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]

Making Space Forest Dilemma Fun To Play Was More Important Than Giving It Great Graphics

Making Space Forest Dilemma Fun To Play Was More Important Than Giving It Great Graphics

Jul 18, 2014

Space Forest Dilemma is a very simple game to understand, but don’t let it fool you. The game is tough as nails, but never unfair. That is, among other things, the result of focused gameplay, rather than polished graphics.

Newborn developer Papaquark just released their first, fast paced puzzle game on Android devices, called Space Forest Dilemma. In Space Forest Dilemma the objective is, according to the developers of course, very simple. Just do not collide. On screen there is a grid and on that grid, there are different obstacles and objects – all with their own different movement patterns. To succeed in the game, players need to memorize all those patterns and have to plan ahead of those patterns so they can move all the moveable blocks right after one another.

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Space Forest Dilemma is being praised all over the place. But how did the team of only two guys, Michael and Andreas, come up with the idea? Michael, one of the co-founders, explains. “The idea was originally hatched a couple of years ago during a period of long train rides. Inspired by Rube Goldberg Machines, the basic concept was invented and eventually discarded, since it didn’t play well with a mouse on pc.” This was before everyone had a smartphone with touchscreen. “Last summer we made a prototype on a smartphone and with new touch controls the old idea actually turned into something that was challenging and fun to play.”

If players do not pay attention, the game can be very challenging – perhaps to challenging. But that was a deliberate decision. Both co-founders love old school games and games where one need to think ahead and plan their next move. “This basically includes everything from old school puzzlers like Tetris, to strategy games like the original UFO: Enemy Unknown, to classic adventure games like Grim Fandango. The kind of games that make you feel smart when you get it right, you know.” So based on that – and our own play sessions – the game is hard, but never unfair.

To me, the game has a rough-kinda look and feel – there isn’t much variation on screen and the colors don’t seem to complement each other. Like it is still a beta or early in development or something like that. “It’s a bit of a mix really”, Andreas explains to me. “None of us is a wizard when it comes to graphics, and also we kinda like (or at least we don´t mind) the slightly rough do it yourself style.” They spent a lot more time on testing different game mechanics, making levels and stuff to make sure the game was fun to play, than they did on the graphics.

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“We had an idea to get help with polishing things up, but in the end we decided to do everything ourselves as a learning experiment. We finally ended up with a style that we felt was fairly unique, a good fit with the gameplay and that we could handle with our limited graphic skills. Hopefully we’ll get better and better at graphics too, not necessarily to make it more polished, but to be able to create the right style and feel that we want for our next game.” In that light, it was a good decision to gave the graphics less attention – it helped the developers to get the best out of the gameplay.

Since this is Papaquarks first release, I expected that the team of two guys had to overcome big obstacles to get where they are now. “The hardest part was probably coming up with a name for our studio”, Andreas says with a big smile on his face. “No, but seriously, this is the first game we have ever completed so just finishing and being able to publish it felt like a huge accomplishment for us. Completing a game was simply a lot more work than we had anticipated and we ran into a lot of obstacles. Being our first game though, we kinda expected to make mistakes along the way.”

The technical problems they experienced were like learning experiences for them, which helped with the motivation. “Thankfully we’ve known each other for a long time so we’re not afraid to speak out when we think something’s not that great. We’re also pretty good at knowing when to push each other or when to give each other a break.” Another thing that can only help the final product, which players can download now from the Google Play Store. “Our goal has been to create a game that’s both unique and fun and we believe we have done just that.” Download it here.

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.

Dragon Quest VIII Review

Dragon Quest VIII Review

Jun 24, 2014

Dragon Quest VIII is an enhanced version of one of the most beloved RPGs ever. Does it do the original justice?

Dragon Quest VIII is a fairly traditional western RPG. The player travels the world, visits towns, rights wrongs, chases the big bad and kills a whole lot of monsters while doing it. Battles use a familiar menu system and are random like in a lot of RPGs. Dragon Quest VIII is much like a Final Fantasy game, although the entire vibe of the game is very different.

