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17 Android Apps Actually Worth Paying For

Android's poly-manufacturer ecosystem has long since eclipsed iOS as the world's most popular mobile operating system. However, app developers still tend to fare better in the Applesphere—financially speaking. Even though Google Play regularly outshines the App Store in total number of downloads, Apple users are far more willing than their Android counterparts to actually plunk down cash for their apps.

This is not surprising, given what we know about users of each ecosystem. Speaking very broadly, Apple is a premium brand that appeals to users who will spend extra for what they believe (rightly or wrongly) to be a superior experience, while Android is the mass appeal brand for those who are fine with the basics (at least for lower-end models).

To put it another way: iOS is Nirvana to Android's Candlebox; Quentin Tarantino to Guy Ritchie; or perhaps even 1980s Apple to 1980s Windows.

My fellow Android users, it's unfortunate that you're not buying apps. Your hesitance is one reason iOS users get the cool apps first. The Android app developer community is now growing by leaps and bounds, but that is based on the sheer number of Android users out there. Just imagine how dynamic our shared ecosystem would be if there was a correlating financial incentive!

It's not like apps are that expensive—very rarely do they go north of the $5 mark. And consider that these apps are, in many cases, so much more useful than the software of the PC era that would regularly cost $40 and $50.

Really, when you think about it, apps—truly worthwhile apps—are some of the best bargains available.

The alternative is barf-inducing mobile ads or sly freemium models that prey on the ignorant. Everybody wins when you are willing to shell out a little for the apps you use every day. Here we present 16 apps available for download in Google Play that are completely worth the tiny cost of entry.

(If you're an iOS fan who's on the fence about buying apps, check out this list.)

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  • 1

    Pocket Casts

    ($3.99)
    Do you commute, do household chores, or travel? Even if you do none of these things, you should still make the time to stuff some podcasts in your earholes. Podcasting is a wonderful medium that is finally maturing and having a cultural moment. Unfortunately, most podcasting software is lacking—either in functionality or design. Pocket Casts is one of the few pod apps that feels fully realized.

    The app features a stylish, flat design and is extremely intuitive to use, making it easy to discover, organize, and sync your podcasts across various devices. Pocket Casts will automatically download the latest episode of your favorites as soon as they are available, or you can download various episodes a la carte. If you spend any time with podcasts, do yourself a favor and download this friendly and well-designed app.

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  • 2

    PinOut

    (Free to Download; $2.99 to Upgrade)
    The phrase "mobile pinball game" might not automatically inspire excitement, but the luminescent infinite-pinball game PinOut might just change your mind.

    How is a pinball game "infinite"? You can control the left and right flippers throughout the ever-expanding board, which you use to propel your ball further along before time runs out. Hidden among the various obstacles are hidden mini-games consisting of blocky 8-bit interfaces (how very old-school pinball!) that allow you to collect extra time.

    It's free to download, but I recommend unlocking the game via a $3 in-game purchase. This will allow you to save your progress at various checkpoints. My only beef with this game is that I wish there were more levels. I want more!

  • 3

    Runtastic PRO

    ($4.99)
    When you run, your companion for all those hours is likely your gadget of choice. So, why not invest in the best companion. Runtastic Pro quantifies and enhances your workout by tracking your preferred statistics, using GPS to map your route, and even an audio coach to push you based on your personal preferences. If $4.99 of commitment is too much for you, there is a free version with ads and limited functionality.

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  • 4

    Monument Valley

    ($3.99)
    There are lots of free games available in Google Play. You can spend hours on end engrossed in a well-designed mobile game. So, why wouldn't you throw a few bucks at a talented developer? Otherwise, you'll be bombarded by ads or bombarded with requests to "upgrade."

    One of those games we think is worthy of a buck is Monument Valley. The heralded puzzle game will keep you entertained for hours, days, and weeks in a beautiful and imaginative dream world.

    Note: Monument Valley 2 launched for iOS earlier this year, but it's not yet available for Android. You can find similarly surreal puzzle-gameplay action on Google Play in the form of Samorost 3 for $4.99

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  • 5

    Swype Keyboard

    ($0.99)
    For all the benefits the touch screen allows, it has not been able to improve upon the old reliable physical keyboard—but that doesn't mean we shouldn't strive for greatness (you know, if we want to remain periphery free). Our Editors' Choice for virtual keyboards is Swype. It's highly customizable and offers benefits like voice dictation and handwriting recognition.

    And the best part is that it learns as you write, so it gets better over time. If 99 pennies is too much for you, a good free alternative is SwiftKey, but you will have to pay for extra themes and features.

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  • 6

    Tasker

    ($2.99)
    Your smartphone is a powerful device that fits in your pocket. Unfortunately, you are limited by what Google and your phone's manufacturer will allow you to do—unless you are willing to invest the time in rooting and coding your device. That's where an app like Tasker comes in.

    Tasker allows you to extend your phone's customization—no coding required. It gives you the ability to specify what types of alerts (e.g. vibrations, Notify LED, pop-ups, sounds) any individual digital action will cause. It makes it a lot easier to sort through your computer's files (including zip/unzip capabilities), and a whole lot more. If you want to get more smart out of your phone, this is the app for you.

  • 7

    Star Walk

    ($2.99)
    This augmented reality app will use your device to present an overlay on the sky with information on all the bodies that you see—all updated as you move your device in real time. You don't even have to be outside, it can give you a view of the sky based on your location. Wouldn't you pay $2.99 for the solar system?

