Posts in reviews

Better Track Your Time with Timelines

As I type this review, I can see three devices that I can (and do) work on in some capacity with relative efficiency: a 12” MacBook, an iPhone 6s, and an iPad Pro. Along with my work at MacStories, I use these products to build and manage websites, write news stories, and get classwork done – all from the small space of my college dorm room.

Of course, I’m not the only one – millions of people have completed the transition to working from home, skipping out on the world of corporate computing for a more convenient and personal experience. There is one glaring problem, however, when discussing the move from the in-person job lifestyle: tracking time.

Timelines is an iPhone-only app that helps you manage and record your working time. For freelancers, remote workers, and students, Timelines scratches the basic itch of getting your time down into a piece of software for later action.

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Game Day: Legend of the Skyfish

Legend of the Skyfish by Crescent Moon Games is an action-puzzle game that evokes Nintendo's Zelda franchise, but has its own unique twist that will reel you in. Legend revolves around the tale of the Skyfish, an evil creature from deep below the ocean’s surface that was awoken by the greed of fishermen. Skyfish took over the surface world and enslaved its people. You play as a girl who was saved by the Moonwhale and is in search of her little brother.

As the protagonist of the story, your main tool and weapon is a fishing pole. Whether it’s navigating the map, avoiding barriers, or defeating enemies, you can accomplish it all with your fishing pole. Fend off the attacks of mutant sea-people that roam the surface world by swinging your pole like a sword. Jump from island to island or move objects by casting your fishing line to hook special points on the map. Catch enemies and pull them into spikes and other obstacles with your fishing pole as an alternative to hand-to-hand combat. More than any other element, the creative uses to which you can put your fishing pole set Legend apart from other games.

Legend eases you into the game with several fairly easy levels in the first of three worlds, but does a nice job of getting progressively more difficult and imaginative with its puzzles. You move around the island world by dragging your finger in the direction you want to go. There are also two game pads. The first swings your pole like a sword. The second game pad casts a line from the fishing pole. By tapping the pad and shifting your finger, you aim the pole. Raising your finger launches your fishing line.

One thing that is sorely lacking from Legend is progress syncing. The game is available on iPhone, iPad, and the Apple TV, but there is no way to pick up where you left off across devices. I played on my iPad more than my iPhone, but both worked equally well. Touch is well-suited to aiming the fishing line. I played a few levels on the Apple TV too. Legend's world looks gorgeous on a big screen, but I liked using the touch interface on iOS devices better than the Siri Remote’s tiny touch surface.

Legend has two things that help it transcend Zelda copy-cat status. The first is the clever fishing pole gameplay, which is unique and thoughtfully implemented. The second is enemies' vulnerability to the game’s environment. Both aspects of Legend add a depth and novelty to navigating the colorful water-world and to combat that keeps the game fresh and fun throughout.

Legend of the Skyfish is available on the App Store for $3.99.

PDF Expert 2 for Mac Adds Powerful PDF Editing Features

PDF Expert launched on the Mac last November, and in my initial review I was pretty effusive, impressed at the level of functionality, polish, and speed for an initial release. At the time I even called it "a better Preview for PDFs", and had made PDF Expert the default application for viewing PDFs on my Mac. Nine months later, and it all still rings true. Better yet, Readdle is today launching a big version 2 update for PDF Expert which makes it an even better and more powerful app. Now you can now edit text, images, and outlines in PDFs, as well as password-protect your PDFs in PDF Expert 2.

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Game Day: Linia

Linia from Black Robot Games is fiendishly difficult, but strangely relaxing in its complexity. The challenge is to draw a straight line through a series of colored shapes that intersects the shapes in the order of the color sequence at the top of the screen. Here's the thing though, the shapes are moving, rotating, shrinking, growing, and changing color all at once. The movement follows a regular pattern, but it gets complicated fast.

Linia is a creature of the post-iOS 7 design aesthetic. Each of its 80 levels is composed of brightly-colored geometric flat shapes. What's ingenious about Linia and makes it particularly difficult is that it requires pattern matching, careful timing, and quick reflexes simultaneously. As you draw a line it appears white but fills in behind where you started in red, which is part of the timing element. You have to lift your finger to commit to your line before it turns completely red. If you wait to long, you'll have to start drawing your line all over, but if you release at the wrong time, you may be unable to hit the right color sequences.

I've played Linia on both my iPhone 6s Plus using my finger and on my 12.9 inch iPad Pro using the Apple Pencil. I give a slight edge to using the Pencil to play Linia on the iPad because you can draw such a precise line, but the difference between playing on the iPad and iPhone was much less than I expected.

