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The Best Android Apps

Finding stellar Android apps isn’t the easiest task, but that certainly doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Here’s the cream of the crop.

UPDATED DECEMBER 1, 2012.


Social

Twitter: The official Twitter app is good enough for almost everyone. Along with giving you a clean, easy way to keep track of your timeline and updating your status, Twitter for Android also has a snazzy swipe down to refresh feature. Free.

Facebook: Facebook is finally decent on Android and now actually brings some unique features, namely the front page side-scroll of friend’s recent photos and a pull-up notification window. Free.

Google+: It’s Google’s big soiree into social “sharing”. The app has it all: a stream that shows what your friends are talking about (like Facebook), and Huddle, which is an easy-to-setup group chats (like GroupMe) and will even automatically upload the pictures you take on your phone to the cloud (like iCloud). Once you get on board with Google+, one of those features will pull you in.

Tango: Tango is the best (and clearest!) way to video chat with your buddies, Android or iPhone, over 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi. Free.

Imo.im: With its new tabbed interface, imo.im is an IM app that’s light, pretty and easy to use. It supports AIM, Google Talk, MSN, Yahoo, Facebook chat and others. Free.

Handcent SMS: Handcent puts SMS on steroids. It’s fully customisable (in look and theme), gives you lots of options for popups, and it even lets you tweak individual contact settings. If you’ve never thought the stock messaging app on Android sucked, we won’t blame you. But after using Handcent, you will. Free.

Facebook Messenger: Think of it as a cross-platform messaging service that enables you to easily talk to people on any platform — Android, iPhone, Facebook, SMS and everything in between. It’s not dissimilar to Kik or WhatsApp in this aspect. If your friends are on Facebook, they’ll get your message in the Messages (or on their Android or iPhone). If they’re not on Facebook, it’ll be redirected as an SMS.

Tumblr: Tumblr has been graced with a brand new interface that makes it brainless to use. Everything about 2.0 is smoother, simpler and all-around better. Writing an entry is easy — be it a photo post or just a reblog — and switching between multiple blogs is handled gracefully.

8tracks: 8tracks has always been a great way to combine your favourite songs into a custom playlist and share it with your friends. It’s now on Android. The service allows you to create a social playlist of songs with eight or more songs, pulled and organised from their huge database of tracks. Music reviewers like Pitchfork, Spin and Rolling Stone contribute playlists, and the service promises a social music discovery experience that lets you discover music that real people think works together.

The New Essential Apps April 2012

Instagram: After a long wait, Android users finally got Instagram. The free social snapshot app includes all of the same features included in its iOS counterpart, from more than a dozen photo filters, to instant sharing on Facebook and Twitter. It’s already been updated a couple of times to iron out a few kinks in the first release. Free.

Kicksend: It’s easy use your phone to share just one photo or video to a friend, but what about an entire set? Kicksend lets you send large batches of photos and videos to your friends in one fell swoop. Free.

Untappd: There are countless brews out there for you to try, but which one will you like? This social app will help you discover new beers to try, as well as identify the bars near you that have them. What an excuse to drink! Free.


Entertainment

Songkick Concerts: You’ll never miss a favourite band coming to town with this app. It scans your music library and your accounts on Spotify and other places to find out what you like. Then it tells you when musicians you like have gigs in your city. Free.

Spotify: Released to much fanfare, Spotify is as close to a great streaming service we can get. The Android app lets you listen to all of Spotify’s 13 million track library, and its offline mode lets you listen to music without a data connection, because you can wirelessly sync your local files to your phone, create and sync playlists and more. Free.

Pano: A panoramic picture taking app for your Android phone. Basically, you snap a series of side-by-side individual shots together and Pano automagically stitches them together to create one super-long seamless photo. You can even merge together 16 pictures into one humungo 360-degree photo if you wanted! $2.87.

AnimGIF Live Wallpaper 2: A wallpaper “app” that lets you use any GIF you find on the world wide web as your phone’s wallpaper. I put app in quotes because its actually more like a settings option, the app is only visible as another option when you want to change wallpapers. It gives your phone depth with a brand new moving personality.

