IOGEAR TuneTap Wireless Audio Receiver Hardware Review

IOGEAR TuneTap Wireless Audio Receiver Hardware Review

Jan 31, 2015

As we become more connected in the digital sense, wireless solutions become that much more relevant. Bluetooth is an oldie but goodie, and the trusted protocol is easily incorporated in several ways. Now that it is all but ubiquitous with regards to mobile devices, it makes sense that mobile devices — especially Android — can be the ultimate hub in connected setups.

Looking at the IOGEAR TuneTap Audio Receiver, it’s easy to see why it could be compelling; it’s small, easy to set up and comes from IOGEAR. The review unit sent to us exhibits that size, which is 2.88 x 2.88 x 0.97 inches, weighing only 1.6 ounces. It is a sleek little thing, with solid fusing and ports for audio out, optical out and a power jack; on the top, there is a subtle LED light right under the logo. The package also contained 3,55mm to RCA cable, power cable and documentation.

The unit itself is a bluetooth puck that, in simplistic terms, takes in audio and converts it to signals that can be picked up by other bluetooth accessories. This opens up a bunch of scenarios: home sound system? TV? Wired speakers? The idea is to connect the TuneTap in wired fashion to the compatible audio output device, and then connect the TuneTap itself to a bluetooth audio source (Samsung Galaxy Note 4). Setup is intuitive: the TuneTap gets connected to power, and then we tried it with a set of traditional speakers via the 3.55mm cable. Subsequently, connecting to the mobile device with the mobile device is a simple matter of using the device’s bluetooth menu to find and pair to the TuneTap.

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Voila. Everything worked smoothly. The sound quality is crisp, and pretty distant when both bluetooth devices are within range of each other. I tried the unit with a couple different devices, and it worked well every time. I like the choice of output cables; it just makes sense.

The need for power is both a blessing and a curse. It does curb the mobility somewhat, but that concern is tempered by the joy of not being concerned with charging the unit. The added optical cable is a bonus, as is the included NFC which allows for touch-pairing.

As far as solutions go, kudos are due for the simple ones that just work. This one definitely fits the bill.

Google Now Adds Card Functionality for 30+ Third-Party Apps

Google Now Adds Card Functionality for 30+ Third-Party Apps

Jan 30, 2015

Google Now, Google’s mobile-minded personal assistant and voice search utility, is getting better — and that is an understatement.

According to the Google Search Blog, Google Now now supports cards based on information from over 30 third-party apps. Directly from the blog post:

Now cards in the Google app give you relevant information at the right time, without you having to ask for it—whether it’s the score from the Rockets game, your flight status, or the latest story on Greece’s new government. But a lot of useful information lives inside apps on your phone, from your favorite music to last-minute hotel deals to home-buying tips. Today, you have two ways to get information from these apps—either remember to constantly open them up and look, or get a notification, which you may forget to act on if it shows up at the wrong time.

Starting today, the Google app on Android can help you keep up with all the good stuff in 40 different apps at a glance—it’ll bring you Now cards to help you out with your day-to-day life, giving you information that’s helpful to you, right when you need it.

In the morning, catch up on news of the day with cards from The Guardian. On your commute, Pandora can give you recommendations for music to play, based on what you like, or you can be reminded to complete your daily French lesson on Duolingo. During your downtime, you can take care of the groceries, with a card from Instacart reminding you to stock up on the things you often order. If you’re planning a trip and looked up places to stay on your Airbnb app but couldn’t make up your mind, you’ll see Now cards from Airbnb for the location and dates you’ve researched. And when you land at an airport, you’ll see a card to order a Lyft.

The apps included run the gamut: MyFord Mobile, Walgreens, Mint.com and more.

The Google (Now/Search app) is free on the Play Store. The list of integrated apps is here.

[Source: BGR via Inside Search Blog]

Natsu Runner Review

Natsu Runner Review

Jan 30, 2015

Natsu Runner is a step above the average runner. With varied attacks, a copious upgrade system and enemy filled gameplay, is it a recipe for success?

While it is never mentioned in game, Natsu Runner is based on an anime called Fairy Tail. The main character of that anime is known as Natsu Dragneel and that is who the player plays as. I have never watched the anime but this is hardly important to playing Natsu Runner, which is a strange hybrid of a beat ‘em up and an endless runner.

Screenshot_2015-01-31-03-50-21While sprinting along a landscape and jumping over gaps, poor Natsu constantly comes under attack from various enemies. Whenever it’s flying mini dragons, large enemies with axes or huge purple fireballs, everything in the game wants him dead. Luckily, Natsu has access to three attacks as well as his basic punch combo. He can unleash either a powerful fireball which wipes out any enemy in front of him, a huge burst of fire that kills anything around him or even turn into a fireball and shoot forward into enemies.

