April was a big month for Android apps, especially if you like yours to come directly from Google. We've also got admirable entries from big web names like Dropbox and IFTTT, as well as surprising applications from smaller developers. This is the cream of the crop of Android apps for last month, plus a few honorable mentions, in no particular order.
Good grief, Google, you guys took your sweet time with this one. But good things come to those who wait, and while this isn't exactly an AOSP camera, it's the new Android standard. While the Google Camera app isn't dramatically better than the apps that come from the manufacturers, it does have some rather unique properties.
First of all, the official app will give any Android device with Android 4.4 access to the Photo Sphere feature that's been on the the last few Nexus phones and tablets. It also does the more typical panorama trick, and the fancy new "lens blur" (read: fake depth of field) that seems to be all the rage with manufacturer skins. And perhaps best of all, this app finally reminds people to turn their phones to landscape mode when taking videos. Not that you needed reminding, right?
Google Camera is free, and it should work on any Android device running KitKat, including phones with manufacturer skins. Your phone will need at least 1GB of RAM and a gyroscopic sensor for access to all the photo modes.
Chrome Remote Desktop
The Chrome browser on the desktop and the full-fledged Chrome OS has had access to a handy remote desktop feature for a long time. With a heavy Chrome extension, you can log into your computer from any other computer running Chrome, VLC-style. After a few months of hints, Android phones and tablets can now hook into the same system with this free app. Once you've set up the extension on your home Windows or OS X machine.
Setting up the connection is pretty simple: just input the PIN from your desktop machine into the app, and it will connect over any network, even 3G. The interface is a little wonky, as is the case with just about all remote clients - don't expect full touch emulation for a Windows 8 tablet, for example, and left-clicking anything through the connection requires a two-finger tap, which can be tedious.
Right now it's a one-way street - there's no way to view your phone or tablet from your desktop (though there are other non-Google tools available for that purpose). And there are plenty of competing services on Android that will let you hook into your home computer from your phone. But this is probably the fastest and easiest way to do so (assuming you're already a Chrome browser user), and it's free.
There are a lot of alternatives to Gmail and the AOSP email app on the Play Store. (Seriously. Go look. It's mind-boggling.) But this one was an iOS favorite before the creators got swallowed up by Dropbox, and it's easy to see why. A clean interface, a readable text presentation, and a unique gesture-based organization system - what's not to like?
Well, a few things, first of all, not everyone is going to love those gesture controls: you'll have to be strangely precise to differentiate between archiving or deleting. And at present, Mailbox only supports Gmail and Apple mail standards - you won't be able to bring in your Pop3 or Exchange accounts. Bummer. At least the app syncs your actions across multiple devices.
The unique features in the app are designed to get you to "inbox zero," and some interesting additions like a procrastinating snooze button extend the app's appeal beyond the minimal interface. It's free with no ads or in-app purchases, so why not give it a shot? It might work better than Gmail, depending on your mail volume and habits.
Fenix for Twitter
You've got plenty of options when it comes to an advanced Twitter app, but since Twitter isn't letting go of its incredibly unreasonable and limiting API policies any time soon, that's actually a healthy thing for the community of power users. Enter Fenix, another entry in the Holo-heavy Twitter category. This app has all the pretty, pretty interface touches and advanced features you've come to expect from similar apps. Hashtag holoyolo.
Plus: Fenix supports multiple simultaneous Twitter accounts. Minus: Fenix does not have a built-in homescreen widget. Plus: Fenix has multiple built-in themes, including a "black" theme specifically designed for AMOLED screens. Minus: the dual-pane view is available on tablets, but not smartphones, no matter how big your phone actually is. Depending on exactly how you use Twitter, it's a gamble as to whether or not the $2.50 asking price is justifiable.
I will say that the "Mute" feature is great for when one of the people you follow goes on an all-night rant. Hear that, Twitter followers? You can use this app to shut me up without unfollowing me.
IFTTT Is a big deal around the virtual offices of Android Police. It's one of the tools that we use to bring you the freshest Android news right after it breaks. If This, Then That has been a favorite of power users for years, and now it's finally available in a tiny mobile package. But for all the shrinking that the creators have done, it's no less powerful or useful.
Basically, IFTTT hooks into almost every major social service and tool on the Internet (the ones with APIs, anyway) and lets you connect them with other services. It can do basic monitoring of standard websites as well. So, for example: if you'd like to monitor Reddit for free Steam game keys and get an email every time one is posted, there's a recipe for that. There's even one for when Android Police posts a new APK. Hint, hint. You can browse a database of thousands of pre-made recipes, or make your own.
All that is pretty darn cool, but the advantage of having an IFTTT app on your device itself is that the service can now hook into all the functions of your personal electronic doohickey, like alarms and notifications. For example, if you miss a call, the IFTTT can tag the number and remind you to call back with an automatic calendar alert. IFTTT is free for the service and the app.
Google Docs/Google Sheets
Android Police coverage: Google Releases Dedicated Docs And Spreadsheet Apps For Android And iOS, Slides App Coming Soon
Good grief, it's just raining Google apps in this roundup! But the next two should be familiar: Docs and Sheets. They're separate, dedicated apps for the Word and Excel equivalents in the Google Docs/Drive suite, which were previously accessible in the all-in-one Docs/Drive and QuickOffice apps. These offline-enabled single apps break things out into a more structured format.
Switching to dedicated apps allows each one to focus on its function, catering the interface and editing UI for the admittedly different tasks of adjusting Word-style documents or complex spreadsheets. A lot of the more complex actions available in the full web apps, such as they are, have made it to the Android translations. Each works offline, so changes made without a connection will sync the next time one is available.
The collaborative tools from Google Docs have made it over, and Google has already committed to releasing a Slides (PowerPoint) version sometime in the future. Of course both of the apps are free.
This app does one thing and one thing only: compares stuff. Well, it's a little more complex than that. The Versus service keeps a database of technical specifications on thousands of consumer products, then allows you to pit them head-to-head to see which is better in every category. It's not all technojargon, either: the app will put the advantages and disadvantages of the various specs in plain English.
The Versus app is a great shopping companion, but it's also got a surprisingly slick UI. High-resolution photos of the products in question will give you a great visual comparison, and the sliding layout makes for easy navigation. If you don't want to delve into a 3000-word review for a dishwasher, graphics card, or Android phone, this a great way to get a handle on things quickly.
Versus doesn't just compare tech. Put in everything from a smartwatch to a vacation destination to a compact car and you'll get a river of data, well-presented. If you often find yourself spending hours comparing various things before spending your money, then this is the app for you.
That's all for April. As always, you can check out our daily coverage for up-to-the-minute app news, or check in every other Monday for our useful roundups with easy links to the Play Store.