Apps for Downtime and Productivity: Make Your Smartphone Smarter

This is a guest post by Lauren Schmidt. Lauren loves to blog, play golf and sing in the rain.

Woman on smartphoneFor several years I stuck with my itty-bitty phone whose functions were limited to making calls, sending texts and waking me up in the morning. Why would I want to spend a few hard-earned Benjamins on a smartphone? Well, I drunk the Kool-aid and now I’m never more than a few feet away from my phone. Here are some apps that get used on a daily, or near-daily, basis:

Flipboard

Flipboard helps me keep tabs on social media; it integrates my Facebook and Twitter streams with the RSS feeds of my favorite blogs and news sources. Instead of looking at the boring interface of Google reader, I just open Flipboard and see pics and headlines of the latest posts, tweets and status updates in a magazine. Just tap the picture to read the rest of the post and share it with others. Set up is really easy and, best of all, it’s a free app.

Instapaper

During the week, I never have enough time to read even a fraction of what catches my eye so I use Instapaper to save and read the article later. Instapaper lets me save articles so I don’t spend precious minutes searching for them later. The one-time $4.99 cost is comparable to what I’d spend on just one issue of my favorite magazine. Besides archiving up to 500 articles, I can share them with others via email, Twitter and Tumblr through the app.

Break

To relieve the day’s stresses, sit down and open up funny pics on Break.com’s app to get a few good laughs. The ever-increasing collection of pics are cracking me up have created such an addiction, I have to limit myself to 15 minutes a day! The app is available for iOS, Android and tablet devices and best of all, it’s free!

Evernote

My organization management tool since my husband first introduced it to me as a desktop application a few years ago. Evernote is a virtual file cabinet that can be installed, and synced, on all of your digital devices for easy access to your documents no matter where you are. I keep notebooks, as the files are called, for each member of my family, my business, recipes, my never ending to-do list and projects. I use the basic service which is free, but the premium service allows you to store a larger amount of data and have changes of documents saved.

Mint

Whether you’re trying to dig out of debt or just want to stick to your budget, the folks at Mint have you covered with this handy app that integrates your bank accounts so you can keep better tabs on your money. I like the user interface — it lets me track my spending with a few taps. Say goodbye to racking up $30 overdraft fees for a $3 coffee!

Shop Savvy

You know that feeling you get when you see the same dress you bought last week at a different store, but for $30 less? That may very well be a thing of the past if you employ Shop Savvy on a regular basis. You simply input the item that you’re planning to purchase and it will compare both brick and mortar the virtual shops to find the lowest price. And if that wasn’t good enough, shopsavvy.com states it will give you the closest location so you can decide if the cheapest price is worth it, even if it requires a half-hour drive or let you purchase the item via the app if you’re making an online purchase.

OverTo You

Do you use any of the apps we detailed here? Or do you have suggestions for other apps that should have made the list? We’d love to hear your thoughts – please do share them in the comments and tell us what you think.

11 of the Best Money Management and Budgeting Apps Available

Before banking as we know it today came into full effect with debit and credit cards, cash was all that we used. Now with the switch towards plastic, many people are using their card for everyday transactions such as buying lunch, purchases on Amazon and other expenses. This growing trend has meant keeping track of funds has become much harder. Some of us even get our monthly statements electronically, which means knowing your exact balance at any given time can be even more difficult, and those of us who check online often wonder “how did I spent that much?!”. Here’s a rundown of some of the best apps to help you take care of your money.

Account Tracker
Account TrackerAccount tracker has had a great reputation ever since launch in 2010, and was voted the staff favourite by Apple in July/August 2010. Available for iOS and Windows phone, this app allows you to set up different accounts, track budgets in different categories, view spending and much more. It’s even available with Cloud backup so you won’t ever lose any of that valuable data. This popular app even has alerts for when you are nearly overdrawn!

Calculator 12 in 1
Calculator 12 in 1This handy app has every calculator you’ll ever need. This little tool contains a scientific calculator, with most functions you will need, a unit converter, stats calculator, graph modes, equation solvers, base converter, world clock and much more. A handy calculator, which will help solve problems in every situation.

IOU Pro
IOU ProThis Android app is very simple, and often much of money management is looking after the pennies, so the pounds take care of themselves which IOU Pro helps out with. Excuse the pun, but with simple IOU reminders, you can take care of small payments for friends and colleagues which may go under the rug, adding up in the long term.

12C Financial Calculator
12C Financial CalculatorThis is the official emulator of the HP 12C Financial Calculator. With apparently better performance and functions than the real calculator and about a tenth of the price how can you go wrong? This app shows you the time value of money, cash flow analysis, bonds, depreciation, loan payments calculation and much more. One for all the accountants on the go!

