The Vengeful Polyglot

HTC Droid Incredible Android UI

Posted on: May 12, 2011

Since my HTC Droid Incredible has recently taken to locking itself over and over again during certain times, preventing me from ending, say, embarrassingly business-related calls, I will be replacing it with a refurb provided by my one-year manufacturer’s warranty. (6 days before expiration, yessss!) Unfortunately, backing up app data on Android phones is seeming pretty tricky. I’ll probably be trying it using ASTRO, the file managing app I hope everyone has on their Android. I’ll see how Google’s app-backup from the cloud goes before trying to deal with it on my own, though.

One of the consequences of this is that I’m most likely going to lose my beloved Android UI, which I have labored over for more hours than I’d really care to admit.  I’m really not exaggerating when I say I’ve probably spent more time tweaking apps on my phone than actually calling people with it. In the hopes of maybe recreating it, here is a dissection of the best UI/homescreen setup I’ve arrived at so far.


Main Homescreen

First off, while the Incredible is preloaded with HTC Sense, I use an alternate launcher, LauncherPro Plus, which is what those handy little buttons at the bottom are. Sense is really great, and one of the hardest parts about disabling Sense as my launcher was losing the excellent, polished widgets that come standard with it. Even without the launcher, you still have access to all of the other Sense features, like the People contacts app, so not all is lost. Given the convenience of many of the other Sense programs, I doubt at this point I would ever be happy with the stock ROM or MotoBlur, etc — it was one of the reasons I chose the DInc initially. LauncherPro really adds some wonderful functionality to your homescreens, though, and has allowed me to really cut down on icon clutter and present a unified image. It also allows for widget resizing and overlapping, which is how I got the look above.

The majority of the screen is populated by only two apps, Beautiful Widgets and BattStatt Pro, with the former stretched over the latter. Both are really full-featured and customizable, the latter even as a free app. The majority of the apps I use on my homescreens, though, I paid for. (It turns out, I’m totally shallow enough to pay for a “cuter” version of something.) I like having the time, date, and weather front and center, as well as a more specific indicator of my current battery life. While this is somewhat redundant given that I’ve left the status bar visible (LauncherPro can hide it), the lack of a good email widget has forced me to keep it active.

The status bar is currently showing two app notifications, one for a new text from Hancent SMS and one the “mode” indicator for an app called Profile. Handcent I’ll cover later (because it’s adorable!), but Profile basically allows me to set profiles with various volume settings to become active automatically at certain times. For instance, my “Class” profile activates at the time my classes start, and sets everything to vibrate, while my “Night” profile is similar but has silent email notifications and full call volume. Setting profiles like this is functionality I sorely missed from my Blackberry days, and this is the best app I’ve found to fill that niche. There are a lot of other options, some of which have profiles become active based on your location (i.e. full volume at home, vibrate when on campus or at your office), but they were way more complex than I needed. Sometimes simple is best!

LauncherPro is what makes the handy little row of buttons at the bottom. While only one is shown, I actually have it set to have 3 sets (the maximum) of 5 buttons which I can scroll through independently of the homescreen I’m on. In addition to whatever function the button itself does, you can also specify specific actions or apps to launch on a button swipe, which is truly where I think this app shines. In my previous Sense configuration, I had used all 7 homescreens; with LauncherPro, I’ve decided to have only three active. Pretty much everything I do frequently is on LauncherPro’s little row of icons.

On the one shown, I have the standard call button, which can have a little notification to indicate missed calls and which will show a popup of recent ones on swipe. The next is email, which links to K9 Mail for me. Of all the email clients I’ve tried, this has the cleanest interface and best features, I think (god awful icon though,which is why I use the default mail one through LauncherPro). If you use a supported email program, like the stock one, LauncherPro can have the same little new email notifier it has for missed calls and texts and the same popup to display new messages, but K9 isn’t supported at this time. This is the biggest reason why I still need the status bar active — the lack of an email notification elsewhere. The center button links to the app drawer, which I’ve set to look like the 3D drawer on the Nexus One (another fun, cosmetic feature of LauncherPro), and goes to the Android Market on swipe. To the right of that is the Handcent link, which shows new texts on swipe, and the internet icon, which links to Dolphin Browser HD on press and my bookmarks on swipe. So much functionality in so little space! I love it.


