Jan 07, 2024

How I Use Android: Droid Life founder Kellen Barranger

By JR Raphael, Contributing Editor, Computerworld |

Not your average Android news — a diverse mix of advice, insight, and analysis with veteran Android journalist JR Raphael.

Gather 'round, kiddos, 'cause it's time to travel back to the Good Ol' Days of Android.

Way back when in 2009, you see, Android was a mere babe -- an infant just barely learning to crawl. It's hard to even imagine now, but at that point, most publications weren't writing about Android in any detailed sense. It wasn't its own "beat" or cause for a column; it was simply another bullet point in the broader mobile spectrum that warranted an occasional news article here and there.

That fall, everything changed. Motorola's original Droid came crashing into the world, and suddenly Android was more than just a geek-targeted curiosity. Sales numbers for Android devices started skyrocketing, and -- much as some folks refused to acknowledge the burgeoning trends at the time -- it was the beginning of something big.

Back in the days before everyone was covering Android and 20 million Android-focused blogs were online, Kellen Barranger had his eye on the prize. Then a healthcare company "procurement specialist" (yes, apparently that's a real thing), Kellen saw something special in Android's humble beginnings. When that first Droid phone launched, he was inspired to start a small enthusiast blog while working from home a couple days a week. He called it Droid Life.

An early version of

The site, much like Android itself, exploded -- and within a matter of months, Kellen (known simply as "Kellex" to many of his site's followers) ditched his day job and started treating the blog like a full-time business. He hasn't looked back since.

Those of us who have followed Android for long know Droid Life as one of the pioneering forces in the Android-covering community and one of the longest standing independent outlets focused on the platform today. Kellen and his crew have built the blog up from a tiny one-person effort into a full-fledged editorial operation -- one that continues to attract a loyal and sizeable audience and one whose voice has become increasingly authoritative and influential over the years.

As we wrap up a monumental month of Google news and gear up for yet another new Android release, it seems only appropriate to catch up with Kellen and learn a little bit about how he uses Android in his own day-to-day life. After all, whether Android is a personal passion or a business tool for you, there's always something interesting about seeing how someone else makes the most of the platform. And you never know what useful nugget of info you might take away and be able to apply to your own Android setup.

So let's get to it, shall we? In his own words, this is how Kellen Barranger uses Android.

Your current primary phone: Because I'm constantly testing something new, during those times where I'm not, I actually continue to switch between a small rotation of phones. I know that's a bit odd or neurotic, but I think I find some comfort in changing rather than fully settling in. Or maybe that's just how my brain functions after all these years of doing this. I think it also allows me to stay fully open and honest to whatever I'm testing because I don't have a true fallback.

Either way, my current rotation that's up-to-date when I'm not reviewing a phone includes the regular Pixel, OnePlus 3T, and Moto Z Play.

Not to get too into the why of each or we might be here all week, but the Pixel I love for the camera, size, and that super clean, as-new-as-you-can-get software experience. For the OnePlus 3T, it's much of the same (now that OnePlus has been decent about updates), plus I love that they expand Google's clean vision for Android by adding on useful tweaks and features. As for the Moto Z Play...that battery life.

What case is on your phone (if any): I haven't really used a case in years. I'm the type that enjoys phone design and thinks that's a big piece of a phone's story. If you cover up every phone, then aren't you just going from one display to another? What's new and fun about that? I'm clearly in the minority, though, as three quarters of our readers told us recently and loudly that they use a case.

Your current tablet (if any): Not that I was ever a big tablet user to begin with, but I almost never touch a tablet anymore. If I do, it's during travel and I then just load it up with movies or shows. The tablet I use for that is a Nexus 9 because it still gets updates, and spending money on another tablet doesn't exactly strike me as a good purchase.

Wait, is anyone even making tablets to upgrade to these days?

Your current smartwatch (if any): Please don't judge me, but the original Tag Heuer Connected is the smartwatch I use the most. We picked one up for review because we weren't sure if Tag Heuer would even do review units and we also thought it might be a fun test to take on a smartwatch this ridiculously expensive. As it turns out, it's still one of the best performing, best looking smartwatches I've ever used, and it received Wear 2.0 faster than almost everyone.

Is it worth that $1,500? Hah, probably not. But it's a really good smartwatch.

