The best free Android apps 2013
25th Feb 2013 | 15:00
Top free Android apps for your phone or tablet
Best free Android apps
The open source nature of Google's OS means there are plenty of fantastic apps for Android to be found.
And most of the good stuff on Android is free, thanks to the work of developers who do it for love alone.
So here's our pick of the top free Android apps you should install.
You can find more great apps at Top 200 best Android apps.
Also why not check out our video of the top 10 free Android games?
iOS 6 users have Apple Trailers, and Android fans have Trailer Addict, a timely, high-resolution source for the latest move trailers. Trailer Addict hosts official versions of movie trailers, and unlike YouTube, you won't have to wade through idiotic user comments or wait to skip an ad before your video loads. There's just the occasional banner ad at the bottom of the screen. So while most summer blockbusters are garbage these days, you can enjoy the best part, the trailer, while on the go. TA makes a great addition to an HD screen and 4G LTE.
With great power comes a great drain on battery life. If you've got a whopper of a handset that chews through its charge at an unreasonable rate, you can squeeze some extra percentage out of it with Juice Defender. JD is an awesome suite of active and background functionality. It includes a powerful task manager for dumping and disabling battery tasking apps, and it can be set to automatically toggle charge sucking features like 4G LTE and WiFi. If you've got an HTC One X + or One X, you need juice defender.
One of the best parts about the Android OS are third-party keyboards, and while it's hard to pick the best set of digital keys, Swiftkey is certainly in the running. It actually builds a heat map of how you type, meaning if you tend graze the right side of the A key, Swiftkey will adapt to that. It'll also read your email and Facebook posts, if you let it, in order to learn your most common phrases. That means that typing "hey man what's up?" can be reduced to five keystrokes or so.
Screebl is a brilliant little utility for saving battery life and killing your phone's annoying habit of dimming the screen when you're trying to read. It uses your phone's gyroscope to guess when you're actively watching the screen, and when it can go dim to save some juice. It's a shockingly good guesser, making it the perfect background app for battery fiends and avid smartphone readers. It makes a great sidekick for Instapaper!
Whether you're looking for bragging rights with your tech buddies or you're just curious why the speed you experience varies so widely depending on where you are, Speed Test is a great way to find out what type of data speeds you're experiencing. Of course, data speeds also vary from carrier to carrier, so Speed Test is also a great way to shop for the carrier that has the best speeds in your area.
Available on nearly any platform currently available, from PCs and Macs, to cell phones and tablets, Dropbox provides an excellent method for backing up data to the cloud as well as accessing that data on the go. You can also set Dropbox up to automatically back up data from your phone. While Dropbox is free with 2GB of storage, users can increase their available storage by adding new devices and referring other users. Pro plans which offer significantly more storage are also available for a monthly fee.
There are many Twitter apps on Android - and Twitter itself shook up the scene with the launch of its own-brand app - but we're sticking with Seesmic. Offering support for multiple accounts, a home page widget showing latest tweets and an incredibly slick and professional design, it's one of the finest examples of app development out there today.
Facebook for Android
Facebook for Android is lacking in features compared to Facebook itself, but a recent update added Inbox support to the Android app, finally allowing its users to communicate in almost real time. The app is fast and stable, with a simplicity that reminds you of the old days when using Facebook used to be bearable.
Microsoft has teamed up with developer SEVEN to offer an official Hotmail app for Android, which gives users a simple, clean interface, push notification support and even lets you manage multiple Hotmail accounts from within the app. If your email needs haven't yet been assimilated by Google, it's a useful option. It's since been rebranded as the Outlook app, in keeping with Microsoft's changes to its mail site.
Google Sky Map
A stunning app that renders Patrick Moore obsolete, by using your phone's orientation tools to give you an accurate representation of the stars and planets on your screen. Point your phone at the sky, then learn what constellations are visible and if that's a UFO or just Venus. Google Sky Map even works indoors, if you're not keen on getting cold.
The stunning augmented reality app Layar has recently gone commercial, adding an online shop that allows users to buy AR content such as travel guides, local house price apps and much more. But you're still able to use the numerous free Layers to pop data up over real-world locations, delivering a satisfying futuristic experience.
The social media darling Foursquare is represented in fine form on Android, with the Google app offering easy one-click check-ins, integrated Google Maps for a seamless Google-branded experience and home page shortcut options to all your favorite places.
