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Sparkle 1.2.3 review: Mac-friendly web design app needs a bit more luster

Nathan Alderman | June 29, 2015
In the field of Mac web design programs, River SRL's Sparkle 1.2.3 (Mac App Store link) lands between Blocs' do-it-for-me ease and Macaw's free-form flexibility. Like a raw gemstone fresh from the mine, Sparkle's still a bit rocky from some angles. But with a few extra facets, it could really shine.

Sparkle's live preview feature worked well, instantly applying changes made within the program to the page as rendered in my browser. It'll open your page in Safari, Firefox, and/or Chrome automatically if you have those browsers installed, and give you a local address to preview your work on any device connected to your network.

One section of Sparkle's online help guide remained unfinished as of my testing, but I found the rest clear and well-written. It helped me get up to speed with the program quickly, and left me with very few questions.

A few lackluster flaws

Sparkle gets so many things right that I found its stumbles surprising. Compared to Macaw and even Blocs, it either lacks or limits your ability to adjust some incredibly basic CSS styles. You won't find any controls for padding, for instance, and you can only apply and adjust borders on every sides of an object, instead of specifying thicknesses or colors on individual sides.

While you can customize text styles for preexisting tags, or create your own (a definite plus), you can't create classes for buttons or other elements. Even its text styles don't include background colors, borders, or text shadows, and there's no way to edit active, hover, or focus states for anything but buttons or pulldown menus. Like Macaw and Blocs, Sparkle doesn't yet support rudimentary HTML elements like bullet-pointed lists or tables, and there's no built-in support for adding your own jQuery or other custom scripting.

Sparkle's implementation of responsive design--making sure sites adjust to look good on any size screen--seems inspired at first, but quickly starts feeling half-baked.

Unlike Macaw, which lets you specify precise pixel breakpoints, Sparkle offers five convenient preset sizes: widescreen, PC, vertical tablet, and horizontal and vertical phone. You can enable or disable any of those views, and once you've established a basic design in one view, Sparkle will do its best to scale it up or down for others. That's considerate in theory, but leads to incredibly tiny text in practice.

When I started moving elements around at smaller sizes to create a more reader-friendly layout, I often found my original, larger-sized designs changed in strange ways, especially when working with objects I'd pinned to every page. Elements would move to places I hadn't put them, get grouped in ways I hadn't intended, or just vanish entirely. Sparkle's smart enough to warn you when a change made at once size might affect other views, but I wish it would help you avoid those problems altogether.

I found only a few glitches with the program itself during my testing, none serious. Occasionally, background images would become garbled, and the menu to pick and add fonts sometimes slowed down for a few seconds. Beyond that, I can't quibble with the quality of Sparkle's coding.


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