Annette Arrigucci explores 7 mobile apps to awesome-ize her toolkit


Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of reports from five Digital First Media journalists who attended ONA13 through the Digital First Represents program. 

Professor Jeremy Caplan’s presentation at ONA13, 21 Ways to Awesome-ize Your Mobile Toolkit, had me ooh-ing and aah-ing over new apps to try. In his presentation, Caplan advised us to “Pick. Stick. Dig.” with apps, meaning don’t just download a bunch of apps for the sake of having them, but choose a few you will use and dig into the features. In keeping with that, here are my experiences with seven of the apps Caplan talked about.

1: Camera+

Description: A photo app with many useful features.

Price: $1.99 in App Store

My experience: The app allows you a plethora of options to adjust photos after they are taken. Choose from a variety of “scene” adjustments – Clarity, Auto, Flash, Backlit, Darken, Cloudy, Shade, etc. You can tilt or flip the photo and choose from a variety of crop options. You can also add filters and a variety of borders.

Here’s an example of a photo I adjusted with Camera+:



Camera+ also allows you to square crop or use Stabilizer, Timer and Burst modes if you are shooting a photo within the app.

You can quickly view the photos you took or modified within the app in your Lightbox. Metadata has a cool map showing where you took the photo and other technical specs about it. You have the option to save this to your camera roll, email, share to social media or delete it.

The verdict: This seems like a must-have tool for photographers who are taking many photos and need to edit them quickly. For shooting inside the app, Timer and Burst mode work great. However, it may be a little too much for reporters. The iPhone’s standard photos app offers quick adjustments that are similar to what is included here.

2. GorillaCam

Description: An app for shooting time-lapse and stop-motion videos.

Price: Free in App Store; Pro version available for $1.99

My experience: On GorillaCam you can choose between stop motion, time-lapse and camera modes.

I tried the stop motion feature with 10 shots. It worked for editing the shots together into a video, but the free version did not give me the option to control the video length, so it was very difficult to see each shot. With the free version, it seems like you would need to take a lot of shots (maybe 50 to 100) to make the video comprehensible. If you are interested in this feature it’s worth upgrading to the paid version.

The time-lapse feature is more promising because you can control the length of timelapse and the length of the video. I chose a capture time of 10 minutes and a playback time of 10 seconds. The app took 240 frames to make the 10-second video. The video was automatically added to my camera roll. The only drawback I found is that you definitely need a stable place to set up the iPhone. The Gorilla Cam app advertises a GorillaPod stand and I can see why. Lacking that, I set up books and boxes to prop the iPhone up to make a video of my fish tank.

Camera mode has settings for a timer, burst mode and anti-shake.

The verdict: Time-lapse feature is fantastic, though you may need some equipment to stabilize the camera. Upgrade to pro for stop motion.

3: PhotoSynth

Description: Easy way to shoot wraparound panoramas and publish them.

Price: Free on App Store

My experience: It took me a few tries to get used to shooting the panoramic photo; there are no tips for shooting on the help document. You have to be very steady and move the camera very slowly. I took three shots going top to bottom in one spot before moving the camera to the left. One helpful aspect is you can see how it is going to look as you are shooting it.

The final product looks amazing. You can spin around in 360 degrees, move up, move down, zoom in, zoom out. Be aware that a few minor imperfections show up, especially if you are shooting anything with sharp lines.

Sharing the final product requires you to sign in with a Microsoft account (or sign up for one). You also must put the panorama on your account on the PhotoSynth website to be able to view it through the PhotoSynth viewer on a desktop. You do have the option to make it unlisted. You can embed the panorama in an article or on a blog, as I did here.

Deleting a synth is tricky. You can delete it before PhotoSynth makes a panorama out of it. After that you must delete it using your account on the Photosynth website.

The verdict: The final product will “wow” readers. Sign-in requirement is mildly annoying and the help documentation could use some additional tips on shooting.

4: Cinemagram

Description: Create animated-gif style short videos easily.

Price: Free on App Store

My experience: You must sign in to Twitter, Facebook or register for an account to use Cinemagram. Cinemagram is a network where others can view your Cines. There is a very short, helpful tutorial on how to use Cinemagram.

To record you hold down the record button for as long or short as you like and Cinemagram stitches them together into a video that is up to four seconds long. You also have the option to import video or photos from your camera roll.

If you enable the microphone, sound is automatically recorded with each video. Before you post the Cine, you have the option to turn off the sound. (This is a good idea because the sound goes on auto-play as soon as you open it and can get very annoying.) You can also apply filters to your Cines, similar to Instagram.

