Google Messenger Review

Google Messenger Review

Mar 24, 2015

As Android continues to mature, one of the cooler aspects is the way Google has seen fit to not only build its version of mobile utilities, but to also serve a lot of its apps à la carte. Keep, Calendar, Keyboard, etc are great parts of the OS, but pay of their charm is that they are optional pieces.

When it comes to messaging, most observers would probably agree that Android is very, uh… well… an area of opportunity. Definitely not from a lack of options. Oh no. Between Voice, Hangouts and the deprecated Talk, there are quite a few communication tools. And now, the relatively new Messenger throws its hat into the muddled ring.mes2

Messenger is Google’s homogeneous answer to Android device SMS and MMS communication. It’s a slim offering that acts as a replacement for OEM/carrier messaging apps.

Off the bat, it possesses that streamlined, familiar look that Google is clearly looking for with Material Design. There is a lot of white space and blue accents, with the chatted-with contacts appearing as icon circles towards the top left; for each one, there is a text to the right highlighting the last sent/received communication. To the top right, one gets a search button and the three-dot menu, and at the bottom right, there is a circled “+” button for starting new conversations.

When a contact is selected from the main screen (or a new one initiated), the same mostly white motif shows up. Each sequence is denoted by defined chat bubbles, with the user postings aligning right and the person being chatted with gets their words slanted to the left. From the individual contact settings, one can personalize the colors somewhat, such that the text bubble of the contact can be shaded. Calls can also be initiated directly from the individual “pages.”

The main menu doesn’t provide a whole lot more diversity, but one can set up notifications and set up delivery report.

In practice, it works well, as instant as the built in apps (which isn’t shocking).

It would be nice if there was automatic functionality with Goggle Voice, but it’s hard to knock the clean simplicity. It’s a no-frills presentation that mostly works. Yes, i would have appreciated more customization options, but hey.

Is it good enough to replace built-in options? Yes. It’s not necessarily breathtaking, but merely good enough, and that it an intimidating starting point.

Milk Video Review

Milk Video Review

Feb 20, 2015

The internet is a wonderful place.

It’s all about the content. Meme videos. Music clips. Technological reviews. News analysis. Satire. And a whole, whole lot more.

Yep… it boils down to so much content, and so little time. Samsung’s Milk Video looks to be the bridge in the process, a service that pulls in video from a host of sources, and gets smarter as it goes.

Opening up the app the first time gives an idea of the breadth of offerings; off the bat, one gets to see an interesting swathe of options with regards to channels to pick from: Jimmy Kimmel Live, Laugh or Die, The Tonight Show, NBA, HuffPost Live, Engadget, Android Authority, VEVO and a whole lot more. The basic concept is to “follow” milk2channels, and said channels will then show up in the users feed.

Then in the feed, the channels are stacked upon each other vertically, and tapping on any video makes it play embedded in the feed. Switching to landscape allows the app user to consume video full-screen, which is a nice feature. Also, videos can be acted upon from the feed; long-pressing (or tapping the three-dot menu at the top right) a video gives one the options of saving a video, formally “liking” it, or even sharing using on-device utilities like email or social networks. To do any of these operations though, one must have a Samsung account, Google account or a Facebook account.

Altogether, it works well as an aggregator, with videos playing smoothly. Content providers continue to increase, and for music lovers, the presence of genre-specific VEVO channels is huge. Sadly, the ad-free goodness is restricted to owners of specific Samsung devices — no tablets — and as such, this is an unabashed exclusive directed at a specific set users. Still as an anchor service, it does resonate surprisingly well.

For folks who do a lot of video — and who doesn’t — it is a more than just an enjoyable diversion.

Sony Music Unlimited Review

Sony Music Unlimited Review

Oct 8, 2014

“Daddy?”

“Yep?”

“What is that ‘CD’ thingie they are talking about on that show?”

We’ve come a long way. Not that long ago, having one’s music on the go meant investing in a CD case or one of those hideous auto visor holders. Now, our smartphones are our streaming hubs.

And mighty Sony is on it it — in the manifestation of the subscription-based Sony Music Unlimited streaming service.

After setting up the service (which involved redeeming the review code Sony provided), the next thing was to download the accompanying from the Play Store. using the app, one is easily able to navigate the service. it’s possible to browse the catalog by genre. For premium subscribers, there is the channel feature, which parses thesum1 music into common-ground groups; channels range from “Bollywood” to “Assassin’s Creed” and beyond. There is even a “Comedy Nightclub” channel, which rocks stuff from Cheech and Chong all the way to Chris Rock, I liked the ability to create one’s own channels. There is also a Library section in the main menu which allows users to collate favorite music.

