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iPad App Review: My Five Faves

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And so, as promised, my favorite five apps for the iPad. As I noted in my last article, my iPad and I have become best friends over the past three months. I use it for everything from email to appointments to surfing. One of my favorite daily stops is the App Store, where I am perpetually on the lookout for the useful, intriguing, and fun. I’m no techie, and I’m not apt to try everything out there, but my tastes tend toward the eclectic.

Of course, everyone seems to be developing new iPad apps to take advantage of the flexibility and power of this new platform. Print magazines and newspapers (Time, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, to name but three), game designers, and business software mavens are churning out new apps every week. Recently I learned that House, M.D. producers used iPad to distribute scripts to the cast and crew of the hit television show via an app made specifically for film and television production.

I’ve tried a few apps just for fun; some I’ve thought might really help me with my work, my organization, my writing. I plan on sharing new apps I try as the weeks go on—and as I try them out myself. But for today, here are five apps I’ve found myself using (or playing with) pretty much every day—beyond the basics of calendar, surfing, and email.

Flickr for iPad: For years, I’ve been uploading photos to Photobucket. Over that time, the upload interface has become simpler and more user friendly and I’ve not had much to complain about. But recently I discovered that my MacBook Pro connects directly to another photo service called Flickr through the Mac’s resident photo handling software iPhoto. I had the chance to test that out not long ago and I really liked it. It made uploading and organizing of nearly 400 photographs easy and seamless. Cool, but this isn’t an article about Mac applications, but about iPad. 

Imagine my delight when I noticed a free Flickr app in the iPad app store. Of course I downloaded it and assumed I’d be porting my photographs over from my Mac somehow and I’d figure that out later. The app asked for my Flickr sign in, and as soon as I signed in, lo and behold, there were my photos. Right there. A photostrip preview runs across the top of the screen, but otherwise the photographs take up much of the iPad’s generous screen. Touch one of the previews to view the photo in all its glory. Sharing photos is just as easy. Flickr for iPad is a great app and I highly recommend it. It is easily the easiest photo viewing I’ve ever experienced. 

NYT Crossword Puzzles: I love hard crossword puzzles—you know, the kind that take an entire plane ride (cross country). There are few crossword puzzles more challenging than those found in the New York Times. And the free iPad app from Magmic is as good as it gets. The experience is as close to doing a real (read: print) crossword puzzle as possible. You can see the clues, the entire board and the keyboard easily. A pencil mark ticks off the clues you’ve completed as you go. If you need a cheat or a check, you can do that as well (and the iPad annoyingly marks those squares with little red marks remind you of your cheaterhood). 

Labyrinth 2 HD: One of the first gifts I gave to my husband when we first met was a wooden Labyrinth puzzle. The object of the puzzle is to maneuver a little metal ball through a maze peppered with holes and traps. Set in a box, the top of the board moves to and fro, conspiring with the metal ball to trip you up and make you fail. Ahh, the feeling of victory when you reach the other side of the maze; the satisfying sound of the metal ball rolling around on the polished wood surface. The game had long since been relegated to the top shelf of the hall closet along with the rest of our tired and overused puzzle and board games.

Imagine my delight to happen upon Labyrinth 2 HD. I downloaded the “lite” version to check it out. The first thing I noticed is that the simulation was so real, I literally forgot I wasn’t playing on a wood surface. Using the iPad’s technology to excellent effect, the little ball moved just as I would have expected it to move on a real wood surface; the sound effects were strikingly realistic as well. But the app more than one-ups Labyrinth; there are lots of boards and configurations; traps, hazards, and surprises along the way. The game plays almost as a hybrid pinball (something else I love) game. It’s challenging (especially as you move past the early boards) and extremely addictive.  There are several Labyrinth-type games for the iPad; this is the best I’ve played. Alas, it’s not free (the free “lite” version is very limited—just enough to addict you), but at $7.99, I bit the bullet and I’m happy I did.

