It’s been a year since the Olympus E-PL5 showed up at my door, and I want to give a report.
The E-PL5 is the first nice camera I’ve ever owned. A year later, as I look back at how often I’ve used the camera, the pictures I’ve taken with it, and what my opinion is of the camera itself, the short answer is that I still use it regularly and often, and I’m still very happy with it.
It was the fall of 2012 that I began researching mirrorless cameras to find a setup I could easily take with me anywhere I went, and which cost under $1,000 (for the body and a nice prime lens). I wanted the camera to have an Auto mode so I could just point and shoot if I needed to (I still am a beginning photographer, and don’t always know which manual adjustments to make to get the exposure right). I also wanted an Auto mode so I could hand the camera over to a family member to let them point and shoot with. But it also needed to have good manual modes so I could learn and grow into the manual controls as I learned more about the technical details of photography.
Here is the article I wrote summarizing the 50+ hours of research I did on Mirrorless cameras and why the E-PL5 was my pick. Though some of the models mentioned in that article have been updated, all my reasoning and logic still stands.
And here is my official review of the camera, which I wrote after using the camera for about 6 months.
As I mentioned in my official review, it was the iPhone that actually led me to getting a better camera. I was taking more and more and more pictures, but wasn’t doing much with them other than keeping them on my iPhone. A year later, I still couldn’t be happier about my decision to get a nice camera and I am still very happy with the camera I chose.
I’ve had and used the E-PL5 through Thanksgiving 2012, Christmas, my son, Noah’s, first birthday, a few trips to Colorado, a trip to San Francisco, a camping trip, a trip to New York, the birth of my second son, Giovanni, and countless other weekend and weekday excursions.
Last year we bought several new photo frames to put around the house. And every couple of months I order a few new 8×10 photos printed from Shutterfly and we swap out all the pictures in the house. It’s inexpensive1 and it’s so wonderful to have high-quality photos of our kids and family.2
Something we did last year, and which we’ll do again this Christmas, was get a few of Apple’s iPhoto photo books. Photo books make great Christmas presents to parents and grandparents. Last year’s book was half photos from my iPhone covering January through October, and then half photos from my E-PL5 covering November and early December. This year the photo book will probably be 90-percent (or more) E-PL5 photos.
I still consider the E-PL5 to be one of the best-kept secrets in the mirrorless camera landscape. For the body only, it’s very reasonably priced. And it’s fast, has great battery life, works with all the micro-four thirds lenses, is well built, has 4-axis in-body image stabilization, and has the same sensor found inside the critically acclaimed Olympus E-M5. It’s a beast and it won’t break the bank.
On Twitter I was asked if a better camera in this space has come along. For the same price as the E-PL5, no, I don’t think so.
Of course, since I got my E-PL5 a year ago, the mirrorless camera landscape has improved quite a bit. There’s now the Fuji x100s and X-E2, the Olympus E-P5, and the new Olympus E-M1 (to name a few). These are all really great, but they’re also all more expensive than the E-PL5.
You can get the E-PL5 body and a very nice prime lens for about $800-$900 (depending on the lens you pick). The E-P5 is $900 for the body alone; the Fuji x100s is $1,300 and comes with a great lens (that cannot be swapped out), but it is not a beginner’s camera.
In my opinion, someone looking to get a great camera and a great lens (where by “great lens” I mean “a prime lens” — not the kit zoom lens), can’t go wrong with the E-PL5. It’s compact, it’s easy enough to use that a beginner could pick it up and take decent shots with it (no comment about technique), and it has most of the same internal components (same sensor, similar IBIS) found in Olympus’ top-of-the line cameras, the E-M1 and the E-P5.
Here are answers to a few other questions I got from folks on Twitter:
What’s the best first lens? The Panasonic 20mm f/1.7. It’s one of the less expensive among the good prime lens selection; it’s a pancake lens, so it takes up very little space; it takes wonderful photographs; and the 20mm focal length (which is the 40mm equivalent on a full-frame camera) is in the sweet spot range for all manner of photos. So, if you don’t know which lens to get, get the Panasonic 20/1.7.
What is your most-used lens? Just the one I have: the panasonic 20/1.7. It’s a fantastic lens for the price and size. My favorite lens of all the ones I have used is the Pany 25/1.4, but I like the size of the 20/1.7 pancake too much. And, since the 20mm and the 25mm are so close in focal length, it seems silly to keep them both.
Have you been tempted by any other cameras? Yes; the E-P5. It has all that’s awesome about the E-PL5, but in a nicer body with more manual controls (without giving up automatic modes), and with an even better sensor and IBIS. However, the E-P5 is several hundred dollars more expensive, and I honestly don’t know if that increase in price is worth it for me at my current skill and usage levels.
How do you travel with it? For outings, I use my DSPTCH strap. As for a case, I don’t have one yet because I haven’t yet found one I like (well, the Hard Graft camera bag looks gorgeous, but I’d rather buy a lens).
What do you wish was different? What annoys you about the camera? The same thing that I’m tempted by with the E-P5: I wish the E-PL5 had better manual dials. You can set it in Aperture or Shutter priority modes, but you have to use the menu dial to quickly change the aperture / exposure / shutter settings. This can be a bit awkward or inaccurate. But… It doesn’t bother me so much to dislike the camera, and like I mentioned above, I’m not sure it’s worth the cost for me to buy a more expensive camera right now. I’ll probably keep the E-PL5 for a few more years and invest my money in lenses instead of upgrading my camera body.
Has your frequency of use decreased since you first got the camera? Yes and no. I’m not forcing myself to take it out like I did when I first got it. But I still use it often around the house and at family events, trips, and other things. Since the first day of owning it I have always felt silly taking it out and using it. But, looking back, I wish I would get out with the camera more often.
What about ergonomics? The camera feels great. It’s very light, it has incredible build quality, and it’s very easy to hold with one hand. The flip-out view screen makes it easy to take photos at all sorts of angles.
Auto-focus and other settings? The E-PL5 with my Panasonic 20mm lens does hunt a fair bit in super low light, but in my understanding it’s no better or worse than most other cameras like this. When I was renting the Olympus 45/1.8 lens, the auto-focus was a bit quicker, but not significantly so.
I mostly shoot in Aperture Priority mode, but when I’m having trouble I’ll switch to Auto and the camera does a great job at deciding what sorts of settings I want.
To what degree does the camera’s physical size impact when/where you use it. How often have you wished you had it but didn’t? The size of the camera is fantastic. It’s small enough to fit in my winter coat pocket or my small laptop bag without bothering me. It’s also light enough that when I’m wearing it with the shoulder strap I can have it on for hours and never consider its weight.
There are often times I wish I had taken it somewhere but didn’t. This, however, has everything to do with me not being in the discipline of taking the camera and using it. It has almost nothing to do with the size of the camera.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned about photography since getting this camera? That I regret 100% of the shots I don’t take. Too cliche? Okay, fine. But it’s true. Like I said above regarding frequency of use, I want to get out with the camera more often.
What is your usage of the E-PL5 compared to your iPhone camera? I certainly use my iPhone more often than the E-PL5 just because of the fact that my iPhone is with me all the time. But I don’t often take “great photos” with my iPhone. Usually they are cool snapshots that I will then share on Instagram, email to friends and family, or put into Day One. And that’s exactly why I got the E-PL5. I didn’t want to all-out replace my iPhone, but I wanted something I could use to take much, much better photos when it mattered most.
What are your favorite pictures taken with the E-PL5? This one is probably my most favorite:
These are also favorites:
You can see more of the photos I’ve taken on my Flickr page.
* * *
So. If you’re in the market for an awesome and pocketable camera, I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, there are a lot of really great options. The bad news is, there are a lot of really great options. Good luck!
- 8×10 prints are normally 3.99 each, but Shutterfly seems to have sales all the time to get things for 40-percent off or more. I’ve also heard great things about WHCC’s pricing and quality, but haven’t yet used them myself. ↵
- I’ve also been using the camera to take “fancy” hero images for use on this site and on The Sweet Setup. ↵
Leading up to the launch of The Sweet Setup, we were wrangling about 20 active documents. I was working with half-a-dozen different authors on their app reviews along with writing several reviews and blog posts of my own, and Jeff Abbott was editing everything.
To manage all of these documents we use Editorially.
It’s awesome. Here’s why.
Markdown support: All the writers we work with prefer to write in Markdown. I prefer markdown. And, well, Editorially supports markdown syntax highlighting in the browser. It also displays images inline. When you’re done writing you can export your writing as an html, markdown, plain text, Latex, rich text, MS Word, or ePub file. Wow.
Collaboration: invite people to join the document as read-only privileges or with editing privileges. You can highlight words and passages to make notes about, and you can comment on the document in general.
Track changes and version control: Editorially auto-saves as your working on a document, so if your browser crashes you don’t lose your work. It also keeps all the versions of a document, and allows you to compare the changes of one version with another.
Document status: Documents start as “Draft”, and as you progressively work on them you can change their status to “Reviewing”, “Revising”, “Copyediting”, and “Final”.
These states worked perfectly with our workflow, and followed perfectly the progression of our articles from the initial submission by a contributor, my reviewing of it, the author’s revising of it, and then Jeff’s editing of it. When visiting my Editorially dashboard I could see instantly what the state of each document was, and knew which ones I needed to attend to myself.
Dropbox support: you can link Editorially to a folder in your Dropbox and then send an article to that folder. This is Editorially’s answer to “archiving” since there is nowhere to move documents that are in their final state and which have been published and that you no longer need to keep on your dashboard. This is how I archive all of our published articles, and it works very well.
Pasting into a document: Copy rich or formatted text from one place and when you paste it into Editorially it will format in Markdown. Even images. Amazing.
iPad and iPhone friendly: Editorially is a web app only with no native apps. However, it has a responsive design that works great in Safari on the iPad and iPhone. It can be a bit clunky if you’re making lots and lots of notes and annotations, and I wouldn’t want to spending hours a day, every day, working in Editorially on my iPad. But I edited several documents from my iPhone and iPad with no trouble.
Our Editorially Workflow
Being editor-in-chief, I was reaching out to potential writers asking them if they’d like to do an article for the site. Once they submitted their draft to me I would paste it into Editorially and read through it.
Because Editorially lets me make highlight words and passages, it was easy to make comments about what I felt were good, what needed improvement, and what was missing altogether. I would also make general comments on the document itself such as, “All done. Your turn.”
If I hadn’t already, I would then invite the author to join the document so they could see all my comments and edits, and then they make any changes and leave comments of their own.
Some articles were done after just one pass. Others took several rounds of back and forth work to get it to a place where we were completely happy with it.
Once the article reached the point where the author and I were happy with it, then I would invite Jeff to join. (Jeff is the editor for The sweet Setup.) He would then read through the article for the first time, making sure it had a good flow, made sense, covered all the bases, and was free from typos and other grammatical errors.
When Jeff was done, he’d set the article’s status to “Final”. I would then export the markdown out of Editorially and paste it into our CMS. Editorially also supports publishing to WordPress, but I don’t use this feature — we have quite a few custom fields and other metadata tables set up in our WordPress install that hinder us from just publishing straight to the site from Editorially.
Technically, Editorially is still in beta. There are a few bugs here and there (for example, the dashboard doesn’t remember my preference for displaying documents in a grid format or a list) and there are some other features I’d love to see added (such as the ability to transfer ownership of a document from one user to another, or an “inbox” that listed all the recent activity on all my documents). But these are small issues, and Editorially has proven to be an invaluable tool for us.
We are using it to get a lot of work done without losing our minds. I can’t imagine what our workflow would look like without Editorially.
These two new iPads are marvels.
It’s already amazing that there exists gadgets made of aluminum and glass which weigh less than a pound and have screens that rival the resolution of a printed magazine. Now add to that the fact these devices have touch screens so true-to-life and so responsive that it feels as if you’re literally manipulating the pixels with your fingers.
And it doesn’t end there.
Pacing around the coffee table in my office, thinking about the new iPads while contemplating the big picture of things like personal computers that fit in our pockets and purses, it’s easy to get swept away in just what an incredible day and age we live in.
These devices are also connected to the world wide web — allowing me to communicate with friends, family, members, and strangers alike. A photo I took of my son using my phone has magically appeared on my iPad, and I can email it to my parents with ease; I can write words and publish them to a place where anyone in the world can come to read; I can download music and books; and so, so much more.
But then, returning to Earth, what are the brass tacks here? I’ve been sending emails for over half my life; I’ve never owned a cell phone that couldn’t send a text message; I’ve been making my living publishing to the web for nearly three years; and this isn’t my first iPad.
But yet, in a way, this is my first iPad.
The iPad Air is, hands down, the most amazing iPad I’ve ever owned. And I’ve owned several.
Keeping with tradition, I bought the iPad Air on launch day, too. Thirteen days later I can say, unequivocally, that it is the greatest iPad ever. The change in size and weight and speed when compared to the iPad 3 is something that must be experienced and not read about. Trying to describe the difference in usability between the iPad Air and its predecessors is an exercise which puts my wordsmithing skills to the test.
My iPads have always received quite a bit of use from me. Even from the very first generation iPad, I have toted these things with me to meetings, coffee shops, vacations to the Rocky Mountains, “business” trips to WWDC, my living room, and everywhere in between.
Moreover, I am quite comfortable using the iPad as my “laptop”. My work is such that I’m fortunate enough to be able to do pretty much everything I need from the iPad. Nearly all of my daily tasks and routines related to work or play are things I can do on iOS.
Every design and engineering progression with the iPad has been a nice, incremental, and welcomed step. Thinner and lighter, then Retina, then faster. But the iPad Air is a leap and not a step. It feels impossibly thin and impossibly light while also being extremely fast and responsive. It is quintessential.
And then, yesterday, the iPad mini with Retina display appeared. And, well, it is also the best iPad I’ve ever owned.
Here is a device that will fit inside my wife’s purse or the pocket of my peacoat. And it’s ideal for all the most common personal computing tasks of doing email, surfing the Internet, and checking Facebook and Twitter. And we all know the iPad can do so much more — there’s no reason why the iPad mini couldn’t be someone’s only computer.
And that fascinates me. Who knew that one day our uncompromising personal computers would cost a few hundred dollars and would comfortably fit inside a woman’s purse?
I’ve been using the Retina mini for just a day now, but I am confident that I could use it for all the tasks which I’ve been using my full-sized iPad for all these years. The question is not about the capabilities of the mini; the question is about my own preferences. And, at the moment, I don’t have an answer.
It’s different than deciding between an 11- or 13-inch MacBook Air, or between a 13- or 15-inch MacBook Pro. For laptops you mostly use them while they are placed on top of a desk or table (or perhaps your lap) while you sit in front of them. You mostly pick which laptop you need based on your computing tasks and needs, size plays a role in terms of portability, but once the laptop is out and on the desk it mostly doesn’t matter what size it is (unless you’re sitting in coach).
But with the iPad Air and iPad mini, computing usage is not the only factor. There’s also a tangible, kinesthetic-centric factor at play here. Because the iPad is something you hold and touch while using.
Which is better: an iPad Air that has a bigger screen and which is thin and light enough? Or an iPad mini that is very thin and light and which has a screen that is big enough? I just don’t think you can pit these two devices against one another. They are not competing — they are two of a kind.
They are both great. Both favorites.
Over the next several weeks and months I plan to use both iPads for the same tasks. It’ll be interesting to see how the dust settles and if I’ll naturally be drawn more to the smaller device or the larger one, and why.
The new Fantastical is the best calendar app on the iPhone. It was great before, but now, it’s, well, fantastic.
Let’s talk for a moment about friction, learning interfaces, and natural language parsing
I’ve always been a fan of Fantastical’s natural language parsing and it’s simple-yet-powerful design. When I say Fantastical is the best calendar app for the iPhone, I define “the best” as being the easiest to use (adding/editing events) and the easiest to read (checking schedule) for most people.
About a month ago I took a little poll on Twitter. It’s nothing scientifically conclusive, but it does provide some interesting data points to say the least. In the poll I asked people how many events they enter into their iPhone on a weekly basis.
Of 179 total responses:
- 73% enter 1 or fewer events per day (130 people)
- 21% enter an average of 2 events per day (38 people)
- 6% enter an average of 3 events per day (10)
- Less than 1% enter 4 or more events per day (1)
So, 94-percent of the total respondents use their iPhone’s calendar app 2 or fewer times per day to enter in a new event with most of those people actually using it just once or less per day.
Think about the situations you’re typically in when adding an event to your calendar using your iPhone. For me, I’m usually in the middle of a conversation with someone and we’ve just agreed upon our next meeting or a meal together. Or I’m in the lobby at my kids’ doctor’s office making their next checkup appointment, or I’m at my dentist making my next cleaning appointment. Etc.
In short, the times I’m using my iPhone to enter an event are times when I’m usually in the middle of something else. I want to add the event and get on with life.
The more we become familiar with a calendar app’s new-event interface, then the faster we can navigate it. However, as my Twitter poll hints, people entering in just one event or less per day is not much usage to learn an app’s interface.
I’ve been using my iPhone to enter calendar events since 2007, and the default new event entry sheet provided by iOS has always felt like an obstacle course. If most of us are entering one event or less per day on our iPhones, then are we ever really learning the event input interface of our calendar app?
That is why natural language parsing is so divine. Because what’s an “interface” we are all extremely familiar with? Natural language.
We say sentences like “I’m having lunch with Steve tomorrow” all the time. It’s called “natural language” for a reason — we say these sentences in our everyday conversations, emails, text messages, etc. It’s natural to us.
And so a calendar app that can understand our own natural language is one that we can use as infrequently as we want without suffering the consequences of not learning its input UI.
Fantastical has, by far and away, the best natural language input mechanics of any other calendar app on the iPhone. It is fast and smart at parsing just about any event- or reminder-based sentence, and it has easy-to-understand animations which let us know how the app is translating our words.
As Dr. Drang pointed out, Fantastical’s animations do more than dazzle:
The animations are providing instant feedback on how Fantastical is parsing your words and, more important, they’re teaching you Fantastical’s syntax.
What’s New in Fantastical 2?
In a sentence, it’s faster, it’s built and designed for iOS 7, it has Reminders integration, light and dark modes, and there’s a swell new week view if you flip your iPhone on its side.
Let’s dive in.
Landscape Mode’s Week View
Flip your phone into landscape mode and Fantastical shows you your week view with the time plotted on the calendar (not unlike Calendar shows you on the Mac).
I’m a fan of this view because it’s a great way to visualize what blocks of time I’m booked for during the day and what blocks of time are open.
