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Archos Internet Tablet 101: very interesting…

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[I am adding a note here to clarify right up front: I am not a power user. As stated below, my main purpose for this tablet is displaying images from my SmugMug galleries, showing an occasional video, playing music, working email and my twitter and facebook accounts, reading a bit, and general messing around on the internet. I do not play games. If your usage is going to be more intense than that, then your conclusions may well be different than mine. That said…]

Though, as you know if you read this blog, I am convinced iPhone user (4), I have, so far, been able to resist the iPad. I have had one to play with for several weeks on two different occasions (to facilitate app reviews) and it simply does not do enough, in my opinion, beyond the iPhone to justify a minimum investment of $500.

That does not mean, though, that I don’t suffer, in this pre-CES season of tablet fever, a certain amount of tablet envy. And there are a few specific things I could use a tablet for where neither my iPhone or my laptop will do as well.

For one, I travel to a variety of birding destinations each year, and do a lot of photography and videography. It would be excellent to have a device that could easily display what I had shot that day for folks I meet, without having to fire up the laptop. And, of course, web surfing, while possible on the iPhone (and actually quite good by any reasonable comparison) would obviously be better and easier on a larger screen. (Oh bananas, lets be honest, almost anything beyond making a phone call would be easier on a bigger screen.)

The difficulty, as you know if you have been paying attention to tablet fever this year, is that there are not many good alternatives to the iPad out there. There have a slew of Android tablet introductions and announcements over the past 6 months, but the actual products that have made it to market range from disappointing at the lower price end (most are truly cheap China iPad knock-offs)…to just as expensive as an iPad at the somewhat more satisfying end (the Samsung Galaxy Tab). CES may see some movement here, but my feeling is that devices that have anything like the performance of an iPad are going to be priced at least in the same range as the (so far disappointing) Viewsonic G…$400 plus…or at the iPad level (Galaxy Tab), and the under $300 offerings are going to continue to be poorly designed toys with marginal performance.

Which is what makes the new Generation 8 Internet Tablets from Archos stand out. The Archos 70 and the Archos 101 are particularly attractive iPad alternatives. They share the same relatively powerful ARM 8 processor running at a gigahertz, Open GL graphics acceleration, and both have been upgraded to Android 2.2 lately. With a simple hack (provided by a passionate Archos fan), you can have the full Android Market, and all the Google apps. And this from a company that has been making touch screen multimedia players for many years, and internet tablets for several…a company that has shown itself to be responsive to customer needs, and which has fan community that is just as passionate, if not as large, as the Apple folks.

It was the last two factors, actually, that convinced me to order a 101, one Saturday when they had them in stock for about 4 hours on the Archos.com web-store. Some of the China Pads look like they could be made to work, especially for my purposes, and they are considerably less expensive, but you have absolutely no assurance of on-going support. Android is a moving target, with frequent version upgrades (2.2 is just out, and already folks are readying 2.3 upgrades) and with each upgrade someone has to design custom firmware for your particular machine. I have confidence, based on history, that Archos intends to keep up. And, with the active fan community, you are not totally reliant on the company at that…a visit to the ArchosFans forums is vastly reassuring to the potential buyer…or at least is was to this potential Archos owner.

And a word about the obvious differences between Android and iOS. Android is clearly not as polished or as tablet ready as iOS, which Apple tweaked specifically with the iPad in mind. However, as mentioned above, Android is an open source operating system in rapid development, and stands to make significant tablet related gains over the next few upgrades. Then too, it is an open source, open system, vastly different than Apple’s closed system. You can customize and adapt to heart’s content. And, given the fanatical Android development community, if you can conceive of an improvement to your user experience on an Android machine, someone has probably anticipated you, and there is already an app for that. As I will detail further in, I have already replaced the stock Android keyboard, the home screen/app launcher, the stock internet browser, and the Gallery and twitter client supplied by Archos, etc. etc. It is easy, and it certainly appeals to my inner geek!

Don’t get me wrong. It is not that the out of the box Archos experience would not be satisfying to most people…I think it would be…it is just that it can easily be improved. To put it another way, those looking for a first internet tablet experience at less than the cost of an iPad are likely to be satisfied, out of the box, with the Archos gen8 machines. If your expectations have already been colored by some exposure to the iPad, and you are hoping for iPad like performance or better, then you will need to make a few changes to the basic user experience by installing the Market hack, and switching out or replacing some apps, and adding others…but, given the will, in very short order, in my opinion, you will have an internet tablet experience that rivals that of the iPad, for just over half the price.

You can have all the fun of customization, or you can be guided by my experiences…which I will detail later on.

