The Island: Castaway Review

The Island: Castaway Review

Jul 31, 2012

The fans of LOST and other “stuck on an island” type shows will have a good time with The Island: Castaway. The basis is the same as a lot of movies and TV shows. A ship wrecks and the characters are forced to survive with what they have or can find on the island.

In the beginning, the main character is looking for fruit to eat and slowly learning to do simple things like cook and fish. As the game moves on, craftier ways of acquiring food are learned. The Native American character is quite the survivalist, which comes in super handy. He helps with challenges like building a raft and building different devices to trap animals and crabs.

In the second level a girl washes up on shore but needs to find her daughter. When searching for her daughter, island inhabitants are discovered. They villagers on the island are a great help. They teach Tom, the main character, how to hunt and gives him a bow. The arrows either need to be made or bought though.

The controls are pretty simple to use. To move Tom, tap the area of the screen where he should go. If he needs to interact with people or something, tap the person, animal or object to interact with and he will do the rest. As Tom collects the food and other objects, they can be viewed along with the tasks he is asked to do. I found it easiest to start collecting everything I could right from the beginning because it was all needed at some point in the game. This included food, logs, pearls and twigs.

While the game is super fun, after the second level, the full version must be purchased to continue. They game lets you play enough to get the hang of it then asks you to buy it. The Island: Castaway is pretty long and worth the couple of dollars it will cost to buy.

Whale Trail Frenzy Tries to Appease Users in its Free to Play Shift

Whale Trail Frenzy Tries to Appease Users in its Free to Play Shift

Jul 31, 2012

The lede to this story is that <em>Whale Trail Frenzy, a free version of Whale Trail, is now available, but the context must be given first.

There was the controversy recently when Dead Trigger went from $0.99 to free, but a lot of the anger was contained by the fact that the game never really changed – it was always about IAP as a second currency. Not so much with Whale Trail – it has made the shift to a free-to-play game, adding in upgrades, costumes, and a currency called krill to help fund the title.

On iOS, the main game shifted to free-to-play, and some anger was had by players who didn’t like to see a game shift from being a simple $0.99 experience to one that was free with IAP, even if the game did give previous players 8000 krill to try and tide them over.

However, on Android, ustwo has gone a different route, leaving the original Whale Trail up as Whale Trail Classic, and selling Whale Trail Frenzy now, which is the free-to-play version. Of course, no one can be happy: there’s a customer review on Frenzy suggesting that they should have just updated the original app.

The Archos 97 Carbon is a Full-Size Tablet With a Budget Price

The Archos 97 Carbon is a Full-Size Tablet With a Budget Price

Jul 31, 2012

Android has seen the rise of the cheap tablet, and they have all been in the smaller, 7″ range. However, Archos has released a budget-priced full-size tablet. The Archos 97 Carbon is a 10″ tablet (9.7″ rounded up – same size as the iPad) that retails at $249, and is now available.

Now, unlike the Nexus 7, the Archos 97 doesn’t feature top-notch specs. While its 1 GB of RAM and 16 GB of storage are welcome, the processor is an underwhelming 1GHz single-core ARM Cortex A8. Basically, this thing will pale in comparison to the Tegra 3 powering the Nexus 7.

The screen is an interesting choice; while it is a quality IPS screen, it’s actually 4:3, with a resolution of 1024×768, same as the iPad. While mimicking the iPad is not a bad choice per se, many Android tablets use 16:10 ratios, and apps are generally designed to support that resolution. It just stands out.

While the Archos 97 may not be the strongest tablet on the market, it could be an interesting choice for the user looking for a low-cost tablet, while still wanting the benefits of the bigger screen size.

Source: Android Police

BugMe! Stickies Pro Review

BugMe! Stickies Pro Review

Jul 31, 2012

When it comes to note-taking, I can be very picky. I tend to gravitate towards having too much functionality than too little. But sometimes, as it is with all software, simple is better, and that is where I needed BugMe! Stickies Pro from Electric Pocket to fit the bill intelligently.

Or, I wondered, does it just hide some serious artillery beneath the guise of simplicity? I decided to find out.

