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 Zillow.com 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.