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Software reviews: apps go multifunctional

Could the single-purpose mobile app go the way of the standalone word processor? We look at the apps that pack in a lot more than one function.

Fluffy Delusions: Classic Notes + App Box

$2 or free

This is an Android note-taking app with a difference: as well as simple notes, it makes it easy to create to-do lists, shopping lists and sketches. You can add images or videos to notes, and add notes and alerts to your calendar, but it can do much more as well.

Most engineers will have a notebook app on their phones; many will also have a unit and currency converter and a to-do list app, and some will have a sketching app and a timer too. You might also have bookmarks for weather forecasts, or to look up film or music references, or online dictionaries. Classic Notes does all of that, too.

In fact, its list of extra features is almost absurdly long. As well as the usual pre-formatted calculators for restaurant tips, mortgage rates, BMI and so on, it includes a bunch of options from looking up postcodes and nearby toponyms, through random password generation and a simple stopwatch, to recipes and quotes of the day. With each look-up or calculation you can save the result as a note.

There are a few caveats. For a start, many of the extras need an active Internet connection, plus there is no option to call them from within an existing note. Navigation is somewhat non-intuitive, too. Some users will also baulk at the fact that Classic Notes has no online element to sync to, though you can use the usual Android hooks to save notes to services such as Dropbox and Google Drive, email them, publish them on Facebook, save to the SD card, and so on.

Fossil Software: AppZilla 3 

Free or 99p

At heart AppZilla is lots of little pre-programmed calculators and utilities for the iPhone, some so-so and some really good. Many are mostly for entertainment - for example a calculator that gives your age right down to hours and minutes, an Aldis Lamp-style Morse code generator, a quiz-style game buzzer, an on-screen Zippo lighter, a bunch of games, and some Instagram-style camera and photo filters, such as a pretend heat camera (it simply colourises the image) and a pixelating camera.

Such fripperies aside, quite a few of the applets are potentially very useful: digital spirit-levels and a plumb-bob that use the iPhone’s accelerometers, say, plus a password generator and several different timers, including a car-parking minder which not only uses GPS to remember where you left the car but also tracks how much time is left on the meter.

The inevitable tip calculator is there, along with currency and unit converters, and some people will no doubt find the moon-phase calculator very useful. There’s also a number of embedded websites such as Google Mail, Reader and Trends, and Wikipedia. There are also applets to set up group lists for email and SMS.

One nice touch is the ability to view the apps in groups - say, only the utilities, or only the reference items - and either see just your favourites, or reorder the lists to put your favourites first. On the downside, a few applets are US-specific such as the census, zip code and area code lookups, and the adverts in the free version are annoyingly intrusive. The paid version is very cheap, however.

Also worth a look for the iPhone is AppBox Pro from AllAboutApps. This includes some of the same features as AppZilla plus a few of its own, such as event reminders and a secure wallet for storing account details, card numbers and the like. The paid version provides 20+ applets - more if you count all the web-app links - while a free version offers 11.

Aaron: Android Assistant 

Free

Opening with a colourful representation of your phone’s status as a set of pie charts, Android Assistant is a set of tools and utilities bundled into a single app.

In some ways it is simply a graphical skin on existing functions within Android, but it really does make some things a lot easier to do because it brings them together in one place. For example, if you are particular about your privacy, it presents all the available histories - web browsing, Google Maps etc - on one screen so you can clear the lot if you choose.

And even when it simply calls the underlying Android tool, it can ease the task. For instance, it lists all the programs with clearable cached data on one screen; choosing one of these still takes you to the standard Android application manager, but there is no more need to scroll through a long list of apps, trying to remember which ones you need to clear. Similarly, it can list only the apps that haven’t been moved to SD yet, so you don’t have to hunt through the Manage Applications menu one by one.

My one caveat would be that several of its functions are related to task-killing. Despite what some people say, this is not necessary on a modern operating system such as Android, which already includes relatively sophisticated task and memory management; still, it probably won’t do any harm, so if you think it helps, then go ahead.

Android Assistant also features an app backup tool, a set of toggles to turn key phone features on and off, and a pretty decent file manager, among others.

All in all, like a Swiss Army Knife, the total package should meet most users’ everyday needs. The individual tools are often not as powerful as standalone equivalents though - in particular, there is no support for root mode. As ever, there will always be a need for a proper toolbox.

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