If you've ever envied the "Assist" feature on Motorola's latest handset, Agent is a worthy substitute that works with any Android phone. When you're driving, Agent can read text messages aloud and let you dictate responses by voice, and it can automatically leave a marker where you parked. It can also silence your phone during meetings, and it lets you set nighttime hours when only a specific list of contacts can get through. It's like having a silent personal assistant, and all it takes is a few minutes of set-up.
Link: Agent (Free)
Cloud storage is great for accessing files from anywhere, but sometimes you want something more secure that isn't subject to recurring subscription costs. BitTorrent Sync fulfills that need by automatically syncing any folder from your phone to your tablet or PC--or vice versa--over your local Wi-Fi network. Set it up for your phone's photo folder, and your precious memories will always be backed up on your computer's hard drive.
Link: BitTorrent Sync (Free)
CBS does a mighty fine job with brackets and fantasy sports leagues, but its Android app is no slouch either. You'll get real-time stats for most major sports, including live game trackers and push notifications. There's also on-demand video highlights, live fantasy football and fantasy baseball shows, and personalized news feeds based on your favorite teams.
Link: CBS Sports (Free)
Chrome Remote Desktop
While there are plenty of remote desktop apps for Android, Chrome Remote Desktop has the advantage of being simple, free and unlimited, and it doesn't need any additional client software if you already use the Chrome browser on your computer. Just add the Remote Desktop app in Chrome, set up a PIN for remote access, and you can quickly get to your entire desktop. It's handy if you need to send yourself a file or check on a desktop program.
Link: Chrome Remote Desktop (Free)
With an almost unlimited number of news sources nowadays, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything that’s going on without a little help. Circa rounds up the most important news events and breaks each one down into a stream of bite-sized snippets, letting you see the latest updates first before flicking your way downward to get more of the back-story.
Link: Circa News (Free)
One of the frustrating things about Android is that it comes with two e-mail apps--one for Gmail, and another for everything else. CloudMagic is a fine alternative if you'd rather combine them into a single app. It supports lots of services including Gmail, Exchange, Yahoo and IMAP, and it has a slick interface that easily rivals Android's native Gmail experience. It also has some helpful integration with other apps such as OneNote, MailChimp and Pocket.
Link: CloudMagic (Free)
ConvertPad isn’t the prettiest unit-conversion app around, but it’s free, and it’s loaded with pretty much everything, from weight and distance to energy flux and radiation absorbed dose. It does currency conversions as well and keeps itself up to date on exchange rates. You can also customize which categories you want to see, just in case viscosity and capacitance aren’t things you’ll be converting anytime soon.
Link: ConvertPad (Free)
Current Caller ID
Although your smartphone can recognize calls from your contact list, for some reason full caller ID never made the leap from the landline era. Current Caller ID compensates by drawing on WhitePages to tell you who’s calling, and letting you block telemarketers. And for people you do know, the app can show that contact’s recent social network updates and local weather conditions as the call comes in.
Link: Current Caller ID (Free)
Need to kill a few minutes? EndlessTV lets you pick from well-known video sources such as Comedy Central and ESPN, and gives you a steady stream of clips with no ads. And if you don’t like what you see, you can swipe to the next video. It’s sort of like channel surfing, but on your phone, and it’s free.
Link: EndlessTV (Free)
ES File Explorer
ES File Explorer is a free file browser with a slick interface and lots of features, including integration with cloud storage services like Google Drive and Dropbox. You can certainly get by without a file browser on Android, but it’s nice to have one in case you ever want to sort photos into folders or send multiple files as a ZIP file.
Link: ES File Explorer (Free)
Fandango is one of a few apps for movie listings, trailers and ticket purchases, but its simple interface and clean design leave it a cut above the rest. From the top of the page, you can easily see what's playing near you, and there's a lot of editorial video below the fold if you just want to see what's happening in Hollywood.
Link: Fandango Movies (Free)
Flipboard is like a personalized miniature magazine for Internet content. It takes stories from around the web and reformats them into little pages of text and images, so you can flip through by swiping up and down. You can also plug in your Twitter or Facebook profiles, and Flipboard will pull the links that people share into the mix — along with the occasional tweet or timeline post.
