Posts in Reviews
Sip: Smart Color Management for Your Mac

If you work with color on the Mac, you’re probably painfully aware that the macOS Colors palette hasn’t changed in years. It offers several different types of color pickers, an eyedropper tool for sampling a color from the screen, and wells for storing color swatches. It’s functional for occasional use but becomes clumsy quickly—try remembering which red is which when you’ve saved multiple similar versions. Many graphics apps offer their own color tools, but they’re useless as soon as you need to work in another app. Luckily, there’s a solution: Sip.

Sip is a $10 menu bar app that allows you to pick colors anywhere on your Mac, quickly organize them into palettes, and smartly use those colors in other apps. Brothers André Gonçalves and Rui Aureliano designed Sip with advanced features for professional developers and designers, but its core functionality is simple enough that any Mac user might find it useful for color management.

Sip Basics

The first thing you’ll do with Sip is pick some colors. You can open the color picker—which is a circle that magnifies a small portion of the screen underneath it—by clicking the menu bar icon or pressing a keyboard shortcut (Command-Option-Control-P). Sip provides plenty of shortcuts, all of which you can change in its settings.

Sip Color Picker

To pick a color, position the color picker over the desired hue, wherever on the screen it may be, and click. That adds it to Sip and copies the color to your clipboard. Press a modifier key while picking a color to add additional tweaks:

  • Shift: Adds multiple colors in a row.

  • Option: Automatically creates a new palette and puts each color you pick in that palette.

  • Control: Creates a new palette with the colors you’re picking.

  • Command: Sends the color directly to the app in which you’re working, if it’s one of the 17 currently supported apps, including Web development apps like Coda and Espresso, and Adobe’s Illustrator, InDesign, and Photoshop.

For more precise color picking, use Sip’s keyboard shortcuts to increase or decrease the zoom of the color picker, to make the color picker’s grid larger or smaller, and to move the color picker around in 1- or 10-pixel increments. This is great for grabbing a 1-pixel border color or the color of small text.

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Terminology: Where Word Explorations Begin

When I hear a term that’s new to me or I’m struggling to find the perfect word for a sentence, I turn to Terminology. It’s a powerful utility app for iPhone and iPad from Agile Tortoise, the creator of Drafts.

In much the same way that Drafts gives you a place to start writing, Terminology gives you a launchpad for your word explorations, and its extensible actions are powerful enough that you will usually find what you need.

Terminology Basics

Terminology is, first and foremost, an offline dictionary and thesaurus. After tapping through a quick first-launch guide and searching for a word, it will present you with instantaneous results containing definitions, synonyms, and antonyms. 

On top of this, Terminology’s thesaurus results show more and less specific words. For example, with the term “dive”, a less specific word result is “swim” and more specific word results include “belly flop,” “jackknife,” and “swan dive.”

Terminology makes it incredibly simple to tap into any related words to view their results, arrow back and forth through your history, and, most importantly for me, follow the skein of terms wherever it leads. With the speaker, pencil, and heart icons in the upper right, you can have any word pronounced out loud, add notes to it, and favorite terms you want to revisit later. I find myself mostly relying on my search history in lieu of favorites. Your notes, favorites, history, and settings all sync between your devices using iCloud, so there is no need for an account.

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Overcast's New Clip-Sharing Feature is Exactly What Open Podcasting Needs

Marco Arment just released a banger of an update to Overcast. The headlining feature is called clip sharing, and it was inspired by this idea of Stephen Hackett’s on my show UNCO. I think clip sharing will quickly turn into an indispensable tool for both podcasters and listeners, but even more than that, I believe that updates like this are exactly what open podcasting needs to compete against the heavily-funded startups fighting to become the Facebook of podcasting.

Overcast Clips

What is clip sharing?

In his update today, Marco made it possible to quickly create and share either audio or video clips (although pretty much everyone is doing video) from any public podcast. I emphasize public because, reasonably, this won’t work on episodes from private podcast feeds. I verified this with the Do By Friday after show.

The UX for creating these clips is incredibly well done, as we’ve come to expect from Overcast.

The clip starts wherever you are in the episode, but you’re given the ability to go backward or forward to find the portion you really want. Each clip can be up to 1 minute in length.

Once you’ve selected the portion you’d like, there are simple options between audio only, portrait, landscape, or square video. The theming of the video clip copies the theme you have Overcast set to currently. (I wish you could change theming on the edit screen. I like using black mode in Overcast, but for UNCO clip sharing in particular, the white and orange theme is sharp.) You can also select between no app branding, the Overcast badge, or both an Overcast and an Apple Podcasts badge.

After you’ve made the selections you’d like, you can share your clip anywhere that’s available in the Apple share sheet.

What’s new with episode & show pages?