The service allows for streaming (obviously), but also gives users the ability to pin music offline; this is great for when might be lacking internet connectivity.

One of the biggest question a music service has to answer is the one that pertains to content. On this front, Sony Music Unlimited packs a major punch; not shocking, considering we’re talking about, well, Sony here. It boasts more than 30 million songs, which is far from shabby. In reality, it picked up almost every artist I threw at it across genres. I was happy to find entire albums from even obscure artists; it didn’t have ALL, but I think I could be satisfied with the selection. The audio is quite clear (320 kbps High Quality Audio), and no ads to contend with.

The ability to access the premium service on the web, multiple mobile platforms, Playstation consoles/handhelds and compatible Sony electronics adds to its allure.

I think the search engine can be tweaked a good deal; in some of my searches, it seemed to be quite reliant on exactness, which can be a tough with regards to zany spellings of artist names and songs, and even then, finding songs can be infuriating. There are some instances that I think the UI could be a bit more logical off the search too; there were times a song/artist search came up blank when the song was indeed in the catalog.

Yes, the streaming music space is pretty packed for Android, but Sony knows a thing or two about this entertainment, and it brings that knowledge to bear in this product.

Good for us.

Soccer Fitness Gols Review

Soccer Fitness Gols Review

Sep 19, 2014

Sometimes, we get apps to review that are so natural to use. As a licensed soccer coach who has played and coached The Beautiful Game most of my life, I have an intimate understanding of how seriously fitness impacts the sport. It’s an important, and there are quite a number of wearables aimed at this segment.

In any case, checking out apps like Soccer Fitness Gols not only feels natural, it feels like its my duty. So there.

The app itself is simple in design, with bright green, turf-like graphics making up the main background. The developer uses different shades of green in places to contrast the mostly white main screen text. The UI, as noted, is simple, and uses mostly uses taps and some gestures as the main modes of navigation.gol1

The main menu provides a few options: Programs, Assessment, Leaderboard and Profile. The Program submenu is futher broken into Strength, Endurance, Power, Speed and Flexibility. Each of these categories has three levels of difficulty aimed at people of different stages of fitness (beer league? Hilarious), and selecting one opens up the fitness activities to be done. Now, the exercises were my favorite part, incorporating a lot of warm-up moves familiar to soccer players, and several logical sequences, with video accompanying the descriptions and instructions. The program lists goals (sorry, gols) and allows the user to tweak the actual number achieved, which actually worked to encourage me to “beat” the gol. When done, the results can be saved (to be compared to past and future results), assessed and/or shared to social networks.

It turns out that “gols” isn’t just a funky way of spelling the obvious word; it is also a measure of activity. Gols are assigned for doing the workouts, and used to populate the Leaderboards. The Assessment is self-explanatory, and the Profile allows for users to personalize usage stats.

I especially like the video aspect, and the leaderboard adds a competitive aspect. I do think there could be more media content, and probably a little bit of nutritional pointers. Still, it’s an app I have no problem allowing my players to use.

Or myself, for that matter.

Agenday Smart Calendar Review

Agenday Smart Calendar Review

Sep 18, 2014

Making everyday business activities easier is a worthy goal that definitely earns developers a spot in heaven. With Agenday Smart Calendar, PGi might have a chance to go up yonder.

The use interface is appropriately businesslike, with the default soft hues and flashes of orange. The welcome screen is tastefully crafted, with weather, date and meetings that are planned for the current day. The date bar is scrollable, and there is a calendar button nestled to the top right, along with the familiar Android-standard three-button menu access. Tapping on a specific part of the weather information leads to Weather Underground, from which more specific weather information can be procured. Altogether, the UI feels clean and intuitive, and avoids the pitfall of being too cluttered.age1

Tapping on the menu button gives an idea of the app’s functionality as a scheduling and conferencing hub. The app automatically pulls in the emails already attached to the hosting device, and tapping “Schedule Meeting” out of the app menu suggests adding a conference service. If this is selected, the user is led to a menu where conference call info can be added. Then, Agenday calls up the installed calendars on the device (and if there is more than one with the appropriate permissions, it allows the user to pick the preferred one). In the main menu, there is also the option to “Meet Now” which allows one to set up a call now.

