I may write a lot about phones for a living but I’m surprisingly low-key when it comes to using a lot of different apps. Rather I have a core suite of apps that I have on a clutch of phones, including some of the best Android phones as well as my iPhone 13 Pro.
My focus with smartphones tends to be on their native features — say display settings or camera modes — rather than use them as a platform for a vast amount of different apps. With that in mind, the following apps are very much my essential apps, and the first things I’ll install or pop on a home screen when setting up a new smartphone.
1. Google Maps
This is probably the most obvious app to anyone, but while it’s native to pretty much every Android phone, Google Maps is the first app I’ll install on a new iOS device. Apple Maps has come a long way over the past few years and is a perfectly decent service. But Google Maps has yet to let me down and I feel it’s the superior mapping service.
The killer feature of Google Maps for me is one that I reckon the more privacy-conscious won’t like: the timeline. Providing you let Google Maps do so, the timeline tracks where you’ve been pretty much since the feature was enabled on the app.
As someone who walks around the winding streets of London a lot, I find this feature brilliant at letting me recall where I’ve been during my absent-minded wandering, particularly as the timeline syncs across multiple devices. And it’s very useful for figuring out where I may have been the morning after a drinks-heavy evening.
2. Google Drive
I hate wasted time when commuting, so having Google Drive and its associated apps of Docs, Sheets, Keep and more is a great way to be productive while on the move. Not only can I access shared files and documents while I'm on a train, but Google storage and productivity apps work rather nicely on smartphones even when they are offline.
I’ve often tapped out a quick opinion article or chewed over a presentation while cramped on the infamous London Underground's Central Line, thanks to Google Drive and Docs. Then, when I get a solid internet connection, everything syncs up and I can continue work on my laptop when I’m in the office.
Granted, this isn’t the most exciting app, but it’s such a boon to my work life, and given it crosses Android, iOS, macOS and Windows Google Drive it's absolutely essential for me.
Speaking of commuting, Spotify is my go-to app for music on the move, not least of all because it lets me download a load of albums and playlists. Granted, a lot of streaming-centric music services now let you download tracks. But familiarity with Spotify, as well as its vast range of music, makes it my music app of choice.
I appreciate Spotify may have lost a bit of positive sentiment recently, but its appeal to me hinges on its rather impressive music recommendation algorithm and how easy it is to use with all manner of smart speakers and services. It’s trivially simple to pipe music to my Sonos One and then flip it my Google Nest Hub.
The cross-platform nature of Spotify is also excellent, meaning I can use it on a huge range of devices that the likes of Apple Music won’t play ball with. And new-ish features like the addition of lyrics and a karaoke mode sprinkle icing on the Spotify cake.
Sticking with great commuting apps, Amazon’s Kindle app is fantastic for the times when I don't have to pen an article on the move. Not only does Kindle provide a bounty of eBooks it also has magazines, allowing me to subscribe to our sister publication PC Gamer.
While the Kindle app isn’t perfect and can be a bit fussy on serving up navigation options depends on where I tap the app, its cross-device syncing and the ability to switch magazines into a simple text view works really well. There’s also Audible integration, which I’ve not really tried. But the way the Kindle works just as well on my iPhone 13 Pro as it does on my Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 makes it a no-brainer if you’re after an eBook app.
I’m a greedy food guy, so I love food delivery apps. And my service of choice is Deliveroo. While not one for U.S. readers, Deliveroo is excellent for those living in London.
Not only is there a huge amount of restaurants on Deliveroo, it’s also really easy to find good food, from local pizza takeout to gourmet burgers and Thai food. And during the coronavirus pandemic lockdowns, Deliveroo came into its own, letting restaurants survive by offering delivery and keeping foodies like myself sane and overweight with a bounty of meals.
There’s no shortage of food delivery apps, but Deliveroo stands out for me thanks to its neat user interface, the option for Amazon Prime members to get the premium Deliveroo Plus service for free, and real-time tracking of orders. The only caveat is it’s so easy to use that I’ve spent a small fortune on deliveries over the past two years and have a much larger waistline.
Otter is very much a tool for journalists, but the AI-powered recording and transcription service is also a boon for anyone who needs to take notes in meetings, interviews or lectures. It’s free and easy to use, and provided you’re in a place where it’s not too noisy, you can get pretty accurate transcriptions of interviews or keynote speeches — no need to bash out notes at breakneck speed.
The smart app isn’t perfect, and can struggle with heavily accented English. But otherwise it’s a brilliant transcription tool, and one I’d say is an utterly essential app for journalists.
Maybe I’m revealing too much about myself here, but as someone who’s not in a relationship, I’m a big user of dating apps. Such is the way to meet people in the big city these days. And I reckon Hinge is one of the best dating apps.
I really like its clean interface and design. Hinge does a good job at making profile photos look decent without overworking them. And it has some good conversation prompts and preference options, while not pestering you to pay for premium features all the time.
Hinge is still at the mercy of standard dating app practices where it can be a bit of a numbers game, with conversations petering out or likes leading to nowhere. But my experience with it has led to some good (ahem) dating moments, making it one of the apps I’m most likely to download after those listed above.