First a few notes about the machine itself. Build quality is very good, a mixture of metal, plastic, and glass, but clearly not up the quality of the iPad. Price you pay for the lower price. It feels solid in your hands, but the plastics creak a bit when handled. The capacitive touch screen, full multi-touch, is excellent: As responsive as my iPhone 4, and certainly as responsive as the iPad. The screen is bright and sharp, with a resolution of 1024×600…fully adequate for viewing images or videos. The viewing angles have come in for some criticism on the various forums and review sites, and, while it may be more limited than the iPad, it is, imho, perfectly adequate* for almost any use. The built in kickstand is excellent for adjusting the angle of the screen for maximum quality and ease of use. (Tip…invest in an inexpensive mouse pad and put it under the 101 and kickstand while it is standing…this will make the whole thing much more stable.)  In my experience so far, it handles video up to 720p HD fairly well. The Video player becomes sluggish and unresponsive with large (10 minute) H264 HD, but it plays them fine. It is just difficult to pause or change volume. The only vids I have not been able to play smoothly are the native Motion JPG (.mov) HD files right out of my Canon cameras. The speakers are barely adequate, but actually a cut above most found on laptops.

General performance for applications is pretty snappy. The latest firmware for Android 2.2 (released on December 16th) allows you to set the processor speed and performance to three different levels, including full on 1GHz, and on that setting the 101is as responsive as the iPad or iPhone 4 on most applications.  The one exception is the stock Andriod launcher, which can develop an annoying lag when returning from an app, but that is a software issue and easily fixed by installing any number of free launcher alternatives (more on that later).

Archos is still waiting on Adobe certification of their own Flash 10.1 plugin, but the stock 10.1 from the Market will at least allow most flash based websites to display properly, and will play standard embedded YouTube video fairly well…though it struggles more with HD. (The dedicated YouTube app works fine for any YouTube video I have thrown at it so far.) I check the Archos website daily to see if Flash is ready. No joy so far.

Other really nice hardware touches are the Micro SD card slot for expanding internal storage (up to 32G), the Micro USB port for connecting to your computer and mounting both internal storage and Micro SD if you have one installed, and the standard sized USB host port, which allows you to use USB sticks, Flash Card Readers, and even external drives if they are low power or have their own power supply (I have a feeling even a low power drive would drain the 101 battery pretty fast and might give unreliable performance…but self powered drives should work fine). USB support is a bit spotty in my experience, with mount and unmount issues frequent, but I am learning to work with it for the most part. My general impression is that it is better to unmount from the Archos instead of the computer…and you need to use the Notifier Unmount for the USB host, not the one in the settings panel :).

The 101 also has HDMI out, though I have not experimented with it. Archos claims it is the only implementation that allows you to put the whole Android experience on your HD TV (while using the 101 as a control pad). I am not a gamer, so I can’t say how this works with games, but it does seem an attractive option.

Of course it has an accelerometer and position censor so everything (or most things) auto rotate from landscape to portrait and back, and you can use the devise itself to control many games.

Okay..so lets talk about the apps that transform the 101 from an satisfying Android internet tablet to a superior internet tablet experience.

The first thing to do is to make sure your firmware and version of Android is up to date. Eventually Archos will start shipping units with 2.2 installed, but if you have a unit with 2.1 it should tell you an update is available when you first boot up the machine. If not, go to Settings > About > Firmware Update and initiate the process.

Once 2.2 is installed, you should go online on your computer and find the latest version of gappsinstall.apk. Try ArchosFans.com or the Archos gen8 forum on XDA Developers or just google it. As of this writing, the current version is v5, but the author says v6 is near. Find the latest one. You should find instructions with it, but just in case, download it to your computer, mount the 101 via USB cable to your computer, drag the downloaded file into the top level of your internal storage (as in, in no folder). Unmount your 101 (press Stop USB on the Archos screen) and unplug the USB cable. Using the Files app, find the gppsinstall file, touch it and choose install. Then, find the app itself in your main apps window, and run the app. That will install the latest version of the Market app, and a few other google basics. (You will have access to the majority of apps, but some will still be hidden. There is a fix for that.  More on that later).

The first app I downloaded and installed was GMail. If you use GMail, and especially if you are already addicted to threaded conversations, Google style, there is no point in using the EMail app Archos bundles with the 101.

IMG_8323IMG_8324Since I intend to use the 101 as a photo viewer, the Gallery app got attention next. The stock app is okay, but there are better viewers out there. QuickPic is amazing, very like the photo viewer on iOS, and based on folders, which it automatically locates by contents, even if they are on your expansion Micro SD card. It does everything I need it to do and does it really fast. I like it.

