The freedom of Android also gives bad guys the freedom to attack you. Stay safe with these handy apps.
avast! Antivirus & Security
This completely free app packs in a ton of security features, like remote wipe, remote lock, app management, safe Web browsing, a battery manager, and as an added bonus, an anti-virus engine that received top marks from independent testing labs. It’s incredibly lightweight, but it lacks a backup feature—fortunately,
Bitdefender has all the features you’d expect in a top-tier Android security app, and more besides. App locking? Check. Android Wear support for smartwatches? Check. But all the additional features haven’t changed Bitdefender’s laser focus on security, eschewing time-consuming scans and using a super-fast, cloud-based method of keeping your Android device clean and safe. While a recent bump to the annual fee may be off-putting to paying subscribers, it’s still half what many competitors charge.
Lookout Security & Antivirus Premium
Free, $3 per month
Lookout has been a mainstay of Android security for years, providing protection against malicious applications and, more recently, against aggressive mobile advertisers. The app now sports improved anti-theft tools that (in some cases) might notice that your phone is stolen before you do. We’ll be reviewing those new features soon.
LastPass Password Mgr Premium
Free, $1 per month
A major overhaul to this powerful password manager finally looks as good as it performs. With LastPass, you can access your saved passwords, secure notes, and filled forms from your Android, and you can also create new ones that will sync to all your devices. The new version of the app ingeniously melds the password manager with a built-in browser, putting the app’s auto-login features at the forefront. Staying safe has never been easier.
Mr. Number-Block calls, texts
Sometimes you just don’t want people to bother you, and that’s where Mr. Number comes in. With this app, you can block calls and SMS messages from specific people, code prefixes, and whole area codes. It can also help you fight back against intrusive calls and texts with an easy spam-reporting system.
Tor is probably more famous for providing access to the so-called “Dark Web,” but it’s also a useful way to connect to the Internet while keeping your movements private. Working with a special browser, Orbot connects you to Tor within seconds. However, I did find that it sometimes takes a few attempts to get online.
Hotspot Shield VPN for Android
The desktop version of this VPN service won an Editors’ Choice award for VPN, and it also works great on Android. With just a few taps, your traffic is encrypted and routed through the developer’s secure servers keeping your activities safe from snoopers. If you need to check your bank account or any other sensitive information over a public Wi-Fi network, this is the way to go.
Google Talk is dead, long live Google Hangouts! This app can not only send instant messages to other Google users, but it can also do video chatting for free. Users lucky enough to have Android 4.4 can also use it manage their SMS messages, and Google+ users can enjoy video conference calls with up to 12 participants.
Viber: Free Messages & Calls
Viber distinguishes itself from other free voice and texting apps by adding your computer as a communication device. From your Android, you can seamlessly transfer a voice call to the Viber PC app and keep talking, or pick up a text message conversation already in progress. With a growing list of fans, Viber is well positioned to make talking and texting a little easier (and cheaper).
If you’re worried about the NSA or anyone else peeking at your text messages, consider TextSecure. Messages sent to other TextSecure users are encrypted over the air, but the app will also encrypt all of your text messages when they’re at rest on your phone to keep them away from prying eyes. We first reviewed the app when it was in Beta, but it’s since had a full version release and is ready for prime time.
The companion to TextSecure, this handy app lets you make encrypted calls over the developer’s secure VoIP network to other TextSecure users. I particularly like that it works with your existing dialer and phone number, alerting you when another RedPhone user is on the line and the call can be encrypted. If all those PRISM and NSA headlines have you worried, be sure to give this app a try.
Sometimes the most secure message is one that simply doesn’t exist. That’s the thinking behind Wickr, a fully encrypted, secure messaging service that even handles media messages. The twist is that you set a lifespan for each message, ensuring that your private messages stay private. And, if you doubt their security chops, here’s what the company’s founder told the FBI when they asked for a backdoor.
Those addicted to the big blue social network can now stay connected at all times thanks to the Facebook Android app. You can use it to browse the entirety of Facebook and chat with other users, and you can also access all the settings available on the website. It’s a brilliant mobile adaptation of a sprawling service.
