Holiday Gift Guide: The Android Gamer

Holiday Gift Guide: The Android Gamer

Nov 27, 2014

Trying to find a gift for the Android gamer is no easy task. There is a myriad of options when it comes to accessories, and many of them can be considered useless. Our holiday gift guide will help you find the perfect gift for an Android gamer, whether you are looking for a more expensive gift or a stocking stuffer that won’t break the bank.

Nexus Player

Android gamers typically love the portability of mobile devices, but even the large screen of a tablet doesn’t compare to playing games on a TV. Of course, gamers can turn to full gaming consoles, but buying a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One requires a significant financial investment, especially when factoring in the cost of games. Google is attempting to fill the void this holiday season with the Nexus Player.

The sleek device plugs into a TV via HDMI and allows users to access Google Play apps on their TV. This is great for streaming video, but it also represents an affordable gaming option at only $99. Not all Google Play apps and games are currently available through the Player, but there is already a solid selection of games, and the collection will only continue to grow. Add the Bluetooth gamepad for $39.99. It will also work with any other devices. The Nexus Player and gamepad are currently available through the Google Play store.

MOGA Mobile Gaming System

The MOGA mobile gaming system has long been a favorite among Android gamers, and it is the perfect gift for users who love playing games on their smartphone. Holding the phone and using touchscreen controls is not comfortable, especially during longer play sessions. The MOGA controller solves this problem. The portable Bluetooth controller is equipped with a pop-out center that acts as a stand for smartphones. Devices up to 3.2 inches wide can snap into the port, making it a great option for on-the-go gaming.

Tablet users will also be able to use the controller without the stand via Bluetooth. While the controller has a list price of $29.99, it can often be purchased for much cheaper on Amazon. If the Android gamer on your list has been extra nice this year, spend a few more bucks for the MOGA Hero Power.

Antec LifeBar 10 Portable Charger

The Android gamer’s worst nightmare: not being able to play games because the device is dead or dying. The Antec LifeBar 10 portable charger is a solution that fits inside your pocket. The sleek handheld charger is equipped with two USB ports and one micro-USB slot, and is capable of charging any mobile device.

Android gamers on the go will appreciate the charger’s ability to hold a charge over several days, making it hassle-free power. It also has a built-in flashlight, allowing users to find their device even in the darkest times. Check out our review of the Antec LifeBar 10 here.

Nyko DualShock 4 Smart Clip

The Nyko DualShock 4 smart clip is the perfect stocking stuffer for hardcore gamers. If the gamer on your list already owns a PlayStation 4, this is a great complement. It clips onto the DualShock 4 controller and has a stand that will hold most smartphones.

While the smart clip is designed for use with the PlayStation app or PS4 Remote Play, more active Android users will find a way to make the controller work with Android games. The smart clip is available on the Nyko website for only $9.99.

Developer Perspective: A Conversation with PGi’s David Guthrie

Developer Perspective: A Conversation with PGi’s David Guthrie

Nov 12, 2014

Developers are awesome.

In this business, picking the brains of developers is such a privilege. Finding out how, why and when can be really fascinating.

We had the opportunity to do a quick Q&A with David Guthrie, Chief Technology Officer for PGi, the development house behind calendar super-app Agenday Smart Calendar, which we had the pleasure of reviewing recently.

AR: Why Agenday? What inspired its development?

DG: PGi is focused on frictionless collaboration. We wanted a tool that could be a powerful stepping off point for busy professionals to take control of their day. Agenday was designed and developed by our Innovation Lab to help people collaborate on the go without the hassles of long dial-in numbers or passcodes, URLs or downloads and too many apps doing one thing – instead of one app that empowers users to do it all. On the enterprise business side, Agenday saves companies significant dollars by dialing the lowest cost route for any conference call—huge for companies with remote teams, regional offices and global customers.

AR: Making a “regular” calendar app is hard enough; how did the development team settle on Agenday’s extra features?

