Thursday, June 19, 2014

Smartphone spring cleaning

The warm weather is finally here!  Well, actually it has been here for a little while now.  It sure seems like we skipped spring and went from the deep freeze to the middle of summer within a matter of days.  Not that I'm complaining mind you, I actually love the warmer weather and hope it lasts well into January or later next year!  But the point here is that by now, you have probably exhausted yourself with cleaning out the garage, fixing up the yard, or maybe detailing the car.  So how about showing your smartphone a little love also?

Have you been taking pictures of the neighborhood Snowmen all winter?  How about all those cute cat videos you have been taking in hopes of finding that perfect viral video?  Or maybe you went on a downloading spree after the holidays and have a bunch of apps on your phone that you haven't touched in months.  Whatever the case, here are some simple things that you can do now to improve the performance of your smartphone.

1) Update
Making sure that all updates are installed will insure that known issues are resolved and your device is working optimally.

2) SAVE!!
You've worked hard taking all those awesome selfie's, recording those kitty videos, and making so much progress on Flappy Bird all winter, so make it's about time you back all that data up!  You can do this either to your computer by copying the files to your hard drive, or you can use a an app like Dropbox or Google Drive to backup your files to the internet storage account of your choice.  Whichever method you choose, make sure you back up your photos, videos, text messages, and app data.

3) Clean up
When is the last time you looked at that calorie counter app?  Or how about that app on how to tie a knot?  Chances are you have one, two or maybe even 20 apps which you don't really use any longer.  Go through your list of installed applications on your device and uninstall any apps which you no longer use or very rarely open.  On both Android and iOS there are certain apps that you will not be able to uninstall, like Contacts or the Dialer, but anything that you download and installed is fair game.  
Also in addition to backing up your files and apps, it is also a good idea to review, condense, and remove unneeded files. This includes old downloaded attachment files, game files, music or other media files, or any other kind of random file.  Caution: a word of advice before just deleting files, make sure you back up the files to another location first.  That way if something goes wrong and re realize that you really do need that file later, you have the ability to recover that file.  If it is deleted with no backup, then you will be unable to recover it.  For more information about what files to remove and how to free up space on your phone, visit this blog post: How to Free Up Space on an iPhone or iPad

4) Boost
As devices age, so do their batteries.  This means that their batteries will hold a smaller and smaller charge over time.  To maximize the life of your battery, you can change a few settings which will optimize how much power is being drained.  Go into your settings and turn off antenna's which you are not using, like your Wifi and Bluetooth.  Also turn down the brightness settings for your display.  Another setting to check would be when data is synced.  Make sure this is done only over a Wifi connection and not over your mobile network. Transferring data over a mobile network requires more power then transferring the same data over a Wifi connection.

5) Secure
Check your security settings and verify that your Anti-virus, Anti-spyware and Anti-phishing software are all up-to-date.  This is becoming more and more important these days as viruses and other malware are becoming more of a threat to mobile devices every day.  Another good thing to do is to review the access each app is granted.  If an app looks like it might be granted too high of a permission, try removing that permission level and reassigning to a lower level.  Also along the same lines, revoke access to any side loaded apps as these could contain code that might contain malware itself.  One last thing to double check in terms of security is to change your passwords and passcodes which secure your phone.  This will prevent others from accessing your phone and it will also prevent applications from accessing the phone in the background when yo weren't expected it.

Visit these other articles for more information how to spring clean your smartphone:

Monday, June 16, 2014

How secure is your home WiFi?

Do you have WiFi at home? Do you have a mobile Hotspot? Maybe you have a small business or a Church with a WiFi wireless network. 
The next question might be a little more difficult to answer:  How secure is that WiFi? 

Most people don't give this a lot of thought.  As long as they can connect to their wireless network and access the internet in order to check email or watch Netflix, then they don't give their wireless network another thought.  But the real question is, "Should you"?

How would you like someone accessing your network, using the public IP address of your network, and doing nefarious things on the internet?  They could be viewing or downloading kiddie porn across your network, downloading illegal media, or even just sucking up your bandwidth by streaming or downloading large amounts of data thereby reducing the throughput potential of your network for your own use.  That means your favorite Netflix or YouTube video will not be able to stream properly and result in a large amount of buffering.  This kind of activity can also lead to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) reducing or blocking your service, or even to the authorities showing up at your doorstep with a warrant to arrest you and seize your computers.  While you might be able to prove that you are innocent, you will still need to pay the cost to prove the illegal activity was not you.

