Free Caller ID for Your Android Smartphone

I hate the phone. I hate phone calls. I hate when I don’t know who is calling me – especially b/c that usually means it is a REALLY important call or that it is a telemarketing call. I’ve been using Contactive for a while now and it is pretty amazing – and the price is nice too (FREE).

Contactive Free Caller ID App for Android Image
The Contactive Android smartphone app provides effective crowdsourced caller ID for free.

Contactive pops up when an incoming call is occurring and shows the name of the person or organization calling, the phone number, and associated social network profiles. It integrates with a number of social networks to ensure that it has the fullest amount of contact info. available about your contacts – so even if someone isn’t in your phone’s address book, if they are your friend on a social network, Contactive can use social network info. to identify them.

Contactive uses a crowdsourced model for building its database of caller IDs. When a call is completed it allows you to choose if the caller ID was correct and if it wasn’t to recommend the correct name. Personally, I love this. There is something so satisfying about typing in the name of an annoying telemarketing company after they call…knowing that now every user of Contactive will never again have to be bothered.

To learn more about Contactive you can visit their website or go to the Google Play page to download the app right now.

Disarming My Smartphone.

The Backstory

(Probably more than you need or want to know…but hey, I’m writing and you are reading – you can skip this section and I’ll never know)

I have a rough time sleeping (I go to see a sleep specialist on Monday and have been through a sleep study previously). I oftentimes can’t sleep through the night (waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and unable to fall asleep till 5 or 6) and oftentimes struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).

I’m in pretty good physical shape at this point – which is pretty amazing, especially considering all that I went through over the last few years with my health…sure there are still aches and pains and various nuisances…but I can live with them – the only one that really still frustrates me is this sleep issue – particularly the EDS.

I use my smartphone as my alarm clock – and I use Sleepbot to monitor my sleep – so I want to have my smartphone near me while I sleep…but this can sometimes be counterproductive. If someone sends me a SMS or FB message in the middle of the night I may hear it. If some stupid app I’ve recently installed and haven’t turned off notifications on (b/c I didn’t think they would have any!) decides the best time to notify me of something is at 2  or 3 am I may be woken.

The Recommendations

So I began searching for an application that would allow me to selectively mute my phone while still maintaining my availability. This would be simple enough if I didn’t need to be available for emergencies pretty much 24/7 (being in the pastorate and IT, where work oftentimes occurs off-schedule and with some urgency).

I did a little search around but didn’t come up with anything great. I find Google’s app store abysmal in its search functionality…even more inferior than its web search (which I use but loathe).1I’ve written several times on the past on alternative search engines as well as on my belief that social search engines could provide a way to give much better results. So, where does one turn when a google doesn’t turn up the answer? No, not Bing (sorry Microsoft!), Quora. You can see the question and answers here.

The main options offered where (a) CynagoenMOD’s ROM (but this would require placing the stock ROM – essentially the OS of the phone), (b) IFTTT (the programmability is nice, but it lacks, at least easily, all the features I need), (c) Locale (but it is fairly expensive for an app), (d) Tasker (but involves more programming than I was interested in), (e) Agent, (f) Do Not Disturb, and (g) Dindy (this is the app I’ve settled on).

My Choice: Dindy

An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.
An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.

I chose Dindy first because I’m a sucker for open source. If I have to choose between two products with the same featureset and one is open source and the other closed – I’ll go with the open source app almost every time.2Though if it is not under active development and the closed source app is, I’ll go with closed source…I’m interested not only in what the app can offer today but also what it will offer in the future.

The killer feature I was looking for is the ability to let calls through if it is an emergency. In essence, if a phone call is made repeatedly (over a short period of time), it will be allowed through even if the app is set to reject calls. This way if someone really needs to get a hold of me, they can.

A secondary crucial feature is its ability to send text message responses to calls and texts I receive informing the person that I am unavailable and what they should do if it is an absolute emergency (e.g. call several times in a short span of time).