Moreover, from this weekly view you can drag and move events very easily. You can adjust their start and end times. And if you tap and hold on an empty spot, you can create a new event (which also means, by the way, that Fantastical now supports the landscape keyboard for creating a new event or reminder).
Pulling down on the day ticker and/or the month view is how you transition between one or the other. This animated transition is smoother and faster in the new version of Fantastical.
Updated with a 64bit architecture, background updating, and dynamic text. New events and reminders you add via your Mac or iPad or any other app beyond Fantastical still will sync to Fantastical in the background.
You can add a reminder by typing “Remind me to…”, or you can manually tap the toggle on the new event creation window that will switch Fantastical between new calendar event and new reminder.
Custom keyboard row
If you’ve got an iPhone 5 or 5s, above the QWERTY row is a 5th row with numbers, a forward slash, and a colon to help enter in calendar data faster. In my time testing the app over the past several weeks this row has proven to be immensely helpful.
Auto-import your settings
Your Fantastical 1 settings auto-import into Fantastical 2.
This seems like a non-trivial thing, right? We’re used to updating our apps and having our settings persist through the update.
But with developers releasing new, iOS 7-only, paid updates to their apps, a paid update like this is actually like installing a new app. Of course your calendars sync right up, but your app-specific display settings — such as having weekends highlighted, if days with no events show up in the day ticker, etc.. — are imported from Fantastical 1 into Fantastical 2. It’s the sort of thing you’d only notice if it didn’t happen.
If you’re not satisfied with your current calendar app, Fantastical is just $3 on the App Store.
Long have I been a fan of Mark Jardine’s heavy-handed design aesthetic. The dark grey industrial materials, the gradients, noise textures, and the playful graphics and icons. These design elements have been inextricably tied to the signature and brand of the Tapbots app lineup.
Today, that all changes.
The new Tweetbot is a ground-up re-design and re-thinking of what is one of the most popular Twitter clients out there.
This is the new Tweetbot, for iOS 7. As you can see the design is very new. It’s a starting over, not only for the app itself, but for the Tapbots’ brand.
For this new app, Mark and Paul had to out-Tweetbot Tweetbot. And I think they did just that.
This new version has all the underpinnings of what has made the app great since its 1.0 release in April 2011. It has fast and smooth scrolling, it has clever animations all throughout, swipe or tap-and-hold to act on a tweet, etc.
But, be it familiar, it is still an all new app.
Save for the icons, the new Tweetbot is a radical departure from the look Tapbots has become world famous for. The main timeline view now sports circle avatars and a white, gradient-free background. Tapping on images blurs brings them up full-screen while the background goes blurry. This app has all the design elements of a native iOS 7 app, but with a unique twist all its own.
It’s not all just a new coat of paint. The new Tweetbot supports background updating in iOS 7, which means that when you launch it your tweets are already there waiting for you. (This feature alone is worth the price to upgrade.)
Also, Tweetbot uses dynamic text from the size you set in the iOS system settings. Personally, I find this to be unfortunate. I prefer my system text (such as for emails and Safari’s “Reader mode”) to be just one notch above the tiniest. However, I find that size of text to be too big in Tweetbot. Even at the very smallest setting for dynamic system text size, it is still too big for me in the Tweetbot timeline.
When it comes to whimsy and personality, though the heavy-handed design aesthetic is now mostly gone, there are fun animations and bounce effects to nearly every element of the app. One of my favorites is tapping the profile image up to to bring up the account switcher — the individual account pictures and names slide in from the right and bounce off the left margin.
When you launch the new Tweetbot for the first few times, there is certainly a bit of shell shock at just how different it is. But, as you use it, you realize that it’s still a Tapbots app at heart. It’s just as delightful and just as powerful as its siblings, but it marks the next generation of Tapbots apps. And I’m looking forward to what’s next.
The new Tweetbot is a paid update for all users, and is on sale right now for $2.99 in the App Store.
When I launched Weather Line for the first time my initial impression was that it’s not a general purpose weather app. I assumed it was more niche, with a focus on forecast data rather than current conditions.
But that’s not the case at all.
As you can see from the screenshot, the primary element of the app is its line graph (the “weather line”) which shows the temperature forecast.
When you launch Weather Line, or navigate between the Hourly, Daily, and Monthly tabs, the left-most temperature animates itself with a sort of balloon effect. This instantly grabs the attention of your focus and draws your eye to the current temperature.
So, Weather Line is, in fact, a nice general purpose weather app. And, as I’ve been using it, I have come to enjoy the quick view I get of the current conditions right now and how they will change in the next 8 hours.
However, I do have two quibbles with the app:
All the navigation is up top. To navigate between locations you swipe on the location name; to navigate between Hourly, Daily, and Monthly forecasts you tap on those respective tabs. But on an iPhone 5/5s these tap targets are just out of reach for my thumb and it makes the app a little bit difficult to fully navigate one handed.
No radar view. Though Weather Line does use the Dark Sky API to give the 60-minute precipitation forecast, it does not have an actual radar view. Ryan, the man behind the app, said the reason there’s no radar view is because he can’t find one that is beautiful enough for him.
In an email, he said to me, “Our app takes ugly boring data and uses beauty to make it easily understood, we want the radar that does the same thing.”
I appreciate Ryan’s commitment to excellence, but for me, a weather app without radar is an incomplete weather app. My two favorite weather apps — Perfect Weather and Check the Weather — both have the standard radar views and I’ve never thought them to be ugly.
So, is Weather Line the best new general purpose weather app you can buy? I don’t think so (because of its lack of radar). But it is a fantastic app nonetheless.
Weather Line is simple, delightful, and very responsive. It feels right at home on iOS 7. And the icon is fantastic — it’s one of the best weather app icons on my iPhone. Just $3 bucks in the App Store.
I’ve been writing about hardware and software for years. Some things I review because I think they’re awesome and I want to recommend them. And then some of the things I link to or review are things I find noteworthy for one reason or another.
But things change over time — things like my own workflow habits, my software preferences, and even the software itself.
This site’s design puts the most emphasis on that which has been most-recently published. But what about that review of MarsEdit I wrote back in 2008? How can you know if I am I still using that app (if you ever even read the review in the first place)?
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It can be easy to write a positive review of a cool new app or gadget, but how does that product hold up over time when the newness wears off and the routine of life settles back in?
There are a lot of apps that I’ve endorsed after a few weeks or months worth of usage, but am I still using them years later?
Well, over the past three days I went through every single review and recommendation I’ve written in the past 6 years in order to take inventory of which products I still use and which I don’t.
(I encourage all of us who write about, review, and recommend products to do something like this. Especially when we highly recommend something, it would be a great benefit to come back to that review in 6 months or a year and let our readers know if we are still using that product or not.)
My list below contains about 50-or-so apps and gadgets. Surprising (to me, at least) is that only 13 of them are products which I no longer use.
Which means I’m still using about 75-percent of the things I’ve reviewed and recommended over the past 6 years. So either I’m incredibly lazy, or I have excellent taste.
What Software am still using?
OmniFocus: I’ve been using the OmniFocus suite of apps (Mac, iPhone, and iPad) for over three years now. Sometimes I wonder if they are overkill for me now that I’ve somewhat settled into a grove with my work-from-home schedule. But I just can’t quit them because it’s a task management system that I trust. I know that if and when an important task becomes due, then OmniFocus will show it to me.
Simplenote: Gosh, I’ve been a hardcore Simplenote user since I first learned of it back in 2008 (thanks to John Gruber). Recently I even went looking for alternatives to Simplenote, but I just couldn’t quit it. And, I’m a big fan of the updated Simplenote app for iOS 7, and the Mac app, too, has become a daily driver for me as. In short, I put a lot of text into Simplenote and am happy to do so.
MarsEdit: This, my friends, is quality software. It’s hard to believe I’ve been using this app just about every day for 6 years.
Rdio: Access trumps ownership, or so they say. Anyway, I am an avid fan of Rdio. And I still use Airfoil to adjust the EQ of Rdio’s output and to send the audio to my nicer sound system that’s hooked up to the Apple TV if I want.
Keyboard Maestro: I haven’t written any formal reviews of Keyboard Maestro because I don’t know where I would start, and once I did start reviewing the app I don’t know how I could stop. I’ve been using Keyboard Maestro for years and it does just about everything. About a year ago, Ben and I recorded a Tips & Tricks episode of the B&B podcast (RIP) giving some use-case scenarios for Keyboard Maestro.
LaunchBar: Another critical app that I haven’t written a review about but have long been an advocate of. This is my application launcher of choice. Also, there’s a B&B podcast Tips & Tricks episode about LaunchBar in the archives as well.
Hues: When I’m designing a website, Hues is always running. Been using it for a few years now.
Coda 2 and Diet Coda: I’ve been using and loving Coda since it shipped years ago. I’m not a developer, but I do know enough HTML, CSS, and PHP to build and maintain my own WordPress websites. And when I do need to update, create, or fix something I do so in Coda 2 (or Diet Coda if my Mac’s not nearby).
Editorial: I’ve only been using it for 2 months, but it’s splendid.
Byword: On the Mac, I do almost all of my longform writing in Byword. I then keep all my “in-progress” articles in a folder in Dropbox. If/when I need to access them on the iPhone I use Byword on the iPhone (the iOS 7 update is splendid, by the way). But on the iPad I use Editorial.
Reeder: Reeder has long been the best RSS reading app on iOS.
ReadKit: This app is good enough. So far as I know this is the only Mac app that syncs with Feed Wrangler. The app has seen a lot of consistent development and improvement over the past few months, but I still consider it pretty slow at updating my feeds and it’s not extremely easy to navigate using the keyboard.
Riposte: I think Riposte is more than just the best ADN client for the iPhone — it is one of the nicest iPhone apps, period. I find it very easy to use; it’s fast, clever, well designed, and it has a slew of killer features.
Feed Wrangler: This has been my post-Google Reader sync service of choice and after several months I’m still quite content with it.
1Password: Gosh. I’ve been using 1Password for several years, and the more I use it the more I’m glad I use it. Such a well-done and valuable app.
Transmit: It’s the best FTP client for the Mac, so why wouldn’t I still be using it?
Backblaze, SuperDuper, Arq, and Dropbox: This is still my backup strategy, and I’m quite happy with it. Though (thankfully) I have yet to encounter a time where I needed disaster recovery of my data, so it’s hard to say exactly how it would all pan out were my laptop and external HDDs all destroyed or stolen.
Day One: This is certainly the best journaling app out there. I keep the iOS apps on both my iPad’s and iPhone’s Home screen and write in them often. I have the Mac version as well, but don’t use it nearly as much. Probably because journaling is something I don’t tend to do when sitting at my desk. And also, a lot of my Day One entries are photos I take with my iPhone.
Fantastical and Agenda: These are the two calendar apps I’ve written about over the years. I still use and love Fantastical on the Mac, and up until recently used Agenda on the iPhone (the latest iOS update to Agenda is quite nice).
However, there’s a new website project I’m working on that has me doing a lot of digging and testing with iOS calendar apps right now. Calendars 5 is a new entry to the iOS calendar market and it’s pretty amazing. And so, honestly, I don’t know which of these three (Agenda, Calendars 5, Fantastical) are my favorite on iOS. They’re all great in their own way — the jury is still out.
Junecloud’s Delivery Status app: still use this to track shipments. It’s great.
Droplr: I’ve been using Droplr since it was in beta back in 2010, and I still use it every single day.
Checkmark: Checkmark does location-based reminders better than iOS does, in my opinion. It’s faster at setting them up and more accurate at reminding you. Though I don’t set reminders like this very often, when I do I still use Checkmark.
Breaktime: This app is helping me live longer. It’s sitting in my menu bar right now, reminding me that in 21 minutes I need to stand up again and walk around for a bit.
Bartender: My goodness I am so thankful for this app. It cleans up your Mac’s Menu bar. Still highly recommended.
Quickshot: Still using this to take photos of receipts (for tax purposes) and then upload them to Dropbox. A Hazel rule then moves them to my receipts folder.
DropVox: This app is extremely dated, but it still works and I still use it to record Shawn Today episodes whenever I’m away from my Mac. And, so far as I know, there are no other apps which take a voice recording and pipe it to Dropbox.
Timer: The guys behind Timing were sponsors of the site a few times in the past, but I’ve also personally had this app running in the background since it came out in 2011. And even though I use it, I don’t really make use of the data it tracks — I have a hard time parsing it all myself. I’ve been considering setting up an account with Rescue Time instead, to see if the reporting there is better and more useful.
What gadgets am I still using?
Mid-2011 MacBook Air: Stilly gutsy, still glorious, still using it every single day.
Last Year’s Kindle Paperwhite: Still love it. I wouldn’t mind getting the new one, but I don’t think it’s worth paying to upgrade.
My Clicky Keyboard: After a whole lot of fiddling and typing on mechanical keyboards (both big ones and tenkeyless versions) I picked the Filco Majestouch-2 Ninja with the Cherry MX Blue switches. I’ve been typing on this keyboard for over a year now and still love it. And, as a matter of fact, I’m typing on it at this very moment. Click! Clack!
Uni-ball Signo DX 0.38mm: Still the greatest, inexpensive, fine-tip gell ink pen in the world.
Audyssey Computer speakers: Earlier this year I bought these white Audyssey Bluetooth speakers because their sibling version (which are black and non-Bluetooth) were recommended by The Wirecutter. I don’t use the Bluetooth connectivity, but I think the white is much better looking than the black and the price is actually cheaper. The Audyssey’s are bigger than they look in the pictures, and they sound absolutely fantastic. Very full, rich, and crisp. For $145, you can’t go wrong. I’m jamming out with them as I type this very sentence.
E-PL5 mirrorless camera and Panasonic 20/1.7 pancake lens: It has been almost a year since I got this camera and lens and I am still very satisfied. While I do wish it had more dials for faster manual adjustment of the aperture and other settings, I have never felt frustrated or constrained. If I were buying a mirrorless camera today, I’d probably go with the new E-P5.
Doxie Go, Hazel, and my Paperless Office: Still using this setup and workflow every single week to keep my office paperless. Of course it’s a chore, but one that’s easy enough I don’t not do it. (See also my review of the Doxie Go.)
Origami Workstation for iPad: I’ve had this thing for a few years now and still use it near daily. What I wrote in my review still stands. One thing I’m noticing is that the velcro on the tabs that holds the flaps together is starting to lose a bit of its grip strength. My guess is that in a year or less I’ll need to replace the velcro somehow.
AeroPress: You know I’m still brew coffee with it just about every single day (if I’m not brewing with a Clever or a v60).
My gray-market 27-inch IPS LCD: I bought this display last fall when my 23-inch Apple Cinema Display died. It’s great for the price, and I’ve been happily using it for over a year. But a very faint shadow has appeared across the bottom of the screen. I am crossing my fingers that Apple will update their Thunderbolt displays later this year so I can upgrade.
What I am no longer using
Here are apps and gadgets that I’ve recommended and said I liked but am no longer using today.
The Jawbone UP: I thought it was so cool at first, and I still do love the idea of it, but the bracelet never got comfortable for me. Over time I just tired of charging it and syncing it and wearing it in my sleep.
Triage: This is a very clever email app for the iPhone. But when I installed the iOS 7 beta onto my iPhone 5 earlier this summer, I wiped the phone and started fresh. Triage just never got installed again.
And, so long as we’re on the subject, no 3rd-party email client has ever stuck for me beyond the stock Apple email apps (on iOS and on OS X). I’ve tried Postbox, Sparrow, Mailbox, Triage, and probably a dozen others, but I always just come back to Apple’s email apps.
NetNewsWire 3: This was one of the best. It would still work as a standalone RSS reader, but I use Feed Wrangler to sync my feeds and the old NNW doesn’t sync with anything any longer.
Recall: Another really cool app that just never stuck for me.
Yojimbo: I raved about this app for years, and I still consider it to be one of the finest Mac apps I have ever used. But alas it didn’t scale well for my needs, and I ended up moving to a few individual applications and services.
Nexus 7 tablet: I think I’ve got it sitting in the bottom of a drawer around here somewhere.
Visual, iOS timer: I used this for a while as a way to keep my time spent on email to a minimum. But it never became habit and the app never stuck for me.
Instacast: Instacast is great, but I just don’t listen to podcasts any longer. And with a toddler, I no longer queue podcast episodes up for road trips — instead we listen to white noise or music.
Pastebot: Some apps you just slowly stop using, and Pastebot was one of those for me. It’s neat, but I no longer use it for the things I used to use it for. And with the ever-increasing number of apps and services which sync, I don’t have as much need to copy/paste things between my Mac and iPhone.
Fever: I have Fever running on a server, but never ever check it these days.
Mint: I would still be using Mint, but something in its database farted out on me a few months ago and MySQL is something I know nothing about. So I signed up for an account with GoSquared, which is nice but I don’t love it.
Things: I stopped using things because I really needed a to-do list app that synced over the air. So I switched to OmniFocus in 2010. But then, even after Things got OTA sync, I kept using OmniFocus because the iPad app and the review function are just so, so great.
If asked to trim my iPhone and iPad Home screens down to just one app, that app would be Simplenote.
I have been using Simplenote for as long as I can remember. What first won me over to the app was certainly not the icon. Rather, it was (a) Simplenote’s ability to sync my notes over-the-air to my Mac, and (b) its use of Helvetica. These were two huge improvements on Apple’s native Notes app which synced over USB and used Marker Felt as the typeface.
Simplenote shipped in 2008 when the iPhone App Store was fresh and there was only a rumor of an iPad. In many ways, the app has barely changed since its very first version, seeing mostly only refinements and iterations of the original design.
Today, 5 years later, look at the App store today and you’ll find no shortage of minimalistic, well-designed, note-taking apps that sync over-the-air. And many of these apps are absolutely fantastic. But, even after my foray into Simplenote alternatives and doing research and trying out other note-taking apps, I’ve stuck with Simplenote as my iOS note-taking app of choice.
So much of how I use my iPhone and iPad is text based: ideas, articles, to-do items, lists, and more. Because I have an affinity for apps that do one thing well, currently all these “text-based” things are handled by unique apps:
- Editorial on the iPad and Byword on the iPhone for all my in-progress articles;
- OmniFocus for all my to-do items;
- Scratch for quick, disposable notes;
- Day One for all my journaling; and
- Simplenote for all my ideas and other miscellany.
However, I could consolidate them all into just one app if I had to. And that app would be Simplenote. The reason I’d choose Simplenote is because it’s a quick, easy-to-use app with great search and it has fast, reliable sync.
