Archives for : Android


Every now and then something comes along where you can see somebody’s put some serious thought in to what they’re designing. The Raspberry Pi is probably the first thing that comes to mind, the Pebble watch is another. Lego is a brilliant example.

With apps, it’s lesser so. Not because people don’t think about what they’re doing, but because there are so many out there that are either sloppy/lazy, through no fault of their own the developers don’t have the experience, or because they’re looking at a means of making money (adverts, data theft etc.). Some apps really do shine through though, Tasker, AutoRemote, Titanium Backup, Spideroak. [See an early list]

Latest to the list must be Encryptr. Like Spideroak, at its core it is built on the ZeroKnowledge principle. This got Spideroak some criticism because with ZeroKnowledge systems, only the end user (that’s you) can read what’s stored. Not GHCQ, not David Bloody Cameron, not the FBI, not even Spideroak themselves. All associated data is encrypted and can only be decrypted with a passcode, password, phrase, or similar.

For a little while now (since Dropbox was hacked for the second time) I’ve been looking for something that uses Spideroak’s approach, end point decryption for keeping passwords secure. After a quick search I decided the best way was to use Spideroak’s Hive. Spideroak has a couple of options, data is stored per machine or shared with all machines signed in to that account. Hive is the latter, so my passwords are securely synced with every machine I choose to sign in with. It meant that if I didn’t have a phone signal I was a bit stuck, but only passwords for internet based systems were being stored. It also meant that I had to be at a PC to create the file but Spideroak are currently looking to implement this as an option in an upcoming release.

Encryptr is the solution to the problem. It doesn’t matter if your phone gets lost, stolen, soaked or damaged because no data is stored on your phone. Every password, PIN, credit card number and note that’s stored is done so securely online. With cross platform availability, the same passwords on your phone can be synced with your Windows or Linux PC or even your Mac. It even offers a secure, randomly generated password for you when you input an entry. Best of all, it’s free. There’s no advertising, no sign up, no personal details required to use it, just a user name and a passphrase/password. That’s it.

As Encryptr’s web site states, there’s a down side. If you forget your username and/or passphrase you’re locked out. No ‘forgot my password’ option as they don’t ask for your email address. Taking this into account, you have to acknowledge the advantages far outweigh any risk of forgetting your username and passphrase.

Encryptr’s developers have obviously thought about what they’re doing. While basic, the app and its ethos have a solid foundation. I’d like to be able to put entries in folders, toggle the courtesy password on/off and select its length and complexity (upper/lower case, numbers, symbols etc) and be able to copy the password in to the clipboard, but these are suggestions for a later version.

Considering the app is only at version 1.1.0, what Encryptr have achieved is impressive.


Pain Diary

I recently had the opportunity to answer questions about pain management and wearables.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, I suspect most people are aware of the products.

Wearables are smart devices that are worn; fitness trackers, smart watches, health trackers etc. I’m not sure if those Bluetooth pills that are swallowed and feed back to a smartphone are strictly classified as wearable, but their benefits are definitely there.  Real time data is big business, and there are companies all over the world looking to cash in.  While many of those companies are profit based, some are more altruistic.  I certainly don’t have their budget but I wonder if the limited consumer gadgets I own could be put to use?

I’ve suffered with pain in my left knee after a road accident in 2007, pain in my lower back since around ’96 and my shoulder has dislocated at least since ’91.  I’d love to be able to walk, but the consultant at the Pain Clinic has told me it will never happen.  I’m taking it with a pinch of salt.  In 1974 my parents were told I wouldn’t survive the week.  I may be completely in denial, but I’d like to think that when it comes to medicine we can’t say never.  Putting aside the progress that’s being made in exoskeletons, I think the odds are against me but if I can help the medical profession find a trend then I’m going to do all I can.

Tasker already manages my medicines for me, announcing when they should be taken and nagging me if I’ve been unable to take them at a given time.  Tasker also allows me to manually record entries to my Pain Diary.  The entries update a text file (chosen for universal compatibility) via Dropbox, and also a privately shared Google calendar (accessible only via a private link). When combined with AutoPebble, medication notices can be pushed to the watch and actions taken.  I can notify Tasker that I’ve taken my meds, or to dismiss the alert and remind me later.  It also allows me to update my Pain Diary, all without taking my phone from my pocket.

Although the Pebble smart watch is renowned for its battery life, usually lasting 6 – 8 days, I’m not relying exclusively on it.  Using Tasker’s Scene functionality I can also have buttons pop up and update the Pain Diary straight from the phone’s home screen.  Because of the way Tasker works, that screen and all associated settings can be taken to a tablet or an upgraded phone in a couple of minutes.

