Inspire Pro

Inspire Pro

Price: $8

Everyone remember their first. Back when I first got the iPad I was trapped in a weird place. I spent all my money on the thing (I was paying debts and bills and pulled together enough for one to reward myself as well as sketch digitally.) For a long while I was stuck using free apps and didn't have a stylus to paint with. When I did finally get a few paid apps I wanted to spread out the money and get as many as possible and thought that SketchBook Pro was a little too much (even though the investment does go a long way.) Instead I settled for Inspire Pro which cost a reasonable $3 which was on sale at the time.

At the time when I bought the iPad there wasn't a lot of options in the way of apps since all the developers were scrambling to get their apps out there. Even what was available wasn't reaching the full potential of what the tablet could do. However even when I return to Inspire Pro (which received a hefty update recently) I find it hasn't changed very much at all. It's a painting app that's not big on many features but has the heart and spirit.

One of the few projects from Inspire Pro

You have a canvas like back ground and can paint on it with five different brush types. What I found to be the best part about Inspire Pro is the dry brush. You can blot down a bunch of colour onto the page and on the fly change to a paintless brush to spread the colour about. Apps like ArtRage do this but it's overly complex and my first gen iPad struggles to keep up with it, making it virtually unusable. It creates a unique effect I don't get from any other app, it's endearing and dare I say enjoyable to use. Undo/redo is there to protect from mistakes, making it better than watercolour to me.

The problems that come into play are the lack of layers that come from the higher tier painting apps. I think it would change Inspire Pro into something different altogether but it stops it short of a satisfying app when everything you do is to be done on one plane. More preparation would go into a painting creating the background first and being careful not to destroy it too much when painting the foreground.

Inspire Pro broke my iPad painting virginity and I did have much fun with it but not enough to stick with it. Good for a laugh but not good enough to hold your interest for long.


Price: $5

Take the amazing cameras of the latest iPhones, the retina displays and the connectivity of iClouds Photo Stream and you have a recipe for seamless access to your pictures. What do you do with this potential cocktail? Edit pictures on the go with your iDevice of course. There are a lot of apps in the App Store to do such a task like Photoshop Express or Pixelmator but what we’re looking at here is Snapseed.

Photo editing apps have a tendency to fail completely on several fronts due to: a lack of features, terrible interface, sluggish performance all for a terrible price. All of these leads to a bad experience for less experienced users who just want to make their pictures look good. As for the intermediate, the time it takes to get to a final result is not worth the trouble. So what makes Snapseed different? Snapseed is THE app that professional photographers use on their iPads.

With the camera connector kit, you can take the pictures from your DSLR and adjust photos on the fly with the same power as a desktop computer. Snapseed can use pictures up to 20 MP on the latest iPad which is the going rate of DSLR pics (6MP for iPad/3GS - 16MP for iPad 2/4 and 4S). For the hardcore there is an immense amount of control from the standard brightness/contrast and straighten to customizable blur effects and colour tinges.

My Cat in Tunnel Vision (Working Title in Progress)
For amateurs and Instagram fanatics the auto correct feature which does all the detail work for your untrained eyes. Following that you can play about with borders, blurs and creative enhancements such as black and white, vintage, grunge, drama and much more. It even goes as far to rival the Camera+ app that I adore and swear by with the ability to take photos in-app as well.

The best thing about Snapseed isn’t just the features and the amount of polish it has but the way the interface works. Menus aren’t obtrusive and everything is controlled by finger swipes (with the exception of selecting tools from the sidebar.) Slide up and down to swap between definitive tools while left and right utilizes your selection. It feels as natural as everything else on your iDevice and that’s what makes Snapseed so amazing.

