Securebook App Review

Securebook App Review

Nov 30, 2011

Fortunately for me none of my immediate family members are on Facebook. However, as Facebook becomes more ubiquitous into our culture there seems to be less freedom about what you can share amongst your friends. Sure, you can filter your friends on Facebook but I’m not sure I know anyone who actively uses that option. Securebook is an app that allows you to share secret posts within posts to any one Facebook friend with this app, and since Auntie Beth probably won’t be using this on her 2005 Razr, you should be safe.

When entering a post into Securebook you first put a fake post that will be visible to the general Facebook populace, and then underneath it your real, probably private, post. For example, say you want to advertise a big kegger at your house tonight on Facebook, but don’t want your whole family and Catholic school friends to know. Simply enter, “Studying hard tonight” into the Status box and “Massive kegger at my house tonight.” into the Secure Post area. Now the only people who can see the Secure Post are those with the Securebook app on their phones.

Securepost does this by putting a long code after your status that the built in Facebook News Feed browser detects and then displays the real post underneath. This, like other social apps is unfortunately dependent on making sure all your friends have and actively use the app. Also, there is no way to siphon out non-secure posts, so it’s easy to miss a post if you have a busy news feed or don’t check with extreme regularity. There is also Twitter support, and Tweets are placed right next to Facebook statuses in your News Feed.

This app is in the strange predicament of trying to grow its user base but keep it small enough so that it retains its original purpose. If your mom and Aunt Beth have it on their phones then there really is no point, but there has to be friends using Securebook to decode your posts. Overall, the jury is still out on Securebook, if you can get your close circle used to using it, this app can be very useful.

Replacing Your Stock Keyboard

Replacing Your Stock Keyboard

Nov 28, 2011

There’s no debate that physical keyboards are superior to their virtual counterparts but most people aren’t willing to trade clunky mechanical sliders, smaller screen sizes, and thicker phones for that convenience. So this post is a look at three of the top keyboard apps in the Marketplace: GO Keyboard, Smart Keyboard PRO, and SwiftKey X. The differences between these three keyboards are very marginal. All three offer very solid autocorrect features and all three allow skinning and heavy customization. We’re going to look at the differences at these apps by evaluating how they do in two different areas: Precision and Aesthetics & Performance.

Precision

In terms of tracking exactly where your finger hits all three of these apps are equal, but GO Keyboard seemed to give for greater accuracy by using its predictive text to guess at what letters were coming next and essentially giving them the benefit of the doubt on a misplaced keystroke. The autocorrect features, as I stated earlier, are very similar and all do a decent job. However, SwitftKey X has a predictive text feature that analyzes what you’ve typed previously and queues that word up in the bar above the keyboard. For example, typing “I’m feeling under the” would prompt the word “weather” and to select this all you need to do is hit the spacebar. This creates problems, though, causing you to inadvertently insert unwanted words by pressing the spacebar one too many times. SwiftKey X has the option to analyze your texts, Facebook status, tweets, contacts, and emails to find patterns in your speech. This works really well, since I have the habit of starting many of my texts with the word “Yea” and SwiftKey X didn’t try to correct it to “Yes” the first time it saw it like the other two keyboards.

Of the three, only GO Keyboard comes with swipe texting, but the trade off is that SwiftKey X and Smart Keyboard PRO both have gesturing. For example, swiping to the left on either of these will delete the previous word all together. However the option to edit these gestures is only available on Smart Keyboard PRO and not SwiftKey X. The swipe texting on GO Keyboard works really well and might be better than Swype that comes on my EVO 4G, which can be buggy. The only problem I have is that GO Keyboard doesn’t allow you to point back to another word and delete some letters if you’re currently editing a word. This does get frustrating but is nothing that can’t be overcomes with use.

Lastly, Smart Keyboard PRO allows you to switch between a full, compact, and T9 mode. The full and T9 modes are self explanatory and the compact mode is probably the best, and allows this one to stand out from the others. In this mode, the keys are in groups of two and its like a hybrid between T9 and a full keyboard. The best part is that you can do this in full predictive mode or a classic “tap twice for the second letter,” and you can quickly switch between these two modes with the touch of a button. This allows for quick, predictive texting and the freedom to easily add in words that don’t appear in the dictionary.

