10 Apps to Optimize Your Smartphone

Monday Aug 16th 2010 by Jeff Vance
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Apps for the Android, iPhone and Blackberry that improve your efficiency and speed.

For many knowledge workers, smartphones have become essential business tools. However, in many situations, they’re incredibly clumsy to use.

Entering text, especially on touch screens, is difficult and cumbersome. Creating documents is less than ideal, and editing them tends to be a pain.

For many app developers, though, the smartphone’s limitations present an opportunity. Find a way around them and you may have an app hit on your hands.

Here are 10 applications that will help you get the most from your smartphone.

1. Swype

I absolutely hate entering text on my Android. On the cramped touch-screen keyboard, I constantly hit the wrong key, which forces me to backtrack over and over again. What should be a two-minute text becomes an intrusive chore.

That was before I discovered Swype. Preloaded on many Motorola and Samsung smartphones, Swype simplifies text entry by transforming hunting and pecking into a fluid – as the name implies – swipe.

Swype was created by Cliff Kushler, co-inventor of the T9 predictive text technology, which is currently used on over four billion mobile phones worldwide. With Swype you drag your finger along the keyboard, pausing at each letter. Using a database of over 65,000 of the most frequently used words, Swype predicts the words you are spelling out. During my testing, I’ve found Swype to be incredibly accurate.

It also has an adaptive function that allows it to learn new words, phrases, phone numbers and data unique to each user. According to Swype, a typical user can expect to type at somewhere between 30 and 40 words per minute using Swype.

Several people emailed me to recommend Swype for the story. Scott Hardy, President of Top Class Actions was the most enthusiastic Swype advocate.

“Before I couldn’t live without a separate keyboard; now, I don’t need one. I can now Swype faster on my Droid X than I used to be able to type on my old BlackBerry. Swype is a game changer.”

Swype is currently focused on the OEM market. However, as they test new handsets, they do occasionally offer a limited number of beta accounts.

2. Dragon Dictation

Behind Swype, the second most-recommended optimization app was Dragon Dictation. From the makers of speech-recognition software Dragon Naturally Speaking, Dragon Dictation lets you avoid the keyboard altogether.

Its speech-to-text recognition allows you to dictate for email, texts or even for searches on your phone. For the social media obsessed, a pop-up toolbar allows you to speak a status update and send it directly to Facebook or Twitter.

Dragon Dictation is currently available for BlackBerry, iPhone and the iPad.

Cost: Free

Dragon Dictation

Dragon Dictation

3. Vlingo

While Dragon Naturally Speaking has a virtual monopoly on the PC, it runs into competitors on the smartphone. This is partly because it isn’t available on all handsets, but it’s also due to the fact that speech recognition is much more helpful on the phone.

One such competing app is Vlingo. Not only does Vlingo let you voice dial, speak to create messages and texts and search via voice command, it will also read incoming texts and emails to you.

Vlingo also connects to Facebook and Twitter, allowing you to update your status via voice command.

Cost: All over the map, varying from platform to platform. Android: free for now; Nokia smartphones: $2.99; iPhone: $6.99-$9.99; BlackBerry: basic, free; Vlingo Plus, $3.99/month or $19.99 one-time fee.

4. JuiceDefender

One of the biggest limitations of the smartphone is the battery. Do too much heavy lifting away from a power outlet, and your smartphone will soon remind you of why you should save involved tasks for the office. And as phones add more features, even common usage can drain batteries quickly.

This is where apps like JuiceDefender come to the rescue. According to developer Latedroid, the app “intelligently and transparently manages for you mobile connectivity and other battery-sensitive components.”

Other power-saving features include switching away from 3G to 2G networks when the phone is not in use, turning off Wi-Fi if the battery charge dips below 20 percent, disabling data services during predetermined times (such as at night) and limiting CPU consumption when the phone is idle.

JuiceDefender is available for the Android. iPhone and iPad users try Battery Manager Pro, priced at $0.99. BlackBerry users can opt for the $5.99 app Battery Plus.

Cost: Free for the basic version, $3.50 for UltimateJuice.

5. Evernote

Put the scraps of paper down. Throw your clutter of post-it notes in the garbage. Instead, turn to Evernote, an app that helps you capture, organize and access your on-the-fly ideas.

“It’s awesome for taking notes in meetings, snapping a quick picture with the camera, remembering where you parked in a giant lot, recording voice notes of meetings, and backing up critical files on the go. Seriously, I could not do business without it,” said Daniel K. O’Leary, VP of Global Solutions for e-document company Lincware.

After you capture your idea, record your thought, save your webpage or mark your vehicle location, Evernote sorts and indexes your files to make them easily searchable and retrievable. Everything is synched via the cloud so you can access your files from any of your computing devices.

Cost: Free

evernote

Evernote

6. DeadZone

You look at your phone and you have no bars. Maybe you’re stuck in a dead zone, or perhaps you’re stuck in a meeting in a building with no Wi-Fi and poor cell reception.

If you have an important call to make or text to send, you’ll end up obsessively checking your phone over and over again, hoping for a signal.

A better option is to download DeadZone. DeadZone monitors for a signal and when it finds one, it sets off an alarm. Available for the iPhone.

Cost: $0.99

7. YouMail

YouMail bills itself as a “digital secretary service.” The app has a number of features to improve voicemail and messaging.

It will play different pre-recorded greetings to different callers. It offers visual voicemail, transcribing speech to text. It will also display in-depth information on incoming calls and messages (including the caller’s picture, which is automatically imported from Facebook). Integration with SMS clients allows users to respond to voicemails with quick texts.

YouMail is available for the Android, iPhone or Blackberry.

Cost: Free for the basic version; the $1.99/month premium version provides more storage and allows for longer voicemails.

8. DejaOffice

“A missing business feature on most smartphones is the ability to attach a Contact from the address book to a Calendar appointment,” said Rushang Shah, Director of Marketing for CompanionLink Software. “Business people schedule hundreds of appointments. They need a quick way to know who the appointment is with and where it is.”

DejaOffice’s Calendar lets you tap the name from the appointment to either call that person or search for directions.

The DejaOffice suite includes other features that mimic Microsoft Office on the smartphone, including task features, contacts with custom fields that can be sorted by category and a calendar that allows you to set recurring appointments and color-code important events.

DejaOffice is available for the iPhone and the Android.

Cost: The free version is ad-supported; you can disable ads with a one-time payment of $9.95.

deja office

Deja Office

9. capturengo

Media consultant Lynn Munroe recommends capturengo. “It lets you scan your business receipts and then automatically enters them into your expense report database, so you don’t have to spend hours computing your expense report,” she said.

Currently available for BlackBerry and iPhone (with others coming soon), capturengo will also capture business cards, storing everything in the cloud. Its interface allows you to enter notes with each receipt or business card.

Cost: Pricing ranges from $5.99 per month for 25 captures/month up to $99/year for unlimited captures.

10. Scan2PDF Mobile

Another scanning application that takes advantage of smartphone cameras, Scan2PDF Mobile scans documents and converts them to PDF files. The app compresses the output from the camera to improve document quality.

Scan2PDF Mobile lets you get rid of two pieces of out-dated office equipment (assuming you’re not, say, a graphic artist): your scanner and fax. If you need to fax a signed document, you can instead use Scan2PDF Mobile to capture the signed document, which you can then email right from your phone.

Cost: $14.99

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