Intuit’s SnapTax for Android Review

Intuit’s SnapTax for Android Review

Apr 9, 2014

Doing my own taxes is my personal badge of adult responsibility. I mean, I am confronting the most difficult code since the Rosetta Stone, applying numbers to it, and BAM! It feels awesome, and I feel awesome pointing out how awesome it feels.

But tax preparation software has come along way in its quest to make folks like me awesome. Doing one’s taxes has evolved from gathering W-2s and miscellaneous receipts and driving to a tax preparation office; now, programs can be purchased to do tax work at home, and online programs are commonplace. With apps like TurboTax SnapTax from Intuit, one can prepare one’s taxes on Android smart devices. Intuit was kind enough to provide us with a code to see how the mobile app interfaces with the tax prep software.

SnapTax combines the device’s camera with OCR functionality to effect accurate collection of information; in essence, it greatly speeds up the process of tax preparation by streamlining and automating the most difficult aspect: data entry.snap1

The app itself is fairly minimalist, with mostly white accents. Upon starting the app, it prompts the user to sign in or to create an account; after signing in, there is the picture-taking utility, a section for interview questions and a preview area.

Using the photo utility is easy, at which point the software analyzes the picture of the document and imports the data into the relevant boxes. This was the best part for me; I hate dealing with income forms manually. After W-2s and 1099s have been entered, the program takes one through the briefest of interviews. Assuming all this is correct, the federal taxes can be e-filed right there from the mobile device. It’s so fast that it’s scary.

The convenience comes at a cost, though. For instance, if the app comes across forms outside basic W-2s or 1099s, it routes the user to the full TurboTax program online, the same goes if it determines that one’s tax situation is more complicated than set parameters. TurboTax online didn’t pull all the information already entered into SnapTax, and I was perplexed as to why such superb image capture functionality is not blended directly into TurboTax for users with the same login credentials.

Even with the drawbacks, I loved the program, and mostly enjoyed using it; there is plenty of room for improvement. For those with EZ prep needs, it’s pretty good, with free federal e-file ($14.99 for each state). It (along with Intuit’s other financial apps for Android) is available for free on the Play Store.

PasswordBox Review

PasswordBox Review

Feb 28, 2014

Two interesting things occurred while working on this review. One was highlighted during a commercial. A couple were working on creating an online account, and were having some difficulty coming up with a strong enough password they could remember. Yep, it advertised a password utility. On network TV.

The second thing was an interesting article I read while researching an unrelated article. The Adobe security breach reveals that the only password more widely used than “password” is “123456.”

What’s clear is this: password management needs to be taken very seriously. PasswordBox looks to be just the tool we need.pass1

Starting up the app requires registration so as to set the master password which controls access to one’s data. After that, one is greeted by a clean interface that has some common websites like Facebook, Gmail, Twitter, PayPal and more somewhat preset in boxes; all that’s needed is to input username and password for the particular service. There is also a tab that allows for one to add a website that is not n the pre-populated set.

A gesture to the right of the main screen opens up a side menu that hints at more functionality: Safe Notes, which acts as a locally encrypted diary of sorts; Wallet, which can be used with credit card data and memberships; Password Generator, which automatically generates passwords based on criteria selected by the user; and an interesting Legacy Locker, which allows designated persons to access data in the user’s absence or death.

A big part of this app’s functionality is the built-in browser; it allows the use of “1-Tap Login” a service that allows one to login directly from the app with one tap. This feature can be toggled for specific apps. The service can be accessed from internet browsers as well, which makes it reasonably cross-platform.

PasswordBox offers AES-256, which is serious encryption and the additional option of using a PIN to further secre data.

Unfortunately, to use the free version of the app, one can’t have more than 25 passwords. To do more, an $11.99/year subscription is required. Folks that prefer one-time payment options might balk at this. I think the password generator could add an option for pronounceability as well.

