Category Archives: General

Super-simple spending tracker: My Finances for iPad

The generically named My Finances app for iPad is an easy way to track everyday expenses and generate simple, clear reports that will show you what you’re spending your money on. In a world of automated and complicated finance apps, My Finances does one thing and does it easily and well.

IMG_0645I had a simple question: “Where the heck is all my money going?” Maybe you’ve been there, too: at the end of the month I have a giant hole where my paycheck used to be, and I can’t, for the life of me, figure out where it all went. Also, I plan to move soon and wanted a handle on my spending so I could make a realistic budget for the future. Knowing that as for all things in life there’s an app for that, I started to browse the app store for some help. Yikes! Talk about app overload: I think there are as many finance apps as there are weather apps or to-do lists. Many of the apps are very sophisticated, automated, and comprehensive. Probably the best known is Mint, which has many good reviews and happy users: you connect it to your accounts and it automatically tracks incomes, spending, investments, etc. But I was looking for the opposite of automated—I was on a mission to see where every dime went; if I let it all happen behind the scenes, how would I get that granular level of awareness? So I downloaded the free versions of three apps that seemed the most simple, looked like they would generate the clear report I wanted, and got decent reviews. After trying them all for a week, I settled on My Finances, and then ponied up for the paid version.

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Fun arcade-style racer: Horizon Chase-World Tour for iPad

Horizon Chase is an engaging arcade-style racing game with hints of greater complexity and better graphics baked in. It hits the sweet spot between being too complicated or too simplistic, and has no in-app ads or distractions to detract from your driving enjoyment.

IMG_0636I love driving games, and it seems they bifurcate into two categories: simplistic arcade types like Pole Position, or sophisticated, super-realistic simulations like Real Racing. That’s great when you have a few minutes to kill, or when you’re ready to settle in for the long haul of car configuration, long racing series, and chasing points for a life-long racing career. But what about the in-between times? That’s why I love Horizon Chase: it offers some of each world. In Horizon Chase you’re a race driver starting out his or her career with a basic car and no understanding of what it takes to win. Still, Horizon Chase is fun from the first race, with almost no learning curve. If you’ve played any kind of first-person driver on your iPad, you’ll instantly understand this one.

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Deals: MOTA 4-Port USB 3.0 Hub at 35% off

MOTA 4-Port USB 3.0 Hub

Today’s featured deal is for those of you who are looking for a solution to their charging woes.  Now you can plug-In up to 4 separate devices without out the mess and hassle of carrying multiple charging solutions that all use unique chargers.  The MOTA 4-Port USB 3.0 Hub is now on sale at 35% off! It’s a great deal that will run you only $18 – instead of its standard price of $28.

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Quick take: Race the Sun for iPad

IMG_0642Race the Sun is a twitchy endless flyer that is somehow calming at the same time. In the game you pilot a super-fast hovercraft (think one of the speeders from the original Star Wars) across an alien landscape, dodging rocks, boulders, and man-made obstacles to get as far as you can. Your ship is solar-powered, so you need to clear each level, as the sun goes down, before you run out of sunlight. You can pick up extra time by running over “tris” or blue orbs of power. As you clear a level and enter the next, the sun rises again, giving you a new lease on life. The graphics are monochromatic with the exception of the tris and other bonus-providing objects you can run over. The shapes are not-quite-natural geometric forms, and the shapes of the objects and greyscale coloration add a zen-like feeling to the game play.

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How to navigate the many uses of the Volume and Side Switch buttons on the iPad

iPad-buttons

All kidding aside, even though the volume and mute/orientation lock buttons on your iPad adjust and lock volume levels, they actually respond differently in different situations.  Think back to the last time you tried to silence a song or notification, or perhaps you wanted to adjust the volume of a podcast from the lock screen on your iPad.  Were you successful–or did you fumble around for a while before you achieved the desired outcome?  Turns out, the volume and mute/orientation lock buttons might not behave the way you’d anticipate in certain situations.  Here’s a short list of what to expect the next time you reach for those handy buttons on your iPad.

