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14 Awesome Apps for Your New Smart Phone or Tablet that You Should Love

Story at-a-glance -

  • Increasing numbers of people are getting new smart phones, iPads or tablets, and while these are great tools it is really the apps on these devices that make them useful.
  • There are over half a million apps to choose from, which can be overwhelming for most. I’m a gadget geek and have reviewed thousands of these apps. Here, I share the ones I feel are the most valuable.
  • My favorite apps include everything from weather and navigation, to RSS feeds and online magazines, to nutrient- and fitness trackers, and much more!

14 Awesome Apps for Your New Smart Phone or Tablet that You Should Love

January 11, 2012 | 216,799 views

Many of you know that I have a passion for technology in addition to health.

That was one of the reasons for starting this newsletter 15 years ago, as I was able to merge these two passions.

In addition to reviewing health literature, I also review hundreds of blog posts on technology every day, and I have reached some conclusions that I thought many of you might enjoy and perhaps benefit from.

Emerging Technology Will Change the Way You Interact with Computers

I have never been a major fan of Apple products for a variety of reasons and was skeptical of the iPad when it was first introduced.

It just never made sense to me why anyone would ever use a device like this.

It was 8 months after the iPad was first introduced before I got one, as a friend gave it to me for Christmas, and I actually played with it.

If you own an iPad then you already know this I am preaching to the choir, but for those that don't, let me tell you that shortly after using this device it became very clear to me that it will radically transform computing technology.

The key is the form factor and the ability to EASILY consume electronic content and have rapid access to key information when you need it. It is about the size and weight of a small magazine, yet it can hold hundreds of thousands of books. Unlike a bulky notebook computer which typically weighs three to five times as much, it is easier to carry around. You will get very few stares in a business meeting or restaurant if you break out an iPad, but you might if you start to use your notebook computer.

Emerging social trends confirm my observation, as now Yale Medical School has its entire curriculum on the iPad and many if not most airlines are in the process of converting their forty pounds of flight manuals carried by each pilot to iPad equivalents. There is no question that many schools will switch to tablets and away from textbooks. This is simply inevitable.

The tablet computer is really designed primarily as a consumption device to read and consume information. It is not intended to write large amounts of text. If you plan on substituting it for a notebook you will likely be disappointed, as it is not easy to enter long streams of text unless you have an external keyboard. Even though I own one for my iPad, I have never used it and always wind up using my notebook for extended writing. It is certainly easier than typing on a smart phone, but anything beyond a sentence or two can be cumbersome and inefficient in my opinion.

Hints on How to Use the iPad

There is no question that for the foreseeable future the iPad will dominate the tablet market. Hopefully Android tablets will provide some competition down the road, but for now the iPad rules. If you haven't purchased one, it is my suggestion to not purchase one with a wireless modem for several reasons. They cost $100 more, you need to pay monthly fees, and the current 3G connection is slow compared to 4G. So get the Wi-Fi version for $100 less. If you can afford more memory, go for it, if not, the base model at $499 is just fine.

One key to making the iPad a great tool is the speed of your connection, as many of the useful apps may be slow for some people to use at typical 3G speeds. So you can hook up to your home or office Wi-Fi, or when you are mobile you can hotspot into a phone that has 4G LTE. I got the first phone with the service from Verizon in March and it is extraordinary. I only use it when traveling but it is amazing. No more internet connection fees at hotels or airports.

My Favorite Apps to Help Make Your iPad or Smartphone Truly Useful

A main reason you use an iPad is for the apps, so I thought some of you would appreciate which ones I find useful. Many of my friends realize I am passionate about this, so I typically share my latest findings with them and also with my family. Part of the reason I wrote this article was to have it in place to make it easier to share.

I have scanned many thousands of articles and downloaded several hundred applications, and these are the cream of the crop from my perspective. You might have some other interests or needs, so clearly these are not the only good apps out there, so I would encourage you to keep your eye open for others. And share your recommendations in the Comments below.

So here are my top recommendations:

Google Maps for Android

In my mind this is the single best smart phone/tablet application and is absolutely a stunning representation of what technology can do for you. This app alone is worth the purchase of an Android smart phone if you drive a lot. Unfortunately this is an app works best on Android smart phones. It will not work as well on the iOS platform.

At the time of this article, Google Maps for Android has a number of features that the iPhone does not. Most important is a true navigation system. On the Android version of Google Maps, the navigation works more like a standalone GPS device. It automatically updates your next turn based on your current location.

Android also has "offline reliability," which saves a cache of frequently used areas of the map so you can still navigate even if you don't have a data connection. These two features alone are enough to convince most prospective smartphone users to choose an Android phone for navigation purposes.

Google Maps is nothing less than pure magic. It is, in my opinion, the single best way to navigate to a location while not only driving, but walking. What makes this application so great? The marriage of highly effective voice recognition and awareness of where you are located. I use this app all the time when I am visiting a different city and it has eliminated all fear of getting lost or not winding up where I need to be.

This app is better than any in car navigation system that you can spend several hundred dollars for and it is FREE. On many occasions I have had to fire this app up when the driver of the car I was in had a navigation system that simply did not provide the correct information.

You merely press the application and then speak your destination. For example you can state the name of a large chain, like Whole Foods, and in seconds it will give you turn by turn directions that speak to you so you can get to the nearest Whole Foods. When you arrive at your destination it tells you which side of the street the destination is on and actually shows you a picture so you can find it. How awesome is that?

If you have ever used this program my guess is that you will agree with me that this is the most sophisticated navigation program on the market and it is likely that most cars will use it instead of their expensive navigation systems in the future.

