Saturday, 2 March 2013

Been off the radar for a while, but I'll be back soon

Hi there.

It s been a while!

Big news since I was laste here: I'm no longer an iPhone user. That's right, I've moved over to android. I swapped my iPhone 4 for a Galaxy S3 last summer, and I've been having so much fun with it that I haven't had time to blog.

I'm still using the ipad2, though. I thought about getting an Android tablet, but after a lot of shopping around, I felt the iPad is still the best option for tablets.

So my current dilemma was trying to find an ideal Twitter client for my S3. It turned into a saga, and my next post will tell you what I found out along the way.

Back shortly!

Friday, 14 October 2011

iOS 5 First Impressions

So after months of waiting (it was first officially announced by Apple back in June at WWDC 2011), iOS5 has arrived. Was it worth the wait?

Things I really like in iOS5
  • Notification Centre: Hardly an innovation, but a massive improvement on how previous versions of iOS handled notifications. The lockscreen option is a nice touch too. 
  • iMessage: I tried this out on my iPad yesterday, and it's seamless. The replies I got from a mate came simultaneously to my iPad and my iPhone, so time will tell whether this becomes tedious (it may require clearing notifications on two devices instead of just one). 
  • iCloud: This is massive. I use Keynote, Pages and Numbers on my iPad and having a backup that's done completely automatically is very very handy. And as a bonus, when you access those files on , you can then send them or download them in Microsoft and/or PDF formats too. It's not just documents that go to iCloud: you can easily set up contacts, reminders and calendar events to automatically sync too.
  • Camera improvements: There are now some basic editing options built into the Photo app, and the Camera app can be accessed quickly by double tapping the Home button in lockscreen and tapping the camera icon....this makes getting the Camera app started is much quicker than before. A subtle improvement is the ability to swipe right while in camera mode to access the camera roll, and left to go back to camera mode. 
  • Maps: You can now get alternative route options when you're looking for directions, which is a big improvement over the old system of a single route.
  • Safari: On both the iPad and iPhone you now get a little "Reader" button appearing in the address bar of most sites. When you click on that it presents the main body of text on the page in a very uncluttered manner, with all the ads removed. It makes reading articles like blogs very easy. On the iPad version of Safari, the tabbed browsing works really well, and you'd have to wonder why it took Apple so long to do it.
Things I kind of like in iOS5
  • Reminders: Like Notifications, this is hardly a breakthrough innovation from Apple. It does work well though, and I can't complain about the functionality too much. One of the nice things about it is that you can set up reminders to go off when you enter or leave an area (Location Services must be on for this, so it potentially will reduce battery life). The only gripe I have is that when you want to set a reminder by location, the app brings you to your contact list. So you have to store addresses as contacts (for example you could save your grocery store address in your contact list, and then it would be easy to set a reminder to go off when you drive past it). The only snag I have with this is that it would be better if when you tried to set up a location for the reminder, the app brought you to the Maps app and let you click on a location from there. If you're setting up a one-off reminder, having to go through the process of creating a contact with an address seems cumbersome.
  • International keyboards: Kind of gimmicky, but you can now access an emoji keyboard when typing.
  • Split keyboard: On the iPad you have the option to use a split keyboard so that you can type with your thumbs while holding the device. I tried it out yesterday, but as I do most of my typing on the iPad while it's sitting on a desk, I can't see myself using this option too much. 
  • Photo Albums: Unlike previous versions of iOS, you can now set up Photo Albums directly on the device. This is quite useful, but it's not implemented perfectly: when you set up a new album and move photos into it from the Camera Roll, it copies rather than moves, and so you're still left with the photos in the Camera Roll too. Small issue, really, but I would have thought the idea of setting up albums is so that you can clean out the way the Camera Roll is organised, so leaving a copy behind defeats the purpose.
  • Twitter integration: I'm not a massive user of Twitter, but I can see the advantage of being able to tweet from within different apps without having to leave them. 

Things I don't like in iOS5

There's not much I don't like about iOS5. It would be nice if the Camera shortcut was always on the lockscreen instead of getting it up with a double click. The manner of choosing an address in Reminders definitely has room for improvement, although I'd rather have the app in its present form than not at all.

Apps I can now get rid of, now that iOS has improved
  1. "Photo-Sort". The new albums ability in iOS (although not perfect) means I don't need Photo-Sort any more.
  2. "Irish Weather". The Yahoo weather app in the Notification Centre now has hourly forecast, so no need for a 3rd party weather app.
  3. "Camera+". Improvements to how Camera, and Photos, work means Camera+ is no longer required. The same could be said of Photoshop Express
  4. "Dropbox". I'm reluctant to get rid of this just yet, but I think iCloud will make it redundant when I've had more time to get confident with it.
Based on what I've experimented with so far, the plusses of iOS5 far out-weigh the minuses. Apparently there are over 200 improvements over iOS4, so as we all get more used to it some of the more subtle ones may come to the fore.  I haven't tried out things like Photostream yet, so I will update my first impressions after a bit more time with the update.

