Minimal but functional Android apps
Posted on Feb. 14, 2021

I try to follow a minimalist philosophy in life and I also try to take this approach in my "digital environment". I'm a happy Linux user since 2014 (I use Arch Linux with lightweight, minimalistic, but also functional and customizable window managers; currently I'm using i3wm).

Although I'm not experienced in the Android environment (so I don't play with custom ROMs, I don't create apps, etc.) I try to follow the minimalist philosophy with my Android devices, too.

Following this philosophy doesn't mean I get rid of everything and use these devices for very basic purposes. It means, that I try to use apps, which are relatively lightweight, fast, but also functional and easy to use. They serve a purpose and they do it well without getting bloated. I try apps, I test them if they suit my needs, and if they don't then I hit the uninstall button. This way I keep my phone "clean" from unused apps.

I don't have multiple apps for the same purpose. So I don't have multiple note apps, multiple browsers, etc. If an app doesn't satisfy my needs then I look for another one that does.

I don't like fancy animations, oversaturated colors, and a million icons everywhere. These "features" are just not for me. I like fast, functional devices where I have to hit a "button" once instead of 2 or 3 times to achieve the same thing.

I like free and open source apps but I'm not a hardcore privacy warrior, I use closed source apps and Google related apps, too. But I use these with responsibility so I don't manage very private/sensitive data with them.

Although I haven't accomplished my goals a hundred percent I have found some very good apps that I'd like to recommend.

(Disclaimer: The apps are in constant development and their features may be changed in the future.)

Home Sweet Home

Olauncher is a very nice minimal launcher for Android. It doesn't use icons (only text) and you can have a maximum of 8 app shortcuts on your home screen. You can align this list left, right, or center. You have the time and the date on the top and that's it. It does support wallpapers but it looks cool with a full black background. When you search for an app (sliding from bottom to top) it launches the found app automatically if that's the only search result. Also, you can launch an app with slide gestures (left and right) on the home screen.

I used Olauncher for a couple of days, I liked it, but then I found KISS Launcher. I tried it and I switched to it. Not as minimal as Olauncher (although you can customize it to "iconless") but it has a lower app size and - what's more important - it's blazingly fast (as advertised on its website) and easy to use thanks to its search bar (with tags). It also has a history mode (list of recent apps) and a favorites bar (for quick access). You can search in the app list, in contacts, on the web, through other apps (google, youtube, etc.) and you can also add custom web search providers in the settings. KISS Launcher keeps things simple but also functional and effective.

KISS Launcher and Multiling O Keyboard

You are my type

Because I take notes frequently I needed a good keyboard app. I needed it to be small, fast, and customizable. I found Multiling O Keyboard. It's awesome. Maybe it looks a bit messy or ugly by default, but you can customize almost everything on this keyboard: the layout (DIY layouts, too), the colors, the keys, the sizes, the suggestion bar, the emojis, the dictionaries, almost everything. You can make your own keyboard with this fast, lightweight app. If you are a power user I recommend trying it out.

Keep the notes

As I said, I'm a note-taker, so I tried a lot of apps in this category. Essentially I liked Google Keep, but sometimes it was too simple and rather slow for being a very simple note app. I looked for something similar but a bit smarter, faster and lighter. And it was important to let me save a note quickly by pressing my phone's Back button. Omni-Notes was close to what I looked for, but I couldn't rearrange/reorder my notes. So I looked further and found Tasks. While it's a checkbox based task management app, I use it for simple note-taking, too. I can rearrange my tasks (notes) if I want but it has a "Smart sort" option that arranges the tasks by priority and alphabetical order. You can choose from 4 types of priorities represented by 4 colors: gray, blue, yellow, and red. My default is gray and I use it for notes. I use blue for TODO lists or just reminders, I use yellow for important tasks and red for very important or urgent tasks. I hide all the stuff which I don't need from the 'New task' screen and that's it.

Tasks: adding a new task and an example list of tasks

Leaders are readers

I tried a lot of e-reader apps but I always had some problem with them: ReadEra once stopped opening books, Librera has a quite slow interface and misses some functions I need. Other apps have relatively larger file sizes and/or slower interfaces. Or have smaller file sizes and more responsive interfaces but miss quite a lot of functions and/or don't support multiple file types. So I tried some e-reader apps but I stuck to Moon+ Reader. It's not too large, it's fast, it supports all the common file types, it has a clean interface and it's convenient to highlight text to save notes or just use the dictionary quickly (the colors and buttons are customizable). Maybe there are better alternatives for e-ink e-readers running Android but for phones and tablets, it's a very good app (if not the best) I think.

Moon+ Reader's interface: highlighting, popup window and customization

Radio Gaga

I'm a podcast listener and a long time ago I started out with Podcast Addict. It was okay but I didn't like its interface that much so later I switched to Pocket Casts. A big flaw of Pocket Casts for me was that it has no automatic sleep timer function. I listen to podcasts before sleep so the sleep timer is essential for me. Nevertheless, I switched it on manually every time. One day I've found AntennaPod which has an automatic sleep timer, and not only that but a 'shake to reset timer' function, too. It's lighter than Pocket Casts (about half the app size), and it's open source, which is great. It has all the necessary functions of course (subscription, queue, new episode feed, playback history, downloading or streaming, etc.), and you can play/pause by touching the cover/artwork of the podcasts during playing, which is very convenient because you don't need to use the "small" play/pause button, you can just touch somewhere the central part of the screen and it's done.

Surfin Bird

Via browser was my choice for years, it's clean, fast and the app size is under 0,5 MB! But recently I started using SmartCookieWeb which is a little more convenient for me. Although it has some bugs here and there, it's worth a try.

The Tube

Fortunately, there is an alternative app for Youtube which is "lighter", it's open source and you can subscribe to channels without registration: NewPipe.

That's a wrap

These are my basic, daily apps for now. This post is already longer than I planned so I wrap it up here. If you've found it interesting or useful, please share it and follow me on Twitter.