Posts in reviews

Editorial 1.2 Brings Powerful New Text Editing Features, More iOS Automation

If I had to pick one iOS app I couldn't live without, that would be Editorial.

Developed by Berlin-based Ole Zorn, Editorial was the app that reinvented text automation in 2013 and that pushed me to start working exclusively from my iPad. Editorial is a powerful Markdown text editor that combines visual Automator-like actions with a web browser, text snippets, Python scripts, and URL schemes to supercharge text editing on iOS with the power of automation. I spend most of my days writing and researching in Editorial, and my workflow depends on this app.

Editorial also has a slow release cycle. Zorn likes to take his time with updates that contain hundreds of changes: Editorial 1.1, released in May 2014, brought an iPhone version and custom interfaces, making Editorial feel like an entirely new app. The same is happening today with Editorial 1.2, which adds support for the latest iPhones, iOS 8 integration, custom templates, browser tabs, folding, and much more.

Editorial 1.2 with iOS 8 support is launching right after Apple's announcement of iOS 9, but the wait has been worth it. The new version builds upon the excellent foundation of Editorial 1.1, and the enhancements it brings vastly improve the app for users who rely on its automation features and Python interpreter.

Rather than covering every single change, I'll focus on the 10 new features that have most impacted the way I get work done with Editorial on a daily basis.

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Spark Review: Smart Email

I've had a complicated relationship with email over the years. Part of the problem has been the Sisyphean effort of third-party apps that tried to modernize email: the more developers attempted to reinvent it, the more antiquated standards, platform limitations, and economic realities kept dragging them down. I've seen email clients for iOS rise and fall (and be abandoned); I've tried many apps that promised to bring email in the modern age of mobile and cloud services but that ultimately just replaced existing problems with new ones. Sparrow. Dispatch. Mailbox. CloudMagic. Outlook. Each one revolutionary and shortsighted in its own way, always far from the utopia of email reinvention on mobile.

Spark by Readdle, a new email app for iPhone released today, wants to enhance email with intelligence and flexibility. To achieve this, Readdle has built Spark over the past eighteen months on top of three principles: heuristics, integrations, and personalization. By combining smart features with thoughtful design, Readdle is hoping that Spark won't make you dread your email inbox, knowing that an automated system and customizable integrations will help you process email faster and more enjoyably.

I've been using Spark for the past three weeks, and it's the most versatile email client for iPhone I've ever tried. It's also fundamentally limited and incomplete, with a vision that isn't fully realized yet but promising potential for the future.

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Rewind: Location-Based Time Tracker for iPhone

I've always been interested in tracking my location and how I use my time. I'm a highly visual person, and the ability to see where my time is being spent helps me optimize my schedule and tweak my habits accordingly. Unfortunately, polished and full-featured time tracking apps like Hours haven't scaled in the long run for me – the time I want to track isn't spent working for clients or freelance jobs, and I always forget to launch an app and start tracking time. The time I want to track is my personal, every day routine; the Google app for iOS can track locations and times continuously in the background, but its visualization is lackluster and not optimized for mobile.

Rewind is an automatic time tracker by noidentity (makers of the excellent Next for iOS) that I've been using on my iPhone since early March. Through location tracking and an elegant breakdown of statistics, Rewind does exactly what I want from a mobile time tracker: it tracks where I spend my time automatically in the background, every single day.

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Alternote Review: Minimalist Markdown Evernote App for OS X

Alternote

Alternote for the Mac is like Evernote for the Mac, done right. It dumps many of Evernote’s advanced “features,” focusing on note-taking and note-using instead. If you ever get frustrated by Evernote’s bloat, Alternote is your answer.

Best of all, it runs on Evernote’s back end, so you lose nothing by trying it out, and it automatically integrates with all your other Evernote tools.
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Review: JamStik+ Is More Game Controller Than Musical Instrument

JamStik+

The JamStik+ is two things: a guitar learning tool, and a guitar-like MIDI controller[1]. It’s also pitched as a travel guitar, or at least, something a guitarist can use to practice when on the road, but – as we’ll see – it performs that duty rather badly. You should also know that the JamStik+ is a Kickstarter project, and follows the rules of all Kickstarter hardware/software combos. That is, the hardware is good, but the apps are not.

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Adobe Slate Review

In recent years Adobe has made a concerted effort to develop a collection of mobile apps that make it easy to accomplish various creative tasks. But rather than make one monolothic app that does everything (like Photoshop on PCs), they’ve been splitting up features into many apps that each focus on a different, and specific, creative aspect. For example, there is Adobe Brush CC, which enables you to create custom brushes for Photoshop and Illustrator based off photos you take on your iPhone or iPad, or Adobe Color CC, which will create a custom color palette from your photos. As Adobe has continued to release more and more of these apps every few months, their efforts have become more and more impressive. Adobe now has a sizeable collection of mobile apps that are some of the most technically impressive and well designed apps available on the iPhone and iPad.

