Developer, tech enthusiast, and gamer.

VP of Technology, Authenticom

My Windows Phone 8 App Essentials Early 2014

My Windows Phone 8 App Essentials Early 2014

As a developer and gadget enthusiast , I've got a lot of devices. At any given time I will have one of the latest devices for each major platform in both phone and tablet form factor. The one I reach for the most as my daily however, is my Lumia. I recently moved from a 1020 to the phablet monster 1520...and wow do I love this phone. It's freakish size is a bit off putting at first, even if you've used and held the Galaxy Note, but you get so used to it after about a day and then every other device feels inferior and puny. I've only had the phone/tablet/phablet/monster for a little over a week, so not long enough for a full review...but it has motivated me to list out some of the great apps available for WP8 that I use and depend on as this phone becomes my daily.

2013 was a big year for first party Windows Phone 8 apps. With the exception of Google, the mainstream "app gap" is gone(ish) with only a few stragglers that will make there way over early this year (Flipboard!). Yes, Windows Phone is still not what most companies crave...that still seems to be Brawndo..err, iOS. But it's certainly on the list now as the 3rd. And once Microsoft finally makes the Win RT / WP merge complete it will start to make a lot more financial sense to support both. But enough of that, to the bulleted list!

First, Google lite

You'll get no love from Google on Windows 8 (RT) or Windows Phone. For them to say that it doesn't make sense to support the platform from a resource standpoint is purely absurd. They seem to have no regard for their Windows customers, or enjoy reveling in their embargo, which keeps me constantly conflicted about remaining a customer myself. They do however have excellent first class support on both iOS and Android, which is ultimately what keeps me in limbo. It's a complicated topic with a lot of opinions...with the right one being, support your customers! You know, don't be evil and all that? Anyway, 3rd parties to the rescue!

  • MetroTalk - The best 3rd party Google Voice client in the store. Even better experience than the native app on iOS, however Google is forcing them (and all 3rd parties) to shut down as of May this year. The war on third party apps continues to wage...I just hope there will be a viable alternative from Google if they insist on shutting out 3rd parties.

  • MetroMail - The best native attempt at a gmail client, which gets better with each release. It hasn't replaced outlook for me yet, but its getting awfully close.

  • GMaps+ - In my opinion, the best of the Maps apps for WP. Great Places support, voice search, and nice integration with native search. Also integrates with Waze for voice guidance, so you have a solid complete solution outside of Here maps and nav. GMaps Pro is my runner up and also an excellent choice.

  • Gooroovster - Google music client. Hasn't had love for a little while, but still does the job for playing your uploaded music.

  • Picasa Metro - A very nice Picasa / Google+ photos client. Essential for me since that is still my primary photo store across platforms.

  • PicasaSync - We have no G+ with photo backup on WP, so PicasaSync to the rescue. It plugs into the same api's that allow background Skydrive uploading of your camera roll. So every time I snap a photo, I see it on skydrive and G+, a great hidden gem of an app.

  • myTube - My favorite 3rd party YouTube app. It's got nearly everything you would expect from an official app, including my uploads and subscriptions. Great live tile support as well. Metrotube is also another excellent app worth a look.

  • Cal - An outstanding 3rd party calendar app with Google, Outlook, and Facebook integration. If you don't have a paid gapps account, this is one of the best ways to get multiple Google calendars on your phone. It has replaced the built in calendar app for me nicely.

Social

By far my most used app category and essential for nearly every smart phone user. This app category got quite a bit of the 1st party app love, but its just as rich with 3rd party apps as well. It's also my opinion that a good number of these apps are not entirely essential for many on Windows Phone. WP has excellent native integration with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Skype which allows you to get by very nicely with just the Messaging and People app. You'll miss some of the richer functionality of each platform, but all the basics are there. It's easy to forget about great built in functionality when we are so used to "an app for that", but its there and its great.

  • Tweet it! - My current twitter client of choice. Beautifully designed and easy to get to my lists...unlike the official Twitter client. It's being actively developed with a lot more updates in the works. Rowi was my goto, but they've hit the infamous token limit and have discontinued support. Mehdoh is another fantastic twitter app and my recommendation for power users that like to consolidate information...it combines Twitter, Instagram, and SoundCloud feeds, and is one of the most mature on the platform.