Pops: Pops makes notifications ridiculous. You can flip your email, SMS, Twitter and Facebook notifications into VIDEO or ANIMATED notifications. Nyan Cat, Android Robot, anything. Think of it as the next evolution of ringtones. Free.

Vignette: With Vignette you get those wonderful artsy effects your friends love and a ton of straight shooting options that’ll make you leave your Point and Shoot at home. Not kidding, there’s over 68 different effects, 56 unique frames and a ton o’ shooting options like fixed focus, fast shot, steady shot, self timer, etc. $3.99.

Rdio: A “social” music subscription service, as in you can leach off your friend’s good music taste to listen to exactly what they are. Plus, you can sync songs to listen offline. Free.

Rockplayer: Rockplayer can play nearly any video file you throw at it, meaning those DVD rips, Windows files, decidedly non-standard clips and those videos you “obtained” from the Internet will all be good to roll. Free.

SoundHound: Shazam gets all the publicity, but SoundHound is just as good at identifying music. It’s also better for Android because there’s no limit on how many songs you tag per month. Soundhound also throws in lyrics and links to videos too. Free.

IMDb: Who’s that guy? Where’s he from? Should I even watch this movie? Solve all your movie questions with Android’s official IMDB app. It’s basically IMDB’s website optimised for your phone, which is a good thing in this case. Free.

FX Camera: It’s a fairly basic lomo FX/hipstamatic style camera, but it’s really easy to use and processes the pictures REALLY fast. There’s not too many effects available (ToyCam, Polaroid, Fisheye, SymmetriCam and Andy Warholizer), but all of them are stellar. Free.

Kindle: Just because you don’t own a Kindle doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be buying Kindle ebooks — especially when Amazon has an Android app that’s dead simple to use. The ebook wars aren’t quite over, but no one will judge you for siding with Amazon. Free.

Listen: For podcast fiends, Google’s Listen is easily the easiest app to use. Find your podcasts by searching Google’s database and stay up to date with automatic downloads (set to your preferences). Free.

Backgrounds HD Wallpapers: Ain’t nothing like pretending your old phone is brand new than switching up the wallpaper. Backgrounds has a ridiculous, ridiculous amount of options to choose from (over 10,000!). Free.

Lightbox: Lightbox is a stylish camera app that’s good enough to replace the stock camera app. Though it doesn’t have basic features like zoom or autofocus, it does give you the ability to add 10 trendy filters after your shot. Your artsy photos can be shared via Twitter and Facebook, and it’s automagically beamed down to your Honeycomb tablets and Lightbox’s web interface. Like Instagram and iCloud but for Android. Free.

Snaptastic: An excellent photo-editing app that’s currently in beta, Snaptastic allows you to quickly tweak your pictures anyway you want. There are 15 presets already built in, custom presets you can set yourself, and controls for brightness, contrast, temperature, tint, vignetting and more. Make your pictures look better and share them immediately to all your favourite social networks. $3.92.

SketchBook Mobile: For Honeycomb tablets, it’s a canvas for you to draw and paint on, with virtual tools and brush styles that can be really used to create art. You can save up to six layers per file and export files to Photoshop for further working. Great for professionals who want to use their tablets for ideas and amateurs like me who can only hope to draw a straight line. $1.96.

VLC: It’s only in super pre-alpha type stage, but VLC for Android is VLC, our favourite video player in the world. Play all the movies, TV shows and videos you’ve accumulated in your internet career on your Android phone. Free.

Darth Maul Me: Take a photo of yourself. Make a few adjustments and you’ll see what you would look like as a Dathomirian Zabrak. Seriously, I had to look up what species Darth Maul was. Free.

The New Essential Apps February 2012

Cartoon Camera: This app is like Hipstamatic except instead of being tailored to aloof artsy people, it’s created for people with a sense of humour — or at least people who like the funny papers. The app does an admirably good job of turning your photos into sketch-like cartoons — especially for a free app. Free.

