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Chris Hall

Senior Writer | 148Apps

Sitting comfortably in the Arizona desert, Chris Hall writes all he can while not fiddling around with his iPhone. He is an avid sports fan, loves strong coffee, and is in need of a better office chair. Be sure to challenge him to a Game Center throw-down. He'll talk a bunch of trash, but he's really only good at Ms. PAC-MAN.

Connect with Chris:
Game Center: bangpowcrash
Twitter: @bangpowcrash

Favorite 4 - Note Taking Apps

Posted by Chris Hall on March 2nd, 2011

[caption id="attachment_67243" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Simpler than Simplenote."]

[/caption]Simplenote - Simplenote, for one reason or another, is always a crowd favorite for simple note taking. Ridding itself of all the bells and whistles, Simplenote does a great job of creating searchable lists very quickly, with an added bonus of having instant syncing between your notes on your device and the internet. Also exciting is that Simplenote syncs with a few different desktop apps, which allows users to pick and choose the desktop interface they like best. Some people will be turned off by the lack of an official desktop app, but the WinAmp generation of PC's past will appreciate the option to choose something different. There are limitations to Simplenote that users should be aware of, though. Unlike the rest of the feature-packed note apps, Simplenote doesn't allow drawing or images of any kind. No handwriting recognition, PDF support, JPEG - nothing.

I like it though, and you will too. Think of it as the app version of a Smart Car: tiny but irresistible.

Evernote - Evernote is like the BFG of the simple note taking apps. It does everything that Simplenote does, but adds support for just about everything you could ever want. It accepts PDF's, images, audio, and even has an official app in the Mac App Store. The coolest feature of all, though, according to me at least, is the ability to search through text within a picture. For example, let's say that you took a picture of an ad in a magazine for a Honda Insight. After importing the picture into Evernote, the company servers turn the words on the page into searchable terms. Six months later, when you finally get around to buying a car, you can hop into Evernote and type in any word that would've been in the ad: Honda, MSRP, Insight, anything. It's all very cool.

The only knock on Evernote, and this tends to come from the Simplenote camp, is that the interface is fairly chunky. There's a lot going on, and when you just want to type in a simple note, sometimes Evernote just feels like too much. If you are a Swiss Army Knife kind of person, Evernote is definitely the app to download.

Notepad Pro for iPad - While Evernote and Simplenote are great for standard note taking, Notepad Pro steps out of the box a little bit by adding a nifty drawing feature that works great for the larger iPad screen. You can go nuts with all sorts of pen sizes and colors, or you can just draw standard pictures in plain ol' black and white. Don't forget to speak up either, as Notepad Pro lets you record audio while you are busy with your finger painting (I recommend a stylus). There's no iPhone app (yet), and no online system to sync with, but people that want to use their iPads like they would a spiral notebook will be very happy with Notepad Pro.

PhatPad - Really, another note taking app? Well yes, but this one is a bit different. PhatPad, unlike any of the apps above, converts your handwritten text into digital text. The recognition system isn't perfect and won't read complete slop, but if you have decent handwriting, the recognition system is a dream. Add in support for images, maps, and syncing via Dropbox and you have yourself a handy dandy little note taking system. I do wish that it had an Evernote style Mac app, but I guess beggars can't be choosers. If you have legible handwriting, PhatPad may be the one for you.

At the end of the day though, when I'm falling asleep and need to get one last thought down before bed though, I still find myself opening up the default note taking app. It's not at all feature filled and doesn't seem to sync well with anything, but I literally just can't delete it. It's like the app equivalent of fast food; I know it's bad for me, but I keep finding myself in line. Speaking of fast food, In-N-Out is calling my name. Loudly.

Albert Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Chris Hall on March 2nd, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: PRETTY
The mini-games in Albert are about as strange as they get, but fans of creative graphics and innovative gameplay will be pleased with this indy gem.
Read The Full Review »

Crowdbeacon Tells You What To Do

Posted by Chris Hall on February 28th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

The ultimate dream of any social utility is to allow users to ask a useful question about their surroundings and then to have someone or something answer with the perfect answer. If I want to know what the best Mexican restaurant around me is, I should be able to pop in and have it definitively answered. There are many apps that do variations of this, but none have it down pat. The first contender is Foursquare, the mega check in service that turns your whole life into a game. Foursquare is great because it gives you the ability to see where others have checked it, thus giving you a general gauge of popularity. There are no reviews though, so people often go to Yelp to get a more useful guide. The problem with Yelp is that it isn't current. Ask it what the best new Mexican restaurant is and it won't know what to do. Even worse, if you want to find a good show on any given night, you're SOL. I could go on and on with examples, but there really isn't a perfect service out there yet.

