Time Out For a Little Technology

16 May

Time for a little off-topic technology for you. My friend and colleague Tom Fox always tells me that I need to write this post: what iPad apps I find useful. I’m a voracious user of the iPad. In fact, I’m traveling on business right now, and didn’t even bring my laptop, I find the iPad so completely enough. Just my bluetooth keyboard and my iPad.

But before we get to the iPad, let’s talk about my iPhone 4S, and my Samsung Galaxy Nexus. I recently changed my phone. I got rid of my iPhone 4S. Understand, I’m an Apple guy. I love their products. Which is why I was so disappointed with the 4S. It didn’t work as a phone, and it didn’t work as an iPod. It worked as a computer, for a little while, until the battery ran out, which it did remarkably quickly. And Siri…don’t even get me started.

So I switched.

I went to the Galaxy Nexus for a couple of reasons. I honestly lusted after it as soon as I saw it, but couldn’t justify the expense. But what a great deal I got from Amazon Wireless. $49 bucks for a $299 phone. And on Verizon at that. Yes, AT&T is just that bad.

After a couple of weeks of using Android, what have I found?

1. Flexibility: Winner–Android. What I really like about the operating system is that I can do pretty much whatever I want with it. I love putting a widget on my home screen showing my Evernote notes. And my open emails. And a one-button call-my-wife button. None of this is available on Apple’s system.

2. Ease of Use: Winner–Apple. But all that crap takes some getting used to. And after several weeks, I still haven’t figured out how to do all the things that I could do with one or two swipes on iOS. This is especially true when it comes to sharing video. It was really easy on Apple. Not so easy on Android (but once you figure out how to do it, it’s more powerful…you can share on more places than with Apple).

3. E-mail: Winner–Android. Why Android? One word: attachments. You can attach files to an Android email much easier than you can on the Apple. It would have to be easier: you can’t actually attach a document to an Apple email. But there’s one thing that Apple has that I wish, really wish, Android did. You can switch your “from” field email account from within an email. I found that incredibly helpful when I got an email from one account and wanted to respond from another. On Android, there’s no way to do that, at least not that I’ve found (see #2).

4. Camera: winner–Apple. Hands down. Better camera, better video.

5. Screen: winner–Android, by an inch (actually, by 1.15 inches). The sharpness on the Apple is better. That retina display is just that good. But at 3.5 inches, there’s just not enough of it. The huge, mammoth, neverending 4.65 inch screen on the Nexus is awesome.

6. Interoperability: winner–Apple (but not by much). I use my iPad a lot—a LOT—so one benefit of the iPhone was that it sync-ed seamlessly with my iPad. That whole iCloud thing really worked, in the background, without my having to worry about it.

7. Overall: Android, by a hair. The two things I really wish would be better are the camera/video, and the ability to change email “from” fields. That said, battery life on the Android sucks worse than that on the iPhone. On the whole, though, I can do things easier and faster on the Android than I could on the iPhone. Apple is smoother, and that screen resolution! But I think I’m going to grow into my Android, especially as I get more familiar with the operating system and learn how to do stuff.

Now, on to the iPad.

First, the most useful app I’ve found is called CloudOn. As near as I can tell, it turns your iPad into a thin client into a server running an slightly older version of Word/Powerpoint/Excel. And it syncs automatically and often with your Dropbox account. You can read native Word and Powerpoint documents (I use those much more often than I do Excel spreadsheets), and edit them as if you were in a Windows environment. It’s awesome! I understand there are a couple of different apps that do this now, but I found CloudOn before I found those, and I love the dropbox integration.

Second, Notability. I’ve used just about every notetaking app there is. Yes, just about all of them. So take my word for this, Notability is the current champ. I say “current” champ because until not too long ago, NoteTaker HD had the title. But in the most recent version of Notability, they really improved the handwriting piece, making it pretty cool looking, and easy to use.

Third, Goodreader. If you’re like me, you spend your life reading PDFs. Goodreader makes it easy to (1) read, (2) annotate (including signing a PDF), and (3) email PDFs. In fact, one downside of Dropbox for iPad (which you also need) is that, as far as I can tell, you can’t email a document directly from Dropbox. What I do is open it in Goodreader and email it from there.

Fourth, Pages. I have a bunch of writing apps: Storify, Pages, WordPress (for blogging), and a couple more. I like Pages the best because it syncs to iCloud, and it does everything I need it to do. The only thing I really wish Pages would get is keyboard shortcuts. It’s strange having to touch the screen every time I want to bold or underline something. I don’t really like the WordPress app (I’ve lost two almost-done posts because of battery issues, and because it doesn’t autosave), even though I’m writing this post on it. I’m plugged in, so I’m not as worried about losing data. The WordPress app also doesn’t have a word count feature, which I find more and more irritating.

Evernote. If you don’t know about Evernote, Google it. If they would add due dates, I’d be in Heaven. I love that it’s everywhere: mobile, desktop, iPad, and on my Android phone. And it all syncs effortlessly. It’s about as perfect an app as you can get.

I need due dates in Evernote, though, because I haven’t found a to-do app that I like, at all. I’ve tried a dizzying number of them. I’m partial to Scrumboard if any, but any of them require a good deal of care and feeding.

Some runners-up? Instapaper, for saving web pages (although, I’m just as good with saving the web address to Evernote.) Skype is a must. If you’re a lawyer, look at FastCase HD. It’s free, if I remember correctly, and you can look up just about any court case. LogMeIn works really well on the iPad too. And I love the full computer functionality I get. Navigation within it is a pain, but ultimately worth the hassle.

Three other things you need: a stylus (I like the Bamboo stylus myself because it’s got the smallest nub, which means more precise writing); a keyboard: I like the standard Apple bluetooth keyboard; and a stand: I like the Origami stand: it’s actually a keyboard holder and case which folds up and out to hold your iPad too. Portrait or landscape. And I love that it folds into a keyboard protector.

So there you go. I have lots of other apps, but those are the ones I use regularly (I won’t bore you with the Hulu+ or Netflix apps). I also keep some financial apps on there, like Chase and American Express, both of which have really good mobile solutions.

Oh yeah, Twitter clients. I like a couple. Right now I’m all about the Tweetbot. But on my Android phone, I use Tweetcaster. I used that on my iPad a lot too. It was a little buggy for me, but I’m sure they have that figured out. I’m also fine, honestly, with the native Twitter app. It does the job. I’m not a really what you’d call a “power user” of my twitter clients. If I can read, and post, and retweet, from my one account, I’m happy.

Which apps do you like?


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