This is the third installment of our “Must Have Free Android Apps” series, in which we list some of the best FREE Android apps that everyone should know about.
While we previously listed staples which most users will need (e.g. an excellent media player, to-do app, file manager, offline reader, contact manager, etc.) – the selection this time around is a little bit more esoteric and serious, and sometimes controversial.
The list this time around:(1) Nova Launcher, (2) MagicLocker, (3) Applock, (4) Truecaller, (5) Adblock Plus, (6) Prey, (7) 1 Tap Quick Bar, (8) MyPics, (9) CamScanner, and (10) Appremover. Note that these apps are mostly add-free or the ads are unobtrusive and do not affect the overall user experience.
1. Nova Launcher: one of the absolute best free Android Launchers
We love the fact that you could install a launcher and completely customize your Android interface, and we really like this launcher for many reasons: e.g. the ability to resize ANY widget at will, the ability to set the number of rows and columns, in order to choose just how many icons you want per screen (compare the two screenshot above), the ability to uninstall apps right from the launcher screen, the fact that it is zippy fast, and many other reasons (which you can read about in detail in our full review of Nova Launcher).
2. MagicLocker: provides a gallery of stylish, free lock screens
Aside from customizing how you access your Android device in stylish new ways, lock screens have the added utility of sending you to right into where you want to be (e.g. straight to the camera, email, phone, messaging, or home screen, depending on the lock screen you install).
What I like about MagicLocker is the range of nice FREE lock screens on offer, and the fact that it manages the relationship between itself and your launcher of choice well, without some of the issues that I’ve encountered with other similar apps such as Golocker (e.g. conflicts where the Android default lock screen pops up after the new lock screen). I also like that MagicLocker doesn’t have a launcher of its own that it tries to push on you, and that once you’ve got your lock screen of choice up and running you never have to see the ads that are displayed in the settings).
3. Applock: password protect individual apps, internet access, as well as app installs and uninstalls
A very nice, ad-free app that lets you prevent access to individual apps if you like, or globally prevent app installation and uninstallation, as well as prevent the ability to answer incoming phone calls without a password.
This app isn’t for everyone, but if you have children for example that slink away with your phone and install games and whatnot, you will find it very useful ;).
4. Truecaller: identifies unknown numbers in real time
This is a controversial app, but nonetheless one that has found a permanent place on my phone (what can I say, I live on the edge). Truecaller displays unknown incoming phone numbers by (a) looking up public directories in real time, and (b) by crowdsourcing the app’s own user community, mining the telephone numbers on their machines.
Naturally, many people have objected to the latter (you are in effect sharing your friends’ names with the Truecaller community); however, you don’t have to opt in. The app by default is not opt in for searching your contacts, although you are served the contact info of others who have opted in even if you don’t opt in yourself. For more discussion of this issue, see our full review of Truecaller.
Truecaller works better in some countries than others; in India, for example, there does not seem to be reliable public directories and the app will not be useful. If you try it and find that it isn’t providing usefl info then simply remove it.
5. Adblock Plus: prevents in-app ads from showing
This one is great, but controversial. It is great because it doesn’t require a rooted Android device to install, because you simply set it and forget it, and because it works terrifically on WIFI (where it pretty much will block the vast majority of in-app ads and ads in browsers), although most ads on 3G and mobile connections aren’t blocked effectively.
It is controversial because by blocking in app-ads you are violating the implicit (or maybe explicit) agreement between you and the content creator, where you get to use the software without payment and they show you some ads.
As a software reviewer I probably won’t be using it myself, but it definitely warrants being in a list of ‘must have free Android apps’ in my opinion. For a larger discussion of this app and how it works, see out full review of Adblock Plus.
6. Prey: Android anti-theft that you may one day be grateful for
What happens if you can’t locate your phone? If you have prey installed, you could log into the Prey website and remotely lock your phone (completely preventing access), and see your device’s location on a Google map. You could have your device emanate a loud alarm sound, which could instantly reveal if, for example, it had simply slipped inside the couch at Starbucks. Impressively, it can even counteract attempts to change the phone’s SIM, although I did not try that myself.
You could activate or deactivate Prey’s phone lockdown by using the website or by sending SMS messages, or via the web interface, which is very user friendly (see screenshot above right.) The free version of Prey is fully functional and quite adequate. The paid version has more features which frankly don’t seem necessary for an ordinary user.
7. 1 Tap Quickbar: add frequently used tasks into the notification bar and on-screen ‘quickbar’ widgets
Allows you to create widgets called ‘quickbars’ (see screenshots above right) and place all sorts of icons and common tasks in them, including: apps, contacts, shortcuts, and controls to change various settings such as sound, WIFI, and the mobile data connection, etc.
But the one special thing about this is that you can put a quickbar in the Android notification bar itself (see screenshot above left), which is a great little tweak if you want to add very frequently used icons there for quick access. The free version is restricted to only one such quickbar in the notification area, but honestly that’s about all you need to put there anyway before it becomes rather too much clutter. Definitely a fantastic app.
8. MyPics: a super fast picture viewer and organizer that connects to Facebook, Flickr, Picasa, etc.
MyPics is a very fast-performing image gallery that scans and displays your images quickly. But it has two more things to recommend it: (1) it does an excellent job letting you manage your images in batch (i.e. filtering, deleting, moving, etc), and (2) it can connect to web services such as Facebook and Picasa and download/display image galleries from there right on your phone.
The fast image handling alone is worth installing this one. Although note that it may not quite handle panoramic images very well, but I hope this is corrected in a future update. It also can compile a ‘live wallpaper’ out of chosen images, where your images would float around in the background wallpaper of your phone (pretty cool).
Update: it looks like MyPics may have been removed from the Google Play store. Try QuickPic instead.
9. CamScanner: use your phone camera to scan document
This one came highly recommended by two friends of mine who used it, but only when I needed to sign and email a scanned document in a pinch did I realize what a remarkably excellent app it was.
The concept is super simple: use CamScanner to take a picture of a document, then let it auto-crop to the angles of the resulting picture, auto enhance the image (i.e. apply a filter that will remove most blemishes and artifacts to produce a very convincing ‘scanned’ document). It can also export to PDF. Works remarkably well.
CamScanner is ad-supported, but it shouldn’t matter that much since its not the kind of app that you will be using constantly. If it is or it will be then I suggest you buy the full ad-free version.
10. Appremover: sorts, filters, and uninstalls apps in batch
I looked for a long time and this one is the only one of it’s kind that I could find. Sure, there are many uninstall apps out there that let you check all of the apps you want to remove and then serially uninstall them in batch. Appremover is different, however, in a very small yet important detail: it is the only one I know of that will let you SORT (and/or filter) your apps list first.
For example, the screenshot above left shows the apps ranked by date of install, so that the apps that were last installed or updated are shown on top. The screenshot above right, on the other hand, shows apps filtered by size, for those who are looking to remove apps that take a lot of space on the device, etc. Simple, but must have.
Appremover is ad-supported, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue since it’s the kind of app you would use every once in a while anyway, rather than on a daily basis.
Thanks go to reader Panzer for recommending some of the apps above. Also thanks to Alaa K for testing some apps and providing screenshots for them.
Want more must have apps? Check out PART 1 and PART 2 of this series of posts. If you think there is a must have Android app which we should know about, please let us know in the comments section below.