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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
7. 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
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
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
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.