Enigmo Review

Enigmo Review

Oct 31, 2011

If you hop on the Android Market looking for a puzzle game, you won’t have any problem finding one. Thanks to the simple controls provided by touch screen devices, puzzle games have found a home on smartphones. In other words, Enigmo has a lot of competition. Fortunately, the game does a solid job of setting itself apart from the crowd.

As is the case with many puzzle games, the core concept behind Enigmo is simple. Each level has one (or more) colored jars dripping similarly colored water down, and your job is to move that water to another jar of the same color using a wide variety of items designed to bounce, absorb, or otherwise manipulate the water drops. As the drops fall, your potential score goes down, so you’ll want to think on your feet, and try to solve each puzzle as quickly as possible.

As you progress through the game, things get harder and harder. You’ll have to deal with multiple jars, and you’ll even have to hit a button with one jar’s water in order to activate another jar before you can take the water from that jar, and get it where it’s going. Some of the levels will really make you think, and you’ll find yourself feeling a sense of satisfaction just from finishing a level in some cases, even if you don’t score a single point for doing so.

Visually speaking, Enigmo looks pretty good. The designs for all the various elements of each level are easy to recognize no matter how far you zoom in or out. The high quality visuals make it all too noticeable that the same attention wasn’t given to the sound design. There’s no music, and the sound of water drops clanging on the various elements of each level gets real old real quick. In fact, before you start playing the game, just go ahead and pop open the settings menu and disable the sound. Trust us, you won’t be missing anything.

Despite the poor sound design, Enigmo is well worth your time and money. Each level will have you thinking on your feet, and each victory will provide you with a sense of satisfaction.

The Hills Are Greener: Apples and Androids

The Hills Are Greener: Apples and Androids

Oct 31, 2011

An infographic has been making its way around the web the past week showing the various Android phone’s that have been released and their hardware OS support. There’s nothing quite inaccurate about it, but there’s a subtext with many of Apple superiority because of OS support. A lot of these comparisons are apples to oranges, of course. First off, the definition of “major release” seems to be based solely on named Android releases to Apple’s yearly major releases, not counting any major point releases. It seems unfair to compare by major version releases when Android releases what are counted as major version releases more often than Apple does.But we’ll play along with the graphic in the terms it defines.

The thing to remember, though, is that Android and iOS are different in their very natures. iOS is a piece of Apple software, following Apple principles; it is designed to run on specific hardware. That is a big part of why the experience is often smoother. Android is designed to run on many, many forms of hardware, not just what Google has intended for it to run on. Yes, Google has their stock devices that run a pure Android, but Android is meant to be something bigger, and not as something tailored to one set of hardware. That Android is on the caliber of Android is impressive.

Tus, I find it hard to swallow the arguments of iOS supporters as to iOS being smoother – it is, but Apple’s also playing a different game. It’s difficult to say one way or the other if iOS would be as pleasant an experience if it had to work on disparate hardware like Android does. After all, Apple has always been about controlling what hardware their software runs on, from traditional computer operating systems to iOS now. Designing software for many types of hardware is more challenging, and it can explain many of the reasons why software isn’t as smooth. It has to be more generic and compatible, because it has to run on more types of hardware, and on many different resolutions. It just is not the same, conceptually.

As well, Apple is hardly innocent when it comes to device OS support. The original iPhone was not supported with iOS4 at all despite being practically identical in terms of hardware to the iPhone 3G. Oh, and iOS4 ran very poorly on older hardware, to boot. Then, Apple ditched the iPhone 3G and iPod touch 2nd Generation in sudden fashion with iOS 4.3. By the way, Apple sold a device, the 8 GB iPod touch 3rd Generation, which was no longer supported not 15 months later from the day it went on sale.

Guess there is a comparison between Apple and other hardware manufacturers: neither is perfect with long-term support.

