Review

Limits by Money Master: Your Budgeting Buddy

I recently had my one year anniversary of being self-employed (I’m a contractor). Among the many things I had to learn as part of the transition from permenant employment to contracting was budgeting and setting limits on how much both I, and my family, spend on certain things. While, after a year, I feel I’m getting quite good at this now, I’ve recently come across a new app, released today, that would have made this transition far easier. Enter Limits by Money Master created by developer Matt Corey.

Limits1 is a lightweight, elegant app designed to help both individuals, and families, track their spending across various user-created categories. While there are quite a few budget tracking apps available today, Limits has a big focus on tracking expenditure amongst families. Limits takes advantage of iCloud Sharing, allowing you to share chosen budget plans with family members, so you can all add, and keep track, of things in real-time. This is an under-used function across iOS apps, so it’s great to see it being put to such good use here.

As you can see from the screenshots above, the UI of Limits is very elegant and, at first glance, very simple. While some users may find the design a little too minimalistic, this is a real selling point to me. I’ve tried various tracking apps in the past, for food consumption or budgeting. The overly complex apps, or those that require a hundred steps to get items added never stick for long. Limits keeps things clear, and both setting and updating limits are always only a couple of taps away. When creating a new limit, you tap the plus symbol and enter a name and an amount you want to set as the limit for the ... limit. Once created, each item will appear within the homescreen view. From here you can tap into the category and add a transaction, which again involves a straightforward naming and amount for the transaction in question. After submitting the dashboard is updated to show how much is now remaining.

While you will generally find yourself jumping into the app to add new transactions regularly, Limits also includes some good Siri Shortcuts support. Within each limit or category you’re presented with an option to add an option to ask Siri to tell you about the limit, which will let you know how much of a given limit is remaining. You can also add a Siri Shortcut request to add a debit / transaction to the limit in question. This is a very nice addition which helps remove further barriers to just getting the content you need into the app.

Limits is in no way bad looking, in fact I really like the design of the app, but it’s clear that Matt, the developer, has actively kept it as simple as possible. Very few people, I would imagine, enjoy keeping tabs on their finances, so the app doesn’t feel the need to add unnecessary fluff to the design that would likely be wasted. Similar apps will often include things like an ability to add a header image to each category. On the face of it this sounds like a nice little touch, but ultimately it’s unnecessary and will detract from the task at hand.

The launch version of Limits is just the start, however, and Matt has an entire roadmap planned out for where Limits will go next. You can read the full list in the link above, but some particular highlights I’m looking forward to seeing include:

  • **Apple Watch Support – Know what your spending limit is with a glance at your wrist, and enter a transaction on the go!
  • Receipt Scanning – Prefer to go about your shopping, and record your purchases at the end of the day? No problem – just collect your receipts, and then scan them all when you get home!
  • Location Reminders – Have a few stores that you commonly shop at? Let Limits know, and it will remind you whenever it notices that you’ve stopped in.

Matt has 20 years of experience in developing, but his recent projects are being worked on in his own time. To this end, new features are going to depend on how well Limits, and his other apps sell. Pricing plans for Limits are very interesting. I’ll allow Matt to explain the plan in his own words:

Pricing will follow the iterative plan described above. Because the initial launch of Limits will not fulfill the full vision of the product, it wouldn’t be right to charge customers an amount of money that matches the eventual value of the product. As Limits approaches that vision, however, I will be adjusting the pricing accordingly.

This innovative approach to pricing should have the effect of welcoming early adopters to the platform, and help to find those who are interested in moving the vision forward. As Limits progresses, and the price changes accordingly, those early customers will receive these updates at no charge.

I think this is a really honest and open approach by Matt and it makes a lot of sense. A lack of a WatchOS app is a big missing piece for me, in all honesty, but I’m pleased to see it’s planned and I am wholeheartedly behind an apps cost increasing as the apps functionality increases. I’m interested in seeing how this goes.

If you like what you see now, or even just wanted to help support an indie developer move the app closer to the final vision, you can pick up Limits on the App Store now priced at a very reasonable £1.99/$1.99.


The official name of the app is ‘Limits by Money Master’, but that’s a bit of a mouthful. For the purposes of this review I’ll refer to it simply as ‘Limits’. ↩︎

Charcoal: A Minimalist Drawing Experience

I’ve always been a big fan of Linea for the iPad, despite possessing absolutely zero artistic ability. Despite the fact I really like the app, the aforementioned lack of talent means I very rarely use the app.

