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The 10 Essential Apps Every Android User Should Have

By Ryan Whitwam

Get your phone up to speed instantly.

With the weekly Android Market Roundup, we like to show you what’s cool and new in the Android app ecosystem. But every now and then, we like to dive back into the catalog of great apps and pull out the best of the best. That’s what we’re doing today. Prepare to find out what we consider the essential apps every Android user needs to have. Scan the QR code or click the app name to check it out.

Whether you’ve just picked up an Android device, or you’ve had one for months, this list will get your phone into fighting shape in a snap. Read on for a rundown of each app.

Doggcatcher

If you have ever listened to a podcast (for instance the official podcast of your favorite tech site?), Doggcatcher will make the experience not only convenient, but fun. This app supports a variety of feed types, playback options, and it looks great too. In fact, every time we look, it seems like Doggcatcher has gotten better looking.

The app does not use any of the stock Android visual elements. It is done up completely in cerulean blues. The main screen is dominated by your feed list. A convenient little number in each line shows you how many episodes are new and in-process. You get album art on the opposite side.

Down at the bottom of the screen are the playback controls. The play/pause button is self explanatory, but the skip buttons are unique. You can adjust the amount of time you want them to jump in the settings. It makes it really easy to move around in a podcast without tapping at the progress bar.

You can set individual and global policies for downloading new episodes, as well as deleting old ones. We love this feature because it’s incredibly easy to manage your SD card space. If you spring for an app called Presto, you can also adjust playback speed to save yourself precious time.

Doggcatcher has repeatedly proven itself one of our favorite apps on Android. It looks great, has solid functionality, and even comes with a stylish widget. If you want to listen to even one podcast, automate the experience with Doggcatcher. $6.99 in the Market.

SeekDroid

Fancy new phone? Sure would be a shame if something were to happen to it. Don’t worry, we’re not trying to shake you down over the Internet. Rather, we just want to remind you how useful a solid security app can be to your phone’s continued well-being.

We’ve tried them all, but the one app we keep coming back to for tracking and managing Android phones is SeekDroid. With SeekDroid, you can seamlessly keep tabs on a missing phone, grab data from it, lock it down, and even wipe it clean.

Location tracking is likely one of the most useful options a security app can have. SeekDroid is one of our favorite apps because it uses the Android push messaging API. This uses an external server to push the location intent down to the phone. You don’t have to worry about the app itself running a certain way, or remaining suspended in the background. The push message will wake it up, and make it do its thing. The location will be acquired silently and sent to the excellent SeekDroid site for you to view. This is great if you just misplace your device.

If you are in the general vicinity of your lost phone, SeekDroid can also be used to sound an alarm. This uses the push messaging API as well. And it’s the same story with the ability to pull a call log, but in the other direction. This is perfect for finding out if a third party is actually using your phone.

When worse comes to worse, SeekDroid can be used to wipe the phone of all personal information. You have to toggle this on in the settings, but it’s safe security to do so. If you just need to lock it down, that option is available as well. You just choose a PIN remotely, and the device is locked.

SeekDroid provides this functionality better than any other app we’ve tested. It is fast, reliable, and cheap. It’s just $0.99 for an unlimited license.

Astro File Manager

Android gives you access to the full file system on your SD card, but you’re going to need an app to manage it. We have in the past (and still do) recommend Astro File Manager for this task. It has proven to be one of the most reliable apps with the features we need. It’s maybe not the most pretty app out there, but never once has it failed us.

Astro lays out all your folders in a list, but you can switch to an icon view as well. Even with a large number of items, Astro doesn’t slow down or hesitate in the slightest. You have to option of sorting files and folders in various ways.

There is a persistent scrollable tool bar at the top with common functions like up, edit, multi-select, and home. Better yet, as you select and edit files and folders, this bar will change to bring the options you are likely to need forward.

Astro comes with its own set of useful tools including SD analysis, app backup, and a browser download plug-in. Astro is also supported by the developers of a lot of other apps that need access to the file system. Astro can be pulled up in a frame without leaving the app in question.

