Top 20 useful apps on the Android market

Nov 24

You may well wonder why I've bothered to write an article about the top 20 android apps when there are loads of these already on the internet. That's true but you'll notice I called this the top 20 useful apps on the Android market, this is a list of apps that will actaully help your everyday phone usage rather than ones that will give you something to do whilst sitting on the loo (much as that is still helpful)

I've recently had a new HTC desire as my old one died as a result of some over enthusiastic eating by my daughter and I found I didn't need or use half the apps I had before, so I thought I'd compile a list of apps that are actually worth having to save you filling your phone up with junk and seeing all those messages about running out of space. Some of these will obviously depend a bit what you do in life and how you use your phone but for me every single one of these is worth having:

Apps to make your Android phone as good as your old "un-smart" phone.

Somewhere along the line when people started building smart phones they seemed to forget a load of the functionality that our simple phones used to have that was really useful. I think the rot probably set in with Windows mobile which was just aweful however at least with Android there are apps out there which can improve things.

ES file explorer

Speaking of things that are inexplicably missing from android.......File browers! There simply isn't one. I have no idea who thought this was a good idea or why they couldn't be bothered to build one but fortunately the open source nature of android means that sensible people have got on with with and built one.

Frankly this app is pretty darn good - I don't think its ever crashed on me and it just works like you expect. You can do everything you're used to doing in a normal file browser like Windows explorer or Mac finder, and it comes with a network browser, ftp client, bluetooth browser, thumbnail view etc etc......what more could you want?

Previously I tried "Astro File manager" and whilst this is a nice app I simple could not make the local area network stuff work.





Realistically evernote is more than just an android app, you can use it as such but when you combine it with your PC it's then you get the real power of it.

Most people will stumble on evernote because they are looking for a notes program or app, but its much more than that. Obviously it allows you to create notes and do useful things like tag them or put them in folders but you can also:

- Convert notes into a "to-do list" with checkboxes that you can click.

- Attach images, video and audio to your notes - I use it to record meetings to save taking notes.

- Add formatting to note text.

The great thing about evernote is that your android device synchronises with your online evernote account which in turn synchronises with PC application so by the time you get home everything you wrote, recorded or took a picture of is already on your computer.

This is a great app and really easy to use.


Astrid tasks

I found Astrid tasks after ages of looking for a task manager that will actually just keep nagging you till you do something, like my old nokia or sony erricson used to. Its funny how many useful features that we took for granted on our old phones just seem to have gone by the wayside with these new "smart" phones.

In nearly all the tasks applications I found that you would get a few beeps then a little icon in the top left of your screen and I wanted something that would bug me at least until I told it stop and give me the opportunity to snooze it.

Astrid allows you to set various reminders on tasks and decide how much you want them to ring. Clearly reading the Astrid website they are hoping it will become more than just a todo manager. It offers various features (which I haven't used) such as task sharing and creating tasks directly from an email address, you can assign tasks to people and even log time against them.

All in all I'd say this is the best task manager on the market and if it doesn't do what you're after then you probably need a time management tool like Paymo rather than a task manager


SMS Pop-up

Along with various other things I've mentioned in this post that we were used to on simple phones is the ability to easily reply to a text message. I found it really annoying that when I got a message all that happened was a notification noise/vibration and an icon at the top of the screen. You then have to drag down the bar to even see who the message is from, then click it to go into it to answer it.

SMS popup massively improves this by adding a dialog that pops up on screen showing you the message (or not if you set it to private mode) and giving you the chance to reply then and there.....ahhhh (contented sigh) so much better.

There are actually a couple of good apps for doing this; either G0 SMS or Handcent SMS however as well as offering the popup functionality these 2 replace your standard SMS app completely. They offer some nice features but for most people are probably not worth it, and neither of them fix the really annoying lack of ability to mark an SMS as unread. There is an app for this but it run separately to your main SMS program which is a bit pap.

Apps to improve core Android functionality

In some cases the standard functionality that Android ships with works but just isn't that great but once again the open source nature of Android means that people have taken that core functionality and been able to improve it

Car mode

No picture for this one - there's nothing to show!