Link: Flipboard (Free)
Here’s a easy way to save up money for some of the other apps on this list: Install Gas Guru, and use it to find the cheapest gas in your area. Nearby stations are displayed on a map, along with color indicators that show how good the pricing is. You can also compare prices in multiple locations, such as home and work, to figure out the best place to fill up. You’ll have app money in no time.
Link: Gas Guru (Free)
Get Sh*t Done!
This unashamedly vulgar app isn't so much a task manager as it is a task motivator. Assign yourself a job, set the timer and--this is the important part--add a reward for success and a punishment for failure. Get Sh*t Done will try to amp you up along the way. It's a clever tool to keep yourself from procrastinating, even if it's a little heavy on the bro-speak.
Link: Get Sh*t Done! (Free)
Google Docs and Sheets
Although Google Drive is still around, Google recently split off its document and spreadsheet editors into separate apps. They're basically unchanged from before, which means that they're still a great pair of tools for creating and editing documents from a mobile device. But they do have one new trick: You can now edit and save Microsoft Word and Excel files without any cumbersome conversion process.
Keep is definitely worth checking out if you need a quick way to get your thoughts down. You can create notes with text, by voice (with automatic transcription), with photos or as a list, and they’ll show up in chronological order. Notes are automatically saved online, so you can access them on your computer’s web browser at drive.google.com/keep.
Link: Google Keep (Free)
When you need to translate text or spoken words, Google’s translation app still has no equal, especially with this year’s addition of offline translation. Google Translate now supports text and speech translation in 80 languages.
Link: Google Translate (Free)
Google's Wallet app comes with a bunch of finance-related features, but the most useful one is the ability to store loyalty cards in a central location. You can load any loyalty card into Wallet by scanning the bar code or entering the card number, and you can sign up for a handful of programs directly through the app. It beats carrying around a dozen cards on your keychain.
Link: Google Wallet (Free)
Nothing fancy here, just a slick little flashlight app with a focus on battery efficiency and simple, ad-free design. Tap the big bulb to turn on your phone’s LED flash bulb, or use Holo Bulb’s widget to turn the light on directly from your home screen.
Link: Holo Bulb (Free)
Hotel Tonight might just be one of the most aptly-named apps on this list. If you’re in a pinch and need to book a hotel room, Hotel Tonight will show you which ones are available nearby and help you book all the way up until 2am. The company says it personally vets all of the hotels it lists, too, and you can book for up to five nights if the hotel you’re considering has enough space available.
Link: Hotel Tonight (Free)
With so many web-based services to take advantage of nowadays, a little automation goes a long way. Think of IFTTT (If This, Then That) as a middleman that sits between all of them, letting them interact with each other. You can get an e-mail when it’s raining, save your photos to a cloud-based storage service, or get a text message when your stocks go up or down.
Link: IFTTT (Free)
iSyncr for iTunes
If you want to listen to your iTunes music collection on your phone, but aren’t ready to go fully online with Google Play, iSyncr can help. Install the companion desktop app, and then use the Android app to transfer your library, either over USB or Wi-Fi. The desktop software is fairly light–it’s just a syncing tool, not a full-blown iTunes replacement–and supports some advanced features such as album art, syncing of multiple iTunes libraries and the ability to transfer playlists created on the phone back to the computer.
Link: iSyncr for iTunes ($4.99)
Life Time Alarm Clock
While almost every Android phone comes with a clock app, Life Time Alarm Clock aims to be better at breaking the wake-snooze cycle. You can set a "pre-alarm" to gently stir you with calmer tones, set hard limits on snooze time and give yourself simple puzzles to help shake your grogginess. And although the app doesn't have a huge set of sounds to choose from, it does support MP3 playback.
Link: Life Time Alarm Clock (Free)
Instead of replacing your phone's default browser, Link Bubble acts as a supplement, opening links in the background while you use apps like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit. The idea is that you can keep scrolling through your feed without interruption, then open the fully-loaded page whenever you're ready. It's free to use with a single app and one bubble at a time, and you can remove those limits with the $5 "Pro" version.
