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How to decide if a paid app is worth the money

A lot of smartphone owners make the understandable decision to never download paid apps. With hundreds of thousands of free apps to choose from, the thinking goes, why bother spending the money? But that closes the door to some of the best apps on the market. In fact, the ability of a developer to charge for an app is often a sign that the product or service has a premium value.

But how can we be sure that we will end up with something useful? What steps can we take to evaluate an app before we buy, so we avoid later disappointment? Here are a few suggestions on how to screen those app purchases, so you can minimize the chance of buyer’s remorse:

Read the app description carefully

I know it sounds obvious but most people end up disappointed in an app because it didn’t do what they expected it to do. Read the description carefully and see whether it matches your expectations. If you’re looking for help with a home-based exercise program but the app description is all about high-octane workouts using equipment only found at a gym, then you should probably move on and look elsewhere.

When you read the app description, it’s also important to understand exactly what you are paying for. Some apps involve a small payment upfront but then require a monthly subscription. Others allow you to download a basic package for free but then require payment every time you attempt to access additional content.

Also, it’s become popular for app developers to offer a free or ‘Lite’ version of a paid app in the hope that customers will try the free version and then upgrade to the paid option. Sometimes the only difference in the paid version is the absence of advertising. If you can live with a few ads, then the free version might be fine.

Check the app history

When you are reviewing the app description, it’s also worth checking when the app was last updated. If there have been no updates for a while, then it’s possible the app has been “abandoned” and the developer has moved on to something new. Also, click through and check the developer’s web site. If the web site looks up-to-date and the app is still prominently displayed, then it’s safe to assume it’s still receiving enhancements and support.

Read the user reviews

Both Apple’s App Store and Google Play (formerly Android Market) carry user reviews on every app they sell. Each user rates the app from 1 to 5 (5 being the best) and ratings are averaged out to give an overall score. As well checking the overall rating, read some of the most recent reviews. App users are usually not shy about offering their opinions.

Be careful about brand new apps that only have a few published reviews. Early reviews tend to be posted by “friends and family” and are invariably favorable. It usually takes a couple of weeks after the app’s release before the real user reviews start to appear.

Check the app review sites

If the paid app is popular or the developer is well-known, then the app will almost certainly have been reviewed by one of the many third-party app review sites. If it’s an iPhone or iPad app, then check AppCraver or appolicious. Android users can see Android app reviews at Android Tapp and Life of Android. There are also specialty sites like Famigo, which concentrate on family-friendly apps and games.

Check with friends on social media

Finally, if you still have doubts about the value of a paid app, check with your friends on Facebook or Twitter. “Crowd-sourcing” an opinion in this way can yield interesting and unexpected results, and tends to tap into a more knowledgeable and opinionated group.

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