14 Free Mobile Apps you Need to Check Out

There are certain apps that Android and iOS users are almost guaranteed to have already incorporated into their smartphones, Facebook mobile and Angry Birds (and/or Angry Space Birds in SPACE) for example. However, some may not realize just how powerful a tool their phones can truly be. Through the utilization of downloadable apps, you can transform your Droid or iPhone into a veritable renaissance machine capable of fulfilling the most mundane of your dreams. Below I have gathered together, in no particular order, a list of fifteen free applications (almost uniformly available on both Android and iOS) which might be a bit less obvious a download than the aforementioned intergalactic bird flinging simulator but considerably more useful. Utilizing apps such as these can unlock a great deal of hidden potential buried deep within your cellular devices.

Smart Phone with Apps

(Before we really get into it I should mention that Android generally provides much more extensive user statistics than iOS. For this reason Android analysis may, at times, seem a bit more detailed.)

1. Dropbox

(Cloud Storage)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: Dropbox allows you to store documents, photos and video files on a cloud which can then be viewed and manipulated on any computer or cellular/tablet device. You have the option of either viewing these files from a desktop application or online at www.dropbox.com. The app also allows you to edit documents, provide you have an internet connection, allowing you quick and easy access to files which otherwise might remain at home or work. You may recall an earlier post of mine [Google Drive vs Dropbox] within which I made clear my preference for Google Drive over Dropbox. While this is still my stance as far as computers are concerned, Dropbox seems to have their main competitor beat in the mobile department, emerging in contrasted user reviews as the more intuitive and functional choice.

Why you should download this: To be sure that your files will always be easily accessible and safe.

Paid Version: None

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2. Instagram

(Photography)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: You’re probably already aware of Instagram, the recipient of a somewhat infamous billion dollar purchase by Facebook. What you might not know is just how fantastic a job the company has done in converting their service to a mobile app. Like its computer-based twin, the service allows users to edit their photos in a variety of inventive and artful ways, including a diverse range of filers and effects. Once your photo is adapted to meet your specifications you can immediately share it on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare, Flickr and Posterous. You can also see other pictures taken by friends and other users without leaving the app. You get all of this for free, which is more than can be said of iOS competitor Snapseed.

Why you should download this: Because it’s a unique, fun, creative method of social interaction.

Paid Version: None

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3. Flipboard

(News/Social Media)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: Perhaps the most creative app on this list, Flipboard is about as odd as it is useful, and it is quite useful indeed. The service first collects personalized content from a variety of social networks (Facebook, Google+, Twitter) as well as YouTube, Instagram, SoundCloud, Tumblr, Blogger and a number of other sites of your choosing, as well as displaying content from publications like Rolling Stone and, in a recent development, The New York Times. Then, it takes this content and organizes it into a unique virtual magazine which you can then flip through. In other words, the app takes information from any number of sites and presents it all in one place in a convenient format for easy reading.

Why you should download this: Because Flipboard is a convenient and compact source of information from a diverse array of sources.

Paid Version: None

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4. Evernote

(Productivity/Organization)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: As an organizational tool I found Evernote was near unmatched in its potential as well as its acclaim. You can use the service to draft notes and lists to help keep track of what must be done. You can then synch those notes and lists across the other electronic devices you employ, share them through email, Facebook, Twitter and the Evernote program itself, and organize them into groupings based on tags and “notebooks.” All of your notes are completely searchable. The app even looks for words in the images you upload. For this reason, you might, for example, take a photograph of a whiteboard or a flier rather than jotting down the text upon them, at which point the program will simply treat them as notes when scans are conducted for their content. Evernote can render a briefcase and even a filing cabinet obsolete by creating fully searchable versions of documents you have photographed. You might also use it to photograph receipts, which will then be stored by date, to help keep your finances in order. Plus, all of this will be available on any computer you wish, provided you download the free software on each machine individually.

Why you should download this: To help keep you organized and on track.

Paid Version: None

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5. Skifta

(Media Sharing)

Platform: Android

Overview: Skifta presents an incredibly innovative way of interacting with media. The most basic function of the program allows you take photos, videos and audio files from your phone and stream them through Wi-Fi to any connected receptacle, such as a computer, gaming system, stereo system or even a television. But the app also works in more complex ways. For example, say you have a Playstation 3 and a stereo, both WiFi enabled. Using this app, you could first extract audio files from the PS3 and store them in Skifta’s cloud and then play those same files on your stereo. Those being Skifta are even working on eliminating the middleman, striving for a time when you will be able to use the service to connect two media platforms, say a computer and a television, directly. Of course, the app can also be used to stream media, allowing you to take audio, video and pictures from every internet capable device you own and store them all in one central location. No more transferring libraries of files though burnable CDs and flash drives.

Why you should download this: Because it allows you to easily share media across a wide variety of platforms.

Paid Version: None

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6. avast!

