Though they plague us with unfettered access to gossip sites and Flappy Bird, there’s plenty our smartphones can do to actually improve quality of life. Baby steps in the right direction — for instance, apps that aid productivity, fitness, travel, language and more — can cancel out your brain-rotting mini-game addictions and provide the small impetus you need to get out and do. These ten are helping us at the moment, and they won’t complicate your finances, either: the majority are free.
Ever wish you could hit a 95 mph fastball? Us too. In lieu of that pipe dream we’ll happily take the ability to see a 95 mph fastball better while whiffing. Aaron Seitz — a neuroscientist at The University of California Riverside (UCR) — seems to have an answer with a new eye training app. His creation may have more far-reaching consequences than an increase in homers.
Less is more, you photo whore
As it turns out, most of Instagram’s 100 million users aren’t jet setting to exotic locations, climbing mountains or doing other exceptionally picturesque stuff (see #dentist for further evidence). That being said, you don’t have to summit Everest to post interesting Instagrams. By following a few (relatively) straightforward guidelines you’ll soon be ‘gramming like Ansel Adams.
Go Forth and Multiply
The Iris Smart Kit ($299) does a fantastic job of keeping our home in check, but a quick survey of the complementary products available for the Iris Home Management System, by Lowe’s, had us feeling like a pot-bellied biker with a bone-stock Harley at home. Accordingly, we tested out an Iris Kit army of great add-ons.
There once was a...
Storehouse brings illustrative storytelling to the everyman (and everywoman) through an iPad app with a very basic formula: add photos from dropbox, your photo library, Flickr or Instagram, then swipe, pinch, and pull to structure them in a wide variety of formats, with or without text, which can likewise be added and edited. More importantly, it brings better alternative storytelling abilities to those outside of major publications.
The Start of a Smarter Home
Much of what simplifies our lives has become effortless. Typing with our thumbs in swipes and stabs while our car parks itself in front of the restaurant that serves those Instagram-worthy dishes can be learned and perfected before the next status update hits our social media feeds. It truly is a brave new world — and it doesn’t have to begin outside your doorstep. The same levels of remote control can now just as easily be had for your home thanks to the Iris Home Management System ($179+) from Lowe’s.
A Basketball coach, literally
This year, the basketball gets a new update in the form of the 94Fifty ($295), a Bluetooth-enabled basketball that pairs with your mobile device to track shot speed, dribble force, control, spin, and acceleration. Posted to Kickstarter on March 5th, it crushed its $100,000 goal in a little over a month. We took it for a test run.
It seems like everything is becoming quantified these days. Not to be left out, the data-mining 94Fifty Bluetooth Sensor has made its way into one of America’s most popular sports. 94Fifty Bluetooth Sensor Basketballs ($300), made in partnership with Spalding, are the first digital sports products to be embedded with inertial motion sensors, serving up coaches and players with various metrics concerning ballhandling, shooting, jump-explosion, defensive foot-speed agility and athleticism.
An encounter with speed listening
It was a rainy afternoon, and being but sixteen years old and still shackled to the dependent life of the unlicensed driver, I was waiting for my brother to pick me up at the train station. When he finally arrived and I stepped into the warm and dry shelter of his Jeep, I was greeted by a cacophonous sound. Blaring from the speakers was the voice of a man speaking at breakneck pace. A few dozen confused questions later, I deduced that we were actually listening to a book at 3x speed.
Gentlemen, start your graphics engines
You grew up on Mario Kart, but that’s just it — you’ve grown up. But… not entirely. You still want to grip a controller and curse at a screen and burn rubber without having to see (real) flashing lights in the rearview. You want risk life and limb in the pursuit of speed — but not actually, you know, risk life and limb. Stretch your thumbs and be prepared to make up for the drudgery of that godawful commute this morning: here are the best racing games for most every platform.
The internet cognoscenti’s response to Google Reader’s shut-down announcement has been incredible. Yet the fact remains: as of July 1st, the longstanding browser-based RSS compiler with a social streak will be shuttered. Luckily, a host of opportunistic companies and long-standing competitors to Reader have scrambled to make viable alternatives. So which life boat should you swim to? Gather, ye huddled masses of Internet refugees. We’ve come up with the best alternatives to Google Reader ready to take you in.
Meet the media manager of the future -- and it's not made by apple
Qvivo is a new cloud media service startup that claims to succeed where most others have failed in offering a dream streaming solution for video and music fans with large digital libraries. Starting at $1.99 a month, Qvivo offers unlimited cloud storage for movies, tv shows and music that can then be streamed through any modern web browser. We put the service through its paces and came away extremely impressed.
Bolster your photo app-titude
Whether you’re trying to capture the grandeur of the Grand Canyon or just snapping a selfie of your abs (not again, Anthony Weiner!), utilizing a set of great photo apps is key. Give the Earlybird Instagram filter a break and read up on our five favorite photo apps.
Nothing can stop you, save a dead battery
Gadget-obsessed as we are, even we sometimes bristle at the sheer number of fitness apps available for download. How much help do you really need with physical pursuits? It’s summer — run some laps; swim a bit; hike across an embargoed Caribbean country. There’s no substitute for sweat, no matter what version of iOS you’re running.
And yet, admittedly, sometimes it takes a little extra effort to get out of your seat, especially when your seat is on a patio in the sunshine and there’s a cold beer on the way. Since there really is an app for that, we’ve done the work for you, finding the best in three categories: apps that help you set and achieve goals, apps that help you maximize your workouts, and apps that help you maintain a healthy diet. We hereby endorse bringing your phone to the gym (or wherever it is you work out) this summer, because nobody can blame a guy for wanting to look good.
