iPhone + iPad Gems: Navigon, Pocketbooth HD, Slacker, Skyfire, The 3 Pandas, Uniqlo Calendar + Units | iLounge Article

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iPhone + iPad Gems: Navigon, Pocketbooth HD, Slacker, Skyfire, The 3 Pandas, Uniqlo Calendar + Units

Welcome to the second part of a special rapid-fire edition of iPhone + iPad Gems! This week, we’re taking quick looks at a collection of 14 apps, most of which are new, along with a handful of iPad-specific updates to titles we’ve previously covered. Most of the apps are universal, but a handful are iPad-exclusive as noted below.

Our top picks from this batch are Slacker Radio version 3.0, Uniqlock, and Uniqlo Calendar. Read on for all the details.

Navigon MobileNavigator North America by Navigon AG ($60, version 1.8.1) was released nearly two years ago for the iPhone and iPod touch, and more recently has appeared as a universal app with iPad support.  While we’re not fully re-reviewing Navigon, we wanted to note that the app has come a long way since 2009, and now makes good if not groundbreaking use of the iPad’s screen: before starting a trip, you’re shown a weather forecast, parking information, and businesses near your destination, plus relevant traffic congestion on roads that might impact your travel. Lists of gas stations, parking spots, and restaurants are only a tap or two away on the map screens, with additional in-app purchases now available for live traffic, a nicely shaded “Panorama View 3D” mode, radar advisories, and Zagat ratings. Navigon still has issues, including a backwards approach to POI database searching, and it remains expensive, but the price has dropped $10 from where it was two years ago, and the quality of its content has increased. In a world of imperfect navigation apps, it’s now our go-to app for turn-by-turn directions on the iPad. iLounge Rating: B.

Pocketbooth HD by Project Box ($2, version 1.0.1) is the iPad 2 version of the iPhone and iPod touch app Pocketbooth we reviewed last year—a cute way to replicate the experience of shooting a short sequence of pictures in a cramped booth with a friend or family member. There aren’t any major surprises in the iPad app, or great justifications for it to exist as a standalone $2 download given how incredibly similar it is to the $1 version for smaller-screened cevices, but it’s a lot of fun: you can set the number of consecutive shots, the time between them, and the type of “paper” and color effects that will be applied to the images. Four-photo sets come out as 489x2608-pixel strips of generally weathered-looking images that can be scrolled through, printed, saved to the iPad’s photo roll, or shared over Facebook, Twitter, and email. Apple’s own Photo Booth app for iPad 2 could stand to take some lessons from Pocketbooth HD, though the opposite is true, too; this app has only four photo color effects, and besides its retro-styled interface, doesn’t really have a need to stick solely to golden oldies. iLounge Rating: B.

Slacker Radio by Slacker, Inc. (Free, version 3.0) is a just-released update to the powerful “create your own radio stations” app we reviewed two years ago, finally bringing long-awaited support for the iPad’s display. Though one feature that we loved in the original free version of Slacker has faded a little—namely, its ability to call up virtually any song you wanted to hear before moving onto an automatically-generated playlist of similar tracks—the rest of the app has improved quite a bit. Even on the iPod touch and iPhone, the main UI has been upgraded for the Retina Display and streamlined with panes that slide onto the screen from the top and bottom; there’s also a new $10 monthly Slacker On-Demand service that provides unlimited access to songs and albums, plus lyrics, without the banner or audio ads that play in the app’s free version.

On the iPad, the UI is completely different, using the top of the screen for the scrolling collection of album covers, as well as newly animated play-pause, forward, favorite, and dislike buttons. An AirPlay button lets you stream tracks to Apple TVs and AirPlay-compatible speakers, and another button lets you see the history of custom stations you’ve created. The bottom half of the screen is used to navigate lists of custom and integrated stations, artist bios, reviews, and lyrics, with additional text, details, and images appearing based on whatever you’ve selected. While Slacker continues to push ads and upgrade buttons in your direction, even the free app continues to be exceptionally worthwhile as a music discovery tool, and the idea of subscribing will make sense for frequent listeners. Given that Rhapsody has threatened to leave the App Store over increased Apple subscription charges, and that Napster’s future is similarly in doubt, we’ll see whether Slacker’s prices and business model change, but for now, we really love what it has to offer. iLounge Rating: A-.

Skyfire Web Browser for iPad by Skyfire Labs ($5, version 2.4.0) is a more expensive, iPad-only update to the iPod touch/iPhone Adobe Flash substitute we reviewed late last year. Skyfire is designed as a replacement for Apple’s Safari browser with one critical addition: the ability to play certain Adobe Flash videos that have been embedded in web pages. On a positive note, Skyfire’s doing better now than it was in 2010, having added support for a number of additional Flash video sites, though notably not Hulu—the single biggest draw Flash has left these days. Videos play back fluidly on the iPad, with seemingly full frame rates and audio, a boon to fans of South Park and Comedy Central.