  • Facebook Beta - It's the official Facebook app developed by Microsoft. I prefer the beta because I like the new and shiny as fast as I can get it. You get the full FB experience here with excellent notifications and live tile support. Can often be redundant with a Me tile pinned, but I like having both.

  • 6tag - Not the first 3rd party Instagram client on WP, but its the best...on any platform really imo. Even though the official Instagram Beta app is now on the platform, you'll find a better and richer experience with 6tag. They also have the blessing of Instagram for the time being, so I imagine it will be a bit like Tweetbot on iOS.

  • 6sec - The best 3rd party Vine client by the same developer as 6tag. There is of course an official Vine app now as well, but just like insta, I prefer 6sec to the official app.

  • Waze - Official app for WP. It's social mapping at its best and I've used it quite a bit on other platforms. It's not on par with Android and iOS yet, but its solid enough for daily use.

  • Tapatalk - Official app and essential for avid forum users and trolls alike.

  • Skype - You use it, love it, and its first class on WP. You'll always get your notifications via push, and app doesn't need to be running in the background using precious battery.

  • Disqus - Official disqus client for WP. Perfect for moderating my sites and keeping up with my conversations all over the web. With so many sites using this now, its a social app essential for sure.

  • Untappd - Because who doesn't like taking pictures of their beer? I love craft brew and I love rating & telling people about it, so its the perfect social network for me. App keeps getting better with updates.

  • DotDot - My favorite 3rd party App.net client. I'm not an avid app.net user, but I do keep my subscription current and have hopes that it can one day replace my add ridden twitter feed.

  • Readit - My new favorite Reddit client. Beautifully designed and one of the best reddit app experiences out there on any platform. Not quite a rich yet as something like Alien Blue on iOS, but it can hold its own on design and usability.

  • Pouch - The premiere Pocket client for WP. I love the official Pocket apps on other platforms and still have hopes that they will bring it over, but in the mean time Pouch is an outstanding alternative. Many other apps on the platform also integrate with Pouch, so its well loved by users and devs alike.

  • LinkedIn - Its official and they did a nice job with it. I'm not a huge LinkedIn user, but its nice to have the features when i need them.

  • Lync 2013 - I use Office 365 and Lync for work on every platform, and as you should expect, WP has the best experience. I get my notifications whether the app is running or not, so its essential for mobile business chat and con calls.

News, Reading, & Reference

I consume a lot of info, as any addicted smartphone user should. My bathroom trips would never be the same without this app category...gotta know whats going on and what better time to read about business while doing your business.

  • Nextgen Reader - Excellent rss reader with feedly integration. Very well designed interface and my goto for keeping up on blogs.

  • Bing News - One of the best news aggregators on the platform. The entire Bing suite of apps are all very useful, but this is the one I used the most.

  • Bing Sports - Not a huge sports fan, but this is my favorite sports app. There is an espn app as well, but Sports is more of what I'm looking for in a basic sports app.

  • Amazon Kindle - While not Amazon's best platform Kindle app, it has all the essentials for reading and syncing books from your library. I use this in conjunction with Amazon's Audible app, which will sync between the written and audio books via its whispersync technology. Very useful and use it all the time. For smaller phones though, can't say I would use Kindle too much...but for the 1520, its perfect.

  • Urban Dictionary 7 - When you just have to know what the hell that guy is talking about or find out if your original made up word isn't so original after all. Great urban dictionary client.

  • Wikipedia - Very well designed 3rd party Wikipedia app. I enjoy the article of the day as a live tile.

  • WPCentral - A must have app for anyone in the WP ecosystem. They cover all that is Windows Phone and some that is windows 8. I get nearly all of my WP information from Windows Phone Central and their app is one of the best ways to consume the content and stay updated.

  • Zinio - If you have Zinio mags, then then this is your official app. Basic functionality, same as you'll find on the other platforms.

Music & Video

Another daily use category for me since I now rely so heavily on cloud based streams for entertainment. I've at one time subscribed to all the major streaming services, which all have a good presence on Windows Phone.

