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Thursday, 30 August 2012

iTaskPro - App Review


Managing tasks, which one would have thought an obvious application for an iPhone/iPad is poorly handled by the native 'Reminders' App.

If you use Outlook for your tasks, and want to have them on your iOS device then, you will, no doubt, have come across a few problems. Not least of these will have been with repeating tasks.

It seems that there is the choice of either forgoing repeating tasks, or being forced to use a subscription service to manage tasks 'in the cloud'. Both these are, as far as I am concerned, totally unacceptable.


Now for the ACIDS test:

Aesthetics
If you want something that's pretty, you will be disappointed; this is a very workmanlike App. On the other hand, if you are looking for something that works, you will be delighted. This app was released in April, 2009, and hasn't changed much since then. This can be taken as confirming two things: firstly, it works, and secondly, it doesn't follow fashion. The latter is very true as it only works in portrait mode, and is an iPhone App that functions on the iPad (with the 2x Button at the bottom right). One could almost call the App boring... probably fairly apt for a task scheduler.

Cost
You'll need both the App and the add-in for Outlook but, it is a one-off payment and very reasonable (links provided at the bottom of this post).

Indispensability
if you use Outlook and want to keep your tasks in sync with your iOS device you cannot be without this.

Dependability
I've been using iTask for years; it has never let me down... unless Outlook had a problem.

Security
All data is on your PC and your iOS device; you are totally in control of your data as it never leaves your 'possession'. This is essential for any confidential data.



ACIDS Test Rating:
If you use Tasks in Outlook it's a no-brainer.


To find out how the ACIDS Test works, click here.

You can get iTaskPro here and the iPad App here.

Monday, 27 August 2012

Zattoo - App Review

 

Just imagine having access to lots of 'live' television channels which you can watch anywhere (provided you are connected to the Internet). Zattoo offers exactly this, the exact number and variety of channels varying depending on where you are at the time. This is not some cheap (and illegal) screen copy of a channel; it is a fully licensed product, hence the channel limitation, dependent on geography, due to licensing agreements.

 

An additional plus for Zattoo is that they 'record' all the programmes on all the channels for 30 days. So if you have missed an episode of your favourite soap, or someone mentions an interesting programme you want to watch, there is no problem. Zattoo also features a fully searchable channel listing, covering live, recorded and upcoming programmes.

 

By using Apple TV, you can watch programmes on a full size screen, even though they are only being received on your iPhone/iPad.

 

Apart from the iOS App, there is also a PC version and a browser version. I would suggest trying the free version and then upgrade, if necessary.

 


Now for the ACIDS test:

Aesthetics
The iOS version features the available channels as text down the left hand side of the screen and vignettes of the actual content on the main area to the right (or at least as many as fit in until you scroll down). This is actually superior to a conventional television; think of it as multiple PIP (Picture in Picture). As the content is streamed, the quality can suffer from occasional pixellation.

Cost
The paid version costs as much for an annual subscription as about a month of cable channels; excellent value.

Indispensability
You can obviously live without this App but, it does come in handy on occasions, and certainly avoids the need for trailing wires if you want to watch television outside.

Dependability
Your Internet connection needs to be sufficiently good to get a stable image; that said, the service is reliable, although you do need to check what channels are available in your country.

Security
Apart from someone knowing what television channel you watch, there is no obvious security threat. When you register, you do need to give an email address and set up a password; the usual advice on being careful applies.



ACIDS Test Rating:

 Very good App but slightly flawed



To find out how the ACIDS Test works, click here.

 

You can get Zattoo here and the iPad App here.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Viber - App Review

 

If your main aim in life is to pay as much as you can to your mobile telecoms operator, please stop reading now.

 

As you are still reading, you are obviously one of the (silent) majority, who are keen to put their mobile phone to the best use possible, without racking up horrendous bills.