Back in December 2019, the Linea team at Iconfactory posted an update announcing that their app will soon move to a subscription model, costing 99p a month / £9.99 a year. Before I go any further, I just want to make it clear that I have absolutely no issue with this decision and I’m all for subscription pricing for apps (when it’s suitable). A single one off cost for an app that is constantly updated, improved and kept in line with all of the latest iOS / iPadOS enhancements is not sustainable. In this situation, a subscription really is the only option to make such an app viable and I am, again, 100% for this. That being said, however, I am trying to keep my subscriptions to a reasonable level and I likely don’t use Linea enough, combined with my lack of actual ability, to justify an ongoing expense to use it. This left me looking for another app I can keep around for the occasional ‘as and when’ moments that inevitably come up when the mood takes me, or usually when I need to entertain my little one for a few minutes.

Enter Charcoal by Lars Augustin. Charcoal positions itself as a streamlined and clean app to visualise your ideas. It is, essentially, a drawing app like Linea, but one that is laser focused on keeping things simple, so you can focus on getting your ideas or sketches onto the page.

The apps UI is very clean, and any unnecessary UI clutter that could interfere with putting ideas to paper have been removed. There are no layers, property panels or really any of the features you’d expect from a professional drawing app. While, to some, this may feel too barebones, I find it works perfectly. This isn’t a Linea replacement for people that needed the feature set of that app. It is, however, a perfect app for jotting down ideas or the occasional doodle.

When you open the app you’re presented with a clean interface with an option to add a new page. You can choose from simply vertical, rectangle or square. No dimensions, just that basic shape. You then have a spare tool set consisting of a pen, pencil, highlighter, smudging tool, ruler, and knife (to cut and move drawn items around the page). You can then choose a colour and away you go. That’s really all there is to it.

Once your masterpiece is complete you have an option to then share the image, via the share sheet, to other apps as you see fit. The images can also remain within the app itself, of course. There doesn’t appear to be any syncing available between the iOS and iPadOS versions of the app, which is a bit unfortunate, but completely expected. The files are also not stored into iCloud / Files, which is again a bit of a shame.

Despite being very minimalistic, Charcoal is a very good iOS / iPadOS citizen by supporting all of the latest features of the OS’s such as multiple window support and dark mode. It truly is a very beautiful app.

As I’ve said before, Charcoal won’t be for everyone. True artists and creators would be serviced best by Linea or more feature rich counterparts. If, however, you’re looking for an incredible simple, clean and focused app for quick sketches, doodles, and mind dumps Charcoal is well worth a look. At the ridiculously low price of FREE you really can’t go wrong. I’m a big fan of the app icon too, which goes a long way in my book …

Decline: Saying No Never Looked So Good

Over the last few months I’ve had a few developers contact me to show ofF some of the apps and games they’ve been working on. Until recently, however, I’d not heard from anyone about an iMessage Sticker Pack. To be completely honest with you, it’s a part of iOS and iPadOS that I’d nearly forgotten existed. Until I received a message from Timothy Buck on Twitter that is.

Today see’s the release of the Decline Sticker Pack, a project Timothy has been working on with his wife Alyssa. Some people find simply saying saying ‘No’  difficult, or at the least a little awkward. Others, like me, quite enjoy it. Whatever your preference, this elegant Sticker Pack helps you get the message across in style.

The pack contains 25 beautifully hand crafted stickers, all with various options and styles for simply saying ‘No’.

As someone with absolutely shocking handwriting ability, and zero creative talent, I find these designs fascinating. If you’re interested in seeing a bit more about the process that went into creating these mini works of art, Alyssa uploaded a short video of the lettering to her Vimeo page, which you can see below:

The stickers themselves are also available as a physical purchase, which is a great touch. I think I’m going to have to pick a few of these up myself. They’ll be used liberally around my place of work, the next time someone approaches my desk …

You can find out more about the Sticker Pack on Alyssa’s website and purchase them for £1.99 (or local equivilant) over on the App Store. This is a purchase you really can’t say no to!

 

The iPhone 11 Pro Max Smart Battery Case

Back in February, I wrote a review for the, then new, iPhone Smart Battery Case for the iPhone XS.

While I had mixed feelings about the case, I summarised my feelings thusly:

All in all, I’d say if you really need an extra boost of life in your phone, you’d get no better quality and integration than Apple’s own case, though I wouldn’t recommend using it every day. Unless you like your phone feeling like a brick phone from the 80s that is. Each to their own, however. Given the price, I can’t justify the case sitting in my drawer for the majority of the year so it will be going back to Apple, but I will consider picking one up again should the need for longer battery life become more frequent for me.