PayPal 
PayPalFor all of you who have a PayPal account this app can be handy, as it allows you quick access and a mobile/tablet view in comparison to the sometimes tricky desktop interface. Essential for having a quick overview and making payments when on the go! A quick tip from us is to make sure you don’t automatically get registered into a yearly subscription if you only require a one off payment.

MyMoney
MyMoneyMyMoney allows you to manage your money and keep track of it on the go. This app sets itself apart from the others on the market by being simple and effective. With all the core features on the home screen, this is one for all those who want to keep track, without having to delve into complex features.

PocketMoney
PocketMoneyPocket Money is great in that you can sync it across all platforms. iPhone/iPad, Android and desktop. After plugging in your income and expenditures, you can look at your budgeting and set up automatic payments and export to Microsoft Excel. This app give you lots of visuals, with these graphs helping you identify areas in which you can potentially tighten your belt.

Bloomberg
BloombergMore for those of you who have stocks and shares, the Bloomberg app is great for the latest trading news and analysis. Great for those users of every level, whether you are a trader or have a few shares knocking about. With the sheer amount of data and analysis on this app, it is recommended for the larger tablets than the small handheld devices.

Easy Books
EasyBooksEasy Books is a bookkeeping app which makes sending out repeat invoices for sole traders and small limited companies simple. For those of you who want to record your transactions, but without the hassle or price tag which comes with the renowned Sage software. This app has all the basics you need; receipts, payments, invoicing, VAT calculator as well as Profit and Loss accounts and Balance Sheets.

Google Docs – My Budget and more
Google DocsGoogle docs has the advantage that you can connect to it from any internet source and isn’t platform specific. Here you can find some free templates to use, which you can fill in with monthly income and outgoings in order to budget and save yourself some hard earned cash.

HomeBudget
Home BudgetThis app is available for both the Android and iPlatforms with synchronisation to Mac and Windows operating systems too. This app is clean, with visual segments for your budgeting. It tracks your expenses, income and payments. Some of the best features include bill reminders, budget rollover and the ability to choose a different base currency for each account which can be useful for the international business man out there.

That just about completes the post. There are loads of money management apps out there, all of which will have you saving in some areas. All you have to do is get thinking about spending wisely and cutting costs where available.

Author Bio
This article was written by David Lewzey behalf of income protection company helpucover. helpucover are an insurance company who offer a range of cover from household insurance, car GAP insurance and gadget cover. helpucover is a trading style of Pinnacle Insurance plc. Visit online at http://www.helpucover.co.uk/

5 Amazing Android Apps for Coffee Addicts

Roasted coffee beansThis is a guest post by William Judd.

Good morning everybody and welcome to this article! Today we’re going to be looking at five brilliant Android apps for coffee lovers. If coffee is the secret to your ebullient nature, then this is the app for you. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

5. Hidden Menu Coffee Drinks
There’s something about ordering a drink that’s not on the menu that’s quite exciting – particularly when you actually get it! This app taps into that excitement, offering a range of secret menu items you can ask for at Starbucks. These are all modifications of existing drinks, ensuring that your barista doesn’t need to be in on it to be able to fulfill the order. You’ll get both a plain English version and a Starbucks-specific code for each drink, allowing you to easily show or tell the barista what you’d like. With twenty-five recipes on tap and a further 50 available by purchasing the Pro version, you’ll definitely have some experimenting to do.

4. Coffee Recipes
This app is similar in idea, but offers a much broader execution. While the Hidden Menu app offered only Starbucks drinks, this app shows you 90 different coffee recipes that you can make yourself or ask your friendly neighbordhood barista for. With a range of apps including both well-known options and rather esoteric ones, even the most jaded coffee orderer will find plenty new to try. This is a good app for trainee baristas, as it’ll widely expand the range of drinks at your disposal.

3. Coffee Finder
This app is again for the lovers of the big American and Canadian chains – Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Dunkin’ Donuts and the like. These and five other chains are shown on a map, allowing you to easily find the nearest coffee outlet wherever you are. This is, however, limited to the United States and Canada – when I used the app in the United Kingdom, I found that only Starbucks offered up any results. If you are in North America, this is definitely a great app, but those in other nations are probably best off using the standard Google Maps app.

2. Coffeemania
This app is similar to our number 4 entry, but offers an even greater number of coffee recipes. There’s more than 250 in total, with a wide range of options including hot and cold drinks and even coffee-based food. There are also some informational sections, which contain educational material on brewing methods and vessels (although some options, like senseo pods, aren’t shown). The app is not brilliantly laid out, but it gets the job done and is more than worth the free install.