Planning Homescreen

I call this my planning screen because it includes the two widgets I check multiple times daily to see where I need to be and what’s coming up. The first is a smaller version of Beautiful Widgets which shows the 4-day weather forecast not including the current day. This is useful because I am completely oblivious to nature, and would often succumb to Darwinism if there weren’t anything I could use to determine if I’m going to need a sweater. The second is Android Agenda Widget (I don’t remember if I have the pro version or not, so the link is to the free one), which has a metric ton of customization options and does an excellent job of meeting both my anal-retentive scheduling and aesthetic needs. I can show all of my many Google Calendar events, formatted just how I’d like them, and it even highlights the ones going on. This is excellent since I don’t find the native Calendar app to be terribly useful at a glance. Generally, I use only the widget on my phone, and then look at my full calendar (obsessively) via my computer. Really strong customization, though. I was giddy when setting this one up. A lot of fun.

At the bottom is my “left” LauncherPro row (though they loop, so I usually get to it by swiping right-to-left twice instead of going left-to-right from the main one), which I have up here just to show what’s on it, since it does scroll independently of the homescreens. On this one, from left to right, I have: a link to the stock calculator; Reddit is Fun, my possibly-soon-to-change Reddit app of choice; Catch Notes, a comprehensive note-taking app which opens a new note on swipe; SMS Wishes, which is used to send texts at a predetermined time in the future (good for wishing friends luck on 8 am finals when you don’t have the mental fortitude to wake up at 8 am!); and Yelp/Open Table, on press and swipe respectively, for all of my on-the-go food adventuring needs. This is my least used row of LauncherPro buttons, but still stuff I hit relatively frequently.


Just For Funsies Homescreen

This is my vanity screen. I have two of the stock photo frames, one with a picture of the Moch and one of my boyfriend and me. I also have my BattleNet Authenticator on here (which will be super fun transferring to a new phone) for easy access, as well as the widget for my Astrid tasks. That last one is really handy; since my phone is on me when I’m out running errands, I prefer to use Astrid instead of Google Tasks, which I find easiest to access on a computer. Come on, that’s what Notepad is for. (Notepad, it’s worth noting, doesn’t have an adorable octopus mascot — one point for Astrid there.)

Below these is my “right” row of LauncherPro buttons, which have apps less commonly used than the one shown with my main homescreen, but more commonly used than in the one shown in my planning homescreen (I feel like this is probably getting confusing, but the app itself is really intuitive!). First is Google Voice, which if you aren’t using now, you should be. There is no reason to pay for visual voicemail when you can get it for free and with the extra host of cloud-based features Google offers with most of their apps. Truly an excellent app. Couldn’t ask for better. It still freaks my mom out when she gets to my voicemail and hears “Hiiii, mom!” Customizable messages are the best way to screw with your loved ones. Next to GVoice is a link to the People contacts app, which has excellent integration between different social platforms. I think this is one of the best features of Sense. On swipe, it goes to the stock Sense Facebook app. Next is a link to the camera, which goes to my picture gallery on swipe, and then a link to (an earlier, free, beta of) Trillian, my preferred integrated messaging app. I have a real gripe with what they’ve done recently with paid content, both on the PC and mobile versions, but I will likely suck it up since it’s the best IM client I’ve ever used. Loads better than AIM, and even popular ones like Meebo. Also, really classy-looking (since we all know I’m shallow). The last link is to Google Maps, which goes to Google Places on swipe. I love having free GPS! Thank you Android, you lovable, opensource platform, you.


Bonus: Texting!

Since I mentioned I’d discuss Handcent later, here is a screen of what my texts look like.

Now you know. I pretty much changed from the stock app so I could have a swishy font and color everything pink and purple. I’m actually that lame. Girly-ness aside, the app is excellent and doesn’t have obtrusive ads like most of its competitors. A lot of options here, too, for functionality as well as appearance. As pictured, I use the beta version of Swype, the god amongst input methods. (I have a soft spot for alternative input methods; if you’re looking for a mind-bendingly fun time, check out 8pen!) I get to list Swype here because I’m no longer a bad person who uses a cracked copy. I’m legitimately in the beta now! If anything has gotten me over my Blackberry’s physical keyboard, it’s Swype. Coming from that, Swype is pretty much the only thing which has made my mobile typing life bearable.


