There’s no shortage of great Android apps. Because the ecosystem is so popular (and growing!) there are more worth looking at every day. In our fourth annual Lifehacker Pack for Android, we’re highlighting the best apps to help you stay connected, stay informed, stay productive and get things done.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favourite, must-have applications for each of our favourite platforms. If you’re curious to see how things have changed this year, here’s last year’s Lifehacker Pack for Android.
- Internet and Communications
- Music, Photos, and Video
- Food and Entertainment
- The Extended Pack
Any.DO is has always been one of our favourite to-do apps, and it comes with some really useful features. While it’s not our pick for the best, Any.DO offers some great features and a sharp design that will help you stay on top of your to-do list and feel good about doing it in the process. It’s fast, beautiful and easy to use.
Boomerang is one of our favourite tools to keep your Gmail under control, and its newly launched Android app hooks into your Gmail or Google Apps accounts to help you compose and schedule messages, automatically hide messages for a set period of time, and overall help you keep your inbox tidy and focused so you only see the items you need to work on.
Agenda Calendar offers a clean, minimalist view of even the most cluttered calendars, and makes keeping on top of a busy schedule full of appointments and events a breeze. Multiple calendar views help you see your schedule from any angle, whether you’re walking between meetings and need a one-handed way to browse your appointments, or you’re knee deep in your calendar trying to find time to squeeze in a lunch meeting. Of course, the built-in Google Calendar app is completely free and Agenda Calendar is $2, but if you live and die by your calendar, Agenda can make it easier to manage.
SwiftKey has come a long way even since the last time we included it in the Android App Pack. It’s picked up a number of significant updates, including SwiftKey “Flow”, or Swiftkey’s take on gesture-typing. Draw out the word you want on the keyboard and SwiftKey will type it out for you. Additionally, SwiftKey has improved its word prediction in recent updates, and even though you can connect the keyboard to your email, Facebook, Twitter, and other social accounts so it can quickly learn the words you use most often, you don’t have to in order for it to quickly learn your personal language and suggest words to you that make sense (and make typing easier). It’s skinnable in a dozen different colours and styles, and it works on just about any Android device. It’s $US4, but if you want to try it for free, you can. There’s a reason its our favourite Android keyboard.
Google Keep is probably one of Google’s most underrated but most powerful products. It’s an incredible tool for staying organised, clipping quick notes, getting your thoughts down quickly, and organising checklists both on the desktop and on mobile devices. On Android it really shines, and offers useful home screen widgets and lightning-fast note taking that synchronises with your Google account. It’s worth installing if for no other reason than to have a stickies app for Android, but once you start using it you’ll quickly reveal its true power.
DashClock Widget, even though it’s only available for Android 4.2+ devices, is an incredibly powerful tool to supercharge your lock screen with useful information, notifications, and mini-applications. Aside from showing you basic things like the weather, battery status, incoming notifications and more without you having to even unlock your device, it’s also incredibly flexible and can tie into a number of popular applications to offer even more useful at-a-glance information. Essentially, DashClock’s add-ons (and the add-ons offered by other app developers) make your lock screen just as functional as a home screen, just more streamlined.
SwipePad is a quick launcher for your favourite Android apps and settings. Sure, you can add items to your home screen and open them that way, but SwipePad gives you a kind of “speed dial” launcher for your favourite apps and settings that’s just a gesture away, whether you’re on your home screen or already in an application. It’s not the only app switcher like this, but it’s definitely one of the best, and the fact that it’s so easy to use and set up means you’ll never have to go back to the home screen or dig through the app drawer to get to one of your favourite apps again.
Pocket and Readability are both tools that make it easy to clip articles from the web that you want to read later, save them, share them, and then read them whenever or wherever you want to — all without annoying site ads or busy and cluttered layouts. Each service has its own benefits and drawbacks, so you should definitely pick the one that works the best for you, but they’re both worth looking at if you’re looking for a quick way to clip articles for future reference or reading.
Internet and Communications
Chrome isn’t just your favourite web browser for Android, it’s one of the best. If you’re running Android 4.0 or higher, it’s a fast, flexible browser that can sync bookmarks, tabs, and passwords with Chrome on the desktop, on your tablet, or even on iOS. If you’re not running Android 4.0 or higher, or you want an alternative, Dolphin Browser is still our pick as the best for Android because it’s just as fast, offers syncing with the desktop through plug-ins, offer voice-assisted and gesture browsing, and it’s extendable with lots of add-ons that make the browser even better.
