5 Test Prep Apps for High-Schoolers

With year-round sports schedules and a full roster of after-school activities, it’s a wonder that our over-scheduled kids have any time to study at all! But that doesn’t stop schools – and parents – from piling on the pressure as high-schoolers prepare for those ACTs, SATs, and more.

Fortunately, the almost universal adoption of mobile devices means that kids now have an ‘anytime, anywhere’ opportunity to study. Test prep apps are a growing and highly sought-after commodity, offering exposure to actual test questions and top-flight tuition in a format designed to make today’s kids feel right at home. Here are 5 of our favorites:

QuotED

quotedQuotED is a ‘question of the day’ reading and comprehension app that trains your mind to comprehend and analyze, aiding your ability to arrive at the correct answer. Brand new quotations are provided each week day, and varying levels of difficulty make sure the app is tailored to meet your precise needs. Detailed explanations are provided for all questions, and the progressive format strengthens testing proficiency.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: $4.99

BenchPrep

benchprepBenchPrep is a ‘gateway app’ that then allows you to purchase test prep applications for your specific learning and test pathway. Academic programs include Algebra, Chemistry, Spanish, Calculus, Biology and Geometry. Once you purchase a test prep course, it’s available on all your mobile devices. Full test prep modules are expensive, so make sure the course are right for you before you commit.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: Various in-app purchases

SAT Question of the Day

satquestionofthedayAnother ‘question of the day’ app that gives you constant practice and gets your mind in shape for the big day. Questions are available for English, Math, Science and various languages. SAT Question of the Day features real SAT questions and SAT preparation material. Each question is accompanied by the correct answer and a detailed explanation.

Platform: iOS, Android, BlackBerry
Cost: Free

Tutor.com To Go

tutorcomtogoTutor.com To Go is the companion app to Tutor.com, a subscription service which provides students with access to online tutors. With the app, you can connect with a live tutor for one-on-one help in math, science, social studies and English. Essays, assignments and homework problems can be shared and stored in an online ‘locker.’ Additional resources are available through the SkillCenter Resource Library.

Platform: iOS
Cost: Free with a subscription to Tutor.com

SAT Prep TestBank 2400!

sattestprep24002400 is a perfect SAT score and SAT Prep TestBank 2400! aims to get you there with a series of Q&A apps for all popular ACT and SAT subjects. The adaptive learning technology makes sure you learn at the right level and pace, and the test-taking advice, tips and strategy lessons make sure you are mentally prepared as well. Although the app is free, all the individual modules are available as in-app purchases.

Platform: iOS
Cost: Various in-app purchases

6 Messaging Apps for Couples

This Friday is Valentine’s Day, and while texting is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, it’s sometimes nice to have a special way to communicate with your partner.

Here are some great apps that can help you do just that. A few are specifically made for couples and a few are more general, but all of them will help make those loving words sound a little bit more personal!

  • Avocado

    A pile of DVDsWith Avocado, you create an account for you and your special someone and then you can both log in using your own devices. Your information is only shared between the two of you. You can send private messages, mobile hugs and kisses, calendar reminders, custom sounds, video clips, photos, and much more. One of the best apps for couples!

    Cost: Free and paid versions
    Platform: Android, iOS, Web, *Windows Phone

    *For Windows Phone users, there is an unofficial app called Lovocado which works well with Avocado.

  • Between

    A pile of DVDsBetween is great for long-distance relationships. You share the location of the cities you both live in, so you can get automatic weather updates and more. You can also share private texts, voice mails, photos, and memories, and count down the dates to meetings and other events via your shared calendar.

    Cost: Free
    Platform: Android, iOS
  • Verizon Messages

    A pile of DVDsVerizon Messages effectively replaces the standard messaging app on your smartphone or tablet, while adding a host of new features. Verizon Messages automatically sync texts between all your devices, including your desktop and laptop computers. Along with sending regular text messages, you can also send voice messages, songs, photos, and videos. You can also draw on your photos, and even share your location with the integrated Glympse feature.