Today we find a significant update to Simplenote on iOS as well as a brand-new, native Simplenote app for the Mac.
These huge updates to Simplenote came as a bit of a surprise to me. When Simperium, the Simplenote development team, was acquired by Automattic, I was hopeful yet also had concerns that the future of Simplenote was in question. The announcement stated that Automattic founder, Matt Mullenweg, was a fan of Simplenote and had plans to keep its development, but that’s not always how things pan out after an acquisition.
Fortunately, I was wrong. And today we see one of the best updates to Simplenote yet.
Simplenote on iOS
The new iOS 7 version of Simplenote for the iPhone and iPad is even more simple (if that were possible) than its predecessor.
From a feature standpoint, what’s new about new Simplenotes is more like a list of what’s gone from the previous version.
In the previous version of Simplenote there was a modicum of preferences that allowed you to adjust a handful of options. Such as how your “timeline” list of notes was sorted, what font size you wanted for reading and editing a note’s text, and more.
However, in the new Simplenote, those options are all gone save one: the option for your list of notes to show a preview of text under each title or not.
In one of the early iOS builds I tested, the preference for condensing the note list wasn’t even there. Fortunately, the developers were willing to be persuaded to add back in this preference which I consider essential.
The option to sport a collapsed notes list is huge for how I use Simplenote. Since I usually have around 10 active notes going at any given time, I love being able to see all of them at a glance when I open Simplenote on my iPhone.
I have no doubt that other preferences will slowly be added back in. But this initial purging marks the beginning of the next generation for Simplenote.
In the iOS apps, the most significant change you’ll see right away is Simplenote’s new typeface: Source Sans Pro. Other than the many refinements to several current features (such as sharing and version history) almost all of the biggest changes are under the hood. In fact, iOS apps have been re-written from the ground up in order to lay a new foundation for future iteration and evolution.
Tom Witkin, who also went to work for Automattic a few months back and is now one of the Automattic team members working on Simplenote, said to me that their general thinking throughout the entire Simplenote design process has been “to create a great platform to build Simplenote upon going forward.”
For an app with simple in the name, I’m delighted to see that it’s staying true to its nature. While I do miss a few of my legacy features, after a few weeks with the betas, I would not go back to the old version. The app feels faster, more professional, more modern, and more refined. Everything the new Simplenote does, it does very well.
Search itself remains as great as ever. Simplenote’s search has always been second to none, and it continues to be one of the app’s finest features. I use it often, and it’s one of the primary reasons I chose to stay with Simplenote when looking into alternatives (as mentioned above). I can’t say how glad I am that search in Simplenote continues to be a top-priority for the developers.
In the new Simplenote, search has seen some nice design improvements that makes it a more polished and refined experience. When searching a term, the list of notes is pared down in real time to only those with that term in the title or the body text. If the term exists in the title, that word gets set in blue text. Tapping on a note from the search results takes you to the first result of that term within the note’s body text, and that term is highlighted in a blue rounded rectangle. Arrow buttons at the bottom-right in the note’s toolbar take you to the next and previous instances of the term, and next to those arrows you’re told how many total instances of the search term there are in the current note.
If you’re familiar with search in Simplenote, the overall experience is more or less the same. What’s new is primarily the above mentioned design details (the blue treatment on the words and the better highlighting within a note). But these are details that make the searching experience easier and more efficient.
What used to be called Sharing is now called Collaboration. This works on the Mac and iOS versions of Simplenote.
You collaborate a note with someone by adding their email address as a tag to your note. If you add the email address associated with that person’s Simplenote account then the shared note shows up in your collaborator’s Simplenote list. If you add an email address that’s not associated with a Simplenote account, then that person will get an email and can either (a) log in to Simplenote if they have their Simplenote account associated with a different email, and the note will be added; or else (b) create an account.
In the new Simplenote app, there is no longer an icon letting you know which notes in your list you’re collaborating on. Which means if someone shares a note with me, then the only way I know it’s been shared is because I notice there’s a new note there that didn’t exist before.
Moreover, if someone shares a note with you, the only way to know who has shared it is by the email alert. For an incoming shared note, there are no tags with the originator’s email addresses, nor does their email appear in the “Collaborators” list.
I’d love to see the collaboration area improve even more, by (a) offering better information about who is collaborating on a note regardless of the originator, (b) giving me the option to accept or decline incoming shared notes; and (c) some sort of marker letting me know a note in the list is shared.
Also, I see some options for pro features here, such as a list of trusted collaborators whose notes automatically get added to my list (first assuming Simplenote added the ability to accept/decline incoming shared notes), push notification options for new shared notes and when updates to a note are synced, and better visibility into the changes of a note when peering back at the note’s history. Also it’d be nice to add more email address to my Simplenote account (similar to how you can have several iMessage IDs).
Additional Tidbits Regarding New / Updated Features
As mentioned above, the default typeface is no longer Helvetica. Simplenote now uses Source Sans Pro for the note list and note body text. Though, as you can clearly see in the above screenshot, the settings pane still uses Helvetica.
Simplenote on iOS now auto-completes unordered bullet lists when you start a list and continue it by tapping the return button.
Publishing your note to a URL (so you can make that note’s contents public to anyone you like) has a much nicer in-app interface, and an updated look to the Simplenote website is in the works as well.
When typing in a note on the iPhone version, the top navigation bar “minimizes” (a la Safari) when scrolling down in your note, and in landscape orientation, the nav bar disappears altogether when you scroll down. A nice touch.
The Pro subscription has been temporarily removed. For now, all Pro users will keep on getting their benefits (no API sync limit, Dropbox syncing, etc.) while the Simplenote guys figure out what to do next with the Pro subscription model.
Gesture navigations: On the iPhone you can swipe left-to-right on a note to return to the note list. On the iPad, you can “pinch” the note closed.
On the iPad there is no longer the 2-column view that sports the list of notes on the left and the text on the right. There is only one view at a time: your list of notes or else the note you’re viewing/editing. I prefer this “simplified” viewport setup because it often saves me an extra tap, since I usually prefer to view my notes in the iPad in fullscreen mode anyway. Now, they always are.
Simplenote on Mac
For the past several weeks that I’ve been testing the new Simplenote apps, I’ve eschewed my regular use of nvALT to give my full attention to the Simplenote Mac app.
Some things I like about it are its clean and classy design that feels very open and yet not wasteful. Also it features full integration with all the Simplenote features (obviously).
However, there is no autocompletion of any syntax such as unordered lists, there is very little keyboard navigation — CMD+F for search and CMD+N for a new note. Though I’m told that the basic syntax completion is planned for a future release.
Since nvALT now uses the new Simplenote API (the same API that the native Simplenote Mac app uses), as someone who’s grown used to the keyboard-friendly features of nvALT I see no advantage of switching to the Simplenote Mac app unless you make heavy use of tags, collaboration, or you prefer the design.
The new Simplenote apps are free. The Mac app is available only in the Mac App Store, and the iOS apps are, obviously, only available in the iOS App Store.
While there are a lot of things I use my iPhone for — email, text messaging, Twitter, Instapaper, RSS, taking photos and videos, journaling, to-do list managing, music listening, and more — the one thing I would likely miss the most is the ability to take notes, make lists, write ideas, and have those all in sync with my Mac and iPad. Which is why Simplenote continues to be one of my favorite and most-used apps.
Your iPhone and iPad have never looked so fresh and different. The new look and feel of iOS 7 is the most significant design change since the toggle buttons went from rounded rectangles to circles.
With so much new, I wanted to focus on a handful of the smaller, delightful details.
The Lock Screen
From a purely aesthetic standpoint, I find the design of the Lock screen to be wonderful. I love the open, airy feel and how you can swipe from anywhere on the Lock screen to unlock your iPhone.
If you use a passcode lock, the Pin Pad slides over from the left side of the display. It’s a nice touch, and I bring it up because for future 5s owners, this is something you won’t be seeing very often come Friday.
And one more cool little detail of the Lock screen is that if you’ve snoozed an alarm or set a timer, the Lock screen shows the time remaining.
Launching / Exiting Apps
When you open an app, it expands from the app icon’s location on the Home screen to fill the display. When you exit an app, it minimizes back into the icon.
The Clock App’s Icon
If you look at the icon for the Clock app, you’ll notice that not only does it now show the correct time, even the second hand moves just like an analog clock.
The Music App
When you are looking at an album or playlist list and the currently playing song is in view, an “EQ” graphic is animated to the left of the song that’s now playing.
Your entire iTunes music collection (of songs you’ve purchased from the iTunes music store) is now listed in the Music app. And you can now stream and download any song in your iTunes library even if it’s not downloaded to your iPhone.
Turning your iPhone into Landscape mode to see the new Cover Flow design shows a thumbnail grid of album covers.
If ever there was a case where you shouldn’t judge an app by its icon, this is it. Safari in iOS 7 has the worst of the new icons, yet it is my favorite new app. In it are a slew of changes and improvements to the graphics, design, and functionality.
Reader mode: The look of Safari’s Reader mode is much improved compared to iOS 6. It’s cleaner and ties in with the overall Helvetica-gushing design aesthetic of iOS 7.
Tap the three-line “paragraph” icon that’s in the left of the Address bar and a sheet slides down over the website you’re on presenting you with a reader friendly text-view.
If you see no icon, then Safari doesn’t know how to parse the text, or it doesn’t think there’s text worth parsing.
Minimizing Chrome: When you scroll down on a web page you’ll see how Safari’s chrome minimizes: the address bar gets smaller and the icon tool bar on the bottom disappears altogether.
And when viewing a webpage in landscape orientation, Safari will go into full-screen mode with all the chrome disappearing — even the status bar — in order to allow as much vertical space as possible.
Tapping the bottom of the screen will bring up the bottom tool bar.
There are many, many more design changes and improvements to Mobile Safari. Overall, the updates to this app are just fantastic. Well done, Mobile Safari team.
You’ll notice this right away the first time you scroll an iMessage / SMS conversation: the chat bubbles are slightly springy and bouncy, moving as you scroll the conversation.
I love the use of the circle picture avatars in group message threads. And if no picture is attached to a contact, then the iPhone uses their initials as their “avatar” instead.
And, something else you may not know but which is very awesome: swipe from right to left in a Messages conversation to view the individual timestamps of each sent and received message.
This isn’t a “small” detail by any means — it’s one of the headlining features in iOS 7. But it’s one of my favorite additions to iOS. I love having the quick access to toggle certain settings (such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and more), and it’s very helpful to be able to launch certain apps from anywhere in the phone, even the Lock screen.
For example, when I’m brewing my morning cup of AeroPress’d coffee, I can get to the stopwatch with just a swipe up from the Home screen and then a tap to the Clock app.
Also, if you look closely, the on/off button on the flashlight icon toggles up and down as you toggle the actual switch in Control Center.
The Today view learns about your commuting habits and gives you information about how far away you are from your next destination. Also, it shows the natural language summary of your day today and tomorrow with weather, appointments, etc.
Checking the Today summary of my day has become part of my morning routine. Notification Center can be called from the Lock screen, so I simply tap the Home button, then swipe down from the top of the screen to see a brief overview of what the weather is going to be and what (if any) appointments I have today.
Scanning in an iTunes gift card
Launch the App Store app, scroll to the bottom of the Featured page, then tap on “Redeem.” Then…
Delight is in the Details
I’ve been running iOS 7 on my iPhone since the day it was first announced. It is a stark contrast to what we’ve been so familiar with on the iPhone and iPad, but it quickly grows on you. And all of these little details that are sprinkled throughout iOS 7 — some obvious, some not so obvious — just go to show that even when doing a major overhaul of their most popular operating system, Apple still takes time to sweat the details and add in those little design decisions which surprise and delight.
Today, the OmniFocus app for iPhone gets a huge redesign for iOS 7.
The redesign is two-fold. For one, it’s a complete re-skinning of the app’s look and feel, with a swing of the pendulum deep into iOS 7 territory. Colors and thin weights of Helvetica abound in the new OmniFocus.
The second element of the redesign is the layout and overall UI — it too gets a massive overhaul. The app’s “home” page has been completely re-organized. Gone is the standard list view, and in its stead is a more grid-based layout.
I have been using this new OmniFocus for about a week and it’s a mixed bag for me. While there are many great things about it, a few things just don’t sit right. I am a fan of the updated layout and much of the new design aesthetic. And I love that the new look fits right in with iOS 7. But, again, there are a few bits and pieces of the design that cause me to pause when using the app.
Though OmniFocus sits on my iPhone’s first Home screen, it’s not an app I spend a lot of time in. I mostly open it when I’m out and about to either quickly add an item or to check items off from a list.
When it comes to checking items off, you could say the new app is a bit more friendly to right-handed use. The task checkoff boxes (which are now circles) are on the right side of the screen instead of the left, making it a bit easier to reach those tap targets.
The project and context list view has been slightly updated. Now when viewing your list of Projects or Context, under the title of each project/context sits a row of dots signifying the number of tasks still remaining and if any of them are overdue or due soon.
Like before, a quick entry button for adding a new task from anywhere is always available in the bottom right. Unlike before, the quick entry button is now the only thing at the bottom of the screen. The bottom toolbar is now gone, and so the quick entry button simply hovers.
Adding a New Task
For the most part, the item detail view really just doesn’t sit right for me. The previous version, though outdated in style, had a clear visual hierarchy and clarity to it. The new version feels lost in the monotones and subtle tones.
The design element I like the least is the date and time picker for setting when a task is due and when the task is available. Now, to be fair, OmniFocus is using the iOS 7 default date/time picker. And, unfortunately, I think the default date/time picker is one of the turds of iOS 7.
In the previous OmniFocus for iPhone, when you selected the start/due date(s), a whole new screen would slide up. In the new version, when you tap the “Due” column, the date picker slides into view along with a grid of buttons for quickly going to a predefined timeframe (such as setting the item as being due today, 1 day from now, 1 week, 1 month, or 1 year).
An item’s start date is now called “Defer Until.” Tapping the Defer column gives the same animation as setting the Due date. One cool thing about setting the defer date is there is a button for “Later” and it selects a random time in the future, usually 6-8 weeks out.
While I do think the new layout and experience design is superior to the old version, I miss the easily defined hierarchy. I don’t know the answer here, but I do know that the Omni Group will be working to refine their app. And perhaps I’ll get used to it.
Something new and clever is that when adding a task there is a “Save+” button. Tap that after you’ve entered in a new to-do item and the current view sort of falls down off the screen and a new “card” is then ready to go for a new item. If you have several tasks to enter at once, this is a great time saver.
The iOS 7 Transition
As I stated above, OmniFocus 2 has a lot of great new design and layout elements with a few things that still need work.
The transition to the new iOS 7-esque look and feel won’t be an easy one. For a while, we’re going to see a lot of apps that look and feel very similar to one another. With iOS 7 Apple completely re-wrote the app design language. It is going to take some time for 3rd-party devs begin to get more ideas and more comfort to take risks, try new designs, and innovate in this new space.
By this time next year, if not sooner, I expect that we’ll be seeing a much broader range of mature designs from 3rd-party developers (and from Apple themselves). App designs that feel at home on iOS 7 while also feeling unique, distinct, and full of personality.
Reeder 2. It’s here, it’s a universal app, it costs $5, and it’s darn awesome.
Like many of you, I’ve been using Reeder for quite a while. It was over 3 years ago that I quibbled about the iPhone’s lack of a world class feed reader:
Tweetie and Instapaper are two classy apps. They are easy to read from, easy to get around in, and a ton of fun. But tweeting and reading things later should not be the only place where all the action is. I would love to see a top-notch, Tweetie-level, RSS reader for the iPhone. [...]
There are tons of nerds who were using Twitter way before Ashton was and who have been riding the RSS train for years and years. And since nerds are the pickiest of all when it comes to usability and interface design, they are the ones most in need of a great feed reader app for their iPhone.
I wrote the above back when the 3GS was the latest iPhone and the iPad was brand new. Of the RSS apps available at that time my favorite was Reeder. Soon after I wrote that article, a significant update to Reeder shipped which improved upon nearly every little thing in the app. Then, Reeder for iPhone got another significant update a year and a half ago during WWDC 2012.
Today’s new version of Reeder continues its journey of getting better and more refined while staying clever and familiar. Moreover, today brings a huge update to Reeder for iPad — an update we’ve been holding our breath for ever since the iPhone app’s 2012 update.
For the past several weeks I’ve been using the new versions of Reeder on my iPhone and iPad and I’ve found them to be wonderful.
There are many parallels when you consider the journeys of visual design between Reeder and OS X. The very first version of Reeder featured a bit more visual fluttery stuff than necessary. But each subsequent version has seen a bit of refinement until now we have a very clean design. And, like OS X, one thing Reeder has not traded in is its personality and whimsy.
No other feed reading app on my iPhone or iPad has the level of speed, polish, and visual delight that Reeder does.
Reeder continues to works with many of the numerous RSS syncing services, including my personal favorite, Feed Wrangler. And what’s great is that this new version of Reeder has added support for Feed Wrangler’s Smart Streams. Yay! (Though I do wish Reeder would list Smart Streams at the top of my feed list instead of the bottom.)
You can download the universal app now for just 5 bucks on the App Store.
Today, Agenda 4 is out. It’s a calendar app for the iPhone and it’s awesome.
The core of Agenda is its gesture-based navigation — something that has gone pretty much unchanged since version 1.0. This navigation style makes it so easy to quickly get between the different calendar views. And once iOS 7 makes its debut this fall, we’ll be pining for gesture-based navigation even more.
Agenda’s “left-most” calendar view shows a high-level look, displaying a traditional calendar view with visibility into 6 months at a time. The “center” view is a one-month calendar with view of today’s events. The right-most view is a running list of all your events in chronological order, with dividers separating each day.
My preferred calendar view is the right-most pane in Agenda: the running list. At a glance I can usually see a quick overview of what I’ve got going on today, tomorrow, and maybe even the next day. And I can quickly scroll down the list to see future events, or scroll up the list to see past events.
But, when setting up an appointment, my visual-thinking brain usually wants to see on a traditional calendar where a date lands. Which is why I love that I can quickly swipe over to the month view and see a particular date, or range of dates, in context to the week and month they’re in.
What’s new in Agenda 4?
I’m glad you asked. For one, the app has a brand-new icon and a fresh coat of interior paint. Giving it a nice iOS 7 vibe that will make it feel right at home this fall.
