Ten Persistent Android Applications on my G1

I‘ve been using my Android phone (G1) for a little over 2 weeks. Since then, there have been several dozen apps downloaded and discarded by yours truly. In the post, I’ll do a brief rundown of several apps that have persisted throughout my numerous wipes (akin to reformatting and reinstalling in the Windows world).

All Apps Aren’t Equal

In the Android Market, Google doesn’t pre-screen apps to make sure they are only using data they need or that they aren’t masking some other nefarious activity. Just because it has a 5-star rating doesn’t automatically green-light it for your phone. Using CyanogenMod v. 5.0.8, the Android Market has a comments area where you can see a mix of useless and slightly useful comments. You can do your research on an Android app by:

  • looking at the comments which can provide some insights on if an App does what it claims to do well
  • visiting sites that cover Android Apps and checking out their reviews of Android apps
  • searching for information about the app via DuckDuckGo/Google/Bing
  • and checking the Android app out on Cyrket or AppBrain which are sites for viewing comments/ratings of apps.

When you’re installing an App, it’ll let you know what functions it will be accessing. See the images below:
Ndrive for Android permissions
Factbook for Android Permissions

That is the mapping application, Ndrive. Expectedly, it’s going to access my location, download maps to my microSD card, enable functionality that involves accessing my messages, calling, etc. Things you’d expect an app dealing with navigation to do.

The other application displayed is the Factbook app which is expectedly accessing the internet and while I’m not sure why it needs my location, I’m not too bothered by that. The point is: If you’re downloading a wallpaper app, I’d only expect to see it accessing my microSD card to deposit the images or check online for updates to the images, etc. If you see a metric ton of things being accessed that you don’t expect it to, feel free to hit “cancel”.

Earlier this week, there was some dust-up about a wallpaper app accessing more info than people felt it should. The moral lesson of the wild Android Market west is: keep your wits about you. 🙂

My Essential Android Applications Toolkit

This toolkit contains a healthy mix of free (go community! :P) and paid (supporting the developers) options. This list will be geared towards rooted G1 phones because that’s what I have: a rooted G1. These apps aren’t “essential” but I sure have installed them every single time I’ve wiped my G1. The apps on this list have demonstrated staying power so I think you might find them of use. 🙂

MyBackup Pro

One of the first things I do with new computers/phones is make sure I have a capable backup system on it. MyBackup Pro (Cyrket Overview) fit the bill from all online accounts/reviews. It backs up my data and apps like a champ to my microSD card.However, I have since discovered something very troubling about this application. This issue concerns the online backup aspect of this app, but it shouldn’t affect owners of new/unused Android phones. Basically, if your used Android phone has ever had MyBackup Pro + an email address + password associated with it, you have a privacy problem.

I bought a used G1 phone and the phone’s previous owner bought, installed & associated an email address + password with the MyBackup Pro app (discovered this after the fact). I bought the MyBackup Pro app for my ‘new’ used phone, installed and backed up to MyBackup Pro’s servers. Everytime I did this, I would get a “Backup success” message so I stupidly assumed that somehow, the App had “signed” me up for the online backup service. Then, when attempting to reset my password with the email address I used from the Android Market and kept getting an “account unrecognized” error message, I sent an email to MyBackup Pro representative. That’s when my tenuous hold on reality lost its grip. I’ve always wanted to write that. 😛

Basically, on a virgin installation on MyBackup Pro, new users are prompted to create a password and associate an email address with the application. If you weren’t the one who set up the MyBackup Pro application (which will happen if you’ve purchased a used Android phone from someone relatively savvy), you’re stuck with their password and if you’ve used your email address in corresponding with the previous owner, guess whose online backups can be accessed on MyBackup Pro’s servers? Yours.

My instinctive response was: change everything (my PIN, password and email address). First, the PIN is “hardcoded” and can’t be changed. According to the MyBackup Pro representative, the password couldn’t be changed either! Finally, the representative admitted that he could change my password manually and again, I cringed. I subscribe to the concept that a password should be known only by 1 person especially for something private & important? I mean, the app backs up SMS messages, call logs, calendar events, et cetera.

Short and sweet: Don’t use the online backup aspect of MyBackup Pro until there’s an easier way to reset/change passwords and change the associated email address. Back up your important data to your SD card and even more importantly, copy the backups to an external hard drive and keep them safer that way. To be clear, the MyBackup Pro representative I was in touch with was able to manually change my password, but I imagine that method won’t scale.

