Kindle: The best e-reader app for your smartphone

Last week, I had a busy schedule with finals and whatnot, so that is why I have not posted again until now. This blog was created originally for my Digital Journalism class, which ended last week. I plan to continue this blog, because I enjoy sharing my knowledge and insights, along with helping both people who are fairly new to smartphones or have had smartphones for awhile, but enjoy learning new tricks and tips.

Today’s post is about Amazon’s Kindle apps for smartphones. Amazon’s free Kindle app is a must have app that trumps similar apps like iBooks, in terms of book prices and quantity of books available.

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Yesterday on Amazon’s Kindle, I bought two books for my professional project (equivalent of a master’s thesis but more like an internship, not a 100-page paper). I need to read the books over my 5-week winter break to prepare me for the project, so I didn’t want to bother waiting for them to arrive in the mail.

The Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for Android apps are very handy. Let’s face it, the book is a dying breed and the age of e-books is upon us. I have rarely used an actual library while in college and graduate school. For a research paper today, scholarly and online articles are all you really need most of the time.

This was the first time I have ever ordered the Kindle versions of textbooks, but I definitely do not regret it. I can now read my readings anywhere I am, without the hassle of packing textbooks. Below is an example of how your e-book library will look on the iPhone’s Kindle app. So far, I only have the two social media public relations textbooks and two free classic books, “Persuasion” and “The Phantom of the Opera.”

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Looking at prices, Kindle is even more worth downloading. My one textbook cost about $5 more on iBooks. Plus, you do not have to pay shipping and handling if you buy the Kindle version, which saves you a few dollars. Overall, I probably saved about $10 buying the one textbook through Kindle.

Unfortunately, the Kindle app on my iPhone does not let me access the selection of e-books I can buy. I have to get on Amazon through my computer’s Internet or my mobile browser to browse and purchase books. This does give iBooks a clear advantage. Through iBooks, you can browse the e-book selection directly through the app on your phone.

However, Kindle is the better e-book app because it is universal, meaning you can read books you bought on Kindle on your PC or Mac computer, your iPhone or Android phone, iPad or Android tablet, and a Kindle device if you own one. iBooks appears to be only available on the iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

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Safari vs. Google Chrome: Which browser is better for iOS?

 

Having a good mobile Internet browser on your smartphone is a must. Some browsers have more features and work better for some people versus the stock Internet browsers that come with your phone. For iPhone owners, Safari is the primary browser and there is no way of changing the default settings so that internet links sent via text or links in apps can open in another browser.

Despite this somewhat annoying restriction, you can still download a different browser for viewing your favorite Web sites. I personally prefer Google Chrome over Safari.

For starters, Google Chrome syncs with your desktop bookmarks if you have Google Chrome on your personal computer. This is my favorite feature – the ability to access my laptop’s Internet bookmarks anywhere I am.

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Chrome’s ability to sync bookmarks saves you the time and hassle of having to add all your favorites on your mobile browser. Also, if you add more bookmarks on your computer after installing the mobile Chrome browser, those bookmarks will automatically sync to Chrome on your phone (See above picture).

Another feature I like about mobile Chrome is that pages seem to load faster in the Chrome browser than they do in the Safari browser. Nothing is more annoying when you need to look up something quick on the go and the page takes forever to load, which I had happen when I used to solely use Safari. There are still certain pages that take forever to load in Chrome, but those are just large Web sites that lack a mobile version.

The one feature I do prefer in Safari is there are more sharing options for Web sites. Chrome’s sharing options are limited to Google+, E-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.

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With Safari, I have the additional options of text messaging someone the link of a Web site, adding bookmarks directly on one of my home screens for faster access, etc. (See above picture for Safari’s Web site sharing options and actions.) Being able to easily share a link of a news article or Web site with a friend is important to me.

Despite the limited sharing options of Chrome, it is still the better Internet browser on the iPhone, in my opinion. Speed and access to bookmarks anywhere you go are must have features for a good mobile browser.

Instagram: Amazing app or over-hyped app?

 

I’m sure most of you have heard of Instagram. It’s on most “best apps” lists and a lot of people post Instagram photos to Facebook. I had the app for a while, then I later removed it after cleaning up my apps. I have just recently re-installed the app. I removed it because I didn’t use it that much after the initial awe over the photo effects to make my photos prettier. I’m in the middle when it comes to whether it is a truly amazing photography app or just an over-hyped app with limited effects.

Initially, it seemed like a pretty cool app. It turned bland photos into something more special with its several photo effects. But I found the amount of special effects to be quite limited. So, I decided to download another app that people raved about in “best apps” lists: Camera+. Granted, Camera+ cost 99 cents. However, I found Camera+ to have a lot more effects than Instagram, and I felt that the effects it produced gave photos a much better appearance.

