I find myself to have become a big fan of read it later services over the years. Nothing beats storing an article you do not currently have time to read for when you have free time at work or later in the day. While I am currently a big Instapaper user, I recently have found myself a little bit enamored with DotDotDot.
For those who have not yet heard of DotDotDot, it is a recently launched read it later service that focuses more on longer reads and the social aspect compared to other apps. Whenever you import an article to the service, which currently can only be done with a Chrome extension, it shows up on your timeline for people who follow you to view. I know what most people are probably thinking. Do we really need another social network? Well I typically believe the answer is no, I really love how it is done in DotDotDot. Browsing the feeds of your friends or also looking at the global feed is a fantastic way to find new articles to read. Other apps have tried to find a way to show you other hot articles, but this is the first time I believe someone has really done it well.
No read it later service would be complete without a fantastic mobilizer view and DotDotDot has it down pat. Articles that you save to read later are laid out in a book format with you pressing left and right on the keyboard, or swiping on your iOS device, to navigate pages. The site also keep track of how many pages you read which I found to be a very fun thing to look at. I found this book you to be perfect for reading online in a browser and I rarely saw a letter of text out of place. While this app is currently in beta, I am very happy with it so far.
What I think will excite a lot of people about this read it later service compared to others is the ability to highlight text and make annotations. This is something a lot of people have asked for in other read it later services and I believe this one is the first to deliver. The only problem I really had so far that I must point out is the Chrome extension takes a very long time to save pages. The website and app are also a little slow when it comes to refreshing your feeds but keeping in mind that this is currently a beta app, I feel very excited about the future. To me the big thing will be if DotDotDot actually gets other apps to integrate with it in the future
You can download DotDotDot here for free.
The Pebble Smartwatch has already seen a lot of press, with some calling it the most successful Kickstarter project to date. After following the forums, reviews and general discussion, I had eagerly been awaiting finally getting mine. With the Pebble recently seeing delays for color watches, I finally just decided to order a black watch off of eBay. After using it for a few days, I decided to share some of my impressions. This is by no means a review, but just something to let people waiting for their watches or people considering a purchase in on some details.
After opening my Pebble, the first thing I noticed was how nice the glass watch head is. The display is incredibly smooth and the e-ink is fairly detailed, allowing for some gorgeous watch heads. With a flick of the wrist you can activate a back light to see your watch more easily in the dark. The left side of the watch head has a back button and charger connector, and the right side has an up, down and select button. While the watch head is nice, one thing that I found incredibly disappointing was the included wrist band, which feels incredibly cheap. This is definitely something that I will be replacing soon.
On the software side, while Pebble has finally released an SDK, so far it only allows for development of new watch faces. We will still be waiting a little longer for an SDK to develop apps. So out of the box, with firmware 1.10 (the most current), all you can really do is change watch faces, use the music app, and get notifications.
Now a little on how all those work. So far the music app works quite well, offering the user the ability to skip, pause, play or go backwards. It works with any iOS app that can be controlled with the system’s music controls, including Spotify, Pandora, Audible, and Downcast. Changing watch heads is done by opening the iPhone app, selecting a watch head, and having it download to the watch. This is also how firmware updates are applied. This is a smooth process and I like how it is handled.
Now the disappointing part: notifications. For Android, they all seem to work perfectly. But on iOS, this is a different story. Notifications either come through inconsistently, or not at all. This a Pebble OS problem, and it is promised to be fixed down the road, but it must be pointed out. Now some good news. If your phone is jailbroken, you can download an app from Cydia called BTNotificationEnabler which, after reconnecting your watch to your device, will then send all notifications to it. Using this app, I have had no problems at all with notifications, but before the app I barely got any. So unless you are patient or plan on jailbreaking your iPhone, I would hold out on a Pebble watch for now.
So how do notifications work? Pretty well actually. The Pebble will vibrate and light up alerting you that you have a notification. It will then display so much of the notification, letting you scroll up and down with the buttons on the side of the watch to see more. While longer notifications will be cut off, I found this to be a great tool for deciding if something needed action taken immediately, or can be ignored for later. When a phone call comes in, the Pebble will even vibrate non-stop to alert you, allowing you to answer or ignore the call from your watch.
