My Most Essential Android Apps, Part II

As promised, this post will be dedicated strictly to the apps related to photography.

Let’s get one thing out in the open: when it comes to photography apps, iOS definitely has Android beat. I check AppShopper daily on my iPod for literally thousands of free iOS apps and there’s always an abundance of photography apps. There may be a few I’d love to have but being my iPod is 3rd-gen and sans camera, they don’t do me much good.

So I’ll go and check both Android Marketplace and Amazon App Store for the app I saw and I’m not too surprised when I can’t find it. It’s a shame because some of them look like they’d be winners.

But I can’t cry over that, can I? I’ve found a few Android photography apps that I really like and use them more than the standard camera app because they are so versatile. So without any further ado, here they are and in no particular order.

quickpicQuickPic (free): If there’s one thing that I can’t stand about the Android OS, it’s the Gallery photo viewer. It tries too hard to be pretty and visually stunning and as a result, lags badly. I don’t need that. What I need is an app that will show my images when I click on it without any goofy transitions or bells or whistles. This is where QuickPic excels because it does just that: it works, and quickly. Because of this, QuickPic is my default photo viewer and it should be yours, too.

retrocamRetro Camera (standard and full version available, downloaded full version for free as part of Amazon’s Free App of the Day, regular $2.99): This is by far my most favorite camera app. While both free and full versions offer several different camera types, the full version comes exclusively with the Hipsteroku camera which is cool but not stunning. The only setback with this app is that it sometimes takes time to load so if you’re looking to shoot something really quickly, this might not be the app for you but if you see some kind of inanimate objects that would make a nice artsy shot, then this will do you just fine. Here’s a shot I took over the weekend in my hometown of Wilmington, CA:

shot_1315687030238

I’ve printed some shots taken with Retro Camera + and they all turned out pretty clear considering the camera’s miniscule 3.2MP resolution. The full version offers many, many more options such as ASA, shutter button assignment, memory consumption, etc. and is worth the price.

picsayPicSay (standard and full version available, downloaded full version for free as part of Amazon’s Free App of the Day, regular $3.99): So you’ve taken a few pictures with your phone and realize that a lot of them could use a little help. PicSay can easily help you transform your dark, off-color, of just plain dull images into something worth sharing by letting you adjust contrast, RGB, or even add text balloons to them. As always, the standard version will give you a good idea of what the app is capable of doing but is lacking in a handful of features and options, which is why I jumped on this one right away when it was Amazon’s Free App of the Day. If you’re not up to spending the money now, give the free version a shot. It’s pretty cool.

picplzPicplz (free): Part of the fun of owning a smartphone is having the ability to share your images with friends or more than likely, your social network. Picplz does just that and does it rather well, allowing you to post your image to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Flickr, Tumblr, Dropbox, or Posterous – all at once, if you please. All of those options make it my favorite photo-sharing app, despite its poor results if you choose to one of its built-in filters which can be applied before uploading. They look good on the phone but once uploaded, then appear really murky. But hey, that’s why we have PicSay, right?

pocketPocketbooth (downloaded for free as part of Amazon’s Free App of the Day, regular $1.99): Do you remember the old photo booths? The cramped space, that funny, spinning stool that couldn’t support more than 150 pounds, the smell of the photo chemicals on your strip of pictures when they were spit out of the side of the machine? You don’t? Well, I do because I’m old, okay? The Pocketbooth app is just plain fun because it takes people like me back to the days of the photo booth but without all of the mess or claustrophobia. This app takes 3 or 4 images in a row, just like the classic photo booths, in black-and-white, color, sepia or antique. You can also choose (virtual) matte or glossy texture as well as the color of the border. Not quite as fun as the real thing but a bit of nostalgia nonetheless. Here’s a sample taken with the app.

Honorable Mention: Fatbooth (free): Have you ever wondered what you’d look like if you were of a larger girth? Download Fatbooth and see for yourself! I tried it on our cat Monte and the results were pretty funny.

While I’m constantly on the lookout for any new and exciting photo apps for my phone, most of them seem to be rather lackluster. These, in my opinion, are the best ones I’ve come across as of this post. Give them a shot and see what you think.

My Most Essential Android Apps, Part I

Ever since I got my Virgin Mobile Optimus V smartphone, I’ve been downloading apps like a madman. The bummer, of course, is the phone’s extremely limited memory that gets maxed out in no time at all.

