You Like RSS Feeds,But Want A More Personalized Experience?
Newspapers and magazines aren’t dying; they’re just changing venues. As news shifts online and goes mobile, we still love those gorgeous magazine spreads. Fortunately, there are a plethora of free iPhone and iPad apps, all of which give you primary control over what you have to read at any given point. You like news about Apple, videogames, and politics? With a few clicks you can add those items to your readers. But what about if you want even more control? What if you want big events from your friends’ Facebook and Twitter accounts right alongside the “actual” news? Well, then, you’re going to love these beautiful and functional apps
This app came out last year, and already it feels like an institution. Originally focused more on your Facebook and Twitter feeds, Flipboard has added much more content. It’s now essentially a personalized magazine of news and articles you like, mixed with your feeds from Facebook and Twitter, plus Linkedln, Google Reader, Instagram, and Flickr.
Inside Flipboard’s gorgeous cover is a nine-space grid with your Facebook and Twitter accounts taking up spaces one and two. The seven remaining spaces are preselected categories (you can delete ‘em by tapping and holding), and the last square is free for your own choices. Beyond that, there’s a second page with 12 more squares to fill with partner news sources, such as Rolling Stone. Once added, tap the Rolling Stone square, and the screen fills with well laid-out articles, like the best magazine you ever read. Slide your finger to turn the page or quick-scroll through by dragging the scrubber at the bottom.
If you’re not into the built-in sources, type the URL or name of your favorite site, and Flipboard pulls in everything from its RSS feed to related Twitter and Facebook accounts. And you can add Flickr and Instagram users too. All in all, Flipboard is a dream app: solid, engaging, easy to use, and beautiful.
Editions By AOL
AOL’s news magazine app debuted in August, and so far we like it a lot. Fire it up, and you get classic wood-paneled background as the app digs within its sources—a recent update vastly sped up the load time for this. Like Flipboard, Editions tailors content to your tastes, only AOL aims to go further by curating the sources in each topic. You can tweak them, but you’re merely accessing the same list and highlighting sources you prefer (like, ahem, MaciLife).
Interestingly, Editions isn’t built around the 24/7 news cycle. You select when you want it “delivered,” and that’s the cut-off—stories posted after that time won’t appear in that day’s Editions. This is a deliberate move by AOL to create something with a beginning and an end, a retro concept that fits the magazine’s design, which includes throwback fonts and Ben-Day dotted images on its cover.
You can also add your zip code for local news and weather and your birthday to get your horoscope. Log in with Facebook, and Editions reminds you of upcoming events. Navigation is similar to Flipboard, and it involves swiping to turn pages and tapping articles to load them. A small arrow at the bottom of the screen unleashes the magazine control panel, including a scrolling list of all the articles in that issue. Editions learns your interests from the stories you read, and each story also has tags that you can s/ or X to see more or less about those subjects.
Pulse News has been around for a while (and it won the Apple Design Awards in 2011), but since then it has made dozens of improvements to its layout, its feature list, and its overall aesthetic. Pulse News differentiates itself in how you can access your content—it ditches the traditional magazine stylings of Editions and Flipbook to instead utilize a column-view that is both extremely new and extremely accessible to first-time iPad users. As soon as you open the app, you understand that tapping any of the thumbnails it presents you will open the article. If you want even more content, you can swipe any column to see more thumbnails.
Pulse News carefully curates content into groups, like “technology,” “music,” and “fun.” Any one of their groups could easily supply you with a day’s worth of reading, but if you’re not satisfied with what they pick for you, you can just add your favorite RSS’s to their choices.
Pulse News also comes with enough features to help you discover its possibilities long after you started using it. Whether you’re looking for an RSS reader with offline capabilities, or just an extremely easy way to read your content, the Pulse News reader belongs on all of your iOS devices.
So You like YouTube and other video players?
The wonderful YouTube app has been around since the very first iteration of iOS, a staple in the handful of apps that Apple chose to include on their very first iPhone and every iOS device that followed. Since then it has helped us watch countless funny sketches, lyric videos of unreleased songs, and (of course) home videos of kittens sneezing. With the millions of videos online and hundreds of thousands of users, you can almost always find a video you want to watch-whether it’s a live performance of The Night Man Cometh” from Always Sunny In Philadelphia, or unofficial sketches from Andy Samberg and the rest of The Lonely Island. No two ways about it, the YouTube app is an important and irreplaceable part of what makes iOS special.
But unfortunately, since its release, Google and Apple have become fierce competitors. While the Android versions of YouTube are sleeker than ever, the iOS version really hasn’t changed much. But so long as we still have it on our phone and tablet, we’ll be okay. And we’ve already replaced it with other video players-some of which double up as editors, streamers, and even let you watch 3D videos!
