vinspired Brings Volunteering Opportunities Directly to British Young Adults’ Phones

vinspired Brings Volunteering Opportunities Directly to British Young Adults’ Phones

May 31, 2011

So here’s a quandary: what do we do with all these teens and young adults that can’t put down their phones? They’re constantly Facebooking, tweeting, and Angry Birding on their phones, and too busy to notice the real world around them. Well, over on the other side of the pond, British young volunteer service v, and their web initiative vinspired have an ingenious solution to try and get more teens and young adults to volunteer and help out their community, as well as their resumes and curriculum vitae – a smartphone app, which is now available for Android.

This app allows for young Brits to look up volunteering opportunities “with nearly 1000 charities and community organisations.” It is possible for users to look up the closest opportunities to them based on their postcode or to locate by way of GPS, so they don’t have to go very far to volunteer. Each opportunity has a list of details, times, and even photographs. As well, there are even opportunities for users to do good things from the comfort of their own homes, like helping to prevent cyberbullying (which is apparently just as much a hot button issue overseas as it is here; we’re not so different after all!)

The app also logs completed opportunites so users can keep track of them for use on their resumes, and frequent volunteers can even apply for awards through v. The Android app has also been reviewed with one of my favorite Android Market user reviews I’ve ever read, as “Hannah” describes vinspired’s Android app as “A proper androidy android app that looks lush and works like it should.” I’ve never thought of describing an app as ‘lush’, but that’s why I’m not British. In all seriousness, though, making it easier for young people to find these opportunities through the technology that they already use is a good thing; other organizations could take a cue from what vinspired is trying to do. The vinspired app is now available for free from the Android Market.

Robotek Review

Robotek Review

May 31, 2011

What would you do if evil robots took over the world? Build giant robots of your own to fight back, utilizing obscure slot machine technology to select your armies, attacks and buffs? If you answered yes to that, then Robotek is the game for you. Heck, even if you answered “no,” you’ll probably still enjoy it.

Robotek is a strategy game by stealth; you build units, choose whether to attack or defend and protect your own power source from your opponents attacks. The game is turn-based, and at the start of your turn you choose one of three types of action – build, attack and hack. Once you’ve chosen your desired action, you spin the wheel and the game randomly assigns you three actions of that type.

For example, if you chose to attack your opponent, you might end up with a laser shot, a microwave charge and an electrical burst. If you’re lucky, your spin might land on three of the same symbols. Not only does that unleash a hyper powered version of the attack, buff or unit, it also lets you spin the wheels again, allowing for more carnage.

Robotek has a look all of its own, and it’s one that deserves special praise – the game is beautiful. From the menus to the world map where you choose your next mission, from the delicious bursts of light when you destroy an opponent to the simple symbols that show what actions you can perform, everything about the game is a visual delight. The sound too is remarkable – Robotek is clearly a labor of love by some hugely talented individuals.

Some might not like the in-app purchase system that the game uses – it’s perfectly possible to finish the game without spending a penny, but the purchases give you a better chance, as well as opening up the multiplayer component of the game. That’s a minor grumble though, because this is a game that’s more than worth paying for.

Robotek is a wonderful little title, that really shows off the creativity and innovation of the team behind it. It finds the perfect balance between action and strategy, presents itself in a unique and breathtaking way and, perhaps more importantly, is a barrel load of fun. Hexage and Robotek have set the bar, it’s now up to the rest of the developers on the Android Market to try and catch up.

PrivacyStar Announces SMS ID and Directory Assistance for Their Android App

PrivacyStar Announces SMS ID and Directory Assistance for Their Android App

May 31, 2011

PrivacyStar have recently announced a series of new features for their Android app to help users stay protected from harassing phone calls and SMS messages. The two new features that have been added to the PrivacyStar suite of features are SMS ID and Directory Assistance. SMS ID allows for users to look up text messages from unknown senders, so that they can find out the source of the message, and block the sender from sending future messages. AS well, Directory Assistance allows for users to look up the names of businesses and individuals through PrivacyStar. CEO of PrivacyStar Jeff Stalnaker says “More and more consumers are receiving text messages from numbers that are not in their address book and are forced to figure out the sender based solely on the content, but PrivacyStar has solved that problem for our subscribers. Additionally, PrivacyStar subscribers can utilize the Directory Assistance feature to easily locate places and map directions from wherever they may be at that moment. The PrivacyStar Directory Assistance is unique compared to others because it does not track your location or activity and sell it to marketers.”

