If you're intimidated about where to start with your new Android device, or you're a long-time Google fan looking to round out your collection of critical tools, this is the list for you. I've spent many hours refining that unmanageable mass of apps to come up with the 100 Best Android apps, but for some that's still too many, so I've whittled the list down to the essentials.
I'll admit, this list doesn't have everything. It doesn't even begin to touch the seemingly infinite variety of the Google Play store. What it does cover are the apps that you should install on your Android phone or tablet as soon as it comes out of the box. With these ten apps installed, you should be able to tackle just about anything.
But these are just the beginning. Evernote is an enormously versatile tool, but you might find that it's not meeting your needs for to-do lists and you'll want to move to a refined organizational app like Any.do. Or maybe after reading tons of comics in Comixology, you're curious to read the massive backlog of Marvel titles available for a single monthly fee via Marvel Unlimited. This list of apps is a starting point, or a baseline, that I think any Android user should consider. From here, you'll want to customize and fine-tune the list to your own most essential apps.
When I'm not divining the 10 best Android apps, I'm usually testing Android security apps. When I'm finished, I typically wipe the phone in preparation for the next review. That means I spend more time with fresh, empty phones than the average Android user. It also means that I have to fill that phone back up with essential apps for testing and day-to-day use.
When compiling this list—and when rebuilding my phone—my first thought goes to what apps are necessary to get work done, so I turn to Google Drive and LastPass. The former lets me access my files and get important items off my phone with ease. The latter stores all the passwords I'll need to gain access to critical apps and services.
Next I think about what kinds of apps are popular, and how I can fill those categories. Instagram, for example, is a great app for creating miniature masterpieces out of your cell phone pictures. But it's something of a self-contained world. So I choose PicsArt Photo Studio, which is more open and flexible.
As the smartphones have become more powerful, so have the numerous streaming entertainment services. While there are many options for streaming movies and TV, including Google Play, Netflix has the widest-ranging and exciting selection. The company has also upped the streaming media ante with its well regarded original content and, most recently, the ability to download some of its content to mobile devices for offline viewing. In the music-streaming space Spotify offers a near-peerless experience, and it's a great mobile fitness app, too, smartly integrating features like beat-matching to keep runners on pace, too.
If you'll allow me to don my paranoia cap for a moment (yes, it's made of tinfoil), mobile device security is a sorely ignored subject. Google has done an admirable job of making Android and Google Play a safe platform, but not all threats come from malicious apps. As the network airpsace becomes increasingly crowded with wireless networks, so too does the risk of your data being intercepted in transit. A mobile VPN, or virtual private network, like NordVPN is no longer a niche product, and should be required installation for everyone, but especially frequent travelers.
First, there are no games. I hear you moan, but Android games deserve their own story. There are simply too many of too great a variety. If you want games (and I know you do), you should read our slightly longer guide to the Best Android Games. That'll take care of all your thumb-twiddling, screen-swiping needs.
Second, there are only a few Google apps on here. It's really easy to just default to them since many are, well, default on Android devices. Regarding the Google apps that did make the list, I've carefully balanced their utility against that of competitors in the space to make sure they really are the best. For example, Google Drive also gives access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, which is an excellent mobile office suite.
This is just the tip of the Android iceberg here at PCMag. You'll find many, many more excellent apps in our 100 Best Android Apps, and we have many more roundups where that came from. We're all about apps, you see. This list will get you started, but the shimmering world of Android apps awaits! Do you have different suggestions about the 10 most critical Android apps for for entertaining, informing, and enhancing productivity? Let me know in the comments.
Getting to the few remaining comic book stores in America is a huge hassle, as is storing all of your bagged-and-boarded treasures. Comics, the excellent app from digital comics groundbreakers Comixology, is the solution to serving both as storefront and long box. You can browse the seemingly endless lists of titles, and then buy new books with a tap. It's wonderfully easy! Depending on the state of your wallet, it may even be a bit too easy. The Comixology Unlimited feature gives all-you-can-read access for $5.99 a month if you're keen for a taster's menu of comics.
