Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Apps for Expats

My wonderful, amazing dear hubby got my a smart phone for Dia dos Namorados.  This beauty is to replace the previous cell phone that was duly given tribute here.  I had always told him that I didn't want an IPhone or a fancy schmancy phone, because I have a tendency to be a little rough on things.  And the idea of investing in a small, breakable electronic that I carry all over the place felt like, well.... a risk.  But my husband loves me, and decided it was time for me to grow technologically. 

And I'm surprised at just how happy it makes me.  I never really understood what a "smart" phone was, and I'm not going to explain it here.  But it's so nice to be able to have instant access to so much information.  I'm having a lot of fun playing with it. 

And dear readers, I'm asking for your help.  What apps do you find helpful?  I just found out about Whatsapp, and I know I can get Skype and probably some language apps.  But any suggestions?  Recommendations? 

What I'd REALLY love is the ability to be able to text my sister in Africa (she doesn't have a Smart Phone), and to be able to call a land line in the US, or receive phone calls from the states (for free of course).  I do have a Google Voice number, but I think since I'm outside of the US I can't use it to receive phone calls on my phone. 

Comment away!


  1. Shazam - whenever you're hearing a song, you open it and after the app "hears" the song for 10 seconds, it's gonna tell you which song is it. Before I was so worried to try to memorize some words that could help me find the song in google, that I couldn't relax and really enjoy the new song. And if the lyrics were hard to understand, it was even worse, so worried to memorize something, that in the end I couldn't remember anything. The database for songs in english is much larger, of course, but I think it might be very helpful if you just come across a song in portuguese that you enjoy and can not understand the lyrics.

  2. Hey Shelley!
    I'm a total geek, and I'm beyond happy that I paid an arm and a leg to get a smartphone in Brazil. It has significantly improved the quality of my life here by making oh-so-many things much easier. I use the iPhone so I don't know if all the apps are exactly the same on Android, but many will have Android versions or an equivalent product.

    Dictionary: Portuguese/English dictionary. Incredible. Michaelis has a dictionary that has Port/Eng, Eng/Port, and Port/Port. Awesome.

    Kindle App: If you want books or a newspaper subscription, it's great. The iPhone screen is super-small (would be better on a tablet), but the Kindle app does fast, easy dictionary look-ups. You can subscribe to a Brazilian paper, get a Port dictionary for the Kindle, and get instant definitions for any words you don't know. Great if you want to work on your Port.

    Workouts: GymGoal is awesome if you go to the gym, Runmeter and a million others are great for walking/running.

    Tasks/TODO: Wunderlist is awesome for lists of things to do, to buy, etc. It's also super-easy to share lists with other people. So, you could add groceries to the share list, and when Matt goes to the store, he can pickup what you wanted. Wunderlist is currently super-buggy, and I personally switched to an app called Producteev. Producteev is much more powerful, and I'm happy with it. But, it's a lot more complex while Wunderlist is super easy. (I got my Mom to use it at home during my last visit.) Both apps sync between computer, web, and phones. Great stuff.

    Evernote to sync notes between computer and phone. One of the many ways I use this is to cut & paste a bus schedule to an Evernote note on my computer before I head out to a new area. I sync my computer. Then, when I sync my phone, the note's there for me to use later.

    Reeder: If you follow a lot of blogs, this is THE RSS newsreader. Waaaay easier to read blogs this way.

    Facebook app obviously.

    In the unlikely event you're an IM fan, IM+ connects with all the IM networks. Can be nice.

    Words with Friends is a fun scrabble game that is played against people anywhere in the world.

    If you like to do finances or whatever online, all banks (US and Brazilian) have apps. I know Vivo has an app for cell phone service. The other operators probably do, too.

    If you do a lot of shipping, there are several handy apps for zip codes, CEP, delivery notifications, tracking, etc.

    StarWalk is just super, super neat-oh if you're ever out at night with the kids and want to learn about the stars. Waaay cool.

    IntoNow is the same as Shazam but for TV. Really handy.

    Games: Plants vs Zombies, Angry Birds, Sudoku (millions of apps), Osmos, etc

    Transportation: I don't know if BH has a bus app, but more and more cities have bus apps to help with finding and locating buses. (The first apps out are usually junk, but everything's improving rapidly!)

    Wikipanion is awesome if you're a Wikipedia fan.

    Portuguese: There are other practice apps for learning sounds, grammar, listen to online radio, etc... I can recommend a few if you want.

    Flashcards: Anki is a great flashcard app for learning Port vocab.

    Podcasts: Use your smartphone to download podcasts and listen/practice your Port (if you like this kind of practice)

    An English dictionary. Not necessary but handy. I have WordBook but there are zillions.