Screenshot_2014-06-06-20-27-41Dragon Quest VIII combines a fairly traditional level up system with an interesting skill point system. When characters level up, they gain stats and more HP/MP as in most RPGs. They also gain a varying amount of skill points per level up. These points can be used to boost their skill in a variety of weapons each character can use. These range from attacks that ignore defense to basic damage boosts and even giving attack orientated character the ability to heal or buff the party. It is the player’s choice how to develop their characters and this gives a lot of flexibility with how to build your party.

Dragon Quest VIII is a nicely challenging RPG as well. Enemies are no pushovers in random battles and the game is full of enemies who put the party to sleep, poison them or just plain do a lot of damage. Lots of enemies can call for reinforcements or otherwise make battle harder compared to the more “attack, attack, attack, heal” cycle that Final Fantasy games fall into. Dragon Quest VIII makes you work for victory in most combat. The right equipment is also essential, as is allocating skill points to make use of that equipment. Dragon Quest VIII has a good learning curve and is always just hard enough without being too challenging.

<Screenshot_2014-06-20-10-08-18Dragon Quest VIII really delivers when it comes to the awesome characters in the game too. Each one of your party members is just full of life and have their own quirks and personality. The dialogue is very well written indeed and there isn’t a hint of poor translation. The way that Yargus spends the entire game talking in cockney is especially impressive; it’s lots of fun to read. The dialogue just tells the game’s story very well and there are lots of jokes and funny situations as well as emotional and touching ones. There is also a consult option in the menu; this lets the player talk to party members about a situation and is useful if the player is coming back to the game from a long absence and might be confused about where they’re going next.

In short, Dragon Quest VIII reads exactly like a high caliber RPG should. It is less serious than the typical Final Fantasy game while still being compelling and mature. This is a breath of fresh air after stuffy games like Final Fantasy 12 and 13. Instead of the umpteenth moody teen and collection of angry people, we have Jessica the feisty sorceress, Yargus the reformed bandit and Angelo the ladies’ man Templar among others. Just about everyone in a town has something interesting or funny to say. It feels a lot like the way RPGs used to be. Anyone who has played the Breath of Fire games will know what I mean.

Dragon Quest VIII really looks special. The graphics are a sight to behold. Characters are minutely detailed and just amazing to look at. The level of detail on clothing, hair and such is very impressive. Dragon Quest VIII’s world looks fantastic. The landscape is very pretty, with sun drenched grass bustling towns, leafy forests and there’s plenty of cool buildings and interesting locales to just gawk at. DQ8 really pushes the boundaries of an Android game hard.

The sound is similarly excellent. The music is amazing and some tracks in particular, like the soothing, bright tune for the Tower of Alexander are spine tingling and will get stuck in your head for hours. There isn’t a single dud track in the game, but this is hardly surprising as Square Enix is known for their musical prowess. Sound effects are a little quiet, but what’s there is excellent and there are even a few callbacks to the original Dragon Warrior, like the beeping when characters attack.

Dragon Quest VIII is a very long game and the game is so dense with places to explore and secrets to find that it will literally take months to see all there is in the game. The great characters and excellent plot will keep players hooked until the end. The lack of controller support is a bummer. Dragon Quest VIII is perfectly suited for playing on a television and an external controller would make this much easier.

Dragon Quest VIII is a practically flawless game. Its characters, plot and world fit together with its gameplay to create a level of polish and fun that is rarely seen nowadays. It is huge, compelling and clever and it is a must play for anyone who calls themselves a gamer.

Note Anytime Review

Note Anytime Review

Jun 23, 2014

I don’t want to bury Note Anytime for the one thing that it does particularly wrong, because it does everything else just about right – and it’s probably the only app that does what it does.