What face you're using on your watch right now: For a while, I was really into making my own with Facer's Creator tool because I like ultra-minimal faces in most situations and could never find many in my style. Why not do it myself?

Now, with Wear 2.0 on the Tag Connected, Tag introduced its own Studio tool that lets you customize some of its classic watch designs. So that's where I'm at with one of their classic Heuer Carrera chronograph faces. As a fan of mechanical watches and their history, this is a fun way to modernize it.

A quick walk-through of your phone's home screen setup: I'm a minimalist and a single-screen user for the most part. On every phone I use, I set up the first home screen with a row of apps in the dock, no matter which launcher I have, followed by two rows above it.

One of those rows tends to have folders that are separated into colorfully named categories of favorite apps. The other has individual apps that don't fit into a category or that I just like having quick access to.

It's boring, but this setup works well because it's efficient. I've had phones set up like this for a couple of years, so the muscle memory of knowing where each app lives is certainly there. I don't mess around with widgets because a quick launch of the apps I've set up gets me the info I need pretty quickly.

What launcher you're using: Since I'm rotating between three mostly stock Android phones, I'm just on the Pixel or Google Now Launchers. They are clean and simple, plus they have Google Now a swipe away. If I'm using a Samsung or LG phone, then it's Nova Launcher immediately. Those two companies just can't do a quality launcher, plus their icons are typically not my style -- so I need Nova to be able to do that swap, too.

What wallpaper you're using: The wallpaper you see in my Pixel screenshots is a photo I took with the Pixel on a recent trip up to Seattle that I then heavily filtered to give it proper wallpaper pop.

When I'm not trying to sneak in my own photos, I turn to an app called Frame that pulls in daily high-res photos from Unsplash. Those do a nice job of making things pretty while also reminding me that there so many incredible photographers out there.

Anything else of note (interesting customizations, special icons, etc): There was a time when I was much more interesting in this department, but finding the time to fully customize a phone just isn't easy to do with a 3-year-old running around. I will say that this icon pack called Magme that I used recently on the G6 with Nova is quite good. I tend to find icon packs that offer plenty of alternate colorways of icons and different variations of icons for the same apps. This one does that while sticking close enough to Google's Material style.

What's one of your favorite Android-related tips or tricks?

I use Google's location-based reminders almost daily, and they almost always involve some form of "Remind me to look up this or that when I get home." For whatever reason, whether it's a song you hear or a restaurant you drive by or a car you see that you want to know more about or an errand you need to run later, I always think of or find these things while in the car and then forget them by the time I'm home. To fix that, Google is there.

Smart Lock is another of those phone tricks I always turn to. The two options I use are Trusted Places and Trusted Devices. I don't want to have to scan my fingerprint or enter in a pattern when sitting at my work desk, on my couch, or in my car, so I make sure all of those items are involved in Smart Lock.

Beyond the obvious stock Google programs, a few apps you can't live without right now (and a quick word about why):

As I've continued to become a smart home addict (Hue, August, Nest, and Ring products are all in here), I've realized that controlling a smart home, even with Google Home units throughout my house, is frustrating. Because I get sick of maintaining six or seven different apps for each or Google Home not getting my requests right, I picked up a Wink smart hub. I now control everything from the Wink app, like shutting down my house or waking it up with the touch of a single button.

AfterShip is another app I can't live without, since I get so many packages delivered to my house. Even though I subscribe to MyUPS and those services ping me through email, I like being able to see every single package in one place without having to hunt for those emails with status updates.

The other app I've recently become re-addicted to is Untappd. I love beer and realized that keeping track of them all isn't a bad idea.

Check out more Android expert profiles in the official Google+ collection -- and stay tuned for even more entries in the weeks to come!

Icons in title image courtesy of Freepik and Madebyoliver at

Contributing Editor JR Raphael serves up tasty morsels about the human side of technology. Hungry for more? Sign up for his weekly newsletter to get fresh tips and insight in your inbox every Friday.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

Your current primary phone: What case is on your phone (if any): Your current tablet (if any): Your current smartwatch (if any): What face you're using on your watch right now: A quick walk-through of your phone's home screen setup: What launcher you're using: What wallpaper you're using: Anything else of note (interesting customizations, special icons, etc): What's one of your favorite Android-related tips or tricks? Beyond the obvious stock Google programs, a few apps you can't live without right now (and a quick word about why):