Flipboard is Spectacular

If you have an iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad, then you absolutely must install the latest Flipboard app. Flipboard has been available for the iPad since 2010, but the developers released the portable iPhone version just this week.

Flipboard aggregates the data from your favorite online services and displays them in an elegant display. It pulls feeds from your accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, Instagram, Google Reader, LinkedIn and more. The resulting combined output is displayed in a beautiful tiled format that you simply flip through with your fingertips. All of your favorite activity from across the web is organized and simplified into a single app that you can browse with fluid ease and elegance.

I can confidently say that Flipboard has the single best design and stunning fluidity of any mobile app I have ever experienced, hands down. It is nothing short of spectacular. And it’s completely free! If you’re an iOS user, go download this app right now and experience the future in the palm of your hand. You’ll love it!

Two Great iOS Cloud Apps

I’d like to recommend two great iOS apps that work in the cloud using Dropbox. Hopefully any serious computer user already has a Dropbox account. If you don’t, stop reading this and go download it. Every user gets 2 GB of cloud storage for free. I have it on all my computers and my phone.

The first app you should check out is called Plaintext. It has replaced the Notes app for me on my iPhone. Plaintext is a free and simple barebones text editor. What makes it so useful is that there is no local saving of text files. It automatically saves everything you type into a folder on Dropbox. Plaintext makes note-taking much easier than using the Notes app where you sync files via iTunes. I can now jot down notes on the go and when I get home to my computer, the notes are already there waiting for me. It works in the opposite direction as well. I can write and save files to the Plaintext folder in Dropbox on my computer and I can access and edit them on my phone. There are other apps that do the same type of thing that Plaintext does, but Plaintext is completely free and does works perfectly. I highly recommend it.

Sometimes I don’t feel like typing long notes on my phone and would rather record a voice memo. Say hello to Dropvox. It is a simple voice recorder where the recordings are automatically saved to Dropbox. The Dropvox app is extremely basic, almost to a fault. You can’t go back and listen to what you just recorded, or see a list of files saved. It is a one-way street. Of course, you could use the Dropbox iOS app if you want to browse what is in the folder. Limitations aside, it’s nice to sit at my computer and see the files of my recordings waiting for me. This is easier than using the Voice Memos app included in iOS where you have to sync the phone to iTunes to get the files. Granted, the audio quality is compressed with Dropvox, so you wouldn’t want to use it in situations where you want the best audio quality. I tend to use it when I’m driving and I want to remind myself of something to look up later, or something to add to my hate list, for instance. Dropvox costs 99 cents.

Apple is rumored to make a big cloud push this year, and the release of iOS 5 may bring this type of functionality to the native Notes and Voice Memos apps. We shall see. For now, try the two solutions above. Both Plaintext and Dropvox work on the iPad as well.

Google Voice for iPhone Needs an Overhaul

I love Google Voice, but their iPhone app is in need of an overhaul. Since November 2010 when the app finally made its way into the App Store, it has never been updated to my recollection. It certainly works as advertised, but there are plenty of features that I would like to see added or expanded. I’ve used other free texting apps that have had better interfaces and features, but I choose to use Google Voice because the service is better. I like the ability to send text messages directly from the website on my computer and maintain archives the way that Google does well.

Before I get into my list of features I want in the iPhone app, I would like to point out a glaring omission with the Google Voice system as a whole. That omission is that MMS texting is not allowed. If anyone sends me a text message that includes a picture, I receive absolutely nothing. No notification, no bounceback. Absolutely nothing. I don’t know why this isn’t fully supported. It couldn’t be a storage issue since Google owns enormous properties like YouTube. The amount of data to manage MMS messaging would be less than a drop in the bucket of the data management for YouTube videos. At the very least, I wish Google would deliver me the text portion of a MMS message with an “attachment not included” warning. Get on this already!

Back to the iPhone app. For some unknown reason, composing text in landscape mode is not supported. I most always lock my phone in portrait mode, so it’s not a huge deal for me, but not everyone uses it the way I do. Landscape mode for the Google Voice app is surely needed, especially for people used to typing in that fashion.

There are no zero options for notification sounds! The only sound the app makes is the generic iOS default notify ding. I’ve used the TextFree app in the past and it had a dozen or so options for notification sounds. This would be a very welcomed feature for Google Voice. The fact that it doesn’t exist already is outrageous. This is one of my biggest complaints.

