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Posts tagged ‘App’

9
Dec

Google Pixel XL review


Since launching in 2009, the Nexus line has been a loosely collected family of phones from Google. Whereas they may be designed as a series of devices, they have thus far been perceived as one-off models launched roughly once per year.

Initially, the Nexus One was introduced as somewhat of a benchmark device from Google. As the first year or so of Android was off to a slow start, Google was hoping for a quickened pace. In its eyes, phones needed to be at a higher level than where they were. At the rate things were moving it would take forever for Android to hit its stride. Processor speeds, memory, and storage were almost all identical across the smartphone landscape. Google expected more. Enter the HTC-built Nexus One.

nexus_oneThe Nexus One not only moved the needle in terms of hardware, it was also the first to launch with Android 2.1 Eclair. In short, this was the latest in greatest in software and included features such as live wallpapers and speech-to-text.

The Nexus One, for its part, was an interesting gamble for Google mostly because it was sold unlocked and direct to consumers. Sure, there would ultimately be other ways of getting the phone, but this was a bold move for Google. While everyone in the US was content to sign contracts for their phones, Google was going straight at buyers with a $530 price tag.

The years that followed saw Google releasing successors from other manufacturers including Samsung, LG, Huawei, and Motorola. Each would be branded with some form of Nexus classification, but it was not a simple case of adding a new number to each iteration.
Although fanboys and enthusiasts would be able to identify the various Nexus models and their respective specs, the casual buyer often couldn’t. Given that some models would be sold through carriers and others wouldn’t, it was hard to draw a line through them. It didn’t help that the method of selling would vary for every single Nexus device. Simply put, the Nexus line had a hard time gaining real-world attraction.

As service providers began to loosen their grip with contracts, consumers were soon to learn the true cost of phones. Five years ago it would not be uncommon for a flagship phone to be $200 with a two-year plan. Ask a typical consumer how much the phone costs without subsidy and you’d likely get met with blank stares.

With each successive model came different sizes and specifications, and that also meant different prices, too. Whereas launch prices were as low as $299 at one point, they have also been as high as $699.

One common thread among the Nexus phones is that it debuts with a new version of Android. It has so far been the benchmark experience device in Google’s opinion and is designed with the new software features in mind. Not only the freshest build of Android but one that would receive direct and timely updates from Google.

A New Era

If you want the premier Android experience as intended by Google, there’s no way around it; you have to buy a Nexus phone. All of that changed in 2016 when Google introduced a different model and branding convention. October 4, 2016 saw the debut of the Google Pixel and its larger counterpart, the Pixel XL.

google_pixel_xl_03The Pixel, like the Nexus, is the full Android-at-its-very-best smartphone that Google envisions for its customers. But, rather than working in tandem with a hardware partner, Google appears to have exercised more control over the experience. Further, it’s not just Android that consumers get in the Pixel; this is the first smartphone to employ the Google Assistant. A gateway to a much larger world of knowledge and information curation, it’s the same tech that powers its standalone Google Home, too.

Further, the Pixel and Pixel XL are the first phones with certification for the Daydream View VR headset. Thanks to its advanced internal hardware, the handsets feature more accurate sensors, better displays, and stellar processor performance.

In terms of sheer hardware specs, the Pixel and Pixel XL share nearly every component. Save for their display size and battery, both are the same and offer up some of the best smartphone packages to date.

Key features:

  • Operating System: Android 7.1 Nougat
  • Display: 5.0″ or 5.5″ AMOLED
  • Cameras: Rear: 12.3 MP • Front: 8 MP
  • Processors: Qualcomm Snapdragon 821 processor
  • Memory & Storage: RAM: 4GB | Storage: 32GB & 128GB
  • Dimensions & Weight: Pixel: 5.66 x 2.74 in | Pixel XL: 6.09 x 2.98 in
  • Battery: Pixel: 2,770 mAh | Pixel XL: 3,450 mAh
  • Network: Worldwide network/carrier compatibility
  • Materials: Anodized aluminum | Corning Gorilla Glass 4

Design

Although it looks every bit a “Google” product, the Pixel phones were quietly manufactured with help from HTC. If you’ve paid close attention to what HTC’s recent phones look like, you’ll certainly see traces of the design language. In other words, the aluminum unibody, radius corners, chamfered edges, and premium heft is likely all HTC’s doing.

google_pixel_xl_08The phone itself feels solid in the hand. Really, that’s likely the best word I can use to describe the way it comes across. It’s comfortable to hold, but when using one hand it tends to feel a little top-heavy at points. It could be that my hand’s not as big as it should be; the Pixel feels more natural and easy to use with one hand.

Flip the phone over and there’s no mistaking the Pixel or Pixel XL for any other phone. Sure, it’s definitely more than a wee bit iPhone-ish on the front, but many models can be accused of the same. The rear, though, has roughly two-thirds of it covered in aluminum while the top third is glass backed with a plastic insert. The glass, for its part, allows for slightly more grip than the rest of the body. The trade-off by going this route, though, is that it picks up micro scuffs and fingerprints; it can be cracked much easier than aluminum.

