Your phone is capable of many things, but at its heart it is a phone, and designed for keeping in touch with friends, family, colleagues and whoever else you fancy a chin wag with.
Your phone will have a messaging app and a dialler built-in. What it may not have is online messenger and calling services that allow you to contact friends over an internet- rather than cellular connection.
Two of our all-time favourites are WhatsApp Messenger and Skype. WhatsApp is free for all users, and lets you send and receive free messages, pictures, videos and voice messages over the web. If you have a tablet, laptop or PC you should also check out WhatsApp Web for synching messages between the two. Also see: How to install WhatsApp on a tablet.
Skype, meanwhile, is the video chat service for people who don’t have iPhones and iPads and therefore can’t use FaceTime. It’s an excellent way of speaking face-to-face with people who are too far away to visit.
If you’re not fussy who it is you’re chatting to, and you’re a fan of online forums, you’ll also be pleased to learn Reddit has recently launched its full Android app.
What is Reddit, though? “There’s a Reddit community for every subject imaginable: your favourite sports team, relationship advice, memes, silly gifs, the latest in news and politics – all in real time,” states the official download page, and we couldn’t say it better ourselves. It’s free – go get it.
If you’re downloading Facebook don’t forget Facebook Messenger for private messaging with friends (no, it’s not evil), and if you’re a poster rather than a lurker then Timehop offers a fascinating look back at what was on your mind on this day in previous years.
If social is your bag, there are loads more free apps with which you can stalk your friends and make them jealous with a picture of what you just ate for dinner or news on your latest job.
Snapchat is the latest trending social app, and face-swapping is all the rage (beginners should check out our guide on How to use Snapchat), while LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest are just a handful of other social apps that are available. You can also find all manner of social aggregators that combine all your social feeds into a single feed.
At Tech Advisor we’re using 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, and some of my team mates are particularly enjoying its GIF support.
TV, film & video
Large, high-resolution screens are all the rage with today’s new Android phones, which paired with their fast processors and graphics makes them ideal devices on which to watch TV, video and films.
YouTube is more than likely preinstalled on your Android device – and if it’s not you should download it now. Some other free apps that we wouldn’t be without include TVCatchUp, which rather than a catch-up TV service actually offers live-streaming of UK Freeview channels, plus some actual TV catch-up services such as BBC iPlayer (you’ll also need BBC Media Player), ITV Hub, All 4 and Demand 5.
Netflix and Amazon Prime Instant Video are the two big online film-streaming services, each charging a monthly subscription of around £7 and letting you watch as many films as you like within that period. We like Netflix, although you may prefer the associated benefits of having a Prime account, including free next-day delivery on eligible items bought on Amazon and Amazon Prime Music. We’ve compared your options to help you choose.
We’re also big fans of NowTV which, like Prime and Netflix, is a subscription service that puts hundreds of TV box sets and catch-up TV from some of Sky’s most popular channels at your fingertips. NowTV also has a movies option that lets you tune into a great many of the films broadcast over Sky’s movie channels.
Note that a TV Licence is required for streaming of live television broadcasts in the UK, as well as catchup TV on iPlayer. Also see: Do I need a TV Licence?
If you have an Android phone or tablet, you can access your entire audio collection by uploading it to Google Play Music, which is more than likely preinstalled on your device. But what about new stuff?
In the past if you wanted to listen to new music and you didn’t want to pay for it you would listen to the radio. Many Android phones and tablets have a built-in FM radio, and you simply plug in a pair of headphones to act as the aerial. There are also online radio services – one of our favourites is BBC iPlayer Radio.
But this is the 21st century, and while radio still thrives online music streaming is where it’s at, allowing you to listen to what you want, when you want, and if you want to ditch the ads that’s possible too. Spotify and Deezer are two of the most popular online music-streaming services, but even Google has its own subscription-based Music service. Weigh up your options in our best music-streaming service article.
Big screens don’t just make for easier watching, they make for easier reading too. Whether you want to read books or magazines, there’s an app for that.
We’ll start with magazines since we are, after all, a publishing company. One of our favourite new services is Readly, which is a subscription-based magazine service that lets you read as many mags as you want for a one-off fee. Tech Advisor and its sister titles Macworld, iPad & iPhone User, Android Advisor and Windows Advisor are all available on Readly, and there’s loads more good stuff too. Check it out with a free trial.
And now books. No matter what other pies it has fingers in, Amazon is still the company we associate with buying books, whether you want them in paperback or digital form. You don’t need one of Amazon’s own Kindle tablets or e-readers to enjoy its unique reading experience, since the Amazon Kindle app is available for all Android phones and tablets. In fact, all the apps in Amazon’s app store are available for your Android device – see how to get truly free Amazon apps for your phone or tablet.
It might not technically be reading, but Audible is a great choice if you want to try out audio books – for those times you can’t read such as driving.
Smartphone cameras are getting better than ever, and even out of the box they take some fantastic snaps (also see: What’s the best phone camera 2017). But there are apps that make a good thing great.
