Just got a new Android smartphone for the holidays? If it’s your first one it could be a little intimidating so, to get you started, here are 5 apps you should immediately install or set up on a new Android device. Alternatively, if you’re not already using these apps, it might be time to give them a shot!

Up your messaging game

Google Messages (RCS)

In the US at least, messaging has traditionally been a sore point of Android smartphones. Thankfully, Google has been hard at work trying to fix that in recent months and now, the solution known as RCS (Rich Communication Services) is available to every Android smartphone in the world as of this year.

How can you get RCS on your device and, more importantly, what’s the benefit? The benefit, firstly, is that RCS is much more capable than SMS/MMS. Pictures can be sent in higher quality, typing indicators, and more all arrive with RCS. Group chats also get a huge upgrade too. Basically, RCS is like Apple’s iMessage, but for Android phones.

To get RCS on your Android phone, all you need to do is download Google Messages. The free app is an SMS app at heart, but in select countries including the US, it can also enable RCS messaging on any carrier and any Android smartphone too. Simply download, set it as your default SMS app, and wait for the prompt to turn on RCS. We’ve got a more detailed tutorial on the process as well.

google messages rcs android enable

Telegram & Discord

If you want an app for even better messaging, you can go beyond the typical RCS and SMS. Telegram is one of our favorite messaging apps and it works a lot like the super popular WhatsApp. Unlike that app, though, Telegram works easily on multiple smartphones or tablets at one time and backs up all of your messages automatically. Plus, everything is still encrypted end-to-end and you have both voice and video calls available.

Discord is another great messaging alternative, offering private messages as well as “servers” to host a few friends or hundreds, all with rooms and chat admins. It’s a great experience, and one that’s especially excellent for gamers.


Staying connected in a pandemic

Google Duo

2020 has been a crazy year, but unfortunately we’re entering 2021 still with a pandemic going on. With that in mind, video calling apps are still one of the best and safest ways to keep in touch with loved ones.

One of the best Android apps for video calling is Google Duo. The completely free app makes it super easy to start video calls on Android phones and tablets as well as Chromebooks, computers, and even iOS devices. Think of it as Apple’s Facetime, but not locked down to one ecosystem. The app works with your phone number or your email address and features fun filters and even screen sharing on some devices. It’s best feature though, might just be how well it works on less-than-ideal connections.

Google Duo

Zoom

One of the most popular video calling/conferencing tools during the pandemic so far has been Zoom. By its popularity alone, this is an app you should have installed. The service offers meetings that you can connect to with just a link or a password, easily connecting with loved ones, friends, or using it for business meetings. Many schools are also using Zoom for remote learning. It’s a powerful app, and one that’s not going to cost you anything unless you’re the one hosting.

Meet, Skype, Facebook Messenger

Other great apps for video calling going into 2021 include:

  • Google Meet, an app that works a lot like Zoom but is attached to your Google account and is very popular especially with schools.
  • Skype, one of the original video calling apps that still works great especially for friends and family.
  • Facebook Messenger, a service that lots of people in the US currently use and has an excellent video calling option alongside its messaging features.


Back up your pictures and videos

Google Photos

One of the first things you should install on a new Android smartphone – or an iPhone for that matter – is Google Photos. For the vast majority of Android users, the app will be pre-installed on your device, but you’ll still need to get things set up.

google photos app android logo icon

To do that, simply open the app, sign in with your preferred Google account, and decide on backup options. Photos will automatically backup your pictures and videos in the background, but you’ll need to tell it if you want that done over Wi-Fi only or on cellular data as well.

From there, you’ll just need to decide on quality. For the next several months, everything is backed up to Google Photos with no limits for “high-quality,” slightly compressed backups, but in June you’ll need a Google One subscription to store anything past 15GB of data.

If you want to backup your photos outside of Google, one of the best options is Amazon Photos which provides no-frills backups and, for Prime customers, unlimited storage for photos.


Upgrade your keyboard

Gboard

The keyboards pre-installed on a lot of today’s most popular Android smartphones are, well, not great. We have particular qualms about LG’s in particular, but in any case, you can get more features and in many cases better functionality out of a different keyboard.

Our top pick? Google’s own Gboard. This keyboard has a great layout that’s comfortable for typers of all styles and supports features such as gesture/swipe typing, GIF search and input, and so much more. There are even unique features such as the recent addition of the “Emoji Kitchen” which can create some wacky emoji stickers on the fly. You can also theme Gboard to your heart’s desire.

google gboard android voice typing

Put simply, it’s an excellent keyboard that’s totally free and, if it wasn’t already on your phone, it’s one you should absolutely try.

