10 Apps You Need on Your First Smartphone, or, Getting Started with the iPhone 4

by Crystal Paradis-Catanzaro

This post is for my lovely colleague, @thenotoriousNME, who just upgraded to the iPhone 4 from a phone model not to be named… let’s just say it was a flip phone… Anyhoo, I figured I’d post my top musts for her here, in laughtercrystal land, where other random interwebs browsers might partake of this advice as well. With iPhone 4 now free for new contract-signers, there are probably tons of people getting them who feel behind on the whole “app” thing. Never fear.

The following recommended apps that I have on my iPhone 4S also apply to pre-Siri, pre-iOS6 phones, and most are available to Android users as well, so if you’ve become frustrated with iPhone 4S/5 exclusive posts, welcome to this post where no one judges you for not having, like THE latest phone. We love you. Settle in.

Here’s what you should get to start:

1.) Dropbox

The easiest way to get stuff from your phone to your computer, or from the interwebs to your phone, or any combination of vice-versa is through Dropbox. You don’t want to have to email yourself back and forth, and deal with attachment sizes, etc., when you can simply upload to Dropbox and ta-da! It’s wherever you want it to be.

Pro tip: Have a folder for reference stuff you might want at any time, such as a stock profile image of yourself for all the social networks you’ll be joining, a resume, or that great cat photo you share constantly to anyone who’s having a bad day, and keep emptying out the rest periodically– stuff that you have copies of elsewhere, but had uploaded to Dropbox to transport hither and yon. Then, you won’t ever deal with “sorry you’ve hit your limit as a non-paying user and now you have a headache to deal with in the middle of a time-sensitive file transfer.”

Share playlists of MP3s, folders with colleagues, profile pics, etc.

Cost: Free
Compatable with: ALL THE THINGS! iPhone/Android/laptop/desktop/iPad—any interweb-connected device
*Download Dropbox for iPhone*

2.) Camera+

Really the first PAID app that I plopped my $1.99 down for immediately once my friend showed it to me on her phone. You thought Instagram filters were cool? Pfft. They’re NOTHING compared to what you can do with Camera+!

(I made this collage with notes with Fuzel)
(I made this collage of screencaps with Fuzel, then annotated with Skitch.)

Simple stuff like cropping and rotating, plus a battery of amazing preset processors (“Clarity” will change your world (but don’t use it on portraits– NOT flattering!)), plus all those cool filters WITH ADJUSTABLE SLIDER CONTROLS so you can pick a filter and then dial it back for a more subtle, controllable effect. Genius!

Cost: $1.99 and worth it!
Compatable: iPhone 4,4S,5/iPad/iPod touch (I actually wish they had a desktop, online, or Mac App version!)
*Download Camera+ for iPhone*

3.) Shazam

Sure, it’s less “essential” and more “fun”– but once you have the power to identify any song within earshot, you’ll be using this bad boy all the time. It’s the Google of “ohhh who sings this?!” moments. Remember when smartphones erased “crap, who was in that movie?” moments with the ability to instantly IMDb any queries? Shazam will do that to your listening life.

It’ll even identify TV shows!

Cost: Free
Compatable: iPhone/Android: Anywhere with decent sound quality. Noisy bars might not always result in a match, but most everyday situations will be clear enough for Shazam to tag the right tune.
*Download Shazam for iPhone*
*Download Shazam for Android*

4.) Foursquare

Even if you are one of those people who is creeped out by location sharing apps, you should STILL install Foursquare. Because even if you never check in anywhere, Foursquare is super useful for checking out what’s going on around you, especially in a new city or a place you don’t visit much. Under Explore, you can search a restaurant you’re considering visiting and see tips people have left there, ranging from which waiter to steer clear of, what to order that’s really good, or weekly specials. Of course, the more friends you’re connected to, the more personal the Explore feature is, ranking places by how much your friends like them, or where they all check into the most. And if you ARE willing to actually use it to check in, don’t worry, only friends you specifically approve on Foursquare can see your updates (as long as you set up your privacy settings correctly at the beginning), and you might unlock great specials and discounts where you check in, as well!

Yes, that’s right. I’m the Mayor of Awesome.

If you are in Portsmouth, hook up with Portsmouth Foursquare for even more extra awesomeness!

Cost: Free
Compatable: iPhone/Android/web
*Download Foursquare for iPhone*
*Download Foursquare for Android*
Own a biz? Claim your venue on the website!

5.) Flashlight

You may not think you will use this one, but trust me. Fidgeting with keys to your car/house/office, walking down a darkened hall without reaching the light switch, doing a B&E (*disclaimer: B&Es are not endorsed by laughtercrystal or Blogger or any other person or entity connected with this blog post*), random power outages…

The instances in which you could use more light far outweigh the times that you find yourself with an actual flashlight, so therefore, this app is going to get used a lot. I use it all the time. In fact, I have it as one of my four docked apps on my phone. Bam.
BONUS: You can now adjust the brightness, so it can be as dim or as powerful as you like!

Cost: Free
Compatable with: iPhone 3GS,4,4S,5
*Download Flashlight for iPhone*

6.) Frametastic

Once you start taking pictures of EVERYTHING you’ll need Frametastic to make your Instagram/Facebook/Twitter photos more efficient. You can still share 3-5 photos of one thing, but in only one update, so your friends and followers won’t be flooded with separate images. You’ll start shooting with Frametastic collage layouts in mind, much like you start shooting with a square crop constraint in mind once you get hooked on Instagram. You can adjust layout options, border width/color, rounded corners, etc.

