GeoTagr review: iPhone app to geotag your photographs

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UPDATE (24 March 2014): A new version of GeoTagr is out with additional features and full iOS7 support. It's now better than ever. Highly recommended.

Geotagr is an iOS app that continuously records your location while you're out taking photographs and lets you geotag them afterwards.

According to Wikipedia, "geotagging is the process of adding geographical identification metadata to various media such as a geotagged photograph or video." Basically, it means your photographs include the location they were shot at as part of the metadata, which you can read later to find, sort, or just see where exactly you took them.

Photographs taken with the iPhone are geotagged as you shoot them. The iPhone uses its GPS to determine your location and assigns it to photos taken with it's Camera app automatically.

However, the photographs you take with your regular camera are unlikely to include location information. Although growing, the number of non-phone cameras with built-in GPS capabilities is still relatively small, so if you want to geotag photographs from these you need to do it separately using a different device to track your location.

This is where GeoTagr comes in.

GeoTagr uses the GPS in your iPhone or iPad to track your location and then matches it to your photos based on the time stamp.

GeoTagr allows you to geotag photos in your iPhone, iPad, Mac, Dropbox, Flickr and others straight from the app. It doesn't require a separate desktop app to do it, although you can also export a gpx file and import it into Aperture or Lightroom and do the geotagging there.

GeoTagr a universal (iPhone and iPad) app developed by Galarina and sells for US$4.99 in the App Store.

Using GeoTagr in a real situation

So that was the sales pitch, but how well does it work in a real life situation?

That's what I set out to find out. I had used GeoTagr a couple of times around the house to test it and it all worked as expected, but I didn't think it was sufficient to really understand how it works enough to write a review. Fortunately, I had an upcoming road trip to New Zealand, which seemed like the perfect way to test it, so I did just that.

I spent 2 weeks traveling around the north island and I took over 1,200 photographs, which I wanted to geotag. I took only a Panasonic GF1 and an iPhone 4 with me (GeoTagr is optimised for the larger screen of the iPhone 5/s/c, but I only had the 4 at the time).

I didn't get a data plan while in New Zealand, so I turned off both Data Roaming and Cellular Data to avoid any unexpected charges. I could only make calls and text messages. No Internet, so no maps.

There are essentially 3 steps to geotagging with GeoTagr:

  1. Record location
  2. Geotag photos
  3. Import to Aperture (or Lightroom/iPhoto/whatever)

Here's what happened on my trip:

Recording your location

Every morning, before even taking the first photo, I opened GeoTagr on my iPhone and let it track and record my location all day until I returned to the hotel at night.

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Upon startup, GeoTagr shows you a screen with one big red "Record" button and a note reminding you to synchronise the time on your iPhone and camera. This is a very nice and useful touch since it's easy to forget and geotagging won't work if your devices aren't syncronised.

I had my camera in Australian time and my iPhone had already changed to the local time automatically. Fortunately, GeoTagr was smart enough to notice and gave me a handy warning.

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Even with all these warnings I managed to screw it up on the first day. I did change the time on my camera, but foolishly set it as PM instead of AM. Dumb, but it was easy to correct within Aperture. Anyway, moving on.

Tap the "Record" button and GeoTagr will start tracking your location.

I was initially concerned about battery life, but I was pleasantly surprised that it lasted all day. The longest stretch was 18 continuous hours and I still had 12% battery left at the end. Of course, keep in mind that I had roaming and data off, and I only turned on the screen occasionally to take photograph. Under normal circumstances the battery drain is also negligible.

The lack of Internet connection wasn't an issue either. GeoTagr tracks your location constantly and you can see the track and distance, but without data it just doesn't download the maps.

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No worries. I don't need to see the map of where I am and I'd rather not spend unnecessary money with exhorbitant data charges. I love that GeoTagr works while overseas.

Geotagging the photographs

I didn't geotag the photos until I got back home. You basically have 2 options to geotag: use GeoTagr itself or export a gpx file and use another application, such as Aperture or Lightroom. Neither was doable during my trip.

Using GeoTagr itself, you can geotag:

  1. Photos in your iPad (transferred via the camera connection kit, which I didn't have)
  2. Photos online in Flickr, Smugmug or Google+ (which I didn't use for these photos)
  3. Photos in a folder in Dropbox (which take forever to upload with crappy hotel Wi-Fi)
  4. Photos in a shared folder on your Mac (which need the Mac and iPhone/iPad to be on the same Wi-Fi)

To geotag within Aperture, you need the gpx file on the Mac to be able to import. Unfortunately, the only ways to get it out of GeoTagr are to email it to yourself or sync it to Dropbox, both of which require an Internet connection. So geotagging had to wait until I was back.

I figured the easiest was to download all the photographs to my Mac into a shared folder and do it that way. The tracks were on the iPhone, but I wanted to use the iPad because of the bigger screen. It sounds rather complicated, but it was pretty straightforward and worked flawlesly. The only requirement is that all devices are on the same Wi-Fi.

This is what I did:

  1. I opened GeoTagr on both the iPhone and the iPad. The apps quickly saw each other and linked.
  2. From the iPad, I selected the shared folder on the Mac where my photos were.
  3. GeoTagr automatically finds photos it can geotag and goes ahead and does it. It even creates a copy of each photo as a back up just in case, since it's writing the metadata to the file itself if it's a jpeg.
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Importing into Aperture

Once GeoTagr finished, I imported the photos into Aperture. When finished, clicking on Places shows all images on the map.

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Awesome.

I have to admit, it's so much fun looking at photos in Places. I sat down with my family after the trip and went through the photos this way and everyone enjoyed looking at the map and remembering where we were.

