Best app deals of the day! 10 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time

April 19, 2016 by macjeff

Everyone likes free apps, but sometimes the best ones are a bit expensive. Now and then, developers put paid apps on sale for a limited time, but you have to snatch them up fast. Here are the latest and greatest apps on sale in the iOS App Store.

The post Best app deals of the day! 10 paid iPhone apps for free for a limited time appeared first on Digital Trends.

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Plex 4.0 for iOS review: A “free” personal media player worth paying for

April 19, 2016 by macjeff

plex 4 ipad discover

Plex 4 offers a cleaner user interface with content currently being watched or recently added brought front and center in the new Discover tab.

When it comes to media player apps, many stream content from the cloud, while others require users to transfer files directly to the device. Plex (App Store link is different breed of player, one that creates a personal cloud securely hosted on a computer or network-attached storage (NAS) device at home. If you’re already converting discs into digital files, Plex organizes this media with beautiful artwork and metadata, then serves it up for playback from nearly anywhere.

You’ve been served

By itself, Plex for iOS doesn’t do a whole lot aside from casting the contents of your Camera Roll to other client apps on Android smartphones and tablets, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, game consoles, or late-model smart TVs. There’s also no way to directly sideload content like other media player apps.

plex 4 iphone browse

Media libraries are now centrally located in the Browse tab with Plex 4 for iOS.

Instead, the universal app requires free Plex Media Server software running on the Mac, Windows, or Linux PC where content is stored, or an NAS from one of nine different manufacturers including Synology and WD. (You can also mix-and-match—I use a NAS mounted on a vintage mid-2007 Mac mini, for example.) Once installed, the server can be managed from any web browser, where users set up libraries for Movies, TV Shows, Music, Photos, or Home Videos.

This process is as simple as pointing the server to where local media files are stored, although there are plenty of settings available for advanced users to tinker with. The software automatically indexes and organizes content in the background, downloading relevant artwork and metadata from a variety of internet sources. (Worth noting: DRM-protected content and disc images/folders are not supported.)

plex 4 iphone player

A redesigned player view appears when you tap the screen while watching for complete control over content.

Plex secures all communication using SSL certificates and encryption; remote connections are streamed through your home broadband connection, but can be converted on-the-fly to conserve bandwidth. The server also keeps track of what you’ve been watching, making it easy to resume or dive into the next episode of a TV series.

Pay to play

plex 4 iphone mini player

Plex 4 includes a mini-player for browsing new content while you’re in the middle of a playing video.

There’s never been a better time to try Plex for iOS since the app is now free. However, in this case, “free” is really more like a feature-limited trial, since full access to the core functionality requires a $5 in-app activation. (That fee doesn’t apply for those who own a previous version.)

The free version allows casting from your Media Server to other Plex apps, but limits same-device video and music playback to only a minute. It’s a fair compromise considering the amount of backend work required to maintain the ecosystem, but the absolute best experience comes with a subscription.

Available in monthly ($5), annual ($40), or lifetime ($150) flavors, Plex Pass is completely optional, but adds a ton of premium benefits including managed accounts for other members of the household (great for keeping kid’s shows out of your queue), offline sync for mobile devices, the ability to wirelessly upload camera content, and free access to all apps, including early releases.

The makers of Plex aren’t exactly pocketing all the activation and subscription income—some of that money now goes to metadata providers like Rotten Tomatoes, whose movie ratings (and soon, full reviews) are now displayed in the iOS app. Plex Pass subscribers can also generate automatic music playlists using Gracenote metadata, along with access to movie trailers and more than 140,000 music videos from VEVO.

Discover and browse

In recent months, Plex has been preoccupied updating other apps with improved browsing and discovery, often at the expense of the iOS version. I’m happy to say this situation has been fully rectified with the latest release, which offers new features like a mini-player that allows viewers to browse other content while the current video continues playing in a small window, similar to the YouTube app.