Amon Ra Recovery v. 1.7.0

Short and sweet:Use this recovery image as your Swiss Army knife. I’ve detailed why I went with the Amon Ra recovery image over the Clockworkmod recovery image for my version of CyanogenMod. You can get into the console and also get into your microSD card while booted into the Amon Ra recovery image.

Google Voice

Short and sweet: Voicemail on steroids: faster, more accessible and it configures your voicemail settings on your phone automagically.

Google Voice recently became available for all US/Canada users to sign up for so there’s nothing stopping you from getting an extra voice number which accepts calls, can transcribe your voicemails (extremely beta feature so you’ll still need to listen to your voicemails, can email text messages sent to that number) to your designated email address, and much more. This is an invaluable service provided by Google.

Google Addons

Short and sweet:: This means you get to have Google’s apps like Gmail, Maps, etc tightly integrated with your phone. I didn’t do this once and my phone felt naked. Bare. Don’t let this happen to you. When flashing your Cyanogenmod ROM, make sure you have the Google Addons file downloaded and ready to flash as well. For the addons pack for Cyanogenmod ROM v 5.0.8 (ERE36B), here are the additional .apk files installed to your phone:

  • BugReport.apk
  • EnhancedGoogleSearchProvider.apk
  • GenieWidget.apk
  • Gmail.apk
  • GmailProvider.apk
  • GoogleApps.apk
  • GoogleBackupTransport.apk
  • GoogleCheckin.apk
  • GoogleContactsSyncAdapter.apk
  • GooglePartnerSetup.apk
  • GoogleSettingsProvider.apk
  • GoogleSubscribedFeedsProvider.apk
  • gtalkservice.apk
  • LatinImeTutorial.apk
  • Maps.apk
  • MarketUpdater.apk
  • MediaUploader.apk
  • NetworkLocation.apk
  • PassionQuickOffice.apk
  • SetupWizard.apk
  • Street.apk
  • Talk.apk
  • TalkProvider.apk
  • Vending.apk
  • VoiceSearch.apk
  • YouTube.apk

Convinced yet? 🙂

Astro File Manager Pro

Short and sweet: I’ve always had a file manager on every single phone I’ve owned. For the Windows Mobile ecosystem, the file manager to beat was Resco’s Explorer. On the Nokia E71x, the best file manager was X-plore and now, with the Android phone, Astro File Manager has cornered this niche market.

There’s a free version of the Astro File Manager, but I always like supporting well-done and relatively inexpensive applications like the Astro File Manager. Astro File Manager Pro comes with goodies like an application manager (allowing you to uninstall apps), backup your .apk files for the apps, a way to visualize your SD card’s use and a handy process manager tool.

Astro File Manager

ColorDict Dictionary

Short and sweet:: Best free dictionary available for the Android system. For my needs thus far, the ColorDict app and free Dictionary addons available are more than adequate.

Make sure you get the following dictionaries databases:

  1. CMU’s American English spelling/pronunciation
  2. Wikipedia Addon: It’ll pull up info about the entered word from Wikipedia and if you aren’t connected to the internet, it doesn’t miss a beat in continuing to display info from the other dictionaries.
  3. English Thesaurus
  4. and English Wordnet: a free database of words maintained by Princeton
  5. For a listing of available dictionaries, fire up the ColorDict app and you can click on the button (lower left) that says “Download Dictionary data”

ColorDict dictionary app for Android

3banana Notes

Short and sweet:: If you need a dedicated “to-do” list sort of app, this isn’t it, but for my needs, creating notes about whatever whenever, 3banana notes hits all the right notes. 🙂

3banana notes is a simple but powerful application for creating notes with all sorts of data attached like images, gps coordinates, qr codes, etc. It’s also attached to the neat Compass application for Android so it’s a win-win situation. You can sign up for a Snaptic account or use your Google Account to sync any created notes. Snaptic’s products are simple and well done. I’ve got 4 of their products on my phone as of today. 🙂

3Banana notes for Android

Barcode Scanner

Short and sweet:: Barcode Scanner is the fastest way to scan a barcode or QR code and get what you want: If you use barcode scanning more for shopping and like a little more eyecandy, the ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner will be more your speed.

ZXing Barcode Scanner

If you search the Android Market for scanners, you’ll find that the Barcode Scanner app by ZXing and Shopsavvy are the 2 highest rated “barcode scanning” apps on the market. From barcode labels on any products to computer-generated QR codes, these apps are great for easily visiting a website/url, calling a number or downloading a .apk file (apk stands for android package). Frankly, you won’t go wrong with both apps on your phone. It won’t hurt a thing especially if storage is not a problem for you. Hence, I recommend an 8gb class 6 microSD card or a 16gb class 6 microSD card on Amazon.com.

