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The best Android utility apps of 2013

With your new Android device in hand, you're ready to take on the mobile world. But with over 700,000 apps to choose from, finding which will work best for you can be a daunting task.

That’s why over the next week or so, we’re going to be running a series of articles which look at the best Android apps in a number of different categories. These will include news apps, reference, productivity, social, communication, lifestyle and more…

For this first part of our series, however, the focus is on utilities. We’re talking security apps, a memory manager, a battery life conservation utility – there’s a broad range here which are capable of tackling a number of varied tasks.

So, without any further preamble, let’s get on with looking at those top notch utility apps. We'll begin with a security app which has a brand name that makes it sound like it's a pirate...

Avast! Mobile Security (free)

This completely free app packs in a ton of security features, like remote wipe, remote lock, app management, safe web browsing, and a battery manager. Also, as an added bonus, Avast boasts a top-rated anti-virus engine that passed AV-Test's scrutiny with flying colours. It's also incredibly light.

However, one slight downside to note is that the app lacks a backup feature, so make sure you sync it to your computer.

aDownloader (free)

There are lots of BitTorrent clients out there, but I like the old favourite aDownloader because it's easy to use and relatively crash-free. It also has a killer feature: The ability to pause and resume downloads. I haven't encountered any file size limits, either.

Auto Memory Manager (free)

When a computer needs a performance boost, one of the most obvious ways to achieve that is to upgrade or at least manage its memory; the same goes for mobile devices. Auto Memory Manager is an ad-supported app (although there is a premium version that retails for £1) which provides detailed memory information, and lets you set memory priority on apps. It's worth downloading when your Android phone begins to feel sluggish.

Beautiful Widgets (£2.59)

The Beautiful Widgets app lets you customise your phone’s home screen with weather reports, clocks, battery status, and various other elements. It’s a simple app that makes your Android’s home screen more useful, based on what information you want to see. And, as the name implies, it does all this with grace.

Maxthon Browser (free)

If I could personify Maxthon, he'd be a crazy genius. This HTML5-ready Chinese invention is packed with endless configurations like advanced gesturing (which goes beyond that offered by Dolphin HD), www/WAP toggling, fetching, and day/night mode. You can even personalise it to rename the app, select a different icon for it, and change its skin.

History Eraser (free)

History Eraser makes it easy to delete junk off your phone. The app walks you through all sorts of data, from text messages to browser history to cached files, and then it wipes them in one shot. A Pro version of the app is also available for £2.

JuiceDefender (free)

Do you love everything about your Android handset except its crappy battery life? JuiceDefender is a popular app that conserves battery life by disabling the most draining components, specifically 3G/4G connectivity, when your phone is idle. You can get the free “lite” version, but I'd invest in the Ultimate version (£5) which lets you customise when to disable a signal; for example, if you're listening to Spotify you wouldn't want it to go offline simply because your phone went idle.

Nova Launcher Prime (£2.60)

There are quite a few launchers available in Google Play, and these apps replace your stock phone home screen interface with something more customisable. Nova Launcher Prime not only gives you settings to play with, but it's also super-fast and smooth. If you're not willing to part with a couple of quid, try the free version which is simply called Nova Launcher.

Lookout Security & Antivirus (free)

Lookout doesn't just promise security, it promises peace of mind on your Android device, as the app includes recovery solutions in case of loss, theft, or wipe out. The free version offers a Find My Phone feature, automatic backup and restore functions. However, I'd shell out for the Premium edition – $2.99 (£2) per month, or $29.99 (£20) per year – which also adds safe browsing, remote lock/wipe, app permissions management, and backup for contacts, call history, and pictures. (free)

Is your file suddenly taking forever to download? If it's your network's fault, the app will prove it. Tap to test your network connectivity in less than 30 seconds, showing upload and download times, real-time graphs indicating connection consistency, and other detailed reports to shove in your carrier's face when they try to blame it on something else.

Opera Mini (free)

If you're on a data diet, Opera Mini is the fastest, most backward-compatible mobile browser on the market. You won't get Flash support or all the features in Dolphin Browser HD, but Opera's servers compress web pages so much that Mini only requires one-tenth of the bandwidth of a traditional mobile browser.

SwiftKey Keyboard (£2.99)

SwiftKey might be the best virtual keyboard for Android yet – it bagged a Best Buy award in our recent review. It utilises Swype-style typing whereby you drag your finger over keys to spell words instead of tapping them out. As we concluded in our review, the app boasts a smart design, powerful engine, and an array of options – plus it looks great, too.

Tasker (£3.99)

Tasker is… ingenious. It lets you quickly program commands for your phone, like automatically turning on your music when you plug in earphones, or automatically turning off Wi-Fi when you put your device face down. Yes, I totally buy its tagline: "Turn your smartphone into a geniusphone."

X-plore (free)

X-plore is a great way to look at an Android device's file system, and its many added features are solid bonuses. Use it to perform file operations like copy, rename, or create new folders. With X-plore, users can access Picasa albums, browse SQlite database files, zip and unzip files, and explore shared folders on Windows servers and PCs.