Sunday, December 29, 2013

Our picks: New phone or tablet? Grab these apps!

Peace on Earth, goodwill toward man and a smartphone under the tree.

That's how that goes, right?

Well, it might as well be with all the tech-lust raging across holiday wish lists. And if you were fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of a new smartphone or tablet this holiday season, it's time to get that thing humming.

By now you've probably made at least one excited foray into the App Store or Google Play... and likely quickly recoiled in fear, overwhelmed by the avalanche of options. So let's make things a little bit easier and guide you toward a few of our handpicked favorites here at

These apps were all singled out by members of our team for being especially awesome and essential and we've included their comments alongside each pick.

Consider this our belated holiday gift to you because we have big hearts... and were too cheap to go and buy anything.


ESPN SportsCenter (Free): "An absolute must for even the most casual sports fan." (iOS [1] , Android [2] )

Zite (Free): Customized magazine suggests stories and articles from across the Web based on your preferences and previous clicks. "I’m obsessed!" (iOS [3] , Android [4] )

YellowPages (Free): "Because it’s the most useful app in history. Need a phone number? Here you go! Need directions to the pet store? Voila! Want to add your favorite sushi restaurant to your iPhone contacts? Just hit a button!" (iOS [5] , Android [6] )

Amazon (Free): "You can take a picture of a book -- even if it's a picture of a picture -- and it finds it for you! Enough said." (iOS [7] , Android [8] )

Google Maps (Free): "Plenty of map app competition, but to me, this one's still the best. Super location-based recommendations for things like restaurants, shops, gas and even doctors. Real-time traffic and re-routing options are great and, oh yeah, works great as a map, too." (iOS [9] , Android [10] )

Zillow (Free): "Even if you’re not house-hunting, a quick swipe gives you the prices of nearby houses. Caution, it can get strangely addicting." (iOS [11] , Android [12] )


Spotify (Free): "Just about any song you want, at any time, anywhere. How can you top that? Playlists, artist or song-based radio are great, too. The only downside is it kind of restricts new music discovery. But otherwise, this could replace my radio and maybe my MP3 collection, too." (iOS [13] , Android [14] )

Studio Design (Free): "This helps you take your Instagram photos to a zine-quality level with different cutouts and overlays." (iOS [15] )

TiVo (Free): "A must! With the latest TiVo box, you can now watch anything on your TiVo from anywhere you have Wi-Fi. It's AMAZING. You can also use the app as a virtual TiVo remote, use it to schedule recordings... so great!" (iOS [16] , Android [17] )

Pitchfork Weekly (Free): "Which actually updates daily. Great for all of your music needs and reviews, includes MP3s, too." (iOS [18] , Android coming soon)

Tap DJ ($1.99): "Ever wish you could DJ using just  your iTunes music library? Well Tap DJ lets you do just that. You can mix, scratch, slow down and add sound effects on top of all your jams. Perfect for your next house party -- believe me, I should know." (iOS) [19]

Photoshop Express (Free): "Great for editing pictures, though they now charge for a bunch of their filters." (iOS [20] , Android [21] )


Ruzzle (Free): "A 4x4 board of letters and two minutes to drag your finger around making as many words as possible. Not only is it my favorite game, but my mom and cousins are totally into it now, too. Also, that 2-minute time limit means you don't get sucked into a Candy Crushy black hole." (iOS [22] , Android [23] )

The Room 2 ($4.99): "This is one of the best games I have played all year. People that loved Myst back in the day will fall hard for it. It’s the sequel to their previous title, The Room, which is a mysterious puzzle game that has incredible music, atmosphere, and will make your brain tick to figure it all out." (iPad [24] only)

Ridiculous Fishing ($2.99): "Quirky retro graphics, an unusual storyline (including hairdryers and fish hats) and great music. This one leaves Candy Crush in the dust." (iOS [25] , Android [26] )

Plants vs. Zombies 2 (Free): This is the sequel in the popular franchises and is free to play, easily accessible, and really well written. Also, it’s great fun to stock up the right plans and take down zombies (not to mention extremely satisfying)." (iOS [27] , Android [28] )

Life Hacks

Duolingo (Free): "This was chosen by Apple as the App of the Year and it’s pretty amazing (and free) if you want to learn another language in a not-boring way." (iOS [29] , Android [30] )

Key Ring (Free): "Eliminate all those reward cards. Scan them with this app then you can pull up the barcode and scan your phone at every store. Ditch the heavy wallet!" (iOS [31] , Android [32] )

CamScanner (Free): Allows you to use your camera phone as a scanner and manage digital documents. "Really work helpful. For any important documents I couldn’t take them with me, I'd scan them with my phone and email them back to myself." (iOS [33] , Android [34] )

Just For Fun

AnimalChatter (Free): Displays high-res animal photos with accompanying sounds. "Because nothing makes a grocery trip more fun than when my daughter inserts donkeys braying into the conversation at various times, scaring the mess out of the other shoppers." (iOS [35] , Android has similar apps [36] )

Timbre (Free): "Pulls from the bands you’ve liked on your Pandora account (and maybe others, you’ll have to check!) and tells you which are going to be in town for a show." (iOS [37] , Android [38] ) (Free): "This one's really cool. I don't wear glasses, but I downloaded it just to see what I might look like if I did and it is really pretty incredible. Scans your face in 3D then allows your avatar to try on any number of glasses in various positions. Incredible. Great app." (iOS [39] , Android [40] )

Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts (Free): "I hate to be this guy, but these apps are essential to my smartphone. I LOVE paying for coffee with my smartphone. I feel like I live in the future every time I hold it up to the scanner at Starbucks." (Starbucks [41] , DD)


Snapchat (Free): "People are actually exchanging colorful, G-rated photos on here. It may pleasantly surprise you who is snapchatting and the kinds of messages that will end up in your inbox." (iOS [42] , Android [43] )

TimeHop (Free): "I love this app. Every day it sends you a report with your tweets, FB status updates, FourSquare checkins and even pics from your computer taken on that same day one, two or even up to five years ago. It's an awesome little reminder. A little delivery I look forward to each day! Especially great for heavy social media users." (iOS [44] )

Pinterest (Free): "You will never kill time the same way again." (iOS [45] , Android [46] )

AroundMe (Free): "Staying in a strange city and need to find a pharmacy? This GPS-based app helps you locate the nearest bar, hospital, hotel or pretty much anything else." (iOS [47] , Android [48] )

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