So, how can you protect yourself you might ask?  Well the answer comes back to the question first asked: How secure is your wireless network?  In other words, is your wireless network wide open so anyone may access it or is it secured and access limited with a passcode?  There are also some other basic settings that should be configured  to help optimize the speed and security of your network.

The first thing to do is to figure out how to log into your router.  This is usually done by visiting an internally hosted website which within the router itself.  This site is for administration purposes and is technically only accessible to the internal network but not easily from the the external network, better known as the public internet.  Consult your owners manual for the web address for this admin site for your specific router, but for most routers the web address is:

Once you open this website, the router will ask you to log in.  Since this is the main admin site where you will set all the configuration options for the router, it is secured by a username and password.  The user name should be "admin", but once again please consult the documentation for your specific router as it might be different.  The default password is usually one of the following: "" (No password), "admin", "12345", or "password".  If you have visited here before, you may have changed the password already.  Enter in the login credentials, username and password, for your router.

Once you are logged into your router, you should see the configuration or setup page specific to your router.  Each one is slightly different and have the various setting organized in different ways, but most all routers present the basic settings which we will cover here in this discussion.  I will use the following Linksys screen shots for reference when describing the various settings, but keep in mind that your settings might be in a different section or labeled slightly different based on your router.

Below are the various things in your setting which you will want to set in order to secure your router and wireless network.

This is used to dynamically assign IP (Internet Protocol) addresses on your local network.  Every device that wants to, and you allow to, connect to your local network will need an IP address.  The router handles this using the range of IP addresses specified in this setting.
First make sure DHCP is enabled, then verify the start IP address and either the ending IP address or the number of DHCP addresses to use.  If, as shown below in the Linksys example, the setting requires a starting address and a number of DHCP addresses, make sure that the resulting ending IP address will not be greater then 254.  In other words, if your starting IP address is (where 100 is the number you entered), and the number of DHCP address you entered to allow is 155.  Then this would result in an ending IP address of  However, if you entered 157, this would result in an ending address of which is an invalid address and will result in an error.

2) SSID and WPS
This is your wireless network ID or the name of your network.  This ID is the name that you see when you search for a wireless network within windows or on your phone.  To be extra secure, you can "hide" this ID by turning off the option to Broadcast the SSID.  This means that when you scan for wireless networks, your network ID will not popup as being an available option, i.e. It will be hidden.  To connect,  you would have to type in the network ID and connect manually every time you want to connect.  But I do not recommend this as it becomes a pain because your devices will never automatically connect to your network either.  So level the Broadcast SSID option set to true.  
Set the SSID to a name that means something to you, but it is best not to leave it as the default of "Linksys G***" or whatever.  The reason is that leaving the SSID as the default will give would be criminals information about your network which would allow them to possibly compromise it if desired.  Also renaming your network to something you recognize will help you identify your network instead of a neighbor's network.
For Network Mode, choose the "Mixed" option.  The reason is that this will allow the greatest range of devices to connect to your wireless router.  If you are absolutely certain that you know that only one kind of device may be connecting to your network, like maybe only Wireless-N network cards, then you can choose that option.  But as a general rule, the safer choice is "Mixed"
For the Radio Band and Wide Channel options, you can change those, but again when you change them from the defaults, you are limiting the devices that might be able to connect.  So the recommended option is to leave them as their defaults.
If given the option to turn off WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), make sure that this is either set to Manual, off, or changed away from WPS.  WPS can be used as an exploit to gain access into your network.

3) Wireless Security
Wireless security is another area that is commonly overlooked in setting up a private WiFi network.  To enable wireless security, navigate to that option in the menu structure for your device, then select the Security Mode of WPA2 Personal (or WPA2/WPA - or sometimes it is listed as WPA2-PSK).  Then if given the option, choose the WPA Algorithm of "TKIP+AES".  Next create a Pass-phrase with which you will use to connect to the network.  This should be a phrase which means something to you and is at least 10 characters long.
The other Security Mode settings are:

  • WEP (Wired Equivalent Privacy) - This is a Wireless security mode that was introduced with the original 802.11 wireless network standard. While it does offer some encryption and protection, it's algorithms can easily be broken.  This makes it almost as unfavorable as leaving your network without encryption.
  • WPA (Wi-Fi Protected Access) - This wireless security mode was created in order to address the security concerns, but still was lacking higher encryption standards and had a few vulnerability which could be exploited allowing people to access a secure network.
  • WPA2 (Wi-Fi Protected Access II) - This wireless security mode was release to supersede WPA and included AES encryption which helped eliminate the risk of attackers being able to breach the network directly.  Although both WPA and WPA2 both still have a vulnerability in terms of the WPS (Wireless Protected Setup) function.  If this function is disabled, then the vulnerability is removed.

