YouTube TV was the fan favorite app of 2018, according to Google. (Credit: Google)

As we head toward the close of 2018, it comes time to identify the best app experiences that we've had for the whole year, and an interesting year it's been. Google launched YouTube Music Premium this spring. And just a few days ago, Amazon announced that Apple Music is coming to its Echo devices. In between, Sirius XM bought Pandora for $3.5 billion. And that's just music streaming apps!

As you might imagine, Google has a lot of info about which Android apps are the most popular among Play Store users, and its selections this year are partly "people's choice" awards and partly selections made by the company's own team of experts. It puts the fan favorites at the top of its list, and we can explain why these choices might be getting made, and what else you may want to check out.

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The best Google Play Store games of 2018

For mobile games, the fan pick comes down to PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, aka PUBG (Android, iOS). This third-person shooter revolves around a system very similar to Fortnite's Battle Royale mode, where you fight against up to 99 other players on a huge map and your character gets only one life. Like Fortnite (Android, iOS), PUBG's Battle Royale is free-to-play on mobile devices. Unlike Fortnite, you don't need to manually install the app outside of the Play Store.

In addition to being the Play Store's fan favorite, Google itself picks PUBG as the best mobile game of 2018.

For other game apps, we'd also recommend the free official companion for Red Dead Redemption 2 (Android, iOS). This kind of app doesn't usually have a great rep, but this one includes a handy full-size map where you can navigate more easily and set up waypoints that become visible in-game. (Note that the game itself is only available on the Xbox and PlayStation consoles.)

The best Google Play apps of 2018

The top fan-favorite app identified by Google is YouTube TV (Android, iOS), which streams live TV channels over the Internet, in competition with your cable and satellite providers. It also comes with a cloud DVR that lets you make unlimited simultaneous recordings that don't expire for months.

It costs $40 a month and currently lists 72 channels, plus access to all of YouTube Originals premium shows, like Cobra Kai and Origin. You get all the major networks, sports channels, and news channels; plus the Disney Channel, SyFy, AMC, BBC America, the Cartoon Network, and several popular options.

We'd also recommend that you check out Hulu with Live TV (Android, iOS). This also costs $40 a month, but you get access to its full on-demand library as well as the usual selection of channels. YouTube TV has its own on-demand content, but Hulu's library is arguably larger and easier to navigate.

Perhaps detecting a potential conflict of interest, Google itself diverges from the fan choice of best app of 2018 and makes Drops (Android, iOS) its best overall pick this year. This learning app can teach up to 31 languages, with dialect support for Cantonese, Latin American Spanish, and Brazilian Portuguese. Interestingly, the app can only be used for 5 minutes a day, so you've got to make your time count with its clever (and eye-catching) gamification of language learning.

Another new app worth checking out is Dell Mobile Connect (Android, iOS). This was technically available to Dell customers before 2018, but the company opened it up this year to everyone with an Android or iOS phone and a copy of Windows 10. This free app connects to your Windows 10 PC over Bluetooth (in coordination with the desktop app), and it can show you your phone's notifications in a widget on your desktop.

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You can also access your phone's contacts and place calls with your PC's microphone and send and receive SMS text messages using a keyboard and mouse. And you can reply to messages from within the widget's notifications feed, as though you were actually using your phone.

If your PC and phone are on the same Wi-Fi network, you can also mirror your phone's screen to the widget. Basically, the app lets you monitor your phone without having to actually look away from your computer screen, which is the kind of convenience and workflow improvement that app developers usually charge for.

When we tested it a few weeks ago, the Windows 10 desktop app was a little tricky to install on non-Dell PCs, but we have the instructions to get it working.

Takeaways

  • Google has selected the best Android apps for 2018, and it's identified which apps are the biggest hits among Google Play users.
  • YouTube TV was the most popular live TV streaming service, and PUBG Mobile was the most popular game. Google also chose PUBG as the best Android game of 2018, and it picked Drop as its best app. Drop does gamified language learning in five-minute sessions.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.