RESULTS
Smart Keyboard PRO — 9.0
GO Keyboard — 8.5
SwiftKey X — 8.5

Aesthetics and Performace

All these apps allow for downloadable skins and though neither have an incredibly deep library, they are diverse so that you won’t have a hard time finding the style you’re looking for. More customization is allowed almost universally, allowing the height and width of keys to be changed. The only aesthetic difference is that with Smart Keyboard PRO and SwiftKey X the keys can be made flat, whereas GO Keyboard appears raised. But we’re splitting hairs here. Only GO Keyboard has the option to change the font, but aesthetically you can’t go wrong with either app.

All these apps run as flawless as an app can run and they are all just as fast to appear as the stock keyboard. In terms of speed with autocorrecting all three apps are equally fast and don’t slow you down. This category is as close to a dead even as is possible.

RESULTS
Smart Keyboard PRO — 9.0
GO Keyboard — 8.5 (I prefer the flat keys)
SwiftKey X — 9.0

Conclusion

All three of these keyboards are the best and are better than the stock keyboard on your phone. This truly boils down to preference, but know that you will be content with any of these apps. If you love swipe texting then GO Keyboard is the best for you, and the fact that it’s free makes it the best value here. If you’re not an accurate texter, Smart Keyboard X and its compact keyboard is probably the best. SwiftKey X is a good all around keyboard that deserves a look for those who are accurate and are looking for speedy texting.

iSync App Review

iSync App Review

Nov 17, 2011

Going out and calling your app iSync is a pretty bold move, and is usually used by app developers who have either a little too much hubris or who are just not confident enough in their app’s ability to sell on its own merit. iSync is a very ambitious app, that unfortunately is buggy, inconsistent, and could have used more time in development. This app aims to house all of your social networks, RSS feeds, and email in one place. This is an idea that has been done before, and done better.

Well start with arguably the most important component, Facebook. Integration with Facebook is an easy selling point, because Facebook’s mobile app needs some major work. iSync’s Facebook integration makes Zuckerberg’s mobile platform look like a shining beacon within the app world. There are too many problems here to list but the broken friend list probably probably produced the most head scratching. When trying to find a specific friend all I got was everyone on Facebook with a similar name but never the person, or even the correct name, I was looking for. Other problems make the service nearly unusable; for example, the profile viewer only shows the individual’s photo and their gender. Going to their wall allows you to view it but not comment on it, which basically defeats the purpose.

Yeah.

Fortunately, the other features fare better. Twitter integration works very well, but don’t look for it to replace your established app of choice. Frustratingly, I couldn’t get the email app to work, with it refusing to save my GMail login as well as being very, very thin on features. The RSS feature is a nice addition, but again, it’s not good enough to replace any RSS reader that you would already use. This is the central theme though out the entire app; the thrill of having all these services in one place is not enough to justify use of any of the individual apps.

Wind-Up Knight Review

Wind-Up Knight Review

Nov 14, 2011

Following your little wind up toy knight is a great and frustrating adventure in this adorable app from first-time Android developer Robot Invader. In Wind-Up Knight you take control of a mechanically simple toy knight and try to rid the lands of the evil black knight and save the princess. Your controls are limited to just jumping, rolling, and attack and defense, you have no control over any other movement. The knight works like a classic wind up doll, once it gets going it only stops when its run out of wind. If this seems limiting, it’s not. This actually adds an exciting pace to the game that makes it challenging and paired with the great, fluid animations never makes you feel overwhelmed.

The most impressive aspect of this game are the aforementioned animations. Your tiny knight runs with enthusiasm and jumps transition nicely into attacks or rolls. Adding to this are great graphics, although they only run smoothly on higher end phones. My EVO 4G had some problems keeping up the frame rate and on a game like this, where so much depends on timing, that is a killer. There were a few times where button presses wouldn’t register but these weren’t frequent enough to put a damper on the game.

Four Simple Buttons

Wind-Up Knight is not easy, multiple levels require repeated precision with no room for error. As such, some of these levels do sprints up and down that thin line between challenging and unfair. That aside, the level design is usually varied and creative. The scenery is top rate and the backgrounds add a very impressive sense of location.

