Microsoft Outlook Preview Review

Microsoft Outlook Preview Review

Feb 3, 2015

I admit it: I still use the BlackBerry experience as my mobile email barometer. It probably explains my craving for combined email. Gmail doesn’t have it yet, but hey, it does well at other things.

Can’t blame a guy for looking though, and the recently released Microsoft Outlook Preview game me a great excuse to try something new.

Or new-ish, really. After poking around a bit, it does feel a lot like Acompli, the email utility Microsoft gaffled up a while back. The opening UI is bathed in whites and blues, with clean styling and subtle material design aesthetics.

Formally getting started involves adding an account; Outlook supports IMAP accounts, as well as email sourced from Yahoo, Google, iCloud and (of course) Exchange plus Outlook.com. After the login and acceptance of permissions — there are several — the app gets the required tokens and signs in. I tried it with two Google emails to start, and the login process is mostly seamless, though it was necessary to tweak my IMAP folder setup.

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By default, emails from different accounts show up combined, and the navigational aspects should feel quite familiar to anyone who has used the Gmail Android app. Tapping the three horizontal lines invokes the email folder slide-out, and from here, one can view unread counts as well as manipulate folders. On the main page, it gives one the option of checking “focused” emails, and there is a nifty “quick filter” function that allows one to pull up emails that are unread, flagged or have attachments.

The built-in calendar is a nice touch; it pulls in data from each Google account. It integrates with OneDrive, Box and Dropbox.

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My biggest gripe has to do with the way the app handles Gmail labeling. I like the ability to file emails immediately, and frequently use multiple labels as appropriate, like when a “review request” also contains some “news.” This can’t be done on Outlook just yet; the email can be moved to one file, or none at all. I was a bit dismayed by the lack of integrated tasks, and would have loved some integration with other apps like Light Flow. The navigation seems a bit inconsistent; that back button got me lost more than once. Then, I would have dearly loved more swipe functionality.

Still, for a preview, it is a pretty nice option; it obviously has plenty room to grow. It has a good base, and with Microsoft’s cross-platform push, consumers win.

Root Explorer Review

Root Explorer Review

Jan 12, 2015

Root Explorer looks to accomplish a serious task: give its user access to the file system on the host Android device. It is able to list all the data, in several ways, in such a way that it can be manipulated, on the device itself, without the need for a desktop terminal.

It is especially geared towards root users — Android users that have attained administrative privileges on their devices — as the hidden file menu (which is the bane of stock Android ownership) is revealed with this app.

The feature list Root Explorer possesses is what sets it apart. Off the bat, it looks like a business tool, with simple navigation. For folks that like a bit of customization, the app offers the ability to tweak the appearance; there are different themes, and the iconset can be played around with, in addition to how the files re2themselves are presented. The developer allows the user to create as minimal of a user interface as possible. File paths have an easy visual path that is easy to understand.

Working with data is easy. One can easily delete, duplicate, copy and rename files. Additionally, it is possible to do advanced operations, such as adjust read/write permissions, zipping/extractions, sending/sharing files via installed utilities and more. The basic operations (like copying) flow intuitively, allowing one to place a file precisely where one wants it. The tab feature is also great, allowing the creation of quick access “tabs” at the top; so, if one frequently accesses a specific file path, said location can be bookmarked via a tab.

One of my favorite features is the ability of the app to access external cloud storage tools; using the tab interface, one get access to Dropbox, Box and Google Drive. This is a very convenient tool. Just as impressively, it is possible to interface with network locations via Samba. Again, Root Explorer serves as an invaluable conduit that allows users to manipulate files remotely.

All in all, for root users, Root Explorer can be a very functional tool. It works well, can be tweaked, and is a breeze to use. Additionally, for folks on the fringe (or unrooted folks), free app Explorer is available in slightly less functional form. It’s almost impossible to touch on all the app brings to the table, and that is one reason it is so compelling.

It keeps giving.

MailWise Email for Exchange & Hotmail + Review

MailWise Email for Exchange & Hotmail + Review

Dec 4, 2014

Email is serious business. I should know. In any case, serious business requires serious tools, and as such, taking a look at the Android email option MailWise Email for Exchange & Hotmail + felt very much like a worthy endeavor.

