Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Android Apps Review: Eggs

When I first opened Eggs for Android, I was shocked. It is an emulator of an ancient (80's or early 90's) handheld game, based on the TV animation "Nu, Pagadi". You can check the series on YouTube, they are old Russian comedy cartoons, similar to the idea of Tom and Jerry, but in Solviet Russia setting.

The game only has one screen, no menu options are available. It shows a rendering of the game with its buttons and screen. The gameplay is very simple - there is a hen house with four cells, eggs roll from them and it is your task to press the corresponding button so the character can catch the eggs in a basket. You miss three eggs, game is over. Over time the eggs start falling faster and more at the time, so it becomes really challenging. All the control is done using the touch screen. The game emulates the original very well, I used to have it and I was very sad, when it broke. Now I can bring back those memories.

Worth installing? Absolutely, it is a very decent arcade type game.

What do I want to see in future versions? I noticed that sometimes the response of the on-screen buttons is not very good. On certain occasions there was a noticeable lag between pressing a button and the response from the game. Hopefully the next update will fix that. The game needs sound and a save game option. With all these details fixed, my rating will likely go up to the maximum.

Rating: 7/10

Android Apps Review: handyCalch

We are all familiar with the built-in calculator in Android. I think that it's the best calculator that comes pre-installed on any mobile OS. Even though it has some very nice feature set, it is not good enough for the more demanding user. That's when handyCalc comes to help. It is powerful, it is versatile, it is well made. I found it incredible how many features its authors managed to include in it.

Interface: handyCalc has on-screen keyboard with three different modes - numeric, alphabetical and math functions. They can be switched by pressing an on-screen button or just by flicking your finger left or right. The equations are displayed either as fractions or in decimal view. Everything is easy to read and the app uses the screen real estate very well.

Features: The list goes on and on ...
- Solving for many types of equations, including multi-variable
- Drawing graphs
- Solving for functions and defining own
- Solving for statistical variables and and sets of equations
- Solving for exponents
- Currency converter - automatically updated over the air
- Unit converter
- Numeral systems converter
- Solving for time and dates ( ex. how many days is the difference between May 18 and January 3 or how long has been since April 16 etc. ).
- Copy, Cut and Paste
- Many more

This app is a real jewel. It combines few separate apps in one and does all the job excellent. The user, using it for a first time may find it slightly confusing. Thankfully, the authors of the app have included a rich Help section with tutorials, demo and articles.

Worth installing? If you ever need to do anything that the built-in Calculator can't handle, this is your app. It is a must-have app for every student and also has enough non math features to satisfy the ordinary user. handyCalc is one of my nominations for the "Best Android App" award.

What do I want to see in future versions? I found it impossible to use the list of Formulas, probably it's my fault, but this section is not made as intuitive as the rest of the app. I also want to see Finance oriented features, such as NPV, IRR and so.

Rating: 9/10


Cupcake finally coming to us ...

We waited and waited, but finally our patience is about to be rewarded. The Cupcake Android update will come to North America hopefully next week and trust me, I will be one of the first to enjoy it. It brings many new welcome features and updates to the existing ones. Some important ones will be:
-Video recording (there is an existing app, but I won't even bother reviewing it, since it's very bad)
-Virtual Keyboard - no more sliding the screen away just to type one letter every time
-Direct uploads to Picasa and YouTube - for whoever needs it
-Lots of UI polishing - we all have to admit - in its current state, Android is not the most beautiful OS around - even though it is still better looking then Symbian ;)
-Many new features in the browser, including searching within the page (finally), copy and paste (yes!) and smoother scrolling
-New widgets for the home screen, including Calendar and Music Player ( the only two I can use and the only two that should have been there since day one )
-New Linux kernel
-Stereo Bluetooth - good for those folks who use such headphones
-Many more small details

