iPad App Review Marathon (Part 3)

iPad App Review Marathon (Part 3)

We’re STILL reviewing as many iPad apps as possible LIVE and updating all day.

For Part 1 of our iPad Review Marathon go here.
For Part 2 of our iPad Review Marathon go here.

Note: For most apps, we’ll show the portrait screenshot on the left and the landscape on the right, so you can see what both look like.

Things for the iPad could be the most beautiful to-do list I’ve ever used. It has the elegant look of the popular Mac version with even less clutter, and making and managing to-do items, lists and bigger projects is a breeze. There’s definitely something to be said about an app that makes organising your messy life so effortless and so gorgeous. But the fact of the matter is that Things for the iPad is $24, and for most people, that’s just way too much to pay for a to-do list app. Dedicated users of the Things Mac application might be the exception – if your life revolves around Things for Mac and you feel like you’d go mad without it, then the iPad version is a good addition to your arsenal, syncing cleanly and automatically every time the app is opened. But if you’re just looking to pull together some odds and ends here and there, there are much cheaper ways to do it. Taska, a $6 app, has a similar feel to Things, and Evernote, which sacrifices some of Things’ refinement for a wider set of features, has a free iPad app that will probably suit you just fine. [iTunes]

Things would be the undisputed champ of beautiful task management if not for the ludicrous price.[imgclear]

BigOven, a database of over 170,000 recipes, comes in two versions for the iPad, a free Lite version and a $6 Pro Version. We tried out the Pro version, which allows you to search their recipe database in a number of ways, save these recipes for offline viewing and one-button transform these recipes into shopping lists (the shopping lists feature is basically what costs you $6). BigOven is a nicely made app – with notable points to their big food porn title page (doesn’t that cookie look wonderful?). The problem is, Epicurious can do pretty much everything that the $6 version of the Big Oven app can do for free… and we prefer Epicurious’ interface. Still, BigOven Lite is worth checking out to decide for yourself. If you prefer it to Epicurious, then maybe the Pro version is worth the $6 investment. [iTunes]

Try Epicurious first – it has BigOven’s tempting Pro features for free.[imgclear]

Since most of you probably won’t fork over $US3.99 a week to gain full reign of WSJ’s bowels we kept it simple and evaluated this app in its bare bones form, that is to say, the hobomodo version. After reviewing some exceptional news apps like NPR and AP – that do a great job in not only displaying content, but presenting it creatively – the WSJ app feels insanely lame. The development team seems to have literally just copied the layout template from the WSJ printing press and converted that into 1s and 0s, which – for future reference to all publishers – does not work well on the iPad. The front page feels cut in half with leads and blurbs crammed in a tight space, killing any aesthetic that’s present on the paper version. Streaming video present in place of some photos is poorly compressed and looks awful compared to what Vimeo and YouTube can do elsewhere on the device. Navigating from section to section is awkward and frustrating. Swiping side to side flips pages within a section while swiping up and down changes section to section. A few of my more careless swipes sent me jumping to a place I had no desire to be, requiring patient renavigating to get back to the page I was skimming. Thankfully, a ‘Sections’ tab exists in the lower right corner to help you navigate to specific areas, but I found this slow to load more often than not. This is an irksome, uninspired and clunky experience. You’re much better off getting NPR, NY Times or an RSS Reader. [iTunes]

Boring, frustrating, awkward. Avoid unless you’re all about serious business.[imgclear]

Good Reader
Good Reader’s interface isn’t quite as pretty as some other file browsing apps we’ve looked at (Air Sharing HD, for example) and its initial exhortation to “read all of our instruction manuals” didn’t do much to allay my usability concerns, but after spending a few minutes to get the hang of things, it turns out that Good Reader is a pretty indispensable app. Basically it lets you dump just about any supported files – PDF, txt, Word Docs, audio, video – from your computer onto your iPad with a barebones web-based interface. There’s no progress bar, but the files beam over without issue, and when they’re on your iPad, they just work. Good Reader has a ton of intricate options for handling PDFs, but if you’re just in it to read through them like ebooks, it does that really well too – navigation is intuitive, including pinch and/or tap to zoom, and various hot zones on the screen let you turn pages or scroll automatically from side to side. I’m pretty picky about my ereading, and I could easily see myself burning through an entire graphic novel in Good Reader. Though there’s no printing support, the app does give you plenty of options for managing the files, allowing you to rename, restructure or email them as attachments, and it plays well with Google Docs, Dropbox and MobileMe. Best of all, it’s only $1.19 (for now). [iTunes]

For $1.19, you can bypass iTunes and zap a huge variety of files from your computer to your iPad for convenient perusal. Totally worth the small learning curve.[imgclear]

