Best Android Apps to start off 2013 (Shopping)

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imageAll these apps are FREE!  This article is one of a series of articles about the best Android apps available as of the beginning of 2013.  Click here for the main article that includes links to this article and links to all the other categories of “The Best Of” apps for beginning 2013.  Let’s get started with the Shopping category, which lists the best shopping related apps available at the ending of 2012 and beginning of 2013.

 

Amazon2012-12-31 18.41.13

The Amazon app is a native front end to the Amazon online store (not the app store).  This provides most of the features in the web site (if not all of them… I’ve, by no means, researched each and every feature of this massive web site).

This app is useful for obvious reasons in addition to the fact that you can be browsing in a brick and mortar store, like Wal-Mart, pick up an actual item off the shelf and scan its barcode into this app and it’ll tell you what you can get it for on Amazon.

I won’t go into extreme detail of what this app does.  If you’re familiar with Amazon.com, you already have a good idea.  You can, of course, track your Amazon.com orders with this app too.

2012-12-31 18.58.17Amazon App Store

One of the great things about Android is that you’re NOT locked into just ONE app store, like you are with iOS and Windows Phone.  You don’t have to root or jailbrake your Android phone to install another app store.  It’s perfectly legitimate to do so on Android.

The Amazon Android App Store is a direct competitor to the Google Play app store that’s pre-installed on almost every Android device made (with the exception of the really cheap and crappy Chinese Android products).

To Install It:

Go to Settings –> Security –> Unknown Sources

and make sure it’s checked.

Then go to this URL to download it to your phone (or Google search for “Amazon App Store”).

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Amazon Price Check2012-12-31 18.52.59

This app lets you scan barcodes while in a real store and compare the prices to Amazon… Not sure why this is a different app from the Amazon app.

 

2012-12-31 18.42.00Ebay

This is a nicer and more responsive native app than trying to use the ebay website from your mobile browser.  If you’re familiar with ebay, you already know what you can do with this app.  If not, just look at this screen shot and that should pretty much tell you what you need to know.

Best Buy2012-12-31 18.43.472012-12-31 18.44.45

This is a front end to the Best Buy web site and is very useful when you’re in a physical Best Buy store.  If you’ll notice, most products have a ticket on the shelf with a price, a small description, and a 2D QR bar code.  Scan it with this app and you’ll get the full details of the product.

You can also check the balance of your Best Buy gift cards by simply taking a picture of the back of your gift card.

If you’re a RewardsZone member (and if not, WHY NOT?), you can check on your RewardZone points and even display your RewardZone points on your phone to the cashier at checkout to redeem your points, instead of printing them out at home and bringing them in.  You’ll save ink, paper, time, frustration, and money… an the “green” Nazis will sprinkle their happy happy fairy dust on you.

2012-12-31 18.45.502012-12-31 18.45.20Game Stop

The GameStop app is a native front end to the GameStop web site, with the addition of letting you “check in” to GameStop stores when you arrive to receive some PowerUp points.  You can keep track of your PowerUp points with the app too.  And, of course, like all store apps, you can search and browse their product selection.

FedEx2012-12-31 18.47.032012-12-31 18.46.51

The FedEx app is highly useful when you’re tracking a packing you’ve either sent or are expecting to receive (such as one you ordered with say, the Amazon app).  The screen shots to the right pretty much sum up what this app does.  It’s short and simple… It does the things you expect and nothing fancy.

2012-12-31 18.42.292012-12-31 18.42.35UPS

The UPS app is similar to the FedEx app.  It does the same thing, except for UPS shipments.  No surprises here.

 

QR Droid2012-12-31 19.52.382012-12-31 20.14.05 & Barcode Scanner

Both apps “QR Droid” and “Barcode Scanner” let you scan those 2D barcodes you’re seeing everywhere.  They usually represent a URL and it’s extremely convenient to scan them in places like BestBuy on product tags on the shelves or on movie posters or even on web sites on your desktop computer to load up the URL on your phone.  Installing QR Droid also gives you the ability to create your OWN QR Codes.  For example, you can send a contact from your contacts to it and it’ll display as a QR code on your screen.  Someone else can scan your screen with their phone and receive your contact.  If you’re on a web page, you can share the web page to the app and it’ll produce a QR Code with the URL encoded in it.  You can save it and e-mail it or publish it on your website, or show it on your screen to let someone else scan it.  But, since we’re in the “Shopping” apps category here, you can use it to scan 2D QR Codes in stores to get more information on the products and to even compare prices.