Circle of 6
This unique app is for those dangerous situations when you need to quickly (and discreetly) get help from your friends. Two quick taps sends one of three pre-written text messages to as many as six of your contacts. One message sends your GPS location and a request to be picked up, while another asks your friends to quickly get in touch with you. The app also includes links to the RAINN and Love is Respect hotlines.
Plume for Twitter
Sure, there are plenty of ways to fire off a 140-character Tweet, but users looking for more control should consider Plume. This powerful Android Twitter client lets you change all sorts of settings, right down to the LED color used to alert you of a message. My favorite feature is muting, which lets you suppress users, and even specific words, from your timeline.
Tumblr has grown in leaps and bounds since it first came onto the scene, letting users quickly share their creations and discoveries and—most importantly—re-blog things they find on Tumblr. The blogging platform’s slick new Android app shows just how far it’s come with a great new interface.
Most of us use our Androids to take in media, but these apps let you create amazing things from your phone or tablet.
It seems like just yesterday that Instagram was adding video. Then direct messaging. And now the image sharing service that made us all fall in love with filters brings enhanced photo editing features that let it compete with the likes of Snapseed. What hasn’t changed is the passionate userbase sharing incredible photos from around the world.
If you’ve ever browsed through image-sharing services and wondered where the picture collages came from, it’s probably Pixlr Express. This photo editor can do more, though: it has a host of effects and adjustments that run the gamut from subtly artistic to ridiculously bombastic—perfect for giving your images a touch more pizzazz.
If you want more control than Instagram affords, try Snapseed. This app straddles the line between full-fledged image editor and filter app, but it brings a lot of useful tools to the table. Best of all is the amount of control it gives you over how filters and effects are applied to your images. Run a photo through Snapseed before Instagramming it.
For a long time, Vine on Android was an embarrassment. Thankfully, those days have (for the most part) passed and Android owners can finally share and enjoy six-second video masterpieces without headaches. New features make creating complex videos even easier, and special alerts let you know when your favorite Vine users upload something new.
Flickr surprised everyone when the venerable photo hosting service announced that every user would receive a free terabyte of storage. That bombshell was followed by a total overhaul to its Android app, which combines handy photo and video tools with a lovely interface. Best of all? It can automatically back up photos from your phone.
Writers looking for inspiration should investigate this app, which spits out different writing prompts at set intervals. The idea is to write quickly, and incorporate the ideas from the app as they come. It probably won’t help you write the great American novel, but it’s a fun way to practice.
Some things aren’t for sharing, and those personal thoughts or photos can be stored safely in the Flava journal app. The app’s clean interface invites quick additions to your continuous flow of entries, and a unique tagging system makes it easy to find entries based on note type, your mood, or even the weather.
PicsArt Photo Studio
Free, $5.99 for the ad-free version
An Instagram clone PicsArt is not. With tons of effects, controls over layers, drawing tools, and collages, PicsArt can contend with Photoshop and is one of the best photo editing apps we’ve seen for Android. When you’re looking to take your smartphone snapshots to the next level, seek out this app.
Adobe Photoshop Express 2.0
While a bit of a beast on the desktop, Photoshop Express is svelte app, with powerful tools to make the most of your mobile snapshots. Sure, it’ll do the Instagram-ish filters, but it also lets you make fine-grain adjustments to images with a beautiful, simple interface. It even seamlessly connects to various other services for sharing.
Browsers and Reference
Whether you’re trying to win a bar bet or just surf the Web, these are the apps that connect you with all the information the Internet has to offer.
What’s incredible about the Android version of Firefox is that it feels as mature, if not more so, than its desktop counterpart. It’s lickity-split fast, and its clean design is a joy on mobile. Mozilla makes a big point about how they don’t collect your data, and I was pleased to see that the app comes with a full compliment of security settings—including an option to protect your information from advertisers.
Not to be confused with its Mini cousin, Opera is a full-fledged browser for Android. With a slick design, it aims to be your gateway to web content with features like a built-in news portal and the Opera mobile apps store. It also includes an “off-road” mode to quickly load webpages while taking it easy on your data plan.