Link: Link Bubble (Free)
Mailbox looks to tame your Gmail and iCloud inboxes by letting you quickly archive e-mails with a swipe or turn them into task-like entities to deal with later. The app’s design emphasizes speed and simplicity, helping you to slice through your mountain of messages in a matter of minutes. Yes, you’re basically engaging in digital procrastination, but at least it’ll help you feel somewhat organized. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of reaching inbox zero, if only for a short while.
Link: Mailbox (Free)
Microsoft Office Mobile
Microsoft’s productivity suite used to cost $99 per year with an Office 365 subscription, but not anymore. The Android phone version is now free, so you can view Office documents in full fidelity and make light edits. And if you use OneDrive cloud storage, all those documents will be waiting for you when you get back to your computer.
Link: Microsoft Office Mobile (Free)
Mint.com Personal Finance
Managing your finances may not be the most exciting activity, but at least Mint.com makes it look good. The Android app provides a crisp, clean interface for keeping track of your expenses and accounts. You can also get e-mail and text alerts when it’s time to pay the bills.
Link: Mint.com Personal Finance (Free)
Notification Toggle is a crucial app if your phone doesn’t come with its own quick settings menu, or if you’re not satisfied with the one you’ve got. This highly customizable menu resides in the notification bar, and lets you adjust things like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, brightness, rotation lock, airplane mode, mobile data, NFC and audio. It can also include shortcuts to your favorite apps.
Link: Notification Toggle (Free)
OpenTable helps you skip all the nonsense of trying to make a restaurant reservation over the phone and get right to the point: what’s nearby, which times are available, and how are the reviews? Potential eateries can be filtered by cuisine, distance, price and more. Once you find a restaurant that looks good and has an available table, tap to reserve it. Done and done.
Link: Open Table (Free)
Photo Editor by Aviary
Aviary’s mobile photo editor is loaded with effects, filters and enhancement tools. But most importantly, it has a “meme” button that superimposes the black-outlined Impact font on top of your photos, so you can hang on Reddit with the best of them. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just relax and enjoy all the other editing tools that Aviary has to offer.
Link: Photo Editor by Aviary (Free)
Let’s say you find a long article on the web — something you need at least 10 minutes to read — but you’re at work or otherwise too busy to read it all right away. Just install the Pocket extension or bookmarklet in your browser, and you can save the story for your lunch break. Pocket’s Android app formats web pages in a clean, booklike view, and it stores content off-line so you can still catch up even while in a dead zone.
Link: Pocket (Free)
Android doesn’t have a built-in podcast app, but Pocket Casts is the best stand-in you’ll find. It’s a beautifully designed app on both phones and tablets, with plenty of features including auto-downloads, variable speed playback and cross-device syncing.
Link: Pocket Casts ($3.99)
Power Bubble - Spirit Level
The Google Play Store is lousy with bubble level apps, but this one by Boy-Coy has just the right amount of skeuomorphism. An “LED” meter reads the angle of the level, and the app will beep as the angle approaches zero. And while the app shows advertisements, you can choose to hide them if you wish (in exchange for a minor guilt trip for not supporting the developers).
Link: Power Bubble – Spirit Level (Free)
Remember the Umbrella
Even if you have a favorite weather app already, Remember the Umbrella serves an important purpose: If the forecast at the start of your day shows a high chance of precipitation, the app sends a notification telling you to take an umbrella. All you do is specify the notification time and whether you want alerts by noise or by voice. Ideally, you'll often forget that the app is even installed.
Link: Remember the Umbrella (Free)
Imagine you're on a road trip and you see a highway sign advertising a McDonald's two miles ahead. You're getting hungry, but you don't particularly like McDonald's, and you'll be kicking yourself if you pull off and there's a Carl's Jr. at the very next exit. RoadNinja can save you from this dilemma by giving you a list of services near each exit. You can also customize which services you want to see, and look up Foursquare reviews for some of the more obscure roadside stops.
Link: RoadNinja (Free)
One of several apps that lets people anonymously air their dirty laundry, Secret digs through your contact list and builds a network of people you may or may not know. You’re then given an endless feed of secrets to read through, revealing people’s innermost fears, desires and impulses. It’s sort of addictive, but don’t believe everything you read.
