Thursday, 19 May 2016

The must-have apps for any new smartphone

The must-have apps for any new smartphone

Perfect apps for a perfect phone

Smartphones are amazing tools that have revolutionised our ability to communicate, work and play on the move, but out of the box they can be somewhat lacking. Essential apps that most people use will often be absent and in their place bloatware that only ever gets launched by accident.
The blank slate model of phones like the Google Nexus 6 at least avoid the latter problem, but on the flip side they're less likely to have the apps you do want, with the stock options bringing less than optimal functionality.
We've been into our greenhouse and drawn up the ultimate selection of apps that either fill major holes in functionality, are used by a majority of people or are just far and away the best at their given job.
But what are these optimal pre-installs we hear you ask? Well, we gave it some thought and came up with a selection for each of the three major mobile platforms: Android, iOS and Windows Phone 8.

The optimal Android setup

The wealth of customisation options for Android is both a blessing and a curse. If you put the time in it's possible to get an Android phone set up more or less exactly how you want. But it takes some effort and you'll need to do your research to know what's out there. Thankfully you're doing just that by reading this article.


Music and video are both widely used on phones, but you really only need a few apps to get the most out of them both. If you're watching web videos then odds are you're watching YouTube, so the official YouTube app is a pretty essential addition to your handset - but don't worry, it's mostly on there already.
As home entertainment has become ever more portable Netflix would also make a worthy pre-install. It requires a subscription but gives you access to thousands of films and TV shows, so it's a good bet for media fiends.
There are a number of good options for watching locally stored media on your phone, but it's rare that any of them will come pre-installed on a handset. While it's debatable which the best really is we'd give the edge to VLC for Android.
It will play pretty much any file type you can throw at it and also supports multi-track audio and subtitles. Technically it's still in beta but that hasn't stopped it rendering most other Android video players almost obsolete - although MX Player gets a tip o' the TechRadar cap.
Moving on to audio, Poweramp Music Player has an almost unreasonable number of features, making it easy to play, organise and customise your music to your exact requirements.
Pocket Casts would make a great addition for anyone who's more into podcasts than music, thanks to a slick interface which makes it easy to find and download content, a sleep timer, auto-downloads and more - Podcast Addict is also good but errs on the side of function over form.
Finally, no phone is complete without Shazam. Its music identification magic will mean you're never again left wondering what a song's called or who it's by.


Getting the social side of a phone right should be easy. While there are dozens of social networks out there arguably only two are used by enough people to be considered essential inclusions.
If you haven't guessed we're talking about Facebook and Twitter, so the apps for each of them should be pre-installed on every Android phone.
You can also pop on SnapChat for the fun of it. Kids are into it. Best to look current.


Along with calls, messaging is an activity carried out by just about every smartphone owner, but the stock messaging apps aren't always up to much.
In fact Handcent SMS puts most of them to shame, with advanced features like the ability to lock or hide messages as well as the standard functionality you'd expect from an SMS app.
EvolveSMS makes for an attractive if not quite so full featured alternative, with a clean, minimalist interface, gesture controls and tabbed conversations.
For text messaging Handcent SMS and EvolveSMS are great, but Skype is all but essential too as it allows you to have free video chats, plus you can have free text or voice conversations too, as it uses an internet connection to send messages.
WhatsApp Messenger is another choice you should consider taking. Many people have all but replaced SMS messaging with its web-based service, which avoids international charges and uses your actual phone number, so you don't need to add contacts - plus you'll be surprised how many of your friends use it regularly.


Getting a good email experience on your phone is almost as vital as a good SMS experience and to be fair most Android handsets do a pretty decent job of it, as Google's stock email app is certainly no slouch.
But for the versatility it gives you K-9 Mail is just that little bit better. With support for IMAP push email, multi-folder syncing, flagging, filing, signatures, saving email to your micro SD card and more it's seriously powerful.
Or for something a little bit more attractive myMail would make a great pre-install. It's almost as feature packed as K-9 Mail and it's one of the most aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate email apps around.


With all that texting and emailing you're going to want a good keyboard. Most manufacturers include their own keyboards with Android phones and some do a better job of them than others, but you can't go wrong with SwiftKey.
Multiple layout options ensure an optimal experience whatever size device you're using, but the real magic comes in SwiftKey's ability to learn from you. The more you use it the better it gets at predicting what words you want to use and when. Before long it will know what you want to say before you do.


