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Phones

Best free Android apps

Feeling a little impecunious after buying your new Android phone? As always, we're here to help with five of the best free apps currently burning up the Market.

The best things in life are free. Except, of course, for the ones that cost you money, such as your shiny Android phone and accompanying mobile service charges. With these two expenses under your belt, however, there's a plentiful supply of free wonderment available on the Android Market.

Many great apps are available for nothing -- either supported by advertising or just given away out of the kindness of their developers' hearts.

Everyone has their own favourite free apps. You'll find many excellent examples mentioned in our previous foray into Android apps, as well as in our themed Twitter, photography, news and car-based app roundups.

Here we have selected five more of our favourite essential freebies, apps that no self-respecting 'droid user should be without. So read on -- and remember to let us know your own faves in the comments below.

Astro File Manager

With so much free content available, it's easy for your phone's storage to become disorganised or fill up with stuff. Astro lets you browse, manage and backup files on your phone. You can, for example, backup apps to an SD card to make space, or copy, move and rename files stored there.

It's easy to use and displays thumbnails of image files rather than basic icons. It also comes with some powerful tools, including an application manager, which allows you to kill background apps to free up memory. Astro is an indispensable addition to your roster of Android utilities. The Astro SMB networking and Bluetooth modules (also free) are both worth downloading too.
Rating: 4.5

Google Translate

The phrasebook is dead. There, we said it. With Google Translate on your phone you need never again worry about flicking frantically through your bilingual dictionary for the Spanish for "two beers, please". Simply type -- or even speak -- the English phrase you want to communicate, select the appropriate language from the drop-down list and tap the Translate button. With text-to-speech enabled you can even spare yourself the embarrassment of trying to speak the results out loud yourself.

To use the latter function, you may also need to install eSpeak for Android (also free), but Google Translate will prompt you to do so on setup if required. Google Translate isn't perfect every time, of course, but it's surprisingly accurate and well worth downloading.
Rating: 4.5

Layar Reality Browser

Augmented reality is just a load of hype invented by marketing departments to try and get you to buy more stuff. Or is it? One way to find out for yourself is to give Layar a go -- it's free, after all.

It works using your phone's positioning technology to find shops, services, sights, restaurants and more in your location. Tap the play button and you get a camera view. You don't have to stick with the default data set, either. It's possible to customise which sorts of things are shown to you by adding or removing 'layars'. So, if you want architectural information, say, as opposed to where the nearest McDonalds is, the choice is entirely up to you.
Rating: 4

Dolphin Browser HD

An alternative web browser is always a handy tool to have on board and Dolphin HD is easily the best of the bunch. It offers a number of extremely useful features, including tabbed browsing, customisable gesture navigation, multi-touch zooming, hidden sidebars and more. Best of all, Dolphin supports plug-ins and there are dozens of extras available to download from the Market, including Twitter, Near Me and Read it Later tools, alternative search engines, such as Bing, Wikipedia and eBay, password managers and so on.

Dolphin may not be to everyone's tastes and it can take some getting used to, but it's fast, flexible and, of course, free.
Rating: 4.5

Winner: Handcent SMS

Whatever you think of that other brand of smart phone, there's one thing it does much better than Android, and that's text messaging. Handcent SMS is a way of adding in an iPhone-style conversational text view to your Android handset as well as a handy pop-up alert window. Not only that but the app is also highly customisable, with dozens of different settings and themes to choose from and downloadable font packs to personalise your texting experience further still.

You'll need to fiddle about with your phone's setting to make Handcent your default text service (and stop you from getting two alerts for every message you receive), but it's fairly easy to do and full instructions can be found here.
Rating: 4.5