Overcast Podcast App – Reviewed by The Sweet Setup Team

 

Our favorite podcast client for iOS – The Sweet Setup:

SMART SPEED

Smart Speed shortens silences without any distortion. Instead of having to do a straight-up 1.5x or 2x playback across the board, Smart Speed speeds up shows more intelligently.
From the Overcast website, Smart Speed is described as a way to “pick up extra speed without distortion.” Smart Speed “dynamically shortens silences in talk shows. Conversations still sound so natural that you’ll forget it’s on — until you see how much extra time you’ve saved.”

And here’s how Marco Arment recently described Smart Speed:

I see Smart Speed as getting one more notch on the speed meter for free. Whatever your preferred speed setting is for other reasons (pace, sound quality, intelligibility), Smart Speed tends to get you roughly the actual speed of the next highest one.

Evan Pederson ran a side-by-side test, comparing a podcast running in Overcast’s Smart Speed to the same one running in real time, and he found the time savings to average between 1.2x and 1.4x for shows that often have frequent pauses. Other shows, such as Roman Mars’s 99% Invisible, which are tightly edited, didn’t benefit as much from the Smart Speed because there were less gaps and breaks to cut out.

For those who want to save some time listening to certain podcasts yet who don’t want the distortion that comes with 1.5x or even 2x speeds, Smart Speed is a happy medium. All of your shows will be shorter, but you likely won’t be able to tell any difference in listening quality. This feature is especially helpful for FM radio based shows where there is often silence from callers and other random pauses.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Smart Speed has saved the Sweet Setup team more than a cumulative 100 extra hours of listening time, beyond just standard speed adjustments alone.

VOICE BOOST

Voice Boost is a feature that aims to normalize the volume and make shows easier to listen to when in noisy situations (like your car). It uses a technique of dynamic compression equalization, which compensates quiet and overly loud audio to a more enjoyable, consistent volume. For shows with less-than-ideal editing, Voice Boost can be a ear-saver.

Easily the best podcast app available on iOS or anywhere else for that matter. The 2 features listed above are currently exclusive to Overcast. The developer Marco Arment, also has a Apple Watch app ready to go as well. Hopefully, he’ll do a Mac app to complete the lineup along side the iPad version which will delight me.

Integrating Health App With MyFitnessPal & Jawbone

With the recent release of iOS 8, Apple has introduced a new app called Health and new developer API’s called HealthKit so that developers of fitness and health apps can integrate their data into the centralised Apple Health app. This sounds great in theory in having one home that collates all the data no matter if you are using a Jawbone wrist band, FitBit, Nike Fuelband or food diary apps like MyFitnessPal.

Since the delayed release of this integration capability in the latest iOS update 8.0.2, people are reporting issues in not being able to correctly set up the Health app to share the data with the 3rd party apps or complaining that it is not working or indeed how it is supposed to. I have played around with the settings of each app and seem to have got them working. As always, make sure you check and run any updates on your iPhone before following this advice;

Jawbone app

I have a Jawbone Up24 wristband that I use to record my steps and my sleep analysis. This information can be synced with the iOS 8 Health app as the Jawbone wristband is going to record more accurate step information than what the iPhone will record – after all, I don’t carry the iPhone with me when I am playing football but I do have my Jawbone wristband on so the wristband is the more accurate data source.

We need to tell the Health app to use the step data recorded from the Jawbone wristband rather than the iPhone’s own step analysis. Here is how I did it;

First of all, in your Jawbone app settings make sure you have the integration options set to on:

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Then, switch to the Health app, tap on the ‘Sources’ tab and should see a list of your current apps that have integration with the Health app;

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In this case, tap on ‘Up’ and make sure you turn on the options ‘Allow Up to write data’, in my case for steps and for sleep analysis.

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Then tap on the ‘Health Data’ tab, search for and tap on ‘Steps’ and then tap ‘Share Data’

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Now the important part here is to make sure that in the data sources list, you choose ‘UP’ as your main data source by tapping edit in the top right hand corner and then dragging the order of your data sources by putting ‘UP’ as the top source. Tap done and now the Health app will show the steps data recorded from your Jawbone wristband instead of the iPhone.

