Widgets, widgets, widgets. Has there ever been an Android feature that showed so much promise and went unloved by Google for so long?
Okay, so maybe there’s been – um, actually a lot of times. Yet Android’s widget system is a perfect example of an exceptional perk that Google basically buried, abandoned, and left on the brink of extinction until the overdue resurgence in the 2021 Android 12 update. (And that resurgence happened without no apparent reason. Just a totally random, unsolicited change of heart after a decade of indifference. Riiiiiiiiiiight.)
Google may have given up on widgets for a while, but the good news is that (a) they’re back, baby — and (b) the Android developer community just kept on chugging along, coming up with creative new ways to embrace widgets, even while they’re at the platform level. were ignored. And now, no matter what Android version your favorite phone is running, you can take your own Android widget game to the next level and give yourself some fresh and fruitful paths to get the most out of your phone’s framework.
Here, my dear, are some fantastic ways to use your favorite Android widgets and change the way you get things done on your phone. (And if you have a Chromebook, by the way, check out this nifty hack to embed widgets That environment too.)
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Android Widgets No.1 Improvement: The on-demand pop-up window on the home screen
Widgets are a great way to deal with all kinds of information without ever having to open apps, but too many widgets can quickly lead to a cluttered and overwhelming home screen.
Well, here’s a nifty way to give yourself the benefit of a widget while still maintaining a neat and minimal workspace: an excellent app called Popup widget 3 lets you create an on-demand pop-up widget (get it?!) that looks like a plain old icon on your home screen, but then loads whatever widget you want when you tap it.
You can even get Real wild and set a single icon that opens multiple widgets at the same time — like your inbox and your calendar together:
Not bad, right?
Popup Widget 3 costs $1.50 and requires no special permissions or access methods. And it’s pretty easy and self-explanatory to set up: once you install and open the app, it will walk you through adding the popup widgets you want. You can choose the name and even the icon associated with each icon, along with its precise placement on your screen and how much the screen should dim behind it when loaded.
The app will then offer to add the shortcut directly to your home screen, or you can also find all your Pop-Up Widget creations by pressing and holding the Pop-Up Widget’s main icon in your app drawer.
And that, my widget-loving wallaby, is just our first winning widget opportunity.
Android Widgets Enhancement No. 2: The On-Demand Universal Popup
If you like the idea of having an on-demand widget, but prefer it to be available to invoke everywhere instead of just from your home screen, this next wacky widget option is right up your alley.
It comes from a spectacular app called Edge gestures, which teams up with Pop-Up Widget 3 to make the same concept universally accessible. (I told you it was crazy!)
When you first install Edge Gestures, the app will prompt you to enable it as a system accessibility service and give it the ability to display over other apps. These permissions sound scary – and they should! – but in the case of this particular utility, they are absolutely appropriate and necessary for it to work. The former is the only way an app can make a custom system-wide gesture, which we need for this configuration to work its magic, and the latter is how your widget can appear on top of everything else you’re doing.
(If you’re concerned, take note of this: Edge Gestures doesn’t request any other system permissions, including the ability to access the Internet. That means it has no way of lurking information from your device and to theoretical Bogeymen in the virtual shadows, even if it wanted to. But it seems safe to say it isn’t. The app is reputable, has been around for a long time and has a large number of overwhelmingly positive reviews. )
Where were we? Oh yes: once you’re in the Edge Gestures configuration area, you can select exactly which gesture you want to use to get your widget. I’d think hard about finding something that doesn’t interfere with anything else, like system-level Android gestures, and that’s easily accessible without being a command you’re likely to accidentally trigger.
For example, you can make the gesture by simply swiping down the left side of your screen. To do that, find the “Swipe down” option in the “Left” tab of the app and set it to “Popup Widget” – then create or select the desired Popup Widget entry. And remember: you can select one widget or multiple widgets too.
Prepare for some serious oohing and ahing:
As you can see, this opens up a whole new world of mobile multitasking potential. I mean, really: how could you not love that?!
The last thing worth doing is getting into everything other gesture options in that same configuration area and tap “Clear” for each of them to remove Edge Gestures’ default actions. I would also go to each side of the screen are not use – left or right – and tap the switch to completely turn off the gestures for that side. This way you don’t accidentally activate gestures that you don’t actually want or need.
Edge Gestures costs $1.49 to use.
Improvement of Android widget No. 3: The floating bubble
Next, here’s an interesting twist on that same on-demand Android widget idea: if you like having a widget available all the time but aren’t too keen on the hidden gesture concept, there’s an app called Overlays lets you create a little floating bubble that you can place anywhere on your screen, then tap to bring up a widget whenever you want – just like with Android’s oft-forgotten Bubbles system for messaging.
To look at:
By default, Overlays gives you a bunch of them own small widgets to choose from, but the real power comes from adding widgets from the Android apps you actually rely on. To do this, tap the “Triggers” tab at the bottom of the Overlays configuration area, then tap the red plus button in the bottom-right corner of the screen. Select “Manual”, then type in the desired name for your widget and tap the icon to choose an icon you want.
Tap “Save”, then select “Widget” and find the desired widget in the list. At that point, you will see a preview of the widget. Move or resize it if you like, then hit the arrow in the top left corner of the screen to exit that interface. Last but not least, tap the name of your newly created widget on the screen that appears to change its status to “Always On”.
Once you exit the app and go back to your home screen, your fancy new widget should appear right away. All you need to do is tap the little downward arrow in the corner to minimize it to a bubble, which you can then press and hold to go anywhere your widget-worshipping heart desires.
Overlays can also create widgets that appear automatically based on context – so you can have something pop up every time you connect to a particular Bluetooth device or Wi-Fi network, for example. To explore those options, just follow the same steps as above, but choose “Event” instead of “Manual” when you reach the “Triggers” tab configuration.
Overlays is free with an optional $4 in-app upgrade that removes some ads from the configuration tool and unlocks a handful of advanced features.
Android Widgets Enhancement No. 4: The Voice-Invoked Widget Miracle
If you’ve got a Google Pixel phone, listen up: You can summon some of the most-used Android widgets at any time by simply coughing out the appropriate voice command.
Yes, indeed: the extra advanced version of Google Assistant on Pixels has a big secret. Just say “Hey Google” and say something like “Show me the Keep widget.”
And god damn it, would you take a look at that?!
As of now, the system appears to work primarily with widgets from Google-made Android apps, including Keep, Calendar, Chrome, Clock, Maps, Google News, and YouTube Music. It’s an incredibly convenient way to see every widget you need, from anywhere in your system, without having to lift a single finger. And now you know.
Android Widget No. 5 Improvement: The Custom Web Widget
Last but not least in our collection of crazy Android widget options is a very recent discovery for me: the ability to create your own custom widget for just about any website imaginable.
I have a detailed overview of all the steps in this column, but the short version is called an app widgetify makes it almost shockingly easy to turn any website into a widget and then see it on your home screen. That way you can keep an eye on it all the time and always have it at your fingertips – whether the site in question is a favorite news source, a forum you visit often or perhaps an important page of your own company’s website.
And there you have it: five crazy, wild, wonderful ways to make widgets even more awesome. Some days you just have to love Android and the creative thinking it enables.
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