Find The Best Apps With Google’s Picks & Other Tricks
The Google Play Store, weighing in with more than 1.4 million apps at last count, is a vast expanse of quality content and APK duds alike. To put this into context, it would take the average user more than 8 days of continuous scrolling to make it through the whole list at two per second, let alone the added months to click through and check out screenshots, or years to separate the wheat from the chaff via thorough review. Blogs and news sites like this one have lept to fill the content discovery void, but it might surprise many to learn that Google itself is among the top posters of quality app lists. In fact, the search giant has produced more than 25,400 such topic-based collections to date, only a few of which are visible as “recommendation” groups in the Play Store at any given time. It is with this in mind that we take a moment to highlight the cream of the listical crop, and point to our favorite methods of discovering the best apps (both with and without the help of Google).
Google Play Collections & Recommendations
Have you ever wondered where to find Google’s master list of categories like “Rise And Shine: Alarm Clocks” and “Cloud Storage Apps” that show up in your Play Store feed? It turns out that the URLs for these lists all follow two simple patterns:
These two URLs hold the key to all 25.5k curated Google Play collections, and their potential can be unlocked with entry-level Google-Fu. In a search box, simply type one of these:
- site:http://play.google.com/store/recommended inurl:apps
Add in extra keywords like “games” or “productivity” for a custom touch, and you’re off and running! For the most relevant picks, optionally trim down to the past six months (sorted by newest) using the “search tools” drop-down, or shave off three clicks by adding
date:12 to your query (for three, six, and twelve month limits, respectively). Note that time-based searches for the second string – “recommended” app lists – have a few issues due to pesky robots.txt files (more on that in a moment), but the query still pulls up a few good links. Here are the latest app “collections,” grouped by category, to give you a feel of what you will find.
- Android Wear
- Express Your Style – Wear watch faces
- Google Cardboard
- Games (search)
RSS – The Automated Approach
Okay, so searching is old-hat – this is XDA, after all, and we thrive on performing short-term work to (ideally) save in the long run. Rolling a custom update-checking RSS feed is one such task that makes staying on top of new apps a breeze, and the first stop is a service like Google Alerts. The new Alerts site layout makes a few concessions in terms of advanced functions, but most of the core features (including delivering all results to RSS) are available after opening the options pull-down, so plug, play, and get on with your life!
Once you have generated the RSS feed, it’s ready for import into your feed reader of choice, such as the Google Reader successor, Feedly. This is perfect for those who enjoy actively browsing new apps as part of a daily workflow, slipping them in among the breaking news headlines and cat photos we already rabidly consume.
Custom URLs – As Needed Check-Ins
Despite the convenience of a daily RSS feed, the semi-automatic route has its advantages as well. First and foremost, Google Alerts don’t cover things that have already happened, and they have a spotty track record of delivering every result in the right order going forward. Custom searches are the obvious ad-hock answer, allowing you to check in whenever you feel like browsing for new apps. This is the domain of custom URLs and their URL parameters, which include sort options and a more exhaustive list of time filters than you can type into the regular search box. Feel free to browse those last two links if you feel like taking your search skills to the next level, but Google also has two certification courses (yes, really) to walk you through the basics. Here’s the abridged list of things you can tack on in the address bar for a supercharged one-stop app link.
- &tbs=qdr:1 – real-time results
- &tbs=qdr:s – past second
- &tbs=qdr:n – past minute
- &tbs=qdr:h – past hour
- &tbs=qdr:d – past day
- &tbs=qdr:w – past week
- &tbs=qdr:m – past month
- &tbs=qdr:y – past year
- &filter=0 – include the typically omitted “similar” results, which are actually unique entries in the case of the search for “Recommended” lists, above. Remember those pesky robot.txt troublemakers? This is their contribution.
As a bonus, each date operator can include a comma followed by
sbd:1 to sort by date, which is typically ideal.
Putting it all together, this is how your custom URLs should look for lists from the past month/year, sorted by date, and including omitted results where appropriate.
Google’s latest addition this Friday of haptic feedback enabled games floats right to the top of the first search – success! Not even Google Alerts will sort past results like this. Unfortunately, note that the “Recommended” search returns a slew of links, but that robots.txt files prevent descriptions from displaying. Also, Google has chosen not to index upload dates for these listings, making the feed nearly impossible to use as an RSS source. Don’t worry – it’s still valuable for one-off glances into Google’s most used lists like the 3rd Birthday Promotion in multiple languages.
For those who prefer to wait until there is a problem worth tackling before looking for an app-shaped solution, having these custom links at the ready prevents tailor-made listical solutions from slipping by unseen.
Other App Lists
Google Play and blog sites are hardly the only sources for app recommendations, as many of you pointed out in the comment section of our discussion of Android subreddits.
- Android subreddit for its weekly Saturday APPreciation threads, archived here
- Material Design subreddit for newly materialized apps
- Android Games subreddit
- Android Gaming subreddit
- Android Wear subreddit
Developers here on the XDA Forums produce a wealth of content, and the Android Apps & Games section is one of the most active hubs. If you’re looking for new additions to your phone, try browsing the newest posts, or subscribe to this convenient RSS feed to have the latest entries delivered right to your feed reader of choice.
How Does XDA News Find New Apps?
Each Android enthusiast expects something different from the platform, and we all go about the task of discovering new apps in our own unique way. The writing staff for the XDA news portal is no exception, so here are a few of the diverse answers to the question of our app discovery practices.
I go on Reddit app recommendation threads, /r/AndroidWear, /r/AndroidGaming, and once a week I go through new XDA apps & games entries. I also read “weekly app roundups” from various sites every couple of weeks. I don’t really use apps too much, though, because all of my needs are already figured out on the phone. I do the check ups to stay updated, not to update my apps. I really don’t like trying out new apps, and am conservative with my phone. It’s an invaluable tool to me and I keep it to the basics (plus my work tools). I am passionate about the technology and love to see what developers do with it, but not so much in a pragmatic sense. Similarly, I love writing about chipsets, but to be frank a Snapdragon 800 is good enough for me. That being said, if I see a better app, I change it. – Mario Serrafero
I generally find apps though social interactions or from articles online, but I also have the XDA app thread as an RSS. In addition, I get a fairly steady stream of pm’s from XDA members asking me to write a feature, etc. – Mathew Bloomer
I don’t look for new apps unless I need something. Then, I search the stores and go to XDA or Reddit. That being said, sometimes I come upon interesting apps that I end up installing. – Germain Z.
Like everyone else here, I keep up to date by reading and commenting in the /r/Android APPreciation threads, following /r/MaterialDesign, /r/AndroidWear, and /r/AndroidGaming for topic-specific apps, and browsing XDA’s App and Game RSS as part of my news feed. Beyond that, a few subreddits and Google+ communities dealing with photography, futurology, productivity tools, and Android/web development provide my fix for other app-related interests. When I need to solve a new problem, Google is there to serve up review sites. Sometimes my search needs the gentile nudge of a “vs” keyword to stir up controversy, but usually a time-limited query with a few keywords separated by “OR” does the trick. – Chris Gilliam
How do you find new apps? Do you actively browse the app feeds in search of your next score, or step back from the fray and search only for what you need? Let us know how your habits stack up against our own in the comments below!