After last week’s RSS special we’re back to our normal App column. First up is a new keyboard for iOS that lets you customize nearly everything. I’ve also played around with an app that lets you connect Plex to your Apple TV. Finally, I take a look at Google’s new tool to access your computer remotely.
Custom Keyboard for iOS 8 – iOS (Universal)
Most of the early custom keyboards in iOS 8 were focused on productivity. Custom Keyboard for iOS 8 is not focused on functionality, it mimics the default keyboard in almost everywhere, including some of the custom app keyboards. Instead, the keyboard is focused on the sort of customization that you found back in the Classic Mac OS era. You can change all the colors, animations, and fonts on the keyboard. You can also set a background picture giving you a truly unique keyboard. That does come at somewhat of a price, as you would be surprised how much you rely on visual cues when typing on the phone.
There are some interesting fonts included, but there’s also some pretty hideous fonts included. This sort of customization might set your keyboard apart from the rest of the OS if you aren’t careful, but some of you might be going for that effect. I think if you grew up in the era of weird customizations in the old school Mac and Windows, this might feel like some nostalgia for weird text faders on AOL IM. There are also some of you that will cringe at the idea of marring iOS with crazy fonts on their keyboard.
What’s Good: Lots of customization options
What Sucks: Looks a bit out of place in the OS, requires some getting used when typing.
Buy it?: If you want a truly unique keyboard on iOS, check out Custom Keyboard For iOS 8. Download it on the App Store for $0.99.
Staples Online Reading Test – Web
There are often novelties on the web that are ads disguised as apps. I’m going to warn you up front that the Staples Speed Reading Test is totally one of those, encouraging you to buy your next eReader from the office supply megacorp.
However, if you’re curious about how fast you can read and do not want to spring for one of those speed reading apps on the iPad, you can use this web app. You read a page from a public domain text, I recognized Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz, and answer question about what you read. Combining your score with the time it took you get your rank against other readers, and the World Record speed reader.
I wish there was more than three texts, but for a stupid little app like this you can’t expect much. Keep your expectations low, and cheat your way to a speed reading championship.
What’s Good: Fun little distraction to see how fast you read.
What Sucks: Limited number of tests. If you are looking for something more advanced try Outread or Readquick.
Buy it?: If you’re interested in a quick check of your reading speed, check out Staples Online Speed Reading Test.
AllCast – iOS(Universal)
AllCast is probably going to be the easiest way for you to get Plex (or other non Apple media servers) onto your Apple TV. It can also function as a way to get that same content to an XBox One or other DNLA device. There’s the usual caveats about iTunes protected content like Movies and TV Shows, but for the Apple TV you should already be able to do that. (You’re out of luck for iTunes on the Xbox though.)
I had some weird issues with streaming on the Apple TV that were cleared up with a reboot. If you want to watch whole movies with this service, as well as remove the ads you are going to upgrade the app for $4.99. The bridge service it provides to the Apple TV is worth that. You can also use it to send photos from your iPhone to the XBox and other non-Apple devices.
What’s Good: Let’s you stream your Plex server media to the Apple TV. Also can act as a remote for streaming on other devices like an XBox One.
What Sucks: While this is a great app, it solves a problem that shouldn’t be that hard to solve.
Buy it?: If you’ve got a media server and have to hack your Apple TV to get the content, try AllCast. Download it for free on the App Store.
5By – iOS(Universal)
5By is a video recommendation app for iOS that builds recommendation lists for viral videos. Think of the app as that guy at work that forwards every funny video they see. You get videos from a bunch of different video sites broken up into categories.
The app has a nice interface, you navigate around in portrait, and watch in landscape. You can then skip ahead in your playlist by swiping right on the video. There’s also a bunch of sharing options built right in, which is not shocking considering that the app is built by StumbleUpon.
What’s Good: Excellent way to browse video from a bunch of different sites.
What Sucks: Social services don’t use integrated accounts in iOS.
Buy it?: If you’re looking for a variety of videos check out 5By. Download it for free on the App Store.
Chrome Remote Desktop – Mac/iOS (Universal)
There are a lot of VNC and RDP clients for iOS, but they aren’t all as flexible as Chrome Remote Desktop. You can use this to hit clients remotely without setting up VPN, and you control your access via your Google account and a PIN.
The first thing I want to say about this app is that I am not sure about its overall security. Google assures that it’s protected via SSL (AES) and that nothing is being transmitted in clear text except for some relays. I’m not an expert, so just be careful.
The app has some issues with control. The mouse and keyboard controls are a little finicky. By default the iPad just uses a 1 to 1 touch with no right or middle clicks available, which you can flip back in the app toolbar. (This is the default on the iPhone.) There is no support for external keyboards, which might make it a bit difficult to manage a server or anything this way. However, for something casual this will do the trick.
What’s Good: Easy to configure, remote access without VPN and local access to a desktop from iOS.
What Sucks: Weird default settings for mouse on iPad, no external keyboard support.
Buy it?: If you just need casual remote access, check out Google Chrome Remote Desktop. Download the plug-in for Chrome here, and the iOS app here.