Also new are some options for how you can create new events. In the settings pane you can chose your preferred method for entering a new event. Agenda gives you 4 options:
- The new “Agenda Mini” pane which lets you type in the name of an event and then quickly select a start and stop time.
- The Agenda expanded pane which is an improved version of Agenda’s traditional event creation pane. This view lets you pick different alarm times, add notes, adjust which calendar the event belongs to, and more.
- The default iOS event entry card.
- And a text box which you can type in natural language and then send to Fantastical. Using URL-schemes, your text is opened in Fantastical, you can then adjust if you need to, and once the event is added you’re sent back to Agenda 4.
At first consideration, all these event entry options may seem like overkill. But a large part of what makes or breaks a calendar app for people is how it handles event creation. Everyone has different need and different taste when it comes to viewing their calendar and adding events.
I for one never liked Agenda’s previous event creation view. Which is why I would often use Siri or Fantastical to create a new event.
However, the new “Agenda Mini” pane for creating a new event is excellent. Since almost all of my events exist on just one calendar, and a default alarm of 15-minutes works well for me, this quick-entry pane is a breeze to use.
Agenda 4 is two bucks in the App Store, and is a paid upgrade for existing Agenda users.
This app has been my primary iPhone calendar app since the day it launched as a 1.0 back in the summer of 2011, and it just keeps getting better. Which is why, two years later, it continues its reign as the calendar app sitting on my home screen.
Byword on the Mac is one of the three apps in my writing workflow toolkit — working alongside nvALT and MarsEdit, it is my go-to writing app for anything longer than a few sentences.
And today Byword 2 is out for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
When Byword for iOS first shipped about a year ago I wrote a review of the 3-app suite, and my thoughts regarding the Byword suite still stand: it’s a glorious set of applications that are feature rich and delightfully designed.
On iPhone and iPad, the 2.0 update rocks some nice visual enhancements that really make it the app easier and more enjoyable to use than before. And that’s saying quite a bit since Byword was a handsome app to begin with. Additionally the iOS apps have some stellar improvements to document syncing for the iOS apps which include better offline support, the ability to move files to different folders (you can even move a document that’s in Dropbox to iCloud, and vice versa), and a clever approach to conflict resolution.
Byword can quickly search through the title and contents of hundreds and hundreds of notes. And with the aforementioned improvements to the design and syncing features, it’s fair to say that Byword on iOS now makes an even more compelling option to those looking for a Dropbox-syncing note app.
The paramount feature of Byword 2 is that you can now use the app to publish directly to your site. If this is a feature that interest you, it’s a $4.99 in-app purchase. I can testify that publishing to WordPress works quite well, though I would like to see better support for assigning tags and categories.
To give Byword access to your weblog, you select Publish from the Byword menu and then enter your site’s credentials. Then, when you’re done with an article and are ready to publish you can either select “Publish” from the File menu or you can click the Publish button that presents itself when you’re in Markdown Preview mode.
Once you hit Publish on an article, a popover window appears where you can then set the metadata for your article. For WordPress this includes title, slug, tags, categories, and even custom fields.
My only quibble here is that Byword doesn’t pre-load the categories of my site and allow me to select from a dropdown list or something — you need to manually type in the name of each category — and there is no auto-complete for previously used categories. Which means you must remember and then type without error the names of the categories you wish to publish within.
Needless to say, I’m really excited about all the updates to Byword. Since I type all of my long-form articles within Byword, it’ll be nice to circumvent my copy-and-paste-to-MarsEdit routine and publish right from Byword itself.
Recently, Backblaze released an iPhone app for accessing all the files from your computer which have been backed up. I’ve often wished there were an iOS app available so I could view and access my Backblaze data — a great way to get at non-Dropbox’d files when I’m away from my computer. Alas, the Backblaze app leaves some things to be desired.
When you launch the app you’re prompted to sign in with your Backblaze account info. You then select the computer whose data you want to view, enter the encryption key for that computer, and you’re in. You now have full access to every file which Backblaze has backed up from your computer.
Note that every time you leave the app and come back you’ll have to re-enter your encryption key and then re-navigate through the file system. I very much appreciate the security this brings, but it’d be nice if I could set a timer for how long I want the app to wait before re-asking for my encryption password.
Since Backblaze backs up regularly in the background, you’re theoretically looking at exactly what’s on your computer (or nearly identical). For situations where you just need to get at a particular file, this is a much quicker and easier way than screen sharing or remoting back to your Mac.
When you navigate to a file, you can then download it to your iPhone. From there you’re able to preview it, and, through the “open in” button, you can save it to Dropbox, open it in another app, send it as an email attachment, etc.
Unfortunately, if you download a file type the iPhone doesn’t natively recognize (such as .zip files), you cannot do anything with the file. For example: though I can download a zip file to my iPhone, tapping that file gives me an error dialog box. And without being able to preview the document Backblaze doesn’t show me the “open in” options. Thus, I cannot even email the zip file from my Backblaze backup.
This to me is the app’s biggest shortcoming. The advantage of getting at my Backblaze data is that it gives me the opportunity to find and then do something with virtually any file that’s on my Mac. But being limited to files which my iPhone can natively handle severely limits the usefulness of the Backblaze app.
Shortcomings aside, I’m glad Backblaze has shipped something. And I trust that, like the Backblaze service itself, the app will only get better over time.
Riposte is an iPhone app for App.net (ADN). It first launched in January this year and quickly became my personal favorite ADN app. In March, Riposte got even better when it brought support for private messages (individual and group) as well as granular control over push notifications (meaning you can select what you want to get a push notification for).
Today, Riposte 1.2 is available and brings a handful of new features and improvements, as well as a host of new “Pro” features.
The Pro features include customizing the app using one of several new typefaces, including Avenir; an auto-saving of drafts; a Private Messages quickview button; auto dark and light mode depending on time of day; a 3-finger gesture to control brightness; option to hide the Status Bar; and more. These features become available after a $5 in-app purchase.
Riposte is now a free app, but it hasn’t always been. When it first launched it was a $5 app, and about 2 months later it went free. If, like me, you were one of the users who bought Riposte when it first launched, to get the new pro features you’re now looking at a $10 app. But Riposte is one of the premier iPhone apps for ADN — it is fast, feature rich, packed to the rafters with clever and helpful details, and is on an active development cycle. Even if you paid full price when it first came out and now chose also to upgrade the Pro features, I consider $10 to be a fair price for Riposte.
Riposte doesn’t need the Pro features to be a great app — it already handles the core functionality of ADN with aplomb.
When Riposte first shipped, the two things which most stuck out to me were its inclusion of a 1Password shortcut button on the login screen, and its use of the hamburger / basement menu design. Though some advocate against this sort of navigational design, I think it’s great when used in a good setting. And for an app such as Riposte it especially makes sense because the primary view is just the unified timeline.
A few months after its initial release, Riposte 1.1 came with support for Private Messages and granular settings for push notifications. The granular push notification setting means you can enable or disable push notifications for many different types of interactions — I like this because it means I can choose to only get a notification when someone sends me a Private Message.
Private Messaging in Riposte is great. The app supports individual chats or group chats, and since ADN doesn’t require following for PMs, anyone can send and be a part of a private message. It’s more like a private reply versus a public reply. I’m thinking that ADN group messaging will be the new Glassboard for me this year at WWDC.
One of Riposte’s new Pro features is the option to enable a quickview button for private messages. This button hovers at the bottom-left of the screen and offers one-tap access to the messages pane from just about anywhere in the app (as opposed to having to drill down to the Menu screen to switch to the Private Messages view).
If you have any unread PMs, the icon will be filled in with blue; otherwise it will be more transparent.
Similarly, if you have the Full Screen mode enabled (as shown above — a setting you can toggle under Riposte’s General Settings), the button for creating a new post hovers in the bottom-right corner of the screen at all times. By turning on the Full Screen mode, the common “back” button (for returning to previous screens if you’ve drilled down into a conversation view or a web page) is gone.
Riposte gets past the missing “back” button by using a swipe-left-to-right gesture for going back. Pretty much from any screen you are in, swiping left to right will take you back one level.
This has become one of those gestures I find myself using in many other apps — similar to how I was always trying pull to refresh in apps that didn’t even support it, I’ve begun swiping right to go back in apps that don’t support it.
Jared Sinclair, one of the developers of Riposte, said:
We take push/pop transitions at face value: swiping to go back is like pulling yourself back to where you were before. If I can’t picture an app as a set of cards laid out in a grid on a table, I can’t understand it.
It’s clear the Riposte guys thoughtfully implemented this swipe gesture. For example: on the screen for composing a new post, swiping left-to-right or right-to-left moves the cursor one character respectively. Thus there is a “Cancel” button on the post compose screen for going back to where you were.
There are several other swipe gestures, such as two-finger swiping up/down to switch between light and dark mode, or two-finger left-to-right swipe to get back to the root Stream view.
And speaking of swipe gestures, one of the gestures included in the Pro feature is a 3-finger brightness control. While using the beta of Riposte 1.2, I showed this brightness control shortcut to my wife, and she asked why that wasn’t something you could do in every app. I agree (sort of).
In the iPhone’s Settings there are a handful of toggles buried too many taps deep, and I wish it’d be easier to get to them quickly. Brightness control is one of those, and while I don’t know that a universal iOS gesture of 3-finger swipe is the answer, I like that Riposte guys at least did something.
Preeminent among the Pro features in Riposte 1.2 is the option for different typefaces.
There are a total of 9 unique typefaces (a combination of iOS stock and free options, including Avenir, Exo, Gill, Signika, Source Sans Pro, and others). Some faces have multiple weights, making a total of 14 different font options.
Of the options, Avenir and Signika are my two favorites — I’ve been using Avenir at the Extra Small size.
I asked the Riposte guys why they were charging for a Pro update that didn’t include licensed typefaces such as Proxima Nova, Whitney, or Chaparral Pro. Their reply was that the typefaces they like are a little too expensive to license until they see what sales are like for the Pro update. Their intention with the Pro upgrade is for it to be the locus of future features, so it will only get better.
If I were in their shoes, I suspect I would make the same choice. Licensing a typeface for use in an iOS app is not cheap — costing in the thousands of dollars — and the ADN app market is still relatively small. Hopefully Riposte will be successful enough to both sustain its development and warrant the licensing of some elite faces like we’ve come accustomed to in the more mainstream apps like Instapaper and Twitterrific.
Another Pro feature of Riposte is the auto-saving of any un-published post. You can view all your drafts by tapping the paper icon in the compose view.
Basically, when you cancel a post that has text in it (or if you quit the app), a draft is automatically created for you. It means no lost posts and not having to tap an “are you sure you want to cancel” button every time.
But it also means you end up with a lot of draft posts that should just go in the trash. After 2 weeks using the beta I had about 12 draft posts I didn’t want. A swipe and delete on each of them cleared them out before I wrote a few better drafts in order to stage the screenshot you see above.
ADN has become far more than just an ad-free Twitter replacement. And eventually the service will reach a point where any one single client cannot (or at least should not) handle all the functionality of ADN. But at the moment, for the core functionality of ADN as a social network, Riposte handles everything I am most commonly using with flying colors. It has become one of my favorite and most-used Home screen apps.
It’s impressive to me just how far and how fast this app has come in the short amount of time since its release. I am, as usual, looking forward to what’s in store for Riposte and for ADN in the days to come.
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Free App.net Invitations
And, of course, no ADN-related article would be complete without some free invites, courtesy of the Riposte developers and the App.net team. If you want to join ADN, click here to sign up for free (while invites last).
Note, when you join ADN your new account will automatically be following me (@shawnblanc). Free accounts can only follow up to 40 people, so feel free to unfollow me if you want.
The Origami Workstation from Incase is little more than a folding, rubberized board that wraps around an Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
It has two tabs with velcro that flip underneath and strap to the underside when not in use. Or they fold towards one another to form a triangle stand when you want to prop your iPad up to write. The Workstation uses a half-circle plastic clip that is the exact size for securing the round, battery-holding tube area of the Apple Bluetooth keyboard.
Therefore this case doesn’t work with any keyboard other than Apple’s.
Fortunately, Apple’s Bluetooth keyboard is excellent. It’s sturdy, well built, and capable of controlling the iPad’s volume, brightness, and media playback.
There are, however, other iPad-specific keyboards (such as Amazon’s Basics) that have additional iOS-specific buttons which can return you to the Home screen, or take you to the Spotlight page. While these iPad-specific keyboards have some cool features, I’ve yet to try one that felt better for typing on than Apple’s keyboard. Giving up quality and size for a couple neat buttons is not a fair tradeoff.
Keyboards aside, there are many other reasons I like the Origami Workstation.
The Workstation’s best feature is that it doesn’t permanently affix itself to my iPad. Most of my iPad usage is comprised of non-typing activities like reading iBooks, Instapaper, RSS feeds, surfing the Web, etc. For those activities, the plain iPad is plenty — there is no need for an external keyboard (especially not one that’s attached.)
Well, why not just use the iPad’s smart cover, and carry around the keyboard by itself? I’m glad you asked. For one the Workstation allows me to use the iPad with keyboard on my lap (for times I’m sitting in a conference room or an airport terminal). Secondly, the Workstation offers a sturdier support for the iPad than the Smart Cover. Thus allowing me to press the Home button and navigate the touch screen without using two hands to keep the iPad from tipping over. And if you prefer to type with the iPad in portrait mode, you can do that no problem.
Another great benefit of the Workstation is that it’s device agnostic and future proof. It works perfectly with an iPad 1, 2, 3, 4, iPad mini, or even an iPhone. And it will work with whatever else comes next so long as it isn’t any thicker than an inch.
My Origami Workstation has seen nearly 18 months of use on the road, in coffee shops, and at the kitchen table. It continues to be the ideal typing companion to my iPad.
When writing long form on the iPad, I write almost exclusively in Writing Kit. It’s an app full of great features and options without being overly complicated.
I first fell in love with Writing Kit while writing Diary of an iPad 3 Owner. I wrote that article exclusively on the iPad and exclusively in Writing Kit. And I’ve been writing in the app ever since.
Writing Kit is a Dropbox-syncing, markdown-supporting, iOS text editor for writers. You can find it on the App Store for just 5 bucks.
Unlike some apps, Writing Kit gives me visibility into my entire Dropbox folder hierarchy. But I keep it pointed at my “Writing” folder because this is the folder where I have any and all articles that are in progress. This folder differs from my Simplenote database in that these articles have moved past the “idea” phase and are actually in progress. Currently I have 3 files in this folder, one of them being this Writing Kit review. After publishing, I move the document to a “Written” folder.
My biggest complaint against Writing Kit used to be its poor Dropbox integration. Writing Kit used to store a copy of its documents locally on the iPad and then would upload a copy of them to Dropbox whenever the user manually initiated a sync. That wasn’t an ideal syncing setup and led to conflicted copies on occasion.
However, Dropbox integration was completely rewritten a few versions ago and has since become significantly more reliable. The new Dropbox sync gives us access to our entire Dropbox folder hierarchy, and files are saved directly to Dropbox. And you no longer have to save manually (though you still can if you want) — Writing Kit saves your work automatically in the background while you are typing. Also, when you exit the app, your article is uploaded and saved in the background as well. I haven’t lost a single word to sync since Writing Kit’s Dropbox support was rewritten.
Like the small handful of other Dropbox-enabled iOS text editors out there, Writing Kit also has its own Markdown-friendly custom keyboard row, and it integrates with TextExpander. But this app is not like all the others. There are a handful of things that set Writing Kit apart for me. Specifically: (a) the fine-grained control of fonts and type, (b) an in-app Web Browser, and (c) some clever gestures support. The more I use it, the more I enjoy using it.
Spitting in the proverbial wind of iA Writer, Writing Kit gives extremely granular controls over the font you choose to type with. A list of 15 “popular fonts” sits just above another list that gives you access to every single typeface that ships with iOS. Against your better judgment, you could type in Marker Felt or Papyrus if you wanted to — just don’t get caught. I usually type in Inconsolata, but have recently switched to Avenir Book.
Additionally, you have control over font size, line height, and several pre-defined color schemes (including the light and dark Solarized schemes). I use the Default theme, which is just black text on a white background. And I keep the line height somewhat generous.
The In-App Browser
Tap the upper-right compass icon and up pops a full-fledged Web browser. In the browser’s “omni bar” you can type the URL of a page you want to visit or simply type a search term to conduct a search via DuckDuckGo.
While browsing and researching, you can add and tag bookmarks locally in Writing Kit’s browser by tapping the “plus” icon. Unfortunately these bookmarks do not sync with Writing Kit on the iPhone (nor to any app on the Mac).
For bookmarking I prefer to use Pinboard. Writing Kit does support Pinboard, but it’s somewhat difficult to find and it isn’t exactly the greatest integration of all time. Tap the Bookmark icon and then tap the “Local Bookmarks” title badge. You’ll see an option to log in to Pinboard and/or Zootool. From there you get a mobile Web view of your Pinboard account which is, unfortunately, read only. So, in short, you can access your Pinboard bookmarks, but you cannot add any from Writing Kit.
However, Writing Kit does have fantastic Instapaper integration. You can view a nicely formatted view of your Instapaper queue, open those links in the browser, and you can send any web page you’re viewing into your Instapaper queue. (Gosh, I’d love to see this same type of polished integration with Pinboard.) Moreover, on any Web page, tap the “Text Only” button at the bottom and you get the mobilized view of the site, courtesy of Instapaper’s Mobilizer.
Now, presumably, with at least some of the websites you’re loading up in the browser you will want to link to within the article you’re writing. And this is one thing that makes the in-app browser so great versus switching back and forth with Safari.
When you’re on a Web page, tap the “share” icon in the lower right hand corner (it won’t be there if you have the cursor active in the Address Bar). From there you can choose to insert the URL of the current page into your text document. Tapping that option sends you back into your document with a new menu bar at the bottom of your screen, which gives you the option to either ignore the link or insert the link at the cursor point. Tapping the latter will place a fully formatted Markdown link using the title of the Web page and the URL.
If, however, you prefer to link your text after you’ve written the words you want to be hyperlinks, you can still highlight the words and then have Writing Kit wrap them in a Markdown format via the popover menu.
This text-document-to-browser integration is one of my favorite things of Writing Kit. I hope to see continued iteration and refinement here.
It seems that it’s always the little things that grab you and get you hooked. And it was the margin tap targets that first hooked me with Writing Kit.
Tapping on the left or right margin moves the cursor one character in the respective direction. If you’re writing with an external keyboard this isn’t that big of a deal, but when working with the iPad’s on-screen keyboard, having tappable margins is like a dream. Long have I wished Apple would implement this functionality into Mail.
