Abhimanyu GhoshalManaging Editor
Abhimanyu is TNW's Managing Editor, and is all about personal devices, Asia's tech ecosystem, as well as the intersection of technology and Abhimanyu is TNW's Managing Editor, and is all about personal devices, Asia's tech ecosystem, as well as the intersection of technology and culture. Hit him up on Twitter, or write in: [email protected].
2017 saw a nice bunch of useful and inventive apps hit the Play store, and a number of our older favorites got some notable updates too.
We’ve rounded up 30 of our favorites from our testing through the year – scroll through our list, find your must-haves and be sure to let us know which ones you’re rocking on your own device into the new year.
Practically all Android phones come with a file explorer, but if you’re not happy with your current choice, Files Go is worth a look. In addition to helping you browser your phone’s storage, it also lets you send and receive files offline via Bluetooth, and displays handy cards to help you find large files, unused apps and other stuff that’s simply taking up space on your device.
➤ Files Go
If you live in India and need to transfer money or make a payment, Google’s Tez is one of the most ingenious ways to do it. Once you connect it to your bank account with your linked UPI address, you can send and receive cash instantly – and if you’re in proximity of the person you’re making a transaction with, you don’t even to exchange personal details.
If you’re getting to grips with English, or looking to improve your grammar when writing emails, reports, and messages, Grammarly Keyboard can help. It suggests improvements to your input as you type and make automatic corrections as well, so your text reads better – while also giving you a chance to learn from your mistakes on-the-fly. My only gripe is that it doesn’t allow for gesture-style typing, a la Swype and SwiftKey, but it’s still plenty useful for folks who want to fix their grammar.
Truecaller’s caller ID works great because of its growing community of users who tag numbers and report spammers – but it’s now even better because it added two handy features. The first lets you send and receive money from your contacts via UPI in India; the second lets you scan numbers printed on paper or billboards, or even scribbled on a napkin, to call and save for later. It’s now become one of the first apps I install when setting up a new phone.
BlackBerry Privacy Shade
Sick of people peeping at your phone while you’re out in public? BlackBerry’s Privacy Shade lets you black out your screen, save for a rectangular or circular area that you can resize and move around. While it’s activated, you can use your phone as normal to navigate to apps and individual messages. You can turn it on or off from a persistent notification or by tapping a dedicated Quick Settings tile. Oh, and it’s great for reading in bed without disturbing your partner with a bright screen.
Datally is designed to give you control over apps to prevent them from chewing through your data plan – both during active use and while running in the background. Once you’ve spotted data-hungry apps, you can choose to restrict their consumption, or make a note to ditch them for more efficient alternatives.
Additionally, the app also comes with a public Wi-Fi finder that will guide you to locations where you can hop online for free. How handy is that?
Tired of having to stretch your fingers to reach across your phone screen? Some brands come with a built-in one-handed mode to shrink your display’s contents down to a more manageable size, but if that doesn’t sound like your handset, you’ll need this app from the folks at XDA.
It doesn’t require rooting, and be toggled using a Quick Settings tile, a launcher shortcut or a floating button. Not bad for the low price of free.
Microsoft’s developed an excellent tool to help people with visual impairments get around indoor spaces, and it’s called Path Guide. When you’re in a building that’s been previously mapped out by a human user, it’ll help you navigate the space by telling you how many steps and in which directions you’ll need to turn in order to find, say, the restroom in a large mall.
It’s free to use, and works for both navigation and for recording paths. If you’re in popular public buildings a lot, you could do your bit to help others by recording navigation guides for them.
Trips was already great for automatically collating your travel tickets and bookings into one place and recommending places to visit, but it’s now even more powerful, thanks to a couple of nice updates from earlier this year.
It now captures bus and train tickets as well and adds them to your itinerary. And in case you make a last-minute booking offline, you can now tap the + button and enter those details manually to keep your schedule up-to-date. Trips also now lets you share the reservations for your journey, including hotel booking and travel tickets, straight from the app via email.
It also plays nice with custom lists that you’ve created in Google Maps or Search, and there’s an option to merge multiple trips into a single adventure.
If you’re heading out of town for the holidays, this is a must-have on your phone.
This is Facebook basically Messenger without a bunch of (mostly) unnecessary bells and whistles. For folks who are low on storage space and RAM, it’s a great choice.
You’ll lose out on voice and video calling, and the ability to send GIFs (boo), as well as some useless bloat like Messenger Day (aka Stories), bots and games (yay).
That seems like a small price to pay for massive savings on space: Lite takes up just 17MB, less than a tenth of what Messenger requires on your phone. You should also find more than 100MB of RAM freed up when you make the switch. In the event that it’s not available on Google Play in your country, you can grab it from APKMirror.
