With over two million apps in the Play Store, Android is home to one of the biggest app stores in the world. Soon they’ll even be on your favorite Chromebooks as well. In this year’s annual Lifehacker Pack, we’re picking the must-have downloads for every category of app you could ever need.
The Lifehacker Pack is a yearly snapshot of our favourite, essential applications for each of our favourite platforms. For our always-updating directory of all the best apps, be sure to bookmark our Android App Directory.
To-do list managers come in more flavours than Skittles, but one of these three should work for just about everyone. In addition to being a Lifehacker crowd favourite, Any.DO comes with a bunch of sweet extra features. Google Keep keeps things simpler and as straightforward as possible, while Wunderlist is packed with great features. Whatever your preferences, one of these two-do apps should work for you.
Boomerang has been one of our favourite apps for powering up your email for a while. You can schedule messages, snooze them for later, and even set up recurring messages. This year, however, Google created their own improved inbox called, well, Inbox. This app allows you to bundle related emails together, snooze emails, or pin them as to-dos. It also surfaces important information in your emails like links to package tracking info, reservations, and more. Inbox also plugs into your Google account to show you your Google Now reminders directly in the app.
Making a decent-looking calendar application on a phone is hard. Calendars need to display a lot of information in a small space. In this, Today Calendar excels. The unique split view shows you an overview of your month on the top half of your phone with an agenda for the selected day on the bottom half. It also has quick actions that allow you to call numbers, pull up addresses, or email an attendee with one tap.
Dropbox is the standard when it comes to syncing files between multiple computers. Nothing beats its speed, simplicity and ubiquity. However, if you like to stick to Google's ecosystem, Google Drive offers a bit more flexibility when it comes to integrated apps. With Google's suite of document editing apps to accompany Drive, you may even use both in tandem (as many of us do).
Evernote, when used properly, can help even the most disorganized person sort, store, and find all their stuff online. You can even combine it with Pocket to reduce clutter while still saving everything. Unfortunately, Evernote recently upped its paid subscription price and limited users to two devices. If you can’t live with that, Microsoft’s OneNote is a powerful alternative that can store your notes and help you organize your digital notebooks.
Many of us are much more comfortable grinding away at tedious tasks if we get to level up. Habitica (formerly known as HabitRPG) takes this concept and applies to real life instead of World of Warcraft. Create habits or repetitive tasks you want to perform and it will give you experience points for completing them. If you fail to do so, you'll lose health points. The app is one of the best ways to productively gamify your life.
Internet and Communications
Chrome on Android has had a difficult history, but it’s grown up a lot over the years. Now, it includes a ton of useful features. Individual tabs now show up in Lollipop’s new multitasking interface, you can view tabs open on other devices, and of course, incognito mode. There’s also a wealth of experimental features like a stripped-down “reader” mode.
Finding a decent alternative Twitter client is pretty hard, due to Twitter’s bizarre stance on locking out the developers that make them. With that manufactured advantage, though, Twitter’s app has come a long way. It supports multiple accounts, lists, and plenty more. If you want to try an alternative (and don’t mind jumping through Twitter’s annoying token limit hoops), Falcon Pro and Talon both offer a ton of features for power users while letting you customize your experience. Since Twitter’s token limit can get in the way, we’ve included both just in case one isn’t available to new users at the moment.
Hangouts has been getting incrementally better over the years. It supports group messaging, has Google Voice integration, video chat, SMS, stickers, and plenty more. Facebook has also built Messenger into an extremely powerful tool with nearly all of those features, plus the ability to send voice recordings, search for images and GIFs, integrate with third-party apps and even send money. Best of all, everyone you know is probably already on Facebook and using Messenger to begin with.
Pushbullet’s has leaped to the forefront of our app watch list with constant, substantial updates. What started as an app to send links between your devices now functions as the do-everything bridge between your devices. It even added a complete SMS client, so you can read and reply to text messages from your computer. Even if you don’t text often, it’s super handy for sending files or information from one machine to another.
Google Now remains one of the most useful apps you can have on your phone. It's almost impossible to list all the amazing things Google Now can do (although we've tried), but the short list includes voice commands, reminders, travel time, package tracking and lots more. Just be sure to train Google Now well.
Calling Google Maps an essential app is a bit of an undersell, as it’s one of the most-used Android apps of all time. Google Maps for Android includes a lot of excellent features like integrated search history, local traffic incidents, and more. It's no wonder Maps is our favourite map application.
Google Now includes basic weather forecasting, but if you need a little more oomph in your predictions, 1Weather is the app to beat. The app comes with live-updating widgets, animated radar and cloud cover maps.
