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Best iPhone apps

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By Digital Trends Staff
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It's now been over two years since we first gazed upon the well-stocked shelves of the iTunes App Store. While our Top iPhone Apps were tough to choose the first time around, the task has become even tougher as developers have flooded the market with apps, now to the tune of over 500,000 (that's a separate app for every person in the city of Portland). Even for a niche tasks like calculating your blood alcohol content after a night of drinking, you can find over a dozen apps that fit the bill. And that's not even beginning to account for the scores of oddball games out there. Which ones belong on your phone? We've been scouring the App Store nonstop, soliciting the advice of friends and coworkers, and putting our own phones to work as test machines to maintain a continually updated list of our favorite apps in five different categories.

Productivity

Tips and Tricks ($0.99)

For those of you who want to optimize your iPhone experience, but don't want to dig through various websites or forums — then Tips and Tricks for the iPhone is for you. The informative app, which costs less than a cup of coffee, will serve as a guide to your iPhone as well as show you hidden features, shortcuts, and other useful information.

1Password ($9.99)

One of the worst things about being able to do nearly everything on your iPhone is having to constantly enter and re-enter usernames and passwords to all your favorite Web sites and apps. Even with the hefty price tag, we think the 1Password app is worth the money for ease and convenience. It aims to solve this problem by securely storing all your username and password information. Users can choose to have the app automatically log them into Web sites with a single tap. No more wracking your brain for the right username or having to correctly type a long password in via the iPhone's typo-prone keyboard. The app can also store notes and other information that you wouldn't want accessible on your basic Stickies app.

Air To-Do ($1.99)

There are a plethora of to-do list apps out there, and most of the well rated ones are going to accomplish exactly what you need. Still, the Air To-Do app has a sleek UI that doesn't jumble your chores together, instead allowing you to control how you organize them. You can also check off your list with boxes to mark it something has been completed, versus others that simply delete a task.

CraigsPro+ ($1.99)

Craigslist is a treasure trove of freebies and rarities for cheap, but good luck scoring that free hot tub, cheap air conditioner or the only pair of Klipschhorn speakers in your city if you're not one of the very first to respond. CraigsPro+ gives you a leg up on the competition by letting you set up Search Agents that buzz your phone as soon as an item you've been searching for crops up. Combine it with a swift e-mail and that 1988 Pontiac Fiero GT will be yours. You only get 50 of these search alerts with purchase, but snagging more is as cheap as a tenth of a cent apiece. (CraigsPro+ uses remote servers to continuously scour Craigslist for your search terms then sends push alerts when it scores a hit, rather than grinding your phone battery down. The price goes to reimbursing those expenses.)

Google Voice (Free)

At first Google Voice was not technically an "app" because Google had to subvert Apple's iTunes store by building it into the Web. But Apple finally let it through and now you can get the official Google Voice apps from the App store. With it, you can make cheap international calls at Google Voice rates, send free unlimited text messages, and even sift through voicemails left at your Google Voice number, all for free.

Games

Plants vs. Zombies ($2.99)

The classic and much-loved tower defense game comes to the iPhone. Fight off zombies as they trample across your lawn in an attempt to invade your house. Use a variety of zombie-killing plants to fend off the undead in 50 different levels. Each zombie has a different talent that will require a different kind of strategy. This fun, addicting game is a cult classic and will entertain you for hours, despite its simple concept and graphics.

Osmos ($4.99)

Enter an absorbing world (literally) in this ambient physics-based cosmic simulator. The goal of Osmos is to survive. You do so by absorbing other motes, which then increase your mass. However, in order to move across the screen you must inject matter into your mote by tapping the screen, but doing so causes you to shrink in the process.

Infinity Blade ($5.99)

After teasing us with Epic Citadel last year, Epic Games finally released Infinity Blade. The RPG uses extremely cutting edge graphics and 3D effects to keep your attention, but it also multi-player options and an intricate storyline that can easily cause you to forget you're staring at your iPhone and not parked in front of a console. Epic Games developers are also wise to use to touchscreen to its advantage, and there are multiple and easy to master combat moves for players to enjoy.

Angry Birds ($0.99)

The trial-and-error trajectory plotting of Scorched Earth meets realistic physics in Angry Birds. Players sling a variety of (appropriately enough) angry birds into castles fortifying the pigs that have stolen their eggs. Loopy backstory aside, an increasing number of bizarre birds (like ones that split apart into three or hammer their way through hard obstacles) and ingenious structures keep the action fresh and more difficult than you would expect.

