The 12 best free apps for your new Android Phone

If you find a new Android phone (maybe a Nexus 6?) in your stocking, you’ll want to stock it with this collection of indispensable apps.

nexus 6
Swapnil Bhartiya

Must-have apps for every Android user

I ordered the Nexus 6 as soon as Google put it on the Play Store. I consider myself lucky because the device went out of stock within 10 seconds and never reappeared on the store.

The phone came a few weeks ago and I quickly loaded up it with all of the apps that I use. The 12 apps featured here are some of my personal favorites and I recommend them for just about any Android user.

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vlc theatre
Wikimedia

VLC

VLC is actually the first app that I install on my Android devices. VLC is like a Swiss Army knife for handling any audio/video format. That's one of the many areas where I find my iPad crippled when compared with Android.

On the iOS devices everything has to pass through iTunes, which will not allow copying of media files other than those supported by iOS.

But Android is capable of playing virtually any video format. Just drag and drop the file in the desired folder and you are all set. Open that file with VLC and it will play perfectly.

VLC also doubles as a decent Music Player with support for playlists and will also play online videos.

Download VLC from Google Play Store

wunderlist

Wunderlist

Wunderlist does many things. It’s your to-do list, reminder and errand management all in one package. It’s my loyal assistant to keep track of stories I write for ITworld; it will nag me if I miss my deadline. As I accomplish each task, I click on it, and it is removed from the list.

It’s even more fun when you use it as your shopping list. My wife and I share a shopping list on Wunderlist and I can add more items to her list while she is shopping. As she chooses an item and puts in the cart, I can see it in real time as she ticks it off.

You can also use it for assigning tasks among colleagues at work. It is cross platform and the data remains synced with the cloud, which makes it an excellent collaboration tool.

That's not all. You can also share a list publicly for anyone to read and comment.

Download Wunderlist from Google Play Store

nokia here

Nokia HERE Maps

I love Google Maps, but its inability to work offline is troublesome when you pass through pockets of no cellular network. If you want to make a detour due to road conditions, you are stuck because Google Maps won’t work without the internet even if you have downloaded that region of the map locally.

When we lived in Europe, we could drive just 40 minutes and be in a different country, which was great, except that any use of cellular data to use Google Maps would incur heavy roaming charges.

That's where Nokia's HERE maps takes over. You can download maps for entire states (in the case of Europe, countries) while you are on wireless, thus saving the capped cellular data.

With HERE you can search and re-plan routes without the internet, just the way Tom Tom or the GPS system in your car function.

HERE is not offline only. It will show you live traffic updates or delays on the route using the cellular data. But unlike Google Maps it won’t be chomping your data, it will merely be sniffing it.

HERE has a lot of desired features that Google Maps doesn’t have. It shows your current speed and the maximum speed on the road. It will inform you if you are speeding and saves you from getting a ticket.

Download HERE maps from Google Play Store.

airdroid

AirDroid

Android does an excellent job of giving you full control over your phone. It's a pleasure transferring data between your phone and your PC -- something that's quite a disaster in the iOS world.

While I can physically connect my Android device to my Linux PC or Chromebook via USB and transfer data, it’s even easier through apps like AirDroid.

AirDroid allows me to access and control my phone from a browser running on any device. The connection is established over the local network. The way it works is quite easy: open the app on your phone and it will provide you a URL for your browser on PC.

I can copy files from my phone to my PC or the other way around. That’s just one of the many features of AirDroid. You can manage almost everything: Create new folders on your phone, delete files, see how much free space remains, take a backup of your apps. You can even remove or install apps right from your browser.

This is the best and must have Android app for any user.

Download AirDroid from Google Play Store.

es file manager

ES File Explorer File Manager

The experience I get on Android is that of a full blown OS where I have total control over it. My Android phone doubles as a hand-held PC. I have well-organized folders for documents, images, movies, music, ebooks, etc.

ES File Manager enables me to better manage my files and folders on Android. But the app does much more than that. I have Samba server to access my data on the local network and ES can connect to it and provide me access to that data while on the move within my house.

Do you use Dropbox, Google Drive or any other cloud storage and sync services? You can manage everything from this app without needing to download and install those apps.

Download ES File Explorer File Manager from Google Play Store.

hp

HP All-in-One Printer Remote

If you own an HP printer or scanner this is a must have app. The app turns your smartphone into a wireless remote for your printer and scanner. Not only can you print documents from your phone, you can also manage scanning of documents. The scanned documents will appear on your phone and you can either save them locally, save on cloud or send them via email or other supported services.

