Archive for October, 2010

Tweetdeck – Worth Tweeting About or RT to Sender?

Tweetdeck

Once upon a time the main use for my mobile phone was to send text messages, it seems like ancient history now but in reality those SMS based times were only just over a year ago. These days my handset has almost totally dropped texting and become a Twitter hub pumping out nonsense Tweets of 140 characters or less to whoever wants to read them. And I’m not the only one. Twitter clients on mobile phones are a very particular thing to each individual, you try a new Twitter app, you become wise to it’s funny ways, making it work in your favour so your Twitter experience is optimised to how you like it. But then one day you say “Enough! There must be a better Twitter app out there for me.” and so you start all over again, learning from scratch. My android/twitter journey has already taken in four apps..

  • Touiteur – Lovely, has the best bird tweet alarm sound but became buggy, wouldn’t always update.
  • Twitter – Official app, nice presentation but bloaty, plus you’re stuck with Twitter’s way of doing things (no old school RT, no multiple accounts)
  • Twidroid – My fav so far, but no free multiple account support (and I’m a notorious cheapskate)
  • Seesmic – Good, but not my favourite, free multiple account support though.

You can sign in to Twitter, Facebook, Foursqaure and Google Buzz (if you're mad).

Tweetdeck is out of beta, it’s been officially released for Android and it’s now that I find myself on my fifth Twitter app (sixth if you count the excellent Gravity app from back when I had a Symbian handset) and hopefully this is my last. First impressions are good, a simple menu to setup Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz* and Foursquare** accounts. Tweetdeck already gets a huge smile from me for allowing multiple Twitter accounts (I currently rock three Twitter accounts, get me) a feature a lot of Twitter apps currently charge for. For the record, the first Twitter account you enter will be set as the default account, you can always change your default choice in the future from the ‘accounts’ screen by long pressing on an entry in your account list.  Integration with Facebook seems solid too, with posts and pictures appearing nicely in your feed to which you can like or comment on. Tweetdeck have promised to work more on this and make Facebook integration ‘deeper’, already it seems good enough so I guess it can only get better with further updates.

The first thing you’ll notice is how blindingly fast things are, screens whiz up & down and left to right in a flurry, it’s a joy to behold. Tweets are displayed with an avatar and user name, with the timestamp shown in the bar at the top of the column. This bar also acts as a ‘move to top’ or ‘refresh’ button depending on your position in your news feed. Selecting a tweet will also bring up information on how that tweet was posted. Thankfully you can now change the text size of your tweets (a feature missing from my beta version) to allow room for more posts at a time on your screen. My main, or ‘Home’, timeline consists of my posts from my default Twitter account and Facebook feed with simple colour coding to seperate the two. Timelines are displayed via columns which you scroll through from left to right, scrolling is quick and fluid which makes using Tweetdeck a very pleasant experience. There’s a flexible choice of what columns you can have and how many, I’ve currently got six columns on the go with no sign of slow down or complication. You also have fairly flexible control over how often each column updates which, if you’re juggling multiple accounts, is very useful. Annoyingly you only seem to be able to manage your default account, so if you want to follow someone with your other twitter account you need to set that as your default account before doing so.

Hey look! It's Android Apt on Twitter. Please excuse the low follower count, we've barely been here two weeks.

Composing tweets is great, you can choose how many accounts you want to tweet from (yes, you can tweet from multiple accounts simultaneously. Aces!), add a picture, add your location or browse through your contacts to add them to your tweet. With RT’s, Tweetdeck gives you the choice of classic RTing or official Twitter RTing, thumbs up for giving us the choice. Sadly there doesn’t seem to be any built-in URL shortening, which can lead to an issue with overlong tweets. In my experience overlong tweets fail to send and there’s no way to go back and edit them, they stay stuck in your notification bar with the option to retry sending them, all you can do is clear the alert and start again. Tweeting pictures is done via Yfrog and there is no option to change to another picture host so if you’re a fan of Twitpic or another service you’re out of luck. In it’s favour Tweetdeck does a great job of handling pictures, select a tweet with a picture link and a preview image will appear. Tweetdeck can even pull a preview image from a Youtube link, nice. Tweetdeck also has a conversation view which is a godsend for keeping track of those back & forth messages between users on Twitter.

When it comes to options there aren’t really any to choose from, compared to other clients which offer a wealth of options Tweetdeck’s approach seems to be limiting but the reality is the opposite. I have found that trusting the app to do want you want seems to yield the best results as it really does hit most, if not all, the marks. It’s as if Tweetdeck is light on options but full of features, there’s so much more to discover but doing so would delay this review by at least another week. If anything a manual would be handy as there are all kinds of functions in there, you just have to know where they are. Tweetdeck is a great app and a recommended download, I am glad to have given Tweetdeck a chance and it has now become my final ‘go-to’ app for Twitter.

