Posts Tagged ‘product reviews’

ToonPAINT app, Take 3

January 13, 2012

I revisited ToonPAINT app ($1.99 plus in-app purchases) in my last blog post. In summary, I said I think the “ToonColor” output is too dark for both test photos. In order to illustrate my point, I used Aperture to adjust the brightness of the images, shown below.

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For both galleries (shown above and below), Photo 1 is the Aperture output, Photo 2 is the “ToonColor” output, and Photo 3 is the original photograph. Toggle back-and-forth between Photos 1 and 2 and I think you’ll agree with me that the brighter images look much better.

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Bottom line: I think ToonPAINT app — including ALL the bells and whistles — works remarkably well. That said, I have an issue with in-app purchases and I’d like to have options for a little more control over the “ToonColor” output. I suggest the developers add sliders to adjust the “ToonColor” output in the same way there are sliders that enable the user to adjust the shading of the “MagiSketch” output (default black-and-white), shown below.

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Photos © Copyright 2012 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved. www.wsanford.com

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ToonPAINT app redux

January 10, 2012

I reviewed ToonPAINT app ($1.99 plus in-app purchases) in my last blog post. In summary, I posed the question, “How much more “awesome looking” would these cartoon-paintings be if they were in color rather than black-and-white?” My first impulse was to say, “Who knows? I’ll never buy the ‘ToonColor button’ add-on feature.” Well, curiosity killed the cat and I am nothing if not curious so I purchased the auto-color option. I’m thinking the folks at ToonPAINT must be saying to themselves, “Gotcha, sucker!” Anyway, how does “ToonColor” output compare with the standard black-and-white output? You be the judge.

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Photo 4 of 4 in the preceding gallery shows the descriptors for ToonPAINT’s two optional add-on features. Can anyone tell me what “Photo Brush” does? I can’t tell from the descriptor and I don’t intend to be suckered into buying the feature in order to find out!

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I think the “ToonColor” output is too dark for both test photos. Sure, I could use an application like Aperture to brighten the images (or perhaps another image editor for Apple iOS) but that defeats the purpose of using ToonPAINT app, doesn’t it? ToonPAINT promises that “it’s as easy as paint-by-numbers,” so I shouldn’t have to post-process the output in order to get it right!

Photos © Copyright 2012 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved. www.wsanford.com

ToonPAINT app

January 8, 2012

The description of ToonPAINT app at the Apple iTunes App Store says, “ToonPAINT allows you to easily create awesome looking cartoon-paintings with your photos.” Really? Decide for yourself by comparing and contrasting the cartoon version with the original photo in the following galleries.

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In the preceding gallery (shown above), the ToonPAINT output and the original photo are both 1024 x 1024 pixels square. In the following gallery (shown below), the original photo and the ToonPAINT output are both 557 H x 420 W pixels.

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How much more “awesome looking” would these cartoon-paintings be if they were in color rather than black-and-white? My commentary can be found in the following “Tech Tips.”

Tech Tips:ToonPAINT” app currently sells for $1.99 at the Apple iTunes Store. The App Store descriptor says, “Even if you have never drawn or painted before, ToonPAINT sets you up for quick success by providing a MagiSketch that you can simply color in. It’s as easy as ‘paint-by-numbers,’ but using your own personal images.” However the quality of the “MagiSketch” output is limited unless you spring for two in-app purchases that cost $0.99 each: 1) “The ToonColor button is an optional add-on feature for ToonPAINT that will automatically color your Toon for you.” 2) “The Photo Brush is an optional add-on feature for ToonPAINT that will allow you to paint directly from your source.” In other words, “ToonPAINT” actually costs $3.97 for all the bells and whistles! I’m not a big fan of apps featuring in-app purchases because they will not fully function as advertised unless you make all available in-app purchases. That’s misleading and in a very real sense a form of false advertising. I say apps should come fully-loaded and sell for one price point — that way consumers can decide fairly whether the full price is fair!

