November App Review: Evernote

App: Evernote
Developer: Evernote
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

I’ve mentioned Evernote several times before, both while talking about iOS widgets and Mac apps, so it made sense to write a full app review of it.  Evernote is an app I use every day, for all kinds of things, and it’s good at what it does.  I’m going to focus this review on the three things I primarily use Evernote for: memos, working towards being paperless, and school.


The reason I originally got Evernote was just for a simple alternative to the iOS Notes app.  I was generally happy with Notes, except that syncing took place through my IMAP email account, so that meant that changes didn’t carry over to other devices immediately.  I got tired of this and decided to give Evernote a try.  Honestly, if this is all you use Evernote for, it’s a little overkill, and the Notes app is actually simpler and easier to use.  However, it works well enough, and by downloading the app I was found out about its other useful features.

Like the document scanner.  I’m not a paperless fanatic, but I often find myself with a sheet of paper that I will most likely never need again, but I can’t quite bring myself to throw away.  I’ve taken to snapping a picture of these and putting it in Evernote, and then I can throw away the paper and stop worrying about it.  But here’s the cool part: Evernote’s camera isn’t just a camera.  If you take a picture of a document, Evernote will process the image, making the page white and the text darker.  It even does a pretty good job of removing your shadow on the page when you took the picture.  On top of all that, it attempts to OCR the documents, so that you can search them later.  I’ve found the searching to be hit or miss, but it’s still cool, and the scanner is great even without it.

The last thing I use Evernote for is for school documents.  Up until this semester, I was really just using Evernote for the two things above, barely tapping into its potential.  About a month into this semester though, I found myself staring at my Dropbox documents folder.  It was littered with all kinds of things – syllabi, teachers’ powerpoint slides, as well as documents I’d done myself to turn in as homework.  There was no organization.  I know I could’ve done that with folders, but it just didn’t seem as nice.  So I decided to throw all that stuff into Evernote, and I’ve been really happy with the results.  It’s great, because I have a pretty good mix of files from teachers, papers to scan, and just plain notes, and Evernote handles all of these together with ease.  I’ve got a notebook for each class I’m in, and Evernote makes it easy to keep everything all in one place.

Obviously then, I really like Evernote.  But I’ve been eyeing something else lately, the new iOS Notes app.  Notes finally are simply stored in iCloud, instead of on your mail server (an outdated system), so that fixes my aforementioned syncing problem.  The Notes app has also been updated to support documents, nicer looking links and pictures, and even drawing.  Not to mention, the Notes app interface is more straightforward than Evernote’s.  So I’m intrigued.  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll make the switch; I’m thinking I’ll try it next semester (instead of moving all my current school stuff over now), and see how it goes.  Even if I end up switching, though, I still think Evernote is a great tool for keeping things safe and organized, and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for something a little more robust than the stock Notes app.  ••

October App Review: Runkeeper

App: Runkeeper
Developer: FitnessKeeper, Inc.
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

As I mentioned earlier this week, I’m doing a charity 5K run at the end of this month.  This means that I need to get into shape!  For this, I’ve downloaded an app I’ve used a lot before, but had fallen out of the habit of using lately: Runkeeper.


Here’s how Runkeeper works: You click start, and then run.  That’s what’s so awesome about it; it automatically tracks your time and distance over GPS, and also calculates pace, elevation climb, and other stats.  Runkeeper also will periodically give you audio cues telling you your time and distance, as well as any workout intervals (run for one minute, walk for one minute, and so on).

There are four main tabs in Runkeeper.  The first is the one right in the middle: Start.  This is where you go to track a workout.  If you don’t want to track your workout over GPS, or you can’t (swimming would be difficult), you’ve got two other options.  The first is called Stopwatch mode, and it’s more or less exactly what it sounds like: it’s just like GPS mode except you put the distance in at the end.  The other option is manual logging.  Put in what activity you did, how long and how far, and click save.  This doesn’t give you as many details about the workout, but if you forget to track something, it’s nice to be able to add it manually.