Shopsavvy Barcode Scanner

PicSay Pro

Personally, I don’t use this too much because the camera on my G1 is pretty pathetic. However, with newer and better cameras shipping with cellphones these days, I think having an app that does neat tricks with photos is indispensible. This is a paid app and it cost less than $7.


Short and sweet: Nimbuzz is an all-in-one instant messaging application and voip client as well. I currently use it to keep in touch with contacts on the following networks: Skype, Facebook, Windows Live, Gmail, and Yahoo Mail. I’ve used Nimbuzz with the Symbian S60 system (my Nokia E71x phone) and I’ve just been blown away at how much better the Android apps are compared to the S60 ecosystem. C’est la vie. 🙂 Get Nimbuzz now and as always, it helps to have a data connection because the app runs in the background to notify you of chats, incoming messages, etc.

Nimbuzz for Android

I had a hard time with not straying from the “persistent apps” theme, but I think that’s a good place to start from when attempting to figure out what apps are important or could be of frequent use to you. Cheers and I’d love your input on *your persistent Android apps.

If you’re curious about getting screenshots from your Android device, see this tutorial from DownloadSquad on getting that working. Here is my much shorter version:

  1. On Cyanogenmod v. 5.0.8, USB debugging was already enabled. However, you can enable USB debugging yourself by visiting: “Settings –> Applications –> Development –> check “USB Debugging”
  2. Install the latest JDK version from Sun Oracle.
  3. Download the Android SDK. It’s a zipped file that doesn’t need installation so just unzip to a directory of your choossing.
  4. Browse to the “Tools” folder of the unzipped Android SDK folder and doubleclick the ddms.bat file.
  5. On my notebook, I’ve added the Android SDK folder to the System Path on my computer so that all I need to when I want to fire up the debugging system is type “ddms” or “ddms.bat” into the “Search box” (on Windows 7) and click on the file when it pops up. Not that this won’t happen if the SDK was in an indexed folder, but you can skip a lot of typing this way. 🙂
  6. After clicking on the ddms.bat file, you should see the Dalvik Debug monitor window pop up. Navigate to “Device” and click “Device Screen Capture”.
  7. See the screen capture at the end.

Make a Screen Capture in Android

Unlocking the Tmobile G1 phone

TL;DR – Pay less than $20 to have an unlock code for your phone from Unlocking.com!

So, I got an Android phone, specifically, the T-Mobile G1. Yes, it’s no longer officially supported by T-Mobile and second, I’m with AT & T! However, the person I purchased the device from had done the hardwork in rooting the G1 and flashing the CyanogenMod ROM v. 5 onto the G1. See this excellent XDA forum post on why you should root your G1. Due to some mixed signals, I was under the impression the phone was unlocked. Alas, I was to discover that a Rooted G1 does NOT an Unlocked G1 make. After I got the G1 phone, I giddily popped my ATT SIM and got this dialog box: “SIM network unlock PIN”.

The first thing I did was hit up Google, but unfortunately scummy sites were popping up too many times in the SERPs (search engine results pages) for me to find any useful answer or pointer to what was going on! I even called ATT Support several times and told them the specific error I was getting. The support personnel kept giving me the PUK and PUK2 codes which (in hindsight) expectedly didn’t work! The PUK codes are for:

  • You’ve instituted a PIN lock for your SIM to prevent unauthorized usage.
  • You’ve forgotten the PIN for your SIM and with only 3 tries to get it right, it doesn’t take long for you to get ‘locked’ out of your SIM/Device.
  • Enter the PUK (or PUK2) codes. PUK stands for PIN Unlock Key and if you’re an ATT customer, you can get it by going logging into your MyWireless account. Navigating to the “My Account” tab and selecting “My Services”. From that screen, you can select your device and there’ll be a link that says “Unblock SIM card”. Clicking that will open up a new window that displays your PUK code.