One extra thing I did was email myself the full gpx file and import that into Aperture as well. I didn't use it to tag the photos, but just to show the full track. It's fun to see the whole trip. Some days, I took some photos in the morning in the town we woke up, then drove 2 hours, stopped for lunch, took some more photos, drove another hour, took more photos, etc. Having the gpx file shows me a line of everywhere I was.

While Aperture can geotag the photos off the gpx file, it's not that intuitive and in my experience it doesn't always get it right. I find it much easier to geotag with GeoTagr first and then import into Aperture.

Since the location metadata is embedded in the files, any application that can read geolocation will display it. For example, below is one of the photos from the New Zealand trip viewed in Preview. It shows latitude, longitude, altitude and even shows it on a map. Clicking on the "Locate" button opens up the exact location in Apple Maps.

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If you pay attention to the date stamp in the photographs above you'll notice this trip was during the New Zealand winter of 2012. Hence the iPhone 4 screenshots. Since then I've used GeoTagr extensively.  I've become obsessed with geolocation to the point that I adjusted my Aperture workflow to ensure I have location metadata first.

My only complaint about GeoTagr is that the interface hasn't been updated to the look of iOS7. Although honestly this is a nice-to-have. The functionality is there and it already does everything I need.

If you're interested in geotagging your photographs without having to purchase additional hardware, give GeoTagr a try.

WriteRight Review: A writer's text editor

I love writing with the iPad. In fact, right now I'm in the balcony with my iPad, bluetooth keyboard, and a cup of coffee writing this in WriteRight, an iOS text editor I've been using a great deal for a couple of months.

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The App Store has no shortage of writing apps. I should know. I have a bit of an obsession with them and have tried way too many over the years. I don't even want to think about how much I've spent on them.

To my mind, there are 2 types of text editors. First are notes apps, where I keep a lot of small notes like quick thoughts, reference material, lists, and other things I want to have easy access to. I don't do any "real" writing on these. The most important features are quick entry and robust search. Apple's Notes and Simplenote/NVAlt are good examples.

Second, and more important to me, are writing apps. These are where I do long form writing (as opposed to jotting down short notes). For these, the writing experience is key. Things like good organisation features, word count, markdown support, preview, and full-screen mode are crucial. And because I spend so much time in these, the user interface is a big factor. Of course, sync is essential for both types.

WriteRight is unmistakably a writing app.

It has all the features I expect from a writing app, and then some. It's a universal app that looks beautiful in both iPad and iPhone.

WriteRight Features

In using WriteRight, it became clear the developers thought about every feature from the point of view of a long form writer.

Many of the features in WriteRight give you a little bit more, or are slightly different than typical, in a way that favours your writing flow. For example:

  • Easily move through your document: Tap on the margins to move the cursor one character at a time. Long tap to move by word. Swipe up or down with two fingers to instantly go to the start or end of the document. And if it's a long piece, moving your finger along the margins activates fast scrolling.
  • Undo/Redo: Select the arrow icons next to the keyboard or just swipe with one finger. No more shaking the iPad like a caveman.
  • Change font size: You don't actually pick a size, you pinch in or out (like with a photo) to make the text larger or smaller. And it remembers your choice in the previews.
  • Search and Replace: I recently changed the name of a character in a short story and this was a huge time saver. Without it, I would've had to wait until I was back at the desktop or do it manually. Again, like a caveman. You can choose to make search/replace case sensitive, use whole words or even ignore accents.
  • iCloud and Dropbox: iCloud syncs files and folders between iPhone and iPad. With Dropbox, you can import a file and save back to Dropbox, but you can't choose a folder (or series of files) in Dropbox and keep them in sync (see "what's missing" below).
  • Markdown Support: WriteRight is built for Markdown. Like many writing apps, it includes an additional keyboard row with often used Markdown symbols for easy access. But they take it one step further with additional options via clever popups that make fast typing easy and enjoyable with the device's keyboard.

These are fine features that once you get used to them, they're difficult to live without.

However, the biggest value in WriteRight is in the following:

English and Spanish dictionaries

WriteRight includes a vast dictionary in both English and Spanish. The developers are the guys that do Word Magic dictionaries and translation software, so you know they're serious about this.

According to the help file in WriteRight, the dictionary includes:

  • In English: 345,000+ meanings, 275,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,708,000+ synonyms, 358,000+ antonyms, 165,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

  • In Spanish: 282,000+ meanings, 242,000+ unique words and phrases, 1,280,000+ synonyms, 441,000+ antonyms, 148,000+ phrasals (verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs)

And they keep adding more. The latest update added 68,000+ new English words, 560,000+ new English synonyms, 29,000+ new Spanish words and 320,000+ new Spanish synonyms.

Linguistic Tools: Synonyms, Antonyms and Phraseology

Selecting a single word gives you synonyms, antonyms and of course, definitions. I don't know about you, but when I write on the Mac I keep the Dictionary open and I often command-tab back and forth to use the thesarous. With WriteRight, I have it right there in the iPad as well.

The best feature though, is phrase or expression change recommendations. Tapping on the cog icon activates it and little blue cogs appear throughout your text to indicate WriteRight has an alternative available. Tapping on these shows you the suggestions.

You can just tap on one and it'll replace your word or phrase with the selected one. What I found even more impressive is that WriteRight will recognise conjugated words, tense, person, and gender, and replace accordingly.

Previews

When you want to see your document in it's final stage, you can preview it with Markdown rendered. But WriteRight has three different preview options:

  • Continuous: Shows you your document in one long continuous page formatted with Helvetica Neue. This is what most other text editors do.
  • US Letter and A4: Shows you your document in actual pages (either the standard US Letter or the European A4) with page numbers using Georgia in size 12.
  • Manuscript L and A4: Shows you your document in pages using Times New Roman in size 12 with a spacing of 1.5 and margins studied to contain between 1800 and 2000 characters per page.

