Habit List: A Sophisticated iOS Habit Tracker

I noted in September that the App Store has seen quite a few habit tracker apps of late.

Why not just use your task management app, you might ask?

Well, one can get tired of seeing the same “Update YNAB” task every day. Or the same “Study Greek” reminder. Habits and tasks aren’t the same per se.

This may be splitting hairs, but since getting past my initial skepticism, I’ve been using one habit tracker or another for much of the fall. The interface of Streaks is unparalleled, and Productive makes a cool sound when you complete a habit.

Habit List, on the other hand, is the most powerful and customizable of the three.

 

Options Galore

 

Habit List takes the cake in what it allows you to do with regard to scheduling your habits. Every potential use I imagined I could accomplish with the app.

You can set up a habit with just about any frequency imaginable, whether certain days or x times per week, and set a reminder. If I want to work out three times a week, I can set up a habit for that, without it having to be the same three days in a given week.

 

Habit Frequency

 

Set Habit Reminder

 

I came to Habit List from another app and could easily backdate edit my habits-in-progress so I didn’t have to start at zero just because I was using a new app. This was unexpected and a great touch.

This also means that if you are completing the habit but forget to track it for a few days, you can easily make the manual adjustment in Habit List.

You can view stats for individual habits, presented in a variety of ways:

 

Calendar Stats

 

Monthly Stats

 

There is no limit (at least that I could find) to the number of habits you can track. So, sure, why not go ahead and add, “Take out trash Friday mornings”?

Here is a look at more app settings:

 

App Settings

 

For Future Updates?

 

Marking the completion of habits in Habit List feels very much like crossing off a list. The interface is exactly that. You swipe your finger across a habit to signify you’ve done it. No filled-in circles, no animations, no sounds. This will be fine for many, but there may also be more aesthetically pleasing user interface options for future updates to explore–whether color changes, distinct habit icons, etc.

Maybe this is draconian or just Pavlovian on my part, but I found myself wanting more from the UI that would give me a sense of satisfaction when crossing off a habit. (I know… what do you want, people cheering??? Well….)

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 

TL;DR: Habit List doesn’t quite have the pretty layout of some other similar apps. But it has the most functionality of any habit tracking app I’ve tried. There are no limits on what you can track, as well as a great degree of flexibility. If you’re serious about tracking some specific habits and don’t mind a minimalist layout, you may have found your app.

Find Habit List in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks who make Habit List for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Alternote: An Alternative to Evernote for Mac

Alternote App IconAlternote is an Evernote client–yes! an Evernote client does exist–for Mac. If you use Evernote and have any level of dissatisfaction, especially with its layout, you should consider Alternote. It may not be a fully suitable replacement for Evernote, though. I explain why in my review below.

 

The Basics

 

As with Evernote, Alternote gives you three panes: the sidebar, the Notes pane, and the editor window with Note content. You can hide the sidebar to have two panes, or go into distraction-free mode, where you simply view the note you’re writing in.

There are some nice font options, as well as the option to get into a visually pleasing Night Mode:

 

Alternote Layout

 

This makes Alternote a much more appealing app for writing on a Mac. If you use Evernote to organize substantial amounts of text (i.e., more than just Web links), you’ll appreciate the look and feel of Alternote.

 

Evaluation

 

You can successfully drag a file or image into a Note in Alternote. What does not work in Alternote is dragging a PDF, for example, into the app to make it its own Note. I hope a future update adds this feature, as I consider it to be somewhat basic Evernote functionality.

Starred NotesYou cannot create Notebook Shortcuts in the left sidebar–which is another big part of how I use Evernote. You can star certain Notes for easy access—and can just drag the Notes into the sidebar to do it–but not Notebooks.

This means Notebooks—especially the few you use most—are a little trickier to navigate in Alternote. You can scroll down the sidebar list, of course, or—what may be quicker—access them via a drop-down menu.

Alternote feels lighter than Evernote, for which I appreciate it, but it’s not necessarily faster or higher-performing. I had expected it would be. On the other hand, if you’re using the Basic Evernote level, you won’t get bombarded in Alternote with a steady stream of upgrade ads!

