December 29, 2012
Toastmasters International® is an excellent organization with many local chapters to help people get over their fear of public speaking and build leadership skills. Members take turns filling the roles for each meeting, including timing the speeches. But while there was at least one good speech timer app for the iPhone already, the options for Android phones were unsatisfying.
This sample app is very functional, if not visually engaging, at least until a future version supports the 4.x Android Design Guidelines for smartphones and tablets. The primary design goal was to make it possible to keep up with the Timer's responsibilities in a club or contest, by customizing as needed before the meeting and then allowing quick switches between timing tasks. You can use it just for your own speech practice, of course.
It's also an open-source project, started by international member Ken Lee, so if you're a developer you can extend or change the app to suit your needs. If you're not a developer, you can still contribute translations of the user interface into your local language. See timer4android at Google Code.
The app has predefined timers for common speeches and meeting activities. The button at the top of the main screen shows the name of the current timer; tap it to display and select from the list of available timers.
The default timer is "Stopwatch". Only the Start (Stop) and Reset buttons are needed, so the other controls are hidden. The Reset button sets the elapsed time back to 0:00. The Start button will (by default) begin from the last stop time, so you can tap Stop to pause for an interruption in a speech.
The "Speech" timer offers the standard range of 5-7 minutes with 30 second grace. To adjust any of the Green, Yellow, or Red timing values or the grace period temporarily (for the next speech), just tap the respective time button. If you only change the Green and/or Red time, the Yellow time will be auto-adjusted halfway between them.
In the time adjustment pop-up window, the +/- buttons scroll the minutes value by 1 and the seconds value by 15. You can also tap on a time value and change it directly with the keyboard. The checkbox determines whether the light will be displayed at the given time and the corresponding time will be used for speech qualification. For the grace period, the two checkboxes determine whether additional seconds will be granted before (-) and/or after (+) the time range.
The "Table Talk" and "Evaluation" timers are set to standard times. (Note that, per contest rules, an impromptu speech does not include 30 seconds of grace before the minimum Green time.)
A vibration signal will be generated at each light change, including at the grace periods if shown. A short vibration pattern may also be generated a few seconds before each signal. (As club Timer, it's easy to be so engrossed by the current speech that you forget to turn on the speaker's lights!) A short vibration confirms each tap of Start (Stop).
If you press the BACK key, the app will (by default) warn you that the app will exit and shut down. If you need to switch to another app while the timer is running, press the HOME key instead. Then to return to Timer4TM, press and hold the HOME key (on Android 4.x, just tap the Recent Apps button) to find it in the Recent Apps list.
You can copy, modify, or delete these predefined timers to customize a set for the activities in your club or local contest. For example, you may find it convenient to create an additional timer for "Written Evaluation", the 1-2 minutes of feedback or judging after each speech. (See the Edit Timers feature below.)
Press the MENU key to access the following features.
Each time you stop and reset a timer, the app adds the speech times to a quick report for later reference. The report includes the role (the name of the defined timer), the time of day that the speech started, the allowed time range, the time used, and whether the speech qualified (Q) or disqualified (D). To qualify, the time used (total elapsed time) must fall within the default or modified time range including any grace period before or after.
If part of the report is not visible, drag your finger over the report area to scroll it. If the report text is too small, tap or drag your finger to display the zoom controls; or you can use a two-finger pinch gesture to zoom in or out.
Tap OK to dismiss the report, Export Report to copy it to the SD Card, or Clear to reset the report. (The SD Card is a removable memory card. The report is in simple Web page format and can be copied from the "Reports" folder on the SD Card if you sync your smartphone to a computer.)
By default, the report entries will be retained for a week after your meeting.
Edit Timers displays the list of currently defined timers. Tap on one of them to view or edit the time range in the Edit Timer form, or tap and hold to display the Copy and Delete shortcuts. New in Version 1.2: Drag the icon (at the right end) up or down to move a timer to a new position in the list.
The Edit Timer form (see below right) shows the timing options for the selected timer. These will be the default time settings when the timer is selected from the main view.
The text field allows you to rename the defined timer. The timer name should be unique. You may tap the Next (or down-arrow) key on the keyboard to advance to the next text input field, quickly changing all of the time values in one pass. Alternately, tap the +/- button to the right of each time value to use the time adjustment pop-up window.