With the 4.0.1 update, Plex also splits the iOS home screen into separate Discover and Browse tabs for faster access to recent content. The former contains the same On Deck, Recently Added, and related categories, along with a large Continue Watching banner across the top for picking up where you left off.

plex 4 ipad related

Related content offers up other titles in your library from the same genre, director, and cast.

Other categories like libraries, Playlists, and Channels (plug-ins added from the web app which deliver free streams from web providers like Apple Movie Trailers) can now be found consolidated into the Browse tab instead. Individual movies feature a new option to display related titles from your library, along with easy access to other content from the same genre, director, or stars.

Plex 4 also now parses chapter information from videos, making it easier to jump to specific scenes, and finally speeds up the process of syncing content (including entire playlists) to mobile devices for offline playback. Last but not least, you can now view or listen to partially synced files—no more leaving home with useless half-downloaded content.

Bottom line

Assuming you already make digital versions of packaged media or want to be able to view personal media from anywhere without storing it in the cloud, it doesn’t get any better than Plex for iOS. It’s worth $5 to unlock core features, but the absolute best experience comes with a premium subscription.

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SoundShare review: A social network for you and your music-loving friends

April 19, 2016 by macjeff

Have you ever seen the movie (or read the novel) High Fidelity? For a few years of my life, I was one of those guys in the record store. As far as discovering new music was concerned, this was the most fertile period of my life. Stu W. ran the store, and a bunch of us hung out there in the early evening, sharing our new records, and sampling those in the store. We all liked some of the same music, but our tastes diverged enough that there were always surprises.

At that time, in my early 20s, it was great to be able to discover so much music. Now, with digital downloads and streaming, there are lots ways to share music, from Spotify’s shared playlists to the dozens of apps that let you share music in different ways.

A friend recently showed me an iOS app called SoundShare. This free app lets you play music and, if you want, share it with your friends. You can follow people, as you would on Facebook or Twitter, and see what they’ve listened to, while sharing what you’ve heard.


You can see what’s popular among SoundShare’s users, or view a specific user’s history.

When my friend—let’s call him Bob—showed me the app, it was interesting. Part of our conversation went like this:

Bob: So pick a song and search for it.

Me: How about Everything Merges with the Night?

Bob: You’re just saying random words...

Me: No, you don’t know that song? It’s great. Wait, let me find

Bob: Hey, that is cool. I don’t know much of Brian Eno’s music.

This was very similar to the way my friends and I, both in the record store and at each other’s homes, would turn each other on to new music. Bob and I were talking on Skype while doing this, each in a different country, and we were able to share music essentially in real time by adding songs to a shared playlist. Sure, you could tell someone to search for something in Apple Music or Spotify, but this is more immediate. Other users can also see what you’ve listened to, and you can see their listening history.

SoundShare piggybacks on YouTube, the world’s biggest music streaming service, so you can find lots of music. I consider this a bit of a gray area, as far as compensation is concerned, but it’s not the only music player that uses YouTube. One of the problems with YouTube is that the “music videos” uploaded may by mislabeled, or may be different versions of a specific song. If there is a video, as opposed to just a still frame with an album cover, you can watch that video on your iOS device while listening to the music.

paper trails

This live version of Darkside’s Paper Trails is great, but it’s not the studio version I expected.

Sometimes you get some random video by someone covering the song you searched for on an acoustic guitar, filmed in their bedroom, or you see a bootlegged concert video rather than a studio cut. This is a bit disconcerting, and there should be a way to flag such versions, or find correct versions when you stumble on videos you don’t want to see.