Export

The export options are comprehensive:

  • Copy: Text, Text with format, HTML Code, link to share documents in iCloud or Dropbox.
  • Send by mail: Text, Text with format, Attach Text, Attach HTML, Attach PDF, link to share (iCloud or Dropbox).
  • Printing document: Text, Text with format, selection of number of pages to print.
  • Open with: Any text editor that accepts .TXT and .MD formats.

What's missing

I really like WriteRight. However, there are a few things that are missing:

  • Dropbox sync: WriteRight can access your Dropbox account and import a file. It'll create a local copy which it'll save back to Dropbox when it has Internet connection. However, it doesn't really sync. You can't, for example, choose a folder to sync where WriteRight keeps a copy of all files locally. It's only one file at a time.
  • Font options: I'm a typography nerd. I'd like to be able to pick a different font for writing. Menlo is good, but it would be awesome if I could import my own like Daedalus Touch.
  • Text Expander support: Personally, I don't mind this one. I use Text Expander in notes apps, but not for creative writing. But I know many people need it.
  • Mac App: Full sync via iCloud with a WriteRight for Mac would be awesome. Currently, I use Ulysses III on the Mac for almost everything. The files I want to edit in WriteRight are saved in Dropbox and pulled from there.

For me, Dropbox sync is the big one. I'd love to keep a folder in sync between Ulysses III (or Scrivener) and WriteRight without relying on an Internet connection. I write a lot in coffee shops and when travelling and having access to all my text files is necessary.

The good news is the developer is aware of this and has told me they're working on it and should have full Dropbox sync in an update soon.

Conclusion

WriteRight is, as I said, a writer's app. The linguistics features are impressive and the fact that it's built for both English and Spanish is big for me since I write in both languages a lot. I'm a fan and it's earned a spot in my iPad home screen.

If you do a lot of creative writing you should check WriteRight out (website/App Store). It's available for iPhone and iPad and only US$2.99.

It might be the text editor you're looking for.

Evernote Essentials PDF

I'm a big fan of Evernote. These days, I use it for almost everything and it has become a big part of my workflow, but that wasn't always the case.

When Evernote first came out, I wasn't sure how to make use of it, or even why. Then I read Brett Kelly's Evernote Essentials PDF.

Evernote Essentials

Evernote Essentials

About Evernote

Evernote is, as Brett himself describes it in the ebook, "a ubiquitous digital notebook which syncs to the web and across all of your devices that can capture, store, and index just about any type of data you can throw at it."

You can pretty much store anything and everything in Evernote. Text notes, images, web clippings, audio, video, pdf files, lists, iWork files, and more can be organised in Evernote.

How I use Evernote

Here are a few examples of what I use it for:

  • Productivity - Store reference material for tasks I need to do.
  • Writing - Keep a list of ideas for articles to write, and the related research.
  • Learning - Take notes, and store reference material, for courses I take. For example, I have a notebook for SCUBA diving and one for Platform University, amongst many others.
  • Reference - Store instructions, how-to's, and assorted tips for things that interest me. Or save web clipping with my own notes (Evernote is awesome for this).
  • Lists - For example, a wines I like, movies to watch, books to read, places to visit.
  • Shopping - Keep info on different products to compare later. For example, I have a notebook right now for a SCUBA dive watch.
  • Keep all my travel documents handy: hotel confirmation emails, tickets, research, lists of places to visit, maps, and more.
  • An extra back up JPEGs of my 5 star photographs.
  • Save my daughter's drawings (a great tip in the Evernote Essentials PDF).

I use it for more than that, but you get the idea. The more you throw at it, the better it gets. Searching for stuff in Evernote is easy and powerful. And all your stuff is available from any device: desktop, smartphone, tablet, and even the web.

The problem with Evernote is that it's so powerful that it's often overwhelming.

Many people don't know where to start. I was one of them. This is where Brett Kelly's ebook can help.

About the author

Brett is arguably the perfect person to write a book on how to use Evernote. Not only has he been using it for over five years, but he clearly knows it pretty well.

In fact, he was hired by Evernote themselves after he wrote the book. That has to be the best endorsement possible.

Evernote Essentials PDF

Evernote Essentials is the definitive guide for Evernote users. It explains everything from how to set up an Evernote account all the way to how to become a power user.

In the ebook, you'll learn how to organise your database (or Evernote Library as I like to think about it). You'll learn how to put stuff in and take it out. How to take advantage of tagging. How to search effectively. Tips on sharing, using reminders, adding metadata, and more.

Brett includes several use cases that show you specific examples of how to use Evernote:

  • Evernote for Travel Junkies.
  • Evernote for Parents.
  • Going Paperless with Evernote
  • Archiving Your Social Media Offerings with Evernote
  • Evernote as Your Personal History Book

In the latest version, Brett also added a few new sections:

  • How he uses Evernote.
  • How to set up a new account.
  • Evernote and Security.

Believe me, the Evernote Essentials pdf is a good investment.

Some people complain about the price, but seriously, it'll save you so much time that you'll be thankful you read it. The ebook is 160 pages packed with valuable content. Plus, when there's an update you get the new version for free.

Recommendation

Evernote Essentials is available as a PDF (the original version), an ePub (for iPad/iPhone), and a .MOBI (for Kindle). You get all version when you purchase it. It's also available directly from the iBookstore.

Whilst the content is the same for all versions, I strongly recommend reading the Evernote Essentials PDF.

The design and formatting are really nice and it's lost in the ePub and .MOBI versions. Plus, you can read it on your iPad and make annotations directly on it as you read it.

