I semi-regularly catch myself daydreaming about how nice it would be to ditch my smartphone altogether. In fact, I did buy myself a Nokia 3100 a couple of years ago to give it a go. It didn’t last long, unfortunately, because it turns out that having maps and wifi on my phone is pretty great, not to mention having a pretty decent camera in my pocket all the time.
These days, having accepted that I will probably never be the kind of person who can live without a smartphone, I try to keep things as pared down as possible in terms of networks, apps, and notifications.
Aside from the essentials, these are the apps that I would really, really miss.
I know, I know, you probably don’t need another one of these. But Telegram is a messaging app that works on every platform, and offers much more security and privacy than most other similar apps. I’ve been using it for a good while now, and I love the fact that I can pick up my chats on my computer as well as my phone. I was always put off Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp for reasons of privacy, but also because both the main Facebook app and the Messenger app drain my phone battery really fast. Luckily, I was able to convince the people I chat to the most to switch to Telegram too!
I have used a lot of photo apps on my phone, and I honestly think that this is the last one you’ll ever need. Along with standard edits like cropping, rotating, and altering tone and colour, you can also skew and refit photos to straighten up the lines in your image or alter the aspect ratio without having to crop anything out. There are tools for editing hues individually for the lights and darks in your image, you can blend two images together, mask areas out, apply tilt-shift effects, and of course there is a whole gallery of pre-made filters you can choose to apply too. But what makes this app so powerful is that you can save any combination of settings to create your own filters for future use. And that’s only scratching the surface!
It’s pleasantly simple to use once you’ve mastered a couple of key points, which the app does well to communicate when you first use it.
Offline maps are a bit like computer backups: all too often, it’s not something you think about until it’s too late. And you’re stuck in the countryside with no mobile signal. With Galileo, after an initial download of the countries or areas you need, you’re good to go. I downloaded a map of the whole UK, which was 397mb, but there are regional maps for some countries if you don’t need everything.
Galileo maps use OpenStreetMap data, which is like a Wikipedia for world maps: anyone can add and make corrections. This means that these maps typically have more detail when it comes to footpaths than, say, Google Maps, and there are plenty of points of interest, petrol stations, pubs and the like on there too which are fully searchable still when you’re offline.
An oldie but a goodie, I’ve been using Instapaper for years. I used to use it solely for it’s main offering: saving articles that I found online so that I could read them later, offline if necessary. However, ever since I got a Kindle a few years ago, it’s become doubly useful. It offers a free service which sends unread articles to your Kindle in batches of up to ten, at a time of day that you can specify. This means that all I have to do is carry on saving things to Instapaper (which I do via a bookmarklet, and the phone app), and I know that later on in the day they will pop up on my Kindle for me to read in the evening.
I read quite a lot, and I mostly use this app for keeping track of what I want to read, and what I have read. It’s a better system than just keeping a list in Evernote, and the more books you flag as read, the more accurate the recommendations you’ll get from the app, too. It’s perfect for making a note of titles that someone recommends to you that you don’t want to forget, and it has the added bonus of substantial user reviews and comments for many titles too, which might help to inform your decision on which book by a new author to try first.
For those of you unfamiliar with 20th century avant-garde music, Steve Reich’s Clapping Music was a ground-breaking composition written in 1972 for two people, clapping out repeating but shifting patterns. To perform it is a fiendish exercise in rhythm, timing, and listening, and this app allows you to have a go yourself, using a tap in place of a clap.
As well as playing the piece straight through, where you are rewarded for accuracy and fail for falling too far behind, you can try the practice mode to repeat particular sequences at a slower pace, to master the tricky changes in rhythm required. Surprisingly fun and addictive.
I used to use the Camera Upload feature in Dropbox on my phone to automatically back up photos as I took them, but I switched to Google photos for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it has a ton more features and integrates much more seamlessly with the app in the browser, and secondly because storage is so much cheaper – I pay $1.99 per month for 100gb storage, which should keep me going for a while.
The phone app is really great. It automatically uploads new photos so you don’t have to worry about manually backing up anywhere, and as you would expect from Google the search function is impressive: the other day I needed to find a photo I had taken months ago of some paperwork, and I only had to try a couple of searches for things like “document” and “text” before I found it among the thousands of photos in my account. There are some nice extras, too: it automatically stitches videos together to create montages, and will create gif animations from similar photos.
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