by Kevin Purdy -- Time is money, but your smartphone often doesn't respect either one. Whether trying to tinker past your phone's technical hang-ups or being pushed to buy premium services, there are lots of ways to lose minutes and money trying to get more functionality from your phone. Here are four apps that give your phone extended powers, and do it very cheaply, or even free.
If you're a Gmail or Google Apps email user and iPhone owner who wants the same kind of instant "push" notifications as Microsoft Exchange users, grab GPush. The $2 app sends pop-up push notifications to your phone, complete with sender and subject lines. You can choose how your phone alerts you (ring, buzz, or icon number changes) and save your battery by reducing how often your phone checks for messages. GPush had a few hiccups during an initial wave of new users, but it's generally providing timely updates to Gmail fans.
While you're boosting your iPhone email powers, check out Pastie, a "freemium" app that sends pre-formatted emails or SMS message. Write up a few common replies or heads-up scripts ("Stuck in traffic, running late," or "In a meeting, call you when it's over," perhaps), then attach them to frequent contacts. When you're at that traffic standstill or drowning in an over-long meeting, you can quickly fire up Pastie, click your standard message, and beam it to the boss, the spouse, or whoever needs it. The free version has a three-message limit, unlike the $2 paid version.
WHERE is both a free mobile site and download-able application for BlackBerry, iPhone, Palm Pre, and Android phones, and it saves you the effort of finding five other apps to find local things in new cities. WHERE pulls down data from Yelp, GasBuddy, Eventful, Topix, and other local search sites, then matches them to your GPS or self-provided location. Other apps can do the same, if not in aggregate, but WHERE presents its findings in closest-to-farthest order, provides ratings when available, and lets you tag results to get back to later.
Visual voicemail and speech-to-text transcription are marquee features for the iPhone and Google's invite-only Voice service, but you can snag both of them for free, or for a low monthly fee. YouMail offers apps for BlackBerry and Android phones, along with the iPhone, but its basic voicemail service can be used by the cheapest handset on the market. Sign up at YouMail's site, follow its instructions on forwarding your voicemail to its number, and then your voicemail just got a lot more powerful. Record distinct, separate greetings for professional contacts and chummy friends, manage and download your messages from the web or in visual form on your phone, and, best of all, have a transcript and caller ID for voicemails sent by email or SMS to your phone. Free accounts limit transcriptions to single contacts or a number of messages, which you can upgrade with plans priced at $4 or $7 per month. If your workplace voicemail supports PBX, or you're already using Vonage, Skype, or another VoIP service, you can have YouMail deliver those voicemail messages to your cell phone as well.