DG: The extra features, such as turn-by-turn directions and weather forecasts, were things that we at the PGi Innovation Lab team wanted in our own lives to add efficiencies to our hectic days. Everything you need to start your day, stay up-to-date on personal and work activities, and grow as a professional are all inside the app. Agenday’s product integrations are designed to ultimately help people in businesses of all sizes, industries and locations be more productive, work smarter and get more done with less hassle. For example, many of our collaboration software power users are executive leaders and salespeople, so the LinkedIn and Salesforce.com integrations were tailored to help them learn more about who they were meeting, as well as log those sales activities in a frictionless way.

AR: How has Android development differed from iOS development? Pros? Cons?

DG: The biggest difference with Agenday for Android is our ability to empower Android users with the productivity widget they need – something that wasn’t available on Android devices before. Android’s greater flexibility and openness allows developers to create powerful apps and serve users right at the moment. A big pro for Android development is the way the app gets permissions versus iOS. Those permissions are critical to getting the productivity gains from the app. Some iOS users are wearing of this, and so don’t get all they can from Agenday. Also, the lock screen widget and ongoing notifications in Android add great usability to our App.

AR: How do you see the app developing down the line?

DG: We have unlimited ideas for our roadmap for Agenday. Our customers will be very happy with the additional productivity items we are already building to remove frictions in their day.

Agenday Smart Calendar is available on the Play Store.

Disney Movies Anywhere Brings Some Cohesion to Digital Content Ownership

Disney Movies Anywhere Brings Some Cohesion to Digital Content Ownership

Nov 4, 2014

Disney Movies Anywhere has just arrived on Google Play, and is an app that might be worth keeping an eye on.

At first blush, it serves as a digital locker of Disney, Pixar and Marvel content, which is interesting in and of itself. But it does do a bit more.

It allows users with a Disney Movies Anywhere accounts to link said account to Google Play (and/or Apple iTunes, as it so happens) and have access the content from the companion Google Play Movies app, or the Disney Movies Anywhere App. Now, if one connects it to iTunes, it pulls in Disney content purchased there; in other words, it is possible to access content purchased from iTunes on Android devices, and content purchased on Google Play on iOS devices. It’s a centralized clearinghouse of sorts.

It is a small step, but it is arguably the most interesting move to date with regards to cleaning up the current digital movies morass. Now, it reasonably possible to acquire content from one of the world’s largest content creators in either of the top mobile content stores and access it on either of the two leading platforms. Movies can be downloaded to Android devices to be accessed without the need for signal.

It’s a big deal.

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Additionally, a Disney Movies Anywhere account (which is interchangeable with an ESPN account, by the way) allows one to collect points from buying Disney content. I was able to redeem a code from a movie purchased several years ago.

Some caveats (I know, I know): it seems as though not all Android devices support streaming from within the Disney app; for these devices, one must download the Google Play Movies & TV app. Also, word is that the service might be USA-centric for now.

All in all though, it is an excellent concept that we hope to see grow. It’s definitely something we’d like to see other content providers look to make similar arrangements happen.

[Source: The Verge]

Angry Birds Transformers Review

Angry Birds Transformers Review

Nov 4, 2014

When this game was first announced, I didn’t know what to expect from it. But now I’ve played, I like it a lot. Because of two contradicting things.

I followed the announcement. I followed the news stories as they came. But it never became clear to me what to expect from Angry Birds Transformers. Well, now that I’ve played, I can truly say that I enjoyed it a lot. Angry Birds Transformers is a special game in my opinion. And a good one, because of two contracting gameplay elements. The running and shooting and the massacre of the green pigs.

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Thankfully, the character (otherwise known as the birds disguised as robots in disguise) walks automatically. That is such a good design choice – it made the game that much playable. During the endless running, you shoot at the pigs in the back or evade falling structures. It is really chaotic gameplay. And if we needed to control running as well, I think it would be unplayable. So, good job, Rovio!

You shoot by tapping on the enemy or structure. In old Angry Birds fashions it is possible to let a structure collapse, killing all the green pigs (disguised as robots… you know what I mean) in it. It is the base of the Angry Birds franchise, melted into this action packed game – and it doesn’t feel unwelcome. It feels like a solid gameplay element instead, making shooting something strategic instead of mindless.

