This week’s app lineup has a little something for everyone—particularly those who like to meditate in the Sun while working in the Terminal. Or something. If you need some time to yourself, we have an app for that. We also have a powerful terminal emulator for you command line junkies. Lastly, we take another look at a popular podcast app for iOS.
Headspace – iPhone
Headspace is a guided meditation app that takes a secular approach to meditation, and it doesn’t require you to even sit on the floor.
When you first use it, an Englishman introduces the process of taking ten minutes to simply sit and not do anything but breathe. The app walks you through the whole process with a voice-over, and it provides a pleasant experience overall. The app also explains meditation concepts via short animated videos that have a really neat look to them.
Headspace lets you follow a plan that encourages you to build a habit out of meditating. You can set reminders for yourself that come via push notifications. A social sharing feature lets you share your progress with your friends. It seems a little odd to add social features to meditation, but I assume Headspace‘s developers want to treat it like exercise for the mind. There’s also a nice explanation of the possible benefits of mindfulness. All told, Headspace is a very good introduction to the secular practice of meditation.
What’s Good: Well designed. :ots of features.
What Sucks: Social features are a little weird.
Buy it? If you’re really stressed out or just curious about meditation, check out Headspace. Grab it on the App Store for free.
Brightly – iPhone
It may not look like it now, but spring and summer will be here before you know it. [It’s in the mid-60s here in Northern California as I edit this. Sorry, everyone. —Ed.] Since I’m somewhere between a sheet of paper and wall paint in terms of complexion, I need to worry about sunburn even when causally being outside.
Brightly tells you the current UV index, and gives you a timer of how long you can be outside before you should apply sunscreen. The app works by finding your location, and you can toggle between the UV index for indoors and outdoors—useful if you sit near a window at the office.
Along the bottom of the screen is a bar chart that shows how the UV index will change throughout the day, providing an hourly UV index forecast of sorts. You can tap to view a few stats that Brightly can monitor, like if you apply sunscreen every day or if you wear a hat when you’re outside. You can also make a custom profile that tailors the timers to you. And if you remember to use the app every day, it can keep track of your exposure.
Though I think that you can find a lot of this data elsewhere on the Internet, Brightly provides a nice interface for this information.
What’s Good: Nice interface. Presents information well.
What Sucks: Not useful to everyone. You can find the same information elsewhere.
Buy it? If you’re worried about getting a sunburn check out Brightly. It’s free on the App Store.
iTerm – Mac
iTerm is the kind of app that only a power user can love. It lets you have multiple tabs for Terminal sessions, so you can run command line applications like VIM in their own tabs while you continue to work on your system—really helpful if you need to quickly grab some system info to send off logs to a vendor. You can also keep multiple profiles for Terminal access with iTerm.
It’s great for the sort of multitasker that can’t resist having multiple tabs for everything, but it isn’t flawless. When you switch to full screen-mode, you lose the tab view that makes it easy to see which tab you’re viewing at a glance. You can still switch between the tabs by pressing Control- Tab, but it isn’t as obvious. However, you can also view terminal sessions in multiple panes within one window which might be a better visual interface for full-screen mode.
If you spend a lot of time in Terminal and would like a lot more control and customization over the interface, check out iTerm.
What’s Good: Plenty of customization and interface options.
What Sucks: Some odd interface choices in full-screen mode.
Buy it? If you’re a power user or sysadmin, iTerm will come in handy. Grab it on its website, but note that iTerm‘s developers rely on donations to keep the app going, so be sure to spot them a few bucks.
Ginger Page – iPad
Ginger Page is a text editor for iOS that sits somewhere between the notetaking apps Notational Velocity and Drafts. It provides some on-the-fly grammar and spell checking, as well as a feature that suggests alternate phrasing for each sentence you write. Meanwhile, it draws from Drafts the idea that you’re simply using it to produce text for other apps to use.
You can save some text snippets as “favorites,” allowing you to reuse it later, and you can send your text to Messages with a single tap. Open the Sharing menu you can send text to Mail, Facebook, or Twitter. The Open In menu offers a number of additional options, though what appears here will depend on which apps you have installed.
I think the best use case for Ginger Page is for someone who sends a lot of long emails or text messages and wants to ensure that their spelling and grammar are correct. I wrote the various parts of this week’s reviews in the app, and unfortunately, I encountered a lot of issues when writing longer pieces.
The app also had some weird issues with external keyboards where it would often still obscure half the screen as if the on-screen keyboard were still there. There are also some panels that allow you to quickly translate words, as well as a dictionary and thesaurus.
You won’t want to use Ginger Page to write your novel, but it’s a good quick scratch pad for working with text.
What’s Good: Lots of good language tools.
What Sucks: Not good for longer documents. Has some issues with external keyboards.
Buy it? If you need a powerful spelling- and grammar-check for short pieces of text, check out Ginger Page. It’s free on the App Store.
Overcast – iPhone
Note: We featured Overcast as one of our 2014 Apps of the Year, but we never highlighted it as an App of the Week. So in case you missed it the first time, here’s our take on Marco Arment’s podcasting app.
Considering his status in both podcasting and iOS development, Marco Arment could have released Overcast without much fanfare and still gotten a considerable amount of attention. Like anything that he does, its release generated a lot of noise. Overcast is an app that wears a lot of design right on its sleeve, and it shows Marco’s considerable attention to detail.
Overcast has plenty of some nice touches. When navigating through a playlist, an EQ visualizer indicates which playlist and podcast you’re currently playing. When viewing the Now Playing screen, you can swipe up on the album art to get at the show notes.
The central feature of the app seems to be the Smart Speed and Voice Boost effects. Rather than simply doubling the playback speed, Smart Speed analyzes the file and removes all pauses from the file to reduce playback time. It’s a lot better than having the show hosts all sound like auctioneers. Voice Boost adjusts the file’s audio to even out all the voices and boost the overall volume of the podcast. I live in my podcasting app, and I have been satisfied overall with the process. Also, the app’s podcast directory covers a lot of ground, and can scrape scrape twitter for suggestions.
I do have two complaints, though, and the first is less of a complaint and more an observation. In lieu of an app for OS X or the iPad, Overcast has a website that lets you browse and listen to your podcasts from your browser. I’m likely projecting here, but the website feels like a half-hearted response to a feature request. It only shows your episodes, but it lacks playlists or any of the app’s other settings. I guess it would do in a pinch if you forget your phone, but it feels like an afterthought.
My other complaint is that the app doesn’t support video podcasts, which is fine, but when you import your feeds from another player, Overcast doesn’t tell you about its lack of video support. It should at least tell you which feeds aren’t valid so you can switch them over to audio feeds.
What’s Good: Nice design. Smart Speed and Voice Boost are innovative and useful features.
What Sucks: Web sync feels incomplete. Doesn’t support video podcasts—and it doesn’t tell you this you when you try to import video podcast feeds.
Buy it? If you listen to podcasts on your iPhone only and are looking for some improved audio features, check out Overcast. It’s free to try and $4.99 to unlock all features. Get it on the App Store.