Android has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. From humble beginnings, the operating system has quickly become a dominant force in the mobile industry today. The open-source platform is free from restrictions that come with other devices, and this has lead to the development of some really fantastic software.
Today we’re going to highlight no less than 100 fantastic Android applications, across categories such as productivity, entertainment, reading, file sharing, and useful utilities. You’ll be amazed what the Android device in your pocket is capable of!
Of course, even these 100 applications are only the tip of the iceberg; there are plenty of others that we just could not fit in the list. Let us know in the comments if there are any you think deserve a shout-out.
We’ll also share a series of 15 nifty Android tips and tricks that you may not have come across before… Read on to find out more!
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If you enjoyed this, check out our more recent post: Our Top 100 Android Apps.
Here’s a quick summary of the different categories we cover in this article, so you can quickly skip between them if you’re interested in a particular type of app:
- For Starters
- Task Managers and Productivity
- Browsers & Searching
- Music, Video, and Photo
- Blogging & Social Networking
- Reading, News and Books
- Office and Business
- File Sharing and Connectivity
- Launchers and Home Screens
- 15 Bonus Android Tips and Tricks
These two applications are great in themselves, but you’ll find them particularly useful for downloading the other applications in this list.
That weird, black and white, pixelly square to the right is called a QR-Code, and it stores text in the same way that a supermarket barcode stores numbers. In this case, it stores the URL of the Android Market page for the Barcode Scanner application.
Barcode Scanner lets you hold your phone camera up to any of these QR-Codes, quickly decode the contents, and open the URL (if it is a URL) either in your phone’s browser or using the Market application. Unfortunately you’ll have to download the Barcode Scanner application itself using the old-fashioned method of typing the name into the search box, but after that you’ll be able to grab any of the other application URLs from this page in a couple of seconds.
(Hat tip to Kaywa for their excellent QR-Code Generator.)
Chrome to Phone (& android2cloud)
You might remember Chrome to Phone being shown off at Google I/O 2010. When browsing a website on your computer, you can hit “Send to Phone” (in either Chrome or Firefox) to make the page automatically appear in your Android browser, wirelessly — no need to email it to yourself or manually copy the URL.
Likewise, YouTube videos launch in the YouTube application; selected text gets copied to the Android clipboard; selected phone numbers get dialed. Best of all, you can search for Google Maps directions on your computer, and send them to the phone, which will switch to Navigation Mode, ready to go. Try using it to load this page in your phone’s browser; you can then tap any of the QR codes to go straight to that application’s download page.
See also: android2cloud, which does the opposite: lets you send pages from your phone to your computer browser.
Task Managers and Productivity
Everyone loves to have a simple to-do list easily at hand, and your Android phone is the perfect place to manage tasks on-the-go. Syncing is important too, so we’ve noted down how these applications sync with other platforms such as your desktop Windows or Mac computer.
Are you a fan of David Allen’s Getting Things Done system? Due Today is loosely based on this, with enough leeway for you to add your own organizational spin to things. It syncs with ToodleDo and can add your tasks to Google Calendar. Plus, it can remind you about tasks (including tasks that you were meant to do yesterday but forgot).
The included homescreen widget lets you have a constant reminder of stuff you have to do, and is full-width, unlike some other task managers.
Price: $2.99 (free lite version available)
Got To Do
Both have free “Lite” versions that you can try out before purchasing.
Price: $3.19 (free lite version available)
Google Tasks Organizer
We use a lot of Google products at Envato: Calendar, Docs, Mail. If you’re the same, you’ll like this application: it’s based around your Google Tasks. I particularly like that it syncs with multiple Gmail and Google Apps accounts, since I have one for work and another for personal use.
Price: $2.85 (free trial version available)
Beacon (for Basecamp)
If you use Basecamp, this is a no-brainer. It’s far from perfect — you can’t access whiteboards or files, and multiple projects can be difficult to manage — but it is Basecamp on your phone.
If you’re unfamiliar with Basecamp, it’s a project management tool created by a company called 37signals. You can find out more about it over at the Basecamp website.
Astrid is my favorite task organizer application. It’s hard to explain why with a list of features, although all the usual ones are there: synchronization (with Producteev and Google Tasks), task filtering, priorities, reminders… the real benefits are in the design of the application. It’s very well put together. Oh, it’s also open source, in case that floats your boat.
For an extra few dollars you can buy the Power Pack, which adds voice input, text-to-speech, and timers for tracking how long you spend on tasks.
Price: Free ($3.99 for the Power Pack)
Out of Milk
Out of Milk does contain a to-do list manager, but its main focus is on shopping lists. It allows you to scan the barcodes of items that you buy, and use these to populate your list, so that instead of checking items off by manually scrolling to them and tapping, you can just scan them in.
The Spice Rack organizer is a great bonus feature: use this to keep track of what’s in your cabinet so that you know to stock up if you need to. Sensibly, the application lets you keep multiple shopping lists, rather than cramming everything into one master list.
Browsers & Searching
Unlike in the relatively restricted environment of the iTunes App Store, there are plenty of fully-functional web browsers available for Android. Here are just a few that can speed up and enhance your internet experience:
Do I need to explain Google’s basic search? Chances are, this came with your phone — it’s probably what appears when you hit the built-in Search button. Type something in and it’ll search for it on Google.
Actually, there is a bit more to it than that: it’ll predict what you’re typing based on common search queries and your search history, and allows search via voice control (if you have it enabled on your phone).
This is incredible. Take a picture of a logo, a book, some artwork, or a landmark, and Google Goggles will tell you what it is. You can even use it to translate foreign menus!
Basically, it’s Google search, but based on images rather than on text. It’s useful for looking things up, of course, but even better as a tool for showing off what your mobile phone can do.