    Cost: Free
    Platform: Android, iOS, Web
  • 101 Love Msgs

    A pile of DVDsNeed a little help sending love notes to your Valentine? With 101 Love Msgs, you just scroll through dozens of different phrases and expressions, pick the one that you like, and instantly share it via text message. A simple but effective app if you are struggling to find the right words.

    Cost: Free
    Platform: Windows Phone
  • Couple

    couple150Couple is another option for couples to have a private place to share texts, voicemails, photos, and videos. You can even share cute thumb kisses. If you break up, your information is still retained in case you get back together. However, you can request a permanent removal of data if you are sure it is over 🙁

    Cost: Free, with in-app purchases
    Platform: iOS, Android, Web
  • Messages

    ios-messages150If you are a regular user of Apple products, then the iOS-based Messages is another great option. Messages lets you text over Wi-Fi rather than SMS and it includes photos, videos, location mapping and contact information. Messages also keeps everything synced across all of your devices, so you can pick up the conversation from anywhere.

    Cost: Free
    Platform: iOS

How do you stay connected with your partner?

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps! 

7 Apps for Learning a Language

One of the best things about our mobile devices is that we can use them for on-the-go education, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to learning a language. Whether we are walking the dog, working out at the gym, or enjoying a little quiet time at home, the ability to grab a smartphone and a pair of headphones and work on our linguistic skills is truly one of the great benefits of the digital age.

Some apps – like the Rosetta Stone series – mostly take a traditional approach to learning a language. Others – like Duolingo – take advantage of all that the Web and mobile content have to offer and utilize those tools in interesting and often compelling ways. Whatever your preferred approach, there is sure to be an app that will suit your learning style. Here are 7 of our favorites:

  • Duolingo

    duolingoDuolingo is a free language learning app, which encourages you to translate real content from blogs and web sites. The idea is that you are learning a language and helping to translate the Web at the same time. Other people rate your translation and provide additional feedback. Voted one of Apple’s 2013 Apps of the Year, Duolingo learns your strengths and weaknesses, and will take you back through various tasks until you demonstrate you are ready to move on.

    Cost: Free
    Platform: iOS, Android
  • Babbel

    babbelMore of a traditional learning app, Babbel offers vocabulary training in 13 mostly European languages. Words are divided into useful categories, so you can learn about food or travel essentials, and the interactive courses quickly improve sentence construction, grammar and pronunciation. Although the various apps are free to download, they all require in-app purchases, which can vary from $10.99 to $37.99 depending on the rigor of the program.

    Cost: Free download but in-app purchases required
    Platform: iOS, Android, Windows Phone
  • Busuu

    busuuWith Busuu, you learn the basics through a variety of activities, including vocabulary and grammar lessons, audio dialogues, and more. You can then submit practice exercises to Busuu’s huge community of native speakers, who will help you perfect your skills. There are also a series of quizzes to see how much you have learned. Much of the basic content is free but you can purchase additional graduated learning programs for up to $16.99 each.

    Cost: Free to download with the opportunity for in-app purchases
    Platform: iOS, Android
  • Memrise

    memriseMemrise is a completely free and fun educational app, which turns the task of learning a language into a game. The flashcard-style learning process focuses largely on memory and repetition, using imaginative and humorous situations to make things easier to recall. Memrise awards points for getting words and phrases right and offers you the opportunity to test your progress by competing against others.

    Cost: Free
    Platform: iOS, Android
  • Byki Mobile

    bykiAnother traditional memory and repetition-based learning system, Byki Mobile is now available for over 80 different languages. Over 1,000 critical words are arranged into 70 different lists and you master the meaning and proper pronunciation through Byki’s SlowSound technology. There are multiple quizzes to test your knowledge and track your progress, and you can use refresh mode to make sure older words don’t get “stale.”

    Cost: Free app download but each language set requires in-app purchase of $7.99
    Platform: iOS, Android
  • The Pimsleur Method

    pimsleurThe “30 minutes a day” old-school method of language learning has gone mobile with the Pimsleur Course Manager app, which effectively allows you to download your Pimsleur software to your smartphone or tablet for an on-the-go learning experience. Gradual learning, meaningful context and positive reinforcement all have their place in this tried and trusted approach to learning a new language.

