utilware.com - art, productivity, stories, technology
homegetting sh-t donetoo damn tallabout

Android apps I love.


I've been an iPhone user for years, although from time to time I would briefly switch over to Android. Recently, I made the leap to get a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4 and set out in earnest to find a set of apps that made my phone complete. (Note: This isn't my full list. I also have all the standards like Instagram, Maps, Netflix, and the like on my phone.)


When I was looking for apps, I had a loose set of criteria that I was following; in no order:
- The developer(s) should feel trustworthy (with few exceptions)
- Happy to pay for an app, even recurring fees, if it's great
- Visually appealing (or at least neutral) app, with a nice icon (yeah, really)
- Does something new or interesting that I couldn't do on my iPhone
- Play Store Data Safety section claiming little or no personal data use


My absolute favorite "can't live without" apps:
DuckDuckGo - I don't use the browser itself, but I'm really enjoying the App Tracking protection that works across all Android apps.
Microsoft Outlook - I juggle 5-6 email accounts across several providers, and I largely trust Microsoft to not read through them indiscriminately.
Niagara Launcher - A dramatically simpler launcher that keeps me focused on just the apps I want to be focused on. Probably 40% of the driver behind my moving to Android.
Obsidian - The app that I've finally settled on for text editing, on both Mac and Android
Solid Explorer - I've found this file manager to be just the right amount of trustworthy, flexible, customizable, and extensible. It's my daily driver, and it's especially useful for organizing.
Syncthing - If I had found this app earlier, I probably would have moved to Android earlier. It's exactly what I wanted for syncing between my Mac and my phone, without the cloud in between.

Solid apps

Apple Music - A serviceable Android rendition of the Apple Music app. My wife and I are all-in with Apple Music, and it works.
Artifact - A personalized news feed that I'm using to replace Apple News. Solid set of sources and a good recommendation algorithm.
Firefox - When it comes to tracking, I trust Firefox more than other browsers, and it works well even when I have 100 open pages waiting to be read.
Messages by Google - The RCS protocol provides a lot of features I learned to love with iMessage (like read receipts), for those rare times I'm messaging someone on Android.
Microsoft Launcher - A nice, simple launcher that can make an old phone feel modern again. I used it extensively until I found Niagara Launcher.
Phone by Google - I would use the built-in Samsung Phone app, but this one provides better spam detection and call screening. Super useful, and something I missed on the iPhone.
Photo Map - I love seeing family photos on a map, but I wasn't ready to put everything in Google Photos. I can point this app at a folder and it maps every picture that's in it or its subfolders.
Zettel Notes - I looked everywhere‡ for a reasonably simple app that would allow me to edit plaintext documents, without having to store them in a special folder. This is it, spot on.


Less mainstream, but still awesome, Android apps:
Figma - I've started managing my life through a big Figma diagram; this app allows me to view it while on the go. I also figured out that I can edit Figma documents on my phone using Chrome and desktop mode, but still prefer the app for viewing.
Good Lock (Samsung) - Lots of fun customization options for your Samsung phone, some of which eventually make it into the core OS
Keyboard Designer - Create your own keyboard layout. Want a keyboard optimized for bigger hands? One that includes actual cursor keys right in the layout? You can do it all!
Opensignal - Fun app that allows you to see which cell tower you're connected to. I didn't choose the always-on tracking, though.
PHEM - If you were into the Palm PDA like I was, this is a trippy nostalgia dip. Fully-functional Palm emulator where you can run your old apps, if you still have them on a backup somewhere.
(Tayasui) Sketches - A fun sketching app that reminds me of the Paper by 53 in some ways. Sure, you can use Samsung Notes if you have it, but this is more art-focused.
VLC - For those pesky video files that just won't play (in my case, weird codecs from ancient digital cameras and phones), this is the solution.

‡ Looking everywhere

When I said above that I "looked everywhere" for a reasonable text editor, I wasn't kidding. Over the course of a couple of years, I periodically searched for the 'just right' app, and I'm still not at a 100% satisfied state. (Then again, I never found the perfect app on iOS either, so maybe I'm just stupidly picky. I mean, I did end up writing my own app for the Mac.)

Here were my criteria:
- Visually clean, ideally visually appealing
- Works well with plaintext files, if at all possible
- Can use any folder in the filesystem as its root, not just inside /Android
- Saves changes to documents without me having to think about it
- Open source software if possible
- Happy to pay once for it, up to around US$10-15
- Editing interface focused on the text, without too much extraneous crap
- Easy to search inside a doc (bonus: easy to search in filesystem)
- Search and replace
- Multiple levels of undo and redo
- Control over editor font, sizing, and line spacing

Here's a sampling of the apps I tried, and what I remember about why I didn't go with each of them (which may be wildly inaccurate at this point):

Acode - Proprietary storage
Code Editor - More complex than I wanted
Evernote - Not plaintext, proprietary storage
Google Docs - Not plaintext, proprietary storage
Google Keep - Not plaintext, proprietary storage
iA Writer - Proprietary storage
Inkdrop - Proprietary storage, complex UI
Markor - So close, and I did use this one quite a while, but requires that you explicitly save files or set up a time-based interval (rather than just saving as you go along). Also didn't like the gigantic bottom bar on the main window.
Microsoft OneNote - Not plaintext, proprietary storage, very complex, feels old and crufty
Moto Note - Motorola-only, and a nice plain drawing app, but proprietary storage and more stylus-based than text-based
neutriNote - Really wanted to use this one, but the proprietary storage did it in
Notally - Looked simple and colorful, but proprietary storage
Noteless - Proprietary storage
Notepad - Proprietary storage
Notepad - Text editor - Interval-based autosave
Notes - Notes app from the Planet Cosmo Communicator. Nice app with interesting features and great search, but proprietary storage.
Obsidian - A much richer product than I was looking for, but the cross-document linking was really interesting. Even downloaded the Mac app and tried it out for a while. (Update: I've decided to use this app after all.)
OldSchool Editor - Damn, this one was so close. Nearly perfect for my needs, but I just couldn't get over the Windows 3.1-style interface.
QuickEdit Text Editor - A code editor that worked quite well for text editing. Ended up being a bit too dev-focused for my needs.
Simple Markdown - Ok, now I'm just getting petty. I really liked this app but didn't like the always-on 'Edit' and 'Preview' tabs.
Simplenote - Proprietary storage
Solid Explorer - Actually has a built-in editor which was my go-to for quite a while, but you had to explicitly hit 'Save' to save a doc
Standard Notes - Proprietary storage. Seeing a theme here?
Text Viewer - Constantly-visible large toolbar with "Delete", "New", etc. is especially huge on the inside screen on the Fold4
Writing my own - I chased down half a dozen open-source plaintext editors on GitHub and tried tweaking them to my liking, but decided against this approach
Zettel Notes - Truly saving the best for last, this is the app that I ended up going with


A nice writeup on Android note-taking apps on AndroidPolice

See also

Deep thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy Z Fold4
Writing a bespoke text editor


» See what else there is is on útilware.com