DropboxWith the limited space available on smartphones cloud storage can be key and with that in mind Dropbox should come pre-installed on every handset.
Sure, not everyone uses Dropbox, but it is one of the most popular cloud storage services around and is integrated with a lot of other apps. Plus, the app itself is slick and easy to use.
Evernote is ideal for taking notes. Your phone probably comes with some sort of notepad and Google Keep is always another option, but Evernote does it better. It's got a slick, attractive interface, it's online so your notes stay synced across devices and you can set up collaborative workspaces and more.
A premium subscription unlocks extra features but even the free version leaves most other note taking apps in the dust.
Adobe Reader is also pretty essential for productivity. You may not use it much but the day you want to view a PDF on your phone you'll be glad you have it.
Finally, because Android phones are basically mini computers, a file manager can become vital. There are a number of these around but ES File Explorer gets the job done and then some.
As well as being able to manage your files and folders you can also use it to compress and decompress ZIP files, kill unwanted tasks and upload or download from cloud storage.

Entertainment / news

Everyone has different go-to sites and sources for their news and entertainment, so recommending one specific website or newspaper wouldn't do much good.
But Flipboard pulls content from hundreds of sources and you can tailor it to what you're interested in for a curated and beautifully laid out news magazine. It's so good that HTC has tried copying it with BlinkFeed, and Samsung has baked it right into the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 4.
Alternatively a more conventional RSS reader like Feedly would also make for a strong pre-install.


avastWith people increasingly using their phones for shopping and banking it's important to make sure you keep your information secure and there are two sides to that.
The first is keeping it safe from remote threats such as viruses and malicious apps and the easiest way to do that is with an antivirus such as avast! Mobile Security. That or another antivirus should come as standard on all Android phones.
The second aspect is keeping it safe from thieves or anyone else who gains physical access to your handset.
Cerberus anti theft does a fairly comprehensive job of that, by allowing you to remotely locate and track your device, wipe it, sound an alarm, lock it, record audio from the microphone, get a list of sent and received calls and more, maximising the chance of you getting your phone back and ensuring that if it comes to you can at least wipe it.


Widgets help set Android apart from the competition, but while they're often just a handy window into your favourite apps, some take on a life of their own.
HD Widgets for example has clearly had a lot of time and attention put into it, as it provides a selection of beautiful clock, date, weather, location and settings widgets which put many manufacturer-made widgets to shame.
There are various theme packs and add-ons available and the widgets can be resized so you can get exactly the widgets you want in exactly the style you want and it even supports lock screen widgets, so you don't even need to head to your home screen to interact with them.
Other essential widgets include Elixir 2, which has custom widgets for just about every setting or action imaginable and allows you to stick the shortcuts on your homescreen or even on your notifications shade.


TruecallerBy having these apps installed as standard any Android phone could be better equipped to serve the needs of most users, but there are still a few holes to fill.
Tiny Flashlight for example will turn your phone into a torch at the touch of a button. Useful for anyone drawn to the dark.
Then there's thetrainline, which details train times, lets you buy tickets and provides station information, making it an essential tool for any rail traveller.
Last but not least, Android phones should come with Truecaller. It's a collaborative phone directory which in many cases will be able to tell you who's calling, even if the number isn't in your phone book - mimicking some of the functionality of Android KitKat. It also allows you to block nuisance callers.

The lack of widgets, alternate keyboards and the like mean that iOS isn't quite as customisable as Android, but there are still a lot of essential apps available and while Apple has done a reasonable job of covering the basics, we reckon there are a lot of things that should be pre-installed but aren't.


The optimal media apps to have pre-installed on an iPhone are pretty similar to those for Android. YouTube once again is essential, because, well, it's YouTube.
If you want to watch videos that you already have stored on your phone then AVPlayer is a superb option, with file support that far exceeds most of its competitors.
For music the stock player actually does a pretty good, but Groove is a compelling alternative, with gesture controls, smart playlists based on your musical taste and automatic organisation of your music collection with tags.
The iPhone could definitely do with Shazam being installed as well, to help you identify unknown songs - although Siri can also do that by default (ask it 'What's this song?' and it will then work it out for you).


The same two apps rule the social roost on iOS as on Android: Facebook and Twitter. Not only are both of these used by an enormous number of people but their respective apps are a lot slicker and easier to use than their mobile websites.


