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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App of the Week: Striiv

Developer:
Striiv Inc.

Compatible with:
iPhone 3GS or up

iPod 3rd gen or up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or up

Price:
Free

Available here

 

As saloon old timer number 3 said in “Back to the Future Part 3”:

The sad truth is, running is simultaneously one of the most beneficial activities you can embark on, and one of the most unappealing. Whether it be the exhaustion factor, the sweaty clothes, the fact you probably have one of those “ridiculous” running styles you criticize strangers for having, or the dreaded chaffed thighs, just about everyone has a reason for not wanting to run, which is why starting the activity is often referred to as finding your motivation.

Now your motivation may come in the form of the app Striiv. Once a $99.95 smart pedometer, Striiv is now a free app that provides a lot of the usual pedometer functions like tracking calories burnt, miles ran, steps taken, etc. Where Striiv makes it’s name, though, is in how it enhances the running experience for its users.

The most basic element of this is the available social functions. It’s always more fun to run with someone else and, using Faceook, you can link up with your friends who also have the app in an ongoing stat comparison competition. Even better is the challenge feature which carries a number of pre-determined goals like walking a certain amount, time challenges, or specialty goals like ascending  the statue of liberty (or the equivalent number of steps). Completing these challenges give you trophies, making them similar to Xbox 360 achievements.

Even more similar to gaming is the actual game included with Striiv. Called MyLand, every step you take and every milestone you reach, earns you points to spend on stuff to fill your virtual world with ranging from foliage to buildings. While not as fun as say “SimCity” it’s a surprisingly deep and entertaining way to reward you for your progress.

Really the whole point of this app is to help make running fun, and it surprisingly succeeds at that. It may not help you to get started running by itself, but if you’ve already decided to start then this is one of the best apps available for helping you to keep going. The challenges are well placed and varied, the MyLand feature is addictive and implemented nicely, and best of all the basic pedometer features have all of the stats, graphs, and counters you could ask for to go along with these enhanced entertainment modes.

It’s not easy to make running enjoyable, but Striiv makes some incredible progress in achieving just that. Whether it be by providing you a constant group of running companions, or that little extra incentive to go that extra mile, Striiv’s abilities to enhance your running experience was almost worth it as a standalone $100 pedometer. As a free iPhone app, it runs away with my app of the week.

 

  

App of the Week: Apple Maps Replacement Edition

Developers:
Lumatic – Lumatic Inc.

Waze – Waze Inc

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
Lumatic – iOs 5.0 or later

Waze – iOs 4.0 or later

Price:
Free

Available here for Waze and here for Lumatic

I don’t like to use the words resounding, embarrassing failure to describe something unless I have to. For one thing, it’s just not that nice and, for another, I like to maintain the integrity of such a phrase, so when it is used you can really appreciate the effect. With that in mind I won’t use it for the new Apple Maps app, but I just wanted you to know that the thought did cross my mind, so you have an idea what we’re dealing with.

Instead I’ll describe the new “Google Map Killer” as a crushing disappointment. Mostly because some features show such promise (the Yelp integration and some of the layout is nice), while other aspects of the app are shamefully bad (just look at some of these screenshots, or this head to head with Google Maps). What’s worse is, Apple has effectively blackballed Google Maps from iO6, and therefore the new iPhone 5. While there are ways of getting around this problem, it is a joke that the superior Google Maps isn’t an easy option as it should be.

Until Apple Maps gets its act together then, you are going to need some replacement apps for map and navigation needs. In fact, to replace the functions and features of Google Maps, without paying a service fee for some of the full fledged navigation apps, you’ll actually need a couple of apps to make up the difference.

The first App I recommend then would be the free Lumatic City Maps. While somewhat limited in scope (it only covers 24 major cities and is mainly for public transportation, not driving) if you do live in an area that support it, it’s a must have. Lumatic handily keeps track of all public transportation options with nice, real world photos, and both transport time estimates and schedules of bus and subway arrival times. The best feature of this app is actually a tie. I can’t decide between the way that selecting a business will automatically provide Yelp, Foursquare, Facebook, and Wikipedia information, or how when providing directions, the app will actually reference locations in the area. For instance, it may say make a left turn passing the Starbucks on your right. It feels like a very organic way of providing directions and nicely highlights why this is such a fun and practical app if you live in an area that supports it.

If you don’t, or if you need driving directions, you are going to have to look elsewhere. Luckily there is another free app called Waze that admirably handles those duties. A popular app for a while now, Waze has honed itself into a fine tuned navigation assistant that also features some fantastic layouts and graphics. It’s turn by turn directions are competitive with any app out there, and its location search feature is not only comprehensive, but actually outshines some of the other major apps, especially Apple Maps, in terms of results and information. The integrated social features also allow drivers to communicate updates with each other, and the latest version even shows the price of the gas stations around you so you can choose the cheapest option. Even better, Waze provides gas discounts to certain stations along the way.