The application is quite clean, with some similarities with the Gmail app. In the Inbox, for instance, the visual lines are slight but deliberate, with sender  avatars to the left. It makes use of the familiar three lined menu activator to the top left. There is a large compose button, and beside it is a selection button and after that a search button. When an email is selected, one will find the same design principles, withmailwise1 easy access to action buttons at the top. Altogether, it feels minimalist without being too lean.

Setting it up with email addresses is simple and intuitive; the system prompts the user through, and after any and all emails are populated, it’s easy to see how the application works in real life. It does not run too different than Gmail, and though we did not try the Enterprise portion of the app, the webmail aspect is a good testimonial.

One of the biggest draws for me is that the app handles mail locally. There isn’t any server issues to contend with, as the developer doesn’t have servers for mail handling. Also, the minimalist threaded look appeals to me as well; the app looks ready for business.

On the flip side, while I dearly appreciate the looks, the app could probably use some more options on the visual side so as to appeal to even more users.  Also, the option of a unified inbox would probably be welcome, especially since the app handles mail equitably from so many different sources. Editor’s note: MailWise was kind enough to correct us, and show us how to work the unified mailbox; we have adjusted our rating accordingly. We humbly apologize for our error.

All in all, for free option, it’s very hard to not appreciate MailWise. It’s a bold app in a busy space, and has the fortitude to hold its own.

e-CAL Calendar Review

e-CAL Calendar Review

Oct 22, 2014

When it comes to business, knowing where to be when trumps just about everything else; if mobility is the goal, even a greater emphasis need be put on functionality. On the go, and using a smartdevice as a calendaring hub, one must have a reliable utility.

And if the app looks good, even better, right? With that endgame in mind, checking out the former iOS exclusive e-CAL Calendar isn’t too hard of a proposition.

Off the bat, the first thing that jumps out is the freshness of the design. Google’s’s newfangled material design is clearly on display, and is reflected in the terse layout and clean typography, as well as the splotches of green. It is a sharp look overall, and the presentation of the data works well. On the main page, the grid month apexes the individual calendar entries; the three lined menu rests to the top left, and gives us some ready insight into the app’s functionality.ecal1

The calendar is easy to work, with the material design add button at the bottom right. Tapping on that leads to the event entry form, which allows for specific reminders and such to be added. When a specific day is tapped on the calendar, events for that day are listed below. As expected, it syncs with the Google-based calendars installed on the host device.

The menu allows for one to navigate to tasks, and manage them. The app arranges them simply by “all,” “todo” and “done” categories. The tasks can be synced o Google Tasks, and it’s a plus that tasks due dates show up in the calendar. Adding tasks is easy, and as with calendar events, tasks for any given day are shown at the bottom when that day is tapped.

The in-app store has a lot of extras, a few available for free with signing up for an e-CAL account, and others that can be unlocked for cash. There are a lot of choices: religious calendars, weather, sports… even stock exchanges.

All in all, it’s a vibrant option. I think the user interface menu could use more visual options, but do like the built-in beta community, and the optional Event Planner companion app. For a glimpse of material design and a free, functional calendar option, one almost can’t go wrong with e-CAL.

Mobie360 Review

Mobie360 Review

Oct 7, 2014

The Mobie360 app can best be described as a home screen replacement. But the team behind the app demands more of a smartphone’s home. Rather than a clutter of apps, widgets and pictures, the Mobie 360 version of a home screen is a central hub of information for your smartphone, and it makes users’ lives easier and cellphones more functional.

Most Android users don’t find anything wrong with Samsung’s TouchWiz, stock Android or whatever is packed on their phones, but Mobie 360 reveals the true potential of the home screen. However, the first thing users will notice is its not-so-sleek look. Mobie 360 is all about functionality, and that is apparent by its outdated appearance.

mobie360_3Users can change the background, but it won’t affect the overly bold look of the notification bar-like buttons aligning the top of the screen. Widgets can be placed on the Mobie 360 home screen. However, they don’t retain all the customization as they do on Android’s home tiles, a major compenent of Android’s appeal. This is especially frustrating when trying to set up Google widgets such as Google Now and Google Calendar.

While Mobie 360 allows users to tinker with the appearance of their home screen, its real goal is to make it easier for Android users to find the apps that matter most to them. The custom home screen is made up of tiles, but instead of a mere hodgepodge of apps and widgets, tiles are divided into categories such as work and home. Mostly populating that area is an app wheel, which can be set to include apps you most use at each designated location. This experience can be customized, but Mobie 360 is smart enough to provide easy access to the phone’s most used apps.

