Sunday, 8 January 2012

No place like homescreen

An Android phone is a real hand-held computer. My old Nokia feature phone offered basic calendar, task list and contact management tools. By contrast, I use my HTC Desire to read newsfeeds and books, listen to music and podcasts, write and manage emails, navigate to new places, and a lot more. 

When I have a WiFi connection, I have access to the entire web via a mobile browser - the equivalent of Chrome, Firefox or (if you really must) Internet Explorer. But for most tasks I use applications, or 'apps'. Many of these also draw data from the web and store it on the phone's SD card, so that they can continue to work even when there is no connection. In this post I'll give you a quick tour of the homescreen from which I access these apps.

HTC's proprietary Sense user interface for Android offers a seven-panel homescreen. There's a central 'home homescreen', three panels to its left, and three more to its right. It is easy to arrange application icons and widgets in any way that pleases you. Swiping between panels with a finger or thumb feels entirely natural. To launch an app you tap its icon. Some widgets display continuously updated information such as current weather, track now playing, or latest tweets. Others give direct access to the key features of a specific app. Tapping on a widget usually opens the app itself.

I really only use five of the seven available homescreen panels, organising them to give me the quickest possible access to the information and applications I want most often.
The home homescreen panel
On the central or 'home' panel, I have widgets showing forthcoming appointments in my Google calendar (Touch Calendar), my task/to-do list (Astrid), and the weather (standard HTC). At the top of the page is a toolbar (Extended Controls) that allows me to turn on and off WiFi, ringtone and screen auto-orientation, to change screen brightness, and to turn on the LED torch. Finally, at the bottom-right of the screen are icons for the clock and the camera (both standard HTC).
The right-hand panels

The three panels to the right are where I organise my most often-used widgets and icons. On the first (on the left in the image above) you'll see at the top the green Evernote widget. Evernote is an indispensable cross-platform note-taking and document management tool, about which I'll probably say more later. At the bottom is the widget of my podcast app, Pocket Casts. Between the two widgets are the icons of eight essential apps. From left to right and top to bottom, these are:
The second screen on the right also has two widgets - those of the Twitter app, Tweetdeck, and the default Android music player, which I prefer to the standard HTC one. Down the side are the icons for the Android Market app, Dropbox (sign up for Dropbox here) and Google Docs.

The last screen on the right houses less-often used tools. Maybe I'll get to some of them later.
The left-hand panels

To the left of the central panel I store only the widgets of the standard HTC SMS app and a calculator (also HTC). I don't use the left-most panel at all.

There you have it - that's the top layer of my mobile computing environment. In the future, I'll go below the surface to show you how some of these tools work.

Next post: Sync without trace