As already noted, the app stands out by streamlining conference calls. It works with services like GoToMeeting and Linc on the fly, allowing for one-touch dialing and connection to pre-configured conference calls. Additionally, I found it calls up navigation utilities from within the app for drive-to locations.

The extras help make the app standout. For the business professional on the go, integration with LinkedIn and Salesforce should be very welcome. It interfaces with the installed contacts/people utility too, so a lot of actions can be performed from the app. The widget is also a nice touch.

When it’s all said and done, Agenday makes its name by doing more, and doing more simply. Being free makes if feel even more of a steal.

VSCO Cam Review

VSCO Cam Review

Feb 27, 2014

When it comes to image capture on mobile devices, competition is fierce. Better hardware, more megapixels, yes, but almost more importantly, better image manipulation tools. This is the space VSCO Cam is looking to fill.

Starting the app starts a device optimization sequence; after this, the app menu appears, and it gives us a clue as to the app’s core functionality. The app menu is rated in greys and blacks, besides the Camera button, there are tabs for Library, Store, Settings, Journal and VSCO Grid, and these tabs are set in a slide-out panel that can be hidden on the left.

The camera function is probably the most important, and selecting it opens up the shooting utility. This specific vsco1environment is minimalist in nature, with menu and sizing buttons. There is also a toggle to important pictures for manipulation. Taking a picture is as simple as it is on any smartphone camera (obviously); VSCO Cam‘s assumed value is mostly in its ability to tweak images.

And, at first blush, that value is high indeed. The option set is superb, allowing for the user to actually create pre-sets that can be applied to pictures. Further, there is a slider that can be utilized to perfect tat particular look. Picture tweaking utilizes elements like temperature and exposure to create balance, and the comparison feature is phenomenal, as it allows for before/after checks by long-pressing the edited image. For folks looking to get a hand in selecting the perfect combination of tweaks, there are preset packs available via in-app purchase.

The app also covers the social angle, allowing sharing via social networks and via its own aforementioned VSCO Grid. The latter is an interesting concept that makes sense, allowing folks to discover and be discovered. This is social aspect adds to the attraction of the app.

It’s a third-party app that is fluid and actually fun to use, and is great for all ages.

Talon for Twitter Review

Talon for Twitter Review

Feb 25, 2014

May the Twitter space battles go on; they bring us options like Talon from Twitter.

Getting things going is a simple matter of authorizing Twitter from within the app and giving it a few moments to sync up one’s data. The first thing that jumps out is the styling of the app; the default theme is subtle but determined, with soft grays superimposed on a black background. Twitter handles are handled in orange, and most other text in white. Outside this default theme (“dark” in settings) here is a “light” one (mostly white tweet bubbles on light grey background) and “black” (grey on black). Text size and fonts can be tweaked, and there is an option to load an add-on theme, or to make one’s own using an external theme building app. Looking at the whole package, it’s hard not to appreciate the attention paid to customization options.talon1

Functionally, most information is a gesture away. The default page is the ubiquitous Timeline view. Swiping to the left reveals Mentions and Direct messages after that. Long-pressing a tweet allows it to be manipulated via favoriting, retweeting and replying.tapping a tweet automatically opens up a reply window with mentioned profiles pre-populated. Tapping the menu button gives a few more options like quoting. There is also a three-line menu context nestled in the top left corner, which allows for navigation to one’s profile, trending topics, user lists and more. It’s set up logically, and most operation sequences should be intuitive to Twitter vets.

This app does not have push notifications; we have Twitter’s api policies to thank for that. Instead, it uses a listener option to keep users on top of twitter information. It works with TwitLonger, emoji and even Pebble.

The app allows for two Twitter accounts, which is definitely a plus.

It’s a great looking app, packs a lot of functionality, and seems well worth the $1.99 price tag.

Litho Review

Litho Review

Nov 12, 2013

It’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of apps designed to make photos taken using brand new technology look like they were taken centuries ago. In this digital world we live in, it looks like we still crave for analogue media.

That’s why this review for Litho was written on paper and then faxed into Android Rundown HQ.

Litho is, as the introduction may have alluded to, an image altering app. If you don’t know how these things work then listen up. You can crop and re-size images, apply filters to make your photos look ancient and you can also apply ‘stickers’ to give your creations that unique look that can only be acquired by scribbling on a moustache or some glasses. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can use a combination of all of these features.Litho1

What’s quite impressive is the ability to place textures and filters on top of each other. Like a mini-Photoshop, Litho allows you to layer your effects and images until you get the result that you want.