  • Xbox Music - It's built in too, but now there is a dedicated app bringing new features out of band with OS releases and on par with apps on other platforms. It's also on iOS, Android, and Xbox. I'm currently in a battle between this and Spotify for my $10 bucks a month. The promise of Zune may finally be realized.

  • Xbox Video - I've started buying quite a bit of my digital movies in the Xbox ecosystem, so I've been awaiting this newly released app for a while. They've recently launched a web app as well and of course already have excellent support on Xbox consoles and Windows 8. Pretty much making this the most accessible cloud movie purchase service I've used other than Vudu, especially when they add iOS and Android to the mix. iTunes and Google Play are pretty well locked up in their respective walled gardens...but I suspect that's mostly due to licensing.

  • Spotify - Everything I need from Spotify on the go is in this app, even if its not as good as the iOS counterpart. It gets the job done nicely and has nice live tile support...so no complaints if I end up sticking with this service over Xbox.

  • Pandora - Even with Xbox Radio and Spotify Radio, nothing beats Pandora. I've been a One customer for a long time and don't see that changing anytime soon. Their WP app is solid and does everything I expect. Its the last of the platform apps to get any new features, but I'm sure that will change as the platform continues to grow.

  • Songza - This is one music service that is hit or miss for me. I love the way it can serve up a playlist based on time and mood...but sometimes I just get some weird stuff. Great for finding new music though and its nice to have an official app. There is a good 3rd party one as well.

  • myTube - as referenced in the Google list above...essential YouTube app.

  • TVShow - I watch a lot of dvr'ed prime time TV and this is the perfect companion. There is nothing like it on any other platform that I've found. You just add the shows you watch and it tells you when they air, allowing you to keep track of new seasons and unwatched episodes. Can also update its live tile with shows airing today along with your lock screen. Really love this app and its gets prime pinned tile real estate on my home screen.

  • Netflix - Does the job but needs some love to keep it in line with other platform netflix apps.

  • Hulu Plus - Another official that gets it done nicely. Great for catching up on the Daily Show or SNL when mobile.

Nokia

The Nokia apps are truly what make the platform and ecosystem shine. I have every one of them installed and use them all. I'll highlight a few of my favorites, but every app is worth an install and will enhance your WP experience.

  • Nokia Here 'anything' - The here line of apps includes Maps, Drive, Transit, and Explorer. All fantastic apps that rival any navigation platform. Offline maps is a huge plus and voice guidance is solid.

  • Nokia Motion Monitor - a new beta app that may only be for the 1520 right now...but nevertheless, I love the concept and it essentially replaces my old Fitbit.

  • Nokia Camera - A given i know, but with the latest WP update it can replace the stock photo app and even work from a password protected lock screen. You will not take a better photo or have a better photo experience than on a premium Nokia phone, period. iPhone is the only thing that even comes close.

  • Nokia Storyteller Beta - Its new and I'm still getting into it, but I love the functionality so far. Its a lot like Google+'s approach to photo organization, which is a really good thing.

  • Nokia Video Upload - Simple and right to the point app which uploads your videos to your YouTube account. Would love it even more if it happened automatically, like the skydrive integration.

  • Nokia Creative Studio - Image editing suite for tuning and touching up photos. Its not quite on the level of snapseed, but it has everything I could want and then some.

  • Nokia Play To - Beam any music or video from your phone to any DLNA device. Xbox, PS3/4, Smart TV, etc. Perfect for Airplay style viewing of photos and videos, use it all the time.

  • Nokia Beamer - Send whatever is on your screen or camera in real time to any other web connected device. You can send a link which opens up your website on https://beam.nokia.com/ or have another person scan a qr code...and then the magic happens. Fills in the gap for anything you can't send via playto...like airplay mirroring except it works anywhere. Can't stress enough how awesome this app is for work and play.

  • Nokia Trailers - I'm not sure what it is about trailers, but I like watching them and this is a great app to view them with.

Shopping, Travel, and Finance

Apps you don't use all the time, but need them to be solid when you do. Deposits, Transfers, Flights, and Auctions...these are my apps.

  • My Trips - An excellent 3rd party TripIt app. There is an official app as well, but its really bad. My Trips gives a much better experience with live tile updates when its time to fly.

