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The Boston Globe


App Smart

Basic apps for your new smartphone or tablet

So you’ve got a brand-new smartphone or tablet.

Its gleaming screen is hypnotic. It feels like the future as it nestles, or perhaps just perches, in your hand. But until you download some apps, all its amazing 21st-century potential is unrealized. Yet there are millions of apps to choose from. Where to start?

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Don’t panic. Here’s a selection of great basic apps to get you going.

Sky Gamblers: Cold War

$5 on iPhone or iPad

Let’s start with some games.

“Sky Gamblers: Cold War,” from Atypical Games, has 3-D graphics so impressive that it is almost as if you had a game console in a device you can put in your pocket.

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This $5 iPhone or iPad game puts you in the cockpit of a number of aircraft from the Cold War era.

You steer by turning your device in the air, and control various systems and weapons by tapping on icons or swiping on the screen.

The game has dramatic missions and is great fun. It’s also an ideal app to show off the power of your new device to a friend.

On Android, a similar game is “Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy,” from the makers Namco-Bandai. It also has good graphics and the same sort of complex game play. It’s free, although it costs up to $3 to unlock different missions and aircraft.

There also is “Air Supremacy” on iOS for $1, but I feel the “Cold War” version is better.


Free on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone

With social networking apps you can experience the thrill of sharing news or photos or even video about what you’re up to with the world in real time.

Twitter (free on iOS, Android, Windows Phone), Facebook (free on iOS, Android and Windows), and Instagram (free on iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8) are all worth checking out. Again, these apps come with a warning: You may use them much more than you expected.

But don’t forget that smartphones and tablets have more uses than merely to gossip or play games. How about using them to get you from A to B? Waze is a powerful GPS app to try. It replaces that old device that you used to suction onto your car’s windshield with a modern mapping system that is constantly improved by its community of users.

As well as the usual tricks of showing a map and speaking turn-by-turn directions, Waze offers real-time traffic data and alerts for incidents like traffic jams or accidents. The app has some quirks, like requiring a network connection for live data, thus eating up your mobile data allowance, and its cutesy graphics may not tickle your fancy. But it is free, and available on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.


Free on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone

Finally, check out the amazing power of Shazam.

This app listens to music you hear in public, as you sit in a coffee shop, for example, and automatically identifies the tune for you.

It’s magical to see in action, and it even offers links to buy the music if you really like it.

Shazam is free on iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.

These, of course, are just the beginning.

There are many thousands more out there — many free. Do some of your own exploring and you’ll find apps for everything.

Just be careful about spending surprising amounts of money on in-app purchases, particularly in games.

Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times.

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