A Couple of Quick App Reviews

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, and haven’t had a ton of free time, but I have had some time to try out a couple of apps.

Waze

With all that traveling (mostly in the car), I gave Waze another shot. And I just can’t use it for day-to-day travel. It does one thing incredibly well: using real-time data to really find you the shortest route. It’ll route around traffic, route around various incidents, and use crowdsourced data to get you there faster. And it is really good at that, save the few times where it tries to get super cute and route you through a bunch of side streets and around neighborhoods to save you a minute of travel time.

It doesn’t do anything particularly poorly, but it does pretty much everything else mediocrely. The interface is visually not pleasing, and at times, confusing. The voice prompts are distorted and are pretty bad compared to other map apps. I think the voice prompts come too close to intersections, leading to harried moments of “is this the turn, ohhhh crap it is”.

For 90% of your travel, Apple Maps or Google Maps will probably meet your needs perfectly well. When you’re stuck in traffic, get your passenger to grab Waze and see if there’s a way around.

Overcast

Marco Arment’s Overcast is a new podcast player. I’ve been using it exclusively for a week, seeing if it fits my usage patterns better than other apps. So far, it does. The interface is really pretty nice—it’s pretty minimal and laid out nicely to take advantage of iOS7. It downloads and plays podcasts. I tend to listen to most podcasts at more than 1x speed, and Overcast handles that nicely. It also has a feature called “Smart Speed” where it snips out long silences to help speed up podcasts. It’s a pretty nifty feature and works as described. I’ve not noticed it yet, but it definitely speeds things up. This has allowed me to not use 2x speed, but knock back to 1.5x and still get a nice speed boost. One of the nicest features is that it will import your settings from most other podcast apps to get your started. A really nice touch. All of the server side stuff seems to run pretty smoothly … more on that in a bit.

There’s a couple of rough edges, which is to be expected in a 1.0 release. You can’t globally set “always play podcasts at X speed”—you set them on each podcast with a “use last settings” or “always use these settings”. I’d guess its an attempt to not put too much stuff hitting in a setting screen, but it always bites me when I’m playing a new podcast or a podcast that hasn’t updated since the app released. It doesn’t seem to download new podcasts quite as quickly as Instacast did. You can’t tap the top of the screen to scroll to the top of the view. When downloading, it does seem to heat up the battery decently (though that could be intermittent signal, since I’ve been traveling, so I’m holding out judgment on that one).

So far, it’s my go to podcast app. I think in a couple of iterations, it’ll have sanded off the rough edges. And, to top it off, it’s the only podcast app I know of that brings a web app to the table, which means you get desktop sync no matter where you are. The only thing that needs to happen on the desktop app is for it to find a way to play at more than 1x speed, which would be a huge win.