The 25 best Android apps and games of 2015
Another year has gone by, and these are the most significant, influential and impressive apps we've seen released on Android over the last 12 months. From high-octane gaming and on-the-go productivity to sedate puzzlers and music streaming, our collection of the year's best Android apps and games has something for everyone.
Microsoft has been on something of a mobile app drive in 2015 and its Arrow Launcher is one of the best. The app replaces the default Google Now launcher on Android to give the home screens, app drawers and settings pages a different look on your smartphone or tablet of choice.
The aim of Arrow is to get you to your frequently used apps more quickly, and there are also shortcuts for messaging, contacts, notes and settings. A swipe from the bottom of the screen brings up a favorites bar, for example, and you can quickly jump to recently used apps, files and contacts more easily too.
Arrow Launcher (free)
For years avid Instagram users have had to make do with third-party apps for setting up collages, but nowthere's an official solution (albeit in a separate app). Once you've pieced together your choice of pictures, the result can be shared to Instagram, Facebook or any other installed app.
Picking out existing images, taking new shots, stitching pictures together and adding some basic effects (like flip and mirror) is all very straightforward and it will particularly appeal to those who want something quick and effective. What's more, you don't need to sign in or create an account to use the app.
Google zeroed in on photo storage and management efforts this year, giving competing apps plenty to think about. Not only can Google Photos back up everything from your device to the cloud for free (with some slight resizing), it makes finding your pictures again very simple.
You can browse by date, place or keyword – if you search for "mountains", for example, the app is clever enough to pick out images with mountains in them. As you would expect from Google, it works well across multiple platforms and the web, so your images are accessible from anywhere.
Google Photos (free)
Fully revamped editions of Microsoft's iconic Office apps came to Android tablets and then Android phones during 2015. There are versions of Word, Excel and PowerPoint built to embrace smaller, touchscreen displays rather than fight against them.
You get all of the basic viewing, editing and creating features for free, with some bonus extras available as part of an Office 365 subscription (including tracking changes and more advanced layouts). For maximizing your productivity on the go, the 2015 mobile Office apps are difficult to beat.
If you've got an old Android phone or tablet lying around doing nothing in particular then Perch can quickly put it to good use. This free app turns your unused device into a home security camera, recording activity, detecting movement and reporting back whenever something untoward is spotted.
It works on laptops and with webcams too, supports two-way video conversations and even integrates with a number of smart home systems. Everything is handled through an online interface where you can call up your active cameras, scroll back through recordings and customize alerts.
Adobe Premiere Clip
Like Microsoft, Adobe has had a busy year when it comes to pushing out mobile versions of its iconic desktop apps. New to the scene is a mobile Android version of its flagship video editing tool, giving you an impressive list of features you can access from your smartphone or tablet.
If you're really serious about video editing then you'll use a desktop tool, so the mobile app focuses on quick fixes, effect overlays, scene trimming and adding music on top. You don't need the full version of Premiere Pro to make use of this app, and it makes your recorded videos look a lot more polished.
Adobe Premiere Clip (free)
IFTTT Do Button
IFTTT (If This Then That) lets you connect dozens of apps and services together to do cool stuff, like save your Instagram likes to Dropbox. The Do Button app simplifies the idea even further, letting you create customized shortcuts for all kinds of functions on Android.
You could create buttons for setting your Nest thermostat, tweeting your current location, marking time in a Google Drive spreadsheet, pinging colleagues on Slack, sending a preset email and so on and so on. If you want to do more with your favorite apps then this is a good place to start.
IFTTT Do Button (free)
Flynx brings an interesting new twist on the idea of a browser: background link loading. That means links are opened in the background to read later while you carry on using Facebook, Twitter or whatever app you happen to be in. There's a useful distraction-free reading mode available too.
When you get into the browser itself you can catch up on everything you've saved, share to other apps and more. There's an offline mode for reading articles without a data connection and it's even possible to use Flynx's saving capabilities with a different browser (such as Chrome or Opera).
Colorfly is a digital coloring book for adults (as well as children). You won't necessarily be creating any masterpieces with the app, but it is a wonderfully therapeutic and relaxing way to spend your time.
