The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

Goodbye for now, everyone. And hello again!

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This will be my last post on The Third Device. It’s been six months since I started this blog, and in that span of time my iPad and I have had nothing but good times.

Now that the hype and hoopla over the iPad has died down and I’ve had time to play with (and discard!) tons of useless, fun, frivolous apps, I’ve found that in the past half year, there are only three main functions for which I use my iPad:

  • To consume. As a book / magazine reader and video player, the iPad’s large screen and amazing battery life make it the perfect companion for doctors’ waiting rooms, boring seminars, traffic jams or beach vacations – though outdoors, the annoying screen glare means you may wind up with your pool towel over your head (true story). And I firmly believe that Instapaper alone justifies the purchase of an iPad if you’re a news junkie or fan of long form journalism.
  • To create. Coupled with my trusty folding Bluetooth QWERTY keyboard, I’ve used the iPad to bang out dozens of articles, reviews, emails, and online posts. Too bad most of them weren’t destined to wind up on this sorely neglected website. I also use it to schedule appointments, write notes, and keep my life tidy.
  • To cruise the net. For many people, myself included, it’s already an ingrained daily routine to do one last Facebook/Twitter/your social media check before going to bed and again upon waking in the morning. The iPad just makes it so easy – in fact, too easy. I often lose focus when reading a novel or watching a movie if only because IN THE PAST TWO MINUTES 15 NEW TWEETS CAME IN OMG OMG.

Everything else is gravy. Sure, it’s a great gaming machine, though I’ve really only wound up playing Words with Friends and Hexalex for any length of time. It’s a legitimate contender to mobile gaming devices like the PSP and DS. And it’s a great babysitter too – my young niece and nephew lunge immediately towards me every time we meet, not because they’re particularly happy to see me but they know that Unca Vic = iPad and they can splash around in Pocket Pond HD (fishie!) and play Angry Birds.

But could I live with just an iPad and nothing else? Not at all, and that’s why I called this blog The Third Device. I still rely on my laptop to get serious work done at the studio; while there are some very impressive music and recording apps available for iOS, I would never rely solely on an iPad to score TV commercials. It’s just not possible.

I also rely on the iPod Touch (my “iPad Nano”, as I affectionately call it)  in my pocket on a daily basis, sometimes even moreso than the iPad. Thanks to the wonder of cloud computing, I know that most anything I do on the iPod Touch, be it notes, calendars, emails, etc will wind up eventually on the iPad and my laptop as well. Sometimes it’s just more convenient and less attention-grabbing to fiddle with the Touch rather than the iPad; I have no qualms about reading a Kindle book on my Touch while in the barber’s chair getting a trim but I wouldn’t do so with the iPad. Plus, I’d get hair all over my screen.

These are actually exciting times for iPad owners. Any day now, the much-awaited iOS 4.2 update is scheduled to go public, bringing lots of goodies like multitasking (yay!), folders (yay!), and a unified mail inbox (yay!) I’ve been running a pre release copy of 4.2 for a week or so (it’s out there if you know where to look) and damn if it didn’t make me giddy about the iPad all over again. I could do without Apple’s decision to change the hardware orientation switch to a mute toggle though .. I flip that switch dozens of times a day and now I have to undo that particular bit of muscle memory. Grr.

These are exciting times for me as well. I’ve just signed on as the reviews editor for an all-new, all-Filipino, all-geek technology blog called Technoodling. We’ll be covering everything that makes geek hearts go pitter patter – mobile phones, computers, headphones, games, cameras, etc, with a touch of local flavor to keep it relevant.

Technoodling is still in its infancy and we’ll be working out the kinks and testing out a lot of ideas along the way, but it’s an extremely promising concept by a fun, talented and knowledgable bunch of guys and I’m eager to work with them and see where it goes. And you can count on a lot of iPad-related content; all the things I’ve been saving up to post on this blog will eventually appear over there in one form or another.

That about wraps it up. Thanks for all the support and encouragement and I’ll see you over at Technoodling!

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November 10, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Boxwave Capacitive Stylus

I’ve been away from the blog for a few weeks but I’m back with a couple of interesting things to report.

First up, we’ve got an interesting stylus from Boxwave.

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If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I’m a big fan of note taking apps, particularly in combination with a writing device such as the ones from Pogo. To be honest, a direct comparison should be made between the Boxwave and Pogo’s flagship Sketch, but since I use and own the smaller Pogo Stylus, that’s what we’ll look at.