The free version of Astro has an ad at the bottom, but the full version key will remove that ad for the reasonable sum of $3.99. We have always found Astro to be extremely useful and recommend you support this developer.

Shush! Ringtone Restorer

Something we all do on an almost daily basis is set our phones to vibrate. But if you forget to turn the volume back up, you risk missing a call or text. Shush solves this problem elegantly and with virtually no additional effort on your part.

Here’s how it works. Once Shush is installed, every time you turn the volume all the way off by holding down the volume toggle, Shush will pop up a small frame over the bottom half of your screen. Here you can set the amount of time you would like Shush to keep your phone silenced for. After that time has elapsed, your ringer will be turned back on.

There is also an icon in the corner of the Shush pop up that will let you choose the volume to restore to when the time comes. If you don’t want to take advantage of Shush, you can just press Keep It Off to silence the phone normally. Ignoring or dismissing Shush with the back button will also keep your ringer off.

When your ringer is shushed, there will be a handy notification up top letting you know what time it will go back on. Tapping on this will immediately re-enable the ringer.

Shush is one of our favorite apps because of it’s pure usefulness and perfect stability. Shush is, inexplicably, free.

Battleheart

What fun would your phone be without a few games to pass the time? One of our favorite games is the recently arrived Battleheart. This game is part real-time strategy, and part RPG. You will need to carefully control your units and play to their strengths to come out victorious.

The player controls up to four units which can be moved around the screen by dragging to a location. Enemies will pour in from all sides, and you use a similar tap and dragging gesture to order one of your units to attack. But it’s not just direct attacks, some units are buffers, and some are healers. Additionally, each unit has unique attacks and powers that can be used at any time. Making liberal use of these powers is the only way you’re going to make it.

At the end of each level, your surviving units will gain experience and possibly level up. Every five levels, you get to choose another power. The characters are also improved upon by buying and upgrading equipment. Fighting in one of the arenas can also get you some great gear.

Battleheart looks amazing. All the lines are clean and character models are very high quality. Your units stand out and have unique animations for each and every action. The sound reminds us of Zelda in a big way, too.

When this game first launched, we noticed an issue with brightness and a few laggy bits during extensive animations. After a few updates, that is all gone. Battleheart is a favorite of ours because it’s polished, and oh so fun to play. Every Android phone should have this game installed. $2.99 in the Market.

Evernote

We often point to the convenience factor of smartphones as one of their most compelling features. In that vein, one of the apps we just cannot live without on our Android phones is Evernote. This is the best way to jot down notes, ideas, and lists on the go. Everything you put into Evernote gets synced to the cloud for safe keeping.

When Evernote debuted, it was a fine app, but looked a little busted. Well, in recent months this app has gotten a make over ‒ scratch that; it’s gotten some serious reconstructive surgery. Evernote for Android has a snappy attractive UI, solid editing, and all the features we could ever need in a note taking app.

The main screen offers you quick access to your notes, tags, notebooks, and shared notes. At the top of the screen you can easily make a new note and add a photo to Evernote. Everything you change on the phone will be replicated on all your other Evernote platforms in a matter of seconds.

Premium users can have entire notebooks synced to their devices for access offline. Free users don't have that ability, but the free account does come with a reasonable 60MB of monthly bandwidth. It's hard to use more than that if you are mostly working with text notes.

When checking out your list of notes, you can sort, search, and tag them easily. The app supports multi-touch zooming when viewing your notes, and voice input is available throughout the app.

If you’re a heavy Evernote user, take advantage of the handy widget which gives you access to the app itself, as well as creating voice and text notes, image uploads, and search. The app is free and you can make extensive use of the service without paying a dime. Every Android phone should have Evernote installed.

Beautiful Widgets

For the last year and a half, Beautiful Widgets has been one of the top paid apps on Android. It offers a suite of attractive widgets for time, weather, battery, hardware toggles, and more. All the widgets are skinnable, meaning you can match Beautiful Widgets to your phone’s home screen aesthetic.

