Blackberry Apps: 10 Free Programs You Need to Check Out
Blackberries have been overshadowed by the success of the iPhone lately, but they still offer an incredibly powerful platform. Since the Blackberry operating system is built on Java and has always been open, there are a slew of useful and mature applications, many of which are free. As a cheapskate when it comes to software, I’ve loaded up my Blackberry Curve with a boatload of free programs. Here are ten of the ones I use the most.
1. Google Mobile
Google Mobile is an all-in-one package combining Google’s excellent mobile apps (Gmail, Google Maps, and Google Sync) with links to Google’s mobile-optimized web services (search, Picasa, Reader, Docs, Google Notebook, and more). Although Blackberries already handle email fairly well, I find the Gmail application a much more comfortable way to access email. The Maps application does everything you can do with Google Maps on your PC, plus it will use either the nearest cell tower or GPS to pinpoint your location. The Sync app lets you do a two-way synchronization between the calendar on your Blackberry and Google Calendar. All in all, this is an incredible piece of productivity software, one I use probably a dozen times a day.
iSkoot puts the power of Skype on your mobile phone. You can send and receive voice calls to and from other Skype users or using SkypeIn and SkypeOut services, and believe it or not, the sound quality is pretty good, even on AT&T’s slow 2G network. iSkoot gets all your contacts from Skype, making it a breeze to use. Of course, you can also IM with text. Calls received are handled by the Blackberry exactly like traditional cell calls, using the same controls and the same ringtone, so it’s really indistinguishable from using your mobile phone normally. I have a SkypeIn phone number for my professional life; iSkoot lets me stay connected even when I’m away from my computer.
Although I generally use Google Reader for my RSS feeds, Viigo is a nice alternative and adds several nice options Google Reader (and most other RSS readers) don’t. The new beta lets you set up weather, sports, finance, and travel alerts, get updates from local Kijiji classifieds (if it serves your area), even get free book feeds from DailyLit. And there’s even a space – inactive for now – for podcast feeds, which developers promise will be enabled soon, letting you download your favorite audio podcasts over the air. All this in a beautiful and very easy-to-use interface.
BeeTag is a 2-D barcode reader that uses your Blackberry’s camera to scan those square-shaped codes (like the one next to this paragraph) that are popping up on more and more products, as well as in ads and other places. Already huge in Japan, these 2-D codes can contain a URL, product information, or other material. BeeTag reads the code and sends you to the website indicated or displays the text.
Voice-enable your Blackberry with Vlingo, which goes beyond voice-dialing to voice-texting and even voice-emailing. Vlingo takes over one of your Blackberry’s application keys (my Curve has two, one on each side; I’ve assigned it to the one on the right, the one that controls the camera by default). Hold the key down, say a command, and Vlingo goes to work. For example, I say “Send email to Bob Smith subject You’re an idiot Message You forgot to take the coffee off your car’s roof as you drove away” and Vlingo creates an email reading “You forgot to take the coffee off your car’s roof as you drove away” with the subject line “You’re an idiot” and the email address from Bob Smith from my Blackberry’s address book.
You can IM through Skype using iSkoot, but if your contacts aren’t mainly on Skype, WebMessenger allows you to chat on just about any major IM network: AOL, Google, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Skype, and Yahoo. Contact lists are imported from the appropriate service, and just like a full chat client, you can see who’s online, set your status, and of course chat all you want.
7. Mobipocket Reader
Blackberry screens aren’t the best for e-book reading, but Mobipocket Reader makes the best of what it has to work with, providing a decent if not brilliant reading experience. The .mobi file format is becoming the de facto e-book standard for mobile devices, so there are lots of titles available for purchase, as well as the normal range of classic texts available for free. Or you can convert PDFs or Word files on your PC and transfer them over. The program is easy to use and fairly easy to read, though not many lines fit on the Blackberry’s screen at once.
Blackberry’s are great for sending text messages, so of course they’re great for sending tweets on Twitter. Twitterberry makes it easy, letting you access your friend’s timelines – collectively or individually – as well as all your replies and direct messages. Of course, sending messages is a piece of cake, too.
Poynt is a slick local search app now in beta for the Blackberry. Poynt does local yellow page searches so you can find businesses near you and has an excellent movie listings feature that lets you find movies near you, theaters near you or browse by genre, or review the current top 10. You can enter your location manually or, if your phone has GPS, let Poynt pinpoint your location automatically. Poynt also integrates with Blackberry Maps to provide directions.
The Facebook app makes it easy to send messages, see your updates, and poke poke poke all day long. That’s pretty important, right?
Those are the apps I’m getting a lot of use out of. What about you? What are your favorite Blackberry apps, free or paid?