You don't need an iPhone to get the latest technical wizardry on your mobile phone. Thousands of mobile applications, or ‘apps', are available for Nokia, Palm, Blackberry, Windows Mobile and Google Android based smartphones, and many are FREE.
Smartphone who? A smartphone's just a mobile with more advanced abilities. If you've a newish phone with decent internet and functions you'd associate more with a PC than a phone, ie. flashy graphics and programs, or a touch screen, chances are you'll be able to get apps.
Sadly, if the most your phone can offer in the way of technical prowess is a monochrome snake, it's unlikely you'll be able to add apps.
Step 1: What type of phone do you have?
If you already know how to get apps, jump to the app stores section. If not, check your phone's menus for a ‘Download apps' or ‘Application Manager' feature. If you can't find one, check the manufacturer's website. For example, Nokia's get started site gives info for Nokia phones.
Step 2: Find your app downloader
Use the app link on your phone, or just search for the app store on your phone's internet browser. Depending on your operating system, you may also need to download a special program.
Step 3: Get ‘appy!
Browse the app stores to see which is the most useful for you. Though none are as big as Apple's App Store, which caters exclusively for the iPhone, there's still a huge range to choose from.
For your phone only: the big five app stores
Here's a round up of the app stores from the main smartphone operating systems.
Google's app store
Meaty app store with plenty of titles to choose from, and a good number of freebies to boot. To see the full range available you'll need to search using your phone.
How to get it: It's preinstalled on most Android phones, though also has a version that's searchable on your computer.
Interesting: MagicMarker Neon touch-paint drawing program, free to download.
Game: Assassin's Creed Action adventure set in twelfth century Jerusalem, price unlisted.
Freebie: First Aid Offers basic first aid information, with videos, illustrations and more, free.
Check it out: Android Market
Nokia Ovi Store
Apps from the Finnish giant
Nokia's own app store, this colourful application allows you to sort apps by whether they're paid or free. It has fewer apps than you'd expect for such a big name, but there's still a good range to choose from.
How to use it: Go to the Nokia site to see mobiles that are compatible.
Interesting: SkyFire Browser that lets you watch any video as if you're on a PC, free.
Game: Monopoly World Global Monopoly for £4!
Freebie: Tube Map Scrollable London Underground map with live updates and route planner, free.
Check it out: Nokia Ovi Store
Blackberry App World
Covers most Blackberry devices
Slick app store from Blackberry, with a good supply of freebies and paid apps. It's searchable by title and subcategory, with a rundown of the latest and most popular apps to boot. It's also got a handy online demo to show you how to use it from scratch.
How to use it: Just go to mobile.blackberry.com on your smartphone's browser to download apps directly.
Interesting: ToneMaker Ringtone creator that lets you add your own vocals (!), $2.99.
Game: Air Traffic Control Furiously addictive air traffic control action, $4.99.
Freebie: WeatherEye Gives a range of different weather updates, forecasts and warnings.
Check it out: Blackberry App World
Palm App Catalog
Palm's long-awaited store
Built for Palm smartphones running webOS, this store has a comparatively small amount of apps available, though it's still worth a look. Its apps are searchable by category, including entertainment, games, lifestyle, music and social networking.
How to use it: It'll come pre-installed on your handset, so just click and go.
Interesting: Pandora Streaming radio station based on your favourite tunes, price unlisted.
Game: Wabbit Hunt Tap to shoot the bunnies but watch out for those pesky zombie rabbits, price unlisted.
Check it out: Palm App Catalog
Windows Marketplace for Mobile
Microsoft's app store
Though it has comparatively few apps, its clean look and easy searchability from your computer make this worth checking out. It's likely many more apps will appear once Microsoft launches Windows mobile 7.
How to use it: If your phone's running Windows Mobile 6.5 it'll already be installed and located in the Start menu. If not, Windows Mobile 6.0 or 6.1 users can download it for free from Windows.
Interesting: Evening Standard The latest stories direct to your phone, free.
Game: Cluedo Solve the murder of the aptly named ‘Mr Boddy', £4.69.
Freebie: My Phone Creates a quick backup of your phone for nowt.
Check it out: Windows Mobile marketplace
Independent app stores
These independent stores cater for a range of different platforms. Search by handset or operating system to find apps compatible with your phone.
For all main operating systems
Not affiliated with any particular phone or system, Handango sells apps for all the big platforms except Apple’s. It's a good place to start, especially if you aren’t sure what your handset can cope with. You can search by handset manufacturer so there’s no risk of downloading an app that won’t work with your phone.
There’s lots to choose from here as it caters for around 400 smartphones, so expect to spend a little time finding what you want. To browse from your handset you’ll need to download its InHand app. It also has free apps, though these are currently tricky to find – Handango has told us that it’s soon going to launch a ‘free apps’ section to make them easier to search for.
Interesting: i-Phrase Chinese Talking phrase book with audio and visual elements, £8.99.
Game: Call of Duty 5: World at War Mobile version of the first-person war shooter, £8.99.
Freebie: Whac-a-Mole Free Old-school arcade game, with four game modes.
Check it out: Handango
Great for freebies
This independent app store is a good all-rounder if you’re into freebies. It caters for all major platforms with a cornucopia of free apps. You can also search online by your manufacturer and phone model, so you don’t have to scroll through apps that aren’t compatible with your handset.
Interesting: Scribble for Mobile Get creative with this drawing app, free.
Game: Speed Moto Compete for the fastest time in this colourful racing game, free.
Freebie: CellSpin Blogging application usable on a range of social media sites, free.
Check it out: GetJar
Loads of apps, easy to search
Has a massive number of apps to browse, with plenty of freebies to check out. To help find the ones you want, you can also search online by platform, keyword, category, rating or language, as well as top sellers and free apps.
Interesting: Advanced Brain Trainer Test your reactions, logic and calculation skills, £6.95.
Game: Numberz Sudoku game useful for perking up boring train journeys, £3.11.
Freebie: BigClock Has world time, alarms, stopwatch, timer and large number display, free.
Check it out: PocketGear
You’ll need to sign up to download apps, though registration's free. Usefully, Mobango has a wide range of freebies available on all the main platforms. When you register you’ll also be asked to select your make and model so it's easier to find apps for your phone.
Interesting: Tether for Blackberry Lets you use your Blackberry as a laptop modem, free.
Game: Ball Rush Break all the blocks to move through the levels, free.
Freebie: NetQin Antivirus Demo app that enhances your mobile’s security, free.
Check it out: Mobango
Good for finding out about apps
Independent app store with both free and paid apps, searchable by category, popular apps, paid or free, and operating system. Helpfully, it also features detailed info and even videos for some of the apps so you can see what you’re getting before you buy.
Interesting: Google Maps Mobile version of Google’s popular map feature, free.
Game: Mahjong Classic Relaxing tile-based game featuring 38 challenges, £7.19.
Freebie: MSS Converter Switch currencies, lengths, areas, volumes, speeds and more, free.
Check it out: Handster
Network/manufacturer app stores
Some providers have their own app stores for compatible models, such as Samsung Apps, Sony Ericsson’s PlayNow, and the Orange App Shop. These tend to be smaller than those above, but they’re still worth checking out for occasional special offers.
Warning! Watch out for data charges
Before you start downloading apps, make sure you know what your internet data charges are. Also, be aware that some apps may incur further data charges when in use. Needless to say, if you’re going on holiday, don’t download or even browse for apps abroad, or you could be hit with a nasty bill when you get back.
No. of apps and supported platforms taken from Distimo.com May 2010, rounded to nearest 500