Next is the Me tab.  This shows some basic stats: miles per month, workouts per week, etc.  This is also where you can view your goals.  This is one of the best features of Runkeeper in my opinion.  Simply put, progress bars motivate me.  A lot.  Setting a goal is a great way to keep myself on track.  Put in a total distance and when you want to complete it, and Runkeeper will show you your progress over the weeks.  I don’t have any goals set right now because I’m using a training plan (more on that in a second), but I’ve used them a lot in the past.  Since we’re talking about stats, it’s a good time to talk about Runkeeper’s pricing tiers.  You can use Runkeeper totally free, and it works just fine.  Subscribing to Runkeeper Go gives you more stats, as well as some other benefits like more training plans.  If you’re a serious runner, it’s useful, but most people won’t miss it.

The next tab is Training.  I’d never used this until getting ready for this race, but I really like it.  It shows a simple calendar, showing you what workout to do each day.  Straightforward and easy to use.

The final tab is Friends.  This is a neat feature, almost like a social network.  It’s a simple feed that shows you all activities from you and your friends.  I’ve never used this with other people, but it seems like a cool idea.  You can even like and comment on each other’s workouts.

Runkeeper does a good job of showing you plenty of data from your workouts, but what if you want that data elsewhere?  Runkeeper will integrate with MyFitnessPal and Apple Health, which is cool.  I’ve got it set up with the Health app, which is nice because I use other fitness apps too, and Health shows me all that info in the same place.  Runkeeper also has a step counting app called Breeze, which I’ve used on and off before.  Even though it’s a separate app, if Breeze detects that you went on a walk, there’s a button to push that data to Runkeeper as a workout.  Clever!

Runkeeper has been my go to workout app for years now (at least during the periods I’ve been exercising), and there’s lots of good reasons for that.  Runkeeper does its main job well, while still offering a host of other features.  I’ve really been enjoying using it over the past few weeks, and I think I’m going to do really well on that 5K this month.  ••

September App Review: myHomework

App: myHomework
Developer: Rodrigo Neri
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

As I wrote last week, school is back in session.  As much as I don’t like homework, I get pretty bored during the summer, so I’m always a little OK with going back to school (just a little, mind you).  Now that classes have started again, I have a lot of assignments to keep up with.  I’ve got my regular reminders app for my todo list, but I don’t want to clutter that too much with schoolwork.  Enter the myHomework app.


myHomework is pretty much a todo list app, and it’s got all the basic features required there.  All reminders sync across iPhone, iPad, Android, the web interface, etc.  In addition to this, however, it’s got some specific features that make it work especially well for homework.  For starters, it’s geared towards having multiple classes.  You put in what classes you have, and assign each one a color code (I can be really OCD, so I’m a sucker for color coding).  You can even put in the class times and the app with make you a calendar if you want.  After that, it’s pretty straightforward.  To add homework, you give it a title and choose which class it’s for.  You can also set whether it’s a paper, quiz, test, or any number of other categories.  Finally, you can set a due date and a reminder date for push notifications.

The app has a bunch of different views and menus, but the most important two are Homework and Calendar.  Homework does just what it says it does, it shows all the assignments you have in the app, sorted by date (simply labeled “All”), class, priority, or type.  From this screen, you can swipe right to mark the assignment as completed or swipe left to delete it.  The calendar page is similar, but it breaks things down and only shows you homework for a day, week, or month at a time.  I like using the day view, because it helps me to focus on what I have to do now, instead of worrying about other stuff.  The calendar view can also optionally show what classes you have that day.  (There’s actually a third useful view, called Upcoming, that’s only accessible by clicking the Upcoming button in the widget.  That’s a shame, since I like that view a lot and it’s helpful.)

