On the side, I write for a few blogs, one of which is AppCraver, an Apple iPhone applications review site. With each review I do, I get smarter about which apps are truly useful to people like you and me. Here’s what’s been on my iPhone lately:
Bringing in the reads and feeds
The best news app I’ve come across is Mobile News Network. It’s AP news that you can configure in a variety of ways: top news, local news, sports, business, politics and on and on. The interface is super clean. News—whether as text, images or video—comes down surprisingly fast over Wi-Fi. You also get it all in one shot, so you can read it offline. Mobile News Network is ad-supported, but it’s free.
I also tried the free, ad-supported NYTimes app from The New York Times. The interface is nearly identical to Mobile News Networks. What I found disappointing is the time it takes to download the day’s news is slow. NYT says it’s working on the problem. Still, it’s hard to ignore the best newspaper published today.
Pandora Media’s Pandora Radio is not just the bomb, it’s also the explosion. This is one killer app.
Enter the name of your favorite artist and Pandora will fetch music by that artist, and the artists who fit the genre, and then will compile a personalized radio station for you. It works well on Wi-Fi, of course, but it also works well on EDGE and 3G alike. The app has a “higher quality audio” setting for cell networks. The downside is that music may skip or hesitate.
Book warming and burning
It amazes me just how much reference material you can get for the iPhone free or for short money. My fave free pick is Bill Shakespeare’s complete works.
Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;
And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.
I recently took a look at U.S. Historical Documents, from Standard Works. That app contains more than 100 of the most influential documents in U.S. history in their entirety–from the Constitution of the Iroquois Nations to Barack Obama’s acceptance speech. It has a terrific search engine too. It costs just $0.99.
I also recently discovered Lexcycle’s Stanza, an eReader, which is perfect for people who want to keep a wealth of reading material on hand (a good chunk of it is free). You can buy former and current New York Times best-sellers as well as download free classics from the Project Gutenberg. I prefer to do my reading on paper for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is ease of use and resolution, but I have to admit that having “The Art of War” in my pocket might come in handy sometime.
SnapTell Explorer, a free app from SnapTell is pretty remarkable. Shoot the cover of almost any book, upload it, and in return you’ll get an image of the book and a list of places online where you can buy the title and search for more information about it. SnapTell Explorer works for DVDs, CDs and videogames as well.
Mmmm, Mmmm, wouldn’t it be loverly
Damn, will someone please develop a decent note-taking, emailing, contact-managing, spelling-checking, texting, IM-ing, phone-dialing, social-networking app with landscape mode for text entry, already? I’ve looked at at least a dozen of apps that do various combos of these things and I haven’t found one that I would use all the time.
This week, I’ve been playing with Pinger Phone, a new app from Pinger. It’s free (ad-supported). It has a number of worthwhile features but one that stands out is that you can send instant messages to any mobile phone number (like texting, in other words). The difference is that unlike sending text messages, sending IMs as text is free. On a scale of 1-10, I’d give it a solid 8, maybe a 9, if I use it long enough.
I’ve been going back and forth on email apps. For a while, I used Saxorama’s Easywriter Pro ($2.99) and then went to Michael Schneider’s TouchType ($0.99) because it also had a spelling checker. This week, Saxorama introduced an update of EasyWriter Pro that includes a spelling checker and auto-text correction, so I’ll give that a try. It won’t be my last email app, I’m sure.
For your mind only, can see you through the night
The App Store features several apps that pump binaural audio waves into your head that supposedly will help you be more creative, overcome writer’s block, self hypnotize, feel weightless, meditate, sleep and who knows what else. I looked at a bunch of them and I didn’t get much out of the experience except a touch of nausea and ringing in my ears. Some people swear by it, though.
Attractor, from Dataca is the most sophisticated in features, interface and graphics. The wave generator is variable (other apps may only have preset frequencies). It has four modes–wake up, meditate, maintain and sleep–and four ambient sounds–ocean, rain, night and desert. It costs $4.99
I’ve written about mind mapping before. I confess that I’m not completely sold on the whole idea but I found it compelling enough to look into several mind-mapping apps for the iPhone.
iThoughts, from CMS, is the best one I’ve come across so far. It does the usual things: lets you create thought bubbles, connect them in different ways, move them around etc.. You can also add icons to your bubbles to prioritize or flag them in meaningful ways. Overall, I found this app easiest to use. You can import/export your maps in OPML and Freemind, which are common mind-mapping and outliner formats. Transfer your files via Wi-Fi or email. Freemind is one of the leading desktop mind-mapping apps and it’s free to boot. It costs $6.99.
Searching for Google knows what
I raved about Google’s Google Mobile when it first came out. Then I came across vlingo’s vlingo. Like Google’s app, vlingo enables you to vocally enter search terms into Google. They’re both location aware so, if you’re looking for Chinese food, your search results will be for restaurants in proximity to you. They’re both free.
What’s different about vlingo is that it does so much more than Google’s app. vlingo lets iPhone users vocally search Google and Yahoo (you can set one as a default) pull up contacts, dial them, access Google maps and send status updates for Facebook and Twitter.
Flinging your files away
FileMagnet from Magnetism Studios is a simple, yet elegant, iPhone app. Use it to shuttle files between iPhone and desktop via Wi-Fi. Install the FileMagnet app on your iPhone and the uploader client on your desktop—in Windows or Mac OS—which you get from Magentism Studios’ Web site. Then, you can drag files and folders from your desktop to your iPhone. Take them with you to read later or transfer to another desktop on which you’ve also installed the client. It’s $4.99 and worth it.
You can kick up your file sharing to another level with Avatron Software’s Air Sharing. You can mount your iPhone as a wireless shared drive on Mac OS (Tiger and Leopard), Windows (Windows XP and Vista) and even Linux (GNOME and KDE). You can also make the shared drive public so others can download files. The app supports a wide variety of formats, including Microsoft Office, PDF, HTML, RTF, audio and video. It’s on sale right now for $4.99. I paid $6.99 and I thought it was worth it then.