App of the Week: Mailbox

mailbox-app

Developer:

Orchestra Inc.

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch 3rd gen and up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 6.0 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

Since its announcement, Mailbox has been something of a rockstar among app fans.

If you haven’t been rabidly following it, Mailbox is an app that allows you to finally gain control of your overloaded Gmail accounts (other e-mail services will be compatible soon). Upon first glance the app doesn’t appear to differ wildly from the usual e-mail inbox apps, both first party and otherwise, as it streams your usual e-mail inbox to the app,and presents the messages in a clear and defined, yet traditional format. There’s nothing mind blowing here yet, as it’s just your e-mail inbox.

It’s the interactions available with these messages that makes Mailbox such a hyped app, most of which revolve around sliding a message right or left. Sliding a message quickly to the right, for instance, will archive the message, while a slow swipe to the right will delete it. Swiping shortly to the left, however, lets you put a message on hold from times ranging from hours later to the vague “someday.” A longer left swipe lets you save the message in special categories such as “To Buy”, “To Watch”, and more. You can even create your own custom categories which are, along with your archives and other specific inboxes, fully searchable and available to view independently through tabs atop the app.

There are various other functions of the app including e-mail notification and organizing e-mail chains into readable chat like formats, but the general function of the app is making it as easy as possible to get your inbox to zero (it even celebrates an empty inbox, with a logoed message). It’s designed for people with high e-mail volume in mind, but even the casual e-mail user has to appreciate the combination of fluidity and depth presented by Mailbox, allowing you to not only do more with your inbox than ever before, but do it easier as well.

While a few features shy of its full potential, for Gmail users, Mailbox is in fact the absolute best mobile mail manager ever created. While the developer’s tagline of “you’ll wonder how you lived without it” is as cliché as it comes, it also happens to be the absolute truth here. You’ve never seen an app that allows you to so smoothly and thoroughly handle your messages, and you may very well never need another app to do so.

There’s a sizeable waiting list to download Mailbox at the moment (which is admittedly kind of absurd) , but you shouldn’t hesitate to jump in line, as with a few updates, this might just become the most used app of the year, and is certainly my app of the week.

  

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App of the Week: Table Top Racing

table-top-racing

Developer:

Playrise Edge Ltd.

Compatible with:
iPhone (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or later

Price:

$2.99

Available here

So like all kids, I’m guessing you enjoyed playing with “Micro Machines” and “Hot Wheels.” If you were a Playstation user, I bet you like the high speed sci-fi racing series “Wipeout.” And like all everybody everywhere, you probably think “Mario Kart” is awesome.

So if I were to tell you that there was a “Hot Wheels” styled kart racing combat game like “Mario Kart” from some of the makers of “Wipout,” would that be something you’re interested in?

Well I hope so, because that’s just what we’ve got, and it’s called “Table Top Racing.” In it, you compete in several races, circuits and events against a variety of different model toy cars, which are unlockable and customizable, in both single player and online multiplayer modes. Rather than a simple sprint to the finish though, you’ll also use several weapons against your foes including the leader finding heat seeker missile and a beyond devastating EMP bomb.

The best part of “Table Top Racing” is it’s care with the subject matter. Everything about the game feels like playing out the most involved of all your toy car racing fantasies, a feature highlighted by the game’s best aspect, the tracks. All of the eight tracks are cleverly designed common world environments modified to create racetracks. For example, you’ll find yourself maneuvering around sandwiches on a picnic table at a Bar-B-Que, winding around oil cans on a work bench, or (in the best and most appropriate level) racing through a child’s room surrounded by classic toys. The track design is inspired and vibrant to the point of being almost distracting at times, but the brilliant layout keeps them fresh and even learning to keep your eyes on the course takes nothing from their creativity.

Table-Top-Racing (1)

As for the gameplay, it’s not near as fast or hectic as the “Wipeout” and “Mario Kart” series that inspired it, but the controls are tight and races are almost always competitive, due in part to the influence of the variety of weapons, and some reasonably challenging AI. There’s always a competitive spirit to the game that somehow never overwhelms the loose sense of fun.

