Phones are powerful devices but it's the apps which make them useful. At last count there were over 2.5 million of them available in the Google Play Store, so finding the real gems can be an arduous task.
To separate the wheat from the chaff, we've put together this comprehensive guide, which outlines those essential apps that should be the first you download.
Best Messaging Apps
Aside from texting and voice calls, there are many excellent ways to keep in touch with friends or even make new ones on your device.
Arguably the most popular of all these is WhatsApp Messenger which has become pretty much ubiquitous in the smartphone age, at least in the West. The reasons for this are numerous, with the service being free, allowing multiple group chats, the ability to share video, images and audio, no international charges, plus free calling to other users over Wi-Fi connections.
It’s easy to use and the chances are you already do. An added bonus is that it works with your PC or Mac via the WhatsApp Web app. See our How to use WhatsApp Web feature for more details.
For those who prefer to keep things private there’s Telegram, a service that focuses on delivering a refined texting experience, all while maintaining your privacy.
Conversations are encrypted using 256-bit symmetric AES encryption, and you can still delete sent messages at both ends even after they’ve been received by the other person. It’s free, features no ads, and should be one of the first apps you install.
If you're a fan of online forums, then Reddit is the app for you as it’s a gateway to the stupefying array of communities on the site. Whether it’s Game of Thrones theories, your favourite sports teams, or the latest scientific research, there is a Reddit forum full of people discussing the latest news and views right now.
Go join them!
Best Social Apps
If social is your bag, there are loads of free apps with which you can stalk your friends or make them jealous with pictures of your dinner or news on your latest job.
Snapchat is popular with younger users and has a different approach thanks to its posts that disappear after a set time (beginners should check out our guide on How to use Snapchat). While, those wanting to scrapbook the things they love online will find Pinterest just the ticket.
Best TV & Video Apps
Now that most Android phones have large, high-resolution displays, they make ideal devices on which to enjoy the latest blockbuster films, TV shows or your favourite YouTubers.
The apps available break down into two major categories: Subscription-based or free.
If you’re looking for the latter, then you’ll probably find that the best option, YouTube, is more than likely preinstalled on your Android device. Here you’ll be able to enjoy news shows, music videos, a huge selection of Vloggers, tutorials, and pretty much anything short of actual movies and shows, unless you're wiling to hire or buy them from the Google Play Store.
Another essential app, at least for UK residents, is BBC iPlayer, which grants access to recent shows across all the BBC channels, plus an archive of older content. There are a number of other catch-up apps available, such as ITV Hub and All 4, but iPlayer still remains the real jewel in the crown.
Note that a TV Licence is required for streaming of live television broadcasts in the UK, as well as catch-up TV on iPlayer. See Do I need a TV Licence? for more details.
If you’re happy to pay a monthly fee then there are some excellent options. Existing Sky customers in the UK will want Sky Go which lets you watch content from the service on your phone or tablet, so long as you have a WiFi or data connection. Should you wish to access the same movies and shows without a Sky contract, NowTV offers this on a variety of reasonable price tiers.
Amazon Prime members are automatically entitled to its Prime Instant Video service (and the accompanying app), featuring a number of decent movies plus Amazon exclusive TV shows like American Gods, The Grand Tour, and Mr Robot.
Perhaps the most groundbreaking app in this area is Netflix. The service offers a comprehensive selection of all-you-can eat entertainment, with some of the best TV available on any platform. Original series such as Glow, Star Trek: Discovery, and The Good Place, plus a regularly changing catalogue of movies and older shows, makes the £9.99 / $9 per month starting cost seem positively cheap.
To see a more in-depth comparison of Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, NowTV and others take a look at Best streaming services.
Best Music Apps
Much like with TV & Movies, there is a wide range of excellent music streaming services that offer millions of tracks for a monthly subscription.
Most charge £9.99 / $9.99 to access the songs, plus offline listening capabilities, or £14.99 / $14.99 if you prefer a family plan with six individual accounts.