Because of the way it’s set up I can add or remove items in the list very quickly. I can also type in rarer entries manually.  It has only really benefited me properly a couple of times, but those times have been worth it.  When a nurse asked how often I experience chest pains I was able to provide exact times and dates in a couple of minutes.

Obviously, this doesn’t have anywhere near the sophistication of what is achievable or even what’s currently in development. It has to be manually selected and doesn’t include heart rate, blood pressure, etc. but that’s not what I’ve set out to do. This started as a means for me to keep a personal record of when I’m in the most pain.  Providing the Pain Clinic with the entries is just an added bonus.


It surprises me that more phones haven’t been waterproofed. A few years ago, Jason Bradbury featured a Samsung Galaxy S2 being submerged in water without any adverse effects after being coated with a nano-coating by P2i. Nowadays, a few phones will claim to be splashproof, but currently only Sony make fully waterproof phones. Despite the obvious appeal of a naturally submersible phone, I really don’t want a Sony product again.

There have been a few cases on the market to protect your phone. When the Lifeproof case was on special offer, I seized the opportunity. Lifeproof has a great reputation. I’ve seen their products for iPhones in the past but this was not only a Lifeproof case for an Android device, but for the same one I use. At least for now.

When you first pick up the box you immediately feel as though Lifeproof have given thought to their product. The box is tactile, a door on the front opens to let you view the product through the transparency. What impressed me was the magnets (top and bottom) which snap the door shut.

Lifeproof cover and test unitLifeproof internal sealThe rear of the box boasts the case will protect your phone with a rating of IP68. It can be fully submerged up to 6½ feet. Unfortunately, I can’t say I hold much confidence in this claim.

Lifeproof base, showing waterLifeproof include a phone’s “test unit”, a blue plastic mock up matching the dimensions of the phone it’s designed to protect. The manual suggests testing the case using the test unit for 30 minutes, weighted down to fully submerge it in water. I
tested it for 15 minutes using their test unit and found the product leaking water.

Lifeproof base, wet lockThe case was dried off, checked for anything that could be preventing the Lifeproof case from working properly. I could see nothing that would cause the leak.
The second test lasted only 5 minutes. Unfortunately the case was unable to resist the water using the provided test unit.

Another check for any dust, dirt, cracks in the rubber, anything at all proved fruitless. I checked and double
checked the test unit. Even under a jeweller’s magnifying glass nothing showed that could account for the leaks. To say it came as a disappointment was an understatement.

The final test was done under full observation in the hope the source may be found. No such luck. There was no obvious point where air could be seen escaping. After ten minutes it was clear that nothing would give away the weak point. With some surprise I learned the third test was successful.

I’m aware the only consistent factors in these tests have been the same case, the same test unit and the same person. Being truly objective, I cannot rule out me missing something between tests, however small. To the best of my knowledge, in each test nothing had changed. The test unit was settled in place. The case was snapped shut with the same force as before. Even the order of it closing matched the previous tests.

Pros: The Lifeproof case is sturdy. It feels like a quality product. The rubber on its back makes gripping it very easy. Despite only having contact with surfaces with its four rubber feet it doesn’t easily slide (tested at various angles). The speaker and microphone aren’t obstructed due to a waterproof membrane, music can be heard as before and nobody called knew the phone was in a case. Rubber covers over the buttons stand out proud from the base making finding them easy, but prevent the phone activating without your knowledge.

Cons: Some charging cables no longer work due to the smaller aperture at the base (see yellow plug on the case). None of the OTG cable fits. Only a third of the tests with the test unit passed being submerged in water.

Outcome: The Lifeproof case tested with the Samsung I9305 feels like a quality product. Even the box has had serious thought put in to it. The case will block dust, dirt, sand etc. (involuntary test) with ease.  [You’ll understand me not testing the waterproofing with the phone.]  Using the official cables and not cheap ones from eBay, the phone performs exactly as it always has.  Bumps and drops on to hard floor tiles are taken in its stride.

I’d recommend Lifeproof cases to anyone who asks. Cheap cases may save your phone from knocks and drops, but they can’t offer anything like the protection of a Lifeproof case.

Pebble throwing

I won’t go in to the details twice, but I had one requirement in a smartwatch – it had to interact with Tasker.

It turns out that Pebble themselves have decided on our behalf to stop supporting certain apps.  My needs in a smartwatch are few but supporting Tasker is essential and Google apps are next on the list.