The fingerprint sensor sits in the middle of the glass panel and in a spot that feels natural when you hold the phone. It’s the same area that the Nexus 6P has its scanner and right about where the LG G series puts its power and volume buttons. In the weeks I’ve used the phone I’ve become very comfortable with where it’s located. Moreover, I appreciate the subtle Pixel Imprint feature which allows for a quick swipe to check notifications.

pixel_xl_fingerprint

One of the pain points of having a rear fingerprint scanner is that it’s not all that easy to press to wake it up. You have to pick the phone up entirely to press it on the rear and look at the display. Just as I was putting this review together I learned that a software update will bring a couple of new “Moves” to the Pixel, one of which being tapping the display to wake the phone. Problem solved – if only in theory.

The rear camera on the Pixel and Pixel XL sits flush with the glass in the top left corner of the phones. You’ll find a circular dual-LED flash off to the left though it does have an ever slight raised chrome ring. On the right of the camera are the rangefinder for laser autofocus and microphone.

The SIM tray is located on the left edge of the phone while the right side houses the volume rocker and power button. The buttons provide excellent tactile feedback and a clear click when pressed. The power button has a textured design to it making it easily identifiable when blindly fumbling for it.

pixel_xl_silver_rear

The Pixel and Pixel XL come with a 3.5mm headphone jack which located on the top edge of the phones. Along the opposite edge, the USB Type-C port and down-facing speaker are found. The charging port, it should be noted, supports USB 3.0 protocols.

In broad terms, the Pixel XL is a rather boring looking phone, if not for the back. The Quite Black model we have might as well be called Slate Grey because that’s essentially the color. The Very Silver, for its part, is more of a white. There’s nothing that we specifically found wrong with the phone, but we’ve seen far sexier designs.

Display

The Pixel has a 5.0-inch AMOLED display with a resolution of 1920 x 1080 while the larger Pixel XL packs a 5.5-inch 2560 x 1440 AMOLED display. At five inches and above we expect a flagship phone to have this resolution and we were glad to see Google deliver here. Going lower resolution, even on the Pixel, would bring the cost down, but it would also muddy the overall experience and confuse consumers. Is this a premium device or not? Why doesn’t the screen look as nice as other models? Sticking with the 2560 x 1440 stuff sends a more clear signal.

While brighter (about 400 nits) than what we saw in the Nexus 6P, its direct predecessor, the Pixel XL’s peak brightness comes in lower than some other counterparts. Some LG and Samsung screens, for instance, can get much brighter. And, because Google doesn’t have a boost mode that activates under automatic settings, it stays put. We would love to see something that kicks the brightness up to around 600 nits or higher, especially with its price tag.

google_pixel_xl_08

Because it’s an AMOLED display, you get excellent black levels and a seemingly endless set of color contrasts. It might not be all that recognizable on its own, but put the Pixel XL up to a phone with an LCD screen and the distinction is almost night and day, if not black and grey. Color accuracy is also great in this phone, though we would like some user-defined settings for warmth.

Camera

Much has been said in the press and by Google about the camera experience on the Pixel and Pixel XL. As it turns out, it’s deserved fanfare; the camera quality is better than all comers, though its app could use some help.

The Pixel phones employ a 1/2.3″ Sony IMX378 Exmor RS sensor which takes pictures at 12.3-megapixels in a 4:3 aspect ratio. And, because it offers a larger 1.55µm pixel, it leads to better dynamic range with more light in each pixel. Further, the IMX378 sensor is special in that it includes support for phase detect autofocus (PDAF). Toss in the laser and contrast autofocus and you’re looking at improved accuracy and speed in scenes with good lighting.

pixel_xl_camera_silver

The HDR+ processing is terrific in that it combines multiple fast exposures to create a single image. Other phones, by comparison, tend to combine two different exposure levels. This can often lead to slower speeds in taking higher quality pictures. This is not so with the Pixel line. Pictures are taken and compiled quickly; it’s on by default.

Google says these phones don’t have any shutter lag when using HDR+ and we found this to be mostly accurate. It’s not until you start to snap a successive group of photos that you see it slow to roughly one photo per second, perhaps a smidge faster. Generally speaking, the camera can blow through pictures in most light settings, capturing pictures as good, if not better, than other phones.

The Pixels inherit their front-facing cameras from the Nexus 6P, an 8-megapixel Sony IMX179 Exmor R sensor with 1.4µm pixels and an f/2.4 lens. The Pixels do not have a dedicated LED flash for selfies; and there’s no screen flashing feature with the default app either.

As for the actual camera app, I like it but don’t necessarily love it. There’s something to be said about the simplicity that comes with the default app, but we do occasionally want for more. With that said, the out of box app experience is easy to figure out and allows for quick hopping to and from the different modes.

The camera app doesn’t complicate itself with too many options or previews of different filters and effects. If that’s the sort of thing you are into, download a standalone app and use it. I was almost always pleased with the UI and settings presented in the app. Given we’re often quick to see something we want to capture, it’s nice to open it up and have it ready to roll on HDR.

A key benefit to owning a Pixel or Pixel is the lifetime cloud storage of your photos — at original resolution. If you’re like me, you could have dozens of pictures almost every other day. Sprinkle in some 1080p or 4k quality video and you could be using up a pretty sizable amount of storage. Google will house these for you at no cost and without downgrading the quality. This is a big plus for photo lovers.

Software

The Pixel and Pixel XL are powered by the latest version of Android in 7.1 Nougat. Moreover, it’s a “stock” version of Android meaning it doesn’t come with any preloaded carrier apps and services; there’s no customization done to the platform by the phone maker, either. In short, this is the best in Android coupled with the best in Google hardware.