This is the best and quickest way to become proficient in Evernote.

I highly recommend the Evernote Essentials PDF. If you don’t agree, Brett offers a 100% money-back guarantee, so there's nothing to loose.

Snapback Slim Wallet Review

The Snapback Slim Wallet - A new minimalist wallet at Kickstarter

The Snapback Slim Wallet - A new minimalist wallet at Kickstarter

The Snapback Slim Wallet is another Kickstarter minimalist wallet that, as of right now, is almost fully funded with 17 days to go. The designer, Nick Augeri contacted me a couple of months ago and offered to send me his wallet for review.

At first, I was a bit hesitant as it looked very similar to the Supr Slim Wallet which I reviewed before and had been using for over 6 months. After some thought, I decided to give it a go and I'm glad I did. I've been using the Snapback Slim Wallet for several weeks now and it's replaced the Supr Slim as my main wallet.

As always, I didn't want to write a review until I had been using it daily and formed a real opinion of it. These are my first impressions.

The Snapback Slim Wallet

The Snapback Slim wallet is simply a strip of elastic band stitched together to form a wallet. The elastic material is definitely good quality, it feels great, and is the perfect size to fit up to 10 cards.

What really differentiates the Snapback Slim is a coloured strap attached to its side that wraps around the wallet itself. This small detail makes a world of difference as I'll explain later. It comes in 5 colours, which give it a bit of personality.

The wallet is small and fits in almost any pocket.

The Snapback Slim Wallet in use

In my review for the Supr Slim wallet back in February, I wrote that it wasn't good for carrying cash. The only option is to fold it in three and stick it in with the cards. I concluded that it didn't matter because I mainly use credit cards and would "just keep a few bills in my front pocket" when I needed them.

Although I still use credit cards as much as I can (love those frequent flyer points), the reality is that I do carry cash almost all the time. Yes, it's only a few bills, but keeping them in my front pocket turned out to be more annoying than I originally thought.

And that's exactly where the Snapback Slim Wallet's coloured strap comes in. It's perfect for holding those few notes and temporary receipts.

It's surprising how such a simple thing can remove so much friction.

The strap can also be attached to your wrist if you find yourself without pockets. Pretty handy I thought.

The wallet is so thin that with 4 credit cards and a few notes it fits into the small pocket-inside-a-pocket of your jeans. You know, that small one where you put your coins. I mostly keep it in my back pocket, but it's good to hide it there in busy places where pickpocketing might be an issue.

Conclusion

As I said, the Snapback Slim wallet is now on daily use and I love it. Since I got a pre-production sample I don't know what the final packaging will be like, but Nick is working with a supplier to ensure it "looks cool when it arrives", and given the quality of the wallet I have, I'm sure it'll be awesome.

It's US$22 at the Kickstarter page. If you're into minimalist wallets it's a no brainer. You get a pretty cool one and get to support a product designer and entrepreneur. How cool is that?

TrailMix Pro Review - Run to your beat

Those of you who've been hanging around in this corner of the Internet know that in addition to being somewhat of a geek, I'm also a runner. As such, I'm always excited to check out new tech toys that combine these two passions. One such thing is an iPhone app called TrailMix Pro.

TrailMix Pro Review - iPhone app Screens

What is TrailMix Pro?

First and foremost, TrailMix Pro is a clever running app that automatically changes the beat of the song you're listening to so it matches your pace.

If you run faster, the song will speed up; if you run slower, the song will slow down, without changing the pitch.

I'll confess that at first I thought it was a bit gimmicky, but in practice I found it to be surprisingly useful and a lot of fun.

Running to the beat of music

The idea of running to music that matches your pace isn't new to me. I even started a website about it! In fact, a couple of years ago I went through the process of adding beats-per-minute (BPM) metadata to all songs in my iTunes library using a software called beaTunes. Now I just create smart playlists with different tempos and use the appropriate one depending on how fast I want to run. It's awesome; but it's also a pain to have to add the BPM metadata to new songs.

TrailMix Pro solves this problem, as it figures out the BPM automatically. And the fact that it can change the tempo of a song as you run is pretty cool.

This live-tempo-changing turned out to be a killer feature for me. You see, unless you run shortish distances on a completely flat surface, you're likely not going to maintain the same pace for the entire run. Hills, for example, naturally slow you down. On long runs, you'll get tired towards the end. Having the music match your pace automatically is brilliant.

Of course, you can also set a specific pace and TrailMix Pro will adapt the tempo of all songs to match. They call this Cruise Control.

Oh, and it's also a pedometer.

How does it work?

TrailMix Pro uses the accelerometer in the iPhone to detect your motion as you run or walk. It then analyses the information and uses it to determine your pace and to count your steps. And since it knows which track is playing, it simultaneously finds the BPM of the song.

So now TrailMix Pro knows your steps-per-minute and the beats-per-minute of the song you're listening to. With these, all it needs to do is calculate the difference between them and make the song faster or slower to match your pace. Pretty clever, I think.

TrailMix Pro in actual use

OK, so how good is it in practice? Well, I think it's pretty obvious by now, but I think it's pretty cool.

The process couldn't be easier. Put in your earbuds, fire up the app, pick a playlist, tap on the Magic Shuffle button, and start running.

That's exactly what I did on my first run with TrailMix Pro. I was thinking about writing this review and wanted to see how easy it was to get the hang of it. At first, it was a bit weird. The first song was from Pitbull (don't judge, I like it only for running) and because I was walking slowly it plllaayyyeed veeerryyyy sllooooowwlllyyyyy. Pretty funny for an upbeat song. But as soon as I started running the tempo picked up and amazingly matched my footsteps exactly.

