Must-Have Android Widgets for Your Smartphone and Tablet

If you're not using Android widgets, you're not getting the most out of your Android smartphone or tablet. CIO.com's Al Sacco spotlights a collection of unique widgets, all free and all worth a download.

Must-Have Android Widgets
Must-Have Android Widgets

One thing that truly sets Google's Android mobile OS apart from other mobile platforms is its ability to use home-screen "widgets." These applications sit on your Android device's home panels to display related information. You never have to open those apps unless you want additional details.

Not all Android applications have widgets, but the best ones do. Some great Android apps even offer multiple widgets. Keep clicking for a list of Android apps with some of the best widgets -- most of which won't cost you a dime. (And if you just can't get enough Android widgets, hit this link for 19 more widgets worth the space on your home screen.)

Fancy Widgets for Android
Fancy Widgets for Android

There are Android apps with widgets, and there are widgets apps for Android with the sole purpose of providing information via on-screen icons. Fancy Widgets falls into the latter category, and though I admit it's not my favorite dedicated widgets app for Android (that honor goes to Beautiful Widgets, which I spotlighted in a past post), the app is worth a look. Fancy Widgets offers a variety of customizable widgets, in different sizes, that provide information on the time and weather. The app is free, but to access all of the customization options, you need to purchase the "unlocker" for $2.59.

Download Fancy Widgets for free on Google Play.

Starbucks Card Widget for Android
Starbucks Card Widget for Android

You love your Android device, and you love your Starbucks coffee, so downloading the Starbucks mobile app and enabling the widget is a no brainer. After you sign in to your Starbucks account, link a valid card and drop the widget on your home screen. Tap it, and the payment code for scanning instantly appears. The widget also has a location option to find all of the nearby Starbucks shops, and it shows your ongoing "star" reward progress.

Download Starbucks Card for free on Google Play.

Google Play Widgets
Google Play Widgets

Google's Play store has its own valuable set of widgets that gives you quick access to all of your Play books, magazines, music and media. The basic Play Store widget just launches the store; the Play Recommendations widget suggests content that may be of interest -- and my favorite Play widget, the My Library option, lets you pick the type of content you want on your home screen, such as music, books, newsstand (magazines) or movies and TV, and then shows clickable album, cover or movie-poster art.

The Play widgets are part of the Android OS, so you don't need to download anything to access them.

Super-Bright LED Flashlight Widget for Android
Super-Bright LED Flashlight Widget for Android

There's certainly no shortage of flashlight apps in the Play store. Honestly, most are very similar. The purpose is simple: Turn your phone or tablet's flash into a flashlight. My app of choice is the default Samsung Assistive Light widget, but that only works on Samsung Android devices. I use the Super-Bright LED Flashlight app on my Nexus 7 tablet, and it works well. Just drop the widget on your home screen and then tap it to both light up your flash and open the app for additional options.

Download Super-Bright LED Flashlight for free on Google Play.

Easy Voice Recorder Widgets for Android
Easy Voice Recorder Widgets for Android

I used to carry a separate recorder to conferences and events to capture interviews with sources. Then I found Easy Voice Recorder. A set of home-screen widgets let you quickly start and stop recording. The widgets are customizable, and you can choose a few different colors. The $4 version gets you additional features, including stereo recording and Bluetooth microphone support. But the free app and widgets are more than sufficient for basic recording needs.

Download Easy Voice Recorder for Android for free on Google Play.

Groupon Widget for Android
Groupon Widget for Android

Groupon, the digital coupon service that’s saved me countless dollars on meals and other goods during the past couple of years, offers an Android app and an associated widget that makes browsing relevant deals pleasantly simple. After downloading the app, signing in or just specifying a location, you can add the Groupon widget to your home screen, where it automatically updates and displays the latest deals based on your preferences. You can scroll through deals without opening the app, and you simply tap the widget when you find a Groupon you want to purchase.

Download Groupon for Android for free on Google Play.

