It’s hard to imagine that just over a decade ago, Android apps didn’t exist. Now they’re an integral part of many Android users’ daily lives. The Google Play store launched in 2008 with 50 apps. As of this year, it’s grown to a playground of over 2.8 million apps that have changed the way we communicate, travel, watch TV and play games.
In addition to Android apps’ growth, Google has leveled up its smartphone game with the release of the Google Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro. The improved camera specs, battery life and in-house Tensor chip mean already-available apps will perform better. And there’s higher-end technology for future apps, as well.
The Android apps chosen for recognition by CNET staff were introduced in the last year, and either got a major update or went mainstream in a way we hadn’t seen previously. (Two of our picks are also on our list of Best iPhone apps of 2021.) Here are the best Android apps of the year.
TikTok is a social video app that lets you create videos lip-syncing, dancing to songs or creating short videos on something you’re excited about. The app’s popularity surged during the early months of the pandemic in 2020, amassing more than 2 billion downloads globally across the App Store and Google Play. In the first quarter of 2020, TikTok generated 315 million installs — the most downloads for any app ever in a quarter, according to Sensor Tower data.
It should be noted that TikTok has been investigated by the US government for potential security risks and its questionable privacy practices. Most recently, the app had a hearing with the US Senate regarding younger users’ safety. That hearing could lead to additional legislation to protect younger users.
You can download TikTok free in the Play store. It is also available for iOS.
Read more: TikTok: What it is and how to use it to possibly achieve internet fame
Glitch Video Effects
TikTok creators as well as others making videos on their Android phone can take advantage of Glitch Video Effects, which lets you take photos and videos and add more than 100 filters and effects in real time, including Retro VHS, Shadow, Xray and Neon. You can import music from your phone and add it to your videos. You can also import videos from your personal gallery and add filters, change aspect ratios and export high-resolution videos to share across social media like TikTok, Instagram, IGTV, Facebook and Snapchat.
More than 50 million people have downloaded Glitch Video Effects, according to its Play store listing. As of October, more than 600,000 people have rated the app, giving it 4.7 out of 5 stars in the Play store. Glitch Video requires Android 5.0 and up.
You can download Glitch Video Effects from the Play store for $10, or try it free for seven days.
Google’s video game streaming service Stadia lets you play games across phones, laptops, desktops and TV screens. The Stadia app acts as a hub where you can manage your Stadia account, set up your controller, make purchases, review your captures and play games (depending on your phone). While the service itself has seen mixed reviews, more than 25,000 users have rated the app 3.8 out of 5 stars in the Play store.
You can download the Google Stadia app from the Play store free, but games are priced separately, as is the package to connect it to your TV.
Read also: Google Stadia review: Gaming’s streaming future isn’t here yet
Call of Duty: Mobile
Call of Duty: Mobile saw 172 million downloads worldwide in the first two months of its release, according to data from Statista. Nearly 28.5 million of those downloads came from the US. While the mobile version of the popular first-person shooter game had a troubled release from publisher Activision Blizzard, those problems appear to have largely been resolved and didn’t deter people from downloading the game.
Call of Duty: Mobile has more than 14 million reviews in the Play store, and 4.3 out of 5 stars. You can download Call of Duty: Mobile free in the Play store, with optional in-game purchases. It is also available for iOS.
Streaming service Disney Plus has kept up its momentum in 2020, earning the Play Store Users’ Choice App award. The platform has an impressive catalog of movies and TV shows, including Disney classics, as well as Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and the Simpsons. Disney has already made some changes to improve the streaming experience, including adding a resume button.
You can subscribe to Disney Plus for $8 per month or $80 annually. You can also bundle Disney Plus, Hulu with Ads and ESPN Plus for $14 per month, or $20 per month for Hulu without Ads. You can download the app on Android and iOS.
Read more: Disney Plus: Everything to know about Disney’s new streaming service
Google Maps has become one of the most popular apps in the US in terms of audience reach, according to data from Statista. The app sports features like incognito mode, a speedometer, traffic incident reporting and speed trap reporting, making it even more useful (and more competitive with Google’s other navigation app, Waze). And new features are added regularly to help people see when a location is most crowded or a more eco-friendly way to travel.
Read also: Hide where you’re going in Google Maps to keep your navigation history a secret | 5 hidden Google Maps tricks you need to know
Ablo is a communication app that connects you with random people all over the world, and translates your chats and video calls in real time, with the goal of helping you learn about another culture, practice a language or connect with people to travel with worldwide. Ablo may sound like another version of the notorious Chatroulette; however, it sets more ground rules, and offenders get kicked off the app.
Ablo has more than 10 million downloads, according to its Play store listing, and more than 514,000 users have rated it, with an average of 3.9 out of 5 stars. You can download Ablo for free in the Play store.
Originally published last year. Updated periodically with new recommendations.