By JR Raphael
When wondering about widgets, one would be wise to weigh which widget is a widget worth welcoming.
Apologies for my atrociously annoying alliteration. (Ah, blast. There I go again.) The thing about a widget, though, is — well, it sounds silly. And it’s easy to write off as being irrelevant to your life as an Extremely Serious Smartphone User.
But playful as they may seem — and frivolous as they often appear — Android widgets can actually be a real asset when it comes to mobile productivity. In fact, once you wade through the Play Store’s endless-seeming array of weather widgets, clock widgets, and, uh, more weather widgets, a sea of genuinely useful options awaits.
These standout Android widgets add value to your smartphone setup by putting timely information and complex functions right on your home screen, where they’re always in sight and easy to reach. In doing so, they save you precious steps and help you get more accomplished in less time.
So without any further ado, here they are: the Android widgets you want.
(Note that I’m not including any email or messaging apps in this list, as most of the respectable clients in those categories have similarly fine widgets — and there’s really not much to distinguish one from another. Also, all apps listed below are free unless otherwise noted. Capisce?)
Google Keep is the best Android note-taking app for most people, and its widget doesn’t disappoint. Keep’s main widget gives you an easy way to scroll through your notes — with the option to view all notes, only those that are pinned, or only those that are associated with a particular label. You can see the first several lines of each note right on your home screen, and it takes just a single tap to open any item in full.
Google Keep’s Android widget puts your personal notepad on your phone’s home screen.
Equally advantageous is the toolbar atop the Keep widget, which gives you one-tap commands for starting a new note, starting a new checklist, taking a note by voice, jotting down something in handwriting, and capturing a photo directly into your notes. And if all you want are those commands, you can opt to use Keep’s smaller toolbar widget — which gives you the fast-access shortcuts without any notes attached.
If you need a more fully-featured note-taking setup and don’t mind paying the price — $8 per month for a restriction-free premium subscription — Evernote will bring a healthy pinch of productivity to your Android phone’s home screen.
The app’s widget allows you to view a scrollable list of notes with numerous options — what type of notes are included, to what notebook newly created notes are saved, and whether you want to see images, tags, and text in the widget or only note titles.
Evernote’s widget is packed with helpful info and options.
Evernote gives you a handy toolbar at the top of its widget, too — and you can even customize what commands are included and in what order they appear. By default, the widget includes commands for taking a new basic note, capturing an image to be saved in your notes, taking a note by voice, and jotting down something in handwriting. You can swap any of those items out for shortcuts that’ll set a reminder, take a more complex note (with a full series of editing tools), search your notes, or attach a recently downloaded file into a note.
You can also choose between a standard Evernote-green theme or a more subdued black-and-gray alternative.
Whether you use a comprehensive note-taking app or not, sometimes you encounter a nugget of info you need to remember and want placarded prominently, right in front of your face. ColorNote is an app worth keeping around for that situation — mostly because of its widget.
You can think of ColorNote as a virtual Post-It notepad for your phone: When something noteworthy enters your noggin, all you have to do is add a new ColorNote widget to your home screen, type in whatever you want to remember, and that’s it: The info will then show up on your home screen as if you’d stuck a tiny sticky note right on top of your phone.
Press all sorts of Post-It notes to your screen with ColorNote’s Android widget.
The app has its own system for backing up to the cloud, if you want to keep your notes synced across multiple devices. You can also change any individual note’s color by opening it within the main app. But it’s the simplicity of being able to put virtual Post-Its on your home screen that makes ColorNote a widget worth having.
If you prefer the idea of a single scratchpad instead of a series of individual Post-Its, Ruff is the tool for you. The amusingly canine-themed app is designed to bring a single, delightfully simple scrolling sheet of text to your phone. Anything you type into that sheet is automatically saved locally on your device and can easily be archived for later reference or sent anywhere else for sharing or external storing.
Ruff’s widget puts a personal scratchpad on your home screen.
What’s particularly noteworthy about Ruff’s widget is its ability to scroll — thus letting you look through a longer note without ever having to leave your home screen. That’s a relatively rare function for a note widget to offer and one that could be valuable in plenty of situations.
Ruff is free to use, though certain features — including the scrolling widget capability — require a one-time $4 in-app purchase to access.
When it comes to managing to-do lists, Any.do is a cut above the rest — and its selection of Android widgets is no less impressive. The main Any.do widget shows a scrollable list of all your tasks; you can tap any item right then and there to check it off from the list or add a new item by using the built-in commands for text or voice input.
Any.do’s main Android widget provides an easy-to-use and interactive view of your pending tasks.
The app includes a variety of other widget options, including a more compact task list, a super-minimalist widget just for adding new tasks, and an expanded widget that shows a calendar alongside your tasks. And you can choose between transparent and white themes for any of those configurations.
Any.do is free with an optional $36-a-year subscription (if you upgrade through the app) for advanced features such as location-based reminders and unlimited attachments.
