Category: Reviews

Review: BBC iPlayer for iPad

BBC iPlayer iPad app

BBC iPlayer app for iPad

Developer – BBC

BBC iPlayer – Free – iTunes store

App version – 1.0

On Thursday the BBC unveiled its brand new iPlayer iPad app and thankfully what a masterpiece it is. The app which is only available on the UK App Store for free will only work within the UK and Ireland due to restrictions of viewing, after all us British do pay for the luxury of the BBC and its programming.

The app itself is really well built offering easy navigation of the most popular programming available on the iPlayer at the time. The app opens to wherever you left it but on first run will open to the “Featured” page, what’s refreshing about the design of the programme listings is how the programme thumbs are laid out in a sliding pane rather than individual pages.

One thing I noticed initially about the app is that it is fast, really fast. I’m operating off a very fast WiFi connection so I can’t comment too much on how quickly programmes start for everyone but for me they start instantly and I can happily scrub around without any significant or even noticeable lag or issue. Aside from playing shows themselves, all the menus are sleek, load instantly and work fantastically on the iPad.

BBC iPlayer iPad app

TV programming selection showing related programmes and ability to add to Favourites

Programming isn’t high definition in quality but it certainly is very high quality with no noticeable compression artefacts, although it does seem to vary a little from programme to programme.

iPad users in the UK probably already know that we’ve had access to the iPlayer for some time via a web interface, whilst it was functional and served the purpose, many key elements were missing. A lot of programming for whatever reason never made it to this web interface, this app doesn’t seem to have the same problem. The web interface was also slow and for me was quite crash prone. The web interface also didn’t offer access to live TV (technically called simulcast) which is something that the regular iPlayer does offer. Now with the official BBC iPlayer app we have access to simulcasts of all the BBC channels (including radio) with fantastic quality and a lovely time grid interface to help see what’s on, even the desktop version doesn’t get that!

One of my favourite features about the app is the Favourites menu, whilst not being able to try it myself the BBC writes that programmes dragged to the Favourites menu will cause new episodes from the series to appear there automatically, a fantastic feature to help sort through the mass of weekly BBC programming.

The iPlayer app is not without its faults though, the glaring issue with the app—especially on a mobile platform—is the lack of offline viewing. I suspect that some kind of piracy issue is at stake here but the lack of downloading for offline viewing really stops this app from being the landmark app it could be. This issue is made worse by the app being WiFi only, a bizarre decision by the BBC.

BBC iPlayer iPad app

Easy navigation and search of all TV shows on the iPlayer via drop down menu

Another issue is not being able to sign into my account, the same account which offers me up fantastic recommendations based on my recent viewing and on the desktop versions gives me recommendations from what my friends have been watching. Whilst we’re talking about social media, there is absolutely no method of connecting to Facebook or Twitter. Another great let down.

There is of course a proverbial elephant in the room that goes by the name of AirPlay, like many other apps that stream video from the Internet it seems like a serious oversight to not be able to stream directly to the new Apple TV. Although the feature isn’t in the iPlayer app this isn’t actually the fault of the developer but a fault of Apple who has not made the necessary tools available to developers to allow such a feature. But astute readers will note that the upcoming release of iOS 4.3 will enable third-party AirPlay, expect this app to gain the feature quickly after that release.

Rating: ★★★★½

Pros

  • Very smooth app
  • Excellent quality video and sound
  • Well build menus, especially programme grid
  • Access to iPlayer simulcasts of TV and radio

Cons

  • No 3G viewing, WiFi only
  • No offline viewing
  • No social media integration
  • Can’t login to see personal or friends recommendations

Verdict

Overall the BBC iPlayer iPad app offers the basic features of the iPlayer and executes the functions well but is severely let down by a lack of 3G viewing, offline viewing and the presence of any social media integration. When AirPlay functionality is finally enabled this app with be seen in a whole new light with a superb reason to purchase a second-generation Apple TV.

BBC iPlayer iPad app

TV programming grid

BBC iPlayer iPad app

Live simulcast of BBC News

BBC iPlayer iPad app

Video playback controls

iPhone App Review: Sudoku 2 Pro

During my research I found that there are a wide variety of Sudoku apps out there for the iPhone and I know that really you only need one Sudoku app as there isn’t enough variance in the puzzle itself to require multiple versions. For that reason I felt it would be helpful to write a review on a Sudoku app that would save people the time and effort of buying several different apps only to be disappointed.

I personally get quite addicted to puzzles in the newspaper such as the crossword and Sudoku, so this app is great for me when I have a spare five minutes handy. The application is hardly a blow to your finances and a lot of thought has gone into the design for what people really want out of a Sudoku app.

Sudoku Pro 2 gives you a variety of difficulty settings, which you have to unlock as you play. During gameplay there is a timer that counts down with a multiplying score system that also decreases with time. This scoring system gives you the enticement to complete the puzzle quickly and accurately. Mistakes are penalised by a three strikes policy, which starts to severely decrease the amount of points you can score. But don’t worry, hints are available for when you get really frustrated with a puzzle. OpenFeint access adds some competition to the game, where you can compete against your friends scores or even against the worldwide scoreboard. There are also many achievements to unlock, which could leave you playing Sudoku until your thumbs are sore if you want to complete them.