We asked around the Tech Advisor office, and there was one clear favourite: Snapseed. It offers professional controls that are applied with a fingertip. Easy peasy.
If you are taking photos and video on your Android phone or tablet, make sure you have Google Photos installed and configured. Photos will automatically back up your snaps and video clips over a Wi-Fi connection, meaning they are not only safe if you lose or break your device, but also accessible from any other computer on which you are signed into your Google account. Also see: How to back up Android.
Our phones and tablets are not just like mini PCs, they are mini PCs. And 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 use Google Apps for Work, so by default we tend to use 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, and not least is Microsoft’s Office suite, with free Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote apps for Android phones and tablets. With OneDrive you also get useful cloud storage, or you might prefer Dropbox or Box – see our round-up of the best cloud-storage services.
AirDroid is a great app for wirelessly managing your Android phone or tablet from any PC or Mac, too.
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 on my smartphone I can see not only how many people are reading this very article right now, but I can see what drove them to the article, on what type of device they’re browsing and other useful stats.
We’ve already rounded up some of the best Android games in our separate round-up, but we can’t ignore them entirely in this article for the simple fact that having at least one good game on your phone or tablet is essential for those times you can’t get online and need something to do to fill five minutes.
And even people who *don’t play games* will be sucked in when their competitiveness gets the better of them. And it will get the better of them.
We offer loads more suggestions in our best Android games article, but two immediately spring to mind: Angry Birds and Plants vs Zombies 2. Download one of these classic games for your Android phone or tablet and long commutes will fly by in seconds.
Also see: Best new mobile games coming in 2017
News & Weather
The internet and a wealth of information is at your fingertips, but apps take away the hassle of searching for it. You can have news and weather information delivered directly to your phone simply by launching an app.
Here in the UK two that really stand out are BBC News and BBC Weather. There are plenty more including Sky News and particular publications such as The Guardian. Google also has a combined News and Weather app.
We Brits love to shop, and online shopping makes it easier than ever. Now with apps dedicated to online shopping, you’ll wonder why you ever bothered getting out of bed to buy a loaf of bread.
As well as apps for all the large supermarkets (see Tesco, Ocado, Morrisons, ASDA, Lidl and ALDI), some of our favourites include Amazon, which sells just about everything, eBay, the online auction site that again sells just about everything, and PayPal, which is used not only to pay for goods on eBay but at multiple online retailers.
One of the beauties of online shopping is that it’s so much easier to shop around for a great deal. Helping you find some of those great deals is HotUKDeals, and once you’ve found something you’d like to purchase Voucher Codes can help you obtain even bigger discounts.
You can also check our deals pages for up to date bargains on tech.
With all that shopping, you’ll probably want to keep an eye on your balance. Obviously here you’re going to download the app for the bank you use, rather than the one that has the nicest app, 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.
It’s worth keeping in mind that these days you don’t need to even take a credit- or debit card with you – have you tried Android Pay, Samsung Pay or Monzo. Find out more about Monzo, the digital bank.
Travelling & jobs
Okay, you’ve done you’re shopping, you’ve checked your balance and now you’re broke. You better go to work – but how are you going to get there?
For keeping tabs on trains we like National Rail, for working out where you need to go on the London Underground there’s Tube Map, and if you also need buses info then there’s CityMapper. Uber is a cool app for grabbing a cab within minutes in more than 50 countries. And if it’s cheap flights you’re after, try SkyScanner.
Many of the things we want to do on our Android phones and tablets demand an active internet connection. At home you’ve probably got Wi-Fi, but out and about you’re dependent on cellular data. Unless you can jump on free Wi-Fi.
Many UK pubs, bars and restaurants are subscribed to The Cloud, which offers you free internet access during your stay. The FastConnect app makes getting online with The Cloud so much easier, showing you your nearest hotspot on a map and automatically logging you in to the service.
Best of the rest
The Tech Advisor team has also recommended a range of apps that don’t easily fit into any of the previous categories, but that we find useful aids in our daily life.
One of my favourites is App Lock, which lets me lock down only the apps I want to hide from prying eyes without password- or PIN-protecting my entire phone.
Tech Advisor’s Publisher Simon Jary likes Fitbit, the companion app for Fitbit activity trackers that helps you keep tabs on goals, progress and fitness levels. If you don’t have a Fitbit there are still plenty of apps you can benefit from – if you have an Android Wear watch there’s Google Fit, if you like to run there’s Runtastic, and if you’re simply interested in losing weight there’s Weight Watchers.
Ashleigh Allsopp, Tech Advisor’s Engagement Editor, likes StarWalk. It’s not free, at £1.97, but it’s a great app for budding stargazers, showing you an interactive star chart of the night sky and providing all the information you need on stars, planets, satellites and constellations.
And Editorial Director Matt Egan is a fan of Podcast Addict and Heat Genius. While Heat Genius is applicable only if you have a Heat Genius smart home heating system, keep in mind that if you have any type of smart home tech there will be an app for it.