Now let’s talk about push notifications and widgets.  Right off the bat, the myHomework app shows a counter of assignments as the app icon badge.  I think badges are one of the most useful features of notifications; it lets me see, at a glance, every time I open my phone, if there’s anything I need to work on.  Here’s the part I don’t like about the counter.  The counter shows the number of assignments you have for that day and the next school day (so if it’s Friday, it shows all weekend assignments and Monday).  I don’t like this, because as I said, I have a tendency to get worried about tomorrow’s assignments, when they’re set as tomorrow’s assignments for a reason.  Oh well.  Aside from badges, the app can also give you push notifications for assignments.  I don’t use this feature often, but it works as you would expect.  After notifications come the widgets.  myHomework actually offers two widgets, one that shows the classes you have that day and one that shows the homework due that day.  I don’t use the first, but the second is super helpful.  I’ve written about how much I like widgets before, so this feature really makes the app useful for me.

myHomework also has some other, more advanced features.  They recently added a tutoring feature, which allows you to get live help with assignments.  I’ve never used this, so I don’t know if or how it works, but it’s an interesting idea.  myHomework also integrates with a companion app for teachers called Teachers.io.  This allows teachers to post assignments, which show up directly in their students’ myHomework apps.  None of my teachers use this, but it’s definitely a cool idea.

I’m a control freak, and I feel best when I’ve got everything organized and I know exactly what’s going on.  myHomework helps me to do just that.  Now if only completing assignments was as easy as keeping track of them…  ••

August App Review: PCalc

App: PCalc
Developer: TLA Systems Ltd.
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS

I don’t use a calculator app for complicated things.  I’m a college student, and an iPhone just isn’t going to cut it for calculus class, that’s what my TI-84 is for.  Because of that, most of my interactions with a calculator app are short and straightforward: stuff like simple adding and multiplying.  With this in mind, PCalc is the perfect calculator app for one reason: it gives you a calculator in Notification Center.


When I first heard about PCalc, I wasn’t that impressed.  Why would I need a calculator in Notification Center since I could easily launch the calculator from Control Center?  But I downloaded the app just to check it out.  Turns out it’s super useful.  It’s especially useful when I’m doing something money related on my phone – say, using the Pocket Expense app – and I need to make a quick calculation.  It’s so much easier to just swipe down into Notification Center than to have to switch apps twice.

The widget will handle all the basic math you can throw at it, and even supports copy and paste.  Tapping the number at the top will launch the full app.  You can also minimize the calculator (using the little arrow to the left) if you don’t want it taking up so much room in Notification Center.

I haven’t really ever used the main app of PCalc, because the widget is so powerful.  But it does everything the stock calculator app can do, plus more.  In portrait orientation, it’s a basic scientific calculator.  In landscape orientation, many more buttons become available, for things like logarithms and trig functions.  Unlike the stock calculator app, PCalc also has some advanced functions, like parenthesis and memory, right there in portrait view.  PCalc also has a button for conversions (labeled “A->B”) and mathematical constants (perfectly labeled “42”).  There are several of each available when you first get the app, and you can buy more (in packs such as the “Engineer Pack”) as in-app purchases.  There’s also different themes available for purchase, as well as a few other features.  These are available individually as smaller purchases, or you can buy everything for $9.99.

As you can see, PCalc is simultaneously a very simple app, and a very powerful app.  It’s great because it can really be whatever you need it to be: I need a simple calculator available in any app and even the lock screen.  But if you need a powerful calculator app chock-full of functions and features, PCalc has you covered there as well.  ••

July App Review: Musixmatch

App: Musixmatch
Developer: musiXmatch srl
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android, Windows Phone

I love music.  As you’ve read here before, I’ve recently started to really get into music again, mostly using Spotify (spoiler alert: Apple Music just came out, and you can be sure that’ll be getting plenty of coverage here soon).  However, I don’t just love to listen to music.  I also love to sing along to music.  The enjoyment I get out of a song increases exponentially when I know the words and can join in.  With that in mind, lyrics are important.  Sure, I learn the lyrics to most songs by just listening to them over time, but sometimes I want to know the lyrics now.  Enter the Musixmatch app.


