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The 12 best apps for your new Android device

Best Android apps for your new device
So, you found a brand-new Android device under the tree a few days ago. Congratulations! Now what? In this post I'm going to recommend the very best apps to get off on the right foot with Android. If you've been using Android for a while, chances are you know most of these. Still, you might find a hidden gem or two. These are all based on my own use, so while the list is subjective in nature, these are not just shiny apps we've noticed in the market -- they have all been tested in real life for quite some time. Here goes:




Lookout Mobile Security

Lookout

When you just get a shiny new toy, it's hard to think you might lose it some day, or worse yet, that it might get stolen. But these things do happen; and losing a smartphone is not like losing an old Nokia: all of your emails are there, a ton of personal information, and other things you may be less than keen to share with the world.

I covered Lookout Mobile Security a while back, and just this morning Lee provided another example for Lookout's effectiveness, with its discovery of a sophisticated Trojan out in the wild for Android.

It's basically a do-it-all security utility. While the free version works as a decent antivirus, the paid version ($2.99/month or $29/year) lets you locate your device using the Web, lock it remotely, and even wipe it if needed. It also includes a backup solution for images and SMSes. This should be the first application you install.

AppBrain App Market

Android does have its own Market application, of course. Unfortunately, it can only be viewed using the device. That's nice when I'm on the go, but often I just want to browse and install application from the comfort of my desktop PC and its more generous screen-space. That's where AppBrain comes in: It's a two-part solution – an Android app, and a comprehensive companion website.

Once you create an account on AppBrain, it maintains a live list of all of the applications you've installed, both free and paid. You can browse the site and click Install on any application page, and then when you run AppBrain on the device, the list is synchronized and you're quickly led through the installation process.

AppBrain actually used to be better: There was a companion app called Fast Web Installer that would make the whole process transparent. You would click Install on the PC, and the app would just show up on your device. It was magical, but sadly, Google disabled it in recent versions of Android's Market App (the back-end AppBrain uses for installing applications). Still, it's an invaluable app, and most of the QR codes you find on Download Squad lead to AppBrain pages.

Dropbox

What is there to say, really? This one's a no-brainer. If you use Dropbox on your computer, having it on your mobile device makes perfect sense. With Dropbox you get seamless access to all of your files and documents, and you can also easily upload files from the device itself.

Pro tip: If you run Dropbox and then press your device's camera button, the image you take will be automatically uploaded onto the Dropbox you're currently browsing. That's a super-fast way to get a picture into the cloud.

Epistle

Speaking of Dropbox, how can I not mention my text editor of choice? Epistle is a super-lean, slick text editor, covered here. Its main claim to fame is seamless synchronization with Dropbox. You don't actually need to have the Dropbox client installed for Epistle to work – it communicates with Dropbox independently.

I love creating a plain text document on my computer and having it show up on the device, making a couple of edits while I'm on the go, and seeing those edits seamlessly reflected on the PC. Very, very handy.

Gesture Search
This is actually an app by the big G, but it doesn't come bundled with Android by default. It turns your device's touch-screen into a large canvas that you draw letters on; Gesture Search tries to figure out what it is you're trying to spell, and displays relevant results from a plethora of sources. It can search your contacts, your applications, or even specific device settings.

This is actually the main way I launch applications on the device: I start Gesture Search using a convenient shortcut, and then I start spelling whatever it is I want. Usually it takes just one character for Gesture Search to figure out what I want; it gives me a list with a few results, and what I want is just there. It's faster, and less confusing, than browsing through a large screen full of icons. A truly fantastic, and under-hyped, application.

SlideIT or Swype

My device does not have a hardware keyboard; I hate the default keyboard, and most customized keyboards I've encountered so far. The main problem is that I have to tap each letter in turn, and that's a very slow, tedious way to type, at least for me.

When talking about "sliding" keyboards, most people mention Swype; but when I first decided I want to try such a keyboard, the Swype Beta was closed (it has since re-opened). So I turned to an alternative that was available, called SlideIT.

