Archive for November 2014
It’s time for our roundup of the latest, greatest Android apps and games.
Runtastic made its name as an activity-tracking app – hence the name – but now it’s turning its attention to your night-time health. This app aims to track your sleep cycles, complete with a smart alarm to wake you up at the right moment – translation: not grumpytime – as well as helping you pinpoint good and bad influences on your sleep.
Messenger is Google’s latest attempt to break out a feature of Android into a standalone app, which can then be updated more frequently via Google Play. In this case, it’s all about the messaging: SMS, MMS, group texts and more.
An essential download for winter sports folk, this provides maps and weather forecasts for pistes around the world; tracks your speed and distance while skiing and snowboarding; and has some inventive social features to challenge friends, or simply (virtually) yodel at them.
Rooster Teeth is one of the most creative studios making original videos for YouTube at the moment, and now it has an official app for fans to keep up with its output. From gaming Let’s Play videos to comedy, it’s a handy way to watch – albeit not one that’ll replace the main YouTube app for more casual viewers.
Home Design 3D
Having moved house earlier in the year, I’ve been building up a mountain of bits of paper with scribbled layouts. Home Design 3D is one of the apps aiming to take that process digital, as you quickly draw rooms, place furniture and then see how it all looks. A handy visualisation tool.
Forgotten that Facebook had groups? Apparently around 700 million people are still using the feature. This new standalone app – part of Facebook’s strategy to “unbundle the big blue app” – focuses on groups: creating new ones, joining existing ones and posting to any that you’re a member of.
There’s a growing community of cookery apps on Android, with this one aimed at a wide audience (translation: even kitchen liabilities like me) with more than 1,000 recipes to try. Step-by-step instructions, built-in timers and the ability to control the app with your voice when your hands are floury make it very useful.
A Hollow Body
Looking to fill time during the (long) wait between series of Sherlock? This app from the Museum of London is just the thing: a narrated walk starting near St Paul’s Cathedral, inspired by the original Sherlock Holmes stories. Note, they’re stressing it’s NOT just a guide: “You should imagine walking through a film, where you are the main characters…”
OurHome – Chores and Rewards
This is a good idea for parents grumbling that their children don’t help out around the home. It’s part family-organiser, so you know who’s where when; it’s part motivational tool to reward kids for doing chores; and it’s also a digital shopping list, kept updated in between shop/supermarket trips.
Finally, a simple but potentially-effective idea for charities to raise money through mobile donations. SnapDonate lets you take a photo of a charity’s logo, then donate to them in a variety of small-to-medium amounts.
Dots and its sequel TwoDots have been very popular on iOS, but now the latter is on Android too. It’s the perfect pick-up-and-play puzzler, as you connect coloured dots across 135 levels, challenging friends to beat your skills as you go.
Kingdom Rush Origins
Kingdom Rush is a rightfully-respected brand in the tower defence genre, and from what I’ve played so far, this is the best version yet. Pitched as a prequel, it’s an absorbing strategy game as you marshal your fantasy forces (and towers) to fend off onrushing enemies.
The Banner Saga
Thankfully spared a lawsuit from the Candy Crush people, this Viking-themed RPG is a carefully-crafted treat. Its battles and storytelling blend perfectly, as they did on iOS, with a tale you can happily lose yourself in.
If you’re more action-focused, you’ll love Turbo Dismount. It’s a “crash simulator” that sees you trying to causing as much chaos as possible with “Mr Dismount and the cars who love him”, with slow-motion replays making the most of the impressive physics engine.
Mark of the Dragon
Breeding dragons? There’ve been a few popular mobile games along those lines in recent years, but Gamevil’s new release looks like it’s putting a fresh spin on the theme. So yes, breeding and battling, but a community of guilds and multiplayer raiding looks to add depth too.
Five Nights at Freddy’s 2
It’s not so long since the (excellent) Five Nights at Freddy’s game was released for Android, with its tale of a spooky pizza restaurant and creepy animatronic characters. The sequel looks equally impressive, as you track the characters through security camera footage, and fend them off.
Battle Worlds: Kronos
A good week for hardcore strategy gaming, with Battle Worlds: Kronos a turn-based tablet wargame with depth to spare. You can play alone – the promise of 50 hours’ solo play looks about right – or pit your wits against other humans in the multiplayer mode.
Kabam’s second entry in this roundup features more critters that you have to collect and train up for fights, with more than 200 to find, and a host of battles to harden their skills. It’s colourful, with a neat touch-friendly interface.
The almost Game Boy-style retro graphics will have gamers of a certain age salivating at the sight of Endless Doves, but its gameplay has much more to offer than old-school visuals. “Collect Doves, Don’t Crash” is how the developers sum it up. Miles more fun than Flappy Bird is how I’d put it.
Jet Run: City Defender
Finally, Jet Run: City Defender is one of the best-looking Android games this week: an into-the-screen action game that sees you whizzing through urban landscapes in a jet, letting anything in your path have it with both missiles. Like Temple Run meeting After Burner, it’s great fun.
