Widgets: The Android advantage
Android still has one major advantage over iOS and Windows Phone 8: widgets. Widgets are convenient apps that display information directly from the home screen. They’re different from Windows Phone’s Live Tiles because they can also be interactive. Widgets are typically packaged with apps (when you download an app, you’ll also get its widget), but you can also get “pure” widgets from the Google Play Store.
Here are 15 of the coolest widgets that every Android user should check out. Take that, Apple!
Beautiful Widgets is a set of good-looking widgets for your Android home screen. For just over $3, Beautiful Widgets provides several attractive, animated widgets in different sizes, including clock widgets, weather widgets, date widgets, and toggle widgets. The widgets are all customizable, and you can pick up free user-made skins from the Beautiful Widgets Skin Market. LevelUp Studios just recently released a free version of Beautiful Widgets, which comes with three widgets (clock, weather, and Wi-Fi toggle) and the ability to download 10 themes. If you want more, you’ll have to pay for the full version or make in-app purchases.
Beautiful Widgets | $3.50
Shazam is a free tool that recognizes songs by "listening" to them through your phone's microphone. Unfortunately, in order to use Shazam, you have to open the app and tap the button to begin the recognition process. By the time you manage to accomplish this, the song may be over.
Enter the Shazam widget, which puts a Shazam button directly on your home screen. Now, all you have to do is tap it when you hear a song you're curious about.
Shazam | Free
Beautiful Widgets may be all about customization and user-created skins, but HD Widgets are just plain gorgeous. This set of widgets includes clock and weather widgets, as well as custom toggle buttons for various settings (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, tilt lock, and screen brightness). If you want your home screen to look polished and pretty, the $2 you spend on HD Widgets will be well worth it. These widgets feature professionally-designed aero-style skins, modern-looking fonts, and tons of color customization options.
HD Widgets | $1.99
A must-have for any sports fan, ESPN ScoreCenter is a customizable app that lets you pick your favorite teams from various sports leagues, from the NFL to Colombian soccer.
The app comes with two widgets: a ScoreCenter widget, which shows you game and scoring information on your hand-picked favorite teams; and a Video widget, which scrolls through the day's hot sports videos. You can tap either widget to open the app and get more info.
ESPN ScoreCenter | Free
Pulse News is the ultimate app for news junkies: It delivers news from all of your favorite websites, online newspapers and magazines, and blogs in an easy-to-read format.
Pulse offers three widget sizes: large, small, and tiny. Each widget can display headlines from one of your favorite sources, and you can click any headline to get the full story.
Pulse News | Free
AudioManager is an excellent free widget that shows you what the current volume levels are for each of your device's audio signals--for your alarm, media, alerts, ringer, system, and voice calls. Tapping the widget takes you to the app, where you can adjust the various levels individually.
AudioManager | Free
Aix Weather Widget
You get a weather widget in Beautiful Widgets, but the Aix Weather Widget takes weather tracking to the next level. Purely a home screen widget, Aix shows temperature, maximum/minimum precipitation, and sunrise/sunset times in a pretty graph.
Even if you aren't obsessed with having detailed, accurate weather information, Aix is cool to look at.
Aix Weather Widget | Free
Clockr is a simple text-based clock widget that instantly transforms your Android home screen into a work of modern art.
The widget is mildly customizable: You can choose the format Clockr uses to display the time, and the color of the text.
Clockr | Free
Using Twitter, even casually, requires that you be available on the social network during much of the day. You can meet that requirement a little more easily by adding Twitter's widget to your home screen.
I like the simplicity of Twitter's widget: You can choose to show new Tweets from your feed, or Tweets that mention you. You can also write a Tweet directly from the widget, without having to open an app. And that's really all you need.
Twitter | Free
If you ever use your phone while driving—and let’s face it, you probably do—Car Widget can help you stay a little bit safer on the road. This full-screen widget lets you dedicate one of your home screens to a large-icon car mode. The default screen features six large icons: Navigation, phone, contacts, maps, and two customizable icons. You can customize the last two icons to do pretty much whatever you want: open an app, direct dial a contact, or open a specific Gmail folder. There’s also a pro version, which costs $2 and lets you determine how your phone detects when you’re inside a car (and what settings to adjust accordingly).
Car Widget | Free
Google Voice is a multifaceted service that lets you make cheap international calls, send free text messages, and (badly) convert your voice mail from voice to text.
The widget for Google Voice is very convenient if you use Google Voice as your primary voicemail service. The widget shows you the latest voicemails (in text form) and text messages that have arrived at your Google Voice account; and you can tap it to open the main Google Voice app.
Google Voice | Free
Evernote is an app that lets you take notes in various ways, including by voice memo and by picture.
Evernote's separate, customizable widget app adds Evernote shortcuts to your home screen, such as 'Snapshot', 'Audio Note', and 'Speech-to-text Note'; and it also displays your most recent notes.
Evernote | Free
There's no excuse for not knowing what a word means, thanks to the Internet and smartphones.
The Dictionary.com widget displays a word of the day and lets you search the site's dictionary or thesaurus for words you're interested in, right from your home screen. Note: This widget takes up more than the usual amount of real estate on your screen.
Dictionary.com | Free
Unless you're one of the lucky few who are hanging onto a grandfathered-in unlimited data plan with your broadband service, you should probably check out Onavo Count.
Onavo Count monitors the amount of data you use. Its live data usage widget lets you know, in real time, how much data you're using and which apps are responsible.
You may be surprised by which apps secretly suck up your daily ration of data.
Onavo Count | Free
Never fumble in the dark again, as long as your phone is nearby. There are plenty of flashlight widgets, but Holo Bulb has one of the prettiest designs we’ve seen. This elegant, simple blue-on-dark-gray button sits on your home screen and can be tapped for light (and tapped again to turn the light off). The app itself is also elegant and minimalist, with a large tappable light bulb.
Holo Bulb | Free