Voxer Walkie Talkie Review

Voxer Walkie Talkie Review

Jan 31, 2012

Every day technology gives me new and better and more exciting ways to communicate with the people in my life. But it does of course come at a cost. Phoning people costs paid minutes, and texting costs to send and receive. There are also times when I need to impart a lot of information to someone but either don’t want to type it all out on my phone, or don’t want to disturb them with a phone call. Wouldn’t it be nice to leave a voice mail but skip the step of calling their phone?

Voxer markets itself as a walkie-talkie app for phones. Essentially it offers users the opportunity to leave messages for their friends that can be retrieved any time the recipient is free to do so. Messages can be text, but the better feature is the voice option. Hold down the button and talk freely into the microphone. No need to save the message – as soon as the record button is released the message is queued in the recipient’s inbox. I’ve used this feature to co-ordinate detailed plans while I’m walking and can’t text and the other person is getting ready to meet me and can’t be on the phone at that moment. It lets them listen to the message whenever they have a few seconds, without dialing into their voicemail box.

Even better, it really does function as a walkie-talkie if the recipient is in the program at the same time. There’s no need to say “over” at the end of each message – they are all time-stamped and play in order. They’re saved for quite some time, so I’ve also enjoyed going back and listening to random conversations I have had.

I really feel like I need to stress that this is a free app. I don’t know how much money it saves, using data to send messages vs paying for phone minutes, but I know that it has saved me time. Also there is something very appealing about using my phone as a walkie-talkie. It is great, and I wish more of my friends had it. If I could get them all to download it I actually think I’d make very few direct phone calls. There simply wouldn’t be a need to.

I have experienced some bugginess in it though. Or rather I should say my test partner did. He found that sometimes, rather than playing back the audio, the app would just freeze or play static. And I found that sometimes I couldn’t hear the messages he left me unless I took my headphones out and listened to it through the external speaker. A bit odd, but it doesn’t dampen my enthusiasm for it in the slightest.

Humble Bundle Comes to Android

Humble Bundle Comes to Android

Jan 31, 2012

The first mobile pay-anything Humble Bundle is here, and Android is the first supported platform. Four games are part of the Humble Bundle for Android:

  • Anomaly: Warzone Earth: This is 11 bit Studios’ take on tower offense, as players control units that invade enemy defenses. The initial release was infamously ported by just one developer in two weeks.
  • EDGE & EDGE Extended: Mobigame just recently launched this game on Android. Players control a cube that has to navigate through isometric mazes. The game became infamous on iOS for being removed and restored to the App Store through various trademark controversies over the word ‘edge’ with Tim Langdell.
  • Osmos: Hemisphere Games’ interesting physics title – not a physics puzzler in the Angry Birds sense – has players controlling an amoeba-like organism that must fire matter at its enemies to shrink them down, while absorbing other, smaller, organisms to collect them up. This game is available in both phone and tablet optimized versions that are both available as part of the bundle.
  • World of Goo: The gooey puzzle game from 2D Boy that released late in 2011 is here in DRM-free form. Read our review for more on the game.

The bundle doesn’t just come with DRM-free Android versions – the PC/Mac/Linux versions are also included. World of Goo is only included in the bundle for those who contribute above the average, which as of publication is around $4.10. The revenue can be either split in any proportion between going to the developers, going to charity, and going to fund future Humble Bundle operations.

Of course, while all the games in this bundle are available on iOS, they can’t be included because of the fact that distribution outside of the App Store is virtually impossible without jailbreaking. However, this does have the drawback of the games only being the current versions, and not versions that will be updated automatically, as the PC/Mac/Linux versions can be when redeemed on Steam.

Still, this is all a fantastic endeavor that supports charity and independent developers, and can get gamers great games at bargain prices. Click here to visit the Humble Bundle website to download the games.

Penguin Palooza Review

Penguin Palooza Review

Jan 31, 2012

Some things are popular because they inherently awesome. Things like robots, and ninjas, and zombies and, of course, penguins. I don’t know what it is about those little tuxedo’d guys that delight me so much, but I am defenseless against anything remotely penguin-related. Penguin Palooza caters to that love in a very focused, and successful way.

