The Mark Ledden Blog

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Category Archives: android

5 Android Apps I Couldn’t Live Without


The phone I have isn’t too fancy but it’s by far the faniciest phone I’ve ever owned and It’s allowed me to do more than I could ever image with a phone. When the upgrade was nearing on my old contract I knew I had to go for an Android phone.

The biggest thing to get over when moving from a fairly standard phone to a full touch screen is the simple lack of buttons. I had huge difficulties at the start finding a comfortable solution to inputing text into my phone. I couldn’t get along with the stock keyboard. My thumbs were just too fat! It even drove me away from texting and any other activity which required the delicate touch I lacked when it came to input on this new breed of phone.

This brings me to probably the most important and underrated app on my phone. Most likely because once it’s there you don’t need to think about it. I probably use it more than anything else and it just makes my phone usable for someone like me. (I even wrote a blog post about it)

#1 – Swype

I started using this in it’s early beta after hearing about it from some blog (no idea which one). In fact it’s still actually in beta but it’s works beautifully and I’ve never had any issues. The concept is quite simple, the keyboard is laid out like any other and all you need to do is drag your finger around over the letters to make the word you want to spell. It doesn’t even have to be that accurate and it does a pretty good job of guessing the word you want.

#2 – Opera Mini

This is a bit of a swiss army knife app. I use it both as a backup browser; when I need something fast (bus/train times, other info etc). I also use it when I’m nearing my data limit as it manages to get you what you need with minimal bandwidth. It acheives this by running all of it’s traffic through Opera’s servers and compressing the web pages, often by as much as 90%. I can’t really get on with it on a full time basis as it’s not overly pretty, lacks some features and because of the compression, pages may not render properly. Though it’s not a huge app but it’s incredibly powerful so it’s always good to have around when you might need it.

#3 – Juice Defender

If you have a samrtphone you’re probably well aware of their terrible battery life. You more than likely plan when your next charge is going to come from and probably stare anxiously at the battery level. Either that or you’re phone is dying in the middle of an important call.

There are a whole host of battery saving/monitoring apps out there. I used to use APN Droid which cuts off all your connectivity apart from calls and SMS. I still do use it for extreme battery levels and times when I know I wont be using my phone but still need it on. I also use it when I need to restrict my data usage.

However there are other occasions where simply cutting off connectivity doesn’t seem to cut it. We’re paying for these 3G data speeds and it kind of defeats the point of having a smartphone if we’re not using them to their full capacity.

The happy medium comes with Juice Defender. It cleverly and comprehensively monitors and restricts battery usage according to a plethora of different settings. It’s aim is to give you the longest life of your battery while still being able to use your phone to it’s full potential. If you go and get this app now you’ll instantly notice a difference.

There really is so much control you can take over what aspects of your phone use up your battery that you’re more likely to get lost in the settings. The free app is enough for most but for those control freaks the paid app is more than worth it.

#4 – EasyTether

This is another one of those ’emergency apps’. For those occassions when you’re out with your laptop and can’t get any free WiFi but have have your phone in your pocket with super fast connectivity and you desperately need to get some work done. After trying the free app I had to pay for the upgrade to get the https option. It’s probably the cheapest option out there and it’s cross-platform, working great on my Ubuntu netbook and Windows 7 desktop.

There isn’t much to say here as it does exactly what it says on the tin and turns your phone into a modem. I’m very happy with it. If you need a tethering app (without root) this is the one.

#5 – DropBox

This app would probably be on most people’s lists and there’s not a whole lot I can say about it except it’s helped me out of a few tricky situations where I desperately needed a document but had no Internet but my phone. In a way it’s starting to help my phone to act as a USB ‘gateway’ drive (or some similar kind of jiberish). It’s something I’ll always have with me and lets me access important files when I might need them.

Bonus App! – The Trainline

This is a recent little gem I’ve found which has already saved me a bit of money. I do a fair bit of travelling by train and know a few ways of saving money and getting the most out of my tickets. This app has allowed me to buy advanced tickets for the next day or the week ahead at a fraction of the price and at crutial times when I don’t have my laptop with me.

It’s quick, easy and from what I hear, very secure. My only gripe is the booking fee (£1 each time). It’s not huge but on the ocassions when I do have my laptop I’ll always book with Virgin Trains as they don’t charge a booking fee. Virgin Trains say there is an Android app on the way and for that I cannot wait. Until then The Trainline app is great!

So that’s my toolbox of apps I don’t think I could get along without. Are any of these on your list of favourites? Or do you have a few others which you rely on?

SoundCloud Mashups From SoundGarage At Music Hack Day


The new official SoundCloud app for Android might look amazing and have one significant feature over the rest (audio recording) but my favourite app of them all is SoundGarage. If you’ve kept up to date with what’s been happening at Music Hack Day you might have already heard about this but if not then you might find them very cool.

Both hacks are clever mash-ups of the SoundCloud API and other API’s, which allow for new ways to interact using the SoundGarage Android app.

SoundBump

The first is SoundBump. This uses the BUMP API which allows users to share information by simply bumping their phones together. In the pictures below you’ll see the option to BUMP with other users and the ability to share a number of things.

This could be a really useful application and helps bring things back into the real world, If only just for a moment.

SoundNest

SoundNest taps into EchoNest’s API to give you artist recommendations. It uses the SoundCloud users you follow to come up with recommendations tailored for you then searches SoundCloud for these users and gives you the option to follow them.

