5 Android apps that should be on every smartphone

No matter if you are a fan of custom OEM interfaces or stock Android phones, there are five apps that should be installed on every Android phone to make them better.
Written by James Kendrick, Contributor

I may be hard on Google for the mess that it has created with Android Honeycomb tablets, but on the smartphone front Android is still going strong. That is with good reason, Android phones are as good as anything on the market, and made even better with the right apps installed. No matter if you are a fan of HTC Sense phones with its attractive UI, Samsung TouchWiz phones, or stock Android phones, there are five apps that should be installed on every Android phone to make them better.

LauncherPro. The Android launcher is attractive but very basic in design and function, and LauncherPro takes any Android phone to the next level. This alternative launcher adds a customizable dock bar for launching apps, but that is only a fraction of the functionality it brings to the home screen. Speaking of home screens, LauncherPro brings a totally revamped home screen environment, with a new app drawer for launching apps included. The app also makes a suite of home screen widgets available that can be added as desired to install a raft of new functionality on the home screens as desired. These widgets can be customized to the heart's desire, and are skinnable to make them look just right. The Gmail widget alone is worth the price of LauncherPro. There are other alternative launchers but none match LauncherPro for features. You must have the Pro version to unlock all the features including the widgets. $3.49.

Beautiful Widgets. The strength of Android is the ability to make the interface very personal, and Beautiful Widgets is the daddy of them all. The app installs a bunch of home screen widgets of varying sizes that make it a breeze to tailor the look and feel of the screens to the user's personal taste. The widgets include HTC Sense look-alikes for those who like the clock and weather screens on those devices, but that's just for starters. There are hundreds of clock, weather and battery meter skins for download within Beautiful Widgets that can make the phone screen look any way you want. The various widgets can be combined in any number of ways to fit your style. There is even a live wallpaper that changes the screen background to match the time of day and local weather conditions. €1.99.

Amazon MP3. This free app has morphed from a simple way to get free music on Android phones into a full-fledged cloud music playing system. The free MP3 of the day is still there, along with easy access to cheap album deals in the Amazon music store, but with the launch of the Cloud Drive the Amazon MP3 app has evolved into a must-have for Android phone owners. Once you upload your music library to the Amazon Cloud, streaming it to any Android device (and computer) is a simple tap on the screen. Purchased (and free) music is automatically put into your Cloud Drive for instant access on the phone. The app also plays music store locally on the phone for those not into the whole cloud thing. Free.

Dolphin Browser HD. The web browsers installed on Android phones are pretty good, but they don't hold a candle to the Dolphin Browser HD. This browser is as fast as can be for rendering web pages in perfect form, and has a unique touch system for improved web browsing. The bookmark system is as sophisticated as that on any desktop browser, yet is as easy to operate as tapping on the screen. Dolphin also has a plug-in system that adds tons of functionality to the browser as desired. There is a configurable gesture system in Dolphin that lets you trigger actions by drawing on the screen with a fingertip, a tremendously useful feature. There is a free version that is ad-supported in the settings menus, or a $4.99 version without ads.

Multicon Widget. Phone screens can only hold so much information due to the small size, and sometimes you need to put more icons for apps than will fit. The free Multicon widget lets you put up to 4 app icons in the space normally occupied by one, which greatly extends the screen real estate. The four icon slots are not restricted to apps, you can put shortcuts for actions and special functions like Wi-Fi toggle in the slots. This is the most useful widget for a free app.

These five Android apps add incredible value to the smartphone, but they are not the only good apps in the Android Market. What are your must-have apps for Android?

See related coverage:

Editorial standards