Sudoku Pro 2

Sudoku Pro 2

If you’re dubious about buying this application then there is also a free slimmed down version, which will give you a feel for how this app plays, which as you would expect comes with ads. If you find yourself using the app a fair bit then I would recommend paying that small fee for the pro version. Although it still has the main bulk of features that the free version has it comes with so many extra little perks that help to make Sudoku more fun than on pen and paper. The standard for solving a really hard Sudoku puzzle is to use a pencil and write in every possible number into the empty boxes; this often causes a lot of rubbing out and half of the newspaper to be destroyed. This application saves that hassle and allows you to write in the possible array of numbers for you to come back to and solve later. On top of this the application automatically gets rid of your notes as you solve numbers along that row or column. A choice of beautiful styles leaves you feeling aesthetically pleased and the graphics are superbly finished.

Developer – finger arts

Sudoku 2 Pro – £1.79 ($2.99) – iTunes

Pros

  • Low-cost
  • Incentive to become competitive
  • Hints for when you get baffled
  • Intelligently designed note input

Cons

  • None

Verdict

Without a doubt I would recommend this app to anybody who enjoys Sudoku puzzles. A wonderful design that is simple and straight forward to use combined with a scoring system that keeps you on your toes.

iPhone App Review: Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic Montage

Montage of images produced by Hipstamatic iPhone app

When I saw this application in the app store I thought I had to give it a try. I did wonder whether the application would put style before functionality, which I have seen in applications before but this is not the case with Hipstamatic. I like to take snapshots on holidays and vacations but never really anything more. For that reason I feel that this app works for me. The application comes with enough variety that you can have a lot of fun adjusting the settings for various types of lenses, flash and film to produce an assortment of retro grade photography. These allow for changes in vignettes, blurring, over saturation, discoloured images and the image quality itself is fantastic. At the same time the application is simple and therefore works well for the casual photo snapper. If you start getting tired with the selection of camera parts supplied with the app then in-app purchases allows you to add to your collection. With such a large array of parts this application will definitely keep you occupied for a long time. I feel that this application also works well as an introduction into the fun that can be had with photography.

Hipstamatic has a wonderful balance of letting you enjoy the simple pleasures of using toy cameras, without the hassle of film development or using photo editing software like Photoshop to add some amazing effects. A lot of effort has gone in to the look of this application, with a stylish design to give the impression of an old school toy camera. 

I had a wonderful sunny day in the park recently and thought it was a prime time to test out this application. One of the main problems I had with this app was that the application was quite difficult to use in sunlight; because the application is built upon a dark background with dark buttons. I feel this is more of an issue with the iPhone display in bright sunlight than the Hipstamatic itself. The other issue is that the applications viewfinder doesn’t show the entirety of the photo that it is going to capture, which means that the exact photo layout is always a bit of a surprise. I wasn’t too bothered about this as I feel it fits with the theme of a toy camera. Apart from these minor issues I didn’t really find any fault with the app.

Hipstamatic

Hipstamatic iPhone app

The default is of reasonable resolution and quality, in addition Hipstamatic also attaches GPS location to images (much like the default iPhone camera) for use in apps such as iPhoto or on Flickr.

The Flickr group Hipstamatic has a large selection of some of the brilliant photos that people have taken using this app. The other thing I really like about this app is how easy it is to share your photos with people. Firstly you can text or email these pictures to friends and family. Then secondly, the application allows you to upload the photos straight to Flickr or Facebook. I really like the fact that you can take some fantastic snapshots and so simply share them amongst friends and family instantly. 

Developer – Synthetic Infatuation

Hipstamatic – £1.19 ($1.99) – iTunes

Rating: ★★★★★

Pros

  • Application is simple to use
  • Great picture quality
  • Wide variety of fun to be had
  • Easily share images with friends and family

Cons

  • Application is difficult to use in sunlight

Verdict

The application is designed to replicate the fun and simplicity that comes with toy cameras. If you enjoy taking fun snapshots with friends and family or even just taking arty shots of inanimate objects then this app is for you.

Photos used in photo montage:

Review: EyeFi Connect X2 4GB

For the past few months, I have had the opportunity to play around with an EyeFi Connect X2 in order to prepare this review.  My hardware comprises a Pentax X70 and a current generation iMac running the latest version of iPhoto on Snow Leopard.  So what is EyeFi?  Here is the vendor’s description from their website:

The Eye-Fi card is the 1st wireless memory card. It looks, stores media, and fits into cameras just like a regular SDHC card. On top of that, the Eye-Fi card has built-in Wi-Fi that uses your wireless network to effortlessly transfer photos and videos.
 
In short, it is an SD memory card that you use in your camera in place of your regular card, and based upon the settings you make in the EyeFi Control Center (discussed below), it will wirelessly transfer photographs to your home computer and social media sites. If you want, it can be the “set it and forget it” of photograph transfer.


