As the number of Android smartphones sold worldwide continues to increase, so does the number of apps available to users in the Google Play Store. With over 850,000 apps and counting, it can often be a chore to separate the apps worth buying from the junk apps that are hardly worth a penny. What follows is an overview of some general techniques that can be used to discriminate between apps worth paying for and apps that aren’t quite worth the price tag.
Read the entire app description – Apps are small, specialized pieces of software that are responsible for performing a set of very specific tasks. It is important to ensure the app you plan on purchasing fulfills the functional requirements of the task you are trying to accomplish. If it doesn’t, then that’s a sign that it might not be the right app for the job at hand.
Read the reviews – Don’t just look at the star ratings that the reviewers give. Focus on the comments regarding an app’s functionality and let that guide your decision. Many reviews include the Android device’s model (e.g. Samsung Galaxy S3) the reviewer was using, and you should keep in mind that many “this app crashes right after I start it up” complaints tend to be device-specific.
Try before you buy – If a free (often ad-supported) version of a paid app is available, it is advisable to try it before you buy the full version. This can be a useful practice for multiple reasons:
- Unexpected, or “buggy” behavior is inherent in all software. Trying the free version can help you identify if any app-breaking bugs will be present in the paid version of the app before you decide to buy it.
- Compatibility is a major issue facing app developers today. Often a developer will try to develop an app with all Android devices in mind, but screen sizes and resolutions can vary, and these differences can sometimes introduce unexpected behavior. Compatibility issues can range in severity from missing user interface elements such as buttons and text to more severe issues like app crashes. Ensuring the user interface displays properly and reacts accordingly on your device helps you ensure the paid version of the app will function as expected for your specific Android device.
Malware/Phishing Apps and Permissions – A sad fact of shopping in any public app store is that there will always be scammers releasing malicious apps that will attempt to steal your personal information such as text message conversations, contacts, and the like. Keeping an eye out for suspicious-looking apps is a necessary part of shopping in the Google Play Store.
When installing an app, you should be aware of the list of app permissions that pops up. App permissions are very specific actions that an app is allowed to perform that usually concern the user’s data, and as such, require consent from the user upon installation. For example, if you’re installing an alarm clock app, it probably shouldn’t require permissions to connect to the internet or access your text message conversations. Seemingly out-of-place app permission requests like the example above demonstrate why the user should make sure to review app permissions carefully when installing new apps.
Red Herrings: Factors that Shouldn’t Be Taken Into Account
- Number of downloads – This number (lacking context) can often act as an enticing attention-grabber for app store shoppers interested in “what’s popular”. The problem is, these numbers can be artificially inflated and do not necessarily represent the overall quality, legitimacy or functionality of an app.
- “5 star”, and conversely, “1 star” reviews – Reviews which can be generalized to either “this app is great” or “this app is terrible” and which offer no feedback on functionality should be taken with a grain of salt. One should remain skeptical about whether the app is worth buying until trying the free version of the app.
Image Credit: Image 1: http://fs01.androidpit.info/userfiles/689923/image/androidpermissions.jpg Image 2: http://i1-mac.softpedia-static.com/screenshots/AppBrain-integrator-for-Google-Play_1.jpg