A useful Android primer.
Apple sold 15.4m iPads in the final quarter of 2011, but there is more to the market than one manufacturer and OS. Strategy Analytics estimates that 39% of the 26.8m tablets that shipped that quarter were running Google’s Android operating system.
Yes, that’s shipments as opposed to sales: it’s anyone’s guess how many of those devices remain on shelves and in warehouses. Even so, more Android tablets are emerging, with some – Amazon’s Kindle Fire in the US and Samsung’s Galaxy Tabs elsewhere in the world – building some momentum.
One of the key selling points for Apple’s iPad is the more-than 140,000 native apps available for the device. Android devices have a way to go to catch up in terms of overall quantity, but the number of quality apps for Android tablets has been improving steadily.
Hence this roundup, following our separate rundown of the 50 best iPad apps in September 2011. Shortly after that was published, we began gathering suggestions for inclusion in an Android follow-up, and have spent the months since then drawing up our own longlist of possibles.
Some caveats. First, this is aimed more at people unboxing an Android tablet for the first time, so some of the suggestions may seem obvious to experienced owners. Second, any selection of this kind will be tinged by the personal preferences of the writer.
In both cases, your criticisms and alternative suggestions are welcomed in the comments section. We have also opted against restricting the list to apps optimised for Honeycomb-only software, given the existence of a number of tablets running earlier versions of Android.
A third caveat: Android being what it is, we can’t guarantee that all 50 apps will be available or run well on all the devices out there, particularly at the cheaper end of the market.
Proceed with caution, but please do report back on your experiences with specific devices. On with the show…
SOCIAL MEDIA / WEB
FEEDLY free. Looking for an Android alternative to Flipboard? Feedly is worth a look, promising a personalised magazine pulling in stories from Google Reader, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and other services.
FIREFOX free. Now optimised for tablets as well as smartphones, Firefox offers a useful alternative to the default Android browser, including the ability to sync bookmarks and history with the desktop version.
IM+ PRO £2.99. This catch-all messaging app combines Skype, Facebook Chat and a host of instant messaging services into one, with the option to ping text, photos and voice notes to contacts.
NEWS360 FOR TABLETS free. Another news aggregator, News360 gets content from more than 10,000 news sites, promising to learn from your social and RSS accounts what you like to read about, in order to filter accordingly.
TABLIFIED MARKET HD £0.94. If this article is a starting point for discovering new Android tablet apps, Tablified Market should be your next port of call. It’s a discovery app that promises to ‘find Tablified apps so you don’t have to’. A good database with regular updates.
TAPTU – DJ YOUR NEWS free. Another social news-reading app, this, which accesses stories from sites using their RSS feeds. At its most useful when you dive into its tools to “remix” different feeds into single streams about whatever topic you like.
TWEETCOMB free. Keen Twitter users should appreciate TweetComb, which is a Twitter client focused on tablets running the Android Honeycomb software. It makes good use of the larger screens, and its notifications can be tweaked to your preferences.
BBC NEWS free. The Beeb’s official news app was updated with an Android-focused edition in January 2012, with a choice of landscape and portrait modes, swipe-based navigation through stories, and – later in the year – a live stream of the BBC News channel itself.
CNN APP FOR ANDROID TABLET free. News network CNN’s Android app is a very polished way to get the latest stories, including text and video reports. Its tablet-optimised design stands out, while its iReport feature aims to get users filing their own stories.
COMICS free. ComiXology’s combined comics store and reader app boasts of being the only one offering titles from both Marvel Comics and DC Comics. A wide catalogue of titles is available to buy in-app, while the reader’s “Guided View” technology works well for finding your way through cells.
GOOGLE BOOKS free. Google Books is a tablet window to Google’s cloud-based e-books service, where you can shop for e-books to read across multiple devices, or choose from a wide selection of free titles.
GOOGLE READER free. The existence of apps like Taptu and News360 is sometimes used as an argument for RSS being old hat – even though they rely on the technology to pull in content. If you’re more old-school in your RSS habits though, Google Reader is very good.
IMDB MOVIES & TV free. The world’s biggest database of film and TV information is really impressive on Android tablets, enabling you to browse the database and watch trailers. There’s a US focus, but it’s still useful.