(Security)

Platform: Android

Overview: Another Android-only app, avast! is the most acclaimed security software available on the platform. It offers a great deal of features for a free program, more than any other mobile security app I could find, including virus scanning, infected URL warnings, a firewall to keep out hackers, GPS tracking and even a siren. Once activated, if a new SIM card is inserted out of the blue (you can make a list of those which might be inserted in a non-malicious fashion), said siren will sound and you will be provided with the phone’s number and its current home. The phone will be unusable during this time. Aside from being incredibly useful, one can only imagine the entertainment potential of this feature. Once the app is downloaded you can even hide the program, making it very difficult for ne’er-do-wells to locate and shut down. It automatically scans any downloaded apps, as well as your memory card, searching relentlessly for problematic content. You can also use it to control which numbers are able to reach you both through voice and text communication. If you want to avoid speaking to a particular person for whatever reason but still want to hear what they have to say avast! will allow them to leave a voicemail, and whatever texts you might receive from them will be stored in a special location. Yes, this app is nothing if not multi-faceted.

Why you should download this: To make sure your Droid and the information stored therein is always secure.

Paid Version: None

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7. Wunderkit

(Productivity/Organization)

Platform: iOS

Overview: When I said Evernote was “near” unmatched, I was referring to Wunderkit, an app launched as recently as February which provides some serious competition. However, there’s certainly room for both, as the two have enough differences to both be simultaneously useful. Unfortunately, Android users won’t have the opportunity to see what I mean, as the program is iOS exclusive. However, for those with iWhatevers, Wunderkit is certainly worth a look. Like Evernote, it’s a list/note manager, but it has a number of unique features that allow it to avoid redundancy. You write in documents called workstations which can either be shared or kept private. If you choose to share, collaboration will be easy as Wunderkit is really half social network. You are constantly in potential contact with those with whom you have chosen to ally. You can also synch the work done on your iPhone or Pad with an internet application. While it doesn’t have Evernote’s innovative photographic element, Wunderkit is more effective in terms of making cooperation easy and efficient.

Why you should download this: To stay in touch and collaborate with your colleagues with ease.

Paid Version: None

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8. Shazam

(Media)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: Though it might at first seem a bit frivolous in comparison to these other apps, the potential implications of Shazam may well result in the program’s influence outweighing that of the others members of this list. The service began with a neat little gimmick. Say you hear an enjoyable song that you don’t recognize on the radio or in a film (to name two examples). Shazam will immediately identify said track, save a preview of it as a reminder, stream the lyrics, present information about the artist, give you the option of imbedding the track on Facebook and/or Twitter and allow you to purchase an MP3. If this were the only function it served the app would certainly have widespread appeal, but what is even more noteworthy is the way the app interacts with television. In their product description there are two rather unassuming, modest sentences: “View extra content as you watch TV” and “When you see the Shazam prompt on TV, tag for extra content.” This essentially means that viewers who have Shazam on their phones can now interact with their televisions in a new, exciting way. If, for example, a potential customer saw a product on television which they wished to purchase or at least know more about they could, conceivably, use Shazam to those ends. This could absolutely revolutionize the way television ads function. Also, certain shows have already been making additional content, such as behind the scenes videos and other extras, to those with Shazam. Though this is a recent development, one which is currently far from realizing its vast potential, there’s a good chance Shazam will soon change the very way we watch television.

Why you should download this: Because it’s a convenient, fun app which may soon allow you to interact with media in a compelling new way.

Paid Version: Shazam Encore ($5.59) eliminates ads and allows you to connect to Pandora for interactive music recommendations. Purchasing (Shazam)RED ($5.99) helps support the battle against AIDS in Africa as well as offering the features of Shazam Encore.

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9. AP Mobile

(News)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: As an excellent source for worldwide news, the appeal of AP Mobile is simple and universal. It is simply the most direct, comprehensive resource there is for keeping abreast of the most important stories out there. Created by the Associated Press, the organization charged with providing content for newspapers and news broadcasts, AP Mobile is an absolutely fantastic resource. Stories come to you in real time as quickly as they are written. The program is also highly adaptable, allowing you to add local news sources to the Associated Press’ more general coverage, allowing you to simultaneously view news through both wide and intimate lenses.

Why you should download this: To always stay informed.

Paid Version: None

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10. Astrid

(Productivity/Organization)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: Yes, Astrid is a productivity app with many of the same features as Evernote and Wunderkit, but like both of those services this one contains enough features to be more than recommendable on its own. All three share the ability to synch documents between your phone and an internet application and plan out projects/set goals. However, apart from simply generating to-do lists, Astrid goes deeper. The app, for example, allows you to set reminders to help you stay on track, turning a simple list into an interactive experience which could potentially give you the extra push you need to fulfill your current ambitions. It not only gives you the opportunity to generate lists of tasks to accomplish, but subtasks as well, allowing for a very detailed, exact level of organization.

