Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Sparrow for iOS

Saturday, March 17th, 2012
Sparrow for iOS

Sparrow – Gmail-friendly Email for iOS

I’ve been waiting for Sparrow for iOS ever since they teased it back in January. Sparrow for Mac OS has been a joy to use, from its beautiful and simple interface to its deeply integrated Gmail/Google Apps Mail feature set (we’ll just call it Gmail from here on out). The iOS version has honored its big brother in both of those areas. Both versions exemplify the quality experience one would expect within the Apple Universe.

This isn’t a full review; it’s more of a highlight reel of the features that are most important to me for mobile email from a Gmail poweruser’s perspective.

Sparrow is what mail should be like on the iPhone

  • Unique signatures for each account
  • True label support for Gmail
  • You don’t have to choose between “Delete” or “Archive”
  • “Unread” and “Starred” quick views
  • 1 single swipe allows access to single-click “Star,” “Label,” “Archive” and “Delete”
  • Very clean approach to email threads

Push Support: The Killer App?

Sparrow has explained why push isn’t available, for now, in the mobile version. This will understandably turn off a lot of people. My guess is that most of these people won’t be Gmail power users or have multiple accounts. For me, it’s a minor annoyance with an easy workaround.

I put Sparrow and Mail in a folder on my iOS dock. Apple Mail handles notifications, but I manage email in Sparrow (the Mail badge eventually catches up). I’m willing to deal with this more than deal with Mail’s greater shortcomings.

Apple Mail just doesn’t “Get” Gmail

For Gmail accounts, Apple Mail only allows a toggle switch between Archive or Delete. You can’t do both. In the past, I would only be able to partially manage my emails, opting for Delete on the iPhone, then Archiving on Sparrow for Mac or within Gmail itself. That means I would have to look at every email twice, unless it was deleted.

I chose the “Delete” function on the iPhone because using Apple Mail’s “Archive” feature would strip off labels applied by my carefully crafted filters within Gmail (77 of them for my personal account alone). Many of my incoming emails receive multiple labels for quick reference later. Sparrow allows quick access to those labels and allows you to add or remove multiple labels.

Multiple signatures: Apple… are you listening?

When iOS 5 added “Shortcuts,” I thought that they finally provided a workaround for their lack of multiple signature in Apple Mail. Nope. All you get is a string of characters, no paragraph returns. So, if it doesn’t look right to have all of your contact information on one line at the end of your email, you’re out of luck.

Sparrow, on the other hand, provides unique email signatures for each account. In my case, with personal, business and club staff email accounts, it’s nice to automatically include the appropriate contact information for each occasion.

A request for Sparrow

Please take advantage of the TextExpander API. Apple will never do this, which drives me nuts when I have to type on my iPhone. I have so many quick replies and shortcuts based on TextExpander. As fast as I am on my iPhone virtual keyboard, TextExpander can add a paragraph in a couple of keystrokes.

And finally…

Sparrow has asked its customers to rally behind them and ask Apple to permit push for Sparrow using the VoIP API (not likely) or by adding another, similar API. That’s a reasonable request, but I’d recommend providing some details to improve the turnout of support. In the past, sending an email to Steve could net a genuine response. Is Tim Cook going to be our next point of contact (tim@apple.com)? Would it make sense to submit a request using Apple’s iPhone Feedback form? My ears are open.

Add push and TextExpander support, then I can banish the Apple Mail icon to the same last page folder that hold Stocks, YouTube and Weather. (Don’t even get me started on Newsstand)

Rafter – iPhone Game Mini-Review

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

Rafter is a physics based puzzle game from Punflay. I came across this game after the developer commented on another review I posted. They – very kindly – offered me redeem codes so that I could try, and I assume review, their game. I went to the AppStore to look at Rafter and, I must admit, my first impression was that this was not a game I would have purchased on my own. I was tempted to take the code, but I wanted the freedom to do an unbiased review. This does not mean I won’t ever take free stuff (Apple? iPad?). But iPhone apps are usually very inexpensive, so I prefer to buy anything I think I might review. Rafter sells for just $.99, and I bought it.

RafterHelpLets start with the look of the game. I mentioned above that I didn’t think I would have purchased this game if I had not been asked to, but why? It is designed to look like Leonardo Da Vinci sketches. The result, at first glance, is a lack of color, and punch, in the AppStore screen shots. Don’t we all pre-judge applications based on those screen shots? I am happy to report that those sample images don’t do the game justice.

When you first launch Rafter it presents you with a screen asking if you want to enable OpenFeint. I had no plan on sharing my score, so I declined and started looking around.

The in-game info screen states:

Rafter is inspired from the work of Leonardo Da Vinci. This game not only utilizes the skills of the player it also takes on his creative problem solving ability.

