Android is an open source mobile operating system by Google. It's exactly the search giant who's doing all the development and there are some core Google apps for Android that should be taken care of before proceeding. Apps such as Search, Maps and Gmail are likely to have updated versions waiting for you on the Play Store.
Hopefully, the smartphone you just got is running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, or even Android 4.1/4.2 Jelly Bean. Oh, but even if that's not the case, you need not worry. Most of the apps we're about to cover are available for earlier Android builds too.
So without further ado, let's dive right in and show you what your new Android smartphone is capable of.
Android is a vastly customizable mobile operating system at its core. You can tweak almost anything about it, from custom wallpaper and icons, through kernel and ROM flashing, all the way to fiddling with CPU voltage to squeeze every bit of horsepower.
We'll start by focusing on how to make the Android user interface your own and looking at the various newbie-friendly options available. Frankly, they should be more than enough for you to start your journey.
We've been over the Android user interface multiple times, so we're not going to focus on it that much. In fact, you should've already read a review of the smartphone you've got so this guide will have something to build on. We'll also assume that you already have a Google account and can find your way around the Play Store.
Custom launchers change the behavior and looks of the Android homescreen. But some custom launchers will also affect the app drawer too.
Launchers are the easiest way to give Android a totally different look and feel. They don't require rooting or any other tiresome preparations, they are simple .apk files to download and install just like regular apps.
There are literally thousands of custom launchers out there. There are even ones that will put on a Windows Phone or an iPhone disguise; that's just how customizable Android could be. You are not limited to single one either - you can grab several different and exchange them as you see fit.
Here are just a few of our favorite custom launchers.
ADW LauncherThe ADW Launcher is one of the most popular custom launchers out there. So popular in fact, that it was the default launcher in the popular Cyanogen ROM prior to Ice Cream Sandwich. It has since received plenty of improvements and new features. Not to mention that it's probably the most compatible of them all, featuring support for Android 1.6 through 4.1.
Available in both free and paid versions, the ADW Launcher is the go-to place for tweaking every little aspect of your Android desktop. The settings for the homescreen animations alone are enough to make your head spin. The launcher offers you to set up different themes, which are also available in the Play Store.
One of the more interesting features in the ADW Launcher is its support for Gestures. They are user-configurable and can really speed up trivial tasks. You can configure an action for swipe up or down, two-finger swipe up or down and pinch zoom.
The differences to the paid version of the app are few, but substantial. Opening your wallet for the paid version will get you backup and restore features for your existing settings. This way you can switch between your favorite configurations quickly and painlessly.
You can also resize widgets, even if they don't support it, paginate the docked icons and so much more.
Nova LauncherBuilt to outperform the stock Ice Cream Sandwich launcher, the Nova Launcher has become a favorite homescreen replacement for many Android-heads out there. Unlike the ADW, the Nova Launcher only supports Android 4.0 and up. What that means is it's built with one thing in mind - speed.
Everything from the homescreen scrolling, to the app drawer opening and the overall feel of the app is blazing fast. That's not to say, however, that it is not feature-rich. It knows most of the tricks of the ADW launcher, but puts its own spin on them.
The Nova Launcher is developed to resemble the custom Android 4.0 launcher. So, if you want to get rid of Samung's TouchWiz or LG's Optimus UI in favor of a neat, simple and blazing-fast custom launcher, you should look no further.
Naturally, there's a paid version available with more bells and whistles. One of them is the ability to create app drawer groups and bring order to a multitude of apps. Other perks include count icons for missed calls, unread texts and emails, gestures and additional scroll effects among others.
Go Launcher EXAnother impressive homescreen replacement app is the Go Launcher EX, developed by the highly acclaimed Go Launcher EX team, which has a lot of great Play Store apps to choose from.
This particular homescreen launcher looks the part and is totally free. The team of devs has also done a lot of custom widgets to go with the launcher (they are downloaded separately though) and we really like their minimalist approach.
Go LauncherThere's a very solid community behind the project as well. You can download numerous themes and icon sets from around the web to make your smartphone look exactly the way you want it.
Windows Phone 7 launcherAndroid is so customizable that you could easily transform it into something completely different. How different? How about an entirely different OS? Yes, you can make your Android smartphone look like a Windows Phone in a heartbeat.
There are a few custom launchers out there that can do the job, but our favorite has to be Launcher 7. It's lightweight and performs reasonably well considering the massive task of completely transforming the Android desktop experience.
Launcher 7In true Windows Phone 7 fashion you can set up the tiles the way you want them; they are live, too, to perfectly mimic the WP experience.
On top of that, the launcher also reworks the app drawer so if you like the minimalist look and feel of Microsoft's mobile OS, the Launcher 7 app is the way to go.
Smart LauncherOur first entry in the recommended Android launcher category is of a minimalist nature. Don't be fooled by its looks though, the Smart Launcher is one of the highest-rated homescreen stand-ins to have come out for Android recently.
And it doesn't take long to see why it appeals to so many people. Smart Launcher offers unbeatable simplicity with just a single homescreen, which houses a ring of bubbles. Each acts as a shortcut to whichever app you assign them to. A long press adds or removes bubbles from the ring.
The app drawer gives you a structured way of viewing your apps. They are automatically sorted in categories: Phone, Settings, Multimedia, Games, etc. A very neat feature is the option to configure the app drawer to start from a slide off the edge of the screen. Overall, Smart Launcher transforms the seemingly complex Android UI into a more mature - and user-friendly experience.
As with anything, there are a couple of drawbacks. The big one is that with the single homescreen you don't get the benefit of adding any widgets. You have is the default clock widget, and that's really it.
Like most launchers, Smart Launcher comes with support for third-party themes. Both paid and free options are available in the Play Store. Currently, the pro version of Smart Launcher retails for $3.99, but the free version is sure to suffice too.
TSF ShellFrom one of the simplest looking custom launchers for Android, we move on to probably the most elaborate and feature-rich of them all. Meet TSF Shell, a custom launcher which means business - you'll know by just looking at the price.
At near $17.00, it's clearly a premium offering and rightly so, as it adds a ton of customization options and user interface features that elevate the Android experience to new heights.
The TSF Shell has everything redone from the homescreen panes, the app drawer, folder and icon design to custom animations and widgets. It introduces a lot of new ideas that really stir the place up.
The changes run so deep and the new features are so many that words alone will hardly give you the best idea of what it actually feels like.
With all the animations, customizations and craziness that TSF Shell brings to Android, you would expect the custom launcher to be lacking in the performance department. Luckily, that's not the case, and you aren't likely to regret spending big.
Here's a little hint though: head over to the developers' All Apps page on Google Play and you can download all the cool 3D widgets and enjoy at least part of the TSF Shell experience free of charge before you fork out the cash.
Yandex.ShellCreated by Russian developer team Yandex, this custom homescreen is heavily influenced by another popular launcher dubbed SPB.Shell. It has most of the functionality, including the famous 3D Carousel design for switching between screens. Speaking of them, you are not limited to the usual 7 or 9 homescreen panes - in Yandex.Shell you can have up to 20 of them.
Additionally, you get search in the App drawer, cool widgets, as well as custom Dialer and Contacts apps to match the design of the Yandex.Shell.
All of this comes to you absolutely free, and although that's not a bad thing at all, it's probably the main reason behind the lack of any fancy animations and homescreen modes. Yandex.Shell keeps the core Android design mostly unchanged.
Still, it's a light alternative that doesn't cost a dime, and offers enough customizations to get you started. The Dialer and Contacts apps are a nice addition, too.
Everything.MeProbably the only Android launcher that adapts to the user's current interests, Everything.Me isn't the typical homescreen replacement. Unlike other offerings which change the look of Android and allow you to endlessly customize it, Everything.Me concentrates on context and gives you app and website suggestions based on topics you care about.
If you fancy a pizza at this exact moment, just type in "pizza" in the "What's on your mind" field. Everything.Me will take over and offer you a mini-version of an app drawer, with a matching background, and suggest relevant websites and apps.
The launcher will bring to the fore apps you have installed on your phone that are relevant to what you're interested in, then pull up app suggestions and websites. The app is still in early beta, and is available only in US, Canada, Spain and Germany. It currently works best with simple queries like types of food, movie titles, music and celebrities.
Otherwise, Everything.Me isn't much different from the stock Jelly Bean launcher on which it is based. You can't remove or add new homescreens, set different homescreen transitions here.
