Category Archives: App Review

MagicalPad Review

Brain Organization

Whether taking some simple notes or trying to organize a big idea, MagicalPad may be the App you’re looking for. If your brain is as scattered and random as mine, it may just save your life.

A Minimal but Powerful Interface

The in-App buttons are all found at the bottom of the interface, and they work like a charm. Basic commands are all there (Undo, Delete, Formatting), and a single tap brings up “Mind-Mapping” options, as you can see in this screenshot:

The Beautiful, Minimal Interface of MagicalPadIt really is just as simple to operate as it looks.

I really like how the “Mind-Mapping” menu stays on-screen until you tap it again – particularly handy when you need to switch Auto-Connecting and what type of note you want it to create. If you don’t like it hanging around, just tap it again to restore your screen real estate.

Each note edits with a tap and to move something, just hold your finger on it until it fades, then put it wherever you want. If it’s a connected note, the connecting line moves with it. And if you left a note unconnected and suddenly realize it should be attached to something? Just use “Connect Selected” in the Mind-Mapping menu and tap away. Ultimately, both editing and idea-connecting work exactly the way they should.

Intuitive Functionality and Evernote Integration

The value of making multiple notebooks is a huge plus, and is part of what made this App worth its purchase for me. I tend to have multiple projects at once, so being able to file each one in its own little home helps me stay organized, productive, and task-focused. Also, it’s easy to connect your Evernote account and export the workspace as a JPG, Note, or .PDF. I recommend either JPG or PDF, since you lose any of the “Mind-Mapping” if you export as a note:

Exporting as a Note: Bad Idea if you want to Maintain FormattingExporting as a Note looks like this. You’re welcome.


The notebooks themselves can be filled with lots of rename-able pages. The default system names each page after the date and time, so I recommend renaming right after starting a new page just to stay organized.

The Notebook Screen of MagicalPadKeep your ideas separated for greater productivity and less distraction.

The Price

The price point for this App may prove a little rich for your blood – $7.99 (at the time of this writing) puts it in a category of “over $5 Apps” which, in my opinion, means it better deliver. I can say without hesitation that this app has been worth more than the eight bucks I dropped on it, and I use it for everything from organizing this blog to making plans and modifying them during the execution phase.

If you’re the kind of person who likes being able to organize your thoughts visually, and you value both flexibility and intuitive design, then this is probably the App you’ve been looking for. If you’re just looking for something to take notes in, stick with Evernote.

Rating:

Five Stars!

Standard Review Disclaimer

All of my reviews are done on the 4th Generation iPad that is about five months old. I can’t vouch for the functionality of something on an iPhone, an iPad Mini, an iPod Touch, older generation iPad, or a steam-powered spaceship. If you agree or disagree with any particular rating, please feel free to leave a well-reasoned comment, or send me an email: editor[at]iPad4Life.net .

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Free Apps: My Go-to Five

Five Great Free Apps

Why pay for what you can get for free? Keep in mind that some of these are free versions that have more functional pay versions, but you should always try before you buy, so they still make the list. I also appreciate App designers who are smart enough to offer free versions as a means of letting the user assess whether they can use the App or not – thanks, guys!

Also, I never endorse an App that I don’t use, and I use most of these on a daily basis.

  1. Textilus – I dabble in other forms of writing on occasion (I’m working on the nerdiest novel in history), and so I really wanted a full-featured writing App that had things like font control (font face and size), formatting, and exporting to universal formats like rtf. Textilus does it all, and its free version handles most of these things. I upgraded to the pay version, which was $5 well spent for a control freak like me.
  2. Evernote – Many people use this to sync notes between their iPhone/Android, PC/Mac, and their iPad. I don’t really use it on my PC too much, but it is the most useful note-taking tool ever on the iPad for me, especially with how easily you can drop in pictures, video, sound, or just type an outline for a post (like this one). It has some pay features, but the basic functionality is all I really need, so I stuck with the free version.
  3. Printer Pro Lite – Read this carefully: Printer Pro Lite will not give your iPad printing capabilities, but is a compatibility checker to be used with your PC or through a network to make sure that the full version of Printer Pro can talk to your printer and print stuff out. So again, if you want to see whether your printer is capable of connecting to your iPad, download the lite version and if printing from the iPad is workable and worth $7 to you, upgrade to the pay version to start printing. I did, and it works fantastically with my printer.
  4. Adobe Reader – For better or worse, the PDF is pretty much the standard format for important documents these days, and though there are some non-Adobe Apps that claim to enhance your ability to navigate and/or change the PDF’s on your iPad, my primary use for PDF’s is to read them, so I go with Adobe’s App, which works great.
  5. Chrome – I’ve written about Chrome’s features and capabilities before, so check that review out if you’re unclear on why I love this browser. I use it all the time, and the bookmark sync is particularly useful since it’s built into the browser and allows you to organize them into folders for easy access. The only time I use Safari is when I need to download something App-specific that Chrome doesn’t know how to handle (like brushes in Procreate).

