Whether you’re brand new to Android or a longtime enthusiast, the Google Play store’s catalog of 3.5 million apps can be intimidating. Our list is a great place to begin for anyone looking to jump-start their collection. Read about our selection process below, or if you’re really eager to download these essentials, go ahead and skip down to the list itself.
We openly admit that this list doesn’t even begin to approach the seemingly infinite variety of apps on the Google Play store. We also know that everyone has different priorities when it comes to their Android device, so we encourage you to fine-tune it to suit your needs.
For example, Evernote is an enormously versatile tool, but it might not meet your needs for to-do lists, in which case, you should move to a refined organizational app like Any.do. Or maybe after reading lots of comics in Comixology, you’re curious to read the massive backlog of Marvel titles available for a single monthly fee via Marvel Unlimited. That said, this collection of apps takes care of just about every need.
How We Choose Android Apps
We test tons of different Android apps over the course of the year and many of us here at PCMag use an Android phone as our day-to-day device, so we are no strangers to the app landscape. When compiling this list, our first choices go to those that are necessary to get work done, such as Google Drive and LastPass. The former lets you access files and retrieve important items off your phone with ease, while the latter stores all the passwords you need to gain access to critical apps and services. Next, we think about what kinds of apps are popular and how we can fill those categories. Everyone takes photos with their phones nowadays, so Snapseed, an excellent photo-editing app, makes the list, as well.
People also stream all sorts of content to their devices. While there are many options for watching movies and TV on Android, Netflix takes the honor with its exciting range of content and offline viewing capabilities. 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. Another one of our picks hails from the oft-ignored mobile device security category. With the ever-increasing chance of a malicious attack over an unsecured network, a mobile virtual private network (VPN), like NordVPN, is now a must-have for everyone.
What’s Not Here
First, there are no games. We hear you moan, but Android games deserve their own roundup. There are simply too many of too great a variety. If you want games (and we know you do), you should read our 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, we’ve carefully balanced their utility against that of competitors in the space to make sure they really are the best. For example, Google Drive, an excellent mobile office suite, also gives access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
This is just the tip of the Android iceberg. There are many more excellent apps in our roundup of the 100 Best Android Apps. Do you have different suggestions about the 10 most critical Android apps for everything from entertainment to information to productivity and more? Let us know in the comments. We update this list periodically and your suggestion might make it into the next update.
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 groundbreaker Comixology, is the solution to serving both as a 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, plans begin at $34.99 per month
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. Our favorite feature is optical character recognition (OCR), which makes text in photos searchable. Next time someone hands you a business card, just snap a picture, and Evernote will capture all the critical information and make it searchable from all of your devices and computers and 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, too. 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, SMS messaging, and even the option to send payments to friends. It’s 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, it also 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. It also makes it easy to collaborate on and share documents with other people, regardless of platform.
Humans are bad at creating passwords, and we’re bad at remembering things. Thankfully, there are password managers like LastPass. A password manager generates a unique, complex password for each site or app that requires one. When you need to log in, LastPass fills in the correct information for you. LastPass also securely stores your personal information so you can quickly fill out those tedious forms when you’re signing up for a service. It includes a way 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 per 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 and top-notch features like offline viewing and 4K streaming. Netflix is also leading the way among streaming services by producing critically acclaimed original programming like Luke Cage, The Crown, Narcos, The OA, and Stranger Things, to name a few. It even offers a decent selection of streaming anime titles. Netflix is no longer just about killing time; it’s about keeping up with the conversation about the latest hit shows.
Free, plans begin at $3.29 per month
%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.
Podcasts are a great way to catch up with the news, learn more about a certain topic, or listen to entertaining stories. The sleek and highly customizable Pocket Casts is the perfect companion for chilling out with an episode of your favorite show. The app can also sync your audio across different devices, so that you can pick up where you left off. It’s never a bad time to get hooked on a podcast.
Google-owned Snapseed straddles the line between full-fledged image editor and filter app, all in a sleek and attractive package. Best of all is the amount of control it gives you over how filters and effects are applied to your images. It even lets you make nondestructive edits to RAW files and fine-tuned adjustments to exposure and detail levels. For creative mobile photographers, it’s an excellent option.
Free with paid, ad-free plans
There are many ways to listen to music 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 tons of genres. Collaborative playlists let you and your friends enjoy custom mixes, and runners will love the integrated beat-matching workout settings. Its multidevice support is impressive, too, letting you switch playback from one device to another remotely. If you only plan to use one streaming music service on your Android device, Spotify is the one to choose.