This week’s app roundup features a good mix of entertainment and productivity. First up, we have an app from an iconic sketch comedy show. We’ll alsotake a look at a synthesizer that tries to use motion to teach music. Then we close out with an app from a sport giant.
SNL – iPhone
The SNL app for iPhone is pretty fantastic. It isn’t a comprehenisve set of every sketch in the show’s history, but you can browse around your favorite seasons and cast members to find clips. Full episodes are limited to the NBC app for some reason, though the SNL app includes links to the episodes. (Do big media companies realize how inane they are when it comes to this sort of stuff?) However, as a clip machine, the app is great.
The app generates a playlist of sketches it thinks you would like, based on the preferences you set. You can also mark sketches as favorites, which helps enhance the sketches they choose. Each sketch links back to the episode it’s from, and shows you the other clips from that episode. You can also browse by cast member if you prefer.
If you’re a comedy fan, you’re bound to find something you like in here.It supposedly includes an emoji keyboard, but it doesn’t actually work as a keyboard—it just copies a character to the pasteboard. You install it as if it were a third-party keyboard, and it looks and acts like a keyboard, but you can’t type with it. The only reason this isn’t more of a sticking point is that it was already a dumb feature to begin with.
If you missed the SNL 40th Anniversary Special when it aired, you can catch it on the show’s new iPhone app. And that brings me to my main complaint: The SNL app is dedicated to watching clips from the sketch show’s storied history, and yet it wasn’t designed with the iPad in mind. It doesn’t make much sense to create a video-centric app that isn’t iPad-friendly.
What’s Good: Huge catalog of video available. Lots of ways to explore that catalog.
What Sucks: No iPad app. Useless emoji keyboard.
Buy it? All comedy fans should grab the SNL app. Download it for free on the App Store.
Sunrise – iOS, Mac
Although I like Outlook as an email program, its calendar was always a bit lacking, so it’s no wonder Microsoft recently bought up Sunrise.
Sunrise is essenitally your meta calendar: It gathers your calendars from Google, iCloud, Exchange, and so on, and it can also add calendars from services like Asana and Evernote. If you manage your tasks in Reminders, you can import those into Sunrise as well.
You only need to set up Sunrise once, and you can do so from your Mac, iPhone, or iPad. Once you do, you can sign in to Sunrise on your devices using your Google or Facebook account and get at all your Sunrise-associated calendars with ease. Sunrise does an impressive job at displaying information in a way that’s best suited each device.
It’s hard to do something new with calendars, so Sunrise instead innovates by combining your information into a single app. Sunrise is a great app, and I can see why Microsoft would want in. Here’s hoping Redmond doesn’t screw it up.
What’s Good: Supporr for a wide array of account types. Easy to set up and sync across your devices.
What Sucks: Might be too cluttered for some users.
Buy it? If you want to view all your calendars in a single app, check out Sunrise. It’s free for both iOS and OS X.
Volotic – iPad
Volotic is an interesting take on the traditional synthesizer/sequencer. But instead of aping a traditional step sequencer, Votoic uses motion to sequence audio. It’s an interesting concept, but it isn’t immediately accessible. The app gives you a few different demo songs to show off how it works, though.
You get a set of three instruments and three “tones,” which are basically just synth tones. You can control how those sound via scales or arpeggio, or you can set it to play specific notes. Unfortunately, while the app is free, you can’t save your songs until you pay 99 cents via in-app purchases.
Volotic does a great job of hiding most of the music part of a synthesizer from you, which seems like a great way to introduce someone to electronic music without having to get into technical minutiae. If you are experienced with a step sequencer, though, you might find it difficult to change how you map out sounds.
What’s Good: Neat way to make music without any technical training.
What Sucks: Counterintuitive for experienced programmers.
Buy it? If you want to mess around with electronic music but Rebirth scares you, check out Volotic. Download it on the App Store for free.
Bloglovin’ – iOS(Universal)
When I first tried Bloglovin’, it was in the final days of Google Reader as a hundred start-ups worked to help geeks keep their feeds organized. Bloglovin’ never got the traction that Feedly did, but it eventually became the Pinterest of blogs. I don’t think this is a bad approach, but the execution needs work.
I am going to put a big fat asterisk here, as it is quite clear that I am not even in the neighborhood of Bloglovin’s demographic. The company seems squarely focused on a young, fashion-conscious audience, and seems to have little interest in chubby nerds looking for Apple news and webcomics.
After you sign up for an account, Bloglovin’ will ask you about your interests, and it uses your answers to flesh out your basic list of topics. I chose food—remember, chubby nerd here—along with books and design. The aesthetic borrows heavily from Pinterest, and it’s just as impenetrable to someone trained in traditional RSS. While I use Pinterest as a scrapbook for stupid Reddit tricks and webcomics, Bloglovin’ seems better suited for discovering new things. The New York Review of Books and Longreads are here, if nothing else.
Bloglovin’ makes for an interesting take on the RSS reader, removing all of the dorkier aspects for a simplistic approach. The only problem I have is that it’s been simplified to the point that isn’t all that useful. Bloglovin’ doesn’t even let you add a feed manually, so even if I liked its aesthetics, the app wouldn’t be of much use to me. On the other hand, it might be enough for someone who shares the taste of Bloglovin’s curators.
What’s Good: Nice design. Friendly approach for RSS for casual users.
What Sucks: Limited selection of sites and topics. Can’t manually add your own RSS feeds.
Buy it?: If you’re looking for a steady stream of things to read but don’t mind a limited menu, check out Bloglovin’. Grab it on the App Store for free.
ESPN – iOS (Universal)
The only sport I really follow is football, and even then I really only pay attention to the Green Bay Packers. [Bah. Baseball is where it’s at. —Ed.] Still, I feel a certain kinship with obsessive sports fans. Much like tech geeks, sports fans have their own news ecosystem, and constantly look for easier ways to get the news they crave.
ESPN’s app serves a a one-stop shop for all sports news: It provides an overview of each sport ESPN covers, and you can drill down to news on individual leagues if you want. Each league’s panel shares a common layout, and presents you with scores, stories, and social media updates. If you want, you can set it up so the app only serves up news on your favorite teams. You can also set up push notifications to get periodic news updates.
Watching live ESPN requires a different app, which is kind of annoying. (I mean, seriously; stop this stupdity.) You can listen to ESPN radio through the app, so you at least get something, but it would be better to have everything in one app.
What’s Good: Easy to customize. Brings all your sports news together.
What Sucks: You need a second app to watch ESPN.
Buy it? Sports fans who want an easy way to keep up on the news should grab ESPN for iOS. Pick it up on the App Store for free.