The number of ways to keep your phone safe has only grown over the years. When you get a new Android phone, we highly recommend installing Android Device Manager (among other things). This app can locate your phone if lost, remotely lock or even wipe it if it’s stolen. As basic security goes, it’s the bare minimum anyone should have. If you’re looking for something more, Lookout does much of what ADM does, plus protects you from phishing scams, backs up your data, and more.
Music and Photos
When Google launched Play Music, we were pretty blown away with how impressive it is as a music service. If you want to bring your own music library, Google lets you upload songs, so if a particular track or artist isn’t included in its subscription, you’re not out of luck. Play Music’s subscription also includes YouTube Red, which lets you listen to YouTube videos in the background, download them for offline playback, and skip all ads. That’s a pretty great package, even if Google does suck at naming stuff.
Spotify, on the other hand, excels by having a free, ad-supported option for the desktop, as well as a lot of excellent features. Its desktop app even allows developers to augment it, so there’s plenty to explore.
If you're not keen on managing your own huge library and would rather just let an algorithm decide your playlist for you, Pandora stands alone. The service is known for its ability to match users' tastes reliably with minimal interaction. Just set it and forget it.
When it comes to tagging music while you’re out, it still doesn’t get much better than Shazam. The app can recognise virtually any song, even over background noise. You can then find the track on services like Play Music, Spotify, Rdio, and even Amazon Prime. It will also show you music videos, lyrics, and discography information for tracks where available.
Instagram may have started as a place to share pictures of your lunch (I assume), but it's grown up to include a wide variety of useful features like direct photo and video messaging, and more useful photo editing features. You may be able to get many of the same features through a few other apps (see below), but Instagram offers the entire package in one service.
Google’s photo tools have always been pretty stellar (if chaotic). For starters, Snapseed is a pretty powerful photo editor with a ton of handy tools for tweaking your images. The recently-revamped Google Photos can then manage your massive library, organize into albums, and even perform “visual searches” using some pretty impressive image recognition software.
Camera ZOOM FX remains one of our favourite Android cameras. It supports time lapse shots, customising your hardware buttons to perform camera functions, and a horizontal level indicator, on top of the standard suite of photo editing and sharing features, it's hard to beat. If you don't need all the bells and whistles, however, Google Camera offers many unique, user-friendly features like lens blur, photospheres and HDR.
Focus is a relative newcomer and already it’s become our favorite photo management alternative on Android. You can tag photos to organize them into collections, lock your phone to a single photo when sharing your phone to prevent snooping, and hide photos in a photo “vault.” You can even lock the vault or the entire app itself with a PIN or your fingerprint. If you’re looking for a better way to manage your huge photo collection, Focus is our new go-to.
Movies and Video
Netflix is inarguably the king of content streaming online. While you may want to make sure you’re on WiFi before you stream the entire new season of Orange is the New Black, the mobile app is a must have for watching movies and TV shows while away from the living room. Where Netflix doesn’t have what you want, Hulu (which requires a VPN to use in Australia) very well may. The overlap between the two services’ libraries are so minimal that it’s sometimes worth it to have both.
Arguably, there was no more noble purpose to the smartphone revolution than to finally, and with authority answer the question "Where do I recognise that actor from?" IMDb is useful for more than just trivia, though. You can search for showtimes, create lists of movies you want to see and get notified of new releases. If you ever watch movies, IMDb belongs on your phone.
Whether you have a limited amount of data or just watch too many movies, sometimes it’s helpful to have some files on your phone directly. BS Player is our favourite pick for Android video player. It supports a wide array of file formats, has a pop-out player so you can watch a video while you do other things, and it can even stream content over local networks. VLC has also started climbing the feature ladder and it’s nearly comparable with BS Player, so if you’re loyal to it on the desktop, it might be ready for you on Android.
Reading and News
Bookmarks are ok for saving the occasional web page that you need to hang on to, but for saving articles to read later, you'll start to get overwhelmed real fast. Pocket helps by saving articles in their entirety so you can read come back to them when you have time, even when you're offline. If you want to get more advanced, you can use Pocket to save everything you need online.
Between Amazon's Kindle app and Google's Play Books, it's never been easier to find a way to read books on your phone or tablet. Amazon has the advantage in having one of the most robust libraries, as well as a powerful app. Play Books is no slouch either (and in fact it's our favourite ereader for Android). Fortunately you can buy books from whatever store you choose and read them in one place, so you can pick your reader based on the features you need, rather than the book library.