A floating Mobie icon — which is a cute creature named Mobie — hovers over apps indicating it has a message to relay. Holding down on the app icon will pull up Mobie’s notification, which will give users tips on phone usage (i.e. Twitter is using too much of your data consumption).

Where the app is really useful is in its stat tracking. Mobie 360 makes it easier to save battery and keep track of how your phone is draining power. A single tile on the home screen is filled with information regarding the device, including how many more hours your phone will last without being charged, how much data you have used this month, and how secure your phone is.

This is an extremely useful tool for phone power users and Mobie 360 presents it in a way that is easy to understand. It also provides tips to resolve issues, such as deleting apps that are sucking up too much energy.

Mobie 360’s design will not appeal to everyone, but the app will still provide suggestions to users who refuse to change their home screen. Before you go to bed at night, the app will ask you if you want to enter bedtime mode to eliminate overnight distractions. After you arrive home from a long day out, Mobie 360 will suggest you turn on WiFi to conserve power. All of this is done through notifications that pop up on screen.

The Mobie 360 app can be used in many ways, and all Android users will find it useful. The app is a must have for power users who are constantly struggling with app usage and battery life.

Keeper Password Manager Review

Keeper Password Manager Review

Oct 2, 2014

At this point, we hope that the need for a good password manager is akin to common sense. We’re regaled with stories of database intrusions daily; it’s smart to protect one’s self with the basics of password security: using different unique password for different websites. Also, passwords should be changed to new unique ones at regular intervals.

But, if one even has only a dozen websites to log in to every now and then, those passwords start to blend together; that’s where mobile password keepers shine. Keeper Password Manager looks to be another option in this category, and we got to take it for a spin.

First thing to do is to to sign in with a master password. Off the bat, I liked the UI options; who says a productivity app can’t have some personality? It’s possible to change the main color, and while this isn’t life-changing, I feel that one can’t put a price tag on the ability change up looks.keep3

But a UI that can be adjusted visually is still only as good as the overall product; Keeper tends to work because it feels intuitive. Towards the bottom of the main screen, there are navigational buttons here, marking quick-add, sync, settings, help menu and one to re-lock the app with one button press.

Data entry is easy to perform via the “+” icon. One gets to list data by file, and then add name and password. For the latter, I liked the dice roll functionality; when tapped, the software generates a random password for that item. Something that was of special interest to me is the app’s ability to store files and photos; this could come in handy. Additionally, websites can be added and acted upon from within Keeper; the FastFill” option is speedy entry method I enjoyed, as is the share functionality.

The premium add-on allows one to use Keeper’s Cloud Based backup, secure sharing, multi-device sync and a web-based desktop client. Features like auto-locking and multiple wrong password data destroy go hand in hand with the 256-bit AES encryption.

All in all, it’s a robust option, with a lot of functionality, and it easily lends itself to one’s productivity flow. Some might not prefer the premium subscription model, but with a 30 day free trial, there’s no excuse to not give it a try, especially with the cross-platform functionality.

Evernote Smart Notebook Review

Evernote Smart Notebook Review

Sep 25, 2014

Recording inspiration is serious business. For creative people, the ability to jot down an idea or bring a concept to live via sketch is priceless. Even in a digital world, here are times when the hand written note on the fly cannot be surpassed.

For folks who cherish traditional notebooks, Moleskine is a well-known commodity, and its collaboration with mobile/web note-taking utility Evernote spawned the interesting Moleskine Evernote Smart Notebook. The underlying idea is to create a solution that allows for the digital capture of handwritten notes, and access to these notes via Evernote.

The Moleskine Notebook itself is the size of a thin, small book, coming in at 8.25 x 5 inches. The dark leather that makes up the cover features embossing of different types, most notably the Evernote logo in the center. On the back cover is a lime green band; there is also similarly colored strip for bookmarking. On the inside back cover, there is a pocket that contains smart tags and documentation, and the pages (192 of them) are noted to be FSC certified and pH neutral. Altogether, it looks professional, reasonably sturdy and feels quite mobile.

