In Pictures: 15 Android widgets to make your smartphone and tablet better
If you're not using widgets, you're simply not realizing the true value of your Android smartphone or tablet. CIO.com's Al Sacco shares a collection of his favorite widgets, all free and all very much worth a download.
Must-Have Android Widgets
One of the best things about the Android OS is its support for widgets, or live application windows that sit on your Android device's home screen. They both display information and give you access to features so you don't have to open their associated apps. Apple added widget functionality to its Notification Center Today screen in iOS 8, and BlackBerry 10 has Active Frames that update, but these options are second-rate compared to Android widgets.
Every Android app doesn’t have a widget, and some offer widgets that don't work well -- I call those "weak widgets." The following Android widgets deserve space on your home screen.
Clean Master (Speed Booster) Android Widgets
If you have an older or underperforming Android device that frequently lags, freezes up or gets hot to the touch as it overheats, Clean Master can help. Even if you have a brand new phone or tablet, Clean Master can scrub junk files, and boost both memory and CPU performance. The free app offers two widgets, a larger one that shows your amounts of free and "busy" RAM in a horizontal bar (in black or white) with an icon that lets you quickly clean your memory to free RAM, and another smaller widget for a "1 Tap Boost" that performs the same function, minus the status bar. Google Play is usually lousy with memory cleaner apps, but Clean Master is one of the best, and it's also packed with other features, including a device cooler, antivirus options and an app manager.
Internet Radio, Streaming Audio Android Widgets: Beats Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora and Spotify
Chances are you have a favorite Internet-radio or streaming service, and chances are that service has an Android app, with an Android widget — at least if it's one of the more popular services. I'm a Pandora guy, but I also occasionally use Spotify and iHeartRadio, all of which have similar widgets that let you play and pause audio, among other things. I've been experimenting with Beats Music, and it too has an Android widget. Additional common widget features including backward- and forward-skip functions, album art and a quick rating system.
Evernote Widget for Android
You're probably familiar with the popular Evernote writing and note-taking app, which syncs across your various devices. You may not, however, know there's a separate, free Evernote Widget app that lets you bring the specific Evernote features you use the most right to your home screen. The app offers four different types of widgets, in different sizes, and they're all customizable. You can create single widgets to quickly open new notes, capture images, record audio, set quick reminders and save speech-to-text notes, among other things. The app also offers more full-featured widgets that include a variety of options in a single widget. The app is a must for all Evernote users with Android devices.
Days Left Android Widget
We're all looking forward to something, whether it's a birthday, a holiday, a vacation, the return of a loved one, or in my case, 2015 Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox. (April 6 can't get here soon enough.) The simple, free Days Left Widget is a countdown calendar for your Android home screen. It does exactly what you'd expect: display the number of days until your anticipated event. You can add as many calendar widgets as you want. You can customize them with specific colors, icons and text. And the widgets are available in three different sizes. Days Left isn't the only widget of its kind, but it is one of the simpler versions — and it just works.
Fitbit Android Widget
Android users have no shortage of fitness-tracking options these days. Fitbit was one of the original players in the activity tracker game, however, and it's still one of the leaders in the space. It also happens to be my fitness app of choice, and CIO.com resident reviewer James A. Martin keeps me up to date with all of the latest Fitbit devices, including the new Surge watch. I'm currently using the Flex wristband, and unfortunately, it doesn't display a specific step count, only a series of five dots that represent progress toward my daily goal. That's where the Android widget comes in. I like to check my step count throughout the day, and thanks to the widget, I need only glance at my Android home screen, which currently tells me I need to get off my ass and go for a walk.
eBay Widgets for Android
Whether you're a compulsive buyer or strategic seller, a bargain hunter or careful collector, you'll find a friend in the eBay Widgets app for Android, which is a separate download from the standard eBay mobile app. You get three widgets, the smallest of which displays four icons that open the app, bring you to your My eBay page, launch the Categories section and take you to page that let's you list items for sale. The second, medium-size widget also has an icon to quickly open the app, in addition to three tabs for your current Reminders, Messages and Saved Searches. The largest widget displays a scrollable list of the day's eBay Deals, along with images and price information, including details on the MSRP, discounts and shipping fees. Sold!