As someone who is fond of the custom launcher in Nova Prime, I am often quick to replace the interface that comes with phones. This is not to suggest that there’s anything particularly wrong with the various models and software builds. Rather, it’s more of a me picking up exactly where I left off by exporting and importing settings. For what it’s worth, I always leave the defaults alone before forming an opinion or publishing a review.

pixel_xl_silver_google

After spending some weeks with the Pixel XL, I am still using the stock release of Android 7.1. I find it to be very cohesive and much more clean and intuitive than previous builds. And, when you have the hardware that comes with this phone, it zips right along.

In addition to slight updates and tweaks to the standard feel and functions of Android, the Pixel comes with a couple of other modifications. First up is the Pixel Launcher, which is more or less an evolution of the Google Now launcher experience.

A simple swipe to the right of your screen brings up a list of Google Now cards based around the user’s preferences and account settings. This is one of those things that simply gets smarter the more you use it. Swipe to this screen and you’ll have a list of recommended news articles, sports updates, weather, and more.

pixel_xl_software

While it might feel natural to swipe from the G logo and bar on the top left, it’s not required. You can swipe from anywhere on the main panel. By tapping the G it opens up a search bar for doing your typical Google searches for both online and in-phone.

Accessing the app drawer is much easier in this version of Android as it’s not tied to a particular icon. Instead, things function more like a shade allowing you to swipe up from anywhere in the bottom row of icons. This took some getting used to as I’ve been programmed and conditioned by years of looking for a singular icon.

Upon opening the app drawer, users see all of the icons listed in an alphabetical order. The most popular apps used, however, get their own row at the very top. So, once you’ve had the phone for a few days and settled into routines, you can swipe up from the bottom and find your commonly used apps and games at the very top.

Long-pressing app icons on the home screen or in the app drawer is pretty now as it operates differently than in the past. As somewhat of a cross between a multifunction widget and an Apple 3D Touch, icons can now be used to access common shortcuts.

pixel_long_press

Long press on the Gmail icon and it offers up a shortcut to directly compose an email. Doing so on Google Keep brings up “New audio note”, “New photo note”, “New list”, and “New note”.  Results will vary across the different Google apps and their actual usefulness can be debated. I liked having some of them, though, as it alleviates an extra press or two in getting to where I wanted in select apps.

Another key addition to the Android experience here is the inclusion of Google Assistant. This is not so much of a new technology but more of an evolution of things already started by Google Now. Tapping into the Google Knowledge Graph, it’s really smart stuff that only promises to get better. If you are the kind of person who likes to use Google with voice searches or commands, you’ll love Google Assistant.

Using Google on phones up until now has been more of a question and answer process. With Assistant, however, it becomes less mechanical. By that I mean you don’t have to necessary think of the best way(s) to ask a question. Simply talk to it or ask it in a way that feels natural to you. Sure, there are still limitations and tricks to getting certain things to work properly, but you’ll have no trouble figuring it out. Google Assistant is more conversational in nature and it’s a whole lot smarter than you might think.

pixel_assistant

 

It’s worth noting that while Google Assistant is exclusive to the Pixel and Pixel XL, it’s only temporary. Looking down the road it ought to roll out to other phones, especially the Nexus line.

The Android 7.1 experience is smart, easy to use, and, I suspect, quite simple to master. Thanks to software migration and settings tools, it should be a breeze to switch from Apple or transfer from another device.

Is it perfect? No. There are still minor quibbles. Circular icons are great, Google, but you didn’t make it uniform all pre-installed apps; Allo and Duo, for example, have their own shape. Install a couple more titles from the Play Store and suddenly you look like you have a half-finished icon theme in place. If there’s one thing that might get me to jump back over to Nova Prime, it’s the inconsistent look in the app drawer. Minor stuff, yes, I know.

Performance

What else do you expect? The Pixel XL is able to handle anything you throw at it. The hardware makes sure you can keep up with multiple things at a time and jumping from task to task is never an issue.

You can check other sites and sources for benchmark reports, but they’ll likely just be technical ways of saying the Pixel XL is among the best in phones today. Whether it be managing emails and messages or playing a brand new game, the phone didn’t slow for me.

On paper, the Pixel XL does match up nicely with other flagships. But, it’s worth noting that it does have come with hardware that closely resembles devices that were launched some three to six months earlier, if not more. Does that matter to you?

pixel_w_daydream

If you’re the type who wants the most cutting edge hardware available, this is just on the very end of things, if not a little on the inside. But, with CES and Mobile World Congress coming up in the next few months, we’re bound to see even more bleeding edge tech soon.

Performance is always going to get better with phones, but sometimes it’s only marginal; other times improvements are so minute that you may not detect them. Suffice it to say, I am somewhere between a casual user and a heavy, demanding user. And, if you’re reading this review, I suspect you use your phones for as much, if not less, than I do. You aren’t going to go wrong with the Pixel XL’s performance.

I’ve been more than impressed with the battery life of the Pixel XL. Moreover, the speed at which it charges is incredible. I really appreciate that if I have to plug into a wall charger, it’s not for long. The claims of getting seven hours of usage from a 15-minute charge? I wish I could say.