Like the rest of the user interface, the Android lockscreen can also be easily replaced by simply getting an alternative lockscreen app from the Play store.
WidgetLocker LockscreenA cool and easy to use app is the WidgetLocker lockscreen. It's an all-round lockscreen replacement that can virtually transform the lockscreen of your trusty droid to suit your needs better.
It's easy to set up a new lockscreen right within the app. You simply drag and drop the differently styled sliders, Android widgets and even app shortcuts onto the canvas and literally build your lockscreen from the ground up.
Sliders, which date back to Android Gingerbread, can have different styles (Ice Cream Sandwich, HTC Sense, Motorola or even iPhone-like). The app works very well with the previously mentioned ADW Launcher as portions of the app are based on it.
Go LockerFrom the developers of the GO Launcher EX comes this really sleek looking custom lockscreen. Just like its homescreen brethren, Go Locker comes with a cool array of features including wide theme support.
Naturally, the app works really well with the Go Launcher EX and just like it is very stable and is compatible with older versions of Android, 2.0 and up. You can setup up to 9 app shortcuts and make your lockscreen unrecognizable, as you can see in the screenshots above.
Notification weatheriOS users have been enjoying a weather forecast widget in their notification drawer, but Android user's don't need to feel jealous about it.
There's this app called Notification Weather, which does what it says on the box. It puts a weather notification in the notification drawer showing you either an expanded, 4-day forecast, or just today's forecast, which doesn't take as much space. You can set a custom default location, or have the app detect it automatically, as well as choose a service provider (currently only Yahoo Weather and Open Weather Map are supported).
It all sounds and looks pretty great, but there's one substantial drawback - the app runs only on Android 4.1 Jelly Bean and up. So in case you're Android smartphone isn't among the handful of devices running Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, you're out of luck.
Notification area togglesSamsung, LG, HTC and other smartphone manufacturers with their own home-brewed custom launchers have had toggles for core functions in the notification area for a while now. Switches for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and GPS come in handy, as you don't have to go all the way to the settings menu just to switch on or off some of your smartphone's radios. Instead, you open the notification drawer and tap on a button. Simple as that.
However, those of you who have purchased a Nexus device, for example, running stock Android are out of luck. Granted, in the latest release of Android 4.2 Jelly Bean, Google introduced a quick settings menu, but it just acts like a plunge-board to the settings menu. Not ideal.
Here's where a great app called Power Toggles comes into play
Power TogglesRunning on Android 2.3 Gingerbread and up, the app provides you with a set of actions that you can put on either as a widget on your homescreen or an additional bar in your notification area drawer.
You can set up which actions you'd like to display, and there's a wide range to choose from (3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Screen brightness or even Flashlight). Power Toggles is a must-have for those of you who don't have notification area toggles out of the box.
For battery saving purposes, most of you will probably stick to static wallpapers, but we all know they can't match the coolness of live wallpapers. The number of active backgrounds is infinite on the Play Store and range from simple and subtle to really flashy and complex animations, to even mini-games that may or may not require your participation.
Forest HD Live WallpaperBeautifully designed and packing stunning visuals, the Forest HD live wallpaper really does bring the magic of the forest onto your Android homescreen. In addition to the trees, grass and scenery, there's also wildlife such as owls and deer. You can customize it to feature waterfalls, cabins and signs. The latter support custom photos, as well.
You can get even more additional perks for this particular live wallpaper. They are sold in add-on packs, which may as well cost you a bit. Still, it's light on the battery and the performance is nothing short of silky.
My Log Home Live WallpaperNext up on our list is My Log Home. It has beautiful graphics of a cozy and welcoming log cabin, spanning your homescreen as you scroll through the different panes.
With both free and premium versions available, you can test the look and feel of this live wallpaper before you decide to buy. The free version has a limited set of options, while going for premium unlocks tons of customizations. You can change the entire look of the room or switch between different presets.
Ubuntu Live WallpaperWhen the Ubuntu mobile OS was announced, many people fell in love with the custom lockscreen design it had. Now, a group of fans have made an identical looking live wallpaper for Android.
Feature-wise it's not as great as the Ubuntu OS alternative. It doesn't offer Twitter, Facebook, SMS or call integration to feed you with live information about missed and upcoming events. The only thing the Ubuntu live wallpaper offers you is integration with the system clock and battery to display the time and charge.
Sadly, customization is limited to setting the battery and clock formats and visual customization isn't yet built-in.
Pixel FleetIf you're a fan of arcade space games, then this wallpaper is definitely worth checking out. The Pixel Fleet live wallpaper sets up three fractions that battle each other in space ships right on your homescreen. As the name suggests, it does so in a pixel-art design, which is light on the GPU and in turn the battery.
Provided you run Android 4.2, you can set Pixel Fleet as a Daydream as well, and it's reasonably entertaining to watch a space battle of epic proportions right on your smartphone screen. It's not very interactive, letting you only destroy any battleship you choose by double tapping it, but nevertheless it's worth the install.
Our experience with the wallpaper has been exceptional and battery drain is nothing to worry about. There are two versions of this live wallpaper. The free one gives you 3 ships, one from each fraction and Daydream support. Going for the paid one doubles the ships, gives you dynamic backgrounds generated for different battlefields, scores and stats.
Origami Live WallpaperStaying in the pixel-art class of live wallpapers, the Origami Live Wallpaper generates random, colorful, fading rhombs to sustain a unique look. The live wallpaper features tons of customizations. There are 9 different themes for quickly changing the look and feel of the theme.
However, if you have the time, you can fiddle with 62 customization options, guaranteed to give you the look you desire. The Origami live wallpaper also comes with its own widget, which allows you to change the look of the wallpaper with a tap or even create a static version of it, to save battery.
Unfortunately, there's wallpaper only comes for a fee, which is a bit of a setback.
BetterThanExpected WallpapersChanging the wallpaper of your Android can be a fiddly task. Why not automate this while having a cool set of fresh and good looking wallpapers pushed to your phone instead? With the BetterThanExpected Wallpapers app you can do just this.
Its title does sound cocky, but it really isn't far off. Once you download it, it's just a matter of assigning the app as the usual run-of-the-mill live wallpaper. The app takes over the rest, as it downloads fresh wallpapers submitted to different Subreddits (www.reddit.com). Naturally, you can choose which subreddits to get your wallpapers from based on your interests. There are a dozen predefined (City, Nature, Animals, Design, Sky, so on).
The settings menu is quite extensive and allows you to choose the time of day to download new wallpapers, the number of pictures to download as well as the wallpaper change interval.
Battery Core Live WallpaperMost of the entrants in this category have been more on the aesthetic side than the functional one. There are however some, which serve useful information, and Battery Core live wallpaper is one of them. Just like its name suggests, this wallpaper offers real time information about the battery of your Android device.
The things that are being monitored include your battery charge percentage, temperature, voltage and charging status. The animation is pretty cool too. It's tied to the actual battery charge of your phone - the more power you have, the faster the core will spin. Or, it'll slow down the less juice there is.
Available in both free and premium versions, the wallpaper sports a lot of options in its latter variation. You can change the background, the particle effects, battery core type, color and glowing effects.
Google Now Wallpaper HDIf you've ever used Google Now, you've noticed the header images on top of the app, which change depending on your location and time of the day. With the Google Now Wallpaper HD, all the different images Google uses for its Now service are put straight on your homescreen. Once you've install it, just pick which of the preset locations you want to use as wallpaper.
Fresh LeavesJust like its name suggests, Fresh Leaves is a pretty cool live wallpaper with 3D leaves, which do cool animations. You can choose among spring-, summer-, autumn- and winter-styled leaves.
Photo Wall FXIf you want to showcase photos of your dearest people or just make a collon your homescreen, then Photo Wall FX is for you. The app generates a photo collage of specific photos of your choice.
GyroSpace 3DGyroSpace 3D puts an interactive 3D space scene as your live wallpaper with cool effects and many customizable settings.
Snowfall Live WallpaperPerfect for the winter season, the Snowfall live wallpaper makes it rain snow in your Android homescreen. Not literally, of course, but pretty realistically nevertheless.
Mystic Halo Live WallpaperMystic Halo is a cool, honeycomb-inspired live wallpaper with abstract look and feel.
Thunderstorm Live WallpaperFan of lightnings? The Thunderstorm live wallpaper will give you plenty of them mixed in with great looking, constantly moving scenery of clouds.
The final touch to making your Android smartphone look as stylish as possible with the least amount of effort, is to install a custom icon pack. Available in the Play Store are tons of various icon sets, each with different styling and price tag.