1. Baristame
This is the best app on the list by far, as it offers both solid educational content on espresso based drinks and a beautiful design. With excellent diagrams of each drink in its database, you’ll find Baristame is a pleasure to use. Each drink also contains information on its origin and any variants that exist. If you want to test your coffee knowledge, you can do so in the quiz mode that the app offers. The Pro variant is probably the most worthwhile of any of the apps on this list – for $1, you get a lot of additional educational content, including information on brewing methods and even coffee-producing nations. A well designed app that’s perfect for coffee lovers!

Conclusion
So there we have it – five coffee app selections for Android. Thanks for reading the article and be sure to let me know in the comments below what you thought of it. If you find any great coffee apps that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments or message me on Twitter @wsjudd - I’m always interested in finding out that next great app! Have a good day and I’ll see you next time.

Pinterest app now out for Android

Pinterest logo

After some time, Pinterest have finally published an official app for Android. The move, which also coincides with the release of an official app for the iPad, marks the end of a marketplace full of ‘Pinterest compatible’ apps in the marketplace which inevitably turn out to be a web browser set to go to Pinterest’s mobile site.

The Pinterest app contains all of the functionality that you’d expect: viewing things that your friends have pinned, searching for pinned images, seeing the most popular pins and even pinning things yourself.

This latter functionality works perhaps better on Android than it ever did on iOS, with the ‘share’ functionality baked into Android providing an easy way to pin pictures that have originated in almost any application.

The app is well polished in most senses, and I’m sure it’ll share the site’s reputation for frequent updates soon enough. It’s free for download in the Google Play marketplace, so whether you’ve got a Pinterest account or not you should download it and give it a shot.

This article was written by William Judd, working for Mobile Fun. Mobile Fun is the UK’s leading phone accessories retailer.

Instagram finally released for Android, nerd hipsters everywhere rejoice

Instagram logoInstagram is one of those rare apps that you hear about even if you don’t have it installed – its heavy post-processing and retro vignettes have made it easy to spot from a mile off, and its easy social sharing has made it immensely popular with the iOS crowd, to which it is – or rather was – confined. For today, Instagram for Android has finally been released.

While your iPhone-wearing pals may brag that they “were using it before it was cool”, the Android version of the app is as well mannered and fully featured as the iOS original, including all manner of retro stylings to be easily applied to your photos. While we’re hearing that the soft-focus tool hasn’t yet made the leap to Android, pretty much everything else seems to be present and correct.

After Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom made the announcement at the SXSW festival in Austin that Instragram was coming to Android and would be “one of the most amazing Android apps you’ll ever see” and “in some ways… better than our iPhone app”, over 430,000 Android users signed up to the waiting list.

Having said that, there’s little here to warrant those two phrases – it’s a good app for sure, but not “one of the most amazing” and it’s hard to see in which ways it’s “better than our iPhone app” as it has no features that the iOS app does not.

Furthermore, why go to the trouble of having a waiting list in the first place if you’re not going to actually have a proper beta?

It’s an odd release for those reasons, but whatever: Instagram for Android is here. Go download it from the Google Play (aka Android Marketplace) here.

This article was written by William Judd. William writes for Mobile Fun, the UK’s leading online retailer of iPad 3 accessories including iPad 3 cover and iPad 3 screen protectors.

Free mobile apps drain your battery?

iPhoneThere’s been plenty of speculation about why some iPhone users experience high data usage, but how is your battery use? Some days my iPhone 4S seems to cope pretty well, while others the battery counter drops like a stone. The BBC is reporting on some research by a team from Purdue University that claims free mobile apps can drain your battery.

How does that work? Well, free mobile apps are more likely to be supported by advertising than paid ones and it’s that advertising that seems to be the culprit.

When you’re playing a game you downloaded for free, the developer most likely wants to be compensated for the time they spent building the app. So they build in an advertising delivery system that pulls adverts over the Internet. When an advert is seen or, perhaps, interacted with, the developer gets a little bit of cash to encourage them to keep on developing.

The thing is, those adverts do use an Internet connect (perhaps that’s something to think about when it comes to data usage too) and may be targeted depending on your location. Opening a data connection to send the phone’s location and download adverts takes power… hence the idea that free, advertising supported apps use more power than others.

During their research, the team looked at Angry Birds can came up with the surprising result that around 20% of the energy used to run the game is used to power gameplay. That’s 80% on advertising, and 45% of that is used just to work out your location. Quite apart from the numbers themselves being surprising, Angry Birds isn’t a free app… but it does still serve apps up when you pause the game.