If you use SmugMug for online image storage and viewing, SmugFolio does a good job of automatically downloading your galleries (unattended) and displaying the contents even when you are not on-line. Somehow it stores the images in a fraction of the space the real jpg files would take, so it is practical even if you, as I do, have thousands of images on SmugMug.

You will want the official YouTube app if you do any YouTube at all. As above, it handles any YouTube video with aplomb.

And, while on video, find Adobe Flash Viewer 10.1. it is not optimized for the Archos machines, and eventually Archos will replace it with one that is, but the one in the Market works for now, at least for viewing lower resolution embedded video and your usual flash animations.

Again, the stock Android browser is okay, but there are better browsers out. Dolphin HD is my favorite…fast, tabbed, themed, excellent all around.

It is maybe a matter of taste, but I do not like the stock Android keyboard. The offset space bar drives me crazy. I found Better Keyboard in the Market and downloaded it. It is pretty good, but…

The keyboard you really want is Swiftkey, and you have to do the Market fix mentioned above to find it. Searching for Swiftkey before the fix returns no matches. Here’s how to fix it.

  1. Settings–>Manage Applications–>All–>Market (Clear Cache then ‘Force Stop’ — DO NOT clear data)
  2. Settings–>Manage Applications–>All–>Google Services Framework (Clear data then ‘Force Stop’)
  3. Return to the Home screen.
  4. REBOOT

Once you do these steps, you will find all kinds of previously hidden apps in the Market the next time you run it. I am not sure why, but there it is.

IMG_8321Search for Swiftkey now and at least download the trial version. I ran the trial for about 10 minutes realizing I could not live without it and buying and installing the full version…despite the fact that I had already bought Better Keyboard. (Follow onscreen prompts when you first run Swiftkey to install it as your default keyboard, and download the correct language module for predictions.) Swiftkey fits the 101 screen better…is way easier to type on…has superior prediction…has a much more intelligent number and alternate keys system (you don’t have to shift to number for numbers or other symbol keys…just hold the key down just a bit longer and the secondary character will be entered (ie, hold T down and 5 is entered…hold ? down and ! is entered…it is so IMG_8322brilliant!). If you do shift to numbers, you get a new keyboard with a number pad on one side and symbols on the other…so intelligent! Going a level deeper with the symbol key gives you a full set of left/right/up/down keys to move the cursor around in your text…which is a real blessing for those of us with large finger tips). If you are like me, you will never return to stock!

And speaking of stock…the stock 2.2 launcher/home screen is kind of creaky. It has strange lags and does not always respond as expected. There are better alternatives. The two I tried are Launcher Pro and Zeam, both free apps. Launcher Pro does not quite scale to the 101 screen, probably because of Archos’ use of soft buttons on the right side of the screen. Still it only takes a slight drag to make it align itself. Launcher Pro is, all and all, an improvement over stock, but the one I settled on is Zeam. It uses picsay-1293458954less resources, is slightly faster, and scales to the 101 screen perfectly. I have mine set to a single home screen, since I don’t intend to use many apps, and since most of my common apps fit in the app tray on the right side of the screen (or bottom if you run in portrait…and you are not limited to 5 apps in the tray as you are in LP). Adding actions and widgets is dead easy…I even added the Show Notifications action to my tray, since I will be using it often to unmount USB stuff (as above).

IMG_8325What else? If you have to move large files, you will need a better file manager than the stock Files. I looked for one that had drag and drop…I mean we are a touch machine here…and found ScaliCommander. Despite some luke-warm reviews, it works well, and allows me to drag files from my camera’s SD card in a Card Reader in the USB port to internal storage. Move does not work for files and folders of any size, but Copy does, even for massive Video files. It will also allow you to view the full file system, not just the storage level as the stock app does. You can open folders in multiple panels and literally drag and drop as you do in Windows or the Mac OS. I tried others first, but Scali is the only one that let me copy large files.

Weather apps? Weather Channel, hands down. The most complete display of info by far, including hourly and 10 day forecasts, the ability to turn off GPS (necessary on the 101) and enter locations manually, and three sizes of widget…widgets that don’t hang the machine up on launch when there is not yet a wifi connection (which WeatherBug does…I even took WeatherBug off my laptops, since it gave me lots of trouble there too). Accuweather just won’t run without the GPS. So, despite the fact that Accuweather is in the unfixed market and it requires the fix to find Weather Channel, it is Weather Channel all the way.

