Many of the best Android apps in the Google Play Store are free, letting you do everything from stream movies on your device, to check in with friends on Facebook, to read books and listen to music. Here are our favorites of all time.
Love it or hate it, Facebook has become a major part of people’s lives. Fortunately, this app means you can take it with you on the road. Welcome recent updates have included previously-missing features like Chat and Places, so it’s become pretty much essential and, for now, the best out there. You can easily check news feeds, update your status, ‘like’ stuff, and upload and tag photos right from your camera. The tight integration with contacts make it easy to stay in touch, including calling your Facebook friends. Facebook is huge on mobile devices, and the social networking site has slowly made its standalone Android app better and better.
Netflix works on most Android devices these days, and it’s pretty much essential if you subscribe to the streaming TV and movie service. You can search through their selection of instant streaming movies and TV, view newly-added and recommended content, and check for titles available in their Instant queues. More shows and movies can be added to the queue to watch later as well. Most importantly of course, you can watch all the movies and TV shows you want if you have a Netflix streaming subscription, so this is great for traveling as it works over a 3G/4G or Wi-Fi connection. You’ll need a Netflix subscription to enjoy the mobile version of the streaming video service, but if you have one, there’s no reason not to download this app on your Android device.What’s more, the service is always impressive, and it makes bus rides and other potentially boring situations much more bearable.
The cool thing about Android is that you can switch out even basic things, like your device’s virtual keyboard. Swiftkey is one such replacement, which prides itself on being an adaptive, super-smart autocorrect machine. The “swift” part comes from the app predicting with high accuracy what you’re typing, so you can shortcut it. Swiftkey also supports a thumb layout for your keyboard that can be easier to use on mobile devices.
Streaming music service Spotify made a big splash when it came on the scene in the U.S., but for a long time, you had to pay a subscription fee to use Spotify on your mobile devices. That’s not the case anymore, which means you can now stream the ad-supported version of Spotify across your any Internet connection, giving Android users access to millions of music tracks. You can also sync to your computer Spotify account, giving you access to playlists, and you can follow friends to see what they’re listening to as well.
Amazon’s Kindle app instantly turns any Android device into an e-reader, which is handy for consuming all kinds of different reading material. The app lets you purchase and download e-books from Amazon’s service, but you can also use browser plug-ins and computer applets to send documents like PDFs to be read through Kindle as well. The app also supports lots of handy elements, like increasing or decreasing text size and setting your screen to the darker nighttime mode for reading in the dark.
If you want to use your Android device to do work, Google Drive is the app for it. It mixes Google’s cloud storage service, which allows you to save documents from your computer in the cloud and access them from various devices (including mobile ones) with a suite of office software. The result is the ability to create things like word processing documents or spreadsheets and save them to the cloud, share them with other users, collaborate on them remotely and more. The app is a must for those productivity minded Android users.
The extremely handy user review site Yelp is even handier as a mobile app. It supplies you with information about local businesses, including the ratings and experiences of other users. You’ll know which places to patronize, and which to avoid. What’s more, Yelp helps you find those places by providing directions, business contact information, and even extras like menus for restaurants.
One of the more recent waves in popular social apps, Snapchat lets you quickly send a photo with a text caption to other users, either individually or in groups. The trick of Snapchat that sets it apart, however, is that the images don’t last forever. Instead, they self-destruct after 24 hours. The app also supports things like filters to give your images a different look or to add data to them, to make your snaps more expressive.
It seems like it’s been forever since Instagram was an iOS-exclusive, but the photo-sharing app is just as fun and popular on Android as Apple’s devices. It makes photography simple: snap your photo, apply a filter and one or two other effects, and share it with friends. The app doubles as a social network, so you can see, like and comment on other people’s photos. Instagram supports sharing to Facebook and other social networks just as easily.
If there’s a drawback to being an Android user, it’s that the openness of the platform also leaves it more open to security threats. Your Android phone is valuable, not only in terms of the cost to replace it, but also because of the personal information it contains. Lookout protects you on three important fronts – virus and malware attack, data loss, and theft or just plain forgetfulness. It also provides a “find my phone” function in case you lose your device or it’s stolen, as well as a backup of your Google contacts list.
After a surprisingly easy setup, Lookout runs a virus scan on all your apps and files and again whenever you schedule it. The app also scans apps and files you download during the download procedure so you’re safe from installing infected files. For back-up, Lookout provides space in the cloud after a free registration process to set you up with an account. From there, it can back up your contacts, call history and photos. Finally, from their website, you can find your phone’s current GPS location on a map or ask it to “scream” with a loud beep if it’s lost.
Kill your voicemail. As advertised, Google Voice feels like telecommunications for the 21st century. Choose a new number, even something cute that spells a word or short phrase, then connect it to all your home, mobile and work phones with this service. When someone dials your Google Voice number, you schedule which phones ring, even deciding when certain phones ring. But that’s not all. Google Voice transcribes your voicemails to text and emails them to you. You can also listen-in while someone is leaving you a voicemail and choose to answer if you like what you hear. Need more? How about cheap international calling, free conference calls, and free texting.
ADD sufferers need look no further for a mobile app to replace their sticky note addiction. Use Evernote to create a text, audio, or image message from your phone, then let the service suck it up to the web, where you can search and retrieve it later from your phone, desktop or browser. Tags that you attach to messages help Evernote categorize your entries into folders. Attach images, audio and PDFs to your notes and share them with others in email. Evernote will remember when your memory fails you.
Pandora offers a personalized radio service that streams music directly to your phone. For free, it’s a great way to discover new music. Name an artist and Pandora will start playing similar ones. You can skip the ones you don’t like (though skipping is limited with a free account), but Pandora will continue to learn from your tastes. You can build up themed playlists and create your own station to share with friends and they will be available over the website or right on your phone wherever you are.
If it isn’t already pre-loaded on your Android device, Skype is an excellent, free download from the Android Market for communication fans everywhere. It offers you the ability to make free video calls to other Skype users and call regular phones or devices and reduced rates. If your friends are using Skype on their iPhones, BlackBerrys or Android phones, you can voice-chat with them for free and you can send pictures, videos and other files directly to your contacts. When it comes to easy communication, Skype is a name to trust.
Whether you’re an active user of Twitter, or even if you just use the social service to keep up to date on with friends, celebrities and newsmakers, the official Twitter app offers a reliable way to access your feed. It also provides a useful notification system so you are alerted when mentioned in a Tweet or messaged directly. If you need more functionality, however, there are plenty of alternative Twitter apps available to try like Tweetcaster, twicca, Seesmic, and Plume.
Ever watched TV, heard some music during a commercial and wondered what it was? Shazam can help, and that’s what makes it a fun download for your Android smartphone. Simply press a button and Shazam does the rest, identifying most music easily, even if you are out in public. What’s more, it will even download the lyrics and display them in real time as your identified song is playing! As an alternative, an app called SoundHound offers similar functionality.