Theme Thursday – Thanksgiving and Forever Thankful

Theme Thursday – Thanksgiving and Forever Thankful

Nov 25, 2011

Editor’s Note: Do the Black Friday crowds have you down? Want to remember why this is a holiday weekend in the first place? Then enjoy this week’s Theme Thursday on a Friday. Freaky Friday will return next week at its scheduled time and place! Happy Thanksgiving weekend to all!

This week’s Theme Thursday is another double-feature, each with a Thanksgiving theme to help you celebrate the holiday. The first ADW Launcher theme to be featured is called, aptly enough, Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving comes with a cornucopia of 150 custom icons, each featuring a different app icon within its very own horn of plenty. As you can also see, the custom wallpaper depicts a scene of the Android decked out in Pilgrim’s attire as he hunts the wild turkey for the feast.

This theme, which runs on ADW Launcher is only US$1.25. You can find it here on the Android Market.

The second half of our double-feature is Forever Thankful from MommaDeuce.

This theme depicts several decorative Autumnal scenes and items inspired by the season. It contains 35 wallpapers in addition to assorted custom icons, docks and other elements to give your Android device the look and feel of a Fall harvest time scene.

You can find Forever Thankful on the Android Market for US$1.49.

Each of these themes will require ADW Launcher, a home replacement utility. ADW Launcher allows you customize several different elements of your Android’s graphical user interface all at once simply by switch themes or customizing existing themes to use any icon, wallpaper, dock or other element already installed on your Android device. Even the way the app drawer behaves can be customized to your liking, making it an extremely versatile utility that allows for a truly unique experience. ADW Launcher is available for free on the Android Market. However, to use custom docks, you will need ADW Launcher EX, available on the Android Market for US$3.32.

From all of us here at Android Rundown to everyone out there, have a safe and happy Thanksgiving!

Tiny Tower Review

Tiny Tower Review

Nov 18, 2011

For several weeks, Tiny Tower on iOS had a rock-solid grip on my life. I couldn’t do anything without checking in on my bitizens, making sure they were getting their work done while I ignored my own. I was simply engrossed in the steady stream of activity — someone is constantly moving in, stocking items, building new floors or just looking to get a ride in the elevator. It never ends, and even the most mundane, insignificant minutia — such as moving the elevator up and down — requires your assistance.

Extremely easy to play, your main job is to fill your building with bitizens who work in the shops to make you money so you can build additional floors for more bitizens to work and live on. That’s it. There’s no real goal in Tiny Tower. You just keep building, higher and higher. That could be a turn-off if you get bored easily, but that’s why the game includes achievements and social features, allowing you to show off and compare your tower with your friends’ towers.

I do have a few complaints about Tiny Tower on Android. For example, this version isn’t as fully-featured as its iOS cousin. While the Android version features nicer menus and sorting options that allow you to quickly move through tasks, it lacks a few social features and the “bitizen builder” feature included in the iOS version. Of course, it also lacks Game Center compatibility. Mobage uses their own social network to keep you connected with friends, but only as long as they are playing the Android version as well. Also, forget transferring your existing game from one platform to another.

My biggest criticism about Tiny Tower is that notifications are either broken or don’t exist. Because tasks can take anywhere from a few minutes to several hours, you’ll want to close the app to use your phone for other tasks while you wait for them to finish. But the game never notifies you when the task is complete like it does in the iOS version. This means your stores are sitting empty while stock waits to be put on the shelf, new additions remain closed until you open them or a store has sold out while no one is there to order more stock. One of the best things Android had going for it was its notification system; it’s a shame to see that Tiny Tower, apparently, makes no use of it.

Like the iOS version, Tiny Tower on Android requires a network connection in order to play. This is fine if you’re at home on WiFi or your phone has a data plan, but you’re out of luck if you don’t.

I could easily see myself getting drawn right back into Tiny Tower, if I’m not careful. The cute graphics, smooth music and constant activity easily make this game range from fun to tedious to overwhelming, depending on how into it you get. But otherwise, it’s just a good game that can keep you occupied for hours, if not weeks.

Guitar BTX Review

Guitar BTX Review

Nov 17, 2011

Ask anyone who’s ever tried to learn an instrument and they’ll likely tell you that the part they hate most is practicing scales. It’s boring! Up and down, up and down… repeating the same notes, over and over. It’s tedious, mind-numbing and seems to go on for hours. But, if you want to learn the basic fundamentals of music while building dexterity and muscle memory, practicing scales is the only way it’ll come to you.

Part of what makes practicing scales so dull is that it doesn’t seem practical when taken out of context. You want to learn an instrument so you can play music and have fun, but scales aren’t fun; they’re just a bunch of notes! That’s where Guitar BTX comes in. Guitar BTX turns practice time into fun time by laying down a groove and getting you into a rhythm. But that’s not the only benefit.