It's fairly easy to change the look of the app icons on your Android smartphone, provided you have a custom launcher that supports that kind of user interface intervention. Among the most popular supported launchers are Action Launcher, ADW Launcher, Apex Launcher, Go Launcher EX, Nova Launcher and Holo Launcher.
Coolors iconsThe creators of the icon set combine Google style with their own unique design and the result is Coolors. With more than 780 icons in its set, Coolors should be good for the majority of the apps installed on your phone, with more and more added regularly.
Minimal UIThe Minimal UI icon set offers simple looking icons for more than 720 apps. Users can even send requests for new icons to be added in future updates via an online form. This particular icon set currently costs $ from the Play Store.
Tiny White Icon PackUpdated frequently. If you want a truly minimalist icon set, then look no further. With more than 1050 icons in the set, you'd have to look hard to find a popular app that doesn't have its icon restyled in the Tiny White icon pack. Best of all - it's free on the Play Store.
MeeUI Icons PackIf you like the look of the MeeGO OS, may it rest in peace, the MeeUI icon pack is your thing. Available in both standard and high quality in the Play Store, this icon pack contains really high quality material that'll give your Android smartphone a MeeGO look and feel without too much hassle.
DCikonZThe DCikonZ pack is among the more elaborate and ornate icon sets on offer. With more than 2270 HD icons on tap, this particular icon pack is impressively rich in color and quality graphics. It's also free and doesn't feature any ads.
Setting up Google Now / Phonebook / Ringtones
Google Now is one of the most significant Google projects for Android, which could quite possibly make it to Chrome as well. It is Google's version of a personal assistant, constantly offering information that is believes is relevant to you.
Available for Ice Cream Sandwich and up, Google Now is working without much configuration on the part of the user. All it asks is a permission to collect data from your searches, locations and other activities in order to display cool Google Now Cards for things like friends' birthdays, movie screenings, cool places around you as well as traffic info to frequently visited locations.
Most of Google Now's features work best in the US, Canada and the UK, but the country support for the app is ever growing, as Google is continuously adding new cards and features. If your Android smartphone is running Jelly Bean, make sure to install its search app updates and get the most out of Google Now, it's worth it.
Transferring your contacts from your old phone to Android could be quite tricky. One of the ways to do so is transfer your contacts to a regular micro SIM card. It can store up to 250 contacts and once inserted in your new Android smartphone can easily transfer your contacts back to the phone.
Another option is Bluetooth. HTC has developed a pretty cool app for transferring contacts from an old feature phone to Android called HTC Sync. It ships with all of the company's Android smartphones, and it gets the job done quite well.
Rainbow ContactsBut what if your phone isn't made by HTC? An app called Rainbow Contacts comes to save the day. It works in a similar fashion to HTC Sync, using Bluetooth to fetch the contacts from the source phone and transfer them to your new phone.
Transferring contacts is easyIt works with Android 2.1 and above and comes with additional features like contact sharing, local backups and recovery. The app is proven to work well with older iPhones, Nokia and Blackberry handsets.
Yet another way of doing contact transfers is searching for an option in your old device to export them as a .CSV or vCard files. Once you get hold of either of the two formats, just import them to your Gmail account and they'll be automatically synced to your Android phonebook.
Okay, now that you have all your contacts in the phonebook safe and synced, it's a good idea to set custom ringtones for the people calling you most frequently.
To start off, tap on a contact and go to Options - Set ringtone. Then, it's as simple as picking the desired sound file. If you want use a custom ringtone, rather than the ones your devices comes with or the tracks you have uploaded you might want to install one of the many specialized apps for this.
Ringtone MakerOur favorite is the Ringtone Maker. It's free on the Play Store and does a wonderful job. Pick a file you'd like to make a ringtone from, trim it and save it. Then, assign it to a contact. Piece of cake.
Samsung has a really cool feature on some of their upmarket Android smartphones like the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, allowing you to create a custom vibration patterns. Even if you're in a noisy environment, you'll be able to literally feel who's calling you and that's pretty cool.
Custom Dialer apps
If you're not happy with your stock dialer, you can always grab an alternative one from the Play Store. Not all phones come with a smart dial (yes, even today) or you might just want to try a different look.
Here's a quick selection of third-party dialers that do a pretty solid job.
GO Contacts EXThe GO Dev Team is here again, delivering the GO Contacts EX - it has plenty of features and there are a lot of skins for it. It supports smart dial and speed dial along with support for backing up and restoring your contacts to/from the SD card.
Contacts EX features a Groups tab and you can send batch SMS or email messages to these groups. Batch deletion of contacts is also possible.
Be warned though, GO Contacts EX can get buggy on some handsets.
exDialerexDialer is a free dialer replacement (no ads either) that's lightweight and quick. It supports both the dark and light Holo themes and offers smart dialing in a number of languages.
When you launch the app, it shows a list of recent calls grouped by contact and a color indicator for busy/missed/not answered calls. You can swipe items in this list to make a call or compose an SMS, similar to Samsung's stock dialer.
exDialer supports plug-ins, though there aren't many at this point. The app has an annoying problem - it doesn't clear missed calls once you tap them from the notification area, but there's a patch to fix that (requires root) and a plug-in (plug-ins work only with the donation version of the app).
TouchPal ContactsTouchPal Contacts is another dialer replacement with good support for themes. It tries to shake things up a bit by supporting Gesture dialing - instead of using smart dial (which is available too, by the way), you can use gestures to call your favorite contacts. You just draw a symbol on the keypad and TouchPal Contacts will make the call.
The app also has blacklist/whitelist support built-in if you want to control who gets to call you.
If your friends are using TouchPal Contacts, you'll be able to see if they're in the middle of a call and have the app notify you when they are free. The app also has basic Facebook and Twitter integration.
Custom SMS apps
Texting is one of the most used features of a phone today, so an SMS app that's just right is very important. If the one that comes with your phone out of the box isn't what you're looking for, you can replace it just as easily as the dialer. By the way, these apps support both SMS and MMS.
GO SMS ProWe already saw the GO Dev Team's work in the dialer department, now lets look at their texting app. GO SMS Pro is skinnable just like its dialer counterpart and you can install plug-ins too, like the Emoji emoticons.
One feature that seems quite popular is the pop-up notifications - they display the message you just received and have a field for composing a quick reply and a To-Do button if you can't reply now but want a reminder later.
The GO SMS Pro app has more cool features. It can schedule messages to be sent automatically later, you can backup and restore SMS messages (locally on your phone or on Dropbox) and there's a widget that shows recent messages too.
We already mentioned the Emoji plug-in, but the FBChat Plug-in deserves attention too. As the name implies, you can use it to chat with your Facebook contacts straight from the GO SMS Pro app.
Handcent SMSHandcent SMS is similar to GO SMS Pro in that it comes with the pop-up quick reply feature out of the box and supports themes and plug-ins. You can even download custom font packs.
The Blacklist feature will come in handy if you receive a lot of spam over SMS. Scheduling messages lets you type a message and have it sent automatically later on (e.g. a "Happy birthday" message).
chomp SMSYet another alternative is chomp SMS. It has the quick reply pop-up feature and blacklisting and scheduling texts. There's a widget that shows recent messages too.
Themes and plug-ins are supported too, including the Emoji plug-in.
SMS PopupIf you like the idea of the SMS pop-up notification with a quick reply function, but don't want to replace your current SMS app, then SMS Popup is what you're looking for.
The app will show a pop-up with the incoming SMS and if there are more than one, you can swipe between them. To send a reply, you hit the Reply button and type it in right in the pop-up. You can also use voice recognition to dictate the reply and text to speech to have SMS Popup read incoming text out loud.
There is a privacy mode that hides the message until you unlock the phone, a similar feature is available for the pop-ups of the other apps we described.
The default Android browser on most Android is pretty good - it's fast and has a nice minimalist interface, but certainly not everyone's cup of tea. Luckily, there are plenty of alternatives out there for you to check out. Let's take a look at some of the most popular among them.
ChromeChrome is the default web browser of the last three Nexus devices and the more recent Motorola smartphones and there's a good reason why. You see, Google started the Chrome project back in 2006 and has been investing quite a lot of effort in it ever since.
Chrome is a great option if you do lots of Google searches and/or use its desktop counterpart. Chrome is free on the Play Store and runs on any Android device running Ice Cream Sandwich and later.
