Smartphones can do some amazing things these days, and the Android Market has quickly become a sandbox for some clever developers, as well as Google Inc.itself.
We’ve already touched on some popular Android apps for Twitter, some for news, and some great multiplayer games, but not all apps have a specific purpose. Some are just interesting, amazing, or too cute not to keep in your back pocket as a conversation starter.
Utility be darned, here are seven free android apps that are just plain cool.
If you’ve lost your passion for Android’s bare bones built-in photo gallery, check out the Floating Image app that will breathe new life into your snaps, as well as pull in some great shots from around the web.
There’s not a whole lot of utility here, but it’s a really sharp looking way to show off your photos or discover some pretty ones from Flickr. You can even score a new home screen background by long-pressing any of the images that float by.
This one is all about the animation, and this video demo shows it off well.
Google SkyMap is an armchair astronomer’s dream come true. Using data from Google Sky and your GPS coordinates, the SkyMap app becomes a handheld window unto the heavens. As you move your phone across the night sky, you can see real-time information on the stars, celestial objects, and constellations as you pass them. You can also disengage the compass view and float freely through the galaxy with your finger, browsing the celestial map or searching for objects at will.
We’ve certainly covered the release of Google Goggles before, but it’s hard to over-stress just how cool this project is. In essence, it’s a visual Google search which utilizes your handset’s camera. Simply view your surroundings through Google Goggles to get an augmented view of the stores and landmarks in your area, or snap a photo of a product or some text to get relevant search results.
In testing, Goggles didn’t recognize the Nike swoosh (one of the simplest and most well-known U.S. logos), but it did know where I was without GPS, and identified a complex logo for Coca-Cola, the American flag, and my DVD of High School Musical 2 [Extended Edition], promptly directing me to Amazon.com where I could purchase a second copy.
Google is also hoping to implement text translation into Goggles, which is not available yet, but is expected in future updates.
Talk To Me is an impressive app that can translate your input text or speech between over 40 different languages, and in most cases, speak the translations back to you. The interface is really dead-simple: An input for text, a drop-down list to choose your languages, and a big green button to activate the speech recognition.
You can even set it as a home screen widget. Simply tap the button, speak a phrase, and the app will speak it back to you in Spanish, German, French, and many other languages that use Roman characters. Support for many Asian languages is included, but currently only provides textual translations.
The speed and ease of translation has a pretty big cool factor, but this is one app on the list that may also be very useful for tourists or those studying a new language.
If you’re out with friends and still on the fence about which flick to catch and where, gather ’round the oldNexus One and fire up the new MovieFone app, which is a great way to get film details without ever touching a mobile browser.
The app, developed by AOL Mobile, gives you all the data from moviefone.com in convenient Android form, including synopses, coming attractions, theater listings based on your location, and perhaps best of all, full trailer videos built right in.
If you simply must get your nerd on, the Android Lightsaber app, which is officially sanctioned by LucasArts, brings the power of the Force (or a Force-like substance) into the palm of your hand. Choose between five different Star Wars characters, each with their own unique saber color, then tap the screen to unleash your weapon.
Swing your handset for the classic wooshing and buzzing sounds. Your lightsaber will flash and crackle as you spar with invisible foes. Perhaps the best part is the 1-click epic music that you can switch on in the midst of your imaginary battle.
BubbleBeats is brand new in the Market and injects some much-needed creativity into Android’s music library. The concept is difficult to explain, but it essentially creates a visual landscape for your music collection by way of multicolored, animated bubbles.
Each bubble represents a song that you add to the canvas. Resize and group your bubbles however you want — perhaps a gathering of red rock songs on the left, some blue blues bubbles on the right — and float around your custom bubble-scape, playing your favorite tunes at will simply by tapping their corresponding bubbles.
This one’s certainly not for everyone. Finding and arranging music on this sort of interface can be difficult. But it’s a unique way to visualize your collection, and experiment with a new approach to the playlist. Check out the developer’s video below to see what I mean.