Working Exclusively On An iPhone

So my laptop drank some water this morning and is now dead. I rushed it to the closest Apple Service Center but the earliest I can get a diagnostic (and knowing whether or not my MacBook Air can be saved) is on Monday.

Since I have no replacements on hand I’ll be relying on my iPhone 6 Plus to get work done over the weekend. In an attempt to keep things positive, I’m looking at this as an opportunity to determine whether the iPhone 6 Plus and its enlarged screen can work as a decent productivity tool. These are the main functions that the phone will be carrying out from today until Monday (when I can at least get a decent Mac as a temporary laptop):

Documents: I have some essays for my grad school applications due on Tuesday. Thankfully, before my laptop passed on I was able to migrate all of my important documents to Google Docs from the incredibly unreliable iCloud Drive. Google Docs is a passable word processor on the iPhone, it’s main advantages over its iWork counterpart being speed and the reliability of its syncing (iCloud Drive has NEVER worked for me on mobile). If the formatting features of Google Docs prove to be insufficient, I may have to revert to Pages in order to get my essays in the right format.

Spreadsheets: Thankfully I have no complex finance spreadsheets to work on over the weekend but I’ll be going over some large (>10MB) property listings and do some light editing on those. I’ve never tried Google Sheets for any extended period of time (ditched Numbers on iOS awhile back because the damn thing would never sync with iCloud Drive) but its lack of a search function is pretty ominous. If I have trouble navigating and manipulating my spreadsheets with Google Sheets, I’ll have to revert to Numbers.

Gaming: Yes, this is part of being productive because without it, I would lose my mind and crazy, catatonic people don’t get any work done. Hearthstone was my go-to game on my Mac but since the iPhone version isn’t out yet and my iPad is also out of commission, I’ll have to rely on good ol’ handheld gaming. Off the top of my head there’s Oceanhorn (now with a 60FPS update for the iPhone 6), Vainglory, and SimCity: Buildit. That iPhone version of Hearthstone can’t come soon enough.

So far, the biggest problem I foresee is the my inability to run apps side by side. I’ll have to constantly switch back and forth between browser and word processor which is clunky to say the least. I’ll be posting updates on my experiences with this thing as a replacement laptop. Well…here’s to trying something new.

RIP MacBook Air (at least for now)


Evernote: The All-In-One, Part 1


For the past few months, I have been using a number of apps for various, productivity-related functions. Briefly enumerated below: 

Day One: journaling
Simplenote: quick notes, rough drafts 
Genius Scan: scanning physical documents into PDF form
Notify: annotating PDF’s, digital signatures
      Over the course of my random researches, I have found a solution that encapsulates the function of the above four into a single app: Evernote. Evernote can, in theory, do the job of the four different productivity apps and do them just as well, if not better than each of the dedicated apps. The fact that these four functions: Journaling, note-taking, PDF capture, and PDF annotation, are consolidated into a single app gives Evernote an advantage over the four apps assuming there are no major flaws in function or stability.  

Journaling vs Day One – In my opinion, what makes Day One the best journaling app is the way the interface is designed. Each entry is laid out on a timeline allowing you to pinpoint the development of thoughts and ideas. There is also a calendar view similar to the Calendar app of iOS that allows you to view all of the entries in a given day. While Evernote also displays entries in a timeline format, the way this is implemented emphasizes content more than the chronology of the content. Finally, Day One’s timeline view is the first thing you see upon opening the app. To get to Evernote’s timeline view, you’ll have to open an individual notebook which translates to an extra step. Where Evernote takes the lead is in what you can put into entries. While Day One allows for a single picture and sound file, Evernote allows you to post PDF’s, web pages, multiple pictures, and multiple sound files. For true, dedicated journaling, being able to create multimedia rich entries is a must which is why Evernote is my initial winner here. 

Note-taking vs Simplenote – Note-taking is all about speed and organization. A good dedicated note-taking app will enable you to input notes expediently as well as effeciently index these entries for quick reference. For this first function, Simplenote is the winner: no matter where you are in the app, you’re only a single press away from inputting a new note. Evernote, on the other hand, sometimes requires that you press through a separate menu before being able to input a new note. While this slight delay may seem inconsequential, sometimes it makes all the difference when catching a thought or idea. Where Evernote pulls ahead are in the areas of multimedia rich entries (as with Day One), and in indexing notes. First, Evernote allows you to capture pictures and recordings in addition to text. Sometimes the only way an idea can be effectively captured is through either one of these forms of media. Second, while Simplenote offers a clean, accessible interface as well as tagging, Evernote offers an additional level of organization in notebooks. This is crucial when it comes to managing  a higher volume of notes. For indexing, Evernote also references the contents of pictures and PDF files whenever you do a search within the app. This means that you can, in theory, store handwritten notes in Evernote (this will be further discussed when we go to the. Ext function). These additional features give Evernote the advantage over Simplenote. 

