There’s certainly no shortage of free Android apps, but a lot of these are really more like free demos: they’re ad-supported “lite” versions with accompanying paid apps, or they’re 30 day trials, or they require you to unlock extra features via in-app purchases or by paying for a monthly account.
That’s not a bad thing, of course; we shouldn’t expect all developers to give away the products of their hard work for free! But in this roundup, we’ll look exclusively at apps that don’t ask for a penny.
I feel itchy when I know that I have data that’s not being backed up. SMS Backup+ keeps me calm by automatically saving all my texts to my Gmail account. Bonus: I can look for specific texts using Gmail’s powerful search box.
Our writer Ruairi called 500px a true Flickr competitor. The Android app is beautiful and easy to use – and most importantly, it’s attracted some seriously good photographers, so the galleries are full of great pictures.
Requires: Android 2.2 or above Google Play link:500px Developer:500px
This app came in very handy back when I had an HTC Desire with low internal storage: it breaks down the apps and files taking up space on your phone or SD card, giving you an easy way to see what’s taking up the most space.
At first glance this appears to be a neat little file explorer, but it can do so much more – like send files to your computer over Wi-Fi, or access your computer’s files on your phone. I’ll let Sam tell you more about it in his File Expert review.
This seems to be the de facto Android gallery replacement; I don’t know anyone that uses any other third-party app for that. And for good reason, too: it’s zippy, it can find all the images in your storage, and it’s got a great interface. Check out our full review of QuickPic to learn more.
I went through a number of flashlight apps before settling on this one. It just does everything right: it’s got all the features that you’d need (and some you probably wouldn’t), with a home screen widget to access it quickly. My favourite feature is how you can turn it on from the lock screen by shaking your phone.
ViBe is a ringtone app… sort of. It lets you assign specific vibration patterns to your various notifications, rather than setting certain sounds to play. For instance, you could use the “Knock Knock” pattern for new text messages, the “Bee” pattern for phone calls, and the “Heartbeat” pattern for Twitter mentions.
Requires: Android 2.1 or above Google Play link:ViBe Developer:Base2Apps
The Tor Project is a collection of computers that you can pass all your web requests through to gain anonymity online; Orbot is the project’s associated Android app. Read this full review of Orbot to find out how it can enable online and encrypted web browsing on your device.
Andmade does one thing, and it does it well: it lets you share via multiple apps at once. When you hit Share from within an app, Andmade presents you with your normal list of services – but with a checkbox next to each one. Tick all the ones you want to use, hit Share, and it’ll post to each of them, one after the other.
You might have heard of this app under its former name: Read It Later. As the (old) name suggests, it lets you save any article, video, or web page to check out later, syncing between your mobile, tablet, and your computer. We were really impressed with Pocket, giving it a perfect score in our full review.
If you’re not already using this, you’re missing out! When you’re surfing the web, just hit a button and the page will automatically open in your Android’s browser. If you’re on Google Maps, it’ll open in the Maps app; if you highlight a phone number in the web page, it’ll auto-fill it in your dialer, and so on. We wrote a full guide to this, explaining how you can use it with Firefox and how to push web pages back from your mobile to your desktop browser.
AirDroid is incredible. If it’s running on your Android, then by going to a specific address on your computer’s browser you can access everything on your phone, through a very polished desktop-style interface. There are other apps that do similar things, but this is the best – read our full review of AirDroid to see why. Requires: Android 2.1 or above Google Play link:AirDroid Developer:SAND STUDIO
ShoeBox is designed for anyone with a stack of printed photos they don’t know what to do it. It makes it easy to digitize them: snap a picture of each photo with your phone’s camera, and it’ll process them as required (including correcting the perspective and cropping out the table that your photos are sitting on). It also lets you categorize the final images and add tags, and integrates with Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Voice commands are very popular on mobiles – I can’t imagine why – and Vlingo is one of the best third-party apps for this. It can text or call your contacts, send email, search the web, and navigate to destinations. It also has a decent in-car mode, where it’ll read incoming texts to you and can be activated without pressing any buttons (just say your custom activation phrase).