Whilst Litho treads old ground in terms of what’s been seen before in image editing apps, it’s safe to say that Litho is extensive in what it offers. A huge selection of filters and textures can be applied. There’s also an editing mode that gives you full control over alterations you’re making if any of the preset options on offer don’t take your fancy.

To be honest though, you’ll most likely never need to use these advanced editing features. Every tool is so well labelled and easy to use that most of what you’ll ever want to do to a picture will be easily done with a tool in Litho.

One minor complaint with the menus is that they’re not very responsive. There’s always a slight pause to any input. It never makes the process of editing images annoying and it won’t exactly get in your way, but it is noticeable.

One other barrier to you and your perfect image is the fact that some of the textures, effects and other features need to be purchased. It’s safe to say that for most people, the freely available content will be more than enough, but this is an app that needs to make money. So that’s how it does it.

The final part of any image’s journey through Litho will be deciding where to save your image. Considering that saving an image is no longer enough, we all know it’s about ‘sharing’ anything you make. Luckily, if you’re so inclined to do so, Litho makes sharing an absolute breeze and offers compatibility with all of the major social networks as well as some of the minor ones.

WordPress, Google+, Twitter, the list goes on. If you want to upload to a service that isn’t present in Litho you may want to change what service you use.

With Litho you have an extremely feature-full app that manages to cram in a lot of functionality whilst maintaining usability. Some of the content needs to be paid for, but considering there’s so much that’s given to you for free, it’s hard to feel aggrieved by this decision. A great app.


Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy Review

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy Review

Nov 1, 2013

Sky Gamblers: Air Supremacy is one of those games that brings a lot to the table in many ways. Flight simulation games can sometimes be either overly involved or control-challenged; finding that comfortable middle ground can be tough.

First of all, it is a pretty hefty download; we’re talking about just under 2GB unpacked according to Goog. Off the bat, at first glance, the graphics make it seem worth it… it looks good. From the aircraft themselves to the way the sun reflects off the endless the sea in the background, detail is definitely paid attention to. If you are able to look at the planes and not want to fly one in real life, check for a pulse.

The tutorial does a good job of hitting the spot. It is broken down into several different lessons, each with an air1emphasis on a category of flying. They are fairly thorough, and are a fun way of getting acquainted with the game. And the one teaching controls is definitely appreciated.

Guiding the plane combines monitoring measurables like speed and altitude. Virtual joysticks controls banking in either direction, as well as dives, ascents. and airspeed. Realistic-looking gauges make up a lot of the background, and I like the various views that are and changeable at the tap of a button. Other sections of the tutorial deal with skills like dogfighting, and the finer points of evading the enemy as well as taking them out. Basic skills are taught using understandable terms, and in this, the tutorial is a bona fide, fun part of the game.

The actual gameplay itself comes in single and multiplayer flavors. There are missions, plenty of dogfighting and defensive sets.In some variations, it can get chaotic, with lifelined craft taking up a lot of space on the screen, but for the most part, it is a lot of fun. The IAP system is in place and fully stocked.

It’s intense, but its strength is that the intensity can be controlled by the user. The controls do take a bit of getting used to, but the scenery and gameplay helps overcome that.

BBM for Android Review

BBM for Android Review

Oct 24, 2013

Yes, BlackBerry (formerly RIM) has had better days. The iconic technology company made devices that signified corporate success and helped shape the smartphone market. It’s current troubles are well known, and the company and its devices have arguably lost some of their previous luster.

One piece of the BlackBerry ecosystem that has always been well regarded is BlackBerry Messenger, its eponymous messaging system. Its always-on nature, perceived reliability and PIN-based connection service is almost universally respected, even by non-BlackBerry device users. So, when BlackBerry announced that it would be opening up the hitherto proprietary messenger to iOS and Android users, ears perked up.

One less-than-optimal launch attempt and a successful follow-up try later, we have it: BBM on Android.bbm1

The app itself has stylings similar to BBM on BB10, with black, blue and white making up most of the color presentation. The menu button is part of the bottom dock, and it, along with the status bar, bookend buttons for Chats, Contacts and Groups. Space feels well-used; no cramped over-used space is present, and the white background mostly complements the chatting “surface.”