I was really hoping that Apple Maps would be as great as Apple was hyping it up to be, so I would have an easy selection this week. While I haven’t given up hope it may one day be worthy, in the meantime I wouldn’t recommend relying on it for any practical purposes. Luckily, you won’t have to navigate your world, or the app market, blindly, thanks to the combined efforts of Waze and Lumatic Maps, my apps of the week.

  

App of the Week: Sing It, Say It

Developer:
Wobbyl LLC

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch (4th Generation)

Android Compatible Systems

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or later

Android 2.0.1 or up

Price:
$0.99

Available here for iOS and here for Android

Considering that the app “Draw Something” has been downloaded over 50 million times since its release, it was, of course, inevitable that other developers would try to take their own stab at the concept, and reap the considerable rewards of the apparently huge market that exists for that style of game.

Yet unlike the many “Angry Birds”knock offs out there, there really isn’t much creative freedom in trying to duplicate “Draw Something.” As indicated by the title, it’s a game where you draw something, people take a guess at what subject it is you are trying to draw, and the world rejoices at the fun had by all in the process. It’s not exactly a concept that is easy to capitalize off of without directly copying the original idea. While this would usually be a breath of fresh air, creatively speaking, it’s truthfully kind of sad that no one has found a way to take the basic idea present in that game (user created trivia with your friends) and find a fun new direction to take it in.

That’s why I like the new app “Sing It, Say It.” Instead of relying on a visual for the trivia question, “Sing It, Say It” instead uses audio clues. Specifically, you are asked to record a movie quote or song lyrics, provide the answer in a limited character space, and share it with up tofour other players (random, or grouped through you) to see who can match the sound to its source. The gameplay is enhanced by the ability to acquire tickets by winning and achieving other goals like winning streaks, or being the fastest guesser in your group. These tickets work as in game currency to unlock bonuses that range from more recording time, to voice modifiers (and also serve as a nice change of pace from a game requiring actual currency to unlock things).

If it sounds simple that’s because it is, and that’s thankfully why the whole things works. As so many of us are children of the multimedia age, our minds are backed up with movie quotes and song lyrics that were previously only useful for the occasional misguided karaoke adventure, or casual slip in to everyday conversation. “Sing It, Say It” provides a competitive forum for that knowledge, and does it with a simple system that never hinders your experience. While that is an experience that I find is best enjoyed with a group of personal friends as opposed to a random online gathering (much like a “Rock Band” session), if you have that group of equally pop culture obsessed buddies available, it’s incredibly fun to find yourself in a forever-ongoing back and forth of “spot that reference” with a well implemented reward system furthering your efforts.

While it would have been easy for “Sing it, Say it” to be a soulless “Draw Something” knock off, instead it feels like an idea that was spawned by a simple gathering of friends wanting to share a game of trivia we’ve all played before with others as well. It’s not quite as dynamic and addictive as the mega hit “Draw Something,” but that casual fun feeling that frames the entire experience is more than enough to have me singing this apps praises, and saying that it’s my app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Manalyzer

Developer:
Xynyn

Compatible with:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
iOS 4.2 or later

Price:
Free

Available here

On the subject of being a man, in the song “Mannish Boy” Muddy Waters had this to say:

“I can make love to you woman,
in five minutes time
Ain’t that a man

I’m a full grown man
Man
I’m a natural born lovers man
Man
I’m a rollin’ stone
I’m a man-child”

While that was Muddy Waters estimation of a man, it would be unrealistic to compare your only manliness based on the Muddy Waters scale. Still, though, I’m betting in a moment of channel surfing weakness where you ended up on a chick flick too long, or maybe settled for a light beer and a salad at dinner, the question has briefly crossed your mind.

Are you properly manly enough?

Luckily you need not wonder anymore, as one app now has the balls to tell you. From Xynyn comes the Manalyzer, or Manliness analyzer. Using photo analysis of your hands, and face, the Manalyzer uses figures and ratios determined by research done in over 25 scientific papers to take the analysis of these photos and assign a man score to you. The man score then correlates to five different categories (financial success, aggression, leadership, athletics, and innovation) to determine how much man you are, and what kind of man you will be. In the interest of fairness, there is also a mode that manalyzes women (though please note it is not advised that even a level 10 man try this on their girlfriend).

Now I know what you might say. That there is no way this app can accurately calculate how much of a man you are based on a couple of pictures. To these people I say, I scanned a picture of man great Charles Bronson, and came up with a 10.

That’s scientifically proven enough for me to man up, and name this the app of the week.

  

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