Since I switch phones so often during my testing, I've come to heavily rely on Google Voice as a centralizing force in my chaotic reviewing life. Translation: if I have just one phone number where everyone can reach me at all times, nobody gets confused. The app also lets me dial out from any Android phone using my Google Voice number, so my friends and family always know it's me calling, and not some random salesperson on a round of cold calls. And Google Voice employs visual voice mail, so I can instantly see who called or texted, read rough transcriptions of my voice mail messages, and respond to callers in any order I want.
The major catch, you ask? You have to have a Google Voice number first of all (it's not for everyone.) You also have to accept a certain amount of error in the transcriptions, and the Android app is sorely outdated--the iPhone version crashes more, but has more useful tools.
My mama taught me to do my research before buying, and I seriously use the Amazon Mobile app all the time to case out--and yes, even buy--products I may want. I've used it to find a foam roller, buy a book, and compare prices on pots and pans. The scanner is my favorite real-world feature, since it saves so much time flashing the scanner on a SKU rather than typing a product name into the phone. It's also pretty inconspicuous, which aids in stealthy comparison shopping.
I've had some issues with bar code reader malfunction, and I really wish that Amazon.com would give the scanner a search history (and clear out the search bar), but this app has helped me out countless times.
Well, yeah! Nothing showcases Groupon's free daily deal service on an Android phone better than the Android app. Rather than printing out vouchers to use and maybe lose, I'll just load my digital receipt for a Groupon onto the screen to redeem it on-site. Best yet, when I travel, I can temporarily sign up for Groupons in other cities that I visit, in case a deal there sparks my interest while I'm in town. It's not just talk--I recently bought Groupons as a thank-you gift for hosts who let me stay with them in New York.
The clever name caught my attention one day while I was searching for alternatives to Epicurious, one of my all-time favorite recipe apps. Where Epicurious recipes tend to call for more steps and ingredients, AllRecipes' entries are often geared toward home-cooking essentials.
I love Dinner Spinner's fun take on dinner roulette: you shake the phone to spin through categories of ingredients, the course of the meal, and preparation time to see what literally shakes out. I envisioned something similar to this years back, before the rise of smartphones, so the app resonated with me. Dinner Spinner doesn't always work smoothly, however. For example, it shouldn't be allowed to land on empty combinations, like beef desserts in 30 minutes.
The free version is on the lighter side. The (better) Pro version adds the ability to save recipes and organize them from your online records. It also ditches the ads and has a more streamlined look overall, although I would say that both apps could use some finessing.
Price: Free; $2.99 for Pro
Some of my family members live 6,000 miles away, so Skype is a resource on my desktop and my mobile phone for making free VoIP video and audio calls. Sure, I like the other video chat apps, too, like Qik, Fring, Tango, and OoVoo, but my relatives are already well-established with Skype.
While there are a few extras like IMing, I keep it pretty simple with just the voice and video features. Skype isn't always perfect, and the overall quality over 3G and Wi-Fi can depend on things like signal strength and bandwidth strength, the quality of your Android phone, and the quality of your caller's equipment as well. Since these issues affect every service, I'm willing to take the lumps for the opportunity to speak with my loved ones from the convenience of the road.
I'm a longtime user of the Slacker Radio streaming-radio app, and the mobile app just gets better and better, especially if you subscribe to the premium service (the Web version, on the other hand, is long overdue for a makeover.)
Slacker has tons of curated stations by genre, but will also build stations based on a favorite artist or song. In addition, it will deliver lyrics when available, and also cache stations offline so you have something to listen to even in 3G or Wi-Fi dead zones. I've even used Slacker to successfully provide music during a long road trip when quality radio was scarce.
OK, OK, I know it seems like a given that Yelp has made my cut, but this is seriously one of my most-used apps. I love dining out and looking up new finds wherever I am, and Yelp is my go-to app for skimming reviews, launching the menu, and plotting the area on the map. You can also leave a tip or start writing a full review from the phone, and keep an eye on any special deals that may sway you toward one establishment over another.
Shazam is all well and good as a music ID tool, but if you've never tried SoundHound, you're missing out. Since I'm practically musically illiterate, I love this app for matching the songs I hear on the radio with a title, artist information, and lyrics. While you won't catch me singing or humming into the app, it's unique in its class for being able to recognize those inputs. (You can also type.) You can flag favorites, of course, and SoundHound makes it easy to buy the songs you hear. On top of the functionality, it looks slick, too.
For a one-time fee of $4.99, you can also purchase SoundHound Infinity, which drops the ads.
I'm pretty particular when it comes to an app's visual experience, and while I prefer TweetDeck on my desktop, I currently dislike it on Android. HootSuite is a good alternative that isn't flashy, but it does the job managing tweets for multiple accounts and social networks. Like most other Twitter apps, it can check into Foursquare, shorten links, and upload images, and it's location-aware. I also love that you can schedule tweets for later, which is a perfect tool for my day job.
Before you accuse me of painting a misleading image of myself as a master of wilderness navigation, I'll admit that this is one of those apps I wish I needed more often--but you can dream, right? At any rate, I'm impressed by BackCountry Navigator's GPS capabilities, its choice of topographical maps, its ability to add detailed waypoints along a trail, and its built-in compass. It can also store offline maps that you can reference even when you're too remote for a data connection. You also can track and share your trip data.
The price definitely marks it as a niche app for serious outdoorsy types, but I applaud the developers for offering a demo version that serves as a free 10-day trial.