Jun 28, 2012

Google Browser - FREE

Google iPad app is among the few apps that made to the first page on my device. Google plus provides the best central place for all these activities on the iPad. In addition to providing the perfect access to all my Google apps it also has some nifty features for searching. This app is very well designed, fun to use, reliable and FREE, which make it a must if you have a Google account.

The Good: 
I have a google account that I use for everything, from managing my pictures, to reading news, to sharing my life with friends. I found that some of these apps do no work properly in Safari and even crash at times, but they work fine from the Google Browser. 

One of the nifty feature is the voice search, which works seamlessly and reliably, despite my strong italian accent. After tapping on the microphone the app displays a status indicator in the middle of the screen.

When the apps detects a complete sentence it performs the search. This feels like a very natural and extremely efficient process.

Search results are displayed in traditional textual list fashion, or using a very appealing preview of the actual pages. This idea was first introduced by an iPad app called SearchMe, which had a brilliant interface, but disappointing search results. I always liked this solution, and I am glad that I can now use it with Google search results.

Tapping on a page will display it on an overlay panel, which i can swipe out of the way.

From the search result page I can view results from different domains. Image search is particularly appealing. All images are displayed in a tabloid format.

Tapping on any image will display it in larger size, and swiping in both direction will display previous and next images.

Tapping on the more button in the top navigation will reveals the other search facets.

Swiping the view to the right revels the access to past searches.

This view also displays the actual pages returned from the search. When I discovered this feature I was really stunned. It is just brilliant and beautiful.

All previous searches are displays as a stack of pages. Tapping on the control on the top left unfold the stack and reveals the individual pages.

The Bad:

Most google apps are displayed in their mobile layout, which is very limited and doesn't take advantage of the large iPad screen. This was probably my biggest disappointment with the app.

The other minor complain is that I can only have one page open at the time.

Rating Breakdown:

May 28, 2012

Flipboard - FREE

Flipboard is a social-network aggregation, magazine-format application software for Android and iOS. Flipboard has one of the most elegant layout and browsing experience of any other app I tried, and it is optimized to look at its best on all devices. I had tried many different readers so far, and this is the only one that has sticked with me for the last few years.

The Good:
Once you had set up all your feeds, the initial screen of the app will feature in a beautiful full screen the most popular entries.

The transition between pages simulates flipping the pages of a magazine and it is just gorgeous.

When you get inside you will be able to get to all your feeds. The most popular entry for each feed is featured in this page.

Tapping on the magnify glass will open a panel, to browse for additional feeds you want to add. All available feeds are organized by categories, which helped me discover some very interesting content.

Feed entries are displayed in a tabloid format. I was amazed how information looks more interesting when displayed in this format rather that in a list. The tiles are sized according to the relevance, and their feature both text and images from every entry in a very attractive format.

Some of the articles are displayed in a very clean are readable format which is stripped down from all unnecessary information you may have to view in the original web site.

When an article spans multiple pages you can flip the content as you would do in an actual magazine.
For some reason I find this as a very satisfiable experience.

Articles which are mostly pictures based are displayed in a gorgeos format that gives really enphasys to the images. Below an example of an article on Compemporary Homes in Brazil.

This is how the same article looks like on the source site.

The Bad:
Flipboard used to display all articles in a clean reader format, which stripped out of all unnecessary elements that were part of the original page.
In a recent update most of the articles are now display with a split view. The top area display an image and a portion of the text, while the bottom area allows to the get to the full article from the original web source.

This unfortunately exposes the user to all the clutter of the original web site, including obviously to all the promotional information. I understand that Flipboard may have had business reason to do that, but it is too bad for the user.
The image below displays an example of the article in its original format.

I definitely miss the reader view, which I was a much cleaner and elegant solution.
My second small complain is that articles are marked as read only when expanded in full display.
Both these and the reader view are the two features I miss from Feeddler RRS Reader Pro, which had an option for marking articles as read from their list view. Reading the summary in many cases is enough for me to consider the article as read.

Rating Breakdown:

Most of the magic of Flipboard comes from the interaction. The transition between pages simulates flipping the pages of a book. Watching this video to get a better sense of how this feel.

Jun 14, 2011

Notes Plus - $4.99

Notes Plus is the best app for note taking I have tried so far. It is great for hand writing notes and for simple sketching. After trying many different apps, Notes Plus has gained the top position in my daily routine. Notes Plus is very simple, yet very powerful and packed with many extremely useful features that make for a very effective note taking experience.
The Good:
Notes plus is full of great features to help you taking beautiful and accurate notes very efficiently.
My favorite features are the zoom window and the auto-advance capability. In particular, the auto-advance is brilliant even if requires a little practice to use it efficiently. The idea is to allow you writing continuously on the same line without the need for extra taps.

You can hand draw shapes, that can be recognized and translated in editable vector objects.

You can type with the keyboard for neat looking notes.

You can customize paper type, pen color, fill, font type, size and color.

You can select a portion of your note to reposition it or delete it from the page.

You can use the integrated voice recorder to make sure you don't miss any important quote.

Thanks to the palm rest feature, you can comfortably use a stylus, for more accurate writing and drawing.

You can share your notes in different forms included Google Docs.

The Bad:
Page scrolling is not obvious. After watching a video I learned that i could scroll vertically by swiping two fingers. That is a very essential, albeit a rather hidden feature.
You may have to keep the tutorial for gestures handy. There are several hidden gestures that are essential to the effective use of the app.
I really miss the ability to easily browse all my notes when working in landscape full screen. I am not quite sure why they didn't bring the fly over navigation available from the top left button in portrait view.

