Category Archives: App Reviews

Productivity Tool Review: Todoist

Knowledge Junkie, Avid Reader and Lover of all things puzzles and cats. Alexandrea is a Biology major and Computer Science/Music double minor at Pacific University. A self-starter who loves a challenge, her passion is developing tools that bring people together to learn.
Alexandrea Beh
Latest posts by Alexandrea Beh (see all)

To-do lists are a smart way to stay organized and be more productive. While traditional pad and paper may work well enough for some, Todoist is the best digital tool I’ve come across. I’ve been using Todoist regularly for the past six months and here’s why I can’t live without it.

Intuitive Planning

Todoist tasks are viewable by default based on what is due ‘Today’ and what is due in the ‘Next 7 Days’. When specifying due dates, Todoist understands what you mean by ‘every day’, ‘tomorrow’, ‘next wednesday’ and ‘every other day’. It also correctly interprets multiple day/date formats (so you can type ‘Wed’ if you’re too rushed to write ‘Wednesday’) and includes a pop-up calendar so that you can choose a date if that’s more convenient. Rescheduling tasks is easy with default options to postpone a task until the next day or the start of the next week. Bulk rescheduling is quick and works well in both the mobile and web versions.

Options for Organizing

Todoist helps you prioritize by offering four color-coded levels of prioritization. Tasks assigned a specific priority leads your to-do list to be automatically sorted from most to least important (priority labels are only overridden if there is a time associated with the task, such as ‘Pick up the mail today at 3pm’). Each project and task can be broken down into several indented sub-projects and sub-tasks if needed. The free version allows you to sort tasks by project and labels, while the premium version allows you to make the labels color-coded.

Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh
Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh

Effective Searching and Filtering

One of the best parts of Todoist is how well natural language processing has been integrated into the service: typing ‘3 days’ into the search pulls up the tasks for the next 3 days only, easily customizing the task view. You can also search by date (in the same variety of ways that Todoist understands setting a due date) and you can search by priority. Upgrading to Premium allows you to search using boolean operators (more on that later) and by task keyword (useful if you forgot when something was due and you don’t want to sort through dozens or hundreds of tasks to find the entry).

Cross-Platform and Cross-App Integration

Todoist is accessible on the web but also syncs through plugins and apps for Android phones, Android tablets, Windows, Macs, iPhones, iPads, Amazon devices, Chrome, Firefox, Gmail, Outlook, Thunderbird, and Postbox. I mainly use the web  and Android phone version, and am happy to say that syncing works well and that the Android app has great functionality. Some of the app’s best features are a widget with a customizable task view, ability to check off tasks or reschedule tasks through the widget without launching the app, and the ability to quickly add one or multiple tasks (through the notification bar) without leaving whatever app you’re currently in. For even more productivity magic, Todoist integrates with services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, IFTTT, and Zapier.

Shortcuts – A Programmer’s Dream

Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh
Screenshot by Alexandrea Beh

The Todoist UI is very sleek, fairly minimalist, and easy to work with for those who don’t want to learn complicated commands. There are options, however, that make the programmer part of me very, very happy. Within the free version, you can save long links and create an elegant-looking task with the format ‘webaddress (Task name)’ so that only the task name appears, but the text has been hyperlinked, making it easy to go to the saved website. In the web version, using ‘!!1’ at the end of creating a new task will mark the task with Priority 1, saving you a couple mouse clicks. The Premium version allows you to search tasks and filter using boolean operators: using ‘today & priority 1’, the AND operator, shows you tasks that are both due today and are top priorities while ‘today | priority 1’, the OR operator, shows you anything either due today or due at any time but labelled with priority 1. It’s not the functionality of the Linux command line, but for a productivity tool I’m more than satisfied.

Is Premium Worth It?

I recently upgraded to Todoist Premium (a year’s subscription is $29) and mostly enjoy the enhanced search and filtering options, as well as the ability to easily add emails as tasks. I feel that most people can get a lot out of the free version without ever needing to upgrade, although the Premium version has more color-coding options and more than doubles the number of projects you can have at one time (from 80 to 200 projects, each with up to 200 tasks in the Premium version instead of 150).

What Can’t Todoist Do?

For one, Todoist is definitely not your virtual personal assistant (it can integrate with Google Now though). It won’t try to be smart and anticipate what you want to know unless you’ve set up integrations for that kind of functionality. I would recommend that if you are looking to use a highly functional yet customizable task-tracker, especially one that works well across multiple platforms, then give Todoist a try!

