Renda: “Measure your blow after blow ability”

May 26, 2009

The game instructions tell the whole story:

Touch anywhere while 10 seconds.
If 16hits/sec repeatedly is exceeded, it is a game player of the first class!

In other words, tap madly at the screen as fast as possible for ten seconds, then brag about it.

Renda is not just for fans of Engrish and Repetitive Strain Injury: we all got briefly obsessed with it, even to the extent of neglecting the mighty Peggle.

Interoffice Renda competition results:

  1. Ed in the lead with  12.8
  2. James with 7
  3. Steph with 0 (too scared)
Ed's unbeatable score

Ed's unbeatable score

Rating: pointlessness raised to an artform. Recommended.

Version: 1.0 | Size: 0.0MB (?) | Tested on: iPhone 3G, 2.2.1
Price: Free  |  Developer: http://www.smallnetwork.co.jp/

Get it: iTunes link

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Weather Pro

May 10, 2009

Day View

Why you need it

I am slightly obsessed with weather. I find it very important to know not just the extended forecast, but how much of a chance there is of a rain, what time the sun will rise/set and what the windchill factor. If this sounds good to you, you need to get Weather Pro (£2.39)!

We all know the standard pre-loaded weather app is rather…useless (that is if you agreed with the previous paragraph!). I needed something a lot more detailed and I was getting tired of the BBC’s bizarro take on local weather (i.e. what do you mean it’s sunny?!).

I randomly came across Weather Pro and after seeing such good reviews for it (4/5 stars on appstore) I decided to fork the £2.39 for it. I have not been let down!

First thing you need to know, is Weather Pro is based in Germany so European forecasts are very accurate. They also claim to have an accurate view of the USA.

Get forecasting

Like most of these apps, to get going you search for a place (which you can add as favourite) and check out its forecast. Weather Pro can also you see your iPhone’s GPS to locate places around you–a feature which really highlights how specific Weather Pro is. Using the GPS finder in Oxford brought back the following areas in order of proximity:  Oxford, Abingdon, Kidlington, Woodstock and Wallingford. It’s the sort of feature that makes Weather Pro good value for money.

Weather Pro’s main place of interest screen gives you the current weather (to the nearest top of the hour). This includes temperature, wind speed/direction, weather icon and a slew of other information, including pressure and wind chill. Scrolling downwards reveals a quick snapshot of the weather throughout the rest of the week (including today’s forecast). Tapping a new day brings up the weather for that day in 3 hour chunks.

Back on the first screen, tapping a graph button brings up 6 different graphs with detailed information about various weekly statistics: temperature, precipitation risk, pressure, sunshine duration, humidity and wind.

User experience and extra features

The interface is slick and very iPhone friendly. The developers have managed to pack in a lot of information without making it impossible discern one thing from another. There’s good use of colour and icons.

There is also a bottom menu bar that iPhone will be familiar with. A couple great features Weather Pro has included are held here. They are Radar and Satellite. Tapping Radar brings up a map of the country/region you are in (UK and ROI in our case) and shows the precipitation concentrations of the last few hours. Satellite takes a slightly wider view (Europe in our case) and shows the cloud movements of the last few hours. Both features have a playback function showing you the actual movements of rain/cloud cover.  A red dot always shows you your current location.

Bottom line

Most importantly though, Weather Pro has proved to be very accurate and adaptable, It is constantly updating itself so you can be confident of having the most up to date weather. For instance, at the end of the day the max daily temperature is likely to have changed and Weather Pro takes that into account, allowing you to correct friends who have relied a morning forecast. har har!

Weather Pro is very quick to update over wi-fi and 3G, but also works in good time over GPRS.

If you’re the sort of person who likes to check the weather several times a day, this is the only app for you!

iTunes store link for Weather Pro for iPhone | Developer site: MeteoGroup Deutschland GmbH

Version: 1.4 | Size: 4.9MB |vTested on: iPhone 3G, 2.2.1 | Works on: iPhone 3G with 2.2 software update


GPSies for iPhone

May 4, 2009

ProfileWhat is it? – Use your iPhone 3G’s GPS chip to track your movements and then upload them to the GPSies.com site

Cost – Free

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I’m an enthusiastic cyclist, so although you could also use this app when hiking, skiing, driving, rollerblading etc., I tested GPSies on a 70 mile (113km) cycle.