Falcon Pro is the best Twitter client for Android, hands down, and even though its wrapped up in drama with Twitter because of its popularity, there is a way around all of that that will let you use the app now that it’s been pulled from Google Play. We think the hack is worth it. For your trouble, you get a feature-packed in-app browser and image viewer, support for in-app video, a great gesture-based interface, and tons more options that we don’t have room to go into here. If you’re looking for a similar option that’s a little less hassle, try Twicca, our old pick for the best, or Carbon, another great gesture-powered Twitter client that recently picked up even more features.
Google’s Hangouts may replace Google Talk, but it does more than Talk ever did. Chats, video chats, shared photos, and more are all in the same app and interface, saved and easy for you to download and back up, no matter how many people were involved with the conversation. Group chats and conversations are easy, and switching from chat to video chat is simple and easy. Hangouts also is the new home for Gmail calling. You probably have Hangouts already, but if you’re not using it, give it a try.
The Kindle app for Android has been around for a long time, but if you have a lot of Kindle books, ebooks in general, or PDF documents, it’s still one of the best readers for all three. It’s free, it’s fast, and it gives you access to everything available in the Kindle store. You also get access to your Kindle account, and any documents you have stored in the cloud with Amazon, which makes it perfect for ebooks you’ve downloaded elsewhere.
Press is one of the best newsreaders for Android, and while it started its life as a simple Google Reader client, its evolved since the death of Google Reader to support Feedly, Feed Wrangler, and Feedbin, so you can still get your feed reading on using its gorgeous interface. It’s fast, flexible, and while it’s $2, think of it as the Reeder of Android — which is a big compliment. If you’d rather not spend the money and you’re already a Feedly user, you can grab the Feedly app for Android and go right to the source.
Hideman is a free VPN service for Android, OS X and Windows. The Android app is easy to install and easy to use, and runs quietly in the background while you surf. As we’ve mentioned in some of our VPN coverage in the past, a free VPN service is only as good as how much the provider logs your activities and how much they’re willing to give you for free. Hideman wins on both counts: The service keeps no logs on paid users and minimal logs on free ones (and even purges those after 14 days), and free users can use the service for four hours per week completely free. If you need a mobile VPN for those quick work sessions at the cafe or the library, Hideman is worth a look. If you want a completely free (ad-supported) option that’s also privacy focused, try Hotspot Shield.
Google Now recently earned our pick as the best virtual assistant for Android, and for good reason. No other tool we’ve seen proactively offers the wealth of relevant and useful information that Google Now does that specific to your current location. If you’re travelling, Google Now will show you the weather in your location before you get off the plane, open up a translation card so you can make sense of the local language, and show you directions to the hotel you booked a room in, all within moments of you arriving at your destination, without you having to do anything. Even if you’re not travelling, Google Now will proactively tell you when you need to leave to get to an appointment on your calendar, how long the commute home will be before you leave work and more.
After a major update (if not a little controversial) recently, Google Maps for Android now has the same new, refreshed look that we previewed at Google I/O earlier this year. It sports a cleaner, more organised layout, better driving directions, more options to explore local businesses and destinations, live traffic reports and accident rerouting, and more. Even without the latest feature additions, Google Navigation is by far the best turn-by-turn navigation service for Android, and Google Maps is the best maps app for Android as well.
1Weather is one of the most attractive and feature packed weather apps we’ve ever seen, and it’s only been updated since we first looked at it. Even if you don’t think you need another weather app on your Android phone, 1Weather may convert you. The app offers real-time weather and forecasts for any location you set, the option to set multiple locations or have the app follow you around via GPS, extended forecast info, animated radar and cloud cover maps, alerts and advance warnings of weather conditions (including push notifications for National Weather Service alerts), a beautiful home screen widget, and it’s completely free.
Nothing is worse than forgetting where you parked your car, and Valet is an Android app that will help you remember, even if you forget to open the app and mark where your car is currently located. The app works best when you mark where your car is parked before you leave it, but if you don’t, it’ll watch the Bluetooth connection to your car stereo (if you have one) and when it drops off, it will mark your car’s location. It’s $4, but if you want a free option, you can check out previously mentioned Park Me Right.
Lookout combines antivirus and antimalware tools for Android with lost phone tracking in case your phone is lost or stolen. It’s one of the few Android security tools that’s actually remarkably powerful and does what it promises. Lookout will keep your phone safe, help you find it when it’s lost, back up your data, and protect your personal information from mobile threats, phishing sites, malware and more.