Still, for what it does, PasswordBox does it well, and looks good doing it. The featureset is robust, accessibility is great and there is room to grow: well worth a free look.

The Transit App Review

The Transit App Review

Jan 22, 2014

Living in Chicago, a city with robust public transit options, I find myself glad that I also live in the time of mobile technology, because otherwise I fear I’d get lost when going around this big city. Thankfully, I’ve had The Transit App in its iOS incarnation to help get around. This app does two things: it shows which transit lines are running nearby, and it provides helpful directions to get where I’m going. It does these two things tremendously well. And now, it does them well on Android, jumping to the top of the transit app heap.

See, what makes the app so handy is that when it’s launched, it shows all the nearby routes, including bus, subways, and train lines. For Chicago, this includes CTA buses and trains, along with Metra trains and Pace buses. It shows the route name, allows for easy toggling between route direction, and also when the next stop is. There’s the ability to see when future stops are coming, and where the various stops are going to be on the map. That is perhaps my favorite feature of the app: being able to see where exactly a bus is going to stop makes it infinitely easier to get around, particularly as I can see which stops come before where I need to get off so I can signal to stop and get to the exit when necessary. T

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Finding transit directions is great too: it shows where each line runs, the various stops inbetween, and where transfers need to be made. Multiple routes are given, too, a killer feature since often transit routing can be imperfect. Some routes are just easier or better than others, but The Transit App is generally quite intelligent. It’s also possible to search by place names, though this can be imperfect. Typing in the address will work, though. While my experience is largely based on Chicago, The Transit App has also served me well in trips to San Francisco, Portland, and San Antonio, where it made sense of the complicated bus routes down there.

The one issue with The Transit App is that its really more of an app for seeing which transit lines nearby to one’s current location are available rather than being able to research when a particular line is running. There is the ability to set custom locations to see what’s running around that location as well as to set favorite lines, but those will only appear if they’re nearby. I’d appreciate a feature that shows all my favorite lines so that I can quickly see what’s running no matter where I am.

While perhaps that one lacking element is the factor that keeps me from only using one transit app as I like to see other routes and stops when necessary, this is still hands-down the best transit app that’s out there. Truly, it is The Transit App.

TouchPal X Review

TouchPal X Review

Jan 13, 2014

Every mobile platform has (or should have) an anchor feature or two… or a dozen. I mean feature that makes it harder for people to switch over to other platforms. Android OS has a few for me, and one major one is the stock ability to install third-party keyboards. No matter what type of entry style, be it peck, swiping or finger writing, there is a keyboard available.

Swiping is my thing. Discovering it made the switch from physical keyboard device to one with a virtual keyboard possible. As it is, I’m always on the lookout for newer takes on swipe entry, and TouchPal X is an opportunity to do just that.

It’s advertised as a swipe keyboard, so, as expected, it is designed to input words that are constructed by continuous tp1dragging the finger across letters. As words are formed, the application’s predictive engine kicks in, and alternative suggestions are displayed at the top the keyboard to help correct words that might formed by errant swipe. In practice, this keyboard works well, with a high level of accuracy and prediction. It’s audio input option, activated by holding down the spacebar, is a pleasant surprise.

It comes with a dark look by default, with light lettering on grey keys and light graphics that highlight wave line. The emoji support is extensive, and the it also keeps speed stats.

Getting the keyboard set up is fairly easy. After installation, setup involves enabling the keyboard and picking it the default. It sports some nice customization options, and it is ready to get lost in these: keypress sounds, length if optional vibration, font of the keyboard, swipe animation and more can be tweaked to make it more aligned with its user. There are other themes as well, but it seems they have to be downloaded. At the risk of sounding like a spoiled fashionista, I do wish said themes become even more easily accessible down the line. Cloud functionality with regards to dictionaries and settings would also be a plus.

It’s a great keyboard to use, with enough options that should keep most Android users happy. Alternatives are always great, and it feels like TouchPal X is well on the way to earning a spot with the greats.