Time Magazine
Time’s app sets a great example of how to properly display print media on the iPad. It really does feel like flipping through a magazine. When you launch the app you’re ushered to the cover where you can immediately start swiping pages to the conveniently laid out table of contents or launch the unobtrusive dashboard to scan articles and jump to a desired section. Articles are crisply depicted without compromise and the text is rich, satisfying and readable. Time has also included an embedded browser for Time.com, where you can scan the top stories of the day, or catch up on relevant posts in a desired category. Everything is a very seamless experience and a wonderful step in the right direction. A few things like bookmarking and some slightly less fickle touch controls would be nice, but they hardly hamper the overall experience. The big gripe is that you’re shelling out $6 for one issue of Time, which is pretty shafty in our opinion. It’s a shame, really, as this is almost an unparalleled experience for consuming content. Recommended only for those who love Time and want to see the future of magazines. $6. [iTunes]

Excellent overall presentation and intuitive navigation. Six bucks an issue is off-putting.[imgclear]

Cogs HD
Cogs HD is one of those box sliding puzzle games in which you must rearrange blocks in certain configurations despite having but one available open spot at all times. Of course, Cogs HD expands on the classic puzzle by placing it in 3D and adding cogs which must be realigned to fix little steampunkesque machines. The game was fun on the iPhone ($1.19), but this $6 iPad port (while technically just as fun) is clearly just an upscaled version of the iPhone game. The graphics actually exhaust your eyes, and you can’t help but get the feeling that the developer rushed out an otherwise excellent game, just to bump its price for the iPad asap. [iTunes]

A fun puzzle game with an increased price solely because it’s on the iPad.[imgclear]

TOP GUN for iPad
TOP GUN for iPad peaks at the soundtrack – Kenny Loggins’ famous Danger Zone put through an endless loop – which isn’t saying much. The game itself is a ported version of the iPhone game, reskinned with higher res graphics. You manoeuvre your jet (the iPad) to dodge DANGER ZONES while putting the enemies in your sights. The gameplay isn’t particularly bad, it’s just mediocre – as are the graphics and controls. For $6, there are better games in the App Store. For $9, there are MUCH better games in the App Store. TOP GUN (sorry for the caps, the game insists upon it), is the example of the type of title that could fly (pun intended) on the iPhone but probably won’t turn heads on the iPad. [iTunes]

Supporting games like this one will stop publishers from producing anything better.[imgclear]

Small World for iPad
In the analogue world, Small World is a $US30-$US40 geek board game with a territory expansion focus – similar to and simpler than Settlers of Catan. So from that perspective, it’s hard not to love the $6 app – a smaller version of the board game made for two players (rather than up to five). But while I love the idea of placing the iPad in the middle of the table as a shared game, I wish you could play Small World alone – there’s no AI opponent option (or online play). And another oddity: The game goes mute (a bug or artistic choice?) during play and we couldn’t find any option for sounds. If developers address these quibbles in an update, Small World could be a must-have app for the board game aficionado. [iTunes]

A pleasant rendition of a virtual boardgame – but no AI opponents or sound effects.[imgclear]

Touch Hockey Extreme: FS5
The game is as simple as you’d expect – air hockey that you control with a finger. The presentation is polished, including multiple table angles, choice of table/paddle colour, the option for a second player to replace an AI opponent at any time and simple but effective sound effects. Beside some of the incredible games we’ve seen on the iPad thus far, Touch Hockey is pretty granular. But it very much succeeds at what it’s trying to do: Be an excellent, $4 air hockey app. [iTunes]

A fun air hockey game, though it feels a bit granular compared to its peers.[imgclear]

Besides signing a few documents here and there, I don’t think I’ve ever really needed to annotate a PDF. But I’m sure that PDFs do get annotated, be it by business people who use their mouse to highlight sections or type comments in margins or by students who print out lecture notes and just mark them up with pen or pencil. If you’re one of those people, iAnnotate PDF seems like it’d be a serviceable solution, offering a host of mark-up tools – highlighters, bookmarks, underlines and strikethroughs, just to name a few – that let you get down and dirty with your documents. But it’s far from perfect. Getting PDFs into the app requires the use of a separate program which you have to download on your PC or Mac and set to recognise shared folders. The marked-up PDFs are only accessible back in these folders; the app doesn’t offer a way of simply firing them off via email. All of this is pretty frustrating, especially having just used Good Reader’s simple as pie web interface to dump files from computer to the iPad. It doesn’t help matters that iAnnotatePDF’s special introductory price is $9, which seems like a lot considering the app’s limitations. [iTunes]

If you need to mark up PDFs right now, it works, but I’m sure a better solution (either easier, cheaper, or both) will come along soon.[imgclear]

KAYAK Flights
Everyone’s favourite bargain-basement trip planner has staked a claim on the iPad. Kayak lets you select from a myriad of flights, hotels and car rentals so you can more easily (and cheaply) plan a “business trip” at the last minute. The interface works very well in that regard – date selection being the highlight here – and offers you a practical list to select from at the end of your query. For legal reasons, however, you’re not allowed to complete your purchase within the Kayak app itself. Once you choose your desired results the app springboards you into Safari where you complete the purchase at whatever website offered you the best deal. We can’t fault Kayak for this manoeuvre as they’re just a flight aggregator and they don’t actually sell tickets, but it’s rather awkward considering you’re gonna be typing all your credit card info into the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. Nonetheless, it’s a free app, so go nuts. [iTunes]

Solid design and execution for planning flights. Completing purchases in Safari is more awkward than it should be.[imgclear]

