All posts by 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.

Quick Look: Polarr for iPhone

I’m a full-time Lightroom user on iOS and the Mac, but if someone were to ask me today which iOS photo editor I recommended, I’d be torn between Darkroom and Polarr. I’ll be up front and say that I like Darkroom’s speed and UI a lot more, but it really bugs me that exporting with Darkroom maxes out at 12 Megapixels. That isn’t a big deal if you’re an iPhone-only shooter, but all of my cameras shoot at 24 Megapixel, and it’s important to me to preserve that extra detail.

Polarr isn’t quite as attractive or simple as Darkroom, but it outputs shots at full resolution, and has a number of really cool time-saving features up its sleeve.

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Evaluating 1Password for Families

I’ve been a 1Password user for a few years now, but it was only recently that I decided to look into their subscription service. 1Password for Families is a $60/year subscription service that provides access for five users on a single Family account. The perks of this plan include:

  • 1 GB of storage for each family member
  • Access to iPhone, iPad, Android, and Mac apps (Windows doesn’t seem to be Family compatible yet)
  • Access to a 1Password web app
  • Shared vaults with the ability to restrict editing rights for specific members (“look, don’t touch!”)

Previous to signing up for the Family subscription, I had kept all of my personal information in the Primary vault (the default vault that comes with any 1Password installation). It took me a while to realize that there was no way to sync this vault with my 1Password for Families account; I had to actually copy or move my data from the Primary vault (which was synced via Dropbox) to the Personal vault in 1Password for Families (which syncs via Agilebits’ custom sync engine).

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Quick Look: Lightroom 2.6 for iPhone

I’ve had a few days with this newest Lightroom Mobile update, and I’m still on the fence about whether it’s a net improvement. The previous UI wasn’t scaling well for new editing features, so you had to do a lot of scrolling before you could go from basic exposure controls to something more advanced, like Dehaze. This v2.6 update to Lightroom has re-designed the editing interface from the ground up, making for much faster, tiered access.

One definite plus to this new design is that editing, on the whole, feels much faster. There’s a horizontal for Light, Color, Effects, and Optics controls. That’s just four categories for controls, as opposed to the seven different sections available in the previous version of Lightroom.

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Quick Look: Gmail for iPad

I really like the default Mail app on the iPad. I think it’s a great example of what a good iPad Pro app should be. It supports a lot of different keyboard shortcuts, has a cool three-pane panel for extra context in landscape mode, but also still respects the concepts of margins for easy reading on a large screen. One thing it really sucks at, however, is searching for email. Unless I’ve flagged something, searching for email in the Mail app is just a crappy experience.

Luckily, Gmail (which I use for my primary personal email account) has seen a number of solid updates in the past year. It’s not something I’d recommend for everyday use necessarily, but it’s a great app to load up in those moments where you need to find that one email from your boss from two years ago.

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My Favourite Widgets on iOS 10

Widgets feel pretty dead on macOS, but they’re finding new life on iOS 10. We’ve had widgets on our iPhones for a little while now, but it was iOS 10 that empowered them to become mini versions of my favourite apps. Their evolution has been so gradual that I’ve forgotten to talk about them, until now. It always takes a few months after a major release to see how developers embrace new features, but here are a few widgets that I’ve really been enjoying.

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Quick Look: Bear for iPad

The screenshot above should also make it obvious, but if you were wondering if iOS has just received another really good-looking notes app that also sync with the Mac, then the answer is yes. Bear uses simple plain text for all of its formatting, so the notes you type out are easily transferrable — at any time — to any other platform or service. However, just because you’re using plain text, it doesn’t mean your notes have to look plain: Bear also handles rich text formatting with Markdown, and it displays pictures right alongside body text.

The Simple Bear Necessities

Whereas other plain text tools like iA Writer 4 focus more on being plain text writing machines, Bear feels like it focuses specifically on taking great notes in a flexible format. There are extra writing elements like word counts and read times in the right sidebar, but I’ve definitely become a bit of a snob when it comes to writing apps: without some sort of focus mode to keep text centered, I don’t consider Bear a full-fledged writing app for my purposes. That’s fine though, because in my brief testing period, it feels like a fantastic app for notes.

