Both my older sister and my mom received Android smartphones for Christmas, so I figured now was a good time to post my 12 favorite free Android apps. These are all apps that I use on a fairly regular basis (at least once a month), that I have re-installed each time I've reformatted my phone (or left on the phone when I've done app purges), and that I find to be truly useful.
Please Note: While all of these apps are free to download and free to use, they do still use data -- at the very least, to download and install, but most require data connections to work. If you have an unlimited data plan, you have nothing to worry about, but if you have a limited data plan, make sure you monitor your usage and avoid using data-heavy apps when you're near your monthly limit to avoid overage charges. Most of these apps include ads to cover their costs, but ad-free paid versions are usually available separately or as upgrades.
Google's own e-mail service, Gmail, is the default mail service on Android, but it still deserves mention since not everyone realizes the benefits of using Gmail with Android. The Gmail app includes all the functionality of standard Gmail in a format that's optimized for your phone and includes as much -- or as little -- of your Gmail as you want. It's also easier to set up and configure than any other mail system and app for Android.
11. Google Maps
Like Gmail, this app seems like a no-brainer, since it's the pre-installed and fully integrated map app for Android, but many people still don't realize it's full potential or shell out for other services. The Google Maps app has even more functionality than the web site, with text directions, voice navigation (including alternate routes), traffic, place details, and more. I use this app instead of a GPS unit, and the graphics are far superior to and more detailed than most of the GPS units I've seen.
10. Google Docs
Android phones have no pre-installed documents app, and most of the decent ones cost a pretty penny. Google Docs, though, is completely free and quite useful, providing much of the functionality of the Google Docs web site in a phone-friendly format. You can create, edit, and upload documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and more. And everything is synced with your regular Google Docs account, so what you have on your phone is the same as what you can access on your computer.
09. My Verizon
Another app that's pre-installed for many of us on Verizon (and pointless for anyone else), the My Verizon app makes it easy to track your data usage, minutes, and texts; make payments; and even change plan features. It's especially useful for those on limited data plans and those on family plans.
Use SoundHound to identify songs you hear (or sing or hum). It includes song previews, lyrics (and LiveLyrics in time with the music), music videos, links to buy, artist bios, and more. You can also look up songs by title or artist.
07. My Days
The My Days app is an easy-to-use calendar app for tracking and predicting your period, ovulation, and fertility. Everything is color-coded, with a wealth of personalization options. The more info you enter, the more correct the prediction information (next period, dates of high fertility and ovulation). The developer also offers another (free) version, My Days X, that includes even more options and data.
CloudList is a collaborative list-keeping app. You can make to-do lists (for chores or groceries, for example) and share them with the other people involved; everyone can then vote on which tasks should receive priority, check items off as they're completed (or purchased), and sort the lists into categories. You can enter quantity, units, and price for each item on the list. And all the lists are backed up to the CloudList website, where they can be accessed, managed, and archived.
The handy aCar app enables you to easily track the maintenance, fill-ups, fuel mileage, and expenses of your vehicle(s). For those of us who are more forgetful, the app can provide reminders for oil changes, tire rotations, and other maintenance that needs to be done on a regular basis. The free version provides all the basics (which are quite extensive), but it is possible to upgrade to the "pro" version for even more options and features.
04. Google Music
Google Music may not be the best music player available for Android, but it's my #1 music choice for its combination of features: a music store whose songs can be used on your phone, your computer, or other devices; cloud storage for your music (up to 20,000 songs for free); a music player to play all those songs; and the ability to share songs with your friends. You can upload your music collection to Google Music, then play the songs anywhere on your phone or your computer, and even download songs to your phone for offline playback.
Timo Behrmann's Parcels app is the best free package tracking app I've found. You can track packages shipped through any of the most popular American and European shipping companies, each of which is color-coded. The app provides the same detailed shipment history available through the carriers' own sites. Notifications can be turned on, with a variety of settings to customize frequency and other options.
The official Scrabble app from Hasbro/EA Games is my #1 choice for word game apps. It has a dictionary and 2-letter words list, unlike Words with Friends, and it calculates your potential score as you place tiles on the board, whereas in WWF you don't find out your score until you've submitted your word. In addition, notifications are pushed out immediately, instead of being pulled at set times; you can play against Android, iPhone, and Facebook friends, as well as random opponents; there's a "pass and play" option for players to use the same phone to play; and the app tracks your stats for you.
01. Google Voice
For those of us on Verizon, Android smartphones come pre-installed with Verizon's Visual Voicemail app, but the service requires a monthly fee. Through Google Voice, you can also get visual voicemail, but for free. I highly suggest switching your voicemail service to Google Voice, which enables you to see your messages transcribed both in the app and online and to listen to them in any order you want, and there is no automatic deletion of messages after a certain amount of time. Google Voice can be activated as either just a voicemail service, used with your existing phone number, or as a separate line, which then provides you with a whole slew of other features (cheap international calling, free text messaging, advanced call screening, and more).