2012-12-31 19.07.39Kroger

The Kroger app is a master app for all the stores shown in the screen shot:

  • Kroger
  • Baker’s
  • CityMarket
  • Dillons
  • Food4Less
  • Food4Less Fremont
  • Foods Co
  • Fred Meyer
  • Fry’s
  • Gerbes
  • JayC Food Stores
  • King Suupers
  • Owen’s
  • Pay Less Super Markets
  • QFC Quality Food Centers
  • Ralphs
  • Smith’s

Kroger is the parent company for all these grocery stores.  This app works with all of them.  If you have a customer loyalty card at any of these stores (and if you don’t, WHY NOT?) they all work at all those stores.  This app will let you browse coupons and add them to your card.  When you check out, if you’ve put any of those products in your cart, when you swipe your card at the register, all those coupons are applied.  You can check your fuel points too and see the weekly ads.  This is a MUST HAVE app if you shop at any of these grocery stores.

CraigsNotifica

That’s not a typo.  That’s actually what it’s called.  This is an unofficial Craig’s List app.  With it, you can search Craig’s List and receive notifications based on your searches, add items to your favorites and even post ads.  There are a million Craig’s List apps.  Just find one that you like and use it.  This one works perfectly fine.

Google Shopper2012-12-31 20.37.39

Google Shopper integrates with “Barcode Scanner” (reviewed above).  Scan any barcode and this app will find multiple sources for that product.  This is probably the best way to find the best price on anything.  Use this when shopping in any physical store to decide whether or not it’s worth buying that product in your hands now, or somewhere else.

You Chime In

What are some of YOUR favorite apps in this category?  Let us know in the comments below.

Conclusion

This completes my list of “Best” shopping apps available to start off 2013.  There are, of course, other shopping of apps and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  Some of these are the apps in this category that I use on a daily basis and install on a new phone or tablet as soon as I get it.

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Total abuse of license agreements

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Have you noticed how license agreements have been getting longer and longer? I actually read them and frequently refuse to install some software (like Facebook) because they have ridiculous or draconian statements in them.  But occasionally, the agreements are just too freaking long to bother with, like the XBox Zune agreement.  And now, Samsumg wins the prize for ridiculously  long agreement.  How long is it?

FOURTY ONE PRINTED PAGES!!!

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Best Android Apps to start off 2013

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2012-12-26 21.38.05Here are my “Best of” Android apps to start off with in 2013.

I’ll list them by category and explain the purpose of each one and why I’m choosing it.  Each category will be a separate post because, as you can see of the length of the list, it would be quite long if it were all in one post.  Each bulleted category below is a LINK to the article about the apps in that category.  The list of categories below will only have hotlinks to articles for which I’ve completed.  Keep checking back as I post more articles… one for each category below.

Phone/Communication Apps
Finance
Shopping (Everything here is FREE)
Imaging
Utilities
Audio
Games
Calculators
File Management
Security
Geo Location
Launchers
Productivity
Social
News & Reference
Time (Clocks/Alarms/Calendars, etc…)
Networking
Weather

Phone/Communication Apps

These apps have to do with phone calling features or communicating with IM or Texting or live video communication.

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Best Android Apps to start off 2013 (Phone/Communication Apps)

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This article is one of a series of articles about the best Android apps available as of the beginning of 2013.  Click here for the main article that includes links to this article and links to all the other categories of “The Best Of” apps for beginning 2013.  Let’s get started with the Phone/Communication category, which lists the best phone and communication apps available at the ending of 2012 and beginning of 2013.

Google Voice

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Google Voice is, by far, one of the most valuable FREE Android apps available. 

There’s a LOT of confusion and misinformation about what this app is.  So, let me first explain what it is NOT!

Google voice:

  • IS NOT a replacement for your phone’s dialer.
  • IS NOT a VOIP app (It doesn’t let you make calls over the internet, bypassing your carrier’s minutes).
  • IS NOT JUST an app.  It’s also a service available from many devices and software.