(Image from

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Calc Pro Free

Just came across something I'd been looking for months for......a calculator for my iPhone. Yes, I know there's a calculator already on the phone when you buy it, but this new one has something very unique about it (as far as I can see).

It's called Calc Pro Free, and as the name suggests, it's free. There are paid versions (€5.99) available for both the iPhone and the iPad, which add features like currency converter, finance, statistics and graphing functions. So check those versions out if that's what you're after.

For me, though, I just want a simple calculator and an option to do some relatively basic scientific computations. Exactly what the standard iPhone calculator can do, I hear you say. But......have you ever done trigonometry on the iPhone calculator? Sure, it has the Sine, Cosine, Tangent bits and bobs: but how do you enter the angles? Maybe you're comfortable with decimal angles, but for me (with a geo-surveying background), I like to use Degree Minute Second when entering angle values.

And you can't do that with the standard iPhone calculator. Or any of the dozen or so alternatives that I've downloaded, tried out, and deleted over the past year or so.

With Calc Pro Free you can easily enter angular values in the D M S format, there's a button specially for that. And as far I can tell from the other calculator apps I've tried, it's the only one available that can do that.

For that reason alone (and given that it can do everything else the standard one can do also) it has replaced the standard calculator app on my homescreen. The standard one now resides in a folder called "Rubbish", alongside Stocks, YouTube and Game Center.

image from ""

Friday, 12 August 2011

Got a replacement iPhone!

Apple customer service and repair/replace service are second to none, in my experience. As you know, I was sans-iPhone for 6 days. Considering the phone had to be shipped to and from another country and there was a weekend during those 6 days, that's pretty quick service. They obviously found the fault with my old handset, and a brand new one was delivered to me early on Wednesday morning.

And that explains why I haven't blogged in a few days....I was busy re-acquainting myself with the phone. Setting it up to replace my old one was a piece of cake, as I had backed-up my old one before handing it over. So iTunes did all the work for me, really.

One app I have used a lot since getting the iPhone back is GW Mail. It's a native app for the Novell Groupwise email server. Not everyone will need this app, but if you use Groupwise at all, then you should consider it.

At €4.99, this is not cheap for what it does, but it makes life a whole lot easier if you want to access your Groupwise mail account on your iPhone (it works on iPad too). It presents in a very clean and uncluttered manner all of the folders that you have on your desktop Groupwise view. There is a "mobile" version that you can view in Safari (or any other browser), but the controls are small and fiddly. If you access the full web version on your mobile device, the screen mimics the desktop version and has so much going on that it's difficult to navigate.

 So GW Mail sits in the middle between a fiddly cut-down version and a cluttered web version of the full program. It allows you to very simply view your inbox (this can be set as the default opening screen, reply to mails, compose a new mail (it's a button that appears discreetly on all screens) and switch between folders.

One omission from the app is the Groupwise Calendar function. I don't use that much on my desktop version, so it's not a big issue for me that it's not in the app. However, if you really want the Calendar function, the GW Mail developers have another app called GW Calendar that looks decent enough. As I said, I don't use it. so I can't say much about it. It currently costs €2.99, so to get both basically costs €8, which in my opinion is a lot. I'd imagine it would be possible to combine the Calendar and Mail functions into one cheaper app.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Day 6 without my iPhone

Today was a day for contacting Apple to see where my repaired/replaced iPhone is. Thanks to the nice people at, I've been able to track its movements. Apparently it left Apple HQ in the UK early this morning, was last recorded in Dublin this evening, and should reach me in Galway tomorrow morning. Needless to say, I can't wait. Just hope they were able to fix it.

So I'm almost free of the non-iPhone drudgery of the past week or so.

I've been too bust at work today to miss any of the games I play on the iPhone, so I won't write about those just yet. However, one app comes to mind as being something I normally use on a daily basis: it's called HomeBudget with Sync.

There is a free Lite version, but I use the fully featured version, currently €3.99 in the App Store. The free version doesn't have the "sync" function, and that's one of the best bits about this app. What's it for? Well, it's simply a way to track what you spend and what you earn over time. You can easily set up regular recurring incomes (such as salaries) and regular outgoings (mortgage, car repayments, etc.), but where the app really comes in handy is for recording those occasional little (and sometimes not so little) expenses. Things like cups of coffee, right up to fuel for the car. Anything you spend money on can be recorded in the pre-installed categories, and if you have a one-off expense, it's very easy to set up your own category for it.

So why is the paid version worth €3.99? Simple: it lets you use any number of iDevices and automatically syncs in the cloud between them. And if you use the same Apple ID when installing, you can have it on more than one device for the single €3.99 fee. So we have it on my iPhone, my wifes iPhone and our iPad, all for €3.99. And when I put an expense in on my iPhone, it appears on my wifes app automatically when she opens it on her iPhone. And on the iPad, when the app is started there. Great way to keep an eye on those expenses.