The soundtrack that accompanies Linia plays a big role in minimizing the frustration of some of the harder puzzles. There's something inviting about the electronic vibe of the soundtrack that feels like it's encouraging you to stay a while to keep trying to beat even the hardest puzzles.

Black Robot has done a great job bringing something fresh and clever to the crowded puzzle genre on iOS. It's especially impressive given that this is Black Robot's first iOS game. With such a great start, I look forward to seeing what else Black Robot comes up with in the future.

Linia is available on the App Store for $1.99.

Faster RSS Subscribing with Feed Hawk

Sometimes a simple, single-purpose utility makes all the difference. Feed Hawk by John Brayton of Golden Hill Software is exactly that type of app. The app’s functionality is encapsulated in a share extension that makes it easier to subscribe to RSS news feeds in several major RSS services, including:

  • BazQux Reader,
  • Feed Wrangler,
  • Feedbin,
  • FeedHQ,
  • Inoreader,
  • Minimal Reader,
  • NewsBlur, and
  • The Old Reader.

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Castro 2 Review

Castro 2 from Supertop demonstrates that there is still plenty of room for innovation in podcast apps. Although every podcast app starts with the goal of helping listeners find and play podcasts, the path each app takes varies as widely as the listening habits of users.

Castro 2 eliminates much of the complexity of other podcast apps by focusing on a single podcast queue. The result is a focused listening experience that emphasizes episodes over shows, playlists, or feeds. It's not an approach that will appeal to everyone, but if you find yourself looking for a simpler way to manage podcasts, or listening to some, but not all, episodes of shows, Castro is worth considering.

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Game Day: Reigns

Have you ever wanted to rule your own kingdom? Of course you have. With Reigns you can do just that – while you stand in line to buy groceries. Reigns, an Apple Editor's Choice, is a card-based adventure game with an clever interaction model. Touch Arcade and Pocket Gamer liken Reigns to Tinder, which I get, but it’s also a little unfair because it ignores the depth and personality of the game that underlies the Tinder-like mechanics.

As king, you are presented with a series of decisions in the form of cards that are brought to you by advisors and other characters. Each decision has only two options that you choose between by swiping left or right – hence the comparison to Tinder. But there’s much more to Reigns than just flicking cards. Every choice you make has consequences, some of which affect future generations, and it's not unusual for a decision to spin out of control quickly ending in your death.

Each choice you make also has an impact on the strength of the church, your subjects, the army, and your finances, which are tracked at the top of the screen. As you play, you can swipe cards part way to the left or right to get a hint of which metrics will be affected by your choices. To survive, you must carefully balance each variable. Allow one category to get too high or too low and your reign will end badly.

All reigns end eventually, but each time one does, you are reborn as a new king and given a series of goals like “Lose yourself in the dungeon,’ ‘Meet the devil,’ or ‘Try the blue one.’ Meeting goals unlocks cards and new aspects of the game keeping it fresh. There are also mini-games like dice and dueling scattered throughout Reigns.

Reigns is perfect for mobile, though it is also available on the Mac via Steam. Swiping left and right to make decisions about your kingdom is quick and easy wherever you are. The combination of the number of cards, consequences that span generations, and need to balance multiple statistics adds an interesting level of strategy. But above all else, what has endeared Reigns to me most is that the artwork and questions are imbued with a sense of humor that gives Reigns a unique personality unlike any iOS game I have played recently.

Reigns is available on the App Store for $2.99.

Pocket Casts 6

When it comes to podcast apps on iOS, we are really spoiled for choice. There are many options, but I would say that there are four podcast apps in particular that rise above the rest; Apple's own Podcasts app, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and Castro. Narrowing that field of four to determine which is objectively the best is an almost impossible task from where I stand. Instead, which one is best will depend entirely on which app's design and feature set most closely aligns with how you want to manage and listen to podcasts.

Keeping that in mind, just over a week ago was the release of a major new version of Pocket Casts. Now on version 6 for iOS, Pocket Casts is the podcast app that has been around the longest (out of those four listed above), first launching in January 2011. It's also the one with the most cross-platform support, running on iOS (iPhone and iPad), Android, Windows Phone, and on the web.

So, what's new in Pocket Casts 6? The tl;dr version is that the user interface has been redesigned in various ways, most notably with the addition of a dark theme and "up next" queue improvements. There are new audio effects to trim silences and volume boost for those podcasts which sound too quiet. The iPad version now supports multitasking (Split View and Picture in Picture), and whilst it isn't noticeable to users, almost the entire app has been re-written in Swift.

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