These are the top 10 apps that rule my phone — and my life

Ara's best apps
Ara's best apps (Image credit: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Apps are essential to the smartphone experience, and if you don't believe me, just ask Microsoft. Unfortunately, while there are millions of Android apps on Google Play, Amazon's App Store, F-Droid, and other stores, you can only install and use so many on your Android phone in a day. As a result, we tend to focus on the best Android apps, but best overall doesn't necessarily mean best for you.

Case in point, while Gmail is a good email service, I personally hate the way it handles notifications and mail categorization. Google Wallpapers is a decent app, but for me, it doesn't hold a candle to Tapet or KLWP. With this in mind, I dug into my usage habits to see which apps are my most-used, most essential apps, and while not everything on my list is mainstream, they're the top 10 apps that I use each and every day, maybe a little too much in the case of our first three entries.

Disney Emoji Blitz: Match three-ing away all my stress

Disney Emoji Blitz on the Pixel 4a

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I'm not proud of it, but this is my hands-down 100% most-used app on every phone I've owned since the game launched. I've been playing it for five years now, I'm finally on Level 500, and I have 321 emoji out of 369, and I see no reason to slow down now. Yes, I know, this little match-three game will never take the crown in best Android games, but it's cute, rounds are quick, and I can slip it into mini-breaks or play it during meetings where I can't trust myself to read anything or else I'll tune out the discussion.

As the Emoji in the name implies, you win character and item emojis through the game and can then use them as stickers throughout Android. Of course, the emoji keyboard DEB uses is outdated garbage, and there's no search, so you better remember exactly where that Trident emoji is hiding, but at least they are usable, and they're fun.

What really draws me back into the game month after month, time after time, is the strategizing around how to best play the events that take place over 2-5 days apiece. For instance, on Clear and Villain events, you essentially nerf yourself through the main event to make the extra-credit "Rainbow Falls" easier for scoring exclusive emoji. Meanwhile, item card events you want to speed through fast as possible so that you can try to replay them for extra loot. Then there's figuring out which emojis work best for certain missions or against certain villains, and it's like a giant Disney puzzle with cute emojis.

Twitter: Staying connected and completely distracted

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Like many in my profession, Twitter is part job requirement and part personal addiction. We scope out leaks, bugs, and service outages through Twitter, as well as reaching out to sources, taking the temperature of current rumors, and finding feedback on changes big and small throughout Android.

I also use it to scope out which Walt Disney World parks are the most crowded, which anime had new episodes today — My Life as a Villainess is back, woohoo — and play crowdsourced Tetris. (Come play with us, I need more people who play the long game rather than just stacking everything and waiting for a straight piece.)

In any event, Twitter is an app I couldn't quit if I tried. If Twitter ever decides to be sensible and have Twitter Blue eliminate ads and give me an edit button — even for just the first five minutes after a tweet — I'd subscribe in a heartbeat. I used to rock third-party Twitter apps like Talon and Fenix, but I've left those to more persnickety users ever since the APIs were limited.

I'm @arawagco, and I'm always down to see Disney memes and bread/roll recipes.

Reddit: Research and rabbit holes to fall down

Reddit for Android

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Speaking of glorious, glorious bread, the sub that turned me from Reddit lurker to actually having an account is r/Breadit. Milk rolls, burger buns, bahn mi, sweet butter rolls, nothing spurs my appetite and desire to kill an afternoon baking like (b)reddit.

Again, this is a place I can lose hours at a time, even if I came in with a legitimate work-related question like "are there really not more Google TV-friendly hubs?" or "who's having issues after that latest update," and somehow fall down a rabbit hole answering other people's Chromebook questions and commenting on the latest r/MarvelStudios fan theories about [REDACTED].

It's glorious and so useful, but Reddit is also full of so much utter crap, too. It's why your subreddit list needs to be carefully curated like a goddamn museum collection, or you just have to accept that you will get lost in places like DogsWithJobs and OldSchoolCool and emerge hours later, disoriented from an awww overdose.

Google Keep: Where I do most of my writing

Google Keep

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

Amazingly enough, I do not do that much writing in Google Docs these days unless I'm working on a review or a best guide with unholy amounts of formatting. After all, the Google Docs app isn't the friendliest in the world when working on your phone, and Google Docs' website lacks a dark theme. Google Keep, however, has both and then some.

