Neil Turner's Blog

Blogging about technology and randomness since 2002

October 26, 2016
by Neil Turner
1 Comment

Finding a replacement calendar app for iPhone

It’s been almost exactly a year since my favourite calendar app, Sunrise, announced its eventual demise. Sunrise was bought at by Microsoft, with the promise that its functionality would be rolled into the new Outlook app for iOS and Android devices.

At the time I was somewhat devastated. Sunrise was a massive improvement over the calendar that Apple shipped with the iPhone, and I didn’t want to tie my calendar into the same app as my work email through Outlook. So, I went looking for a replacement, and here’s what happened.

Going back to iOS Calendar

Screenshot of the Calendar app on iPhoneI thought I’d start with going back to the default calendar that Apple offers. I’d switched to Sunrise before the massive re-design that iOS received in version 7, and so I hadn’t really used this improved version.

Apple’s app has a few stand-out features:

  • The date-changing icon on the home screen is useful. Third-party apps aren’t able to do this, sadly.
  • You can include travel time when adding events. This isn’t so useful for me but if you have a busier calendar it can prevent others from scheduling meetings that you’re unable to get to in time.
  • Birthdays listed in your contacts appear automatically.
  • Events that appear in your emails will show up as suggestions (provided you use the built-in mail app).

Compared to previous versions of iOS, the calendar is massively improved, but still has some issues. You can add a location to an event, but it uses listings from Yelp. So if you’re outside the US, don’t expect many venues that have opened with the past couple of years to be there. This is the same reason why I don’t use Apple Maps.

I also find it clunky getting between date and agenda view, and much prefer Sunrise’s split view. In the end, I decided to ditch it again.

Trying Microsoft Outlook

Screenshot of Microsoft Outlook calendar on iPhoneSeeing as Outlook would be Sunrise’s spiritual successor, I gave this a try next. The calendar interface will be familiar to any Sunrise user, with the date selector at the top and agenda below. You can swipe to scroll through either of these and it works well. A blue dot appears in the bottom right to return to today.

One great feature of Sunrise was that it could pull in events and reminders from a huge range of third-party services, including Evernote, Wunderlist, TripIt, Trello and many others. In Outlook, this is limited to Evernote, Wunderlist and Facebook at present, which is a shame – the TripIt integration was really useful when travelling. However, as Outlook is still under active development, I hope that this will be added in future.

For event locations, Outlook seems to use Google Maps, which has a much better location database than Yelp in my experience.

Another feature of Sunrise that made it to Outlook is a great Widget – better than Apple’s own, in my opinion. That being said, it hasn’t worked so well since the update to iOS 10 – hopefully this is a temporary issue.

You can download Microsoft Outlook from the app store here.

The Google Calendar app

Screenshot of the Google Calendar app on iPhoneThere’s now an official Google Calendar app for iPhones, and it’s quite good. It follows the material design principles that Google uses on its Android and iOS apps, and primarily works in Schedule (read: Agenda) mode. There’s a drop down to pop up a date selector allowing you to move between months.

Events that have a location show with a screenshot of the map, a photo taken in the venue, or a nice picture depending on the event name. For example, the event for the Hallowe’en party we’re going to this weekend shows a suitable spooky picture.

Surprisingly, the app integrates with third-party calendars as well as Google Calendar. Provided you’ve added your calendar in your iPhone’s settings, it can also show in this app, so you can view Facebook events and your work calendar if needed.

There’s a couple of missing features which let the app down. It’s iPhone only, and so won’t work properly on an iPad. And it doesn’t offer a Widget, so you’ll need to use the one built-in to iOS.


Sadly, none of these three are total replacements for Sunrise yet, although Outlook shows the most promise. Google Calendar would be better if it worked on the iPad as well, and had the aforementioned widget.

On my iPhone, I primarily use Google Calendar, but with the Outlook widget. As for my iPad, I use the built-in Calendar app – the issues with moving between agenda and date mode aren’t an issue on the bigger screen. Maybe I’ll use Outlook more as it develops.

October 25, 2016
by Neil Turner

How to sync Runkeeper and Strava

Screenshot of Tapiriik, syncing data between Runkeeper, Strava and Dropbox

I’ve recently come across Tapiriik, a web site that lets you synchronise activity data between multiple fitness web sites. These include Runkeeper, Strava, Endomondo and ten others.

Between 2011 and 2015, I used Runkeeper to log my walks, hikes and gym visits. No runs though – I’m not a running or cycling person. I stopped using it about a year ago, for a few reasons:

  • Runkeeper does work with Fitbit, but only to synchronise your daily step count, calorie intake and sleep duration. The Track Exercise function doesn’t do anything.
  • I had problems with the Runkeeper iOS app constantly changing the volume when playing music in the background. I’m not sure if this was an issue specifically with my phone but it was annoying.
  • None of my friends use Runkeeper anymore.

Instead, I started using Strava, which has great Fitbit integration and is used by a number of my friends. Whenever I use the Track Exercise mode in the Fitbit app, my exercise data is also sent to Strava.

I can now use Tapiriik to synchronise that data onwards to Runkeeper. This ensures that any exercise that I record in Fitbit will appear in both Strava and Runkeeper. Plus, Tapiriik will synchronise historical data, so all of the pre-2015 activities that I completed in Runkeeper are now in Strava, and vice versa.