Marco also updated Overcast.com’s episode and show pages. Now when you click an Overcast link on any device and you’re not logged into Overcast, you’ll receive a page with links to the Overcast app, Apple Podcasts, Castro, Pocket Casts, and a generic RSS Feed link.

As a podcast creator with 80% of my traffic coming from Overcast and Apple Podcasts, this is a hugely welcome change. This doesn’t solve the link sharing problem entirely, especially for shows who have large Android listenerships, but it will reduce the need for me to tweet 3 different links of the same episode.

Why are these changes good for open podcasting?

Everything in today’s update made it easier for us to share our favorite podcasts with friends, family, and the world. Simple sharing is one of the toughest problems to solve in open podcasting, and this is a big step forward. I truly hope to see other great open podcast apps implementing these types of features in coming months. Marco said it well:

For podcasting to remain open and free, we must not leave major shortcomings for proprietary, locked-down services to exploit. Conversely, the more we strengthen the open podcast ecosystem with content, functionality, and ease of use, the larger the barrier becomes that any walled garden must overcome to be compelling.
— Marco

Some of my favorite examples of clip sharing

How to Make Gmail Beautiful

If you’re a Gmail user who is frustrated by the visual clutter, I’ve got the perfect little free tool for you. It’s a Chrome extension called Simplify. It was made by Michael Leggett, the lead designer of Gmail from 2008-2012 and co-founder of Google Inbox. Needless to say, he knows what he’s doing.

Simplify throws all that visual clutter in the trash and leaves you with the clean, beautiful UX that we all wish Gmail had in the first place. And before you ask, yes, it’s safe, and you can get it on the Chrome Store for free.

You should always be super careful what extensions or apps you use with your email. Simplify is mostly some CSS plus a little Javascript to apply the CSS. There are no trackers. No data is sent or shared. No ads ever. Promise. And all the code can be inspected on Github.
— simpl.fyi
iPhone X: First Impressions when Switching from a Plus

Yesterday was iPhone X day. Apple's new flagship phone was released to the world. Millions were shipped, and one landed on my doorstep. My first few hours with the iPhone X have answered a lot of my questions and worries. So here are my first impressions.

Unboxing is Always Fun

My phone came in the mail yesterday, and after a failed attempt at a Friday afternoon conference call for work, I unboxed my new iPhone X.

 

Face ID is a Game Changer

Face ID had the potential to be a big flop. It's a bold move to completely replace something users love and use as much as Touch ID. But I really think this is a win for Apple. Like Touch ID did for fingerprint readers, Face ID will take facial recognition mainstream, and in years to come it will become a ubiquitous part of all our technology.

A few fears to soothe:

  • Yes, it works in the dark and with glasses or if you change your makeup or grow a beard.

  • No, unlike Samsung's facial recognition, Face ID can't be fooled by a picture or even Hollywood mask makers.

  • No, it won't unlock if someone points your phone at your face while you're sleeping. It requires you to be looking at the phone. So unless you sleep with your eyes open, this won't be a problem.

  • Sunglasses? Maybe. It works with some sunglasses but not all. I tried it with mine (below), and Face ID worked just as fast and consistently as without them on. But Apple has made it clear that some sunglasses have a coating that prevents its sensors from detecting your eyes. If it doesn't work with your sunglasses, you have two options. One, get new sunglasses, or two, turn off the Attention Aware Feature (Settings > Face ID & Passcode > Attention Aware Feature) that makes sure you're looking at the phone.

 

The Size is Lovely, but I Want an X Plus

Since I was switching from a Plus model phone, I was a bit worried that the X screen would be too thin. It's actually much taller than the Plus models, but the width is the exact same as the iPhone 6,7,8. After spending 24 hours with the phone, the screen feels wonderful in every aspect except for one. The keyboard is noticeably smaller, and I'm having to get used to typing on it.

Because of the keyboard and because I've already spent 3 years with the larger size, I really hope Apple releases a Plus size of this design. The screen would be massive!

 

Animoji are the real deal.

These little boogers are super fun, and more importantly for Apple, they show off face-tracking technology in a way that normal people enjoy. Apple's often slow on adopting new technologies like OLED screens or wireless charging, but Animoji show just how far ahead of their competitors they are with face-tracking.

Twitter has been going crazy with #AnimojiKaraoke. This is my favorite so far.

 

There is Definitely Learning Curve

Since I'd already read all about the new gestures before my phone arrived, the transition for me was pretty much seamless, but after seeing this manual from the WSJ (above) that explains all the new interactions, I started to think about how difficult this learning curve will be for normal people. I was talking about this with a friend of mine, and his response to the WSJ Manual was...

"Basically looks like if Snapchat made a phone. AKA, good luck anyone over 30, but teens will pick it up super fast."

At this point the people who already have an iPhone X either stayed up late to preorder or stood in line for hours and hours. Neither of those groups can be described as "typical phone users".