Flash Player 10.1
It doesn’t look like Steve Jobs is going to budge on his decision to keep Flash out of the iPhone browser. Fortunately, with Android, you can make your own choice. Flash Player 10.1 runs surprisingly smoothly on mobile, and unlike Flash Lite (the previous mobile-optimised version of Flash Player), it can do pretty much anything that your computer’s browser can. That means all those free Flash games are playable (well, those that don’t require a keyboard), and previously unwatchable Flash-based videos (like those on the BBC iPlayer website, for UK users) can now be seen.
What about the claims of reduced battery life? It doesn’t have to be a problem. In your browser’s settings, change the “Enable plug-ins” option to “On demand”; that way, Flash objects will only load if you tell them to, so banner ads and the like won’t run in the background.
Wolfram Alpha is a knowledge engine for geeks. That’s not their official tagline, but it gives you a better idea of what it does than “computational knowledge engine.” It’s like a search engine, but rather than helping you find pages, it helps you find knowledge, and attempts to present information in a sensible format based on context.
Search for “cheese sandwich” and it’ll tell you how many calories are in it. “Recent earthquakes” will give you a world map with colored dots indicating seismic activity. It’d also be pretty useful for cheating on your math homework. I mean, in theory.
The Android application still uses the Wolfram Alpha website, but has an interface specificially designed for mobile, with a compact layout and special keyboards for mathematical symbols.
Firefox 4 Beta
Firefox Sync keeps your desktop and mobile browser histories, passwords, and bookmarks synchronized — extremely useful, if you already use Firefox on your computer.
Opera Mini 5
Opera Mini’s main selling point, compared to other browsers, is its speed. When you request a webpage, it’s rendered and compressed on Opera’s servers before being sent to your phone; since they are compressed, this means that webpages require far less bandwidth to download, which is great if you’ve got a low data cap or poor connection. Like Firefox 4, this browser can sync with its desktop equivalent.
Opera Mobile 10.1 Beta
Opera Mobile 10.1 is the big brother of Opera Mini. This time, the rendering engine is built into the phone (though you can opt for server-side rendering by enabling Opera Turbo if you prefer). However, as a Beta, it has a few restrictions; most notably, Flash Player is not currently supported.
Skyfire are positioning their browser as the best social networking browser available. When visiting a site, you’ll see what content is most popular with your Facebook friends. When searching, you’ll get results from Facebook and Twitter, as well as Google. A Facebook “Like” button is built right into the browser UI. You get the idea.
Dolphin Browser HD
Dolphin HD is a great all-round browser. It has add-ons (including Adblocker). It supports Flash. It’s been shown in tests to be faster than other browsers. And it includes a host of neat little features, too, like gesture control and the ability to use the volume buttons to scroll a webpage.
So here’s a quick guide to which alternative browser you should try first: if you use Firefox on your desktop, try Firefox 4 beta. If you use Opera, try Opera Mini 5 (if you’ve a poor connection) or Opera Mobile 10.1 beta. If you use RockMelt, try Skyfire 3.0. Otherwise, check out Dolphin Browser HD.
Music, Video, and Photo
Modern phones are as much about consuming media as they are about communicating. These applications will help you make the most of that:
YouTube on your phone. This comes with Android, so no need to download it — just select “Open With YouTube” when you load any YouTube URL.
Google and Apple are both apparently working on ways to allow you to keep your music in the cloud, rather than being restricted to whatever sub-collection of your library you remembered to copy onto your SD card the last time you did a transfer.
In the meantime, you can use mSpot Music. Upload your MP3s to the mSpot servers, and this application will play a mixture of tracks from the servers and tracks stored on your phone.
Android phone, but iTunes user? You feel conflicted, I know. Don’t worry; iSyncr is all you need. After you’ve installed this application, whenever you plug your phone into your computer it’ll allow you to sync your playlists. It’s a two-way sync, meaning that it adjusts the ratings and play count on iTunes if you change them on your phone.
There’s also a Wi-Fi add-on, so you don’t even have to plug your phone in to sync — just be on the same network as your computer.
Price: $2.99 (add an extra $0.99 for the Wi-Fi add-on; free trial available)
I don’t have DirecTV, but I love the idea of this. It’s an application that tells your DVR to record certain shows, remotely. So if you stay out later than usual and realise that you’re going to miss [insert your favorite show here], you don’t have to wait for a repeat; just set it to record from wherever you are.
MixZing is a great music player with a beautiful design that lets the album cover art take prime position on the screen. It can sync with your computer, automatically tag unlabeled songs, and download missing album art to make sure that it always looks good.
But the best feature is the Mood Player: like iTunes Genius, this selects new songs to play based on whatever you’re currently listening to.
Price: $6.99 (free restricted version available)
PowerAMP takes a different approach to MixZing; it seems to be aimed far more at a technical-minded Android user. Pretty much everything can be customized, from skins to the startup screen. There’s no Mood Player, but there is an equalizer. It can scan a thousand files in one second (on some phones). You can probably tell from the screenshots alone whether you’re more likely to prefer MixZing or PowerAMP.
Price: $4.99 (free 15-day trial available)
Really, all this does is apply a few filters as you take some photographs. But of course, that’s not the point; the whole application is a bit of nostalgia-soaked fun, from the names of the different cameras (“Xolaroid 2000”?) to the interface itself. Much more entertaining than Photoshop. Er, no offense, Psdtuts+.
Price: $2.99 (free, ad-supported version available)
PicPlz, in constrast to Retro Camera, doesn’t let you pretend that you’re using an old device or waiting for a photograph to develop; it makes it perfectly clear that you’re taking a photo and adding filters to it.
The focus in this application is on social photography: snap a photo, apply a filter or effect, and quickly post it to your Facebook or Twitter stream.
