Smart phones are no longer the privileged property of high-powered businessmen and teen celebrities. The coup de grâs of the mobile world have made it into the hands of nearly everyone, including tech-savvy yet time-crunched high school students and college students.
The numerous smartphone applications available make old-school paper planners, separate calculators and even laptops nearly obsolete -- that is, if you can find the right app. In June, the iPhone app store housed over 200,000 paid and free mobile apps, while the Android system supported nearly 50,000.
Wading through that veritable app ocean can be a hassle, while open-source designs and sketchy developers make finding reliable apps hit-or-miss. In response, we've compiled a list of the top 18 smartphone apps for students that are useful in-class and around town. Most are free and available for both major operating systems.
Can't find an app you like? Tree-huggers can scope our post on the top 50 green apps.
1. Blackboard Mobile Learn
A whole swath of universities (and even some high schools) use the Blackboard platform to organize classes, upload student materials and post grades. The Blackboard Mobile Learn app is an extension of this invaluable service. The interface is similar to the web-based version, giving you up-to-the-minute access to lectures, messages and assignments. To activate your account, download the app and select your school from a list. If your school doesn't support the app or has yet to activate it, you're out of luck, even if you use the web version.
One word of warning: The current iPhone version only runs on WiFi (not 3G), a major source of headache. Look for an update soon.
2. Rate My Professors
Not that Ben Stein was a bad teacher in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." He was just the epitome of the agonizingly boring professor guaranteed to inhabit your campus. Avoid death-by-monotone and use Rate My Professors. The MTV-supported app boasts ratings on nearly one-million profs from 6,000 campuses across the nation.
The ratings are a good indication of a given professor's teaching style, grading criteria and overall likability, although comments are to be taken with a grain of salt. The app is especially useful for choosing general education classes, as they offer more variety and leeway than major-specific courses. Check the app before registration and you won't scramble to find a different, better teacher a week into lectures.
3. Coupon Sherpa
Mobile coupons are the newest, hottest thing to hit couponing since, well, the invention of coupons. All shameless self-promotion aside, saving mullah on groceries, school supplies and more is a cinch with the Coupon Sherpa app. Similar to CouponSherpa.com, it features hundreds of in-store coupons, many of which are exclusive to your beloved Himalayan haggler.
Along with a searchable database of stores and convenient "Favorites" list to track oft-used coupons, the app harnesses your phone's GPS power to locate nearby shops and select coupons based on proximity.
A near-perfect, all-in-one app, Springpad will be the savior of every freshmen wandering the streets of a new, unfamiliar town. Does a certain restaurant catch your eye? Use the "Search Nearby" tool to instantly pull up ratings, menus and the like. Need to easily compare textbook prices? Visit your bookstore, scan the barcode, and save the books onto a custom list; then search online for the best deal. With endless possibilities and convenience to boot, Springpad is the 7Eleven of mobile apps.
The app is also prime for the permanently forgetful. You can create reminders by photo, category or text, and Springpad will automatically sync your note with similar lists. Plus, you can easily share everything with roommates or friends. You're practically guaranteed to never overlook groceries, a dinner date or group project meeting again.
5. University-Specific Apps
If more universities jumped on-board with this idea and created a mobile version of their website, it would make this app list obsolete. Design and interface are different across the board, but most include event updates, a campus directory and maps, sports news and shortcuts to course tools. Some of the most popular schools on both markets include the University of Virginia, Harvard, Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Texas.
To find your university, search for it by name in the app store. Most are created by third-party developers, so the quality varies greatly. There didn't appear to be a charge for most of these, so download your school's app and give it a test run. You can always delete the thing if it's sub-par.
6. Classes - Timetable
Forgo the $10 day planner and invest the best-spent $0.99 of your life on the Classes - Timetable app. This combination class schedule/assignment tracker lets you enter all your classes and relevant information, then arranges it in an easy-to-navigate timetable. You can store professor information, class length and room location by course.
The niftiest feature is how Classes tracks homework. You can view assignments and due dates by class or as a whole, spread across a day or week. The app separates them by completed, overdue and upcoming assignments, and allows you to leave extended notes for each one. Not shabby at all for the price of a jumbo gumball.
7. Flashcard Machine
Memorization has gone green. Rather than spend countless hours flipping through a foot-high stack of biology terms, spend your lecture review sorting through the same stack in a convenient digital version. Although there are a load of flashcard apps, Flashcard Machine is easily the best and most intuitive of the lot. The app gives you access to a database of over 25-million flashcards, but also allows you to create your own and share them with classmates.
While studying, the app automatically sorts cards into "correct" and "wrong" piles, creates new study sessions based on your answers, and gives the option to store cards on your phone so they are accessible without WiFi or 3G. Plus, it mimics the feel of physical flashcards so you don't feel too much like a robot.
