The not-so-obvious top 15 Android apps for 2010

2010 was a big year for Google's Android mobile operating system, as it moved at a lightning pace from a minority position into the position of most popular operating system in the United States. Still, when retrospectives are put together for "best apps of the year" lists, editors often make choices that seem obvious. We've put one together for 2010 that hopefully avoids the more self-explanatory choices.

Moodagent-- Even though it's frequently chided for being weak in the gaming department when compared to iOS, Android has far more ground to gain against it in the MP3 player category. With the many OEM-skinned media players, the built-in one sometimes looks unremarkable. That's why third party media management apps on Android is a category worth paying attention to. Moodagent is a playlist-creation app that takes the music stored on your Android device and categorizes each song by its "feel." The user then sets sliders labeled "Sensual," "Tender," "Happy," "Angry" and "Tempo," and playlists appropriate to the mood are built according to its settings.

LOCi-- This GPS tracking app is available for $2.99 in the Android Market, but has the option for a $29.99 annual subscription mode that lets you switch on private, real-time tracking. This lets one user track another user's location live through a desktop Web browser without sharing that location with anyone else. It's a feature not available on the iPhone version of the same app, and is actually surprisingly useful.


My6Sense-- I took a look at this personalized feed reader when it launched in beta last September, and it is one of those rare applications that actually gets better the more you use it.

MicDroid-- Remember "I am T-Pain" for iOS? This is Android's version of that. It's a goofy little autotune sound recorder that is available for free or a $2.99 donation. It's a good source of humorous audio snippets, especially if you use it on people who do not know they're being recorded.

Yahoo! Mail-- Even though Yahoo's Webmail remains extremely popular, there was no easy way to set up Android's native email client to connect to free Yahoo inboxes. Up to the time that this app was released back in July, setting up Yahoo Mail pop3 workarounds was my top Android support request. Now that the app exists, the problem is solved.

Mint-- Intuit's Web-based personal finance site launched its Android app and widget in May 2010, and I took it for a spin when it was in beta. This application really surprised me, and Mint's minimalist design makes for a highly usable app that quickly grows on you.

Bing-- First launched exclusively on Verizon Android devices in August, Bing for Android became available for all users in November. The easy-to-use search app retains Bing's highly visual design and applies it to location-based searches, mapping, news, and movies, and also utilizes Android's sophisticated voice recognition engine for voice-powered Bing searches.

Heavy Gunner 3D-- While I was personally quite disappointed with this game, it is actually a great technical example of how solid a gaming platform Android can be. Utilizing the phone's gyroscopes as well as touch screen, this 3D first-person-shooter is a far cry from the first generation of Android Games launched just one year ago. It's not even remotely as popular as Rovio's Angry Birds, but I feel it's a better display of potential.

Chumby-- This late entrant only launched in the Android Market two weeks ago, and was long overdue, if you ask this Chumby user. What is Chumby? It would be best described as a connected alarm clock that can cycle through different functions as you need them. This app gives a whole new level of functionality to Android devices that utilize charging docks, like the Motorola Droid. With it, the docked phone can cycle through clocks, webcams, photostreams, status updates, and over 1,500 Chumby apps.

shopkick-- Shopkick is a strange location-based rewards app that automatically checks in whenever you enter a participating store. The app then gives the user "kickbucks" that can be redeemed for things like Facebook Credits, song downloads, hotel vouchers, or donations to more than 30 different online charities. It is the latter of these that really makes the app stand out. It's the only location-based shopping app I found this year that can donate to charity every time you walk into a participating store.

Google Books-- 2010 was the year that every major e-book competitor entered the Android space. Borders, Barnes and Noble, and Amazon all had their own apps available in the Android Market when Google launched eBooks. This particular app is especially handy for Android tablets, because it doesn't necessarily require a connection to sync content like other e-reader apps do. This one can store as many as 16,000 e-books on a microSD card for offline reading.

Firefox 4-- The mobile browser from Mozilla formerly known as Fennec had a slow and somewhat buggy start, but for Firefox users, the sync capabilities and promise of similar extension functionality make this browser one with an extremely bright future. It's currently still very much a work in progress, but for all the hype given to Skyfire and Opera on Android, I'm putting my hopes in Firefox.

Springpad-- This one is a bit more of an obvious choice, in my opinion, as it enjoyed quite a bit of publicity when the Android app launched back in May. However, this Web-synced note-taking app still appears to be playing second fiddle to Evernote, so that's why I included it here. The app lets users snap pictures, scan barcodes, take down notes and reminders, or save and share links and content to the web-based Springpad service.

Vonage Talk Free-- Imagine a mobile, voice-enabled Facebook Chat, and you've got Vonage Talk Free. First launched in August, this app lets users place free VoIP calls to Facebook friends with the Vonage Talk Free app installed on their profile. While it does access essentially everything it can possibly access in both your Facebook profile and your Android device, it is a nice feature to be able to use for free.

Winamp-- Pairing Winamp 5.6 with Winamp for Android creates an end-to-end music management solution for your desktop and Android device that rivals the iPhone and iTunes. You can sync your music collection wirelessly, listen to SHOUTCast streaming radio, scrobble, and manage collections via a homescreen widget or lock screen controller. Besides, even if you don't use Winamp on your PC, you have to enjoy Nullsoft's hybrid Android-Llama logo.

Honorable Mention

Snapit-- When my father passed away last year, I was presented with huge stacks of his work-related documents that I wanted to scan, but the only tool I had was my phone. I downloaded Snapit just because it was the only thing that turned up when I searched the Android Market for OCR, and turned out to be exactly what I needed. I snapped dozens of pictures of documents that were instantly converted into fairly accurate text files. Yes, this app is from 2009 and my anecdote was too, but I made a personal exception for it because it came through for me when I needed it, and I didn't make a list like this last year.

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