The best Android widgets for busy professionals
- 30 August, 2018 20:00
When wondering about widgets, one would be wise to weigh which widget is a widget worth welcoming.
Apologies for my atrociously annoying alliteration. (Ah, blast. There I go again.) The thing about a widget, though, is — well, it sounds silly. And it's easy to write off as being irrelevant to your life as an Extremely Serious Smartphone User.
But playful as they may seem — and frivolous as they often appear — Android widgets can actually be a real asset when it comes to mobile productivity. In fact, once you wade through the Play Store's endless-seeming array of weather widgets, clock widgets, and, uh, more weather widgets, a sea of genuinely useful options awaits.
These standout Android widgets add value to your smartphone setup by putting timely information and complex functions right on your home screen, where they're always in sight and easy to reach. In doing so, they save you precious steps and help you get more accomplished in less time.
So without any further ado, here they are: the Android widgets you want.
(Note that I'm not including any email or messaging apps in this list, as most of the respectable clients in those categories have similarly fine widgets — and there's really not much to distinguish one from another. Also, all apps listed below are free unless otherwise noted. Capisce?)
Android widgets for note-taking
Google Keep is the best Android note-taking app for most people, and its widget doesn't disappoint. Keep's main widget gives you an easy way to scroll through your notes — with the option to view all notes, only those that are pinned, or only those that are associated with a particular label. You can see the first several lines of each note right on your home screen, and it takes just a single tap to open any item in full.
Equally advantageous is the toolbar atop the Keep widget, which gives you one-tap commands for starting a new note, starting a new checklist, taking a note by voice, jotting down something in handwriting, and capturing a photo directly into your notes. And if all you want are those commands, you can opt to use Keep's smaller toolbar widget — which gives you the fast-access shortcuts without any notes attached.
If you need a more fully-featured note-taking setup and don't mind paying the price — US$8 per month for a restriction-free premium subscription — Evernote will bring a healthy pinch of productivity to your Android phone's home screen.
The app's widget allows you to view a scrollable list of notes with numerous options — what type of notes are included, to what notebook newly created notes are saved, and whether you want to see images, tags, and text in the widget or only note titles.
Evernote gives you a handy toolbar at the top of its widget, too — and you can even customize what commands are included and in what order they appear. By default, the widget includes commands for taking a new basic note, capturing an image to be saved in your notes, taking a note by voice, and jotting down something in handwriting. You can swap any of those items out for shortcuts that'll set a reminder, take a more complex note (with a full series of editing tools), search your notes, or attach a recently downloaded file into a note.
You can also choose between a standard Evernote-green theme or a more subdued black-and-gray alternative.
Whether you use a comprehensive note-taking app or not, sometimes you encounter a nugget of info you need to remember and want placarded prominently, right in front of your face. ColorNote is an app worth keeping around for that situation — mostly because of its widget.
You can think of ColorNote as a virtual Post-It notepad for your phone: When something noteworthy enters your noggin, all you have to do is add a new ColorNote widget to your home screen, type in whatever you want to remember, and that's it: The info will then show up on your home screen as if you'd stuck a tiny sticky note right on top of your phone.
The app has its own system for backing up to the cloud, if you want to keep your notes synced across multiple devices. You can also change any individual note's color by opening it within the main app. But it's the simplicity of being able to put virtual Post-Its on your home screen that makes ColorNote a widget worth having.
Android widgets for task and agenda management
When it comes to managing to-do lists, Any.do is a cut above the rest — and its selection of Android widgets is no less impressive. The main Any.do widget shows a scrollable list of all your tasks; you can tap any item right then and there to check it off from the list or add a new item by using the built-in commands for text or voice input.
The app includes a variety of other widget options, including a more compact task list, a super-minimalist widget just for adding new tasks, and an expanded widget that shows a calendar alongside your tasks. And you can choose between transparent and white themes for any of those configurations.
Any.do is free with an optional US$27-a-year subscription (if you upgrade through the app) for advanced features such as location-based reminders and unlimited attachments.
Like having a month-long overview at your disposal for on-the-spot planning? The plainly named Calendar Widget: Month gives you a clean and easy way to glance at the current month on your home screen — and then get additional info from your agenda as you need it.
Unlike the cluttered and difficult-to-decipher default Google Calendar widget, Calendar Widget: Month provides a clear view of the current month (or any other month, past or present). It then uses a system of small dots to indicate the presence of events on different days, and you can tap on any day to pull up a pop-up window with its agenda.
Calendar Widget: Month includes nine different designs, with a variety of tasteful styles — and if you want even more options, you can pay US$2.50 to unlock about five dozen additional possibilities.