So, if it’s not the above, then WHAT is it?

It’s two parts, so let’s list them, then explain them:

  1. It’s a SERVICE provided by Google (not an app).
  2. There’s also an Android app, using the same name, that provides a UI to the Google Voice services.

Note that you MUST first create a Google Voice account.  If you already have a GMail account or any other Google account like a Google+ account, just log in to it, then go to http://voice.google.com and activate your voice service, get a new phone# (it’ll walk you through it) and then make at least one phone call from GMAIL via your web browser (that’ll activate the voice chat features you’ll need for greater features I describe further down in this article).

The SERVICE:

Google Voice as a service is a service in the same sense that Google Search is a service or that Google Maps is a service.  The mapping technology actually lives on the Google servers, distributed across the planet.  They provide multiple UIs to access the mapping service, like the web UI at http://maps.google.com and the iOS Google Maps app and the Android Google Maps app, and Google Earth for Windows (and many other platforms).  Google Voice is also a service that’s hosted on Google’s server farms and there are many UIs available for Google Voice too, including the web interface at http://voice.google.com and the Android App available in the Google Play store here.

The Google Voice service provides the following features:

  • A free phone number from any area code in the United States (and many other countries).
    • Note that a “phone number” is not a “phone line”.  It’s JUST a number!
  • Free voice mail.
    • V-Mail available from a web UI.
    • V-Mail forwarded to your e-mail.
    • Access via a web browser.
    • Access via any real phone.
    • Access via the Google Voice app on Android.
  • SMS Texting (via any of the available UIs (web browser, Android App, iOS app, certain hardware, and many 3rd party apps)).
  • Telemarketer blocking.
  • Individual number blocking.
  • Caller ID.
  • Make/Receive phone calls via your PC’s browser (in G-Mail).
  • Conference calling.
  • 3 way calling.
  • Call hold.
  • Call forwarding.
  • Forward incoming calls to any real phone (like your cell, your work phone, your home phone, etc…)
  • Plus many other features.

The Android App:

The Google Voice Android app is just one of many front ends to the Google Voice Service.  The Android app is available here in the Google Play store.  Note that the Google Voice service is supported by MORE than just the Google Voice app available from Google.  There are many other apps that add significant value to the Google Voice service, two of which I’ll include in this article.  Installing the Google Voice app on your Android Device (which does NOT have to be a Phone!!!) will give you the following features:

  • Free, unlimited SMS texting (just like your expensive texting plan, but free).
  • Google Chat, including video chat.
  • Make calls from your Android device through your GV number (don’t confuse this with VOIP.  This feature will NOT make a call over your internet connection.  It just uses your regular cell phone minutes, but it’ll dial your GV # first, then from there, make an outgoing call from your GV# so that the party you’re calling will see your GV# on their caller ID and not your cell phone number (this feature is only available on phones, BTW, not tablets or other Android devices).

The free texting service is reason alone to install this app.  Click the link in the prior sentence to read all about it, with full instructions on how to do it.  Do that, then cancel your expensive texting plan and have your cell provider BLOCK texting from your phone so you don’t accidentally send text messages using your carrier’s expensive plan.

Groove IP:

image

Groove IP is an app in the Google Play store.  There are 2 versions, the lite, free version available here, and the full featured, paid version available here.

This app is a 3rd party app that uses the Google Voice service (so, you need a free Google Voice account), but provides something fundamentally important on your Android device that the Google Voice app does NOT! 

It let’s you make and receive phone calls directly to and from your Google Voice number over the internet.  This is a very very important distinction that so many people have a difficult time understanding.  Remember, the Google Voice app does NOT exist to let you make phone calls over the internet, bypassing your phone carrier’s expensive minutes plan.  Groove IP DOES!!!  Groove IP turns your phone or tablet (any Android device with a speaker, microphone, and internet connection) into a phone that uses ONLY your Google Voice account.  If you make or receive a call to or from your Google Voice # 2012-12-26 20.20.26with this app, YOUR CELL PHONE PROVIDER IS UNAWARE OF THE CALL AND SEES IT ONLY AS INTERNET USAGE!!!!  Why do I keep underlining, bolding, and italicizing these things?  Because I have to explain this to people about a dozen times before it sinks in.  I don’t know why, because it seems pretty simple, but I think people have a preconceived idea of what the Google Voice app does and just can’t move past that.  This app WILL let you make and receive phone calls using ONLY your data connection.  It will NOT be recorded as a phone call made with your cell phone provider.  It will NOT use up minutes on your minutes plan, as the image above claims.