But the reality is that this developer has less to do now than it did even six months ago: videos from MSNBC and even Adobe’s own web site have been converted into H.264, so they now play natively in the Safari browser, a victory for Apple and for the battery life of its devices. We had to go out of our way to even find videos to play with Skyfire, and though the developer has added additional sharing features to the browser, there’s not much of a justification to spend the $5 any more. A universal iOS app at the original version’s price would be more of a draw. iLounge Rating: C+.

The Three Pandas Animated Storybook by See Here Studios and Valerie Min ($4, version 1.2) is an interactive English- or Chinese-language re-imagining of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Developed as a universal app, The Three Pandas is a book with pages that are two-thirds lightly interactive art and one-third text, enabling children to optionally hear the story read aloud and “tickle” elements on the screen to modestly animate them. Brief musical cues and quick transition animations play between some pages of the book, combining with the mix of digitized and rendered imagery to provide an experience that’s less a cartoon than a semi-realistic look at how a family of pandas would react to a girl - Mei Mei - coming into their home, complete with a happy ending.

While the app’s parts are all individually impressive, particularly the narration, the visuals and music come together in a somewhat halting way, with stop-and-start tunes and unpredictable, brief interactive elements. Our primary (nearly three-year-old) child reader put it down more quickly than other iOS books for seeming lack of things to do. Older kids might enjoy this book, and the production values are solid for the price; younger kids will likely find it less compelling. iLounge Rating: B.

Uniqlock (Free, version 3.0) and Uniqlo Calendar for iPad (Free, version 1.0.4) are two related apps from leading Japanese fashion company Uniqlo. We previously covered Uniqlock when it was released for the iPhone and iPod touch more than two years ago, and now there’s a more stable version with universal iPad/iPhone/iPod touch support—even more reason to check out what Uniqlo has done to promote its products. Uniqlock juxtaposes club music with alternating animations of a 24-hour clock and brief videos of Japanese women dancing in Uniqlo’s clothes, content that debuted on the company’s web site in 2007 and ran through 2009. Six different sets of free videos, each with different and fantastic DJ-mixed music, can be downloaded through the application; they remain amazingly hypnotic and distinctive even years after their release, looking even better on the large iPad display than they did on the iPod and iPhone. iLounge Rating: A-.

Uniqlo Calendar for iPad is newer and even more interesting: a separate collection of videos and club music, this time with a calendar, clock, and simple weather forecast alongside a constantly changing set of scenes recorded in different Japanese cities. Eight different free video sets can be downloaded to Uniqlo Calendar, each representing one of the four seasons, and gifted with its own soundtrack. Like Uniqlock, the music here is upbeat, but it’s also dreamier, and the videos vary from metropolitan and rural settings to beaches and bridges over expanses of water. They’re distinctive because they’re shot with a mix of tilt-shift and stop-motion photography, which combine to make real people and backdrops alike look like miniatures—many of the sequences are absolutely gorgeous and equally unusual, presenting scenes of daily life that have been shot in untraditional ways. Our only complaint about both of these apps is the limitation of their location finders, which despite Apple’s pinpoint-precise GPS hardware will call up the names of distant cities if you’re not in a major metropolis. Getting the time in a nearby city isn’t a problem, but seeing its name on the screen—and a weather forecast from hundreds of miles away—isn’t great. It’s a small price to pay for otherwise great free apps. iLounge Rating: A-.

Units - The Unit Converter ($1, version 2.1) from TouchMeme is the last app in this roundup. It’s another unit conversion tool we’ve been testing for the iPad, and unlike Converter Touch HD, it’s a universal app—a plus. The interface changes from the iPad to the iPhone and iPod touch, using three vertical rollers on the iPad and three horizontal ones on the smaller-screened devices, with 18 different measures in the center column, straddled by rollers with different units for top and bottom of screen numbers. On the iPad, tapping on a number calls up a hover-over keypad to enter digits; the center of the iPhone/iPod touch screen is replaced with the pad, instead. While there’s nothing whatsoever that we’d call particularly wrong about Units, and we really liked the universal device support, the UI is uninspired on both types of iOS screens, and we found Converter Touch HD to be faster for our needs because of its interface. This is a good, inexpensive option, though. iLounge Rating: B+.

Thousands of additional iPhone, iPod, and iPad app and game reviews are available here.

« iPhone + iPad Gems: CollabraCam, Converter Touch HD, Craigslist Pro iPad, Due, Hitpad + iWatermark

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