Note Anytime Review

Note Anytime Review

Jun 23, 2014

I don’t want to bury Note Anytime for the one thing that it does particularly wrong, because it does everything else just about right – and it’s probably the only app that does what it does.

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I could rant for a long time about handwriting apps. I started using handwriting apps to keep track of to-do lists and to write down notes on games and apps that I review. I find that physically writing them helps them stick in my mind better than typing them out. I could just use paper notebooks, but I like being able to have bigger writing canvases on mobile so that my handwriting resembles actual human writing, and I never want to leave a notebook at home when I might need it. There are plenty of standalone handwriting tools, sure. And there are ones that support cloud storage and synchronization: Evernote in particular. But that doesn’t let me edit my notes on a platform besides the one I started on. I want to write a note on my phone, and then edit it on my iPad and/or Surface Pro as I please.

As far as I can tell, Note Anytime is the only app on the planet that can really do this. It delivers on its premise: I can start a note on one platform, and edit it on any other platform that the app is on, which it is on iOS, Android, and Windows 8. The interface is identical on each platform, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s bad because it means that so many elements are non-native and don’t quite fit in with a platform’s individual visual aesthetic. But it’s good because it means that there’s a consistent experience between platforms. It’s ultimately for the best.

The note-taking experience is solid: there’s a variety of pens and colors to use, including gradients and dashed lines. The zoomed-writing feature helps out a lot, with the ability to automatically extend writing area to the right by writing in its grayed-out area. More pens and paper types are included with the paid app. While I don’t mind supporting a product that’s become integral to my life, it’s hard to say that there’s a lot of bang for the buck in a practical sense.

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Note Anytime uses its own cloud-based storage service with 2 GB of free storage. I’d like to see support for Dropbox and Google Drive in the app, but hey, this works, and the notes generally don’t take too much space. The ability to import images, PDFs, even web pages, is incredibly powerful. And it’s possible to export as an image (PDF exporting isn’t in the Android version), so notes don’t have to stay in just this ecosystem. Similarly, it’s possible to export handwriting as images or PDFs from other apps if you prefer a particular app for handwriting (I love the Evernote-powered Penultimate on iPad), and then add it in here if you want to just take advantage of its cloud syncing.

The issue with the app is that pesky cloud syncing though. It works well enough, but the auto-syncing leaves a lot to be desired. The app doesn’t sync as changes are made, only when you quit to the menu. Too many times have I edited a note on one platform, then picked it up on another, only to see that the changes weren’t made due to me having not backed out of the note to get it to sync. There’s two solutions: one, auto-sync notes in the background as changes are made; two, have the sync button available in the note itself.

Really, that’s the one big issue that keeps me from recommending it 100%, or being in love with it to the point where I’ll not keep an eye out for other apps. It’s a great app, one that fits my needs: it just could be better, and its deficiencies kind of sting. But still, for anyone who wants to edit handwritten notes without relying on a single platform, Note Anytime is a killer app.

CoPilot Premium Review

CoPilot Premium Review

May 27, 2014

When it comes to mobile navigation software, the scene is packed; if there is one thing Google Maps has done, it’s to create an enviable situation for consumers: to compete in this space, developers have to come correct, or not bother coming to the party at all.

CoPilot is not a rookie piece of software, and as such, seeing how it stacks against competing solutions on Android is sure to be an interesting ride.

The interface has the bright-but-serious look that one might expect from a mapping solution, with default sky blue on white backgrounds making up the basics of the menu UI. The menu is a treat of sorts, revealing that the mapping interface can be tweaked with built-in themes that enhance the daytime/nighttime experiences. the entire theme can also be adjusted, with relevant and zany choices like breast cancer awareness pink or multicolored halloween. These “little” customization opportunities go a long way to increasing the usability of the product. Other settings give a glimpse as to other features contained in the app: language and gender choices for voice, ability to show local speed limits and proclaim warnings based on such, units of measure, sharing tools and more.

With regards to the app in action, the 3D rendering works well, and the overall smooth design of the menu spills co4over into the navigation. A search easily pulls up the location, and then the trip begins, with a screen that auto adjusts to he ime of day. There’s more good stuff here; using touch, it’s possible to tweak the information displayed (like speed and ETA) on the screen. 2D maps can be toggled here as well; the same handy menu pulls up trip summary, alternate routes, detours, points of interest and even walking directions. There is a lot of potentially useful information that can accessed on the fly.

In addition to searching (which works with Android voice dictation) one can input locations by coordinates, pre-entered “Places” and by the devices address book/contact list, which CoPilot interfaces with. The app allows for total trip control; it’s possible to plan by type of vehicle (car? Bicycle? Feet?) and avoid toll roads or to choose either the fastest or shortest route available. The app also offers a cloud feature for backup, and a year of free traffic monitoring service ActiveTraffic.

My biggest gripe with the app admittedly runs counter to my “complete mobility” rallying cry: I would love a web interface. A lot of times, for my needs, it is great to be able to input an address found while surfing on a laptop. Some folks might balk at the price when weighed against other options, especially since other vendors are getting into the offline side of things as well.

But for a full-fledged mobile option that packs in plenty of functionality, CoPilot is tough to get around.

Or get around without.

JotterPad X Review

JotterPad X Review

May 23, 2014

As a full-time writer, I am in need of good writing apps. I reviewed JotterPad back in early 2012, and found it to be solid but not something that I would perhaps use regularly.