More crucially, you can sync bookmarks, passwords and even open tabs between the Chrome mobile app and your desktop Chrome browser. All you have to do is sign in with your Google account. Everything is conveniently stored in the cloud.
This means that you could open an article at home and finish reading it on the train without having to remember long URLs. Chrome for Android also supports tabbed browsing.
It all sounds fine and dandy, but there's a catch - forget about Flash.
FirefoxUnlike Chrome or the stock browser, Firefox utilizes the Gecko web engine, which isn't as fast as the more widely-spread WebKit. It might not be too much of an issue on more capable devices, but is pretty hard to bear on more limited hardware.
The user interface is friendly enough, using simple and straightforward tab management and a readily-accessible options menu. Firefox for Android also supports browser sync: just like in Chrome, your tabs, bookmarks and personal information will be synced with your mobile device.
Unlike Chrome, however, you can make Firefox play Flash content including videos.
Speaking of plugins, Firefox has a decent library of browser add-ons. They're what made the desktop version of the browser so popular to begin with. The library is growing by the day and you can definitely find something to extend the capabilities of the browser.
Opera miniOpera Mini is another widely used mobile web browser. Its key feature is its capability to compress data, not only saving you precious kilobytes and, in turn, money, but also improving loading speed on slower networks. It's highly recommended to those of you who browse on GPRS/EDGE or have a limiting data plan.
The app sports some cool features such as Speed Dial, Smart Page and automatically adjustable address bars and toolbars for better online reading experience. Syncing bookmarks with your desktop Opera browser is possible too.
Opera Mini has extremely wide compatibility and runs consistently well on Android 1.5 through Android 4.2. If you like it, you may also try its bigger brother, Opera Mobile, which has optional data compression, but works as a regular browser the rest of the time.
DolphinLast but certainly not least, the Dolphin browser (formerly known as Dolphin HD) uses the WebKit engine and is decently fast.
Alongside standard browser features like tabbed browsing, Dolphin also supports Flash content, albeit not without some effort on your side. It also comes with a few unique features like Dolphin Sonar, Gesture Browsing and Webzine.
Dolphin Sonar enables voice search and navigation of the browser interface. Webzine is also interesting as it displays web content in a magazine-style format and caches the content to be accessible offline.
Naked browserUnlike other browsers opting for animated tabs and other layout tweaks, the Naked browser is deliberately un-designed, aiming for the most efficient resource management instead. This rather unusual browser looks a bit weird but loads pages extremely quickly. It very much cares about privacy as well, with its developer clearly explaining the ins and outs of the permissions required and how the browser works.
The user interface takes some time to get used to though, as it doesn't look anything like your run-of-the-mill web browser. Tap and hold on a tab to close it and swipe to the right to reveal a bookmarks list. Minimalist doesn't even begin to describe how light and basic the user interface is.
Among the cool features of the Naked Browser are crash restore, one finger zoom, infinite tabs, support for Flash (if you have the .apk installed). The browser is extremely secure and is based on the WebKit engine - like both the stock Android browser and Chrome. The result is properly rendered web pages that load very quickly.
Next browserBy the same team which gave us Go Launcher (featured in the previous article) comes the Next browser. Much like the rest of the team's creations, it features a very beautiful and intuitive user interface with tabbed browsing capabilities, custom speed dial for quick access to your favorite websites, very easy and versatile search, as well as browser extensions and bookmark syncing across other mobile devices.
As an added extra feature, the browser comes with its own news reader-like experience dubbed Next View. It allows you to read what's new in different categories like tech, politics, health and motoring, among others, but lacks adding new categories or choosing sources for the existing ones.
The Next browser app is free on the Google Play Store making it as easy as it gets to try.
Opera browser BetaOpera has made significant changes to its browsers with the transition to the WebKit rendering engine. However, that's not the main change that the beta version of the Opera browser has introduced, being available as a separate app.
Back to the feature list of the Opera beta for Android at hand, the usual bandwidth-saving algorithms are still in place. The user interface is freshened up and features a clean visual style that's easy to navigate around.
Speed dial is improved with support for folders and looks a lot better than it used to. Swipe left to switch to a special discover page that has a built-in RSS reader. There's a pretty nifty download manager as well, allowing you to easily download media files.
Floating NotificationsWhen Facebook launched an updated of their regular Messages app, many people got excited because of a single unique featured dubbed Chat heads. These are a simple image circles of your friend’s profile photos that overlay and sit on top of everything that’s happening on your display so that you can quickly access the chat window and continue your conversation.
This idea has been expanded by an app dubbed Floating notifications, which covers nearly all apps that have notifications coming your way. You can choose which app can be displayed in a floating notifications. The app even supports shortcuts so that if you tap on one, you can reply directly to a message or return a call, for example.
The developer of the app provides a trial and paid versions, with the former offering a 30 days of full use before disabling itself. This gives you plenty of time to see if this notifications concept is up to your liking and go for the pro version.
Google KeepGoogle Keep is a note taking application for Android that syncs with your Google Drive account. It is a very basic note taking app meant for quickly jotting down your thoughts without any unnecessary frills. The most you can do here is set a color for your note to organize or identify them quickly and add a image from the camera. For some reason, you can't add images from the Gallery and can only attach camera images. You can also make quick lists and the app automatically puts items in a bullet point format.
You can access your notes from the Google Keep website as well. It also lets you create notes, which you can then access from the Android app. Interestingly, the web app lets you add any image you want to your note, unlike the Android app. It also comes with three widgets - a small one for quickly adding notes, a bigger one that also shows all your note and you can scroll through them within the widget and a third one for Android 4.2 users that you can put on the lockscreen.
The app is free and can be installed by devices running Android 4.0 and above.
Quick MathWe all have had the need to do some quick math at some point in time, whether it'd be calculating a tip or a percentage. Now there's a quick method to just this and more thanks to an app called Quick Math.
While there are a slew of similar apps, Quick Math does trivial everyday calculations with unmatched flair. All you have to do is pick what kind of calculation you need to do from the big list of categorized tasks, fill the numbers and Quick Math will do the rest. Best of all, it doesn't cost a dime.
SMS turned 20 years old this year, and while it's an important part of telephony, it's far from being the only messaging option in today's smartphone world. Here's a list of instant messengers you should definitely try.
SkypeSkype is one of the most popular messengers for every major desktop and mobile platform. With more than 600 million users around the world, it is really a stretch to find somebody that hasn't at least heard of it.
Skype for Android is nicely functional and will let you connect to all your Skype-using friends no matter if they run the mobile or the desktop client. It also integrates with your phonebook, allowing you to check the statuses and contact images of your buddies without launching the app itself.
The problem with Skype is that it was designed to be a desktop messenger and it's behind its rivals in terms of power and data efficiency. It can be used occasionally on your smartphone, but keeping it constantly running has a pretty big impact on the battery life.
ViberDebuting on iOS, Viber quickly drew more than 12 million users and last year it launched for Android as well. The app allows free calls over a mobile data connection as well as sending free text messages, images and, most recently, emoticons.
Viber became an instant success being completely free and featuring a straightforward user interface.
To register and start using the service, Viber requires you to enter your mobile phone number and give it access to your contact list. Upon launch, the app displays a list of all your contacts. Those who have Viber installed (regardless of their mobile platform) have the Viber logo next to them.
WhatsApp doesn't keep a separate contacts list, it just uses your phonebook. If you have someone's phone number, you can send them a message, that's it. You can send more than a message, of course, including photos, videos and voice messages and even your GPS location. Group chats are supported as well.
WhatsApp messages are sent over an Internet connection, so they are virtually free (they use very little data traffic, so in most cases it doesn't matter if you're not on Wi-Fi).
One advantage of WhatsApp over some of its competition is that it sends messages to a server first, so even if the receiving contact isn't online right now, they'll get the message as soon as their phone connects to the Internet (even if you are no longer online).
Schemes (Scheduled Messages)If you've ever used a text service for sending personal messages, chances are you've had a need at some point to send a message at an exact point in time. Schemes comes to the rescue, as one of the best scheduled messages app for Android.
Schemes works with regular SMS, Facebook, Twitter and Gmail. It's great for sending birthday wishes at exactly midnight or sending a business email right on the hour. Neatly, all SMS messages are added to their respective threads in the Messaging app.
Ninja SMS AppYet another replacement app, Ninja SMS is destined to be a lightweight alternative to the famous Go SMS Pro, Handcent SMS messaging replacement apps. The main feature of Ninja SMS is its support for multiple floating messaging windows at the same time. They are totally customizable and can be moved all over the screen as well as minimized, and of course - closed.