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My Experience with the W1 Chip in the Beats Solo3

I didn’t pick up an iPhone 7 after its announcement, but I was still quite excited by the announcement of the W1 chip that’s going into the AirPods and other Beats products. Bluetooth devices with the W1 chip have a few interesting features:

  • they’re more power efficient
  • they fast-charge, a few minutes can get you hours of battery life
  • you can pair them with an iPhone by just holding them near it and tapping on a prompt
  • once paired with an iPhone, W1-equipped headphones will auto-pair with all Apple devices via iCloud

This last point really got me excited, and that was the bit of Apple Magic I’d been hoping to see. I’ve been using wireless headphones for about two or three years now (first with the Sony MDR-10rBT and then the Jaybird Bluebuds X), and I really can’t go back to using wired headphones on-the-go. I’ll use them at home, but I’ve become spoiled enough that the wires are insufferably inconvenient when I step outside of my house.

I know that wireless still costs in terms of sound quality, and I’m very willing to make that tradeoff, but there’s a limit to that. I bought the Beats Solo3 soon after they came out. They were hilariously expensive at $380 CAD (including tax), but I really wanted the convenience that Apple was touting with the W1.

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Using the iPad Pro Without the Smart Keyboard

As an update to my previous post on everyday carry, I have been leaving the Smart Keyboard at home and bringing just the iPad Pro around with me. I thought that I’d get into the habit of bringing a stand around with me, but it had felt like just one more thing to bring around. So for the past few weeks it has been just the 12.9-inch tablet and the Pencil for occasional diagrams and a few handwritten notes.

It still surprises me how much more comfortable I find typing with the iPad Pro flat on a surface, or propped up on my legs. A typing stand like the Smart Cover or TwelveSouth Compass make it easier to view my text when there’s glare from the ceiling lights, but on the typing angle also forces me to tilt my wrists upwards. I can type comfortably for quite a while this way, but I inevitably walk way from the experience with some wrist pain or discomfort. Not being able to rest my fingers on the keys just makes typing on glass that much more fatiguing. Typing with the iPad completely flat isn’t as good as a physical keyboard, but it’s far easier on my wrists, and ultimately more enjoyable.

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iA Writer 4 for iPhone

iA Writer 4 (currently just $5.50), the fourth iteration of iA’s excellent plain text writing app, hit the App Store a few days ago. The two big new features here are file embedding and in-app image support. As usual, they’ve got a video, and have once again managed to make plain text look really exciting and dynamic.

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Quick Look: Amaziograph for iPad

Amaziograph isn’t a pro-level app, but it’s one of those apps that really shines on the iPad Pro. Pick up an Apple Pencil, spend $2 on Amaziograph, and start to re-discover the fun of creating tessellations and mirrored images in just a fraction of the time it takes to create them manually.

The mechanics of Amaziograph are dead-simple to learn. You choose one of 10 initial grid types, each with different kinds of mirror or tiling effects. Then you just start drawing and watch as your strokes are multiplied across your screen. This is one of those apps where the act of creation is really part of the experience. There’s a genuinely soothing effect to seeing how your drawing can come to life as you add a little line here, a circle there, and finish things off with a blast of colour. It can feel like you’re drawing with 10 of your greatest clones, and they’re all perfectly in sync with you.

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Quick Look: Air Video HD for iPhone

My iPhone 6S Plus makes for an excellent mobile media machine — the trick is getting my media onto it. I use Netflix a good 80% of the time, but I’ll occasionally want to re-watch my own library of movies and ripped DVDs, and Apple doesn’t present a very easy path go sync those to the iPhone. AirDrop seems like the easiest way to quickly throw files onto the iPhone, but iOS 9 and 10 have a weird habit of sending videos straight to the Photos app, which really doesn’t provide a very good playback experience. The controls are all tucked into the corners of the interface, and Photos doesn’t bother to remember where you left off in a video.

I first looked to Infuse to provide my mobile media solution because it looks great and plays basically any file I can throw at it. Unfortunately, Infuse also has issues getting files from my Mac and onto the iPhone. I used to be able to rename my .mp4 or .mkv files as .Infuse files before transferring them over, but this no longer seems to work on iOS 10. Every video sent over AirDrop is placed in the Photos app.

This change has led me to rediscover an old favourite from the App Store: Air Video HD. Air Video HD is awesome because it has a lot of flexibility for media: I can stream things locally on my home network, online over LTE, or download things to my iPhone for easy offline playback. The best part of Air Video HD is that it makes each of these things very, very easy to set up. All it takes is a good 5 minutes of configuration and you’re pretty much ready to use it. Continue reading

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