The setting is a little watery ice flow, with tall glacier walls on either side. There are platforms on either size, and the goal is to get some kamikaze penguins from side to the other. They arrive on the left-hand ledge and fling themselves into the air toward the icy waters below. The user draws trampolines below them to get them to bounce up and onto the right-hand ledge. The penguins have some pretty good bounce, and a tendency to slip off the ice if they don’t land just right. Points are awarded for every penguin that gets across to the cave on the other side. Fish will jump out of the water during play, and points are also earned for every fish that the penguins gulp out of the air. Beware though; the penguins with full bellies don’t bounce as high. There are also some show-off penguins. They wear jaunty red scarves, ignore the fish, and bounce incredibly high. Any penguin that falls into the water counts as a miss. The game is made harder when the ledges randomly move up and down the walls. Users can have two misses, but a third means game over. However lives can be earned back: there is a tiny baby penguin on the ice below, and the longer the game continues, the more fish he eats. When he eats enough fish to grow up, a life is earned back.

This is only the Palooza mode of play. Palooza continues for as long as users can keep the penguins out of the water. If Palooza gets tedious then there are Challenges. Each challenge round is different and fun; Keep all of the penguins alive for 60 seconds; Get three penguins across with no misses, etc. The challenges give the player a break from the frantic bouncing of Palooza, as the longer play continues in that mode the more penguins have to be kept in the air. The trampolines aren’t permanent – after one bounce they disappear, which is a problem if two penguins are falling together. As well, only three trampolines can be active at any given time. It’s a seemingly simple game but is actually quite the challenge.

I believe I’ve mentioned that I love penguins, and these penguins are incredibly cute (especially when they’ve gulped up a fish). The challenge modes are inventive, and Palooza draws me back time and again to beat my last score.

I seem, however, to have run into a rather strange glitch that has stopped me completely in Challenge mode. Challenge number four requires that I catch 1 gold and 1 pink fish within 60 seconds. However in none of the six or seven times I’ve attempted that challenge has a single pink fish appeared. It is currently unbeatable. And worse still, at one point the game crashed an erased all of my saved data. I think they need to do a little maintenance on the game before I can recommend it whole-heartedly.

Samsung’s Massive Galaxy Note Coming to AT&T This February

Samsung’s Massive Galaxy Note Coming to AT&T This February

Jan 31, 2012

Samsung and AT&T have announced that the Galaxy Note is finally hitting US shores this February. This is a phone for those who believe that 4.7″ displays are just too tiny. This is a phone for those don’t care if their phone fits in their pocket or not.

The Galaxy Note comes with a 5.3″ 1280×800 display. Yes, that’s HD resolution on a 5.3″ screen, with pixel density right below the Galaxy Nexus and iPhone 4, with a 284 PPI (pixels per inch) compared to 316 and 330 PPI respectively. This is designed to be a phone/tablet hybrid, offering more workspace than most phones, while being more portable than a tablet. It might be a struggle to fit in many pockets, but reports of the Kindle Fire fitting in people’s pockets are out there, so this should fit as well.

The screen isn’t the only HD element this behemoth of a phone boasts. The rear camera can take 1080p video and 8-megapixel photos, and the front-facing camera is 2-megapixels as well. The processor is a a dual-core 1.5 GHz one, faster than the 1.4 GHz Exynos processor in the international version. This thing is not underpowered.

The Galaxy Note also comes with a special stylus called the S-Pen that is designed to work with the screen and with special apps, like their S-Memo app that can be used to doodle, convert handwriting into text, and more.

The phone ships with Gingerbread, not with Ice Cream Sandwich, though it has been announced that it is coming. As well, the hacking community (who have had international versions of the device to play around with) have released custom ROMs for the device, and there is an early build of CyanogenMod 9 for the Galaxy Note that is ICS as well. However, with the S-Pen functionality, it may be preferred to wait until source code for an official ICS build is released, so custom ROMs could take advantage of special Galaxy Note features.