If you'd like to learn more about the different Wireless Security Modes, visit this Blog about The Difference Between WEP WPA and WPA2

4) Change default password for the admin account.
This is a very important step.  It is highly recomended that you not only change the Default SSID, but you should also change the admin password as well so that others are not able to easily gain access to your router. The reason this would be bad is that if someone got access to your router, they could change your passwords, change your network ID, exclude your devices from connecting, or even set up more advanced networking options without you being aware.  I suggest using a password safe like to generate a random password and then store it do you don't have to worry about remembering it.

So, what happens if you forget your new Admin password or you mess up some settings and don't know how to get them back to a working state? 
Well luckily the answer is easy for most modern devices these days. Usually on the back, but sometimes on the front, there is a small round push button. If you use a pencil or a paper clip, push that button in for at least 10 seconds, maybe 30 seconds for some devices. This will perform a hard reset and change all router settings back to the factory defaults. Once back to the defaults, you can reapply your changes. 

I hope this helps you in setting up your own home wireless network and maybe even with  help troubleshooting issues with your router. Please feel free to add your own nuggets of information about your wireless networking experience in the comments below.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Heartbleed: Are you bleeding out?

So you have heard about the Heartbleed bug that is affecting the Internet, but what is it really and what does it mean to you? Should you really be concerned?

Some reports say that it is the worst bug discovered on the Internet so far and others seem to brush it off as just another tech mumbo jumbo.  But I'm betting that you'd like someone to explain it so you know what the heck this thing is and if you really should be concerned, right? Well, as your Nerd friend, let me say that you need to be a little concerned about all this and here is why.

What this whole thing is about is allowing someone, who is not you, to snoop, or "read", your secure Internet communications.  Let's see if I can explain; let's say you log into to do a bit of shopping. You find the items you want to buy and add them to your card. You then go to your shopping cart to check out. Now you notice the little green pad Lock up in the address bar (if you're using Chrome, otherwise it might be elsewhere depending on your browser). This means that you have a secure connection with the Amazon server, i.e. Only you and the Amazon server can read the communication between the two of you. This is because there is an SSL, or Secure Socket Layer, connection between your browser and the server. Think of it as a pipe, an encrypted pipe, between your browser and the server. Anyone trying to intercept and read messages sent along this secure pipe only can see garbley gook because everything inside it is encrypted.

Now, this connection is kept alive with what is known as a heartbeat message. The purpose of the heartbeat message is to tell each side that the other is still there and not to close the connection. This Heartbleed bug allows someone outside the pipe to intercept this heartbeat message and with a slight modification, request the original heartbeat message but also request additional bytes of data from server memory for that connection. This means that anything in memory for that connection could be exposed. That could be the encryption keys or even username & passwords. If the encryption keys are exposed, this is then bad because the attacker could use that information to read all communications in that secure pipe.  

Ok... So what, Right?  You might ask, "How does this effect me? And am I really at risk?"
Well the short answer is: Yes you are at risk. Why? Because over half of the internet, and maybe as much a three quarters (or 75%), might have been at risk of having their secure communications read.  Most small services like eRetailers or online service providers use OpenSSL to secure their sites. But even the big companies like Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and Twitter use OpenSSL and had to take steps to secure against this bug.  The real kicker about this bug is that it was introduced to the internet back in January of 2011, if the reports can be believed.  This means that for about 2 years, anyone that might have known about this bug could have been intercpting all of your secure online communications.  We do know that the NSA was exploiting this bug to spy on all of us.  But what we don't know is who else might have been exploiting it also.

So, what can you do about it? Well, the only real answer is to change your passwords on all affected sites and services.  Now, how do you know if a site was affected or not? Well, the best way is to check their website to see if they mention applying a patch for Heartbleed or reissuing the security certificates for their site. But really the easiest way is to use a tool like the one provided by to check each of the sites you use to see if you need to change your password or not (Click here to find out).

But doing this might seem like a monumental task, especially if you have a lot of sites.  Well, this is yet another reason for using a password manager, or password safe as sometimes termed, to store and manage your passwords.     

