Asphalt 8: Airborne review

Image via Gameloft

Image via Gameloft

Games like Real Racing 3 and CSR Racing have given a massive breath of life to the racing genre on mobile devices. While Real Racing 3 takes a simulation approach and CSR Racing is based on drag racing, there’s still be a lack of a quality arcade-style racer. Fortunately, Gameloft has filled that void with Asphalt 8: Airborne, a visually-impressive racing game that comes packed with a ton of speed and action.  Whether you’re looking to pull off flips and barrel rolls, or you want to speed and drift around the competition, Asphalt 8 offers something for all types of race fans.

As soon as you enter the main menu, it’s obvious that Gameloft set out to make a racing game that’s full of detail and customization, even if the menu system is a bit cluttered and difficult to navigate. The main gameplay options are World Series (online play), Career, Quick Solo Race, and Local Wi-Fi Race. Season one of the career is available from the start, and is an excellent way to get used to the controls and the different game types. Players experienced in mobile racers may be able to go online and hold their own right off the bat, but the controls feel a little less sharp than in games like Real Racing 3, so a few practice rounds isn’t a bad idea. While the first few races will likely be underwhelming, most players will quickly learn some of the tricks that make Asphalt 8 stand out. Pulling off crazy stunts doesn’t just look cool, it’s a fun way to refill turbo meter and destroy the competition. (more…)

OverDog enables gamers to tackle their favorite athletes online

madden_650

Photo via EA Sports

It’s already hard enough tackling Marshawn Lynch’s character in Madden, but now try Hit Sticking the virtual back while the real Beastmode talks trash in your ear, and see if your thumbs can live up to the pressure.

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YouTube founders think China hasn’t heard of Vine

wanpai_650Wan-Pai is a new free app for iOS and Android from AVOS Systems, the company started by Chad Hurley and Steve Chen, the founders of YouTube. Wan-Pai is Vine, the six-second video sharing app, but for the Chinese mobile market.

Everything from the interface to the editor’s picks seems directly lifted from Vine. Wan-Pai does try to distinguish itself by adding filters and using a salmon color scheme instead of Vine’s green. Annoyingly, where it is different is a noticeable lag before videos start playing instead of Vine’s near instant playback. (more…)

ooVoo review

ooVoo app iconooVoo is an iOS and Android release from the company of the same name. It’s available now as a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play and carries no additional in-app purchases.

ooVoo is a video and text chat system in the same vein as Skype and Google Hangouts. When first opening ooVoo, users will be prompted to sign into or create an account. Account creation can easily be done through social media profiles, though creating a proprietary account can be accomplished just as fast as connecting a social media profile. Once logged in, ooVoo will import contacts from the device and social networks and will easily list any contacts that are also using ooVoo. Users who don’t have friends using ooVoo can easily invite them, and the ones who are connected will show up on a special contact list.

When two users connect on ooVoo, their options are similar to Skype: video, audio, or text. The video and sound quality are good, and are mostly on par with the competition. Getting into a call and connecting with other users is a breeze and users are able to organize chats with up to 12 people simultaneously. It’s a simple system that feels very familiar to Skype and Google Hangouts users. ooVoo’s basic functions doesn’t offer anything that those other services do not, but it does everything just as well, including seamless interaction between mobile and PC users. (more…)

Duolingo review

Duolingo app iconDuolingo: Learn Languages Free is an iOS and Android release from Duolingo. It’s available now as a free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play and carries no additional in-app purchases.

Duolingo: Learn Languages Free tries to help users learn the language of their choosing through gamification. When users first start Duolingo, they’re asked to sign in via Facebook, Google, or a proprietary account. Once logged on, users will choose which language they want to start learning. Currently, Duolingo offers support for only six languages: Spanish, French, German, Portuguese, Italian, and English. Users also need to be aware of selecting which language they already know, since French speakers may not benefit from trying to learn German when the lesson is taught in English.

Once users pick out their language, they’re dropped into a basic lesson. Duolingo starts simple by stating a noun in the native language, and showing a list of potential translations, accompanied by images. This is a simple task intended to build a user’s vocabulary, but the image association seems to work well. Basic lessons progressively get harder as users will be introduced to various verbs, differences between masculine and feminine words, and other language-specific quirks. Users practicing with Duolingo in public will likely need to carry a pair of headphones, as there are audio samples that ask for translation. Users will never have to speak into Duolingo, but the program does push for both written and verbal understandings of the chosen language. (more…)

NOAA Hi-Def Radar review

NOAA Hi-Def RadarNOAA Hi-Def Radar is an iOS and Android app from WeatherSphere. It’s available now for $1.99 on the App Store and Google Play and carries no additional in-app purchases.

A lot of people don’t care about detailed reports and long-term forecasts when they’re curious about the weather. Sometimes, all someone wants to do is take a look at the radar, see what’s in their area, and know what’s coming their way. There are numerous perks of using the visual aid of a radar over written forecasts, and now mobile users are in for a treat with the detailed options available in WeatherSphere’s NOAA Hi-Def Radar.

When NOAA Hi-Def Radar is first opened, users are given a look of the U.S. From there, they can zoom in and out of any location they choose, though service cuts off outside North America. By default, the map shows off current rain and snow, along with severe storm and flood warnings. The radar displays the past hour of weather, allowing users to get a good idea on how storm fronts are moving. Users can pause the radar if they’d like, and they can view a static image of activity of any point in the past hour.

