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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App of the Week: Twist

Developer:
Twist and Shout Inc.

Compatible With:
iPhone
iPad
iPod Touch

Requires:
iOS 4.0 or later

Price:
Free

Available Here

Do you know somebody that’s just impossibly perfect? They’re always impeccably dressed, are constantly in a good mood, and never seem to be late?

That last one’s just not natural. I mean, I rarely intend to be late (unless its work, school, or dreaded social obligations), but things just happen sometimes. Yet for as inevitable as running late is, it still manages to complicate your life in tremendous ways, as the act of running late has seemingly become socially understandable, but the acceptance of having to wait on someone running late has not. So what’s the answer? Do we all just work to become that perfect individual who leaves on time, anticipates delays, and keeps to their word?

Well, thanks to the new app Twist, such self improvement is no longer necessary. Twist recognizes that you’re going to be late no matter what amount of traffic, directions, and planning apps you already have on your phone. Rather than combat the inevitable, Twist simply helps you adjust your life to accommodate it. Using a GPS system, Twist allows you to see exactly where your friends are en route to you, or vice versa, and can alert you as to their progress. Not only that, but the app provides an estimated arrival time, as well as functionality with other applications. An example would be if you see your friend is lost. You could use your phone to then send the appropriate directions from their exact location (especially helpful as it keeps them from having to use their phone in traffic, or in the middle of a crowded street). More than just serve as a social convenience, though, the developers of Twist are also using it in an effort to cut down on dangerous acts like texting while driving.

Very few of us can get through the day without meeting somebody, somewhere, in some fashion. Besides the life saving features it incorporates for people running late, Twist also allows for a tremendous level of communication between people meeting up, even if the timing is right. While it’s another app that borders somewhat on stalking if used in the wrong hands, it does mean we may finally be able to end the sitcom scenario of being late for your date and madly scrambling to keep them in touch regarding the wacky events that transpired leading to your tardiness.

For that, this is a no brainer app of the week.

  

App of the Week: Wrestling Revolution

Compatible With: Android 2.2 and up

Price: Free

Available here

When I was a kid, there was nothing cooler than pro wrestling. Turning on the TV to find larger than life individuals with cartoon personas wailing on each other to the delight of packed arenas was a sensory overload experience that few programs could match. Over time, though, the program aged, and so did I. Like the rest of the country at the time, I was captivated by the obscene brutality of the “Attitude Era”, and the new stars it created like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and The Rock, but after that pro wrestling just lost its appeal.

Still though, I’ve got enough nostalgic love for pro wrestling, that occasionally the right spark can rekindle that old passion for it. This usually happens when I play the “Smackdown v.s. Raw” games, as the series genuinely good multiplayer mode is easy enough for anyone to get into, whatever the source material may be. However, those games have become watered down over the years, as the lack of competition have forced them into such a complacency that the series has lost that light hearted, casual fun aspect that makes pro wrestling, in any format, so entertaining in the first place.

That’s why we need a revolution. “Wrestling Revolution” is an android app that offers a simplified touch control system that allows for all of the basic strikes, grapples, and special moves the sport is known for. It also has the standard match types like 1 on 1, tag team, and battle royals, along with the regular arsenal of usable weapons such as chairs, tables, and title belts. On so many levels, it is your basic wrestling game, just with touch controls that perform well enough to not get in your way too often.

So why is it my app of the week? Because it’s loaded with that pure fun I was talking about earlier. The roster is so good it’s criminal (seriously, you may have to edit some of the names, but the available likenesses make sure you don’t have to stretch your imagination too much) and their vibrant sprites perform a surprisingly good range of animations for the various maneuvers available. This game harkens back to the arcade style of the classic “WWF Wrestlefest”, and is all the better for it. The one feature that’s not a throwback at all, and is actually quite innovative, is the games “episodic” format. While this mode is still a work in progress, it actually boasts  updated weekly storylines that promise to make the game different every time you play it. The feature isn’t quite there yet, but parts of it are still leagues ahead of the same ole, same ole single player mode of its major league counterpart in terms of ambition.