The checkbox next to each light determines whether the light will be displayed at the given time and be used for speech qualification. For the grace period, the two checkboxes determine whether additional seconds will be granted before (-) or after (+) the time range.
Finally, the Include on report checkbox determines whether use of the define timer should be added to Report Times. As a general rule, a timer shouldn't be included on the report if the Green and Red timing lights are not both active.
Tap Done to save your changes, Copy to create and edit a duplicate of the selected timer, or Delete to remove the timer from the defined list. You may also press the BACK key to exit without saving your changes.
The app checks your time values when you tap Done. If a timing light is not going to be used, you can set its time value the same as the adjacent light but the values should not decrease between Green or Yellow or Red.
See the example screen to the right for how a 2-minute "Written Evaluation" timer might be configured.
Many settings are included so you can customize the app to your preferences or to the needs of your club or contest.
Show progress displays the progress bar and timing marks (for timers other than "Stopwatch"). Uncheck to hide them.
Show grace displays a "-" and "+" over the top of the signal light when the timer reaches the respective grace period before the minimum time or after the maximum time, and will also appear as timing marks. If shown, they will be accompanied by vibration signals.
Show color swatch displays a larger rectangle instead of a signal light to make the colors even easier to see from a distance.
Show time displays the elapsed time, whether the timer is running or stopped. But you may want to hide it while the timer is running if you find it distracting or if it's inappropriate for a contest situation.
Allow screen timeout lets the device dim the display and lock the screen while the main view is displayed. This can save battery power, but you will need to wake up your device to stop or start the timer or receive the vibration signals.
Press to stop provides an eyes-free way to stop the timer in case you have the device display facing the speaker and away from you. Just hold your finger against the signal light area of the screen until a short vibration confirms that the timer has stopped. (If you accidentally tap Reset instead, you can always display the report to see how long the last speech was.)
Vibration signals offers three levels of vibration alerts:
• Never to turn them all off;
• At timing light change to vibrate only when the signal light color changes or grace period is reached;
• Also a few seconds ahead to create a short vibration pattern a few seconds in advance of any of other signal changes.
The final level is handy if you need an advance warning to reach over and change the switches on your club's timing light box.
Confirm exit displays a warning dialog if you press the BACK key to exit the app. While exiting with BACK is normal behavior for an Android app, it's very easy to accidentally press it on many devices and you might find that inconvenient while timing a speech in a meeting! (If the timer is running, it will stop when the app exits.)
Count pause time will include the total elapsed time between tapping Stop and resuming with Start. Leave this unchecked if you want to be able to pause during an interruption of a speech without counting the extra seconds against the speaker's total time. But if you find yourself accidentally tapping Stop when you didn't intend to, this option will allow the timer to show the total time since the speaker began.
Report expiration determines how long the app will save report entries, from one calendar day to as many as 4 weeks. This gives you enough time to report on the meeting later, e.g. for club minutes, without having to remember to tap Clear before starting the next meeting. If there is more than one day's worth of report entries, however, the starting time column will show the date of each entry.
About Timer4TM displays the current version and the web address of this support site.
Please send your questions and comments to email@example.com.
Is the app not running well on your Android device? Let us know the make and model (and version of Android if you can – look for it in the device Menu, Settings, About [phone]).
By the way, if you Delete every timer on the list, the app will recreate the original timer list.
Due to a quirk in some Android versions, to reset any temporary time adjustments back to default values you may have to select another timer and then switch back.
On Android 4.2.x, the checkboxes overlap with the light or +/- indicator instead of how they appear in the screenshots above (Edit Timer and time adjustment pop-up window). It doesn't affect functionality, just makes it difficult to see the checkmark. This is a known bug in Android that will hopefully be fixed in your next phone OS update; in the meanwhile, we'll keep looking for a workaround.
Some devices are too sensitive and change screen orientation when you set them down on the table. There are a number of free apps that lock the screen rotation, and Samsung's Galaxy series devices have the control built in (hint: drag down the notification bar).
"Table Talk" may be a less common name for a short impromptu speech, but we respect the organization's trademarks. You can use Edit Timers to rename it to anything you like. (Users of a previous version keep their timer list across updates.)
After users have a chance to use the app for a while, we'll drop the Settings for options that people don't ever change.
As noted earlier, we hope to support tablets better and offer the latest Android visual styles in a future release.