Software

Five obscure Android apps that should be on your must-use list

The coolest apps are sometimes lost amid the Play Store offerings. Here are a few hidden gems worth a look.

Lost among the scores of available Android apps are some specialized tools that might really come in handy. Tom Merritt runs through a few you may not have come across.

If you're an Android user, you know the Google Play Store is filled with apps — many of which are outstanding, but some of which... are not. Finding a few of the hidden, lesser-known gems isn't a terribly challenging task, but it can take a while. So to save you a bit of time, I searched the Play Store and came up with five apps you may never have heard of but might benefit from using. Let's see if any of them fits your bill.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: Greenify

Greenify (Figure A) will help you identify any apps on your phone that are misbehaving and place them into hibernation. This will effectively save your device battery from prematurely draining. But unlike some other apps that prevent a suspect app from working, Greenify allows you to continue using the application in question. It hibernates suspicious apps only when they are not in use, thus preventing them from draining your battery.

Figure A

Figure A

Greenify itself uses little in the way of resources. At most, it uses 5 MB of RAM, zero CPU, and zero battery. A word of warning: Do NOT Greenify your alarm clock, instant messaging, or widget-enabled apps — and DO verify the impact of Greenifying apps you rely on. You also should know that on a non-rooted device, you must manually hibernate apps (which requires just a single tap of the hibernation button). You can automate this process via an accessibility service Greenify provides. The only caveat to using the accessibility service is that Greenify will observe your interactions with apps and retrieve window content. Some users might consider this a bit too intrusive and prefer to handle the hibernate process manually.

2: ProxyDroid

ProxyDroid (REQUIRES ROOT) makes setting a proxy on your Android device incredibly simple. This free app (Figure B) supports HTTP/HTTPS/SOCKS4/SOCKS5 proxy, as well as basic, NTLM, and NTLMv2 authentication methods. With ProxyDroid you can set up a proxy for an individual app or several apps. By unsetting the global proxy feature, you can select specific apps. You can also set up multiple profiles, which means you can set a proxy for certain apps and another for yet more apps.

Figure B

Figure B

As far as proxy apps are concerned, ProxyDroid makes it worth taking the time to root your device. You'll also find a handy widget for enabling/disabling proxies. Note that when you use the widget, you must have selected the profile to be active within the ProxyDroid settings window. If you're looking for the single most powerful proxy app available, root your phone and look no further than ProxyDroid.

3: Total Commander

Total Commander (Figure C) is, by far, one of the ugliest file managers you'll ever use. It is also one of the best. If offers a built-in text editor, properties dialog, FTP/sFTP/WebDAV/OBEX support, plug-ins for cloud services, and features that let you copy/move whole subdirectories, drag and drop, zip/unzip/rar, select/unselect groups of files, search, select a range of files/folders, and much more.

Figure C

Figure C

Total commander is like getting the old-school UNIX Midnight Commander on your Android device... only with an updated feature set and a slightly updated interface. One cool interface feature: If you're viewing in portrait mode, Total Commander displays a single pane. However, when viewing in landscape mode, you see a dual-pane interface.

4: RedLaser Barcode & QR Scanner

RedLaser (Figure D) is a great price-comparison shopping app. Just scan a barcode and it will crawl the internet and display the best online prices available. From there, you can tap the top price to open the item in a web browser and purchase it.

Figure D

Figure D

I have found that RedLaser has one of the fastest barcodes scanners available. You won't waste time trying to line up the camera to the laser. In fact, RedLaser picks up the barcode almost before you have the item/camera lined up — it's that fast. You can also get local pricing, facts about a product, and reviews. When scanning food items, you'll get a ton of relevant details, such as allergen information. You can also scan and save your loyalty cards into the app, so you don't have to pull out your keys or wallet to use those cards (and you can see deals associated with each card).

5: Ambio

When you're travelling for business, you often wind up in unfamiliar locations (and sometimes in less-than-ideal hotels). Ambio (Figure E) is an ambient sound generator that can help you sleep or focus on the task at hand.

Figure E

Figure E

If you can't sleep because there's just too much quiet, Ambio will soothe you into slumber with the sounds of the ocean, rain, ticking clocks, fans, airplane cabins, heartbeats, white noise, and much more. And if you don't like the included sounds, you can download more (including premium sounds). You can even pause sounds and create your own mixes (combining four sounds to create the perfect cacophony of noise to make you forget you're in an unfamiliar hotel bed trying desperately to get enough sleep to make the next day of work possible.

Also read...

Other choices?

Many great Android apps on the Google Play Store go undiscovered. Give one of these a go and see if they don't make your life a bit easier.

Have you found a hidden Android gem? Share your favorites with fellow TechRepublic members.

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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