PDF capture vs Genius Scan – A good PDF capture app should be able to take legible scans of paper documents, stitch together multiple scans into a single PDF file, upload said file to various cloud services, and do all of the above quickly and efficiently. Genius Scan offers all of these features: it allows you to snap a quick picture then define borders, choose enhancement, and change rotation later on. Genius Scan also allows you to consolidate multiple photos into a single PDF file. Finally, the app allows you to upload the final PDF to a number of services, notably: Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Skydrive, and even Evernote. It’s worth noting that the upload services requires an in-app purchase of $2.99, well worth the cost considering the upgraded functionality. Evernote’s version of this function is decidedly anemic by comparison. The borders for the document capture window are predefined as are the options for enhancement. Consolidation of multiple pages is limited to placing all the pages into a single note and even then you can only capture 4 pages at a time. Uploading is limited to Evernote. Most decisively, Evernote saves the captured document as an image that you can annotate within the app, not a PDF that can be exported and marked up elsewhere. This automatically excludes Evernote from use  in most business activities as these usually involve signing and printing out of PDFs as well as the uploading of said files to various enterprise-oriented cloud services like Box. Given this disparity in features, it looks like Evernote cannot completely replace Genius Scan for PDF capture functionality. When it comes to PDF capture for the purpose of simple note-taking, however, Evernote is adequate. 

PDF annotation vs Notability – Notability’s advantage, as with Genius Scan, is it’s ability to interface with various cloud services such as Dropbox and Box. It also outputs to PDF making it the easy choice when it comes to business use. Notability also allows you to import PDFs from various sources making it a perfect fit for Genius Scan when it comes integration into a business workflow. Evernote, on the other hand lends itself more towards simple annotation of images for the purpose of note-taking. While it can work with images from the Camera Roll, it can only output these back to Camera Roll or indirectly to cloud services via email. This means that images annotated within Evernote are designed to be viewed and studied within Evernote as well. Thus, Evernote is not a full replacement for PDF annotation. It’s inability to export outputs as PDFs makes it necessary to resort to another app especially when it comes to business use. 


     After some preliminary testing, I now realize that Evernote’s greatest feature is how self-contained it is. Used properly, Evernote becomes your one-stop-shop for all things related to note-taking and basic productivity. Unfortunately, it’s also Evernote’s self-contained nature that provides it’s greatest weakness. Some productivity-related tasks inevitably require exporting documents to PDF format either for annotation, peer review, or digital signing. As of now, there’s no way to do this from within the app. This one missing feature spoils what would otherwise have been the perfect productivity suite. Regardless, Evernote makes a perfect productivity solution for nearly everything else. In the coming days I will be exploring just how well it handles these other productivity functions as I integrate Evernote into my daily productivity routines.

Limbo Makes a Seamless Transition to Mobile


I had been put off in buying Limbo for iOS because of the $4.99 price tag (yeah, I’m cheap like that). Last weekend, the app went on sale $.99 thus presenting a buying opportunity. I shouldn’t have waited so long (that’s what she said). The visuals make the transfer completely unmolested from the original XBLA version. The minimalist aesthetic of the game is also preserved thanks to gesture-based controls: you swipe left or right to move accordingly and swipe upwards to execute the jump. To push and pull objects in the game world, you press down one finger to initiate the interaction then slide left or right either with that finger or another finger to manipulate the object. It takes some getting used to but ultimately isn’t that difficult to master. The moderate pacing of the game’s action and puzzle sequences also make it easier to control without any physical buttons.

All in all, this is a great purchase even at full price. I hope that this trend of well-executed console ports continues: they make a great case for the iPad as a serious gaming platform. I can’t wait to see how GTA: San Andreas looks later this month.

AVPlayerHD and Infuse – Cutting out the middleman in iOS media

Infuse Splash Screen

Media Players – Infuse and AVPlayerHD

The way it’s always worked for moving video content between desktop and iPad was through iTunes: you’d plug the iPad into your desktop then drag and drop the video files into your desired media player app.

One advantage that Android’s held over iOS for some time in the area of media management (and one that my Android-loving uncle never fails to throw back at me whenever I urge him to get an iPad) is the Android’s drag and drop functionality: you simply plug your Android device into your Windows PC then drag videos into the newly discovered device, much like putting files into a USB drive, no iTunes necessary. Thanks to these two media player apps: Infuse and AVPlayerHD, I finally have a response.


Both apps are quite similar in that each one supports a wide range of formats (.wmv, .avi, .mp4, .mkv to name a few), 720p and 1080p playback, and subtitles. The most modernising feature for me however is the ability to transfer files via wifi. Each app allows you to open up a file transfer server. Computers on the same wifi network as the iPad running the app can access this server through the browser in order to upload and download video content. No need to fish out cables or to open up iTunes (which has gotten more and more laggy for some reason).

