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Apps to stay healthy, hear the news and keep in touch

by Rick Martin

Taking time to shake a leg

If you work in an office, you probably spend a fair part of your time sitting at a desk, which, of course, isn’t very healthy. To combat that the Pomodoro technique recommends that you work in intervals with regular breaks — for example, 25 minutes work followed by a five-minute rest.

There are number of Pomodoro apps available to alert you when it’s time to take a breather, but it can be hard to know which one to buy. Having experimented with more than a few for the Mac, I recently tried a made-in-Japan solution for iOS called Break Timer. This is different from other Pomodoro apps in that it lets you choose exactly how long you want to work or take a break. It also keeps track of time spent working using a handy calendar, which you can readily access the top left hand corner of the app.

Developed by Harashow Interactive, the app is a bargain at ¥85, but if you’d like to try before you buy, there is an ad-supported, free version too..

Paid version: bit.ly/10Jk1c2 Free version: bit.ly/15klDAn

The new Sony VAIO is pretty fit

This month Sony is targeting premium home computer users by rolling out its new VAIO Fit 15 and VAIO Fit 14 ultra-portable models.

With roughly the same specs, but in different sizes, the laptops offer the familiar sleek-looking aluminum design that we’ve come to know from the VAIO line, but now optimized for Windows 8 with optional capacitive touchscreen capabilities.

The high-resolution displays are 15.5 and 14 inches respectively, with the Fit 15 boasting a full HD 1920 x 1080 screen. Powered by third-generation Intel processors (i7 on the high end for the Fit 15), and with options for hybrid hard-drive or solid-state drive storage, the Fit 14 and 15 additionally feature Exmor R webcams that offer improved functions for chat even in low light.

The black and silver models went on sale May 18, but you’ll have to wait a little longer for the pink model, which hits the shelves on June 1. The Fit 15 costs ¥180,000, while the smaller 14-inch is ¥150,000.

Sony Viao: www.sony.jp/vaio

Fitbit Flex keeps track of your health

If you’d like to get your summer started on the right track, Softbank has a fun way to help you monitor your body metrics. The company has brought the Fitbit Flex to Japan, a wireless wristband that sends data of your activity and sleep — such as steps taken, distance traveled, calories burned or hours slept — to your iPhone (4S or later) or Aquos Phone Xx 206H.

Interestingly Softbank is making Fitbit available via its Softbank Healthcare plan, which will cost ¥490 per month. That also lets you take advantage of a 24-hour health-expert phone-consultation service.

There’s also an interesting Time Machine app (not to be confused with Apple’s Time Machine on Mac) that lets you see what your face might look like in the future, if you follow a healthy (or unhealthy) lifestyle.

http://www.softbank.jp/mobile/service/softbankhealthcare/

Did you hear the news?

In a previous column I mentioned the Japanese news-reader app Gunosy, an attractive way to stay abreast of news on your mobile. Here’s another intriguing made-in-Japan mobile news app.

AloudRSS goes a step further by conveniently reading news items aloud to you. Currently the text-to-speech function is for Japanese articles only, but there are apps that do the same thing for English. Of course the voices for such apps are somewhat mechanical, but I think AloudRSS would be handy for Japanese-language students who may want to practice reading along with Japanese texts. I should note that when I used it, the app crashed at times, but as it was just recently released I’m willing to be patient with it.

If you’d like English-language news read out to you by “real” people, you might try out Umano (at UmanoApp.com).

AloudRSS: bit.ly/1062j2f

Draftpad ‘assists’ in your text needs

I’m a sucker for iOS text editors, but I haven’t found many popular ones that were made in Japan. DraftPad, however, is one of them, developed by Manabu Ueno.

What makes this app different from other text editors is that it functions as a sort of conduit to send strings of text to other apps or Web services. Such functions, called “assists,” are nearly endless in their possible applications. Prominent examples include “add event in calendar,” “search with Google Maps,” or “send to Twitter” — but that’s just scratching the surface.

The app has been around since early 2010, but if you’re on the lookout for a heavily customizable or hackable editor, this is still very much a viable option.

DraftPad: bit.ly/12fBkml