  • Mint - A long time Mint user, so finally having this app on the platform is a huge win. It's very well done for v1, but they've got some work to do in terms of speed and reliability. But what I needed most was balances and categorization on the go, and it handles that perfectly.

  • Chase - Its my bank for personal and business, so a must have app. Does all the usual stuff like picture check deposits, transfers, etc. Needs better notifications though to be on par with iOS and Android.

  • eBay - The weakest eBay app of the main platforms but its got all the essentials...its also getting better all the time, but is still light years away from the iOS app in terms of functionality. It does have toast notifications though, which is very useful when selling or getting outbid.

  • Amazon - Amazon's mobile site is quite good, but I still prefer the app. They did a nice job for windows phone and it has everything I need. Not a week goes by in my house without an Amazon order being placed.

Games

A small category for me, but much larger for others. I'm not a huge touch gamer, but there are a few I would consider essential.

  • Words With Friends - Everyone does or has played this at one time or another. Must have for a mobile platform to get your social cross platform scrabble on.

  • Wordament - Originally exclusive to windows phone, but has now made it over to Android and iOS. My favorite time killer on the couch or on the go...even though i suck pretty bad...seriously.

  • Angry _ - Having the Angry * games are a must have time killer, especially when you have kids.

  • Survivalcraft - While we don't yet have the official Minecraft app, much to my continued disappointment, we do have this amazing alternative. Survivalcraft started here and made its way over to Android, Amazon, and iOS where it is now rivaling Minecraft for popularity. In some ways, its a much richer game than Minecraft pocket edition and I love playing it with my kids.

Everything else

Every other essential utility or productivity app.

  • Smartglass - Absolutely essential for the Xbox One and nice to have for the Xbox 360. I use this app every day for everything entertainment related in my living room. The tile sits front and center on my home screen ready to go.

  • Authenticator - Time based two factor authentication app by Microsoft. There were other 3rd party apps before this, but this official app does the job perfectly. I use 2-factor auth everywhere I can so that makes this one the most used non consumption apps on my phone. Google, Github, Dropbox, Microsoft, Facebook, and many other all support this.

  • Battle.net Authenticator - Blizzard's custom 2-factor auth app...essential for every blizz gamer. Blizzard was a very early adopter of 2-factor auth and if your not using this, then say goodbye to your lvl 90's you've been working on for years.

  • WebApps - Gives popular web apps a native look and tile. Perfect for things like Google+, Uber, and other essentials that don't yet have native apps on the platform. Can even supply push notifications for certain web apps.

  • SkyDrive - If you use WP, Windows 8.1, or Xbox, then you use SkyDrive. I have over 200 gigs of storage, so its my unlimited cloud dumpster. I also keep everything local as well...the Cloud is awesome, but lets not go crazy.

  • Boxfiles for Dropbox - Name says it all. With the glaring omission of an official Dropbox app for WP (they have a Win 8 app), there is Boxfiles to take the reigns. It's an excellent 3rd party client that even support auto image backup and SkyDrive access to boot.

  • SBUXCard - Another strange app omission is an official Starbucks app. This 3rd part app does everything i need though. You just add your card number, then add your account to see your reward stars, and your good to go with mobile payments. Even shows you the balance after you pay, just like the Android and iOS apps. I can't be seen paying for my fancy late with a credit card like some wild animal :)

  • Battery Sense - keeps an eye on all things battery. How much time left, time to charge, and alerts when charge is full so i can unplug it. Nice in app graphing and stats as well. Battery porn at its finest.

  • Amazing Weather HD - There are a lot of weather apps to choose from, but this has remained my favorite for a long time. I use the live tile and occasionally the lock screen updates as well. Beautiful and accurate weather app.

  • Unified Remote - A popular app on all platforms and something I've used as my pc remote control app for a long time. I have the server installed on every computer in my house and use it daily.

Now, some homescreen porn of the monster in all its glory!

1520 Home 1 1520 Home 2

Why and how I'm taking back the cloud - Part 1 : Setup

Why and how I'm taking back the cloud - Part 1 : Setup

Getting full text search up and running in Azure