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15 apps for an easier, more productive life

I am constantly in search of the perfect, “must-have” productivity app. Of course we all know there’s no such thing. No matter how much we use a specific app we’ll always find flaws. Take the Instagram app for example – the new update is cool, but on my Galaxy S III, I still can’t use the camera natively from within Instagram, I have to take a photo on another camera app and then share it to Instagram, otherwise it crashes. And my Facebook app sometimes continues to register notifications even after I know I’ve checked them.

What this does mean however is that I download many apps while I search for one that makes my life that much easier and enables me to abandon links to all other productivity apps forever!

Yeah, like that’s going to happen…

Nevertheless, I may not have found the perfect app, but I have found a fair number that have started me on the road to a perfect app existence. I’m not going to mention the obvious apps that almost everyone I know has installed on their phones, namely Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Gmail. I use these on a daily basis, and can hardly add anything new to the conversation. Instead I’m going to focus on the great ones that scream “download me!”

Productivity 

First up, I’m going to start with note taking. Evernote is the more popular and well-known note-taking app here although Google have recently attempted to keep up with the trend and has introduced Google Keep (free), both of which are available on Android, with Evernote also available on everything from iOS to Windows Phone.

Evernote (free) allows you to capture notes, documents, audio, photos, in fact pretty much everything you can do with a phone and computer. It then allows you to annotate those snippets and synchronizes them across all platforms via your online profile.

Google Keep is apparently offering the same services, but given that Google offers and discontinues apps somewhat randomly it’s met with some skepticism, with many people sticking with Evernote as an established and reliable note-taking app.

Next is an app I find infinitely helpful when I’m not in a position to be able to scan documents and send the through. My introduction to Camscanner (free) begun in desperation, as I was nowhere near a scanner and needed to urgently send through signed documents. Camscanner turns a photo into a high res scan enabling you to email important documents at the drop of a hat. You can adjust the settings appropriately, enhance contrast to make text more visible, pretty much everything you can do on an ordinary scanner, Camscanner neatly mimics.

Keep on keeping on

Another app that I use extensively on my desktop but have only recently started using on my phone is Dropbox (free). I mention it primarily because I never made much use of it other than to share files with clients, but now that I do a fair amount of freelance work I find it invaluable to transfer drafts of documents I’ve been working on between multiple devices and computers.

Speaking of drafts, all the major blogging sites, specifically Blogger, WordPress and Tumblr (all free) have their own free apps that make blogging your thoughts that much easier, especially if you have something to say and don’t want to have to sit down at a computer to do it. Of course you can also save a draft for future extrapolation, which also makes these apps particularly useful.

Phone Essentials 

Moving on from note-taking and blogging now, there are a number of apps I use exclusively on my phone that have managed to speed up pretty much every aspect of my mobile experience.

The first is one I may have mentioned prior to this, SwiftKey Keyboard (US$3.99/R45) might have a couple of irritating autocorrects but I struggle to go back to traditional keyboards now. Complete with Flow gesture based typing, SwiftKey not only offers a quick and easy texting experience, but it also has a special customized tablet version, and its predictive text learns from your linked accounts which include Facebook, Twitter and Gmail.

Best keyboard app there is

Another app that is essential if you own an Android phone is something that cleans up the residual files that accumulate as you use your phone. CleanMaster (free) is that app for me. It notifies you when your cache is full and your phone is becoming sluggish, plus it also allows for a manual clean up when you’re attempting to improve the performance of your phone.

Before I move on to some more lifestyle oriented apps, I need to mention one last app that I discovered recently. It’s a cloud management system, and if you use more than one device, it’s absolutely invaluable. Astro File Manager (free) will manage not only your Dropbox account, but your Box, Facebook, Google Drive and SkyDrive accounts all from one convenient interface. This means you can easily transfer files between these systems without having to open multiple apps to do so.

Lifestyle 

Although many lifestyle apps seem somewhat frivolous, many of these are still designed to make our lives easier and less complicated. The first one of these for me is Recipe Search (free). It’s certainly not the only online recipe app, but it’s updated regularly, has regular contributors, ratings, forums and honestly, some delicious recipes. It also has an ingredient search, so if you’re looking for inspiration and want to work with a primary ingredient, Recipe Search will help you.

Next is Noom (free), a fitness and weight loss app that gamifies the process of eating healthier, exercising and weighing in by assigning points and advancing your level as you progress. Interestingly it really does help when you actually utilize it, as it doesn’t make you count calories, it assigns approximate calorie levels based on the type of food, size of the portion and allocates points depending on the exercise you’ve done and the number of steps you’ve walked a day by means of a built-in pedometer. It might not make your actual life easier, but it does make your health and fitness journey a great deal easier to manage.

Weight loss made easy?

These last three apps all incorporate activities that are a big part of my life and without which I might not be lost, but I’d be a damn site more frustrated.

The first of these is Sound Hound (free). I work indirectly in the music industry and the number of times people give me clips with unidentified music that I now have to try and source so I can make sure there are no copyright issues is too damn high. Apps like Sound Hound, which listen to the music and help you identify the artist and copyright holder, are invaluable. It also helps, on a more casual level, if you’re looking for a particular track but don’t know the name of the artist.

Next is the Xbox Smart Glass (free). If any of you are Xbox gamers, and particularly if you own a tablet, you’ll understand the appeal of being able to integrate your phone directly with your console, especially if you use it as a media player as well as a gaming platform. This app is certainly not perfect, but it has real potential and regardless of your views on Microsoft’s new Xbox One, the Smart Glass integration is here to stay.

Lastly is one of the best ebook readers ever made. I have downloaded and tested a fair number of these in the search for “the” ebook reader, but Aldiko (free) is probably the best and most user-friendly one I own. You can sort and categorize your books, documents and comics. Transfer easily between your computer and your device and it has a number of different display options, including list and bookshelf options. It works much better on a tablet than on a smart phone, but I think this is an acceptable compromise because I rarely read books on my smartphone, preferring to not have to squint my eyes in order to see the letters.

Feeling smug yet? These apps are a great addition to my “make my life more manageable” collection, but I’m still on the look out for that one, perfect app… So that’s it. Fifteen apps that keep my life in order. What are yours?

Author Bio

Pippa Tshabalala: Columnist
Pippa Tshabalala is the former presenter of The Verge -- South Africa's first locally produced TV show on videogames. She has a passion for all things gaming and tech related as well as a growing collection of tattoos. Based in Johannesburg, she is currently the On-Air Producer for Comedy... More