As part of CNET's 100, Portable Entertainment Senior Editor Donald Bell picks his favorite iPhone apps.
Reeder (CNET 100: iPhone Apps)
As someone who needs to stay up on tech news, I'm continually keeping track of newsfeeds from hundreds of sources across the Web. Because of its convenience, my newsreader of choice is Google Reader, which has allowed me to cultivate enormous lists of newsfeeds tailored specifically to the kinds of stories I need to stay up on.
Unfortunately, my hour-long morning train ride into work is a cell phone and Wi-Fi dead zone, which poses a problem for reading through my morning news. My solution is Reeder, which works directly with my Google account to cache all of my newsfeeds offline, while still allowing me to star and organize content. The interface is clean and simple, and makes no apologies for working only with Google Reader. Under iOS 4, feed syncing can now run as a background task, which is a big win. Also works great on the iPad.
Please appreciate that by admitting that this is one of my favorite apps, I'm forced to come to terms with how utterly domestic my life has become. You won't find social networking apps or cocktail recommendation guides in my Top 10. Who has time for a social life when my two year old's attention span is about to snap and I need all the help I can get to distract him before dinner's ready.
That's where Martha Speak's Dog Party comes in handy (as well as a few others on this list). For my two year old, the educational vocabulary building angle of this app (and the show it's based on) is a little over his head. He'll grow into it, though. Besides, you don't need a high IQ to find satisfaction in popping the game's cartoon balloons and controlling a virtual dog tongue licking a plate of spaghetti clean.
For a lot of music fans, the term "Internet radio" means more than pulling up Pandora, or hitting the radio tab in iTunes--it's that killer hip-hop station from Bangalore, or a Jamaican dub station based out of Berlin.
To me, the Tuner Internet radio app is the nail in the coffin of tabletop Internet radio receivers. For the price of a $199 iPod Touch, a $5 app, and basic A/V dock, you can turn any stereo in your home into a first-class global Internet radio. The interface isn't fancy, but the search works well, you can bookmark your favorite stations, and sort by genre.
I love me some pinball--and when I played the Pinball HD app for iPad, I knew I had to find a version that worked on my iPod Touch. Each of the three pinball games included on the excellent Pinball HD iPad app (Wild West, The Deep, and Jungle Style) are sold separately for the smaller screen of iPhone and iPod Touch, but they're every bit as fun.
As casual games go, everyone has their flavor of the week. For me, Jungle Style Pinball has maintained its appeal far beyond its $0.99 purchase price. There's a reason pinball has endured for so long, and the folks at Gameprom have perfectly captured the fun pinball, while at the same time including several layers of complexity for those who're really looking to reach the High Score leader board.
When I'm not placating my toddler with Elmo and Martha the Talking Dog apps, I'm desperately attempting to hold on to any vestiges of coolness by practicing on my guitar. I'm no rockstar, but what modest skills I've managed to develop I owe to a combination of YouTube guitar lessons and apps like Planet Waves Guitar tools, which let you quickly look up scales, chords, tunings, and other information--quick and easy.
I've detailed some of my favorite guitar apps in previous CNET posts, but Guitar Tools from Planet Waves is one of the best comprehensive guitar apps you'll find (GuitarToolkit by Agile Partners is another). It offers intuitive chord and scale dictionaries, a metronome, string tuner, and even provides listings for local stores and instructors. No matter how good a guitarist you think you are, you'll find something useful here.
I first discovered Harmonious on the iPad, when I was looking for a quality sketchpad application that didn't cost an arm and a leg. As a combo app, compatible with both the iPhone and iPad, the $0.99 price of Harmonious, combined with its fine detail and drawing tools make it a great all-around pick for anyone interested in drawing or doodling.
The interface is simple and the options are few--but personally, that's part of the appeal. You can adjust the brush type, color, and size. You get multiple undos, and options for saving or e-mailing your drawing as an image attachment. There are plenty of similar sketch programs out there, but none that I've seen that strike this same balance of price and fine digital brush/pencil quality.
OK, I know that because both CNET and Last.fm are owned by the same parent company (CBS) you'll have to take this recommendation with a grain of salt--but I'm a big fan of the Last.fm app. I'm a big fan of Pandora too, but I use both apps for different purposes. To me, Last.fm offers a more personal experience, tailored to my daily listening habits by way of the scrobbler plug-in they've developed for iTunes.
If my obsession with Black Keys has run its course and a newly kindled interest in The Seeds has taken its place--the Last.fm automatically knows from watching my listening habits in iTunes. Plus, the social links into my network of friends and a Last.fm calendar feature for recommended concerts, just give the whole app a different, more music nerd-y air.
When you absolutely need the highest quality solution for recording, editing, and exporting audio with your iPhone, the FiRe recorder app offers unparalleled features. Whether you're capturing an interview or recording live music, FiRe offers all the options of an audio recorder costing several hundred dollars. You get a waveform editor, editable markers, overdubbing, location tagging, adjustable file quality settings up to 16bit/44kHz, multiple export formats (WAV, AIF, AAC, Flac, Ogg Vorbis, and Apple Lossless), Broadcast WAVE metadata, and more.
A killer feature for me--which no other portable recorder can match--is an integrated SoundCloud uploader for posting your recordings directly to the Web, along with pictures, location info, and other metadata. Also, the app works with the highly rated Blue Microphones Mikey adapter. The app has yet to be updated for iOS4, so don't go throwing $9.99 at it until you're sure it will work for you.
The great part about having a kid who's addicted to Elmo is that you always know you can disarm any potential tantrums by cueing up some Elmo songs or a Sesame Street video. The downside, of course, is having to endure the sounds of Elmo's shrill cackles as the "Elmo's World" song pings around in your brain for what seems like the millionth time.
The Elmo Monster Maker app is a pleasant middle ground. Your kid (or you, if that's your thing) is given a choice of three generic monster muppets, which they can customize with different combinations of eyes, nose, and hats, and subject them to little prescribed skits with Elmo or make them dance in a virtual disco. It's not the sort of thing you or your kid will get hours of entertainment from, but it's a well-done, silly way to get a taste of the Elmo "experience" without going insane. In spite of Elmo's name being in the title, the vast majority of the game is about creating these goofy monsters.
I know, I know--everyone lists Pandora as one of their top apps. That doesn't make the app any less vital to me. Last.fm is great when I feel like exploring the connections between bands, actively uncovering new artists, and seeing what my friends are listening to. Pandora, by comparison, is perfect for the other 75 percent of my life where I just feel like putting on my headphones, hitting one button, and surrendering my ears to a dependably great selection of music.
Over the years, Pandora has done a great job of adding better, more interesting descriptions for artists and songs. The interface is uncluttered, with big, beautiful artwork. It also helps that the stream quality--in my experience--does the best job of not dropping out, compared to other streaming music players. Also, the capability to stream Pandora as a background application in iOS4 is just awesome.