Blogging & Social Networking
The various applications available make liveblogging easier and easier — we experimented with this on Activetuts+ earlier this year, with great results. It’s also easy (too easy?) to keep up with your social networks wherever you are. Here’s how:
WordPress for Android
Got a WordPress blog? Get the WordPress application. It’s open source, and getting better all the time. In terms of features, it does a good job of supporting almost everything that you can do in the fully-fledged web interface.
The biggest problem with it is, it’s nearly impossible to step away from your blog once you install it…
Tumblr bills itself as “The easiest way to blog.” Just sign up for free and starting posting (text, links, images, audio, video, whatever). Much like WordPress for Android, Tumblr’s Android application lets you blog (and reblog) from your phone. If you’re on Tumblr you should check this out; if you’re not, you’ll find this useless.
Facebook for Android
I hear a lot of complaints about this application (“interface sucks,” “there’s no chat,” “it crashes”) but personally I really like it. No, it doesn’t do everything that the full site does, but is that a problem? It lets you see your news feed, post status updates, and update your location to Places — and it does those things well. As a mobile application, that’s all it needs to do.
IRC stands for Internet Relay Chat; connect to a server, join a channel (chat room), and talk to whoever’s there. There are a few Android IRC applications available, but this is the best. It does a good job of keeping all the information on-screen (see the screenshots below), and supports horizontal mode for those devices with a slide-out keyboard.
Plus, it keeps running in the background, with notifications, so you can use your phone for other things while still being online. I’m not convinced that a mobile phone is really a great device to use for IRC, but if you just can’t stay off the server, this is the best application to go for.
Price: Free (optional $4.99 version available)
Twidroyd (previously Twidroid)
For a long time, Twidroyd reigned supreme among Android Twitter applications. Its status has been diminished somewhat by the official Twitter application and the release of TweetDeck for Android, but it’s still an excellent choice.
One recent feature is LivePreview, which will sound familiar if you’re a #newtwitter user: turn your phone to landscape mode and it’ll split the screen in two, with your stream on the left and an enlarged view of any webpages or images linked from selected tweets on the right.
As well as smart design, Twidroyd has a huge number of features: bit.ly support, thread view, geolocation, and multi-account support (which makes it my favorite) just to name a few.
Price: Free ($3.99 PRO version available)
As the official Twitter application, this is what the majority of Twitter users will probably go for. And that’s no bad thing; it’s really rather good.
It’s nowhere near as feature-rich as Twidroyd, and doesn’t aim to be—this is a clean, simple tool with few bells and whistles. If you just want to tweet on your phone, this will do a fine job.
TweetDeck isn’t just for Twitter! It also supports Facebook, Foursquare, and, er, Buzz (remember Buzz?). The developers have tried something different here, going for a design that’s different to both their desktop application and their iPhone app. It shows a lot of promise, but it’ll probably take a while to grow on you. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you already use TweetDeck Desktop.
There’s not too much that can be said about this. It looks great, is refreshingly kind on your battery for location-based networking, and it’s very streamlined…
If you’re on Foursquare, chances are you’re already using this application. And if you’re not, you don’t need it, so move along!
This is fantastic if you do a lot of walking, running, or cycling. My Tracks uses Google Maps and GPS to record your movements (you press Start and Stop to tell it what to count as a single Track) and gives you a ton of statistics, from the route itself to your average speed.
You can then save this Track to your phone, Google Spreadsheets, or Google Maps, alongside a description of the circumstances (like, “raining”, “power walking”, or “jogging”). Great for planning an exercise trail — or just for figuring out the fastest route to the shops.
Simple Last.fm Scrobbler
I’m a bit of a stats junkie, so I love last.fm. If you’ve not come across this site before, the idea is that it tracks every single song you listen to, ever, and outputs various charts and statistics to analyse later. Great! Oh, and it also recommends new music based on your tastes, but to me that feature comes in a distant second place.
Naturally, not being able to “scrobble” (keep track of) songs I listen to on my phone would be very annoying, as it’s my primary MP3 player. Simple Last.fm Scrobbler lets the default Android music player (and several alternatives, including MixZing and PowerAMP) upload my playing habits to last.fm automatically, so I don’t have to worry about it. It’s also compatible with libre.fm.
Reading, News and Books
You can’t read on a phone in the same way that you can on a computer; the screen is much smaller for a start. But that’s not to say that it isn’t a perfect device for skimming articles and news on-the-go. Here are a few applications designed to make mobile reading more comfortable:
It’s TIME magazine, on your phone. Great interface, and the ability to save articles to read offline is a plus, but of course what really matters is whether you like reading TIME. If you do, grab it! If you’re not sure, take a look — it’s worth seeing what reading a magazine on Android can be like.
Much like TIME’s application, this does a great job of presenting news and articles from Huffington Post without getting in the way. If you’re a big fan of the site, this is a great alternatively to simply loading it up in your Android browser.
Kindle for Android
Even if you don’t have a Kindle, you can still read Kindle ebooks on your Android. (There’s a pretty decent selection available for free, actually, like The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.)
It saves your location in whatever you’re reading, so that if you come back to the same book later on (even on a different device, like your computer or an actual Kindle) you can pick up right where you left off.
gReader Pro is an excellent RSS reader; probably the best on Android. The main selling point is that it syncs well with Google Reader. With that said, if you’re the kind of person that has thousands of unread items in your Reader account, you’ll probably find this a bit too laggy for your tastes.
I don’t like reading long articles on my phone; the tiny screen just isn’t built for it. And yet, I still want to read the content of the articles.
Enter Instapaper and TLDR. The two combined let you save such articles from your phone to be read later, stripped of adverts and other superfluous content, in formats perfect for a computer screen, a Kindle, or good old-fashioned paper.
