Category archive - Apps

Mickey Puzzle – Entertain the Kids with Your Phone

kid pix free downloadIf you have kids then you have been there before. You are at a restaurant with them and the food is taking a little longer then their attention span can handle. They are getting a little too fussy to handle and you are starting to get frustrated. I have two boys and my wife and I have both downloaded a few kids appropriate games on our phone for just such an occasion.

Micky Puzzle

One such kid game app that we use a lot at times like these is called Micky Puzzle. It’s Disney character based and works great. Essentially it’s a series of pictures of Disney scenes. When you hit the bottom it splits the picture up into nine equal boxes and shuffles them around the screen. You then need to slide the nine panels around until you have put the picture back together again. My little guys are 4 and 5 and it keeps them entertained long enough for the food to come without being too hard as to frustrate them where they don’t want to play (which has happened with other game apps we have tried).

Both my wife and I have the Driod X which has a big screen which helps, but I’m sure they offer a similar or same app on the IPhone as well.

How Much is Too Much? 

We really try to not let the boys play with the phones too often though. They are young and don’t need to get addicted to them yet. But for times when they are fuzzy and just need to pass some time it works out perfect. So at restaurants, or on long trips, it really can be a life saver!

Mint – A Website And App To Keep Track Of All Your Finances

small business financial softwareMy new favorite financial site is Mint.com! I used to use Microsoft Money for years and years. I liked it but I didn’t like that it was specific to just my computer. If I wanted to check something and I was away from my house, or my computer was down I couldn’t get to it. I know Money was supposed to have some functionality where it would go web based but I just never got into it.

One the Cloud

Mint however is 100% on the cloud. So as long as you have an internet connection you can get to everything that Mint has to offer. Any place, any time, as long as you know your user name and password. I love it.

You also basically never have to enter transactions anymore either. With Money I would often not trust the link with banks websites, or it wasn’t working. So I’d end up entering all the transactions manually. What a pain! It got at the end where I was really not using any of the Money functionality other then the bills section.

Recently Mint added a bill reminder that I don’t like quite as well as Money’s but it is close enough, and everything else is so much better that I finally scraped Money all together and exclusively use Mint.

It doesn’t just sinc up with my banking account either. It will link up with almost any account that I can think of that has something to do with my finances. So it hooked up to my auto loans and tracks them over time. It hooked up to all my checking and savings accounts obviously. It also hooks up to my retirement accounts, as well as my kids college plans, so I can get a good snap shot of what is going on there too.

Reporting

One aspect that I really like is the budgeting and reporting options that Mint offers. The one I use all the time is the net worth over time. To me that is really the measurement of your true financial health. Your net worth is what you have left over, or still owe, after you closed all your accounts and cashed in all your chips. You want it to be obviously positive, and continuing to grow over time (unless maybe you are in retirement and are starting to spend your savings). So it’s a great way to keep track of your financial health.

The budgeting is great too. You can set up as many categories as you want and set up monthly budgets for them. Then Mint will automatically track you spending in the accounts you link up, and tell you through out the month how you are doing on your budget. It’s a really great way to keep track of how you are doing and where you need to be!

Cool Web 2.0 offerings

One really cool aspect of Mint is the 2.0 social functionality. So it’ll keep all the the information it gathers without and personal data and can track and trend. If Mint notices something that might be out of whack with your spending it’ll give you a notice. So when you log in you might get a popup that saying something like, “You are spending 35% more then other people in your area on auto insurance”. It’ll give you a link to get a quote for auto insurance and see if you can save some money. It’s a great way to save money you didn’t even think about, and this is also one big way that Mint makes it’s money as well, on these kind of referrals.

So sit down and sign up for Mint.com and get your finances on track and in control.

Words With Friends


Another of my new smart phone game app addictions is Words with Friends. It is another one of those simple games that you get addicted to and you can’t put it down. It is essentially just the old board game Scrabble, but it’s electronic and it’s interactive with…you guessed it…Friends! lol.

