10 essential apps for your shiny new tablet

In the blink of St. Nick's eye, tablets went from nice-to-have to must-have gadgets this year. They're the way everyone -- from kids to seniors -- wants to watch TV shows, check email, play games and browse the Internet.

As you've no doubt already discovered, shopping for apps is a daunting experience.

Although the Google Play store has improved a lot -- and keeps getting better -- it can still be an adventure to search for and find the best apps.

The iTunes App Store is much better organized, but the sheer number of apps is overwhelming -- more than 275,000 optimized for the full-size iPad and iPad mini.

That's why I compiled this list of my favorite iOS and Android tablet apps. They'll get you and your gadget off to a roaring start in 2013.

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Netflix (Free; iOS, Android) - Netflix is a great service if you love movies. You just pay a monthly subscription fee, and you can watch all the movies you want. It also includes the ability to stream movies over the Web.

This app lets you watch Netflix movies anywhere. It also allows you to manage your Netflix Instant queue.

HeyTell (Free; iOS, Android) - This fun app is a throwback to the days when you used walkie-talkies as a kid.

Instead of placing a traditional call, HeyTell allows you to record a quick voice message. It is sent over Wi-Fi or cellular data so you don't even need a tablet with a voice plan.

Evernote (Free; iOS Android) - When you need to step it up from your tablet's basic built-in note-taking app, look no further than Evernote.

What sets Evernote apart from similar apps is that it synchronizes your notes to your password-protected Evernote account. So, you can access the notes from any Web browser. You can take photo notes and voice notes in addition to basic text notes. You can even type long notes on your computer and access them from your tablet.

Skype (Free; iOS, Android) - You probably know that Skype is a great way to save money on voice calling. You can call PC to PC for free and even video chat.

Skype isn't just for computers, though. You can also use it on your gadgets. Make voice and video calls over Wi-Fi or cellular. Again, it's free to call other Skype users.

Google Earth (Free; iOS, Android) - Google Earth is one of my favorite programs. It lets you explore the world through satellite and ground-level photos. You can see historic landmarks or plan trips.

Now you can get the same amazing experience on your mobile gadget with the Google Earth app. It lets you access the same satellite photos and landmarks. On some gadgets, you can even get 3-D buildings for cities.

Weather Channel App ($4 iOS; Free Android) - The weather affects nearly everything you do. Don't let it take you by surprise. Now you can get detailed forecasts at a glance with this app.

You'll also get video clips and severe weather and pollen alerts. All the weather information you need will be literally at your fingertips.

Kindle App (Free; iOS, Android) - The Kindle app turns whatever tablet you own into an Amazon e-reader.

Among the handy features: You'll never lose your place, even when switching among devices. It even transfers annotations and highlighting. You can also take advantage of free book samples.

BuddyGuard (Free; iOS) - When you think mobile gadget security, you think of protection against hackers and thieves. This app, however, provides security for you.

You can set up check-in times. If you don't check in, the gadget will start recording audio, video and location and send it to your friends. This can provide evidence if you're the victim of a crime. It will also activate when it detects a fall or crash, and will notify authorities of your location.

Instant Heart Rate ($1 iOS; $3 Android) - When you're exercising, getting an accurate heart rate is important. You don't want to do too little work and waste your time. On the other hand, overdoing it can cause health problems.

Forget checking your pulse manually. Just pull out your mobile gadget with the Instant Heart Rate app. Press your finger to the camera lens and you'll have your heart rate in just a moment. It can also track recovery time, trend lines and more.

Epicurious (Free; iOS, Android) - It's always good to make a list before going grocery shopping. But you don't always get around to it, and you find yourself in the store unsure of what you need. The Epicurious Recipe app can help.

It gives you access to more than 28,000 recipes so you can find exactly the meals you want to make. Then, it details all the ingredients and translates that into shopping list for you. You'll never again get home only to find you're short an essential ingredient.

Copyright 2013, WestStar Multimedia Entertainment. All rights reserved.

Kim Komando hosts the nation's largest talk radio show about consumer electronics, computers and the Internet. To get the podcast, watch the show or find the station nearest you, visit www.komando.com/listen. To subscribe to Kim's free email newsletters, sign-up at: www.komando.com/newsletters.