I know Instagram is more than just putting special effects on photos. It’s more like a photo-sharing social network that is about browsing, liking, and commenting on other Instagram users’ awe-inspiring photos, which can give others some creative ideas for their own pictures. It helps us find that lost photographer inside of us.

I love taking pictures, and Instagram, along with Camera+, made me want to take more pictures of pretty sights in nature, such as pictures of a lake or a sunset. But the photographer in me comes out more in the summer, which is another reason I didn’t find Instagram to be useful to me right now. Overall, Instagram is a good photography/social media app, but I feel that people who are very interested in photography will find it to be more of a gem of an app than casual picture-takers.

To get an idea of how Instagram can really beautify your pictures, I have included some nature pictures I took last summer that I made look better with Instagram.

creek

mountains

sunset

The Best Games Apps: Making your phone a fun pocket-size gaming system on the go

 

Games apps are one of the best kind of apps to put on your smartphone. It’s nice to be able to play a game on your phone while you are waiting for an appointment or are on a break at work with nothing to do. They also make for nice little stress-relievers when you just need a break from your hectic life.

My favorite games app has always been Angry Birds, which I’m sure everyone has heard of, if not played before. I will admit it does get frustrating sometimes on some of the more difficult levels, but it’s such a nice, simple game to enjoy. It feels like a tiny accomplishment each time I finally kill all the pigs in a hard level. There is a free version of Angry Birds, but I prefer the $0.99 version because of the annoying ads at the top.

I also like Angry Birds Space. It’s just like the regular Angry Birds, except this time the birds and pigs are in space. And gravity plays a role in killing the pigs, with the birds having to orbit what I assume is a meteor to kill them. There is a free version of Angry Birds Space or you can get it for $0.99.

Plants vs. Zombies is another really good game. It’s like a tower defense game where you must stop zombies from entering your house with a variety of zombie-killing plants at your disposal. I will admit that I rarely play the mobile version after defeating the adventure mode on my laptop, but it’s still a fun little game to play on the phone as well. The game does cost $2.99, but when I downloaded it I was addicted to it so I thought it was worth it.

Another fun zombie-killing game is Stupid Zombies. It is very much like Angry Birds in terms of strategy, so just picture Angry Birds but with a human killing zombies instead of birds killing pigs. There is a free version and a paid version for $0.99, but just like Angry Birds, I didn’t like the ads in the free version.

Temple Run is another fun game to play on your smartphone. It’s kind of like an Indiana Jones-style game, where your character has to outrun these demon-type vultures. It has really good graphics on a smartphone, especially an iPhone with its Retina display. You can tilt your phone at various parts of the game in order to help your character avoid falling to his death as he runs. Temple Run is a free game, with no annoying ads during the game.

Fruit Ninja is another fun, addictive game for smartphones. It’s very simple: just slash all the fruit as fast as you can, all the while trying to avoid accidentally hitting the bombs. This was one game my boyfriend was addicted to playing on my phone until he got his own smartphone. Fruit Ninja has a free version and a paid version for $0.99.

Another game that is fun to play to pass time is Bubble Mania. It’s a cute little bubble-popping strategy game, where you pop bubbles of the same color to save these baby critters in time.

The best productivity and utilities apps: Super handy no matter where you are

This post is kind of a mixed-bag apps post, where I wanted to share my favorite “handy” apps that are a mixture of productivity apps and “utility” apps. These are simply very helpful apps that help increase your productivity and that are super handy in numerous ways.

The first is Evernote. I found the standard notes app to be too bland and constricting in terms of how I like to take notes on the go. Evernote lets you make checklists and attach pictures to your notes, which is handy for making grocery lists and making a notes about ideas as soon as they pop up, such as ideas for blog posts or gift ideas. Wunderlist is an app I recently downloaded because I sometimes find Evernote to be a bit complicating in terms of making lists and sorting through notebooks. I downloaded Wunderlist in hopes of better organizing my homework tasks separate from my notes in Evernote. Wunderlist appears to be a really good app for making t0-do lists of important stuff you have to do each day or week.

Red Laser is a must-have app if you ever like to compare prices of products. Checking out a cool new tech toy or dvd set of a favorite TV show but wonder if it is cheaper elsewhere? Just scan the bar code of the product and within seconds, given you have location services/GPS enabled, you will be given price comparisons from local and online retailers. Another handy feature of Red Laser is it scans QR codes. For those of you who don’t know what QR codes are, they are those black squares with funky patterns that tell you to scan with your smartphone in order to be taken directly to a store’s Web site, survey, etc.

