Alto’s Adventure, Reviewed (and Currently $0.99)

I don’t know what your New Year’s Resolutions are, but if one of them is to play more video games (uh…), you should start with Alto’s Adventure.

Four traits especially stand out that make the game enjoyable:

    1. The graphics are gorgeous.
    2. The music is excellent–it evokes the old Final Fantasy scores, but sounds more like 2015.
    3. Playing it is really relaxing.
    4. Being a flipping snowboarder (especially if you can’t do it in real life) is fun.

It’s what reviewers call an “endless runner” game, which means you could go a gazillion meters on your run with Alto, which of course you never will, since you’ll hit a rock or get knocked down by an elder or fall into a ravine or ____ first.

But that won’t keep you from tapping “Play Again” multiple times.

The main stat to go for is “distance travelled.” But you can boost your trick store through a series of bunting grinds, flips, and the like. There are coins to collect (with magnets to help!), llamas to chase, and chasms to jump.

Here’s the score screen (for all images in this post, click to enlarge):

 

Score Screen

 

And a couple looks at the game:

 

Paz Daytime

 

The background changes from sunny and clear to dark and rainy, which adds a level of challenge (and fun) to the gameplay:

 

Raining at Night

 

In the Air

 

In the Air 2

 

If you accomplish three goals (smash three rocks, land two triple flips in one run, and so on), you move up a level. Move up enough levels and you unlock new characters:

 

New Player Paz

 

You can use your coins to buy workshop items:

 

Workshop Items

 

The gameplay is smooth and responsive. (Though flying with the wingsuit is tricky.) You only have to tap to jump, so the controls are easy enough to learn, but staying up for a long run is no easy feat.

Alto’s Adventure is currently $0.99 (on sale) at the App Store. It’s easily one of the best games for iOS.

 


 

Thanks to the makers of Alto’s Adventure for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

1Writer: The Best Text Editor (and Blogging App!) for iOS

1Writer Icon

 

1Writer has been living in both my iPhone and iPad docks for a number of months now. It’s high time I wrote a proper review! It’s easily my favorite text editing app for iOS.

 

About 1Writer

 

Here’s a paragraph description of the app from the 1Writer site:

1Writer provides a distraction free writing environment. You can create and edit plain text or Markdown files. It does have many features including inline Markdown preview, word count, dark theme, TextExpander support, insert photo, an extra keyboard row, and many more. The extra keyboard row is a convenient row of buttons for navigation, formatting, special characters and actions. See the formatted results with inline Markdown preview while you write and a full, rich-text preview when you’re done.

My favorite feature is its ability to insert images right from an iOS device, making it the first iOS app I’ve found that is actually suitable for blogging.

 

1Writer: The Pros

 

Sync

Whether you want to use Dropbox or iCloud, 1Writer has excellent syncing capabilities. I have a couple Dropbox folders I sync to 1Writer, which is now where I keep blog post drafts. I can update a document from iPhone or iPad–or even use a Mac to update a draft with an OS X Markdown app.

 

Images!!!

You can blog from 1Writer. It has been surprisingly difficult to find an iOS app that can do this well, including WordPress’s native blogging app. One downside is that you can’t resize the images once you insert them into the post, so it’s still not as flexible as blogging with images through the WordPress Web interface on OS X. The fastidious among us may want to double-check layout in WordPress itself before posting anyway, so this is not a deal-breaker, if not ideal.

 

Works Great with an External Keyboard

You can type CMD-B for bold and CMD-I for italics, and it both inserts the markdown markup and shows you the inline preview. Not even Editorial can do this. You can also insert links with a keyboard shortcut.

 

Built-in Web Browser

Because 1Writer has a built in Web browser, you can search for images without even leaving the app, and then insert them into your document. There is also a really nice hyperlinking functionality, and you don’t have to leave 1Writer to find a link you want to include in a document or Web post. One especially nice touch is once you’ve got a link copied, the hyperlink button gives you the pop-up option of just pasting the clipboard contents (your link), so you can save a tap there.

