Whenever I found an old description, photo, or screenshot of a phone or computer I used, I appreciated reminiscing and noticing what had changed. With this in mind, I created an intentional snapshot in time for my phone to read in a few years.
What phone I have is less important than how I use it. Nevertheless, some might be interested in hardware. I started using Android smartphones around 2010 and had several mid-range devices ($400-500). I don’t play favorites between manufacturers, but I prefer vanilla Android over heavy mods and smaller over bigger phones.
I used each device for as long as possible. Still, the lack of long-term support by manufacturers, no upgradability, or poor optimization by app developers makes it impossible to use a mobile device safely or comfortably for an extended period.
I got a work phone over three years ago after managing six without it. At the moment, I’m using a company’s Pixel 7.
I don’t have any particularly hard or fast rules on how I use my phone because I change and adapt them when a situation necessitates, for example, when I travel. However, I have a few guidelines.
Since the late 90s, I have used Casio Data Banks, Palm Pilots, and Windows Mobile devices for personal information management: contacts, notes, reminders, and calendars. My first devices were offline only, and when WiFi, voice, and mobile data became available, I still wanted full and fast access to my information. Even today, when an online connection is ubiquitous in most parts of the world, there are situations or locations where a connection is spotty or temporarily unavailable, like basements, out in nature, border crossings, and airplanes, or during severe storms that damage telecommunications infrastructure.
2. Silent by default
All ringtones and notifications are silent except when I’m expecting something important.
3. One page only
I force myself to use only one page on my home screen with apps and widgets to keep myself focused and not distracted. The real estate is limited, so I only surface apps that I use often. I have one page for my main private account and one for my work account.
Apps: notes and documents
As capturing and reviewing notes is one of the most frequent use-case, two apps live in the bottom right corner.
I keep all my permanent personal notes, writing, and thinking in Markdown files. Markor is a solid Android Markdown editor that works with documents stored on a regular Android filesystem.
Google Keep is my temporary notes space. It’s easy to share from any place and format into Keep for later processing and long-term storage. The app works offline, has fast search, and lightweight tagging, which I use for pre-processing. Keep also has a web app I can access from any device or browser. It’s safe to say that most of my notes and public writing go through Google Keep.
Google Drive is my cloud backup. It keeps documents I work on and files I share with my family, so I must have access to them from my phone. The Android app is excellent for scanning paper documents too.
When I was figuring out how to sync my Markdown files from my computer to my phone, I realized that the Google Drive app doesn’t expose files on the Android filesystem as I expected and also that I couldn’t edit text files inside the Google Drive Android app. Then I learned about Syncthing, a fantastic collection of cross-platform apps that enable peer-to-peer syncing.
Apps: communication and Internet
Gmail and WhatsApp are my two main communication channels. Email and long-form writing are still here and valuable. Almost everyone around me uses WhatsApp, so I use it too.
I have accounts on social media, but I don’t use any social apps on my phone. Instead, I use their mobile web interfaces. That serves one primary purpose—I want to reduce the usage as much as possible, both by not being reminded through app icons and by adding hurdles when opening them.
Chrome is the only web browser on my phone. I live in Chrome at work through a corporate Chromebook, so I’m very familiar with it. I also use all major OS platforms for work and outside of it, so a browser with easy cross-platform syncing and good integration with Google services is a natural selection for me.
I don’t use the voice assistant embedded in the Search widget (which I use a lot), but Google Lens gets its fair share of use, 99% for text recognition and capture, like taking notes from paper books and other printed documents.
Pocket Casts is a brilliant podcast app. I use it almost daily, especially when commuting or doing home chores. My app settings are to automatically store all episodes locally on my phone when they become available.
I have been listening to audiobooks for fifteen years. Audible is a close second in terms of usage for commuting.
I save web articles to Pocket as a bookmark for reading them later, and because reading on the Web became hell.
Apps: the world around me
Google Maps and Clock should be obvious. My wife and I share our location with each other, and timers and alarms are surprisingly helpful with kids, so both apps get daily usage.
SBB is an app by the Swiss Federal Railways that covers all public transport in Switzerland. The app supports planning and booking trips and sends notifications when something breaks down (which is rare).
Like the above, MeteoSwiss is an app by the Swiss Federal Office for Meteorology and Climatology. The design is a bit dated, but functionality is unmatched in reliability and accuracy. Minute-by-minute weather forecasts are crucial when commuting by bike.
Google Translate. My mother tongue is Croatian. I live in a country with four official languages, with (Swiss) German being the most used in my area, and I work in a company where English is the official language. I need a translation app with offline dictionaries ALL THE TIME.
Anki. The best reminder to practice my German vocabulary daily is to put an app in front of my face every time I unlock my phone.
Camera and Google Photos. I’m noticing with astonishment and sadness how I use my DSLR less frequently because smartphone cameras are improving year over year. I take many photos for fun and memories, and computational photography and lightweight photo editing on the phone have almost completely taken over my photography world.
The listed apps are not the only ones on my phone, but I spend 99% of my phone time on them. There are several pre-installed apps like Contacts and Calculator that I occasionally use, and several authenticator, banking, and medical apps that are a necessity and used infrequently.
I use the YouTube app often, but I don’t want it to be front and center because it’ll distract me and I’ll go down a (fun) YouTube spiral.
The work profile
As I said before, I have been using my company’s phone for several years. Android for Work profile keeps private and work data and apps completely separate. I turn on the work profile when I start my work day and turn it off at the end.
I have a separate home screen dominated by the calendar widget. All my work apps are a combination of the Google Workspace suite and internal apps.
And that’s it. I’m curious how it will change in a few years.
In the post I linked about the bottom right corner, I used two home screens, and three out of four apps or widgets from my home row don’t exist anymore.
At the same time, I wrote then:
I wanted to cut down time I spend on social networks because a phone makes spending too much time on them effortless—the apps are always in my pocket, just one tap away, and always signed in.
I’m still following the guidelines I set up seven years ago.