Amazon: Hidden Expedition: I think I got hooked on hidden object games when I was a kid and had a subscription to Highlights for Children. The monthly hidden object puzzle was one of my favorite features and I guess it stuck. Big Fish Games’ Amazon: Hidden Expedition, a beautiful, challenging, and enormously addictive hidden object game is nearly a work of art. Like most games of this genre, the goal is to find lots of incongruously hidden objects within elaborate scenes.

Finding objects will win you points (and sometimes provide the keys to additional puzzles and levels within the game). The scenes in Amazon are so intricately and colorfully rendered on the iPad that finding the desired objects is sometimes so tough that you need a hint (or at least I did). But hints have to be earned (or found). Finishing a level leads to additional puzzles, which then lead on to other scenes. At $4.99, Amazon: Hidden Expedition is a fun diversion and I’ve seen few other hidden object puzzles for iPad that come close to it for sheer artistry.

miTypewriter: Okay, this one’s just for fun, but I never tire of demonstrating it (especially to fellow writers old enough to remember using a typewriter). Plain and simple, it’s a typewriter—and not even an electric. I think I remember my mom using one of these things when I was a kid, but nothing beats the clack, clack, clack of the keys hitting the paper… er… pixel. The animation is really fabulous and the carriage return works just like on the original. There’s a shift-lock to make everything all caps and the “paper” rolls realistically in the platen. Is there a point to this app at all? Sure. You can take your typed masterpiece and send it off as an email right from the app. It’s a $.99 indulgence, but a ton of fun!

Till next time… what are your favorite apps?

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About Barbara Barnett

Barbara Barnett is publisher and executive editor of Blogcritics, as well as a noted entertainment writer. Author of Chasing Zebras: The Unofficial Guide to House, M.D., her primary beat is primetime television. But Barbara writes on an everything from film to politics to technology to all things pop culture and spirituality. She is a contributor to the book called Spiritual Pregnancy (Llewellyn Worldwide, January 2014) and has a story in Riverdale Ave Press' new anthology of zombie romance, Still Hungry for your Love. She is hard at work on what she hopes will be her first published novel.
  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/mindy-peterman Mindy

    Thanks for your picks! Now I’m going to need to download the NYT Crossword app. The hidden objects game looks neat too.

    My faves are:
    Words With Friends-a wonderful Scrabble-like game you can play with a friend or someone out there looking for a challenge.

    10 Pin Shuffle-Fabulous bowling/shuffleboard app.

    Distant Shore-A new twist on the Message In the Bottle game

    My Kingdom For the Princess-An addictive strategy RPG.

    Pinball HD-Yep, if you love pinball, you’ll love this realistic rendering of the classic game. Three richly detailed tables will keep you busy for a long time.

    I’m also a fan of Frypaper-Stephen Fry’s app. He posts articles when the mood strikes him, and they’re always interesting, educational and lo-onng.

    I could keep this list going for awhile but I’ll stop here. Thanks for the chance to offer my picks. I’m sure you’ll get many more.

  • Hans Meinz

    Great article, the typewriter is one of my favorites too, nice app to show off to people.

    Here are my favorites:

    Terminal Maps HD – Displays airport maps and also amenities, so you can find your way around the airport or find your favorite restaurant when traveling.

    Angry Birds HD a fun game that you can get lost in.

    Air Video – Stream your movies from your desktop/laptop computer onto your iPad instantly with no wires.

    Terminal Maps is my favorite, because I travel so much, but these are must have apps for me.

  • http://BarbaraBarnett.com barbara barnett

    Mindy and Hans,
    thanks for sharing your favorites. More for me to try out. Are you 3G or WiFi?

  • Christian

    i got to try the typewriter.

    my personal favorite is Bento app. It’s the port of the personal database software called by the same for the MAC.
    I use it for business, time management, schedules etc…
    but I can also use it for organizing just about anything I can think of: softwares with their serials, my a/v collection, recipes, and fitness goals.

  • http://barbarabarnett.com barbara barmett

    I will have to try Bento. I”ve been tempted to buy it for my MacBook Pro (i7 core), but I’ve not done it yet.

  • Sarah Leach

    I love the new iPad App Eye Know Everything. It was only released a couple days ago, but is great to play alone or with a group of people! Really fun and entertaining.