Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Silly Dino, Stupid App

There's an app that has been gracing the front page of the Market for quite some time, though up until now it hasn't peaked my interest. I decided to take a quick look at Silly Dino, an app "all about silly dinosaur riddles", but then realised I didn't have to after seeing this comment:

"shrugged it off and kept it...terrible app...like the previous person said...7 terrible sentences for 2 dollars...what a joke. the first one is: "Why did the dinosaur cross the road?.. Because the chicken called in sick." Terrible and the person who is making money off this should donate it all to a children cancer fund of some sort." - Michael

Now, if seven terrible sentences for two dollars isn't exactly your bag (but why wouldn't it be?), then all comments pretty much suggest that you don't bother with it. Though, according to one:

"Keeps a 5 year old busy."

Maybe $2 for a quiet child isn't that bad an idea?


Monday, 6 June 2011

The Shazam Test: Part One

Everyone's been there- you're at a bar, or a restaurant, or an NRA meeting, and suddenly a song comes on that you just can't place. There have been paid mobile services for such a situation in the past, but it's only now that a new app, by Shazam, has made the whole process absolutely painless. The app is available on pretty much any machine out there, but who honestly carries their iPad around with them on a night out? Moreover, it's absolutely free, with no limits on how many songs you can check until 2012 (they're currently sponsored by eBay, though they reckon this might end at the beginning of next year). So, while we can, let's really put it to the test, with ten of the most obscure songs I can think of. You'll find the first five here, and the other five in a later post. If you're visiting and have a suggestion for a song, do leave it in the comments! You'll find the rest of the list in a later post.

#10: Taken By A Stanger

It was Germany's entry in the 2011 Eurovision Song Contest, performed by sultry German twenty-year old Lena Meyer-Landrut. It soared to number two in the German charts, but was quickly forgotten about even before the Eurovision aired, and as a result she placed tenth in the contest. It's not exactly the epitome of outlandishness, though without even placing in both the UK and US charts, it's not well known.

Result: Win. Shazam recognised it without breaking a sweat. It didn't have an album cover, but it did tell me a bit about her tour dates. Nice.

#9: Kyrrlátt kvöld

An obscure song from an obscure nation; Kyrrlátt kvöld is a song by Icelandic punk band Utangarðsmenn, and the theme of award-winning comedy series Næturvaktin, also from Iceland. The song itself is actually quite well known to several non-Icelandic people; the YouTube clip has over 22,000 views, and the band's other songs have viewing figures well into the thousands.

Result: Fail. After three attempts, one with a snippet of the verse and the other two from the chorus, it's safe to say that this one was a total failure. Not that it ever stood a chance; even Icelandic Wikipedia doesn't know the song.

#8: Cooking By The Book

Cooking By The Book is, admittedly, a very well known tune. Over five million hits on one YouTube video alone indicates towards its cyberpopularity. However, despite its viral emergence, neither the Lazy Town song nor its parent soundtrack charted in any country. With that in mind, this should theoretically be impossible, right?

Result: Win. The app picked it up first time. It also managed to pick up a number of other songs from the Lazy Town soundtrack, including the astringent "You Are A Pirate". In fact, it recognised every single song that I tested from the soundtrack, which was about three. Then I got bored.

#7: Electro Gypsy

Despite the fact that it looks like a flash movie (and I'll explain that in a bit), Savlonic's Electro Gypsy is actually a real song with a real following. A song quite popular in the light rave/techno circles, and very popular on the internets, it came to be known by way of Weebl creating a complementary music video (Weebl is responsible for that badger-badger-mushroom thing, which explains pretty much everything). It hasn't charted, but we know by now that this counts for nothing.

Result: Fail. Surprisingly, Shazam failed on this one too. You would expect it to do pretty well with any piece of music which has received well over three million hits on 'Tube, but clearly it's just a little too cliquey for it to interpret. It's even listed on iTunes, so a strage result.

#6: Trapped In The Closet

 I'm not entirely sure what R Kelly was smoking when he wrote his epic 22-part "hip-hopera", but whatever it was, it must have been pretty good, because Trapped In The Closet is the best hip-hopera ever written. Kelly has also been lauded for his poetic narrative ("He says move, she says no, he says move, she says no, 'Bitch move!', she moves"!) and stamina; the whole song (and it is just one big song) lasts no less than 83 minutes. Could Shakespeare have written an 83 minute poem? I know Hamlet when performed is over five hours long, but don't forget: it didn't have music.

Result: Win. This one made me particularly happy. The ability to recognise a ten-second clip of music from a piece of 83 minutes is really very impressive, or would be if the 83 minutes weren't just the same couple of bars over and over again. Shockingly enough, Trapped In The Closet never gets boring, mainly because it doesn't give you a chance. Seriously, go and watch it.

So, that's the first half of The Shazam Test over and done with. Pop back in a couple of days to see the other half, which I promise won't contain any cop-outs. Not many, anyway. Also, if you enjoyed this, email it to your friends. There's a little email button in the bar below this post. See you next time!

