The strict review guidelines followed in the Apple iOS App Store, in spite of all the flak it gets for being too strict or whimsical at times, ensures a certain quality for applications that get on the market. The Android Market’s open nature tends to work against it in some aspects, not the last of which is eye-candy. For those yearning for good, usable and contemporary UI design, trying to find the right applications in the Android Market can be quite a horrifying encounter.
Let us save you that hassle then. Presented here are 40+ Android applications that boast some of the best user interfaces and icons. Although most of these applications score high on usability and utility, those are not the primary criteria for selection in this list. What we were looking for — and hopefully succeeded in selecting — were applications that offer gorgeous interfaces and equally suitable icons.
Before we begin
Note that games have been left out of the list on purpose. They can be a category for themselves and it’s not fair to have the graphics might of game developers compete with regular applications that don’t necessarily rely on cutting edge visuals to get the job done. Also, the screenshots don’t always do justice to how good an application looks. The best validation would be to try one out yourself.
Google surprised everyone last month with an application no one was really expecting from them. Androidify lets you create your own personal Android and use it any way you like. With a beautiful, usable interface and two tons of customization options, Androidify sets a new standard for mobile application design.
Counting calories made fun and beautiful, that was my first impression of Calorific. The applications lets you record what you eat with a couple of clicks and provides feedback on your food habits. The interface is colorful and full of life, just what the doctor ordered, one would say.
We have already spoken tons about this Swiss army knife of Android camera applications. Camera360 provides virtually every feature you would ask for in a mobile phone camera and does it in a beautiful, intuitive interface that is invisible when you don’t need it, yet always there at the tap of a button.
The new web-based Android Market is a big leap from the virtually non-existent entity before, but there’s still a lot of room for alternatives to make a mark. Chomp is a new entrant that starts on the right foot with a stunning look & feel. The visual design, interface and user experience is top-notch, coupled with a very smart search engine that provides way better results than the official market itself.
Nearly 8% of all men in the world are color blind in some way (as against only 0.5% women, incidentally). The Color Blindness Test application lets you check if you’re one of them with a simple but visually attractive interface and a clever set of questions that should leave little doubt about the results.
There is no dearth of alternative music players on the Android Market, most of them competing wildly for the ‘most beautiful’ title (as we will see further down). DoubleTwist does little wrong in the race. The excellent icon is coupled with a dark, sleek interface that makes browsing and listening to your music a pleasure.
Wondering what to cook for dinner tonight? The Epicurious Recipe App is probably one of the best looking applications of its kind on the Android Market. From the browsing experience to the recipe details, everything is neatly laid out and blends beautifully with the red branding of the epicurious website.
Episodes is one of the few Android applications with a beautiful and self-explanatory icon. The retro television set icon establishes clearly that this is an application about TV shows and the interface does the rest. Check out all the current shows on TV, review their episodes, save favorites and more.
A checkered grid of colorful LEDs is the basic premise of this application’s interface as well as its icon. FlightBoard turns your phone into the Arrivals & Departure board for any airport, and does a neat job of replicating the real world through good use of metaphor and a neat, clean UI.
The premise of the GasBuddy application is simple: it helps you find gas stations around you with the cheapest gas. The application uses GPS to overlay the nearest gas stations on a map along with a list view to compare gas prices in your vicinity.
Glympse is one of many applications for Android that let you share your location with friends. What sets it apart is the clean and simple interface, the excellent UI and an equally impressive icon. This is another one of very few beautiful Android application icons on the market today.
There are a ton of home screen launchers on the Android Market, each with a unique set of features. Go Launcher is a recent entrant, but has already made a splash with an extremely active development cycle, a neat combination of features and themes that actually look good out of the box.
Another beautiful application from the makers of Go Launcher. Go SMS replaces the stock android SMS application with a better interface, more features, a beautiful widget and stellar support for themes. There are already a bunch of themes available in the market, with more coming out pretty regularly.
The Google Maps stock application has been improving in leaps and bounds over the last year or so. The latest incarnation with navigation is a hard one to beat on the platform. With a new 3D compass view, GPS based navigation, places and integration with Latitude, the application is a nice combination of eye-candy and utility.
If you love comics, things don’t get better on the Android platform than the recently released Graphic.ly comic reader. The application combines a humongous collection of free and paid comics with a nice user interface that makes reading the comics a pleasure, even on smaller screens.
The Grooveshark web app has been known for its neat design and simplicity, and the official Android application does that reputation no harm. The online streaming music player is just as beautiful and as usable, allowing you to easily search for songs, create playlists and listen to your favorite music on the go.
The HotelPal application provides ready access to over 100,000 hotels worldwide, allowing you to check out their facilities, see high-resolution photos and make bookings on the go. The icon is pretty unique, coupled with a neat clean interface and good use of maps to help locate hotels around your area of interest.
You may have never heard of the Kobo eReader, which trails behind the Kindle and the Nook by quite a margin. Like its counterparts, the Kobo reader is also available for a number of device platforms, including Android. And although it is not the most feature-packed of the applications, it is visually one of the best.
In case you don’t know, the stock gallery application on most Android phones is powered by Cooliris. Liveshare, an official Cooliris app, takes the next step by providing an gorgeous interface for not only viewing your photos and videos, but also providing an easy and seamless way to share them with family and friends.
When it comes to managing your finances online, few applications come close to the features and functionality of mint.com. The Android application helps you keep track of and update your finances on the go, and provides ready access to critical financial information, complete with graphs and alerts.
A lot of mobile applications try to use the visual metaphor of a notepad, but few are able to nail it and strike a balance between usefulness and visual overload. Mobisle Notes is one application that succeeds at this. The interface is pretty yet minimalistic, with a focus on getting in and jotting things down quickly.