As I went about the run, the music kept up with my pace. It was great. When I got to the hills and slowed down, so did the song. My feet kept hitting the floor in sync with the beat.

For my next run, I decided to set the pace myself using Cruise Control and try to keep up. I went on the exact same route as the previous run and did maintain a higher pace. I'm already thinking about a training plan using both Cruise Control and normal modes.

After using TrailMix Pro for several weeks, I've realised it pays to create playlists specifically for running. For example, avoid slow songs and songs with no bass. These sound weird. In one fairly fast run, the track changed from Pendulum to Nearness of You, by Norah Jones. Trust me, no matter how much you speed up Norah Jones, it's impossible to get it to match your beat.

By the way, if you use Runkeeper (or similar) and, like me, get a nervous twitch at the mere thought of loosing your stats, you're in luck. You can use both apps concurrently without a problem. Just don't play any music through Runkeeper and you're good.

TrailMix Pro Review iPhone app screens

Conclusion

TrailMix Pro was a pleasant surprise. Honestly, my only complaint is the interface. The design has a lot of room for improvement, but it works fine and is intuitive enough. My real issue is this whole sharing on social media push that many apps do. It drives me crazy.

When you finish a run, you get a screen with useful stats (steps taken, time spent, average pace), and a big ass "Tell Your Friends!" message with huge Facebook and Twitter buttons. OK if you like that, but I find it really annoying.

That's a minor gripe though. The truth is that I found TrailMix Pro useful and enjoyable. It makes it exceptionally easy to match your music to your beat.

I've kept using it and I know I will continue to do so.

Zombies, Run! First Impressions Review

Last month I ran my second marathon. Just as the first time, I didn't train as much as I should have. It was tough. Finishing a marathon is an amazing experience, but running 42 kilometres without training properly is demanding. In my case, it was so rough on my body (and mind) that I stopped running for over a month.

Zombies, Run! Review

This week I decided to start running again. I wanted to take it slow and not too seriously to get back into the rhythm. It was the perfect opportunity to try out Zombies, Run!, an iPhone app I've been curious about for months.

Zombies, Run! in a nutshell

Zombies, Run! is a weird combination of a fitness app and a game, with a twist. Think of it like RunKeeper in the world of The Walking Dead with the gameplay of the first SimCity.

In essence, it's a running app that entertains you with a post-apocalyptic story while you run and rewards you with basic gameplay afterwards.

Put in your earbuds, start the app, and go. You're a character in a zombie infested world and have to complete several missions as the plot unfolds. The app tracks your distance, time, pace, and calories burned via GPS. As you run, you collect supplies which are used to help build the main town, heal wounded, or support soldiers.

First runs with Zombies, Run!

I've run 3 missions of Zombies, Run! The first one begins with you riding in a helicopter that gets hit by a rocket. You're the only one that survives the attack. A radio operator tells you there are zombies around you and begs you to run for your life.

As you run, your own music starts playing, which is pretty cool... if you chose an appropriate playlist. On my first run I didn't specify one and I ended up running to Rachmaninoff. The first thing I did when I got back was create a few playlists specifically to run while being chased by zombies. Subsequent runs have been much more engaging.

The story seems a bit too similar to The Walking Dead. The main town in Zombies, Run! is Abel Township, which made me think of of Woodbury. Abel Township has the Major, while Woodbury has the Governor. Your character is a "runner", which reminds me of Glen. To be fair, it's still early in the story. I hope it develops further into its own plot.

There are several nice features in Zombies, Run! For example, the way they integrated intervals is awesome. At seemingly random moments, zombies get too close and start chasing you. To escape, you need to increase your pace by approximately 20% for about a minute. Sounds easy, but by the third time it's tough.

Another good idea is the radio station. Each mission is either 30 minutes or 1 hour in length (you choose), but you can continue running past the time. The mission ends and a radio station kicks in where the radio operator and another guy play DJs as part of the story.

Zombies, Run! also integrates with Runkeeper so your run data appears in both places.

Conclusion

I bet Zombies, Run! is one of those apps that people either love with a passion or avidly hate. I'll confess I absolutely loved it. And I honestly didn't think I would.

As a disclaimer, I am a fan of The Walking Dead (both the comic and the TV show) and the "undead" genre in general. I'm also a runner. So I may be biased.

In any case, one thing I can say is that I'm looking forward to my run tomorrow morning. I want to know more about Abel Township and what happens next with the story. That's more than any other running app has done.

UPDATE (12/09/13): I've been running with Zombies, Run! consistently for over 3 months and still like it just as much. My only complaint is that you have to download the missions and I've found myself out the door at 5:30am ready to start only to realise the next mission isn't available. They're about 8mb each, so it only takes a minute or so to download. But still, it's annoying when you're ready to start. I wish it had a setting to let it download the next 3 missions automatically over Wi-Fi. Other than that, my thoughts above hold true.

Pixelmator 2.2 Blueberry - Mini Review

Pixelmator got an update a few weeks ago to version 2.2 called Blueberry. I didn't write about it at the time because I wanted to have a chance to play with it for a bit first. It was only a point update, so I wasn't expecting much. In my view, it's a mixed bag.

Pixelmator 2.2 Blueberry review

Let's start with the good stuff.

The new Paint Selection Tool is a welcome addition to the tool set. It makes the selection process much faster and is, for the most part, accurate enough. Obviously, it's not as powerful as Photoshop's multiple selection tools (for those wondering), but that's ok. It gets the job done and is a pleasure to use. This is my favourite feature of the new version.

The Light Leak Effect is fun to use and the Instagram crowd will love it. It's like Instagram on steroids with endless possibilities to customise the effect, so it's easy to create your own look. Personally, I don't think I'll use it much because it's not my style, but it's really nicely implemented and fun to play around with.

