Android — The Cool Bits

Gabriel Peal
4 min readMar 9

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This is part 7 of my detailed breakdown of Android and iOS in 2023. To return to the beginning, click here.

Simply comparing what exists in iOS to Android will inevitably leave out a few things. There are some things on Android that don’t have a direct parallel on iOS.

App Dialer

App Dialer

One of the most niche apps I use on Android is App Dialer. I still have T9 muscle memory burned into my brain from my first few flip phones. App Dialer is an app that displays a 12-digit dial pad and a row of apps or contacts. It shows recent apps/contacts by default but lets you access any app or contact via its equivalent T9 taps. Within 1–3 taps, I can open any app, call, or text anybody on my phone. It’s kind of crazy, I admit, but once you get used to it, it’s hard to go back.

The video above shows its usage as an app. The same UI can be embedded directly into your home screen as a widget.

I turned off contact access in the gif for privacy reasons but this is the primary way I initiate new phone calls or texts. Two or three taps can get me directly to any contact or app.

Night Owl

Android gives developers more flexibility to make novel apps. For example, I sometimes read in bed next to my partner in a pitch-black room. On Android, there are apps like Night Owl that creatively work around hardware limitations by adding a translucent scrim over the screen to darken it further than it normally can. This may sound silly but it absolutely works when you are in a very dark room.

Chat bubbles

Bubbles

Android 11 introduced Chat Bubbles. Bubbles are “bubbles” that float over any other application and serve as a persistent portal to an ongoing conversation. I don’t personally use these but they’re pretty neat.

Samsung Good Lock

Good Lock is effectively Samsung Labs. It’s a testbed of apps and settings that serve as tests for upcoming mainstream features or simply as ways to customized your phone beyond what they want to give to everybody by default. The culture and language barrier (Korean) leads to some goofy names like LockStar to customize your lock screen but it unlocks some great options (see below)

Notification gesture

I use a setting in Samsung’s One UI version of Android to make a downward drag from the edge of the screen open the notification shade. Because notifications on Android are so much more useful than on iOS, I find myself using this all the time.

Note: this is part of Good Lock One Handed Operation+.

Efficient recents menu

Recents menu

By default, Android’s recents menu is very similar to iOS. It shows a horizontal list of cards that show a screenshot of the last thing you saw in that app. However, Samsung lets you use the above option instead. It isn’t as pretty but I find it way faster to use, especially when going back 3 or more apps.

This UI has also changed my usage patterns. On iOS, I’ll only use recents if I am going back 1–3 apps. On Android, I find myself using it pretty much any time I’ve used an app on that day.

Note: this is part of Good Lock HomeUp.

Call screening

Just like iOS, Android will warn (or block) calls if it thinks it is spam. However, you have an option to “screen” it. When you screen a call, Google Assistant will answer the call and show you a live transcript of the call. You can prompt Assistant with a few quick reply options, type a reply for it to say, or pick up the phone at any point.

Samsung has a similar feature.

Google Assistant will wait on hold for you (Pixel only)

  1. Google Assistant will wait on hold for you and notify you when you’re needed again.
  2. Google Assistant will predict how long hold times will be and show you alternative times when it might be lower.
  3. Google Assist can transcribe phone tree menus and give you a visual readout of your options.

24/7 “Shazam” (Pixel only)

Pixel phones have a feature called “Now Playing” which is basically 24/7 Shazam. It recognized any ambient songs that are playing and shows it to you on the lock screen or always-on-display. Can’t remember what that song was that you heard at the mall yesterday? You can go back through its history to see exactly what song it picked up when you were there.

If this piece resonated with you or you have any thoughts or questions, you can find me on Twitter @gpeal8.

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Gabriel Peal

Open source maintainer of Lottie and Mavericks. Full stack at Watershed. Formerly Android at Tonal, Airbnb, and Android Auto at Google.