So there you have it, five apps that I couldn’t do without, and all of them have free versions. Again, make sure you always read the descriptions of the Apps you’re downloading to make sure it does what you think it does. Printer Pro Free in particular has a lot of unnecessary negative reviews because people assumed it would help them print, something it never claimed it would do. Keep your objectives in mind as you App shop – reading the description is never a waste of time, even for free Apps.

Fingerprint

Google Drive App Review

The Free, Cloud-based Office Suite

Google Drive was my primary word processing tool when I was using my laptop. The all-inclusive, browser-based application was so useful that it left Microsoft Office in the dust. Google Drive, then called Google Docs, restored my faith in free software, and allowed me to finally stop carrying around that pesky jump drive.

So how does the App compare to the regular browser-based version? Short answer, not well.

The Good

Proficient Google Drive users will feel right at home with the minimalistic interface, which is easy to navigate and organize. All of my files synced up without a problem, and I especially like the ability to save documents and spreadsheets offline and be able to edit them regardless of WiFi availability. Just make sure you select the “Make Available Offline” option while you have an internet connection.

The Google Drive App Interface

The App truly preserves the feel of the original Google Drive.

Documents have all of the same writing, editing, and formatting options that you’d find in the original, and while the interface is a bit more nested in the App, it’s nested intuitively, and all the options are easy to find.

The Spreadsheets are a little less evolved and are a LOT slower and therefore more frustrating to edit than Documents, but you can edit them, so that’s good. But if you need to zoom in (which you probably will because of how tiny the Spreadsheets can get), you will experience some lag in the App. Just take your patience pills beforehand and you’ll be fine.

A Sample Google Drive Spreadsheet

Just typing this took about 5 minutes, what with the column resizing and all.

With Documents and Spreadsheets, you basically have the same functionality as the original Google Drive, with a little bit of lag sprinkled mostly on the Spreadsheets. Lag is bad, but overall functionality is good.

The Bad

Presentations and Drawings are read-only, and the App has no way to edit them at all. To be fair, it does give a lot of sharing options for both, from PDF to JPG, but still – no way to create or edit Presentations or Drawings. This is a big minus, since I do throw together the occasional presentation or want to make a quick sketch in a Document.

Also, while you can edit Spreadsheets, I have no idea why you would choose this App for that function. Resizing the columns (which is a pretty frequent task) is like playing Operation: the resizing control is so small that my fat sausage fingers literally never grab it on the first try.

As I’ve already mentioned, this App is also a little temperamental and can occasionally be a little slow to respond. This is more frequent in the Spreadsheets than the Documents, but it is a problem nonetheless. How much RAM can these functions really need? The original version is browser-based for goodness’ sake!

Summing Up

Big-time positive points for offline editing and collaboration, big time negative points for general slowness and especially for the lack of support for Presentation and Drawing support. Here are the stars:

User-Friendliness: 4
Functionality: 3
Aesthetics: 5
Performance: 3.5
Honesty: 5

Overall: 3.75 Stars!

3.75 Stars!

Closing Advice For Google

Take a page from Evernote and specialize Drive’s capabilities. Make an App for Google Documents, Google Spreadsheets, Google Presentations, and Google Drawing and link them to one another. That way, you’ll get maximum functionality and usability, while also giving your users a more stable and pleasant overall experience, which is after all, what iPad users especially are looking for.

Standard Review Disclaimer
All of my reviews are done on the 4th Generation iPad that is about five months old. I can’t vouch for the functionality of something on an iPhone, an iPad Mini, an iPod Touch, older generation iPad, or a steam-powered spaceship. If you agree or disagree with any particular rating, please feel free to leave a well-reasoned comment, or send me an email: editor[at]iPad4Life.net . Thank you for reading!

Procreate Review

Paint Like You Mean It

Procreate for iPad - $4.99Get Procreate From the App Store Now.

Procreate has evolved into one of the most popular art creation apps on the iOS system today. It boasts an intuitive interface, a simple-yet-innovative brush creation system, and an active and helpful online community. On a personal note, it is my primary painting app, and I use it for nearly all my art creation on the iPad, along with my Pogo Connect stylus.

