Don't Miss Out. Customize Your Andriod Mobile

The whole point of owning an Android phone is to customize it to your personal liking (i.e., enhance your user experience). This site explains the things you should do to get the most out of your Android Smart Phone. If you are not interested in modifying what came out of the box, then you should consider an Apple or Windows 7+ phone (obviously other excellent choices).

To get started, please read my post Getting the Most Out of Your Android Phone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Password Protect Sensitive File (Secure Photos, Videos, Docs, Free)

Let's face it we are very dependant on our phones these days. Often we store personal photos, videos, and documents that we would never want anyone else to have access to (just imagine if you lost your phone today, is there anything on it you don't want anyone to see?).

The topic of keeping your phone's files private is often referred to in different ways: hiding files, encrypting files, password protecting files, locking files, etc. And they are not all equal in terms of how safe your files are. For example, hiding files are pointless because they usually just change the name of the file. If any one changes it back manually (renaming via a file manager app or say on a computer) the file is no longer hidden.

I tried many free apps that claim to secure your files. But they either don't work, have flaws that a tech savvy person could use to open the files, or are just too complicated to use.

Best Free Recommendation
The absolute best free app I found, use, and recommend is File Locker.  It is powerful and so simple to use. You just locate the files, select them, and add a password to lock them. The app encrypts the file and even its file name. So no one can open the file without the password.  Any one who is snooping and finds the very long encyrpted names can't do anything to open the files. The best they can do is see that there are some files you locked---but only via a file manager app.

Note: Its so powerful, if you forget your password, you are screwed. But that is a small price to pay for the protection you get.

Getting the Most Out of Your Android Phone

Welcome Fellow Droidian
So you did some research (tv ads, Internet postings, talked to friends, read magazines and news papers, visited mobile stores, etc.) on the kinds of smart phones available these days. And despite your best efforts, you experienced the unexpected realization that just about everyone has a different opinion on which mobile operating system is best (Java, Symbian, Web OS, Bada, Android, Windows, and I-OS, etc.). Finally, after much debate you chose an Android phone.

Good Decision?
Now like most gadgets these days, you really can't be sure if you made the right choice until you actually buy it and try it. I say this because we live in a gadget-oriented-era full of marketing gimmicks. And no matter how many times we get 'burned' its too hard to resist the temptation to upgrade to newer technology.

In my opinion, an Android phone is a good decision when you consider the following:
  • Cost. Most Android phones cost less.
  • Selection. Android is not tied to any one manufacturer. So there is more choice (Samsung, ZTE, HTC, Micromax, Dell, Motorola, the list goes on and on). 
  • Customizable. Android is easily customizable. There are things you can do to it that other operating systems won't let you do (e.g., remove unwanted built in apps or install a custom version of Android by 'rooting' the phone and installing available free ROM Mods).
  • Number of Apps. The Android Market Place  has lots of free apps and lots of apps to buy that add functionality to your phone (including business productivity and popular games).
  • One Stop Synchronization for Google Users. Google is a world-wide powerhouse. They started with cloud based Internet services and later got into mobile technology. This is a key factor that distinguishes it from competitors because all Google services pretty much sync on Android phones seamlessly (e.g., use Google Sync and everything in your Gmail and Android Market is auto synced to your phone).
  • Technical Support and Innovation. There is an insane amount of devoted fans and developers out there working on improving Android on their own. So you can customize, jail-break, or modify Android and rely on thousands of virtual friends to help you do it (I will explain more about this in another post, for now, just know this will one day make you say WOW!!!!!!)
What Next?
Although you made a good decision, Android is very young and its taken Google quite some time to grow up. Its only now in 2011 with the release of Android OS code name "Ice Cream Sandwich" that we find what we had been really looking for all along is now right out of the box. 

So where does this leave you? You got an Android phone (most likely without Ice Cream Sandwich) and likely are not happy with the out-of-the-box features and are now ready to tinker a bit and customize it to suit your needs. Well, that is what this blog is all about! Stay tuned for upcoming posts (simple and easy to understand) on how to get the most out of your Android phone.

Kick It All Off: Root Your Phone 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

3D Action Games (Wow! Lots of Fun)

As you probably know, there are some fantastic 3D games available for Android. However, often you hear that they require high end phone specs, etc. Additionally, if you go to the Android Market and try to purchase one, you often get a message that the game is not compatible with your device and there is no option to try it out anyway.