I love this app. Bluetooth on android seems ridiculously badly behaved so a headset doesn't always work and if you're like me then every time you need your headset the battery seems to be flat.

This little app simply makes every call whether you make or receive it switch the phone into speaker phone mode, so no picking up the phone anymore.

Just one thing - remember to turn it off when you get out the car, you don't half look silly in the supermarket otherwise :(

Save my attach

In android, for reasons that baffle me, the functionality to save an attachment from your gmail is ominously missing. Enter "Save my attach" to save the day.

Its not so much an app that you run, but if you like a plug-in to the gmail app to help you with saving attachments to your sd-card. There are various configuration options such as the download directory, but all in all its a fairly simple and self explanatory app.

The only thing worth pointing out is that since gmail's last update which improved gmail quite a lot you now have to you the "preview" option on attachment to trigger the save my attach dialog which is not entirely obvious (for those of us the feel insulted by having to read the help).





On my HTC desire the views in Android calendar are about as much use as a mask in the dark! You get a stupid month view with no indication of what is going on in any day other than a silly little green bar.

Enter Jorte...

This is a great calendar app that bolts on top of the existing calendar system in Android and makes it much more useful. It can be configured to integrate with Google or just use a local calendar (but annoyingly not both) and if you're using Google you can tell it to use all the colours from your Google calendar which is nice.

There is a whole load of interface configuration available including colours, a variety of widgets, and various different main displays. In all the displays you can see what events are happening on the day meaning your calendar is useful again!

Unfortunately as with the built in calendar you can't snooze calendar reminders for a specific time which is a bit annoying and similarly although the tasks element of Jorte synchronises nicely with Google tasks (even for Google apps accounts) the tasks system still doesn't nag you - for that you'll need Astrid


If you've got one of the newer HTC phones you won't need this app but for those of us stuck on 2 year contracts with a HTC Desire its a nice bonus feature.

Basically Skifta is an app to give your phone the ability to use DLNA servers and also be a DLNA server. To the non techies amongst you what that means is you can play movies or audio from your phone directly on your computer over WIFI, or (more usefully) you can play audio from your network devices directly on your phone. For example I have a network disk which runs DLNA connected to my home router and I can play music from that network disk directly on my phone. - Cool!







In a way this is an odd little app because almost all the functionality in here exists in the core of Android - it basically allows you to move apps to your SD card - this is well worth doing other wise you'll quickly (on a HTC Desire) run out of phone storage space.

There are 3 main things that this app bring you that are not in core:

1) It lists all apps that can be moved which is less hassle than going into each app seperately in the applications listing of core Android

2) Some apps can be moved to the SD card but developer has not specified this so they don't seem to allow it in the main applications list whereas this app spots this and lets you move them

3) When you install an app it notifies you if it can be moved which is really useful to save you forgetting.




Apps to add cool and useful functionality to your Android phone

This next set of apps just add a bunch of useful tools or functionality to your phone using the various abilites that your phone already has

App cache cleaner

Continuing on the theme of apps that help with the low phone storage issue this app can help a bit too. A lot of the apps on your phone save cache data on your phone to help them run quicker - the problem is they often don't clear it up. 

This app can be used to clear up the cache which is particularly useful things like web browser. I set mine to do it once a day and it'll save me around 2 - 5Mb each time which is pretty handy on a HTC Desire phone.








Remote RDP

If you're used to Windows remote desktop and how handy it can be, this little app brings that power to your mobile phone. Its a nice easy to use interface that allows you to remote desktop into your PC or server directly from your Android device.

You can save a list of connections so you don't have to be messing about with configuring it each time and it works really well. 

I'm not sure I'd ever want to be doing serious work on it but that's more about the screen size than the app, but its certainly a great get out jail app for those emergency situations.







Google Docs

Using Google docs via your mobile browser just doesn't cut it and now you don't have to.

This app allows you to create, edit, delete, share, organise documents straight from your phone. It even has a really cool feature to create a new document from a photo. Using OCR technologies it will try to convert text in the photo into real text for your document.

