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Smartphones have gone from communication devices to life companions. Nearly two thirds -- 62% -- of the 181 million smartphone users in the U.S. immediately grab their smartphone after waking up, according to an IDC survey.
What really makes smartphones addicting are the applications. Apps tell us when to wake up, what the weather is like, what to wear. When we need ideas for what to do on a Saturday afternoon they provide suggestions for what to do and how to get there.
But many smartphone apps can fill your hours and eat into your productivity, so it's worth asking yourself: How many of these apps enhance my life, and how many just waste my time?
With this in mind, we've come up with a collection of Android and iOS mobile apps that fall into the must-have category. They entertain, keep you organized and help you save money.
When you create a Flipboard account, you can select a few topics, from technology to travel, to start catching up on relevant news (shown here). You can also choose to stay updated on magazines, RSS feeds and websites such as Vanity Fair, The New York Times or Etsy.com, where you can shop right off Flipboard.
In addition to staying on top of the news, you can use Flipboard to stay updated on social media accounts for Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr and Twitter. All of your social media updates are displayed in a magazine style, and you can still interact with others through Flipboard.
In Flipboard version 2.0, you can save and gather favorite articles or Web pages and create "magazines" of your own. You can also explore other Flipboard users' magazines in the "By Our Readers" category.
Plenty of other useful smartphone apps hide under the radar, but you don't have to search for them -- we've done that for you. Also, let us know which apps we should add to our list. What's your favorite smartphone app? Use the comments field to share with your peers.
You probably have at least a dozen secure passwords for social media, online banking and vendor websites. Keeper Password & Data Vault can reduce the stress levels by securing your passwords in one place. An automatic password generator creates and stores strong passwords to protect your vital information. Keeper is available on iOS and Android. For more great password apps, see our slideshow of the top 10 password managers.
Wi-Fi lets you chat on the phone and explore the Internet without using minutes or bandwidth from your data plan. Now you can search for Internet connections using the Wi-Fi Finder for iOS and Android (also free). The app displays a map of your surrounding area with colored arrows that indicate free wireless hotspots. Press each to discover a hotspot's address, phone number, Wi-Fi signal strength and SSID name. The app includes over 145,000 global locations and lets you contribute information.
Make early wakeups a little less painful with the Alarm Clock HD, a free app for iOS. Not only can you wake up to your favorite tunes, but you can also stay up-to-date on RSS, Facebook, Twitter and the weather. To see in the dark, just shake the phone to turn it into a flashlight. MyAlarm-YouTube is a wake-up app for Android users that lets you choose a YouTube video to set as your alarm.
With HopStop for iOS and Android, you'll never need another train schedule. HopStop offers transit maps and station search for subways, buses, trains and taxis. Walking directions are available in 600 cities around the globe, and you can access biking directions for New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. In a rush? HopStop can also estimate the time and travel cost for a taxi.
Keep track of expenses with Easy Envelope Budget Aid (EEBA) for iOS and Android. The app lets you quickly record your expenses and share data with two or more phones or the Web. You can check balances before you spend or split transactions. On the mobile website, you can access reports by expense, month, payee or location.
GasBuddy for iOS and Android helps you find cheap gas in your area or search for it by city, state or zip code. You can help others find cheap gas by reporting gas prices and earn points and rewards for doing so. With GasBuddy, you also have a chance to win $250 in gas every week.
Those great songs you hear on the radio don't have to be mysteries. Shazam for iOS and Android identifies songs and provides lyrics, YouTube videos and artist biographies so you can learn and download on the go. The app also lets you preview and save songs to download later, share discoveries on social media, and explore the song choices of other users.
Many potential users fear switching to an iPhone or Android device because of the touch-screen keyboard. Apps such as Fleksy (iOS) and SwiftKey (Android) help make the transition easier. Fleksy, a text-input system, was originally created for the visually impaired. It allows you to tap lightly in the proximity of each letter and swipe to add spaces and punctuation. SwiftKey provides autocorrect and next-word prediction for 60 languages. It learns how you type so it can predict what you're going to write.
Smartphone batteries drain quickly, and when you're running low it's tough to determine what you have time to do before your phone dies. BatterySense for iOS shows which functions you can use and for how long. It also recommends which phone settings to change to best preserve battery life, and how much life you can gain by switching. Android users can save energy with Easy Battery Saver, which helps extend battery life by adjusting network connectivity, screen time out and screen brightness. You can choose from four preset saving modes depending on your circumstances.