There are additional gestures as well. Tap in the margins with two fingers and the cursor moves one word (instead of just one character) in the respective direction. Also, a two-finger swipe from right to left works as Undo, and 2-finger swipe from left to right works as Redo.
There are more gestures, and you can learn them all under the “i” icon for help, and then tap the “Gestures” cheat sheet.
Additional Unordered List of Miscellany
I’ll start with my biggest quibble: when creating a new document, Writing Kit gives you a seemingly nonsensical title. I don’t understand why not at least use the date/time stamp instead of some random string of numbers?
Update: Turns out this is a feature. Now that I know the “why” behind this, I can’t help but think it’s devilishly clever.
Terminology integration: tap a word, then tap “Replace” and you are sent to Terminology. You can then select a different word and Terminology will send it back to Writing Kit, replacing your original word.
The Markdown formatting keyboard row: It is present even when the external keyboard is active, thus giving one-tap access to link insertion, formatting, and more. The default has one-tap buttons for headers, bold and italic formatting, inserting links, images, code, and block quotes, and unordered and ordered lists. Swipe to the right and you get parentheses, brackets, quotes, and more.
When you tap on the bold formatting button, your text selection is wrapped in double asterisks for bold. If no text is selected, then Writing Kit generates the double asterisks with selected text in between ready for you type into. Tap the bold formatting button again and the double asterisks are removed. Clever.
Format selected text: Highlight any bit of text, and then tap a Markdown formatting button and that selected text will have the formatting applied. Be it bold, italics, code, or even a list.
TextExpander support: I already mentioned this above, but an app without TextExpander support is an app I’m not interested in.
Export: You can export your document as Markdown or as HTML to any number of other apps, but you can also send it as an attachment in an email or as inline text in an email. For example, once I’m done writing this review, I’ll email it as an attachment to my editor right from within the app. Won’t he be delighted?
Outline view: There is a dynamically-generated outline view that lists out the hierarchy of your document based on heading tags and links. I don’t use this often, but when I do need it I find it insanely helpful. Especially when writing multi-thousand-word articles on the iPad.
Inline link conversion: If you write your links as inline links, Writing Kit can then convert them all to reference links. Tap the “share” icon in the upper-left corner, then tap “Convert Inline Links to Refs”.
The icon: The icon, which was part of the 3.0 update, is both unique and gorgeous.
Quick Search: The in-app browser is not the only way to search the web. Tapping the magnifying glass icon in the upper-right brings up the Quick Search tool. And it’s not just for searching the document you’re in. This little magic box can also do many site-specific searches, calculations and more. You have to use it a few times to begin to understand its usefulness and cleverness.
Then, if you’ve drilled down into a site and you want to move over to the in-app browser, just tap the “full screen” icon and the page you’re on will open up in the browser.
My only quibble with the Quick Search is that it does not do find and replace.
Writing Kit is obviously one of the more full-featured writing apps out there. And I find its rich feature set to be comforting and useful. The app offers a simple enough view to qualify as a “distraction-free” writing environment, but also has enough bells and whistles that it’s great for getting work done.
Compared to many of my favorite apps that do “one thing well,” Writing Kit seems to be on a different end of the spectrum. But, on second thought, maybe it isn’t. Maybe Writing Kit does do one thing well. And that one thing is being an awesome text editor for writers.
It was the iPhone that convinced me to buy a better camera.
My son was born in February of 2012. Later in the year — some time after our summer vacation to the Colorado mountains — as I was looking through the photos we had of him, I realized I wasn’t giddy about hardly any of them.
There were many great snapshots of some very fond memories. But none of the images were of a quality where I wanted to print them out and frame them. They pretty much only looked good on the small screen of my iPhone.
That’s when I decided my iPhone shouldn’t bear the burden of being the best and only camera in the house.
I began researching mirrorless cameras looking for a rig I could easily take with me anywhere I went, and which cost under $1,000. I wanted the camera to have an Auto mode so I could just point and shoot if I wanted to, or so I could hand it to a family member to point and shoot with. But it also needed to have good manual modes so I could learn and grow into the manual controls as I learned more about the technical details of photography.
After 6 months shooting with the E-PL5, I continue to be impressed and pleased by the quality of the images this small and sturdy rig is capable of.
(Note: Click the images to zoom them.)
Though my skill behind the lens still leaves much to be desired, my slow-growing collection of great images has long since proven to me that getting a nice camera was a good idea. The photographs I’ve taken with the E-PL5 juxtapose themselves against my iPhone pics because the images from the E-PL5 are ones which look better when on a big screen or printed out and framed.
This isn’t something exclusive to the E-PL5, of course. Any decent camera with good sensor and quality glass will take some great shots. At $900 — the price for the E-PL5 body and the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 lens — I would be upset if this rig did’t produce some great images.
There are a few reasons I went with the E-PL5 instead of the many, many other options out there in the mirrorless category:
- I didn’t go with the RX-1 because its price tag is 3 times what my budget was.
- I didn’t go with any of the Sony NEX line because I wanted a better lens selection and smaller camera body.
- I didn’t go with the Panasonic GX-1 because I could afford a better camera if I could find one.
In short, the E-PL5 was the smallest camera I could find with the best possible sensor inside and most features.
As I’ll talk more about below, this camera is basically the guts of the E-M5 put inside a smaller body with a few less pro features on the outside. And that, my friends, is why I consider the E-PL5 to be one of the best-kept secrets in the Micro Four Thirds category.
Aside regarding the King of the M4/3 Hill, the OM-D E-M5
I didn’t want to write a review of the E-PL5 without at least a little bit of context and experience with some of the other offerings out there. So I rented the Olympus OM-D E-M5 along with the Olympus 45mm f/1.8 lens for a few weeks.
The E-M5 is widely regarded as the best Micro Four Thirds camera out there.
When I bought the E-PL5, it was so new to the market that I could hardly find any hands-on reviews. But what made it so special is the fact that its sensor and processor are the same as what is found in the E-M5. Because of all the great reviews I’d been reading about the E-M5, I felt confident buying the E-PL5 on blind faith, trusting that it would be able to perform admirably.
I rented the E-M5 to give myself some context for how the E-PL5 compares against the best M4/3 camera out there, and also to find out for sure if I had made the right choice in getting a smaller and cheaper camera with a few less features and controls.
The most significant differences between the E-M5 and the E-PL5 are the pro-level features the former has which the latter does not. The E-M5 has a built-in electronic viewfinder, two manual dial controls, and a slightly larger hand grip. The E-M5 is also weather proof (meaning you can take it out in the rain without fear of ruining it), while the E-PL5 is not.
On the inside, the E-M5 and E-PL5 are much more similar. They have the same 16MP sensor and image processor that made the E-M5 so famous. They both have in-body image stabilization (though the E-M5 has 5-axis IBIS, while the E-PL5 uses conventional 2-axis), and they both have a dust reduction system that silently vibrates the sensor each time you turn on the camera to help “fling” any dust which may be there.
In my usage and comparisons, the two cameras produced nearly identical images. In several situations I took images with both the E-M5 and E-PL5, even switching lenses so as to try and take the exact same image with both cameras. To my eye, the shots look like they’re from the same camera.
In my opinion, the advantages of the E-M5 over the E-PL5 are almost entirely in the bells and whistles and not in the end-product capabilities. For photographers who have used bigger DSLR rigs, or who really want a viewfinder, then the E-M5 will probably feel more comfortable. But for everyone else, the $400 you’ll save by buying the E-PL5 instead of the E-M5 is probably better spent on a nice lens.
With the Panasonic pancake lens attached, the E-PL5 is small enough to fit in my coat pocket, the glove box in my Jeep, or alongside my MacBook Air, iPad, and Moleskine inside my extra small Timbuk2 bag.
The build quality is excellent. The camera is sturdy but not heavy, weighing just 1 pound with the 20mm pancake lens and wrist strap attached (body only, the E-PL5 weighs a mere 12 ounces). And because of its smaller size and lack of a viewfinder, the E-PL5 doesn’t look too intimidating.
The humble appearance of the E-PL5 is one of its best features. With it I feel less like a “wannabe pro photographer” and more like a “casual photography enthusiast” when I have the camera out in public.
My goal with the E-PL5 wasn’t to get my toe in the waters of professional photography. I just wanted a high-quality camera nearby for when I would have otherwise reached for my iPhone.
Having a non-giant camera makes it far more likely that I will take it with me when I’m leaving the house and to actually use it while I’m out. Coat-pocketable means “it will get used” in this case. And isn’t that the whole point?
The E-PL5 does not have a built-in electronic viewfinder (EVF) — to frame your shots, you use the view screen.
For some people, this may be a deal breaker. What’s nice about having a viewfinder is that you can hide behind it, and also you can steady your camera a bit better by holding it up to your face. But in my few weeks with the E-M5 (which does have a viewfinder), I found myself using the E-M5′s view screen instead of its built-in EVF.
For me, sacrificing a viewfinder is worth the tradeoff because it means having a smaller camera body. However, since the E-PL5 supports add-ons via its hotshoe connection, you could buy the Olympus VF2 or VF3.
The View Screen
On the back of the camera is a 3-inch, tilting, LCD touch screen.
You can tap to focus, tap to adjust color settings, and more. There is a dial control “d-pad” placed just to the right of the screen which also evokes the menu and is used to navigate through all the levels of settings.
The screen isn’t stationary either — it flips out and can tilt.
I was worried about the fragility of the flip-out screen. But to my relief, the hinges are incredibly sturdy and well built. I am often taking shots with the camera held down near my waist, and it’s easy to just flip the screen up 90 degrees and look down into the view screen. In short, it moves easily, holds in place just fine, and is a considerably useful feature.
The quality of the display itself is excellent as well. Though Olympus does not say what the actual screen resolution is, they do say it’s a 3-inch diagonal screen with a 16:9 aspect of approximately 460,000 dots. If “dots” means “pixels,” then the view screen would have a resolution somewhere in the neighborhood of 904×507 pixels with a PPI density of 345. Now, the view screen is certainly nice, but it’s not that nice.
On Twitter, Milosz Bolechowski pointed out that the “dots” are likely referring to each of the 3 RBG dots in a single pixel. Which I agree is most likely the case. Meaning the 460,000 or so dots in the view screen equal approximately 153,333 pixels.
Thus, the view screen most likely has a resolution of 533×294 with a PPI density of 200.
To protect the screen, I bought one of these plastic screen covers. It’s sized for the NEX cameras, but it’s a near-perfect fit for the E-PL5 as well — I never even notice that it’s there. Highly recommended.
The E-PL5 comes with a small, removable hand grip. Without the grip attached, the camera has a bit more of a classic look to it, akin to the thin and simple rangefinder bodies of old.
But I can’t imagine not wanting to attach the grip. It adds hardly any size and makes the E-PL5 significantly easier to hold with one hand. When attached, the grip stays quite secure, as if it were built in as part of the camera body from the start.
Manual Dials and Shooting in Manual Mode
As expected, the E-PL5 has several different shooting modes: Auto, Program, Aperture-Priority, Shutter-Priority, and Manual. As well as Movie, Scene, and Art modes.
I mostly shoot in Aperture-Priority mode and am happy to let the camera pick the shutter speed for me in order to get the right exposure.
The Movie and Art modes allow you to choose an artsy filter to apply to your movie or photograph — it’s like having Instagram built in to your camera. I’ve never used these in real life (I prefer to edit my images in Lightroom 4), but here are two sample shots I took for this review: one using the Pin Hole filter and one using the Grainy Film filter. Both of these shots are the out of camera JPGs, but the E-PL5′s in-camera filters are applied to the RAW image file as well, so I could take remove them in Lightroom if I wanted.
What I most wish the E-PL5 had was a few dedicated manual dial controls. When shooting in Aperture-Priority Mode, Manual, or the like, having a few dials that give you quick and instant access to adjust the aperture, shutter, and/or ISO are very nice. The E-M5 had these dials and I found myself using them all the time.
On the E-PL5, when I’m shooting in Aperture-Priority mode (which is the most common setting for me), adjusting the aperture number requires a tap “up” on the menu D-Pad to highlight the aperture setting, and then a tap left or right in order to increase or decrease the aperture. Moreover, the D-Pad is pretty small (smaller than a Dime) and therefore is not easy to navigate. This is not nearly as nice or fast as having a dial that you can click left or right without having to lean back and look at the camera for a few seconds.
Battery life is absolutely fantastic. On the very first charge, after 4 days of shooting and about 500 images, it was low on battery. After that first charge I didn’t need to charge the battery for over 2.5 weeks, and that was with near daily use.
The camera seems to go forever. The battery is one thing I’ve never once worried about, nor have I been out shooting and had the battery die on me. If I know I’ll be using the camera a lot over the weekend or something then I’ll charge it up ahead of time.
The only thing I don’t like about the battery is that it comes with its own charging station. This means when traveling there is one more cable and trinket to pack. I’d prefer to be able to charge the battery by plugging a USB cable into the camera itself.
For what I know about low light performance, the E-PL5 performs wonderfully. Low-light images have very little noise, and can generally be doctored just fine in Lightroom.
With the default white balance settings, I’ve noticed that images straight out of the camera tend to have a bit of a warm tone to them, giving portraits a bit more orange-colored skin tone than is to my liking. This can be adjusted in the camera’s white balance settings to have a more “cool” tint to them, or the orange skin can be easily fixed in Lightroom.
The biggest downside of low light shooting is not the image quality, but the autofocus. The 20mm lens already has a tendency to hunt at times, and in low light situations you can sometimes wait 2 or 3 seconds for the autofocus to find a contrast point and snap the image.
There have only been a few low-light situations where the lighting was so dark that I was frustrated with the E-PL5′s ability to focus and snap a shot. One of those times was when we all went out to dinner for my dad’s 60th birthday. We were at a fancy steak restaurant where the lighting was extremely dim.
The E-PL5 comes with a flash that attaches via the hotshoe port on top, but I’ve never used it. In a setting like the steak restaurant, using the flash would have been rude; in most other settings the flash isn’t even necessary.
For most low-light settings (such as indoors in the evening), the camera does great with very little noise in the images.
Startup speed: From the time I press the power button to when the camera is ready to snap a picture, it’s less than 2 seconds.
The E-PL5 is usually up and ready to go before I even have the lens cap off. Which means if the Olympus is nearby, it’s actually faster for me to grab it, turn it on, and snap a shot than it is for me to pull my iPhone out of my pocket and launch the Camera app. Even when racing against the Lock Screen Camera app shortcut, the E-PL5 wins by about 1 second.
Shot-to-shot speed: If you want to manually shoot several shots in succession, in decent indoor light or better, the the E-PL5 takes just 1.5 seconds to autofocus, snap a picture, write to the card, and then be ready to focus again.
Autofocus speed: The Olympus is well known for its fast autofocus. As I mention below in the section on lenses, the autofocus on the Olympus 45mm lens is so fast it seems instantaneous; with the Panasonic 20mm the autofocus is a bit slower.
You can hold the shutter button halfway down to have the camera autofocus on either an area within the viewfinder grid, or the camera can automatically find a face and focus on the nearest eyeball. Then, pressing the shutter button all the way down snaps the image. But, if you want the camera to snap a photo as soon as it’s grabbed focus, you can press the shutter button all the way down right away and it will snap as soon as it has focus. In decent light, this is almost instantaneously.
Moreover, you can focus and shoot an image using the touchscreen. You can set the camera to tap to focus on any area of the screen, but you can also configure it to snap the shot as soon as it locks the focus.
Using the E-PL5′s touchscreen reminds me a lot of using the camera on my iPhone. The camera’s software is responsive, clever, and useful. Well done, Olympus.
The stock camera strap is lame. It’s not detachable, nor is it long enough to let the camera rest at a comfortable distance when over one shoulder and under my other arm.
DSPTCH makes some pretty awesome shoulder straps. I ordered one from them that I really like, but after a couple months of use I felt like I didn’t always want a shoulder strap attached. In fact, I often don’t — most of the time the camera is in my bag or in my jacket pocket and I’m not walking around with it around my shoulder. (Of course, now that summer is approaching, that may change.)
I probably should have ordered one of DSPTCH’s wrist straps which use the same clip that their shoulder straps use. This would have made it easy for me to swap out the shoulder strap and the wrist strap depending on my need. But the leather straps at Gordy’s were too cool to pass by. Whatchagonnado?
A Micro Four Thirds sensor has a crop ratio of 1/2. So, for example, a 20mm lens on a M4/3 rig is actually a 40mm equivalent when compared to a full-frame sensor. Which is why shooting with the 20mm as my daily glass is not as fishy as it sounds, because it’s just a bit bigger than shooting with a good ole 35mm lens.
I’ve used 3 of the most popular Micro Four Thirds lenses:
Panasonic 20/1.7 lens: This is the lens attached to my rig. Though this lens is certainly no slouch, perhaps it’s greatest advantage compared to the lenses below is its size. The pancake lens looks great on the small body of the E-PL5 and affords the rig to easily fit in coat pockets, etc.
The disadvantages of the 20mm is that because of its compact size it doesn’t grab quite as high-quality images as a “regular sized” lens. But, at least to my eyes, the difference is barely noticeable and the advantages in both size and cost far outweigh the very slight disadvantages in image quality.
Unless you know that you want a different lens, this is the one I would start with.
Panasonic 25/1.4 lens: Compared to the 20mm pancake, this 25mm produces higher quality images, has faster autofocus, and is capable of a better and creamier depth of field. But it’s also a larger piece of glass and it costs $150 more (so, obviously it had better take better images).
Though this is my favorite lens of the 3 I’ve tried, the size turned me off to the 25mm as my daily glass — it is too big to allow the camera to easily fit in my coat pocket. And the focal length is too similar to the 20mm to justify owning both lenses (as much as I would love to own them both). So I returned the 25mm and kept the 20mm.
Olympus 45/1.8 lens: This is the portrait lens of the Micro Four Thirds world. One thing Olympus lenses are known for is their lightning-fast auto focusing, and it’s true. This lens hunts far less than the 20mm, and its images are so clear and crisp.
If and when I decide to buy a second lens, it will likely be the 45mm. Compared to the 20mm pancake, the 45mm is not nearly as compact or attractive (seriously, a silver lens on a black body?). If the 45mm were my only lens, I know I’d be using the E-PL5 less often.
So far my editing workflow is simple and straightforward. I plug my camera’s SD card into my MacBook Air, import the photos into Lightroom 4, and then make some minor edits using one of VSCO’s Film packs.
