iPhone Gems: Replicate Your Favorite Widgets, Part 2 | iLounge Article

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iPhone Gems: Replicate Your Favorite Widgets, Part 2

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By Charles Starrett

Contributing Editor
Published: Friday, October 17, 2008
Articles Categories: iPod, iPhone, and iPad Gems: Apps, Games + More

Over the past few months, iLounge’s editors have been hunting widgets—more precisely, we’ve been looking for iPhone OS apps that duplicate the features of popular and useful Mac OS widgets. Apple already includes Stocks, Weather, Calculator and other features with every iPhone and iPod touch, but what about others—phone directory apps, the unit convertor, and package trackers? Or dictionary, flight tracker, and simple translation apps?

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Today’s second part of a two-part series looks at five useful widgets that have been replicated in the App Store with 11 different apps. The first part of this series is also available.

Dictionary Apps, Like Dictionary

One of the most popular Dashboard widgets—among students and writers, at least—is Apple’s Dictionary widget, which offers quick access to both a dictionary and thesaurus. There are several Dictionary apps available for the iPhone and iPod touch, ranging in price from free all the way up to $30, and offering everything from basic search & display to comprehensive, browser-like navigation and audio clips. We’ve chosen three that we selected for their inclusion of reasonable dictionaries—with synonym listings—as well as price and other considerations.

WeDict (Free) and WeDict Pro ($6) from Hongtao Guo are highly similar basic dictionary applications for the iPhone and iPod touch. Both applications sport a fairly spartan interface with a search bar at the top and navigation buttons at the bottom, and use both the 150,000-word WordNet dictionary and a English-Chinese dictionary featuring over 51,000 words. The Pro version offers the ability to download additional dictionaries via a direct URL (.dict or .idx format), save definitions as bookmarks, tap on any word to search, and a decent interface and slider adjustment of text size; by comparison, the standard version offers a more cramped interface and a highly basic search feature. WeDict is obviously meant to serve as a demo for the Pro version, and while it’s certainly a step down in terms of overall features and interface polish, it is worth noting that without downloading a new dictionary, it offers access to the exact same information as the Pro version. Neither provides the slickness found in Mac OS X’s Dictionary widget, but the interfaces of both are reasonably structured and don’t get in the way of the app’s usability.

With the more polished WordBook available for only $2 more, WeDict Pro’s value lies in the ability to download a different, more robust dictionary, as its other features don’t warrant the $6 price tag. As for WeDict, it is by no means a pretty application, but it does offer access to the same dictionary as its Pro counterpart and the $8 WordBook. Users simply looking for a basic dictionary application and nothing more would do well to download WeDict before considering a paid option; however, we feel WeDict Pro is priced quite reasonably for its functionality, and thus worth considering, especially if the user plans on downloading other dictionaries to use with the application. iLounge Rating (Both): B.

WordBook from TranCreative Software ($8) is a fairly basic dictionary application for the iPhone and iPod touch. Based on Princeton University’s roughly 150,000-term WordNet dictionary, WordBook uses a bottom-tabbed interface to navigate between the index (with search), favorites, history, and current content; the app also offers crossword and anagram tools. The main index uses three columns of letters for quick access to certain letters—the first row represents the first letter in the word, the second row the second letter, and so on—which we found to be a nice alternative to a standard search. Definitions are presented in a pleasing manner in a separate view with clickable synonyms.

Since WeDict provides access to the same dictionary for no charge whatsoever, the question with WordBook becomes whether or not its interface is worth the extra cash. The short answer is “maybe.” WordBook is, like WeDict Pro, one of several options available at similar pricing; for some, its nicer interface alone may be enough to justify the extra cost, while others may find its crossword tool handy. Still, it is one of the more expensive dictionary apps not backed by a well-known, popular dictionary base; the ability to download alternate dictionaries would help make it a stronger choice. iLounge Rating: B-.

