Google's heralded desktop browser made its mobile debut this year. It lives up to the hype. Speedy and simple, the free Chrome is miles ahead of the old stock Android browser.
Play Store: Chrome (free)
More than just a Dropbox rival, Google Drive is a cloud locker and basic word processor rolled into one. Store up to 5 GB of files for free, and edit your docs on the go. If you're invested in the Android ecosystem, Drive is essential.
Play Store: Drive (free)
We're cheating a bit here, as Google Now isn't available as a standalone app. But any device running Android 4.1 or higher gets the next generation of Google search, known as Google Now.
In many ways, Google Now surpasses iOS' Siri. It skips the spunky personality, and simply delivers relevant information ... even before you ask for it. At the subway station? Now will show you what trains are coming. Merging onto the highway? Now gives you traffic. Voice searches are also returned much quicker than Siri.
If you're comfortable with much of your life being uploaded to Google's servers (chances are, it is anyway), Now can be a personal assistant that actually helps.
Play Store: N/A
OneLouder Apps released the most beautiful weather app for Android this year, called 1Weather. It gives you all the weather info you'd need with an attractive design that we'd like to see more of on Android.
If you want to fully appreciate the gorgeous app, you can pay an extra US$1.99 for the Pro version.
Play Store: 1Weather (free)
The former iOS-exclusive Instagram made its way to Android this year. The Facebook-owned app lets you snap pics with a variety of filters, and quickly upload them to your favorite social networks.
Play Store: Instagram (free)
OnLive Desktop gives your Android tablet a touch-friendly, cloud version of Microsoft Windows. The only catch is that you'll need a persistent internet connection.
The free OnLive Desktop account offers basic Windows access, including Office and Adobe Reader. The premium Desktop Plus adds Internet Explorer (including Flash) at Gigabit speeds for US$4.99 per month.
Play Store: OnLive Desktop (free)
Solid Explorer Beta
Who knew file navigation had room for improvement? With multi-panel viewing, drag-and-drop, and support for rooted devices, Solid Explorer ups the ante for Android file management.
Play Store: Solid Explorer Beta (free)
A slew of formerly iOS-exclusive reading apps hit the Play Store this year. At the front of that pack is Flipboard.
Flipboard presents news in an attractive and responsive magazine-style layout. You can link to your Google Reader account or browse the plethora of curated Flipboard channels.
Play Store: Flipboard (free)
Instapaper, Pocket, Readability
Instapaper, Pocket, and Readability let you store news articles to read later. They're more than bookmark services, though, as they present articles in clean, text-and-image only views.
All three offer nearly identical feature sets, so you may want to experiment to find your favorite. No tablet is complete without one of them.
If you're lounging on the couch with your Nexus 7, you probably don't want to grab your phone every time you send a text message. TabletSMS lets you send and receive texts from your tablet – all using your phone number.
Play Store: TabletSMS (free)
Turntable.fm lets you collaborate with friends and strangers on a live setlist. Queue up your favorite jams, and vote others' selections up or down.
Play Store: Turntable.fm (free)
Practice your Jedi powers and control your phone with a wave of the hand. Wave Control lets you play or skip songs without touching your screen. It doesn't always work seamlessly, but it's a great tool nonetheless.
Firefox's Android browser stayed in beta for years, and lagged far behind its competition. That changed this year when Mozilla released Firefox for Android. It emphasizes speed, an overhauled user interface, and customizable add-ons. It even adds an Instapaper-like "Reader mode," that de-clutters articles for simple viewing.
Play Store: Firefox for Android (free)
Magisto - Magical Video Editor
Magisto is the lazy person's video editing app. Add video clips, and Magisto will analyze and compile them into a movie, complete with soundtrack. It even lowers the music volume when people are speaking. It isn't perfect, but it's as artistic as a computer can be right now.
Play Store: Magisto (free)
Swiftkey has been one of Android's best keyboards for years, but 2012 saw the release of Swiftkey 3. It marks a big step forward, with better error correction and "Smart Space," which inserts missing spaces in blocks of text.
Also keep an eye out for the upcoming Swiftkey Flow, a Swype-like trace keyboard with Swiftkey's predictive text.
The iOS classic Temple Run came to Android in 2012. Snag an idol and run, jump, and slide from the crazy apes in hot pursuit. It's addictive, endless running arcade fun at its finest.
Play Store: Temple Run (free)
Android wouldn't be a legit gaming platform if it didn't have at least one good first-person zombie shooter. Dead Trigger gives you just that, for the unbeatable price of free.
Play Store: Dead Trigger (free)
One of the breakthrough mobile games of 2012, Horn is a Zelda-inspired action puzzler. Its striking visuals and console-like gameplay will keep you entertained for hours.
Play Store: Horn ($6.99)
Angry Birds Space, Angry Birds Star Wars
In 2012, Rovio's Angry Birds franchise continued its quest for world domination. The two latest entries, Angry Birds Space and Angry Birds Star Wars, brought some refreshing innovation (and a shameless tie-in) to the formulaic series. Don't knock anti-gravity bird-flinging until you've tried it.
Until Microsoft brings H.A.L.O. to Android (fat chance), Gameloft's copycat N.O.V.A. franchise is as close as you'll get. Despite its cringe-inducing voice acting and lack of originality, N.O.V.A. 3 provides terrific visuals and hours of entertaining gameplay.
Play Store: N.O.V.A. 3 ($6.99)
More to come?
It's been a great year for Android, but the year isn't over yet. We'll keep an eye out for more great apps in the next month (GTA: Vice City, anyone?) and will update accordingly.
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