Here are a handful of useful, Google-produced Android apps that have managed to fly pretty low under the radar -- until now.
Jaymar CabebeFormer Associate Editor
Jaymar Cabebe covers mobile apps and Windows software for CNET. While he may be a former host of the Android Atlas Weekly podcast, he doesn't hate iOS or Mac. Jaymar has worked in online media since 2007.
Ever heard of Google's GPS-tracking app called My Tracks? What about its bucket-list-like service called Schemer? In fact, you may be surprised to know that Google has actually developed several dozen Android apps, many of which you've never heard of. Here, we take a look at four such titles that are all incredibly interesting and can be surprisingly useful.
A great tool for outdoors enthusiasts, My Tracks records your path, speed, distance, and even elevation while you walk, run, bike, or do anything else that a GPS signal can follow. Visually, the app is a snoozer, but to make up for it, My Tracks is easy to use and comes loaded with a number of convenient features. It even lets you analyze your treks after they've been recorded, using charts, statistics, and a nifty Google Earth-powered playback feature.
As useful as it is, though, My Tracks does not offer many of the training-specific features that some users might be looking for. There's no goal setting, personal record tracking, or built-in audio coaching. The app can, however, connect with a few third-party Bluetooth biometric sensors, including Zephyr HxM, Polar WearLink, and ANT+ monitors. Overall, My Tracks may not be the best option for serious athletes, but it is certainly a fantastic solution for general GPS-tracking purposes.
Google Play Magazines
Among Google's "Play" series of apps, this one is probably the least popular. Similar to its book-related sibling, Google Play Magazines is an e-reader that lets you download magazines for reading at your convenience. You can even read downloaded issues while you're offline. The app is easy to use, offers high-resolution viewing, and just like Google Play Books, it will save you from having to lug around a bunch of printed reading materials.
From Google Play, you can purchase individual issues or subscriptions (monthly or yearly) to tons of popular magazine titles. And from what I've seen, the prices are competitive with similar services. Since you're already a part of Google's content ecosystem, it is definitely a convenient app to have, especially if you're a magazine enthusiast.
Schemer helps you keep track of things you want to do in life. Whether you're planning to dine at a Michelin-rated restaurant sometime soon or you're dreaming of hiking to Machu Picchu one day, Schemer offers you a place to record your to-dos and connect them with your Google account. But more than a simple digital "bucket list," Schemer provides a clever platform for connecting with a community of other doers as well. If you make your profile public (as it is by default), others can see your "schemes" and add them to their own to-do lists. Of course, you can do the same with theirs as well. You can also browse keywords and categories or search for nearby users to see what others using the app are scheming.
While Schemer may not sound like a typical Google-made app, this quirky download is certainly homegrown. It's fun, easy to use, and definitely worth a try, especially if you already keep your own list of aspirations outside of Google.
Released about a week ago, Field Trip is the newest title on this list, and perhaps the one with the most potential. Think of it as a pocket guide to interesting and fun things around you, whether they be restaurants, museums, shops, or events. Pulling its data from dozens of different sources, including Thrillist, Zagat, Eater, Inhabitat, and Cool Hunting, Field Trip can recommend a wide variety of attractions for you to visit, or at the very least, read about.
Of course, the app does have its flaws, the most biggest of which is its poorly sorted recommendations. Still, it is easy to use, beautifully designed, and comes with a great assortment of content partners to enrich its user experience. That said, Field Trip, the youngest of Google's homegrown Android apps, is more of a novelty than a necessity at this point. However, considering Google's well-documented interest in local search, it might be in your best interests to keep an eye on this app.