GoPro: Have a GoPro? Now you can control it from your Android phone. You can check out your own videos as well as EXTREME CLIPS others have uploaded. Free.


Games

Plants vs. Zombies: The insanely addictive tower defence game where you battle zombies with various plants, flowers and rocks is finally on Android. It’s still the same heart-racing, finger-mashing, zombie-killing fun as it ever was. $2.99.

Angry Birds: It’s the world’s most popular smartphone game, and with good reason! There’s something about launching these different sorts of aviary ammunition into the precarious pig pens that just never gets old. There are always new birds and new stages coming out the pipeline to keep things fresh too. Free.

Need for Speed: Shift: The best racing game on Android because of its impressively rich graphics and buttery smooth gameplay. You’ll pop your eyeballs out when you realise that this kind of game can work that well on your phone. $2.06.

Fieldrunners HD: The endlessly popular tower defence game Fieldrunners is finally on Android. There are over 400 levels across four battlefields, seven different weapons to guard your territory with, and hours upon hours of fun. I’ve lost myself in this game when it was on iOS and plan to lose myself this weekend now that it’s finally on Android. $2.04.

Fruit Ninja: I don’t know what it is about chopping fruits that pop up on the screen, but slicing a sick multiple fruit combo with juicy visuals never felt so good. Simple gameplay that’s ridiculously addictive. $1.19.

Robo Defense: Robo Defense is a tower defence game at its best: excitingly chaotic, stressfully fun and strategically simple. Time disappears when you’re trying to hit the upgrades and achievements in this game. $2.89 for Pro.

Alchemy Classic: Alchemy is fun because it’s so damn clever. The premise is simple: combine elements to create things like beer, life, skyscrapers, vampires and more. One thing: you’ll have to use your noodle to complete the game. Free.

Words with Friends: Finally available on Android, Words with Friends lets you dominate your Android and iPhone-wielding friends (cross-platform gaming!) with your vocabulary skills and astute tile placement. Free.

Nesoid: It’s BYO ROMs, but this $3.08 NES emulator single-handedly solves Android’s gaming problem by letting you play any NES game you can get your hands on. Bonus: The smug sense of satisfaction that this would never fly in the App Store. $3.08.

Meganoid: A really hilarious and super-fun 8-bit game that proudly takes inspiration from Megaman and Metroid. Hilarious because the 8-bit graphics and sound effects are a nod to the simpler days, and super-fun because it reminds you of being a kid again. Free.

PewPew: It looks a whole lot like Geometry Wars, which is one of the highest compliments we can give a game. PewPew for Android features four game modes of laser-blasting enjoyment. Best of all, it’s totally free.

Cut the Rope: An iOS game mainstay, it’s finally available on Android. And it’s free at GetJar! The premise of the game, if you’ve been living under a rock, is to feed Om Nom his candy by cutting ropes in strategic fashion and also gathering as many stars as you can. Trust me, it’s not as boring as it sounds. You’ll be addicted in no time. Free.

Roboto: A beautiful-looking action game where you play the role of a teen robot in love with a pretty robot and have to shoot a bunch of bad guys to win her. Silly, yes, but the graphics are awesome. Although it’s ostensibly a classic side-scrolling game, the world occasionally flips upside down to keep you on your toes. $3.85.

Eternity Warriors: Made by the people behind Gun Bros, you play as a warrior armed with swords to chop up the bad guys. It’s sorta action RPG-ish, loads of fun and you can play with friends too. Free.

Samurai II: Vengeance: Absolutely stunning anime/comicbook-style graphics plus controls that actually make sense plus lots of ways to slice dudes in half plus samurais plus swords equals a ridiculously engaging Android game. There’s a HD game for dual-core phones too. $2.49.

Tiny Tower: A free 8-bit style game that lets you channel your inner landlord. You build floors on a tower to attract “bitizens” to live in it and then control their lives (manage, hire, give a job, evict). It’s like SimCity but actually fun. Free.

MineCraft Sweeper: Marry two addictive titles into one app and you’re sure to create a sort of new super game addict. The app is cross between Minesweeper and MineCraft. Good luck getting anything done after downloading this.