Frametastic is great for a collage of overall mixed with detail shots

Cost: Free
Compatable: iPhone 4,4S,5
*Download Frametastic for iPhone*

Note: For a more complicated version, an app that with many more layout options, including custom layouts, try Fuzel. It’s not as easy to use as Frametastic—there’s a bit of a learning curve, but once you learn it, you can do even more with it! (I used Fuzel to make the collage of Camera+ screenshots in #5 above.)

7.) Yocto Clock

If you’re like most smart phone users, you’ll end up using your phone as an alarm clock more often than an actual clock. The native Clock app comes with an alarm, but this one comes with very lovely screensavers and myriad customizable options. Slide up or down to dim the display, touch & hold to change background, etc. Lovely interface! Of course, you can set alarms at various times for different repeatable days of the week, and you can use any song in your iTunes account, and even create a special Wake or Sleep Timers.

(I made this collage of screencaps with Fuzel)

Like all third-party apps, you have to leave it running in the foreground at night for it to play the tunes to wake you, but that’s what the Sleep function is great for– play a customizable sleep playlist set to play for a specified time before fading out… and then your alarm fades in come morning!

If you don’t remember to leave it running in the foreground before bed, it’ll still go off, providing your phone isn’t muted, it’ll just be an obnoxious beep instead of your playlist/selected melody.

Cost: Free
Compatable: iPhone 3GS,4,4S,5/Android
*Download Yocto Clock for iPhone*

8.) SoLAR


This is definitely the coolest and prettiest weather app. I just found out about this from BoucherMedia the other day and I plopped down $1.99 once he showed me what it did. It’s not just the information that made me love this app, it’s the UX… it’s so purty! Slide up the screen to see the forecast out for up to 24 hours; sswipe down to see the next three days; pinch to see up to four different locations, tap or zoom to go back to one city.

Tilt phone to see precipitation fall slanty-like! Ooo! (I made this collage with Fuzel, and Skitch)

Watch this nifty video to see how it works!:

SOLAR – Available Monday July 23 for iOS from Kuro on Vimeo.

Cost: $1.99
Compatible: iPhone 3GS/4/4S/5
*Download SoLAR for iPhone*

9.) Skitch

Wonder how I made all those nifty arrows and notations on the screencaps for Camera+ and SoLAR? Skitch, my friends. It’s finally come to iPhone! (I’ve been using it on my Mac forever, as evidenced by this previous blog post.) It’s super helpful for annotating photos/screencaps, and it syncs with your Evernote account so all Evernote users’ Skitches will always be available on all your platforms at any time! Arrows, text, freehand drawing, circles/rectangles, highlighting, and a very helpful pixelator for blocking selected areas containing sensitive/private info/photos!

Cost: Free!
Compatible: iPhone/iPad/Mac/Android
*Download Skitch for iPhone*

10.) Evernote

And finally, we reach my favorite app of all time. Evernote.

I can’t begin in this post to go into all the amazingness that Evernote will bring into your life. I’m giving a presentation later this month on how to use it to organize your life, so if you’re in the area, please come! I’ll post a web version of the presentation here on the blog afterwards, so come back in February for a longer explanation of how to use Evernote to be super awesome. In the meantime, check out their blog if you want to get started learning Evernote.

Here’s my quick rundown on Evernote:

FOR FREE: You can store notes/web pages/photos in Evernote, and your monthly data upload allowance only applies to what is uploaded in the current month—the accumulated data stored in Evernote is unlimited. Use it as a dumping ground for lists, to-dos, ideas, drafts of letters/blog posts, recipes, photos, articles, quotes, screencaps, business cards, contacts, &c., &c., &c..

Depending on your level of motivation, you can implement as simple or as complex a system of tagging as necessary, but the search feature in Evernote is probably its best feature– even without titles, tags, or various notebooks, you can locate anything you put in it within seconds, and it even searches text IN IMAGES with a built-in OCR that is incredibly decent.

IF you decide at some point to GO PREMIUM: you can also add Word/Excel docs, PDFs, etc., and have the ability to share notebooks or notes. The nice thing about sharing is only ONE Evernote user has to be a Pro user to share; for example, I’m a Pro user, so I can share with anyone and they don’t have to be a Pro user; they can simply have the free version and all sharing functions work on their end, too! Also, your monthly data upload allowance goes up, but that was the least of my reasons to upgrade since I never came close to my limit before anyway (Premium users can also increase their monthly allowance at $5/Gigabyte in any given month).

Anyway, I could go on and on, but obviously I love Evernote, and think everyone should use it. You can also use it sort of like Dropbox and store stuff there without ever worrying about accumulating too much data.

Cost: Free!  (Optional upgrade to Premium: $4.99/month; $44.99/year)
Compatible: iPhone/iPad/Mac/
*Download Evernote for iPhone*
*Download Evernote for Android*


Whelp, those are my top 10 picks for smart phone apps.

Did I leave out a favorite app of yours? Leave it in the comments, please!

@thenotoriousNME, I hope this helps! 🙂