Well, there is of course an alternative: You need a facebook account and have to agree to some permissions, etc (I just use a dummy Facebook account to avoid any hassles). Once logged in you simply:
  1. Download the .apk install file of the game you want to your PC
  2. Copy the file to your Android SD Card
  3. Open the file/install the game (and if required, use Wi-Fi to also download additional 3D graphics files, often about 90 mb).
That is it. And the best part is its not only free but it plays wonderfully on phones that they were not suppossed to be compatible with (of course there are exceptions).

I found that games like Asphalt 5 or Quake play perfectly on my ZTE BLADE.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Make A Copy Of Your Phone (Backup Now, Trust Me!)

In the past, I never took the importance of backing up systems, applications, or data seriously. And sure enough I later regretted it. The reason I ignored warnings was mostly due to the fact that it seemed so confusing to get the job done.

But in the world of Android it is amazingly simple. The best program to backup your ROM, system files, apps, settings, and data is Titanium Backup. This a very popular free app and there are many How To Guides which explain how to use it.

High Level Steps
  1. You must root your phone first (I explain this in my post on Rooting Your Phone).
  2. Download/install the free Titanium Backup app (I did not end up with the Pro version as the Free version did the job pretty well).
  3. Run the option to backup application and system data. About 5-10 minutes later you have a complete copy of your phone stored as a file on your SD CARD.
 Note: The Legend (referred to in some Guides) which explains the status icons of different backed up files, is now located under Menu>Help&Support>Legend.

Its just too easy to ignore! Imagine anytime you need to fix something, locate the file in the restore list and select restore.

More Resources
Step by Step Guide
App Review

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Maps and Navigation (Offline Maps Show You the Way Faster!)

Mod-Version of Google Apps (International Ready)
For a long time, I only used the Navigation and Map apps from Google. These are excellent apps of course and even though the International Voice Navigation has not been officially 'turned on' yet by Google, of course there is a mod-version and it is awesome (its the familiar turn by turn voice directions you've probably seen in cars for Europe and Asia). If your curious to try it (and I know you are) the mod-version is called "Brut Google Maps" and here is the download link.

Update Nov 14, 2011:  I just started using the Cache feature in the Brut version. It is excellent even though its not as comprehensive as downloading a map in Locus noted beow.

Basically, Google Brut stores all the maps/zooms you view while online in a SD CARD Cache and then let's you use them offline. So for example, if I want to see my local day to day area offline,  I first go online via WiFi at home, view the different local places, streets, etc and as I am doing so a copy is automatically stored. Then when I am offline, I can still see the map because its stored in  the SD Card Cache. 

Wait, Take It Offline with Locus!
Now, on a separate note, I always found it frustrating and expensive to use Google Nav/Maps via my mobile phone's data service (Edge, then 3G, then 4G, etc.). I mean it worked well enough but like everything else on mobile networks it tended to be a bit slow and you gotta be in range of a cell tower (otherwise you just see a GPS marker on a blank screen because no map-tiles can be downloaded to your phone).

Well, there is an alternative of course, just download the maps you need most. That is, you can store the maps offline and use your GPS to find where you are and where you want to go! Its much faster and its a growing trend these days as it is great for tourists and hikers.

Locus Free is an excellent app that let's you, among many other cool things, download maps to your phone. These can be pulled up and used along with GPS anytime.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Favorite Apps (Get to the Next Level For Free!)

As I have mentioned many times on my Blog, mobile phone users who choose Apple IOS or Windows 7 are buying into a proprietary system. These mobile platforms are wonderful but you kinda have to trust and rely on them to know what you as a user wants. In the world of Android its the other way around. You get the basics from Google and then you customize Android to make it do what you want.

The apps below enhance the Android user experience in a major way. Please note that a few require a rooted phone.

Must Have Apps!
Following is a list of my favorite Android apps. Together, they enhance your phone's features and the overall user experience---this is why I chose Android!. And they are all free!

Note:  The ability to transfer files wirelessly and play any video file (at 480x800 or less) alone is worth the switch to Android for me (saved me tons of time).