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I could rant for a long time about handwriting apps. I started using handwriting apps to keep track of to-do lists and to write down notes on games and apps that I review. I find that physically writing them helps them stick in my mind better than typing them out. I could just use paper notebooks, but I like being able to have bigger writing canvases on mobile so that my handwriting resembles actual human writing, and I never want to leave a notebook at home when I might need it. There are plenty of standalone handwriting tools, sure. And there are ones that support cloud storage and synchronization: Evernote in particular. But that doesn’t let me edit my notes on a platform besides the one I started on. I want to write a note on my phone, and then edit it on my iPad and/or Surface Pro as I please.

As far as I can tell, Note Anytime is the only app on the planet that can really do this. It delivers on its premise: I can start a note on one platform, and edit it on any other platform that the app is on, which it is on iOS, Android, and Windows 8. The interface is identical on each platform, which is both a good and bad thing. It’s bad because it means that so many elements are non-native and don’t quite fit in with a platform’s individual visual aesthetic. But it’s good because it means that there’s a consistent experience between platforms. It’s ultimately for the best.

The note-taking experience is solid: there’s a variety of pens and colors to use, including gradients and dashed lines. The zoomed-writing feature helps out a lot, with the ability to automatically extend writing area to the right by writing in its grayed-out area. More pens and paper types are included with the paid app. While I don’t mind supporting a product that’s become integral to my life, it’s hard to say that there’s a lot of bang for the buck in a practical sense.

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Note Anytime uses its own cloud-based storage service with 2 GB of free storage. I’d like to see support for Dropbox and Google Drive in the app, but hey, this works, and the notes generally don’t take too much space. The ability to import images, PDFs, even web pages, is incredibly powerful. And it’s possible to export as an image (PDF exporting isn’t in the Android version), so notes don’t have to stay in just this ecosystem. Similarly, it’s possible to export handwriting as images or PDFs from other apps if you prefer a particular app for handwriting (I love the Evernote-powered Penultimate on iPad), and then add it in here if you want to just take advantage of its cloud syncing.

The issue with the app is that pesky cloud syncing though. It works well enough, but the auto-syncing leaves a lot to be desired. The app doesn’t sync as changes are made, only when you quit to the menu. Too many times have I edited a note on one platform, then picked it up on another, only to see that the changes weren’t made due to me having not backed out of the note to get it to sync. There’s two solutions: one, auto-sync notes in the background as changes are made; two, have the sync button available in the note itself.

Really, that’s the one big issue that keeps me from recommending it 100%, or being in love with it to the point where I’ll not keep an eye out for other apps. It’s a great app, one that fits my needs: it just could be better, and its deficiencies kind of sting. But still, for anyone who wants to edit handwritten notes without relying on a single platform, Note Anytime is a killer app.

Angry Birds Epic Review

Angry Birds Epic Review

Jun 16, 2014

Angry Birds Epic is finally here, in all its official, free-to-play glory.

While the characters will feel familiar, the gameplay is a bit different; this one is a role playing game in conception, and he action is turn-based.

The piggies have not learned their lesson, which is unfortunate. They are still stealing eggs, and the initial red bird forgoes the intricate catapult method of vengeance, and instead dons some medieval-looking gear and takes it to the streets… in a manner of speaking. The first few battles (along with the highlighting done by tutorial) help bring the basic gameplay to life: the protagonist bird faces off against a pig and proceed to consummate a battle of attrition based on alternating moves. The winner is the creature left standing at the end.abe1

The battles are a series of opportunity costs, as one can decide to either attack or fortify oneself on a turn. Attacking is done by drawing a line to the target, which allows for the bird to inflict damage on the enemy. Then, the opponent gets a chance to return the favor.

Instead of attacking, though, it is possible to pick a defensive boost, which serves to parry some damage away. As the gameplay goes on, multiple opponents can appear in a level, and there are wave-type levels and even boss levels as well. On the protagonist side, multiple bird get unlocked as well, so that the battles are a bit more even. One fun element is the ability to transfer attributes from one bird to another. This allows for a bit of strategy to be involved in decision-making.