Each level contains coins that are used for armor upgrades. These upgrades come in the form of helmets, shields, body armor, and swords. Some of the upgrades are functional, giving you advantages in the game, and some are purely eye candy. These are better then most upgrades in similar games, and are creative enough to stand out as a plus.

Wind-Up Knight is a very entertaining and beautiful game, and for the price of free-50, is worth checking out for anyone with a phone powerful enough to handle it.

Pocket League Story Review

Pocket League Story Review

Nov 7, 2011

Being a longtime FIFA Manager mode enthusiast, I’ve been looking for a similar experience on my phone for a while. While not being a perfect fit, it’s safe to say that Pocket League Story does provide enough content to tide the FIFA fan over until they get home to their consoles.

Pocket League Story puts you, a new manager, at the helm of a newly formed team as they slowly work their way up from unknown to a worldwide powerhouse. You achieve this in the predictable way of signing and developing players, building a fan base, and, of course, winning games. The game does a good job of speeding things up, the leagues generally only contain about 5 or 6 teams and you only play each team once. Finishing first will earn you a promotion to a better league, and after two or three seasons the process repeats. A good addition is the ability to play in single games during the offseason to earn some more experience and money.

While you cannot participate in games, each game is shown live for you to watch. This is the most impressive part of the app because these games are generally very entertaining and incredibly true to life in terms of positioning and decisions. It would be nice, however, to be able to skip this presentation. Every game earns or costs you fans, support, and money adding a good touch of realism.

The cartoony, manga-inspired art design might turn people off and the game is not as deep as other similar apps. There seems to be a kind of confusion about what exactly this game wants to be; it’s not deep enough to completely satisfy hardcore Manager Mode fans, but it’s too deep for casual fans. For example, training points are earned throughout the game for special practice sessions which must be carried out individually, but there is no control over how much to offer a player that you’re looking to pick up.

All that aside, this game is worth looking at for any soccer fan if you feel that the $4.99 price is worth it.

Syncing Without Wires on a Mac

Syncing Without Wires on a Mac

Oct 31, 2011

With Apple’s iOS 5 comes wireless iTunes synchronization. This allows a user’s iOS device to wirelessly sync their movies, pictures, and music from their home computer and vice versa. This eliminates the need for cords and all the syncing goes on in the background, hiding it from the user. While there is no iCloud counterpart on Android quite yet, there are a few apps that come close. The most popular and probably the best is Winamp, but seeing that it’s only for Windows, this post looks at a few wireless media syncing software for the Mac/Winamp alternatives. 
The three apps being looked at are the popular DoubleTwist, simple TuneSync, and ambitious AudioGalaxy. All three of these apps offer different services but they all aim to basically do the same thing, offer a wireless way for you to sync or listen to the music on your computer on your phone. Seeing that all three require an application to be installed onto your Mac, that will be our jumping off point.

There couldn’t exist a bigger difference between the applications needed by DoubleTwist, TuneSync, and AudioGalaxy. The latter two offer small, menu bar applications that run in the background and one, TuneSync, only has two options in its drop down menu. This is a total contrast to the behemoth of a program that DoubleTwist requires. The DoubleTwist app aims to be an Android version of iTunes, and is just as bloated and somehow slower. The program lags and frequently locks up for 30 seconds at a time. If you want an application to solely sync music over to your phone using a cable, DoubleTwist is not the best option. A plus for DoubleTwist is its ability to AirPlay music to an Apple TV, Xbox 360, and PS3.

That said, DoubleTwist’s desktop app does serve its purpose and will get the job done. The paid AirSync add-on allows for your phone to appear on the list of devices even when not plugged into your computer. This lets you just drag and drop the files into your phone no matter where it is as long as its on the same network. It’s Android app is also a media player, which I found very impressive. Unlike DoubleTwist, TuneSync does not come with a media player, which is not really much of a problem because most Android users already have a media player of choice. TuneSync lets you sync specific playlists from iTunes wirelessly to your phone. This may seem restrictive but it is really the opposite. Simply make a playlist in iTunes then add and delete songs freely and TuneSync will update your phone accordingly. By doing this you bypass the middle man and do everything in a program you already use. If you are an Amazon MP3 user, this app also has the ability to put your purchases onto your computer as well.