The app can then summarize your outgoings either based on a series of dates, or by category. So it can help identify where the largest expenses are, and possibly identify where savings can be made too. It graphs all this on a trend line showing your projected income and estimated expenses into the future too, based on past data. Brilliant, and sometimes scary.

So for the last few days I've not been able to input things like coffee, fuel for the car, or groceries like I normally would. Luckily I made some notes, and although the app defaults to entering details for the current day, you can back-date entries too.

Hopefully I'll have my iPhone back tomorrow, so I'll let you know how that goes!

Monday, 8 August 2011

Day 5 without my iPhone

As expected, in work today I came across a productivity issue that my iPhone would have handled with ease for me.

A colleague contacted me and he wanted me to have a look at a file he was trying to import from Excel to Numbers on his iPad. Normally I'd ask him to email the file, or use Dropbox, to get it onto iPhone. Then I'd have a look at it on the Numbers app.

So the productivity apps I missed today are: Dropbox and Numbers

Dropbox is a great app, and it's free! It works in a way that the iCloud is going to work, but it's available right now. The app requires you to register, and in doing so you get 2GB of online storage for any type of file.

If you have Dropbox installed on all your devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC, Unix), then the files on it are available on any of those devices. Very handy, and you can set up folders that are shared with your colleagues so you can work collaboratively. And as a bonus, you get an increased storage amount if you introduce friends to the service. Placing files in the Dropbox folder/s is very easy....just a matter of dragging it to the icon on the screen if you're on your desktop. Quick tip: if you drag and drop, the file will "move" from its current location on your local hard-drive, so if you want to keep a copy locally, simply copy and paste it to Dropbox instead.

Now, if I had my iPhone with me, and if my colleague had shared his Excel file with me on it, my next step would have been to have a look at it in Numbers.

Numbers (for iPhone and iPad) is currently €7.99 on iTunes, so it's one of the more expensive apps that I've bought. It's universal, in that a single download works on both iPad and iPhone, so if you have two devices the price seems better value.

It is part of the iWork suite, which you might be familiar with as Apples answer to Office. Along with Pages (Word) and Keynote (Powerpoint), these apps are a real alternative to Office programs. I find that the animations and transitions in Keynote, for example, are far slicker than those available in Powerpoint, and since getting the iPad last Christmas I haven't made a single presentation on Powerpoint (or on a desktop computer for that matter).

Numbers is not as function-rich as Excel, and the slightly cut-down version available for iPhone and iPad losses some more functionality. For example, I haven't found a way to merge cells on the mobile version. Like most apps, though, updates may add functionality as time goes by. For now, though, as a mobile means of viewing spreadsheets, it's fine. Don't get me wrong when I say it losses some functionality: I'm referring to high end spreadsheet functions. All the more basic stuff is here, including formulae and some statistical analysis tools. I use it in the classroom as a quick and easy way to record attendance, and for that it's perfect.

Sharing files from Numbers (and Pages and Keynote) is very simple. You can export for later synching through iTunes, or you can email from within the app itself. You get a choice of formats, including native format, Microsoft Office formats and PDF. One of my biggest concerns before migrating to Apple was compatibility with colleagues that are not yet in the "post-PC world", but because you can export in a number of formats, that's not a problem.

Numbers picture from ""

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Day 4 without my iPhone

Sunday is not usually an overly productive day for me, so I wouldn't be using my iPhone for anything more than social networking today normally. Therefore, you'd think I wouldn't miss it more than yesterday or the day before.

But: for the first time since giving up the iPhone on Thursday morning, I went to the UPS website to see of I could track the progress of at least the delivery of the phone back to Apple. It turns out the phone arrived at Apple HQ in the UK on Friday afternoon. So it's in safe hands, and hopefully it will be examined during office hours tomorrow. I couldn't resist checking on it any longer, so although I am managing (albeit in a very slow, awkward and off-puttingly tedious way)without it, I clearly have a longing to get it back.

Couple of apps I missed today: weather apps.

I use two weather apps, Irish Weather and Weather+ Free. Both are free. The Irish Weather app gives a very detailed province-by-province forecast, whereas the Weather+ Free app gives a more summarised forecast and current conditions. I find Weather+ Free is handy when traveling, as you can easily add cities to customise the app to display the conditions wherever you are around the globe.

This morning I was wondering whether I should get fuel for the lawnmower, on the off-chance that the weather would clear up enough to cut the grass. Usually I'd have a quick look at one of the weather apps to help me decide, but without the iPhone today I didn't have that opportunity. As it turned out, the weather was quite showery and I couldn't get out to cut the lawn, so it's a moot point in this case!

I'm beginning to really miss a few of the games I played on the iPhone too, but I'll get to those in another post.

Tomorrow will be a big test, when I am back at work and I start missing my productivity apps. More to follow....

Pictures from ""