Because I am able to get to a charger most of the day, I don’t ever find myself with seven-hour gaps. Whether it’s ten minutes on the way home from work, or on the counter while eating dinner, I find my phone is always well above half full. I don’t even bat an eye if I forget to charge at night. I know that I’ll be just fine when I wake up and then a few minutes on a charger is going to keep me running all day.

Conclusion

With prices that start at $650, the Pixel is a few hundred dollars more than other models with similar hardware. Head-to-head, though, it’s not fair, particularly if you care about specification bullet points. Look deeper, though, and you’ll find that the software and extra features help bring the value up.

The unlimited Google Photos storage, for me, is peace of mind that I have trouble quantifying. The more I use the Pixel XL, I suspect, the more I will rely on it for my needs.

I am not the sort of person who needs tech support or often runs into trouble with setting up or using my phone. But, for those who do, the tech support that comes with the Pixel and Pixel is fantastic.

daydream_vr_pixel_xl

I would love to have seen the inclusion of a microSD expansion card slot; a waterproof coating would be a bonus, too. There’s a pretty sizable jump in cost going from 32GB of space to 128GB. And, for good reason, we’re talking literally four times the storage.

Can you get away with 32GB? Easily. It’s not like we’re dealing with 16GB any longer. Music is cloud-based, files are generally small and hosted in the cloud, too. Photos and videos are where the real draw on storage comes. Even then, the phone can prompt you when you’re getting low on space, letting you free up locally stored stuff and pushing back on the cloud for access.

Where things might get iffy for some is in the area of playing large games with tons of graphics and hefty storage requirements. But, again, if you’re looking to me for the review, you haven’t made your mind up. Those who know exactly what they need have already figured out which phone is right for them and it likely includes a microSD slot.

The Pixel and Pixel XL are priced just below the top dollar phones yet still come in higher than what’s available with a little bit of homework. Sure, you can get away with a $400 phone that’s close in terms of hardware, but at what cost? What sort of warranty or tech support do you get? What about software updates? Has that brand you’ve barely heard of done enough in the way of patches and maintenance releases to convince you to take a risk?

Enthusiasts can complain all they want about how Google should be sticking with software updates for more than two years for its flagship phones. If Apple can do it for three and four years for its devices, Google could surely do the same, right? Eh, I wouldn’t be as quick to say that. I think that, generally, Google has done a great job of rolling out regular releases with bug fixes, and minor and major updates.

pixel_colors

Most people that I’ve run into hold onto their phones for about two years or so. That’s over the last eight years of keeping an eye on what my friends, colleagues, and other data tell me. Not only that, but I know very few casual users who know of new major Android releases and what they bring about.

With each major release of a flagship model, I am often asked what the difference is from the previous model and whether it matters to them. As time goes, it gets a little harder to convince people that they need the newest in Android. What they need are the bug fixes and security updates. The rest, by and large, is more of a want or unnecessary adjustment. In the Nexus, and now with the Pixel, line of phones, Google is terrific at supporting with the necessary bits.

Another key reason to consider the Pixel XL is that it works with any of the major carriers. This is flexibility and freedom that doesn’t come with many devices. So, if you’re considering switching to another provider down the road, this is a phone you can take with you. And, if you’ve purchased outright or already paid off the phone, you can hop from prepaid carrier to MVNO to tier-one service operator without concern. That doesn’t come from too many phones, particularly those with this level of hardware.

The Pixel XL isn’t the sexiest phone on the market, nor is it the most power-packed. What it is, however, is a perfect blend of excellent software, services, and hardware. It’s more of an every man phone than previous Nexus models. Given it’s being sold at Verizon and not solely in a direct manner, I feel like Google recognizes this, too. To that end, it’s a great choice for those of you who have become reliant on the Samsung and other OEM’s way of life.

9
Dec

Cave Jumpers: Surprisingly fun but without replay value (review)


There’s an ever-increasing list of really small, but fun games in the Play Store. Some of them are interesting, and some, unfortunately, are not. Fortunately, Cave Jumpers fall into the first category, thanks to a simple but interesting gameplay that combines several elements to make one really fun experience. However, the replay value aspect of the game is almost absent.

Developer: Oneironautics
Price: Free

Overview

cave jumpers reviewAvoid the spikes and get the fuel containers and you’ll be fine.

Since there is no Google Play Games integration, there’s no setup needed. You can start playing as soon as the main screen appears. You’ll control a green blob and your mission is to climb as high as you can. For this, the main character is equipped with a jetpack, and you can control its activation by tapping the screen.

Your job is to travel through the cave as long as possible. Your character only moves sideways, so in order to progress, you have to fly upwards with said jetpack.

However, there are spikes along the cave walls, and touching them will immediately kill you. You can also die by refusing to fly and just letting your character drop way too low.

The jetpack has a limited amount on gas though, so you also have to collect fuel containers to refuel it. Run out of it, an it’s game over. The containers fly upward too, so it’s tricky to get them sometimes because you have to propel your character very high in the viewport, risking finding a spike just a moment after and being unable to do something about it.

Each second you play and don’t die will yield coins. This coins can be used for buying new characters, which are basically similar versions of the character you start with. I didn’t notice any difference in the way the game behaved when using a different character.

You can also change the fuel containers’ shape into very interesting stuff, such as a banana, a heart and a glass of beer.

