We’re all tied to our smartphones and tablets like never before. They’re practically an extension of ourselves, for better or for worse. The apps below have been crucial for making my life easier, more productive, and ultimately more fun.
(I don’t have a deal with any of these companies, of course, I just love their apps.)
What if you only had to remember one password – forever? LastPass stores your passwords for every site and app, and even autofills them so you don’t have to look them up.
Three years ago, I was sitting in front of my computer trying to come up with a password for yet another website. As I typed in the same password I used for far too many other accounts, I had the realization that someone with this single password could take over my entire life. But I didn’t have the mental capacity to think up and remember a complex password for each of the hundreds of accounts my digital self owned. So I started looking for a solution and quickly landed on LastPass.
Say, for example, you open your banking app. LastPass shows up and lets you fill in your username and password with the tap of a button (well, on Android. On iOS you’ll have to open the LastPass app and copy/paste it. Sorry iPhone users!). Autofill works for websites in your browser app or even on your computer, since LastPass has a browser add-on too. Unlike a lot of other password managers out there, LastPass works regardless of your smartphone or tablet OS, your browser preference, or your computer OS.
You’ll want to create a strong password for your LastPass account, but after that you’re done coming up with passwords forever. LastPass will even generate complex passwords for you. Since I started using LastPass three years ago, I haven’t even known the passwords to most of my accounts. In that time, my LastPass account has accumulated 324 passwords. I even store voicemail codes and printer passwords in it so they’re secure but easy to access.
For security buffs, LastPass is one of the most secure ways to store your passwords. They’re salted and hashed on LastPass’s end, so even if LastPass gets hacked, all the hackers have is gobbledygook. Your account is the only one with the power to decrypt your passwords, and you can keep it super secure with two-factor authentication.
If I was naming a single app that’s made my life better, it would be LastPass. Plus, if you install all of the apps below, you’ll find yourself making a few new accounts, and you’ll be glad you don’t have to remember their passwords.
Do you manage projects with a million moving parts? Collaborate with others to try to accomplish tasks, but never know what progress your team has made? Have a never-ending to-do list that seems too long to even start?
Trello is a (free!) light project management app. Using Trello, you create lists like “To do,” “Doing,” “Waiting on Response,” and “Done.” Then, you add your tasks as cards than can be moved through each list.
It’s extraordinarily helpful when collaborating with a group on a project. You can color code cards so that you know orange cards are things Karla needs to get done, while green belongs to Calvin. Then, as Karla gets the chance to contact the venue to reserve your event’s space, she can move her card to “Doing,” then “Done.” Now you know that you can get going on renting tables and chairs, without having to email back and forth to check in.
Trello has a ton of useful features, like the ability to add comments or checklists to a card that holds a more complex task, or to set due dates for particular cards. I use it my daily life as a to-do list for big projects, but also when managing projects with a group of people. It works equally well on a phone and in-browser on my computer, and it’s totally free (though you can sign up for a paid plan for some extra-fancy features).
If you’ve been wanting to learn a new language but have been making excuses like “it takes too much time” or “I don’t know where to start” or “it’s expensive,” Duolingo is a fabulous place to start.
Duolingo is a free app that helps you master a new language in the time you have available. Through a series of multiple choice questions, fill-in-the-blanks, listening quizzes, and spoken responses, Duolingo moves you from the basics to conversational fluency.
When I started out using Duolingo 8 months ago, I decided to learn Spanish. I chose to devote only 5 minutes per day so I’d have no excuse not to do it. Suddenly I found myself learning Spanish while I waited in line instead of checking social media. Duolingo also has some light gamification, like the “lingot” gems you get as a reward for completing lessons and skill levels, that keeps you coming back.
So, after 8 months, am I fluent in Spanish? Absolutely not. But I’ve found myself understanding spoken and written Spanish in ways I never did before, and for 5 minutes a day, I think that’s entirely worth it.
Fair warning: if you’re like me, you’ll accumulate a long streak by never missing a day. When you do ultimately miss a day, you’ll be heart broken. But I’m building my way back up to my previous 185 day record.
How many tabs are open in your browser right now? How many of those are open because you found an interesting article you wanted to read…later? And how many will you accidentally close, never to find again?
Pocket is a free bookmarking app that lets you quickly save articles and websites to your account. Even better, it converts them into printer-friendly version (goodbye, ads) and downloads them so you can read them later if you don’t have an internet or data connection. Now you have something to do on a long plane ride or drive through the country.
Pocket also has a browser add-on, so you can save articles from your computer too. Anything you save on your phone, tablet, or computer is shared and synced between all of your devices.
I find myself using Pocket daily to save articles I want to read in my free time, and even to convert articles from websites with super-annoying formatting into something a little more readable.
Have you heard enough about Slack in the media yet? It’s back, back again.
Slack is a close second to LastPass in my list of favorite apps. If you haven’t had the pleasure of using it, Slack is like a mash-up between the chatrooms of the Internet’s early years and the Instant Messaging clients of its adolescence. Here’s how it works:
You have a group of people. For example, friends, family, coworkers, professionals in your field, or fellow hobbyists (yes, I have Slack teams for all of these groups). Let’s use the example of local knitters here.