If a more event-driven view is what you're after, give yourself an upgrade from the limiting Google Calendar agenda widget and get either Calendar Agenda Widget (US$1) or Home Agenda Calendar Widget (US$2).
Both are customizable and commendable for their designs. The only real question is which style you prefer: Calendar Agenda Widget gives you a Material-Design-like vibe that fits in nicely with Google's current visual standards, while Home Agenda Calendar Widget sticks with a simpler, timeless box-based format.
Either one will give your home screen an added touch of elegance and utility.
TripIt is the Swiss Army Knife of Android travel apps, and its widget is worth every inch of space on your phone's home screen whenever you have a trip on the horizon.
TripIt serves as a central organizer for all of your travel-related plans (after you either forward your itineraries to a specific email address or authorize the app to access your email directly to find such messages). Its US$49-a-year TripIt Pro service then gives you real-time flight updates all throughout your trip — often even beating notifications by airlines' own apps.
The widget puts all of TripIt's knowledge into an easily glanceable space on your home screen, allowing you to see and scroll through your plans anytime without having to dig around. And, of course, you can always tap on any element within your plans to jump immediately to a more detailed view.
Android widgets for news and information
Keep the latest headlines at your fingertips with Google's recently redesigned News app and its simple but effective widget. The widget shows your personalized briefing, with five current stories relevant to your interests and/or location and a quick overview of the weather wherever you are.
You can tap on any news item to view it in full or tap the "Full coverage" button to see related stories from other sources. It's an easy way to stay in the loop on the most pressing headlines throughout the day.
If you have a specific set of sources you need to keep track of for your job — company blogs, industry news sites, or other publications relevant to your interests — Palabre is a fantastic way to make sure you never miss a thing.
Palabre connects to the Feedly RSS service and lets you select any number of sources to add into the app and its widget. You can then see all the latest articles from those sources in a scrollable box on your home screen so that nothing slips past your attention.
Palabre keeps tracks of which articles you've read, making it easy to remember where you last left off. It's free to use with an optional US$2.50 upgrade for an ad-free in-app experience along with some extra customization options.
Investors, take note: Two worthwhile widgets can help you keep tabs on stocks of interest right from your phone's home screen.
The first, MSN Money, gives you super-simple small square widgets with up-to-date info on a single stock in each. If you have only a few stocks you need to monitor, it's a great way to track them without any fuss or wasted space. And if you want extra info on any of the stocks, you can simply tap the associated widget to pull up all sorts of data within the full app.
The second, Investing.com, provides a more standard scrolling-box view where you can see current info on as many stocks as you'd like. And just like with MSN Money, you can tap on any line to pull up more detailed info.
The main difference is just the simple single box vs. the scrolling list configuration — and also the fact that the full Investing.com app (though not the widget) includes ads, unless you want to pony up 20 bucks a year for an ad-free experience.
Android widgets for advanced functions
Keep your two-factor authentication codes handy with Authy's immensely practical widget, which puts a scrollable list of your 2FA-enabled accounts on your home screen and then lets you pull up and copy codes for any account with a quick tap. (If you keep your 2FA data password- or fingerprint-protected — which you most certainly should — you'll have to provide authentication before any codes are accessible.
The next time you find yourself holding a piece of physical paper you need to save — be it a receipt, a business card, or even a bar napkin on which someone's written incredibly important information (as one does) — the Google Drive Scan widget will be your new best friend.
The widget, part of the main Drive app, doesn't look like much on your home screen. But tap it, and a camera viewfinder will immediately appear. Hold your phone over your paper, hit the shutter icon on your screen, and that's pretty much it: Tap once more to confirm, and the image will be saved as a PDF to your Drive storage — in whatever folder you specified when you first set the widget up.
(You can also opt to crop the image, if needed, or "scan" additional images to be attached as extra pages in the PDF.)
The best part? Thanks to Google's character recognition system, you can then search Drive for any word shown on the paper to quickly find the PDF in the future. And if you ever want to convert all of the image's text into plain, editable text within a document, you can do that, too.
IFTTT is short for "If This, Then That" — and its Android widget is overflowing with productivity-oriented possibilities.
The IFTTT widget can be configured to perform dozens of different time-saving tasks. You could create an IFTTT widget that serves as a quick-add function for Google Calendar events, for instance, and one that gives you a one-tap command for quickly posting messages to a specific Slack channel.
There's a widget for tracking your work hours in Google Sheets and another for emailing a fast note to yourself. There's even an IFTTT widget for making your phone ring in case you ever need an excuse to shuffle out of an endless meeting. (Don't worry — I won't tell.)
Install the app, add a widget, and start exploring. The options are practically endless.