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The best free Android apps of 2012 (so far)

by Brad Spirrison

What are the best free Android apps to download right now? Whether you are into news, photo sharing or digital storage, we have some great selections for you. Here are the best free Android apps to download in 2012 (or any other year).

Flipboard (free)

Our favorite iPhone app of 2011 finally and officially arrived to Android in June. The socially curated magazine – which beautifully presents news, photos and status updates shared by your social graph – included YouTube integration as part of its Android launch (Google+ integration arrived a few days earlier). Flipboard is also the best way to read content from third-party publishers on mobile devices, including the New York Times which on June 28 debuted its NYT Everywhere service to subscribers within the app.

Instagram (free)

Instagram’s arrival to Android was a positive development to say the least for the photo-sharing pioneer. Within one week, Instagram attracted more than 5 million downloads. A few days later, the company was acquired by Facebook for what was at the time a 10-figure valuation. The company’s immediate triumph illustrates how apps need to be available for both iOS and Android devices to emerge as a true pop-culture sensations.

Google Drive (free with subscription)

In our two months of using the service, we are finding that Google Drive is a superior and more cost-effective solution for storing and sharing documents than Dropbox. For individuals and organizations that already rely on Google Docs, migrating to Google Drive is a no-brainer. The app works seamlessly across all of our Android devices. Now that the service as of June 28 is available to download to iOS devices, there is not much else standing in the way of market domination.

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Airbnb (free)

Airbnb’s arrival to Android in January, after previously being available online and via iOS devices, was more than just a copy and paste job from one platform to another. The service, a vacation-rental marketplace, for the first time made it possible for property owners and travelers to quickly instant message each other for questions or go over any issues that arise during a stay. There are more than Airbnb 200,000 listings across the world, as well as curated travel recommendations from the likes of Ashton Kutcher and Jack Dorsey.

Chrome (free on Ice Cream Sandwich devices only)

If you use the Chrome desktop browser and own an Android smartphone or tablet powered by Ice Cream Sandwich, owning this app is a no-brainer. The Chrome mobile and desktop apps interact seamlessly with one another, meaning you can access your bookmarks and browsing history on the app. The app also lets you swipe between tabs without ever having to go to the tabs menu. The Chrome app also supports voice search, bookmarking and private browsing. Like Google Drive, Chrome launched on iOS devices on June 28 during Google I/O 2012.