ATT instructions for entering PUK code

So I visited DuckDuckGo and was able to figure out that: i) my phone was, in fact, still locked to T-Mobile ii) there were no problems with my SIM card and iii) I needed to get an unlock code fast or I’d be stuck with a pretty brick. So, if you’ve purchased a secondhand G1 and you’re getting a “SIM network unlock PIN”, chances are highly in favor of the phone being ‘locked’ to the original cellphone provider. Of course, if I had purchased this phone direct from T-Mobile at full price, I could’ve called their customer service and gotten the codes for free. This was clearly not an option for me so it was on to the next best thing. 🙂

If you haven’t followed my cellphone history, I went from owning a Palm Treo 650 to a Nokia E71x to an ATT Tilt and now, the G1. The Android system is completely new to me while I knew there were more complicated ways of unlocking the G1 (a.k.a. HTC Dream) for free, I wanted to get over this really big obstacle quickly & without bricking my phone. I then decided to pay money to get my new phone unlocked. There are *several* sites that claim to be the best and guarantee all sorts of things. However, a big caveat with many of these sites (overkill in my opinion, but that’s why I’m writing this article to keep you informed) is that getting your money back isn’t a simple matter of “the unlock code didn’t work”. You actually have to prove that it didn’t work! For instance, I’ll pick on the site I went with: Unlocking.com. The choice was easy i.e. they had an average of 4 stars from over 400 reviews which isn’t anything to sneeze at.

As I try to do before purchasing most things, I checked out Unlocking.com’s their terms of use and conditions. The actual document is hard to find and I only got the full document after I had started the process of payment. So for your convenience, I uploaded the full “Terms & Conditions” for Unlocking.com to my Scribd account. They have a moneyback guarantee, but on reading further, I found a few things that could easily void that guarantee:

  1. The information provided on the submission form when ordering the service is 100% correct (agreed).
  2. The instructions provided with the service have been followed exactly as stipulated (agreed).
  3. The target mobile phone is not stolen or blacklisted (on the fence because I purchased the phone off Craigslist and I don’t believe my phone was stolen or blacklisted. It might help if they provided a way to get off such a blacklist in case my phone had been wrongly labelled).
  4. The target mobile phone is not already unlocked (agreed).
  5. The software of the target phone has never been altered, changed or tampered with in any way (agreed and I took a chance anyway on using their service on a rooted G1. Your mileage may vary and the sheer fact that I attempted to unlock a rooted G1 is grounds for rejection of any requests for my money back).
  6. The IMEI number of the target phone has never been altered, changed or tampered with in any way (agreed This particular item (IMEI number) appears to be the critical element of ensuring the unlocking codes work).
  7. The phone has never undergone an attempted unlocking with codes in the past (on the fence Does it matter if these previous unlocking attempts happened with their service?).
  8. Even if you meet all those conditions above, Unlocking.com reserves the right to request evidence and by that, they mean, either mailing your device to them or providing video evidence of you following the instructions! I don’t begrudge them for taking such extreme measures, but I sure would like to know before the fact that I should’ve filmed myself following the instructions.
  9. For the record, items 1 – 7 were culled from from Unlocking.com‘s Customer Guarantee page). The items in parentheses are my comments on the items. I also did film myself unlocking the phone, but I don’t think that video will see the light of day. Something to do with my state of dishabille, reflective screens and me handling the camera. 😛

That said, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and Unlocking.com delivered on the primary purpose of their existence: providing valid unlock codes to hundreds of devices.

  • They take credit card fraud seriously. It wasn’t a simple matter of plugging in my credit card information and getting the codes. I had to verify my phone number and authenticate with a PIN that was provided. Only then did my order status change to “verified” and according to the email I received, they quoted 25 minutes to generate the code for my handset.
  • In reality, the entire process was less than 15 minutes to get the unlock codes. Their instructions for entering the unlock code are simple and very clear about the need for accuracy during your order. In fact, they offer you the chance to correct an order if you’ve realized almost instantly that you mistyped the IMEI number.
  • On the first try, the unlock code they issued for my G1 worked. Thus, I heartily recommend you use Unlocking.com for the specific task of unlocking your G1!
  • As of 07/26/2010, the service costs $19.99 so it’s a small price to pay in the scheme of things. 🙂 If things go south, make sure you haven’t run afoul of their dealbreaking issues and that you filmed the unlocking procedure as you did it (which I did).

Long story short,

  1. Follow the instructions on Unlocking.com to the letter and you might not need a refund.
  2. Read the tems & conditions and specifically, what hoops you have to jump through in case you need a refund.

Cheers and don’t forget to stay tuned to my blog by subscribing and following me on Twitter (@janetalkstech)! Up next, my Android adventures and my ATT Tilt is up for sale ($100 gets it, a 256mb microSD card, wall charger and a USB cord). Disclosure: Unlocking.com affiliate links are sprinkled. Support my site by clicking through. 🙂