MyScript Stylus Review

MyScript Stylus Review

Jul 17, 2015

We’ve been working on write ups pertaining to smartpens, and looking at what they bring to the mobile productivity table. For the most part, we’ve found them to be great tools, but only as good as the add-ons that allow them to be harnessed by the platforms they are being used on.

One of the names that continually cropped up during reviews and research was MyScript. MyScript is a name that should resonate with smartpen users; it powers a lot of the image recognition software that some smartpen device makers bundle with their products. The premise is fairly simple: one “writes” with a stylus (or finger) on compatible surfaces with compatible peripherals, and MyScript helps translate the script to formal text.

The potential benefits can be profound. It allows folks who love to write have an opportunity to do so on digital devices. With regards to smartpens, it allows people to write naturally, and convert the collected data to computer-ready text that can be manipulated digitally. It’s fascinating stuff, and seeing it appropriated to mobile devices universally via the MyScript Stylus Beta app for Android is the Next Best Thing.

The app concept is straightforward: it acts like a keyboard, in that it essentially becomes another mode of virtual entry, and when the user wants to enter text, it pops up a window seamlessly (instead of the keyboard one is used to seeing.

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Install out of the Play Store is easy enough, as is the initial set up; one then picks a language (it offers support to 64), and then one follows the dialogue to select the Stylus input as the default. After that, as noted, the app is invoked whenever the user looks to enter text. As it was, I had the perfect test bed: this review, via the WordPress app.

Using a soft tip stylus, I was able to get this post going. At the bottom of the screen, a clean, white window appears, and the basic concept is to write. I started of slow, with deliberate strokes; it picked them up quite quickly. Over time, I was able to go even quicker, and defaulted to my more natural cursive. Again, it worked admirably. It utilizes word suggestions at the top, and it picks up punctuation fairly easily. I did run into problems when I typed too fast, but for the most part, it was surprisingly good, so much so that I did the vast core of this draft via the app.

In trials with my finger, the app was also pretty proficient, but my entry was a bit slower, I really preferred the stylus. I came away thinking that a thin-tipped stylus would be the best option for text entry.

Added altogether: functionality, gesture controls, ease of use and customization options, it’s easy to fall in love with this nifty set of software, even before considering stuff like multiple language support.

Beta? Yeah right…

Deliveries Package Tracker Review

Deliveries Package Tracker Review

Jul 13, 2015

I love me some Google Now.

It’s one of those anchor apps I use on a daily basis, almost without thinking. Multitasking, hands-free operations, news… you name it. Still, one of the key ways I rely on it is to track packages. This is key in this line of work; we get review items in and out almost every day, going and coming from literally all parts of the globe. Google Now is a (sometimes) seamless bridge between information and access. Since we handle expensive equipment and devices, it really helps to when what arrives where.

But Google Now does treat package tracking in a finicky way when it wants to, and one big issue is that there isn’t a way to add packages that it didn’t originally pick up or removed on its own. While searching for a solution to this, I stumbled upon Deliveries Package Tracker. What this app looks to do is simple: provide a one-stop solution with regards to collating shipping information from a host of worldwide sources.

The UI is simple; it seems to avoid being too flashy, which is okay for what it purports to do. Upon opening the app, it’s fairly easy to see how it works: add a tracking number, tack on the source, and the app does the rest by pulling in data such that one gets movement information up to and including actual delivery.

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Data can be entered by scanning (using a separate bar code scanner app) and can be typed in manually; it is especially helpful to copy a tracking number from an email using Android OS’s built-in share functionality to get it directly into Deliveries; this works very well in my experience. The services natively supported form quite the expansive list, and it’s probably easier to find a service not supported. One gets USPS, Fedex, UPS, DHL, TNT and whole lot more to choose from.

The pro unlock kills the ads and opens up a few more features; a key one is the ability to link one’s account to Google, Amazon and eBay. With this, one can seamlessly track shipments coming in from those services.

