The Appcast #108: April 3rd, 2011 – Alternate Web Browser Apps

This week’s show: Alternate Browser Apps. Bob takes a look at apps that serve to be an alternate choice to the default Safari Browser App.

Episodes can be downloaded by clicking the Episodes tab above.

Intro Music: Borderline D.U. Mix  from Mixter Two – I Don’t Know What I’m Doing by Brad Sucks.


Show Outline:

  1. Introductions
  2. News Briefs
  3. New and Notable Apps
  4. Silly App and iPad App of the Week
  5. Core Topic: Alternate Browser Applications

New Apps Discussed on April 3rd, 2011:

  1. Vimeo – Free – One of the more ‘notable’ of the apps this week and that got a good bit of exposure. Unfortunately, I simply don’t use Vimeo so I can’t really comment that much on how truly useful it is, but they have done a number of interesting things with the app including putting the ability to actually edit your videos somewhat before uploading them to the site in addition to just recording within the app. You can also  do a lot of management of your videos through the app as well as what you’d likely expect in the way of being able to watch videos and share them with your friends via social media. It looks like it should be a rather useful app for those who regularly make use of Vimeo.
  2. LEGO Ninjago Spinjitzu Scavenger Hunt – Free – App tie-in to the LEGO Ninjago sets and spinners that uses an interesting element of sending you out to actual stores to scan the barcodes on sets that have parts that you’re looking to find. By completing quests and fighting in the Spinjitzu arena, you can unlock and purchase better equipment and more interesting character models. The app is very well design, as you’d expect from a company like LEGO who is getting better and better at the whole digital tie-in thing- but the barcode-scanning aspect is pretty much marketing genius, as they obviously hope that you’ll not just go out and SCAN the box, but buy the sets while you’re at it. The game itself is kind of simple, but that’s to be expected as it needs to be playable by kids as well. The app is Universal, and the iPad version looks and plays quite nicely.
  3. LabelRemover Lite – Free – Ad-supported version of LabelRemover, and app that aims to make it easier for you to cut annoying labels out of your clothes without losing the crucial care instructions those labels contain. You can take a picture of the garment, and then several pictures of the labels on it before cutting them off so you’ll have them for a reference later. The app also contains a handy reference for what the different symbols on the labels mean, which honestly is almost worth picking the app up for alone. The app IS supposed to be ad-supported, but honestly I didn’t see any when I was testing it out.

Apps of the Week:

  • Nano Rally HD (Bob) – $0.99 – New, iPad native version of one of the first- and only- racing games I picked up for the iPhone. Race your jellybean-sized car along tracks made of common household-items through different courses like the Kitchen, Bedroom, and beyond. You can configure your car’s parameters to optimize what you consider more important while sacrificing those capabilities the you don’t find as necessary. The larger iPad screen makes control a bit easier as you can see a lot more of the track, though the basic controls remain the same. I still find that the ‘auto throttle’ mode is the best to use and easiest to succeed in the races. It’s nice to see the game get a second chance at life with a native iPad version, and since there was  pretty slim field this week it ends up as my App of the Week.

Silly App and iPad App of the Week:

  • The Onion Tablet – Free – iPad-native app for ‘America’s FInest News Source’, the satirical Onion newspaper. Newspaper-like layout to make getting your fake news even easier than before. Native videos for the iPad, complete with AirPlay functionality- when Apple gets around to actually enabling it in the AppleTV. -It’s all the news that- most likely- isn’t really news, delivered straight to your iPad.