Practicing scales with a backing track also makes sure you’re learning correctly. When you’re playing the notes by themselves, it’s not always easy to hear where they fit in. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the right note from a wrong note, and it’s easy to learn incorrectly. But if you have some context to guide you, it’s much easier to hear where the notes go.

To use the app, you simply tap on the scale and key you want to practice. After a moment, a rocking guitar strums out appropriate chords while bass and drums lay down the rhythm. For reference, the app includes an image of the scale and neck position so that you can look up any notes you’re unsure of. Guitar BTX works exactly as it should, but there is room for improvement.

To save on space, none of the 35 mp3 backing tracks are included with the app — they stream to you when you choose a scale. This means that Guitar BTX will not work without an internet connection. While this may not be a huge problem, it would certainly be an inconvenience if the server went down or a connection wasn’t available. Would it have been wiser, or even possible, to use General MIDI tracks, instead? They would sound a lot different, but the tiny size of MIDI files means that they wouldn’t take up a lot of space and could be included with the app — no internet connection required.

There’s a much worse problem, however. I really don’t like that the app stops playing the backing track when you tap on the tablature to see the notes in the scale. It stops the learning process and adds frustration to have to go back and forth to hear the music and see the notes. I’m sure there’s a simple solution, but as is, it’s a major annoyance.

As for the rest of app, I think Guitar BTX is incredibly useful. Even as someone who’s been playing guitar for 16 years, it’s always helpful to go back and brush up on those scales. Guitar BTX does a great job of turning a dull, tedious chore into a fun way to learn.

Theme Thursday – MIUI Cartoon Mob

Theme Thursday – MIUI Cartoon Mob

Nov 17, 2011

The theme chosen for this week’s Theme Thursday, MIUI Cartoon Mob, is an interesting one, no doubt. For one thing, I find it to be fun and visually appealing. The cartoony, hand-drawn style of the icons, backgrounds and other elements all look great. For another thing, it comes to Android and ADW Launcher by way of the very popular MIUI ROM.

I admit that I’m not quite brave enough to install a custom ROM on my phone. For whatever reason, I just don’t want to do it. As I said, I understand that this is kind of a weird hang-up, but it’s my hang-up and I don’t really want to go into it. Even so, to get this theme on my phone, I’d almost consider taking a risk and going through the process of installing MIUI. Well, thankfully, I don’t have to go through that process, I can just purchase MIUI Cartoon Mob and set it as the current theme in ADW Launcher. It’s that easy!

Of course, it’s easy because ADW Launcher makes it easy. The custom home replacement utility allows you to customize your Android’s user interface in a number of amazing ways. From custom backgrounds to completely new icon sets, everything is customizable — even the way the app drawer displays and behaves. It’s very powerful.

So, if you’re like me and want to install a cheerful looking theme without getting your hands dirty dealing with custom ROMs, buying MIUI Cartoon Mob and installing it in ADW Launcher seems like the easiest way to go. You can even mix and match it with other themes for a truly unique user interface. Just another one of the great things about Android; the sky’s the limit when it comes to customization.

You can find MIUI Cartoon Mob on the Android Market for US$1.49.

Theme Thursday – Frozen Android

Theme Thursday – Frozen Android

Nov 10, 2011

In the mood for something cool and refreshing? Perhaps you would like to try an Android on the rocks? If so, take a look at Frozen Android and see if it’s a theme you would like to chill with.

Frozen Android puts your favorite app icons on ice, surrounding them in cool shades of blue and hard freezing them. It even extends this idea into several of the 5 included background images, giving you a good view of the “honeybee” Android mascot looking a lot like the Demolition Man.

Running in ADW Launcher, a home replacement utility, Frozen Android instantly transforms the graphical user interface of your Android device into a customized look and feel. It’s the easiest way to give your device a unique design that you’ll love to show off at every opportunity you get. And, of course, in case that isn’t quite distinct enough for you, you can always further customize the theme by mixing and matching it with others. From icons to wall papers and dock styles, there are a multitude of ways to make your Android device truly your own.

Frozen Android is completely free, so you won’t have to spend anything to get it up and running on your device. The author of Frozen Android has stated that more icons are on their way; however, the theme hasn’t been updated in a while. The author does includes contact information, though, just in case you don’t find an icon for your favorite app and would like to get in contact to get more.

Of course, a frozen droid is never a good thing, unless we’re talking about this theme. In which case, hopefully, plenty of people will agree that this is an attractive theme, well worth the download.

You can find Frozen Android on the Android Market.

Theme Thursday – Facedroid

Theme Thursday – Facedroid

Nov 3, 2011

Are you addicted to Facebook? Do you find that you simply can’t exist without checking on your friends’ status updates every 10 minutes? Do you like to organize events or chat with people, posting pictures and other items to their walls? Or maybe you just like to stalk past lovers? Hey, we don’t judge. But if you’re one of those people who just love that familiar, Facebook blue, Facedroid, this week’s theme, is for you!