Sticky Password Manager & Safe Review

Sticky Password Manager & Safe Review

Dec 20, 2013

Digital password safes are almost necessities for the productively mobile in this day. There are several options available to Android users, and this is a good thing, as this means only worthy candidates will survive in the ring.

Enter Sticky Password Manager and Safe from Lamantine Software.

Sticky packs AES encryption, and boldly looks to be the consummate password solution; off the bat, I like having the choice if either using the app as a standalone option, or getting in on cloud sync on one or more devices for $20 a year. Signup is a breeze and can be done on mobile device or the web. sticky1

The opening UI is clean and minimalist, with a reliance on cool blue as most of the background coloring. The layout of the data conforms to these ideals; by default, the app splits data into five broad but usable categories: app accounts, web accounts, internet bookmarks, identities and secure memos. Each of these has a set template; one thing that I think is interesting is that the app forces you to fill in some categories in some categories. For example, one can’s save an app account without inputting a website. Rigid, but logical. A slick floating window is utilized to copy information to websites and some apps. As noted, multiple devices can be synced to a single account, and these devices can be managed via web portal.

A big plus is the flexibility within the minimalist concept. I tend to like my password list arranged alphabetically, and this app allows for that. Syncing is smooth, and I liked the option of syncing on boot automatically.

What might give most people pause is the subscription model, especially when weighed against rival software that offers one-time payment options. It helps that (at the time of this review), the app is half off. Proceeds from sales go towards helping manatees.

When it’s all said and done, Sticky is a formidable option. The thirty day free trial might be more than enough to convince folks.

And who doesn’t like helping manatees?

A Look at Ascendo and French English Dictionary

A Look at Ascendo and French English Dictionary

Dec 4, 2013

Yep, Ascendo has been in the mobile game for quite some time.

In several application categories and across several mobile platforms, Ascendo has mostly garnered a reputation for quality work, and the list of awards this development house accumulates attests to its attention to detail.

I also had an opportunity to talk with Ascendo chief Marc Bolh (while checking out it French English Dictionary app) about Ascendo’s development philosophy with regards to all its language apps. We asked a host of questions, such as what this updated version offers and the premium version.

“We’ve added lots of enhancements for tablet users such as split screen view,” he told us. “This allows users to view dictionary entries on the right of the screen while browsing the lookup list on the left. The Phrasebook and Verb Conjugator work in similar ways.”

He added, “Another great feature is the ability to add words to the dictionary. Our dictionaries include over 250,000 translations so you will find the vast majority of words you are looking for. However, there are a lot of language dialects, slang words and industry specific terms and no dictionary can cover them all. In addition, new words and usages find their way into languages every day. Our linguists are adding words regularly and now are users can too.”

And what type of people would enjoy the optional $4.99 premium features? “People who love languages and want awesome fed1features like syncing their words between devices or ongoing access to the phrase translator” he says. “These backend features incur costs so it’s important that the business model be aligned. Subscription users also get access to the full dictionary, phrasebook and verb conjugator without ads. The free version has over 50,000 translation which may be good enough for 1st and 2nd year students and a one-time paid version is available separately for people who want the full dictionary without sync or phrase translation.”

I asked Marc about his vision of the future of mobile apps. “Languages are living and apps should reflect that by encouraging users to create and share content. We developed the first app to allow users to add notes and images to dictionary entries. Version 6 is the the first app to allow users to add dictionary keywords. This foundation will allow users to share content in future versions. Our mission is to bring language apps to life and we thank the 10 million+ people who have joined us on this journey by downloading our apps.”

The app interface is recognizably pleasant, with white font against a mostly black background. The menu opens up with the Dictionary, which has common words in both languages listed alphabetically. Selecting a word gives opens up the meaning, the translation and an audio pronunciation button. Also on the menu are phrases, verbs and a quiz utility.

All in all, the app works well, so much so that I was dusting off my French quickly and in an enjoyable manner.