I wrote weeks ago that Google Keep is the best Google app you've never heard of, and it's even more useful once you realize that it doesn't count towards your Google One storage limit as Google Docs do.

Keep has a done of little tips and features that help supercharge my workflow while also letting me branch off into to-do lists for the week or personal creative plot bunnies that need out of my head before I can write again.

YouTube Music: If you see me without headphones, RUN

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I wake up in the morning to YouTube Music on my Google Assistant speakers. I spend my work time listening to mixes and playlists of every flavor and funk. When I'm bored, cooking, or cleaning, YouTube Music is my constant companion and mood enhancer, so it's hard to underestimate how much I use this service.

YouTube Music has come a long way since it relaunched in 2018 — heck, it's even come a long way just in the last 18 months — and while there's still much to be accomplished, the app is pretty consistent these days. For example, the new Replay Mix is great for just giving me the bops and earworms that have been stuck in my head all month, and Your Mixtape continues to nail my tastes like a ball-peen hammer. In addition, downloads aren't glitchy as hell anymore, official label availability continues to improve, and gapless playback is consistent.

Yes, Spotify still takes the crown as the best subscription music streamer and best Android music player. So yes, YouTube Music is still playing catch-up on music quality with Apple Music, Amazon Music, and Deezer.

But my library, my personal uploads, and my listening habits are all on YouTube Music, and I love to listen to it on road trips because Google Assistant lets me fast forward exactly to that drum solo that's stuck in my head.

WEBTOON: Nightly escapes and weekend binges

Source: Android Central

I've always been a manga fan, and WEBTOON scratches that itch with tons of great webcomics from around the world. I now subscribe to a dozen series that bring me a nice little hit of serotonin after work is done. Lore Olympus keeps making me swoon with the way both healthy and unhealthy relationships are explored, The Witch and the Bull always has me on the edge of my seat, and The Strongest Florist is just too hilarious or words with its unique twists on MMO and Fantasy tropes.

The best part is that you can enjoy all these stories for free — minus one little square ad at the bottom of each chapter. If you get tired of waiting for that big event a few chapters ahead, you can Fast Pass it in order to support the author and the Webtoon platform. I have four series I'm Fast Passing every week, but if I find a new story, I usually end up Fast Passing to the latest chapter to get a good feel for if I want to stick it out or not.

Smart Launcher: App management and theming, all in one

Smart Launcher 5

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

As I mentioned at the top of this article, I have about 200 apps installed on my phone. Going through them all in any alphabetized drawer is a big, fat pain — even with the Quickbar in Action Launcher or Niagara Launcher. Thankfully, I don't have to scroll through a giant list anymore.

Smart Launcher's tab-based app drawer has set me free!

Smart Launcher's Dock

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

First things first, rather than swipe-based shortcuts from your app icons that can interfere with the general launcher shortcuts and system gestures at times, Smart Launcher uses double-tap shortcuts instead. For instance, if I double-tap Google Keep, I bring up Google Photos instead. Likewise, I can double-tap the folder to launch Slack or single-tap it to bring up my Work & Weather folder. It allows me to double the functionality of my home screen without having to keep swipe gestures from conflicting.

The app drawer automatically adds new apps to the category it thinks is best, and I can create new tabs at will for new or combined categories that better arrange my apps. Ten tabs in my current drawer is probably overkill, but a couple are holdovers from my app collection days when I'd be testing tons of weather, keyboard, and theming apps.

Everyone has their own particular way of arranging their app drawer and home screen, but Smart Launcher allows me to get everything to max productivity, even my theming. Smart Launcher ties in with Icon Pack Studio so that my icon packs can automatically update to color-match my new wallpaper or custom theme. Add it in with KLWP live wallpapers and Smart Launcher + Icon Pack Studio means I can switch between themes in under 30 seconds.

All this adds up to the best Android launcher today.

Google Chrome: Browsing, searching, and window-shopping

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central Predictably, one of my most-viewed Chrome webpages (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

While more and more of you are using alternate web browsers, I'm still using Chrome Browser because, as a dedicated Chromebook user, it makes sense to keep in all in Chrome.