You can also upload your highest score to a global leaderboard (if you are proud of it). The game will prompt you for a nickname, and after that, your name will be written for eternity on it. Congrats to “sieeet tak zjebac” who, at the time of writing, has the highest score worldwide, with 127 points.

General Impressions

cave jumpers reviewYou can unlock new characters, share your prowesses on Facebook or start a new game.

I thought that this would be another run-of-the-mill endless game, but actually the game’s different elements combined make for a very fun game in short periods of time. Timing your moves to avoid the random spikes while having to pay attention to the fuel indicator is more entertaining than it sounds.

The problem with this game, as with almost all endless games, is that it has little replay value. The game tries to increase replayability by offering different characters and fuel containers, but since they all behave the same, there’s almost no point in collecting them.

Graphics

All of the sprites in ths game try to convey a feeling of cartoony paper elements painted with crayons. Be it the main character, the fuel containers you have to pick, or other supporting art (like the settings button and the font), they all follow the same theme. I must say that it does a good job at that. You will definitely not find anything fancy or ground-breaking, but it’s good to have some cohesion between different elements.

Sound

The game features no background music. The only sounds that the game will produce are when you tap the screen to propel your character, when you get the fuel containers, or when you die. Just as the graphics, they’re nothing special, and the one fired when propelling gets a bit annoying after a while. I feel like they’re there for the sake of having sound, but they don’t do a good job in adding some real value to the game.

Options

cave jumpers reviewThere are very few options to choose from.

There are only three options in the game, and two of them are toggles: one is for the sounds and the other for controlling if the game will give you hints. In a really weird UI decision, these toggles can be acted upon by touching the label, and not the checkmark.

The other option lets you reset all of the game’s data. This probably acts the same as going to the Settings screen and erase the data through Android. I can’t understand why would someone want to delete the little progress you can make in this game, but there it is anyways.

One thing to note: there is no Google Play Games integraton. The option to submit high scores uses the developer’s own integraton, not its Google counterpart.

Conclusion

Cave Jumpers combine a couple of different elements to make a fun little game that can get very entertaining. However, since the game has so little elements to keep you coming back for more, it’s hard to recommend if you’re looking for a game to play in the long term. If you want to play in short bursts, though, then this game is a good time-killer.

Download Cave Jumpers from the Google Play Store.

9
Dec

There’s a tiny piano app for the MacBook Pro Touch Bar


Apple has showed off a number of uses for the newfangled MacBook Pro Touch Bar, including DJ and other music making controls. It also plays Doom, which is quite handy. When you need to do your best Elton John impression, there’s an app that can help with that. Appropriately named Touch Bar Piano, the software brings 128 different instruments to that touch panel above the laptop’s keyboard.

If you don’t happen to own the latest model, the free polyphonic piano app “does nothing useful on other Macs,” according to its developer Graham Parks. In addition to piano sounds, there’s a smattering of strings, drums, voices and more for you to make noise with using the tiny display. If you’re still a bit skeptical about the whole thing, you can see the app in action down below.

Via: FACT, Ask.Audio

Source: Touch Bar Piano

8
Dec

Two Mountains One Goat: Some quick, bleating fun (Review)


Flappy Bird paved the way for one-tap control games. It’s simplistic, fast paced gameplay kept people coming back for more with goals that were obtainable yet difficult enough to that you had to keep trying before you could succeed. Taking it’s cues from Flappy Bird, Two Mountains One Goat is a game with a very similar style, but will it’s tweaked gameplay hold it’s own? Let’s take a look.

  • Developer: Commander Prompt
  • Price:  Free/$1.14 ad-free
  • Download: iOS, Google Play

Gameplay

Two Mountains jumpGetting started with the game is quick an easy. Connect to Google Play Games if you want Achievements and Leaderboard functionality, then hit the big start button. Your goat starts off at the bottom of screen with two mountain walls going up both sides of the screen. When you tap, your goat jumps from the right wall to the left or vice versa, gaining altitude with each leap. Your first few jumps are pretty straight forward. Then the birds start.

Oh, the birds. These birds have it in for your poor goat. Some hover in the middle of the screen and might trip you up if you’re not focused, but can usually be avoided. Some move slowly back and forth and again can be pretty easily maneuvered around. Then there are some that move so quick it seems nearly impossible to make it past.

It’s at this point that these games get fun if you’re up for the challenge. There’s no greater feeling than when you successfully time it and make it past that one bird that moves at lightning speed… but that high is quickly squashed when the next bird is equally as fast and you jump right into it. It’s that small victory of making it past your nemesis bird that drives you to hit play again and try to beat you score because that fourth bird isn’t going to stand in your way again!

Graphics

Screenshot_20161123-164014-1-300x300.pngI swear Bird #4 has it out for me.

Similar to games like Flappy Bird, Two Mountains has a retro, pixel look to it which doesn’t get old as you watch your cute little goat leap from wall to wall or plummet to his death for the hundredth time. The beautiful mountain scenery helps make this game even prettier. Animations are smooth and beautifully simplistic.

Longevity

The game is a lot fun. If you’re someone who’s driven by trying to beat your best score, then you may love this game for a long time. Likewise, if you can get a group of friends to download it, then competing with them on the leaderboard may provide some fun too. Just on its own, however, once you’ve played about 10 rounds, it does start to get stale. There is only one game mode and nothing to unlock apart from achievement. I find myself opening it up to tap a few quick rounds while waiting around at the bus stop or if I’m in a long line at a store, so it’s a great time waster, but it lacks depth beyond this.

