Saturday, October 1, 2011

Favorite iPhone apps (part 1) and a few tips I've learned

Last month, I told you how I finally joined the modern world and purchased my first smart phone. So far, I really like having the functionality at my fingertips, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping a balance between work and personal life. Today I wanted to share some of my favorite (and most used/most useful) iPhone apps, as well as some tips and tricks I’ve learned. Read on.



*Note: Since I have so many photography-related apps, I think it would be more useful to do a review of everything I’ve tried. That way, I can tell you about my favorites but also compare them to other apps that are available. I’ll try to post the photography iPhone apps soon. I’ve tried a lot of ‘em!


Photography app reviews and examples coming soon

First things first, my iPhone 4 came with a few things pre-installed (if that’s the correct word), and so I didn’t need apps for the following:

  • Alarm clock
  • Weather
  • Maps/routing/directions

Aside from those features, here are my most-used apps:

  • Kindle (free) - Did you know that you can download the free Kindle app for non-Kindle devices? I didn’t, but it’s now my most-used iPhone app. I take the bus to work, and so I really like the convenience of having reading material on my phone. It’s so easy to buy Kindle e-books and send them to your phone. Kindle books are pretty affordable too. The ones I purchased have been between $4 and $10, but I did see that they have a decent collection of $1.99 options. I know a lot of people have gripes about digital form of books, but I personally have no problem with it. It’s convenient, and I like that it minimizes collecting more material items (aka more hard copy books on my already overflowing bookshelf).

    Incidentally, the first 3 books I’ve read on the Kindle app were the Hunger Games trilogy. I typically like books with these kinds of themes (dystopian society, rebellion and uprising, etc in the line of 1984, Brave New World, and so on). I was surprised at first to find that these books are such an easy read. I think they are written for young adult readers, and so they are actually sort of light reading despite the dark subject matter. The story is simple to follow, and the language is clean and perhaps even elementary. Surprisingly I found that I liked this, even though it’s not my standard fare. Since I read on the bus for 20-25 minutes at a time, I need books that are easy to get into and can be picked up quickly where I last left off. Do you have any recommendations that fit this criteria? Please comment below.

  • Google (free) - This app just makes it easier to do a Google search. Normally you’d need to launch the Safari browser, type in the Google URL, and then type in your search key words. This saves time by spitting you out at the key word step.

  • Wikipedia (free) - Similar to the Google app, this is just a time-saver. When I’m out and about, I usually only do surf the Internet if I need to find an answer or look something up. For example, Rob thought Steve Van Zandt was a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. He’s not. Rob was thinking of the Van Zant brothers. But Rob was right that Steve Van Zandt was a member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Instant answers to unimportant trivia questions? This iPhone is worth its weight in gold!

  • YouTube (free) - Same as above. Just makes it easier to quickly find a YouTube video. The last time I used this, it was to show Rob the music video for Guns’N’Roses’ “November Rain.” Wow, I had forgotten how great that video is! I’m half joking, but you have to watch it. Slash exits a church in the country and rips into a flaming guitar solo out in a field. And his guitar isn’t even plugged in! (Check it out here.)

  • Pinterest (free) - Are you a Pinterest addict yet? I heard about the site a seemingly long time ago, but I didn’t get into it until recently. Now I’m hooked. Some people don’t understand the appeal, and I can see how it wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But I’m a visual person, and I get inspired by seeing collections/groups of things (photos, colors, etc) together. Ummm, I make design boards for fun. See what I mean? Total nerd. So I love how Pinterest makes it super easy to keep and organize visual bookmarks of things you find online. The mobile app is a great time killer. It’s pretty much the same concept as the normal website, but reformatted for mobile device viewing.

    Nerd trivia: Did you know that you it’s really easy to format your own website for mobile viewing? You simply make a new CSS stylesheet with a few basic changes. Most designers convert the site content to a single-column format with a very simple bulleted list navigation at the top. Also images that are solely for design purposes (ex: background images) are usually disabled, so you only see images that are intended to be part of the web content. You can also add some tags to make things easier for the user (ex: if your site includes a phone number, you can add a tag so that the phone number becomes a link that can be clicked and called instantly).

  • Light (free): This is a pretty cool idea. It turns your phone into a flash light. It has a pretty impressive output too.
As you can see, most of those apps are pretty basic. Maybe a little boring, even. But they do add a lot of functionality for my particular phone uses.

Anyway, those are MY favorite iPhone apps, but of course I did some googling in search of other “best of” app lists. I found quite a few suggestions, and I downloaded most of the free ones. I haven’t had a chance to give these an in-depth try-out, but I plan on doing a "part 2" to this article once I try out a few more.



Download apps here

More tips and tricks:
  • Improve battery life. Turn off GPS/location settings. You will save a lot of battery life this way, and you can still easily turn on GPS settings if you want to use them (like to route directions, for example). Also turn off automatic mail updating. I have my email pushed to my phone, but it only refreshed when I open my email. This really makes a big difference.
  • Buy additional charging cables off Amazon at discounted rate. I ordered a few of these ones for only $1.07 each, and they work great. The Apple version is $19!
  • Use wi-fi whenever possible (conserves your monthly data allowance for times when you really need it).
  • Use a password. I know it’s annoying, but the security is worth the effort. When I decided to send my work email to my phone, I knew I’d need a password, just in case the phone is ever stolen.
Whew. This was a pretty long post, but I hope it was informative and helpful. Remember to comment below and tell me your favorite apps and your favorite books.

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