Pebble drop Tasker


Pebble want to control what information you’re allowed to see on your watch, and they want to control it all through their app.  Had I wanted such strict control I’d have bought an iPhone!  My phone is Android.  Android is open source.  Not restricted.  The app doesn’t even have a tick/untick box, warning “Tasker / Google Now may result in repeated notifications”.

The thing is, Tasker brings functionality to the watch that Pebble themselves haven’t been able to do.  With its plugins and 3rd party apps integrating with Tasker it means you can do so much more than the already comprehensive app is capable of.  As Pebble want to restrict which apps they’ll allow you to use they’re putting nails in their own coffin.  If they’re not careful these sorts of decisions will do to their watch what Blackberry and Nokia did to their phones.

A year ago, Pebble were already facing criticism for blatant favouring of the iPhone over Android.  Even at the bottom of the box showed where Pebble’s alliance lay:

Pebble Box (under) highlighted

Pebble have faced criticism for not using colour screens or implementing touch screen functionality, especially in their Pebble Steel.  By denying access to certain apps and restricting functionality, even their supporters in the Android community will start to jump ship.

What annoys me is that there weren’t any “This app will no longer be supported as of 31/12/14” notifications.  Not even “This app is no longer supported”.  If a company behind smartwatches can’t send a notification to their own product then perhaps they should consider removing the prefix ‘smart’.

However, all may not be lost.  Recently Pebble announced their app can interact with Android Wear.  The Android Wear app doesn’t even need to be connected to the app or signed in to any account.  The only requirement is that it be installed.  Time will no doubt tell whether this restores what Pebble saw fit to block.  With a little good fortune I won’t be Pebble throwing any time soon.

In App Purchases

In app purchases

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of in app purchases (IAPs).  People have had issues with them not transferring to new phones, upgrades, replacements, and secondary (usually work) phones.  I much prefer to buy a separate unlock key/app.  This way you know it’s tied in to your Google account and not something like your IMEI (the handsets serial number) which will almost certainly change over time.

I saw something last night which both shocked and appalled me.  A game by Disney with a medium rating showed IAPs ranging from £3.08 to £61.63!  That’s around US$98!  This is something that my seven year old son would positively love to play but if I told him it would cost him over £60 to buy part of the game, and unless he paid it he wouldn’t be able to play that part or buy something he’d need, even he would say it didn’t matter.

Only recently, Amazon was sued by the USA’s regulators over child IAPs.  The European Commission and the EU regulatory body asked Google to stop calling apps containing IAPs free by the end of September.  Apple say they promise to tackle it, but offered no date by which they must do this.

After looking at Google Play and Apple itunes it’s interesting that while the Play store charges £61, Apple’s iTunes charges nearly £70! (US$111.10)

We all know that Disney has faced hard times.  Their reputation diminished hugely, which possibly influenced them to buy Pixar.  They simply haven’t kept up with modern times.  Their merchandising may have no shame, but this is disgraceful.  It’s disgusting and looks thoroughly extortionate.

At £60 to £70 this is the most expensive IAP I’ve ever seen.  Considering Disney is associated with young children I can’t see how they could possibly think their demographic could afford to pay it.

Evolution of notifications

I’ve had smartphones ever since the Nokia N-Gage was released and I’ve grown accustomed to notifications changing. It started with things like Bluetooth being turned on, new SMS text messages and missed calls, something not unexpected on a telephone.

Symbian S60 changed to v2, v3, v3/v5 and v5 before it was retired. Icons and symbols associated with telephone function have since changed to include tweets, weather forecasts, RSS feeds, choice of keyboards and various other apps.

I now get reminded to take my medication or to take out the bin, as well as more personal notifications such as the computer has finished whatever task it was set or the dishwasher has finished its cycle.

Of course nowadays our notifications are branching away from our phone screens to Google Glass, Android Wear smartwatches, or the more battery friendly Pebble.
We can acknowledge or even respond to our information with the blink of an eye or a flick of our wrist.

So much information is at our fingertips we’re now the weak link in the chain. We can’t possibly process everything that comes our way. The notifications for it all would be overwhelming. So as we bring more and more information to our attention with services like IFTTT and apps like Tasker, we set up customisable conditional events to only show something of we’re at home or something else if we’re at work but only if the outdoor temperature drops below a given temperature or above a given humidity level; send a photograph to Twitter, Instagram or Facebook if we use a certain app, or change our wallpaper every day to match NASA’s photo of the day.

We are now at a stage where we need these systems in place, picking apps allowed to show us relevant notifications like a VIP list and banning others (especially those spamming us with pop up adverts). In the last decade notifications have evolved so much I can’t help but wonder where we’ll be in ten years time, and perhaps more importantly how we’ll be notified.

