MyMovies

User rating: (5 votes, average: 3.00 out of 5)
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As an app, MyMovies is simply to collect a database of all of your movies. It does that, but little else. You can input movies manually or use the IMDb.com database to find and input titles.

What cripples MyMovies from the outset is the absence of features that would truly make it useful. Most notable in my view is the lack of any way to keep track of movies loaned out to others. I have used database programs on my computer for that very purpose, and the lack of this feature instantly put this app on my “to be deleted” list.

Visually the app is a mixed bag. The background looks nice, but the images that make up the movie titles can be difficult to see. The author wanted to show off the slick background, which means the images are so small that I have to squint to tell what they are. The option to show the movie titles doesn’t help much unless you carry a magnifying glass.

Being able to import title information from IMDb is helpful, but not foolproof. The image may not look anything like the DVD you have sitting on your shelf, which means you either get used to it or manually change it. If your collection includes foreign titles (in my case kung-fu films) you may search in English, but your results will likely be in the original language.

On top of all these other issues I have with the app, it has crashed twice on me in the short time I used it. If the app were in good shape otherwise I would generally ignore that, but as things are it was one more frustration.

Sure, I can look on my iPhone and see what movies I own, but I can also look on my shelf at home and see the same thing. Without any way to track titles  that I loan out, the app becomes nearly purposeless. Maybe for those who are very forgetful or like to brag about their collection this app will hold some promise.

Update 3/29/08: There’s a new update out for MyMovies which answers my biggest complaint. Now you can mark movies as loaned out and link them to a person in your Contacts. It’s a nice feature and adds usefulness to the app.

Unfortunately the screen is still awfully small and the app has crashed on me numerous times. The update was supposed to fix the crash problem, but honestly I haven’t notices much of a difference.

I have loaded about a hundred movies into the app now and I notice that it slows down substantially when I try to scroll through the movies. Scrolling quickly also increases the likelihood of a crash, in my experience.

In all I’d say that it isn’t a bad app, but it still needs quite a bit of work.

iShots – St. Patrick’s Day

User rating: (4 votes, average: 4.50 out of 5)
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It’s the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day, so if you’re planning to go out and celebrate Irish culture by getting totally wasted then you might want to bring iShots along!

The idea here is nothing new… shake your iPhone to get a drink recipe or, in this case, a shot recipe… but I gotta say, the execution is really nice and you can tell that cgCraft put some sweat into what could have been a quick & dirty (& crappy) drinking app.

Each time you shake your iPhone, a very nice drink-specific coaster flies into view to accompany the shot recipe. The thing that has me so impressed with iShots is the quality of the coaster artwork and the way the coasters continually stack on top of each other, and it’s also half the fun of using this app because some of the art is pretty clever.

The other half of the fun is, of course, in the shots themselves. I shook and shook and shook until I could shake no more, and as near as I can tell there are a total of 20 shot recipes in iShots. Nearly all of them seem to involve either Bailey’s or Jameson, and many you won’t have heard of but some will probably ring a bell.

Ever had an Irish Orgasm? Yeah you have… but you probably called it by its more common name, the BJ, wink wink.

Another old favorite that I was pleased to see in the collection is the Irish Car Bomb. You wouldn’t think that dropping a shot of Bailey’s and Jameson into a pint of Guinness and chugging it in 20 seconds flat would be fun AND delicious but, trust me, it is! Just be sure to pace yourself because this Irish treat will mess you up worse than the IRA if you do too many.

There’s not much else to say about iShots except that it would benefit from some more shot recipes and, if it branches out to non-Irish shots, a little categorization would be helpful.

But like I said, this is already a quality app even despite the semi-limited shot selection. If you take your boozing seriously it’s probably worth $.99 just by virtue of looking cool enough to actually pull out at the bar while you’re trying to pick your poison.

Painting Scroll

User rating: (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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Just when you thought every iPhone app developer on the planet was hell-bent on winning the contest to see who can make the stupidest app, along comes a piece of work whose only goal is to show you something beautiful and educate you in the process.

Painting Scroll by Colorme Info Tech is a guided tour of ”Along the River During the Qingming Festival”, a 900 year old panoramic painting from China’s Song Dynasty. It comes complete with a relaxing soundtrack of traditional Chinese music and subtitled narration of what the painting depicts as it slowly scrolls from beginning to end. The entire ride lasts about 5 minutes, and during that time you get an interesting glimpse of how Chinese people rolled in the 11th century.