That said, even as the months pass, we may not see a huge number of "typical phone users" with an iPhone X. It's an expensive phone, and it will sell well among power users and tech enthusiasts. I think we'll really begin to see how this learning curve effects sales and customer satisfaction as the design trickles down the iPhone lineup and more grandparents buy them.

 

Other Stuff

  • The cameras seem really great, but I haven't had a chance to use them enough to give any definitive thoughts.

  • Battery life appears good, but it'll take a few weeks to know exactly how it preforms under normal use.

  • Wireless charging is something that I don't really see a use for yet. I don't plan on buying a Qi wireless charger, but I know some people love them.

  • The screen is really crisp. The blacks are typical OLED black, but when you look at the phone from an angle, the colors do get a bit blue, which I don't love.

  • The notch is not a big deal at all. Like pretty much every reviewer has said so far, it just disappears after a little bit of time using it.

 

I'm just 24 hours into using this phone, and I really really love it. Do you plan on getting one? Let me know why or why not on Twitter, @timothybucksf.

ReviewsTimothy Buck
Write!: Mini Review

Write! is full-featured writing and note-taking app with a super simple style. I've been playing around with Write! for a while now, and I've had a solid experience. I haven't noticed any missing features or had to deal with any blatant bugs. It works as advertised.

There is a lot of competition in this space, but unlike many of the alternatives out there, Write! is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. So if you want a distraction-free writing app that works on multiple desktop OSes, Write! is worth checking out.

writeapp.co

ReviewsTimothy Buck
TouchRetouch: Remove Objects from Photos on iOS

TouchRetouch is a photo editing app that specializes in removing unwanted objects from photos, and it works surprisingly well.

This ability has been around for years in powerful tools like Photoshop, but those tools require a good bit a skill to use well. TouchRetouch, on the other hand, is simple enough for even a novice smartphone photographer.

It has four main tools—Quick Repair, Line Removal, Object Removal and the more manual and settings intensive Clone Stamp. I've tested each tool, and while not perfect for every situation, they're quite powerful. 


Quick Repair Gif

Quick Repair

Quick Repair is the simplest possible way to remove something from your photo. You just paint over what you want removed, and once you pick up your finger, it's removed. Apart from the default Quick Brush, you can also use the Blemish Remover by just tapping what you want removed from your latest selfie. Honestly, I was surprised at how well this works.

Options

  • Quick Brush
  • Blemish Remover
  • Settings: Brush Size

Line Removal Gif

Line Removal

Line Removal is perfect for city photography. Since moving to San Francisco, I've noticed it's nearly impossible to take a picture of an interesting building without power lines causing distraction. The Line Removal tool is crazy easy. You just tap the line, and it disappers.

Options

  • Line Remover
  • Segment Remover
  • Settings: Line Thickness
    • Thick
    • Medium
    • Thin

Object Removal Gif

Object Removal

Object Removal is a lot like Quick Repair, but it allows for more detailed work. Instead of removing an object when you lift your finger, you have to hit "go". This means you can paint, draw around an item with the Lasso and erase portions of that selection so that it's just right before you remove anything from the image.

Options

  • Brush
  • Lasso
  • Eraser
  • Settings: Brush/Eraser Settings

Clone Stamp Gif

Clone Stamp

Clone Stamp is much closer to traditional 'Photoshop-like' tools. It definitely requires much more skill. 

You select an area to sample pixels from, then paint elsewhere. Your selection will be "stamped" where you paint. If selection won't work, you can use mirroring instead to accomplish the same thing.

The Clone Stamp tool also offers more advanced brush/eraser setting than the other tools.

Options

  • Brush
  • Eraser
  • Mirroring
    • No
    • Horizontal
    • Vertical
    • Diagonal
  • Settings: Brush/Eraser Settings
    • Size
    • Hardness
    • Opacity

You probably won't use this app every day, but when you want to remove something that distracts from the subject of a photo, TouchRetouch is a solid option.

You can buy TouchRetouch for $1.99 from the App Store or the Google Play Store.

Header image from Unsplash.

iPhone 7 Plus: Reviewed 4 Months Later

Most reviews are written after just a few hours or days with a device, but I've been using this phone daily for 4 months now. I bought the 256gb black version of the iPhone 7 Plus right after it was released. The honeymoon period is over. I know what's good and what I wish were better. Let's jump right in.

✋ Size, Look and Feel

The iPhone 7 Plus is definitely a large phone. It has 5.5 inch display (measured diagonally) with a significant bezel around it.

What makes a great phone size is almost completely personal preference. I'd already been using this phone size for two years (the 6 Plus) when I bought the 7 Plus, so the large size wasn't a problem for me at all.

