Mobile apps have drastically changed our relationship with free software. More often than not, the best mobile apps don't cost you a cent (though you might pay for them in other ways). But there are also plenty halfbaked free apps out there. Our handy list can help you navigate Google Play to make sure you're getting the good stuff.
We've covered everything from budgeting, to note-taking, to music, and security, and more. If you're starting up a new Android device for the first time, or you're on a tight budget, these apps will get you up and running.
The Trouble with Free
While "free" is great, it doesn't always cut the mustard. For instance, the best office suite I've seen for Android costs a hefty $14.99. There's a very worthy free competitor in the office space, but it's got some issues that simply aren't present in paid apps. I love paying nothing, but sometimes it's worth paying a little bit extra for a higher quality product.
So while these are the best free apps, they aren't necessarily always the best apps. If you're looking for that list, check out our 100 best Android Apps article. You'll also note that there aren't any games in this list. Not to worry, we have an entire collection of the 10 best Android games for your perusal.
Haven't I Seen This Before?
You might have seen this list before, but like many round ups we try to update them from time to time to keep them relevant for our readers. Every few weeks new apps will drop in while older ones drop out. This list should live and grow along with the changing Google Play store. In fact, it's sprouting five new apps this time around.
You Missed One!
We can't possibly fit everything into one list, but we've tried out best. What we've listed here is the best, or as close to the best as you can get, and that means some had to be left out. But if you notice that we've overlooked a worthy app be sure to drop us a line in the comments. I promise we'll read them.
Hopefully, the next time you come around there'll be something new for you to discover.
Any.do (for Android)
Any.Do has grown leaps and bounds from its humble list-making origins to a powerful daily organizer. Use it for everything from grocery lists to more complex task management. A feature unique to the app is the Any.Do moment, where you run through the day's tasks and decide which you're going to accomplish.
avast! Mobile Security & Antivirus (for Android)
avast! Mobile Security & Antivirus is everything you want in an Android security suite and then the kitchen sink as well. The app comes with top-tier protection from Android malware but can also deter thieves by letting you remotely track, lock, and message a lost Android. It even comes with browsing protection and call and SMS blocking. All this, for free.
Comics (for Android)
Comics is the place to go for digital comics (unless you want Dark Horse titles). Create an account to shop for digital comics, and even subscribe to monthly titles. It's also a powerful reader, bringing the panels from your favorite stories to your tablet or phone. It's enough to make a die-hard print reader like me think twice. Also, be sure to check out our monthly list of the 10 best digital comics.
If you're the kind of person who has a lot of fan-made concert recordings sitting around, then DeaDBeeF Player is for you. Unlike Google Play Music, DeaDBeeF fully supports lossless formats like OGG and FLAC—no transcoding. It also features a 10-band equalizer, so your recording of Wilco playing Hill Auditorium sounds just like it did in 2004.
Evernote (for Android)
While there are lots of apps out there for note taking, Evernote is still the gold standard against which all the others will be measured. With power search features, extensive tagging, optical character recognition for photos, and nesting Notebooks, Evernote makes it easy to find and organize your notes. A free account with Evernote gets you 60MB of uploads per month, a pro account will cost $45 a year and allow 1GB of uploads per month as well as a slew of other extras.
The Google Family
Google really brings its A-game app development to Android, which comes as no surprise. Google Chrome is a fast, stunning browser on Android. Google Translate brings strong voice recognition and translation to your phone. Google Goggles connects you with useful information from your pictures. Google Drive and Quickoffice give you unprecedented mobile storage and document editing. Gmail is a smart, simple email client and Google Play Music lets you stream and store all your tunes. The Android Device Manager helps keep your phone safe, and the nifty Google Keyboard will totally change how you interact with your phone.
And those are just the ones I can fit in a paragraph.
Mint (for Android)
Mint is a great way to manage your finances without being overwhelmed. Relying on slick graphics, the app makes it easy to see where your money is going. It's budgeting features are great for making decisions on the fly, like checking to see how much you've spent at restaurants and deciding whether or not you can really afford to buy a fancy lunch today.
Plume for Twitter (for Android)
Though it's a powerful Twitter app, Plume's interface can be a bit overwhelming and it isn't as graceful as the official Twitter app. However, it brings some powerful tools to the Android Twitter experience, not the least of which is muting options for users, terms, and hashtags. That alone makes it worthwhile download.
Polaris Office (for Android)
While Polaris Office fell short of Editors' Choice (which went to OfficeSuite Pro), it is a fantastic office suite at an unbeatable price. What costs you $12.99 on iOS is free on Android, and will get you a powerful word processor, spreadsheet editor, and PowerPoint presentation suite. The only drawback? Polaris Office will only run on a few devices. If yours is one of them, be sure to pick up this beautiful freebie.
RedPhone (for Android)
RedPhone lets you make encrypted phone calls to other RedPhone users for the low, low price of nothing. It had a few quirks in it when I first tested it, but the core functionality was solid and provided pretty decent sound quality and low latency over a secure connection. An open source project, this app is maturing fast and getting better all the time and recently left Beta. For encrypted texts, check out it's sister app TextSecure.
Slacker (for Android)
Slacker Radio is already a favorite of the desktop music-streaming crowd, and their updated Android app brings an even better music experience to mobile. With human-curated stations, and tons of unique and niche content (like Yacht Rock) it's a great service for just jumping in and listening. In addition to music, Slacker also has stations for news, talk, and sports.
Snapseed (for Android)
Instagram is great for fast and dirty smartphone photo edits, but for those looking for more should consider Snapseed. This app gives you far more control over how filters and effects are applied, but it's still easy enough for anyone to pick up and use. Try running your pictures through Snapseed before sharing them on Instagram.
Songkick Concerts (for Android)
What I like about Songkick is that it bridges the gap between the music on your phone and the real world, but tracking the live concert appearances of your favorite artists. After a quick scan of your music, Songkick lets you follow your favorite bands and purchase tickets to shows. It's an unbeatable companion for music lovers.
Umano (for Android)
There are lots of music apps on Android, and lots of reading apps as well, but Umano bridges the gap. It delivers in-depth news stories from sources like The New Yorker as read by professional voice actors. It's a great way to tackle those long-read articles, though it doesn't have as many controls as I'd like.
Viber (for Android)
Messaging apps like Viber let you send text, pictures, and even video to other users for free. These apps are becoming more popular, but I was particularly impressed with Viber's ability to seamlessly move between video calls on your phone and your computer. It's a great way to keep in touch and save money, especially when texting friends and family overseas.
This article is in partnership with PCMag.com.