Conclusion

Two Mountains One Goat is a pretty solid game, with its cute pixel graphics, easy one-tap controls, and fast gameplay. It’s best played in short burst or if you have a few buddies who you can compete against on the leaderboards. If you’re someone who likes to play a game for a minute or two just to pass time throughout your day and you like games that will challenge your muscle memory like Flappy Bird, then Two Mountains One Goat is for you.

8
Dec

Affinity Photo image editing app is now out for Windows


If you’re looking for a much affordable alternative to Photoshop for Windows, you may want to check out this indie-made image editor. Affinity Photo, the same program that won Mac App of the Year in 2015, is now officially available for Microsoft’s OS. Its developers released a beta version for the platform in November, but the full version (with all the features Mac users enjoy) is now available for $40 until December 22nd — $50 after that. The app’s developers have also released a huge update for Mac with a bunch of new features that will also come with the newer Windows app, including the ability to edit 360-degree images.

In addition to “an all-new way to edit 360-degree images,” Affinity Photo version 1.5 offers all these:

  • Macros to record and replay a set of commands
  • Advanced HDR merge producing deep unbounded 32-bit images
  • A full tone mapping workspace for both HDR and LDR images
  • Focus stacking to achieve large depth of field from multiple images
  • Full batch processing to process large folders of images in one go
  • Direct PSD write-back
  • 32-bit editing including OpenEXR import & export
  • Automatic lens corrections based on profiles of thousands of lens & body combinations

The free update also adds support for the Touch Bar, the secondary OLED screen that takes the function keys’ place on the latest MacBook Pro. To read more about version 1.5 and to buy the app for either or both platforms, make sure to head over to the app’s website.

Source: Serif

7
Dec

Grate Shopping Guide left me hungry (Review)


Overview:

Grate is a shopping assistant app where you can scan product barcodes and have reviews and information shown to you along with Amazon reviews.

Developer: Botond Kopacz

Cost: Free

Impressions:

Grate Shopping Guide is advertised as a handy shopping guide for you to use while food shopping. Simply scan the product barcode and up will pop a collection of reviews from users and Amazon about the product, letting you know how it is and if you should buy it. A handy app to have, especially if you may be shopping for something unfamiliar, so Grate is worth the download, right? I’d have to say definitely not right now.

My experience with Grate has been frustrating, to say the least, with the app crashing consistently and most of the features not working properly. The barcode scan works well, when it doesn’t force close the app, and brings up the correct item that I was scanning, but that’s about it. The settings don’t seem to open, and the other features like search also don’t work. Essentially, in it’s current state, the app is simply a barcode reader.

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Grate is supposed to bring up both user reviews and, if applicable, Amazon reviews of the product you scan but neither come up. I suppose that part of the issue with that is that the user reviews are reliant on people actually using the app and reviewing the products. The Amazon reviews, on the other hand, just don’t show. I’ve checked the food I’ve scanned and all of them have reviews available on Amazon, so it must be an app-side issue.

Functionality-wise, Grate isn’t great either. The app consistently crashes after scanning, and won’t work until you close it completely and restart it. I get a few good scans before it fails each time. Nothing else in the app seems to work at all, settings and the individual tabs don’t work at all, just bringing me back to a blank screen. The only things that work are the sharing and review tabs for the app itself. Also, the camera interface isn’t fantastic as it lacks any focus or zoom features to help you get the barcode in frame better. I will say that the app can quickly decipher even poorly framed barcodes, or upside down ones as well, it took only a second or two to get the product page up. Overall, the app is just kind of broken.

I do have some positive things to say about Grate, however. Visuals in the app are nice, with material design and a nice, clean look. Also, the app is quick and responsive when I got it to actually work. There are also no ads to be seen, which is excellent for a free app. I do wish Grate offered a “shopping list” feature where you can save the items you scanned in a list, or make a list of products and let you search for them in the app’s review section.

Conclusion:

Conceptually, I like the idea of what Grate offers. It could potentially be pretty useful for people concerned about the products they buy, and could also be a handy shopping list app that also provides handy information about the goods on your list. Unfortunately it just doesn’t work much at all right now, and should be avoided until the developer has had a chance to address the issues in the app and make it functional again.

Download Grate Shopping Guide from the Google Play Store

7
Dec

Mylingo offers real-time Spanish translation in movie theaters


A new app called Mylingo lets Spanish-speaking moviegoers listen to audio dubs in real time, using their own smartphone and headphones. According to the developer, users can download the studio-recorded Spanish tracks directly to their device, where they’ll be able to sync them perfectly with the action from the screen. The application, which is only available for iOS right now, uses the microphone on your phone to capture the data once the movie starts, and then deletes the audio file for good after it’s over.

Naturally, in order to be able to do that, Mylingo had to partner with major studios and movie theaters, such as Disney, Paramount, Sony, Regal Entertainment Group and Cinemark Theaters. As a result, the app will work with many of the films scheduled to debut this holiday season, including Moana, Office Christmas Party, Passengers and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

In a press release, Mylingo Co-founder and CEO Olenka Polak said hispanic audiences spent nearly $2.5 billion at the box office in 2015, so he knows how important this tool will be for many people in the US. I, for one, know someone like my mom is one of them, since she doesn’t speak English fluently but often takes my younger sister to the theater. At least now she’ll have a better idea of what the characters on the screen are talking about.

