Top 5 Recent Kick Ass Apps

I have been finding some insanely great iPhone apps as of late, and I wanted to share my five favorite.

5. Sunrise

I’m still not totally sold on this one yet, but I needed something to round out this list. I’ve been half-heartedly looking for a calendar app to replace the native calendar app that comes with the iPhone. Not that it’s an awful native app (far better than the native Mail app, more on that later), but I’ve been curious to find something with a little more spice that would make me excited to use it more than I do now. I’ve tried a couple  out (Tempo was a big dud) but this one is at least the prettiest. Looks like a creamcicle. And it’s got a pretty workable user interface; while not unforgettable, it certainly functions as you’d expect.

The major drawback is that Sunrise does not sync with the native calendar app. So while I actually do use my Mac calendar, and that syncs automatically to my iPhone calendar is always up to date, Sunrise won’t be. Blah. It does sync to Facebook and Google calendars, so if you use those primarily, you’re in luck. Definitely worth checking this one out, at least.

4. Yahoo! Weather

I don’t usually get excited about the weather, or about tools that describe the weather to you, but holy cow is thing app a real beaut. Big fonts, locale-specific pictures loaded from Flickr, and LOTS of specific weather information for your area. Not only does it give you current temp and weather conditions (what weather app doesn’t?), it gives you the 12 hour forecast, five day forecast, precipitation, wind & pressure, sunrise/set & moon phase data (it’s currently waning crescent, in case you were wondering), and a satellite map of your area. That sounds like information overload, but the design of the app makes all this so easy to digest. What you want is right where you want it. You’ll fall in love right away. The kick-assedness of this app is making me take a look at other Yahoo! apps, something I wouldn’t have even thought of doing a few months ago. Well done, Yahoo!


I learned about this on Lifehacker a few months back, but it cost $.99 and I was a massive cheapskate so I didn’t get it. Then a week or so ago I found it featured on one of these free app services (AppGratis or something like that), and I got it for free.

For as amusing as this app is, I’d almost say it’d be worth the buck. It’s a to-do list manager, but rather than offering encouraging reminders like an app like Astrid, this one shames you into getting things done to earn rewards. It is the Ron Swanson of to-do apps. What’s funny is that “CARROT” is a sentient robot, and marking things done will make it happy, whereas not getting anything done or not opening it up for a few hours makes it angry. And when CARROT gets angry, it gets mean. If I haven’t been getting things done, I’m greeted by insults when I open up the app (it last greeted me with, “Welcome back, meat bag.”). And if you add exercise as a to-do, it will automatically tell you to go eat some marshmallows, or give you permission to eat Doritos or something. Funny.

But it’s good motivation. It also starts as a pretty low-feature app, but as you mark more things done, more features continually unlock, making the app more useful. It’s pretty awesome. Conversely, I think there are a few glitches. Colleen’s CARROT constantly insults her via her iPhone’s lock screen, or just leaves creepy messages (the last one she showed me, CARROT said, without provocation, “Do you hear the whispers too?”). My CARROT doesn’t leave me nearly as many unsettling messages, and I’d like it to. I did get one last night, and it was awesome:


Also, I want more reminders to do things, and I don’t know if I don’t have my settings set correctly, but she doesn’t always remind me when I need to do something. So there is some definite room for improvement on some of the features. But for sheer enjoyment, this is a better to-do app than any other I’ve tried.

2. Mailbox

This one has revolutionized how I look at email. I can’t imagine trying to handle my email without it now.

The main philosophy behind this app is simple: your email inbox should function as a to-do list. Before this app, I kept loads of ancient emails in my inbox because they had some random piece of information I wanted to hold on to, like a sibling’s updated address, the most recent version of my resume that I’d worked on at school and then sent to myself, an online sales receipt, whatever. It was also cluttered with emails that I needed to do something with, a quarterly statement from my old job’s 401k management company (reminding me I need to roll it over to my new job), a library due date reminder, a note from Mom which needed a reply. Then there was the totally random stuff that is in everybody’s inbox that I had just forgotten to delete. Emails from Old Navy or Kohl’s or [insert any retail store’s name] telling me about a sale which had subsequently expired months back. When I got Mailbox, my inbox was sitting pretty at about 85 messages. I think Colleen’s was over 100.

Mailbox changed all of that. With the simple philosophy that your inbox is a to-do list, in approximately half an hour, both Colleen and I had emptied our inboxes. Completely. Down to ZERO. When was the last time your inbox was at zero? It’s an insanely awesome feeling. How does it work? Basically, you’ve got 4 options for every email. Archive it, delete it, put it in a list, or set a reminder. The archive is the one function I haven’t totally gotten use out of yet, I think it’s basically meant to be a place where emails can go if you want to keep them but not in a list. Delete is obvious. List is great, because I was quickly made four lists that covered most things. Friends, Family, SLA (Special Libraries Association, I’m the treasurer of the Iowa Chapter so I needed a place to put emails I get from the national organization), and Random. Anything that can’t be turned into an actionable item and then deleted goes into one of these lists. Then finally, my favorite part of the whole app is the reminder feature. Let’s say I’ve got an email from Mom that I’ve been meaning to reply to and just haven’t had the time (the age-old excuse). I do want to write her, but it’s 8 am on a Monday and I can’t do it at work. One swipe and Mailbox asks me when I want to be reminded. I can set it for later in the day or week, or pick a specific date/time, or just have Mailbox remind me sometime in the vague future whenever it wants. Whatever I choose, the email then leaves my inbox and I’ll receive it again for whenever I set the reminder. There are certain emails that I don’t particularly want to deal with during the day or even the evening when I’m hanging out with Colleen, so I’ll push them to the weekend to tackle over a cup of Saturday morning coffee. It takes all the stress out of managing my inbox. Literally the most productive app I’ve ever used. And as a reward for getting down to zero, the app presents you with a totally awesome picture from Instagram. It changes every day, and it’s reason enough to get down to zero.

