TECH: Best of the App Store (Part 1)

Written by Ben Wagner on . Posted in Tech

I’m am, admittedly, an app store addict. I try and stay away from the iTunes App Store because, once I get into it, I will undoubtedly download five or six new apps. With 50,000 different apps available, both free and paid, it’s sometimes hard to sift through the garbage to find the store’s true gems. Luckily, that’s why I’m here. Following is part one of my “Best of the App Store” series, with today’s entry  focusing on free utilities (non-gaming) apps.

Honorable Mentions

  • Darkroom — For iPhone and iPhone 3G users, this app is a must. Darkroom uses the accelorometer to measure when your phone is steady as you take a picture. Once you hit the shutter button on your camera, the app waits until the phone is completely steady before taking the picture. This allows for much clearer shots, especially during low-light conditions. Unfortunately, this app is not yet compatible with iPhone OS 3.0 and iPhone 3G S and is, therefore, relegated to the honorable mention category.
  • Skype — The popular video chat client released its mobile iPhone version some months back and I instantly loved it. While the iPhone version doesn’t feature video chat, it does feature free voice calls (when there is a local wi-fi connection) to any of your Skype friends. This feature can save you minutes and works great. The instant messaging feature also works great, allowing you to IM with your online friends over a 3G connection. Don’t be surprised if we see an iPhone external webcam released in the near future and Skype adds video chat over wi-fi to this app. Therefore, I put this app in the honorable mention category because it has yet to reach its full potential.

Top 5 Utilities

  • Shazam — So it’s late at night and you’re getting kicked out of the library as they blare music over the speakers and you just can’t quite identify the song playing as you’re packing up your books for the night? Just open up Shazam! Let it listen to the song being played and within seconds it somehow scours its massive database of just about every song ever written and tells you the name of the song, as well as handy info such as the artist, links to iTunes to purchase the song and accompanying YouTube music videos (if available). This app is scary accurate and I have no idea how it works. I figure there are only two logical explanations: a) there are people a lot smarter then me, or b) black magic. I’m leaning towards b, but it could go either way.
  • Flixster – This app is simple: it uses the GPS device in your phone to find your location, then searches for movie theaters in your vicinity and displays the movie showtimes for those theaters. Simple and easy to use. It is one of the most used apps on my phone.
  • Stanza — There are a lot of free e-reader programs for the iPhone, but what sets this one apart from the pack is the converter program available from the Lexcycle Web site. This converter program allows you to take any document on your PC or Mac, convert it to a Stanza format, then sync it to your iPhone. Like that latest column on Rhombus and want to read it on the road? Copy the text, put it into Stanza, convert, sync and — voila! — you have it in an easy-to-read format right on your phone. It converts everything from PDFs to simple .txt files, so you can make virtually any document portable.
  • Twitterfon — There is a plethora of Twitter apps available for the iPhone: some are free, some are not. I find that it completely unnecessary to spend money on a Twitter app when there is a great one like Twitterfon available for free. Twitterfon is fully featured and easy to use. I like the user interface so much that I often find myself using Twitterfon instead of my desktop Twitter client. If you use Twitter (and if you don’t, then why are you really reading this?) and have an iPhone, tweet with Twitterfon.
  • Evernote — Evernote is a fantastic app for Mac and Windows. On the surface, it is a note-taking application. Add in the fact that Evernote uploads all of your notes to the Internet where they can be accessed from any web browser and you can begin to see the potential it has. Then add in the iPhone app which allows you to access your notes from your phone and you have a truly great way to record and access information. Last semester I took all my class notes in Evernote, which were then synced to the Web. Come finals time, I was able to study my notes from my iPhone while waiting in the massive line to enter the testing center. The synchronization between PC, Web and iPhone is fantastic and seamless and requires no manual effort: it is all done automatically in the background. Throw in the ability to create to-do lists and store photos and videos and Evernote stops becoming a note-taking app and becomes a new way to organize and retrieve information from wherever you are. If you are a student and you have an iPhone, believe me: this is a must-have.

Now go out and download ‘em! I mean, they’re free. What do you have to lose? Check back tomorrow for my top five free games!

Ben Wagner is a tech correspondant for Rhombus. Let him know what you thought about his app recomendations by sending your thoughts on Twitter (hopefully using Twitterfon) to @ben_wagner.

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