Enter Crowdbeacon. Crowdbeacon is a social utility that lets you ask the questions that you want to ask. Let's say that you pop in and ask for the best drink special in town. With Crowdbeacon, a real person will answer your question with a real answer, or at least that's the goal. The backbone of Crowdbeacon, as with any social app, is the user. What Crowdbeacon does is allow you to become an expert in any given field. If you are the definitive expert on cheap local dining, all questions concerning the subject will be sent to you. The more relevant and useful your answer, the higher your answer ranking will be. Once everyone in the world is using the service, every question that is asked will be answered so fast your head will spin.

The obvious concern here is that if nobody in your town is using Crowdbeacon, your questions will just go unanswered. To battle this, Crowbeacon will automatically send unanswered questions information from related searches on Yelp, Foursquare, and Wishpond, with Google Places, Twitter, CitySearch and Facebook coming in the near future. Obviously, the goal is to have every question answered by people though, so it is up to you, dear reader, to make this happen. Be sure to download Crowdbeacon today.

Learn about Real Guitar Heroes With Met Guitars

Posted by Chris Hall on February 28th, 2011
iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

It's probably safe to say that if I polled the readers of 148apps, there would be more owners of plastic guitars (Guitar Hero guitars) than real wooden ones, but that doesn't mean that we can't all pay homage to the craftsmanship that goes into guitar making. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is currently running a special exhibit (February 9 through July 4, 2011) that is celebrating the extreme guitar-making craftsmanship of Italian immigrants living in New York. Focusing on the work of John D'Angelico, James D'Aquisto, and John Monteleone, three of the most renowned lutheries in the world, Guitar Heroes takes you on a tour of amazing craftsmanship and wonderful performances.

In addition to the wonderful exhibit, the Met has released a solid iOS app that is meant to guide you on your tour, but doubles as a solid history lesson. The app takes you through the exhibit virtually, starting in Northern Italy, travelling with you from Naples to New York, and then highlighting the life and performances of the three aforementioned guitar heroes. The majority of the app comes in the form of full video of photo guided audio, but there is a bit to read for all you lovers of text. If you happen to be in the NY City area and are planning to visit the exhibit in person, there is also a keypad entry that will take you directly to information about what you are looking at. For the unorganized museum-goer, this feature is priceless.

Whether you have a guitar obsession or are just casually interested in the craftsmanship of a fine, hand made product, you should definitely pick up Met Guitars (it's free!). Maybe, just maybe, the works of John D'Angelico or James D'Aquisto will convince you to pick up a real guitar to replace your plastic Guitar Hero rock fantasy. If so, the world will be a better place.

Tap Into Your Library's Book Collection With OverDrive

Posted by Chris Hall on February 25th, 2011
+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

The greatest thing of all about the Barnes and Noble Nook (at least in comparison to the Kindle) is that it allows its users to access digital files from their local library. As nice as it is to be able to tap into a mega bookstore with millions of books floating around, having access to a treasure trove of free books is infinitely better. Maybe I'm in the minority here, but without the satisfaction of being able to hold a newly owned, cut fresh from a tree, novel in my hand, I really have no incentive to buy books at all. Digital books to me are disposable, so why not just get them for free?

Well, there are a bunch of issues preventing Average Joe iPhone user from picking up his desired book from the library in a digital format. For starters, libraries are just getting into digital borrowing, which means that even the largest public libraries have limited copies to lend. Even worse is that the vast majority of digital books aren't in ePub format, and ePub is the only format the iOS can handle. Also of distress is the fact that libraries put a limit on how many digital books they have available at any given time, which means that even though digital books are just a series of 0's and 1's, they come in limited quantity. If Joe Neighbor and everyone in his extended family wants to read the latest Dan Brown book, you'd be better off driving yourself to the library to get a physical copy.