That seems about right. The game consists of 51 levels that must be finished in order, each getting progressively harder. Each level presents you with a red target that is obstructed by platforms, gears, swinging hammers and more. Your job is to hit the red target, and you are given two tools to accomplish this feat. Circles and rectangles. To draw one of those objects, you first select the object type and then drag your finger inside a pre-defined area at the top of the screen. This took some getting used to since my finger blocks the drawing area, making it difficult to draw small objects. Within the first few minutes I was reminded of Touch Physics by Games4Touch. Rafter, however, is more complex with some excellent levels. I was at level 34 by the end of the first day, and I quickly finished the game on day 2. That’s not a ton of gameplay, but it was addicting while it lasted.

During the game I was confused by some of the physics. I would create rectangles that, when dropped, would bounce – forever. I could see this happening with a circle, but with rectangles it was just weird. Also, some game levels have fans that can blow your objects across the screen. Cool effect, but getting them to work was not always easy. Circles appear to not be effected at all, and rectangles seemed like they had to be exactly perpendicular to the air flow to catch the air. Now, I am not a physics person, but I would think the airflow would have effected some of the rectangles I dropped that passed by the fan at 45 degrees.

RafterLevel24For scoring, each level has a timer and your score is based on the speed at which you solve the level. When I was finished with the game I went looking for my score but I could not find it anywhere. Remember, I had declined the OpenFeint option at the beginning because I had no plan to share my score. It appears that it is required, even to see your own score. That’s odd, very odd. I must be missing something. I did really want to know how I did, so I decided to enable OpenFeint. Having declined it at the start, when I clicked the Scores link I was again presented with the option to enable it, which I did. My score was not very good – hey, I said I was not a physics genius. I scored 2446 which appears to have placed me 157th on the list.

The game is well designed and, at the price, is a great buy. If you like puzzle games, and specifically physics type games, you should try Rafter. It passed the biggest test. I did not want to stop playing, and I was left wanting more when I was done.

Colorbind – iPhone Game Mini-Review – Updated

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

If you like puzzles then the iPhone game Colorbind by Nonverbal is something you should get. However, if you only like the easy ones then stop reading now and move on with your day. As a point of reference, I used to love the Myst adventure game series. Almost everyone I know gave up on that series long before finishing, claiming the puzzles were ‘too hard’. What about you? Are you up for the challenge?

Colorbind is a bit difficult to describe. Their own description starts by saying it’s a “relaxing but challenging puzzle game”. Relaxing? I think not. Addicting would be a better term, and I know of few addictions that are relaxing. The game consists of 84 levels with 10 additional achievements. Basically it is a connect the dots game, but it’s well thought out. Each level will present you with various colored ‘paper’ ribbons on a graph paper looking screen. There will be dots placed around the screen matching each of those colors. The idea, using your finger, is to drag the ribbons and connect the matching color dots. It sounds so easy, and on some levels it is. Don’t be fooled. They get really hard at times. If you get stuck on a level you can reset it by shaking the phone gently. A double tap displays a menu with options for resetting, or quitting the level. While dragging a ribbon, if you turn, the ribbon will fold to make a corner. You cannot capture a dot on a corner.

ColorbindLevel66On levels with multiple colors there is the additional twist of overlapping ribbons. If two ribbons overlap the same dot, the ribbon on top wins. It took me awhile to figure it out, since the game has few instructions, but the ribbon on the vertical path is always on top. You can complete unlocked levels in any order. As you complete one level, the adjacent levels in the level selection screen unlock. Level 82 was particularly fun, and there are two achievements that might get you trapped.

Colorbind is available through the AppStore in a full version for $1.99, or as a free lite version with 10 sample levels. I suggest playing with the lite version, as with any app, before buying the full version.

Spoiler Alert! If you continue reading, I give the solutions for two of the achievements.

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iPhone Streaming Showdown: Qik vs UStream – UPDATED

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

In my “AT&T, The Bars Are a Lie” post I mentioned that I had been testing two iPhone Streaming applications. I have been looking for a way to live broadcast my son’s high school band performances for those parents unable to attend.  When UStream and Qik finally arrived on the iPhone, I was looking for an excuse to play. In the end, I was actually surprised at the differences between the two apps. I should say upfront that my expectations started low. I just don’t think live video streaming, over a cell network, is ready for prime-time. But who am I to pass up the perfect excuse to play with new toys.

First of all, this is not a studio test. I went to a random shopping center, where I was sure I would not be hassled by security, and tried streaming about 45 seconds of live video. I tried to capture the green trees, the blue sky, fast panning, quick light changes and various ambient sounds, cars etc., while I talked.