The Positives

The idea behind Procreate is to have an App capable of painting fast, yet also able to handle the small details and nuances that take most paintings from “nice layout” to “wow, awesome.” The performance is impressive, it is indeed very fast at laying down color and manipulating with a stylus or a finger. The App will set you back five bucks, but it comes with more brushes than you would expect, a whole six sets (48 brushes in all!) and they range from pencil to painting as well as subtleties like textures. And though Procreate offers nine more brush sets for purchase at $0.99 each, you probably won’t need to purchase them unless you feel the need to support the creators because the App comes with its own innovative Brush creation system.

Each brush is composed of two elements; shape and texture. This helps give each brush its own unique feel, and I set about taking pictures of textures I found around me (wood grain from a table, my own blue jeans, even rusted jagged metal) and quickly became immersed with different brush combinations.

Seasoned artists should quickly pick up on Procreate’s features, and many have already shown just how impressive the App can be when it comes to creating beautiful art:

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Even amateurs like me can get in on the action, like with this painting I did of a 400+ year-old bonsai tree named “Hiroshima Survivor:”

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It is worth noting that, just like any tool, Procreate will not do the work for you. You still need to know basic elements of painting like composition, color picking, and lighting. That being said, there are a few things about Procreate that struck me as negative, though to be fair they are pretty minimal and don’t hurt its final score too much.

The Negatives

It’s a little too “painterly” sometimes, especially when it comes to erasing. Often I would paint a large swath on the canvas with the intention of erasing it into a certain shape only to find (much later in the process) that I had left behind a few tiny artifacts which, while initially barely visible, are now making my faces look old or my boat look like a paper bag. It’s easy enough to direct-paint over the small mistakes, and there are workarounds I learned for the early blocking-in process (like temporarily setting a layer to multiply to emphasize artifacts for easier extermination), but all of these things feel like extra steps to someone who’s used to Photoshop.

The other issue I had was with color mixing. I searched and searched but couldn’t find a reasonable way to mix the colors onscreen the way I am used to doing when painting in Photoshop. Smudge doesn’t work, opacity doesn’t work, and the load controls are buried in the brush settings and don’t act the way that I’m used to.

The color-picker works fine, and is fairly intuitive, but I’m still pretty weak on palette harmonization, and onscreen mixing is a pretty common technique even for professional digital painters and designers, so it seems weird that it was left out. Again, maybe someone out there has a good and non-time-wasting way to do this, and if so, I’ll happily edit this section of the review, but for now it seems that Procreate is just one tool shy of being as useful to me and other amateurs as it could be.

A Robust Community

The typical response from the Procreate Community when someone complains that Procreate lacks this or that feature is to claim that adding more tools would make Procreate slow, just like the other iPad art Apps (their claim, not mine). They have added their own ingenious workarounds, usually hinging on a custom brush, which they provide and share freely among one another.

While I admire the community for their share-and-share-alike mentality and extreme helpfulness, I have to say that a workaround in itself implies that something is missing. While Procreate doesn’t make any claims to having every tool you’ll ever need, some simple settings like being able to draw a straight line or even some better blending when using “softer” brushes doesn’t seem like too much to ask when other painting programs have been providing these tools for decades. Again, none of these negatives cost them more than half-a-point here or there in their star rating, and maybe I’m just not a good enough artist to make the most of this App yet.

I have nothing but respect and admiration for the creators, who really put together a solid painting App. Despite its limitations, it’s still my go-to painting App and frankly, I love it!

Rating:

  • User-friendliness – 4.5
  • Functionality – 4
  • Aesthetics – 4
  • Performance – 4
  • Honesty – 5

Overall: 4.3 Stars!

4.3 Stars!

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App Review: Chrome

The Google Chrome Logo

Can Google’s Browser Deliver on an iPad?

As a PC guy, I was understandably reluctant about the iPad’s prospects for my life. One thing I especially loved about the Chrome browser on my PC was its speed and ability to open multiple tabs, something which is now standard among browsers. I was also curious whether I could sign in to my Google account and sync my bookmarks.

As usual, Google did not let me down, and neither did the iPad.

The App launches quickly and saves your previous tabs without a problem. I usually have one or two tabs open all the time (my Deviantart messages, blog analytics, etc.), so I found this feature useful. Also, I was happy to see that all of my bookmarks were synced automatically once I signed into Chrome, and I now have a new category – mobile bookmarks. To find my old bookmarks, I just had to look under “Desktop Bookmarks” and there they were.

