Most modern apps are developed for the two big mobile operating systems (OS): Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS.
Android is the more flexible OS of the two, which means that it can be highly customisable with apps that are exclusive to it.
Some of them actually allow you to change how the very system works, in a way.
There are apps like Link Bubble and its unique browsing experience, for instance, or Action Launcher 3’s re-imagination of a home screen.
However, choice and flexibility also mean that it can be easy to get lost inside the hundreds of apps present in the Play Store.
Here’s a selection of nine useful apps that can help you make the most of your Android device.
Action 3 is one of many Android 'launchers' -- home screen replacements that allow you to customise the look and feel of your device's main page.
What you in the screenshot above is the 'Quickbar,' which allows you to look for things on Google as well as access apps or actions quickly with the icons you see at the top right.
I have a mic to activate Voice Search, a shortcut to the Play Store, and the three-dot menu button to open Action 3's menu.
You're likely to be used to a more traditional app drawer where apps are all inside of a grid within pages, but developer Chris Lacy has come up with an innovative idea.
Action 3 does offer the chance to use a traditional drawer (accessible with a swipe up from the bottom), but its default one shows apps vertically in alphabetical order.
You can slide your fingers on the letters to blaze through apps faster.
You may have noticed that in the previous screenshots, the fifth app in my dock was Google Chrome. And you'd be right! Tapping on it opens the browser.
However, Action 3 offers the chance to create 'Covers' that hide other apps beneath one.
They're essentially folders, but they allow you to avoid the ugly look of traditional folder stack or nests. Tap to open the first app of the folder and swipe up to actually open the folder hidden underneath it.
You can also activate small visual indicators that remind you of which apps hide folders.
Another useful feature is Shortcuts. They work exactly like on Google's own Pixel Launcher: If an app supports Shortcuts, long press on the icon to reveal them.
The only caveat is that you will need Android 7.1 Nougat for this.
Action Launcher 3 (Link to Play Store) -- Free (with in-app purchases, £3.99 to £8)
You will also see that, on my home screen, underneath the blur and the widget (more on that later) there is also a wallpaper.
It comes from the app 'Backdrops.' It has a vast selection of wallpapers ranging from landscape photographs to abstract geometries, drone shots, space images, and everything in between.
What I love about Backdrops, however, is that -- unlike many similar apps -- it allows me to 'like' the wallpapers I love without having to download the physical image.
But the actual twist here comes with the next app, previewed in the little 'm' you can see in the bottom right corner...
Muzei (Link to Play Store) -- Free
This app is called 'Muzei,' and it's the magic connective tissue between Backdrops and Action 3.
What it does is simple: you select an image source, and Muzei will cycle pictures randomly as your background every hour (there is also an option to add some blur you can use).
Backdrops has a Muzei 'extension,' which allows the latter to extract images from the Backdrops 'Favourites' folder we mentioned earlier.
Also, Action 3's 'Quicktheme' feature analyses your wallpaper colours and changes the Quickbar and app drawer colours to match and contrast them.
The source in this case is my 'Favourites' folder from Backdrops, so I generally stick with what Muzei selects for me.
However, you could use, say, 500px as a source -- or National Geographic, or Flickr, or anything that has a compatible extension (either baked in the app itself, like Backdrops', or downloadable separately on the Play Store).
In that case, if a photo you don't like shows up, that little forward-like toggle will let you change it instantaneously.
Muzei can be quite demanding on your phone's battery, so you have options when it comes to deciding when you want your wallpapers to change.
Muzei (Link to Play Store) -- Free
The beauty of widgets is that they are like mini-apps you can interact with directly on your home screen.
This one here, 'DashClock,' doesn't even have a full-blown app. It's just a widget.
Much like Muzei, it features extensions, and it uses them to show you quick info like, in this case, the time, weather, unread tweets and upcoming calendar appointments.
Tapping on the respective line will bring you inside the correspondent part of the linked app: Hitting 'Newsroom Meeting,' for instance, will bring me to that specific event inside Google Calendar.
My weather app of choice is called 'Weather Timeline.'
I love it for three reasons: it's packed with features, dead simple to use, and, most importantly, incredibly accurate.