 

Viber allows you to make calls and send text messages between handsets for free, provided that the caller has access to Wi-Fi, and that the respondent has also signed up to Viber. Obviously the messaging aspect is not too important to all the people in the iPhone community, as the iMessaging App is already included in iOS 5 and above.

 

Signing up is a painless exercise (you can do it here), and once you have done that, the App will check your contacts for those that are already members. You can also invite people from your address book to join Viber.

 

There are Viber Apps for: iOS (iPhone), Android, Windows Phone and Blackberry (although these are only for messaging). So there are a lot of mobile phones that can communicate with each other for free.


Now for the ACIDS test:

Aesthetics
You are presented with a list of your contacts, clearly indicating who has already joined Viber (be prepared for some surprises). You can easily restrict the list to Viber only. Making a call is then as straightforward as ever. Nothing flash but, very intuitive.


Cost
It's absolutely free so, you can't complain.


Indispensability
In the sense that your iPhone already works as a very good mobile phone, Viber is not at all indispensable but, to the extent that it is free, it scores points.


Dependability
The call quality is variable, from very good to pretty well unintelligible. The good news is that you can call back and usually be rewarded with better a better audio quality. There is one irritating aspect in that, if you have an incoming call from the mobile network, at the same time that you are on a Viber call then, the latter is simply (very rudely) dropped.

Security
I think it unlikely that calls themselves are compromised. If you are in the unenvious position of being monitored to that point, life is probably hell already. I would be more concerned about the security of your address book.


ACIDS Test Rating:

 Very good App but slightly flawed



To find out how the ACIDS Test works, click here.

 

You can get information on Viber here and the iPad App here.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Evernote - App Review


You're looking at a website and find an interesting article but haven't got the time to read it at the moment.  You quickly mark and save it in 'Reader' in Safari. So far, so good, and then the problems start… you don’t have Internet access so you can’t access the page (Reader in Safari is no more than a bookmark) or you have Internet access but the page is no longer current. Does this strike any chords with you? All these issues, and very many more, are solved with Evernote.

This is, however, just the very beginning of what you can achieve with Evernote.

Evernote keeps this information in sync, whether it’s on your iPad, iPhone, PC, or any other device. It is very easy to use and enables you to save information from the Internet with extreme ease. This makes research, travel planning and just remembering things so much easier. You can also choose to share information with others (or not, of course).

You can also save information from other sources, including photos. So you could photograph an interesting article (or a recipe, or anything else) in a newspaper and then retrieve it for later reading. There is also the ability to email anything directly to your Evernote account. By being able to add tags, you can easily find information and also arrange it in folders. As far as finding your most recent clippings is concerned, the ability do display by ‘date updated’ makes it simplicity personified.

Evernote is an absolute lifesaver (I guess that my cards are on the table now).


Now for the ACIDS test:

Aesthetics
The iPad Version of the App handles both landscape and portrait orientation beautifully. Clippings look like individual pages and can easily be moved around the screen or opened. If the clipping includes a photo or graphic, this is included in the thumbnail; beautiful. The PC App includes the ability to automatically synchronise at set intervals; unfortunately this feature is lacking in the iOS version.


Cost
The App is entirely free, whether for iOS, PC, or as an Internet page. The first 60 MB of uploads per month are also free. Let me assure you that this represents a lot of notes and clippings. The stored information stays in your account ‘forever’, so the total amount is unlimited. You can increase the monthly upload limit to 1 GB per month by purchasing a monthly or annual premium account


Indispensability
The fact that there is a version for just about every phone, tablet, or PC makes it indispensable, especially as the amount of storage is not really an issue.


Dependability
I have been using Dropbox since November 2008 (initially just as a Web App and gradually on many devices); it has never let me down. It's not possible to ask for more.