There aren’t enough racing games like this available on mobile systems, and there are none as good as “Table Top Racing.” I wish there were more shortcuts, races, tracks, and speed, but when your biggest knock against a game is that there should be more of it, that’s generally an indication of things going right. That is certainly the case here as “Table Top Racing” does many, many things right, leading to an intense, yet casual approach to the mobile racer with just the right amount of nostalgia to fuel it.

As a, most likely, adult, you are too old to play with your toy cars anymore. With “Table Top Racing” though, you’ll never miss them as it’s the best game of toy cars you never got to play as a child, and my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Stow

Developer:

Apptifica, LLC

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up

iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 6.0 or later

Price:

$1.99

Available here

Much like Déjà vu’, that feeling that you forgot something when leaving your nest for an extended period of time is a near universal one. Almost always, it has no real bearing, but is unshakable nonetheless once it dawns upon you. While the feeling may be inescapable, with the new packing aid app “Stow”,  you can make sure that’s it’s just a phantom notion, as you can be guaranteed that everything you could possibly need is safely on hand.

Where “Stow” succeeds in an over-packed app field (pun sadly intended) is in its smart philosophy to packing. Rather than provide a grocery shopping style checklist of items, “Stow” takes a more lively approach to the subject by allowing you to account for factors like the amount of days you will be away, what the weather is going to be like during your time there, and even if laundry will be available. Only from there do you go into the checklist mode, where you are now equipped to factor in exactly what you will need, for all days, and conditions. It will even advise you as to common items you may need for individual weather conditions, and handedly provides subsections for various accessory types such as electronics and first aid, so no possible stone is left unturned.

An even more useful feature are the templates. With these, you can set a basic needs list based on what type of trip you are going on. Examples include: golf, beach, business, family, city, and more. All of them factor in essential (and handy) items for the various situations, and while they may not represent complete universal rundowns, it’s an excellent starting point. Even better is the ability to create your own templates based on common trips you take, so that you can have a “go to list” tuned exactly to your needs.

There’s more to the app of course, including abilities to factor in multiple people (useful for families), the ability to create a short list for your morning routine, you can print lists, save them as spreadsheets, share them, etc. It all comes together to create an app that feels very complete, as it accounts for so many potential aspects of such a specific task. At $1.99, its one of the more pricey apps of its kind, but for anyone that travels with any regularity, or has a serious forgetfulness problem when packing, the usefulness of “Stow” justifies it’s price immediately.

Ironically the only essential item the app can’t account for when packing is whether or not you have the app itself. Be sure to download it then and count it as the last important packing decision you’ll ever have to make on your own thanks to “Stow”, my app of the week.

 

  

App of the Week: Temple Run 2

Developer:

Imangi Studios, LLC

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS and up (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod Touch 3rd Gen and up

iPad

*Available for Android on Jan. 24

Requires:
iOS 4.2 or later

Price:

Free

Available here

*Sigh*

Well I tried.

I tried to find a reason to not put “Temple Run 2” as the app of the week. I wanted to find some obscure, must have gem that was released in the same week as one of the biggest app sequels of all time instead, and hope to help it find some time to share in “Temple Run 2′s” considerable spotlight. Try as I might though, it was still “Temple Run 2” that came on top of the heap.

I probably don’t need to elaborate on the concept of “Temple Run” as with 170 million plus downloads, there’s a good chance you’ve played or heard about it. But just for forms sake, “Temple Run 2” has you playing as an adventurer in pursuit of the golden idol. The actual acquiring of it is never an issue, but the escape from the temple is the real challenge, and this is where the player comes in as they try to escape the temple, and it’s fervent defenders, via a series of course changes, jumps, and other simple (but rapid) interactions, all while trying to collect coins to unlock all kinds of goodies. You can’t survive, but the fun is in how long you last, and how much you can collect.

Since it’s a clearly successful formula, “Temple Run 2” doesn’t find much cause for altering it. Instead, this is a “more is better” type sequel, though that doesn’t mean there aren’t noteworthy additions. A particular highlight of “Temple Run 2” is the graphics, which are significantly improved from its predecessor. Everything is so colorful, varied, and detailed that it becomes impossible to look back at the first game without a scoff. It does cause some problems on older systems because of this, but the visual reward is worth the increased hardware recommendations.

