Read It Later Gets a Facelift and a Brand New Name: Pocket (Web, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire)

Read it Later Gets a Facelift and a Brand New Name: Pocket (Web, iOS, Android) | 40Tech

Read It Later has been one of the most popular tools of its ilk for years now, starting way back in the dark ages of 2007. Along the way, it’s found itself up against some stiff competition with apps like Instapaper, Readability and, more recently, Evernote’s Clearly, but has remained a fan favourite with over 300 connected apps and services. It’s possible that the competition was getting a bit stiff, however, because Wednesday brought about a major change: a complete re-do of the look and feel of all apps, along with a total rebrand.

Meet Pocket, Read It Later fans.

There must be something in the air or water — or maybe it’s was Big Update Month or something. Facebook pushed all of its Pages over to the new timeline feature, confusing many a marketing guru and causing some frantic thinking as to how to force people to keep liking their pages; Google continued its Google+ focused design rollout, changing the design and navigation of their social network into something more icon-driven; and Springpad dropped a bomb of a new design on its (mostly) unsuspecting userbase.

The main difference with the new Read It Later is that, while the other services have been met with responses that vary from meh to ARRRRRRGH!!!!, from what I’ve read, Pocket has been received with almost universal positivity. This is not without reason, however, as everything about Pocket is an improvement.

 

Look and Feel

The new look and feel is easier to navigate, and visually appealing. It kind of reminds me of the new Springpad, in some ways — but don’t worry, new Springpad haters, the icon view isn’t too huge for the design, and the list view is still there, if you don’t like it. The colors are nice, the new branding is pretty and simple, and the icons in the mobile versions are pretty much self-explanatory. It also helps that, while some views are obviously going to be different depending on the device you’re on (no grid view for iPhone for example), the interface is consistent throughout. The end result is that it is a lot easier to find your way to and through the content you’ve saved, as well as to mange it (read, unread, tags, delete).

Pocket - Formerly Read It Later - for iPhone, iPad, Android, Kindle Fire

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Functionality

Pocket did the smart thing and didn’t remove functionality it’s users we’re used to. Instead, they added features that make the service even more useful! Pocket gets that the web is more than just words and that you want to bookmark more than just articles for later viewing. Now you can bookmark and view images and videos from all over the web right in your Pocket apps. On your computer or iPad, you the video pops up in an overlay, and on the iPhone, they open in the native video player — and in all services, you can launch them right from the little play button that appears on thy our bookmark’s thumbnail.

Info: Videos need an active internet connection, but articles and images still download for offline viewing.

Note: If you had a favourite app, extension, or bookmarklet for Read It Later, they should all still work with Pocket. You can also send to Pocket by email, and they’ve redesigned the official Google Chrome extension to get things into your list with a single click.

Pocket has some quick filters to aid in navigation (All Items, Articles Videos, and Images), as well as Home, Favorites, and Archives in the main menu. You can also use the search functionality, or navigate by tags, if you like.

You can still toggle between the pretty read view and the native web view for an article, and it’s now a lot easier to change the look of an article. There are only two fonts to choose from (FF Yoga for serif, and Proxima Nova for sans serif), but getting to that change, as well as changing the font size, screen brightness, or from and to night reading mode now takes no more than the touch of an obvious button. No more double-tapping on your mobile screen or any other such nonsense. The menu bar is always on and doesn’t get in the way of the reading experience.

 

Sharing content from Pocket is easier than ever, as well. Just hit the little share arrow-button that has become the universal app symbol to pass it on, and touch to share on Twitter, Facebook, or send to Evernote. Not enough? Hit the more button and you can copy the entire article in a single click, email the link or the entire article, open it in Safari, or send it to a multitude of services (Box.com, Buffer, Google Reader, Diigo, Delicious, Pinboard, StumbleUpon, Tumblr, and all of the major social networks). Still not enough? Scroll a bit lower on iOS and you can send it on to EchoFon,Twitter for iPhone, Twittelator Pro, and even Omnifocus and Things.

That last — Omnifocus and Things — as well as the email capability, can make the things you save into actionable tasks, which is handy. And, as a nice little add on, the share services that you used most recently are the ones that will show up before the More button the next time you open it.

 

Downsides?

