Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Cover: promising like Aviate but not for everyone

Cover, a new lock screen replacement app, was released last Friday and I've been using it since then. I've even joined the super-user community to help test out new updates before they hit the Play Store. So, 5 days in, what do I think of it?

Overall, I rate it similarly to the other big location based app of the last few months: Aviate. Both are in beta, and are very promising, but, just like Aviate, I don't think Cover serves a very useful purpose for users like me. There are millions out there for whom both Cover and Aviate will be game changers, but just not everyone. If you segment your life tightly into Work and Home, both of these apps will be useful for you.

So what is Cover? It replaces your stock lock screen, and is location based. The main features are:

  1. The lock screen wallpaper changes based on the location it detects you in (Home, Work, Out or Road).
  2. There are up to 24 apps placed in columns of 6 down the left side of the lock screen, Flick up and down to see them. These change based on frequency of use.
  3. "Peek" at an app by holding the icon and sliding to the right.
  4. When in an app, slide down from the top right corner to fast-switch to one of 5 other apps.
  5. Ability to change ringtones for each place, and set a night silent mode for Home.
  6. Hold the device in landscape to reveal a camera icon.

Ok let me start with the positives. I love that each Place gives me a different lock screen wallpaper. I like my bright vibrant colours when I'm out but I like the mellow colours when I'm home in the evening. I also like the auto "Do Not Disturb" mode that I can activate under "Home", but this can also be achieved using Tasker or Llama.

But, the negatives outweigh the positives for me. And I must emphasise that this is just for me! Just like Aviate, it changes the look of my phone depending on where I am. So in theory, when I'm at work, apps like Gmail, Evernote and Calengoo should feature prominently when I'm at work. Apps like Facebook, Candy Crush Saga and WhatsApp should feature when I'm at home. But I'm sure there are many out there who like me use a fair few apps, both at work and at home and with no real difference in the apps being used in those places. So for example, I will often flick through my social media apps whilst on a break at work, and likewise, will do some organising using Gmail and Evernote when I'm at Home. After 5 days, I have seen that the same apps, albeit in a slightly different order, show up whether I'm at Home or Work. But this is annoying as I can't easily predict where in the list a particular app will be, so I can't find what I want quickly and easily. Maybe the ability to fix apps in a certain order is the subject of a future update, it would certainly help.

What about the Peek and App switcher functions? They sound great in theory but in practice I have found very little use. There is no app that I have where having a sneaky peek is of any use. To get any useful information, I need to open the app fully and maybe a couple more clicks are needed to get the information that I want. As for the app switcher, I'd much rather use the multitasking key and be able to choose from a much wider range of apps to switch to.

My Z1 has a hard key to launch the camera, from either the lock screen or even when unlocked and in any app. This means that the camera icon when in landscape mode is not useful for Z1 owners like me.

In the last few weeks I've tried a number of combinations of lock and home screen replacements and Stock, including Cover, my Stock lock screen, Start, Aviate, Everything Home, Nova and the Stock launcher.

What have I come down to? My beloved Stock Sony lock screen and launcher. The combination of Sony's widgets, "most used apps" in the app drawer, and slide up to access Google Now is superb. It may be boring, but it works well without killing performance or battery.