Words With Friends ($1.99)

Two dollars gets you the best mobile word game around in its ad-free form for the iPhone. If you haven't tried the game out yet, it's basically a mobile version of the classic game of Scrabble. If you're a word fiend and like playing games with your friends, this one's for you. Unlike many games that require your constant attention, Words With Friends was designed with stop-and-go play in mind. Play a turn, go back to your everyday activities, and you'll be notified when your friend (or randomly matched game partner) has played another word. Adding to the fun of playing with friends, the app is now available on Android, meaning you can play across platforms.

Jenga ($0.99)

Jenga for the iPhone has barely been available in the App Store, but it's making quite the debut. The game allows you to choose your settings and Jenga block style, but these aesthetic preferences pale in comparison to the gameplay itself. The touchscreen allows users to tangibly (okay, almost tangibly) pull individual pieces from the tower. Eventually, as happens in reality, it becomes unstable and crumbles. But it isn't just a virtual filler for the real thing, you can almost feel the weight when you test and choose those fateful blocks from the pillar.

Mirror's Edge ($0.99)

This is one of the first games develop for iOS that fully utilizes the iPhone 4's visual capabilities. Its concept is simple, requiring the player to become the "runner" and take part in parkour stunts of every variety. The 2D interface actually makes for a crisper visual, and don't worry about not having a controller – the swipe controls don't lag, keeping you constantly in the game and not worrying about the mechanics.

Video & Music

Pandora (Free)

If you know anyone with a 16GB iPhone that has absolutely zero music loaded on, you can probably blame Pandora. The ultra-popular music app mimics the functionality of Pandora.com by spinning one artist or song into a never-ending playlist of similar tunes, which you can vote up or down along the way to further tune it to your tastes. To our amazement, it even works when you tread outside metropolitan 3G coverage into EDGE zones, meaning you really have to head off the beaten path to lose your tunes.

MusicID with Lyrics ($0.99)

Having a nameless song stuck in your head is one of life's cruelest games. This app will solve all your music identification issues, whether it's the title, artist, or words you can't remember. All you have to do is hold your iPhone up to the source and you'll be given a complete rundown, including artist biographies and YouTube videos.

NPR Music (Free)

NPR is always on top of the latest albums, with in-depth analysis of upcoming releases paired with full access to the music – which is only available for a limited time. But it remains a great way to listen to popular and talented artists' new music for free, and is now available in app form. NPR features an impressive array of genres and while the likes of Arcade Fire and Kanye West are likely to pop up, you'll also get a chance to expand your horizons. Artist interviews as well as live concert clips are also at your fingertips.

Netflix – (Free: Requires $8.99 monthly subscription)

Turn your iPhone into a portable TV with over 17,000 streaming titles on tap. Netflix works over both Wi-Fi and 3G networks, loads quickly, and provides great pictures quality on the iPhone's screen. You'll never have an idle five minutes again.

SoundHound (Free)

Now you'll never be driving or watching a commercial, hear a catchy new song only to miss out on what it's called and who sings it. While there are many other music-recognizing apps on the market, Soundhound's exclusive singing search feature sets it apart from the pack. Simply hum a tune or sing some lyrics yourself and SoundHound can quickly tell you the title and artist of the song.

Utilities

Gas Buddy (Free)

This app is fairly simple, but if you're always on the hunt for the best gas prices around, Gas Buddy will be a helpful tool. Thanks to reports by other users, Gas Buddy will find all of the gas stations near where you are and list them in order of price so that you can find the best deal. It may not be worth driving an extra five miles to save a few bucks, but if there are more than a few gas stations nearby, this app will quickly help you choose the cheapest one.

Yelp (Free)

Your go-to source for all things brick-and-mortar, tailored for the iPhone. Whether you're looking for a mechanic or a drugstore, the Yelp app makes it a breeze to find the best one based on the sites' comprehensive library of reviews, without driving all over town. Either browse by category, or rely on the iPhone GPS to peg your location and find locations nearby. You can also write reviews from the phone, allowing you to ward off potential customers when you end up at a dive before you even head home.