Since I own an HP printer I have used this app, though there are official apps for printers by other companies on the Google Play Store.

Download HP All-in-One Printer Remote from Google Play Store.

dslrdashboard
Swapnil Bhartiya

DslrDashboard

This is another area where my iPad falls short: There is not a single app that allows me to control or manage my DSLR from the mobile device. There are many such apps for Android, however, and DslrDashboard is one of the best.

Just connect the smartphone to the camera using the USB cable (you will need an OTG -- on the go -- USB cable) and then your smartphone doubles as an extended screen for your DSLR.

The app can take control of the manual settings of your camera -- whether it be the shutter speed, iso number, or aperture.

You can also record videos, which comes handy if you are shooting yourself and can't be behind the camera to compose the shot.

It's a great app for taking more creative shots like HDR or long exposure where you would not want to touch the camera.

Download DslrDashboard from Google Play Store.

feedly

Feedly

As a journalist, RSS feeds are the pipelines that continuously feed me with news updates. There is no dearth of great feed reading apps for Linux, but when it comes to smartphones the experience is mixed.

Feedly fills the gap neatly. Since Feedly supports the import and export of opml files, it’s quite easy to keep my feed synced across the devices using the same opml file.

Feedly can be connected through services like Gmail or Facebook so all of your data stays synced through the cloud. You can access it across platforms without worrying about missing any hot news.

Download Feedly from Google Play Store.

pandora

Pandora & Spotify

Yes, I know they're two separate apps, but I'm combining them here because both offer the same kind of services. They are like Netflix for music. You can listen to hundreds of tracks for free -- as long as you're willing to put up with advertising (subscription versions offer more features).

I prefer Pandora over Spotify because it supports Chromecast, allowing me to stream it to my $35 device.

Download Pandora or Spotify from Google Play Store

my maps

My Maps and My Tracks

I am combining these two apps, even though they do different things, because they're both Google apps that are built on top of Google Maps (though currently they don’t offer any integration with Maps).

My Maps allows you to create your own ‘map’ for a region. This is a must have for those who go hiking or trekking and would like to follow the same route every time. And it’s great for tourists. If you are going on a vacation, get this app. You will be amazed how helpful it is to plan and map out the places you want to visit. You can choose the best routes to ensure you don’t miss any sites or go back and forth to see places.

My Tracks, on the other hand, is for fitness enthusiasts. The app records your path, speed, distance and elevation while you walk, run, bike, etc. You can get a real-time view of the data to see how you are doing. The app also works with Android wear. I am not much into outdoor activities, but my wife uses it routinely.

Download My Tracks and My Maps from Google Play Store

dropbox

Dropbox

It needs no introduction. Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud storage and sync services. Though I use ownCloud for my sensitive data, Dropbox remains ‘the’ app that I use to share data that is either not sensitive in nature or is meant for public sharing.

The Dropbox app does a great job at versioning if you are doing a lot of editing on text files. In fact I put all my stories on Dropbox so I can work on them from any device and not worry about losing changes.

Download Dropbox from Google Play Store

denon

Remote control

Nexus 6 doesn’t have an IR sensor so I can’t use N6 to directly control my electronic equipment.

However, with a handful of apps, I can use my Nexus 6 to control any devices that can be connected over the local network.

My Denon A/V system can be controlled by the Denon app. I can now keep my denon system out of sight without having to worry about easy access to its dashboard or keeping it in line of sight of the IR remote. I can actually control it from a different room.

The Sony Bluray Player I own also has an official app, so finding the right YouTube or Netflix video is no longer a challenge.

That’s not all. With the Retune app, I can manage iTunes playlists running on my MacBook. The way it works is I can leave the Macbook in my study, stream the audio over Denon’s AirPlay and control iTunes from the app. If my guests want to see the music I have or want to change the track I don’t have to expose my Mac to them, they can do everything from the Nexus 6.

nexus 6
Swapnil Bhartiya

What's on your phone?

These are some of the best apps that I use to cover my diverse needs.

Other apps I can't do without include Twitter, WordPress, Groupon, Moon+ ebook reader, Google Night Sky and Amazon Shopping, among many more.

Let us know which apps you use.

See also:

'Insufficient Storage Available' is one of Android's greatest annoyances. Here's how to fix it.

20 great productivity apps for Android, iOS, and the Web

3 tools for running Android on your Windows PC