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Top Android apps for summer

Summertime is a good time to play with your Android device. These 10 apps are a good way to make your phone or tablet better.
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By James Kendrick on
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1 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Beautiful Widgets

By far the app/widget I use that attracts the most interest is Beautiful Widgets. Every time someone sees my Galaxy Note 2 phone or my Galaxy Note 8.0 tablet the first question they ask is, "what is that cool home screen widget?"

Beautiful Widgets is a customizable clock widget that can turn your device into a work of art. The hundreds of downloadable themes vary from the pure whimsical to the simply elegant, and every aspect of the appearance is user-configurable.

In addition to the clock widgets, the package also has weather widgets and system control widgets for turning things like wi-fi on and off from the homescreen. There is also an integrated weather app, accessed by tapping the weather section of the widget, that is excellent for seeing the forecast from your favorite weather service.

The Live Wallpaper shown in the image above is part of the package and besides being attractive, it shows the current weather conditions. The wallpaper changes with the weather condition so rain, snow, and other conditions are displayed to show the weather at a glance. It also varies with time of day, so the wallpaper slowly changes from daytime to night to provide an attractive screen that never gets boring.

Beautiful Widgets Pro — $1.99 (free version available with limited feature set)

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2 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Digical+ Calendar and Widgets

Android works well with Google services, especially Google Calendar. This is a great calendar app that syncs with Google Calendar and has an attractive interface for doing everything you need to do.

In addition to the nice calendar app, a number of widgets are included to display whatever calendar events you want to have on your home screen. They are customizable so you can have a widget as big (or small) as you want on your home screen.

Digical+ Calendar and Widgets — $4.95 (free version available with limited functionality)

Key features:

  • Stylish and intuitive user interface in Holo dark and light theme
  • 6 unique calendar views (day, week, agenda, month, text month and list)
  • 5 beautiful and fully customizable widgets (list, grid, day, day list and month)
  • Built-in location search via Google Places for quickly adding locations to your events
  • Google Now (Android 4.1+) support, notifying you when it's time to leave by planning your route, checking traffic and calculating your travel time
  • Improved notifications with shortcuts for snooze, map and navigation
  • Smart action bar for quick editing, moving, copying, pasting and deleting events
  • Event pop-up makes it easy to go through your individual events
  • Gestures like pinch to zoom and swipe to navigate are supported
  • Fully compatible with any device running Android 2.2+
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3 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Ultimate Rotation

I discovered this utility when the Nexus 7 was released. That tablet had autorotation that would switch from portrait to landscape orientation when the tablet was rotated. Google chose to only display the home screen in portrait, even when the tablet was rotated to landscape.

This was extremely annoying for me as I want my home screens to always reflect how the tablet is being held.

Enter Ultimate Rotation, an app that forces phones and tablets to have the rotation behavior that the owner wants. It can override the OS, and autorotate or not depending on the settings. This simple control is very useful on any device.

While my current Android devices autorotate as expected, Ultimate Rotation lets me put a widget control on the home screen to temporarily override that behavior when it makes sense. I usually tap the control to disable autorotation when I'm reading a book on my device, as I only do that in portrait.

Ultimate Rotation — $2.99 (7-day free trial available)

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4 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Papyrus

If you like to take notes on your Android phone or tablet, Papyrus is a great way to do so. It's strength is handling handwritten notes, and if you own a device with stylus support you will love Papyrus.

Those without stylus support needn't fret; the app allows handwriting notes with a finger tip. This works much better than you might think.

Papyrus — Free (Premium features are available via in-app purchase)

Key Features

  • Take notes naturally with a pen on active-pen enabled devices
  • Take notes with your finger or passive stylus (if you don’t have an active pen)
  • Pen strokes are vector graphics
  • Undo/redo strokes
  • Select, move, and resize strokes
  • Change the color and weight of selected strokes
  • Cut, copy, and paste strokes between notes
  • Multiple paper types and sizes
  • Two finger scroll
  • Two finger pinch-to-zoom
  • Two finger double tap to zoom to 100 percent
  • Organize notes within notebooks (long press, drag and drop)
  • Sort notes and notebooks
  • Image import, crop and resize
  • Export notes to PDF, PNG, or JPEG for printing, archiving or sharing
  • Share notes with friends and colleagues via email, Evernote and other services
  • Samsung Multi-Window support (available on Galaxy Note 2, Note 8.0 and Note 10.1)
  • Shortcuts to create a new note or open a notebook
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5 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

BaconReader for Reddit

If you spend much time on Reddit, you must get this app. BaconReader for Reddit is designed to bring the far-reaching areas of Reddit to your device. It features an easy-to-use interface that lets even the most experienced Redditors find what is of interest.

