Android apps you should install right now

Android has quickly vaulted past Apple iOS, and then Symbian, to now become the #1 selling smartphone platform. That surge in market-share is reflected by the dramatic growth of the Android Marketplace. That growth introduces some really great options, but also a lot of chaff. So, to help you quickly sift through the chaff and get directly to the good stuff, here are some of the best apps I have found. They are broken into categories, and ranked in order of awesomeness. Oh yeah, and with only two exceptions at the very end (noted in the descriptions) all of these are FREE!

Phone Utilities

  1. Google Voice
  2. This app is the reason I don’t pay for texting. I have no texting plan. I can text all day long (no images yet – I use email for those) and not pay a dime. It just comes out of my data, which with Verizon is unlimited. My voicemails get automatically transcribed for me, and I can parse the content without even having to call the GV visual voicemail and listen. The transcription isn’t perfect, but it is generally enough to get the idea. Plus, instead of giving out my phone number, I now give people my Google Voice number, which is totally portable to any device. It can even ring your home phone and cell phone at the same time, while screening the call in real time and letting you decide whether to answer. Free. And unlike with other (iOS) platforms, the integration into the phone is totally seamless. Has a couple of widgets included.

  3. MySettings
  4. What a God-send this app is. I used to hate having to enable/disable functions on my iPhone, since they were usually buried under three menus, after flipping through four or five screens to find in the settings app. Not any more! Swipe down the top header and touch the icon. Presto! the most common settings all appear on your screen to be enabled/disabled/edited with a short or long press. It also shows your built-in and SD storage stats at a glance.

  5. Volume Toggle(Free)
  6. Another life-saver. Instantly change between your custom audio profiles with a touch. Create a few different profiles, like Work, Play, Vibrate, Headphone, etc, with all of the individual volume levels (alarm, ring, etc) adjusted for each. I love widgets, and this app shows just how practical they can be. Instantly cycle through whichever profiles you wish with a touch on your home screen. Plug in a set of headphones, and your headphone profile automatically (if you set it that way) becomes active until they are unplugged. This incredibly customizable app is the PERFECT audio controller. Trust me.

  7. KeepScreen
  8. Want your screen to automatically shut off to save battery, EXCEPT for a few key apps? Say, Google Maps, or Speedview? There’s an app for that. KeepScreen.

  9. File Expert
  10. Another file browser, with a twist. It allows you to not only browse SMB fileshares on the local network, but also serve up ANY file(s) on your phone’s storage to a nearby computer via a wi-fi connection using standard browser-based network protocols. That was one feature that was always frustratingly missing on my iPhone. Hard enough getting files on it, but once I did, I had no way of easily getting them off. But, I digress… Problem solved. I just use the iPhone to make phone calls now, when it has a signal…

  11. ChromeMarks
  12. Automatically sync your Google Bookmarks (automatically updated as you create them if you use Chrome on the PC) from home or work to your phone. Want to show someone a cool site you bookmarked at home the other day? Whip out your phone, open ChromeMarks, and there it is. I have used XMarks forever to keep bookmarks and tabs synched on my various desktops/laptops, since before it was xmarks even, so I’m delighted to have the same functionality on my phone.

  13. Android Assistant
  14. Just what it says. Your phone now has a personal assistant. Check on processor/memory usage per-app, kill apps, batch-uninstall apps, batch-kill tasks to free resources, and much more. Google will tell you it isn’t necessary to kill tasks, and they are probably right. My phone has been running really smoothly since Froyo. But I’m a control-freak when it comes to my tech and old habits die hard.

  15. Usage Timelines Free
  16. A system monitor app (similar to Android Assistant) that can be used to display CPU usage in a dynamic bar-graph icon at the top of your screen. Also allows you to view a list of running apps sorted by CPU or Memory, and kill them at will. Shares some functionality with Android Assistant, but they aren’t big, so it doesn’t hurt to have both for their separate strong points. Or, just pick the one you like best.

  17. Lookout Mobile Security
  18. Security. Because your phone is a computer now, and it is the most popular computer-phone on the market, and it WILL eventually get hacked if you are careless. Welcome to the 21st century.