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iPad App of the Week: ESPN Fantasy Football

ESPN_Fantasy_Football-iPad

Who doesn’t like great iPad apps? At iPad Insight we definitely do. With that in mind, we offer up a quick review of an excellent iPad app, or a few great iPad apps, here each week.

Our picks for Best iPad App of the Week are published here every week. Check out all out picks below and you’ll soon have a collection of stellar apps for your favorite tablet.

This week’s pick is ESPN Fantasy Football by ESPN.  As one of the leaders in Fantasy Football since its conception, ESPN has lead the way in bringing the game of Fantasy Football to the masses at an affordable price.  They have streamlined the process and created an easy user interface that is suitable for the beginner as well as the seasoned veteran.

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iPad nutrition tracking apps: MyPlate vs. MyFitnessPal

This review compares the nutrient-tracking apps MyFitnessPal, by Under Armor, and MyPlate, by Livestrong. While both offer the ability to track your weight, activity level, and several other parameters, this review focuses on their nutrient-tracking ability. I’m reviewing the free versions of the apps: both have paid versions that offer more intricate tracking and reporting. In the end, they’re both top-notch, and your choice will depend on your priorities.

About a year ago, I moved from Washington, DC, to Kigali, Rwanda to work for a year. In Washington I had a long walking and Metro (subway) commute. According to my Fitbit, I walked about 12,000 steps a day as part of my daily routine. Here in Kigali, my commute is a seven-minute walk to the office. This, combined with my wife’s excellent home cooking, had the waistband of my pants growing tighter and tighter. With my return home in sight I decided to start tracking my food intake, as I also ramped up my gym and walking habits. I’ve used the MyPlate web site in the past, but their new iPad app looked even better, and I started tracking my food intake with it. A few weeks later I read this excellent post from Jim Dalrymple of Loop Insights, one of my very favorite Apple-focused bloggers. If you haven’t read his inspirational post about using the Apple Watch and the MyFitnessPal (aka MFP) app to lose over 40 lbs, I highly recommend it. I decided to give MFP a try based on his good experience. There are pros and cons to both apps, so read more below to help decide which is for you.

Setup

On both apps setup is very simple: enter your height, weight, gender, goal weight, daily activity level, and how many pounds per week you want to lose. The app then generates a goal weight for you. The apps also generate nutrient goals (e.g., how many grams of protein you should have) automatically.

Verdict: tie

Data entry

170The worst part of tracking your diet is entering every morsel that you put in your mouth. Nothing can make it completely effortless, but both apps help by having a huge database of every restaurant and grocery-store food you can imagine, and by remembering what you eat frequently so you don’t have to search for the same thing over and over again. In both apps, you first tap on the meal you want to track: breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks. Doing so brings up an entry panel where you can scroll your list of frequently eaten foods and pick one, or search for a new food. The apps are about equal in terms of searching and finding the right food. Items from most fast-food restaurants are included in both, as well as packaged and fresh foods of every kind. I’ve even searched for what I thought were relatively obscure foods like Ethiopian njera or shiro wat, and found a dozen choices for each.

173When picking frequently eaten foods, MFP holds the slight edge, as it remembers your portion size, where MyPlate always presents the stock portion size that you may have to adjust. For example, I frequently eat Cheerios with ½-cup of soy milk. Even though the stock portion size in both apps is one cup, MFP remembers that last time I only used ½ cup, so presents me with that portion so I can just tap the check mark and be done. MyPlate makes me change “1C” to “1/2 serving” every time. This is a small complaint, but remember we’re trying to make the process as painless as possible.

Verdict: MFP, by a nose

Daily nutrient reporting

At the end of the day both apps let you assess your intake of calories, the three macro-nutrients (fat, protein, and carbs) and some micro-nutrients. If you’re interested in the most detail possible, MFP has the edge again. If you’re interested in a quick, easy-to-read, at-a-glance summary, MyPlate is better.