Holy classic literature, Batman! The MegaReader app is easily the most comprehensive public-domain reader available with over 1.8 million titles, all for free. You won't find "Twilight" or other pop garbage, but chances are a good chunk of the books from your Intro to Literature class can be found through the app. Classics from Jane Austen to Kurt Vonnegut are available for download to your computer or quick viewing via phone. No more getting the evil eye for in-class texting -- honestly, you were following along with the prose stylings of James Joyce, not your best friend's girlfriend woes.
9. Study Guides
Price: $1.99 per title
Just because MegaReader puts the worlds greatest works at your fingertips doesn't mean you'll understand them. A long-time friend of the interpretively-challenged, study guides, like Cliffs Notes and Shmoop, are now available in app form.
Cliffs Notes sticks to the tried-and-true canon of literature, science and math cheat sheets, while Shmoop offers a more eclectic collection of guides, ranging from the Harry Potter series to "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z. Next time someone argues over the meaning of a "classic" rap line, have this app at the ready. Your friends will be stunned, not only by your knowledge but the fact there really is an app for that.
Unfortunately, the stalwart of free study guides, Spark Notes, discontinued its app. As of now, there's no word if it'll see a revival anytime soon.
Price: Ad-free version $1.99; Ad version free
There's a gaggle of free dictionary apps out there, but the newest Dictionary.com app bypasses a problem facing most: It's completely ad-free. For $1.99, you can look up words to your heart's content without obnoxious pop-ups and sales pitches. It gives easy access to a solid dictionary, thesaurus, audio pronunciation tool and word origin. A free version is still available for those who don't mind visual examples with their definition of "capitalism."
Derivatives, triangle definitions, area measurements -- iFormulas packs an entire textbook's worth of math equations into one simple app. There are options for algebra, geometry, trigonometry and calculus, making it a godsend reference app for everyone from high school freshmen to college grads. The newest version comes with a physics category and an additional 55 formulas. Now, if only it would take the test...
12. Grades - Roadmap to an A
Aside from what to eat for lunch, can I afford rent this month, and is that cute girl in Physics eyeballing me, one question is near the top of most student's minds: Am I going to pass this class?
With Grades - Roadmap to an A, the question (not the class) is easier than ever. Plug in your course, the grading scale (weighted or not), and percentages earned throughout the year. It'll predict what you need on upcoming tests, quizzes and assignments to reach a predetermined goal for the class.
This app also answers the second most pressing student question: How hard do I need to try in order to squeak by? After all, entire weekends depend on the answer.
13. Free Translator
The Free Translator app harnesses the power of Google's translation platform with over 50 languages worldwide. Unlike paid translation apps, this one doesn't come with such bells and whistles as audio pronunciation, nor will it write papers and decode intricate foreign literature, but it's a great tool for beginners or while studying abroad.
14. Wikipedia Mobile
Your professor told you countless times that Wikipedia isn't a reliable source of information. But in a paper-writing pinch -- or for up-to-date info on Lady Gaga's wardrobe -- there's nothing better than the world's largest free encyclopedia. Searching Wiki material with the official Wikipedia Mobile app is more simple than going through your smart phone's browser, with less zooming, more intuitive links and fewer extraneous buttons. The newest version is also faster and less prone to freezing -- common complaints with the last release.
15. Convert - The Unit Calculator
One of the most gorgeous apps out there, Convert - The Unit Calculator is well worth the $1.99 asking price. It's sleek, accurate and largely comprehensive, with conversions for currency, speed, weight, volume, temperature and about 10 more units. One noticeable exception is a feet-to-inches conversion, but good old brain power should get you through that one. If not, school just ain't gonna help you no more.
Much like Springpad but with a greater, more accurate selection of local businesses, the AroundMe app is arranged by common categories, including bank, bar, gas station, restaurant, supermarket and more. It gives you fairly accurate distances from your current location to a select destination, plus an interactive map and Google street view to get your bearings. Find something you're really into and save it to your favorites list.
Unfortunately, due to the adult nature of this app (not sure where that comes from), you must be over 17 years old to download. Go figure.
It's heartbreaking for a journalist to admit, but most students at my university only open the campus newspaper for the daily sudoku. Further proof print media is in it's death throes, this free Sudoku app makes paper in all forms seem primeval. The digital version was rated the best Sudoku of the year by Apple and has graced Apple's top 100 free app list for quite some time. Choose from four difficulty levels, a "Notes" function to show all possible answers, hints for the numerically-challenged, and head-to-head mode to challenge a friend. All of this should be done outside class, of course.
18. Drinks & Cocktails
Truth be told, college is not only about papers, grades and degrees. In between study sessions and so-so speeches on American history, you want to have a teensy bit of fun, so be sure that fun is the posh kind by using the Drinks & Cocktails app. With over 1,200 recipes and uncommon categories, including libations arranged by color, you'll impress the roomies with surprisingly palatable big-kid drinks.
One thing is for sure: Without sophisticated drinks, you won't score any points with your mumbled account of the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. An inebriated Mark Gagliardi already did it better on YouTube in his Drunk History Vol. 1, featuring the lanky man-peach Michael Cera.
And again, those 17 and under need not download the app.