Open the Musixmatch app and you’ll immediately see a list of all the music you have saved to your device.  At the bottom, you can see the current song playing.  Tapping a song starts it playing, and timed lyrics appear on the screen as the song goes along.  It’s a pretty good karaoke experience.  If you’re using Apple Music, the library and now playing only work for the songs you have downloaded to your device, not everything you’ve saved to your iCloud Music Library*.  If you’re a Spotify user, it won’t work at all, which is too bad.

If the song you want to look up isn’t in your catalog, you just search for it.  The search function works well.  Tapping the song brings up lyrics.  Simple enough.  The lyrics screen is really well designed too.  By default, it will show photos of the artist, both portraits and concert photos.  However, there’s also an option to use the song’s album artwork as the background.  I immediately turned this on.  I’ve always loved album artwork, I think it’s cool the way the audio and visual elements become associated in my mind.

Once you’re on the lyrics page (and the app isn’t already playing the song), you can hit the play button on the bottom to play it via YouTube or Spotify.  You can also play the iTunes preview of the track.  This is great, but I really wish there was a button in Spotify to take you right to the lyrics.  I guess it’s nice that I can look up the lyrics and then easily play the song, but most of the time, I do the reverse.  That brings me to the app’s final two features.

The first is a feature called MusicID, which is basically Shazam.  At first, I was a little unimpressed with this feature.  Now that Shazam is built into Siri (“Hey Siri, what song is this?”), I didn’t see why I needed this feature.  However, it was only recently that I realized that I could ID the song I was currently playing on my phone to easily bring up the lyrics.  Why I thought I could only ID music coming from another source I don’t know.  This feature finally gives me what I was looking for.  I’m listening to a song, and I want to see the lyrics: what’s the fastest way to pull them up?  It’s definitely not web searching.  Searching the app was an improvement, but still not ideal.  However, with MusicID, it’s easy to find the lyrics I want fast.

The other fast way to find lyrics is with the Musixmatch Notification Center widget. This only works for music you have on your device or Apple Music (not Spotify), but it’s pretty awesome.  It shows you the current and next line of the lyrics right there in Notification Center, without any extra effort at all.  There’s also buttons for search, MusicID, and the top trending lyrics.

So as you can see, Musixmatch is a pretty simple app, but it’s powerful.  Having lyrics for basically any song right at your fingertips is not only helpful, but exciting. I’m seeing a lot of car sing-alongs in my future.  ••

*Update 7/16/15: Musixmatch is now fully updated for Apple Music!  This means that the My Music screen shows everything in your Apple Music library, not just the songs you have saved for offline playback.  Thanks Musixmatch!

June App Review: WordPress

App: WordPress
Developer: Automattic
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

Awhile back I wrote about how I used the WordPress app on my iPad to write posts at SPSU.  However, the WordPress app is useful for other things too.  Because of this, I decided to go ahead and give it a full write up.  I’m going to focus on the iPad here (because it’s better both for writing and reading), although just about everything I’ll mention also applies to the iPhone.


I’m going to split this review into three sections – one for each of the main things I do with the WordPress app.  The first is writing posts.  I haven’t been using this much lately, as I’m currently on summer break, but I intend to go back to writing posts on my iPad at school when the fall semester starts.  Writing in the WordPress app is pretty simple, as it should be.  The main writing screen (see image 1) is mostly dedicated to just that: writing.  There’s a few rich-text options at the bottom, nothing too fancy but nevertheless a solid set of tools.  I was most impressed that the WordPress app also had plenty of support for adding extra metadata to posts (see image 2).  Categories, tags, an even a featured image can easily be added.  The WordPress app also has good support for unpublished drafts.  This is imperative for me since I write posts in advance and then spend a few days editing them.  The app’s writer doesn’t have every feature WordPress.com has – for example, I can add images to a post, but not an image gallery – but it has enough that I can write the majority of a post on the iPad and then tidy it up the next day when I get on the computer.

The second part of the WordPress app that I use is the reader.  This (obviously) allows me to follow other people’s blogs.  Of course I can follow other WordPress blogs, but the WordPress app is also an RSS reader, so I can add pretty much any other blog I want.  I was using IFTTT to send my RSS subscriptions to Pocket (see this recipe), but recently I’ve been exploring WordPress more and I liked the convenience of following blogs with one click.  We’ll see what I end up using in the long term.

