App review

A review of some of the Apps CHOICE has seen, used and recently reviewed.
 
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01 .Entertainment

Entertainment

Comic Lifecomic life icon

Price: $8.49
Platform: iPad

If there's anything more fun than reading comics, it's creating them. And you don't need to know how to draw. Comic Life lets you build comic pages from your photo collection, using page templates and ready-made resizable titles, word balloons, special effects and other editing and design tools. You can flip through your pages on the iPad and share them on Facebook or via email or print them out. At a quarter the price of the desktop version it's a low-cost way to bring out your inner comic book creator. Nov/Dec 2011.

Disney Comics

Disney comics icon

Price: Free.
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

One of the things in which the iPad excels is comics, with apps from Marvel, DC and third-parties such as Comixology providing a built-in comic store and reader that is arguably better than the real thing. Now Disney has joined this esteemed company with an app that lets you read comics old and new as well as adaptations of Disney movies such as TRON and Toy Story. The app is free and so are several sample issues, but issues for purchase are a bit on the pricey side so don't give your kids free reign with your iTunes account (good advice at any time). CC issue Sept/Oct 2011.

Flixster

Upfront flixster

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry

If you’re into movies on the big screen, check out Flixster. This app brings the movie review and social networking site to your mobile device. It includes reviews from Rotten Tomatoes as well as other users. You can view and rate reviews and write your own. It includes support for Facebook and Twitter. And once you’ve watched a movie trailer and read the reviews, the app will even provide you with local cinema locations and screening times. If you’re a big screen movie buff it’s pretty much a must. CC issue May/June 2011.

Music

TuneIn Radio

Price: Free; Pro version 99cTuneIn icon
Platform: iOS, Android

You don’t need a radio tuner in your smartphone or tablet – there’s an endless variety of audio stations you can tune into via the internet, and TuneIn is an easy way to find them. You can bookmark stations from around the world, browse by category or find new stations via the built-in map. The Pro version lets you record, pause and rewind as you listen. CC issue Jul/Aug 2012.

Shazam

App shazam

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android, Blackberry, Nokia, Windows 7 Phone.

Contestants on that perennially popular TV game show Name That Tune would have loved Shazam. If you hear a song and don’t recognise it, Shazam will not only listen to a snippet and identify (tag) the song, album and artist, but also let you view it on YouTube, get the lyrics, share your discovery with friends and even buy the track instantly via the iTunes Store. Long-term users (since before November 2009) still have unlimited tagging but sadly, newcomers are limited to five free tags per month. Unlimited usage requires the upgrade to Shazam Encore at $7.99. However, users of the new Android version get free tagging for the rest of this year. CC issue July/Aug 2011.

Photography and Video

Hipstamatic

Upfront hipstamatic

Price: $2.49
Platform: iPhone

Everything old is new again with Hipstamatic. This retro smorgasbord of special effects brings back all the instamatic-style picture processing (including boo-boos) of the past to help you dress up your new digital picture albums. The app simulates the look, feel and fun of analog plastic cameras with all their optical idiosyncrasies, which can produce surprising results. Mix and match the lenses, flashes and films for unique artistic effects then save or share your results via social networking sites Facebook and Flickr. For more variety there’s additional camera packs for purchase within the app. And because it’s digital, you can go as snap happy as you like. CC issue May/June 2011.

Vintage video maker

Upfront vintage

Price: $2.49
Platform: iPhone

Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be – it’s bigger and better than ever. Now you can evoke an older era with digital video on your iPhone. Add authentic-looking vintage fi lm effects to your videos as you shoot, or age your existing iPhone footage to look like films from the ‘60s and ‘20s or older with black and white or two full-on sepia finishes. Add old-style piano or fi lm projector sounds or your own soundtrack and speed up or slow down your movie for the right retro effect. Send finished films to your computer via Wi-Fi using FTP or share them on YouTube or via email. CC issue May/June 2011.

