Five must-have Android apps

If you’ve just gotten a new Android phone, you might be dazzled by all the apps there are for it.

The temptation will be to download lots of apps, especially because there are so many available for free.

Go for it.

If you’re anything like me – well, let’s hope you’re not. But if you’re anything like me, you’ll download apps because they sound like something you’d use, or like something fun, but you’ll wind up using many of them only rarely. That’s actually a good idea, in my view, because it lets you refine what you want from an app and how to go about testing one out.

I reviewed several a year ago, and I still think those are all good apps to have.

Here are five more that I love, and use all the time:

The Amazon Appstore. It’s a whole second market separate from the Android Market. (Which is one of the cool things about Android – there can be two markets and it’s OK.) But what makes the Amazon one cool is that one paid app is free every day. Most of the free apps have no appeal to me, but this year I’ve gotten Documents To Go and OfficeSuite Pro for free. Plus, if you get one of the apps and you have more than one Android device (I have a phone and a tablet, for instance), you get the app on both devices, but only if you want it. You get to choose whether to download and install  individually by device.

You have to have an Amazon account to use the Appstore. The store is really good for potential users, too, in that you get to see screenshots of the app, a description from the app publisher, and brutally honest reviews from people who’ve already downloaded it.

IMDb. I put off downloading this, because I could just use my phone’s Web browser to get to the Internet Movie Database. But the app saves time. It opens to a mobile version of the home page with a search button right there – and isn’t that why you’re going to the database in the first place, because you can’t remember what other movie Gretchen Mol was in?

Backgammon Free, by AI Factory Ltd. This is a great representation of the board game by a company that makes several board-game apps, including chess, checkers and reversi. I love backgammon and I play this every day. If you don’t play backgammon, I don’t expect you would download this. But whatever your favorite of the traditional board games, I bet there’s an Android version. To me, free is always worth a try.

DirecTV. (There are apps for Comcast and Dish, too, but I have DirecTV.) We were visiting some friends a few weeks ago for a long-planned euchre tournament. As we sat down, I realized I had forgotten to set the DVR to record Game 7 of the World Series. No problem. I launched DirecTV’s app, and set my home DVR to record the scheduled show as well as the next two shows on that channel – good thing, because after the Cardinals won their 11th World Championship, there was a postgame show with a celebration and I wanted to have all of that. The DirecTV app is well thought out, allowing you to browse listings a number of ways – by channel, by date/time, by program. From there, recording is a snap.

Kindle for Android. I still haven’t bought an e-book, from Amazon or anywhere else. But with the Kindle app, I can load a whole lot of public-domain literature. I don’t have this app on my phone, but it works great on my tablet. I have a lot of Mark Twain and Sherlock Holmes, plus several other books. And it will sync your library across devices – I also have the PC version of the app loaded on a tablet PC.

If you’ve discovered a cool app, I’d love to hear about it. Please use the comments below to share your experience.

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dw wrote on December 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Swype.  Best cellphone App *ever*.  #1 reason not to get an iOS device is lack of Swype keyboard entry.  If you think you gotta have a real keyboard on your smartphone, play with Swype for 5 minutes and you'll be a convert:  it's FASTER than a thumboard/chicklet keyboard on my old blackberry.

rootkit -> free wifi hotspot.  Choose how you use the 2-4Gb of data you're paying for (and most likely not using even half of), and don't pay another $15-30 a month for a "hotspot"  Android is open source, the phone is yours.  Use your data your way.

Touchdown, if you've got an exchange server at work.  The built-in Exchange connection software is typically lame so that the cell phone providers can ding you another $15-30 a month for "enterprise" e-mail connectivity.  Again, use your 2-4GB of data the way YOU want it, not the phone company.

Skype.  Free international calls, free local skype-to-skype calls.  Save your minutes.

Google Voice.  For visual voicemail and unlimited free texting over your google voice number.  Again, why are you paying for texting when you have 2-4GB data plan?  Isn't texting data?  Again the cell phone companies want to ding you $10-15 a month for each of these...

Onavo - Data usage monitor (and on the iPhone, compressor).  Monitor your data load and maybe you can drop down to the lowest teir data plan (usually a paltry 300MB -- note how you can't pay per-GB?).  Most folks are buying bandwidth they never use (and they're paying a LOT for it every month!)  The iPhone version actually does monitoring AND proxy-server compression before it sends the data down to your phone -- all your traffic (except music, movies) gets compressed before sending.  Compression is supposed to come on Android somtime soon, but it's still worth the download to monitor your data usage for a few months and see what your true data usage is...

Hulu.  Watch TV when you want.

WatchESPN.  A bluetooth headset and those command performance events become a lot more tolerable...

-- The Cell-phone Grinch...

Mike Howie wrote on December 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm
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Thanks for the suggestions.

I keep meaning to try Swype and just haven't gotten around to it.

I rooted my phone back in the summer and use wifi tethering pretty regularly when traveling. That may be the best app ever, given the times and places it's worked when even free hotel wifi won't cooperate.

I have Google Voice, too, but haven't used it much.

With you on Skype; I've had an account for years.

And Verizon has a great app for monitoring all kinds of usage, but since our texting and data are unlimited, I only watch for actual phone minutes, where we do have a limit -- but only once in the last few years have we come close to reaching it.

As for the TV apps, I'll have to give those a try on a tablet I'm testing right now.