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MyFitnessPal app

I use MyFitnessPal as the app to record everything that I eat and drink. With its massive database of Worldwide foods and using that scanner to read bar codes, you can get the exact information from nearly every food including exact sugars, salt, nutrients and calories.

With their latest version of the app, MyFitnessPal can now share its data with the Apple Health app. Because MyFitnessPal can in itself integrate data with services like Withings who specialise in weight analysis recording, you can have MyFitnessPal record not only your food and drink intake but your weight data as well which in turn can then share with the Apple Health app.

As with the Jawbone app, you need to go into the settings in MyFitnessPal and turn on the sharing of data with the Apple Health app. Once you have done this, go back into the Health app and make sure under the ‘Sources’ tab that MyFitnessPal is there and that you have all the categories of data switched to on including the weight option at the bottom.

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The problem I have found with the integration of MyFitnessPal and the Health app is that although MyFitnessPal shares all the nutrients and ingredient data from your foods, it doesn’t appear to share actual calorie data with the Health app so you can’t get a true picture within the Health app of your steps and activity against your food intake and weight to be able have a clear picture of your outlook. I have emailed MyFitnessPal to ask this very question to see if it will be included in a future app update or whether it’s API drawback on Apple’s side of development.

Until then at least I have a platform to build on and a centralised place of storing all my weight, sleep and step data in the Health app. With all the different options out there for recording health and fitness activity, it shows that the centralised place of the Apple Health app can successfully sync its data with your other applications and hardware. This is just the start and I am looking forward to seeing more integrations and data being introduced from other companies and of course the  Watch.

Review: iKettle – The World’s First Wifi Kettle!

 

Yesterday I took delivery of the iKettle – a new type of kettle that unlike 99% of the other kettles on the market, is advertised as a wifi-enabled device that can be controllable by your iPhone or Android device, made by a company called Smarter Apps.

Design kettle side

Upon removing the iKettle from the packaging, it comes in 2 pieces. You have the base which has the coil for the kettle to sit on and connect to which houses the power cord and the buttons to control the device manually. The second piece is the actual kettle itself, made from stainless steel which has a nice finish and for which you can also buy different coloured ’skins’ so that you can customise the look to suit your tastes. On top of the device is a hinged plastic lid which opens easily with the touch of a button, enabling you hold the kettle and open the lid with one hand whilst you use your spare hand to manage the tap. It’s a small but important detail that too many other kettles fall down at due to removable lids. The iKettle holds a maximum of 1.8 litres which upon examination with my existing kettle, proved to be able to store more water and therefore less re-fills! The indicator to show you how much water it can hold, is on the inside but is easily viewable when filling the iKettle with water and is not obscured which again is another positive over most kettles.

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Upon connecting the base unit to the power socket and switching it on, there is a standby button on the base which pulses a red light to indicate that it is in standby mode. After filling with water, I easily connected the iKettle to it’s base and pressed the standby button. At this point, you could hear it starting to boil the water and on the base there are several buttons alluding to different temperatures that you can choose to boil the water at – I left it on the default 100c. Whilst inspecting the buttons, I also noticed a keep warm button which states in the manual that after boiling the water, it will aim to keep the temperature of the water the same for 20 minutes which works by re-boiling the water (only for a few seconds) so you don’t have to completely re-boil the kettle if you were not ready to pour when it initially finishes it’s boiling cycle which is another positive.

I wouldn’t say that iKettle was any faster or slower than any average kettle for the time it took to actually boil the water, in fact I am sure there are kettles on the market which can boil water quicker than the iKettle but the whole point of this kettle is the convenience and the fact that you can remotely activate the iKettle to start boiling when you are somewhere else in your home or office!