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  • 8

    Wolfram Alpha

    ($2.99)
    Wolfram Alpha is kinda like Google, but centered around data and math. While Google will help you find the best website to tell you about the seafood cuisine of Portugal, Wolfram Alpha will generate a graph comparing the seafood consumption of Portuguese versus that of Americans, categorized by different type of fish. And now that power is available in handy app form! While this official Wolfram Alpha app will be a welcome tool to anyone who works in STEM, there's a lot of cool stuff you can do with it, some which don't even require an advanced degree in mathematics.

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  • 9

    TuneIn Radio Pro

    ($9.99)
    TuneIn boasts a collection of over 100,000 AM and FM radio stations streaming from around the globe, right to your phone or tablet for free. You can even record audio directly to your device and play it back later. It's like a global radio DVR. How have you not bought this yet?

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  • 10

    Spotify Premium

    (Free to download; $9.99 / month for premium)
    There are a several streaming video services out there, which are quite good and I would personally recommend—but only to send to the Big Screen in your living room. It's a waste to watch movies and shows on a tiny screen, IMHO. However, when it comes to streaming some tunes, any capable connected device (paired with a good pair of headphones) will bring the magic!
    Spotify is a cool cloud-based music streaming service that replaces the need to keep local or physical copies of the music you love. There is an available free tier, but you'll have to contend with the occasional audio (or video) ad and only have the ability to shuffle through albums or playlists (on a phone, at least—the tablet app has the same a la carte functionality as the Web app).
    If you consider yourself a true music fan, it may be worth it to you to upgrade to Spotify Premium for $9.99 month. The Premium tier nixes the ads, gives you a la carte music-on-demand, allows you to download songs for offline listening, and gives you unlimited skips when shuffling around. In effect, you are paying to enhance your life with (just about) all the world's music. If you value the role that music plays in your life, then definitely consider an upgrade. %displayPrice% at %seller%

  • 11

    Bitdefender on Android

    (Free to download; $14.95/year/device after 4-day trial)
    As buggy and frightening as the Android ecosystem can be, you would be wise to spend a little extra for our Editors' Choice for Android mobile security. You can download the Bitdefender app for free to test drive it for four days, but then you will have to pay the $15 fee for a year's worth of coverage (or $1.49 per month) to continue.

  • 12

    Norton Family Parental Control

    (Free to download, $49.99 / year to subscribe)
    The world is a scary place for kids (and that includes the virtual world as well). Thankfully there are tools like Norton Family Premier (the app is called Norton Family Parental Control), which can make it a little less scary.

    For $49.99 per year, the service gives parents to power to monitor (and even block/prohibit) their kids' online activities—everything from websites to texting/calling to social media and other in-app activities (including the ability to block access to certain apps altogether).

    That fee includes unlimited device support, so it can cover a whole family. The service even has an IRL feature called "location supervision," which allows parents to track their child's physical location (or at least their child's device) from anywhere.

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  • 13

    NordVPN

    (Free to download, with various plan options)
    An antivirus program isn't the only thing you need to protect yourself online. You should also consider a mobile VPN to stop make it harder for nefarious actors to eavesdrop on your communications or track your behavior.

    And yes, you are being watched. That's not delusional—while the NSA most likely doesn't care what nonsense you are up to, online marketers and unseen bots are watching your behavior in order to micro-target ads and other corporate messaging. A VPN helps make you invisible online by masking your device's IP address.

    There are some faster VPNs out there, but for people who want basic functionality with an easy-to-use interface, NordVPN is a good choice. You can mask up to six simultaneous devices (it works across multiple platforms) when accessing the web.

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  • 14

    LastPass

    (Free to download; $12/year after 14-day trial)
    You're asking for trouble if you don't have unique and hard-to-guess passwords for each of your online accounts. You are aware of this very basic tenet of online protection, correct? Good! Because you don't want to be one of those idiots who gets all their online accounts accessed when one is inevitably compromised.

    But keeping all those long passwords in order can get unwieldy real fast—especially when inputting them on a mobile device. That's why a service like LastPass comes in handy—it can securely save and create hard-to-guess passwords for all your accounts. Previously, you had to have a Premium account to have your passwords saved across all your mobile devices, but as of November, LastPass will let people use the service on all their internet-enabled mobile and desktop devices for free.

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  • 15

    Pudding Monsters Premium

    ($0.99)
    You definitely don't want your kids subjected to some mobile ad algorithm. So for a fun simple puzzle game like Puzzle Monsters, why not get rid of those annoying ads (in fact, video ads) for just a buck? Advertisers will have enough opportunities to get at them in other ways.

  • 16

    Weather Timeline Forecast

    ($1.49)
    There are lots of weather apps out there. In fact, there are lots of free weather apps out there. So, why pay for one? It comes down to stepping up your digital environment.

    Your weather app will undoubtedly be one of the pieces of mobile software you access the most, so it's well worth it to shell out a little bit extra for a smooth, sexy (ad-free) design. And what the matter-of-factly dubbed "Weather Timeline-Forecast" lacks in branding, it makes up for in minimalist, easy-to-navigate aesthetics. In addition to the design, I've also found that this app is far more accurate than any of the cheap-o weather apps I've used in the past.

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  • 17

    Small World 2

    ($4.99)
    This used to be $6.99, but even at that price, it was a bargain when you consider that the popular board game it's based on costs $50. Currently $4.99, this game allows you to wage multi-civilization, multi-generational fantasy warfare against friends in table-top battle or online (or you could just play solo against the game itself). Here's a chance to vent all that pent-up Game of Thrones energy!

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