One nice touch in Alternote is that you can selectively sync your Evernote content.

Alternote SyncThat said, automatic sync maxes out at every 15 minutes in Alternote, which will not be automatic *enough* for some. I was worried when I was writing this review (in Alternote!) and it crashed without having finished a sync. (Alternote is pretty good but still a little buggy on El Cap.) Fortunately my text was still there in Alternote, but I was eager to force a manual sync after that. I’d had some initial sync misses with my initial setup, which a revision had fixed, so hopefully Alternote will sort all this out soon. I haven’t lost any data, however, so you’re safe in using it, for the most part.

The greatest asset in Alternote is its more uncluttered interface, which makes it better than Evernote for just plain writing. If Alternote would improve its sync issues, overall speed, and add other bits of core Evernote functionality, it could easily become your go-to app for managing Evernote.

An Alternote iOS app is in the works and slated for Spring 2016. Get it in the Mac App Store here, and check out the Alternote site here. If you don’t have an Evernote account, I recommend it; learn more here.

 


 

Thanks to the people at Alternote for the app download for the purposes of review.

Blink: An App for “Better Affiliate Links”

File_002 

Words on the Word is barely monetized. I’ve said before that I write the blog for love of the game, i.e., because:

  • it’s a creative outlet for me
  • I enjoy writing
  • I want to help resource others with the best books, biblical commentaries, apps, workflows, music, toys, and so on… whether it be for their parenting, pastoring, or personal enjoyment of life
  • other reasons, probably

In the monetization department, I participate in a couple of affiliate programs, most recently the one through iTunes, where I receive a tiny commision from Apple on any apps or tunes you readers purchase through affiliate links. I think I’m up to $0.70 now!

It’s not impossible to just go and fetch an affiliate link through a Web browser, but John and Owen Voorhees of Squibner LLC have a first-rate app, Blink, that allows you to effortlessly make affiliate links. It works for the App Store (iOS), the Mac App Store (OS X), the iTunes Store (music, videos, etc.), and the iBooks store.

Here’s what it looks like:

 

File_003

 

I find that I mostly use the plain text links, and then copy them over to a writing app (I’m writing this blog post in 1Writer, and yes, that hyperlink was generated via Blink in about two seconds). But Markdown formats are also available.

You can use Blink’s extension to a create a link with your affiliate ID from the App Store itself. In other words, you don’t have to go into Blink and look up the app you’re already viewing in the App Store:

 

File_004

 

They’ve just updated the app, too, to 2.0. Here are the highlights of what’s new:

• Blink now requires iOS 9
• iPad split screen multitasking on supported devices
• External keyboard shortcuts
• Multiple affiliate token support with nicknaming for easy management
• Ability to change geo linking and music settings from Blink’s extension
• Edit links within Blink’s extension
• For apps, view app type and price information within Blink and its extension
• Also view pricing information for music and books in Blink and its extension
• Podcast app support

I don’t use campaign tokens, but those who do will find it easy to manage specific campaign tokens via Blink. Also cool is the App Store view, which you can access from within Blink:

 

File_000

 

The attention to detail is evident in the app, as shown here, for example, when a music search differentiates between Song and Album before you have to click through:

 

File_001

 

You can use multiple affiliate IDs, if you need to.

My sole negative/constructive critique of this app is that I wish there were a way in-app to save searches and/or links you create. This is not insurmountalbe, though, since link generation is so fast.

Pay for Blink once, and you get it for both iPad and iPhone. You’ll probably earn back the $4.99 cost of the app in affiliate links anyway, which will now be quite hassle-free.

Five stars and two emoji thumbs up for this simple, focused, and perfectly executed app. Which, by the way, you can find here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at Squibner for the app download for the purposes of review.

WolframAlpha for iOS

Siri uses parts of Wolfram|Alpha when making computations. I’ve been testing out the stand-alone Wolfram|Alpha app for the last couple months. It’s sophisticated and impressive. Here’s the description from the App Store:

Remember the Star Trek computer? It’s finally happening–with Wolfram|Alpha. Building on 25 years of development led by Stephen Wolfram, Wolfram|Alpha has rapidly become the world’s definitive source for instant expert knowledge and computation.