Verdict: tie

Tracking progress

MyPlate presents large, colorful graphs that let you track several nutrients across a week, and 1, 3, 6, or 12 months. You can track calories (the one I always look at), but also macronutrients, sodium, cholesterol, sugars, and dietary fiber. I find MyPlate’s colorful graphs more visually compelling (including those damned red bars when I go over my calorie goals), but that could be a personal preference.

171What MyPlate won’t show you in the free version is a daily average over these same periods. For example, it would be useful to me to know my average daily calorie count in June as compared to August. This isn’t a big deal for me as I pull calorie data into Apple’s iPhone Health App which does show daily averages, but it’s a two-step process, which is less convenient.

174MFP shows all the same info, including daily intake averages, over whatever time period you chose. As with daily reporting, MFP offers more nutrients to track over time, but honestly I don’t use them. If you want the most fine-grained tracking, and in-app daily averaging, MFP wins here.

Verdict: MFP, for in-app daily averages and detailed reporting

Connection to HealthKit

I’m using Apple’s HealthKit as the hub of my fitness tracking. I feed activity info from the iPhone, nutrition info from these two apps, and am shopping for a better way to get my cycling data into HealthKit as well (If you have a recommendation, please let us know in the comments below.) I also manually enter some info, keeping HealthKit as the hub. This is where MFP fails badly. Setting up MyPlate in Apple’s Health App couldn’t have been easier, and the data transfer to Health Kit is seamless and almost immediate. Connecting MFP, by contrast. was an exercise in frustration. After deleting MyPlate to ensure I wasn’t getting double data, I searched for a while on the MFP forums to find the instructions for connecting to Health Kit. I followed the many, many arcane steps, and finally got them connected. But then the data stopped transferring and I got the dreaded “no data” message from the Health app. I asked for help on the MFP forums, sent email, and even tweeted a plea for help. I got several referrals to the original instructions. I got a Twitter response that referred me to the same email address from which I never received any help. In the end I gave up and went back to MyPlate. But! If this connection to Health Kit isn’t important to you, please disregard this entire section.

Verdict: MyPlate (MFP failed completely)

Summary

These are both polished, easy-to-use apps that will help you get important information about your nutrition. I, and many others, find this information invaluable in trying to eat healthy and lose weight. Both sync seamlessly with their web and iPhone apps. If you want connectivity to Apple’s Health Kit, use MyPlate. If you don’t, take your pick based on the info above. Happily you won’t go wrong with either app. Me? I don’t have a scale here, but am down one belt-notch and all my clothes fit again. If I keep it up I might just fit into my 1997 motorcycle leathers by the time I hit the US. MyFitnessPal and MyPlate are both free in the app store.

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Continuing to Explore the Notes App on iOS 9

  
It’s been difficult to write about Notes in iOS 9 because I really want to like the app, but it just hasn’t clicked yet.

It isn’t due to a lack of utility. The share extension is great, the way that pictures, drawings, and links are formatted is very tidy. In fact, the extension is even more flexible than I’d thought. I can share attachments right from Mail or Dropbox and pop them into Notes, which means that, if I had a Mac at work, I could probably Notes in a similar way to Evernote. I tend to make a single note for each project and drop related files into that note, just to keep everything in one place. The key difference is that I have yet to install the public beta of El Capitan on my Mac, so I don’t know how well the OS X version of Notes works.

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So Long, Hope to See You Around the Interweb

 

Handsom-Deputy-Editor-Dawg

 

Well, it’s been 5+ great years of having a blast writing for and running iPad Insight, but now my faithful Deputy Editor Dawg and a I are going to hang up our keyboards.

