Ask TOOZE: Apps for new iPhone (posted 2 Jul 11)

Dear TOOZE:

I’ve just bought myself an iPhone but there’s just too many apps out there! Which apps should I get?

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At the point of writing, there’s 425,000 apps in the App Store. This post is dedicated to the great developers of great iPhone apps, as well as any new iPhone owners.

Note the following labels:

  • iPhone (works on iPhone only. I’m going to ignore iPod Touch compatibility since most apps work on both devices except for a few)
  • Universal (runs on both iPhone and iPad natively, meaning on the iPad the app is full-sized; not iPhone-sized scaled up)
  • Win/Mac (has desktop clients)

Also, all prices are in US$.

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Calendar stuff

Calvetica Calendar (iPhone, $2.99)

This has once replaced the stock calendar app for me on the iPhone. It’s still by far the prettiest, and is rather fast in terms of event creation/viewing. Even trashing an event is fast as it requires just a swipe and a tap. It has quite a few nice touches like collapsing your day to show events only (as compared to showing all the hours), switching to agenda mode or a week view in landscape mode etc. There is a free version so do try it out and see if it helps you focus better.

Agenda – A Better Calendar with Today’s Date (iPhone, $0.99)

This is currently the default calendar app for me, replacing Calvetica. Personally, Calvetica is very much prettier; Agenda has to me a very unpolished look. Having said that, it’s the fastest in terms of viewing/referencing your calendar. Fire up the app and you’d see a list of your days with all the events, with the current day right on top. Want to see the past? Scroll up. Future? Scroll down. Want to zoom in to the day’s timetable? Swipe left. Up and down swipes work for future and past as previous. Want to zoom in on an event? Swipe left. You get the idea.

For adding new events, the ‘+’ button brings up the full dialog box to key in everything. This is different from Calvetica which allows you to key in something fast, but not if you want to fine tune it.

Ultimately, I love this app (if only it looks like Calvetica!) for its focus on gestures and wealth of information accessible.

———-

A note about 3rd party calendar apps. The apps work by getting data from your in-built calendar app. What this means is that if your calendar is not updated (i.e. the information is not pushed to your phone), your 3rd party apps are going to be useless. Hence, if you find events missing from your apps, just fire up the in-built calendar and let the information sync. It will be fine then.

———-

Occasions (iPhone, $0.99)

One of my earliest apps when it was still free. Basically it’s an app that tracks all your birthdays, anniversaries and what-nots. What it does is that it accesses your contact list as well as your Facebook friends’ list, and downloads them. Looks great and works well, plus it has push notifications, which is a big deal for me (meaning to say that I don’t have to open the app to check those dates). Also, you can set when should you be alerted of the events. Useful for those who would like to remember dates but can’t.

Some of you might think of creating an alarm in the calendar app as opposed to spending $0.99 for this. Well, besides having your Facebook birthdays in as well, there is a second reason. Those of you who subscribe to your Address Book’s birthdays for your iCal or calendars, will realize that you cannot set alarms for them. The workaround is to create a separate event for each birthday (there are scripts/programs that do that). Occasions solves that this by putting all your dates in one place.

Keynote Remote (iPhone & iPad, $0.99 –  it’s not universal; it’s the iPhone size on the iPad)

This is a nifty little app that allows you to control your keynote (on the Mac or iOS devices) from your iPhone. For a Mac/iPhone pairing you’d need both devices to be on the same Wi-Fi network, but there’s a great workaround by Ricky Buchanan. For an iOS device/iPhone pairing, you can do it over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.

AppVault Pro (iPhone, $0.99)

This is one of those all-in-one apps which I don’t use much, but is really useful when you need a guitar tuner, dice, unit conversions, a ruler etc. There’s a lite version too so do check that out first. A caveat though: this app has not been updated since July 2010, and the original site is gone, which means it’s probably a dormant app with no updates. Having said that, it works fine for me but you might want to shop around for other newer apps.

Getting things done

OmniFocus (iPhone, $19.99. iPad, $39.99. Mac, $79.95 / $49.95 for education pricing)

Omnifocus is a GTD (Get Things Done) app and by far the best in the market. Yes I know it’s pricey but the thing that won me over from other GTD apps is the availability of a desktop client and the ability to sync over-the-air (OTA). Do check out the tutorials and see how different it is from the rest; having said that the learning curve is steep, and might be overkill for some…

Wunderlist (iPhone, Free. iPad – Wunderlist HD, Free. Mac, Free)

Wunderlist is a simple to-do list with OTA syncing between all your devices. It’s free, and pretty, and works. I believe it’s a great stop-gap measure before Apple rolls out their Reminders app.

2Do: Tasks Done in Style (Universal, $6.99)

It’s one of my first few GTD apps and it is still one of the prettiest GTD apps out there. The only reason why I switched from this to OmniFocus is because it doesn’t have a Mac client for me to work in, unlike OmniFocus. If you don’t need a Mac client, then this is a must try, especially with its hefty set of features.

Reading / Writing

Instapaper (Universal, $4.99)

Instapaper is a web service that allows you to save whatever you read online for later consumption, and this is the iOS app. This is how it works: Let’s say I’m reading an article on the web and I need to go out for an errand. What I’d do is to save it then open up Instapaper when I’m on the bus to carry on reading. It allows offline reading so that’s the whole point of it. The service is free on web browsers so you might want to try it out before committing to the apps. It’s really more of a habit/workflow than anything.

It is significant because I now save articles for later reading when I’m more free, instead of skimming through or skipping them totally. It’s also great for keeping some articles for referencing.