Sports Score Apps, Like Live Score and Sports Fan

On-the-go sports scores and updates are a major draw on mobile devices — so much so that ESPN at one time tried to become a mobile phone service provider, and now has a special deal with Verizon for sports news. Thankfully the iPhone and iPod touch now have loads of different sports score applications, though many focus on only a single team or sport. For this review we picked two free applications that cover most major sports, eliminating the need for multiple applications.

Sportacular from Jeff Hamilton (Free) is a straightforward score-checking application that offers users a fair amount of customization. The app uses a bottom-tabbed interface to move between scores, standings, stats—including the option of setting up custom/fantasy rosters—news, and a more tab, linked to developer and app information. Sportacular’s top of the screen features a left corner button for switching between the user’s favorite teams, set up through the same menu, or most major sporting leagues. The selection determines the content shown in the app’s different panes, with a refresh button in the right corner.

We found it relatively easy to set up our own favorites list, which once created appears as soon as the app is opened, providing a simple, fast way to keep tabs on favorite teams. Tapping on a game’s score takes the user to a box score, with buttons above for individual team stats and a scoring summary, if available. While we’d really prefer a streamlined display mode that lets you omit all the extra tabs like the iPhone’s Weather app, we certainly can’t argue with Sportacular’s price, and it comes pretty close to our ideal: once favorites are set up, the user has an instant view of team scores as soon as the app opens, and it updates quickly, as well. Cutting some of the interface clutter would be great, but even as-is, Sportacular is worthy of our high recommendation. iLounge Rating: A-.

Like Sportacular, SportsTap from SportsTap (Free) is another multi-sport score checker that mimics the iPhone’s Home screen with rounded square buttons representing the major sports, complete with the option to customize which sports’ icons are shown. iPhone-like red badges show the number of new updates since the last time the app was opened. Unlike Sportacular, at least one tap is required to view scores, and in the case of leagues that are hidden within larger sport categories — such as F1 racing or NCAA football — at least two taps are required. This is less than ideal, except for someone who really wants to justify the SportsTap name.

Like Sportacular, SportsTap allows the user to create a list of favorite teams, although the selection process isn’t as smooth, and instead of displaying all the favorite teams’ scores at once, this simply moves their scores to the top of their respective sports’ score listings — again, not as convenient as Sportacular. However, SportsTap does feature more sports than Sportacular, and a “LocalTap” feature that only shows scores for teams near the user’s present location. All things considered, SportsTap simply isn’t geared for quick-checking of scores, which strikes us as odd for a mobile app, but its expanded roster of sports may appeal to some users, as might the LocalTap feature. Without a way to quickly see the scores of all the user’s favorite teams on one screen, it will remain a second-place application in this category. iLounge Rating: B-.

Translator Apps, Like Translator

Another oft-used widget is Translator, a simple widget that translates words or short phrases from one of twelve languages into another. For this reason, we skipped over the myriad of language-specific translation apps available for the iPhone and iPod touch, and instead chose to review two translation apps that more closely mimic the functionality of Apple’s Dashboard program.

Linguo from Edovia ($3) is a simple translation application that offers support for more than 20 languages. The app’s main screen offers simple From: and To: fields for selecting the languages, and large text fields in which to enter the text. A button at the top lets the user clear, save, or send the translation, while tabs at the bottom allow for navigation between the main translation interface, saved translations, a dictionary filled with phrases that can tapped to hear it played in one of several languages, and an about tab.

The uses Google Translate for a portion of the app, which requires an Internet connection, but the dictionary phrases are stored within the app itself. Overall, Linguo is a fairly easy-to-use, straightforward translator that happens to offer a handful of audio translations. It won’t wow anyone with its accuracy — these are Google Translate results we’re talking about here — but for on-the-go convenience, it does a fine job with little hassle. Those looking for perfect translations, offline custom translation capability, or more robust audio support will need to look elsewhere, but we feel that most users will be served well by Linguo. A lower price, more audio translations, or expanded language support would make it even better. iLounge Rating: B+.

