Microsoft Launcher replaces the company's Arrow Launcher and takes on a Windows 10-style transparency. It replaces Google Now with a useful and customizable feed for quick access to recent apps, events, and frequently contacted people. The main app list can be organized horizontally or vertically and includes an elegant alphabetical scrollbar for reaching apps quickly. Performance is just as smooth as the stock Pixel Launcher and it doesn't affect the use of Google Assistant, though of course, Cortana would feel more at home as your voice assistant.
The design can be hit or miss depending on how you feel about Google’s current design trends. We like the revised app rolled out last year, but it removed some of the already-limited design options that came with the app, basically leaving us high and dry when it came to customizing the app. The version of the app we removed last year allowed you to set colors to each contact. This year’s app uses simple blue and grey bubbles in each conversation, even in group chats, with the only splash of color coming from the names of your contacts in groups. It’s unfortunate that the color customization was removed, though two features have been added in the past year that make it hard to pass up: a true dark mode, and a web client that makes it easy to message from any computer using a QR code. Droid App
Ben Moore is an Analyst for PCMag's software team. He has previously written for Laptop Mag, Neowin.net, and Tom's Guide. Ben holds a degree in New Media and Digital Design from Fordham University at Lincoln Center, where he served as the Editor-in-Chief of The Observer, the student-run newspaper. He spends his free time taking photos and reading b... See Full Bio Android App
Feedly takes the RSS feed into the modern age, and it's the easiest way to stay on top of all your favorites sources of news. You can view everything all at once if you want, but Feedly also lets you categorize your sources for focused reading or use its Today tab, which shows you the top stories from each category. Additionally, you can make Feedly look as simple as you wish, with minimalist text-only layouts. It's a great way to keep informed with the days' headlines and it offers useful integrations with other services as well. Droid App
The design can be hit or miss depending on how you feel about Google’s current design trends. We like the revised app rolled out last year, but it removed some of the already-limited design options that came with the app, basically leaving us high and dry when it came to customizing the app. The version of the app we removed last year allowed you to set colors to each contact. This year’s app uses simple blue and grey bubbles in each conversation, even in group chats, with the only splash of color coming from the names of your contacts in groups. It’s unfortunate that the color customization was removed, though two features have been added in the past year that make it hard to pass up: a true dark mode, and a web client that makes it easy to message from any computer using a QR code.
For most people, Textra is our go-to recommendation for messaging apps, and it’s easy to see why. This is developer Delicious’s second crack at an SMS application, after originally developing ChompSMS in 2010 for Android 2.x. At its core, Textra is built on the same ideas as Chomp, providing a similar visual style to the current version of ChompSMS, an app that is still developed side by side with Textra today. Textra is a simple, clean messaging app that is as intuitive as Google’s own messaging platform, while giving power users everything they could want in customization options. Android App
ExpressVPN is one of the most trusted, secure brands in the virtual private network industry, and that’s for good reason. It’s super fast and extremely safe, boasting an SSL-secured network with 256-bit encryption and, get this, unlimited bandwidth and speed. ExpressVPN has servers in 94 countries (including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, and others) in over 145 locations around the world, so there will always be a locatoin near you to give you the best experience possible. What’s more, the service even has stealth servers in Hong Kong. They are to evade the GFW specifically. It doesn’t even look like you’re using a VPN! New Droid Apps
Want to keep your internet activities on the down-low, or simply don’t like the idea that the government could be spying on your every move? One of the best Android VPN apps is a great way to prevent that. ExpressVPN offers both a virtual private network, and some advanced features — such as the ability to connect to servers in more than 100 locations around the world. New Droid Apps
Uber certainly has its problems. Between its questionable business tactics and its bad press, it's understandable to be suspicious. But the truth is that if you're looking for a way to get a ride, regardless of what city you're in, Uber will be there. You can even use it to order food in some areas. A great feature: You can request a wheelchair-accessible vehicle through Uber.
Firefox is lickety-split fast and has a clean design that is a joy to use. Mozilla makes a big point about how it doesn't collect your data, and we are pleased to see that the app comes with a full complement of security settings—including an option to protect your information from advertisers and a private browsing mode. Like the desktop version, Firefox for mobile has a robust selection of plug-ins, excellent tab management, and a dynamic start page for bookmarks and the latest headlines. You can even sync settings, history, and tabs with the desktop variant
Once you start using Evernote, this note-taking app becomes a powerful tool for organizing just about everything. Notes can be anything—text, images, audio, or a mix—and are organized into notebooks. One of its killer features is optical character recognition, which makes the text in images searchable. Cloud-storage makes it the perfect tool for organizing the little pieces of a project into a finished draft. Droid Apps
File browsing is something everyone inevitably has (or wants) to do, so you might as well do it with a capable, fantastic file browser. Solid Explorer is pretty much as good as it gets in the file explorer apps realm. It features Material Design, archiving support, support for the most popular cloud services, and even some more power user stuff like FTP, SFPT, WebDav, and SMB/CIFS support. It looks great, it’s incredibly stable, and it just works well. There is a 14-day free trial with a $2.99 price tag at the end of it. This is, by far, the best file manager on Android for most people. Android App
Those who enjoy podcasts probably have the easiest decision in regards to which podcast app that should use. The answer to that question is Pocket Casts. This insanely stable and good looking app allows you to download or stream various podcasts for your enjoyment. It features both audio-only and video podcast support so you can catch up on just about anything. There is also a light and dark theme, a sign-in feature so you can sync your podcasts across devices, and a pretty decent recommendations function. It underwent a redesign in 2019 that is a bit polarizing, but it’s still an excellent podcast app.