These new features are in addition to PrivacyStar’s already included features, including call blocking of individual numbers, area codes, all private/unknown numbers, and wild card characters. SMS messages can be blocked using these filters as well. PrivacyStar also offers Caller ID services for unknown numbers and caller lookup of unknown numbers. There is a SmartBlock feature, referencing a crowdsourced database of PrivacyStar users to automatically block frequently blocked numbers. They also offer a Do Not Disturb mode, the ability to directly report telemarketing and debt collection violations, and the ability to access PrivacyStar features and account management from any web browser.

PrivacyStar’s app is available for Android as well as BlackBerry; this is not available for iOS due to the way that PrivacyStar integrates with the OS. The app is available for free with a 7-day free trial, but costs $2.99/month for continued service. There are also discounted annual and semi-annual options, along with the ability to add the subscription directly to the phone bill of many phone carriers. The PrivacyStar app is available on the Android Market.

Kilgamore Castle Review

Kilgamore Castle Review

May 31, 2011

Abusing animals isn’t cool. Can you imagine the outcry if I put my dog in a diver’s helmet and made him charge around, smashing obstacles with his head? I’d be arrested and thrown in jail. And I don’t even have a dog. That’s why it’s good that video games exist, because they allow us to do things we’d normally get in heaps of trouble for.

Kilgamore Castle is an Arachnid clone, or more accurately, an Arkanoid evolution. A cross between Breakout and a career in archaeology, it casts you as Ernest Pucklington, an aging adventurer whose best days are behind him. Instead of hanging up his adventuring shoes though, he enlists the help of his dog Barney and ventures out to the titular castle, in search of treasure.

There are quests to complete and a variety of different levels, each with their own challenge, to complete. The gameplay evolves as you move through the game, sometimes requiring you to light candles, other times to drop bombs or collect specific items that somehow fall down the screen, even though it’s a flat plane.

The game isn’t the best looking out there, but it’s by no means ugly. Its sounds too are perfectly adequate. Kilgamore Castle is one of the growing number of games available on the Android Market that do everything they set out to do and not one iota more. That’s not a complaint, so much as an observation; sometimes you don’t want innovation, just something relaxing to while away a few spare minutes.

There’s nothing wrong with Kilgamore Castle, but at the same time, there’s nothing about it that will grab your attention. It’s enjoyable enough, but there are plenty of other games out there that are more worthy of your time and attention. If you stumble across the app whilst browsing the Android Market, then downloading and playing it will do you no actual harm, indeed, you might draw from it some nostalgic enjoyment, but in the end, it’s an experience that’s remarkably easy to forget.

TinyCo Announces $5 Million TinyFund for Independent Game Development, Including for Android Games

TinyCo Announces $5 Million TinyFund for Independent Game Development, Including for Android Games

May 31, 2011

TinyCo, a mobile game developer largely known for their free-to-play titles on iOS, have announced the TinyFund, consisting of $5 million that will go toward “game developers creating any type of game played on iPhone, iPad or Android including paid and free titles.” As their blog post about the TinyFund explains, developers who are selected will receive up to $500,000 per title, along with “marketing, development and business support.” They also claim that these games will get “access to TinyCo’s large and rapidly growing user base,” with over 20 million downloads to TinyCo’s credit. Developers can apply now with TinyCo to receive funding for their titles.

While Android development is not the sole focus of the prize, companies that are willing to put money toward the development of more Android games is only good for the Android gaming market. There is a quandary in making games for Android, with a lack of original titles for the platform. A company willing to throw money around to start to make this a realistic possibility is only a good thing, if it can help out those independent developers looking to exploit Android’s growing userbase, but without the resources to undergo potentially risky projects.

Of course, the TinyFund does include iOS as well, so this likely won’t lead to a dozen new original Android games suddenly popping up. However, iOS is a very crowded platform as it is for gaming, and that’s because it can be very lucrative, and Android hasn’t shown to be worth the risk yet. For the sake of the fledgling gaming market on Android, I can only hope that interested Android developers take advantage of the TinyFund’s possiblities, and that TinyCo takes a risk on Android development. While they obviously have people to answer to, having received $18 million in funding earlier this year, the Android gaming nut could definitely be cracked by them if interesting projects are selected.