Like its direct competitor Linguo, Translator from Swiss Development ($3) is a simple translation app that utilizes Google Translate to provide translations of words or phrases between most common languages. It too uses a bottom-tabbed interface to navigate between translate, dictionary, saved translations, and learn views, the latter of which presents saved translations in landscape view to help the user learn words or phrases by mimicking a flashcard set. We see this feature as comparable to, if not slightly less useful than, Linguo’s audio phrases. Another difference is in the dictionary view, which offers users a list of possible and related terms for a single word.

Given the small differences in core functionality between Linguo and Translate, the choice between the two apps comes down to two main points: interface and extras. We prefer Linguo’s more traditional iPhone look to Translate’s bronze-tinted map background, but this is largely a matter of personal taste; likewise, some users may find the flashcard function of Translate to be more useful than the short audio snippets provided by Linguo. That said, Translate is on similar footing in terms of ease-of-use and features, and warrants the same rating as Linguo. iLounge Rating: B+.

Airplane Status Trackers, Like Flight Tracker

Between business trips, vacations, and family flying in to visit, airline flight tracking has become a common part of many users’ everyday lives, and Apple has provided a simple, elegant way to do exactly that with its Flight Tracker widget. Unfortunately, it didn’t make its way onto the iPhone, but several third-party developers have stepped in with apps to fill the gap: today we’re looking at two of them. It should be mentioned up front that these apps depend on Internet access, which means that you could also consider Safari—and a web site such as Flightview.com—as an entirely viable free option, albeit without the bells and whistles. For our purposes, we’d be more likely to use a free flight lookup service than a paid one here, but if you need more sophistication, consider these options.

Flight Executive from Inkling Technology ($7) comes close to, and in some ways surpasses, Apple’s own Flight Tracker dashboard widget. The app’s main view offers a list of currently tracked flights, with a search button in the upper right corner, a refresh button in the lower left corner, and a settings button on the lower right that lets the user set up the app’s email service. If the user enters an email address and turns the feature on, flight itineraries can be e-mailed to a trackmyflights.com email address, which in turn will automatically update the app on the phone with the flight details.

Users can search for flights by using fields for departure date and airport, arrival airport, airline, and flight number; search results are listed with the airline name and flight number, date, depart and arrival time, and status—late, on time, landed, et cetera. This same listing format is used on the main screen, where tapping on a flight brings you to the details page, offering scheduled and estimated times, terminal numbers, and baggage information, along with a button to map the flight. Tapping on the map option opens the Maps application and places three pins on the map: one for the departure airport, one for the arrival airport, and one which approximates the plane’s current position in the air. It’s a nice touch.

With an intelligently designed interface, useful features like email itinerary import, searching by flight number, and other thoughtful touches, Flight Executive strikes us as a fine application. The price is the only thing preventing us from giving it our high recommendation—few people will want to pay $7 for this functionality given the number of free web-based flight status tools out there—however, the app’s polish and feature set will likely be more than enough to satisfy anyone who is willing to shell out the cash for it. iLounge Rating: B+.

Flight Tracker from SplashData ($3) is a basic flight tracking tool that offers the ability to save flights for later reference. The app uses a bottom-tabbed interface to switch between new flight and saved flight views; a bar at the top of the saved flights and flight info screen lets the user update the information. To search for a new flight, the user needs to enter only the flight date, departure city or airport code, and the arrival city or airport code, then select the flight from a list of results. Flight results are listed with the airline, flight number, and departure and arrival times; tapping on an individual flight brings up the flight info with a save button at the bottom.

While its functionality is limited, Flight Tracker does an fine job of tracking flights, and it goes beyond bare-bones functionality by offering the ability to save multiple flights. Still, given web-based options, we feel that $3 for the functionality offered by Flight Tracker is a little steep. Added graphical polish and the ability to search for flights by airline and flight number would help to improve the app, which currently falls short of our general-level recommendation. iLounge Rating: C.

