Putting a “Spin” on Vacation Travel

January 10, 2014

in App Reviews

  • SumoMe

Way back in the last century we were promised video phone calling.

Video Phone

(Docklandsboy Flickr Photo)

But it wasn’t until the 21st century when Internet bandwidth increased enough and cellular data networks became robust enough to fulfill that promise.

First there was (and still is) Skype, free one-to-one video calling using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) and, for a price, videoconferencing among several people.

Then came Apple’s “FaceTime,” another free one-to-one option for those who own Apple computers or mobile devices.

Google responded by creating Google+ Hangouts, free video calling and conferencing for up to 10 people.

Google Hangouts

(JNFerree Flickr Photo)

The latest entrant to the “Can-You-See-Me-Now?” game is “Spin,” a free app for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, whose video and photo sharing capability one-ups the other apps and services I’ve mentioned.

While you don’t have to be “on the road again” to use “Spin,” I tried it out with fellow travel writer, Jen Leo, to discover how it could be best used when traveling away from home.

Here’s what we learned.

Supported Devices

“Spin” works on on iPhone 4S and above, iPad 2 and higher, iPad mini, iPad Air, iPod touch 5th generation and above.

Spin 1

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that (at least for now) it’s not available for Android, Blackberry, of Windows mobile devices, or for Mac or PC computers. So in that respect, it’s less desirable than Skype or Google+ Hangouts.

Have App, Can “Spin”

As with the other video calling services, you need to install the “Spin” app on your mobile device in order to initiate or join a video call.

Made in the U.S.A. (For Now)

Unfortunately, “Spin” is only available from the U.S. version of the iTunes App Store.

So if you are planning a trip outside of the U.S., or want someone to “Spin” with you while they are traveling aboard, both of you should download, install, and set up the app before leaving

home.

“Spin” may eventually be available in other countries. To be notified when that happens, sign up for “Spin Updates.”

Let’s “Gather” Together

“Spin” refers to a one-on-one or group video call as a “Gathering.”

This brief promotional video gives you an idea how “Spin” works.

 

First, add those that you’d like to “Spin” with to the “stack” of “People” in the app. (You can access your mobile device Contact List or enter information for those not in it.)

To create an instant “Gathering” on the fly, simply drag and drop the photos/icons for those people onto the “tile” where your face appears.

They’ll receive an e-mail inviting them to join the “Gathering” and if they do so, you’ll see them appear in the “Gathering tile.”

If they don’t have the “Spin” app installed on their mobile device, the invitation will prompt them to downloaded it. But I think that it’s a good idea to tell those you want to “Spin” with to get and install app before you invite them to join a “Gathering.”

If you want to plan a “Gathering” for a future date and time, tap on the “Gathering” tile, and tap on “Plan Something.” Then fill out the “Spinvitation” form. Tap “invite” to send the invitation via e-mail; those with a Spin ID will also received an iOS “Notification” on their mobile devices. Those you’ve invited can RSVP and then join the “Gathering” when it goes “live.”

No Sign-Up Needed

While you must set up a “Spin ID” (which includes your e-mail address) to initiate a Gathering, you don’t have to sign up with the service and get an ID to participate in one.

That means friends and family you want to “Spin” with simply have to click on the invitation the received from you via e-mail to join the “Gathering.”

How many can “Spin” together?

Up to ten people can participate in a “Gathering.”

Jen Leo thought that a “Gathering” could  become a bit crazy if several people participated.  I agree.

When she and I tried out “Spin,” the app didn’t seem to have full duplex like a phone conversation, meaning there seemed to be a time delay between when one of us talked and the other heard what was said.

So it’s probably best to listen and then pause before your talk so you don’t “talk over” the other participants. And if you’re conducting a “Gathering” with more than one other person, having someone serve as “moderator” who asks the others to speak in turn could make the conversation less chaotic and easier to follow.

“Come to the ‘Spin’ with My Friend!”

While only those you invite to a “Gathering” can join it, they can in turn invite others to “attend” as well. So the size of your online “party” may end up being bigger than you originally planned.

“Sorry, Gotta Go!

If you’ve joined a “Gathering” you can leave at any time by swiping across the screen and removing yourself from the event.

Jen Leo and I found that ending a “Gathering” didn’t seem to happen immediately after we tried to stop it, presumably because there was a time delay between the time we “signed off” and when the “Gathering” shut down on the “Spin” server.

Although you can leave a “Gathering,” or cancel it if you initiated it, there doesn’t seem to be any way to “kick out” a participant without ending the “Gathering” for one and all.

One Party at a Time Dude!

While in the real world you can accept invitations to attend multiple parties at the same time, you obviously can only be present at one.

With “Spin,” you can only participate in one “Gathering” at time. You have to leave a “Gathering” before you can accept an invitation to join another one.

Camera Selection

You can switch back and forth between your iPhone or iPad front and rear cameras during a “Gathering.” So you can show your smiling face, then switch to the rear camera to let others see what’s around you.

I was standing in my kitchen when Jen Leo invited me to our initial “Gathering,” so I gave her a quick visual tour of that part of my house before walking down the hallway to my office where we continued our “test drive” of “Spin.”

Sharing Cool Stuff

What sets “Spin” apart from FaceTime, Google+ Hangouts and Skype, is the ease with which participants in a “Gathering” can share photos and videos.

Facebook photos and videos, YouTube videos, and Instagram or Flickr photos, plus photos in the Camera Roll on your iOS mobile device, can be shared during a “Gathering.”

Spin 2

First, connect your Facebook and Flickr accounts to “Spin” so it can access your photos on those sites.

Simply tap on the “stack” for a specific source of photos or videos and drag it onto the “Gathering” to share it with the other participants.

