Best Android apps - introduction
The Google Play app store has exploded in recent years, with a proliferation of apps that can cater to your every need. The problem is: there are just too many of them.
Even with Editor's Picks, Featured and Best Selling, Top Paid and Top Free categories there to help you out with your downloading decision it's still a difficult task finding the best apps around.
And that's why we made this list. Like you we want the best apps for our Android phones. The apps that are going to revolutionise functionality or, at the very least, offer something so great that it becomes one of the must-have apps that has to be downloaded whenever you get a new handset.
The following apps will be constantly updated and are a mixture of paid and free ones and have been chosen by our Android experts. So, even if you do dip into actual cash for one of these apps, you are safe in the knowledge that it is a worthwhile purchase.
1. BBC Weather
Free from the BBC, which arrived late to the weather app party in 2013 and delivered a completely stonking, triple-A meteorological experience. A variety of stylish widgets, long-range forecasts, location-aware settings and support for multiple locations make finding out how much it's raining everywhere a joy.
2. Google Now Launcher
Exclusive to Nexus devices since launch, the Google Now Launcher has recently been opened up to owners of any Android phone running version 4.1 of the OS or higher. Install it and you get the weird experience that is having Google Now fill an entire Home screen, dumping a permanent collection of you cards to the left of the existing Home screen setup. Useful if you use Google Now. Not so much if you don't.
Here's another way to manage your get-bigger-genitals and sex-herb spam emails. Mailbox is compatible with both Gmail and iCloud email accounts, pulling in your messages to a fantastically stylish interface from which you can manage emails in more of an SMS-like chat system. Swiping away, snoozing senders, reminders and more populate a packed feature list that put this among 2014's most impressive apps released thus far.
4. HTC Zoe
HTC's camera application has plenty of interesting tricks inside it, and using it on phones with better cameras than the ones HTC's been putting in its own mobiles recently is an excellent idea.
The selling point of Zoe is that it creates short animated clips, which are shareable with friends – who then make edits too.
The results can then be shared to the big social networks like Instagram or Facebook, or kept within Zoe's own walled garden.
Relative newcomer Glympse simplifies the endless check-in-check-out location-based app concept no end by coming with one key trick – the ability to share your location with anyone.
Using GPS to accurately pinpoint the coffee shop from which you're stealing the Wi-Fi, the results are sent to friends in a format that displays in the web browser of the recipient – so they don't need the app to know where you are.
You can even share live data, so people can watch you flitting about town from hotspot to hotspot.
Another must-have for those who want to keep up to date with what's going on in the world in 140 characters or fewer. Now that Twitter has put the shackles on most of its alternatives, the official app is one of the best to use, with functionality so simple anyone can use it - and seeing some of the hashtags that trend, it looks like anyone does.
The movie-making sensation took a little while to appear on Android, then took a while for the numerous bugs to disappear – but now it's all good. It's a simple recording/stop-motion/animation tool, letting you shoot live video on your phone and share it via social networks. The app is also the best way of browsing Vines from others, as the categories and pages mean you can leaf through it like telly, favouriting users.
Pretty much essential for anyone juggling a work PC, home PC, laptop, tablet, phone and internet fridge, Dropbox's key power lies in letting you access any files anywhere. It can also automatically upload photos taken on your phone to your account, meaning that, after a bit of uploading and downloading, all your shots are *right there* on your desktop without any tedious cable connecting.
Get angry about how slow your internet is. Get smug about how fast your internet is. Spy on the network speeds of your friends and neighbours. If one of your frequent conversations with your mates is how fast your internet currently is, then Speedtest is for you. You can do unlimited broadband up/down speed tests on any boring weekday evening.
The app itself isn't what you'd call attractive, but eBay lets you browse, watch items and buy stuff, integrating a Paypal sign-in for quick getting of things. Better still, now Android phones all have immense cameras on them, it's a doddle to sell items straight through the app - take a photo, upload it, have most of the listing data pre-filled for you. The app is better as a selling tool than the desktop site, in fact.
If you felt a bit lost and disconnected from the News Borg when Google shut down its Reader RSS aggregator, Feedly will help. It's a more glamorous and swishy-slidy way of getting data from RSS feeds, with numerous ways of displaying site snippets and navigating through your unread pile of possibly interesting things.
12. BBC iPlayer
Took some time for the BBC to gradually get BBC iPlayer to full parity with the iOS release, but it's just about there now for the vast majority of popular Android models. A piecemeal approach to introducing offline download support has annoyed some users, but it remains a superb way of using your phone as a modern portable telly for the bedroom, as long as your broadband's up to the task.