Winning yields stars, tenders and chances to spin for further goodies. There is a crafting element that exists beyond the fighting. Crafting allows for the creation of consumables and such that make the game more challenging; real money can be used to supplement this.

I do think the crafting portion could be a bit less convoluted, and even the RPG element get a bit busy in places. Still for a deviation from the tried and true, Angry Bird Epic is very, very far from disappointing.

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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.

How to Get Refunds for Apps on Google Play in 2014

How to Get Refunds for Apps on Google Play in 2014

May 29, 2014

In the good old days, Google was pretty liberal with regards issuing refunds to the then Android Market customers who purchased apps. The 24-hr window was lauded as feature, and, to be fair, it was. It gave users a reason to try out apps before fully committing fully, and mostly took care of the issue of having to have demo versions.

But then the belt tightened, and Google slashed the refund window to a much more pedestrian 15 minutes. From a developer standpoint, it mostly made sense, as some folks took advantage of the previous limit to use specialized apps for what amounted to a free session.

As it stands, there are a couple established ways to get a refund. The easiest is the aforementioned 15-minute window refund; a button appears next to the purchase, and if it is performed within 15 minutes, the app is removed from the users library and the refund is applied, no questions asked (there is an additional 48 hour gap that is described further in the Android Police article noted below). Secondarily, one can ask the app developer for a refund of an app; I am yet to see a reputable one that declines in the interest of customer service.

Additionally though, it seems that Google has quietly reupped the refund window to include purchases made longer than 15 minutes for “extenuating” circumstances. The changes were noted by Android Police, which expanded upon and clarified an earlier PSA by iTechTriad.

Now, if one visits the Play Store on the web on a Windows machine and navigates to My Orders (via the gear symbol), one is then presented with the list of purchased items. Hovering over any of the apps reveals a three-dot menu. Tapping on the three dots gives action items depending on the item; for instance, music purchases have a bunch of options, but apps much less. For apps, a “Report a Problem” pop-up appears, and clicking on that yields a bigger pop-up with a “Select a Problem” drop down; the only option that I observed was “I’d Like To Request a Refund.”

Now, tapping on this opens up a dialogue box in which one might explain the extenuating circumstances that deserve a refund.

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Interestingly enough, we had an opportunity to test it out. I fell victim to the “buy and disappear” glitch, in which Google Play processes a transaction, but the app still shows as having never been bought. Basically, my money was taken, but I did not have access to the app via the Play Store, as it looked like I hadn’t bought it. Google’s customer service had simply bounced around the problem for more than year. Using this process, the refund was issued after a few days, with a survey to match. It was surprisingly seamless. As far as we know, this can only be done via the web.

Android Police reports that it is possible to retain access to the app, which is an interesting ethical issue. In my case, this was inconsequential, as I was never able to download the app after purchasing.

So the process works, and as noted in the source article, it seems as though Google handles the refund itself, rather than making the developer return the cash. It all comes together very nicely, but of course, Google could pull the plug on this amnesty process if the ROI isn’t there.

[Sources: Android Police and iTechTriad]

JotterPad X Review

JotterPad X Review

May 23, 2014

As a full-time writer, I am in need of good writing apps. I reviewed JotterPad back in early 2012, and found it to be solid but not something that I would perhaps use regularly.

Now, the year is 2014. My life is quite different, and I now carry around an Xperia Z Ultra, which I am generously calling a phone because it’s really more of a “tablet that can make phone calls” and have a folding Bluetooth keyboard I usually carry in my bag with me. I’d love an app for writing on the Ultra, because the screen is big enough for it, but I was lacking a good app: I usually would use my Surface Pro or iPad Mini to write, and I have good options on those: Writemonkey and Byword, respectively. But now, I think JotterPad X, two and a half years later, is the writing app that I need for Android.

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It starts with the look: it’s very clean, and has fantastic support for custom fonts: I use an evenly-spaced font as I like everything being lined up. There’s custom sizing options, and a night mode for writing in dark situations that inverts the colors. I would like custom background coloring: I read that using a mint green background can be more calming to write with, and it’s what I use with Writemonkey on PC. The app goes into a distraction-free mode with notifications where new ones won’t appear, so you’re not bothered while writing.