No app is perfect, and Pocket still has a few things it needs to be the best Read It Later type app out there. For one, it needs Google+ sharing and +1 capability. That was a glaring omission from the share list — though it may not be entirely their fault, as the Google+ API is still being extended. It would also be great if Pocket had the time of day activated night mode that Instapaper has, as well Instapaper’s ability to dim images as well as text. Oh — and the ability to apply night mode to the entire app would be peachy, as well. It would save more than a few eyes when users switch from an article back to the interface when reading in the dark.

Finally, I wish Pocket had some sort of reminder feature that could be applied to articles. One of the reasons I stopped using the original Read It Later — even though I loved the idea — was that the things I saved in it would never get read. They would get clipped with the bookmarklet, apps, or the Chrome extension (the new one makes this even easier), and then I would never look at them again. I actually started using Springpad to clip my articles for exactly this reason. Yes, I can send an article to my task manager to take action on, later, but only after I’ve read it — and when you see a lot of shiny things on the web or in your reader apps, your reading list can get intimidating, fast. So, yeah… Pocket, do me a solid and add a reminder function, eh?

What do you guys think of Pocket as the new Read It Later? Success? Fail? Does it trump Instapaper for you?

Get Pocket

Sparrow Comes to iPhone, Gmail iOS/Web App (Finally) Adds “Send Email As” Feature

Sparrow Comes to iPhone, Gmail iOS/Web App (Finally) Adds "Send Email As" Feature | 40Tech

40Tech’s Big Kahuna, Evan Kline, fell in love with Sparrow a while back. It was — and is — the ultimate Gmail client for him, and his post on it left me jealous that it wasn’t available for Windows (yeah, yeah, Apple Fanboys, I see your lips moving, but no sound is coming out). Thankfully, the keen developers on the Sparrow team have seen fit to bring the Ultimate Gmail/Email Experience over to the iPhone.

They do a good job of it, too. The Sparrow for iPhone app is the best email client for iOS to date — with only one potentially deal-breaking problem.

Sparrow (iOS 5 required) utilizes some of the best features of other mobile designs like Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, and the better features of Mail to bring a fast, super-easy to navigate email client to the iPhone that has the added benefit of being pretty. It has swipe-able overlapping panes, Facebook profile photo integration, pull down to refresh, labels, and a swipe-for-context-menu that gives you the ability to instantly deal with an email without actually having to open it. And that’s just for starters.

Sparrow for iPhone also has a fantastic threaded message UI that allows you to see an entire email chain at a glance, a sweet unified inbox for multiple accounts, send-from aliases (works with your verified Gmail “send email as” emails), and the ability to add images to an email at any given point — you can even take them on the fly, if you like.

Some Screenies from the Sparrow Site

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What Sparrow doesn’t have — and this might kill it for power users — is push notifications. This is unfortunate as, for many people, push notifications are an integral part of their mobile life. However, the lack of push comes with good reason: in order to offer it, Apple would require Sparrow to store your email address and password on their own servers. This is a responsibility that Sparrow doesn’t feel prepared to handle — and I say more power to them. Better they remove the feature and recognize their own limitations than to offer push notifications, get hacked, and leave thousands of users’ private email accounts floating in the winds.

Sparrow did attempt to use the same push notification API that Apple offers to VOIP apps (Skype, etc.). This API goes through Apple’s secure servers and would allow the Sparrow app to be “always on” and securely deliver email notifications to you. Unfortunately, Apple rejected the app for utilizing this feature. Sparrow encourages users to contact Apple in the hopes that the policy might be reconsidered in the near future.

Sparrow is also missing POP email account support — it’s IMAP only, for now. Hopefully, that will change in coming updates. Some things that are definitely on the way are landscape mode, localization, a built-in web browser, and “send and archive.” I would also like to see “mark as read” added to the context menu.

Even without POP or push notifications, though, Sparrow is easily the best email client available for the iPhone. It is much easier to use than iOS Mail, and it kicks the crap out of the Gmail app — which I am still happy exists, but would like to see a little lovin’ happening.

Speaking of Gmail, if you are in need of both push and the Gmail “send email as” feature (and don’t utterly loathe the iOS app), the Gmail mobile app has recently been updated to include said feature. You don’t even have to update your iOS app as it is basically a fancy box containing the mobile app’s functionality. Personally, I’m glad to see this feature incorporated, and have no idea why it took so long to do so. As was said above, you can use Sparrow to do this — but Sparrow for iPhone costs $2.99, and Gmail is free. Your call.

What are your thoughts on Sparrow for iPhone? Does the lack of push kill it for you?

