Apr 26

Crosswords for iPad I first started working crossword puzzles a few years ago while staying with a sick family member in the hospital. I used a cheap puzzle book then, and since that time I’ve been searching for a paperless solution. Sadly, I’ve come up empty handed. Puzzle software, interactive web sites, smartphone apps – I’ve tried them all. And for one reason or another, each failed to impress. So, since 2005 I’ve been stuck with tried-and-true printed puzzles, pens (or pencils) and fading hope.

But today, after nearly five years of looking, my search is finally over. It ended two weeks ago when I got my hands on Crosswords [iTunes Link], an iPad app that’s – in short – all of my digital crossword puzzle wishes come true. For me, Crosswords is the answer to a techie prayer: the pen-and-paper crossword experience without the pen or the paper.

Printed Puzzles, Crossword Puzzle Books RIP (2005-2010)

Crosswords for iPad

If you’re a logophile iPhone user, you may have already heard of Crosswords. This popular app from Stand Alone, Inc. has been available in the App Store for nearly two years. If you do happen to own the iPhone version, you’re in luck, because the app is universal and ready to install on your iPad right now for no additional charge.

Crosswords allows you to download and work crossword puzzles from a wide range of online sources on the iPad. As of this writing, the app is $9.99.

Using Crosswords

Getting started with Crosswords is simple. You’re given a list of Puzzle Providers from which new puzzles are downloaded. The Puzzle Providers can be customized via the in-app Settings menu to personalize the selection. Free puzzles comprise the bulk of the built-in sources, but premium providers like the New York Times are also included if you’re willing to pay for content. When new puzzles are published, they are downloaded directly into the app. There’s also a section for the user to purchase future puzzle packs from Stand Alone when they’re made available.

Once you’ve chosen a puzzle, it’s displayed screen-left, with the clues on the right (in landscape mode, the clues flank the puzzle, as seen below). To select a field, tap either an associated letter block or its clue; the selected letter block is painted yellow, while the complete field (across or down) is highlighted in blue:

    

You can choose between entering letters in pen – black letters – or pencil for light-gray guesswork. The app keeps track of your game play and allows you to post your solve times to the Crosswords web site or Twitter.

The interface is viewable in Newspaper Style (all white background with black lines, words and numbers – shown above) or with higher-contrast black styling.

Subjective Analysis

As previously stated, I’ve waited years for this. Crosswords for the iPad – unlike the screen-limited iPhone version – is perfect for me, and nearly perfect in its implementation. The larger screen makes puzzles comfortably viewable, either in their entirety or as a zoomed section. The input tools are natural and intuitive; Crosswords actually makes the iPad’s onscreen keyboard shine.

In short, the interface is simple, elegant — just right.

Highlight Mistakes is an optional tool which highlights incorrect letter entries. This is particularly useful when you’re in the mood for a quick game but have neither the time nor the inclination to work a puzzle for long periods, constantly checking for mistakes. This single setting changes the entire feel of a game, taking the challenge down a notch when you’re in a more casual mood.

You can set the app to automatically download newly released puzzles on startup or they can be downloaded manually. All puzzles are stored for offline play. When you leave the app mid-puzzle, you’re taken right back to where you left off when you run Crosswords again.

Missing Features

The only feature I’d really like to see in Crosswords is the ability to play with friends with iPhones or iPads over Wi-Fi. Crossword puzzles are usually solitary affairs, but when there’s the opportunity to play with an interested friend or family member, this option would be cool. Another wow feature would be the option to write on the screen with a compatible stylus rather than using the keyboard.

Conclusion

At $10, this app isn’t cheap, but when you consider the limitless free puzzle updates, it’s sort of a no brainer.

If you’re an iPad owner and a lover of crossword puzzles, Crosswords is more than an option; it’s a must. You’ll love it. And if you’re a true crossword devotee, you may just come to think of your iPad as a crossword platform that’s also a computer rather than the other way around.

View Crosswords in iTunes App StoreCrosswords iPad App Pros & Cons

Crosswords was provided by the developer for this review.

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Apr 23

iPad Safari TipAs much as iPad’s form factor and touch interface are ideal for browsing the web, Safari – the browser included in the iOS – comes to us with many desirable features left on the design room floor.  It’s fast and stable, but it’s also limited and locked-down.

No add-ons. No plug-ins.  No third-party enhancements. 

And for the most part I’ve learned to overlook these shortcomings – but I have also been experimenting with ways to make Safari on the iPad better in spite of them. So far my best, most straightforward advice is to use the Bookmarks Bar.

The Bookmarks Bar

In Safari, bookmarked sites or pages are added to the main Bookmarks list you access by tapping the book icon near the top left of the screen; this is standard. But there’s also the optional Bookmarks Bar, a shortcut toolbar that makes things a bit easier if you’re a frequent user of bookmarks:

Safari's Bookmarks Bar helps keep your favorite sites organized on the iPad...

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Apr 21

Ginger Lab's Notability iPad App ReviewApril 21, 2010: While the iPad is unquestionably best for content consumption, if one’s creation needs are limited to quick and relatively simple tasks, the tablet can also become a viable productivity device.  From the moment I began thinking about the iPad and potential roles users would have it play, note-taking was an obvious standout.