The game is free-to-play, so there had to be a money making model. In this case, it is the upgrade system. Sometimes, it is (nearly) impossible to complete a level without upgrading. And you need coins for that. Which you can buy, of course. And whether you bought them or not, there is also a waiting period for the upgrade to install. Of which you can speed up the process by spending money. Or you can wait.

It does, however, takes the word ‘fast’ out of this fast action packed game and that is a shame. Also: shooting sometimes feels kinda random and not really precise. But those are the only stains on this game. Well, if you can get past the part of the Transformers franchise being used within the Angry Birds franchise. Put that pride away and give this game a chance. I know for sure it is well worth your time.

Five Nights At Freddy’s Review

Five Nights At Freddy’s Review

Oct 23, 2014

It is nice to see that some pc games are being ported to Android and that the idea behind the game stays intact. Same goes for Five Nights at Freddy’s.

If you have played Five Nights at Freddy’s on pc, than you know what you are up for in this Android version of the game. It is a port of the pc version and one that is very well made. Everything from the first version is the same, only now you use the touch screen as an input source, instead of the mouse. Input methods aside, these game is freaky. Very freaky. The first few times it gave me the creeps and my first reaction was to close the game. When that happens, I say: the objective of the developers must’ve been a success by then.

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But if you are not familiar with the concept, let me introduce you to it. You play as a security guard at night, keeping in eye on not only the property, but also the mechanical beasts inside. By day, those mechanical beasts are there to entertain children; by night, someone will put them on free mode, so they can walk freely. But when they see someone after midnight and before six o’clock in the morning, they assume that that is also a mechanic beast, but out of his costume. So they will take you away when they see, that’s all you need for a motivation.

But you’re need completely harmless — no, you can open and close two doors, the two doors that are right beside you. You can keep an eye on the mechanimals through some camera’s, in a lay-out of a map so you will know where they are. You won’t see them move, but when you switch camera’s, it is possible they left their original position and are getting closer to you. When you think they’re right next to you, you can close the doors, but that will cost electricity. And without, you cannot close them and you will instantly lose.

So the game is a constant struggle between the idea of being caught and being save by and from those mechanical animals. You need to plan a strategy at the very moment they’re coming to close for your taste, but have to always keep in mind that when you run out of electricity, the game – and your life – is over. That will put some pressure on ya. Overall, the sense of being hunted is very well produced by the developers and it’s good to see more people can enjoy this creepy horror game. If you like creepy horror games, that is.

LEGO Star Wars Yoda II Review

LEGO Star Wars Yoda II Review

Oct 13, 2014

The new Star Wars movie release grows closer, so it’s about time new Star Wars games start popping up. Lego Star Wars was the very first and successful title in the modern wave of Lego games, so it’s not surprising to see Lego making another one. Unfortunately, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles isn’t that exciting, but it’s a nice collection of mini-games to pass the time in, while waiting for the more interesting stuff.

Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles lets the player complete various missions, on all sides of the conflict, and throughout different points of Star Wars history. The two sides of the conflict have basically the same missions, and only differ in the characters and their surroundings. Which isn’t that bad, actually. Although gameplay gets repetitive after a while, the various landscapes definitely work for a while longer.

There are four kinds of missions: run-and-gun, where the player plays as a trooper or a jedi, moving forward on a path and shooting or striking the various infantry on his way, while evading the enemy fire; air strike (Hoth defence FTW!), where the player pilots an airship and his mission is to destroy small support airships, and huge battle tanks; space Yoda II 3battles, done surprisingly well for such a small-scale title, similar to air strikes, but in space, and solely against other aircrafts; and weird falling sequence, which has pretty uncomfortable controls, where the player falls into some sort of pit, while evading the obstacles and enemy fire. Although the games are endless by their design, the player only needs to keep up fighting until he collects enough blue pieces, after which the mission will be “complete”, furthering his progress and unlocking a more challenging version of the same level. Some games are not yet released as of this writing, so there might be more stuff later.

In general, Lego Star Wars: The New Yoda Chronicles is a great way to kill some time. It’s varied, has that iconic Star Wars feeling about it, filled with characters and places from all over the Star Wars universe, and it’s entirely free! High-quality stuff. Even though the games get a bit repetitive after a while, it’s definitely a treat for all fans of Star Wars, or Lego.

