Just this weekend, a friend told me about a terrific podcast app that I’d never heard of. I’d been accessing podcasts on the websites where they’re broadcast and fighting with the sites’ software to get them to play smoothly. So I downloaded Podcast Addict, and voila! One of my favorite shows, Mike Feder’s “The Turning Point” on PRN, played without a glitch. All you have to do is search for a topic or speaker, and the podcast pops up.
Whatever it is, there probably is an app for it – but chances are, you’ve never heard of it. Maybe that’s because so many “top 10 apps” lists are written for busy moms and multitasking workers. We older folks don’t need ways to juggle three childrens’ schedules or six spreadsheets – but we do like to play with our tablets and phones.
Besides useful apps like Podcast Addict, I’ve discovered all kinds of fun apps that are worth downloading. I spend hours going through Zedge for live wallpapers and funny ringtones (or my inner teenager does) and recently tracked down the ringtone that came with my last phone: After a couple of rings a guy shouts, “Your phone is ringing, please don’t answer your phone, it’s probably a wrong number.” Never fails to crack me up.
Here’s a grab bag of 12 free and almost free apps that you may not have heard of – some useful, some fun and some both. All work on phone and tablet, and most are available for Android and iOS; you’ll find some of them for Amazon Kindle as well. I discovered several of these on TechRadar, which has many best-app lists; for more great apps, check out this TechRadar list.
SoundHound Is a tune in your head driving you nuts? This app can recognize any tune, even if you hum it yourself – although I actually doubt it when it comes to me, because my humming is so off-key. Once you find the song on SoundHound, you can pull up the lyrics, too. Android and iOS.
IMBD This is my favorite app for looking up local movies, getting reviews and finding out what’s playing in my area this weekend – either by movie or theatre. IMBD accesses the GPS on your phone or tablet to figure out where you are, making it very easy to use. I especially like app’s reviews, which are from Metacritic and offer a selection by the top reviewers, from best review to worst. Android and iOS.
Citymapper This popular transit app is really easy (and fun) to use – just tap where you are and where you want to go, and it tells you how to get there by public transit or under your own steam. So far the app works for New York, DC, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Barcelona, and more cities are being added. Citymapper incorporates live bus, subway and train times along with the best routes for walking or cycling; tells you how long your journey will take, how much it’ll cost and how many calories you’ll burn on the way; lets you know what the weather is where you’re going; and even searches for the closest toilet. In some cities, like New York, that could be a hike. Android and iOS.
Google Sky Map I don’t know about you, but I can never figure out which stars make Orion and which make those other superheroes. This app uses your phone’s orientation tools to give you an accurate representation of the stars and planets on your screen. Point your phone at the sky, then learn which constellations are visible and if that’s a UFO or just Venus. Google Sky Map even works indoors – but what’s the point of that? Android.
Hotel Tonight If you’re stuck and need a room last minute without spending top dollar, use this app to find the cheapest options wherever you happen to be. I actually found some rooms for $150 in New York City – dirt cheap for the Big Apple. Android and iOS.
Mixology Never learned how to make cocktails? Maybe it’s time. On Mixology, an app for budding bartenders, you’ll find a ton of recipes with a bunch of ingredients to choose from, so you can create your own mixes. The app even gives you bartending terms, tips and tricks to help you out. Android and iOS.
StumbleUpon StumbleUpon is a fun online discovery tool available for web browsers, as well as an equally fun app. Every time you tap “Stumble,” it shows you another article or video that matches your interests. The tool is also social – you can follow friends or others who share your passions. As if I didn’t waste enough time on the Internet, StumbleUpon encouraged me to waste more of it by serving me dog videos and distressing articles about the Ebola virus. I may have to delete this app. Android and iOS.
This American Life If you’re always missing the live broadcasts of this show – one of my favorites – catch up by using the show’s app. You can stream the broadcasts or download and listen to them when you’re offline. $2.99, Android and iOS.
Pocket Pond Drag your fingers across the water and listen to the soothing sounds as it ripples across the screen. Touch the screen again and watch the koi swim away to hide under the water lilies. Let the koi come nibble your finger. Add distant jungle sounds. If what you want is to relax by playing in a pond, that’s all you need to do. If you’re in the mood to fish, you can try hooking a koi. Catch enough and you’ll unlock other interactive creatures. Android and iOS.
Allthecooks Forget Julia Child – how about someone’s Aunt Julia. I’ve found some great recipes online from regular people who don’t use fancy spices and ingredients, but know how to whip up a tasty mac & cheese and keep the Thanksgiving turkey from overcooking. Allthecooks is a community app that includes thousands of user-added recipes, all with great instructions and photos, and lets you upload your own or rate someone else’s. Just don’t spill gravy all over your tablet while you’re cooking. Android and iOS.
Wikipedia Sick of going to your computer every time you want to see if you or the friend you’re arguing with got the facts right? The official Wikipedia app lets you fact check without leaving your sofa. It’s well designed, presenting a streamlined version of the desktop site that doesn’t skimp on content, plus a useful saving option so you can access entries offline. Added location features make it easy to randomly browse for interesting things in your vicinity. Android and iOS.
Ocarina This app lets you turn your phone or tablet into an instrument; you hold your fingers on the virtual holes on the screen to create melodies that sound like an ocarina’s (look it up on Wikipedia) – you can also record and email the melodies you create. Pull up the app’s menu by tapping the green antenna, select the globe icon, and you can hear melodies being created by other app users all over the world. $0.99, Android and iOS.
There are so many apps, it’s hard to pick which to download. Help us out by contributing some of your favorites in the comments section.