SwiftKey

If Gboard isn’t quite your style, there’s another great option on the Play Store in SwiftKey. This third-party keyboard has been one of the most popular Android apps since the platform’s app store was a thing. Recently acquired by Microsoft, the app offers excellent gesture typing and features the neat trick of learning and adapting to your typing style and your spelling mistakes too. SwiftKey supports over 400 languages and is free.


Don’t lose your phone or your data

Find My Device

Here’s another app that should already be installed on any new Android smartphone. “Find my Device” is a Google app designed to help you keep track of your smartphone should it be misplaced. If the app isn’t installed on your device for some reason, it’s available via the Play Store.

When you open up Find My Device, you’ll be prompted to sign in with a Google account and enter your password as well. Once that’s done, you’ll be able to see your device as well as any others attached to your account. You can then ring, lock, or wipe any device on your account. The same applies for your new phone as well from any other Android device you own, a friend’s Android phone, or even just a web browser. As a side note, the core functionality of actually finding your phone with this app is on by default in Google Play Services, but using the app you’ll get a bit more control as well as being able to find your other Android devices through the app as well as helping friends to find their phones.

Google One

If you do lose or break your phone, you don’t have to lose your data. That’s where Google One comes in handy. With any Google One storage plan (starting at just $2/month), you’ll get improved backups of your phone. By default, Android already backs up core data for free to your Google account, but the One app can back up SMS messages and MMS messages along with your photos and videos.


Keep track of your Digital Wellbeing

ActionDash

Finally, let’s talk about smartphone habits. For many, smartphone addiction is a real problem and going into a new decade, there are ways to help curb that – Digital Wellbeing apps. There might already be one installed on your device but, if not, ActionDash is a free Digital Wellbeing app for Android smartphones that works on almost any device. The app tracks how you use your phone through the day including which apps are used, how many times you’ve unlocked your device, and even how many notifications you get.

To help curb your smartphone use, ActionDash offers tools such as pausing apps to keep you from using them, limiting how long an app can be used each day and more. Everything is done on-device and isn’t uploaded to the cloud and, better yet, the app is free and won’t hurt your battery either. ActionDash is available on Google Play.

actiondash digital wellbeing android app

Google’s Digital Wellbeing experiments

If you really have a smartphone addiction and you want to find a way to guilt yourself into stopping, Google’s collection of Digital Wellbeing experiments might be able to help. These include:

  • Screen Stopwatch, a wallpaper that constantly updates with the amount of time you’ve been using your phone that day.
  • Activity Bubbles, a wallpaper that shows how many times you unlock your phone in a day and how long each “session” lasts.
  • Unlock Clock, a wallpaper that counts how many times you’ve opened up your phone each day.

The best note-taking Android apps

Google Keep Notes

Keeping track of reminders, lists, and more can be made much easier by using a note-taking app. Personally, my favorite note-taking app on Android is Google Keep Notes and it’s something that just seems to keep getting better over time.

Google Keep is completely free and lets you store notes, lists, and even drawings in the app. Those notes are also synced to your Google account which means you can access them on any other device including computers. With a quick setup, you can even use Google Assistant speakers such as the Nest Mini to manage a shopping list!

Google Keep downloads

Microsoft OneNote

If you want something that’s not from Google and has a few more advanced features, Microsoft OneNote is an excellent option. The app is completely free, though works better with other Microsoft apps using a Microsoft 365 subscription. You can back up notes, drawings, and insert pictures in the app and, like Google’s app, they’ll sync across devices with your Microsoft account.


A Few More Noteworthy Apps:

  • Waze: While Google Maps will do the trick for many, Waze offers crowdsourced live traffic data and reports for speed traps and more.
  • Google News: Especially in these times, keeping up with the latest news is important, and using personalized data, Google News will bring you top stories in a slick app that’s really easy to use.
  • Feedly: Want to keep track of the news using personalized RSS feeds? Feedly is one of the best apps for the job, and it’s free!
  • LastPass: We all have a ton of passwords and online security is important. If you need help managing your passwords, LastPass is an easy, free, and most importantly secure option. 1Password is also an excellent app for this purpose, but it requires a fee.
  • Google Home/Amazon Alexa: Got some smart home speakers or displays? You’ll want to have the Google Home or Amazon Alexa apps installed depending on what devices you own.
  • Get a 3rd-party launcher: Installing a new launcher is a great way to fully customize the homescreen on your new Android phone. Nova Launcher and Action Launcher are great options for this.

More on Android:

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