Built for ADW Launcher, a home screen replacement utility, Facedroid transforms the graphical user interface of your Android device in radical way. Sporting a very chic, minimal design, the simple white on blue icons all feature a “Facebook-esque” aesthetic for a uniform look and feel. While you only seem to get the one, blue background, you have over 233 icons in all, with more on the way. The author of the theme states that this theme will be frequently updated with more icons.

As mentioned, this theme is for ADW Launcher and will require you to download and install it if you wish to use this theme. ADW Launcher allows you to change your Android device’s user interface in a quick, convenient way. Simply by downloading custom themes and applying them in the theme manager, you can give your device a fresh new look. Everything from the icons to the backgrounds to the way the app drawer behaves can be customized from within ADW Launcher.

Note that the clock widget and colored status bar, as seen in the screenshots, are not included. They are separate downloads and may require other applications which may or may not have their own, separate costs.

If you like this theme and want to make it yours, you’ll be happy to know that it’s completely free. Just download it from the Android Market.

Vote 2012 Review

Vote 2012 Review

Nov 2, 2011

I admit, I don’t follow politics nearly as much as I should. I don’t stay on top of events, who’s running or the candidates’ policies. As I hang my head in shame, I confess, I am a bad citizen. Thankfully, there’s an app for that.

Vote 2012 touts itself as “Your 2012 United States election headquarters” app. In short, it tells you who’s running, connects you with their social networking links, their website and other online resources. It even pulls up the latest headlines for you. It brings just about all the information you need into one place and conveniently places it at your fingertips. Sound like something you could use to stay on top of things? Let’s dig in a little deeper.

The first thing that loads is a profile of current United States President Barack Obama. You get a picture of the Commander in Chief set against a blue background denoting his affiliation with the Democratic Party, a number indicating how many Twitter followers he has and a short bio. Below the bio are icons to various social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Google+, and a globe icon with more links to events, a donate page, his home page, links to events and Google News updates. It’s a good-looking, convenient way to gauge the online presence of each candidate.

At the very top of the first screen is a “pulse” icon, which takes you to the most recent stories regarding the 2012 elections, and a scrolling marquee with the latest headline. From there, simply swipe the profile picture to the left and you can see all of the other candidates.

Each candidate is ordered by number of Twitter followers. However, there appears to be a bug that causes the number of followers to drop to zero every time you load a different page in the app. For example, if I go to Herman Cain’s Facebook page, or some other link and then come back, the count drops to zero. A strange bug, something that can be easily addressed in an update, but it’s a mar on the surface of an otherwise well-done app.

Vote 2012 seems like a useful app for gathering information on each candidate quickly and easily, however, the scope is a bit limited. As the elections heat up over the course of the next 12 months, I can see future versions of the app possibly sending out notifications about poll results, showing a coverage map of who’s currently leading in which state or where each candidate is currently campaigning, along with a list of events. Perhaps it could even list stances taken on certain policies by each candidate, campaign promises or debate results. Of course, right now, it doesn’t offer any of that, but in future updates, these are features that could make this app even better than it is. For political news junkies, Vote 2012 might not be powerful enough, but to the casual observer with a passing interest the election, it’s a good starting point to quickly catch up.

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.

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!

Ragdoll Blaster Review

Ragdoll Blaster Review

Oct 24, 2011

Physics-based games on the Android Market are a dime a dozen. There, I said it. And yet, despite their ubiquity, I still enjoy them for a brief time. They offer a simple, proven gameplay mechanic that you can’t help but get into with very little effort. However, when you come across a game that isn’t too novel when compared to similar games, you have to ask for a little more originality. If nothing else, polish and presentation is of the utmost importance. While not a terrible game, Ragdoll Blaster finds itself lacking just such qualities.

From the beginning, Ragdoll Blaster requires you to log into your Mobage account, if you have one. If not, you are simply locked-out of the game until you create one. The social gaming network gives you the ability to connect with friends and compare scores, but the lack of option to use the network seems arrogant. It also requires an internet connection, making this game even less attractive to those who don’t have or don’t want to use their 3G connections while away from a WiFi router. Of course, the game also takes the liberty of installing a shortcut to Mobage right on your home screen. It’s excessive and invasive, but it’s required if you want to play this game. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if that’s fair, considering that this is a free game, but it doesn’t sit well with me, at all.

Beyond the odd requirements, the game is a fun, but standard, physics-based game. Your goal is to fire as few ragdolls as possible from a canon in the attempt to hit a target set somewhere on the screen. It’s a slightly different gameplay mechanic, as opposed to knocking over obstacles or crashing structures for points. Sometimes, you have to hit a moving target while other times you have to act quickly, setting up moving set pieces that open a gap or move the target to a place where you can hit it. Ragdoll Blaster shifts back and forth from being all about precision aiming to patient timing and skills.

