Penguin Pete here again! Previously, we talked about the top Android games that have proven themselves over the years as solid gaming. This time, we'd like to devote a whole other article to non-game apps on Android that are also well worth your time - for certain purposes and interests.
Non-game apps are a different ballpark. We all know there's a Twitter app and a Facebook app and even an IMGUR app, so why waste everyone's time posting them? The Twitter app is the only game in town for Twitter; it's not like anybody out there was waiting to download the Twitter app until we give our review. Similarly, there's no point reviewing standard utilities that come on every phone and tablet.
Instead, we will be listing some niche apps with practical uses. Ones you never thought of looking for. And of course, we want them for free or minimal cost, with a minimum of ads and bloat.
In these days of increased concern about global climate change, environment, and mundane matters like traffic congestion, Transit is an ideal assistant. It takes your location and shows you local routes and schedules for bus stops, subway lines, and all manner of public transit. If you're planning a trip, it will map out the route for you using only public transit, even including bike paths and Uber rides when necessary. It's like a personal concierge for moving around!
What could be handier than taking advantage of all the media available to loan for free at your local library? How about putting the library right on your phone or tablet? Libby lets you punch in your library card, and then you can browse, borrow, read, and return ebooks. Bookworms on the bus will find this fantastic to catch up on their literature. Freelance writers who need to mainline stacks of research material (like yours truly) can use this to check out volumes of reference material.
Podcast and Radio Addict
So, for those of you who love having voices chattering in your head at work or during your commute, you're addicted to podcasts. Formerly known as Podcast Addict, now known as Podcast and Radio Addict, this app is a digital bookshelf for your podcasts, radio content, YouTube channels, and other streaming multimedia. This is an example of what's known as a "podcatcher," because it snags your subscriptions and stores them for later listening, even when you're offline.
Clue Period Tracker
With women's reproductive rights under attack all over the world, it's refreshing to know that no country nor church can ever stop a woman from planning her reproductive future using basic math. Clue is a period tracker that tracks your whole cycle, handily letting you know when you're most and least likely to conceive.
It contains a full serving of information about women's reproductive systems as well, for those of you living in dark territory where mere sexual education is forbidden. Ladies, did you know that sperm cells can survive in your system for a couple days or so, hanging around waiting for your egg to drop when you ovulate? There's all kinds of handy tips here, whether you're trying to catch the babies or avoid them.
Want to learn to code? Well, you do want a job going forward in a digital society after the robots take over and we're all hose-fed fetuses floating in tanks in the Matrix? Yeah, you want to learn to code, thought so! SoloLearn is a great, painless method for picking up a new programming language on the fly. Its teaching method is to game-ify the learning experience, awarding you points when you complete lesson milestones.
Merlin Bird ID
You city slickers might want to give this a pass. But I live in the wild wilderness of the Midwest, in territory teeming with wildlife. Living where I'm surrounded by miles of greenbelt, a river bend, and a bike trail, I can literally encounter a new species of bird every day.
After hearing the cacophony of bird calls outside every morning, I began to take an interest in studying birds - which can happen when they insist on parading across your windowsill. Merlin Bird ID is an app which tracks bird populations all around the world and lets you identify any species using a few simple steps, then playing back bird calls for you to match. Now instead of saying "I can't hear myself think over the racket of those birds!" You can say "Yoo-hoo yourself, black-capped chickadee!"
Here again, city folk just don't understand about this high-fallutin' star-gazing stuff. But if you live where you're not flooded out with light pollution, the nighttime sky is a fascinating voyage of cosmic sight-seeing. Sky Map is so simple you wonder why it's not built-in: Just give it your location and let it adjust to your phone or tablet compass, and it will give you an interactive map of the night sky, showing constellations, stars, planets, moon and sun path, and so on. Just point it anywhere and it will show you a neatly labeled map of that part of the sky - even pointing right through the planet. Don't hitchhike the galaxy without it!
Music Maker Jam
We are not all gifted musicians, but those of us in digital work do require some snippets of music once in awhile. The kind you'd use for games, presentations, podcasts, or just to create your own little theme for your YouTube videos. Music Maker Jam is the idiot-proof way to do that, creating free, simple beat and synthesizer jingles. You will own this music clip! It is yours, license and royalty-free, for life! Just be careful to only use the sound kits open for free non-copyrighted use. You can drop in downloaded kits for all kinds of styles, jazz, dubstep, reggae, urban, drone, whatever crazy punk thing you're into. Hey, you want a perfect companion to this? Go to Every Noise At Once and browse the song samples there, then try to replicate them in Music Maker Jam. Granted, it won't make you a Beethoven or even a Mozart, but it will kick out a serviceable synthesized pop ditty good enough for the background of your movie review channel.
Now Wasn't That Fun?
Hopefully, you've discovered something interesting and useful here. Truly useful Android apps that aren't just social networks are surprisingly thin on the ground. As an extra shout-out, there are several FOSS programs ported from the Linux ecosystem to Android, including Gimp, Snes9x, and XScreensaver, of all things, so it's possible to replicate some desktop functionality on a tablet or phone, at least. Maybe not the best place to attempt Emacs, but rest assured, some geek out there has tried it!