While a lot of the images and some of the advanced tools are hidden away until you make extra in-app purchases, there's enough material in the free version to help you decide whether the additional outlay is worth it. Finished drawings can be easily shared to other apps and social media too.
Colorfy (free, with in-app purchases)
SwiftKey Neural Alpha
The latest experimental app from SwiftKey, this keyboard is powered by neural networks, the advanced artificial technology based on the inner workings of the brain. It looks at the context of your sentences to try and make better guesses about what you'll type next.
Install SwiftKey Neural Alpha and you should find yourself having to type less and less on your smartphone or tablet – the app is able to learn about you and your language style as it goes. Bear in mind, however, that this is still an early alpha release, so it's not yet as fully featured as you might expect.
SwiftKey Neural Alpha (free)
You may not have noticed it, but YouTube has turned into a very popular destination for music fans, and Google is ready to take advantage. YouTube Music and the apps that go with it are a new and improved version of the Music Key subscription service that has itself only been around for a year.
While YouTube Music is exclusive to the US for now, it should be more widely available soon. It lets you use YouTube like a music jukebox rather than a video library, and if you sign up for YouTube Red ($9.99 a month) you can also ditch the ads and keep the audio running in the background.
YouTube Music (free)
We also saw a new music service from Apple this year and – rather unusually – an Android app to go along with it. You need a monthly $9.99 subscription to use Apple Music (and you have to sign up via OS X or iOS) but there is a free three-month trial if you want to give the service a whirl first.
It's not quite at the level of Spotify yet, but Apple's design chops are in evidence and the 24/7 online radio stations (including Beats 1) are a highlight. You also get access to the tracks you've purchased as downloads from iTunes in the past, and any playlists you've set up from the desktop app.
Apple Music (subscription required)
There are plenty of services out there to help you buy plane tickets on the cheap, but Hopper adds an extra bit of magic to the mix by predicting which way prices will move in the future. It can then tell you whether it's wise to buy tickets now for your route or wait for the cost to drop nearer the time.
The app does this by analyzing billions of flight prices each day, crunching the numbers to work out which way they're going to go based on your destination and the time of year. It's also possible to get the app to send push notifications to your phone whenever prices on particular routes drop.
One of the benefits of using Android is that if you don't like the default dialer (phone) and contacts app you can install your own. Enter Drupe, which simplifies the challenge of having to keep up with multiple contacts over multiple messaging services and lets you launch conversations with a single swipe.
Once Drupe is installed you can launch it from any screen via a small four-dot panel. After that it's a question of dragging a contact over to an app of your choice. Drupe also keeps incoming notifications (across all apps) in one concentrated stream to make it easier to get an overview of your messages.
This year Twitter-owned Periscope took on Meerkat for the Android livestreaming crown, and while it's difficult to pick a clear-cut winner we think Periscope edges it at the moment. It's a slick and intuitive app that lets your followers view streams in real time or for up to 24 hours afterwards.
From commenting on streams to connecting with other users, Periscope is a polished piece of software. Even if you don't have anything worth livestreaming yourself, you can still scour your neighborhood and the wider world for feeds being broadcast by others.
While console owners had the arrival of Fallout 4 to celebrate in 2015, this mobile spin-off attracted an army of fans as well. The 2D sim game tasks you with developing an underground city of Dwellers, watching over their well-being and keeping the logistics of your shelter running smoothly.
As your community grows, the job becomes more and more demanding, but thankfully Fallout Shelter is straightforward enough to get to grips with quickly in the beginning. The visuals, audio and attention to detail can't be faulted, and it's a game that you can dip in and out of as you like.
Fallout Shelter (free, with in-app purchases)
Angry Birds 2
You may be sick of Angry Birds by now, but this is the official sequel to the 2009 original (apparently all those spin-offs don't count), and if you give the game a chance you'll find yourself remembering just what it was that made this physics-based cartoon-style puzzler so addictive the first time around.
The basic gameplay is the same but the addition of spells (power-ups) as well as the ability to choose the order in which you fling your birds makes for an engrossing few hours of gameplay. There's also a new online mode for challenging other Angry Birds players over the web.