Facebook Game

What is nice is that it’s also a Face book game as well. So you can play it when you are online on Facebook or you can download the app and play it right on your smartphone. You can choose a username or just choose to sign in with your Facebook credentials. For me personally I like the convenience of Facebook so when even I can find something that is also a Facebook App then I choose to sign in that way.

It’s Free

The best part is that it’s free! But like everything in life, nothing is really free. Whenever you play a word it scores your move and then takes you to an ad. Sometimes this ad is just a screen shot and sometimes its a short video clip ad for a movie or something like that. It’s not really that bad because the moves you make are going to take some time, so it’s not like you are viewing ads every couple of minutes or anything. I typically make one word play with each person I have a current game going with before I got to bed. You can play as soon as your opponent makes a word, but my life is busy and that’s how I do it.

Words with Friends Tip

One tip that I can give you that it took me some time to find out is that you can try words with no penalty. So if you are trying to make a word fit in a spot because you only have a couple tiles left or because you want to hit that triple word score give it a shot. Just submit your words and if it’s a word you are all set. If it isn’t a word then you’ll get a message telling you that and you’ll get no penalty and you just try again without losing your turn.

Good Luck!

Angry Birds – Die Pigs!


Angry Birds is cool on two levels. For on it is one of the most addictive smart phone games out there. And the makers are some the ingenious marketers going. I mean I saw a display of plush Angry Birds at the Sears a couple of weeks ago. If that isn’t what “Making It” is all about when it comes though game apps for your phone I just don’t know what is. Those guys must take daily swims in their piles of money, Scrooge McDuck style! I resisted the trend for a quite a while when people were all talking and Angry Birds. Then one day when I had some downtime I downloaded and installed it on my Droid X. I was glued to my phone for three days straight!

It is developed and published by Rovio Mobil Ltd. It’s essentially a very basic game with slick looking graphics and fairly advanced gravity and motion coding in the background.

The Premise

So basically the premise of the game is that some green pigs came along and stole you eggs (you are a bird). You are angry about having your eggs taken…hence the name. You want to get the pigs back and you know just how to do it. You get all your friends together, some are just like you and some are birds with other flying qualities (boomerang flight, split into three, bombs, etc). You look for places where there are basic structures where these green pigs are hiding. You then take turns with your friends jumping into a sling shot up on a hill and hurtling yourself at the structure. You do this until you have inflicted enough damage that you have taken out all of the green pigs. If you accomplish this with the number of your friend available you move on to the next level.

Addictive

It sound kind of corny and far fetched, and it is, but it is just one of those games that you can’t put down. There is strategy and planning involved as well as skill and luck. You come so close to getting all the green pigs that you just have to try that level again, and again, and again, and you finally beat it. Then quickly there is a whole new structure and group of green pigs to attack. OK, just one more level…next thing you know, hours have gone by and you still are attacking pigs!

 

Google Maps – Finding Your Way

Google DirectionsI still remember when I was in college (we’re talking mid 90’s here) the idea of the internet being your answer to finding your way around the roads was a very new idea. I was having a conversation with a buddy who was going to be taking a road trip. I told him he should go on mapquest and print the directions. He was amazed when I told him you could go to the internet and type in your starting and ending point and get turn by turn directions printed in minutes! He even impressed his friend later and told me about it. He was telling them about this new idea and they simply didn’t believe him! He literally how to go to a computer and show them it worked! My how times have changed!

It used to be that you would use Mapquest or there was another major player that I just simply can’t remember the name of. I’m sure in a few hours it’ll come back to me and I’ll come back and edit this post if so. Anyway, part of the reason I can’t remember the name is that Google go into the mapping game. Like most of the other things that Google does, once they got involved they were quickly the best. And not just the best, but so good that it makes your forget the names of the other competitors.

With Google Maps you can quickly, smoothly, and easily see a map of the location your enter. You can zoom in our out or slide in any direction so you can explore what you are looking for. Of course because it’s Google you can also seamlessly interact with Google’s other products like Google Earth or Google Directions (which is really just Google Maps). So you can put in an address for the area you are looking for and take a look. Then if you want to print out directions you can click the button for directions and enter your starting address. It’ll create specific directions for your trip with estimates of how long the trip will take and other helpful stats. You can also switch to satellite view and see in pretty good detail a view of a location from a satellite.

