Have a loved one who spends most of their waking hours on their smartphone device? It’s not too late to give them a little something extra this holiday season – in the form of a great app. In fact, you can even wait until the special day that you are exchanging gifts to download the app with them and pay for it. Consider it your get out of jail free card if you’ve waited until the last minute to shop.
Whether they primarily use an iPhone, iPad, or an Android device, some of the best apps are extremely affordable.
There are, of course, plenty of great apps that are free. But giving someone a free app for a holiday? Come on. Not even Scrooge McDuck would do that.
(Just in case, though, check out our picks of the best free financial calculator apps, best iPad personal finance apps and the best Android personal finance apps.)
Here, we’ve highlighted some of the best paid apps for the iPhone, iPad, and Android in 2010. Since games make up such a huge share of smartphone app purchases and simultaneously make a great gift, we’ll cover a great game app for each platform in addition to a non-game app.
Best iPhone Gift Apps
Game App. – Plants vs. Zombies ($2.99)
Angry Birds was the obvious choice here as the #1 paid app on iPhone, but with good odds that your gift receiver already has it, we had to switch it up a bit. Plants vs. Zombies, from developer PopCap Games, was recently chosen by Apple to be the best iPhone gaming app of 2010. Users seem to agree. The app has over 28,000 reviews, with an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars from a very critical user base.
PopCap describes the game as “A mob of fun-loving zombies is about to invade your home. Use your arsenal of 49 zombie-zapping plants — peashooters, wall-nuts, cherry bombs and more — to mulchify 26 types of zombies before they break down your door.”
50 levels of plant/zombie mayhem will ensure that your $2.99 keeps them busy for a while.
Non-Game App. – Hipstamatic ($1.99)
Hipstamatic allows you to become an instant ‘Hipsta’ photographer with an iPhone. The Hipstamatic app was voted by Apple as the best non-gaming app of 2010 for the iPhone. In the iTunes store, it has over 5,000 reviews and is rated at 4 out of 5 stars.
Essentially, the basic app gives you a series of lens, films, and flashes to choose from so that you can take some pretty unique and fun camera shots and upload them directly to Facebook or Flickr or email them to friends. All the while, you cut out the middleman (Photoshop) by seeing how the photos look immediately with the settings that you selected.
The basic app comes with 3 different lens, 3 film, and 2 flash settings. Additional gear packs (lens, films, and flashes) can be purchased for as low as $0.99.
Best iPad Gift Apps
Game App: Real Racing HD ($9.99)
Real Racing HD was one of the top 10 selling iPad apps of 2010. It has over 2,000 reviews in the iTunes store, with an average rating of 4 out of 5 stars from users. The iPad is an outstanding platform for interactive gaming, and Real Racing HD is perhaps the most visually stunning game app on the platform. In the latest version, you can even get involved in multi-player gaming.
You use the iPad itself as the steering and breaking device, much like a Wii joystick. It’s the perfect combination of function, graphics, and platform. For $9.99, it’s hard to go wrong. Added bonus: you can play your own music while the game plays, just as if you were driving your own car.
Non-Game App: Pages ($9.99)
Pages is a word processing app developed by Apple. It was the top selling iPad app of 2010. It has over 4,000 reviews and a 4 out of 5 rating in the iTunes store. Not bad for a word processor!
Pages allows you to view and edit Pages ’09 files, Microsoft Word files, and plain text files from Mail, the web, your MobileMe iDisk, a WebDAV service, or your Mac or PC using iTunes File Sharing. Not the most exciting gift in the world, but if it’s the top seller, it’s hard to argue with the functionality.
Best Android Gift Apps
Game App: Robo-Defense ($2.99) – search for ‘Robo Defense’ in the Android Market
The #1 paid game app in the Android marketplace at the moment, Robo Defense has over 250,000 downloads, 33,000 ratings, and a 5 out of 5 star rating. Not bad! Build towers, protect them with guns, 120 addicting levels. What more can you ask for?
Non-Game App: PowerAmp Music Player ($4.99) – search for ‘PowerAmp’ in the Android Market
PowerAmp is presently the #1 most downloaded paid app on Android outside of the gaming niche and is getting rave reviews as the best Android music player app on the market. It has a 5 star rating with over 4,500 reviews. The app features an equalizer with pre-set options, album art grabber (so you don’t have to go out and find it on your own like you do with WinAmp), supports Last.FM, and offers a slick, user-friendly interface. It is a must-have for Androiders who use their phone to listen to music.
Note: To purchase the full version of PowerAmp, you must first install the trial version and then get the paid upgrade.
What are your pics for the best paid iPhone, iPad, and Android apps of the year to give as gifts?
GE Miller is the author of 20somethingfinance.com, recently selected by Kiplinger as the best personal finance blog for twenty-somethings. In a related post, he recently highlighted 7 money saving gift ideas.