- Chuck Gray
With the rise of the smartphone we have entered the world of the app. My, my, there is an app for that, isn’t there? Problem is, there are thousands upon thousands of them, and I’ll tell you what, most of them are junk. But this just makes the good ones stand out that much more. This is a list of my favorite apps for Android phones; I will follow this up soon with a list for iPhone/iPad users. And, please understand this list is by no means comprehensive and does not include games. These are simply the apps that I have found to be the most useful and fun in my day-to-day life. If you have a favorite Android app that you’d like to see added to this list please contact me here or leave a comment on Facebook! Most of these apps are free, except for a few that I’ve marked otherwise.
Lookout Security & Antivirus – FREE, w/ paid upgrades
Your Android smartphone can get a virus just as easily, if not more easily, than a PC or Mac. Make this your first install. The free version will run scheduled scans of your phone for viruses and make certain that every app installed is safe. It will also allow you to locate your phone in the event that it is lost. For a few dollars a month, you can get extra features like safe Web browsing and a privacy advisor which will keep track of which apps have access to personal data on your phone.
Mr. Number - FREE
This needs to be your second installed app! Mr. Number will block calls and texts from undesirable numbers and allow you to report suspicious numbers to a community-updated database. In our current ecosystem of oft-swapped phone numbers, there’s a good chance you’ll get a call from a bothersome credit agency, some else’s ex, and a number of other trash calls. Get Mr. Number NOW to filter these out!
Power Controls - FREE
Some phones come with power control widgets pre-installed, but for those that don’t this is a great set. With these users have one-click control over different power-consuming features, like wifi, bluetooth, GPS, 4G, screen brightness, and much more. Perhaps one of my favorites is the ability to turn my phone’s camera flash on and off to act as a flashlight – great for power outages!
Astro File Manager – FREE
Perhaps the number one reason I use Android over iPhone is the ability to easily view the files on the phone and to transfer them to and from a computer. Some manufacturers include decent file managers, but others not so much. Astro File Manager has a great interface for browsing your files and lets you quickly copy/cut and paste, as well as view file and folder properties.
Weatherbug - FREE
There are a lot of weather apps on Android and none of them are especially great, but Weatherbug gets the job done. Quick access to current conditions, forecasts, radar, and severe weather alerts. Works for me.
OfficeSuite Pro - $14.99
Mobile office suites are a pesky lot. Obviously a smartphone is not the ideal platform for writing reports, editing spreadsheets, and creating slideshows, but if you’re on the road a lot and need to make some minor changes to a document, they can be quite nice. Problem is, most of them stink. OfficeSuite Pro is the best I’ve encountered so far. It’s got a friendly interface with easy access to the most commonly-used features of most office suites. At $14.99 it’s not the cheapest Android app on the block, but you get what you pay for!
CamScanner Phone PDF Creator – FREE
Use your phone’s camera to quickly “scan” items and turn them into PDFs. This is a handy one to have in the event you need to exchange insurance information after a car accident.
Note Everything – FREE
Everyone needs a good notepad program. You know. For taking notes. Note Everything lets you take notes very easily.
Dropbox – FREE
Dropbox is the premier service for quickly sharing files between multiple computers and users. You can also use it on your phone. Have quick and easy access to all your personal files no matter where you go.
Swiftkey - $3.99 w/ 1 month free trial
One of the other great things about Android is your ability to use different virtual keyboards. Swiftkey is my favorite because it learns your typing habits and suggests words as you’re typing. It also has different visual themes.
Jump Desktop – FREE for 1 computer, $9.99 for unlimited computers
Use Jump Desktop to access your computer no matter where you are. You will have complete control over your computer’s desktop with an easy to use touch-based mouse system and virtual keyboard. The free version will let you access one computer while the paid version will let you access multiple computers. Please note that this app will only work well on 4G phones or over Wi-Fi.
Photoshop Express - FREE
Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich has a decent photo editor built-in, but there still aren't a lot of phones out there running ICS and even if there are, there's no guarantee the manufacturer hasn't done something to strip away the photo editor's functionality. Enter Photoshop Express. You get access to simple tools like cropping, touching-up, and special effects. It's not fancy, but good enough for a smartphone.
CRRL Mobile – FREE
Search the Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s catalog, reserve books and movies, renew your checked-out items, access e-books, check the library calendar, and even check out items yourself all right from your smartphone!