Make like Stirling Moss
It’s hard to believe how different a hot commute in hair-pulling traffic can be from a balmy mid-afternoon drive on an open road in the countryside — both in the same car. Nothing brings back the freedom of summer like a great drive, and unless you’re cursed with a 36-month lease of a kiddie-hauler that now smells like sour milk, it’s high time you planned just such a trip. Now it’s time to get you equipped.
Ditch the hulk for some helpful tech
Most of us are out of touch with our bodies. We clueless about calories, how much we’re walking in a day, or even how to check our own heart rate. Luckily, there’s a host of new fitness trackers that make training truly personal. Strap them onto your wrist or toss them in your pocket and they’ll track your every move — every step you take, every minute you sleep, every calorie you inhale or burn off. Read on for our five best bets for prying you off the couch — and tracking your efforts.
This system is no P.O.S.
Brick-and-mortar merchants looking for a point of sale system that isn’t a POS can end their search here. Powered by Square’s mobile payment system, Business in a Box ($249+) is a point of sale solution designed to handle small business needs with ease while keeping the IRS at bay.
Find your digital training partner
You can’t manage what you don’t measure. That is true for endurance athletes tracking caloric expenditure and substrate utilization or weekend warriors just looking to stay fit. It is nearly impossible to know if you are getting stronger, faster and leaner without some tools for measurement. Thanks to our rapacious demand for data, we’ve seen an explosion in the number of devices and services to help improve performance, from GPS to power meters to physiological testing services.
But even with all these advancements, we still find ourselves asking more of the the same questions: What should I measure? What do I do with the data? What technology should I actually buy? To help answer these questions we’ve got five training technologies that will help give context to your rides, improve your performance and best your training buddies.
Wear your heart on your chest
It’s apparently no longer enough to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve — or wrist. Under Armour’s new Armour39 system attacks the digital performance monitoring question with a new “bug” device, which comes with a special sleeve that straps to the chest; like other bluetooth-enabled fitness computers, it records exercise data and stores it in the cloud.
Your dining room is now an obstacle course
Obstacles XRT ($2) (XRT stands for extreme reality training) isn’t particularly exciting from an innovation standpoint, and it won’t have Quantified Selfers jizzing in their Under Armour. What it does provide is a genuinely useful tool for motivated exercisers to do unique high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts from the comfort of their home or, more importantly, in the office common room, wearing a tank top.
Soup up for the Superbowl
Properly calibrating your TV and sound system is essential for getting the best picture and sound out of your gear — but few do it. Short of hiring a professional to take the work off of your plate, DIY solutions are grim: buying special discs and wading through various complex menus to get the job done. The THX Tune-Up App (Free, for now, $2 later) is a welcomed update to the process in a smartphone-dominated world.
What could you have possibly done to make the monkey so mad? Temple Run 2 (free), much like its predecessor, is insanely addictive and madly difficult. Yes, you’re still fleeing through a sparse, badly maintained network of paths, using your fingers to slide, leap, turn and tilt. These sorts of games have a definitively juvenile…
That's one hot (home media) librarian
Hard drives are about as exciting as, well, hard drives. Seagate Central ($190-$260) aims to change all that as the world’s first shared storage device with a Smart TV app, enabling you to access files on your flatscreen and just about every other device in your home. In short, the Seagate Central allows access to…
A Plant Tracker To Root For
For obsessive but absent-minded tech geeks whose thumbs are jonesin’ to go green, the Flower Power app by Parrot is the perfect gardener on the cheap. Using a wireless bio-dongle — a kitschy divining-rod-shaped device that plugs into the soil next to your budding buddy — the app monitors plants’ stats in real time. Data…
A different kind of POS
Forget the confusing title, and remember this: the ShopKeep iPad POS by Griffin is going to make a lot of small business owners very happy. The new point-of-sale iPad mod — consisting of a protective case with built-in magnetic card reader that works in conjunction with the ShopKeep app — makes manning the cash register…
An app for the dark night
Something needs to be done about our gadgets, because they’re getting to be too much. Toasters with wi-fi, espresso machines with built-in Instragram — every gadget today is trying to do everything for everyone, all while accomplishing absolutely nothing. It needs to stop. Out of the tangled wires and Bluetooth antennas, a hero, well, you…
Grow a Pear
The holidays are here again. Time for family, friends and wondering what to do when Grandma pulls that five-stick-o-butter apple pie hot and fresh from the oven. Finding ourselves wedged between the gorging holidays with New Year’s resolutions right around the corner, we’ve all hopefully considered some version of an exercise regimen. Personal trainers, however,…
If the world really does end on the 21st, this app will be useless. But if Zero Hour doesn’t hit, 1 Second Everyday could be a life changer. Using your iPhone camera, this personal hobby turned TED Talk turned funded Kickstarter project chronicles your life one second at a time. Its creation story is blessedly…
Road trippers of the world, celebrate
It’s safe to go out on the streets again. No more following driving directions into a lake a la “The Office”. Google Maps for iOS 6 (free) is the same quality tool it’s ever been, with a new streamlined look and a deliciously intuitive UI in addition to search, voice guided turn-by-turn navigation and street…
Tis the season for galas, charity balls and swanky get-togethers galore, which is why MR PORTER’s new Tux App (free) is impeccably timed. The free iPad app is packed with plenty of tips for navigating black-tie events, starting with lessons on how to wear a tuxedo and tying a bow tie. The lifestyle-minded team at…