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As a soccer coach, I had some great opportunities at a recent soccer tourney. I am used to entering coaching points and on-the-fly stats via smartphone and Evernote, but then you have glare and such to contend with, plus, there is always someone that assumes you’re playing poker during the game. As such, it does feel a bit more natural using a “regular” notebook. Also, as I tend to use each game as an opportunity to isolate things to work on in practice, after games, I tend to have all sorts of diagrams and notations.

It was easy physically replacing my coach’s jotpad with Smart Notebook. The ruled lines help guide entry and even diagrams, and I had no problem using to gather training points and the like. The moment of truth is the image capture, and this is effected with the help of the Evernote app.

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Now, I think the Android app could have a better capture utility. The iOS version seems to be a bit more robust with regards to alignments. Smart tags are great in theory, but not really functional in the Android app, and the OCR did seem finicky with non-printed writing. Finally (and this is more a function of the Evernote app), downloading Skitch is needed for further annotations.

All in all, while this item is not new, the question one must ask is whether the Moleskine Smart Notebook makes one more productive.

In my case, it did.

Soccer Fitness Gols Review

Soccer Fitness Gols Review

Sep 19, 2014

Sometimes, we get apps to review that are so natural to use. As a licensed soccer coach who has played and coached The Beautiful Game most of my life, I have an intimate understanding of how seriously fitness impacts the sport. It’s an important, and there are quite a number of wearables aimed at this segment.

In any case, checking out apps like Soccer Fitness Gols not only feels natural, it feels like its my duty. So there.

The app itself is simple in design, with bright green, turf-like graphics making up the main background. The developer uses different shades of green in places to contrast the mostly white main screen text. The UI, as noted, is simple, and uses mostly uses taps and some gestures as the main modes of navigation.gol1

The main menu provides a few options: Programs, Assessment, Leaderboard and Profile. The Program submenu is futher broken into Strength, Endurance, Power, Speed and Flexibility. Each of these categories has three levels of difficulty aimed at people of different stages of fitness (beer league? Hilarious), and selecting one opens up the fitness activities to be done. Now, the exercises were my favorite part, incorporating a lot of warm-up moves familiar to soccer players, and several logical sequences, with video accompanying the descriptions and instructions. The program lists goals (sorry, gols) and allows the user to tweak the actual number achieved, which actually worked to encourage me to “beat” the gol. When done, the results can be saved (to be compared to past and future results), assessed and/or shared to social networks.

It turns out that “gols” isn’t just a funky way of spelling the obvious word; it is also a measure of activity. Gols are assigned for doing the workouts, and used to populate the Leaderboards. The Assessment is self-explanatory, and the Profile allows for users to personalize usage stats.

I especially like the video aspect, and the leaderboard adds a competitive aspect. I do think there could be more media content, and probably a little bit of nutritional pointers. Still, it’s an app I have no problem allowing my players to use.

Or myself, for that matter.

Agenday Smart Calendar Review

Agenday Smart Calendar Review

Sep 18, 2014

Making everyday business activities easier is a worthy goal that definitely earns developers a spot in heaven. With Agenday Smart Calendar, PGi might have a chance to go up yonder.

The use interface is appropriately businesslike, with the default soft hues and flashes of orange. The welcome screen is tastefully crafted, with weather, date and meetings that are planned for the current day. The date bar is scrollable, and there is a calendar button nestled to the top right, along with the familiar Android-standard three-button menu access. Tapping on a specific part of the weather information leads to Weather Underground, from which more specific weather information can be procured. Altogether, the UI feels clean and intuitive, and avoids the pitfall of being too cluttered.age1

Tapping on the menu button gives an idea of the app’s functionality as a scheduling and conferencing hub. The app automatically pulls in the emails already attached to the hosting device, and tapping “Schedule Meeting” out of the app menu suggests adding a conference service. If this is selected, the user is led to a menu where conference call info can be added. Then, Agenday calls up the installed calendars on the device (and if there is more than one with the appropriate permissions, it allows the user to pick the preferred one). In the main menu, there is also the option to “Meet Now” which allows one to set up a call now.

As already noted, the app stands out by streamlining conference calls. It works with services like GoToMeeting and Linc on the fly, allowing for one-touch dialing and connection to pre-configured conference calls. Additionally, I found it calls up navigation utilities from within the app for drive-to locations.

