Padfone App Guide
Apps that work well on the Padfone
robfisher, Tuesday 24 July 2012 - 21:08:00

The Padfone is different enough from my last Android phone (a HTC Desire) that I have been re-thinking all my app choices. Mostly the requirement is that an app should work well in both phone and tablet form factors. I'll briefly describe my choices here and the reasons. I may update this article as I choose more apps or change my mind.

I was surprised to find that the Chrome browser handles dynamic switching almost flawlessly. It retains the page you were viewing, often without a reload, and switches between the two types of UI without prompting. It does lose form data on a switch sometimes, but so does the stock browser. The current version also scores slightly slower than the stock browser in some benchmarks I tried. But it makes up for it with a beautiful UI with handy features such as zooming in automatically to let you choose when you tap in place that has two or more links close together (though it might be nice if this would turn off when clicking with the track pad!)

Plume does not handle dynamic switching at all, but it does make good use of the tablet screen real estate with its multiple columns, and on the phone it has a sensible Ice Cream Sandwich interface that seems to do everything needed.

I am still using the official Facebook app. It's the same app in phone and tablet modes. It copes with screen switching okay except that the pictures don't get resized properly. I experimented with Friendcaster for Facebook and it makes a bit better use of the tablet screen but the deal breaker here is that some friends will turn off their "share with third party apps" privacy setting and make posts invisible to Friendcaster. The mobile Facebook web site is just the same as the app, but selecting "Request desktop site" in Chrome to get the real web site is probably as good as it gets in tablet mode.

Instant Messaging
I have not tried many apps in this category. Despite Padfone reviews I have read, however, I have not had problems with apps failing to notify after docking or undocking. The Facebook app is a bit rubbish for IM so I installed Imo and it works almost perfectly. Add it to the Dynamic Display switch list. By default there is a permanent notification for it and this survives the screen switch. Even better, if the app is open the UI switches from tablet to phone format and back again. The only minor niggle is that if you are half-way through typing an unsent message this gets lost on the screen switch.

For blogs with RSS feeds I use Google Reader when I want to know exactly what is available on each blog I read. But Feedly, which syncs with Google Reader, is a nicer view of the same information for when I have a spare minute and want to casually check what is going on. For more mainstream news sources I find Google Currents really makes the most of the tablet display. It is like reading a beautiful, glossy magazine. It even handles dynamic switching okay if you refresh the current page, but to use it on the phone screen misses the point. Pulse serves a similar purpose but I am not sure yet whether I like it because while it shows lots of pictures, the headline text is small and truncated.

Google Reader and Pulse seem to work perfectly at switching UI modes when switching screens. Currents works if you back out of and go back into an article after switching. Feedly gets stuck in the previous UI mode, so I removed it from the Dynamic Display switch list.

I am also using Zinio to read magazines and Comixology to read comics, both of which look great on the tablet screen.

I use Evernote for note taking mainly because it works on every platform. I have a scanner attached to my Mac and this puts OCRed PDFs straight into Evernote which means I can read scanned documents on the Padfone. I'm also typing this article in Evernote as I put it together over a few days (on the Padfone keyboard, of course). Evernote has two very nice interfaces, one for phone and one for tablet. It does need to be restarted to switch between them, though, so keeping it out of the Dynamic Display switch list works best.

Other apps
I love RealCalc for emulating an old school scientific calculator, but it looks a bit silly zoomed onto the full tablet screen. For now I am using AirCalc, which floats over other apps and can be moved and sized. The only down-side is that it does not accept input from the hardware keyboard.

Having discovered the existence of floating apps, I soon found that manually copying text from an (un-copy-and-pasteable) Zinio article was a bore because I had to constantly switch apps. So I went looking for a floating note taking app and found Hovernote, which is pretty and functional.

Terminal Emulators
The keyboard means that doing serious work in terminal emulators is viable. I have been playing around with the Python interpreter for Scripting Layer 4 Android and it is very nice except that the cursor keys don't work. I have yet to find a workaround.  The Android terminal emulator (Terminal) works perfectly, cursor keys and all, but I can't do much with this yet as I have not rooted my Padfone.

For SSH sessions to remote hosts I used to use ConnectBot but it seems it does not support the hardware keyboard properly.  I found a couple of forks that purport to be customised for the Transformer but these don't seem to fix the Padfone problems. ConnectBot is open source, so it should be fixable. In the meantime I am playing with Terminal IDE which provides a Bash prompt with lots of commands including Vim, SSH and Git. There are still some keyboard niggles (where is the backslash key?) but you can configure the keys and have the back key act like escape, which is perfect for Vim.

Finally I have been playing with AIDE, which is not a terminal emulator but fits here with the other geeky apps. It is a Java editor with the Android SDK that lets you write, compile and run Android apps right on your phone. Obviously this is a perfect fit with the Padfone in laptop configuration.

Let me know in the comments any apps that you enjoy and that work well on the Padfone.

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