Free is always good. But when free equates to helpful and/or productive, free is outstanding. If you spend enough time on the Google Play Store, you will eventually come across apps that fit that category ─ free apps that actually improve your daily life in some way. But trudging through the muck and mire of the free games, shopping apps, and other (countless) apps that do nothing more than take up precious storage space can take a lot of time.
That's where I come in. I've spent plenty of time digging through the Google Play Store to come up with a list of solid free apps — all of which are must-haves in one way or another — that everyone should give a try. What are these apps? Let's find out.
1: Nova Launcher
Although I use the Prime version of Nova (you get more gestures, among other added features), Nova Launcher blows away most every other Android launcher available. This particular take on the Android launcher offers the best balance of performance and options. Even with the bells and whistles, you don't feel like you're working with a heavy-handed app. It's smooth and fast. Nova offers Okay Google hotword support, customization of the app drawer, scrollable dock, backup/restore, and much more. You will not find a home screen launcher more highly recommended by myself and other Android publications/writers.
Inbox is the next-gen Google Gmail client. It's the perfect evolution of the Gmail client and most everyone who tries it out never looks back to Gmail. On the Android device, it makes perfect sense. Inbox is far superior at making your Gmail work process flow more efficiently. With it you can easily snooze, pin, and create reminders, and much more with your email. Some power/business users might miss some of the features of Gmail (I suspect those features will eventually make their way to Inbox), but the average user should feel right at home.
3: Astro File Manager
Astro File Manager always gets my top nod. The fact that it's free makes it even better. Astro allows you easy access to your Android files and folders and offers modules for Cloud and Samba shares. Astro has an outstanding (and fast) search tool, a nearly perfect sidebar, plenty of configurable options, a built-in task killer, and more. The free version does have ads, but they're unobtrusive. The ad-free version is $3.99.
4: Commandr for Google Now
Commandr for Google Now adds a number of useful commands to Google Now. This free app is so handy, its functionality has found its way into Android 5.0. It lets you interact with your device with more power and control (for example you can enable/disable Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, forward music, set volume, and take a picture). Once you add this app, you'll wonder why Google didn't include this much power in Google Now from the beginning.
Malwarebytes is one of those apps you probably won't ever need — but on the off chance you do, you'll be glad its there. Of all the anti-malware apps, this one is tops in my book. If you happen to be one of those users who installs from third-party sites, this app rises from "hope to never need" to "absolutely must use." Regardless of what kind of mobile user you are, just install Malwarebytes and hope you never have to use it. When you install it, enable the real-time protection (because most users forget to run their anti-malware when it's a manual process).
6: WPS Office
WPS Office, formerly called Kingsoft Office, is hands down the best free mobile productivity suite you'll ever use. It's lightweight, full-featured, cloud-ready, fully Word/PowerPoint/Excel compatible, supports wireless printing, and offers all the standard features you'd expect from a mobile office suite. If you're looking for the best in breed of productivity tools (and you're not a fan of Google Docs), look no further than WPS Office.
F-Droid is one of the very few apps you will find me recommending that can't be found in the Google Play Store. This is a third-party app store that allows you to search through (and install) thousands of free open source software (FOSS) apps for your Android device. You'll find apps in every possible category you might need. All apps are installed through F-Droid, so the only time you have to "side-load" anything is the F-Droid app itself. If you opt to make use of this tool, be sure to employ Malwarebytes, on the off-chance you pick up something untoward.
8: Chaos Control
Chaos Control is a task manager based on Getting Things Done (GTD) and does an outstanding job of keeping you on task. This app is to structured users what Evernote is to unstructured users. Need more be said? Fine. Chaos Control is a goal-driven to-do list app developed with entrepreneurs, startup founders, and creative professionals in mind. If that's you, you need this app.
MacroDroid is what you want to help automate your Android if Tasker is just too challenging to learn. With this tool you can easily create automated tasks for just about any occasion. There are plenty of predefined templates to use and you can create tasks with triggers, actions, and constraints. If you want your Android device to take care of some of those mundane actions and make life a tad more efficient, this is what you want.
If you drive a lot and need to know when streets are closed or backed up or find out other ways your commute might be affected, Waze is the app for you. It uses a social network of users to report conditions of routes and gives you real-time feedback of events that can help guide you to the most efficient route to your destination.
Many outstanding free apps are available on the Google Play Store, but it can be tough to know where to start looking. These 10 apps will either find their way onto your device or give you a perfect launch point for finding just the right app.
- Five obscure Android apps that should be on your must-use list
- Five new Android apps that could help make your day a bit more productive
- Pro Tip: Find tons of open source Android software with F-Droid
- Five free Google Apps you may not know about
- 10 easy ways to ruin your smartphone
- 10 things you can do to make Android more secure
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.