Books

Overdrive Media Console

Overdrive icon

Price: $10.99
Platform: iOS, Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, Windows, Mac

If you like eBooks you'll probably love Overdrive Media Console. This app lets you borrow eBooks and audiobooks from your participating local library, just as you would with the real thing. You need a library membership, of course. You can add items to your wish list for borrowing later and reserve titles that are out. You'll receive an email when it's back in again. Borrowed items expire automatically after a set lending term, usually a couple of weeks. The good news is that this means no late fees! Check with your local library to see if it’s part of the fast-growing number of Overdrive participants. CC issue Nov/Dec 2011.


Bluefire ReaderBluefire reader logo

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch

There are plenty of ebook readers for iOS, including Apple’s own iBooks, Stanza, the Kindle app, Kobo, and readers from the major book chains. However, most don’t support Adobe’s eBook digital rights management (DRM) and therefore can’t read this protected version of the popular ePUB book format. Bluefire Reader to the rescue. This free app lets you load up on to your iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch all your Adobe ePUB format books purchased at a variety of online stores or even borrowed through public libraries – even titles you’ve purchased previously for desktop computer. You can also shop for books from various sellers directly within the app. March/April 2011.

 
 

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First AidSt John icon

Price: $4.49
Platform: iPhone

Whether or not you have hands-on first-aid training by St John Ambulance (highly recommended), this app can be a handy reference in an emergency. It presents step-by-step treatment instructions and an easy-to-follow format that has pictures for each step. It joins St John Ambulance’s other worthwhile first aid apps in the App Store, MediProfiles (free) and Resuscitate ($2.99). CC issue Nov/Dec 2012.

BrainyApp

Brainyapp iconPrice: Free
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

You don’t have to be a brainiac to use BrainyApp, but you might just become a bit smarter. This app from Alzheimer’s Australia and health fund Bupa is designed to help you improve your brain health and may just help stave off Alzheimer’s. It provides information for better brain and body health, helps you rate and track your progress through a brain health survey and includes brain games to stimulate your grey matter. The app is free, so it’s a no-brainer. CC issue Jan/Feb 2012.

MelApp

MelApp icon

Price: $1.99
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Despite, or perhaps because of, the vast amount of health-related information now available to anybody with a web browser, doctors tend to frown on self-diagnosis. But tools that help alert users to possible health problems are increasingly popular. Take MelApp, for example, this clever app uses the iPhone camera and sophisticated pattern recognition software to provide a potential early warning system against skin cancer. Just take a pic of a skin mole or suspect spot and upload it for analysis to receive a risk assessment only seconds later. Of course, this handy freckle checker makes no medical claims but it may prompt you to see a specialist and that might just be a lifesaver. CC issue Sept/Oct 2011.

Instant Heart RateIHR iconsmall2

Price: Free or $1.19 full version
Platform: iPhone 4 and 3GS, Android

Worried about stress or athletic performance? Try keeping track of your heart rate with Instant Heart Rate, which uses your phone’s camera to detect tiny changes in skin colour as fresh blood is pumped to your fingertip, the same principle used in a medical pulse oximeter. The full version also lets you keep your history, charts and heart rate recovery measurements. March/April 2011.


SunSmart

Price: FreeSunsmart icon
Platform: iPhone, iPod, iPad

It's not the heat of summer that damages your skin, it's the increased exposure to damaging UV rays while we're outside enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. The Cancer Council's Sun Smart app is designed to help you reduce your exposure. With information from the Bureau of Meteorology, the app gives you the weather, temperature, UV level and sun protection times for your local area and even UV alerts. The Cancer Council says it takes only 11minutes to burn, so this app really could save your skin. CC issue Jan/Feb 2011.


Travel

Link

App link

Price: $2.49
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad. 

If you live in NSW and use public transport Link is indispensable. This interactive guide to buses, trains and ferries can help you plan a multi-stage trip to almost anywhere efficiently, including walking time. And if you tend to nod off on public transport, it can even wake you before your stop. The free Link Express version lacks search history and favourites. For Sydney commuters only, there’s also the invaluable TripView ($2.49) which is a commuters’ dream. It shows train, bus and ferry timetables and lets you plan point-to-point trips. The free TripView Lite version doesn’t save your trips for future reference but is otherwise fully featured. CC issue July/Aug 2011.

