Locale Review

Locale Review

Dec 16, 2011

Is there a worse feeling than being in the middle of a meeting or a movie or stand-up comedy routine, and someone’s cell phone is going off and distracting everyone, and then you realize that…it’s yours? And all you can do is try to develop telekinesis on the spot, to somehow explode your phone with your mind, because not having a phone at all would be better than having to admit to being That Guy. The creators of Locale had another, more dire situation in mind when they sat down at the drawing board – the intro to the app explains that they got the idea after a case in the US where a judge jailed an entire courtroom when no one fessed up to their disruptive ring tone. Hopefully the average Android user doesn’t have to worry about their phone going off in court, but everyone has at least one place in their life that it would be best if their phone knew on its own when to keep quiet.

Enter Locale – an app to customize your phone’s setting based on where you are and/or what you’re up to at any given time. It’s a pretty simple idea, and very elegantly executed. Your first option set is to create Situations – locations or states that that you need your phone to be aware of. Examples of Situations are locations (Home, Work, The Gym), or physical states (Battery At 50%, Phone Face Down). From there each Situation has a list of customizable settings, to tell your phone what it should/not be doing. Settings options include Wallpaper, Wi-Fi On/Off, Ringer Volume, Brightness, even specific Ringtones.

To help better explain, I’ll share what I’ve done with my own phone. I have four situations, and various settings for each:
1) Default: This is the Situation for when I’m out an about. A simple and pleasant wallpaper image, Wi-Fi set to Off, and phone Vibration is set to On so I can feel it go off in my bag.
2) Home: My wallpaper is a picture of my best friend/roommate, Wi-Fi is set to On, and my ringer volume is set to Max because I have a tendency to wander around the house and not hear it go off.
3) My boyfriend’s Home: A different wallpaper (one of the two of us), Wi-Fi on, reduced volume on the ringer.
4) Work: My wallpaper is a picture (of a picture) I took of Quentin Tarantino giving a thumbs-up (because, why not?), Wi-Fi is Off, and my phone is set to Silent, No Vibration. I can get into a lot of trouble at my place of business for having a phone go off during my hours, and now I don’t have to worry about remembering to set it.

And in case you’re wondering how the phone knows where I am, I should think the answer is obvious – GPS! Locale is always running in the background, keeping tabs on which Situation you’re in, and if you’re changing between them. And it’s not just your location that can affect your settings. A lot of developers have jumped on the Locale bandwagon and created plugins to give you more Situational options. One example that I tried out is Calendar – have specific settings to match up with appointments. Other (untested by me) examples include Day And Night, Dock Condition, and even Emergencies.

When I first downloaded the app it seemed to be a bit of a novelty, and nothing more. Sure, I like having different wallpapers, but is that all? In fact, I’d actually been holding off on reviewing it because I felt like I didn’t “get” the popularity, and didn’t want to look like a dummy. But then I changed jobs and the state of my phone’s ringer actually became a daily concern. I feel like a before/after informercial character now; before my life was in black and white, fumbling for my phone’s volume switch while my boss is glowering at me, whereas now life is technicolour and I can receive messages all day with no repercussions.

My only problem with the app is that sometimes it genuinely seems to get confused about where I am. It’ll have me still on my Home settings well after I’ve left and shouldn’t be within the GPS area for that Situation. In fact it seems that GPS accuracy is its improvement opportunity in general. I had a very hard time getting it to recognize my Work on the map, which given that is the Situation I need it to recognize the most accurately, was a bit of an issue.