User Enhancement Download Link What Sold Me
Touch to Lock Screen Lock Screen Widget
  • Locks the screen by touch instead of pressing Power button.
Simple way to add tasks or reminders. Taskos To Do List | Task List
  • Very simple way to maintain a list.
  • Can set a reminder notification based on time/date entered.
Typing Text GO Keyboard
  • Keys are large and can be resized 1-5.
  • Layout is user friendly. I type faster with less mistakes.
Sending and Receiving Text/SMS

  • Received text message or SMS displayed on locked screen, with action buttons.
  • Grouped conversations in a bubble style.
Assigning Unique Ringers to Contact Groups Group Ringtones
  • Pulls the groups you created from Gmail.
  • Assign different ringtone (even custom ones I created or downloaded) to any group.
User friendly Internet Browsing Dolphin Browser™ HD
  • Excellent and intuitive user interface.
  • Speed
  • Plays Flash (in Desktop mode and with special flash player installed) just like on my home PC.
Read business documents
  • Opens standard Microsoft office documents.
Auto Kills Tasks Advanced Task Killer
  • Autokills unwanted apps that are open and draining battery power.
  • Saves battery power significantly.
Transfer Files Wirelessly Samba Filesharing
  • Amazing ability to transfer files to and from PC to Mobile.
  • No USB wire required.
File Manager ES File Explorer
  • Most powerful file manager out there.
  • Accesses directories at the root or system level.
Identify Music SoundHound
  • Listens to sound and can identify it (songs).
  • Super fast.
  • Displays progress on screen.
Music Player MixZing Media Player
  • Built in equalizer and gain settings.
  • Can assign individual equalizer settings to songs or albums.
  • Interface is very logical and makes managing music easy.
Video Player MX Video Player
  • Plays all formats (so no more converting video files to .mp4).
  • Ability to control size of video (full screen, stretch).
  • Remembers and resumes where you left off.
Simple Stop Watch StopWatch & Timer
  • Very simple and easy to use stop watch.

Friday, November 4, 2011

A Better Internet Browser (Clever Browsing)


On my home computer, I am a die hard Firefox user. I was never a big fan of Google Chrome and Internet Explorer is just, well a bit dated.

On my mobile phone I tried the default Android browser and later switched to Opera. However, I found them to be slow and clumsy to use. After doing some research I found the Dolphin HD  mobile browser. And although I don't quite like the name, I love using it.

It is simple, intuitive, fast, and tends to play Flash content better too!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Installing a Custom ROM (Now I am In Love)

A Custom ROM (a.k.a Mod) is just computer tech geek talk for an aftermarket custom upgrade to your phone. Basically, tech savvy experts who are not satisfied with the current Android OS offered by Google create their own 'super version' of Android----its free and very easy to install. No typing commands or needing to be a tech genius here.

Note: Keep in mind installing a Custom ROM is very easy these days. It may sound complex or hard. But it is not. I have listed the steps and provided resources to help you. Do take the time to understand. Once you customize you will love the enhanced user experience---its like going from a cheap sedan to a sports car for free. I personally use the Cyanogen Mod 7 (stable version).

General Steps
  1. Super User Access. First you need to get special administrator rights called Super User. Getting this access is called "Rooting" your phone. There is a free app called Z4 Root which is a one button click that roots your phone. You know you have it when you see a special Super User icon (usually looks like a Android Ninja in your apps tray).
  2. Install the free ROM Manager app. 
  3. Back-up everything on your phone (all apps and data) using Titanium Backup Free. To learn how to use this awesome program click here.
  4. Use ROM manager to select a free Custom ROM, download to your phone, and open/install it. That's it!
You can see a great example of the Cyanogen Mod 7 being installed in a rooted ZTE Blade in this You Tube video.

Updated Dec 11, 2011:  In this post, you can see how one user found  Cyanogen Mod revived his phone and even made it feel more modern: 13 Ways CyanogenMod 7 Makes My Android Phone Feel Future-Proof.

About Custom ROMs (Simply Explained)
What Does Rooting a Phone Mean?
How to Backup Your Entire Phone
What is a Custom ROM?
Why Install a Custom ROM?
Cyanogen Mod ROM Review?
How to Choose the Right Custom ROM?
Best 5 Custom ROMs?