The Android Market isn't always an easy place to get around. Our first edition of the Lifehacker Pack for Android rounds up essential Android apps — our personal favourites for productivity, multimedia, internet life, and just plain usefulness.
Lots of people are picking up new Android phones these days — nearly 200,000 per day, at last count. Google's default apps are pretty handy, but the Market has many great apps, most of them free. Here's a look at our favourite free and cheap Android apps.
We're using the great app search and sync service AppBrain to create a Lifehacker Pack for Android. If you install the AppBrain App Market on your Android phone and sign in through the AppBrain site (using a Google OAuth, no-password-revealed log-in), you can check off and click install multiple apps from the list, or visit the individual [AppBrain]link at the end of each app write-up to find out more and install. If you install AppBrain's Fast Web Install, it's actually ridiculously easy — click "Install" on AppBrain, and your apps instantly start downloading to your phone (as we previously detailed).
Like our iPhone Pack, this list is no short grocery checklist. You can skip to any of the sections from these links:
- Backup and Security
Astrid: Astrid is a simple to-do manager into which you simply start typing, add context if you want to, then save. You can create advanced filters in Astrid, sync it to your Remember the Milk account for access on the web, and, most helpfully, Astrid is an extremely tenacious beast that won't stop reminding, beeping and buzzing you until certain very important tasks are done. [AppBrain]
Evernote: Evernote's universal note app on Android is not as elegant, fast, or intuitive as Evernote on iPhone. But with the latest update, the app has gotten a lot more usable. There's a home screen widget for quickly searching out notes or recording new text, image or audio notes. You can send any text, image or audio on your phone to Evernote through the "Share" menu. And with offline caching and speed improvements, Evernote offers an impressive, seamless thoughts-into-notes experience. [AppBrain]
mNote: At least some of the Lifehacker editors consider synchronised cloud-based note service Simplenote to be the Holy Grail of ubiquitous plain text capture. The mNote app is, at least, a notes app for Androids that usually don't have one built in, with the added benefit of those notes constantly saving themselves and being easily accessible everywhere else. [AppBrain]
TripIt: TripIt saves you from the print-outs, email searching and airport panic sessions common to modern-day travel. Sign up for TripIt, forward your travel itineraries along (or have TripIt automatically import them from Gmail), and then you've got a whole master travel plan on your phone — check-in links, flight information, weather and traffic stats for your destination and so on. It's an essential for frequent fliers, hotel guests and train travellers. [AppBrain]
Dolphin Browser HD: For getting around the web, Android's built-in Browser is compatible, capable and fast — especially under Android 2.2. But Dolphin Browser's got a few handy tricks up its sleeve. Gesture-based browsing, tabs on top that disappear for full-screen browsing, add-ons that can block ads and send articles to Read It Later and quite a few other doodads worth checking out. [AppBrain]
Facebook for Android: Until this past month, it was a shame how diminished the Facebook client looked in the shadow of its successful iPhone counterpart. But now Facebook's Android presence is capable, good-looking and even offers a few of its own unique perks, like a pull-up notifications shade and a front-page scroll of recent photos from friends. [AppBrain]
PDANet: Data tethering is built into the latest builds of Android. But unless you own a Nexus One, or happened to luck into a phone carrier that's generous with their bandwidth, you may have to pay an extra sum every month to use your Android's net connection with a computer. PDANet is a reliable third-party option, for Windows and Mac systems, to connect to your Android phone's data plan via USB cable or Bluetooth. It is nothing like free ($US19 for the full version), but you can use the free version as long as you'd like — it just doesn't allow access to secure (https) sites. Pay the one-time fee, or use it in a pinch, and you'll get why PDANet is an essential. [AppBrain, requires a desktop download]
Trillian: Mobile IM client Trillian manages multiple chat accounts through one app, and we like the interface, too. Because it's in beta, you might want to check out the more tested eBuddy Messenger, which offers similar multi-IM capabilities, but Trillian looks pretty darned nice to us, even in its infancy. That it sends pictures over IM, across networks, with no problems speaks quite a bit to its usefulness alone.