PenultimatePenultimate icon

Price: $0.99
Platform: iPad

Yes, you can write on an iPad using a variety of apps, but Penultimate integrates very nicely with Evernote and Dropbox, making your notes easily available for saving, sorting and sharing. There’s a variety of pen and paper styles, colours and drawing tools and it can import pictures, plus it has built-in wrist protection to avoid stray marks. You can also send single pages or full notebooks to anybody as PDFs. CC issue Nov/Dec 2012.

CloudOnCloudon icon

Price: Free
Platform:iPad, Android tablets

CloudOn is now available in Australia, bringing genuine Microsoft Office to the iPad and Android tablets, remotely. The free app lets you log on to a virtual Office hosted on CloudOn’s servers, so you’ll need a net connection, but gives you access to all Office features using touch. You can access documents directly from cloud services Dropbox, Google Drive and Box. It also has an Adobe Reader built-in and lets you email files directly from the app. CC issue Nov/Dec 2012.

Google TranslateGoogle Translate icon

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone; iPad, Android

Science fiction’s vision of a handheld universal translator is not yet here, but we’re getting closer. Google Translate provides instant translation of almost anything in more than 60 languages and has voice input for many of them. It even speaks the foreign phrase for you in many (but not all) languages and you can save favourite phrases for offline use. Now you can make yourself understood almost anywhere – a must-have when travelling. CC issue Sep/Oct 2012.

BitlyBitly icon

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone

Link-shortening program Bitly (formerly Bit.ly) has become very popular on desktops. Now it has its own app that helps you shorten and save URLs on your mobile device and share them with others (ideal for Twitter, which sometimes can't fit a long URL in its character-limiting format). It also lets you save articles for later reading and sharing them with others. CC issue Sep/Oct 2012.


St. George Banking ApplicationStGeorge icon

Price: Free
Platform: iOS (iPhone)

The latest version of the St George banking app has the handy addition of a built-in budget planner, claimed to be an Australian first. A bonus is that it can be used by non-St. George customers, too. CC issue Jul/Aug 2012.

Know Risk

Know Risk icon

Price: Free
Platform: iOS (iPhone)

Right after a disaster is a bad time to discover you don’t know what needs to be replaced or who to contact. The Know Risk app helps keep track of your stuff and the policies that cover it, with pictures for identification and your insurers' contact details. CC issue Jul/Aug 2012.

Remember the Milk

RTM

Price: Free or $25/year pro version
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, Pad, Android

There’s no shortage of reminder and to-do apps on smartphones and tablets, but the Australian-developed app Remember The Milk (RTM) is not only one of the best, it’s the first to incorporate the iPhone 4S personal assistant, Siri, for adding reminders. RTM also works in with a web account and Gmail, Outlook, Twitter, Google Calendar and ties in with BlackBerry’s inbuilt Tasks program. CC issue Jan/Feb 2012.

Join.me

Join Me

Price: Free.
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android

If a picture's worth a thousand words, then the ability to quickly view anybody's computer screen remotely via your iPad must be worth a million. The join.me Viewer app lets you view somebody's screen, whether Mac or Windows, and collaborate from just about anywhere in real time over Wi-Fi or 3G connection. A desktop user “hosts” a meeting by going to join.me to start the connection and multiple users can join in. It's quick, simple and free. An optional Pro account provides extra services. Join.me is made by LogMeIn, makers of the easy-to-use remote viewing and control software for Mac, Windows and iOS devices. CC issue Nov/Dec 2011.

iWork

Numbers icon

Price: $10.99
Platform: iPhone (including 3GS), iPod Touch (gen 3 and 4), iPad

Apple’s own productivity suite was a hit on the iPad and now it’s available for iPhone and iPod Touch as well. iWork, comprising Pages (word processing), Numbers (spreadsheets) and Keynote (presentations) are universal apps, so if you’ve already bought them for the iPad, they’re available as a free update for the smaller iOS devices – and surprisingly usable at that size. All three programs have benefitted from the recent iTunes price drop, losing a couple of dollars, and all come with Apple-designed themes and templates. CC issue Sept/Oct 2011.

