TechRepublic's 12 Apps of Christmas
Day 1: Grocery iQ
For those of you who know me, it should come as no surprise that my all-time favorite app is Grocery iQ. I’m a foodie, and I use it more than any other app on my Motorola Droid Razr Maxx HD. You can download it on your PC, Android device, or iPhone/iPad. The best part is that it’s absolutely free.
Here are some of Grocery iQ's features:
- Favorites & history
- Organize items by aisle
- Add item details
- Print or email coupons
- Email list
- List synchronization
The ability to synchronize lists across multiple devices and share lists with other users is what makes Grocery iQ especially useful in my household. If you check “milk” off the list and then sync the update, you can finally avoid duplicate shopping efforts and having to make room for two gallons of milk in your refrigerator. Likewise, if you’re at the store, checking off items on the list as you place them in the cart, you’re able to immediately receive new entries from other users you share a list with. That certainly helps avoid holiday disasters, like finding out after you’ve already gotten home that you’re running low on peppermint mocha coffee creamer.
I used to make actual grocery lists, with a pen and a piece of paper, but Grocery iQ has simplified my shopping life with this one little app. Don’t wait to find this app in your stocking. Download it on your device today, and see if it doesn’t immediately become one of your main go-to apps.
Day 2: RunKeeper
In 2009, I started a diet and exercise program by which I ultimately lost almost 50 pounds over the course of a year and reached my target weight. I’ve stayed within a 4 pound range for the last three years, but it’s not always easy. The holiday season is the most difficult time, with parties and family dinners, and all those miscellaneous goodies that appear when the baking spirit hits.
I try to keep my eating under control, but I don’t want to sit around crunching carrots while everyone else is indulging in eggnog and seven-layer chocolate cake. I’ve found the best way to minimize the holiday weight gain is to increase my exercise quota. And naturally, being the techie I am, I turn to the latest technology to help motivate me to do that.
One of my favorite ways burn some calories and at the same time spend some quality time with my “babies” -- my three Japanese Chin dogs -- is to go for walks through the neighborhood. And my Galaxy Note 2 (soon to be replaced by a Note 3) with its built-in GPS is the perfect gadget to keep track of how far and how fast I’ve walked and how many calories I used doing it.
RunKeeper audio cues
Another important setting is Auto-Pause. If you turn this on (it’s disabled by default), when the GPS shows that you’ve stopped, it will pause the time count. This is useful if you stop for a few minutes on your walk to chat with a neighbor or let your dog do its business. Without Auto-Pause, your time keeps accumulating so that your overall average speed will fall and be incorrect in regard to your actual walking speed. You can also pause the app manually at any time.
RunKeeper allows you to connect your account to Facebook and/or Twitter and set sharing settings to control who can see the maps and reports of your activity that the app generates. You can make these visible to everyone, friends only, or just yourself.
You can use the app for many different types of activities, from the most mundane (walking, running, cycling) to the more exotic (cross-country skiing, mountain biking, snowboarding).
The GPS will map your route as you walk and the audio cues will keep you informed of your progress. When you’re finished, press Stop and then Save Activity. RunKeeper will keep a record of your saved activities, both on your local device and on RunKeeper.com.
RunKeeper web site
You can also view detailed reports of each of your activities, complete with maps. This screenshot shows a walk I took back in September when visiting Hyannis Port, MA.
With the Elite service, you can also get reports showing graphs of activity duration and calories burned over a time frame, as well as advanced fitness reports that track your nutrition, sleep, strength, weight, and body fat percentage.
I’ve been using RunKeeper for almost three years and have found the free service to be all I need. It’s reliable, keeps track of my walks, and helps motivate me to stay in shape.
Day 3: FlightTrack
If you travel by air a lot or coordinate with family, friends, or business associates who do, FlightTrack by Mobiata for Android and iOS smart devices is an essential app to add to your library.
With FlightTrack, you simply enter the airline and flight number you're interested in, and you’ll be provided a nearly live stream of all the pertinent data you might desire on any given flight.
I use this app most often to track my wife when she flies on business, because I’m a nervous flyer, even when I’m not the one in the air. The real time flight info shows altitude, airspeed, and even if the plane is encountering inclement weather or diverting around storms.