The Galaxy Note for AT&T will be available in stores on February 19th, with preorders beginning on February 5th – and those preorders will be received as soon as February 17th. Will US customers respond well to this massive phone-tablet hybrid, possibly leading to a new wave of hybrid devices, or will it be a colossal failure? By which we mean it’s big. That is one big phone.

Decide.com Brings Smarter Electronics Buying to the Masses

Decide.com Brings Smarter Electronics Buying to the Masses

Jan 30, 2012

Decide.com is an app designed for smarter shopping – not just to compare prices based on barcodes, but to make a decision on if an item is worth buying at this very moment. Barcode scanners are everywhere nowadays, and everyone has several apps that can scan barcodes on their phone. But what these barcode scanners lack is an intelligent mechanism for predicting prices, and if an item is worth buying either from the store the user is in, from elsewhere, or if it’s better to wait for a lower price or even a newer model. That’s what Decide.com purports to add. By scanning the UPC or QR code of a game, DVD, or other electronic device, Decide.com returns the prices from other retailers both physical and digital, and one of three verdicts: buy it before prices increase, wait for a price drop, or wait for a newer model. Each decision comes with a confidence percentage, based on past pricing and device release info. Decide.com is avialable for free, but requires a 2.3.7 or later Android device.

Formspring Launches App on Android

Formspring Launches App on Android

Jan 30, 2012

Formspring has launched their official app for their question and answer service on Android. Their app allows people to ask and answer questions of other users, with the ability to ask anonymously, from anywhere. This app makes it easy to not just follow friends answering questions, but to ask sleected friends specific questions. Users can log in directly with a Formspring account, or use their Facebook account to log in. Twitter and Facebook can be connected to Formspring in order to share questions to either service, and to add friends known from there. The app also provides the advantage of being able to include photos easily from the phone with questions and answers, and to easily make posts shared publicly to Formspring, Twitter, and/or Facebook. For those just getting started with the service, Formspring provides a question of the day that can be answered and shared. Their official app is available for free from the Android Market.

Grand Theft Auto III 10th Anniversary Edition Review

Grand Theft Auto III 10th Anniversary Edition Review

Jan 30, 2012

Grand Theft Auto III seems like a very curious choice of a game to bring to touchscreens. Not due to the quality, per se, but because bringing a game that seemingly requires a controller to a system with no buttons at all seems like a fool’s errand. It actually isn’t quite that.

GTAIII is, of course, the game that popularized the open-world genre that’s so popular now. Players control a nameless ne’er-do-well who is thrust into Liberty City’s burgeoning criminal underworld after a prison breakout. Players take on missions from various shady characters, unlocking other parts of the city and advancing the game’s deep and lengthy storyline. That, or they can drive around wreaking havoc, just being public enemy no. 1, or taking on mini-games with ambulances and taxis. For those with the propensity to waste time, this is the game to play.

GTAIII holds up very well since its original release. While its modern forbears have introduced new features, the core mechanics that many of these games utilize still work very well here. It’s still as fun as ever to just randomly drive around, committing all manner of felony. All the content is here, optimized for widescreen with updated textures. The Android port is very technically capable, with plenty of options for upgrading/downgrading the visuals to run or look better on various devices.

So, how do the controls work? They work better than expected, but they’re still clunky at times. The on-foot controls for moving, jumping, and running work fine. Driving works well, though the arrows for turning left and right are rather specific in their placement, and an analog joystick would have been a better choice. Shooting is terrible, with a confusing targeting system; this is actually really accurate to the original game, though. It’s actually possible to use an external controller with the game, though I had some issues with one generic Xbox 360 controller that caused the camera to constantly spin around. Still, the touch controls are less of an issue than possibly thought.

Really, the reason to check this game out is to either relive a defining game of the past decade, or to check it out for the first time. This is a defining part of the gaming canon, and being able to play it on a phone or tablet in all its glory, for only $5? It’s definitely a sign of the times, but the game is timeless.

