Must-have apps for the Google Nexus 7

Google nailed it with the Nexus 7 – it's the first budget pitched, £200 tablet we've tested that's smooth and responsive in daily use. Plus, it's light and easy to carry. Furthermore, unlike other budget tablets that have appeared over the past two years, the Nexus 7 feels like a quality piece of hardware. You won't feel at all like you compromised by purchasing one, in contrast to some of the complaints we’ve seen from buyers of the Kindle Fire over in the US, or indeed Nook Tablet owners. Considering the money you're saving over pricier Android tablets such as the Samsung Galaxy Tab and the Asus Transformer Prime, that's a pretty compelling case for snagging a Nexus 7 immediately.

And the tablet is now available in the UK as of this week, with pre-orders now shipping, and some UK stores having stock. If you’ve just got hold of your Nexus 7, right off the bat, you're going to need a number of basic apps. Google tries to cover everything with its various portals to Play, including Play Books and Play Movies (and hopefully Play Music eventually, which is available in the US).

These are good, but we'll want to beef up your media options. What else can you run on Google’s slate? Fortunately, the Android tablet app situation, while still iffy, is improving – and fast. With the Nexus 7's smaller screen, some of the wasted-space UI issues encountered when running phone apps on 10in Android tablets aren't as noticeable. Plus, the Nexus 7 is good enough that it could draw a massive wave of third-party developers into the fold. For now, though, many important apps are already available – and work well on the Nexus 7.

One important distinction with the Nexus 7 is the way you organise home screens and create icon folders. Thanks to Android 4.1 Jelly Bean, the basic UI is now a useful mix of the best of what Android (customisable screens, widgets) and iOS (pop-up icon folders) offer. You'll definitely want to take advantage of this, so that the Nexus 7 shows you important information right when you pick it up.

Without further ado, here’s a roundup of the best apps that are ideally suited to the Nexus 7. Do note, however, that we're playing it relatively straight to show you programs you'll need right away. In other words, consider this a kick-ass starter kit. Whatever your interests, you're bound to find something good here.

Bloomberg for Tablet (Free)

Bloomberg's tablet app was already a winner; now the company has sprinkled some of the same magic on its Android tablet version. You can now watch related videos with news articles, and Bloomberg improved the app's support for smaller tablet screens like the Nexus 7. You can also swipe to view the next or previous articles.

Dropbox (Free)

Access your important documents and other files from anywhere with Dropbox, which keeps local backup copies of everything. You get 2GB of space with the free account, and frankly that's enough, given the Nexus 7's 8GB of maximum storage (16GB if you spring for the £200 model). The latest version features upload notifications and custom-tailored video streaming, and the app automatically uploads photos and videos in the background over Wi-Fi on the Nexus 7.

Facebook for Android (Free)

Practically everyone is on Facebook now, and despite the existing mobile Web portal, you'll want an app to access your account more quickly. Facebook's official app lets you text, message, and chat, as well as keep up with status updates and notifications.

Pulse (Free)

Pulse aggregates news from thousands of sources and presents them in a highly readable, scrolling format, complete with artwork. You can easily customise it by browsing lists of sources and tapping the plus sign next to each one that interests you. This creates a completely personalised news page that delivers every story as it happens, sorted by source. The latest update contains Jelly Bean-related fixes, and it worked great on our Nexus 7.

TweetCaster (Free)

While you could easily go with Twitter's official app, TweetCaster has a smoother interface that takes better advantage of the Nexus 7's screen. It also offers more sophisticated search, customisable retweets, and content filters, plus you can set up individual tables for local trends and retweets.

Skype (Free)

The Nexus 7 has a built-in mic and front-facing camera, so why not put them to use? Video calls, audio calls, and instant messages are all free to other Skype users anywhere in the world, and you can make low-cost calls to regular cell phones and landlines. Skype hasn't yet certified the Nexus 7 at the time of writing this article, but it works just fine in our tests.

DC Comics (Free)

Fans of Batman, Superman, and Green Lantern have waited a long time for this day – and now you can enjoy them all on the Nexus 7 with DC Comics, the famed publisher's free app. How's a 7in screen for reading comic books? It's not ideal, but a little pinch zooming here and there will do the trick – especially with the app's useful choice of Guided View and full-page views.

Kindle (Free)

Google Play Books is a very well stocked virtual library, but Amazon still wins on its discovery algorithms, and you may already have a Kindle or other app you'd like to sync with. Besides, no one said you can't run multiple apps for eBooks anyway. The Kindle version takes advantage of the Nexus 7's screen – which is still one inch larger than all dedicated E Ink-based Kindles, incidentally – and now offers more control of margins and line spacing.

TED (Free)

The official TED app brings over 1,200 enlightening talks to your Nexus 7 from tech wizards, business experts, and music legends, among others. You can now save individual talks to the device for later viewing offline, and the latest version includes a better video player for 7in tablets, as well as plenty of bug fixes.

IMDb (Free)

The Nexus 7's compact size makes it easy to keep by your side, which means you'll have it handy whenever you see that actor on TV that's also in that other show, and need to know right now who he is. IMDb's interface is highly optimised for tablets, and the latest app update adds the ability to stream movie trailers in high definition.

Netflix (Free; £5.99 per month)

Netflix offers an impressively wide selection of streaming movies and TV shows, and the £5.99 per month subscription works across all devices. The latest version of the app adds support for Jelly Bean, so you're all set.

Spotify (Free; £9.99 per month)

The pioneering cloud-based music service now contains over 15 million songs, all of which you can listen to on the Nexus 7. Spotify also boasts an impressive array of features, such as the ability to set up your own playlists. Given Spotify's immense music library, it's possible you'll never need to buy music again.

Dungeon Hunter 3 (Free)

Dungeon Hunter 3 is a little different, as it's not quite the action role-playing game it used to be. In this third incarnation, you choose one of four new character classes and fight in 16 different arenas, gaining experience points and unlocking over 1,000 items along the way. Motion blur and dynamic particle effects make the arenas look sharp. It crashed once for us during testing on the Nexus 7, but it was tough to put down even so.

Galaxy On Fire 2 THD (Free, limited; £8.99 full)

Explore over 20 solar systems, mine asteroids, work as a pirate, and hone your space mercenary skills with Galaxy On Fire 2 THD. It’s a smooth running, Nvidia Tegra 3-optimised game that plays beautifully on the Nexus 7 and runs at the tablet's native 1280 x 800 pixel resolution. The game features over 100 space stations and 30 customisable spaceships. Note that Galaxy On Fire 2 THD is free for the first solar system, but then requires an £8.99 in-app purchase for the full game.

Minecraft Pocket Edition (£4.99)

Minecraft has been a big success, and as luck would have it, the popular world-building game works really well on the Nexus 7, with very fast frame rates and more screen real estate. Build anything you want with 36 different kinds of blocks, hook up with friends, and save multi-player worlds directly on the Nexus 7.

Oregon Trail: Settler (Free)

Settle down and make yourself a new home on the American frontier in 1843. This game, which is freshly optimised for the Nexus 7, features sharp, well-drawn graphics. It also boasts compelling gameplay that sucks you in right at the start, and the latest version looks fantastic on the Nexus 7's screen.

Riptide GP (£1.49)

This game was already fun on phones, but give it a massive 7in screen and watch how immersive it gets. Riptide GP is gorgeous and great fun to play, and it now offers higher resolution textures on multi-core tablets like the Nexus 7. The game still defaults to a slightly lower resolution than the screen is capable of, but we cranked the sharpness slider to "Native" and still saw smooth frame rates, if not a constant 60 frames per second.