Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Android Apps for a Biologist

Want to take a look of your presentation while waiting at the airport or want to show the picture of a gel to your colleague over a cup of coffee or may be you want some articles while you are discussing with your research students, you better get a smart phone like Samsung Galaxy S II or a tab like HTC Flier or Samsung Galaxy Note. Yes, now your smart phone or a tab is your desktop PC in your pocket. These gadgets come in various sizes, front 4 to 7 inch. I better not consider 10 inch devices, like Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 or iPAD, as these are difficult to carry in your lab coat pocket. These gadgets will become quite common in our labs in near future and android devices will definitely take a lead. If you are a researcher, specifically a researcher in Biological sciences, you should have some power Apps in your Android phone/tab.

It is better to integrate your devices, including your desktop, with services of Google to have a smooth and enriched experience in your Android. It starts with having a Google ID that opens a plethora of web based personalisable services starting with Gmail. And in Android you get Apps for all such Google services. You can go a step ahead even to link your official mail box to Gmail, so that one mailbox can suffice all. You may have to ask your System Admin for that. Now, let get down to some of the essential Apps and tools:

AndExplorer: In an Android device you can brows through different folders, just like you do it in your desktop. AndExplorer is one such folder explorer that allows you to create, browse, select, copy, paste, delete files and folders.

SugarSync: This is a must for every one. SugarSync allows you to synchronize multiple devices: your desktop, laptop, Android, and iPad. Now keep all the essential files synced through this cloud service. Up to 5 GB space is free and unlike other cloud services like Box or Dropbox, you can synchronize not only files but folders too. So you have not move your files to a specific folder, Keep them organized as you want and then sync.   

Apps for Documents: Usually most of these gadgets come preloaded with some sort of Documents reader and editor, which can handle MS Office files. Even many a time a PDF reader is also given pre-loaded. There are several Apps, like DocumentsToGo, NetFront Life Documents those allow you to view MS Office files. But if you want to have the capability to edit those files, you may have to purchase the paid versions. Do not worry, usually the price tag is reasonable. And cheers!! there is at least one free App that can do all, viewing and editing, free of cost. It is Kingsoft Office.  Large numbers of Apps are available to open PDF files, including one from Adobe.

Fast Image Viewer: By default your Android device may not be able to open a TIF file. Fast Image Viewer allows you to open image files of various types, including TIF images.

Camscanner: Scan a page by your Phone, convert it to a PDF file and then share it by e-mail or on Facebook. Camscanner will do all this for you.

Opera: Though your device will come with the stock Android browser, it is better to use some other enhanced browser like, Opera mini or Opera Mobile. Look into the settings of these Apps, and you will find lots of option to enhance your browsing experience.

Read it latter: The best app to bookmark and read latter. While surfing the Net you frequently hit upon pages of your interest but not related to what you were looking at that moment. Simply add it to your Read It Latter. This will get saved and synchronized in your Android. When you have time, you can simply read the same content in Read It Latter App. The best part is that the App renders the page in a format suitable for reading in your phone

Catch notes: Easy App to take note, with options to include sound and picture in notes. These notes get saved and synced with Catch website making it easy to access those even from your desktop.

Aldiko: The best book reader for your Android. It can handle EPUB and PDF files. And you can even use it to read your DRM protected books too. It is now integrated online book shops so that you can purchase and download a book of your choice directly in your device.

PubMed Mobile: This is not an App; just a Web page ( for your mobile device. Book mark it in the Web browser of your device, so that you can search and brows PubMed easily.  

SciVerse: It's the official App to access ScienceDirect.

arXivDroid: A clean and easy to use interface to access arXiv.

Droideley: Do you use Mendeley to store, organize and use bibliography? If yes, this app is for you. And if you are not a user of Mendeley I will suggest you to try it today itself. Every day you download lots of articles in PDF format and over time it gets difficult for you to keep those arranged in an appropriate fashion in your desktop. And the most painful thing is to dig through hundreds of those files to find the right one you are in need of. Using Mendeley you can keep all articles in PDF format in organized fashion; you can tag those; add notes to them; arrange, sort, search those based on tags, authors and key words. You can even use it to insert bibliography while writing. And the best part is you can access, and even share, your library online through an web browser. All those PDF files can be uploaded to your Mendeleye account so that you can access them from any where. Though the desktop version is bit buggy, still its worth to use. Unfortunately there is no official App for Mendeley in Android. The unofficial Droideley is a very clean and well organized App to access your Mendeley library in your Android.

Taptu: RSS feeds make it easy to keep track with newer developments. It is useful to subscribe such feeds from sites like Nature, Science, PLoS. And Taptu is a great app to access those feeds in your Android device. Each story is displayed as a card. Those cards can be swiped to move from one story to other. You can arrange the feeds based on your choice and even color code those. Still if you are happy with content and not visual pleaser, gReader is robust and easy to use App to handle all the RSS feeds.

Podcast Apps: Just like RSS feeds, subscribe to weekly Podcasts from Nature or Science and listen those using a Podcast App in your Android.  You may even subscribe to Videocasts like TED. There are many free Apps, but powerful Apps like Doggcatcher, Mypod are paid.

gUnit: A smart tool to convert units.

Grapher: Simple but powerful app to draw graphs for one or more user defined equations.

Calculus tools: App for integration, and differentiation. Even provides formula tables and have an inbuilt grapher to plot user defined equations. 