This article by  from CNET, entitled: "Beyond Heartbleed: Why you need a password manager", really provides great insight into how to go about cleaning up your accounts after a major internet event like this.  Even if you have been reluctant to try a password manager in the past, the shear effort of remembering all the passwords to each site you need to change can be daunting.  These tools help make that task a little easier.

So, what lessons should we take away from this event?  Well the first is to make sure that you change the passwords for all of you accounts once your service providers have patched their systems.  Then going forward, make sure you change your passwords on a regular basis.  For some of you, that might be every 90 days, as some security professionals suggest.  But for the rest of us, let's try to do better and try to change those passwords at least once a year!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why worry online? You're safe right?

Like many IT professionals, I get questions all the time from friends and family about their computers or devices. I seem to be constantly giving advice and assistance on what they should buy, why their computer or device doesn't seem to be working properly, or how to fix a problem they are having.

All this is great and I truly love helping my friends and family when I can. But, like most of my techie friends, there is only so much time in the day and at some point being a free tech support becomes too much.  So, I thought I might write a couple things here to help answer some of these techie type questions and give a techie perspective on things.  Hopefully someone might find these useful and make both their digital and physical lives better in the process. 

Ok, to that point, the first topic I thought I'd share some thoughts on is being safe online.
First let me ask you a question, how safe do you consider yourself online? Is your version of safety like these two youngsters shown here?

Maybe you use multiple passwords for all your accounts, you try to stay away from shady websites, when viewing an email from an unknown sender you don't open attachments, and you run anti-virus software. Does that sum up your view on online security? Maybe you also have firewall software running too. All these things are good. Do you also have the thought that, "this is good enough, why would anyone want to hack into my accounts anyway?  I don't have anything important." 

That's one of the biggest farce's that we tell ourselves. The truth is that anyone and everyone who is online is a potential target. The question is, how temping of a target are you? The more important you become, the easier it is to "hack" into your accounts do to lax security on your part, or the more valuable the information is which is associated with your accounts then the higher the likelihood is that you will become the target of an attack attempt.

Attacks are not always just about gaining access to your financial information.  An attack could be to gain access to your account for purposes of gathering information about you or your contacts, they could target specific accounts in order to find out a very specific piece of information they could then use to access another of your accounts which contains more valuable information, say your email or your credit card.  This is called a Social Engineered Hacking.  In this case they are not cracking a password but circumventing the system by gaining access to your other less secured accounts to gain information like the last 4 digits of your credit card, your mailing zip code, or even answers to your security questions.  With this kind of information they could then reset your password on the account they want to access and then gain access to that account.  Once in, they can do whatever they want.  Delete information stored online, send malicious emails, deface websites in your name, post hate blogs, etc.

With weak passwords, hackers do not even need to go to these extreme methods to gain access to your email.  You might think that your email is safe because you don't have anything in it that is worth reading.  But the truth is that hackers don't care about your email.  They do want your email address in order to use it to send bulk spam out to all your contacts, as well as whomever else they want.  This is one way that spamming gets out of control and why it is so hard to catch spammers.

So what can you do?  Is all a lose?  Should you bury your proverbial head in the proverbial internet sand?  or maybe even go cold turkey and cut off the online addition all together?  While going cold turkey is probably the safest, it really isn't practical these days.  So the question really is what to do, and the answers really aren't all that hard.  Well, I say that, but the truth is that you can take some relatively simple steps to keep yourself relatively safe online.  But nothing will keep you 100 percent safe from digital threats as long technology is a part of your life.  Don't believe me, go do a little research on the Stuxnet virus ( and ask Iran how that worked out for them.

So what can you do to be safe?  Well here are a few simple things to do:
1) Have a unique 20+ character password for each of your sites or applications.  Anything below this is easily hacked.  I could bore you with the details, but trust me when I say this.  And those of you with the password of "Password123", just stop it, ok?

2) Store your password in a secure online password safe, like LastPass (  No one can have a unique 20+ character password for every site or application and hope to possibly remember what each and every password is, so instead, remember a single password and let a password safe remember them for you.

3) Use a Sandbox tool like Sandboxie ( to browse the web in a more secure way.  Using something like this will wrap your browser in a sandbox and this will in turn keep any malicious code running from a website or attachment from accessing your computer and infecting it.  This offers much better protection then an antivirus which attempts to "clean up" the virus after the infection has already occurred.