Users who want to monitor multiple cities or locations can easily set bookmarked locations by typing in an address or finding the location on the map. The may also comes with three different views: Road, Satellite, and Hybrid. The road map is what looks best for weather purposes, but the satellite and hybrid maps will be useful for users who want a more realistic look at a specific area. None of these views change the actual function of the radar, however. Those looking to add or remove features will have a ton of options available.NOAA Hi-Def Radar screenshot

There are a ton of customization options available in NOAA Hi-Def Radar, and it would take far too long to list them all. One of the most in-depth menus is the layers list. There are only a few layers turned on by default, such as the NOAA Base Radar and NOAA Warning Boxes. Users who desire more information can show features like cloud cover, recent lightning strikes, hurricane forecasts, and a drought map for the U.S. The expansive layers menu can also adjust the interval of the radar, allowing for a more precise or a broader look at recent weather patterns. Finally, users are also given the option to save and share screenshots of areas they want to show off to others on social media and email. (more…)

Hangouts review

hangoutsHangouts is an Android and iOS app from Google. It’s now available on Google Play and the App Store and carries no additional in-app purchases.

Google’s new Hangouts app is the next evolution of their Talk app. When first downloading Hangouts, Google informs the user that this new program will replace Talk. Users who frequently use Talk may be a bit hesitant to make the switch, but once they download and start using Hangouts, it becomes obvious that it is more than just a new version of Talk. Instead, Hangouts combines the simplicity of Talk with the level of interaction Google has been growing within Google+ Hangouts.

When first opening Hangouts, users may be prompted to sign in if they are not already. Once they have logged on, users are greeted to a screen that shows off their most frequently contacted friends on Google+, along with their entire list of contacts (both from Google+ and imported from mobile devices). Users can interact with any of their contacts by pressing their name on the list, or by using the search bar. The search bar can find current contacts via name, email, or number, and can add new contacts in the same way. Users can also connect with entire circles at once, but are not able to edit circles directly from the Hangouts app.

hangouts1Once contacts and circles are selected, users are given two options: “Message” and “video call.” Messaging works just like Google Talk’s instant messaging. Two Google users can send text-based messages to each other over the Hangouts app and in a web browser. Communication between the app and browsers is nearly flawless. The only noticeable issue with messaging is how the emoticons in Hangouts will often not load for users in a web browser. Most users won’t find this to be a problem, but those who rely on heavy use of emoticons may be somewhat disappointed. (more…)

Catch up on the funnies with GoComics

IMG_2500GoComics is an iOS, Android and Windows Phone app from Uclick, a division of Andrews McMeel Universal. It’s available now as a free download for all three platforms, and carries optional in-app purchases to temporarily remove advertising through a subscription to the service’s “Pro” account.

GoComics is a companion to the Web service of the same name, which has been offering electronic versions of classic and contemporary comic strips to Internet-based readers since 2005. Content on offer includes political and editorial cartoons as well as established classics such as Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes and Peanuts, other syndicated content and original Web-based comics. The available comics are updated daily, with featured content displayed on the app’s front page in a “slider” interface as well as quick access to both popular and new strips. The archives are also searchable, allowing users to quickly find their favorite strip and, once located, jump back to a specific point in time to view the comic for that day.

The GoComics app is much like using the Web service. It is not necessary to sign up for an account to browse the available content, but doing so provides a number of benefits — most notably the facility to add individual installments of a comic to a “Favorites” list and the whole series itself to a “My Comics” list for easy access at a later time. The user may also connect their account to Facebook, though the exact benefits of doing this are not made particularly apparent in the app itself. Other social features include the facility to share an individual comic on Facebook, Twitter or via email — doing so provides a link to the comic’s Web-based version for anyone to read, regardless of the device they are on.

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Hear the news with Umano

IMG_2380Umano is a new iOS and Android app from the SoThree, Inc. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store and Google Play, and carries no additional in-app purchases.

Umano is an audio-centric app that pulls in news from a variety of sources and then allows the user to listen to these articles read by professional voice actors rather than relying on text-to-speech systems. Content covers a wide variety of categories and the app essentially allows users to build their own audio news shows either for streaming online or listening to offline.

Using Umano requires either signing up for a proprietary account or signing in using Facebook. This step is necessary as the Umano service keeps track of which articles the user has listened to as well as their “likes” and personalized playlists. The service’s core principle of allowing users to listen to the news would probably work just fine without the need for a user account, but by featuring one it allows users to personalize their experience as well as share interesting content with their friends. App Store reviewers, who are sometimes hesitant to sign up for accounts for services that do not necessarily “need” them, do not appear to have responded negatively to the need to sign in, which is a positive sign.

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Create a personalized radio station with We7

IMG_2366We7 is a mobile app from the company of the same name, which is a subsidiary of U.K. grocery store giant Tesco PLC. The app is currently available as a free download for both iOS and Android devices, though it appears it is only available in selected territories at the time of writing, presumably due to licensing constraints. This review is based on the iOS version.

We7 is a simple free music-streaming app designed around the principles of creating a custom “station” based on the user’s own tastes. In many respects, it is similar to Last.FM, but lacks an attached social network and instead focuses purely on the music.

In order to use We7, users must first create an account or sign in. This can be done quickly and easily via Facebook Connect — somewhat clumsily implemented here via a pop-up window rather than a call to the native app — or alternatively the user may sign up for a proprietary account by providing some minimal personal information. Either way, once into the app proper, the user is presented with a wide selection of music to listen to. A “miniplayer” bar at the bottom of the screen cycles around popular tracks and can be set playing at any point, while two pages of “stations” (organized according to what is popular and by “theme”) allow the user to jump straight in to a mix of their choice.

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