Why you should download this: To help make your goals seem a bit more manageable.

Paid Version: The Astrid Power Pack ($3.99) allows you to “add tasks via voice” and lets you record voice reminders. Astrid Locale Add-On ($1.49) allows you to create to-do lists which are location specific. For example, if you get close to the store the app will present your grocery list for your viewing pleasure.

 

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11. ShopSavvy

(Shopping)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview: Simple and yet potentially invaluable, ShopSavvy is the kind of app one could find good use for just about every day. At its base, the program is a barcode scanner, but this function is merely the gateway to the app’s true purpose. Scan any barcode anywhere on any product and ShopSavvy will compare the price of the item at that particular location to its cost at various sites across the web. In this way, you can find the best deal possible on whatever you might wish to purpose. You can also conduct a search without a barcode using keywords if necessary. If you find what you’re looking for and want to purchase it immediately the app makes this possible, as well as allowing you come back and complete your transaction at a later date. Regardless, you can share the deals you’ve found with your compatriots on Facebook and Twitter if you so choose. The app can even provide you with coupons and special deals.

Why you should download this: To always make sure you get the best price.

Paid Version: None

 

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12. Talk to Me

(Translator)

Platform: iOS ($1.99) and Android

Overview: A few years ago I had the immense pleasure of going to Rome, and it was there that I had a truly fascinating experience. I, like so many of my countrymen, have been guilty to trying to force a moment of mutual understanding, naively thinking that through my will alone I could make the recipient of my feeble attempt at communication understand, speaking slowly, using my hands elaborately, answering the broken English question I had received in the only way I knew how. Having now been on the other side of such an attempt I can report how absolutely futile it is. Several times I asked for the proximity of some gelato shop or craft market only to be responded to in slow Italian, hand gestures and all. I felt absolutely lost, and in those moments I understood how foolish I had been. This is why we all need Talk to Me. Another app which is as simple as it is effective; Talk to Me allows you to translate one language to another either through speech or text. Simply select the language you are inputting into the device and the language you want these words translated into and the app will speak these words based on your specifications.

Why you should download this: To facilitate communication between different languages with ease.

Paid Version: Though free on Android, Talk to Me costs $1.99 for iOS users.

 

13. eBay Mobile

(Shopping)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview:This particular choice doesn’t require much explanation at all, at least if you’ve felt a beautiful item slip away simply because you couldn’t be at your computer when you needed to be. I have lost many an eBay auction for this reason, and I’m sure many of you have as well. However, you now have the potential make sure you never endure another soul crushing eBay defeat again with the eBay Mobile app. It has a barcode scanner, allowing you to see if that item you’re about to purchase is available on eBay for a better price. You can also alert your Facebook and Twitter friends to the existence of particular items. But this is all ancillary to the main benefit: wherever you are, as long as you have internet, you will be able to place bids. Surrender need never be an occasional necessity again.

Why you should download this: To make sure you don’t miss out on a great item.

Paid Version: None

 

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14. Free Wi-Fi Finder

(Travel)

Platform: iOS and Android

Overview:Say you need to translate a word in a hurry (if, for example, you need to go to the bathroom and don’t know which word means “man” and which means “woman”) or an eBay auction’s about to run out and you need to place an emergency bid. You need to find some Wi-Fi fast, but where to begin? At moments like these, the unimaginatively named Free Wi-Fi Finder could prove itself a very valuable resource indeed. Regardless of your level of emergency, the app is very convenient indeed. Not only can you search for a public Wi-Fi hotspot in your general area, but you can also specify whether you want to do your work in, for example, a library or a restaurant. The app will provide you with the phone number and the address of whatever location meets your criteria and will give you the option of saving said location as a favorite if it meets your liking. So far, the app boasts more that 145,000 potential Wi-Fi locations with more being added regularly. In the end, it’s easy to see what a great resource Free Wi-Fi Finder might potentially be.

Why you should download this: So that if you need to use the internet in an emergency, or just to use one of these apps, you’ll always know where to go.

Paid Version: None 

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Of course, in the end we all have different needs. I attempted, in the paragraphs above, to provide the user with a wide range of potential tools, all of which currently lie in wait, ready to be utilized. Hopefully, you found something above which will be of real use to you, which will somehow enhance your life, at least a bit. I can think of a thousand times when these apps could have helped me, an Italian I couldn’t understand or a song I couldn’t place or an auction that I lost or a project that fell apart. Our phones really can be a great resource, a kind of digital multi-tool which can serve any number of purposes, be they helpful to frivolous and everything in-between. If you have any suggestions of things I’ve overlooked, please let me know. In the meantime, enjoy these apps. Might as well head to eBay right now. Bid on some Godzilla merchandise. Ask an Italian how to get to the nearest gelateria. The world is your oyster.

With the thousands of great apps out there, I know we missed many great (and free) apps. What free mobile apps have you found that are missing from our list? Let us know.