My Favorite Android App: Tasker

The Android app model is a bit different from the iPhone app model. For the last few years, iPhone apps have generally been pay-for apps, and Android apps have generally been ad-supported cost-free apps. The last two years, I spent exactly $0 on Android apps and was just fine with the functionality I had. I would check out some pay-for apps to see what was out there, but nothing made me think “I would definitely pay for that.”

That was until I found Tasker.

It’s a relatively expensive app (currently US$6.49), but it’s totally worth it. It basically allows you to improve phone usability, automate tasks, and save battery life.

Granted, as you’ll see if you read the reviews, the interface isn’t the most intuitive. However, once you get the hang of it, it becomes quite easy to use.

Here are some of the cool things I’ve been able to do with Tasker:

  • Adjust volume per app. Angry Birds volume tends to be a bit too loud. So with Tasker, I set up a profile that turns the media volume down whenever I launch Angry Birds, and then turns it back up when I’m done playing Angry Birds.
  • Adjust mobile data type for weak signal spots. When I’m at work, the Edge signal is way better than the 3G or 4G signals, so I set Tasker up to see if I’m at work, and, if I am, to switch the phone to the Edge network only. Once I leave work, it switches back to 3G/4G preferred.
  • Autorotate for select apps. I used to use a toggle button to turn autorotate off and on as needed. Really, though, the only app I use autorotate for is the photo Gallery app. So I set up Tasker to turn autorotate on when I launch Gallery, and then turn it back off again when I’m done.
  • Conserve battery life. Before I used Tasker, I’d tried an app called Juice Defender. It was a good app and actually did conserve battery life. The primary way it did that was by turning mobile data off when the screen was off and then turning it back on again when the screen is on. The annoying thing was that if you had the screen off for only a moment, the data would turn off. In practical terms, that would mean that if I was looking at my phone to see when the next bus would arrive, I’d check it, turn the screen off, and two minutes later, I’d turn the screen on to check and have to wait about ten or twenty seconds for the data to turn back on. With Tasker, I can set it up so that the data will turn off if the screen is off… but only after five minutes. If I turn the screen back on again within five minutes, data will just be on the whole time. If I keep the screen off longer than five minutes, data will turn off. I’ve also set it up to switch from 3G/4G preferred to 2G only if the battery life is critically low. And I’ve set it up to turn on autosync every hour for five minutes and then turn autosync back off.
  • Quiet camera shutter. At least on three Android phones (two that I’ve owned), the shutter sound when a picture is taken is way too loud. So I set up a Tasker profile for lowering the system volume when the Camera app is launched.
  • GPS when needed. Yes, generally speaking, GPS on Android turns on only when you launch an app that needs GPS. There are exceptions, though. For example, at least with the version of Facebook for Android that’s out as of this writing, the Facebook app will turn on GPS when you launch it, even if you don’t want to actually share your location with Facebook. So I’ve just turned off GPS, and Tasker allows me to specify which apps I want GPS to launch for (e.g., Maps, Navigation, Yelp, Movies).
  • Headphone volume. If I have my headphones in, I want the volume turned down—for music, for Netflix streaming, for phone calls. When I take my headphones out, I want the volume up. I have a Tasker profile for that, too.
  • Silent for school assembly. Almost every morning, the school I work at has a brief all-school assembly. So I set up a Tasker profile to detect if I’m at school and to silence my phone during the hours of the assembly and then un-silence it afterwards.
  • Longer screen timeouts per application. Generally speaking, I like the 30-second timeout on the screen. If I’m not touching the screen for 30 seconds, I want it to turn off to save power. Certain applications I want the screen kept on longer, though. For example, if I’m playing Words with Friends or WordFeud, and I’m staring at the screen for three or four minutes as I think of a move. I don’t want to keep touching the screen periodically to keep it on. With Tasker, I set it up so that the screen timeout is 7 minutes for certain apps and then 30 seconds for everything else.
  • Suppress Notifications. If I’m listening to music, I don’t want notification sounds interrupting me, so Tasker lets me turn the notification volume off when I’m listening to music.

These are only the things I personally have set up Tasker to do. Others have set up a whole host of Tasker profiles. On the Tasker website, you can find many examples of profiles that may be useful to you.

If you consider US$6.49 to be an expensive investment sight unseen, you can try out a seven-day free trial of Tasker. Try it. You won’t regret it.


My Android App List

I’ve been using Android two full years now, trying out various apps and uninstalling the ones I don’t want. This is what I have left over.

I’m someone who likes to play Angry Birds, and I also like to flash new Android roms from time to time. Losing that game data (completed levels, high scores) would be sad. This app makes it very easy to back up Angry Birds, Angry Birds Rio, and Angry Birds Seasons.