Wish you could hire a bot to handle your WhatsApp messages when you’re busy? Can’t Talk’s got you covered. Just set up a custom message, and toggle auto-reply on: when someone pings you on WhatsApp, it’ll automatically send out your text and let you know the task’s been taken care of with a silent notification. It only worked with WhatsApp in our testing, but support for other services is likely on the cards.
Instagram’s image-and-video sharing app has been around for ages now, but it got oh, so much better in 2017 with a bevy of new features. Its Stories feature works really well for browsing and sharing ephemeral posts, and you can now add images to Stories that are older than 24 hours, as well as save select Stories to be displayed on your profile well after they’ve expired.
You can also join in on a friend’s livestream instantly, and liven things up with filters and masks in live video. My favorite feature is the ability to save posts into Collections that you can label yourself – it’s how I did most of my gift shopping this year from lesser-known brands. Plus, you can now follow hashtags in addition to following others’ profiles. And if you’re looking to clean up your profile, you can now archive posts so they’re hidden from view until you search for them. No wonder it’s become my messaging app of choice this year.
Bonfire is Facebook’s take on instant group video chats that’s aimed at millennials. It’s great for people invested deeply in the social network’s ecosystem, as it makes it easy to invite your Facebook contacts, and share screenshots of your conversations straight to Instagram. You’ll also find stickers and the option to resize windows as you like, a nice upgrade from Messenger’s built-in video chat feature. However, it may not be available for you on Google Play, depending on your location; if that’s the case, find it over on APKMirror.
There are loads of apps for voice and video calling nowadays, but if most of your contacts are still on Skype, Microsoft’s Lite version of the service is worth a try.
It weighs in at just 13MB, while bundling essential functionality as well as a few additional features, including an SMS inbox and a mobile data usage monitor. That should help you save some storage space on your phone, as well as offer a smoother experience on older devices.
Whether you love or loathe Facebook, it’s hard to deny that it’s one of the best tools for tracking events around you. The social network’s new Local app, a rebranded version of Events, lets you search through happenings across the US, sorted into categories like ‘Music,’ ‘Nightlife,’ ‘Arts & Culture,’ and ‘Food & Drink.’
You can also look up events by date, as well as see what’s going on around you on a map. The revamped interface is neat and clean, and makes light work of finding something fun to do in town.
Sadly, it’s only available in the US for now, but hopefully it’ll roll out to more folks across the globe next year.
Health & Wellness
A bomb’s gone off in Inverness station, plunging the world into peril. A stranger hands you a package that could save the planet, but you’ll need to get moving to rescue everyone.
That’s the plot of this ingenious fitness app-game combo. As you cover more ground through the day, The Walk will reveal more of its story to you. You’ll also find additional challenges and pick-ups throughout the app. What better way to hit your daily 10,000 step goal? Try the free version, or pony up for the paid one if you enjoy it.
➤ The Walk: Fitness Tracker Game (Free)
Clue’s beautiful period tracking app has been around for a while, but I only learned of it recently when our own Rachel Kaser recommended it for this roundup.
In addition to a fantastic interface that’s informative and easy to scan, it helps you track your fertility accurately, and share your menstrual cycle data securely with people you trust. This year, the app also updated its pill tracking functionality with handy reminder notifications and a new design to show which days you’re at greater risk of getting pregnant if you’ve missed a pill.
BBC Good Food
BBC’s revamped recipe book brings more than 10,000 recipes spanning a wide range of cuisines, courses, and techniques, in a new easy-to-read interface – making it a one-stop shop for all your cooking reference needs. Once you’ve signed in, you can search through and view the lot of them, complete with nutrition information, beautiful photos, step-by-step instructions, and complementary dishes for each recipe. Oh, and it’s completely free.
Google’s launched a bunch of optimized apps for low-end devices this year, and regardless of what phone you’re rocking, they’re great for saving on storage space.
YouTube Go lets you watch videos from across the platform, while also offering options to save clips to enjoy later. You can also use it to beam videos to a friend’s phone, even when you’re both offline.
It’s worth noting that this is aimed at users who want to save on mobile data, so you won’t be able to stream video at 720p or higher quality. Whether you’re on an expensive plan or are traveling and can’t afford much data abroad, this is handy to stave off boredom with.
The app recently left beta, but it’s still only available in select countries. If it’s not available to you from Google Play, you can grab it from APKMirror.
Player FM’s podcast player has been around for a while now, but it recently got a bunch of great new features with the launch of version 4 in November, as it inches closer towards offering a premium experience with a paid subscription.
The free app is now easier to navigate thanks to a new bottom navigation bar; you can also sync your account between multiple devices, as well as a web app.