Reading’s great, but sometimes you want to kick back and relax with something a little less heavy. Here’s a few examples:
Onion News Network
The Onion is the most consistently funny spoof news site on the web, with multiple new updates per day. The application condenses the articles, photos, and videos into a mobile-friendly size.
Be careful though—there’s nothing weirder than the fellow commuter, laughing uncontrollably at his phone on the journey to work…
Layar Reality Browser
Layar is an augmented reality browser platform; hold your phone up and the screen will display a mixture of the picture from the camera (the “reality” part) and other information based on your GPS position and the direction you’re facing (thus, “augmenting” it).
This is done through different Layers, which work like browser plugins; one Layer displays nearby convenience stores, for example; another (shown in the accompanying screenshot) puts you in a 3D maze where you must walk around in the real world to get to the goal in the virtual one.
In all honesty, swinging your camera around to see where the nearest restaurant is is nowhere near as convenient as using Google Maps to do the same, but who cares? It’s awesome.
Price: Free for the browser; some Layers cost money
Listen is a simple-to-use podcast feed reader (listener). You can use it with your existing Google Reader account to manage existing subscriptions and add new ones, or search for something new to listen to.
It also allows you to download items, so if your connection is too poor to stream (or if you want to save something for later), you don’t have to miss out.
As well as offering the latest movie trailers, Moviefone is a great tool for finding out what’s on and what’s good in cinemas nearby. You can use GPS to see what’s on locally, watch trailers and see ratings to help you decide whether it’s worth going to see, view showtimes to choose when you want to go, and book tickets — all within one application.
Office and Business
Ah, you bought your fancy phone for business use? Yeah, that’s how I justified mine too. We might as well see what it can do in that respect:
Quickoffice Mobile Suite
Like it or loathe it, Microsoft Office is everywhere. With Quickoffice, you can view and edit Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files from your mobile. It also integrates with Google Docs, Dropbox, Box.net, and MobileMe.
Documents to Go
Another application for viewing and editing Microsoft Office documents. This doesn’t have as many features as Quickoffice, but there is a free basic version you can try out if all you need is the ability to read files.
Price: Free for basic version, $14.99 for full version with editing
This is a basic checkbook register with a clean and simple user interface. Don’t be fooled, though; it does have some powerful features, like the ability to set repeating transactions. Very useful for keeping track of your income and expenditure while on the go, and great for personal use too.
Kayak Flight and Hotel Search
This is Kayak.com, in mobile form. It lets you find cheap flights and hotel rooms through the Kayak website. As one reviewer put it, “turns flights into impulse purchases. Very dangerous app.”
Kayak is an amazing tool to use when searching for flights, and it turns what used to be a nightmare into a really enjoyable process.
Of course Android is already great at communication; it’s a phone OS. Still, there’s always room for improvement…
Google Voice is not available where I live, so I haven’t been able to try it out yet. I’ve heard many excellent things about it, though.
If you have a Google Voice account and an Android phone, this is a must-have; it lets you send texts and make phone calls through your Google Voice account using your actual phone. Seems silly not to.
If you have HTC Sense on your Android, then you’ve been spoiled, and won’t be able to appreciate what’s great about Dialer One. This adds speed dial and a call log, and lets you select contacts using a T9-style keyboard (e.g. 6424235 spells “Michael”).
Phone keyboards are getting easier and easier to use, but they’re still a long way behind computer keyboards for comfort and speed. RemoteSMS lets you write text messages from your computer (via Wi-Fi, USB, or Bluetooth), and gives you full access to your contacts and conversation history to make things easier.
Price: $2.73; free trial version available
Call & SMS Filter
Fortunately, I’ve never been the victim of unwanted phone calls or text messages; I can only imagine how frustrating that must be. Call & SMS Filter lets you block specific callers — or even everyone apart from approved contacts — from being able to get through to you.
Also a great tool if you’re wanting to keep close watch on who your children contact. If your kids are lucky enough to have an Android smartphone…!
Swap files, applications, and contact details via the time-honored tradition of a fist-bump. That’s really all there is to it. It also works with the iPhone version of the app (although naturally you can’t swap applications between Android and iOS).
Sometimes I need to remind someone — or a whole group of people — to do something at a certain point, and there’s always a risk that I’ll forget. SMS Wishes is a text-scheduler: enter a message, select the contacts you want to text, and choose a time and date to send it, then let the application take care of the rest.
Using music tracks as ringtones? For free?? Madness! Oh wait, no, you can do it with this application, right in your phone. All right then.
Ringdroid lets you snip a section of a music track from your library and use it as your ringtone. It’ll also allow you to record a tone using the microphone.
This simple application does what you’d expect: allow you to assign different ringtones to different contact groups. Perhaps the best use for this is to lower the chance of your phone playing Smack My Bitch Up when a coworker calls in the middle of a workday.
Price: Free (optional Donate version available)
File Sharing and Connectivity
In a nutshell, these applications are for those situations where a file is in one place but you need it to be in another.
Dropbox is my favorite cloud-based file storage tool. It gives me peace of mind to know that all my important files are backed up somewhere, available for me to access from another computer in case I need to.
And now with the Android application, I can download any of those files onto my phone at any point. I can also upload text or photos from my phone to my Dropbox — though I’m more likely to use Evernote for that.
Price: Free (for the application, and for 2GB of data)
Box.net for Android
Box.net is another cloud-based file storage tool, but has two major differences to Dropbox: first, it offers 5GB of free space, rather than the 2GB that Dropbox gives for free; second, it’s based more around collaboration than file synchronization. If you work in a team, give it a try.