Otherwise, it comes back to that more word to tell you what so great about the game. That would include more power ups (that goes along with more characters), more achievements, more collectibles,  more environments, and best of all more obstacles like zip lines and mine carts that help make playing “Temple Run 2” in long sessions a much greater joy thanks to some genuine variety around every bend.

And of course it all works. “Temple Run” only came out in 2011, and while the novelty of it has long worn off, the fun never really did. “Temple Run 2” celebrates that fact by maintaining the simple joy of the gameplay, and sacrificing none of the addictiveness, but it also knows where to nip and tuck, and where to enhance, so that at least for the first few play-throughs, the game feels new again.

I think the reason that I was hesitant to write about “Temple Run 2” here is because it is such a big, bold, headline grabbing release, it seems almost lazy to join the masses of appraisers and admirers in covering it. Yet after spending some time with the game, I’m reminded that it’s not always about what’s new, what’s bold, and what’s unsung, but that rather sometimes it’s as simple as good is good. Well “Temple Run 2” is certainly good, and it’s also my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe

Developer:
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS or up (optimized for iPhone 5)

iPod touch 3rd gen or up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0

Price:
$5.99

Available here

 

With their endless capabilities, your iPhone and iPad were designed, and marketed, under one simple banner.

The world in your hands.

It was a lofty goal that has, of course, been achieved. With the mind boggling specs, features, and of course applications, there is little of the world that isn’t available to you at high speed and incredible clarity thanks to the iDevices. Now though, there is at least one app out there that says that’s not good enough and would like to give you not the world in your hands, but the entire universe.

Thanks to it, now, as James Bond tried to warn us, the world is not enough.

Brian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe (and no, not that Brian Cox) is based around the four part TV series of the same name where Professor Brian Cox takes viewers on a tour of the known universe with incredible thoroughness and mind boggling visuals. The app aims for the same goal as it allows users to explore the entirety of the known universe with full information and visuals for everything along the way. A lofty goal that it not only achieves but does so in a capacity that is almost impossible to fully understand.

For instance, you start off on a 3D map of the universe, using your fingers to zoom and interact with it. On the top of the screen is a scale option which will allow you to control your viewing capacity of the universe, and ranges from the end of it all, to a zoom in that will let you view the sub-atomic particles that make up everything that is known. On the bottom of the screen is a bar of information that will provide texts, videos, and more about anything you can find and will also let you quick jump to certain things. There is an almost impossible amount of media available on all subjects, with much of it being tied to the miniseries that boldly tried to explain the going ons of the entire universe in an entertaining manner, and nearly achieved it.

That’s one thing to consider about this app. You can call it an educational tool, and it most certainly is, but its greater achievement is the entertainment. Professor Cox travels the world to capture events like the aurora borealis and a total eclipse in their most perfect forms. His experiments are both incredible exhibitions of the known, and fascinating explorations of the unknown, and it’s his love of it all that frames the entire app, and makes it half of what it is.

The other, arguably larger, part of the app doesn’t involve any pre-loaded media, but rather the joy of exploration. When you consider how much information and visuals are available for just the Earth alone on top of that same level of depth being provided for essentially everything we know about the large part of entirety, you could argue that much like the universe itself, there is no real end to this app. There certainly is no end to the fun it provides.

Which does bring up one of the minor sticking points of this app. At $5.99 it is a little more expensive than the usual app, but as you may have already figured out, it is hard to argue that you don’t get what you pay for. Also, while the app is now available for the iPhone and iPod touch, to truly appreciate it you really do need an iPad, preferably with the retina display.

That aside, if you have the proper set up and the funds what you get is an app that fills you with this otherworldly feeling that is like someone injected pure wonder into your veins. It successfully covers the bold topic of everything, with a careful wisdom and infinite amount of fun. There is no moon, star, landmark, black hole, sun, or planet that isn’t included for detailed exploration, and all of it is beautiful and fascinating.

Much more than a time waster, and something far greater than a textbook, there is no classification for this app that would easily explain or define it. Not only is it nearly everything about nearly everything, it is also my app of the week.

  

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