Pixelmator is still a normal buy-a-license kind of app, as opposed to that BS Adobe is doing with their subscription-only model. Sorry, had to vent on that one a bit.

Now with the not so good.

Most of the other new features are for graphic designers, not photographers. I fear Pixelmator is heading down a "let's be Photoshop and Illustrator combined" road. I believe this is a way to be kinda ok at both, but not great at anything. That's not a good place to be.

What I liked about Pixelmator was that it felt like a true photo editor for photographers. Sure, version 1 was buggy and it was missing many features, but it was heading in the right direction.

Now they're all excited about their new shape tools and vector features. They even "sneaked a feature" that turns Pixelmator into Vectormator. What. The. Hell?

Sure, the designer features are good and work remarkably well. But seriously, how many photographers add squares and butterfly shapes to their photographs? Text, maybe. Sometimes. At the very end of the process. I still think text should be at the bottom of the feature list in an photo editor for photographers.

Where are features like non-destructive adjustment layers? Or real PSD and TIFF support? Or 16 bit? Or a Liquify Tool?

They actually hinted that layer styles were coming in 2013 back in December 2012. Whilst that would be awesome, their communication back then suggested they were putting their efforts into non-photography related features. I even said I felt they were going to "follow the Photoshop path and become a bloat trying to please everyone".

I have to say I'm slightly disappointed with Pixelmator 2.2 Blueberry. It seems Pixelmator is no longer a photographers application. The question will no longer be photographers asking "how good is it as a Photoshop replacement" but it'll be web designers instead.

Still, I'm hopeful. And for $15 bucks I still think everyone should buy it. Maybe if enough of us support the developers they'll have an incentive to add the features photographers want.

Review: Supr Slim minimalist wallet

Supr Slim Wallet

The Supr Slim is a minimalist wallet that started as a Kickstarter project in mid 2012. After watching the video, I immediately backed it. I've been on a quest to eliminate as much noise from my life; my wallet was one of those things that needed a re-think.

At the time, I was carrying around a traditional leather wallet with too many compartments. The last time I looked at it, I realised I didn't need most of what I was keeping in there, and worse, I was storing stuff that I rarely got back to but required action. It was basically full of crap that demanded attention every time I opened it, so I was looking for a small, minimalist wallet that looked good and would only allow me to carry the essentials.

Obviously, I wasn't the only one. The Kickstarter project was successful. In fact, they raised over $200,000 out of a $10,000 goal with over 6,000 backers. It took around 4 months to get my Slim wallet, and the guys at Supr kept us continuously updated with the progress; I finally got mine in December 2012.

I decided to use it for a couple of months before writing a review to ensure I had some real life experience with it. I've been using my Slim wallet since then and I'm very happy with it.

The Supr Slim wallet

The first thing I noticed when I got the wallet was the packaging. The Supr Slim wallet comes cleverly attached to a nice piece of thick paper embossed with the word "supr". Removing the wallet reveals a single card that helps it hold its shape and serves as a nice design touch. The packaging is well thought out and complements the minimalist style of the wallet.

The Slim wallet itself is simply a strip of elastic stitched together at the front and bottom, with a hand-sewn "x" on the front. It's just a bit smaller than a credit card, which allows it to stretch and wrap tightly around your cards. The Slim's design is clever and undeniably minimalistic.

The build quality seems good. The material is nice and the stitching is well done. It's obvious the guys care about their product.

The Supr Slim wallet in Use

The Supr Slim wallet is definitely light and thin; it fits comfortably in both back and front pockets and causes almost no bulge. The texture in the elastic creates enough friction to prevent the wallet from sliding out of your pocket and the cards from falling out of the wallet.

Supr claims the Slim can carry up to 10 cards. I tried it and it's true, but this defeats the purpose of having a minimalist wallet after all. I also found that squeezing in any more than 4 or 5 cards makes it a pain to get them in and out.

One great thing about the Slim is that the elastic can stretch to accommodate several cards and then gracefully shrink back when you carry less. You can stuff a few more cards in when needed without worrying about permanent stretching like happens with leather.

I settled on carrying only 4 cards: a debit card, 2 credit cards, and my driver's license. They fit nicely, but getting to the cards in the middle is a bit hard, so I've put the most used cards facing out.

Another drawback for some is that the Slim is not great at carrying cash. You can fit a few bills if you fold them in three, but it's cumbersome to pull them out. Luckily, I pay as much as I can with cards and don't carry much cash. Now I just keep a few bills in my front pocket when I know I might need them.

Conclusion

After about 2 months of using it daily, I'm very happy with it. It's made me think about what I really need to carry on a daily basis and cut it back to the essentials only. It's so thin that I'm not tempted to put anything else in it; it's remained with only 4 cards.

I paid US$25 for the wallet, plus US$5 for international shipping. I'm not sure how much they'll sell it for once they open their online store, but at that price I think it's worth it. Sure, it's only a stitched piece of elastic that you could probably do yourself for less, but it's unlikely you'll get the same quality, so why bother? There's also the time investment to consider. But most importantly, it makes me happy to support creative people coming up with products I use and like.

If you're looking for a minimalist wallet that only lets you carry the essentials (and you don't need to carry wads of cash), the Supr Slim wallet is a good choice.

Note: All photographs are of my actual Slim and taken by me.

Update (12/09/13): Seven months of daily use and the Supr Slim wallet is still looking great. It definitely is good quality. However, I recently switched to a new wallet called Snapback Slim that's very similar but has a strap around it to hold cash. Check out my review for more details.