If you need to know who did the original of the twee music from that supermarket advert, then get WhoSampled.
It's the app version of the music database website that tells you who's stolen bass lines from whom over the years, and gives music lovers an instant mass of trivia.
It'll even offer to scan your existing music collection to pinpoint exactly where that addictive loop you can't get enough of first appeared. And you erroneously thought Gary Barlow came up with himself. (Spoiler: it was probably the Bee Gees again).
14. Handcent SMS
If you wish to rage against Google's Hangouts enforcement push and Facebook Messenger, get Handcent SMS. It's one of the most popular alternative SMS apps, with the recent 6.0 update arriving with an all-new, on-message, late-2014-season, flat graphic design update. It's always been an ugly but reliable workhorse for hardcore texters, now it's a really pretty workhorse for those who get anywhere near hitting their 5,000-a-month SMS usage limits.
Free (for the first year)
The instant messaging behemoth is an essential Android install, especially if you can convince the people you message most frequently to use it too. The concept is simple - it takes over text messaging on your mobile, routing messages through any Wi-Fi connection instead. Which means no more SMS allowances, no size restrictions, plus images are sent at a decent resolution.
One of Nokia's long-standing key apps is now on Android, just about, with the Windows Phone maker doing a deal to place its HERE mapping tool exclusively within the Samsung App Store.
Users of larger Samsung mobiles running Android 4.1 or higher can download it, then enjoy a feature-packed tool with full offline map support that's a damn fine rival or replacement for Google's omnipresent Maps.
17. Amazon Appstore
It's a bit of a fuss to get Amazon Appstore on your phone as Google's not too keen on rival app stores popping up on Google Play, but it's worth doing. Mainly for the freeloading aspect, as Amazon sticks up a paid-for app for free every day. Most are a bit rubbish, but some properly decent paid apps do occasionally pop up. Add it to your daily trawl, just in case.
18. Google Keep
Google's so proud of its Google Keep, its cross-platform note-taking tool that it's recently started pre-loading it as part of the core Android feature set. It comes with a stylish widget, integrates voice dictation for those Alan Partridge moments of creative inspiration, plus if you use Keep on a Chromebook it seamlessly syncs with mobile notes saved there. A great way of coordinating mobile and laptop lives.
Free (premium version needs a subscription)
No, wait. it is free. Sort of. Spotify now comes with a stipped-down playlist-cum-radio combo for users who don't pay for the service but still want to use it on mobile, accompanied by a swish new tablet interface that has much more in common with the free desktop browser player. So yes, it's free. hobbled a bit, but free.
Unclouded is a simple and very stylish way of integrating Google and Dropbox cloud services, resulting in one single app that lets you see what stuff you've got backed up to each service. It makes it easy to pull out file duplicates and see breakdowns of the percentages used up by each folder. It's not groundbreaking, but it is a nicely designed thing and a pleasure to use.
A posh B&B listings service designed specifically around mobile app use, the selling point of Airbnb is that it personalises the hosts, so if you really want to stay in Glasgow with a cheery looking alternative lifestyle man called Dave snoring in the next room, it's ideal.
22. DashClock Widget
DashClock Widget is a stonking addition to any Android phone running version 4.2 of Google's code or higher, as it adds new active plugins to the lock screen. This means your lock screen can have a torch button, the weather, unread text messages and more, plus there's a development community out there building new extra features all the time.
One of those services you might as well start using because everyone's using it. The Instagram Android app took a while to appear, but is now live, looking good and offers a simple way of taking and editing your square photographs of lunch, sunsets, cats etc. Plus it now has fashionable effect tilt shift for making things look small. Not that that's ever something we've wanted. Quite the opposite, usually.
Amazon's Kindle app connects seamlessly with its online book shop services, letting account holders send books to the app, sync existing libraries via the cloud, and access books across the many Android phones and tablets people have kicking about the place these days. Of course there's also a shop in it, as flogging you books is the reason Amazon is offering this comprehensive cloud reader for free.
Tinder is a… how do we put this? It's a dating app, to put it nicely, one that uses your Facebook account (or a hurriedly created secondary one) and location details to generate a list of other users of the app that are also bored, probably drunk, and nearby. You then get a list of others to swipe through, starring any you like the look of. It's not a deep process. Should any of them star you back, you're able to start chatting and… maybe more. So they say, anyway. I've never used it.