Awesome Files

App awesomefiles

Price: $1.19
Platform: iPhone, iPad

Carrying many gigabytes of music, photos and files around with you on your iPhone or iPad is easy, but finding what you want when you need it requires a system. Awesome Files helps organise everything. Create and save files, folders, pictures, web clippings, downloads, notes and almost anything else you gather. You can also zip and unzip file archives and open files into other apps, as well as access and save files to online servers such as Dropbox, MobileMe, Box.net, Google Docs and WebDav servers. Files can also be swapped to and from your computer via USB and via Wi-Fi, with the free Awesome Files Connect for Mac or PC. CC issue July/Aug 2011.

Springpad

App springpad

Price: $2.49
Platform: iPhone, Android

Springpad aims to be the ultimate organiser. Use it as a central repository for all the different bits of information we tend to collect each day: memos, notes, pictures … almost anything at all. It can help find information on movies, books, products and more, and is great for creating various checklists. You can easily share your information with friends via Facebook and Twitter. And unlike Evernote (evernote.com) which also collects and organises information, Springpad also lets you set reminders for tasks and events – a big plus. All information is synchronised online and also accessible from any computer via a personalised web page. CC issue July/Aug 2011.


ViberViber

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone

If you have an iPhone, international friends and like to chat, you’ll love Viber. It lets you make free calls to other Viber users using 3G or Wi-Fi. Once installed, you provide your phone number and receive back a code to activate Viber and that’s it. You can make free phone calls to other iPhone users that have Viber installed, and even to iPod Touch users (though that’s not officially supported yet). Sound quality over Wi-Fi is very good and all features are free, without requiring any additional in-app purchases. It’s similar to the free SMS alternative app called WhatsApp, which lets you send free SMS-like text messages (and even audio recordings) to phones that have Whatsapp installed. And unlike most chat clients, neither app needs to be opened on the iPhone to work. You can take calls and messages by just using the phone normally. March/April 2011.

Education

Encyclopaedia BritannicaBritannica_Icon

Price: $14.99/year for unlimited content
Platform: iOS

Before Google or Wikipedia were even thought of, Encyclopaedia Britannica was the go-to resource for information. The Britannica app provides access to more than 80,000 authoritative articles, covering almost any subject. The free version provides 100-word samples of each article, and a subscription grants full access. CC issue Jul/Aug 2012.


SmartGardenWatering

smartgardenwatering icon

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone

If you’re looking to keep your plants and veggies happy this summer, this app will help you water them just the right amount for optimum results. It tells you how often to water and for how long, for your particular location and garden type. 

It also shows local rainfall history to help with programming sprinkler systems – great for when water restrictions hit. CC issue Jan/Feb 2012.

Learner Driver Recorder

LDR icon

Price: $2.99
Platform: iPhone

Every kilometre counts to a learner driver trying to get up the 120 hours needed (in Victoria and NSW) to gain a full licence, but keeping a manual logbook that takes into account all those extra little trips can be a pain. The LDR app helps track and record every driving second and even maps where you’ve been. It’s not an official replacement for the written logbook yet, but it’s a step down that road. An Android version is in the works, too. CC issue Jan/Feb 2012.

Reference

PickAQuote

Pick a quote icon

Price: Free

Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad

Need to get some work done around the home? Don't reach for the Yellow Pages, grab your iPhone and download the free PickAQuote app. It lets you post the details of your job for tradesman and business, to help you find competitive quotes to do the work. The clever built-in PhotoMeasure tool uses the iPhone's camera help you measure up for any building work. If, on the other hand, you're a tradesman or business you can use PickAQuote to bid for jobs listed once you've registered with the site and been checked out as qualified. CC issue Sept/Oct 2011.


Australia Post MobileAuspost

Price: Free.
Platform: iPhone and iPad.

Forget paying for separate apps to find postcodes or calculate postage costs, now Australia Post has its own free app for iPhone similar to its website (www.auspost.com.au). The app also lets you track parcels and pay your bills, while the Find Us feature uses your current location (via GPS) to pinpoint your nearest Post Office, street post box or street Express Post box. It’s like having a mail man in your pocket. Sept/Oct 2010.


Food Advisor AustraliaFoodadvisor icon

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone.

