Categories
Link Technology

Cleartones

Ringtones and notification sounds are nearly always ghastly and loud. Cleartones aims to solve that. It’s a collection of minimal ringtones and notifications that are unique and don’t violate your ears. They are beautifully simple.

I favour the ‘Pure’ collection. And use:

  • Ringtone: The Pitch
  • Text tone: Refined
  • New Email: Pretty Pure
  • Calendar Alerts: Reflections

Each of the 3 packs costs $17. Or you can buy all of them for $35. Pretty pricey. But they’re gorgeous and you get them DRM-free so you can keep the same tones forever.

Tip: When out and about, with the phone in my pocket, I mostly rely on the vibrate. So I’ve turned down the ‘ringers and alerts’ default volume to around half way in Settings. This means when at home alerts are even less obtrusive and I don’t bother people when on the train, etc. I’d reccomend trying this yourself.

Categories
Link Technology

IFTTT for iPhone

IFTTT has just released its iPhone app.

The ‘activity log’ stream is the first thing you see in the app, and I’m glad, as it’s vital to know your recipes are running fine. On the website it’s always been buried in the nav and I’m sure many users don’t know it even exists.

Elsewhere it does everything you’d expect, like create, find and toggle on/off recipes. There’s also three new channels you can use thanks to the app: Photos, Reminders, and Contacts. Though you have to either open the app or allow it to leave location services on to run recipes these new channels.

IFTTT for iPhone doesn’t ‘automate your entire phone‘, but it’s a very good first effort.

Download it for free [iTunes link]

Categories
Technology

Droplr Pro

Droplr has just announced its ‘Pro’ membership option.

I’ve been trying out Pro for a few weeks now as a Beta tester and this is my little review.

Features

For $30 a year (or $3 a month if you don’t want to pay annually) you get:

  • Larger files and increased storage. Files up to 1GB in size and 100GB of storage.
  • No ads. This includes seeing ads on other peoples stuff. (While you’re logged in)
  • Statistics.
  • Private Drops.
  • Customized Drop Views. (Well, three differen’t colours.)
  • Option to use your own domain.

Thoughts

Pro isn’t a key to an unknown Droplr world. It doesn’t transform the experience. The Pro features are just lovely additions to an already great service. I don’t mean this badly. Pro simply embeds itself effortlessly. No fuss or fluff.

One of the main reasons you’ll want to upgrade is for its value for money. For example, its big competitor, CloudApp, has a Pro option that costs $15 a year more and the only features are:

  • Unlimited file uploads a day.
  • Upload files up to 250MB.
  • Option to use your own domain.

Dropbox even comes up short as they charge $200 a year for 100GB (I know Dropbox is a very different service to Droplr). Droplr’s $30 Pro looks amazingly good value in comparison.

Conclusion

If you share stuff online, Droplr, and Droplr Pro is for you.

Honourable mention: the sign up proccess for Pro is amazingly simple. The simpliest I’ve ever encountered.

Categories
Technology

DuckDuckGo

So what’s a good search engine? Well, Google comes to mind. Ha, obviously. Bing, Ask and Yahoo are all poor. However, a man called Gabriel Weinberg in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania has created a search engine that seriously rivals the might of Google.

It’s called DuckDuckGo and is amazing. I did some basic tests comparing Google to it and Google did just win. However, DDG (DuckDuckGo) has great character and some nifty features which makes it my default. Also, when I did these tests I was looking at the extreme end of search. So I was seeing if it could tell me when Hendrix died, the time in Oslo, my local weather and if it could do various conversions. Google edged this because it did it so gracefully and beautifully. However, when I stopped doing niche searches and just used DDG day-to-day I found it an equal to Google and that is incredibly high praise. I did more tests and in the first draft of this post talked about them but they’re really too boring to talk about here so I’ll just say Google beats DDG at certain things and vice versa. Which again, for a one man site, is amazing.

Here are some particular things I really like about DDG:

  • !bang syntax. I mainly used Google’s ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ feature. So I’d search ‘in bruges imdb’ and it’d take me right to In Bruges’ IMDB page. However, when I needed multiple results and wasn’t sure of the page I wanted I would have to go to google.com and search. DDG avoids this with the !bang syntax. So now I search ‘!imdb in bruges’ and it’d take me right there. If I don’t know the site I wanted but am ‘feeling lucky’ I’d just search ‘!ducky in bruges’ and it’d take me to the first result. Or say I wanted to buy a Bob Dylan album on Amazon. I’d normally go to amazon.co.uk and search. Now I can just type ‘!a bob dylan’ and DDG will take me right to Amazon’s search results page for Bob Dylan. That is very handy.
  • Security. Google is very smart. It’s constantly working out ways to get you clicking stuff and tracks you in very intricate ways. DDG doesn’t do this. Also, Google does have SSL support but it takes away a lot of Google’s usual search features. It’s also not smart. DDG knows I’m searching on its HTTPS site so will take me to the HTTPS version of the link I’m clicking where possible.
  • It’s customizable. You can edit pretty much anything you like. Colors, text size, layout and you can even turn off ads!