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Which leads me onto the accompanying iPhone app. Once you have downloaded the free app from the App store, upon first use of the app you are guided via on-screen instructions on how to connect the iKettle to your existing wifi network. Upon successful connection, you get a nice user interface with touch screen buttons to be able to turn on and off the iKettle, keep warm, change temperature settings etc. If you access the menu within the app, you will discover more settings where you can have the app automatically prompt you at set times of the day to whether you would like the app to tell the iKettle to start boiling the kettle. It also has another feature where you can set your home location between certain times of the day and your phone will recognise when you have arrived home and will prompt you with a ‘Welcome home, shall I pop the kettle on?” message where you can then tap yes to start the iKettle boiling remotely. You can customise the app so that it can give you notifications on when to refill the iKettle and when it has boiled, when it’s not attached to the base etc.

Upon using the product for the last 24 hours, I have noticed that it would be nice for the iKettle to automatically turn on at certain times of the day rather than at the moment where it just prompts you to turn on at certain times of the day – you still have to tap yes in the app but upon speaking with their customer support today, they did confirm that feature is being worked on for the next release of the app which will be a free software update via the App Store.

 

Product Features:

  • Control your iKettle via your mobile device
  • Easy one-touch set up
  • Wake up and Welcome home mode/Timer
  • Choose from four temperature settings
  • Keep warm feature keeps the iKettle at your desired temperature for up to 30 minutes
  • Super easy to clean – removable filter and no internal element
  • Auto shut off with boil-dry protection
  • Stainless steel design with soft-touch handle
  • LED backlit control panel
  • iKettle skins:
    • Available in Blue, Green, Pink, Taupe & Yellow
    • Match your kettle to your kitchen
    • Reduces the risk of accidental burns
    • Insulates, keeping your water warmer for longer
    • Lovely soft-touch feel silicone
    • Simple to fix and remove
  • Connectivity:
    • Wireless 802.11b/gx
    • WPA/WPA2
    • Works on Android 4+ and Apple iOS7+
    • Requires a 2.4Ghz router
  • Power:
    • Has a standard 3-pin UK plug
    • Voltage 220-240V
    • For use outside of the UK, the iKettle will require a transformer to bring the voltage to 220-240V (not included)
    • Frequency 50/60Hz
    • Power input 1850-2200X
  • Box Contents:
    • iKettle
    • WiFi Base Unit

Dimensions:

  • Kettle Capacity is approximately 1.8 Litres
  • Box Measures approximately 21cm(W) x 24cm(H) x 20.5cm(D)
  • Weighs approximately 1.6kg


 
Pros:

  • Fantastic Remote Control
  • Boil Dry protection with prompt to refill with water
  • Quality, polished feel to the design
  • Simple, effective reliable accompanying app to control
  • Better than average water capacity
  • One handed re-fill operation capability
  • Choice of different colour skins to customise to your own taste
Cons:

  • Needs automatic scheduling to turn on rather than prompting (being worked on)
  • 4-5 minutes boil time from cold
  • Standby light constantly pulses when not in use

Summary

Overall, I am very impressed with the world’s first wifi kettle and it has lived up to my hopes and expectations since pre-ordering the product earlier this year. The potential for 3rd party developer integration with existing home automation products like SmartThings and Wemo etc., all point to an exciting future and this is another device and appliance than can be controlled within ‘The Internet of Things’. It is a niche product, there is no denying that but as I said, integrating this type of device with existing automation technology and to see how developers can further the experience, points to an exciting future – as long as they stop for tea breaks.

Review: Shine App (CV & Resume)

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Shine is fantastic CV/resume creation app which can make your CV/resume look polished, professional and perfect. You don’t have to worry about designing the look – the app has amazing templates to care of that, you just need to enter your information and the app takes care of the rest.

When you are hunting for a new career direction or just managing your own personal files, your CV/resume is probably sitting on your computer somewhere as a Microsoft Word document and maybe has not been updated in a while. If you are not particularly confident on a computer, perhaps your CV/resume is pretty basic to look at as well with just your recent work history, interests and references.

Shine changes all this. The way the app works is that you enter all the information that the app requires, then the app will take that information and apply it to a several different templates to choose from. You can even use a different template each time you want to print or share your document – without editing any of your text that you previously keyed in.

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The notes state:

Email and print high resolution print-ready PDFs and images right from your iPad.