Overall, the list is impressive and from what I hear, all the changes are actually for good and improve the Android experience. It's been less than 8 months since Android has been officially released on the G1 and this will be the third or forth update, being the most important, too. I am a little bit disappointed by the absence of some other anticipated features, including the Bluetooth file transfer as an example, but the ones we are getting will entertain us for a long time, I am sure. I also hope that there will be hardly any issues with the third-party software for the platform, since every day I see apps being updated for Cupcake. Just few more days and I will see for sure. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Android Apps Review: Drawing Apps

In this review I will talk about two different apps with one purpose - to help the Android users to show their creative side by making some drawings. They also have one more thing in common - they are both bad. No, I mean BAD. I will quickly describe each of them:

Kids Paint - I know, the title says it all, but could the authors at least put some thinking while making it? I am assuming they didn't, since the result is hardly usable. This app has no menu options and no controls. Every next touch generates a line with different color and diameter. The lack of menu means also that the only way to exit the app is to hold down the Back button for a while, which brings the Undo feature - which is also the only control over the app. Scrolling in some direction with the trackball changed the background color, but does nothing else.

p.a.i.n.t.m.a.n : Paint Animate - A bad name for a bad app. Unlike Kids Paint, at least this time there is a menu with Color picker, New Painting, Send painting and a short help. There is also a Play option, but I will come back to it in a moment. Again, there is no control over the diameter of the 'brush', but at least there is a Color picker, which unfortunately is almost completely useless due to the small size of the color ring. No Undo option or an Exit button completes the picture. However, there is the already mentioned Play option, which is actually fun to watch. Once you have some picture created, you can play back the painting sequence in a vector mode. Despite being acceptable, this feature still can't save this app from being mediocre.

Worth installing? I am still waiting for the Android version of Brushes or another app with similar functionality. Brushes is my ideal for a good painting app for the moment and one of the very few reasons to envy the iPhone fan-boys.

What do I want to see in future versions? To the authors of the two apps: refer to Brushes and try to do a better job next time.


Kids Paint -

p.a.i.n.t.m.a.n : Paint Animate - 3/10

Android Apps Review: IcViewer

In its current version, Android still lacks support for PDF files out-of-the-box ( which is the same story for Windows XP, by the way...). IcViewer is a free solution for this problem. Surprisingly enough, it is completely functional and user friendly. The file manipulation options include Next and Previous page, Go to page and Rotate. There is also zooming, which works exactly in the same way as the Pictures Android app. That's all about it - no Search, no Editing, no Highlighting or typing in fields. Important - the app needs Internet connection every time when opens a file for a first time.

Worth installing? IcViewer is a must have app for the student and any other person who needs to view PDF files on a regular basis. It nicely complements Documents to go in the Office apps section. I haven't had any issues with it up to date.

What do I want to see in future versions? There should be an improved version soon with editing and saving enabled, as well as converting Office documents to PDF. I hope the app will remain free with all these extra features. For now, there is still plenty to enjoy.

Rating: 9/10


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Android Apps Review: Carda Lite

Carda is a business cards database app. All business cards are "scanned", using the camera and are stored on the memory card. The View mode uses a flick gesture to switch the cards, similar to the Apple technology. The Edit mode reveals the following options for every card : Date when you met the person; Events related to the person and Tags. The user can search the tags and events to find the desired card. This app lacks some more advanced capabilities, but does the job OK.

Worth installing? Only if you need to have a business cards database.

What do I want to see in future versions? Better synchronization with the other Android apps. Ex. - to be able to attach the card to a contact or dial the numbers on the card. Improved cards switching speed and interface.

Rating: 6/10

Android Apps Review: Voice Recorder

Voice Recorder adds one of the most useful features ever in a phone. It is small and powerful, with easy to navigate interface. The main screen shows the last recordings made and the Record button, along with a time display and slider. There are options for searching through the recordings by time and title, a Timer recording, allowing for delayed start, and Data Synchronization with the SD card. Every recording is saved as a .3gp file and can be easily attached to any e-mail message or set as a ringtune. .

