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25 Best Android Apps Under $1

Android Apps
You may be on the road less traveled, but, if you are part of the Android movement, you are ahead of the smartphone curve. The platform's many benefits are offset, though, by real setbacks -- like the fact that Android owners aren't shepherded by the Draconian App Store monitored by the Big Brothers at Apple. We are freer, but we are also subjected to a load of crap, like cross-platform communication snafus and illegible app reviews. To separate the wheat from the chaff, we've decided to give you, as a holiday gift, our favorite low-cost Android apps, so that you can bulk up your phone's all-in-one capabilities. A couple of our suggestions might make perfect last-minute gifts -- surprising all of those people-you-like-but-not-enough-to-spend-lots-of-money-on-them with your thoughtfulness and ingenuity, or supplementing gifts you already have. (See TripIt.) Or, you know, you can just give yourself a more productive, seamless 2011. In the worst case, you can remind your iPals we have the ultimate present on our phones: 'Angry Birds' for free.


Games

'Angry Birds'

When deciding what must-have Android apps we'd include in our roundup, the Switched team almost unanimously picked the tale of a few birds with a taste for bacon. It's free on the Android system, and nothing, nothing, is more gratifying than launching avian missiles at pig-made structures. Smile smugly this time, pig.
'Angry Birds,' Free

'Light Racer'

One of the most enduring images from the original 'Tron' is certainly the Light Cycle race, which pitted two neon-accented motorcycles, trailing walls of destructive light, against one another. 'Light Racer' is exactly like that, except without the licensing rights and with some incomprehensible power-ups scattered across the screen. By tapping and swiping the screen, you direct your light racer to slam your opponent into either your light trails or the wall to win. It's simple, addictive, and just one of the few games in the Android market that will keep you entertained beyond the first five minutes.
'Light Racer,' Free

'Wordfeud'

Clones of a certain letter-tile game that shall remain nameless are a dime a dozen these days, so it takes a lot to stand out from the crowd. 'Wordfeud' does so by not only being a faithful emulation of the unnamed classic, but by offering great multi-player features, too. You can challenge a friend or a random stranger, and manage several games at once. You can even let games drag on for days if you have a friend several timezones away. When it's your turn, a push notification will pop up. You can respond to it at your leisure, but we suspect that you'll have a triple-word-score in store from the get-go.
'Wordfeud,' Free

Communication

'Kik Messenger'

One of the main reasons that our Features Editor took ages to drop her antiquated Pearl in favor of the faster, more efficient and Web-friendlier Android system is that she just adores chatting with her friends via BlackBerry Messenger. Messages were instant, and you could see whether or not they were read, and whether your recipient had begun to respond. This app mimics all of this, except, instead of using your outdated Blackberry Pin, it works on both Android and iPhone.
'Kik Messenger,' Free

Music

'Pandora'

Everyone's favorite streaming app works perfectly on Android. Not only do your stations and Likes stay seamlessly linked, but whatever you create on your phone shows up on your computer, too. Brownie-points-earning (and wallet-friendly) gift idea: Set up a Pandora station just for your pal, composed of bands you both adore.
'Pandora,' Free

'Shazam'

iPhones aren't the only ones that'll play everyone's favorite party trick. Wow your pals by whipping out your Android, and letting everyone know that the jam you are listening to is actually... ugh, guys, you don't wanna know.
'Shazam,' Free


'Tuner'

The Android-toting guitarist should never be caught without Tuner -- if for no better reason than the fact that nothing is more embarrassing than getting ready to serenade your lady (or gentleman) and finding your instrument woefully out of tune. Tuner doesn't have any fancy extras; it's just a top-notch app that will tell you if your 6-string (or 12-string, or violin, or any number of other instruments) is in tune.
'Tuner,' Free

'Yelp'

Okay, so gifting Yelp's free app may not reek of effort and expense, but setting up a profile, highlighting favorite places and creating a "must-try" list would warm even the crankiest grinch. The app allows for easy check-ins, and a cool "monocle" feature that captures, uploads and tags images in the app.
'Yelp,' Free

Reading/News

'NBA Gametime' / 'NHL Gamecenter / 'NFL Mobile / 'MLB at Bat'

All of the major professional leagues have apps for Android, and they're must-haves for sports fans. In the off-season, you'll get news about your favorite teams, and during the season you'll receive up-to-the-minute scores. Premium versions of the apps will also offer live-streaming audio (and, in some cases, video), so you won't have to miss a second of the action while you're on the go.
'NBA Gametime' / 'NHL Gamecenter' / 'NFL Mobile' / 'MLB At Bat'

