One of the coolest things about Android is the ecosystem of creativity that surrounds it. With the platform's open nature, there's practically no limit to what you can do with your device -- and the Android developer community is constantly pushing the limits and finding new ways to enhance our experiences.
For this month's roundup, I picked some fresh tools for customizing your phone or tablet and making it do more. They're apps I've been using and enjoying a lot lately, and that's why they're among my favorite things.
1. Noyze Volume Panel
Android's default volume panel -- the little pop-up that appears on-screen whenever you press your device's volume-up or volume-down key -- is completely unremarkable. It's fine and functional enough, but a developer named Tom Barrasso looked at it and saw room for improvement.
So Barrasso created Noyze, a simple app that replaces your device's default volume system. Install it on your phone, go through a few quick settings, and boom: It'll automatically show up in place of the system standard anytime you press a volume key.
Noyze has a bunch of options for controlling how your volume panel looks. The most basic is a simple strip that appears along the notification bar area at the top of your screen, providing a clean and minimalist view that stays out of the way.
You can also pick a view that expands the top-of-screen bar to provide touch-sensitive sliders for controlling your ringer volume, audio volume, and alarm volume anytime you press a volume key. And with any of the setups, you can customize the foreground and background colors to make things look the way you like.
If you want to get even funkier, Noyze has options for a "heads-up" style panel that floats in whenever you press a volume button and a circular MIUI-inspired meter that appears in the center of the screen. And those are just the start.
If all of that isn't enough, Noyze also allows you to add custom long-press commands to your volume keys. You could make it so that long-pressing volume-up launches a specific music playlist, for instance, while long-pressing volume-down launches the Pandora app. Plenty of interesting possibilities there (though anyone who takes many screenshots will probably want to disable that feature).
Noyze is free to download and use; a few of the themes and features require a one-time in-app purchase of $1.57.
2. Today Calendar
What started as a slightly enhanced version of the stock Android Calendar app has grown into one of the most beautiful and advanced calendar interfaces you can find for Android today. I'm talking about Today Calendar, the creation of developer Jack Underwood and designer Liam Spradlin.
Over the past few weeks, Today has evolved to include a fresh and colorful new look inspired by Google's new Material Design standard (which we'll be seeing a lot more of with the upcoming Android "L" release). Visuals aside, the app has some nice feature flourishes, like a "split view" that lets you see a monthly calendar and your agenda at the same time and a set of attractive and customizable widgets for your home screen.
Pushbullet is one of those things I've always found impressive but have never found a need to use myself. At least, until now.
If you haven't heard of it, Pushbullet (which is free) creates an open connection between your Android device and your desktop computer. With the aid of a Chrome extension or standalone Windows app, it can show your phone's notifications on your computer screen and even allow you to respond to things like text messages from your PC.
Pushbullet also gives you a simple way to wirelessly beam files, links, and text between your Android device and your computer.
That stuff's been around for a while -- but as much as I love the idea of it all, I've never really needed it, personally.
The feature that finally got me on-board is something the folks at Pushbullet call "universal copy and paste." The way it works seems -- dare I say it -- almost magical: With the Windows app and the Android app installed, you simply highlight text on your computer, hit Ctrl-C, then pick up your Android phone and paste it anywhere. You can do it the other way, too -- highlighting text on your Android device, copying it, then hitting Ctrl-V on your computer to paste it on that end. It's as if the two systems are one and the same, even though there's no physical connection.
There's really nothing more to it; to borrow a phrase I once heard somewhere, it just works.
And that, my friends, is why Pushbullet is one of my favorite things in the land of Android right now. Stay tuned for more.