Free, with premium plans billed monthly
Evernote is your list keeper, note taker, voice recorder, to-do manager, webpage clipper, and all-around digital multi-tool. It's overwhelming at first, but you'll quickly find a vast number of ways to put it to good use. My favorite feature is optical character recognition (OCR), which makes text in photos searchable. Next time you get handed a business card, just snap a picture, and all the critical information will be captured and made searchable between all of your devices and computers, as well as accessible on the Web.
Be sure to read our organization expert Jill Duffy's 5 Tips for Evernote Users.
The trouble with most messaging platforms is that they require you to enlist your friends to join as well. Not so with Facebook Messenger, because most of the living (and even the recently deceased) population already has a Facebook account. Facebook Messenger is loaded with bells and whistles, notably a huge library of stickers, video and voice calling, and the ability to send SMS messages. This app is also surprisingly privacy conscious. You don't need an account to use the app, entering a phone number is optional, and you can send secret messages that use end-to-end encryption so neither the FBI nor Facebook can read them.
Free, with additional costs for increased storage
Google Drive isn't just a cloud storage service. In addition to syncing and storing your files, Google Drive includes a powerful mobile office suite, so you can create and edit files from your phone. Drive can even store your files locally, for offline viewing and editing. It might not replace your desktop office utilities, but it comes surprisingly close.
Humans are bad at passwords, and we're bad at remembering things. Thankfully, there are password managers like LastPass. With a password manager, the app generates unique, complex passwords for each site or app that requires one. When you need to log in, LastPass fills in the correct information, even filling it in in other apps. LastPass also securely stores your personal information so you can quickly fill out tedious forms, and includes mechanisms to safely share passwords with other people—even after you've departed this mortal realm. A new pricing structure lets you create an account and sync passwords between all your devices, mobile or otherwise, for free.
Free, plans begin at $7.99 a month
When it comes to mobile video streaming, Netflix is hard to beat. It boasts a massive (if unstable) library of TV shows and movies, putting a world of entertainment in your hand. Netflix is also leading the way among streaming services by producing critically-acclaimed original programming like Luke Cage, Narcos, The OA, and Stranger Things, to name but a few. It even offers a decent selection of streaming anime titles. It's an app that's no longer just about killing time. It's also about keeping up with the conversation about the latest hit shows. The fact that it now lets you download (some) shows for offline viewing is a huge recent advance for the service.
Free, $8 per month subscription
%displayPrice% at %seller% Google and mobile antivirus companies have done a great job of keeping Android (mostly) free of dangerous malware. But when you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, it's possible that nefarious individuals could be intercepting all of your information. That's why virtual private networks are so important, and NordVPN is among the best. Other fun tricks you can do with a VPN? Hiding your IP address from advertisers and accessing region-locked content.
PicsArt Photo Studio
When you think of mobile image editing, you probably think of a certain Facebook-owned property modeled after old timey cameras. I'm talking about Instagram, in case you couldn't tell. But where Instagram ends, PicsArt Photo Studio begins, bringing not just filters but many more powerful tools. And if you're already a fan of Insta, you can share your PicsArt creations there to the envy of all your followers.
Podcast fans, rejoice. Your frustrations have been heard and your prayers have been answered.I bring you good tidings for in Google Play, an excellent podcast app has been created: Pocket Casts. With this app, you can manage all your favorite podcasts and even sync them between devices. And it was good.
Free with paid, ad-free plans
There are many ways to listen to tunes on your phone, whether it's from Google Play Music or the human-curated Slacker Radio. Spotify, however, offers a winning combination of clear, crisp audio and a massive catalog spanning every genre you can think of and several you've never heard of. Collaborative playlists let you and your friends enjoy custom mixes, and runners will love the integrated beat-matching workout settings. If you only run one streaming music service on your Android, Spotify is the one to choose.