Android is full of interesting things that deserve to be celebrated. Sometimes, though, some of the platform's most smile-inducing items get lost in the day-to-day shuffle of device announcements and other big news topics that demand our attention.
That's why I've started taking a moment each month to highlight a few of my favorite things related to Android at the moment -- things that are in some way making my life easier or making the mobile landscape a more pleasant place to live. They could be apps, services, accessories, or almost anything that somehow ties into the Android-using experience.
This month, it's all about apps. So without further ado, here are three of my favorite things right now:
Sometimes it's the simplest concepts that deliver the biggest smiles. Muzei, a new live wallpaper by Android Developer Advocate Roman Nurik, is a perfect example -- one that gives me a moment of delight almost every day.
Unlike most live wallpapers, Muzei doesn't jiggle or move most of the time. Rather, what it does is provide you with a different picture as your background every day. You can adjust the level of blur and dimness so it's easy to see your icons and widgets on top of the image. And each night, the image automatically switches out with a new one, giving you fresh eye candy for the next 24 hours.
By default, Muzei rotates through famous works of art -- anything from Van Gogh's "Starry Night" to Cezanne's "The Card Players." The artwork is curated and selected by Nurik's fiancée, who happens to be an art teacher. It's like having an ongoing tour of a world-class museum right on your phone; every new painting is even accompanied by a non-invasive notification that gives you pertinent info about the piece.
If art isn't your thing, there are plenty of other visual options: Muzei is open source and expandable, and already, tons of third-party plugins have popped up that offer integration with a variety of different photo services (500px, Flickr, Tumblr, Instagram) and even things like National Geographic's Picture of the Day and images of space from NASA. One plugin will change your wallpaper to match album artwork anytime you're playing music.
(Update: I highly recommend checking out SmugZei, a free plug-in for Muzei that pulls in gorgeous photographs from around the world for your wallpaper.)
Such a simple yet compelling demonstration of pure Android power -- and in an app that's elegant and thoughtfully designed, to boot. Oh yeah: And did I mention that it's free?
Android's native app-switching tool is plenty handy, but it isn't your only option for jumping around quickly between tasks. A third-party tool called Switchr provides a polished and powerful custom app switching system that can change the way you use your phone or tablet.
You activate Switchr by swiping in from the edge of your screen in a predefined area; I keep mine set to the upper-left corner, but you can customize it to work in any spot you like. When you swipe in, the service comes alive, showing you a graphical list of apps you might want to use at any given moment.
Switchr can work just like Android's Recent Apps button if you want, or -- more usefully, if you ask me -- can be configured to show you a specific set of commonly used apps. I actually have it set up to do both on my phone: It shows me six apps that I access frequently and then my one most recently used app below that. Best of both worlds.
By default, Switchr displays apps in a swipeable "Flow" style that appears across the center of the screen. You can also opt to use a Windows 8-like "Slide" arrangement or a simple "Arc" configuration (shown here). Whichever style you prefer, the program provides tons of options for customization, both visually and functionally speaking.
What sold me on Switchr was a combination of its function -- sometimes when I'm using a phone one-handed, it's much easier to navigate around with my thumb at the top of the screen than by adjusting my grip and reaching down for the main nav buttons at the bottom -- and its sleek and polished design. There are other apps out there that do similar things, but Switchr brings a level of poise and sophistication that really sets it apart.
Switchr is free, though you need a $2 Pro Key upgrade in order to take advantage of some of its more advanced options.
Another Twitter app -- I know, right? I've generally stopped getting excited by these things, too. But with Twitter's official Android app getting suckier by the month and my go-to replacements starting to feel a little stale, I found myself searching for a simple yet powerful Android app with a clean and modern design. Then Talon came along and won me over.
Talon actually makes Twitter look like part of the modern Android ecosystem. Its UI makes me want to spend more time browsing through tweets and treating Twitter like a news-reading service instead of a mildly annoying messaging platform. It's a great example of how big a difference app design can make.
I've always had Twitter clients that got the job done, but it's been a long time since I've had one that I actually enjoyed using -- and for me, that's worth a lot.
And that, my friends, is why Talon is one of my favorite things in the land of Android right now. Stay tuned for more.