App of the Week: Drive

Developer:
Create Digital Media

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

iPod touch 3rd gen or up

iPad

Requires:
iOS 5.1

Price:
$0.99

Available here

Don’t use your phone while driving.

From nationwide campaigns to motherly warnings, we’ve had that simple message drilled into our heads for as long as we’ve had cell phones. Most people know the dangers, and most agree with the idea in principle, but unlike other driving safe philosophies, like “don’t drink and drive” or “wear your seatbelt,” the idea of putting down your smartphone while driving is not catching on any time soon. You see it all of the time, and probably have been guilty of it yourself a few times, yet as much as it seems like common sense, it’s pretty obvious people are not in a hurry to stop doing it in mass.

Developers Create Digital Media seems to realize this and have created a compromise of sorts. If you are going to use your phone while driving, then at least limit yourself. They’ve removed your game apps, Facebook, keyboard, and Twitter, and have designed the app Drive, which trims your smartphone down to four main functions, all grouped together and handled by a beautifully minimalist design.

The functions are call, music, text, and map. Coupled with the large font, brightly colored ways they are displayed, the actual methods to using these features are also pleasantly simple and often require only bold gestures and swipes.

For instance, the music app allows you to change songs by horizontal swipes, and change the volume with two finger vertical motions (you can also play the music randomly via a shuffle playlist). Texts and calls use simple scroll and tap methods for going through your contacts, and for texts you are able to program general important statements for quick sends. The map features is maybe the least developed of the bunch, but it does provide integration with Apple Maps as well as standard directional functions and a nice, easy to view on the fly general map in tune with your current location.

The developers of the app are promising to keep developing all of its functions, with the map feature seeming to be a main point of emphasis with these updates. Even in its early stage though, Drive provides one of the more complete driver friendly apps I’ve ever seen as it successfully allows you to use the most important abilities of your phone without severely impairing your ability to drive. It’s an incredibly intelligent app, that with enough improvements you could evolve into a standard mode for all out of the box smartphones as it presents a realistic idea for handling the using your phone while driving problem, and also provides and alternative, simpler phone use option for any other times when your ability to use your phone to its full extent is hindered.

If you’re guilty of using your iPhone or, even worse, iPad, while driving then you owe it to yourself, and honestly other drivers, to give Drive a shot. Not only is it sleek, intuitive, and incredibly user friendly, it’s also my app of the week.

  

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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.

  

App of the Week: Solar

Developer:
Hollr, Inc.

Compatible With:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
iOS 5.0 or later

Price:

$0.99

Available here

With all of the entertainment and social distractions that smartphones provide, it’s hard to remember that they were originally conceived with the simple intention of providing a tool to help the hyper active through their lives. In that respect, there are a few essential apps that everyone must have on their phones, no matter how far the technology may have come. They’re apps like schedule planners, calendars, and metal band name generators, which have all become standard regardless of the user.

But just because an app is standard, though, doesn’t mean it has to be ordinary. Consider the weather app on your phone. Everyone has one, everyone uses it, but unless you’re one of those guys who spends their free time watching mudslides in Honduras on The Weather Channel, using the basic weather app probably doesn’t constitute the highlight of your day.

Thankfully Hollr, Inc. and their app “Solar”, are looking to change that. “Solar” provides all of the usual weather information (current temperature, forecast,etc), but does it in a genuinely engaging way. Using a minimalist design, “Solar” uses a dynamic color palette on each half of the screen to represent the current weather conditions. The top half shows the weather, while the bottom half reveals the temperature, producing a stylish visual for your phone. Scrolling up on the app provides a forecast for the day, that also modifies the screen design appropriately to match the expected weather, and scrolling down gives you the three day weather report. Extra functionality is provided by double tapping on the screen to set up multiple weather locations, which can then be accessed by scrolling left and right on the app. More than any single feature though, the main selling point of “Solar” is its ability to turn one of the most basic features on your phone, into the most stylish.

Even though this app is discounted right now to the low, low price of 0.99 cents, you probably have some reasonable doubt about buying a weather app when so many good ones are available for free. Plus, for all of its incredibly slick design features, “Solar” still does include the standard text read-out weather temperature as its go-to measurement, and lacks some of the more specific details of competitive apps. But the fact is, you really only have two options for how to check the weather each day. Like a guy who’s trying to see if he needs an umbrella, or:

And if you fall into that later category, the only way to really do it is with “Solar”, my app of the week.

 

  

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