14 ways to supercharge your smartphone

Never pay for ringtones, avoid getting lost, and find the best prices with these services for your smartphone
  • (PC World (US online))
  • — 13 May, 2010 00:08

Are you using your smartphone to its fullest? Probably not--smartphone owners typically push their devices up to only about half their potential. Here are 14 smartphone apps to help your Android handset, BlackBerry, or iPhone become all that it can be.

For more ways to enhance your phone, see "13 Sites and Services to Supercharge Any Phone" and "13 Tips to Supercharge Your 'Dumb' Phone."

Get free turn-by-turn GPS on an iPhone

When Google brought free turn-by-turn GPS functionality to Android, many iPhone users were envious. In March, however, iPhone users gained their own free GPS app with turn-by-turn capabilities, courtesy of MapQuest.

Despite MapQuest’s added voice-guided directions to its free iPhone app, called MapQuest 4 Mobile, the app was only free in the U.S. Reviews of MapQuest 4 Mobile for iPhone are mixed, however, with some critics pointing out that the app is not as full-featured as TomTom U.S.A.. The big gripe concerns MapQuest's rerouting feature, which is not automatic (as TomTom's is) and requires you to restart your navigation manually if you stray from MapQuest's planned route. Unfortunately, MapQuest Australia 1.0 only provides maps with no voice-guided directions.

Turn apps into a social activity

App-obsessed Android users will love AppBrain. Want to show off all your apps to your friends? Interested in how other Android users rate the apps they have downloaded? AppBrain is the service for you.

AppBrain also creates a personal app catalog that you can share with other AppBrain users. You can peruse the apps of your AppBrain friends and other users, as well. Wondering what Lifehacker founding editor Gina Trapani has on her Android phone, for instance? You can check it out on AppBrain.

Never fear, Apple lovers: Similar services exist for the iPhone, too. Download AppsFire or Appfinder from the iTunes App Store to start sharing your favorite apps.

Communicate with everyone via Fring

A unifying social networking platform for your mobile phone, Fring allows you to use one app to communicate across multiple social networking platforms, including AIM, GoogleTalk, ICQ, Skype, Twitter, and Yahoo Messenger. Fring eliminates the need to download specialized apps for each social network or communication tool--now you only have to worry about which friends you want to reach. Fring is available for iPhone, Android, and Nokia devices.

Make your Android phone location-aware

The smartphone app Locale for Android lets you set automatic preferences for your phone based on your location. If, say, you tend to forget to turn your ringer off when you reach the office, just customize your phone using Locale to switch your ringer to vibrate whenever you get to work or on silent when you’re off to the movies. Based on conditions like battery power, location, date, or time, Locale changes Android’s settings automatically. It's simple, yet clever.

Get around town

Metro Travel is one of the best ways to plan all your public transport endeavours in one nifty iPhone app. With Sydney, Melbourne and Perth covered, the toughest cities can be handled at the touch of your fingertips — with the best time and location for your transport needs met any day of the week.

Find Wi-Fi in your area

Apple may have cut Wi-Fi stumblers out of the App Store, but you can still turn to Wi-Fi directories such as JiWire's Wi-Fi Finder to discover over 280,000 hotspots in 140 countries worldwide. JiWire also has an app for Android.

A similar service, WeFi, can also help you find a nearby Wi-Fi hotspot; in fact, Fring recently released a WeFi add-on.

Compare prices with ShopSavvy

You can find many applications out there that turn your smartphone into a bar-code reader, but the best one I've found is ShopSavvy. This app quickly scans any product bar code to do price-comparison shopping online and at local stores. You can also create wish lists or set up price alerts based on your scanned items. ShopSavvy is available for Android, iPhone, and Nokia devices.

Browse Android apps easily

If you're thinking of switching to an Android device but you need more information about the Android Market catalog than you can find on Google's official site, head to DoubleTwist's Android app site. It will help you find virtually any Android application available in the Market.

Use your iPhone as a mouse

For iPhone users, Logitech offers a handy free app called TouchMouse that turns your iPhone into a wireless mouse by way of your Wi-Fi network. This could be great if you wanted to sit back on the couch and control a laptop hooked up to a TV, for instance. All you need is the iPhone app and the desktop software for Windows or Mac.

Tip: If you find TouchMouse difficult to control, adjust the 'Scrolling Speed' option under Settings on the iPhone app.

Slip away with Fake-A-Call

Sometimes the only way out of an awkward in-person encounter is to get a well-timed phone call. Now you don't have to pray for a phone call to come in--just make it happen with the help of Fake-A-Call. This free application for Android, iPhone, and BlackBerry devices lets you schedule an interruption or create a phoney phone call on the fly. Grab this tool to save yourself from any sticky situation you end up in.

Control a jailbroken iPhone with a PC or Mac

Veency allows you to view and control a jailbroken iPhone via a Mac or PC using a Wi-Fi connection. The tool is an interesting application to try out if you want to control your iPhone's iTunes interface while it's connected to a set of speakers across the room, for example. Or how about typing notes into your device through the Notes app from a full keyboard? Not bad at all.

iPhoneHacks.com has a nice tutorial on how to install the software and run it for both Macs and PCs. You can find a number of VNC clients, such as TightVNC and UltraVNC for PCs and Chicken of the VNC for Macs.

Get a personal trainer

The huge range of smartphone fitness apps has made it easier than ever to track your exercise habits. The RunKeeper iPhone app is perfect to track weekly jogs, including speed, distance, and routes; you can even share your workouts via Facebook or Twitter. I also use Lose It to track my daily calorie intake, and for fun I use the GymFu apps to guide my push-ups, crunches, and pull-ups. Check out your smartphone's app catalog to see what's available for your device.

Don't pay for ringtones

Android users can use Ringdroid to create their own ringtones, but iPhone users can easily create their own ringtones simply by using iTunes. For more, check out PCWorld's step-by-step instructions on how to turn any MP3 into an iPhone ringtone.

Tip: This method also works for non-DRM-protected iTunes downloads in AAC format.

Additional reporting by Omar Dabbagh

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Ian Paul

PC World (US online)
Topics: apple iphone, iphone app store, mobile phones, Android, Google Android, iPhone, smartphones, android market, mobile apps
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