Music, Photos and Video
Google Play Music and/or Pandora and/or Spotify
You could choose your favourite of these three or keep them all installed if you have accounts with each. They all bring something different to the table. Pandora offers deep and rich song library and taste-based matching. Spotify sports a massive library of music you can play at any time. Google Play Music features a cloud-based repository of your own tunes and its newly launched Google Play Music All Access Service. Google Play Music has the benefit of being a great music store as well as a cloud locker for all of the music you buy from them. They’re all great portable music services, run well on almost any Android device and bring great music to you on the go.
If you’re trying to get into shape, or you just want some music to liven up your workout routine, FitRadio can deliver in droves. All of their stations and playlists are engineered to help you keep the energy up while you exercise so you’re motivated to push harder and get through your workout. The app is free and some of the music is free, but if you want more playlists and more music, you’ll have to pony up for a subscription. It’s not much, and it definitely beats assembling your own workout playlists if you’re short on time, or listening to the same songs over and over again every time you go for a run or hit the stationary bike.
Instagram may be an odd inclusion in the App Pack, but the app made such a huge splash when it arrived on Android that its worth highlighting. Also, now that Instagram features 15-second video clips, it’s an excellent way to not just share your photos with your friends, but also to share short video clips with them or keep them on your own for posterity. There are other great alternatives out there, but Instagram is definitely the heavyweight.
If you’re a real photo fan and love tweaking and editing your photos before you share them, or just want a better photo management app for your Android phone or tablet, Google’s own Snapseed is worth a download. Sure, you can apply those photo filters that you’ll find in other photo sharing apps, but you can also crop, edit, sharpen, auto-correct, tune and make your photo look better before you share it. It’s completely free and probably the most comprehensive yet still easy-to-use photo-editing tool for Android.
Where Snapseed is great at photo editing, Camera ZOOM FX is stellar at helping you take great photos in the first place. We think it’s the best camera app for Android, and it’s picked up a number of updates that make it even better than it was when it earned the title. It’s still worth your $3, if only for the extensive burst shooting options, timer features, steady-shot helper, controls for ISO, brightness, exposure, and light metering, and grid overlays that help you line up the perfect shot. When you’re finished, you can apply photo filters, text, graphics, or effects before saving the photo to your library or sharing it with the world.
Plex brings all of your music, movies, videos and everything else in your computer’s media library right to the small screen so you can enjoy all of it when you’re on the go. You’ll need the desktop app on your home media machine or HTPC, but it’s not hard to set up. We have detailed instructions to help you, and with a little effort, you’ll stream music and movies to your phone, watch them on the small screen, pick up where you left off on the big screen, and you’ll be able to do all of it without worrying about file formats or video codecs.
Greenify can help you maximise the battery life of your Android phone by automatically hibernating apps in the background so they don’t spawn additional processes or keep running when you’re not using them. You can customise which apps get hibernated and which apps can run unchecked, and if you drop $3 to support the developer, you get the “donation version” that can hibernate system apps as well as user-installed ones. It’s not a task killer — it’s much better than that, and it can add hours of life to your ailing battery.
Titanium Backup is still the king of Android backup utilities, and it’s the easiest way to backup your data and move to a new phone or make automated, hassle-free backups of your Android phone. There’s been some recent competition, it’s still the most complete, feature-rich backup option. The Pro key will set you back $7, but making sure your data is backed up is worth the price.
Dropbox and/or Google Drive
Dropbox and Google Drive are two of the best cloud storage providers on the market, and both offer a ton of features that make them worth installing on your Android phone. Dropbox alone makes the process of getting files on and off your phone simple, and it makes sideloading APKs a snap. Dropbox’s auto-upload feature also makes backing up all of the photos you shoot with your Android phone seamless, and can even share them with the world if you want it to. Google Drive features OCR and character recognition using your Android device’s camera, and tightly integrates with Google Docs, Presentations, Spreadsheets and more — as well as giving you access to cloud storage space for files and photos.
Cloud storage providers give out space like candy these days, and CloudCube is the app that lets you manage it all from one app. Dropbox, Google Drive, Ubuntu One, Cubby, Box, SkyDrive, Copy, SugarSync, and more are all supported, and you can see how much space you have in each at a glance. CloudCube makes moving files across cloud storage services easy, lets you synchronise any folders on your Android device with whichever cloud service you choose, and lets you browse and download files from any of the services you use.
Tasker is the ultimate automation and tweaking app for Android. If you’ve ever wondered how to make your phone do “x” when “y” happened, Tasker can automate it. Recent updates have made the app easier to use, and you don’t have to look far to see some of the incredible things you can do with the app, from controlling your car with your voice to automating every room in your house. Tasker can be tricky to get started with, but once you’ve set up a few actions, it’s off and away.
