As a part of this job, I have the (depending on how you look at it) pleasure of setting up new Android devices more often than any normal human should. The process, which has become much easier and more automated on Lollipop, can be both tedious and exciting. On one hand, you have to sign-in to every single app all over again, but on the other, you get to start playing with a brand new phone or tablet. For the most part, the joy of using a brand new phone outweighs the 20-30 minutes it may take to set it up.
Over the years, my setup process has become much tighter, leaner, and more efficient. Instead of installing a hundred or so apps with each new device that comes across my desk, I often only install a select few apps that I can’t live without. Since I tend to spend only a couple of weeks with a phone during a review period before sending it back to its owner, I’ve realized that I probably don’t need three different Twitter apps and a package tracker and credit card managers and four different photo editors.
These days, when I setup a device, I can get get by with a group of specific apps that you wouldn’t typically find pre-installed on a phone. Obviously, I’m a huge Google services user, but those related apps are all installed before I boot a new phone for the first time. If we look outside of those (Gmail, Hangouts, Maps, etc.), here are the first 15 I install every time.
Google Voice is almost always the first app I install because the phone I’m about to setup more than likely has a pre-installed SIM with active service for review purposes. In other words, it has a random phone number attached that I want nothing to do with and will never remember. With that said, I still want the phone to ring when someone tries to call me. With Google Voice, I can quickly attach my Google Voice number to the number on the phone, and then proceed to receive calls, send texts, and check voicemail as if I owned the phone the whole time. Google Voice, even though it seems to be the forgotten child of Google, is easily one of the most important apps ever created, in my opinion.
I gave up on the Gmail app months ago and never turned back. Even its beautiful new Material Design inspired theme couldn’t capture my attention again because Mailbox owns my life now. Thanks to its approach to email that treats incoming messages like tasks rather than dead weight on your life, along with a unified inbox that captures all of my Gmail accounts in a single window, I am far more productive today than ever before. Like Google Voice, Mailbox is an app that completely changed the way we use a service that was stuck in a very old, inefficient mindset.
For the most part, I’m not a social media or social network user. Sure, I have Facebook and Google+ and Twitter accounts, but the only one I really use on a regular basis is Instagram. I like photos. They are simple. They tell a story. And they don’t take much time to get through. I consider myself to be a semi-busy person, so with Instagram, I can get in, see the stuff I like, and get back out. I don’t have to hear about former roommate’s high school reunion drama or see political link spam. I can just hide in my own world of sneakers, clothing, and sports pictures.
After that Instagram rant, I know it looks odd that I’m now including a Twitter app, but hey, even haters need the Tweets. When I’m not using Instagram to hide in that world of sneakers, basketball, and clothing, I do rely on Fenix. Yes, I do still need Twitter for both work and pleasure, and this is the app I cannot live without.
From its beautiful Material-esque design, to its massive list of features and customizable options, I challenge you to find a Twitter app that can come even close to the awesomeness of Fenix. Seriously, this app actually got me back into using Twitter outside of work on a regular basis again.
You don’t need me to tell you why Chrome is awesome, right? Didn’t think so. However, I use Chrome Beta instead of stable Chrome because I like that you get to test out all of the new features before anyone else. Pull-to-refresh, anyone? Mmmhmm.
For years, I was an ESPN Scorecenter/Sportscenter user when it came to keeping up with sports, but after a couple of terrible makeovers, that app had to go. Enter theScore. This sports app is fantastic with its notifications of breaking news that can be fine-tuned by players, leagues, teams, or events. It also receives regular updates, allows you to hide all of the sports leagues that you want nothing to do with, and often brings out special features or sections for events like the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
As a blogger, I still use that thing that Google tried to kill. What’s it called? Ahhh yes, RSS. Feedly is the current king of RSS and so I use it religiously throughout the day to track news. That’s pretty much it. It’s well designed, but does take some getting used to. The developers behind it also seem to know that they are the RSS kings and are constantly introducing new goodies.
Over the last few years, I have slowly built up a collection of Sonos speakers throughout my house. It took a while, and I know that I could have purchased a Ferrari or something instead had I saved up the money, but hey, I like listening to music whenever I can. And so the Sonos app gets installed immediately so that I can control tunes no matter what room I’m in. Sonos also runs a beta program that allows you to test new features before anyone else.
UP by Jawbone
Last year, I gave up on Nike and their Fuelband after amassing one hell of a bucket of Fuel points because I grew sick of them ignoring Android users. Sure, they have Android apps now, but most are half-assed attempts to satisfy what could have been their biggest group of users. And so as I retired the Fuelband, I looked around at all of the other couple of dozen wearables, eventually settling on the Jawbone UP24. I can’t exactly tell you why I settled on the UP24, but man, I love this thing. From its subtle nudges that remind me to move after sitting still for too long (that’s right Tim Cook, your stupid Apple Watch didn’t invent that idea) and its integration with things like calorie counters, Nest, and other fitness apps, to it completely changing the way I wake up in the morning, I can’t see this accessory or its companion app ever leaving my side. Well, until the next version is released.
I love this calendar app. Sunrise, who was recently purchased by Microsoft, takes your Google (or iCloud or Exchange) calendar from as many accounts as you like, and combines it with all sorts of other task or event services to give you the ultimate powerhouse calendar. For example, I have a couple of Google accounts attached to Sunrise, but then I also attached Facebook, Foursquare, Songkick, and Asana accounts to bring those services and their events into a single app. Sunrise also has a fantastic web version and seems to be updated regularly with new features.
Back in early 2013, long before all of the cool kids realized what Nest was because Google bought them, we had completed a review of it, calling it our favorite Android accessory at the time. Still to this day, it ranks up there as one of my favorite accessories. It tries to save me money on my energy bills every month, which is awesome, but I really just like it for the lazy factor – which means I can control the heat or air conditioning in my house without having to get up. But it also does cool things like, automatically kick on my Dropcams when set to “away” and knows to turn my heat up to 68 when I get up in the morning at 6:00AM.
If you aren’t using Pushbullet yet, stop reading this and install it. I use Pushbullet for all sorts of things, every day, multiple times per day. I use it to send quick links from my phones to my Chrome browser and back again. I send tracking numbers to my phone, so that I can quickly copy them into AfterShip. I subscribe to channels, like Droid Life’s, to know exactly when new stories are posted up. I have it mirror select notifications on my phone to my computer, so that I never miss out on new sneaker listings. Seriously, the possibilities with Pushbullet are almost endless if your life is heavily invested in notifications and sharing.
There are dozens of run tracking apps out there, but I seem to have settled into RunKeeper within the last year. It tracks runs via GPS, you can pre-load routes, team up with buddies for motivation, track dozens of different types of activities or weight, and it has apps everywhere, including on Android, iOS, and the web. It also pairs with Google Fit and connects to my UP24 as well.
To manage our behind-the-scenes day here at Droid Life, we use Trello. Trello is an app for organizing anything, but we use it to bring the world of Android to you. Thankfully, the developers behind Trello are awesome and are constantly pushing updates to their Android app, including a big one that brought in that Material Design goodness.
Reddit News Pro
When I’m not pounding keys for Droid Life or killing time on Instagram or hitting the streets for a jog, I may or may not be a lurker of reddit. Should I find time to lurk, I use Reddit News Pro because of its amazing design, set of themes, and feature set. Reddit can be overwhelming if you haven’t used it much, but Reddit News Pro makes the entire experience available with a really nifty multi-panel navigation setup and all sorts of swipe gestures.
What does your list of instant installs look like?