There aren't really any alternate SMS apps on iOS, so love it or hate it you're stuck with stock. That said, SMS isn't the only messaging option. Skype allows you to make free video and voice calls and send free text messages over 3G, 4G or Wi-Fi, making it pretty invaluable, and Facebook Messenger's starting to gain traction.
Then of course there's the ever popular WhatsApp and we would recommend BBM - but we're not sure the service will still be active when you're reading this (we jest, of course).


Evernote is one of the most feature packed note-taking apps around and with its elegant interface it feels at home on iOS.
Your notes can be accessed from any device which can run Evernote (in other words just about any device), you can create to-do lists, add tags, share your notebooks and more. It's enormously powerful and would make a welcome pre-install.

Entertainment / news

There are hundreds of different news sources on the App Store. That's great but it's also a problem if you're interested in more than a few of them, as launching a dozen different apps just to get your news and entertainment fix is far from fun.
That's where Flipboard comes in. It combines all of your favourite news sources and topics into a single feed, making it easy to digest.


Public transport can be a nightmare at times, particularly when things don't go according to plan. Trains are late or cancelled, platforms change and before you know it you're stranded in Littlehampton.
But with the help of thetrainline that can be avoided, or at least if the worst does happen you can easily work out the quickest way home.
It gives you live train information, including times and platforms and its 'next train home' feature will tell you how to get home as fast as humanly possible, so you can get back to watching game shows and taking pictures of your cat.

Windows Phone 8 still lags behind the competition in terms of app selection, which means that getting a brilliant setup may not be possible if the apps or features you want aren't available. On the other hand with fewer apps to sift through doing so should be a lot quicker.


Nokia MixRadioWhile YouTube was an easy recommendation for iOS and Android, the YouTube apps for Windows Phone aren't generally so impressive. Even Microsoft's own attempt at one is distinctly lacking.
But there is one YouTube app that does the service justice: YouTube HD. It's slick, easy to navigate and even includes advanced features like uploading and downloading videos.
Shazam is as useful here as on other platforms. It's the sort of app that anyone could find handy as we've all had times when we've wondered what a song is.
Finally for media, MixRadio really should come pre-installed on all Windows Phone 8 handsets. It already comes on (most) Nokia ones and it's understandable that it doesn't come with competitors ones, but with the ability to listen to a personalised radio station for free with no adverts it's pretty essential.


Facebook and Twitter once again come out on top as essential apps. Whether you're using iOS, Android or Windows Phone every handset should have these two pre-installed. However, Rowi is also a decent option if you're not into the official Twitter app.


Skype is just as essential here as on iOS or Android. Free messaging, video calls and voice calls make it hard to say no to. WhatsApp is once again a good option too, especially if you're more into texting than talking.


If you plan to view or annotate any PDF's on your phone then Adobe Reader is probably the best option out there. Even if you don't think you want it now, one day it will be a life saver.
We have to give a nod to Evernote too. You can easily create notes and to-do lists and sync them between devices, so you can access them anywhere, any time.

Entertainment / news

Nextgen Reader
We've argued Flipboard should be pre-installed on iOS and Android, but it was a late arrival on Windows Phone and even now it's not as well optimised as on other platforms
With that in mind we'd argue Nextgen Reader would make a better pre-install. It's more an RSS reader than a customisable magazine, but it's got a similarly attractive design and lets you read full stories without leaving the app.
If you have a Windows Phone handset and use RSS feeds, this should be your reader.


Night time power cuts used to mean rifling through drawers for a torch, if you could even find the drawers, but if you have a smartphone with an LED flash then you've already got a torch in your pocket, you just need an app to activate it. Flashlight-X is one such app for Windows Phone.
With the touch of a button it will light up the LED flash and leave you wondering why you even own a torch any more.
HERE Drive+ does for sat-navs what Flashlight-X does for torches. It's a full featured sat-nav with voice guided turn-by-turn navigation. And it's free.
Being a Nokia app it comes with Lumia phones anyway, but it really would be great if it came with every Windows Phone handset. Admittedly only five worldwide aren't made by the Finns and that's unlikely to change now that Microsoft owns them.
  • You've read about the essential apps, now read about the oddest apps.
What other apps do you think users should be installing as soon as the covers come off a shiny new smartphone? Let us know in the comments below!

Related product: Microsoft Windows Phone 8.1

Our Verdict:

Cortana and Action Center were desperately needed for Windows Phone, OS is now solid for having it


  • Cortana voice search is superb
  • Cortana Home and Notebook are useful and easy to navigate
  • The Action Center is an overdue improvement


  • Some effort will be needed to make a phone truly personal
  • New background feature is almost a throw away


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