The gift of a good app can turn a phone someone find frustrating into a device that they'll fall in love with all over again. Here are our favourite paid apps worth gifting to the Android owner on your Christmas list.
Many of these apps also come in free versions, but the paid-for versions definitely add extra value. A digital download can be tricky to wrap, so we have created gift tag images which you can use when presenting your recipient with their serial number. Click on any tag for a larger version.
Tweaking and Customization
Nova Launcher Prime
Nova Launcher, one of our favourite Android launchers effectively turns your Ice Cream Sandwich device into a brand new phone. It supports themes from ADW Launcher, offers flexible home screen configuration, supports beautiful animations and gestures, comes packed with widgets, and includes unread message and notification counts for email and voicemail.
Alternative: Apex Launcher Pro ($3.89)
The ultimate Android tweaking utility, Tasker gives you total control over your device. If you've ever thought "I wish that would happen when this happens," Tasker is the app to do it. If you have an Android lover on your list and they're ready to get their hands dirty customising their device, Tasker is a great gift. To get them started, hook them up with our Tasker tips and tricks. Then, tell them to install the Tasker App Factory and export some of their profiles so you can enjoy your gift too!
Buy Tasker ($5.99)
Android's stock keyboard is fine, but offering users options is what Android is all about, and SwiftKey is a fantastic keyboard option for beginner and advanced users alike. Its word prediction and auto-correction are unmatched among its many competitors. And with SwiftKey Flow on the way, it will be even more versatile and customisable, so it's worth getting in on the ground floor. SwiftKey comes in phone and tablet versions, so even your friend with a Nexus 7 in the gift pile this year can get some use out of it. Trust us, once you've used a keyboard that's smart enough to scan the apps you use to learn the way you write, you'll never go back.
Media and Photography
If the Android user on your list this year loves to listen to or watch podcasts, give them the gift of portability with our favourite podcast manager for Android. It's fast, flexible, supports audio, video and RSS, and lets you create "virtual" feeds — playlists mixed up of your favourite podcasts so you can check out new downloads in any order you choose. You can tell it to only download new episodes when you want (at night, over Wi-Fi, and so on) and the app offers variable-speed playback, for those people who prefer to listen at two-or-three times regular speed.
Buy Doggcatcher ($4.76)
Alternative: BeyondPod ($7)
Camera ZOOM FX
We think Camera ZOOM FX is the best camera app for Android, and recent updates have only made it better. The app gives you more control over your photos than most stock camera apps, including options such as white balance, burst shooting, geotagging, and 1-tap uploads to Flickr, Instagram, Picasa and other social networking services. Recent updates have added tap-to-focus (a highly requested feature) and editing tools so you can crop or apply photo filters to your shots immediately after taking them. The app even lets you clap to take a photo, or use the stable-shot timer to time a photo to when you're holding your phone still.
Buy Camera ZOOM FX ($1.49)
If there's a voracious reader on your list, NewsRob is still one of the best Android feed readers around. The free version syncs with Google Reader so they don't have to sift through existing feeds. The Pro version drops the ads and opens up some filtering options.
Buy NewsRob ($5.46)
Going mobile doesn't mean that you — or the Android user in your life — has to be without all of the music and movies they have at home. We've shown you how to take your media on the go with Plex; the app's real strong suit is that it transcodes on the fly and plays virtually anything you throw at it on any supported device. Plus, Plex is only getting better, even if you don't have a huge media centre set up at home.
Astrid Power Pack
Astrid is a popular to-do app for good reason. It's fast, flexible, cross-platform, and keeps updating with new features and improvements that leave its competition behind. If you're shopping for someone who could use a little organisation, Astrid is a great app suggestion, but buying them the Astrid Power Pack ensures they'll get the most out of the service. The Power Pack offers up home screen widgets so they can always see their to-dos without having to open the app, and most importantly it lets them talk to their phone add and manage to-dos with their voice. The Power Pack also includes voice reminders when something is due, so they can't just ignore it.
Buy Astrid Power Pack ($3.89)
Don't let anyone tell you that you can't be productive on an Android phone or tablet. With QuickOffice Pro, the Android user on your Christmas shopping list can turn their device from a casual emailing and entertainment machine into something they can get real work done on. QuickOffice Pro easily handles Microsoft Office documents. The app has a built-in file manager to grab email attachments, and even supports reading and annotating PDF documents. Plus, the tablet version isn't just a port of the phone version — it's much larger and well-suited to real productivity.
Splashtop Remote Desktop
Need desktop access for a crucial task? Splashtop Remote Desktop is the answer. If you're shopping for an IT professional, do them a favour and give them this app. Splashtop Remote Desktop streams WIndows and Mac desktops to your Android phone or tablet and gives you complete control over them so you can manage them.
If the only email accounts you use with your Android phone are Gmail accounts, you may not need an additional app. If you have multiple POP, IMAP or Exchange accounts on the go, you'll need a better mail app than the stock one. MailDroid Pro is a great alternative, and the app has come a long way (courtesy of a complete rewrite) since we looked at it last. It's still pricey, but it supports custom rules, enterprise calendars, signatures and customisable alerts for different accounts.
Buy MailDroid Pro ($18.20)
Other Useful Utilities
Sleep As Android
If someone on your list is having a little trouble sleeping, Sleep as Android makes a perfect gift. The app tracks sleep patterns and stages over the course of a night, making sure you wake up gently at the right stage of your sleep cycle so you're refreshed for the day ahead. We've mentioned the app before. The free version keeps a 2-week limit on some of the advanced features, while the pro unlock key opens up natural sound alarms, graph history, and more. What better gift to give a friend or loved one than the gift of a good night's sleep?
Buy Sleep as Android Key ($2.49)
Titanium Backup Pro Key
Why not give the gift of data security this holiday season? Titanium Backup for root users is free and does a great job of keeping all of your data safe http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2011/09/how-to-upgrade-to-a-new-android-phone-and-take-everything-with-you">in case your phone dies or needs to be replaced. If you pick up the Pro Key for the Android user on your list, they can automate their backups and sync them to Dropbox. They'll never have to worry that the important data on their phone will be lost if their device is stolen, wiped or damaged.
Buy Titanium Backup Pro Key ($6.49)