40 best free Android apps
Updated: Fill your Google mobile with these top free Android apps
Mobile phones News
February 25th | Tell us what you think [ 56 comments ]
Top free apps for your Android phone
OK, so the Android Market is more akin to Lidl or Asda than the iPhone’s enormous, indulgent Selfridges-at-Christmas time approach, but the open source nature of Google’s OS means there are plenty of apps for Android to be found.
UPDATE: More great apps at Top 150 best Android apps
And best of all, most of the good stuff on Android is free, thanks to the work of developers who do it for love alone. So here’s our pick of the top free Android apps you should install.
You can also check out our video of the top 10 free Android games
There are many Twitter apps on Android – and Twitter itself shook up the scene with the launch of its own-brand app recently – but we’re sticking with Seesmic. Offering support for multiple accounts, a home page widget showing latest tweets and an incredibly slick and professional design, it’s one of the finest examples of app development out there today.
2. Facebook for Android
Facebook for Android is lacking in features compared to Facebook itself, but a recent update added Inbox support to the Android app, finally allowing its users to communicate in almost real time. The app’s fast and stable, with a simplicity that reminds you of the old days when using Facebook used to be bearable.
3. ASTRO File Manager
ASTRO is nothing more than a Windows-style file explorer, but if you’re into tinkering and directly installing Android APK files yourself, it’s essential to stick something like this on your phone. It makes your phone feel like a computer, and makes you feel like you’re in charge of it.
UPDATE: ASTRO still exists as a free ad-supported app, but you’ll have to pay for the full version without ads. Our new favourite file explorer app is listed below.
4. Job Centre Plus
Hey, times are hard and you’ve got to pay for your oppressive monthly mobile phone contract somehow. Offering a fully searchable database of current UK job vacancies, it’s a slightly cumbersome but useful tool. Some of the spelling’s a bit off and the presentation could be better, but you can’t argue with the chance to browse low-level admin jobs in Plymouth from the comfort of your bed.
5. AppBrain Market Sync
You iPhone users won’t believe this, but there’s no official way to install Android apps from a PC. Seriously. You’d think Google of all companies would’ve sorted that out, but no. Which is where the unofficial AppBrain app comes in, letting users queue up Market downloads via PC and have them sent to your mobile. You’re also able to generate an embeddable code that displays your currently installed apps on a website.
UPDATE: Obviously Google now supports web-based Android Market app installations and purchases, which makes the above a little less exciting than it once was. But well done for leading the curve for so long, AppBrain.
6. Google Sky Map
A stunning app that renders Patrick Moore obsolete, by using your phone’s orientation tools to give you an accurate representation of the stars and planets on your screen. Point your phone at the sky, then learn what constellations are visible and if that’s a UFO or just Venus. Google Sky Map even works indoors, if you’re not keen on getting cold.
The stunning augmented reality app Layar has recently gone commercial, adding an online shop that allows users to buy AR content such as travel guides, local house price apps and much more. But you’re still able to use the numerous free Layers to pop data up over real-world locations, delivering a satisfying futuristic experience.
The social media darling Foursquare is represented in fine form on Android, with the Google app offering easy one-click check-ins, integrated Google Maps for a seamless Google-branded experience and home page shortcut options to all your favourite places.
9. WordPress for Android
WordPress for Android started out as independent creation wpToGo, before WordPress decided it liked it so much it bought it up – hiring the maker to develop it in-house. It’s very feature-packed, with the latest version offering full integration with other apps, letting you spin content and send it directly to the app for easy updating. It could do with more image insertion tools, though.
10. Google Goggles
A bit of a novelty, in that Google Goggles lets you take photos and have Google analyse them and come back with a search results page for what it thinks you’re looking at. However, the app’s main use is as a QR code reader, which lets you scan barcodes for quick access to apps and whatever data people choose to embed in the odd little data squares.
The act of monitoring and uninstalling apps on Android is a bit of a clumsy process, to be honest, with numerous sub-screens to navigate – and yet more yes/no/are-you-sure dialogue boxes to get through once you’ve found the ‘bin it’ page. So get a decent app manager such as AppMonster, which also offers one-click backup of all your apps to an SD card, if you’re the type of person who worries about having copies of everything.
The Android 2.2 update known as ‘FroYo’ will let users save their Android Market purchases to their phone’s SD card, freeing up valuable in-phone memory. But if you’re using an older, less fancy version of the OS, an app like AppSaver does at least let you save your app install files to the SD card.
13. Skyfire 2.0
The USP of the Skyfire browser is that it supports Flash content, popping up a little window when it detects an embedded YouTube video or something similar. The actual Flash business is handled by Skyfire’s server, which does all the computery stuff, then sends the file to your handset. A bit clunky on slower Android phones, but it works like a dream on models with faster processors.
UPDATE: This has been superseded by SkyFire 3.0. You can’t fight evolution. Despite the arrival of Flash with Andriod 2.2, this is still relevant for those on phones and Android versions not able to support Adobe’s Flash Player.
14. Task Manager
If you come from a bit of a hardcore PC background, you’ll find Android’s lack of a red X to close apps a bit of a worry, what with the OS handling app closures itself. Which is why you need a good manual override tool to shut any persistent apps. It may help you save battery life, but most important is the feeling of control and empowerment you get from one-click closing apps.
UPDATE: Popular thinking is now that task killers are a waste of time on modern versions of Android, as our phones use more power relaunching apps than keeping them suspended in memory. If you still insist on taking manual control, Advanced Task Killer is the current most popular option.
15. RAC Traffic
An official production of the motoring organisation, RAC Traffic is dead simple – it guesstimates your location via the mobile signal, then pops up the current traffic alerts for your area. It’s much better than having to listen to the radio for the odd update about arterial blockages.
The odd line-drawing alternate keyboard Swype is a love-it or hate-it kind of thing, with the significant amount of re-learning required to make the most of it quite offputting to some users. Once you’re familiar with the idea, though, it’s genius – with advanced prediction options further speeding your line-typing. Swype is not available through the Android Market – the only way to install is is via a direct download from the maker.
After the Android version of Dropbox, the next best solution for keeping all your ‘business’ in one place is Evernote – which lets you stash and sync all your text notes, voice memos and files on your phone and access them through a desktop computer.
This does one thing – it lets you access the BBC’s famed iPlayer on your Android phone. You need to be connected via Wi-Fi for the best performance, as our mobile networks can’t really handle live streaming the new Doctor Who through the ether, but for in-bed TV it’s a great solution.
UPDATE: The developer of beebPlayer has recently removed the app from Android Market and ceased further development. There’s now an official BBC iPlayer app, which we take a look at on the next page.
If you’re too tight to pay for a Spotify subscription, the free thrills of Last.fm open up a world of music streaming on your mobile. You have to ‘buy in’ to the odd Last.fm way of organising things and suggesting new music, but if you’re easily led and not restricted by bandwidth it’s a superb free music tool.
UPDATE: Rather unfortunately, Last.fm has recently announced plans to become a subscription-based service. For free music streaming, try TuneIn Radio. It offers radio rather than on-demand tracks, but works in the background – unlike the BBC’s iPlayer app.
20. Google Maps Navigation
An absolute must-get. As long as you have Android 1.6 or above, the latest update to Google Maps introduces turn-by-turn voice navigation, simultaneously devastating the satnav industry while boosting the in-car dashboard dock/charger accessory scene. Route calculations are done at the outset of your trip, minimising data transfer en route and keeping you on target even when the GPS signal drops. It’s amazing, it works, and it’s free.
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