Free or paid: How do you go about app downloads?

Anna Scantlin
Contributing Editor from  Kansas City, MO
| July 14, 2013

My first experiences with a smartphone was somewhat liberating. Here I was with this amazing new Samsung Galaxy S device, a Vibrant, and I was able to customize it and do whatever I wanted with it. This was about the same time that I moved out from my parents' house, so living on my own and getting this insane new device with virtually no restrictions made it doubly liberating. I had access to this great big application market where you can find anything from live wallpapers that suck the battery right out of your phone to sketchy music downloading applications. This was going to be fun!

When I first starting browsing the (then) App Market catalog, I would come across a mixture of paid and free applications. Although I mostly stuck to the free applications at first, given that I wasn't exactly rich since most of my money was being put towards rent, utilities and food, I soon realized that free applications were free for a reason: those pesky ads usually got in the way of whatever it was that I was doing. And although I thought I was doing a great job of staying away from them, a lot of the ads did a good job of acting like it was part of whatever game or application I had originally started at. There have been a couple of occasions in the past where a suspicious charge ended up on my bill from some mysterious in-app purchase that I charged to my cell phone bill without knowing about it.

This kind of pushed me to be more favorable to applications that you pay for. Although many applications only offer free versions, there are plenty of applications that offer both free and paid versions. After a couple of positive experiences with paid applications, I was pretty much convinced that I would only ever pay for applications in the future. Not only do you generally get more benefits from the paid versions, but more importantly you don't have to deal with those advertisements anymore, which always seemed to pop up at the most inopportune times.

Unfortunately, that method can really add up as you keep discovering new applications you want to use. It was becoming an expensive habit and I couldn't justify the amount of money I was spending on certain applications. I was in need of a different method.

So I went with a route that wasn't extreme on either end; I didn't only use free applications, and I didn't only use paid applications. My new method was to download the free version, if there was one, and try it out for a month. If I used the app frequently within the month and didn't run into trouble then I would purchase the application. This allowed me to get a taste for the app before throwing money at the developers and slowing down the rate at which I haphazardly purchased applications.

Now that I've had experience with smartphones for a few years or so, the "application discovery" phase has long since been worn out and I very seldom actually download new applications, but if I do find a new one that I do want to try, I stick with giving myself a trial before actually going ahead and purchasing the application. Every once in a while I'll toss a paid application into the application graveyard, but with my method of figuring out which applications to pay for most of time it has been well worth the money spent.

Readers, how do you justify purchasing applications? Do you bother with free versions at all? Or do you prefer to stick with free versions altogether? Share your opinions with me in the comments below!

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