SmartGlass: The wait is over. Download SmartGlass to control your Xbox from your phone. Basically you never have to leave your couch ever again. Free.


Productivity

Flipboard: After a long wait, Flipboard has made its way to Android. The new version pulls together all Twitter feeds and helps you keep up with publications you follow. There’s also support here for Google+ (if you care) and YouTube. Free.

Launcher Pro: Launchers are wonderful things! In a nutshell, they’re homescreen replacements, but really they can magically tranform an entire phone — especially if your phone has been saddled with crappy manufacturer skin. You get faster performance, new animations, more homescreens and a cleaner interface all around with Launcher Pro. Free.

Light Flow: It doesn’t work for every phone, but what it does is let you take control of the notification light on your Android light. You can change colours, cycle through ‘em all, program apps to work with it and make lots of other customisations. It’s a small tweak but one that makes your phone yours. Free, $1.99 for the Pro version.

Google Reader: Finally! After years of only having a web app (that’s admittedly decent), Google just released a full-fledged app for Google Reader. If you’re familiar with using Google Reader, it’s exactly what you’d expect, only translated for the smaller screen (and faster than the web app). One super-cool feature: using the volume keys to navigate through feeds. Free.

PDAnet: PdaNet is the ridiculously easy way to tether your laptop to your phone, over USB or Bluetooth, without rooting it. If you don’t wanna pay for the full version, it’ll still connect to non-https:// addresses just fine (basically the regular stuff). Free.

SwiftKey X Keyboard: The star feature of Swiftkey is its predictive text — it literally learns the way you type. We’re not kidding, Swiftkey will scan your SMS messages to see what words you’re most likely to use. You’ll feel like it can read your mind. Plus, it looks better than the stock Android keyboard. $2.99.

Beautiful Widgets: If you don’t have a HTC Sense phone but still want some gorgeous-looking widgets, Beautiful Widgets is all you need. Like the name, the visuals and animations are to die for. $2.49.

AK Notepad: There’s plenty of note apps that throw in snazzier features, but the beauty of AK Notepad is in its simplicity: it’s a basic yellow pad that let’s you jot down what you need. Free.

Epistle: A super-simple and great-looking text editor that syncs with Dropbox. Your notes are saved in a plain text file, the titles are searchable, and the syncing is super fast. Great for those who don’t need all the bells and whistles. Free.

Evernote: If you need more features in a “note taker”, Evernote is simply a powerhouse of a note-taking app. Not only can you jot down notes, but you can take pictures, record voice notes and upload files to remember all on the cloud. Free.

Classic Notes + App Box: Classic Notes+ App Box is a note-taking app that looks a lot like AK Notepad but with a lot more features hidden inside. Seriously, there’s nutty features like conversion options, tip calculator, weather, time, Wikipedia search and heaps more bat-shit crazy options (seriously) that don’t really belong in a note-taking app but are nice (?) to have as a backup. Free, $1.92 for the Pro version.

Pocket (formerly Read It Later): Pocket is a similar service to Instapaper, which means it’s an offline news caching reader. Save articles through its browsers and read them offline on your phone. Looks great while reading too. Free.

Feedly: A magazine overlay for your Google Reader, it has the perfect balance between good looks and easy readability. It syncs with your Google Reader account for feeds and plays well with Twitter and Pocket. Free.

HandyCalc: HandyCalc is by far the best calculator on the market. It’s so smart it gives suggestions on what you’re trying to do and can even convert units and currency. Free.

Dropbox: It really doesn’t get easier than Dropbox. With its Android app, you can view and edit all your Dropbox files in a sweet and simple interface, and even stream music and videos you’ve uploaded to Dropbox in its media player (or save for offline viewing). Free.

Tasker: Here’s what Tasker does: it performs a set of actions given certain rules and context, like if X happens, then Y will follow kind of deal. So if you’re in your car and turn on Car Home on your Android phone, Tasker will know to also shut off Wi-Fi, turn on GPS, flip on the radio and crank the volume. Completely customisable, Tasker makes your smartphone even smarter. $5.99.