During one of our B&B shows, my pal Ben Brooks told me how he uses a 0-based rating system which I’ve also adopted. When going through the latest lot of imported photos, I flag all the blurry, crappy, or duplicate images for deletion. Then I go through and rate what I think are the best photos with a 3-, 4-, or 5-star rating.
I then upload my favorites to my Flickr account. We’ve had a few printed and framed so far, and I think it’s just great to have my own pictures of my own family up and around in my home. Printing through Shutterfly is cheap and easy enough that with a few easy-swap frames, we can change out our 8×10 prints pretty much as often as we like.
Perhaps a more-detailed writeup on this subject is in order because there are a few things about my editing workflow that I’m still not happy with. Primarily:
- Archiving old images — right now they’re all on my MacBook Air and quickly encroaching on my disk space.
- Posting my favorite images — while Flickr is nice, I’d like a spot that’s a little bit more my own. I’ve been considering setting up my own image portfolio website just so I can have a spot that encourages more regular posting of images.
One of the most rewarding parts of photography is when, after a lot of shooting, I plug the card into my MacBook Air, import all the most-recent photos, and begin to look them over. If there are 1 or 2 (or even 3) shots that turned out awesome, then all the energy that went into capturing those few photographs was worth it.
When I find those few great images from the batch, I lean back in my chair. Looking at one of them, I take a deep breath and smile. Then I call my wife to come downstairs and check out the latest photos, and we talk about what it is that we like about it. Maybe it’s an image of our son, Noah, that captured one of his many funny faces. Maybe it’s a shot that’s framed just right, or has light that’s doing some incredible thing.
I’m still learning, and so right now maybe 1 in 500 shots turn out that good. But when they do, I love it that the quality can be there to match the times when the composition is just right. When I compare moments like that with the times I’ve gone through my iPhone’s photo library, though I have lots of pictures, they are all more like snapshots and not photographs (if that makes sense).
Shots like this are the rare ones which justify my camera purchase a hundred times over.
Images like these are, of course, not going to be exclusive to the E-PL5. There are many other amazing cameras out there. For me, going with a small rig instead of a large DSLR (or even a medium-sized NEX) means I’m much more likely to actually take the camera with me.
And that is the entire point: The E-PL5 is an extremely capable and delightfully portable camera.
The Kone Brewing System is a custom fabricated coffee pot, built specifically for the Kone coffee filter.
The Kone filter is a reusable stainless steel filter originally designed for the Chemex pour over pot. The newest and best incarnation of the Kone filter (I think this is the third version Able has made), as well as its accompanying custom fabricated brewing system, were Kickstarted thirty times over last June.
I backed at the $125 level, which got me the whole brewing system with filter as a reward. And it all arrived about two weeks ago. I’ve since brewed 4 pots of coffee with my Kone Brewing System and they’ve all been quite delicious.
The Brewing System
The first thing I noticed after opening the box is how big the Kone Brewing System is. I was expecting the Brewing System would hold around 500ml of coffee, but it actually can hold twice that amount.
The Brewing System is made up of four components: the pot, the filter, the filter casing, and the lid.
When brewing, the filter rests inside the casing which rests on top of the pot. When done, you remove the top casing (using the rubber heat shield grip), and place the lid on top of the pot.
It’s an extremely handsome rig, and I’m very impressed with the design. It looks great on the breakfast or dinner table, and it looks great sitting on the shelf in our kitchen.
There is no doubt that the guys at Able put a lot of thought and attention into the entire Kone Brewing System. Everything — from the packaging to the included card of instructions to the filter and ceramic pot themselves — exudes attention to detail, care, and thoughtfulness.
Alas, the Kone Brewing System can only be used with the Kone filter. The ceramic top-piece which holds the filter is, as I mentioned, custom fabricated specifically for the Kone filter. There is no internal “V” shape which could accommodate a paper filter if you wanted — you must use the Kone metal filter.
The Kone Filter
They say the advantages of using a metal filter rather than paper are: (1) reusable; (2) you never have to pay for paper filters again; and (3) metal filters allow more oils from the coffee bean to pass through when brewing, thus making a fuller cup of coffee
You can’t argue with 1 and 2. And if you are making a big pot of pour over every single day, in the long run a metal filter will pay for itself.
As for the taste. Well, I personally haven’t been able to tell any significant difference between a cup of coffee brewed with a paper filter and one brewed with a metal filter. In fact, if I had to chose, I’d pick paper filters.
The AeroPress is certainly my favorite brewing contraption, and I use paper filters with it. I even have a metal disk filter that fits my AeroPress and I haven’t noticed any difference when using it rather than the paper filters.
One of the disadvantages to using a metal filter is that some of the “coffee dust” gets through the filter and into the bottom of your cup of coffee. Such as the grit you get when brewing with a normal french press.
When it comes to the day-to-day practicality of using the Kone Brewing System, it is not going to be my new daily driver.
For one: compared to the AeroPress or v60, cleanup of the Kone is more involved and tedious because I have to rinse and scrub the filter to get the coffee grinds out of it. Secondly, the Kone Brewing System is intended for making several servings of coffee — it’s a lot of coffee gear to use and clean for the 10-ounce cup I usually brew each morning.
I see the Kone Brewing System as being akin to my Siphon vacuum pot. The Siphon is quite impractical for day-to-day use, but it’s great for when company is over because it’s so fun to use. The Kone is in a similar category (making table-side pourover is always fun), and it can make almost 3 times as much coffee as my siphon.
If however, I was regularly brewing a larger pot of coffee instead of just my single cup, then a big pour over pot like this is just what I would use each day.
If you already own the Kone filter, the Brewing System is $120 by itself. Otherwise it’s $160 with the filter.
Being one of the Kickstarter backers I was privy to much of the behind-the-scenes of what goes in to the molding, firing, and packaging of the Kone Brewing System. And without significant economies of scale, $160 is probably as affordable as Able could get it. Which is unfortunate because as much as I like the Kone Brewing System, $160 is a hard price to swallow.
As cool and attractive as it is, it’s incredibly hard to justify the extra cost of the Kone Brewing System over a Chemex. The Chemex is just as capable of a coffee maker, but it’s one-third the price, holds 10-percent more liquid, works great with the Kone filter, and also works with paper filters.
There are two types of people:
- Those who like lists.
- Those who don’t.
I like lists. I like lists of lists. I sigh a sigh of relief when my thoughts, plans, ideas, to-do items, and everything else is filed away and in some sort of order.
A place for everything, and everything in its place.
My inclination towards putting things in lists combined with my affinity for well-designed iPhone apps is why I enjoyed Gowalla (R.I.P.) so much until it shut down a few years ago. Gowalla was such a fun and well-deigned app, and I loved using it as a way to catalog my journey of places I’d been.
Though Gowalla was a social network, I wasn’t really into it for the social aspect. I liked Gowalla because I could create trips (a list of recommended places), and I could log the places I’d been (a list of past visits).
In fact, the social aspect of Gowalla was more of a turn off than a feature. Gowalla’s built-in social network meant I had to strongly police who my followers were or else censor the places I checked in to. I chose the former which meant every time I opened the app I saw the list of unanswered friend requests and felt I was being a jerk by ignoring them.
The same is true for Path, and it’s why I never used it as often as I’d have liked. I just didn’t want the burden of managing the social aspect of the app in order to get at the journalling and logging aspect.
I’m already active on Twitter and App.net and don’t want yet another social network.
My standoffishness towards new social networks (especially ones that encourage me to broadcast when I am and am not at my own home) is one reason I love the journaling app Day One. Day One has some parallels to a “private” social network. Meaning, I can post a status update or a whole journal entry, and they can include images or be nothing but an image. And the location, date, and even current weather are all automatically added to my entry.
Day One takes many of the journalling and logging elements found in Path, Gowalla, Facebook, and the like, but Day One has no social network. And that’s one of the many attractive things about it.
Rego is a brand new, location-based app that fills the void left by Gowalla — and Rego is not a new social network.
The basic premise of Rego is as a personal travel log and list. Like Gowalla, you can add a place based on your current location. But, unlike Gowalla, you can also add places you are not at, or have never even been to (more on that later).
Rego has many of the cool things found in a location-based social network app, but without rewards, badges, pins, or mayors. Rego has no rules, no goals, and no friend requests. It’s just a personal list of all your places. And this is something I find quite refreshing.
The divide between the connected and unconnected continues to demonstrate an economic discord: those living comfortably are also living un-connectedly. Unubiquitious computing demands have inspired developers to rush to build unconnected communities. The new connected is to be disconnected. Deadspots are the new hotspots.
What I like about Rego versus Gowalla, Path, Foursquare, and others, is that Rego is selectively social. It’s not a social network, but I can share any of my places if I want.
If I want to share my favorite coffee shop or the trailhead to a cool 4×4 trail, then I can. Any place I have in Rego I can choose to share.
Rego does this by creating a unique URL of my shared place that includes the name and location, and, if I want, any of the images or notes that I’ve added to that place.
For example, here’s a link to Quay Coffee, a place I have in my Rego. If you click that link, you’ll see the location of Quay as well as a picture I took earlier this week and a note I added to that image.
I can share the Quay link any way I would share any other link — I can email it, text message it, tweet it, etc. — but since Rego is not a social network, I don’t have to manage incoming follower requests deciding who I want to allow to see all the places I bookmark. I choose what places I want to share, and even who I share them with.
That’s what I mean by Rego being selectively social — there are dozens of other places I have in Rego that are known only to me.
Adding a place in Rego is a snap. As well it should be, considering it’s the chief function of the app.
You launch the app, and the map finds your location. You then tap the “plus” icon in the upper right corner, enter the name of the place you’re adding, and hit Save.
Once you’ve added a new place, you can then close Rego and return to doing whatever you were doing earlier. Or you can add more information to your place such as images and notes, or add it to a collection (even multiple collections).
In my review of Gowalla a few years ago, I listed out a few of the things I loved most (such as building trips) as well as things I most wished were a part of the app (such as adding a location without physically being in that spot). Rego has answers for both of these things.
Because Rego lets you put places into multiple collections I can easily build trips and lists. And since Rego lets you add a location even if you’re not physically standing there with your iPhone in hand, I can add places I want to visit, in addition to adding places I’ve been to but not since I installed Rego.
To add a place you aren’t currently at you simply move the map around until the cross hairs are where you want them to be. Then you tap the “plus” button to add the place and a red pin will drop right where the crosshairs were pointed.
Unfortunately there is no ability to search for a place. Which means: (a) there is no auto-suggest for the location you’re currently at; and (b) when adding a place that is somewhere other than your current location, you kinda have to eyeball it with the crosshairs and the map (I’m told that the 1.1 update of Rego will use Foursquare’s search API to help you find and add locations easier).
As I mentioned above, once you’ve added a place, it consists of three things: (1) the location, (2) any photos and text notes you want to add to your place, and (3) a collection.
Collections are just lists. A place can be added to multiple collections. So my favorite coffee shop can be placed in my “Coffee Joints” collection, as well as my “Faves” collection, and even my “Colorado Summer Vacation” collection if I want.
Earlier this week I spent the afternoon and drove around to each of my favorite coffee shops in Kansas City. These coffee shops are all in a collection within my Rego app called “Coffee Joints”:
I’ve also started building a collection of my favorite hole-in-the-wall BBQ spots in Kansas City.1
It would be great to be able to share an entire collection if I wanted to. Have an acquaintance passing through and they want to know where to get the best Americano and the best pulled pork sandwich? Here, check out these two lists. You can’t go wrong at any of these joints.2 And since I can also chose to share any notes I’ve taken of a place, I can include recommendations for what to order.3
All this while having the freedom to keep my other places (such as my home, my in-law’s home, a vacation rental, and a favorite camping spot) completely to myself.
If you’ve clicked on one of the above coffee shop links, you’ll have noticed that when someone views a shared location they can see all the info I’ve chosen to share about that location (I can just share the pin drop if I want to — I don’t have to share any of my images or notes related to that location).
When viewing a shared location, if you have Rego installed on your iPhone, you can import the location and notes to your own list of places. If you’re viewing the place on an iPad or Mac that won’t have Rego installed, or if you’re on your iPhone and just don’t want to import the location, a link appears over top of the map to open the location in Google maps.
Planning a Trip
Since you can add locations you’re not physically at, you can use Rego to plan a trip — dropping pins at all the places you want to visit, and even adding notes about that place.
Unfortunately, since Rego does not yet have the ability to search for a place, you’ll have to eyeball it when adding places. If you’ve got a lot of trails, restaurants, and other landmarks you want to visit next time you’re, say, in the Rocky Mountains, you may find building out an entire week’s worth of excursions takes a bit of time.
I’ve built a collection for my Summer vacation to the Rocky Mountains, which includes a few restaurants we want to visit and some 4×4 trails we want to hit. I can then use Rego to instantly pull up the places we want to visit and get directions.
To get directions to a place, tap the standard iOS “Share” icon in the top right corner. Then select “Open In…” and Rego will give you the option to open the location in Apple Maps, as well as Google Maps and/or the TomTom app if you have those installed. Then, you can use your way-finding app of choice to get directions to your place.
Also worth noting, is that you can reorient the map by tapping and holding. When you do this a purple pin will drop and then all the locations in Rego will be sorted by distance from the purple pin rather than from your current location. This can be helpful for, say, getting an idea of the proximity all your planned excursions are from where you’ll be staying.
Alas, currently there is no way to get your data out of Rego. Though all your info is stored locally on your iPhone, if you ever decide to stop using Rego there’s no way to get your data out. I’m told that export is a feature they are working on and will be added to a future release.
Rego is available now as a free download, and allows you to add up to 10 places. To add more places than that, there is a $2.99 in-app purchase (which is currently on a launch-price sale of $0.99). This is Rego’s way of offering a “try before you buy” version.
While I do see some overlap between how one might use both Rego and Day One — because both allow you to log “Moments” with images, notes, and your location — I see both as being useful.
For me, Rego is the place where I log my favorite spots, recommended spots, and spots I want to visit. And sure, an image or two can be added to give some flair to the saved location entry, but for recording memories, I’ll continue to use Day One.
All in all, Rego 1.0 is a fantastic app with some great features and functionality. The lack of social features mean it’s not one more app you have to “manage” and “check in” on. It’s an app you use if and when you want — it doesn’t bug you to use it all the time. This is precisely what I like so much about it.
- Which will include Okie Joe’s, L.C.’s, Arthur Bryant’s, and (for those who need a place with a nice atmosphere) Jack Stack. ↵
- Of course, a situation like the above is exactly where an app like Foursquare would shine. The social aspect of the app makes it easy to aggregate the “most popular” locations. But I’ve never had trouble getting a recommendation by asking for one on Twitter or looking on Yelp. ↵
- At Broadway, get espresso. At Quay (pronounce it “key”), get a pour over. At Okie Joe’s, get the Z-Man. At L.C.’s, get ribs, order in a hurry, and pay with cash. ↵
It all started last summer when my cousin sent me a link to this article by Jeff Atwood concerning his discovery of the gray-market of inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCDs on eBay.
My beloved 23-inch Apple Cinema Display had been on the fritz for several months. It was a 9-year old monitor. It was getting dim and had something wrong with the logic board’s ability to recognize the power supply. In short, if the monitor ever lost power then I’d have to try and short-circuit / jumpstart the logic board into turning back on.
Now, I love the look of California-designed hardware on my desk as much as the next Apple nerd. But when my 23-inch ACD finally pooped out last fall, I wasn’t exactly set on replacing it with a Thunderbolt Display.
For one, knowing that new iMacs were on the horizon, I didn’t want to fork over $999 on a Thunderbolt Display when it was very possible that an update to those was on the horizon as well.
Secondly, I wasn’t totally comfortable with spending a thousand dollars on a display that I could find elsewhere for significantly less (albeit, with a few less features).
So I decided to get one of the same, cheap displays as Atwood had. Same as Atwood, I ordered the FSM-270YG. You can still find them on eBay (and if you look, you can even find them in matte).
Since I’d already tainted my all-Apple setup with a black, ugly, awesome mechanical keyboard, it made it easier to take the leap and get a black, ugly, awesome new monitor. You know, to match the keyboard.
Aside from being ugly, the disadvantage to the FSM-270YG is that it comes with no bells or whistles. There are no USB hubs, no thunderbolt ports for daisy chaining, no ethernet, no HD FaceTime camera, not even the ability to tilt the thing. Moreover, when you buy one of these monitors off eBay, you’re taking a gamble. If you get one with a dead pixel or 10, then you’re out of luck.
But, my eBay monitor certainly has some advantages: (a) it was about 1/3 the price of an Apple Thunderbolt Display; (b) it has a matte screen — no gloss, no glass; and (c) one feature it does have is a built in speaker that sounds like if you were to plug in your earbuds, lay them on your desk, and then turn the volume up all the way.
I don’t mind the lack of features because you get what you pay for. And though it’s ugly on the outside, the part that matters the most — the pixels — is just what you’d find inside an Apple display, or any other expensive computer monitor.
My goal was to get the best possible display for the cheapest possible price. All in all I spent $406.76 ($339 for the monitor + $67.76 for a Dual-Link DVI adapter).
Just recently, Monoprice began selling their version of the FSM-270YG. It’s called the CrystalPro.
The CrystalPro looks exactly like the FSM-270YG monitor I have in front of me right now, except their’s has a Monoproce logo slapped on the front.
The CrystalPro costs $390 + shipping. You can find plenty of the generic FSM-270YG monitors on eBay for less than what Monoprice is selling their monitor for, but there is a significant advantage to going with Monoprice: the warranty.
Not only does Monoprice check each monitor they sell to make sure it works, they also offer a one-year warranty which means they’ll replace the display if there are more than 5 dead pixels.
The Problem with Dual-Link DVI Adapters
What’s unfortunate about both the FSM-270YG and the CrystalPro is that they require a Dual-Link DVI connection. And if you’re running your monitor off a MacBook, you’ll have to get a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter. And, they stink.
Not only are they expensive, but they’re flaky. I often have an issue with my monitor where, when waking the computer from sleep, the screen will show “snow” (like when your TV is on a dead channel). Fortunately, a quick off/on of the monitor itself resets the connection and the snow goes away. But still.
So far as I’ve been able to tell, this has to do with the adapter itself. I thought it was because I’d originally purchased a Monoprice adapter, but I had the same problem after purchasing an Apple adapter. And after researching about it online, I’ve realized I’m not the only one.