You start the app, log in with your Google account, and this app gives you its own phone dialer.  From here, you can make a call, as long as you have a decent internet connection.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a wifi connection or via the cell towers… just as long as it’s an internet connection.

As long as this app is on and logged in (and there’s a setting to make it do that when the phone powers on), if someone calls your Google Voice number, you can answer it with this app and carry on a normal “phone” conversation… and it’s all FREE (meaning it won’t use your plan’s minutes).  Of course, if you have a limited data plan, you’ll need to monitor usage, but it’s pretty small in usage.  (Sprint and T-Mobile customers still have unlimited data plans available).

Yes, you can STILL use your regular dialer and still make and receive calls using your regular cell phone number.

If you install this on a tablet, your tablet becomes a phone!  YES, REALLY!

The difference between the paid version and the free version is the free version limits your use to JUST your wifi connection.  So, if you have a tablet that doesn’t have cellular data capabilities, there’s no advantage to buying the paid version.  Just install the free version.  If you have a tablet with cellular data capabilities, the paid version lets you continue to use your tablet as a phone any where you have coverage.  Ditto for your phone.  Of course, there are no minutes used when talking on a call made or received with this app.

Talkatone

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2012-12-26 20.41.24Talkatone is almost identical to Groove IP, so rather than repeating everything I’ve already said, read the Groove IP review above, then continue here for the few differences.

OK, now that you’ve read the Groove IP section above, let’s continue…

In addition to all the features listed above for Groove IP, this all also provides texting over your Google Voice account and lets you send pictures to other Google chat users.  So, this app overlaps in features with the Google Voice app (texting).

This app is also available on iOS.

Mr. Number

image

2012-12-26 20.42.01Mr. Number (available here in the Google Play store) is invaluable in that it shows you who’s calling, even if they’re caller ID information is blocked.  It’s especially useful for avoiding telemarketers (or bill collectors).  It gathers information from other Mr. Number users who mark their incoming calls as spam or not, which is sent back up to the Mr. Number servers and if they ever call you, then Mr. Number steps in immediately, before you answer, to tell you.  Then, you can 2012-12-26 20.42.35just ignore the call, force it to hang up on them, or block them.  You’ll never receive a call from them again.

Absolutely Invaluable!

Mr. Number is NOT the only app/service that provides this capability, but it’s one of the most popular.  Popularity is important with this kind of app because its database of spammers is crowd sourced.  The bigger the crowd, the more extensive their database of spammers, bill collectors, and survey takers.

This app is also available on iOS.  That’s important because it increases the pool of people contributing to the data.

 

Call Master

image

Call Master (available here in the Google Play store) is similar to Mr. Number, but much more powerful.  It requires a rooted phone.  It can dig in underneath your native phone and do some extra powerful stuff that a regular app just can’t do without root access.  This is definitely an app for power users, but it is very very powerful.

From its description in the Google Play store:

Advantages:

★ Your phone never rings
★ Your screen never turns on
★ Private call and SMS inbox with log sweeper
★ Reject unknown, withheld and private numbers
★ Password protection
★ Route message content to other numbers
★ Clear frequent call lists

Features:

★ Block MMS before download
★ Filter SMS by content
★ Text variable creation, routing and replies
★ Global regex and wildcard filters
★ Custom notification icons
★ Vibration and LED feedback
★ Backup encryption and password protection
★ Powerful logging and sorting system
★ Number testing
★ Independent contact library for total privacy
★ Profile scheduling
★ Light and dark themes

YP Mobile

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YP Mobile (available here in the Google Play store) provides your basic yellow pages phone book, plus the familiar stuff you find in other “local services” apps for finding restaurants, gas prices, etc… 

Not much more to say about it.  This app is no more or less special than others of its type, but I’m including it as one in that type of category.  Others are Yahoo!, Yelp, and Where.  Personally, I find Google Maps a superior tool for finding local businesses and their phone numbers as it shows a map of your results, so you can see, visually, immediately, what’s close by, then just tap whichever one you want on the map to get the details and phone numbers.

