Android essential must-have apps, free. [UPDATED 20120601]


ROUND 2 is here.

[added market links to featured apps]

android homescreen

I own 3 Android phones (HTC Legend, Motorola Flipout and Samsung Galaxy S) and am a semi-compulsive firmware flasher. As far as setting up new Androids go or being forced to re-setup one because of a botched flash/backup, I could say I know a little something about it. More importantly and just so that I stick to the topic, here’s the list of essential apps that all my newly setup Androids will always have- and they’re all free. I’m not going to list the obvious ones like Facebook and Twitter etc. Those are easy to find and the official versions of the apps are already very good.


Since the stock browser is already very good, the only thing I needed was something that can help reduce the data usage on my limited data plan.

Opera mini

android opera mini

This used to be REAL fast. It’s supposed to feed your requests say, a search on google, to their servers where they compress the data and then send the results back to you. As a result, data usage is minimal. The browser no longer feels as fast, perhaps because I’m so far from their compression servers or it’s become too popular for its own good…whatever. It’s still most useful in how it helps keep data usage in check.

General Apps

Great replacements or official ones that require downloading off the Market.


android fxcamera

Toycam? Polaroid? Fisheye? Warhol even…All very customisable and most importantly, free.


android acast

Every smartphone needs a good podcatcher client, otherwise how would one get their monthly Anything Ghost fix eh? Actually my iPod touch got me started on podcasts and from then on, every phone I’ve ever owned, I’d go looking for a good podcast/podcatcher client and not stop until I’m satisfied. ACast is the one for Android, for me. It can handle regular RSS feeds as well as audio and video podcasts. The UI leaves more to be desired, but hey it’s free.

Listen (Google)


Forget Acast. I had FC problems and emailed the devs and received no response whatsoever. Just want to point out this as being the courteous and logical route before giving apps a low rating because you ran into problems. But of course when devs fail to respond, feel free to rate away. Sadly this was not the only problem I ran into… it also started acting up in the audio department when I finally got it working- intermittent playback. Pre-downloading did not help. It was happening on my One X so there’s no excuse spec-wise.

Enter Google’s Listen.

Better and far simpler UI, streamed and cached playback has no issues and best of all you can actually manage your subscriptions on Google Reader when you’re back at your desk.

One thing that’s not quite so intuitive is there’s not a single UI element that reads “download” (for offline playback). But all you have to do is “queue” the episode and voila.



android reader

ACast may support RSS feeds but I prefer Google’s recent and long overdue addition: Reader. It syncs with Google Reader, which I happen to use everyday anyway. Supports probably 99% of the functions the web client offers e.g. Share, Like, Send via email etc. Very very good.


android handcent

A great replacement app for the native SMS client. Highly customisable, complete with pop up quick reply windows should you choose. Essentially, this is a likened to a skin (but not exactly) on top of the SMS storage underneath. So be sure to turn off notifications in your native SMS client or you’ll be receiving duplicates.


android poweramp player view


android poweramp equalizer view

Let me just say one thing: WHY IS THERE NO EQUALIZER, GOOGLE?!

Which actually applies to most new smartphone OSes nowadays. Motorola on the other hand, did bridge this gap with their own implementation of a global equalizer on their Androids (at least it’s available on my Flipout), unlike HTC and Samsung. Actually I’m not being fair with Samsung here, they do have Equalizer settings in their Music app…but it sucks and doesn’t work as expected e.g. when switched on, it sounds as though a kid is playing with the volume slider.

Note however, PowerAMP is not free. It has a full featured 15day trial but it seems with their regular updating, my trial just isnt running out at all. It did once, but other than nagging me the trial has expired, the app kept working as normal.

Do support the developer.


android springpad

Somehow a simple native notepad app escaped the minds of Android OS’s developers. Let alone one that syncs with your google account… So here to save the day is Springpad. Originally I used Evernote but they STILL have not implemented offline sync in their Android version so…no go for me. Springpad has offline sync and you can always just go to and carry on editing from where you left off. It doesn’t just do notes either, but tasks, media, barcode scans etcetc and there is also a social aspect to the app that i’ve not yet explored in full. Really good stuff.

System utilities

Astro File Manager

android astro file manager

A popular file manager for Android. Also has a free separate SMB (file sharing with Windows) plugin module on Market.

Apps Organizer

android apps organizer folder view


android apps organizer

Other than being able to organise (uninstall) apps, this app can also sort apps with Labels and add these labels onto your homescreen as folders. They look better than native folders and can be added to the Dock depending on which Homescreen you’re using.

Advanced Task Killer

android advanced task killer widget

android advanced task killer

Most useful for low to mid end phones where there is often a shortage of RAM and processing power. When you phone starts to slow down, just hit the little robot widget on your homescreen and voila. Within the app, you can also tell it which apps can be ignored, so e.g. if you like your gmail client to be running in the background at all times, then you can just set it to be ignored. Make sure you’re downloading the correct version: non Foryo (2.1) or Froyo (2.2). I’m not sure of the consequences of using the wrong version… A problem I encountered on my HTC though was that by tapping the little robot to do a purge, it sort of killed my Alarm service and didn’t ring the next morning. Not sure what that’s all about…perhaps it was something HTC made and it was recognised as a 3rd party app/service or something. Just be careful here.

Titanium Backup (rooted)

android titanium backup

Probably the only backup app any Android owner will ever need. It backs up apps and their respective settings, saving you much time for when you do need to restore your list of apps one day. I’ve never gotten it to restore my SMS messages properly though…in fact it caused the wrong thread bug. But the wrong thread issue is Google’s fault, really.


android osmonitor notitication bar

android osmonitor

Is equivalent to Task Manager in Windows. It’ll let you see what apps and services you have running and will also show its CPU usage and let you kill each should you choose. Not only that, it’ll also let you change the CPU governor and scaling range if your (custom) kernel allows; AND let you put a CPU utilisation graph on your notification bar. Some people do like to keep an eye on this graph constantly…mostly geeks maybe.

Quick Settings

android quick settings shortcuts

android quick settings

I see a lot of people looking for widgets to switch say… 2G and 3G connections without having to wade through the menus. While this isn’t THE answer to that problem, it does provide a shortcut into the menu right where you can do so. Aside from that, it’s a near perfect ‘quick settings’ app. Brightness, wifi, gps, data sync, volume etc can all be toggled with a maximum of 2 taps. On my Flipout where somehow Motorola thought it ingenious to remove ways to switch off the data connection, Quick Settings plugs that hole and allows me to switch it off completely.

Highly Recommended.


android swype

Introduction necessary? Basically it’s one of the fastest and most innovative ways to type on a virtual keyboard. Sign up here and you’ll be given a link to download the beta version if you’re not using a Samsung phone. Thank you Samsung.
Check out the youtube clip below:

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Spare Parts

android spare parts

Gives you access to some hidden Android settings. You get detailed usages stats, battery stats etc that you don’t normall see in the native Settings. More importantly, you get to control all the animation speeds like Window animations, transition animations…you’ll be surprised how ‘fast’ your phone appears to be running when you get the settings right Winking smile Yes, way to deceive yourself but hey that’s how ALL operating systems deceive their users- by using fancy animations to mask load times and response times.


A few words:

  • Go to Market and check for updates often
  • I took these screenshots off my Samsung Galaxy S using an app called ShootMe, also free via Market.

ROUND 2 is here.

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