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Best Android apps of 2012

by Brad Spirrison

Our favorite Android apps, that were either released or received significant updates in 2012, are all available free of charge. This year’s list is topped by Instagram, which had the biggest breakthrough on Android, and showcases new and meaningfully updated apps that simply work better than their competitors. In this age of algorithmic aggregation, we also salute titles that have a decidedly human touch.

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. Why include Instagram on this list? Because 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.

Slices for Twitter (Free)

From reading commentary during live news and sporting events, to sharing information about public transportation during Hurricane Sandy, to finding out what your friends are up to this weekend, Twitter in 2012 emerged as a (if not the) primary resource for real-time news and information for mainstream users. With millions of feeds to follow, however, it’s challenging for five-year veterans and newbies alike to keep this vast flow of information organized. While there are many third-party apps that help users categorize who and what they follow on Twitter, Slices is the best one for smartphones right now.

Flipboard (Free)

The worldwide leader in socially curated news had a busy year after being named our favorite iOS app of 2011. Highlights from 2012 include Flipboard’s arrival on Android devices, YouTube, and Google+ integration, as well as a picture-perfect partnership with the New York Times. I’d argue that it’s better to read all the news that’s fit to print via Flipboard than anywhere else.

Songza (Free)

Audio streaming services like Pandora, Slacker and Spotify are changing the ways in which we consume music. Rather than listening to albums or pre-programmed playlists, we now have access to entire “stations” on our computers and mobile devices built around our favorite artists and songs. This year, the Songza app added a human element to this kind of algorithmic-driven music curation with a major update that showcases playlists created for particular moods or times of day. Best of all, even after hundreds of hours of happy listening, I still haven’t heard an ad on the free service.

Viggle (Free)

You no longer need to feel guilty about wasting the day away curled up on the couch watching television. With the Viggle app, you can get compensated from the likes of Amazon.com, Starbucks and the Gap merely for watching and checking in to many of your favorite programs. Viggle uses audio recognition technology similar to what is found in apps like IntoNow and Shazam to do much of the work for you. Just sit back and appreciate that you are getting rewarded for doing absolutely nothing.

Crackle – Movies & TV (Free)

While there were no technological breakthroughs from this Sony-developed video-streaming service in 2012, we salute Crackle for its exclusive programming. In August, Jerry Seinfeld returned to the small screen with his “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” online series that was shown exclusively on Crackle. Netflix and Hulu may be splashier, but neither could show Seinfeld riffing with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner while eating Chicken in the Pot soup and watching Jeopardy.

Stitcher Radio (Free)

Although podcasts don’t have the same pop-culture cachet as apps, the digital audio files are a godsend to talk-radio junkies and anyone who appreciates the spoken word. From past episodes of This American Life and Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me! to comedy programs like The Nerdist and WTF with Marc Maron, to long-form interviews from your favorite sports commentators, there are podcasts that appeal to virtually every interest. The best bet for podcast discovery on Android devices comes from the fifth-generation edition of Stitcher Radio, which rolled out earlier this year.

Highlight (Free)

Highlight, which alerts you when a Facebook friend or individual with similar interests is in your vicinity, was the most successful app of its kind to emerge from South By Southwest in March. Since that time, Highlight has significantly improved with new features that let users send group messages to those nearby and comment on their friends’ profiles. The app’s notification system is also vastly improved.

Pocket (Free)

While many were predicting the demise of Pocket with the arrival of iOS 6 and the ability to read articles offline in Safari, the app remains the best “Read it Later” alternative for all Android devices. Accessing content through the app is a pleasure. Its other features – such as changing text size, sharing through myriad services, and archiving finished content – are simple and intuitive.

Zinio (Free)

Although Zinio first appeared on iOS devices in 2009, the digital magazine application is more recently pioneering how consumers purchase advertised and editorially curated products on touchscreen devices. A partnership with ShopAdvisor lets readers purchase and learn more about products they are interested in without leaving the page they are reading. Zinio has a roster of more than 5,500 publications that can be read seamlessly across any mobile and desktop device worth owning.

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