Thrifty Tech: Cheap iPhone, iPad apps that get the job done

Welcome to Thrifty Tech, a new Money College weekly column about technology options on a college budget. This week, we feature new iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad apps that are inexpensive and useful for college students.

With the debut of the iPhone's app store, developers began churning out app after app of useless viral stuff to make a few bucks. Today, app stores for the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad are littered with ridiculous clutter that nobody would ever need. So this week, instead of testing the plethora of fart-noise apps, we'll instead to look at some apps that serve as crucial utility for college students on the cheap.

iPhone / iPod Touch
Moe's Notes, $3.99

Plenty of note taking apps exist for the iPhone. There's the built-in "Notes" app, the "Voice Memos" app, and for all things visual, the camera. There's also a wealth of downloadable apps like EverNote, which focus on the individual aspects of note taking (text, audio, photo, etc.). Moe's Notes combines all of those formats into one tidy package.
This app is ideal for students. If you're sitting in on a guest lecture and want to take audio, photos and jot down a few notes, it's all done in the same space. And while the organization of media proves an important feature, it's also helpful that the app allows you to e-mail your notes -- or share them on Facebook.

This application seems especially useful for journalism students or researchers tackling "man on the street" assignments -- reporters can combine audio, notes and photos of people you encounter in a single space. The app also uses geo-locational tools, so each note can be tagged on a map.

Moe's Notes definitely edges on the pricier side -- technically, users can save the $4 and do all of the things the app offers for free. However, it is currently on sale for $1.99, a reasonable price for a tool that organizes multiple forms of media into one easily accessible package.

WHERE, free

WHERE may not come in handy for class work, but it certainly serves its purpose after a few hours of studying and homework. The app uses geo-location to tell users the essentials of what's going on around them. It features information on local events, movies, weather, news, restaurants, gas prices, traffic, and even a guide to where the nearest Starbucks can be found (not ideal for fans of Caribou Coffee, but, oh well).

Like Moe's Notes, the utilities in WHERE exist in various other apps -- Google Maps or Flixter, for example. But this freebie provides a wide-ranging view of happenings tethered to the location of your iPhone.

iPad

Dropbox, free

Although iPad users can pull a lot of content from iTunes -- music, videos, apps, audiobooks, and iBooks, for example -- it's not as easy to import certain kinds of documents, such as Microsoft Word files. And for iPad users with iPhones, it's a fairly clunky transition to transfer iPhone photos to the iPad. Dropbox changes that.

Dropbox works via a cloud-based storage system that hosts files from home computers, iPhones and a number of other devices. The iPad app utilizes the capability to open files using different apps. For example, users with a collection of PDF-based comic books can utilize Dropbox to host the PDFs and export them to a PDF Reader app. It's an app that opens up the amount and types of content for the iPad exponentially.

Here's what that means: The app hosts 2 GB of content for free. Users who want to really ramp up their cloud storage can pay $9.99 per month for 50GB and $19.99 per month for 100GB. Perhaps the monthly cost for 100GB is worth it to 16GB iPad owners who would rather store a lot of data remotely in the cloud than pay for it up front in buying a souped-up device.

GoodReader for iPad, 99 cents

The iPad was partially marketed as competition to the Kindle and the other digital readers. But while the iPad has the iBookstore and the Kindle app, it lacks one major component: a PDF document reader. For a device with oft-lauded Internet browsing capabilities, it seems like a natural thing to have -- an app that will read PDF files downloadable from websites and e-mails. Luckily, the GoodReader for iPad app fills that void.

Actually, it does a lot more than read PDFs. It's compatible with many file types -- .txt, .doc, .ppt, .xls, iWork files, HTML archives, and hi-res images all work with GoodReader. It also has a text search feature, which comes in handy for especially large text-based files.

There are a number of ways to get files from your computer to the GoodReader. For one, there's the aforementioned DropBox, which easily exports files into the GoodReader. You can also import using a Wi-Fi connection, download attachments from e-mails, or use Google Docs, MobileMe iDisk or box.net to grab files.

Evan Minsker's Thrifty Tech appears Tuesdays. Got a hot, cheap-tech tip, question or comment? Write to Evan via our email address, MoneyCollege@WalletPop.com.

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