Once I made this discovery I decided that if an app was going to be on my phone, it had to be worth the memory it was occupying (read: little to no games; mostly productivity). I’d now like to entertain you with a list of some of my most essential apps which will be divided up into a few posts. Note that they are not in any order of preference.

amazon-app-store-app_thumbAmazon Appstore (free): Although their selection isn’t as wide as the Android Marketplace, the Amazon Appstore is great in that it offers a free paid app every day. Sometimes the apps are worthy of jumping on right away and other times you don’t want to give them a second thought because of their ratings. Either way, offering an app that will be regular price the next day is a great way to try it and if you decide you don’t like it, you haven’t lost a dime – and you can always go back and download it again if you’re one of those indecisive types like me. I’ve saved a ton of money with this app and it’s pretty much where I get most of my apps now.

hi-124-1SMS Popup (free; full version available): As I had mentioned in my review of the LG Optimus V, one thing the phone lacks is any kind of visual alert (in silent mode) for text messages. And being I work in a rather quite place, I need to keep my phone volume off and can’t always hear it vibrate since I listen to my iPod all day while I work. SMS Popup solves this issue by popping up a dialog box on my screen with the sender’s info and their SMS. It takes a little configuring to get it just right (disabling SMS alerts in the main Android settings) but once I figured it out, it was well worth the effort. The app also allows you to assign different notification sounds to your contacts so you know where the incoming message is coming from without looking at the screen. Highly recommended.

hi-124-21Office Calculator Free (free; full version available): I suck at math, which pretty much explains why I live from paycheck to paycheck. And while I know my fractions/percentages fairly well and can figure out what the discount may be when something’s on sale, most of the time I need a little help. That’s why Office Calculator Free is by far the best calculator app I’ve tried. Why? One key: %=. That’s right, one little key has separated this one from the pack. Say something is $247.99 and there’s a 33% discount. Hey, no problem! The price is $166.15. But tax is 8.75%! Okay, the total will be $189.69. I just used it to figure those out. Cool, eh? It also has a faux tape of your running calculations so you can go back and see what you’ve done. I like this one a lot because, well, I suck at math.

71oqDV7iSrLApp 2 SD Pro (downloaded for free as part of Amazon’s Free App of the Day, regular $1.49; free version also available): App 2 SD is a simple app that does a few things. First, it offers an easy way to view, move, and uninstall apps from your phone and separates them by Moveable, On SD Card, and Phone Only categories. The good thing is that it doesn’t list all those useless bloatware apps like Twidroyd and airG Chat that can’t be deleted; it only lists those that can. Once you install an app that is capable of being moved to your SD card, it will prompt you and ask if you would like to move it. Easy stuff but note that if the app offers a widget and you love it to the SD card, chances are that the widget will not be functional and not show up when you want to add it to your Home screen. App 2 SD also lets you easily (and that’s the keyword here) clear up space from your cache so your phone has more memory to work with. I have not been disappointed by this one, especially since I got it for free.

817fEX QIbLTweetCaster Premium (downloaded for free as part of Amazon’s Free App of the Day, regular $4.99; free version also available): Up until I started using TweetCaster, I tried my share of Twitter apps and each had their faults. Seesmic was a bit clunky, and HootSuite and TweetDeck gave me serious heck when it came to configuring. I solved most of those issues once I started using TweetCaster which also encouraged me to do a bit more tweeting. TweetCaster allows you to post to multiple Twitter accounts as well as your Facebook status, both of which can be the same (but under 140 characters, naturally). True, I still have to use a separate app for Facebook browsing but I that’s okay; I use Twitter as more of a news-gathering site anyhow. Facebook is more of a social thing that gets cluttered with too much other stuff when I just want some quick news from those I’m following. TweetCaster does the trick beautifully and functionally.

Well, there’s the first five of what will be, well, I don’t know how many I plan to write about. Just keep checking back for more as I continue to use my phone and make note of my most often used apps. All I know is that there are a bunch of photography apps that I use regularly. Okay, tomorrow I’ll write about those.

Oh and special thanks to reader Branni Mikal who left a nice comment on my review of the Optimus V that inspired this and the following posts. Hopefully this will help them and any others who might be wondering what to download to their phone next.

Thanks Branni, and congrats on your purchase. You will love this phone!

Customer Service is Dead

With jobs being sent overseas to Indian call centers, I know that’s a rather redundant statement but after experiencing a plethora of customer service adventures within the last week, I’ll gladly make this declaration once again.

