Angry Robot

iPhone App Review Hoedown

Note: there are obviously issues with the App store and the apps contained therein. Because of restrictions imposed by Apple, developers haven’t been able to properly beta test their apps. Also, Apple doesn’t allow apps to do certain things, and the iPhone OS 2 is so far quite unstable itself. So while I may criticize the performance of some of these apps, in many cases it’s not the developers’ fault, and we could expect improvements over the weeks to come.

Apps that Sync With Desktop or Web Apps

Generally, if you’re using the desktop or web apps already, you’ll want to use these on your iPhone.

Evernote (free)

I’ve written about evernote before and suffice it to say that if you use it, you’ll want the iPhone app. It’s not without its problems, though. It’s crashy. It doesn’t cache your notes locally, so it’s slower than it needs to be. It has a voice record feature, but it won’t convert speech to text. That said, if you use evernote, having access to your notes from anywhere is reason enough to use this.

NetNewsWire (free)

If you use NNW on the desktop or the newsgator line of products, this is a no-brainer. It’s a good, clean interface. It will open entries in its own browser, with the option to open the link in safari. It’s usability is marred only by Apple’s limitations on apps, meaning that your feeds won’t update until you open the app, and then you will have to wait a bit. Also, I had one massive crash that took down the whole phone and left NNW unopenable until I had deleted and redownloaded it. I suspect this may have been a WebKit problem, though.

1Password (free)

If you don’t use the 1password app on the desktop, this will be of no use to you, unless you’re a complete security fetishist. Its usefulness is also marred by SDK restrictions, i.e. it doesn’t integrate with mobile safari. So what it will give you is a list of your website logins and secure notes, if you use that feature (I don’t).

Jott for iPhone (free)

OK, I don’t know the advantage of this except for the most hardcore Jott user. That’s because you can just call a jott number and have your voice turned into text, you don’t need to use a dedicated app. I suppose if you want to see the notes you make in jott on your phone, this is for you. But I mostly like jott as a voice portal to other services (evernote, google calendar). It’s unclear how to do this from the iPhone app.

Klick (free)

Theoretically, Klick allows you to access flickr. I couldn’t get it to work though. Delete. I hear exposure is okay in this category.

Simplify Media (free)

Once you install and run the desktop app, this allows you to connect to your iTunes library and stream anything on it, which is certainly an attractive proposition, especially considering you can do so over both WiFi and the cellular network. Unfortunately, the app does not deliver on the promise, even on my own network – expect to get familiar with the word “buffering”.

Standalone apps

The Converter ($0.99)

Even in ‘simle mode’ this is needlessly complicated for what most people will want. I don’t need to convert torque, and I don’t need ‘candareen’ and ‘baht’ clogging up my list of weight measurements. I’d like something simpler that loads quickly, please.

Google Mobile App (free)

Awesome. It simply offers a search box, and will return results including contacts, web searches and things near you. Quite possibly the best interface of any iPhone app, for its simplicity and emphasis on guessing what you’re looking for. (Developed by Alcor, the mind behind quicksilver)

Remote (free)

This is Apple’s remote control for iTunes and Apple TV, and it is excellent. It displays album art, allows searching and rating, and has a superior interface than the iPhone’s own “iPod” application. My one complaint is that this thing doesn’t work with Front Row, which is baffling.

OneTap Movies ($2)

This is a location-aware movie showtime app. It works as you would expect, but has many excellent features: it links to the IMDb page for any movie result, gives you a trailer, and will open up a map showing directions to the theatre. Highly recommended.

Pennies ($3)

Pennies is an expense recording utility. You type in the cost of something you bought and assign it a category, and pennies will keep a record of everything and tell you if you go over the budget you set. It’s a beautiful app, but the inability to define one’s own categories limits its appeal.

Beatmaker ($20)

The most expensive app I own is also my favourite: perhaps that’s rationalization at work. Or, it’s because Beatmaker is an example of a full-fledged app, not a minor utility. It’s really only of interest to electronic musicians, as it’s an MPC-style sampler (well, sample-playback tool) and sequencer. Because of its power, it’s got more of a learning curve than most iPhone apps, but once you figure it out, it’s an excellent beat sketchpad. It comes with a bunch of sample packs, but you can also download desktop software to copy over your own. The interface deviates from the usual iPhone look, and is actually quite nice.

Stanza (free)

Stanza is an eBook reader. It integrates with free eBook depository feedbooks, which provides a collection of public domain masterworks and Cory Doctorow books. You can also download a desktop app and then sync other books wirelessly (haven’t tried this yet). The presentation is top-notch, and it’s graceful to use. Download this for sure.

WikiMe ($1)

WikiMe is a location-aware Wikipedia interface. It’s simple, and kind of a genius idea. It might be very handy for tourists.

