its settings to select between different filtering strengths.

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