Cloud Storage Widgets for Android – Drive, Dropbox and Box
Cloud Storage Widgets for Android – Drive, Dropbox and Box

The could-storage widget that's right for you depends, of course, on your cloud-storage service of choice. Google's Drive storage service integrates nicely with Android, so if you don't already have a horse in the race, you might want to check out Drive, which has a valuable home-screen widget. Dropbox and Box, two more popular online storage services, also offer Android apps with widgets. Some of the options offer more features, but all of them make it simpler and faster to access your cloud and upload files from your Android device.

Download Google Drive, Dropbox and Box for free on Google Play.

Mint.com Personal Finance Widget for Android
Mint.com Personal Finance Widget for Android

The Mint.com Android app makes it simple to monitor your various bank, credit, loan, investment and other finance accounts in one place. The associated widget lets you view all or some of your data (based on your preferences) right on your Android home screen. Just tap the widget's refresh button when you want the latest information. The service uses the same encryption as most banks, and it's certified secure by TRUSTe, Verisign and RSA so you don't have to worry about security – though you should definitely password protect your device if you enable the Mint widget.

Download Mint.com Personal Finance for Android for free on Google Play.

WordPress QuickPress Widget for Android
WordPress QuickPress Widget for Android

The official WordPress Android app makes it simple to post new blog entries, approve comments, make changes to existing posts and check stats while on the go. And the QuickPress widget lets you open a new blog entry form without opening up the app and navigating to the new post option. Just tap the QuickPress widget, enter your text or media, push it live and you're good to go. There's no quicker way to update your WordPress blog with a new post.

Download WordPress for Android for free on Google Play.

RunKeeper Widget for Android
RunKeeper Widget for Android

Fitness aficionados will find a friend in the RunKeeper Android widget, which lets you start, pause and end your current fitness activities directly from your Android home screen, without opening an app. The widget shows you real-time stats for total workout time, distance traveled and pace. Tap the Stop button twice on the widget when you're done to save your activity or access other settings.

Download RunKeeper for Android for free on Google Play.

Social Network Widgets for Android - Facebook, Twitter and More
Social Network Widgets for Android - Facebook, Twitter and More

A ton of social-networking apps for Android offers widgets; rather than break them down individually, I'm spotlighting my personal favorites. The official Twitter and Facebook Android apps both offer multiple widget options that let you post status updates, see updates from connections, and add images and check-in to locations (Facebook only). Foursquare is another one of my favorite social networking apps. It offers a handful of widget options for checking in, finding notable nearby businesses and monitoring friends' check-ins.

Download Twitter, Facebook and foursquare for free on Google Play.

Google Now Widget for Android
Google Now Widget for Android

Google's Now Android-based service is designed to provide relevant information before you search for it – and, sometimes, before you know you want it. Now shows information in the form of "cards" that appear in your notification bar or when you open the app. You can also set a Google Now widget to display cards on your home screen. (Note: You need to enable Google Now before you can use it. Just open the Google app and, if you're not prompted, find the Now option in the app's settings.)

The Now widget is part of the Android OS, so you don't need to download anything to access it.

TripIt Widget for Android
TripIt Widget for Android

TripIt is by far my favorite travel service and associated mobile application, and the Android widget makes it even more valuable. There are two TripIt widget size options, large and small, so you see as much information as you want – or as much as you can fit on your home screen. The widgets update with relevant information as you need it during your travels, including travel times, airlines, flight numbers and lodging information. You can tap sections of the widgets for details on specific travel information.

Download TripIt for Android for free on Google Play.

theScore Widget for Android
theScore Widget for Android

Many of the official apps from professional sports leagues have widgets including, MLB At Bat and NBA Game Time. But those widgets are sport-specific. If you want a widget that provides at-a-glance scores for your favorite teams across sports leagues, you'll appreciate theScore. The app itself provides a ton of information on most professional sports, and the widget is customizable so you see what you want when you want. (ESPN ScoreCenter for Android is another worthy sports widget I recommended.)

Download theScore for Android for free on Google Play.