Monday, May 28, 2012

Review: Yarn U for the iPhone/iPad

All screenshots provided by Sutro Media

This is my first time reviewing an app, so please bear with me :)

This is a review of Yarn U (Sutro Media), compatible for both the iPhone and iPad. Essentially, Yarn U is an on-the-go database of yarn, complete with photos, weight/gauge information, pros/cons, and links to the manufacturers' websites, social media sites, etc.

Now, I'm not a particularly techy person, so I don't have much to say about the finer details of functionality and programming, but I am a knitter. As far as this review goes, I can address what it does and if it's worth the $2.99 price tag.

When you open Yarn U for the first time, a quick tutorial pops up after the loading screen, and then the app opens to a list of the yarn names, its default home screen. For each yarn, there is a small photo next to the yarn name, a one-line descriptor, and the yarn's manufacturer. In the upper left hand corner is an option to filter out the listing based mainly on yarn weight, but there is also an option for "Favorites" (meaning, you can add various yarns to a "Favorites" list), Newly-Added yarns (so you can see what was included in the last update), and interestingly enough, a "Crochet" category, which suggest yarns that work especially well for crocheting.

Personally, I found it far more useful to browse using the "Manufacturer" view (accessed by clicking the button on the top bar), because for me, it's easier to start with the brand name and then look for the yarn name; plus it gives you less to scroll through. I wish that this had been the default view instead, or that it were more exciting to look at - it's really just a list of all the different brand names, with the number of yarn lines in parentheses after it, and you can click on the brand names to reveal a drop-down list of the yarn names.

The list of brands (and yarn lines) is small but mighty, focusing on high-end and specialty yarns (meaning, if you want to know about Lion Brand Wool-Ease, you'll just have to download Lion Brand's app). Mary Beth (the app's author) is great about taking suggestions for what to add, as evidenced by the dialogue happening on the app's Comments section.

Each yarn's page on the app features a photo of either the yarn itself or of a project using that yarn and a map showing the location of the yarn's origin at the top. There's some short commentary about the yarn, which ranges from suggestions for types of projects, links to free patterns, and anecdotes. There is also information about gauge, yardage, fiber content, and care, as well as a list of pros and cons ("Great for baby projects," or "It sheds"). Users are able to add comments about the yarn (there was a great one for Mirasol Miski about where you could find it at a great discount). Finally, at the bottom of the page is information about the retail price of the yarn and where you can find the manufacturer online.

I have to admit, when I first saw the map, I thought it would show me where I could find the yarn in my area. (I don't know how much work it would be to do something like that, but that would be AWESOME.) I was a little disappointed that it just showed me where the yarn company was located - I really didn't feel like it was necessary to SHOW me. I would've much rather seen another photo. For example, when you click on the photo on the right, it takes you to a gallery/slideshow. Some yarns have only skein/hank photos showing different colorways; others have only project/example photos; some have both. I thought it would've been far more useful for each line to have both, with the actual yarn photos on one side and the example photos on the other. It doesn't help me in the slightest to see a map of New Hampshire, unless you're trying to give me a geography lesson. (I'm not saying I don't need geography lessons, but I don't feel like that's the point of a yarn app.)

Now, all that stuff above is what you get if you're on the default "Browse" view (the button is on the bottom bar of the screen - please see the screenshot of the yarn list just up yonder). If you click on "Photos," you get an awesome view of all the photos featured in the app, which is less useful for looking for specific information, but more fun because it's beautiful! Clicking on "Map" will get you an interactive map with markers showing the locations of all the different yarn brands (again, not so useful for me) - while I didn't bother using this often, I did find that it was sluggish and slow to load. Clicking on "Comments" takes you to a general comment page (meaning, not related to any specific yarns), with some great tips from users about resources, sales, etc, with the most recent comments at the top (feed-style). Again, Mary Beth is really great about responding to questions/suggestions.

Is it worth it? In all honesty, I'm not sure how much I will use this app. My first instinct, of course, is to compare it to Ravelry.com. (In fact, that's how I heard about this app in the first place.) Ravelry has a much larger database, and provides a lot of information that I find more useful, that Yarn U does not, and having an iPhone or iPad with me means that it's just as easy for me to access a website as it is to open up an app, and though Ravelry doesn't have an app or a mobile version (yet), its functionality isn't much reduced on my iPhone/iPad as other websites'.

But objectively, it's not really fair to compare a full website to an app, is it? So I took a look at the only other yarn app I have, Lion Brand's free app, and poked around in their yarn section. (Although, do bear in mind that this comparison is also a little unfair, because Lion Brand is a huge corporation.) For each of its yarns, Lion Brand offers: short commentary, photos/descriptions of the colorways, information about gauge, care, yardage, fiber content, and links to free patterns/social media sites/etc. Yeah, the visuals are a little cleaner and more professional-looking, but so far they match up. Yarn U tells me what I need to know when I'm looking up information on yarn, and I can't complain about that.

The verdict:

The app isn't a must-have, but it's nice to have. For my hardcore project-planning, I'm probably still going to just pull up Ravelry, but this is good to have handy when Ravelry isn't working on my mobile device or when I want a pleasant experience leisurely browsing through yarns. It's a great personal take on each yarn, when you're looking for a quick and dirty glimpse, without a lot of extra fuss. It's not the most intuitive interface, but it's definitely easy to use. I'm looking forward to seeing this app as it grows to include more brands and yarns.

Yarn U is available for $2.99 through the iTunes App Store.

Product provided for consideration.

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