Availability and Hardware Requirements

The card I reviewed is the least expensive of the product line at a retail price of $49.99. Their most expensive card retails at $149.99. You can view the entire product line here. It appears that the differences include lifetime subscriptions to the geotagging service all the way up to support for RAW uploads. The cards are available at multiple retail locations including the EyeFi site, Amazon, and Best Buy stores.

A camera with an full-size SD card slot is required. Here is a list detailing camera compatibility. I had originally wanted to use this on a less expensive (and more portable) camera, but it only used a micro-SD card, so I could not. Here are the precise hardware requirements:

  • An SDHC compatible camera
  • A broadband Internet connection
  • A Wi-Fi router compatible with 802.11b/g/n
  • A computer with Windows XP/Vista/7 or Mac OSX 10.5, or 10.6 (Snow Leopard)
  • 100MB of free space

What’s in the Package?

The product came in clamshell packaging containing a small instruction booklet, the EyeFi card, a USB card reader (see set-up for explanation), and a nifty Eye-Fi sticker which I promptly put on my lens cap so that it no longer disappears into my black granite countertops.  Woo hoo.  The card is a distinctive orange so that it could never get lost in a jumble with other SD cards in a drawer if you should happen to remove it and need to go hunting for it. There was a note in the package sent to reviewers to not photograph the USB card reader as it could be confusing, and I completely understand that. When I first had opened an EyeFi package, I was a bit surprised that a reader was present since the system is supposed to be wireless. Again, it is, the reader is for set-up and updates only.
 

Set Up

There is a piece of software (EyeFi Center) that needs to be installed and kept running for transfer to a home computer.  Once the software is installed, the card needs to be initialized with the settings from that program to know how to behave both when it is within your home wifi and out in public hotspots (if that option is purchased).The software opens on start-up by default and runs in the menu bar with an icon similar to a bright orange wifi transmitter. During installation, the EyeFi card has to be inserted into the included USB card reader for initialization with the various preferences which will be detailed in the sections below dealing with the various features. At first, the presence of the USB card reader may be confusing as it seems to run counter to the idea that the photographs and videos will be transferred wirelessly. However, the reader is for purposes of initializing the card (and later when changing any settings or performing any needed firmware upgrades) only. It has been noted pretty consistently in other reviews and comments that the EyeFi Center seems a bit clunky. Meh, it gets the job done and is not required to be viewed in everyday use of the card. You could pretty easily avoid that Center altogether until you needed to make preference changes or firmware upgrades. The image to the left is the main page of the Center showing one uploaded photograph. While one can do some limited photograph management through the center, that is not the way you will be interacting with your photos on a regular basis; at least I didn’t. One use I did find for it was to perform a bulk upload to a different photo sharing site than the default that was already automatically set.

I did have to perform one firmware upgrade during the testing period. Outdated firmware is indicated by a warning symbol next to the EyeFi card in the left pane of the EyeFi Center.

Home Wifi Network

Up to 32 networks (private and public combined—public wifi requires the purchase of a hotspot access subscription) can be configured in the EyeFi Center. Although it is not necessary to configure open networks that do not require a password, even if your home is (not a good idea) unprotected, this needs to be set up so that EyeFi knows to deliver photographs to your home computer. See the next section for more discussion on public networks used when out and about. Set-up really was a snap. Photos can be directed to be sent to any folder on your Mac or straight into iPhoto. There are sufficient customization options available for naming upload folders. In iPhoto, they are uploaded as an untitled event. While your camera is on, any photos which have not been uploaded are transferred really quickly. My experience was a transfer in under a minute. Since I am slightly paranoid, I turned on the preference that shows little thumbnails of the photos flying into my computer in the upper right corner (akin to a Growl notification) and also have the EyeFi Center notify me by SMS that the upload has started. Email, Facebook, and Twitter notifications are also available, but I personally had no luck with those.

Public Wifi Networks

For this particular product, this feature requires the purchase of a hotspot access subscription for $29.99/year. Other EyeFi products have this included automatically. The hotspot access is through AT&T’s wifi network and includes, but is not limited to, Starbucks, McDonald’s, and Barnes & Nobles. If you have an account with another hotspot access provider, through the “Easy Wifi” option you can enter your credentials one time and receive the same automatic service. I was able to test the subscription service, but not the “Easy Wifi” service as I did not have an account with another provider.
 
This was the area in which I had the most disappointment.  Yes, in theory, you can transfer your photos via the EyeFi card from any public wifi spot.  In practice, not so much.  Why?  Well, if the Wifi network requires any kind of authentication, such as the common “check here to agree to terms and conditions” on a splash page, it will not connect since the card itself cannot do that.  If, however, the network does not require that preemptory (and useless since no one reads those things) check-off, it does upload seamlessly. Of course, there are a lot of AT&T locations, and in those locations, the process was indeed beautifully seamless. My testing location of choice was Starbucks due to its ubiquity. EyeFi recommends having SMS alerts enabled so that you know when a public upload has started. I did this, and did find that very helpful. But then again, as previously mentioned, I am paranoid, and would probably have signed up for electric jolt notifications and telepathic transmissions if those were available.
 