The Hills Are Greener: Apple, Google, Samsung, and Money

The Hills Are Greener: Apple, Google, Samsung, and Money

Jan 30, 2012

Apple had big news to announce recently: for the quarter of October-December, they made a lot of money. How much is a lot? Well, they had the second-most-profitable quarter ever. Apple literally made more profit than Google brought in revenue in the last quarter.

The difference between Apple and Google is that when an iOS device is brought, that is money going straight into Apple’s pocket. When an Android device is bought, not much if any money goes into Google’s pocket because Android is free to use on any phone, restrictions only pop up when manufacturers want access to the Android Market and other Google services. A device like the Kindle Fire doesn’t bring any money or users to Google at all.

In fact, Android seems to bring in more money for everyone but Google. Samsung has used Android to power their wildly-popular Galaxy S lines of phones all the way to being number one in terms of smartphone sales in 2011.

At the risk of making a big, heaping stew of claim chowder, here are my two hypotheses on what will happen next:

  1. Google will try to collapse the Android manufacturing market in order to bring more revenue directly into themselves through their own devices, manufacturered by the Motorola Mobility division. To facilitate this, they will push more mandates that make competing Android phones more like stock Android devices, instead of customized experiences, in order to help push their own Android phones down the line. Essentially, they want Android devices to be vertically integrated like Apple with iOS. Android can and will remain a free and open OS to use, but for anyone that wants to use Google’s features, it’ll be difficult.

  2. Samsung, the biggest Android manufacturer, will hitch their horse to another OS long-term. Quite possibly even their own, with a global rollout of their Bada OS. They have a much bigger profile now than they did even several years ago thanks to Android, and if they wanted to do something like launch new Galaxy phones with their Bada OS installed instead, they could be in the position to do so. They would need a massive developer initiative to fuel a global launch (even a service like what the Blackberry Playbook has to easily port over Android apps would be a killer start), but Samsung could be at a point to where they could do it.

The fact is that it’s more viable for a company like Apple to be a vertically-integrated device maker, and it has to be attractive to the big names out there to act similarly in order to at least consider a similar approach, and I certainly believe that they will. The face of the Android landscape may be dramatically changing over the next year or two, and the battle may not be against operating systems after all, but manufacturers.

Apparatus App Review

Apparatus App Review

Jan 27, 2012

I will admit that I am a nerd. I’m an engineering student who grew up on the first version of The Incredible Machine and free-form puzzle games are some of my favorites. That being said, I expected a lot from Apparatus, and fortunately for me it delivered, and it was one of the few apps where I was actually amazed while playing it. The first thing I have to say about this app is that it is gorgeous and it runs smooth to boot. This was tested on my quickly aging EVO 4G, so even non-feature phones should have no problem running this app.

For those not familiar with the premise of games like The Incredible Machine, the game gives a simple objective and a set amount of materials for the player to gerry-rig up into their own special Rube Goldberg machine. Games like these thrive on the user’s creativity, and Apparatus is no different; however, I would have liked to have seen some more open-ended gameplay as some levels seemed very linear. There is also an excellent free-play mode where the player is given no restrictions and allowed to let their creativity roam.

Going well with this free mode is the fairly fleshed out community that comes with the game. Downloading user-made levels could not be easier, and it only takes a few seconds to get a level and start playing. This sense of community is a huge addition for a game like Apparatus as the game aspires to be a kind of Little Big Planet for the mobile device. As we’ve seen with games like Minecraft, Halo, and the aforementioned Little Big Planet, what the public is capable of doing has no bounds, and giving them a way to share their magnum opus with the rest of humanity is an essential feature for any game nowadays.

And by "no bounds" we mean THIS.

One gripe with Apparatus is the lack of a tutorial to explain some of the features of the game. The first few minutes here will be frustrating due to seemingly random actions that become more clear the longer the game is played. Also the controls can be a bit touchy, but like above, they too work themselves out as the player becomes familiar with them. All that aside, Apparatus is a great game that impresses both graphically and fundamentally; a definite pick up for those who long for the days of The Incredible Machine on Windows 98.