KINDLE free. A firm favourite on iPad as an alternative to Apple’s own iBooks, the Kindle app is also a must-have on Android tablets. Buy from Amazon’s e-store and then read the e-books on your slate, syncing with any other devices you use too.
NETFLIX free. Netflix launched in the UK in January 2012, meaning that its impressive tablet apps now have an audience on this side of the Atlantic too. Browse its catalogue of films and TV shows, then watch them on the device.
THE CAT IN THE HAT £1.90. The Dr. Seuss classic has been turned into a faithful book-app that looks as good on tablets as on smartphones. The illustrations are familiar, while there’s voice narration and zooming words to aid young readers.
TUNEIN RADIO PRO £0.61. The TuneIn Radio app has been a huge success on various platforms, and while it doesn’t make major use of tablet bells’n'whistles, we’d still recommend it for Android slate owners. Find radio stations from around the world and, well, tune in.
ZINIO free. An increasing number of magazines are launching bespoke apps for iPad, if not Android tablets. One good way to plug the gap is Zinio, which sells digital replicas of a large range of mags from its in-app store.
ANGRY BIRDS free. Okay, somewhat obvious. But amid all the big-number milestones and commercial spin-offs, it’s easy to forget that at its core, Angry Birds is a very, very good game. It’s just as suited to tablets as smartphones too.
BACKBREAKER THD £3.09. The Super Bowl may be over for another year, but NaturalMotion’s casual gridiron game is fun all year round, as you dodge and spin past hordes of defenders. This version showcases the Nvidia Tegra processors inside some Android tabs.
BLOOD & GLORY (NR) free. Glu Mobile’s take on the Infinity Blade beat ‘em up is notable for two reasons: first it’s on Android, unlike its inspiration. And second, it’s a freemium title, so you don’t have to pay to initially play it.
DUNGEON DEFENDERS SECOND WAVE free. This is another game that’ll show off the graphical grunt of your (high-end) Android tablet. The gameplay is a mixture of action-RPG and tower defence, as you set your defences then run around swinging at attackers as they pile in.
GRAND THEFT AUTO III £2.99. 10 years after it was first released for consoles, GTA III returns for tablets (and smartphones). It has dated wonderfully, with its mix of crime and, well, more crime still feeling fresh. What’s more, it has survived the transition to touchscreen tablets, with well thought-out controls.
MINECRAFT: POCKET EDITION £4.29. Tablets lend themselves to relaxed usage while loafing about on a sofa. The perfect game for this scenario is Minecraft, as you wander a blocky landscape digging, building and admiring the views.
ONLIVE free. Streaming games service OnLive turns your Android tablet into a fully-fledged games console, complete with (if you buy it) a joypad peripheral. Assuming your Wi-Fi connection is up to the task, this is technically impressive, with an increasing catalogue of games to have fun with.
OSMOS HD £3.18. Currently part of the excellent Humble Bundle for Android, Osmos is a trippy puzzle game that involves absorbing glowing “motes”, complete with an atmospheric electronica soundtrack.
SHADOWGUN £3.49. First-person shooter Shadowgun is a visual feast, as you battle an army of cyborgs and droids inside “maniacal genius” Dr. Edgar Simon’s mountain base. It’s shooting to become the mobile and tablet world’s Halo, and on this evidence, that’s not a crazy ambition.
SLEEPY JACK £1.99. 3D shooter Sleepy Jack runs as a universal game across Android tablets and smartphones, and is addictive enough that you’ll want to play it on both. 40 beautiful worlds to fly through provide plenty of depth.
ANOMALY WARZONE EARTH HD £2.49. A simple twist on the tower defence genre makes Anomaly Warzone Earth instantly stand out from the herd: you play the attackers rather than the defenders. A deep campaign mode and attractive visuals makes it even more of a treat.
WORLD OF GOO £2.99. Just as much of a joy on Android as it is on iPad, World of Goo gets you dragging and stretching virtual goo-balls into objects to get you through puzzle-packed levels. Wonderfully tactile, and challenging without ever making you throw your tablet through the window. A good thing, really.
PRODUCTIVITY / TOOLS
CATCH free. Early Honeycomb tablet owners were buzzing about this cloud app, and justifiably so. Not a million miles away from Evernote, it’s about scribbling notes, recording voice memos and taking photos, then storing them in the cloud – with a Streams feature particularly useful for collaborative work.