26. Endomodo PRO
£1.99 ($4.99, $AU3.68)
The popular sports tracker covers every sport you can think of apart from curling, managing to track your runs, rides, kayaking journeys, hill walks and other excursions with ease. The paid Endomodo PRO unlocks more stats and a handy terrain chart, letting you see how steep the hard parts were – and providing a useful excuse for poor performance.
27. SwiftKey Keyboard
£2.99 ($3.99, $AU5.53)
This one pioneered the concept of the alternative keyboard, with SwiftKey the first to offer to 'learn' your writing style and attempt to predict your next word. The hope being that, with practice, it'll know what phrases you commonly use and might save you quite a bit of fuss in typing a simple message to a friend.
28. Google Camera
Google's Nexus line of phones have traditionally been dogged by the unfathomably awful stock camera apps that ship with Android, but that's now changed - a bit - with this. Google Camera is a standalone camera app that's available for users of all Android models, offering a simple interface, background blur effects and… not very much more. It actually has fewer features than the older official Android app, but it's tidy and fast, so the hope is it'll quickly evolve into the premiere mobile photo tool.
29. Swype Keyboard
£2.42 ($3.99, $AU4.48)
As rival SwiftKey invented the concept of word prediction, so Swype did the same for gesture input. The concept is simple - you write "hello" by pressing the H, then swiping a line through E, L and O. Hopefully, if you were accurate enough, the software guesses this right and you've just written a word easy-style. A similar system has been adopted within newer versions of Android, but if you have an older phone this gets you into the line-writing fun, too.
£2.98 ($4.99, $AU5.50)
The idea behind Plex is that it assimilates your existing media collection and serves it up, through one standard interface, via the cloud. It's a bit of a struggle to get going as you need a free account on Plex's servers to access your stuff, but once it's all up and running it offers streaming and transcoding of files, meaning everything ought to play everywhere. Supports Chromecast too, if you've bought into Google's own media-managing dream.
A one-trick special, sure – but what a trick. Horizon normalises the rotation of your phone's camera output, using the built-in accelerometer of Android phones to keep the horizons in your videos stable no matter how much the phone moves.
This means you can hold it sideways, or at an angle, or while not really paying attention at all, and get usable, stable results in return.
It crops the original resolution a little, mind, so there's some loss in clarity – but it's a hit often worth taking for smoother clips.
32. Apex Launcher Pro
£2.49 ($3.99, $AU4.50)
The thing a lot of enthusiasts love about Android is the ability to switch to a new launcher. In layman's terms, this means you can whack an entire new frontend on your phone, replacing the user interface with an entirely custom skin. Apex Launcher's one of the oldest and most highly thought of, using the default Android look as a base for numerous tweaks and additions. It's free to try, with the separate Apex Launcher Pro key unlocking the full version.
Chromecast, Google's companion for its physical dongle, is essential if you're a user of its HDMI media streamer, letting connected life living futurists beam their phone contents to their TV using nothing but the air we breathe as a cable. This app also solves the problem of how you manage Chromecast's options, as the little HDMI dongle obviously has no screen or buttons of its own. The wireless dream is even compatible with older devices stuck on version 2.3 of Google's OS, resurrecting any ancient low-spec tablets you may have stuck in the loft back in 2012.
Best Android apps: 34-50
£4.99 ($4.99, $AU9.25)
A hefty price, but what cost you not dying of obesity at age 52? That fitness promise is what you pay for here, with the RunTastic Pro. It is able to map you, track you, automatically cheer you on, generate live feedback and more, also covering interval training and letting users create their own regular routes to attack again and again. Serious stuff for competitive people.
34. Runtastic PRO
£2.99 ($2.99, $AU5.53)
Tasker is one of the first, and best, task managers for Android. It does it all. Turns stuff on or off depending on location, manages multiple schedules for changing phone state depending on the time of day, even letting users have their phone automatically reply to text messages if it's set to a quiet state. It's complex, vast, and you'll wonder how you lived without it.
Subtitled Reddit AMA just in case you don't get the reference, this is a simple front end that allows easy access to the discussion site's insanely popular AMA Q&A sessions, where people (including celebrities of the very highest order), set aside a bit of time to stop taking selfies to answer questions from members of the public.
The results of which are usually fantastic, as the truly fanatical fans know all the right questions to ask.
Ask Me Anything
Hands down the best offline reader app on the market, Pocket (formerly Read It Later) offers up a simple and effective way to read long form articles without the need of a web connection. A recent update has made the app feel more like a website, complete with carousel, which makes finding older articles a little easier. Couple this with a regular newsletter updating you on decent reads to Pocket and it's simply a brilliant app.
