Android Intelligence Advice

13 useful Google apps you should be using on Android

These easily overlooked Android apps are all made by Google — and they're all worth your while to install.

Google Android Apps
Google/JR Raphael

Android Intelligence Advice

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Google's got a lot of apps. Maybe even too many, in certain (ahem) cases.

Amidst all the obvious titles and oddly overlapping offerings, though, Google's wing of the Play Store holds some genuinely useful treasures — clever creations by the creator of Android that are just waiting to be discovered.

Here are 13 off-the-beaten-path Google apps that'll help you do all sorts of interesting things with your Android device. Sure, any one of 'em could disappear any day with little to no warning — this is Google we're talking about, after all — but for the moment, at least, they're out there and ready for the taking. And yes, they're all free.

(Some, but not all, are also available for iOS.)

Google app No. 1: Voice Access

Android's long been exceptional at letting you control your phone by voice — dating back to well before the formal debut of Google Assistant, even — but with a little help from an out-of-the-way Google app, you can take your phone's hands-free potential to totally new heights.

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The app is a little somethin' called Voice Access. It's technically an Android accessibility feature, but it can be incredibly helpful for just about anyone.

Plain and simple, Voice Access lets you control practically every part of your phone-using experience simply by speaking. Once you fire up the system, you can tell your phone to go back, go home, or adjust more or less any element of your phone's settings. You can ask it to long-press an item, scroll in any direction on an item, select or unselect text, and place your cursor anywhere you want. It can even handle text editing and let you get around apps and websites without ever lifting a single sticky finger.

Google apps, Android: Voice Access JR

Whether you have a physical need for that sort of control or just think you'd benefit from the convenience, it's one heck of an option to have at your (suspiciously steamy) fingertips.

Google app No. 2: Sound Amplifier

Speaking of speaking, a spectacular Google Android app called Sound Amplifier will give you superhero-like hearing powers to make sure you never miss a word anyone else is saying.

The aptly named Sound Amplifier lets you eliminate distracting ambient noise and amplify important sounds in your environment — such as the sound of someone speaking several feet away or even the audio of a TV playing across a noisy office.

This one, too, is technically made for accessibility purposes. But it isn't hard to see how it could be beneficial in all sorts of situations, regardless of ability.

Google app No. 3: Lens

Arguably Google's most awesome and simultaneously underappreciated Android app, Google Lens lets you interact with objects and text in the real world as if they were on your phone.

The list of productivity-boosting powers this thing possesses is both mighty and massive. Some choice highlights:

  • It empowers you to copy text from any physical paper or whiteboard in front of you and then paste it anywhere on your phone, translate it on the fly, or even have it read out loud to you for on-the-go ingestion (mmm, words...)
Google apps, Android: Lens JR
  • It allows you to send text from the real world directly onto your desktop computer's clipboard, wirelessly and with about seven seconds of effort
  • It lets you pull text out of any screenshot or image and save it, search for it, or paste it anywhere else your precious little heart desires
  • And it acts as an all-purpose code scanner — barcodes, QR codes, you name it — without forcing you to keep clunky third-party software standing by for the purpose

Lens is probably already on your phone this minute, believe it or not — via the camera-like icon within the search bar in the Google app on most any Android device and also inside the standard Camera app on Pixels — but the standalone download will give you an even easier way to access it with a regular home screen shortcut icon or a Google Assistant command ("Hey, Google: Open Lens!").

Google app No. 4: PhotoScan

Further blurring the lines between our physical and virtual worlds is PhotoScan, which lets you capture impressively high-quality and glare-free images of physical photos with your phone's camera and then save 'em as digital files. PhotoScan directs you through the process of capturing multiple angles of the print and then does all the dirty work of cropping it, straightening it, and generally just making it look good.

It's like having a full-fledged scanner in your pocket — only, y'know, far more practical to carry.

Google app No. 5: Action Blocks

While we're thinking about giving ourselves easier access to stuff, Google's Action Blocks app for Android is an app well worth unearthing.

Action Blocks makes it as simple as can be to create your own custom home screen buttons for starting Assistant-connected actions or combinations of actions — things like adjusting allegedly smart devices around your home and/or office, hopping directly into specific functions within apps, or doing most anything else Google Assistant can manage.

Google apps, Android: Action Blocks JR

All you've gotta do is figure out what specific sorts of time-savers you require.

Google app No. 6: Google Phone

If you're using any phone other than a Pixel, do yourself a huge favor and go grab the Google Phone app this minute.

The Phone app's most advanced calling features may be exclusive to Pixel owners, but the app itself can actually now work on most any Android device, no matter who made it — and it offers lots of advantages over the default dialing apps other manufacturers bake into their software.