…. unless I get that itch again, oh god no!

* I didn’t try my Google Buzz account because.. well, it’s Google Buzz, what’s the point?

** I didn’t try Foursquare either, I’m not on Foursqaure. Nor do I ever plan to be.

Links : Official Android Page, Install via AppBrain

Bottom Line : After just over 24 hours use I am happier with this than any other mobile Twitter client I have used.  Sure, there’s something of a learning curve but it’s worth sticking with this app to unlock it’s full potential. Recommended.

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PhotoFunia – With ‘Special Guest’ Kanye West

PhotoFunia

PhotoFunia is the Android version of the online photo editing tool www.photofunia.com, in their words “You upload any photo and just wait to see the magic. Our proprietary technology automatically identifies the face in the photo and let’s you add cool photo effects and create funny face photo montages”. PR bumph aside it’s true that with a few simple steps you can add an image to a large selection of templates and have your pictures transformed with great results.

 

So many choices, so little time.

 

Opening the app takes you directly into a list of photo effects to use, straight away you’ll notice the large number of effects on offer, I counted roughly 150. The menu is simply laid out and clearly displays how your finished photo will look. Unfortunately the effects don’t seem to be listed in any order and there’s no way to sort them or filter out a particular effect style.

Once you pick an effect you are give the option to take a picture or process an already existing photo, you’re then given some simple crop / rotation options and once you press ‘OK’ your picture is uploaded to be modified. Here’s where the catch comes into play, in order to use the app you must have a data connection as all the photo processing is done online. If you have no wi-fi access or no network signal you won’t be able to use the app. Considering the small install size this seems to be a fair trade off and things seem to upload / download quick enough, even on 3G. Once your photo is done you can save it or share it directly to Twitter, Facebook or whatever sharing platforms you have installed on your handset.

In general the results are very good, on a phone they look great, on your computer they can sometimes look pixelated. On occasion the face sensitive effects don’t quite work as you’d expect but for a simple ‘does it all’ app such as this it’s to be expected.

Of course to demonstrate the effectiveness of all this photo-trickery we need a solid test subject. So let’s bring in our special guest, Kanye West.

 

What up homies. It is I, The Kanye West

 

 

Hooray! Yeezy just saved a goal. Kanye wins the world cup!

 

 

Mirror mirror, in my hand, who's the best rapper in all the land?

 

 

Check it y'all! My favourite mug for when I have tea & biscuits.

 

Thanks Kanye. As you can see, the effects are very much spot on and are good fun to mess about with.

Bottom Line : A nicely presented free app that offers all kinds of easy-to-do photoshop style fun. Recommended.

Links : Official Page, Install via AppBrain

Skyfire Browser (Beta) – Even Beta Than The Real Thing?

Skyfire Browser (Beta)

Of all the handsets I have owned over the years they’ve all had the same thing in common, a horrible web browser. Thankfully my first Android handset is the first to break this tradition, the standard Android web browser does a great job of quickly getting you around the internet and presenting the information you need in a readable manner. This has set the bar high for anyone who decides to take this on by releasing an alternative browser application.

Step forward the team behind Skyfire, a browser full of all kinds of nifty bells and whistles to help improve your mobile web experience, or does it?

 

Skyfire's homescreen doesn't feel like home.

 

It’s always tricky trying out a new app that replaces something you use every day, you have to learn new ways of doing simple tasks and it can become a hurdle that you don’t have the energy or patience to overcome. Thumbs up to the Skyfire team for supplying a simple tutorial when you first fire up the app, it comfortably eases you in to the main aspects of the app, such as the useful menu at the top of the screen, before letting you off the leash. Another plus point is how Skyfire will bring over your favourite bookmarks from the native web browser which makes getting started even easier. However the good vibes soon drain away when you see the default opening page, I was greeted with a cluttered looking screen of uninteresting links and a garish pop up gambling advert. Of course, I was going to change the homepage anyway but either way it doesn’t make for a great first impression.

One thing I love on Android’s native web browser is the pinch to zoom functionality, with every use it always shapes the text to fit the screen, it works superbly. Skyfire also has this but sadly it’s hit and miss when it comes to resizing paragraphs of text to fit the screen. If you use pinch to zoom in conjunction with the zoom buttons on the screen the text will usually re-size but then you’ll find you’re not at the zoom level you originally wanted which becomes annoying.

 

The Video Add-on, a good idea that would be even better if it actually played videos.

 

Skyfire also includes a ‘Video’ tab in its lower menu in which Skyfire will sniff out and videos tucked away on the page and let you watch them in an optimised format.  It’s a great idea which is let down by its execution, for me some videos would not load at all and when they did the video was partly obscured by the oversized on-screen controls (which I could not seem to hide). Skyfire also includes a very useful ‘tabs’ manager with pages being clearly shown so you can flick quickly between open, it works fine but the presentation is slightly lacking with scrolling windows juddering their way across the screen.

As I mentioned before, it’s tricky to fairly review an app that replaces something you use so frequently, re-learning basic operations is never fun so the newer app is always going to be on the back foot. It’s in these situations that the new app should excel with its new features and open up new and exciting functions for you to take advantage of, unfortunately Skyfire does not do this. There are some great new functions in there, it’s just not very effective at applying them, bear in mind this is only a Beta so hopefully these are things to be fixed in a later version of this app.

Bottom line : A solid enough web browser with some great features that don’t always deliver as promised. Possibly worth a look if you’ve tired of the standard browser, otherwise wait for it to move out of Beta.

Links : Install via AppBrain, Official App Page

Retro Camera – Let’s Go Retro Techno

Retro Camera

 

You can choose from a cool range of retro cameras

 

I’d been avoiding Retro Camera for a number of weeks now, partly because of the large install size (5MB) and partly because I didn’t see the need for it when my HTC Desire already had a 5 Megapixel camera which, whilst not perfect, still adequately did the job when required.  As it turns out I was totally wrong on both counts. In terms of install size, there’s nothing to worry about, Retro Camera fully supports Froyo’s move-to-SD capabilities leaving only a tiny footprint on your handset’s inernal memory. With regards to the quality of the shots, that was down to me totally missing the point of this excellently put together application, a murky black and white photo can carry so much more context than a sterile looking digital shot.

 

The gallery view, complete with pegs and string

 

With Retro Camera you can snap pictures in the style of five different old-school cameras modelled on such famous classics as the Lomo, Polaroid, and Hipstamatic amongst others. Each camera style comes with a full description of the kind of results it will produce as well as suggestions on when it should be used. Using the program is simple, pick a camera then point and click. Pictures will take a few moments to ‘develop’ but you can continue to happily snap away while the pictures are processing in the background.  Your previous 10 pictures can be viewed in the app’s gallery view (in the style of a washing line with the pictures pegged to it) and from here can be directly shared to Twitter, Facebook, Email or any other app you use to share media.

 

Oooh just look a that lovely context

 

In general the pictures taken look great on your phone but sometimes you may find your results do not transfer so well when viewed on your computer. Another small issue is how samey the fake retro effects can appear, for example if you look at a number of Polaroid style pictures in a row you soon notice that the ‘dirt’ effect in each picture appears in exactly the same places in each photo.  With this is mind, Retro Camera shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement for your handset’s main camera, instead look at it as an extra set of camera options and effects to play around with.

These are only very minor complaints and should not deter you from trying this app. I have had great fun with Retro Camera, from using the lovingly crafted UI to jazzing up my photos via the range of different camera styles, it’s addictive, creative and most importantly a free app which very much makes it a worthy download.

Bottom Line : A fun camera application with a lovely UI that, when used in moderation, can pull off some great ‘retro’ picture results. Recommended.

Links : Official Page

Install via AppBrain –  Retro Camera Free, Retro Camera Plus (Ad-Free)

Searchify – Seek, and it shall be yours.

Searchify

Searchify is a ‘do-it-all’ approach to using the search box on your Android handset. With simple text input Searchify claims to be a unit converter, calculator, calendar editor/searcher, word translator and a wikipedia / twitter / imdb / metacritic / urban dictionary search engine. Wow, that’s a lot going on right there but can it really deliver on what it promises?

 

Sadly, Searchify won't improve your taste in movies.

 

Setting up the app is simple enough, there’s a nicely presented welcome screen that instructs you on activating Searchify within your handset’s search settings. There’s also some clearly explained examples that show you the potential uses of the app. Just from reading this you can get a clear idea of how essential this app could become.

In terms of operation, less is definitely more, simply press the search button and start typing. Depending on what you type Searchify springs into action with the information you’re looking for. Type in a unit of measurement, 50 miles for example, Searchify immediately lists 50 miles in terms of metres, furlongs, inches, yards and so on. Type in a sum (easier than you would think via the normal keyboard layout), Searchify will bring up the answer straight away. A definite time saver compared to searching for the calculator app and opening it up.

 

Converting units is a cinch, good news for The Proclaimers then

 

Naturally, searching is what Searchify excels at, simply preface your search term with one of the default keywords and which search that particular site for you. If for example you wanted to search on Twitter for William Shatner type “twt William Shatner”. Searchify will then find you all the current tweets about ‘The Shat’. There are also keywords you can use to search on IMDB, Wikipedia, Metacritic and Urban Dictionary. You don’t have to stick to the default keywords either, you can make up your own should you wish.

Translating words is a cinch, type in the keyword “translate” followed by the word you wish to have translated, Searchify will list translations in the languages you have chosen in the settings.

Searchify’s ace up its sleeve is in its calendar management functions. Enter a date, time and event directly into the search box and Searchify will offer to add that to your calendar which will then sync to your online Google calendar, smart stuff. The only problem is that you have to get used to using the American style of month/date/year when entering calendar dates.

 

Organise the important things in your life via a single line of text

 

Using the program couldn’t be any easier, it runs as quick as hell and settings are kept to a minimum so you don’t get tangled down with endless tweaking. For a free app and a reasonable install size (less than 500kb) this is a highly recommended install.

Bottom Line : A time saving app that places all kinds of useful information just a few key presses away.

Links : Main Site, Install via AppBrain

Awesome Drop – It’s kind of Awesome.

Awesome Drop

 

Awesome Drop's Main Screen. Simple looking but VERY effective.

 

An app that reviews itself positively in it’s own title? Well to be fair Awesome Drop is pretty awesome and it’s still in Beta. Using this app you can easily transfer items wirelessly from your computer to your phone via your internet browser. Upon starting the app you’re instructed to visit the Awesome Drop website on your computer for your 4 digit code, once you enter that code on your phone it will magically sync with your computer and you’re ready to drag and drop your files. Any item dropped onto the ‘Drop Files Here’ box on the website will wirelessly transfer to your phone. A progress bar will appear on both your handset and your web browser so you can keep track on how transfers are progressing. No need to sign up or register, it happens right there and then. It’s magical internet trickery right before your eyes!

It’s very simply laid out stuff and it works beautifully. Some users however may scoff at the lack of options, there’s no option to decide where uploaded files arrive on your phone, they all end up in a folder named ‘drop’ on your memory card. There’s also no notification of when uploads are complete so if you’re multitasking you’ll need to keep an eye on things. Ideally you’ll also need wi-fi access wherever you are, 3G will work but you could be waiting a while.

 

Uploads are tracked on your phone and computer simultaneously

 

It’s not practical for very large files either, upload speed is limited via your internet connection, I uploaded a file sized at 90MB and it took 22 minutes to transfer to my phone. That said, it did transfer first time with no hang ups or errors. There is also a question of security, just where is this data passing through on the way to your phone and is it truly secure? Despite these issues Awesome Drop is still a great app and very handy if you need to quickly transfer small non-sensitive files and can’t be arsed to dig out a USB lead. It could also lend itself to other practical uses, imagine you needed a document from a friend. You could have them go to the website and tell you the 4 digit code, so you can enter it on your handset. Once your phone connects they can drop the document onto the webpage and Bosh! you have the file on your phone. From there just click reset on the app and the link is severed.

For a free app that takes up small memory real estate (only an 82kb install) this really is a great piece of work.

Bottom Line : A very simple and useful free app. You’ll never know when you’ll need it, but you’ll be glad you’ve got it when you do.

Links : App Home Page, Install via AppBrain

AppBrain – Need Apps? Then you need this App.

App Brain

 

AppBrain's Opening Menu

 

It’s hard to imagine life on my Android handset before AppBrain. It’s my go to source for every app I install, all I use the official Android Marketplace for is updating my already installed apps (although AppBrain can take care of that too, old habits die hard I guess).

For the uninitiated, AppBrain is both a website and an app which in their words “makes sense out of the high number of apps available in the Google Android market.”  It’s bold statement that also happens to be true. It’s ironic that the Android Marketplace website, a website owned by Google, has no search function. Sure, you can search via your handset but sometimes you just want to use a large screen and a mouse for browsing your way through new applications to install on your handset, in this circumstance AppBrain is your new best friend.

 

Browse and search the Android Marketplace from your handset.

 

When you sign in at the website with your google ID you are greeted with a screen full of app suggestions based on topic, what’s hot right now or apps that AppBrain thinks you might like. You can also search for apps and when you find what you like you can install them to your phone with a single click on the website. The website syncs brilliantly with your phone and clicking on ‘My Apps’ will show you how AppBrain keeps track of everything you have installed, you can even share your list of apps via Twitter or Facebook or even in a blog such as this…

Apps currently installed on my HTC Desire.

See? Good stuff indeed.

On your handset the AppBrain app acts as a conduit to the Android Marketplace but with a UI that is faster, more intuitive and uses your screen real estate in a more productive way. You can also update and remove apps and even decide whether currently installed applications will skip the next update or never update again (ideal for those youtube downloaders that always get taken down or disabled).

 

Installing and updating Apps is easy.

 

There is also a social aspect to AppBrain, you can search for other users and see what they’ve installed, you can also follow them to stay updated on what they use.

If you really want to unlock the functionality of your new Android device, AppBrain is what will get you there quickly and easily. It’s a free app and only 450kb approx to install. Go get it now.

Bottom Line : An essential app, for getting more apps.

Link : AppBrain.com

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