The top apps we recommend are Spotify (which has an amazing free tier), Google Play Music, Deezer, Apple Music, and Amazon Prime Music, and you can see a detailed breakdown of their individual merits in our best music streaming services comparison.
There are a few highlights worth noting though, such as the fact that you can access your entire audio collection (up to 50,000 tracks) from your Android device, once you’ve uploaded the content to Google Play Music on your PC.
Amazon Prime members also have access to Prime Music as part of their subscription, which includes over two million songs that can be downloaded to their devices. If you've yet to try the service, read our beginner's guide to Amazon Prime, as it has many other benefits.
Of course, there's still good old radio, with many Android phones and tablets coming with FM radio apps that only require plugging in a pair of headphones to act as the aerial. For Wi-Fi or data connections BBC iPlayer Radio and TuneIn are great options, with an impressive range of stations and shows.
Best Reading Apps
Amazon’s Kindle devices may well be one of the best ways to read eBooks, but thanks to the free Kindle app you can just use your phone or tablet instead. The selection of titles available is the largest we know of, and once again Prime Members have the added bonus of Prime Reading being part of their subscription.
This offers hundreds of books and magazines for free, or you can upgrade to Kindle Unlimited (£7.99 / $9.99) which expands the selection to over a million titles and thousands of audiobooks.
If you prefer shorter prose, then Readly is the answer. This is a subscription-based magazine service that lets you read as many mags as you want for a one-off monthly fee. Check it out with a free trial.
With Marvel superheroes all the rage in cinemas, you can get up to speed with the various backstories of Thor, Iron Man, Scarlett Witch, or characters from DC and a wide range of independent publishers through the excellent Comics app.
It might not technically be reading, but Audible is a great choice if you want to try out audiobooks. A monthly subscription of £7.99 / $14.95 gives you one credit to buy any audiobook in the copious Audible range, and you keep this even if you end your subscription.
A free trial gives you a credit to spend, which once again remains yours whether you sign up or not. So, if you want to get through that latest bestseller while walking the dog, driving, or relaxing in the bath, then Audible is a fantastic solution.
Finally, Pocket is a superb, free way to read articles you find on the web. Simply share the article to Pocket and you’ll be able to enjoy it offline when you have more time.
Best Photography Apps
Smartphone cameras are better than ever, but there are apps that can make a good thing great. Snapseed is one such option, as it offers impressive editing controls that are easy and quick to apply.
For the more creative types, PicsArt Photo Studio is a wonderful way to make collages or artistic blends of images that can take snaps and turn them into masterpieces. The basic app is free, but to access 3000+ premium stickers, filters, fonts, and other tools you’ll need to move to the PicsArt Gold subscription that costs around £6 / $8 each month.
Make sure you have Google Photos installed and configured on your device, as it will automatically back up your snaps and video clips over a Wi-Fi connection. This has the advantages of not only keeping photos safe if you lose or break your device, but also accessible from any other computer on which you are signed into your Google account.
Best Productivity Apps
Phones and tablets are more like mini PCs these days, making them viable devices for getting some work done. With online productivity services and cloud storage you get the benefit of being able to access all your office documents from wherever you are, and collaborate on them with colleagues.
At Tech Advisor we make regular use of Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, Google Docs and Google Sheets for work tasks both in and out the office. But there are plenty of other app choices, not least of which is Microsoft's Office suite, with its free apps for Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.
We're also big fans of Slack for instant messaging between colleagues. It's much easier to follow than a long email thread where various people reply to different messages all at once, plus there’s the added fun brought by its GIF support.
The ability to create different channels and keep some private, makes it easier to stop threads descending into confusion, plus we can discuss the latest episode of Game or Thrones or Line of Duty without spoiling it for those yet to catch up. Come on, Jim!
One app that's specific to us as a tech media publisher, but also useful for anyone whose business involves a website, is Google Analytics. Using the Analytics Android app we can see not only how many people are reading this very article right now, but what drove them to it, on what type of device they're browsing and other useful stats.