Don’t let its old-style appearance fool you: Opera Mini is a clever little browser designed to thrive where network conditions are not their best. And it doesn’t skimp on features, giving you access to special Opera web apps; a handy homepage complete with news and social media updates; and a surprising array of powerful security settings.
A clean, tabbed browser, Dolphin delivers a very nice user experience on Android almost making you forget that you’re on a mobile device. Dolphin also supports tight integration with services like Evernote and LastPass, as well as robust settings. My favorite feature is gestures, which might not always be efficient but are definitely cool to use.
Weather Underground combines a slick design with a focus on really useful weather information. I particularly like the ability to report weather conditions in your area and the extremely useful comparative forecasts that deftly shows how conditions have changed since yesterday. With an accompanying set of useful widgets, it’s the best weather app on Android.
While its interface is in bad need of a refresh, the Wikipedia Android app brings one critical feature: offline viewing. Just two taps and any page on Wikipedia is stored in its entirety for whenever you need it. Plus the app gives you access to over 20 million articles in 280 languages and is basically a for-real Hitchhiker’s Guide.
These apps take advantage of Android’s openness to change how you use your device.
When it comes to Android threats, we mostly talk about theft and malware. But NowSecure is targeted at so-called “leaky apps” that transmit your personal information without encryption. Once it’s installed, you’ll be able to see where your information is going, who’s receiving it, and whether it was encrypted. Formally called ViaProtect, NewSecure has a great new interface and the same great tools.
Nova Launcher Prime
There are many launchers available in Google Play that replace your stock phone homescreen interface with something more customizable. Nova Launcher Prime not only gives you settings to play with, but it’s super-fast and smooth. It also gives you access to numerous custom-made themes and icon sets available on Google Play. If you’re not willing to part with four bucks, try the free version, called Nova Launcher.
An impressive keyboard replacement, Swiftkey suggests what it thinks is the most likely next word as you type. A pioneer of this technology, you can speed up your typing by inserting whole words with a tap. The app also supports Swype-like input, and a recent update condensed the tablet and phone versions into a single mega-app.
Swype was the first to introduce dragging your finger between letters to input text, which has since appeared in SwiftKey and even Google Keyboard. The developers are not resting on their laurels, however: Their app has numerous input options, including the powerful Dragon Dictation, gestures, handwriting recognition, and SwiftKey-like predictive text. Swype is a sprawling app that makes mobile typing a breeze.
I’m going to be honest here: I haven’t completely mastered Tasker. But I recognize that this is perhaps the most powerful app available in Google Play. With it, you can script basic actions for your Android to perform when specific conditions are met—like flash the LED when you receive a text message. Now I just need to learn how to get the most from it.
Netgear Wifi Analytics
Netgear’s free app lets you get the lay of the Wi-Fi landscape. With a few taps, you can see the strength of networks in the area and what channels have the most interference. It’s the perfect companion to our article on how to set up your wireless network.
Android devices can often feel like islands unto themselves, but SnapPea lets you access to your phone’s files from your computer via USB or Wi-Fi connection. Recently refreshed, the service can also back up your device and let you send texts from your computer via your phone, among other things. SnapPea has a minimal presence on your Android, but it will change how you use your phone.
ASTRO File Manager with Clouds
Unlike iOS, Android actually lets you plumb the depths of its innards—provided you have the right app to do it. Let Astro be your guide as you explore your Android’s files. In addition to the basics (copying files, moving files, etc.) Astro connects with cloud services (Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, SkyDrive), backs up your apps, and doubles as an application manager.
Usemon (Cpu Usage Monitor)
This simple, lightweight app gives you a handy graphical representation of your Android’s RAM usage, CPU performance, network traffic, and a host of other options. It’s particularly useful for keeping tabs on apps or processes that might be slowing down your device, or just to see some pretty graphs.
Dropbox pioneered the idea of a personal cloud service, where all your stuff would be available no matter what device you were using. On Android, it holds its own—even against the highly integrated Google Drive. Dropbox can also act as a seamless backup for your images, automatically uploading every photo to the cloud. If you’re a heavy Dropbox user, this app is a must-have.
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