Four months ago, my wife finally decided enough was enough with her Motorola RAZR 2, that ultra-thin flip phone with the touch screen on the outside. Motorola makes nice phones (my ROKR Slider was still in top condition) but this was a real piece of crap. So we went to US Cellular (where you have to go to get service outside of town out here) and told them she needed a new phone. She didn't want a free phone, she wanted something at least as good as the RAZR 2 when it was new.
We both left with new phones that day. The best deal they had on decent phones was a BOGO on the Samsung Acclaim, a touch-screen slider running Google's Android Linux operating system. This wasn't a proper cell phone, it's a handheld computer with, among other things, a phone program. And in addition to a cell phone antenna, it's got GPS, a camera, an accel... uh, it knows it's moving and in what direction, and a magne... uh, it knows which direction it's pointing. And a 3 megapixel camera.
But the really neat thing about an Android phone, like an iPhone, it has a Market where you can add new apps. Most of them are free, but there are some that cost real money. The best things in Android are free, just like anything else, I suppose, but US Cellular gave each of us a $20 gift card to use on the Android Market. Because it's a Google Checkout gift card, the first thing I did was try to buy The Beatles: Rock Band on a Google Checkout site. It didn't work. So I started buying apps. And not just any apps, stuff I wanted for various reasons.
Here are the apps I bought, in the order I bought them, what they do, and why I paid for them.
Aldiko Premium ($2.99)
This paid version of the Aldiko eBook reader removes the ads that would show up in Aldiko from time to time. The ads never showed up in the books themselves, or even your bookshelf. It only ever showed ads when you were browsing its virtual bookstore. So this paid app is really a donation, but when you consider how awesome it is to have your books on your cell phone (handheld computer, whatever) I think it was worth donating to the developers.
ASTRO File Manager ($3.99)
My most expensive purchase. The "File Viewer" that comes with Android sucks balls, and I previously tried the file manager by EStrong. It had some nice features, but once I tried the free ASTRO, I was converted. Unfortunately, while EStrong is free, ASTRO displays an annoying banner ad on the bottom all the time. This gets in the way, but more importantly, I just wanted to support a good product. This file manager lets you move files around, and includes a task manager. Good stuff.
The first of two games I bought, and the price is misleading. I bought it on sale. It's a side scrolling space shooter that you can control by tilting the phone. It's hell hard and I bought it on a whim. I rarely play it, but it runs great on the Acclaim (which I understand is an entry-level phone), which can't be said for Angry Birds, a more popular phone game. So part of this purchase was impulse, and another part was to reward the developer for making efficient code.
Finally, an app that doesn't have a price ending in 9. Does anybody even fall for that gimmick anymore, or is it just expected? Anyway, for being a handheld computer with a hardware keyboard, Android doesn't have a text editor. The free version of TxtPad is very nice and doesn't have ads, but I bought TxtPad for the extra features (editing stuff, nothing essential) and because I figured I'd get a lot of use out of it.
Solitaire for Android ($0.99)
One of the first things I did when I got this thing was download a ton of Solitaire apps. There were a lot of stinkers, but this one stood out. I kept the ad-supported one for a while, always intending to pay to remove the ads. After a few purchases, I wanted to get this one before I ran out of money (which wouldn't happen for weeks).
Droid Talk Pro ($0.99)
This text-to-speech toy has been a hit with every child I've shown it to and even a few adults. Type in some text and it will say it. You can add a British accent, and a slider controls the pitch. It never sounds unlike a robot, but it's decent. The free version had an ad, I think, and the paid version will let you make anything it can say into a ringtone. Both versions have common phrases you can tap to make it say, I suppose if you have a sore throat. The app also features a translator, anything you type into it can be translated into a dozen or so (maybe more?) languages, and it will speak them. It also has speech-to-text (-to-speech) so you could carry on a conversation with a foreigner, if they speak into it and you translate it back to English. So this may be the most useful app here. (Not sure if the translator is available in the free version or not.)
Ultra Keyboard ($2.79)
Pro-tip: The default touch keyboard sucks. You want to replace it ASAP if you want to use your screen to type anything. I tried SlideIT, which lets you trace across the keyboard, and I didn't like its accuracy. I then tried SwiftKey, which claimed to predict the next word you were going to type. That was nice, but it didn't work in some strange places, e.g. text messaging. So that got uninstalled in a big hurry. Ultra has all the features. It has the keyboard tracer, and it actually works! I have yet to warm to the feature, but it being accurate helps a lot. It has text prediction, which isn't as accurate as Swift's, but since it's dictionary-based and not habit-based, it pulls stupid guesses a lot less. I mean it may not be as accurate, but its guesses make sense. Oh, and they come up when using the physical keyboard as well. It has another feature the Acclaim isn't powerful enough to use: It'll activate your camera and let you see what's in front of your phone, I guess so you can text and walk without running into stuff. Also, it will calibrate your screen, have you type something, so it can correct your mistakes better. I can't say enough nice things about this app. It's the one keyboard on Android Market worth paying for, and it isn't even the most expensive.
The only other evenly-priced app I bought. Spark is an Xbox Live client for Android that lets you send and receive messages from fellow gamers. You can also see their gaming history (and your own). It's very nice. It used to be free, but Microsoft changed the way Xbox Live worked (around the time they released the new Dashboard for the console) and it broke the app. Since the new Windows Mobile phones do Xbox Live stuff, I imagine Microsoft is gonna fight this guy some more. I don't know how successful he's gonna be keeping this app running, but I enjoyed it before and wanted to help out. (Didn't have a choice -- there is no free version. But I would have paid either way.)
