Smartphones

Top 25 Android apps: The best of the best

Android now has over 70,000 apps to choose from. TechRepublic's Jason Hiner shows you 25 of the best ones to download.

The Android Market may not have as many apps as the iPhone App Store yet, but there are still enough to be overwhelmed, and it's growing at a breakneck pace. To help you sort through them all, here's my list of the best apps I've found on Android. Again, remember that this is a snapshot in time. The Android platform is developing so quickly right now that I guarantee my home screen look different a month from now.

The best way to view my list of the top Android apps is in the screenshot gallery. However, you can also view my top 25 in the list below.

The screenshots

The list

1. Google Voice

Google Voice is a service that is so useful I consider it one of the top benefits of Android itself, especially since Apple rejected the Google Voice app for the iPhone. It gives you a phone number that can ring to multiple places or devices and it allows you to access all of your voicemail and text messages over the Web. The Android app integrates even deeper. It can make outgoing calls look like they're coming from your Google Voice number so that you can keep your real mobile number private.

2. Advanced Task Killer

One of the realities of having a multitasking mobile OS in Android is that you have to manage your apps so that they don't hurt performance or battery life. Advanced Task Killer (or ATK) is my favorite. It even comes with a widget that you can tap once to kill all open apps.

3. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great cloud service that automatically syncs a folder of files between multiple computers (Windows, Mac, or Linux). This app extends Dropbox to Android and interacts with other apps (such as Documents To Go) to open the files.

4. Evernote

Once you get used to typing on a virtual keyboard (and it honestly took me over a year to do it), then these devices are great for note-taking, and Evernote is a great note-taking app. It is similar to Dropbox in that it saves data locally but syncs it across all your machines and devices.

5. DroidAnalytics

For some reason Google doesn't have an official app (for either Android or iPhone) for Google Analytics. The best one I've found on Android is DroidAnalytics. Another good one is mAnalytics.

6. Documents To Go

The free version of Documents To Go offers a great little reader for Word and Excel files. You can upgrade to the full version (for $15) if you want to edit files and add PowerPoint files to the mix. If you do want editing capability, I'd also recommend taking a look at QuickOffice.

7. Amazon Kindle

I never warmed up to the Amazon Kindle e-reader, but I'm a big fan of the Kindle mobile app. Since it was released I've read a lot more books simply because my smartphone is always with me and I can pull it and read a few pages anytime I've got a couple minutes free.

8. Places Directory

This is an awesome app for finding shops and services near your current location. From restaurants to movie theaters to medical facilities to taxis, this app is very accurate and takes advantage of the business information from Google Local. This app is better than the info you get from a GPS unit (or app) and better than any of the similar apps available on the iPhone.

9. Tripit

I dig Tripit. It is by far the best app I've found for keeping track of all my travel itineraries. It runs on some great backend systems. You simply forward your confirmation emails for your flights, hotels, rental cars, and more to Tripit and it automatically organizes them into trips with all your details and confirmation numbers.

10. Seesmic

Twitter is an amazing instant-intelligence engine and it was made for mobile browsing. Although there's an official Twitter app for Android now, Seesmic is still the best Android Twitter client.

11. FCC Speedtest

I'm obsessed with running speed tests to check my bandwidth in various places, both to see 3G fluctuations and to check the quality of Wi-Fi. There are a number of really good speedtest apps, but my new favorite is the FCC Test app.

12. Astro File Manager

Another one of the great things about Android (if you're a geek or a tinkerer) is that you have lower-level access to the system itself. Astro is an app that lets you navigate the Android file system.

13. Got To Do

There are plenty of to-do apps to choose from on Android but I prefer Got To Do because of the solid interface and the fact that it can sync with the online service Toodledo.

14. Gist

Many of us have contact lists scattered across various computers, devices, and online services. Gist is a Web service that can bring them together and even pull in stuff from the Web to help you stay up to date with your most important contacts. There's an Android app as well as an iPhone app.