Worth installing? Yes. Even if you just use it once, it is worth it.

What do I want to see in future versions? I will really appreciate a Pause recording button, as well as the option to save in different file formats - MP3, WAV and so. Both are minor details, but would add to the value of the app.

Rating: 8/10

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Android Apps Review: Elements

Elements is a very small app for Android with one purpose - to provide the Periodic Table of the Elements with lots of information about each element, such as Category, Atomic Weight, Electrons per shell, Melting and Boiling Points and many more. Chemistry students will be very happy to have this free app, since it will help them a lot during studying. The available views are List and Table. Besides that, there is also zooming as the only other possible setting of the app.

Worth installing? Not of a great value for the ordinary user. Chemistry students, however, will be find it useful and well made.

What do I want to see in future versions? 3D images of the elements. Even more information about every element.

Rating: 7/10

PS - Dedicated to Milena ( who studies Chem and Bio and is so far away right now (sigh) )

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A small clarification

Some of you might be wondering about my ratings and the possible inconsistency, it might lead to - for rating purposes, I evaluate the initial idea behind the app or game, how well it is currently implemented and the possibility for future functionality. For example, To Do List may look as a very simple app, not comparable with some of its more advanced competitors. But considering the idea that its authors had behind it, it worked out pretty well. It still has some room for improvement and that's why it does not get top rating. Still, I recommend it to the people, including me, who have the need for such app. Another app, Documents to go, is pretty much brilliant in its current version, despite some of the important updates that have to be included to make it better. Thus anything less that 10/10 would be an insult to its creators.

Stay tuned for more reviews ! Please, comment and enjoy !

Android Apps Review: Remote Droid

One of the most unique and fun apps for Android is Remote Droid - the wireless keyboard and mouse for your computer. A small service client must be started on the host computer first - no installation required. It shows the computer's IP address, which then has to be typed into the phone. The connection works through WiFi, so no worries about data charges.

When started, the only thing on the screen are a few colored lines, which represent the trackpad area and the mouse buttons, found on every laptop. Combine this with G1's keyboard and you receive (almost) fully functional input devices. The mouse area is very responsive, supports double click and right click, while the keyboard works fine, too. Some of the many potential uses for this app is to control your home entertainment center, change the song on Winamp or even make a prank to a friend - by making him believe that his computer is possessed.

Worth installing? Even just for its sheer entertainment value, this app is a must for every geek. A candidate for the "Best Android App" award.

What do I want to see in future versions? Multi touch gestures - whenever Android supports it.

Rating: 9/10


Android Apps Review: pitchR

pitchR implements a very interesting concept - it is an app that allows the user to control and view a PowerPoint presentation from an Android phone. This is achieved by downloading and installing a simple application on the host computer and connecting the phone to the same network through WiFi. It is worth mentioning that pitchR works in an offline mode too, where you can just preview the presentation. Once started, the app searches for .ppt files on the phone and the memory card. When the desired one is selected, the phone is synched with the network and the presentation loads. The very unique feature of this app is that the presentation is actually displayed on the phone screen in real time, allowing the user to control it without looking at the screen. The slides can be switched using the trackball or the touch screen. This app is paid, however, there is a free Trial version, too, which displays "pitchR TRIAL" on every slide during the presentation.

Worth installing? If you host presentations often, this app can be your life-saver. Of course, you can just use a remote or the computer keyboard, but the real time preview of the slides on the screen makes this app way more useful and cool, too. Up to date, the only Android app that can preview PowerPoint slides.

What do I want to see in future versions? Basic editing capabilities.

Rating: 9/10


Android Apps Review: Android Search

Finally, a good Search app for Android. Still being developed and updated, it offers searching within Calendar, Contacts, Call Logs, SMS ( not working on my phone, might be a bug) and Bookmarks. The app is really simple, yet very functional. It only has a search bar as interface. Once the word is inputted ( here Cupcake will be a of a great help ), it displays the results in a window, allowing for interactions with them, ex. opening the Contacts entry and so.