There are some things I did really miss about using Google though. Here are the cons of DuckDuckGo usage:

  • No iOS support. Currently you’re only allowed to use Google, Bing or Yahoo as your default search engine in mobile Safari. You can go to ddg.gg everytime you want to search, but that’s tiresome. There is also an actual DDG iOS app, but you don’t want that.
  • No auto-complete when searching.
  • The spell checker is bad. Google is the best in the world at spell checking because they have so much context.
  • Google is prettier. DuckDuckGo is like Samuel Johnson. An ugly mother-fucker who occasionally stutters but is charming and clever, so you forget all that.
  • Google.com is the hub. You visit it and from there you access your e-mail, documents, news, maps and more. DDG becomes another unnecessary non-Google site to visit.
  • Consider DDG ‘the face of the web’. If you want a deep extensive search and plan on trawling through many pages DDG will say ‘no more results’ and give you the option to redirect to Google, Bing, etc.
  • When I search for a cinema Google gives me showings, a map and the telephone number all without clicking a single link. DDG isn’t as smart in this regard.

I’d imagine most people will prefer Google, if only for familiarities sake. However, DuckDuckGo is a great, endearing alternative. So please give it a try!

September 27, 2011: Another con of using DDG: as I mentioned, the site is customizable. It uses javascript to impose your favoured colours, layout, etc. This can be slow. Generally only a second or two, though it can be longer. This doesn’t sound like too much of an issue, but it will be after a few hundred searches. Sometimes I find and click what I’m looking for before my settings ‘arrive’, so to speak. Please consider this.

September 29, 2011: I listed bad spell checker as one of the cons of DDG. However, this probably proves me wrong:
DuckDuckGo spelling correction

May 8, 2012: I’m still using DuckDuckGo happily. It’s gotten a lot faster recently and I’ve become a Jedi at using !bangs.

November 21, 2012: Still loving DuckDuckGo!!!

January 7, 2014: Using it everyday, still.

Categories
Technology

iPhone 4 Review

“I don’t gamble. I don’t drink. My one vice is buying a new iPhone every summer. Well, that and lying about drinking and gambling.” — John Gruber

Design

From the few I’ve spoke to it seems that men like the new design and women don’t. The ladies don’t like the stainless steel around the edges or its sharpness. They find it unforgiving and masculine. Personally, I love it. Seeing stainless steel in an increasingly plastic society feels refreshing. Plus it’s a nice design wink to Dieter Rams and old Braun products. Most Apple designs are – but traditionally the iPhone never was.
I’ve found the 4 to be both terrible and terrific in the hand because of its hard edges. Most reviewers loved the feel, and I do. But only sometimes. That cold stainless steel makes holding it very mechanical in portrait mode. It’s comforting and industrial. And after a while that feeling welds itself to you and it feels familiarly beautiful holding it. I imagine hand gun owners get that same feeling of ‘home’ when they rest they’re hands on it in their holster.

However – for me – in landscape mode when taking a video or photo it feels pretty bad. It feels pleasant but not comfortable. You have no grip and feel like your going to drop it. The problem is likely magnified with my large hands. But it’s the main reason I’m ordering a nice, round, grippy case.

I had my 3G for 2 years and dropped it quite a few times caseless and it never broke. I had some minor scratches and an obtrusion at the bottom from when I dropped it heavily once. But, it never broke, and I never experienced any of the fragility others reported. Yesterday I dropped my 4 from just below waist height. I was confident there would be no large damage. And there wasn’t. However, there are some really horrible scuff marks. Because of the square design each corner takes the full weight of impact. On iPhones of old the rounded bottom would sort of soften blow. But not with the 4. And these scuff marks are horrible! They aren’t too noticable by sight but are in the hand. The smoothness is now replaced with sharp scratches and it feels rough. Sure, it’s my own fault. But if you own it for 18 months (24 in my case) your going to drop it. And after several shunts I can imagine the phone looking really battered.

The flat, glass back makes it sit nicely on tables and it looks splendid. But I’d prefer a plastic back. Having glass on the reverse of the phone doubles your worries of dropping it and doubles the chance of damage if you do. Also, you don’t want to touch the rear. It’s smooth and lovely, but with sweaty hands it feels slippy and makes you not want to touch it for fear of smear. Yet another reason for purchasing a case.