15. TED Mobile

TED is a fascinating event that features a meeting of the minds of some of society's most influential thinkers. You'll definitely disagree with some of them, because there's a large diversity of opinions, but many talks are worth listening to. What I love is that they've taken the videos from their conference and made them freely available on the Web. This app provides a great way to access the videos. I hope more conferences follow TED's lead on this.

16. Pandora

Pandora is a streaming "radio station" for the Internet age. You simply search by an artist or song and it will create a running playlist based on that one piece of information. It intersperses an occasional ad between songs but the ads tend to be fairly localized and occasionally even useful.

17. Shazam

If you want to impress your friends with a mobile app, show them Shazam. Ever hear a song being played at a store or on the radio and ask yourself, "Oh, what song is that?" That's where Shazam comes in. Just hit the button and let it listen for 15 seconds, query its database, and then return the name of artist and the song. It has about an 80% success rate.

18. Dial Zero

Are you one of those people who dials a customer service line and just keeps pressing zero until you get to talk to a real person? Then Dial Zero is your new friend. This app provides a directory of a ton of U.S. businesses and gives you numbers to help you get closer to a real person and instructions for which prompts to hit to speak to a human being as quickly as possible.

19. Google Goggles

This is a fun app that is a little but ahead of its time. It does visual searches. You can take pictures of things and then the app tries to tell you what they are. It's limited in its scope but it is pretty cool, and it's definitely a peek into the future. One of the coolest features is the ability to take pictures of text in a foreign language and let that app translate for you. In a foreign country, this can help you read street signs and avoid going into the wrong bathroom. :-)

20. Google Sky Map

Ever look up at the night sky and try to tell your kids the name of that constellation you're pointing at, or try to remember which planet that is in the southern sky? Google SkyMap lets you point your smartphone at it and get the information. This is part of a new breed of apps called "Augmented Reality" apps that layer digital information on top of real world experiences.

21. Tricorder

A lot of geeks I know like to say that our smartphones are becoming more and more like the Tricorders on Star Trek. Well, here's a fun app that turns your Android device into a virtual Tricorder. It even offers some useful environmental information, including GPS data, wireless data, and ambient sound measurements.

22. FxCamera

Honestly, the camera software on Android is an area where major improvements are needed, but this app is a great example of what's possible. It has solid camera controls, full customization options, and offers some great effects for photos.

23. Photoshop Mobile

Photoshop is, of course, the best known photo editor in the world and its mobile app doesn't do anything to hurt that reputation. But while the desktop version is know for having a zillion features, the mobile app is distinguished by its simplicity. It's the best Android (and iPhone) photo editing app for simple crops, brightness adjustments, and sharpens, for example.

24. Bump

Bump is a fun (and useful) idea for sharing info between two phones using the accelerometer, and it works across Android and iPhone. You can use it to share contact info (yours and others), photos, and apps. You both simply open the Bump app, choose what you to share, and then hold the phones in your hands and bump your hands together.

25. Barcode Scanner

This app turns the Android camera into a barcode scanner. You simply scan a product's UPC code and let the app go to work to find it in Google Product Search or a search on the open Web. You'll be amazed at how fast it works. This is great for when you're shopping retail and you want to check the price of a product online before buying to make sure you're paying a fair price.

Also read

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

46 comments
cesandman
cesandman

Re: Astro File Manager I was disappointed to find that the viewable files are only those on the sd card (unless I am missing something). I have a Garmin phone and I wanted to see a folder view of the photo gallery internal to the phone.

howey.peter
howey.peter

Could have included the QR barcode links (in the images) so we could scan the app to the phone directly.

parforejoe
parforejoe

It would have been nice to have the 2d barcodes for each app. Just a suggestion so the Android users could just scan and get the app. Otherwise, a very informative article. Thank you Jason!!!

brianpeterson
brianpeterson

Hasn't anyone ever beamed a contact, or even emailed a VCard?