    Cost: Free download of Course manager app but full course software starts at $450
    Platform: iOS, Android
  • Rosetta Stone

    rosettaAnd no list would be complete without the world’s leading language-learning software. Again, the Rosetta Course app is a “manager app”, allowing you access to Rosetta Stone speech-recognition technology and lessons anywhere there is an Internet connection. Over 30 different language lessons are available and each package costs $324. Rosetta Stone recently acquired the interactive language tool LiveMocha but has yet to release a mobile app for that particular learning experience.

    Cost: Free download of course manager app but requires course software priced at $324 for each language.
    Platform: iOS, Android

Connect Your TV with Chromecast

It’s been called a digital media player, a network adapter, a tab caster or just simply an HDMI dongle. Chromecast’s identity crisis might reflect the newness and uniqueness of its functionality but one thing is certain: at just $35, it is one of the best deals in digital technology that you are ever going to come across.

Simply put, Chromecast adds Internet capability to your TV, allowing you to make the big screen part of your home network. Once your TV is connected, you can stream content from your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

At this point you’re probably thinking ”Why not go out and buy a smart TV?” but that’s where the bargain price comes into play. A decent sized smart TV costs twenty times what you will pay for Chromecast, so why not have a connected TV while you’re saving for the big upgrade?

Setting up Chromecast couldn’t be easier. You just plug it into an HDMI port on your TV, download the Chromecast app and connect Chromecast to your home network. Chromecast works with Android tablets and smartphones, iPhones, iPads, and notebooks running Chrome for Mac or Chrome for Windows, so any one of these devices can be used for set up.

Once Chromecast is installed on your network, you can start streaming content from a growing number of apps, including Netflix, HBO Go, Hulu Plus, YouTube, Vevo, and Google Play TV and Movies. You can also stream music from Pandora, Google Play Music and Songza. Your smartphone, tablet or laptop effectively becomes your remote, allowing you to control exactly what’s happening on the bigger screen.

You can also stream anything from your Chrome browser, which is where tab casting comes in. Just click on the little blue Cast icon at the top right of your browser window and anything you are watching or listening to on your desktop or laptop – photos, movies, music, video or your favorite web site – will be mirrored on your TV screen.

I can hear Roku and Apple TV owners saying “Hey, wait a minute. Can’t my device do everything that Chromecast can do and a whole lot more?” And it’s true: the Roku 3 works with over 1,000 apps and has a number of additional features like cross-platform search, while Apple TV lets you access all your content on your TV and works particularly well as part of a wider Apple ecosystem. But both systems cost almost three times as much as Chromecast, which already has some of the mostly widely used movie and TV apps and is adding more all the time.

As we add more and more devices to our connected worlds, it seems crazy that the one entertainment system that dominates most living rooms is left out in the cold. Google Chromecast changes all that, making sure that you can switch to the big screen whenever you want to. An Internet-connected TV for just $35!

How To Choose the Right Tablet

Since the iPad burst onto the scene in 2010, the popularity of tablet computers has skyrocketed. In fact, tablets have become so popular that this year they are expected to outsell traditional PCs and laptops.

But being popular doesn’t make a tablet any easier to buy. In contrast, the dozens of tablet options available from over 25 different manufacturers arguably makes selecting a tablet more difficult than choosing any other digital device, including a laptop, a camera, or even a smartphone.

However, there are certain questions that you can ask yourself to narrow down the field, and, while a lot will depend on your budget, some other key criteria should factor into your decision as well. Here is a quick checklist to help steer you in the right direction:

How will the tablet be used?

There is a world of difference between looking for a tablet to keep your pre-schoolers entertained and searching for a tablet to help you complete those challenging marketing assignments for work. The hardware and software specs for a work-related tablet – Is there a keyboard option? Can I print? – are totally different and should take precedence over the number of built-in games or the quality of the front-facing camera.

In contrast, if the main user of the tablet is going to be sticky-fingered child with a habit of leaving things on the school bus, then that should point you in a different direction. Keep in mind that pretty much every tablet is good for accessing e-mail, surfing the Web, playing games, or watching the occasional movie. It’s the special tasks – or in the case of your child, the special handling – that should determine in which direction you go.

Where will the tablet be used?

