Google Productivity Pad: December 2014

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Game Review: LostWinds

I don't discuss a lot of games on this blog, mostly because I am focused on using technology to be more productive, not less. But that doesn't mean I don't enjoy a good game when I find one and have a little downtime. LostWinds was such a delightful experience that I wanted to share it with you.

Game: LostWinds
Genre: Physics Platformer
Cost: $3.99
Stars: 4

LostWinds was one of the few games I have come across on iOS that I have felt compelled to finish. Partly because it was so charming and partly because it is not too long. The game is been around for quite a while (I looked on Wikipedia and it first launched on iOS in 2011), but it went free over Thanksgiving and that is why I had the chance to play it. In this review I will look at a few of the best aspects of the game.

In LostWinds you follow the simple story of Toku, a young boy who befriends a wind spirit. You have to travel around the platforming world to unlock various secrets and memories to help the spirits cleanse the land from the evil spirit that is polluting it. The story is compelling enough to keep you playing, but it doesn't develop a lot, most of it is told through on screen text between characters.

The game uses fun and intuitive touch screen controls. Mostly the mechanic is swiping or drawing on the screen to direct the wind. You can use it to make Toku jump and fly, and also to control other elements like fire and water, or objects like rocks and pots.

The game is primarily a physics puzzler, with the player needing to figure out how to advance to the next stage by solving some puzzle normally involving the objects found in each level. This feels similar to the puzzle elements of classic games like Zelda. There is very little fighting in the game, and what is there is all done by drawing wind on the screen.

The world that you travel through in LostWinds is a beautiful whimsical cartoonish place. It has beautiful waterfalls, quaint villages, and crystal filled caverns. The lush colors make it an endearing place that you can't help but want to explore.

The monsters of this world are not frightening, and mostly appear as gooey blobs that try to stick to you. So it is certainly a game that is appropriate for children.

I don't want to spoil too much of the game for you so I will stop here. But overall I think it is a really good game that most people will enjoy playing. Would I pay 3.99 for it? Probably not, but if you can get it on sale I definitely recommend it.

Do you have a favorite iOS game? Share it with us in the comments below. Enjoy, and remember, live better.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Using Dvorak keyboard layout in iOS 8

As most of you know I have been waiting for many a moon for a Dvorak keyboard on iOS. I think that layout is far better then QWERTY. As a side note I had to type on a QWERTY a couple days ago and my wrists quickly started hurting. If you have hand trouble you may want to consider switching over to Dvorak too.

Well, the long awaited day has finally arrived and a system wide Dvorak keyboard is here! In fact it has been possible ever since iOS 8 came out in September. So why the long wait in getting the good news to you? Two reasons. First, nobody immediately came out with a Dvorak keyboard, much to my chagrin. Second, by the team keyboards started coming out school had heated up considerably and I had to put the blog on the back burner for a month or so.

But now it is time. In the past couple months quite a few 3rd party keyboards with Dvorak layouts have slipped into the App Store. I will tell you about two of them here: Fleksy and Dvorak + Colemak Keyboards.

Price: 99¢
Stars: 2

Fleksy came out with the launch of iOS 8, but they did not support Dvorak as a layout right away, even though they already did on Android. Many people really like the Fleksy keyboard and say they can type quickly on it, I cannot. I find the way they do predictive typing to be odd and unwieldy. When they finally did ad the Dvorak layout I found that the keys did not line up as you would expect them to if you were use to typing on a regular Dvorak keyboard.

You can see this in the image below. The entire top row is not aligned where it should be, I soon found out that for some odd reason this is the case in many Dvorak layouts on iOS currently. This makes it hard to type because the keys are not where you would expect them to be.

Fleksy has lots of language layouts besides Dvorak, and it has a lot of customizability in terms of color and size. It also has special swipe gestures for certain functions. My main purpose here though is to review it as a Dvorak keyboard and so I won't go into everything that it does.

Fleksy requires you to give it "full access" under keyboard preferences in order to change to any layout other than English QWERTY. Usually keyboards need full access so that they can do predictive typing, the only problem is that in order to do that they have to collect your keystroke data. This has caused a lot of controversy around the internet because it could potentially be logging things like passwords and credit card numbers. Almost all 3rd party keyboards will ask for full access, it is not just Fleksy.

Dvorak + Colemak Keyboards
Price: 99¢
Stars: 4

Right off the bat this keyboard is looking better because the keys are in the correct locations for anyone use to a standard Dvorak layout. This allows there to be punctuation on the main keyboard, just where it should be. It shouldn't take long for those people to become familiar typing on this keyboard.

This keyboard does lack a lot of the bells and whistles that Fleksy and many other keyboards have, but that doesn't bother me. I don't need fancy color themes or size options I just need something functional.

One thing it is lacking though that is a problem though is an Emoji keyboard. I use emoji a lot when tweeting or texting, so this is a bit of deal breaker for me as far as everyday use goes.

Dvorak + Colemak Keyboards does no require full access to use, so your keystrokes are not logged. You will have to enable full access if you want keyboard clicks however because this is the only way that Apple will allow them to get access to the speakers.

Where I am now
Still using the standard Apple QWERTY onscreen keyboard. Why? Because, and this is nothing the app producers have control over, but 3rd party keyboards have been spotty across the board on iOS 8. Perhaps Apple was not really ready for them, but no matter which one you use it is likely to be buggy. They are sluggish and sometimes (often) will disappear completely. This makes it really unviable to use a 3rd party option as your default keyboard.

So for now, even though I was waiting for this day for so long, I am still primarily using the default keyboard. I hope that Apple will make significant improvements to 3rd party integration in the future, or better yet just make Dvorak part of the standard language package.

Well I hope you have found this post helpful, even if a little discouraging :( If you have found a keyboard (Dvorak or otherwise) that you like to use on iOS please let us know about it in the comments.

Disclosure: Archagon provided me with a free copy of Dvorak + Colemak keyboards to review. I never recommend anything on my blog though that I have not tried myself and that I approve of.