iPhone Apps of the Week

June 26, 2009

Everything

Welcome to the first installment of what I’m hoping will become a weekly edition here at Nerd City.  I’m planning on reviewing a couple App Store downloads per week that have either caught my eye or have been recommended to me.  I’ve had my iPhone 3GS (notice no more space between the G and the S, thanks Apple!) for a solid week now and it’s an impressive device to say the least.  Now if it would just support Flash….

The first of the two apps I’m going to touch on (pun intended) is “Mint.”

OverviewAccounts

Touted as “the best free way to manage your money” on their website, this is an app that at first I thought would just keep all of your banking accounts in one handy place to look at.  I really underestimated the tool that I was downloading to say the least.  You have to sign up for an account on their website as the app on the iPhone just refreshes it’s data from there.  It’s the standard “username/info” form and once you’re signed up you can start assigning just what you want to keep track of.  Mint works by signing into your online bank statements and then reporting all of your data in easy to read formats.  If you use a smaller banking institution there’s a chance you won’t get your info (my Commerce and Discover accounts worked fine, my Intrust Visa card does not) but my more important stuff showed up.  Once they were set up I instantly discovered just how powerful this software is.  I expected it to show me all my recent transactions and history, but with no extra setup Mint started showing me where most of my spending was happening by category over the previous 90 days.  I’d say it was about 90% accurate on placing my expenditures into the correct category (bills, home expenses, food, shopping, etc.).  That number moved to 100% after about 20 minutes of fine tuning it.

Account DetailCash Flow

If you have a transaction that is wrong, just highlight it and you can choose whatever category it should be.  You also have the option of changing all similar transactions to that category.  After your data is loaded you can set up individual monthly budgets for those categories and with nightly updates you have a near real time picture of your entire monthly cash flow.  It also works with investment accounts, but I don’t have any of those so I couldn’t test it.  The iPhone app pretty much is a window to the important features you can view on the website.  It’ll recommend ways to save money (lower interest credit cards for example) and if you’re not a numbers guy, all the data can be seen in several very nicely laid out graphs.  I’m still playing around and learning it, so I’m sure there are a few things I’ve yet to discover.  For being FREE I can’t imagine a more powerful or easy to use finance app.  This is not a app I’ll be trashing anytime soon and Mint WILL save me money.  8.5/10

Mint’s website here.

The second app up for review is AirVue Golf.

CoursesCourse Home

Now this one wasn’t free.  In fact, it’s the most expensive app I’ve downloaded, and for good reason.  AirVue is a golf course GPS rangefinder.  I was somewhat leery to make the purchase because of the several apps that are similar to this in the App Store, none had demos to try.  AirVue’s current version had some of the better reviews and it was on sale for Father’s Day, so I took the $24.99 gamble (normally $39.99).  Turns out that $24.99 is a STEAL of a deal my friends.   The only thing I can really compare this app to is a device called SkyCaddie (which is a stand-alone gadget that is sold to do the same thing.)  I had looked into getting a SkyCaddie awhile back but the costs were too great.  They’re at least $250 for the device and then $30-$40 a year to download courses.  WAAAAY too much money for the amount of golfing I do.  So could this $25 AirVue hold a candle to a SkyCaddie?  Nope.  It’s more like a flamethrower.  For a golfer this app is unbelievable.  First, they use Google Maps as their mapping device, so unlike the best offering from SkyCaddie, you have an actual satellite view of the hole you’re playing.  The maps can be moved around and zoomed with your normal iPhone gestures.  There are also three set views of the hole to choose from.  ”Fairway” gives you from the end of the tee box to the front of the green with hazards such as bunkers and water marked for you, “green” gives you the distance to front edge, center, and back of the green, and “hole” gives you an overhead of the entire hole.  You can drag the crosshair around and watch the yardages change on the fly as well.

Hole LayoutGreen Layout

I’ve only tested this on one course so far but the yardages seem to be in the “GPS accuracy” zone, that is +/- 3 yards or so.  The SkyCaddie might have a slight edge there, but for the way I play AirVue is perfect.  And speaking of courses…AirVue Golf has a ton.  Like more than any other app I was looking at purchasing.  They make a bold customer service statement as well.  If the course you’re looking for isn’t downloadable send them an email and you’ll have it in seven days or less.  I tested this by finding two courses locally that weren’t in their system.  They were ready to go in four days after notifying them.  Amazing!  Now, granted, all they’re doing is mapping distances on a Google map, but turnaround like that from a small developer will earn my money.  The software is still in somewhat of an early release with a few issues here and there.  There needs to be a “next hole” button as the GPS is somewhat sluggish to realize you’ve moved on.  The scorecard is also pretty basic (aside from the option to email it when you’re done which is fantastic).  I’d like to keep track of more than just my score on the hole (GIR, putts, FIR) and from the FAQ page on their site, it looks like they’re taking the reccomendations of their customers seriously.

Scorecard

I’m eagerly awaiting the next version of this app.  There are two other downsides and neither are software related.  One goes back to using Google for their maps.  While it’s awesome to really see the hole you’re on, it only looks as good as the map.  Some maps haven’t been updated in awhile so things are really grainy.  Some maps are also just too blurry to even create a course for.  Same goes for newer courses.  Basically if you search Google Maps for your course and you don’t see the greens and fairways then there’s a good chance your course can’t be mapped.  Their site has a course database listing the courses they have already mapped, so head there before buying.  The second problem is battery life.  When the iPhone goes into its “locked” mode it shuts off the GPS/3G to save the battery.  You have two options; keep the phone from locking and REALLY cutting down the life, or just having to wait about 10-15 seconds for the GPS to pick you back up.  One thing AirVue thought of to help a little is allowing you to download the course to the phone so you don’t have to refresh the Google Maps all the time.  The tradeoff is no “green” or “fairway” view.  It’s really handy for courses in the middle of nowhere where you can’t get 3G signals.  I’m giving this app two ratings…8/10 for features and usability and a 10/10 for value.  Even at the full $40 this app is a kick in the balls to any SkyCaddie users out there.

AirVue Golf’s site here.

A solid week for apps for sure.  See ya next week!

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