Zero Lives - Episode 010: Amnesia: The Dark Descent Part 3

App of the Week: Skype

Publisher: Microsoft
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: Free!

For years now, people have been chatting through IM, holding video conferences, or just chatting with friends around the world.  Over the years, one application has arguably risen to the top of this combative pile.  Hundreds of millions of people use Skype because of it's ease of use and wide availability.  It's a terrific application (when it works).

So with Windows Phone, it only makes sense that a quality app by their in-house team would be available.  After having used it extensively for several months, I can say I'm quite pleased with the current version.  In the past, the largest issue was that conversations and times would fall out of sync across devices.  It was a nuisance that kept the app uninstalled for months.  But now I can't go a day without using the app.  It's such a  convenient way to stay in touch with friends and family.  And since it's always running on my phone, I have immediate access to IMs, calls, and video messages even when the app isn't open.

Despite not coming preloaded onto the phone, Skype offers plenty of integration for those invested in the Microsoft ecosystem.  Skype contacts easily merge with existing contacts and are readily accessed from the People Hub.

With a decent signal or on a WiFi connection, video calls are broadcast in HD.  The full bevy of Skype controls are available and the recent addition of video messages is terrific.  So with a majority of the bugs worked out, if you have Skype and a Windows Phone, it's time you installed this app.

Update (2/9/2014):

After working with Skype further, I've found several issues which make using the app less than pleasant to work with.  The first of which is the delay in sending messages.  Despite having a strong connection over WiFi or on LTE, there are inexplicable delays in sending messages out.  It doesn't matter if it's only one or a dozen, there are times where the loading wheel hangs at the end of each response, taunting me.  And I have yet to find a reliable way of pushing the messages through.  Eventually the messages do go through, but it's a major inconvenience to see Skype tripping all over itself when trying to send out a simple message.

The second issue is present when sending video messages.  Video messages are a relatively new addition to the Skype wheelhouse.  They're a fun, simple way of keeping in touch with someone.  But much like the text messages, the video messages will hang and take an incredibly long time to process and send out.  Unfortunately, that's the best outcome when sending a video message.  On numerous occasions, the entire Skype app will crash while processing the video.  When launching Skype once more, there isn't any indication that the message was sent out.  When the entire app is designed around communicating with someone and they can't effectively, what's the point of the app?

Lastly, the third major issue is Skype puts a massive load on the processor.  This drains the battery at an astonishingly rapid rate and causes the phone to become very hot.  It's almost uncomfortable to hold. 

So, Skype isn't nearly as perfect as I had first thought.  On average, it works.  But the glaring issues make it a nuisance to use.  Unfortunately, I've yet to find a better alternative.  And because of Skype's widespread use, there may not be another like it for some time. 

App of the Week: Mint

Publisher: Intuit
Platform: Windows Phone, Windows 8
Price: Free!

In keeping with the theme of New Year resolutions and self-improvement, this week's app is Mint.  Because when it comes to tracking money, folks typically need all the help they can get.  Fortunately, Intuit, the world leader in bookkeeping software like QuickBooks has provided Windows 8 and Windows Phone users alike with Mint.  Mint is a simple, free, and easy to use app that takes the hassle out of tracking finances.

The biggest issue that many will have to overcome is trusting someone with their online banking credentials.  How you clear this hurdle is entirely up to you.  I'm not here to sell a product.  But once you clear this hurdle, you'll be glad you did.  Mint collates all of your financial accounts into one place, making it incredibly easy to track the flow of money.  Mint is capable of sending account alerts, creating a budget, setting bill reminders, and even fraud alerts.

Each transaction can be categorized which then is reflected in the pie charts and bar graphs used to break down spending.  It's a brilliantly effective way of seeing just how much money is being spent in one particular activity.

The Mint app also syncs across devices once you've logged into your account.  Something this obvious is often overlooked with other apps, so it's worth mentioning when it's used and implemented correctly.  For added security, the app can be protected with a unique pass code.   And in case your device is stolen, there is the option to disable access to the app from the profile page.  So if you're looking for a free and easy way to get your finances in order, give Mint a try.

Windows Phone Users Get Extra 20 GB Of Free SkyDrive Storage

Just a reminder to all Windows Phone users: you have until January 31 to claim an extra 20 GB of free storage with SkyDrive.  I received an email from Microsoft in late December regarding the free additional storage as I'm sure many other Windows Phone users did.  With only two weeks left to redeem it, hop to if you haven't already!

App of the Week: Weight Tracker

Weight Tracker
Publisher: Pixel Pix
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: Free!

With the ringing in of the new year comes a slew of resolutions and goals.  The most common of these is "I'm going to lose weight!"  And like many others, I've vowed to shed those extra pounds so I look less like a gluttonous beast.  Greek god would be nice, but that would be setting myself up for failure.  I digress.  To aid in the goal of losing a set amount of weight, I needed a way of tracking my progress.  Enter Weight Tracker.

Weight Tracker is a free, simple app designed to track weight and the desired goal weight and completion date.  Opening the app brings up a list of weights and dates and is where one enters their current weight.  Moving to the right displays a graph which gives a visual representation of weight lost and gained in relation to the goal weight.  It presents this over a timeline, so it's easy to see the progress you need to make.  Moving right again shows the progress pane where the data is represented in a form of clock.  Below that is the weight lost, weight to lose, days elapsed, and days remaining.

The app is simple and there aren't many features, but there doesn't need to be.  I'm not tracking body fat percentages; just my weight and deadline.  It's a great way to check several times a day and remind myself of the goals I've set.  That and it doesn't judge me like the Wii Fit Balance Board.

App of the Week: MetroTube

Publisher: Lazyworm Applications Ltd.
Platform: Windows Phone
Price: $0.99

With what seems like a never-ending battle between Google and Microsoft over the YouTube app for Windows Phone, the only one on the losing end is the user.  So I say that we should take the two tech giants out of the equation so we can get to what is really important: watching cat videos online.

MetroTube is the premier YouTube client for Windows Phone.  It offers an ad supported free version and a paid version.  The paid version is only $0.99, which is definitely worth the price of entry.  After signing into your account, MetroTube can manage your subscriptions, save videos for later, preload video, manage uploaded videos, and essentially do far better than any other YouTub app on the marketplace.  It's painfully easy to use and can sync with the Xbox Music & Video app.  MetroTube is a must have app for any Windows Phone user.

Release Calendar: January 2014

January 07:
Secrets of Raetikon (PC)

January 09:
Chibi Robo: Photo Finder (3DS)

January 10:
Wii Fit U (Wii U)

January 14:
Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD (PSN)
Europa Universalis IV: Conquest of Paradise (PC)
The Banner Saga (Mac, PC)

January 15:
Assassin's Creed: Liberation HD (XBLA)

January 28:
Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Z (PS3, Vita, Xbox 360)
Tomb Raider: Definitive Version (PC)