That’s my choice, but what Android apps and games have you been using recently? Make your recommendations – or give your views on the picks above – in the comments section.
Professional Software Development
Call it the sumo wrestling battle of the smartphone world — two gigantic devices competing for our attention and our buying dollar. It’s the battle between Google’s Nexus 6 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 4.
The Nexus 6 and Note 4 are both big and brimming with power, but make no mistake about it: While the phones may share a shelf in the “plus-sized Android” aisle, they’re very different devices that offer dramatically different types of user experiences.
So which plus-sized Android phone is right for you? Let’s start by breaking down the key differences – practically speaking – between the two devices:
1. Style and design
The Nexus 6 is basically like a giant Moto X: It has a gently curved back, soft-touch plastic material, and an aluminum frame around its perimeter. It’s simple yet elegant and really an attractive phone.
The Note 4, on the other hand is a Samsung device. It’s boxy and flat, with a thin and removable faux-leather plastic back. It does have a metal frame instead of the faux-chrome plastic usually favored by Samsung, but it still errs on the side of chintz and isn’t exactly what you’d describe as a sophisticated design.
The Nexus’s curved form makes it the far more ergonomic and comfortable-to-hold phone of the pair. Although it’s slightly larger than the Note, it feels like it’s designed to fit into your hand. It’s a sharp contrast to the Note’s boxy nature, which feels awkward in comparison.
The Nexus 6 runs a pure, unmodified version of Google’s new Android 5.0 Lollipop software. The Note 4 runs Samsung’s TouchWiz software on top of the Android 4.4 KitKat OS.
On that note, the Nexus is guaranteed to get fast and frequent ongoing software upgrades from Google moving forward; the Note is likely to get upgrades eventually, but it’s dependent on Samsung to roll them out — and Samsung tends to be one of the less communicative manufacturers when it comes to the realm of upgrades.
As far as user interface, it’s no contest: The Nexus’s pure Lollipop software is clean, modern, cohesive, and all around just a joy to use. Samsung’s TouchWiz UI has gotten less bad over the years, but it’s still a bloated and inconsistent mess compared to the stock Android setup.
The one area where TouchWiz has an advantage is in the realm of features: While Samsung does cram its software full of gimmicky silliness you’ll likely never touch, it also provides a few genuinely useful additions you won’t find on the Nexus 6 — namely the options for viewing multiple apps on the screen at the same time, which can be particularly valuable on larger-screened devices like these.
If you want to watch a video while answering a text or reference a document while composing an email, the Note has the upper hand; you can use its split-screen or floating app functions to accomplish those things. On the Nexus, meanwhile, your only real option is to toggle back and forth between the two processes.
The Note has an integrated stylus; the Nexus does not. If you’re someone who likes the idea of drawing or scribbling on your smartphone’s screen, that’s something significant to consider; the Note 4’s stylus is top-notch and in a completely different league from any third-party accessory you could purchase.
The Nexus 6 has front-facing stereo speakers that sound fantastic; the Note 4 has a single small speaker on its back that sounds pretty bad. Not much more to say about that.
On paper, both phones are perfectly equipped in terms of horsepower — but in the real world, the Note 4 is noticeably less smooth and snappy than the Nexus. There’s frequent jerkiness in animations and transitions, for instance, and tasks like switching apps or even just opening the Recent Apps switcher don’t happen as instantaneously as they should. The phone is by no means slow; it’s just less zippy and responsive than what you’d expect from a device of this caliber — and than what you’ll experience on the Nexus 6.
The Nexus 6 comes with a choice of 32GB or 64GB of internal space and no SD card; the Note 4 comes with 32GB of internal space and an SD card that allows you to add up to 128GB of external storage. For most people, 32 to 64GB should be more than sufficient — but if you need a lot of local space, the Note 4’s opportunity for expansion obviously has added appeal.
Both phones do respectably well. If you’re among the minority of users who values being able to swap out a phone’s battery on the fly, meanwhile, the Note 4’s battery is removable while the Nexus’s is not.
In terms of charging, the Nexus supports standard Qi wireless charging out of the box; the Note 4 doesn’t. Both phones offer a USB-based fast-charging option.
The Nexus 6 uses the standard virtual on-screen buttons for Android’s Back, Home, and Recent Apps functions while the Note 4 sticks with Samsung’s typical mishmash of physical and capacitive buttons for those functions.
The physical-capacitive mix isn’t ideal — the physical button requires a fair amount of force to press while the capacitive ones take just a gentle touch, which makes for a jarring and somewhat awkward experience moving between them — but if you’ve used mainly Samsung devices in the past, you’re probably used to it and might even prefer it.
There is the argument that having the buttons below the screen instead of on it makes the display seem bigger — but on the other hand, the non-virtual buttons don’t rotate with the screen and don’t change or disappear based on context, as their virtual counterparts do. (Also, the Nexus’s screen is 5% bigger than the Note’s, which might counterbalance the “more screen space” argument to some degree.) With Lollipop, too, the Note 4’s buttons are going to look especially dated, as that release introduces a revamped appearance for them that can’t be applied to permanent keys.