Turn smartphones into helpful elves

Turn smartphones into helpful elves

Turn smartphones into helpful elves

It’s very nearly the season to be jolly - and stress out about buying gifts and throwing parties.

Gift planning can eat up a lot of time, of course. But apps on your smartphone or tablet can help with all sorts of seasonal tasks.

Santa’s Bag is a smart shopping list manager for iPhone with a Christmas twist. The app gives you space to put down all your gift ideas, sorted by the person who’ll be receiving the gifts and including sections for you to keep track of spending.

You can enter photos of each person in your list, and keep track of which gifts you’ve bought and which are left to buy. The interface is slick and easy to use, and the ability to view your data as a list of gifts or by recipient could relieve some pressure during your actual shopping. You can even set a pass code so prying eyes can’t see what gifts you have planned.

But while the app is free, it is ad-supported and the ads may annoy you. Plus, while the countdown to Christmas display in hours, minutes and seconds is cute, it could stress you out as the holiday nears.

It costs $3 (Rs 184) for an in-app upgrade to ditch the ads and get extra features like Dropbox backups and the ability to archive gifts from past years.

RedLaser is another shopping app that could be very useful right about now. It’s technically a shopping support app. You scan the bar code of a product you’re interested in buying, and the app works out where you are and delivers you information on the product, telling you if there’s a better deal in a different store nearby or online.

There’s even space inside RedLaser to keep lists of products, so it’s useful
for shopping for party food and gifts.

My one complaint is that you have to tap a button to activate the bar code scanner - and that can get tiresome. It’s free on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

If you’re planning parties or long journeys, it can also be great to know the weather forecast. Although there are thousands of weather apps, WeatherBug, a free Android and iOS app, is my recommendation.

It’s easy to spot the information you need, and the app is jammed with data beyond temperature and wind speed, like dew point, humidity and a “feels like” temperature index. There are also weather maps and text-based forecasts for the next week.

If commercialism and the weather have you down, there are plenty of
apps to put you in the holiday spirit. For example, Christmas Radio, free on iOS and Android, is a simple and cheerful way to get Christmas music over the Internet.

The app is simple, offering a list of stations you can listen to and basic volume and play controls.

But since there are many stations from around the world to choose from, it’s easy to switch to a different channel if you don’t like a particular song. It’s also free, although this means you have to click through the occasional advertisement.

If you need to keep your children occupied for half an hour while you get on with some planning, then Toca Boca Hair Salon Xmas app is a great choice on iOS.
With great cartoon graphics and sounds, this app is all about cutting, colouring and styling either Santa’s hair and beard or the needles on a Christmas tree.

 It’s free and great fun for younger children. Just make sure they don’t click on the prominent ads for other Toca Hair Salon apps.

For Android devices, check out Tappy Run Xmas Christmas Game. It’s a simple game with cute graphics in which the goal is to guide cartoon animals through a forest to rescue Santa’s stolen toy sack. It looks great and has simple one-touch controls that even young children can manage.

Here’s hoping your seasonal stresses melt away like snow by the fireside.

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