The biggest difference between the Boxwave and my Pogo is pretty apparent once you pick them up: the Boxwave is a bit over an inch longer than the Pogo, but more importantly, it feels about twice as thick and more than twice as heavy.

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This, together with the fact that it’s made from metal instead of plastic, gives the Boxwave a nice solid heft in the fingers that feels very pen-like.

The tip of the Boxwave is a solid rubber dome, unlike the soft foam on the Pogo. If writing with a Pogo feels like brushing the surface of the iPad with a makeup applicator, then writing with the Boxwave feels like using a slick pencil eraser on the screen. There’s very little drag despite the rubber tip. It’s a good solid contact point that elicits a much more positive and tactile feel.

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The quality of construction and the nice shiny pocket clip give the Boxwave an expensive look that doesn’t make it feel out of place alongside a bunch of my fountain pens. You can tell I’m a big fan of black and chrome writing instruments, so this one fits right in!

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In addition, the Boxwave comes with a tiny little plastic plug on a cord tether that is designed to insert into your device’s headphone port and keep the stylus handy. I also found that clipping the stylus to the outside spine of my Apple iPad case worked well for keeping it close by without affecting the case’s ability to properly fold open or closed.

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Taking notes with the Pogo was workable but the Boxwave just feels so much more enjoyable and productive. My handwriting comes out clearer, too.

When using a fountain pen or ballpen, I also have a habit of unconsciously twirling it in my fingers during idle moments and I caught myself doing that with the Boxwave during a meeting – something I can’t do with the Pogo. An unexpected bonus!

To sum it up: I think this one is a keeper. I’ll stash the Pogo away in my gear bag for emergencies, but from now on the Boxwave isn’t going to leave its place clipped to the side of my iPad.

If you’re interested in purchasing  a Boxwave locally, send a Facebook message over to Jerry Tieng.

September 17, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Congrats! Now let’s play.

I entered all the names into Luck of the Draw to ensure maximum randomization and the winner of the HexaLex giveaway is: Hoho!

Sorry Nate, you didn’t win. But thanks for the code =)

Da winnah!

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A review of HexaLex. Get a chance to win a free copy!

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I have a free copy of this game to raffle off, thanks to the generosity of developer Nathan Gray. Details at the end of this review.

Every once in a while, an app comes along that I just happen to discover and get addicted to completely by accident.  HexaLex ($1.99) is one of those games, and while strictly speaking is not an iPad app (it’s written for the smaller iPhone screen) it still plays perfectly fine on both devices.

If you’ve been following this blog closely, you know that I’m addicted to the game Words with Friends (hereafter referred to as WwF), which is a reasonable facsimile of Scrabble with its own little twists and tricks, particularly of the online multiplayer sort. Well, HexaLex takes the best parts of both games and slaps them onto what looks like the surface of a beehive. This ups the challenge level considerably, and throws out a few of the reliable strategies you may have developed as a longtime Scrabble or WwF player.

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Words With Friends, on a beehive. Sweet!

Honestly, the new layout isn’t quite as sadistic as it sounds. The gameplay allows for what are termed as “junk words”, meaning you can get away with using two-letter nonsense words to help you along as you plan your move. However, you can’t just play a junk word by itself – you still need to play a legal word as your main move. You’re given up to 2 junk words per turn, but it’s still not all that easy.

What does make things easier, though, is the interface (especially in comparison to WwF). As you place your tiles on the board, the game instantly gives you feedback as to whether you’re playing a legal word or not. If you’re playing multiple words in a turn and one of them is illegal, it will helpfully inform you which one is a dud. Plus, as you hit the button to submit the word, HexaLex shows you the potential total point score of that word before you commit to the move (no more doing fuzzy arithmetic in your head at 3 in the morning – or is that just me?)

Did I mention that you can play not just against the computer, but against up to three other online players? This. Is. Awesome!

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Another gameplay feature that I love: you have up to three complete rack swaps per game, meaning if you have a set of totally crap letters, you can choose to dump all 7 back in the pool in the hope of getting better ones – all without sacrificing a turn.This is a great feature, sort of like turbo boost in a racing game;  used strategically at the right time, it can mean the difference between winning or losing.

Other key interface points that make me smile: you have an info button that shows you a detailed history and stats on you and your opponent, as well as the ability to name your games for quick reference (or just if you want to exercise your sense of humor).

