…And we’re back! After dealing with several complicated, multi-syllable words that roughly translate to “cold and flu,” we are primed and ready to give you the Showdown that you all richly deserve. So sit back, relax, and enjoy this no holds barred critical extravaganza. We begin our journey with the iPhone.
Category #1: iPhone Apps
App #1: TuneWiki
Company: TuneWiki Ltd.
Function: Media database
First Impression: “What is this exactly?”
Positives: It’s an interesting way to add both lyrics and a social element to your music without spending a ton of money.
Negatives: Available lyrics are hit or miss.
App #2: Bing Mobile
Function: Search portal
First Impression: “It’s Bing! On a phone!”
Positives: It searches.
Negatives: Aside from the traditional search capabilities and the movie guide, nothing else seems to be working at the moment. The map, for example, had a hard time finding any address we typed in, including our current location.
App #3: RedLaser
Company: Occipital, LLC
Function: Barcode scanner/price guide
First Impression: “It doesn’t scan my [Little Debbie] Zebra Cakes. Does this mean that I can’t buy Zebra Cakes online?”
Positives: It worked on everything we tried, from an old WCW wrestling VHS tape to an unopened box of Pucca chocolate candies.
Negatives: …And despite it all, it still will not find our darn Zebra Cakes.
App #4: AccuWeather
Company: AccuWeather, Inc.
First Impression: “Yay … weather.”
Positives: It gives you a full fifteen days of weather. The Weather Channel app only gives you ten.
Negatives: It takes forever for the maps to load.
Overall: 7; Work out the speed issues, and then we’ll talk.
App #5: Pocket Tunes Radio
Company: NormSoft, Inc.
Function: Streaming audio
First Impression: “Just how many stations are available, exactly?”
Positives: If it’s an online radio station, then there’s a good chance that it’s listed here. It isn’t limited to traditional stations, either. Online feeds, Sirius and XM feeds (both the US and Canada), even a few select HD radio outlets are available, most at multiple bit rates. You can also record — yes, you heard us right — the song or station of your choice.
Negatives: The elevated price point ($6.99) might be a bit much for the casual radio fan to swallow.
Overall: 8; When you think about it, $6.99 for pretty much every station available online is a damn fine deal.
Category #2: Traditional Software
App #6: Orb
Company: Orb Networks
Function: Media streaming
First Impression: “Ah … Orb! I like Orb.”
Positives: Syncing your media to the device of your choice — all major video game consoles, other computers, most major cell phones including iPhones and Windows Mobile, certain brands of televisions, and so on in that fashion — is surprisingly simple. Most major file types are supported, as are most well-known operating systems. (We currently have it running on a homemade Windows Home Server system, for example.)
Negatives: The program tended to shut off from time to time on the Windows Home Server computer mentioned above. While that might seem like a horrible flaw, you have to keep in mind that Orb wasn’t necessarily designed for a “specialized OS” like Home Server.
Overall: 9; You know you have a great product on your hands when the biggest complaint levied against it involves an unsupported operating system.
App #7: Jarte
Company: Carolina Road Software
Function: Word Processor
First Impression: “It’s based upon Wordpad? That’s odd…”
Positives: It’s like Notepad, only with tabs and image support.
Negatives: The “click-free” button design leaves much to be desired. It might have seemed like a good idea on paper, but it really doesn’t work as well as it should.
Overall: 7; Replacement for Word? No. Replacement for Notepad? Definitely.
App #8: Pixia
Company: Isao Maruoka/Tacmi Company
Function: Graphics editor
First Impression: “Hey! It has its own [Wacom] tablet settings built in!”
Positives: One word: Tools. There are tools available here that are usually only found on “paid” — and insanely expensive — programs like Photoshop and Corel Draw.
Negatives: The Japanese to English translations aren’t perfect. A few of the menus still contain an odd Kanji character or two, and some of the tools aren’t explained all that well.
Overall: 9; “It’s surprisingly good.”
App #9: K-Multimedia Player
Company: Pandora TV
Function: Multimedia player
First Impression: “Why are there so many setup screens?”
Positives: Unlike most media players, KMPlayer is more concerned with your hardware than it is with anything else. By being so obsessed with your system, it can give you the absolute best settings at any given moment. While the menus themselves are rather difficult to navigate through, the end result makes it more than worth it.
Negatives: Those who dislike setup menus like the ones mentioned above should avoid this program like the plague.
Overall: 8; For media enthusiasts only.
App #10: EditGrid
Company: Team and Concepts Limited
First Impression: “[It seems as if] both the personal and business editions are free. That’s interesting…”
Positives: It’s Excel, only with a few added “collaborative” features.
Negatives: It’s Excel, only with a few added “collaborative” features.
Category #3: Let’s Get Social
App #11: Mail.Ru Agent
Function: email/instant messaging
First Impression: “Oh … It’s in Russian!”
Positives: This app does it all — email, instant messaging, Voice over IP phone calls, even text messaging — with a minimal amount of effort.
Negatives: …Provided that you know conversational Russian, that is. Even with English set as the primary language, we ran across way too many Cyrillic characters.
Overall: 9 (For those fluent in Russians); 6 (for everyone else)
App #12: Duck Duck Go
Company: Duck Duck Go, Inc
Function: Search engine/wiki
First Impression: “Cute … and full of duck puns!”
Positives: Instead of providing the traditional “preview,” Duck Duck Go provides the user with a detailed “abstract” of the website in question. Not only does this make searching easier, it sets the fledgling engine apart from the competition.
Negatives: It’s not for everyone. Either you like this sort of thing, or you don’t. It’s as simple as that.
App #13: Gawkk
Function: Social video
First Impression: “It’s Digg, but with videos instead of articles.”
Positives: If you like “social news” portals like Digg and Reddit, then this is the site for you.
Negatives: Not everyone is a fan of the social sites mentioned above.
App #14: Pivotal Tracker
Company: Pivotal Labs
Function: Project tracker
First Impression: “Ogranization … woo.”
Positives: This is the one program that makes organization fun. It truly has it all — easy to use layouts, online collaboration tools, even a blog that literally begs people to hack its API.
Negatives: It’s new. Because of this, not all of the kinks have been worked out of the system, as they say.
App #15: Google Living Stories
Company: Google Labs
Function: News reader
First Impression: “I am not familiar with the thing that I am seeing.”
Positives: The “time line” the accompanies each news story is a nice touch.
Negatives: At the time of this writing, the only newspapers available are the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Overall: 5 (At the moment. at any rate.)
Best in Show: Pixia. A program this nice usually costs a small fortune.
Final Thoughts: …And there you have it. Until Monday, we bid thee a fond adieu.