But fear not faithful appers, libraries are diligently trying to catch up with the times. AllThingsD reports that the Washington D.C. public library system is adding troves of ePub formatted books weekly, and it is certain that other library systems will file suit. Most importantly though is that there is now an app dedicated on helping you navigate through the treacherous library waters. The app is not perfect, and will not magically put you in front of the Dan Brown digital line, but it will show you all the available books (and audio books) in your area and how many people are in front of you.

With a dash of patience and an ounce of understanding, you will soon enough be immersed in the magically free waters of the digital public library. Get your cards ready!

[Source: AllThingsD]

iBone Review

+ Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
By Chris Hall on February 25th, 2011
Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: TOOTS MY HORN
In the vast sea of music instrument sims, iBone stands out as one that I can have fun with for extended amounts of time.
Read The Full Review »

Spring Training Is Here, Download MLB At Bat 11

Posted by Chris Hall on February 25th, 2011

There's nothing overtly new about this seasons variety of the amazing MLB At Bat apps, but with baseball season just around the corner, it's now prime time to pick up the app. As an extra treat for those who download early, the MLB will be streaming around 150 spring training games this season as part of the free MLB.tv mobile preview. In addition, each game will receive the same on-air radio treatment and batter-by-batter action that each game gives you during the regular season. Check out the full list of Spring Training goodies:

  • Customize At Bat's home screen to feature your designated favorite team

  • Watch Live streaming of about 150 Spring Training games with a special mobile free preview of MLB.TV

  • Listen to available radio broadcasts of Spring Training games

  • Follow batter-by-batter action for every Spring Training game

  • Enhanced video library archive, searchable by player or team

  • Breaking news, schedules and interactive rosters and players stats for every team
  • For the first time ever I'll get to see my Astros play spring training ball in the Grapefruit League. I'm more than just a little excited.

    For those who had never used MLB At Bat in the past, it is the most amazing baseball game day app that you will ever touch. With the app you can follow any game in the country for free (well, after the app cost), and even listen to the games (you can choose between the home and away broadcast team) over internet radio. Best of all, if you purchase MLB.tv, you can watch each game via live streaming to any iOS device. The additional price ($99+) may seem a bit steep at first, but with well over 100 games going on this regular season, it's a hard deal to pass up for real baseball fans.

    [Source: MLB.com]

    Go Faster With Nike BOOM

    Posted by Chris Hall on February 24th, 2011
    iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad

    Inside Nike Labs - Beaverton, OR. A man, dark-suit, gym-bred toned muscle, speaks softly,

    "Now that we have covered the vast majority of the traditional workout app categories: running, strength training, various sports, I think it's time to bring it all together."

    After voracious applause, he goes on. "What we need is a way to pump music into athletes ears. Loud music. We'll let them choose playlists and songs, and if they are good we'll even let them hit the random button!"

    After a bit of rumbling amongst the crowd, a brave administrative assistant clears his throat. "Uh, boss, doesn't the iPhone do that already?"

    After a momentary pause in thought he counters with, "No, you imbecile, not like we'll do it! We'll have professional male athletes give 10 second motivational speeches to really get their hearts racing. Would Adrian Peterson quit on a race? Hell no!" The boss then pushes his "deploy" button, sending a reluctant Tiger Woods out to hit the interrupting assistant with a failed prototype club.

    With a spark of motivation and an ounce of fear, the app team at Nike then gets to work, creating the slickest workout music platform that they could come up with. Using the playlists that are built into iTunes, the Nike BOOM app launches nuclear songs at you with such speed that you'll have to catch your breath... that is if you were breathing (you're training so hard that you are unconscious, right?). At the beginning of your workout, and intermittently throughout, you'll also get a little motivational speech by seemingly interested athletes telling you to "pick up the pace" and that "the season is on the line."

    If little sprinkles of motivation get you though, there's nothing out there better than Nike BOOM. Now get off your butt and go train! It's a real shame Rex Ryan doesn't dish out the in-app motivation.

    "Let's go get a g- d- snack!"

    Filter Fish - A Physics Based Address Book

    Posted by Chris Hall on February 24th, 2011
    + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

    Say What?

    Somewhere deep in the heart of Felix Labs and Entertainment lies a handful of developers (presumably) who were tired of the typical ho-hum address book. Possibly because of their work making Human Computer Interaction hardware, and possibly because of the excessive rain in British Columbia, they decided that contacts should be represented as popularity balls, and that each ball should be moveable not only with your finger, but also with the accelerometer.

