Ara's favorite Android apps of 2014

It's been a big year for me. I got a job at a TV station, I started writing on Google+, I got noticed and hired by Phil, and I've been cutting my teeth here writing about Tasker, social media, and Google.

A year ago, I thought Chromebooks were a joke, and now it's my second favorite computer — after my Moto X, of course — so it's safe to say a lot's changed for me tech-wise over the course of the year. Nowhere is this more true than in my favorite apps for the year, which have expanded the ways I use my phone and the aspects I appreciate.

And here they are.

Moto — The little things that make my phone AWESOME

Hello Moto!

The Moto App combines most of the features I love about the Moto X — Moto Assist, Moto Voice, Moto Display, and Moto Actions, which I love far more than I thought I would — into one easy-to-find and easy-to-use place. But more importantly, due to the way that these features are implemented, it's an app that I'm not seeking out much, since for the most part it just works.

The Moto App is also one of the things I sorely underestimated about this device. When the Moto X 2014 was announced, I thought the inclusion of the IR sensors just made the white face look like a pimply teenager, but Moto Actions is one of my favorite additions to the Moto X, right after being able to pick your own phrase in Moto Voice, which is ironically the feature I underestimated on last year's model. Touchless Controls were kind of cool, but they didn't seem to be capable of very much beyond Google searches and placing phone calls in the car. Moto Voice is now something I use everyday, but I'll admit, Moto had a bit of help with that...

  • Download (Moto devices only): Moto (Free)

AutoApps — Making Tasker do everything

That little grey box opens up entire worlds of possibility...

AutoApps — actually AutoVoice — is why I actually use Moto Voice. It's how I was able to get so confident talking to my phone before I got a Moto 360 and started talking into my wrist, Dick Tracy-style. AutoVoice is one of the the AutoApps that Joao Dias has tirelessly developed to help make Tasker better and better for us users. AutoVoice can take the commands that Moto Voice sends to Google Now and act upon them. My phone can be locked, in my pocket, and it'll still respond to these commands. That may not be entirely secure, but it is entirely awesome.

Another way Moto features and AutoApps come together is when I'm driving. AutoNotification can intercept the notification that Moto Assist spits out when Driving is activated and trigger a more full-featured Driving mode, allowing me the energy-efficient mode detection that Motorola has developed but the powerful options of Tasker once that mode kicks in.

I'm still feeling out the other services in AutoApps, especially AutoCast and the rest of AutoInput, but so long as I can turn to the Google+ communities around AutoApps — and the developer himself, when I get really stumped — I know there's tons of fun things I'll be doing with it for years to come.

TouchPal — My keyboard brings all the emoji to the post

Clickety clack

In my house, anyone who uses one word when they could have used 10 just isn't trying hard.

I'm a prolific girl. I've been known to post comments double the length of the original post, or even triple if I get really wordy. And when you're in the middle of a debate, you don't have time for a lot of missed keys, and you have even less time for deleting phrases when you think of better ones. That's where TouchPal comes in. One of my favorite TouchPal features is their backspace, a simple swipe from which can delete the previous word.

One of my other favorite parts of TouchPal actually just vanished in the last few weeks as TouchPal has undergone a major design change. See, up until the beginning of December, emoji were accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the keyboard. This was a quick, fluid gesture that made emoji to insert, especially once they allowed you to ditch the tepid 'classic' set for 'system'.

They replaced this sliding gesture with an emoji toggle in prediction bar, and we're still debating it in the TouchPal Google+ community. The G+ community for TouchPal is actually where we're still debating a lot of things, from both the new design and in general. The addition of system emoji was something we beta testers fought over for weeks.

  • Download: TouchPal (Free, in-app purchases)

Google+ — Part news, part social, part work, part fandom, all fun

Plus one. Plus everyone.

Google+ is an app that I spend a lot of time in, so much so that when you hit the home button on my home screen it takes you into Google+. I started posting my articles in Google+, and that's where they were found by Phil and the others. Google+ is also a huge asset for me, as a way to reach developers (like Joao Dias and Valiant Pixels and other users alike. The communities on Google+, be they beta communities or device communities or other hobby/fandom communities — The Art of Bread and Supernatural are two I can't seem to stay away from — make Google+ a social network that anyone can enjoy, even if you don't know a single person there.

Granted, the Google+ app is far from perfect. If you're in it for a sizable amount of time, you end up doing a lot of scrolling since there's no easy buttons back to the top or back to where you left off, though there is in the desktop version. I personally wish they'd adapt the two-finger drag method from Carbon for Twitter and a dark mode — but to be fair, I wish every app had a dark mode.

Nova Launcher

Holiday theme achieved!

Nova Launcher may seem like fairly standard fare when it comes to Android customization, but nevertheless Nova is surprising me with each update and feature I start using. In particular, I've noticed that since upgrading to the 2014 Moto X, gesture controls have been far more consistent on the larger screen, especially the two-finger pulls, which I use to control connections to my bedroom's bluetooth adapter.

Nova's proven itself as a worthy investment this year, bringing a taste of Lollipop users before even some Nexus devices had received their updates. Nova's continued expansions have made it the best quarter I ever spent — I paid for Prime back during the 25-cent sale Google put on in 2012, and I look forward to seeing how my personal layout continues to evolve with my continued experiences here at Android Central.

  • Download: Nova (Free, separate app purchase for Prime features)

Hulu — For the love of time-shifting and binge-watching

This show is awesome. Watch it.

Netflix may have the most subscribers, but as someone who works during primetime, Hulu has my money and business because I would never catch up on my shows without it. While Netflix may have cornered the market on movies, and even legacy TV shows (or at older seasons of current TV shows), if you want to watch something current, you can either spend all your time traipsing around the internet to find shows on their own individual sites, or you can find (most of) them all on Hulu — with better playback controls and Chromecast functionality to boot.

Hulu was one of the first apps to add Chromecast capability after the initial launch, and while most of the time you need a Hulu Plus subscription — which I've gladly done for years — right now certain shows are free for American Android users to watch as well during the holidays.

  • Download: Hulu (Free app, $7.99 per month for service subscription)

I'm looking forward to trying new apps and seeing how these apps progress. Above all, my one hope for apps remains the same as ever: I wish every app could have a dark theme available. And if there was only one app I could force a dark theme on, it'd be my most-used app: Google Play Music, which was only kept off the list because of the bugs and scandals the service has had in previous months.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.