The only Facebook app I have tried is the official free one, and it is fine, though I miss the ability to add bookmarked profiles or pages (as you can do in the iPhone version).

picsay-1293459614Archos ships the 101 with the free version of Toutier, which is not bad, except in comparison with the best of the iPhone twitter clients. I liked it well enough to buy the full version, but I soon noticed that is very slow to update the lists on launch compared to other Android clients, especially if have more than one account. I will, by the way, offer an expanded comparison of twitter clients for Android on tablets in the near future, but for now, I tried the official free Twitter inc. app (not well suited to tablet use), the free and Pro versions of Twidroyd (not bad but somehow clunky, reminiscent of the ultra powerful but interface-challenged Twittelator Pro for the iPhone), and finally settled on Tweetcaster Pro…which has, imho, the best mix of features and usability. It is, for instance, the only one to give you unread counts for tweets and replies. There is some funkiness when you first open the app as the splash screen forces portrait…but as soon as that clears the app works fine in landscape on the 101.

Of course I have Hootsuite on there for its unique ability to post, and to schedule future posts, to multiple twitter, facebook, and facebook pages accounts. (With a scroll to top feature Hootsuite could be my full time social media client.)

I downloaded and used Google Reader for a while…but like the web app on the iPhone, GR for Android is just a bit clumsy to use (well, more than a little bit). To read a post, you have to open its folder, then select the feed, or chose all, then select the title, which opens the title alone on a screen, then select the title again to open the post. Not pretty.  If you are reading a post and want to go back to the main menu to open another folder, you have backtrack through way too many screens to get there. The same thing happens when you mark a post or group of posts read…you have to back all the way out to get to another folder. Not pretty and not inspiring.

Though it is relatively expensive, the pro version of NewsRob is everything Google Reader should have been. Easy to use, displays the feeds attractively (much like they appear on the Google Reader web site on the computer), fast, and simple to navigate. NewsRob was designed by someone who must spend considerable time reading feeds, and it shows.

If you are Kindle user, the Kindle app, though it only works in portrait, will allow you to read your Kindle books on the Archos. Nook is also available. What I can see, is using the Archos for reading color books and magazines as they become available…and if you are considering the Nook Color for Christmas, you really might want to check out what $50 more gets you from Archos (though if reading were my primary purpose I would look a the Archos 7o instead of the 101.)

I have found a few more apps which I may review in more detail later on: PicSay Pro is an excellent photo editor, Tripit is its generally elegant self, there are calculators and converters for travelers, etc. etc,

I have only had the Archos 101 Internet Tablet for 4 days now, and I am still figuring the thing out. Besides being my first tablet, it is my first Android device of any kind. There are, apparently, all kinds of hidden features to Android 2.2. It took me 3 days to find the Notification panel (accessible by pulling down the Notification bar at the top of the screen), and someoneon ArchosFans forum (Brownrat, thank you) had to point out the Unmount function of Notifications for USB devices. I don’t think I would have ever have found that. Just a few moments ago I discovered that there is a menu on the main apps page that gives instant access to Manage Apps and Uninstall. I am not sure if that is a feature of Android or of Zeam but it is something I know I will use, now that I know where it is.

Then too, my other primary discovery already is how very, very small the iPhone 4 is :).

Already I can see that the Tablet is going to be an essential part of my internet and social experience. I have a little pay as you go MiFi from Virgin Mobile that should work most places I visit. Makes an ideal companion for the Archos 101.

And I have to say that all those companies who are pinning hopes on an imminent introduction of yet another Android tablet are going to have difficulty matching the functionality, the quality, and value of the Archos gen8 Tablets. Archos has pretty well hit the sweet spot with a combination of powerful hardware; a flexible, adaptable, perfectible, OS and software package; and a price that makes it an easy, almost an impulse, buy.

No wonder no one can keep them in stock.


*Screen angles: there is a lot of discussion of how bad the Archos screen is, with some people getting pretty heated about it, on the forums. The best viewing angle on my screen in landscape mode is about 15 degrees below perpendicular to the surface, which puts the tablet at just about the ideal angle (about 30° to the surface it is resting on) for typing or working with it propped up on its stand on a table. It is also the angle that tablet assumes when held naturally in my hands. Though I lose some contrast when I view from either side of screen I don’t see any significant change in brightness or contrast through an angle of about 60°, 30° on either side of straight on. If I tip the screen back so I am further below the ideal angle, I have an additional 20° before I lose significant contrast. If I tip the screen up toward me, I begin to lose brightness at the bottom edge of the screen almost immediately, but it is usable through about 10°. That amounts to a vertical viewing angle of about 30°. In Portrait mode, the angles are the same, though the ideal angle moves to straight on perpendicular to the screen. That means that I have more angle to the right than I do to the left, with the tablet held normally with the ports up, and lots of room for tipping the screen in the vertical dimension. I could, of course put the more generous angle on the other side by tipping the whole device over. For my use this is “adequate” viewing angle.