Turn by Turn

If you are viewing all this on your smart phone you can then switch to turn by turn mode, and Google will talk you through the whole trip. It’ll use the satellite connection on your phone to know where you are and how you are progressing. It’ll give you notice of an upcoming turn, and if for some reason you miss it, it’ll re-route you. Impressive stuff really!

Street View

Google has also been sending around special cars to take street level photos. So when you get to a key turn or your destination you can either print out a picture or it’ll pop up on your phone so you can know you are exactly in the right place. A little scary I suppose from a big brother stand point, but I have used it and it is really really helpful at times!

So the next time you need to take a trip get right on Google Maps and get it all figured out. There is a VERY low chance that you’ll impress your college buddies with this skill but still worth it!

Also if you have a smart phone and don’t all ready have the app make sure you download the Google Maps App today! You’ll thank me!

Netflix App

If you like TV and movies then you assuredly all ready know all about Netflix. It’s that great service where you can get DVD’s in the mail or stream movies right onto your computer, and TV with a gaming system. Awesome right? I mean sure they recently split the pricing for mail DVD’s and streaming so it’s much more expensive then it was, but I am only paying like $17 a month for unlimited streaming and one DVD at a time. I think it’s still a good deal.

Movies

What’s great is that the streaming options are getting more and more robust. Still there aren’t any newly released block busters but there is quite a bit. Especially if you like documentaries and/or children’s shows. I feel like Netflix has every kids show/movie ever made! My kids love it. Especially in the summer when there is really just nothing on TV to watch! There is always something to watch if you have access to Netflix!

Netflix App

What’s great is the Netflix App! I have the Driod X and a while back it occurred to me to check to see if there was a Netflix app. It turned out there was but I was expecting it to be a slick way to manage the movie queue. I thought that would be nice to do on the fly so I downloaded and installed the app. When I did I pleasantly surprised to see what the app was WAY more powerful then I thought. It was a viewer so I could watch the online content and stream it right to my phone! Awesome. Now when I have downtime I’m only a few clicks away from watching a cool movie or TV on Netflix!

This came in really handy when I was camping with the family this past summer. This kids were really tired and fussy and just needed a late afternoon nap (especially if they were going to stay up to have a camp fire!). I just couldn’t get them to settle but then I remembered I had a decently strong signal at the campsite. I min later the kids were laying quietly watching one of their favorite cartoons on my phone. They feel asleep shortly and we had a great day. Thanks for saving the day Netflix!

The Downside

The downside is that, especially on the Droids, streaming content is going to really chew up your battery in a hurry! So if you are going to watch a movie on your phone (whether it’s through Netflix or not) you are going to want to make sure you aren’t too far from a plug!

Also, and this isn’t really that big a deal, but the Netflix App doesn’t seem to let you manage you queue which was what I originally thought it was going to be far. Now if I had to choose one or the other I’m glad the app streams content, but going to the web browser on my phone and managing my queue is a little clunky!

Google Books

Google BooksGoogle Books is quickly becoming one of my most used apps installed on my Droid X! I resisted the whole book reader on my cell phone for a long time. Well actually it’s been there all along but I resisted using it for more then a year. My thought was that it was just going to be so small that it would be too hard to read. I knew that you could increase the text size but then I felt like I’m be turning pages so much that it would be way too annoying.

Discovering Google Books

So like most all of my other solid app discoveries it came when I was stuck with some downtime when I was bored and looking to pass the time. So I started looking through the apps that I have on my phone. With the the talk of Kindles and Nooks and all that it’s been something I’ve been thinking about for a while because I do enjoy to read.

So when I looked I have Google Books and Amazon Kindle installed on my phone. I didn’t download these apps so I assume that they were there when I got the phone. So since I like everything else that Google does, I tried that. I was still not that optimistic but luckily they have three classics all ready installed that you could read for free. One was Alice in Wonderland which I clicked on and played around with to see what it was like. Surprisingly it wasn’t really that hard to read at all. I do turn the page pretty often but it’s far less distracting then I thought it would be!