Doesn't look pretty, but it doesn't have to.

Being a whole other monster, AudioGalaxy has no desktop media player but a decent web app. Instead of merely syncing files to your phone, AudioGalaxy uses your computer as a media hub, scanning your library and putting the information online for you to access at any time. The media streams off your computer over the internet to either your phone or another computer. The advantage here is you don’t need to pick and choose which songs to sync your whole library is available. The downside, obviously, is that your computer must be on and connected to the internet for this to work, and, if on 3G it will consume data. Songs can also be pegged for offline mode, which downloads the file to your phone. This process isn’t as efficient as either TuneSync or DoubleTwist but that’s not the main objective of this app. Still in the beta phase this web app shows a lot of promise once a few bugs are fixed.

When it comes to sync speed DoubleTwist is the fastest, with TuneSync coming in a close second, and AudioGalaxy obviously bringing up the rear. Even though downloading songs is not AudioGalaxy’s main feature, the fact that you are unable to check on a songs download progress is a head scratcher. Both DoubleTwist and TuneSync show download progress with TuneSync shown song by song progress while DoubleTwist just gives brief overview.

In conclusion, as usual, it just depends what you are looking for. My personal recommendation if I had to choose one is TuneSync because of its simplicity. I have a media player that I love (UberMusic, shameless plug I know) and doing everything through iTunes is much easier than using DoubleTwist’s problematic desktop app. Another point for TuneSync is that it can automatically sync when your phone is plugged into your computer. All three of these apps can work in great harmony by paying the 6 bucks and using TuneSync for syncing music, getting the free DoubleTwist mobile app for interacting with an Apple TV, PS3, or X-Box 360, and since AudioGalaxy is free, there’s no risk in trying it out, especially if the computer you use is a desktop.

Zombie Golf Riot Review

Zombie Golf Riot Review

Oct 26, 2011

Every year around this time hundreds of frightening apps flood the marketplace hoping to cash in on the Halloween hype. Among the horde this year is a game called Zombie Golf Riot. Despite its name, this game has nothing to do with golf or zombie defense. Instead it’s a crude zombie-themed version of the incredibly popular game Kitten Cannon. This game substitutes that adorable, tormented kitten with a severed zombie head propelled, not by a cannon, but a swing of your mighty chainsaw. Questionable logic aside, this game brings none of the addictive fun of its online counterpart.

If you’re not familiar with Kitten Cannon, it started as a flash game that allows you to shoot a small kitten out of a cannon toward an endless field of various objects; some launch you further and some will stop you in your tracks immediately, usually in a gruesome manner. It’s addictive fun that distracted me from more then one engineering lecture in high school.

Starting the list of major flaws is the awful physics system. Instead of adhering to the laws of the universe, the severed zombie head seems to accelerate away from you, slowly floating off your chainsaw, removing any feeling of power. In the same vein, the sense of speed in this game is off. One of the big thrills of Kitten Cannon is seeing hundreds of objects fly by after hitting a big target, but here the sense of insane speed is never conveyed enough to get you excited. Also, the items to boost you are spread very thin along your path. A huge majority of your tries ends up in two bounces and a roll, which is very unsatisfying.

I think my Game Boy Color had better graphics.

To boot, the whole game is accompanied by the constant moan of some unseen mass of zombies as well as the grind of your chainsaw. The zombies never change pitch and the sound bring up nothing but frustration and annoyance instead of fear and dread.

I would suggest anyone to steer clear of this app, even zombie fanatics. There just isn’t anything to make this app recommendable for download except that it’s free.

Burn the City Review

Burn the City Review

Oct 25, 2011

If you look at ask earlier review for Early Bird I mentioned the flood of Angry Bird clones. Burn This City could be labeled as one of those clones, and in some instances they are, but overall this app deserves to stand on its own. Coming from a small developer, this app is creative and the core gameplay is very solid but sometimes becomes too repetitive. Like most other games if its kind Burn the City’s variation comes in the form of different weapons and levels, but unfortunately the game requires you to hit these buildings multiple times in the same spots which can get old. Keeping things interesting are the clever level designs and a battle mode where your monster has to hold off waves of human military force. Battle mode is a great addition, even though sometimes the game reads your swipes to shoot as a swipe to pan the camera, which gets real frustrating.