Just like its PC counterpart, Chrome for the iPad handles PDF’s, a good feature since I had quite a few bookmarked from my Desktop. It also gives a “Request Desktop Site” option in its drop-down menu right of the address bar, which is handy when I don’t want to download a token iOS app (usually just a dumbed-down and less-functional version of the actual website).

In addition to its PDF functionality, Chrome also handles Youtube videos, but retains all of the video quality controls that are somehow missing from the actual Youtube App. One thing it can’t do, however, is Flash, but this isn’t really a point against it because there’s only one iPad browser I know of (Photon), which handles Flash with any decent functionality. Someday Adobe and Apple will resolve their differences or buy each other out or something, but until then, this is what we’ve got.

Looks just like the Chrome we all know and love.

Forms in Chrome work well, and I haven’t run into a website yet that it can’t load or any that render incorrectly. There was a period where Facebook was acting weird, loading with my messages, friend requests, and notifications all dropped down and no amount of tapping would hide them, thus rendering updating my status an impossibility. However, I haven’t had this problem in a few months, and I strongly suspect that this has more to do with Facebook as a webpage than Chrome as an App. Anyway, since the problem seems to have solved itself, I can’t really count it against the App.

One thing to be aware of when you use Chrome for iPad is that it does not keep every single tab in active memory all the time. This is a functionality issue associated with the iPad – it only has 1GB of RAM, so it has to be careful not to use up too much at once and turn into a sluggish mess. So, Chrome seems to only really load the tab you are currently viewing, keeping perhaps a few others in its memory at a time. If you’re switching pretty quickly between two to four tabs, it shouldn’t be a problem (again, depending on the page). Just be aware that if you leave a tab unviewed for a while, it may have to reload when you look at it again. However, it does load pages very quickly, and I’ve never lost time because of this feature.

Rating:

  1. User-Friendliness= 5 Stars
  2. Functionality= 5 Stars
  3. Aesthetics= 5 Stars
  4. Performance= 5 Stars
  5. Honesty= 5 Stars

Overall Rating= 5 Stars!

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Final Verdict: If you’re a longtime Chrome user like me, you’ll find plenty of functionality on the iPad version. If you’re looking for a viable alternative to Safari, Chrome is worth a shot, plus it’s free. Fast tabbed browsing, efficient interface, and smooth operation.

On the iPhone:Chrome – Google, Inc.

On the iPad:Chrome – Google, Inc.

Standard Review Disclaimer:

All of my reviews are done on the 4th Generation iPad that is about five months old. I can’t vouch for the functionality of something on an iPhone, an iPad Mini, an iPod Touch, older generation iPad, or a steam-powered spaceship. If you agree or disagree with any particular rating, please feel free to leave a well-reasoned comment, or send me an email: editor[at]iPad4Life.net .

App Review Criteria

All Apps are given ratings from 1 to 5 stars, 5 being the best. I take a weighted average of those ratings to give the app its overall rating. I review and rate Apps using the following criteria:

  1. User-Friendliness – Whether the App is easy or difficult to use and navigate upon first impression.
  2. Functionality – Whether the App would be easy to use and add to productivity on a daily basis.
  3. Aesthetics – How the App looks, specifically, whether its appearance enhances or detracts from the experience of using it.
  4. Performance – Whether the App is stable or crashes all the time or freezes up?
  5. Honesty – Arguably the most important aspect, whether the App functions as advertised.

The overall ratings mean:

  1. 5 Stars – Easy to understand, highly functional, good-looking, fast and responsive, lives up to its claims. In other words, perfect.
  2. 4 Stars – A highly functional and well-designed app that has perhaps a few things missing or overlooked. Still a great app, just unpolished.
  3. 3 Stars – Functional App, but doesn’t do anything that can’t be done better (or cheaper) by something else. Probably also has some interface issues, but is largely stable and workable, just run-of-the-mill.
  4. 2 Stars – This App will launch. The odds of it doing anything more complicated than starting up, however, are not good.
  5. 1 Star – Technical difficulties. Either crashes, fails to launch, or otherwise damages the iPad experience. Avoid.

All of my reviews are done on the 4th Generation iPad that is about five months old. I can’t vouch for the functionality of something on an iPhone, an iPad Mini, an iPod Touch, older generation iPad, or a steam-powered spaceship. If you agree or disagree with any particular rating, please feel free to leave a well-reasoned comment, or send me an email: editor[at]iPad4Life.net .

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