“If you give half a damn about which multi-billion-dollar corporation “wins” a totally made-up contest, then you need to drop acid and spend some time in an ashram.”
– Andy Ihnatko, on why your phone choice should be what’s right for you and not what’s right for them
Short version: It’s all about information sharing between apps.
Plain Text is the App
Android apps suck. Most of them, anyway. It pains me to say as much, as a regular Android user and sometimes evangelist, but it’s true. Google is doing some really promising things with Now and with its built in apps, and several cross platform mainstays like Instapaper and Comixology really shine on my Nexus 7, but for the most part, Android doesn’t have nearly the same healthy app ecosystem that iOS does. I know some of the reasons - Android users are less likely to pay for apps, developers are less willing or capable of developing for so many diverse devices, cell companies and device makers have been rather poor about keeping the OS on old devices up to date - but it still sucks.
About once a month, I confront this sucky reality when I go searching yet again for a new Android text editor. I’ve used Epistle for Android on my phone and tablet for years. Epistle is clean, it previews Markdown, it syncs effortlessly with Dropbox and it’s never given me problems in all the time I’ve used it. Still, it lacks some of the obvious shine and bonus features that apps like Nebulous Notes or Drafts have in iOS. And Epistle’s developer has gone completely AWOL: not only is the app not updated, I e-mailed him a month ago offering to send a little cash his way, and he has yet to write me back.
As beautiful and feature rich as those apps are, though, each month I’m left scratching my head trying to figure out what I need them for. I started using plain text, ostensibly, because the format was lightweight and didn’t require any one specific app or platform. Yet, here I am, searching for a complex, feature-rich solution for dealing with files designed to be simple and uncomplicated.
I wouldn’t give up my Macbook Pro, with all its text editors and scripts, for doing my work. Not for a minute. But when I’m on my phone? I’m opening files, referring to them, and occasionally adding or deleting things. When I’m on my tablet? I’m writing in exactly the environment where I don’t want the distractions of Microsoft Word, or even the distractions of my intensely agile favorite FoldingText.
There’s a niggling part of my brain that has yet to make peace with the inherent - at times the helpful - constraints of a software universe that can’t possibly deliver every single thing I want. That problem, the underlying problem, isn’t going to be solved by buying an iPhone 5.
Hey, Calibre is Now (sorta) Pretty!
If you’ve ever tried and put away famous powerhouse e-book conversion and management program calibre, now’s the time to give it a second look. Version 0.9 adds some much needed cosmetic improvements, including rounded window corners and highlighting throughout the interface. That, and plenty of tweaking to cut down on redundant menus and toolbar buttons, leaves a program whose features are impeccable a little bit more enjoyable to use.
The new version also adds support for wireless syncing with Android devices via Calibre Companion, a cheap app that keeps e-books of all file types nicely organized on your device. Using it on my Nexus 7 is an easy way to keep PDFs, Kindle KF8 files, e-pubs and the rest all in one place so they can be opened in their respective software platforms. Plus, if you like fbreader’s ability to customize fonts and margins, but aren’t a huge fan of its menu structure, Calibre Companion provides a nice work-around.
I don’t like hospitals and nursing homes that much. I mean, okay, nobody likes hospitals and nursing homes. But, for me, it’s not so much the sights or the smells, it’s the sounds. The relentless and constant beeping of old medical machines with monotone speakers is enough to drive me up the wall.
That’s why I finally went out and spent the $10 on Cleartones, a set of notification sounds by Hugo Verweij. I’ve got three devices in the apartment now, and I’ve spent some time considering what notifications are most important, and what aren’t. If I care so much about what is allowed to make sounds, I realized, I should also care what those sounds are.
Aural aesthetics doesn’t get nearly enough attention, in my book. Cleartones are the first set of artistic, dare I say deliberately designed, notification sounds and ringtones, and you get 50 of them for the same price as a crappy Pink Floyd poster in a college dorm room.
Now that I have them, I’ve got different tones for different kinds of notifications, so I can decide whether it’s worth picking my phone up for a new e-mail or location reminder. More importantly, I plan to switch them out often so the beeping never gets too dull.