It also takes a lot of the guesswork out of being ready to meet an expected traveler on arrival at the airport. Although the FCC supposedly delays the feeds by as much as 15 minutes, I’ve found that when I see a plane land on my device, my wife generally calls me almost immediately to let me know that she's arrived. I spend far less time in “Cell Phone Parking Lots,” waiting in the dark for an expected arrival to land and call me to pick them up.
Additional features of FlightTrack include a menu that allows you to find alternative flights, call your booking airline, and log a journal of your experiences on the flight. You can save frequent flights and have them ready to view as soon as you launch the app.
FlightTrack is by no means the only app in this crowded field -- and Mobiata includes a Pro version with even more features -- so, I’d encourage you to experiment to find the app in this category that works best for you. Personally, I’ve been very happy with the performance and features of FlightTrack.
Day 4: CalenMob
The 4th app of Christmas that Bill Detwiler gave to you is a business app called CalenMob.
CalenMob on an iPhone
CalenMob calendar view
The free version of CalenMob is ad supported. Because I use the app on a near daily basis, I decided to purchase CalenMob Pro that doesn't have ads.
The interface is clean and navigation is intuitive. CalenMob provides a variety of calendar views, including month, week, day, list, etc.
My only complaint about CalenMob is that you must open the app to sync with your Google Calendar. But that's a small price to pay for not missing a meeting because I didn't get a 5-minute warning!
Day 5: MyFitnessPal
The 5th app of Christmas that Teena Hammond gave to you is MyFitnessPal!
I’ve been using MyFitnessPal online for four years, and I added the app to my iPhone two years ago. The app is one of the best ways to keep track of food intake and exercise, and I use it much more frequently than the full online version. MyFitnessPal has a database of the nutritional value of more than 3 million foods, so you can either type in a food by name, or you can scan a barcode of the item you’re eating to automatically plug it into your daily journal.
Every time you log in, it shows you your weight loss or exercise total since your last visit. Admittedly, there is a guilt factor involved, because if more than a few days have passed since your last log in, it notes the absence.
There’s something about knowing that everything you eat must be accounted for that makes losing weight easier. And does it work? It definitely does. I’ve lost 85 lbs. since I started using MyFitnessPal. That’s an entire fifth grader. And the app makes it easy to keep weight off -- every dieter’s Achilles’s heel -- since, again, everything is easily tracked.
There’s a community feature if you prefer to share your data with the world, but you can also keep it private. And you can connect with friends to share weight loss goals and support each other. You can also set reminders to log in and fill out your daily journal for meals so that you’re not tempted to forget. Overall, this app is a dieter’s best friend.
Day 6: Evernote
The 6th app of Christmas Will Kelly gave to you is the champion app called Evernote.
Evernote is a very popular app that's available for Android, the iPhone, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone. They offer both a free version and a Premium product that costs $5.00 a month/$45.00 a year. I’ve been using Evernote since the early days, and I've watched it transform from just a note-taking app into a product line tailored to help people collect and remember information.
Since getting my first PC, I’ve always been better organized electronically than with hardcopy, so I truly fit the Evernote user demographic. Evernote is where I keep ideas, notes, and research for my TechRepublic posts, corporate client work, and my personal projects.
Because I’m a Premium user, I can search inside PDFs, Word documents, and even screen images I save in Evernote. Another bonus is being able to create offline notebooks so I can refer to information on my iPhone or iPad on the rare times I’m not on Wi-Fi.
Evernote lets you set up notebooks to better organize your notes. I use synchronized notebooks for client work, so I can access the information in the cloud and across my devices. I create notebooks to organize notes for particular projects. I then use notebook stacks (an Evernote feature for grouping notebooks) across various parts of my professional and personal life.
Recently, I’ve been relying more on tagging to organize the content I capture and my notes, because I found myself creating too many notebooks over time.
The Evernote app is running on all of my Macs, PCs, iPhone, iPads, and Android tablets to ensure that my notes and research are always accessible. I regularly take notes using Evernote on the Mac during client meetings. My preference is to keep the formatting in my notes simple. However, Evernote lets me format notes using bold, italics, and other options you’d expect to find in a word processor. Using Evernote on my iPhone lets me take pictures of white board drawings and save them directly into Evernote for later reference. Evernote has allowed me be a paperless note taker after years of jotting down meeting and interview notes on yellow legal pads.