Pebble with iphones

I’ve been asked for advice on the Pebble watch – how to make it vibrate every half hour. Ordinarily it wouldn’t be an issue, Tasker would control it with a dynamic recurring 30 minute timer when in a certain geofenced area, with either AutoPebble or Pebble Notifier bridging Tasker to the Pebble app.
Unfortunately the person needing the recurring alert isn’t using Android. They have an iphone.

I’ve avoided using them whenever possible. Each exception has reaffirmed my decision to steer well clear. Unfortunately not everyone does the same.

I’ve looked into Tasker alternatives for iOS but frankly they’re laughable.

If you use iOS and know of a way to have it alert someone every half hour, please tweet me.

Two phones, one Pebble

I’d been in the market for a new watch for some time.  I looked at three watches – Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, the Pebble, and Sony’s Smartwatch 2.  I’ve used Sony’s LiveView watch before and it promptly joined a long list of Sony’s products that have either acted up, not worked or broke.  While a colour, touch screen watch might be nice I wanted something that I wouldn’t regret and that didn’t fit Sony’s bill.  The Galaxy Gear is an impressive enough watch but funds wouldn’t stretch that far and I knew the Pebble would integrate nicely with apps I already use, especially if I was to have notifications pushed to the watch from more than one phone.

Whether you have two phones because you need to carry a business phone, or you have a family member whose needs necessitate a separate emergency phone, it’s possible to have your Pebble receive notifications on multiple devices.  First of all, you’re going to need a few apps.

Anything you can do with both Pebble Notifier and PebbleTasker can be done in AutoPebble.  It’s a single app, cheaper, does far far more than what is shown below, but it is slower to respond and takes longer to learn how to use. If you want to quickly read and respond to a text I’d recommend using Pebble Notifier and PebbleTasker. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy AutoPebble at all.  If you have the time to spend setting it up, do so.  It’s much quicker to set up if you want to set up lots of options in one go.  It certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Some of the above apps aren’t free but they’re not going to break the bank.  I spent under £8, and the apps can be used for more than one purpose.  I’m assuming you’ve never seen the above apps before.

First of all, set up Tasker.  You need to access the menu, Preferences, Misc, and tick Allow External Access.
In AutoRemote, you need to authenticate the two devices.  For this you can either tap the phone icon, and type in the code or just use the barcode scanner.
Once AutoRemote is authenticated you can start setting up the profiles and tasks in Tasker.
Let’s assume you have your Pebble connected to your personal phone and you want to bridge your business phone to it.

On the business phone:

  1. Enter Tasker
  2. Click on the + icon at the bottom, [you may be prompted to enter a name, if so call it Texts], and tap the tick
  3. Event, Phone, Received Text [you can set restrictions on the texts here by entering parameters phone numbers or words in the text; if you want all texts forwarded then leave it blank and tap the back arrow at the top left]
  4. Tasker will now prompt you for a Task to perform when you receive a text. Click New Task, type in Texts, tap the tick and you’re ready to add the Task.
  5. Tap + Net, Mobile Data, On.  Then + Plugin, AutoRemote Message, then the pencil icon found to the right of Configuration.
  6. From here select the device you want to send it to, and in Message, enter “Business text from %SMSRN at %SMSRT, %SMSRB” (without the quotation marks) and tap your phone’s back button.

On your personal phone:

  1. Enter Tasker and add a profile, State, Plugin, AutoRemote, Configuration, and tick Event Behaviour.
  2. In Message Filter enter “Business text from” (without the quotation marks), and tick Case Insensitive.  [This shouldn’t make any difference if you’re careful but I’ve had the first letter of a word change case because I’ve went back to change it]. Press back a couple of times and type in a name for the new task.
  3. Add, Plugin, Pebble Notifier (not Pebble Notifier settings), Configuration, Body and type “%armessage” (this should be in lower case and again, without the quotation marks).  In the Title, type “Business SMS”.

That’s it. All the time both phones are connected to the net your texts should be pushed from one phone, to another and on to your Pebble.  In most cases this is enough, but there are always times when you want two way communication.  This takes a little more time, but not too much.

If you’re unable to take out your phone and respond to a text properly there’s a good chance you’re going to want to keep things simple.  Your responses need to be set up in advance.  I have set up:

  • Ok
  • Yes
  • No
  • Thanks
  • I’m busy at the moment, I’ll get back to you shortly.

Obviously you’re able to select whatever responses are suitable for your own life, just don’t forget which one’s which.
On the business phone set up a profile, I’ve called mine “AR SMS Ok”.