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Some services can be especially difficult to work with; I found China Post to be truculent, but to be fair, that seems to be a function of the service. The need for a third-party bar code scanner sucks, but again, I can see where I’d prefer a thinner app anyway. The adjustable background update and multi-device sync are definitely valuable

All in all, it’s a pretty nifty app that does what it does well. Add this one to the indispensable list for folks who do even just the occasional online purchasing and shipping and/or receiving.

SmartNews Review

SmartNews Review

Jul 2, 2015

In a perpetually fast-paced world, there is always a place for easy-to-use news apps. Enter SmartNews, an app from Japanese developers that already has quite the positive reputation on Google Play.

Upon first inspection, the app looks clean. It opens up into the main page, and one gets to see the white background and splashes of color upon that in the tabs at the top. It is set in blog form, with text summaries bordered by a relevant pictures. It a serious look, but easy on the eyes, and easy to appreciate from a visual perspective.

The tabs (channels) underscore a major part of the functionality by providing easy access to color-coded news categories: Entertainment, Lifestyle, Sports and such, with a “Top” Channel — representing overall top news — occupying the leftmost section. One can scroll down to browse new articles, or swipe from side to side to access new channels. Tapping on any one story leads to the corresponding full article from the hosting website; there is also a “Smart View” option that can be selected, which provides a cleaner, less-frilled version of a website. Together, the navigation elements are fairly intuitive and especially smooth.

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Now, as noted, what SmartNews looks to do, obviously, is provide news effectively. By default, on the surface, it seems to accomplish just that. News stories are relevant, and properly filed, allowing for one to get a good dose of leading headlines. The sources run the gamut: CBS, Mother Jones, Huffington Post, RE/COOL, The Guardian, Business Insider and much, much more. The channels one has can be tweaked in setting, and it is also possible to add sources.

One cool tool is a pop-up service that provides reports for the user at times during the day: morning, afternoon and evening. The app can be paired to external services like Facebook, Evernote and Twitter. Another thing which is pretty interesting for Android users is the Google Now functionality; this allows stories to appear in one’s Now feed. (this feature is dependent on Google’s card functionality roll-out).

It’s tough to be a news utility of repute in Google’s world, and SmartNews has managed that. It’s a great app that is easy to use, and in today’s world, that is gold.

Blaze for Twitter Review

Blaze for Twitter Review

Apr 29, 2015

Blaze for Twitter is a new-ish option that brings a new way to consume and produce tweets. AS there can never be too many options, we were happy to take a look.

The intro sequence is humble, inviting the user to add a Twitter account. After tokenization and such, one gets an idea of the customization options available, as well as a look a the user interface. It has a clean default look, with definite lines and bold coloring. The layout option which pops up at the beginning gives one a large say with regards to tweaking the exterior. Off the bat, it is possible to adjust the way Blaze handles images, going from full all the way down to thumbnails. After that, the background color — light or dark — can be selected; there is also a theme option, which allows the user to select from several colors.

Beyond that, the app can be set up to be read from the top or bottom, and one can also pick long service to use and the frequency rate. When it’s all said and done, the app does give the user a bunch of options to make it his/her own. The app clearly pays attention the Material Design, and overall, it is a pretty vibrant-looking application.

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On the functionality side, the app incorporates a lot of the tools we’d expect in a microblogging client; one can slide through specialized screens for home, @ replies, direct messages, lists and trending topics. Each tweet in one’s stream can be manipulated individually via small symbols, and again, we get the core tools: reply, retweet, favoriting, muting and sharing. Working on an individual tweets brings even more options, like the ability to make a note or text someone a tweet. Retweeting gives one the option to quote, copy or do a simple retweet (I love the overlay). It is possible to work on one’s profile from within Blaze too.

The cherry on top? Blaze handles multiple Twitter accounts.

There’s not much to dislike; if I am to nitpick, it would be that I would have liked a “shoot-to-the-top” button, such that one can get up quickly. An option to tweet to simultaneously to multiple accounts could be handy on occasion.

