10 must have FREE Android apps (part 1)

My recent switch from iOS to Android has given me the chance to discover some fantastic new free apps.

Of course there are staple apps like Dropbox, Skype, etc. that everyone knows about already, but this post is NOT about these. Rather, I would like to present relatively unknown but terrific must-have programs for your Android.

This week’s theme: staples that everyone should have. (1) MoboPlayer, (2) AirDroid, (3) TouchPal Keyboard, (4) Gesture Search, (5) Dolphin Browser, (6) MoboLauncher, (7) Any.Do, (8) Pocket, (9) InstaMusic, (10) Viber, and a bonus entry, (11) Weather Underground.


1. MoboPlayer: play any video file format without conversion

MobiPlayer Screenshot

Forget about having to to convert video files into special formats for viewing on your Android; MoboPlayer lets you play any video file that you may have straight, including MKV, without having to re-encode and/or convert. It also plays subtitle files in popular formats. Note: some devices (such as my Galaxy Note) already have a player that can do this, so you might want to check that out beforehand (although personally I do prefer MoboPlayer anyway).


2. AirDroid: move files to and from your Android wirelessly

… and control pretty much every aspect of your device from your desktop.

AirDroid-Screen-5

There are a number of these free apps out there. This may be the best of the bunch, and is certainly the most ambitious in scope.


TouchPal Screenshot

3. TouchPal Keyboard: amazing sliding gesture keyboard

TouchPal is similar to Swype, a keyboard that offers the sliding gesture based input alongside the ‘normal’ keyboard experience. And while Swype is available as an option on some phone brands (such as Samsung and others). If your phone does not come with Swype, or if you would like to try an alternative to Swype that may be even better (and has a built in voice recognition option to boot), then by all means check out TouchPal. (Note: I am in the latter category of users). If you don’t know what ‘sliding’ means, then I recommend you check it out for yourself. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


4. Gesture Search: find contacts and apps by drawing letters

Gesture Search Screenshot2Gesture Search Screenshot
Find contacts, apps, and everything else quickly by ‘drawing’ the first letter or two or three of whatever you are looking for, on screen, ‘Graffiti’ style. This is one of those apps that, until you actually try it, you would not believe how well it works.


5. Dolphin Browser: nifty web browser with add-on support.

Dolphin Screenshot 1Dolphin Screenshot 2 - addons
A stylish browser for Android that claims to be the world’s fastest mobile web browser, and offers some nice features such as voice search, gesture controls, and tabbed browsing. But what puts this one over the edge and wins it a spot on this list is it’s support for add-ons; which are some of the very same free add-on’s that you have on your PC, such as Lastpass, Xmarks (both free) to name but two out of 60+ on offer.


Mobo Launcher Screenshot

6. MoboLauncher: a stylish, functional launcher

One of the things I like most about Android is the ability to install a custom launcher that can transform your experience on your device, so are not ‘locked in’ to the default interface. I tried dozens of free launchers, and MoboLauncher is the one I like best, at least for now. Specifically, I like the ability to categorize apps into functional categories, rather than simply have my icons strewn about the screen.


Any.Do Screenshot7. Any.Do: task management app that combines form, function, and Google Tasks integration

If you have a smartphone then you have to have a task management app. Any.Do keeps it simple, and keeps it stylish, while somehow being a very sophisticated task management app. It Create lists, drag and drop tasks, and set up alarms. Any.Do has both Chrome and iPhone versions and well let you you manage not just your tasks but those of others such your colleagues or coworkers as well. It optionally connects to Google Tasks/Google Calendar as well.


8. Pocket: save web articles for offline reading on your Android

Pocket Screenshot1 - Desktop versionPocket Screenshot Android

While it sometimes seems that a similar app is introduced every day, take it from me that Pocket is the best. Since it’s earlier incarnation (where it was called ‘Read it Later’) Pocket has made strides, adding tags, filtering, and even the option to publish you own custom RSS feeds. But the reason I like it is that it downloads articles on your device for offline reading. It does this silently, in the background, and provides the option to only do so when connected to WIFI (so that it does not consume your expensive data plan bandwidth if that is a concern).


9. InstaMusic: simple, stylish music player

InstaMusic Screenshot2InstaMusic Screenshot1

Everyone needs a good music player. I recommend InstaMusic because, like many of the apps in this article, it is stylish (nay beautiful) and simple! Amazingly, the developer chose to confine displayed ads into the settings pages rather than risk compromising the stylishness of the the main program interface (Kudos to him!).


10. Viber: make free calls and texts

All you need is Viber, an internet connection, and Viber installed on the phone of the person you would like to call, in order to make absolutely free hone calls and texts. What I like about Viber is (1) the fact that it piggybacks on your and your contacts actual cell phone numbers, in order to identify them, (2) it is ad free, and (3) it will automatically find and identify everyone on your contacts list that uses Viber. For free SMS and calls (including long distance or international calls), Viber is a must


Weather-Underground-Android-Screenshot(Bonus)

11. Weather Underground: put the temperature into the notification tray

While a weather app might seem a strange selection for a must-have apps list, I like this one for a single reason: it can display the temperature (in Celsius or Fahrenheit) permanently in the Android notification tray, which a lot of people might appreciate. Oh, it also can display weather maps and the like.


