Pygmy Reviews #15: iOS Apps

Minimalist Timer (Free)

One Line Description: Very simple timer app with a big touch target.

There are no shortage of timer applications in the iOS App Store, so picking one from the lot is a challenge. Minimalist Timer has it’s share of pros and cons, but overall seems to excel as a timer app. The interface is a big dial that looks like a volume knob on an audio receiver. Each complete turn represents 1 minute of time. There is a minus button to the left and a plus button to the right which allow you to easily add/remove time in set increments. This increment is completely configurable in the settings menu for the app.

Below the big dial are three numbers for quickly adding time. These three numbers are also completely configurable. The app has a few other nice settings, like the ability to automatically start timer as soon as time is added or to preset a timer on launch so that a timer is ready to go every time the app is started. The only real knock is probably that the dial doesn’t visually represent total time remaining, just time left in the current minute. The time is represented in the format that uses single quotes for minutes and double quotes for seconds, which is OK but maybe not as easy to digest quickly.

Overall it’s a good and customizable timer. And since it’s free with an ad banner at the top, there is no reason not to try it if you are looking for a new timer app that is easier to set quickly than the built-in one.

Wootie (Free)

One Line Description: An app for browsing the current day’s deals on woot.

Woot is a website that shows a different deal every day in a couple of different categories and has two caveats. First, every item has a $5 shipping charge, which can either work for or against you depending on what the item is. The second is that the deal is only available for 24 hours or until a certain number of items have been sold. The items tend to fall more on the geeky/gadgety side. I had been using Woot Watch as my iOS Woot app of choice for quite a long time, but recently it had a bug where it was showing the wrong items on the wrong tabs. This seems to have been fixed since then, but in the meantime I decided to see what else was out there, since Woot Watch hadn’t been updated in 1.5 years.

I discovered Wootie during this search and really find the interface to be nice looking. First off it shows all the different Woot deals on one screen so it’s much easier to just see them all without having to click around. The way that the items picture is overlayed with a cool little transparent color is a nice touch as well. I haven’t ordered anything through the Wootie app yet1, but that isn’t a huge deal to me. This is the kind of app that I use literally once a day and that’s it, so it doesn’t have to be out of this world, but so far Wootie has proven to be a bit of an upgrade over Woot Watch.

Clear ($2.99)

One Line Description: A simplistic list app that uses gestures rather than buttons for interacting.

Clear got a lot of hype upon release. Partially because it came from Realmac, but mostly because the interface is totally unique. The application doesn’t have any standard iOS interface elements in it, but instead goes for a bunch of rows that represent menu items, lists and list items. Navigating is done by clicking or swiping on items and new items or lists are added by pulling down on the list to create a new row.

The concept is cool, but completely unintuitive. Just handing the app to someone would likely require them to do some experimenting to figure out how to do things, and there is likely things they would never find out existed unless someone told them. While some people find this fun, others find it silly and unnecessary. I fall somewhere in between, but in this case was annoyed by the way that the developers just let people figure things out themselves. It’s OK for making lists, and I use it for my grocery list right now, but only because I paid for it already. If you are into the abstract interface design, it’s cool, but too much novelty and not enough utility for my tastes.

Buzz Contacts ($1.99)

One Line Description: An alternative to the built-in contacts app that allow for a bit more organization and options.

The built-in Phone/Contacts app has always been kind of lame to me. The favorites tab allows for phone numbers to call to be added, and because the name is on one side and the “type” of number is on the other, it’s not quite as easy to quickly find what you are looking for. It’s also not possible to group favorites, just re-order the list and that’s it. Buzz Contacts adds a lot more options.

First off, it allows groups to be created within the app only, so these can be specific to the phone and not in the Address Book on your Mac as well. Additionally, the contacts added to this list are not just limited to phone numbers for calls, but also phone numbers for SMS and e-mail addresses. Actions can be taken on entire groups as well, either e-mailing or sending an SMS. There is also a dialpad so that phone calls could be made to non-contact numbers. There are some issues with the app though.

Because contacts are “imported” when they are added to groups there is no way to edit a contact that is already part of a group. In fact, there is not even a way to verify which phone number/e-mail address was selected for that person until you actually try to use it. The only way to change which one was selected is to delete and re-add the person. Also, with all of these phone replacement apps, when the call ends, the user is redirected back to the built-in phone app and not Buzz Contacts. This is kind of lame, but not a dealbreaker. Overall I really like Buzz Contacts. It’s better than my previous phone alternative Dialvetica and despite it’s shortfalls is very useful.

Drafts ($0.99)

One Line Description: A slim app designed to enter text quickly, and either save it or send it to various other applications.

There has been an influx of “quick entry” apps lately. Pop was released by Patrick Rhone and company in addition to Drafts. The idea with Drafts is that the app launches fast and is ready for the user to type immediately, even the keyboard pops up automatically. If the app is being launched fresh the user is presented with a new, blank note. If the app was recently opened the last note will be used. Either way, getting a new note quickly is no problem.

Once text has been entered there are various options depending on which other applications the user has installed. The text can be posted to Facebook, e-mailed, added as an event, sent as an SMS/iMessage, copied to the clipboard, sent to certain Twitter apps (like Tweetbot), added as a note to OmniFocus (I don’t know why you can’t make a new task though), saved to Evernote or Dropbox, converted to HTML if it’s in Markdown, sent to and other things. It also has a word count and some selectable color schemes. I haven’t found a perfect place for Drafts in my workflow, other than queueing up Tweets when the mood occasionally strikes me, but I think I will get into the groove at some point. If the description above sounds like the kind of app you have been missing, this is definitely a good option.

  1. Although I don’t recall if I ever did this directly through Woot Watch either. []