Android Postcard App Review June 4, 2012 at 12:30 am

Summer is here, and that means vacations. And going on vacation means walking past rack after rack of postcards. I have seen some beautiful photography and some horrific photography on display. Friends and family always love a postcard, but filling it out, buying a stamp and finding a mailbox can be a pain. Why not pull out the smart phone and use it to send a photo you took? Before I hit the road this summer, I wanted to find an app that I could rely on for getting cards to my family.

Method

  1. Have a photo I took with my phone printed at Costco to serve as the image quality baseline.
  2. Upload and modify same photo using three different postcard apps from the Google Play store.
  3. Have the postcards sent to me.
  4. Compare the postcards to each other, and the Costco print.

Here are the possible contenders:
 

Postdroid

Postdroid starts off odd from the start. In the Play store, it is titled “Postcards, Mugs, Calendars…”, but when you load it on your phone, it is called Postdroid. Weird. Every time you enter the app, you get to see an ugly splash screen. Is there a lot of background work happening every time the app starts? Why is this here?

Once in the app, things go downhill fast. First, you must register to use the app at all. When you register, Postdroid’s servers send you a welcome e-mail with your password in plain text. That is one of the worst security problems I’ve seen in an app.

The user interface is one of the poorest I’ve seen. Looks like something that came from the days when Google’s G1 was the only Android phone in existence. However, you get a pleasant surprise when you go into the image editor. It looks fantastic and has a lot of options. It turns out that the developers are using an editing module from Aviary. This was a great choice. The fun is short-lived, however: The app force closes (that’s Android speak for “it crashed”) when you try to save your edits. I tried several times and it never worked. I relented to just using the raw photo without edits to get through this problem.

Disaster quickly struck again as the app force closed again when I tried to use an address from my address book. I decided to cut my losses here…

Pros:

  • Great image editor
  • up to 450 character message, which is the largest of the group

Cons:

  • Several force close issues
  • Very amateur user interface
  • Have to wait for the splash screen to go away each time you start it
  • Password comes in plain text in an email

Verdict:

Stay away…

 

Touchnote

Touchnote was the next app on my list. It has a very clean and intuitive interface. I was able to get right in and make a postcard. The image editor is very basic. It allows you to zoom, crop and rotate with simple touch controls. That’s it. I find the simplicity is great. If you want to do crazy “hipster” filters or other editing, you can use another app, such as Pixlr-o-matic, and then use that file for your postcard.

Setting a contact, or multiple contacts, to receive the postcard was easy as well. The message field gives you 220 characters to say what you want. All that’s left is a preview. If you like it, enter your payment details, and for $1.49 a card, it’s off.

Results:

The postcard took three  ”post-office” days to get from what appears to be Phoenix, AZ to me in Portland, OR. Pretty quick! The quality of the print was OK; I doubt any grandma or parent would ever complain. But discerning eyes will notice the Touchnote postcard has kind of a “screen” look to it that is absent in the Costco print.

Touchnote adds a map under the “stamp” on the postcard that isn’t shown in the preview before you send it. The picture I used didn’t have any location data saved in it, so it must have used my location at the time I made the postcard. This could cause some confusion if you take a picture in a place where you don’t have a data connection, get on a plane, then send the postcard when you get home. There appear to be no controls to change the behavior of this map.

Pros:

  • Quick
  • Decent quality
  • Clean UI

Cons:

  • If you want a one-stop-app, the editing tools are sparse
  • No idea how the little map works

Verdict:

You want to get a big picture to Grandma fast? This is your app.

 

Postagram

While I’ve never met the developers of Postagram, I’m pretty sure I could tell you how it was created: A couple of marketing guys were having beers when one said how cool Instagram is. The other one said “Totally, I’m going to Tweet about it!” They immediately locked eyes and Postagram was born. You get square pictures, just like Instagram, and your messages are limited to 140 characters, just like Twitter.

The application works well, but it looks like a direct port from a iPhone. They didn’t do much to make it work like an Android app. My biggest gripe is that the app scans your phone for photos every time you launch the app. The first time I started, that took over 60 seconds. Later starts took around 10 seconds. They also allow you to use your gallery application, so I’m not sure why they go through this process.

Image editing is very limited, just zooming and cropping. You can access all of your Instagram pictures, or images from any other editing/filtering apps via the standard Android Gallery.

A nice touch is the addition of a personal avatar. This is a little picture you can make of yourself, so when you send that awesome sunset picture, the recipient will be able to actually see who sent it.

Postagram is the most limited of the bunch when creating a message. Only 140 characters to get your poetry across.

Enter some credit card info, pay $0.99, and the card is off!

Results:

This postcard took five “post-office” days to get to me, two longer than the Touchnote card. Interestingly, it appears as if this also came from Phoenix. Also interesting is that the print quality looks almost the same as the Touchnote card. They are slightly different sizes, but it is very possible they both use the same printer.

The square picture is perforated, so the picture can easily pop out of the postcard and be posted on your grandma’s refrigerator. The message is printed to the left of the picture so it can be read while looking at the picture, and it is also on the back of the picture so it’s still there after the picture gets popped out. Nice touch.

