Finding out when your favourite TV show is on is just a few button presses away on your remote, thanks to digital television boxes with built-in programming guides - or, at least, that's the idea. Trouble is, many set-top boxes have a reputation for sluggishness, making a quick scan of the TV listings not so quick after all. A remote control isn't exactly the most useful of navigational tools, either, making even snappy TV program guides a bit of a pain to use.
Free TV/movie schedule guide by i.TVOS: for iPhone/iPod Touch
i.TV, a television programming guide for your iPhone or iPod Touch, won't replace your set-top box, but it tries awfully hard. Setup is easy-enter your postal code and i.TV offers a list of available satellite and cable providers; after the app downloads your channel lineup and schedules, it's good to go. In addition to providing a much nicer interface than your set-top box, i.TV also offers a fair amount of online integration. You can find the name of an actor in one show, look up the other series she's been on and then set an alert to notify you of future episodes of those series. You can also look up related YouTube clips or purchase episodes off iTunes if they're available.
i.TV also includes a location-aware movie showtimes section and, new to this version, the ability to use your iPhone as a TiVo remote control. Sadly, some features like the Netflix integration won't work in Canada (the movie rental service is US-only). But considering it's free, it's hard to complain about not being able to use one of i.TV's many features.
Free web-based video gaming social network
People who play video games tend to be computer savvy and are more likely to have rich online lives, so a gaming-based social network is a no brainer. Microsoft and Sony both have their own social networks built into their current video gaming consoles, as do PC services like Steam. But dedicated gamers often play games with friends on several platforms. How are they supposed to keep their buddies updated on all the games they're playing, not just the ones on a particular console or service?
GamerDNA is a bit like a Friendfeed for video gamers: it hooks into several gaming networks, including Xbox Live, Playstation Network and Steam, and consolidates updates, achievements and trophies across all of them. Your GamerDNA profile will automatically fill in the games you've recently played, and you can add to your online presence by writing reviews or ranking games.
One of the weaknesses of most gaming network aggregators is Playstation Network integration; Sony hasn't opened up the service's user data as much as Microsoft has with Xbox Live, meaning neat applications like the Giant Bomb achievements tracker don't work with the PS3. GamerDNA is better than most, as it'll track all the games for which you've won trophies (but not ones that don't have trophies). Xbox Live and Steam are fully integrated.
GamerDNA isn't going to replace Xbox Live or Playstation Network any time soon, of course. But as a convenient way to display all your gaming exploits in one place, there's nothing better.
Free mobile phone web browser for Java-capable mobile phones by Opera
The iPhone has spent the past few years taking the mobile web by storm. According to AdMob, a major mobile advertising network, the iPhone and iPod Touch hold a commanding lead when it comes to worldwide smartphone use. The mobile version of Safari is the king of phone browsers, though contenders like Mozilla's upcoming Fennec hope to take the crown away. And then there's Opera, a browser that's seen far more success on mobile platforms than on the desktop.
The next version of Opera Mini adds several new features and a refreshed interface. Embracing the post-iPhone mobile landscape and the beefier smartphones it brings, Opera Mini 5 looks and feels thoroughly modern-a nice change from version 4.2, which felt a bit dated almost as soon as it came out. It's designed for use with both keypad and touchscreen phones, which explains the gorgeous new interface with its big, juicy icons. It's still very usable without a touch screen, though you may find yourself trying to swipe the screen without realizing it.
Tabbed browsing is a welcome new addition; taking a page from Google's desktop browser Chrome, Opera Mini stores its tabs in the title bar, making the most of a cramped phone screen. Also straddling the line between small-screen functionality and beauty is Speed Dial, a popular feature of the desktop version. Speed Dial replaces the old text list of bookmarks from 4.2 with a grid of website thumbnails. Not everyone has (or wants) an iPhone, but Opera Mini has enough tricks up its sleeve that even Apple could stand to steal a feature or two.
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