Apps are becoming the glue that connects all of our mobile experiences together. Messaging apps, productivity tools, and mapping utilities come together to make our Android-powered computers worth using. It's really hard to choose a favorite, but we'll try.
Andrew Martonik — Pocket Casts
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I listen to a lot of podcasts, and I switch devices far more often than is probably advisable, and that's why Pocket Casts has been my favorite app of the year. Not only is the app itself sleek, powerful and easy to use, but its cross-device syncing is a total lifesaver.
I use Pocket Casts every single day across various phones, tablets, computers and Google Cast devices, and everything always syncs and works just as you expect. It's a critical part of my daily routine and one of the apps I always have to have on my devices.
Daniel Bader — NBA
NBA isn't a new app, but in 2016, for the beginning of the new basketball season, it got a serious overhaul, and my goodness is it fantastic. With a League Pass you can watch nearly every game while delving into stats, news, and video clips.
That's all good, but what's really great is the live game-watching experience: multiple feeds, player-specific camera angles and, new for this year, a mobile-friendly feed for nearly every game that zooms in on the action so you can get more of it while watching on a phone or tablet. Great stuff, and a must-have for any NBA fan.
Russell Holly — Vysor
Vysor is, more often than not, the first app I install on a phone nowadays. It saves me from physically jumping between multiple phones when I'm testing features or taking screenshots, and it always works.
Alex Dobie — Google Photos
Google Photos ranks as not only my favorite app of the past year, but one of my most-used on whatever happens to be my current phone. It's ensured the mess of pics I end up taking on Android devices, regular cameras — and even the occasional iOS device — are all sorted and together in one place. On phones with minimal internal storage (cough32GBPixelcough) it's a great way to make sure your photos don't eat up too much space, with built-in cloud backup.
Most of all, the best thing about Photos is how easily (and intelligently) it lets you sort through that mess of images, automatically grouping similar faces and intelligently recognizing scenes, locations and objects. (And, thanks to the same AI magic, being smart enough to tell a hamburger from a plain old sandwich.) Throw in occasional gifts like animated GIFs and auto-panoramas from the "Assistant" tab, and you've got one hell of an app.
Florence Ion — Allo
Give Allo a chance, won't you? I still think it's one of the most compelling app releases of the year, even if it's not very popular, to say the least. Adding text message integration would be a step in the right direction, but until then, I'll keep using Allo to chat exclusively with my husband. It's the one app that lets us both use Google Assistant at the same time and I'm looking forward to how that evolves and manifests when Conversation Actions come into play.
Marc Lagace — Duo
The arrival of Google's video calling app Duo came at a time when I was already looking to reconnect with some friends and family living far away. I recommended we skip Skype and try out Duo, and was instantly impressed with how easy and smooth the experience was.
Duo is 1-on-1 video calling done right. Not only is it simple enough for even the most tech-illiterate family members to use, but thanks to Google developing Duo for both Android and iOS devices, there's no platform lock-in to worry about. I like the "knock knock" function that lets you see who's calling you before you accept, and I've found it to be equally reliable whether I'm at home on Wi-Fi or out and about using data. The lack of a desktop version doesn't phase me at all, since I always have my phone on me anyways.
Duo is just downright simple and fun to use, and definitely my go-to voice calling app from now on.
Jen Karner — Ebates
In the last year I've moved from making most of my purchases at brick and mortar locations, to buying most of the things I need online. Between dozens of different stores, I can always find what I'm looking for, but I try to save money wherever I can.
That's where Ebates comes in. By using the app before I check out at a specific store, I can make myself a little bit of money while buying the things I need to get through each day. Different stores have different deals, but in general I can get at least 1% cashback on my purchases, paid out 4 times over the course of the year. For folks who want to pinch pennies, or are on a tight budget, this is a great way to make back some of the money you have to spend on necessities.
Ara Wagoner — Google Play Music
I'm the girl with the headphones, and more often than not, those headphones are pumping Google Play Music into my soundholes. Does Google Play Music need a total overhaul? Absolutely, and we might be seeing the beginnings of it in recent updates. Does Google Play Music need to abolish the ridiculous deauthorization limit that punishes phone-hoppers, klutzes, and technology reviewers? You bet your sweet music it does! Does it need a dark theme? HELL YEAH!
Is it still my favorite and most-used app? Yep, and I'm gonna keep poking the Feedback button with a stick to show my love and help make the app better. (pokes) But seriously, give me back a freaking dark theme for my midnight dance sessions.
Jerry Hildenbrand — Allo
I originally only installed Allo so I could play with Assistant. But once I got my family to install it, I've found it's a nice way to talk to the wife and kids. It has the same features that you'll find in other apps, but it's really easy to use and Assistant can be pretty handy for things like directions or "Googling" stuff. For people who don't want to dive into Hangouts and all its settings, Allo is pretty slick.
Harish Jonnalagadda — WhatsApp
I use WhatsApp extensively. So does my family. And most of my countrymen. The Facebook-owned messaging app is ubiquitous in India, and over the course of the year, it has picked up a lot of new features, notably end-to-end encryption. There's now a desktop client as well, and WhatsApp now offers voice and video calls, effectively going from a messaging app to an all-in-one communications platform. I tried getting my family to install Duo for video calls, but that fight was lost once WhatsApp picked up the feature.
What are your favorite apps of 2016? Let us know in the comments and we'll feature them in a future post!
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Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central.