BugMe! took me back to a less cluttered time… the UI was great. It invoked stickies (obviously) and corkboard. The program allowed me to create stickies by writing on squared yellow “paper” and to populate these newly created stickies on my device home page.

The ease of entry is where I think BugMe shines. I could enter data with the installed keyboard, but also had the option of writing with my finger. Now for me, this is huge; it put back the “impromptu” into impromptu note taking.

In addition, I was able to set alarms to my notes. So, I could take a quick memo and transform it to a task on the fly. Also, it has a built-in Share functionality that I tested by sending a note, which the program sent as a .png image. I could also share via major social networks.

I found the program to be pretty customizable, as I could change background and digital ink color. In an interesting twist, I found that I was able to use personal picture as a background for a note (or take a picture on the go). I was able to create a personal note about my kids with an image of my kids as the backdrop. I liked that feature more than I thought I would; it allowed me to further personalize reminders and notes with a unique touch. In this specific regard, BugMe! provided me with an almost limitless amount of templates.

All in all, I thought BugMe! packed a lot of punch into its sub 6 MB frame. What I would have initially considered a disadvantage (lack of cloud compatibility) I would actually consider to be a part of its simple charm: localization. It is effective, handy and easily accessible, which makes it the perfect ode to an era when productivity was measured in square, yellow stickies.

Super Bit Dash Review

Super Bit Dash Review

Jul 31, 2012

Super Bit Dash is an auto-runner that tries to do more than just have one or two commands for the player, using swipes and taps to allow the player to do various actions. Tapping on the screen jumps, and swiping forward or vertically will dash in that direction, with the advantage of not losing in height when dashing forward. Swiping backward causes the player to slow down for a brief moment to potentially avoid hazards. However, these dashes use up a coin from the player’s bar, which has to be refilled by collecting other coins. They’re spread liberally throughout the levels, but with dashes needed to break through blocks and get around spikes, irresponsible dashing can leave players high and dry in a deadly way.

Super Bit Dash boasts two modes: Classic, which has a set length; and Endless, which doesn’t end. Both modes are very similar: they’re randomly generated from a variety of level set pieces, and then randomly arranged together.

The controls all work very well; swiping is effective and simple enough to use. The chiptune soundtrack sounds like multiple variations on the same track, with new ones that play in each mode. Coins earned go toward unlcoking items and upgrades that can help out, such as additional coin slots, but there’s really one key upgrade to save for: the lumberjack costume. Everything is better with lumberjacks.

The difficulties of the game are somewhat imbalanced. Easy is in fact quite easy once the player gets the hang of the game. Hard proves to be rather difficult, with timing windows that are extremely difficult to manage when all put together. Endless being a “one life” mode makes both difficulties challenging, although on Hard, it can be instantly over if a particularly nasty section comes up early on.

This is the hazard of procedural level generation in a sense: it requires a particular intelligence in design in order to truly work properly, and Super Bit Dash feels like it doesn’t quite get the balance down right. Still, its core mechanic has enough interesting going with it to make it worthwihle for those looking for a unique auto-runner game.

Great Big War Game Review

Great Big War Game Review

Jul 30, 2012

Great Big War Game is a turn-based strategy sequel a title that loses some of the irony of Great Little War Game‘s title but does try to be bigger and better, as sequels are wont to do. Players command a blue army that has just brought along a new female commander recruit, whose low-cut uniform seems like it should be against military regulations, but not on the world of Great Big War Game. It’s all turn-based, where players can move and shoot with all their units in some turn. Battles take place with both troops and vehicles, on land, sea, and air, with plenty of units that may dominate one terrain, but have their weakness. They aren’t kidding when they talk about anti-air guns! Base assaults can be a dangerous proposition, thanks to the ability to create units and use them in the same turn, adding to the careful strategy that must be used.

Some missions make it difficult to tell what’s going on; having a better explanation of missions at the beginning would help. Also, having a “switch unit” button would help out for finding units who haven’t done an action yet. Some intelligence as to whether a unit can even do anything would help.