Worth installing? Very recommended. One stop for many needs.

What do I want to see in future versions? SMS searching fixed. File Manager search integration.

Rating: 8/10


Beat-Them-Up game review: Captain Commando

Captain Commando is one of the better Beat-Them-Up games out there. Mostly typical, it has a few interesting features that make it different from the mass.

Average. Some good visual effects, a variety of moves for every character, very repetitive backgrounds within every separate level. After being hand-killed by the different characters, enemies evaporate, burn or are cut in half. There is a some blood in the game, less then what some other games show.The enemies are many types, each having different abilities.

Sound: Average again. One of the interesting features is that once the player selects a character to play with, his name is "spoken" by the computer.

Gameplay -There are 5 characters, each of who has some unique capabilities - usually performed with a hit after running or grabbing an enemy. Some enemies carry weapons that can be picked by the characters after killing the enemy - weapons like a gun, machine gun, bomb and so. The bosses are on the average level of difficulty, with the exception of the last boss, who requires a lot of time and credits to be killed. The AI is good, and, typical for the genre, most times you end up surrounded by a bunch of enemies. Run and hit usually helps to clean some direction open easily.

Will I keep playing it? It is a decent game, nothing too spectacular, but not bad for sure. I could play it once in a while.

Rating - 7/10


Android Apps Review: Documents To Go

One of the most anticipated apps for Android was an office suite. DataViz released Documents To Go, which is without any doubt one of the best apps for the platform. The current version includes Word to go and Excel to go, which do the job of Word and Excel from Microsoft Office. When selected, both applications have the option to open the last viewed documents, as well as create new ones. Documents can be opened from every folder of the phone or the memory card, using the build-in file manager.

This app blew my mind when I first saw it. In less than 5 MB, DataViz manages to pack a completely functional office suite. First I will talk more about Word to go. It can open and save .doc files (for now), as well as the Word 2007 format documents! It has very rich feature set, including many options for formatting the font, paragraph, bullets and numbering; option for inserting a table, page break, comments and so on. Just 6 fonts are included for now, I hope for more to come soon. The app works flawless and very fast, I have not had any single problem, working with it. G1's physical keyboard makes text inputting and editing easy, once I install Cupcake, I will test the virtual keyboard, too.

Sheet to go is the spreadsheet app in the suite. Similar to Word to go, it is packed with features, making it a very decent substitute for Excel, when light work is required. Some of the more interesting options are: inserting Functions (over 100 of them), rows, columns, sheets, autosum, hiding and showing rows and columns, sort by rows and so on. Formatting the cells includes changing the color of them, the font settings (just Arial is possible as a font here) and more. Inputting formulas or using the built-in ones is very easy and intuitive. Selecting text and multiple cells is also possible, using the trackball and holding Shift.

Worth installing? YES! YES! YES! One of my personal favorites and a candidate for the "Best Android application" award.

What do I want to see in future versions? Many things. Don't get me wrong, even now it is amazing, but still I wish it had all the functionality of Open Office ;) . First, a PowerPoint alternative with decent functionality to complement the rest of the suite. Second, more fonts and a spellcheck for all applications. Graph building for Sheet to go. Database app may be too much to ask for, but I will not mind having it. And most important, I hate the $20 price tag on it.

Rating: 10/10


Android Apps Review: Retro Defense Lite

Retro Defense Lite is a typical tower defense game for the Android. There are many different towers to build, differing in range and damage, as well as enemies to beat. The game offers a truly retro experience, thanks to its graphics. The control is mainly done using the trackball as a mouse. The difficulty is above the average for an Android game, but almost on par with more tower defense games. However, once you get used to the game, you can practice your strategic thinking for hours.