Which brings me to Adobe Slate, one of the most recent additions to Adobe’s mobile app stable. Unlike many of their other apps which directly integrate and complement Adobe’s desktop apps like Photoshop or Illustrator (such as Brush and Color, described above), Slate is its own distinct product. Adobe describes Slate as a tool to “turn any document into a beautiful visual story”, which is actually quite a good way to describe it. A more mechanical way of describing Slate would be that it is an iPad-only app for creating a webpage (not a website) for situations where the content you want to share or display is a mix of text and images.

I recently had an assignment at university that permitted a more creative format and layout than the typical essay or report. Because I had heard about Adobe Slate launching a few weeks earlier, I decided to test it out. I ended up submitting my assignment as a webpage created with Slate, and I really enjoyed using it and think the result was pretty great.[1]

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Photos for OS X Review

Let me begin this review with a disclaimer: I am not a photographer. In high school I took a class called Photo Imaging, which taught me how to use Photoshop and attempted to teach me how to take quality pictures. Now I know the Rule of Thirds, and can create images of middle schoolers defeating lions in battle, but it didn’t fix the problem that I simply don’t have a natural eye for photography, nor the patience to develop one.

What I do have, however, is a world-class camera that I carry in my pocket everywhere I go. While I might not be taking world-class photos with it, I do take pictures of my family, my friends, and my life. These pictures are not thoughtfully composed, they are not shot in Raw, and I do not spend hours meticulously editing them. Despite that, they are very dear to me.

As someone who’s written tens of thousands of words on automation, you might expect me to have some crazy photo management workflows in place, or at least to be using one or two or five different services devoted to the practice. In truth, I don’t use any photo management workflows or services. I’ve always been interested in them, and I’ve tried almost all of them, but they’ve all been too much of a hassle for me.

I take all of my pictures on my iPhone, and I take a lot of them. I have a habit of hitting the shutter button at least three or four times whenever I’m trying to capture something, because often at least one or two of them are blurry, or someone’s eyes are closed, etc. Eventually I get around to going through and deleting all but one of these groups of multiple pictures, but sometimes this isn’t until days or weeks later, and any third party photo management service I’ve used will have already uploaded the duplicates. The result is huge amounts of extra photos taking up often limited space and cluttering companion apps built to let me view my stored photos. Worse, making changes to the photos on my phone won’t sync to the backups, and vice versa.

Eventually I’ve grown tired of every third party service I’ve tried and reverted to just cramming everything into iPhoto (so that I at least had some sort of backup) and ignoring it. iPhoto is outdated, slow, and ugly. Any time I’ve wanted to look through my photos, I just go to my iPhone and look there. Any necessary edits are similarly completed on my phone, and the extra features that iPhoto may have offered (smart albums, faces, etc.) I’ve simply gone without.

Enter, Photos for OS X.

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Todoist 10 Brings Intelligent Input, Themes, and New Gestures

Last November, I wrote about my decision to switch from iCloud Reminders to Todoist as my task management app of choice. I concluded:

Todoist strikes a good balance of powerful features and clever implementation that doesn’t push me to customize everything all the time. I’m not writing scripts for task management, I’m not changing icons and themes – I set up a few filters and I’m just focusing on doing stuff. The Todoist app for iOS integrates well with iOS 8, and, overall, I’m thoroughly satisfied with my decision to switch from Reminders to a professional-grade todo system to manage my life.

Over the past five months, I've kept using Todoist every day and I've enjoyed its reliability and integration with other apps and services. Everything from my original review still stands: while I don't rely on all of Todoist's features, its flexibility allows me to scale my tasks and projects at any time. If a big new project comes in and I need to take care of it with my team and have a deeper visualization of my responsibilities, I know I can count on Todoist. If I have to jump from a couple of tasks each day to a few dozen, I can rest assured Todoist can do it.

In spite of my appreciation, though, I've been critical of Todoist's iOS app before, and I'm happy to see the company addressing some of my major complaints in Todoist 10, launching today for iPhone and iPad.

I upgraded to a beta of Todoist 10 a few weeks ago, and, while it doesn't profoundly change the capabilities of Todoist on iOS, the new version brings some powerful (and long-needed) functionality that will help users be more efficient and spend less time managing todos.

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Fantastical 2 for Mac Review: Reinvented

Fantastical for Mac, originally released in 2011, redefined calendar apps for OS X and my idea of a modern calendar client.

Developed by Michael Simmons and Kent Sutherland – together known as Flexibits – Fantastical pioneered features and design choices that, with time, have become a staple of other calendar apps and OS X utilities: natural language input is now expected in popular todo apps and services; the OS X menu bar has grown into a popular destination for desktop utilities; integration with multiple calendar services in a single app is now a de facto standard.

Fantastical was a powerful calendar assistant. Four years later, Flexibits wants Fantastical 2 for Mac – their latest creation years in the making – to be the only calendar app you'll ever need. While the original Fantastical was a companion to the full Apple iCal experience, Fantastical 2 reinvents itself as a full-blown calendar client that retains the most important aspects of the app's debut and adds a whole new calendar interface to the mix. And in the process, it exudes the finesse and attention to detail that Simmons and Sutherland are known for.

In 2011, Fantastical raised the bar for modern calendar interaction. Fantastical 2 builds on that solid foundation, bringing design changes and new functionalities that will define the evolution of the Fantastical family.

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