Thursday, June 28, 2012

Google Browser

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.
Rating:  5.
Price: FREE.

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:

Monday, May 28, 2012


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.

Rating: Price: FREE.

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.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Notes Plus

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.
Rating: Price: $4.99

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

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Photo browsing and editing on the iPad

I love photography as much as I love my iPad. Unfortunately photo browsing and editing on this amazing device can be quite frustrating, but I have some good news: Photogene has recently released a new version of its iPad app which solves some of the pains around these tasks. I am looking forward to see more photo applications moving in this same direction.

On my desktop machine I use Picasa to store and view all my pictures. I do some editing in Picasa itself, but I often have to switch to Photoshop for more advanced editing. I am a bit of a snob when it comes to photo quality and Picasa doesn't provide enough features and it also degrades photo quality when straightening. I am also not impressed by the new Picnik integration. The editing capabilities added are marginal, unless you are willing to pay a monthly fee for premium features.
Even given its limitations I do love Picasa, to organize my thousands of pictures in albums and by people (I do use this feature quite a lot), to select favorite pictures and as a jumping point for creating an album in Shutterfly or Snapfish.
At the moment I am still a frustrated photo enthusiast when it comes to the iPad. The native photo app is pleasant for browsing pictures, but terrible for organizing. Don't you hate not being able rename or create folders and/or move pictures across folders. Do I really have to use my computer and sync using iTunes for that?
Being a Picasa enthusiast I have tried a few Picasa apps and have used Web Albums which allows me to access my Picasa albums in a browser.
The Web Album interface mimics the native iPad photo app, and it provides a pleasant browsing experience. More recently the app has added support for multiple albums, which was a big plus for me. Web Albums has also added an integrated search, which unfortunately ignores both captions and tags, making search completely useless. I wish the action menu provided a quick jump to the web album in the browser, instead of their simple "Copy Photo URL", which forces a few extra manual steps to get there. I also wish the app could provide an "Open In..." menu to jump to my Photo editing apps.
Now that we cover browsing let's talk about editing.
I am still experimenting with a few apps but I find myself still using Photoshop on my desktop for anything that I really care about.
That being said, I would like to do simple editing if selecting a picture and storing the results was less frustrating. Most of the apps use the same tiny popup dialog to browse the pictures to edit. That is incredibly frustrating when you have lots of pictures and you need to find the one to edit using a small scrollable window. To make things worse, all my edits get saved in the same "Saved Photos" folder, instead of on the original photo folder.
I am please to announce that there is finally a solution for people that share these pains! In a recent update Photogene has completely revised their user interface, mimicking my Picasa's beloved behavior. Photogene displays a start screen with all the pictures from my photo library. The user interface is remarkably similar to the iPad native photo app.
I was very excited about the view by faces tab, but I'm sad to discover that you can add this information only using the iPhoto MAC software ... what a bummer. From this browsing screen I can select a picture to edit, and when I am done I don't have to save it in a separate file, unless I want to export the edits outside the app. I can edit a set of images and both edits and originals are preserved, in the same fashion as Picasa does. Edited pictures are marked with an icon.
Viewing, managing and editing my pictures from a single tool seems to be almost a reality with Photogene. Unfortunately there are still two simple features missing, that force me to go back to the Photo app:
viewing a set of images and deleting. When I view an image, I would like to easily access the previous and next image in my album. Going to the Photo app just to delete an image is kind of a bummer.
That said, kudos to the designer of the Photogene app. I believe he understood the bigger pain of dealing with photos on the iPad, and had provided a brilliant solution to it!
I hope to see more photo apps moving in this direction in the future.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Note Taker HD - v4.0

Note Taker HD is a simple iPad app for taking hand written notes. I was pleasantly surprised by the many improvements implemented in the last update. They completely redesign the UI, giving a more contemporary look and making a better use of the real estate. Also they revised some other aspects of the UI, improving usability and the discoverability of some of the functionalities. As a result I upgrade my global rating from 3 to 4 stars!

Rating: Price: $4.99

What's Good
Note Taker HD has two editing modes.
Edit1 allows to zoom in and out and write everywhere on the document. In recent updates, they have added a wrist guard option, which enables more comfortable hand-writing, by ignoring every input below the dotted line. I have seen a more elegant implementation of this feature in Penultimate, but this effectively serves its purpose.

This feature is off by default and can be enabled by tapping on the "Wrist Guard On" in the editing tool.

The other editing mode is Edit2, which presents a split screen, similar to FastFinga: full document above, and detail area below. In this mode Note Taker offers a brilliant auto-scroll feature. Auto-scroll allows you to write in the zoom area in a continuous stream without additional actions. It takes a little while to get used to this behavior but it can really speed up your hand writing.

You can watch this YouTube movie from the author, to fully understand this feature.

A third mode, View, allows to pan and zoom your document, without leaving unwanted marks on your note.

In recent updates Note Taker has added the ability of selecting among a set of colors, highlights and line widths. There are plenty of options to create simple but effective low-fidelity sketches.

You can add pages to the currently edited document by pressing the "+" button.

Multiple-pages documents display up and down navigation arrows on the top right corner to get to the previous and next pages.

If you tap on the Done button, Note Taker will navigate to a view which displays the list of pages. This is a split screen view with thumbnail documents list on the left and document previews on the right. Left-right arrows navigate across documents while up-down arrows navigate across pages of the selected document.

Tapping on the All button toggles between a list and a grid view. Also from this view you will be able to filter favorites or assigned tags.
If you tap on the Tools button on this view, you will get a number of tools to manage your pages.
If you tap and hold on any one of any the thumbnails, you will get a popup with a list of actions you can perform on the page.

What's Bad
There is not much left in the Bad section after the 4.0 update.
The biggest shortcoming is perhaps the appearance of the ink, which is not as good as other note taking apps (see Penultimate or FastFinga), but it has improved a little after the last update.
This is also true when writing in a large zoomed view, and then zooming out. It seems impossible to get any sort of decent looking lines.

There are 3 different Tools dialogs: from the page editing view, when tapping and holding on a thumbnail in the list view, and by tapping on the tools button. Most of the options are repeated across these 3 dialogs, and few of the options are quite obscure (as Staple and 12 Hours). All of this adds unnecessary complexity to the UI.

Note Taker doesn't support anything besides hand written notes; no pictures or text.
You can edit the default thumbnail associated with the page, unfortunately this is not a very intuitive process. I had to watch the author's video to discover that feature, contrary to my assumptions I had to resize the document to fit into the thumbnail and not the other way around.
I appreciate the feature but it requires more effort that what I am willing to make given the functionality.

Rating Breakdown

Note Taker HD on the iTune App Store
You can watch this YouTube video from the author to see this app in action.

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