[APP] ZeroBlock – confusingly addictive

Posted on March 9, 2014

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It’s no secret I’m a long-time Blockchain.info user. But it’s only recently I paid any real attention to ZeroBlock, the mobile app and site that Blockchain.info acquired back in January. I installed it on my Samsung S3 Mini the other day, and figured it was worth a write up. Drop me a comment if I’ve missed anything, or if you’ve been using it and feel I’m completely wrong šŸ™‚

Firing up the ZeroBlock app gives you a handy overview of the state of Bitcoin right now.

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The first time it runs, the app gives you a Dollar view onto an exchange (I forget which). Being UK-based, my first thought is always whether an app supports Pounds Sterling at all. So let the random clicking begin.

At this point, you notice that ZeroBlock is one of those apps that prefers a hermetic sense of self-contained simplicity. My usual jabbing of the menu button on my phone does nothing, which means it’s either a really basic app, or the interaction happens elsewhere. A quick poke of the $ symbol and we’re away – I’m looking at a Euro rate and the game is afoot.

I can understand the need appeal of navigation based on element and gesture – rather than ‘traditional’ interaction such as menus and buttons. Especially with the diverse Android ecosystem that David Attenborough would be proud to delve into. But it ain’t half confusing jumping between apps. Jakob Nielsen would be reaching for the red pens.

Anyway, exploring tech is one of those things any good user should do. A few more jabs and I’ve run through different currency rates at the 4 exchanges supported (Coinbase, btc-e, bitstamp, btcchina). Nothing else on the screen does much except fall off the bottom. But trying to scroll down to see it does reveal something new, as everything shifts upwards and gets replaced:

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A bit weird, instinct says it’s some kind of calculator, but it has notifications. And the number selections are pretty limited. Oh riiiight, it’s a price alert setup thingy. With one of those annoying boolean on/off texts which could be a status, could be a “press to do this” action. Ugh, I hate them. They’re like DVD menus with two choices and you’re not sure which one is selected or unselected.

A bit of playing seems to indicate that “Push Notifications On” means they are actually on, and you can jab the text to turn them off. A bit more playing gets notifications to work, but only while the app is running, I think. Ah well, I never use alerts anyway – I like my sleep.

So there’s a ‘map’ to this app then, you can slide between screens like an old school Zelda game.

[Pause while I go off and play old school Zelda game for a month.]

I like this. There’s an excitement in discovering where you can move to. Followed by an acceptance that the ‘map’ is just a plain old cross, centred on the start screen. Makes sense, I guess.

From the initial status screen, flicking up gives you a handy calculator in the currently-chosen exchange/currency. Here’s a conversion for a random pint of beer:

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Sliding to the left gives a slightly weird chart showing recent data from MtGox. As Gox is off the radar now, and the chart kicks up graphical glitches updating, I think it’s safe to say we can skip this screen for now. Here’s a screenshot though:

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Finally, and I’ve saved my favourite for last, a twitch to the right shows you a list of latest posts from various news feeds – mostly bitcointalk.org and reddit’s /r/Bitcoin feed due to the amount of traffic. This gives you a good overview of what’s happening across the net right now. (You can also see the feed on blockchain.info’s home screen.)

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This week the feed was pretty saturated with posts about Dorian Nakamoto, but at least altcoin chatter is filtered out. I’m finding this view really useful, and what I mainly use ZeroBlock for. Instant zeitgeist, baby!

Selecting a story loads it in the app, and the ‘info’ icon gives you some options:

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My Android instinct kicks in here – pressing ‘back’ on my phone doesn’t go to the news list as I’m used to in my feed reader. Instead the app closes, due to all actions being handled in screen – in other words, there is no ‘back’ action in ZeroBlock. You just have to tap the link title at the top of the screen to close the Web view.

Accidentally closing the app brings up another thing to note – there are a fair few app crashes happening on my phone. These usually rear their head on start up or switching back to the app, so I guess it’s something to do with loading the news feed, but restarting the app usually works fine.

Battery-wise, ZeroBlock is a bit of a pig – but inline with its twinned constant updates of exchange rates and news. That’s the price you pay for immediacy.

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Overall, ZeroBlock is a cute, slightly odd creature. Once you use it for a while it makes its own sense, with some really handy features rolled into a small package.

Verdict: Keep.

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Posted in: Reviews