Widgets of the week: August 5, 2005

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In this week’s Dashboard Widget roundup, I cover Widgets for finding the least expensive gasoline in your area, reading your favorite comics without having to go to their Web sites, and playing your favorite song by simply typing its name. I also show you an example of a precious waste of Dashboard resources.

Gas (   ; free). You know it’s a sign that gas prices are high when people are willing to drive around—wasting gas, no less—to find the cheapest place to fill ’er up. No more. Using Interdimension Media’s Gas Widget—which uses the user-submitted gas prices from GasPriceWatch.com —you can find the least expensive gas station in your area without having to leave the comfort of your computer screen. Via the Widget’s settings, you choose your zip code, the distance you’re willing to drive, the sort criteria (how the results are presented after price), and how recently a station’s prices must have been submitted to GasPriceWatch to be included in the results. Click Done and you get a list of the least expensive stations in your area, along with each station’s address. (Click the address and your browser will open to a Google Map showing the location.) You can browse stations and types of gas via the arrow buttons. And if you like old-fashioned gas station signs, you can turn on a sign pole to see the Widget rising up out of the bottom of your screen.

Gas Widget back
Gas Widget front

Symphonic (   ; free). Every once in a while I find a piece of software that’s so unique that even with flaws it’s compelling. Symphonic is one of those products. It’s billed as an iTunes controller, but when you see that it’s really just a small text field, you’ll likely wonder how that can be. How indeed. If you want to play a song, simply type in the name of the song, or even just part of the title; the song will begin playing immediately. (If more than one track matches the query, the first track, alphabetically, will be played.) This also works for albums and artists. (Actually, Symphonic first tries to match the track title, then the artist name, then the album name.) If you include “by” in the search, Symphonic will search for a song by the specified artist; for example, on my computer, pink by drake causes iTunes to play “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake. You can also control playback using text commands; for example, next? skips to the next track and rate 3 rates the current song with 3 stars. The Widget also includes a number of other useful options for playlists, Party Shuffle, and more; be sure to read the manual for information on using these advanced features.

Symphonic image
Symphonic image
Symphonic image
Symphonic image
Symphonic image
Symphonic image

Symphonic is still a work in progress and has a few quirks. For example, once you enter a command, the text field becomes “unselected"—you have to click the Widget with the mouse cursor to activate it again. But it’s still a great way to quickly play a song without having to switch to iTunes and browse or search. It won’t replace my favorite iTunes controller, Synergy, but it will be something I use when I get the urge to hear a particular track.

Wimic (   ; free). If you’re a comic lover, one of the great things about the Internet is that you can read all your favorite comics without having to buy the local paper. Of course, to do so, you need to visit a bunch of different sites, right? Not if you install Wimic. This Widget lets you view 75 popular comic strips right in Dashboard. Via the Widget’s settings screen, you choose which of those comics you want to be able to access quickly; you can also add the URLs of other comics not in the list. From that point on, you choose a comic from the Widget’s pop-up menu to view today’s installment; you can view previous strips using the calendar. My favorite feature? Since comics tend to be large, in order to keep Wimic from taking up too much of your Dashboard space, it shrinks to a simple comic speech balloon whenever Dashboard closes; clicking the balloon expands the Widget to comic-viewing size. My only complaint is that comics with small text can be difficult to read and there’s no way to resize them.

Wimic Widget” align=


Widget “Why?” of the Week

Each week, I give a good-natured poke at a Widget that makes me think, “Why was this thing made?” But this week, I’m giving nod (or head shake, as the case may be) to a Widget that made me think, “Why is this thing so freakin’ big?” You see, I have a pet peeve about Widgets that take up too much room on my Dashboard, and Pong is one of the worst offenders I’ve seen:

Pong Widget

It’s very cool that you can have the original Pong on your Dashboard, but the fact that the actual widget takes up nearly 13 times as much space as the actual game screen? Not so much. (Yes, I actually measured.) If the developer wants to make the Widget look like a console, I recommend a tabletop console. ;-)

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