There’s Bluetooth keyboard support, which is granted, but there’s keyboard shortcuts which make it easy to do many things without having to touch the screen. There’s even a keyboard shortcut for referencing the list of keyboard shortcuts. For those who type on screen, there’s an extended keyboard which offers access to useful characters without having to change to the numbers and symbols section of software keyboards, which includes several characters for markdown formatting. And the app does support viewing markdown formatting natively for those who use that.

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One of my big complaints about the original JotterPad was the lack of Dropbox support. JotterPad X has Dropbox support. It’s possible to load files from Dropbox, or just to work locally and then move files to Dropbox later, which is handy because syncing can be a bit slow.

One of the other handy features? Versions. JotterPad X saves multiple versions of each file, so if you need to go back to a previous one, you can. It’s handy, even if only as a backup mechanism if you accidentally make a change elsewhere that you need to revert.

Some of JotterPad X’s features, like night mode, markdown preview, and version restoring, are only available by purchasing the Creative mode in-app purchase; these features are well worth it, though: the app gives a lot away for free. While it’s not perfect: the Dropbox syncing could be faster, and I’d like to see more options for sorting, or at least bookmarks so I can quickly access the folders I write in, this is a writing app that I am quite comfortable doing my writing work in, and that comfort is a great thing.

Dragonwood Academy Review

Dragonwood Academy Review

May 22, 2014

Dragonwood Academy from XMG takes the basic formula from Hearthstone (sadly not on Android yet!) and makes it something that can be easily and casually played: but in this simplification, the game becomes less a clever-but-simple strategy game, but more of a limited-interaction grinding experience, for better or for worse.

The combat works in that players have a set of three “stones” that have health and attack ratings, each stone attacking in order against an enemy with three stones that go in a set order. A stone attacks another one, occasionally triggering a special ability if it has one. This goes on until the enemy is defeated, and players go on to the next round. There’s unfortunately no multiplayer, just singleplayer, with the goal being to get the longest win streak possible by building powerful enough teams, as players get chests after each win that contain trinkets, and when ten trinkets are collected, they give the player a new stone of that trinket’s rarity. Gems can be bought and earned, spent on more chests, and on boosts, healing, and continues.

DragonwoodAcademy-1

The problem within the combat is explicitly that there’s no control of it whatsoever: players sit back and watch everything just kind of happen. This wouldn’t be so bad if the combat was intelligent, but it appears to be that stones attack enemies in terms of random selection, not based on any sort of sense, like if two enemy stones are left, a powerful card won’t kill a card that would kill it sometime.s The good news is that the computer is regulated by randomness too because they make the exact same mistakes, which is at least fair.

Still, it is my greatest peeve with games that have randomized combat: they should at least give players intelligent options, instead of playing in the favor of the game by just being random. After all, it makes it more likely for players to lose or take damage when a suboptimal strategy is forced upon them: and gems can be spent on healing, revives, boosts, and continues, of course. Again, at least it’s quite apparent that the computer is bound by the same rules, but I’d like the agency. And considering that the game is really just a simplified version of Hearthstone, which is already an easy enough game to pick up on, it feels unnecessary.

Really, this makes Dragonwood Academy just a mindless grind where players turn the lever, and get the satisfaction of building out powerful lineups, without needing to develop strategies, necessarily. And frankly, I can accept that this sort of game can exist: it’s for a casual audience that wants to just enjoy the thrill of a game like Hearthstone but with much less effort. And the game does lack energy systems, wait timers, any malarkey like that: it’s just about diving in and playing, which isn’t an intense activity. So while perhaps I think it could be a lot better — make manual attacking an option along with automatic attacking — it’s far from awful. I just feel it could do a better job a simple game to play.

However, it is regardless worth the download if only because of the greatest geek-culture pun in recent history: Joffrey Winger.