Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

Summary: To help you sort through the deluge of apps, here's a list of 20 tried-and-true Android smartphone apps that are worth your time to download.

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The Android Market may not have as many apps as the iPhone App Store yet, but there are still more than enough to be overwhelmed, and it continues to grow at a breakneck pace. To help you sort through them all, here is my latest list of the 20 most useful Android apps (this is an update of my 2010 Android list). I've also recently updated my list of the most useful iPhone apps and you'll notice several of the same apps on both lists.

Remember that I primarily had business professionals in mind when making this list and also keep in mind that this is a snapshot in time. The Android platform is developing so quickly that I guarantee my home screen will look different a month from now.

Still, here's my list of tried-and-true Android apps that I can highly recommend.

1. Google Voice

Google Voice is a service that is so useful I consider it one of the top benefits of Android itself. The service gives you a phone number that can ring to multiple places or devices and it allows you to access all of your voicemail and text messages from the Web. The Android app integrates even deeper. It can make outgoing calls look like they're coming from your Google Voice number so that you can keep your real mobile number private.

2. Advanced Task Killer

One of the realities of having a multitasking mobile OS is that you have to manage your apps so that they don't hurt performance or battery life. Advanced Task Killer (ATK) is my favorite on Android. It even comes with a widget that you can tap once to kill all open apps and you can also set up ATK to kill all apps at periodic intervals. Some people will argue that task managers are irrelevant and unneeded in Android, but I still prefer to use ATK.

3. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great cloud service that automatically syncs a folder of files between multiple computers (Windows, Mac, or Linux). This app extends Dropbox to Android and interacts with other apps (such as Documents To Go) to open the files. It allows you to access PDFs, image files, and business documents by simply dragging them to a folder on your computer and then you immediately have access to them from your mobile phone, once you have this app installed.

4. Evernote

Once you get used to typing on a virtual keyboard (and it honestly took me over a year to do it), then these devices are great for note-taking, and Evernote is a great note-taking app. It is similar to Dropbox in that it saves data locally but syncs it across all your machines and devices.

5. Taskos

There are plenty of to-do apps to choose from on Android but I now prefer Taskos because of the clean, easy, Android-friendly user experience. It also has a few extras that give it an advantage over apps. The biggest one is voice recognition, which lets you speak a task that the app turns into a to-do item (you might have to correct a word or two).

6. DroidAnalytics

For some reason Google doesn't have an official app for Google Analytics (for either Android or iPhone). The best one I've found on Android is DroidAnalytics. Another good one is mAnalytics.

7. Documents To Go

The free version of Documents To Go offers a great little reader for Microsof Word and Excel files. You can upgrade to the full version (for $15) if you want to be able to create and edit files and add PowerPoint files to the mix. If you do want editing capability, I'd also recommend taking a look at QuickOffice.

8. Google Docs

If you mostly work with Google Docs (including uploading Microsoft Office files to your Google Docs repository) then the only app you'll really need is the Google Docs app. It's a nice mobile implementation of document management, although the one annoyance is that always open up files in a web browser rather than within the app itself, which would be a little smoother.

9. Tripit

I dig Tripit. It is by far the best app I've found for keeping track of all my travel itineraries. It runs on some great backend systems. You simply forward your confirmation emails for your flights, hotels, rental cars, and more to Tripit and it automatically organizes them into trips with all your details and confirmation numbers. Or, if you use Gmail, you can even use a plugin to automatically catch confirmation emails and turn them into Tripit trips.

10. Places

This is an awesome app for finding shops and services near your current location. From restaurants to medical facilities to taxis, this app is very accurate and takes advantage of the business information from Google Local. This app is better than the info you get from a GPS unit (or app) and better than any of the similar apps available on the iPhone. It's also integrated into Google Maps.

(Continued on page 2; read the rest of the top 20)

11. Astro File Manager

Another one of the great things about Android (if you're a geek or a tinkerer) is that you have lower-level access to the system itself. Astro is an app that lets you navigate the Android file system, which is mostly just interesting, but can be handy once in a while.

12. Speed Test

I'm obsessed with running speed tests to check my bandwidth in various places, both to see 3G/4G fluctuations and to check the quality of Wi-Fi. There are a number of really good speed test apps, but my favorite is the Speedtest.net app. It's generally consistent and it has some of the best graphics and options.