OverDrive Media Console - FREE
This is the best app for reading free e-books from the OverDrive service CRRL provides. I’ve noted that many patrons who use the Amazon Kindle app will also try to use it for OverDrive books. Though workable, this isn’t the best solution; because of publisher squeamishness (see my previous article lamenting the current e-book ecosystem), many library Kindle ebooks from OverDrive must be downloaded first to a computer, then transferred manually via USB. This is vaguely doable with a plain Kindle, but on a phone or tablet? Pain. In. The. Rear. Use the OverDrive Media Console instead and when checking out books, choose the ePub format directly from your phone’s browser rather than the Kindle format and don’t mess with any wires!
Bluefire Reader or Aldiko Reader – FREE
I’m not really in love with either of these e-book reader apps, but these are the two best for reading Adobe DRM-protected ebooks, such as those from our EBSCOhost e-book service. I get mixed results depending on the phone and the version of Android being run, so try them both and see which one works better for you.
Google Reader – FREE
Keep track of the newest articles from all your favorite news sites, blogs, and more. There are a lot of news readers on Android, but I like Google Reader because you can access your newsfeeds both from a computer and on your phone and it will keep track of which articles you’ve read on either platform.
FB Reader – FREE
This is the best free e-book reader out there, period. Not only is it a reader, but it provides integrated search for new ebooks. So if you like reading classics that have fallen into the public domain or you’re looking for modern authors like Cory Doctorow who give their works away using a Creative Commons license, FB reader will find that book for you!
Double Twist – FREE
If you’ve been using iTunes for a long time to buy and organize your music, you’ll find the switch to Android somewhat daunting. Get Double Twist for your Mac or PC, and it will scan your iTunes library and make it easy for you to transfer your music to an Android phone in much the same manner as iTunes. Use the Double Twist app for friendly access to your music once it has been transferred to your phone.
MX Player – FREE
Although Android makes it much, much, much easier to transfer videos from a computer to the phone, you’ll find that the stock video player still won’t play certain video formats, including WMV, one of the most popular formats. Install MX Player and your troubles will be over – it will play virtually any video format under the sun.
Crackle – FREE
Enjoy free, legal, and popular movies and TV shows on the go. The selection is always being updated, so there is frequently something new to watch.
Pandora Internet Radio – FREE
Tell Pandora your favorite artist, genre, or song, and it will stream you music that it believes closest matches your preferences. Save your “channels” and tell Pandora as each song plays whether you like it or not to help it better learn your favorite tunes!
SoundHound – FREE
You wouldn’t believe how insanely useful this app is. Ever been in a restaurant, bar, shop, or other public location where a song is playing that you really love but you don’t know the name of? Launch SoundHound, hold your phone to the music source, and within seconds SoundHound will tell you what you’re listening to.
Google Shopper – FREE
Search by keyword, barcode, label and more for pretty much anything on sale in stores today. Google will tell you where to get the cheapest prices--either online or locally--and supply you with user reviews.
Key Ring Rewards Card – FREE
I hate, HATE rewards cards. My posterior is large enough without a wallet bulging with dozens of pieces of plastic folded against each other. And forget keychain cards – when I have to battle just to get my house key out of that mire of barcodes things have gone too far! This app will store most of these cards for you so you never have to be listing to port the next time you sit on your wallet.
Google Earth – FREE
You thought Google Earth was neat on your computer, it’s even cooler being able to flick the planet around with your fingers. Zoom in to street level with Street View, take tours, fly through 3D landscapes, and more.
IMDB – FREE
As a librarian, I hate to admit that I watch a ton of TV and movies. And I am absolutely addicted to the Internet Movie Database. The IMDB app lives on my phone’s homescreen, and I use it anytime I recognize that guy from the movie that one time that I don’t entirely remember. It’s great!
Wikidroid – FREE
There are a lot of apps that offer access to Wikipedia, but this is the cleanest and simplest to use.
Mango Languages – FREE
Surely you’ve heard of our fabulous language learning database, Mango Languages (go here to sign-up). It’s the best solution for learning a new language that you can find and now you can have it on the go.
Dolphin Browser – FREE
The stock Android browser is ok, but a bit lacking in features. Dolphin is the best alternate browser for Android. It supports gestures, extensions, and multiple user agents: you can tell the browser to pretend that it’s a desktop browser, or an iPad browser. This is useful because some sites force you to use those horrible mobile versions without an option to switch to the full desktop site, but with Dolphin you can trick those sites into thinking you’re browsing them on a desktop computer.
Skype – FREE
Chat using voice and video for free with other Skype users and place calls to phones anywhere in the world at dirt-cheap prices.
IM+ – FREE
Who’d have texting? Carriers charge through the roof for it! Use all your favorite chat protocols in one app, including Facebook Chat, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk, MySpace, AOL, and more.