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Written by singraham

December 22, 2010 at 4:46 pm

SimplyTweet 3.1: Back at the Top of the Twitter heap!

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Note: as of 5/8 this version is pending review in the App Store. It should be available next week.

Of course, with Tweetie now the property of Twitter, and its first release as the one and only official twitter app for the iPhone impending (simply Twitter for iPhone), there is somewhat of a scramble among twitter client developers to get their apps well positioned to survive the advent. And that is not going to be easy. Tweetie already has one of the richest feature sets of any client, one of the most elegant interfaces, and one of the strongest followings. One wonders what Twitter is going to do to it…but unless they somehow make it worse instead of better, Tweetie as a free Twitter for iPhone is going to be tough competition for any other app.

Still there are two features that Tweetie lacks that have always kept it off my home screen. 1) native push notifications and 2) unread counts and unread marks. I know you can use Boxcar for push, but as I have said before, there is no comparison between well implemented native push and a side-car push experience. They are two different things altogether. Native push is clearly the way to go. (We will have to see what wrinkles multitasking brings to this mix with OS 4.0.) And, personally, I value unread counts and marks. They help to make sense out of my stream, and any help there is appreciated! 🙂

I have used just about all of the feature rich twitter clients, and the one that keeps working its way back on to my home screen is SimplyTweet. It has a simple, elegant UI, all the standard features, and a few still fairly unique features that I use every day. For a while before 3.0 came out, SimplyTweet fell behind the curve in implementing twitter-native retweet and twitter lists. The native retweet thing was critical, since they did not appear in the ST timelines at all. That was awkward. And, while ST had its own list function, it was not integrated in any way with Twitter’s own new lists.

That lead me to an app called Osfoora (see reviews here and here). Osfoora has most of ST’s features (except for push) and is blazingly fast. Excellent app and another app which is rapidly developing. Still I was really waiting for the new release of ST.

SimplyTweet 3.0 was a long time coming because it was a complete rewrite…all but a complete recreation…in essence a whole new app. The UI changes went well beyond 2.5, which was itself a significant upgrade (see review). 3.0 added all the new twitter native stuff, and the engine under the hood was completely reworked.

Unfortunately, because of that, 3.0 was essentially a 1.0 version with a few really awkward UI corners and obvious patches still showing. Though I bought it the day it appeared in the app store, it never did make it to my home screen. (Since it was completely new app from the inside out it was not a free upgrade…though, under protest, the author did lower the price for a time to appease his faithful following. My attitude on this is somewhat different…as it was with Tweetie 2.0. iPhone apps are inexpensive. iPhone app developers, if we expect them to continue developing, have to make some $$ for their efforts. Having to repurchase ST, considering all the work that has gone into it, over past upgrades and in this new version, is only fair. 🙂 Or that’s what I think.)

I have mentioned before that ST’s author, Hwee-Boon Yar, is among the most accessible and responsive of developers. If you check his twitter profile you will see that he has over 10,000 updates…most dealing with his user’s suggestions and concerns. That is impressive.

And SimplyTweet 3.1 shows that he is still listening. He took the suggestions of his users after 3.0 and added the final layer of polish to the UI, finished a few features that were hanging, and managed to speed up the app significantly in 3.1. SimplyTweet is back on my home screen!

Features it retains that I value:

  1. multiple accounts with easy account switching (even while composing a tweet).
  2. native push, with all notification options
  3. load all since last unread (it will load over 1000 tweets first thing in the morning), with tweet counts on the control bar at the bottom, and unread marks in the list
  4. unread marks which disappear as you scroll up the list (tweet count decrements as well)
  5. full TextExpander integration.
  6. repost this tweet function
  7. ability to post multiple images with a single tweet
  8. swipe control for instant access to common functions (and, in the Settings app, you can set which function icons appear when you swipe)
  9. reply to multiple tweets by selecting them a list view (elegant solution for #ff)
  10. reply to author and all mentions function in tweet view
  11. # symbol on the compose screen for quick access, plus your saved hashtag list
  12. easy access to the chain of tweets for @replys, both forward and backward
  13. image search (Twitpics, yFrog, TwitGoo and img.ly)
  14. excellent Profile view which auto loads user’s recent tweets and still has access to the user’s lists, favorites, @replies, tweets between you and the user, followers, followed, etc. etc….and all while still managing not to look too complex.
  15. general look and logic of the UI (it just works the way I need it too)
  16. full screen rotation, in any view
  17. ability to edit the control bar at the bottom and the More screen

