Unless you've been living under a rock, you know how much media is consumed on smartphones and tablets. Photos and music are almost entirely viewed on mobile devices, and mobile video consumption is only rising. While many people stick to the built in or default apps on iOS and Android, many third-party apps are way better for media, adding extra features and hugely improving on the user experience through good design.
I've looked for the best apps for music, photos, and videos, and tried to focus on the actual interface instead of just the features that you will anyway find listed in the app's description, because the interface determines how easy to use, and ultimately how useful the app really is.
Here are the top ten media apps for iOS and Android:
1) VLC (iOS, Android)
VLC by VideoLAN is pretty much a household name by now. VLC for iOS and Android supports various kinds of subtitles and played almost everything I threw at it. There were some issues with a few files on the Nexus 5 that caused delayed subtitles and the interface of the player gets overlapped by the phone's soft buttons.
Other than that VLC will serve the purpose for most people who want to watch videos on the go. VLC is also the only player that displayed styled subtitles correctly for all videos tested. Reliability, wide support, and a simple interface make this a great choice.
2) Infuse 3 (iOS)
This iOS exclusive video player is the best looking one out of all the ones I've used on both iOS and Android. On the other hand, it is not as robust in terms of features as, for instance, It's Playing Pro (see below).
If that's not a concern, then Infuse is a great choice, because it has the best of a gorgeous interface and a media player that supports almost every kind of file. Infuse 3 even automatically pulls metadata from the Internet for movies in the app, and displays them in a nice cinema ticket format.
Download Infuse 3 (Free)
3) DicePlayer (Android)
On Android, multiple file formats and encoding was never an issue as most players already played almost everything. DicePlayer is one of the most popular video players on Android with features like pop out play, support for multiple audio and subtitle tracks and hardware accelerated playback that is buttery smooth.
I hope it gets an update with a Material Design look soon because that's the only thing missing.
Download DicePlayer (Free)
4) MX Player (Android)
Just like DicePlayer, MX too supports a variety of formats and plays videos perfectly. It also supports pinching (to zoom) and panning (to scrub) the video and allows you to zoom in and move subtitles as well. I love the subtitle gestures available in MX Player.
MX Player is also available with a Hindi interface, thanks to volunteer efforts, and has been optimised for Android TV as well, in case you're looking for a media player with an Android set top box. Themes, automatic subtitle downloading, all in a small app that loads quickly and works smoothly make this a good pick.
Download MX Player (Free)
5) CanOpener (iOS)
The aptly named CanOpener for iOS is a very interesting music player. It supports high resolution FLAC playback natively and has built in audio profiles for various popular headphone brands including Beyerdynamic, Grado, Sennheiser, and more.
The audio output is tweaked to match your headphone of choice. The app interface is a bit hard to navigate at first but audiophiles will love this app.
Download CanOpener (Rs. 190)
6) Shuttle+ (Android)
Shuttle+ has already been featured in the 10 Best Paid Android Apps feature last week and for good reason. It is one of the best designed music apps on any platform.
It gets Material Design right and plays your music as it should. No compromises or annoyances like some other popular apps.
Download Shuttle+ (Rs. 50)
7) BlackPlayer EX (Android)
BlackPlayer EX isn't just another music player for Android. It has the most customisable interface and audio options out there. While the current trend with apps is to blur the album art as the background, BlackPlayer EX allows you to customise that as well, with nice sliders.
Considering that the ability to customise the experience is a big part of the appeal of using Android in the first place, BlackPlayer EX fits right in, and lets you create your own unique media experience.
Download BlackPlayer EX (Rs. 30)
8) It's Playing Pro (iOS)
Out of all the video apps available, It's Playing Pro has the best network support. Supporting multiple formats and subtitles (even auto-downloading the latter) is a given and you even get granular control over what quality to playback videos in formats not supported by hardware decoding.
It's Playing Pro allows you to view files in put.io, Facebook with downloading support, Dropbox, Youtube, and more. Networked hard drives like Sandisk Connect and Seagate Satellite are also supported.
You can also view videos frame-by-frame - perfect for geeks who want to overanalyse a background object in a scene - and the app supports pinch to zoom to get up close in a video as well. What's more, instead of just allowing you to adjust the brightness of the video, you can also change contrast and saturation.
Download It's Playing Pro (Rs. 300)
9) Google Photos (iOS, Android)
Google Photos is the culmination of Google's great design and mind-blowing machine learning. Google Photos is a great app to view and manage your photos in because it lets you search through all your images that aren't tagged.
Images that have food in them show up when you search for food and it has to be seen to believed. There can be some hiccups, when users behave unexpectedly. For instance, when we photographed a childhood picture in school uniform, it recognised that this is a school photo, and using location information, tagged it at the local school.
Despite the small gaps, Google really outdid itself with this app.
10) Focus (Android)
Focus is a brilliantly designed photo viewer and management app for Android. It allows detailed tagging and supports passcode lock. I love how it arranges your photos based on location and type on the home screen.
It might not be as smart as Google Photos, but it's not as complicated either, and is still a solid upgrade over your default gallery app. The app also sports a Material Design look and lets you view detailed information about each photograph.
Download Focus (Free)
These are our top picks, but if you're using something different that you think is even better, tell us and the other readers, via the comments.