The 11 best Android apps for training your brain and learning languages

Keep your mind sharp with these games and puzzles, but be wary of all those in-app subscriptions and upgrades.

brain fitness apps android
Credit: Derek Walter
Give your mind a daily workout

The number of apps claiming to sharpen your mind through daily mental calisthenics has exploded. Many of them are excellent at making brain training and language learning fun, offering a better way to kill some time on your phone or tablet than smashing candy pieces.

But you could go broke signing up for each platform’s upgraded services. So along with pulling together some of the best options for enjoyable and challenging mental gymnastics, we'll also highlight what it will cost you to go premium with each. 

Here are ten of the best. Check them out and see if they’re what you need to finally pick up another language or whip your brain back into shape.

lumosity
Lumosity

Lumosity is one of the heavy hitters in the brain fitness department, and it has an impressive amount of tools to match its claims about sharpening your gray matter.

You can sign on each day for a series of games that train your memory and attention. First there’s an inventory exercise, which taxes your mind with a series of skills like remembering shapes and disappearing cards. Once the app knows your weaknesses it designs a training regimen to help you stop forgetting names and other cerebral shortcomings.

Lumosity’s full service with access to more games and data isn’t cheap, however. An individual plan will run you $79.95 per year, with a variety of other packages available like a lifetime subscription for $300.

Lumosity (Free, with in-app purchases)

elevate
Elevate

Elevate takes a targeted approach at specific skills like reading, writing, and math instead of broad cognitive abilities.

I especially liked the opening inventory, which gave a concrete skill test surrounding games like choosing a word that should be eliminated from a sentence or testing your recall after reading a passage. In fact I find myself looking to nuke unnecessary words more often after a few days of practice, something sure to make my editor happy. [Yes. —ed.]

Elevate Pro is $45 per year, and it gets you 10 additional games, unlimited training, and “premium” learning material deliveries. You also get to check out how you compare to other members, which could be affirming or a blow to the ego depending upon your performance.

Elevate (free, with in-app purchases)

neuronation
NeuroNation

Neuronation takes the scientific approach, targeting particular brain skills like memory, reasoning, and recall. Like some of the other options NeuroNation lets you choose what to focus on, giving you specifics like focus and memory skills.

After the initial evaluation it lays out a set of courses, which include a batch of games to play for improving your abilities in those areas. Instead of an annual subscription, with NeuroNation you pay to unlock specific courses. You can a set of activities around a particular function, like memory, for $7 each or the entirety of all the games for $33. There are lots to choose from, so it can add up quickly.

NeuroNation (free, with in-app upgrades)

duolingo
Duolingo

Duolingo gives you the ability to learn Spanish, French, German, Italian, and many other languages for free. Like really free, without any in-app upgrades or memberships.

You’re given daily practice through a series of activities where you write a translation, match words, and even speak into a microphone.

If you’re beyond the beginner level you can take a placement test that assesses how much of that language you actually know. However, it involves typing in that foreign language, so you may have to switch up which keyboard you’re using to avoid hyper frustration.

You will probably need more real-world testing before declaring yourself fluent, but Duolingo is a nice way to get the ball rolling toward becoming bilingual.

Duolingo (free)

fit brains trainer
Fit Brains Trainer

This brain workout app is from the people behind Rosetta Stone, which certainly helps it in the credibility department.

It also starts you out with an inventory, but unique to Fit Brains Trainer is a tool that asks you for any medical issues you have, presumably to take them into account when drawing up your plan of action. It’s up to you if you really want to share any incidents of brain injury, high blood pressure, or ADD.

The games focus on cognitive skills like concentration, memory, and problem solving. I found the graphics were’t quite as sharp and immersive as Lumosity or Elevate, though I did like the layout for manuevering through the different sections. 

Of course there’s a pro package for unlimited access to all the exercises and personal data. It’s a lot cheaper if you go for the full package inside the app, as it’s listed at $50 for lifetime or $10 for one year. The introductory email I received when signing up, however, took me to a page with substantially higher rates for a membership, like $300 lifetime. Give Fit Brains Trainer a try, and if you like it go with the cheaper upgrade inside the app.

Fit Brains Trainer (free, with in-app upgrades)

quizlet
Quizlet

Quizlet is for any kind of training you want, as it’s a digital form of the old-school study cards some of us remember using in school.

It has a user-created database of study games that cover virtually every academic topic.

When you sign up (thanksfully it uses Google sign-in to speed up the process) you have to choose if you’re using the app as a student or teacher. As the latter, you can create quizzes and manage a group of students, giving them access to your word matching and other games. 

Quizlet (free)

babbel
Babbel

Babbel is another excellent option if you’re looking for a language learning tool. 

It uses games, conversation exercises, and image matching to walk you through a new language. The speech recognition technology will listen and evaluate your speech when reading specific phrases.

You can continue the training on the desktop or that other mobile operating system, but fortunately the Android app has good parity in terms of features and design.

If you like it, a subscription costs $12.95 per month, or get the better deal fo an annual subscription for $83.40.

Babel - free with in-app purchases

neuron gym
Neuron Gym

Neuron Gym is a good workout if you’re not quite ready to pull the trigger with one of the apps that require a subscription.

It has a good array of games and puzzles targeted at improving your attention, memory, and problem solving skills. The graphics aren’t as dynamic as other options, and for now its app is designed just for phones. It looks all right on a Nexus 7, but will probably be too blown-up on a larger tablet.

While it’s a little rough in some places (Neuron Gym is still in beta), it’s free for now, making it a solid option for tinkering with this kind of application.

Neuron Gym (free)

peak
Peak

Peak is one of the best looking apps in the bunch, with a minimalist interface that meshes well with Android.

The games are focused on core brain functions like memory, but you get the most customization choices of any of the apps through a lengthy list of questions about what you want to work on. Peak is also well designed; the company highlights both its Android and iOS versions prominently on its website and updates them regularly. It is always refreshing to see Android not considered a second thought.

The Peak Pro upgrade gets you personalized workouts, additional analytics, and of course access to all of the games in the database. It’s $5 monthly or $35 for the year.

Peak (free, with in-app purchases)

rosetta stone
Rosetta Stone

Rosetta Stone has a reputation that matches its revered name. It’s the benchmark for language learning, and its app looks and performs the best in this genre. 

It has a good variety of exercises through matching pictures, speaking, and exploring the vocabulary behind everyday objects. 

It’s not cheap, of course, as packages for full access start at $130 through the in-app upgrade. Some things are worth paying for, however, and Rosetta Stone is worth it if you’re serious about shedding your monolingual status.

Rosetta Stone (free, with in-app upgrades)

memrise
Memrise

Memrise is another solid language learning app with a few extras for improving your polishing your mind palace.

You can select how intensive you want the language training to be, starting with basic or opting for an intermediate or advanced level. The app then uses pictures, multiple-choice answers, and other language exercises. I didn’t spot any voice training while trying it out, however.

Its signature feature is Mems, which is what it calls user-submitted images that are supposed to help you remember specific terminology. It will help if you’re a visual learner, but those who remember best through audio or other means are out of luck. 

Along with language, there are courses for world capitals and other random topics that could be useful for impressing others at your next cocktail party.

The premium subscription is $59 per year, and it gets you data performance analysis, more lessons on difficult words and some kind of “motivational tools.”

Because the details are rather murky, I’d recommend sticking with the free option until you come across a reason that makes it compelling to upgrade.

Memrise (free, with in-app upgrades)