  1. Add, State, Plugin, AutoRemote,
  2. Tap the Configuration pencil and tick Event Behaviour
  3. In Message Filter, type in “Pebble Reply Ok”
  4. Tick Case Insensitive and Exact Message
  5. Tasker will then prompt you for a task, select New Task, enter “AR SMS Ok” and tap the tick.
  6. In Number, enter “%SMSRF”
  7. In Message, type “Ok”, and decide whether or not you want the text to be stored with your other texts.
  8. [In case you accidentally reply to a tweet, you might want to add If %SMSRN doesn’t match 86444 (Twitter’s phone number)]

You’ll need to do the above for each response you’d like to have available in the Pebble.  I’d be wary of cloning the profiles as it won’t change the task assigned to it, and you won’t get the experience.  Once they’re all done, return to your personal phone.  Add a new Task, I called it ‘Pebble (phone model) SMS’.
Add, Task, Wait, 3 seconds.
Add Plugin, PebbleTasker, Configuration.
The top task, I assigned ‘Reply OK’ with the long press ‘Reply Yes’. Close watch app on use.
The middle, ‘Reply Busy’. Close watch app on use.
The bottom ‘Reply Thanks’ and the long press ‘Reply No’. Close watch app on use.
Close on idle, Reset on idle were ticked and the app should Open Watch App so the options are loaded for you without having to go through the Pebble’s menu.

Obviously you can have the remote phone confirm the messages have been sent by having AutoRemote send a message to the personal phone and having Pebble displaying it.  It just depends on what your personal requirements are.

It’s worth noting that once you’ve bought Tasker and AutoRemote you can do any number of things.  Making your PC interact with your phone, and by extension, your Pebble is easily doable.  You can sleep, shutdown, restart, lock, mute etc. a PC by pressing a few buttons on the Pebble.  If you like, you can even be notified when your child is using their phone/PC, and which apps they’re using.  Not to mention getting their location, locking/unlocking the device, opening/closing apps or having messages pop up on their screen.  In no way do I condone using these apps for April Fools pranks.  I would never do that.  Ever.  Well, perhaps one or two.


Medication can be great, it helps you get better and can help you cope with pain.  The trouble is, almost all medication has side effects.  It can colour your urine, make you constipated, induce seizures, get you stoned and if it’s not yours it can even kill you.

Some medication must be taken at certain times of the day.  I have one tablet at midday, and again at midnight.  I have some tablets which need to be taken around 9pm, while others are taken as and when needed.  The trouble is, all of my tablets have side effects, some of them quite severe so I’ve found a solution.  No longer can I forget to take my meds.  No longer can I wonder if I’ve taken them and take them twice.  While the solution is a little over the top, it’s a solution, and one that works well for me.

For this, you’ll need:

First of all, create a folder and a text file in Dropbox.  It doesn’t really matter what they’re called, but I’ve kept mine as \Reminders\Meds.txt as I use the Reminders folder for various things.  Once the text file is created, go to the Dropbox app and favourite it.  The file should then have a purple circle with a white star at the bottom right.  This is done so that the file is available when there is no network connection.

File Manager
Use your file manager to go to SD Card (internal if available) \Android\data\\files\scratch\Reminders you should see Meds.txt (or your variation if you’ve changed the names).

Once confirmed, you can load Tasker.  I always have Tasker’s Beginner Mode unticked to ensure all of the options are available (Menu, Preferences, UI).

  1. I started by creating a variable called Meds (Vars, +).
  2. Then created a Profile called Meds Day which was time based, from 12:00 to 12:01,
  3. and created a Task called Medication.  The Task has the phone say “It’s time for your medication” – Misc, Say, using the Alarm stream so that it’s independent of the Ringer/Notification volume.  This is also pushed to my watch using an app called Pebble Notifier (amongst other things, the Pebble saves me stopping the wheelchair in order to get my phone out).  Using Task, Wait, the phone waits three seconds before Variable Set changes the variable Meds to 0.  I later arranged to have the buttons on my watch display the options ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’, courtesy of PebbleTasker.  (I needed to add the Task ‘Meds Taken’ before I could do this).

You can also create the Profile Meds Night (for example) and link that to the Task Medication. By selecting set times you can create as many of these as you’d like.  If you wanted specific medication mentioned, simply repeat the steps two and three and name them appropriately.