Source: The Android Site

Maths Of The Dead Review

Maths Of The Dead Review

May 30, 2011

Zombies are everywhere nowadays, chomping their way through your friends, neighbors, pets and loved ones. You’ve killed them with shotguns, bombs, typing, and physics, but now it’s time to really stick it to the undead – now it’s time to kill them with math.

Maths Of The Dead is a quirky little title that casts you in the role of a super intelligent monkey. You’re placed behind a keyboard and zombies of various different shapes and sizes are shambling towards you, intent on feasting on your succulent monkey flesh. Each of the zombies has a simple equation above their head; type in the right answer and the zombie falls down re-dead.

It’s a simple premise, borrowed slightly from Sega’s re-imagining of their House of The Dead series of games as a typing tool. The zombies here are cutesy and non-threatening and the monkey is delightfully deranged. The music is frivolous, the sound effects hilarious and the whole package just screams “fun”.

The typing interface is a little unwieldy, and sometimes you can find yourself accidentally typing in huge strings of numbers when you keep getting things wrong, but other than that, there are no huge problems with the game itself. The difficulty could do with a bit of tweaking, and a few more sums could do to be thrown into the mix, but these are minor complaints; this is a loveable bundle of simian versus zombie fun, and who can’t enjoy that?

Maths Of The Dead is one of those rare games that actually makes learning fun. Zombies may be omnipresent nowadays, but it’s nice to see someone trying something a little different with them, even if that something different is just a riff on another game. It’s hard not to play Maths of The Dead with a smile on your face, even when things get tough – it’s a well built, hugely enjoyable little title that proves you don’t need flashy graphics and sky high production values to make a good game.

The Hills Are Greener: The End of Emulation

The Hills Are Greener: The End of Emulation

May 30, 2011

The halcyon days of the Android Market being open to emulators and other apps of sketchy legality may be ending. Months after PSX4Droid was removed, now one of the most prolific emulator developers for the Android Market has had their catalogue of emulators removed from the Android Market. Of course these emulators are not disappearing in their entirety; they’re going to appear in a third-party app store for Android, and APKs will endlessly float around the internet forever. They just will be that much harder to obtain by the average user.

This brings a slight air of legitimacy to the Android Market – no longer having emulators, which while being technically legal, are pretty much meant to be used for piracy purposes. Removing these is a big step toward making the Market seem like less a hive of scum and piracy like it has earned the reputation of being. Plus, while there are a lot of great games being made by mobile developers, many of them do struggle to match the quality of the best games of the 8 and 16-bit era, and if the average user could easily download the apps and files to play those games for free, how could the average Android developer compete? I doubt the plight of the average game developer will be alleviated right away, but this does not hurt at all.

Of course, it does feel like Google is just doing this in part because they’re starting to get in bed with bigger corporate partners with big copyrights they want protected; Sony sure doesn’t want the Playstation Suite games competing with an emulator that is on the official app distribution mechanism for Android. Free is hard to compete with, after all. While it’s doubtful Nintendo would ever release anything for Android, they sure don’t want people pirating their games when they can sell them on the Virtual Console on their other platforms.

Between this and their move to block rooted devices from Android movie rentals, Google is starting to show that they’re willing to get in bed with the big content holders – and they’re willing to start cleaning up the Market’s previous Wild West reputation in order to bolster Android’s mainstream profile. The emulators are just the first part of the equation. They’re on the steps to becoming like Apple. These are baby steps, but they are definitely steps toward the direction of their biggest competitor in the mobile space – for better or for worse.

Reiner Knizia’s Cluster Master Review

Reiner Knizia’s Cluster Master Review

May 30, 2011

I have to admit, I have no idea who Reiner Knizia is. Even after I ran a search on his name through Wikipedia, I came up blank; I’ve never heard of or played any of his games. In a way, that’s good, because it means I enter into this review without any preconceived notions. On the other hand, I hope his other games are much better than Cluster Master, because this one is kind of a dud.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Cluster Master isn’t a bad game, but it’s not a great game, either. The main goal is to rack up a huge score by matching colored tiles on a hexagonal playing field. So far, it’s not exactly blazing any trails. Where the game starts getting a little different is in the placement of the tiles.

