Notepad Reminder Review

Notepad Reminder Review

Aug 27, 2014

Smartphones are predicated on convenience. The best apps are simple to use and make people’s lives easier. But for some reason, app developers have not harnessed the convenient potential of widgets. At least, that is the concept behind Notepad Reminder, a note-taking widget that is easy to use and easier to access.

Rather than digging through menus and taking time to open an app, widgets offer a way to interact with an app right on an Android device’s home screen. This feature is typically used to relay emails or check sports scores at a moment’s notice, but Notepad Reminder takes it to another level, adding usability and productivity right to the home screen.

Notepad-Reminder-2Users can install the widget on one of the many slides that make up their home screen and access all of the app’s features directly from the widget. In fact, there is no app, making it the most simplistic way to take notes on an Android device.

Instead of a one-sized-fits-all widget, the Notepad Reminder widget can be customized to a users liking on the home screen. This approach allows each individual user to get what they desire from the app. While one person may need the widget to be as large as possible to read notes, another may prefer a smaller widget to take short, simple notes on the go.

After positioning the widget on your Android device, you can immediately get started leaving notes. A small bar along the top of the widget prompts users to add a note and select a priority. The widget is helpful for completing tasks such as creating a grocery list or a to-do file for the day. However, users in need of taking larger, more intensive notes will find the widget experience cumbersome. Longer notes will display on the widget, but there isn’t room for a lot of information and typing within the bar is unintuitive.

Despite its simplicity, the Notepad Reminder widget also has some features that are typically found in full-fledged apps. Users can set a reminder for each note directly within the widget. Once a task is completed, the note can also be deleted efficiently. There are no complicated menu screens or additional buttons to press; all of this can be achieved directly from the widget using understated yet obvious buttons near each note.

The straightforwardness of the widget is its greatest strength, but also is its biggest weakness. Users will find themselves creating lists on the app, but only one list at a time. There are no organizing features to create long-form notes or organize a list with a title. It would be nice if users had the additional option of using the widget to directly open specific notes within the app. Instead, there is no physical app, meaning some users will find little function for the widget.

Overall, the Notepad Reminder widget is a solid way to jot down quick notes or run down a grocery list without having to dig through menus. However, the app is almost too simple. The oversimplified user interface and lack of a full featured app will make users quickly forget about Notepad Reminder.

Notepad+ Review

Notepad+ Review

Aug 14, 2014

For the mobile-centric person, it helps to have a quick method of entering notes. Notepad+ looks to be a intuitive solution.

The opening interface is fairly simple, and the developer does a good job of making the app feel intuitive off the bat. After installing, the huge plus (+) sign within a larger rectangle rests to the top left of the screen, and tapping it opens the main notebook/album page. Here, one can choose to enter a note by handwriting by finger or typing entries via device keyboard. The notebook title can also be selected, along with paper style from several offered types.

The handwriting feature is great for quick entries with a minimum of prior touches, and is quite easy to note1manipulate. It allows for several different colors and line thicknesses to be used, so one can “write” with different colored “ink” too. As most hand/finger-writing tools, block lettering is probably easier to decipher than cursive. Of course, one can draw objects with this entry method as well.

One unique feature is said method of entering typed text. When the text icon is selected, the user is prompted to tap on a free part of the screen, and, when performed, an adjustable text box appears in which the typed text can be placed. For customization feens, Notepad+ covers the bases: text font and colors can be adjusted via the adjustment tools that appear above the keyboard.

A notebook or album can have multiple pages within; to enter a second page, just swipe across the page to start a second note, and so on and so forth. This is useful for blocks of ideas, or categorized groups of entries. As an added bonus, notebooks can be assigned a four digit password for privacy.

The app provides share functionality, and incorporates the expected tools: email, bluetooth, messaging and more. It gave every share possible app on our test device as an option to send with.

The app is pretty good, but this leads to my biggest gripe: the lack of sync functionality. It begs to be used across devices, and I would have loved a common repository of notes. The share functionality somewhat alleviates this concern.

As a standalone app, I works well, and feels quite worth the $1.99 asking price.

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?