7 must-have mobile apps and devices from 2015

overlapping mobile devices
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CIO.com reviewer James A. Martin spotlights his favorite mobile apps and new gadgets from 2015, including software that helps you 'caffeinate' quickly and a tablet that lets nocturnal readers get a better night's sleep.

It's probably telling that Starbucks' mobile ordering feature is one of my favorite things from the tech world in 2015. When I prepare for a hike around San Francisco, I order fuel from my local Starbucks before I leave. After I head out, I swoop into the store, pick up my drink, and hit the road without slowing down (much).

Of course, the Starbucks app and its instant caffeine injections are just one of seven apps and devices that gave me the biggest buzz in 2015. The remaining six best apps and devices of 2015 are listed below, in alphabetical order.

Say hello to Amazon Echo

Amazon Echo

Amazon pleasantly surprised a lot of people with its Echo "Siri-in-a-speaker" gadget (currently $180), which responds to voice prompts and plays audio through a Bluetooth-connected speaker.

Unlike just about every other new piece of tech hardware on the planet, Echo constantly gains cool new features, such as the ability to tell Alexa (one of two Echo "wake" words) to add appointments to your Google Calendar, find out when your favorite TV show is on, or ask it to play holiday music. The only downside? Echo can do so many things, it's impossible to remember all of its features and functionality.

Shut out bad 'blue light' with Amazon Fire HD 8 Reader's Edition

As of this writing, I've only had Amazon's new Fire HD 8 Reader's Edition tablet for a few days, so adding it to this list might be a bit premature. However, it's a great tablet for its intended market: readers. So I didn't hesitate to include it here.

kindle fire 8 readers edition blue shade 2 Amazon

The tablet feels good in hand. The 8-inch screen is just right for reading. I love the Blue Shade feature, which is designed to decrease the amount of "blue light" the tablet's screen emits and prevent it from interfering with sleep.

The Fire HD 8 Reader's Edition comes with one year of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's Netflix-like subscription service for ebook lovers. And the $250 bundle includes a handsome, chestnut-brown case that feels like a traditional book cover.

The tablet's meager 8GB of storage is skimpy, but fortunately, you can pop in a microSD card to expand its capacity. (I use SanDisk's 64GB card [$23].)

Apple iPad Pro is big, bold and beautiful

7 ipad pro

As soon as I saw Apple's latest and greatest tablet at its fall 2015 dog and pony show, I knew it would be mine. I love the iPad Pro's enormous, 12.9-inch Retina display and four stereo speakers. As a multimedia tablet, I've seen nothing better, and I call it my portable IMAX.

The iPad Pro is great for getting work done, too. However, a few notable limitations prevent me from selling my MacBook Air and going all-in on the iPad Pro. You can't, for example, simultaneously have multiple Word files open, or reliably input text and images into some online content management systems.

Apple Watch Activity app promotes healthier lifestyle

Apple Watch Activity app

As soon as Apple listed its first smartwatch for sale, I preordered my Apple Watch, thinking I'd love all the information it brought to my wrist. Eights months later, yes, the notifications, stock quotes, and weather forecasts are still useful.

What I really love, however, is the Activity app, which motivates me to burn at least 500 calories each day (which you really have to work to achieve); stand up once every hour for at least 12 hours (sitting is the new smoking, as they say); and walk at a brisk pace for at least 30 minutes.

All this information might drive some people nuts, but it pushes me to be more active, and for that alone, Apple Watch is easily one of the best tech investments I made in 2015.

Take notes to the next level with Notability


I recently discovered Notability ($6), while testing apps that let you use the Apple Pencil on an iPad Pro to mark up documents. Now I use the note-taking and annotation app all the time. For example, I've been importing Web pages and PDFs related to a trip I'm planning with a friend into Notability. Then I use Apple Pencil to circle and highlight information that I want my friend to see. When I'm done, I can share the marked-up documents in multiple ways, or save them to the cloud using Dropbox or Evernote. Unfortunately, Notability is only available for iOS.


Wunderlist on all of your various devices

I'm a bit obsessed with organization, and I use Wunderlist every day for both work and personal reasons. I keep a running list of blog post topics and article ideas; daily work to-do lists; separate shopping lists for grocery stores, drug stores, and hardware stores; and packing lists for trips. You name it, I made a list out of it.

Wunderlist is particularly valuable, because the app is available on so many platforms and in multiple app stores, including Windows PCs, Macs, Chromebooks, iOS, Android, Amazon Appstore, Windows Phone, and the Web. Unlike some other to-do apps, Wunderlist's free version is extremely useful, and most people won't have to upgrade to the $5-a-month version.

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