The tiles are arranged in patterns that can make placing them a big challenge. The idea is to match up 3 or more in a “cluster” to make them disappear. However, the game never really explains how this mechanic works. As a result, you end up placing tiles in clusters of 4, 5, 6 and more, and they never disappear. As you run out of room, your frustration grows. Why aren’t these tiles disappearing?

It turns out, some tiles have gems in the shape of hearts, clovers and water drops on them. You have to watch for the tiles that sparkle so you know where to place them. This allows you to set up some big combos, as the tiles won’t disappear until you place the correct gem.

Further separating Cluster Master from similar games is the addition of “coins” that you can use to unlock certain powers in the game, like extra time, tiles, etc. Depending on the mode you’re playing, these powers come in very handy, as running out of time and space ends the game. My favorite mode has been “Stress” mode. You’re short on time and have to work fast to get as many points and time as possible.

Aside from the unusual gem matching game mechanic, which I’m coming to appreciate the more I play the game, there’s a slight graphical problem. The game was either designed for a screen that is slightly wider, or shorter, than mine. As a result, it looks slightly stretched, or squeezed, depending on your view. It’s a minor issue, but it’s a bit sloppy if the developers knew about the problem and left it in.

Another problem I encountered was slightly unresponsive controls that made it difficult to drag tiles correctly. This is a problem when time is tight and you have to repeat the same movement before getting it right.

Cluster Master may not be the most innovative game on the Market, but the additional strategy required does help it stand out from the crowd of similar, “match 3″ style games that are so ubiquitous. It’s a solid puzzle game, and the additional modes should offer enough variations on the game to keep it fresh for when you’re in the mood to play something a little different from the standard mode.

Lodsys Targets Android Developer About In-App Purchases

Lodsys Targets Android Developer About In-App Purchases

May 30, 2011

If Android developers thought that they were safe from the wrath of notorious patent holding firm Lodsys, it appears as if they are not. Lodsys has sent at least one Android developer a notice of patent infringement in regards to in-app purchase. The short version of the story so far is that Lodsys has a patent that they claim covers in-app purchases, and has deals with Apple, Google, and Microsoft to cover their in-app purchases as well. However, Lodsys has started to attempt to sue individual developers in an attempt to claim licensing fees from them, claiming that the parent companies licensing in-app purchase technology does not cover individual developers licensing them as well.

The first Android developer to have been affected by Lodsys’ seeming trolling of individual developers is an anonymous Android developer named “markusn82,” who recently posted to the Android Discuss Google Group. He claims that “We recently implemented in-app purchases for our Android application and several weeks later we received a letter from Lodsys, claiming that we infringed on their patents.” This is similar to developers like Villain, makers of the FPS Archetype for iOS, who have received similar notices recently.

Apple came out and sternly defended their developers using in-app purchases, claiming that Lodsys cannot double dip on license payments for this patent, as Apple’s license should cover individual developers using in-app purchases in their apps. However, this may not mean that Apple will provide any legal defense or services to any developers afflicted by Lodsys’ notices. With Google having recently launched an official in-app purchase mechanism, it will be interesting to see if they are as willing to defend their developers, at least in word if not in action, as Apple proved to be. As well, it will be interesting to see if Lodsys targets any more Android developers. Time will tell, and if any Windows Phone 7 developers are targeted as well.

Freaky Friday – Your Rhythms

Freaky Friday – Your Rhythms

May 27, 2011

For this week’s Freaky Friday app, not only have we ventured into the far flung reaches of the Android Market, we’ve also strode out into the realms of utter nonsense. You see, some apps make it onto our rundown of the ridiculous because they’re weird, some make it because they’re scary; Your Rhythms makes it because it spews out unrelenting gibberish.

Your Rhythms is an app that calculates your biorhythms. For example, today my intellectual rhythm is at -8%, but my aesthetic rhythm is at +92%. Yay? Your Rhythms never troubles itself with explaining what biorhythms are, or what the calculations mean – it just gives you numbers and an interchangeable graph.

Want to know how spiritual you’re going to be today? Then just type in your date of birth and Your Rhythms will let you know. Except it won’t, of course, because it’s just peddling a bunch of made up statistics and claiming that they will have some sort of reference to your real life.