The app integrates a similar approach to the Facebook Chat heads when a message window is minimized and shows a photo of the person you’re texting in a small floating box. You should give it a shot, as its free on the Play Store.
Google HangoutsHangouts is Google’s latest attempt to unify its handful of messaging services (Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, Gmail Messenger). It’s cross-platform and features notification syncing meaning that if you read a message on your phone, it won’t appear as unread on your PC or tablet.
The app comes with support for video chatting with multiple people from your Google+ circles. Hangouts also supports different features from GTalk and G+ Messenger such as saving chats in history, setting a status and a mood, a ton of emoji icons as well as going off record for when you don't want to preserve a chat history.
MightyTextLast, but not least, there's MightyText - an app designed especially for the Android platform that allows you to sync SMS texts to your PC, read and respond right from the comfort of the big physical keyboard. Once you receive a new SMS text, your are immediately notified.
The app even notifies you when there's an incoming call. This way, you know right away who is calling. We urge you to check it out if you live and breathe SMS. It'll save you quite a lot of time both in writing and reading. Not to mention it's free on the Play Store, so you have nothing to lose checking it out.
Camera and image editing apps
Third-party camera apps have exploded in popularity and the battle is only heating up since Facebook bought Instagram with both Google and Twitter trying to join in.
Anyway, you should know the drill - snap a photo with some filter on top to make it look more interesting and share it. You can share photos to Facebook and Twitter (though Twitter's Instagram integration through the Cards feature is no more) and more importantly, you can follow other people to see their shots.
SnapseedNot to be outdone, Google bought the company behind the Snapseed app. Snapseed doesn't actually take photos - you use the regular camera app for that, but it focuses on editing them and does pretty well there.
There are tools to straighten photos, tune the colors and saturation, crop the image and do an automatic correction if you're in a hurry. On-screen hints will help you learn how to use every tool and filter. Snapseed can work with TIFF images too, which photo buffs will appreciate.
Snapseed features Google Plus integration (of course).
Instagram recently disabled the feature that allowed Twitter clients (including the web interface) to display Instagrams inline, while photos captured with the Twitter app will work just fine.
Camera 2If you think Instagram has a lot of filters, then you should check out the Camera 2 app to have your jaw hit the floor. The app has effects ranging from classic (making a photo look like it has been taken in the 20’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s 70’s or 80’s) to lomos, comic, sci-fi and art. And you’re not limited to the resolution of the photos you can take an apply effects to. Even video recording with all of the effects is supported.
Moreover, you can tweak each effect to your liking as well as add animated effects. They look really funky, and the Camera 2 app allows you to share them with your friends with ease.
Handy PhotoHandy Photo focuses its efforts on photo editing and retouching. The app sports numerous effects, features and styles to easily and quickly apply to your existing photos. You are not bound to just making the photo sharper and punchier, you can manipulate it as well by moving objects around, for example.
The app supports applying different frame styles, textures, and photo filters with ease. You can modify large resolution photos, too (2GB needed for 24MP shots).
Paper CameraBack to applying filters to photos, there’s Paper Camera, which is currently the easiest way to make your photos look like you’ve drawn them with a pencil. The app doesn’t have a plethora of options, but you can choose how thick the lines can be and what type of effect you want to achieve.
It’s a great app if you intend to make a comic book out of your photos without spending hours in Photoshop.
Alternative Music players
ApolloApollo is the default music player in the Cyanogen Mod custom ROM and is one of the best on the market today. It's completely free and comes with a plethora of features not found in the default music player of stock Android.
Unfortunately, the app was pulled from the Play Store over an alleged copyright infringement. Its case is still pending, but you can find it if you look around the web hard enough.
PowerAMPPowerAmp is one of the most popular and powerful music players ever developed for Android. Complete with a set of widgets, PowerAmp also comes with a full list of cool features including gapless playback, ReplayGain and crossfade.
In addition, the app comes with a 10-band optimized graphic equalizer with dedicated bass and treble settings. Support for grabbing lyrics, OpenGL cover art animation, scrubbing, tag editor and rich audio file support.
The bad news is that PowerAmp costs a pretty penny, but it is well worth the investment considering the features offered. There's a try-before-you-buy option so you can see if it will meet your needs.
WinampUsers familiar with the desktop version of Winamp should feel right at home with its Android counterpart. Not only does its user interface resemble the desktop version of the app, but it's also wirelessly syncable.
The app offers you a wider range of podcasts to subscribe to in addition to supporting song imports from iTunes. Winamp for Android is available for devices running Android 2.1 and up.
Album Art GrabberThis one isn't actually a music player, but it's quite nice to have anyway. After you upload all your favorite songs to your Android phone just to find out that half of them don't have their album art displaying correctly? We've all been there and then Album Art Grabber came along to solve the problem once and for all.
The app does exactly what its title says - it grabs album art covers for your songs that are missing it. Simply launch the app, press the auto button and enjoy the magic of album art grabbing. If, for some reason, the app struggles to find the right cover and returns with empty hands, you can search for it manually from a set of music sources and get the job done.
Now PlayingBuilt around Google Now's design etiquette, the Now Playing music player is a clean-looking, straight-to-the-point music player that packs a lot of punch whilst sporting a nice suite of features.
One of them is support for Last.fm and scrobbling, as well as fetching album and artist arts from there. Lyrics are fetched automatically with subtle scrolling animation and gesture navigation: swipe right to see the song queue, while a left swipe gets the lyrics for the currently playing song. Shuffle and repeat controls are brought up with a swipe from the bottom.
Sadly, the player doesn't feature a separate equalizer, but can use the phone's built in one. Additionally, the app doesn't have a free version, just a 5-day trial option, but that should be enough to give you an idea of its functionality.
EarbitsWhile Spotify, Pandora, Rdio and Google Music All Access are dominating the online music streaming, they're all paid options. If you want to experience the service without spending a dime, Earbits is a great place for a first dive. Granted, it doesn't yet offer the most famous artists out there, but it has a beautifully designed website, and the Android app isn't shabby at all either. You'll get the chance to explore not so mainstream artists and music in various genres, which can't be a bad thing.
Best of all, the app is completely free, and it has features like favorites and search. The Earbit music library packs north of 100 thousand songs at the time of writing. Once installed on your Android device, the app will analyze the already uploaded music and recommend channels and artists based on it.
Check out the Play Link below to try Earbits out and find out the cool way the company has managed to stay off ads, sponsors and fees to keep its service alive.
MX PlayerThe MX Player has been unanimously rated as one the best video players on Android for quite a while now and there are good reasons for this. One of them is the built-in hardware acceleration which is very efficient due to a new hardware decoder. The MX Player also supports multi-core decoding, making it up to 70% more power-efficient on dual-core devices than on single-core chipsets.
Additionally, there are features such as pinch-to-zoom, allowing you to zoom in on the video during playback. A wide range of subtitle file formats are supported; there's a subtitle scroll feature as well. Finally, there's a kids lock option for locking the controls so that kids can't make calls or fiddle with the phone.
Best of all, MX Player is free at the Android market with plenty of codecs available for those pesky files that wouldn't play at first.
EmitIf you don't want to necessarily play files on your Android device, but rather stream them from or to your PC, then the Emit player is definitely worth a look. You can use Emit to download videos to your Android smartphone or tablet for offline viewing. iTunes transfers are supported, as are multiple audio tracks. The player has support for various subtitle formats, as well as DVD covers.
To make it work, you have to install both the Android app and the corresponding desktop software for PC, Mac OS or Linux. The service works best over Wi-Fi, but if you have a fast data plan, it'll work as well, if not as reliably.
BS PlayerOriginating on the PC app scene, the BS Player is also available for Android smartphones and tablets, bringing all the core features users are looking for. Hardware decoding and acceleration, Android 4.2 support as well as support for a slew of media files and formats, and playback of files from shared network resources are just a number of the available features of the free, ad-supported version of BS Player.
If you are not a fan of in-app ads, you can purchase the premium version of the player, which is expensive.
The user interface supports additional custom-made skins. With so many features on tap, the BS Player is a video player app that you should definitely have on your shortlist the next time you visit the Google Play Store.
Archos Video PlayerThe Archos video player is among the premium offerings in the media category. The app has a very stylish user interface that puts the videos from your device and network on the main stage with their respective cover art.