WordPress for Android
WordPress for Android started out as independent creation wpToGo, before WordPress decided it liked it so much it bought it up - hiring the maker to develop it in-house. It's very feature-packed, with the latest version offering full integration with other apps, letting you spin content and send it directly to the app for easy updating. It could do with more image insertion tools, though.
A bit of a novelty, in that Google Goggles lets you take photos and have Google analyze them and come back with a search results page for what it thinks you're looking at. However, the app's main use is as a QR code reader, which lets you scan barcodes for quick access to apps and whatever data people choose to embed in the odd little data squares.
Yes, the same Winamp from a decade ago. It's had an Android app for some time, with recent updates adding support for iTunes, Mac syncing, plenty of music streaming options, new release lists and Shoutcast integration for radio support. It's a fine, free media player.
There are plenty of messaging tools on Android, but Samsung's beats many of them by offering multi-platform support - with clients even available for older Samsung non-smart feature phones. It could be the ideal way to keep in touch with an out of touch relative. More "with it" users will be able to use its drawing, image sharing and social networking features.
The USP of the Skyfire browser is that it supports Flash content, popping up a little window when it detects an embedded YouTube video or something similar. The actual Flash business is handled by Skyfire's server, which does all the computery stuff, then sends the file to your handset. A bit clunky on slower Android phones, but it works like a dream on models with faster processors.Despite the arrival of Flash with Android 2.2, this is still relevant for those on phones and Android versions not able to support Adobe's Flash Player.
While the BBC's Android iPlayer app is a bit on the disappointing side, the corporation's BBC News app is much more refined. There's a stylish grid-based front page, plus you're able to swipe from left to right to switch between stories in your chosen specialist category. A recent update also added a couple of Home screen widgets, too, plus the ability to submit your own news tips, as if the BBC was a small blog clamouring for content.
The odd line-drawing alternate keyboard Swype is a love-it or hate-it kind of thing, with the significant amount of re-learning required to make the most of it quite offputting to some users. But, once you're familiar with the idea, it's genius - with advanced prediction options further speeding your line-typing. Swype is not available through the Android Market - the only way to install is is via a direct download from the maker.
After the Android version of Dropbox, the next best solution for keeping all your "business" in one place is Evernote - it lets you stash and sync all your text notes, voice memos and files on your phone and access them through a desktop computer.
As well as supporting Flickr uploading, this app also lets you capture photos from within the app and comes complete with a set of filters, so you can hipsterize your life with ease. It supports sharing with Twitter and Facebook as well, so your other, non-photo-nerd friends can enjoy the results of today's snapping session.
The subscription-based thrills of Last.fm open up a world of music streaming on your mobile. You have to "buy in" to the odd Last.fm way of organizing things and suggesting new music, but if you're easily led and not restricted by bandwidth it's a superb tool.
Google Maps Navigation
An absolute must-get. As long as you have Android 1.6 or above, the latest update to Google Maps introduces turn-by-turn voice navigation, simultaneously devastating the satnav industry while boosting the in-car dashboard dock/charger accessory scene. Route calculations are done at the outset of your trip, minimizing data transfer en route and keeping you on target even when the GPS signal drops. It's amazing, it works, and it's free.
Best free Android apps: The List goes on!
A simple note-taking tool, Catch Notes lets you sync those disjointed, late night thoughts you have together into one huge, incoherent database. If you have a Snaptic account you're able to sync the Android app with that, too. Or, you can simply log in with your Google details for instant mobile jotting. Once written, notes may also be pinned to the home screen, creating a little post-it note-style reminder icon.
Astrid describes itself as an "open source" task list, which includes syncing support with rememberthemilk.com for the ultimate in minutiae management. You set a list of tasks and are then able to order them according to their importance - also setting off a timer to see precisely how long you've wasted on Twitter instead of doing the job at hand. It's basically the world's most complex and in-depth personal to do list, which, if used correctly, will consume more time than the tasks themselves. Ideal for expert-level procrastinators.
Skifta is the first software tool to be granted DLNA certification, meaning it turns your Android phone into an official DLNA device. This in turn means streaming all of your household media to your phone, and beaming your phone videos to your TV. Seems a little buggy at the moment, but there are plenty of updates arriving all the time. Requires Android 2.2 or higher.