Valve Launches Official Steam Mobile App

Valve Launches Official Steam Mobile App

Jan 27, 2012

has launched their official mobile app for iOS and Android. What this app offers is not necessarily the ability to play Steam games, but instead access to many features of the Steam frontend. The store can be browsed from the mobile app, games can be added to the wishlist, and games can even be added to the Steam cart; it is not immediately apparent if games can actually be purchased from the app yet, which may not be the case because of Apple restrictions, in particular. However, considering that Steam regularly offers sales, this could allow for those who want to partake in these sales but aren’t necessarily at their computer to get a head start before they get back to their computer.

The app also offers access to Steam’s social features; users can chat with their friends on Steam, and receive notifications of new messages. They also have access to the latest news on Steam games, just as in the desktop version of the app. Notifications could also hypothetically be used to alert of new sales on the store.

The only problem with the Steam app at this point is that access into it is very limited; it is in a closed beta, and Steam is only handing out codes to get in on an occasional basis. This means at the moment, the app is of very limited utility, but for those interested, signing in to the app does “show interest” to Valve for getting into the app, the necessary step toward getting that beta access code. Limited access to the interface does seem to show that Steam may be using a similar HTML5 wrapper around their iOS and Android apps, particularly with a similar slide-out menu to the Facebook app on both platforms. This may make it easier for them to update the app as necessary. Steam Mobile is available now for free.

Announcing the Winners of the 2011 Best App Ever Awards

Announcing the Winners of the 2011 Best App Ever Awards

Jan 27, 2012

It was an amazing year. With over 1.5 million votes cast (over three times the number cast last year) and a record number of nominations, we now have the winners of the 2011 Best App Ever Awards. Thanks to all that voted, nominated, and made these fantastic apps!

All-in-all Android made a fantastic showing pulling in 46% of the overall votes. A great response considering this is the first year for Android to be included in our well established awards. But unfortunately it wasn’t enough to topple iOS from the top prize. Now, the winner of the Best App Ever!


Best App Ever Category

Winner: Jetpack Joyride by Halfbrick Studios


 

Halfbrick made iOS the winner of the Best App Ever by beating the top Android vote getter by nearly 10:1. Here are a few more interesting stats:

1,565,833 total votes cast
1.1 million unique voters
36,431 number of votes the top vote getter, Jetpack Joyride, got across all categories
1,692 unique apps in the awards
53.9% of the votes were for iOS apps
46.1% of the votes for Android apps
1 Best App Ever winner, Jetpack Joyride from Halfbrick Studios!

Thanks again for voting, we’ll be back again next year for our 5th Annual Best App Ever Awards!

Read on for the full list of Android winners or check out the Best App Ever Awards site for full details on all categories.

Google Wants to Kill the Menu Button on Android for Good

Google Wants to Kill the Menu Button on Android for Good

Jan 27, 2012

A venerable piece of Android UI is soon to be dead and buried if Google has their way, as the Android Developers website has released new developer guidelines that discourage the usage of the Menu button on Android phones. Now, apps will be expected to use the action bar, which is located somewhere in the app’s user interface, instead of being a hidden menu only called up by pressing the menu button.

This is a transition that could be seen not just with the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich and the Galaxy Nexus which lacked a menu button, but with Honeycomb tablets that also lacked the menu botton. The Menu button has typically been replaced with a software menu in tablet-optimized apps, usually denoted by the old Menu button itself. While Honeycomb and ICS devices have support for a software Menu button, which is now a software “action overflow” button that appears on the right side of the software keys, Google wants this to be phased out.

In fact, it will be possible for developers to continue to support the Menu button along with the action bar on devices that have the Menu button, and those that don’t. However, considering that apps’ user interface will need to support the action bar anyway, it may just make sense for developers to ignore that button’s functionality entirely for older phones.

However, as is key with Android, flexibility and functionality will still exist for developers. It just appears that the powers that be at Android want to develop user experiences that are more consistent across apps and devices. Essentially, the idea is that one app will work in a similar way to another app. This kind of unified UX is something that Apple has excelled at providing in its interface guidelines for developers, and Android appears to be taking similar steps to ensure this is the case on their OS as well.