Naturally, for the relatively high price for an app of this sort, Archos provides a slew of handful features. It can automatically retrieve movie as well as TV show posters and information, and also download subtitles off the web. The player is compatible with keyboards as well as remote controls when hooked up to a TV set.
One downside of the player is that it doesn't support as much video file formats as the competition, but it covers the basics with MKV, MP4, AVI files.
It still packs the same functionality as before. You'll be asked if you'd like to import your Facebook contacts upon your first login.
The Facebook widget is also good to have on your homescreen for fast sharing what's interesting around you.
Google+Google+ is Google's own ever growing social network. It has a bunch of unique features like hangouts and, most recently support for viewing the Street View-inspired photospheres captured with the LG Nexus 4.
You can also create hangouts, tag photos and join communities right from the app itself. Overall, we think this might be one of the best designed Android apps currently out there.
VineTwitter announced its new service named Vine in January, letting you share short looping videos on the popular social network. Back then a Vine app was only available for iOS, but that exclusivity has finally come to an end. The service, which already has about 13 million active users, is available for Android.
Vine for Android currently offers unlimited uploads, instant posting of videos on Vine and sharing on Twitter. The app lets you find, follow and interact with people and you can also explore trending posts. The important features such as front-facing camera support, search, mentions and hash tags and Facebook sharing, which are currently missing, are in the pipeline.
CinemagramCinemagram is a social network where you record short videos, which are then converted to looping GIFs and posted to your account. You can also share these GIFs on other social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
If this sounds a lot like Vine, it's because it is, except Vine arrived later and, more importantly, Vine posts actual videos and not just GIFs, which means they also have audio to go with the video - which Cinemagram fails to provide.
Still, if you want to get in on some looping short video action on your Android device, then Cinemagram should scratch that itch.
RandoRando is an experimental photo sharing network and platform, but with a twist. Photos that you send and receive are dubbed a "rando", and in order to receive a rando, you must send one in exchange. You'll never know who has received your rando, and you'll never know who sent you one. And that's the beauty of this experiment, really.
You can build rando collections, for example of monuments around the world. There are no likes, comments or direct communication. If you really want to see what an anonymous social network feels like, Rando is a great place to start.
Falcon ProTwitter clients for Android are a dime a dozen these days, but very few of them manage to set themselves apart with the flare of Falcon Pro. The app is extremely fast and sports a great UI with smooth scrolling, inline preview of videos and images, as well as an in-app browser.
Multiple accounts are supported and can be managed from the left sliding menu. Slide your finger from the right and you'll see a menu with lists, world and local trends and saved searches. Falcon Pro also comes with scrollable widgets and an offline mode.
Reddit is FunIn our previous article on Android, we covered the trinity of social networks, Facebook, Twitter and Google+. This time around, it's Reddit's turn. It's a social news and entertainment site that is divided into many subreddits, each devoted to a particular topic.
Users can publish "self" posts or links to external websites that then get up- or downvoted by other Reddit users.
With that description of Reddit in mind, the corresponding Android app aims to let you effortlessly browse the vast website. The user interface is really great and takes seconds to master.
Quick SocialIf you feel like you're wasting too much time posting on major social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and Google+, but don't want to cut back on their usage, then the Quick Social app is designed for you. It allows you to post to social networks directly from the notification drawer.
Currently, only the big three social networks are supported. Quick Social is paid on the Play Store, but its low price makes it a must-see for social network buffs.
Staying up to date
You smartphone could (and we think it actually should) become your window to what's happening in your community and around the world. There are thousands of apps to help you there, delivering the news and breaking stories right to your pocket.
The best thing about those apps is that they are tailored to you. You can tune up the news feed precisely to deliver news about topics you're interested in.
The app debuted for iOS.
Since the Android version is pretty much the same, we won't go into much detail. Flipboard also comes with a set of widgets making it easy to keep up with the latest at just a quick glance.
CurrentsCurrents is Google's take at magazine-style news feeds for mobile. In its initial release it was clumsy and slow, but in its latest form, the app is perfectly suited to be your daily driver.
With a user interface reminiscent of Google Now, Currents relies on swiping left or right with sliding panes revealing more content from different sources right on your screen. You have a set of predefined categories such as Technology, Sport, Entertainment, etc.
PulsePulse takes a different approach to the user interface design. Firstly, you set up the different sections yourself based on your interest. For example, if you're interested in Web Development, you'd create a section filled with sources in this area alone.Repeat for the rest of your interests.
After you're done, Pulse generates handy carousels, which you can slide left or right giving you a quick overview of what your favorite sites have published lately.
Tapping on a story opens it in the app itself. You can fiddle with the font and color scheme settings, making it perfect to read news whatever the time.
FeedlyWhat if, however, you already have a pretty comprehensive RSS feed full with your favorite news publications and you don't want to add them manually? While all of the other apps support integration with Google Reader (save for Pulse), none of them does it as graciously as Feedly.
Feedly is designed to take your syndicated content subscriptions and transform them into an easy to digest list of nicely designed news items. Just like the others, navigating around the app is effortless with simply sliding left or right for more stories.
Opening an article displays either the full story or just a snippet of it, depending on how it has been syndicated by the source's RSS feed. If you want to open the story and read it in its entirety, there's a handy browser button on the top navigation bar of the app providing you with a quick shortcut.
There's more to your smartphone than meets the eye. You probably aren't fully aware of this, but there's a good chance that your Android smartphone isn't just a tool for making phone calls, reading messages and watching cute cats online.
Oh, no, it's much more than this. In addition to the things above, it's also a GPS navigator, barometer, a compass, a flashlight and a distance measuring tool.
Interested? Then follow us through the next intriguing apps to find out how your smartphone can serve you in the offline world, as well as it does in the digital one.
Tiny FlashlightYour Android smartphone has a camera and more often than not it's accompanied by a LED flash to help it shoot better quality pictures in low-light situations. What's cool is that you can manually control that LED flashlight and use it to help your around your daily routine. For example, you might be struggling to put the key into a lock in a dark setting or if you'd like to signal somebody to spot you in a crowd.
Whatever your user-case may be, the simple app that Tiny Flashlight is will help you get the most out of your Android's LED flash. The app features a two-fold interface - once you launch it, you're greeted with a simple battery indicator (because the flash is a battery hog) and a big on/off button.
That's simple enough, but what if you want to send a message in Morse code? No problems for Tiny Flashlight. The app also has a set of preloaded LED flash actions to keep you entertained for a while.
Tiny CompassTiny Compass, as its name hints, is another app done by the developer of Tiny Flashlight and follows its direction for clean and straightforward user interface; the only thing you get on the screen is a big compass on top of which there's a readout for the direction.
ShushDon't you just hate it when you put your phone on vibrate for a movie and forget to put it back on ring again missing a plethora of phone calls as a result? Shush is a simple tool which takes care of this in an elegant way.
Once you put your phone on vibrate, the app fires off and prompts you to enter a duration for which to keep the phone in this mode. After that period, it brings the phone back to normal ringing mode.
Unit converterEveryonce in a while we all need to convert one unit into another. Thankfully, there are many free apps on the Play Store that are ready to help out, and one of the best among them is dubbed Unit Convert (duh!) by developer zyksa.
The app supports over 49302 different conversions across 23 categories and its user interface couldn't be simpler - just select the units to convert from and to and input a value.
Idea GrowrIdea Growr is a simple application that strives to provide you with the creative medium to write down every single idea that pops up into your brain. However, the app sets itself apart from the pack by offering you to attach multiple notes to an idea and the cool feature allowing you to answer a series of simple questions from 4 themed question sets. Their goal is to help you develop your thoughts and ideas better and keep everything neatly organized.
Once you have an idea written down, you can share it via various channels.
Ultra Compass & LevelUltra Compass and Level app for Android is a beautifully designed compass app that can use the main camera of your device to make your navigation easier. The app even measures the current magnetic field, if you are interested in that sort of information.
A must-have app for every hiker at heart out there that wants to have a compass in hand at all times without the need to carry a separate device.
Greenify [ROOT]We strive not to dive into rooted apps in this article, since we think the average user shouldn’t be getting into such deep waters without better understanding of the Android ecosystem. However we are making an exception for this one as we recently discovered it and found it to work quite well. It's probably not worth the effort of rooting your smartphone by itself but if you already went that way, you should definitely check it out.
The main reason for battery drain on Android devices is the background processes that some apps initiate to keep themselves up to date. Dropbox's famous Camera upload feature is one such example. It has a background process which constantly checks if you have taken a photo, and once you have uploads it to the cloud. Facebook, Google+, Twitter and many other apps too have background processes in place, which result in poor battery life.
Greenify puts a stop to this madness. It is a very important app that has saved a ton of battery life on many Android devices. Not to be confused with a task killer app, Greenify’s main job is hibernating battery hogging apps which launch new background processes. This means that the apps function normally when you open them, but once you close them, they don’t work in the background. As a result, push notifications function on hybernated apps will seize to work. Naturally, they won't all be working as smoothly as the Google platform would usually allow them but more often than not, you won't be able to spot the difference.
Call Recorder ProThe conversations you're having on your Android phone needn't be lost forever after they're over. Call Recorder Pro comes to the rescue. Available in both free and pro versions, this app is the easiest way to record your conversations without the need of having to root your device.
All you have to do is flick a switch after launching the app, and start talking on the phone. The recorded conversations will be listed in the app itself and stored on the internal or external memory. There’s a number of settings as well that can dramatically improve the quality of the recordings.
Mind you, the legal aspects of doing such a thing are questionable and are in a moral grey area, so proceed with caution and check out your local laws before attempting to record anything. Also beware that the app may not function as advertised on all devices due to the complexity of the task at hand. In case of malfunction, seek help from the developer’s website, as this might get fixed if you fiddle with the settings.
PushBulletPushBullet is an app that many will find useful as it allows you to send webpage links, files, notes, lists , addresses and more from your computer or Android tablet to your smartphone. Once sent, the thing of interest is displayed in the notification drawer for easy access. You can control what to send from the PushBullet website or via the official Google Chrome extension.
The app sports a simple user interface and best of all is free on the Play Store.
DuolingoEver wanted to learn a new language but didn't know from where to start? Fret not, as a great app called Duolingo has recently been launched on the Play Store. Featuring a great-looking user interface that really helps focus on learning the new language at hand, Duolingo focuses on repetition of a handful of core foreign words combined with images to help you remember more quickly.
The app currently supports Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and English and it’s free without ads. Duolingo also has an achievement system that should in theory help your motivation.
Vybe Custom VibrationsA handful of Samsung Android smartphone with TouchWIz UI have a feature to make your own custom vibrations for various ringtones and notifications. Now, there's an app for that available to all smartphones running Android 2.2 and up. Dubbed Vybe, the app sports an attractive UI and the ability to assign a custom vibration directly to a contact. It's also free on the Google Play Store.
Intelligent RingerThe app is intended to regulate the volume of the ringing sound of your Android smartphone based on the ambient noise levels of your surrounding. If you’re in a library, for example, and you've forgotten to turn your sound off, Intelligent Ringer will kick in, detect that it’s quiet around you and ring appropriately.
Intelligent doesn't work if you have manually switched off your sound or turned on vibrate. Additionally, the app detects whether the phone is in your pocket and boosts the volume up to make sure you don't miss a call.
Valet Parking Where's my carFinding your car after you’ve parked in a large parking lot or at the side of a unknown street can indeed be a hard task that causes lots of unnecessary stress. Valet Parking app for Android comes to the rescue by marking your car’s current location on the map. The app also sports a timer function to let you know if your parking ticket is about to run out as well as turn-by-turn walking navigation to get to the vehicle.
Priced at $1.99 on the Play Store, Valet Parking has a final trick up its sleeve. If your car supports Bluetooth audio or phone connectivity, the app will know when the connection between the system and your phone has been lost and mark the location of the car without the need to do anything.
Clueful Privacy AdvisorSince your smartphone holds sensitive information such as your contacts, messages, bank and personal info, as well as location data, intrusive apps can get hold of it and misuse it. Clueful Privacy Advisor comes to the rescue by analyzing each app and how it intrudes your privacy.
Once the app is started it scans all of the apps and their required permissions. Then, Clueful Privacy Advisor chunks up a total "Privacy score" and allows you to see which app does what with your sensitive information. The app is very useful if you have the habit of installing apps without reading too much into their requested permissions.
Simple ADB Backup 2.0Ever wanted to fully backup your Android smartphone, but all apps require you to root your device first? Simple ADB Backup is here to fix this, giving you a simple yet beautiful interface that gives you access to Android's native backup function. As a result, you don't need to get your phone rooted, as some other apps would require you to.
However, the app works only with Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and up, since the native backup function of the OS has been introduced with this version. To start the backup procedure, you need to install both the .APK and desktop app (depending on your OS) from the developer's website. Then, it's a matter of firing the desktop application and choosing what you wish to do.
eBook reading apps
Smartphones and tablets aren't the best of devices for enjoying eBooks on the go, but if you insist on doing your reading this way, at least you can count on some pretty decent software backup.
FabrikFabrik might come off as just another eBook reading app, but it isn't. What makes it different is that it uses the Dropbox cloud storage service to sync your reading progress across multiple devices. This way you may start reading on your tablet and continue later on from your phone without having to manually find the page you were on.
Other than that, Fabrik offers the standard eBook reading app features such as font size, type, line spacing and screen brightness adjustment including a special night mode. The app also automatically finds book covers, if they are missing.
Currently, the app supports txt, epub, mobi and prc book formats with more coming soon.
Moon+ ReaderMoon+ Reader is yet another very popular eBook reading app with great format support including epub, pdf, mobi, chm, cbr, cbz, umd, fb2, txt, html, rar, zip and OPDS. You can navigate pages using the volume rocker, the screen or you can configure any hardware key you'd want to do the job.
A really neat feature is the auto-scroll mode, allowing you to just kick back, relax and enjoy the book you're reading. In addition, the page turning effect is user configurable; you can set the speed, color and transparency of the effect. There are also five page flipping animations to choose from.
Amazon KindleIf you're an Amazon customer and have already purchased some eBooks from there, then the Kindle app for Android is a must. With a built-in dictionary allowing for quick word look-up, the Kindle app also allows you to sample the books before purchasing them.
However, just like Fabrik, Kindle's killer feature is the ability to sync books between devices, in addition to syncing your progress within a book. The list of features continues with page bookmarks, notes and text highlights.
Google BooksGoogle Books is the next logical step in the search engine's plan of selling books online. In the usual company fashion, the e-book reading app features a clean and minimal design. All your books are arranged in a 3D carousel and look really fancy.
Reading itself is pleasant, too. The transition effect for page scrolling is smooth and eye-pleasing and you can easily fast-forward through pages via a simple scroll at the bottom of the screen.
At some point in time, you'll need to move files around in your Android smartphone, and unfortunately, not all droids have a built-in file manager to get the job done. Even if they do, however, there are better apps in the Play Store to handle the task at hand.
ASTRO File managerASTRO File Manager is one of the most popular file browsers out there with some really cool features and tools under its belt. You can browse and organize all sorts of files including pictures, music, videos or documents.
Swiping to the left of the app unveils a panel, which gives you access to the different storages attached to your phone (such as SD card, external HDD, etc) as well as to available network locations.
ASTRO has great built-in support for cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive making the upload of files to the cloud while on the go a piece of cake.
Solid ExplorerSolid Explorer features a unique two-panel user interface, which allows for some cool interactions. You can long-tap to select a folder, slide it to the right to reveal the second panel and drop it at its new location.
This file explorer app boasts great support for cloud storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive, etc. You can copy and paste file from the cloud to your phone and vice versa. It's visually appealing, too, with a holo-themed design.
You can also browse locations from your home or office network, making it possible to transfer and access files from shared folders on multiple computers.
In this article alone, we have given you a lot of app recommendations and you've probably already installed most of them for a test run. Who knows have many more you've installed in your own quest for finding the perfect apps for your needs.
As a result, the last thing you'd want to happen is for you to lose it all and have to start the search all over. Granted, the Play Store keeps a history of all the apps you've ever installed, but you'd have to go and install them one by one. That's tedious and frankly, not necessary.
The smarter way is to have a backup tool that creates a large restore point for your Android smartphone, in case things go awry. Here are some of our favorite utilities designed to keep your sanity in check when disaster strikes.
Custom RecoveryOne of the way to perform a backup of your entire smartphone is entering into the so called Custom Recovery mode. This is a special mode, where you can perform administrative operations to your smartphone.
Each smartphone has a different way of entering custom recovery mode and it's usually by pressing a combination of buttons on your device. On the Samsung Galaxy Nexus, for example, press the volume up and volume down keys at the same time and then (while holding them) press and hold the power on/off button. After a few seconds you'll be prompted to select to enter custom recovery mode. Once there, you can perform special operations.