Would I recommend you buy a Pebble now? No. It still feels too much like a beta project. While I can see it being something special in 6 months, right now I would only advise you purchase one of these if you want a taste of the future. I really like mine so far, but this is definitely more of an early adopter thing to see where wearable technology will be in a few years.
I have long been a fan of Dark Sky for iOS for providing me with pretty darn accurate weather notifications. Nothing beats getting an alert that it may rain soon right before you leave the office, ensuring you bring with you that umbrella you normally would leave behind.
Today the minds behind Dark Sky announced that they are now taking the API behind Dark Sky and making it availiable for use in other ways. They launched a website called Forecast that is a gorgeous website and proof of concept of their data. It seems likely we will start to see other apps integrate this backend to provide us with more accurate weather prediction. But right now, we have a cool weather web app that I know I will be using a lot.
With its 2.0 update today, Flipboard essentially just became a social network. The app now allows users to save stories to their own magazines, which can be shared with friends and on social networks. A user can have multiple magazines, with the ability to name them, choose their category, and even select a cover photo. Flipboard even added push notifications for when a friend likes, follows or comments on your magazine.
I feel like this is a big move on Flipboard’s part. With a massive user base, Flipboard has now made a push towards becoming the go to social network for sharing news. I am sure many users will forgoing sharing to other services like Twitter and Facebook and instead share simply to their magazines. This also seems to hint at how Flipboard will monetize. With users now spending more time in the app sharing magazines, Flipboard will be able to throw in some ads (which likely won’t be a bad thing if they are as non-intrusive as their current ads) and start serving up a profit. Either way, I am quite excited about where this is heading.
Unlike most people, when I heard Real Racing 3 was going to be a freemium game I was actually excited. As someone who had played the first two titles in the series and never gotten past the halfway point, I was excited that I would now be able to play the game for free and still not finish it. While most people are already lining up to criticize EA, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt. In the past I had played plenty of other freemium games that I ended up really enjoying so I figured I would hold out until the game was released.
After playing the game since its release, I can say the initial crowd that reacted angrily to this announcement was right. What makes this painful is that the gameplay is fantastic. This title is just as good, if not better, than the previous two entries in the series. The graphics are amazing. The car selection is fantastic. But at the heart of it you always feel that something is wrong.
What is exactly wrong? I will first begin by explaining how exactly the freemium model has been implemented for those who are not familiar. I will then go into detail why this ruins the overall experience.
In the past entries in the series, you would earn cash by completing races. You would then use this cash to purchase newer, better cars so you could enter other contest. This remains true in the third entry as well, however, a new feature has been added. Not only do you have to pay cash for the car, you can have to wait for the car to be delivered to you! That’s right. All that hard work that went into earning cash to buy the car and you are rewarded with a 15 minute or longer wait. However, there is good news! You can use the game’s other currency, gold, to speed up the wait process and have the car instantly! Did I mention that gold is incredibly rare? You basically only get it by leveling up from winning races and even then you get very few pieces. But of course you can buy gold, and you can also buy cash. Neither of which is very cheap. To compound matters, your car accrues damage during races, causing your car ‘s performance to degrade. So when you inevitably have to prepare your car, it requires the in game cash. To make it even better, after you pay the cash you again have to wait for the repairs to be done. You even have to wait for upgrades to be installed! But of course, your old friend gold is standing by waiting to speed everything up.
If none of this has turned you off of the game yet, I will now explain to you how this model completely breaks the game. First of all, the beginning of the game is basically designed to make you commit to some type of in app purchase. Whether it will be buying the starter pack for $2 or buying additional currency, you will likely find yourself spending money or waiting a long time. The reason for this is you will find is that your car gets damaged quite quickly and therefore you will have to repair it and since you only start with one car, you are out of luck while your car is getting repaired. Some people have suggested buying multiple cars to mitigate this, but it does not change the fact that you constantly have to spend money to repair your car. This itself would not be a problem if the game actually rewarded you handsomely for winning races. But it does not. This leads to another problem.