Previously I was using Read It Later (RIL) but one big issue I had with it was that some of the pages were not saved properly, resulting in me having to visit the original site which kind of defeats the whole purpose. However, RIL manages the articles better and I am able to mark them as read and move on to the next article without going back to the article list, something Instapaper is unable to do. Nevertheless, I’ve switched to Instapaper and never looked back.

Simplenote (Universal, Free)

This is a must have note taking app. It’s fast, clean, simple and free. Plus it has a web app which you can log on to view those notes you taken on your iOS devices. To top it up, it has tags, and the ability to save multiple versions. A must have!

SpringPad (Universal, Free)

SpringPad is an app that allows you to store things besides plain text (which Simplenote does). As a case in point, I use it to store photos and reviews of the wines I drink. The iPad version of SpringPad is rather fun, but I hardly use it as the app on my phone is much more accessible. The more famous app competitor out there would be Evernote, but I don’t like the slow syncing, as well as buggy syncing between web and devices. Furthermore, editing tags on the web is a pain. Then again, a lot of people use Evernote, and it’s free so do check it out if you don’t like SpringPad.

iBook (Universal, Free)

The official e-book reader from Apple. Pretty and sports syncing across devices. The only problem is that it (or rather Singapore’s iBookstore) doesn’t support paid e-books, yet. If you want to buy e-books, check out Kobo. The only problem I have with Kobo is that when you restore your device, all your annotations get erased, which defeats the purpose of annotations in the first place, and there’s no cloud syncing for annotations.

Communications / References

Whatsapp (iPhone, 0.99)

When iMessage comes out with iOS 5 in a month or two, Whatsapp will be kinda redundant, especially with the high penetration of iPhones in Singapore. Having said that, Whatsapp has group chat which iMessage probably don’t have, so it might stay for a while. A great and prettier alternative (and free) is eBuddy XMS, but the penetration is not as high. If you don’t want to spend the $0.99, then ask your friends to install eBuddy XMS (do not confuse with eBuddy; XMS is the SMS app while eBuddy is the IM app) and chat with them free. Look out for a review on eBuddy XMS here soon.

1Password for iPhone (iPhone, $9.99); 1Password Pro (Universal, $11.99. Win/Mac, $39.99; Win + Mac, $59.99)

This is actually a desktop client which stores all your passwords and web logins as well as other stuff like license keys. What do you need to know? 1 password, literally. It then has a browser add-on that you can use to sign in to various websites (after you have saved the logins). It also sports a random password generator (no more password123), dropbox syncing and more. Basically the iOS versions allow you to carry your passwords and other sensitive information around.

SoundHound (Universal, Free + in-app upgrade $6.99)

This is a useful little app for music buffs. Ever heard a song and wonder what’s the title? Well, SoundHound solves that; just point your phone to the source of the music, let it record for a while and identification happens. Personally I don’t use it much but I have friends who swear by it. Having said that, another competitor app worth looking out for is Shazam.

MoneyBook (iPhone, $2.99)

This is a expense tracking app which does its job well. Sure there are some areas of improvement to be made but overall, the GUI and function fits me well. It has customised categories, a summary view of transactions by categories, a summary view of expenditures by month and a web app to company it. Pretty nice if you’d ask me. Another (slightly cheaper) app worth looking at is Expenditure.

gothere.sg (iPhone, 2.99)

The app from the popular location/direction service. Works beautifully.

SG Buses V3 (Universal, Free)

A simple app to tell you the timings of the buses. Include bus routes too. There are other apps but well, this works fine for me. SG NextBus is another app to look out for, and according to the developer,

SG NextBus is not a replacement for SG Buses. SG NextBus provides faster access to bus arrival time while SG Buses is a bus directory to get more detail[ed] information about buses.

Dictionary.com (iPhone, Free)

A nice dictionary app. Includes pronunciation.

SG Showtime (iPhone, Free)

This is an app that shows all the movie timings in cinemas around Singapore. Pretty useful for movie buffs. Personally, I don’t use it; in part because I almost watch movies at Shaw exclusively, and their web app – Shaw Mobile (m.shaw.sg) works very well.

Games

Words With Friends Free (iPhone, Free)

Scrabble (sort of with a different board and tile points) with friends as you take your turn when you want to; paid version removes ads.

Gun Bros (Universal, Free)

It’s a freemium top-down shooter game with two people in the likes of Minigore. The best part about this game is that it now sports multiplayer over 3G and Wi-Fi. Go get it and blast some aliens/monsters/baddies.

Street Fighter IV (iPhone, $4.99)

This is a beautiful and great port from the arcade game, and multiplay over Bluetooth works quite well too. There’s also a nice ‘SP’ button which helps you overcome the screen limitations of the phone by making it easier to execute certain moves. Definitely worth a look.

Other games worth looking at, inclusive of the uber famous ones are: Angry Birds, Cut The Rope, Zen Bound, Bug Heroes, Drop7 Free, Plants VS Zombies, World Series of Poker Hold’em Legend, Burn The Rope, Bejeweled 2, Mini Squadron, Zenonia 3, N.O.V.A. 2, Mega Jump, Tilt to Live, Oven Break.

———-

There’s a lot of apps out there so I’ve listed those that I use on a daily basis or solve a need. If there’s any app you’d like to recommend, do add it in the comments below. One last point before I end. If you want to monitor the prices of apps, do check out AppShopper. They track price drops of apps as well as offer a wish list to login-ed users. There site can be found here.

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2 comments
  1. Matthew said:

    great post! haha.. thanks bro..was happily trying out the apps you recommended and giving me ideas to search for other apps related to the paid ones~ time saver gems!

  2. Alester said:

    Thanks for the post! I have a suggestion on the next app introduction post. How about a post on all the boardgame apps that we can play on iPhone? 🙂

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