Click here to get Shazam.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Finding Your Way: GPS App Overviews

The GPS on some smartphones is invariably shit. Slow, unresponsive, and temperamental are all words that an aspiring Thesaurian (which ironically, is not a word at all) would perhaps use to describe some of the 'for-the-hell-of-it' GPS apps that come factory installed. This of course opened a gap in the market, something smartphones are very good at doing. Did I need an expensive piece of GPS software before? No, I did not; I used a map. Do I need one now? Hell yeah, fuck maps.
CoPilot Live. I'm not sure where this
is, but if you're ever passing and get
into an accident, you have a choice
 of hospitals.

CoPilot Live is a premium form of GPS, offering 3D guidance, lane assist, speed limit warnings, and safety camera alerts. Plus, it looks like you can download more maps over WiFi after you purchase it. The sting in its tail is the price: it's £22.49 for the UK and Eire version, and £49.38 for the full European map. While these prices are considerably lower than what TomTom are asking for, the user reviews say that CoPilot isn't nearly as good. TomToms must be really good, because despite this, people are still showering all the CoPilot apps in praise. So, if you do a bit of traveling and don't mind paying fifty quid, you can have a rather good piece of self-updating GPS software without needing to purchase any of the hardware, or remove the SD card after every journey, or sacrifice the cigarette lighter. Do be warned however, a lot of people are reporting problems on less capable phones (basically anything which isn't an HTC), including forced close, asking for account numbers on startup, and generally failing to do anything useful whatsoever. As one user reports, it "constantly gives errors about your Google checkout number". Indeed, a lot of the problems seem to be concerned with the order process, with less to do with the software itself. Worth fifty quid? I'd advise against it, given what we've seen.
CamerAlert. It's a Trap!

MobileNavigator looks a bit less promising. It's a damn sight prettier, but that's where the positives end. It shares a lot of features with CoPilot, except MobNav does all of them far, far less efficiently. A few customers have reported a couple of features as entirely kaput (particularly the speed checker, which is a good feature of CoPilot), and the same aforementioned order problems seem to plague the purchase process. Though apparently the traffic feature is a treat; a far tastier treat than anything on CoPilot. Is it worth the money? Perhaps if all the features were as good as they are on other Navigon software, then yes, it absolutely would be. As it stands this is a money sink, and a rather risky one when you read the comment from the poor man who "bought it but couldn't download it".

CamerAlert is an app by PocketGPSWorld.com Ltd (gotta love Internet company names), which at first appears rather enticing. Their piece of software claims to tell you when the next speed camera's coming, how far away you are from it, and what your average speed is. They also claim it costs 59p (about $1.20), and while I'm sure the former is true, the latter most certainly isn't. This is less of a review and more of a warning, essentially; you pay the 59p, then (according to one user) a £19.99 subcharge, and then 40p a week for the pleasure. To give them credit, the quality of their software justifies its high price, and nearly all users report a positive usage experience. Their financial methods, however, are more than a little creepy. It's not a scam, but it's close.

Fun Little Things: Ant Smasher and PenCatch

Sometimes you want to be entertained for exactly 1:30. That's why the Droid market is flooded with little casual apps, ranging from minigames for the train to.. well, minigames for the train. That's really all they're good for. I've detailed a couple below.

Ant Smasher
A bit of Raid would sort that right out.
The premise of Ant Smasher (or, to give it its full name, Ant Smasher Free Game Best Fun) is a fairly drôle example of something "doing what it says on the tin"; in effect, you smash ants. Not actual ants of course- that would have PETA chasing after you (probably). Your job is to 'smash', or in real terms, touch, as many of the scuttling bastards as possible before they get to the end of the screen. You progress through stages as you do so, with each subsequent stage more difficult than the last (by way of the ants being faster or sneakier). As you progress, interesting things start happening. Touch a tennis ball before it hurls past and you gain a life. Accidentally 'smash' a bee on your travels and it's game over. Pretty simple stuff, but irritatingly addictive. A bit like crack cocaine, really. Is it worth the bother? Well, the developer claims that it is somehow "physics based" (it's not) and that it is "optimized best performance among all Android apps" (again, it's really not), and the blurb works hard to convince you that is, though at a base level, it's another simple "______ Smasher" minigame, and absolutely nothing more. Though a read through the user reviews suggests that it's a particular hit with the kids, and surely you'd rather they killed ants this way, no?