Photos © Copyright 2012 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved. www.wsanford.com

Pocket Monet app

December 17, 2011

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The preceding gallery features two more new versions of the digital “painting” entitled, “Autumn Landscape at Huntley Meadows Park.” The digital images were created in the style of Claude Monet, a founder of French impressionist painting, using Pocket Monet app for Apple iPhone to post-process a photograph taken with the built-in camera of an Apple iPhone 4. Photo 1 of 3 uses a finer brush; Photo 2 of 3 uses a coarser brush. Photo 3 of 3 is the original photograph.

Compare and contrast the output from Pocket Monet (shown above) with the output from MobileMonet HD. Which version do you like more? The user interface for Pocket Monet isn’t as polished as MobileMonet HD, but the output from Pocket Monet looks more “painterly,” that is, the use of the pointillism painting technique is more obvious. I would like to see the developer update Pocket Monet to be a universal app — it would be much easier to use the app on iPad’s larger screen. It should be simple to program a work-around for the original iPad (that does not feature a built-in camera like iPad 2). I’d also like to see icons that are more consistent with the standard Apple iOS user interface. For example, I had no idea that tapping a “heart” icon saves the output to the Camera Roll!

Bottom line: Pocket Monet is a good app with a lot of room for improvement. I give it an overall rating of three out of five stars.

Tech Tips:Pocket Monet” currently sells for $0.99 at the Apple iTunes Store; “MobileMonet HD” sells for $1.99.

Photos © Copyright 2011 Walter Sanford. All rights reserved. www.wsanford.com

Project Noah versus Leafsnap

June 4, 2011

Project Noah and Leafsnap: Two free apps that utilize iPhone’s built-in camera for exploring the natural world; two different solutions for field identification of fauna and flora. One app works amazingly well; the other app works, but not as well. A list of pluses and minuses for both apps follows, along with a summary of the results of my field testing and a recommendation for educators.

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Project Noah

(+) Visually appealing user interface (UI) – In a word, yes. [Image 2 of 12]
(+) Built-in camera – My Noah/New Spotting/”Take new photo” (plus access to iPhone “Camera Roll”) [Images 3 and 4 of 12]
(-) Built-in field guide – The Project Noah Field Guide is not a field guide in the traditional sense of the word, rather it is more like a crowdsourced field guide. Photos and related narrative text are submitted by Project Noah “citizen scientists”: Nomenclature and content quality varies widely throughout the field guide; some groups of animals and plants are either underrepresented or not represented. [Image 5 of 12]
(-) Feedback – “Help me ID this species.” I tapped “YES”; no feedback (since 23 May 2011). [Image 6 of 12] [Editor’s Note: Images 7, 8, and 9 of 12]
(+/-) Geo-referenced data – Optional map view available (see example); photos saved to “Camera Roll” are not geotagged (see example). [Images 10 and 11 of 12]
(+/-) Option to participate in actual scientific research projects – “My Missions.” Your field observations may never be used by real scientists unless you opt to participate in one or more missions. [Image 2 of 13]
(+) Performance incentives – “My Patches,” like virtual scouting merit badges [Image 12 of 12]
(-/+) Built-in documentation and Web support – No built-in help; better Web pages than Leafsnap.
http://www.projectnoah.org/
(-) Universal app/iPad version – Not available

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Leafsnap

(+/-) Visually appealing user interface – Yes. Leafsnap UI somewhat less appealing than Project Noah. [Image 2 of 12]
(+) Built-in camera – “Snap It!” (plus access to iPhone “Camera Roll”) [Image 3 of 12]
(+) Built-in field guide – Database currently features 2,620 high-resolution images of 185 tree and plant species. [Image 4 of 12]
(+) Feedback – Immediate and very reliable. Leafsnap correctly identified 8/9 trees that I tested; the second result was the correct ID for the 9th tree (a fact verified easily by comparison with field guide database). [Image 5 of 12]
(+) Option to participate in actual scientific research projects – By design, all field observations are used to build scientific database.
(+/-) Geo-referenced data – Optional map view available (see example); photos saved to “Camera Roll” are not geotagged (see example). [Images 6 and 7 of 12]
(+) Performance incentives – “Geodialist’s Collection” (“Geodialist” is my Leafsnap username) [Image 8 of 12]
(+/-) Built-in documentation and Web support – Tap “i” on any page for more information; poor Web support. [Images 9, 10, and 11 of 12]
http://leafsnap.com/
(+) Universal app/iPad version – iPad version available (“Snap It!” doesn’t work with iPad 1.) [Image 12 of 12]