This depth is a nice change from the recent glut of simple endless runners. With three attacks and endless enemies to defeat, Natsu Runner is quite engaging and interesting.

A few technical problems really work against Natsu Runner. For starters, the collection detection is just awful. You’ll constantly be injured by enemies who somehow damage you before they touch you or simply ignore your attacks and take a huge chunk off your lifebar instead if you try to fight them. It is difficult to get very far in the game at all because of how easy it is to die. The lack of any kind of block button exacerbates this. Natsu Runner is often chaotic and it often feels like its pure luck whenever an enemy kills you or not. The graphics are a bit too indistinct for such complex combat.

Screenshot_2015-01-31-03-51-21The game is also very laggy. For some reason the game scrolls along very jerkily making it slightly awkward to play and everything in the game just feels off due to the strange scrolling. The game also lags quite a bit when a lot of enemies are on screen and often I couldn’t get a playable framerate without restarting my device first.

Natsu Runner also had a lot of very annoying ads. After every death (and you die often) a full screen ad appears that must be dismissed. Very annoying.

Natsu Runner looks nice. It looks a lot like the anime in question and Natsu looks like he should. The sheer number of enemies on screen is impressive and they are colourful and varied. Compared to most runners Natsu is very impressive. The sound is poor however. Just about every attack in the game produces a dull “bonk” sound and the music is unexciting.

Natsu Runner is a decent enough runner but its technical issues ruin it somewhat. Fans of the anime should enjoy themselves with this one but the laggy gameplay and poor collision detection will annoy most players. This is a shame as Natsu has a lot of good ideas.

Connected Home Service SkylinkNet Introduces New Android App

Connected Home Service SkylinkNet Introduces New Android App

Jan 30, 2015

SkylinkNet is a home alert and alarm system; it has just become that much more useful to Android user with it’s newly unveiled Android application.

The new app allows users to control the whole system from their Android-based smartphones.

Per the app page:

SkylinkNet allows you to monitor your home with your smartphone. With the built-in alarm features, you can remotely arm, disarm, and monitor various activities with this app.
Create a smarthome by adding home control modules to control lights, electrical appliances and other household devices.
The Internet Hub sends you push notification when sensor is activated, allowing you to monitor your home remotely. With the surveillance camera, you can see live action of the area you want to monitor.
•Wireless Alarm System – Remote Arming / Disarming, Arm Home, Arm Away, Instant Alarm, Sensor Bypass, Remote
•Receive Push Notifications anytime a new activity takes place
•Customized alarm settings such as alarm duration, entry / exit delay duration etc.
•Home Automation with all Skylink Modules, including Wall Switch, Wall Dimmer, Plug-in dimmer, Outdoor Module etc.
•Add up to 100 sensors and controllers (lighting or appliances controllers)
•Receives low battery alert on all devices thru push notification
•Event log stores all recent 100 activities
•Add up to 10 cameras for video monitoring
•Add outdoor solar siren for additional security, which is completely wireless
•Connect to external phone dialer (Telephone Line or Cellular) as a backup solution when Internet fails
•No monthly fees and no contract
You must have the Skylink Internet Hub and other necessary hardware to achieve these features.

Make sure to be on the lookout for our upcoming review of the Skylink Alarm System Starter Kit; the app is available for free on the Play Store.

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[Source: Skylink Press release and Google Play page]

Amazon Fire TV: 30 Days and Counting

Amazon Fire TV: 30 Days and Counting

Jan 30, 2015

We weren’t very bashful with regards to the fact that we mostly appreciate Amazon Fire TV. And why would we be? The combination of looks, functionality and ease of setup are easy to fall in love with.

For Amazon Prime users, it is hands down the best entertainment package for the price. You have access to Prime Music and Prime Video, and the catalog of apps that have been optimized to work with the system continues to grow, albeit a bit slowly. For cable cutters and cable enhancers alike, Amazon Fire TV is all that. The separate Fire TV Stick is yet another easy-to-consume option in a smaller bite.

If we weren’t sold after our review, the first 30 days sealed the budding love affair.

But, being the techies we are, we can’t help but seek perfection, unreasonable as that concept is; there are some aspects we think could be improved upon, and which became a bit more apparent after extended use.

Critically, the biggest issue is probably the onboard space. The 8GB of internal storage comes out to just over 5GB of usable space; in 2015, with the huge applications folks run, that’s a small amount of space. Thus, using he Fire TV with a diverse set of apps can be hectic.

If there is a way to use that USB port could be co-opted to allow for the use of local hard drives and/or USB storage sticks, Amazon will have songs written to its awesomeness.

Also, getting more notable apps compatible would be fantastic. The Amazon Appstore sometimes lags behind the Play Store with regards to application updates, and now is the perfect time to eliminate this issue.

