5 fresh Android apps worth adding to your arsenal

Fresh Android Apps

Aside from a full-on Android upgrade, there's nothing like a cool new app to make your phone feel fresh and exciting again. So as we move closer to the start of spring, I thought it'd be a fine time to share some interesting new Android apps that have caught my eye.

These five selections all stand out in some way -- for their excellent design, innovative functionality, or outstanding user experience. And they've all either been released or significantly updated in recent weeks.

Check 'em out and see what you think.

1. DashClock

Android Apps: DashClock

When a member of Google's own Android team releases an app, you know it's worth giving a whirl. In the case of DashClock -- the side project of Android Developer Advocate Roman Nurik -- it's worth a lot more than that.

DashClock brings some much-needed pizazz to the stock Android 4.2 lock screen clock. It lets you customize the look and feel of the clock, for one -- but most important, it adds in a bunch of useful functions to the otherwise plain digits.

DashClock lets you pick from a variety of "extensions" that put info like current weather conditions, a countdown to your next calendar appointment, the number of unread messages in your Gmail inbox, and the number of missed calls or texts next to your lock screen clock. The info is dynamic and always up to date, and you can swipe downward on the clock to get a more detailed view.

DashClock currently has six types of data it can display, and -- thanks to an open API -- it shouldn't be long before more third-party app integration arrives.

Get it on Google Play

DashClock is free; because of the lock-screen-centric nature of its functionality, you'll need Android 4.2 in order to use it.

2. Action Launcher

Action Launcher isn't your typical custom Android launcher, but then again, Chris Lacy isn't your typical Android developer.

Android Apps: Action Launcher

The same guy who brought us the popular but short-lived Tweet Lanes app has come up with an innovative new take on the Android user interface. Though intriguing, Action Launcher was a bit rough around the edges when it debuted back in December -- but with the help of a series of well-targeted updates, the app has evolved into a polished and well-rounded home screen alternative.

Action Launcher takes the basic notion of the Android home screen and gives it a healthy shake -- and not just for the hell of it, either. Everything Action Launcher does is designed to make it easier for you to get around your device.

Instead of a standalone app drawer, for instance, Action Launcher has a sliding app panel that's accessible by swiping at the left side of your screen.

Android Apps: Action Launcher (Search)

The launcher features a top-of-screen action bar with a universal instant-search function as well as fast access to the Play Store and various customization commands. And it allows you to set secondary "swipe" shortcuts on any icons -- swipe up on your browser icon to get a list of bookmarks, for example, or swipe up on your phone icon to get direct-dial buttons for your favorite contacts.

One of Android's greatest strengths is its flexibility and customization potential, and with its unique take on the core Android environment, Action Launcher is a perfect example of the platform's power.

Get it on Google Play

The app costs four bucks.

3. Swapps

Speaking of flexibility, a neat little app called Swapps promises to change the way you interact with your device.

Android Apps: Swapps

Swapps puts a powerful app switcher at your fingertips from anywhere in the system -- on your home screen, in your browser, or in any app or menu you happen to be using. All you do is swipe your finger over from the left edge of your screen,  and -- shazam! -- the Swapps panel appears.

The Swapps switcher gives you instant access to any app installed on your device. You can scroll through your entire app list and jump directly to any application -- or you can select from one of 10 customizable top-of-panel "favorites" to make it even easier to get where you want to go. Swapps can also show your five most recently used applications, making it like a souped-up version of Google's own stock Android app-switching system.

Get it on Google Play

Swapps is free; the only downside is that it includes a mildly annoying ad at the bottom of the switcher that can't be disabled.

(C'mon, guys -- how 'bout giving us the option to buy an ad-free upgrade?)

4. PushBullet

Ever wish you had an easy way to beam info from your computer to your phone or tablet? Meet PushBullet. The app lets you send Web pages, text-based notes, lists, and even full-fledged files from your browser to your Android device with a couple quick clicks.

Android Apps: PushBullet

The best way to use PushBullet is to grab the Chrome browser extension in addition to the Android app. Then, all you have to do is click the extension's icon in your browser to initiate a transfer. (File transfers still require you to load a standalone website, but the other types of transfers can be done directly from the extension.)

If you have PushBullet installed on multiple Android devices, you can choose to send your info to any of them -- and, as of a recent update, you can even push things to your friends' devices, provided they've granted you permission.

Android Apps: PushBullet (Notification)

Anything pushed from your computer to your Android device shows up instantly on the device as a notification. The PushBullet app also maintains an interactive list of all your recent transfers, in case you need to go back and find something you pushed earlier.

Does this concept sound vaguely familiar? It should: Google actually has its own slightly hidden Chrome-to-mobile page beaming feature as well as an older Chrome to Phone app/extension combo. Those features, however, support a much smaller range of transfer options; PushBullet really raises the concept to powerful new heights.

Get it on Google Play

PushBullet is free to download and use.

5. Press

I don't know about you, but I spend more time than I'd care to admit keeping up with tech news. Press, a relative newcomer to the Android feed-reader lineup, makes on-the-go reading as pleasant as can be.

When Press first came out, I was imPRESSed (get it?) with its visual design but disappointed with its limited range of options. With its recent updates, though, the app has blossomed into a fantastic and fully featured RSS client.

Android Apps: Press

So what makes Press different from other Android reading applications? It's all about the interface. Press -- which integrates directly with your Google Reader account -- has a clean and minimalist Android 4.x-compliant design that's easy on the eyes. It also has lots of sensible swipe-based gestures -- swipe left on any screen to go back a step, for instance, or swipe right from a list to open the currently selected item. From the smoothness of scrolling to the sleek and unobtrusive animations, the developer's attention to detail is immediately apparent.

Press offers customizable background-syncing behavior along with offline reading support and an in-app browser that, unlike many others, doesn't suck. (You can still opt to open all articles in your default system browser, if you'd prefer.) It has integrated support for sharing and all the other standard stuff you'd expect. But the best part about the app is really just how nice it is to use.

Get it on Google Play

Press is available for three bucks in the Google Play Store.

So there you have it: five fresh Android apps worth adding to your arsenal. Have any other recent Android apps tickled your fancy? Don't bogart the good stuff; share the love and leave your recommendations in the comments below.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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