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 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.
Winning fans all over London is this, with the Kabbee app aggregating local minicab firms and attempting to match your late night drunken ferry needs to the cheapest available nearby operator. The idea is to create competition among operators, with the result being some substantial savings over the usual black cab rates.
This isn’t just some corporate effort full of cross-selling and adverts, it really works. You can book your flight through the simple interface, pay, check-in, then have the app generate a QR code boarding pass to wave at the ticket desk. Paper is entirely eliminated, therefore dealing with printers is entirely eliminated, making life substantially better. Just don’t run out of battery power on the big day, else you’re stuffed. If EasyJet doesn’t fly to your destination then Kayak is a great alternative for global globe trotters.
4. Barclays Mobile Banking
The first wave of mobile banking apps were rubbish, mostly composed of skins that pointed you to some terrible mobile web site. But not in 2014. Go through the fuss of verifying yourself with this one and the Barclays app is extremely useful, listing and managing all your accounts, and even able to function as a replacement for the physical PINsentry card reader that’s required to access the full desktop banking site.
5. Sky NOW TV
Sky’s ramped up its Android app selection in spectacular fashion over the last year or two, with all manner of streaming, on-demand and specialist services available. Sky NOW TV is the best and most useful of the bunch, letting users buy access to its sports channels on a PAYG basis. Dead handy for cherry-picking the occasional big event without needing a full subscription.
6. BT Wi-Fi
If you’re a BT Internet user, this is a must install. Feed the app your BT account master password (this will be the one you thought up on a whim eight years ago and won’t be able to remember), and it’ll automatically log you in whenever you’re in range of a BT hotspot. Given that there are trillions of them in the UK, it means automated access to properly useful Wi-Fi connections when out and about, avoiding the spam £6-an-hour merchants.
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, you need this. 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 it 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 power this up 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.
The official Twitter app is a rather weird, ever-changing affair, that often introduces more annoyances and quirks with each new redesign. So best avoid it and enjoy the thrills of third-party tweet app Carbon, which, with its recent 2.0 update, enhanced an already posh experience with new gesture input, more hardcore shortcuts and a handy widget.
Or, if Carbon’s hardcore skills are a bit too much to handle, try Tweedle. It’s a vastly simpler Twitter app that covers the basics. You get three columns for the timeline, your mentions and direct messages, plus it’s super-fast to load with only the occasional advert on the image preview pages to tell you that the developer wouldn’t mind getting paid a bit for his work.
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.
Another unofficial app we prefer to the official option, DealPad takes the feed from bargains portal Hot UK Deals and presents it in a much simpler, less fussy (and less iOS) style. If you like to while away the evenings thinking about prices of various solid-state hard drives and planning your bulk biscuit purchases for tomorrow, get it on your phone.
17. Amazon Appstore
It’s a bit of a fuss to get this 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 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.
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.
20. BT Sport
Sky’s footie competitor arrived in the UK in 2013, with a day-one Android app letting BT subscribers stream Premier League matches and more to phones and tablets. The app also doubles as an EPG to let you know what’s coming up, although you will need to be using a BT Internet account login in order for it to be of any use.
A posh B&B listings service designed specifically around mobile app use, the selling point ofAirbnb 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
This 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. TheInstagram 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.
25. Strava Cycling
Tries to “gamify” the sports tracker experience, by breaking down routes and making them into publicly shareable challenges. This means some cyclists end up racing strangers for virtual trophies, with the times of other app users appearing for you to try and beat. It’s quite an addictive experience having some random rider to beat around a local loop. Better hope they weren’t doing it on a moped, or you might die trying.
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 PRO version 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. FlightRadar24 Pro
£1.99 ($2.99, $AU3.68)
One for the flight nerds, this pulls in open data from air traffic control departments of the world, letting you see exactly what flights are up there generating that attractive vapour trail. As well as listing all local flights, the app can also use Android’s positioning tools to work out what you’re looking at, making it dead simple to point your phone at the sky and get flight details pinged straight back.
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.