File Expert with Clouds Review

File Expert with Clouds Review

Nov 26, 2013

File Expert is a an Android file manager from GeekSoft; we had an opportunity to check it out a while back; it’s back, and seems to be beefier.

The app UI is mostly simple, with the default light theme background being white with pastel icons that also incorporate basic imagery that further conveys their purpose. In addition, there is dark theme that really makes the icons pop out, and a mixed version that adds in a black top tab to the light theme. The settings tab mostly maintains the same design elements, with view modes than can be adjusted (list or grid) and the ability to get rid of thumbnails to improve performance.

As far as performance, the app was able to pull up all the files on my testing device immediately. The file navigationfile1 system is fairly intuitive and follows the basics of Android filing. The address of the selected file shows at the top as icons are tap navigated. Dates of modification are show with the files, and the check boxes to the right. The boxes allow the matching file(s) can be manipulated.

The advertised FTP functionality is a nice touch, and it seems access to servers has been added in. Additionally, files can be shared via bluetooth, NFC and wi-fi.

Two features make this app compelling. First, the cloud functionality; the app works with all the major online storage services, and then some. Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, Skydrive and more including, GeekSoft’s proprietary cloud. The second feature I really like is the the built-in categorization the app does. It pulls in pictures, videos, e-books, etc into app-defined files. The extra tools (like file shredder , one touch cleaner and he built-in memory manager) are definitely the cherry on top.

Some features have to be unlocked to be used; even on its own, in the free ad-based state, it looks like a nice tool to have.

BBM for Android Review

BBM for Android Review

Oct 24, 2013

Yes, BlackBerry (formerly RIM) has had better days. The iconic technology company made devices that signified corporate success and helped shape the smartphone market. It’s current troubles are well known, and the company and its devices have arguably lost some of their previous luster.

One piece of the BlackBerry ecosystem that has always been well regarded is BlackBerry Messenger, its eponymous messaging system. Its always-on nature, perceived reliability and PIN-based connection service is almost universally respected, even by non-BlackBerry device users. So, when BlackBerry announced that it would be opening up the hitherto proprietary messenger to iOS and Android users, ears perked up.

One less-than-optimal launch attempt and a successful follow-up try later, we have it: BBM on Android.bbm1

The app itself has stylings similar to BBM on BB10, with black, blue and white making up most of the color presentation. The menu button is part of the bottom dock, and it, along with the status bar, bookend buttons for Chats, Contacts and Groups. Space feels well-used; no cramped over-used space is present, and the white background mostly complements the chatting “surface.”

The sign-up process included a queue, but folks that already had the prerequisite BBIDs got in relatively early. The sign-in generates the well-known PIN, and soon after, I was up and running. By default, the app puts a persistent notification in the notification pane, which I did not like, but it can be toggled off in Settings. It’s friendly with barcodes with regards to joining groups and adding contacts and there are several other ways to effect connections, including via NFC.

The good things are still there: read and delivered confirmations, instant transmissions and group chat functionality. I especially like the last feature; in my mind, no modern day chat client is good without it.

The always-on nature is somewhat of a double-edged sword for me because as far as I can tell, there is no way to mute individual chats; it’s all or nothing. For people in group chats, this can be irritating, because depending on how chatty the people are, there will be a LOT of notifications. Signing out isn’t intuitive either.

When compared to the big boys, like Google Hangouts, it’s clear that the videochat functionality is missed, particularly since it already exists on BB10 as BBM Voice and Video. I also disliked the fact that only one device can be signed into at a time; if you have multiple devices, or chat on desktop, BBM is currently lacking a bit.

But BlackBerry says improvements are to come; when measured as a traditional messenger, BBM is not shabby at all, and may end up being the crown jewel of a new BBRY. If initial downloads are an indicator, it may do very well in the cross-platform space.