Summary

Overall, Project Noah has twice as many minuses as Leafsnap, and there are more pluses than minuses for Leafsnap. Most importantly, Leafsnap provides timely, reliable feedback while Project Noah fails to deliver this key success factor consistently.

As a former science teacher, I am conflicted by the thought of using Project Noah with students. I’m a big advocate of hands-on learning (a.k.a., learning by doing) and technology-enriched instruction. But I prefer “guided discovery” over random experimentation, that is, carefully crafted hands-on activities designed to lead students to scientifically accurate conclusions. At best — that is, with guidance from a good teacher — working with Project Noah could be a great experience for students; at worst, it could be an exercise in frustration (see Editor’s Note, shown below). Bottom line: Leafsnap is the only app I recommend for use with students. In my opinion, Project Noah is more appropriate for adults than children.

See the related blog post, Field test: Leafsnap app.

Editor’s Note: In the interest of fairly evaluating Project Noah, I re-tested the app by adding a “New Spotting” to “My Noah.” I tapped “YES” in response to the prompt, “Help me ID this species.” This time, I received two “Comments” later the same day, as indicated by the red badge on the “My Noah” page. I tapped “My Spottings”: On the “My Spottings” page, I tapped the right arrow on the first “Needs ID” spotting (that displays an icon indicating two comments); on the “Comments” page, two Project Noah participants correctly identified the plant as a Hydrangea macrophylla (Lacecap). Sounds good — that’s the way it’s supposed to work, right? A couple of questions arise: 1) What are the qualifications of the commenters? (With no disrespect intended, aren’t you naturally a little skeptical of someone who goes by the moniker, “Monkey-mind?”) There is no way to either access a commenter’s bio, or communicate directly with a commenter via Project Noah unless the commenter enabled these options in their settings. 2) What if the commenters had misidentified the plant? Not so good, and arguably worse than no feedback. (Remember the teachers’ old saw that says students must work harder/longer to unlearn misconceptions and misinformation? It’s true!) Project Noah’s highest priority should be to devise a procedure that provides timely, reliable feedback EVERY TIME a participant requests help; until this objective is achieved, I remain very reluctant to recommend its use by educators.

Field test: Leafsnap app

May 16, 2011

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Leafsnap app (free) is “an electronic field guide for tree and plant species.” See the video, “Introducing Leafsnap” for more information. Leafsnap is available in the Apple iTunes App Store.

I field tested Leafsnap recently. I selected several trees located on the grounds of Mount Vernon Unitarian Church in Fairfax County, Virginia USA. One the trees in the test group is an old Black Locust tree. The gallery (shown above) features a photograph of a Black Locust tree leaf taken using Leafsnap’s “Snap It!” feature (No. 1), a series of screen captures from Leafsnap (No. 2 – 4), and a couple of photos of the tree taken using iPhone’s built-in Camera app (No. 5 – 6). The screen captures illustrate the process used by Leafsnap to identify the Black Locust tree based upon the outline of one of its leaves. Notice the Five-lined Skink lizard in photo No. 6.

When Leafsnap’s “Snap It!” feature is able to connect to remote servers via either 3G or Wi-Fi, the automatic identification process works very well; when Leafsnap is unable to establish a connection, you’re dead in the water and going nowhere. Hopefully the problem establishing a server connection has been resolved in the latest version of Leafsnap. Overall, Leafsnap is a “must-have” app for educators, gardeners, and natural science enthusiasts.

Tech Tips: For trees with compound leaves (such as Black Locust), be careful to shoot the entire leaf. Leaves should be photographed in situ for accurate geolocation. Photos saved to the Camera Roll from Leafsnap’s built-in camera (“Snap It!”) are not geotagged. For this reason, you may want to take one or more photos using iPhone’s Camera app. (See the location of the Black Walnut tree, derived from the EXIF/IPTC info for photo No. 5.)