Amazon recently launched an official Android app, replacing its reliance on a mobile web store. The app's very simple and fast to use, and even includes full shopping cart features with Amazon's one-click system once you've signed in with your usual account details.
If you like to pass the time exchanging smiley faces and abbreviations with your friends through instant messaging apps, you should get a copy of Meebo IM. It's an instant messaging aggregator, incorporating AIM, MSN, Yahoo, MySpace, Facebook, good old ICQ and more, serving everything up in one convenient interface. Typing in all your logins and passwords for everything is the only, very temporary, inconvenience.
If you're into the slightly last-generation social networking site Delicious, you need to get organized with one of the many third-party Android apps out there that support the bookmarking tool. Such as Beelicious, which, once you've got through the slightly cumbersome initial set-up process, lets you simply send website links to your Delicious account via the Android browser's "Share Page" sub menu.
A star on the Twitter app scene, TweetDeck for Android is one amazing little tool. As well as presenting your timeline, DMs and replies in separate side-by-side panels that you swipe the screen to flip between, it can also pull in Facebook status updates. And mix it all in together. And it does Foursquare. And Buzz.
The BBC came under fire over its Android iPlayer app, with the code lacking some basic features and requiring Adobe's discontinued Flash Player in order to work properly. Happily, most of the issues have now been fixed in a recent update, while the BBC's standalone Media Player removes the need for Flash. It also works while minimized and with the screen turned off, so it's actually usable as a radio player. Much better.
Google has brought its RSS feed tool into the app era, launching its Google Reader for Android. It's got some great functionality built in, with support for multiple Google accounts and plenty of thread customization options. You're also able to use the volume rocker to page up and down between messages, which is handy for extra-lazy news assimilation.
Amazon's Kindle app is a great e-reader, which is seamlessly linked with your Amazon account. Support for magazines and newspapers is limited at the moment, with only a handful of niche publications in Android-friendly format. But for books it's great, with plenty of screen and text display options to get it looking a way that hurts your eyes the least. Another exciting new way to collect classic novels you'll probably never get around to reading because there's the internet now.
The free version of Endomodo is essential if you're sporty, or even if you just like using a GPS tool to stalk yourself walking around. You select an activity, initiate GPS mode and it'll keep track of you, time you and even whisper robotic words of encouragement at you, before generating a stylish map charting your achievements. A map which you can spam out to social networks to show off the fact that you can ride a bike.
Let your hair down by creating a realistic interpretation of what you hair looks like with Androidify. It's an avatar creator that uses the Android mascot as its base, letting you swap trousers and hats with the swipe of a finger. Results are then sharable via Twitter and the usual social tools. There aren't enough types of beard, though. Please release a Beard Expansion Pack.
Thanks to Android's Flash Player powers, casual gaming portal Kongregate is able to bring a huge number of its internet games to Android. They run in the browser so resolutions can be a bit all over the place, but with more than 300 games to choose from there's bound to be something there for you.
The Google-owned Blogger platform now has a presence in the current decade, thanks to the official Blogger app. It's remarkably simple, supports image uploads and geo-tagging and imports the settings of all blogs associated with your Gmail account. There's no fancy editing the positions of your photos, which just get chucked in at the bottom, but it works.
Best free Android apps: But wait, there's more!
The technically astounding streaming video gaming service has now arrived on Android, with an official OnLive app letting Android users play console titles on their phones and tablets via wi-fi. It's best played on devices with big screens, but it'll still run on something as relatively modest as an HTC Desire. On-screen controls are the big trade-off, here - but it will work with OnLive's Bluetooth wireless controller, if you've seriously bought in to the OnLive dream.
Quite a few official news apps have launched on Android since we last updated this list. The Guardian has one, The Times has one, Channel 4 News has one and so does the country's guiltiest pleasure, the MailOnline. It features offline caching and lets users specify a time for it to sync pages with the main site, so you're in complete control of how and when you get your faux scandal.
Another app that's been out there for a while on Android, the eBay tool has also been updated so much that it's now a credible alternative to the desktop site. A recent update brought the ability to list items direct from the app, while there's a simple PIN system that makes paying for your winnings via PayPal much simpler and less convoluted than it is on the full blown web site.