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Why I hate my iPad

Let’s start with some prelims:

1. I love watching movies or reading a book or surf the Web in my iPad. And Reading magazines in Zinio or flipping through selective stories in Zite is very addictive. But then, these are not something unique for iPad. Though, I have not used any other tab/slate, it can be always argued that any other make having similar "form factor" and hardware would have similar user experience. Am sure owners of Galaxy Tab will agree with me.

2. Many of the issues am complaining of, were known to me even before I purchased the iPad. Still I chose an iPad over an Android Tab, as Android can not access a proxy server through Wifi. That’s quite annoying for me as our institutional network is through proxy servers. It’s a shame for Android.

3. One feels unsatisfied only when some thing expected is not met. Here, my expectations are based on my experience with my Android phone, Samsung Galaxy S II.

Now the hate speech:

A) Oh boy! Forget about classy widgets or custom desktop or custom locks that I can use in my droid phone, I do not even have a simple one click switche/control/widget to switch On/Off Wifi or change screen brightness in my iPad. I have to look deep in settings to do those changes. Yes, you can call me a lazy ass; but then you should stop using a remote for your TV too. They could have placed those controls even in the pull-down notification area. But no they thought that’s not important. Use of the notification area for such purposes is not only easy for the user but also elegant in space saving. In terms of customization iPad is like a primitive B/W cell phone.

B) I was stumped when I realized that I can not explore files/folders in iPad, the way I do in Windows Explorer or in any folder explorer in Android. So I can not copy, paste, move files and even delete the way am habituated to do. The user is blind to file/folder structure in iPad. Yes an App can see a file if you wish. But this leads to another problem. Suppose you have two Apps those can read a PDF file. Today you have opened a PDF file using App 1 and yesterday you have used App 2 for the same file. By the grace of the architecture of iPad, the same file will be stored in two places, thereby reducing your storage capacity. Bravo!

C) I have read 5 files in a PDF reader, and now I have to delete those. No, I have no option to "select all" and delete. I have to do that one by one. Very smart!! Note, you will find this problem in other apps too.

D) An extension of the same issue. All fans of iPad use Dropbox to transfer file from another device to iPad. I used it to transfer my ebooks from my desktop to iPad. But in my iPad I can not download multiple files from Dropbox simultaneously. I have to do that one by one.
I have transfered 24 books this way.
And then deleted those one by one from Dropbox. Have another 36 still in my desktop to get transfered.

E) I want to download an mp3 file from a Web site. But I can not do that using the default browser Safari. If I insist, I have to use some other specialized browser like iCab. Hold your breath! No, you have no option to upload a file using a browser. Now, how the hell I will attach a file to my e-mail? Oh! Why do not I use an email App? Yes, right. What a smart solution to such a trivial issue. And then what about uploading a file to some other sites like rapidshare?

F) Another example with mp3. Want to transfer a song from my phone to iPad by Dropbox. Yes, I can do that, but can not add that file to the default music player. Excellent!

G) Here goes one well known omission: you have no option to share Youtube videos in Facebook through the Youtube app.

H) They say the quality of Apps in Apple Store is much better than that of Android and you do not get those "force closer" in iPad. I can not comment on all apps. But am facing the problem of hanged/forced closed apps in iPad as frequently as I get in my Galaxy S II.

I) I hear lots of noise about the finish and look of iPad. Yes, it is slick, and well built. But seems am not so civilized for it. Every time I try to hold it, it tends to sleep out my hand and I keep myself in attention for not dropping this 34K toy. Ultimately, have got a partial solution. Using a ugly, cheap plastic back cover having good roughness so that I get a solid grip.

This list is based on my experience with iPad since last two week. I belive my points of hate may increase further as I keep using it.

Yes you can suggest that I am making my life difficult; iPad is for fun; it’s a content centric device; for watching movies, listening songs, reading books; not for upload, download, move, delete business. But where the hell I get these fun stuffs? Where do I get the contents? Apple iTune store does not sell movies/music/books in India. Where will I get a digital copy of “Sonar Kella”? Where do I get a PDF file for “Desh e Bidesh e”? Those do not come with iPad. So eventually, I rely on torrents, ifile, rapidshare. And every time I try to enjoy contents of my choice I face these irritating issues.

You can still insist that I must use the iPad, just the way Seteve Jobs’ company has thought of without any use of my brain. Sorry, then either you are a dogmatic worshiper of Apple or have already lost your mind. In this age of convergence, the intentions and purpose of the user of a device is not the issue, but the capability of the device is. Believe me, use of multiple devices for day-to-day trivial jobs is a primitive idea. Just think of the camera that comes default with most of the cell phones. Why do you need a camera in a phone? A phone is just for talking to some one else. But no, we all buy phones with camera and use that frequently. And amazingly camera phones have changed the way we record our history and make news. On the same line of thought, when I buy a high end costly gadget like iPad, I would expect that it would have multiple capabilities. And it is quite possible to meet my expectations. The best example of that diverse capability is my Android Phone, Galaxy S II. It is just like a desktop PC in my pocket.

Let me end this rambling with some thing I stumbled upon while searching the Web. One fellow, who has a small business, keeps documents organized in folders named with name of each client. He wants to achieve that in his iPad. Obviously he can not do that as iPad has nothing like folder explorer. Frustrated, he posted the issue in one of the forums on iPad. One smart iPad expert was furious, to see that this guy is so primitive and not using any RDBMS Apps to manage his data. What a solution to a simple issue!! Perfect iPad way.

(Oh, I also store my data in folders just like this primitive guy. And my desktop and my Android phone keep all my data updated in the same fashion!!!)

Bottom-line: I hate Google more for not solving the issue of proxy server through Wifi.