My favorite free apps

Like, well, pretty much everyone else, I am app crazy. I just got a new phone about a month ago (a Samsung Note 3, hello, stylus, I love you!) and of course I wanted to sort through all the apps I’ve previously loaded on other phones and decide which ones I was still using or wanted.

1. You know I’m going to start with Instagram, even though I suspect it’s everyone’s favorite free app. I signed up for Instagram in about 2012, I think, used it for maybe five photos, and then ignored it. I didn’t like the filters, and tags were totally lost on me. Then some time last year, I decided that I’d add a daily photo of my work life (I’ve been taking daily photos of my personal life for years as sort of a visual diary) and I turned to Instagram to make it a little different. When I finally grokked the whole tag thing, I fell into it with a fury. One of my favorite things to do before I fall asleep at night now is to spend about fifteen minutes looking through a bookmark I’ve made for the ceramics hashtag. I’ve found amazing artists and wonderful in-progress photos that have helped me to visualize things I was having problems with, studio shots that fill me with hope for my larger one-day studio, and have even added to my personal collection of art by buying things from other artists that I couldn’t resist.

2. Which brings me to my second favorite, Snapseed. It had all the photo editing that to me, Instagram was missing. A wider filter and frame selection, and each one adjustable. Shadows, warmth, saturation, tilt-shift, black&white, sepia, fake HDR, grunge… I now edit all the pictures I take on my phone with Snapseed before uploading them to Instagram. You can also share directly to G+ and Facebook with Snapseed, which I find useful.

It was a dark and stormy afternoon...3. 1 Weather. I love that my phone came with a weather app (I love to check before I go on a 3-mile walk to see if I might get caught in a surprise rainstorm) but the radar function on the app that came with my phone, and the radar function on the one that comes with Google Now are both so useless as to be laughable. Recently I read a review (I think it might have been on Lifehacker) about favorite apps, and this one came in first place for weather apps… so I checked it out and I love it! It has a screen for overall today (temp, barometer, humidity, etc), a screen for hourly/detailed/extended forecasts, a screen for precipitation, my beloved radar, and one that tells you how far up in the sky the sun is and the current phases of the moon. That’s a lot of information for free, and while I primarily wanted it for the radar I’ve found the rest of it pretty useful as well. Especially in a summer storm that knocked out the power a few weeks ago!

I'm dyein' over here! <-- See what I did, there? #handdyedyarn4. A lot of what I do calls for a timer (you’ve probably heard me talk about this during yarn dyeing weeks) and the timer I use is YATA: Yet Another Timer App. This one allows me to have shortcuts for both a 20-minute timer and a 60-minute timer set on my screen (so it allows for multiple repeatable timers) and it has a large choice of alarm sounds. I must admit I’d love it a little more if I could set the timer to music that’s on my phone, because some days I get kind of mad when that timer goes off, and if it was David Bowie and Queen instead of MIDI music I might not get quite as squirrely hearing it fourteen times a day. But out of all the timers I looked at, this was the one that offered me exactly what I wanted (for free).

A later, shorter walk with two dogs is better than no walk at all, right? #dailywalk #gainesville #florida #dogsofinstagram #threeleggeddog5. Map My Dog Walk is the app I use for tracking my (mostly) daily exercising around the neighborhood. I looked at just about ever app out there for tracking steps, miles, etc… and either I was being too picky or I’m a lunatic and not many people exercise the way I do. I’m not a runner, so running apps aren’t going to help me. Yeah, I’ve heard about the zombie running app, and the zombie apocalypse would be a good enough excuse to blow out my already-bad knees (“zombie apocalypse: I don’t have to run fast, I just have to run faster than you.”) … but realistically (and seriously), most running apps, even when they say they can be used for walking, are really geared towards runners. I’m not a bike rider, roller blader, skateboarder, or even a serious power-walker. I walk my dog, for 2-3 miles a day, and that’s it. I didn’t need anything fancy, I just wanted to know how many miles I was going, and my pace. This one does exactly what it says on the tin: maps you as you walk your dog. It even allows input so you can tell other dog-walkers if there’s a nearby dog park, or a place to get water for your dog, or trash cans for scooping. It syncs with MyFitnessPal, if you use that, which syncs with the FitBit (which I have).

And I’ll give an honorable mention to a few apps I love but that are tied in to specific websites; the Goodreads app (useful when chatting with friends about books, to mark the books they recommend to my “to be read” shelf), the Pinterest app (because now that I have a work and personal Pinterest account, I use the personal account through the app on my phone and the business account on my computer), the Feedly app (a delightful alternative to RSS feeds since my beloved Google Reader got the axe), the Audible app (audio books are great for both my daily walk and our yearly drive to South Bend), the IMDB app (because who is that guy, anyway? What have we seen him in before?), the Ancestry.com app (very useful for when I’m doing genealogy and can’t take my computer with me), the Humble Bundle app (a new one, and you can download the DRM-free books you’ve purchased directly to it), the trifecta of the Nook, Kindle, and Overdrive apps (Overdrive, especially, because then I can check out ebooks from my library), and lastly, there’s nothing like a round of Angry Birds when you need to rest your brain for a minute. Oh; and while it’s not a free app, I’ve recently discovered DoggCatcher for downloading, sorting, and listening to podcasts. Whew! That’s a lot! I told you I was app-crazy.

By the way; I got this idea for a post from Lisa Jacobs of Marketing Creativity. You can read about her five favorite free apps for creative businesses here, or get a sneak peek of some of the other things I’ll be blogging about over the next few months from her post 27 Blog Topics You Can’t Wait to Write About.

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