– Create beautiful info graphic CVs or resumes. No design experience required
– Pick from professionally designed layouts and enter your own information
– Change your chosen design and preview your CV or resume at any time
– Easily update your information and tailer for different jobs
– Email, share and print high resolution copies from your iPad
– High Resolution PDFs are fully text searchable

It’s one of those apps that will stay on my iPad tucked away in a folder with my CV/Resume all ready to be shared if needed and best of all it will look miles better than the version knocked up in Microsoft Word..

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The app is $4.99 and you can download it here.

Review: Brushstroke App

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Brushstroke is a fantastic app that the iPhone and iPad has been waiting for. Essentially, you take any photo that is in your camera roll and with just a few taps, you can apply different filters over them to create a brushstroke type effect which makes your photos look like they were painted.

Once you have applied a filter, you can share the photo to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc or save back into your camera roll to add to your own collection.

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The best feature is that the developers have teamed up with Canvaspop so that you can have the photo professionally printed onto canvas and shipped to your door. You can pick the frame and size that you wish, to ensure that whatever photo you choose it will look like a professional artist has painstakingly crafted the picture just for you to adorn in your home.

The app itself has a minimalist design with easy to navigate buttons that help you through the process. You can in theory, access the app, select a photo and within half a dozen taps, you are done – magical stuff.

It’s so simple to use and is a perfect advert for a use case for the iPhone and iPad. The app is £1.99 and you can download it here.

Review: Find my Friends App

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Find my Friends is a fantastic little app made by Apple although you have to download it from the App Store as it’s not built into the operating system.

The purpose of the app is that you can subscribe to and share your GPS position to your friends and family, so that every time you access the app, you can see at a glance where all your friends and family are on a map, anywhere in the world which can be super useful.

For people who are not familiar with this app, there are going to be a percentage of users who will be immediately turned off by their pre-misconceptions of user privacy or ‘I don’t want everyone to know where I am!’ – Apple is not Google – There is a strict 2-way authentication service in place that will prompt you to allow your location to be shared with the person who has requested it. This works the other way for when you send an ‘invite’ to a friend or family member who has the app installed on their iPhone or iPad, they will also be prompted to allow you to see their location data. You only have to do this once and you can turn off or revoke the access at any time. As Apple states “With Find My Friends, you can choose when you want to be located, by whom and for how long. It’s all up to you.”

You can even set up alerts so that the app will notify you with a push notification when your chosen person arrives or leaves a particular destination – this is particularly helpful if you are expecting a family member home soon or are wishing to contact someone as soon as they leave that particular place. When you tap on ‘Notify’ you can even expand the radius of the geo-fence in case it alerts you too soon of the person’s apparent exit.

Since iOS 7 was introduced, the app has been changed from it’s early version so that now, it is much more user friendly and simpler to use. Siri also integrates with the app so you can tell Siri “Where’s ……” and Siri will source the information from the app in the background and let you know it’s findings.

Quick tip: If you add a passcode to your iPhone or iPad, then the app won’t ask for your password each time you access it.

It would be great if a future version of the app added the ability to have repeating alerts so you didn’t have to manually set an alert each time.

Find my friends is fantastic app from Apple that is super useful for parents and loved ones and is a great companion app to Find my iPhone which the idea clearly came from.

The app is free and you can download it here.

Best Read it Later Service

The Top Contenders:

Safari Reading List
Instapaper
Pocket

When it comes to reading articles on the web, certain factors immediately apply such as what type of device you are using, what browser is being used and whether you have time to read and take in the particular article at that current time.

A typical person will use their smartphone or mobile computer to read news headlines and will speed read through links on websites because they are on the go and it might not be convenient to read a whole article or page at that particular time. For this situation, there are services and apps available that allow you to ‘save’ any webpage or article to read it later.

The benefits of using a service such as these, especially when you are using the particular service in question’s app, are that it will essentially save a copy of the original article you were viewing in your browser or the app you were using for later, so you can catch up with all your saved articles at a time when it’s perhaps more convenient to read them.