Vimeo is a “respectful community of people who are passionate about the videos they make.” Already, just by reading Vimeo’s in-app description, you can tell it has probably scared off half the riff-raff of YouTube (a service that isn’t exactly famous for its intelligent, politically correct comments). Because Vimeo caters to a different audience, it’s more focused and artsy. You can easily lose track of your time watching hours of avant-garde clips, and up-and-coming documentaries. Or you can just watch dumb videos too, but they take a little more digging to find than on YouTube, which is absolutely littered with them.
The Vimeo app is as easy to sort and filter as the YouTube app, but it also adds a little secret-sauce to the recipe-it’s also an awesome video-editor. With Vimeo’s general ease of use, it’s definitely possible that you’ll use it much more than YouTube, even if you aren’t focused on making videos.
To be blunt, CineXPlayer is a torrenter’s dream. It plays a wide variety of video formats, like .avi’s. Since its first release, CineXPlayer has improved its interface multiple times, added plenty of stability improvements, and even added support for videos in MP4, MOV, and M4V.
Now, we don’t condone unlawful downloading of movies, but there are plenty of free videos on the internet that are saved in obscure file formats. An option like CineXPlayer allows users to download all those videos without waiting for third-party applications like Handbrake to encode them, so you can play them with Apple’s stock video player.
Why watch free videos when you can watch free movies? No matter how awesome the content is on YouTube, it’s pretty much impossible that it’s any more awesome than Starship Troopers. But many iOS users are already practically bursting with content, and if you don’t have a 64GB iPhone, chances are you don’t want to carry around that many movies at any given time. Crackle solves that problem by streaming those videos, hence keeping a small storage footprint. So what is it? Crackle is a free video player loaded with thousands of Hollywood movies. And the best part? It’s entirely free.
Not all the movies are worth watching, but there’s an ever-expanding list of good ones, like Step Brothers, Snatch, and Starship Troopers. But Crackle isn’t just for movies, and there are thousands of full-length episodes of your favorite shows (Seinfeld, Samurai X, Spiderman, etc) all ready for streaming. We’re not sure how this app even exists. But we’re glad it does.
HBO is pretty much amazing. No other channel has such a fantastic array of drama, and it’s easy to get hooked on just about any show they offer. What could possibly be better? How about a free app that lets you stream any HBO shows at anytime? Enter HBO GO.
HBO GO allows you to take True Blood to the treadmill, or watch Game of Thrones on a porcelain throne, or just watch Bored to Death when you’re a little bored. All the big name shows are here, and there’s a social flavor that’s integrated into the app, which lets you quickly share what you’re watching, when you’re watching it. The only requirement is that you already subscribe to HBO, so if you don’t it might be time to call your cable service and hook it up.
So You Like SAFARI…But Want A Bit More Power?
Sure, Mobile Safari got lots of great upgrades when iOS 5 dropped. Reading List is nice, even if it’s really just a quick, temporary bookmark list. Reader is where the real action is, stripping all the extraneous Internet out of the way. Private Browsing? Welcome to 2005′s version of Safari on your iMac running Tiger. Tabbed browsing? Not so fast, little guy. Unless you’re playing with the big dogs on the iPad, you iPhone users are still rocking separate windows.
Of course, the biggest improvement without qualification is the definite speediness, as the latest Safari smokes its predecessors. So, yeah, yeah, all “-3”s groovy, but Safari still leaves you a little cold. You’re looking for a hot little browser that gives you all of this and more. You’re looking to browse better browser. We just might have what you’re looking for.
Opera Mini Web Browser
Allow us to be smug for one second: we got in on the iPhone ground floor and have a grandfathered unlimited data plan. So we can surf and search to our heart’s content. For all the Johnny and Jill Come Lately’s who got in with the 4S, your mileage insanely varies. Too many YouTube videos streaming and you’re well over your and paying through the nose.
While long-time browser stalwart Opera doesn’t bring much in terms of functionality to the table, it has one trick up its sleeve for when you feel the big carrier data plan squeeze. Opera Mini Web Browser gets its mini not because it’s iPhone only, but because pages aren’t sent
to your iOS device. Opera kicks your pages first – servers where data is compressed. Images downgraded, coding is flattened, and browsing is quickened. It’s super-duper fast, though page layout suffers. If you’re not looking for Web beauty, it’s a great end-run around AT&T’s hand in your pocket. Plus, pages are encrypted, so your Gmail password isn’t compromised.
There isn’t a long list of features after that. Opera Ifni sports a thumbnail start page like its desktop counterpart, some social sharing, tabs, and private browsing. About the most complicated thing you get is bookmark syncing with your home computer. But if you’re looking for to shave some MBs off your monthly data consumption, this is definitely a tool to beep in your back pocket.
iCab is like Safari on steroids. So you not only get the dedicated screen of tabs like in Safari, but you also get tabs, real tabs, in both versions. Tap the numbered square on your toolbar to get a list of every open tab you have running or flick your finger across the row of tabs to move between them.
