Best Android apps

We pick the best Android apps we think should be on your home screen. Just bagged a new Android phone? Install these essentials.

The growth of Android has been rapid and startling over the last year. We're at the point where 200 million devices have now been activated, with 550,000 more flying off the shelves every day.

What's more, hundreds of thousands of apps are now available in the Android Market. So which ones deserve to have their icons nestling on your home screen? Here's our top 16 app picks for Android phones.

If you want to compare the best that Android Market has to offer with other mobile platforms, check out our picks for iPhone and Windows Phone apps.

Taptu

Best News: Taptu

Android owners are spoiled for choice when it comes to good news apps. High on the list are Pulse News and Google's own Google Reader, which are well worth a look. We're taken with Taptu though, which uses a turntablist metaphor by encouraging you to 'DJ Your News'. That means creating streams on specific topics of interest and pulling in stories from sites and blogs, as well as your social networks.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

7digital Music Store

Best Music: 7digital Music Store

Americans are getting to grips with the new Google Music service, but us Brits can't access it yet, so we're barred until it arrives in the UK. In the meantime, 7digital Music Store is a mighty fine substitute. Its app is part MP3 store, part cloud service -- you can download songs and albums previously bought from 7digital -- and part music player. The last update also included a native Honeycomb version for Android tablets.

Cost: Free. Download here 

 

Angry Birds

Best Casual Game: Angry Birds

Obvious? Just a bit, but the classic game Angry Birds can't be faulted on Android, especially as it's entirely free to play. Developer Rovio relies on ads to make money from the game on Google-powered devices, but they're not annoying. The gameplay remains top-notch as you sling birds at pigs over 285 levels.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

Minecraft: Pocket Edition

Best Build 'em Up: Minecraft (Pocket Edition)

It recently appeared on the iPhone but Minecraft's first mobile incarnation was on Android. If you're new to its charms, creativity is the key: you run around a blocky world building blocky things out of… blocks. That may sound boring but this is a beautifully zen sandpit to play in.

Cost: £4.29. Download here

 

 

Train Times UK

Best Travel: Train Times UK

If you travel regularly by train, you need Train Times UK -- if only so you can pace up and down the platform swearing at late arrivals in the smug knowledge that you're one step ahead of the announcements. This is approved by National Rail and has data for live departures and arrivals, fares and directions to stations. It's simple and quick to use, which is important for this kind of app.

Cost: £3.49. Download here 

 

Seesmicl

Best Social: Seesmic

Given our self-imposed ban on having the main Twitter and Facebook apps in these roundups -- because you'll likely have them already -- Seesmic gets our vote for the handiest social app on Android. It lets you access Facebook and Twitter on the go, while sharing photos, videos and details of where you are. Its Android widget is useful too.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

 

Opera Mini

Best Browser: Opera Mini

Android's default browser is handy, so why download another, you may ask? Opera Mini has two key strengths based on the way it crunches data on its servers before delivering web pages to your handset. Firstly, it's faster to zip from site to site. Secondly, and most importantly, it cuts down on your data usage, making Opera Mini perfect for dodgy Internet connections -- like when you're sitting on a train struggling to get better-than-GPRS speeds -- or when roaming abroad.

Cost: Free. Download here 

 

Endomondo Sports Tracker

Best Fitness: Endomondo Sports Tracker

Training can be a solitary affair, but Endomondo makes it more social. It tracks where you run, with an audio coach offering encouragement as you go if you buy the Pro version. It's good for analysing stats on your (hopefully) improving fitness. But the social features, which allow you to see what friends have been up to -- and even compete against their personal bests -- may be its biggest appeal.

Cost: Free/£2.64. Download here

 

Robo Defense

Best Hardcore Game: Robo Defense

It's a vintage game by Android standards, but Robo Defense continues to keep us wrapped up in its charms. The paid version has five maps to play on, as you send your bots off into battle, gaining achievements as you progress through the game. Very addictive indeed.

Cost: £1.88. Download here

 

 

CoolIris LiveShare

Best Photography: CoolIris LiveShare

As on Windows Phone, we lament the lack of Instagram on Android -- the impressive iPhone images app -- although it's apparently coming. CoolIris LiveShare is a very good app for sharing photos, although it focuses more on social features than the visual filters seen in other apps of this ilk. Our favourite feature is the ability to create 'streams' for particular occasions, which you can open up for friends to post to, and then share online or via social networks. Great for wedddings, holidays and parties.

Cost: Free. Download here 

 

Famigo Sandbox

Best for Parents: Famigo Sandbox

Most smart phone or tablet-owning parents hand their devices over to their kids every so often, but the worry is that they'll get into your email, settings or ultra-violent first-person shooter game. Android now has protection against that sort of thing in the shape of Famigo Sandbox. It locks off your personal stuff and keeps your kids on child-friendly apps, while also recommending new apps that they might like.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

Task Manager

Best Utility: Task Manager

We still grumble from time to time about the need to have an app like Task Manager pre-installed on an Android phone. Thankfully, Task Manager does an admirable job of monitoring what apps and tasks are running, and killing them to save on battery life and improve speed. It's simple to get to grips with. It will make a big difference to your daily usage of your Android phone.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

Dropbox

Best Cloud App: Dropbox

Ah, Dropbox, how we love thee. It can be a hard service to get other people excited about just by describing it: a cloud synchronisation service for your documents, photos and videos. But once you start using it across a bunch of devices, it'll be hard to remember how you managed without it. It's a good example of why some of the hype around 'The Cloud' -- which essentially means streaming your data from the web rather than having it saved on your phone -- is justified.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

Documents To Go

Best Work App: Documents To Go

Available in free and full versions, Documents To Go is a veteran of the mobile industry -- we remember using a version on our Palm PDA years ago. It lets you view Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on your Android phone. If you want to actually edit them, you'll need to pay for the premium version. It's invaluable if you regularly get sent documents that need to be opened and read at short notice, when you're not at your desk.

Cost: Free/£9.99. Download here

 

SPB Shell 3D

Best Personalisation: SPB Shell 3D

Yes, it's expensive, and most Android users will be happy with whatever interface their handset maker has slapped on top of Google's Android operating system. But for those willing to give it a go, this is very nifty technology, giving Android a 3D makeover, complete with smart folders and widgets. If you're interested in where mobile interfaces might go in the coming year or two, it's well worth a look.

Cost: £9.45. Download here

 

Google Maps

Best Navigation: Google Maps

Yeah, Google again. Google Maps is pre-installed on iPhones, but the Android version benefits from more regular updates from Google. It's very handy for navigation. Simply use Maps as you would normally, plotting a route from point A to point B; then tap the Navigate button to switch to a simple map to find your way there. While it's true that the paid navigation apps offer whizzier features, Google Maps is good enough for most people's needs.

Cost: Free. Download here

 

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