What I also love is how seamlessly this works with Gmail. As of now, Gmail is the only mail client with which Mailbox works. Gripe all you want, but the development team at Orchestra is like 10 people, and they’ve created the greatest productivity app known to man, so cut them a break. What’s even better is that there is an insanely obvious and easy workaround to this only-Gmail problem (which will most likely change with time, as Orchestra has been purchased by cloud-computing service Dropbox). Just have your non-Gmail accounts forwarded automatically to your gmail address. I still get mail from my grad program at Iowa sent to my Iowa account, and all of that is forwarded to my Gmail so I can still manage it through Mailbox. Boom. Problem solved.

And as of a few days ago, they’ve taken down the wait list for the app, so you can go straight to the app store and download it, no waiting in line. If all of this wasn’t fantastic already, the app is FREE. Are you kidding? It seriously couldn’t get any better. USE IT.

1. Zombies, Run!

This was previously Number 2 on this list, and then I took it for a run outside (I had previously only taken this app for a run on the treadmill). Holy cow did that change things. I can say unequivocally that it was the most fun I’ve ever had on a run. Exhilarating, exciting, dynamic, challenging, and just a pinch scary. Let me explain.

Zombies, Run! is essentially an interactive audiobook told from the 2nd person perspective, with your own music intermingled with the story. So you create a playlist of your music that you like to run to, then you start a mission and begin your run.

The story places you in the middle of a post-apocalyptic environment, overrun with zombies. You’re the newest member of Abel Township, a small village made up of various survivors. Each mission advances the story and gives you a clear objective: save the abandoned child outside of Abel’s borders, distract the zombies away from Abel while the entry/exit gate is fixed, recover supplies from a nearby abandoned hospital, etc. When the mission starts, the story begins and you hear various characters interacting for a bit, and then it’ll throw to a song off of your playlist. As you run, you collect items/supplies that you can use to build up Abel Township after the mission is over. And at random times during the music portions, you’ll start to hear a radar blip. This means zombies are on your tail and it’s time to speed up. A computerized voice tells you how far they are and if they’re getting closer. If you don’t keep your speed increased enough, the zombies will get close to you and you’re forced to drop some supplies you’ve collected in order to distract them. And let me tell you, when the sun is setting and you start to hear that radar blip, it doesn’t matter how tired you are, you get your ass in gear. The closer the zombies get, you begin to hear their undead moans and groans over the top of whatever song is playing. It is hellishly scary, but I cannot overemphasize how exhilarating it is.

Sounds weird, doesn’t it? I thought so too, but I was won over the very first run I took with it outside. It’s just exciting to actually feel the need to speed up as you’re running, and the monotony of just listening to songs you’ve heard a zillion times is completely broken up by hearing how the story is progressing. Yesterday’s mission took me outside of the town borders to go rescue a child that had been abandoned in the wilderness. I ran into the child’s father who was trying to protect it, then we had to band together to rescue Molly (the young girl) and escape some zombies who were after us. It was great fun.

On top of this, during the music phases of your run, you collect items like ammo, first aid kits, building supplies, and tons of other stuff. These supplies are used to build up Abel Township, which you’ve got on your phone and which you can also access online (more on that in a second). So it’s like Sim City, but with zombies and mysterious, double-crossing villagers. So cool.

If this isn’t enough to get you to buy the app, aside from it being something that makes the actual act of running fun, it is an intensely thorough exercise app. If you sign up for a free account on their website, you can log your runs from your phone to your online account, and the level of detail about your run is pretty staggering. Get a load of this.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 8.51.14 PMIt tells you exactly what your route was, as well as when each event in the story happened, what you picked up when, what you listened to when, and how often zombies attacked. It even tracks your speed, which is totally awesome. And on top of it, if you enter in your weight and age, it tracks your calorie burn. I’m sure this is not all perfectly accurate, but it’s good enough for me. And it makes the entire exercise worth so much more. I get super excited to see how far I’ve run and try to break my PRs. Here’s also a picture of my Abel Township.

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 8.50.12 PMPretty lame right now, but that’s because only Season 2 missions earn you the supplies you need to actually build up your base. And that’s the first of a few flaws. I bought the app right after they released Season 2, or basically the new batch of missions. They updated a few things, and based on user reviews, there seemed to be some dysfunction in upgrading from the Season 1 package to the Season 2 package. A lot of people complained their fully formed Season 1 bases disappeared and they were forced to start over, and the app makers replied that it was all part of the story. Still, I’d be super annoyed if I’d spent time building up my base only to have it be reduced to rubble when new missions were released. There are some slight syncing issues, and I wonder how exactly accurate the GPS is from time to time.

But truly, these are all minor complaints that don’t come close to devaluing this app. If you dread running outside and want some motivation, or you’re a seasoned runner that is looking for a change from your normal running music playlist, I’d recommend this. It’s fairly cheap, and just too much fun to pass up.


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