Best RSS Reader / News Feed: Feedly Review

There was a time, eons ago, when people got all of their news from two primary sources: newspapers and television. Although I remember that time, the world had already moved on by the time I was an adult and I do not miss it.

These days, there are interesting articles spread out across thousands of blogs and sites across the internet.

The question is: how do you consolidate your favourite news sources for daily consumption?

The answer is: Feedly!

Feedly is an RSS-reader, a type of news aggregator, that uses the RSS web feed standard. Don’t be scared by the tech-speak, Feedly is very easy to use. Simply install the addon and search for your favourite sites and blogs that support RSS (most do) and Feedly will automatically check those sites for new content and present them to you in a visually appealing way.

You can think of it as your own personal newspaper / magazine for the web and since you don’t need to visit those sites manually anymore, it can help you clean up that pile of bookmarks you have in your browser.

You don’t have to follow strictly news sources, of course. I follow a variety of content such as:

  • Blogs (Science, Technology, Business, Sports etc.)
  • Web Comics (Perfect for lunch breaks)
  • News (Science, Technology, Business etc.)

Feedly is available across devices (desktop, Android, iOS) and automatically keeps everything in sync. It’s perfect for reading up during lunch or digesting articles on your phone whenever you have some downtime. I swear by it.

I have been using Feedly for several years now and, although I have tried other RSS-readers, I have always stuck with Feedly because it is simple, convenient and it just works. Feedly allows you to search for sources directly from their search bar — for example, typing in “Wired” to automatically pull up any Wired magazine site and blog feeds  — as well as allowing you to manually add RSS feeds.

For those new to RSS, adding feeds manually, while not necessary in most cases, is very easy. Simply visit your favourite site or blog, look for an RSS icon or text, and copy and paste the feed URL that typically looks something like:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/smbc-comics/PvLb?format=xml

RSS feed button

You may have to click through a secondary FeedBurner page if the feed was setup that way and click “View feed XML”. To keep it simple, however, just search using Feedly’s search box and you should be able to immediately add all but the most obscure feeds.

If you aren’t already a devoted Feedly fan like me, give it a shout and let me know what you think!

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Facebook Messenger vs. BBM — Why BBM Sucks

BBM was just released for iOS and Android and a number of people are quickly jumping onto the new-old messaging platform. Before you hop on the bangwagon and add to the messaging fragmentation problem, let me explain why Facebook Messenger is better than BBM.

First off, BBM sucks is a bit harsh. BBM is actually great, it’s just unnecessary and worse than messaging from within Facebook.

1. Everyone* already uses Facebook.

This first point should be obvious but many people still miss just how amazing Facebook is. Until Facebook came along, there was no platform that could single-handedly connect you with everyone you would ever want to speak with (and even some you probably never will want to speak with, but that’s okay).

Facebook Messaging allows you to instantly connect with anyone on your Facebook, no PIN required (more on that later). You can message your closest friends, or reach out to an acquaintance for a very random and specific conversation.

* there aren’t many people left unreachable via Facebook, especially for younger generations.

2. Choice

You can use Facebook Messenger, the dedicated app, or you can message people right from within Facebook. Since many people are already on Facebook throughout the day, it just makes sense to pull up the message box and start typing away!

3. No need for PINs.

Tired of updating people’s phone numbers? Adding PINs? Dealing with phone changes? No worries! With Facebook Messenger you don’t have to worry about any of that. Simply log into to Facebook on any connected device on the planet and you can pick up where you left off in conversations, instantly!

4. Facebook Messenger can be used on a plethora of devices including the desktop.

Apparently BBM will eventually be releasing a desktop application, but as it stands Facebook Messenger has an enormous advantage since the platform remains exactly the same whether you are on desktop or mobile. This is a huge benefit to Facebook. When you’re on the go, use your phone. When you are at home, however, you have the option of typing much faster at your desktop, should you choose to do so.

