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11 essential apps I have on my Google Pixel phone

Key Takeaways

  • Google Pixel owners should consider apps like Backdrops for unique wallpapers.
  • Google Authenticator adds a layer of security; better than insecure SMS codes.
  • Pulsar is a superior music player to enjoy local music files without streaming.

One of the many niceties of owning a Google Pixel phone is its simple, bloat-free software experience. Out of the box, you’ll find a carefully selected suite of onboard apps and utilities, without any duplicate services or questionable carrier additions. Of course, that leaves it up to you to populate your app drawer with the software you genuinely find useful. Thankfully, the Google Play Store is absolutely brimming with high quality apps to explore, download, and experiment with.

Here are eleven such apps — in no particular order — that you’ll never spot missing from my Pixel phone’s app drawer.


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1 Backdrops

One of the best wallpaper apps out there

Screenshots of the Backdrops app



One of the best wallpaper apps there is.

Wallpaper apps have always been popular across Android and iPhone devices, and Pixel phones are no exception. Backdrops is a particularly great option available on the Play Store, with access to countless wallpaper designs. Many are free to use, while others are considered premium and require an in-app purchase to download.

Backdrops is an aesthetically pleasing piece of software with a friendly and streamlined user interface to boot.

It’s super easy to save wallpapers to your ‘Favorites’ tab, and useful information like resolution and file size are also easy to surface. Like many of the other apps on this list, Backdrops is an aesthetically pleasing piece of software with a friendly and streamlined user interface to boot.

Google in recent years has bolstered the built-in wallpaper capabilities of its Pixel phones, including options like auto-generation via artificial intelligence and an ‘Emoji Workshop‘ feature. However, it’s safe to say that nothing quite beats the selection on offer from Backdrops.


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2 Google Authenticator

Screenshots of the Google Authenticator app


Google Authenticator

Keep your online accounts secure.

If you aren’t already using a password authenticator app, you should really consider downloading one. For the majority of the accounts you’ve created on the internet, there’s an option to enable 2-factor authentication. Doing so adds another layer of security, requiring you to enter a code to log in. This makes it so that even if your password has been implicated in a data breach or is correctly guessed by a stranger, they won’t have access to the authentication code associated with your account.

I generally stick with Google’s solution as it’s built by the makers of Android, and thus better aligns with the OS’s design language.

Some apps send you the code via a simple text message, which is un-encrypted and generally not as secure as a dedicated app. Google Authenticator sets you up with automatically-expiring codes for all your compatible accounts, and is as easy to set up as scanning a QR code.

There are other authentication apps out there for Android, such as Microsoft’s Authenticator app. I generally stick with Google’s solution as it’s built by the makers of Android, and thus better aligns with the OS’s design language.


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3 Snapseed

It’s no Photoshop, but it gets the job done in a pinch

Screenshots of the Snapseed app



A simple way to quickly edit your pictures.

This one’s another Google property — Snapseed serves as a lightweight and yet relatively powerful photo editing client within the Android ecosystem. It’s somewhat surprising that Google doesn’t bundle this in with Pixel phones by default, but it may have something to do with the company’s push towards AI photo editing via Google Photos.

Snapseed doesn’t include any experimental AI bells and whistles, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The app covers all the essentials, and in my experience has done so competently for many years. The app offers a number of Instagram-like filters to play with, along with a button to quickly rotate the image in any direction. The ‘Tools’ tab is where most of the action takes place, with tons of sub-settings that let you tune your image, crop its size, and add a variety of additional effects.

Snapseed is far from the most powerful photo editing suite on the market. But it succeeds in its goal of being simple and convenient to use, even on a small phone-sized screen.


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A no-brainer if you own a Windows PC and an Android phone

Screenshots of the Link to Windows app


Link to Windows

Control your Android phone from your Windows PC.

If you happen to own a Windows PC in addition to your Pixel phone, then you’ll absolutely want to download Microsoft’s Link to Windows app from the Play Store. The app does precisely what it says on the tin. It establishes an ongoing connection between your two devices, letting you quickly access your phone’s media and other functions via your PC.

In particular, on your PC, you’ll be able to view your phone’s gallery of photos, send and receive basic text messages, answer and make phone calls, view notifications, enter Do Not Disturb, and control media output.

Many android devices, particularly phones from Samsung, OnePlus, and Oppo, come with Link to Windows preinstalled out of the box. Google, of course, would prefer you to purchase a ChromeOS laptop to achieve the sort of ecosystem continuity the experience provides. Thankfully, it’s easy enough to download the app on any Pixel phone and get largely the same experience.


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5 Battery Guru

All the stats you’ll ever need to keep tabs on your battery health

Screenshots of the Battery Guru app


Battery Guru

Know what’s going on with your phone’s battery at all times.

Google is rumored to be working on surfacing more battery-related information to us in its upcoming Android 15 release, but for the time being, Battery Guru is the app to beat.

Smartphone batteries are consumable products, and as such they chemically degrade over time.

It’s got just about every stat relating to your phone’s battery that you could ever ask for, all displayed on screen in a user-friendly manner. Charging and discharging stats, battery health calculations, temperature and battery level alarms, and access to graphs are all useful tools and points of reference.