Path is an alternate social network, designed to make sharing things with friends easier and more... personal. It does simple stuff like share your music listening history, then it does weird stuff like track how many hours you've slept for. It's also location aware, so if you'd like it to broadcast your every movement, that's possible. And if you can't pull yourself away from Facebook, stuff from here can be posted up there, too, although posts can also be locked so they never leave Path if you'd prefer.
Yelp gives you a similar option to Google's wide range of social place reviews, only here you also get an augmented reality screen display, so you can point it at the skyline and see what five-star eating establishments are in the area. Places are backed up by user reviews, too, making it easy to get an up to date opinion on how generous a particular cafe is with the chips.
Everyone's new favorite browser is now represented on Android, with Google putting a full mobile version of Chrome up on the Play Store. It's a little limited in scope for users of older devices as Android 4.0 or higher is required to run it, but if your phone ticks that box Chrome on Android offers unlimited tabs in a nice pop-up list, desktop bookmark and open tab syncing, offline saving of pages and even that occasionally very useful incognito mode for covering your weirder tracks.
After a massive period of iOS exclusivity and the previous disastrous launch of a rubbish web browser wrapper app, there's finally a proper native Rightmove app for Android. It has a modern, Android 4.0 style layout (but works on anything with Android 2.1 or higher), offering simple property searches, a Google Maps visual results interface and Street View integration. It's fast and lovely to use.
The series of talks by the tech industry's most well-respected nerds, in which they try to explain high concepts in a way the likes of us can understand, is now represented on Android. The TED app lets users browse its database of more than 1,000 TED talks, all free to download and try to get through in one go without having your brain explode.
Let's be honest - ISSLive looks awful. But beneath the clumsy interface and geeky layout sit all sorts of facts and coverage from the International Space Station, with plenty of live feeds, mission, crew and experiment data and even a 3D recreation of Mission Control down there in Houston to... look at. An oddball collection of the interesting and the mundane, like an episode of MythBusters.
The Netflix app does it all, offering access to the full catalogue of digital film and TV rentals, presented in a clean and simple layout. The only fancy features are PC syncing so you can pick up where you left off on mobile if it's getting near bed time, plus Facebook sharing so everyone can keep up on how your MadMen marathon is going.
A new way to look at the pleading face of Jimmy Wales. The official Wikipedia Android app is very nice to use, presenting a simplified version of the desktop site's content, plus an ever-useful offline saving option if you need access to pages when out of reception range. You also get location aware features, making it easy to randomly browse for interesting things in your vicinity.
If you're still struggling to lose the Christmas weight heading into Easter, you may benefit from having a bit of life coaching on your telephone. FitBit's main feature is a Food Plan that keeps track of how many Girl Scout Cookies you've had today, plus a logging feature that tracks your claims of exercise and adjusts your eating allowance accordingly. You'll be like the woman off the Special K ads inside a month.
The popular sofa-ditching site has finally joined the mobile age, with a very flashy Gumtree app. It's presented in the Ice Cream Sandwich design style, with a nice tab bar and clever floating and segmented item listings, and it looks even better when used in landscape orientation. Trawling for an executive massage in the local area has never been easier.
The Guardian's had an Android app out for a while, but it was significantly "first generation" in look and feel. A recent update took care of that, thankfully, boosting the layout to modern Android standards, adding in support for live blogs, enhanced section navigation, swipe navigation through photo galleries and much more. Nice. And free.
Amazon's MP3 service is surprisingly clever. Tracks bought from the retail giant are automatically stored within the company's "cloud" servers, from where you can instantly stream them back to your Android device. Sadly, you're a little limited in the number of existing MP3s you can upload from your own collection, but for building, managing and streaming a legit Amazon music catalogue the Amazon MP3 app is a great, stylish option.
There's only one reason to have the Amazon Appstore on your phone or tablet - free stuff. Amazon is enticing users to stick its alternate Android app store on their devices with the promise of a free app every day, with some classics like Sega's ChucChu Rocket and World of Goo featuring as previous daily freebies. The catch is these are unsupported releases, meaning no updates or fixes in the future, but you can't moan too much about getting some ace freebies every day.
Flipboard is pretty much just a fancy RSS reader, which does a superb job of pulling text and images from pages, sites and social networks, and presenting it in a gloriously sexy magazine-like manner. The Flipboard app has recently been updated with a full tablet interface style, for the ultimate in glossy media consumption.
Now that you're all loaded up with Android apps, why not grab some widgets? Our best Android widgets article will point you in the right direction.