So then I went into their book store to see what they had to offer. It appears that they have quite a few books you can download just like any of the other readers I assume. They were a little pricier then I thought they would be just for a downloaded book, but when I looked into it more they are in line with everyone else’s pricing.

So I chose Michael Connelly’s Suicide Run. It was only $2.99 (I assume because it’s probably in paperback now) and I could get a free sample so I went for it. It let me read the first ten pages. I was impressed both with the book, and the feel and flow of the Google Reader, so I spent the $2.99. Now it’s on my phone and it loads very quickly. So anytime I have downtime I can pull it up quickly and read. It’s so quick that I’ll sometimes pull it up and just read a page or two. It even remembers where I left off and opens up right to the page I left off on.

I haven’t tried using Google Books online but I assume they have a website where you could pull up the books you have purchases on your laptop and read there, and remember where you left off and all that cool stuff. I’ll look into that aspect more and report back.

Text Books

Another cool thing about Google Books is that you can find all kinds of offerings. I have a friend that is taking a college class that found his text books on Google Books. He downloaded it for cheaper then it could be purchased at the school book store and he’s ready to go. Now he has the book in soft copy and can use it where ever he has internet access or right on his phone! Now that is Cool Stuff!

Google Docs

Google Docs AppGoogle Docs is my new favorite thing out there on the cloud! Google does everything and they do everything well! Basically Google Docs is the answer to Microsoft Office, but it’s all on the cloud. The applications are on the cloud and the the data is on the cloud. As long as you have an internet connections you have everything you need for creating office type files!

Obviously there are some strong pros and cons for cloud computing in general, but over all I really think the good far out weighs the bad! The only real downside is making sure you have an internet connection and trusting the source to be always available. So let’s say you do a large presentation on Google Presentation. You are going to give this presentation to a large crowd out of town. You get there assuming there will be an internet connection but there isn’t. You are in some trouble. Or worse let’s say you do have an internet connection but for some reason Google’s servers are down and you can get to it. Scary stuff.

The Good 

The good news is, at least for Google, they are almost never down! I mean it does happen but it is really really rare, and very short if it does happen. I feel very confident trusting my office files to Google. And really other then a pressure situation where you need it for a presentation then if they were down for a short period it wouldn’t really effect you all that much! And let’s be honest, in a presentation situation like that Google being down is comparable to you forgetting to pack the CD with the presentation, or that CD getting destroyed on the plane or some other physical issue like that. I’d rather take my chances that Google can come through then worrying if the baggage handlers can take care of the CD!

The App

I’m really excited now too that I found out there is a Google Docs app that I can install on my Android phone for free. It of course is a little more limited in functionality then the full version you will see on your computer or laptop, but when you are on the go and not near a computer it really is awesome! It’s best if you just need to view one of your documents to find out some information or review. You can edit your documents but because of the screen size limitations it is a little clunky. I would only really try to edit Google documents on my phone in emergency situations.

The other thing I use the Google Docs app for on my phone is to share documents. Google Docs is really slick when it comes to collaborating with others on the same documents. You can grant someone access based on their email address and you can both work on the same document at the same time! Or instead of emailing someone a document and then later after revisions emailing it to them again (and everyone being confused because they are working off an older version), you can just grant them permission to view the document. Saves on clogging up everyone’s email boxes and you know everyone is always viewing the latest version of your document. Awesome stuff!

Facebook App or Internet Viewing

Facebook Smartphone

Face Book

The Facebook App is a good example of the kind of app that is really just an extension of something that all ready existing on the web which is now formatted to look good on your phone sized screen. So it’s not like some cool little function that really only exists as an app which you only use on your phone.

Facebook is of course everywhere. When you view Facebook on the internet on your PC or laptop there are more options, the pictures a larger, and things tend to flow a little smoother. There are people that like the internet experience much better then the app that is offered for their phone. These folks will usually just bring up a browser on their phone and go to facebook.com. This is fine but you are going to have to do a good amount of scrolling up and down and back and forth to view everything.