The Food Watch NSW app caused a stir when it first appeared, outing restaurants that had been penalised by the NSW Food Authority. Now called Food Advisor Australia, its scope has widened to include food news articles and to even let you browse restaurants and order food pickup or delivery directly within the app via the Menulog service (www.menulog.com.au). The app lets you check the GE (genetically engineered) status of restaurants and many food and drink brands. And, of course, you can still use the GPS to see via listing or map which food establishments near you have had violations. Sept/Oct 2010.


Navigation

NavFree Live Australia and New Zealand

Upfront navfree

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone 3G/3GS/4 and iPad/2

If you’ve been waiting for a free iPhone GPS app, NavFree Live Australia & New Zealand now offers totally free turnby-turn navigation, though you will have to pay for in-app extras such as $5 for the ad-free version. Other promised in-app purchases include speed camera locations, local petrol prices and traffic information. The app includes full maps stored on the phone, so you don’t have to rely on mobile network coverage. A Social Location feature lets users navigate to each other and share their position via SMS, Email, Twitter and Facebook. Community-based map updates are also free. More info at www.navmii.com. CC issue May/June 2011.

Utilities


Sophos Mobile SecuritySophos icon

Price: Free
Platform: Android

If you have an Android phone or tablet you need security software. This free antivirus app scans apps as you install them, using up-to-the-minute information from SophosLabs to help avoid undesirable software that can lead to data loss and unexpected costs. If your device goes missing, the remote lock capability can also protect your personal information. CC issue Nov/Dec 2012.

Google Chrome browser

Chrome iconPrice: Free
Platform: iPhone, iPad, Android

If you prefer Google’s Chrome web browser on your desktop computer you might also want the new mobile version on your phone or tablet. You can use the Chrome Sync feature to share your desktop bookmarks, history and tabs. Chrome also has Incognito mode for private browsing, but the iOS version of Chrome isn’t noticeably faster than the default Safari browser. CC issue Sept/Oct 2012.

DisplayPad

DisplayPad icon

Price: $2.99
Platform: iPad

Based on the ideal that you can never have too much screen space, DisplayPad lets you turn your iPad into an extra screen for your desktop or laptop computer, using your Wi-Fi connection. DisplayPad extends your computer desktop area so you can simply drag windows from your main screen to the iPad. It works in portrait or landscape mode and also lets you use the iPad's touch display for selection and data entry. DisplayPad is a cheaper alternative to other display-extension apps such as Air Display and MaxiVista (both about $10) but all require a small program to run on your Mac or Windows computer. CC issue Nov/Dec 2011.


Skyfire browserSkyfire

Price: $3.99 iPhone; $5.99 iPad
Platform: iPhone, iPad

Users of iOS devices no longer have to put up with not being able to view Flash video on web pages thanks to Skyfire. It supports Flash video on many, but not all, web pages. It also integrates well with social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter, as well as letting you load either the desktop version or the mobile version of a web page and even allows multi-tab browsing. However, Skyfire doesn’t support Flash games or web apps. March/April 2011.


ConsumeConsume icon2

Price: Free
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch
Consume is a very handy one-stop-shop for keeping track of your usage for mobile phone, broadband, toll cards, reward cards, courier tracking, frequent flyer and other loyalty points. It supports more than 100 suppliers in Australia and New Zealand including major telcos, ISPs, couriers and loyalty reward systems. Enter your suppliers’ details in the app and with one click you can get an up-to-date status page for all of them telling you where you’re at, and how long before you reach a cap. An iPad-specific version is in the works. Jan/Feb 2011.



Soundamp RSoundAMP icon

Price: $2.49
Platform: iPhone.

Hard of hearing? I said… HARD OF HEARING? SoundAMP R lets you use your iPhone and earbuds as a discreet hearing aid. The app “listens” using the built-in microphone and amplifies the sound, with control over volume and balance. You can also set it to multitask so you can continue listening while using other apps. Great for watching TV without waking the neighbours, as well as in lectures, noisy coffee shops and parties. You can also record what you hear for later listening, so you don’t miss any important information. James Bond would love this app for unobtrusive eavesdropping but, of course, we’re sure CC readers would only use SoundAMP R in the most ethical manner. Sept/Oct 2010.

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