The concept of bringing Amazon’s suite of digital content to the screen is fantastic, if a bit unrefined; the great news is that interesting as Amazon Fire TV is now, there’s so much room to grow.

Laser Quest Review

Laser Quest Review

Jan 28, 2015

Laser Quest has a flashy name that might fool folks. In a good way.

It’s a puzzle game, true, but it’s how the puzzles are framed that make this interesting. Our protagonist, Nio the octopus, is an industrious creature with an eye for treasure, and a willingness to travel to procure it.

The playing area is a grid made of smaller squares, and the general premise is to move Nio from the start point to the the location square of the treasure chest. these squares can also be occupied by items that can be collected by contact, or otherwise manipulated to effect a solution. There are also stars that can be collected; each level has three.

Unfortunately, there are obstacles between our octopus and the treasure it seeks; chief among these are lasers which have the ability to toast a careless octopus to a crisp. Thankfully, there are helpers that can be collected and/or utilized to neutralize the lasers; two notables ones are reflecting mirrors and wrenches. The former are great when it comes to redirecting the lethal laser in a safer direction. With the instructional cutscenes (and a bit of trial and error), one soon learns how to eliminate lasers. The wrenches can be used to adjust other tools, such that a laser emitter can be twisted 90° to neutralize another laser or such.

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Further on, there are other elements: time sensitive bonuses, bombs, torches and more. the puzzles get more creative, and it does become quite the brain teaser.

So it boils down to getting as many stars as possible, creating means if egress, picking up as many gold coins as possible and getting to the successive level.

The game features exhaustible time reversals, as well as as hints. The former can be purchased with gold coins (which themselves can be procured with real cash via in-app purchase).

Bottom line? It’s a fun game with several levels and addictive gameplay. Just what the doctor ordered.

LEGO BIONICLE Review

LEGO BIONICLE Review

Jan 28, 2015

Lego Bionicle is a sub-franchise of Lego that I just never got into, despite being hugely into Lego. It was just too corny, and never really felt like Lego. There was barely any construction involved, and I couldn’t figure why I was supposed to get into that vague story about some monsters that have an obsession with masks. I was obviously in the minority, since Bionicles are hugely popular even today, evident by this very videogame, Lego Bionicle.

The story in Lego Bionicle is as vague as it is in the whole Bionicle universe. There’s some mask that everyone wants, I guess? The story is told in the wordless one-shots between the levels, that make it even more unintelligible, so I just didn’t bother with it. I understand that the player controls one of a number of warrior-type beings that search for the maskguffin through the different parts of a huge island, populated entirely by aggressive Lego spiders, and that’s perfectly enough.

The gameplay in Lego Bionicle has a really minimalistic approach to it. The levels are basically a bunch of interconnected arenas, where the player needs to kill advancing spiders and not get hurt by their random attacks, because…nothing. When hurt, the player taps the screen for a couple of seconds, and the Bionicle springs back into action. I know that it’s a game for children, but it felt a bit toothless even for that. The action demands the player to tap on the spiders around him, and the hero will jump between them, dealing damage. There are two super-attacks, one dealing a damage around the player, and another stunning the enemies. The gameplay is actually surprisingly exciting, as you have to jump between the spiders really fast, and not to get hit by their attacks – again, despite the fact that they don’t really pose any threat. After the level is over, the player gets a body part for one of the Bionicles that slightly changes its appearance, as a trophy.

There is a single big problem with Lego Bionicle, and it’s a complete lack of variety. The campaign is insultingly simple and short, there are only two kinds of enemies,Lego Bionicle 4 and the same boss at the end. The Bionicles have literally no gameplay differences between themselves. Basically, the only things that change when playing different Bionicles are their look and attack animations, and the backgrounds. It’s pretty dumb, considering how much work was obviously poured into them, and how long it takes to complete the campaign with all six of them – not even talking about collecting each of the numerous body parts. The game looks massive, but doesn’t feel massive at all.

Besides that, Lego Bionicle is an okay fast-paced action for the fans of the Bionicle universe. If you’re not into Bionicles, it’s only interesting for about an hour at most.

Oh, and there are no in-game purchases, making the game completely free, so that’s pretty sweet.

Google Drive Adds Google Now Functionality and More

Google Drive Adds Google Now Functionality and More

Jan 28, 2015

Google’s storage and document processing app Drive is getting a nice update that brings some fantastic additions to the application.

Per the update primer:

What’s New

* Search Drive with the Google app — includes voice search like “OK Google, search notes on Drive”

* Access custom maps created with Google My Maps

* Performance improvements and bug fixes

Users should start seeing the rollout immediately; Google Drive remains free on the Play Store.