 

Built-in Web Browser

 

Great-Looking Interface

The interface is easy to look at for a long time when writing:

 

1Writer Text

 

Tagging System

1Writer has a built-in tagging system, so you can even more easily organize your documents.

 

Tags 1

 

Tags 2

 

Actions

Like Drafts 4, 1Writer has a number of actions you can perform on your text. Whether you want to use a pre-installed action to export your document as plain text or PDF, or install something from the 1Writer action directory, there’s not much missing here.

 

Actions

 

My personal favorite action is “Jump to Section,” which allows you to navigate by headings. This is especially useful for long documents where you quickly want to go between sections. The interface of this feature is not quite as smooth as Editorial’s similar function, but it still gets the job done.

 

iOS9-Ready

Speaking of Editorial… that’s a fine app, but it’s still not iOS9-ready. 1Writer is, so you can utilize Slide Over and Split View functions.

 

Customizable Keyboard Row

There’s an extra, customizable keyboard row–including the ability to assign a character or even action to a button.

 

Top-Notch Developer

The developer is amazingly responsive. He totally knows what he’s doing, and has built an excellent app already. Insofar as there are small, desired improvements, he takes feedback seriously.

 

1Writer: Just a Few Minor Drawbacks

 

The built-in Web browser does not allow for multi-tabbed browsing. I found this to be a limitation, though since iOS9, when I want to search the Web, I tend to do it via Safari in Split View with 1Writer open separately anyway.

Another drawback: you can’t sync actions between devices. You have to manually set this up in any iOS device you use. Documents themselves sync perfectly, of course, just not these custom actions.

 

Concluding Evaluation

 

There are people who swear by Drafts (I am one!) and Editorial (there’s a lot to like about that app). But 1Writer is exceedingly underrated. (Though that may change now that Viticci reviewed it!) If you’re a blogger, especially, this is the app that will finally allow you to blog from your iOS device.

It’s (no question) the best thing on iOS for bloggers. And maybe even the best note-taking app, too.

You can find it in the App Store here. And, yes, I did write much of this post in 1Writer, exported the Markdown to HTML (from 1Writer), and then published.

 


 

Thanks to 1Writer for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

Task Management via The Hit List

Viticci put it well: “There’s only one thing I like more than switching todo apps: writing about it.” My 2Do review is much shorter than his, but I resonate with his sentiment.

That might explain why today I give you a review of another worthy task management app: The Hit List.

 

What I Like About The Hit List

 

THL for iPhone icon 512@2xThe Hit List is much more robust than Apple’s native Reminders app. Its proprietary Sync Service is fast, and keeps your tasks and lists updated across Mac, iPad, iPhone, and Watch (depending on what you have).

Perhaps the most noteworthy feature is the extensive system of one-stroke keyboard shortcuts on the Mac app. You can do just about anything without having to move your hand to the mouse. And The Hit List (hereafter THL) comes with a nice built-in tutorial to get you going:

 

Learn THL
(click image to enlarge)

 

The Mac layout doesn’t totally match the rest of El Capitan, but I don’t mind that at all. I especially like that you can have multiple lists open at once–in one window–as various tabs. This mirrors how we browse the Web, yet out of all the task management apps I’ve tried, THL is the only one to incorporate it.

 

Mac_Multiple tabs
Tabbed task management! (click to enlarge)

 

It’s a really nice touch, especially if you are actually working on a few projects at once and want to be able to close tabs as you go. Or if you want to toggle between your time-sensitive “Today” tasks and other projects.

The tagging system on all platforms is neat. By typing “task /tag” you automatically can tag a task. It then shows up in a different color on the task entry line and puts itself into the right tag.

You can give sub-tasks to tasks, which is often what happens in real life! Our tasks turn into a series of sub-tasks, too. Of course you could just separate a multi-task task into its own project, but the ability to rapidly enter sub-tasks is great.

