I have become quite a big fan of the Android operating system (although I’m not a huge fan of my current phone, the Samsung Charge). Consequently, I am finding myself more reliant on the phone to maintain many different aspects of my life. All of these apps below were at one time just a “cool app” and now my attitude is “I need this app to function.” Let me know what you think, and please add your recommendations with an explanation of its usefulness in the comments.
1: Yelp – Be a local expert, wherever I go
I have to admit I’m more of a user than a contributor to Yelp. I’ve only written a couple of reviews, yet I rely on the service all the time. While retailers on the site complain about the editorial policy (many argue that valid 5-star reviews are pulled by the Yelp algorithm and staff) I have almost always found the reviews to be accurate. I’ve used Yelp mobile for restaurant recommendations, or if I’m eager to find a frozen yogurt shop nearby.
2: Google Maps Navigation – I am never lost, especially when vacationing
Since using Android’s built-in “talk to you” navigation system, I can’t remember the last time I looked at a map or asked someone for directions. I would say this default app alone is the reason to get an Android phone over an iPhone. I can’t believe there’s still a market left for navigation systems with the easy availability of this free application.
3: Facebook - Maintain connection to my network of friends
I’m admittedly a Facebook addict, and this application definitely feeds it.
4: Facebook Messenger – See availability status of my friends
I’ve been an IM user since the ICQ days and the one and only factor that makes an IM application useful is the number of your contacts that are using it. By the sheer fact that everyone I’m connected to on Facebook is using the instant messaging application, it is a far more valuable IM tool than any of the other applications.
5: UberSocial – Stay connected with my Twitter community
There are tons of mobile Twitter applications. This one works for me. A mobile Twitter application is incredibly valuable if you’re stuck in a situation and you’re hoping your community can answer a pressing question for you.
6: Camera – I never have to remember to bring my still camera or video camera
You know when you need a camera? When there’s a moment happening that you want to capture. How the hell do you plan for something like that? Thankfully I don’t have to now that my phone, which I take with me everywhere, has both a still camera and a video camera.
7: Google Play (formerly Android App Marketplace) – Downloading kids applications at the last minute
I have a two-year old son and like most parents with small children I’m often in situations, such as at a restaurant, where I need to calm him down and keep him entertained. I rarely have his favorite toy with me, but I always have my phone which allows me to look up, find, and install an app for my son within seconds. He’s entertained. My fellow patrons are happy, and so am I.
8: Evernote – Capturing receipts
Other people use Evernote far more aggressively than I do. I use it solely to take photos of receipts so I don’t have to carry them around with me in my wallet and I have an automatic backup of it in the cloud. It’s all part of my tear this year to go paperless (read: “My Strategy to Go Paperless in 2012″). Once a month I export all my receipts as an HTML file and store them on my computer as I will need these receipts for a few years and I don’t know if Evernote will be around still offering this service. Some people use it in conjunction with Expensify, but my expense reports are not so involved that I would need that.
9: ColorNote – Reminders, ideas for blog posts, and note taking
This is similar to how I feel about the Camera application. I don’t need to remember a notebook or a camera. It’s all on my phone. There are tons of note applications out there, and this one isn’t necessarily better than the others, but it’s the one that I use. The trick to taking advantage of a note taking app is to organize it the way you want to use it. I have one pad for reminders, another for random notes, another for ideas for blog posts, and then if I’m at an event or a meeting I’ll create another pad. All of these notes can be exported to DropBox or emailed to myself.
10: K-9 Mail – Read and reply to all my email
Sadly the mail application that came with my phone pulled all the messages off the server and didn’t have an option for me to change it. K-9 Mail is a free Android mail application that not only lets you change that option, but a ton more. Incredibly management of your email.
11: Muni Alerts – Know when the next bus is coming
Since I’ve moved out of San Francisco I’m not as reliant on this application. I used this tool to time my morning commute and determine which bus I was going to take. If you’ve got public transportation in your city, and the city is tracking their fleet, then an app that gives you arrival times of the next bus or train is indispensable.
12: OurGroceries – Share grocery lists with my wife
This is one of the newest app on my phone and I love it. It’s a synchronized list of groceries that my wife and I share. Any time either of us thinks of something we need to pick up at the drugstore or market, we just add it to the list and our phones are automatically updated. So whoever happens to go to the market can see a list of what we need. Just tap each item as you pick it up in the grocery. Can create lists for anything and they can be synchronized with as many housemates as you have.
13: Fooducate – Know the nutritional value of the crap I keep buying
I’m a complete sucker for packaging that gives me some pitch that it’s “Lite,” “Nutritious,” and “All Natural.” Turns out most of that crap is all B.S. as I’m starting to learn with the Fooducate application which gives an “A” to “D” grade for different packaged foods. Just scan the bar code and you’ll see how it rates. But what makes the app really valuable are the alternative healthier options it suggests. So if that “nutritious” health bar gets a “C-” you can check the recommended health bar brands that score better.
14: Tumblr – Maintain a multimedia diary of my son’s growth
This app has just been recently updated and it allows me to shoot videos, photos, and write updates on a private blog that my wife and I maintain to capture the growth of our son. I’ve been shooting a video a day of my son since the day he’s been born (read my two-part article: “HOW TO: Record, Publish, and Manage ‘a video a day’ of your child”). We put a ton of work into it, and all of four people read it – my wife and I, and our moms.
15: TripIt – Organize all my travel
I was a hold out for this app for quite a while, but then I finally started using it and I love it. Simply forward all your hotel and flight reservations to email@example.com and TripIt automatically creates your itinerary for you, organized by each of your trips. I used to print all the crap out. Now I don’t at all. It’s all on my phone.
16: Shortyz Crosswords – Play the daily crossword from multiple newspapers
I’ve become a little bit of a crossword fan and this is a great app that will yank puzzles from about ten different newspapers.
17: Lookout – Automatically scan apps for malware
I have no idea if this app is doing anything, but it appears it’s doing something right because it says it’s checking my apps and tells me they’re clean. So far no complaints, but time will tell.
Amazingly, the total cost for all these applications is $0. I’m a huge fan of Android, but I don’t spend a dime on the apps. It’s a major problem if you’ve got a huge fan base, but they don’t actually spend any money with you. While I am valuable as a word of mouth marketing voice, I’m not helping them generate any revenue especially since I’m recommending all free applications.
I’m interested to know your recommendations for a very useful Android app and what you use it for. Specifically, I’m looking for a really good business card reader. I’ve tested a few and I’ve been unhappy with the results. Any tips you can offer are greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Creative Commons photo courtesy of Dru Kelly.