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The secret to finding the best mobile apps: try everything

The secret to finding the best mobile apps: try everything

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One of the more popular posts to pop up in my Facebook News Feed last week was a friend's request for advice on whether he should quit Apple Music and just go back to Spotify. Seemingly everyone I knew had an opinion on the streaming services, ranging from "Apple Music is garbage" to "try Google Play Music instead." A healthy number of commenters had tried at least two services and decided which one worked for them. Yet a few people had seemingly stuck with the first company's product they'd tried, oblivious to the benefits and pitfalls of competing ones.

And therein lies the secret to finding the best apps: don't use what works until you know it works better than the rest. In an era of free services and near-instant downloads, it often costs us nothing but our time and a little bit of effort to experiment with half a dozen products before settling on the one we're most comfortable with. And nothing is ever perfect. No matter what we read, or how many stars or good reviews something has, it takes a firsthand investigation to see if it's perfect for you.

When Apple Music launched its free three-month trial period this past summer, I signed up right away, switched it out for Spotify on my iPhone's home screen dock, and told myself I would thoroughly experiment with the service to see if it were better. One month later, I had my answer: Apple Music just couldn't cut it, and I switched back to Spotify.

Apple Music just couldn't cut it, and I switched back to Spotify

Not only was the design of Apple Music difficult to comprehend after many hours of use, but it also felt too intwined with and muddled by a legacy iTunes mentality. Of course, Apple Music didn’t have the two years' worth of carefully curated and organized playlists that I’d made in Spotify, either.

The longer you use one service, the harder it becomes to switch to an alternative. For photo apps, it can be a nightmare. I spent months convincing myself it would be too difficult to migrate from Dropbox's Carousel photo app to the new Google Photos that came out in May. I didn't want to expend the effort of switching, knowing full well it would involve lots of painstaking downloading and uploading and long wait times.

Switching can be obnoxious, but it's worth the effort

I ultimately decided I had to try Google Photos after seeing it in action on a friend's phone. Once I had imported my smartphone's camera roll and gave the app a few days of my time, I was convinced I could transfer my entire library to the service. It was faster, easier to use, and most importantly, it offered unlimited storage. I was lucky to have done so when I did. Shortly thereafter, Dropbox announced plans to shut down Carousel before the end of the year.

That said, you’re not going to love every new service you try. Sometimes you install a new app and relish in its fresh look and feel, only to realize that the compromises are too great. After discovering my work email address now worked with Google's Inbox email app, I decided to transfer the flood of notifications away from Microsoft's Outlook because I was convinced Inbox would be better.

When my days got hectic, Inbox faltered

Google's modern take on email felt like the future. It grouped messages by context, organized them by date, and had the best reminders system of any app I've ever used. Yet when my days got hectic and email was flowing in nonstop, Inbox faltered. It became harder to manage, and it felt as if it were imploring me to give in and let emails pile up instead of giving me the tools to cut my inbox down to size. It had its own vision for email, and it just didn't work for me.

After a week, I was back on Outlook. I was surprised at how pleasant Microsoft's no-frills design could be when contrasted with a more complex app. More than anything, Outlook felt familiar. Sometimes familiar ends up being the best. But you can't be sure until you try something new.