The TEKSide Blog

My Top 10 Android Apps by Zach Egolf

Everyone remembers that moment; the first time they got their hands on a smart phone. The world was their oyster, a sea filled with limitless apps, and you immediately got into whatever app store you were a member of, and downloaded every app under the sun.

Then, your phone started running like garbage, and you realized that you probably didn't need a 10th fart app, or that app that makes it look like you're pouring out a beer, or two different versions of a Billy Madison soundboard.

As the years have gone by, app store management has gotten more and more robust, and the quality of apps has gotten better. As an Android user for years, it was difficult to watch friends with iDevices get the newest, latest and best apps months before we did, if ever! Now that the two systems are, for the most part, on par it's a wonderful time to be a user of either system.

With that, here are my top 10 Android apps, as of January 2nd, 2016 (nailed the year on the first try!), in no particular order!

1. Nova Launcher - If you've ever used any device that is running a skin of Android, you quickly realize that their launcher probably sucks, has zero customization, and restricts so much of what Android is capable of doing. I've tried many replacement launchers, but always come back to Nova for its ability to be as simple, or complex, as you want. Tack on smooth transitions, and an unprecedented ability to actually make your phone perform better, and you've got a solid UI that gives its users the ability to truly make their phone their own.

2. Twitter - Twitter has a nasty habit of creating features that take months and months to work their way into 3rd party clients. As such, I find myself coming back to the actual Twitter client a few weeks after stumbling through a kludged together app. It's fairly lightweight, and is almost always guaranteed to support the features developed by Twitter. The only downside is having the app serve ads and suggested posts, but you very quickly develop a thick enough skin to ignore them.

3. Inbox by Google - Inbox, by Google, was a surprise hit that, while actually released to Beta in 2014, really came to fruition in 2015. Folks that have used Mailbox will find many of its features similar, but with a app that performs nearly identically to its web counterpart, Inbox has completely changed the way that some people "do" email. As Google continues to add more and more storage to its user's inboxes, no longer are we forced to delete things to maintain storage.  With less focus on permanence, you now have a better chance finding the email you accidentally deleted. Probably the biggest feature I use in Inbox, is the "Schedule for Later" button which, as you might have guessed, allows you to hide an email and have it pop up later as "new". Are you out at the grocery store and can't respond to an email right away? Schedule it for later so you don't forget!

4. Hangouts by Google - No brainer, here. Hangouts is a great, compact messaging app that allows for cross-platform communication. Send a message in the app, and it's going to show up the next time you're on a computer. Sadly, 2016 seems to be the year that Google is planning to remove the SMS feature from its service, but as less and less people use SMS in lieu of other messaging services, this seems to be no big deal.

5. Giant Bomb Video Buddy - Here's one out of left field. As a Premium member of video game site GiantBomb.com, and a regular Chromecast user, I wanted a way to get Giant Bomb's videos onto my Chromecast without having to cast a tab from my browser. GBVB does exactly that, giving me access to the regular, and premium content complete with the ability to send it to my Chromecast. With a responsive developer, this app will be a mainstay on any future devices I might own!

6. SwiftKey Keyboard - SwiftKey seems to have cornered the market on keyboard replacement apps, and isn't going to give it up easily. I couldn't imagine attempting to type things on a standard keyboard anymore, and with a recently acquired iPad Air 2, have come to realize just how much I rely on SwiftKey's flow typing for speed and accuracy. If you try one app on this list in order to improve your Android experience, SwiftKey should probably be it. It won't wow you with a ton of bells and whistles, but it will definitely be an experience that leaves you wondering how you survived before it.

7. Android Pay - If I had to rank my top ten list, Android Pay would probably be dead last. That sounds worse than it is. Android Pay is Google's answer to the NFC Payment question.  Sadly, after experiencing a wee bit of credit card fraud, our cards stopped working in Android Pay (the bank isn't supported, and our cards were grandfathered in) so Android Pay is nearly worthless at present. That being said, being able to scan in VIP and membership cards is a great feature, and I've no doubt our card will be back in their system before too long.

8. Google Opinion Rewards - What's this one doing on here, right? What if I was to tell you that, by turning on location services and answering a couple of questions about places you've shopped, Google would give you money with which to buy anything from Google Play? That's exactly what Rewards is, and how I've been able to spend most of 2015 without ever paying out of my own pocket for an app. In 2015, I earned nearly $40 worth of Google Play credit, with most questions being like, "Hey, you were at an Arby's on Thursday? Out of 5 stars, how would you rate your experience?" Let's get real for a second, here, folks. It's 2016. If you think your entire life isn't being tracked, you're either crazy or you live in a shack with no internet.  Or both.

9. PocketCasts - PocketCasts in my go-to Podcast app.  It has three key features that I look for in a podcast app:

      1. Speed controls

      2. Auto-download/delete

      3. Password protected podcast access

People talk slow, and I listen to a lot of podcasts. I enjoy being able to listen at 1.5x normal speed, to zip through slow drawls and dead air. I also don't like having to delete each podcast once I've finished downloading it, and don't want to have to download the new ones as they come in. And remember that Giantbomb app?  They have premium podcasts, and I'm a big fan of listening to those. PocketCasts authenticates with their site to allow me to do so.

10. Waze - Without a doubt, the most used app on my phone is Waze. Waze is Sat-nav on steroids. Waze is Google Maps, with features you'd never dream of having. Waze is social navigation, allowing its users to report traffic delays, speed traps, accidents, and other things on the road that might hinder a commute. As a person with a 45 minute commute, I want to know if I'm going to run into issues on my drive that might make my already-too-long commute even longer. Waze has gotten me out of more messes on the road than I can count, and should definitely be on every person's phone. It's better than Google Maps. It's better than Apple Maps.  It's hands-down, the best navigation app on the market.

Got any apps you think should have been on my list?  Disagree with any apps I listed?  I'd love to hear your feedback! 

Article written by contributing TEKSide writer: Zach Egolf