4) Follow the Elmer Fudd approach to opening attachments, Be w'ery w'ery careful, we're huntin' w'iruses!  Remember that ANY attachment, even those from known contacts, could contain viruses or malicious code.  If at all possible, open all attachments in a secure browser or in a sandboxed environment.

5) Do not browse to any suspicious websites.  If something looks strange or you think you are being taken to a website that isn't where you expected to go, don't hang around and click on things.  The best thing is to close the page and open a new page in a known/familiar location, like (

6) Do not trust free or open public WiFi.  Feel free to use it to check the latest sports scores or traffic status, but never ever access your financial information over a free or open public WiFi.  These networks are very easily hacked and are a huge source for theives to steal your ID, passwords, or financial information.  Be careful and just assume that on these types of networks someone is always reading or watching every single thing you do.

7) Last but not least, please also remember that Email is NOT secure.  Do not send anything of a sensitive nature via email, EVER!  Email is always sent in pain text mode, meaning that anyone who intercepts that message can view the contents of that message.  Nothing that is sent via email should ever be considered private.  Emails are constantly being intercepted and read, and not just by the NSA.  So if you don't want unknown people reading your private stuff, then don't send it in an email.

So there are 7 simple things that you can do to be a little safer and more secure online, starting today.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Nerd's Guide to Mobile Apps

So, you have a new Smartphone now eh?  Itching to play with all the neat features it can do?  How about the Apps that you can download?  Tried any of those yet?  The answer to that is most likely, Yes!

For those of us with Smartphones, Apps are almost a way of life these days.  We use them to navigate, to find restaurants, to assist with shopping, to connect with others, and of course to play games.  But that isn't the limit of what Apps can be used for these days.  If you can imagine it, there is probably an app for it.  Apple even has a saying for that, "There's an App for that!"

But, sometimes we get bogged down with the shear volume of apps out there and get daunted about which apps are really worth our time in using.  So, I figured I would take a few minutes and see if I could list off some Apps which I have found particularly useful or fun.  Since I am a bit of a techno-nerd and tend to download way too many apps for my devices, I've tried to list out here the apps which I have found most useful to me.  Hopefully you will find this list of mobile Apps useful also ... Enjoy!

Must Have Apps: 
Google Voice - Android & iOS -  Cost $0
Gives you a virtual phone number which is connected to you mobile number but is a fully functional number associated with your Gmail account.  Another benefit is that this can replace your carrier voicemail and provide Visual Voicemail for free.  In addition, it can be set so that all voicemail messages are transcribed and sent to your phone via txt message and email.

Google+ App - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is Google's take on Social Media (Like Facebook), but the benefit with this app is that it can be set to auto-backup your photo's to your Google+ account.  This is good because it saves them to your account on the web, marks them as private by default so only you can see them, and sync's over the air.  This means no more losing your pictures when you drop your phone in the river while canoeing.

Sync-In-A-Blink - iOS - Cost $2.99
This app allows you to sync you phone contacts on your iPhone (or iPad or iPod) with your Gmail account.  This means that you will never have to worry about losing a phone if you have a problem with your phone.

LastPass - Android & iOS - Cost $0 (requires a $12/year subscription to use)
This is a password safe app that is one of the best out there for storing all your passwords, maintaining unique and securely long passwords for each site or system for which you have an account.  This app allows you access and gives you copy/paste access to all of your passwords, meaning that you will never have to remember more than 1 password ever again!

Social Apps:
Facebook - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Great app for accessing your account on the Social Network.  This app is published by Facebook itself and encapsulates most of the functionality of Facebook's website.  Notifications are useful as they let you know when need to keep in touch with someone.  Also this usually always your Facebook contacts to integrate with your phone.

LinkedIn - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app is published by LinkedIn and other than the website, is the best way to access your LinkedIn account.  You can view/update your profile, connect to others, receive notifications, and receive/send messages.  This app also allows you to access your LinkedIn contacts from your phone.

Twitter - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app is published by Twitter and provides most of the features from the micro-blogging website.

Skype - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is the mobile app published by Skype.  It itegrates with your phone and allows you to make calls via Skype or your regular phone.  It has all the features of the normal Skype desktop client including calling, IM, and viewing profiles.  It also allows for Video Chat, a fun way to talk with people.

Office Apps:
Microsoft OneNote - Android & iOS - Cost $0 (Does require a SkyDrive account)
A note taking, note organizing application from Microsoft.  It integrates with SkyDrive as that is where the shared OneNote Notebook files are stored.  This application is a great tool to recording and organizing information.  A shared OneNote notebook can be accessed one multiple devices or from a computer.  Both text and pictures can be stored in a Note.

