Find Safe and Fun Applications for Your Cell Phone

Find Safe and Fun Applications for Your Cell Phone

By Elizabeth Hurchalla

Carol Stutz, 43, can hear her 16-month-old daughter’s laugh whenever and wherever she wants. That’s because Stutz captured the laugh using the Recorder application she got for her iPhone. “Sometimes when I’m stressed at work,” says Stutz, “I take a moment to listen to Molly’s laugh, and I instantly feel better.”

It’s likely that you already depend on your mobile phone to keep in touch when you’re on the go. But there are so many more uses for your cell phone beyond just talking and text messaging. The application Stutz used to record her daughter’s voice is an example of an application you can find and download to a smartphone -- a mobile phone, such as the popular iPhone, that doubles as a mini computer,.

Still, you don’t need an iPhone to find fun and useful applications for your cell phone. Here’s how to find applications for your cell, no matter what kind you have:

Tip No. 1: Find applications for flip-open phones
Do you have a standard flip-open phone? If you do, you can typically use your phone’s “Get It Now!” link, accessible via the phone’s menu. Then go to the Media Center, for example, to get access to all the games, songs, ringtones, news, pictures and whatever else is offered for your phone. Keep in mind that applications like GPS navigation and mobile instant messaging (IM) may be listed as their own sections in the menu.

Tip No. 2: Find applications for smartphones
Smartphones are desirable because of the applications they can support -- from calendars to GPS mapping tools.

There are certain mass-market smartphones, like the Motorola RAZR and many Nokia and Ericsson phones, that offer a wider variety of helpful applications. For example, with many phones you can use an online service called Dashwire to save and manage all your contact information, photos, videos, text messages and call history. Dashwire protects your contact information if you lose your phone or break it. But the service also gives you the capability to, say, add a phone number to your cell phone contact list via your computer at work rather than having to pull out your phone to log it.

If you have a higher-end smartphone, it’s a bit easier to find an array of helpful applications. If they aren’t already, soon “all of the application options compatible with your version of your phone will be laid out for you on the phone itself,” says Jessica Dolcourt, an associate editor at CNET who blogs about downloads like cell phone applications. In other words, your smartphone will have its own application store that you can access right from your phone’s main screen.

The Apple iPhone and Google Android smartphones allow you to buy or get free applications right from your phone screen. BlackBerry is set to launch a similar store this year. And Windows Mobile and Palm smartphones aren’t far behind. For example, on the iPhone there is an icon that says -- you guessed it -- App Store on the phone’s main screen. When you click the icon, you can find free applications like Flixster, which tells you what movies are playing right now in your zip code. The App Store also lists applications you can buy (see below).

But that’s not the only way to get applications. Using your smartphone’s web browser, you can search for applications and download them directly to the phone itself. Where should you look for applications on the web? In addition to your phone’s online store, you can go to an enthusiast blog or forum, like CNET’s Download, or check out a mobile developer distribution site like Getjar or Handango, which allow you to filter applications by the kind of phone you have. If you have a BlackBerry, you can also get applications via a site called CrackBerry. If you have an iPhone, try iTunes.

Tip No. 3: Check out the range of applications
Not every application works on every phone, but here are some worth checking out via your phone’s store or the web:

  • Social networking To keep up with friends anywhere, you can sign up for Facebook Mobile, which even works for inexpensive flip phones. To send or receive instant messages on your phone, try Palringo, a free IM application that allows you to access different IM services, like Yahoo Messenger or AOL Instant Messenger, without having to sign in to each one separately.
  • Games It’s not just kids who like to play games on their phones. You can go to Getjar to see which games you can play on your phone. Many classic games, like Tetris and Scrabble, are also available for your cell phone.
  • Music If you want to listen to cool new music via your phone, you can download Pandora to your mobile phone and listen to free radio stations that only play songs similar to tracks you’ve already rated highly. If you have an iPhone or Google Android phone, you can also get Shazam to identify a song playing on the radio, on TV or in a store at the mall, for example, just by pointing your phone toward the music. 
  • Work and news It’s also possible to find applications that help you get work done or stay informed. You can get Google applications, like Gmail, Google Maps and Google Calendar, for most smartphones. To view spreadsheets, PowerPoint documents or Word documents, try the application Documents to Go. Want to get headlines from your favorite blogs or news sources without having to surf different web sites on your phone? Then try Viigo for BlackBerry and Windows Mobile to get blog and news feeds.

Tip No. 4: Know the cost
Cell phone applications can cost you in one way or another.

While many cell phone applications -- like Facebook or Google Maps -- are free, some applications do cost a small, one-time fee to download, and some charge a monthly subscription fee.

That said, using an application, such as the Facebook application for iPhones, can also mean using your phone’s data service if the application is web-based -- and data usage fees can add up quickly. “You’re better off getting an all-you-can-eat plan,” advises Dolcourt. But keep in mind that the cost of unlimited data service can vary among different smartphones.

If you buy Pac-Man for a regular flip phone, however, you might pay a one-time fee or a subscription cost, but you won’t incur usage fees. Most “Get It Now!” applications live on your phone rather than requiring you to go online and use your phone’s data service.

Tip No. 5: Mind your privacy and kids
Cell phone applications aren’t without some downsides. “The best advice is to choose your download source carefully,” says Dolcourt. For instance, keep in mind that many sites that offer cell phone applications could include adult entertainment applications, so you may want to monitor your children’s or teens’ cell phone downloads.

Or if you’re going to access sensitive personal or financial information via your phone, be mindful of avoiding the threat of identity theft. For example, if you have a BlackBerry or iPhone, you can view your online stock portfolio or bank balance. All of this personal information could be potentially exploited when you’re sending it across the Internet -- whether by your phone or computer. Viruses are one way that identity thieves steal your personal information. To take precautions, search your phone’s application store or Getjar or Handango to see if your phone has an antivirus application.

Elizabeth Hurchalla is the co-author of What to Do If a Bird Flies in Your House (and 72 Other Things You Ought to Know By Now) and writes for Momlogic online.