The extras help make the app standout. For the business professional on the go, integration with LinkedIn and Salesforce should be very welcome. It interfaces with the installed contacts/people utility too, so a lot of actions can be performed from the app. The widget is also a nice touch.

When it’s all said and done, Agenday makes its name by doing more, and doing more simply. Being free makes if feel even more of a steal.

Abs Trainer Review

Abs Trainer Review

Sep 10, 2014

Smartphone users look to get the most out of their phones because they are always on the go. Many of these people are so busy, it’s hard to find time to go to the gym. Abs Trainer, a new app in a workout series created by Backbenchers Lab, uses the portability of a phone to provide quick ab exercises that users can perform from the comfort of their own home.

Abs Trainer doesn’t require a hefty knowledge of working out–it provides simple workouts anyone can achieve without having to pay expensive gym membership fees. If you know how to do a sit-up, you should have no problem understanding the many exercises showcased in the app.

Abs-Trainer-4The user interface is straightforward and easy to use. To get started, users simply select which section of the abdominals to work out. The app directs users to three sections broken down into the upper abs, lower abs, and obliques. Lower ab workouts are typically less strenuous and complicated, but users should integrate a mix of routines from all three categories, especially if they are working towards six-pack abs.

Choosing a category will lead users to another menu, this time displaying different ab exercises that focus on the selected abdominal section. The app is extremely helpful because most of the featured exercises can be done without any gym equipment. Exercises such as leg lifts, planks, and mountain climbers can provide an intense workout that is easy to achieve and requires nothing aside from your body.

However, there are some workouts featured in the app in which fitness machines are required. Some of these exercises are a bit more complex, especially for users who are just beginning the journey of getting in shape.

After selecting a particular workout, users are shown a very brief video clip that explains how to perform the exercise. In fact, the clips are more like a gif than a video. The length of each clip works as both a benefit and a disadvantage for the app, varying by the complexity of the workout the clip is displaying.

Shorter, simple exercises are easy to replicate by watching the videos, and users will find themselves able to pull off a handful of routines in no time. However, that is not the case with all featured workouts. More complicated moves–such as exercises that require users to alternate sides–are not shown in their entirety. Users who lack any previous knowledge of the exercise will still be uninformed after exploring the app, which is the exact opposite of what Abs Trainer is trying to achieve.

The app somewhat offsets this by breaking down each exercise with step-by-step instructions. These processes might be confusing if taken alone, but pairing written instructions with how to videos helps clear up any doubt.

Overall, Abs Trainer is a solid app for Android users who are looking to start a workout routine without paying expensive gym fees. The app not only equips users with a database of exercises to workout their abdominals, but it also gives them the knowledge necessary to train the areas of their body they feel need the most work.

Yahoo Aviate Launcher Review

Yahoo Aviate Launcher Review

Sep 5, 2014

The ability to customize is one of Android’s biggest virtues.and third-party launchers are a big part of the experience. Thing is, there are a lot of launchers on the scene; as such, new options by the Yahoo acquisition Aviate have to do quite a bit to stand out.

Upon starting the app, one gets the “Simplify your phone” mantra, an invitation that is hard to ignore. There is a video intro and tapping on the blue “start” button opens up a three-page promo portion which eventually leads to the set-up, and after selecting Aviate as the permanent launcher, its ready to go.

The main page is a simple screen, made up mostly of wallpaper, top area and a bottom dock with five app icons; the apps represented thus can be manipulated by tapping and holding, and widgets can be added to this screen via the standard Android long-press method. There are other “home” screens as well. At the top right is an icon that loads the app drawer.yahoo1

To the left of the first screen, there is an interesting data screen that highlights basics like weather, calendar events and news; as with the first, widgets can be added to this sliding screen. To the right of the first screen, there is a page with categorized apps.

Then, there are slide-outs to the far right and far left; the left side has “spaces,” which is the functional heart of the app. Spaces are simply a descriptive term for these unique screens that offer smart information based on location and action. This specific slide enables easy access to the spaces, as well as app settings. to the right, is an alphabetized listing of apps.

Everything works together well, and it is seamless within Android OS. There are some clunky aspects (the method of changing icons on the middle/main screen bottom dock comes to mind); the way it incorporates widgets in the framework does overcome a lot of ills.

For a free, well-backed option, Aviate is tough to ignore, if even just for the option of the occasional switch-up.

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.