Category Archives: Productivity

Best News Apps for Nexus 7

The Nexus 7 is one of the best devices to read anything on. There are a number of news reading apps for Android. I’m going to rundown three of the best for the Nexus 7: Google Currents, Feedly, and Flipboard.

Google Currents

unnamed_currentsCurrents comes preloaded on the Nexus and is made by Google. It has a minimal design, but still very “Holo” looking. The top half of the home screen is a slide show of top stories of your subscriptions. The bottom is just a grid of icons. Click on one and you get a nice magazine layout, three articles to a page. Of course, this depends on what the author chooses, but that’s what it is for most. Because it’s on Android, it takes advantage of the enormous share menu.

Pros

  • Minimal and clean interface
  • Lots of popular blogs free to subscribe to.
  • Each article is nicely formatted. It’s up to each producer to customize their content, but no matter what each looks nice.
  • Blogs that aren’t featured sources can be added through a search or via your own Google Reader subscriptions.

Cons

  • So far, the only news app that doesn’t organize content by category. Also, compared to the others, it doesn’t easily show top news stories at a quick glance. The slide show it does have isn’t very helpful.
  • Also the only one that doesn’t have a widget. I find those handy, again at a quick glance.

Bottom Line

I really want to like Currents. It’s nice to read, but I feel like I have to go out of my way to even open it. The other apps I reviewed all have easy ways into the app, like widgets and top story filtering. It seems as though Google made the app with big dreams for its future and just forgot about it.

Google Currents on Google Play

Flipboard

unnamedflipboard

If you haven’t heard about this one, I want to know where you’ve been. A practically necessary app for the iPad. It was exclusively available for the Samsung Galaxy SIII then opened up for all Android soon after. I wonder about this: it started as an iPad app, then it was ported to Android for phones. Then it was available for the iPhone. Yet there is no native Android tablet version. Either way it doesn’t look bad on the 7″ screen.

Pros

  • The real reason Flipboard is such an amazing app is that it combines almost every social network you could have (Twitter, Google+, Google Reader, Tumblr, Instagram, more) and pulls the content from links and pictures. Combine that with a beautiful magazine-like flipping gesture and an easy to access “Cover Stories” section.
  • Sizable home screen widget.
  • Curated feed bundles by topic and certain cities.
  • Some podcast feeds.

Cons

  • Inconsistent content viewing. I don’t know what it’s like on an iPad, but since the format was made for a smaller phone screen, the article views are odd. Some sources use the flipping animation. Some just open up a web page within the app. Sometimes the font is small, sometimes big, sometimes serif fonts, sometimes sans.

Bottom Line

I have a love/hate relationship with Flipboard. The design is great and I love seeing all my social feeds in one place. Not to mention the fact that the Facebook integration is so much better than the actual Facebook app. But, for my money (they’re all free), other apps handle news better.

Flipboard on Google Play

Feedly

mobile-homeFeedly is actually a front-end for Google Reader with both a desktop app (via browser addon) and mobile apps. Because it syncs with Google Reader, all the apps sync with each other. The app is simple to use. It takes advantage of gestures and has read later app integration. Pocket is my app of choice. If a link is tapped, it opens up a browser in the app, then an option to de-clutter the web page appears, which allows just text to be read.

Pros

  • Home Screen Widget. The beta version is an improvement, and that should show up in the next update of the app.
  • Web app syncing.
  • Easy to read top/new stories
  • Pre-bundled subscriptions by topic for new users.

Cons

  • It maybe just me, but every so often, the app freezes up and registers a long press without my finger. The long press bookmarks an article. So, afterwards, I have to clean up my Pocket queue.
  • The app also logs me out of my Google account every now and then.

    unnamed

Bottom Line

This is my favorite news reader. I’ve been using Google Reader as my RSS feed reader for years and this app makes it usable and pretty, on both my browser and my device. It has a few annoyances, but the benefits far outweigh them.

Feedly on Google Play

Now, I know I missed some like Google’s actual Google Reader App, Pulse News, and others. If you have a favorite, let me know in the comments.

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Elementary OS Luna Beta 1 Thoughts

First Impressions

I’ve been using the new Elementary OS Luna Beta 1 for the past few days and I have to say I like it.

First things first, it is fast. It’s a simple GTK desktop, but instead of using Gnome Shell, it’s using an in-house desktop environment called Pantheon. Combine that with lightweight native apps, like Midori and Scratch (more below), and a clean and minimal theme, the whole package is responsive, nice looking, and a pleasure to use.

Standout Features

  • Workspace Management – Pantheon is wonderful. It has a toned down take on multiple workspaces. The whole desktop slides up and reveals the spaces. Instead of window thumbnails, just an icon represents windows. Just drag and drop to a new space.
  • Geary (mail app) – I’ve never preferred to use a desktop mail app. Maybe that’s my generation. My first email client was in the web. That said, I think Geary, developed by Yorba, best displays the ideal, uniform look of the default apps. It has one toolbar with nice icons, a side bar with folders, then a split message view. It syncs wonderfully with Gmail and the messages are threaded conversations.It also displays one of my gripes. There aren’t enough settings to make me comfortable. I understand, taking a page out of the book of Apple, minimal beauty means hiding things. One little menu at the far right doesn’t cut it. I’m not unhappy, I just wouldn’t recommend this OS for a power user who want infinite control over every little detail of their desktop. Moving one.
  • Scratch (text editor) – It wouldn’t take one long to notice that Elementary OS is without a word processor, spreadsheet creator or other office suite software. (Obviously not counting email and a calendar). And that’s ok with me. Yeah, I can install one, but I’d rather use Google Drive as I have for years.Elementary OS does have a very nice text editor, built for Elementary. So far, it’s my favorite text editing app. My favorite feature is automatic saving and a very simple version restore. It may be too underpowered for a programmer, but for a writer like myself, it’s more than enough to make me happy. Every document I type is automatically saved to my Dropbox folder and that folder is automatically synced up to the cloud. I don’t have to think about it. I wrote this article in it.

