Whether you’ve just unwrapped a new device over the holidays or are simply looking for something new to play around with -- perhaps to wait for Old Man Winter to make his exit -- hundreds of free yet stellar apps have debuted over the past while.
iPhone, iPad and Android owners, in particular, can benefit from awesome downloads that range from music discovery and photo sharing to accurate navigation and smart productivity tools. As the expression goes, “there’s an app for that.”
Not listed in any particular order, the following are some “must have” freebies for your favorite mobile device.
Available on Apple iOS, Android and Kindle Fire, the free Songza is an excellent music streaming service with custom playlists created by music experts. These collections of songs are meant to “play you the right music at the right time,” as you can tap to select a playlist based on your mood or location, as well as by genre and decade. Examples include “Music While Working” (with or without lyrics), “Music for a Weekday Dance Party,” or even ones like "Songs in Apple Commercials." You’ll see album artwork and information per track; save all your favorite playlists and share them with friends; or skip forward between tracks (with some limitations on how often you can do it). Did we mention it’s completely free?
Action Movie FX
Bad Robot Interactive’s free app for Apple’s iOS devices – namely, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch – lets anyone add fun Hollywood-like special effects to their real surroundings. First, use your device's camera to record something around you, such as a coworker smiling at their desk, and then you can initiate a virtual missile strike which rains down on their desk. There are dozens of effects to choose from, some of which require an in-app purchase for $0.99 cents apiece. When you like what you've captured, share the humorous video clip with the world -- right from your device. Video gamers might also like the explosive Call Of Duty: Black Ops II-themed options found inside this fun app.
You don’t know what you got until it’s gone. Apple replaced Google Maps – the awesome navigation app for mobile devices -- with its own Maps app this past fall. But after numerous complaints about its inaccuracies and a lack of features (such as no public transit info), not only did Apple CEO Tim Cook publicly apologize for the kerfuffle, but a new-and-improved Google Maps was allowed back on the App Store in mid-December. Along with getting accurate turn-by-turn directions to a destination, the new Google Maps – also on Google’s Android devices (of course), as well as Windows Phone and BlackBerry – also offers voice navigation for the first tine, smart local searches (with reviews and ratings), a 360-degree Street View and the option to sync your searches and directions between your computer and your phone.
While the YouTube app still rocks for its sheer quantity of videos, those looking for user-created “how-to” guides won’t need to look any further than the free Snapguide app for iOS. For example, learn to make beef jerky at home, how to open a beer bottle without an opener, learn to perform a magic trick or how to get Michelle Obama's toned arms. Each lesson offers a step-to-step lesson that contains still photos or videos, along with written descriptions at the bottom of the screen. Simply swipe to the left to turn to the next page or swipe up for a list of what you need to perform the task. If you sign up for a free account, you can also leave comments, privately message other users, "follow them" to be alerted when there's a new lesson or start your very own Snapguide.
Quite simply, Pocket lets you easily save content you like – such as a Yahoo! Digital Crave blog post -- so you can read it later. It's not bookmarking, as you don't need an Internet connection to access the content at a later time. Pocket also works inside many hundreds of apps, plus you can access your saved content on multiple devices by signing into your free account. Consider it a DVR for any online content you want to check out when you have the time. Formerly Read It Later, Pocket also includes a simplified user interface with fewer toolbars; new filters that let you switch between videos, images and text; and easier-to-organize content including adding favorites, bulk editing and tagging options for simpler searches. This app is available for iPhone, iPad, Android and Kindle Fire.
Older, but "must-have" free apps
While these following apps aren’t new, consider them essentials for your smartphone or tablet:
• Skype (iOS, Android and Windows Phone) and FaceTime (iOS) both let you video chat for free with friends and family, anywhere in the world, by using your device's front- or rear-facing camera. Both apps work over Wi-Fi and cellular connectivity.
• Created for iOS (especially iPad) and Android, Flipboard is like your own personalized magazine. Select topics that matter to you – such as tech or business – and then flip through various articles and media, and post your favorite pieces to social media.
• A "cloud" storage app is a must, so you can access files stored securely elsewhere. After all, your smartphone or tablet is limited in the amount of files it can house internally. Recommended free apps include SkyDrive, iCloud, SugarSync, Box, Dropbox and Google Drive; these services typically offer 2GB to 7GB of storage for free, per account.
• Watch thousands of streaming movies and TV shows on your smartphone or tablet with Netflix (free, but service costs $8/month). Especially ideal for larger screens, the app works on iOS, Android and Windows-based smartphones and tablets.
• Got a million dollar idea while on the go? Write, type or speak it inside of Evernote, a powerful tool for all major mobile platforms. Not only does Evernote help you flesh out your ideas and stay organized, but the app is cloud-enabled, therefore everything is immediately synchronized with many other Evernote-supported platforms, such as your PC or Mac.
• Now that the company has addressed issues over photo rights, the free Instagram (for all major platforms) is an excellent tool for adding fun filters to your smartphone or tablet pictures, sharing them with the Instagram community and following others you admire.
• Facebook and Twitter have both recently updated its app offerings, and are key ones to download and use if you're a fan of these social networks – opposed to logging into these services via the mobile web browser. Smartphones and tablets also offer integrated support for these major players, therefore you upload text and media to your circle of friends while in other apps.
• Not only does TuneIn Radio give you more than 50,000 radio stations from around the world – from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe -- but most versions of the app also let you record songs you like to listen to at a later time, and also play, pause and skip around programming like a DVR. The iOS version with the recording feature, called TuneIn Radio Pro, costs $0.99 cents, however.
• One of the best apps for kids is the free Toontastic (iPad), which lets you create and narrate your own animated cartoon. Choose the backdrop and characters – or create your own – and animate the story in real time. When completed, parents can allow the video to be shared on the kid-friendly ToonTube. Younger kids can use Toontastic Jr.