One of them is installing custom ROMs, performing a factory reset and wiping all your data, deleting cache and mounting additional storage. Entering this mode also allows you to perform full "nandroid" backup of the device.
A Nandroid backup saves not only all of your files and apps, but also all of the system files and apps. This way you have a full system image, which you can restore at any point in time. It is a good practice to perform a full nandroid backup after you've set up your smartphone and installed the all of the apps you wanted.
If entering into custom recovery mode doesn't sound like your cup of tea, there's a simple, yet very useful app called ONLINE NANDROID. It performs the elaborate Nandroid backup method without the need of entering into custom recovery mode with just a tap on a button.
Keep in mind, though, that the app requires your smartphone to be rooted and have the BusyBox app installed as well. The app also shows you all of your previous backup files, but unfortunately it can't perform full restores. This could be done only in the custom recovery mode.
Titanium BackupUndoubtedly, that's one of the best apps for backing up your apps and all their private data. You can either manually select which apps should be backed up or just have them all saved to a predefined location (SD card or phone memory).
The app, however, requires your device to be rooted, so keep that in mind before installing it.
The paid version of the app has the cool feature of creating a .zip file with all of the installed apps and their data for quick restoring. However, you can manually select specific apps which you want to be backed up instead of waiting for your whole app library.
Remote Control PC
Unified remoteUnified remote is a tremendously useful app for controlling your PC via your home Wi-Fi, provided they are both connected to the same network. The app is essentially a list of separate remote controls for different programs on your Windows desktop PC combined in one (Linux and Mac OSX versions are in development).
In order to make the connection, the app requires you to install a "server" program on your Windows PC, with which the Android app establishes connection. Once connected you can choose from basic touch or keyboard input to app-specific remote controls such as Chrome, Windows Media Player, Winamp, Power Point and much more.
The full version of the app comes with even more remote controls, and is really worth the money (currently $3.99) if you don't like getting up from your couch to just adjust the volume of the movie you're watching.
TeamViewerTaking remote control of your PC one step further, Team Viewer allows you to access your PC wherever you are as if you're in front of it.
Free for private use, the app requires you to install its desktop version (Windows, Mac OS, Linux are supported) before establishing a connection. Each session benefits 256 bit AES encoding, so you could be sure no one is sniffing what you're doing with your PC.
The app supports file transfers, scroll wheel and zoom (using gestures) as well as the standard left and right clicks. You can remotely reboot or maintenance your PC or that of a relative. You can also set up access to multiple computers.
Overall, TeamViewer is a must have for anybody who wants to have full control of their PC wherever they are.
Remote Phone AccessWe discussed how to use your Android to access your computer, but how about the other way around? For those wanting to fiddle with their Android smartphone via their PC there isn't a second app that does the job as flawlessly as AirDroid.
All you need to do is have your Android smartphone connect to the same network as your desktop computer via Wi-Fi. That's all the preparation you'll need to do. Launch the app and follow the straightforward onscreen instructions.
Once in, the app generates an almost desktop-like view of your Android phone with its main apps listed as icons and handy information such as available storage and battery indicator sitting comfortably on the top right screen.
You can do pretty much everything from here - playing music, moving files around or even sending SMS and managing contacts.
Ultimate Custom Widget (UCCW)If you've been searching the Play Store for the perfect clock widget, but not even one has caught your eye, then look no further than Ultimate Custom Widget. The app allows you to create your own widgets from the ground up giving you virtually limitless possibilities.
You can control the components of the widgets including weather, clock, date and much more. Colors, sizes and fonts are also user-configurable. There are many presets you can start fiddling with in the quest of creating the clock widget that right for you.
The app is free and at first might seem a bit confusing but in just a couple of minutes you'll be able to create some truly unique widgets. UCCW is definitely the app for creating custom widgets for your droid.
So far we've covered installing useful apps and getting to know your Android smartphone a bit better.
However, your Android smartphone is capable of much greater deeds. To unlock them you need to get a bit technical with your device and perform a process called Rooting.
Rooting is a term used in the Android world to denote getting full permissions for your device. In its out-of-the-box state, your droid doesn't give you access to system files, file permissions and core settings and low-level access to the smartphone's hardware. A rooted phone changes that and gives its and all user-installed apps access to run privileged commands.
The process of rooting is different for each and every device. There are many tools out there created by Android devs, but they are rarely two of the same kind. Some tools are so easy to use, that in fact, all you need to do is click a single button to get the job done.
The question is should you go the way of the rooting or it's not really worth the sacrifice.
YayFor starters, you'll be able to control every single aspect of your phone's hardware. This means can install various mods, such as ones to control your LED status light and make it glow in more colors for various notifications. You can also overclock the CPU and squeeze more performance out of it.
You'll be able to perform full backups of your device, including files, apps, their settings and the whole ROM. In case things go south, you'll be able to perform a full restore of your device as if nothing ever happened.
Speaking of ROMS, you'll be able to install newer versions of Android and try out some of the community-developed custom ROMs which are chock-full with features and extras, that would otherwise be unavailable to you.
Some carriers restrict the tethering abilities of your smartphone or demand additional fees for it. With a rooted device, a third-party tethering app can bypass this protection and allow you to use your droid as a portable router.
Adjusting the color balance, modding your battery icon (without changing your stock ROM) are also possible on some devices.
NayAs we mentioned the process of rooting a phone isn't the same for every device. It's also risky at times, meaning you can "brick" your phone, requiring you to return it for maintenance.
Also, rooting voids the manufacturer's warranty. There are ways to un-root your device if it needs to be sent for maintenance unrelated to the rooting (eg. Hardware problem). Still, that's a risk you'd be willing to take, in case you decide to root it.
Finally, less popular smartphones don't have a particularly large base of devs working for them, so there are less mods to apply after your root.
If you decide to go the dark ways of the rooting, we suggest you start from the section dedicated to your smartphone in the XDA-developers forum.
Stolen or Lost phone
We've all had something stolen or lost in our lives and the feeling isn't particularly great. Hopefully, you wouldn't have to ever face this kind of situation with your shiny new Android phone, but this hope shouldn't keep you from getting yourself insured.
Here are some top-notch apps to help you find your lost or stolen Android smartphone.
CerberusCerberus is one of our favorite apps in this category. The name of the app alone should give you a hint that it's not messing around and is taking the job of protecting your phone against theft very seriously.
Before going further, we should make it clear that the app is paid and asks for €2.99. In exchange, you get to install Cerberus on 5 different devices with one account. Naturally, Cerberus comes with a 7-day free trial to convince you it's worth the money.
Once you've registered online for an account you get into your control panel where all your devices with Cerberus installed are listed. Picking a device from the dropdown menu unveils a set of options. You can start tracking the device, remotely wipe it or even take a photo using the front facing camera to see who's using your phone and report it to the authorities.
In case your phone is rooted, Cerberus features a complete uninstall protection. This means that the app is irremovable and can be deleted only by flashing another ROM.
PreyThe Prey Project has been in development for quite some time now and as a result supports desktop platforms like Windows, Mac OS and Linux in addition to Android and iOS. After you've installed the app it generates and sends reports to your email address containing the status of the device, list of running programs, screenshot of the desktop detailed network report and, of course, a picture taken with the front-facing camera.
The app is open source and absolutely free for up to three devices; however there are paid options available if you have more devices to protect, starting at $5/month, which is a bit pricey in our opinion.
GotYaTaking a simpler approach to protecting your device, GotYa relies on the Pattern security feature of your Android phone. If the Pattern is entered incorrectly, the app kicks in and silently takes a photo using the front-facing camera of your device to see who's trying to break in.
After the picture is taken, the app acquires the location of the smartphone and puts it on a Google Maps page. All of the information is then sent to you via email.
GotYa costs $1.99 and has received positive feedback with many success stories behind its back, so its definitely worth checking out.
What a journey it has been! And we've barely scratched the surface. Android has grown rapidly in the last couple of years to offer a vast range of apps, services and opportunities.
The apps we've highlighted will hopefully get you started with the ecosystem, but also encourage you to explore even deeper and discover all the exciting things your Android smartphone is capable of.
The Play Store is a wonderful place to be once you learn to sift through the inevitable drivel. There are absolute must-haves and little gemstones of an app. Of course, Android is pretty powerful right out of the box, but there's more than enough ways to make it yours and make it count.