You can add up to eight extra locations to your current one, and have information on all that matters about weather: temperature, humidity, precipitations, weather alerts, and more.
Tip: if you download it, set 'Dark Sky' as the data source. It's by far the most reliable, down to crazy specific alerts like 'It will start raining in 13 minutes.'
The app can give you a 'feels like' temperature. You will be surprised by how much, often times, it differs from the actual temperature (not in this case, unfortunately), but most of all just how much more in line with our own perception of 'hot' and 'cold' weather it is.
Weather Timeline (Link to Play Store) -- £1.19
'Circle Sidebar Pro' is another fairly simple app, and yet one you might end up using a lot.
It makes you create a mini selection of apps and select a 'trigger zone' on either side of your screen. Hitting that, you can open your 'quick drawer' from anywhere in the system -- yes, inside of apps too.
As the name implies, it is designed to be like a circle, so apps continue to scroll ad infinitum.
In order not to overlap with other apps' features, you can decide to disable the sidebar in certain environments, but in general you will just need to be careful about choosing the trigger area well.
Circle Sidebar Pro (Link to Play Store) -- £1.69
Wouldn't it be useful to have a contextual menu every time you copy something on your phone? Or, better yet, an actual clipboard to show you a history of your copied items?
'Clipboard Actions' is an app designed to do just that.
To give you an example, here I selected and copied the text 'iPhone 8' from an article. As soon as you copy something, a notification like the one above will show up.
Expand it and you will notice that there are many things you can do with it right there and then, like search for it on the web or the dictionary or even translate it to another language.
You will also notice that copying different things will give you different results.
Copying a link will give you the option to shorten the URL, for example, while searching for a place will prompt the 'on Map' toggle up to immediately locate it on Google Maps.
Also, with the small left-pointing arrow in the top right corner you can swipe through your most recent copied items, without 'losing' one as soon as you copy another.
'Link Bubble' is another app you might quickly fall in love with.
It's essentially a browser, but with a twist: it opens links in floating bubbles that hover over the app you are in -- think Facebook Messenger's Chat Heads.
What that means is that if you are scrolling through your Twitter feed and want to open a few links, you can tap on them, let the bubbles load in the background (or, well, foreground) and keep going, without having to switch back and forth from a regular 'full-size' browser.
Open the bubbles to reveal a full browser. The coloured bar at the top works like a normal address bar
When you tap on a bubble, it will expand like this. As you scroll down the page, it goes full screen, while scrolling up will bring the bubble back on top.
If you have more than one bubble, they will show like you see in the screenshot above; tap on them to switch from one to the other, like tabs on a regular browser.
When they are collapsed, in order not to occupy your entire screen, you will only see one bubble, with a smaller bubble inside it showing you the number of bubbles that you have loaded in total.
When you are done reading, just drag it and drop the bubble to the 'X' sign at the bottom (tap and hold if you want to get rid of multiple bubbles at once).
Or, if you want, take advantage of Link Bubble's sharing features, and drag the bubble in one of the two circles above.
They are both customisable, so you can put any app you want in there.
Link Bubble (Link to Play Store) -- Free
Pushbullet is the best 'sharing' app you can find.
It is not exclusive to Android, strictly speaking, but it does integrate with the system in ways no other OS can -- you may have noticed Pushbullet show up within Clipboard Actions or Link Bubble.
Select anything that is shareable -- an image, a file, a link, or even just plain text -- and 'push' it to another device to immediately transfer it there.
If you download the Chrome extension, for instance, you can link your phone and Chrome browser.
So say a friend of yours sends you a link via WhatsApp on your phone, but you want to read its content on your big screen monitor.
Just long press and share the link via Pushbullet, and the above menu will appear. Then just tap 'Chrome' and a browser tab will magically open on your desktop browser. That's it.
Sharing to Chrome is just an example, but you get the idea.
Pushbullet is incredibly simple, but also very powerful.
You can share between your own devices, but also 'push' things to your friends all the same.
When you share something on Android, this little menu will appear, letting you push your given link/file/text to either a friend, one of your devices or all of them simultaneously.
You are not brought to the Pushbullet app, so once you're done sharing, you'll be right back where you were.
Pushbullet (Link to Play Store) -- Free