Have you just got a new Android smartphone for your holidays? It might be a little overwhelming if it’s your first one, so to get you started, here are some apps you should install or set up on a new Android device immediately.
Alternatively, it might be time to give them a shot if you’re not already using these apps!
Google Messages (RCS)
Messaging has historically been a sore point among Android smartphones in the US at least. Fortunately, Google has been working hard to address that in recent months and now, as of this year, the solution known as RCS (Rich Communication Services) is open to every Android smartphone in the world.
How can you get your computer with RCS and, more importantly, what’s the advantage? Firstly, the advantage is that RCS is much more capable than SMS/MMS. Better quality photos can be submitted, typing indications, and more all arrive with RCS. Team chats are now having a big update as well. RCS is like Apple’s iMessage, essentially, just for Android phones.
All you need to do is update Google Messages to get RCS on your Android phone. The free app is an SMS app at its heart, but it can also allow RCS messaging on any carrier and any Android smartphone in select countries, including the US. Just download it, set it as your default SMS app, and wait until the RCS prompt is switched on.
Telegram & Discord
You should go beyond the standard RCS and SMS if you want an app for even better messaging. One of our favourite messaging apps is Telegram and it functions a lot like the super famous WhatsApp. However, unlike that app, Telegram runs easily on several smartphones or tablets at one time and instantly backs up all your messages. Plus, all is always end-to-end encrypted and you have available both voice and video calls.
Another great networking option is Discord, which provides private messages and “servers” to host a few friends or hundreds, all with rooms and chat managers. It’s a fantastic experience, and one that’s excellent for gamers in particular.
2020 has been a wild year, but sadly, with a pandemic already going on, we are entering 2021. With that in mind, one of the easiest and safest ways to stay in contact with loved ones is still with video calling apps.
Google Duo is one of the best Android video-calling applications. The totally free app allows starting video calls on Android phones and tablets as well as Chromebooks, laptops, and even iOS devices super fast. Think of it as Facetime for Apple, but not locked up to one ecosystem.
The app works with your phone number or email address and on certain devices it features fun filters and even screen sharing. However, the best function might be just how well it operates on less-than-ideal connections.
ne of the most popular video calling/conferencing tools during the pandemic so far has been Zoom. By its popularity alone, this is an app you should have installed. The service offers meetings that you can connect to with just a link or a password, easily connecting with loved ones, friends, or using it for business meetings. Many schools are also using Zoom for remote learning. It’s a powerful app, and one that’s not going to cost you anything unless you’re the one hosting.
Meet, Skype, Facebook Messenger
Other great apps for video calling going into 2021 include:
- Google Meet, an app that works a lot like Zoom but is attached to your Google account and is very popular especially with schools.
- Skype, one of the original video calling apps that still works great especially for friends and family.
- Facebook Messenger, a service that lots of people in the US currently use and has an excellent video calling option alongside its messaging features.
One of the first things you should install on a new Android smartphone – or an iPhone for that matter – is Google Photos. For the vast majority of Android users, the app will be pre-installed on your device, but you’ll still need to get things set up.
To do that, simply open the app, sign in with your preferred Google account, and decide on backup options. Photos will automatically backup your pictures and videos in the background, but you’ll need to tell it if you want that done over Wi-Fi only or on cellular data as well.
From there, you’ll just need to decide on quality. For the next several months, everything is backed up to Google Photos with no limits for “high-quality,” slightly compressed backups, but in June you’ll need a Google One subscription to store anything past 15GB of data.
If you want to backup your photos outside of Google, one of the best options is Amazon Photos which provides no-frills backups and, for Prime customers, unlimited storage for photos.
The keyboards pre-installed on a lot of Android smartphones that are most popular today are, well, not nice. In particular, we have particular qualms about LG, but in any case, you can get more features and improved functionality from a different keyboard in many cases.
Our top selection? Gboard of Google’s own. This keyboard has a fantastic layout that supports features such as gesture/swipe typing, GIF search and input, and so much more, and is convenient for typers of all types. There are also special features, such as the recent inclusion of the “Emoji Kitchen” that can produce some wacky emoji stickers on the fly. You may also subject Gboard to the desire of your heart.
