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, it can still be an adventure to search for 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. This list of iOS and Android tablet apps will get your gadget off to a roaring start.
Netflix (Free; iOS, Android)
Netflix is a great service if you like movies. You just pay a monthly subscription fee and 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. 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)
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)
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, it can also be used on your gadgets. Make voice and video calls over Wi-Fi or cellular.
Google Earth (Free; iOS, Android)
Google Earth 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. 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 at your fingertips.
Kindle App (Free; iOS, Android)
The Kindle app turns whatever tablet you own into an Amazon e-reader. 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)
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)
The Epicurious Recipe app can help you in grocery shopping. 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 it into shopping list for you. You'll never again reach home to find you're short of an essential ingredient.