The font size for text composition is entirely too small. If I compose a brand new text message, the font size and window for typing is just right. However, when working in the inbox timeline of a text thread, the font is really tiny, and replying is done in an incredibly small window. I would like this to change. I would even like to see some font size options in the app settings. In fact, the entire interface of the app could be a lot more attractive overall. I’m calling for a complete overhaul of the user interface.

I use the Google Voice app a lot during the course of a day and I feel like the app is a battery and resource hog. I have no evidence to back this up, mind you. It’s just a hunch. At times it can feel a bit slow and clunky. I don’t know what could be done about this, if anything, but I can’t get past the feeling that the app is making my phone work harder than it should. This issue is the least important in my wishlist and for all I know, it isn’t really an issue at all, but I had to toss it in at the end.

I’ve never used Google Voice on an Android phone so I can’t comment on that experience. I do love the service as a whole. I just wish the iPhone app would receive the overhaul it desperately needs. Get on it, Google!

Google Voice on the iPhone

I’ve had a Google Voice account since mid-2009. I’ve leisurely tinkered with it on and off since I first signed up with the service. Just recently, I’ve started using it much more than I ever had before. The reason for my renewed interest is that Apple finally succumbed and allowed the free Google Voice app for the iPhone into the App Store. The new app, officially from Google, is rich and feature-complete.

In August, I wrote about the awesome TextFree iPhone app. I’ve used it for a while now and definitely would recommend it to replace the expensive text plans from the mobile carriers. I even paid $5.99 for a year of ad-free use of the app, which I think is well worth it.

However, last week, the free Google Voice app suddenly appeared in the App Store. I immediately downloaded the app. Calls to my Google Voice number will automatically ring my phone, and all text messages are displayed through a push notification. It’s pretty awesome. I don’t intend to replace my voice calls with my Google number, but I do intend to use it exclusively to replace native texting. Make sure you disable the forwarding of texts to your actual mobile number in the preferences to avoid being charged for texts by your carrier.

With Google Voice, all text messages are saved and can be browsed in a web interface that looks and behaves like GMail. That is an impressive feature that TextFree doesn’t offer. I hate to abandon TextFree, but I find Google Voice to be incredibly slick, and the app to be more responsive overall. It will be my exclusive means of mobile texting from now on.

Netflix Lands on the iPhone

Netflix has finally released a native app for the iPhone and iPod Touch. I’ve been experimenting with it, and I am very impressed. The app is beautifully designed and very easy to use. Streaming video is smooth and clear. You can scroll through your instant queue or browse the Netflix catalog to find movies and shows. This app is killer. If you have an iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch and you are a Netflix subscriber, this app is a necessity.

Netflix on the iPhone

Text For Free With Textfree

Textfree is an incredible app for your iPhone or iPod Touch that provides you with unlimited texting for free. I’ve been using for a few days now and it is awesome.

I already pay $5 per month for a 200-limit text message plan with AT&T. For a few of months, I’d even boosted it to the next level which gave me 1500 texts per month for $15. I think the entire texting industry is absurdly high priced. If I am already paying for 3G Internet data, simple 160-character text-only messages should come and go for free. I’m tired of paying such ridiculously high fees for texting.

It looks like I’ll no longer have to. I’ve found Textfree and it gives me a completely new phone number to use for unlimited texting, all for FREE. No longer will I be taking it in the rear from the phone company. I highly recommend this app to every iOS user, which includes iPad and iPod Touch users. The app is ad-supported in the free version, but you can eliminate all ads if you subscribe as a paying customer for $6 per year. Even as a paying customer, the price is a steal compared to paying for traditional texting via the mobile carrier.

Do yourself a favor. Check this out. Save some money.


MotionX GPS Drive Navigation for iPhone

I’ve been looking for the perfect GPS navigation solution for my iPhone. I want something that goes beyond the Maps app. I considered purchasing the expensive Tom Tom GPS navigation app, but it ranges in price from $49 to $99 depending on the current sale price. Tom Tom is quite expensive, but it is still cheaper than a buying standalone GPS device. Still, the price for Tom Tom kept me looking elsewhere.

I’ve now found the perfect solution for my needs. I downloaded the MotionX GPS Drive app, which is currently on sale for $1. I think it usually goes for $7, but I am not exactly sure about the standard price.

I don’t need a GPS unit on a daily basis. I mainly want it for the occasional road trip. This app provides a very cheap solution for those needs. MotionX GPS Drive has turned out to be awesome! You have to pay for the speaking turn-by-turn navigation feature, but you get to use for free for the first month. After that is only $3 for a single month of use, which you can purchase any time. If you want to pay for a full year, it is $25. You could do that year after year and still make out for less than a standalone GPS unit, or the Tom Tom app. I’m sold.

