Five Android apps that fix something about Android

Android is so, so far from perfect, but it has third-party developers willing to fix many flaws

Credit: flickr/Jonas B

Google is to be credited for improving its Android operating system by leaps and bounds over the past four years. You know who also deserves loads of credit? Independent developers who care a lot about their phone experience, and yours, too. They’ve quietly filled in missing features and fixed annoyances in Android while nobody was looking—but now’s the time to look at what their fixes can do for you.

Maybe you can live with Google’s built-in calendar widget, but I can’t, especially after seeing the better version available, for free, in the Play Store. Perhaps you don’t mind that Gmail completely ignores any file type it doesn’t recognize, but I’d like to save the file anyways, thank you. These fixes, and more, are described below.

Push the reset on your phone GPS with GPS Status

GPS Data & Toolbox

If you’ve ever turned on your phone immediately after a flight, you’ve experienced a phone trying to figure out where in the world it is. The location-finding tools in modern Android phones can be miraculously specific, but they also get confused when they think they’re supposed to be somewhere that they are not.

GPS Status & Toolbox shows you exactly what your GPS sensor is doing, where it thinks it is, and how much of a “lock” it has with satellites in actual space. Most helpfully for those of us who feel like our phones have grown confused: it offers a reset option in the “Tools” menu that forces your phone to forget and stop checking its cached location data and get a new fix. That option takes a few minutes, but it’s usually guaranteed to get a fix after a while, as opposed to hoping Google Maps and other geo-finding apps come around on their own.

Put a better calendar widget on your home screen

Simple Calendar Widget

If you’re like me, you use your phone to know what’s coming up that day, that hour, or in 5 minutes. You might have multiple Google calendars, you might import calendars from your spouse or certain organizations, but in any case, you want to know about what’s coming up on all of them. Google’s own calendar widget works for that, but it’s pretty Spartan in design, and it requires a lot of space to do its job.

Simple Calendar Widget is one of those Android apps with tons of options, nit-picky details, and programmable variables. At its core, though, it’s a transparent calendar widget that fits a lot more data, with color-coded signifiers, onto your home screen. From the “Skins” options, choose “SiMi Clock (Multiple Events),” and be sure to enable the options for colored calendars, and set the font sizes to something you can live with.

Make your Android stop acting like it can’t handle certain Gmail attachments

Your Android phone is, at its core, a computer. So it’s kind of sad when a file (like, say, a Keynote presentation) is attached to an email message, and your phone acts like it’s a children’s calculator. As featured in a post on Gmail helper apps, there’s a solution to files that your phone doesn’t recognize: Gmail Attachment Download.

Gmail Attachment Download (GAD) installs itself as an app that tells Android it can take almost any kind of file. When you tap a file attached to a Gmail message, GAD pops up as an option for handling the file. And then GAD simply asks you where you want to save that file, like a computer would do. That’s all it does, and it’s a big help.

Set up an alarm clock that works for your waking habits

AlarmDroid options

The built-in alarm on Android is decent for reminding me to move my car before the meter runs out. For actual awakening from slumber, it could use some help. I’ve tried many, many Android alarm apps, and my favorite so far is AlarmDroid. It can wake you up just about any way you can imagine waking up (well—ahem—almost).

AlarmDroid does music tracks or playlists, sound files, system sounds, or internet radio streams as your wake-up sound, and it can slowly ascend them as it turns on. You can turn it off by shaking the phone, flipping it onto its face, or by forcing yourself to solve logic or mathematical problems of your chosen difficulty. My favorite thing about AlarmDroid, though, is the spoken alarm. It reads out whatever text you give it, and you can insert variables. That means you get to create your own Tony-Stark-in-Iron-Man-style wake-up moment:

Good morning, Amy. It is [Time], and currently [Temperature] outside. Today’s high temperature will be [Max], with [Weather_Conditions].

Turn off your security code when you’re at home

If you don’t have a passcode screen on your smartphone, you are just asking for people to mess with your data, and you’re making it really easy for thieves to reset your phone. But when you are certain your phone is at home, it would be okay to let your passcode requirement slip, if only you could. Unlock with WiFi makes it so.

Unlock with WiFi is a fairly simple app, once you approve it as having administrative powers. When you’re signed into a Wi-Fi network that’s part of a safe zone for your phone, open the app and click “Add” to make that network a condition for turning off your screen password. The only hitch to Unlock with WiFI is that you have to remember to use the app to change or disable your passcode, or else you’ll have some potentially phone-reset-requiring problems. But for most phone owners, it’s just a really nice convenience (that you can imagine being part of any Android phone’s settings).

I only aimed for five apps for this post, but I’m certainly open to adding a list of other apps that fix Android at a deeper level. What do you have on your phone that everyone should know about?

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