5. BBM will lead to more fragmentation.

The biggest problem with BBM, the thing that truly does suck, is that it will lead to more fragmentation. Facebook was slowly starting to take over as the default communication platform for many people. Sure, people still text and use iMessage, but Facebook Messenger was always a reliable backup used for connecting you to anyone — especially good for conversations that contain close friends and acquaintances.

6. Facebook Messenger has all of the features of BBM.

Read receipts? Check. Send pictures? Check. Send emoticons? Check. Facebook Messenger has all of the desired features of BBM and none of the undesired ones (like requiring PINs, gross).

7. BBM is unnecessary.

By now, you have probably figured out a fantastic way to keep in touch with your friends. Maybe it’s WhatsApp, texting or iMessage, or even better, you’re messaging through Facebook. Either way, BBM will only complicate the communication with your friends.

Please stop this fragmentation nightmare. Don’t jump on the bangwagon!
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Freemium Apps Suck | Candy Crush and Other Abominations

Candy Crush sucks - Freemium apps suck
Candy Crush Sucks

Sometime within the last year or so, freemium has taken a dramatic turn for the worse; app designers are now beginning to ditch the “free” and focus on the “premium”.

The best example is the abomination that is Candy Crush; a game that has taken freemium to a frustrating extreme. The idea is simple: instead of offering the game for free with a reasonably-priced premium version (read, full version), they make a small portion of the game available for free with many purchases required in-game to proceed. You never buy the full game, you know have to continually pay-to-play.

Freemium apps suck

From a business perspective, it is brilliant, but the users are the ones that lose out — financially. Previously, you could try out a game or app for a while, and if you liked it, you could opt for the premium version — usually priced between $0.99-4.99. Many new apps, however, are now forcing you to cough-up money at regular intervals to progress through the game and charging a dollar or two each time.

The result of this nonsense, is that many users are spending much more than before on their apps, many without realizing it. Other users, like myself, become extremely frustrated with the game, never to play it again. There’s no option to purchase the app in its entirety anymore, so you either have to commit to a continual stream of purchases or stop using the app altogether.

The real problem is this: users are spending much more money with this new freemium model, but unfortunately, there are too many users that do not realize this and add to the problem by lining these businesses’ pockets. The market needs to wake up and start boycotting these apps to prevent a deluge of new freemium apps that will drain user’s pockets.

I am personally boycotting apps like Candy Crush and looking for alternatives so I don’t contribute to this problem. Will you join me in helping to fix this before it gets out of control?

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iOS 7 Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The internet is absolutely loaded with 2 things right now: iOS 7 traffic as people download the latest iOS update and a billion blog posts reviewing iOS 7. I feel it is my job to fuel the fire with my own iOS 7 review.

Firstly, it is worth noting that there are a variety of opinions out there about whether or not iOS 7 is good or bad. Like many, however, I see the OS as taking a number of steps forward and several steps back (as well as some unnecessary side steps). Here’s the breakdown:

iOS 7 InterfaceThe Good

iOS 7 brings about the biggest visual change that Apple has ever put forward. Apple has redesigned just about every single interface and application — I can’t think of anything that hasn’t been redesigned. For those that embrace change (I fall into that camp), the update is very welcome and seems refreshing. For everyone else, many changes will seem arbitrary and frustrating. The good news is that after a week or so, most users will have adapted.

Upgrading was as easy as usual, not including a delay because of overwhelming traffic to Apple’s servers and almost all settings and app data made it across safely to the new OS. Unfortunately, for some reason, my apps did not. A quick visit to the “purchased” section of the App Store app allowed me to re-download the apps painlessly and thankfully all of my app data made the transition.

The best addition to iOS 7 is the introduction of Control Centre for quickly changing phone settings. Of course, this functionality has existed via jailbreak for several years now, but it is great to finally see it baked into the OS as a standard feature.

Based on this, I can finally say that a jailbroken iPhone is no longer an absolute necessity. I still miss my 5-icon dock though.