So, what are we meant to do? The research report’s author says developers must take energy consumption more seriously, and I agree with him. Apps should be optimised to avoid unnecessary drain on batteries. After all, you don’t want to have to recharge your phone every hour or so just because you’re enjoying a game. But can we ever get rid of this over-the-Internet advertising phenomenon? I don’t think we can. While there are still people who balk at paying 69p for an app, there will be a huge demand for free mobile software. And while people still have to pay their bills and buy their food, developers will look for ways to generate some income from this free app “market”.

At the moment, the only way to make money without asking users to pay would seem to be advertising and, while some optimisation wouldn’t go amiss, that’s always going to use more battery than if there’s no advertising present.

I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Does advertising in apps annoy you or do you see it as a necessary evil in order to enjoy free downloads? Do you notice high battery usage when playing free apps as opposed to paid ones? Tell us your thoughts on these questions, or anything else to do with this story in the comments. Go on, I’d love to know what you think. 

The Lost City [iOS Review]

The Lost City screenshotBack in 1993, a game called Myst came out that totally changed my idea of what could be achieved in video games. This was a time of poor graphics (although we thought they were excellent) and bleepy sound effects. It was the heyday of Sonic the Hedgehog and consoles like the Super Nintendo. Myst, with its beautifully rendered scenes and fiendishly difficult puzzles, was like a breath of fresh air. It looked amazing, and played like nothing else I had experienced.

Jump forward to the present day, and I recently downloaded The Lost City on my iPhone. It’s a puzzle game that places you in an ancient and abandoned city and has you solving puzzles to try and bring the area back to life. Just like Myst, the screens are pre-rendered and take on a beautiful, almost artistic look. The objects and elements within each screen comprise the puzzles and, believe me, you’ll resort to the hints and tips guide more than once!

The gameplay is a weird mix of linear and non-linear. The early puzzles felt like I was moving along a simple path to some (undefined) ultimate goal, but as I moved on I found I would have to go back and make changes to what I had already done. It felt sort of like I was moving in circles, or undoing perfectly good work, but the more I think about it the more I think it’s an interesting dynamic to introduce. It makes you think about the effects of your earlier actions, and not just put them out of your mind as soon as you complete each puzzle.

The Lost City is a beautiful little game, taxing on the mind but very satisfying when you work out how to get past a particularly tricky section. If you resort to using the hints and tips you should get through it in a few hours – more if you’re determined to work it out all by yourself.

The Lost City costs 69 pence and is available from the App Store for iOS devices.

Home improvement – making it easy with mobile apps

This is a guest post by Drew Davies

It’s that time of year again and whether you’re spring cleaning or doing a major revamp, your smart phone can help you take the pain factor out of your DIY. From mixing your own paint palette to calculating exactly how much concrete you’ll need to construct a wall (or an entire house), there is an app to help you out; planning, budgeting, room layout, interior design, technical calculations and installations, shopping lists and project management are all covered.

The scope and emphasis across these apps varies. Proprietary tools, such as B&Q’s free iPhone app, offer ‘How to’ guides for technical jobs, store finders, wish lists and special offers, while others provide forums, articles by guest contributors and space for users to display their interior designs and other handiwork.

Here are some of our favourites:

  • Wiki How (iPhone, Free) – Offering a wide range of tips from “How to Clean Your Bedroom” to “How to Have Fun with your Cat”. There’s a search function, a “How to of the day” and most interestingly, a Survival Kit with advice on Animal Attacks, First Aid and Home Emergencies.
  • DIY Chatroom Forum (iPhone, Android, Free) – An app-based forum to discuss all your Home Improvement questions – from carpentry to flooring and DIY repair. The community seems knowledgable and good-humoured (see the response to “how to get tape off the wall” for a more tongue-in-cheek reply to a question) and although it’s a little US-centric (lots of talk of broken range cookers) this is a great way to crowdsource an answer to your difficult DIY issue.
  • HomeRoutines (iPhone, £2.99) – More of a productivity app, this brightly coloured scheduler allows you to add tasks by time of day, time of week or zone (such as kitchen or bathroom) which makes it especially useful for home repairs. There’s also an Accomplishments section for you to reflect back proudly on the day’s achievements (and maybe show your significant other).
  • Big Yellow Space Kit (iPhone, Free) – Should you need to move items out of the way while a room – or even your entire home – undergoes transformation, a self storage unit could provide the answer. Help is at hand in the form of this app, which features a cunning room layout tool (which you can populate with furniture), a paint calculator and storage archiver.
  • Dream Home (iPhone, iPad, £1.19) – A look book for people trying to decide on a new colour or style for a room, this app offers full color inspiration images. You can upload photos of your own home and, while it would have been nicer if the images were retina display, it comes with a great range of styles. This is a fun app to use in bed when you’re trying to prove a point about minimalist lines accentuating a modern bathroom. There’s also a Dream Home Spring version of the app, if you’re so inclined.

