Will "the Mighty" Strohl

Android Apps Used During our Trip Across the Country

As you may or may not know, I recently moved to the San Francisco area in California, which involved moving my family and our entire home.  Due to all kinds of things, the family wasn’t able to move with me until the end of December.  Finally, the time came, and we drove from Orlando, FL to San Francisco, CA.  It was a very fun and challenging journey for a family of 5, across 8 states, and through 4 time zones for 6 days.  The trip could’ve been shorter, but we stayed with family in Arizona for a couple of days.

During this time, we used our Android G2 phones quite extensively.  There are apps that we always use, but including those, a couple of apps proved to be very helpful to us.

Here I Am 2 Pro

Android App: Here I Am 2 Pro We wanted to keep our friends and family all updated at the same time, with the most efficient amount of effort.  Basically, I wanted a fun and easy way to update the social networks, SMS, e-mail, and more using an app.  While I could use a check-in app like Foursquare, SCVNGR, or Whrrl, I knew I wouldn’t always want to post my location at an actual “venue.”  So that ruled out the typical venue location apps.  I didn’t find anything with the best user experience that I was looking for, but Here I Am 2 Pro did a fair job of doing the job.

I loved that (depending on GPS/wireless coverage) I could post my elevation or address along with the latitude and longitude directly to a contact, Facebook, and more.  Couple that with the syndication capabilities of the existing social networks, and you can post this information to anyone, anywhere.  Due to privacy concerns, I’d only suggest using this for special occasions.  I was quite annoyed that there weren’t more places to post my location to.  Probably the most annoying thing about this app is that I couldn’t have any more than 5 contacts to send information to.

This is not a free app, but for $0.99, I really cannot complain too much.

Google Maps

Android App: Google Maps Wikipedia Layer We all already know that Google Maps does a more than decent job of providing a very useful and usable online/mobile mapping experience, despite some odd glitches here and there.  And don’t even get me started on how much I love the navigation feature (even though I didn’t need it for this trip).  However, during a road trip, this experience gets even better, depending on your data connectivity.  I had a decent data (G to 4G) through most of the trip across the country.

In the Android version of Google Maps, you can overlay Wikipedia to get useful landmarks and information about the areas you’re driving through or near – as well as get a good idea if there are any places you want to stop.  This was very cool to play around with and educate your kids while you travel. 

Special thanks to Chris Hammond for this idea! :)

This is a free app that’s normally bundled with your phone.

Google Sky

Android App: Google-Sky One of the things that really amazes me out of all of the built-in Google apps is the amazing experience and accuracy of Google Sky.  I played with it before, just seeing what it could do.  During our road trip, we really got to put it through its paces when we reached certain areas that are void of light pollution, where you can see all of the stars that the human eye can see.

We stopped somewhere in the western side of Texas, and pulled off the road.  One of the kids asked what a specific set of stars were.  Not being an astrologer, I fired up the app, and proceeded to help them find the various constellations.  Then, one of them asked where another one was.  This app allows you to search for something specific, giving you visual cues to move to see what you’re searching for.  It’s amazing!!!

This is a free app that’s normally bundled with your phone.

Facebook

Android App: Facebook If you use Facebook like I do, it’s a very useful tool to keep your personal friends and family updated on what’s going on in your life.  For the most part, I keep my professional like out of my Facebook profile.  However, many people were excited and eager to follow us on our journey across the United States, for various reasons.

Not only was I able to post updates (which I mostly did using Here I Am 2 Pro), but I kept up-to-date on everyone else, and used this app exclusively to upload images from our various stops and landmarks.

The only thing that’s missing from this app for me is the ability to upload videos.  I had to plug in to my laptop and connect to wireless to do that – which I did a few times.  Also, while it’s nit-picking, if I wanted to tag anyone in my photos, I had to login to the website to do it.

This is a free app, and it’s normally bundled with your phone.

Whrrl

Android App: Whrrl I gave up Foursquare a while ago.  I grew tired of not getting credit for my check-ins way too easily, and the growing number of drive-by check-ins by people.  Those things take all of the fun out of the experience.  I’ve been using Whrrl for a while now though, and it’s great!

One of the things I love the most about Whrrl is the integration with Facebook Places.  It will automatically check you in on Facebook too, if you want.   You can also tweet your location.  However, there are still elements of competitiveness, especially amongst you and your friends.  You can compete to become the leader of specific venues, and the level up doesn’t appear to end (so far). 

Unlike having badges, there are societies, and these societies help you to not only gain points, but also to find new places, give recommendations, and share pictures. 

Probably the thing I like the most about this app is the lack of venues.  It appears to mostly be business-centric.  Foursquare is overflowing with bogus and meaningless venues, leading to check-in fatigue and losing credit for check-ins, and possibly losing a mayorship.  In some areas, you can literally spend all of your time checking in to places as you walk, never having put down the phone.

Another thing I love about this app is that there appears to be more businesses using it than on Foursquare.  In even the most unexpected areas, I’ve seen opportunity to win prizes from nearby businesses, or even the one I am currently checking in to.  I’ve even won before.

One thing to worry about this app is that it is data-intensive.  In Edge and G areas, the app can work pretty slow.

This is a free app, but you will need to download it from the marketplace.

Fruit Ninja, Angry Birds, Paper Toss, Talking Tom

One of the things that you might have automatically thought of during the opening of this blog post is, “Oh my god! I cannot believe the kids are still alive. I would’ve killed them!”  This is probably the most common thing we’ve heard when talking to people about our trip.  Rightfully so.  Children already cause a certain level of stress, no matter how much you love them.  Stick them in a car for nearly 3,000 miles, and this becomes much more relevant.

Luckily, besides having a portable DVD player, one of the many things we were able to use to keep them occupied were the games available to us on the Android marketplace.  The most popular with the kids included: Angry Birds, Paper Toss, Talking Tom, and Fruit Ninja.  I cannot even begin to tell you how many pigs and birds I heard die over our 3,000 mile trek to San Francisco.

Fruit Ninja and Angry Birds will cost you around a dollar each, and Talking Tom has a paid version.  Otherwise, these are free apps.  The paid versions are well worth their $1 price tag.

Xfinity Mobile

Android App: Xfinity We are a Comcast Cable customer with an Xfinity plan.  This gives us our cable broadband and plenty of HD programming on our HD DVR.  However, we also have access to an Xfinity Android app that allows us to manage our account and watch videos, but also browse through programming to remotely program our DVR to records specific shows from anywhere in the world.

This is just what we were able to do.  I spent a few moments one day looking through the programming over a week on the Food Network.  I was looking for a show that Kim and I are supposed to be on.  We were in the background during the filming of one of their shows.  I scheduled a few shows to record, and when we arrived home, they were waiting for us.

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