Just because you can afford a smartphone -- and accompanying data plan -- doesn't mean you've got money to burn.
The good news is there are many free applications ("apps") at your smartphone's online store that can help take some weight off your wallet.
Spanning a wide range of mobile platforms, the following are ten recommended freebies you need to download. Like, right now.
Some will be familiar to you -- others perhaps not so much. And of course, feel free to recommend your own "must have" free smartphone apps in the Comments section below.
Find My Phone
It's critical to set up your phone for remote tracking, locking or wiping -- just in case it's lost or stolen. The good news is the apps that let you do this are free, but the bad news is you need to do it ahead of time (read: before it's too late). A few options include Find My iPhone (for iPhone), Mobile Defense (Android), BlackBerry Protect (BlackBerry) and Find my Phone (Windows Phone). These apps work in a similar way: you can see where the smartphone is on a map (usually on a computer) and if you like, remotely lock it with a PIN or wipe the data clean just to be on the safe side. Alternatively, you can have the smartphone ring loudly in case you think it's stuck under the cushions somewhere.
Skype is no longer limited to your computer. Video chat on your smartphone, anywhere in the world, with other Skype users — which won't cost you a dime as long as you're in a free Wi-Fi network, be it at home, the office or café, airport or hotel. Heck, you can also use Skype when trying on clothes at the mall — to see what your friends think of the blouse you're about to buy — or catch up with your family overseas in a more emotional way. Remember, most smartphones have two cameras, so you can toggle between the front-facing and outward-facing lens. Skype also works over a cellular connection, as will Apple's FaceTime with the free iOS 6 update later this year.
From the "duh" department, if you're an avid Facebook user then the official Facebook app is a must-have. The most popular social network in the world — now with more than 900 million accounts — lets you do quite a bit on its mobile app, which is available for all major smartphone platforms. This includes reading or posting status updates; viewing events, invites and news feeds; chatting via Facebook messenger or dropping a wall post; viewing, posting and tagging photos; and of course "checking in" at locations to share where you're at for comments, suggestions or visitations. Twitter fans, of course, should be using the official Twitter app to post and read tweets.
Just like the website it's based upon, the Mint.com Personal Finance app for Apple and Android helps you set budgets, track expenses and reach financial goals. This handy money management tool for smartphone and tablet users lets you see what you're spending (and saving) through color-coded lists and graphs, plus you can track your bank account and credit card balances in real-time, follow investments and even break out your expenditures by category and receive alerts you when you've exceeded your budget. Owned by Intuit, the Mint.com app is also password-protected, therefore your data is safe even if your phone is lost or stolen.
Available for iPhone, Android and Windows Phones, the free RedLaser app uses your smartphone's camera to take pictures of product barcodes and within a second or two you'll see which retailer has the best price online or at retail around you, via the smartphone's GPS technology. Scanned UPC codes on food products can also yield nutritional facts and allergen information. RedLaser also supports QR codes, too, to help you get more information on products by capturing those little black and white squares in magazines, newspapers or on posters.
Billed as a "fun and quirky way to share your life through photos," Instagram for iPhone and Android is part effects tool — so you can alter your smartphone photos with a number of funky filters — and part social network, including the option to "like" people's photos or even follow someone you admire and see when they've updated their photos. The most popular Instagram special effects? XPro-II, Earlybird, Lomo-fi, Nashville and 1977, in that order. In April of 2012, Instagram announced it had more than 30 million users — that same month Facebook acquired the company for approximately $1 billion in cash and stock.
Create one central and secure place to hold all your "stuff" and access it all on multiple devices — this is the idea behind Dropbox (for iOS, Android and BlackBerry), the increasingly popular cloud solution to storing, accessing and sharing your digital life while on the go. Instead of emailing your info or media from one device to another, or physically copying it onto a disc or USB key, you can wirelessly upload or download your documents — and even stream music and movies right from Dropbox. Similarly, instead of clogging someone's inbox with a huge file, send them a link to access what they need. The basic (2GB) account is free, but you can upgrade to 50GB or 100GB for $9.99/month or $19.99/month, respectively.
Spreken zie deutsch? With Google Translate for Android and iPhone, use your smartphone to instantly translate one language into another. Nearly 65 languages are supported, allowing you to type a word or phrase into the Google Translate app and have it translated on the spot — and you can also hear the words and pronunciation for 40 of these languages. It's also possible to speak the text instead of typing it for more than a dozen languages. Along with text-to-speech and speech-to-text, other features include real-time speech-to-speech communication with another person (for 14 languages), along with dictionary definitions and support for history and favorites to be saved to the app for future reference.
Craving some sushi? Need to find a gift for a finicky nephew? Car almost out of gas? Yelp is here to help. Available for free on iPhone and Android, Yelp helps you find businesses near you, via your smartphone's GPS, and lets you read reviews from others before you go. Narrow your searches by neighborhood, distance and price; make restaurant reservations on OpenTable from within the app; find great deals offered by local establishments; and "check-in" to let Facebook friends or Twitter followers know where you are. An "augmented reality" feature lets you hold up your smartphone's camera to see business information overlaid on top of the world around you. Yelp is also bundled into Siri, the voice-activation "personal assistant" built into the iPhone 4S (and soon, iPad).
Available for multiple platforms, the free Evernote is a handy app for typing notes, sketching ideas (think a digital restaurant napkin), copying URLs, pasting photos and recording audio on, say, a billion dollar idea you want to archive on your smartphone. All notes automatically sync to the web and/or desktop version of Evernote, so it's easy to access your information anywhere. Evernote can even take a picture of book or magazine text and convert it to text; this is a great way to save receipts and business cards and make it searchable by keyword. Whether you're a busy student, on-the-go entrepreneur or simply an average Joe (or Joanne) who wants to stay organized, Evernote is a heck of a productivity app for your back pocket.