While the game is a bit more complex than, say, Outwitters or Hero Academy, it’s still set up to be easy enough to play, especially thanks to the ability to see estimated damage and to undo moves. It also helps with the occasional inaccuracies or mistakes in movement. The tone of the game is interesting: it’s comical, yet the world is more accepting of the fact that war is violent at its heart. It’s like a darker Advance Wars. Yes, even darker than Days of Ruin, which took place in a post-apocalyptic world.

There’s also a personal favorite feature of mine here: cross-platform multiplayer. While users have to create a specific GBWG account, all games can be played against any other user. There’s a ranking system for taking on random players, with up to 4 players in some game. However, Facebook or Twitter integration would help with finding friends to play with.

While I would love to see the interface revamped, there’s plenty of strategic fun to be had. There’s 50 single player missions with plenty of different scenarios to enjoy and master. The online multiplayer is worth coming back to as well, though compared to some iOS-only turn-based games it feels a bit unrefined. Still, this is an impressive package for strategy fans.

APC, the $49 Android PC

APC, the $49 Android PC

Jul 30, 2012

Cheap hardware is defining Android in a big way, but APC wants to take it even further. APC is a low-cost PC that runs on Gingerbread. This is designed to be as stripped down as possible: it’s an 800 MHz VIA processor with 512 MB of RAM. There’s 2 GB of onboard storage, with an SDHC slot for expansion, It supports up to 720p output through HDMI or VGA.

Sure, the hardware isn’t exactly sexy, but the price sure is: $49 plus shipping from the APC website. There isn’t even a case shipped with the APC, but it is compatible with Neo-ITX cases. As well, the power consumption of this device is meant to be very small.

While this is not a device meant for power Android users, this does appear to be designed for opportunities in low-income communities, developing nations, and even just for those that want cheap-but-capable PCs. It does not come with Google Play support, so those looking for software to use will have to find other app stores, or someone will have to come up with a way to get Google Play on the device. It’s not impossible.

The first wave of preorders is shipping from APC, with software such as bootloaders available, though new orders are not being accepted yet.

Call + Voice Recorder and Auto Call Bring New Features to Calling on Android

Call + Voice Recorder and Auto Call Bring New Features to Calling on Android

Jul 30, 2012

Call + Voice Recorder does exactly what it says on the tin: it does simple voice recordings, along with recording phone calls. Voice recordings are simple: just boot up the app, hit the record button, and go. Calls can be either be initiated in mid-call, or can be configured to record automatically at the start of a call. Note that not all phone software supports call recording, and that it may be illegal in some states to record a call without the permission of both parties. Call + Voice Recorder is available from Google Play.

As well, there’s Auto Call, which is designed to use that classic technique to escape awkward social situations: the fake call. It’s possible to schedule fake calls from other people in order to get out of that uncomfortable conversation. Perhaps the fake call tactic won’t work? Then schedule actual calls to real people, because there’s no better escape call than a real one. It’s also possible to schedule recurring calls, such as to schedule wakeup calls. Auto Call is available from Google Play.

Nexus 7 Hardware Review

Nexus 7 Hardware Review

Jul 30, 2012

Google’s first Nexus tablet, the Nexus 7, was long-rumored and much-anticipated by this writer and many others. I went crazy waiting for an early-evening UPS delivery of my Nexus 7. Now it’s here, and let me just say: this device is a well-built piece of hardware, with software that really starts to justify the Android project’s existence. Google and Asus have a device that they should be proud of, and is a fantastic 7″ tablet choice.

First off, yes, opening the box is a pain. Be ready with a good knife or sharp scissors to cut the black tape the keeps the box closed. In the box is the Nexus 7, a charger with micro-USB cable, and a product safety guide. It’s Apple-style minimalistic packaging, though everything is black rather than Apple’s traditional white. Taking it out of the box, the Nexus 7 feels absolutely amazing to hold. It’s thanks to the rubberized back that it just feels so comfortable, that it practically melts into the hand.