Core Topic: Alternate Browser Apps

  • iLunascape for iPad or iLunascape for iPhone – Free – For both the iPad and iPhone, is a solid, simple Mobile Safari Replacement Browser. It looks a lot like Mobile Safari, except the tabs and navigation controls are at the bottom of the screen. Somewhat scant on settings, about all that it really can do beyond the usual is to post about pages to Twitter or FaceBook. However, it is free or both sizes of iOS device, and does work pretty well. Honestly though, I don’t see much compelling reason to use it vs. Mobile Safari on the iPad. On the iPhone, it does provide a somewhat larger viewing area by hiding the address bar by default.
  • Multiweb – $0.99 – iPad only. ‘Autocomplete’ for URLs you’re typing in is kind of annoying and obtrusive, and isn’t very smart- it often picks up the advertising links it’s followed in pages over the pages themselves.  Unique features include the ability to ’tile’ windows to see two different pages at the same time. It offers a good number of customizations above normal Mobile Safari as well- but not as many as some of the other, more universal apps. The oddity about the ‘jump to top of page’ is weird, though.
  • 360 Web Browser – Free Lite version or $4.99 Premium version – Universal App. 360 Web Browser is one of the browsers that kind of got this core topic into my mind. It’s one of the better ones, with a whole host of custom features- and more can be added on with the use of customizable plugins- including a Skyire-type Flash video converter for certain sites. The $.99 universal app works with both your iPhone/Touch or your iPad. The centerpiece in full-scren mode are the ‘arcs’- circular menu systems that allow navigation and things like searching in the page, enabling and disabling the Ad Blocking, etc. About my only complaint about 360 Web Browser would be that it does not respect ‘open in new tab’ flags from pages (like Fark. com) and that the download manager does not seem to allow you to transfer files through iTunes. Otherwise, it’s an incredibly solid Mobile Safari replacement browser.
  • Atomic Web Browser – Free Lite version or $0.99 Premium version – Universal App. Atomic Web Browser is another solid offering as far as a replacement web browser, with many useful features. It’s lacking an AdBlock capability like 360 has, but it makes up for it by obeying In New Tab flags properly and allowing you to transfer the file you’ve downloaded with the browser to your computer via itunes. It is less configurable and expandable than 360, but depending on your priorities it will work just fine. It’s also easier to turn Private Browsing on and off. I’m a bit less enamored of the iPhone implementation, but honestly this was an issue that I had with just about everything and is not the fault of the app developers- it’s just the nature of the devices.
  • Knowtilus – Free Lite version or $4.99 Premium version – A rather interesting offering that tries to do a lot of interesting and different things than most.  It has a fluid ‘multi-view’ system that lets you drag the tabs around vertically to see more or less of them overlapping, kind of like vertical tiling of panes. You can have the browser’s text-to-speech engine read you most pages- or try and translate them and read them in a different language (the TTS Is very limited in the free version, though) or simply run the whole page through Google Translate and replace the text with that of the new translation. You can also share content via Facebook & Twitter, make notes about pages in the built-in text editor, or even draw on pages and save the drawings to the photo roll to share. It has a lot of features that could be useful to people- but it’s also one of the more expensive to be able to use them all properly as the basic version is very limited, and the full is $5. Still- if you have a use for the expanded features, it’s likely worth it even if most of them weren’t what I was most interested in.
  • Maven Web Browser – $0.99 – Universal App. Maven is a nice Mobile Safari browser replacement with some interesting features. It takes both an expansive and minimalistic approach to the tabs, showing miniature versions of the pages at the bottom by default that can be collapsed into traditional tabs. It also uses what could be best described as a touchsceen implementation of the IBM ‘touch point’ tracking devices that laptops used to have- which is quite nice as it allows you to scroll continuously without having to stroke the screen continuously as well as allowing you to jump quickly to the top and bottom by double tapping the top or bottom of the track-pad. Bookmarks are added to a ‘jog dial’ that can be opened from the side, and there’s also a ‘jog dial’ to lower the brightness. Private browsing is the easiest to turn on of all of the different offerings- you simply tap to the left of the address bar, and if you prefer a ‘cleaner’  version of a page, you can use the ‘reader’ feature to process and read the page using Readability. On sale for $0.99, it’s certainly one that I would recommend to others, though it is perhaps less of a ‘swiss army knife’ of a browser that some others are.
  • Mercury Web Browser – Free Lite version or $0.99 Premium version – Universal App. Mercury is another solid offering, though the lite version is definitely restrictive enough to make you want to get the full version if you intend to continue to use it as well as having ads. The iPad version is a lot more full-featured than the iPhone at the moment, but they are working on expanding it according to the app notes. One notable feature compared to others is a traditional desktop-OS scrollbar on the right side that can be turned on and off- it’s useful like the Maven Trackpad to scroll around a page more easily than the traditional multitouch gestures, but unfortunately it’s only available on the iPad.  There’s not a lot beyond that to really set it apart from the others, but it is a solid Mobile Safari replacement in its own right, and the only one of the ones I tested that actually has a ‘yes’ for all of the things I looked for (360 comes closest, but it doesn’t obey ‘open in new tab’ flags), even if some are only available on the iPad.
  • Skyfire Web Browser or Skyfire Web Browser for iPad- $2.99 for iPhone version or $4.99 for iPad version – SkyFire was another of the early Mobile Safari replacement browsers- and I believe the first to incorporate a means with which to view Flash videos on sites that did not have HTML5 video capabilities. It has continued to evolve and expand to incorporate more social media into the browser as well, both in the iPhone version and even moreso in the iPad version (which I unfortunately did not get a promo code for soon enough to test out). One downside to the app is that there is not a Universal app for it, so if you want the full functionality on both your iPad and iPhone, you’ll end up spending $8 instead of just $3 or $5. Compared to a number of the other apps, SkyFire is lacking in features like gestures and visual customizations, but still does what it was intended to do at its core- display Flash video- quite well. The Twitter and FaceBook integration is quite nice though, and the iPad version also adds Google Reader capabilities, meaning that the browser can also become something of a social networking hub where you can do a lot without having to use the app.

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