  19. DiskUsage
  20. Searches the entire folder structure to show you how much space your individual files are sucking up in a nice, intuitive graphical form. Oh yeah, I forgot that video of Uncle-Marty belching the alphabet was 200MB… Delete.

  21. Speed Test
  22. Check your dl/ul speed. Compare it with your friends. Fun when you are using Verizon and they are on AT&T and stuck on edge or their 3g network is barely functioning, which is often in my experience. I run this against the same exact app installed on my AT&T “fastest network” iPhone once in awhile for a good laugh.

Other Utilities

  1. Google Maps
  2. When I started carrying a smartphone I stopped carrying paper maps. Who needs them when you have a dynamically-updating electronic street map with a big blue “YOU ARE HERE” mark moving around on it? Now, Android takes that to the next level with its Android-only Google Maps Navigation, your phone is essentially a Garmin on steroids. It updates maps dynamically. It shows you where you are going with a sweet isometric view, just like with a normal GPS, and it talks you through every turn. Literally, it talks you through, either with the built-in speaker, or if you have a bluetooth-capable stereo like me, through all of your car speakers. No more getting lost because you are trying to follow a tiny blue dot on a tiny little screen. Half the time I turn the screen off and just let it tell me when to turn.

  3. Dropbox
  4. Because I like having access to my computer’s files from my phone while I’m three states away.

  5. KeePassDroid
  6. Android version of the same database I use to securely store passwords on my computer. I can’t remember a dozen different passwords, can you? So, I only have to remember one.

  7. Droidlight LED Flashlight (Motorola, otherwise find an equivalent)
  8. Use the LED on your phone to light your way. On my Droid X the dual LEDs are amazingly bright.

  9. The Weather Channel
  10. It is a little sluggish after the latest update, but I’m sure they’ll get it sorted soon. The widget is nice. No need to open the app to get the current weather.

  11. Wifi Analyzer
  12. Nice app for troubleshooting wifi issues on a complex wireless network like the ones I care for.

  13. Google Earth
  14. Pretty much the same as the PC app, only in the palm of your hand.


  1. RealCalc Scientific Calculator
  2. Ditch that crap that came preinstalled on your phone. Use a RealCalc.

  3. ColorNote Notepad
  4. Until very recently I used AK notepad, but switched when I saw the sweet list functionality of ColorNote. Plus, unlike AK Notepad, you can lock individual notes. With AK Notepad if you use a lock PIN, it locks the entire app, and you have to enter it any time you want to open or resume using the app, even to look at your grocery list. What a pain.

  5. Adobe Reader
  6. Just like on the PC. I actually find, however, that the app that was preinstalled on my phone usually flows better. Meh.

  7. Unit Converter – ConvertPad
  8. Convert anything into anything. I can’t remember how many pints are in a gallon either.


  1. TWIDROYD for Twitter
  2. The BEST twitter app. Now unbanned, thank goodness. Has a widget.

  3. Facebook for Android
  4. Accept no substitutes here. Widget included.

  5. Skype (the real one, not the Verizon one)
  6. My understanding is that the Verizon version will allow you to make skype-skype calls without using your minutes, but will NOT allow you to make skype-out calls over wifi. They want you to use Verizon minutes, instead of Skype’s. The real Skype app will (on Verizon, at least) ONLY allow you to make calls over wifi, but is useful when you are in a building and don’t have a good cellular signal. It also has better functionality for controlling your profile than the Verizon Skype app.

  7. WordPress
  8. Because I like to blog on the go. I’ve typed entire blog entries in this app. With swype on my Droid X, it is a breeze.

  9. Craigslist
  10. Configure custom search terms, and the app will alert you when a new post is made in any of your defined areas that meets your criteria. I can’t even say how awesome this app is for buying stuff second-hand.

  11. URLy
  12. Shorten links so you can fit them in your tweets. Or just to obfuscate them so in emails that you look hip…


  1. Pandora Radio
  2. User-customizable Internet streaming radio made easy. Check out some of my stations to the upper-right. Pair it with a bluetooth car stereo, and who needs satellite radio? Oh yeah, don’t like that song? Skip it. REALLY don’t like it? Ban it and never hear it again. Control the tunes right from the widget if you like.

