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Compressed data has been the norm in computers forever. Crunching down files without losing fidelity and being able to decompress them later in perfect condition? Great idea. And with data caps being placed on mobile users, compressed files can only grow in importance. But RAR, ZIP, TAR, 7Z, GZIP? It's an alphabet soup awaiting you out there. You don't want to buy five different apps to handle every format, and Apple hasn’t gone native on this. So what are your options?
Download Manager Pro ($1.99)
We suppose you could put DY Software's Download Manager Pro on your iPad if you wanted, thought it only comes officially in an iPhone/iPod touch flavor, so that won't improve the experience. And it wouldn’t make much difference as this was the least slick least capable of our unpackers.
With its bare bones interface that mysteriously uses a big fat Microsoft "e" to indicate the Internet, this app tries to make use of the small screen space and comes off the worse for it. On the Browser page, navigation controls are right on the viewing part of the screen, so all too frequently you tap content instead of control. And that's how you use this app: navigate to a page with something you want to download and try to download it.
See That Green Arrow? That's How You Navigate. Blech.
We say “try” because when we were finally able o get somewhere, Download Manager Pro would crash. And crash. And crash. Or even better, freeze. Plus, the only way to get to files is through navigation. There’s no integration with third parties or any cloud storage. No, instead you navigate your way to Dropbox.com, log in, find your file, and download from there. Or wherever.
We Could Download But Not Open Often
And what happened when we got our compressed files? Well, we tested the four main types (RAR, ZIP, TAR, and 7Z) and Download Manager Pro could only handle the first two. As newer compression models begin to crowd the market, we expect our apps to keep up.
Dan Leehr L.L.C.'s Filer rocked it universal style, and the app maker took good care to give both platforms similar but different flavors. The iPad version makes good use of the space, while the iPhone iteration crowds things in the best they can.
You start off with pre-loaded help files, but things are pretty well designed as far as navigation. Most of your buttons run along a bottom row in the iPhone and they're fairly self-explanatory. From the up top Menu button on the iPad, you get a drop down with a list of files and three buttons across the top.
It Can't Do Anything With the Format Though
The Download button takes you to a browser, View shows you the files you've already downloaded, and Edit lets you delete and move files. At the bottom, are the familiar gear wheel for settings and the plus sign to add repositories. Filer comes up a little shy here with only Dropbox, MobileMe, and WebDAV as possible choices. But it's a nice stable release with a pleasing interface.
While we'd like to see more sources baked in, navigation wasn't too tricky with the browser, though when there, make sure you have the Browse and not the Download button highlighted. Otherwise the app will download any link you tap on and load up your file list with plenty of unnecessary HTML pages.
While Filer handled RAR, TAR, and ZIP with no trouble, the increasingly popular 7Z proved unrecognizable and unopenable, though Filer does boast Gzip unpackability. And files, once uncompressed, gave us prompts to open them in other apps such as iBooks or GoodReader.
If Only We Could Export to the iPod from Any App
A little on the limited side, still Filer offers impressive use and control without too many hangups.
The most robust of our three, De Voorkant's universal iUnarchive boasts integration with MobileMe, Dropbox, Box.net, Google Docs, WebDAV, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, and any other configurable IMAP or POP3 email. That's a pretty impressive set up. If only the name was easier to say.
Now That's What We Call Integration
What iUnarchive does lack is fancy design and and navigation. While opening Google Docs, for instance, iUnarchiver delivers up your files in alphabetical order with no possibility of sorting. That 100th file, the one that starts with a V? Yeah, you'll be flicking through screens to get there. At the very least, iUnarchiver does keep folders at the top of your list, so make sure everything is orderly on the cloud service end and you'll have no difficulty.
The other place we'd like to see navigation fixed is when opening a compressed folder with multiple documents. Say you've uploaded a ZIP file of photos you want to view. You download to your iPad, unzip, and are presented with a list of photos. Tap to open one photo and you're good. But to get to the next photo, you have to tap the My Files button on the left, tap the name of the photo folder, then tap the second picture in the list. The navigation panel should retain what folder you're in, and hopefully that will be fixed in an upgraded.
Be Sure Not to Download the Page, But Look at the Options
But that's small potatoes compared to packing in all the cloud services the way this app does. We had no trouble using our cloud services to really push our iPad toward super productivity. Plus, this app opened every compression we pushed at it, then let us ZIP our files to upload to any of our linked cloud services.
Plays Nice With Exporting
iUnarchive did have a browser like the other apps, but it proved problematic to use and frequently hung up. Visit a site like 4shared or RapidShare and the app looped itself into a pop up ad from which there was no extracting it. That’s a shame and makes the browser virtually unusable.
Unzipping Nice and Easy: The Verdict
While Filer boasted the best navigation and most eye-pleasing design, it couldn't manage as many file types as iUnarchive and cost two dollars more to boot. The browser was by far the best of the three on Filer and if they add more cloud integration and more compressed file types it'd definitely be our winner. But for the time being, iUnarchiver takes the cake, zips it up, and deposits it in our Dropbox account.