According to the app, my awareness is very high today, which is good, but in the next few days, it’s going to reach one hundred percent. In my head, that means I’ll become some sort of super hero, with awareness so acute that I can predict disaster before it strikes. Unfortunately though, at the same time my emotions are going to hit rock bottom, so I’ll be a sad super aware hero.

The suggestion that anything at all can be calculated from a person’s date of birth, except their age, is frankly ludicrous. Add to that an app that is on the hideous side of ugly, does nothing to explain or ingratiate itself and is, to all intents and purposes, nothing more than some wiggly lines, and you’ll understand why Your Rhythms has earned its place amongst the parade of the perplexing.

That said, my intuition is pretty low at the moment, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about.

Your Rhythms is available now, for free, from the Android Market.

AndroXplorer Review

AndroXplorer Review

May 27, 2011

NOTE: This review is based off version 3, available from AndroXplorer’s website. This and the Android Market version are identical, except version 3 contains the ability to archive and encrypt files, by purchasing a license key. A license key was provided by the developer for the purposes of this review.

AndroXplorer is yet another file system explorer for Android phones. Offering access to a device’s internal memory (which requires root access), internal and external SD cards, and network SMB shares. As well, a list of programs with the ability to back them up is also offered. The app’s real kick is its ability to back up files into archives, including zip, 7zip, and a wide variety of other formats, with plenty of encryption available.

This is a very powerful app. There are plenty of features, and it is very feature-comparable with other file managers available on the OS. The app makes it extremely easy to make archives, so for users who use their Android device to manage a lot of files directly, the archival options of the full version (available via registration key on the developer’s website) could really come in handy. This could be especially useful for people looking to replace their computers, or at least some of the tasks their computers would do, with an Android device. As well, the app’s ability to switch between 3 different panes by swiping between them makes it very easy to copy files from one location to another, whether it be between phone directories, or between a networked server and the phone.

The problem with AndroXplorer is that while it is feature-packed, it is very much steeped in user-unfriendliness. Many features are presented, but they are never explained in the app itself. For example, the network feature is never explained as to what protocol it supports within the app, I had to go to the website’s user guide to figure this out. As well, there is a wide variety of options available with mounting, but nothing that is ever quite explained in the app. An operation that is not quite obvious is that when choosing files to extract from zipped archives, it is required to then do the Paste operation to extract the archive to the location given. This is the same with backing up of apps; sadly, data cannot be backed up by AndroXplorer.

AndroXplorer is a powerful file manager, and one that will satisfy those looking to manage their files. The free version is worth checking out, especially as the interface starts to become more familiar, the app becomes more and more useful. It’s just getting past that initial state of confusion that is AndroXplorer’s biggest drawback. While I wouldn’t find myself using the advanced archival and encryption options regularly, for power users, the $15 license key may be worth it for direct Android file archival, if this is necessary.

Pay Anywhere Introduces Mobile Credit Card Processing for Android

Pay Anywhere Introduces Mobile Credit Card Processing for Android

May 27, 2011

The beauty of smartphones is their flexibility – they can do so many things from productive activities like email and document editing to entertainment like videos and games, to whatever tweeting would be classified as. One of the latest unexpected applications for smartphones, has been their use as credit card payment processors. The convenience of these are astounding – now retailers do not need specialized equipment to take payments. It also makes perfect sense for short-term installations as well; just last year at Comic-Con, I was able to use my credit card to buy a t-shirt from rap sensation MC Frontalot at his booth, as he used an app on his phone to take my credit card info.

The problem was that he had to manually input the data on there himself – this naturally is more time-consuming (and a potential security risk, although MC Frontalot did not wipe out my bank account) than just being able to swipe the card. This has become the logical next step in mobile payment processing, and several companies are stepping into the fold to make this a reality. One of those, with an accessory of their own, is Pay Anywhere.

Pay Anywhere offers free signups for users to their service, and also offers a free credit card reader, although cards can be manually keyed in from day one from within the app. The hardware card reader connects through the headset/mic port for Android devices, similar to the Square card reader. This means that it should have compatibility with most devices that have microphone input through the headphone port. Pay Anywhere claims to have lower rates than other competitors, also claiming to be the only mobile payment processor with card security through North American Bancard. The Android version of Pay Anywhere is available now, with the card reader available from Pay Anywhere for free.