Anecdotally, people who switch to the Plus size tend to like the larger screen. My wife switched from the relatively tiny 5s to the 7 Plus this year. So I just asked her what she thought of the larger phone. This was her response.

 I was concerned about it being too big because I have small hands, but I like it. There are some times when I have to grip the phone with two hands to do something with it, but it's not a big deal.

As far as look and feel, the 7 and 7 Plus are very similar to the 6 and 6s lines. They have the same basic size and design, but there are two new color choices—black and jet black. I went with the black (pictured above), and it's my favorite iPhone design to date. 

📸 Camera and Portrait Mode

The most noticeable difference between the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus (apart from screen size) is the camera. The iPhone 7 Plus has two lenses that work together to make a better picture. One is wide angle and the other telephoto (if you accept Apple's broad definition of telephoto haha).

Having two lenses with different focal lengths makes it possible to have 2x optical zoom along with the typical 10x digital zoom.

The dual-lens system also supports Portrait Mode. This mode ads a bokeh-like blurred background to improve emphasis on your subject. It's aptly name "Portrait Mode" because it works best on people. 

Here are some Portrait Mode photos I pulled at random from my photo library. 

🏃 Speed and Responsiveness

After two years with the 6 Plus, it definitely felt sluggish. Four months into the 7 Plus, and it's still as snappy as ever. Apple's custom chipsets is one of its biggest differentiators. Most competing smartphones run on the same off-the-shelf chips from Qualcomm.

🙅 No Headphone Jack

There's no headphone jack in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. I've talked to a lot people about this change. People have strong feelings about this design decision. Many are upset and inconvenienced by it, while others have barely noticed. 

The tech press reported this as a huge misstep by Apple, and this missing port was the focus of pretty much every review I watched or read.

Despite all the bad press, it doesn't seem to have had an effect on sales. Apple sold 78 million iPhones last quarter. That's a record.

My tweet about this topic after Apple earnings were reported was picked up by Daring Fireball and sparked some passionate discussion.

💦 Waterproof!

I know waterproofing has been available on Android phones for ages (noticeably missing from the Pixel), but it's a welcome addition the the iPhone. It simplifies things. If I'm caught out in the rain or spill a drink or whatever, I don't have to worry about ruining an expensive phone.

Image from  Unsplash

Image from Unsplash

🔋 Battery Life and Screen Quality

Battery life is an hour better than it was on the 6S Plus. That's a significant improvement that we can all get behind, but I still have to plug my phone in during the day, if I want it to last until I go to bed.

Apple made a big deal about the brighter, more colorful display this year. It's some really cool tech, but in my opinion, screen quality is something normal people don't notice right away.

Apple improves it incrementally. Most people can't tell the difference year over year. But after a few years go buy, the older phones appear dramatically worse. It's this type of incremental improvement that Apple does incredibly well.

📱 Unmoving Home Button

The home button is just a piece of glass now. It doesn't move at all. Haptic feedback makes it feel like you're pressing a button, even though you aren't. 

It took me a few hours to get used to this change, and now I prefer it. Although it is a strange sensation when I press the home button and it doesn't "move" because my phone is dead.

What I like about the iPhone 7 Plus.

  • New color choices
  • 256gb option
  • Screen size/quality
  • Speed
  • Waterproofing
  • Camera
  • Home button

What I wish was better and hope to see in the next iPhone.

  • Battery life (It's good, but it could be better.)
  • Bezel (I'd love to see that bezel shrink or completely disappear, so that a larger screen will fit into the same footprint.)
  • Same aperture on both lenses. (The telephoto has a higher [worse] aperture, and it is noticeable when I use optical zoom in low light situations.)
  • Faster charging
  • Truly wireless charging (I don't mean like the Apple Watch. I mean walk into your bedroom, and your phone starts to charge.)
  • A radically updated industrial design.
  • Some sort of Augmented Reality (AR) support
  • An OLED screen (That would be a noticeable screen improvement.)

 

Unaltered header image from Andri Koolme

Wi-Fi Widget: Mini Review

Wi-Fi Widget is an app for iOS that makes it incredibly simple to see which network you're connected to, share your wifi password and test latency with a tap. Also if you tap the network you're connected to, it opens the iOS Wi-Fi Settings page.

That's it. It's meant to be used from the 'Today' View or by using 3D touch on the icon. When you open the app itself, it has the same functionality as the widget, along with some instructions and settings. If I'm honest, I'll probably hide this away in a folder and only use the 'Today' View widget. 

If you're wondering about security, passwords are safely stored in your iCloud Keychain and you can decide in setting whether the share password functionality is available when your phone is locked.

Wi-Fi Widget has an introductory sale price of $0.99, but when the sale ends it will cost $2.99. So if you're interested, I'd go download it now. 😀

Header image from Pixabay.

ReviewsTimothy BuckGeneral