As with every smartphone ecosystem, there are simply some apps that improve your experience immensely. Some of them even help you loads in your daily life. We here at Twenty First Tech have decided to compile a list of 10 incredibly useful Android apps that you can install without having to root your device. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive right in!
(Note all app links are to the Google Play Store. We do not promote or condone pirating paid apps.)
1. Google Chrome
First up is Google’s extremely popular computer and mobile browser, Chrome. Released for the Android platform only a year and a half ago, Chrome has once again proven to be a very popular hit with users. Offering a great card-like tabs interface (which Apple has copied with iOS 7), navigating the browser is a breeze. It is not the lightest application though, and requires significant resources to be run smoothly. For example, to close tabs, swiping horizontally will result in the motion being laggy on lesser mobile systems.
Chrome is one of the fastest (if not fastest) mobile browser there is, being able to display information within milliseconds of input. However, a great draw of Chrome is that it uses your Google account, so it can sync with any of your computers that have your Google account signed in to Chrome. This imports all your favourite websites, passwords, credit card data and bookmark data to your mobile device as well, a boon to many who dislike having to manually transfer data over machines.
One criticism of Chrome is that is does not support Flash, so mobile users will have to make do without it. Nevertheless, the internet is moving away from Flash, due to its archaic and bloated architecture. Chrome is only available on Android versions 4.0.4 onwards, so no Chrome for you if you’re stranded on Honeycomb or Gingerbread.
To download it, visit the Play Store link here.
2. Dolphin Browser
For those who don’t have devices fast enough to run Chrome smoothly, there is always the free option of Dolphin Browser. Rated extremely highly not just on the Play Store, this browser even has Flash support. A beautiful tabbed layout is presented to you regardless of screen size, so users with extremely small devices should go for Dolphin Mini.
The best part of this application that it is extremely light on system resources, so you will not see this browser lagging. There is no PC equivalent though, so you cannot sync data across WiFi, or cellular data. Dolphin is available even for those devices that are still stuck on 2.1 Eclair or 2.2 Froyo. 2.3 Gingerbread and 3.0 Honeycomb users should have no problems either.
The developers of this application are extremely receptive to user feedback, and constantly improve their browser to fix the most remote of errors, so you can trust and rely on them to give you a good browsing experience.
Dolphin also features a host of add-ons, on of which is Flash. These add-ons do various tasks and can be downloaded from the Dolphin store.
To navigate around Dolphin you can use the voice recognition mode called Sonar, or you can swipe gestures to launch your favourite sites quickly.
What’s more Dolphin even allows you the customizability of themes to make your browsing experience look better.
To download Dolphin Browser, go here.
3. Nova Launcher
Arguably the best launcher available for Android devices running 4.0 ICS onwards, Nova Launcher may just be the most customizable option for your homescreens. A launcher is one that determines the look and behaviour of a device’s homescreen. With a multitude of themes available, as well as great developer support, your homescreens have never looked better.
Nova Launcher is also extremely light on system resources, so those running slower devices can still enjoy this app.
Using this Launcher is extremely simple. After you have installed Nova Launcher, tap (or press) your home button. At this point, your device should prompt you to choose an app to go to your homescreen. Select ‘Nova Launcher’ and tap on ‘Always’. For those below 4.0 ICS, check the ‘Set as Default’ box before tapping on ‘Nova Launcher’. If you have accidentally selected the wrong launcher without setting a default, tap on home again to try again. If you accidentally set your standard launcher as default again, simply go to Settings > Apps > Nova Launcher and tap on ‘Clear Defaults’. After this, tapping on the home button should provide you with the same prompt again.
If you have already been using your previous launcher, and do not want to undergo the hassle of positioning all your app shortcuts and widgets again, download Desk Migrate, which allows you to copy over the app shortcuts, folders and widgets from your default homescreen.
Nova Launcher has a paid version too, called Nova Launcher Prime where you get to customize more than what you get in the free version.