There’s also an option to create custom playlists with individual download options, so you can set one up to work offline on your morning jog. If you’re low on storage space, you can have the app compress podcast audio files by as much as 70 percent.
For folks who enjoy longer episodes like I do (one of my favorite shows, Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History, offers up episodes that are three to four hours long), you’ll appreciate the new bookmarks feature. You can annotate them and have them sync across your devices too. If you haven’t yet settled on a podcast app, this is certainly worth checking out.
On the road with your family this holiday season? Kill time on your lengthy travels with Dark Stories, a game that’s a lot like 20 Questions – only, instead of having players guess what animal, place, or object you’re thinking of, they have to deduce the sinister circumstances that lead up to the situation you describe in a short sentence or two. It’s engaging for the whole family, as it encourages lateral thinking and includes puzzles of varying levels of difficulty.
I know most people have Gmail, but if you’re not already using the Smart Reply feature, you’re missing out. I previously only used Gmail on my phone when I absolutely had no other choice – but it’s now my weapon of choice for tackling email better than I ever have in the past. The new Smart Reply feature (which builds on the same functionality from Google’s Inbox app) lets you respond to messages with just a tap, filling in concise, contextual and meaningful replies. It’s how I now reply to 5x more email than before.
I looked at a bunch of to-do apps this year, and while Microsoft’s To-Do is new for 2017, it doesn’t do very much. Google Keep remains my primary weapon of choice, but I’m impressed by all the new features Any.do has added.
In addition to allowing for multiple shareable lists, reminders, and plenty of customization options, Any.do now has a Slack bot, Alexa integration, the ability to add items to your calendar, and a bunch of beautiful new home screen widgets that are flexible and functional.
You can pay to unlock additional features like file attachments and location-based reminders, but the free tier should cover most folks’ needs.
Whether you’re looking for a distraction-free writing tool, or need a place to brainstorm out loud, Paper’s got you covered. Dropbox has been tweaking its freestyle document creation app for a while now, and I find it immensely useful for writing longform pieces. It’s also great for collaborating with others on articles, whitepapers, or even just ideas. And of course, all your files are stored and synced across devices in your Dropbox cloud storage account for easy retrieval.
Duolingo has been around for years, helping people learn the basics of nearly 30 languages (including Klingon and more recently, High Valyrian) with fun gamified courses. This year, it’s been working hard to support a number of Asian languages, and it’s already added Mandarin and Japanese to the list. For folks who want to learn to speak the most popular language in China, the app includes business and internet lingo. Oh, and Hindi is in the works, too.
Google Motion Stills
Google’s tool for creating smooth cinemagraph-style looping GIFs with your camera is now available on Android, and it works like a charm. The app defaults to shooting three second loops, which are stabilized to almost gimbal-like smoothness. If you want to shoot something longer, you can combine multiple clips together. You can also export your results as a video if you want a higher quality option.
Then there’s another mode called “Fast Forward,” which is basically Google’s take on a hyperlapse. If you’re looking to try new things with your camera, this is a great place to start.
There are now a bunch of different apps for applying art-style filters to your photos, but I’m yet to see that offers effects as tasteful as Porta’s. They work especially well on landscapes and urban scenes, but they look pretty neat on portraits as well. You’ll want to fiddle with the sliders a bit to get just the right filter strength to suit your pictures, but it’s easy to get the hang of, and generate some high-quality results.
Linux CLI Launcher is an unusual app launcher that turns your regular Android phone into a full-fledged command line interface.
The quirky app essentially replaces the standard icon-based interface with command lines, which means that – much like in the Linux terminal – you will actually have to type out full commands to start apps and maneuver through your device.
Besides full support for native Android and Linux commands, the app also features a handy ‘aliases’ functionality that lets you create your own shortcuts to effortlessly open apps. It additionally comes with built-in ‘suggestions’ to help you compose commands in the proper format. And kinda like Linux, it’s free.
Notification History Log
Mobile notifications can be annoying, but sometimes, they make light work of triaging your email, messaging services, and other apps. In case you’re in the habit of clearing them before you’ve had a chance to see what they’re about, Notification History Log is for you.
This clever little app lets you retrieve past notifications and search through them to find an alert you’ve been looking for. I like how it lets me clear clutter off my phone’s interface, while also giving me more control over which apps’ notifications I actually look at.
Material Notification Shade
This free app is a flexible replacement for your notification shade; it not only skins the bar and alerts, but also lets you expand them as you would with stock Android. You can also move around the toggles for functions like Wi-Fi and mobile data.
It’s a small, but essential fix for a problem that quickly gets out of hand: my inbox is overflowing with pitches and it’s awfully hard to stay on top of it. Digital clutter can be exhausting, even when you’re not dealing with it – so helpful apps like this are a godsend.
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