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Sorry to hear about your apprehension with downloading apps. What one feels comfortable with may be completely different for another and I understand your reluctance to accept everything at face value. That being said here are my rules for installing apps and perhaps you can use some of them to feel more comfortable or tweak them to better fit you.
1. Install no app with a rating of less then 3.5 stars.
3.5 stars may sound low but if you look at an app and just as many people gave it 1 star as gave it 5 stars that's not an app you will probably want.
2. Read the comments and reviews for the app.
When I say read the comments and reviews for the app I mean read the 1 and 2 star reviews. Not all of the devs that put out apps are as reputable as one would like and there are always accusations of review fixes. By reading the low rated reviews you will see what people don't like or think is wrong with the app. No one posts bad reviews to boost app downloads. Beware though people can be hateful and rate app poorly because they don't work on their device even when the dev clearly states in the description that it won't work on this device or that one.
3. Use apps that are dev'd by the service over other dev's.
If you want to use an app by 4Square, for example, download the app from 4Square not joesmoe. Usually the app from the provider is the best anyway.
4. Take a minute to read the description of the app.
Often if the dev has known issues with devices they will recommend that people with those devices do not use their app. Most good dev's will give full rich descriptions of their app so you know what to expect.
5. Finally talk to your friends about apps (AND) don't be first.
These two go hand in hand and are interchangeable. It goes back to #1 and #2. Your friends on android are a great resource for finding good apps. Let others take the risk, that you are hesitant to, and learn from their experiences. If the app has only been downloaded 300 times there isn't much to base an opinion on. Low download numbers mean fewer reviewers and more slant on the rating.
Having said all of this I would also like to point out that Android is a sandboxed OS. This means it is far less likely to fall victim to viruses. If you want to know about an app search the forum or post a question.
GL and welcome to Android and AndroidCentral.