I highly recommend Evernote if you have project notes spread out across folders, cloud accounts, and apps, and you want to centralize all of your note-taking for sanity sake and easy reference.
Day 7: Twitter
The 7th app of Christmas Erik Eckel gave to you is a social app called Twitter.
Whenever I purchase a new gadget -- be it a desktop, laptop, tablet, or smartphone -- Twitter is inevitably the first app I load.
Am I so narcissistic that I must Tweet, without delay and upon every device I wield? No. The ability to post status updates for friends, family, and followers isn’t that overwhelming. Let’s be honest. I don’t live that exciting a life or one that prompts others to remain riveted to my Twitter musings. I’m just not that compelling.
Instead, Twitter’s attraction is contained within its revolutionary capacity to immediately and concisely disseminate information. The app has really changed my life and the way I consume news and information that I can’t think of a more important technology, other than email, that possesses a greater impact on my life -- that is, since I replaced my Smith Corona Coronet XL with a word processor.
From empowering technology solutions in the workplace to assisting first responders to playing a pivotal role in historic events, Twitter has changed the way news and information flow. Twitter proves the old mantra, “information wants to be free,” is true. The social media platform essentially enables instant messaging to an unlimited number of followers from a myriad number of locations wherever someone with a Twitter account might be present.
Twitter communications, themselves simplistic 140-character messages, receive an extraordinary distribution assist due to two factors. The first is re-tweeting, which enables members to distribute others’ communications to one’s own collection of followers. The second is hashtags, which permits users to associate communications around topics and events using specific keywords. Hashtags then make it possible to search for and identify all communications occurring worldwide that focus on a single topic or event.
My son and I were among the first of tens of thousands of NASCAR attendees to learn the event was being postponed, thanks to Twitter. While tens of thousands stood confusedly in a prolonged rain shower, we headed to the parking lot, secure in the knowledge that the event was being postponed until the following morning.
I’ve received critical weather information updates, followed countless breaking news stories, collected much industry-related knowledge, won a helpful O’Reilly Knoppix Linux guide, saved considerable sums from learning about targeted flash sales, discovered a favorite band was coming to town (enabling me to obtain seats to the sold-out show), and more using Twitter. The social media app has also helped me stay in touch with colleagues as they move to new positions and cities, service my clients, and obtain seeming inside information for a number of hobbies.
Best of all, Twitter is free. No for-pay subscription account is required. Further, the service is infinitely customizable in that you can follow Tweets from a vast variety of accounts however you wish and access it whenever you want, catching up on missed Tweets as time permits.
Whether you leverage the service’s web site, which enables reviewing and searching Twitter feeds as well as posting tweets, or Twitter’s iOS, Android, Nokia, BlackBerry, or Windows phone apps, corresponding tablet iterations, or Mac, Windows 8, or TweetDeck apps, the programs are free. The apps can be found on Twitter’s web site and within most every vendor’s respective app store.
So, what are you waiting for? If you don’t have a Twitter account, now is the time to try it. And if you already use Twitter, take a moment to really stop and reflect. What passions, interests, and topics truly motivate you? Have you taken time to search Twitter and follow corresponding Twitter feeds that you may have overlooked? When considering the accounts to follow, think of the past times, sports, products, beliefs, charities, books, films, art, authors, manufacturers, magazines, web sites, radio broadcasts, podcasts, newspapers, travel destination,s and services that bring you the most joy and fulfillment, then get cracking. You may just find new accounts to follow that begin changing the way you live your life too.
Day 8: TripIt
The 8th app of Christmas Jason Hiner gave to you is a handy app called TripIt.
TripIt upcoming trips
TripIt confirmation numbers
Day 9: Nova Launcher Prime
The 9th app of Christmas Jack Wallen gave to you, the Nova Launcher Prime home screen.
Whenever I get a new Android device, one of the first things I do is install the Nova Launcher Prime for $4.00 (USD) -- and it's worth every penny. Why? First and foremost, it's one of the cleanest Android launchers you'll find. If you're a big fan of a minimalist home screen (that still offers plenty of features), you'll love Nova.