FIFA 15: Ultimate Team Review

FIFA 15: Ultimate Team Review

Oct 10, 2014

This year, EA shakes things up by only presenting us the Ultimate Team mode in FIFA 15 for Android. That’s a fact that you either hate or love, but I must say: I was surprised by that choice.

Normally I would start a soccer game review with the words that the game is bigger and better than the version released a year ago. But that is not the case with FIFA 15: Ultimate Team. Instead of making the game, sometimes unnecessary, bigger, Electronic Arts tried to built upon the core of the Ultimate Team mode. You know, the mode where you need to collect cards of players, technical staff, coaches and attributes and build your own team based on the cards you collect. You get those cards by fulfilling certain goals.

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Although it is quite the unusual decision to make a big game small again, I found myself enjoying the game much more because of the lack of more features. Also, the concept of the Ultimate Team mode is excellent for smartphones and tablets, because of its strategic nature and the fact you will spend some time in a menu or two. It just works very well; I was never lost. It is also possible to compete in quick games with your own managed team, so it is not the case that you can only be a manager in this game.

But if you’re like me and you find more fun into managing a soccer team rather than play with one, like you would on the consoles, you can always choose to simulate games – just like Nintendo Pocket Football Club on the Nintendo 3DS, for instance. But now with real players and everything that screams EA, soccer or buy my shit. Luckily, you can play FIFA 15: Ultimate Team without spending a single dollar, but than you know you’re in for the long run. But true FIFA players won’t mind that. They just want to manage the game and kick a ball.

Note that you need a lot of free space in order to play the game: make sure you have 1.35GB free internal space or on the SD card. Also, it is not possible to connect this game to your console version, so you cannot manage your team on the road, go home and see the results on screen.

My App Addiction: HanDBase

My App Addiction: HanDBase

Sep 16, 2014

Oh boy…

I had just officially started as the new editor of Android Rundown. I had just received 72 emails, a directive or two from above, and was trying to figure out the management piece in the deep end. Scary stuff, trust me.

One element that I had to master — and master quickly — was the budgeting piece. This is key with regards to any publication: controlling costs and charting output allows one to manage the creative process in a reasonable manner. Getting a bead on what type of articles are being written is exceptionally important.

I needed a good tool… something that I could rely on tell help me sort and organize the data I had, and also do calculations using the inputted data. Now, I could use an Excel sheet, yes, but the solution that works even better for me is one I have used across platforms for a very long time: HanDBase. I have used this nifty program for quite a while, across several platforms, and it remains an important piece in my personal productivity puzzle.

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HanDBase is a database app at its heart. If there is a specific data collection need, HanDBase can be used to create and manipulate the data. Movie collections, patient billing, repair logs… you name it. I use it to collate health stats, which I then email to my doctor directly from the app. I also use it as a clock-in utility, and, with the help of its developer, got a custom data spreadsheet for my writers, which gives my an idea of how we are doing as a writing unit. Basically, HanDBase is an app that allows me to create apps hosted within it; no need for other apps, because this app is so flexible.

Part of my personal solution is the optional desktop companion, which syncs to the app via local wi-fi. I can also share specific databases with other HanDBase users. One of my favorite features is the support; there is a whole gallery of categorized database templates crafted by members and the developer. Also, there are forums and email support is topnotch.

When it comes to evaluating cross-platform apps that allow folks to get things done on the move, it’s hard not appreciate HanDBase. Scarily enough, there’s still room to grow, and the folks at DDH seem quite willing to push the envelope. Simply put, I refuse to use a mobile platform that does not have this app available.

Android? Why?

Android? Why?

Sep 15, 2014

Talk about first world problems…

I was faced with a problem recently. I had an upgrade to burn, and I didn’t feel like burning it. Now, to give some context here, I love mobile technology. If I could afford it, I would buy EVERY mobile device on EVERY platform. Literally. Just to play with ‘em. I love my technology that much.

