Top five free iPhone productivity apps

Our favorite iPhone apps let you aggregate various online accounts, back up notes and photos, create to-do lists, look up local businesses, and surf the Web offline--all without spending a dime.

Armed with the App Store and a whopping zero dollars to spend, I took a crack at finding the best free iPhone productivity applications available right now. I came away with five solid--if flawed--apps for productivity-minded cheapskates.

Four of the five tools on this list had their share of limitations and bugs to work out, which made me shy away from testing paid productivity apps. That said, of the twelve free productivity utilities I looked at, the five here were the clear-cut leaders.

All of the following apps were tested on a first-generation iPhone with the 2.0.1 firmware. It should be noted that during testing, several EDGE network issues came up with both my iPhone and those of coworkers with the 3G iPhone; they reported slower-than-usual 3G connectivity and had to rely mostly on EDGE speeds, as well.

1. PageOnce Personal Assistant

Website | App Store link (requires iTunes)

In the realm of free applications, no "killer productivity app" for the iPhone exists, but PageOnce Personal Assistant is as close as it gets. Rather than providing its own set of services, PageOnce Personal Assistant aggregates your online accounts and feeds them to your iPhone in one handy, streamlined interface. However, those feeds are limited to read-only status. It's still a handy app for seeing your bank balance (no payments or transfers, though); looking at what's coming up on your Netflix queue; reading your MySpace, Digg, and Twitter feeds; seeing how many minutes you've used up on your monthly cellular account; viewing your cable bill; and scanning your Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and other Web-based e-mail inboxes (no sending messages, though).

I did see a few notable omissions to PageOnce's otherwise impressive lineup of online partners. For example, PageOnce has no Facebook integration, which is especially surprising given the numerous references on the PageOnce site to getting your Facebook feed through the app.

In addition to the read-only limitations, I noticed a bit of a lag time between signing up for feeds online and having them work on my iPhone. Also, I really hope PageOnce has airtight security (the PageOnce site claims it does), due to the amount of personal information submitted to get the full range of offerings. Also, as our Ed Albro points out, it's much easier to just check your e-mail inbox than to use the limited read-only feed on PageOnce.

2. Evernote

Website | App Store link (requires iTunes)

With Evernote, gone are the days of e-mailing things to yourself just to get them off your phone and onto your computer. One of the first apps I loaded onto my iPhone, Evernote lets you send written notes, photos (taken from both within the application and stored in your iPhone's photo album), and voice memos to an online repository that you can access anywhere with a Web connection.

Evernote's free version limits your uploads to 40MB per month, while Evernote Premium increases your upload limit to 500 MB per month for a US$5 monthly or US$45 yearly fee. For the casual user, though, the free version should offer plenty of storage. I had some problems and delays uploading images during my testing over an EDGE network; text uploads, on the other hand, worked without a hitch. I was able to access sent notes on my Web-connected desktop almost immediately.

3. ReQall

Website | App Store link (requires iTunes)

To-do list applications abound in the iTunes App Store, but ReQall for the iPhone is a veritable list-making and reminder-creating suite. It combines to-do lists, shopping lists, and voice memos, and it syncs them to your online ReQall account so that you can access them from outside your iPhone. The service will even convert your voice notes to written ones, a handy spin for impatient touch-screen typists.

ReQall is also useful for groups or work situations, provided your friends or coworkers sign up for the free service as well; a People tab lets you share your entries with selected contacts. ReQall also alerts you to items on your to-do lists in several ways, thanks to integrated functionality with instant-messaging clients (AIM and Yahoo Messenger), Firefox, text messaging, and e-mail. You can get reminder blasts through each of those media, as well as pop-up reminders on your iPhone screen.

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Tim Moynihan

PC World (US online)
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