OK, so we’ve shared our favourites. Now over to you. Are there any mobile apps you have found useful when thinking about home improvement? Or have you tried some of the apps above and want to share what you think? As ever, tell us your thoughts in the comments.

Paddle Battle for iPad [Review]

At first glance, Paddle Battle for the iPad sounds like a bit of a rip off of Breakout, the classic arcade game that had you busting blocks by bouncing a ball around the screen on a paddle. It becomes clear early on, however, that while there are similarities, Paddle Battle is a different kettle of fish.

Yes, you bounce balls around with paddles. Yes, there are obstacles in the middle of the play-field that are eliminated by hitting them with said balls. But at the other end of the play-field is another paddle, controlled by your opponent, who’s hitting balls back at you. The basic idea is to knock out your opponent’s shields before he or she does the same to you.

Ok, so far it’s just two player Breakout. Hardly innovative, is it? But there’s more.

Destroying some of the obstacles in the centre of the play-field brings power ups. Collect these and you’ll be able to deploy guided missiles, dumb missiles, autonomous UFOs and a load of other weapons designed to distract or destroy your opponent and make it easier to get through to their shields.

An effective tactic (and I’ve both used this and had it used against me) is to save your power ups and then release them in one almighty barrage in an attempt to overwhelm your opponent. It’s fun, but boy is it hectic.

The iPad‘s touch screen also adds a nicely tactile feel to the game as you swipe your finger back and forth to move your paddle, although I did find that the rounded back (on the iPad 1) meant it rocked a little during play.

Still, Paddle Battle turned out to be a great fun 2-player game (no single player option here). It looks stylish, has enough of a Breakout feel to appeal to retro game geeks, and makes great use of the iPad’s touchscreen controls. Now if only I could convince my wife that we should use it to decide who does the dishes…

Paddle Battle is available from the App Store.

Eco Apps, mobile recycling and more tips for a greener mobile life

This is a guest post by Richard Osbourne who is a self confessed gadget geek and a regular contributor to technology and mobile blogs and news sites.

A large emphasis is being placed on ways to be friendly to the planet these days. While many people are unaware of ways to give back to mother earth, starting with their mobile phones may be the best place to begin, especially since mobile phone subscriptions are increasing to over 4.6 billion in worldwide. Mobile technology has been creeping its way into just about everyone’s lives over the recent years, so being eco-friendly with these devices becomes nobody’s responsibility but our own. Let’s take a look at a few ways we can use our mobile devices and not harm our environment.

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle!!

One of the easiest ways to be environmentally friendly is to recycle, and just about everyone knows this simple rule. With technological advancements happening at racing speeds and new phones being developed and released almost on a daily basis, as a person gives up that old phone it is imperative to remember they can recycle it. While many service providers have bins for recycling old phones a person might also want to keep in mind they can easily make money from reselling their phones. With a quick visit to one of many phone recycling sites you can see just how much your old phone is worth. Yes, recycling is that easy plus many sites will either pay you for your old phone or donate to a charitable cause on your behalf!

Monitor Mobile Phone Energy Usage

There are many energy monitoring sites which enable mobile phone users to compare mobile devices and see which ones use less energy, which in the end enables a person to leave as small a carbon footprint as possible. And for those phones that are a must-have, yet use a lot of energy, a scan of the manual may reveal different settings that can be activated to help cut down on its energy usage.

Green Apps

This one may sound crazy but environmentally friendly apps do exist. In fact, there are actually a large number of apps that fall under the ‘green’ category. These apps can perform a range of different functions including providing consumers with ideas and tips on how to live a ‘greener’ life, and some apps even allow a user to scan bar codes on products and items and see what the products environmental impact is. This makes purchasing products that are friendly to mother earth about as simple as it gets. Other apps with an environmental spin include maps to connect you with ‘green living sites’ nearby, and tips on which cars are most efficient and how to drive them to the best effect.

Environmentally Friendly Broadband

OK, lastly, there are several broadband service providers that donate a portion of any proceeds they obtain to different charities or that go for carbon neutral status.. When seeking a mobile broadband service provider, keep in mind that partnering with an environmentally friendly service provider is the ‘greenest’ way to go.

Over To You

So, there are some ideas on how you can go green with your mobile life. Do you have any tips you would add to the list? Have you heard or used a mobile tool to help you live in an environmentally beneficial way? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.