About Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

Fleksy 5.0 for iPad: Now With Extensions!

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You know the drill: a new update for Fleksy is released and I inevitably give it a shot, despite the unbelievable instability of all third-party keyboards on iOS 8 thus far. I tried it out because the feature list here really is quite amazing:

  • new themes (OK)
  • new keyboard extension for GIFs (cool)
  • new extension for a numerical pad (great!)
  • new extension to help with cursor movement (cool!!)
  • an even faster way to add punctuations (at last!)

The newly-added extensions are modular, and you can have three of them active at any one time. There are a few more of them, but I only tried the ones I was actually interested in today.

I actively tested Fleksy 5.0 at work and experienced at least 10 crashes across my iPhone and iPad, which is too bad, because this keyboard really is awesome. I really, really want to use it, but the stability in iOS 8 just isn’t there yet, and there are too many times where I’m left with a simply blank keyboard. It’s astounding that Apple hasn’t fixed this yet.

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Using iCloud Photo Library for Storing Videos

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I’ve now got all of my home videos across all of my devices, accessible via iCloud Photo Library. I’ve done a little bit of testing over the last few weeks and can now report on how iCloud Photo Library performs for on-demand video viewing.

First off, videos don’t ever appear to download as optimized versions. iCloud Photo Library has two storage options: downloading everything to your device, or downloading only “optimized” versions of your media. I chose the latter in order to save space. As such, in order to play anything that isn’t already downloaded, I’ve got to tap on a video thumbnail, tap on the Play button, and then wait a good 5–10s until the video begins to play. Even over Wi-Fi, playback at this point can still be a little spotty, and there have been multiple occasions where my videos have stopped in order to buffer more.

In practice, this delay in playback has actually killed a few opportunities to show a cool video I had on my iPad. I wanted to show a few workmates a choreographed dance I had filmed a year ago, but the buffering took embarrassingly long to happen, and we just ended up spending a good 30 seconds staring at a static screenshot of the video. Tagging a video as a “Favourite” doesn’t help pre-load it either. For iCloud Photo Library to be useful for video, an option to queue a video for download is needed (badly).

Photos also really needs to show which files have actually be downloaded — and to what extent. I want to see a simple icon or colour indicator over videos that have been downloaded to my device, instead of having to tap on thumbnails and just guess.

I like iCloud Photo Library well enough for photos, but it’s not really performing as expected for video. Given that I have it set to “optimize” my photos and videos, I would want my iPad to automatically download lower-res versions of all of my videos for quick playback, and then an option to download the full-res version for high quality playback. I understand that videos — especially at their current 1080p resolution — take up a lot of space and are tricky to stream, but this current system of tapping and guessing is not the right solution. iCloud Photo Library’s current setup doesn’t feel like the magic solution it’s marketed to be — and it’s ruining the illusion of the cloud as a reliable and immediate file system.

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Quick Look: Comic Zeal 8 for iPad

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Comic Zeal, which is still my favourite way to read CBR or PDF comics on my iPad, was recently updated to iOS 8. This version flattened out the interface, introduced a few new themes, and vastly improved the ability to get comics into the app.

My previous go-to method for transferring files into Comic Zeal was to connect to iTunes and then drag comic files into Comic Zeal (located in the File Sharing section of the Apps tab). It was relatively fast, but it meant digging up my Lightning cable in order to sync with iTunes, and that little bit of extra effort would keep me from uploading comics very often.

Thankfully, Comic Zeal 8 has some great new wireless ways to throw comics into your library. There’s now a standard document picker for taking files from iCloud Drive, but the option I find even more convenient is AirDrop support. It’s ridiculously easy to just highlight comics in Finder on my Mac and AirDrop them en masse onto the iPad. I tried this with a few comics I had downloaded from the Humble Bundle, and it worked quite well for issues that were 20 or even 50 MB in size. A prompt comes up on the iPad after the transfer completes, and I can save the files to Comic Zeal with a single tap.

As before, comics that are similarly titled will be automatically grouped into little comic boxes. This makes establishing a digital comic collection a real breeze, and swiping right to throw issues into the powerful Slider (a way to cut and paste issues into different collections) is still handled very smoothly in version 8.

The only thing I’m not really a fan of is the new icon. It definitely has a classic comic look to it, but it also feels a little too generic. I think Comic Zeal has a much more refined feel to it than its plain icon would have you expect. However, this new change won’t stop me from using this app over the winter for my comic reading.

Before this update Comic Zeal was already the best way to enjoy DRM-free comics on the iPad, but the whole experience has gotten even better with these UI and file transfer changes. If you haven’t picked Comic Zeal up already, it’s a great purchase that works on both the iPhone and iPad.

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Paper for iPad Gets Colour Picker And Better Background Changer

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I’m still awaiting the arrival of my Pencil stylus, but I’m glad to see the devs at FiftyThree have been keeping busy with their latest update to Paper:

  • Mix, which is Paper’s built-in social drawing feature, can now find and add friends across various social networks
  • The background changer can now swap out background colours without wiping out your entire canvas; just pick a colour along the bottom of the screen, tap and hold, then drop it onto the canvas
  • Paper now has a colour picker ingeniously added to the colour wheel; just tap on the wheel, tap the colour picker icon, drag the resulting circle over the canvas to choose a colour, and then tap on the colour picker once more

I really love how Paper is getting more and more powerful with each update, but still has very simple and tidy controls. My one major feature request at this point would be the ability to insert images from the Camera Roll (a.k.a. All Photos, if you have iCloud Photo Library turned on). It would be great to write or paint over pictures I’ve taken or have downloaded, but that’s simply not possible right now with Paper.

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2Do Is a Killer Desktop-Class Task Manager for iPad

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2Do will be my task manager of choice going into the new year. I’m actually still finishing up a review of another task manager, OmniFocus 2, but when 2Do’s update hit the App Store, I just had to jump on board.

There are all sorts of 2Do apps out there. Some are affordable and pretty and simple, best used for grocery or quick task lists. Then there are apps like Things and OmniFocus, which tend to be pretty and powerful, but also pricier. 2Do feels like it breaks all of the rules with its iOS app. $15 gets you both the iPhone and iPad versions, as well as a feature set that is simulatenously as powerful or as basic as any user might need. Now, there is a pricier Mac version available, but I’ve found I haven’t needed it thus far.

What really strikes me about 2Do is the extreme level of customization and power behind the app. New GTD users will find it easy to just add tasks to different lists, add due dates, and then tick them off. Power users will have a lot more to play with, and there are things that the humble 2Do app can do that even gigantic suites like Things and OmniFocus simply don’t manage to accomplish on iOS.

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WhatFont Extension Identifies Fonts Within Safari for iPad

I actually haven’t made as much use of in-app extensions as I thought I would. That’s because I hadn’t realized what kind of limitations Apple would place on them (e.g. there’s only so much leeway to customize the look of an extension). However, I am installing cool utilities every time I come across them, simply […]

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I Finally Bought The Pencil Stylus for iPad

After several posts discussing my continued curiousity in the Pencil stylus, I decided to just put my money where my mouth was and buy the darn thing for $50 USD during the Black Friday sale. I bought the Walnut version so that it sticks to my iPad’s Smart Cover, and also because I find it […]

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Penultimate 6.0.1 for iPad

Penultimate 6 has had a pretty rough start. I like the cleaner look of the app, which matches iOS 8 a lot more. It’s also a good step to represent each notebook as a giant scrolling list of pages, which makes more sense in a digital format. Unfortunately, the praise ends there. Penultimate is marketed […]

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