Smartphone batteries are consumable products, and as such they chemically degrade over time. Keeping tabs on the health of your phone is always a good idea, even if it’s a simple cursory glance from time to time. The app is free to use, with a paid tier to remove ads.



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6 Libby

A digital storefront for your local real-world library

Screenshots of the Libby app



Loan eBooks at no cost, just like you’d check out a book from your local library.

There’s a wide range of eBook platforms available on the Play Store. Many are subscription-based, and many use Digital Rights Management (DRM) to keep your digital book files within the company’s ecosystem. While the selection of books and the convenience factor is undeniable, there are other solutions on the market.

The idea of loaning books library-style has a unique sort of appeal to it.

One such app is called Libby, and it lets you freely rent out ebooks for periods of time, just as you would at a physical library. In fact, the app actually uses your real-world library card to verify your book loans. Many libraries allow you to sign up for an ecard online, without having to visit them in-person. Just type in your card number and choose the appropriate library branch and institution for your area, and you’re all set.

With the ongoing debate over digital ownership, and the controversial removal of purchased media from some digital storefronts, the idea of loaning books library-style has a unique sort of appeal to it.


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7 Pulsar

Bringing the iPod into the modern day

Screenshots of the Pulsar app



A streamlined way to play local music files.

If you’re like me and deeply dislike Google’s decision to roll local music file playback into its YouTube Music app, there are a number of third party solutions on the Play Store to choose from. My absolute favorite music player, and the one I continue to use on a regular basis, is called Pulsar.

Pulsar includes all the essential functions you’d expect out of a music player — it’ll automatically organize your music library into categories including ‘Albums,’ ‘Artists,’ ‘Songs,’ ‘Genres,’ ‘Playlists,’ and ‘Folders.’

It doesn’t try and shoehorn any streaming services down your throat, you aren’t at the mercy of any algorithm, and it’s an aesthetically pleasing app to look at.

The app also includes a play queue, playlist editor, a search function, and Chromecast support. An optional one-time purchase will net you access to an equalizer, additional theme options, and a ‘bass booster’ mode, but the free version more than suffices for most purposes.

The reason I keep coming back to Pulsar is because of its elegance. It doesn’t try and shoehorn any streaming services down your throat, you aren’t at the mercy of any algorithm, and it’s an aesthetically pleasing app to look at.


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8 Pocket Casts

An excellent way to listen to your podcasts, without added distractions

Screenshots of the Pocket Casts app


Pocket Casts

The ultimate third-party podcasts app.

Google has recently decided to make YouTube Music the new home for podcast streaming. With the sunsetting of the dedicated Google Podcasts app, I went on a trek to discover the best purpose-built and simple-to-use solution for my Pixel phone.

Pocket Casts is the natural answer to my calls. Much like Pulsar, it focuses on a core experience and runs with it. It does so with attractive software design, simple navigation, and without all the distraction inherently part of YouTube Music.

All the essentials are on board, and you can optionally create an account to sync your settings and listening history across multiple devices. A discovery feed shows you trending podcasts without being overbearing about it, and a ‘Stats’ section is a handy tool for looking at your overall playtime.


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9 Yuka

A beautifully built app with indispensable information

Screenshots of the Yuka app

Yuka is an independently crafted app that lets you scan the bar codes of everyday food products within your home. A quick scan highlights tons of useful information about your product in question, profiling things like additives, calories, sugars, and nutrients. The app does a great job of displaying lots of information in a simple-to-understand manner, and it’s easy to dial in further if you want additional details.

The app also works with many cosmetic products, so it’s got utility beyond the kitchen as well. You might be surprised at just how much added crud is in some of the products we consume on a regular basis.

The best part about Yuka is probably the satisfying scanner noise it makes every time you point your phone’s camera at a bar code. It makes you want to scan additional items just for the pure fun of it.


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10 Star Walk 2

Possibly the coolest app around for space lovers

Screenshots of the Star Walk 2 app

I’ve yet to meet someone who isn’t at least partially fascinated by space. It’s human nature to look up at the heavens and marvel at the sheer scale of the universe. If I’ve piqued your interest, allow me to introduce you to Star Walk 2.

There are a number of space-related apps on the market, but I’ve always been particularly fond of Star Walk 2. It provides a gorgeous viewfinder of the various stars, planets, and constellations surrounding us, and works in sync with your phone’s compass for accuracy.

I love the ambient music featured in Space Walk 2, as well as the red-and-black color tone which is ideal for use during the night. It’s clear that this app was created with great care for the user experience. It’s free to use and supported by ads, but in-app purchases can unlock additional functionality and remove those ads entirely.


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11 Compass

A great solution for a missing Android utility

Screenshots of the Compass app

It’s pretty strange that Android still doesn’t come with a default compass app out of the box. Magnetometers are commonplace in modern smartphones, and even the iPhone has had a compass interface for years now.

Thankfully, there are third party alternatives out there that can help you leverage the sensors already built into your Pixel. The aptly named Compass app is my go-to, because of its simplistic user interface and attractive design language. It fits in well with the Pixel aesthetic, albeit without having adopted Material You styling yet.

Compass does precisely what it sets out to do, with no added fuss. The app is supported by ads, which can be removed via an in-app purchase.


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