There is also the benefit of when you do come to use one of these services or apps to view the saved articles, it will display the article in a more easy-on-the-eye font which you can also customize if you prefer. The majority of these services have other benefits as well such as ‘offline’ viewing – the article is saved whilst your device has a connection so that you don’t need to be ‘online’ to read the article. There are also ‘Pro’ uses which I will come on to shortly such as automatically sharing the article with other services and apps.

There are multiple services that offer a read it later facility but I am going to touch on what I feel are the strongest three services.

Safari Reading List

Safari’s Reading List is built into the browser on Mac and iOS and therefore Apple make it super easy for you send any web page you have open automatically saved within Safari for later viewing or ‘offline’ viewing. Access to this service is via the bookmarks icon in the Mac version or within the bookmarks menus on iOS.

Once a webpage is within Reading List, clicking or tapping on a page to view it is easy enough with the option of ‘Reader’ in the address bar available to format the web page to remove most of the html and ads which results in a more pleasing reading experience.

My issue with Safari Reading List is down to one thing – notifications. In as far as they aren’t any. When I was using the service a few months back, I felt I needed to be reminded that I had saved articles to read to refer back to and with Safari not displaying badges, I simply forgot that I had them.

‘Add to Reading List’ is also baked into most 3rd party apps, so getting your articles into there is well supported by developers. The support is great, it works well, it’s reliable but the lack of notifications keeps me from using it as my preferred service.

Instapaper:

Originally developed by Marco Arment, Instapaper is perhaps the oldest and best known of all the read it later services due to its fast, reliable and and concise design. Instapaper also benefitted by it’s universal adoption by many twitter services, websites, social networks and news feeds so it became very popular and although Marco sold on the service last year, it remains a powerhouse in it’s field.

If you are using a browser on a desktop PC or Mac or laptop, there is an Instapaper extension available for the most popular browsers like Safari and Chrome which can add a small button near the address bar which with one click, can add the currently open page – straight to your Instapaper account. On iOS there is a universal app for the iPhone and the iPad which you can use to catch with up with all your saved articles. Instapaper has a nice back-end feature that you can setup so that it will automatically share saved articles to various services like Twitter, Evernote, Pinboard etc. Frasier Spiers has a terrific workflow for saving web articles via Instapaper into Evernote.

The iOS Instapaper app currently has a couple of limitations that stop me from using it as my preferred read it later service. The first one is that it doesn’t quite take advantage of the new background updating feature of iOS 7 which means that it won’t automatically download the articles in the background. Instead it uses background location updating which ironically was one of the pioneering features in an earlier iOS version release which only updates and downloads articles once you have reached a certain GPS-enabled location like at home or at work.

Another useful feature that I like to have in the app is to maintain a constant badge icon to show how many articles you have unread in your Instapaper account. The app will show the badge briefly, but once you exit the app the badge notification disappears. I like to know at a glance exactly how many articles I have queued up or unread in my read it later service and unfortunately these 2 issues let the app down and stops me from using the app.

Pocket

Pocket for me ticks all the boxes I require.

It’s a popular service and I can see why. 3rd party support is again well supported by developers so most Twitter apps and news apps can ‘Add/Send to Pocket’.

The Pocket app on iOS really is fantastic. It’s fast, smooth and easy to navigate and manage with a great choice of fonts to use as your default reading experience. You can tick or swipe to mark saved articles as read which of course can update your Pocket account and sync read and unread articles across your devices.

Notifications are the killer feature for me. Fully supporting iOS 7’s background updating API, I am in love with the number of saved articles badge over the app icon on the iPhone and iPad. I can see at a glance how many I need to catch up on which of course is a great reminder. I can be in twitter, see a link that I want to research or read later, hit ‘Send to Pocket’ and by the time I have exited the Twitter app and gone back to the home screen, the badge as been updated on the Pocket app to reflect the change. My only wish is for a Mac app rather than having to access the site via Safari but considering I mostly use my iOS devices, there is no great need.

Pocket is a fantastic app with the notification badge being the killer and stand out feature. You can download it for free here.