Tapiriik has another trick up its sleeve in the form of Dropbox integration. Add your Dropbox account to Tapiriik, and you’ll get a folder with the raw TCX files for all of your activities. That way, you can have your own backup of your data.

Like most services nowadays, Tapiriik runs on a freemium model. Free tier users can do a manual sync of their data, but you can pay as little as $2 per year to have your data synchronised automatically. Alternatively, you can download the code from GitHub – it’s open source, under the Apache 2.0 license – and run it on your own server.

Whilst none of my Runkeeper friends have logged any activities this month, should any of them decide to re-instate their accounts, they’ll be able to see my activities now. And my Strava account now has data going back five years. Even if I didn’t need the sync capabilities of Tapiriik, having a backup copy of all my data in Dropbox is useful.

October 22, 2016
by Neil Turner

Links from Pinboard for October 22, 2016

Here are the articles or web sites that I’ve found this week and linked to on my Pinboard Bookmarks:

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October 21, 2016
by Neil Turner

Month 10

Photo of LizzieLizzie has been around for almost 10 months now. I realise it’s been three months since I last wrote about her and that’s partly due to how busy we’ve been of late.

Christine went back to work at the end of July, so we’re coming up to Lizzie having been in childcare for three months. Her development since then has been amazing. In July, she could just about crawl backwards, in circles, but she wasn’t particularly mobile. Within weeks she was confidently crawling forwards and is now able to pull herself up to a supported standing position.

She’s not yet able to stand or walk unaided yet, but I’m guessing it’ll be a matter of time. And she’s starting to pick up on some words – her vocabulary is essentially limited to ‘mama’, ‘daddy’ and ‘hiya’ but it’s a start.

The decision to put her into childcare, rather than taking longer maternity leave, was difficult but was absolutely the right decision for us. Lizzie settled in well and because she learns off the older children, she is ahead of some other babies of her age who were born at a similar time.

We seem to be doing alright at this whole parenting thing.

October 9, 2016
by Neil Turner

Lumsing dual-port USB car charger review

Lumsing USB car charger

If you’re like me, you use your smartphone as a satnav, and for playing music whilst driving. Having the GPS on all of the time is a very quick way to drain your device’s battery, and so having some way of charging your phone in you car is really helpful. Modern cars often come with USB ports, but if yours doesn’t, there are plenty of car chargers that use the 12V cigarette lighter port on the dashboard.

Today, I’m reviewing Lumsing’s 24W QC2.0 dual port USB car charger. It stands out from the competition for a couple of reasons:

  1. It has two USB ports, and not just one
  2. One of those USB ports uses Qualcomm’s Quick Charge 2.0 technology

The QC 2.0 port means that, if you have a supported device, it will charge much more quickly. It works by increasing the voltage above the standard 5 volts provided by normal USB ports. If your device isn’t supported, then you can still charge it at the normal speed, so it’s safe to use for all devices. The Quick Charge port is coloured orange, with the standard USB port coloured blue.

Lusming USB car charger

Quick Charge is only offered on a handful of devices, which are mostly higher-end Android smartphones. Sadly, I don’t own one to test it out. Apple’s iPhones and such don’t offer it.

The car charger itself is a nice, neat unit with curved edges. It doesn’t protrude too far out of your dashboard and seems to work well.

The Lumsing 24W QC2.0 dual port USB car charger is currently on sale at Amazon for £9.99. Whilst it is more expensive than the chargers you can buy in the average pound shop, if you have a compatible device then it will charge it much more quickly for you.

October 6, 2016
by Neil Turner


The City of London

Next week, Christine, Lizzie and I are off to London for a few days. It’ll be Lizzie’s first trip there; I last went in January on my own when she was only a few weeks’ old. It’ll also be the first time I’ve ever driven to London, as we’ve always taken the train or coach in the past.

I’m driving because we’re also visiting family on the way, but also because of the amount of luggage we’ll need. Babies may be small, but they also need several days worth of food and nappies, a pram, travel cot, high chair and other things. So whilst Christine and I could do several days in London with a rucksack each, with Lizzie, we’ll need the car.

We’re staying in a hotel in north London that’s easily reached by car and has parking, but is also close to a tube station. Once we’re there, I have no intention of driving in central London – congestion charge aside, I’m not keen on driving in city centres. And whilst London Underground is not great for prams or wheelchairs, Lizzie thankfully tolerates being carried in a sling.

Part of the reason for our visit is so that I can go to the HE Show at Olympia – if you’re going as well, drop me a line. We’re also planning to go to the Tower of London, as it’s been many years since I visited, and Christine has never been. It’s expensive, unless you have lots of spare Tesco Clubcard tokens like we do.

I always look forward to trips to London, partly because we always make a point of seeing friends who live there when we go, but also because there is so much to do. It makes a change from a few years ago when I developed a general dislike of the place. Back then, I also had access to free train travel and so could visit London (or, indeed any British city) whenever I wanted to. Perhaps I like London more nowadays because I only get to go there once or twice each year, and it usually requires weeks of forward planning – I can’t just decide to go there on a whim like I used to.