Sharing

EyeFi can also upload to one of multiple online photo-sharing sites. This feature worked perfectly, and they were numerous sites to choose from. My one complaint is that the default was limited to one. I would have liked to have simultaneously shared to both Flickr and Facebook. Depending upon the service selected, there were some limited pre-customization options. For example, with Flickr you could have a standard description and tags appended as well as upload to a particular set. There is an option to allow upload notifications not only to be sent to SMS and email, but also to Facebook and Twitter. I was unable to get the upload notifications to Facebook or Twitter to work properly. Note, that is the notifications option, not the actual photograph uploads which did work as expected. 

Geotagging

Geotagging, like the hotspot access, requires a separate subscription. This is available for $14.99 a year. This worked PERFECTLY for me, and I couldn’t be more pleased. Here is a sample set on my Flickr account of geotagged images taken during the testing period. I had travelled from South Florida to the West Coast of Florida and brought the card with me to test. I had never seen so many billboards for attorneys on one highway in my entire life.

Selective Share

The uploading function has several privacy options from none at all to some control with the social sharing sites such as limiting access to friends and/or family. But, face it, there are some photos that we don’t want anyone to ever see. Perhaps one was taken in jest or (ahem) in a compromising situation, you forgot you were in a wifi area, and bam! It is uploaded. Not good. If you want to ensure this does not happen, there is an option called selective share which pre-empts the other privacy options embedded on your card. With this feature, you use the camera’s “protect” function to release the photographs to be then processed by the settings on your card. This feature at first though is somewhat counter-intuitive, and because of this, I am pretty convinced that the majority of reviewers I read never tested this because they would have been compelled to note this initial confusion in their review. At first, one might think that if a photo is set as protected, that photograph would then remain private. However, if you think this through, it is actually the opposite. Unless changed by the user (and I didn’t test changing this to see if the process would be reversed), most cameras’ protect feature—which is intended to protect photographs from deletion—is set to off, allowing photographs to be deleted. In order to differentiate photographs from the default so that EyeFi knows that you have actively and selectively made a decision on each and every item, you must change the photograph to the non-default toggle, which is protect. So, once a photograph (or video of course) is set as protected, then it is released.

Endless Memory

If endless memory is selected, then the EyeFi card will begin to delete older safely transferred items in order to make room at user-defined thresholds, such as at 50% of card capacity. I was able to test this feature successfully. At least for me, it wan’t a matter of worrying about running out of space on the card, but rather the convenience of not having to worry about deleting older pictures to make room.

RSS Feed


A custom RSS feed can be created for your uploads to share with friends. This worked as expected. I could not figure out where to put in my name so that the RSS feed would be more clearly identified. I don’t know if this was an issue with Bloglines or would have occurred across all readers. Bloglines is a popular reader, and my reader of choice.

iPhone App

The related iPhone application will also wirelessly transfer photographs to the computer and one social media site. This was tested successfully. This is not something I will be using as I sync my iPhone to my computer daily, but I know there are some people who rarely sync, and this would be a helpful way to get photographs across. As far as transferring iPhone photographs to Flickr, I prefer a dedicated Flickr app for greater control.

Conclusion and Rating

 
I really enjoyed this product.  It was a pleasure not having to hunt for cables to transfer photographs and having the geotag information was the cherry on top. It is definitely something I would purchase, but for me, I would not choose the least expensive card as I would have to add the geotag and hotspot access subscriptions making it more logical to buy one of the others.
 
Pros

  • Inexpensive entry level price
  • Easy set-up
  • Extremely reliable wireless transfers of photographs
  • Very high “cool gadget” geek factor

 
Cons

  • Adding subscription plans for hotspot access and geotagging can get pricey
  • Can only share to one social/photograph site
  • I had difficulties with using notifications via Twitter and Facebook

Disclosure

After I was done with the field testing, and in the process of writing the review, I noted an opportunity on the EyeFi site to be part of a volunteer promotional team. I applied to be part of that team, but my acceptance or rejection had no bearing on this review (in fact, they are not notifying people until later in July). I did not receive a free sample product in conducting this review. The card I reviewed was provided to me as a loaner and returned to EyeFi.

In addition to her position as Assistant Editor at World of Apple, dizzle runs idrankthekoolaid, an Apple fangrl satire blog, and is an Administrator and Hostess at MyAppleSpace and their vidcast MASTv.

Review: Instapaper Pro for iPad and iPhone

Instapaper Pro

Instapaper Pro on the iPhone

Developer – Marco Arment

Instapaper Pro – $4.99 (£2.99) – iTunes store

App version – 2.2.3

Instapaper is one of those services that I’ve been dubious of for a while but a few weeks back decided to give it a go. Remaining sceptical I picked up a copy of Instapaper Pro on the second day of owning my iPad. Simply put Instapaper has very quickly become a major part of my daily routine and has easily increased my reading consumption and discovery.