This site that has been like my little baby for all those years. It kept me busy (sometimes crazy busy) and helped me make a living while fighting and recovering from cancer. It let me work at something I was excited by and passionate about, and let me show my daughter that you can do that kinda thing – you don’t always have to settle for 9to5 in a cubicle. Maybe most importantly of all, it meant I never had to wear long pants to work for all those years.

About a month ago I sold the site, and now it’s in very good hands – with new owners who have exciting plans for it. And with Thomas, Rob, James, Marc, F’reez, and Wesley our developer, cranking out great content and making it a top site to visit.

For a little over 1.5 years now I’ve been strong enough to return to my long-time ‘day job’ as an IT consultant and network engineer – and I have remembered every day how much I love that job.

I’d like to say a huge thanks to everyone who has visited iPad Insight over these years. You made all of the above possible, and I’ll always be enormously grateful for that.  Also thanks to all the great writers and guys mentioned above, you’ve all been awesome to work with.

I’ll still be sharing plenty of thoughts on tech and mobile devices and other random nonsense whenever I find time. If any of you are interested, you can find me at my little baby Tech & Nonsense site and on Google+.

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AppleCare+ Now Covers iPad Batteries That Fall Below 80% Capacity

Screen Shot 2015-07-02 at 12.07.09 AM

I actually saw this news last week on MacRumors, but I think it’s still bears mentioning as it has to do with AppleCare+ becoming more worthwhile. I’ve only bought AppleCare once in the past five years, and it never actually helped me out because all of my device issues happened within the first year of ownership (and Apple devices get a one-year warranty by default). However, the recent change to the policy indicates that batteries that fall below the 80% of their original capacity are eligible for free replacements during the coverage period.

That’s a much lower and more realistic threshold than the previous 50% that the plan offered. Regular usage of my iPhones, for example, tends to get the battery below 80% of its original charge over the course of a 1.5 years, so I know the plan would prove useful to me for ensuring I have a “fresh” battery as it comes time to sell.

Apple devices are built well enough that their hardware usually lasts years, but batteries are consumables and will degrade over time. Having better battery coverage built into the AppleCare+ extended warranty really makes me consider it for my next purchase.

At $99, AppleCare+ costs exactly as much as a battery replacement for the iPad, but it also includes an extra year of warranty coverage, as well as a $49 optional iPad replacement if the tablet falls vicim to accidental damage (drops, spills, or worse). If you’re a heavy iPad user, this is liking buying the battery replacement up front and getting the extended warranty as a benefit. Just make sure you buy AppleCare+ within two months of your iPad purchase, as you won’t be able to buy it after that.

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My Biggest iPad Pet Peeve: The Lack of a Home Button Shortcut

  
This post is all about one of my greatest iOS pet peeves: the lack of a Home button shortcut on Bluetooth keyboards. I’ve got ZAGG’s newest keyboard to test for the iPad; and although I’m only a few hours into using it, I’ve already run into an issue that has plagued many Bluetooth keyboards before it: the lack of a dedicated Home button.

ZAGG should have made it a priority to include a dedicated key to simulate the Home button for iPad and iPhone users, but I also think that Apple shares the blame here as well. Of all the keyboard shortcuts that power users need at the OS level, it would be keyboard shortcut to emulate the Home button. I honestly can’t believe this is still an item on my wishlist with iOS approaching its ninth iteration, but it’s true. Unless hardware keyboard manufacturers specifically include a dedicated Home key, there’s simply no way for users to switch or leave apps without reaching up from the keyboard to tap the Home button.

This is obviously purely a matter of convenience and efficiency, but the solution just feels so tantalizingly close and simple that it bothers me that much more. After all, for the Home button on certain Bluetooth keyboards to work, that must mean that Apple provided a certain way for manufacturers to emulate the Home button. Why not bake a simple shortcut like Cmd + H or Cmd + Escape into iOS? It would save so much hassle and make keyboards — which are items that power users usually buy — that much more efficient.

I very badly want for Apple to address this somehow in iOS 9, or at least make software keyboards stable enough to make them a viable alternative.

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