Next, I created a new Task, named ‘Meds Taken’.  Using Variable Set the variable %Meds is changed to the value ‘1’. PebbleTasker then changes to the default options and a message is flashed on the screen (Alert, Flash) acknowledging ‘Meds Taken’.  The date and time are updated in the file (File, Write File) Android/Data/ with Append and New Line ticked.
By doing this I am able to keep check of when I’ve taken my tablets and the file is automatically synced with Dropbox on my other devices.  In the bottom right corner I’ve also added an icon resembling a tablet, this was necessary for me to create a shortcut from the phone’s home screen.  It’s so much easier tapping an icon on the phone than going to Tasker just to change a single variable.

Meds Taken

Of course, life gets in the way sometimes.  It’s not always convenient to take tablets exactly at the intended time.  With this in mind (learned the hard way), I created a nag system:

The creation of a Profile and Task, each called Meds became my nag system.  The Profile is set every twenty minutes throughout the day, starting at 00:10 to ensure I had time to take my meds before it started nagging me, but sufficiently apart so I didn’t become annoyed with it, especially if I was somewhere that I couldn’t take my meds. The Task simply says “Have you taken your medication yet?” (Misc, Say) and has PebbleTasker open the options for ‘Meds Taken’, ‘Dismiss’, and ‘Meds Taken’ again.

Meds Taken

[Note, the other band on my wrist is an NFC tag which, when scanned, shows my name, NHS number etc.]

The whole process has evolved over time to include and exclude various aspects.  If in future any changes are made to it, I’ll post in the comments.  Of course, because Tasker is a one-off payment, hopefully it won’t incur any further costs.


It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Nokia and their smartphones since they were released.  I’ve had Nokia phones since January 1996 and a smartphone since the N-Gage was released.  When Nokia saw that the developers stopped coding for S60 Symbian they had a decision to make.  Despite contradicting rumours they opted for Windows Mobile instead of Android.  They made the decision to take my business elsewhere so much easier.

The options available were Android, Blackberry or iPhones.
iPhones were ruled out as they only allowed apps to be installed via iTunes.   I’d used iTunes before and unless you used a Mac it operated in the same manner as a virus.  The rigidity of Apple soon put me off.  I’m grateful.
Blackberries operated much the same as Symbian with good options, more businesslike and the push technology was appealing but I was concerned they may be heading the same way as Symbian.
Android were becoming more popular which to my mind meant that the developers would be there to stay.  I’d heard nothing but good things about Android, they offered custom ROMs, full touch screen phones and most importantly were open sourced so people would undoubtedly be releasing their own apps and ROMs.

Following advice from a good friend I opted for the HTC Desire, a decision which resulted in much ranting at the phone as it ran out of memory within an hour of being fully charged.  My previous phones, X6, N96 etc. had given me the option to install apps directly on to the internal storage.  Not part of the app but all of it and I nearly gave up on Android there and then.  Thankfully I upgraded early to the Samsung Galaxy S2 and I haven’t looked back.

I now use an S2, S3 and a Nexus 7 tablet.  I’ve been using Android for a few years now.  I thought I’d offer some tips if you’re just starting out or want to try out some recommended apps.

There are hundreds of sites that explain what this is and how to do it.  To save you searching for them, it just means that you get full access to the system files on the phone.  If you use Windows on your PC you may know about Users and Administrators.  Rooting removes a restriction to upgrade you to an Administrator by removing the block in the phone which prevents you from accessing essential system files.  It can be risky, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing as you can turn your phone in to a paperweight.  If you want to use all of the apps available to you though, you’ll need to root it.

First of all, get yourself a decent virus killer.  Even if you never need it, it’s a good idea to have one.  These days virus killers don’t just kill viruses.  If you’ve rooted your phone (see above) then you can get access to firewalls, block annoying calls/texts and even change the permissions of apps.

Avast: Avast is a virus killer on steroids.  Assuming you’ve rooted your phone (or had someone do it for you) you can access all of its features.  Virus Scanner, Anti-Theft, Privacy Advisor, Application Management, Shield Control, SMS & Call Filter, Firewall, Network Meter.  Without wanting to go in to all of its features, you can block annoying calls and texts, stop apps from accessing WiFi and 3G, and most importantly install an app from Avast that will let you track down your phone if it gets lost or stolen.
[This app is free]

Android Assistant: This is a Swiss Army Knife of apps.  It monitors your phone, advising you of free memory, battery life, phone and SD card space, running processes and has several tools.  You can control volume, tweak settings to extend battery life, clean cache (temporary files), clean the system, file manager, batch installer/uninstaller, edit apps that start when the phone does (this will extend battery life and speed up your phone), see battery usage, system info, move apps to the SD card, backup and restore apps, and see which permissions your installed apps have requested.
[This app is ad supported but there is an advert free version for around £1.20]