4. FX File Explorer
Without a doubt, FX File Explorer is the best file manager out there for Android devices, even if competitors’ products are paid offerings. This free file explorer presents to you an extremely clean layout for you to look at your files and manage them. The best part is, the free version does not have any ads!
Other file managers start you off browsing in “/mnt/sdcard”. FX opens with a “home screen” similar to what you’d see if you opened “(My) Computer” on a Windows/Linux box, showing all connected storage (e.g. internal storage, SD card, root filesystem access). It also offers bookmarks to important locations on the device (i.e., “Documents” and “Downloads”, which can be customized, of course). If you have the paid add-on, you’ll see access to all its features (e.g. cloud access, browsing music, photos) here as well. FX has an entirely hierarchical design, with this home screen as its top-level.
FX has unlimited windows. You can view one or two of them at once, in either portrait/landscape orientation. It also has a swipe-to-select gesture for grabbing multiple items, in addition to the standard “multiple select” mode available on all file managers. This is an extremely novel feature that works similar to Windows tablets, and after using it I feel it is quicker and more intuitive than pressing and holding to select multiple files.
Not only that, FX even allows you to add and customize themes to it so that you can enjoy your file browsing experience more.
There are some features unavailable in this version, so you can buy the access code and get those to work for you.
To download FX File Explorer, go here.
One of the strongest contenders for ‘Best Android SMS app’, 8SMS gets everything right. This app is a port of the Android stock messaging (SMS and MMS) app with a few extra useful features then added on. Using features combined from the stock and Cyanogenmod app, 8SMS provides you with one of the best looking interfaces.
The app itself is very light, and certainly not bloated like the stock apps of many manufacturers. The icons look nice and do not give off a tacky feel. The app also has in built emoji support, which thankfully does not interfere with your ability to press Return.
A very nice feature that 8SMS has is a dark theme, which is especially useful at night. It also has many different settings for the notification, such as being able to enable Quick-Reply (the little pop-up that allows to reply even when your screen is locked). All these host of settings allow you to get the best SMS experience you want with minimal fuss.
To download 8SMS, go here.
Another strong contender for the best SMS app on Android, is an app that is loaded with features. The number of features is more than any default SMS app or 8SMS above. A few of them are 800+ emoji’s, animated GIFs, a quick reply popup. A really useful feature is improved group messaging, which works exactly like a Whatsapp group assuming all are running Textra.
You can also customize the text bubble colours for each contact separately, and change delivery reports and notifications behave (icon color, led color, sound, vibrate pattern, privacy and popup). Just like 8SMS it also has a good looking dark mode, albeit a more light one than 8SMS.
Textra is the most customizable SMS application, and the MMS and group interaction works really well. Between this and 8SMS it is a matter between customizability and simplicity.
To get Textra, go here.
7. Evernote (also available for iOS, BlackBerry, Windows and OSX)
Evernote is a note-taking app that allows you to take down notes on any of your devices and have them synced almost immediately, to every other device connected to your account. And by any device, I mean any device. There are apps for the web, Windows, Mac, Windows RT, iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Windows Phone, and even Blackberry.
You can sign up for free here. If you sign up using this link here, you get to trial the premium features for a whole month, which would be useful for storing all your existing notes in this service, because it allows you to store a gigabyte of space for the month you are trialling the premium features, as opposed to just 60 megabytes.
60 megabytes is good for text notes; you will likely never run out. You could store about 2 million words with 60 megabytes. However, if you will be scanning and uploading many images, you will likely need more space. Premium costs 7 bucks per month, or 58 bucks per year, and you can find out more here. It includes OCR text recognition (when scanning documents by taking a picture of it), a pass-code lock on notes or notebooks, and 1 gigabyte of uploads per month. This means that you get to upload up to 1 gigabyte of stuff in a month. If you delete a note, it doesn’t save you any space. As long as it’s uploaded into their servers, it counts. But the next month, your space gets reset and you can upload another 1GB. It doesn’t carry over though, so upload as much as you can and don’t hold back.