Now the most significant differences between the two are in pricing and UI. AVPlayerHD is $2.99 to buy the app and all the features outright. Infuse is initially free but requires a $4.99 in-app purchase to unlock “premium” features like 1080p playback and support for more video formats. In the layout department, AVPlayerHD uses a list format for displaying available content which is better for larger libraries. Infuse uses a tiled layout with each video represented by a snapshot. Another feature that Infuse has over AVPlayerHD is that the app gathers metadata of popular movies and TV episodes displaying information like Genre, Cast, Director, Writer, as well as a short synopsis of the episode. I always appreciate little touches like this. I think they go a long way towards increasing the overall enjoyment of the app (and make one feel better about parting with $4.99).

Infuse gets the metadata of popular shows for presentation that is complete and polished. I

In the end, you can’t go wrong with either one. Both apps offer a full-featured solution to watching videos on the iPad. The remote transfer feature decreases the iPad’s dependence on iTunes and brings it that much closer to being complete device.

What I’m Playing on the iPad


With so many great iPad games coming out nowadays, I feel that I have to choose which games to play more carefully in order to have time to finish them all. Below is a list of what I’m playing nowadays and why each game stands out:

  • Real Racing 3 – this game has been taking up most of my time, the first time a racing game has ever managed the feat since the original Gran Turismo. I’ll do a more detailed write-up on this at a later time but for now, three reasons why it’s so addictive: excellent visuals, solid racing mechanics, and a fiendishly executed free-to-play model (arguably the best I’ve ever seen in an iOS game) that exemplifies the concept of “carrot-on-a-stick”.
  • XCOM: Enemy Unknown – the best AAA title of last year made it to the iPad largely intact. XCOM further distinguishes itself as a great mobile game by the fact that the mechanics have also been tweaked, making the difficulty in this version more forgiving. While this may not go over well for hardcore gamers, the decreased difficulty streamlines the gameplay, making it perfect for brief, 5-minute sessions while on the go.
  • Oceanhorn – a highly anticipated title that was in development for almost two years, Oceanhorn is showing itself to have been worth the wait. The game’s production values are almost unmatched anywhere else on the App Store with a soundtrack by Nobuo Uematsu, the maestro behind the musical score of the Final Fantasy series. Oceanhorn borrows heavily from the Zelda series and is actually being marketed as a straight up Zelda-clone. That being said, there’s nothing wrong with cloning a classic as long as the imitation is executed well and Oceanhorn certainly delivers.
  • Epoch 2 – Epoch 2 is an on-rails shooter set in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by rogue machines. Mechanically, the game is almost identical to its predecessor with fluid action that’s well-suited to touch controls and does a good job of making you feel like a badass as you acrobatically dodge out of the way of oncoming gunfire. More significantly though, Epoch 2 expands on the sterile narrative of the original, adding spoken dialogue and a storyline that drives you to progress in the game. The shallow RPG elements and repetitive (though still well-executed) set-pieces hurt the replay value of this game though.
  • The Room – I’ll admit that I’m late to the party on this one as this game was released a little over a year ago. The Room is a game where you solve a series of puzzles that are protecting the mysterious contents of a box. The visuals are photorealistic – this is the post-PC version of Myst. While it’s a bit on the short side, The Room makes for an excellent showcase of how the iPad differentiates itself as a top-tier gaming platform.

Why the iOS 7 Music app is still lacking

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This is just a quick rundown of my thought process in choosing a music app. I’ll post a more detailed comparison of the above apps at a later time.

Coming from Android, the unity in design that iOS 7 represented was one of the reasons  why I was made the switch. Thus I wanted to restrict my usage to the default system apps whenever possible. Still, I found that the Music app was lacking some key features that forced me to explore two alternatives: Spotify and Rdio.

I had used  Spotify and Rdio in past, while I was still on Android, and their ability to provide music on demand was something that I feared the Music app would be sorely lacking in. Both provided music discovery through their respective radio features and, more importantly, music on demand. I had hoped that iTunes Match would help mitigate the lack of music on demand. I had a sizeable library on iTunes and was constantly adding to it through downloads of albums and individual tracks. It was through iTunes Radio that I discovered just what to add to my collection.

This workflow for adding music is cumbersome especially compared to how it would be handled in Spotify or Rdio. In either of the two, you can directly add a discovered song to your collection, ready for offline listening on your device. In the Music app however, iTunes Radio offers no similar feature unless you’re willing to buy the track outright for a dollar.

The design unity that the iOS 7 Music app offered was still enough to get me to overlook the cumbersome process of adding newly discovered music. Spotify and Rdio have yet to offer a redesign for iOS 7 (Rdio looks nice but still uses the old iOS 6 keyboard) and I found the design discrepancies to be jarring. Unfortunately, the Music app was also lacking in terms of performance. Music that would stream instantly on a 3G connection when using Spotify and Rdio would constantly lag when downloading from iCloud. There’s also this nasty bug that I’ve encountered when using iTunes Radio that resets my phone about 3 times out of 10 whenever I start a new station.

Given the cumbersome nature of adding new music as well as the glaring iTunes Radio reset bug, I’ve been driven back into the arms of Spotify and Rdio. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out which of the two will better suit my needs.