The sign-up process included a queue, but folks that already had the prerequisite BBIDs got in relatively early. The sign-in generates the well-known PIN, and soon after, I was up and running. By default, the app puts a persistent notification in the notification pane, which I did not like, but it can be toggled off in Settings. It’s friendly with barcodes with regards to joining groups and adding contacts and there are several other ways to effect connections, including via NFC.

The good things are still there: read and delivered confirmations, instant transmissions and group chat functionality. I especially like the last feature; in my mind, no modern day chat client is good without it.

The always-on nature is somewhat of a double-edged sword for me because as far as I can tell, there is no way to mute individual chats; it’s all or nothing. For people in group chats, this can be irritating, because depending on how chatty the people are, there will be a LOT of notifications. Signing out isn’t intuitive either.

When compared to the big boys, like Google Hangouts, it’s clear that the videochat functionality is missed, particularly since it already exists on BB10 as BBM Voice and Video. I also disliked the fact that only one device can be signed into at a time; if you have multiple devices, or chat on desktop, BBM is currently lacking a bit.

But BlackBerry says improvements are to come; when measured as a traditional messenger, BBM is not shabby at all, and may end up being the crown jewel of a new BBRY. If initial downloads are an indicator, it may do very well in the cross-platform space.

Where’s My Water? 2 Review

Where’s My Water? 2 Review

Oct 17, 2013

Disney’s strategy with regards to the mobile space seems to be generously present. It has underwritten quite a few popular titles in the last couple of years, and Where’s My Water? was definitely a fan favorite. Where’s My Water? 2 is a sequel that is blessed with a good foundation in the Android gaming world.

For fans of the first iteration (or other Disney-made clones like Where’s My Perry), the gameplay will be very, very familiar: the basic idea is to get water through pipes so Swampy could have a much-wanted shower. The game follows the general rules of physics, and so the water is usually in an elevated position, with immovable rock and flexible dirt serving as barriers. To get the water to the penultimate shower pipe, it’s necessary to move the soft dirt, and this is accomplished by swiping away the dirt on by finger. The games gets craftier with advancement, and errant swipes can be costly, especially since the right water threshold must be attained for the Swampy to get enough water. As usual, swampy1the rock cannot be drilled/swiped away, and the rubber duckies are alive and kicking, and available to be “collected” by sustained water contact.

It looks much the same, but with seemingly more vibrant looks. The basic color palette remains similar, but there are a few more environments added in for effect: Soap Factory, Sewer and Beach. The animations are smooth; they retain the cartoon character without being overly silly. The sounds are whimsically appropriate, and all the media comes together quite well.

Probably one of the biggest changes with regards to the game is the addition of challenges. These are innovative flips in the gameplay that literally turn the game upside down. All of a sudden, ducks become untouchable obstacles, gates are to be avoided and more. In Duck Rush, one has to dig down frantically downwards before the water “disappears” while collecting as ducks on the way. There are hints, boosts and facebook functionality built in.

It’s an intense reboot, with a good deal variation that keeps it fresh. There is a lot of the same, and this might be a barrier for some, but the game is a nice one all the same.

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Review

Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing Review

Oct 7, 2013

… and it’s about time.

Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing is the Android port of the ever-popular console game that brings the intense kart racing action to the mobile screen. As is clear from the title, we get the world’s fastest hedgehog and 12 of his in-game cronies as optioned racing characters. The numerous environments are engaging, if a bit whimsical… but that is part of the game’s charm.

Anyone who has played this on a console will be relieved to note that the visuals translate well to mobile devices. The swathes of color are present, making the whole game look like the candy heaven it’s supposed to look light. The sega1animations are sharp and effective, and all the characters are easily identifiable to anyone with a smattering of Sonic knowledge.

The gameplay is standard racing fare; get your vehicle, race the opponents, collect boosts, avoid deployed traps and win. There are different types of vehicles, so there isn’t a fear of being confined to something as conventional as go-kart; if racing a banana (and yes, I am not using street-savvy slang to describe a yellow sports car. I am referring to the yellow fruit) is your flavor, this is the game for you.

The single player racing comes in different flavors: Grand Prix, single race, time trial and missions. I like that it is possible to play in multiplayer mode with up to four players online and local wi-fi; Facebook sign-up ensures that social friends can jump into the action too. The built in tutorial is great, with pointers to effect drifting. It should be noted that not all drivers and locations are available at the beginning; they need to do be earned. There is an in-app store, but isn’t needed to progress.

Gaming and interaction…this game makes it look easy.