Worth installing? Only if you are a fan of the genre. The difficulty of the game may make the beginner players quit very soon.

What do I want to see in future versions? Difficulty setting will be a good addition. Also, there is no Exit function, so the game stays loaded in the memory until the phone is rebooted. More options in the Lite version.

Rating: 7/10

Android Apps Review: Labyrinth Lite

Labyrinth Lite is the second game I review that needs only the accelerometer for control. It represents an wooden labyrinth with many holes. The goal of the game is to move the metal ball throughout the levels, without falling into the holes. The Lite version offers 10 levels with increasing difficulty. The time for passing each level is also recorded, so players can compare their best results. The game requires steady hands and lots of patience, just a second of inattention can mean starting the level again. There is also a paid version with more levels and other extra options.

The graphics are excellent, very polished and realistic. The response of the accelerometer can be set up to the player's preferences and is in general very responsive. The sound consists of the noise that the ball makes when hitting the side of the labyrinth - again it is very realistic.

Worth installing?
Yes. A very entertaining app , which I consider to be yet another candidate for the "Best Android game" award.

What do I want to see in future versions? The gameplay and graphics are already excellent. More available levels in the Lite version would be nice.

Rating: 10/10


Sunday, May 10, 2009

My list of Windows Free/Open Source Software, part 1

With this post I want to list the software I use on my computers. Some time ago, I realized that all the software I have, besides the legal Windows, is either free or Open Source. I have everything I need and most times it is better for me than the paid alternatives.

Very important - some of the software, I list below, has paid versions, too. I provided only links to the free versions. I don't have cracks for any of the software and I don't work for any of the companies, making the software. This list is my personal recommendation for ways to have legal and functional software on your Windows PC's.

- Browser - Mozilla Firefox - much faster and secure than Windows Explorer. I am also keeping an eye on Google Chrome, I hope it becomes a decent competitor soon.
Download Link - http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/personal.html

- Creativity Suite - Open Office.org - very feature-rich, haven't touched Microsoft Office since I installed it. It has all the options I ever needed. Still requires better compatibility with Microsoft Office 2007.
Download Link - http://www.openoffice.org/

- Music Player - Winamp - hot keys, skins, plug-ins - I have been using it for years now and hope to use it for many more to come.
Download Link - http://www.winamp.com/

- Video Player - Media Player Classic - not completely flawless, but very light and does the job OK. I am looking for another one, since MPC is not supported anymore. Requires a codec pack to work fine.
Download Link - http://sourceforge.net/projects/guliverkli/

- PDF Viewer - Foxit Free - very light and fast. Definitely better than Adobe Acrobat Reader, when it comes to speed and ease to use. Excellent printing manager.
Download Link - http://www.foxitsoftware.com/pdf/reader/

- Anti-Virus Software - AVG Free - light and easy to use. Updates frequently, haven't had any problems with it ever.
Download Link - http://free.avg.com/

- Graphics editing - GIMP - still a beginner at it, but has many features and is it completely free. Good alternative to Photoshop.
Download Link - http://www.gimp.org/
- Photo Filtre - free, light and has some very good filters. Works fine for more simple tasks. Does not support layers.
Download Link - http://photofiltre.en.softonic.com/

- Audio editing - Audacity - has been getting better and better over time. Decent functionality, including multi-track recording.
Download Link - http://audacity.sourceforge.net/download/

- Torrent Client - utorrent - many people forget that torrents are also used to transfer completely legal files between people. When I have to do it, I use this software. Stable, light and free.
Download Link - http://www.utorrent.com/

- Virtual CD - Daemon Tools - works very well, supports multiple virtual drives.
Download Link - http://www.daemon-tools.cc/eng/downloads

Join me again in Part 2, when I will list more software, which not only costs nothing, but also gives you great productivity.

Android Apps Review: Doom

After several months waiting, finally we have Doom available for Android. The port is excellent, recreating the Doom experience at its best.