Here are two Cines I made:

If you signed in with Twitter, watch out because automatic sharing to Twitter is enabled by default so when you post a new video it will automatically tweet it to your followers.

It is not very intuitive to find the delete button on a Cine. You need to go to your profile and click the … button on the Cine you want to delete. Also, the FAQ says you can make a Cine private; however, I could not find the option for it.

The videos were viewable on Firefox and Chrome, but I could not see them on IE 10. There is an option to embed them in articles and blog posts.

The verdict: Very easy and fun to create Cines, though it could take some time to do it well enough to stand out in a crowd. The privacy concerns are also an issue – make sure you save only finished products. Options for short videos in hard news stories may be limited, but it might be a fun promo for a special feature. And we get more screen time and similar functionality with Tout, Instagram and Vine.

5: Over

Description: Layer text over a photo.

Price: $1.99 on App Store

My experience: You can take a photo with the app or select one from your album, then add text or artwork (must login or signup to use artwork). It’s extremely easy to add text with a variety of font or colors and drag the text anywhere on the photo you would like. Edit the size, opacity, position, alignment, character spacing or line height of the text. You can also crop the photo to a square and adjust the tint on the photo. There are about 30 creative-looking fonts to choose from. You must “unlock” others.

Here are a couple I made:



Once you’re done you can save the photo to your camera roll or share on Facebook, Twitter, Path, Instagram, Message or Email. There are many great examples on Instagram.

One minor confusion was the “Reset” option. Reset starts you over from scratch with a new photo.

The verdict: Very easy to use with elegant results. Love the design of this app.

6: SoundCloud

Description: Record and edit audio.

Price: Free on App Store

My experience: You must sign in with Google+, Facebook or create a SoundCloud account. Oddly, there is no “Record” button on the bottom bar. The Record button appears the first time you hit the “You” button. It also shows on the “Activity” button.

Tap the big red “record” button to start recording. You can stop and resume recording as much as you want. To edit, tap the scissors button to the right of the record button. Unfortunately you can only cut from beginning or end. If you want to edit out a part in the middle of the recording, you will need use a more advanced audio editor on your computer or re-record the audio from the Soundcloud app. Although, one nice feature is that you can begin recording again from the end point you trimmed. You can save or delete the audio file after editing.

If you save you can make the recording public or private. It automatically appears in your SoundCloud account. You can share it to Google+, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or email.

You can access your recording on Here you can download the audio file or share your recording via a link or embed. Free accounts are limited to two hours of audio, but you can delete older files to make space.

The verdict: Good quality audio for up-close recording, such as a podcast. You would have to test this app in different environments. Not sure if it works well in a large public place, i.e. to record a speech. The in-app editing tool is a little clunky, but you can download the file and use another tool to edit if necessary. Ability to embed or link the audio in a story is fantastic and opens up many possibilities for interactive articles.

7: Videolicious

Description: Quickly create a video with voiceover and/or music.

Price: Free in App Store

My experience: Videolicious offers a short tutorial on how to use the app, which is helpful since it’s a little complex. You begin by choosing video clips from your camera roll, which show as thumbnails on the right side of the screen. Then you can begin recording your own voiceover with the clips as B-roll. This may look a little weird as it shows you recording yourself, but you can strip the video of yourself in the final product.

You can choose when you want the clip to transition to the next by clicking on a thumbnail. Unfortunately, you must record the entire narration all at once. You cannot stop and start the recording whenever you want. When you stop recording you can review the video and either delete or save it.

You can also choose music from the app to go with your narration. There are several styles of music to choose from (and even more if you upgrade to a pro account). The music didn’t sound bad with my narration, but in the end I decided to skip it.

After that, the app asks what quality you want for the video (SD or HD). You can share to email, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube. The video will process and then it will upload. Upload time is a bit long and it’s recommended that you stay in the app the entire time. The video is also saved to your camera roll.

I emailed the video to myself and was able to play the video within the email or on the Videolicious site. However, it would not allow me to embed it on an outside site. I had to share it to my YouTube account to get the option to embed.

The verdict: This is an easy way to make short, professional-looking videos with narration from your phone. The main downside is that it is annoying to have to record the narration all at once and have to start over if you make a mistake. I would choose this over iMovie for short projects. For longer ones, I would go with iMovie because it has more features.

Join the discussion:
What apps have you used to awesomize your journalism? Have you used any of these seven apps in your reporting? Share some links or tell us in the comments.

Leave a Reply