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New Android device for the Holidays? Download these apps first!

by Kristen Nicole

You must’ve been awfully good this year for Santa to leave a shiny new Android device under your tree. Now it’s time to add some apps! Android has hundreds of thousands to choose from, many of which are free. Where to begin? Here’s a short list of apps that will add a personal touch to your Android, because you, and your device, are one of a kind.

GO Launcher EX (Free)

One of the greatest things about your new Android is the fact that you can customize it to your heart’s content. While the iPhone home screen is pretty standard (unless jail-broken), Android devices are powered by an open source operating system that leaves plenty of opportunity to play around. A great app to whet your appetite for custom home screens is GO Launcher EX, which replaces your Android home screen with thousands of new options. You can choose from a number of themes, add custom gestures and several widgets for weather, your calendar, and more. The app has animation and effect capabilities you can add to your screen, useful management features for sorting, hiding, searching and cleaning apps, and icon resizing.

SwiftKey 3 ($1.99)

On the iPhone, you’re pretty much stuck with the stock keyboard. The Android, however, supports dozens of custom keyboards that make your mobile communication much more efficient. SwiftKey 3 is a personal favorite, with top-notch predictive text, including the words you’re likely to type next. The keyboard learns your words, phrases, and typing patterns to understand your individual interactions and better correct your spelling and grammatical errors. The premium keyboard also comes with multiple themes, and updated interface and support for 40+ languages (SwiftKey can support 3 languages at once). Customizable for Gmail, Facebook and Twitter.

Instagram (Free)

Why include Instagram on this list? Because I can. Instagram was the darling of the iPhone, where it became wildly popular. But the photo-sharing app didn’t start breaking records until it opened up to the Android community, where it gained millions of new users and hundreds of millions of new filter-fab photos. Instagram is known for its filters, of course, which add a retro feel to any photo. Don’t forget to geo-tag and hashtag your photos, to make them easier to share and discover with other Instagram users around the world.

Google Search (Free)

While iPhone users have Siri, you have Google Search. It’s the easiest way to find apps, contacts and everything else stored on your Android device, as well as search the web. And for Android 4.1 Jelly Bean users, Google Search comes with the new Google Now service, delivering the right information at “just the right time.” It’s like the precogs in Minority Report, anticipating your every need. Google Now makes recommendations based on your regular activity and other Google account interactions, such as search, daily commute and more. So Google Now will give you the weather before you start the day, how much traffic to expect before you leave the house, and your favorite team’s score while they’re playing. Your Google Now message Cards appear throughout the day right when you need them most.

Flipboard (Free)

Mobile devices have revolutionized the way we communicate, take in information and follow the daily news. We’ve become social in new ways, and that’s a good thing. Take in your social and official news sources in one beautifully designed app with Flipboard, turning your Facebook, Twitter, New York Times and other feeds into a digital magazine. With Flipboard you can read the news the way you want it, navigating by publication, topic or trend. Highly customizable and ever-evolving, Flipboard’s recent debut on Android makes it a worthy app for newbies to check out.

Beautiful Widgets ($2.49)

Another thing that sets your Android device apart from an iOS gadget is the ability to add widgets to your home screen. Widgets are great because they deliver the perfect mix of function and convenience, condensing the app experience quite nicely. You can even make your own custom widgets with an app called Beautiful Widgets, adding some personality to your clocks, weather displays and more. Pick your theme, layout, color combo and type of widget. You can even make multiple widgets to scatter across your many home screens. And be sure to check other apps that come with widgets, such as Evernote, Pulse News, Shazam and many more.

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