The First 20 Android Apps You Need To Download

tasty treats being moved around the Google campus

Photo: danfuzz

Consumers now buy more of Google’s Android phones than Apple’s iPhones.But Apple is still the undisputed king of apps. Whatever your metric — apps available, total downloads, dollars spent — Apple absolutely crushes the competition with its App Store.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t any awesome apps for the Android.

In the month since we made the switch from the iPhone, we’ve found lots of amazing apps, including plenty of great ones you can’t get on any other platform.

Here are our favourites, complete with QR codes you can scan (with Google Goggles or Barcode Scanner) to download them right away:

Google Goggles searches for information on whatever it sees through your phone's camera.

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Simply put, Google Goggles is the future.

That's not a prediction for this particular app, nor even an endorsement of it -- much of the functionality is still hit-or-miss. But the basic idea -- you snap pictures with your phone's camera, and Goggles runs a search, and performs various actions based on what it sees -- is going to be big, and the parts of it that already work are pretty amazing.

Take a snapshot of some printed text in a foreign language, and Goggles will translate it into English for you in a matter of seconds.

Or point your camera at any of the QR codes in this feature, and Goggles will take you to the download page of the app in question in the Android Market.

Advanced Task Killer helps keep your multitasking under control

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

One of the great things about Android is that it supports something close to real multitasking, not just something called multitasking, as you get with iOS.

One of the most infuriating things about Android is that user control over that multi-tasking is still pretty primitive. It's easy to leave apps, but not so easy to actually close them. If you aren't careful, greedy apps can eat up your battery without you realising they are even running.

Download Advanced Task Killer immediately, and keep it on your home screen. You can instantly bring up a list of all open apps, and close them out en masse with a single press of a button.

Shazam Encore identifies music playing near you

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

We get a lot of complaints about being too negative about everything, everyone, and every company we cover, but make no mistake: this reporter is proud to be a Shazam fan boy.

It hasn't added much functionality over the years, and there's nothing too complicated about it: if music is playing near you, you ask Shazam what it is, and Shazam tells you. Amazingly, it works. It's the first app we download on any new phone, and while there's a free version (which you can only use a handful of times per month) available, and while we almost never pay for apps, this is one we're happy to pay up for.

Pandora discovers music you'll like

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Our Droid Incredible comes with a good old fashioned FM radio tuner, but we have never felt the slightest inclination to use it.

If you don't have a lot of music on your phone, or simply enjoy being surprised by the new music, there are a slew of music-streaming services that have what you need. Spotify is blowing minds in Europe and raising expectations all across America, but at least for now, Pandora is still our favourite State-side streaming service, and so far we like its Android app.

We highly recommend the GZA channel.

Google Voice lets you set up a second phone number and make free calls

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Google made some huge waves last week when it introduced VOIP calls and SMS messages to Gmail, but it has been dabbling with telecom disruption for a while now via Google Voice.

Google Voice lets you set up a separate number from the one assigned by your mobile carrier; your can receive or make calls or texts from it right from your phone. Carriers will make sure phone and SMS networks stay around and stay expensive long past their natural expiration date, but with Google Voice, you can easily switch to the cheapest plans they offer today.

Foursquare lets you check-in to bars and restaurants

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Regular SAI readers have probably heard about location-based social network Foursquare once or twice before. It lets you check-in to bars, restaurants, and other venues you enter, letting your friends know where you are, and letting you scan around for nearby places where friends of yours are hanging out.

Foursquare's game mechanics reward you for checking in to places, and let you compete with friends by exploring the real-world.

Loopt lets you know where your friends are

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Another big player in location social networks, Loopt has an iPhone app that focuses on deals and checkins, and is more directly competitive with Foursquare, but the core Loopt app available for Android is actually quite different.

Loopt is focused on the social aspect of location, letting you ping friends with your exact coordinates, rather than working through venues. The best features, leveraging background location to alert you when you come into proximity with your friends, are still iPhone-only, but they should be hitting Android soon.