Get Sparrow for iPhone

Still Haven’t Filled Out Your March Madness Bracket? Let PickMyBracket.com Do It For You!

Still Haven't Filled Out Your March Madness Bracket? Let PickMyBracket.com Do It For You! | 40Tech

Today is the deadline for most NCAA March Madness brackets — the first game of the second round. If you’ve been invited to participate in a pool or some other sort of friendly competition, you need to get your college basketball stats together in a hurry. It’s a bit of a bear of a project though, isn’t it? Especially if you’re busy, don’t follow basketball like it’s your religion, or statistics make your eyes roll into the back of your head.

Not to worry , though… PickMyBracket.com has come to your rescue! It’s bracket generator algorithm will create a full bracket for you in seconds — and you might even win a “Brand New iPad,” to boot.

PickMyBracket.com was developed by Information Systems students Jerry Potter and Nick Walter at Brigham Young University. The site pulls statistical data on NCAA teams from ESPN and runs comparisons to pick a winner. To make sure everyone has their own bracket flavour, and to keep things interesting, there are random factors you can choose from, as well, such as hotness of coeds, partying reputation of colleges, SAT scores, mascot type, etc.

The idea actually originated with Walter’s father.

“For around the past 10 years he made an excel file that filled out your March Madness bracket for you based off of team’s ranks and some randomness. He called it ‘The Pickalator,’” said Walter. “I thought this would be a great chance to bring The Pickalator to the whole world!”

If you want to participate in this year’s March Madness bracket competitions, but figure you’re out of time or don’t have the know-how, think again! PickMyBracket.com can have you up and running with a good bracket in just a couple of minutes. Get on it now, so you don’t miss out. Who knows… you might win.

What are your thoughts on PickMyBracket.com?

Share Files on Your Mac With a Simple Drag and Drop, With Dockdrop [App of the Week]

Dockdrop

Do you ever have to upload a file to share with someone? You could do this with Dropbox, which is one of our favorite apps, but then you need to make sure that your recipient has a Dropbox account. If you want a dead simple way to share a file, take a look at Dockdrop. When properly configured, Dockdrop allows you to drag a file to the Dockdrop icon on your Mac’s dock, which will trigger an upload to your preset destination, and then copy the file’s location to your clipboard. From there, it is simply a matter of pasting your clipboard contents (such as into an email message) to retrieve the file location.

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Clipper Gives You Text Expansion (of Sorts) on Android [App of the Week]

I hate responding to email from my phone. As much as Swype has made using the phone keyboard much easier, it still doesn’t compare to the speed of a computer keyboard. Normally, I wait until I’m back at my desk to answer email. Still, I find that there are some responses that I enter over and over on my phone. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a text expansion app on Android so that I could take care of those messages on the go? There aren’t text expansion apps for Android, at least in the same sense that are text expansion apps for the PC and Mac that allow you to type shortcuts to expand text. There are apps, however, that let you insert previously created snippets into documents. Clipper is one such app.

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App of the Week: Email Me Pro [Android]

Email me pro

There are any number of reasons why you might want to send yourself an email message. You may want to email yourself a reminder, or send yourself a link from a website. Perhaps you frequently send items into Evernote via your Evernote email address, or maybe you send tasks into your task manager via a dedicated email address. If you want to streamline the process of sending messages to yourself, or to any frequent recipient, check out Email Me Pro, or its free version, Email Me.

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App of the Week: Easily Find What’s Hogging Space on Your Hard Drive with Space Sniffer [Windows]

Easily Find What's Hogging Space on Your Hard Drive with Space Sniffer | 40Tech

Every once in a while you try to download or install something, only to be told by your impertinent machine that you don’t have enough space. You try and try to resolve the issue, but, for the life of you, can’t find the files that are hogging up your hard drive. Everything seems accounted for. You’ve even emptied your Recycle Bin and cleared your temp folder, but all you get from your computer is some digitized, maniacal laughter — or maybe that’s just me.

Potential crazy aside, there is an easy and very handy free tool that you can use to smack some sense into your Windows PC. It’s called SpaceSniffer, and it will help you find and destroy what’s eating your computer’s storage space. You’ll probably be surprised by what you find.

I’ve tried a few different HDD analyzing tools. Many of them are ugly and not very fun when it comes to usability, and they are usually packed with features that you probably don’t need, because they take away from your singular goal: to find and delete what is keeping you from getting that new file or program on your machine.