The Super Clock widget is perhaps the most commonly used element of Beautiful Widgets. This is a high resolution clock with the date and either weather, or battery information included. It tracks your physical location without hitting the battery too hard to make sure you always have the correct weather and forecast for your current location.

Tapping on the weather icon pulls up a really excellent animation of current conditions with a lot of more useful data like forecast, wind speed, and humidity. Beautiful Widgets allows you to set various apps to launch when certain parts of the widget are tapped on. Maybe you want your alarm app to launch when you tap the time, or a full weather app to appear when you hit the forecast.

There are dozens and dozens of skins for the battery gauge, weather icon, and clock available within the app. Some are quite garish, but many are genuinely beautiful. We consider this app a must have due to the extensive customization and usefulness of it. Beautiful Widgets is going to run you about $3.

QuickPic

Look, the stock Android Gallery app is fine. Same goes for the modified versions that some OEM’s use. But QuickPic lives up to its name and makes the experience of browsing our images and videos much better overall.

This app can take over for your Gallery app in any instance the system calls for it. Just select QuickPic from the pop up, and check the “Use by default for this action” box. QuickPic loads up all your picture folders fast, and isn’t even thrown off by new content. The stock Gallery can sometimes start chugging if you add or move a lot of files. You can see your folders in list, or thumbnail view.

QuickPic has options to hide folders you don’t want to see, and you have more than enough sorting options to deal with even the largest image library. You can also rotate and crop images within the app.

Of course, it has all the usual goodies like multi-touch zooming, slide shows, and the ability to set as wallpaper. We actually prefer using QuickPic to choose backgrounds not only because it’s fast, but because it frames the images correctly from the start.

QuickPic is essential for all Android users. It’s been the replacement for our Gallery app for some time now. This one is free, so definitely give it a look.

Dropbox

If you don’t have a Dropbox account, get one right this minute. The Dropbox app for Android is very solid and makes it easy to get files to and from your device. A free Dropbox account comes with 2GB of storage, but you can buy more, or earn it with referrals (please don’t post those here) or by completing quests like taking the Dropbox tour.

The app opens up on your Dropbox folder in the cloud. You can tap on any file to open it, or long press for options like sharing, delete, and download. If you download a file, it will be stored locally on your SD card in a folder called Dropbox for you to access with any app.

The other big benefit we get from Dropbox, and why we consider it a must have app, is that it makes the process of getting a file from the phone to a computer super-easy. Dropbox integrates with the system-level sharing menu. So in an app that lets you share content, you can share to Dropbox and have the file pop up on all your Dropbox-connected devices instantly.

Dropbox also includes a passcode lock to keep people out of your files, making it a great place to store important documents you might need while out and about. Dropbox is free and hugely useful.

Cut the Rope

Okay, so Battleheart is a little intense for non-gamers. But it just so happens there is a new casual game in the Android Market that is great for playing in short bursts, and doesn’t require your undivided attention. Also, it has nothing what so ever to do with discontent avians. Cut the Rope is available ad-free on Android and it is one of the most entertaining games out there.

In just a few days it has skyrocketed to the top of the games category in the Market with tens of thousands of sales. We just went over the finer points of the game in detail in the Android Market Roundup, but it also deserves a place here. Your goal in Cut the Rope is to get a piece of candy to drop into the mouth of your pet monster. Throughout the game you have to contend with obstacles and game elements that enable you to pick up stars on the way to Om Nom the monster.

The game play is intuitive as can be. You slide your finger across the screen to cut ropes. The game will teach you how to use the new play mechanisms as they come up. You will get a real feel for the physics engine at work in Cut the Rope. It’s really well-implemented and makes the game a joy to play.

The graphics in Cut the Rope are highly refined. Each set of levels have a different look and feel. Om Nom dances around and reacts to what you’re doing on screen as well. The look and feel doesn’t get old, and there are over 100 levels in which to try. For the low price of $0.99 Cut the Rope is one of our favorite apps.

That it for our list of the essential Android apps for your phone. Feel free to discuss some of your favorite apps in the comments. We’ll continue to keep an eye on the state of Android apps so we can come back to this topic in the future.