Last summer, as well as getting an iPhone 3G, I also purchased a Garmin Edge 705 cycling GPS unit that I have found to be pretty darn good…but that’s a different review. I’ve had to send my Garmin back for a repair, so I’m temporarily left without a way of recording where, how far and how fast I’ve cycled until it returns.

Why would I want to track my routes, you ask?  Well, I’m doing some training for an event called the Circuit of the Cotswolds in June and this year, I’m doing it with my friend John; a triathlete and recent Paris Marathon participant. Therefore, it’s handy and motivational to be able to add a bit of science to the training and also to see my average speed and total mileage increase in line with my fitness. Hopefully, this will ultimately help me to keep up with my super-fit friend in 6 weeks time.

I sometimes use the site GPSies to plan routes and also let others download my routes to their GPS devices, so when I was thinking about how to temporarily replace my Garmin, I noticed that GPSies have an iPhone app that makes use of the GPS chip in your iPhone 3G.

Downloading. I downloaded the app, which installed very quickly due to its 0.7Mb size and prepared to set off for a cycle in the Chiltern hills, mid-way between Oxford and London.

Settings. Tapping the “i” in the bottom right corner of the screen got me into the settings screen. I selected to measure speed in metric. I could have selected Pace, represented in time per km or mile, if I wanted. You can switch between Pace and Speed and the display will adjust accordingly.

I set the recording interval to 2 seconds frequency which was recommended for cycling. There are also recommendations for Driving, Running, Hiking, Climbing and Boating. Presumably, this affects the number of waypoints recorded.

Pocket mode is designed to preserve battery life presumably by switching the screen off but I wasn’t entirely sure if it did anything else. You can also link to an account on GPSies.com  if you want to upload your tracks to the site later.

Settings

img_0040

Map. The first thing I noticed was that the lower half of the screen didn’t show a map. The FAQs for the app say:

Unfortunately Google will not allow us easily to use their map material and programming interfaces on a paid iPhone application. We are working on an implementation based on a free map service for a later release of the application.

This is disappointing (and also odd, as at the time of writing the app is free ) but considering the website has Open Street Maps and OSM Cycle maps as one of the mapping options, then I’d be optimistic that GPSies can make good of their claims for the iPhone app.  Luckily, I know the area reasonably well, so thought I’d be OK.  If I didn’t know the route or area, then it would be a problem compared to the Garmin, as pre-planned routes can be navigated on the screen of that device.

Bike mounting. This brings me to the second issue, which is more of a hardware issue than a software one. Even if maps and route navigation become available on the GPSies app, how do you look at the screen and operate the app while on the move?  I don’t have a bracket to mount the phone on the handlebars, and although I have seen some on the web, they look pretty clunky.

I don’t think I would want to mount my phone to the handlebars anyway because the iPhone would not be protected from the ingress of water and dirt; and from vibration. Even on a road bike, there is a fair amount of vibration which the Garmin is bettered equipped to deal with. I imagine that this type of thing would be a problem for other activities like skiing and boating, as well.

I got away with this because I only wanted to record my route without having to access the screen frequently, so a small, padded bag, which has a mesh lid.  The bag is designed for triathletes and straps to the top tube of the bike.

Route recording. You can see what the app looked like a little over 4 1/2 hours later.  The GPSies app has successfully captured my route out of Oxford to the southeast, then up and down the Chiltern escarpment a few times before heading back the way I came.

img_0038

Tapping anywhere on the top half of the screen will start recording, while tapping and holding will pause.  In practice, this worked well.  During the ride, I received a text message and viewing didn’t affect the app.  When you re-enter GPSies, just tap to resume.

A swipe of the lower part of the screen shows you the altitude profile.

img_0042

Tapping “Save and Start Over” will save to the track list  which you can then view by tapping the icon in the bottom left corner.

img_0041Editing the track allows you to name it and tag it as suitable for a number of types of activity.

Edit Track screen

Uploading. You can upload the track to the main GPSies.com site where you can edit your track, export it in a multiple of formats including Google Earth and Garmin.  My Circuit of the Chilterns route only took a few seconds to upload over my home wi-fi connection.

The route on GPSies.com

Signal and Battery life. The mesh lid on the triathlon bag meant that GPS reception was easy to find when out of doors.  I didn’t notice any lapse in signal even when I was in areas where there was no 3G or GPRS coverage.