This just makes the whole process of music discovery even easier and pushes it a little closer to being the go-to app when you want to listen to some new music.

 

 

SoundGarage (previously SoundCloud Mobile) [Android]



Time technology and time seem to move much quicker than I do. And just as I was wrapping up my review of the only available SoundCloud app for Android an update for it appeared in the Android Market which, at first seemed like a major overhaul but was actually only really a renaming. The app was originally called ‘SoundCloud Mobile’ but now appeared as ‘SoundGarage’. I suspected this was due to some influence from Soundcloud themselves, but on keeping up with threads in forums etc, I didn’t get the impression SoundCloud actually had their own app in the pipeline. Then once the flashy iPhone App got it’s release I really was hoping for an Android release and now that wish has just come true. It looks much like the iPhone app but sadly I haven’t managed to get the official app working so in the meantime here’s a review of SoundGarage.

Getting Started

To download the app just search for SoundCloud SoundGarage Mobile in the Android Market. On the first launch you will need to authorise the app by signing in to your SoundCloud account. You will be re-directed to your browser and back once this is complete. On the SoundGarage main menu you are presented with five choices:

  • You
  • Tracks
  • People
  • Groups
  • Genre

‘You’

This page gives you a further four choices:

  • Profile
  • Tracks
  • Favorites
  • Groups

When you select ‘profile’ you can view some basic elements of your profile. There are some icons towards the bottom which aren’t immediately clear at first glance, but on closer inspection do make sense. It shows the number of people following you, the number of people you are following and the number of tracks you have.

When you step backwards to the previous screen and select tracks, as you would expect you are confronted with your tracks. When you select a track to listen to the app turns into a nifty music player which also gives you the stats (plays, loves, downloads, comments) for that track. It also allows you to add or view comments while listening. You can also love or share the track you are listening to. While a track is playing you are also free to browse the rest of the app and let it play in the background.

‘Tracks’

This screen gives you a number of options to browse through tracks.

  1. Your Tracks
  2. Hot Tracks
  3. Latest Tracks
  4. By People You Follow
  5. Creative Commons
  6. Search

‘Your Tracks’ and ‘By People You Follow’ are pretty self-explanatory. ‘Hot Tracks’ and ‘Latest Tracks’ are great for music discovery and ‘Creative Commons’ is perfect if your looking for some audio or music free of copyright restrictions.

‘People’

This is pretty basic and doesn’t need explaining.

  1. You Follow
  2. Following you
  3. Search For People

‘Groups’

Now I don’t participate in much of the group stuff on SoundCloud which is shocking, considering it’s a social site, but it’s a really great way to keep up with what’s going on. It also helps kill some time when you’re on the go and is good for some more music discovery. You cant view discussion threads though, only comments of tracks that exist in that group. I’ve also tried to join groups within the app, but it doesn’t seem to be supported.

  1. Your Groups
  2. Active Groups
  3. Latest Groups
  4. Search For groups

‘Genre

  • Easy Listening
  • Electronic
  • Jazz
  • Latin
  • Metal
  • Pop
  • R&B/Urban
  • Rap
  • Reggae
  • Rock
  • Soundtracks

Each of these give you huge lists of sub-categories to chose from.

Summing Up

You can see how every functionality has been packed into this app in a sensible way and actually makes for a nice media player. Some nice additions would be the ability to download those tracks that are free to download and back-to-back playback.

Also, Im not sure of the bandwidth eaten up by this app but it’s definitely something to watch out for if you’re on a particularly limited data plan. I don’t think I’ll be worrying too much though.

It’s a bit of a shame that the official SoundCloud app has now overshadowed this one. I think it could be difficult for it to compete, especially with the recordiing functionallity. But it’s great to have the option. I think a great way to go would be to try and offer something different, like the range of web and other apps soundcloud already has. I’d love to see a mobile music player built on SoundCloud, with back-to-back playing, queing, playlists etc and the ability to download and purchase music all through SoundCloud. In terms of a music player think of the Chrome Extension; ExtensionFM, which is a nifty little browser-based music player which allows you to listen to your SoundCloud music (as well as music from other sources). Then if you add the social aspects of SoundCloud; the dashboard, the discussions etc, and have all of this combined and incorporated into one app then you’ve got yourself a truely mobile, social music experience.

Why I Love Hootsuite


It would appear that I have settled on Hootsuite as my all round social dashboard and Twitter app (Brizzly changed this a little but I’ll go into that some other time). The search was for a desktop/mobile combo and has mainly been between Seesmic, Hootsuite and Tweetdeck.

Just to give you a bit of a primer I use Linux as my main desktop so decent native applications can be hard to come by (I prefer web apps for their portability anyway) and I have an Android phone so until the other day that ruled out Tweetdeck. As for seesmic, I didn’t find the web app that exciting.

I’m not going to go into every functionality of Hootsuite, most of which every other Twitter app can do. I’m just going to pass on the things I find it does better than others and the reasons why I make it my number one.

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SoundCloud & AudioBoo, Part 1: AudioBoo


OK, originally this post was meant to be about SoundCloud, then it was going to be on AudioBoo. In the end I though why not talk about both and give a rundown of their individual features, a comparison of the two and what you might be able to achieve using the two together. This will be a two part post, bringing you AudioBoo in the first half and SoundCloud in the second.

What we have here are two audio-based social networking sites at quite different ends of the scale…

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