Heck, iCab even supports gestures, so drag your finger across the page to shift between open tabs or go into settings to create choose your own. You like desktop Safari’s Top Sites homepage? iCab manages that too with QuickStarter getting you right into your favorite pages in no time.
Where Apple gives you a measly three built-in search engines, iCab packs 10 for starters and lets you add whatever you want. Private browsing? iCab’s had it for forever and where other browsers immediately dump your page if you leave the app to multitask, iCab lets you pause your private session for as little as 1 minute or as much as 30. Turn on filtering to block ads, set homepages, require a password to access, create guest accounts with limited options, and keep your bookmarks in order with Firefox Sync.
And we haven’t even gotten into what makes iCab totally awesome. One button looks like a puzzle piece. Tap that and see how a mobile browser can really sing. You probably have a host of third party services out there like Instapaper, GoodReader, Pinboard, Evernote, the list goes on and on. iCab reins tons of these beasts in under this puzzle piece, naming them modules. Throw articles to your accounts to ReadltLater, bookmark it on Delicious, add it to your Amazon Wishlist, convert Flash video with ClipConverter, do math in-app quick with the calculator, and on and on. Love that Reader option in Safari? Let Instapaper’s Mobilizer do the same thing for you.
These speed dial features are so prevalent, we’re kind of surprised Apple didn’t bring them to iOS. Popular on Android phones before making its way to Cupertino, MoboTap’s Dolphin Browser sports Speed Dial as just one feature, then ups the ante with Webzine. Their version of various RSS magazine-style readers like AOL Editions, Webzine is a great way to get straight to the and blogs you want.
Visually, the app resembles Chrome, with its top riding tabs and its very stripped down interface. But what Dolphin is really about is gestures. Swipe to the right to bring up the bookmark bar; swipe to the left to access your current tabs. Want more? Tap that hand icon to see the magic. This opens the Gesture pad where you draw one of seven baked-in gestures (a G to load Google, a T for Twitter, and an f for Facebook). Don’t like these? Tap New and choose from a variety of choice actions all based around whatever you choose to scribble.
The only drawback here is that you need to open the Gesture page every time you want to use one, which is a small price to pay. Dolphin is also one of the first apps we’ve noticed making much ado about handling your RSS subscriptions, letting you kick them right to your Google Reader account.
Replace The MUSIC APP …with Better Music Players!
The Music App (formerly known as the iPod App) brought iOS music-navigation to a new place. No longer were we constrained to click wheels and Apple took full advantage of it. Cover Flow is still one of the most gorgeous ways to flip through your music, and the app is stuffed with features without feeling unwieldy. Want to buy a song? That’s just a quick button press away. Want to reorder your dock? That’s possible with a quick Edit tap.
But sometimes even great things need a little sprucing up—and in the time the Music app has been around it has undergone relatively few performance tweaks. Meanwhile apps are popping up that threaten to do what Music does, but better. Do any of them succeed?
Play By AOL Music
PLAY is the social Music app. You can log in using Facebook or create a PLAY account, then update your feed to show you what your friends are playing. The app is busy, but not exactly cluttered. Either way, it’ll definitely take a long time to get used to the layout. But once you figure it out, it’s smooth sailing as you jump from free album to free album stream, harvesting the plethora of Aol jams that are available at any given time. When that gets old, you can play local music with the tap of a button. PLAY is also the only app on this list (besides Music) has AirPlay functionality. That means you can listen to all of Aol’s music on your computer or AirPlay-enabled speakers.
But there’s more to PLAY than music, and you can follow friends, leave comments, like posts, and tag friends too. All the while the music you’re listening to scrolls across a banner at the very bottom. Sure, there’s a lot going on, but PLAY has got the right stuff, and it’s pretty clearly more engaging than Apple’s stock music client.
Our favorite subscription-based music streamer has an awfully lot tucked into its iPhone app. Last.fm scrobbling, a news tab, and an ultra-easy playlist finder. Getting on a plane? No problem. Spotify allows you to make just about every song in your playlists available for off-line play (whether you own them or not) and adding local files is a snap.
The user interface can be a bit difficult to understand, and it’s definitely utilitarian; except for the News tab there’s not a picture to be found, of album art or otherwise, and there’s no cover flow-esque landscape view in sight. But if you can get past the clunky interface, you’ll never use the Music app again. But then again, as with all good things there’s a catch. You’ll need a $10/month Spotify subscription to take advantage of all of its awesome features. But don’t fret, once you go green you’ll never go back.
