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.  ••


I Can’t Live Without Widgets

Hands-down my favorite iOS 8 feature is Notification Center widgets.  Android has had widgets on the home screen for a long time.  Before iOS 8, I had thought about widgets on the iPhone, but they hadn’t really made sense to me.  I didn’t like the idea of putting a widget on the home screen, it seemed to mess up the simplicity of just having apps there.  However, as soon as I saw widgets in the Today View of Notification Center, it made perfect sense.  In iOS 7, the today view was cool; it provided a good way to see information on weather, calendars, and reminders.  It made sense to split that off from the rest of Notification Center, but it never quite felt like it was enough information to fully justify a separate screen.  Now that we have third party widgets, the separate makes complete sense.  I love widgets and use them all the time.  So, without further ado, here are the widgets I have active in my Notification Center right now.

The very first widget is reminders.  I, quite literally, plan my life around my iPhone’s reminders, and I wouldn’t accomplish anything without them.  I really don’t like how iOS 8 doesn’t show all your reminders in Notification Center (it limits them to four or five), but I still love being able to see (and check off) reminders from the lock screen.

This is an app that I just started using this semester, and it works really well.  It’s a good way to keep track of assignments, quizzes, and questions I have for professors.  Yes, I could just use the Reminders app for this, but myHomework allows a little more granular control that’s designed specifically for homework assignments.  Best of all, it shows me everything I have due today right there in Notification Center.

Simple and straightforward, the stock Calendar app in iOS does everything I need it to.  I don’t have the Today Summary activated in Notification Center, because it only shows your first event (not very helpful).

Yahoo Weather
I also don’t like the weather report in the Today Summary.  It’s too concise and doesn’t give much information.  The Yahoo Weather widget gives the current temperature, as well as today and tomorrow’s highs and lows.  I only wish they would remove the nice little picture and halve the widget’s size to save space.

Another simple one, the WordPress widget shows how many hits and visitors I’ve gotten on this site each day.  The only problem is that after a few days, it doesn’t seem to refresh correctly, getting stuck on a certain number of hits.

Writing Aid
I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but the Writing Aid widget shows a new word and definition each day.  Nice for (telling myself that I’m) learning new vocabulary words.

The YouVersion Bible app is pretty much the gold standard; you can get almost any translation of the Bible absolutely free.  The Today View widget conveniently shows you the app’s verse of the day.  There are two buttons to launch the app: one goes to the verse of the day and the other to wherever you were last reading.

I recently switched all my memos over to Evernote, and the widget is a really nice part of the Evernote app.  It has buttons to create a new text note and a new note from the camera, as well as a few other things.  It also shows your three most recently viewed notes (and not, importantly, your most recently edited notes).

Clips is a great clipboard management app.  Put something on your iOS clipboard, and you can swipe into Notification Center to add it to your list of clips.  Add multiple items, then just tap one again to put in back on the iOS clipboard, or paste it anywhere using the Clips keyboard (another great iOS 8 feature).

Another must have, PCalc allows you to make quick calculations from right within Notification Center.  There’s even copy and paste buttons so it fits into your existing workflow.  You might think that it’s just as easy to launch the stock calculator app via control center, but you would be wrong.  PCalc quickly becomes an essential part of your device.

Tomorrow Summary
I mentioned that I don’t like the Today Summary, but the Tomorrow Summary is definitely helpful.  It’s pretty straightforward, it just tells you how many events you have for the next day, as well as telling you what time your alarm is set for.  I just wish it would also include the number of reminders scheduled for the next day.

I’ve arranged my widgets in a very specific order.  First are the apps that I look at constantly: Reminders and myHomework.  Next are the apps that I look at several times throughout the day: Calendar, Yahoo Weather, and WordPress.  After that come the apps that I look at once a day: Writing Aid and Bible.  The last group contains utility apps, the ones that offer functions (read: buttons) instead of just information: Evernote, Clips, and PCalc.  The groups I use most often are the first and last.  Why don’t I just put the utility widgets second?  I like being able to swipe rapidly to the top or bottom to get to what I need.  It feels to me like this is actually faster swiping to the top, then down just a bit.  These widgets make my day easier and allow me to get things done faster.  Have I missed anything?  Let me know your essential widgets in the comments or on Twitter @NickFoster56.  ••