Aiming and controlling your shots couldn’t be easier. Simply touch the screen to aim, set velocity and fire a ragdoll, all at the same time. The game even marks your last shot, making it easier to make minor adjustments in case you miss the first time. However, the mark remains, even after you reset the level. This means that you can easily get the lowest score on a level just by restarting and firing again. With just over 100 levels, you might find yourself burning through the game in an hour or two, assuming you don’t come up against a level you simply can’t figure out.

Ragdoll Blaster has little to offer fans of this style of gameplay that they haven’t seen elsewhere. The simplistic visuals might be easier on older Android devices, but it doesn’t help the game compete with better games in the same genre. Given the odd requirements and lack of polish, this is a free game you can afford to miss.

Pollushot Review

Pollushot Review

Oct 24, 2011

For most of us, the “battle” against pollution is just a metaphor; you’re not literally battling smog and toxic waste. Unless you’re Captain Planet, of course. But in Pollushot, you’re using fire to fight fire against an unusual array of machines that are constantly billowing out toxic smoke and chemicals.

Pollushot is a unique take on the shooter genre where you aren’t simply mashing the “attack” button to unleash a hail of bullets. Instead, you must catch bits of falling pollution and sling-shot them back at the enemy machines. The bits of pollution come in a variety of colors and behave different depending on color. It requires a little more strategy than you might be used to.

The gameplay can get intense as you get into the game. Trying to catch the bits of pollution while avoiding the enemy and its attacks requires a lot of precision movement. You move by touching the screen and dragging your slingshot around, making it easy to avoid most obstacles. However, because you shoot by touching the sling-shot and dragging it backwards, you might have more than a little trouble getting the sling-shot to respond correctly. Trying to move the sling-shot out of harm’s way quickly can be an impossible task if you don’t get it just right. In some cases, you might even end up pulling back the sling-shot instead of moving it, leaving it completely vulnerable to enemy attacks.

Pollushot features a rather unusual musical selection in “Danse Macabre,” a familiar tune that doesn’t quite fit in with the fast-paced gameplay. At times, the music can even slow the pace of the game, removing any sense of urgency that a more fitting soundtrack might bring to the game. Aside from the music, the sound effects are nice and make a perfect fit with what’s happening on the screen. The graphics look great and animate very smoothly.

Pollushot is certainly a different kind of game with an interesting premise and some unique gameplay, but it lacks in several areas. Notably, the spotty controls and the repetitive enemy types you’ll encounter as you play through each round. Furthermore, you need to achieve an extremely high number of points before you can progress to the next set of levels. You’ll more than likely find yourself fighting against the types enemies for a long time before unlocking the next level, which can become tedious and boring. And then, even if you do manage to unlock the next level, it’s just going to be more of the same, but with new enemy types.

While I don’t doubt many will enjoy the game despite the unusual controls and gameplay mechanic, I found myself not enjoying it at all. It’s certainly a novel game, with plenty of achievements and OpenFeint integration to keep you going, but with some tweaks and minor improvements, I think it could be a much better game.

Theme Thursday – Tha Flesh

Theme Thursday – Tha Flesh

Oct 20, 2011

As Halloween shambles ever closer, we prepare for its arrival with a theme that is certainly not for the faint of heart! It might be a good idea to turn back now, if you have a weak stomach. However, if you dare to witness the grisly screenshots of this terrifying theme for ADW Launcher, well, we won’t be held responsible for whatever happens next. This week, for Theme Thursday, we present to you Tha Flesh.

Tha Flesh is a bone-chillingly gruesome display of blood and gore, done up with shreds of ripped skin, stitches and the living dead. It’s the perfect “gross out” theme for any horror fan or zombie fetishist looking for a darker take on ADW Launcher themes.

As a theme for ADW Launcher, obviously, you’ll need to have ADW Launcher in order to see the changes made by installing and running Tha Flesh. ADW Launcher is a home replacement utility that allows you to completely customize the graphical user interface of your Android device. Icons, wallpapers, dock bars and so much more. Even the way your app drawer behaves can be customized a number of different ways with ADW Launcher. With ADW Launcher, you can give your phone a radical new look simply by selecting a different theme. It’s that easy.

With Tha Flesh comes more than 720 disturbing, custom icons; a set of nightmarish wallpapers and hideous custom docks. (Note that custom docks require the purchase and installation of ADW Launcher EX).

You can find Tha Flesh on the Android Market for $2.99, but there’s always the chance that it may find you, first. Or, if you prefer to take it for a test spin and see if this theme bites you the right way before purchasing, download the free version which comes with considerably fewer icons and features, but gives you a good idea of the sick and twisted imagery that will haunt your nightmares for weeks to come.