Archive for category Reviews

A Day with my iPad Pro

2c21537200000578-0-image-a-53_1441851880661Artists, designers, and tech pundits have all provided their (generally positive) comments and reviews of the new iPad Pro, but I thought I would add my two cents on the new Apple device. I’m an Apple fanboy who loves the idea of a bigger iPad. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be able to draw directly onto my computer screen. Thanks to Apple, this is now a reality for me (well, except my Apple Pencil has not yet arrived — Back-ordered!)

I can’t say that I know many of the tech specs of the iPad Pro, but I know it’s bigger (duh!) than my gen3 iPad. I believe it’s almost 13 inches across. I’ve just been telling people that the height of my old iPad is now the width of my iPad Pro. You definitely feel that it’s bigger. I had mentioned to my brother that I didn’t love the way the app icons are still the same size as the ones on my old iPad, but now they’re spaced further apart. That seemed kind of silly to me. With a bigger screen area you’d think they would fit more apps on a single screen instead! Surprisingly, now that I’ve been using it for a day, I don’t really mind the waste of space. Do you remember that episode of Seinfeld where Kramer wanted to give drivers a feeling of luxury on his mile of highway by making a three-lane highway into two lanes? It’s a little bit like that. More breathing room isn’t a bad thing.

I felt that roominess certainly when I started playing games on the iPad Pro. Against my wishes, I am getting older and I find that I appreciate a larger size (especially when I’m playing a board game like Talisman), and the cartoony games like Angry Birds, or Nibblers, look so nice blown up. On apps like Flipboard (which has been updated for iPad Pro) it actually fits more content on a page rather than merely enlarging things. I used to be unhappy with the limited number of topic tiles that Flipboard could display on its main pages, but now I get so many more tiles that I can easily access all my favourite topics (without hitting the “More” button). I can’t wait for more apps to take advantage of the available screen real estate.

I actually got a case for my iPad Pro from Amazon (didn’t want to shell out for the pricey keyboard case from Apple) and so now with my iPad Pro in a nice, black folio it feels very much like choir folder (for anyone whose ever sung in a choir). It’s not light, but considering how much bigger it is, it’s not too heavy either. It feels good in my arms, but I think I’d be hard-pressed to hold it in one hand for very long.

I tried the multi-tasking, split-screen view, and it’s not bad, but I don’t know how useful I’m going to find it from day to day (and it kind of pops up too often when I’m swiping from right to left). I don’t actually work with a lot of documents (since I’m not using this device for work). Plus, the view only works with apps that have been updated for iPad Pro. Generally, the iPad Pro feels faster and the wifi is better than on my old iPad (again, I’m not sure how much better the tech specs are). I’ve played many simple games, but also some fast moving games like Marvel’s Contest of Champions. I have yet to play Infinity Blade 3 on it, but everything seems to be quite zippy.

Something else new to me (but not to the rest of you in Appleland) is TouchID. I love how easy it is to use and (now that I’ve set up both thumbprints in the system), I can activate it from any angle and either thumb. It’s no surprise that I would want to get away from entering a number code to unlock my iPad, but since I don’t bring my iPad out so much, it’s probably not as useful as it could be. This experience really makes me want to upgrade my phone to one with TouchID as well.

Knock on wood, I have not yet experienced the unresponsiveness after charging that others have reported, but it’s still early days. I love Apple products, but they’ve given me their share of problems as well. Still, I am cautiously optimistic. For now I will keep enjoying my new iPad Pro while I wait patiently for the Pencil to arrive (hopefully before the holidays).


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Angry Birds: The Next Generation

Angry Birds Space – Game Review

First they were merely slinging birds at green pigs, then they were doing it over various holiday seasons, then they were doing it in Rio (with some monkeys around), but now the Angry Birds have taken their war with the green pigs (who I’ve always suspected of being aliens anyway) into outer space. In typical Angry Birds tradition, there is a loose storyline surrounding the game, and in the latest sequel, the pigs have taken an entire egg planetoid from the birds and they’re not happy. As far as the game goes, it’s a variation on the basic mechanics of the other three (i.e. slingshot the birds at the pigs). I am truly glad they didn’t try to take the birds and put them into spaceships and create a totally different kind of game using the same characters. That being said, there are a number of fresh elements to Angry Birds Space that make it a refreshing new instalment.

The biggest change is that now rather than having the birds on one side, targeting the pigs on the other side of a single horizon, often we are dealing with entire planetoids. What that means is that there is gravity to deal with. What used to be a simple arc trajectory for the birds is now curved even more according to planetary gravity (I’m no physics expert, but I’m trying … ). In some cases, you can even shoot your bird past the planetoid and the gravity will cause the bird to “slingshot” back and orbit the planet for a second shot at the pigs (it’s way cooler than I’m describing it). Also, since it’s space, there’s atmosphere and atmospheric gravity to deal with. Sometimes the pigs are floating in bubbles. If you pop their bubbles, they will die in the vaccuum of space (I know, it sounds terribly cruel, but it’s still a cartoony game — suffocation is all in fun). Also, when your birds lose momentum, they float through space very slowly without gravity until they reach the atmosphere, then wham, straight down to the planet! I love these kinds of clever rules of physics that have been added to this fresh, new variant on the Angry Birds basics. The game makers have clearly given thought into how to continue the tradition of fun gameplay that they’ve already established.