One oddity is a QR code that the recipient can scan that will notify the sender that they have received the postcard. While cool, in theory, are you going to send postcards to people who have the ability to scan QR codes? Those people will have already seen your pictures on Instagram or Facebook. While it would be awesome if my grandma started whipping out a smart phone, it just isn’t going to happen.

Pros:

  • Cheapest option
  • “Hippest” looking postcard
  • Cool avatar image of sender

Cons:

  • Slower delivery than Touchnote
  • Only 140 characters for the message
  • Slow start-up due to picture loading
  • Won’t allow returns in the message

Verdict:

If you can’t remember the last time you shared a picture that wasn’t square, this is your app. Even if not, the low price and “hipster” feel might work for you.

 

Conclusion

It’s easy to say stay away from Postdroid. As for the other two, it’s more of a personal preference. If speed trumps all, then Touchnote is the way to go. If you need to pinch pennies, then Postagram. Other than that, it comes down to preference. Do you want a big 4×6 (inch) picture, or the now-cool, but smaller, square format? Either app will more than likely put a smile on whoever is opening the mailbox!

How Team USA won Group C in the World Cup June 23, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Why did Team USA win Group C? I’m not talking about the “player’s true grit”, but how do you decipher the point system.

I did some research into FIFA’s scoring rules and thought others might want to know. First, the teams get 3 points for a win, 1 point for a tie and 0 points for a loss. After the three games you add up the points and the team with most points wins the group! OK, so the USA got 5 points and so did England.

Then what?

The next thing to look at is “Goal Differential”. You take the number of goals your team scored and subtract the number of goals they had scored on them. The US scored 4 (really 6 if the referees were good, but that’s another discussion…) and was scored on 3 times for a +1 goal differential. So the team with the highest GD wins! Well, England, scoring 2 and being scored on once, has a +1 goal differential as well.

Try #3?

So, step 3 is to look at the total number of goals scored. The US scored 4 goals and England scored 2, so finally, we have a winner! Soccer is easy!

Now we play Ghana who was #2 from Group D. They actually tied for points with the Socceroos from Australia, but Ghana’s +0 Goal Differential beat Australia’s -3.

Logitech QuickCall USB Speakerphone Windows 7 64-bit Drivers April 6, 2010 at 11:01 pm

quickcall Logitech is getting out of the USB speakerphone game and there currently is quite the fire-sale on them. Amazon is currently selling them for only $10! We got one at work, and once we got it working (the reason for this post), found it to have exceptional call quality. Our Skype calls using this sounded much better on both sides than our Pollycom speakerphone on a land line.

However, this is an EOL (End Of Life) product for Logitech, so they do not actively support it. The last time they did, Windows 7 was not yet out, so they have no Winodws 7-specific drivers available. They do have 64-bit drivers for Vista, but their heavy install program doesn’t even want to run on Win7. There is a way to get around this, and I posted the full details on the Logitech help forums. However, I found there is a much easier way to it (Note: This is for Windows 7 64-bit only):

  1. Download the driver. Logitech wants to give you a 30MB install app, but all you really need is the drivers out of them, which are in this 214KB zip file: voip64.zip
  2. Unzip the contents. You will get a folder named voip64. Remember where it is.
  3. Plug in the QuickCall to a USB port. You will notice Win7 try and install drivers, but the speakerphone will just blink green and red lights…
  4. Open the device manager.
  5. Expand the “Sound, video and game controllers” section
  6. I don’t remember exactly what Win7 will call it, but look for a device that says something like “Speakerphone (disabled)” and right-click on it.
  7. Choose Update Driver Software
  8. Choose Browse my computer for driver software
  9. Now browse to the voip64 folder you extracted and use that
  10. You now have working drivers!

While the speaker and mic work great, there are limitations:

  • The answer call, hang-up, and mute buttons don’t work. Workaround: Use the on-screen controls of Skype or other audio software.
  • The volume knob doesn’t work. Workaround: The volume slider in Windows will control volume, as will the control in Skype and keyboard volume buttons.
  • The LEDs don’t work. Well, it’s a lot better than them flashing red and green!
  • Remember, it’s only $10!

Collaboration December 1, 2009 at 5:58 pm

Give four people a collaboration tool and this is what you get:

colaberation1

If I could ride 5000 miles… September 29, 2009 at 3:03 pm

So, this happened on the commute home yesterday:

4999.9 miles...

4999.9 miles...

...and 5000.0 miles!

...and 5000.0 miles!

5,000 miles on my LeMond Buenos Aires. The bike computer went on before I took the bike home from the shop and it has worked flawlessly every ride. Never even replaced the battery. The bike has performed very well. It is a comfortable long-distance machine. With the steel frame and Ultegra components, it should be easy to get another 5,000 miles. I figure that 5,000 miles translates into about 300 hours of time in the saddle. Not too bad!