£2.40 ($3.99, $AU4.40)
Forget the physical side of radios, the best way to listen to random tunes and the occasional bit of travel news is online. TuneIn Radio is the most comprehensive internet radio player by far, offering masses of stations, favourite lists, and, in this paid upgrade, the ability to record direct off the radio.
38. TuneIn Radio Pro
£2.70 ($3.99, $AU5.00)
The podcast is another option when it comes to being entertained through your ears, with the stylish Pocket Casts one of the newest listening apps to hit Android. It comes with simple cloud syncing of your favourite subscriptions, variable speed playback for skipping the boring bits, themes auto downloads and… everything.
39. Pocket Casts
£3.99 ($4.99, $AU7.39)
SoundHound is best described as a companion app for music, letting users ID tracks by recording a clip and also attempting to guess the names of songs you sing and hum to it. It can also stream in lyrics, sell you stuff and bring in news feeds covering artists you like, making it a really swish hub for people who are 'into' music.
£4.99, ($7.69, $AU9.25)
Bosh this beauty on your phone, right, yeah? Jamie's 20 Minute Meals is a bit of money, but there are 65 recipes, photographs so you don't get the aubergines and cucumbers mixed up, plus a guarantee that you can have something a bit fancier than cheese on toast for dinner in 20 minutes. As long as you've got more things than cheese in your fridge to start with.
41. Jamie's 20 Minute Meals
£1.93 ($2.99, $AU3.50)
Press is a super-stylish RSS reader, one that comes with support for several of the services that sprang up to replace the sadly departed Google Reader. Import your stuff from Feedly, Feedbin and others, to see it presented in a huge variety of layout options. Offline support, background syncing and the ability to save articles to Instapaper and Pocket make it a superb hub for serious news fans.
£3.19 ($4.69, $AU5.95)
A more traditional method of scouring web site RSS feeds, gReader successfully updates the simplistic style of Google's Reader, compete with a custom layout for reading on tablets, offline reading, gesture actions, a widget and much more. It's properly jam-packed with ways to stare at endlessly updating lists of words.
43. gReader Pro
£3.29 ($4.99, $AU5.80)
Describes itself as a 'pro' DJ app for people who enjoy nodding along and pumping their fists in the air while someone else's record plays. Cross DJ comes with specialist features such as BPM tracking, pitch shifting and a split audio output for previewing tracks before they're mixed in, with filter effects in here too for adding a bit more oomph to whatever party you're ruining with your rubbish music.
Evernote is the original and the best note-taking app. It allows you save ideas for that book you are always nearly about to write, syncs across devices and you can also create to-do lists, record voice reminders and capture photos straight from the app. It's a seamless way to organise your probably very messy life.
£1.69 ($2.00, $AU3.00)
That internet site you may have heard about, the one that does good things, interesting things and bad things, doesn't have an official app. But it does have heaps of unofficial ones, including Reddit Sync Pro that has the killer ability to sync threads for offline access. Never miss a celebrity pandering to the masses to promote a film or book again.
46. Reddit Sync Pro
It actually pains us to put this app into our top 50 but, because of Facebook's rather snide antics, it is a must-have app. That is, in the sense you need to have it to use Facebook Messenger on your phone. Yes it's annoying, yes there are lots of scare stories about what the app can read on your device (ignore those) and yes it's cynical but because of Facebook's popularity this will stay in the top 10 of downloaded apps for some time to come.
47. Facebook Messenger
If you spend a lot of time at a computer and don't want to dig your phone out every time it vibrates then Pushbullet could be the app for you. Download it to your phone and get the extension for your browser and any notifications that appear on your handset will also appear on your computer screen.
So not only will your calendar reminders pop up but you'll also be able to see who's texting or calling and decide whether it's worth replying before you ever look at your phone. You can even reply to texts from your computer and you can easily mute notifications from apps which you're not interested in seeing.
But Pushbullet is a two way street, because you can also use it to easily send files and links from your computer to your phone. Just tap the icon in your browser, attach the relevant file or information and push it.
The bigger your phone the more you'll get out of this, but SketchBook Express is an invaluable tool for travelling artists and doodlers. A basic set of tools including 15 preset brushes, multiple layers and a colour wheel ensure that you can easily capture what's in front of you or in your head.
It won't replace SketchBook Pro, but it's simple, easy to learn and has just enough features to be genuinely useful when a phone is all you have to hand.