Sunday, January 20, 2013

Roundup: 10 essential DIY apps for iPhone and iPad

Roundup: 10 essential DIY apps for iPhone and iPad

Roundup: 10 essential DIY apps for iPhone and iPad

DIY: depending on your point of view, it's either the most pleasurable way to spend a weekend, or a necessary evil designed to keep you from indulging in more fun activities, such as having a root canal.

Whichever camp you fall into, there are ways to make DIY more enjoyable, such as having the right tools for the job, or knowing how to undertake whichever mind-numbing/exciting task you're about to embark upon.

While this once involved rummaging around in your toolbox or scanning your bookshelves for that Readers Digest DIY manual you got free in 1997, here in 2012 it means looking no further than your iPhone or iPad (unless the tool required is a hammer).

There are dozens of apps on the App Store that can either ac t as a surrogate measuring tool (think spirit level), provide a means of keeping track of large projects, allow you to work out how much paint or wallpaper you need, or instruct you in the dark arts of tiling a bathroom or wallpapering a, er, wall.There are even apps that allow you to design a completely new home, furnish it, and then walk through it in 3D.

How do you know which of these apps are worth the ticket price? We're glad you asked. It just so happens that we've had a root around the App Store, downloaded a bunch of them, discarded those that aren't up to scratch and found some essential iPhone and iPad apps for DIY.

Whether you're an enthusiast or the most reluctant of screwdriver-wielders, there's something for you here that will make the next wet Bank Holiday weekend a little easier to bear.

1. Ha ndy Man DIY

Handy Man DIY

Manage any DIY project from your iPhone

Price: £1.49 / $ 1.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch

Handy Man DIY aims to be a complete project manager for any project, be it building an extension or re-decorating a bedroom. It's organised so that you're led into creating individual tasks as soon as you create the project, getting you working as quickly as possible.

You assign materials to these tasks from the app's huge built-in library of options, and then you assign a cost to those materials in turn. Separately, you specify the dimensions of the room, plus openings such as doors and windows. The app can then automatically calculate the total area of the walls and floor, making it easy to see what you'll require. In this way, it's easy to see how much paint you'll need, for example.

There are also written tutorials and links to YouTube videos to help you complete trickier jobs without putting your hammer through anything too important.

It's not perfect, though. There's no way to easily display the area of individual walls, so while you can see the total amount of paint you'll need, you can't quickly tell how much you'll need just for that all-important feature wall. And though you can edit the individual unit prices for the materials stored in the app's database, you can't change the currency displayed from US dollars to anything else. Nor can you add new items to the database, although existing materials' names can be edited.

2. Home DIY with Craig Phillips

Home DIY with Craig Philips

Tips from the Big Brother winner - but don't let that put you off

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch

Whatever you think of the way that Craig Phillips first came to public attention (by winning the first series of Big Brother, outing Nasty Nick in the process), he's an engaging and knowledgeable DIY presenter. Home DIY with Craig Phillips contains a collection of videos from the cheeky Scouser himself, covering topics such as papering a wall, tiling and laying laminate flooring.

That's not all there is to this app, however. There's a Projects section that allows you to add images, create to-do and shopping lists, and has a Calculations section for working ou t how much paint, wallpaper, or how many tiles you'll need. There's a spirit level, too. Calculations can also be accessed with specific projects, to allow you to quickly work out how many, say, tins of magnolia you need to buy.

But it's for the videos that most will come to this app and - though we hesitate to make such a complaint about a free app - we'd love it if there were more of them. The five that are included are slickly presented and delivered with Phillips' typical charm and enthusiasm. Even if more videos were added as In-App Purchase packages, it would be a worthwhile addition.

Photo Measures

Photo Measures

Never find yourself in the shop without those all-important room measurements again

Price: £2.99 / $ 4.99
W orks with: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad

It's a familiar tale. You're in the paint aisle of the DIY store, trying to figure out how many tins of Hawaii Sand you need to cover the living room walls and you've forgotten your notes. Well, no more!

Photo Measures allows you to take a picture of anything - a room (or at least part of it); the boat you've just sanded down; or that fence that needs weatherproofing - and annotate it with measurements. You can zoom in and out to make adding the required numbers easier, add notes, and create categories for photos. Once you're done, save the annotated photo to your Photo Library, or send it by email.

Then when you get to the shop and realise you can't remember the size of that window in the living room, just open the photo and there it is. It would be great if the app were able to calculate measurements from ph otos automatically, but given the hardware limitations, that's unrealistic. And you could just write the measurements in the Notes app, but to us, a visual reference is always preferable.



Take the fear out fixing that leaky pipe with these helpful video guides

Price: 69p / 99¢
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch

Plumbing. Just the thought of it strikes fear into even the more intrepid DIY enthusiast. It conjures up images of rubber-gloved hands reaching into a pipe blocked up with who-even-knows-what, in order to stop the toilet spilling water over the bathroom floor.