If you’re wondering what new birds there are, most of our familiar feathered friends have joined the space program, but now they have funky cool space capes and goggles. Red bird is still our main guy, blue bird still splits in three, bomb bird still blows up. However, yellow bird has been replaced with purple bird who not only speeds across the screen when you tap, but actually follows the location of your finger for a target. After a few screens, you will also be rewarded with three free Space Eagles. Similar to the eagle from the original game, the Space Eagle basically finishes the screen for you if you get stuck.

The game play is still fun and simple; with the same broad appeal that the rest of the series had. I hope that Rovio will keep coming with the updates like they have for the others (that’s definitely part of what makes the games appealing). Even after very little time, I’ve already finished two thirds of the first set of screens (albeit not all with three stars), so it won’t be long before I’m looking for more. If you’re already a fan of the birds, this is more of the same with a twist. If you’ve never slung a bird at a pig, you’re probably better off with the original game as a starter — more bang for your buck. But you’ll soon be ready for the space birds, and I’m sure they will be waiting. (4.5 out of 5)

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Qwiki, Hitpad, Zite & Flipboard: The next generation of iPad info apps

In only one short year, the iPad has changed the way we consume internet information. Wikipedia, RSS, Twitter, and other online sources of info and input are not new, but who isn’t sick of scanning through endless streams of text headlines? The iPad provides a great platform for users to get this kind of info in a media-rich way, and the latest batch of apps (all free!) makes that experience even more enjoyable and exciting.

Qwiki is a brand new app which makes interacting with Wikipedia much more lively. While Wikipedia takes the traditional paper-bound encyclopedia and adds not only the mass-authoring dimension, but also the online searchability of the information provided. Qwiki takes a leap forward by making Wikipedia more like a tv/video program. It takes the various images associated with a topic and shifts focus from one image to the next all the while a pleasant computer voice reads out the summary text from the Wikipedia entry itself. For most of us raised on TV and other kinds of active media, this is a lot more engaging than having to read each entry for ourselves. It even makes me want to browse around Wikipedia even more than before. For those who are interested in more detail, there are links to the actual Wikipedia page as well as other relevant sources at the end of the readout, so people can click to open those within the browser.

Hitpad a slickly-designed aggregator of info from a few different sources. Across the screen it displays columns for News, Twitter, Videos, Web and Photos. Each column pulls from various sources to collect different types of info and media about the topic in question. On the left there is a trending topics bar which allows users to discover topics which are popular on the internet at the time (according to Hitpad, anyway). Once you click on one of those topics, the columns all repaint with info and media relevant to the topic you’ve selected. While the trending topics are mildly interesting, I often prefer to look up other topics, so the search bar allows me to enter my own. Hitpad will pull together info and media from across the internet for topics that I query as well. So far I don’t find Hitpad as useful as the other apps simply because the limited number of topics (or the additional steps required to enter my own topics) make it slower to get info that is of interest to me. However, Hitpad brings back all kinds of media results which the other apps don’t, and the interface is extremely well made and fun to use.

Zite and Flipboard are similar apps that aggregate from your RSS feeds (specifically whatever you’ve subscribed to using Google Reader). Both apps use the iPad’s touch interface to allow you to swipe the screen to flip pages and tap on articles arranged in grids in order to read more. They both take images and fill the grid with them in order to increase visual appeal, and they both make use of the folders you’ve set up in Google Reader to organize feeds by topics. The one main difference is that Zite will also seed articles from other feeds that you haven’t subscribed to or selected (which got them in a bit of trouble from some publishers of those feeds/sites). Nevertheless, this feature is both a plus and a minus in my books for using Zite over Flipboard. When I run out of new posts on Flipboard, I’ll probably fire up Zite to find more posts to read. However, I prefer Flipboard on a regular basis because it’s less cluttered by feeds that I didn’t actually subscribe to. (I know it’s a bit of Catch-22, but that’s how I feel, OK?) Regardless, both are very nice to use and make reading RSS feeds much more of a pleasure than NetNewsWire and other similar apps ever did.

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“Slingshot” games for the iPhone

I know everyone else is talking about iPads, but since I live in Canada, I don’t have one yet. However, I would still like to revive my Apple blog by talking about something cool — iPhone games!

Do you remember when games first started coming out for the iPhone and iPod touch? A lot of them tried to make use of the accelerometer (since it was one of the cool new things about the hardware) and we got lots of games like Monkeyball, Dizzy Bee and Labyrinth that made us tilt our phones a lot. Now I noticed another trend: slingshot games. What I mean is that the game’s central element is that you have to pull some kind of virtual elastic and shoot your character forward like a slingshot. I recently discovered these three slingshot games which are similar but different. After wiling away subway hour upon subway hour with them, I’d like to share my review (and my addiction) with you all.