Winning races typically pays very little. The problem is, especially in the beginning, you will not find yourself winning many races. Many of the competing cars are much faster than your car and you often times find yourself coming in second or third if you are lucky and most likely finishing out of the top three. When you get better cars the situation improves, but it takes a long time to get better cars. Keep in mind while you are winning your pittance of an award, you have to pay to repair your car. The better car you have the more it costs to repair. So coming in second or third in a race may just barely cover your car repairs. This leads to you very slowly accruing currency. So if you want a good car or another car without having to commit a ton of time to the game, you will likely find yourself leaning towards an in app purchase.
And that is why the game feels broken. The beginning of the game feels like they are trying to immediately get you to make an in app purchase. The fact that the starter pack is $2 and the rest of the packs are $5 or more leads me to believe that they at least wanted to get you to buy one or two packs. Once you get further in the game and unlock a lot of cars and different classes some of these problems tend to alleviate themselves, but you very rarely will ever have a large surplus of money. Because of this it always feels like the game is trying to reach into your wallet and grab more money. What makes this especially painful is even if you have a ton of cars, you cannot escape the way when buying new cars or making repairs. At best, you can mask a lot of the games deficiencies by having multiple cars, but you can never quite fix them. That is what makes this game a tragic letdown. Unlike a lot of other premium games it is incredibly fun but ultimately suffers due to this change. Personally, I’m going to give the game another week and will likely end up deleting it only spending the two dollars.
As someone who changes the case on their iPhone seemingly ever few months, the recently released SurfacePad by twelvesouth caught my eye. It is a beautifully stylish case that could be best be described as a leather smart cover for your iPhone. After seeing it, I ordered one immediately (red, in case you were wondering).
The case came in a package reminiscent of Apple (it even came with stickers). I tore it open and immediately set out to ditch my bulky Otterbox Defender. It ended up taking me three tries to perfectly attach the adhesive back of the case to my iPhone, more due to my OCD and lack of hand eye coordination than anything else. I am told that the adhesive can be used multiple times and that seems to be true. I noticed when removing my iPhone and reattaching it that the adhesive seemed to be just as strong each time.
At first the case takes a little getting used to when tweeting or making a phone call since you have to wrap the front cover behind the phone when using it or else you have a flap that gets in your way. After a day I no longer found this problematic. What makes the case great so far is its lightweight protection. I forgot how light my iPhone 5 was after months of using an Otterbox, and thanks to the SurfacePad my iPhone is sexy again. Even better, the aluminum back is protected and the iPhone screen is protected when in my pocket. Now as a warning, the entire edges of the iPhone are not covered with this case. So if you are someone who is drop prone, I would avoid this case like the plague. This case is more a fashion accessory than a protective device, and seems very unlikely to protect your iPhone in the case of a drop. Scratches will not be a problem, but drops remain a hazard. As someone who seldom drops his iPhone (and yes, I know I probably will now that I got this case), it seemed like worthwhile gamble to me.
Something else of note is that the case actually doubles as a horizontal stand for your iPhone as well. I am not sure how useful this is, but so far I have enjoyed having it. It is not something that really is a driving factor for buying a SurfacePad, but one of those nice, small details worth pointing out. In the few days I have used this case, I can say without doubt that I absolutely love it. This is by far the best case I owned for an iPhone yet, due both to its style and the fact that I get light protection for my phone without hiding how beautiful it looks.
The SurfacePad is $35 and available in black, white and red. Shipping is free.
Bitcasa just launched a few days ago. For those who do not know what that is, I will make it brief. Picture your hard drive, but in the cloud. Oh, and its unlimited. Yes, unlimited. And it only costs $10 a month. That is what Bitcasa is. And I believe that this is going to be the future. For my more tech savvy readers, imagine if Dropbox and Crashplan had a baby. That baby would be named Bitcasa
Let us get the negatives out of the way first. Bitcasa is a bit ugly. The web interface looks like a glorified iPad app, which does not translate well to the web. The iOS apps are pretty ugly, looking almost like a metro style gone bad motif. The iOS apps are also pretty buggy, with them crashing often or failing to load new files without a quick pull to refresh. They even lack the ability to use “Open in…” to send files to them! Oh, and most of the good features are coming soon. Shared folders? Not yet. Hell, making folders? Not at all. All of this sounds rather bad, and to an extent it is, but Bitcasa is more an exercise in potential than something that stands on its current merits. Right now it still feels more like a beta than a 1.0, but after perusing the forums and seeing how many changes were made before getting to this point, I feel confident the team can deliver and craft a more “whole” product.
