The Android Market may still lag behind the iPhone App Store in terms of variety and quality, but there is something to be said for the Android operating system’s extremely tight integration with existing Google products, and the wide choice of devices and carriers.
There’s no question that the iPhone has many wonderful apps, but Android’s smart syncing with existing tools, interesting Android-only experiments coming every day from Google employees, and its open marketplace model have yielded some tools that may give the average iPhone user pause.
If you’re looking for a change, or you’re in the smartphone market and still weighing the pros and cons, consider these Android-only apps and how they might fit into your work, play, and mobile lifestyle.
There’s no denying that the iPhone OS is a gorgeous piece software. But when it comes to the home screen, “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset,” to quote a nursery school mantra.
Android is completely open-source, which means that apps can change the functionality and appearance of the OS, if you permit them to. This isn’t always good for safety, but it’s great for customization.
OpenHome is one of the leading customization apps available on the Market. It functions as a replacement for the default home screen, into which you can load customs skins, icon packs, and fonts — many of which are freely available in the Market and created by other users.
In addition to the look and feel of your OS, OpenHome also allows for other custom tweaks including soft keyboard improvements and widget modifications.
2. Google Voice
Imagine a world where you never have to listen to another voicemail again. That’s almost what you get when you set up Google Voice and utilize the Android app. Google Voice lets you keep your existing mobile number, but will forward your missed calls to a generated Google number that you can check on the web, in your e-mail, or via the app.
The service automatically generates voicemail transcription that is usually accurate enough to get the gist of what the caller is saying. Instead of getting a voicemail on your phone, you’ll receive and e-mail (or text message) with the transcription.
The app then lets you scroll through your messages visually, like an e-mail inbox, and stream the audio messages from the web as needed, all without wasting precious mobile minutes.
There are certainly other great voicemail alternatives for the iPhone (and Voice is available as a web-based service), but Google Voice’s deep integration with Gmail () (you can also enable audio playback within web e-mail messages) makes it a great compliment to your hand-held arsenal of communications tools.
Google Voice is still an invite-only service at the moment. You can request an invite from Google here, or hit up your friends on social networks for one.
Classic gamers rejoice! NESoid is a Nintendo ROM emulator for Android that actually works. The app itself is software that interprets ROM files — the format of choice for hacked console games. Assuming you’re loading a worthwhile ROM file from your SD card, the gameplay is really smooth.
The lite version of NESoid is free, but prevents you from loading a “saved-state” of a game. The full version will cost you $3.49 and unlocks this feature.
Most ROMS are not exactly kosher in terms of copyright, so we’ll leave it at your discretion whether you want to actually track down the games. This is likely why console emulators have not made it through the stringent App Store () approval process, but are now appearing in Android’s more liberal Market.
If you’ve got an eye on your stock portfolio 24/7, Google Finance can be a useful tool for getting customized, real-time quotes.
The Android app syncs directly to your Google Finance portfolios and streams live data right into your hands by way of quote updates, charts, and financial news.
Android is currently the only mobile platform with an official Google Finance app.
Google Listen is a unique offering from Google Labs () that functions like a search engine and subscription tool for podcasts across the web. If you’re on the train and realize you’ve forgotten to download the latest episode of NPR’s This American Life, simply fire up Google Listen, search for it, and stream it immediately, from the source.
Google Listen effectively eliminates the need to download podcasts or connect your handset to your computer. And with subscription options built in, once you find a show you like, you’ll never miss an episode while you’re on the go.
6. Gmail and Google Calendar
Last but not least, the utility of the fully integrated Gmail and Calendar apps that come built-in to the Android OS cannot be overstated. One of the core reasons why any Gmail or Google Apps user should go Android is that the handset will complete your suite of cloud computing productivity tools.
Because of the intrinsic link between your Android phone and your Google account, the mobile functionality of Google apps like Gmail and Calendar are seamless. Draft an e-mail on your phone and it is instantly viewable in your drafts folder on the web. Update an appointment on the web Calendar, and it’s reflected on your phone seconds later.
Android users also enjoy the built-in functionality of shared calendars, Gmail labels, threaded conversations, and “Send As” accounts if it is configured in your settings.
If you live and work out of your Gmail inbox, an Android handset is the perfect extension.