In Pictures: The 15 best Android widgets

These useful widgets should be on your Android home screen.

  • Widgets: The Android Advantage Android has one major advantage over iOS: widgets, convenient little apps that are interactive and/or display information directly from the home screen. Widgets usually come with an app; when you download the app, you also get the widget. But you can also obtain "pure" widget apps. Here are 15 of the coolest and most useful widgets for all sorts of uses. And all but three of them are free. Take that, Apple!

  • Beautiful Widgets Beautiful Widgets is a set of good-looking widgets for your Android home screen. For just under $3, Beautiful Widgets provides several attractive, animated widgets in different sizes, including clock widgets, weather widgets, date widgets, and toggle widgets. The widgets are all skinnable, and you can pick up free user-made skins from the Beautiful Widgets Skins Market.

  • Shazam Shazam is a free tool that recognizes songs by "listening" to them through your phone's microphone. Unfortunately, in order to use Shazam, you have to open the app and tap the button to begin the recognition process. By the time you manage to accomplish this, the song may be over. Enter the Shazam widget, which puts a Shazam button directly on your home screen. Now, all you have to do is tap it when you hear a song you're curious about.

  • Extended Controls Android comes with a few built-in control widgets that let you toggle certain settings--such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Sync--on and off. Extended Controls makes this feature available for things like Vibration Mode, Silent Mode, APN, 4G, Always On, Reboot, and Wi-Fi Hotspot. And unlike the stock Android toggles, Extended Controls widgets are customizable.

  • ESPN ScoreCenter A must-have for any sports fan, ESPN ScoreCenter is a customizable app that lets you pick your favorite teams from various sports leagues, from the NFL to Colombian soccer. The app comes with two widgets: a ScoreCenter widget, which shows you game and scoring information on your hand-picked favorite teams; and a Video widget, which scrolls through the day's hot sports videos. You can tap either widget to open the app and get more info.

  • Pulse News Pulse News is the ultimate app for news junkies: It delivers news from all of your favorite websites, online newspapers and magazines, and blogs in an easy-to-read format. Pulse offers three widget sizes: large, small, and tiny. Each widget can display headlines from one of your favorite sources, and you can click any headline to get the full story.

  • AudioManager AudioManager is an excellent free widget that shows you what the current volume levels are for each of your device's audio signals--for your alarm, media, alerts, ringer, system, and voice calls. Tapping the widget takes you to the app, where you can adjust the various levels individually.

  • Aix Weather Widget You get a weather widget in Beautiful Widgets, but the Aix Weather Widget takes weather tracking to the next level. Purely a home screen widget, Aix shows temperature, maximum/minimum precipitation, and sunrise/sunset times in a pretty graph. Even if you aren't obsessed with having detailed, accurate weather information, Aix is cool to look at.

  • Clockr Clockr is a simple text-based clock widget that instantly transforms your Android home screen into a work of modern art. The widget is mildly customizable: You can choose the format Clockr uses to display the time, and the color of the text.

  • Twitter Using Twitter, even casually, requires that you be available on the social network during much of the day. You can meet that requirement a little more easily by adding Twitter's widget to your home screen. I like the simplicity of Twitter's widget: You can choose to show new Tweets from your feed, or Tweets that mention you. You can also write a Tweet directly from the widget, without having to open an app. And that's really all you need.

  • Pure Messenger Widget There are individual messaging widgets, and then there's the Pure Messenger Widget. Pure Messenger aggregates messages from such sources as email, Gmail, texts, Twitter, and Facebook, and throws them all in a scrollable widget on your home screen. It's an excellent widget for people who find themselves constantly bombarded by messages from a multitude of sources.

  • Google Voice Google Voice is a multifaceted service that lets you make cheap international calls, send free text messages, and have your voicemails converted (badly) from voice to text. The widget for Google Voice is very convenient if you use Google Voice as your primary voicemail service. The widget shows you the latest voicemails (in text form) and text messages that have arrived at your Google Voice account; and you can tap it to open the main Google Voice app.

  • Evernote Evernote is an app that lets you take notes in various ways, including by voice memo and by picture. Evernote's separate, customizable widget app adds Evernote shortcuts to your home screen, such as 'Snapshot', 'Audio Note', and 'Speech-to-text Note'; and it also displays your most recent notes.

  • Thanks to the Internet and smartphones, there's no reason for anyone who can read not to know what a word means. The widget displays a word of the day and lets you search the site's dictionary or thesaurus for words you're interested in, right from your home screen. Note: This widget takes up more than the usual amount of real estate on your screen.

  • Onavo Count Unless you're one of the lucky few people who are hanging onto a grandfathered-in unlimited data plan with their broadband service, you should probably check out Onavo Count. Onavo Count is an app that monitors the amount of data you use, and its live data usage widget lets you know, in real-time, how much data you're using and what apps are responsible. You may be surprised at which apps secretly suck up your daily ration of data.

  • Tiny Flashlight + LED Tiny Flashlight + LED is a tiny, simple flashlight app. The widget is just a button, but when you tap it, the your phone's LED flash instantly turns on for you to use as a flashlight. In addition, the app lets you choose different button interfaces.

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