So why do I love Bitcasa? Because there is a lot to love. The biggest feature is obviously the unlimited space. Called the Infinite Drive, Bitcasa allows a user to mirror their computer to its online drive after downloading an app to your computer. Think Crashplan, with your Infinite Drive always being available to you whether on your mobile device or desktop, and always backing up your files. Bitcasa also works on PC, Mac and Linux, making it possible to back up any combination of computers your household has. I really like that I can backup both my MacBook and Windows PC without having to worry about space constraints. And, just like Dropbox, Bitcasa also allows you to upload files to the cloud as well. And since it is unlimited, you could store hundreds of gigabytes of pictures, all your HD movies, or whatever else crosses your mind.
Bitcasa tries to go all iCloud on you by automatically organizing things into categories including music, videos, photos, documents and folders. Folders baffles me because it seems to include everything you upload, not just folders, but the rest are self explanatory. It is really nice that Bitcasa does this, but I would prefer the ability to make my own folders. It is great that when I click on photos I know every single photo can be found there, but with over 2000 photos now, I would love to categorize them in folders. I am not sure if this is an intentional omission or not. It is possible to indirectly make folders by opening the Finder (or Windows Explorer) and creating them there while sorting stuff in the Finder, but this seems like a ridiculous workaround. I hope a simple solution comes soon.
Bitcasa also has a third party API which they will be opening up soon. Because mainly the techy types would be the kind of people that would want unlimited storage, and they also are the ones that make apps, I am hoping that we see this integrated into some apps soon. I feel that many of the problems Bitcasa suffers now are due to it being young. Its ugly UI and lack of sharing features will evolve over time. Right now, they hit the right spots with the unlimited storage and pricing. Awhile back I wrote a piece on whether I would go with Google Drive or Dropbox for additional storage. I now decided to go with Bitcasa, and I am going to cancel my CrashPlan account as well. I feel that Bitcasa is going to be the future. I definitely prefer living with all my information in the cloud instead of in various harddrives. I prefer when I get a new computer to have to do a little as possible to transition over, and this makes it much simpler than ever. Now I can backup everything I want, to my hearts content, without having to ever worry about running out of space.
For the first time in my life, I am nearing the point where the free allotted amount of something given to me online is almost completely used up. Specifically, I am referring to the online storage I have come to grow so dependent on provided to me by Dropbox. Through promotions and inviting friends, I have managed to get up 6.4GB, but that is almost completely full. So I needed more. Not immediately, but pretty soon. I decided to explore my options before I made my purchase, and narrowed it down to two choices: Dropbox and Google Drive. Below is my explanation of how I got here, focusing on my main needs: price, usability, mobile apps and compatibility. At the end, I will reveal what I ultimately went with.
Price: Since I only needed a small amount of storage, I planed on getting the cheapest plan I could. Dropbox only had one choice for me. For $10 a month or $100 a year I could get 100GB. This seemed fairly priced at first, until I looked at Google Drive’s pricing and discovered not only a smaller, better fit plan for me (25GB), but the fact that Drive’s 100GB plan was only $5 a month! With how cheap it is getting to provide storage these days, it certainly feels like Dropbox is price gouging a bit, but I understand. Google has other sources of revenue. Dropbox does not. Google also only has a monthly plan in case that matters to some people. So for price, Drive is clearly the winner. As a side note, any size Drive plan will also boost your Gmail account to 25GB which is a nice freebie.