Warpgate HD
There is no other game like Warpgate HD on the iPad. It’s a space sim in which you cruise various solar systems to mine, trade, and of course, fight. The graphics ping pong between drab and dazzling, though the overall aesthetic looks fantastic on the screen. Controls are extremely simple – you merely tap or flick where you’d like to go, with a few simple buttons taking care of advanced functions like landing on plants. Battles engage auto-steering, allowing you to focus on weapons, which actually takes some of the fun out of it all. And speaking of fun, is Warpgate fun? We’re not sure that it is, but we’re not sure that it isn’t. There are clearly several, several hours of gameplay to experience in what, at first glance, is an addictive game if nothing else. Our main caveat isn’t the quality of the game but the fear of microtransactions. Warpgate is probably worth its $10 price, but they’ll be happy to sell you a fancy new ship for a few extra bucks…

Our first impressions are positive, and we find this rare space sim intriguing, but it could go either way.[imgclear]

Phaidon’s Design Classics
It seems fitting to flip through Phaidon’s $24 Design Classics, an encyclopaedic collection of 1000 timeless examples of industrial design, on an iPad, a device that will undoubtedly be a candidate for the next 1000 (the iPhone and iMac have already made the cut and appear here). The Design Classics collection originally appeared in a series of three very beautiful, very heavy volumes last year, and the iPad version reduces the bulk but retains the beautiful photographs and descriptions that appeared in the books. In the main view, the objects float in 3D space, and pinching with two fingers moves you forward through them chronologically. The animation in this view could be better, and I expect it will improve in a forthcoming update that is slated to include ways to search the collection by category, year or designer. For now, my preferred way to browse the objects is one by one, swiping through each page individually. The pages include a single photograph of the object on a clean white background, with an icon that brings up some text describing the object’s history. As it should, the app stays out of the way and lets the objects speak for themselves. [iTunes]

Modern history’s most enduring industrial design on today’s most compellingly designed object – a perfect match that only needs a bit more refinement itself.[imgclear]

So this is cool – TabToolKit is a pretty decent file manager for guitar tabs, and on top of that, it can play back rich guitar tabs in real-time with fret or keyboard visualisation, and on top of that, you can import tabs through your home network or just rip guitar tabs right from the web (though standard guitar tabs will just be copy & pasted into a unified font/interface, not translated into the full-out A/V interface you see here). The UI is as slick as it is understated, with plenty of useful customisation options. Plus, it includes an iPhone version free. What’s not to like? [iTunes]

An absolutely fantastic app if you play guitar.[imgclear]

OK, there’s a lot going on here. SoundHound is the new iteration of Midomi for the iPad and the good news – as I discovered – is that if you’ve already purchased Midomi on the iPhone then this is a free upgrade across all platforms. Score! The app acts as a renaissance man of sorts in regards to your iTunes library and music in general. The renowned Midomi music recognition software trumps Shazam’s effortlessly since it needs less information to ID a song. Hell, you can even hum it if you’re not too terrible and this little bugger will more than likely narrow your search down. It integrates effortlessly with your iPod library and picks up what track you’re already playing if you choose to launch it. Lyric support is astounding and was even able to identify and locate some of my more obscure tracks. The overall look and feel have improved since the iPhone version as there’s more room to play with, making it appear less crammed than prior editions. If you’re familiar with Midomi we recommend picking this up. [iTunes]

Great lyric and music recognition support. Free upgrade if you already own the iPhone version, $6 otherwise.[imgclear]

After playing with PatternMusic for a while I’m still not sure I have a hold on this music-making app’s cryptic interface, but in a category that will undoubtedly yield some of the priciest in the App Store, that’s just a testament to how much functionality this free app packs. You won’t be making any digital symphonies or anything, but for layering a few piano roll-pecked melodies on top of each other, it definitely does the trick. PatternMusic has a good selection of instruments and a surprising amount of settings you can tweak, though they’re hidden away in various corners, some literal, some figurative, of the app. If you’re at all serious about creating music on the iPad, you’ll definitely want to invest in something more refined. But if you just want to dabble and you don’t want to pay to do so, PatternMusic does the job. [iTunes]

A couple dozen instruments and the ability to easily multitrack your own patterns for free? You could do a lot worse.[imgclear]

Twilight, The Graphic Novel
When the iPad was announced, the world may not have been as impressed as they’d hoped to be. But that’s because, on that day, Jobs was holding back. He didn’t want to play all of his cards. And frankly, he didn’t know if the iPad hardware could handle steamy, teen-on-vampire romance. Would the A4 processor overheat in fiery passion? Would the display burn out if Edward shimmered with too much glory in the sunlight? Jobs just didn’t know. But when he announced the iPad to a ho hum crowd, half of China was risking their lives in a giant, subterranean factory, just to ensure that young American girls with iPads would be safe come launch day. Many fell for the cause, but because of those sacrifices, we have Twilight, The Graphic Novel on the iPad. And Jobs has the ultimate entertainment platform, again. [iTunes]

God bless Apple. God bless Stephenie Meyer. God bless America.[imgclear]