Complaints

I really want to like Midori, the default web browser. It’s basically a Safari clone for GNOME. It’s been around forever, uses Webkit, it’s lightweight and all around decent. But I’ve gotten so used to addons and syncing features of both Chrome and Firefox that being without those seems like such a step back in time. Also, unless my internet was sufficiently fast, Midori would freeze up then crash.

That also mirrors my sentiments toward Noise, the music player. It’s a very simple and nice looking app (if not a little too iTunesy, ahem). I had trouble importing certain songs. It would just hang, then they wouldn’t be in the library. Then again, I use Google Play Music for all my music, then there’s VLC for everything else.

My other problems are simply nit-picking over the interface. Most of the default apps follow a nice consistency: gray top toolbar, settings gear on the right. Apps like Shotwell (also made by Yorba) don’t follow this. For the most part it doesn’t matter, but people will notice. Yet, I don’t know how this can be fixed. When Ubuntu tried a global menu bar, like OS X has, it was very controversial. Hopefully these guys can figure it out.

I also installed a different icon theme. The default is nice, but certain themes use monochrome icons on the toolbar and it just looks nicer.

Final Thoughts

For a Beta, Luna is very solid. I have yet to be rendered with a useless machine. There have been a few crashes here and there, but overall the good far outweighs the bad. That being, again, fast.

Yet, here’s my worry. Luna has been in the making for a year and a half. The first version of Elementary OS “Jupiter” was released March 2011. And this is only the beta.

They’ve been following the philosophy release “when it’s ready.” That’s great for perfectionists, but when it comes down to it, deadlines are better motivators than perfection. As a user, I hope I’m not stuck waiting for the next thing. Then I would start to question if it was worth it.

Get back to me on that question when the final version drops.
Elementary OS Luna Beta 1

Update: A reader pointed out an error, which I fixed, and I also wanted to point out that the window manager is called Gala.

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Any.DO – Android App Pick

Basically, it’s a simple to do list with a clean interface, easy to read font. It syncs with a Chrome extension and Google Tasks it also regularly saves a back up of all your tasks in case of accidents.

Using it is, again, simple. Start typing in the top bar to add a task, or use Android’s voice dictation. As you type, Any.DO drops down suggestions to auto complete your task.

Long tap to move, swipe right to “check” a task, left to “un-check.” Shake to clear completed tasks (gimmicky). Note, there is a small bug. When you move the task, it drops to the folder above it. There is an option in the note menu to change folder by hand.

Tasks are sorted either by date or folder. You can select an app as a priority and that adds a red bar. When you set a due date and time, a pop up reminder, not a native notification appears.

I love it. Design and simplicity are front and center. It is also available on the iPhone and, coming soon, a web app.

Any.DO www.any.do

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Paper Wallet

Another thing I use:

Paper Wallet by theRIAA on Instructables.com

Simple instructions to make a wallet that uses one letter sized piece of paper. Filled with cards and cash, it’s still slimmer than an empty bi-fold leather wallet. Best part is it’s virtually free. When it falls apart (and it will), a new one can be made in about 5 minutes.

 

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A Few WebApps I Use to Stay Productive

To be honest, for the past few months, unless it has a specific function for work (like Photo editing, sound editing, etc) or sit as a system applet or accessory (like Dropbox) I rarely touch any of the apps I have installed. Anything I do or use is with and/or through Firefox, but I might be switching to Chrome in the near future. Here’s a list of some of the WebApps I use on a regular basis to help keep me  productive or just for fun.

  • MyFav.es – a speed dial I have set as my home/new tab page. Once logged in from any browser, you get a grid of icons in a clean interface.
  • Feedly.com – technically an addon for Firefox/Chrome/Safari (with mobile apps). It syncs Google Reader subscriptions into a beautiful, minimal magazine-like interface.
  • Google Music – I haven’t touch my media player since I signed up for this.
  • Evernote – Along with Clearly, handy for saving articles for later reading.
  • Mint.com – saves me from going into debt
  • Wunderlist/Wunderkit – Wunderlist is a slick, mac-ish to do list while wunderkit (in beta) is a social task/project manager allowing for collaboration.
  • The Color Clock – Simple clock that displays the time as a Hexidecimal color value.

UPDATE – Google Music is Now Google Play

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My desktop as of now Pt 1

This is the start of a series on how I never can keep my desktop the same way for more than a month.

I’m currently using the Equinox Evolution Dawn GTK theme w/matching metacity window borders.

There’s my Banshee music player.

A close up of my Docky dock.

My 4 workspaces in Expo. I have AbiWord, Inkscape, GThumb, and Gnome Activity Journal open.

A close up on the window borders with Nautilus Elementary open.

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Wilhelm Scream

The “Wilhelm Scream” is a famous inside joke of a sort among sound designers and editors in movies. It is used often in the Star Wars and Indiana Jones series’s. Now you can use it on your phone. But, you have to throw it in the air. So be careful.

It’s good for a laugh, but to be honest, you might uninstall it in about a week. I won’t, but you might.

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