Instapaper’s principle is basic, “a simple tool to save web pages for reading later”, making them available offline across numerous devices. The biggest selling point of Inspaper is the ease of use and ability to discover reading material. I have a bookmarklet installed in Safari on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro, one click of this and the text of the page is stripped of it’s CSS styling and sent to my Instapaper account. Open Instapaper on the iPad and with an available internet connection it’ll sync all your “read later” articles a long with an assortment of “editor’s picks” and if you happen to be following anyone else you can view their “starred items”.

Instapaper makes the consumption of large pieces of text comfortable, feature articles from The New York Times, The New Yorker and Esquire often stretch beyond 5,000 words sometimes even past 10,000. Such long pieces of text are difficult and tedious to read on a desktop based computer with all its distractions and the text is often spread over multiple pages. I find myself often coming across a long piece of text, hitting my “Read later” bookmarklet, picking up my iPad, leaning back in my chair and reading the article. It should be noted that often long articles that are paginated across multiple pages that Instapaper sometimes reduces them to one block of text.

So let’s take a look at the iPad and iPhone app.

Instapaper Pro for iPad

First the iPad. As of version 2.2.2 of Instapaper Pro the app is now iPad and iPhone native. In version 2.2.3 Instapaper Pro received a UI overhaul on the iPad moving a lot of the on-screen controls from the bottom of the display to the top, more in line with other iPad apps. The app is simple in its build, open it up and you’re greeted where you left off, whether that be in the middle of an article or scrolling through a list of unread articles.

Instapaper Pro

Instapaper Pro on the iPad


In portrait mode folders are hidden in a pop-over menu much like any other iPad app, and in landscape mode as expected folders are displayed in a panel to the left of the article list. Touch to view an article and in both portrait and landscape mode the article appears at centre stage with a small strip of buttons across the top. Instapaper Pro offers a wonderful trove of tweaks that can be applied to text, a choice of six fonts, increase or decrease font size, increase or decrease line spacing, margin sizes and a light or dark interface. Also in there is what appears to be a backlight dimming feature á la iBooks, but due to that API not being available to developers, Instapaper Pro just applies a transparent black overlay to artificially dim the display.

Confusingly the Instapaper Pro interface shows an icon of a bin (trash can) next the star icon, which would suggest that this would delete the article from the “read later” folder, which it does but it is only moved to the “Archive” folder not deleted forever. Then to make matters worse when viewing an article in the “Archive” tapping this trash can icon offers the choice to “Restore from Archive”.

Despite this rather bizarre icon choice the iPad version of Instapaper Pro has one unmistakably unique (to Instapaper that is, iPhone has it too) and superb feature, it is a feature that many Mac OS X users have become used to. The ability to define a word from the dictionary anywhere is a godsend on the Mac and I can’t think how many times I’ve wanted to do it on the iPhone and now the iPad, with Instapaper you can, hold the word and up pops a menu, select define and a Wikitionary definition is presented. Wikitionary isn’t perfect and sometimes even the most obvious of words are missing but it does the job. A feature I’d certainly like to see rolled out to all iPad apps, especially Safari.

In all, the Instapaper Pro for iPad is a superb app, it is fast, well built and most importantly serves its function of serving up web pages for later reading perfectly.

Instapaper Pro for iPhone

Instapaper for iPhone is similar in feel to the iPad version and no doubt that it should be considering it pre-dated the iPad version. But the functions are different, reading on the iPhone is not nearly as comfortable or as enjoyable as reading on the iPad. The feature set of Instapaper Pro for iPhone is virtually identical to its iPad brother, with a couple of minor differences; only three fonts, no dark/light mode and no artificial backlight dimming. It’s possible these features are coming but they’re not nearly as important.

In my own use I only ever use my iPhone for reading Instapaper Pro is when I don’t feel entirely comfortable having my iPad out, it’s simply not as easy or comfortable to do so.

Instapaper Pro

Instapaper Pro on the iPhone


While we’re talking about the iPhone it is important to discuss how many third party apps have included Instapaper functionality, by that I mean the ability to send text to Instapaper with a couple of clicks. In fact I don’t know of any Twitter clients that don’t allow such simple interfacing with Instapaper.

There is one big feature in the iPhone version which isn’t lacking from the iPad just simply isn’t needed but works perfectly on the iPhone. The feature known as tilt reading is exactly how it sounds, tilt the iPhone and the text will begin to gently scroll away from you. No need to constantly flick the screen.

Making the Most of Instapaper

You won’t be far into your addiction with Instapaper before you realise that you’re running out of material to read. You’ve exhausted the “Editor’s Picks”, you’ve added your acquaintances “Starred Items” and you’ve checked out all the “Greatest Hits” on Instapaper.com but you’ve still not read enough!

It was at this point that I begun desperately trawling website after website looking for interesting material to read without much success I have to say. Then I discovered Longform.org, a website purposely built for Instapaper and updates regularly during the day.

Rating: ★★★★★

Pros

  • Ability to define words on iPad app
  • Easy syncing across multiple devices
  • Perfect reading experience on the iPad
  • Increases ability to discover and consume text
  • Service is easy to use and setup
  • iPad app beautifully built with lots of easy tweaks
  • iPhone app is well built, but lacks the same comfortable reading as the iPad

Cons

  • iPad app is a little buggy
  • Use of trash can icon for arching is confusing
  • Formatting of text not always perfect

Verdict

Instapaper is one of those services that once you start using you can’t live without and thankfully there is a wonderful infrastructure across the Mac, iPhone and iPad to keep you connected with Instapaper at all times. The construction quality of the iPhone and iPad apps is second to none with regular updates focusing on speed and UI improvements.

