This month we’ve found ourselves in search of knowledge, keeping an eye out for good television, biting our nails in the Theatre Of Dreams, creating brave new worlds, planning for our tax return and seeing how many apps we can get for a penny. Busy, busy, busy!
As inveterate cheapskates, we’ve been very happy using Wikipanion, the free Wikipedia app that makes it easier to find your way around the Internet’s favourite encyclopedia on your smartphone – but having spent the past month with Articles (£1.79), we’ve been converted to the paid-for product.
Why? Because great content deserves a great interface, something that Articles delivers in spades, hearts and whatever else means coming up trumps. By concentrating on the content, choosing an elegant, easy-to-read typeface and styling all of Wikipedia’s images consistently (white border, drop shadow, page turn to indicate more info) Articles delivers a brilliant piece of design – one that makes you want to use the product, while not getting in the way.
However, behind the sparse interface there are plenty of features. You can search, of course (both the main Wikipedia database and within articles); open more than one page at a time; or use the bookmarks option to search for Wikipedia entries based on your current geographical position. You can also scan through your history, pick an article at random (‘Surprise Me!’) and save something to read later. That last feaure’s a real keeper – when you find a link in an article you’re interested in, but don’t have time to follow, just touch and hold it, pick Read Later from the pop-up menu that appears, and it’ll be added to the list.
Personal Video Recorders are great, but you still need to know that a show is actually airing and what channel it’s on before you can hit ‘series record’ and then forget about it. As TV lovers, we’re continually frustrated by our inability to stay on top of our favourite shows, hence our interest in Episodes (£0.59).
Instead of a conventional what’s-on-now-and-next TV guide, Episodes lets you search for specific TV shows and then tells you when they’re next on TV, together with a synopsis and stills from the show. There’s also a full episode list – which is more useful than you might think, given the slapdash way many electronic program guides list episode, mistitling them and sometimes omit plot descriptions completely. It’s not perfect by any means – for example, it lists shows on their original networks, which is no good for many US shows that appear in the UK on a different channel. However, we really like the ability to track back through an entire series to episode one, season one and for the price, it’s sits alongside our copy of TV Guide (FREE) nicely.
Manchester United Total News
People think it’s easy supporting a big football club, but they’re wrong. Fans of Manchester United, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barca, Inter and Bayern are all familiar with that sinking feeling in the pit of their stomach as another important game rolls around and they scan the press for team news, to discover how long the manager’s touchline ban still has to run or whether so-and-so’s hamstring is too tight.
This month we’ve been keeping up to date with Manchester United Total News (0.59p) one of a gaggle of unofficial news apps for England’s most widely supported club. Much of the main news seems to come straight from Sky Sports, but the ‘Other News’ category is more adventurous, drawing stories from news sources all over the web, including plenty of opinionated blogs – often entertaining if not always very accurate.
There are updates from live matches and the club’s official Twitter feed as well as a good stats section which lets you go back through the season’s games to look at line-ups, scorers, disciplinary records and so on.
The app’s interface is a bit rough and ready, but it works well enough and the braver fans among you can also sign up for the social features – live text chat during matches, fan forums and live online polls. Just read the T&Cs first.
Ever thought ‘I could do better than that’? Well now’s your chance, courtesy of National Geographic‘s Puzzle Planets (0.59p), an against-the-clock planet-building game where it’s your job to produce the right conditions for life so that your creation can evolve and flourish.
Each game consists of three parts. First, you have to drag the floating tectonic plates around the globe until you can drop them into one of the empty, laval slots to create a finished lithosphere. Next, you have to smash plates together to create mountains, drag them apart to make rifts and valleys and then double tap to explode volcanoes – it’s very violent, this planet-building lark. Finally, you gather water from the sea and make the land fruitful, all the while keeping an eye out for natural disasters like volcanoes and meteors which will scorch the earth so that you have to start again.
There are 15 planets to create, each harder than the one before – and the faster you complete each one, the more stars you earn; these go towards revealing the evolution of life-forms that are associated with each planet (for example, the Squich that lives on Cephalon). Deceptively simple with great graphics and an atmospheric soundtrack, this is one game we’ll be finishing.
UK Tax Tool 2011
While most of us approach the end of the financial year with some dread, we’ll feel slightly better prepared this time around thanks to UK Tax Tool 2011 (0.59p). It’s an easy-to-use ready reckoner that lets you enter your salary (annual, monthly, every one, two or four weeks, and even daily and hourly) and then makes the necessary calculations to tell you what your take-home pay’s going to be.
The app will will incorporate your National Insurance payments, tax deductions and benefits, factor in a student loan if you’re still paying one back, as well as pension contributions, how many hours you work each week – which is an issue for some people – whether you’ve got any other regular outgoings to deduct and so on.
Tax Tool supports UK tax codes and even has a built-in VAT calculator. By clever use of sliders, it even allows you to quickly switch between different time periods (say, a month and four weeks) to see how that affects your annual or monthly salary. An excellent back-of-an-envelope tax calculator.
Where to start? We’ve long been fascinated by ‘compendium’ apps that agglomerate loads of mini-apps into a single app and then flog the lot for a few pence. So meet Appzilla (0.59p) which comprises not one, not 10 or 50 or 100, but 120 apps, which even our lousy maths can work out is two apps for a penny.
As you’d expect, some are simple joke apps (one is an actual app for telling jokes) that are barely worth loading once, but many are genuine fun – including the voodoo doll, the hearing test (see how ‘old’ your ears are by listening for various high-pitched sounds), a full GarageBand-style drum kit, a musical box, morse code flasher.
Others, like the cooking and parking meter timers, password generator, tip calculator (even though it’s only in dollars) sleep timer (restful sounds to help you drop off) and currency calculator are actually useful. Unsurprisingly, the quality and design of each app is uneven but seriously, we’ve mentioned eleven apps in this review, which means there are still 109 more to explore. How much fun do you normally get for 59p?
Company: Apple via the iTunes Store
Contact: telephone number not supplied
Various, as above.
All apps available from the iTunes store.