Android essentials: The first 12 apps I install on every phone

Android Must-Have Apps

When you use enough Android devices, you start to realize something: There are certain apps you just can't live without. The apps that form a foundation of what makes a phone your own. The core essentials you need to get by.

As a guy who writes about and reviews mobile technology, I use a lot of Android devices. And I've noticed a consistent pattern with what apps I load onto a phone first -- whether it's a personal phone I'm planning to use long-term or a review unit I'm moving into for a few weeks.

While they're far from being the only apps I rely on, these 12 titles are the first I tend to install on every phone I use these days -- the bare minimum I need to have a phone be workable as my primary device:

1. SwiftKey

Android Must-Have Apps: SwiftKey

There are tons of great Android keyboard apps around, but SwiftKey has been my go-to typing tool for a long time. Its combination of personalized next-word prediction and slide-to-type functionality makes it a perfect fit for my typing style -- and its newly introduced cloud-sync option means my customized setup appears on any device I use within seconds of installation.

I rarely feel at home using a phone until I've got SwiftKey in place.

2. Google Voice

It may be in the midst of a transition to Hangouts, but for now, Google Voice is an absolute must-have on any phone I'm carrying. My main phone number is a Google Voice line, so once I have the GV app installed, I can make and receive both calls and texts on the device using my own personal digits.

Especially as someone who moves around among multiple devices, that's an invaluable kind of power to have.

3. Google Drive

Google Drive

Regardless of where I'm working, I use Drive and its Google Docs component as my sole word processor and spreadsheet editor. With the Drive app on my phone, I can quickly view and edit any notes or documents I've created and the changes are synced instantly to my account. That means they appear in real-time on any PC or Chromebook where I also have Docs open and are waiting for me the next time I open Docs on any other device.

4. Dropbox

Even though its functionality overlaps with Google Drive, I still use Dropbox for certain types of storage, file syncing and cross-device transfers (the first rule of life in the cloud is never to keep all your eggs in one basket, right?). Having the Dropbox app on my phone makes it easy for me to get at my stuff and upload new files as needed.

Android File Manager

5. Sliding Explorer

File managers let you use your Android device just like a computer -- browsing through storage, finding and dealing with specific files, and sharing files directly to other installed services. I recently made the switch over to Sliding Explorer as my go-to file management solution; it's simple, easy to use, and has a clean user interface that adheres to current Android design guidelines (which is a major plus in my book).

6. Reader+

Google Reader may be gone, but for me, RSS remains the easiest way to keep up with all the news I need to follow during the day. Reader+ is my favorite app for doing it: It works seamlessly with Feedly and offers a highly customizable, easy-to-use interface along with an excellent in-app browser. It's hands-down one of the most frequently used apps on any device I carry.

7. Twitter

I've used a lot of Twitter clients over the years, but I've recently -- and somewhat reluctantly -- settled on the official Twitter client for my current on-the-go tweeting needs. Though it got off to a rough start, the official Twitter app now boasts a clean and simple interface, provides multiple account support, and does pretty much everything I need in a lightweight package. And, in contrast to most of the third-party alternatives, it's not in a constant state of battle to stay alive (grumble, grumble, grumble).

8. Simple Calendar Widget

I rely on Google Calendar to keep myself organized, and having my upcoming appointments and events on my home screen is a key part of how I keep tabs on my agenda. The stock Android Calendar widget doesn't quite cut the mustard for me, nor do most of the manufacturer-added alternatives, but Simple Calendar Widget is exactly what I need.

Simple Calendar Widget

Simple Calendar Widget's customization potential is what makes it numero uno for me: After I download my saved settings from Dropbox and unzip them using Sliding Explorer (see what just happened there?), the widget looks just the way I want it -- with a long-reaching scrollable list of my agenda and no added frills.

9. HD Widgets

While there are plenty of good Android weather widgets out there, HD Widgets' minimalist design and high level of customizability make it the one I want to see on my home screen. Its presence goes a long way toward making a phone feel like my own.

10. Pandora

All productivity aside, my phone is also my workout companion. I use Google Music for storing and streaming my own stuff, but when I get in the gym, Pandora's almost always the app I open. After years of ongoing tweaking, I have a handful of stations on it that play an awesome mix of (almost exclusively) songs I want to hear.

11. Netflix

Now that I'm using Chromecast for all my Internet-to-TV streaming needs, the Netflix app is a core piece of my Android arsenal. I have my phone within arm's reach more than any other gadget, and the Netflix app serves as my remote for sending shows to the telly and controlling playback once they're there.

12. Nova Launcher (and Nova Launcher Prime)

When I'm testing a phone for review purposes, I tend to use its own launcher -- at least initially -- so I can get a feel for its default user experience. When I'm using a device long-term, though, a custom launcher almost always comes into play.

I go back and forth between a lot of different launchers -- and there are quite a few that I really enjoy -- but Nova is the one I usually come back to in the end. I like it because it lets me have a stock-like experience with a handful of tweaks and added elements, like more on-screen space, custom swipe- and tap-based gestures, and sped-up animation performance.

Android Power Twitter

So there you have it: the first 12 apps I install on every Android phone. Your list of must-haves may vary, but for me, these are the bare essentials I need to move into a device and use it as if it were my own.

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