Team Battery Bar: It’s one of those apps that’s so simple but so useful.  It simply colours the top of your screen with a line indicating your remaining battery life.  Irrespective of what you’re doing, watching a video, playing games, it is always there.  If you have some time to kill but don’t want to drain all of your battery, this little app will keep you right.  It’s fully customisable with different colours available and you can edit the percentages at which it changes colour.  E.g. Red 0-33%, Yellow 34-66%, Green 67-100%.
[This app is free but the pro version is only around 60p]

WiFi Manager: Unless you use hidden WiFi networks you don’t really need this app but it’s useful to have.  If you do use hidden networks then it’s essential.  As you might expect it finds WiFi networks around you, saving the ones you have access to and marking them as favourites.  If the network is hidden your phone or tablet may not always recognise it, WiFi Manager finds it and connects.  It also has useful widgets showing you if you’re connected, which network you’re connected to, signal strength and IP address.
[This app is free]

SMS Backup+: If you’ve ever had an ex that stalks you, texts you with obscene messages or work for a company which audits you then you’ll want to keep a record of each text that comes in.  SMS Backup+ does just that.  It creates a label in your Gmail inbox called SMS and backs up all of your texts.  It can be set to automatically back them up at regular intervals and/or each time a new text is received.  Although I’ve never needed it, there’s a restore function as well.  Useful if you’ve just upgraded your phone.
[This app is free]

Dropbox: Most people have heard of Dropbox.  If you haven’t, or don’t know what it is, it’s an app that lets you synchronise files between your phone, tablet and PC.  You don’t need more than one device, you can just use it to back up files or photos from your phone but it comes in to its own when you have it installed on two or more devices.  You get 2GB free and can expand that by referring friends, uploading photos or by buying space.  If you want to sign up, click here.
[This app is free]

App Cache Cleaner: Cache, temporary files created by apps.  This small app can be set to clean your temporary files, cache, every so often or you can do it manually if you wish.  It frees up storage on the phone.  If you have an entry level phone this app is essential.  If you have a high end phone it’s still useful.
[This app is free but ad supported]

Fast Reboot: Simulates a reboot.  If you have a crashed app, need more memory (RAM) or want that ‘just booted up’ speed then install Fast Reboot.  It won’t shut down your phone or pull your battery for a full shut down but you won’t always need to.
[This app is free]

No Signal Alert: If you live in a poor signal area or you don’t want to miss that vital call, download No Signal Alert.  It’s a simple app that notifies you when your signal disappears.  You can customise it with different ringtones but I’d recommend a short one as once the signal gets choppy it can go off several times in a minute.
[This app is free. The pro version is around £1.50]

Tiny Call Confirm: If you’ve ever called someone by mistake or had a phone bill showing calls you’ve not made there’s a good chance you could have benefited from this app.  It simply puts an ‘are you sure?’ type option on the screen before it dials out.  Especially useful if your screen has turned on in your pocket.  There’s a pro version with more features but this meets my needs.
[This app is free.  The pro version is £2]

Tasker: I cannot recommend this app highly enough.  It’s not free but it is definitely value for money.  It’s an app that does things for you.  Just about anything you can do with the phone, it can do for you.  It’s an automation tool.  You can have the phone read texts when you’re driving, reply to the sender that you’re on the move and will respond properly later, all based on travelling more than 10mph.  Perhaps unlock the phone when you get home, locking it again when you’re away from your router, photograph someone using the phone when they get the code wrong and uploading the photo to Dropbox.  Perhaps you want to have the phone silence itself when you have a meeting?  Synchronise files when you’re at work/home? All of this done for you without having to pick up the phone.
With the available plugins (AutoRemote, AutoNotification, SMS Backup+, etc.) this app becomes more and more invaluable the more you look in to it.
[This app is £3 but is worth every penny]

Google Sky Map: Whether you’re an amateur astronomer or just curious about the night sky, Google Sky Maps is a good start.  Stars, planets, constellations are all visible and will move on your screen as you move the phone about.  It also has a search facility to quickly show you where Jupiter (for example) has got to.
[This app is free]

Barcode Scanner: I debated whether this should be classified as essential or just recommended for a little while, it’s certainly one of the apps that I’ll install on phones or tablets.  It isn’t just for scanning in barcodes in shops to see if you’re getting the best deal.  I have my router’s WiFi code on the wall in the form of a QR code (those square barcodes that nobody understands).  It saves guests typing in the code, it’s regularly changed and is convenient to generate the QR code.  Of course with bus stop adverts, leaflets etc. now using QR codes it pays to have an app that will decode them and regular barcodes on your phone.
[This app is free]