Happily, that's where Plumbing, the a pp, comes in. It has video tutorials that show you how to fix common plumbing problems, from a toilet that won't flush properly to fixing a burst pipe. There are also videos for tasks like installing a water heater or waste disposal unit.

In addition, there's a glossary, and a written guide to common techniques, only with US phraseology. All the videos in Plumbing are taken from YouTube, and so accessible for free.

So, why pay for the app? Simple, because for 69p you can access videos that have been pre-selected and organised, thus saving you trawling through YouTube trying to find them. To us, that's 69p well spent.

Screwfix Toolbox


A useful app that combines online shopping with tools and tips

Price: Free
Works wit h: iPhone, iPod touch

Screwfix isn't the only purveyor of DIY supplies to have its own app, but its effort stands head and shoulders above the others. It combines genuinely useful tools with online shopping and tutorials. The tools include a project cost calculator: enter the dimensions of the room you're painting, the patio your laying, or the fence you're erecting, and it will tell you how much of your chosen material you need and how much it will cost.

Another calculator works out the BTU/hour of any given room to allow you to decide how many radiators you'll need. There's also a spirit level and QR code scanner. That scanner can be used to scan adverts or in-store posters, in order to find out more about a product or to learn how to use it.

And Screwfix TV takes you to a library of 4,000 tutorial videos that will take you through how to do just about any DIY task you can dream up. A built-in catalogue would have been good, though.

DIY Cement

This app will have you mixing and laying in no time

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch

Thankfully, there's ready-mix concrete for those of us who don't spend our days on building sites, but you still need to know what to buy and how to use it properly. DIY Cement, from Lafarge Cement, has tutorials on everything from laying a patio to building a barbecue and fixing fence posts.

It'll tell you how to mix cement, how to build brickwork, and how to lay foundations. The tutorial videos are clear and easy to follow and will help anyone nervous about using cement for the first time. There's a cost calculator that will tell you which product you need how much of it you should order. And, of course, there's a store locator to help you find your nearest outlet.

There's a product catalogue and downloadable datasheets, but there's no way to order materials from the company within the app. That's unfortunate, because, otherwise this is an invaluable tool for work with cement.

Decor Advisor

Find the perfect brush or roller for your painting job

Decor Advisor

Price: Free
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch

Buying a paintbrush, sounds easy - just nip to the local DIY store and choose one that's the right size for the job. That is, until see the dozens of shelves stacked with brushes. Which to choose?

That's where Decor Advisor from brush and roller manufacturer Harris comes in. It will help you not only choose the right brush or roller for the job - a Harris model, of course - but tell you where your nearest Harris stockest is. In addition there are text-based tutorials (pictures would be helpful here) for tasks such as preparing walls, tiling and hanging wallpaper. Plus, there's a catalogue of Harris products.

It would have been useful to have prices, but since Harris is the manufacturer and not a retailer, any price stated would only have been a guide anyway. No decorating app would be complete without a cost calculator, naturally, and there's one on hand here.

Home 3D for iPad

Home 3D for iPad

Plan and visualise that new extension in three dimensions on your iPad

Price: £5.99 / $ 8.99
Works with: iPad

Home 3D's aim is nothing less than allowing you to build a 3D model of the room you want to refurbish, or the extension you plan to build, and then fill it with furniture. You can add wall and floor coverings, and view the results as either a two-dimensional plan or 3D model.

Home 3D comes with a library of fixtures, fittings and furniture that can be altered in size. You can use the floor or wall coverings supplied, or use any image in your Photo Library. Plans can be shared by Dropbox or email, and a walkthrough feature allows you to get a sense of your creation.

It's remarkably easy to use, too. Irregular rooms can be made by combining rectangles and removing walls. And if you get stuck there's no need to panic; there are video tutorials. Perhaps best of all is that all the content is included in the price. A remarkable app that's easier to use than many of its desktop counterparts.

iHandy Carpenter

iHandy Carpenter

Five very useful and beautifully rendered tools in one very useful app

Price: £1.49 / $ 1.99
Works with: iPhone, iPod touch

iHandy Carpenter includes a spirit level; a surface level, for measuring how flat that patio you've just laid really is; a protractor to ensure that you come at everything from the correct angle; a plumb line to make sure that wallpaper hangs straight, and a ruler, for, er, measuring stuff. The tools are all easy to use and work brilliantly, thanks l argely to the iPhone's own built-in sensors.

It's also beautifully rendered; for example, the spirit level works in landscape and portrait mode, as you would expect, but tilt the iPhone backwards beyond 45 degrees and the bubble changes form, as if you were looking down from directly above it.

Limitations are those inherent in the iPhone itself. It's not big enough to make a decent ruler, for example. And there are times when only a twofoot long spirit level will do. But other than that, it's terrific value and a lovely app.

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