Whether it's opening articles to read on the go, seeking out new recipes to try while I'm home with access to a real kitchen, or just googling an unknown brand to check its quality, Google Chrome is always there, with synced history and all my saved passwords.

Google Meet: Meetings, more meetings, and happy hours

Google Meet is ready for you

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

We have at least one meeting a day, and while I should, technically, theoretically always use my Chromebook so that I can use my USB mic for the best audio quality, sometimes you just want to take a meeting on your phone. Hey, when meetings can run an hour or longer, it's nice to have the convenience of moving from the office to the kitchen and making lunch while you listen.

This goes double for virtual happy hours and going-away parties — there's been too many of those lately 😭 — because as parties go into a second hour or a third, being on your phone lets you get up to stretch, replenish your snacks, and maybe start measuring out ingredients for milk bread. Google Meet even has a rather capable picture-in-picture mode, so you can keep using your phone for playing down Emoji Blitz lives checking sources during a discussion on the finer points of international technological supply chains.

While Meet is going back to the one-hour limit for non-enterprise users, it's still an excellent app, and I wish that Duo would take a few cues from it when it comes to recurring calls and weekly happy hours.

Slack: Because the workday never really ends anymore

Samsung Galaxy A52 5G

Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Ara Wagoner / Android Central)

I love my job, and I love my coworkers, which is why every day starts not with email or Twitter but with Slack to see what I missed during my escape to dreamland. Slack has a very passionate team of developers constantly adding features and refining what's already there. That dedication and stability make me praise my corporate overlords that they let us keep Slack instead of using Microsoft Teams — or, god forbid, Google Chat. (Look, Google Chat is a good Hangouts replacement, but holy crap, this is not a good app for corporate communication.)

Slackmojis are a special point of pride for Slack and for our teams, which have hundreds of in-jokes, party animals (including a PartyBader), and 19 different Baby Yoda emojis alone. These reactions make it a joy to respond to team-wide messages and help foster a sense of camaraderie and playfulness when we discuss the latest news and upcoming device rumors.

What apps do you use most?

I understand that most of you probably wouldn't touch half this list with a 10-foot pole — WEBTOON has a very particular audience, and YouTube Music is a pariah to most — but I love my apps. They keep me peppy, productive, and personable. While there are plenty of alternatives available, which I try from time to time, these are the services I always come back to, even when my battery's at 13% and begging for a charger.

What apps are you addicted to these days? Are you always checking stocks and the crypto exchanges chasing the next bull run? Have you been sucked in by TikTok's unique kind of crazy? Maybe you're a fitness fiend chasing a new best time in your next half-marathon. If you're not sure what your most-used apps are, head to Google Play. In your apps list, you can sort by "Most Used" to get your most-used apps, though keep in mind that it tracks this number by the number of times you open an app, not how long the app stays open each time.

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.