While it has magnets for “Smart Cover” functionality, the only other way to unlock the Nexus 7 is to use the button on the upper right side of the device. This does lead to some fumbling around when picking it up, as it’s easy to reach for a button that isn’t there. While I don’t want to root for a company to go under, RIM needs to sell their touch bezel technology from the BlackBerry Playbook to other manufacturers, if only because it would be fantastic to unlock face-button-less devices like this one.

The screen is absolutely beautiful: it has a higher pixel density than the iPad 2, and it absolutely shows. Colors are vibrant, and everything looks crystal clear. Though, the screen does seem very saturated; having it on too bright causes some eyestrain, while reducing it can make it too dim but still very “bright” – auto-brightness seems to favor making the screen very dark. As well, there appears to be a glitch either in software or hardware that causes parts of the touchscreen to randomly become unresponsive. Locking and unlocking fixes it.

Battery life is about 7 hours, give or take depending on what’s being used with the device. Given that the 7“ size affords a smaller battery than 10” tablets, it is a solid feat, and there’s no need to be paranoid about being near a charger at all times like with many Android phones. By default, the device disables wifi when the screen is off; I recommend going to the Settings and at least enabling wifi to be on when the device is charging, so that notifications can still come in.

With the Nexus 7’s limited storage options, the question has been this: is it worth going for the 8GB or 16GB version? I have to say the 16GB is the better choice, as there’s really only 5.92 GB to work with on the 8 GB version that I got, and it does feel rather limiting. The lack of an SD slot is a real shame. There’s no HDMI output at all, either. However, a USB OTG cable will work for mice, keyboards, and other USB accessories.

The interface choice was a curious one: the launcher and virtual buttons are based on the phone interface, not the tablet one, so there’s still the Android phone status bar at top, and just the back, home, and app-switching virtual buttons at the bottom. However, Gmail uses the tablet interface, and other apps seem to kind of pick and choose just which interface they wish to use.

Because the 7" screen is so big for a phone yet too small for a tablet, it leads to some awkwardness as it isn’t as easy to tap anywhere on the screen as it is with a phone. However, with 1280 resolutions becoming more standardized with phones like the Galaxy Nexus and Galaxy S III, this does mean that apps will work well enough on the 1280×800 screen, even if made for smaller phones. Many tablet-optimized apps aren’t ready for the Nexus 7, though. As well, many EA games are oddly not available for the Nexus 7 yet.

The default Jelly Bean homescreen launcher only works in portrait orientation. That choice seems designed to encourage using the Nexus 7 in portrait. While I prefer to use 10“ tablets in landscape, I like using this in portrait. Typing is easier in portrait, as the keyboard is very comfortable to use with one’s thumbs; it’s about as wide as a standard ~4” Android phone is in landscape. However, leaving a landscape app to see the device automatically shift to portrait is jarring. It feels like there should be a better way to handle this.

Sure, there are third-party launchers, but since the stock Jelly Bean experience is otherwise so clean and effective, why mess with perfection? With rooting, it’s possible to lower the PPI to something that will enable the tablet interface, and this is something power users might want to consider. I like leaving my device as pure as possible, though.

Jelly Bean is a fantastic OS, though it is mainly just advances on the foundation set down by Ice Cream Sandwich. Regardless, it absolutely shines on the Nexus 7. Google Now is useful for tracking weather, seeing sports results, and getting information based on one’s latest Google searches. It’s possible to access Google Now from anywhere by sliding upward from the Home button, and searches can be started by saying “Google” instead of tapping the microphone button on this screen. What’s creepy is that other Google searches will cause elements to appear in Google Now, even if they were made on other devices, not necessarily the Nexus 7. I started getting scores for Miami Marlins games after making a couple of searches about their GM, and after searching for AT&T once, I suddenly had directions to an AT&T store waiting for me. It is somewhat unsettling, though unwanted cards can be easily cleared.

Chrome is the default browser on the Nexus 7; the classic Android browser is now dead. Chrome is incredibly speedy and has many of the same options as the desktop version, though managing a large number of tabs is problematic, especially in portrait mode. WordPress still doesn’t quite work properly in the browser, which is just annoying.

