From sex to sleep: eight apps to hack your life

Want to know where the nearest playground is or when to take a toilet break in movies? There’s an app for that

Smartphone apps can broadly be divided into the useful and the pointless curios doomed to be forgotten, such as that gender-swap image-manipulation thing that exists solely to make me look like an uncomfortably sexualised foetus. Look closely, however, and you will find a middle ground: apps that sound stupid, but are useful enough to improve your life meaningfully. Here are my eight favourites.

RunPee
iOS, Android, free; Windows Phone, 79p

RunPee tells you the most opportune time at which to visit the toilet during films. The Halle Berry film Kidnap? You have a three‑minute gap after the kidnapper picks up a wallet. Spider‑Man: Homecoming? Wait 43 minutes, then dash out after the teacher says: “Keep your fingers clear of the blades.” While you are peeing, it provides you with a synopsis of what you are missing. The app even makes your phone vibrate at the perfect pee-point. Even more useful is the feature that alerts you to post-credit sequences, just in case you’re wary of staying put because you don’t know whether Captain America’s going to do an inconsequential thing for 15 seconds or not.

Substitutions
iOS, £1.99

A seasoned cook might know which ingredients can function as failsafe stand-ins, but I once ruined a perfectly good beef stroganoff by dumping a load of Marmite into it. Substitutions has changed my life. It is a huge directory of ingredients and their passable substitutes. It will tell you what to use if you have coeliac disease, or how much olive oil works in place of butter if you are a vegan. Not all of the substitutions are better, but on the whole this is ace.

SLog
iOS, £2.99

Sleep trackers are ten-a-penny. You plonk your phone on your mattress and its gyroscope measures movement throughout the night to judge your quality of sleep. But what if someone used this technology to judge your lovemaking? Since “Darling, can I hump you to test an app for a gussied-up listicle I’m writing for a Saturday supplement?” is a notoriously poor seduction technique, I mimicked the act as accurately as possible by listlessly bouncing on my mattress for 45 seconds without a scrap of consideration for anyone else, then falling asleep. SLog records your time and movement and, over time, provides you with average activity and stamina data. You can store this by sexual partner, country and number of participants. It sounds like the sort of thing a serial killer would use, but who am I to judge?

Playground Buddy
iOS, Android, free

Illustration of a playground-finding app
Illustration: Supertotto Illustration: Supertotto

Playground Buddy is a map of public playgrounds across the world, often complete with Google Street View grabs, so you can make sure you are not taking your children to a nightmare of scaffolding and broken syringes. I have got the most out of the app during family citybreaks. If you have got a toddler, you are going to spend most of your time watching your kids play, so it makes sense to find a proper playground, rather than let them run around a flooded car park. If you’re particularly organised, you could book your accommodation based on the location of local playgrounds. I’m not saying I did this, but take me to Helsinki and I could lead you to a dozen excellent playgrounds blindfolded.

Drunk Dial NO!
iOS, 99p

An app so useful that it should be baked into every phone as standard, Drunk Dial NO! is the perfect way to prevent rampant self-hatred tomorrow morning. Before you leave your house for a night out, you – clever, sensible, adult you – choose phone contacts to hide for between one and 48 hours. This will stop you – stupid, dribbling, drunk you – from contacting these people in a state of disrepair. No angry screeds to apologise for. No misplaced declarations of love to back away from. It is clean, simple and beautiful. Better yet, you can compose messages to remind yourself to go home or to avoid missing the last train, too. If they could create an eBay blocker for the home‑based drunk, my life would be perfect.

ReadMe!
iOS, Android, free

Had enough of the traditional method of reading, dragging your eyes from left to right over and over again? Well, ReadMe! uses Spritz technology to ping you one word at a time. The theory is that, since you don’t have to move your eyes, you can absorb information much faster. You don’t have time to reflect and reread as you would with an enjoyable novel, and you become terrified that you will sneeze and miss an important plot point. But with journalism, it’s a different story. You can gulp up articles like a regular Johnny 5. I tried it on the Guardian’s Top Of The Lake recaps, with the app set to 600 words per minute, and they were surprisingly easy to follow.

Pzizz

iOS, Android, free

Illustration of a sleep app
Illustration: Supertotto Illustration: Supertotto


Pzizz is a nap facilitation app, and the subject of much debate in my house. I have been a committed Pzizzer for years. My wife, on the other hand, thinks it’s bollocks. Pzizz utilises “psychoacoustic principles” to lull you to sleep. This means it plays a sequence of whooshy wub-wub noises while a man gently intones platitudes at you. It took me weeks to realise that the man wouldn’t start subliminally screaming “Eat your children!” or “Send me your bank details!” the second I fell asleep. But it works. Now the opening chime alone makes me drowsy. I use this app a lot.

PoopLog
Android, free

Your poos are a lot like your weight; you can go for years without giving it any thought, then become obsessed. Whenever I am trying to lose weight, I keep track of my progress with MyFitnessPal. Now, I keep track of my poos with PoopLog. Every time you do a number two, instead of killing time by absent-mindedly picking fights with strangers on Twitter, you can open the app, look between your legs and measure consistency (based on the Bristol Stool Scale), size, time and location. If you are on medication, it can record that, and it has a space for notes. Over time, you will build up a comprehensive picture of your defecation routine.

Superficially, this is only one step up from pooing into Tupperware and storing it in a filing cabinet; but a record like this can have medical benefits. I have been told repeatedly that this publication should not function as my poo diary, but stop me in the street and I will bend your ear about this.

Contributor

Stuart Heritage

The GuardianTramp

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