Computerworld's favorite smartphone apps

A roundup of our best-loved 31 apps for the iPhone, Android phones and other smartphones.

Let's face it: Whether you get your apps through the Android Market (about 100,000 apps) or the Apple App Store (about 350,000), it can be hard to figure out which ones you want to try out. And there are a lot of recommendation lists out there (Computerworld has already published a few of them). But how to find the really great stuff?

In an effort to provide some guidance, we asked the staff and writers of Computerworld to tell us about their favorites -- no matter what type of smartphone they use.

The results are listed here. The apps are varied and interesting -- they include a variety of choices for music, video and photos; apps that help to find restaurants, detect earthquakes or track all your digital data; two games and two e-readers. There are also a few that make life easier on the job, including one that takes credit card purchases.

To try to make some order out of this plethora of apps, we've divided them into several categories:

Media on the move -- music, photos and video

Leisure time -- e-readers and games

Interesting information -- news, restaurants and running

Useful utilities -- storage, remote logins and browsers

On the job -- dictation, notes and finances

The reviews below include apps for smartphones that run Apple's iOS, Google's Android and Palm's webOS operating systems. But we didn't want to leave anyone out, so for each app we've listed other OSes that it works with, which can include RIM's BlackBerry, Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 and Windows Mobile, and a few other, less-known formats.

So take a look and see if there's anything here that you might want to try -- some of these might become your favorites as well. And if we've left any out that you think we should try, don't hesitate to let us know in our Comments section.

Media on the move

AT&T U-verse Mobile

This is a great app for those times when you are at a dinner party and a friend recommends a particular TV program for you to watch. You can program your AT&T U-verse digital video recorder from your iPhone and not have to worry about missing the suggested show. You can browse the channel guide, search for a particular show and manage your existing or future scheduled recordings. If you subscribe to the more expensive U200, U300 or U450 premium channels packages, you can even download some episodes to your phone at no additional charge. (DirecTV and Dish Network have similar apps.) -- David Strom

AT&T U-verse Mobile

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: Android (specific devices), BlackBerry (specific devices), Windows Phone 7

Price: Free

Hipstamatic

Tired of all those sharp, modern-looking digital pix your iPhone camera can take? Use Hipstamatic and you'll takes pictures that look they were taken with 35mm film in the 1960s. Plus, you can buy different "films," "lenses," and "flash attachments" for an even more customized look. Hipstamatic allows you to change the look of photos on the fly simply by shaking the iPhone, which chooses new films and lenses from those you have in your collection. (Given the number of lens/flash/film combos it's easy to get confused; check out the Field Guide wiki to help sort out your options.) -- Ken Mingis

Hipstamatic

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: None

Price: $1.99

iheartradio

As the name implies, iheartradio is an app for streaming radio stations across your Internet connection. It offers over 300 stations across the continental U.S. -- talk stations, local music for specific cities, regional traffic and a slew of artist-hosted stations where various talents (e.g., the Eagles, Weezer, Slash) discuss their favorite music. The program even downloads cover art to match whatever's playing. It's a toss-up as to whether a favorite station of yours is in their network, but give it a shot. -- Serdar Yegulalp

Iheartradio

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes it works with: : iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7

Price: Free

MixZing

Music players are a dime a dozen, but MixZing gets it right: it's logically organized, easy to work with, performs well and doesn't get in the way. Version 3 adds video support and lets you play back music by folder, as well as by searching and sorting by ID3 tags (artist, album, etc.). The free version is ad-supported; the premium version ditches the ads and unlocks a whole slew of music-geek features, like an MP3 tag editor and a screen-lock widget that shows album art. Me, I don't mind the ads, and the basic version's feature mix is more than enough. -- Serdar Yegulalp

MixZing

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes it works with: None

Price: Free with ads; $4.99 for full version

Netflix

What is there to say about streaming Netflix movies to your iPhone or iPad? It's just the coolest way to unwind and catch up on movies and TV anytime, anyplace. It makes a perfect hotel room companion when you're working on the road, and it makes any supported phone a welcome companion in an airport waiting room. It's even a great home recreation option -- no one heard from my 70-something dad for nearly a week after he installed the Netflix app on his iPad except when some documentary made him decide he wanted a pet hedgehog. -- Ryan Faas

Netflix

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: Windows Phone 7

Price: Free (requires Netflix subscription)

Pandora

I find Pandora's Internet radio almost spiritual in value. I can tune in my favorite song and Pandora generates similar songs based on hundreds of characteristics about my first choice. I mostly listen to my personal radio station based on "Fix You" by Coldplay. I learn more about music that's out there than I could ever possibly achieve by sampling iTunes or listening to radio. -- Matt Hamblen

Pandora

OS reviewed: BlackBerry, iOS

Other OSes it works with: Android, BlackBerry, WebOS, Windows Mobile

Price: Free with ads; $36/year for enhanced version

SoundHound

Ever had a tune stuck in your head -- or on a video soundtrack -- that you knew but couldn't identify? Nine times out of ten, I've found that playing or humming a tune to SoundHound solves the mystery. SoundHound isn't infallible (especially with my singing voice), but it does a good and fast job of identifying tunes, showing the artist responsible, linking to videos and listing discographies. SoundHound can also whisk you over to Pandora or it can settle arguments: Unlike competitor Shazam, SoundHound also shows you the lyrics to songs it recognizes, which lets you prove that the band isn't singing "there's a bathroom on the right." That alone is worth the price of admission. -- Matt Lake

