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10 essential smartphone apps

Olly Mann / 29 July 2016 ( 27 March 2018 )

These invaluable apps for your smartphone will make life that little bit easier…

An older man enjoys the apps on his smartphone

Every year, I download hundreds of apps. I’m constantly seeking more productive, ergonomic, and social experiences on my smartphone.

Plus, I enjoy hurtling angry cartoon birds over trees. 

Yet, in truth, most apps are novelties, fads, or pretenders to the throne. There are surprisingly few I find invaluable.

In fact, there are ten. These ten are the ones I turn to whilst standing in line at the Post Office, whittling away my commute, or indeed any time I find myself sitting around waiting for something to happen.


Lists are everywhere online: the 10 movies you should see before you die, the 10 best burgers in London, the, erm, 10 essential smartphone apps.

Wunderlist makes it simple to create lists of the To-Do variety.

You may think, ‘I can do that already – with paper and pen’.

But this app lets you share lists with any nominated user. So, for instance, you can collaborate with your partner on a grocery list, ticking off items as you buy them, so you don’t unwittingly both go out and get milk.

You can add photos, too, so when you spot a recipe you fancy trying in a magazine, just snap a shot of the page, and attach it to your ‘recipes’ list. Tasty.

Get Wunderlist for iPhone

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OS Maps

I’m dyspraxic, with virtually no sense of direction, so if sat-nav hadn’t been invented, I’d probably never leave the house.

I use the TomTom app in the car, and Google Maps for finding places on foot; both are excellent.

But a lesser-known GPS that’s a personal favourite is this official service from the Ordinance Survey.

Admittedly, it ain’t much use if you’re a town mouse, but if like me you enjoy a country ramble, this app will give you confidence to explore.

It quickly pinpoints you on a digitised version of the OS’ legendary maps, so you can find your way back via road, byway or footpath.

Though, I confess, when rain starts lashing down on your touchscreen, digital maps can lose their appeal.

Get OS Maps for iPhone

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Just Eat

It’s sometimes a little sad when new tech kills off the old ways of doing things. I mean, Gmail and Spotify are brilliant, but I still miss the delight of a handwritten letter, or the romance of making mixtapes.

But I have no precious memories whatever of using a landline to order takeaway. None. Remember waiting for ages to be answered by someone who didn’t speak good English, and in any case couldn’t hear you over the sound of the stir-fry sizzling? 

Just Eat has put an end to all that, sorting local takeaways by cuisine, distance or user rating, and listing menus digitally, so you simply select an order and pay via credit card – or, if you prefer, opt to give the driver cash on arrival.

Get Just Eat for iPhone

Get Just Eat for Android


Okay, so this is an obvious choice, but that’s kind of the point: a billion of us use Facebook's app every day. So, if you’re not here, you’re missing out: most likely your pals, family and neighbours are all using it to share photos, exchange ideas and organise events.

To sign up all you need is an email address, and then you’re ready to find your friends. Yes, Facebook distracts us from work and turns us into selfie-generating narcissists. But, honestly, I’ve never felt anything other than pleasure using it.

It’s peerless at keeping people in touch with loved ones around the world, and those ‘second-tier’ friends – the chap you used to work with, the nice couple you met on holiday – in a much more meaningful way than a Christmas round-robin.

I think of it as my personalised newspaper, featuring news about people I know. In fact, with the new video features being added, it’s almost becoming a personalised TV channel.

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What is Facebook?


I’d used Uber a little in London, but it was on holiday in New York that I became an evangelist. It was midnight, and I was drunk, on a roof terrace, somewhere in Brooklyn.

I’d strolled there from the apartment I was staying in, around three miles away, and had no intention of rambling back in the dark. But I’d run out of money. How to get home? I fired up Uber, tapped in the postcode of my destination, and hit Request.

Moments later, I received a photo of Shakil, the driver dispatched to me, and the registration of his Toyota Camry (had I been feeling flush, I could have booked a Lexus).

Four minutes later, I was en route home, without having to touch my wallet; the whole journey paid for, on a metered basis, using my registered credit card, which at the time was in my desk drawer in Hertfordshire. Magic!

Get Uber for iPhone

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What is Uber?

iPlayer Radio

For the past decade, I’ve created podcasts – downloadable radio shows. So I feel rather obliged to recommend a podcasting app in this list. 

But, honestly, Apple’s Podcasts app is still kind of clunky, and all the Android solutions I’ve tried are quite nerdy. I’m afraid it’s over to good old Auntie Beeb to offer up a friction-free listening experience

You won’t discover independent podcasts like mine here, but all the BBC’s are easily searchable, playable and downloadable, as well as their recently broadcast radio programmes. The design is impressively simple – open the app, and you’re met with a tactile spinny disc showing all their radio brands and what is currently playing on each network. 

Each just a tap away – even easier than switching on the wireless.

Get iPlayer Radio for iPhone

Get iPlayer Radio for Android

What is streaming music?


I live twenty minutes away from a railway station, and there are only three trains per hour into town. So you can imagine how frustrating it is if I arrive for a train that then turns out to have been cancelled, with no information forthcoming. 

Nowadays, I use thetrainline to check the live progress of departures before I even leave the house, to discover exactly which station my train is currently at, if there are any delays, and precisely which platform it will depart from.

You can also use it to book train tickets, and (if you give it permission to store your card details), this can be done in a convenient couple of taps; perfect for when travel plans change on the hoof.

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How to save money on train tickets


SwiftKey is a customisable keyboard that works across most apps on your device, rather than an individual app you’ll open up regularly, but you do have to download it in app form, so I’m including it here.

It’s a very clever (and British, hurrah!) bit of predictive text software that easily trumps the touchscreen keyboard bundled in with your smartphone. 

By learning your most frequently used vocabulary, it prompts your writing at lightning speed, saving valuable seconds with each word you tap out, and can even guess what you’re trying to write when you glide your fingers through the letters – so you can literally communicate without lifting a finger.

Get Swiftkey for iPhone

Get Swiftkey for Android


It’s still good advice to back up your most vital documents to a hard-drive. But the cloud storage revolution means that for little outlay you can store every bit of content you crank out – photos, text messages, contacts, whatever – for future reference.

This may seem an unnecessary indulgence, until you lose your phone, and hundreds of precious memories along with it. Dropbox is superbly user-friendly: ask it once to back up your camera roll, for instance, and every time you plug your phone into charge, it’ll automatically upload all your photos over Wi-Fi to a secure server that’s accessible via password from almost any web-connected device you’re ever likely to use.

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Despite what the glossy in-flight magazines tell us, there are still places – planes and trains in particular – where getting online is damn near impossible.

Protect yourself from the ensuing boredom by downloading Pocket, in which you can store online articles for later offline reading.

It’s a little fiddly to install the accompanying Pocket ‘bookmarklet’ button on apps such as Chrome, Firefox and Twitter, but well worth the effort: once you’ve done that, all you need do is click ‘Save To Pocket’ whenever you stumble across an article you’d like to read one day, and presto, next time you’re rattling through the air in a 500 tonne metal tube, five miles above ground, you’ll have something interesting to read.

Get Pocket for iPhone

Get Pocket for Android

Visit our Motoring section for information on cars, caravans and motorbikes. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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