Not only are Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapters expensive, they also take up a valuable USB port on the Mac, and they’re known for causing occasional video issues.
So my biggest complaint against these monitors is not the monitor itself, but the adapter they require.
The Dell UltraSharp U2713HM is just as ugly as the Monoprice CrystalPro but with a lot more advantages.
On Dell’s 27-inch ISP monitor you can adjust the height and viewing angle, it has a USB hub, and you have several options for how to connect to it — including DisplayPort. And a Mini DisplayPort to DisplayPort cable costs all of $5.
The price of the Dell UltraSharp moves up and down, but lately it’s been hovering around $650. Factoring in shipping, cables, and adapters, you can get the Dell monitor for about $200 more than the Monoprice.
Which Inexpensive 27-inch IPS LCD Display Should You Get?
If you’ll be plugging your monitor into a tower that already has plenty of USB ports and doesn’t need a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter, I’d go with the Monoprice CrystalPro.
If, however, you’re looking for a nice, big monitor to run while your MacBook is in clamshell mode, go with the Dell. Its extra USB ports and non-reliance on a Dual-Link DVI adapter make it worth it the extra money.
Something I left out of my Simplenote / Dropbox / writing workflow article last week is what iPhone app lives in my Dock for the sole purpose of being the go-to for initially capturing ideas, lists, and other miscellaneous tidbits of information.
The iPhone can be pretty awkward when you need to quickly jot down a piece of information. Such as someone’s shipping address, phone number, and/or email address; a list of things to get while you’re out that your wife is rattling off to you as you walk out the door; the coffee order your co-worker wants you to pick up for them while you’re out; etcetera.
The point being, there are many occasions when typing the information into the app it belongs takes too much time and attention than you have at the moment.
Scratch is a no-nonsense “scratch pad” app for your iPhone. It launches in a hot second, and greets you with a blank text-entry pane and blue blinking cursor. You are then free to type whatever it is you need to type out right now, and leave the fiddling to later when you have a few minutes.
The reason you want to use an app like Scratch for stuff like this is all in the way Scratch handles your text after you’ve typed it in.
Once you’ve made your note, you can export the text you’ve just typed by sending it to Simplenote, Byword, Notesy, et al. You can also email it; text message it; send it to OmniFocus as a to-do item, or as the note for a to-do item; tweet it from Tweetbot or post it to App.net; send it to Quotebook; send it to Day One; create a new text file in Dropbox, or append your new text to an already existing text file.
And the export options are customizable. When you tap the export button you don’t see the entire list of every supported app, you see only what you’ve enabled in Settings. I’ve enabled Simplenote, Day One, and Email export.
Scratch isn’t just for capturing now and processing when you’ve got a minute. It’s also great for capturing disposable information, like that coffee order or your Honey Do List — why launch an app that syncs when you only need to jot down something that’s relevant for the next hour?
The Custom Keyboard Row
Scratch makes clever use of a custom keyboard row. Instead of there being a top Navigation / Title bar, the text pane goes all the way to the top. And then above the default iOS keyboard is a 5th keyboard row.
This 5th row can be swiped left and right. It sports a set of Markdown-friendly custom keys, action buttons for your current note, and access to the settings pane.
Additional power-features include TextExpander support, and markdown auto completion for links.
Similar in scope to Scratch is another excellent app: Drafts.
A few of Draft’s main differences include:
- An iPad version which syncs to the iPhone.
- An option to always launch with a blank text entry box.
- A link mode, which takes mailing addresses, emails, phone numbers, and events and turns them into tappable links.
* * *
I highly recommend either of these apps — Scratch being one of three apps in my Dock. People have asked me why I use Scratch over Drafts. And though Drafts has a few more power features and is available on the iPad, I prefer Scratch because of the design.
If you’re old school, Twitterrific for Mac was probably your first Twitter client.
Twitterrific for the Mac came out in January 2007. I joined Twitter in March. It was the first native Twitter app for the Mac, and I loved its small footprint, dark UI, and color-coded @replies. For a long time Twitterrific was Twitter for me.
It’s funny to look back at how I used Twitter over half a decade ago. I followed dozens of people and would often post Tweets through a Quicksilver plugin, treating my tweets as one-line “status updates” which lived on my site’s sidebar. Visitors to my blog circa 2006 and 2007 could see a “this is what the author is currently doing” message.
Obviously our usage of Twitter has changed drastically since then. Twitterrific for Mac shipped the same week Steve Jobs announced the original iPhone. Now, almost 6 years later, I primarily check and post to Twitter via my iPhone.
Six months after Twitterrific for the Mac shipped, the first proof of concept for “MobileTwitterrific” was announced in August of 2007. Twitterrific for iPhone launched on July 11, 2008, and was one of the first apps in the brand new App Store for iPhone. Before Twitterrific for iPhone, we were all using web-based Twitter apps. Remember Hahlo?
Today, Twitterrific is 5 years older and 5 versions mature. The app has gone through many design iterations over the years, but has always remained true to its roots. Additionally, Twitterrific has made many significant contributions to the Twitter ecosystem at large — it was the first native Twitter client on both Mac and on the iPhone, it was the first to coin the word “tweet”, and it was the first to implement a bird icon.
Graphics-wise, the newest version of Twitterrific is simply stunning. Without any hyperbole, I consider T5 to be the best-looking version of Twitterrific to date and one of the most attractive iPhone apps I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks in no small part to the great use of typography and color. Though this new version seems to me the furthest departure from the original design, it still has hints of familiarity and does not cast aside all design elements from past versions.
I haven’t used Twitterrific on my iPhone since 2008, which is when I switched to Tweetie. Then it was Tweetie 2, and then Tweetbot. All these aforementioned Twitter apps are not just great apps for Twitter, but they are (or were) great iPhone apps, period. The look and feel of Twitterrific 5 is, in my opinion, its greatest selling point — it has a UI design on the same caliber as what I consider to be some of the best iPhone apps ever built.
Twitterrific 5 strikes me as an exercise in simplicity with a focus on all the little details. When your UI doesn’t use gradients or drop shadows or boxes to hold itself together, all the loose elements have nowhere to hide. Any designer worth their salt will tell you that a “minimalistic” app like this is extremely difficult to pull off well. I say the Iconfactory hit a home run.
I asked David Lanham, designer at the Iconfactory, about the redesign. He said, “the focus of the redesign was to bring Twitterrific back to making reading tweets as enjoyable as possible while also applying what we’ve learned over the last few years for interface and interaction decisions to the usage of the app.”
Twitterrific’s most historic design detail is its liberal but clever use of color. Twitterrific has always used colors to signify the various types of tweets, and it’s no different in version 5: - @replies directed to you use a yellow, orange, and red color scheme. - Tweets which simply mention your @username use a brown and tan color scheme. - Incoming direct messages are dark blue. - Outgoing direct messages are teal, with an arrow pointing to the name of the user you sent the message to. - A purple line underneath a Tweet signifies where the current tweet marker is (you can sync your timeline position via iCloud or the TweetMarker service).
Another historic design element is Twitterrific’s customizable themes. Just like in past versions of Twitterrific, T5 lets you choose between light or dark themes, adjust the font size to anything from teeny-tiny to ginormous, and more.
What’s new, however, is you now get a choice of the typeface itself. Custom fonts include Helvetica (of course), Proxima Nova, Museo Slab, Calluna, and Signika. Naturally I’m using Proxima Nova — it’s a gorgeous typeface which I think looks especially stunning on a Retina screen.
Also new: T5 can switch between light and dark themes automatically based on the time of day. Bright theme in the daytime, dark theme in the nighttime (a la Instapaper). This option is clever and fun; I had it turned on for a few days, but ended up turning it off because I like the dark theme too much.
Interestingly, popover notifications and slide-up selection buttons are not customized. So much of Twitterrific’s design is unique and customized, I was a bit surprised to see these default iPhone elements.
Showing DMs right within the main timeline, as Twitterrific always has, always freaks me out. After a few days I’ve slowly acclimated to seeing a blue message and knowing blue means not publicly viewable.
There is, of course, a Messages tab, however, you cannot start a new DM thread from within it. You can view and reply to any current DM conversation you’re having with someone, but you cannot begin a new one with a new person.
The only way to start a new DM thread is to first navigate to a user’s profile, and if they follow you then you’ll see a small envelope icon. Tap that to start a new DM conversation with that person.
Alternatively, you could send a DM the old-fashioned way: “d @username Hey pal!”
A Few “Missing” Features
Being a hard and fast Tweetbot user for the past few years, there are 3 elements I instantly noticed were not features of Twitterrific 5:
- No mobilizer view available in the in-app Safari web view.
- No muting of keywords, tags, clients, users, etc.
- No push notifications.
But this is something Craig Hockenberry (the man who had the idea for Twitterrific in the shower) addressed all the way back in 2008:
There will always be more than one way to solve a problem: a developer’s personal preferences will inevitably seep into the implementation. Having many choices for a Twitter client means that developers don’t need to create a “one size fits all” solution. In essence, users get to choose a developer whose preferences match their own. [...]
For Twitterrific, our core function is reading.
The core function is not managing your Twitter account. Nor is it being a general purpose tool to exercise every nook and cranny of the API. It’s primary function is not to act as a surrogate for SMS messaging.
I asked the awesome gents at Iconfactory why they chose to not ship T5 with push notifications. It was a two-fold answer from both Craig Hockenberry and Gedeon Maheux.
“Twitterrific 5 is a clean slate. The visual design is obviously a fresh start, but our code base is as well,” Craig said. Gedeon added that if they’d included push notifications as part of T5, it would have added another 3 – 4 months to the development cycle: “So much has changed in the Twitterverse this past year with Twitter introducing new guidelines and restrictions that we felt any further delay in getting version 5 out the door increased the risk of not being able to release it at all.”
But that’s not the only reason. “When everything is new and clean, you think carefully before adding new stuff,” Craig said. “The things in this initial version are things we, as a team, really wanted to have. I know a lot of people love push notifications, but as iOS matures I find myself actively disabling notifications in apps. There are just too many and they end up being a distraction.”
I am an advocate of Craig’s stance on disabling as many notifications as are reasonable. But for me, there are many peers and comrades that I connect with throughout my workday, and Twitter DM is one of the primary ways we go about doing that. Fortunately, push notifications are in Twitterrific 5′s roadmap, they’re just not here yet.
And alas, for me, some of the “missing” elements in Twitterrific are deal breakers. Despite how fast and gorgeous Twitterrific 5 is, I do not want to give up push notifications, mute filters, or the mobilizer web toggle. These 3 features of Tweetbot are so important to how I use Twitter that I won’t be switching to Twitterrific as my one and only Twitter client.1
For the past week, I’ve been bouncing between both apps — using Tweetbot for DMs and Twitterrific for the rest. I know it’s silly to use more than one Twitter app, but the look and feel of T5 is so splendid that I’m happy to be silly for the time being. Not to mention, if you have any appreciation at all for world-class app design,2 then Twitterrific 5 is worth checking out for that reason alone.
It’s a universal app and is currently $2.99 in the App Store.
- Going a week with a client that didn’t mute certain keywords or user agents did make me realize that perhaps I should just re-think who I follow on Twitter. No, no — of course I’m not talking about *you*. ↵
- If you don’t, then I question how you’ve survived as a regular reader on this website. Is it the coffee links? ↵
Fantastical for iPhone is available today. You’ll probably be hearing a lot about it, and the good words are merited. I’ve had it on my iPhone’s first Home screen for the past 6 weeks. Right now it’s $2 in the App Store, and I wholeheartedly recommend it.
There are two headline features: (a) The ability to create an event using natural language. This is the headline feature of the Mac version that won me over last spring. And (b) the DayTicker, which is a clever new way of displaying the upcoming days and events.
Creating an Event
Why does it always seem that I’m in a rush, or that someone is waiting on me when I’m trying to create a new event on my iPhone? Creating new events on the iPhone has never been a particularly easy or quick task.
- The iPhone’s default Calendar app is okay at best when it comes to entering new events, but if you’re not creating an event for the very near future, it can take many taps to get the event created.
- Agenda (a very fine 3rd-party calendar app) has done a good job at making it easier to input a new event, but it is still a somewhat tedious task that requires many taps.
- Siri can be great, but I still find it awkward to use Siri in a public setting, and she doesn’t exactly have a great track record of being accurate and frustration free.
Fantastical is, in my opinion, the easiest way to create a new event thanks to the natural language parser. But for maximum ease and speed you really need both thumbs available since you’re typing a normal sentence — Skydiving lessons tomorrow at 9 am.
Moreover, if you don’t want to type out a sentence, Fantastical still gives you the ability to create an event exactly as you would in Apple’s default Calendar app.
Calendar Views, the DayTicker, and My Visual Thinking Mojo
Fantastical has something I’ve never seen before: the DayTicker.
Design-wise, the DayTicker is money.
However, as pretty as it may be, I’m still not fully sold on the DayTicker. The way the 5-day ticker slides left-to-right while the event list scrolls top-to-bottom is a little bit jarring. My eyes don’t know where exactly to focus with two lists scrolling in different directions at the same time, and so I often find myself looking back and forth between the two instead of focusing on one list while looking for a specific day or event.
And yet, that’s not to say I’m convinced the DayTicker view is flawed. For me, the jury is still out on this one. And the reason is because I’m a visual thinker. When I think about my calendar I don’t think in dates, I think of a traditional calendar view and the S-M-T-W-T-F-S layout. Sunday is on the left, Saturday is on the right, and Wednesday is in the middle. The DayTicker messes with my mojo by removing the visual boundaries of a traditional calendar view.
What redeems it for me is how quickly you can switch between the DayTicker and the month-view. Pull down on the DayTicker and the month-view calendar will take its place. Pull down again to switch back to the previous view.
Having a quick and easy way to transition between list view and month view is something I’ve always loved about Agenda, and it’s equally great in Fantastical.
Using it day in and day out as the calendar app on my first Home screen for the past six weeks, I’m not ready to say it’s the best calendar app bar none. It’s still a toss up with Agenda, the calendar app I’ve been using since it first came out nearly two summers ago.
What I like most about Fantastical on the iPhone is the design.
There’s no denying that the design of Fantastical is top notch. I love the overall color scheme of deep red, whites, and blacks. The app feels balanced and unique. And there are several little design details that give Fantastical a fun and polished feel.
One of the most notable of the little design details is the magnification within DayTicker. As you slide the ticker left to right, the center-most day get’s “magnified”. This is a great touch.
Another detail: when creating a new event, the words you tap in animate in to the calendar view below. This gives you a visual cue that what your typing in is getting entered into your calendar, much like it is with Fantastical on the Mac.
It’s these little things in the design that make Fantastical feel professional and refined. This is easily the best-looking Calendar app on the iPhone and it’s a welcome addition to iOS.
My Olympus E-PL5 arrived on Tuesday, and the lenses arrived yesterday. Most of yesterday afternoon I spent reading the user manual and shooting a few hundred photos.
My first impression of the camera is that it’s great. Really, really great.
Here is a Flickr set with the 31 photos I thought were good enough to share with the Internet. All the images were shot in RAW and edited a bit in Lightroom using the default presets.
* * *
Hardware: It’s a dense and heavy camera. Heavier than I thought it would be which makes it feels expensive. But it’s not so heavy that it’s difficult to hold or operate. With the front grip attached I can comfortably hold and operate it with my right hand.
The movable / tiltable touch screen has sturdy hinges and I don’t feel like I’m going to break it. As a feature, the adjustable screen is very welcome. I found myself frequently holding the camera at waist height to take a shot and then tilting the screen up towards me so I could see to frame the picture. It makes taking shots at or near ground level as easy as kneeling down.
Speed: I have two Panasonic lenses I’m trying out (see more below). Olympus cameras are known for their super-quick auto focus, and my E-PL5 lives up to its reputation. Focusing seems near-instantaneous most of the time, but in lower light it can take up to half a second to focus (even with the “slower” focusing 20mm pancake). And speaking of focus, the tap-to-focus-and-then-snap-a-photo feature of the touch screen is great. Very useful for auto-focusing on something not in the center of the frame.
Not only does the E-PL5 focus quickly, but it turns on in about one second. After I press the power button, it’s up and ready to go before I have the lens cap off. One of the reasons I bought this camera is so I could take better shots of Noah. Assuming the camera is nearby it would be ready to take a picture nearly as fast as my iPhone would be.
Point and Shoot (but only if you want): After my first day shooting, I felt like I got several high-quality images that turned out great and all I did was point and shoot. The E-PL5′s Automatic mode is great at detecting what sort of image your taking and what the lighting is like and then favoring the best settings. Thus this camera will allow you to take some great photos without having to do much more than frame the shot.
But it’s not all auto. The E-PL5 has priority modes and full-on manual mode — I can adjust all sorts of stuff that I don’t yet understand.
This is exactly the sort of camera I was hoping to get. It will allow me to learn how it works and learn about the finer details of photography, but not require it of me. I could give this camera to anyone and tell them to just point and click and they’d likely get a pretty decent image, if not a great one.
Battery Life: I took a little less than 300 pictures yesterday and the battery indicator says it’s still at full. I don’t yet know for sure how long the battery will last, but it’s obviously much longer than a good afternoon of shooting.
Preconceived Notions: I’m trying hard to remember what I’ve always told myself when it comes to print and web design: tools do not a designer make. In my dreams I tell myself that after 5 years of avid iPhone photography, I’ve slowly grown in my composition skills as a photographer and that I’ll pick up this new high-quality camera and instantly produce jaw-dropping photos.
While I’m sure that the photographic eye I’ve developed over the past few years is better than starting from nothing, it’s also likely that since I’ve been using one camera for so long I’m now somewhat pigeonholed into what the iPhone is and is not good at. There is now a whole world of options and styles that the Olympus and it’s different lenses will open me up to.
Simply having a nice camera does not mean my shots will be what I want them to be. And that’s okay — I’m here to learn.
Voice: I am as excited about editing images as I am about taking them. Just as a writer, over time, develops their writing voice, so too does a photographer. But with photography you develop your voice not just in composition but also in post processing. And those two come together.
Lightroom: I bought Lightroom 4 when it came out and have been using it to post-process some of my iPhone photos. Mostly to clean them up and make them pop a little bit. There is still a lot I have to learn about post-processing.
One thing to note is that Lightroom 4.2 does not support RAW files from the E-PL5. Adobe recently made available the beta RC1 for version 4.3 that does.
The shots from yesterday I took in RAW and edited with Lightroom’s stock presets. For my first day shooting and editing with what could be considered “pro” gear, I am thrilled with the results. But I’m not blown away — I know I can do better. The good news is that I feel only held back by my own skill and knowledge.
