Singing has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, partly because I love it and partly thanks to my Welsh heritage (we're traditionally belting vocalists). But it's been years since I last sang in a choir, and my singing is now confined to the shower and the occasional family game of SingStar on the PlayStation.
If karaoke is your thing, though, you don't need to own a game console with fancy microphones or make a trip to a club; the smartphone app stores are full of karaoke apps. Red Karaoke, free on iOS and Android, has a slick and easy-to-use interface, with clear navigation thanks to its icon-style buttons and smart graphics. The backing music has a professional quality, which adds to the fun.
When singing along, you can adjust the key of the backing track to match your voice, and change the font size of the lyrics. With the iOS edition, you can use Apple's built-in system to broadcast the phone's display to an Apple TV for a more realistic karaoke feel on the home TV screen. The app can also make a video of you as you sing. You can watch the video later or see recordings made by other people around the world.
The app has two slight drawbacks: you have to sign up for a free account to use it, a minor annoyance even if it does give you access to your account from different devices.
More important, it is not entirely free. Songs cost "credits," and after the free 250 credits you get for signing up (enough for two popular songs), you need an in-app subscription at $6.99 a month or $39.99 a year to get more.
Karaoke Anywhere, also free on iOS and Android, has a familiar user interface and display that may even remind you of signing up to sing karaoke in a bar.
But its design is slightly pedestrian, and its occasionally confusing menus make interaction a little clunky. The pixelated text of the lyrics that scroll on screen as you sing may also surprise you with an occasional typo. But Karaoke Anywhere does have a reasonable catalogue of free songs.
The app also uses a "credits" purchase system for songs, and there is a complex set of options, from unlocking a song for $2 to a monthly subscription costing $9.99.
This app's backing tracks can sometimes sound cheap and electronic, but so does typical real-life karaoke. This app works especially well if you turn on its reverb and echo options to add special effects to your voice – though you probably need to wire your phone to an audio amplifier to get the full effect.
For a more sophisticated karaoke experience, with an option of singing live with someone halfway across the globe, there is Smule's Sing! Karaoke app (free on Android and iOS).
This app is very much about karaoke, but it also functions like a game because it listens to your singing and scores how accurately you hit each note in a performance. To get access to more than the short list of free songs, you have to amass credits, as with other karaoke apps.
But in this app a user can add credits by paying for a subscription, volunteering to watch a short advertising video or signing up for other online services; for example, joining an online video site and buying credits there will also earn a few hundred credits for Sing! Karaoke, while joining mailing lists will get you a handful.
The app is polished graphically and it has some up-to-date songs. You can also add several audio effects to your voice as you perform. But trying to earn credits can be frustrating.
This same kind of voice recognition can also turn your phone into a singing coach.
The Voice Tutor app, for iOS or Android, measures how well you do singing exercises, focusing on vocal training to keep your voice fit, improve your breathing and so on.
While this sounds as if Voice Tutor is aimed at professionals, its interface is so straightforward and its instructions so clear that it may help singers of all stripes improve their voices, from warm-ups through vocal exercises to cool-downs.
It costs $5 for iOS and $3 for Android. A final note for all those shower singers out there: Remember that your expensive device isn't waterproof.
Qwiki has a new, free iOS app that automatically turns smartphone-recorded videos and snapshots into short, beautiful movies that can be shared through its social network.
Think of it as Instagram for video. ... Spotify has released a free Windows Phone 8 edition of its popular music streaming app, compatible with Microsoft's clean interface design.
It has the same basic functions as the app does on other devices, including the ability to gain access to thousands of albums stored in the cloud, all of which can be streamed to your phone. (Kit Eaton/ The New York Times News Service)