Price: Free (for the application; price plans vary)
Transdroid is a BitTorrent application, but it’s not used for downloading and uploading .torrent files on your phone (imagine the data charges!). It’s used to manage torrent downloads on a remote computer; if you’re at work and you see that the new Ubuntu version has just become available, you can use your phone to start it downloading on your personal computer so that it’s ready when you arrive home.
Price: Free ($1.99 optional Donation version available)
With this tool, you can control your computers from your phone, any time, anywhere. You also have full access to all your files and folders, so you can grab that document you accidentally left on the work computer when you’re at home, without having to drive all the way back to the office.
Remote Desktop Client
Along the same lines as LogMeIn Ignition, Remote Desktop Client lets you control your Windows computer from your Android device. However, it’s based on the RDP protocol, which comes as standard with most versions of Windows, rather than LogMeIn’s own technology; this might be a benefit if you don’t have much control over what you can install on the client computer.
TeamViewer is another “remote control” application, aimed at the higher end of the market. (The Android application is free while it’s in beta, but the iPhone app costs $99.99!)
It does justify this with a more elegant design and a host of advanced features; try it out before you buy it to make sure you need the extras.
Price: Free for beta use; full pricing will be announced in Feb 2011
Let’s go shopping! Or, let’s actually stay wherever we are and do the shopping from there, since we can do so much remotely.
I love the idea of Square. Plug a little gadget into your phone, and it’ll let you accept payments from other people’s credit cards, anywhere. A year ago, a friend of mine ran a local art show, and had a lot of trouble figuring out how to sell the paintings to customers that weren’t willing to pay by cash or cheque. She ended up bringing a laptop, running the Paypal website, connected to the Internet via her phone’s 3G network. Now she could just use this.
The Target application includes the weekly deal, a tool for finding your nearest store, and a product search — all useful, but nothing too special.
The built-in Barcode Scanner, however, is a great idea. Scan an item in the store to see more details, read reviews, or to add it to your registry.
Best Buy’s application has the same basic features as Target’s: barcode scanner, weekly deal viewer, product search, and store locator. There’s a little extra for Reward Zone members, though: you can view your purchase history, exclusive offers, and point balance inside the application.
Official eBay Android App
Whenever I’ve bid on an eBay item, I’ve always found myself desperately refreshing over and over and over again, increasingly frequently as the time counts down. With that in mind, I’m not sure whether an application that would allow me to do that from anywhere is a good idea or not. You’ll have to use your own judgment.
You can use this application to do pretty much anything you could do on the site (search, leave feedback, pay via PayPal, and so on), plus one extra mobile-only feature: voice search.
This provides an excellent simple interface to your PayPal account, allowing you to see your details (including balance and account history), as well as send money. If my friend from the Square description wanted to buy someone else’s artwork, she would be best off using this application.
A quick summary of Groupon, in case you’ve never heard of it: Groupon arranges big one-off discounts with local businesses and send out the details via Facebook, by email, and through this application. Subscribers pay, through the Groupon website, to obtain a voucher with the discount, and use it at said local business. The business gets more customers, customers get good deals. It seems too good to be true, but it makes good business sense.
The application allows you to redeem vouchers through your phone, rather than having to print them off.
With Google Shopper, you can point your phone’s camera at a book, DVD, CD, video game, or barcode, and it’ll figure out what it is. You’ll then be able to see reviews, as well as places where you can buy it.
It’s a wonderful amalgamation of high-street shopping and the vast array of information available online. No wonder all the bookstores are closing down.
If UPS are delivering a package to you, you can use this application to track it, without having to be at your computer. It’ll also give you quotes for the cost of sending packages between any two specified addresses, in case you need to ship something.
This category could also be called “geek tools.” These are things that you don’t necessarily need on your phone, but that’ll make things go a lot more smoothly if you know what you’re doing with them.
ASTRO File Manager
This is the best file manager I have used on Android. It has a decent UI for navigation, built in zip managers, image and text viewers, and can even generate a breakdown of folder sizes. Plus, plugins are available that add Bluetooth and SMB networking capabilities. In short, it’s exactly what you need from a file manager.
Price: Free ($3.99 ad-free version available)
Most Android devices’ batteries last pretty well (and can easily be replaced, ahem), but JuiceDefender can squeeze even more out of them by improving the efficiency of what you’ve got running.
The main way it does this is by controlling the mobile data connection; rather than staying connected to Wi-Fi all the time, JuiceDefender can turn it on just once every five minutes (so your Tweets and Facebook messages still get updated), or every two hours, or never, if you prefer. You can tell it to turn off completely at night, and turn on completely while you’re actively using the phone. There’s a lot of choice, but if you don’t want to fiddle about with all that, you can just use the default settings.
Price: Free (for basic features), $5.19 (full version)
App 2 SD
The one thing that frustrates me about my HTC Desire is the “low on internal memory” notification. (Turns out there’s a bug where the Contacts storage gets more and more bloated until it’s taking up all the space; it can be fixed by exporting your contacts to SD, deleting them from the phone, and importing them back.)
Android v2.2, Froyo, allows applications to be moved to an SD card, but only if the developers have enabled that option. A lot of them still haven’t got around to doing that, and it’s tedious to check every application after updating it.
That’s where App 2 SD comes in. When you run it, it lists all the applications that can be transferred, and lets you do so with a tap. It also monitors applications you install or update; if one can be moved to external storage, it will notify you.
SMS Backup +
My last phone refused to sync to my computer. One day it turned itself off, and when I turned it back on again it had deleted all of my text messages. Dang.
SMS Backup automatically copies all your SMS messages to a folder on your Gmail account, as soon as you receive them. So not only do you keep a backup of every text you’ve ever written or received, but you also gain the ability to search all your messages within Gmail. And it’s all done in the background, so you don’t even have to think about it.
Swype is how I expected touchscreen keyboards to work before I got my Android. Instead of tapping at letters, you drag your finger over the letters in one continuous motion, and Swype figures out what you want to type. In the image below, we’re typing “quick”.