Field test: Photosynth app

May 6, 2011

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I used Photosynth app (free) to shoot the preceding geotagged panorama photo of Milway Meadows, a residential community in Fairfax County, Virginia. An online interactive version of the photo simulates virtual reality, enabling you to see what I saw (Silverlight required, the Microsoft equivalent of Adobe Flash). That is, assuming you aren’t using the Safari Mobile Web browser on an Apple iOS mobile device. Seriously, why would Microsoft choose to use a platform like Silverlight that excludes a significant percentage of the market for mobile devices from using their product? That’s a business model that makes NO sense!

There is a free app called iSynth that is billed as a Photosynth viewer. I downloaded, installed, and tested iSynth on my Apple iPhone 3GS and iPad 1. A simple search caused iSynth to crash on BOTH devices, and now it crashes every time I try to launch the app. Based upon my experience, I think it’s fair to say iSynth is not ready for prime time.

Photosynth is an interesting solution to the problem of how to stitch together a series of overlapping photos to create a panorama photo. As you turn around an axis of rotation, Photosynth displays a green frame that indicates the camera is correctly positioned to take the next frame; then Photosynth shoots the photo automatically. Sounds simple, right? If only the process worked better! You don’t have to look very closely at the panorama photo (shown above) to see the seams between frames; in some places, the frames are obviously misaligned. Contrast the Photosynth app panorama photo with the same scene shot using AutoStitch Panorama app, and I think you’ll agree with me that AutoStitch is still King of the Hill in the field of photo-stitching panorama apps.

Better Geotagging, revisited

May 2, 2011

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In a recent blog post, I shared a simple tech tip for better geotags in iPhone photographs: Launch the Maps app and verify your location BEFORE taking pictures with the Camera app. I should follow my advice! Huh? Look at the Flickr Map (shown above) of my photo gallery, “April showers bring May flowers.” All of the photos in the gallery should be located on three streets in Hollin Hills (listed in chronological order along my photowalk): Elba Road; Nordok Place; and Mason Hill Drive. As you can see by looking at the map, there are several outliers that are not located (geotagged) correctly. Question is, what caused the photos to be geotagged incorrectly?

Apple iPhone is the best all-in-one device for geotagging photographs, as I explained in “The ABCs of A-GPS.” iPhone “Location Services,” as good as it is, can be surprisingly inaccurate after an iPhone has been either in sleep mode or powered-off. It was raining lightly during most of my photowalk through Hollin Hills on Sunday: When I stopped to take photos, I was in a rush to prevent water damage to my iPhone and did not use the Maps app to verify my location before shooting pictures; my iPhone was in sleep mode between stops along the photowalk. Net results: My iPhone wasn’t damaged (that’s good news); several photos were geotagged incorrectly (that’s bad news). Perhaps I could have avoided the problem by running a GPS-tracking app in the background, such as MotionX GPS. Point is, you can’t assume an iPhone will correctly geolocate every photograph you take with its built-in camera, but you can get better results by using the Maps app to get an accurate position fix before taking photos.

Finally, a quick word about the Flickr photo sharing service. Is it just me, or is the Flickr user interface often less than intuitive? I was sure I set up my Flickr account to enable sharing photo location information. Turns out I was wrong. I discovered the solution after troubleshooting the problem. Sign in to Flickr. Click on the hyperlink labeled, “Your account.” See the section entitled, “Defaults for new uploads”; for the setting, “Import EXIF location data,” select “Yes.”

Test 2: iBlogger 2 photoblogging

April 17, 2011
Compass app screen capture: Center; Full.

Compass app screen capture: Center; Full.

Next image …

Hmmm, I can’t figure out how to add multiple images to a single blog post.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Test: iBlogger 2 app

April 1, 2011
Compass app 

Compass app

This is a test of “iBlogger 2” app. iBlogger 2 enables limited resizing and scaling of photos.

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