Gas Price Apps, Like Gas

While Apple doesn’t include a gas price widget with Mac OS X, Interdimension Media has filled in the gap with its widget Gas, which does a fine job of letting users locate their cheapest local pumps via an interface that resembles a gas station sign. The widget uses a price database from gaspricewatch.com, which is largely dependent on the submissions of its users, but uses incentives to get users to keep updating their local prices. On the road, it’s hard to fool with a gas price web site—gaspricewatch formats poorly for the iPhone’s Safari browser—so a dedicated gas finding application becomes even more useful. We’ve included two gas price checking-applications for the iPhone and iPod touch in this review.

Like Gas, GasBag from Jamcode (Free) depends largely on its users to submit gas prices in order to provide the most accurate data available. This will pose problems for users in less populated areas, as some stations may list dated pricing information, while other stations might not appear at all. The app forgoes a list as its main view in favor of a map, with each station’s pricing—and logo, if available—appearing on its map pin. Buttons at the bottom let the user search near a particular zip code, change the gas type, or access the log book.

Tapping on a station brings up a detailed view, with prices for regular, midgrade, premium, and diesel listed below a buy gas button, a small rotating ad, and the station’s address; users can tap on a fuel grade to submit prices or on the address to open the location in the Maps application. When selecting the buy gas option, the app brings up buttons to add purchase details, which are required, and optionally add the vehicle’s odometer reading. Added transactions can be accessed from the recent purchases button in the log book view, which also lists fuel efficiency, average price, and cost efficiency by week, month, year, or all time, along with a button for adding a station to the app’s database.

In our testing, we found that while GasBag didn’t offer full listings for our local stations, it did normally list the price of regular unleaded, although the information is provided without a date, making it difficult to gauge the accuracy of its results. This is unfortunate, as we strongly prefer GasBag’s map view to that of iGas, were quite surprised by its useful Log book feature, and found it offered a cleaner interface and more features than iGas at literally no cost at all. Without any way to know the accuracy of the results, and without a strong database, GasBag unfortunately drops below our recommended level. Should the developer sign an agreement with a large price-tracking service or expand its userbase to the point where its results become more reliable, it would certainly be worth consideration for its otherwise strong interface and feature set. iLounge Rating: C.

iGas from Oil Price Information Service ($3) provides up-to-date gas pricing information for stations across the U.S, utilizing a database of over 110,000 stations. The data is provided by the app’s developer in cooperation with the large U.S. fleet vehicle payment processing company Wright Express, making its results among the most accurate available. iGas’s main screen lists prices of nearby stations from least to most expensive, with buttons to refresh location, enter a zip code, view the results on a map, and select preferred fuel grade. Tapping on a station listing in list view brings up a details page with the station’s current prices for unleaded, midgrade, premium, and diesel fuels, along with the address, which can be clicked to get driving directions via iGas’s built-in map.

In the map view, stations are listed as points on the map; the user must tap to see the address and price. Strangely, driving directions cannot be accessed from the map view, a design choice that strikes us as counter-intuitive. Aesthetically, iGas is quite plain, utilizing a white text on a black background, and fonts that at times struck us as slightly small. As with GasBag, we find these design choices unfortunate, as iGas undoubtedly provides more accurate pricing information than many of its peers. A re-thought, more fluid and refined interface and integrated log book functionality would do a lot to improve iGas, which earns our general recommendation based more on the strength of its price database than the refinement of the application itself. If you need accurate gas prices in the United States from your iPhone or iPod touch, it’s most likely to give you up-to-date information. iLounge Rating: B.

Earlier iPhone Gems columns are available here.

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Comments

1

WeDict and WordBook are fine dictionary apps for their class and have some unique features, but of course the Dictionary widget in Mac OS X uses the New Oxford American Dictionary, which is a dictionary of considerable critical repute. The only comparable dictionary apps in that class are the American Heritage Dictionary and the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, both available from the App Store. They’re in the $25-$30 range, but they’re worth it if you’re serious about your dictionary and really want something closer to what the dictionary portion of the Dashboard widget gives you.

Posted by Roquentin on October 17, 2008 at 11:41 AM (PDT)

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