SpaceSniffer | Easily Find Out What's Taking Up Space On Your Hard Drive

SpaceSniffer’s interface gets to the point. Every button has a point, and the display is clean and easy to understand — in it’s simplest form, the bigger the block, the bigger the file. There are a few simple animations that happen as the files populate, or when you double-click to zoom in on a folder or block, but they don’t distract or have any major impact on speed. If you’re in a hurry, though, you can decrease the graphics refresh rate in the Configure/Effects panel (or remove the animations completely in Configure/Colors). It won’t be as pretty, but it will be faster.

Basically, what SpaceSniffer does is go through your folders and analyzes how your disk space is being used, then presents it in a dynamic grid. From there, you can drill down into folders, tag and filter files to get a more specific look, and use the Windows context menu by right clicking to open folders or get right to the deleting part. You can even navigate during the scanning process, and SpaceSniffer will react to file system events (like clearing your Recycle Bin or deleting a file) to always stay in sync.

There are a few other tips and tricks such as printing customized reports and creating batch files for automation, but chances are you won’t really need them — if you do, check out the Tips and Tricks page of the SpaceSniffer website. You can also get a full list of the features here.

I have to tell you: I love this program. I used it to clear a whopping 50GB of space from my hard drive. 50 frickin’ gigabytes!! Of course, I immediately cut that down by half after installing the free-to-play MMORPG Age of Conan… but that’s another story. Bottom line: 50GB, man! I found files that made no sense, a bunch of space taken up by the mysterious $Recycle.Bin (even though my Recycle Bin was empty), and decided that, since I never use Hibernate in Windows, there was no need for me to allow the OS to reserve 4.5GB for it. I turned that off…

Check Out These SpaceSniffer Videos:

Running a Simple Scan
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 File Tagging
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SpaceSniffer is a portable program that plays nice with your machine, and doesn’t clog up your registry. Download it here, and see what’s taking up space on your hard drive.

SpaceSniffer | Uderzo Software

App of the Week: Paper Camera [iOS, Android]

Paper camera iphone

Both the iOS App Store and the Android Market offer an abundance of camera apps. There are so many, that it takes either great functionality or a unique twist for an app to stand out. One that does so is Paper Camera, available as both an Android and an iPhone/iPad app. Paper Camera lets you use your camera to output real time cartoon and painting effects that have to be seen to appreciated.

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Redesign Your Living Space Online With Homestyler [App of the Week]

Redesign Your Living Space Online With Autodesk Homestyler | 40Tech

I stumbled across this completely by accident. I was looking at some very cool ideas for creating furniture from shipping pallets (my lovely wife’s new obsession), and I saw that one person had done a mock-up of what she wanted her living room to look like. Then I saw the little “Autodesk Homestyler” branding on the bottom of the image and gave an audible “Heyyyyyyyyyy!”

What followed wasn’t pretty. Picture me — or yourself, if you don’t happen to know what I look like — wandering about my house with a tape measure, measuring every wall, window, doorframe, article of furniture, you name it. I was approximating angles, imagining what changes I might like, and constantly running back to my laptop so I could re-create — and then improve upon — my living space. It was obsessive, it was zen-like, and it was surprisingly effective.

Sure, sure, there were a few little glitches, like, in the panoramic or high definition snapshot 3D rendering of my living room, dining room, and kitchen, things like tables and desks  — and my stove — liked to turn invisible. There were conflicts with some of the models, too — my TV sitting inside my TV-stand, for example, or things just refusing to sit over or near each other, even when I had the placement rules disabled. Also, there is simply no way to change the dimensions of some of the models, or (most annoyingly) the height of the walls. (See images, below.)

These things created a need for that special sort of approximation creativity that we all sometimes have to draw on, but the end result was more than adequate for me to see what it would look like if my living room had a sectional couch, and maybe a mirror on the wall (the mirror even reflects when the panorama is rendered!). I now have a reasonable working model of my living space that I can go to and mess with before trying or buying anything — and it was all free! Free, dammit! Even if the entire app is in Flash, and there is no iPad app, I’m completely down with Homestyler. Once you try it, I bet you’ll love it too.

Here’s a few shots of me working on my place — all done within a few hours of mucking about:

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And here’s a link to my panorama (no iframes hereabouts, sorry).

What are your thoughts on Autodesk Homestyler? If you know of anything comparable, tell us about it in the comments!

Autodesk Homestyler