Widgets: Power and Efficiency (in usage)

Back in the Windows Mobile days (that's right; WM, not Windows Phone), I was a HUGE proponent of the Today Screen. I loved having lots and lots of plugins; calendar, weather, next alarm, etc. So, it comes as no surprise that I moved over to Android and use various widgets constantly.

Many opponents of widgets say that launching an app is better because it’s "just as fast" and "apps are significantly more useful". I wholly disagree. What follows is a list of my most used and favorite widgets, and why they’re better than launching apps.

Clock and Date:

The usefulness, power, and customizability of Android widgets can be shown using a simple example like a clock widget. There are literally an unlimited number of ways that you can display a clock widget thanks to well-regarded apps like Beautiful Widgets and HD Widgets; but apps like UCCW and Zooper (my personal favorite) allow even more granular control over the experience. My Zooper widget shows the time in large font, and then shows the date, a day bar, battery level, and today’s weather. Simple, fairly minimal, but highly informative.

Why it’s better than an app: It shows all of the important current information in one easy to see place on the screen I spend the most time on. Since my most used apps are also on this screen

Google Keep:

Indispensable. Being able to see a list of my Keep notes is great (Keep itself is one of my favorite apps; if you don’t use it, you should look into it). A quick look at the list and it keeps me up to date on my notes and reminders.

Why it’s better than an app: The Keep app is good, but just as my photo widget example, having a widget lets me see my notes when I’m not intentionally trying to look at them. It helps remind me of things in a passive manner. Another big selling point of widgets; it helps me keep my two lists (two different Gmail accounts) separate but easily accessible. My personal list and my work list are on separate screens.

Photo Widgets:

Personal photos are a nice touch to have on your homescreen. Sure, I can set a photo (or photos if I use a LWP) as my wallpaper, but icons and widgets get in the way. A personalized photo widget with my own, special photos is another way to show that the device is mine and to bring up good memories as I swipe through.

Why it’s better than an app: There’s a reason why we hang photos on our walls, put picture frames on our desks, and set personal photos as our wallpapers. Because we want to see our loved ones and precious memories throughout the day without having to actually go and look for them. Having a photo widget or two is better than opening up your gallery because you have to go do something instead of seeing your favorite photos as you scroll through. In addition, you can set your favorite photos on the homescreen so you don’t have to search for those, either.

Public Transit:

I live and work in Chicago, so I’m always taking the El Train to/from work. Which means two different stations in different directions and different lines (Express train at night). Having the widget makes it really fast and easy to load the right train since I have a "To Work" widget and a "To Home" widget.

Why it’s better than an app: I would have to open the app, expand the Work category, then select the station I saved to load the right train schedule. The widget allows me to swipe over one screen, hit the widget to refresh, and the timetable is there. It’s probably 10x faster to use the widget than it is to use the app, and I don’t even have to look very hard for anything; I know where the widget is and can almost do it from muscle memory.

Calendar Widget:

I use Pure Calendar (agenda) and Pure Grid Calendar (month) widgets for my calendar, but I predominantly use the agenda one because it combines all of my calendars and my repeating tasks list (GTasks) to show what I have upcoming today, this week, and further on down the road. It’s useful for planning and reminding me about important events, or that I have to pay a bill.

Why it’s better than an app: Consolidation of calendar and tasks. Also, having both widget types allows me to see a monthly calendar or my agenda with a simple swipe. The monthly calendar also shows the first couple of words of an appointment/event as well so that helps me to visualize my calendar.

And that’s not everything; I also use PopUp Widget to show a calculator widget, Starbucks, Belly, and Battery Stats hidden as an icon on my main page to help reduce clutter and needing to swipe around.

So widgets – hardly a useless feature on Android, and really, one of the main benefits of using the platform.