I’m a bit more circumspect when it comes to my daily driver. For a device to earn that honor, it has to do a lot, as I am a picky boss. I could go on and on about my specific mobile needs, but that is a post for another day. Suffice to say, my HTC EVO LTE 4G was getting a bit long in the tooth, I had been due for an upgrade for about 12 months and I couldn’t decide if I wanted to upgrade devices, much less what I wanted to upgrade to.

I faced the same issue when I was looking to replace my original HTC EVO 4G.  No horrible need to get new hardware… and eventually I did the easy thing and stayed with the new EVO. Like the original, this one was unlocked and rooted within minutes of getting home, and I went ahead and immersed myself in the glories of refreshed hardware and newer custom software.android puzzle

When its all said and done, I like holding on to devices. I skipped the HTC One M7, not because it was not a fantastic device, but because it wasn’t enough of an increased value proposition for me at that time. Free and clear? It might have tempted me, but I didn’t see myself spending the cash for what wasn’t enough of an upgrade for my needs at that specific time.

Part of the problem is that since I review hardware, formally and informally, I’ve developed a “what’s next” syndrome. Can it be that I have unconsciously insulated myself from the lure of the never-ending new Android devices? Maybe. I’d be insolvent otherwise.  At this point in the game, when all the features are measured, it just feels like there is a serious degree of parity. And I believe that in the end, this is Android’s hidden strength: the OEMs are forced to shoot for the stars while simultaneously dragging each other on an upward trajectory. this is why, for me at least, picking a new device is delightfully difficult. Look at all the choices, and the competitive prices. We can choose to be very, very picky.

So, in the end, it boiled down to a very simplistic reason. Most current-ish devices can do what I want the way I want them; most are sleek, and several have a lot of third-party accessories.

So what ended up being the choice maker for me?  Wait for it… I liked the aluminum uni-body of the HTC One M8. So there.

Don’t judge me. Android allows folks to be frivolous.

[Image courtesy of Tsahi Levent-Levi via Flickr Creative Commons]

The 5 Most Important Things from the Google IO 2014 Keynote

The 5 Most Important Things from the Google IO 2014 Keynote

Jun 25, 2014

If you missed the Google IO keynote, here are 5 of the big things to take away from what Google talked about and revealed at what was probably the most momentous occasion in Android history with all the key announcements.

1. Google is serious about unifying their products

Pretty much everything that was announced by Google was designed not just with Android, or Chrome, or Chromebooks, or TVs in mind, but was about how it all interacted with each other, and they’re about unifying interfaces across devices, no matter what they may be.

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2. Android Wear is a big deal.

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Wearables are the next big frontier for tech companies, and Google just jumped Apple by announcing a comprehensive platform for smartwatches, and announcing hardware that will be available soon. An Apple iWatch will be a key product regardless of what Google does, but unless Apple has a killer feature (and with Google Fit, even health could be lacking) or competes on price, they might be playing from behind Google.

3. Android TV could solve a lot of problems with TV interfaces

Android TV

Yes, Google has tried with TVs before, but we live in an era of $99 hardware that can handle video and TV features, and having a standardized system for future boxes and microconsoles to use will go a long way toward getting Android on to TVs. And of course, it hooks into Google Play services.

4. Android One could solve the cheap phones issue

By launching a Nexus-esque initiative, and getting phones with Google Play, the necessary security updates, and the latest OS, Google is making sure that they can extend the reach of their services, even to developing markets. It’s a well-overdue move.

5. Android isn’t about the next version any more.

Yes, Android talked about the next “L” version, but they didn’t have a name – and that may have been on purpose. They talked about how things like security fixes are coming in through Google Play services. Android Wear wasn’t talked about as just for L devices.

Android’s still going to get major software versions, but Google’s been making moves toward divorcing key Android features from the Android version number – and there were more steps toward that today. Perhaps by de-emphasizing the Android version names nad numbers, this is another step in that direction.

VVVVVV Review

VVVVVV Review

Jun 12, 2014

At last, Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV, the game he was known for before the multi-platform hit Super Hexagon, has finally come to mobile. And though it may be an ultra-challenging platformer that would seem like an odd fit for touchscreens, it works incredibly well.

