Holiday helper apps on your smartphone
Ah, there's a bite in the air, the lines are longer at the shopping centers and the shelves seem to have been picked clean. The neighbors' gaudy lights twinkle as if in a synchronized taunt to your bare house.
Yes, the last-minute rush is on to prep for the holidays. As always, there's an app or two to help you. (Sorry, not with stringing the lights, though.)
Searching for a tree
The season has arrived. Hanukkah is here, and Christmas is Sunday. But you're still looking for a tree? Android users can try out one of several free tree-finding apps: Tree Lot Finder, My Perfect Tree and Find My Tree.
The app locates you and, on a Google map, identifies where some tree lots are located. These all seem to be the same app, down to the font. There are some fairly generic instructions on tree care.
We weren't all that impressed with these apps since none of them seemed to include details about some of the tree lots that pop up throughout town. The closest lots listed for, say, Glendale were actually in West Los Angeles, Burbank and Whittier -- certainly far from the closest lots.
You might have better luck just looking up from your phone while you drive through the neighborhood.
Making a list
I'm still looking for an app to wrap my gifts for me. No luck yet.
Just keeping gifts straight can be a task for the overprogrammed. Of course, there's always Evernote for every device, for free. But if you're looking for something a little more festive, here are a few options.
Android users can try the All I Want From Santa app, available in English and Spanish on Motorola Xoom, Kindle Fire, and Nook Tablet and Color.
Each child in the house can create a unique account to make a wish list, prioritize the items and send the lists off to Santa. His helpful tech elves forward a copy to Mom or Dad. And, for the etiquette conscious among us, there's a feature to help with writing thank-you cards.
Another Android app that helps with organizing and planning your holiday shopping is Free Christmas List. It includes gift and cost tracking by person and a cost summary.
On iPhone, among the many options is the Christmas List for 99 cents. It's a handy way to keep track of what you have bought for whom, from which store and how much you've spent. You can also track the process -- to do, purchased, wrapped, shipped, received.
You can create groups for your gift giving. It's a nice interface, complete with scrollable photo list. And, if for some reason you just must, you can tweet the number of shopping days left by tapping the bird at the bottom of the app.
For budget-conscious shoppers, seeing what you've spent per person and the overall tally can really help keep the shopping in check. You can also share individual lists either via email, on Facebook or with someone else who has the app too.
Better Christmas List, also 99 cents, does much of the same but also includes pass code protection to keep lists secret from snoops and an archive of gifts received in years past, which can be handy.
Sending holiday cards
Think it's too late to send out your holiday wishes?
You can create a virtu-real card on Android phones and iPhones/iPads with the free app Sincerely Ink. The app offers more than 30 photo cards and illustrated designs, including religious, secular, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year themes. You can personalize with your own photo, name and message, and send it to folks right from your contact list. Although the app is free, the service isn't. One card, including postage, goes for about $2.
The folks on your mailing list will get 5-by-7 inch, thick, glossy photo postcards at 300 dpi resolution. Sincerely Ink says their cards arrive within seven days.
And if you want to take it to the next level, Holiday Video Cards by vlix for iOS lets you record a family video greeting, complete with seasonal tunes and effects. You use the video camera on your iPhone -- front or back -- to record a message up to a minute long. Then you can add text to introduce and close your video. The free app also offers 17 holiday effects and 16 holiday music tracks.
The video is quickly stitched together and added to your camera roll. You can also share it via email, Facebook, YouTube or vlix feed.
The app is compatible with iPhone 3GS, 4 and 4S, the fourth-generation iPod Touch and iPad 2.
Since my family is super late with the preps for the holiday, we'll definitely be using this to spread our holiday cheer to our connected family members and friends.
Having holiday fun
One last little fun iPhone app for 99 cents is Santa's Big Helper.
It boasts nine different features: Santa tracker, elf cam, Christmas countdown (clever interface), video elf updates (so awful they're kind of funny), naughty/nice list, letters to Santa, ask an elf, magic compass and Christmas sound board.
The elf cam videos are what make the app worth considering.
You take a picture of your living room or fireplace and, through elfin magic, Santa appears with gifts in hand in your own home.
You have video proof of his visit!
Photo at top: Screen shot of Find My Tree app. Credit: Find My Tree
Center photo: Screen shot of All I Want From Santa app. Credit: All I Want From Santa
Photo at bottom: Screen shot of Santa's Big Helper app. Credit: Santa's Big Helper