volentib666
volentib666

that's all I want. Scan an existing bar-code, tell me the asset tag and export it in CSV to my desktop. I'd buy an 'Everex Mobile Phone' if it could do this using the camera and bar-code recognition...

jred
jred

Aldiko is a great ebook reader. I love the reading interface, and it even has a "store" link to some good free books.

rsmastersjr
rsmastersjr

Verizon is offering me a chance to upgrade to a new phone a little early this time. I want an Android. Looking at these apps, the Word app and the barcode scanner seem just perfect but I'd like an app that will let me use my phone as a phone--of course that's one of the last things anybody wants to talk about. And a physical QWERTY keyboard because my wife would prefer to text rather than talk. Is there a perfect Android right now or should I wait?

carmanhere
carmanhere

Where is a good place or places that everyone gets the apps from? Thanks

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

Wow, you guys are on top of it. I published this piece early (because it needed to be live for a promotion we were running) and I've gone back in this morning and added the descriptions. Apologies that they weren't there when you first took a first look at. I hope you'll give it another glance. Thanks for reading!

ericblissmer
ericblissmer

i agree, let me know when this is updated with at least a description of the app, i dont have time to look these up and see what they do. Why is one better than the other would be nice too.

david
david

It shows your location on the map and then plots the cell tower you are using so you can see where it is and how far.

divgo
divgo

A great app to include on this list would be WiFinder. It is free, which helps of course, and it just seems to work great. I would also like to have seen an entry for a really good tool that could make my phone a WiFi Hotspot, but the only ones I found thus far required me to root my phone, which I am not going to risk doing.

ejcaputo
ejcaputo

Needs at least some *minimal* comments about the selected apps!!

robmcsa
robmcsa

TED? Nassim Taleb criticizes TED for intellectual dishonesty and lack of substance in the latest edition of The Black Swan (2010). He calls TED a ?monstrosity that turns scientists and thinkers into low-level entertainers, like circus performers.? Of all the venues he?s been invited to talk, he calls TED an aberration. Taleb spoke at TED2008, warning the audience about the fragility of the financial system. He claimed that the curators did not choose to post his talk on their website on purely cosmetic grounds.

dmartinage
dmartinage

I'm not to swift when it comes to these things- how do I download Advanced Task Killer--thanks

jacobta
jacobta

Opera mini and Nimbuzz Not sure how barcode scanner makes it in the top 25, yeah its cool, but how many times do people use it?

clif
clif

Most of these are ports, not new apps...

iblesq
iblesq

Where are the links for these application?

alinawaz83
alinawaz83

Dictionary is also in the top applications of android....

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

While there are quite a few free books on Amazon, the best place to go is www.gutenberg.org - there are THOUSANDS of free books that you can just download and copy to the Kindle folder on your SD card.

Jim Wright
Jim Wright

Also recommend Laputa. I found a few series I hadn't found elsewhere (e.g. Dexter). Not the greatest UI, but I've read several books on it with no major annoyances beyond the slow startup. Loving the Kindle software, though the iPhone version is a bit further along. Audible's Android app is still in beta, but coming along. Current version is .154 and supports formats 4 and Enhanced only, which can be downloaded by 3G, WiFi, or sideloaded. The beta is easy enough to join. For audio, I like Meridian player as an upgrade to the stock Media app (also plays video pretty well); mSpot (plays your music, 2Gb free in the cloud, but songs compress to 1/10 their usual size with decent sound quality); Stitcher (podcast streaming); and iHeartRadio for dozens of streaming radio options.

JackOfAllTech
JackOfAllTech

My wife and I upgraded a week ago (9/17) and we both got the LG Ally. It has a touch keyboard for when you just want a quick text but it also has a slide-out full qwerty physical keyboard for serious typing. I love this phone!