For me, even if the facebook app has a little less functionality then the web I like it. It always fits my phone’s screen (Droid X) and it looks better. And really it’s so good that there are large stretches of time that I don’t even go to facebook on my computer. I will check facebook on my phone on the go or even when I’m sitting on the couch and have a free minute. For me it really has become much more the norm that I go to facebook on my phone app then on my computer! It used to be that when I was on my phone I was trying to figure out how to do something I was used to doing on my computer. Now it really is more that I look on my computer screen to figure out the stuff I’m used to doing on my Droid!

Facebook and Big Brother

There are more and more people these days that are worried about all the data that facebook is collecting. One added piece of data that facebook can get when you are on your phone is your specific location. This can be a little unnerving. I typically keep my satellite function disabled unless I’m mapping or doing something else that requires the GPS, so it’s a little less of a concern for me. But it is something to be aware of and make sure you security setting are how you want them.

So if you are on the fence about downloading the facebook app I would say do it. You might want to disable your GPS satellite while you are using facebook (or always for that matter) but the smoothness of how the facebook app looks on your phone outweighs any of the cons.

Holiday Apps – Top 5 Christmas Apps for your Android Smart Phone

Well it’s that time of year again. Sure Thanksgiving isn’t quite here yet and we are all looking forward to stuffing out belly, but really the Christmas season is all ready in high gear, whether you like it or not.

With that in mind here is my list of the top 5 must have Christmas Apps for you Android phone.

Christmas App #1 – Snowfall Live Wallpaper

I really like this app because it is so vivid and really makes you think of traditional Christmases of the past. It also is live wallpaper which means it is moving in the background all the time. I really love wallpapers that will do this. Snowfall Live also lets you customize almost every aspect of the wallpaper as well. You can choose how much snow, how fast it’s falling, sky color, and everything else you can think of. You can create you perfect Christmas snow storm this year, right from the warm comfort of your living room.

Christmas App #2 – Countdown to Christmas

This one is a cool app for a lot of reasons. It is really great if you have kids that are asking how many more days until Christmas, even when they’ve asked you three times today all ready!

Depending on how into Christmas you really are you can have this app active as a widget year round with a new Christmas image each week! It also offers two different widget sizes so you can customize how much space you was to allocate for this app.

As an added bonus it also appears that it comes with countdowns to most of the other major holidays as well, although Christmas is the only one mentioned in the description.

Christmas App #3 – Christmas Fire

This app is sure to warm you up on a cold Christmas day. It’s an app that shows a high resolution fire in a fireplace, which includes all the realistic sounds of a fire too! It lets you customize all the effects of the fire as well.

As an added bonus it include 10 Christmas song tracks as well. You can change the volume level of the fire sounds and song tracks independently, so you can enjoy both at the same time!

Christmas App #4 – Christmas Ringtones

Now if you really want to get into the swing of the holiday season using your phone you have to include some holiday ringtones! This app lets you preview the Christmas song ringtone and if you like it you just hold tap it and set it. You can easily set the song ringtones you like for calls and text message notifications. The app also has the ability to easily set distinctive ringtones for different callers. Fa La La La La — oh wait I gotta answer this! 🙂

Christmas App #5 – Christmas Gift Planner Pro

How about an app that will take some of the stress out of the holiday season? This is a really powerful Christmas shopping app. You know how it is you want to buy for everyone and you want to make sure that you buy and equal amount for you kids. This app not only keeps track of what you have bought, wrapped, and shipped, it also keeps track of what you spent. So you can know that you have been fair with all the kids because you spend the same amount on them this year.

It also has a really cool feature where you can scan a barcode and add it to your gift list. It doesn’t get much easier then that!

From the category of the more things change the more they stay the same, this app is also password protected. Back in the day you just have to worry about your kids finding the present hiding spot. Now you have to worry about them getting into your Christmas shopping app on your smartphone! Just with this password capability, you can focus you efforts back on the hiding of gifts!

So Merry Christmas and Appy New Year 🙂