New features of 3.0/3.1

  1. native retweets with dual avatar display in timelines
  2. native lists (now in 3.1 with easy access in the control bar if you want to put it there)
  3. hidden control panel in the compose screen for additional functions (url shortner, #s, location, pic upload, etc.)
  4. pull down Compose box to view tweet being replied to (surprisingly handy)
  5. image indicator in list view for tweets with images attached (as a fotog this one is particularly important to me)
  6. thumbnail image preview in tweet view (ditto)
  7. redesigned, single screen, Search interface (takes getting used to but actually works very well)
  8. both search for user and go to user in Search. (may have been in previous versions but I never appreciated it until the redesigned UI)
  9. Tweet translation
  10. Tweet now playing on iPod
  11. cached tweets, so you can read tweets while off-line
  12. general speed enhancements, especially on opening app

What does Simplytweet still lack? (both of these continue to surprise me! but neither is a deal-breaker since they are features I don’t use much)

  1. conversation view of DMs!!! 😦
  2. nearby tweet mapping (it does a list, but there is no indication in the list of the location of the tweeter and no map view 😦 )

I have said it before, and now, with 3.1, I can say it again. SimplyTweet is, in my studied opinion, the best of the currently available Twitter clients for iPhone. Twitter is going to have do something spectacular with Tweetie to even equal it…let alone to better it.

Of course, the real test of twitter apps is yet to come. OS 4.0 is going to be a whole new game, with new potentials and opportunities. Which twitter app will best realize all that 4.0 goodness…that is the real question now!

Lots more screen shots of features mentioned in the text below.

Search screen features: also note the elegant Profile view layout.

Stuff you can do with a tweet:

 

Written by singraham

May 8, 2010 at 6:14 am

Photogene

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photo Everyone pretty much agrees that the iPhone camera, at least through the 3G, was a pretty poor excuse for a camera…and, of course, being the iPhone, that gave rise to a large number of apps for that. One class aimed primarily at overcoming user error…most obviously the inability to hold the iPhone straight or still enough to take a decent picture. Another class attempted to disguise the poor image quality by dressing the pics up with fancy filters and frames and effects…turning a poor image into questionable art. A final class actually attempted to do something about the poor image quality by providing basic editing tools to crop, straighten, adjust exposure, sharpness, color balance, etc.

My favorite of the editing class has always been Photogene. With a recent update to version 2.5 Photogene has, imho, pulled well ahead of the pack.

It always got the basic job done. Now it does it with panache. It always got the job done. Now it does it faster. And, with this version, Photogene moves beyond emailing the pic to contacts: you can now simply and elegantly post direct to Twitter and Facebook from within the app.

(There is also a Photogene specific gallery accessible from the splash page when you open Photogene. You can register for the Hall of Fame and add your images for other Photogene users to enjoy (and to vote on).)

You can take a pic from within the app, or work on one from your Photo Library.

The editing tools are impressive:

  • crop
  • rotate/straighten
  • filter: sharpen/blur, but also Pencil, B&W, Posterize, Sepia, Nightvision, and Heatmap (for a nod to the questionable art class)
  • Levels, Exposure, Saturation, Color temperature, and RGB sliders
  • Cartoon cutouts
  • Frames and effects: a good selection of attractive frame presets, custom, background color, a mirror effect, and vignette.

A simple enumeration of the features like that does not convey the power of the app. You have to take a pic with the phone, and then edit it in Photogene to understand how well designed and how able this little app is. Unless I am pressed for time, I always shot from with Photogene, because I know that I am going to want to sharpen and adjust exposure on just about every pic I take. Photogene makes it easy and does it quickly. And now that it posts directly to Twitter and Facebook…which represents the majority of my iPhone camera usage, it has become even more attractive.

The screen shots below are pretty much self-explanatory and include the features I use the most.

Photogene will not completely overcome the limitations of the iPhone camera, but judicious use of its set of editing tools will make every iPhone photo better, and make the iPhone a viable tool, at least for social network imaging.  What more could you ask?…oh…well, yes, there is already mention of a real 5mp camera in the iPhone 4G…but even so, Apple would have to show more understanding of the way folks use a camera phone than they have so far, or we just have the same image quality at higher pixel count. I have a feeling Photogene will survive Apple’s best attempts at a better camera. And by then we will undoubtedly be at version 3.0 and who know what power will be packed into Photogene by then!

Written by singraham

December 31, 2009 at 5:33 am

Zensify Revisited

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Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr in the same list on the same app: Zensify

Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr in the same list on the same app: Zensify

Back in the Managing Social Aggrivation piece I promised to revisit Zensify periodically to see how it is developing.  Zensify you might remember is the ambitious project and app that, when perfected, will allow you to manage all you social netwooks, from Twitter and Facebook to Flickr and YouTube, from one application on the iPhone.

