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Jim Davis, Editor
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Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Best of the best in free smartphone apps

I admit it. I’m addicted. I just can’t stop downloading apps to my iPad and my Android phone. Apps for work, apps for play. Apps of all kinds. The sheer number of apps is astonishing. Both Apple’s App Store and Google’s Google Play each offer more than 700,000 apps. Many of these apps are free — or nearly free.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of apps that claim to be free but are actually trial versions or stripped-down versions that require in-app purchases to unlock features or levels. I understand that not everything can be free, but I’d like to see developers come clean about pricing. Offer me a trial version and, if it’s a good app, I’ll probably buy it. But if you tell me an app is free, I don’t expect to find out I have to pay to keep using it.

Worse yet are the apps that claim to be free but then start asking you to purchase “coins” or “XP” in order to get advanced capabilities. I’ve seen a “free” office program that wanted me to pay for a spell checker. I also downloaded a personal assistant app for my phone that was billed as a talking assistant. But in order for your assistant to talk, you have to buy 200 “coins” (for 99 cents).

These in-app purchases are common in games. They allow players to purchase upgraded powers, weapons, whatever. These purchases are charged to your phone bill or credit card on file. Which can be dangerous if you have kids who use your tablet or phone. Be aware.

That being said, there are plenty of apps that are truly free (although there may be ads). Here are a few of my favorites.

Angry Birds. This blockbuster is available for both Apple’s iOS and Android. Use skill and a little physics to punish the evil pigs for stealing the bird’s eggs. The premise may be odd, but you will find yourself addicted to this game. If you conquer the original, there are several other themes to test your finger skills.

Wunderlist. This to-do app runs on iOS and Android (as well as PC, Mac and other desktop operating systems). Create lists of things that need doing for multiple projects. You can also create recurring tasks and sub tasks — all with due dates and reminders. Best of all, these tasks are synchronized through the Cloud and appear on any and all devices that are linked to your account.

Cozi Family Organizer. The free version allows you to create shopping lists, to-do lists and maintain calendars for school, work, sports or whatever. Share them with specific family members or with everyone on your account. There’s even a journal to record the events of the day. The paid version adds a menu planner, removes ads and adds the option to share calendars with anyone. Accessible on Android, iOS and the Web.

Evernote. I can’t live without this ingenious app. It allows me to record voice notes, screen shots and photos from my handheld device into searchable folders. I use it to save copies of online shopping receipts, license keys for software and to keep photo records of the packaging for those odd little items like light bulbs for my desk lamp and ink refills for my wife’s pen. This information is stored on the Web so I can find it whenever and wherever I need it. This app also runs on just about every platform known to man as well as on the Internet.

Urban Spoon. If you travel often or just like to try new food, you have to test drive this app. Select a city, a type of food or a price range and shake your device. You’ll get a list of nearby restaurants that meet your criteria. You can play with the settings to utilize your phone’s GPS and mix and match criteria to find places nearby. Or you can search for places in the next city on your itinerary. Very fun and available for Android and iOS.

Finally, try Foursquare. Your portable device allows to to “check in” wherever you are, whether it’s a meeting, a nightclub or a restaurant. Many places, especially restaurants, offer coupons to people who check in at their establishments. Foursquare tells you if you have friends nearby and vice versa. Check in to a place enough times and you can even become the virtual mayor! Warning: Don’t use Foursquare if you’re paranoid or don’t want to be followed!

These are just a few of my favorites. Share yours on my Facebook page. Just search out “I Need A CTO!” and post your favorite free or nearly free app.

Byte Slaves is now I Need A CTO! Visit our new site, ineedacto.biz, or like us on Facebook.com/ineedacto. Feel free to share your thoughts, ask questions or make suggestions for future columns.