Google's Android operating system is an impressively open and versatile platform. As with rival smartphone platforms, Apple's iPhone OS, RIM's BlackBerry OS and Palm's new WebOS, the out-of-the-box features offered by Android are just a starting point.
Android phones can be easily customised with new software and functionality from the built-in Android Market, which features thousands of free and commercial applications that do everything from exposing hidden system preferences to allowing you to edit documents.
With more than 10,000 apps to choose from, the Android Market can be daunting, though nowhere close to the dizzying 70,000 apps available from Apple's iPhone App Store. And unlike the App Store, the Android Market is difficult to search. Rather ironic, given Google's core business. So I've cut out the fat.
Here are ten apps that I think should come standard on every Android phone, and every single one of them is free.
Since Android is a Google product, the absence of an app for viewing and editing documents and spreadsheets from Google Docs would just be wrong. That's where Art Wild's GDocs comes in, allowing users to view spreadsheets and to create, edit and view word processor documents from their Google Docs account.
When you're viewing a document or spreadsheet, a reasonable approximation of the original formatting is preserved (considering the small screen). Editing is strictly text-only, though.
While you probably won't want to write your life story on your phone's tiny thumb-board, you can probably touch up that report for work or write up some notes for that short story you've been mulling over.
You can play music off your phone's SD card or stream music over the Internet with Imeem's mobile player.
Imeem offers several ways to listen once you've created a free user account: Upload tracks from your computer and listen to them under the "My Music" tab, create on-the-fly radio stations from music similar to your favorite artists using the "Search" function, or listen to featured stations put together by Imeem's staff and other users.
The best part? Imeem will continue to play in the background while you use other applications.
Much more than a simple location-based app, Locale from Two Forty Four AM is a scriptable, location-aware settings manager. This may not sound all that exciting, but don't let its simplicity fool you.
With Locale, you can set up conditions that trigger user-defined actions, for example, automatically dimming the screen when the battery gets below 20%, or texting your friends when you get to a specific location, or turning off the ringer at specific times of day.
A wide range of triggering events are available - battery level, dates, times, GPS coordinates and calls from specific people can all be used. Settings or events that can be triggered include pop-up notifications, turning Wi-Fi or Bluetooth off or on, sounding a chosen ringtone, sending a text message or tweet, lowering or raising the volume, or even changing the home screen's wallpaper.
Some third-party programs even integrate with Locale, increasing the available options. For example, a to-do list program could make your shopping list available whenever you go by the store.
Android includes an app to access the Google Talk instant messaging network, but these days, one IM network is hardly enough, especially if it's Google's. You can access Yahoo Messenger, AIM, Windows Live Messenger, Facebook and other IM networks with Palringo.
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