Customer service is DOA. Dead, kaput, ceases to exist, etc.

Now you would think that, given the weak economy and people making wiser choices with their money, retailers on every level would do everything within their power to not only satisfy their customer inquiries but to go beyond their expectations. Hell, competition is fierce when money’s tight so retention should be what’s on a retailer’s mind more than anything.

Not so.

Take, for example, the experience I had at Target the other day when trying to return an item without a receipt. Not only was I treated like a criminal but I ended up leaving the place with said item only because nothing could be done at the store’s level for whatever reason. In addition to all that, I was told that the return required everything that the item was packed in: box, instructions, Styrofoam packing, twist ties, etc. Having worked in retail for years including the Target store where I attempted to make the return (T-195 in Long Beach if you are keeping score), this struck me as being rather strange.

Their policy aside, the ass-hole-ciate at the Service Desk immediately came off with an attitude regarding my situation which didn’t help matters. The item – a motorized Razor scooter for Anthony – is a common item that they always carry. But according to this moron, the item’s availability at this store was questionable and if it wasn’t carried, I’d have to go to another store.

“You would have to go to the floor and get the same item so that we can scan it,” she told me.

“What do you mean I have to get it? Why me? There isn’t one person on that salesfloor that can bring it up here?” I spouted, already annoyed.

Knowing that waiting for another ass-hole-ciate would be like pulling teeth and listening to Kenny G. combined, I ended up going to the floor, taking a picture of the item’s barcode with my phone, returned to the desk and told her, “There’s your UPC. Do what you need to do.”

Then it turned into a big fucking mess that I wouldn’t wish upon anybody and in the end, the manager got involved and refused to take the return. Instead, he told me to call Razor USA for instructions on how to return it. At least he offered to give me the number.

Gee, thanks.

The calls to said company’s overseas “customer service line” were useless. They actually had Ann take apart the scooter, which I believe might have voided the warranty, to check on something she had no idea how to check. And because we didn’t have the receipt, they wanted our bank account number so that they could “trace” the transaction.

Excuse me? Are you kidding me? Fucking hell no are you getting that information!

Fed up, I tweeted @RazorUSA and, in 140 characters and two tweets, angrily made my point:

razor tweet

Turns out that if you light a public fire under somebody they take it a bit more seriously because I’d say within an hour, I had a reply. We are now in direct contact with their US-based Customer Service manager which is great, provided they can offer some kind of resolution to our problem.

As of now, our call has not been returned. (UPDATE 8/17/11: We did, however, get confirmation that a replacement part was being sent.)

That’s just one situation. The other one involves a phone case I bought on Amazon which turned out to be the wrong one for my phone model. Admittedly, it was my fault for ordering the wrong one so I explained the situation to the seller and they agreed to send me a replacement.

I sent the case back to them along with the order information and my phone model. Within 10 days, I had my replacement case: the wrong model replacement case.

So I sent an e-mail to them telling them this was the wrong one. Their reply:

Ok that is not what you ordered with us sorry,,

Well, no it wasn’t, you assholes. With the returned item, I sent the correct model number I needed. Maybe my English isn’t all that good and maybe they misunderstood what I was telling them. Either way, they didn’t seem to concerned that I had the wrong case. Rather than deal with them anymore, I sent this:

Nice reply.

Never mind the return. I will be selling it and getting what I need on eBay.

To which they said:

That’s perfect! Great day

Really, LowerPriceUSA? Are you that fucking lazy that you can’t read an e-mail or is your reading comprehension at a second-grade level and the words I wrote were just too big for you? (Judging from their replies, it’s entirely possible.) How completely lazy are you so as not to deal with a customer return and have no issues with them reselling your item on eBay? You must be making money hand over fist if you can afford to not handle a return properly and risk having the customer write about their poor experience on their blog for the whole world to see.

Whoops…

Wow. So this is what customer service has come to: fuck whatever the customer wants or is entitled to and sweep them under the rug, or ship them off to become someone else’s problem.

Man, have things changed since I worked retail. This is what it was like back then.

Give me my damn pickle already.

UPDATE 8/17/11: The case sold in less than a day, probably in part to my description:

So I bought a case from Amazon and it turned out to be the wrong one for my LG Optimus V (which I am using to list this item, including the picture taken with said phone). I ended up returning it to the seller and, despite describing my phone model in explicit detail and requesting the correct case in exchange, these morons ended up sending me the case you see here. Freaking idiots. 