Link: Secret (Free)
You hear a song you like. You don’t know who plays it. You open Shazam and press the big button, and a few seconds later, the app tells you the title, the artist, the album and even the lyrics. It’s basically the embodiment of what mobile apps are all about.
Link: Shazam (Free)
ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner
ShopSavvy is the slickest barcode scanner you’ll find, and unlike some others, it’s not biased in favor of any particular retailer. Using your phone’s camera to scan barcodes, ShopSavvy serves up product information and reviews, and can tell you if there’s a better deal to be found online or in another nearby store. The app also shows the latest deals, coupons and promos, so you can be prepared before the shopping spree begins.
Link: ShopSavvy Barcode Scanner (Free)
Songkick helps you find concerts with minimal effort. The first time you open the app, it scans your music library, Google Play Music account and Last.fm account (if you have one), and then lists nearby shows for the bands in your catalog. You can also get alerts for new concerts and add a widget to the home screen to keep an eye on upcoming shows. It’s perfect for people who aspire to see more music but always forget to look things up.
Link: Songkick Concerts (Free)
If you haven’t checked out Spotify on smartphones lately, it’s worth another look. The recently-overhauled free version lets you listen to any artist, album or playlist on shuffle if you're using an Android phone–that’s more generous than most other free streaming music service–while Android tablet owners have access to single songs. A $10 per month subscription gives you on-demand listening, offline playback, no ads and higher sound quality.
Link: Spotify (Free)
Why settle for one talk-radio source when you can choose from thousands? Stitcher brings together live stations, recorded talk-radio shows and podcasts from around the web into a single app and lets you create custom stations based on your favorites. Plus, it doesn’t get all weird around power lines the way AM radio does.
Link: Stitcher Radio (Free)
Android's built-in Calendar app is fine for people who keep really good calendars on their own, but sometimes you need a little help. Sunrise Calendar can connect to lots of other online services, including Facebook (for events and birthdays) and TripIt (for flights and reservations). It's a handy way to automate your calendar, and it helps that the design is easy on the eyes.
Link: Sunrise Calendar (Free)
While Swype has plenty of competitors, its years of experience still make for the most accurate gesture keyboard available. Instead of tapping on each letter, you simply drag a finger across all the letters in a word, and Swype uses prediction to figure out what you meant to write. Take a week or two to get used to it, and suddenly regular typing will seem impossibly sluggish.
Link: Swype ($3.99)
With a little extra effort up front, TripIt spares you from digging for your travel details later. Just forward your flight, hotel, car rental and restaurant reservations to firstname.lastname@example.org, and the app pulls them into separate itineraries. And if you use Gmail, Tripit gathers those details automatically.
Link: TripIt (Free)
Although Triposo's design is a bit dated, it's hard to complain about the app's wealth of worldwide travel data. Each locale is loaded with intel on things to do, sights to see, places to eat and special events--to the point that it's even useful for where you live. You can also download individual guides for offline access, which is helpful for overseas trips.
Link: Triposo (Free)
When talk radio and podcasts won’t do, Umano will read the news straight from your favorite websites, kind of like an audiobook for current events. You can download articles for listening offline, make playlists and personalize the kinds of stories you’re interested in.
Link: Umano (Free)
Valet won’t park your car for you, but it’ll tell you where you left it, and remind you when the meter’s about to expire. For those who live in the city, Valet can even remember street sweeping schedules. If you have Bluetooth or a car dock, the app will mark your spot automatically, so you won’t have to remember anything. Isn’t that what technology’s all about?
Link: Valet (Free)
To begin with, Weather Underground has an excellent layout, starting with the basic forecast flowing into ever-more detailed data as you scroll down the page. But what really helps this weather app stand out is its "hyper-local" data from enthusiast weather stations around the world. This way, you can find out whether the area you're headed to is a little bit warmer or colder, or is due for a shower.
Link: Weather Underground (Free)
There’s still nothing better than Yelp when you want to find a nearby restaurant, barber shop, auto mechanic, dry cleaner and so on. Peruse the user reviews or swipe to the bottom of each listing for helpful information about ambiance, suggested attire and the parking situation. You can even use filters to see only what’s open right now.
Link: Yelp (Free)