The iPad should be perfect for this, right? Snippets of text can be entered with the onscreen keyboard.  Its Internet connection can make quick work of grabbing images, documents, links and other content from the Web.  The onboard mic records audio in lectures and meetings.  And the multitouch interface is ideal for pulling these elements together into a useful and highly-customizable visual presentation.

With this in mind, I set out to find the ultimate note-taking app for the iPad.  My first selection was Ginger Labs’ Notability [iTunes Link], a commercial iPad-only app aimed primarily at students.

I’ve spent the last ten days with the application, using it in my daily work and putting it through its paces. Let’s take a closer look.

Using Notability

The main interface in Notability is the Session screen.  Fields can be created in which text, onscreen drawings (Figures) and web screen grabs are contained.  You can also record audio with the iPad’s onboard microphone, creating inline entries for later playback and labeling.

New fields are stacked in a vertical chain, displayed in order from old to new.  Text notes are customizable with three fonts, a few colors, decoration (bold, italics and underlined) and size.  You can also draw notes with your fingers or iPad-friendly styli; these elements are called Figures.  The Web note feature provides quick, in-app access to the web, with shortcuts to Google, Wikipedia and Dictionary.com.  Once you reach the desired page, a screenshot is taken and added to your notes chain.

You can search existing notes for specific words or parts of words.  Notes can also be shared with anyone connected to your Wi-Fi network, viewable in a web browser pointed to the correct IP.  

Subjective Analysis

As currently offered, Notability provides few of the features I want in a note-taking app, and limits even those.

The Web note feature, which should be the app’s most versatile, is hobbled.  The default function creates a screenshot of the page you select, not of specific page content.  And while you can copy-and-paste text from the web, you can’t copy-and-paste images (attempting to do so pastes image tag data as text). If you copy text from the web and you want to paste into a Text note, the app still creates a screenshot of the source page, which you then have to delete. There’s also no screen selection (or cropping) tool for grabbing selected snippets of web content.

With existing notes, there’s no way to customize their presentation.  The order of entries is locked down, and there’s no corkboard-style interface for moving content around the screen.  Audio recordings cannot be trimmed or exported.

Sharing notes, while a thoughtful feature, is also limited.  Notes can be shared in browsers, but appear with little formatting, and hyperlinks are often not clickable.

Notability does have some nice features.  The Text note function is polished and limited mainly by the iPad’s data entry shortcomings.  The iPad keyboard’s button sounds (if enabled), are muted in Notability as not to disturb classmates if you’re in a crowded room. There’s an equalizer for customizing your audio playback experience, and an in-app volume slider helps you find the right level for playback without using the hardware controls.

Conclusion

Notability was released alongside the iPad, which means it was first developed without tablet in hand.  This being the case, I’m sure it will improve over time.  But as it stands, the app is limited, unpolished and overpriced ($8.99).

Its developers are onto something; the iPad could be a kick-ass note taking appliance with the right app powering the task.  But out of the gate, Notability is notable for very little.

Notability [iTunes Link]

Conclusion

Editor’s Note: This app was provided by the developer for review.

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Apr 18

The iTunes Password Prompt on the Apple iPad On the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad, you’re frequently prompted for your Apple account password in the iTunes and App Store applications; this annoys me, but it’s a feature designed to keep unauthorized miscreants (thieves, furloughed inmates, members of Congress) from spending the account owner’s cash. 

But several days ago my iPad (or as I often call it, myPad) began prompting me for the iTunes password at random times, even when nowhere near iTunes or the App Store. I’d be in Safari, for example, learning the true meaning of fear and – ahem – iTunes password prompt.  It popped up often and seemingly without reason and was very distracting.

I assumed it was a bug and, so, added calling Apple support to my long list of to-dos.

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Apr 16

Concept Image by Graham Bower With the announcement and release of the 4th generation iPhone presumably only a few weeks away, speculation regarding the device is beginning to increase.  Although not a single word you’ll read about the 4th Gen iPhone has been confirmed by Apple, there are some interesting theories floating around.

1. Next iPhone Coming in June: This wouldn’t be a shock.  The 1st Gen and 3GS models were each released in June (2007 and 2009, respectively); the iPhone 3G debuted in July.  It’s also been reported that AT&T has begun blocking wireless employees’ requests for June vacation time.

2. iPad-inspired aluminum shell: Much more questionable, but we so hope this one’s true.  New “leaked” images have appeared which purport to show the 4th Gen iPhone sporting an iPad-slick aluminum back piece, similar to the concept image by Graham Bower shown above.  Update: Even more photos have been posted showing an aluminum back piece.

3. Front-facing camera for video iChat: If you believe some who have already begun playing with iPhone OS 4, the next iPhone will include a front-facing camera for video chat.  Good idea, we suppose, but it doesn’t seem like the sure thing it’s sometimes made out to be.  The rumor is largely based on a process listing for iChatAgent in 4.0 and an image of a possible next-gen iPhone with an unidentified space which could be for a front-facing camera.

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