I did switch to this app from FastFinga a month ago. Overall I am happy but there are a couple of features I miss.
The first is the constrained page length. FastFinga grows your page as needed without forcing me to make a special gesture to go to the next page. This is quite annoying while writing or reading. Pages are a physical constraint when working on paper, but a completely artificial and unnecessary constraint when working with electronic media.
The second is the lack of check-boxes, which were extremely handy for capturing action items and status. Sure I can simply draw a box and a check, but check-boxes allows to easily spot action items in notes and easily check them as done.

Rating Breakdown:
5 - design
5 - features
5 - reliability

Notes Plus on the iTune App Store
This is a full overview of Notes Plus. Enjoy!

Aug 24, 2010

Best Pen for your iPad

Sketching and note taking are among the most important tasks I perform on my iPad. Unfortunately both this activities are almost impossible without a pen, even on your iPad. I have tried 3 different pens, so far, and I want to share with you my experience and preference.

The first pen I tried was Pogo Sketch Stylus (8$-15$)
This pen works fine, but it is not very precise. The tip has a squared edge and it is made in a spongy material. The shape and the size makes it hard to get a precise stroke.
The building quality is extremely disappointing. I would be surprised if it cost more that 50 cents to manufacture. The clip broke after a week, and the rest of the pen slowly fell a part within a month.

My second pen was a DAGi P501 (23$)
DAGi has a very original design. It allows an extremely precise input, since the tip is completely transparent, with a red dot that indicates the exact location of your input. This pen is well manufactured. Unfortunately I couldn't effectively use this pen, because it requires you to keep the pen at an angle, which is probably ok for sketching, but completely unnatural for tacking notes.

If your purpose is sketching, you may still want to try this pen. Watch this interesting video review on YouTube for more insights.
YouTube Video
The last pen I tried (and love) is the Capacitive iPad Stylus by BoxWave (20.95$)
This pen is perfect for taking notes and rough sketching.
The pen works very well, and has a very sturdy body. It is completely made of aluminum, which makes it a very strong and light pen.

For 7$ more you may want to consider their Capacitive iPad, which is very handy when you are in a meeting, just carrying your iPad, and someone gives you some handout that you want to mark.

Enjoy you pen and your iPad!

Jun 29, 2010

Photogene - $3.99

Photogene is a very well designed iPad app that provides many essential features for simple photo editing. This is my favorite iPad app for photo editing. It cannot replace my Photoshop yet, but neither can any other iPad app I have tried.

What's Good:
Photogene is a feature rich photo editing application.
We will review, one by one, all of the nine mean tools provided by this iPad app.

You can crop a photo with a unconstrained box or with an aspect ratio of your choice. Unfortunately the most common choices are missing (see what's bad section for more details).

You can rotate your picture 90 degree left or right, and flip it, horizontally or vertically.
Photogene also provides a straightening tool. By dragging a slider you can rotate your image in either direction a desired amount. While dragging the slider a grid is displayed to help you align features in your photo. In this picture I used the grid to align the horizon line visible in the background.
I was very pleased by the maintained image quality. This tool performed much better in this regard than others, as with Picasa, where I had experienced quality degradation after picture straightening.

You can choose among 16 presets effects. You can tap on any of these effects and evaluate right away the result on your picture. More interesting is the ability to save a combination of settings in the Custom section, to apply to multiple pictures.

Photogene has 8 filters: sharpen, pencil, edge blur, B&W, posterize, sepia, nightvision and heatmap. An adjust slider allows to control the selected filter.
Personally I don't understand photo filters, with the exception of the edge blur. I guess someone does, since they are common in photo editing applications.

This is, in my opinion, the most important tool for photo editing. Here you can adjust the most important characteristics of your photo: exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, saturation and color temperature.
These are the essential settings to correct wrong exposures, back-lighting or wrong white balance. You can also play with contrast and saturation to get a nice B&W picture.

Photogene offers as part of the same tool the control for Levels. You can tap on Auto to let Photogene compute the right settings, or you can drag the sliders to define the desired range of colors. Finally three RGB sliders allows to change the overall balance of RED, GREEN and BLUE channels.

The curves tool is another important tool, mostly used to adjust contrast and exposition of your picture. You can bend the default three point curve or add additional points for a very complex curve.

This is a classic red eye tool. You can zoom in the area you want to fix, and tap in the pupil location. You can the control both radius and intensity of the filter. This does a pretty good job even in difficult cases as the one below.

You can add text and shapes to your picture by using the symbols tool. Photogene has a library of 14 shapes that you can resize and position where you like on your photo.

Once you have add the symbol, you can then customize colors and appearance, or type your own text.

Frames allows to select among 13 different frames to add to your picture. You can customize color and other features for the selected frame. You can also add a nice reflection effect if you like.

What's Bad:
To be honest, not much is bad in this photo editing application.
My only surprise was the selection of aspect ratio for cropping. I miss the standard cropping ratio for printing as 4x6, 5x7 and 8x10. I guess 2:3 count as a 4x6, but that may be not obvious for everyone. Also, the other 2 are not covered by any of the provided ratio.
For once here I have a list of wishes, here listed in priority order:
- cut, copy and paste of selected regions
- a stamp tool to remove imperfections
- support for multiple images (so I can cut a piece of an image and paste over another one)
- mask
- layers
Then I will have my Photoshop on the iPad and I wouldn't need to use my computer any more :)
As a side note, at the moment I did not find any other app that support most of these features, but I am hopeful in a brighter future.

Rating Breakdown:
5 - design
4 - features
5 - reliability

Photogene for iPad demo on YouTube
Photogene on the iTune App Store

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