Not Pictured

There are a few apps which haven’t made their way onto my homescreens but which are vital to my mental wellbeing nonetheless. ASTRO is the best file management app ever in the history of the world, as previously mentioned at the top of this post. Gameboid, my GBA emulator, lets me play Pokemon Fire Red in Italian and also probably has other functions but… once you have Pokemon in Italian, what more do you need? (I may also have Harvest Moon. Zing!) LinkedIn gets moderate use, though that’s more of a big hitter on the computer. Manga Browser (which I can’t find a link to) is a waiting-in-line/downtime lifesaver. Likewise for Pandora, assuming I have headphones on me. RageFaces is super cool. If you don’t know the use for that one, read more F7U12, haha. Widget Locker is probably great for some, but after spending an embarrassingly long time tweaking it I realized I couldn’t get over losing the call accept/reject functionality of the default Sense locker. Really good for people who don’t have that hangup, though. World of Warcraft Remote (which I don’t pay for, so it lacks the Auction House functionality) allows me to brag about my 85s in almost any situation!


Why Android?

I know it may seem silly, but the customization available on Android has really sold me on it as a platform. Of course, there’s the Google > Steve Jobs the Content Overlord thing, which is also important to me (sorry, I’m capable of being personally responsible for what content I put on my phone; I don’t need Jobs to block the porn for me “just in case”). It’s also the sheer amount of options. Apple may have usability and peerless UI fidelity, but Android is where the real power is. I don’t want my hand held (no pun intended). I want to be able to have what I want — exactly what I want — and I want to have choices between which developer I get it from. I want customizability. I want to change how everything looks. If I so desire, I want to be able to make it look just like iOS! Now there’s a one-way street for you. I feel that, with my level of Android familiarity, I could make my phone look and act a lot like an iPhone. But I can also make it do a lot more, and there’s no way an iPhone could perform equivalently. What’s the score on that, Apple? (Also, we had multitasking from the start — how embarrassing is that for you, Jobs, starting from a Linux kernel just the same? Bazinga!)

While trying to explain to my uncle why he should keep the Thunderbolt he had just bought instead of going straight back to the iPhone 4, it came to me that the real difference is that while iOS makes it really easy to do the simple tasks you need to do daily, it can only do them one way. It does what it does very well, but that’s all. There’s no room for competition, or innovation, and no way to separate the newbies from the pros. With Android, while it hardly works as smoothly or intuitively out of the box (though neither is it overly complex!), you have so much more power over what goes on your phone and how your phone behaves. You just have more choices.

That, and you don’t feel like you’re under the lock and key of some crazy nerd with delusions of internet grandeur. /soapbox.

If you don’t get into on a moral level like the serious geeks (read: me), it comes down to which is more important to you: smooth, intuitive UI … or power. As you can see from my detailed app ramblings above, I’m totally sold on the power. Thinking about the new hardware on the many devices always on the verge of being released, thinking about the upcoming software updates (hello, Google Music!), gives me goosebumps. It makes me excited to learn more. I know that’s really silly, but Android gives me more freedom than I ever expected to have in such a small device; it’s got everything that excites me about computers, now in a conveniently small, and easier to mess with, package! It’s thrilling, not to put too fine a point on it. I love it.

Please post questions if you want to know any more about what apps I use or those I’ve tried. I have chosen to remain unrooted for possible insurance reasons as well as a desire to see how far I could push the UI without resorting to superuser privileges (and the fact that I don’t need tethering… if I did, I’d be rooted in a second; I’m not paying Verizon any more for crap that should come free), but I’ve tried a metric ton of apps and worked some in Android development. As I’m sure you can see, I’m a huge Android fangirl, so I’m happy to answer any and all questions. 🙂

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Blog by a programmer cum linguist cum writer cum total geek. One who pretentiously uses "cum" in place of any other logical connectives. Direct questions to the Ask Lauren page!

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