A forum interface for Android. This replaces the frontend you see on Internet message boards with one familiar to Android and lets you read and post messages through it. A free version lets you read, but not post. The catch is that the forum owner has to specifically enable Tapatalk access, and 99% of them haven't. And I can't find any forums worth posting on in its directory. Still, I've been calling for an app like this for the better part of a decade (albeit for PCs) so I felt obligated to support somebody who was trying to make that happen. Hopefully it works out for him.
Like Tapatalk, this is an Android frontend to various image boards (channels, as they're known in Japan, where the concept apparently originated), including the infamous 4chan. I really only got this for shits & giggles because I had $1.47 left and nothing to spend it on. /b/, the "random" board on 4chan, is literally the crotch of the Internet, but 4chan itself has its purposes. I like to look on /wg/ for wallpapers, for example. (And no, I'm not above looking to see what's on /s/.) Anyway, Chandroid provides access to another app called Meme Maker (memes are Internet fads) that makes funny pictures. I see great things in this app's future. Chandroid itself is kinda slow, but do the math... image board... cell phone Internet... it's not a smart combination.
Whew! I didn't do a very good job selling some of these apps, did I? Well, the money wasn't really mine to start with, and I couldn't do anything else with it, but buy Android apps. If I didn't have the gift card, would I have bought any of these? Probably not. However, I did buy LauncherPro Plus, which wasn't listed because it's not on the Android Market. Google takes a third of Market purchases, and either LP didn't want to share, or they didn't want to raise their price to include Google's take. In any case, it had to be bought with PayPal, and I actually ponied up $3.99 out of my checking account to buy that.
For those of you with Android phones and thin wallets, here are some cheap alternatives:
Aldiko Premium >> Aldiko. The free version does everything the paid version does. Just spread the word about it, they ask for that more than they ask for donations on their Facebook page.
ASTRO >> EStrongs. EStrongs isn't a bad file manager by any stretch of the imagination. Or get ASTRO and deal with the ads.
Overkill >> Any Android game, there are tons.
TxtPad >> TxtPad. The free version is fine.
Solitaire for Android >> Solitaire for Android. Deal with the ads... or use one of the other Solitaire apps.
Droid Talk Pro >> Droid Talk. The free version still talks and is just as big a hit with the under-five-feet-tall crowd.
Ultra Keyboard >> Ultra Keyboard Demo. I forget what the limitations are. But if the demo doesn't convince you that $2.79 isn't too much to upgrade your keyboard, you're probably fine with the default or the slide-out keyboard anyway.
Spark >> Xbox.com in your web browser.
Tapatalk >> Forums in your web browser.
Chandroid >> 4chan in your web browser.
Now, that being said, here are Android's heavy hitters that are just free, in alphabetical order:
This app takes notes, pictures, and scans barcodes, and syncs with Catch.com so you can see the stuff on your PC. You gotta tell it to sync though. Never mind the pictures and the barcodes, just imagine your favorite multiplayer game and imagine "Notepad multiplayer" and you'll have a good idea.
Lets you download files on your computer's Dropbox folder. It's not a proper sync app though as you can only upload and download, and it's not automatic. (Not that you'd want it to be, but some people...)
Google Sky Map (free!)
My second-most-impressive app. People just love this thing. Point it at the sky and it will tell you what stars are what. It's a planetarium in your hand. You can even see what stars are below the horizon. It's pretty f***ing amazing.
Our Groceries (free!)
Multi"player" shopping list. You make a shopping list, and your partner can see it as they shop. You can even watch as they cross stuff off. Loads of useful features. Ads. Shame there's not an ad-free version. I would have paid for this.
Photoshop Express (free!)
What costs about a thousand bucks on the PC is legitimately free on Android. Okay, this doesn't have even 1% of the features of the real Photoshop, but it lets you touch up photos, and once you learn it (doesn't take long) you can turn crappy cell phone camera pics into pics that look like they were shot with an expensive camera. I do this by bumping up the saturation a hair, the exposure up or down a hair depending on the image, and messing with contrast. It does a lot!
Sports fan? This app from Google asks you your favorite teams from each sport/division and notifies you when they start a game and the final score. I'm not even into sports, but I do have opinions on certain teams, and I like to know if they win or lose. (Does that make sense?)
Simple Spreadsheet (free!)
Another app I'd pay for. I use this for data entry at work. Think Microsoft Excel minus all the bells and whistles.
The Weather Channel (free! came with the Acclaim!)
Weather data for as many cities as I want. Need I say more? Oh, and with GPS enabled, it'll follow you on the road, giving current and future weather info wherever you go.
I saved the best for last. Or the alphabet did. Whatever. Anyway, forget Twitter and Facebook apps and forget about accessing them in the Browser. TweetDeck rolls your social networks (Twitter, Facebook... and a couple others if you use them) into one social timeline. You get a second timeline for Mentions/Directs (Twitter) and Notifications (Facebook) and you can add timelines based on searches (e.g. I could search for Rockband and add the result as a timeline, and every time somebody mentions Rockband, it shows up. This is a resource hog so I don't do it, though).
So, as I said, the best apps are free, but if you have money to burn, hopefully this helps!