Source: Mylingo

6
Dec

Lifetracker will nudge you to get stuff done, but only when the time is right (review)


There are many to-do, task-keeper, and other list apps available for your Android device. The biggest differentiators between these options is seem to lie in two main areas:

Interface/input: How easy, intuitive, and creative can an app make it for you to want to initially, and (more importantly) continue to manually input new tasks into it.

Intelligence/Reminders: How consistent and persistent can an app be in reminding its user to complete their tasks, without being intrusive and therefore a put-off.

Lifetracker is an app that believes it has found a solution to both of these issues, and in a lot of ways, you could say they’ve attempted this with a common concept. That concept is “context”. More on this in a bit.

Lifetracker doesn’t fancy itself a ‘task list’ per se, but rather a more intelligent app that “helps users manage their free time and achieve meaningful life goals through the unique artificial intelligence prediction algorithms“. It comes to us from the developer PDNA Ltd; it’s an app that’s safe for all ages, though the more routine schedule you have the more useful you will find this app. Again, more on this in a bit.

Setup

screenshot_20161120-093704The developer has made getting started a very easy effort. First off you simply download from the Play Store. Upon installation and opening the app for the first time you are asked to pair your Lifetracker profile with an email address of your choosing. Then you are greeted with a few simplified tutorial screens, showing you how to add a task, tweak completion times, and mark it with one or more “contexts”.
These contexts are key, and one of the cores to Lifetracker’s approach to its interface. Let’s finally address just how Lifetracker does what it does.

 

Concept

To provide the intelligence it is advertising, Lifetracker uses three primary ‘context’ features:

The aforementioned “contexts”. In this reference, think of it as a ‘work context’.
Using [my term here], “best times” for task completion, in lieu of more traditional due dates. In this reference, think of it as a ‘time context’.
Using [again my term], “best place” for task completion. In this reference, think of it as ‘location context’.

First off, what is a “context”? It’s essentially a tag you apply to a task that relates to a s4certain part of your life, such as work, rest, hobbies, etc. You have to apply at least one context to a task, but are free to apply more than one if appropriate to you.

Secondly, what is a “best time”? Instead of a due date (I have to get X done by Y day & time), Lifetracker asks you instead for an optimal/best-possible time to complete the task.

Using these two contexts, Lifetracker then takes a novel (though quickly growing in familiarity) approach to its task tracking. It uses its version of artificial intelligence, employing varying and proprietary algorithms.

s3Example: As a user, when you are about to commence a certain task on your list that you’ve already created, you press the ‘play’ button on that task. When complete you click on the check mark, clearing it from you view. Lifetracker analyzes the task title & associated tag (‘work context’), and also the day, time, and task duration (‘time context’).
The app then uses this info for following tasks you input; any tasks with similar tags and completion dates/times will be used by the app in deciding when to “nudge” you, by way of notifications, to remind you that now would be a good time to work on that task.
The app learns the places, days, and time frames when you tend to work on tasks tied to a certain context/tag, and uses this knowledge to keep you on task!

What We Liked

The app interface is a very clean take on task input. Text is minimal, and the colors are a good mix of subtle but business-like. Tasks appear almost as Google cards in their look & feel.
The main interface screen has minimal but useful options for sorting your existing tasks (by s1date created by optimal completion time, and by tag). There’s also a toggle to hide these sorting options and sticking with the current one, to gain a bit more screen. Nothing is really missing that feels missed.

As far as performance, the app does a good job in notifying the user based on past performance. If you’ve logged completion time for a particular tag or generally work on a task at a regular day or time of day, you will be nudged by Lifetracker to get back at that task when that time comes around again.

What Could Use Improvement

While the app is very good at what it does, I tend to question how useful this app is, as it s2(in my opinion) overlaps at least once calendar/task/note-taking app you likely already have on your device.

You already have the capacity to log your to-do’s and view them, and more importantly, view them relative to all your other meetings, appointments, and other life events.
To fully use Lifetracker, you may have to input tasks redundantly, once to show in relative to your overall life schedule (see #1 above), but again so Lifetracker can provide the smarter learning & “nudging” to keep you on track (a calendar item can oh-so-easily be swiped away into oblivion…).

Also, it would seem as though the AI would be useful provided the user’s workflow is rather consistent and his/her life is fairly routine. I’m boring and routine, so it worked great for me. But if you complete tasks on a “swing-shift” basis, I don’t see the notifications being able to keep up with your crazy lifestyle.

Conclusion

Lifetracker is a polished and intuitive app that is best used to complete the want-to-do tasks in life, where time spent completing, finishing, and improving would be better spent that plopping down in front of the TV.
Where I see Lifetracker being best utilized is in one of two ways:

As a supplemental task app, for those “want to do” items, like practicing yoga after the kiddos are in bed, checking in on family members, practicing a musical instrument, or perhaps developing a writing habit.  Stuff that doesn’t fit into your already-crammed schedule, where it will almost certainly get lost.
Taking the smarts that Lifetracker leans on, and using that as an integral part of a calendar/task app, to supplement the hard-definition meetings with these softer, want-to-do tasks.