13. Amazon Kindle

I've never completely warmed up to the Amazon Kindle e-reader, but I'm a big fan of the Kindle mobile app. Since it was released I've read a lot more books simply because my smartphone is always with me and I can pull it out and read a few pages anytime I've got a couple minutes free.

14. Google+

I've written a lot about Google+ since it launched in July and I'm pretty active over there (+Jason Hiner). One of the great things that Google did was to release a Google+ Android app at the same time it launched the service as a beta. And, surprisingly, the app was actually pretty good and has been improved since. It immediately became one of my most used mobile apps and definitely stole some of my time away from Android's Twitter app, mostly because Google+ is a little more interactive.

15. TED Air

The TED conference features a meeting of the minds of some of society's most influential thinkers. You'll disagree with some of them since there's a large diversity of viewpoints, but many talks are worth listening to in order to catch the latest creative thinking on society's biggest challenges. The cool thing is that they've taken the videos from the conference and made them freely available on the Web. The TED Air app provides a great way to access the videos on a mobile device. I hope more conferences follow TED's lead on this.

16. Google Goggles

This is a fun app that is a little bit ahead of its time. It does visual searches. You can take pictures of things and then the app tries to tell you what they are. It's limited in its scope but it is pretty cool, and it's definitely a peek into the future. One of the coolest features is the ability to take pictures of text in a foreign language and let the app translate it for you. In a foreign country, this can help you read street signs and avoid going into the wrong bathroom. :-) On a more practical level, Goggles is a QR code reader.

17. Photoshop Express

Photoshop is, of course, the best known photo editor in the world and its mobile app doesn't do anything to hurt that reputation. But while the desktop version is known for having a zillion features, the mobile app is distinguished by its simplicity. It's the best Android (and iPhone) photo editing app for simple crops, brightness adjustments, and sharpens, for example.

18. Audible

As much as I like the Kindle ebooks, I actually consume more books as audiobooks via Audible. With the Audible app you can connect to your Audible library and download over the air. The app also gives you a self-contained player optimized for audiobooks, with a skip-back-30-seconds button and the opportunity to make notes and bookmarks (although I wish the app would store these online so that they could be accessed from the Audible site).

19. Shazam

If you want to impress your friends with a mobile app, show them Shazam. Ever hear a song being played at a store or on the radio and ask yourself, "Oh, what song is that?" That's where Shazam comes in. Just hit the button and let it listen for 15 seconds, query its database, and then return the name of artist and the song. It has about an 80% success rate. This one isn't particularly productive, but it is really cool. (You have to live a little, every once in a while.)

20. Google Finance

This is a great little app that regularly gets overlooked. It connects to your Google Finance account, where you can set up a list of stocks and companies to follow and sort them into groups (portfolios). The app provides three simple tabs -- a look at the market, a look at your portfolios, and the latest market news. It even does real-time updates when you have the app open.

Your picks?

What are your picks for the most useful, valuable, and productive Android smartphone apps? Post them in the discussion below.

This was originally published on TechRepublic.

Topics: Hardware, Android, Apps, Google, Mobility, Smartphones, Social Enterprise

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  • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

    You left out things like Google Body but you need Honeycomb for that.

    Google Sky is another good one.

    Also, there are plenty of top notch games, 80% of all iOS games have made their way to Android.
    slickjim
  • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

    I agree with most of your choices, but task killers are bad. To many people think they are good. A task killer manually force closes applications. Doing so does free up RAM but unlike other platforms android phones will run fine even if the RAM is almost full. Android phones have a built in task killer only killing apps when the RAM is needed. When a user manually kills apps it actually hurts your battery, because some apps need to be running so they will restare automatically, and when you use an app you just killed it will restare again using more of the cpu. When the cpu is used more the battery will go down faster.<br> <br>Uninstall your task killer let your phone run dead and charge fully then watch as your battery life doubles.<br><br>The Android operating system is very smart let it do the work, task killers/battery defenders etc are bad. Its not that there unneeded they are actually worse for the phone the keep killing and restarting apps
    Spartan67
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67 Well said.
      cbstryker
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67 Agreed! Task killers seem to be the Android version of old wife's tell. Five years from now people will still be swearnig that you need to have one installed.