The Weather Channel

One of the most useful information you can easily obtain from your device is to know the weather now and in the immediate future. I downloaded all the major weather apps, including the paid ones and there is one clear winner in this area that decimates the others. The Weather Channel was an order of magnitude better than the other apps, but they recently released an update that makes it even better. This free app is an absolute must have. Beautiful graphics allow you to easily compare different cities by a single swipe with colorful graphic ten day predictions. Of course they have Doppler radar maps so you can easily see when rain or snow will likely hit your area. I use this nearly every day and suspect you might too.


Many may not realize that RSS feeds are the tool I have used for nearly 15 years to access the news. Unfortunately RSS feeds never took off and I am not sure why. But the newer version of them is Flipboard, basically RSS feeds on steroids. It is essentially a customized magazine that you create that you can read like a colorful print magazine. Like the Weather Channel, it is also a free and must have app.

Its key innovation is to make finding and subscribing to RSS feeds very easy. It has dozens of preconfigured channels that you can subscribe to, or you can find your favorite RSS feeds and use it as your RSS reader. Unlike a typical RSS feed where it is often difficult to find the subscribe button, you will never fail with Flipboard as it is simple to do. This is one of my favorite apps on the iPad.

One simple modification that you can use is to integrate Google Reader into Flipboard. You can add dozens or even hundreds of RSS feeds into Google Reader and then view Google Reader on Flipboard. The advantage of doing this is that you don't have to keep flipping through multiple RSS feeds. Some RSS feeds or blogs only post a few times a month. when it is in Google Reader it becomes very efficient to check.

Additionally when you view the posts in Google Reader the headlines become gray after viewing them so you can see where you stopped reading. This does not happen in other Flipboard subscriptions. I have over 50 RSS feeds that I have in my Google Reader which allows me to scan well over 500 blog posts a day that I screen for this newsletter.

Calorie Tracker by MyFitnessPal

Another free app that I use every day to record my food intake and help me keep track of my macronutrient ratios is MyFitnessPal. It has a fitness element but I only use it for the food diary. Like the weather app I looked at many in this category, and Calorie Tracker is head and shoulders above the rest.


These are all free on the iPad. In my experience the best papers are the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the USA Today. The Times and the Journal apps are free, but do require a subscription to read many of the articles.

Fitness Builder

I also use this app every day to record my exercise programs. This is one of the few paid apps on this list but it is worth the $10 (or so) to purchase it, as it is like a personal trainer in that it has about five thousand exercises you can choose from, and they each have videos to describe how to perform them. There is a very simple interface to identify exercise by body part and equipment that you want to use.


Earlier I had mentioned that virtually all schools will replace textbooks with tablets. KNO is currently the leading application that allows students to purchase textbooks for the iPad. It is a free application, and what I use it for is to read PDFs, books and manuals on. And unlike the PDF or book reader, with the iPad you can highlight text and the text will be saved into a journal, so you can review all your highlights in a separate journal. You can also make notes in the document.


Another free essential app that allows you to easily transfer and share files between your computers and your iPad. It is also a brilliant and easy way to work around the 10 megabyte limit present in most email clients. So when you need to send someone a larger file you can just email them your Dropbox public file link and they get it instantly, couldn't be quicker or easier, and it is free. They give you 2 gigabytes of storage, which is more than enough for most, but if you need more you can always purchase it from them.


One of the other paid apps that I find helpful, as it allows you to maximize the use of your iPad as a reading tool. You can use this to easily transfer articles you find on your computer to your iPad. You simply purchase the app for $5 and install it on your iPad. Then you install the web version on your desktop or notebook by dragging their icon to your toolbar. When you find an article you want to read later, you merely click their icon in your toolbar and like magic the article appears on your iPad ready to read with all the ads stripped out, making it very easy to read. You can easily delete it from your iPad or archive it, depending on your needs.


Great app that costs you no money and allows you to dictate notes into your tablet. Most likely this will be replaced by Apple's new intelligent personal assistant Siri, which is available for free on the new iPhone 4S, once it gets ported over to the iPad.


Who would have thought that one of the most enjoyable and innovative iPhone apps of the year would be developed by Microsoft. That's the case with Photosynth, which lets users quickly and reliably capture panoramic 360-degree gyroscopic images simply by moving their cameras.

Google Translate

This language translation app from Google excels above all others for its ability to audibly translate spoken words into other languages. Google Translate's simple and elegant interface translates text between 63 languages and lets users star notable translations and access them for later use.


This seems to be the way you will eventually consume music in the future if you aren't already. Rather than purchasing music from iTunes or other online stores, you simply rent it. This way you don't ever need to hassle with losing your music or transferring it to different devices. Plus you get access to many millions of different songs.

I have been using a similar service called Rhapsody for the past five years and really enjoy the service. It does seem clear that the writing is on the wall and Spotify will likely take over as the leader in this space. Three years after launching in Europe, this music streaming service finally made its way to North America in July. The iOS application combines access to Spotify's deep library with great playlist creation and social networking capabilities. Well worth the $10 monthly subscription for hardcore music fans tired of iTunes.


I am not, nor have I ever been musically talented. However if you play an instrument you will likely enjoy this powerful application that is one of the few that Apple actually wrote. It costs $5 but is a fun tool that allows you to create endless types of music on various instruments.

AppStart for iPad, and AppsGoneFree for iOS

The problem with apps is that they can cost money. However there are a few apps you can download that will tell you when the paid apps go free. They typically are only free for 24 hours so you have to act quickly. AppStart is one of the best apps out there to learn how to use your iPad and do just about anything with it. It is a tutorial inside of a guide inside of an... iPad! Great user interface and simple dynamic to learn about Apple's magical iPad.

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