Parachute Ninja

Basically this one is the slingshot version of a platform game (i.e. the Mario Brothers genre). Your character is a little yellow ball. But no ordinary yellow ball — you are a ninja, but no ordinary ninja — you have an umbrella that can pop out of the top of your head (yes, it’s weird but incredibly cute and fun). You start from a elastic green string and slingshot yourself up or sideways depending on the level, avoiding falling into the water below. To help you are other strings along the way (you can rest on the string and then shoot yourself further), fans (they give you lift when you open your umbrella), and bouncy platforms. Unfortunately there are also challenges in the form of spikes that zap, and hovering monsters. This game is very well designed and the levels are challenging (so you have to think about the physics and plan ahead) but not too difficult that you can’t keep going forward. Who’d have thought that being an umbrella ninja yellow ball would be so fun?

Angry Birds

Did you know that there’s a war being waged between the birds and the green pigs? Well there is one in this game. On one side the birds are armed with a big slingshot and various abilities. On the other side, the green pigs build shelters out of wood, bricks, glass and metal. The object of the game is to finish each level by squishing all the green pigs. You are the birds and you slingshot yourselves kamikaze-style at the green pigs in their shelters. Not only is it fun to figure out all the right tactics for taking out the pigs, but what makes this game addictively fun is that each species of bird has special abilities. Little blue birds will split into three birds in mid-flight. Yellow birds gain a sudden burst of power. White birds drop explosive eggs, and black birds are themselves destructive bombs. You probably have to play it to get how enjoyable this game is, but I encourage you to take up arms in this conflict. The Angry Birds need YOU!


Instead of being on the side of the birds, now we use our slingshot to defend ourselves from the birds. In this game we are little round monsters with big mouths and apparently the birds are parachuting onto our picnic and once four birds sit in our four plates, the picnic is over. I know this sounds bizarre (all these games probably do) but this one seems to be a Japanese translation, so it’s probably even more wacky. The way to stop the birds (basically the only thing you do) is slingshot yourself into the air and gobble the birds in mid-drop. The special defence of us orange monsters is that we can shoot out and gobble multiple copies of ourselves. Each time we do, we double in size until we become a large, massive orange monster. But that’s still not the best part! The best part comes when you eat a whole bunch of birds in quick succession a large cake rises up in behind you and someone yells out “Maximum bake” in a strong Japanese accent. At that point, you bounce around the screen like crazy, and your points just go up exponentially — it’s the wildest monster cake picnic ever!

I know all these games probably sound insane and weird, but that is what will get you hooked. Maybe it’s something about slingshots that just cries out for something a little bizarre, but I promise you won’t notice that by your umpteenth hour with them. Just watch out for repetitive sling injuries.

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MacSpeech Dictate – Software Review

Have any of you noticed the huge gap in the dates of my blog posts? Before my previous post, I had not posted anything since last May. So why am I suddenly posting two articles in a row? Well, the answer is simple: I don’t have to type them anymore. Thanks to the magic of MacSpeech Dictate, all I have to do is say my posts and they appear. (While it’s not that easy, it might as well be.)

It all started with the review on I didn’t really think that I needed dictation software. I wasn’t physically challenged, nor was I a two-finger typist. However, when I saw the really good review, I began to think about how I might actually use dictation software to write more. I realized that I was getting tired of typing and that made me post less on my blogs.

Like many others, I have not had much success with the speech recognition that came with the Mac OS. Repeating something five times each word did not seem to help improve the efficiency. However, I took a chance on MacSpeech Dictate because it seems to be much more accurate. I read about how MacSpeech licensed the Dragon Naturally Speaking engine that was very popular in the Windows environment and brought it over to the Mac OS. Now I’m a believer.

For those of you who are interested, I’ll include an unedited transcript produced solely by MacSpeech Dictate, so you can compare the accuracy for yourself.

One of the other great things about MacSpeech Dictate is that it works with existing programs that you run. I use Textmate to type my blog posts and Thunderbird for my e-mail. I have used MacSpeech Dictate to type, or rather dictate, in both of those programs so far. (Did I mention that I’ve only had this program for one day?)

Some have complained about the lack of spelling feature. In the latest update they have added that feature as well. In only one day, I’ve definitely not exercised all the features of the application. There are many reviews out there with more detail. However, I want to get out my opinion and my feedback about how wonderful this program is and how much it’s already changed my computing experience.

It’s not the cheapest thing on the market, but it works. Also, it comes with (i.e. you have to buy) a headset mic in order for it to work. It doesn’t seem to work with the built-in mic on my iMac (not that I’ve tried).

If you are at all into writing and don’t like the labor of typing, I definitely encourage you to look into MacSpeech Dictate. It has made things so much better for me and I’m sure it will help you as well.

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