Syncing Without Wires on a Mac

Syncing Without Wires on a Mac

Oct 31, 2011

With Apple’s iOS 5 comes wireless iTunes synchronization. This allows a user’s iOS device to wirelessly sync their movies, pictures, and music from their home computer and vice versa. This eliminates the need for cords and all the syncing goes on in the background, hiding it from the user. While there is no iCloud counterpart on Android quite yet, there are a few apps that come close. The most popular and probably the best is Winamp, but seeing that it’s only for Windows, this post looks at a few wireless media syncing software for the Mac/Winamp alternatives. 
The three apps being looked at are the popular DoubleTwist, simple TuneSync, and ambitious AudioGalaxy. All three of these apps offer different services but they all aim to basically do the same thing, offer a wireless way for you to sync or listen to the music on your computer on your phone. Seeing that all three require an application to be installed onto your Mac, that will be our jumping off point.

There couldn’t exist a bigger difference between the applications needed by DoubleTwist, TuneSync, and AudioGalaxy. The latter two offer small, menu bar applications that run in the background and one, TuneSync, only has two options in its drop down menu. This is a total contrast to the behemoth of a program that DoubleTwist requires. The DoubleTwist app aims to be an Android version of iTunes, and is just as bloated and somehow slower. The program lags and frequently locks up for 30 seconds at a time. If you want an application to solely sync music over to your phone using a cable, DoubleTwist is not the best option. A plus for DoubleTwist is its ability to AirPlay music to an Apple TV, Xbox 360, and PS3.

That said, DoubleTwist’s desktop app does serve its purpose and will get the job done. The paid AirSync add-on allows for your phone to appear on the list of devices even when not plugged into your computer. This lets you just drag and drop the files into your phone no matter where it is as long as its on the same network. It’s Android app is also a media player, which I found very impressive. Unlike DoubleTwist, TuneSync does not come with a media player, which is not really much of a problem because most Android users already have a media player of choice. TuneSync lets you sync specific playlists from iTunes wirelessly to your phone. This may seem restrictive but it is really the opposite. Simply make a playlist in iTunes then add and delete songs freely and TuneSync will update your phone accordingly. By doing this you bypass the middle man and do everything in a program you already use. If you are an Amazon MP3 user, this app also has the ability to put your purchases onto your computer as well.

Doesn't look pretty, but it doesn't have to.

Being a whole other monster, AudioGalaxy has no desktop media player but a decent web app. Instead of merely syncing files to your phone, AudioGalaxy uses your computer as a media hub, scanning your library and putting the information online for you to access at any time. The media streams off your computer over the internet to either your phone or another computer. The advantage here is you don’t need to pick and choose which songs to sync your whole library is available. The downside, obviously, is that your computer must be on and connected to the internet for this to work, and, if on 3G it will consume data. Songs can also be pegged for offline mode, which downloads the file to your phone. This process isn’t as efficient as either TuneSync or DoubleTwist but that’s not the main objective of this app. Still in the beta phase this web app shows a lot of promise once a few bugs are fixed.

When it comes to sync speed DoubleTwist is the fastest, with TuneSync coming in a close second, and AudioGalaxy obviously bringing up the rear. Even though downloading songs is not AudioGalaxy’s main feature, the fact that you are unable to check on a songs download progress is a head scratcher. Both DoubleTwist and TuneSync show download progress with TuneSync shown song by song progress while DoubleTwist just gives brief overview.

In conclusion, as usual, it just depends what you are looking for. My personal recommendation if I had to choose one is TuneSync because of its simplicity. I have a media player that I love (UberMusic, shameless plug I know) and doing everything through iTunes is much easier than using DoubleTwist’s problematic desktop app. Another point for TuneSync is that it can automatically sync when your phone is plugged into your computer. All three of these apps can work in great harmony by paying the 6 bucks and using TuneSync for syncing music, getting the free DoubleTwist mobile app for interacting with an Apple TV, PS3, or X-Box 360, and since AudioGalaxy is free, there’s no risk in trying it out, especially if the computer you use is a desktop.