The one bummer is if the phone call comes from a land line you can’t send back a text message – so the person doesn’t know they need to keep calling…but honestly, whenever folks have an emergency (and oftentimes when they don’t :P) they blow up my phone with repeated calls…so I don’t think this will be a huge issue.

There are other features like the ability to whitelist and the ability to create different contexts with different messages – like if I am “away” from the phone, in a meeting, driving, or so on.

But there were two other apps that were close contenders with Dindy, lets talk about what I liked about them (that Dindy doesn’t have ::cough:: hint to developer 😉 ::cough::) and what they lacked that led me to utilize Dindy instead.

Do Not Disturb

An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.
An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.

This application comes at a free level, but really you’ll want the premium level. The cost is reasonable for an app. – $2.50. You can try the premium features in the free edition for two weeks for free.

Do Not Disturb lost a few points for not being open source (I don’t hold this against closed source projects, I have no beef with folks making closed source apps…but I trust that open source apps will be around longer, b/c someone else can pick up development if the original developer drops out…whereas closed source projects oftentimes are acquihired or simply shuttered)…

where DND really took a hit was in its lack of multiple modes besides day and night. Dindy provides me with the ability to create an infinite number of contexts – each with their own settings – with DND I’m restricted to two.

That said, DND does offer the ability to disable WiFi and data at night (saves battery) and to automatically (if desired) go mute during meetings (based on my calendar). Pretty sweet features.

Agent

Agent offers several automated "agents" that perform different functions - one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.
Agent offers several automated “agents” that perform different functions – one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.

The other application – which is quite the slick operator – is called Agent. It does quite a bit more than muting – it also takes action when your battery gets low, automatically remembers where you parked, and automatically goes into mute mode when you are driving (and, of course, all of these are configurable).

It also provides reporting capabilities which tell you what agent has been up to – when it has turned on and off certain functionality. Pretty sweet.

In addition it allows (unlike either DND or Dindy) disabling of auto-sync and of bluetooth (to save battery life).

Where it lost out to Dindy was in its lack of full customizability. It is limited to three contexts (meeting, driving, sleeping) and doesn’t allow for customizing how many calls the individual has to make before they are let through (I have it setup to allow through on the second call – which is what Agent has as the default, but Dindy’s customizability is really nice…and I like having options).

Dear Dindy

So, to recap, here is what I’m hoping Dindy might add in the near future:

  • Integrate with my calendar to allow automatic muting for meetings (bonus points for allowing keyword based filtering of which meetings like DND offers).
  • Include the ability to turn off wifi, data, bluetooth, and data sync as part of “going silent.”
  • Auto detect when I am driving and go silent.
  • Allow me to schedule the days/times I want Dindy to go silent at night (I forgot to mention that Dindy lacks and both DND and Agent offer this feature), so I don’t need to remember to start Dindy’s mute mode manually each night.

Dear DND and Agent

You both have great projects. Should you implement the features I mention that Dindy is currently missing, let me know. 😉

PS Google, Microsoft & WordPress

  • Google: I know you want to move to the new WebP project, but it makes my life difficult when you have your images in WebP format.
  • Microsoft: I am pretty unhappy you aren’t integrating WebP into IE.
  • WordPress: Please add WebP as a default allowed file format for uploading.

The Future of Computers?

Right now we have a problem – the propagation of a number of essential smart devices. For example, at work I have a workstation with two LCD monitors. I also have a work laptop which I sometimes pair with a LCD monitor when I have it at home. Then there is my smartphone – currently a Verizon / Motorola Droid 2. Add onto this my Kindle eBook reader. Right there are four different devices between which I am constantly shuffling and synchronizing data.

Now, honestly, I’d also like to have a tablet. Yes, I have a Kindle – but a Kindle uses eInk technology and is great for reading books but a little obtuse for surfing the web. Truth be told I like to walk when I read (in circles, around the house) and a laptop is too large for this endeavor and a smartphone too small and difficult to navigate (maybe I just have big fingers).