Probably my favorite part about THL is its task timing integration. Yes, you read that right. You can both assign estimated time to tasks, as well as track it! It’s not as robust as a dedicated time tracking software–you can’t get to-the-minute readouts of your day. But it’s a pretty sweet feature on the Mac app.

 

Time Estimates

 

Counting Clock

 

The iPad app just came out, and it’s got Slide Over and Split Screen support right out of the box. It’s very cool to finally see THL on a bigger screen. (The iPad app is lacking in any external keyboard shortcuts however; future updates should add these in.)

 

What I Found Lacking in THL

 

1. No Save+.

 

Rapid-fire brain dumping is tricky in THL. Well, it’s not impossible, but on iOS there’s no Save+ button so you can just add a bunch of tasks at once without multiple taps. Keyboard shortcuts make it quick on the Mac app, though.

 

2. You can’t email a task to the app.

 

It continues to perplex me that this is not standard issue in a task management app. I don’t know… maybe it’s just hard to implement. In THL there is no way to convert or forward emails to tasks from wherever you are. Evernote and OmniFocus allow this, as will 2Do soon. This functionality is essential to me in a task management app.

 

3. The iOS app isn’t as configurable as one might like.

 

The criticism that you have to understand the app on its own terms often gets leveled toward OmniFocus, but I experienced some confusion in THL with the “Today” list. Support was outstanding in helping me to understand it (which I do now), but the Today list shows all your tasks that start today. You can’t adjust it to show just your tasks that are due today, which feels to me a more natural way to use it. You can’t even really trick Today into doing what you want, since a task with no start date that is due tomorrow still pops up in Today.

On the iOS app, there are few settings you can configure:

 

iOS Settings

 

THL also sort of forces you (if you’re going to use the app) into its Inbox–Today–Upcoming logic. (These three “hit lists” give the app its name.) This could be a limitation for some. That way of setting up things, to which you can add your own lists, appeals to me, so it’s fine. On Mac you could create a “Due Today” smart list, so there is flexibility in that regard.

 

Three Lists

 

4. You can’t attach anything to tasks in iOS.

 

There is no way (whether in iOS or OS X) to attach photos or files to an item. It’s hard to envision a week where there isn’t at least one time when I want to take a picture of something as a reminder or attach a .pdf I need to complete a task. You can link to actual files on a desktop with the THL Mac app, but that’s not the same as attaching the file to the task, so the file doesn’t show up on iOS (just an error message). There’s a notes field, so you can leave additional text, but attachments aren’t really a working feature in THL.

 

Concluding Thoughts and How to Get THL

 

There’s more to say, of course. The Today widget and Share extension features in iOS work nicely. The layout and interface of the apps is executed well on all platforms. It runs really smoothly, and looks great in its new iPad incarnation. Smart lists can help you customize your experience. Recurring tasks are easy to set up. You can quickly swipe a task on iOS to change the due date or move it to a different list and folder.

This is a little thing, but I think my favorite thing about the app is the sound effect that goes off when you complete a task. I wish every app had that option! It’s like a little “congratulations!” every time you get something done. Very satisfying to hear that tone.

Their support is excellent, too. THL even made a feature addition that I had requested–the ability to drag handles to reorder task lists on iOS.

Okay, okay, one more nice little touch: the icon for note detail attached to a task is excellent. Just by looking at a task, you can tell if there’s an associated note. Similarly, a number icon shows you how many sub-tasks are connected to a task. Thoughtful design, for sure.

To sum up: the sound effects on iOS, tabbed list views on OS X, and integrated time tracking set THL apart from other apps, so if those appeal to you, this might be your app of choice. Lack of email integration makes it hard for me to think about switching to THL as my go-to task management app, but perhaps future updates will add that feature. Overall, THL is at least on par with Things and certainly an option one could consider alongside 2Do and OmniFocus.

You can find the app here (OS X) and here (iOS).

 


 

Thanks so much to the makers of The Hit List for giving me a download in iOS and OS X for the review. Check out the Karelia Software site here.

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.