Begin using Instapaper and you’ll spend endless hours reading on the iPad wherever you go.

iPhone App Review: Sleep Cycle

Developer – LexWare Labs AB

Sleep Cycle – £0.59($0.99) - iTunes

Something I always look forward to after a long week is sleeping in at the weekend to catch up on all that sleep that I have missed. But like most I have to get up early in the week and I would like this to be done with the utmost care as I’m never happy about getting out of bed early. Thankfully Sleep Cycle has been developed for the iPhone to assist with that delicate start to the day.

When you go to bed the iPhone is put on charge and placed in the corner of your bed. the application then uses the iPhones sensitive accelerometer to monitor your movement through out the night to determine your sleep patterns and various sleep states.

So why is it useful to know this? Well the application uses this understanding so that it can work out the best possible time to wake you up. Set your alarm time as you usually would and place the iPhone in the corner of your bed. The application will then choose the best time within the half hour prior to your alarm time to wake you up.

Although this application chooses the best time to wake you up it is definitely not (as I have discovered myself) a substitute for a lack of sleep. You will still feel very tired and groggy when you wake from a lack of sleep and even the sweet melodies from this application won’t help you there.

Sleep Cycle for iPhone

Sleep Cycle for iPhone

Along with this it also gives you graphs of your sleep patterns for each night so you can browse through and get an insight to how well you sleep through the night. Along with this it calculates your average amount of sleep per night.

There are a couple of small attributes to this application that meant that I couldn’t give the application five stars. First of all there is the difficulty the application has if you don’t sleep alone. Secondly the application gives you details on your average amount of sleep per night. For me this is quite low because when I eventually get to sleep in at the weekends I don’t use the application as I don’t need to be woken up. Now I know that these are small things but I still thought they were worth considering.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Functions well
  • Consolatory alarm tones

Cons

  • Doesn’t work on multiple people

Verdict

Overall I am very pleased with this application. For such a small price it was worth spending the money. It has opened my eyes (quite literally) and given me a little more understanding about the way I sleep at night. Along with this there are the beautiful panoply of soothing alarm jingles that make it a pleasure to wake up.

iPhone App Review: Happening

Description – Happening brings nearby events to your pocket. Powered by the Yahoo Upcoming service, you can browse nearby events, search to your heart’s content, view your friends events and explore listings from Upcoming.

Developer – Nik Fletcher

App version – 1.1

Happening – iTunes Store $1.99 (£1.19)

Happening for the iPhone is built solely to allow access to Yahoo’s Upcoming service. Upcoming which has been around since 2003 is a social networking events website, the most useful facility on the site is the ability to search for music concerts, art exhibitions, conferences and meetups near where you live.

Happening for iPhone

iPhone App: Happening


Happening offers advantages over the website by taking advantage of the built-in iPhone GPS to pinpoint your location and show you what events are nearby. Happening also allows for the searching of events, viewing of events that friends are interested in or attending and of course a calendar of your own events.

Since the first release of Happening the app has improved significantly, you can now RSVP events as attending or interested from within the app and everything feels generally smoother and less buggy.

For the function it is built for Happening can’t be faulted but the app however does require further improvements. For example when viewing an event the small map preview in the top left shows half the Google logo blocking most of the view and tapping on it doesn’t bring up a full map view as you’d expect. The ability to add people as friends from within the app would also be useful.

One of the best ways for me to find out about events is via the groups that I join, unfortunately Happening has no group implementations at all, removing one of easiest ways to view lists of relevant events.

The other problem lies less with the app and more with the service it links into. Despite its size and prominence in the events arena Upcoming is still too small outside of North America to be of great use. Naturally there are pockets of the UK that have activity such as London, Brighton, and Bath but outside of these areas it’s largely useless.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Pros

  • Makes finding events in local area simple
  • Easy browsing of events while on the go
  • Fast app with no crashes in my use

Cons

  • No group related features
  • Requires some minor UI improvements
  • No ability to add/remove friends

Verdict

Happening for the iPhone is the perfect solution for finding events in your local area, unfortunately a series of missing features let the app down in the end. No doubt a superb app to have for events like SxSW and Macworld though.

Happening for iPhone

Event details


Happening iPhone app

RSVP an event

Review: iPhone IM Apps Compared

IM Apps

This review makes a comparison of what are considered to five of the best and most popular iPhone Instant Messaging (IM) applications around today.

I will be looking at three of the more expensive applications such as IM+ With PUSH, BeejiveIM and Agile. I will also compare two of the most popular lower priced applications and see how these compare to the higher priced applications. These applications are eBuddy and Palringo.

