Android phones used to be for the hyper-nerds, who happily sacrificed simplicity for customization, ease of use for sheer horsepower. But now you don't have to trade – whether you just got a Nexus 4, a Galaxy S III, a One X+, or something else entirely, you're using a phone that does everything you want and does it in style. But what to do with it? First you'll download Facebook and Instagram, and get your Google setup nailed. Then go get Angry Birds Star Wars and Temple Run, sure. But what about when you want to get stuff done? Or when you find out you hate the default Android keyboard and browser? Or you run out of pigs to kill? Here's where to go next.
Mint aggregates all of your bank account, credit card, debt, and investment accounts into a single screen. It’s owned by Intuit, so you can be relatively sure that your information is safe — and having all your finances in a single view is incredibly convenient. The free Mint app for Android takes all that and puts it on your phone, so you can quickly see where your money’s going, and how much you have left to spend.
Google’s Chrome browser on the desktop has become the default for tech-savvy users, and the same should be true on your Android phone. Chrome for Android syncs your bookmarks and even your open tabs with your desktop browser, and it offers a really slick interface and perfect page rendering. It’s only available on Android 4 and up, and in some cases it’s slightly slower than the stock "Browser" app most Android phones ship with — but those are small complaints.
Some of the most addictive mobile games can be a bit... mindless, but Amazing Alex is anything but. You're tasked with creating Rube Goldberg machines that help Alex clean his room, or move that pesky pile of textbooks. It's Rovio's second game after Angry Birds, and it's every bit as insanely engrossing — you'll get your $0.99 worth.
Swype / Swiftkey
The stock keyboard on most Android phones isn’t all that great — but the openness of the platform means there are plenty of keyboard alternatives to help make your typing faster and more accurate. Choosing one can be difficult, but each is worth a shot. Swype lets you drag your finger across the keys to type, while SwiftKey offers better auto-correction and prediction. There are other keyboards out there, but these two are our favorites.
Despite Twitter’s recent change to limit third party clients, there are still some new ones out there that we really like. The latest is Falcon Pro, a $0.99 app that combines some nice design with easy access to all the Twitter features we care about — especially lists. Unfortunately it doesn’t offer push notifications like the official Twitter client, but a quick pull-to-refresh gets your timelines in front of you.
Pocket has quickly become our favorite "Read it Later" service, letting you save articles offline to catch up on at your convenience. Pocket's free Android app offers a clean design and can automatically update itself with your new articles in the background. You can use Android’s "Share" feature from any web page to save the article to Pocket, or save them from your desktop — everything will be there when you need it.
Snapseed is an excellent, free photo editing app that goes well beyond the basic filters most people use in apps like Instagram. It takes a little work to learn the tap + slide way of interacting with your photos, but once you do you’ll be adjusting contrast, saturation, crops, and more in a way that feels native to your Android device. Now that Google itself owns the app, there’s Google+ integration and the promise of future development.
Eye in the Sky
Of the myriad weather apps for Android, Eye in the Sky is our current favorite thanks to a fresh design and easy-to-customize widgets. The free app is super-glanceable and feels "Android-native," which is to say it follows the "Holo" guidelines and lets you quick swipe left and right between views. If you just want to know if you need a jacket or an umbrella, Eye in the Sky can't be beat.
Rdio or Spotify
Google has finally begun offering the ability to match your music to its cloud in Google Music, but a music streaming service like Rdio or Spotify is still much more convenient. You will want to give both a try to see which one you prefer — Rdio does a slightly better job showing you your friends’ music, while Spotify has easier radio-style listening options. But whichever one you choose, you’ll be able to upgrade to a paid service for more features.
Even if you haven’t bought into the note-syncing solution based on Simplenote, the free Flick Note for Android is still worth the install. It’s a dead-simple and straightforward note-taking app, and is fast and easy-to-use. Of course, if you are a Simplenote user (and you should be), it syncs your notes automatically with your desktop and the web.
If there's a little LED light on the front of your Android devices, it's definitely being underutilized. For $2.49, Light Flow unlocks its full potential — you can customize the notification color and frequency on an app by app basis, so at a glance you can tell if that vibration meant you received a work email, a personal email, a Twitter mention, or a Google Talk messages and so on. The free version allows notifications from a select number of apps, while the paid version unlocks the whole list.
We love Clear on iOS because it's such a pretty and fun way to manage your tasks, and Any.DO brings much of the same to Android. Drag and drop your tasks around the free app to make sure you see what you need to do at a glance, and you can easily share tasks with friends and co-workers too. Any.DO is free, and available for a number of platforms, but it's most powerful on Android — you can turn missed calls into tasks automatically, sync with Google Tasks, and even set quick reminders for when you need to pick up the laundry.