Across thousands of domains–with more continually added–Wolfram|Alpha uses its vast collection of algorithms and data to compute answers and generate reports for you.

Parts of Wolfram|Alpha are used in the Apple Siri Assistant; this app gives you access to the full power of the Wolfram|Alpha computational knowledge engine.

These categories are included:

  • Math
  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Engineering
  • Astronomy
  • Music
  • Sports
  • Linguistics
  • Socioeconomics
  • And many more

Here’s what it looks like when you open the app:

 

1_opening sceen

 

That extended (and I mean, extended) keyboard tips you off as to its capabilities.

Unfortunately, my very first query did not go so well

 

3_fire 2

 

4_fire 3

 

2_fire 1

 

5_fire 4

 

Maybe that’s a protective measure?

Wolfram Alpha offers a ton of categories, which you can access in browse format, as well as see some display formats to get you going:

 

6_Categories

 

7_Display formats

 

I had much better success with the app after my initial failed foray. How do you play the impossible-to-remember Dbmin6 chord?

 

8_Guitar Chord

 

Who was the tallest person ever? (Now over to the iPhone app.)

 

9_Tallest Person

 

But you can do much more complicated stuff:

 

10_Human Genome

 

Per my wife’s bidding, I looked up the structure of acetone (she already knew it):

 

11_Acetone

 

That’s just scratching the surface. Wolfram|Alpha is like Google meets a super-charged calculator, plus more smarts to boot. It can generate passwords for you, give you tide information, tell you the most popular boy names, and perform lots of other search tasks I haven’t tried yet.

The app has lots of nice little touches, too. You can use the share sheet to export the url link for your query, which you can then access via a Web browser or in-app later on. The app saves your search history, and even allows you to make favorites, so you can quickly access repeated searches.

Find the app (universal for iPad and iPhone) in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the makers of Wolfram|Alpha for the free download for the purposes of review.

Review of WaterField’s External Keyboard Slip Case

Logitech makes an amazingly good external keyboard, the K811, which I reviewed here. At the time I noted:

It would be nice if the keyboard came with a carrying case or simple sleeve, though–you’ll have to figure that one out on your own.

And, boy, did I figure it out! Turns out a San Francisco manufacturer named WaterField makes just such a product: the Keyboard Slip Case. Here’s their description:

Thin is in. The Keyboard Slip Case offers gentle protection in a slim ballistic nylon case with a lightly padded liner. A piping trimmed edge lets you choose to add a splash of bold color, or to stay under the radar with subdued tones. Pack it up and off you go.

I can at last not worry about whether my keyboard keys will pop off inside my messenger bag, and my neighbors and friends can now avoid the unseemly sight of my walking around with an external keyboard in my hand. (I mean, not literally just walking around with it. But going from point A to point B.)

The dimensions are 12″ x 6″ and 3 ounces, perfect for the Apple wireless keyboard and my Logitech model.

To remind you, here’s what the K811 looks like:

 

Image via Logitech
Image via Logitech

 

And now, in its case:

 

Keyboard in Sleeve

 

Pretty awesome, yeah? I know–I’m too excited about a piece of gear, but I use my K811 a lot, and am glad to protect it well.

The inside is protective yet soft:

 

Soft Inside

 

It’s made in San Francisco, so you’re buying a made-in-the-U.S.A. product with WaterField.

There’s even a nice little piece of trim that gives it a slight pop:

 

Trim

 

Here it is next to an iPad:

 

With iPad Air 2

 

The slip case is well constructed, and looks like it perfectly blends being lightweight with protecting your keyboard.

The keyboard fits snugly, so the lack of a closure is no loss. I’d initially wondered about this, but it’s not a problem. And it’s still easy to slide the keyboard in and out. (But if you’re worried, you can get this model.)

