The 10 Best Android smartphone and tablet apps

If you're intimidated about where to start with your new Android device, or you're a long-time Google fan looking to round out your collection of critical tools, this is the list for you. I've spent many hours refining that unmanageable mass of apps to come up with the 100 Best Android apps, but for some that's still too many, so I've whittled the list down to the essentials.
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What's Here:

I'll admit, this list doesn't have everything. It doesn't even begin to touch the seemingly infinite variety of the Google Play store. What it does cover are the apps that you should install on your Android phone or tablet as soon as it comes out of the box. With these ten apps installed, you should be able to tackle just about anything.

But these are just the beginning. Evernote is an enormously versatile tool, but you might find that it's not meeting your needs for to-do lists and you'll want to move to a refined organizational app like Any.do. Or maybe after reading tons of comics in Comixology, you're curious to read the massive backlog of Marvel titles available for a single monthly fee via Marvel Unlimited. This list of apps is a starting point, or a baseline, that I think any Android user should consider. From here, you'll want to customize and fine-tune the list to your own most essential apps.

How I Choose Android Apps:

When I'm not divining the 10 best Android apps, I'm usually testing Android security apps. When I'm finished, I typically wipe the phone in preparation for the next review. That means I spend more time with fresh, empty phones than the average Android user. It also means that I have to fill that phone back up with essential apps for testing and day-to-day use.

When compiling this list—and when rebuilding my phone—my first thought goes to what apps are necessary to get work done, so I turn to Google Drive and LastPass. The former lets me access my files and get important items off my phone with ease. The latter stores all the passwords I'll need to gain access to critical apps and services.

Next I think about what kinds of apps are popular, and how I can fill those categories. Instagram, for example, is a great app for creating miniature masterpieces out of your cell phone pictures. But it's something of a self-contained world. So I choose PicsArt Photo Studio, which is more open and flexible.

As the smartphones have become more powerful, so have the numerous streaming entertainment services. While there are many options for streaming movies and TV, including Google Play, Netflix has the widest-ranging and exciting selection. The company has also upped the streaming media ante with its well-regarded original content and, most recently, the ability to download some of its content to mobile devices for offline viewing. In the music-streaming space Spotify offers a near-peerless experience, and it's a great mobile fitness app, too, smartly integrating features like beat-matching to keep runners on pace, too.

If you'll allow me to don my paranoia cap for a moment (yes, it's made of tinfoil), mobile device security is a sorely ignored subject. Google has done an admirable job of making Android and Google Play a safe platform, but not all threats come from malicious apps. As the network airspace becomes increasingly crowded with wireless networks, so too does the risk of your data being intercepted in transit. A mobile VPN, or virtual private network, like NordVPN is no longer a niche product, and should be required installation for everyone, but especially frequent travelers.

What's Not Here:

First, there are no games. I hear you moan, but Android games deserve their own story. There are simply too many of too great a variety. If you want games (and I know you do), you should read our slightly longer guide to the Best Android Games. That'll take care of all your thumb-twiddling, screen-swiping needs.

Second, there are only a few Google apps on here. It's really easy to just default to them since many are, well, default on Android devices. Regarding the Google apps that did make the list, I've carefully balanced their utility against that of competitors in the space to make sure they really are the best. For example, Google Drive also gives access to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, which is an excellent mobile office suite.

This is just the tip of the Android iceberg here at PCMag. You'll find many, many more excellent apps in our 100 Best Android Apps, and we have many more roundups where that came from. We're all about apps, you see. This list will get you started, but the shimmering world of Android apps awaits! Do you have different suggestions about the 10 most critical Android apps for for entertaining, informing, and enhancing productivity? Let me know in the comments.

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