Twitter for Andorid: Honestly, we could have gone one of a few ways with this recommendation, but Twitter seems like the best app for the average Twitter user. Other apps, like Seesmic and Twidroyd, offer all kinds of nitpick options, like choosing between old-school "RT" and the official retweet methods and supporting multiple accounts. But if you like clean looks, smooth transitions and just an easy way to update your status, the official app is the way to go. [AppBrain]
My Tracks: Whether you're into bike rides, runs or walks, hiking, driving or other feats of movement, you'll dig how much data My Tracks can deliver. Routes get plotted out on Maps, while a Google Docs spreadsheet can be filled with mileage, elevation, timing and all manner of notes on what you did and where. [AppBrain]
AppBrain App Market: Android's Market app could be a lot better. AppBrain makes it better, faster and more searchable, and loads it with savvier recommendations. The basic AppBrain app provides a good search and categorisation for Android apps, but more importantly, the ability to sync your list of installed apps two ways to your Google-linked web account. Pick out a bunch of apps on AppBrain, and you can have them installed (or removed) all at once on your next sync. Because many veteran and enthusiastic Android users are hooked into AppBrain, the recommendations and popular app listings tend to be much better than the Market. [AppBrain App Market]
Fast Web InstallerThe Fast Web Installer app hooks into AppBrain to make the installation process instantaneous — click "Install" on an app on AppBrain's site, and your app starts installing on your phone as soon as your eyes shift from monitor to phone. These apps made this list possible in some ways, and we highly recommend installing both to make installing everything else very easy. [AppBrain]
Astro File Manager: You usually won't need it, but a good file manager is handy to have when you need to install an unofficial app, send a file into a particular app or just open a PDF. Astro lets you comb the contents of your microSD card and act on the files there, whether to move, delete, open, or otherwise tinker. [AppBrain]
Barcode Scanner: Until the Market updates with Google's plans to provide over-the-air, instant browser-to-phone app installation, Android enthusiasts have taken to scanning quirky barcodes, or QR codes, to quickly install an application from a blog or print magazine recommendation. To grab those QRs, you need Barcode Scanner. It also offers some basic Google search functionality, but there are better shopping apps, one covered in this list in particular. [AppBrain]
Google Chrome to Phone and Android2Cloud: They're two sides to the same very futuristic-feeling coin. Both require the use of Google's Chrome browser. Chrome to Phone sends links, Maps locations, or text from Chrome right to your Android phone, while Android2Cloud does the opposite (via the Browser's "Share" function). They save everyone a lot of typing, self-emailing and other awkward moments by naturally linking Google products together. [AppBrain: Chrome to Phone, Android2Cloud]
Dropbox: File-syncing app Dropbox is so good at doing so many things, but at its most basic level, it seamlessly syncs file across all your devices. On an Android phone, that means making fewer cable transfers necessary, easy installation of non-Market apps, and a way to take pictures, video or sound recordings and have them instantly available on your desktop or other devices. [AppBrain]
Swype: Keyboard-replacement Swype has previously been available as a limited-time beta (as well as a clandestine off-Market installation) and may come back to be offered in beta preview again. It's also installed by default, but not always activated, on a few Motorola and Samsung phones. But if you can get it on your phone somehow, it's worth it. Swype is a great keyboard idea, especially for one-handed text jobs. Simply run your finger over the letters of a word, and for the vast majority of entries, Swype gets it. If it doesn't get it, its suggestion list almost always has the right word. If it has no idea, you type out the word manually, and Swype stores it for next time. The newest versions also include the Voice Input key missing from earlier betas. Here's hoping Swype gets itself onto the Market soon, because we know plenty of customers willing to pay.