Disclaimer: This post is in no way sponsored by Todoist.

Textter is a real-time texting app from Miami

We created Más Wired to show the incredible contributions Latinos are making in the digital space. As the largest growing demographic in the U.S., Latinos are more than just a market and are making important contributions in technology.
Mas Wired

Textter is a live messaging system allowing users to users to chat in real-time, letter by letter. The Miami-created app also has some great privacy features, allowing users to see each others’ messages without ever having to press “send.”

Carlos Cueto created Textter after watching his two teenaged daughters texting. They text constantly, he said, and so are constantly frustrated by having to wait until their friends respond to their texts. With Textter he found a way to address this issue: instead of watching as texts are being composed, Textter allows users to see texts being written in real-time.

Cueto told Más Wired that the company was recently contacted by a large medical device maker, requesting a group chat function in order to see which emergency responders are available. He also said Textter’s live delete function can aid with privacy, given that users can read and share messages without having to ever press send; they can simply delete their messages after each has seen them.

We spoke with Cueto about his business, enjoy and share this interview!

Más Wired: What is Textter?

CC: Textter is a live messaging system (LMS), which allows users to users to chat in real-time, letter by letter. A beta version is currently available on the Apple App Store and Google Play for free. It’s completely free — no ads. We are releasing a major update in approximately 30 days which will include sharing pictures, as well as copy/paste function and many [other] improvements.

MW: What’s the story behind Textter?

CC: I created the app because I was frustrated with the SMS (Short Messaging Service). When you are engaged in a conversation via text, it is extremely annoying for me, and a waste of time, to wait for the other person to finish typing, fix typos and re-editing their text. Then they need to wait for you to read their text, come up with a response, type, fix typos and edit your message. Cut your texting time in half with Textter because you will finish the other person’s answer halfway through them typing the question.

MW: Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

CC:  I decided to become an entrepreneur when I realized the management I worked for were not forward thinkers. Their idea of planning for the future was looking ahead three-to-six months.  I am always working on a two-, five- and 10-year plan. Out of frustration I quit my job and decided to start my own business because I knew my growth was stunted. Twelve months after I left, the company closed, laying off 350 employees.

MW: What are some lessons you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?

CC: I started my first business in 2004, thankfully it was successful and it is currently funding my startup Textter. It’s not easy to gain exposure and traction. I thought it was going to be extremely easy. Once you can prove your numbers, the money will follow, hence allowing you the ability to take your time and hire the best candidate as a co-founder and team of developers. Hiring offshore is not the best way to go, you can not control their hours and its easy for them to simply ignore you.

Wire Framing is extremely important. Look at other apps, mimic the best in the industry, use as a blueprint for simple task such as login, creating an account etc.

Don’t rush to release — test, test and test again. There’s nothing worse than losing a customer because of glitches.

Reviewing Pixel Press: A Platform for Making Your Own Platformer Game

Creative Thinker, Cartoon Aficionado, Google Analytics Certified, Skilled Writer. Sharon's published work spans the fields of militaries and social media. She also deftly figured out long ago what coffee and genetic testing have in common (they're both wake-up calls).
Sharon Gutowski

I love video games, but haven’t made any. Until today. When I first heard about Pixel Press a few months ago, the idea caught my attention. As the name suggests, Pixel Press is like a digital printing press, giving everyone with an iPad the ability to create their own platformer game.

I met Pixel Press’ co-founder, Robin Rath, and other staff at a tech job fair in February. When Robin shared his desire to create a video game with programmers, they found a way to make it happen. By creating their proprietary technology, they’re able to use an iPad camera as a liaison between lines on paper and interactive elements that you can arrange any way you want.

PixelPressHere’s how it works. You sketch out your game, using the key provided in the sketch guide. Download the custom graph paper here. After you’ve got a general layout, take a photo of your graph paper with your iPad camera. Upload it. Pixel Press then transforms your sketch into the game elements (coins, terrain, spikes, etc.) using its proprietary technology.

If I’ve made it sound easy, shame on me. Computers can’t see. Under the hood, all letters have numeric values that programs transform into visual symbols for the benefits of us humans. After uploading your photo, you will probably need to utilize the in-app features to correct mistakes. No computer will have 100 percent accuracy in detecting symbols across ages and different hand-writing. However, Pixel Press saves each recognized character in order to get better over time.