There is even a built in tutorial that takes you through all these features and more.

Finally, there’s an online leaderboard that will wring every last bit of competitive juice out of me! After 3 days of play, I’m currently 16th on the weekly points score list – and you can bet I’m going to be challenging those 24 other players on that list sooner or later 🙂

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I’m hard pressed to come up with any negative aspects about this game (other than the fact that it makes diving back into a WwF game suddenly feel so starkly vanilla) but the top on my list would be of course, the need for HD support so it looks better on the iPad. The chat icon on the gameboard could also be a tad more visible; it’s easily overlooked. I also like to play music in the background while playing WwF and thinking over my moves – with HexaLex, it’s not an option because the game takes over the audio and kills any tunes you might be playing.

And probably another possible negative is that if you find WwF to be challenging you’re definitely going to get your ass kicked in HexaLex – it’s nowhere near as friendly. (On the bright side, no one seems to have developed a cheat / helper app for HexaLex yet, unlike the ones for WwF … cheaters, you know who you are and shame on you!)

I can sum up this review as follows: I took WwF off my dock (gasp!) and replaced it with HexaLex. Considering how many apps there are on my iPad and how limited the dock space is, that’s saying a lot.

Now, on to the fun part: leave me a comment and tell me what apps have earned the honor of being on your iPad or iPhone Dock. You can even go on and tell us why if you’re feeling chatty. I’ll pick a winner at random exactly a week from now and that lucky person will get a free copy of HexaLex!

August 20, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 11 Comments

Unleash your inner Charice.

(I’ve been meaning to post this article for several months now but it’s only lately that I found the video file, so excuse the delay)

In my day job (I compose music for TV and radio ads) I get to work with some really cool equipment. But when I saw the Glee – Singers Wanted (No Talent Required) app from Smule, I was still highly impressed by how much technology they were able to pack into a one dollar app. In the interest of word count, and sanity, by the way, I shall henceforth refer to the app as simply “Glee”.

The app is essentially an electronic karaoke machine, letting you sing on top of preloaded backing tracks. You can also download additional songs, each for a dollar.  “Glee” comes with a built in pitch correction function that can forcibly drag your warbly voice towards the nearest correct note (what is commonly referred to as “AutoTune”) and harmonization function that provide you with a three-person ensemble of backup singers, all happening in real time. Beyond that, “Glee” then lets you upload your recordings to the Internet for posterity, and you can even collaborate with other wannabe singers on a recording.

Glee - Singers Wanted (No Talent Required). Yes, that is the full name of the app.

If you love to sing, or if you’re a fan of the show Glee, you should have already downloaded this by now. But I neither sing nor watch Glee, so I grabbed my very talented friend Ricci Chan (who lists himself on Facebook as an “actor, singer, teacher, stylist, host, musician, makeup artist, writer, musical director, songwriter, creative thinker, record producer & artist”) to record a song and put the app through its paces. I shot a quick video of him playing with the app, and then he rerecorded the vocal later on at home and sent it to me. So what you’ll hear in the video is a combination of the live audio from the room and his later recording, with the minus one.

You’ll also see Brian Cua and a Superman action figure, and I have no real explanation for that. Enjoy!

August 5, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

What’s new on my iPad this week.

A couple of good apps, both free and paid, have found a home on my iPad in the past few days.

The most eagerly awaited one (for me anyway) hit the App Store just a few hours ago. It’s the iPad version of a calendar/to-do app that I’ve been using since my Palm days and it’s called Pocket Informant HD.

Oh look. I'm not doing anything today.

Since I use cloud-based task management and calendaring (Toodledo and Google Calendar, respectively) setting up Pocket Informant was as simple as plugging in my username/passwords for both services and doing a full sync. Within minutes I was up and running. I look forward to giving this app a good workout over the next few days but for now it seems as stable and full featured as I could have hoped. Grab it now while it’s still being sold at a launch price of $7.

Now on to another recent release. Next up is the wildly popular Flipboard “social magazine” app. It’s hard to peg down exactly what it is – it’s not quite an RSS reader, not quite a Facebook / Twitter client, and not quite a photo browser. It’s a combination of all three.

Flipboard home page

What it does have, and in spades, is a polished, refined and elegant user interface that makes even the most inane tweets or FB status updates seem pithy and intellectual! You have to check out this video and appreciate its gorgeously designed, responsive layout.