Just some general apps everyone should have on their phone that need no explanation: Flashlight, Tip Calculator, and either Where’s My Droid or Find My iPhone. Because having a powerful flashlight on your phone when the power goes out or you are venturing outside to take out the trash is super handy, along with knowing how much to tip at a restaurant and finding your temporarily misplaced or lost phone.

Also, White Pages and Yelp aren’t exactly “utility” apps but more like reference and travel apps, but since they don’t really fit neatly into an apps category that I will be reviewing, I felt I should mention them. White Pages is simply a handy phone book to put onto your smartphone. Yelp is very helpful at locating nearby stores, restaurants, coffee places, bars, etc. and giving you user reviews of those places. In my opinion, these two are must-have apps everyone should make sure to have on their phone for convenience.

The best entertainment apps: Keeping you entertained on the go

Entertainment apps are one of the gems of having a smartphone. Being able to watch video clips and movies no matter where you are is very convenient and enjoyable. So is checking out movie reviews and showtimes, checking out movie facts, looking up TV listings and the latest TV celebrity gossip, stumbling upon interesting web sites that are new to you, checking out funny memes, and reading stories about humorous moments in other people’s lives. All of this is thanks to what I consider my favorite entertainment apps: YouTube, Netflix, TV Guide, IMDb, Flixster, StumbleUpon, iFunny, and FML.

Everyone knows about YouTube and Netflix. They are must-have apps for any smartphone owner. I love being able to check out music videos on my phone, even if my laptop is in the same room . Hey, I get a little lazy sometimes, and sometimes my iPhone just seems a lot more convenient. If you are a Netflix subscriber, you should get the Netflix app for those times when your computer is being used by someone else or you want to watch a TV show episode while waiting around.

TV Guide is just a super handy app because it gives you TV listings and allows you to set alerts so you don’t miss the season premiere of your favorite TV show. In my case, “The Vampire Diaries.” Is it October 11 yet? No? Darn it. I’ve gone too long without my favorite TV vampire, Mr. Damon Salvatore (lol).

IMDb is one of the apps I visit most. I am a movie buff and I always have to know what other movies an actor or actress played in. IMDb is great at solving that frequent question, “I saw him in another movie, what movie was that?” Just IMDb the movie, find the actor, and slap yourself for not recognizing him in another movie you saw (just kidding!).

Flixster is a great app because it not only gives you showtimes of movies playing in nearby theaters, but it also gives you reviews of those movies. Thanks to Rotten Tomatoes critics ratings and user reviews, you can better determine if movies like “The House at the End of the Street” are worth seeing or not. FYI, it was worth seeing, even though my boyfriend didn’t enjoy it as much since it lacked full-on gore and ghosts or zombies. However, I enjoy thrillers with psychological twists, even though it wasn’t an award-winning horror flick.

StumbleUpon is just a nice little app for when you are bored and want to “stumble” upon a new interesting site. Just tell StumbleUpon your interests and hit the stumble upon button. You will instantly discover a new cool picture or a funny or interesting Web site you never knew about. In my case, an adorable kitten picture and a Web site full of funny puns.

I know iFunny is an iPhone only app, so I apologize to the Android users reading this. However, I’m sure there are similar funny memes apps on Android. I enjoy checking out the app once in a while and laughing at some of the funny memes on there. Plus, it’s always fun to create your own memes to send to your boyfriend for inside jokes.

FML is an app that I don’t check out that much, but felt it was worth mentioning. Ever have a bad day? Or just a really long day? Go to the FML app and read some of the stories by other people about their bad days. You will feel better instantly, and get a few laughs out of it.

Do you have particular apps that you go to often for your own source of entertainment or entertainment information? Feel free to share them here!

The best music apps: Giving you access to the best tunes on the go

 

Today, I will be looking at some music apps that I think everyone should have at least one or two of on their phone. These apps have proven to be very enjoyable while walking, working on some light homework, or helping me discover what song is playing on the radio.

 

I love being able to select my favorite music artist or band and listen to a customized station of their music and similar music while I am either walking, relaxing or working on some homework.

 

Pandora

If you have never used Pandora on even your home computer, you are missing out. Pandora is a great little app that provides you with customized radio stations that are customized by artist or genre. Have a favorite music artist? Want to hear music similar to their music? Just create yourself a Pandora account, log in, and search for that artist. You will then be given a customized radio station that plays their music and music similar to their music. Plus, you can skip past songs you don’t want to hear or like or dislike songs so the station knows better what to play in the future.

 

Ever feel a little homesick for the town you grew up in? With TuneIn Radio, you can feel a little less homesick listening to that old favorite station you grew up listening to.

 

TuneIn Radio

TuneIn Radio is a great source of radio stations across the country. It allows you to find your hometown radio station and listen to it anywhere you are. I love having the ability to listen to all the stations I used to like in my hometown and local stations. Plus, you can browse and discover radio stations you never knew about. Whether it be music, sports, news, or talk, you are guaranteed to have a huge array of radio station and podcast options.

