The Best Free Android Apps

He’s a comforting little fellow, isn’t he?

Remember when phones were just to make calls (oh god, do some of you not? I’m getting old…)? No longer! Now that I’ve had my Droid X2 for a while, it’s time to share some of the wisdom I’ve gathered over a couple months of use. My basic stipulations for apps are that they are either free or provide a service that I can’t get anywhere else. So far I haven’t bought a single app (although I have some media subscriptions that come with an app). Pretty good service record! There are a lot of Apps out there, and a lot of those apps are great for something or other, so I’m going to stick to the ones that I find myself using on a daily basis.

Amazon App Store
I thought I would kick it off with this because the Amazon App Store offers a different free app every single day. It’s a great way to try out some apps that you might not look at otherwise. Head over to the link and you’ll see the free app front and center.

Games
I only have about a 5 minute train ride, so it’s great to have something to do besides awkwardly avoid eye contact with strangers. Here are a few of my favorite time wasters:

Angry Birds: If you don’t know what Angry Birds is yet, well, I don’t believe you. But I’ll humor you. It’s basically a physics-based game where you shoot little birds with different abilities at different structures in an effort to crush a bunch of pigs. Confused? Just try it, it’s the most addictive thing this side of old-school Coke. Get it here, and the sequels here and here.

Shortyz: I love crosswords. They’re a great diversion, they build trivia knowledge so I can compete better in bars against unemployed hipsters who spend their days reading encyclopedias, and they may even help fend off Alzheimer’s. Shortyz is easy to use and has a ton of free crosswords every day, including my all-time favorite not-too-challenging Washington Post crossword puzzle. If you like crosswords, it’s a must-have. Get it here.

Roms: There’s nothing better than the classics, and luckily Android supports all kinds of emulators. There’s a lot to say about these and I’m not going to take the time to get into specifics, but here are my choice PlayStation (guide to set up), SNES (no save states in free version), and GBA. As a warning, there may be some… legality issues… so I’m not going to link to any games, but if you want to find some, just search for something like “SNES ROMs” on google (in the emulator world, games are called ROMs). If you want to know more, shoot me an email.

Amazon App Store: I’ve already mentioned the Amazon App Store, but I’ve gotten Peggle, Z-Defense, and Age of Zombies for free through their app of the day promotion. Keep an eye out for games.

Honorable Mentions:

  • Words With Friends: It’s a slow, buggy app but it integrates across platforms and with Facebook so all of your friends probably have it. Not as good bonus tile placement as Scrabble, but it works. Get it here.
  • Androminion: If you’ve played the board game Dominion, this is a very basic app that includes the first couple expansions. Get it here.

Productivity
I have a terrible memory and am usually so busy I forget what I’m doing right now, let alone what I need to do in a few hours or, heaven forbid, tomorrow. These are the apps I use to keep track of… everything:

Astrid: Astrid is a sweet task manager. It’s quite simple in design, but integrates with Google Tasks, Producteev , and Astrid.comhttp://astrid.com/, which allows you to share lists with other people. The widget isn’t the prettiest to look at, but it gets the job done. Get it here.

Stock Android Calendar: Honestly I like the stock Android Calendar. I know some people prefer other things, but frankly it syncs with Google Calendar and it has a clean, resizeable widget. That’s about all I need, although there are some other good options out there.

Evernote: Evernote is a great note taking app. You can record text and audio, take pictures, or combine any of the three. The best part is that it syncs up with evernote.com for easy access from a computer. You can share notes with others and even save whole websites (like recipes) for later viewing. Get it here.

Mint: Mint.com is pretty much essential in this day and age, at least for me. It’s an easy way to keep track of all of your finances – credit cards, investments, retirement funds, and more. You can make budgets, categorize expenditures, and so much more. For a full list of features, head to the site. Mint has lead me to completely rethink the way that I spend money, and the mobile app lets me keep track of it on the go. Get it here.
Social
Not a whole lot to say here. The basic clients for all of your typical networks are pretty much where it’s at. Here’s Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Google+ is especially great for mobile because you can “Huddle” with friends – basically chat rooms with your friends on your phone!
Utilities
Dropbox: Dropbox is an excellent app that lets you easily move files between your computer and other places (other computers, your phone). This is great when you have documents, music, or movies that you want to get on your phone. Now I can show all of my friends sweet videos of my dog without taking the time to upload them to Youtube. Set yourself up on the website and then get it here.
Barcode Scanner: This will let you scan all those weird QR codes you see on bus stops and new apartment buildings. You can also scan things in stores to do a little comparison shopping online. Get it here. ShopSavvy is another alternative.
Media
Listen: The easiest way to listen to podcasts. You can add them in Google Reader on your computer and they’ll show up here automatically. Get it here.
Pandora: Pandora for Android syncs up with your Pandora account, so you can pull over all of your stations. If you don’t have Pandora, check out my post on music here. Get it here.
 Other Media Players: These are the only paid things I’m going to mention, but Grooveshark, Spotify, and PowerAMP are also good apps. Grooveshark and Spotify are cloud music apps, and PowerAMP is a great app to play .flac audio tracks that I used the trial version for while on vacation.
Widgets
No android experience would be complete without a ton of sweet widgets. I’ll add some screenshots later, but for now here are the ones that I use:
Home Page:
My Home Page is decked out with the 2×2 widgets for Google Calendar and Astrid, but also features the glorious Fancy Widget, which I have in 4×2 form as a big clock/weather combo. It makes glancing at your phone to see the time so much easier, and the weather update is essential in a place like Chicago, where it can go from Jersey Shore to Ice Road Truckers in a single day. Get it here.
Other:
I’m pretty spartan when it comes to screen real estate. I like having as little as possible on the screen while getting the maximum use out of it, so one thing I did was divide my apps into folders by category and put shortcuts on the home screen. However, there are a few widgets I love:
  • Evernote (4×1): Easy use of the key features of the Evernote app mentioned earlier.
  • Twitter (4×1): Quick look at the last tweet on your feed, takes you into the app.
  • Mint (4×1): Quick overview of your cash and credit debt. Makes me feel bad until I stop spending money.
  • Power Control (4×1): This came default on my phone. It lets you toggle things like Brightness, WiFi, GPS, and more on and off. Toggle things off if you aren’t using them – you’ll save a ton of battery.
Recommendations
While I feel like I have covered a lot of the great everyday-use apps available on the Android Market, obviously the things that I do every day are not the same things everyone does every day. Here are some recommendations from friends who use Android:
Mileage: I don’t have a car so I didn’t even consider something like this, but I can see how it would be incredibly useful. Every time you fill up, put in the gallons, the price, and your odometer reading, and Mileage will calculate a bunch of stats for you, including the gas mileage you’ve been getting. Get it here. Complements of @iangreenleaf, who has the most useful financial blog post ever right here.
What are you waiting for? Go get ’em!
Wrap Up
When I first got my phone, I looked around for some guides like this one. Where else can you find the best apps on a marketplace of 200,000 (and that’s just on the official Android Market!)? One of the best sources I found was LifeHacker’s App Pack, which is how I initially discovered many of these apps. I felt like I had some additional apps to offer and also cut out a bunch that I didn’t feel were essential, but it’s a great list nonetheless.

I hope you enjoyed my list of apps! Stay tuned for the 2nd part of this article, “Why You Should Root Your Android Phone.”