Mars Defender: Space RPG Review

Mars Defender: Space RPG Review

Oct 28, 2011

Mars needs help! Well, not the planet itself, but the people who are living on it in the future, some 119 years from now. Humanity is branching out, occupying new places to live in the solar system. As you can imagine, however, not everything is peaceful and easy. As tensions rise and attacks escalate, you’ll find yourself in the midst of battle, going further into space to help keep the peace. It’s a difficult job, but it all starts with blasting space rocks.

In the beginning, you’re just a fresh recruit, learning the ropes and defending Mars from the small handful of incoming asteroids. But just because the first few levels are easy doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way. The game quickly increases in scope, offering you more difficult challenges, such as escorting freighter ships and fighting off enemy attackers. Even the simple task of clearing space debris becomes a challenge.

Between levels, you’re given a choice to pilot new ships, fight with better weapons and so forth. You’re even treated to the story as it unfolds, learning more about the conflict that’s going on and the role you play in it as fascinating events take place. However, one of the biggest challenges you’ll face is simply getting around without smacking into things.

You pilot your ship by sliding the control stick in the direction you want to go. It’s fairly easy. Want to go left, for example? Just move the stick left. The ship automatically rotates so that the thruster is pointing away from the direction you want to go. Once you’ve got that down, your fate is in the hands of Isaac Newton’s first law of motion. You know… “An object in motion tends to stay in motion,” and all that jazz. In other words, you’ll just keep on going until you either rotate your thruster in the opposite direction or you crash into something. Obviously, you’ll prefer to take the former action if you hope to do well in this game.

Of course, being in constant motion has other challenges. For one, the ship’s weapons only fire in the direction your ship is facing. Since you also fire thrusters when you shift the stick around, this makes it much harder to keep aim without changing your direction, or making tight maneuvers while bearing down on an enemy. The option to fire thrusters independently would have made a nice addition to the options menu, even if it meant adding an extra button to the user interface.

Mars Defender: Space RPG doesn’t really seem like much of an RPG, in the traditional sense. It takes on a very linear approach in favor of telling a story and limits you in terms of ship customization and character interaction. It’s just a series of levels with some choices as to which ship you prefer to use on each mission. It’s also lacking in replay value. Without any kind of arcade mode or leader boards, you’re just playing the game to get to the end. It’s a well done game, but very limited.


Freaky Friday – Fake Siri for Android

Freaky Friday – Fake Siri for Android

Oct 28, 2011

The Internet went ballistic when Apple announced Siri for iOS. Twitter blew up with all kinds of oddball questions that people wanted to ask this new computer overlord when it came out and now there is even a website dedicated to screenshots of the questions and replies people receive while playing with this new technology. It was only a matter of time before someone decided Android needed this same technology, but with way less functionality.

In case the title of the app doesn’t give it away, this is not the full-blown Siri technology. There is no asking the phone for directions to the local bar, this Siri will not look up recipes for apple pie, cannot tell anyone what the circumference of the sun is, or even translate English into Pig Latin. No, all this app will do is provide some weak, sometimes witty, answers to the questions that the user feeds it. What makes this worse is that it barely understands what it is asked and it pushes ads to the phone. The last I remember, Siri on iOS was not pushing ads for Tucks Medicated Pads on anyone.

Fake Siri is the blue ball app of the marketplace. Android users would enjoy a fully functional Siri of their own as the potential it has is unquestionable. However, only providing somewhat funny answers is just a waste of space when the power lies in having a phone serve as a personal Alfred. Adding insult to this is that the app cannot even adjust to different screen sizes and phones with smaller screens need to download a different version. That right there is just lazy programming.

Siri may be the humble beginnings of Skynet, but this version is the result of a programmer who lost interest when the job was half done, stole an app icon, and then hoped the bribe money they gave the boss was enough to allow this app to ship to the customer. Anyone looking for a good Android version of Siri should just avoid this app and hope someone else can bring the evil robotic overlords to our devices. Until then, the T-1000 revolution will wait another day.