One advantage of using this solution is that the maps are downloaded to the phone and cached. By default, it will use up to 2 GB of storage for the map data. You can clear and reset the maps at any time, and you always have the latest up-to-date maps for your area. The fresh maps are the advantage over using a standalone GPS unit.

I’ve been using MotionX GPS for a few days to try it out. I am very impressed. It has performed well. A bluetooth earpiece is handy if you want to talk on the phone at the same time and still be able to see the maps. My phone does get a little warm to the touch after using the navigation. Also, expect this app to eat away at your battery when you use it. The phone is doing a lot of thinking, so that doesn’t surprise me.

iOS 4 now has multitasking, and MotionX supports multitasking. I can easily jump out of the app and do other things on my phone and it will continue to tell me where to go. iOS 4 also includes a portrait-locking mode to keep the screen from rotating when you turn it. I love this feature of the new OS, but MotionX GPS Drive is one app that looks better in landscape mode. It still works in portrait mode, but the map and directions feel cramped.

This app has received very positive reviews. Definitely give it a try. It is the probably the cheapest professional voice navigation app on the iPhone, to my knowledge. If you have an Android phone, you’re probably snickering, as Android phones include free navigation software from Google. I am quite aware of this. If you have an Android phone, then congratulations. If you have an iPhone, get MotionX GPS Drive.

MotionX GPS Drive

AT&T myWireless iPhone App

If you are an iPhone user today in the United States, then you are by default on AT&T. Therefore, every iPhone user should download the AT&T myWireless Mobile app. You can not only use the app to monitor your voice and data usage, but also view and pay your bill with your phone. You can also change your plan and features from right within the app.

AT&T myWireless App

Opera Mini For iPhone

To my shock and amazement, Apple actually approved the Opera Mini web browser for the iPhone. It was such an event, I had to download it and give it a try. Let me begin by saying that I have never been a fan of Opera on any operating system. I’ve practically never heard of anyone who actually uses it. Opera’s market share is near zero. How they manage to continue development is somewhat baffling.

Opera Mini is touting faster speeds and more features over the built-in Safari browser for the iPhone. That said, I don’t see any speed improvement in my experience. As for the extra features (such as tabbed browsing), they all serve to make the Opera interface look too cluttered. There are simply too many buttons, options, bells and whistles. It looks as if they tried to cram all of the features of a desktop application into an iPhone app. For me, that strategy just doesn’t work for a mobile device. The screen real estate for the actual web page is cut in half by all of Opera’s interface clutter.

I applaud Apple for relaxing their tight grip on third-party web browsers. If you’re interested in Opera Mini, then by all means, give it a try. As for me, I’m going to stick with the ease and simplicity of Safari. Any speed increase for Opera is negated by the fact that I hardly ever use a web browser on my iPhone to begin with. On the whole, I honestly don’t see use in Opera taking off for any platform. I doubt Apple does either, which is probably why they accepted the app in the first place.

Choose Your WiFi Channel Wisely

If you are running a WiFi network in your home, pay attention to the channel number on your wireless frequency. Most (if not all) routers are set to channel number 6 by default. There are 11 possible channels to choose from. If you are broadcasting WiFi in an area that has a lot of networks, you could be having problems with interference if several networks are broadcasting on the same channel.

If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, I have an easy way to find which channels your neighbors are using. Grab the app WiFiFoFum and see all channels which are in use in your WiFi area. I love this app. It is extremely helpful in many ways beyond this single example. I highly recommend it. I’m sure desktop solutions are available, but I prefer using my iPhone for portability.

Once you can see a map of channels in use nearby, choose a channel for your network that is not in use by other nearby networks. Technically, each channel number represents a range of frequencies, many of which still overlap each other. To get as far away from other networks in the channel spectrum, choose a channel number that is 5 points away from other networks. For example, if everyone around you uses channel 6, choosing channel 1 or 11 would be best in that case. You won’t always be able to space your network that far from the others, but choosing any number not being used by others would still be helpful. I am providing a link that you can read for more information about this topic.

In addition to wisely choosing your WiFi channel, also make sure you also have renamed your network from the default (such as “linksys”) and have turned on WPA or higher security. For additional security, it is also wise to change the router login/password and disable wireless access to the router setup page.