When Swype works, it’s remarkably fast and remarkably cool. More importantly, it feels right, scribbling across the surface of your phone. For now, Swype is not available on the Market, but it comes bundled with some handsets, and there’s a closed beta you can apply to which allows a few new users in every once in a while. The beta version is not perfect (there’s a rather annoying UI decision that became a dealbreaker for me), but it’s definitely worth trying, if you can get it.
Price: Free (Beta)
SwiftKey is another tap-tap-tap touchscreen keyboard, but it has one great hook: Artificial Intelligence. It keeps track of everything you write (and scans all your previous texts when you first install it) and uses this information to predict what you’re likely to be trying to type at any given time. When it works, it feels great: you start typing a text, and half the words are predicted before you’ve typed three letters. When it doesn’t get it right, it’s still no worse than the standard keyboard.
The AI isn’t going to rise up and take over the world any time soon, but it’s very useful for speeding up phrases you type a lot — like, “OK, thanks, see you then” — without having to manually enter them, or even be aware that you write them so much. It’s my keyboard of choice at the moment, and it’ll probably stay as my default until Swype fixes their UI and comes out of beta.
Price: $3.99 (free 14-day trial available)
Adobe AIR for Android
Adobe AIR doesn’t really do anything in itself; its a runtime on which AIR applications can run (for instance, those built in Flash) . If you download an application that requires this runtime, you’ll be prompted to install it anyway, so you don’t actually need to do so… however, since it takes up 10MB of internal memory, it’s worth clearing the space now so that you know it’s available, rather than finding that you don’t have it later on when you need it.
I love Evernote. It’s like Dropbox, but just for text notes. Every time I read an interesting article, or have an idea, or work something out, I copy it into Evernote, so that it’s backed up, tagged, and easily searchable.
The Android application provides access to the thousand-odd notes I’ve typed since I started using Evernote. If this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, I recommend trying it out for a couple of weeks. The power and the benefits lie in the interface and the design, rather than the underlying technology — it’s much, much more than a folder of rich text documents.
You can probably guess whether you need this application just by looking at the screenshots. Here’s a clue: do you know what any of the top three rows of buttons are for? If not, don’t worry; you can probably safely ignore this application.
There are a number of PDF readers available on the market (ASTRO File Manager includes one, actually), but Adobe’s official one beats them all. Well.. almost. It’s still a work in progress, so doesn’t support the more exotic features, like 3D PDF viewing; however, if all you need to do is read your local bus’s timetable, this will serve your needs.
As the official website puts it: “In March 2005, Judge Robert Restaino jailed 46 people when a mobile phone rang in his New York courtroom and no one would admit responsibility. So we invented Locale. Problem solved.”
Locale lets you control almost literally everything your phone does based on where you are and what time it is. Additional plug-ins allow extra conditions, like whether headphones are connected or whether your phone is docked, and let the phone perform certain actions based on those conditions, like running another application or sending a text message.
For example, you can set your ringtone to automatically go on silent when you’re in the office, or turn off Wi-Fi when you leave your neighbourhood. Ultimate customization.
Price: $9.99, with extra plug-ins available at additional cost
Bored of using your hands to work your phone? Ugh, I’ll bet. Vlingo lets you get away from all that by adding full voice control to your phone; you can update Facebook, email colleagues, text friends, get directions, and, er, actually call someone up and have a conversation, all by voice.
LastPass is a password manager. It keeps track of all the passwords you use online, locking them with a single master password (hence the name; it’s the “last pass” you’ll have to remember). This means that instead of using the same, easy-to-remember passwords all over the web because it’s impossible to remember them otherwise, you can use extremely secure passwords, safe in the knowledge that you don’t need to know them.
The LastPass Android application syncs with your LastPass account, meaning that all your passwords will be remembered when you need to use them on your phone’s browser. It supports the default browser and Dolphin HD.
Price: $1/month (14-day free trial)
I can’t imagine why, but apparently some people have pictures on their phones that they’d rather no-one else saw. Vaulty is the solution; it hides them away so that such pictures and videos can’t be seen apart from through the application, which requires a password to unlock.
Trouble is, it’s a bit obvious that you’ve got something to hide if you have a password-protected application called Vaulty. That’s why the developer made “Stocks”; it’s made to look like an innocent stock tracker, but upon entering the correct password (sorry, “stock code”), all those hidden files become available.
Price: Free, or $1.99 for the “Stocks” application
Sometimes your phone can even help you to do things that have nothing to do with text messaging or the Internet. Here are a few applications that can come in handy in meatspace:
Instant Heart Rate
This application uses your phone’s camera to check your pulse; just hold your finger over the lens for a few seconds and it’ll give you your heart rate in beats per minute. You can share the result on Twitter and Facebook, and apparently I’m the only one who finds that a bit weird.
Tiny Flashlight + LED
As the name suggests, this will turn your phone into a flashlight. On Android 2.1 and below, it can only do this by turning the brightness of the screen way up; however, Android 2.2 users will be able to activate the far superior LED, which the camera uses as a flash.
I am surprised by how much I’ve used this application over the last few months: changing lightbulbs, reading in the dark, looking underneath things. I already own a torch, but have no idea where it is (and it’s probably out of batteries anyway).
Have you ever gone geocaching? It’s like treasure hunting for the 21st century. Instead of an ancient map with an X marking the spot, you use GPS to search for “geocaches” that other players have hidden near you. great fun, and the application is free.
Unit Converter – ConvertPad
ConvertPad is the most comprehensive unit conversion application I’ve seen on Android. It has a simple interface, and a staggering number of units. As well as a basic input — X miles equals Y kilometres — there’s a built-in calculator so you don’t have to keep switching between two applications. You can also add your own custom units.