'NPR'

Call us latte-sipping, liberal elitists if you want, but we think everyone needs the NPR app. You can read the latest headlines, listen to live streams of stations from across the country, and access the public radio network's vast archives of incredible podcasts like 'Radiolab,' 'This American Life' and 'Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me!' You can even build a podcast playlist that will keep pumping out interesting and informative programming. It's a much more productive use of your commute than zoning out while listening to your newly purchased Beatles collection from iTunes.
'NPR,' Free

'WeatherBug'

Ages ago, 'WeatherBug' made its name by being one of the first accessible, easy-to-use widgets on both Mac and PC. Set up is shockingly easy -- just click "enable location," and you'll know whether to don your wool or your seersucker. Forecast? Bottom left button. Worried about Mom in Florida? Add her location to your homescreen. The preferences are so hands-on that you can even tell the 'Bug' to shut off when you reach a certain battery level, perfect for the energy-conscious.
'WeatherBug,' Free

Organization/Productivity

'WikipediaMobile'

Last weekend, we were privy to an argument between two individuals concerning the venom of the platypus. One side didn't believe the curious mammal could possibly be poisonous, while the other suggested that males had a frightful, stinging spur on the back of their feet. Eventually, someone got out a smartphone, typed in "platypus," waited for the Wiki to show up in the answers, and then had to wait to select the Wikipedia article. With 'WikipediaMobile,' the search would have taken a fraction of the time, and the platypus pals would've read all about the critter -- and then still had time to research the venomous mammal anomaly.
WikipediaMobile, Free

'Advanced Task Manager'

Anyone who is familiar with the Google OS knows that the phone has a lot of power, and even more ways to suck it out of your device. 'Task Manager' monitors the apps you're running, and lets you select which ones to kill. Maybe your friend is thrifty... or maybe you know the joy they'll receive shutting down that NASCAR app junkware.
'Advanced Task Manager,' Free

'Remember the Milk'

A good to-do list is the cornerstone of any decent productivity system, and it's hard to beat 'Remember the Milk' ('RTM,' for short). You'll need a premium account ($25 per year) to really take advantage of the mobile app, but it's a small price to pay. You can simply dump all your tasks into 'RTM,' or, if you're a bit more meticulous, add tags, break things into lists, add locations, make notes, and assign items a priority level. It works great as a basic task tracker, but it really shines when you take the time and effort to really organize your list (or lists). It's not only effective, but it's also downright fun -- and enough to make even the laziest person develop a case of OCD.
'Remember the Milk,' Free to try, $25 for Pro service

'Mint'

If our moms were app-savvy, they would have sent us on our way with this budget-balancing tool, hoping to instill financial know-how. After you set up your budget online, 'Mint' will bleep and whine when you spend too much, letting you see where you've spent the most money and how much is left in your allotted allowance for a particular category. The app is much better than banks at determining which merchant is which, so, the next time you are deciding on a digestif and a crème brûlée, you can quickly see if your food budget will allow for such opulence.
'Mint,' Free

Travel/Health

'Runkeeper'

There used to be a hard line in the sand between the geeks and the jocks. Not anymore. Now, it's perfectly acceptable for gym-rats to be data-obsessed and for the nerds to strap on a pair of running shoes. Regardless, both personality types want to quantify and track their achievements -- and 'Run Keeper' lets you do just that. Just turn on the GPS, and head out the door. When you've returned from your walk, run, hike or bike ride, simply upload your results to the Run Keeper website, and you'll have a measure of how far you traveled, your top and average speeds, how long your activity lasted, and how much you ascended and descended. Exercise just isn't as fun without it.
'Runkeeper,' Free

'TripIt'

Some apps, like 'Shazam' and 'TripIt,' make us feel like we're living in the future. 'TripIt' is idiot-proof; simply forward your hotel, restaurant and flight e-mails to the site, and it magically organizes it into an easy-to-browse itinerary that can be shared with friends and family. It consistently impresses by decoding those dense airline e-mails, and keeps Mom happy with flight status updates.
'TripIt,' Free

Photo

'Adobe Photoshop Express'

Don't worry if you don't understand the fully loaded computer program; this mini app is just perfect for your basic photo-editing needs. Just open the app, and all of your phone's images are imported into Photoshop, allowing you to do basic editing tricks. The best part, of course, is using your fingers to tint, saturate and adjust the image, giving a tactile meaning to "touching up."
'Adobe Photoshop Express,' Free