Usability: Dropbox and Drive both have apps that you can download that insert themselves into the Finder and the menu bar (for Mac. Similar apps are available for Windows as well. If you use Linux, please find a friend.). They also both have websites where you can drag and drop files that will begin uploading instantly. Both allow the ability to share files as well as organize them via folders. Drive even lets you color the folders which I enjoy (its the small things). Drive has some nice Google specific features, such as easy integration with Gmail, allowing the sending of up to 10GB attachments, as well as the ability to edit documents in Drive. I found editing documents to be a great collaborative tool. My podcast keeps our topics lists in Drive so everyone has access leading up to the show and can add or remove topics as they see fit. If you have people you are working with, Drive is clearly the winner. Organizing files in Drive feels burdensome though. Moving things around feels like a pain, whereas it feels much better in Dropbox. Its hard to explain, but Dropbox just “feels” more smooth. However, its hard to knock all the tools Drive has, especially when it comes to document editing. Overall, this felt like a tie to me.
Mobile Apps: Dropbox and Drive both have universal apps for iOS. Google Drive’s app allows editing documents and spreadsheets created in Drive, as well as sharing the documents with additional collaborators. It is not as pretty as Dropbox, but quite functional. One thing that disappointed me was the lack of support for as many files types as Dropbox had. I certainly felt that Dropbox opens many more file types. The Dropbox app is also much prettier to look at. One of the benefits of Dropbox is there are many third party clients that allow access to Dropbox. One such app, ClouDrop for DB has a lot of features missing from the official app like document renaming. Again, this area felt like more of a tie to me, but Drive’s ability to edit documents gives it the slight edge in my mind.
Compatibility: I define this criteria as how many apps work with said storage service. In this case, Dropbox wins by a landslide. Despite being relatively new, a decent amount of apps support Drive compared to other cloud competitors, but not nearly as many as Dropbox. I also noticed Drive support tended to be more focused in document editing apps, such as Notability or Goodreader, and was virtually nonexistent in other types of apps. Dropbox support not only included these apps, but also utilities, text editors, journaling apps and more. Perhaps there is an API reason for this, or perhaps support for Dropbox is just greater. Either way, I spend a lot of time in text editors and the lack of Drive support in any I could find was a major blow. I also prefer consolidating stuff into only one place, so with many apps using Dropbox sync only, it feels best to go with Dropbox.
What did I go with? Hilariously, I actually am on the 25GB Drive plan right now! Its cheaper and let me dump a lot of excess stuff in there. But I plan on switching to Dropbox as soon as it is 100% full, which should be fairly soon. Dropbox just seems like a service with much wider support despite the higher price tag.
Two days ago, Twitter launched the recently acquired video service Vine, which many are already calling the “Instagram of video”. Of course, like with anything that has to do with the internet, people already have been misusing it. The tech media, as they are keen to do, have already been exploiting the situation for page views with such titilating titles as Twitter’s Vine Has a Porn Problem and Warning: Graphic Porn Invades Vine. Don’t lie, as a guy, there is no way you skipped clicking on at least one of those, which is exactly what they were counting on.
Other daring souls are already questioning if Apple will pull the app for making it easy to find pornography similar to what they recently did with 500px. Personally, with how fond Apple is of Twitter, I believe this gets swept under the rug with Vine getting a chance to figure out how to solve this before any action is taken. But this leads to another important question: where does Apple start and stop drawing the line on policing the App Store?
As many people can guess, or personally experience, Safari is built into iOS and it allows the user to search for porn. I don’t see Apple pulling their own app (sarcasm). Some would argue that parental controls exist in iOS for this reason, but they also exist for preventing downloads from the App Store. Apple cannot start a trend of banning every photo app that shows sexual content, or else it will gradually escalate to video apps, and then beyond. Heck, do a hashtag search in Tweetbot for porn and you can find your fill. I constantly see naked spam photos browsing my Facebook stream. Apple’s solution either leads to total censorship or to playing favorites (targeting only popular apps or apps that draw attention). Solution? People need to grow up and accept that sexual content, within reason, is part of life. I obviously do not want to be on Vine and see a GIF of some dude playing with himself, but if you want to view sexual art on 500px, that seems to be your prerogative. The sooner Apple understands this, the better off all of our apps are.