VVVVVV puts players in control of Captain Viridian, who can do two things: walk along the ground and reverse gravity, which becomes the way to move around. There’s no jumping – and there’s one moment in particular that will make players wish they had a jump button – so mastering how the gravity-flipping works is key. Learning how to move in mid-air, timing to move between obstacles, moving between different screens, this game will put players to the test. Thankfully, it’s an open-world game and non-linear. There are no powers of any sort to collect, as in a Metroidvania-type game, so any part of the game world can be explored (though there are certain sections that pop up as certain milestones are reached) at any time. The only thing holding the player back is skill.

VVVVVV Review 5

The big concern with VVVVVV on mobile had to be the touchscreen question. Namely, given that this is a game where precision is necessary, would it prove to just be extremely frustrating to play? I won’t lie, there are some times where I feel like the touch controls made me move too little or too far. But the game is also extremely forgiving: checkpoints are frequent, and death is such a natural part of the experience that really, any death for being slightly inaccurate is just going to feel like every other death for screwing up the timing. But the touchscreen controls work incredibly well, otherwise, to where the game feels quite playable with them. I don’t expect anyone to be doing any no-death runs or world-record speedruns on the mobile version, but I know that the things which make VVVVVV great will get across. Plus, hey, there’s gamepad support.

And VVVVVV is great because it’s such a skill game that also is player-friendly. There are few artificial barriers, and any challenge is innately conquerable through skilled play alone. It can be frustrating to not be good enough, but with practice, anything is possible. VVVVVV is a rare breed in this sense: so many games block off players through artificial barriers, needing an item of some sort to get past, and VVVVVV instead gives players all they need to survive right from the beginning.

VVVVVV Review 4

The first playthrough of VVVVVV may take about 3-4 hours depending on how good one is and how comfortable the controls are, but the challenge makes for an extremely rewarding experience. There’s 20 trinkets to collect throughout the world, which serve as real tests of skill to collect. As well, there’s various time trials, the Super Gravitron mini-game (also available as a separate app) and a variety of player worlds to explore, so VVVVVV can last a long time. It’s one of my favorite platforming games of the modern era, being so wonderfully-designed. For those who can handle touchscreen controls, this is a wonderful game to have on the go. If touchscreen controls are a dealbreaker, there’s gamepad support, an Ouya version, and of course the versions for PC platforms, 3DS, and upcoming the Vita. Play this game on some format!

Tales of the Adventure Company Review

Tales of the Adventure Company Review

May 29, 2014

Tales of the Adventure Company, as previewed recently, is a dungeon crawler that uses tile-flipping and patterns like Disco Zoo to send players through a dungeon, trying to kill the boss at the end, collecting keys and managing one’s party along the way. It’s a game that uses randomness, but in a great way.

Randomness in games can be a crutch or it can be a compelling element. It can be frustrating to know that one’s fate is not exactly in their own hands. But the way that Tales of the Adventure Company uses randomness is special. See, players might never know what exactly they’re getting when they uncover a tile, but they know what they might potentially get, be it enemies or heroes to uncover. And they’ll have an idea of where the next hero or enemy will be because the patterns are available. The game knows what it needs to keep hidden from players and what it needs them to know in order to have a fair shot a succeeding.

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It helps a lot that the game rewards players for playing again and again: there’s benefits like added health and damage for that chapter, or getting characters in other levels, that helps justify coming back to difficult levels. Players replay for their own benefit, not so that they can hopefully get a favorable draw of the cards to succeed. There’s actual strategy to be applied here. The best analogy for the game is a collectible card game rather than poker: the former is about adapting strategy to randomness, and that’s what ToaAC is.

The pixel art is well-done, and vibrantly colorful. I like seeing a dungeon crawler that uses a wide range of the color spectrum. The controls are simple, just tapping on the screen, with a handy shortcut to switch who the leader is by tapping and holding on a character. It’s a natural mechanism, and a great one for experts to discover.

Tales of the Adventure Company is the kind of game I love to play. It takes a tile-flipping mechanic that other games have used and abused for free-to-play monetization, and makes it into, well, an actual game, one that is actually meant for players to have a shot and to enjoy it. This is a must-play, and I am endlessly pleased by this game.