10 free Android apps for staying in the know

Owning an Android smartphone means never having to say 'I don't know'

The promise of a smartphone is that you have the world's knowledge at your fingertips anywhere you go. Since Google is committed to organizing the world's knowledge, it seems only natural that its Android operating system, now available in dozens of smartphones and other devices worldwide, would excel at bringing you that information.

But you may not always find Android's built-in tools to be the best means of discovering what you need to know. Here, then, are several free applications, all available in the Android Market, that slice and dice the world of information in more personal or sophisticated ways, so that you're never at a loss when you absolutely have to know something right now.

[Don't have an Android phone? Many of the apps listed here are also available for the iPhone. For other smartphone platforms, check out 10 must-have free BlackBerry apps, 10 essential BlackBerry apps for travel or 10 must-have free Palm webOS apps.]

Howcast Android app
Learn how to do almost anything with Howcast's two-minute video tutorials.


Learn how to do just about anything with Howcast's short, fun video instructions. Topics range from how to name a business to how to poach a salmon, each with an approximately two-minute streaming video explaining what to do. If you're in a situation where watching a video would be awkward, tap the menu to get a text transcription.

You can search for particular topics or view all the available lessons by category. Or, if you're just in a learning mood, shake your phone and Howcast will serve up a random video on how to separate an egg, how to tie a noose knot, how to jump-start your car, how to bleach your hair, how to photograph landscapes, how to use a drill, how to throw a princess party, how to clean a furnace filter, how to take dogs camping, how to hit a baseball to the opposite field...

TED Mobile Android app
Like having a classroom in your pocket, TED Mobile puts the best minds in the world at your disposal.

TED Mobile

Every year, the world's brightest and most creative minds assemble at the TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) Conference, where they are asked to speak for no more than 18 minutes about whatever interests them the most.

Since the event's inception in 1984, business leaders, academics, scientists, philanthropists and other brilliant thinkers -- including the likes of Bill Gates, Malcolm Gladwell, Peter Gabriel, Jane Goodall and Al Gore (and that's just a sampling of the G's!) -- have answered TED's call, sharing their insights about the world we live in. TED has been so successful that it has spurred spin-off conferences under the name TEDx all over the world.

MotherApp's TED Mobile application puts these great thinkers in the palm of your hand, allowing you to browse more than 700 TED Talks arranged by theme or by tag, or to search by keywords. Their short length means you can get a little deep thinking in bite-size pieces whenever you have a few moments to spare.

FactBook Android app
Nobody knows the world like the CIA -- and FactBook users.


Travelers, people doing business overseas and the just plain curious will find a wealth of information about every country in the world in FactBook, a version of the CIA's World Factbook Web site adapted for the Android by Urbian Inc. Updated regularly, the CIA World Factbook profiles each country, giving an overview of its political system, economy, demographics, customs, geography and climate -- all invaluable information for building affinity with new clients in foreign counties you know very little about.

All this information is stored in the FactBook app so you don't have to be online to access it; the data is refreshed twice a year from the World Factbook site, according to the developer. Each entry in the app includes a button that opens the relevant page in Wikipedia for even more information, but for most questions, FactBook offers more than enough information.

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