Evernote’s best feature is that it syncs all your data over all your devices, so you can scribble some notes down in a lecture on your phone or tablet, and then review and edit them at home on a computer. One caveat faced by many students is the lack of support for diagrams, but you can always take a picture of the diagrams on screen.
This is certainly a must-have app for those who have moved on from taking notes using pen-and-paper, and are using tablets or laptops.
To get Evernote, go to this Play Store link.
8. Lekh Diagram
Lekh Diagram is a very useful flowchart and mind-map tool for Android. What it offers is the ability to sketch, and recognize shapes. If you say, sketch a rectangle with your finger, it recognizes the shape and converts it into a regular rectangle which can be moved and modified to your heart’s desire in the app.
Lekh Diagram uses a smart engine, where not only can you use the standard pinch-zoom gesture to zoom shapes, the app’s unique vertex handle will allows you to precisely move vertices and control points of shapes.
What’s more is that Lekh Diagram can recognize drawing connections between shapes. You can draw two shapes and connect them in whichever way you want simply by drawing the connection in as well. For a highly customizable drawings, the app also supports bezier curves. It can recognize bezier curve drawing and it also allows you to move the control points precisely.
The app can also recognize drawing and erasing of arrow at the end of a line, curve, and open polylines. Lekh also supports exporting your drawing in various formats namely; jpg, png, svg and lekh.
All in all this is an extremely useful app, both for students and business users.
To download this app, have a visit to the Play Store here.
9. My Class Schedule: Timetable
Another must-have app for students is this, My Class Schedule: Timetable. Essentially, this is a Google calendar type of app, but one that has about twenty times as many features. Not only does this app keep you informed about your upcoming classes, but it also reminds you of exams and unfinished homework.
The main feature of this app is its timetable that shows your schedule for any particular day or week. Additionally there are many other helpful features, for example a grade overview with your average grades or the ability to automatically mute your phone during class, which many students forget to do. This feature is one that subtly works its magic. No matter if you go to school or university, this easy to use app helps you to keep track of all related tasks.
Another great and useful feature is the ability to colour code assignments and classes. It can be a great way for you to get a hold on what assignments are due urgently, and on which you can let down your hair a little.
A great addition to this app is that it comes along with widgets. With these you can simply switch your phone on to check what classes are upcoming, and which assignments are due soon.
My Class Schedule also informs you via a notification if you have any assignments due soon, which is a godsend for forgetful people like me. What’s more, if you have two sets of timetables, this app seamlessly switches between them as the weeks pass.
A nice feature is also that the app (not the widgets sadly) can run from your SD card if your main memory is running out of space. Widgets might work, but generally misbehave.
10. Movie Roll
Last but not least, we take a break from the studying and look at an entertainment option – Movie Roll. This app is basically an aggregation of movie information – posters, trailers, casting information… you name it.
In its charts, the app aggregates the following (from IMDB and other databases as well):
- New openings and future upcomings in theaters
- New DVD releases
- Most popular and movies for today
- Top box office
- Oscar awards, Golden Globe awards
- Subgenre charts: Steampunk, Girls with Guns, Time Travel, Zombies, Halloween and many more
- Infinite movie list
It’s search function is extremely varied as well, allowing you to search under multiple genres at once (with over 30 genres), by all major film studios, movies released in specific years, filter by actors, directors, producers, writers and crew members and their filmography and browse through movie charts created by other users.
The app also allows you to set alarms to notify you about new releases and you can comment on and review films you have watched. As of now, the app does not allow you to see movie showtimes and theatres or buy tickets, but these features are soon going to be added by the developer.
The app is extremely good looking, has an easy to use interface, and most importantly, is light on system resources.
That concludes our app recommendation of the week! This week it was for non-rooted Android users, but rooted users, we have something special in store for you next week. Stay tuned, and meanwhile like our Facebook page for more updates!