A free Android app is a great thing – if that app is really worthwhile. And fortunately, the number of free apps for Android is always growing, fueled in part by developers offering freemiums designed to entice you to try the app and then opt for the paid version because, hey, you actually like it. Other developers are looking to cash in on the BYOD trend, so they are offering freebies to individual users in the hopes that you’ll push your boss to let you use it for work too (but your boss will have to pay for the enterprise version). Other apps are of the open source, free and wild ilk, and still others are apps by developers looking to do something good for others.
And free is good—at least in the eye of the beholder.
But not all free apps are created equal, and some are better than others by far. Here’s a list of some of the most awesome free apps to help you find the ones you really want to use. However, note that this is not a ranking, so an app’s placement in this list is not indicative of value for better or worse as compared to apps listed above or below it. Also, all apps are subject to upgrades that can ultimately make an app better or worse than it was. But all of these are free, so go ahead and give them a test drive.
1. Gmail. This great email app offers all the usual Google awesomeness in features including the ability to manage multiple accounts, view and save attachments, use labels to organize emails, search emails, automatic addition to contacts and sync across devices.
2. Google Maps. More Google awesomeness, but this time it helps you get around in your physical reality. Features include detailed maps with 3D buildings, voice-guided turn-by-turn GPS navigation, live traffic info, local search, business reviews, Google Maps Street View and public transit, biking and walking directions too.
3. WhatsApp Messenger. Skip the SMS (texting) fees and use WhatsApp Messenger instead. The first year’s use is free; after that you have to pony up 99 cents a year for the service. It’s a good multi-media messaging tool that can use WiFi to further cut your cell phone costs.
4. Voice Search. Yet another Google goody, this app allows you to use your voice instead of typing to search your phone, the Web and nearby locations. You can also call your contacts, get directions and control your phone just by speaking the commands.
5. Dropbox. One surefire way to know you'll still have your content even if your device is lost is to store it on Dropbox, where you can retrieve it anytime you want from any device. You can share files stored there with others too.
6. Pandora Internet Radio. This free, personalized radio app learns your tastes in music and grows a collection of songs to fit. It’s better to use this app when you can connect to WiFi because even though the app is free, it’s a data hog and can drive up your carrier charges accordingly.
7. Facebook. The social networking heavyweight still has annoying limitations on a mobile device—things Facebook hopes to fix with its new family of apps called Facebook Home—but it is still a must for those who want to stay connected around the clock.
8. Google Search. Search the Web in the same way you do on laptops and desktops. It also enables you to search your phone or tablet and get personalized results according to your current location.
9. Skype. A free app to make free voice and video calls—what could be better than that? And yes, you can IM from it too. But be careful not to give your phone savings back to the carrier on data costs. Use this on WiFi to avoid high fees unless you have a large data plan already in place.
10. Kakao Talk. Make free calls and send free messages, including group calls and group chats. Again, be careful of data usage so you don’t run up a big bill with your carrier. Use WiFi as much as you can.
11. Adobe Reader. Unfortunately, the world still needs PDF documents. Adobe's free app will let you read them.
12. Google Translate. This free app translates a whole bunch of languages in both speech and text. About the only thing it doesn’t translate is an infant’s gurgling. Input using voice, handwriting or camera.
13. Shazam. Identify music almost instantly, get streaming lyrics, summon the video on YouTube, and tag it all anytime you wish. You can do the same with TV shows.
14. Tiny Flashlight and LED. This free app turns your device’s camera into a bright flashlight. It's very helpful in getting your key in the lock or finding your way in the dark.
15. TuneIn Radio. Tune in to over 70,000 live radio stations around the world. Again, keep an eye on your data usage or switch your device to WiFi to prevent high carrier charges for data.
16. Smart Connect/Livewire. This app allows you to easily connect and manage devices connected to your smartphone, including smart accessories like SmartWatch and Smart Wireless Headset Pro. It also downloads any needed applications and finds third-party applications when available.
17. AVG Antivirus. You know that thing in your pocket isn’t just a phone, right? It’s actually a computer, and you need to protect it from malware just as you would protect any other computer. This is a great free app to help you do that.
18. Flipboard. Create your own personalized news magazine. Select topics you are interested in, and Flipboard displays a beautiful news magazine for your phone or tablet featuring only those topics.
19. Tango Text, Video, and Voice Calls. This app enables texts, video and voice calls across devices and is an all-in-one social networking app too.
20. Advanced Task Killer. Got too much stuff running in the background that is robbing you of full use of your phone? This app is an easy way to identify and shut down those apps.
21. Kindle. Get access to over a million Kindle books and popular magazines to read on your device.
22. Google Drive. Google Docs is now a part of Google Drive, so if you’ve got Docs, this is the app for you.
23. The Weather Channel. Check weather conditions wherever you are and wherever you’re headed on this free app. It also provides warnings so you know when to duck and cover even when travelling.
24. Layar Augmented Reality. This cool app brings print magazines, posters and other items to life if they have been imprinted with Layar—just look for the logo on printed items. It makes printed items turn into interactive venues.
25. Dictionary.com. Yes, you could use the website instead of the app, but the app is better suited to mobile device use.