If the tablet will only be used at home or occasionally at the local Starbucks, then you can narrow the choice considerably – and save yourself some money – by looking for a Wi-Fi-only model. However, if you plan to use the tablet on your daily commute or you have to get e-mail and surf the Web when you travel, then you should look for a cellular model.

Although cellular tablets invariably cost more than Wi-Fi-only versions, the monthly wireless access charges are usually quite reasonable. For example, a tablet can be added to a Verizon More Everything plan for just $10 per month with no long term contract.

Does your tablet need to be compatible with other devices?

This is important, particularly if you want to access files and other data from different devices. With better access to cloud storage, it’s inevitable that individuals are gravitating towards personal tech ecosystems. For example, if you already use a Mac and an iPhone, it makes perfect sense to get an iPad, so all your photos, music, videos and apps are available on any of your devices at any time through Apple’s iCloud.

Similarly, Android smartphone users might want to favor Android tablets to take advantage of Google apps and Google Drive, while Windows Phone users might want to look at a Windows 8 tablet for compatibility and the OneDrive option.

What features do you need?

One you have determined use, connectivity, and operating system, it’s time to look at a few other specs. The obvious ones are screen size (and resolution) and battery life but there are plenty of other key features that can make a difference between enjoying your tablet and really enjoying your tablet.

Are you going to use your tablet to take pictures or shoot a lot of video? Will you need extra storage? Is weight a factor? How about built-in speakers? These features could be important or they could be non-factors, but a comparison of specs – and built-in apps – is a great way to narrow down the field even further.

What’s your budget?

Last, but certainly not least, is the question of how much you have to spend. Again, the person using the tablet might be a big determining factor for your budget. If the tablet is for the sticky-fingered kids, then a $159 Kindle Fire HD might make more sense than a $399 iPad mini. But if it’s for your daughter going off for her freshman year at college, then you might want to spend a little more to encourage those Sunday morning FaceTime chats.

As mentioned above, there are now dozens of tablets to choose from but narrowing them down to a fairly manageable number is not that difficult. Ask yourself a few questions and take the time for a little research and you will end up with a tablet that you will love!

How To Enjoy Podcasts on Your Smartphone or Tablet

We are all used to listening to music on our smartphones and tablets and many of us now watch TV shows and movies as well. However, there is another broadcast medium that is ideally suited to mobile devices but which has yet to enjoy the popularity of more traditional entertainment platforms – and that is the podcast.

A podcast is a show – much like a TV or radio show – which can either be a single, stand-alone episode or part of a series. A podcast can be audio only or it can include video and other presentation material. There are podcasts on any subject imaginable, including news, current affairs, sports, science, how to topics, and much, much more.

How you get podcasts onto your smartphone or tablet depends on what device and operating system you are using. Here are the different ways you can enjoy podcasts for iOS and Android:

iOS

Apple has its own custom Podcasts app, which can be downloaded for free from the App Store in iTunes. With Podcasts you can browse hundreds of thousands of free podcasts organized by topic, by popularity, or by several other categories. Episodes can be streamed or they can be downloaded  and listened to offline. If the podcast is part of a series, then you can subscribe to the series and automatically get new episodes as they become available.

Other non-Apple podcast apps include iCatcher and Downcast (both $2.29). Both apps allow you to search and subscribe to podcasts, as well as download for offline listening.

If you don’t want to use a custom podcast app, then you can browse and download podcasts direct from iTunes. Just visit the iTunes Store and select Podcasts from the main menu. Again, you can browse by topic or popularity, or sample “iTunes Essentials” or one of the other custom lists. If you download podcasts on your Mac, then you can sync your iPhone or iPad in the normal way. Your podcasts will appear under a separate heading in your iTunes library. They can also be automatically synced across multiple devices using iCloud.

Android

Perhaps surprisingly Google Play doesn’t yet have a dedicated section for podcasts, which explains why they remain one of the mobile world’s best kept secrets. However, there are plenty of top-rated apps for browsing and downloading podcasts. Perhaps the best known is Podkicker (free), with a searchable database of over 110,000 podcasts. Podkicker supports audio and video, and allows both streaming and downloading. There is also a recommendation feature based on your existing subscriptions.