You and the other participants can only share one source of photos of videos at a time. If anyone drags another source onto the “Gathering,” the source that was there will be removed.

Here’s how “Gathering” participants control what’s being seen:

When you show your photos in your Gathering, everyone in the Gathering can see the photo you show. With photos from Facebook, Instagram and Flickr, your friends can also slide through them, zoom in and zoom out — and you can just sit back and relax.
When you show your local photos from your device, other can’t scroll through them. You have full control over them with the photo preview on the top – just tap on the photo you want to show next – and everyone will see your photo instantaneously.”

You can zoom in my tapping top of a photo, or by using two-finger zoom as with other apps.

YouTube video playback can be controlled by anyone participating in the “Gathering.”

You can even use “Spin” to share presentations made with Apple’s Keynote program.

ChalkTalk and a “Fun Experiences”

During a “Gathering” you can doodle and draw on the screen using the “ChalkTalk” function, or have a “Fun Experience” but tossing tomatoes or hearts at the screen, make a crowd cheer and applaud, or “set off” fireworks.

image

“Spin for Travel”

While “Spin” isn’t designed specifically for use while traveling, I think it offers an interesting way to share your experiences, either as they happen, or after they took place earlier during the trip.

Not only can you do a “live, on location broadcast” as you walk around your destination, but you can show your friends and family photos and videos that you’ve already shot.

If you’re using a digital still or video camera and are running “Spin” from an iPad, you can use an Apple camera adapter or SD card reader to copy photos and videos from the camera to the iPad. If you used an iPhone for shooting, the Photo Transfer app will allow you to copy photos and videos from your iPhone to your iPad.

Screen Size Matters

Since your “tile,” the “Gathering” tile, the “Add Someone” tile, and the stacks of photos and videos “float” across the home screen of the “Spin” app, during my test runs with Jen Leo I found it easier to share information during a “Gathering” using my iPad whose screen is much larger than the one on my iPhone.

My Spin Screenshot

And if you have an “AppleTV” box connected to a television, you can use the AirPlay function on your iPhone or iPad to view a “Gathering” on  your TV’s even bigger screen.

“Can You Hear Me Now?”

The app’s “ListenUp” function lets you increase or decrease a “Gathering” participant’s audio by using your fingers to make them larger or smaller.

But you also may have to turn down to volume on your iPhone or iPad, or use a bit or use headphones/earbuds, to prevent the “squealing” audio feedback that can occur when one person’s voice gets routed from the device’s speaker back into its microphone.

Battery Drain

iPhone and iPad owners know that the more frequently you use the device, particularly to access the Internet to share photos or share and watch videos, the faster the device’s battery will be drained.

Here’s what the developers of “Spin” say about its effect on battery life:

Outside of a Gathering, battery usage by Spin is minimal. Within a Gathering, you’re using the audio and camera of your device (as well as its cellular or Wi-Fi connection), so the battery usage will be greater. It’s difficult to predict the exact effect on your device, since devices differ by model and age. But generally the amount of battery power expended while being in a gathering shouldn’t be significantly greater than what you experience when using other apps.”

So if you plan to “Spin” frequently, be sure to keep your device’s battery full charged. If you own an iPhone, consider purchasing a battery case, such as those sold by Mophie, would in my experience approximately doubles the battery life between recharges.

Is the Price Right?

“Spin” is free from Apple’s iTunes App Store. At least for now. However, as its developer says:

“As we continue to add features, you’ll be able to purchase premium upgrades for even more enhanced together experiences with your favorite people.”

But while the app is free to download, you’ll indirectly pay for using it.

“Spin” works fine over a Wi-Fi network, but unless you’re using it over your home network or a free Wi-Fi “hotspot,” you may have to pay for WiFi access.

But Wi-Fi isn’t always available and most mobile device users have a limited or “capped” data plans, so here’s what the developers of “Spin” say about how your plan might be impacted by using the app:

When available, Spin will default to using Wi-Fi rather than the cellular network. This will have no effect on your data plan.

“However, if you use Spin over a cellular data connection, your monthly allotment or allowance will be impacted. Factors including the number of people in a Gathering, as well as the type of content that is shared will impact the amount of data used. For example, shared movies will generally use more data than shared photos.

“As a rule, consider that each person has their video stream, and therefore multiple people means multiple simultaneous video streams. While each stream isn’t any larger than what you would expect from watching mobile videos, the number of simultaneous streams can quickly add up. Please consider these factors when choosing to participate in a Gathering over a cellular data connection.”

In other words, if you “Spin” often, especially with multiple participants, you might quickly consume much of the monthly allowance under your U.S. data plan or an International data plan that you purchased to reduce the cost of using your mobile device when traveling outside of the country.

Ease of Use

While “Spin” isn’t completely intuitive, I found it relatively easy to use. “Drag and drop” sharing of photos and videos, and adding people to a “Gathering,” is a snap.

But I’d encourage “Spin” novices to read both the FAQs and download the more detailed (PDF) manual.

You also can view a series of video tutorials, and check out all of the “Tips and Tricks” for using “Spin” on the iPhone or the iPad.

More spin on “Spin”

You’ll find other reviews of “Spin” on Mashable and The New York Times.

And this 17 minute video discusses the how and why of “Spin” in more depth.

 

(Jen Leo frequently reviews smartphone and tablet apps in her nationally syndicated Los Angeles Times’ Web Buzz column. She’ll be one of the featured speakers at the 16th Annual Los Angeles Times Travel Show held January 18-19, 2014 at the LA Convention Center. She is a co-host of the “This Week in Travel” Google+ Hangout and audio podcast, and co-founded BestKidsApps.com, a website that reviews children’s iPhone and iPad apps. On Twitter she’s @jenleo. Click here to read her review of “Spin” for the Los Angeles Times.)

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