The 16 Best Google Android Apps You Didn't Know About
It would only make sense that Google is one of the most active app developers on the Android platform, particularly when you consider that they develop the platform itself. From my count, there are an astounding 117 unique apps that the search giant and its subsidiaries have published on the Google Play Store.
Every smartphone user should be familiar with apps like Google Maps, YouTube, Google Photos, Hangouts, Chrome, Gmail, and a handful of other ubiquitous wares—but that's only a drop in the bucket when it comes to the full list of useful Google apps. So today, we'll shine a light on the best of Google's "other" Android apps, which are just as handy, but lesser-known.
Snapseed is quite possibly the best photo editing app for Android, and while some of its features have been added into Google Photos, it's a much more robust option for tweaking the looks of your smartphone photography.
Google acquired Snapseed in 2012, back when it was only available for iOS and desktop platforms. It has since brought the app over into the Android realm, where it now provides a strong touch-based interface for cropping, tuning, transforming, and applying unique filters to your images.
2. Google Handwriting Input
If you've struggled to adjust to using on-screen virtual keyboards, Google Handwriting Input provides a natural input method that anyone should be able to jump in and learn right away.
As its name would suggest, Handwriting Input allows you to "type" with your own handwriting. After running through a quick and easy setup guide, you can scribble characters with your thumb or stylus, which will be instantly converted into typed text.
Once you've started up a session, My Tracks records your path via GPS, while at the same time keeping track of speed and elevation. You can view and share your activity sessions with maps, graphs, and detailed stats, so the adventurer inside of you now has a way to fully express himself.
While the usage and predominant placement of Android's trademarked logo may make it seem like a sly marketing campaign on the surface, Androidify actually provides a unique and fun way to express yourself and show off your creativity.
You start off with a naked green Android logo, but from here, you can change the skin tone to match your own, add shirts, pants, shoes, hair, and other accessories, then save your Android-ified likeness to the official gallery or share it with friends by generating a QR code. And who knows, your creation might even get featured in the next series of "Be together. Not the same" ads.
5. My Maps
If you've ever had the need to create an interactive map of any kind, My Maps is indispensable. Whether you're planning a vacation, plotting the best route, or keeping track of apartments for rent, you can do it all with this useful app.
You start by creating a new map and giving it a name. From here, you can add markers for specific locations, draw lines, or plot a route, and each point on your map can be given a name and description. The same service can be accessed on the web if you prefer using a mouse, and each of the maps you create can be shared with other Google users.
6. Google Gesture Search
In the same vein as Handwriting Input, Google Gesture Search provides a way to interact with your phone by drawing out letters of the alphabet. Except this particular app is for searching your entire phone.
Upon opening Gesture Search, you'll be asked which categories you'd like to index for searching purposes. The choices here are contacts, apps, settings, music, and browser, which means you can find any app, link, person or song easily. Just draw out your query using your thumb or a stylus, and the search results will be refined as you continue to spell out what it is you're looking for.
These interactive Spotlight Stories could almost be called a prelude to Google Cardboard, since they use your phone's internal sensors to play the video in a 360-degree virtual reality environment. The app includes several free "stories" that you can experience, so it's more than just a one-off proof of concept.
8. Device Assist
I used to be my family's go-to tech support agent, but I'm gradually getting phased out in favor of an app called Device Assist, which offers tutorials and device troubleshooting for people who aren't necessarily experts in all things Android.
Upon opening the app, you'll be given a chance to set your experience level with Android, which determines the types of tips you'll be shown. These tips offer pictures with clear-cut instructions and direct links to relevant system settings menus, so if any of them interest you, Device Assist makes it easy to set things up. Then, if you're experiencing any serious problems with your phone, the "Detected Issues" tab will find them and walk you through the simplest fix.
9. Chrome Remote Desktop
Chrome Remote Desktop is probably my most-used app on this list. First, you install the app on your phone, then you add the companion extension to the Chrome browser on you computer, and from here, you'll be able to control your desktop or laptop from anywhere in the world.
Chrome Remote Desktop is well ahead of competitors like LogMeIn or TeamViewer in the sense that it's completely free and can give you remote access to virtually any desktop operating system. Once you've logged in on both devices, you simply open the app on your Android phone or tablet, then provide your PIN, and you'll be able to control your computer with a crisp, clear live feed of your desktop.
The app has been updated with added functionality over the years, but the basic premise remains the same—simply capture an image of anything you'd like to learn more about, and the power of Google will provide information about real-world objects. You can use Google Goggles to translate text, look up prices by scanning an item's bar code, import business cards directly to your contacts, or even solve Sudoku puzzles—how cool is that?
Once you've installed Meter, simply open the app and choose the information you'd like to have displayed on your home screen. Options here are Wi-Fi and cellular signal strength, battery percentage, and notifications, and each will be represented by a colorful geometric pattern that occupies a live wallpaper.
12. Photowall for Chromecast
Google Creative Lab is all about unique concepts and functionality, and they didn't disappoint when they came up with Photowall for Chromecast, which gives partygoers a canvas to share and enjoy.
While unique in functionality, the premise is relatively simple. If you're hosting a party, tune your TV to the Chromecast input and invite everyone to install the app. Once connected, users can take pictures, which will immediately be displayed on the Chromecast. When you're done, your party's crowd-sourced "presentation" will automatically be uploaded as a YouTube video.
13. Tunnel Vision
Think of Tunnel Vision as an app that provides trippy filters for your videos, and you'll just about have the whole premise down pat. While it may seem like a novelty app on the surface, there's more than enough fun to be had to justify installing the app and giving it a go.
There are 6 different filters to choose from, and most have some sort of geometric pattern that emanates outward from the center of the frame. The speed of the effect can be adjusted with a small slider in the bottom-left corner, and videos are saved in a standard MP4 format, so they're easy to share.
14. Big Web Quiz
As the fourth and final Google Creative Lab entry in our list, Big Web Quiz has the potential to provide hours of fun to you and your friends—provided you've splurged on a $35 Chromecast, of course.
Up to 5 people can install the app on their own devices and connect to the same Chromecast, where questions that were culled from various corners of the web will be displayed. Each player's smartphone serves as a game show buzzer of sorts, as answers are submitted from the handheld devices, while scores are kept on the big screen.
For a lot of people, Ingress is much more than a simple geocaching game—it's a way of life. The augmented-reality game was created by Niantic Labs, which is an internal startup company that spawned from Google.
In this sci-fi based scenario, you choose a faction (The Enlightened or The Resistance), then you head out to collect items, capture territory, destroy enemy portals, or strengthen your own.
16. Field Trip
Finally, another Niantic Labs creation called Field Trip may prove to be particularly handy when you're visiting a new city, but it can also be a great way to explore and learn about your own hometown.
Upon opening Field Trip, you'll be greeted by a map of everything interesting within walking distance, with brief descriptive cards that can be tapped to learn more about a place of interest. If you'd rather narrow the results down to a particular category, use the side navigation menu to select a subject that interests you, and all of the local highlights will be just a tap away.
Were you aware of any of these lesser-known Google apps, or is the whole list news to you? Let us know in the comment section below, or drop us a line on Android Hacks' Facebook or Twitter, or Gadget Hacks' Facebook, Google+, or Twitter.