Tech

Jesus Christ!!! The screen is stunning. Beyond belief stunning. It is mind blowingly clear. It’s so perfect you don’t want to touch it. I just want to load up a Andreas Gursky picture and mount my iPhone. Other phones screens are like regular printer paper; the iPhone’s screen is museum quality paper. (It makes me so excited for the new iPad.)

Other reviewers have praised the 4’s camera saying it’s pretty good but not top of the range. That may be so, but this new camera is more than enough. I consider it just as good as nearly all point and shot cameras. As a photographer I honestly believe I could use the 4 on assignment in most cases. Not for studio based stuff, but certainly onside on location. It’s hard to take a bad picture with it. The point to focus feature is nice but I rarely use it as the large f-stop often makes it irrelevant. It’s handy occasionally though. The flash is okay. Again, nice to have. I haven’t used it enough to really critique it. It boosts everything nicely when using it in medium to low light. But the 4 is good generally adequate in low light. It’s good at night to get the job done. But whitewashes – like most flashes – so don’t expect too fine results.

It’s 720p video capabilities are better than it’s photo taking. The video is so good! Everyone I’ve shown videos to have been blown away. The biggest problem I’ve found with video is exporting it. I like to share it the moment I take it, on Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, e-mail, etc. Most websites give you your own e-mail address so you can attach it, send it, and then the website will upload it. Bit of a problem though. Firstly, it’s compressed before the phone evens sends it and by the time the website of your choice compresses it again and converts it to flash it will look terrible. Really terrible! Secondly, you can only e-mail short videos. It’s based on how long it is and I’ve never been able to upload a video longer than a minute. That’s not very long. Say you’ve taken video on a holiday and edited it all together with the iMovie app. That could easily be 5 minutes long. So, the only way to share it is wait to you get home to your computer, connect your phone, and export it using a software of your choice. So much for cloud computing. The poorly compressed problem is also magnified due to the phones amazing screen.

The battery life is pretty poor. The tech on the iPhone is so immense that it was never going to be great. And all things considered the battery life is decent. But mine has never lasted more than a day. It lasts ages on stand-by. For example, I’ve been up 4 hours and am yet to touch my iPhone since fully charging it over night and the battery percentage is at 98%. Which is great. But the moment you start using that beast of a screen it tumbles faster than a V8’s MPG. Last week it lasted half a day with heavy usage. I shouldn’t have to worry about battery percentage 5 hours after its last full charge.

iOS4

The iPhone’s software has always been one of its plus points. Joyful and easy to use, it defined the product and put other phones interfaces to shame – and still does. On the surface iOS4 looks like any of its previous iterations. It looks exactly the same. The main new features are folders, the ability to group apps in folders; the ability to gift apps; wireless keyboard support; tap to focus video and 5x digital zoom. And, multitasking. I thought multitasking would be magnificent. And it is. But the 4 is so fast it’s almost pointless unless your in the middle of a game. And even then most games take a few seconds to start up and continue from where you left off. Also, to use multitasking you double-click the home button. Well, I’ve found only ninjas and pac man enthusiasts can do this. You have to tap it twice to quickly it’s unreal. Maybe it’s just me, but 70% of the time I want to bring up the multitasking dock it takes me back to the home screen.

The Antenna Issues

I have had some antenna problems. If I put just part of my finger against the bottom left black line of the phone I will lose bars. Usually at a rate of 1 per 5 seconds. I can easily avoid holding this area when using the screen. It’s when I’m talking on it that I experience the problem. That black line is right where my pinky finger likes to sit. So, as a result I have to move my whole hand higher or lift the pinky and look like I’m a posh twat sipping on a cup of tea. My friend Thom got the exact same model, from the exact same store, on the exact same network right before me and has experienced no issues though. So maybe it’s only on certain phones. Or maybe he’s just missing a pinky. Personally I don’t think Apple will be able to do much just by changing software. It certainly seems like a hardware issue. Despite all this it doesn’t bother me that much. I mean who uses there phone for phone calls now-a-days anyway? I’ve been on the phone for 9 minutes over the week I’ve got it and most of those calls where only to gloat. But joking aside, if your a heavy caller you’ll probably find this more of an issue than I have.

All things considered

This is a truly great phone. Reviewers are arseholes. We nitpick because it’s impossible to critique a perfect product and equally impossible to claim something to be perfect. If you’re a previous iPhone owner this will be a nice upgrade. The 4 isn’t what the 3GS was to the 3G. This is a whole new phone. And if you’re not an iPerson, now will be the perfect time to jump on the Apple ship.