Besides the music app that comes loaded on your iOS device, Rdio is the only fully optimized iPad app on this list, and we actually really like it. But that’s not the only reason Spotify’s main competitor makes the list-the Rdio iPhone app Is just plain better than Spotify’s.
Whereas Spotify utilizes lists, Rdio is more about familiar iOS stylings. Opening the app for the first time reveals a familiar grid that’s both easier to navigate and look at than anything in Spotify or the Music app. Furthermore, Rdio takes Spotify’s social to a new level, placing an icon in the grid that shows you what your friends are listening to. It’s so simple to use, it alone could validate a switch from Spotify users. You’ll still need that $10/month plan, but it’s definitely worth it.
SoundCloud isn’t in direct competition with the iOS Music app, but music lovers will want it anyway. Whether you’re trying to make it big as an artist, or just find neat tracks from independents (and sometimes mainstream artists), SoundCloud offers more than you’d expect.
The SoundCloud app comes loaded with just about every feature you can find on SoundCloud.com, but it also has a huge button to record your music or sound. Just like that, in app, you can share your live music. If creation isn’t really your thing, you can search for awesome musicians, follow them, like or comment on their tracks, and help them make it big.
So you like the EPICURIOUS… And cooking/recipe
Yelp and Urbanspoon are great for discovering new restaurants, but most of us already go out more than we should. When it’s time to eat in, there are dozens of apps that can help you expand or refine your repertoire of at-home meals. Publisher Conde Nast’s Epicurious made a name for itself by offering free and easy access to thousands of recipes, taken from the pages of Gourmet, Bon Appetit and other prestigious magazines. Searching for a particular dish is simple, or you can browse a list filtered according to what type of cuisine you’d like, basic dietary restrictions, or what’s already in your fridge. Results are presented with user ratings and (usually) a delicious-looking photo. There’s an integrated grocery list feature too, which compiles the ingredients from your selected recipes and sorts them based on where you’re likely to find them. Epicurious currently boasts five million App-Store downloads, and it’s not hard to see why: it may just be the best recipe app out there. But even if it is, there’s no more sense in using just one cooking app than in owning just one cookbook, so here are our favorite alternatives.
Just like Epicurious, Cook’s Illustrated has a curated library of professionally produced recipes, browse-able by pictures or searchable by name and ingredients. What sets Cook’s Illustrated apart is its smart presentation. Not only do its recipes have the potential to be totally delicious; the app includes step-by-step videos to help ensure your efforts in the kitchen produce truly tasty results, and an in-app timer keeps you up to speed.
The app’s best original feature is the “Taste Test” pane. Cook’s Illustrated knows that most of us, faced with the daunting task of choosing a jar of pasta sauce from an entire supermarket-aisle of options, will probably pick whatever has the best label or the lowest price. The app’s side-by-side comparisons of common packaged foods (from eggs to soy sauce to vanilla ice cream)—based on a blind taste-test survey of culinary pros—encourage your inner chef not to settle for cheap ingredients.
The catch: Cook’s Illustrated may be a free app, but access to more than a sampling of its content requires a $25/year subscription.
ALLRECIPES.COM Dinner Spinner
Allrecipes.com may not literally offer us all the recipes ever, but 14 years of collective user-uploaded content adds up to quite a lot. The Dinner Spinner app does about what you’d expect it to, presenting you with a random recipe based on criteria you’ve set. Unlike some recipe aggregators, the recipes you’ll find here here probably weren’t written by professionals. Quality varies wildly, from useful, concise instructions to convoluted, amateurish prose. Perhaps appropriately, Dinner Spinner can feel like rolling the dice. Good or bad, though, it’s free (unless the thousands of recipes in the basic version just aren’t enough, or you simply must have your ingredients list in checklist form).
Most cooking apps are really just recipe-aggregators, transplanting text and pictures originally meant for print onto a screen. Not so with Jamie’s Recipes. The app’s whole content-delivery system—its eminently readable big text, the ‘swipe to the next step’ interface, and especially the 10-recipe-pack in-app purchases—has been optimized for iOS devices. The food photography is mouthwatering, and even the app’s faux-wood backdrop, a token of the rustic Americana aesthetic Oliver (somewhat ironically) cultivates, looks pretty darn good.
There are a few weird dishes, reminders that Jamie Oliver is indeed a celebrity chef (Curried Branzino with Coconut Rice anyone?) but most of the options are laudably accessible—normal stuff we might actually cook. Each recipe is broken down into simple steps, and many of the meals can be prepared in just 10-20 minutes. The requisite shopping-list feature is present and accounted for, and each add-on pack includes a video in which Oliver struts his stuff and teaches you a basic cooking skill. Of course, you can always skip them and get straight to cooking; you don’t have to love Jamie to love Jamie’s Recipes.