All in all, it’s a great option, underscored by the option to use the ad-supported option, or the premium build. Either ay, it’s a client to appreciate, and well worth the risk-free try.

Google Handwriting Input Review

Google Handwriting Input Review

Apr 20, 2015

I’ve said it before, and said it often: cottoning to a virtual keyboard was the only way I was able to leave the relative security of physical QWERTY devices and try out Android.

It has been smooth sailing ever since. Mostly. Still, I have a soft spot for keyboards, even if I feel fairly vested in my current option. And even as the third-party options delightfully expand, I love how they push Google’s own options.

And then we get Google Handwriting Input.

The concept is basic: one uses a finger to write, and the app converts it to digital text. When activated, it acts like most other keyboards, and pops up from the bottom. Instead of keys, the entry tool is made up mostly of a writing area, and other buttons that control sundry items, as well as a space bar at the bottom. After activating, “writing” is a cinch; tracing with one’s finger allows the app to interpret the entry and to place it in the appropriate entry box. Right above the trace area, word suggestions are provided, and can be selected if the initial guess is wrong. The program recognizes simple punctuation too.

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Non-cursive writing works best based on my testing. The blockier the entry, the more accurate the program seems to be. It does multiple languages too, which is an added bonus, and there is a conventional keyboard that can be invoked from within the app.

My biggest fuss has to do with spacing. It’s a cramped going in portrait, and only slightly better in landscape… even in phablet-sized devices. Obviously, there is gonna be a trade-off been accuracy and sizing of the input area, but I did come away with the feeling that it works best on tablets.

Weirdly enough, even though the capture process does its thing, I’m faster using a swipe keyboard. This is due to the slight delay that occurs while the app recognizes an entered word; these add up.

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find this option intriguing. Despite the growing pains, it feels like a relatively well-thought out concept, and it works well in real life.

Google Messenger Review

Google Messenger Review

Mar 24, 2015

As Android continues to mature, one of the cooler aspects is the way Google has seen fit to not only build its version of mobile utilities, but to also serve a lot of its apps à la carte. Keep, Calendar, Keyboard, etc are great parts of the OS, but pay of their charm is that they are optional pieces.

When it comes to messaging, most observers would probably agree that Android is very, uh… well… an area of opportunity. Definitely not from a lack of options. Oh no. Between Voice, Hangouts and the deprecated Talk, there are quite a few communication tools. And now, the relatively new Messenger throws its hat into the muddled ring.mes2

Messenger is Google’s homogeneous answer to Android device SMS and MMS communication. It’s a slim offering that acts as a replacement for OEM/carrier messaging apps.

Off the bat, it possesses that streamlined, familiar look that Google is clearly looking for with Material Design. There is a lot of white space and blue accents, with the chatted-with contacts appearing as icon circles towards the top left; for each one, there is a text to the right highlighting the last sent/received communication. To the top right, one gets a search button and the three-dot menu, and at the bottom right, there is a circled “+” button for starting new conversations.

When a contact is selected from the main screen (or a new one initiated), the same mostly white motif shows up. Each sequence is denoted by defined chat bubbles, with the user postings aligning right and the person being chatted with gets their words slanted to the left. From the individual contact settings, one can personalize the colors somewhat, such that the text bubble of the contact can be shaded. Calls can also be initiated directly from the individual “pages.”

The main menu doesn’t provide a whole lot more diversity, but one can set up notifications and set up delivery report.

In practice, it works well, as instant as the built in apps (which isn’t shocking).

It would be nice if there was automatic functionality with Goggle Voice, but it’s hard to knock the clean simplicity. It’s a no-frills presentation that mostly works. Yes, i would have appreciated more customization options, but hey.

Is it good enough to replace built-in options? Yes. It’s not necessarily breathtaking, but merely good enough, and that it an intimidating starting point.

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.