Tuner – gStrings
I don’t play any instruments but I can see how this would be very useful to those that do. Apparently it can be used to tune the violin, viola, violoncello, bass, guitar, and piano, as well as wind instruments.
Price: free ($1.37 version with extra features available)
Did you know that your sleep is split into 90-minute cycles? If your alarm wakes you up after eight hours, it’ll interrupt one of these cycles while you’re in deep sleep, and you’ll feel groggy and unrefreshed. Much better to aim for seven and a half hours: that’s exactly five lots of 90 minutes.
This is the core idea beneath Gentle Alarm. It plays a quiet alarm — a ringtone, an MP3, or a playlist of your choosing — half an hour before your main alarm goes off. If you’re close enough to your natural wake-up time at that point, you’ll only be sleeping lightly, and you’ll wake up feeling refreshed. Otherwise, with a bit of luck, you’ll be finishing off a cycle when your main alarm goes off, and you’ll still wake up refreshed.
That alone makes it the best alarm application I’ve ever seen, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Every setting can be tweaked, and there are a few extra features you can enable; my favorite is the CAPTCHA, which forces you to win a Simon Says game in order to turn your alarm off!
Price: $1.59 (free trial available, which does not play alarms on Wednesdays)
Gentle Alarm helps you wake up; Sleep Now!, by the same team, helps you fall asleep. It plays relaxing music or white noise to help you drift off, and uses Android’s accelerometer and touch screen to detect when you’ve fallen asleep. It will then let you sleep for as long as you’ve specified in the settings before playing an alarm of your choice to wake you up.
Sleep Now! is great for power napping, and the built-in automated sleep logger is interesting. The only downside is that it doesn’t integrate with Gentle Alarm. Perhaps in the future…
Price: $1 (free trial available, which works for three days in a row, then skips a day)
“Oh, who sings this song?” Open Shazam, wait 45 seconds, see answer.
Shazam is a search engine for music tracks. It doesn’t know every single song ever published, and doesn’t work so well in noisy environments, but it can almost always identify a given song and an artist by listening to about half a minute’s worth of the tune. It also keeps track of the songs you’ve used it to identify, so that you can look them up when you get home.
Price: £2.99 (free version available, which can identify five tracks per month)
SoundHound also identifies tracks from a few seconds of music (even fewer seconds than Shazam needs), and takes things one step further: it can recognize a song based on a few seconds of you humming it! That’s great if you ever wake up with a song stuck in your head and you can’t figure out what it is.
Launchers and Home Screens
These applications let you customize Android even more than you can through the standard settings, changing everything from the number of home screens to the look of the Clock widget. Some add extra functionality to the main UI, as well. None of these require you to root your device.
By default, to open a new application on Android you must go to the home screen (effectively closing the current application), and then select the new application from the menu.
App Launcher lets you launch a new application while running any other, either via the status bar or by holding the Search button.
This launcher replaces your home screens, allowing you to have up to seven at once. It’s rather like the HTC Sense design (which explains why every Sense user is wondering what the big deal is).
Great if you like an extra level of customization over your launcher and home screen.
Price: Free (and opensource)
Another launcher taking cues from HTC Sense, with up to seven home screens and animated screen previews. It’s completely down to personal preference as to which one of these works best for your particular needs.
As the name suggests, Tag Home’s main feature is the ability to tag applications. Each application can be given a tag and a priority number, which will determine where it appears in the home screens. Applications may be hidden in “drawers” in order to fit more in. See the screenshots for how this works.
This home replacement application has a different slant to the others we’ve looked at so far; it’s focused on your information: text messages, email, phone calls, agenda, RSS feeds, and social networks.
Price: $6.99 (free ad-supported version available)
Open Home gives you access to hundred of free skins and icons packs, and adds a lot of customization options for fonts, colors, and so on. Download it, then search the Market for Open Home to see just how many skins are available. A couple are pictured in the screenshots below.
Many of the applications listed above have built-in widgets that you can drop onto a home screen for at-a-glance viewing — the task managers, in particular, are a great example of this. Items #99 and #100 on our list are different, because they are worth getting specifically for the included widgets.
JuicePlotter charts your battery usage over time. The graph is well presented, with the ability to overlay data from previous days and so on, but let’s be honest: that’s really geeky.
The real reason for downloading this application is the widget that’s bundled with it. Rather than displaying a percentage of charge, it displays how many hours of battery power you have left (or how many minutes of charge time you have to wait). And because it’s tied in to all the data recorded about your battery usage that the graph uses, it’s remarkably accurate.
Power Control Plus
Sometimes you want to switch off your GPS to save battery, or your Wi-Fi to force the phone to use its 3G connection. The built-in Power Control widget lets you toggle either of those things with a single press, as well as bluetooth, automatic syncs, and the screen’s backlight.
Power Control Plus takes this even further, allowing you to toggle Airplane mode, Silent mode, Auto-screen rotation, screen lock, and many other options (over 20 in all). You can also modify the color, size, and orientation of the widget to better fit your screen.
15 Bonus Android Tips and Tricks
Don’t Scroll Up to the URL Bar
Nine times out of ten, when I ask a fellow Android user what webpage they’re looking at, they scroll frantically up to the top of the page in order to tell me the URL. I’m not sure why — perhaps they’re mixing it up with a certain other phone’s browser. In Android’s default browser, hit MENU to make the URL bar appear. That’s also useful if you want to visit another website.
Quickly Switch Between Applications
This is not a hidden feature, but it’s surprising how many Android users aren’t aware of it. Hold the HOME button to pop-up a list of all recently-open applications. Tap any of them to switch to it.