'Retro Camera'

Sure, iPhones have 'Hipstamatic,' but does your fancy picture-taking app allow you to choose which one of four classically inspired cameras your phone is going to mimic? (Don't answer that; as an adamant non-iPhone user, your writer doesn't exactly know the answer.) From the low-saturation non-contrast of the Fudgecan (which is meant for outdoor pictures and imitates '70s-era shooting) to the Holga-esque Bårbl (great for portraits), you'll be hosting artsy pictures on Facebook in no time.
'Retro Camera,' Free

Shopping

'Key Ring'

Once upon a time, our wallets were oddly misshapen and bursting at the seams -- not because of money, mind you, but because all of our membership and savings club cards. Cards for everything, from the drug store to Gamestop, were wedged between business cards and Visas, requiring an extra 20 minutes to find our IDs or Metro passes. But, with Key Ring, your phone is your key chain, meaning no more digging for your savings cards and keeping your information updated and centralized. Just snap a pic of your old card before you toss it for good, and make yourself a lean, mean savings machine.
'Key Ring,' Free

'Groupon'

If you don't Groupon already (and you should be, since it's already a verb), you clearly are not the Internet shopping type. For those of you that love mega deals served daily, the Groupon app is a pleasure to use -- and simple, too. The app has geo-locating capacity (so it knows if you are in Portland or Kansas City), and you can share with friends via your phone book or Facebook contacts.
'Groupon,' Free

Utilities

'Flash Player'

One of the big differentiators between iOS and Android is Flash. Love it or loathe it, the truth is you can't claim to offer the "full Web" without it. Set it for "on-demand," and you won't even know it's there until you want it. All those Flash-based videos and games at which the iPhone balks will load without much trouble on any decent Android phone. (You can even go check out many of our featured time wasters.) The games section of the Android Market can't quite match the iPhone's selection, but, with Flash, the entire Web is your gaming playground.
'Flash Player,' Free

'Dropbox'

Dropbox After you use your 'Retro Camera' to take hundreds of pictures of your girlfriend sprawled dreamily in the grass, you can easily upload them in bulk by dumping them in Dropbox, which automatically updates across all of your devices. In addition to picture transport and file management, you'll be able to edit files, send yourself large notes and voice data, and live (like your girlfriend) whimsically in the clouds. Integration is instant, and the app is dead-simple to use.
'Dropbox,' Free

'Chrome to Phone'

We love this app because, if you haven't noticed, we live our lives totally through Google products. We sync our lives to Google Calendar, chat on Google Talk, and even browse the Web with Google's absurdly fast Chrome browser. So, 'Chrome to Phone' is that crucial link between our desktops and our mobile lives. By adding a small widget to your browser's task bar, you can just click the Chrome to Phone icon, and watch as any map, telephone number or website is pushed onto your phone. Free cheesy gift idea: set it up on your beloved's phone and send them romantic websites all day long.
'Chrome to Phone,' Free

'Launcher Pro'

It's not that there's anything wrong with default Android Launcher, but 'Launcher Pro' is just that much better. You can add up to seven home screens, rotate it to landscape mode, and open up extra spots in the dock for shortcuts. It even allows you to tweak settings like how many rows or columns of icons you can have, or how quickly scrolling animations work. Our favorite feature, though, might be the pinch shortcut, which opens an Exposé-like view of all your home screens, allowing you to quickly jump between them without the need to swipe. It's perfect for the tinkerer who wants to have complete control over how their cell phone behaves.
'Launcher Pro,' Free

Tags: Adobe Photoshop Express, AdobePhotoshopExpress, Advanced Task Manager, AdvancedTaskManager, android, angry birds, AngryBirds, apps, chrome to phone, ChromeToPhone, DropBox, flash player, FlashPlayer, groupon, hgg, key ring, KeyRing, kik, launcher pro, LauncherPro, light racer, LightRacer, mint, MLB At Bat, MlbAtBat, nba gametime, NbaGametime, NFL Mobile, NflMobile, nhl gamecenter, NhlGamecenter, NPR, pandora, remember the milk, RememberTheMilk, retro camera, RetroCamera, RunKeeper, shazaam, shazam, Tripit, tuner, weatherbug, Wikipedia Mobile, WikipediaMobile, wordfeud, yelp

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Editor in Chief

Amar Toor

Writer

Matthew Zuras

Design Editor

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