I no longer carry a digital camera – my smartphone is perfectly capable and while I’ve never had a digital camcorder it seems this too is unnecessary, having been merged into my smartphone as well. But there is need for additional consolidation of electronic devices.

The problem arises when one considers that a single device cannot adequately fulfill all the needs of the user, for example:

  • My workstation is the most powerful machine by far and also the largest, it also has two large displays. This supports prolonged work, especially intensive processing such as application development and database management.
  • My laptop is more portable but gets sluggish when tasked when hefty tasks and still is too bulky for carrying around like a book.
  • My phone can fulfill a lot of tasks, but a screen large enough for my liking would never fit into my pocket (unless it is foldable).
  • My Kindle is wonderful on the eyes, but lacks the speed of any of my other devices.

And so on. The attempt to build one device that can fulfill all these roles is hopeless, unless….One builds the device and then creates a shell into which the device slides which allows it to fulfill a given purpose at any given time.

Unfortunately, while I had this idea several years ago, I didn’t have the means or motivation to bring it into reality….but fortunately Motorola has since taken the initiative and while still fairly limited in its implementation is moving towards this ideal device – a device which I hope Google will recognize as valuable and assist in making a commodity item.

The first such device was the Motorola Atrix 4G, soon to be succeeded by the Motorola Droid Bionic. These devices are primarily smartphones similar to so many other smartphones, but they are different in the accessories that are available for them.

Motorola sells a lapdock, which looks like a laptop computer and allows one to “plug in” one’s smartphone, thus powering the laptop off the smartphone. Motorola also offers several other accessories – including mounts for driving, alarm clock/weather, multimedia, and so on.

While the technology is impressive I have a few complaints/suggestions:

  • I’m not sure that the best idea is ramming a honking processor into a smartphone. My wife’s Atrix 4G always runs warm, and while she appreciates the extra heat generation I’m already warm enough without having a phone beaming heat waves into me. Instead, I’d recommend including a decent processor, but putting heavier processors into accessory devices that require it. The honking processors in smartphones are still puny compared to full workstations or even laptops and yet too much for a smartphone.
  • The process on the lapdock is too high – clocking in at $299. While cheaper than a laptop, its on equivalent grounds with a netbook. Why shouldn’t I just buy a netbook separate from my smartphone? It will have greater resale value in the long-run. Lapdocks need to be extremely inexpensive – I’m thinking $100 at the most and $50 would certainly speed adoption. Of course, if they include some additional abilities (such as more powerful processors) the price could go up a bit. But essentially, a lapdock should be just a plastic case with a basic interface, keyboard, mouse, and screen – nothing too fancy.
  • The Atrix lapdock is incompatible with Bionic devices and vice versa. This is a big no-no. If I drop $299 on a lapdock I better be able to use it when the next phone is released – or I’ll be one unhappy camper! If Motorola truly decides this is necessary they should offer free upgrades on lapdocks to early adopters.
  • The way the phone mounts to the lapdock is funky. Instead have the phone insert into the lapdock as if it was a hard disk. My lapdock should be indistinguishable from everyone else’s laptops.
  • There is no tablet accessory currently available. This is a huge minus. Getting my laptop and smartphone together is a plus, but to really make it worthwhile you have to consolidate at least three of my devices. While making the tablet accessory it just makes sense to make a similar eink device as well.
  • Of course, I’d like to see a workstation accessory as well, but I think this would be the least commercially successful, and I can understand if Motorola held off for a while on this component.

Nor have we in any ways fleshed out the limits of the roles this device could fulfill. For example:

  • GPS
  • Stereo
  • Digital Microphone
  • Personal Health Device
  • Thermostat

In the future I hope to carry one device around with me, this device I will then plug into other devices as needed. Eventually I can imagine there will be public dumb kiosks. Once inserts the smartphone and instantly has complete access to one’s files and settings. Sweet!

For those who are interested in learning more about these devices check out the following Motorola product information pages: