Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Light Review

Developer: Henri Asseily
Available: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/id384021568?mt=8

Light is one of the numerous flashlight apps out there. It has a simple and beautiful icon which won't look out of place on your home screen. Even better it has a simple and beautiful menu which looks like a screen straight out of the iPhone's own settings. Everything is clean, well laid out, and fits the Apple aesthetic. Going across the top are three toggle switches: off, strobe, and on. These option are pretty self explanatory but they differ in the settings you can change.

The strobe setting periodically turns your iPhone 4's LED on and off. The on time is set with the "Strobe Light" slider while the off time is set with the "Strobe Dark" timer. The "Sync Light & Dark" toggle disables your "Strobe Dark" bar and turns the LED on and off for the same amount of time. The on setting just keeps the LED permanently on. For both strobe and on you have the choice to darken the screen. This is so you can conserve battery if you're going to be using flashlight for an extended period of time.

One really interesting aspect of this program is in the off setting, your given a manual control switch which will on the LED only while you're pressing the key. Provided you know how, this will permit Morse coding.

It's just amazing how many people can get something like a flashlight app wrong. So many apps just try to pack in useless extra features people will never need instead of just giving you a simple, easy to use, on and off flashlight. The Light app we think is pretty much the epitome of flashlight apps. If Apple included a flashlight feature in the iPhone, this would be it. We personally think there is no reason to own any other flashlight than this one.

Runs on iOS 4.1: Yes
HD for retina display: Yes
Price: Free
Overall rating: Excellent

USB Disk Review

USB Disk is an app that adds an extremely simple but potentially quite useful file browser to your iPhone. Using it is simple enough. Installing the app gives you free reign over a single root directory. This directory named "Local Files" is displayed when you start the app. On a new install, one will see there are no folders and a single Welcome.html file with usage instructions. At the top of this screen is a search bar and at the bottom, below the advertisement, is the option bar. We'll go into directory functionality later.

Tapping on any document brings you to USB Disk's default document viewer. The full list of supported file types is available on their website but the most notable are html, pdf, MS Office, and Apple iWork files. Even picture and movie files are supported though. For a document, besides formatting it such that it can be viewed without the need of horizontal scrolling, USB Disk offers little. There are page up/down keys on the the bottom bar as well as a slide show control for pictures. Pressing the button on the upper left opens up document options.

You can delete the file, view its details (ie. file type and size), email it, or choose to open it in another app. However, of all the file types tried, we never found one that could be opened outside USB Disk. The most useful feature here then is probably the email which brings up the iPhone default send mail interface with the file automatically attached.

From what we saw, USB Disk had no problems with any pdf, docx, xlsx, or pptx file. Classic MS Office files like doc, ppt, and xls were not supported though. This is a major issue we think needs to be fixed as a huge part of the world still runs older versions of MS Office. As well, don't try viewing large image files with this as the processing time is much slower than the iPhone's default photo viewer. Loading a 2560x1600 resolution jpeg is a no go.

Jumping out of the viewer and back to the root directory, I'll now comment on the file management options. As explained earlier, all options are located on the bottom bar. The bottom right "+" icon creates a new folder within the current directory with a name of your choosing. The bottom left icon opens up toggle settings which we'll see later. The middle icon shows the number of files you have on your clipboard. That's right, USB Disk allows you to cut, copy, and paste files in your root directory inside the iPhone. The way this works is by tapping the edit icon on the top left which will convert your file list to a check list. Now you can check all the files you want then choose from one of the four options on the bottom bar. These options are copy, cut, delete, and send by email. Select all and select none buttons are also available. After you've selected your files, pasting them simple involves navigating to your desired folder then clicking the middle clipboard button on the bottom bar. Its very easy to use.

Now we'll cover the available toggle settings. You can access these by clicking the gear icon in the root directory. The set of options allow you to display hidden folders (there are none that are useful), show file extensions, and show thumbnails for pictures. The second set of options deal with the file viewer and are largely self explanatory. The only one that isn't is "Audio starts slideshow which we couldn't figure out either. The last set of options contains potentially the most useful which is a toggle to prevent your iPhone going to sleep when the file view is open. A thoughtful addition.

The main gripe we have with this app is that isn't with how it views files but how you get the files in the phone to begin with. You can copy them as attachments off email then paste them manually into the USB Disk's root directory but the main method is to add them via iTunes. What you have to do is navigate to the apps section in your iPhone then scroll to the "File Sharing" section. You select USB Disk from the apps list then click the "Add.." button and select your files. This is tedious and seriously impacts the usabilty of this app since it essentially throws the name "USB Disk" out the window. Now we know Apple would never officially sanction plug and play on the iPhone so we can see why this is so.

All in all USB Disk is a good app but with limited futility. On one hand it's an integrated file viewer with support for almost all the file types someone would typically handle. On the other hand it's just that: a file viewer. It can't edit any files nor can it really help you transfer files from one device to another. We can see it being useful in cases you have a document you commonly need to reference like a schedule or spreadsheet but that's about it. The good thing though is that it's free so there's nothing to lose trying it out!

Runs on iOS 4.1: Yes
HD for retina display: Yes
Price: Free
Overall rating: Good

Fruit Ninja by Halfbrick Studio


Available on iTunes

At the front screen, you will be greeted with several game options and the icons are made of real FRUITSSs. We love the design of the fruits as they are cute and juicy. Touching these fruits won’t help you select, you must SLASH it in order to proceed. See, you already get the feeling of the game even before the actual gaming session.

Let’s get the slashing started shall we. Slashing ‘New Game’ brings you into the fun part of this game. In the ‘Classic’ mode, you will be granted three ninja’s life and for each of the fruits that you missed, the life is deducted by one. The background music really makes you feels like a ninja in ancient Japan we must say. The sound effects of slashing the fruit are also awesome though we would like more varieties for different kind of fruits.Your main goal of the game is to keep all the fruits in PIECES. At this point, it may sounds like Fruit Ninja is a boring and easy-to-win game. If you have that in mind, then you are definitely wrong. Once in a while, a fruit bomb will be thrown into the screen and if you slash it by accident, you will be greeted with a white screen of DEATH. No matter how many ninja’s life that you had, the game is over once you happened to place your blade on those bombs. The game will get harder overtime while you maintain the fruit slash count and avoid bombs simultaneously. ‘Zen’ Mode is really self-explanatory. No bombs, no lives, 90 seconds.

Slashing ‘Dojo’ brings you to your private collections of sharp and shiny shinobi blades. You have 12 blades to choose from the Dojo and each of them will have different power and features. As you proceed in the ‘Classic’ game by making several difficult blades combos and critical slashes, you will unlock more blades that are cooler and shinier than before. For example, Mr. Sparkle’s Blade has yellow sparkles post animation following you whenever you perform a slash. At this point, we can’t help but feel like a Jedi wielding lightsabers.

There are two areas in the game that impressed us the most. The first one is the variety of cuts that one can perform on screen. The game basically covered all the possibilities and combinations of cuts and slashes that you can perform and all of them are registered correctly on the fruits. In a nutshell, you are not likely to miss any fruit cuts by performing some weird 720o-8-shape slashes. Another thing that impressed us is the multi-touch implementation. The screen can at most register 5 slashes which help a great deal in ‘Zen’ mode.

In short, Halfbrick Studio really did a good job in Fruit Ninja although some story and mission related gameplay would be even nicer. The game is just too casual at the moment. However, knowing that Halfbrick Studio is supporting the game frequently (just added a multiplayer gameplay recently), the game will only get better over time.


Things we like:

Background music and effects.

Precision detection of fingers.

Multitouch implementation.

Updates we hope to see:

Story and missions related gameplay.

iPhone 4 retina display support.

Price: $0.99 on AppStore

Overall Rating: Excellent

Stay tuned for the multiplayer gameplay review from us !!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Genius Scan

Developer: http://www.grizzlysoftware.net/
Available: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/genius-scan/id377672876?mt=8

To many people a scanner is one of those things they either always need and don't have but don't need enough to want to buy. That's what makes cheap all-in-one printers so good useful : ). When you're on the road then you got your iPhone. The Genius Scan utility by Grizzly Software is just that: a portable scanner.

When you start it up, Genius Scan defaults to a documents directory. Here it'll list all your previously scanned documents and give you two options to create new scans. The first is using the camera while the second is using a picture you've taken beforehand. The camera option is just a shortcut to the iPhone default camera interface while the from library is a shortcut to the photo albums directory. To "scan" a new document essentially means to take a picture of the document. The software then applies useful post-processing. As such naturally you'll still need to take care when taking your picture by ensuring the page is evenly lit and positioning it more or less directly facing the camera.

After you've taken the picture, a handy review shows up that provides a shortcut to retake the photo, very thoughtful. If you use the picture or chose a previously taken picture, you'll then go to the orientation and cropping screen. An orange box will overlay your image. Drag the corners of the box such that the box forms a close perimeter of the document. Selecting the use in the upper right corner will perform a crop and perspective correction on the image making the document flat as if it was scanned.

The program by default performs a "color" enhancement on the image which is not very useful since all it seems to do is lower the color bit depth. Selecting the enhancement option black and white applies gray scale and high contrast to the image which is far more useful. It really looks like a scanned piece of paper. Options along the bottom allow you to rotate the image and save it to your photo-albums, as a "document", or to send it instantly in an email as a picture. Sending it as an email bring up the iPhone default send mail interface and automatically attach the image. Saving it as a "document" is even more useful.

Documents in genius scan are basically groups of scans. So if you scan a book, you can group all the pages into one document. In the main screen, you can choose a document then the send button on the bottom right and you'll be given the option to send it as a pdf. This will bring up the iPhone default send mail interface with the pdf automatically attached. In the documents screen you can also rearrange your scans with the edit button on the top right.

There are a lot of scanning applications out there but Genius Scan is certainly among the best. It's very professional, very stable, and completely usable. This isn't an app you will have just for because it's cool. This is an app that really has its uses. It's free, unlike a real scanner, so use it!

Runs on iOS 4.1: Yes
HD for retina display: Yes
Price: Free
Overall rating: Excellent

Gorillacam Review

Developer: http://joby.com/gorillacam
Available: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/gorillacam/id342972390?mt=8

If you're into the world of photography, then you've likely come across a Gorillapod in the wild before. Its a small and very flexible tripod that has become very popular in recent years. It's make, Joby, brings us this iPhone app: Gorillacam. This app is essentially a new interface for you iPhone camera with extra functions and settings that could be integrated by software. Installing the app from iTunes puts a separate Gorillacam shortcut on your home screen so this app won't replace or change your iPhone's default camera interface. Starting the app enables the camera and, like the default interface, displays a full screen viewfinder a bottom edge overlay.

The default interface is simple enough. There's a shutter button in the center, a shortcut to your photo albums on the right, and access to settings on the right. Parallel to the left edge is also a digital zoom bar. For the most part, everything is where it is in the default iPhone camera interface. Digging into the settings however is where the meat of this app is.

Poping up the settings reveals a wealth of new features.
At the top you've got a timer. Enabling this puts a second button left of your shutter button that allows you to set the delay of the timer. Pretty much ever useful time interval is there starting with 3 seconds up to 90. Second you got a time-lapse feature. This allows the camera to take a number of pictures over a certain time period automatically. This feature is mutually exclusive with the timer and selecting it will also put a new button left of your shutter for specific settings. With this you can choose the number of shots you want your phone to take in total and the time between each shot. Very simple and intuitive.

A very handy feature included in Gorillacam is anti-shake. This uses data from your iPhone gyrosensor to help counteract camera shake. Three sensitivity levels are available for this but I see no real reason not to have it on the max all the time. This feature is also mutually exclusive to the timer and time-lapse but that shouldn't be a problem because if you use those features, you'll undoubtedly have to have the phone on a tripod anyway.

For screen overlays, there's both a bubble level and a rule of thirds grid which are handy if you want perfectly level horizons or want to potentially reduce the amount of cropping you'll need after to get the composition you want. Finally there's a setting that will allow you to activate shutter by tapping anywhere on the screen and a toggle to set your shutter to a three shot burst. This is not very useful giving the extremely low 1 fps of the camera. The camera won't refocus between shots either so sport or actions shots aren't really its purpose.

Along with these features are a host of new universal settings. If you're low on storage space you can change the size of taken photographs to 1600x1200 or 800x600 resolutions. These work by re-interpolating a full-size image rather than using less effective pixels from the sensor so image coverage won't change. There's a separate setting to downsize only the emailed version of the picture which is thoughtful to say the least. Additional settings to toggle are the zoom bar, the location of the zoom bar, and the countdown alarm.

Selecting the photo-albums shortcut brings you to your pictures directory. The layout is similar but not equal to the iPhone default photo viewer layout and there are some bugs with the iPhone 4 preventing pictures from rotating. Viewing a picture allows you to email it to someone instantly with the option in the upper right corner. The picture will be automatically attached for you so you'll just have to fill in the address etc. This uses the iPhone's default mail interface so everything is the same. Again very handy.

There is only one real downer in this app and that's that it does not yet support HDR, video, and the iPhone 4's led flash. It won't be replacing your iPhones default camera interface just yet but is certainly an app worth to use in parallel. This isn't the only app of it's kind that adds these features but it is definitely one of the most complete. It's professionally made with a clean interface and sensibly placed settings. Everything you can't do has a reason (ie. enabling time-lapse and anti-shake at same time) and everything you can do can be done easily. Beyond the photo-albums, I've come across no bugs in this app at all so I would say there is no reason not to have this app. After all, it's free!

Runs on iOS 4.1: Yes
HD for retina display: No
Price: Free
Overall rating: Excellentsavesavesave