Pulse, Free

 This app is a great one for anyone who likes to catch up on the day's news and reading in one spot. Users can put together a personalized homepage (or five different swipeable pages) of various popular sources like Salon, Time, Gawker, Mashable, Politico, and even Digital Trends. You can then easily swipe through thumbnails of stories from all of their chosen sources and read articles that they find interesting. It's the best reader app for the iPhone and offers plenty of sources and a great visual design.

Epicurious (Free)

Now recipes from this award-winning food site can be in your pocket, shopping list and all. More than 30,000 professional recipes are available via the Epicurious app, which features a clean user interface and big, beautiful photos. Users can search for recipes based on ingredients they already have, what's seasonal, or upcoming holidays and events. Save recipes or add them to your Shopping List to create a personalized grocery list to cover all your meals. The app will provide you with an easy list that even lets you check off items as you go. Step-by-step instructions and photos make sure your cooking goes off without a hitch.

Kayak (Free)

Quit daydreaming of travel and see what it will actually take to get you halfway across the world with the Web's best airline search engine, now in iPhone form. Although it takes a little longer to return results, the smart interface almost has us reaching for our phones to look for tickets instead of the desktop browser version. In a bind, Kayak can also snag you a hotel or rental car for a song, and has smart little utilities like packing lists and flight tracker built right in.

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Wi-Fi Finder (Free)

It's as simple as it sounds. This app will locate and display the free and pay required Wi-Fi hotspots nearest you and even filter by location, so you can determine if you'd rather use the Internet in a nearby library or Starbucks. You can also search paid, free, or all available Wi-Fi. It pulls from a database of 545,00 locations internationally, so odds are you'll find something.

Mint.com (Free)

Keep track of your finances on the go with Mint.com and the corresponding iPhone app. The free service tracks and automatically updates all of your finance accounts, so you always know where your money is and what you're spending it on. Users can set budgets to help track spending and set up email or text alerts for budgets, fees, due dates, and low balances. In combination with Mint.com, users can view graphs and visuals of spending for the month or over a longer time period. The app also supports tracking investments, including your 401K, brokerage accounts, and IRAs.

Fun

Movies by Flixster, Free

Fandango is great if you actually need to purchase tickets for a nearby movie, but if you're having trouble deciding which movie to see, we're a fan of Movies by Flixster, which has reliable Rotten Tomatoes ratings built right in. The app lets you browse movies at nearby theaters, by box office numbers, what's upcoming, and what's out on DVD. We also like that you can add favorite local theaters that will always show up at the top of your list.

Fring (Free)

Forget downloading different apps for each IM service like, AIM or Yahoo Messenger, especially when the limitations of the iPhone mean you won't be able to switch between them without closing one. Fring combines all the most popular instant messaging clients in one app, plus Twitter, Facebook and even SIP and video calling. We also dig the no nonsense layout, and extras, like built-in history.

AutoStitch Panorama ($1.99)

You don't get much depth of field with the iPhone's built-in camera, but this app brings wide angle shots to the device. Take multiple photos – anywhere between two and 20 – and then let AutoStich Panorama combine them to give you one image. It also features options to automatically share via Facebook or e-mail.

SketchBook MobileX (Free)

Forget using the back of a napkin for your next brilliant idea. Sketch it out in full color with this free version of Autodesk's powerful Sketchbook Mobile. Multiple tools, brushes, synthetic pressure sensitivity and a streamlined user interface make it a breeze to scratch out images as quickly as the wheels in your mind turn – with a little practice.

Geocaching ($9.99)

Old-time geocachers may bemoan the lack of prep work that this all-inclusive geocaching app eliminates, but casual geocachers won't be able to deny the convenience. Just fire it up and when you're in a new area to find nearby caches, read the details, drop a pin on the map, and get searching. You can even post field notes to help others, right from the phone. We've used it for impromptu caching in the middle of a hike or just strolling around the city.

Instagram (Free)

Instagram is one of the most popular apps for the iPhone and there are good reasons why. Not only does Instagram let users apply a huge selection of vintage-style filters to their mobile photos, but it also has a social platform for sharing and commenting on those photos with friends. The app has created a Facebook or Twitter-like design just for mobile photos, allowing users to ‘follow' friends, comment on photos, and view all of their friends' photos in one feed. The high-quality filters and social sharing aspect make this app a hard one to beat for iPhone photo-enthusiasts.

This article was originally posted on Digital Trends

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