Burn this City is a fun game to play. Its cute, colorful monster instantly earns your heart and his animations are will formed. However, the problems begin with the supposed human civilization. Apparently, our cities are a collection of the same five buildings and power plants randomly dispersed on cliffs and valleys. Not that I expect this game to be realistic, but some extra effort to give these cities more life would have gone a long way. The physics system is really accurate and buildings generally fall where they’re supposed to.

One complaint I have with the gameplay is that the camera follows your shot but doesn’t automatically return to the monster making you pan back manually or hit a small button. There is an option to turn this off but then the camera doesn’t follow the action at all. Also, unlike most games, there is not set number of turns per level; here a multiplier is earned if the level is completed under a few set amounts of time.

Overall, Burn the City does a lot good coming from such a small developer, and hopefully with a few updates and changes this game will be something special. But as it stands right now Burn the City does a few things to stand out from other games but I fear it might not be enough.

See Your City From Hundreds of Other Perspectives with Trover

See Your City From Hundreds of Other Perspectives with Trover

Oct 20, 2011

Trover is a new service that allows users from all around the world to share photos of their favorite spots though a simple, elegant grid. Considering Trover launched just this April, the amount of members that it has compiled since then is certainly impressive. The service now boasts more then 100,000 “Trovers” in over 160 countries, which is even more impressive knowing that the service originally launched solely for the iPhone. But now it’s out on Android and the question is: how much of an impact will this service have? Like Zaarly, which I talk about more here, Trover is held back only through the cooperation of its users. They are what really makes this product work.

Trover is essentially a giant commonplace for people to post pictures about their favorite spots which are geotagged on a map. Think of it as a less organized Yelp. A short description about the spot is included and there is a Thank button and a comment field. The ‘Thank’ button is basically a ‘like’ button, or a +1 button for you Google+ people. However, Trover is not the Michelin Guide Book; every entry is recorded by some user that you probably don’t know and while your login is your Facebook account, this is still the internet, people. This open world works both for and against Trover. For example, looking up places near me around the Ohio State Campus I found a great photo of a secluded dock set back in a swamp at a nearby park which would be a great place to go hiking with my girlfriend.

Isn't this Romantic?


This is where Trover shines, showing you places off the beaten path that are great small places that you’d have a hard time finding in a typical guide book. Where Trover fails are the entries that are more or less useless. Setting my position in Times Square, I found a lot of random meaningless entries, like one of two bikes chained to a stand or another of some pigeons on the sidewalk. This creates an over-saturation of information. New York is such a huge city that there where hundreds of ‘Discoveries’ within a half mile radius of my location, every unnecessary post just increases the odds of missing something notable.

Overall though, Trover does bring something very exciting and unique which is important because it needs to be able to differentiate itself from other user recommendation apps such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. They do this by being very visual and by sorting attractions by distance away. Also, Trover applies to any kind of location from restaurants to parks to sidewalk vendors. Trover allows the user to be more spontaneous than Yelp, and the ability to simply pull out a phone and see places that other people recommend is very powerful. A nice setting in Trover is the ability to switch between locations that are within walking, biking, and driving distances, which is a great solution for those boring afternoon dilemmas where there doesn’t seem to be anything to do. Technically Trover has the potential to completely remove those kinds of days from our lives completely. I’m not saying that it will, but in looking at its capabilities Trover asks all the users in your area if they have a spot they recommend visiting. It is all about finding and sharing the little known gems in your area.

We’ll see if this service takes off, because there definitely are many opportunities to lose focus. It will be very tempting to open the service to advertising, for example, and the whole community vibe will be lost, spoiled by the corporate hand. But if we’ve learned anything in these past few years, it would be to never underestimate the power of social integration. If it can be shared, tweeted or posted, chances are it will. People will never stop wanting to discover new, undiscovered spots. If Trover manages to stay the course and keep this an intimate service that lets you see the same city from the viewpoint of hundreds of different perspectives the sky is the limit and Trover will become a household name in the future.