Digital Reading Room: Hail to the chiefs

[As tablets get more powerful, with more memory and sharper-looking screens, their apps are getting a makeover. Increasingly, mobile apps employ multimedia—combining words, pictures, audio, and video—in new and interesting ways. In our Digital Reading Room series, we’ll look at some eye-catching multimedia apps and tell you which ones deserve a place on your mobile device.]

The 2012 election is in its home stretch, so our regular look at content-rich tablet apps considers the campaign promises of two more offerings with presidential aspirations. And if you’re tired of having to listen to all this election talk, why not drown it out with some iconic jazz music?

POTUS Pick

Among the interactive elements featured in Potus Pick is Campaign Cash. Pick either candidate, shake your iPad, and you’ll see who’s funding the candidate’s presidential campaign.

If you’re part of the 99 percent craving a healthy dose of humor to get you through the remaining days of the 2012 presidential campaign, then you won’t go wrong with POTUS Pick. The app, which includes animated cartoons (some mildly interactive) from Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Ann Telnaes, provides about five minutes of goofy interactivity. You listen to a Romney or Obama whopper, for example, and then point and drag the respective candidate’s nose to what you believe is the appropriate length. Considered a liberal, Telnaes pokes equal fun at each candidate, and the fun is, on the whole, pretty mild. Where the app really shines is in providing access to 1000 or so editorial cartoons from The Cartoonist Group syndicate. These are easy to view and navigate; they’re also online, so you’ll need an Internet connection to view them on your tablet.

Where to Get It: $1; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Worth a buck.

Disney American Presidents

In Disney American Presidents, a page dedicated to each commander-in-chief highlights achievements and oddities. You also get a brief video about the president that plays even without an Internet connection.

Disney American Presidents has one thing in common with POTUS Pick—a sense of humor. That’s not trivial, especially when compared to two apps reviewed in the last installment of Digital Reading Room. Those apps—Presidents of U.S.A. and American Presidents for iPad—strove to be educational (with mixed success), but made no attempt to entertain. Disney American Presidents, in contrast, is informal and playful, while also providing a decent overview of the presidents. Aimed at the middle-school crowd, the app is easy to navigate—either pick a president from the home screen, or page through the Oval Office Scrapbook in chronological order.

Each president gets a page, where you’ll find three or four tidbits about achievements and notable tidbits. (Calvin Coolidge had the first White House community Christmas tree, according to the app; he also cut taxes for big business.) Disney American Presidents also provides a two-to-five minute biographical video focusing primarily on the president’s time in office. The videos also have plenty of factual information interspersed with healthy dollops of humor. (The app describes William Henry Harrison as “the first, last and only member of America’s President for a Month club,” for example.) This is the type of educational app that seems most likely to work because it uses multimedia to both convey history in a way that children can understand and also with harmless humor that many children—and their parents—are likely to find appealing.

Where to Get It: $4; iOS App Store

The Verdict: Definitely download if you’ve got kids under 13.

Blue Note by Groovebug

Each of the 50 Blue Note recording artists has their own page, from which you can access individual songs and entire albums from their music panel, a short biography, often a dozen or more videos, and news. A playlist (on the left-hand side) and music player (on the bottom) are also accessible.

There’s a new game in town for music apps, and the legendary jazz label Blue Note Records is pioneering it in fine fashion. By partnering with OpenEMI, a new initiative that secures music rights for app developers, Blue Note has been able to provide subscribers more than 100 hours of music immediately upon the app’s release, with more to come. This alone puts it way ahead of other music-related apps, which typically have relied on 30-second iTunes samples, YouTube videos, or a combination of both for their content.

There is a cost—$2 a month to subscribe, which enables you to listen to full songs as well as create and listen to playlists. The app also includes brief but informative articles on album cover design (Reid Miles, who designed covers for Blue Note from 1956-67 never listened to the albums—he was into classical music, and would trade the records given to him for classical LPs), renowned producer Rudy Van Gelder, and other topics. Featured playlists (“Guitar Flavors,” “Soul Essentials,” and so on) and featured albums serve as good guides for those with little jazz expertise. Other content includes artist bios from AllMusic.com and news about artists from a wide variety of sources.

Blue Note’s elegant and intuitive design is also worthy of note, thanks to an inviting atmosphere—so inviting that it may even convert some casual jazz listeners into hard boppers.

Where to Get It: Free with limited capabilities, $2 monthly subscription for all features; iOS App Store

The Verdict: For jazz lovers, a must-subscribe. For casual fans, definitely worth a look.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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