Android shopping spree

YOU can only download so many games, silly gags and wallpapers before you realize that the fancy Android phone in your hand isn’t living up to its potential. Not wanting my Samsung GT-i8150 Galaxy W to suffer this fate, I went shopping for applications on Google Play, the new incarnation of the old Android Market. I stayed away from the games and looked for stuff that would really extend the usability and usefulness of my phone. Just to keep things interesting and to avoid breaking the bank, I kept each purchase under P100.

One of the first things I wanted to get was a utility that would make it easier to transfer files to and from my phone. Bluetooth is slow and unpredictable, so I normally have to bring a USB cable with me to transfer photos I take to my computers. But on my Linux desktop PC, there’s an extra challenge: getting the computer to recognize the Galaxy W as a USB storage device. (For those who need to do it, go to Settings > Wireless and network > USB utilities then click the button that says “Connect storage to PC” then plug the cable into your PC.) In this age of ubiquitous Wi-Fi connections, why not ditch the cable altogether?

This is exactly what Wi-Fi File Transfer does, letting you easily and quickly upload and download files to and from your phone over a wireless connection. The program couldn’t be simpler: click the large “Start” button to connect your phone to any PC that’s linked to the same Wi-Fi network. On the computer, fire up a browser and type in the numeric URL that the program displays. This will open up a file manager in the browser, from which you can copy, move or delete files. There’s also an upload tool to let you transfer files from your computer to the phone. Wi-Fi Transfer is free, but limits your uploads to 4 megabytes. Wi-Fi Transfer Pro (P52.73), which I bought, removes this restriction. I found the uploads to be surprisingly speedy—I uploaded a 170MB video file from my PC to my phone in just about half a minute. Now that’s outstanding performance and functionality at a very reasonable price.

Of course, just because you can upload video files doesn’t mean your phone can play them with its built-in player. Chances are, it will choke on an unsupported video codec on encoding format. That’s why you’ll want to download MX Player, probably one of the most capable video players available on the Android platform. The program played the sample AVI and MP4 files I uploaded to the phone without skipping a beat, and the video quality was superb. Best of all, the program is free.

Since the early days of smart phones, there’s been a slew of MS Office-type suites, but these were either underpowered or too expensive. Smart Office 2 lets you create, edit and share MS Office documents on your Android phone or tablet for a great promotional price of only P33.10. That’s a bargain compared to similar products that go for between P600 and P800. The suite works as advertised, letting you view, edit and save word processing files, spreadsheets and presentations. You even share your files on the Internet using Dropbox or Google Drive. Used in conjunction with Wi-Fi File Transfer, Smart Office 2 transforms your snazzy toy into an honest-to-goodness tool that extends your office to wherever you and your phone are.

As cameras on smart phones get better, so do the applications that use them. During my last shopping spree, I downloaded four programs that extend the functionality of my phone by putting its camera to good use.

The first of these is ScanBizCards Lite, a free utility that captures information from a business card and saves it to your phone’s address book. The program is remarkably accurate – and when it gets something wrong, you can always edit the entry before saving it. The free version limits you to saving two cards a week. The Premium version (P169.36) removes this restriction and adds a few other features. Since I don’t normally get a lot of calling cards these days and the price of the Premium version was over my self-imposed budget, I chose to stick with the free version.

Another interesting camera-based application was Genius Scan (P44.21), which converts your phone into a pocket scanner. This enables you to take photos of printed documents with your phone and save or e-mail them as JPG or PDF files.

The third camera-based application was NeoReader, a free utility that enables you to scan and read barcodes and QR codes, which can come in handy when you’re doing some real-world (as opposed to online) shopping.

Finally, I couldn’t resist Paper Camera (P78.78), which turns your photos into cartoon-like works of art. I’ve seen a lot of these special effects filters, but this program is among the best I’ve seen.

The grand total for my weekend Android shopping spree: P208.82—or less than $7, proof positive that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to make your smart phone even smarter.

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