fredag 16 januari 2015

iReal Pro

Excellent for private practice, but depending on your needs it might not be the right choice for your gigs.

App: iReal Pro
Available for: iOS, Android
Price: $13 (+ in app purchases)
Developer: Technimo

First and foremost, this is a great app! There is no surprise that iReal Pro (and the previous incarnations iReal Book and iReal b) has been in the top lists of both the Apple App Store and Google Play for a long time, because it has some really unique features.

Most important is the play-along mode, which really puts iReal Pro in a class of its own and is the feature most users refer to as the reason for getting the app. All charts chord sequences can be "auto-played", similarly to Band-in-a-Box or Garageband, which is a great practice tool for instrumentalists or vocalists. Actually, some users claim they even use the iReal Pro accompaniment playing live!

That being said, iReal Pro is not for everyone. The app has some serious limitations, e.g.only a closed proprietary file format is supported. This means that, though there are thousands and thousands of tunes available for download from the iReal Pro forum (not only jazz standards), if you are playing originals or other songs you are forced to buy also the Mac OSX application or try to input the chords via the rather awkward built-in editor. And worse, only fixed formatted chords can be used. There is no support for melodies, lyrics or freehand annotations - so if you need a flexible gig companion rather than a fellow student, start looking for something else. (Or maybe something in addition; please read on...)

The iReal Pro main screen is nice and clean, with the chord chart filling the screen except for the status bar (which is always visible). Tap once to show the action bar and playback controls. Chords are written in a sans serif font (not configurable) which is usually easy to read, but the app has a "four bars per line" convention and "single full screen" limitation that means some songs get very crowded. Strangely, this restriction is enforced also on tablet and in landscape mode so visually iReal Pro is really a case of one size fits all. Or not.

Creating and editing playlists is easy, as is swiping from one song to the next. Add a Bluetooth pedal to turn pages even quicker - but for some strange reason this works only on iOS. No AirTurn or PageFlip support on Android! (Unfortunately it is obvious that this app originates from the iOS, it definitely feels more at home on an iPad than on a modern Nexus tablet.)

Customer service is excellent. As this is a very popular app there is a large community on the iReal Pro forum, which not only contributes with new songs but also quickly answers most questions. The developers are also active on the forum as well as on the app's Facebook page.

Excellent for private practice, but depending on your needs it might not be the right choice for your gigs. Quite expensive, but not unreasonable given the advanced play-along engine. (Though, I have to question the in-app-purchases. These should really be included.)  If you can afford it, consider combining iReal Pro with Fakebook. The Fakebook app can show all the songs from iReal Pro (including the huge forum library) but it also allows import of PDFs, lyrics sheets or images and combines them all in playlists. Ideal for gigging!
iReal Pro - 4 stars -

(Tested: iReal Pro version 6.0.4 on Android, phone and tablet)

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