DROPBOX free. An increasingly essential service no matter what device you own, Dropbox gathers your photos, documents and videos – among other files – for access on the go. As on other platforms, the interface is clean and efficient, for speedy use.
EVERNOTE free. As with Catch and Dropbox, Evernote’s strength comes when you use it across several devices, not just one tablet. Sync text notes, lists, voice memos and photos across them all, with sharing features built in too.
FILE MANAGER HD free. Another app from the early days of Honeycomb, which offers a simple-yet-slick way to manage files on your tablet, browing by lists or grids. One of those apps that might not be sexy on the surface, but which will be used regularly.
GOOGLE DOCS free. Another of Google’s own apps, this, which aims to provide a neat native way to access Google Docs – including offline – on Android tablets. Again, simplicity and speed is the focus, to make it quick to edit and share documents.
HD WIDGETS £1.29. Widgets are one of the ways Android obviously differs from iOS, and HD Widgets offers a bunch of examples, from clocks to weather reports. Tablet tweakers will love it.
MINDJET FOR ANDROID free. If Evernote and Catch are more about notes, Mindjet is more about richer brainstorming sessions, making good use of the large tablet screen to organise your thoughts and make them understandable for future reference.
QUICKOFFICE PRO HD £12.97. If you’re not ready to move into Google’s cloud, what about this app for creating, editing and sharing Microsoft Office documents? Support for documents, spreadsheets and presentations makes it flexible, and it also plays nice with Evernote and Catch.
SKITCH free. Evernote’s second app in this list is more for fun, letting you scribble on photos and images to annotate them. It’s very easy to use, and while doodling rude things on friends’ mugshots is the obvious use, there are work applications too.
SLIDEIT KEYBOARD £3.79. Android tab owners are spoiled for choice when it comes to alternative on-screen keyboards, so we’ve chosen two of the best here. SlideIT delivers on its promise of speedier typing with finger-tracing rather than tapping.
SPLASHTOP REMOTE DESKTOP HD £4.56. Remote access used to be a corporate thing, but nowadays even consumers are keen on the idea of accessing their main PC or Mac from their tablet. Well, some consumers. SplashTop Remote is one of the best known ways to do it, and one of the friendliest too.
STICKY NOTES HD TABLET WIDGET £1.22. You could argue that shoehorning virtual sticky notes onto a digital device is pure nostalgia. You might have a case. Even so, Sticky Notes HD does it well, stacking the virtual Post-Its neatly so you don’t lose your reminders.
SWIFTKEY TABLET X KEYBOARD £3.49. The second soft-keyboard app in this roundup comes from SwiftKey, with its clever prediction algorithm to guess what word you might be typing next. Cleverer still is the way it can learn your most common words by tying into Facebook, Twitter and Gmail.
LIFESTYLE / SCIENCE
ADOBE COLLAGE £6.99. At a time when social media startup Pinterest is gathering a head of steam, Adobe’s Collage app looks onto a good thing. It’s about making moodboards with a mixture of photos, scribbles and text, importing several file-types and content from Google and Flickr.
ADOBE PHOTOSHOP TOUCH £6.99. Another Adobe app here, but one that’ll be more familiar to veterans. It’s a touchscreen-optimised reboot of the Photoshop editing software, with some powerful features if you know what you’re doing, and syncing back to the desktop version if necessary.
ACCUWEATHER FOR HONEYCOMB free. Whether sunshine, rain or the kind of snow that brings Britain’s infrastructure to a halt (i.e. two inches), AccuWeather offers a tablet-friendly window on the weather around the world.
GOOGLE SKY MAP free. It’s currently being cut loose – sorry, open sourced – by Google, but its in-house Sky Map app remains a joy. Hold your tablet in the air at night, and get an instant guide to what all those stars are called. A handy search mode is good for planet-spotting too.
GOOGLE EARTH free. Zooming around the planet is as fun a tablet experience on Android as on iPad, with 3D buildings and some nifty tweaks for larger-screened devices.
OPENTABLE free. Restaurant reservations service OpenTable does a very good job of finding nearby eateries, plotting them on a map, and helping you decide whether they’re worth booking.
SKETCHBOOK PRO free. Autodesk’s painting and drawing app has been tuned for Honeycomb-toting tablets, helping you sketch on-screen. Professionals may get most out of it, but the app is fun and rewarding even for less artistic Android owners.
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