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Have an appy Christmas!
By Zhu Shenshen

LOOKING for the perfect Christmas gift for your smart phone? One, of course, that will come in pretty handy for you too.

Whether you want to cook some tasty dishes, take better photographs, do a spot of traveling or keep kids (of all ages) entertained, there's an app for the job, guaranteed to add a little glitter to the festive season.

The popularity of smart phones makes the whole process easy, whether you are using an iPhone or iPad, Android phones and tablets or Windows Phone devices.

Fun and games

For game fans or their parents, there are plenty of choices, including Temple Run (iOS and Android, free), Fifa 13 (iOS, US$4.99) and Angry Birds (iOS and Android, US$0.99).

Another fun app is the home-grown Changba (iOS and Android, free), which allows users to upload clips of themselves singing and let others rate their warbling.

Photographic memories

Nice effects and quick and easy sharing are the key requirements for photography apps during festival celebrations.

With multi-touch functionality, iPhoto (iOS, US$4.99) allows users to browse, edit and share pictures from iPad, iPhone or iPod touch devices. It's still probably the best iOS app of its kind, perfect for Christmas snapshots.

With iPhoto, users edit their snapshots directly on their mobile devices - convenient for festive revellers who won't want to return home to their PCs or laptops to edit pictures before sending them to family and friends.

And iPhone users should also check out GroupShot (US$0.99) for improving family shots and Photosynth (free) for panorama effects.

Sophie Cam (US$0.99) is arguably the best photography app choice for Windows Phone users. It allows snappers to edit and publish pictures to social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr and features special effects filters like Roid and Housten.

Meanwhile, Android device users can try the Camera 360 app (free) to get their perfect festive snaps.

Cook up something special

Show off your culinary credentials with Allrecipes - Your Kitchen Inspiration (iPad, free) which aims to inspire users to get into the kitchen over Christmas with some tried and tested recipes. This is combined with Cook Mode, which enlarges instructions and pictures for each stage of a recipe, making it more convenient to glance at while cooking.

Allrecipes provides options for ingredients, dish types, even cuisine and occasions to find the perfect recipe. Its search function allows users to access a database of more than 45,000 member-tested recipes.

Meanwhile, with 1,500 recipes featuring both words and high-resolution pictures, Meishijie (iOS, free) provides users with a great resource for rustling up Chinese meals.

And it also supports voice search and control features, allowing you to access recipes without touching the screen - perfect if your hands are covered in gooey ingredients while cooking up a feast.

To date, Meishijie has marked up 2 million downloads, making it one of the most popular apps in its category.

But if all this cooking sounds too much like hard work, there are plenty of Yelp-like applications - such as Dianping, available on all major smart phone systems - to help you find dining options at reasonable prices.

On the road

Fotopedia China (iOS, free) is the best English language app I have seen for introducing Chinese tourist sites and culture - complete with informative photographs and maps.

It's ideal for planning a trip or just for finding out more about China in a fun way through pictures.

The English titles and descriptions are accurate and elegant - covering attractions such as the Temple of Heaven, the Stone Forest, Tiger Leaping Gorge and White Cloud Temple.

Fotopedia China's one shortcoming is that for optimum performance it requires a Wi-Fi connection.

If all those tourist sights on Fotopedia China whet your appetite for travel, then Airbnb (iOS and Android, free) may be your best bet for inexpensive accommodation, connecting users with people who have space for rent. The app allows anyone to list, find and book anything from a private apartment to a private island.

You can also try Airbnb's "Find a place, tonight!" featuring last minute availability.

For more conventional options, smart phone users can save cash on booking flights and hotels using Expedia.com (free for all systems) or Chinese counterparts such as Qunar.com and Ctrip.com (both free for all systems).

And remember to check the air quality information of Chinese cities with CN Air Quality (iOS, free).

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