Update – I went for another ride two days later and this time had the phone in a protective Foofpod, inside a jersey pocket and the track wasn’t recorded successfully. Note to self, the phone’s gotta see the sky!

My battery was fully charged when I left and there was still over 1/5 left upon my return; the 20% battery warning hadn’t appeared yet. I had switched 3G on but turned bluetooth and wi-fi off, to preserve battery life. I hadn’t used any other features of the phone apart from reading 2 text messages and taking a few photos with the camera, such as the one below. Can you spot the pheasant?

Spot the pheasant

Overall. The app is well designed and easy to use, much like the GPSies site itself. I literally downloaded it, played with it for 5 mins and then hit the road. The GPS signal was picked up quickly and seemed to be constant throughout the ride, even when I didn’t have  a cell phone signal.

Logical additions to the app (apart from adding proper maps) would be the ability to load routes and to navigate them, although with the shortcomings (at least for cycling) that I mentioned above. Ultimately, it can’t match up to a dedicated GPS unit like my Garmin but as an interim measure it was fine.  For simply recording where you’ve been, it does a good job. It’s integration with an already great website makes it even better.

Store link for GPSies for iPhone | Developer site: GPSies.com (screenshots). Optaros (blog)

Version: 1.0 | Size: 0.7MB | Tested on: iPhone 3G, 2.2.1 | Works on: iPhone 3G with 2.2 software update


iCraig – so-so for sofas, but lacks laughs

April 28, 2009

iCraig: a  dedicated app for browsing craigslist.

Price: free |  Version: 1 | Developer: Splashdata

Is it useful?  Depends where you live. Craigslist is well establised in America, and in the UK it has a healthy showing in London at least. But in our provincial city there is practically zero uptake. Would it find me a sofa in Oxford?

icraig1

Hmmm, no. Lots of Scientology magazines, no sofa! [ Note: we re-ran this test after publication and this time a sofa did appear, without the spam. Must have been a hiccup – ed]

iCraig is very much cut-down from the craiglist website, restricted to some of the mainstream Craigslist catagories.
Which means we are missing out on the entertainment of Craigslist – the psychological voyeurism of reading “rants and raves” (warning, usually racist / stupid), the comedy and tragedy of Missed Connections, and the overall wtf factor (NSFW).

Furthermore, iCraig does not have the “flag this post as spam / porn / etc” function, so you can’t be a good craigizen with this app.

Worst of all, you can’t post. So no selling on the go.

So what do you gain over just using the web version? Well, Bookmark lets you save particular searchs for quick retrieval – meaning you can quickly re-run that sofa search when on the go.  But there must be a web service that could notify you of changes to particular searches, surely?

iCraig does give you some speed advantages over using the website (at least if you are on 3g), in exchange for far less functionality and less entertainment. ]

Alternatives: goCraigsy (pay), Craigster (pay). Both let you post items.


Party Whistle by Ideo Toy Lab

April 15, 2009

It moos, it crows, it baas…they forgot the turkey noise though

Price: $0.99/£0.59

I’m a big fan of Ideo, a reknowned design and innovation company, headquartered in Palo Alto, California. Amongst other things, they are known for designing the first Apple mouse and the Palm V PDA. I’m also particularly keen on their much lauded internal culture, which fosters a spirit fun that in turn leads to an environment where innovation and collaboration are allowed to blossom.

One part of Ideo is Toy Lab, who have turned their hand to iPhone apps. The first of these is called Party Whistle that promises to help iPhone users “celebrate whenever and wherever they want. Just blow into your iPhone’s microphone and enjoy the realistic sounds and animations of a party whistle. Party Whistle is filled with fun, little surprises that can transform the dullest occasion into a rocking whistle party!”

Party whistle

Party whistle

Once the app loads, a rolled up party whistle is seen at the bottom of the screen. You know the type…you blow into a plastic mouth piece that buzzes while simultaneously inflating a rolled up paper…erm…tickler. Blow into the microphone and the party tickler unravels and the whistle makes that cheesy noise. All you need is a paper hat and you’re having a rocking time, if you believe the spiel. Blowing into the mike subsequently, will make random farmyard noises (moos, clucks etc.) and sometimes the tickler will inflate and either explode or shoot off like a balloon.