You create a Slack team, like Western Mass Knitters, and invite them all in. As a group, you add some channels to organize your discussion. Perhaps one for yarn recommendations, another for a local knit-a-thon event some of you are organizing, another for people who knit toys for kids, and yet another for tips for beginner knitters.
Julio has yarn coming out of his ears, so he decides not to subscribe to the yarn recommendations channel so he doesn’t impulse buy any more. Yunjin is leading the knit-a-thon, so she joins that channel. Everyone picks channels based on their interests and goals. Then, you talk! Suddenly, you’re not sending group texts or emails where you accidentally leave someone out or are missing their contact information. You can search back through old messages to jog your memory. You can even send each other silly gifs.
It sounds simple. It sounds like every other communication service you already have. And somehow it’s not. It takes everything you love about email, texting, tweeting, and Facebook and leaves everything you hate.
My best recommendation here is to find a group of people you’re struggling to communicate with and give it a try. It’s been a lifesaver.
If I connect to my work WiFi, then mute my phone. If it’s going to rain tomorrow, then send me a notification. If I change my Facebook profile photo, then change my Twitter profile to match. If I press a button, then log my work hours in Google Calendar.
These are only some of the things that IFTTT, aka If This Then That, can do. IFTTT combines your phone’s apps to make it work better for you. You can browse the “recipes” that others have created or create your own by smashing apps together.
I’m not an IFTTT power user. I’ve only ever used IFTTT to mute my phone when I connect to my work WiFi network and to turn the volume back up when I connect to my home network. Yet, it’s always worked flawlessly, and I’ve always been thankful I never have to worry about my phone going off during an important meeting at work (or being muted and lost in the couch at home).
Explain Everything is the everything-but-the-kitchen-sink of note-taking/whiteboard apps.
Want to sketch note during a meeting? Go for it.
Want to import some slides and draw on top of them? Easy.
Want to draw a math problem and narrate its solution, then share the video out as an MP4? No problem.
Want to create an animated digital story with images from around the web? Donezo.
Ever since I installed Explain Everything on iPad, I haven’t opened another note-taking app. I use it when presenting to show my slides but also annotate them, to annotate PDFs I’m reading, to create screencast videos, to focus my attention during meetings through doodling, or even to sketch visual meeting notes I can share with my colleagues.
Explain Everything isn’t free, but it’s a steal at $5.99. It’s a much better experience on a bigger screen, so I’d recommend using it on an iPad or Android tablet. There’s also a free 30 day trial, so it’s absolutely worth giving it a shot.
If I’m being honest, the entire Google Apps suite should be on this list. Drive, Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Forms are all crucial to my daily work. It’s rare I go a day without using them. But, in the interest of brevity, we’ll stick to Keep here.
Google Keep is a place to save and share notes, lists, and images. It’s like Pocket, but for your own stuff. I use it to:
- Create quick grocery lists (complete with check boxes!) and share them with my partner, so he can pick up what we need on the way home. Since Keep lists are collaborative like Google Docs, I can add something to the list last minute and know he’ll see it when he opens the app on his phone.
- Record voice notes when I’m on the go. Keep translates them into text, but also attaches the original audio in case its translation isn’t perfect.
- Save useful tidbits of information or ideas that I know I’ll want to reference later.
There are two fantastic things Keep offers that keep me coming back. First, it’s ridiculously fast to create a new Keep note. You fire up up the app, tap the note bar at the bottom of the screen, and type up your note. It’s a fantastic app for when someone’s reading off a phone number, date, or other bit of information you need and tap-tap-tapping away at other apps makes you wish you just had a pen and some paper.
Second, checkboxes. That doesn’t sound revolutionary, but there are so few apps out there that do checklists well. You can’t add checkboxes that you can mark off in document creation apps like Google Docs, and many to do list apps hide your list items after you’ve checked them off. Keep handles checklists by moving completed tasks to the bottom of the list, greying them out, and adding a strikethrough to them. It’s just enough to get them out of the way without making it difficult to find them later.
So many mobile apps that desperately need a sleep timer are found lacking. The biggest culprit of this is Netflix, but most music apps don’t even have a sleep timer feature.
I find that, when I head to bed, if I don’t have something calming to listen to like reruns of a 90s sitcom or an audiobook, my brain runs in circles. But if I start up a show or audiobook on my phone, I’ll wake up 3 hours later to it still playing.
Sleep Timer does exactly what it sounds like. You set a timer, press start, and when time runs out it automatically quits any media app that’s playing or silences its audio. It also adds quick access to your menu so you can extend the timer if you need a few more minutes before you doze off.
There are a few different sleep timer apps out there, but this is the only one I’ve found to work reliably across both Android and iOS. A side benefit: the UI is beautiful too.
These are the top apps that keep the relationship between me and my mobile devices happy. Do you have other favorites? Share them in the comments below!
Photo credit: wocintechchat.com