App of the week: Pocket Casts

interface_PocketCasts_list

If you’re like me, you listen to a lot of podcasts, and you will know that it can be quite hard to keep track of what you have or haven’t listened to or what episodes are new. This week’s app of the week, Pocket Casts by Shifty Jelly, is perfect solution for Android users who want to keep track of all the different podcasts conveniently and easily. It automatically checks for new episodes and notifies you when new episodes pop through via RSS, and presents you with options to either stream or to download. The app will even delete any episodes which you have listened to automatically, and use smart playlists to isolate those episodes that you need to finish first. All this comes alongside a plethora of other useful features such as cross-platform subscription sync.

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On Android, the new version 4.0 follows the Holo guidelines to the letter, but manages to add its own flavour of red and white to the mix, making this one of the best looking apps I have ever used. While not quite as good-looking or feature-rich, the iOS version of the app still looks great. All in all, I seriously recommend this app to anyone who listens to podcasts.

Pocket Casts, Android (£2.70), iOS (£1.49)
Download from Google Play or the App Store

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HTC Sense 4+ review

This summer I reviewed the HTC One X, a phone that came preloaded with Android 4.0.1 and HTC’s comparatively lighter but nevertheless bloated Sense 4 skin. You might recall I went on a bit of a rant about it, with the problem being that it lagged. A new operating system on a top of the line phone should not be stuttering on the homescreen. Now, to coincide with the release of the One X+, HTC has come up with an answer. The new Sense 4+ skin is layered on top of that buttery Android 4.1 goodness, also known as Jelly Bean, but does it fix the inherent problems its predecessor had? Read on to find out.

The Good

HTC really has fixed a lot with the new version of Sense. Most noticeably, the stuttering has been eradicated completely and utterly. I’m not completely sure whether this is down to the new Jelly Bean’s Project Butter or simply HTC’s optimisations, but it really doesn’t matter. Whatever they’ve done, it makes the phone a joy to use. Expandable notifications have been introduced too, bringing all sorts of new functionality to your pull down shade. The only problem with these is the slightly awkward two finger pinch gesture to open them up – something that is not present in stock Android. The keyboard is really a lot better than it used to be, nixing the pointless arrow keys at the bottom and adding altogether better feedback and responsiveness. My biggest annoyance with the One X has also been fixed – the menu button situation. It used to be that the One X did not have a hardware menu button, with a software version popping on screen as and when it was needed, wasting about a tenth of the screen real estate. With this update, TC has added the option in settings to reassign the multitasking button to menu. Holding down this button with this setting enabled will take you to recent apps, giving back the screen that was taken. Google Now, Android’s answer to Siri, has also been added, with a long press of the home button propelling you straight into the new voice search feature. While I don’t want to go as far as to compare it with Siri as they both perform different functions, I have to say the retrieval of data is snappier and the voice is not nearly as robotic.

The Bad

There isn’t really much that has become worse in Sense 4+. After all, it is an update: something supposed to make something else better, unless you are Apple.

The Ugly

There is a lot in this section, and while there is not as much as there used to be, the list of negative aspects of Sense only reinforce my desire to see stock Android being shipped on more than one phone a year. The first thing is the icons, which remain childish and displeasing to the eye. Compared to the polished look of iOS, Windows Phone and post-ICS stock Android, you realise how far behind such skins remain, and a little customisation with an icon pack goes a long way aesthetically. I still feel that the greens and whites of Sense clash with the deep blues and Tron-like lighting of Holo clash horribly, however certain elements appear pleasant and muted. Another thing that hasn’t been fixed is the lockscreen shortcuts, still default to the ones you have placed in your dock.

Conclusion

Overall, I think Sense 4+ is a great upgrade over Sense 4, making Sense a decent skin once again. It makes it smoother, faster, slicker and better looking while also tying in new functionality that you won’t necessarily find in a stock Android build. If you are a user of one of HTC’s One series phones, I urge you to upgrade to keep your sanity and enjoy the butter.

App of the week: Boid for Twitter (Beta)

When Android 4.0 came out, Matias Duarte, Google’s head of Android design, laid out a set of rules for ‘Holo’ style applications to go with the sweeping UI changes brought in by Ice Cream Sandwich. The guidelines have been adopted slowly, but the apps that have adopted them have risen to the top of their respective categories. One of these apps is Boid, a free Twitter client.

Team Boid set out with one objective – to make the best Twitter client. It makes effective use of the space on the screen, providing a tabbed interface that covers the entirety of Twitter. It also follows the Android design guidelines to the dot, making it a pleasure to use. The app is currently in beta, but don’t let that deter you from downloading it. The app is stable and packed full of features. The only notable omissions are autocompletion of usernames and push notifications, although both of these are planned for future releases. The team keeps users updated constantly through their Twitter account, and they have promised to push on with development (and a Chrome version) in the face of Twitter’s API changes.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDBSoOdzBig]

Boid is available on Google Play for free, and I have been assured by the team that it will stay that way, and it is ideal for casual tweeters and power users alike.

Boid for Twitter (Beta), Android, Free
Download it from Google Play or visit the website