17 free iPhone apps you need right now

We take a fast look at new iPhone applications that let you drink beer virtually, interact with music in cool ways, and even do some useful things.

Everybody who knows about the new iPhone applications knows about Super Monkey Ball and MLB At Bat. But after dropping all kinds of dough on a new iPhone and a 3G service plan, you can save some cash and get these great free programs ASAP.

Note: We tested all of these apps on a first-generation iPhone with the 2.0 software installed, so data uploaded and downloaded at EDGE speeds. You'll also notice that this list is short on location-based apps such as Loopt and Whrrl. That doesn't mean they're bad — it's just that the reviewer values privacy and finds them a little creepy.

If you're comfortable with having everyone know where you are at all times, go ahead and try those apps out, too. Here, though, are my first favorites.

Also be sure to see our complete collection of stories, videos, and blogs about the Apple iPhone 3G.

AirMe and Exposure

One of a few Flickr front-ends for the iPhone, AirMe outdoes Exposure (another free iPhone app for Flickr) by allowing you to upload pics directly from your iPhone to your Flickr account. Results are instantaneous: You snap a pic with your iPhone camera, AirMe geotags it (if you want it to), and it's on your Flickr page within a minute. On the other side of the fence, Exposure lets you browse your Flickr photosets, see photos that have been taken close to your current location (again, if you want it to), and basically presents a iPhone-friendly front end to Flickr. It did crash a few times during testing, however.

AOL Instant Messenger (AIM)

Finally, a chat app built for the iPhone. The iPhone AIM client worked like a charm right off the bat, but has been crashing a lot ever since. When it works, it gives you access to your AOL Instant Messenger buddy lists, letting you "OMG," "LOL," and "BRB" your commute time away. Is an iPhone-friendly version of Yahoo Messenger — or, better yet, multiprotocol access to all your accounts via Trillian and Meebo — hot on the trail of this mobile IM app? Let's hope so.

AOL Radio

Stuck in Houston, but your favourite sports radio station is in Detroit? Want to hear what songs are hot in Hartford when your flight is delayed in Denver? AOL Radio scratches that itch, to the tune of more than 350 radio stations from across America. It's yet another audio-streaming app that works staggeringly well at EDGE speeds; during testing I didn't encounter any streaming interruptions at all. Don't think of it as the "death of radio," think of it as a new distribution platform for radio stations everywhere.

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