Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Google Chrome Web Store Review: Weather Apps

When it comes to weather apps it usually boils down to the three top contenders: WeatherBug, Wunderground, and the Weather Channel. Before I got a smartphone I used for everything, but the WeatherBug app for Android blows all others out of the water and has become my main source of weather information. Weather Channel has always been rubbish, as far as I'm concerned. Still, here's my attempt at an unbiased review of all three apps in their Chrome permutations.

Weather Underground - This time around, it's Weather Underground that is my least favorite. A quick look at the app page shows it is by far the prettiest, featuring a full-screen shot of some gorgeous weather phenomenon related (I assume) to your own location and conditions. Unfortunately looks is about all this app has to offer. It only displays the time, current temperature, humidity, and wind speed, as well as a 5-day high-low temperature forecast. None of the information is clickable and there is no way to get to a full forecast without going to the regular website. This app also lacks radar, which is essential for anyone really interested in the weather. If you just want something basic and pretty to look at, this will suffice, but if you're more concerned with the weather, keep reading.

The Weather Channel - This is actually a decent app, though it lacks some core functionality and has all the aesthetic appeal of a cinder block wall. It may appeal to Weather Channel fans and folks who want as much information as possible on the front screen, but the problem for me is that "What you see is what you get." Clicking on any links to a detailed description of the weather just opens a new tab to the infinitely laggy In fact, the radar links to as well, and the results are slow and ugly. One of the  points of a web app should be to keep it all in one tab, and if Weather Channel can figure that put, they may be a real contender.

Weather Window Beta by WeatherBug - For the sake of my credibility, I was really hoping this wouldn't be my favorite app, but despite a few drawbacks WeatherBug wins the day again. The app displays all of the information on its home page that the Weather Channel app does, but in a far more visually appealing way. Weatherbug also features a "Weather Window" similar to Wunderground's idea, but in an awkward box in the middle of the screen. The ad at the bottom is also pretty ugly, but it's below the fold on my CR-48's screen so it's not really a hassle.

What it all comes down to for me, though, is the amount of information available and the ease of accessing it. Weatherbug has a week-long visual forecast, but also offers textual descriptions of the upcoming weather as well, all without leaving the tab. It also offers radar in the app itself, and while I wish it were bigger or could be made full-screen, it's still nice and feature-rich as far as radar goes, and a lot faster and prettier than Weather Channel. Weatherbug's app also features web cams, which I've already found indispensable for checking up on driving conditions.

It's still early in the life of the web store, and I think most apps have a "beta" disclaimer somewhere, but the weather apps are off to a pretty good start. Nobody has it perfect yet, but if developers focus more on designing these apps like apps and not just pretty websites, they will go a long way.

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