Corkscrew? No. Scissors? Nope. And if you’re looking for something like an actual knife, well, forget about it. Beyond those limitations, though, smart phones can be pretty handy tool kits, as our circle of app aficionados will attest. As usual, the respondents were an Apple crowd through and through—so if you’re a Droid or BlackBerry fan, we’d love to hear from you.

And did someone say iPad? We’re taking app suggestions on that, too, and will report back soon.

Unless otherwise specified, all apps are free and available at the iTunes App Store.


Flashlight. Almost everyone had a use for one: “In dim restaurants, to read the menu,” wrote a respondent. “So you can get to and from the bed. Or if the lights go out,” added another. The myLite app gets the most nods, for both basic functionality and fun, back-to-the-disco options like colored lights and strobe effects.

White Noise Machine. For falling asleep, de-stressing, or blocking out unwanted noises. Our pick: Sleep Machine Lite, with a choice of six sound ambiances (beach, crickets, fan, heavy rain, wind, and white noise) and an ambient music track.

Tide Graph ($1.99; Brainware), left. Almost everyonehad at least a couple of weather apps on deck, but this one is “great for boaters or coastal residents,” writes an enthusiastic user. “It shows you exactly where you are on the current rising or falling tide chart, as well as when the next high or low tide will be. You can also search ahead for a specific date. There are thousands of locations around the U.S. (and some non-U.S. areas) from which to choose, and you can access multiple locations simultaneously. Also lists phases of the moon, etc.” Useful for planning anything coastal, from dive trips, sailing, and surfing to beach walks.

Level (iHandy), below right. “I downloaded this for fun, but I’ve actually used it,” says one respondent. Great for hanging pictures or in restaurants to make sure the waiter has shimmed your table correctly.

Still searching for . . .  A good camera flash app, since the iPhone doesn’t have one . . . and a makeup mirror app. Such a good idea, and so hard to get right.


Voice Memo. It’s basic equipment, but worth mentioning for how heavily we all rely on it. “I’ll say, ‘Don’t forget to do X,’” explains one user. “Then I’ll send it to my computer as an email, and just when I need the reminder, I’ll hear my own voice saying, ‘Don’t forget to do X.’ It’s perfect.”

Google voice search option. Part of the standard Google App for the iPhone, this feature “recognizes my spoken searches correctly about 85 percent of the time,” says one respondent. “Very convenient when you can’t or don’t want to type out a long search term.”

Occasions: Birthdays & More! ($.99, Hand Carved Code, LLC) “Enter the date once,” says a busy mom, “and it will always remind you of your anniversary, your mother-in-law’s birthday, etc.” Standard holidays also included.

Shopping Lists. Sure, most mobile grocery store apps have them. But our users single out an indie app, ShopShop, for its build-it-yourself customizability and ease of use. Great for the holiday gift list or keeping track of the gazillion things you need from Home Depot.

Tip Calculator. Indispensable for drinking margaritas in a large group. In particular, the iHandy Tip Calculator wins kudos for its multiple categories. The interface isn’t what you’d call handsome, but it’s easy to use—a post-margarita plus.

Converter ($.99, Architechies). It’s got 63 currency exchange rates, updated daily from the Internet. Plus length, weight, speed, temperature, data, volume, area, and time—all there in 76 different measurement units.

Translator (Codesign). An interface to the free Google Translate program, with access to well over a dozen languages—the usual suspects plus harder-to-find tongues like Serbian, Hindi, Vietnamese, and Czech.

Shape Writer (Shape Writer Inc.) “Okay, this one you have to try to believe,” says a devotee of this could-be-revolutionary app. “Instead of creating an email by tapping your screen for each letter (iPhone) or punching a key with your thumb for each letter (BlackBerry), you slide your finger across the screen keyboard, passing through each letter in the word. Each word is entered in a fraction of the time it takes to normally type the word (an especially strong plus with longer words). Spaces are automatically added when you lift your finger to start the next word. If you’ve never seen it, this will sound strange and perhaps not believable. But once you do, you’ll never type out an email of more than 15 words the old way.”

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Coming next: Apps for New York City.

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  • Brent Royal-Gordon of Architechies May 13, 2010 at 10:40 am

    I’m glad to see you like Converter! And by the way, when you do the iPad version of this list, we have a very popular iPad version of Converter too… ;^)

  • Diane Vacca April 25, 2010 at 11:00 am

    I have to admit, I’m a little jealous. Although I am a Mac convert, after months of indecision, I opted for a Blackberry over a year ago. The iPhone seemed more like a toy; at the time it didn’t offer cut and paste, for example. These things may have changed, but other factors that favored the BB were the removable battery, WiFi, memory card slot, and the ability to play .wma files. (I’m a journalist and have many interviews recorded in .wma format.)
    The Calendar app, which I use to store notes and details about meetings also seemed much better tailored to my use. I use it extensively. My only criticism is that its data is stored in the phone memory, rather than on the memory card. Because I keep so much information in the calendar, I’d like to have all the data available on the phone, not just a few months.
    The native Contacts app has expandable fields. It also allows me to include a great deal of information (multiple phone #s, addresses, notes and more).
    BlackBerry Messenger is terrific. With it you can text other BB users without paying any SMS fees. It organizes conversations really well.
    Since my carrier won’t let me use BlackBerry Maps, I downloaded Google Maps. I love it: it shows traffic (usually, but not always, accurate), satellite view, subways and everything else Google maps does online.
    Other downloaded apps that I use are Übertwitter, a Twitter app that allows multiple accounts and other views that make it really useful. Google Talk enables me to chat just as I do on Gmail (which I also have on the BB). Metro, an app I used on the Palm, is very good for navigating the NYC subway system, as well as those in many other cities.
    There is a fancy free flashlight app for the BB. I tried it, then deleted it, because just turning the device on provides enough light.
    There is a native voice recorder on the BB, but I find it easier to enter my to-do list in the calendar, where I can readily access it. The BB also has a native Tasks app.
    I don’t miss having all the apps available to iPhone, because I use the BB when I’m away from my computer mainly as storage for data I need to get work done and to read articles and news.
    I’ve been very happy with my choice until about two weeks ago. Although syncing the BlackBerry with the Mac was initially very challenging, RIM finally developed a Desktop Manager for Mac. The DM doesn’t do quite as much as the PC version does, but it got the job done. Until two weeks ago.
    I’m almost ready to give up the BlackBerry, and if I didn’t have to pay a huge fee, I’d think very seriously about it. Two weeks ago Apple upgraded Snow Leopard, and since then there is no way to sync iCal with the BB calendar. The entire BB app is BLANK, and I have no idea when BB will be able to provide a fix.