Again the small phone interface limits how good this app could ever be but it has a good try and it certainly makes it simpler to get to all those documents whilst you're out and about.







gStrings free

If you're gonna search for this app on the internet - make sure your mum isn't looking over your shoulder you might get some results you weren't after.....

I guess this app is really only useful to the musicians amongst us (if I can call myself that), but by golly its a good-un!

You can configure it for a variety of instruments, personally I can only speak for the guitar settings but it does actually make a difference which setting you have it on. There's a whole bunch of different parameters you can change but to be honest I've found the best thing to do is simply configure the mic sensitivity and the instrument and leave the rest the hell alone.

I use this app all the time and to be honest a lot of the time its better than a dedicated tuner.






To be perfectly honest I'm not a massive fan of this app (which is odd given I'm listing it on here), I think there are plenty out there who have a nicer interface, but when it comes to finding a twitter app that can handle more than one account this does a pretty good job. 

I used to run another app called Seesmic which i preferred apart from the fact that it was so slow and would just hang.

So if your needing to manage a variety of accounts this is well worth a look at.








Lets face it using your mobile browser for anything you want to do quickly even with the nice tap to zoom in and out on Android is not great.

The ebay app makes using ebay on your phone a load easier. As you can see from the screen grab there the option to scan a bar code of a product and search for that too. This feature does work nicely apart from the fact that most of the time no-one bothers to use EAN numbers...hmmmm maybe one day. Google shopping is already enforcing this for froogle feeds.

Generally the app is pretty good. You can easily respond to messages and find stuff, some of the interface elements look like the designer got a bit bored half way through the project but all in all a good app.







If you don't have Sky+ then really this app is nothing more than a fancy sky TV guide for your phone.......

However. If you do have Sky+ then this app is a beaut! You can browse through a week of TV listing on channels which you can view either as a listing or in a sky style planner view. When you view a programme you'll get the synopsis just like when you're at home and you can select to record a given show or even record a whole series.

Now you don't have to worry about missing your favourite TV when you're away from home if you forget to record it.






No surprises here really. Its just one of those apps that's worth having if you use dropbox because it makes life that bit simpler.

The app provides a nice slick simple and mobile optimised interface to your dropbox account. Unlike the desktop application it won't sync your account so you don't have to worry about burning your internet usage all the time.  

I particularly like the thumbnail image of photos as that's a nice touch which really helps.









Droid stats

If like me you have a particularly limiting element of your monthly contract - for me its text messages but for most people its internet then you're gonna want an app to help you keep an eye on that.

There's quite a few of them but for me the pick of the bunch was Droid stats. 

You can see your usage against limits for calls, SMS, and mobile data and you'll get helpful warnings as you reach your limits.

There are various different widgets you can use and you can even set your limits to be on a costs basis which would be helpful to those on pay-as-you-go contracts.








The first thing to say about this app is that is NOT a standalone app, and to some degree this is not a "must have" app unless you use paymo, which I do and in which case its splendid.

Paymo is a web based service which allows you track time against tasks and generate invoices based on that. For self-employed workers its a no-brainer.

As well as the iphone and android apps there are a couple of PC or Mac based tools which log time as you go so no more making up hours when you forgot to put them in your spreadsheet.

The android app is fairly basic and it would be nice if you could record expenses too but it does at least help you log time when you're out the office.







Time for an app of questionable morals...

Tubemate is the lifesaver for all parents with young children and a rather handy little app for people that want to rip music (hence the questionable morals). It lets you save YouTube videos to your phone sd-card so you can play them anytime. 

There are variety of saving options including the option to just save as MP3. Understandably this app didn't survive that long in the official android market so if you want it you'll have to download from the internet and then change your phone settings to allow it to install apps which are not from the android market.

Now all you parents out there can have Peppa pig and Ben & Holly to hand even when you're stuck on the M25!






This post was written based on an unlocked HTC Desire which is by no means the most modern in the HTC range and being unlocked may mean your network will have played with some of the built in apps so they might work differently to mine.

Obviously the usefulness of some these android apps depends a bit how you use your phone and I've assumed that your android phone came installed with things like twitter, Facebook and gmail (if not, head over to android market and get them too). 

If you've got any you reckon should be on this list or do a better job than the ones on this list then let us know.






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