Motown singer Barrett Strong once sang (as did The Beatles) that “the best things in life are free.”
Well, not necessarily so. Smartphone owners may boast that most of their mobile apps were free. But when it comes to purchasing apps for your smartphone or tablet, some of the best out there actually cost money.
With the holidays now upon us, you can give someone you love an iTunes or Google Play gift card. Or with iTunes, you can actually send the app itself as a present and email it on a specific date with a holiday message (sorry, Google Play doesn't support this feature). If you get a gift card or are thinking of sending an app as a gift, here are a few suggestions of paid apps that I really like as well as some from a few of my colleagues that are worth the price.
Splashtop 2 Remote Desktop (iOS, Android, starting at $2.99)
As productivity apps go, this is a must-have app. This brilliant program connects your phone or tablet to your PC or Mac. It's saved my life more than once when I was at work but needed to access a file on my home PC.
It wirelessly connects to your desktop computer and displays your computer screen on your mobile device. You then move your finger around the interface like a mouse cursor. There is little to no lag, and the program works perfectly.
Air Video HD/Qloud Media (iOS, Android, $2.99)
If you're like me, you can never have enough storage in your mobile phone or tablet, especially if you load it up with tons of video and music. These two apps are perfect solutions to running out of space. These apps, one for iPhones and iPads and the other for Android devices, turns your home desktop computer into a server. Store all your video and music on your home computer and stream them to your phone with ease.
Solar Walk (iOS, $2.99)
You don't have an be an astronomy junkie to enjoy this gorgeous, fun and educational app that explores our solar system with stunning 3D models of all the planets and their moons.
The whole presentation is in 3D and allows you to spin around the planetary bodies and through the solar system. It also shows you all of the major satellites launched from Earth as well as the most well-known space missions. This is exactly why computer tablets were made.
XCOM: Enemy Unknown (iOS, $19.99)
Don't let that steep price fool you — this is a full-fledged, full-featured port of the same game that would cost you 50 bucks for the consoles and PC. It's a wonderful strategy game in which you control a squad of marines searching for and fighting alien beings that crash land on Earth.
The 3D graphics are just as beautiful in the mobile version, and the game play is just as deep and robust as it is in its console counterparts. This is a great example that even the most complicated console games can be translated to mobile devices.
Infinity Blade III (iOS, $6.99)
I've touted this mobile game many times before, partly because it was developed by Utah game makers, Chair Entertainment, but also because it has to be the best-looking mobile game on the market.
It also has fun game play to match. You're a futuristic knight battling all sorts of ugly and ferocious titans by swiping your finger to swing your weapon. The graphics are as sharp and as handsome as any game on a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, but it's packed into a handheld device.
The Walking Dead (iOS, $19.99)
This game landed on many game critics' best-of lists for 2012, and with good reason. It's a scary, involving adventure game that replicates the horrors of the zombie-infested comic and television show. And like a TV show, it comes in a series of episodes that tell one over-arching story. The first episode is free but the rest cost money. This is a game that proves mobile touchscreen devices are the perfect platforms for classic point-and-click adventure games.
A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/A Charlie Brown Christmas (iOS, Android, $4.75 – $5.99)
If you're a boomer, you lovingly remember these classic Charlie Brown holiday specials that aired on television every year. Thanks to 21st Century technology, they now have been adapted as interactive books for mobile devices that not only tell the same precious stories we remember, but also includes interactive features and dialogue, sound effects and music from the original animated programs. It's a great way to hand down a tradition to your kids thanks to today's technology.
The Making of Star Wars (iOS, Android, $12.99 – $17.99)
J.W. Rinzler's fascinating journey through the making of George Lucas' “Star Wars” trilogy is now available as an ebook, but with so much more. There is a book for each film, and each volume not only has the original text of the book, but they also have added video clips, audio interviews and even more photos not included before. They're detailed accounts of the making of all three movies, told from the inside by those who worked on them. These are some of the best examples of what interactive ebooks can offer.