Tasker: If you had to name one app that delivers on the promise of Android's open, customisable nature, Tasker would be it. The automation utility can pull off any tasks you can put your mind to. Want to have your phone turn on GPS and Bluetooth, raise the ringer volume and automatically launch the Navigation app when you're in the car, but turn everything off and silent when you put your phone face-down at work? You can do almost anything with Tasker. [AppBrain]
Voice Actions/Voice Search: Create and send text messages and emails, launch Navigation directions, search the web, leave a note for yourself and play MP3s or streaming music, all with your voice. That's the promise of Google's Voice Actions update to the Voice Search app, which is free but requires Android 2.2. Once more bugs get worked out, Voice Actions will be a pretty amazing service. In the meantime, it's a nice preview of great functionality to come. [AppBrain]
Google Goggles: When Googles works, it feels like living in the future. Snap a picture of an object, a barcode, a piece of art or something else recognisable, and Googles will harness the power of Google to bring you back as much information as possible on it — where the logo comes from, when the painting was made, etc. It doesn't always work, and it definitely doesn't work with people you see in-person (yet), but it's a neat app to keep in your pocket for finding out more about that great great bottle of beer you just put down. [AppBrain]
^3 (Cubed): It's not much of a stretch to say Cubed (or "superscript 3") is better than the default Music app built into Android. Even the improvements Motorola, HTC and others have made are largely cosmetic, while Cubed reshapes the look and feel of music playing and browsing. Flip through artists and albums by spinning an almost endless cube, one covered with album art that Cubed can easily pick out for your tracks. Switch the view to a wallpaper mode if you'd like, or a "Morph Flow" that has albums sliding into one another in a vertical stream. There's a track reporter for the Last.fm service, optional alerts for concerts happening nearby involving the artists in your music collection, and a generally better playlist builder. Cubed isn't a knock-off of other music apps — just a good one, on its terms. [AppBrain]
Gmote 2.0: Gmote is a remote control application that works like a charm with VLC, our favourite media player, while also passing muster on a few other media apps on Windows, Mac and Linux. If you've got a specific media centre in mind to control (Windows Media Center, Boxee, XBMC), you can usually find a free or cheap control app in the Market; Gmote is just the app that works across all systems, over 3G or Wi-Fi, and has made hundreds of thousands of users happy with their phone's hidden powers. [AppBrain]
Note for iTunes fans: If you're an Android owner who also has iTunes as the centre of their home media life, check out Remote for iTunes. It's $US5, and likely worth the cost for anyone with split allegiances between the Apple and Google worlds.
Kindle: Kindle is the app that brings Amazon's Kindle ebook system to your Android device. It syncs notes and page position with your other Kindle devices, and it's really fun to zoom book previews from your browser onto your phone. [AppBrain]
Listen: Google's own podcast manager for the Android is also the easiest to use. Search through Google's vast database of podcasts for long-term subscriptions or quick news takes on a topic, subscribe in Listen (or Google Reader, where subscriptions are synced), and play your picks through an app that's good at keeping your place and configurable to grab new episodes only when it makes sense (on Wi-Fi, and only while plugged in, if you'd like). [AppBrain]
Subsonic: Google's announced that, with their purchase of Simplify Media, remote music streaming from computers to Android phones through cloud storage is likely on its way. In the meantime, you can stream music from any Windows, Mac or Linux system with Subsonic, a free Android app supported by $US10 desktop software (which includes a substantial free trial). The Android app includes offline caching for playback, just in case your home computer gets knocked offline, but otherwise you've always got access to your great tunes on the go with Subsonic. [AppBrain]
RockPlayer: Your Android can play a few video formats on its own. With RockPlayer, it can play nearly any video, simple as that. It's a great app for DVD rips, downloaded videos, Windows-specific formats and other non-standard clips. (Note: You might need to search out "RockPlayer" in the Market, or on AppBrain, and find the right build of RockPlayer for your phone's processor, v6 or v7, if the standard v7 version linked here doesn't run on your device). [AppBrain]
Andropan: Your high-megapixel Android camera lacks one thing — a wide view of the big vistas you can see with your own eyes. Solution: take a series of calm, steady shots across a plane, then load them into Andropan to stitch them together into one big masterwork of wide-angle imagery. [AppBrain]
Backup and Security
WaveSecure: Your Android phone has a whole lot of your life loaded onto it — everything in your Google accounts, your contact list, apps with sensitive data and more. WaveSecure backs up your SMS and call logs and contact data on a regular basis, and can upload your photo and video files, too, which is pretty handy if your phone goes dead. Where WaveSecure really shines, though, is in its security features. You can "lock down" a phone from any and all access when you're travelling, completely wipe out a phone and its memory card, and remotely lock or wipe a stolen phone, plus try to find its location using GPS. WaveSecure is free to download and try for seven days, then costs about $US20 per year after that. [AppBrain]
We didn't include everything we like and find useful, but we tried to cover as many great apps as we could. If there's a true essential you see missing from the list, tell us about it in the comments.