      They were useful at one time. But I actually noticed about a huge increase in battery life after a gingerbread update. So sorry - I will not be installing.
      lambtron__40
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67 Agreed on the task killers... but I have found Juice Defender (managing WiFi, data, and Bluetooth connections automatically) to dramatically increase my battery life (like 12 hours of heavy use in a day instead of 7).

      On the "To Do" list front, I've found "Do It Tomorrow" to be the easiest (and most functional) To Do app out there. It keeps it very simple and, from an organizational standpoint (I'm a Life Coach, so I help folks manage things like time use and goals....), Do It Tomorrow can't be beat in terms of increasing personal productivity.
      thefoff
      • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

        @thefoff It does do wonders on some phones, but it will kill the battery even faster on others. I usually don't recommend it unless someone is really desperate for battery life.
        isantop@...
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67 <br><br>Telling someone they don't need a task killer is like telling them their god is not real. The arguments are sound but in the end, it is RELIGION that wins the day.
      dewd2
      • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

        @dewd2 Well, after reading the discussion here, I'm ready to admit that there is no "god." I appreciate the in-depth explanations you've all offered.

        Maybe I'll just end up being a part-time Killer, only hitting the ATK widget on Easter and Christmas.
        CosmoAgain
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67

      I stopped reading the list of apps when I saw ATK in the top 3!
      TomDavisSr
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67 Indeed, but it's even deeper than that.

      The Linux kernel (which Android uses) automatically maintains a "Disk Cache", or section of RAM that keeps frequently accessed files handy to keep the system from accessing the storage as much. This will appear to consume "free ram", but in fact will shrink down in the event that more RAM is needed. Task Killers clear this, which hurts performance as well!

      On top of all of this, when you clear the apps from RAM, the RAM does work, thus depleting some of the battery. It's a double whammy, because those apps that need to run will then re-load into RAM, and drain more battery!
      isantop@...
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @Spartan67 I only have it installed to kill apps that are needed to be killed... but I don't kill just to get RAM and so on. IMHO the task killer is still necessary for such cases, kinda like how you need Force Close in Mac or the Task Manager in Windows.
      zaghy2zy
  • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

    Some others (some personal, some biz) to consider:
    1. peep: twitter but with less API calls than Twitter app - saves data usage
    2. Fooducate: scan food labels to get educational info and recommendations
    3. Pandora
    4. Weatherbug
    5. LinkedIn
    6. LTE on/off for 4G phones that want to save battery life - really works
    toloughlin
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @toloughlin Good call on Fooducate. Thanks for the tip!
      thefoff
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @toloughlin I use Pandora without issue. Great app and easy to nav. I prefer TweetCaster for twitter, but frankly haven't explored many other options. Will give peep a tumble. LinkedIn was buggy, but now works flawlessly in my experience. Nice list adds.
      CosmoAgain
  • Shazam vs. SoundHound

    I've been using SoundHound for my song identification.

    Has anyone tried both who can provide a comparison?
    GreatZen
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @GreatZen here's a good link: http://lifehacker.com/5757214/shazam-vs-soundhound-battle-of-the-mobile-song-id-services
      dougdragon
    • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

      @GreatZen
      I used to use Shazam, which was great in the beginning. They've made so many changes to it (went paid, started adding limitations, updates that momentarily crippled it) that I started looking for an alternative. Since I've discovered SoundHound (which I gladly paid for), I've deleted Shazam and haven't looked back. SoundHound's links work more consistently than I found Shazam's to (though they both found an equal amount of music).
      jamerican413
      • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

        @jamerican413 Agree with the SoundHound v. Shazam assessment. I did the same...
        CosmoAgain
  • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

    qPDF Viewer and qPDF Notes should be there, too.<br>qPDF Viewer is a free, fast PDF viewer with an advanced interface that runs on all Android devices. Offering a continuous page view, touch-based pinch and spread zoom, and text search to jump within the document, qPDF Viewer is the fastest viewer on Android.<br>Commercial app qPDF Notes users can read and markup PDFs; fill interactive forms; send completed forms or marked up PDFs via email or save them into Dropbox, Evernote, Bluetooth. This will make Android tablets even more useful for services people, patient intake teams, and those catching notes while with clients.
    Qoppa Software
  • RE: Android's 20 most useful smartphone apps of 2011

    Estas 20 aplicaciones recomendadas nos ayudan a obtener un mejor rendimiento como profesionales en nuestros negocios.
    hectorocasio