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The best free Android apps of 2021

Our favorite free Android apps for customizing and improving the security of your device.

BraveDNS: Fast, private, and safe DNS + Firewall

(Image credit: Celzero)

BraveDNS: Fast, private, and safe DNS + Firewall

BraveDNS offers two major functions in one, the first of which is strongly hinted at by the name – it can connect you to an encrypted DNS (domain name system) server, which helps you both circumvent censorship (which could block you from reaching websites) and avoid being redirected to fake websites, thereby making the internet safer and potentially more open.

BraveDNS also includes a firewall, which you can configure to stop any or all apps from accessing the internet either when you’re not using them or when your device is locked. This doesn’t just stop apps running wild with your data allowance, as more importantly it can also protect you from surveillance and other threats that rogue apps might pose.

BraveDNS also lets you view network and DNS logs, so you can keep tabs on DNS queries and incoming and outgoing internet traffic on your device.

This might all sound complicated, but the great thing about BraveDNS is that it’s also very simple to use, with clear controls and a big start/stop button for the main DNS and firewall features.

Morph

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Morph

Google has launched a number of ‘digital wellbeing’ experiments, and Morph is one of the more successful.

The Android app is a colorful, minimalist launcher that replaces your usual home screen with one that changes based on where you are and what you’re doing. You can set up multiple different home screens for different scenarios, such as when you’re working, or when you’re working out. Give each a name and select either the days and times that they should be used, or the location.

So for example you might set your ‘work’ home screen to be displayed during working hours, while one for ‘exercise’ could show up when your phone detects that you’re at the gym.

Within each of these home screens you also select the apps that you want to be able to access. Any that you haven’t selected won’t be available, and any notifications from them will be blocked. So the idea is to only have access to the apps that you really want or need in any given situation.

For better or worse you can always manually change which home screen you’re viewing, edit which apps you have access to, or quit Morph altogether. So if you really want to check Facebook while you should be studying, Morph won’t actually stop you, it just gives you a gentle nudge in the right direction.

Vivaldi Browser Beta

(Image credit: Vivaldi Technologies / TechRadar)

Vivaldi Browser Beta

Vivaldi isn’t a big name in browsers, but it has a loyal following on PC, as it’s more feature-packed and flexible than most of the competition, and now with Vivaldi Browser Beta the company is hoping to make the same mark on mobile.

As well as the normal features like bookmarks, private browsing, a customizable search engine and the like you also get a number of extras here.

Highlights include a Speed Dial, which places links to sites of your choice on every new tab you open, and the unusual ability to take and save notes from within the app while browsing.

Vivaldi Browser Beta also allows you to sync your data across devices, take screenshots of both the visible part of a page and the whole webpage, clone your tabs, quickly switch between search engines using a shortcut key when typing in the address bar, and more.

Don’t be surprised if even more features are added as this free Android app moves through and out of beta too. This one’s worth keeping an eye on.

Everyday – Calendar Widget

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Everyday – Calendar Widget

At first glance, Everyday – Calendar Widget might struggle to stand out. It is, after all, simply a pair of widgets for your phone’s calendar, and we’ve seen calendar widgets before.

Where this has a bit of an edge though, is not in functionality so much as customization, because you can completely change the look, choosing your own primary, secondary and background colors, as well as primary and secondary text colors, corner size and background opacity.

You can also choose the starting day of the week, how many days and events to display, whether to show past and declined events, and more besides.

One of the two widgets shows your agenda, so you can see upcoming events from your home screen, while the other gives a more zoomed out view of your calendar, showing two weeks at a time, but not including the actual entries until you tap on a day.

Standard stuff then, but if you like the idea of a calendar widget but need it to look a certain way, then Everyday – Calendar Widget could well do the job.

Abstruct – Wallpapers in 4K

Abstruct – Wallpapers in 4K

There are loads of wallpaper apps on Google Play, but Abstruct is one of very few that we’ve felt compelled to spend money on – and much of the app is free too.