SlideIt
I was very pleasantly surprised. It works very well, and it supports Hebrew, which is a huge bonus for me (and a niche feature for most people, I know). If you're just looking for English support (or speak a more common language, say, Spanish), both Swype and SlideIT are viable options. You need to have some idea about where the keys are in a keyboard, so if you're a hunt-and-peck typist this sort of input method won't work very well for you. But if you touch-type, sliding feels like magic. I love it.

No Lock

To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure why "slide to unlock" is on by default. I guess it depends on the phone's design, but I have never turned on my phone by mistake. While you can completely disable the keyguard ("slide to unlock") using Android's built-in settings (Settings > Location & security > Screen unlock > None), you may want to be able to quickly toggle it on and off. This way, you could usually have it off, but when you're going some place where people might take an over-active interest in your phone, you could just touch a button to switch it back on.

This is exactly what No Lock does. It gives you a small 1x1 widget you can place on your home-screen, and just touch to toggle the keyguard on or off.

Tasker

Tasker
If you use AutoHotkey on the desktop, you're going to love Tasker. Actually, even if you just liked what No Lock does, you would probably love Tasker. You can implement No Lock's functionality using Tasker, and do so much more. Just one small example: I don't have a desktop dock; I just plug my phone into the USB port on the PC. By default, whenever I'd receive an SMS, the phone would just chime. The screen would stay off, and I'd have to manually turn it on, switch to the Messaging app and read the SMS. Every time. What a drag.

Tasker lets me automate that: I now have a simple profile that says "Whenever the device receives an SMS while plugged into USB, turn the screen on and switch to Messaging". That took me about a minute to set up, and works like a charm.

I use Tasker for many other things, but that should give you a basic idea. It's a fantastically powerful way to automate every aspect of your device's operation. You can have it send SMSes, run applications based on geolocation, react to SMSes, and do just about anything you can think of within your device's limitations (so no, it won't make you coffee).

Gentle Alarm

Gentle AlarmAndroid's default alarm clock leaves something to be desired. To be specific, that "something" is a gradual fade-in of the alarm. I have no idea why Google didn't include this feature, but waking up to your alarm blaring at full volume is a jarring way to start off the day.

Gentle Alarm costs $2.73, but is worth every penny. Fading the alarm in is just a tiny part of what it can do; it can prompt you with a CAPTCHA when you wake up (to make sure you really are awake). It can also snooze, and reduce the snooze duration by a user-configurable amount. It has pre-alarms, and many other features. I am going to cover it in detail soon, but for now, suffice it to say that this is pretty much the best alarm clock for Android at the moment.

GTasks

When it comes to task management, it seems like Astrid is pretty much the go-to app on Android. It used to sync with Remember The Milk, but that had to be disabled due to some legal issues (apparently Astrid somehow violated RTM's Terms of Use). At any rate, while Astrid is great, it simply didn't fit the bill for me. I wanted something that syncs with Google's own Tasks service, and GTasks does this quite well.

It's ad-supported, with an optional paid version going for $6.99. That's a fairly hefty price tag for an Android app, but I find the free version is more than enough for me. It lets me manage multiple task lists, syncs in near real-time with Google, and is generally pleasant to use.

Wolfram Alpha

I'm a big Alpha fan, and when they finally released an Android app, I immediately bought it. It's $0.99, and it is often a better way than Google to answer specific questions such as "how many calories are in a donut" (not that I ever had to look that up). If you're mathematically-minded, it can serve as a very capable graphing calculator. It does a ton of other stuff – basically, everything you can do using Wolfram Alpha on the Web.

KeePassDroid

Last, but certainly not least, is KeePassDroid. If you use KeePass on the PC, and installed Dropbox for Android as mentioned above, KeePassDroid should definitely be one of the first apps to grace your device's homescreen. It is very usable: you navigate to the entry you need, and then switch back to the browser (or whatever app you needed the password for). KeePassDroid then pops up two messages in the notification area: clicking one message copies your username to the clipboard, and clicking the other copies your password. Seamless, and a joy to use.

Your turn

This was not a definitive list; it was very difficult to narrow it down to just a handful of apps, and there are many other applications I use daily and love (for example, I didn't mention what launcher I use – care to guess?). What key app did I miss? Let me know in the comments.

[Image credit: Max Brown]

Tags: android, apps, features, hgg, lists, reviews

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