Lenses: Though I only plan to keep one, I ended up ordering two lenses: the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 and the 25mm f/1.4. Because I’ve read and seen so many good things about both I wanted to use and compare them side-by-side and determine for myself which I wanted to keep as the daily shooter. The lens I decide not to keep will just be returned or sold.
The 20mm f/1.7 is a pancake lens, which, in terms of size, is ideally what I want. Not only does the pancake make the camera more portable, it also makes for a less intimidating camera. People who aren’t used to a fancy camera, tend to act awkward or look funny when there’s a giant camera pointing at them. A small camera that looks like no more than a humble point-and-shoot I got at Walmart may help friends and strangers alike to pay no mind and thus allow me to capture some great candid shots.
However, the 25mm f/1.4 is a bit faster and is slightly higher-quality glass. It gives a creamier depth of field than the 20mm, and it’s auto-focus is quicker as well. And so it has me wondering if the tradeoff in portability and incognito-ness may be worth it.
But it’s impossible to conjecture about which lens is the better daily driver without using and comparing the two. All throughout the day I tried to take the same shot twice — once with the 20mm and then again with the 25mm. As I was later going through all the photos in Lightroom, most of the shots which stood out to me as being better than the others were the ones taken with the 20mm. (Perhaps this is because the focal length of the 20mm seems more akin to that in the iPhone, and so I’m naturally used to framing shots in such a way that the 20mm shines more?)
Down the road I’m planning for my 2nd lens to be the Olympus 45mm f/1.8. It will make a fine companion to the pancake 20mm, and so, though I haven’t made my final choice yet, my gut instinct is that the 25mm — as nice as it is — will not make the cut.
Is it fun? I felt like a dork walking around with my camera and taking photos. I’ve never thought other people with cameras were dorks, but I sure felt like one. I’m just going to assume that this is something all photographers feel and that once I get over it I’ll have a lot more fun taking photos, and the quality and style of my photos will increase as well.
As they say: just relax.
* * *
It is tough to say after only one day of shooting, but I’m feeling extremely happy with the E-PL5 and the Panasonic lenses. So far, it looks like I made the right choice for the best compact, mid-priced, Micro 4/3 camera.
It took about a week from when I bought my first iPad until I realized I would likely never buy a physical book again.
The iPad was to books what my first iPod was to music. It had been years since I’d bought a physical CD — all my music lives in iTunes and comes from the iTunes music store. So too would it now be with books. The convenience of being able to buy a book with a few taps, have it download instantly, and add it to my small-but-now-growing digital library was just too awesome of a perk.
My enjoyment for reading digital books evolved even more when, last year, I purchased my first Kindle. My reasoning for buying the Kindle Touch was mostly business. I wanted to review it, to get some experiential knowledge of what e-ink was like, and I wanted to compare the size and weight of the Kindle Touch to the iPad.
It took all of 10 minutes of reading on the Kindle Touch for me to regret the money I’d spent in the iBookstore up until that point. For long-form reading, the Kindle was obviously leaps and bounds better than the iPad, and now I was thinking about all the digital books I had bought on the iBookstore and how they were no good on the Kindle. The few books I was currently in the middle of reading on my iPad I bought again on the Kindle store and the rest is history.
Reading a book on a Kindle truly is a more enjoyable and relaxing experience than reading one on the iPad. There are the obvious, tangible advantages: the Kindle is easily held for long periods of time with one hand and the e-ink display is easier on the eyes. But there are also the less obvious, intangible advantages: when you’re holding a Kindle there are no other apps, no other options of things to do, no distractions sitting impatiently behind the text before you, no notifications, or any of that.
The Kindle is a single-serving device. It’s meant to offer all the niceties of reading print, enhanced by all the luxuries of a digital device. It’s as light as a paperback book, the screen looks like printed ink on paper, but it can hold a massive library and you can buy a book with just a few taps without even getting up from your chair.
The only significant quibble I had with the Kindle Touch was its non-illuminated display. I do most of my reading in the evenings on the couch and/or in bed. Often when reading in bed the lights are out, and thus I’ve become a regular user of the Kindle app for my iPad.
Which is why, when the Kindle Paperwhite was announced, I ordered one immediately.
Not all the gadgets I buy to review continue to get used after I’ve written about them. But my Kindle Touch proved to be something I use all the time. After a month with the new Kindle Paperwhite, I consider it to be superior to its predecessor in every way.
For one, the Kindle Paperwhite just looks cooler than the Kindle Touch. It’s the most attractive Kindle to date. The front of the bezel is a semi-gloss black plastic with nothing but the Kindle logo centered in silver.
The Kindle logo used to be on the top-most bezel, and on the bottom-most bezel is where there used to be a Home button. The Kindle logo has now been moved to the bottom and the Home button has been removed. It’s obvious that Amazon was going for ultra-simplicity in the design of the Paperwhite; it’s a shame they didn’t remove the front logo altogether.
(I will say that the missing Home button hasn’t bothered me one bit. It is quite easy to get to the Home screen through the software menu, and for how infrequently I visit the Home screen of my Kindle I’m fine with an even simpler front bezel design.)
On the bottom edge you’ll find the only port and the only button: a micro-USB port and the power/wake/sleep button. On the Kindle Touch, the very bottom also sported a speaker. I never once used that speaker except during testing, and so I’m glad to see Amazon removed it on the Paperwhite.
The back of the Kindle is black and sports a matte, slightly-rubbery, grippy plastic which bends around the side and top edges and meets the front bezel with a single seam. There are no screws or clips on the whole device. It’s lightweight, easy to hold, and built very well. It is the nicest non-Apple “tablet” I own.
But the refinements to the hardware are only the beginning. The higher-contrast screen with its higher DPI looks better than previous Kindles. And, best of all, the screen is now illuminated. This was the whole reason I popped for another Kindle despite the fact I had a perfectly good one that was less than a year old. Because, as I mentioned above, the Kindle Touch’s lack of an illuminated screen was actually a hindrance to me using it as often as I wanted to.
Moreover, the Paperwhite’s screen itself sits closer to the rim of the bezel. Or, put another way, it’s not sunken down into the device as much. And even the touch responsiveness is faster. Perhaps this is due to hardware upgrades to the internals, or perhaps it’s due to the software that the Kindle Paperwhite is running. It’s probably a combination of both.1
In addition to being more responsive, the new version of software running on the Paperwhite is easier to use. The new cover view on the Home screen is so much nicer than the list view. Also, you can now view the books you have on your device and all the books you’ve ever purchased, but that are in the cloud and not currently downloaded.
All these little changes really add up to a great device. But, of course, the Kindle Paperwhite is not perfect.
What’s Not So Great
No Page-Turn Buttons: I have never actually used a Kindle that had the physical page-turn buttons, but I suspect I’d love them. And why shouldn’t this version of the Kindle have them?
John Gruber, in his review of the Paperwhite wrote:
To remain relevant in an iPad (and Kindle Fire) world, a single-purpose device like the Kindle Paperwhite needs an obsessive focus on the reading experience. Page-turning buttons would make that experience better.
Another disadvantage of the Kindle Paperwhite’s lack of physical page-turn buttons is that you cannot rest your thumb on the screen. If you tap the screen on accident you end up turning the page. If you leave your thumb resting on the screen then you end up highlighting a word.
In the countless hours I’ve spent reading on my Kindle, a touch screen seems so obvious. It makes highlighting passages and looking up definitions a breeze, as well as navigating the Home screen and other menus. The inability to rest my thumb on the screen is only an issue when reading while lying down on my back. And so to me it’s worth having the touchscreen of the Paperwhite than the non-touchscreen of the Kindle 5 (especially since the Paperwhite now has a crisper, illuminated display).
Ultimately, my ideal Kindle would be smart enough to know when I’m resting my thumb on the screen and when I’m trying to highlight a passage or define a word. And it would have physical buttons for turning pages.
The Illumination Spotlights: By far, my biggest complaint agains the Kindle Paperwhite is with the way the lights illuminate the bottom of the screen. Underneath the bottom bezel of my Kindle are four LED lights, shining upwards to light up the screen. Yet they shine like spotlights, and it’s not until about 3/4 of an inch up the screen that their light beams blend into one another and you get a soft, even lighting.
This is common. All the Paperwhites have it and nobody likes it. The darker your reading environment, the more pronounced the uneven lighten is. It’s unfortunate for sure, but it is what it is and by no means is it a deal breaker.
Text alignment: Nearly all books are aligned with full justification. I say nearly all because the Tom Clancy book I’m reading right now actually has a ragged-right text alignment; surely it’s not the only one. Kindle books are notorious for having odd typos here and there (like the numeral “1″ in place of a capital “I”). And so, in a way, it seems like we’ve just come to expect sub-par layouts with our Kindle books. But why should we?
There’s no reason Amazon can’t offer ragged-right text alignment. I second John Gruber’s vote for Amazon to hire a world-class book designer and put him on the Kindle product team.
Poor Access to Previously-Highlighted Passages: I highlight passages like it’s my job. It’s how I revisit a non-fiction book. Unfortunately, there’s no great way to access my highlighted sections of a book other than within the Kindle itself.
Right now, the only way I know of to get a highlighted passage from my Kindle to my Mac is to share that passage via Twitter and then copy/paste the passage onto my Mac. It’s unfortunate that I cannot access my Clippings via the Amazon website, nor can I email a highlighted passage to myself.
Update: Thanks to everyone who has let me know kindle.amazon.com/your_highlights should show me all my highlighted passages. Alas, it lists nothing for me. I’ve contacted Amazon Customer Support to see about that. In the meantime, I also learned that if I plug my Kindle in and put it in USB mode then in the device’s Documents folder there is a My Clippings.txt file. (Thanks, Scott!)
Special Offers: I suppose technically the special offers are not that great. But for me it’s not worth the $20 to get rid of them.
Last year I bought the version of the Kindle Touch with Special Offers and I never paid the $20 to turn them off. The ads don’t bother me much — I usually just have the Kindle resting face down — and there have been a few times where there’s a deal that I’m actually interested in and I get a book for a buck, or something like that.
The Kindle is in the same category of gadget as my Apple TV. Both are great gadgets that I use often and seem like a steal at their relatively inexpensive prices.
The Kindle Paperwhite has a lot going for it: the e-ink screen, million-year battery life, illuminated display, improved software, the iOS Kindle apps that sync with my iPad and iPhone, and the lightweight yet rugged build of the device hardware. The biggest compliment I can give the Kindle is that thanks to it, I read more books and I read more often.
Amazon seems to have shown their hand with future Kindle updates in that software and hardware updates are coupled together. The most recent version of the Kindle Touch software is version 5.1.2; the Paperwhite is running version 5.2.0 which (in addition to support for the illuminated screen and the missing home button) sports a refined menu a Home screen layout.
I emailed Amazon to ask if the Kindle Touch would get the 5.2 software update but I got a non-reply about how Amazon has made no announcements for future firmware versions of the Kindle. ↵
Noah was finally asleep. Sitting in the center seat, my wife was holding our 7-month-old son as he slept on her shoulder. The three of us were flying back home from a week in Colorado, and Noah had spent the first half of the flight fussing. Anna and I — as well as our fellow travelers — were relieved that he was finally resting.
Noah likes to be held but hates to cuddle. It’s such a rare occurrence for him to fall asleep in our arms that I had to document the rarity (and cuteness) of the moment.
The seats on a 737 are not exactly spacious. I reached into my pocket to retrieve my iPhone 5, and in the process the back edge of my phone had an encounter with the metal frame that held the seat’s arm rest in place. My iPhone was a couple weeks old, and the slate black body was, until that moment, still unscathed.
As if writing on a chalkboard, I could feel the frame of the phone shudder ever so slightly as it slid across that metal surface. Once out of my pocket I looked down at the back edge. Sure enough, part of the slate coloring had been scratched away revealing the silver-looking aluminum.
In that moment, while appraising my phone’s new scar, I was unexpectedly reminded of why the iPhone is special.
The iPhone is an uncanny amalgamation of beauty and utility — it’s a design and engineering marvel. Our western culture tells us that when you own something this nice, you protect it. Your sports car sits in the garage all winter; that painting belongs behind a sheet of glass; the silver flatware is kept in a box in a drawer; the mobile phone goes in a protective case.
The iPhone, however, prefers not to play by these rules. Though exquisite in design, it was not born as art to be put on display. It belongs in our pockets. It is a tool. A utility. A gadget of gadgets.
The iPhone is here to work.
It’s beautiful enough to be put on display. Simple enough to be used by your grandmother. Powerful enough to be used by CEOs. Popular enough to be made fun of on network television.
This blows my mind. Here I have this gorgeous object of industrial innovation, and yet its proximity to my life is not due to my above average affinity for fine gadgets. No, the iPhone has earned its place by virtue of usefulness. The curiously-thin slab of glass and aluminum that I carry around in my pocket is my camera, my jukebox, my map, my newspaper, my phone, my email, my photo album, my schedule, my to-do list, my notebook, my Internet, and so much more.
“[Design is] not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” — Steve Jobs
* * *
After snapping a few photos of our sleeping boy, I turn the phone around so Anna can see the screen and browse the images I’ve just captured. I think to myself how it’s unfortunate my iPhone is no longer mint. And yet I wouldn’t trade that scrape for a case or a cover, and certainly not for a lesser device where scratches seem less intrusive.
Nearly a year ago I backed the Hidden Radio project on Kickstarter. The device looked great and the reward level seemed very reasonable for backers who wanted to get a device when the project was complete.
I had been considering a Jawbone Jambox, but instead decided to back the Hidden Radio. It seemed like a win-win situation: I would be able to help the project happen, and in return I’d get a clever Bluetooth speaker that looks cooler than a Jambox, gets twice the battery life, and costs less.
Last week, the first round of Hidden Radios began shipping. Mine arrived on Thursday evening. Anna and I have been using the speaker around the house as much as possible all weekend long. Below is my review of the device.
The design and idea of the Hidden Radio is brilliantly clever. I mean, it’s basically just a giant volume knob. As Gilbert Lee wrote, when concepts of the Hidden Radio were first sent out back in the fall of 2008 (the same time the Google Chrome public beta was released): “The entire product is the UI!”
After several years of R&D, it wasn’t until 2011 that John Van Den Nieuwenhuizen and Vitor Santa Maria were ready to mass produce the Hidden Radio. They turned to Kickstarter in November of 2011 and raised just short of a million dollars over the course of their 60-day campaign.
And now, a year later, the Hidden Radio is a reality.
I received a white version and it’s altogether beautiful.thick, double old-fashioned glass. Anywhere you put it, the Hidden Radio looks like it belongs there.When closed, the device is about the size and weight of a
As mentioned above, the device is entirely UI. The Hidden Radio is designed to work as simply and beautifully as it looks. Alas, this is only in theory. In reality, the manifestation of the UI is difficult and thus frustrating.
Controlling the Volume
The Kickstarter concept video shows people casually reaching over to their Hidden Radio, placing a few fingers on the top of the device, and turning up the volume with ease (cut to 00:50 of the video to see what I’m referring to).
Unfortunately it just doesn’t work that wonderfully. Turning the volume up requires a fair amount of downward pressure on the unit in order to keep friction between the speaker’s base and the table top. But that same downward pressure also causes friction within the housing itself, thus making it extremely difficult for the shell to twist upwards and reveal the speaker grill.
There are a few surfaces in my house that have enough friction with the Hidden Radio’s base that I don’t need to apply too much downward pressure and thus could successfully turn the volume up using one hand. However, most of the time turning the volume up — and turning the device on — requires two hands.
The device is little more than a giant volume knob with a speaker inside, and yet, ironically, it’s the most difficult-to-use volume knob in my home.
It’s hard to know if the volume adjustment become easier over time. Perhaps after regular use of the Hidden Radio’s cap will eventually loosen its grip, making it easier to adjust with one hand. Or perhaps this is something the Hidden team will resolve in the next iteration of the Radio.
Turning the volume down is easily done with one hand.
Perhaps the most maddening shortcoming of all is the Hidden Radio’s irrational desire to power off.
This can happen when you least expect it, and usually when you least desire it. My Hidden Radio powers itself down after about 60 seconds of inactivity. And so, if I pause the music on my iPad in order to take a phone call or have a conversation, I have to turn the Hidden Radio off and back on before resuming music playback.
What’s worse, on Saturday evening the Hidden Radio refused to play music for longer than 15 minutes at a time. A handful of songs in and the speaker would simply disconnect its Bluetooth connection. I would then toggle the inputs (there’s a switch underneath that toggles between Bluetooth, audio-in, and FM radio) to get the Bluetooth to reconnect.
(For some owners, I’ve heard this mid-music shutoff happens as often as every couple of minutes.)
What’s interesting is that the mid-music shutdown was only happening on Saturday evening. Since then it hasn’t been an issue.
For a small speaker that majors on portability, wireless connectivity, and battery life, you know there are going to be tradeoffs. Even with that in mind, and even after the 8-hour “break in” period for the speaker, the sound quality does not impress me.
At best it sounds a bit like a cheap boombox. At worst it sounds like a muffled, cheap boombox.
When turning the sound down, not only does the volume output of the internal speaker decrease, but as the grill gets increasingly covered up, the sound becomes more and more muffled.
The sweet spot for the Hidden Radio’s sound is somewhere around 75-percent open. This is quiet enough to keep the bass from distorting and open enough to not sound muffled.
After 4 full days of jamming out to my Hidden Radio I find it to be a trophy of design and a failure of engineering. It is, unfortunately, the most textbook case of gadget form without function I’ve ever seen.
As a backer of the Hidden Radio on Kickstarter, I got my device for $119. They are now currently on pre-order for $150, and will then sell for the regular price of $190. At that price, I do not consider the Hidden Radio to be worth it.
If you’re going to spend $150 or $190 on a Bluetooth speaker, get the Jawbone Jambox.
I ended up ordering the Black Diamond Jambox to have some context to compare the Hidden Radio. The Jambox costs the same price and is so much better of a speaker.
The Jambox sounds fantastic — it is much louder and fuller than the Hidden Radio with richer bass and no distortion. Moreover, it is easier to control (how ironic), and its dimensions seem more portable to me. There is, however, one clear advantage the Hidden Radio has over the Jambox: Battery life. 15 hours versus 10, respectively.
The Jambox is certainly not as clever as the Hidden Radio. Nor is it as complementary to the decor of its surroundings. But the Jambox works and sounds better — and that’s what matters.