I just realized I’ve said absolutely nothing bad about Snapseed….. Huh. Ummm…. It costs $5? It does go on sale quite frequently but I paid $5 for it days before it became free for several days. Yet I don’t regret that at all. The developer deserves the support for such an endearing and amazing result. There’s nothing more I can say that no one else has said before. Get it if you love taking pictures. Don’t get it if you like $5… <Shrugs>

Pandemic 2.5

Pandemic 2.5

Price: $1

’There are some people who want to watch the world burn.’ If you want to quench your thirst for destroying human kind, Pandemic might be up your alley. I’ve always had numerous plans for the human race and ways I could destroy it with a dangerously infectious virus, Pandemic lets me play out my hypothetical scenarios. What’s the most effective and efficient way of clearing human life from this planet? I haven’t figured it out yet but I’ve had a blast trying.

There isn’t much to visuals to this game at all, so if you’re not keen on reading I recommend you keep walking. If you’re open to new experiences, I’m glad you’re still here (I could use the viewership.) This is a simulation game with only menus and a map of the world. Touch various countries to see how well your super virus is spreading and killing. In the menu you can add symptoms (such as sneezing), conditions (disease spreads even after death), resistance to certain landscapes (spreads to hotter and colder climates) and resistance to immunization.

You have a time limit and your job is to adapt your virus from being caught and contained, reassuring the human race will continue. It’s the sheer imagination of combining these elements that make your virus so ingeniously destructive. Take this for example, combining Insomnia and Tremors will create a zombie-like virus since infected people will be walking about with zero motor skills and the consciousness of a webcomic artist.

The game doesn’t last very long which is a good thing with the way the game plays. You can have multiple play throughs, experimenting with different scenarios and conditions or just earn all the achievements to become an evil mastermind who destroys society.

Beat Hazard

Beat Hazard
Price: $3

Twin stick shooters on the App Store are so convulated and run of the mill, it’s difficult to tell them apart. Asteroid was fun with one, two, five-hundred and sixty new skins but when you’ve played one, you’ve pretty much played them all. With that being said here’s Beat Hazard.

Don’t get me wrong I do enjoy the genre and the games do have an intense gameplay appeal, but I must have played about ten different games like these. Two of those I’ve played excessively in the past. The first was Pew Pew on my weak iPhone 3G and this one, Beat Hazard. What separates Beat Hazard from the pack is the music aspect.

It dwelves into your music library and you play space wars to your music which is a clever touch. Playing your music as if it’s a level isn’t just based on time, the programming uses the tempo and bass to time enemy formations and your attacks intensity is based on the activity of the song. It adds a more personal touch to the game which makes it fun.

The reward and levelling system is present but you hardly realize it’s there when you start. After playing through several songs you’ll realize there’s perks and add-ons for your spaceship. Adding on perks and ways to increase your combo is a satisfying way to aim for a higher score on songs you particularly love. But the additional attacks really mess up your game.

I was playing the iPad version and had a lot of space for my thumbs. However surrounding each stick are numerous power up attacks: bomb, shield, super laser and missiles. They are fun to use but my God do I set them off completely by accident far too frequently. Guaranteed at least three times a game I will use my super laser when no ones around and fire into complete darkness like a terrified blind child at a night club.

Can you see the game? Pretty ain't it?
However this is one of the most satisfying purchases in the App Store I’ve ever made. I keep coming back to it simply to try out new songs I have just to see how they look in Beat Hazard.


Price: Free

Browsing on your iPhone is a pain. Sure it’s good in a bind but we depend on apps to tell us where the closest restaurant is (as well as their opening/close times) or wikipedia articles. Daily I follow news and updates from blogs such as Lifehacker, Kotaku, Joystiq, Engadget and Apartment Therapy to name a few and loading each with Safari is a major pain in the ass. Obviously that is the wrong way.

Pulse is an RSS reader and one that I hold close to my heart. Starting up is tedious but it pays in the long run to have a list of your favorite blogs. Swipe down and watch the magic unfold as all your news refreshes. No longer will you waste data and time and fines for aggravated assault because of that dreaded slow moving bar.