Movies by Flixster Android Widgets
Movies by Flixster is a valuable Android app that gives you a variety of information on a ton of films and actors, both new and old, well-known and unknown. The Flixster Android widgets, however, are geared toward newer movies. One offers a quick glimpse of the films that are currently playing in theaters, along with their Rotten Tomatoes scores (both critic and user scores) and a quick search feature. The other, larger widget shows all of this information, as well as scrollable show times for the films at your theaters of choice and at nearby locations. There's no better, or quicker, way to find information on films of interest.
Google+ User Location Android Widget
The Google+ app for Android offers two widgets, one that shows posts from the people in your Circles and another that displays a map with the locations of specific connections of your choice. (Those connections must agree to share their locations or you won't be able to add them to your widget.) If you and your friends (or family or coworkers) are regular Google+ users, the location widget is handy, because it lets you quickly determine where your contacts are. It's not unlike the popular Swarm social network (formerly Foursquare), but it shows locations instead of just check-ins at particular places. Yeah, it is a bit stalker-ish, but you have to opt-in to the location sharing, so users (presumably) know their locations are being monitored. I do wish the map within the widget were just a bit less blurry though.
Google Hangouts Android Widget
Hangouts is Google's full-featured chat app, and it comes with a widget that's simple, yet valuable. The Hangouts Android widget shows your most recent chats, along with the last message sent and the time it was distributed. You can stretch or shrink the widget, vertically or horizontally, to show as many or as few chats as you want. A tap of the finger picks up a chat where you left off. And new messages appear in the widget so you don't have to open the app or a notification to see them.
Yahoo Weather Android Widgets
I regularly use a number of weather apps for a variety of mobile platforms, but Yahoo Weather is my favorite on Android. One reason why is its plethora of widget options. You can pick from seven widget configurations and designs, all of which show varying amounts of data based on size and available space, including current high and low temperatures, graphic weather representations, Flickr photos of locations, the date and time, and forecasts. All of the widgets also have refresh buttons so you can quickly update the information.
Reddit Is Fun Android Widget
If you're a regular Redditor, as I am, you're constantly refreshing a browser window or launching an app to keep track of your favorite pages, or subreddits. The Reddit is Fun Android widget pins a window to your favorite Reddit pages on your home screen, where you can use it to scroll through stories. The widget is customizable, based on subreddit, update frequency, color (light or dark) and size, and it shows details about each post, including the person who posted it and the number of points it received. Tapping a story shows you the number of comments on a post and provides a link to see in in the app. You can also pin as many or as few widgets as you want, so you can quickly peruse all of your favorite subreddits.
YP – Yellow Pages Local Search Android Widgets
The YP (for Yellow Pages) app is a full-featured local search service, and it offers three different widgets. The smallest, and most basic, widget provides a link to your myBook, which is a collection of your favorite businesses and search queries, designed to save time for future searches. The second widget provides two search fields, one for the business or service you seek and one for your location — which, by default, is set to Current Location. The final widget combines the first two, with icons for specific businesses including gas stations, restaurants, pizza shops, financial institutions and a link to your myBook. (Note: YP offers two separate apps for smartphones and tablets, so make sure you download the appropriate software.)
PayPal Android Widget
The PayPal payments app for Android offers two widget types, one small, icon-like widget that can be customized to launch specific features and another with a fixed set of four icons, to find nearby businesses that accept PayPal, open your Wallet, view recent activity and transfer funds. The widgets are basic, but they give you one-touch access to the specific functionality you need so you don't have to flip through screens within the app.
Vine Capture Widget for Android
The best video clips are often captured on the fly, and the Vine Capture Android widget helps you increase spontaneity by giving you quick access to your Vine camera feature. Instead of launching the Vine app and navigating to the Capture screen, wasting valuable seconds — and possibly the start of a classic Vine that's destine to go viral — you simply tap the Capture widget and take the first steps down the path to your looped, six seconds of fame. The widget gives you quick access to the camera, as well as your camera roll, so you can take new video or upload existing clips, and make edits, in seconds.