BaconReader Premium for Reddit — $1.99 (free ad supported version available)

Features:

  • Jelly Bean compatibility with expandable notifications and other Jelly Bean features
  • Complete tutorial guide to reddit, for new and experienced redditors
  • FULL Screen mode
  • Tablet-optimized design
  • Sharp, ICS inspired design, with easier reddit navigation and more sorting options
  • Full user profile support
  • Color coded comment threads
  • Full-featured reddit inbox
  • Rageface and look of disapproval support
  • Easy access to subreddits using the subreddit sidebar with long-press
  • Search for new subreddits based on name or keyword and subscribe to them
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6 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Pinball Arcade

Pinball. On your Android device. Great fun. A host of pinball tables are available for purchase in the app, and several nice tables are in the free app. Game play is great, especially on my Galaxy Note 8.0.

Pinball Arcade — Free (extra pinball tables available for in-app purchase).

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7 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Poweramp

Android has great support for audio, and Poweramp is a fantastic way to listen to anything on your Android device. The app is a great graphic equalizer that happens to have a great music player wrapped around it. 

Poweramp handles a wide range of audio formats and should handle anything you throw at it.

Poweramp — $3.99 (15-day free trial)

Features:

  • Plays mp3, mp4/m4a (incl. alac), ogg, wma*, flac, wav, ape, wv, tta, mpc, aiff (* some wma pro files may require NEON support)
  • 10 band optimized graphical equalizer for all supported formats, presets and custom presets
  • Separate powerful Bass and Treble adjustment
  • Stereo eXpansion, mono mixing and balance
  • Crossfade
  • Gapless
  • Replay gain
  • Plays songs from folders and from own library
  • Dynamic queue
  • Lyrics support, including lyrics search via musiXmatch plugin
  • Embed and standalone .cue files support
  • Support for m3u, m3u8, pls and wpl playlists
  • OpenGL-based cover art animation
  • Downloads missing album art
  • 4 widget types with many selectable styles, advanced customization and Android 4.2 lock screen widgets
  • Configurable lock screen
  • Headset support, automatic Resume on headset and/or BT connection (can be disabled in settings)
  • Scrobbling
  • Tag editor
  • Visual themes, including support for external/3rd party skins
  • Fast library scan
  • High level of customization via settings
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8 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Sidebar Pro

This simple app puts a sidebar on the screen that gives easy access to your most-used apps. It also functions as a good task manager for those who like to keep on top of that.

It is fully customizable to make a system that best fits any work style.

Sidebar Pro — $1.99 (free, limited version available)

Features:

  • Pin as many apps & toggles to the Sidebar as you want
  • Live running apps and running indicators
  • Task management allows killing running apps (swipe running apps out to kill them)
  • Customized colors, opacity, sizes and positions
  • Starts on boot
  • Minimal RAM fingerprint and affect on battery life
  • Ongoing notification can be disabled (4.1+) / made invisible
  • Many widgets to choose from (Home, App Drawer, Wi-Fi, Mobile Data, Bluetooth, GPS, Sound, Rotation, Brightness, Torch and Play/Pause/Skip music)
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9 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

NASA

The NASA app is a fantastic way to keep up with everything going on in space. With stunning graphics, detailed explanation of ongoing space missions, and general coolness, you'll find yourself getting lost in space every time you run this app.

NASA — free

Features:

  • Over 157,000 images and growing
  • Latest On Demand NASA Videos from around the agency
  • Current NASA Mission Information
  • Launch Information & Countdown clocks
  • Current Visible Passes for the International Space Station (ISS) and notifications
  • ISS and Earth Orbiting Satellite Tracker
  • NASA Twitter Feeds from around the agency
  • Current News and Features stories
  • Facebook® Connect and Integrated Twitter™ client for easy sharing
  • Live Streaming of NASA TV
  • NASA TV and What's On Your TV schedules
  • Map and links to all of the NASA centers
  • Featured content section
  • Third Rock Radio (alternative rock radio station)
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10 of 10 James Kendrick/ZDNet

Goodreads

A friend recently convinced me to join the online social network for book readers and I'm glad she did. Goodreads is a wealth of information about books for those who love to read. It is a wonderful way to discover books of interest that would otherwise never be found.

The Goodreads app is a marvelous way to work with the social network. It is tailor-made for the Android interface and a joy to use. If you are a Goodreaders member, run, don't walk, to the app store to get the app.

Goodreads — free

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