As difficulty increases, pen size decreases. It's
like that with penises, but the other way round.
Fed up with catching the same old boring pencil? Wouldn't you rather catch something else? Well thank God, because here's PenCatch, a game from Japan where you catch.. a pencil. There isn't a great deal to say about this one, because it literally is just tapping the screen to grab a falling pencil (the goal isn't to touch the falling pencil, just to catch it in an on-screen 'hand'). There are two different modes; one where you select one of the ten 'stages', one of the three 'difficulties' (one read of the reviews on the Market reveals that this game is horrendously difficult no matter which one it's set to), and then catch the pen(cil); and a second where you can set up custom stages (custom stages go as far as setting the drop time, difficulty and stage). In conclusion, if you catch the pencil, you win; if you don't catch the pencil, you lose. Being so difficult, you'll probably lose a lot. In short it's a fun little game, but the game's lack of complexity seems to have been balanced by the developer making this game too hard to enjoy. It's okay once you get the hang of it, mind.

Adidas MiCoach

Hello, a quick introduction. I set this blog up because I was sick and tired of paying for apps that turned out to be crap. I was also sick of reading long-winded 'reviews' of things I'd probably play with for ten minutes before getting bored. So, there you are; tell your friends. Or don't; I hear it's cool to have an iPhone.

A few days ago I stumbled upon Adidas' "MiCoach", a fitness app which acts as a personal trainer. It's available on both iPhone and Android as far as I know, so the demographic is pretty wide. What it appears to be is a competitor to the much lauded (and much purchased) Nike+ for the iPod (something which they have ported over to the iPhone in app form), apart from one very slight difference: MiCoach is free.

Adidas' MiCoach uses Google Maps
and GPS to track the route taken.
And free, in this case at least, doesn't mean what it usually means. In recent years, and certainly since the whole app business got going, free has come to mean "light", "demo" or "shit". MiCoach is none of these things. It is, rather, an incredibly exhaustive and well-supported piece of kit. In-app registration is a lovely inclusion, and the ability to create and edit workouts on their website is a nice touch, though the ability to set an app-exclusive password seems somewhat wasted when you consider that it's just exercise. Linking playlists to workouts and customising the voice of your workout 'coach' are pleasant aural additions, especially since most things with Jonny Wilkinson's name to them tend to cost a lot of money. There are a few other athletes to choose from, though sadly I don't recognise any of them. I don't like sports.

The real meat and potatoes is in the way this app actually works. Perhaps any other workout app would simply give you a time, and tell you when to speed up and slow down, and then finish after that time. No questions asked, no expense spent. MiCoach isn't "any other workout app" in that sense; rather it does something quite clever. It incorporates GPS into your workout, which lets the app know exactly where you are, how long it took you to get there, and thus your speed. This adds another (perhaps unnecessary) dimension to the workout process- using it feels as though your friend Jonny is running (or doing push-ups, or stair-climbing, or cartwheeling) with you; he knows where you are. He knows if you're not doing as you're told ("Speed up a bit now. Speed up. You need to speed up"). He knows if you're cutting corners. He knows if you are sleeping, he knows if you're awake, etcetera. Jonny Wilkinson basically becomes a 21st Century Orwellian dictator, but it all helps in the end. It's probably character-building, or something. It's also worth noting that the app can track speed, mileage, and heart-rate simultaneously which, while interesting, is pretty useless to 90% of people who will use this app. Unless you have a stroke half way through, then I expect the app will notice your heart-rate and tell you to slow down. Don't assume however that every time Wilko tells you to slow down, that you're having an acute stroke.
The app tracks mileage, kcal and speed
data during the user's workout.

This innate ability to know every single detail of where you are and what you're doing may sound daunting, though it really is a good thing. The app collates all the data from the first "assessment workout" (which is always the hardest, but only due to lack of motivation rather than Adidas being slave-driving bastards) and uses it to tell you how healthy you are, before then setting up several weeks worth of exercises tailored to suit your ability level, meaning that instead of going by sheer estimation like other workout apps (and there are a lot), MiCoach creates a workout which is both achievable and, believe it or not, enjoyable. Such active use of GPS can require you to specify the route that you plan to take*. This can be a real pain in the arse to get sorted (picking a familiar route which is long enough, but not too long), and following the same route for months on end can be a bit dull (spontaneously taking a sidestreet is possible, but it can throw the app off slightly). Add to that the fact that GPS on phones is still almost completely useless in quite a few places; I'm not sure what it's like in the US, but in the UK coverage pretty much ceases unless you're in Manchester or London; and you end up with an app which is far greater than the sum of its parts.

In short, the app is impressive. Incredibly impressive when you consider the price, or lack thereof. If you delve deeper into it, you'll find a variety of addons, modifiers, evaluative tools and coach voices; "Female French 2" is particularly entertaining. There are some flaws, but a lot of these are down to its dependence on other pieces of software, such as GPS. MiCoach is probably worth a shot no matter where you live, and while it can work without GPS functionality, it's not the same. It's a fun way to get an exercise routine going, though your mileage may vary**. If you're a health nut living in the city however, then this is a must.

*note: you can set the app to record your route as you run, and then save it for reference or application to another workout, but this feature is a bit dodgy even when it works, and is certainly not supported on phones without GPS.
**no pun intended