Thursday, 12 December 2013

How many paid Android apps do you really need?

Last night in my favourite bar I found myself in the middle of a booze-fueled Android-versus-Apple discussion with the drinks spilling over paid versus free apps. I'd rather talk about girls and cars and football instead, but filling a blog with reviews of free apps attracts a certain type of feedback...

- Eve:
Apple rocks, the snake said so. Us iGadget disciples spend way much more money on bits and bites and therefore get better more kool apps. Duh!
Fair point.

- Andy:
Droidheads are better off, 'cos there's so much free competition in the Play Store that you can spend more money on beer instead of apps. Cheers!
Fairer point.

So which Android apps are really worth their my money due to lack of free competition? I scrolled through the 150 or so apps in my drawer to add up the score. The list below is based on the assumption that you've rooted your Android phones and tablets and run AdAway or another Android equivalent of AdBlock, just like you do in Chrome and Firefox. Because you know that the NSA taps into Google's ad servers too, don't you?

I expected to find more paid apps on my Android toys, but the list is really quite short. Yes, it surprised me too. Androids free ecosystem is really really really good.

The usual disclaimers apply. If you're into games, free may not get you the playground street cred you need. Your mileage may vary, etc. Now here's the list.


Free navigation apps are a dime a dozen, but those that need a permanent online lifeline to grab maps and calculate routes get really expensive once you cross the border into Terra Data Roaming. I often find myself driving in places where the roaming rates are even higher than Winston Rodney on a bag of dutch weed, and all those free offline navigation apps that rely on patchy OpenStreetMap data just don't cut it once you roll off the beaten track. Sure, Navigon costs a fortune, but since I use it for business trips too I made my job pay for it.

PlayerPro (or PowerAmp, same difference)

Pulling in lyrics, an on-the-fly Play Queue, and a library browser that lets you thumb through your mp3 tags and your folders should be a standard feature of every music player, but most music apps out there are terrible. There's a Play Store full of free music players, but they all fail to deliver something or other.


Plenty of backup apps out there that back up your apps and your app data. But when you change your ROMs as often as your underwear, batch restore becomes a basic necessity of life. That doesn't come for free yet.

Holo Launcher (or Nova, Apex, ...)

The only free launcher that doesn't make you pay for dock icon swipes is GO Launcher EX, but you need to use a really old version if you don't want a bloated shopping mall disguised as a launcher. If you're looking for a launcher that doesn't try to sell you icon packs at every tap, forking out a euro or two is the better option.


Sure, some free keyboards let you swype your texts too, but apps like MultiLing and TouchPal don't get your words right as often as the app with the trademark that turned as generic as coke and aspirin.

And that's it on my phones and tablets. Only a handful of paid apps managed to outperform the freeware. Root Explorer and Pocket Informant would have made it to this list many years ago, but ever since every file manager does root and cloud for free and Business Calendar has custom reminder times there are even less apps for Google to take a 30% cut from. Say what? You're missing WhatsApp in the lineup? I'd pay if WhatsApp wants my money, but so far they always extended my free trial everytime it was about to expire.

Not counting my employer-sponsored navigation app and the voluntary donations I PayPalled out just because I liked the devs (more than I ever paid in the Play Store), my Android gadgets hold a grand total of €15 on commercial Android apps. That's less than half my monthly phone bill. For each and every other paid app I ever considered buying I found a free competitor that did the job just as well or even better. If Android developers want my money they need to code something really unique that you can't find in any free app. And no, ads don't count. It's a tough job, but competing against free was never meant to be easy.

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