While I don’t get Android fanatics bragging about how great it is to have Flash on Android, it is nice to have as an option from time to time, particularly for annoying restaurant websites built on Flash or for watching Amazon Prime streaming movies. That said, I also don’t get iPhone fanatics complaining about Flash draining the battery. Every major web browser on Android plays Flash on demand by default (as opposed to automatically). Flash doesn’t run unless you want it to.

On computers, I find Adobe Reader to be a bit sluggish in launching. Oddly enough, it’s quite snappy on my Android phone. Great for PDF viewing.

Great VNC viewer. Does what it’s supposed to.

Yes, I don’t really game that much, but I’m addicted to Angry Birds (and Rio and Seasons).

AutoRotate is a nice thing most of the time. Every now and then you don’t want the phone constantly switching from portrait to landscape and vice versa. This allows you to bind the holding down of the Search key to toggling AutoRotate.

Speedily loads Microsoft Office documents for viewing.

Yes, I’ve tried Mirren, Opera, Firefox, Skyfire, Browser, xScope, and all the rest. I still keep coming back to Dolphin. I love the gestures, the tabs, the speed dial, the configurability. It just is a fantastic all-around web browser.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t sync automatically, but it’s still a good way to share files.

This is a great file browser, because it lets you browse files but also lets you switch to being a root explorer if your phone is rooted. If you don’t know what rooting is, don’t worry about it—ES is still a good file explorer.

If you use Facebook, the app will give you a better experience than even the mobile version of the website.

I actually think the Firefox Android app is terrible, but I keep it installed just in case it gets better.

Not great for editing. Still good for viewing your online Google Docs.

Unlike Facebook, this Google+ app appears to be designed from the ground up to be an app and not just an it’s-better-than-the-mobile-site app.

I actually like this Google Reader app better than the Google Reader website on a regular laptop. The next and previous buttons are conveniently always visible, and the feeds load quickly.

A very handy tool to do quick translations from various languages. I use it for Italian to English or English to Italian. There’s a convenient toggle button to swap the source and destination language.

I’m not going to lie—this app is terrible. Nevertheless, Google Voice itself is awesome. And the Google Voice app is still the best way to use Google Voice, so this is what we’re stuck with.

A simple and unpolished app that has a picture of a guitar and six buttons to press to play the sound of the E, A, D, G, B, and E strings.

At work recently I’ve been taking pictures with my phone and then emailing them to myself to document problems, and emailing the large files just takes way too long. For web quality, this app will make a fast shrunken copy to send via email, Dropbox, or whatever method you prefer.

If you like to read the Bible or just reference it, this is handy, as it allows you to quickly switch between translations and browse by chapter or book.

This is an easy way to see what’s opening, what’s playing nearby, and what gets good reviews.

Eh. I’m not impressed by the Google Music Beta service. As with Firefox Beta, I’m just checking this out to see if it gets better.

The app isn’t great. You can’t really check out reviews or see your queue by thumbnail. Still, if you’re stuck in an airport with a delayed flight, this makes for a good time-waster.

Before there was Angry Birds (and before I got my own smartphone), this is what I used to steal my wife’s iPhone to play. Mindless fun.

You need a rooted phone to run this, but it allows you to take screenshot by delay (instead of having to shake your phone to take a screenshot) or just by holding down the power button and then selecting Screenshot.

Skype video chat finally arrived for Android. Yay. It saved my butt when I had to have a remote conference and wasn’t near a computer.

Navigating a computer remotely with a tiny phone screen isn’t ideal, but for quick checks or small changes, TeamViewer is great to have.

My math skills have deteriorated over time. I can’t do 15%, 18%, and 20% in my head, so I have this. It also gives you the easy ability to split the check among various people if you are eating in a large group.

Yes, I use T-Mobile. This helps me check on my data usage, which so far hasn’t gone far above 2 GB per month.

Actually easier to navigate than the real Twitter website. They also fixed the refresh so that it won’t push down what you’re currently reading (it’ll just make more available when you scroll up).

You know that extremely loud annoying camera shutter sound when you take a picture? This helps you turn down that system volume. I used to use Sound Manager, but it kept resetting back to the loud system volume. This app keeps the volume where you set it and allows you to lock it there.

Ugly Scrabble game you can play with friends on other phones. Even though it’s ugly, it’s much better than Words with Friends. You can’t start a game with someone without her consent. You won’t accidentally start multiple games, and notifications tell you not only that it’s your turn but also what your opponent played and how much she got for it.

I keep this around for one friend who has an older iPhone and can’t install WordFeud. This is terrible for all the reasons stated above. The only good thing is that you don’t have to manually zoom in. If you are zoomed out and place a tile down, it’ll zoom in to where you’re placing the tile.

I’m debating whether this is better than the Yelp normal site or not. I stopped using the normal site because every time you go there, it’ll pester you to install the Android app instead.

Finally! It took Zipcar long enough to release an Android app. The iPhone has had this for years. Can’t wait to make last-minute reservations and unlock the car with my phone!