Google recently reported that 3.7 million Android devices were activated between Christmas Eve and Christmas, which means a lot of people just got sparkly new smartphones. We’re pretty big Android fans here, so we want to lend you some expertise when it comes to picking out some essential apps to start your journey. This isn’t going to be a mechanical ‘THESE ARE THE 50 BEST APPS YOU CAN GET’ article, but rather a smaller amount that we use regularly. (This article assumes your phone is straight out of the box and not rooted or ROM’ed out.) Without further ado, here are the Android apps you need to throw on your phone right quick!
Apps To Download Right Away
SwiftKey X ($2.99 or a 30-day free trial) – Yeah, the default Android keyboard that Google provides by default is pretty cool, but novices and experts alike will take advantage of SwiftKey’s learning capabilities to guess which word you’re trying to type. It can also import information from your Facebook, Twitter, and text messages to determine which words you use the most to help you even further. They provide a trial, but you should just buy it, anyway.
Tiny Flashlight (free) – You know those novelty flashlights you keep around the house and, despite the best of intentions, always seem to lose? Forget those. With this app’s widget, you can turn your phone into a flashlight using the phone’s own camera flash LED with a single tap on the screen. Your phone doesn’t have an LED flash? Not to worry: it includes a few screen options to turn the entire display into a light source as well.
TweetDeck (free) – While future support is in doubt after Twitter acquired them, this is always the first social app on my phone. With this app and its clever widget, you can seamlessly integrate your Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare accounts into a single feed, or split up however you like.
Facebook (free) – The world’s largest social network finally has a great app on the Android. Grab this and you can quickly update your status and upload photos right from your camera app.
Friendcaster (free) – For Nexus S/Galaxy Nexus owners – This allows you to import Facebook contacts as the stock Android ROMs won’t do it (it’s on Facebook’s end, actually).
Foursquare (free) – The best location-based check-in service has a great app, too.
SMS Backup+ (free) – Don’t lose your texts should your phone ever get lost or brick up. This app automatically backs up your SMSs and MMSs to your Google account for quick retrieval if you ever need them.
Facebook Messenger (free) – As the Facebook app doesn’t support notifications for chats, download this separately so you can talk with your Facebook friends wherever you’re at and still receive notices as people chat with you.
Kik Messenger (free) – If your friends aren’t on Facebook, don’t fret, Kik is here for you! After a brief sign-up process, you can start group chats with other Kik owners; the app is available across virtually every mobile OS. This is actually what we use at FleshEatingZipper to coordinate and exchange ideas. The ability to send and receive images through it also makes it a great alternative to SMS charges through your carrier.
Dropbox (free, although larger storage requires a subscription) – If you need to move media between devices or your computer, this is your mobile hook up to the ubiquitous cloud-storage service. I use this all the time to move pictures and other media to my desktop for articles. (In fact, it’s how I moved over the screen capture of my phone’s display above!)
ColorNote (free) – While your phone may come with a quick notation app, this was a great addition. Not only can you do various color-coded notes, you can also create checklists, perfect for grocery shopping (personally…)
The Weather Channel (free) – While the app provides ton of information about weather in your area (and the ability to bookmark it in several others), the real winner here is the included widget that allows you to determine various conditions from your home screen.
Barcode Scanner (free) – A good scanner that can read UPCs and QR codes
Astro File Manager (free) – For advanced users, this is not only your best tool to access the guts of your phone, but your best solution when installing outside apps and other crazy stuff.
Chrome to Phone (free) – Use Google’s Chrome browser at home? Ever had to leave an article half-way through because the spouse is yanking your chain to hurry up to see your mother-in-law? With a single tap on the Chrome browser extension, you can send the current web page you’re viewing straight to your phone to pick up reading. Now, if only they had an effective way to do the reverse…
Spotify (free, but requires Spotify Premium subscription) – I’ve chatted about Spotify before, but I think it’s the best service out there. Find any song you want, anywhere, and listen to it. Like it? Just put it in a playlist. You’ll need a Facebook account on top of the Spotify subscription, but you’ll also be able to share your music with others.
Pandora (free) – Internet radio that predicts what you want to listen to based on songs and artists you feed it. Great music discovery tool.
Amazon MP3 (free) or Google Music (free) – I’d just as soon give this to Amazon MP3 because of their store/player integration in one app, but Google’s Music has better integration with the phone. Go with one or the other, but they’re very similar options.
Kindle (free) – I only got into casual reading again (for the first time since you got free grub from Pizza Hut for doing it, mind you) because I started buying books through Amazon’s Kindle service. Since I do 90% of my reading on my phone, this app has gotten ton of screen time.
Guidebook (free) – If you do seminars or conventions very often, like we’ve done, then this is an invaluable tool to help you get around and keep on schedule. No more paper maps or spreadsheets for you!
Fandango (free) – Need to know when and where movies are playing? This app is the best one for it.
Angry Birds (free) – Because of course.
Dead Space ($6.99) – The price is the highest on the listing here, but it’s totally worth it for what you’re getting: a scaled-down third-person action/horror console game that would normally run four to five times the price in the bargain bin.
Tiny Tower (free) – I wasn’t a big fan of it, but considering the number of Zynga fans out there that enjoy babysitter-style strategy games, this might just be up your alley. Build and manage your own skyscraper and build stores, keep your residents happy, and make moola!
Grand Theft Auto III ($2.99) – If you have the phone to run it, you shouldn’t miss out on this slice of violent nostalgia.
Galcon ($1.99) – While it’s no Master of Orion, this fast-paced strategy game will have you storming the galaxy over and over again.