Evernote - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Similar to OneNote in that this app allows you to organize your notes and information, and then stores that information in an online account for you so that you may access that information from multiple devices or computers.  The biggest difference is that Evernote has more integration with other apps then OneNote does.  This means that other apps can send and store their data directly as a note in Evernote.

Whiteboard Share - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a great app if you find yourself using a Whiteboard a lot.  Once you have drawn on a whiteboard and before you erase, simply use this app to snap a picture first.  Then type in an email address and the app will send the picture it took of the Whiteboard to it's servers.  The Whiteboard is processed into a digital image, that image is cleaned up and "artifacts" (or the smudges and little marks left over from previous erases) are attempted to be removed.  Then both the original image and the new cleaned digital image is emailed to the address provided.  This is a very handy way to capture your whiteboard drawings during a meeting.

Web Storage Apps:
Google Drive - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app provides access to your online Google Drive storage account.  It also allows you to view and edit any file stored on your Drive account.

Dropbox - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app provides access to your online Dropbox storage account.  It also allows you to view and edit any file stored on your Dropbox account.

SkyDrive - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app provides access to your online SkyDrive storage account.  It also allows you to view and edit any file stored on your SkyDrive account.

ES File Explorer - Android - Cost $0
This is a great file manager app.  This app makes copy/move of files between internal and external SD card storage very easy.  It also allows access to cloud base storage too via your Box, Dropbox, Skydrive, or GDrive accounts.

Travel Apps:
Waze - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Waze is great little traffic and navigation app.  Unlike other Map or navigation apps, Waze takes the crowd sourcing approach to gathering current traffic and road condition data.  The drivers and users themselves report things like slow traffic, construction, road closures, police, or objects in the road.  The users also help update the map by reporting map problems and editing the map via the map editor tools.  This approach along with the large number of users, allow this app to display the most up to date information on traffic and road conditions.

GasBuddy - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app shows the current gas prices at stations either near your or in the area that you select.  Where this is very useful is when you would like to find the cheapest gas prices at the various stations around you.  Another great use is when you are on a long trip and want to decide to either fill up now or further on in your travel.  You can check the prices near you and then the prices where you think you will be when you will have to fill up again (along with all the stations along your route).  Then decide when and where you would like to fill up in order to get the best price possible.

Google Maps - Android & iOS - Cost $0
An old standby when trying to navigate and determine how to get somewhere.  While there are other mapping apps out there (Apple Maps, Yahoo Maps, Bing Maps, etc), Google Maps are consistently the most accurate and up to date.

eReader Apps:
Nook - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Required App for reading all B&N Nook eBook content.  Benefits are that any Nook content purchased from B&N can be read on any Nook device or Nook app running on any Android or iOS device.  The nice thing about an eReader is that you can access your library of books at any time or any place that you want.  You no longer have to worry about carrying around a heavy book or being at home to have access to your books.  Also another benefit of Nook over Amazon Kindle is that B&N allows you to download your eBook content in ePub format (DRM locked) to you computer.  This means that you can physically own your purchased eBook and not be reliant on B&N to allows be there and accessible in order to access the content you purchased from them.  On a side note, neither app allows you to save the eBook files, this can only be down via B&N's website.

Amazon Kindle - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Required App for reading all eBook content purchased from Amazon.  All eBook content purchased from Amazon can be viewed on any Kindle device or Kindle app running on either Android or iOS.  Interface is very easy to use and just like what was mentioned in the Nook App description, this eReader allows access to your entire Kindle eBook library anywhere and at anytime.  Convenience is the biggest factor of both of these eReader apps.  The only negative side of Kindle is that you are not allowed to save your eBooks, they only reside on Amazon servers.  Amazon does not allow eBook file saving at all.  But once again, other then for the safety of having your content backed up, there is no usage difference in either of these apps, they are both excellent eReader apps.

Bible Apps:
Mantis Bible Study - Android & iOS - Cost $0 (But it is ~$20 per Bible to download versions other than King James Version, same for all other integrated/downloaded content)
This Bible app is primarily meant to be an offline Study Bible app.  Like the traditional print version of the study bible, this app provides content in an integrated format to assist in the studying and understanding of the bible.  The King James Version (KJV) of the Bible is available to download for free and provides the basic content.  From there, the user can buy additional content and download this content in order to create a rich and tightly integrated bible study environment.  Many versions of the Bible may be purchased, along with Bible Study notes, commentaries, maps, and study plans.  This app also allows to the user to take notes, highlight passages, and mark key passages.  The user interface is very easy to use and makes navigating the Bible easy.  It also makes viewing multiple translations of a passage quick and easy to compare side by side.  The only down fall of this app is that at ~$20 per bible or commentary, buying all the content to make this app truly powerful can get expensive very quickly.

