Things have changed quite a bit from when I had to prepare for back to school. The closest thing I had to a tablet was my Trapper Keeper, and the closest thing to apps were the inside flaps of Pee Chee folders titled “Useful Information.” So yes, things have changed. Today we have mobile devices with information and tools available with a few clicks and searches. Kids these days have it so easy! However, what good is a new tablet or phone if you dont have any apps to showcase all it can do. So, we’ve put together a list of mobile apps (phones and tablets) for the coming school year. A few disclaimers though: [A] we are recommending just a handful of the thousands (nearly 1 million) apps in the Google Play (Android) and Apple App Store (iOS); [B] we are recommending apps specifically for high school and higher education grade levels. There are lots of great apps elementary school age students, too many for us to give our recommendations on;  we tried to locate Android and iOS equivalents for each category. As for the categories we stuck to note taking, reference, eTextbook, flashcards and miscellaneous. Oh and I tried to cheap, we’re talking about student budgets here.
There are a lot of note taking apps and we cant possibly go through all of them, but we wanted to highlight a handful of our favorite ones. They vary from typing, writing, audio, photo, shareable and cloud-based. I personally like a library of notes depending on what I need to record.
(iOS, iPhone and iPad) FREE
This app works well enough and you can use share the ones you create to trigger reminders.
- Sortable Folders
- Page swiping
- Backup/export through email.
- Email, tweet, message, or print notes.
(iOS, iPhone and iPad), Lite Free Trial version (4 notes) or $1.99 full version.
The standout feature with Super Note is you can type or record notes at the same time (OOOOHH AAHHHH).
- Recorded notes (built into your typed notes)
- Pause and continue recording options
- Playback recordings while typing
- Color code notes
- Spell check
- Swiping to switch to other notes
- Sortable notes
- Pop-up reminders/alerts
- Download and send notes via email
(Android) Free, with paid versions
Note Everything is very much comparable to Super Note, but it also has the ability to utilize widgets, which is a plus over most of these other note options.
- Create voice, text and paint notes.
- Shortcuts (widgets)
- Send notes via email
FREE (Premium features: $5/month or $45/year)
The greatest feature in Evernote is the ability to share across devices automatically. While others rely on pushing content via email or cloud solutions, Evernote takes care of that for you.
- Save, sync and share notes across devices automatically.
- Create notes, to-dos and task lists
- Record audio notes
- Search text
- Email notes
Catch Notes Notepad
FREE (upgradable for premium features)
The stand-out component on this app is the collaboration. This helps out for those group projects where you may need work across multiple devices. Yes there are other cloud based options (Google Docs, Microsoft Outlook) but this is built into the notetaking app.
- Create text, voice or image notes (online and offline)
- Multiple voice recordings and images to notes
- Scan barcodes
- Tasks and to-do lists
- Email notes to your catch account
- Search tags and priorities
- Passcode security setting
- Collaboration tools
$.99 iPad only (not compatible with iPhone)
The focus of this app is not text based-note taking, but traditional handwritten notes. One drawback is you probably need to use a stylus with this app and others like it.
- Notes, sketch, scribble, doodle, fiddle faddle (OK, maybe not the last one)
- Different paper types
- Ink types and colors
- Photo annotation
- Print directly
- Share via email, iTunes file sharing or Dropbox
Free (3 notebooks) or $2.99 Pro version Android only
Sure you can type a note, but there’s always something really comforting in handwriting (it could just be me). Handrite claims it’s an app that doesn’t need the use of a stylus to write out text, but as we’ve found with other note taking apps that capture handwriting, its best to use a stylus.
- Multiple pens
- Time stamp
- Labeling system
- Save to SD card
- Share: email, Tweet, Facebook
We can probably spend weeks covering all reference material available on the mobile app stores, but we wont. Not to discredit the great work that goes in to reference apps, but there are just so many. Some that go in to great detail for its respective subject. We cant promise you the library of congress (there’s an app for that), but we can recommend you our favorite reference tools.