I now no longer have that case, or the iPhone XS if once adorned. I upgraded to the iPhone 11 Pro Max in September and with it came an incredible battery performance boost. At the time Apple claimed it could out perform the iPhone XS Max’s battery by 5 hours and it definitely does perform admirably.

The incredible battery life, coupled with my less than perfect relationship with the case first time round, made me instantly dismiss the new Smart Battery Case for iPhone 11 Pro Max. And then I saw the camera button …

Now, fast forward a day and my Pro Max is wrapped in another hideous battery case, but this time it has a camera button. I’m not going to review the case here. There’s nothing much I can add that I haven’t said already though I did want to share a few thoughts about that camera button, and what’s changed for me.

Firstly, design-wise, it does feel a little strange. The button itself is at the bottom right hand side of the case, when looking at your phone. The button feels slightly oddly placed, in that it’s near the back, not centred on the side as I imagined it would be. It’s also recessed a little, and the button is concave, curving into the device. I would imagine both things are true so as to avoid accidental presses, which works me and I think it’s more visually pleasing than a further protruding button. A finger rests nicely in the little groove it sits in. Movement on the button itself is smooth, yet robust feeling.

Upon first pressing the button, once I added it to my device, I thought it was not working. A short tap on the button has no effect, you instead need to hold the button down for about a second or two. While, obviously, that’s a tiny amount of time, it did feel like it should be a bit more responsive and when you’re expecting a result to be instantaneous it’s a little jarring. While it feels like it should launch quicker, I also believe this is again a safety feature to prevent a million accidental pocket photos. To this end, the delay does make a lot of sense.

I had the last battery case for a few days before returning it and nothing about the old one that I disliked has changed. I still really don’t like the silicone material, it’s pretty ugly, it makes my svelte and beautiful phone a heavy and chunky monstrosity and yet, I think this time I’ll be keeping it. As Habib wrote in his article on Chambyte, it’s going to come in handy for longer photo walks and days out. My mistake last time was thinking that this would be my new case. It’s really not feasible for every day use and frankly it’s not necessary, given how good the battery is on the iPhone 11 Pro Max. I will instead be treating it as the accessory it was meant to be. A case that can be put on, as and when needed, when you need that little extra juice. An additional 50% battery life, which the case provides, is not an insignificant amount, so I’m sure I will get value from the device.

Taking the case on and off is simple enough, though I’m interested to see how well it lasts over time. To remove it you need to bend the top back, so you can slide the bottom of your phone out, so it disconnects from the small protruding lightning connector at the bottom. It feels like, after a few tries at that, the silicone / rubber may start to crack, but I’ll see how it goes I guess.

All in all, this case will spend more time in my drawer than it will on my phone, I imagine, but this time I’m okay with that. When it does come out and onto my phone it’ll be the perfect camera case and companion and will easily get me through whatever I want to throw at it.

AirPods Pro Review: Is Silence Golden?

Before I get started with this post, allow me to set the scene a little bit. I am, by no means whatsoever, an audiophile. My experience with audio equipment, especially headphones is limited to the extreme. Since I started buying iPhones I’ve been using the supplied EarPods and then the AirPods, since their introduction in 2016. I’m mentioning this early doors so you can get a bit of perspective on what past experiences I will be bringing to bear when discussing the AirPods Pro. If I was a betting man, I would have thought the vast majority of people out there are coming from a fairly similar place, to be honest. With that being said, and assuming you’re still reading, let’s move on.

Hardware

The first thing you’ll notice when unboxing the new AirPods Pro is the redesigned wireless charging case. It’s now a shorter, wider version, but still retains that fairly distinctive look. While it isn’t especially important, I think I prefer the squared off look of the past generations, though perhaps I’m just used to it.

Flipping up the lid gives you your first glance of the new, redesigned AirPods themselves. The snug fit of the AirPods in their case, as seen in the first two generations looked good, but also made it easy to almost roll each bud out. The AirPods Pro doesn’t have either of these things. As you can see from the comparison shot below, the normal AirPods fit into the case snuggly, but leave a nice amount to grip when you need to pull them out.

The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, sit into a space far less moulded to the shape of the bud. I know this sounds pretty anal, and I admit it is, but they just don’t have that same premium feel you get from the standard versions as you put the AirPods back in and they are gently pulled into place. The Pros feel a bit less secure, I’m less confident they are touching the charging area, and they are far more fiddly to remove.