Some of the events that we’ve done:

Add to that lots of weekend rides with Meg and other friends, and many miles commuting to work. Fun times! I hope I can get the next 5000 in much faster…

After: New Wheels

Year Book for 30 Year-Olds September 22, 2009 at 11:39 am

Just over a week ago, Meg and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. As it is the “paper” anniversary, I wanted to do something cool to celebrate that. With that in mind, I decided to create a photo book of our first year as a married couple. I hadn’t created any photo books up to this point, so I hit Google and did some searching. My requirements were:

  • No minimum order (I only wanted to print one for now)
  • Great photo reproduction
  • Not too expensive

After looking at the options, I decided to go with the Photo Book from Adorama. They basically print everything out on Fuji Crystal Archive paper, just like getting prints from Costco, then bind it. Their binding is pretty neat, as each page will open flat, so you can have an image cross the page fold. Great for panoramas.

Their creation tool is flash based and completely online. It was great and not-so-great. The tool itself worked well. I was able to upload over 350 full-res photos with no problem, then place them on the page, scale, position, and add type without many limits. The only issue was that being web-based, there was always just a little delay in things. Also, to get things lined up exactly at the pixel level took a bit of time. If I were to do this again (and I do think I’ll make a year two book next year), I think I would create large images in Photoshop for each page correctly sized for the book size I’m using, edit things in Lightroom, then place the Lightroom images onto the page in Photoshop. Then just upload the 50 (or whatever) pages and be done. That would give more flexibility, but wouldn’t allow me to do changes from any browser.

The quality is great. Adorama has a color profile for their process, and that was used. Cost really isn’t that bad. The 50-page 8×12 album I got was (don’t look Meg) $77.88. That works out to a per 8×12 cost of $1.56. The Costco (my go-to place for almost all printing) is only $1.49 for a single 8×12. That means for $0.07 a page, Adorama is binding it into a book. I’d call that a steal.

The only other bad thing is shipping. When you go to check out, selecting 2-day or next-day shipping says “in before 1:30PM M-F shipped the same day”. Great, I said, and ordered the 2-day shipping. After a couple days, my order still said processing, so I contacted their support. They said, “Your photobook order is in processing at the moment. Please note that it is a 5 – 7 business day turn around for books no matter what shipping option is chosen.” Keep that in mind…

Here are a couple pictures of the book I made. I just got a bevy of LED key chain lights, so you also to see some of my first “Painting with Light” pictures:

Adorama Photo Book cover

Adorama Photo Book page

Another page...

The Geeky Details… May 14, 2009 at 2:17 pm

This post is basically for Josh. For those of you who don’t care about the behind-the-scenes details of blogs, maybe go and check this out. OK, for the rest of you….

Swiftcurrent Reflections was started using Blogger. It was quick and easy. Now you can have blogger host your blog, like Meg does (anyone with a name.blogspot.com address does this), they can host your blog with a domain name you purchased (so you could have everything on their server, but instead of using crazyblog.blogspot.com, you could just use crazyblog.com; that URL would just point to their server), or you can do what I did and have your own server, and Blogger would FTP all the files to it. Now, “my own” server is a bit misleading. I bought hosting capability through 1&1. I have been using them for over four years now and am happy with their service. I acutally only have one server space through them, but swiftcurrentphoto.com, billanderson.name, and andersonupshaw.com all point to the same server, they just have thier root in different directories. Sneaky, huh?

OK, so now what about WordPress? It is designed to run on a web server that has PHP scripting ability and MySQL installed. Almost any web server has this, as does 1&1. Setting it up was easy. Just download the .zip file from WordPress, un-zip it, use the web-based control panel at 1&1 to setup the MySQL server, update just one test config file from the WordPress download with the MySQL info, then upload that batch of files to server. Done. Blog is running.

While I did this at a remote server, the process would be the same if you had a server in your house. While I leave a couple of my computers on 24/7, I really don’t want to be worried about uptime. I don’t have a static IP address either. While I use dyndns.com, that’s not the best for a server. And then there is bandwidth. I don’t want to be streaming a movie and then have a number of people hitting my blog at the same time (I doubt that would happen in my case, but still…) and killing my movie. Plus, Comcast has usage caps… I’ll stick with 1&1.

More questions? Comment away!

And First Post on Swiftcurrent Reflections 2.0 at 7:49 am

If this all worked, you should be seeing this on the new website… Please leave a comment and let me know what you think!

Last Post on Swiftcurrent Reflections May 13, 2009 at 8:00 am

…because I am moving to Swiftcurrent Reflections 2.0. Hopefully, everything will stay the same. http://billanderson.name will still take you to the right place, and I hope you wont even have to change your RSS feed, for those cool cats who use RSS readers, but if you don’t see any updates for a week or so, check back here and resubscribe.

Technical Mumbojumbo: Since January 2005 I have been using Blogger, the Google owned blogging tool. It’s easy and gets the job done, but it always had problems FTPing data over to my server. People who host their blog right on Blogger’s servers, like Meg, don’t have this issue.

My solution? Start running WordPress. This software runs right on my server and has a lot more flexibility and options than Blogger. It’s more complicated to set up, but will hopefully be worth it in the end.

Hopefully, everything just doesn’t explode…

Family Housing May 1, 2009 at 12:49 pm

For the family: Rachel and Jeremy are building a house, and are cool/geeky enough to blog about it:

Rachel & Jeremy build a house!