Sunday, October 7, 2012

Apps for the Google Nexus 7 and Galaxy Nexus

I'm sometimes asked what are the best apps for the Google Nexus 7 tablet and the Galaxy Nexus phone, so here are a few thoughts, written from the perspective of a grad student or very junior academic. All these apps can be installed from the Google Play store, with no need for rooting or side-loading. They are all free (with the exception of Zandy).

Amazon Kindle
It's hard to escape from Amazon. Whether for leisure reading or for textbooks, Amazon has the biggest selection. The Kindle app is slightly awkward - it can be tricky getting its menu to appear, for example. And a back-lit device isn't the best for reading. But it's nice to have key books available without having to carry the Kindle around as well.

As I've previously commented, the Kindle works best as a reading device - the Kindle infrastructure lets you work with clippings and notes from within a web browser on a PC. I'd say the same for any tablet, let alone the 7" screen of the N7 - set it beside your computer and use a proper keyboard to write.

Blogger

This article was at least partially composed on the N7 while sitting watching TV. The app has support for inserting pictures directly from the device camera as well as from the Gallery or Dropbox. The app can get a little confused if you edit an article from both the web interface and the app at the same time - it starts displaying HTML tags, rather than embedding and interpreting them - but that's a trap that's easily avoided. Great for blogging on the run, with short pieces.

Slices

Slices is a Twitter client with a very polished interface which allows you to organise your Twitter feed into categories (e.g. I have one for Science/Technology).
Slices has a particularly clean design
Zandy

Zandy is an Android client for Zotero. Zotero, of course, is a bibliographic plugin for the Firefox web browser - a highly natural fit, given that a browser is the most common way to access online publication databases. With one click, Zotero can create a bibliography entry from a database like Springerlink, download the PDF document as an attachment and store it in "the cloud".

Zandy uses the Zotero API to access this cloud database. The interface is a little clunky - it would benefit enormously from a rewrite to use the sliding tiles metaphor of Slices and Evernote - but it is easy to forgive this given the convenient access to the database. PDF's can be downloaded, and can be read reasonably clearly on the N7 screen.

Calculators

Disclaimer: I don't like the vast majority of modern scientific calculators - the ones that have an "equals" key - as my brain was molded to prefer Reverse Polish Notation by the classic Hewlett-Packard pocket scientific calculators of the early seventies to mid-eighties.

Free42 is an emulation of the classic Hewlett-Packard HP-42s programmable pocket calculator - it has a very clean and elegant design with a huge selection of scientific functions. It looks slightly over-sized on the N7, and slightly under-sized on the Galaxy Nexus, but works brilliantly on both.

Free42's classic simplicity masks enormous power.

go41c emulates the earlier HP-41C, for those who - like me - are more familiar with its keyboard layout.

For those who need even more power, there's an intriguing option in Frink, a full programming language which seems to incorporate some of the features of high-end graphing calculators, such as calculations and conversions with units.

Evernote

Evernote has a similar "sliding tile" interface to Slices.
A terrific little application for the PC, Mac, iOS, Android - you name it. I use it for the most obvious application - I maintain a work journal with ideas, to-do lists, etc. as well as other bits of writing, so I'm using it as a simple word processor that stores all my notes in "the cloud" and makes them available wherever I am. However, Evernote is a lot more than this: you can record audio and video notes, and you can also use the Evernote Web Clipper to clip web pages (including just the main column) or URL's to notes.

That's just the beginning - there are lots of add-ons and applications that work with Evernote. One that really interests me is the Evernote Smart Notebook - a good old-fashioned paper-and-pencil notebook that works with the handwriting recognition in Evernote, via your smartphone's camera, to record and digitize notes including drawings. Included "Smart Stickers" allow notes to be automatically tagged and organized.

I'd find it really hard to get by without Evernote.

Google Sky Map

Using the GPS, digital compass and accelerometer in the Galaxy Nexus - I presume it works on the N7, too, but it's a bit heavier to hold up - this app displays a map of the part of the sky you're pointing it at. A simple, elegant example of augmented reality in action.
Google Sky Map

Wikipedia

The perfect app for resolving disputes in the pub. Or for looking things up while watching TV.

GTasks

This is yet another app which uses the "sliding tile" metaphor - this time to manage entries in the Google Tasks database. Generally, this is accessed via the Google Calendar web interface, where it sits to the right of the main calendar display, but the Calendar app on Android doesn't show it. All the better for this excellent app, which provides an easy interface to manage your to-do list.

Google Goggles

Another app which makes use of compute power in "the cloud". Point your phone camera at almost anything - a painting, a sculpture, a building, a company logo - and press the button, and Google will look it up for you and provide information.

Google+

Mentioned here simply because it shows up the Facebook application for Android as a clunker. However, Google+ works extremely well with Android devices- take for example, "Party Mode" for Google+ events, which sends all photos directly to the event's page for all invitees to view.

Flashlight

Turns on the phone's LED flash, for short-term use as a flashlight. Trivial, but oh so handy.

Light Flow Lite

The Galaxy Nexus has a multi-colour notification LED, but the phone doesn't make much use of it by default. With this app installed, you get full control: make the LED flash red for SMS's, blue for Facebook notifications and green for emails. You can get just about any colour of the rainbow with this little app.

STVRemote

A bit specialized, but I like it: STVRemote is a remote control for the SageTV HD-300 video extender which feeds our lounge-room TV from the TV server upstairs. I don't think it does anything the standard remote doesn't do, except that since it works via wi-fi, it's not limited to direct line of sight. The same company has a Sage TV client that lets you watch TV on your Android device, but a) it's a little specialized and b) it's also a bit expensive, at over $A28. SageTV is a good news, bad news story: the bad news is that they were taken over by Google and stopped selling their excellent product; the good news is that their technology and ideas are making it into Google TV, so eventually they may produce a worthy replacement.
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