Many apps in the Google Play store are free, but if you limit yourself to free apps you're missing out on some of the best that Android has to offer. Here are five apps that I bought myself and can personally recommend. Prices vary over time and by country, but none of them are currently over $4.
9GAG+ by Jan Grewe
9gag is a quirky, amusing, and often rude web site that will have you in stitches in no time. While there are, um, a "gaggle" of apps that can be used to browse the site, this is the best one I've found. Navigation is amazingly quick, and stays out of your way. Simply touch the left or right side of the screen, or use the volume up or down controls to go to the next or previous page. The gags are zoomed automatically to fill your whole screen whether you are in portrait or landscape mode.
If I have any complaint about the app, it's that sharing gags with your friends is not as easy as it could be. A free version with a few less features is available, but it's worth buying the paid one once you get hooked. Keep in mind that not all the gags are safe for work. Challenge accepted.
Asteroid Defense 2 by Deonn Games
It's Asteroids meets Tower Defense in this brilliantly executed arcade game. You start off small, but quickly build a large space station to fend off the rocky attack. Different units provide shields, power generation, maintence bots, and a wide variety of weapons. Here's a hint: try to build a V shape to trap and destroy the asteroids before they make it through your front line. Watch out for space dragons!
Jelly Defense by Infinite Dreams
If you like Tower Defense games, Jelly Defense is a must buy. Even if you don't like TD's, you will after you try this one. Jelly monsters are trying to steal your crystals, so what do you do? Build Jelly blasters and bombers zappers to keep them at bay. But watch out, because at the end of each level, a Jelly boss lumbers out on the screen. He's so cute you almost hate to put him down. Almost.
The graphics on this game are stunning, especially on a high saturation display like a Samsung Galaxy Tab. And do yourself a favor - plug in your headphones to enjoy the music and hilarious sound effects. Best played on a big screen, but works on any modern device.
Bubble Pro Live Wallpaper by Xllusion
Do you like playing with bubbles? Sure you do. With this live wallpaper you can pop all the bubbles you want without having to worry about spilling the soap. Bubbles form at the bottom of your screen and slowly float to the top, where they pop against the edge of your display. If you tilt the screen left or right, the bubbles will start going in that direction. The program is highly customizable, and even has a game mode where you can pop bubbles for points. You might want to turn your sound down for that one, though. A Lite version is available, but it's worth a few coins just to get the Ninja Droid and Bat Droid bubbles.
SystemPanel by NextApp
SystemPanel is so much more than a task manager. It gives you access to a wealth of information about your Android device and its inner workings. Need to monitor CPU and battery usage over time? SystemPanel does that. Curious about how many of your cores are being used, what clock rate they are running, and how hot they are? SystemPanel does that. It also can keep backup copies of all versions of your apps so you can go back to older versions, without requiring root access.
This is one of the most impressive Android apps I have ever seen. I use it almost every day, and it's the first app that I install whenever I get a new phone or tablet. You can try out all the features in a Lite version before you buy if you like, but for developers and power users, SystemPanel is an absolute must have.
Did I leave out your favorite app? Let me know in the comments below.