The AirPods themselves are quite different this time around as well. I’ve always been very lucky with the EarPods, and then AirPods, in that they have always fit into my ear perfectly. One way or another they seemed to fit with the contours of my ear and I’d forget they were even there sometimes. The AirPods Pro, on the other hand, not so much. Granted, I’ve only had them for a day or so, so they may just take some getting used to. I used them at work for quite an extended period of time and I think I’m slowly getting more familiar with the feeling in ear. Again, coming from someone with limited headphone experience, I’m used to my ear buds just slipping into the shape of my ear and then thinking noting more of it. Due, in part, to the new shape and new rubber tips, it’s been taking a lot more thought to get them in. When I bring them to my ear they’ve not been slipping neatly into place and so far I’ve not got then in in such a way that has felt instantly comfortable or even secure, more than a handful of times.

Once they are in, so far at least, it’s not been the most comfortable experience, though again it does feel like my ears are, somewhat at least, getting used to them. They certainly haven’t blended into the background of my consciousness like the standard AirPods do. In fact, the feeling that I have something hard and uncomfortable jammed awkwardly into my ear is more prevalent than any sounds I may be playing at the time. This experience is, as you’d imagine, incredibly subjective, however, and your milage not only may vary, it almost certainly will. I’ve been very spoilt so far, having a near perfect fit with everything Apple has supplied or sold up to this point. I am going to keep trying on this front, however. It may just require a new angle of placement compared to what I’m so used to to get the fit I like.

Also, before anyone writes me a letter, yes I have tried different tips. I tried the default medium size first, and have swapped to the small ones to try currently.

Performance and software

So, comfort and fit aside, how well do they actually work? Once again, as a non-audiophile user I have never tried a noise cancelling set of headphones or earbuds so I don’t have a lot to compare it to, but it feels like there is some real Apple magic going on on this front. Once they’re connected you have three options available to you. These are:

  • Noise Cancellation
  • Transparency
  • Off

The noise cancellation is truly a thing to behold. It’s incredibly effective and works like a charm. When I first turned it on it was a pretty strange experience and felt a little jarring to be honest. Initially I had nothing playing, so the almost eerie silence threw me a little. It felt like I was in some kind of vacuum. As soon as I started playing a song, however, it started to normalise a bit. Once I got used to the feeling it felt great.

You can switch between modes via a long hold / squeeze of the AirPods stem, or via a long press on the volume control in the Control Center

I have to admit that despite being very impressed with the technology itself, I’d never personally thought about why someone would want noise cancellation. My main use for AirPods currently has been at work, but while I’m working I’ll often have someone come up to my desk for something, and felt I should always have an ear open, both literally and figuratively. That being said, I used them for most of the day today and have to say I found it pretty incredible. My work is quite technical, and while I have to help others quite a bit throughout the day, sometimes I really need to just concentrate on what I’m doing. Throughout my first day using the tiny buds, I was able to completely drown out the surprisingly loud background noise of my office and really focus on my work. The noise cancellation, combined with a relaxing flowing river noise from Dark Noise was an extraordinary zen experience. I think I’m a convert.

The next option available for the AirPods Pro is the Transparency setting. Once again, this feels like some patented Apple magic at work. Because the new AirPods include rubber tips they, by their nature, already provide a physical form of noise cancellation or blocking. That’s where the Transparency mode comes in. I’ve written about five different paragraphs trying to explain what this mode is, and I’ve fallen short each time, so I’ll let Apple explain it:

“Transparency mode provides users with the option to simultaneously listen to music while still hearing the environment around them, whether that’s to hear traffic while out for a run or an important train announcement during the morning commute. Using the pressure-equalizing vent system and advanced software that leaves just the right amount of noise cancellation active, Transparency mode ensures that a user’s own voice sounds natural while the audio continues to play perfectly.”

This, like the noise cancellation, works incredibly well and really does make the surrounding noise clear and natural, completely mitigating the rubber bud in your ear.

Finally you can just turn it all off completely and the buds will then function just like standard AirPods, though slightly more audibly restrictive due to the rubber tips as mentioned previously.

I’ve heard a lot of people reporting that they think the AirPods Pro sound better than regular AirPods, but I can’t hear that personally. They do sound better with noise cancellation on, but only because you can hear the sound more clearly without as much background noise. Beyond that, however, they sound identical to me, personally.

To sum things up, did I need new AirPods? No, not at all. Do I need noise cancellation on the AirPds I don’t need? No, no I don’t. Am I going to keep them, regardless? Damn right I will. The siren call of interesting and enjoyable Apple tech cannot be ignored, it seems.

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