My only critique is that the nylon exterior is a little slippery. When carrying around an iPad and notebook and keyboard-in-its-case today, I felt the iPad slip against the keyboard case. So be aware of that so you don’t drop something!

Otherwise, the K811 has found its perfect match. Or as I put it in a six-word review on WaterField’s site:

Just what my external keyboard needed.

WaterField makes a lot of other really cool-looking gear, which you can learn more about here. Find the Keyboard Slip Case here.

 


 

Thanks to WaterField for the product review sample, given to me for purposes of review, but with no expectations or influence on the review’s content.

iA Writer 3, Just Released for iOS and OS X

iA Writer

 

iA Writer is a popular plain-text, Markdown writing app. Perhaps its most salient feature is its simplicity, which it achieves without sacrificing quality. I may be making you fine readers read too many writing and productivity app reviews, so for this one, I’ll just send you the relevant links so you can check out more.

Here‘s iA’s write-up of the app, with lots of details and links. Here it is in the Mac Store, and here it is in the iOS App Store. (They even have an Android version!)

WriteRight: Synonyms (and More) for iOS

You can almost make the iPad your only computing device if you’re a writer. You can certainly make it your primary one, especially if you’ve got a good external keyboard. The multi-tasking option of the upcoming iOS 9 will be another step forward for those who wish to go the iPad-only route.

That said, the built-in operating system does not have a way to fetch synonyms for you. You can tap on a word and select “Define,” but there’s no synonym option.

That’s where WriteRight comes in:

Alt text

What I Like About WriteRight

 

It’s a plain-text, Markdown-enabled writing app. On the one hand, the App Store has a lot of these. On the other hand, it has some unique features. For instance, I click on the gear icon in the extended keyboard, and I see little gear icons above a couple words. Tapping one of those gives me phrase substitution suggestions:

 

phrase substitution

 

The extended keyboard is succinct–just one screen on an iPad in landscape mode. But if you tap on an asterisk, for example, you get multiple Markdown options:

 

Markdown options

 

There’s a handy find-and-replace feature, too, something lacking (or not easily accessible) in other similar apps:

 

Find and replace

 

And, of course, the synonym/antonym feature is a boon to writers. It’s available in both English and Spanish.

 

Synonyms

 

Integration with iCloud and Dropbox is implemented well. And because you’re dealing with Markdown, you can easily work on the same document via Dropbox in WriteRight and many other writing apps. I could finish a document, for example, on Ulysses on my computer, if I wanted to.

The real-time word count (and character count, for that matter) is easy to see and helps with any writing targets you may have.

The app in general feels well-designed. It’s got some nice touches that the regular user will enjoy discovering along the way–like the option to swipe left and right for undo/redo, and a number of other minor features that enhance the writing experience.

 

What I Find Lacking

 

Between Drafts and Editorial and 1Writer, I’ve become used to inline Markdown previews, which WriteRight does not have. It’s not a huge loss, but you do have to be comfortable reading Markdown, or else going back and forth a lot between the Edit and Preview windows, if you want to see what your finished text will look like. The multiple Preview options are nice, but inline Markdown preview in a future revision would be handy. If this is a deal-breaker for you, you might struggle to use WriteRight.

I happen to like the Menlo font, but I sometimes like to write using other fonts–WriteRight doesn’t give you the option to change what font you use in the Edit window, i.e., where you do your writing. You can change font size but not style.

 

That said–even if I’m not jumping to switch to using WriteRight as a primary writing app, its unique features and Cloud-sync capability mean that it has its place as a nice pre-publishing app, to use after I’ve written all my text and before I export and print (or save, or send on to someone). At $2.99, the synonym/antonym and find-and-replace features make it a useful tool in the writer’s tool belt.

Find the app (for iPad and iPhone) in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the makers of WriteRight for the free download for the purposes of review.

MacSparky’s OmniFocus Video Field Guide

OmniFocus

 

Last week I finished watching every minute of David Sparks’s OmniFocus Video Field Guide.

 

OF In Action

 

The video is of professional quality. You don’t even really think about this as you watch, which is a good thing. It is just David Sparks, his OmniFocus (Mac and iOS, excellent explanations, and you.

