Android Power's 3 favorite things for August 2014

From powerful custom shortcuts to pleasingly pretty home screens, these three simple tools bring fresh functionality to any Android phone or tablet.

This summer's been a wild one for mobile tech launches, and that means it's been a while since I've had a chance to take a deep breath and think about all the interesting little treasures that round out the Android experience.

From apps to accessories and everything in between, Android is full of easily overlooked items -- seemingly small things that make our lives easier or make the mobile landscape a more pleasant place to live.

Now that we have a brief breather between the rapid-fire product launches, I thought I'd take a moment to step back and shine the light on a few of my favorite things, as I occasionally like to do.

So without further ado, here are three things I'm particularly fond of at the moment:

1. TapPath

Sometimes it's the simplest ideas that make the biggest impact. TapPath is a perfect example: The app, created by the same developer behind Link Bubble and Action Launcher, does one very focused but useful thing: It lets you expand and control what happens when you tap a link on your phone or tablet.

Normally, when you tap a link in a third-party app, the link opens in your default browser. With TapPath, you can specify different destinations that you can then trigger by single-tapping, double-tapping, or even triple-tapping any link from anywhere in the system.

Why bother, you might be wondering? Easy: It can save you time by giving you a powerful set of custom universal shortcuts. You might set a single-tap to open a link in your browser, for instance, a double-link to save it directly to Pocket, and a triple-link to open it with the system share picker so you can send it directly to any other destination. There are all sorts of possibilities.

TapPath isn't the kind of thing I'd recommend for a novice user, but for those of us who like to take full control of our phones, it's an incredibly handy tool to have.

The app costs 99 cents.

2. Commandr

I've mentioned Commandr before, but it's cool enough to deserve a formal spot in this month's roundup. The app, which is free with an optional donation, makes your Android device's Voice Search function more powerful than ever.

All you do is set Commandr up on your phone or tablet, and it gives you a whole range of new voice command options -- you know, the things you can say after "Okay, Google" or after tapping the microphone icon that's part of Google Now. The commands work as if they were part of Android's native Voice Search system, too, so once the app is installed, you'll never actively think about it again.

Since I last discussed it, Commandr has grown to provide an even wider range of interesting possibilities. It could already do things like toggle your device's Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or flashlight and control music playback by voice. Now it also gives you native-like voice commands for having your new Gmail messages read aloud, adjusting your device's volume, and controlling your camera.

Commandr can integrate with Tasker for even more advanced functionality, if you want. Its developer also adds new commands quite frequently, so the list of options is always expanding.

All in all, it's one of the most useful apps I've seen in some time and a prime example of how Android's flexibility can work for you.

3. SmugZei

You remember Muzei, right? It's the simple (and free) app by Android Developer Advocate Roman Nurik that changes your wallpaper to a new image every day.

I recently stumbled onto a great (and also free) extension for Muzei called SmugZei. It connects to an online photography gallery called SmugMug to pull in gorgeous photographs for your phone's background.

Muzei, SmugZei, SmugMug -- sounds like an awful lot of gibberish, I know. But forget about the silliness of the names and stick with me for a minute.

The reason this extension caught my eye is that some well-known photographers upload their images to SmugMug for anyone to enjoy. One of them is the talented Trey Ratcliff, whose images I've enjoyed via Google+ for quite a while.

With Muzei and SmugZei, I see a different one of Trey's gorgeous photos as my phone's wallpaper every day. I don't have to do anything; the app just automatically changes out the wallpaper to a new photo every several hours. It's a delightful surprise every time -- and it's really refreshing to have my home screen take on a different and equally beautiful look so often.

And that, my friends, is why SmugZei is one of my favorite things in the land of Android right now. Stay tuned for more.

Tags tips and tricksconsumer electronicsAndroidsmartphonesPathandroid apps

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