Review: Byword for iPhone and iPad

Background

When I discovered Byword for Mac I was an instant fan. The application did almost everything I wanted from a text editor at the time, and it was obvious the developers had put a lot of work and care into it. The attention given to even the smallest details was remarkable. I appreciate that. And so, I used Byword exclusively as my text editor on the Mac for a long time.

However, I found that I often started something in Byword on the Mac but didn't finish in one sitting. I wanted to be able to pick it up from the iPad and/or iPhone and continue writing whenever I was away from the Mac.

Back then, Byword for iOS didn't exist and few desktop applications had an iOS counterpart to sync with. iCloud was just a rumour. So, I saved Byword's text files in Dropbox and accessed them with multiple apps from the iPhone and iPad. I eventually settled on iA Writer for iPad.

That worked fairly well, although it wasn't an elegant solution. Then iA Writer became a universal app (iPhone/iPad) and added iCloud sync between Mac, iPhone and iPad. I purchased the Mac version and loved the sync, so I used this setup for a short while, but missed a few things from Byword.

Fortunately, Byword followed suit shortly after and launched their universal iOS app with iCloud support. It's amazing. I'm back to being a full on fan.

Byword for iPhone and iPad review

Byword on iOS is a beautiful app and a pleasure to write on. It's light grey background and dark grey text works well. It provides good contrast without trying the eyes.

The developers added an extra row to the iPhone and iPad keyboard in a very clever way. It's about half the size of the keys so it doesn't take up much space. You can swipe it left and right to get to 3 different views, one with word and character count, another two with Markdown shortcuts and navigation keys.

Markdown support

Byword for iOS is clever in the way it supports markdown. The additional row above the keyboard is a real time saver. One view gives you the main characters used in markdown (brackets, parenthesis, quotation marks, asterisk). Tap it once and the icon turns into the close state. The other view gives you shortcuts for headings, links, images, and lists. Tapping the link button types the full markdown syntax for links and puts the cursor inside the brackets ready for you to type the anchor text.

Another thing Byword has is markdown preview. I find this incredibly useful and it's one of the features iA writer doesn't have.

Sync

In Byword, you can sync documents via iCloud and Dropbox.

I find iCloud very good in real life use. It's fast and it has never failed. However, with Byword you have to choose either iCloud or Dropbox sync, you can't use both at the same time. I only use iCloud, so I don't mind this, but iA Writer does let you use both simultaneously.

Preferences

Byword gives you four font options only, and I'm glad they didn't add more. With too many options I tend to tinker with them instead of getting to work. This is one area iA Writer took to the limit with no options whatsoever. Granted, the font in iA Writer is beautiful.

You can choose between the common Helvetica and Georgia fonts, and also 2 relatively uncommon ones from the M Plus family, M+ C Type-1 and M+ M Type-1. I chose M+ C Type-1 and I love it. It looks particularly good in the iPhone's Retina display. I don't have a new iPad yet but I assume it looks just as good.

Byword also allows you to turn on or off autocapitalisation, autocorrection, spell check and text expander support.

Export options

This is where Byword shines and iA Writer falls down in my opinion. To get your writing out of iA Writer you can only email the plain text as attachment or text or copy/paste it into another apps.

With Byword for iOS, you can:

  • Export to HTML: to iCloud or iTunes documents
  • Export via email: as rich text, plain text, attachment (which exports an HTML attachment)
  • Copy HTML: perfect for blog posting. I use this all the time.

What's missing from Byword for iPhone and iPad

There are a few things I hope they add to Byword for iPhone and iPad soon:

  • Focus mode: It'd be useless in the iPhone because of the screen size, but I'd like it in the iPad. iA writer has it on iPad and it works well.
  • Markdown visual representation while writing: the Mac version turns headings bold and it makes the markdown syntax elements light grey. This makes it very easy to read and I'd like to see it in iOS.
  • Dark mode: When writing at night in the iPad, the dark mode would come in handy.

Summary

Both Byword and iA Writer are very good and it's a tough call choosing between them. It's mostly a subjective choice and both do the basics well (ie. markdown support, iCloud sync, clean writing environment, good fonts). I think the extra keyboard row in Byword is much better than the one in iA Writer. And if you need preview and specific export options, Byword is the winner.

iA Writer Review - A quick look

Regular readers will know I used and praised Byword, so you might be wondering why I've now switched to iA Writer. The reasons are iCloud sync and iA Writer for iPhone, which was released a few days ago as a universal (iPhone & iPad) app.

Let me explain. My writing used to be done in Byword on the Mac and iA Writer for iPad syncing via Dropbox. However, when the developers of iA Writer announced they would support iCloud sync, I got excited and wrote this back then:

While I really like both apps and the process works fine, I've always felt it's not as elegant and effortless as it could be. For some reason, it just slightly annoys me to have to tap on the sync button in iA Writer to force a manual sync. And to have to open the files in Byword instead of them just being there.

I'd love for them to just sync automatically without me having to do anything.

The day iA Writer supported iCloud I downloaded iA Writer for Mac and gave it another shot. Sync worked flawlessly and all my documents were just there.

Another thing that changed was my computer. When I wrote the Byword review I mainly used a four year old 17 inch Macbook Pro and a 24 inch display. The font in iA Writer for Mac looked so big that I found it distracting. Now I've upgraded to a 13 inch MacBook Air and the font size is perfect.

The only thing missing was an iPhone app for those times when I have some time to write but all I have with me is my iPhone.

iA Writer Review

As I mentioned, the combination of iA Writer on Mac, iPad, and iPhone, syncing via iCloud is beautiful and effortless. There's much to like about iA Writer, but it's not perfect. Here are the highlights as I see them.