The Nexus 7 camera is foward-facing only and isn’t perfect as there’s definitely visible noise in shots. This camera is clearly designed for video chatting, and maybe Instagram self-shots.

The Jelly Bean keyboard is Google’s best keyboard yet, and it’s great to use in portrait. Landscape is a different story, however. There’s only a full-size interface available, and it’s just awkward to use. It’s not thumb-friendly. It’s too small for proper two-handed operation either from an angle or from directly above, and the virtual buttons at the bottom mean trying to rest hands on the bottom of the device just doesn’t work out all that well.

Now, thumb keyboards do exist for Android, such as Thumb Keyboard and SwiftKey Tablet X, but the problem is that both lose the smoothness and great autocorrection that the Jelly Bean keyboard has. It’s a tradeoff that isn’t really worth making, except perhaps on a case-by-case basis, when typing in landscape for a long period of time. But even then I’d rather just type in portrait because it’s thumb-friendly anyway. This is something for Google to consider in Key Lime Pie, or whatever they call the next Android version.

The Nexus 7 is packing some powerful hardware under the hood to make the Android experience top-notch here. Thanks to Jelly Bean’s “Project Butter”, the Tegra 3 chip, and the plentiful 1 GB of RAM, this is an absurdly smooth Android experience. The sluggishness and lag that typically happen on an Android device is gone! Games, even ones like Dead Trigger which take full advantage of the hardware, run exceptionally well. This is the dream of Android tablets: a comfortable yet capable device, that can play pretty much any game on Earth. Everything I’ve tested runs well on the Nexus 7. Even the official Android Twitter app works well. I’m impressed. Well, everything except for the Facebook app, but that’s a terrible app any way.

For gaming, holding the Nexus 7 in landscape is very comfortable, thanks to the rubberized back and light weight. I do enjoy playing games on it, though there is a sort of downside to the 7“ form factor: It’s not as engrossing as the 10” size. A 10“ device lets the user get lost in what’s on their screen, oblivious to the world around them, if they so choose. The 7” size doesn’t really do this. It’s more of just a large handheld screen to use. To get that same sensation, I’d have to hold it uncomfortably close to my face.

That is why I consider the Nexus 7 in many ways to just be a great, very large phone. It’s meant to be used primarily in portrait like a phone, with occasional landscape usage. It does fit in large pockets, though it’s not going to slip in and out. I find it replacing a lot of what my iPad does, and I usually have it on my desk while on my computer, picking it up and checking it while something else is happening on my desktop. It sits in the middle of a phone’s convenience, with a tablet’s large-screen experience, while losing some of the portability of a phone and the productive utility of a tablet.

This is the thing that the Nexus 7 taught me, though: there’s a reason why Google is pushing the Play store on the Nexus 7. There’s a reason why a user’s library is on the main home screen when it is first set up. This is designed for casual use and entertainment more than as a powerful workhorse of a device. It won’t replace my iPad as my favorite tablet to work with; in fact, I typed up this review on my iPad. But, as a way to check email and Twitter, and to play games? It’s perfect. This is the first Android device where I feel like I can play games for real fun, not just as an obligation. Sure, the library of Android games is still problematic (and many games are still just second helpings from iOS) but this is the device that won me over. It also gives me hope that the Ouya might really be able to succeed because this thing is capable.

Do I recommend the Nexus 7? Yes, and I give it a very high recommendation. Do not get this expecting it as a great choice instead of a 10“ tablet like the iPad. Understand the advantages and disadvantages of the 7” size. But for the cost, the hardware is top-notch though lacking in secondary features. This is a fantastic device, and an example of why Google’s Nexus project is so full of possibility. With a device like this, Google can bring together a great hardware and software experience. It’s something that other Android devices have lacked when I’ve used them, and I am absolutely enamored with the Nexus 7.

Snappers Review

Snappers Review

Jul 27, 2012

Most casual games for Android offer intense game play with constantly tapping, swiping or flicking the screen. It takes a clever game, however, to require the exact opposite from a player. Snapper is one of those games. The fewer you tap, the higher the chance of moving on to the next level.