Trick or Tracker Helps Parents Keep Track of Children on Halloween

Trick or Tracker Helps Parents Keep Track of Children on Halloween

Oct 28, 2011

Ah, Halloween, that magical time when kids explore the neighborhood, knocking on strangers’ doors in hopes of free candy. It’s a tradition that could definitely not be started up in modern times, what with the fear of “Stranger Danger” and the stigma of accepting candy from unknown people. Plus, everyone is in costume! What could go wrong?

Thankfully, for parents looking to let their kids continue this proud tradition while keeping them safe, there’s Trick or Tracker. This Android app (a tracker, not a trick) allows parents to see where their kids are. When the app is installed on both a parent and child’s phone, it allows for the child to be tracked easily from the parent’s phone. The parent can see where their child is, and can easily send a message via the app to the child. The app on the child’s phone is also quite functional: they can check where they are, send their location to their parents manually, and can see where their parent who set up the app is. There’s also a flashlight function I’m case of emergencies.

There are also a variety of automated features to help make tracking easier, with the ability to send out updates at periodic intervals automatically, to set up geo-fences and specific locations that will trigger alerts. While some of these features require the app to be used on an Android phone specifically, it is possible to check the child’s location using any Google Maps-capable OS, including iOS, BlackBerry, and Windows Phone 7.

Trick or Tracker is a themed version of Iconosys’ Latchkey Kid, Tether Together, and Guards Up services. The app is available right now, with a $4.99 cost for lifetime service. The app will work outside of just Halloween, Iconosys notes. The Trick or Tracker website will be giving away the app and service for free from 8:00am Eastern until the end of the day, as well. For parents who entrust their kids with smartphones, this is a potential solution for keeping an eye on them while letting them go out by themselves on Halloween.

Flick Golf Review

Flick Golf Review

Oct 27, 2011

Full Fat Games are back on Android with their take on golfing, Flick Golf! This game is not to be confuse with a realistic golfing simulation, though. The game is more of a target practice game using golf mechanics. The player simply flicks their finger upward to hit the ball, then flicks in midair change the spin of the ball. Landing the ball as close to the hole, if not in it entirely, is the goal. Getting close scores more points, and in timed modes, adds more time to keep going. The game has 3 modes: Quick Shot, where scoring as many points in 60 seconds is the goal; World Tour, where the player has 9 shots to score as highly as possible; Finally, there’s Quick Shot Pro, where holes are windier, bonuses are worth less, and players only start with 30 seconds on the clock.

The flick controls work very well and are part of the game’s fun, especially when flicking wildly to try to get a shot near the hole when the clock is about to hit zero in Quick Shot mode. It’s a fun pick up and play game. Also, the game runs letterboxed instead of stretching to fit the taller than 2:3 aspect ratio that the game was designed for. It’s barely noticeable, and it just looks better than when games are stretched.

The only real problem with the gameplay is that the “flick to add spin” mechanic becomes so integral to the game that the initial shot almost doesn’t even matter, as rapid flicking to spin the ball near the cup is required to make shots. Also, the courses are mostly the same, just with different themes. Some levels are windier, but that’s the biggest difference between courses, so things can get monotonous after a while.

Flick Golf can be a bit repetitive, but it has a fun control mechanic and will last long enough to make that dollar spent worthwhile.

Mobiroo Introduces Gift Card System for Android Apps

Mobiroo Introduces Gift Card System for Android Apps

Oct 27, 2011

One of the big issues with the Android Market, compared to iTunes, is the difficulty in giving things away on the store. There’s no kind of promo code or gift card system that Google offers for the apps, books, or movies they offer. This makes it more challenging for developers to distribute copies of their apps for review, and for friends to give gift cards to their Android-owning friends. As well, they enable users without credit cards to download items? For an iOS user, an iTunes gift card is a perfect gift, as it will not go unused. There just isn’t anything similar for Android.