That’s everything that I’ve tested sufficiently. Coming soon: iPhone Games Review Explosion!

iPhone, Finally

Finally received my iPhone. I wasn’t going to line up overnight before launch day, I figured I could stroll into a store the next week and pick one up. Unfortunately that was nowhere near the case. Two, three weeks after launch, it was still next to impossible to find a 16gb iPhone in the city. So I finally ordered one over the phone around the end of July, and it has just arrived (coinciding, it seems, with ample supplies in-store as well).

I’d love to rattle on about it, but I’m a little late to the party. I’m not sure what I could add that you haven’t already heard. A lot of the apps seem too buggy and crashy, but I’m sure that will be sorted. There are a lot of complaints like that (battery life!) that really pale in comparison to the majesty of the Mobile Safari browser. That, and I couldn’t believe how many different activities I was juggling while riding the streetcar. It was a big change from staring at the floor listening to music.

I’ll probably write a bit more later about some of the apps I’ve tried out.


It starts with scenes of a deadly viral outbreak in Scotland, then jumps ten years to when Scotland is quarantined and the UK cut off from the rest of the world, and flirting with authoritarianism. When evidence of life in the quarantine zone emerges, and the virus appears in London, Emma Cleasby and her tac team are sent in to Scotland to track down a cure. Therein they are caught between two warring clans, the cannibal tribal punks and the brutal medieval revivalists.


Doomsday has its sci-fi and horror elements (namely plenty of well-executed gore) but fundamentally it is a pastiche action film, lighter on the comedy than a Raimi film, but still a hell of a lot of fun. As the hard-boiled badass, Cleasby does an attractive job, and the supporting cast includes Malcom McDowell and Bob Hoskins. The action is well-orchestrated, the dialogue serviceable. The film’s greatest strength is its sheer unpredictability. Just when you think you’ve figured out where it’s going, it takes a hard turn down WTF street.

Oh, and if you haven’t seen Marshall’s previous film The Descent, check that shit out too.


Aside: weekend morning showings at Toronto’s AMC downtown are the balls. $6 for pre-noon shows, featuring comfortable new theatres and digital projection. Plus, you get to put your own butter on the popcorn. This is a responsibility few have the shoulders for. WARNING: with great power comes … great stomach disturbances, so easy there, lardass!

Anyway. This film gives itself some enormous challenges to overcome. There is the issue of emotional connection with a robot protagonist – it’s hard to feel an attachment to a bleeping box. This is overcome on one hand with graceful minimalism – Wall-E’s head is basically a set of binoculars, and expression is expressed by the angle at which the set is bent, without any recourse to the usual bendiness used by animators. On the other hand, deft and swift characterization gives Wall-E a distinct, endearing personality: the lonely garbage processor who can’t help but start his own collection of idiosyncratic garbage.

The second massive challenge is the lack of dialogue in the film’s first 45 minutes or so. This is only an apparent challenge, given that most films rely on wall-to-wall dialogue (oh shit accidental pun there jiminy jillickers), yet film did just fine with none at all for its first 30 years or so, and certainly some of my favourite films have very little dialogue at all (I’m thinking of you, 2001). Nonetheless, the achievement is worth mentioning, as Pixar puts on a goddamned clinic on how to tell a story visually, with nary a narrator in sight. The power of animation allows for something we might call smooth density. There’s a lot of information and entertainment packed into this film, an amount that with live action filmmaking would undoubtedly require vigorous editing, resulting in a jarring, cutty film. But this is all smooth camera moves, visual beauty, and precision timing, comic and otherwise. Things are not so distinctive once the humans show up, but the first act of this film is one of overwhelming emotional power.

The beauty is not all visual – I was particularly impressed by the sound design. It’s an analog wonderland of squelchy synths and expressive vocoder effects that put R2-D2 to shame.

Pixar has a not unblemished but nonetheless impressive record of making actual family films, which is to say films viewable without eye-rolling by the entire family, adults included. In Wall-E, they add a couple of challenges, which they surmount so handily they wind up looking like strengths. And the film transmits a critical yet positive message (you know, for the kids). This is one of their best, and easily one of the best films of the summer.

The Week in Review

OK let’s see here, fire up robot radar and analyze: what happened in the past week?

The post-E3 review drew to a close with game critics choosing their nominees for the best games of E3, with Fallout 3, Spore, Little Big Planet and Gears of War 2 doing well. (I’m just going to shrug and forego judging the wisdom of choosing the ‘best’ unreleased games.)

Nintendo got aggressive and sued flashcart makers like R4 for enabling piracy. As CDM points out, this has a special impact on the homebrew music scene, which relies on flashcarts, and which contrasted with the Japanese release of the first commercial DS music title, Korg’s DS-10. And, inevitably, the DS-10 ROM was leaked, so various musicians downloaded it and loaded it onto their flashcarts and used it while waiting for their legal, Japanese import to arrive.

Comi-con just wrapped up, and I’m still sorting though what went down there, but a highlight seems to be some new Watchmen footage (cam of trailer). There was a Terminator: Salvation panel as well. Oh, and Method Man showed up to promote his comic! Yes, a Method Man comic.