Bottom line

SoundShare is a great idea, and it’s frankly what’s missing in Apple Music. You can make playlists with Apple Music, and your friends can subscribe to them, but there’s no two-way sharing in Apple’s service. As with any social networking app, SoundShare will live or die according to the number of users it can attract. If your friends use it, then you’re likely to want to try it out. For now, there aren’t a lot of users, but perhaps that will change.

credit : macworld-ios-apps

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Alternatives to Apple’s iOS Music app

April 19, 2016 by macjeff

If you like listening to music on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, but don’t use Apple Music, you may find the new Music app to be overkill. It’s got lots of features that don’t add much to your listening experience and just get in the way. With a cluttered interface, Apple’s Music app has lost its main vocation: the ability to let you choose the music you want to listen to quickly and easily.


Ecoute gets out of the way so you can play your music without distraction.

Fortunately, there are lots of alternatives. Most of these apps try to simplify the experience of spinning songs on your iOS device, or offer more intuitive ways of controlling your listening sessions.

While Apple doesn’t let you easily replace its bundled apps—for example, even if you have another browser installed on an iOS device, Safari opens when you tap a link—there are no such limits with music player apps. They can all access the music you sync over iTunes, and the music you download to your device from iCloud or the iTunes Store. So any music player app can access your library, and you can control playback from your iOS device’s lock screen, or even your Apple Watch.

Here’s a look at four apps you can use to play music on your iOS device.


The $1 Ecoute is a minimalist player that lets you browse your music library by viewing its artwork. It has the essential controls—play music in order, shuffle it, repeat it, and manage a play queue. But it also has some extras, such as a Shuffle Albums feature, which many people will find useful; I especially like this to listen to classical music.

ecoute touch

Ecoute offers 3D Touch options, making it easy to start playing music.

Ecoute offers AirPlay streaming, and even lets you play podcasts. It supports AirPlay, offers a night mode, and lets you sort music by many criteria.

And Ecoute is already updated to take advantage of 3D Touch, available on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus (it’s the only music player I’ve found that is, so far). When you hard-press its icon, you get shortcuts to Search your library, Shuffle All, or Play All your music. For the 3D Touch Shuffle All feature alone, this app has earned a place on my iPhone.



Cesium’s simple interface handles the basics.

The $2 Cesium is a minimalist music player, similar to what the iOS Music app used to be before Apple added all the extra menus and buttons. It’s got a whole slew of tiny features that make playing music a lot better. You can control it using gestures, you can choose a number of sort options (including “Classical Mode,” which sorts classical music by composers’ names instead of artists), and you can use it to play audiobooks.

With Cesium, you can shuffle by album, manage your play queue, view your listening history, and even choose custom colors for the app’s theme, or use a night mode. I wish Cesium had better documentation and support, rather than just a page on Reddit and a Twitter account for the latter; figuring out how to use its gestures takes a while. But Cesium is a slick app, and once you’ve figured it out, it makes Apple’s app look bloated.



Picky lets you filter your music, allowing you to play music from a selection of your library.

If you have a lot of music on your iOS device—if you’re carrying around a 128GB iPhone, for example—you may find it daunting to choose what to listen to. The $3 Picky steps in to let you filter your library to choose exactly the music you want to hear. Tap Filter, and, in the different views—Artists, Albums, Songs, or Playlists—and you can choose to view only those entries with more than a certain number of tracks. For example, lets say that, for today’s playlist, you want to only hear your rock, electronic, and alternative songs. Sort by those genres in Picky, and the rest of your music stays hidden.

This lets you choose when you want to listen to singles or occasional tracks that are outliers in your library. It can take a while to get used to this, but when you do, you realize how much easier it is to choose what to listen to if you have an eclectic music collection.

Aside from these filtering features, Picky is a clean, minimalist player, that offers the usual features: shuffle, repeat, a play queue, and more.



While Musixmatch is also a player, its main feature is its ability to display lyrics for millions of songs.

While it’s not the most attractive music player out there, Musixmatch (which is free, but offers in-app purchases for some features) is great if you like to sing along to your favorite songs. Musixmatch has a database of more than 7 million songs in 38 languages, and while it doesn’t find lyrics for everything in my library, it does for most songs.