Specifically, it has Google's excellent spam-blocking system and in-app location searching smarts built right into it and readily available. It has a simple and minimalist design that matches the rest of the Google ecosystem, too. And, critically, it doesn't have all sorts of other junk attached — including third-party services that show you ads and do shady-sounding stuff with your personal info.

Google app No. 7: Files by Google

Another relevant download mostly for the non-Pixel-ownin' folk among us, Google's self-made file management app — which comes preloaded on current Pixel phones by default — really is the best all-around Android file manager for most business users.

It's clean, simple, and pleasant to use, and it makes it painless and almost even pleasant to look through your phone's local storage and find, share, or organize any files you've downloaded or transferred onto the device.

Files has an exceptional search system, as you'd expect, and it has a supremely handy system for analyzing your phone's local storage and finding quick 'n' easy ways to free up space.

Google apps, Android: Files JR

Files isn't as fully featured as some of the more advanced third-party Android file manager apps out there, but it's pretty darn useful — and especially if your Android file management needs are relatively basic, it's a nice little upgrade over the default file management service that came preinstalled on your device.

Google app No. 8: Google One

If you're paying for extra storage on your Google account, the Google One app has some valuable extras you shouldn't overlook.

The app can help you manage that Google storage allotment as well as your device's backups, for one. But more significantly, it'll give you the option to activate a free virtual private network, or VPN, to add an extra layer of security onto your data connections and make sure no one else can see or intercept what you're sending.

It's the sort of assurance that typically costs a fair amount of coin to enjoy, but if you're already paying for Google storage, anyway, it's there and waiting to be activated on your favorite Android phone.

Google app No. 9: Find My Device

Little-known fact: You can actually track down a missing Android device on any phone or computer where you're signed in — using nothing more than your regular ol' web browser.

Yes, indeedly: Google's Find My Device system works right in Google Search, and all you've gotta do is type those three magic words ("find my device") into any Google Search prompt to get started.

If you have multiple Android gizmos and want an even easier way to pinpoint your various products, though, the Android-specific Find My Device app is exactly what you need. It'll keep the device-finding system a single tap away on your home screen or in your app drawer, and you'll always be able to seek out any Android phones, tablets, watches, or even certain Android-associated headphones with a couple quick steps.

Google app No. 10: Snapseed

Google Photos is growing increasingly capable as an image editing tool, but Google actually has another app available explicitly for on-the-go image adjustments — and it's still a step ahead of Photos in some meaningful ways.

It's called Snapseed, and it's a once-independent app Google bought years ago and continues to maintain (at least somewhat) as a completely free option for anyone to use today.

Google apps, Android: Snapseed JR

And despite Photos' ongoing advancements, it remains one of the most approachable and effective image enhancement options for any Android phone.

Google app No. 11: Google Opinion Rewards

I've mentioned Opinion Rewards several times over the years, but it's still something most typical users remain woefully unaware of. If you're among those not yet using it, start now — because it's basically just a way to get free Google Play Store credit for taking the occasional quick survey.

Here's how it works: The app notifies you whenever a new survey's available. You answer a handful of questions about a recent shopping experience or your thoughts on some type of video or maybe merchandise, and then the app puts a credit on your Play Store account. It might be for 10 cents, or it might be for a dollar.

Either way, it takes practically no time to do, and the credits add up fast — meaning your next app purchase or midflight movie rental can be on the house (and yet the developer or creator still gets paid — win-win!).

Google app No. 12: Google Arts & Culture

Hang onto this one for your next dull business-trip moment: Google Arts & Culture lets you explore national parks and monuments, zoom up close into famous works of art, and even take virtual tours of entire museums right from your mobile device.

Google apps, Android: Arts and Culture JR

The app is just jam-packed with cool views of fascinating things from around the world, and it provides a welcome mental diversion no matter where your physical body might be.

Google app No. 13: Wallpapers

This last selection is actually the app that controls wallpaper picking for Google's own Pixel line of phones, but it's available broadly — and just like with some of the other apps in this list, if you don't have a Pixel device, you can think of it as an easy upgrade from your system's default wallpaper selection tool.

The aptly named Wallpapers makes finding a background for your home screen a fun adventure, with options for selecting stunning static or motion-based images in a variety of different categories — from landscapes, seascapes, and planets to art and geometric shapes.

The best part, though, is the way Wallpapers can automatically change your wallpaper to a new image every day within any category that floats your boat (including, if you're so inclined, your own personal images of boats floating). It makes for a nice little surprise when you're moving between your various Very Important Work Duties™.

Google Apps Android - Wallpapers JR

Auto-refreshing wallpaper — now, that's refreshing.

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