While the issue of gifts on the Android Market specifically has not been solved, a startup named Mobiroo is trying to fill this void in their own way. They sell gift cards for apps for Android and Blackberry. These credits are not good for the Android Market or Blackberry App World specifically. Instead, users shop for apps from Mobiroo’s catalog. There are hundreds of apps available, including various titles from prominent publishers like Namco, EA Mobile, Polarbit, and more. Even apps like Root Explorer are available from Mobiroo’s library. Android users should not lack for interesting titles if they pick up one of these cards.

As far as availability, users in the US can buy them from Radio Shack and Target, and they are available from retailers in Canada, Europe, Mexico, Australia, and New Zealand. Sorry, Antarcticans. The cards can be redeemed from Mobiroo’s website, which then allows users to browse through the library on their device to choose the apps they wish to redeem. As well, the cards currently offer $5-$10 additional value on top of the sticker price.

Mobiroo is definitely exploiting a hole that Google has yet to fill; after all, a store like iTunes’ ubiquity is helped when gift cards can be purchased on a whim when at the grocery store. While getting the cards into more retailers and keeping up with the app library (along with the question of whether apps can be updated) is key, this is an intriguing start.

Theme Thursday – Tha Pumpkin and Tha Jack-o

Theme Thursday – Tha Pumpkin and Tha Jack-o

Oct 27, 2011

It might not be science-fiction, but this week’s Theme Thursday is definitely a double-feature!

If you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate Halloween with a theme for ADW Launcher and thought last week’s Tha Flesh was just a bit too extreme, Tha Pumpkin and Tha Jack-o are a lot more friendly.

First up, Tha Pumpkin carves up over 720 of the famous gourds into the easily identifiable shapes and symbols of apps for your Android device. It’s all the fun of digging into a pumpkin without any of the mess! And the best part is, they’ll never rot away. You can have the memory of happy Halloweens all year round.

Next, Tha Jack-o features more than 720 icons in the same unique style of Tha Pumpkin, but this time, illuminated from within. These spooky lanterns are just waiting to greet trick-or-treaters on a darkened doorstep, and you won’t have to worry about any nasty tricksters smashing them in the street, as they live right at home on your Android device. You don’t even need candles!

Each theme is built for ADW Launcher, a custom home screen utility that radically alters the graphical user interface of your Android phone or tablet. By switching to ADW Launcher, you can use these custom themes to quickly and easily change everything from icons to wallpapers and more, even the way the app drawer behaves can be easily changed! One caveat is that to use the custom docks included with these themes, you’ll need to purchase and install ADW Launcher EX, available on the Android Market for US$3.32 and includes many other features not available in the free version.

Tha Pumpkin and Tha Jack-o are each US$2.99 and available on the Android Market. However, you can download free versions of Tha Pumpkin and Tha Jack-o to see how you like them before purchasing. Happy Halloween!

Spider Jack Review

Spider Jack Review

Oct 26, 2011

When a game does well on one platform, the next logical step for the developer is to bring it to other platforms in hopes of increasing their profits. Spider Jack was originally published for the iPhone by Chillingo’s Clickgamer label, the same folks who published Angry Birds and Cut the Rope.

Spider Jack actually has a lot in common with Cut the Rope. Both games have you manipulating a character dangling from a string in various ways. While Cut the Rope has you doing a lot of, uhh, rope cutting, Spider Jack actually has you doing more rope climbing, and swinging. Spider Jack is out for some delicious flies, and in order to get at them, he’ll have to shoot web to various spots in the level, cut web in order to fall, and deal with obstacles like bubbles and blow dryers.

The core gameplay is actually extremely enjoyable. The gameplay mechanics are somewhat similar to those found in Cut the Rope, but there are enough differences, and additions to make Spider Jack feel like a unique and well-thought-out game.

So, remember that part where I said that Clickgamer shouldn’t have passed this game on to Chillingo? That’s because the Android version of Spider Jack crashes. A lot. When I say “a lot” I mean I had to try starting the game no less than six times before I was actually get all the way to a playable level. After two more levels, the game locked up, and dumped me out to the home screen. This happened time and again over the course of my time with the game, making it extremely difficult to play it for more than one or two levels at a time.