At first I wasn’t a fan of the interface. Everything is small and the blue on black is positively depressing. But these are gripes that disappear as this free app offers so much and asks for so very little. I love Zite but that’s a different flavor altogether and more suited for the big screen (which Pulse also works well with.) Pulse works well to deliver your precise news sources rather than random articles based on your preferences.

Oh also, Pocket is supported. Magic!

Ghost Trick

Ghost Trick
Price: $10

There were many DS games that gained critical acclaim that unfortunately flew over my head but luckily found a second home in the App Store. Scribblenauts and Final Fantasy 3 look incredible on the iPad and retina display iPhones and are more accessible for schmos like me who are finding it difficult to carry around multiple cartridges. Ghost Trick looks amazing on the iPad and is cross compatible with the iPhone (though the version I focused on was the big screen variant). When you see it side by side with the Nintendo DS version, it's in every way superior in price and visually.

The story is about a newly deceased spirit whom wakes up in the junkyard with no memories of its past life. It has the ability to transfer to objects and to control said objects to affect the world around it in an effort to solve the mysteries that surround the evening in question. With quirky graphics, amusing characters and dialogue, Phantom Detective sucks you into its narrative while being interactive with the players. Touch screen controls are the main attraction and are right at home on smart phones and tablets alike.

Playing from beginning to end, the mystery is quite enthralling for the most part and will keep you guessing until the credits roll. I have my own opinion on the way it ended but came away satisfied for the most part, especially for an App that comes with a double digit price tag. It lasts long enough to stay entertaining without dragging on.

My big gripe with the game doesn't have anything to do with the actual game, the unfortunate save system screwed me over a lot of the time. Saving your place and leaving the App should be enough but loading your file sometimes takes you all the way back, forcing you to replay a part of the game you already solved. Holding the screen skips through dialogue but only if you've played that part before, since your save file takes you back before all that, you can't skip any of it.

This happened to me several times and is an unfortunate oversight in an otherwise great game. If you love detective puzzle games and don't mind a bit of reading, I highly recommend it. Just watch out that you save in between chapters.

Art Appstravaganza: Brushes v. Procreate v. SketchBook

Some time has passed since I last looked through SketchBook and Brushes. I’ve spent time with each as well as the subtly attractive Procreate and have found the ins and outs of each of these powerhouse graphic apps. Whether it’s because of missing shortcuts, crashing or just bad results given, if I had to put my money down now, I’d know exactly where to put it. This is a head on collision between SketchBook, Brushes and Procreate and boy is it close (kinda.)

Be warned, I’m still using the 1st Gen iPad. There are many notable differences when using these apps on older and newer iPads such as speed, canvas size and the amount of layers you can use.


I’ll start by saying what I like about my least favourite on this list (personally.) This was my second to buy after starting off on the strong foot with SketchBook Pro. What impressed me out the gate was the pleasant and accessible interface that has brush size/opacity, erase and undo/redo within one finger tap. Definitely refreshing after using the old SketchBook Pro version. Brushes also surprised me with the additional feature of playback which to be honest made me feel like a freaking genius seeing my work from beginning to end.

One of the more impressive pieces I did in Brushes
With all my gushing what could possibly be wrong with the app? It probably wasn’t meant for me but for a more leisurely user or even a classic artist who is more accustomed to the physical medium. It was impossible for me to get lineart adequate enough to enjoy the piece. Usually in this situation I would export the psd file and use Illustrator on my desktop but then here comes problem number two.

There are hardly any export options other than a flattened image to your photo album or the playback. You have no choice but to finish it here and now in Brushes. If you’re satisfied with colouring and the effects that’s fine but I just can’t stand the lack of exporting options, it feels like I’m walled in. And that’s why I’m not a fan.


After dumping SketchBook Pro I became obsessed with Procreate who after a grand update made a very compelling case. To start I’d like to mention that Procreate has the best gallery of any art app. Every other one is just a list of thumbnails. Granted Procreate is the same however you can drag and drop individual pieces to make stacks. Each stack can be either a work in progress or a different project.

