Utility apps can also be incredibly fun
If you take a peek at my iPhone you will notice my app of choice to convert units is the old trusty Convert by taptaptap. I can tell you how well this little app has served over the years. Even if this is almost abandonware, without even a version updated for Retina Display, I still like using it. But this doesn't mean I'm going to settle for unsupported software. I'm on the lookout for any good replacement, perhaps demotivated knowing that no developer is bothering with this type of utility app anymore. That's why when I came across this post over at MacStories I became immediately interested.
Convertible by Efecto is advertised as an original unit converter. The tagline "convert everything from the normal to the not-so-normal with ease" is a perfect match. That's if you consider using Lego blocks as a measure something not-so-normal. Although there are zillions of unit conversion apps on the App Store, this one finally adds something unique, useful and some sensibility to user interfaces.
The basic idea is the one you're used to: type one amount in one side and get the equivalent on a different measurement. If you're an European driving in the UK you might want to know how fast 30 miles per hour is. Or maybe you need to know how much the big 50 pence coin would be in euros. We should all be very familiar with this, right?
The difference is adding more unusual units to the mix, a bit like the infographics you get in good newspapers. The distance from my house to the underground station is half the length of a football pitch. Isn't that clearer than giving you the amount in meters or miles? You can also use some some conversions for a laugh; like saying you weight as much as four Mac Pros or your height in chopsticks.
Things can get silly very quickly, playing with the different combinations and telling the person next to you about the surprising new discoveries. That's not really what you come to expect from a productivity app; I have wasted some valuable review time but I have also learned toying with it how to use it quickly. A good idea is to bookmark those you plan to use frequently under favourites.
Aside from the creative units, the interface and the user interaction are the real standouts. A flat interface free of gradients splits the interface in two, with one unit at the top and the conversion on the bottom. Navigation is cleverly implemented giving you several gesture choices to move around. Tapping the top menubar will expand a window to select the unit you're after. Everything is grouped in categories; under speed you can choose the metric system, US, Imperial, plus more unusual ones. To choose one, you can either tap to expand or scroll horizontally depending on how long the list it or your preference
There are nice touches, such as having the unit name written, pronounceable, as well as the abbreviation. There are also short description notes about the unit being to give some background information. If you're not fond of the standard blue theme there are also multiple colour themes you can choose, always a welcome addition.
In an app category marked by mediocre apps, Convertible shines as a very well thought out concept plus an original touch. It is unexpectedly fun and useful at the same time. This isn't new either, showing the level of polish you get from an app that has been tested; definitely something you want to try.