Monday, August 15, 2011

Products that are Awesome: NoLED for Android

I've had an Android phone for the past 9 months or so and I've really grown to love it. There are times, though, that I miss certain features that my old BlackBerry did so well. Take BBM, for instance. It's still the best instant messenger out there, despite competition from iMessage and Google Talk, not to mention cross-platform offerings like WhatsApp (which is awesome!) and Kik.

Another feature that some Android phones lack is a notification LED. The little LED on the BlackBerry was a great, quick visual indicator of unread messages or emails. You could customize its behaviour with an app - blinking blue for Robyn, solid green for Matt, etc. I really missed that feature when I bought my Android phone, the Samsung Galaxy S Vibrant. Instead of looking to an LED for notfications, I have to press a button and wake up the display.

I recently found a very niche app called NoLED that fixes this problem with a clever solution. As it turns out, the display on the Galaxy S Vibrant is of the Super AMOLED type, which is an advanced enough display that no electricity/battery is consumed to display the colour black, since the technology doesn't use a backlight.

When you receive a notification with NoLED and your display is off and/or locked, a tiny pixel of colour will appear in lieu of an LED lighting up. The colour corresponds to an app, and is user-customizable. So maybe red means Gmail, orange means SMS, and blue means missed call/voicemail.

If you don't understand this idea yet, watch the first 15 seconds of this video.

To avoid "burning in" an image into the display, the pixels dance around the display, changing position every second or two. I find this feature useful for another reason - it's easy to spot the movement out of the corner of your eye.

The pixel size is customizable, and you can even choose to use app icons for notifications. For a WhatsApp message you see the little green icon dancing around, and for Gmail you see the classic envelope icon. NoLED makes this feature even better by allowing you to use contact/profile pictures for SMS and Voice call notifications! So if I get an SMS from Robyn, her contact picture jumps around the display.

The menus are packed with features and settings which can be overwhelming. The advantage is that you can get your phone displaying notifications exactly how you want them to behave - everyone has different preferences.

I have been using this app for a few months and have not noticed any excess battery drain due to NoLED running. The app can use the phone's proximity sensor to know when it's in your pocket or face-down, and will turn off the display completely to save that tiny extra bit of juice.

One last thing - if I haven't sold you yet, it's a FREE app. It's under active development and it's updated regularly - not too much, not too little. The developer is also receptive to feedback - I emailed in a feature request and received a reply the same day (my idea couldn't work!). If you love the app, you can donate with in-app purchasing. I sent $5 to the developer - it's one of the most clever Android apps in the market and one of my favourites, and I felt it was well worth it.

Download here.