If you’ve got a newer Samsung device, you probably already have this installed as “Voice talk”; if not, take a look at our full review to see if you’d find it helpful.
In his full review of ZDbox, Ashish decribed it as a jack of all trades: not the best at anything it tries to do, but still worth installing. It’s an all-in-one toolbox of Android utilities, featuring a battery monitor, an app lock, a global do not disturb mode, a history eraser, and so on.
Whenever you set off on your bike, let CycleDroid know. It’ll track your speed, distance, time, and altitude and display them all to you in a graph. You can add separate treks to a single journey (like “Weekend in France”) if you want to know how much cycling you’ve done over a period. Great for any cycling data geeks.
In my guide to setting a custom Android ringtone, I recommended Ringdroid for letting you take songs on your phone, trim it down to the part you want to use as a ringtone, and assign them to whichever notification you please. The interface is starting to feel a little clunky now, but it’s still a great app that’s I’m happy to recommend.
I have you readers to thank for this! About a year ago we published a roundup of great IM apps, and left imo.im off the list – and were then inundated with comments asking how we could miss it. Rightly so, too: it’s a great cross-platform instant messaging app, and earned its perfect score in our full review.
The stock Android video player is okay, but it’s unable to handle most codecs. MX Player is a much better option; it has separate codec downloads which allow it to handle pretty much any video you can throw at it. Plus, its playback quality is great, and its interface is clutter-free. It even features pinch-to-zoom.
MoboPlayer is a decent alternative to MX Player, and also features wide codec support. It offers gesture control, a slightly customisable interface, and playlist support. The devil’s in the details, so read our full review to find out more.
Bubble lets you enter things you need to remember about your contacts (like the fact that they have a party coming up, or that they owe you some money), and keeps track of this information. The next time one of these contacts call you, a little reminder pops up so you don’t forget to talk to them about whatever it was. As Connor said in his full review, it’s a practical and useful app, but far from pretty.
This is a fantastic app for managing your collections: books, movies, music, and even wine. It lets you create notes and tasks, add media, and add products (via scanning barcodes or looking up the product directly), and then categorise and personalise all your items. All this info is synced to the cloud so you can search through it from your phone or computer later. It has some drawbacks, as we noted in our Springpad review, but there’s a lot to love about it – particularly if you’re a fan of categorization.
Take a picture of a landmark or logo, and Goggles will tell you what it is. Point it at a French menu and it’ll translate the text to English. The app can tie in with your camera, automatically scanning every photo you take to find deeper information, and relaying it back to you. Some find this creepy, but I think it’s awesome. (Side note: I can’t wait for Google Glass.)
As we’ve said time and time again, the ability to go crazy with customization is one of the great selling points of Android. This app makes one of the simpler yet more striking customization options very easy, by offering access to over a million HD wallpapers from wallbase.cc.
By default, new text messages appear in the notifications bar, and then scroll by very slowly. Pop-up alerts for texts can let you see the whole message at once, but have the downside of taking the focus – very annoying if you’re playing a game or watching a video. SMS Flash offers a third option: it shows the entire message in a translucent panel on top of everything else, without interrupting you. You can switch to your SMS app by simply waving your hand in front of your phone twice.
You can get your news from a single curated site like BBC News, or from a social news site like Reddit, or from social networks like Twitter and Facebook. my6sense offers another option: a “magic formula” called Digital Intuition. As Rahsheen explains in his full review, the app digs up content from your social network contacts, your RSS subscriptions, and from the general web, and then sorts it based on how relevant it believes you’ll find it.
Our regular writer Ashish Bogawat enjoys his coffee break puzzles, and he claims that this is the best free Sudoku app around – maybe even the best Sudoku app full stop. With eight variations of the game, multiple difficulty levels, over 10,000 unique puzzles and an interface optimised for both phone and tablet, how could I argue?