Mobie Review

Mobie Review

Oct 23, 2013

Sometimes we all need a little help keeping things in working condition. I have my boiler looked at every couple of years. My car seems to need constant servicing. My phone? I don’t really think too much about my phone. It seems to be working fine. Surely that’s all there is to it?

Well, Mobie looks to make sure your phone isn’t just working, but that it’s working as best as it possibly can. Mobie has a few tricks up its sleeve to make sure it’s as useful as possible. This doesn’t happen straight away though. Mobie has to learn a little about you first.

That’s right, Mobie spends the first 7 days on your phone quietly watching how you use your phone. It’ll pick up on patterns of use and react accordingly. For example, as soon as I leave my home, Mobie knows to turn off my phone’s Wi-Fi. As soon as I turn up at work, however, it’ll turn it back on as it knows that I can connect to my employer’s Wi-Fi.Mobie4

Another habit it picked up on was the fact I never use Bluetooth devices. I admit, it wouldn’t take a genius to work that out, but credit where it’s due to Mobie. It soon learned a few of my phone-using habits.

All of this ‘learning’ wouldn’t be for much if it didn’t make a noticeable difference to how the phone works. This is no doubt the point at which other people’s mileage with this app may differ. I personally didn’t see too great of an improvement in my phone’s battery usage. To be fair, Mobie did claim that my phone was in ‘great’ condition and I also don’t use my phone a great deal during the day. (I work in a school. If I used my phone during lessons it would cause a black-hole of hypocrisy)

One feature I did like was the fact that Mobie would politely alert you to anything it deemed ‘out of the ordinary’. If a particular app is running for longer than usual or if you’re using more Wi-Fi than you normally do, you’ll get a message. This can be handy for those of us that accidentally leave apps running all day. I know others do it, it can’t just be me.

Other than that, Mobie offers a few other features, some useful and others less so. For example, Mobie can clear out temporary files stored on your phone. Exactly how important it is to clear out a few Kbs of these files, I don’t know. Even less useful has to be the built in ‘Do you know’ feature that asks you questions about how your phone has been doing the past week. ‘How often has your phone run out of power this week?’ Who cares?

All in all, Mobie is an easy to use app though just how useful it is will depend on how you use your phone and how much battery the app can save you. The inclusion of a built in data usage meter, anti-virus protection and all round monitoring of your device means that Mobie is a no-brainer for Android owners.

Evomail Review

Evomail Review

Sep 30, 2013

Evomail is part of the new generation of email apps, ones that shoot for a greater degree of accessibility and inbox management. But for me, Evomail comes with one killer feature: the ability to remove emails from the inbox temporarily by ‘snoozing’ them. On my iOS devices, Mailbox’s ease of use and interface has made it my client of choice. This is a problem because I rely on its ability to easily delay emails to a later time to help keep my sanity.

Yet despite Mailbox’s expensive acquisition by Dropbox, it’s still an iOS-only affair. It’s frustrating, because it’s something Google has yet to add in as a built-in feature despite making the Android Gmail app more like Mailbox and Evomail with things like swiping actions. So now Evomail is on Android, and with it, the ability to procrastinate on answering emails. But it’s not quite the great email experience that I wanted.

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At its heart, Evomail is a functional email client, supporting the standard list of features that one would quite reasonably expect from an email client. The problem in using it is that everything just feels unwieldy. Nothing feels consistent in function. Even the inbox itself feels like it always has a different group of emails than what I really have. The snooze feature, which moves emails to a new folder but seems to create new unread emails when they return to the inbox, is handy for delaying to later, but just still feels chaotic, because everything appears new, and not in the original chronological order, either. It feels like it’s driving me crazy, and that’s not what this sort of email app should do.

It’s a shame, too, because Evomail has a lot going for it. The swiping to archive and auto-advancing to the next email when archiving from a read message is great. The little settings for send-and-archive and swipe-left-to-snooze are great usability tweaks that make the user feel more comfortable. There’s multiple account (and push notification) support, and this doesn’t just work with Gmail, it works with Yahoo and IMAP accounts. It’s a solid email app, but the way that random emails appear and disappear from the inbox for me? It throws me off.