    The key to the app is definitely its simplicity. Without any additional input, Filter Fish grabs all of your contacts and seemingly sorts them by popularity and relevance. For example, if you type in the letter "t," your little contact globules will reposition themselves in order of relevance. Type in more letters and you'll see the irrelevant globs fall off of the screen, leaving your desired contact front and center, or wherever you want to fling it. Type in nothing and the app will show you a mighty universe, one that has your close friends as huge planets and your minor contacts as space dust, all ready to be moved around with a ferocity that can only be described as Biblical.

    Oh right, you can also click on the globules to retrieve contact info, but I had much more fun creating a spinning universe of my friends names.

    Being more of a tech demo (I think) than an app that will get a ton of usage right away, Filter Fish is a great little product, and one that I would like see expanded to do even more. One thing that I would love to see is a company function, allowing an extra large 148apps (acting as the sun) to be circled by all of its employees. Extra little features like this will do wonders for Filter Fish, and I definitely hope that it lives on to reach its true potential.

    Charmed Review

    iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
    By Chris Hall on February 23rd, 2011
    Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: GRAVITY RULES
    Don't be fooled by the traditional match 3 exterior, Charmed is a gravity fueled throw-down.
    Read The Full Review »

    An Unofficial GameSalad Textbook Review

    + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
    By Chris Hall on February 23rd, 2011
    Our rating: starstarstarblankstarblankstar :: HEAVY
    An Unofficial GameSalad Textbook is a nice resource to have, but it definitely needs some editing and a redesign to be worth the high price.
    Read The Full Review »

    Karoshi Review

    + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
    By Chris Hall on February 22nd, 2011
    Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: MASS DEATH
    Karoshi feels a lot like playing Mario, but instead of finishing each level you try to die at every turn. Losing is really winning. Trust me, it's odd.
    Read The Full Review »

    Starfront: Collision Review

    iPhone App - Designed for iPhone, compatible with iPad
    By Chris Hall on February 22nd, 2011
    Our rating: starstarstarstarhalfstar :: STARCRAFT MOBILE
    In glittery Gameloft fashion, StarCraft has now become Starfront. It's not world changing and no pro leagues will spawn from it, but it is darn good.
    Read The Full Review »

    Big Hit Baseball Review

    + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad
    By Chris Hall on February 22nd, 2011
    Our rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar :: STRIPPED
    Strip out non-essential game elements and a game is ready for mobile. Big Hit Baseball took this a bit too far.
    Read The Full Review »

    No Rhythm? Go To Drum School

    Posted by Chris Hall on February 21st, 2011
    + Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad

    At this stage of my life I have no issues with admitting my flaws. I talk too fast, I move too slow, and I may be the worst Rock Band drummer on the planet. I can shred some mean tunes while belting a rockin' chorus, but my hands have a real hard time going fast while staying in rhythm. Put the stupid foot pedal into the mix and all is lost.

    So obviously there is an app for that too (this is an app site), and it is called Drum School. Before I get into the app though, I'd like to apologize for the intro that mentions Rock Band as the mecca to which all drummers aspire to. As much as I don't want to admit it, there are people in this world who actually play real drums and aspire to be more like Neil Peart and less like Bizarro Chris (the opposite of me). With that said, I can now move on to the app.

    For an aspiring drummer (real or Rock Band), there is probably no better app on the planet for perfecting the craft than Drum School. The basic design of the app is rather simple, as it is really just a audio/visual guide to drumming with over 250 "grooves" and 64 different practice exercises. All in one screen (with no silly side screens), you get to see the beat in notation format, details and info on the beat, a video of a guy playing the beat, as well as the ever handy toolkit. The kit at the bottom plays the beat at any tempo you would like, but the real treat is that you can isolate any of your limbs for further practice. Can't quite get your left hand to work? Drum school is the perfect app for you.

    For those of you who don't have their own drum kit or practice pedal, there are even 20 hand exercises that you can work through. It may not have the insane variety as the rest of the app (although you could just isolate the hands and use a different object for the high hat), but after a few minutes of practice, I already can do a hand drum roll better than I ever have in my life.

    If you are at all interested in learning to drum, or even if you just want to get better at banging away at your steering wheel on your morning commute, I wouldn't hesitate to get Drum School. It's about as interactive and fun as a mobile learning tool can get.