Google’s got a lot of apps. Maybe even too many, in certain (ahem) cases.
Amidst all the obvious titles and oddly overlapping offerings, though, Google’s wing of the Play Store holds some genuinely useful treasures — clever creations by the creator of Android that are just waiting to be discovered.
Here are 10 off-the-beaten-path Google apps that’ll help you do all sorts of interesting stuff with your Android device. Sure, any one of ’em could disappear any day with little to no warning — this is Google we’re talking about, after all — but for the moment, at least, they’re out there and ready for the taking. And yes, they’re all free.
(Some, but not all, are also available for iOS.)
Need to get a quick measurement of a physical object in your home or office and don’t have your trusty tape measure handy? (What you were thinking, heading to work without a measuring apparatus in your pocket?!) Well, fret no more: Google’s Measure app is up to the task.
Just fire up Measure, aim your phone’s camera at any object around you — a box you need to ship, a ship you need to box, or anything in between — and within a matter of seconds, the app will help you drag a virtual tool onto the image and get a real-world measurement of any of its sides.
Measure can even handle metric units, if that’s your jam, and can estimate elevation along with distance.
(Note that a phone has to support Google’s ARCore system in order for Measure to function.)
Further blurring the lines between our physical and virtual worlds is PhotoScan, which lets you capture impressively high-quality and glare-free images from your phone’s camera and then save ’em as digital files. PhotoScan directs you through the process of capturing multiple angles of a printed photo and then does all the dirty work of cropping it, straightening it, and just generally making it look good.
It’s like having a full-fledged scanner in your pocket — only, y’know, far more practical to carry.
Google’s default Android file manager has gotten reasonably decent over the years, but you know what’s really weird? Google actually makes a much better and more capable version of the same basic thing. It’s just up to you to find it.
The aptly named Files app (which isn’t the same as the Files app that comes preinstalled on certain Android phones) lets you browse through your phone’s local storage in a clean and easy-to-use interface. It makes it super-simple to eliminate unneeded junk on your device and free up space, too, and it even has a built-in and fuss-free system for wirelessly sharing files with other Android phones in the area.
Files isn’t as fully featured as some of the more advanced third-party file manager apps, but it’s pretty darn useful — and if your Android file management needs are relatively basic, it’ll be more than enough to get the job done.
Another app that seems like it should be a system-level tool is Datally, which gives you a dashboard for managing mobile data use and intelligently eliminating background drips (which, if we’re being honest, sounds like a terrifying personal problem to me). It can also limit your phone’s data use to only the areas where ongoing internet access is really, truly needed.
At its core, Datally is kind of like a more advanced version of the built-in Android Data Saver system: You can use the app to block all data transfers from apps you aren’t actively using, sure, but you can also tap into useful functions like Datally’s Bedtime Mode — which automatically prevents apps from burning through mobile data whenever you put your brain into its nightly standby mode (commonly known as “sleep” to us human person-creatures).
If you have a limited mobile data plan or one where you pay for every gig you use (or maybe if your company’s footing the bill and you want to score some extra brownie points with the boss), it might be just the app you need.
This next Google Android app is one of those things that’s so practical, you’ll wonder why your phone hasn’t always had it.
Trusted Contacts lets you establish location-sharing relationships with your friends, family members, or anyone else you know and love (or maybe just kinda-sorta like). Once both people have installed the app and approved the relationship, either person has the ability to request the other’s location at any time. If the recipient doesn’t respond after five minutes, their last known location will automatically be sent. And it works even if their phone is off or out of range.
Peace of mind has never been easier.
Android’s long been exceptional at letting you control your phone by voice — dating back to well before the big Google Assistant rebranding — but with a little help from an out-of-the-way Google app, you can take your phone’s hands-free potential to totally new heights.
The app is a little somethin’ called Voice Access. It’s technically an Android accessibility feature, but it can be incredibly useful for just about anyone.
Plain and simple, Voice Access lets you control every single part of your phone-using experience simply by speaking. Once you fire up the system, you can tell your phone to go back (look, Ma, no awkward gestures!), go home, or adjust more or less any element of your phone’s settings. You can ask it to long-press an item, scroll in any direction on an item, select or unselect text, and place your cursor anywhere you want. It can even handle text editing and let you get around apps and websites without lifting a finger via its clever on-screen numbering system.
Whether you have a physical need for that sort of control or just think you’d benefit from the convenience, it’s one heck of an option to have at your fingertips.
This next one’s pretty specific, but if you’re operating your own business — or responsible for your company’s online presence in any way — Google’s My Business app is absolutely worth snagging. The app gives you a single streamlined portal for controlling your company’s presence within Google. You can respond to reviews, tweak your business’s profile, and even get notifications whenever a customer (or potential customer) attempts to connect with you.
For the smaller business owners among us, it could be invaluable.
I’ve mentioned Opinion Rewards several times over the years, but it’s still something most typical users remain woefully unaware of. If you’re among those not yet using it, start now — because it’s basically just a way to get free Google Play Store credit for taking the occasional quick survey.
Here’s how it works: The app notifies you whenever a new survey’s available. You answer a handful of questions about a recent shopping experience or your thoughts on some type of video or maybe merchandise, and then the app puts a credit on your Play Store account. It might be for 10 cents or it might be for a dollar. Either way, it takes practically no time to do, and the credits add up fast — meaning your next app purchase or movie rental can be on the house (and yet the developer or creator still gets paid — win-win!).
Hang onto this one for your next dull business-trip moment: Google Arts & Culture lets you explore national parks and monuments, zoom up close into famous works of art, and even take virtual tours of entire museums right from your mobile device.
The app is just jam-packed with cool views of fascinating things from around the world, and it provides a welcome mental diversion no matter where you might physically be.
This last selection is actually the app that controls wallpaper picking for Google’s own Pixel line of phones, but it’s available broadly — and if you don’t have a Pixel device, you can think of it as an upgrade to your system’s default wallpaper selection tool. The aptly named Wallpapers makes finding a background for your home screen a fun adventure, with options for selecting stunning static or motion-based images in a variety of different categories — from landscapes, seascapes, and planets to art and geometric shapes.
The best part, though, is the way Wallpapers can automatically change your wallpaper to a new image every day within any category that floats your boat (including, if you’re so inclined, your own personal images). It makes for a nice little surprise when you’re moving between your various Very Important Work Duties.
Auto-refreshing wallpaper — now, that’s refreshing.
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