Monday, January 21, 2013

Best of 2012: app-happy

Back when it was still 2012, I thought how cool it would be to indulge in a little reflection on all my favourite "stuff" of the year. I talk a lot here about little life moments, about books, and about creativity, but I don't often chat about the gadgets and tools and media that make life smoother -- or even just more fun. Of course, it's now 2013, and 2012 is already an old story. Nevertheless, I'm still gonna go for it. And to kick off the stuff-of-the-year, my favourite mobile apps (Apple-centric, because I don't have an Android devices, sorry) of 2012:

Afterglow, a photo-editing app, has become my go-to for editing shots before uploading them to Instagram. Afterglow is a clean, easy-to-use interface that provides a ton of editing options. There's the basic filter selection, which overlays your shot with a pre-designed light/colour/contrast filter, creating a bunch of cool looks. However, there are also stacks of cropping and rotation tools as well as tweaks for brightness, contrast, sharpening, softening, saturation, exposure, temperature, and graininess. You can add borders or crop the shot to a shape. My favourite feature, though, is the light leaks option, with more than twenty light leaks to overlay onto your picture. Every edit comes with a gradient scale, too, so you can bump up the edit or just impose a subtle change to the photo. Once the photo is edited to your liking, you can save to your camera roll, email, post straight to Instagram, etc in one (or all) of three different sizings. The photos in this post (which I took at my friend Kat's house Adorable Home of Adorableness) were edited on my phone in Afterglow. I'm a fan.

Price: currently $0.99 through the Australian iTunes store.

Solar: There are a million weather apps out there (that might not even be hyperbole; I have no idea) and most of them can be trusted to deliver the information that you need. Can any of them deliver that information as beautifully as Solar, though? I sincerely doubt it. Be sure to click over to the link to see some screenshots of the app in action. It's a lovely piece of minimalist design that's easy to use but also conveys a sense of the weather, with the colour gradient shifting depending on the time of day and the temperature. It delights me every time I check the forecast.

Price: currently $1.99 through the Australian iTunes store.

Bible: Again, there's a whole slew of Bible apps available, but I love this one because it provides a whole multitude of translations to choose from, and is pretty easy to navigate throughout. My two favourite features of this app, though, are the stacks of Bible-reading plans which you can select from (providing you with daily and specific readings directly from your app) and the read-aloud option for the majority of Bible versions. That was especially cool; I found myself listening to the Bible while I was brushing my teeth, applying makeup, or falling asleep at night. Nifty nifty.

Price: This one's a free app, too, so -- bonus!

Marvel comics (for iPad): Yes. I am apparently ten years old, and a boy. But one sick day when I was curled in on myself on the couch, sprawled beneath a cloud of self pity, I just started scrabbling round in the app store, I guess, and came across the Marvel app. It is really just a pretty interface designed to make it even easier for you to fork over dollars for comics, which you can purchase and read from within the app, using your iTunes login. So well done, Marvel. I fell for your wiles and your beautiful high-definition digital comics. However, there are a bunch of free downloadable comics, too -- a gateway, I suppose, to the paid stuff. Enter at your own risk.

Price: the app is free, the comics are not.

Paper (for iPad) is a pretty pretty app that also provides a little bit for free and then lures you into realms of creativity where you must, simply must, fork over seven dollars fifty or so in order to have access to the full palette of sketching and colouring tools. I know; who spends $7.50 on an app? Me, it would seem. And more than once (see below). But when it's worth it, it's worth it. Paper provides a bunch of digital sketchbooks and notebooks, which you can customise by decorating the covers and adding and removing pages. The number of journals you can set up is (I believe) unlimited. The basic app comes with a colour palette of about seven colours, and one drawing nib. With the extra money, there are colours galore and five drawing tools: calligraphy nib, pencil, marker, fine line pen, and brush (which makes for beautiful watercolour effects). Plus there's an eraser. Your drawings, sketches, and notes are completely saveable and shareable. I look forward to doing more with this app because the possibilities are huuuuge.

Price: free... at first.

ABC iView: God bless the ABC, I say! Non-commercial television is lovely enough, but then to offer it all online for viewing at a more convenient time -- yippee! I rarely get to watch a show I'm interested in when it's actually on tv, but the iView app turns my iPad into a little anytime tv. You can add shows to your watch list and be alerted when new episodes appear. Plus, stop watching something halfway through and it will be waiting for you right where you paused it next time you go to watch. I'm sure anybody who is interested is already well aware of this app, but it rates a mention because I really appreciated it this year past.

Price: free, free, free.

Zombies, Run! and Zombies Run 5k training: I actually deliberated for a while about sharing this app with you all. There's no doubt it's my favourite app of 2012 (and I only got into it August, when Laura bought me an iTunes card for my birthday, with the rule that I could spend the change however I wanted but first I MUST buy Zombies, Run!) but sometimes I fear I am loving it too much. It's an exercise app; it shouldn't be this important, right? Oh, but it is!