Main features

  • iCloud sync: It's great, but if you prefer it also supports Dropbox.
  • Markdown
  • Full Screen
  • Focus Mode: Slightly different than Byword as iA Writer highlights the current sentence and fades everything else. This feature is not in the iPhone version.
  • Word count, character count, and reading time: Reading time is quite useful.
  • Mac, iPad, and iPhone versions
  • No Preferences: Fire up iA Writer on any device and there's nothing to tinker with. Just get to the writing. This works except when you're using a screen larger than 13 inches though because the font looks too big. This is subjective of course.

What I like most about iA Writer

  • Font: iA Writer uses Nitti Light, a clean monospaced font that's well designed. It looks particularly beautiful on the iPhone's retina display and I'm sure it'll look even better in the new iPad.
  • Blue cursor: It just looks cool
  • iCloud sync across all your devices

What's missing from iA Writer

  • Preview HTML from Markdown: This is one feature of Byword that I really like and I hope iA Writer implements it. In Byword, you just click a button and you can see your document formatted. It's a quick and easy way of checking everything is as expected.
  • Convert to HTML: Another good feature in Byword that's missing in iA Writer. You can export as HTML, but not convert and copy to paste elsewhere without having to export a separate file.
  • Markdown preview in iPhone

Overall, I'm really happy with iA Writer. There are a few things I like about Byword that are missing, and it seems an iOS version of Byword is in the works so we'll see. I just wish they'd released it sooner.

Byword Review - My favourite text editor

I'll start my Byword review by stating that Byword is a beautiful app and has become one of my favourite apps overall. It's awesome.

Why Byword?

But why go for Byword when TextEdit comes bundled with every Mac and it's a very capable application?

Well, Markdown is why. Ever since I started writing in Markdown I’ve been looking for a simple text editor that supports it.

All I really wanted was an app that:

  1. Converted Markdown to HTML.
  2. Looked good.

I went to the Mac App Store and found several that met my two requirements. After reading up on the most interesting ones, I narrowed it down to two options: iA Writer and Byword. Both very similar.

Byword vs. iA Writer

iA Writer looks amazing, and I really like the font it uses: Nitti Light. I wrote a comment about iA Writer after an excellent review by Ben Brooks, and came very close to buying it. I actually use and love iA Writer for iPad, so it seemed like an obvious choice.

However, it turns out the font looks huge on a big screen and there’s no way of customising it. iA Writer has no preference pane. And although I think minimal options are a great idea, the fact that font size is set means it looks different on different screen sizes, which makes writing on a big monitor a aweful experience.

Byword prefrerences pane

Byword, on the other hand, has the perfect preferences pane. As you can see in the screenshot, Byword lets you customise:

  • Colour scheme: Dark text on light background or light text on dark background
  • Column size: Narrow, medium, wide. Perfect for different screen sizes
  • Font: Again, solves the screen size problem
  • Text Format: Plain text, rich text, or markdown

Byword has exactly what I want. No more, no less. Did I mention Byword is awesome?

Byword feels extremely simple in use, but has a good combination of features that get out of the way when you don’t need them. Like:

  • Full Screen, which removes everything but the text
  • Paragraph Focus, which fades everything except the paragraph you’re typing
  • Typewriter Mode: which centres the line of text you’re writing so it’s always in the middle of the screen (my favourite)
  • Word and character count
  • Export to different formats: It can convert Markdown to HTML, RTF, Word, PDF, Latex

I use Byword with the black text on white background as I find it easier on the eyes. It’s really a light grey background and dark grey text, which looks so much better than just black and white.

I use a “medium” column size on my MacBook as it’s easier to read. It makes the column size similar to a pocket book.

Even though Byword comes with a few good font/size combinations built in, I chose to use the open source Inconsolata XL. It’s a version of Inconsolata that adds a bold version. It’s a monospaced font that reminds me of writing on an old typewriter.

I also set the deafult text format to Markdown. Byword does a great job with it. It gives you a visual representation of what you’re writing. For example, bold and italics actually turn into bold and italic font. And Byword turns links into a very light grey that almost disappears into the background. It’s difficult to describe, but it’s a great way to write in Markdown.

Hopefully this Byword review is useful. I highly recommend it.

You can get Byword from the Mac App Store.

Eject to Flash - Safari Extension mini review

A few months ago I decided to uninstall Flash from my MacBook Pro. I did this for 3 reasons:

  1. I work at a digital marketing agency and I need to test how our client’s websites look to people without Flash.
  2. All Mac’s now ship without Flash pre-installed, so more people are getting the sans-Flash experience.
  3. iPad. Lot’s of people using them.
  4. I personally find Flash annoying in most situations. There’s a place for it, but it’s abused too much online.

The way I went about it was following the advice of John Gruber at Daring Fireball. He recommends getting rid of Flash on your Mac, which means Safari (and any other app) won’t have the plug in, and then installing Google Chrome to see Flash based websites when required. Chrome comes with its own version of Flash independent of the system.

This setup works very well. The only downside is that whenever I landed on a page that required Flash that I wanted to see I had to open the page in Chrome. Doing this from Safari is relatively easy by going to Develop -> Open Page With -> Google Chrome.1

However, having to click on a menu item, move down, wait for the submenu to open, move right, then click, gets annoying after a few times.

I tried setting up a keyboard shortcut for this, but it didn’t work reliably as the name of the browsers in the Develop menu include version numbers. Each time they change the shortcut breaks. Which was also annoying.

Luckily I came cross a Safari extension called Eject to Flash that sets up a button on the toolbar that does exactly as expected. You click on it and it opens the page in Chrome. I installed it a few weeks ago and it’s worked as advertised. Simple and I think easier than other solutions.


  1. To activate the Develop menu, open Safari Preferences and in the Advanced tab there’s a checkbox to show it. ?