  • My top 10 are:
    Microsoft Launcher
    To-Do (Microsoft)
    Marco Polo
    Duck Duck Go Browser
  • Nova Launcher
    Whatsapp (I hate that I have to use though)
    Hub+ Calendar
    Google Meet/Duo
  • Ah, a Blackberry user? By choice or for work? I know how you feel on Whatsapp, that's how I feel about Telegram.
  • Instead of looking at WhatsApp/Telegram as a negative, look at them as a positive. Before these we had to make do with SMS which was way worse. You can message for free anyone in the world. A godsend when abroad. Privacy concerns aside WhatsApp works incredibly well.
  • I won't produce a tedious list of apps but I will say that lately I've been spending an inordinate amount of time on TikTok. It's fun and all but I dont see it as being a long term thing for me as it's already wearing a bit thin. I also spend a lot of time on Hulu and YouTube. I'll spare you the rest .
  • Yeah, my YouTube hours are not pretty, but I watch on my Google TV, not on my phone, so it didn't make the cut here.
  • My phone is my only TV and my only computer so it sees a lot of use. Dang I forgot my most important app of all, the Kindle app.
  • I found deliberately not creating a TikTok account helped. YouTube I turned off Comment Reply Notifications and it's turned YouTube into an app that's actually nice to be. I used to get so anxious whenever I opened it and had countless reply notifications. Now I don't know when some random replies to a comment I've left. I wish you could do this on Facebook. It's always just some pointless crap that's designed to trigger you.
  • 1.Vivaldi
    7.Youtube Vanced
    8.a work related app
    9.chess by post
    10.Aqua Mail
  • NewPipe
    Samsung Internet
    Photo Studio Pro
    BitTorrent_Pro Not quite ten, but that's my heavy-lifters.
  • MS Teams (Work)
    Feet Inch Calculator
    Google Maps
    Podcast Addict
    MX Player Pro
  • Nova Launcher, anxiously awaiting version 7. Simple Mobile Gallery app, no permissions needed other than being able to write/delete data (which you'd expect, it doesn't go asking for anything else). Pinball arcade (I love pinball). PlayerPro for music (very customizable, but the tag editor can be stubborn at times, have had it for years and know every aspect of it so I just use it). My second most important app, behind Nova, is TruePhone for Android. It's a dialer app and while it can seem daunting to some it offers incredible customization. You can basically build your own dialer from damn near scratch building and tweaking everything. If it offered visual voicemail (I have to carry a second app) it'd be damn near perfect...
  • You can get Nova 7 right now through the Nova Launcher Discord channel.
  • Cool! Thanks for letting me know...
  • and the public beta is in the Play store now.
  • Hi,
    besides the usual suspects, it is really the flashcard app Memorion that changed my life over the last years.
    I have really improved my Spanish vocabulary and learned the basics of Turkish and Nepali with it.
    But I love that I can easily create my own cards, e.g. to remember stuff from work or the names of new colleages, kids of friends, etc.
  • Flash cards apps are great when you're learning another language. España tambien.
  • It's interesting you can usually tell where someone is based on their apps. YouTube Music and Google Meet seem to be North American centric. Whereas it's Spotify and WhatsApp/Teams respectively in Europe. WhatsApp for personal use, Teams for business. -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- I tried YouTube Premium free for 3 months, found YouTube Music's over reliance on youtube videos off putting and Spotify Connect is genuinely impressive. I've never managed to find a use for Twitter. It's endless scrolling feed of tweets causes my OCD to go haywire. You can never seem to read all of them at any given moment. Same for Reddit. Yes it has useful information but so much utter crap too it's just off putting.
  • Spotify and apple music are the big music services in the US with YouTube music in a distant third. As a user of YouTube music, I get why. I got it free when it was still Red with a home device and got hooked on the no ads in videos part. Now I pay for a family account and I use the music because it's part of it.
  • Here's the trick to Reddit: after you make an account, get rid of almost all of the pre-joined communities, then join four or five communities around your hobbies/sports/fandoms. This should hopefully cut down on the amount of crap you see in your feed. Then go to Reddit's feed settings and turn off Autoplay media and maybe Adult content, and you won't have to watch crap videos as you scroll. Adult content will turn off some of the raunchier nonsense, but also any actually fun post that has curse words in it, so it's a double-edged sword.
  • Oh go on then: 1. WhatsApp (Google Messages for SMS but barely gets opened)
    2. Edge *
    3. YouTube
    4. Tinder / Bumble / Hinge
    5. Facebook
    6. Gmail
    7. Google Calendar/Tasks/Reminders
    8. Spotify
    9. Guardian News
    10. VOX News * Wish there was an extension to sync between Edge and Chrome. I use a Chromebook and Surface Pro X (Chrome sucks on Windows on ARM PCs) Launcher: Microsoft Launcher
  • I mean, all four Microsoft Edge software channels are available on Google Play, so you could make Edge your phone browser and have everything synced and happy.
  • 1. Nova Launcher
    2. Discord
    3. Opera browser
    4. Simple gallery
    5. WhatsApp
    6. a suite of editing apps for meme making (Adobe Photoshop, meme generator, sticker maker, background eraser)
    7. A suite of emulator apps for gaming (mupen64, myboy!, Snes9x, epsx, drastic)
    8. ADM
    9. MK explorer file manager
    10. Dark Diary I'm technically cheating by saying "suites of apps" but still...I use these a lot. I have 82 apps installed, there probably won't be more.