We really like Wolfram|Alpha. If you’re lucky enough to have an iPhone 4S or an Android mobile device running Jelly Bean (Android 4.1), then you already know the technology (you call her Siri or Google Search). Wolfram|Alpha is a way to search the web through magic (I call it magic, you call it science, math and computations) to get the right answer. You could pull up the mobile site on your phone or tablet, but the app is definitely optimized to work on your mobile device. Check out the list below, you see why it is already smarter than most of us.
- Statistics and data analysis (socioeconomic data)
- Earth Science
- Life Sciences
- Computational Sciences
- Units and measures
- Dates and times
- Health and Medicine
- Food and nutrition
Some will gripe about whether the app is actually any better than the mobile web version of this reference library. Honestly, I think its preference. What it does have is Nearby Pages. A great way to make the subject matter relevant. For parents who feel obligated to teach (torture) their children on various subjects, here’s a great to interactive (mappy) way of doing so. You take them to that hole in Arizona and point to it and say, “Son that’s the Grand Canyon” then take 20 steps to the right and say, “someone famous once stood here.”
- Save articles for offline reading
- Search articles nearby
- Share articles
- Read in different languages (show off!)
We find camera scanner apps to be really useful. At this point, they aren’t going to replace higher quality desktop scanners, but they get the job done when you aren’t near one. They can take a teacher’s notes from a dry erase board pretty well and you can sign documents and “scan” them with ease. These are just a few of our favorites:
Only iOS (iPhone, not otomized for iPad) Free (Genius Scan+ for $2.99)
- Detects page frame
- Scan and email in JPG and PDF
- Shares documens over WiFi
CamScanner – Phone PDF Creator
- Multi-page documents
- Quick, batch scanning
- Color enhancement
- PDF (did we mention there are ads in the free version?)
- Various Page sizes (letter, A4, you name it)
- Sharing (Fax, email, cloud printing, cloud storing, gallery)
- Backup and restore
- Passcode protection
- Copy/move between documents
eTextbook Readers and Stores
eBooks are swell, they dont take up much space and you can take thousands of books around with you everywhere you go. There will always be a debate about whether eBooks are better than physical books, that is a given. Take the fact that prices of eBooks aren’t necessarily cheaper than electronic versions and you dont really have a “used” eBook option. However, eBooks are lighter than that 4,600 page case law book. Your spine would definitely appreciate the lighter load. But eTextbooks can be far more dynamic than its paper predecessors. They are study aides, textbooks and lectures in one convenient package. I think eTextbooks have a lot of promise and it is exciting to see change in an otherwise traditionally boring medium.
FREE, iOS only
Amazon Kindle Reader
Features (for iBooks and Amazon Kindle Reader are nearly identical):
- Download books from iBookstore
- Experience-rich books
- Free samples
- Sync between devices
- Use as PDF viewer
FREE, iOS only
- Search books using ISBN bar-code scanning for price comparison (take that campus book store)
- Rent textbooks from iPhone or iPad
- Extend rental periods
- Track Shipping on physical books
- find closest UPS location to return books
- Also Chegg has a study options that connects you with Chegg community “experts” that will help you with any questions.
Create your own or use Chegg expert made flash cards to help you ace the next quiz or test.
- Create flashcards
- Access pre-made flash cards
- Track pace
Create your own or download one of 6,000 available sets.
- Text, image and sound cards
- Text to speech
- edit cards
- backup cards
- cram mode
- dictionary integration
- Trade-in books
- Price check
- Sell on the Marketplace
- Free two-day shipping after signing up for Amazon Student Prime
FREE, content too is FREE
iTunes U is available on your Mac or PC too, through iTunes. Content ranges from classroom lectures to tutorials on various subjects. All school level curriculum is available, your school, teacher, or professor (maybe even your own instructor) may have their own lessons or lectures available to you.
As we mentioned, these are just a few of our favorite apps. We’re fairly certain you have favorites of your own, please post below if you feel we’ve missed any school apps that you cant live without .
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