I tend to keep my phone in silent mode by default; the occasional jingle letting me know of a new tweet or text distracts me, and I hate feeling like I should drop what I’m doing just to answer the phone. But sometimes people genuinely need to get in touch with me, as a matter of urgency, and I don’t like being completely unavailable. Harass Me solves that problem: if someone calls me three times within three minutes (both numbers are customizable), it’ll deactivate silent mode so I can hear the ringtone.
This app has exactly one purpose: to remind you that you missed a call. Yes, stock Android already puts a little icon in your notification bar for that, but this app goes much further, periodically bugging you about it until you either call the person back or actively dismiss the reminder.
An absolutely beautiful to-do list manager with a very clean interface. Some say it’s too minimal, others love it because it’s minimal. Check out our full review of Any.DO (with gorgeous pictures) for more information.
Wunderlist is another popular task manager. It has a different approach to design, though: while Any.DO is all clean lines and sleek minimalism, Wunderlist presents its tasks on a wooden surface. They both have a similar set of features, so which you should choose comes down to personal preference – give them both a go!
As featured in our roundup of Android Apps to Boost Your Productivity, ColorNote has been around for a long time, implementing a lot of great features: color coding, checklists, calendar integration, password lock and more. However, it is starting to look a little dated now, particularly when compared with the Holo design from Ice Cream Sandwich and Jelly Bean.
Mobisle Notes works really well as a general purpose list app for quick memos, random pieces of info, and simple checklists. It actively tries not to compete with the bigger, full-featured note apps like Springpad and Wunderlist.
If Chrome for Android isn’t available on your device, you’ll probably enjoy the web more with a different browser. Give Opera a try: you might prefer its interface, and you’ll definitely benefit from its sync services if you use Opera on your desktop. Also check out Opera Mini, which crunches web pages server-side before sending them to you, to save your data allowance.
Dolphin Browser also features add-ons, as well as gesture control and voice integration. As with the other mobile browsers, it’s hard to sum up what makes it different briefly, so I recommend trying them all out.
MiLocker comes from the developers behind MIUI, but will run on any Android device with Froyo or above. It lets you customise your lock screen – both the unlock gesture and the image – in a number of ways.
Requires: Android 2.2 or above Google Play link:MiLocker Developer:MIUI
Although GO Locker has its flaws, GO Launcher is fantastic, managing to gain popularity even against the stiff competition of ADW Launcher and LauncherPro. In his recent review, Ashish proclaimed it to be “the best Android launcher on the planet”, thanks to its non-stop active development, great selection of themes and widgets, and excellent speed and features.
This is worth using above the stock SMS app purely for the pop-up text alerts and “Todo” buttons on every new text (which get them out of your face without marking them as read). There’s a lot more to love about it, as outlined in our full review of GO SMS Pro – like the accompanying widget, the customization, the ability to set vibration patterns, and the downloadable plugins – but the pop-ups alone are a killer feature for me.
Sorry to go, er, GO mad, but they do make some fantastic free apps. GO Contacts EX features T9 dialing (“563″ will find “JOE”), fast contact search, and a clean design. It’s not as customisable as GO SMS Pro, but it does have a couple of alternative themes.
Here’s an app from one of the hackers at XDA Developers; it’s like a digital eye dropper for the real world. Take a photo of anything, and LifeDropper will give you back the colour code in any format you desire. You can also tag the codes with names for later use, and share it to the website.
Another XDA app. This makes it relatively easy to copy text from your desktop to your phone, by means of a neat Chrome extension. Copy some text on your computer, open Chrome, and hit the QR Clipboard icon to make a QR code appear. Scan this code with the QR Clipboard app on your phone, and it’ll put the text in your phone clipboard. Neat!
Swype is, in my experience, the most obviously cool software keyboard available. I’ve had complete Luddites ask me how they can enable it on their phone after seeing me type a note with it. Rather than tapping each letter in turn to type a word, you just swipe your finger through each of them in one continuous motion. You might already have this on your phone, or you may need to download the free beta; either way, you can find out more on the official site.