A large part of android’s success is due to its large apps ecosystem. Thanks to the platform’s open nature, android users enjoy a great suite of powerful apps. Here are 13 useful and powerful android apps on 2020 arranged categorically.
Firefox is an open-source browser offered by Mozilla. Firefox on Android was the first browser app to enable extension support. If you want to enjoy your favourite extensions on android, Firefox is one of the few viable options.
Note, however, not all PC browser extensions are supported due to the difference in platforms. Along with the extension support, Firefox comes with rich privacy, security and anti-tracking benefits that not all browser can come close to.
Firefox also packs all the default browser features such as account syncing, view as desktop, tab sharing, password management. This makes it almost unbeatable among other browsers.
Apart from Firefox, Kiwi browser, based on chromium, also provides browser extension support. Chromium is the same base that Google uses to build chrome. So chrome lovers might prefer Kiwi. Kiwi also went open-source on April 2020. Kiwi provides an in-built dark mode and ad blocking support which sets it apart from Firefox.
One may argue that those features can be obtained from extensions but again in-built support is a convenience. Additionally, Kiwi has an option to redirect downloads to ADM, a popular download manager app on android.
Kiwi, however, does not provide account syncing feature yet, which can be a deal-breaker for some.
2. File Explorers (MiXplorer, Fx explorer and Solid Explorer)
- Cloud storage support (Drive, Dropbox, Mega, and more)
- In-built PDF viewer, image viewer, video player(VLC codecs), browser, text editor.
- Archiving, encrypting, setting passwords for folders, etc
- Utility features like recycle bin, duplicate file cleaner and app residue cleaner.
- Customizable with tons of theme options along and add-ons support.
- Multiple tabs, favourites, bookmarks.
- Advanced and fine-grain search options.
- Advanced features like tasks automation, root explorer, tag editor, server support (samba, FTP, SFTP, etc)
However, there are some caveats with MiXplorer. It is very different from most explorers and a little more advanced so, you will need a few days to get the hang of it. Also, there is little to no help, documentation, and support. You will have to download the XDA-labs app to get auto app updates.
Note: There is paid app named “MiXplorer Silver” providing the same features in the Play store by the same developer.
Solid explorer only provides 14 days trial, and after that, you need to pay for the app. It has additional fingerprint locking support. However, it lacks the advanced features of MiXplorer.
Fx explorer is free to install but does not have any encryption and folder lock. It locks cloud storage and advanced servers support to a premium paid version. It also lacks advanced features of MiXplorer.
These days, almost all apps on the play store are ads-ridden and involve in data-stealing practices like a calculator app asking for contacts permission. F-droid is a breath of fresh air among such malpractices.
Fdroid is a store for Free and Open Source “FOSS” android apps. The apps are completely ad-free, tracking free and free of cost. They also don’t ask unnecessary permissions. Fdroid is a very reputable source and has tight checks in place.
Although evil apps are rare in Fdroid, there are some unmaintained or out of date apps. The apps ecosystem is minuscule compared to play store and apps normally don’t have a great UI.
Most people use it to get utility apps like barcode scan, text editor, to-do list apps, etc or popular and well-maintained apps that are frequently updated. Some of them are listed later in this article as well.
Some good apps in F-droid are:
- VLC media player: Popular video player
- DnsFilter: Blocks harmful trackers, scam, malware sites
- GoodTime: Pomodoro style time management
- Librera Pro: Pdf, epub reader
- G-droid: F-droid app but with UI like Play Store.
With the rising concerns regarding online data safety and privacy, lots of efforts have been put into developing truly secure communication apps. The core concept is to use “End to End Encryption” or E2E encryption. Read more about it here.
Signal is one of the most reputed apps in this scene. This open-source app is the de-facto preferred app by the technical crowd. It supports instant messaging, groups, and video chat. However, to utilize its full potential both sender and the receiver needs to use Signal which, due to the limited adoption of app, is quite hard to achieve.
Telegram is another reputed privacy-focused communication app. It provides the user with both E2E and non-E2E encryption options. Though Telegram’s chat is not E2E encrypted by default, its cloud server is distributed across several nations making it impossible for a single government to compromise the security. Read more about this from Telegram’s founder.
VPN apps are becoming ever popular for bypassing geo-restricted content and government surveillance. However, most people don’t realize the risk they are taking by tunnelling all their internet traffic through some random company’s servers. The cost of maintaining servers and security to operate a VPN service is too high to assume good faith in free VPN providers.
Thus, it is highly recommended to always use a paid and reputed VPN service like Mullvad and ProtonVPN. If you must resort to using free VPN apps, a general rule of thumb is to use free trial of apps that have a paid option. Some recommended ones are ProtonVPN and Tunnel Bear.
If you’re interested in knowing what VPNs are and how they work, check our article VPN in Brief
Nova is a powerful and versatile launcher app with terrific customization. It has been one of the most loved apps among android users since its launch in 2012. From custom themes, icons, app folders, drawers to grid positioning, gestures, swipes Nova includes everything. It also has a backup/restore to save your customization. Its ability to pack so many features in nice and simple UI and yet feel so light and fast is what makes this launcher the one-stop solution for launchers. It has a premium version which unlocks gestures, custom icon swipe gestures and hidden apps features.
