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Work better with Android, Part I: Widgets, buttons, and other live content

Work better with Android, Part I: Widgets, buttons, and other live content

A tablet is where you can really take advantage of Android’s customization capabilities. Widgets, buttons, and other live content are a great differentiator over the iPad, which still regulates your home screen to a grid of icons.

Additionally, the deep integration with Google services and ability to tweak your home screen the way you work can make an Android tablet a rather helpful productivity aide. While the app ecosystem still trails iOS, the number of customizations you can make is sufficient for optimizing how you make your technology work to your advantage.

Get your Google stuff ready

If you’re using an Android tablet, odds are you’re heavily invested in Google’s ecosystem. But there’s more to getting the most out of Google services beyond just signing in to Gmail.

If you haven’t tried it out on another Android device, be sure to flip on Google Now. It lives just off the home screen, and serves up your daily schedule, traffic alerts, the weather, sports scores, and a lot of other useful information. It’s going to become even more deeply ingrained in Android M with Google Now On Tap. 

This is what you see before you start working.

Google Now is an excellent digital assistant that helps you organize key information about your day.

The idea is that someone may email you about grabbing a drink at a particular restaurant, and Google Now will serve up relevant apps to get more details about that venue or to make a reservation. While that implementation is a ways off,  you can get a sense now of how your tablet (or your Android phone) can truly anticipate your needs. Google’s data learning capabilities are far ahead of the competition, and I anticipate it will stay that way for a while.

Another excellent productivity aide is Inbox by Google. It’s another take on email much in the same vain as Mailbox or other apps that try and help you deal with the overwhelming of messages you can get throughout the day. Inbox bundles your messages to do much of the triage work for you and allows you to snooze them for later. 

Widgets speed up those repeat tasks

No need to constantly go into your Gmail when you can put the inbox right on your home screen. It’s one of several ways to put information in front of you, formatted to be read and absorbed in just a glance.

How many widgets you slap down many differ depending on how much you want to muck up that screen real estate and the size of your tablet. Android tablets run the whole range, with some as small as seven inches, like the Nexus 7, with others all the way up to the Galaxy Tab Pro 12.2.

Your home screen is significantly more useful with widgets, which feed you live information.

Sure, the end result may not be as elegant as that row of icons on iOS. But it won’t matter when you’re quickly powering through those tasks. 

Gmail, Google Keep, Outlook, Evernote, OneNote, and other email and note-taking apps have widgets that put your inbox or a list of key notes into a widget. It’s great for avoiding the need to constantly jump into the app if you want to scroll through your inbox for a message and glance at a note from Evernote or OneNote. 

Live news is also another way to bring life to your home screen. Google’s News & Weather app is a good selection, though Flipboard and other news aggregators are worth exploring if you want the latest updates to pop up on your home screen. 

One touch and action

Widgets don’t have to be giant, 4 x 4 blocks that eat up most of your screen. Some of the best, in fact, only take up a 1 x 1 spot and launch a specific action. For example, with Gmail you can add a Compose button that launches a new message. Or you can add a specific label, so if there’s one you check frequently you can just touch that instead of navigating through the Gmail interface. 

If you use Inbox (which I highly recommend) there’s a button to instantly create a reminder. Just as with Gmail, there’s another for launching a message. In Google Drive you can put a button that will take you to a particular folder, which saves the need to scroll through your Drive app each time you launch it. There are many different options like this, so take the time to scroll through the widget options with the various apps.

These 1x1 widgets can launch a specific action right inside the application.

Google Drive has another powerful set of work-friendly widgets. You can place a link to a specific file or folder on your home screen. This is rather helpful if there’s a particular document, spreadsheet, or slideshow that you’re working on. 

Evernote also offers a nice selection of tools. With its widget you can create a note, save an image, create an audio note, or jump directly into one of your notebooks. 

Do by IFTTT is another essential app that really shines on Android. With IFTTT you can program a number of specific tasks on your device, like automatically tweeting a link when your blog publishes or saving to your Google Drive.

Looking ahead

Google’s apps aren’t your only option on Android. Microsoft has built Android versions of its full productivity suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, and OneDrive. 

Also, the major services like Dropbox, Evernote, IFTTT, and communication tools like Slack and Hipchat all have solid Android apps that look and perform well on Google’s platform. No longer is an Android app just a clone of an iOS version. This is one area in which the platform has really matured. 

Next, we’ll next take a deeper dive into some of the other third-party apps that can really ramp up the productivity on your Android tablet. Additionally, we’ll tackle some of the operating system tweaks, the good and annoying ones, and tablet makers have added in to their various Android devices.

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