[Source: Google Play App Page]

Multidisciplinary Coaching Tool Coachbase Goes Freemium

Multidisciplinary Coaching Tool Coachbase Goes Freemium

Jan 27, 2015

Coaching utility Coachbase is looking to become even more available by going free.

The app, which allows coaches and trainers to create virtual playbooks on Android devices, is shedding the $9.99 price tag; now, potential users can try out a limited version, and then unlock the full featured app via in-app purchase.

Coachbase is developed by a former youth coach, and supports over 20 sports, from basketball and soccer to floorball and water polo. it offers background syncing, animations, sharing options, and more.

As noted, the app is available for free (with in-app purchases) on Google Play.

[Source: Google Play App Page]

Mint.com Gets Update, Adds Manipulation of Bill Reminders and More

Mint.com Gets Update, Adds Manipulation of Bill Reminders and More

Jan 27, 2015

Intuit is busy with Mint.com, and has just uodated the app with a bunch of new features:

New for 4.0.0
Bill Reminders: You can now create, edit and view Bill Reminders on your phone.
– When you have a Bill due in the next 7 days, an Upcoming Bill Reminder Card will be displayed in the Updates Section.
– From the Upcoming Bill Reminder Card, you can view all your Bill Reminders
– When viewing an individual Bill Reminder, you can delete that reminder
Additional Improvements:
– Improved pin entry
– Squished Bugs

Mint.com is a great all-in-one financial app that allows users to keep track of spending and budgeting. It allows for syncing with online accounts, and is a cross-platform offering.

It remains free on the Play Store.

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[Source: Google Play App Page]

Tabtor Releases Math Learning App on Google Play

Tabtor Releases Math Learning App on Google Play

Jan 27, 2015

Tabtor is building upon its success on iOS by releasing the Android version of it’s well-regarded mathematics learning/tutoring application.

The app is backed by a subscription service, and the whole system is specifically aimed at kids in the K-6 bracket; a student gets unlimited worksheets and regular feedback from a dedicated tutor.

Per the Google Play page, features include:

– Tabtor membership gives you access to unlimited digital worksheets for one low monthly price for one student (subject to fair usage and assessment of submitted worksheets). Multiple plans available.
– Every worksheet is accompanied with a video tutorial to assist in the moments of frustration
– With your membership, a tutor is assigned for each student
– Student starts with a diagnostic test
– Student gets instant grading on every question
– Tutors provide personalized feedback, daily or as-needed, based on the worksheets submitted by the students and accordingly assign worksheets
– You get weekly updates on the performance of your children
– In addition, you get a biweekly session with the Tutor to review the performance of your children and for your child to talk with the Tutor
– Curriculum is aligned with CCSS (Common Core). Grades covered: Kindergarten, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grades. 7th and 8th grade content will be released soon.

Tabtor CTO Balraj Suneja is pleased with the Android release. “We’re pleased to offer Tabtor’s groundbreaking learning program on the Android platform,” he says. “Students who use it have not only shown dramatic improvements on tests, but in many cases, they’ve been able to truly excel in a subject they previously struggled with, building the skills they’ll need for college and their professional careers beyond school.”

As noted, the app is free with a Tabtor subscription; it is available on the Play Store.

Risky Waters Review

Risky Waters Review

Jan 27, 2015

Risky Waters sounds like an exciting concept. Beset by evil serpents from beyond this world, the player must sail down a river as combat and destruction grips the land, destroying these mighty beasts with a ship mounted cannon. Failure to destroy the flying abominations allows them to breathe fire on your delicate craft. Killing off monsters grants experience that makes the cannon stronger. Shooting hearts can repair your redoubtable ship on the fly.

Screenshot_2015-01-26-18-51-22Unfortunately, the actual gameplay is very dull indeed. The game plays a bit like a shooter, one stick to aim and another to shoot. These controls make it very easy to target the airborne serpentine threat. The gameplay however is very dull indeed. The viewpoint is set so close it is down to pretty much luck if the player can take down a dragon before it sets fire to their ship and the game is extremely boring due to the one note gameplay and lack of skill required. There are no hidden depths or gameplay surprises here.

This could have been redeemed slightly if there was some kind of upgrade or experience system to permanently upgrade the player’s ship or its wussy little cannon, but experience only counts for the particular game it is earned in and seems to have little effect. It is not obvious what leveling up does for the player.

Risky Waters
also looks really bad. The graphics are drawn in a style which is both painful to look at and poorly colored. Bug eyed, purple dragons look like something from a fever dream. The aforementioned super close camera also makes playing the game much harder than it should be. At least the game is distinct enough on small screens and never lags or stutters.

The sound is unexciting. The weak blip of your cannon does not evoke any atmosphere and dragons are rather quiet. The music is passable.

Risky Waters is a dull, ugly looking game that really isn’t worth anyone’s time. There are a multitude of way better shooters on Android.