SoundHound

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes it works with: iOS

Price: Free with ads; $4.99 for full version

TuneIn Radio

I've never really warmed up to video on a smartphone-sized screen, but audio's another story. Besides playing one's own MP3 collection or listening to a personalized music stream like Pandora, sometimes it's nice to listen to an actual radio station -- either local or out of town. TuneIn Radio (formerly Radiotime) offers streaming access to thousands of AM and FM stations in the U.S. and around the world, as well as a large variety of Internet radio channels. Plus, it gives you the ability to save presets once you've uncovered your favorites. -- Sharon Machlis

TuneIn Radio

OS reviewed: WebOS

Other OSes it works with: iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Samsung Bada, Windows Phone 7

Price: Free ($0.99 for iOS)

Vevo

If you're into music videos, you really should have Vevo on your iPhone. It allows you to search for the most popular new music videos by artist, song or even geo-location, so you can find out what people around you are most often watching. Vevo now supports Apple's AirPlay protocol -- though the implementation is still in beta form -- meaning you can start watching videos on your iPhone and, with the tap of a button, send the video to your big-screen TV if you also have Apple TV. When I tried it, the AirPlay transfer worked perfectly. -- Ken Mingis

Vevo

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: Android

Price: Free

Leisure time

Aldiko

There are a lot of e-reader apps out there, Some, like Kindle, are associated with major booksellers -- others are less attached to a single brand. Aldiko is one of the best independent apps: It's got a clean, professional interface, offers day/night settings, lets you adjust type size, brightness and other factors. It offers a listing of several sources where you can easily download free and public-domain books, and lets you purchase them through Feedbooks.com and a few other independent sellers. And if you already have e-books in either the popular ePub or PDF formats, Aldiko will import them easily. I am an addicted reader and tend to panic if I'm caught in a train or waiting room without something to read -- Aldiko is the way I get my fix no matter where I am. -- Barbara Krasnoff

Aldiko

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes it works with: None

Price: Free with ads, $2.99 for ad-free version

Kindle

Subway commuting, the post office and the airport experience: It takes only about three minutes of these to make me crave a good book or magazine to read. Yet somehow, I never remember to bring anything along. Fidgeting with just any phone app won't fix these particular purgatories: Only the Kindle app will do. It's like carrying a Kindle on your phone and it's a brilliant idea. Even for people well over 40, the Android Kindle app delivers surprisingly clear and easy-to-read text on a mobile phone. The app lets you buy books and magazines (or find free ones), which can turn the first half an hour at the DMV into a virtual bookstore browse and the remainder of the visit into sustained reading time. Instead of living through Waiting for Godot, you can read it and really enjoy yourself. -- Matt Lake

Kindle

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes it works with: iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7

Price: Free

Trainyard

In this totally addictive puzzle game, you lay railroad tracks so that trains interact with other trains to reach their destinations. Blue trains must enter blue stations, purple trains must enter purple stations and so on. It starts out ridiculously easy but quickly becomes challenging as you learn to cross trains of different colors to create new colors, paint them different colors, merge multiple trains into one so that stations don't get overloaded and employ delaying tactics to ensure that trains meet each other at exactly the right time. The sounds and animations are engaging, and the experience is completely immersive -- don't play it on the subway or you'll miss your stop. (Yes, I learned that lesson the hard way.) There's a free (and ad-free) prequel version called Trainyard Express that's a great way to get addicted before you ramp up to Trainyard, which has a different (and larger) set of puzzles to solve. -- Valerie Potter

Trainyard

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: None

Price: $0.99

Words With Friends

Are you a Scrabble fan? Then you'll love Words With Friends -- the game board and rules are almost identical. Games are usually played over a period of time rather than in real time (though that's an option too). All games are one-on-one, but you can have multiple games with different players going simultaneously. By default, the app sends you an alert when an opponent makes a play, but I find this too distracting; I've turned off notifications (in the iPhone's Settings menu) and instead just check in a few times a day. I like to play during my commute to and from work; it's always fun to fire up the app to see who's played what while I wait for my train. -- Valerie Potter

Words With Friends

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: Android

Price: Free with ads, $2.99 for full version (iOS only)

Interesting information

Earthquake

Having once lived in earthquake-prone areas in the Pacific, I've had a perpetual curiosity about them. To help satisfy it, I installed Earthquake. This is a simple but very effective app that reports real-time U.S. Geological Survey data on earthquake activity worldwide. Earthquakes are listed as they happen, showing magnitude, location and time. The data is also mapped, there's a link to a USGS report on specific quakes and you can get a notification alert set at a specific magnitude (the default level is 5 or more). A recent update includes tsunami info, greater customization of push alerts (by magnitude and "quiet time") and reporting agency filtering. What's been eye-opening, for me, is the sheer frequency of earthquakes -- there is an earthquake somewhere in the world every few minutes. By globally tracking earthquakes, and seeing how frequently they occur, I get a new appreciation of the earth as a living, moving and constantly recreating force. -- Patrick Thibodeau

Earthquake

OS reviewed: iOS

Other OSes it works with: Android (Earthquake Lite only)

Price: $1.99; free Lite" version

My Tracks

I went for a run this morning. (Okay, so it was more of a slow jog.) How far did I go? How long did it take? Most important of all, am I improving over past runs? I know the answers to all these questions and more, because I have "My Tracks" running on my Droid Incredible. This open-source app from Google runs on most Android smart phones that have GPS. The app shows your route on a map as you go; you can display map or satellite photo modes. It also tracks statistics including distance, speed and elevation. You can save your results and even share them through Google Maps. Whether you walk, run or bike, it's a great way to track your trip. -- Alfred Poor

My Tracks

OS reviewed: Android

Other OSes it works with: None

Price: Free

OpenTable

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