I’m all for smart and useful apps, but I’m even more for installing and managing fewer of them on my devices.

If you’d like to learn more, there is a decent FAQ page on the developer’s website.

Download Lifetracker here.

6
Dec

Twitch brings video calls to its game communication app


Twitch wants to move beyond live streaming to cover your game communications, and to that end it bought Curse back in August. Just what is it doing with its newly acquired app, though? Well, now we know: Curse is rolling out desktop support for both video calls and screen sharing on top of its existing voice and social features. You and four other people can now see each other while you play, and share what’s on your display if you want to brag about a victory or show vital info to your teammates.

The Twitch crew tells us that the video call features will initially be available on the Mac, Windows and Chrome, but mobile support is in the works. It’s also quick to stress that these are server-based calls, not peer-to-peer, so you’re not exposing your internet connection details to viewers when you invite them to a match. Will the Curse upgrade be enough to stop you from using rivals like Discord or Teamspeak? Not necessarily (your friends’ tastes will likely dictate what you use), but it could make Curse your preferred comms app if you regularly broadcast play sessions with friends.

Source: Curse

5
Dec

DU Battery Saver – Power Saver: Minimal gains with a lot of intrusive ads (review)


The mobile phone industry faces few “technological” limitations it cannot overcome, yet battery technology continues to plague our mobile devices. While we have not developed a new technology to replace our current battery tech, there have been huge strides in software and hardware optimization to make sure our devices are as efficient as possible. DU Battery Saver – Power Saver is one piece of software that you can download on the Google Play Store that claims to offer such optimizations.

Review Usage:

This entire review took place on the 128GB Google Pixel XL. I took usage statistics with my device for about a week before installing and using the DU Battery Saver – Power Saver for five days. While daily usage was not identical day to day, I did not add or remove any apps during the testing cycle since background app usage may skew results significantly.

Installation and Usage

The DU Battery Saver – Power Saver is easy to install, and the interface is simple yet deceitful. The large Optimize button will allow you to “optimize” you device for better battery life, and the Mode button will turn many of your settings off or down like screen brightness, screen timeout, vibrate, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Sync, and the haptic feedback while also restricting phone calls and messages. I found this to be the most useful part of the app. I was able to create unique modes with custom settings to maximize battery life. Take note though that I was creating these modes as I found the preconfigured modes to be far too aggressive for everyday use.

DU Battery SaverOther than Mode and Optimize, the rest of the UI exists to sell users DU coin, advertise, and give you information your phone can already tell you. We will start with the Smart Tab that appears to give users fine control over schedules, lock screen apps, and other settings, but they all turn out to be useless to users before purchasing these features with DU Coins. Du Battery SaverNext, there is the Phone Cooler button. On multiple occasions after extended gameplay and TV show binges, I tried to use this feature to see what it was about, but I received nothing but ads. The Charge button lets you know if your phone is fast charging, trickle charging, or full. Monitor is a less detailed version of your battery settings panel, and Boost is just a button you hit when you want to see yet another ad.

After playing with the app a bit, I felt very cheated by the interface. I understand that the app industry is a business and that the ad revenue produced by people viewing and clicking on ads is what keeps the free app industry afloat, but DU APPS STUDIO, the creators of DU Batter Saver – Power Saver, were extremely deceitful with the layout of the app, using the allure of additional functionality to generate revenue.

Battery life improvement

While the interface may not be annoying, many would be willing to forgive this if the app did what it said and users phones saw significant battery improvement. In my experience, my results showed there was little to no improvement with one day, in particular, seeing rather poor battery life.

This is a screenshot from the second day I had DU Battery Saver installed on my Pixel XL. Note the similarity in Screen on Time and difference in remaining battery lifeThis is a screenshot from the second day I had DU Battery Saver installed on my Pixel XL. Note the similarity in screen on time and difference in remaining battery life

To establish how effective/ineffective the DU Battery Saver is, I will look at the average screen on time throughout the two weeks when I reached the 10% battery mark (I was always within 3% points). I will then break it down into day-to-day usage. Just a note, this is not the most definitive way to test the effectiveness of this app, but it is a way that will provide satisfactory results while staying within the testing time frame I have set. To more effectively evaluate this app’s ability, it would require more data over a longer period with much more rigid controls in place.

  • Pixel XL screen on times (Without DU Battery Saver)

    • 5h 42m
    • 5h 50m
    • 5h 31m
    • 5h 38m
    • 5h 41m
    • Average screen on time: 5h 40m
  • Pixel XL screen on times (With DU Battery Saver installed)

    • 5h 58m
    • 5h 9m
    • 5h 55m
    • 5h 52m
    • 5h 47m
    • Average screen on time: 5h 44m (5h 53m if you exclude the score in red)

After my two week test period, the numbers yielded about a thirteen-minute difference between my screen on times (excluding the outlying data in red). Without allowing the app to shut off my phone calls, messages, or other basic features that make my phone useful to me, I saw a 13 minute gain and spent my week squinting at a very dark screen due to lack of backlight.

Conclusion

After testing the DU Battery Saver – Power Saver, the app does little in the way improving battery life unless you are willing to sacrifice basic functionality. Combine the lack of battery improvement with abundant ads and I imagine users will find there is little offered by this app. For those looking to give it a shot, you can grab DU Speed Booster for free in the Play Store.

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