Widgets are a classic example of where Android can go right and wrong. Pick some great widgets, and your phone transforms into a more powerful tool. Pick bad ones, and your home screen becomes an abomination.
We're here to help. After doing these Android widget roundups for a couple years, our list for this year includes both new additions and old favorites, so your home screen can be as useful--and as attractive--as possible. Here are 14 of the best Android widgets to have on your phone in 2014:
1Weather includes your choice of six home screen widgets, the best of which is the "1Weather Tabbed" option pictured here. With this widget, you can get all the essential info of your local forecast, and switch between extended, detailed and hourly views. The appearance is also customizable, letting you choose from light, dark or "live weather" backgrounds. The app is free, but you can upgrade to an ad-free version for $1.99.
BaconReader for Reddit
That funny cat picture your aunt will share on Facebook next week? You can probably find it right now by scrolling through BaconReader's slick Reddit client. The "BaconReader Scroll" widget includes light and dark themes, and lets you create separate widgets for subsections if you like. And it's resizeable, so you can dedicate as little or as much of your home screen as you want to the so-called "front page of the Internet." The app is free, with a $1.99 upgrade to remove the ads.
Using the Directions widget for Google Maps, one tap can get you instant directions to your usual haunts. Just drag the "Directions" widget onto your home screen, enter the address and a nickname for the location, and specify whether you want driving, walking, biking or public transit directions. This widget is part of Google Maps, which is probably pre-loaded on your phone, but here's the Google Play Store listing just in case.
We've sung the praises of Google Keep before. It's not a comprehensive note-taking app, but rather a fast way to jot down thoughts, lists, images and audio. Google Keep is even faster when you install the widget on your home screen, as it includes shortcuts to your latest notes and buttons for creating new ones. The app is free, and you can also access your notes from any web browser.
This 1-by-1 widget serves just one purpose: Tap it, and it'll turn on your phone's camera flash. A handy prompt then appears at center-screen so you can turn it off again. It's the only Android flashlight functionality you need, and it's free.
This little widget is great for keeping a close friend or loved one within easy reach. When you drop the widget onto your home screen, you then choose the contact you want it to represent. This widget is available in some form on most Android devices, but its name and appearance may vary depending on the phone maker. (HTC, for instance, calls it the "Person" widget, and gives you several options for what happens when you press the button.)
We've had other sports widgets on this list before, but CBS Sports ultimately proved triumphant with its clean design and abundance of options. You can choose from either a 4-by-1 ticker or a 4-by-2 scrolling widget, and each one can display your favorite teams, leagues or live events. There's also a third widget just for news. And while other widgets pointlessly display game times for days into the future, CBS Sports limits itself to just the current day, so you don't get lost. It seems like an actual sports fan designed this.
Slider Widget - Volumes
You may think that pressing your phone's volume button down makes everything quieter, but then you start playing a video and for some reason it's blaring. That's because different functions on Android phones each have their own individual volumes, and you can't normally control them all at once without going into the settings menu. Slider Widget gives you greater control over all your volumes straight from the home screen, and it throws in brightness adjustment for good measure.
Flipboard is still the king of news reading apps, and its widget has gotten better lately. It no longer has the annoying bug where tapping on a story doesn't take you directly to that story, so you can just mash that little reload button until you find something worth reading and dive right in. As always, the app is free, and there are two widget sizes to choose from.
LinkedIn Pulse's widget isn't as pretty as some other news widgets, but it's packed with information so you can catch up with the latest headlines. After adding your favorite news sources to Pulse, you can pick one of them to include in the widget, which always shows a few headlines at once. Pulse's larger widget also gives you a snippet of the story you're looking at, so you can decide whether to dive in further.
Shazam is an app that identifies songs and TV shows as they play, and having the widget on your home screen can be the difference between successfully tagging a song and just barely missing it. There's really no good reason to have the standard app on your home screen instead.
If you're overwhelmed by all the apps you've downloaded over the years, App Dialer can help you get to them just a little faster. Instead of a typical keyboard search, App Dialer displays a numeric keypad, with each number representing a trio of letters. As you type, the dialer suggests a few apps that match, so you can find them without digging through folders or running a full-blown search. The app is free, and there's a $3 Pro version with extra features.
It was sort of agonizing to choose a calendar widget for this list. The Play Store is filled with them, many of which are crammed with features, such as multiple views, sizes and color themes. Ultimately, Cal stuck out because it doesn't try to do all of those things. Instead, it recognizes that what you need to glance at the most is your agenda for the next few days, and that if you need to see more, you can just open the app. The app also supports Exchange as well as Google Calendar.
DashClock can technically serve as a home screen widget, but where it really shines is on your phone's lock screen (provided you're running Android 4.2 or higher). At a glance, DashClock can show a count of unread e-mails and messages, battery status, weather and a lot more using a variety of DashClock extensions. Essentially, it'll let you know when your phone needs to come out, and when it can safely go back in your pocket.