Out of Milk combines a shopping list, pantry list and to-do list in one small, intuitive and easy-to-use package. The interface uses a real-life notebook metaphor for lists, allowing you to create multiple lists in each category. An added advantage is the ability to scan bar codes to automatically add items to your list without having to write everything down manually.
This one is purely for the women, and everything about the application shouts that. OvuView is an advanced fertility tracker that helps women track periods, ovulation and fertility. Although the pink and lavender interface clearly states its target audience, the information visualization is worth a look for anyone interested in beautiful UI design.
When it comes to image editing, Adobe reigns supreme, with Photoshop being the king of the hill on the desktop. On the mobile platform as well, the mini version of Photoshop sets itself apart with a nice, simple user interface and a just-right set of features for editing photos on the mobile phone. Take a look at our full review.
picplz tries to re-create the magic of instagram (an iOS photo sharing phenomenon) on the Android platform. The idea is to click images, apply interesting effects and share them with the world. The picplz application is minimalistic, and acts as a simple client to share snaps on their more full-featured web application.
The official Twitter application for Android is pretty full-featured now, but that doesn’t stop other clients from offering even more. Plume is one such alternative with a beautiful and highly customizable interface. From colorizing your twitter stream to geotagging and inline conversations, it offers a heavy dose of functionality in a sleek design and with another cute blue bird for an icon.
PowerAmp is one of the better known alternative music applications that go head-to-head with the stock Android music player. The sleek, skinnable application interface packs a lot of advanced features together to an extent that might feel a bit overwhelming for a new user. Once you get used to it, though, it is hard to go back.
Rdio is a newish social music subscription service that allows you to search for and play from a huge collection of music, while also following other users and subscribing to what they are listening to. The minimal interface provides just the right balance of eye-candy and utility, and makes discovering new music easy and fun.
After a dismal few years and a few controversial products, RealNetworks is making a comeback with a kick-ass music application. The application lets you easily organize and play your media collection, including videos (something a lot of other players don’t do very well).
Taking pictures on the android camera is fun, but what’s even more fun is making it look like a camera of the past (and I mean real long past). Retro camera converts the stock camera interface into one of five classic cameras, complete with antique viewfinders and matching photo effects.
With phone screen sizes touching upwards of 4 inches, you don’t need to saw off your fingertips to be able to draw on them anymore (sure, the take on a certain comment from a certain Mr. Jobs is intended). SketchBook Mobile is a miniature, touch-friendly version of the immensely popular Sketchbook Pro application from Autodesk and does a pretty neat job of bringing the sketchbook feel to your Android phone.
Android comes with a built-in sound recorder application, but like with most stock applications, it is quite barebones. Enter SoundCloud, a full-featured sound recording, editing and sharing application which makes it a breeze to record a sound around you and save it in the cloud. It also comes with some rudimentary editing features and built-in social integration.
Listening to a song you just need to have? Got a tune stuck in your head but can’t seem to place it? SoundHound boasts of the world’s fastest music recognition engine that can identify music by simply listening to it. The interface, though minimalistic, makes it easy to search for songs, find lyrics and artist info or even buy the identified song directly from the Amazon music store. Check out our guide to identifying music.
Okay, last of the audio applications, this time an open source Mozilla project. Songbird is still in Beta, but is already shaping up to be a veritable foe to all the other commercial applications out there. The feature set is robust, the interface unique and usable, and the community support is growing by the day. Watch out for this one in the days to come.
SpeedView is an advanced speedometer application for your Android phone that uses the phone’s GPS to accurately tell your current, maximum, and average speeds, as well as total distance and time traveled. The interface features a cool leather background texture and a car dashboard-like UI.
Sports Track Live is the mobile companion for the SportsTrack web application, which allows you to log your fitness routine on the go. All information gets synced with your account online. The application uses the phone’s GPS to accurately track your outdoor trips and provides instant analytics to help review your progress then and there.
If you are looking for the finest boutique hotels in the world, the search ends at StayHIP. The application lets you browse, evaluate and book at some of the best hotels, all online and through a fittingly sleek interface that has ‘premium’ written all over it.
Alternative Android keyboards are a bit of an overkill on the market, and finding one that works best can be quite a task. Although the Swype keyboard provides a unique and in many ways better typing experience, few keyboard applications come close to the visual quality of the SiwftKey keyboard. That it also has the best text prediction engine is icing on the cake.
There are very few India-focused applications on the Android Market, in spite of the huge and growing user base in the country. Taazzago tries to fill that space with a beautiful local news application that provides news, weather, classifieds and deals, all in a compact user interface with surprising accuracy.
Tasker is a multi-purpose automation application for your phone that can automate everything from settings to photos, and SMS to speech. It works by letting you apply actions to triggers, with an overwhelming number of choices for each. The power of the application needs to be seen to be believed, although the interface makes setting tasks pretty simple once you understand the basics.
If paranoia over information security sounds familiar, Wallet is just the tool for you. The application lets you save critical information – like bank details, passwords and important numbers – in an encrypted file on your phone. This file can then be synchronized with Dropbox for anytime access. The interface is minimal but beautifully done with subtle textures and icons.
What sets the Weatherbug application apart from other similar ones is the depth of the information it provides in a small package, as well as the intuitive and clean visual design of the application. Everything from topographic maps to weather conditions and forecasts are available at a tap of an icon, with more details readily available for when you need them.
These applications are a very small sampling of what’s on the market. New applications are coming up every day – so much so that I actually continued to add them to the list till the last minute (Chomp was actually released just a few days ago). With such a broad growing collection, there should be very little to complain about the lack of aesthetics on the Android applications front any more.
Got a few favorites of your own that are not here? Let’s hear about them in the comments below.