Basically, Zombies, Run! is an immersive running game that drops you right into the middle of an isolated township of survivors working to get through the zombie apocalypse. You set up a workout playlist, get the app going on your phone or iPod, and then you run your way through all sorts of adventures, getting to know amazing, beautiful, heartbreaking characters as you complete mission after mission and try to help Abel Township stay afloat at the end of the world.

To say that I have fallen in love with the characters is an understatement. These guys are very endearing, with a good mix of drama and humour in their stories. And they are great companions to get me jogging (which I'm super bad at), bike riding, or working out. I've never had such a great inducement to exercise, and the ZR app has taken me through hours and hours of sweating. The app includes more than 30 original workouts, but all of them can be re-run as often as you want. As you run, you collect supplies to help build the fledgling township. And for added incentive, you can turn on zombie chases, and the fear of the undead coming up behind you and moaning in your ear will have you really picking up the pace. It does have its scary moments, as well as other PG elements, so it won't be for everyone (I can't convince my sister to try it) but I have never been more delighted by an app. I am busting for season 2 of the series to come out so I can get over the terrible cliffhanger at the end of the first season of missions!

PS. There's a 5K training app for those new to running, and it is just as wonderful.

Price: this is, to many, an expensive app. At the regular price of $8.99 for ZR and $3.99 for the 5k version, it seems hefty compared to all the free or 99c apps out there. But I'm not kidding when I say I'd buy this app at three times the price. It's really worth it. Plus, for a short time only, the apps are half price to really encourage you in your new year's resolution to move more (don't tell me you didn't promise you'd do it). Half price, guys! Seriously!

So: I've told you my favourite apps of 2012. What are yours?


  1. Wow! I love this post, and such good app reviews :). Such a pity I don't have an iPhone, yeah? :(

    Haha, I had to laugh at the Zombies, Run! review. You have totally convinced me that it is a fantastic exercise motivator... who'd have thunk it? I wish I could try lol!


    1. Do you have an Android? Many of these apps are available for Android, too!

      I'm pumping my fist in the air that you are convinced of the awesomeness of Zombies, Run! It really is so good!

  2. Okay you have me totally intrigued by Zombies Run! I'd never heard of it! So is the 5k a standalone or is it something you buy in combination with the first? I'm confused about which one to start with. And you said you can do other exercise besides running with it?

    I actually don't know why people make a big deal about apps over $1. I mean, people pay WAY more than that for video games on their computers or other game consoles, yet somehow the price expectation goes way down on phones (the most convenient of them all!). So weird. In most cases I'd rather buy my apps, anyway--I hate ads or other ways they take advantage of the "free"ness.

    1. Ah, don't get me started! I am delirious when it comes to this app!

      So the 5k app works perfectly well as a stand-alone. The storyline of the 5k app (which goes for something like 8 weeks) fits between missions 1 and 2 of the regular app, so the 5k would be the best app to start with if you want to start off walking and work up to a jog.

      Because the 5k contains tailored activities designed to build resistance and stamina as well as technique (10 mins of walking followed by 15 second jogs interspersed with walks, for example), it's best used as directed. But the regular app is just a story that assumes you will be running, so you could walk it, jog it, bike ride -- or even dance it (yes, I've done that. Just be careful your iPod doesn't fly out of your pocket with all the frenetic activity).

      And goodness YES re. price! Everyone on tumblr has been asking, "I really wanna buy Zombies Run but it's SOOOO expensive!" I feel like saying, "You're basically getting an exercise app AND the radio equivalent of a full season of a tv show. Nine bucks IS NOT MUCH!"

      If you try it, let me know!

  3. I just have a regular ole' cell phone; nothing techy at all. But I love the Afterglow look to your photos! :)

  4. I loved this post :) And so glad that I have now entered the iWorld and can now appreciate and participate in the conversation!
    Several of your favs are also mine :) I'm tempted to give afterglow a go after reading this. I'm currently loving the Bible app, iView, and my run trainer. Also...dare I mention, Sam and I are sort of hooked on Angry Birds for an evening chill out game :D

    1. I, too, am happy you're in the iWorld :D

      Have you got Fruit Ninja? It's also oddly mesmerising. Caitlin and I were playing Fruit Ninja races the other day, me on my iPad and her on mum's.

  5. I super loved this post, reading it and digesting it. My fave app is of course ZR. How I love it so!! I guess maybe Instagram is my other favourite, although I don't use it as much as I used to.

    1. apps are like the funnest thing ever. And I can't thank you enough for getting me into ZR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Yes, all those exclamation points are tacky. But they were necessary.

  6. You are amazing at finding cool stuff.


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