Other Android podcast apps include Pocket Casts ($3.99) and DoggCatcher ($2.99). The latter features continuously updated feeds, editors’ choice podcasts, and a comprehensive search tool that seeks out new podcasts in a wide range of listings and directories.

Whatever device or operating system you use, enjoying podcasts on-the-go adds a new and exciting dimension to your mobile world!

Facebook Gets Personal

Just days after announcing record profits on the back of a surge in mobile advertising revenue, the huge social network has rolled out a couple of brand new features that have delighted fans and brought grudging admiration from even its sternest critics.

The first feature, called Look Back, is a way for its 1.2 billion users to join Facebook in celebrating its 10-year anniversary. It does that by constructing a montage of each individual’s top posts and photos over that period, seamlessly sewing them all together in a personalized video, complete with slick editing and sentimental music.

If you can’t remember what your first profile picture looked like, or which of your photos garnered the most likes, then this is a great way to take a trip down memory lane. (Interestingly, if you don’t have enough posts or photos to make a video, then you will still get a tenth-anniversary thank you note from ‘Mark and the Facebook Team.’)

The second new feature has a more permanent air about it – and some potentially serious implications for other popular web destinations. This week Facebook rolled out its much-heralded newsfeed app called Paper.

Currently only available for the iPhone, Paper presents mobile users with their current newsfeed in a magazine-style format, complete with other non-Facebook articles blended in. The result is your own customized news site, offering a fascinating smorgasbord of national news, personal interest stories and regular status updates.

Almost as impressive as the collection of personalized posts is the functionality of Paper. The beautifully presented articles can be flipped to open, rearranged, tilted, and of course pinched and zoomed for a closer look.

How Facebook chooses what to include in Paper for each individual user is the secret sauce in the whole exercise. Facebook has increasingly fine-tuned its computer algorithms to bring desktop users more substantive articles and less cat videos and other trivia that only serve to clutter up individual news feeds. But how that now translates to including articles selected by Facebook’s own editors is an even deeper mystery.

But it’s not just the user who should be concerned about what’s included in Paper. Facebook is increasingly responsible for driving users to other web sites, and accounts for a significant percentage of the traffic experienced by “viral” web sites like Gawker and Buzzfeed. Facebook’s ability to be highly selective in what it deems ‘Paper-worthy’ could be a serious concern for some of these outlets.

Facebook has said that it currently has no plans to get into the original content business and has instead worked closely with The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and others to make sure their web-based content is optimized for Paper. But again, the threat exists, particularly for established news portals like Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN.

But for now, iPhone users have a unique opportunity to enjoy a Flipboard-style mobile magazine that is the closest thing they’ll get to their own news web site. Checking your Facebook page has never been more fun!

Five Easy Tools to Build a More Twitter-Fabulous Following

I have online colleagues who maintain interest by sharing and engaging in topics solely surrounding the areas that their blogs and social media accounts represent, but I believe that I would work myself into a corner if I were to adopt such an approach myself. Enter one of my most beloved online tools: Twitter!

Twitter is an essential social media tool for networking and expanding your online following. The Online Mom has 10 Essential Twitter Tips that I would advise you to become familiar with, and then check out these resources for some extra-Twitter tips:

Advanced Twitter search

If you ever wanted the guilt-free rush of being an unofficial spy, here is your chance! Twitter Search offers some pretty cool tools to help narrow down what you’re looking for and see what is trending.  Find out who is talking about, mentioning, linking or engaging in a discussion about your particular passion or interest. You can find out more than you could ever imagine (or care to know)! Or maybe you are looking to zero in on regional events or locations? Do an advanced Twitter search and eat your heart out!

Check out the app TweetGuru

An online app called TweetGuru provides you with a time-saving method to send a message to multiple Twitter users. After authenticating the app with your Twitter account, type in the Twitter handles of whom you want to send a message to. You will be able to send direct messages (not public) to up to 12 different users at one time.

Follow Conversations on Topsy

Topsy is a great search engine for finding out what people are talking about in real-time. You can follow conversations around the world and it will show you who, what, where, and how people are talking about your chosen topic. The Twitter conversations are often occurring right now, but you can also check on what was posted during the prior day, week, month, etc. You choose the filter!