Notes: many screenshots in this article are larger than most typical screenshots, because they were taken on a Samsung Galaxy Note, which has a larger screen. Thanks go to reader Panzer for telling us about a few of the apps mentioned above.


 
 
 
Samer Kurdi

Samer Kurdi

Has been reviewing software since 2006 when he started Freewaregenius.com
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  • LT

    Thanks. I read all your post and i appreciate what you do. keep it coming. :)

  • suja ram

    Juice defender for battery saving and lookout antivirus are very popular.
    ( Do they serve any purpose, I am not sure.)

    Kingsoft office (for editable docs), easy uninstaller, file locker and color notes are also worth mentioning.

  • chris

    I will take a look at Airdroid. So far I have been using MyPhoneExplorer, which is great for controlling your device, running backups and syncing contacts, calendar etc. Definitely worth a mention in an article like this http://www.fjsoft.at/en/

  • http://techgeekandmore.com Alex

    I will 2nd the MyPhoneExplorer selection…..its a must have for Android users (I think)

  • http://carbonize.co.uk Carbonize

    Prefer MX Player myself for video. As to MoboLauncher a lot of the reviewers say it’s just a poor copy of https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.nd.android.smarthome but I use Go Player on GB and Apex on ICS. Do love Air Droid.

    As to Dolphin have a look at the beta version of their new engine – http://forum.xda-developers.com/showthread.php?t=1720354
    Just remember it’s beta and is still a little fickle.

    And my own favourites? Swiftkey X keyboard, Android Lost and Handcent.

  • Andrew

    Aldiko- to import PDF and get free books from Project Gutenberg. Call Control- to block unwanted calls. CamScanner- to turn your phone into a document scanner. Crackle- to legally watch a lot of free movies. Dropbox – to upload files and photos to the cloud automatically. Flashlight – to make your Android a very useful light. GoLauncher- to get the best and most customizable launcher. GoLocker – replace the default phone lock with really cool ones. IMDB if you like to look up things about movies. My Fitness Pal to easily track calories and exercise. Navy Clock to sync your phone clock to the National Naval Clock (official time). Shazam to identify a song. Tiny Shark for a portable version of Groveshark. Don’t forget other essentials like Goggle Translate, Google Maps, Google Voice and Adobe Air.

  • Samer

    Thanks guys for some great tips! I will look at all of the apps you mentioned when writing ‘part2′.

  • Raj

    Hi Samer,

    Great list of apps- I tried anydo, touchpal and gesture search and I love them. I had lots of problems installing swype before and was missing the swipe keyboard. Touchpal is good if not better than swype and it is free. Also love the elegant interface of anydo.

    May I recommend Winamp – I have used the desktop version since 10 years now and the android app is among my favorite ones.

  • http://www.rchsd.org Tom Williams

    I shout out a third vote for MyPhoneExplorer to be in the second round of review.

    I searched high and low for a viable free tool that could Sync my Calendar, Email, Contacts, Photo’s and Video’s and MyPhoneExplorer was the only tool that I found that is actively developed and met all of the needs that I had.

    Hip-Hip-Hooray for MyPhoneExplorer.

    If there is a better alternative, I’d like to hear about that.
    You could very easily do an entire article on phone syncing with Outlook.

    Kind Regards,

    Tom

  • Siddharth

    Hi, nice list of apps, however, I would also like to add Mobitexter, which allows you to send (as well as sync) SMS from your computer, via your Andriod phone. Because of the sync thing, the messages can also be accessed from within the web browser, and can be send directly from the browser, without even requiring to touch the phone.

  • A.J.

    I’ve enjoyed the apps I’ve installed through your recommendations — AirDroid, TouchPal, MoboLauncher — here with one exception, so far: InstaMusic. It’s buggy, crashes constantly, and is incredibly unresponsive. I’ll have to check out Winamp that Raj mentioned to see if it’s better, because the basic music player that came with my droid phone is awful.

  • Viber

    Hi,
    This is a member of the Viber Development Team! :)

    Thanks for putting Viber on your list. We are very happy to see that so many people worldwide are interested in our application.

    If you have any question about Viber – please feel free to ask.

    Thank you,
    Viber Team

  • http://dishtvguide.webs.com/ Rita Dawson

    Viber is an awesome app and its features are really cool. “it will automatically find and identify everyone on your contacts list that uses Viber.” – this is something really interesting about Viber. Gesture Search is something that I love. I use this app not only for searching contacts and apps, but also for playing. Its very cool app indeed.

  • http://carbonize.co.uk Carbonize

    @Rita – So you are happy for an app to not only access your contacts list but then send a copy of that list to their servers?

  • http://roadha.us haliphax

    For a launcher, I use Zeam. For videos, I use RockPlayer. Aside from that, these are some fantastic suggestions! I’m now using WeatherUnderground, and loving it (although it takes forever to load occasionally).

  • http://carbonize.co.uk Carbonize

    For a launcher I use Apex
    For videos I just use the built in video player on my S3

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