Best Games for Android
There are far too many great games on Android to be able to quickly slim it down to a few for this article. That’s why we’ve put together our massive Best Android games of all time roundup.
So, whether it’s a quick five-minute puzzle game to keep you busy while waiting for the bus or a deeply immersive story-driven epic, you’re sure to find something to satiate your gaming desires.
Best News & Weather Apps
BBC News is a well-built news portal, replete with breaking news notifications. Another excellent option is the AP News from Associated Press, with its world-wide coverage of stories. For newspaper fans, The Guardian is the best example of a modern app-based alternative to the broadsheets, while Google also has a good News and Weather app.
Best Shopping Apps
Online shopping is now a regular, indeed preferable, way to stock up on food, clothing, books, and all other things that keep the wheels of capitalism turning.
For groceries, check out our roundup of the best food shopping services as it goes into far greater detail than we can here.
Looking to pick up some books, DVDs, trousers, a lawn mower, or outboard motor? Well, Amazon Shopping is the app for you, as it helped popularise online shopping in the first place and now dominates the landscape.
Fashionistas will enjoy the visually rich Asos app which not only gathers together a wide range of clothing, but also has videos of models wearing them so you can see how you might look.
eBay, the online auction site that again sells just about everything, remains another great place to find a bargain or two, and these days there's more new stuff listed than second-hand.
Quidco offers cashback, discounts & voucher codes on sites like eBay, Boots, Argos, Waterstones, and many others, while VoucherCodes and GroupOn gather together deals to save you money on a variety of products and experiences.
You can also check our deals pages for up to date bargains on tech.
Best Banking Apps
With all that shopping, you'll probably want to keep an eye on your finances. Obviously here you're going to download the app for the bank you use, rather than the one that has the nicest interface or features, but it's worth keeping in mind that apps such as these exist to make managing your account much easier.
Some popular banking apps in the UK include Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds, MBNA, Nationwide, NatWest, Royal Bank of Scotland and Santander. There are also apps for credit card companies such as American Express, BarclayCard and Capital One.
A number of new, app-centric ‘challenger’ banks have started recently, offering a thoroughly modern approach to finances and how we interact with them. These include Starling, Monzo, N26, Revolut and others. To see whether they would be right for you read our What is Starling Bank and is it safe to use? feature.
Best Travel Apps
Okay, you've done your shopping, checked what little remains of your balance, and decided it’s time to take a break from all your worries. If you’re planning a trip in or out of the city then we recommend National Rail to keep tabs on the trains. For their London-dwelling subterranean cousins there’s Tube Map, and if you need info on buses then there's CityMapper.
While in town, why not take the chance to visit the theatre or a gig? Last minute tickets can be found via the Dice or Today Tix apps, whether you’re in London, LA, Chicago, New York or one of several other cities.
Uber is a brilliant app for grabbing a cab within minutes in more than 50 countries, but if you’re driving yourself then Waze will ensure that you miss the traffic hotspots and get to your destination in as little time as possible.
Should you wish to leave the country entirely, try SkyScanner as it scours the internet for the cheapest flights, and be sure to also download Hotels.com, LateRooms, and TripAdvisor to help you find a nice place to stay overnight.
Best of the rest
Here are the apps we use here in the office that didn’t quite fit with the categories above, but are definitely ones you should try. AssistantTrigger is a handy tool that makes connecting Apple’s excellent wireless AirPods a doddle on your Android phone.
Those seeking calm and relaxation should check out Headspace, while fans not queuing at the 3-deep bar on a Friday night will find the Wetherspoon app a potential oasis in the parched desert of life (and you can also order your dinner too).
Finally, if the Gmail app isn’t cutting it for all your email needs then we recommend trying either Newton or Spark, both of which are friendly, well-designed apps that can bring a bit of excitement back to your tired old inbox.