ES File Explorer is our favourite file management tool for Android, and for good reason. You get complete access to your phone’s file system in an intuitive interface, access to cloud storage services for quick downloads and APK installs, advanced tools to manage, install, and uninstall, applications, a gallery for your photos and image folders, a built-in FTP client, the ability to transfer files over Bluetooth, and more. Best of all, it’s completely free. All of that power will cost you nothing, and it runs smoothly on virtually any version of Android.
If you let your phone charge while you work at your computer but don’t like the idea of having to pick it up every time a new SMS message comes in or a notification pops up on your phone, AirDroid lets you manage your Android phone from your web browser. Whether your phone is on the same network as your computer or not, you get complete control over it, and can respond to text messages, update applications, manage your phone’s storage, download and share photos, and even find your device if it’s lost.
Food and Entertainment
Sure, Yelp can help you find something tasty to eat in your neighbourhood, or give you the lowdown on that new restaurant that opened across town, but it’s useful for much more than that. People review just about everything on Yelp, from libraries to apartment communities, and if the reviews aren’t enough, you can use it to learn about nearby events, venues or happenings around town.
IMDB puts the internet’s largest database of information about movies, TV shows, actors and actresses, and more right in the palm of your hand. Searching for your favourite movie, performer or TV show takes a couple of seconds. You can even look up movie trivia and find out when that movie you and your friends are talking about nostalgically actually came out.
The Extended Pack
Part package tracking tool and part shopping organiser, Slice hooks into your email account and watches for order confirmation emails from online stores you shop with. It processes those order confirmations for you, keeps track of how much you’re spending where, and notifies you on your phone when your items ship, are out for delivery, or are delivered to your home or office. You can track your packages at any time, review past orders, or get a single view of all of the online shopping you’ve done at multiple retailers in one secure view, which is great if you buy almost everything online.
If your phone came with a bunch of carrier crapware or a bloated, laggy application launcher like TouchWiz or MotoBlur (or even Sense), you’ll want a new, slimmer, trimmer launcher that can get you closer to the stock Android experience. Nova Launcher is our pick as the best launcher for Android, but it’s exceptionally similar to Apex Launcher, and we know they’re pretty close feature-wise. They both offer free versions, so you can try them both to see which one works best for you. Both of them allow you to customise your Android experience as much or as little as you want — if you want a bare, stock-like experience, you can go with the default setup. If you like animated transitions, scrolling docks, widgets in folders and folders on the dock, spring-launched shortcuts and more, you can have that too.
There’s nothing worse than missing a text message because you’re at home and left your phone on silent so you weren’t disturbed at work, or getting to the office only to have a phone call blare your favourite jam across the office. Silence automatically adjusts your sound and wireless settings based on the time of day, or based on what’s on your Google Calendar. If you block off “work” for every weekday from 9am to 6pm, Silence will set your phone to vibrate and turn Wi-Fi on so you’re not sucking down data when your office has free Wi-Fi. Then, after hours, it will crank up the ringer and turn Wi-Fi off so you hear it when your friend texts you for dinner, and keeps your phone from draining its battery searching for Wi-Fi networks when you leave the office.
We don’t just use our Android devices for productivity and work, we use them for play too, and RetroArch can emulate just about any classic gaming console on your Android phone. We’ve shown you how to turn your phone into a portable arcade, and this emulator is the one to get if you’re planning on doing it — or turning an older Android phone into a portable gaming device.
If you need a little help working out, or want guided circuit training workouts that can help you get the best possible workout in the shortest possible time, Sworkit is the app to get. The app comes packed with a variety of exercises and workout routines to help you stay motivated and engaged without getting bored, and it tracks your progress so you can see how well you’re doing sticking to your exercise goals. The app even randomizes workouts so you don’t do the same routines over and over again. Pick up the pro version for $1 to have the app speak the exercise names to you, help you track your progress even longer, set daily and weekly goals, and get bonus workouts if you’re ready for a challenge.
Servers Ultimate transforms your Android phone into a fully featured server, complete with whatever apps you want to install on it and remote terminal access. The app has a number of built-in server applications, including tools to turn your phone into a DLNA streaming media server, a secure web proxy, an FTP or WebDAV server for file storage, an ad hoc DNS server, an SMS gateway and more. The app is definitely for advanced users, but it’s not terribly difficult to use — you just have to know what you want to do with it. Best of all, it’s completely free. There’s a $9 pro version that lets you run as many servers as you want simultaneously, but try the free version first before you decide to drop the cash.
This list is hardly exclusive. There are plenty of great apps we didn’t have room for here, and some we included last year that we excluded this year to make room for newcomers.