Astrid Task/To Do List: No other app gives as much detail to to do lists as Astrid. Its “advanced” options lets you set priority levels, integrate with Google Calendar, sync with Google tasks, and set up tags, alerts and periodic reminders. Astrid keeps it easy, for the most part, but also offers deeper settings if you’re the obsessive, customise-everything exactly-how-you-want-it type. Free.

Astro File Manager: Astro File Manager makes it pretty easy to dig up files hiding around in your phone. It also can act as a backup, application manager and task manager (if you’re into that kind of thing). Free.

Voice Recorder: If you need a voice recorder app, this is the one to get. Send the recording via Gmail, record by widget and more, it does all a voice recorder needs to do. Free.

Gmote 2.0: Using your phone as a remote control for your computer is practically a God-given right, and Gmote’s the best Android remote for playing and controlling movies and music on your computer. Free.

Exchange by Touchdown: TouchDown syncs with your Exchange Server to let you send and receive email, manage contacts, view and edit appointments, and filter through tasks. It all sounds so simple, but TouchDown really is the best way to work with Exchange on your Android phone. $20.56.

3G Watchdog: With a lot of the carriers moving towards monthly data caps, 3G Watchdog smartly protects you from going over your limit. It shows your data usage in either the notification window, through the app itself or via the widget. Free.

Connection Checker: A simple but incredibly useful app that disconnects you from terrible Wi-Fi and 3G signals. Basically, if you have a crappy Wi-Fi connection, it’ll flip you over to 3G and turn off Wi-Fi. If you have a bad 3G connection, it’ll put you on Airplane Mode until it gets better.

Prox: A genuinely clever app, Prox can control your Android phone without ever touching the touchscreen. The accelerometer determines how you hold the phone (left, right, toward, away) and can associate an action for the grip. You trigger that action by waving your hand over the proximity sensor. So you can load apps, change ringer mode, open notifications, turn off the screen and more with a simple wave of the hand. It could prove useful in cold weather situations or if you want to pretend you have wizard powers. $0.99.

Plex: Plex offers a dead simple media streaming and conversion utility for Android (and other platforms, including iOS and WP7) that requires little to no setup. Install the Plex media server on your home computer, install Plex for Android on your handset, create a myPlex account, log in to it and you’re pretty much finished. $4.63.

MoneyWise: The app that lets you manage your budget and transactions on your phone without being a gateway to a web app or desktop client. Free, $6.90 for the Pro version.

Tape-a-Talk Voice Recorder: The app will record audio at variable bitrates. It’ll even record in the background and share those recordings via email and DropBox. Free.

Aldiko Book Reader: Lifehacker found the best ereader for Android. I can’t imagine how many books they had to read to come to this conclusion. I’m guessing hundreds. The reader can open, EPUB, PDF and DRM-locked Adobe books. To appease the demands of your eyes, you can customise the interface. Free.

The New Essential Apps April 2012

Google Drive: Last month, Google launched Google Drive, its long-awaited Dropbox competitor, and along with it came an Android app. It lets you create, save, sync and share your files from anywhere. If you’re a heavy Google Docs user, you’ll definitely want to add this app to your repertoire. Free.

The New Essential Apps May 2012

CoinKeeper: Know exactly what you’re spending with this finance tracking app. It’s been on iOS for quite a while, but it landed on Android just this week. You’ll have your finances organised easily and quickly, so you won’t get that panicky feeling when the first of the month rolls around and you’ve got a bunch of bills to pay. Free.

Word Lens: It’s disorienting and confusing to be dropped in a country where you don’t know the language. This handy app uses augmented reality through your phone’s camera and automatically translates signs and other things in the real world into your native tongue. $4.99.

Amazon Cloud Drive Photos: If you stash your stuff with Amazon, you’ll want to download this, a standalone photo storage app for Android. Perks include 5GB of free storage and uploading entire albums at a time from your phone or tablet. Free.


Lifestyle

Nike+ Running: Here’s an app to match the Nikes you’re sporting. Nike+ Running maps out your runs, tracks your progress and motivates you to move those feet faster. Free.