Zocdoc makes it easy to research nearby doctors on your health insurance plan and book appointments from your phone. When you first sign up for the app, you can enter your insurance information manually or scan your card to get started. The app itself looks slick too, with a modern, bright design that makes the experience of scheduling visits less stressful. Zocdoc even saves your history of appointments and makes recommendations for future ones, so you can stay on top of your health history.
Want to keep your internet activities on the down-low, or simply don’t like the idea that the government could be spying on your every move? One of the best Android VPN apps is a great way to prevent that. ExpressVPN offers both a virtual private network, and some advanced features — such as the ability to connect to servers in more than 100 locations around the world.
Signal Private Messenger is actually a messaging app much like Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and others. The difference is that this one features end-to-end encryption and it’s been a favorite of many people who value security. It also works on a phone number system and if your contact doesn’t have the app then it simply sends a text message. We really liked how seamless that feature is. It’s simple to use, looks great with Material Design, and it is entirely free to use with no in-app purchases. It’s also open source, supports group chats, and it’ll even make phone calls. Droid App
invi is a good idea, with a lot of promise assuming future updates are still to happen. Unfortunately, with Google’s recently-announced Chat standard rolling out over the next year, it may also be out of date before the app can even get off the ground. There’s a lot to like about invi—overall, we found the experience of using the app positive, and some of the features promised on the app’s FAQ are exciting, including the ability to disable the “Awesome Bar,” RCS support (which would be great for the future of Android), and more customization options. Sadly, without an update in over six months, it’s unclear what the future of invi holds. It’s still a good SMS and MMS option, but its idea of a invi-to-invi future seems bleak at best. Android App
If you're looking to learn another language, Duolingo gamifies language learning with bite-sized lessons and a friendly interface. Starting with simple vocabulary and building from there, Duolingo is your guide to learning a new language or brushing up on one you already know. The more you use the app, the more you unlock and—with practice—the more you learn. This free app currently supports Danish, Dutch, French, German, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish. Or more practical choices, like Esperanto and Klingon.
You won’t find in-app purchases here — These titles are more experimental than the typical games one would find on an app store. Many of itch.io’s games come out of game jams — community game development events where game makers create a small game in a short time frame, usually within a theme or concept (like “cyberpunk” or “wizard”). Ranging from free, to just a few dollars, and with everything from puzzle games, to adventure games, first-person shooters, hardcore RPGs, and even dating sims, itch.io’s Android store is great for gamers on the go. Android App
QKSMS impressed us a year ago with its customization engine and the options delivered by the app’s dev team, and revisiting the app a year later has made it clear: this is a fantastic application, one worthy of being praised right next to Textra in our top selections spot. QKSMS’s design is slick and easy to use, arguably representing one of the most modern appearances on this list outside of Android Messages. The app’s inbox interface looks like a cross between a basic SMS app and an instant messaging application like Facebook Messenger, but once you dive into the app’s conversation display, it looks similar to designs from Google, with bubbles that mesh together. We’re looking at version 3.0 of the app, which has made a lot of changes in terms of the app’s visual appearance, and frankly, we couldn’t be more impressed with the direction this app is going. Droid App
So Pulse looks pretty good, but the major feature of Pulse doesn’t come down to appearances or app design. Pulse advertises itself as “iMessage for Android” because of its web sync, the ability to send texts from any device you own, including your web browser, native apps on Windows, MacOS, and Linux, your Android watch, your Android tablet, and even a television running Android TV. The one operating system that can’t send messages through Pulse: iOS, where Apple stopped the app from being published on the App Store (theoretically, the web version could still work). This support doesn’t come free, however. You can try it for seven days free to make sure it works well, but you’ll have to chose one of four payment plans to properly use the app:
Despite the fact that we are well into the 21st century, paper still persists in offices. But Microsoft Office Lens lets you turn physical documents into digital ones using your Android. It can even capture doodles and notes from a whiteboard. If you want portable document scanning, but aren't keen on getting an Evernote account, this might be the solution for you.
Overall, we really like Messages. If and when RCS becomes a real standard, it has a solid chance of actually being our top pick for messaging. Unfortunately, it remains a slight hope, one we’ve wanted for a full year now. As usual, carriers continue to slow down progress in this path, making it impossible for RCS to actually become a true feature. Until then, the customization options in Textra put it over the top, but we maintain hope that someday, Messages will be a must-have app on Android. Droid App