From the makers of Logo Quiz, this mind-bending puzzle game originally made for iPhone is now available for Android. It’s essentially a bubble popping game – inspired by Bubble Blast – that requires one to eliminate all bubbles by tapping on the right ones with a limited number of taps – mostly two or three.

It sounds simple enough, but it’s not long until the levels get more challenging. Each bubble is color coded and differ in size. Only red bubbles pop at first tap, while other colors (blue, yellow and green) require several taps (before they become red and ready to pop). When bubbles pop, they blast other bubbles around them (vertical and horizontal only) – which is equivalent to one tap.

If the bubble beside a popped one is not red, it will not pop yet and will instead turn into the next color according to the game’s rules. This can be a bit hard to remember so one can tap on a Help button after every round to check on the bubble hierarchy.

There’s a hint button on the top right corner of the screen to help get through difficult levels. The game offers the first two hints for free, with the succeeding ones available through an in-app purchase. Hints are sold in packs – 10 hints being the minimum. To get more items for sale, there is a Shop icon on the game’s main menu. Tapping on an item in the shop will bring you to the Play Store to proceed with the purchase.

Tapping more than the limit will end the game and one would need to repeat the level before proceeding to the next round. Pressing on the phone’s Back key will also pause the game and give you other options such as resuming or restarting the game.

The game has a lot of levels. The first portion alone has around 50 levels, half of them are really challenging ones. More levels are also available for purchase in the Play Store.

Since the game requires less taps and more thinking, game play is as smooth as it can be. However, some users report a black background loading instead of the colored ones – something I did experience on my HTC Sensation once while loading the next level. This seemed to go away after a few seconds of switching between the Home screen and the game.

The graphics are easy on the eyes and not too elaborate. Even the animation has a subtle quality to it, along with it relaxing background music and discreet sound effects.

It takes a while to understand the game, and gamers who are impatient or wants more action-centric game play will probably fail to see the value of this game. However, for those who like a mental challenge that doesn’t involve excessive tapping – Snappers is a good choice.

Watch Olympic Sports From the Popular to the Obscure With NBC Olympics Live Extra

Watch Olympic Sports From the Popular to the Obscure With NBC Olympics Live Extra

Jul 27, 2012

The Olympic Opening Ceremonies are today in London, meaning that it’s time for over two weeks of the finest athletes in the world competing for gold medals in dozens of sports. Now, fans of swimming, gymnastics, and even soccer will get plenty of opportunities to watch their favorite sport, but what about those fans of sports like archery, badminton, and racewalking? They don’t quite get the television coverage that the big-name sports get. Well, that’s what the NBC Olympics Live Extra app is for: it has live video coverage of more sports than anyone thought existed. Ever watch handball? No excuse now. Get ready for some hot fencing action! Plus, all the table tennis anyone could ever handle! The app shows what’s going on live at an given moment, with plenty of highlights also available. So celebrate the Olympics spirit by staying inside and watching multiple obscure sporting events at once! NBC Olympics Live Extra is available for free from Google Play.

Google Announces Google Fiber; Why It May Signal the Death Knell for Google TV

Google Announces Google Fiber; Why It May Signal the Death Knell for Google TV

Jul 27, 2012

Google has announced the first rollout of Google Fiber will be taking place in that tech hotspot of Kansas City – both the Missouri and Kansas variations, apparently! This internet service will deliver Gigabit internet(!) for $70/month, with a combined TV/internet package available for $120/month. As well, there will be a free internet option that will deliver 5 Mpbs speeds for up to 7 years for free, after a $300 installation fee.

The TV service will also integrate with Android devices, particularly the Nexus 7. Not only will the package come with a Nexus 7, but it will be possible to use it as a TV remote, and watch TV from anywhere in the house with it, though not all channels will be available with it. Also, there’s currently no ESPN available as part of the Fiber TV package, so sports fans may not be jumping on Google Fiber quite yet.

Now what’s interesting is that there’s nary a mention of Google TV being part of the TV service. Devices with Google TV continue to roll out – Vizio just launched one today – but it appears that Google might want nothing to do with the TV platform going forward.