Keeping up with all the latest and greatest Android apps is a full-time job (take my word for it). We consider vast numbers of them before we update this list periodically with additions, deletions, and replacements. This time around, we added 20 apps to the list and retired just as many.
How We Chose
There are now more than 450,000 apps in Google Play, and the 0.02 percent of Google Play represented in this list showed outstanding performance and mainstream usability without killing our device’s CPU. If an app had free and premium versions, I generally veered towards the free unless otherwise noted. I’m also a big fan of alternatives, so for every app on this list I also looked for a second choice that might appeal to readers who don’t, for one reason or another, like the first choice.
Loyal readers who’ve watched this app list evolve since 2010 will be excited to learn that Angry Birds (the original) has finally been removed from this list! It’s still an addictive and well-executed casual game, but one can only catapult birds for so many years…
Another item to note: I tested most of the apps below on a Galaxy Nexus with Android 4.0.2 or a Samsung Galaxy S II with Android 2.3., although most apps are compatible with Android 2.2 and above. Unfortunately, until every Android user is on the same device and OS version, Android apps will forever be dogged by fragmentation issues and you may experience different levels of performance on your device.
Free The interface looks dated, but AppGarden Lite is a lightweight, backwards-compatible container with dozens of useful utilities, from conversion charts to a barcode scanner to a password generator. You can bookmark your favorite utilities for quick access. My favorites folder includes the QR scanner, stopwatch, tip calculator, currency calculator, Urban Dictionary lookup, and a calorie calculator.
avast! Mobile Security
This completely free app packs in a ton of security features, like remote wipe, remote-lock, app management, safe Web browsing, a battery manager, and as an added bonus, a top-rated anti-virus engine that passed AV-Test’s test with flying colors. It’s also incredibly light. However it lacks a backup feature so make sure you sync it to your computer.
There are lots of BitTorrent clients out there, but I like the old favorite aDownloader because it’s easy to use and relatively crash-free. It also has a killer feature: the ability to pause and resume downloads. I haven’t encountered any file-size limits, either.
Auto Memory Manager
When a computer needs a performance boost, one of the most obvious ways is to upgrade or at least, manage memory; the same goes for mobile devices. Auto Memory Manager is an ad-supported app that provides detailed memory information, and lets you set memory priority on apps. It’s worth downloading when your Android phone begins to feel sluggish.
The Beautiful Widgets app lets you customize your phone’s homescreen, with weather reports, clocks, battery status, and different elements. It’s a simple app that makes your Android’s homescreen more useful to you, based on what information you want to see. And, as the name implies, it does it with grace.
Maxthon Internet Browser
If I could personify Maxthon, he’d be a crazy genius. This HTML5-ready Chinese invention is packed with endless configurations like advanced gesturing (that goes beyond that offered by Dolphin HD), www/WAP toggling, fetching, and day/night mode. You can even personalize it to rename the app, select a different icon for the app, and change its skin.
History Eraser Pro
History Eraser Pro makes it simple to delete junk off your phone. The app walks you through all sorts of data, from text messages to browser history to cached files, and then it wipes them in one shot.
Do you love everything about your Android except its crappy battery life? JuiceDefender Ultimate is a popular app that conserves battery life by disabling the most draining components, specifically 3G/4G connectivity, when your phone is idle. You can get the free lite version, but I’d invest in the Ultimate version which lets you customize when to disable a signal; for example, if you’re listening to Pandora you wouldn’t want it to go offline simply because your phone went idle.
Launcher Pro is a third-party application that does something your phone already does on its own (launch apps), except that it adds the ability for you to customize your phone in more ways than you normally can so that you can launch apps quicker and more easily. For example, you can create up to seven different homescreens, giving you quick access to more apps than before.
Lookout Premium for Android
Lookout doesn’t just promise security, it promises peace of mind on your Android device, which includes recovery solutions in case of loss, theft, or wipeout. The free version offers Find My Phone feature, automatic backup and restore functions. However, I’d shell out for the Premium ($2.99/month or $29.99/year, direct) edition which adds safe browsing; remote lock/wipe; app permissions management; and backup for contacts, call history, and pictures.
Is your file suddenly taking forever to download? If it’s your network’s fault, Speed Test will prove it. Tap to test your network connectivity in less than 30 seconds, showing upload and download times, real-time graphs showing connection consistency, and other detailed reporting to shove in your carrier’s face when they try to blame it on something else.
OnLive for Android lets you play current-generation console and PC games on your Android device, by streaming them from OnLive’s servers. It works best with 4G connectivity and most games require a wireless game controller.
Opera Mini 7
If you’re on a data diet, Opera Mini 7 is the fastest, most backward-compatible mobile browser on the market. You won’t get Flash support or all the features in Dolphin Browser HD, but Opera’s servers compress webpages so much that Mini only requires one-tenth of the bandwidth of a traditional mobile browser.
SwiftKey 3 (beta)
SwiftKey 3, just released in beta, might be the best virtual keyboard for Android yet. It “removes” the spacebar by letting users type entire sentences without having to tap the spacebar. Artificial intelligence within the app learns your typing style to offer up the most relevant word suggestions. It’s not available in Google Play yet, but you can get it by signing up to be a SwiftKey VIP member.
Veteran users will be familiar with Swype’s killer keyboard feature—being able to swipe your finger across a few letters to form entire words. A summer update made its machine learning engine smarter, adding a four-in-one keyboard and voice recognition. This is a glorious, Android-only keyboard experience for the those with two left thumbs.
Tasker is…ingenious. It lets you quickly program commands for your phone, like automatically turning on your music when you plug in earphones, or automatically turning off Wi-Fi when you put your device face down. Yes, I totally buy its tagline: “turn your smartphone into a geniusphone.”
X-Plore is a great way to look at an Android’s file system, and its many added features are solid bonuses. Use it to perform file operations like copy, rename, or create new folders. With X-plore, users can access Picasa albums, browse SQlite database files, zip and unzip files, and explore shared folders on Windows servers and PCs.
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