There are tons of great smartphone apps out there, but one of the best parts of owning an Android phone is having widgets in addition to any apps you like. You may have noticed your phone came pre-installed with some of these; they’re sort of like mini apps, but you can run them straight from your home screen. You can use and get more of them, many of them for free, on the Google Play store right now.
That’s right, widgets aren’t shortcuts to apps on your phone (though some of them might link you to other apps as part of their features). They’re their own handy pieces of software, with their own functionalities and uses. They can allow you to see the weather forecast right when you unlock your phone, or see how much data you’re using.
Widgets really enhance the Android smartphone experience, and so many great ones can be downloaded right now, at absolutely no cost. A little overwhelmed by your options at the Google Play store though? Here are five of my favorite free widgets that you can download right now, and make your phone amazing.
1. All Messages
If you’re a very social person, the All Messages widget is perfect for you. All Messages displays your newest messages from your text messages, Facebook messenger, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Skype, and your call log, right on your home screen, so you’ll never miss a message no matter what communication app you and your friends and family are using.
You can customize how All Messages displays on your home screen, as well as how different kinds of messages look when they pop up, in bubble shape and background color. You can also decide which messenger apps you want the widget to display, and how they work with individual settings, as well as where the newest messages appear, on the top or bottom of the list.
There are some downsides to All Messages; the widget can only access the most recent notifications on everything except your texts and call log, so you can’t see every message you’ve received on it, and most of the social apps only display for a 10-day trial. After that, you have to upgrade to a premium version. However, if you want to see all of your messages quickly, without accessing different social apps, it could be worth the investment for the premium. With the free version of the widget, you still get all of your texts and calls shown to you right away, without going into individual conversations or calls, or checking things as read. For the very social out there, this widget is incredibly handy. Get it from the Google Play store here.
Can you open a web browser on your phone to Google something? Of course you can. But with the Google widget, not only can you search the web directly from your home screen, you can set up voice search, and have your phone scour the web for you by just saying “Ok Google.”
The voice search is particularly great via the Google widget. Just set things up in your settings for voice search to work, and ask Google anything at the exact moment you want to know it. Or, if you can’t ask aloud but still want an answer to a question, just type away, and have the same results. Sure, your web browser is cool too, and the widget isn’t very customizable; it stays the same size (4×1) no matter what you set it to, and you can’t really alter its appearance in any way. But with voice search, and saving yourself a few seconds by not using your web browser, the Google widget is very, very handy, and totally worth it. Get it from the Google Play store by clicking here.
3. My Data Manager
For those of us without unlimited data, keeping track of our data usage is a vital part of keeping phone bills low and manageable. Enter My Data Manager, a widget that lets you know how much data you’ve used in a billing period, as well as your mobile, Wi-Fi, roaming usage, calls and texts.
Seeing how much data you’re using right on your home screen might help you put the phone away once and a while, particularly if you’re on a budget. My Data Manager also lets you see how others on your shared family phone plan are using data, so if you’re sharing precious few gigabytes, you can let people know to cut down on some of their streaming away from Wi-Fi. You can even set alerts for yourself and others so you know when you’re getting close to your data limits.
My Data Manager requires some set up — you have to manually put in your billing dates, and your data cap in order to use the widget, plus your current usage number (found deep within your phone settings) to receive accurate tracking. But if you set it up on the start of a billing cycle, when your usage is still 0 (or close to it), this app can be a great way to keep your data usage in check, for your phone bill and your self-control’s sake. Get My Data Manager in the Google Play store here.
Seasons come and go, the weather shifts, and you need to know how warm or cold it is so you know what to wear today. Widgets can let you know the temperature outside of your home right now, and 1Weather is one of the most popular ones you can find on Google Play for your Android phone.
Just set your location, or let 1Weather keep track of your location for you, and get the current weather conditions and temperature reported to you right on your home screen. You can set how the widget looks on your phone, and how big it is — just know that at certain sizes, you may have to manually refresh the widget to see the current time and temperature. But once it’s updated, you’ll be able to see how sunny it is, and how likely it is to rain. If you click on the widget, you’ll also be able to see the weekly forecast, local radar, and UV index, plus a fun weather fact! Know the temperature immediately from your phone and plan your outfits accordingly by getting 1Weather from the Google Play store here.
5. Custom Switches
Are there certain settings on your phone you find yourself adjusting a lot, like your alarm times, or your volume? Maybe you just want quick access to your camera, or putting your phone in airplane mode. Custom Switches is a widget that allows all of your most used settings to be right on your home screen, and lets you adjust or access them right then and there.
No need to go digging through your settings to find certain functions anymore. With Custom Switches, you can have a button for your phone’s orientation lock, letting it be on or off with a single tap. You can quickly turn your Bluetooth on or off too, or quickly access your battery settings. It all depends on what settings you want quickly available to you. You can set up your favorites in Custom Switches, and let them live on your home screen within the widget.
Now, Custom Switches doesn’t completely take away going into your settings to make these adjustments. It just allows you to access your settings, or apps, faster by giving you an automatic shortcut on your home screen. So forget memorizing the path to put your battery in low power mode, or changing your screen brightness. Just put them into Custom Switches, and be brought to the right place with one tap. You won’t save all of your time, but you’ll save a lot more. Enjoy a little more ease of use with your phone by getting the Custom Switches widget in the Google Play store here.
Widgets make using Android devices just that much better. Starting with the five we suggest here, download widgets from the Google Play store now, all at no cost to you. And keep looking around on Google Play — you might just find some favorite freebies of your own!