That light pen is flipping awesome
I found this to be extremely refreshing, especially considering that NO OTHER APP DOES THIS. Part of the reason SketchBook Pro bothers me is that my gallery is a mess and there’s no way to fix it or even reorder it. Hell, if I start a piece on the iPhone version, it’ll pop up in the iPad version thanks to iCloud. That’s all well and fine but my gallery looks like papers strewn on my desktop. So kudos Procreate.

When I bought Procreate initially I put it away after awhile, impressed but not wowed. It has the interface I wanted with accessible controls but the lack of exporting options and crashing issues kept me from falling in love. After several updates that tune has changed with Dropbox support, an intense custom brush system and something 1st gen iPad owners will gasp at. More than 6 layers. I didn’t even know about it until I was knee deep into the new version and realized I wasn’t hitting that wall I’d always hit (which forced me to either delete or merge certain layers.)

Procreate was a force to be reckoned with before with amazing brushes and interface but they went way and beyond, adding features its competitors touted over it. Well worth the money. But is it the best?

SketchBook Pro

Me and SketchBook Pro have this weird relationship. It treated me like crap in my more inexperienced days until I wouldn't have any of it and explored the world. I found apps that were good but mostly bad. I settled down with Brushes for awhile until I realized I just wasn't feeling it and that the $8 was a wash. Then I rediscovered Procreate which had changed into something more mature. Then I tested to see how it stacked against SketchBook by going for a minute or two.

It didn't take me long to go back to this brute of an app. Indeed SketchBook Pro has changed with the addition of some (minor) features that work in its favor. My first and most major triffle with SketchBook way back when was the crashing and losing much save progress. I can now safely say that... it still crashes... BUT a new auto save function saves (see what I did there?) my work before it crashes. All I have to do is boot the app back up and hop back on the horse. So I guess it still has its bad habits but it's a little better now... right? Right!?

Flipping show off

My other problem that was fixed in the second major update that I reviewed hasn't changed but I do see that it's a bigger help than I first discounted. Changing quickly between (concretely preset brushes) is easy and if you don't like the quick access toolbar, you can unpin it away, resuming the old fashioned tedious brush change. My problem still is with the lack of customization to that brush bar. I got a line of sketchbook pencil brushes to play about with the sketchy look but find it impossible to use because it's so deep within the brush menu that I just grow sick of it. Why can't I stick the brushes I use frequently on the brush bar?

Yet with all my gripes, I find that I get the best result with SketchBook Pro. The end result is an important aspect in all this and although I finished more pieces in Procreate than Brushes, I find that SketchBook is capable of more professional graphic design. Of course there IS Photoshop for iPad but I unfortunately don't have the hardware to support it. We'll take this Appstravaganza as a testament to what the original iPad is currently capable of for graphic artists who have the tech but not the money.




Being trapped in a country without access to Pandora or Spotify, I wonder sometimes what the heck I’m missing and just carry on using TuneIn. And yes, I do realize there are ways to sign up and use Pandora or Spotify even when I’m out of the region, I’m just lazy to go there. Especially while I have TuneIn to satiate myself. If you haven’t guessed, I love TuneIn. Do you know what else I love? SONGZA!

Newcomer app Songza follows in the spirit of Pandora and Spotify, streaming music playlists through a data connection. The interface and selection is insanely fun to play about with. I like to think that the initial menu reads like a ’Sunny in Philadelphia’ episode when it says ’It’s

The options that follow this are awesome, ranging from work/study to pumping yourself up for a night on the town. You will hit playlists that won’t interest you, but that just starts the sequence of questioning again until you find something interesting. Believe me you WILL find something interesting. And even if you don’t, you can add ones you like to your favourites list as a fallback.

It’s free, it plays awesome songs and I do believe it’s far more widely available.