I chose to skip the graph paper completely and create my game entirely in my iPad. At first, this was a frustrating experience. The sketch guide is two clicks away, but short-term memory alone wasn’t enough for me. Like anything in life, it takes practice. It took me a while to get warmed up, too.

For a lack of a better phrase, I had writer’s block. Eventually, I decided I wanted my first level to have a floor that was all spikes, except one super coin that would be hard to get to. I ended up with two power ups instead. The instant testing allowed me to make sure I wasn’t making it so hard it wasn’t fun. I really wanted my game to be hard. Click here to check it out. You can also opt to “play” rather than “create” choosing from dozens of games created by others.

My husband once gave me solid advice for platformer games: don’t move until you can see where you want to land. I made it a rule that I had to give that option to people playing my game. I quickly discovered that I’d spread my elements too far apart. The proportions are challenging, because in the sketchbook, you have a broad view of your level. But until you start testing, you have no idea which portion of screen is visible to the player. What made sense in the sketch screen didn’t work as well when I went to play.

In order to move my elements closer together I had to completely redraw them. The drawing tools are pretty good, so this didn’t take too long. And despite years of Photoshop and Illustrator teaching me to avoid the pencil tool, the pencil tool in Pixel Press is quick and accurate.

But a drag-and-drop mode would be even better, so I could simply select already-constructed elements, move them to a new location and override anything I’d already drawn on that square. Even better still, would be some kind of visual overlay in the sketch mode that gave me the players field of vision. This was an issue both horizontally and vertically.

Right now, I see the control as the biggest issue. The jumps are too high and fast compared with moving across the terrain. I had to change some of my game because the control simply wasn’t there. Hopefully, it will improve with time.

The Floors app is free but adding enemies and custom power-ups cost $.99 and $1.99 respectively. I think it’s worth the three dollar investment to have more control. What’s a platformer game without enemies? I wish I received more selection or my investment, such as enemies that could fly, hang on monkey bars or shoot things. To be fair, it was half the price of the power-ups, which has a lot of variety. And when I consider the money spent against the hours of entertainment, Pixel Press is right up there with Netflix. For me, that’s saying something.

When I talked to Robin last he mentioned his desire to someday make it possible for players to incorporate their own artwork and graphics. As an artist, I look forward to being able to add my own visual touch to the already beautiful graphics. Those of you who know me won’t be surprised that I look forward to making an Albert Einstein avatar to star in one of my games. With a Mad Scientist theme! Without Pixel Press, I wouldn’t even be thinking about which Nobel Prize winners belonged in my future games.

If you enjoy platformer games, I highly suggest downloading Pixel Press floors. It takes time and effort to get comfortable using it, but it’s worth it. Currently, Pixel Press is only available on iOS, but they have plans to take it to Android soon. While they haven’t publicized a price, the app store description implies that Pixel Press floors might not be free forever. Click here to learn more about Pixel Press and here to download it from iTunes.


The Many Ways to Waze

Lindy Tolbert
Latest posts by Lindy Tolbert (see all)

The world of smartphone applications is a varied and confusing one.  But so is the world of LA traffic.  That’s why I use Waze.

 Surprisingly, not a ton of people have heard of it. For me, the consummate commuter, it’s a life-saver.

Which Waze should I go?

Purchased by Google in June of last year, Waze is a GPS application formulated as a game that updates your traffic route in real-time to give you the best and fastest possible route from one point to the next.  It gives you route options and an estimated arrival time that’s usually on target.  If traffic changes and the route Waze gives you starts backing up, it updates with alternative options.  All of this is performed by a voice navigation system that gives you step-by-step directions.  
You can elect to use toll roads (or not), find nearby gas stations, food, and other facilities in relation to your location.  Users can also report police sightings, accidents, construction, and debris.

It Don’t Run in Our Blood – So We’ll be Waze Royals

The most interactive part of the application is that users garner points if they report information, and their level can increase based on how much they report.  The levels, ranging from Waze baby to Waze royalty, are represented by increasingly hilarious avatars, and the higher the Waze level, the more the user has an ability to edit maps.  Waze can sync with your Facebook events and give you directions to the location, give you live location updates from your friends, private message, and can do hands-free voice updates by simply waving your hand in front of the screen.
So, if you’re not using Waze, get on it.  Unless you’re a conspiracy theorist thinking the government is spying on you with location satellites.  Then don’t.   (They probably are.  Hi, NSA.)  
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