At first I thought that maybe there was a problem with my phone – the choppy gameplay, and constant crashes just seemed excessive. So, I checked out the reviews on the Android Market, and found that I wasn’t alone – there are a lot of negative reviews complaining of the exact same problems I was having.

If the game didn’t crash so often, it would actually be extremely enjoyable. As it stands, the game suffers from far too many issues to recommend it to anyone. If you still feel curious about it, try the demo version – if that runs on your phone, then pick up the full version. Just don’t expect it to run on your phone.

Sony Digital Network Applications Launches New Photo Gallery App

Sony Digital Network Applications Launches New Photo Gallery App

Oct 26, 2011

Sony Digital Network Applications has unveiled their latest app to interact with media on Android. While their previous works were designed around editing photos and videos, their newest app is designed around finding ways to organize the media users have created.

Picture Manager is designed as a complement and replacement to the Gallery app on users’ phones. A 2-pane view is used: on the left, users can choose the types of media they want to view, and on the right, thumbnails of the media appear. The app makes it easy to select multiple items at a time and apply labels and ratings to media for easier filtering. When trying to clean out photos and videos that are to be deleted, the multiple selection options make this a breeze, and there are also inverse checkmarking options, like if a certain number of items in a folder need to be labeled one way, and the rest a different way.

Media can be filtered and viewed by several criteria. The standard folder-by-folder view from the standard Gallery app is here, though this makes it easier to view subfolders that may contain images and videos. media can be viewed by labels that can be applied to it, so filtering vacation photos is possible, for example. They can also be filtered by rating, when one only wants to view the best shots they’ve taken! However, possibly the most useful filter is by date, so seeing photos taken at a particular time is easier than ever. It also serves as a great trip down memory lane at those photos I forgot I had taken!

Sony Digital Network Applications is launching more media management apps in the near future, including Video Connector, Photo Editor, and Photo Movie Creator HD. These will be coming in the next couple of months, so users looking to interact with their media in different ways have more options to look forward to soon.

Zombie Golf Riot Review

Zombie Golf Riot Review

Oct 26, 2011

Every year around this time hundreds of frightening apps flood the marketplace hoping to cash in on the Halloween hype. Among the horde this year is a game called Zombie Golf Riot. Despite its name, this game has nothing to do with golf or zombie defense. Instead it’s a crude zombie-themed version of the incredibly popular game Kitten Cannon. This game substitutes that adorable, tormented kitten with a severed zombie head propelled, not by a cannon, but a swing of your mighty chainsaw. Questionable logic aside, this game brings none of the addictive fun of its online counterpart.

If you’re not familiar with Kitten Cannon, it started as a flash game that allows you to shoot a small kitten out of a cannon toward an endless field of various objects; some launch you further and some will stop you in your tracks immediately, usually in a gruesome manner. It’s addictive fun that distracted me from more then one engineering lecture in high school.

Starting the list of major flaws is the awful physics system. Instead of adhering to the laws of the universe, the severed zombie head seems to accelerate away from you, slowly floating off your chainsaw, removing any feeling of power. In the same vein, the sense of speed in this game is off. One of the big thrills of Kitten Cannon is seeing hundreds of objects fly by after hitting a big target, but here the sense of insane speed is never conveyed enough to get you excited. Also, the items to boost you are spread very thin along your path. A huge majority of your tries ends up in two bounces and a roll, which is very unsatisfying.

I think my Game Boy Color had better graphics.

To boot, the whole game is accompanied by the constant moan of some unseen mass of zombies as well as the grind of your chainsaw. The zombies never change pitch and the sound bring up nothing but frustration and annoyance instead of fear and dread.

I would suggest anyone to steer clear of this app, even zombie fanatics. There just isn’t anything to make this app recommendable for download except that it’s free.