Don’t Bother With Task Killers
As explained by Android software engineer Dianne Hackborn and expanded upon by Lifehacker, the way that the Android platform is designed means that “task killers” — applications that force other applications to stop running — are unnecessary. Don’t bother choosing and installing one, then monitoring your running applications obsessively to stop them as soon as they’re no longer needed; it’s a waste of your time.
Enable Labs in Google Maps
The Maps application has a few experimental features that can be enabled. To do so, open Maps and press MENU. Select “More”, then “Labs”. You’ll see a list of features; tap any to turn it on.
Connect Your Computer to the Internet Through Your Phone’s Data Plan
Away from home and need to get online with your notebook? If you’re running Froyo, you can use your Android phone as a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, connected to the Internet through its data plan.
Press MENU, then tap Settings > Wireless & Networks, and tick the Portable Wi-Fi Hotspot option. If you want to save your battery, plug your phone into your computer and tick USB Tethering instead — this won’t require the phone’s Wi-Fi to be on.
Check with your phone’s data provider first; some networks restrict this feature.
Lock Your Phone With a Pattern
With a touchscreen, you don’t need to lock your keyboard to stop yourself accidentally making a phone call by hitting random numbers while your phone’s in your pocket… But it’s still a good idea to lock the phone with some sort of code to prevent other people from using it.
You can use a password or PIN code for this, though I think a join-the-dots pattern is more fun. In your phone’s Settings, select the Security options, then tap “Set up screen lock” to choose one of these methods.
Get a Refund
If you buy an application from the Market, but it doesn’t work or you’re unhappy for some other reason, you can request a refund within 24 hours of purchase. Simply open the Market, tap My Downloads, select the application you wish to return, and press Uninstall & Refund.
Use Keyboard Shortcuts
If you have an Android phone with a physical keyboard, like the T-Mobile G2, you can assign keyboard shortcuts to load different applications. In Settings, tap Applications > Quick Launch to view or modify the current shortcuts. Many of the built-in applications have their own set of keyboard shortcuts, too; see a full list here.
Turn Off Email Notification Sounds
I get a lot of email, so the little chirrup noises that notify my of a new one quickly change from amusing to annoying. You can turn these off without putting your phone on silent inside the Gmail application: press MENU, then More, then Settings, scroll down to “Select ringtone” and choose the Silent option.
You’ll still see the notifications in the status bar, but won’t be constantly disturbed by them. Peace at last!
Edit Google Docs on Your Phone
Up until mid-November, Google Docs was read-only on mobile devices. Now Google are rolling out an update that will allow Android 2.2 users to edit documents and spreadsheets. Head to http://docs.google.com/, open a document, and click Edit.
Add More to Your Home Screen
So you know that you can add applications and widgets to the home screen. Have you ever looked at the different kinds of shortcuts that can be added, though?
You can add contact cards, so that you can call people in a hurry; bookmarks, for websites you absolutely need to have at your fingertips; geographical locations, for fast navigation; and music playlists, perhaps for different moods.
Streamline Your Application Updates
Android Market 2.2 introduced two new features to improve application updates: Update Automatically and Update All. Open Market, navigate to your Downloads, and tap any application to reveal an “Allow automatic updating” checkbox; tick this and the application will be updated whenever there’s a new version available.
That is, unless the new version requests some new permissions—that way, a simple widget can’t suddenly gain control of your contact lists and emails without your allowing it to.
In the Downloads section, an Update All button will be visible if any of your applications have new versions available; tap it to install them all.
Quickly Search Using Your Voice
Hold down the Search button for a second or so, and a “Speak now” dialog will appear. Say something, and Google will search the web for it.
It does more than that: try saying, “navigate to [place]” or “call [business]”. This YouTube video gives a great rundown of the different voice commands.
Take Screenshots Without Rooting
If you’ve rooted your device, you have a wide range of screenshot-taking applications to choose from: just Google screenshot android application rooted for a selection. If you haven’t, the procedure is surprisingly complex:
- Download and install the Android SDK.
- On your device, go to Settings > Application > Development. Check the “Enable USB Debugging” box.
- Plug your device in to your computer via USB.
- Run the DDMS.bat file inside the \tools\ directory, in the folder where you installed the Android SDK.
- A program called Dalvik Debug Monitor Service should appear, with your device listed in a panel on the left-hand side.
- Click the name of your device in the list.
- Click Device > Screen Capture in the window menu to open another window, Device Screen Capture.
- Press Refresh in this window to grab the current screen from the device.
- Press Save to save the screenshot to disk.
Force Applications to Permit Being Moved to the SD Card, Without Rooting
Android 2.2 allows applications to be moved to the SD card, but not all developers have enabled this option for their applications yet. In some cases, that’s for a very good reason (for instance, an application that’s installed on the SD card cannot run while the phone is plugged in to the computer as a hard drive), but in others it seems that the developer simply hasn’t got around to it.
Fortunately, it’s quite simple to override this for most applications, even on a phone that hasn’t been rooted:
- Enable USB Debugging on your device and install the Android SDK on your computer, as in the instructions for taking screenshots above.
- Plug your device in to your computer via USB.
- On your computer, open a terminal window (in Windows, press Start > Run and type “cmd”, then press enter).
- Navigate to the \tools\ directory inside the folder where you installed the Android SDK. (In Windows, type “cd\” and press enter to get to your main hard drive, then type “cd path\to\folder” to get to the correct folder. For example, “cd downloads\androidSDK\tools”, if the SDK is in C:\downloads\androidSDK.)
- Type “adb shell pm setInstallLocation 2” and press enter.
- Unplug your phone and you should be able to transfer almost all of your applications to the SD card!
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If you enjoyed this, check out our more recent post: Our Top 100 Android Apps.
We can’t wait to share more Android news, tips, and reviews with you in 2011, so stay tuned…