Security
Evernote state “As a consumer Internet service, we don't pursue enterprise certifications such as FISMA, HIPAA, etc. We manage our own servers at a Tier 3 data centre (Quality Tech) in Santa Clara, which is itself SAS70 certified. All software and data is managed by Evernote's internal IT/Operations staff”. I interpret this as data being secure to the casual observer but, a fairly determined effort could well lead to data being compromised. I personally use Evernote to share mainly clippings so, the information is freely available over the Internet anyway.


ACIDS Test Rating:
 You've just got to have it!


To find out how the ACIDS Test works, click here.

You can get Evernote here and the iPad App here.

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dropbox - App Review


If you are using more than one device, be it PC, Smartphone, tablet, or laptop, it won't be long until you have a file in one place and you want to access it from another. Shortly after you have resolved that issue (and syncing with iTunes is not pretty), you will come across the next hurdle: which one is the current version. Enter Dropbox.

Dropbox is a free service that enables you to have access to your documents from anywhere, from any device. As the updating of files is automatic when you save, the version is always the latest one, everywhere. If that's all one could do with Dropbox, it would already be excellent value (and as it's free, you couldn't complain anyway.

There are however, three more excellent attributes to Dropbox.

• You can have a 'public' folder, in which you can share documents with anyone; all you need do is give the address to anyone (and remember that they may in turn pass it on to someone else).

• You can also have shared folder(s) where you give others access to information. In this way you can share information privately with only those you choose.

•  Dropbox automatically takes 'snapshots' of your information every time it changes. So when the inevitable happens and you accidentally 'mess up' that document you have been working on for months, don't worry. Just go into your Dropbox account and roll back to the correct version.

This is not a sexy app that makes you want to buy an iPad; it is far more than that, it is an indispensable tool for anyone who works with files of any kind, be they spreadsheets, documents, music, photographs, or anything else.

Now for the ACIDS test:

Aesthetics
The iPad Version of the App handles both landscape and portrait orientation in an intelligent way. Viewing saved documents is excellent. There's nothing particularly 'sexy' about it but, it works and is very easy to use. The fact is that once you are actively using Dropbox, you will rarely (if ever) use the App itself; you'll just let the automatic synchronising take care of itself.

Cost
The App is entirely free. The first 2 GB of storage is also free, and can be increased to a very generous 18 GB by effectively helping the developers by introducing others or 'liking' them. Thereafter, there are various plans for having more space.


Indispensability
Once you start using Dropbox (probably from your PC), you'll wonder how you lived without it. As you add Apps to your iOS device (iPhone/iPad), it will become even more a cornerstone of your data sharing experience. If you have data in one place that you could do with somewhere else, Dropbox is absolutely indispensable; full stop (and full marks for that matter).


Dependability
I have been using Dropbox since September 2010; it has never let me down. It's not possible to ask for more.


Security
Dropbox claim that "your files are actually safer while stored in your Dropbox than on your computer in some cases. We use the same secure methods as banks ", and I have no reason to doubt them. The fact that a copy of your data is also being stored somewhere outside your direct control is however a risk, however small. As you give other Apps access to your Dropbox, the potential for data 'leakage' will increase. Don't be too alarmed by this; treat it more as the over cautions "may contain nuts" warning on a packet of peanuts, rather than the "smoking kills" on a packet of cigarettes.



ACIDS Test Rating:
 You've just got to have it!


To find out how the ACIDS Test works, click here.

You can get Dropbox here and the iPad App here.

Monday, 13 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics - The Legacy

Firstly, congratulations to Team GB on some great performances and an unexpectedly large medal haul. The host nation surpassed expectations.

Before the games there were two ‘scientific’ evaluations of Team GB’s medal hopes, in one, based on GDP and population per head the forecast was 32 medals and 8th place. The other, undertaken at Colorado College, suggested a medal haul of 45 and a fifth place in the table; adding past record and home-nation advantage into the mix. The eventual tally was 65 medals (29 of which were gold) and a stunning third place overall (perhaps a further (bronze) medal should be awarded for that achievement).
There have been many truly inspiring performances; not all have led to medals; that's part of what sport is all about. Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics, said that the important thing in life is not the victory but the contest; the essential thing is not to have won but to have fought well.