Leverage your other platforms

Take the opportunity to link to your Twitter profile from your other profiles across the Web. There are standard ways via Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn to include your Twitter profile link, such as in the website, about, bio or profile sections. You can also mention them in your videos or watermark them in your photos.

Create a Twitter support group

I started to bring in new followers in impressive numbers once I began participating in online communities devoted to supporting one another by sharing tweets, comments, links, etc. Just one example is a local Facebook group I am involved in that specifically attracts those who are interested in buying and reselling gently used baby gear and clothing. Huge service, right? Similarly, we support one another with regional hashtag topics, sharing which kid events or resale events are just around the corner.

To this date, Twitter has been the key to my having established and built so many fabulous relationships and connections. Sure, I maintain them and interact in more than 140 characters via other platforms as well, but somehow Twitter has become that online cocktail party where the introductions and shout-outs occur! And if it isn’t broken….

Seven Tips for Participating in a Successful Twitter Party

I have a little secret:  I attend more parties than ever, and I do so dressed in my pajamas! And to top it all, they are some of the most rewarding parties I have ever been to – parties in which I can engage with impressive minds and gurus yet never have to leave my home!

Twitter parties (what were you thinking?) are not only very efficient ways for brands to gain great exposure in their target niche, but they also serve as online godsends in the area of networking, offering a chance to mingle with like-minded people, a place to learn about new things, and even an opportunity to win great swag! It might take a little observing to get the feel of how to engage, but you’ll likely catch on quickly!

Chelsea Day, the successful blogger behind Some Day I’ll Learn, a colleague whom I collaborate on projects with, shared, “Nothing gets influencers talking as quickly and cost-effectively as a Twitter party. You can draw in numerous topical experts and their audiences, capturing the attention of your demographic for a full hour and engaging them with content that is relevant and shareable. In terms of branding, a well-planned Twitter party puts the company or product top-of-mind for their target demographic.”

The following are steps for engaging successfully in Twitter parties:

1. Check out where the Twitter parties are.  Search for the parties that are about topics you are passionate about. Of course, one of my favorite Twitter parties – and one of the most informative – is the one that The Online Mom throws on Fridays from 3–4pm ET on behalf of Verizon Wireless and the mobile lifestyle; look for the hashtag #VZWBuzz.

2. Be sure to RSVP and participate. Many pop in as they see a hashtag in a Twitter stream that piques their interest, but in order to win a prize you will need to RSVP and actively participate in the party.  Sometimes you can see the RSVP list publically, which is a great item to return to after the party, as it is a good indicator of who engages in a particular topic and who might good to add to your network.

3. Engage. Contest hoppers, who are not really engaged in the topics-at-hand and are merely attending parties for the swag, do not add a lot of value to a party. Participating and engaging generously in a party is a way to give back, as sponsors are investing their time and money in a conversation and they hope you will offer your enthusiasm in return. Take some time to observe how other party-goers interact with each other and exchange ideas!

4. Leave your mark. Share your enthusiasm for the topic by asking questions or even sharing your insight regarding the topic. Look for links that are provided during the party and click on them. Retweet tweets you find valuable or favorite them. Don’t be hesitant to add your unique personality to the mix, because, like at any party, you can make ideal connections.

5. Add value to the party. Share your experiences, questions and thoughts, and don’t forget to thank the host and converse with other Twitter users. This builds community and buzz. Most party-goers are there to learn about things they are interested in and want to check out and build their online niche (and, of course, have a chance to win a prize!). You can find others to follow, grow your network groups, and even make new friends.

6. Learn from the experts! Not all Twitter parties give away swag; rather they solely focus on generating rich conversation with very targeted niches. Consider checking out what Mack Collier says; he runs #blogchat, which is a fairly unstructured weekly conversation that takes place every Sunday night starting at 8pm Central. Each week they discuss a different blogging topic.

7. Have fun! Engaging in Twitter parties can offer a real rush. You are engaging with people all over the country (and world) about a topic that interests you. And best of all (at least for this work-at-home mom), you get to party it up in your robe and slippers!