You Chime In

What are some of YOUR favorite apps in this category?  Let us know in the comments below.

Conclusion

This completes my list of “Best” phone-specific apps available to start off 2013.  There are, of course, other communication types of apps and this is, by no means, a comprehensive list.  These are the apps in this category that I use on a daily basis and install on a new phone or tablet as soon as I get it.

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Google Play Gift Cards SUCK!

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[Update] See updated addendum at end of article.

If you buy Google Play gift cards with the expectation that you can buy a Nexus 7 tablet or other products from the Google Play store, DON’T BUY THE GIFT CARDS!

Why?  Because you CAN’T buy things like a Nexus 7 tablet.  I just purchased 10 $25 gift cards for a total of $250 to buy my son’s Christmas present… a Google Nexus 7 tablet.  As anyone can clearly see, the Nexus 7 tablet is front and center on the Google Play store home page.

image

The gift cards say nowhere that you can’t use your store credit from gift cards to buy tablets.  Here’s what the actual gift cards look like:

IMG_20121208_233532IMG_20121208_233022

If you can’t read the text on the back of that card, here it is:

Get music, movies, books, Android apps and more on Google Play. Purchase and enjoy your content on both the web and your Android phone/tablet.

To redeem on the web:

  1. Go to play.google.com/redeem.
  2. Scratch label off of card & enter code.
  3. Start shopping – your gift card value will be added to your Google Play balance.

To redeem on an Android phone/tablet:

  1. Launch Google Play Store app on your Android phone or tablet.
  2. Select Redeem.
  3. Scratch label off of card & enter code.
  4. Start shopping – your gift card value will be added to your Google Play balance.

Terms & Conditions

Use of card subject to additional terms and privacy policy: play.google.com/about/card-terms.html. Valid only for users 13+ years of age and resident of U.S. Redemption requires Google Wallet account and internet access. Limits may apply to redemption and use. No fees or expiration dates applicable to this card. Card may be used for purchases of eligible items on Google Play only. Any refunded amount will be credited back to your Google Play balance for future use under same terms. Card is not redeemable for cash or other cards; not reloadable or refundable; cannot be combined with other non-Google Play balances in your Google Wallet account, resold, exchanged or transferred for value (except as required by law). Once card is purchased, risk of loss and title for card passes to purchaser. Google Payment Corp. and its affiliates disclaim all express or implied warranties as to the Google Play card and Google Play. For assistance or to view your Google Play card balance, visit support.google.com/googleplay/card-help. To speak to customer care call us at 1-855-466-4438. Issued and © 2012 by Google Payment Corp. All rights reserved.

As is clearly seen, there’s nothing on here to inform a gift card purchaser, while they’re still in the store, that you can’t use it to buy tablets.

To top it all off, there’s no way to get refunds from these cards.  What the hell and I going to do with $250 credit in the play store?  In 2.5 years in the play store, I’ve spent a total of about $25.  At that rate, it’ll take me 10 years to use up that credit, and I put this credit on my son’s account so that his tablet would arrive already set up with his account.  What’s worse is this was what I had budgeted for my son’s “big” Christmas gift.  Now that money is tied up in a useless place.  I’m not Google… Piles of money don’t just show up in my checking account every night.

[Update] I just got off the phone with a representative at the Google Play store.  He knew what I was going to complain about just as I started.  He was very sympathetic with my position and said he’s aware that this is a HUGE problem!  They’re getting LOTS of calls with this same issue.  He also said there’s absolutely nothing, whatsoever, that he, nor even his supervisors can do.  He felt incredibly bad and said he’s taking the contact information of everyone that calls with this problem so he can contact us as soon as this situation changes.  He said they (his peers) have been complaining up the chain about this problem to no avail.

So, my problem still remains completely unresolved and all my money tied up in their store.

Did I help you?  Can you help me now?

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