For tech geeks, T-UI launcher is a unique launcher bringing the terminal experience to android. It features a beautifully themed terminal window displaying the date, time, weather, to-dos and processes. It has a CLI at the bottom for launching apps with suggestions. Along with this the app packs features like weather, RSS reader, alias and some Linux commands.
7. APPS management (Bouncer, Titanium backup pro)
Bouncer app enables you to allow permissions to apps temporarily. If you just want to give location permission to apps like Maps for 5 minutes and don’t want to worry if it is tracking you in the background, then you can use Bouncer. It is available as a paid app on the Play store.
Titanium backup pro (Requires root) is an all-round solution for apps management. It can do multi-versioned backups/restore of apps with app data, sync with cloud storage, freeze apps and remove bloatware. It can also perform automatic and scheduled backups, move apps to and from sd-card to internal storage and so on. The free version locks multi-versioning and app freezing features.
Google Drive is free cloud storage offered by Google to store your files online. It is very popular since it comes with almost all android phones. It gives you 15 GB storage for free and you can pay to extend it. However, Google Drive will freely store unlimited pictures, videos (adjusted quality) and Google Docs files.
Mega is another free option providing 15 GB base storage. The files are end to end encrypted. The upload/download speed is very good. It also has mobile apps, desktop apps, browser extensions to access and sync your files. It also provides many bonus storage extending your quota to 50 GB for a year.
9. YouTube Enhancers (Newpipe, YMusic, Youtube Vanced)
Along with the default YouTube app from Google, other apps also can help to enhance your YouTube experience.
Newpipe, for example, is an excellent app providing background play, PIP mode, download of audio, video and subtitles at all available qualities.
Newpipe does not require google sign in and gives you access to additional services such as SoundCloud and PeerTube. This app is fully open-source and available on F-droid.
YMusic is app that presents YouTube as a music player. This app helps in music discoverability, arranges music based on singer, album, genre and so on. It can load both audio/video and has a download feature. It supports sign-in with your Google account. YMusic is available for free on XDA-labs.
YouTube Vanced is another popular YouTube client app replacing the default app. It is ad-free, supports background playback, resolution overriding and other enhanced features. Sign in with Google account is supported through another app called MicroG.
Over system’s default downloading service, download managers provide the following features:
- Download files using multiple threads utilizing full network bandwidth.
- Batch, simultaneous downloads and resume download for failed ones.
- Download videos/music from web pages or even pull some web page offline.
- Categorized downloads based on type or file extensions.
- Directly download to an external storage or SD card.
- Scheduling, automation and tons of customization providing controls on how you download files, use bandwidth, etc
ADM is free ‘download manager’ supporting 3 simultaneous downloads, 9 threads, and automatically resume failed downloads. It is the most feature-rich download manager. Pro version is available to removes ads.
IDM is more powerful than ADM featuring 5 simultaneous downloads and 32 threads. It also supports torrent downloads. Its pro version makes app ad-free, unlocks 10 simultaneous download, scheduling and proxies support.
IFTTT is an automation app connecting your social media and other services. With IFTTT, you can set up tasks like posting to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram when you release a new YouTube video. It integrates with a multitude of apps and services and is free to use.
Tasker is like IFTTT but for automating the android phone itself. You can automate almost anything based on your device’s sensors, apps, events, or a schedule. It is much more technical than IFTTT but there are a plethora of tutorials, help guides and support to help you.
Example use cases:
- Lock phone when not at home
- Turn music when headset plugged
- Make a regular file backup to SD card
- Reply with GPS location to selected contacts when they text you “where are you”.
Click here for more such examples.
Tasker is a paid app but a free 7 days trial is available on its official site [link]
12. Health apps (Blue light filter, Smart alarm)
Blue light filter apps protect your eyes from the phone’s screen light while using it at night. The blue light from the screen is known to make our eyes tired and disrupt our sleep cycle (circadian rhythm). Example apps include Twilight and Red Moon (F-droid).
Smart alarm apps gradually increase the alarm sound from low to high to wake you at optimal sleep phase and not at your deep sleep. Simple Alarm Clock (F-droid) is a simple app implementing this feature.
‘Sleep as android’ app is a full-featured sleep tracking app. With features like smart alarm with nature sounds, lullabies, sleep noise recorder and CAPTCHA to prevent oversleeping, it covers all you’ll ever need. Also, it has built-in cloud storage and integrates with Wearables, Google Calendar, Twilight, Tasker and Spotify. It is a paid app with 2 weeks free trial.
For Linux enthusiasts, Termux is a powerful app bringing full Linux terminal experience to android. It has a custom package manager and packages are derived from Debian/Ubuntu repositories. You can run vim, ssh, git and even x-applications. Similarly, with some customizations, you can also set up a full Linux distribution on Termux. It is completely free and open-source with tons of customization, documentation and tutorials.
UserLand is an app to easily install and run Linux distributions on android. It is relatively heavier than Termux. It also features built-in VNC server to run GUI applications and can install multiple Linux distributions easily.
Although root access is optional for both UserLand and Termux, it will enable tons of enhancement and features over the non-root version.