The last part of the app I want to talk about is notifications.  I get push notifications every time someone follows this blog, comments on a post, replies to a comment I posted somewhere else, and so on.  This is nice because it makes it easy to stay up to date about what’s happening here.  WordPress notifications work well, and they’ve also done an excellent job managing notifications across multiple devices.  With many apps I can only look at notifications on my iPhone because otherwise I’ll get tons of duplicates.  I’m actually less concerned about multiple devices ringing at once; the big problem is that after I’ve dealt with a notification on one device it’s still there on another.  However, WordPress avoids this problem.  If you get a push notification on one device, but then look at it on another, the first device’s push notification automatically clears.  This retroactive notification clearing is something every app should have.  The only other apps I know of that do this are iOS Mail, iMessage, and Twitter.  These are all super-high level apps (two of them preloaded, system apps), and it’s impressive that WordPress is in the same plane in this regard.

So as you can see, the WordPress app is a pretty good jack of all trades.  It’s not perfect, but right now it’s doing a great job of helping me keep up with this site and the greater WordPress community.  The WordPress app is definitely one of my iPad’s indispensable apps, and I hope WordPress continues improving it in the future.  ••

May App Review: Hyperlapse

App: Hyperlapse
Developer: Instagram
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS

I told you we’d get to this eventually!  As promised (midway through my epic-two-part-near-2000-word write up of iCloud Photo Library and Photos for Mac), this week I’m going to do May’s app review.  This month I’ve chosen to review Hyperlapse, a time-lapse video app made by Instagram.


Hyperlapse has a simple, intuitive design.  Open up the app and you’re greeted with only two buttons: record and switch camera (“selfielapse,” they call it).  The rest of the app is equally simple.  After pressing record, you’ll see a timer that shows you how long the video is in normal time, as well as how long the time-lapse will be (based on a speed of 6x).  Ending the recording allows you to chose the speed (any multiple of 2 from 2x to 12x, as well as 1x).  When you’re done, you can save the video to your camera roll, and then share it.  You can also chose to “Edit later,” which adds a third button to the main screen to access your drafts.

But wait a second: doesn’t the stock camera app in iOS already have a time-lapse setting?  It does, and it works fine.  However, there are two reasons why Hyperlapse is better.

First is the variable speed setting.  The stock camera app seems to use a 15x speed setting (although it doesn’t actually tell you what it is), which is really, really fast.  Hyperlapse’s default setting is 6x, which usually looks really good (8x is another good choice).  However, Hyperlapse also gives you the option to go as fast as 12x or as slow as 2x.  I like having this extra control.

The second reason Hyperlapse is better is an interesting one.  Hyperlapse is actually doing image stabilization in real time as you’re recording.  This means that time-lapses (which tend to really show off shaking filming) will look smoother in Hyperlapse.  I don’t know much about photography, but apparently it’s also really impressive that it’s doing this as you film, without requiring any extra processing time.  However, there’s one more reason this feature is super cool.  You can record a video in Hyperlapse, then save it at 1x, and it’s like using a steadicam!  Obviously, it’s not quite as good as a real steadicam, but it can give you a little bit of stabilization with no extra effort – all you have to do is record the video.  Pretty neat!

One more thing: Hyperlapse only saves videos in 720p resolution, and not 1080p.  I’m actually OK with this.  I think that 1080p is a little unnecessary for simple home videos; 720p looks fine and doesn’t take up quite so much space.

As you can see, Hyperlapse is a really cool app.  It’s extremely simple, but it adds just a couple key features that are super useful, not to mention missing in the stock camera app.  Time-lapse is a lot of fun, both to film and to watch, and I highly recommend that you try this app out.  Below is the full Hyperlapse of the fooseball game going on in the screenshots above, saved at 6x speed.  But enough about me – I’d love to see what you make with this app.  Send me a link on Twitter or in the comments below.  Enjoy!  ••