The Bad
iOS 7 App SwipeThe bad news is that many changes are not just visual and may have gone a step in the wrong direction. Apple decided to rethink many system-wide gestures — some that have worked out for the better and others that add prolonged confusion. Take the new swipe gestures in the default “Mail” application, for example. Apple has decided to change the “swipe for options” functionality from a left-to-right swipe to a right-to-left swipe. This was done, presumably, because of the new OS-wide left-to-right swipe “back” function. However, it just doesn’t feel natural to swipe right to left and is a harder action to perform.

The notification center, by default, has also been made worse. The new “Today” view has been declared terrible by many. Thankfully, you can return the notification center to the way it was by changing some settings.

The Ugly

Call me shallow, but one of my biggest issues with iOS 7 is the overall colour scheme. I call it rainbow unicorn vomit. The fact that Apple got rid of skeuomorphism is fantastic, and most of the menus are dramatically improved visually. However, most of the new stock icons look like off-colour candy and make the overall OS feel more like a children’s toy than a serious new OS.

Some of the biggest problems that you can immediately fix are outlined in a recent Lifehacker article: fixing iOS 7’s biggest annoyances. Some of these frustrating items are:

  • Parallax — the unnecessary, constantly shifting of home screen apps when you move the phone. Distracting and useless.
  • Disable Control Center when in applications — for some apps that require interaction towards the bottom of the screen causing users to accidentally pull up Control Center.
  • Improving battery life by disabling background app refreshing
  • Returning notification center back to its superior old self

iOS 7 Album Artist AnnoyanceAlso, a small but particularly annoying change has been made to the Music app. Instead of selecting an artist and then being presented with a list of albums to drill-drown on, you are given a list of all songs for all albums instead. This makes it much more difficult to get to a specific album since you may have to scroll through every other album before reaching the one that you want (see the screenshot on the left).

Overall, iOS 7 is refreshing seeing as the OS has retained the same look for so long. However, Apple has overdone some of the visual changes and made a number of changes that are unnecessary. Despite some on-going annoyances, most users will quickly come to terms with the new OS and enjoy some of the best features like the Control Center.

What do you think about iOS 7?

Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

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Monitor & Track Your Sleep — Sleep Cycle App Review

Lifehacker is my go-to choice for daily life improvements and a little while ago they wrote a great article about the most popular sleep tracking app — Sleep Cycle.

Sleep Cycle is a great, and affordable, app that allows you to monitor and track your sleep over time. Sleep Cycle will track your stages of sleep based on your movement throughout the night in order to wake you up at an optimal point in the morning.

For the uninitiated, maintaining a proper sleep cycle is very important to feeling good throughout the day. Alarm clocks wake you up abruptly and in an unnatural way. This can make you feel tired and generally bad throughout the day. Sleep Cycle attempts to avoid this by waking you up at a natural point in your sleep cycle — when you are already partially awake, instead of when you are in a deep sleep.

To explain exactly how the app is able to accomplish this, I turn to their website directly:

Sleep Cycle alarm clock is able to use the accelerometer in your iPhone to monitor your movement and determine which sleep phase you are in. Sleep Cycle then uses a 30 minute alarm window that ends at your set alarm time and wakes you in your lightest sleep phase. Click here for the full explanation

My own experience with the app has been great. I’ve been using it for a couple weeks and so far I have found it effective. It seems to track my sleep well and wakes me up at a decent time. The soft sounds it uses to wake you up is much better than my previous jarring alarm which helps a lot. It also seems to help me feel better when I get up.

My only complaint about the app is that the optimal window to ensure you wake up nicely is 30 mins, which is a pretty big window. It’s not directly the app’s fault but my optimal wake time seems to be almost a full 30 minutes earlier than I need to get up. It is difficult to get out of bed when you know you don’t have to be up for another half-hour. My best mornings have been when my alarm wakes me up naturally 10-15 mins in advance. Then it is easy to get out of bed because going back to sleep is not as alluring.