  3. ACast
  4. The best podcast client I’ve found for the platform. Not intuitive, at first, but very powerful, and easy to use once you get the hang of it. Widget allows you to play/pause and see what podcast is loaded.

  5. Gallery 3D
  6. Jazz up the plain photo gallery installed on some phones like the Droid X with this 3D gallery ported from the Nexus.

  7. Picasa Tool
  8. Upload photos directly to your Picasa account, and manage your public/private albums all from your phone.

  9. SoundHound
  10. What I used to replace Shazaam. Same idea. It even correctly identified Fur Elise when I merely hummed it into the mic. How is that for slick?

  11. Flash Player
  12. Make your iPhone-toting friends jealous that you have access to the complete web, not just a static version of it.

  13. White Noise Lite
  14. Having trouble sleeping?

  15. Ringdroid
  16. Because who wants to pay $.99 for a song, and then pay another $.99 to @pple for a ringtone of the same song? Make your own custom ringtones out of whatever portion of your mp3s you want. This app is great, and really easy to use.


  2. English dictionary for all you English-speaking types. Has a word-of-the-day widget.

  3. iRae
  4. Diccionario comprensivo para todos ustedes que hablan español. Hasta incluye sinónimos y las várias formas de los verbos.

  5. ColorDict Dictionary
  6. English-Spanish (and other language) dictionary


  1. PewPew
  2. Addictive asteroids-like game. Simple wire-form game with a really nice design.

  3. aTilt 3D Labyrinth Free
  4. Just like the physical game where you navigate a ball through a 3D maze while avoiding the holes. Use the tilt sensors in your phone to take the fun on the road.

  5. OpenSudoku
  6. Popular number-based puzzle game

  7. SimonClone
  8. Wow, just like the old electronic game! My memory is soooo bad.

  9. Pinball
  10. Some fun pinball games



  1. Galactic Core Live Wallpaper
  2. So mesmerizing. And I love the way the galaxy shifts angles as you swipe from screen to screen.

  3. Particle Storm Live Wallpaper
  4. Cool interactive wallpaper. The sparks follow your touch.

  5. Asteroid Belt Live Wallpaper
  6. Slick 3D wallpaper. Watch the planets slowly orbit from just beyond the asteroid belt.

  7. Day of Ubuntu
  8. Brings together my two favorite OSes! Day dawns, and then slowly turns to night.

  9. 3D Matrix Live Wallpaper
  10. Personally, I like to disable or tone the flames way down. The falling characters are cool enough alone.


  1. SpeedView
  2. See how accurate your car’s speedometer is. This GPS-based tool is very accurate on straight, level stretches of road.

  3. Mileage
  4. Track your fuel consumption over time. This app will allow you to track multiple vehicles at once. Averages things like miles between fills, and price per mile.

  5. Torque (Add Supported or paid version)
  6. Use it with a $35 bluetooth OBDII dongle from china to read and reset codes from the ECU and display real-time data.

  8. North American Subaru Impreza Owners Club – Ok, this one is kind of a special-interest item too. A direct portal to the site. Much better than the website for a small screen.

Special Interest

  1. JamBox Guitar Chords & Scales
  2. Having trouble remembering what a chord looks like? D#6add9… what??

  3. Tuner – gStrings Free
  4. Tune your guitar using the mic on your phone

  5. Tabular
  6. Find guitar tabs quickly and easily

  7. Sight Read for Piano
  8. Practice playing the indicated note on the sheet music using the fretboard/keyboard

  9. On The Ministry
  10. Field-service app (this is one of only two apps I paid for)

  11. iSilo
  12. This is the second app i paid for. Opens certain pdb files…

  13. Ski & Snow Report
  14. Wondering if it is worth the drive to the slopes, or where the best powder is? This app is GOLD.

Well, that is it: I’ve beat the bushes, and those are the best apps, which you should install on your phone RIGHT NOW. If you know of a cool app that others might be missing out on, please leave a comment so we can give it a try!

~ by Jay P Morgan on February 22, 2011.

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