The truly inspirational Oscar Pistorius exemplifies de Coubertin’s philosophy. Pistorius had to battle for years just to be allowed to compete; no medals but what an inspiration.

The hundreds of thousands of people who cheered competitors are also being lauded throughout the world. Although it is only to be expected that the loudest cheers of encouragement were (mainly) reserved for GB competitors, everyone got a warm welcome… or nearly everyone. It seems that football matches were very much the exception with plenty of derision and booing of non-GB players (especially Luis Suarez), and even of Craig Bellamy. What did Craig Bellamy do to cause offence? He was a Liverpool player, representing team GB but had the misfortune to be playing at Manchester United’s ground; absolutely pathetic. In fairness, he was applauded when he was substituted.

There has frequently been talk of whether or not football should be an Olympic sport. This is very much a ‘GB’ issue. The problem is that there is no football 'Team GB' as the home nations are individual members of FIFA. Football has been a featured sport at every summer Olympics bar 2 (1896 and 1932); it very much has a place in the competition. Perhaps it’s just football ‘supporters’ who should be banned.

So what about the legacy?

Obviously the infrastructure that was built at a huge cost must be put to best use; that’s almost the easy bit.

Politicians are now far too keen on making sport much more important in school curriculae; the usual knee jerk reaction which will, no doubt, be reversed as soon as something else comes along.

It wasn't long ago that politicians wanted to do away with grading for schoolchildren, so that nobody was seen to 'fail'. In itself, this is a fairly weak concept. Getting an 'A' grade does not preclude anyone else having a similar mark; anyone can aspire to a 'first' place. In a race, there is one winner and the 'grade' is secondary.

These youngsters will need training. Perhaps the ranks of the unemployed contain vast numbers of capable, if not qualified, sports teachers. If not, maybe it has been forgotten that SUWT (Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers) is currently staging a work-to-rule, which includes members not attending activities outside normal school hours. So unless sport replaces classroom subjects, there will be no training, and if it does not then, the foundations will be laid for too few doctors, scientists…

Presumably, there will also need to be a sudden influx of ‘elves’ to rewrite the health and safety manuals (couldn’t have anyone attempting to catch the javelin, or head but the shot, could we), or better still, take the opportunity for a massive bonfire and get rid of them (the health and safety manuals, that is).

If the purpose is to be even more successful at the next Olympics; it’s too late. If the intention is to look at more success further down the line, I would suggest that (without ‘home advantage again), Team GB has done brilliantly well but, it will not be repeated in four or eight years’ time. Pierre de Coubertin also said “success comprises in itself the seeds of its own decline and sport is not spared by this law”; you have been warned.

Just imagine sports coaches (especially male ones) putting on their St Trinian’s outfits and shouting: “come along now children, all on the bandwagon”.

But, in a constantly changing world, where men crying are pictured on the front page of newspapers and are lauded for their achievements, a (in my humble opinion) huge gaffe has been committed. The closing ceremony (very much a tribute to Britain’s past… Churchill, Beatles…) should be held after the Paralympics have taken place. In an inclusive society, this is truly unacceptable.

The catchphrase for the event has been "inspire a generation"; great idea ... but which one?

Saturday, 11 August 2012

App Reviews

Having been asked a few times to write some App reviews, I decided to give in and (metaphorically) put pen to paper.
 
It was not long until I realised that most of the Apps which could be considered as truly 'great' owe their usefulness to their ability to integrate (maybe that should be integreat) with others.
 
An iPad is indeed a beautiful device, and there are many prettily designed Apps but, it is mainly those that (if required) synchronise with your desktop (and other devices, of course) that are truly useful.

In order to give real value for money, I will therefore be starting the reviews with a few tools that you need to make your life a whole lot easier.

Let's just get the Olympics out of the way, and then the reviews will happen.