It’s crafted by the person responsible for the official OnePlus wallpapers, and you’ll find those in this app, but there are also many, many more that he’s made that aren’t used by OnePlus.

They’re all somewhat abstract, but some are altered paintings or landscapes, while others are completely digital creations across a number of themes. There’s quite a lot of variety and many of them look absolutely stunning, especially as they’re delivered in up to 4K quality.

There are over 300 wallpapers in all, and you can get around half of them for free, while the rest are unlocked for just $1.99/£1.99.

LockBox

LockBox

LockBox is a simple, secure way to store information that you want to keep handy but don’t want to risk anyone unauthorized getting access to.

The app has a simple interface letting you type out basic text notes and put them in named folders. But these notes are automatically encrypted (using AES-256 bit encryption with PBKDF2 SHA-256 and salted hashes), so they’re more secure than your average note app, and as LockBox stores data in the cloud you can access it anywhere.

The sorts of things the app imagines you storing include passport numbers, social security numbers, credit card information and the like, but you can use it for anything.

The app also requires a password or fingerprint to login to of course, so if someone gets access to your device, they won’t get access to your notes.

Hide Camera Hole

Hide Camera Hole

Some phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 now have punch-hole cameras cut into the screen. These eliminate the need for a bezel or notch, but it means there’s a potentially distracting circle in the corner of your phone’s display instead.

Hide Camera Hole is one of several apps that tries to address this by supplying a selection of wallpapers designed to, well, hide the camera hole. In many cases that just means a dark area where the camera is, while others will have a similar circle in the image, positioned to line up with the camera.

You can adjust colors and positioning, ensuring the wallpaper fits perfectly, and the app has wallpapers that account for both single and dual-lens cameras on either the right or left of the display. Indeed, that’s one of the main advantages to this app over some others, which are focused just on the Galaxy S10 range and don’t work with other handsets.

App Tiles

App Tiles

Your Android device likely has all sorts of shortcuts on its notifications screen and you can probably customize which ones are displayed, but what you probably can’t do is add shortcuts to apps.

App Tiles adds that option, letting you create up to six shortcuts to apps of your choice, meaning whatever screen you’re on you’ll always be able to swipe down to display your shortcuts, tap on the relevant app and be taken straight to it. For apps that you use a lot, this could be a real time-saver.

App Tiles is easy to set up – it doesn’t require you to change any settings on your phone, just launch it and assign apps. App Tiles does have adverts, but you’ll only have to put up with them when you’re setting it up. Once the shortcuts are in place you never have to launch the App Tiles app itself again.

Hiya

Hiya

Scam callers and other unwanted calls seem to be getting ever more frequent but fortunately there are ways to tackle them, such as Hiya.

This app has a database of numbers, so it’s often able to identify who’s calling, as well as flagging spam calls. There are also tools in the app that let you automatically block ‘scam and fraud calls’, ‘suspected spam calls’ and calls from private numbers.

Hiya can also identify the sender of text messages, and there’s a Call Screener tool, which blocks calls from unidentified numbers and sends them a text message asking them to identify themselves and call back. You can also manually block and look up numbers from within the app.

It’s a handy, easy to use service, and while it’s not the only option (Truecaller which we’ve recommended before does a similar job), it’s a great choice. 

1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet

1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet

If you ever use public Wi-Fi networks, then 1.1.1.1: Faster & Safer Internet is for you. That’s because public Wi-Fi is notoriously lacking in privacy and security. There’s a chance the provider will sell your browsing data and it also allows other people – if they have the skills – to snoop on your browsing data.

But 1.1.1.1 helps stop either of those things from happening by changing your DNS resolver to one managed by Cloudflare (the company that makes this app). It promises never to sell your data or use it to target adverts, and by browsing through Cloudflare you’re also hiding your data from any other potential snoopers.

As an added bonus, you might even get a speed boost, as Cloudflare’s DNS resolver is the fastest public one. The app is also completely free and easy to use – there’s just a single toggle to turn 1.1.1.1 on or off. That’s it.