 

Want music geared toward just working out? There’s an app for that thanks to Songza.

 

Songza

Songza is similar to Pandora, but takes the customizing option a step further. It allows you to find the right music based on the day and time of day it is. You can also explore customized stations by genre, activities, moods, decades, and culture. Some of the moods or activity options include music for cooking, unwinding after a long week, working out, waking up, studying, love and romance, and much more. After choosing the mood or activity you want music for, you can further choose an activity or genre, respectively. Songza will then give you a few options of stations that match that mood or activity.

 

Ever hear a song and you can’t quite remember who sings it? That’s what Shazam is there for.

 

Shazam

Shazam is one of those apps that will amaze you by its smart capabilities. Ever find yourself in the car or at a bar and a song comes on that you like, but don’t know what song it is and wish you knew? Shazam solves that old problem instantly. Just “Touch to Shazam” on the app, hold your phone so it can listen to the song, and within seconds, you will be given the artist and song title. You will also be able to access the identified artist’s YouTube videos, song lyrics, artist biography, and concert and tour information. If that wasn’t cool enough, Shazam recently gained the ability to recognize what is playing on the TV. Just the way you would discover what song is playing, you can also discover what show or movie is playing on the TV. From there, Shazam will give you the music played in the program, celebrity buzz about the actors, cast information, the latest tweets by the program’s cast, and more. Shazam is one of those handy music discovery apps that really shows the potential and future of smartphones and their capabilities.

 

Do you have favorite music apps that weren’t mentioned here? Feel free to leave a comment about your favorite music apps!

 

The best news apps: Keeping you informed the fastest way possible

This week and next week, I will be doing a “best apps” series. During this series of blog posts, I will review some of the best apps out there, from the best news apps to the best games apps. I made sure to check that all the apps I will list are on both the iPhone and the Android. Also, most apps I feature will be free, unless otherwise noted. Today’s post will focus on the best news apps, because I feel news is more important lately and in the upcoming months more than ever because of the upcoming presidential election. I believe that it is very important to stay informed on what is going on in the election race and in politics in general so that when November 6 comes, we can all make the best informed decision on Election Day.

 

CNN is the go-to app for the latest news all over the world and the United States.

 

CNN

CNN in my opinion is one of the best news apps. It provides world and national coverage and news on everything else that matters, including politics, entertainment, money, health, and technology. During my studies of how certain news stations lean more toward the left or the right when it comes to media bias, CNN has been considered the more moderate choice over FOX News and MSNBC. This makes it the best source of news for everyone, no matter your political leaning. (REWORD section about during my studies). The CNN app also gives you the option to receive breaking news notifications on your phone, which is handy and not too frequent that it becomes bothersome.

 

Flipboard allows all of your favorite news feeds to come together in one app, with a nice flipping feature to flip through articles with your finger.

 

Flipboard

Flipboard is a great app if you don’t want to have a ton of news apps on your phone but you pull your news from various sources. It also displays your Twitter and Facebook feeds in a nice format that you can flip through with your finger, as do the other news feeds you can get on Flipboard. I installed Flipboard because sometimes CNN doesn’t offer different viewpoints and I like to see if there are news stories from other sources that CNN didn’t cover. It’s also a nice way to view blogs or tech news you follow, such as TUAW and Apple News. It also allows you to follow YouTube feeds, such as the latest YouTube trends and barelypolitical.

 

BuzzFeed is a great social news app for checking out original reporting, insight into the latest news, and the latest viral content on the Web.

 

BuzzFeed

BuzzFeed is an interesting news feed I discovered over the summer. It features the latest web culture/viral news, from highlighting popular YouTube videos to the latest celebrity sightings. It also features a politics section with a mixture of serious and not so serious news, a “FWD” section that features the latest popular tech news and other interesting tech-related stories, and a few other pop culture news sections.

 

Pocket is the perfect solution for when you find an interesting article you don’t have time to read at the moment, but want to read it later.

 

 Pocket

Pocket is a very handy app that saves news articles for you. Don’t have time to read an article but want to read it later? Or you don’t want to forget an interesting article you just read that you want to share with a friend? Pocket is your solution. Some apps have a “Read Later” option built right in, while others let you e-mail the article to add@getpocket.com. You can also send an article to the Pocket app on your laptop via e-mail or a Pocket plug-in. Just refresh the Pocket app, and you can read those articles at a later time that suits you.

 

What are your favorite news apps that you check on a daily basis? Feel free to share them here and give feedback on the apps that I have mentioned, whether you use them or not and if there are similar apps that do the job better.