Titanium Backup: If you want to back up apps and your data then get this app.  You will need a rooted phone but it’s worth it if you’re changing ROMs (putting on a new version of Android) or if you’re upgrading and don’t want to look up every app yourself.  The Pro version is around £4.50 but it soon pays for itself as it doesn’t prompt you to install each app and comes with more functionality.  You can upload your backups to Dropbox, Box or Google Drive automatically or manually and the ‘quick backup/install’ option is available.
[This app is free but it’s worth paying for the Pro version]

Cloud Print: Ever needed to print directly from your phone/tablet?  Cloud Print understands your frustration.  If you have a cloud ready printer you can install this and be printing in a few minutes.  If your printer isn’t cloud ready, don’t worry.  If you have Chrome installed on your PC you can go to the advanced settings in Chrome, sign in to Cloud Print and off you go.  You’ll need to ensure the PC is running to print if your printer isn’t cloud ready.
[This app is free]

ES File Explorer: There are a number of file explorers in the Play Store but this is the one I use the most.  It lets you access your Dropbox, Drive, SkyDrive, Box etc, your LAN (shared folders on your home network), FTP server, as well as your device.  There are so many functions to ES it wouldn’t be practical to list them here but it’s worth having a good play with it.
[This app is free]

Glympse: I love this app.  Put simply, it’s one of those apps that makes you think “this developer has given this some thought”.  Glympse lets you share your location without the world being able to see it.  You can share via text message or email, automatically shut down when you reach your destination or after a preset time (or both), and it will send the person/people you’ve selected a link to view where you are.  It also allows you to link to your calendar so if you’re due to be in a meeting but you’re stuck in traffic you don’t have to set up everything, just pull the information from your calendar.  We’ve used it when the weather has turned nasty – flooding, fog etc. and it gives us a little peace of mind.
[This app is free]

Worthy Mentions
Bus Scout: Every now and then an app comes along that you look at and think “This person knows what they’re doing”.  Bus Scout is such an app.  It’s simple to use, just tap on a bus stop for information about which services use that stop.  Delve further to get bus timetables.  Of course, if you’re using Arriva buses then the timetables are simply a work of fiction but Bus Scout is useful if you’re not in familiar territory.  The developer has recently added a feedback function for if your bus company retires a service or starts a new one.
[This app is free]

Pushover: A useful app for notifying you of events.  If you’ve not used IFTTT then you should take a look – IF This Then That.  In short, you can have customised notifications pushed to your phone based on your criteria.  For example, if I get an email with attachments, I want them automatically downloaded to my Dropbox; if the weather changes I want to be notified on my phone; if a new version of Android is released then let me know; if my download has finished, notify my phone; if someone bids on my eBay listing, notify my phone.  You get the idea.  Pushover saves you time and effort.  It’s not cheap but it can be very useful.
[This app is around £3.20]

GPS HUD: GPS Heads Up Display.  GPS HUD shows you your speed, date and time, address, weather and economy indicator.  If you have a cycle mount you can see how fast you’re travelling.  Settings allow the display to be flipped so you can place the phone on a car’s dashboard.  In this mode your windscreen will reflect the phone’s screen so you can see your speed etc. without taking your eyes off the road.
[This app is free but is ad supported.  The pro version is about 60p.]

Barclone: If you have more loyalty cards than you can count on one hand or your pocket/handbag is bulging with cards then you may want to take a look at Barclone.  It stores your loyalty card barcode and can show it on the screen when required.  It doesn’t just take a photograph, it will generate the barcode so you’re not getting pixelated versions when you try to zoom in.  Just load the app, select your loyalty card and choose the phone’s orientation (landscape will result in a much larger barcode).
[This app is free but ad supported.  The pro version is about £1]

Catch: Catch is what Evernote tries to be, but it works.  It boasts an automatically synced shared spaces so you can share notes with your partner, your kids or your colleagues.  You can also share individual notes across other installed apps.  They’re available on any browser via their web site and it has a Catch Sketch plug-in for Samsung devices.
[This app is free]

Wake On LAN: If your computer’s network adapter (WiFi / ethernet) supports Wake On LAN you can put it in sleep mode, save power and use this app to wake it.  It’s especially useful if you’re at work.  Simply connect to the WiFi and run the app.  Your computer will be powered up by the time you get to your desk.
[This app is free]

I hope this collection is useful.  If you know of any apps that you think should be on this list, please let me know.