Tasker lets you set up your phone to perform actions based on a wide range of conditions

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Tasker is an amazing example both of the power of real multitasking, and of the degree to which Android's biggest selling points aren't quite ready for the mainstream consumer.

Tasker (and rival apps Locale and Settings Profile) lets you set your phone to perform certain tasks when specific conditions are met. You can, for instance, have your handset automatically silence its ringer and turn of its 3G service whenever you enter a particular geographical area within particular hours of the day; our phone now goes quiet and consumes less battery life as soon as we come within a few blocks of our office during work hours.

This is amazingly powerful if you feel like playing with it for a while. But there is no way to do any of this in a manner that would be accessible to the average user.

Astro helps you explore your phone's file system

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

It's nice to be able to access your phone as a hard drive without having to hack it or download third-party software, but to really nerd it up with your Android phone's file system, you still need a little help.

The Astro File Manager is the consensus best app for doing that, and so far, we have no complaints.

Layar is augmented reality craziness

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Layar is an awesome free augmented reality app that uses GPS data and your phone's camera to annotate the world.

You simply walk around pointing your phone at things, and it tells you what it knows about the area around you.

Voice Recorder is, well, a voice recorder

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

A modern smartphone needs a good voice recorder. The best free app for this is, intuitively enough, called 'Voice Recorder'.

Download it. Problem solved.

Opera Mini is an alternative to the default browser

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

There are plenty of browser to choose from on Android, and, to be honest, the default isn't half bad if you can't be bothered with switching.

But after playing around with a few of the most popular options, we think Opera Mini is definitely the smoothest experience out there. Once Firefox has a more stable offering on the table, we'll reevaluate.

Venmo lets you pay your friends, or request that they pay you

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Venmo is probably the most talked-about startup still sort of in stealth-mode. The 'social payments' platform lets you send or request money via SMS, but native apps make it a smoother experience.

This would-be cash-killer doesn't have enough users or brand recognition to be a universal solution at this point, but we recommend getting used to it, because it could be huge.

Ringdroid lets you create and customise ring tones

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Choosing a ring tone is a major part of forging a 21st century identity.

There is no shortage of apps to help you make the right statement, but Ringdroid is the best we're aware of.

Google Listen gathers and plays your podcasts

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

If you're a big podcast fan, never fear: leaving iTunes isn't the end of the world. Google Listen is still in beta, but it is a perfectly good tool for discovering, gathering, and playing podcasts and other subscription audio content.

Yahoo Fantasy Football

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Football season is here, which means, perhaps more importantly, that fantasy football season is here.

Do your employers a favour and take care of your roster moves when you're out and about.

WaveSecure is a pricey but powerful security app

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

We were on the fence about including this.

On the one hand, it's the best, all-in-one security app for Android we're aware of, letting you track your phone if you lose it, remotely wipe it or lock it down, and handling backup and restore operations. On the other hand, it's expensive, and we hate paying for apps.

But the app offers a seven day free trial, so give it a whirl and see how you like it. If you keep sensitive data on your phone, this is a no-brainer.

Evernote won't ever let you forget anything

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Evernote's tagline is: Remember Everything.

It's a service for keeping track of links, notes, pictures, and whatever else you might want to get back to later, and for quickly searching for specific items.

It's primarily a desktop app, but it wouldn't be able to do its job if it weren't with you all the time. The desktop and mobile versions stay synced, so you don't have to remember where you were when you made a note of something.

Google Sky Map is your guide to the stars

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

Another augmented reality app, Sky Map is for exploring the stars.

Simply point your phone at the night sky, and Google overlays an informative map of the constellations. Not of any use to New Yorkers.

Jewels is a free Bejeweled clone

<------- Scan this code with your phone to download

We'd be remiss not to include at least one game, but how to choose?

Tastes vary, and, to be honest, games on phones just aren't all that fun.

But Jewels is a free clone of Bejeweled, a game that defies taste. It is insanely successful on just about any platform you can think of. There isn't much to it, but it makes time fly when you're on the subway.

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