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Make your smartphone smarter: Apps you should know

by on February 08, 2018 10:50 AM

According to the experts, the average American spends more than four hours per day using a smartphone. While some may argue this is to the detriment of society, I am not here to judge. But, I believe that if we “average Americans” are going to be on our mobile devices anyway, we might as well put those four-plus hours each day to good use.

With that in mind, this will be the first installment of a monthly column featuring apps for your smartphone that I think are useful. Some will be new. Some will be tried and true apps that you may already be familiar with. Some will help you save money. Some might make your life a little easier, or even more fun.

Please keep in mind that all of the recommendations are coming from the point of view of an average middle-aged American user, rather than a professional techno-geek.

■ Spotluck

New to State College, the Spotluck app offers users a fun way to save money at participating restaurants. Each day, you’re invited to “spin the wheel” within the app, which will randomly select a locally owned restaurant (not a national chain) and offer you a substantial discount at that restaurant, good for that day only. There are currently 13 participating State College restaurants.

Discounts will be higher during the slower days of the week and times of day, and can be claimed once you arrive at the restaurant and check in on your phone. The app also includes menus and reviews for all the participating restaurants, as well as GPS directions. You can even call an Uber from within the app.

Spotluck is free and is available for Apple and Android devices.

■ Venmo

If you are a college student or if you have a college student, you are probably familiar with Venmo. Owned by PayPal, it’s an interesting blend of social media network and money transfer app.

Here’s how it works: Open the app and create an account, which you will link to a bank account. You can then transfer payments to or accept payments from other Venmo users (which the app will find using the contacts you already have on your mobile device) using your Venmo account.

Once you have accumulated some Venmo cash, the transfers will not occur within your actual bank account unless and until you run low on Venmo funds or decide to move money from Venmo into your bank. Transactions are free, unless you are using a credit card, then there is a 3 percent fee for each transaction.

As far as the social media aspect, every time you make or accept a payment, it will show up in a newsfeed that all of your Venmo contacts can see, unless you elect to make these transactions “private.” These postings do not show the amount paid, but they do show the “reason,” which often includes fun emojis such as a slice of pizza, gift boxes or beer mugs.

I use this app to send my poor college student cash when he needs it, and to collect utility bill payments from his roommates. From my newsfeed, I can see that he is mainly using Venmo to split the cost of Uber rides and food bills with his friends.

Venmo is free and is available for Apple and Android devices.

■ Nomorobo

Nomorobo is an app that effectively blocks all incoming robocalls — those annoying prerecorded phone calls that come from telemarketers and political campaigns.

The beauty of this app is, you can actually install it on a landline. The majority of calls to my home phone are either from telemarketers or my mother-in-law. Since I’ve installed it, I’ve noticed four or five robocalls per day are being blocked. I can tell because the app allows the phone to ring once before it answers with a message saying the call is being blocked by Nomorobo, and giving the caller an option to prove it is not a robocall.

“Good” robocalls, such as those from the school district or doctor’s offices, are allowed through. The app maintains a huge database of “bad” robocall numbers, which it updates every day.

Nomorobo is free to install on a landline — just visit It does cost $1.99 per month on a mobile phone (Apple or Android). At this point, I don’t feel like I receive enough robocalls on my mobile phone to justify that expense.

If you know of any must-have apps that you think people should know about, please tell me about them by emailing [email protected].



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