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

Verizon sells the LG Ally, which runs Android 2.1, has perfectly fine phone performance, has an excellent landscape slider keyboard, and IIRC it's the least expensive of Big Red's Android phones ($49, maybe). I've had mine for, oh, a month and half, give or take, and I think it's great.

jim.wood
jim.wood

The Market icon on your homescreen :)

n2iph
n2iph

Whats missing from the list is a good business card scanner. On my HTC Touch Pro, I had Worldcard which was great, but there is no version of Worldcard available for the Android OS at present.

jred
jred

I like that it asks if you want to turn wifi on when you start it & off when you close it.

razorex
razorex

I agree with most of you about the lack of descriptions; anything about the app at all other than a pretty screenshot would have been great. For those 'skimmers' complaining about the lack of a single view of them all, there's a nice compact type-written list at the link on the first page. huzzah! http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/hiner/?p=5617

Jim Wright
Jim Wright

Boiling someone's life work into 18 minutes or less. "Dance, monkey, Dance!" The folks in the audience pay thousands to be there. I get it for free. Makes me feel frugal.

Wick Tech
Wick Tech

Go to the Market (there should be a shortcut on your homepage.) Click on search (the magnifying glass), and type the program you want to find. You can also just scan through free apps, but if you know what you want, just search.

Jim Wright
Jim Wright

An increasing number of websites include barcodes, particularly to direct links to Android downloads or websites. It might seem odd to use a web page on a PC to ease access to a feature on the phone, but it beats the heck out of typing in the URL. I don't do a lot of in-store shopping, but when I have it's been useful to scan the barcodes to compare prices online. (with google goggles, you don't even need a barcode; taking a picture of a logo is often sufficient). The barcode flow isn't the best, but I'm sure that will come.(e.g. program the Camera button to auto-launch barcode scanner instead of Camera)

Wick Tech
Wick Tech

My husband has it on his Droid, and after watching him use it, I realized it's quite useful. We were in a store looking at a TV, but couldn't find the price. So he scanned the bar code...and there it was, the price, and all the details. I've also used it a couple times since then for the same reason. Way look around the store for the bar code scanner when you can have it right on your phone?

tlfu
tlfu

This one turns your phone into a very good GPS tracking device for golfers. It shows you your current distance from various points on the course, superimposed over a satellite map image. Thousands of course have already been mapped, but it's also easy to create your own.

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

I've got a task killer installed but after spending a month or so routinely killing background processes, I've given it up. Why? Android 2.1 (at least, if not previous versions) neatly pauses whatever is in the background anyway and I'm not seeing much, if any, difference in battery life with or without manually killing tasks. Diagnostically it's a nice to have but it's not a must-have, IMO. I may be wrong, too, but doesn't Goggles do barcode scanning as well? And Sky Map is interesting but hardly a must-have, unless you're truly geeking out over constellations every night. I'd replace some of these items with apps like Lookout (antivirus, backup, device location via web interface), KeePassDroid (storing the KeePass DB in DropBox is hugely useful), and some system monitoring tools like 3G Watchdog and BatteryLife that you can add as widgets.

rsmastersjr
rsmastersjr

I've just had bad luck with Motorola's. They used to have the craziest two-prong charger that never seemed to be reliable. Al in all, I'd like to get a phone that was cutting edge for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe this is a solution.

rsmastersjr
rsmastersjr

Thanks for your suggestion. I like that phone,

fuzzybunnyfeet
fuzzybunnyfeet

In the Market, I cannot find an app named "Places Directory". When I search, I'm offered options like "place directory", "places dir", "places directory google" and others. But none of the options provides an application called "Places Directory" and none of the likely candidates have a description which leads me to believe that it is the app described in this article.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

I'll consider adding those to a future update of this list. Thanks!

drodr05
drodr05

Where is a great app that you left out. And ShopSavvy is a good barcode scan app. I use it to find a products via web or retail store. It even shows you which store is closest to you by linking with Google Maps. Very helpful. But my favorite time waster app is The Schwartz Unsheathed. Kids like to play with that, alot!

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