Like having a month-long overview at your disposal for on-the-spot planning? The plainly named Month: Calendar Widget gives you a clean and easy way to glance at the current month on your home screen — and then get additional info from your agenda as you need it.
Unlike the cluttered and often-difficult-to-decipher Google Calendar month-view widget, Month: Calendar Widget provides a clear view of the current month (or any other month, past or present). It then uses a system of small dots to indicate the presence of events on different days, and you can tap on any day to pull up a pop-up window with its agenda.
Month: Calendar Widget combines an attractive month view with an on-demand daily agenda pop-up.
Month: Calendar Widget includes nine different designs, with a variety of tasteful styles — and if you want even more, you can pay $3.50 to unlock a series of additional options. Even if you don’t opt to do that, you’ll want to spring for the $1 in-app upgrade in order to turn off some rather prominent ads scattered throughout the application.
If a more event-driven view is what you’re after, give yourself an upgrade from the limiting Google Calendar agenda widget and get either Event Flow Calendar Widget (free with an optional $1 upgrade for advanced options) or Home Agenda Calendar Widget ($2).
Both are customizable and commendable for their designs. The only real question is which style you prefer: Event Flow gives you a boxier vibe, with each day existing as a card, while Home Agenda Calendar Widget offers up a simpler format in which every individual event can appear as its own distinctive section.
Event Flow, left, and Home Agenda, right, have different designs but similar functions.
Both apps provide plenty of tools for placing your agenda onto your home screen in a clear, easy-to-read way that emphasizes the info most important to your purposes. You can have either widget show as many events as you want, months into the future, with a format that’s as compact or spread out as you like. And you can choose from a variety of color themes and display settings to make the info as easy on your eyes as possible.
Either widget will give your home screen an added touch of elegance and utility — and represent a significant step up from what came loaded on your phone by default.
For a truly original and effective single-day overview widget, check out Sectograph — an app that shows the next 12 hours of your day in a clever pie chart format. It’s almost like having a smartwatch on your home screen, with your schedule mapped out by the hour.
And the widget is interactive, too: If you tap on any event within it, the entire circle fills up with detailed info about that appointment and how long you have left until it begins.
Sectograph divides your day up into slices and gives you a great visual overview of your plans.
Sectograph has options for customizing almost every aspect of its appearance — and if you pay $4 to upgrade to the app’s Pro version, you can change its color palette as well as bump up to a 24-hour clock and even create separate, individual widgets for different calendars on your device.
Got an important deadline on the horizon — or maybe an upcoming company trip? The delightfully simple Hurry Countdown app does one thing and does it well: It lets you create eye-catching countdown widgets for specific events and then keep an eye on exactly how long is left before the moment arrives.
All you do is input your event’s title, date, and time into the app, then select an image for the background, if you’re so inspired — and when you go to add the app’s widget onto your home screen, your info will be there and waiting to be selected.
Count down the time to important events with the Hurry Countdown widget.
Hurry Countdown is free for its basic functions. You can unlock advanced functions, including the ability to back up and sync your events with your Google account, with a one-time $1.50 in-app purchase.
TripIt is the Swiss Army Knife of Android travel apps, and its widget is worth every inch of space on your phone’s home screen whenever you have a trip on the horizon.
TripIt serves as a central organizer for all of your travel-related plans (after you either forward your itineraries to a specific email address or authorize the app to access your email directly to find such messages). Its $49-a-year TripIt Pro service then gives you real-time flight updates all throughout your trip — often even beating notifications by airlines’ own apps.
The widget puts all of TripIt’s knowledge into an easily glanceable space on your home screen, allowing you to see and scroll through your plans anytime without having to dig around. And, of course, you can always tap on any element within your plans to jump immediately to a more detailed view.
TripIt’s interactive itinerary widget is invaluable anytime you’re traveling.
Keep the latest headlines at your fingertips with Google’s smartly designed News app and its simple but effective widget. The widget shows your personalized briefing, with five current stories relevant to your interests and/or location and a quick overview of the weather wherever you are.
The Google News widget puts a mix of current events and items of interest on your home screen.
You can tap on any news item to view it in full or tap the “Full coverage” button to see related stories from other sources. It’s an easy way to stay in the loop on the most pressing headlines throughout the day.
If you have a specific set of sources you need to keep track of for your job — company blogs, industry news sites, or other publications relevant to your interests — Inoreader is a fantastic way to make sure nothing slips past your attention.
All you do is add whatever sources you want into the app and then place the widget on your home screen, and all the latest articles from those outlets will always be there and waiting for you in a regularly refreshed, scrollable box.
Track your own custom set of sources with minimal effort with Inoreader on your home screen.
You can even access your list from a computer, using the Inoreader web app, and the service will keep track of which articles you’ve read in either place so you’ll always know where you left off. Inoreader is free to use with an optional $50-a-year professional plan that lifts a 150-source limit on your subscriptions and adds advanced features such as offline reading and an in-app translation option.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.