One of the exciting and innovative things about Android has always been its use of widgets, which, to the uninitiated, are best described as little live apps that are embedded into your Home screens.
You can have an animating photo frame that pulls out a selection of pics from your phone's gallery, a serious news ticker, constantly updating share prices, annoying social network status updates from people you hardly know - there's a widgetised version of pretty much any type of mobile app you can think of.
What is an Android widget?
Widgets can cause a bit of confusion among newcomers to Android, as they don't open like normal apps from your phone's big list of applications. Instead, widgets are activated by long-pressing on a space on the Home screen, then installed into the nearest available slot.
There are big widgets, wide widgets, little ones that only take up one standard icon slot, and there are also some absolutely terrible spam ones that look a complete mess. So here are our top 20 Android widgets to brighten up your Android phone's workspace.
It can be a little confusing delving through Android's numerous menu screens to try to find the particular setting to adjust the ring tone volume - so have it all presented as a nice widget instead.
AudioManager is nice looking, it lets you see what volume everything's at, and pops up adjustment slide bars when pressed. You life will get 0.01 percent easier with it.
2. Quick Battery
A teeny tiny one-by-one size widget, Quick Battery isn't particularly glamorous - but it does a better and prettier job of representing your phone's battery status than anything else. Plus, when installing the widget, you can choose what you want it to link to - so pressing it can open up the power settings page or... Angry Birds. Anything.
3. Extended Controls
The standard Android power strip is a useful widget that lets you quickly turn off Wi-Fi, adjust the screen brightness and toggle GPS, Bluetooth and data syncing, but Extended Controls adds more. Loads more, from one-touch USB tethering to airplane mode and even switching your phone's vibration keyboard settings on or off. Plus it's visually customisable, too.
4. ColorNote Notepad Notes
Everyone loves the classic Post-It note style of thing, and that's what ColorNote brings to your Android Home screen. Tiny post-its, one icon square, each linked to either a text note or a simple to-do list. They look cute and you can change the colours for an extra adrenaline rush.
The excellent Evernote comes with a lovely little widget. While it's not visually that impressive, it adds very convenient shortcuts to your Home screen that make using the data-syncing, scheduling app even easier to use. Instant access to notes, searches, voice memos and more. Just don't judge it by its looks.
6. HTC Bookmarks
One for all the HTC owners out there. Its bookmarks widget is an excellent way to put one of your empty Home screens to use, with it giving you a full-size, scrolling list of bookmarks right there in front of your fingers. It's so useful, it's easier to quit the browser and select a link from here than navigate HTC's own in-browser bookmark system.
7. Facebook for Android
While the Android Facebook app seems to be a little slow in development and still misses several key features, its Home screen widget is a lesson in simplicity and elegance. It has a clean look, comprising of only a text box for your latest amusing thought, and a scrollable list of recent status updates from your chums. White, clean, stylish and nice.
8. Moon Phase Pro
If you live in a place where you're not constantly illuminated by council street lights, you might be aware of the Moon. It's a sort of massive rock in the sky that's nice and relaxing to look at. It also changes shape depending on the time of the month.
You can keep track of these changes with the Moon Phase Pro widget, so you'll always have something to talk to Sir Patrick Moore about, should you happen to bump into him in your local supermarket. It also makes a very nice live wallpaper.
Best Android clock widget
9. Fancy Widget
There are quite a few apps out there that copy the iconic HTC Sense clock and its animating weather system, with one of the finest being Fancy Widget. It wins because it's free, offering a more traditional Android-style digital clock option, customisable text colours, alternate skins, transparency effects and more. There's also a Pro version for a couple of quid, if you need even more options.
Best Android weather widget
10. The Weather Channel
If you are old, or a gardener, and therefore have a serious interest in the weather, there's no better app than the Weather Channel app. Its widget isn't particularly beautiful, but you do get reliable data and a selection of widget shapes to suit your Home screen layout. This is also one of the few apps that's been optimised for Android 3.0 tablets, so is worth checking out for that reason alone if you're a tablet owner.
11. Aix Weather Widget
If you want a more modern take on seeing if it's raining in a place you're nowhere near, try Aix Weather Widget. It presents its results in a very sexy (yes, sexy) four icon wide bar, that displays a lovely timeline of temperature and condition fluctuations.
You will never be short of an observation about the weather with this to hand. Look at how quickly the temperature dropped off at 16:00 hours in Oslo!
Best Android calendar widget
12. Touch Calendar
Google's built-in Calendar app is excellent, but it's widget is a little on the simple side. If you want massive, full-page, data-rich Calendar action, Touch Calendar is a great option. The free version doesn't include widget support, sadly - so if you like its style, paying £1.45 for the full version brings you the massive widget.
13. S2 Calendar Widget 2
If you want more choice when it comes to the design of your Calendar widget, S2 Calendar Widget is a good choice. You can edit fonts, background colours, change the default action for when you press it and much more. Makes you wish you had more things to do to put on it.
Best Android contacts widget
Developed by Sony Ericsson, this one works on all Android phones running version 2.1 of the OS or higher. The life.contacts.beta widget automatically pulls in photos of your most contacted contacts, generating picture icons from any associated images it can find - whether that's on your phone or via Facebook. Very simple and stylish.
15. Picture Dial
Most Android phone makers include their own photo-based dialler shortcut widgets, but if yours doesn't there's always Picture Dial. As well as creating a nice widget with photos of your contacts, you're able to specify a default action for what happens when you click on someone's lovely face - avoiding the modern embarrassment of phoning someone you usually only ever text.
16. Last Call
Last Call adds a live widget that updates with the details of the last phone call you made. Ideal for phone pests, you can set it so that a press dials the person - or not, if you'd rather avoid the possibility of accidentally calling people.
The widget's background colours are customisable, as are the fonts, although you'll have to pay for the premium version if you'd also like it to show your last SMS data as well.
Best Android news widget
17. Google Reader
Google's simple Reader app has a fantastic customisable Home screen widget, letting you pick any individual element from your RSS feeds and have it pop up as a single widget. It's not the best looking thing, but if you're a heavy RSS user it's great to have a constant ticker of your most-read feeds.
18. News & Weather
For a simpler and more mainstream curated selection of news, Google's own built-in News & Weather app offers a simple and attractive little widget. If you don't mind seeing the occasional Daily Mail headline appear, it's a nice little ticker.
It can be set to show just the weather, just the news or - wait for it! - the news and weather. So versatile. Comes pre-loaded on Android 2.1 phones or higher.
19. Pulse News
Another RSS reader, only Pulse makes a good attempt at pulling in the images that accompany stories to give it a more visual, magazine like feel. The Android widget pulls this off too, popping up an illustrated, scrollable box dedicated to any particular channel you've imported. Can also sync with a Google Reader account, too.
Best Android Twitter widget
The official Twitter client has a nice, simple widget, but TweetDeck offers three separate options depending on your screen layout. There's a simple text box for posting, a more complex horizontal box for keeping track of messages and replies across multiple accounts, plus a whopping great vertical box if you take Tweeting way too seriously.
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