The rolled up tickler

The rolled up tickler

Apart from using your finger to unravel the tickler…ahem…manually, that’s about it really. You can tap the info symbol and see your “Party score”, which seems to increment each time you blow the whistle and make the Toy Lab logo make a few silly noises.

Inflated tickler

Inflated tickler

Party Score

Party Score

It only costs $0.99 and I didn’t even pay for it because James gave me some cash to install it on my phone because the speaker on his phone isn’t working. However, I still feel ripped off!

If you go to the Party Whistle website, you can see a demo of the app and that’s all you need really. Use the dollar you save and go buy a coffee.

Having said that, I am a lot older than Toy Labs’ stated audience for the app, 2-6 year olds. So if you have a pre-schooler that you want to loan your iPhone to, they may well enjoy it. Likewise, if you can connect with your inner pre-schooler, then you may also find that Party Whistle is value for money.

Store link for Party Whistle | Developer site: Ideo Toy Labs Party Whistle (demo).

Version: 1.0 | Size: 4.4MB | Tested on: iPhone 3G, 2.2.1 | Works on: iPhone with 2.2 software update


1 Billion App downloads jamboree

April 12, 2009

Update: some kid in the US won it. Well done, that child.

A way to go

A way to go

Apple are about to shift their 1 billionth app. The customer who hits the lucky 1,000,000,000 get all kinds of prizes, including a MacBook Pro and $10,000 of iTunes store credit.  We at Applick think we are a shoo-in to win it!

Right now looks like about 59,000,000 downloads to go till they hit the magic number …at 100 downloads per second…carry the three… denominator….  = sometime Saturday afternoon GMT?

Full details here: http://www.apple.com/itunes/billion-app-countdown/

And you can enter without purchasing here: http://www.apple.com/itunes/billion-app-countdown/entryform/


Losing hurts so good: geoDefense

April 6, 2009

I sat down to do a quick comparison review of some Tower Defense games that are proliferating like creeps on the iTunes store – I was going to look at the the popular and venerable FieldRunners (£1.79, and very much worth it) and some of the free ones like Tap Defense, but after I found a hot tip on a  RockaPaperShotgun comments thread about geoDefense, that plan went out the window – geoDefense ate all my time.

Gameplay: dangerous blobs travel along a winding path to get to your … things you are defending. You must stop them, with the help of 5 towers that you can place next to the enemies path. The towers (mostly) then shoot the bad blobs as they zoom past, creating lovely fireworks.

boom

You must make quick decisions about which tower to deploy where,  when to upgrade, and when to restart.  Which is often, as geoDefense can be very, very hard.

Each level is in effect a puzzle – some seems so restricted that only a few tower placements will yield victory, and the rules seem to shift in un-obvious ways.

Lifespan: There are 3 difficulty levels and 30 unique levels.   Either due to my own incompetence or the developer’s sadism, certain levels may take many, many attempts to perfect. I’ve nearly cleared Hard mode, but there are bits of Medium that seem impossible.  The developer has promised that solutions to each puzzle will be posted on their website, but no sign of them yet. Annoyingly, having nearly finished this review I’ve just discovered that there is a “novice” mode that makes the game easier. Where was that last night at 2am?

win1

Graphics: “retro but modern” – if you know EveryExtendExtra or Geometry Wars you might know what to expect: it’s Tron but more explodey.

Sound: reportedly great, but my speaker is broke. It’s still fun silent.

Usability: the “resume” and “restart” button placement on the pause screen has befuddled me a couple of times and made me lose progress; this is mostly moot as the pause button itself is really difficult to activate – perhaps its my gelaskin‘s fault.  Menus in general are fiddlier than they should be and would benfit from better sizing and spacing.

Addictiveness: Everyone has their own gaming Kryptonite – my fellow reviewers can tell you war stories about months-long quests to catch that one special FlickFish Fish, or the hundreds of hours sunk into landing planes in Flight Control.  geoDefense was mine – I’m at least 5/10 on the Symptoms of gaming addiction scale as a result.

Verdict: a genuine (if uneven) challenge, a treat for the eyes, and “one-more-go-till-dawn” time-stealer of the first rank: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
There is also 59p light version featuing 6 levels – check that out.

Store link for geoDefense | Developer site: Critical Thought Games (screenshots, videos).

Version: 1.1 | Size: 2.7MB | Tested on: iPhone 3g, 2.2.1