There’s more to the game of course, such as create a character modes and the like, but in the end you want this app because it’s so much pure fun. While I can’t promise that it will make a believer out of non-wrestling fans, for a free app ($.99 for the PPV add-on), if you’ve ever had an ounce of love for the sport, and own an android, you owe it to yourself to give this one a shot. It’s may not be as technically sound as Mr. Perfect, as flashy as a Ric Flair entrance from the 80’s, or a complete revolutionist like CM Punk. It does, however, remind me of Andre the Giant. Obvious, blunt, but consistently entertaining enough to make it an easy app of the week.

  

App of The Week: Jar on a Bar

Compatible With:
iPhone 3GS
iPhone 4
iPhone 4S
iPod touch (3rd Gen)
iPod touch (4th Gen)
iPad

*Requires iOS 4.0 or greater

Price: $0.99 (Buy it here)

There’s really nothing original to “Jar on a Bar.” Aesthetically, it immediately brings to mind “Angry Birds,” and the basic concept is so dated that they used to call it “Jenga.” But that doesn’t matter, because for a mere 99 cents, you get one of the most addictive puzzlers to come to the app market in some time, originality be damned.

Let me backtrack a bit and explain. “Jar on a Bar” stars a fish in a bowl trapped precariously atop a ready to fall stack of pallets, glass, and other increasingly nefarious obstacles. Your job is simple: Get that fish to the ground and back into the water without breaking the bowl, all while trying to spill as little of the water in it as possible for bonus points. Sounds simple, right? Well, as you can imagine, as the game progresses through its 60 plus levels, things keep getting more and more complicated, until the point that this game of “Jenga” becomes a real mind-twister.

I mentioned “Angry Birds” earlier, and that’s because at its core, the game’s main concept of removing various obstacles to reach your goal is highly reminiscent of that classic app. However, “Jar on a Bar” is more about manipulation than destruction. Its well implemented physics system accounts for everything from weight to momentum, and forces you to master it before you can make any progress in the later stages. You may have to push a block to a certain point to gain just the right leverage, or momentarily put the fish in danger in order to set up the right move correctly. You not only have to consider your next step at all times, but the next several after that as well. It creates just the right combination of on your feet decisions and long term strategy that makes the best puzzle games so memorable, and executes it very well. There is also an in-app store but, while it does feature some cool objects, overall it doesn’t add much to the core gameplay of “Jar on a Bar.” The good news is it doesn’t have to, and it far from hinders the experience.

I could be wrong on this, but I don’t expect “Jar on a Bar” to take over the world like some of the games that inspired it have. However, the 99 cent asking price is a steal, turning this into a must-buy for anyone that has half an interest in puzzle games. Quite simply, it is one of the best and most addictive new puzzlers, and overall app games, I’ve come across in a while, and it is a more than deserving app of the week.

  

Music gadgets for gift ideas

We’ve talked about gadget gifts and stocking stuffers, and here we have two items that are great for the tech-savvy people on your list who like to create music.

GuitarConnect Pro

This cool device from Griffin Technology (pictured above) is designed to work with any instrument that has a ¼ inch jack (including guitars, bass guitars, electric violins, keyboards, etc.), GuitarConnect Pro was created to turn iPad or iPhone into a compact performance or practice rig. A built-in gain control wheel allows the user to adjust the strength of the instrument’s input signal. Users gain a high-quality, all-digital connection from guitars and other instruments directly into GarageBand and other audio apps. It’s a simple yet very powerful device and music lovers will really appreciate it. And, it fits nicely into a holiday stocking!

Korg nanoKEY2

Here we switch to keyboards, which is a very popular way to create music. The nanoKEY2 is built with 25 keys and allows full control of pitch. It’s one of the devices in the NanoSERIES2 which are all compatible with GarageBand. Imagine how much fun music-lovers can have playing around with this device.

Even if someone hasn’t tried to create their own music in the past, devices like these two above offer an easy way to get started. They spur the creative process, and for that reason alone they make great gifts.

  

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