I sent a few emails to them explaining that this was also the wrong case and got answers that only be described as nonchalant and useless. So rather than having to deal with these dolts anymore, I’ve decided to sell it here. You would think that the mention of me selling it here instead would make them think twice but they practically encouraged me to do it. 

WYSIWYG. Fits the LG model shown on the packaging. Buy It Now for $5 and it’s out of my life forever. I’ll even throw in free shipping. Winner will also find out the name of the Amazon seller so they know who to avoid. 

If case does not sell, it will be sent into space during the next Russian space mission and given to a lucky cosmonaut as a surprise gift.* 

*May or may not happen

Posted with the eBay Android app

Virgin Mobile Increases, Decreases Plan Pricing (Update: Grandfathering Official!)

UPDATED 7/15/11: Scroll to bottom of post for details.

Courtesy Tech Crunch

I woke up to some not-so-happy news today.

Last week, Tech Crunch reported that Virgin Mobile would be increasing the cost on two of their Beyond Talk plans as much as $10 per line, which means that they will be bumped to the following:

  • 300 minutes: $25 to $35
  • 1200 minutes: $35 to $40

The good news only goes to users on the Unlimited or BlackBerry plans, who will see their bills drop slightly:

  • Unlimited: $60 dropped to $55
  • BlackBerry plans get their $10 add-on fee dropped

Fierce Wireless goes on the record as saying the increases will happen this week.

Naturally, the news will not set will with subscribers seeing the increase unless, of course, Virgin Mobile lets current subscribers keep their current plan. I’m hoping that’s the case because a 40% increase to my cell phone bill for which I hardly use minutes seems outrageous. $35 for 300 minutes is just $5 short of Metro PCS’s Unlimited Everything plan.

I’m still searching for an official word on being grandfathered to my plan but noting concrete yet. A friend of mine has been grandfathered into his current plan for years so I suppose there is hope. There is no official word from Virgin Mobile about grandfathering.

But all in all, I’m not entirely surprised by the increase. With phone and data plans reaching ridiculous levels, I’m sure Virgin Mobile is seeing an increase in customers as well so that might be a strain on Sprint’s resources and it’s safe to say that there are those that tether their phones and abuse their $25 plans beyond belief.

Any advice? If I knew for sure these were happening this week, I’d get in on their current pricing just in case grandfathering happens. So if you were waiting for that new Motorola TRIUMPH in the hopes of paying $25/mo., it might cost you a bit more now by having to buy and live with a cheap Virgin Mobile feature phone today, keep the $25 plan, then buying the TRIUMPH. At least I think that’s how it would work.

And if you think about it, it’s a really stingy money grab for Virgin Mobile with TRIUMPH coming out on July 19. If, and this is not official yet, you join before July 19th, you will be an established customer and not subject to the rate increase. So essentially, you will buy and be stuck with a cheap phone that nobody will want should you decide to sell it once you get the TRIUMPH. Either way it’s a sneaky way for VM to get rid of their existing inventory of low-end phones and get new subscribers.

If you are not a customer and wait for the TRIUMPH, which is apparently already a hot item with Best Buy taking pre-orders, then you will be paying the purported new plan rates.

I have e-mailed Virgin Mobile regarding the increase and will post the reply when I get it. Also, updates will be posted as they happen.

UPDATED 7/15/11: Just got the official word that existing customers will remain at their current rate unless they change plans. Rate changes begin 7/20/11 so if you want a TRIUMPH with a $25/mo. plan, better hop to it.

As of July 20th, 2011, new Virgin Mobile customers will be activated on the new plans while existing Beyond Talk customers will be able to stay on their current plans. If you are already enrolled in a Beyond Talk Plan your monthly fee will not change unless you decide to change plans.

See the e-mail here.

Virgin Mobile Survey: Upgraded Customer Service?

As you can probably guess, I love my Virgin Mobile Optimus V phone. And despite its problems I can’t tell people enough about it.

I got another survey from Virgin Mobile today and it only centered around thing: upgraded service. The gist of it was that if I would be willing to pay extra for the following (with my answer highlighted):

vm-extras

For me, it’s just not worth paying extra for any of that considering I’ve only called their Customer Service line a few times, both for billing issues which were eventually resolved. About the only thing I would want would be people who actually understand the problem, which seemed to be a big problem on the times I did call.

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