One of the best features of the iPhone that puts it above other smart phones is the push notification service. This service allows applications to update you in real time using badges, sounds or custom text alerts without having to be running in the background. This service was made by Apple but is ran by the third party applications so the quality can vary. This is quite an important feature for IM applications as it allows people to keep in touch with their friends and colleagues, whenever and wherever they are. All of these applications include push notifications, so it is worth seeing how the quality varies between these applications.

Developer – Shape Services

IM+ with Push – £5.99($9.99) – iTunes

IM+ with Push covers an excellent choice of IM services, which includes Skype, AOL, MSN, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo!, Google Talk, Jabber, ICQ and MySpace. This IM client is laid out appropriately, with the sort of tabs that you would expect for efficient movement around a well designed application.

The application is open for easy management of your accounts where you can set your status, delete or add contacts, and even allows you to update your status with a GPS location link, so people know where abouts you are at the time. If you have a large amount of friends then you can order them into groups or even put your best friends into a favourite tab. Along with this there is landscape view and the inbox stores all your past conversation threads for easy access. When reading through conversation threads you can hide the keyboard by simply tapping the conversation thread.

This application has the largest array of emoticons that I have ever seen. It has a category for all the emoticons that you could ever need for use in MSN etc, but then it has a lot more for use when chatting to another person with IM+.

Something you may have noticed about this application is that it includes twitter within it’s list of services. Now if you use twitter you may think this would be quite a useful idea to have everything under one roof. But to be honest, this application is clearly designed for IM services, which twitter is not. Saying that it does have its upside. It allows you to check twitter whilst you’re amidst conversations with your friends. It’s not as intuitive to twitter as applications that are made for twitter but it makes it easier to check if you are using this application at the time. It also allows you to have your twitter @replies and DMs pushed to your phone. So although not useful as a primary application to check twitter, it does come in handy when needed along with the push notifications.

The application also includes an In-app web browser, which means that you can easily check links that people send you or just browse the web, without having to leave the application.

Pros

  • Easily manage your accounts
  • Well designed layout
  • In app web browser
  • Large choice of services
  • Push notification for Twitter

Cons

  • Push has been somewhat unreliable
  • Not ideal as primary twitter client

IM+ iPhone app

Developer – Beejive

Beejive – £5.99($9.99) – iTunes

Beejive allows you to receive push notifications for up to seven days after you close the application, which means your not going to be losing contact to anyone anytime soon. It stores your conversations so you can continue from where you left off. Beejive integrates all of your favourite IM services including AIM/MobileMe, Google Talk ICQ, Jabber, MSN Messenger, Myspace IM, Yahoo! Messenger and Facebook IM.

There’s room for customisation with a choice of aesthetically pleasing backgrounds or anything from your own library. Beejive also allows you to manage your accounts such as adding and removing contacts, changing your nicknames, accepting friend requests and blocking contacts. You can also put your friends into groups, if you have a lot of friends to make it easier to find those that you speak to more often.

The application comes with standard features such as landscape mode and a large panoply of emoticons. You can also add friends to a favourites list similar to that of the phone book favourites. Push notifications last for up to 7 days after you close the application, which is longer than any of the other applications that I have tested.

Not only does this application give you everything most necessary for an IM client but it also has sharp interface that feels smooth to use and the application has logical settings and menu layouts. If you have some friends with multiple IM accounts then meta chat allows you to put all of the chats into one thread so it is easier to look through past conversations. With the in built web browser it is possible to browse the web and go to links that people send you without having to keep opening and closing the application.

Pros

  • Push notifications for up to 7 days
  • Saves chat history
  • Smooth interface
  • Meta chats between different accounts
  • In built web browser

Cons

  • None

BeeJive iPhone app

Developer – Agilemobile

Agile – £5.99($9.99) – iTunes

Agile is probably one of my least favourite premium IM applications. It does a good job but I feel that when it was designed, there wasn’t much thought in to what the most important features for an IM client would require. It does have some brilliant quirky features such as the ability to use the cameras live footage as the background so that you can chat and browse through the application on the move. I have tested this out and it does work quite well.

the applications interface and design seems unintuitive and the application feels limited when compared to what other premium iPhone applications have to offer. It is limited on the number of services that it offers, which are ICQ, MSN, AIM, Yahoo!, Jabber and Google. The application only allows for up to 12 hours after closing for push notifications.

Agile mobile for the iPhone is known for its push notifications being a bit hit or miss at times. I found that sometimes I just wasn’t receiving any push notifications at some point, which is not what you want from an application that claims to have this ability.

On the up side the application runs very smoothly and does do its job as an IM client. It even includes Unicode support for chatting to people in any language, which is more than the applications feature.

Pros

  • Camera Footage for on the go
  • Support for all languages
  • Application tends to lag

Cons

  • Only 12 hours of push notifications after close
  • Small selection of IM services
  • Push quality unreliable
  • No inclusion of an in-built browser

Agilemobile iPhone app

Developer – eBuddy

eBuddy Pro – £2.99($4.99) – iTunes

This application comes as half the price of the premium applications and for that reason I expected to let myself in for disappointment. This application does its job but it doesn’t give you any of the perks that the more expensive applications have to offer, which is fair enough.