Angry Birds 2 (free, with in-app purchases)
Does Not Commute
Does Not Commute tasks you with seeing if you can safely steer a commuter out of town by tapping left and right before the countdown expires. Then, you do the same for a second commuter while avoiding the first. Once the number of cars gets up to double figures, you can imagine what a frenetic experience this can be.
Like many of the best mobile games, Does Not Commute combines an intuitive control system that's perfect for touchscreens with a design aesthetic that's easy on the eye. The dry sense of humor running through the game (especially in the character descriptions) adds to the appeal too.
Does Not Commute (free, with in-app purchases)
There's a strong tradition of excellent smartphone word games, and Alphabear is the best of the bunch this year. It doesn't offer a particularly innovative concept, but the implementation and design are impressive enough to make this one of the games of the year.
The challenge is to make the best words you can out of the tiles you're dealt (just like Scrabble). As you use up tiles, your alphabears grow and earn you more points, but eventually any tiles you can't fit into words turn into rocks, making it much harder to combine letters together and make progress.
Alphabear (free, with in-app purchases)
The absorbing Lifeline works differently from the norm. It's a game that goes at its own pace, with a main character (the stranded astronaut Taylor) responding to events as they unfold rather than to your furious button presses or paid-for power-ups. If he's asleep, then you have to be patient.
You're the only person who can help Taylor find his way back home, and the way he communicates with you in real-time adds a strong sense of atmosphere, even if all you're looking at are a few lines of text (this is a testament to the quality of the writing). If you like this, Lifeline 2 was also launched with the last year.
Lara Croft Go
It's Lara Croft, but not as you know her – you're still raiding tombs in this mobile take on the famous franchise, but the game adopts a turn-based puzzle approach (see also Hitman Go from the same publisher). The good news is that the switch works well and suits mobile devices.
While the pace might be slower, the graphics, music and gameplay mechanics are all very well done, and as the levels progress the game is more nail-biting and action-packed than you might expect. There are 40 cleverly crafted levels in a variety of settings to work your way through.
Lara Croft Go ($0.99)
Having wowed iOS users since late in 2014, noir-ish puzzler Framed made its way to the Google Play apps library in summer 2015. As you change the panels of the comic book in front of you, the story changes, allowing you to piece together the clues and solve the mystery at the heart of the game.
If it sounds complicated, it isn't, as Framed flows fluidly from the first virtual page to the last, and if we have one complaint about the game it's that there isn't enough of it. The artwork is very well done, and it scores highly both for its original idea and the way it's been implemented.
Our favorite new sports game this year, Score! Hero reduces the game of soccer to a series of taps and flicks without spoiling the enjoyment. This simplified control system makes more sense on a mobile screen and saves you the frustration of having to deal with a virtual D-pad or touchscreen analog stick.
You start off as a humble trialist and then make your way through the leagues and successively bigger teams, assuming your (flick) passing and (flick) shooting are good enough. There are three possible stars on each level, so there's plenty of opportunity to replay them and improve your scores.
Score! Hero (free, with in-app purchases)
If you're after something a little bit different in terms of gaming experience then Prune could fit the bill, as this slow-moving game with a natural feel asks you to carefully prune away the branches of a growing tree in order to meet the target for the level and see blossoms sprouting from its limbs.
It doesn't offer the intense action or mind-bending puzzles you find in many other games but it does bring a charm all of its own. Prune is easy to play yet difficult to master, with the kind of learning curve that carefully treads the line between boredom and frustration. Well worth checking out.
Crossy Road came to Google Play in January 2015, two months after launching on iOS, so it earns a spot in our list of the best Android games of the year. Its phenomenal success across all platforms is a testament to the addictive and engaging gameplay, though it's based on a simple concept.
Getting from one side of the road to the other is an idea that's inspired countless games in the past, but the colorful collection of animal characters, beautifully designed pixel art and variety of levels means this is the best yet. Sometimes the simplest games are the best, particularly on mobile devices.
Crossy Road (free, with in-app purchases)