The goal was to find a clear winner based on:

  • Sound Quality – Clarity and Accuracy
  • Video Quality – Color & Compression Quality
  • Smooth Playback – No Starting & Stopping

Obviously, like with any media, choices will be made depending on the content being broadcast. If one application has better audio, but a lousy picture, you still may choose it if you are broadcasting a concert. If you are broadcasting something visual you may be willing to sacrifice the audio side of things. Let’s take a look, starting with UStream…

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N.O.V.A. – Near Orbit Vanguard Alliance Mini-Review

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

I am constantly on the lookout for new apps for my iPhone. Usually, I look through the Featured category in the iTunes store for what’s new or hot, but I also watch the iPhone Game Reviews and New iPhone Apps sections on MacRumors. Those links take you to the MacRumors related TouchArcade and AppShopper. I am not looking for a word processor mind you. I am looking for something to pass the time when I am at the car wash, or for some interesting tech utility.

NOVA Capture 1A few weeks ago I ran across N.O.V.A., which stands for Near Orbit Vanguard Allience, from Gameloft. I always browse for some online reviews before I buy anything, and in looking at the reviews on N.O.V.A., I kept seeing the phrase ‘HALO-like’. That was enough for me, I had to try it. The day I went to buy it, the iTunes App Store showed over 500 reviews, and this thing was still five stars! As of this writing, there are 2976 reviews and it still has a 4.5! Considering there are always unhappy, borderline nutty, reviews I thought it looked good.

This game is very fun, and there is a lot of game play for $6.99. There are 13 single-player levels, as well as online or local multiplayer support. The multiplayer games support up to four players in online or local WiFi play, and up to two players via a Bluetooth connection.

During my review search, I noticed some comments on the voice-overs. Having done voice-overs for over 25 years, I agree that these are cheesy. I don’t mean funny cheesy by the way. It feels like Gameloft didn’t take their own game seriously. I think some changes to the voice work could greatly effect the immersion of the player into the game. I am not faulting the V.O. talent, they accomplished what was obviously the idea of the director. I just think it sold the game short.

On the controls, I am not the best reviewer. I am an old Quake player, and never really got comfortable with the dual thumb-stick style controls present in most console systems. That said, I feel like I am now. The game play just made sense to me. Although there are multiple control setups to choose from, I have it set so that the left joystick moves the player forward/backward/left/right, while the general screen area controls looking up/down/left/right. The controls do have some issues. There have been times when, simply walking along a path, the controls have gone crazy. Suddenly I am looking at the floor, then the sky, then into a wall. This never fails that it happens while I am being shot at. Very frustrating. The worst glitch has been when, in the middle of a fight, the left stick seems to want to control the look instead of the movement. This could be more of an issue with the nature of touch screen controls than the game, but it hurts to get shot because you could not move.

NOVA Capture 2Both the single-player, and multi-player maps, are nicely done. There are a selection of weapons, health and power-ups throughout the levels. The levels are multi-story, and use transporters or escalators to get you moving up. The graphics look very good, but are often glitchy. I walked near the edge of the jungle and ended up in the trees, well, actually on top of the trees. That would be cool in a Deathmatch, but I was unable to move anywhere and had to exit the game, causing me to return to the last progress/checkpoint. This happened maybe 10 times throughout the 13 level game, way too much.

The game play progresses nicely, and there are checkpoints often. It does have a bit of repetitiveness to it, but I didn’t seem to mind. Ammo is well placed in the maps. On multiple occasions, just as I felt I would run out of ammo, like a gift there was some waiting for me. Well done. There are also mini-game puzzles used to unlock storage containers. I found these weak. It felt like an interruption of the game play, and a waste of time, to make me try to unlock something that is so easy. If I can always solve the combination in 10 seconds then just remove these. I would like to see either some real puzzles, or none at all. I’m not talking MYST hard, but something game worthy.

The multiplayer system works. I have not tried the online system yet, but I tried local games over both WiFi and Bluetooth. Oddly enough, the Bluetooth was more stable. On WiFi, my son had a very hard time staying connected. He would join and drop almost instantly. On Bluetooth we were able to complete a few 5 minute/5 frag games (I’m not saying who won). I experienced no lag at all, but he did. It could be that I am on a 3GS, while he is on an older 3G iPhone. He did not like the game enough to complete the single-player mode due to the lag. I never had that problem on the newer hardware. The one complaint my son brought up was the display of user names in multi-player games. I could see where my kid was, from across the map, as soon as he spawned, because his name was over his head. I wish that could be turned off. It made a fast test game easy, but in serious play could make it too easy.

All-in-all I love it and suggest, if you like first-person-shooters, that you spend the $6.99. It’s a very addicting game, unfortunately for my family. Now onto the Hard setting.