You are required to set up an eBuddy account to use this application but that is all very quick and simple to do. Once you do this you are away, with the ability to easily chat to your friends or colleagues, All integrated into one list. Push notification services last for up to three days after you have exited the application, so you won’t miss any important gossip.

The application also includes some common features nowadays such as landscape mode for the keyboard and all the regular emoticons. You can send pictures to friends and send a buzzer by shaking your phone. You can also change your display picture from your camera or from your photo library. The application saves your chat history and allows for support for many services such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, GTalk, Facebook, ICQ, MySpace and Hyves.

I was disappointed to find that the application only included the most basic emoticons and also didn’t correct any of my spelling mistakes, which I thought was odd considering that spell correction is common in nearly all applications today. This meant that my messages were very hard to read at times. I also found that when people would contact me through Facebook chat, the application would give me their user number instead of a name, so I wouldn’t actually know who it was. This is a basic error that is one of many small reasons why I would pay more for one of the premium applications, which don’t have this problem.

This is a great application but I can now see after reviewing why it is  down there in the lower price bracket. It does everything that I expect an iPhone IM client to do but at the same time, it is missing a lot of features that would put it up there with the premium rate clients. It also didn’t feel as fluid to use as Beejive and IM+ with Push. I found that scrolling through chats sometimes you would end up moving into a different chat by mistake. The way the application allows you to simply flick between chat logs could have been set up better. I imagine it to have a flow somewhat like the home screen and how you flick between pages of applications.

Pros

  • Wide range of services
  • Includes push notifications
  • Reasonable price for what it offers

Cons

  • Small amount of Emoticons
  • No inclusion of names with Facebook chat
  • No in-built web browser

eBuddy iPhone app

Developer – Palringo

Palringo £2.99($4.99 ) – iTunes

Palringo is another company that has been making IM applications for various platforms other than the iPhone. It prices up as half that of some of the premium apps but does it meet up to the same expectations?

It allows a wide choice of services such as Windows Live Messenger, AOL Instant Messenger, Facebook, Yahoo! Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, IChat/MobileMe and Gadu-Gadu. This application actually offers little more than an IM client. It doesn’t include spelling correction, which I thought was common to all third party applications nowadays. It does keep a record of chat history and does include basic features such as themes and landscape mode. The application has a terrible layout that is very confusing to get around and uses pinch zoom in the most unnecessary places.

The application allows for you to send picture messages to friends and share your location with friends. You can create groups so that you can easily send messages to multiple people at the same time.

This application is by far my least favourite and I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. If you are really wanting a cheap application then definitely choose eBuddy over this.

Pros

  • Low priced
  • Push notification

Cons

  • Poor quality design

Palringo iPhone app

Verdict

Truth be told, these applications vary in quality a lot more than I expected, which means that deciding on the best app isn’t too difficult for me. IM+ with push and Beejive are definitely the best two and really choice depends on what you are looking for in an IM client. IM+ had a lot of room for personalisation and included the largest variety of IM clients. IM+ offers push for twitter, which could be pretty handy if you’re a heavy IM and Twitter user. Beejive just felt a step better in terms of speed, reliability and intuitive design. Beejive also allows you to get push notifications for the longest period of time, which is very useful. AgileMobile was close behind these two because it met up to most standards and included some clever extra features such as the background camera screen and the large selection of UNICODE. Agile failed on the interface and the general ease of movement around the application didn’t feel as comfortable to use as with the others along with a lack of a web browser.

Overall Beejive is the winner for me as it is my favourite IM client and I am more of a casual user. I hope that you have found this review useful but if you feel that there is anything I have missed out then feel free to mention it as I have spent a lot of time with these applications so I should be able to answer most queries.

To be able to use Facebook chat with these applications, Facebook will require you to verify your date of birth. Each application deal with this in different ways and isn’t difficult to sort out, but it did have me confused at first so I thought it was worth a mention.

iPhone App Review: DoodleJump

Developer – Lima Sky

DoodleJump – £0.59 ($0.99) - iTunes

For such a cheap price I bought this app to pass the time and found that it was surprisingly fun considering the simplicity of the app. Doodler jumps upon various platforms and items such as trampolines and jet packs to climb high into the heavens. The aim of the game is to get as far as possible without falling or bouncing into an enemy.

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iPhone App Review: RedLaser

Description – RedLaser ―― Impossibly accurate barcode scanning.

✓ Shop smarter. RedLaser searches for low online and local (NEW) prices from hundreds of thousands of retailers. Now features TheFind product search in US, UK!

✓ Scan faster. Even without autofocus! RedLaser uses state-of-the-art barcode recognition that can read virtually any product barcode. Works great on the first-gen, 3G, and 3GS!

Developer – Occipital

RedLaser – £1.19 ($1.99) – iTunes

Sometimes I find I will go into town shopping for a particular item and I will have a bit of a hunt around and then buy it; only to find that it’s being sold for a lower price elsewhere. This app is aimed to prevent this from happening. I have been waiting for an app like this to come to the iPhone ever since I heard about a similar application for the Android platform that a friend of mine was all too keen to show off.

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