Adobe Flash Player: I really don’t care if Flash is good for the web or not, I just want to see as much web content as I can on my Android phone. Downloading Flash Player gets me one step closer to that. Free.

The Weather Channel: The Weather Channel app on Android isn’t the most feature-packed, but its the easiest to use. We love it because we can hit all the important features, like the “What It Feels Like” temperature, the 10-day forecast and hourly temperature, faster than any other app. Free.

BeWeather: BeWeather is a gorgeous weather app that gets its data from Weather Underground. There are detailed forecasts, 11 different widgets in six different sizes, temperature notification in the status bar, radar and satellite maps and lots of customisation options that let you change the icons, fonts and colours. $3.27.

Yelp: Everyone’s a critic when it comes to bars and restaurants; Yelp puts that impulse to work for you. Search for food, drink or whatever else by location, price and style, and then read up on what people have to say about it. Free.

BBC News: It’s the inimitable news network, available on your phone. It’s great because you can still catch up on the latest breaking news, personalise the homescreen to your interests, share a story and watch the news too. Free.

Wapedia: Wapedia gives you all of Wikipedia in a quick and easy-to-understand format. It also offers more reference options to search through specialised wikis (Call of Duty, Mad Men, etc) for the most specific information you can glean from an app. Free.

Google Earth: It’s, like, the entire world… on your Android phone. Google Earth is cooler than ever when you’re using your fingers to manipulate it, seamlessly zooming around the globe and diving into various places to take a closer look. Free.

Google Goggles: Hey, what’s that building over there? Is this a famous painting? Those are all questions that can be answered by Google Goggles, which is really searching by taking a picture. The image recognition can be insanely good. Free.

TripIt: TripIt is just an absolute godsend when you’re travelling. It’s like having your own travel assistant; all you have to do is forward your travel confirmation emails to TripIt and it’ll automatically organise it for you in its tidy app. You’ll always have your itinerary right on your phone. Free with ads, $3.74 without ads.

Layar: The king of augmented reality apps, Layar is able to layer pretty much whatever kind of data you want on top of your boring, HUD-less reality. Free.

Crackle: Sony has released Crackle, an app that streams full-feature movies and popular TV shows to Android for free. For free. For free! We’re talking popular TV shows like Seinfeld or big-time movies like The Da Vinci Code. The app is the same ad-supported streaming service as the Crackle.com website (and iOS apps) and has a decent catalogue from Columbia Pictures, Tri-Star, Screen Gems, Sony Pictures Classics and other studios. Free.

Flickr: Flickr lets you scan photostreams, upload pictures, share photos to other social networks, take filterised pictures and look so hip with it. Free.

iOnRoad for Android: It’s an app that uses your phone’s native camera and sensors to tell you if you’re driving a safe distance from the cars in front of you, and alerts you visually and audibly if you’re approaching a car or object in front of you that pose a danger for collisions.

360 Panorama: Take a photo while spinning around to create 360 panoramic photos on your Android phone. Just be careful not to fall over. $0.99.

Lapse It: It’s a time-lapse camera that makes it dead easy to capture time-lapse videos with your Android phone. What’s cool, if it’s your cup of tea, is that you can add camera effects to your time-lapse videos too. Other than that, you basically set what sort of interval you want to take pictures at and Lapse It will export the video in all its amazingness. Free, $2.06 for the Pro version.

Mixologist Drink Recipes: You like booze? Yeah, you like booze. Mixologist was voted one of the best drink app for Android in a recent Lifehacker poll. Just because New Year’s is over doesn’t mean the party has to stop. $1.49.

The New Essential Apps May 2012

Grill-It: Cooking snags this weekend? Grill-it will make sure you don’t screw it up. It gives you lots of recipes and helps you with technique as well. No one’s going to leave your cookout hungry (or food poisoned). $0.99.

DJrun: It’s hard to work out let, alone run, without the right soundtrack. Using your phone’s accelerometers, this app promises to give you the perfect playlist to match your your pace to keep your motivation up and your feet moving. Free.


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