Now, the year is 2014. My life is quite different, and I now carry around an Xperia Z Ultra, which I am generously calling a phone because it’s really more of a “tablet that can make phone calls” and have a folding Bluetooth keyboard I usually carry in my bag with me. I’d love an app for writing on the Ultra, because the screen is big enough for it, but I was lacking a good app: I usually would use my Surface Pro or iPad Mini to write, and I have good options on those: Writemonkey and Byword, respectively. But now, I think JotterPad X, two and a half years later, is the writing app that I need for Android.

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It starts with the look: it’s very clean, and has fantastic support for custom fonts: I use an evenly-spaced font as I like everything being lined up. There’s custom sizing options, and a night mode for writing in dark situations that inverts the colors. I would like custom background coloring: I read that using a mint green background can be more calming to write with, and it’s what I use with Writemonkey on PC. The app goes into a distraction-free mode with notifications where new ones won’t appear, so you’re not bothered while writing.

There’s Bluetooth keyboard support, which is granted, but there’s keyboard shortcuts which make it easy to do many things without having to touch the screen. There’s even a keyboard shortcut for referencing the list of keyboard shortcuts. For those who type on screen, there’s an extended keyboard which offers access to useful characters without having to change to the numbers and symbols section of software keyboards, which includes several characters for markdown formatting. And the app does support viewing markdown formatting natively for those who use that.

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One of my big complaints about the original JotterPad was the lack of Dropbox support. JotterPad X has Dropbox support. It’s possible to load files from Dropbox, or just to work locally and then move files to Dropbox later, which is handy because syncing can be a bit slow.

One of the other handy features? Versions. JotterPad X saves multiple versions of each file, so if you need to go back to a previous one, you can. It’s handy, even if only as a backup mechanism if you accidentally make a change elsewhere that you need to revert.

Some of JotterPad X’s features, like night mode, markdown preview, and version restoring, are only available by purchasing the Creative mode in-app purchase; these features are well worth it, though: the app gives a lot away for free. While it’s not perfect: the Dropbox syncing could be faster, and I’d like to see more options for sorting, or at least bookmarks so I can quickly access the folders I write in, this is a writing app that I am quite comfortable doing my writing work in, and that comfort is a great thing.

Degrees Review

Degrees Review

May 16, 2014

Weather prediction is big business, and I am fairly certain I am not unique in wanting reliable weather information on my devices of choice. As such, it’s good news that the formerly Canada-exclusive app Degrees now has USA weather data to share.

At first sight, the clean look of the app is appealing. The main screens that appear when the app is first started are distinct in the general clean, minimalist look; the backgrounds are stark white, and the icons are simple but expressive, and the black fonts work well.

Immediately after opening, the app pulls in information to a summary bar, and tapping on the summary bar opens up more information. The top part of this page can be scrolled through, and reflects weather-related data: wind deg1speed/direction, pressure, visibility, humidity, dewpoint, current/local moon phase and the times for sunrise and sunset. Even higher up in this bar (in larger font) is the current temperature and weather outlook. The app has an ultra-useful radar button which presents regional weather patterns in real-time.

Beneath this, the app breaks down the upcoming predicted weather for the next week, by day and nighttime. It also summarizes, by use of number and icon, the expected weather difference for said time period.

On the opening summary page, there is a setting button to the top right; tapping this gives the user an opportunity to adjust some specific settings. Locations (including that used with the widget) can be entered here; also, units can be tweaked (for example, from Celsius to Fahrenheit, or imperial units instead of metric ones). Push notifications and order of data can be tweaked.

The widget is clean; I would have liked a bit more customization options, but to be fair, it adopts the simple aspects present in other parts of the app.

The app works because it is clean and functional. Having NOAA data as the base makes it quite reliable as a service, and the low-frills feel is just what a weather app needs.

For an infinitely useful app, Degrees is easy to enjoy, and at $0.99, it is priced to move.

Carousel Review

Carousel Review

Apr 23, 2014

Dropbox is a-cookin’, and Carousel, its new media management app is headlining the menu.

The app itself is fairly clean in appearance, with a bright default menu system that is reminiscent of the menu of its big brother. The gesture-based contexts are well represented by in the quick tutorial; overall, the minimalist concept looks good.

If Carousel’s main purpose is to streamline storage and access to images and videos, it makes a good case for itself on the first use. After creating or signing in to an existing Dropbox account, it automatically collects photos from the device and collates them by date. Each picture can be selected by tapping on it, and then the picture can be shared or hidden. In the gallery view, the sets of picture by day can be scrolled through.car1

The share functionality is very interesting, and probably the best feature. In the main view (by date), several pictures can be selected by tapping; a blue check mark appears on the ones selected, and when one is done, one can tap the “share” button, which opens up a a send dialogue. The sharing tool lets stuff be shared to contacts in the address book: by SMS, email, etc. If sharing to other onboard services is more of the current fancy, the extended share functionality takes care of that. There is also a dialogue icon that shows shares, and for the queasy, the app backs up taken photographs to the cloud.

So, with regards to sharing and simple organization, Carousel is an equitable offering, but “organizing” doesn’t necessarily include “deleting” at this point. On one level, it isn’t that big of a drawback, but I immediately found some pictures that I wanted gone, but could not get rid of off from within the app. Of course, it then begs the question of whether a standalone extension of Dropbox for just media is warranted.

For now, it’s great for light use, and I think as time goes, it’ll be a more functional part of Dropbox’s mobile strategy.

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.