After installing the app from the Market, the user is asked to download one or more of the game files, which are conveniently saved to the memory card. From there, once the chosen file is selected, the game begins. There are a few options, including Full Screen and Sound. The Full Screen option is really valuable, since the big and bright screen of the G1 is excellent for the purpose. I used to have Doom on my old Sony Ericsson W810, which was still good, but here everything looks and feels the way it is supposed to be.

Once started, the game is exactly the Doom we all remember. For those, who haven't played the original PC game, Doom is a 3D shooter with several weapons, many big levels and tons of fun. All the options are available in this port - Save, Load, Map, Run ... The graphics and the sound are very good, even though sometimes the sound is not synchronized perfectly with the events on the screen. The gameplay uses the keyboard to move and use the function keys, while the trackball aims and shoots, when pressed. The learning curve with this game is very small, all the controls feel natural. My only concern is that the trackball may be damaged after long hours of playing. An alternative way to shoot is by tapping the screen, which is still not convenient, holding the phone with both hands. There are frequent updates to the game, which bring new features or fix bugs.

One major issue to be noticed is that this game requires physical keyboard, so G2, Samsung i7500 and some other devices will not be able to offer the full experience of it.

The latest version released adds on-screen controls moving and use/open. Now the owners of keyboard-less Android devices can also enjoy this game.

Worth installing?
Absolutely. I personally recommend this game to anyone who has G1. Another candidate for the "Best Android game" award.

What do I want to see in future versions? I wished the saved games were kept when updating the game. Another way to shoot, probably by pressing the Back key or another keyboard key. Better synchronization of the sound the gameplay. Other games, using the same emulator - Wolfenstein, Heretic and so.

Rating: 10/10


Playlist Updates - first some background

Probably most of you did not know that I sing and play piano/keyboard. I have been actually doing this since I was 6. I started singing, then played classical piano for 3-4 years, classical guitar for 5-6 years. I then stopped taking lessons and it was soon after when I decided I want to play songs and sing on the piano and guitar. 4 keyboards and 2 guitars later, I have a repertoire of around 250 songs in English, growing every week, as well as some in Bulgarian, too.

I played during some of the UTM events in March this year. I usually play the piano sound of the keyboard, no MIDI/recordings are used. I was looking for a drummer to play with me, hopefully the one, I contacted, will be serious enough.

As I said in my first post, I play soft rock/pop/oldies, songs from the 1960's until now. I will find a way to upload my full playlist soon, plus I will post news about the new songs, I learn.

When learning a song, usually I use the following approach:

- listen to the song many times, so it is stuck in my head ( in the car, at home etc. );
- download the lyrics and the chords from Internet and correct them in the process of learning, if there are mistakes ( usually there are );
- make an arrangement of the song and decide on the key;
- play with the original recording, so I can fine-tune the arrangement;
- add it to the playlist.

Enough background for now ;) If you need any more info, feel free to ask!

Playlist Updates - some Coldplay, some Queen, some more ...

Expecting the Keane show in 2 weeks ( finally here, since they canceled their previous North American tour ) and the Coldplay one in July ( hope it is even better than last year's ), I put together some new Coldplay songs, as well as some other pieces. With the new ones, I am pretty close to being able to play the whole Viva La Vida album, as well as the Prospekt March EP

Coldplay - Glass of Water
Coldplay - Prospekt March
Coldplay - Life in Technicolor II - one of my best songs
Coldplay - Lovers In Japan
Coldplay - Warning Sign
Coldplay - A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Coldplay - Green Eyes
Keane - On A Day Like Today
Keane - Put It Behind You
Tom Jones - Delilah
Mark Knopfler - Golden Heart
Queen - Bohemian Rhapsody - by popular demand, turned out to be a great arrangement. I had to cut most of the operatic part, since I can't do it myself ;)
The Killers - Human - recommended to me by Brian, good song.

More coming soon ... Stay tuned ...