And really, that’s Evomail’s problem. The chaos is unbearable, and I hope that issues like this are fixed later on. It’s hard to recommend for the Gmail user, but for non-Gmail users? This is one of the few quality options available. For me, someone who uses primarily Google’s email services? I’ll wait for Gmail to add email delaying or for Mailbox to hit Android.

Quad Drawer Review

Quad Drawer Review

Sep 20, 2013

The past few renditions of the Android devices have had a lot more memory to store apps. The problem is, we can add more stuff to the phone because we have more space, so we do. When we have a hundred or more apps on our devices, it can take some time to find the right app to open. Quad Drawer is a great solution for most people to help find apps faster.

Quad-Drawer-8After it’s downloaded, Quad Drawer will run a check to find all of the apps on the device. Once it does, finding an app is super easy. The apps are found by simply typing in the name of the application. While this may sound pretty simple, the majority of phones and other Android devices out there do not have a feature like this.

Initially the keyboard is a non-smart phone style predictive text. Myself, I’m not a huge fan of this so I went into the settings and changed it to the standard QWERTY keyboard.

What I liked about Quad Drawer are the different columns in the search. This allows for apps to be grouped in difference matters automatically. For example, there’s a most used, a recent column, and a last downloaded option. Once a few of the letters of the name of the app are typed in, using a finger swipe to the left or to the right will change the columns displaying applications in a different order.

Another option in the settings is the floating window. The floating window gives quick access to the application search. It’s typically up in the top left-hand corner of the screen and out of the way of most application icons and widgets. When tapped, a screen with a search bar and the basic applications are shown. From this point on Quad Drawer works the same.

As I mentioned before, Quad Drawer might not seem like it’s a huge timesaver because it’s pretty easy to scroll through the apps in the app drawer. However, it actually does save a lot of time when the device has a ton of applications installed on it.

Hovering Controls Review

Hovering Controls Review

Sep 18, 2013

New phones come out all of the time. The problem is, the old phone might still be working great but the new phone could just have a cool feature. Most of the time, this new feature isn’t really worth $200 or more and the signing of a new contract. Hovering Controls is one of those features.

Hovering-Controls-4Currently I have a Samsung Galaxy S3. Even though many people have reception issues or other problems with the S3, mine seems to be working just fine. One of the features I really like on the Samsung Galaxy S4, is the hover controls feature. Basically what the hover feature does is allows the user to control features of the phone by waving a hand in front of the proximity sensor. Luckily, Hovering Controls is a much more inexpensive way to add some of this functionality to my older Samsung.

Hovering Controls gives three different hand gesture options for an extremely low price. The first gesture is holding a hand in front of the proximity sensor for a couple of seconds. This will activate a pre-selected application.

Waving a hand once across the screen will activate another app or there’s an option for was called carousel. The carousel will allow the end user to select several apps to be scrolled through by waving a hand in front of the proximity sensor with a single swipe. So, if there are five applications selected such as Flipbook, Twitter, Facebook, Feedly and Google+, it’s easy to change from one app to the other quickly by swiping a hand in front of the screen.

The third option is activating an application by swiping a hand one way across the proximity sensor and back the other direction.

After using Hovering Controls for a little while, I noticed it’s pretty sensitive. I chose Evernote to activate when hand is held in front of the proximity sensor. I didn’t have troubles activating this at all. The occurred with the single swipe option. I noticed I tended to activate this quite easily. I was constantly changing from one application to another unintentionally.

My recommendation would be to use the double swipe option as well as holding a hand in front of the proximity sensor to activate apps to avoid accidentally changing applications.

Other than the unintentional activation of applications, Hovering Controls seem to work really nice. The settings are very simple and controls are all hovering gestures.