    Password storage: I recommend for your computer, if not your phone as well, to use LastPass. It's a great password management system. (Just be sure to choose a good master password.)

    Good luck, have fun! (I should work for a smartphone company, shouldn't I? hehe)

    1. Forgot to mention... become good friends with the map -- and the associated location information and google searches in it. This has saved me oodles of hours (if not days) wandering around unknown cities trying to find offices, restaurants, stores, cartorios, etc.

      Also, in BH, Google Maps offers a Public Transit option to see bus lines and times on your phone. It's not perfect, but it's still super useful. I used it tons when I lived there.

  3. Wow! Nickdag!! THANK YOU!!!!!
    I have had smart phones for a while now and learned a lot from your comment, thank you so much for sharing!!! :)


  4. Wow, thanks Nick. Really helpful!

  5. Nick, can you recommend some Portuguese podcasts? I had been doing, but I can't seem to figure it out on my Android....still learning...

    1. :) Glad you found the info useful! Maybe I was a software critic in another life?

      As for HOW to get podcasts on your phone, I have no idea. I've never used Android and don't know how that works. I use iTunes (which is Apple), and even if you don't have an iPhone, the iTunes store includes hundreds of thousands of free podcasts that you can search through and download.

      As for which podcasts... I find it useful to categorize language podcasts into two types. There are a podcasts for LEARNING a language and "normal" podcasts for native speakers.

      As for "learning" podcasts, I never really had much luck, with one excellent exception that I'll get to in a moment. I found most of the podcasts to be too slow, too annoying, too long, to cheaply made, too whatever. (Perhaps I'm too picky...) Anyway, I just could never get into the groove with any of them.

      The big exception is Ta Falado. This podcast is absolutely superb and short (some 20 episodes of grammar, 20 of pronunciation, each around 10 minutes). It should be required listening for anyone studying Portuguese. It's billed as a Portuguese podcast for Spanish speakers, but just ignore that. You don't need to know Spanish, and the "base" language of it is English. Here's a link:

      I'm very serious. You should listen to every episode of Ta Falado. I was extremely disappointed when I discovered it late into my Brazil experience. Had it been sooner, it would have shaved months off my Portuguese studies!

      Unfortunately I can't recommend any other learning podcasts.

      As for native podcasts, I finally found the most consistent podcasts were radio networks which recorded their shows. CBN (not Christian Broadcast Network) and Rádio Bandeirantes are both consistently decent and have several different feeds -- basically podcasts of different shows of theirs. Pick one or two to experiment with the format and topic and see what you think.

      If you like technology, I'd also search for tech podcasts. There seem to be tons of decent quality podcasts about technology -- just technology fans talking about tech. (You could listen to an Android podcast in Portuguese!)

      Also check out newspaper podcasts. I know the Folha (of São Paulo) had a series, and perhaps O Globo from Rio or the Estado de Minas has some. You just need to search in your podcast player or directly on the website.

      I literally spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours listening to these podcasts while walking around town. At the beginning I understood almost nothing, now I understand most of them!

      As an aside, I think it's super important to choose topics which you personally enjoy. If you plan on listening to a podcast regularly, it'll never last if it's something you detest!

      I hope that helps. Podcasts seemed to always be a mixed bag for me. It was always hard to find good ones, and I often got frustrated with them. But, I kept listening because I have a terrible ear for Portuguese, and I needed to practice, practice, practice.

      Good luck!

    2. Thanks so much! I've actually already done all the Ta Falado. I think I"m just going to Bluetooth the pod casts from my Itunes to my phone. It feels a little old fashioned, but then I get a good choice of what to listen to. Now I just need to give myself some time to explore the podcasts. But I agree that listening is the way to go; I had this realization a few months ago. I spend lots of time on the bus, walking around, and I have not near enough time to seriously study Portuguese (kids! work! dishes!). So listening is the way to go. Thanks again.

  6. Hi,

    Firstly, thanks for you blog. It keeps me sane trying to work out the different ways of living here (recent move to Belo from the UK with 5 month baby!).

    Anyway, the 2 apps I love:

    1. Maps with me - I have been unable to find a decent map that I like of the city and every sat nav system we have tried tells us the wrong way to go quite often. So... did some frantic internet searching for this... has most of the one way streets marked too - which is an amazing feat. It uses GPS to track you so no need for data roaming (we have only moved for 5 months so I can't use data roaming unless I want to pay international rates). Amazing!!!

    2. Portuguese dictionary by BIT Knights. When you have data roaming or wifi, it will also ask bing and google for translations. It also has an extra that is a Brazilian voice saying the words for you to get the pronunciation right.

    Thanks again for your blog... keep it coming.

  7. PS Nick... thanks for the tafalado link... listened to the start of the first lesson and it looks great!