Sparks covers all of the basics, and then some. You get in-depth tutorials on how to use Due Dates (sparingly!) or Defer Dates, navigating your way through Projects, what Contexts are and how to use them, keeping your Inbox clear, integrating OF with other workflows like email and TextExpander, and much more. From Capture to Review, the Field Guide has it covered.

There are two nice touches that I especially appreciated:

  1. Sparks is funny. You see him working on a project called Flat Earth Manifesto in the video. But he avoids the pitfall that some tech writers get into, which is being overly cute or annoyingly glib. He uses humor perfectly.
  2.  

    Custom Perspectives
     

  3. He shows you some of his unique Custom Perspectives in OF. This alone may be worth the price of the field guide. I have already copied his settings that he shows to set up my own Perspectives like his. Even though I have been using the app for a good while now, and consider myself fairly proficient with it, my productivity with OmniFocus has definitely increased since adding these Perspectives.

 
Chapter Titles
 

As you can see in the above shot, you can navigate by chapter, and scroll through all of them to see a sort of Table of Contents of the whole Field Guide.

Here is a short clip so you can get a feel for the approach and content.

Learning OmniFocus is an investment of time. Some people will balk at spending money to learn how to use the software they already spent good money on. But for $10, with well over two hours of top-notch content, the serious OmniFocus user should get to this field guide as soon as possible. Easily 5/5 stars.

Find it here.

 


 

Thanks to MacSparky/David Sparks, for giving me a download of the Field Guide for this review.

Streaks: Tracking Habits

Icon-1024-Rounded

 

A new breed of task management app seems to be proliferating in the App Store as of late: the habit tracker.

The idea behind a habit-building app is not just to help you cross things off your list, but to actually build the kinds of repetitive practices you’d like to be a part of your everyday life.

Streaks is one such app, and perhaps the one with the most aesthetically pleasing presentation.

 

What I Like About Streaks

 

The first thing to appreciate about Streaks is its layout:

 

home base

 
You can change colors from the default orange to 11 other options:

 
Colors and settings

 
As you complete (or miss) habits, the app makes it easy to access statistics from the main screen with just a tap. Check this out:

 
Some stats
 
More stats
 

The reminders are customizable, so they can be as obtrusive or unobtrusive as you want them to be, depending on what you need to get your habits in place:

 
Alt text
 
Checking off habits is satisfying. You just hold down the circle till it fills in:
 
Alt text
 
If you missed a day, Streaks knows it:
 
Alt text
 
There are a ton of habit icons from which to choose, and they look better than any I’ve seen in other comparable apps (some of which are just icon-less lists):
 
icons
 
more icons
 
yet more icons
 
Setting up habits is quite easy:
 
running habit
 

What I Found Lacking

 

Probably the biggest miss in the app is that there is no way to adjust a habit you forgot to check off more than one day ago. If you missed marking a habit yesterday, you’re all set, but you can’t check off habits you completed two days ago but didn’t note. I lost some streaks this way (at least within the app) when I was on vacation last month. I was completing habits, but not on my phone as often as usual; there’s no way to adjust to get your statistics to reflect such a reality.

I would love for future updates to Streaks to include some sort of sound when you fill in a habit circle. This is just personal preference, though.

Streaks maxes out at six habits that you can be tracking at a time. The developers have a reason for this–it’s hard to maintain more habits than that on a regular basis, but the limitation does not allow for as great user control as some other apps do.

One other lack: you can’t make a habit to do something, say, three times a week, without also having to specify the days. So I can have “Exercise” three times a week, but only if I assign days (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)–I couldn’t set it up for any three days.

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 
Limitations notwithstanding, Streaks is easily one of the three best habit-tracking apps for iOS. It’s clearly designed with the user experience in mind, which makes charting habits through this app fun. As long as you can stay on top of tracking your practices each day, Streaks is a worthy aid in helping establish regular life patterns.

Find Streaks in the App Store here.
 

Thanks to the good folks at Streaks app for the review copy of Streaks, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.