Every time I look at my car’s dashboard, I am reminded that there’s a metric system and not everyone uses miles to measure the distance between here and the local outlets. For that reason, a unit converter comes in handy. Utilities that tell you how loud things in your car are can also be useful — you don’t want to go deaf. If you find yourself craving an app that can do a good many things in a beautiful way, SkyPaw has just the thing.
From the developer you’ve probably never heard of comes an app unlike any other. Its use of skeumorphism throughout makes it the perfect candidate for unit conversion duties on an iPad, and its extra tools, like a metronome and seismometer, give it an even wider potential market. But like I said before, substance is key, so is design all this app has to offer?
Start with Decibels
When you first open up this app, a decibel meter will appear right after the (admittedly fancy) developer logo flashes for a mere second. If you don’t know what a decibel meter is, allow me to explain.
In sound engineering, the decibel is the unit of measurement for a volume, or loudness. Some home stereos and surround sound systems use it to measure how loud the volume is being transmitted from the speakers. 40 dB is comfortable and should be fine for a late-night gaming session with friends, because 60 dB is normal conversation — but 100 dB is on the verge of sirens and jack hammers, so try to avoid it.
Using the iPad’s built-in microphone, the app reads how loud your surroundings are. I tested it out playing music on my stereo while sitting three feet away and it read a solid 80 dB during Ari Pulkinnen’s “Tower of Sarek” from the Trine 2 score. The thing is, the music wasn’t really that loud.
More interesting yet, the app showed that 75–80 dB was the level of normal conversation, hinting that it’s not calibrated correctly. There’s even a nice reference chart available over at Galen Carol Audio that’ll show you what volume everyday items emit. If normal conversation was as loud as this app says, we’d all have a different capable hearing range. Since that’s not the case, the app might need to be calibrated a little to fix things up.
To calibrate the decibel meter, tap the i button in the top right of the screen and drag your finger up or down on the Calibration slider. I’d suggest going to about −2.8 dB. Calibrating things won’t change the ever-changing text at the top that often variates between Avg Normal Conversation and Quiet Street, mind you. It will, however, lessen what the device reads. Do note that iOS devices are not capable of metering audio that’s above 100 dB due to the limitation of the microphones.
Limited Documentation Hidden in Menus
The first time you launch this kind of an app, it’d be nice to have a quick tour around so you know what its capabilities are. Instead, you’re thrown into a decibel meter. The reasoning for this makes sense (the developer wants to show off the newest addition to the app), but if you don’t know what a decibel is the function won’t be of any use to you. If there were little tips that showed by the buttons that’d be one thing. Instead, the developer put them in a menu that’s not where you’d expect.
To get to the app’s settings (which hold the tips), head to the i menu in any of the functions and tap Settings. From there you can tweak every measurement feature or tap General to change some universal settings, like the sound effects and automatic locking of the screen. If you want to show the “tooltip,” swipe the switch to the On position. Also, if the app is constantly flipping orientations on you, feel free to switch it to portrait or landscape by default in the Orientation selector tab. Some of the functions are exclusive to certain orientations, so you may not be able to use them all in just portrait or landscape.
You see that fancy button in the top right corner that looks like something from Meet the Robinsons? It’s your ticket out of the decibel meter. Once you’ve escaped, feel free to explore one of the other inner-apps, like the Teslameter and shiny Timers. Here’s a rundown of some of their functions and their features:
- Teslameter: This is a magnetic field detector. It measures the level of the surrounding field using the µT unit by default, though you can change to MG (milligauss). All of this is very confusing and scientific, I know, but you may enjoy reading Apple’s developer document on the magnetometer it includes with iOS devices released after the iPhone 3GS. What you should know is that this actually works well. In fact, the whole screen turned red when I held it six inches from my studio monitors (which have electromagnets in them). There’s not exactly a real-world application for this in day-to-day life, but scientists may find it useful.
- Metronome: By far my favorite feature, the built-in metronome allows you to do anything you’d want to in even an advanced music session. There’s a big silver knob in the middle that turns slowly for accuracy. It’ll allow you to adjust things from 40 BPM up to 208 BPM effortlessly. You can also tap the Tap button to the beat of a song to find out what its tempo is — now that’s handy. There’s also a lock button at the top to ensure you don’t swipe something by mistake, a volume slider to test out your decibel meter on another device, a setlist function if you’re using this to play live (headphones please), and a subdivision selector along with a time stamp field at the top. When you’re all done, tap the big play button to begin. You can even change the beat sounds and more in the i menu.
- Timers: The app supports five running timers. You can set them by dragging your finger up and down on any of the time areas and then pressing the downward-facing play button to start them. If you think having a play button facing down is weird, just tap the Count Down button at the top to start counting up instead. Of course, that’s more of a stopwatch than a timer, isn’t it? Reset everything with the rewind button in the top right and change sounds in the i menu.
- Stopwatch: I was joking a second ago, there’s actually a stopwatch function too. It’s incredibly simple, but you can have fun splitting a bunch of times if you want. Even tap the envelope button to mail times to your friends or coworkers. Tap Split Mode to change to Lap Mode for even more fun and if that’s not enough, keep reading for the next function.
- Seismometer: You know what an earthquake looks like, right? I’m talking about the graph format of one. If you don’t measure one of you bouncing off your bed using the seismometer in this app. It makes use of your accelerometer and gyroscope to help you know what’s moving and where. The sound effects are especially fun and the interface is beautiful as ever. By default, it measures the X, Y, and Z axises, but you can deselect any one of them for a more limited result. There’s also a timer to be enabled in the top left corner and a timeline that shows every second (it’s in the i menu). Have fun with this one.
- Plumb Bob: This one looks like a video game, or possibly a good old game of Battleship. What does it do, you wonder? Well, it’s sort of like a level in three dimensions. It was designed by the ancient Egyptians to check that something is completely vertical. You can calibrate it to the centre and then match the target to where you want it. The beeping will get you there, don’t worry.
- Surface Level: Not a 3D level, just one that uses the accelerometer to completely level something. As always, you can calibrate it with the crosshair at the bottom and then read the X and Y degrees to make sure it’s correct. Feel free to change the background just as you can in the Spirit Level.
- Ruler: This is probably the most irrational of things you could put on an iPad. It’s not anything against the developer, just that there’s no reason to use the iPad as a ruler. Regardless, it’s a landscape-only function that measures in pixels, inches, centimeters, and PostScript. There are technically two rulers in one if you feel like multitasking, but if you get one ruffled, centre it with the reset button at the bottom or undo what you’ve just done with the button beside it. You can also swap the rulers’ positions or enable snapping in settings. Even though this is very impractical, marking your point will allow you to measure some large objects near-accurate so it’s worth a try.
- Protractor: Let’s end on a geometrical note. Remember when you had to find the angle of a right triangle in high school? This fancy protractor could have helped, but it’s on a screen this time. You can set the angle to the precise digit in either degrees, radians, gradians or revolutions and then fine tune things to your liking by dragging your finger along the surface of the protractor. You can also swap things to fractions for fun.
It’s a Bunch of Apps in One
For $1.99, you can’t beat what this app offers. Many developers would be greedy and sell multiple apps for the features packed into this one. It would make them more money, but users sure wouldn’t be happy. This app solves every problem there is and it does it in a pleasant beautiful way. Nothing tries too hard to look like the real thing, which is good, and all the functionality is there with few bugs. It’s even optimized for the Retina display, so what’s not to like? Out of all my testing, the only annoying thing is the inconsistency in orientation. Rotating a lot isn’t always comfortable, you know. Other than that, it’s a perfect app to show off your suave.