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Whether you want an alarm that syncs with your body clock or a to-do list you can speak to, these are the apps you’ll need to make your smartphone smarter

The latest generation of smartphones comes with a panoply of apps to get you started, from email and photography to navigation, weather and video-calling services. But every one of those default apps has at least one alternative on the app stores, and there are often dozens more that can represent a big upgrade.

Here are 20 examples that will improve your smartphone’s stock features, and in some cases provide the functionality that is puzzlingly missing from apps in 2017’s starter packs. A number of them also have smartwatch extensions, providing an upgrade on your Apple Watch or Android Wear timepiece’s features too.

Android / iOS (Free)

Urban travellers swear by Citymapper, which works for London, Manchester and Birmingham in the UK, as well as other cities around the world. From trains, tubes and buses to cycle hire and walking, it’ll guide you from A to B with a choice of routes and transport methods.

Android / iOS (Free)

Set your smartphone’s default alarm to permanent snooze in favour of this app, which aims to dispel your morning blues. It uses your phone’s microphone and accelerometer (the thing that detects when your phone is moving) to track your sleep through sound and movement, then wakes you in your lightest sleep phase near to your alarm time.

Android / iOS (£3.99)

Preinstalled weather apps will tell you the forecast for your town, but Dark Sky boasts“hyperlocal” predictions that pinpoint where you’re standing. It also offers short-term warnings if it’s about to rain or snow in the next hour where you are, providing enough time to take coat and/or umbrella-related action.

Android / iOS (Free)

The seemingly endless number of passwords needed to sign into your digital apps and services is dizzying, which makes password security a priority. Alongside the equally well-regarded 1Password, Dashlane password manager will help you generate secure passwords, then encrypts and stores them on your device so you don’t lose track.

Android / iOS (Free)

In 2015, Apple came under fire for leaving period-tracking out of iOS’s Health app. The company swiftly rectified the omission, but many women have turned instead to third-party apps like Clue. It’s an easy tool for tracking periods and ovulation, whether you’re trying to get pregnant, store data for a doctor, or simply curious about your cycle.

Android / iOS (Free)

On the desktop, Microsoft’s Outlook email software is still used in lots of businesses, even if it isn’t always loved. But on mobile, the revamped Outlook app has been a critical hit: simply and stylishly blending email, calendar and file management, and working well with other services including Gmail and Yahoo Mail.

Android / iOS (Free)

Each iteration of Android and iOS brings faster, better photographic software to go with the more powerful cameras of new smartphones. But alternative apps are big business, with VSCO one of the best: not just for shooting, but for editing and sharing too.

Android / iOS (Free)

Google Maps and Apple Maps both do a good job as GPS navigation apps, but if you’re after an alternative, Waze – also owned by Google – is well worth a look. It draws on 90m drivers for live traffic data, and has good features to plan your journeys, including leaving at the right time.

Android / iOS (Free)

Apple has Pages and Google has Google Docs, but Quip is a powerful third-party documents app with an emphasis on collaboration. Besides word processing, it can do spreadsheets and task management, with chat features built in so colleagues don’t get in a tangle. It’s also good as a quick note-taker for individuals.

Android / iOS (Free)

Own-brand video-editing features are getting better – Apple’s iMovie and Clips apps for example – but if you want to make a masterful mobile movie, turn to the app stores. Magisto is excellent: it handles a number of editing tasks for you automatically, then helps you share them on your social networks of choice.

Android / iOS (Free)

As a high-powered alternative to your smartphone’s default photo library, Google Photos takes some beating. It backs up an unlimited number of photos (and videos) in the cloud, offers simple but useful editing features, and creates albums for you around specific events, with excellent search features to mine your catalogue of images.

Android / iOS (Free)

To-do lists is one of those categories where people tend to have strong views on their favourites: Wunderlist, and Clear have fierce admirers, but Todoist impresses for its versatility. It’s as good for jotting down your shopping list as it is for managing big projects, and its Alexa integration means it can work with your Echo smart speaker too.

iOS (£9.99)

If paying just under a tenner for a calculator app is the kind of maths that brings you out in a cold sweat, PCalc may not be for you. But this powerful calculator app is certainly an upgrade on the native iOS app, with its Apple Watch extension particularly useful for tapping out calculations on your wrist.

Android / iOS (Free)

People’s choice of messaging app is usually dictated by their social group: Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Snapchat, etc. But Telegram Messenger is worth a try: it offers similar encryption to WhatsApp, but is fully independent rather than owned by Facebook.

Android / iOS (£3.99)

Apple and Google do have apps that play podcasts, but if spoken-word audio is your thing, you’ll be needing a third-party app. iOS-only Overcast is a great option for iPhone owners, but Pocket Casts is available on Android too, with a huge list of shows to play.

iOS (Free)

If your achilles heel is confusing “less” and “fewer”, or even “your” and “you’re”, Grammarly is here to help. It replaces the default iOS keyboard (Android is coming soon) and checks your grammar, spelling and punctuation as you go.

Android / iOS (Free)

IFTTT stands for If This, Then That, enabling you to link your devices and apps so that they work together. For example, if you share a photo in Instagram, it will also save to your Dropbox. When you get a missed call, your phone can email you a reminder. Or if you are nearing home, you can turn on your lights or central heating. Its latest tricks are working with smart speakers like Echo and Google Home.

iOS (£4.99)

Voice Memos on iOS is an app that many people don’t even notice, but for certain professions – journalists, musicians and more – it’s essential. It too has alternatives offering an upgrade on its features. One great example is Just Press Record. You can record with a tap and save recordings to the cloud. It even tries to transcribe recordings with text that you can search and there is a useful Apple Watch app to boot.

Android / iOS (Free)

Since its release in 2016, Google’s video-calling app has been picking up plenty of fans as a FaceTime or Skype alternative. It can drop down to audio-only calls if your internet speed is sluggish, but is one of the smoothest, best-performing apps on anything better than an average connection.

Android / iOS (Free)

If you’re looking to track your daily steps without needing a standalone fitness band, Pacer is an independent app using your smartphone’s sensors to track steps in the same way that Apple Health and Google Fit do. It plays nicely with other fitness apps, and has some good social features – walking groups – that go beyond the default apps on smartphones.


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