Put simply, it’s an excellent keyboard that’s totally free and, if it wasn’t already on your phone, it’s one you should absolutely try.
Find My Device
Here’s another app that every new Android device should already be loaded on. “Find my device” is an app from Google designed to help you keep track of your smartphone if it is lost. If, for some reason, the app isn’t activated on your computer, it is available through the Play Store.
When you open Find My Laptop, a Google account will prompt you to sign in and enter your password as well. You’ll be able to see your computer as well as any others connected to your account until that’s completed. Any computer on your account can then ring, lock, or scrub. The same goes for your new phone, some other Android device you own, an Android phone from a friend, or even just a web browser.
As a side note, in Google Play Services, the key feature of actually locating your phone with this app is on by default, but you can get a little more access using the app as well as being able to locate your other Android devices via the app as well as helping friends find their phones.
If you do lose or break your phone, you don’t have to lose your data. That’s where Google One comes in handy. With any Google One storage plan (starting at just $2/month), you’ll get improved backups of your phone. By default, Android already backs up core data for free to your Google account, but the One app can back up SMS messages and MMS messages along with your photos and videos.
ActionDash provides strategies such as pausing applications to prevent you from using them to help curb your mobile use, restricting how long an app can be used each day and more.
Everything is done on-device and isn’t uploaded to the cloud and, better yet, the app is free and won’t hurt your battery either. ActionDash is available on Google Play.
Let’s finally talk about the habits of smartphones. For many, mobile addiction is a major concern, and there are ways to help curb digital well-being apps by moving through a new decade. On your computer, there may already be one enabled, but if not, ActionDash is a free Android smartphone Digital Wellness app that works on almost any device.
The app monitors how you use your phone during the day, including which applications are used, how many times your smartphone has been activated, and also how many updates you receive.
Google’s Digital Wellbeing experiments
If you really have a smartphone addiction and you want to find a way to guilt yourself into stopping, Google’s collection of Digital Wellbeing experiments might be able to help. These include:
- Screen Stopwatch, a wallpaper that constantly updates with the amount of time you’ve been using your phone that day.
- Activity Bubbles, a wallpaper that shows how many times you unlock your phone in a day and how long each “session” lasts.
- Unlock Clock, a wallpaper that counts how many times you’ve opened up your phone each day.
Google Keep Notes
By using a note-taking app, keeping track of reminders, lists, and more can be made even easier. Personally, Google Keep Notes is my favorite note-taking app on Android and it’s something that just seems to keep getting better over time.
Google Keep is totally free and allows you to store in the app notes, lists, and even drawings. These notes are also synced to your Google account, which means that on any other device, including computers, you can access them. You can even use Google Assistant speakers like the Nest Mini to handle a shopping list with a fast setup!
Microsoft OneNote – Google Keep alternative
If you want something that’s not from Google and has a few more advanced features, Microsoft OneNote is an excellent option. The app is completely free, though works better with other Microsoft apps using a Microsoft 365 subscription. You can back up notes, drawings, and insert pictures in the app and, like Google’s app, they’ll sync across devices with your Microsoft account.
A few more …
- Waze: While Google Maps will do the trick for many, Waze offers crowdsourced live traffic data and reports for speed traps and more.
- Google News: Especially in these times, keeping up with the latest news is important, and using personalized data, Google News will bring you top stories in a slick app that’s really easy to use.
- Feedly: Want to keep track of the news using personalized RSS feeds? Feedly is one of the best apps for the job, and it’s free!
- LastPass: We all have a ton of passwords and online security is important. If you need help managing your passwords, LastPass is an easy, free, and most importantly secure option. 1Password is also an excellent app for this purpose, but it requires a fee.
- Google Home/Amazon Alexa: Got some smart home speakers or displays? You’ll want to have the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps installed depending on what devices you own.
- Get a 3rd-party launcher: Installing a new launcher is a great way to fully customize the homescreen on your new Android phone. Nova Launcher and Action Launcher are great options for this.