Bible (by YouVersion) - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Similar to the Mantis Bible study in that you can access multiple versions of the Bible.  You can view study notes also.  But this app receives it's content 100 percent via online delivery.  This means that it does not download and store the Bibles locally.  This is how it is able to remain a free cost as it is able to offset fees to users with banner ads which can easily be ignored.  If you are looking for a cheap and inexpensive means of receiving Bible content, this is a wonderful little app and highly recommended.

Music Apps:
Google Play Music - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a great service as it allows you to upload your collection of music as MP3's and store that music online in the Google Cloud for free.  Your music, while stored in the Google Cloud, is associated with your account and you can access it from any device or any computer at any time that you would like.  This app provides that connection which allows you to listen to your music and download it to your phone any time you'd like.  This app can work in online mode which streams your music or in offline mode which plays only the music that was previously stored on the device.  There is also an Internet Radio service which you can sign up for, which allows you to listen to "stations" which you create based on artists or songs which you enjoy.

Pandora - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a free service which has become the leader in Internet Radio.  This app allows you to connect to your Pandora account and listen to any of the stations which you created in your account.  It also allows you to create new stations or customize your stations using the seed or thumbs up & down functions.  There is no offline mode for this app and all music is streamed, so be careful if you are not in WiFi and have a data limit on your phone plan.

Zedge - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a fun little app that allows you to listen to various ringtones and notification sounds, download and set them as either the default sound or a specific sound.  It allows you to set ringtones for specific contacts, as well as set the customized notifications.

Shazam - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This app is helpful when you are listening to music somewhere and hear a song, but can't remember the song name, artist, or album.  Simply open this app, tap the "Listen" button and the app will take a sound sample of the song using the phone mic.  Using this sample of the song, the app will them match that in it's online database with millions and millions of songs until the correct song is found.  Once the song is identified, it will return the song name, artist, album, and a bunch of other information, as well as allow you to buy it on iTunes or Amazon MP3.

Soundhound - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Very similar to Shazam in that this app also take a sound sample of a song that is playing in the air and then attempts to match that sound sample with a song in it's online database.  Some have claimed the that match rate for Soundhound is better than that of Shazam, but I have honestly never seen a difference.  You are also given the option of being taken somewhere to buy the track once identified, if you'd like.

YouTube - Android & iOS - Cost $0
What do I need to say about YouTube?  Seems to be an internet staple these days.  But in case you've had your head under a rock for the past decade or so, here's the app you'll need and want in order view the plethora video's out there.

Redbox - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This should not be confused with the Redbox Instant app.  This app is used primarily to check what is at your local Redbox kiosk and if needed to reserve a movie at said kiosk.  This app does not stream any instant movies.

Redbox Instant by Verizon - Android & iOS - Cost $0
If you are looking to use the Redbox Instant service in order to stream movies, this is the go-to app for that.  This is similar to Netflix in that you can view all of the Redbox online content and then stream said content directly to your phone.

Netflix - Android & iOS - Cost $0
If you have a Netflix account, this is the app you'll want in order to view all that wonderful online content.  You can browse the Netflix online catalog and stream movies directly to your phone.

Chromecast - Android & iOS - Cost $0
If you have a Chromecast device connected to your TV, or you are somewhere where you have access to a Chromecast device which is connected to a TV, then you can use this app to configure that connection.  Once configured, you can use apps like YouTube, Play Music, and Netflix to stream content (Music and Video) directly from your Phone to the TV in High Definition (in most cases 1080p).  Check the link below for a list of the supported apps which allow streaming content.

Pulse (by LinkedIn) - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Pulse is a multi-source news reader which you can configure for any news source which interests you.  These news feeds from all the sources that you choose are then compiled into scrollable strips that display all the news articles from each feed.  The interface makes it very easy to find and view the news articles that interest you quickly and easily without bogging you down with everything that is not of interest.

Flipboard - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is another multi-source news feed which allows you to configure which news sources your are interested in and then quickly browse and view those articles which are of interest.  This News feed browser puts a unique spin on displaying news feeds in that to scroll you have to Flip the pages or topics vertically instead of horizontally.