Nova Launcher Prime features
- Custom grids
- Infinite scroll
- Drawer groups
- Scrollable dock
- Folder icons
- Hide apps
- Scroll effects
- Icon/dock swipes
- Unique Nova Actions
- Unread counts
And much more.
Nova Launcher Prime gestures
I can set up gestures to open most-used apps (as well as other Android features). For example, I've set up the following gestures:
- Single finger swipe up: Open app drawer
- Single finger swipe down: Open notifications
- Double finger swipe up: Open phone
- Double finger swipe down: Open messaging
- Double finger CCW rotate: Open Google Search
- Double finger CW rotate: Call wife
One of the main reasons why I insist on Nova Launcher Prime is because it makes my home screen highly efficient. Yes, you can also add the usual icons, widgets, and such -- but for someone who loves a tidy screen, Nova can't be beat.
Don't let your Android phone miss out on some seriously efficient customization. Give yourself the gift of Nova Launcher Prime this holidays season.
Day 10: Zite
The 10th app of Christmas Mary Weilage gave to you is a useful app that's simply called Zite.
Zite news app
Zite Share options
Zite vote actions
Zite Recent Articles
Zite's other nice features include the following:
A new feature in the latest release is a section called Popular on Zite, which you might find useful for a quick snapshot of what other users are reading. You can disable this section in the settings if you like.
- It's easy to navigate.
- Content is greyed after you click it, so it’s easy to tell at a glance what you’ve already read -- or at least seen.
- One simple way to add new subjects to your reading list is to click a topic that's featured in a box or (depending on how you’re viewing content) click the heart by the topic name.
- In the Recent Articles view, you see lists of all the recent articles you clicked, voted up (or, as the app calls it, thumbed), and shared
The folks at Zite claim this personalized magazine-style app learns from your reading choices to better match what content to serve you. I have never seen content in my feed that doesn’t fit my chosen preferences, so this functionality appears to work as advertised.
My only very minor frustration in previous versions of the app was that I couldn't access content in multi-page articles beyond page one from within the app. It appears this issue has been resolved.
I think the fact that I only have one quibble to report after using it for a year and a half speaks to the quality of the app.Zite is available for the iPhone and iPad (iOS 6.0 or higher), Android (Android 2.3 or newer), and Windows Phone (7.5 and 8).
If you haven't already tried Zite, I encourage you to download the app -- consider it a free gift to yourself.
Day 11: DeskConnect
The 11th app of Christmas Matt Nawrocki gave to you is an iOS app called DeskConnect.
I chose this app, simply because I can really enhance my workflow between all my Apple hardware. If Android devices are supported eventually, that would be the real ticket!
Day 12: Charity Miles
The 12th app of Christmas Nicole Bremer Nash gave to you a selfless app called Charity Miles.
Charity Miles is the real spirit of giving. So, if you’re looking to give an app to a friend or loved one this holiday season, you can’t go wrong with Charity Miles. Snag their Android or Apple smartphone and download it for free! It incentivizes people to get moving by turning their workouts into corporate philanthropy.
Charity Miles activities
Charity Miles charities
When you’re done, select Finish, then Accept Sponsorship. Charity Miles posts to your connected social network account with how far you went, a relevant message, and a "thank you" to the corporation making the donation on your behalf. It’s just one post per workout, and it turns every workout or jaunt to the corner store into an opportunity to give without opening your wallet. Not to mention the mega-bragging rights it creates on Facebook.
The Android or Apple device must have a network connection in order for the app to work. It doesn’t use many resources -- I run it right along Map My Run and Zombies, Run, and my music app, and I usually have plenty of battery life leftover on my Samsung Galaxy Note II, even after long workouts.
Since the app is free, you might also consider giving the recipient an athletic phone holder that attaches to their arm or waist, so they can be sure to have the device with them while they go.
TechRepublic's 12 Apps of ChristmasIn the spirit of the holidays, we thought we’d create a smartphone series based on a popular Christmas song. The 12 Days of Christmas starts on Christmas Day, but our 12 Apps of Christmas began before the holiday, and we posted one app per day, leading all the way up to Christmas. However you celebrate this season, and whatever device you own (or platform that it runs on), we hope that you find some gems here -- as these are the apps that the TechRepublic’s editorial staff and bloggers actually use and feel passionate enough to write about.
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.