A sample page from my Twitter feed

As you can see from the above screenshot, it adds a lot of class to the act of browsing your social networks. However, it still doesn’t replace a full featured Twitter client or the Facebook website. For instance, when browsing a Twitter feed, there’s no obvious way to compose a new tweet – you can seemingly only respond to or retweet someone else’s post. (Hint: You can however just delete their @usernames from your reply to start a fresh tweet). You also have no access to any custom lists that you might have, nor can you do a search. In fact, there seems to be no way to even set a refresh time or force a refresh other than quitting the app and relaunching.

Flipboard Photos page

It also offers you other pre-selected channels (tech, sports, news, etc) that aggregate interesting articles and photos from around the web. Unlike a dedicated RSS reader, there’s no way to subscribe to a specific feed or website, so you’re stuck with the default topics for now.

Overall, it’s a very promising app with loads of potential. The engine is powerful and beautiful and it’s just a matter of ramping up the features in succeeding updates. The past day or two, there’s been an overwhelmingly positive response, and you may even have trouble configuring your Facebook and Twitter accounts because the Flipboard server is still getting hammered.

Flipboard has rocketed to the top of the App Store charts, and for good reason – did I mention it’s free? Download it now.

July 22, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

iOS 3.2.1 for iPad is out! ….

… but it’s not iOS 4. Big deal.

November can’t come soon enough.

July 16, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Free for a limited time – Stick Golf HD

Fore! Free!

If you like physics games like Angry Birds (or if you like golf! or … sticks …or … HD…) then you can’t go wrong by downloading this game, currently free for a limited time on the App Store.

It’s quite addicting, and I only wish my golf scores were this good in real life. Then again, you don’t run into very many par 7s on an actual golf course.

Grab it now.

July 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Control your Mac – via Twitter!

So you’ve got an iMac running at home while you’re out and about with your iPad.  Or (like me) you leave an MBP15 sitting on your desk at work every day because the iPad is all you need out of the office.

Well, now you can check in on your Mac and see how things are going – via Twitter!

The first step is to create a new, separate Twitter account just for your Mac. Name it whatever you want – “Vic’s MacBook”, or “My Home Machine”, or “Melvin the Mac”. Then you want to make sure your Mac’s Twitter account follows your own personal Twitter account, and vice versa. That way you can send DMs (direct messages) to each other.

Next step is to install a tiny application called TweetYourMac on your laptop / desktop. This resides in your menu bar and waits for you to send it incoming messages.

Now that you’ve got everything set up, you can launch a Twitter client on your iPad (or on your phone, or another Mac) and start sending messages. Here’s where the fun begins! You can send system commands, like “shutdown“, “screensaver” or “sleep“. You can “open [App Name]” or “quit [App Name]“. You can (very useful for me!) tweet your Mac a URL that links to a torrent file – the Mac will download the torrent file and open it in your default torrent client. Great for queuing up TV shows that you want to watch when you get home.

And, if you’ve got a shared office or home Mac and really want to assert your control over it, you can tweet “screenshot” – which sends you back a TwitPic of whatever is on the screen at that point. Or “isight” which fires up the Mac’s built in camera, stealthily snaps a pic, and then tweets you back the image. Or even “say [phrase]“, which will command your Mac’s voice synthesizer to speak whatever you type to whoever is using it! It’s too bad I didn’t discover this in time for April Fool’s Day.

The complete list of commands is on the website.

Me and my laptop, tweeting each other.

If you’re worried about security (did Vic really just post his laptop’s user account up there for everyone to control?!) bear in mind that your Mac can only be controlled by direct messages. And in order to send and receive direct messages, the two accounts need to be following each other. Otherwise, it just won’t work.

If you have a PC, you can join in the fun too! (Jerry Tieng, I hear you.) Go to TweetMyPC. In fact, you can send your PC more complex instructions, like commanding it to email you a file or generate and send a list of running processes.

Try it out and let me know how it works for you! And just to reiterate – although this blog is all about the iPad, you don’t need one to do this.

July 15, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Macroplant Phone Disk – free until September 1

A few months ago I posted about manually managing the videos / music / photos on your iPad / iPhone / iPod Touch using a utility called Disk Aid. Well, good news – Macroplant has a similar Mac utility called Phone Disk that also allows you to transfer and backup  files, without needing to jailbreak your device.

Best part, it’s free until September 1. Grab a registration code off the Phone Disk website!

"This copy is registed, thank you!"

July 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments