What we say: Mailbox is one of the better ways to attain the fabled Inbox Zero – or at least try to – by swiping unwanted emails aside like they’re unwanted matches in Tinder.
Slick design, its integration with Gmail and the ability to “snooze” non-urgent emails made it a useful productivity tool.
What we say: If you love your music, WhoSampled is a marvellous rabbit-hole of sampling culture, exploring the samples used in hundreds of thousands of songs and tracing them back to the original tracks. Once you start along this discovery path, don’t expect to surface for a while.
3. Sunrise Calendar
What we say: Just as Mailbox provided a genuinely-appealing alternative to Gmail, so Sunrise Calendar has taken on Google’s cloud-calendar service. It makes neat use of colour and social data on top of the usual diary management features, and if you’re not quite ready to break with Google, it works fine with that too.
What we say: FireChat seemed like an innovative novelty when it came out, with the ability to text-chat to people even when internet access was down. But then came the Hong Kong protests, where it proved its mettle as a way to communicate in those kinds of situations, when rival apps struggled.
5. Inbox by Gmail
What we say: Another rival to Gmail, except Inbox was produced by Google itself – albeit as a complement to its flagship webmail service. Initially invite-only, it takes a similar approach to Mailbox in its efforts to make your inbox manageable, including an inventive feature bundling similar messages together.
6. Tynker – Learn to Code
What we say: All primary-school children should now be learning computer programming skills (or at least “algorithmic thinking”) as part of the curriculum. Tynker is one of the apps that aims to help them practise at home: a collection of “coding puzzles” teaching kids about programming, with a sandbox mode to make their own games.
What we say: Launched towards the end of the year, Wire was a potential Skype-killer backed by one of Skype’s own co-founders, Janus Friis. Focused initially on text messaging and voice-over-IP calls, it made a big feature of its design, with security including end-to-end encryption of calls.
8. HERE for Android
What we say: Microsoft may have ditched the Nokia brand for its smartphones, but Nokia the company remains a separate enterprise back in Finland. Its HERE mapping app debuted on Android as a beta this year, showing off Nokia’s experience in mapping, navigation and transport/traffic information.
9. 7 Minute Superhero Workout
What we say: Developer Six to Start has taken an inventive approach to fitness applications, blending health and games to get people up and moving. Best known for its Zombies, Run! game, this year it turned its attention to superheroes. 7 Minute Superhero Workout gets you to punch to blast aliens and crunch to recharge your exosuit.
10. djay 2
What we say: Will a few DJs at new year’s eve parties this year be wielding Android tablets? Perhaps, if developer Algoriddim has any say in the matter: its djay 2 app was an impressive steel-wheels replacement for Android, with the ability to mix songs from your own collection or Spotify’s wider catalogue.
11. Yahoo News Digest
What we say: Yahoo’s take on news aggregation came after it bought (then shut down) British startup Summly in 2013. Yahoo News Digest is a neat app that sucks in news from various sources, and packages it up in “atoms” of quotes, images, videos and background context, delivering it twice a day.
What we say: Coursera is one of the companies trying to shake up the world of online education: in its case, by providing more than 600 courses from universities around the world. Expect video lectures to stream or download, and a wealth of knowledge to tap in to.
13. Parallels Access
What we say: Parallels is already well known to people using remote-access software on other devices – for example to get to their work computer from home. This year brought an official Parallels Access app for Android devices, accessing files and applications on Windows and Mac computers as part of an annual subscription.
What we say: With online security always high in mind in 2014, the time was ripe for an app like 1Password on Android. As on other devices, it creates and stores passwords for the various sites you use – proper, strong passwords – and then helps you log in using a single tap on the screen.
What we say: IFTTT is an excellent tool for connecting up different web services using simple “If this then that” instructions. Automatically save your Instagram shots to Dropbox, trigger emails when specific RSS feeds are updated, and so on. Those two examples don’t even hint at the power once you get stuck in though.
16. Google Docs
What we say: Google Docs has been available on Android for years, yes. But this year, Google split out its Google Drive services for smartphones, including this standalone Google Docs app for its word processing tool. It proved a neat, accessible way to edit your documents on the go (or, as in my case, on the sofa).
17. Hype Machine
What we say: There’s a world of passionate music bloggers out there, but if you don’t have time to keep track of them all, Hype Machine is marvellous. It monitors trending tracks in the blogosphere and serves them up to you as streams, with useful social features to peek at what friends are listening to as well.
What we say: Another great educational app for people learning in their own time: Lingua.ly focused on language learning through a clever, simple system of digital flashcards. Handy whether you’re revising your rusty skills in a language you learned years ago, or exploring one for the first time.
19. Autodesk SketchBook
What we say: Apple’s iPad has tended to hog the limelight when it comes to artists and illustrators working on tablets, but Android is building up its own library of drawing and painting apps too. Autodesk SketchBook was one of the best yet, with plenty of depth yet an accessible interface for the scribblers among us.
20. Sleep Better
What we say: Step-tracking apps have been popular for a while, but 2014 saw a flurry of interest from developers in monitoring what happens when we’re not active – i.e. at night, when we’re sleeping. Sleep Better from fitness startup Runtastic tracks your sleep cycles, and tries to wake you up at the right point to avoid morning grumpiness.
21. Pause: Curated Music Stories
What we say: This will sit neatly alongside Hype Machine on the homescreen of any music fan – and again, it’s very good for catching up on online music writing that you’ve missed. Pause is a quarterly digital magazine (“well-curated music periodical” in the words of its developer) that gathers reviews, features and streaming audio and video from a host of sites.
22. Clue – Period Tracker
What we say: There are quite a few menstrual cycle-tracking apps available now, but Clue was one of the easiest to use, with effective design and plenty of features. Its also suitable for various uses: general period tracking, as well as keeping tabs on sex and cervical fluid if you’re trying to get pregnant.
What we say: It can be hard to recommend a single productivity-management app, as people tend to have very specific needs. Even so, Droptask has a growing number of fans online for its visual take on to-do lists and project management. Its Android app is very new, but looks a sensible way to bring the idea to mobile devices.
24. Madefire Motion Books & Comics
What we say: I love print comics, but I’m fascinated by the experimentation going on around digital comics too. Madefire is one of the companies playing with the format, and it’s worked with publishers including DC Comics, IDW and Dark Horse. Its Android app provided a great introduction to its catalogue.
What we say: Photography is another category where personal tastes vary tremendously, but Camera51 was an impressive app for all-comers this year: it promises to detect and analyse faces, objects and lines to help you take better shots using its “Aim-Box”.
What did we miss? The comments section is open for your recommendations for fellow Guardian readers: what Android apps did you find particularly useful or entertaining in 2014?
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