Overall, the app is fantastic and worth a shot whether you feel particularly tired in the morning or not. For only $0.99, it isn’t much of a gamble.

Using Dictation (Siri) for Blogging and Texting

Using Siri for Dictation - BloggingDo you know what one of the worst things about blogging is? Not being able to do it (easily) from the comfort of your own bed.

For you lucky folks with tablets, this does not apply to you. The rest of us with our laptops and our phones are torn: do we awkwardly lay in bed with out laptop or type ever-so-carefully on our phones to make the blogging magic happen. This just in — there’s a better solution!

Ever since upgrading to the iPhone 5 I have been taking advantage of a number of new features such as Siri. Now, don’t get me wrong, Siri is mostly useless. Seriously. But for composing the odd text and, surprisingly, writing blog posts, Siri is great! Keep in mind that while I am referencing Siri, the same should apply to other dictation applications on other smartphones. Some apps like Dragon Dictation work across platforms and perform well.

It takes some getting used to, but once you learn to speak somewhat slowly and dictate punctuation, the process is very simple. I was very surprised to discover that I could write posts just as quickly by dictating them as I could typing them on a full keyboard. Fairly impressive considering my average WPM is about 86. It makes sense, of course. After all, speaking is surely much faster than typing — even for us fast typers.

The biggest issue is that it is hard to insert images and “pretty-up” a post from a mobile device (at least with WordPress it is). So I find myself having to hop on the computer to finish of the post. I usually finish it the next day or whenever it is convenient. That way all of the content is written when my creativity and motivation have peaked and the images and such can follow later.

If you are an avid blogger that doesn’t like to switch it up and be comfy while writing posts, I recommend giving dictation a go.

Google Maps for the iPhone (iOS 6)

There was a tremendous backlash against Apple when they removed Google Maps from the iPhone when they released iOS 6, and for good reason. Google Maps was an extremely polished app that single-handedly justified owning a smartphone. After weeks of struggling with Apple Maps and plenty of boiling-over hatred, Google Maps was finally re-introduced on for iOS 6 and calmed the masses.

“Yes I have all the Maps in the world at my fingertips and can get directions anywhere virtually instantly. Also, it’s very accurate (unlike Apple Maps).”

The first thing I noticed was the difference in speed. It was hard to judge how much of the speed improvement was as a result of the newly streamlined app, as opposed to the difference in phone speed in general since I had just upgraded from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 5. Likely a little bit of both. The speed improvements are a result of Google’s newly incorporated WebGL technologies that dynamically draw the map instead of downloading new image squares every time you zoom in.

Click here to learn more about Google Maps with WebGL and discover how to enable it for desktop Google Maps as well.

A number of new features also came with the app — features that were once available only on the Android version. The biggest feature addition was turn by turn navigation. The TomTom’s of the world are in serious trouble now, as anyone with either an Android or iOS device can now use their phone as a full GPS. I have only used the feature a handful of times but it seems to be deadly accurate, unlike the ridiculous hilarity of Apple Maps.

I am still most impressed by the overall speed of the app. Zooming in and out happens almost instantly — an enormous improvement from the old days of watching giant gray boxes float on screen while the rest of the image squares were being downloaded. Searching for directions also happens instantly which has always blown my mind. To think that Google’s servers can receive the address information, match it up with their index and automatically suggest a route which is then draw in half a second on the app is beyond me. Switching transportation methods provides new directions just as quickly (mind explosion!)

Google Maps also provides several available routes each time you request a route. This is great because you can make on-the-fly decisions about different routes if there is a reason you want to avoid a particular street or area. I never find myself choosing an alternative route though, since the route it recommends is always the best — perfectly accounting for traffic, road speeds etc.

Having recently jailbroken my iPhone 5 and downloaded the new Google Maps, I am very content 🙂

Google Maps App iOS 6 Screenshots