My major concern first time around was simple speed. It took forever for the your networks to load, and the app was a bit buggy. But then it was a Preview copy…not yet claimed to ready for market.

Today Zensify released v1.2.3, the first without the Preview splashed across the icon. It is indeed faster…much faster…those little coding elves must have really worked their magic on this one…and, so far, it is completely stable.

I really like the way it handles images, from Flickr or from Facebook, putting a group of image thumbs in the same message box and providing you with a little slide show viewer when you open the message. Better by far than any of the dedicated Flickr clients for iPhone.

And in general the interface is attractive an efficient. Of course, the tell-tale empty comment (reply) icon on the Flickr and Facebook pages does indeed tell the tale. You can reply and retweet Twitter posts, but you can only open Facebook and Flickr posts in the built in browser. You can of course, comment fairly easily on Flickr images, since the browser opens the m.flickr.com interface, but commenting on a Facebook update is ardous, since you have to read really really small, or pinch and spread the page to legible size. Slow process too.

You can now post pics to both Twitter and Facebook, and make simultaneous, or single updates to those services too. You can Direct Message your twitter friends. You can retweet a tweet, or twitter a link to Facebook updates and Flickr images (and YouTube videos I presume).

photo 2photo 3photo

And, of course, there is still no ability to really manage your accounts. No follow or friend, block or unfriend, etc.

So, Zensify gets credit for moving forward with an ambitious project. The increased speed (even, by the way, on my 3G with OS 3.0) demonstrates the potential even more clearly. This could be huge. (Provided TweetDeck does not implement the full Facebook API and stays away from Flickr…and that Seesmic for iPhone does not come along and blow them both out of the water.)

I am actually use Zensify as a front end for my Flickr contacts.

And I am watching closely to see where it goes. I am intrigued by those empty comment/reply icons everywhere but Twitter!

Written by singraham

July 9, 2009 at 10:51 am

Managing Social Aggravation on the iPhone and Desktop

with 2 comments

Seesmic Desktop Preview, feedalizer, zensify, Darkslide, Mobile Foto (with Tweetie and TwitterFon thrown in the mix) and a brief encounter with PeopleBrowser.

Seesmic Desktop Preview: Twitter accounts and Facebook in one app.

Seesmic Desktop Preview: Twitter accounts and Facebook in one app.

In this day of multiple social networks and multiple social network personalities, the task of keeping up with your Facepeeps, Tweeps, and Flickr buds can be daunting,  even for the least social.

And then too, many of us are multiple device folks: desktop, laptop, netbook, internet connected smartphone, etc., etc. so we are often tracking our networks from two or three directions at once.

Of course there are several good desktop and iPhone clients for Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr…in various combinations.

My favorite for  Twitter and Facebook is Seesmic Desktop Preview, which handles multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts, updates, replies/comments, friend/news feeds, follow and unfollow on Twitter, and most of the essential features of both sites. It is still a work in progress (it lacks the ability to view your own friend/follow list for instance), but it is excellent already and only stands to get better as it develops.

Recently I discovered zensify on the iPhone. zensify is a social network aggregater  that puts my Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr feeds in the same list on the same app, and allows me to update, reply, comment, etc. on each of them, with more or less ease.

Twitter interaction is pretty good, on a basic level, mimicking closely the functionality of  other iPhone Twitter apps like Tweetie and TwitterFon. You can choose to Reply or Direct Message. You can post images.

zensify: one stop social aggreation for the iPhone

zensify: one stop social aggreation for the iPhone

Flickr interaction is very good also. zensify displays single or multiple new image posts from your contacts list, and at it also captures images with new comments. In cases where there are multiple images opening the viewer provides a slide show effect where you can flip through the offerings. To comment you have to tap the image (lower right corner seems to work best) and the Flickr .m site opens with the image displayed. Commenting is quick and easy and relatively fast.

Facebook interaction is the weakest so far (though there are hints they are not done with this section).  It collects your friend’s status updates just fine, and you can view them the viewer, and like them, but to make a comment (so far) you have to open the friend’s profile in the browser. Awkward.

One good feature is that you can make simultaneous posts to Twitter and Facebook.

Of course, there is a whole layer of functionality provided by dedicated clients for these networks that is missing so far in zensify. You can not view followers/friends, follow or friend, unfollow or block, view friend’s/follower’s timelines, view follower’s followers, see the update that was replied to, etc. etc.

zensify takes a while to aggregate all that information too, and clearly strains the limits of what current iPhone hardware is capable of.

Therefore, wonderful as it is being able to interact with all my important social networks in a single app, zensify will not be replacing Tweetie or TwitterFon for Twitter, or the Facebook app for Facebook until it reaches a more complete level of development (and maybe not until I upgrade to a new iPhone).