Even saying the words “Google Reader” can be traumatising to those who still sorely miss our favourite RSS reader. However, Feedly stepped up to fill the void and, in many ways, it exceeds what Google ever did. Feedly not only has one of the best news reader apps around, but it has its own ecosystem of clients, so if you don’t like the default interface, you can use Feedly as a backend to sync all your feeds.
Health, Food and Fitness
Runkeeper has been one of our favourite fitness apps for years. It tracks your runs, offers guided training that provides schedules for workouts and plans specifically designed for the type of health goal you want to achieve, and can even make use of your smart watch, if you happen to have one. If you’re a runner, or just like getting out of your house it’s worth keeping around.
Runkeeper is excellent for runners, but if you're looking for a more robust health and fitness app, Fitocracy gamifies your entire workout. It also encourages community involvement in order to keep you accountable. It also has a robust web app that keeps you engaged when you're at your desk. If you're ready to step beyond basic fitness tracking, Fitocracy is one of the best things you can do for yourself.
If you’re tracking your workouts, it makes sense you’d also track what you eat. MyFitnessPal and Lose It! both allow you to scan the foods you eat, track your calories, nutrients, and set goals for your target weight. Both apps are pretty fundamentally similar, so you can take your pick for your own preference.
Yelp is one of those apps that's so good at what it does, its name becomes synonymous with the task itself. When it comes to restaurant discovery and reviews, Yelp is the de facto standard. With a huge library of user reviews, it's never been easier not only to find your next meal, but know ahead of time whether or not a restaurant is worth your time and money.
Google's default launcher is pretty good, but there's plenty of room for improvement. Nova and Apex are both excellent, customisable launchers with copious extra features on top of existing functionality. With both, you can hide unwanted apps, choose custom animations and apply custom icon/skin packs. Which one is better is largely a matter of personal preference, so pick one or try both and see which one you like.
Widgets have always been one of Android's strongest unique features and nowhere is that more apparent than Dashclock. This widget can display information at a glance like number of unread emails, missed calls, or calendar appointment. The real awesome thing, however, is that you can get extensions to add even more info like battery life, contact shortcuts, or RSS feeds. With the right extensions, Dashclock may be the only widget you ever need.
SwiftKey was already our favorite Android keyboard before it became free to use. With intelligent word prediction, Swype-like gesture input, and cloud sync of custom dictionaries, it’s difficult to find a better typing experience on your phone. Google’s own keyboard has also grown, adding a one-handed typing mode, gestures for navigating text, and more. If it doesn’t come standard with your phone, it’s worth a download.
Tasker is a miracle app on Android. You can use it to send voice commands to your thermostat, turn on your lights when you get home, or do just about anything with your voice. If it’s too complicated for you (and we can’t blame you), IF, the ambiguously-named app from IFTTT makes automation between your Android device and various web-connected services dead simple.
ES File Explorer was our previous pick for best file manager on Android, but after it started adding some shady adware, we bumped it down. Fortunately, Solid Explorer is an excellent alternative. It can manage your files locally, access your cloud storage, cast media to your Chromecast and a ton more. It costs $2.69 after a 14-day free trial, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid adware.
Fiddling with your tiny phone when you're at a full computer is a pain, particularly if you need to access files on your phone. AirDroid does more than you could possibly ever need, all without ever touching your handset. The app remotely access everything on your phone via the web browser, even allowing you to read and reply to text messages from your computer.
In keeping with the theme of fixing minor annoyances with insanely robust apps, Unified Remote is the yin to AirDroid's yang. You can use this app to remotely control your computer over Wi-Fi with your phone or tablet. While it does include a virtual trackpad and keyboard, Unified Remote really shines with custom remotes for common apps, including VLC and Plex. You can even create custom widgets to control just about everything on your HTPC from a single home screen.
Strictly speaking, Greenify isn't a root app anymore, but it's still best when you are rooted. It monitors your apps and disables any you aren't using to help save battery (so Facebook can't drain your battery in the background when you haven't touched it for hours). If you're not rooted, you can still select a list of apps that you want to hibernate and add a "hibernate all" switch to your home screen, but it's not nearly as robust without root.
Contrary to what Android's welcome screens would have you believe, Google doesn't have a proper backup and restore system out of the box. Titanium Backup is the classic mainstay that fixes this problem. Despite being an older app, it still checks out. Rooted users can employ Titanium Backup to create a fully automated app backup system.
Few can argue that Xposed is one of the most powerful and useful apps root users can have. Technically, Xposed is a framework that allows users to create their own customised version of Android solely using modules. While it's not a total replacement for custom ROMs, it's good enough for many users.