Financial Apps:
Isis Mobile Wallet - Android & iOS - Cost $0 (Must be activated on your account by your carrier first)
This is the Mobile Payment system of preference for Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile.  That means that if you are on one of those networks and have a NFC enabled phone, you should be able to enable this on your account and make payments at certain merchants simply by entering a PIN on your phone and tapping your phone to the register at checkout.  Isis Mobile Wallet is set up to initially use American Express Serve card as the default means to make payments, but you can add any accepted card that works with the Isis system (check the site below for details).  The American Express Serve account works similar to PayPal in that you link one of your accounts to the card and load money onto the Serve card before making any purchases with it.  Isis and AE Serve together make this a very handy payment system as you don't need to pull out your wallet to make a payment, just simply Tap-To-Pay with your phone.

Google Wallet - Android & iOS - Cost $0
If you are on Verizon, AT&T, or T-Mobile, then this app is much like PayPal or the American Express Serve card.  By that I mean you link your Google Wallet account with your bank account and load money onto your Wallet account.  Then you are able to make payments on Websites and places that accept Google wallet payments, much like making a PayPal payment. If you are not on those three networks and have an NFC enabled phone, Google Wallet can be made to work so that it can make electronic NFC payments the same as Isis Mobile Wallet.

PayPal - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a great app to access your Paypal account from just about anywhere.  If you have a need to manage your Paypal funds, send payments via Paypal, or check on payments received.  Then this app will serve your needs perfectly.

Real Estate:
Zillow - Android & iOS - Cost $0
If you are in the market for a new place, this app is a Must Have.  When paired with the website, this app can be powerful tool for discovering what is on the market currently in the area you are interested in.  It shows properties filtered type (Rent, Condo, House, etc.) and by price on a map of the area you are interested.  You can then tap on a property to read the listing and even schedule to talk to someone about that property if you'd like.  It also has financial tools built in so that you can begin the process of securing a loan.

HotPads - Android & iOS - Cost $0
Similar to the Zillow app, this also allows you to view property types on a map, filtered by type (rental, condo, house, etc.) and price.  You are also able to mark or tag properties that interest you so that you can come back later and view them.

Clean Master - Android - Cost $0
This is a handy little tool as it monitors the usage of memory on the phone and allows you to clean up unused or non-critical applications from the limited amount of memory.  This optimizes your phone and keeps this running fast.  It also can clean up cache and temporary files left by programs in for to save storage space.  It also is able to boost game speed.

Super-Bright LED Flashlight - Android - Cost $0
Of all the flashlight apps on the market these days, this is one of the better ones.  It allows you to control the LED light on the back of the phone as the flashlight and even has a unique feature of giving you the ability to make the light blink (also allowing you to adjust the speed of the blink from fast to slow on a scale of 1 to 10).

This section could go on for a long time, but I will just cover a couple games which I think are well worth the time you end up playing them.  I'm sure you probably have your favorites and there are so many more I could cover, but below are just a few:

Temple Run 2 - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a reboot of the original game of the same name.  In this version, not only do you do an endless run across multiple tracks and obstacles, but you also now get a mine cart and water slide.  It also adds sub-challenges, special items, and boosts which make the game more exciting and add a new level of difficulty.

Unblock Me FREE - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This is a great game for those who love puzzles.  The object is to move the blocks of wood around the screen in order to open a path to move the red block across the screen and out the hole on the opposite side.  The horizontal blocks can only move left or right and the vertical blocks can only move up or down.

Fruit Ninja - Android & iOS - Cost $0
This has become a classic game.  There are multiple game play modes, but the basic concept is the same, use your finger to slice fruit that is "trown" across the screen in an attempt to attain the highest score possible.  But be careful to only slice the fruit!

Bejeweled Blitz - Android - Cost $0
This is a knock off of the original and much loved Bejeweled game.  In this version you have to swap jewels in order to create a row of at least three of the same jewel but the twist is that you are only given 60 seconds to see how high of a score you can achieve.  It also allows a connection to your Facebook account so that you can post your scores and play against your friends.

Arcane Empires - Android & iOS - Cost $0 (but in-game purchases are encouraged)
This is an MMO strategy game.  There are many of them out there and Kabam (the creator of this game) has two other very good games of the same format also (Kingdoms Of Camelot and The Hobbit).  All three of these are very good and very fun to play.  You can play by yourself or get into a team and play with others.