You can also use Musixmatch to identify songs you hear around you, and display their lyrics. Musixmatch has an Apple Watch app, which can control the iPhone app, display lyrics, and listen to music to identify songs. There’s also a Notification Center widget, if you want to be able to see lyrics on your iOS device’s lock screen.

There are plenty of other music player apps available for iOS, but these four offer a streamlined approach to choosing and playing music, as compared to Apple’s stock Music app. If you listen to music on your iOS device a lot, try one of them out.

credit : macworld-ios-apps

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Check out this endless runner game you can play from Notification Center

April 19, 2016 by macjeff

Knowing that Apple has been restrictive in the past on what is and what isn’t allowed to pass in the App Store for a Notification Center widget, it can be fun when little gems find their way into the top charts section and you stumble upon them.

While looking through them, I discovered a free endless runner game called Steve – The Jumping Dinosaur, but unlike other endless runners you’ve played before, this game is played inside of a Notification Center widget rather than from the app itself.

Playing a game from Notification Center

It’s not every day that you get to play a game from Notification Center. Very few of them seem to exist.

Apple is very strict when it comes to what Notification Center widgets are allowed to do, but it seems like they’ve been relaxing their rules a little bit lately, as widgets are appearing to gain more complex functions than ever before.

Nevertheless, it was only a matter of time before someone started to turn these widgets, which were intended to be used as shortcuts, into platforms for games. Steve – The Jumping Dinosaur isn’t the first game to be made for Notification Center, but with its free price tag, high user ratings, and addicting gameplay, I believe it’s worth taking a look at.


Steve – The Jumping Dinosaur is actually the perfect title for this game, because your main character is a dinosaur named Steve, and you will be doing a lot of jumping. It’s an endless runner game that just keeps going, and going, and going…

As it goes, you’ll be presented with obstacles, such as cacti. You may be presented with one or many, but your overall goal no matter the situation is to jump over them rather than run into them.

You simply tap on the widget to jump every time you see an upcoming obstacle, as your main goal is to get as far as you can without dying. A distance counter is displayed for you at the top right of the widget as you are playing and updates in real time.

As you progress, cacti will become less spread out, and your hand-eye coordination will become tested by the higher frequency of obstacles that are trying to make you fail.

At the end, when you happen to die, you’ll be presented with your score and you’ll be alerted whether it’s a new high score or not.

Game customization

Steve – The Jumping Dinosaur also includes an app that lets you customize the game skin. Although the default is Steve, the dinosaur, you can also pick from any of the following characters, which are available for a $0.99 in-app purchase:

  • Leo the teenage mutant ninja turtle
  • Alex the lion
  • Zvi the nyan cat
  • Spark the Charmander wannabe
  • Ralph the teenage mutant ninja turtle

The developer includes a button so you can request your own character, so if you’d like to see a skin for a very specific character, and if enough people ask for it, you just might see it come forth in a future update.

Other features of the game

If you thought that was all the package came with, think again.

Despite being just a Notification Center widget, it’s still a game, and as a result, it comes bundled with its own Leaderboards by way of Game Center so you can compete with other people and challenge your friends for the top score.

The game also includes sounds right from Notification Center, including jumping effects and even a dramatic sound effect when you run into a cactus and die. The sounds are toggled on or off from the widget itself by tapping on the sound button.


Steve – The Jumping Dinosaur is fun game to try out, especially thanks to its free price tag in the App Store. I think it’s a unique take on an endless runner game, simply because you can play it right from Notification Center without even launching an app.

Although it’s not the first game to ever be made for Notification Center, it has some unique qualities to it, and you can also tell that the developer took a lot of care to polish the game and make it special.

Judging my own experience from playing the game, I believe this is a great time-killer for when you’re stuck in a waiting room or you’re bored on your lunch break.

What are your thoughts on playing an endless runner game from Notification Center? Share below!

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