Last year, Google unveiled its design vision for the future. Called Material Design, it incorporates bold colors, flat elements, and informative animations to create a fresh user interface for the modern age. Material Design made its major debut with the launch of Android 5.0 Lollipop in the fall, and Google has been rapidly updating its own apps and services to take advantage of the new design directives.
Google isn't the only one that's been applying Material Design ideas to its apps: plenty of third-party Android app makers have released refreshed and overhauled apps to match Google's new platform. These apps often look and feel great, and they're typically much more enjoyable to use than older Android apps thanks to their fun animations and delightful transitions.
Here are 10 Android apps that have taken advantage of Google's new tools to provide fresh takes on old ideas. (Note: if you don't yet have Android 5.0 Lollipop on your phone, you can still install and use these apps. The designs and appearances will be the same, but older phones won't support all of the animations and transitions possible with Lollipop.)
Action Launcher 3
Action Launcher has long provided a different take on the standard homescreen / launcher app, offering unique and useful ideas like collapsible widgets and app icons that also act as folders. The latest version of the app incorporates those ideas with Material Design transitions and animations, making for an efficient, attractive, easy-to-use homescreen for your phone. Action Launcher 3 will even automatically customize the colors and backgrounds of folders, the app drawer, and persistent search box based on your current wallpaper, offering a personalized and cohesive look with minimal effort. Action Launcher 3 is available for free, with a $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock all of its features.
Falcon Pro 3
Twitter has updated its own app with some Material Design elements, but if you're looking for a complete experience, Falcon Pro 3 is what you want. It's a full-featured Twitter app built around Material Design guidelines, with great typography, beautiful transitions and animations, and a buttery-fluid user experience. It also has useful features like smart refresh rates based on your usage, granular notification controls, and big, bold inline images in your timeline. Falcon Pro 3 costs $3.99 for one Twitter account, with additional accounts running $1.99 each.
Our favorite RSS reader for Android, Press, hasn't been updated in a long time (the makers promise that a big Material Design update is in the works), but if you're a Feedly user looking for some Material Design right now, you want FeedlyReader. The simply-named FeedlyReader has everything most people look for in a feed reader: a spartan interface, pull-to-refresh, offline caching, and quick sharing to other services. It also has a customizable color palette based on the Material Design themes, as well as delightful animations throughout. The best part is that it's free, so it's easy to switch over to this while we await the big refresh to Press.
Cabinet was one of the first apps to apply Google's new design directives, launching even before Android Lollipop became officially available. It's a basic file browser that makes it easy to jump between directories and access the files on your phone. Just this week I downloaded Lil Wayne's new mixtape directly to my phone and used Cabinet to unzip the file and place it in my Music folder. Cabinet is still listed as a beta, but I haven't found any reason to not rely on it full time. It's available for free from the Play Store now.
It might be cheating to include Google's own apps in this list, but Google's Inbox is one of the best examples of Material Design in action to date, so I'd be remiss to ignore it. Inbox has everything you want from a Material Design app: bold colors, fun pull-to-refresh actions, easy one-handed navigation, and informative animations. It actually makes it fun to manage your inbox, which is no small feat. Inbox is free and requires an invite to access, though those are fairly easy to come by. Google says that support for Google Apps accounts is in the works, but for now, it's Gmail accounts only.
Checking the weather is one of the most common things to do on your smartphone, and Weather Timeline is the prettiest way to do it on your Android device. Weather Timeline taps into the data from Forecast.io to provide hyperlocal forecasts, precipitation alerts, radar, and more. It has a brilliantly simple interface that lets you dive in to get more information, all the way down to hour-by-hour predictions. Weather Timeline also supports Android Wear and offers a useful Dashclock widget. It's available for $0.99.
Simplenote is my favorite cross-platform note taking app because it's just so fast and simple to use. A recent update to its Android app brings the Material Design you've been craving, along with a new dark theme. Evernote is better for more advanced note-taking, such as clipping websites and saving images, but for basic text notes, Simplenote is hard to beat. It's available for free from the Play Store now.
Once again, one of Google's own apps offers some of the best Material Design you can get. The recently released Messenger app is a straight-forward SMS and MMS app that uses Google's new design directives to the fullest. It's fast, clean, and fun to use, even customizing each conversation with a different color. I'd love to see Google add actionable notifications and iron out some of the MMS wrinkles a lot of users are seeing in it, but as far as design goes, Messenger can't be beat. You can download Messenger for free from the Google Play Store now.
QuickPic has been my go-to gallery app on Android for a long time because it's fast and easy to use. A recent update made it even better, with Material Design animations and integrated cloud storage backup. If you're not a fan of Google's Photos app, which integrates Google+ with all of the images on your device, and just want something better to use, QuickPic is where it's at. QuickPic is free and available now.
Like Inbox and Messenger, Google's own Calendar app is a brilliant example of Material Design in action. Bright colors, pleasing images, and fast and informative animations all combine to make a great calendar app experience. Google Calendar's full-month view is pretty basic, but agenda list and homescreen widget are wonderfully done. Nexus device users likely have Google Calendar already on their phones, but the rest of us can download it for free from the Play Store now.