But that leaves me without an easy means of keeping up with my flickr account. I can easily fall 400 images behind on my contact’s submissions if I am away from the netbook for more than a few hours!

Darkslide: list view, Mobile Foto: grid view of contact's recent images

Darkslide: list view, Mobile Foto: grid view of contact's recent images

I have had the free, ad supported, version of Darkslide on my iPhone for some time, but never gotten into the habit of using it. After zensify I gave it another try and liked it so well, I ended up buying the paid version.

Darkslide implements the full feature set of Flickr, including image uploads, groups, sets, etc. etc. but for me the best part is that it  gives you quick easy access to your contacts’ recent posts, with an excellent viewer and easy commenting and is just the thing for keeping up with the image flow on the iPhone.

Unfortunately Darkside has two annoying habits. 1) when you reopen it, it stalls and refuses to reload whatever you were viewing last until you manually initiate a reload by tapping, for instance, My Photos if you are in Contacts, and then retapping Contacts. Annoying! Then too, Darkside is evidently working without a parachute (no local cache) so it has to reload everything every time you work with it. That can take a while if you have a lot of contacts, and forever if you have a lot of images yourself. Annoying. (Interestingly there is a Cache size readout in Settings, but it is always blank.) [Note: v 1.6.1 (current in the app store) is apparently broken in several ways, prone to crashing, and to hanging up internally when switching functions. The company is aware of the problem and working on a fix.]

Which lead me to search for alternatives. Mobile Fotos presents itself as a full featured Flickr client, and it is just that. Since it does cache locally, it is much faster than Darkslide, and it auto reloads on launch. I do not like the way it displays Contacts’ images quite as well as Darkslide, which groups multiple images from a single contact together under the contacts name in a list view, and it has one glaring omission (shocking!): there is no Activity function to look at activity on your own images.

Which lead me back to Flickr’s own m.flickr.com site, which is, afterall, very good. Not as fast as Mobile Foto, but in many ways the layout, look and feel, is just about as elegant as Darkslide (except no dark background view of images!!!, and the new postings are not grouped by contact), and it actually works better than the standard web version in that it returns to the actual page of contacts you were commenting on when you complete a comment…rather than poping all the way back to the first page of contacts’ images. For now, it might just be the easiest, fastest, way to keep up with contacts’ new postings.

zensify did make me wonder about developments in similar functionality for the desktop. FriendFeed I find somewhat limited from the interactive aspects, and I don’t enjoy being tied to my browser, but the availability of Adobe AIR has spawned quite a few social aggregation desktop apps beyond Seesmic Desktop.

You may have seen postings around the net for PeopleBrowser. People browser looks to be the ultimate be all and end all for social networking: once it is finished. Though a beta was announced this week, all I can find is the most recent alpha, which shows the potential. Unfortunately it appears unnecessairly complex and seems to produce inconsistent results at best. I will be tracking development on this one but it does not seem ready for prime time yet.

feedalizr: one stop desktop social aggregater

feedalizr: desktop social aggregation

feedalizr is an older, more mature app that looks like it might have been the inspiration for zensify.

Functionally they are much the same. You set up your accounts and then feedalizr aggregates them into one list. Filters are provided so you can see just what you want in the primary list, and you can open all kinds of things (other accounts, individual tweeps or Facepeeps, groups, searchs, etc.) in tabs beside the primary list. So far, I have not found a way to show new images of those who are not classifed as Flickr friends…all my contacts are missing.

Interaction with the various networks, updates, image posts, comments, replies, etc.  is pretty easy and works well, with pop down posting boxes, drag and drop for images for Twitter and Facebook, and image titling, tagging and description fields for Flickr uploads (up to 10 images at a time).

As with zensify, feedalizr appears to lack the second layer of functionality for Twitter and Facebook: friend/follow, unfollow, etc. (You can do these things but it kicks you out to the main Twitter site or Facebook to do them.) It does have a groups feature which is quick and easy (or was, until it mysteriously stopped working for me).

So, just as on the iPhone, the all in one solution on the desktop does not seem to be quite there. Seesmic Desktop still comes closest, but lacks the Flickr feed.

And I have yet to find an equivalent for Darkslide or Mobile Foto on the desktop. There is an Adobe AIR program called DestroyFlickr which attempts to be the equivalent for the desktop, but it will not run well on my netbook’s 1024×600 screen (AIR seems to still have trouble with windows).

The upstart of all this is…with the really strong social networking apps on the iPhone, it is getting to be more fun, and faster, to track my networks on the phone than it is on the netbook. This does not, somehow, seem right, but there it is!