Even though you may have never heard of this painting it’s a pretty big deal in China and, according to the Wikipedia entry, it even has a nickname:

As an artistic creation, the piece has been revered and court artists of subsequent dynasties have made several re-interpretive replicas. The painting is famous because of its geometrically accurate images of boats, bridges, shops, and scenery. Because of its fame, it has been called “China’s Mona Lisa”.

At any given time during the scrolling tour you can tap on the painting and get a closeup view of the scene which is a really nice feature. You can also drag the scroll left and right as a kind of way to rewind or fast-forward, and there’s also a separate “story” screen that discusses the painting’s theme and history, but that’s where the features end which I guess is fine. Maybe it would have been nice to see the Wikipedia entry directly in the app, but when it comes to art history lessons I generally don’t expect much in the features department.

Painting Scroll is a nice app and I think even DaVinci would have to admit that ”Along the River During the Qingming Festival” is an impressive piece of artwork. However, given the limited “replay” value of the app, I’m guessing the only people who will want to pony up $2 for it are probably art history nerds, those who are determined to appreciate all things artistic, or those who are actually Chinese and truly understand the significance of China’s Mona Lisa.

EventHorizon

User rating: (4 votes, average: 4.25 out of 5)
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I like this app. It’s simple. It’s practical. It does one thing well. EventHorizon by Percula Software is well designed and functions reliably. It’s nice to have an app that just does what it’s supposed to do and doesn’t get in your way, or its way. 

The concept is simple: you have a list of events and reminders that you want to be able to look at quickly. You don’t want to be surprised that you missed your Mother’s Birthday two days ago. EventHorizon takes that fear away by allowing you to put all of those important dates and reminders into the app and not worry about them.  Better yet, if you have them stored in your Calendar (edit 3/16/09) Address Book app on your iPhone/Touch, it will pull them over for you. Bada-Bing, Bada-Boom! If you have pictures of your Mom in the Address book app, it’ll pull that over too. Lickety Split!

You pick the time frames for the notice periods: urgent, approaching, and normal. You can also add to the pre-set categories that come loaded with the app, customization at your fingertips.

This thing is flexible too. You can keep it light (Birthdays, Anniversaries, important events etc.) or you can go full bore and make it a mini-personal assistant, putting any and every reminder you want into it. Very nice.

In my opinion, this is what you wish the Calendar app would do for all of your reminders. 

This review is short. Not for lack of words, but because the thing just works. It made my home page in my reference section. Good job Percula!

Credit Secrets Investigated by Tony D’Andrea

User rating: (No Ratings Yet)
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AppEngines has put forth a book in iPhone/Touch format titled Credit Secrets Investigated by Tony D’Andrea. This is an $8.99 application. At it’s core it is a book. The author’s website has the same verbage as is posted in the AppStore description. On the website the book is $29. 


Eight chapters cover:

1. General Credit
2. Credit Reports
3. Credit Cards
4. Financial Institutions
5. What You Can Do If You Are Too Far In Debt
6. Collection Agencies
7. Bankruptcy
8. Investing

As an application, it’s sole function is to present the pages of the book. Page movement is as simple as a flick in the direction you want to go or a touch on the screen to make the page turn in the reading direction. A setting change can be done by touching the upper left hand corner. You can change from black text on white background to white text on black background. You can enlarge or shrink the text with typical pinching gestures. Moving around in the chapters can be done by touching the upper right hand corner. A page with the major divisions will appear. From there you can scroll up or down to the place you want to go. 

That’s it. 

Content

This is not an exciting application or topic. What you are paying for is the content, words on the page; not the bells and whistles of the application itself.

I have 12 years in financial services. The information in this book is nothing new to me. I had to step back from my experiences to see if this book would have an appeal to someone looking for financial help. 

My conclusion: for $8.99, I don’t think so. I have no problem with the information, it’s standard fare. At best this is an okay reference guide. However, I’d rather spend my $8.99 on a couple productivity apps, a game or two, and put the rest toward paying down my debt… if I had any. The rest of the information can be found on the web for free.

Escape

User rating: (1 votes, average: 5.00 out of 5)
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Apparently something’s amiss in the iTunes App Store because the price image you see above says “No reviews” but, as of this writing, Escape has been reviewed 11 times, 12 if you count this one. Just about all of those 11 people agree that it’s a fun game with a lot of playtime built in, and if you like games where you puzzle your way from Point A to Point B they’re totally right.

Escape isn’t just the name of the game, it’s also kind of the name of the genre. I don’t know what the “official” name of this puzzle genre is, but Escape pretty much sums it up. You start in one place and your job is to figure out a way to get to another place, the map’s exit door, so you can advance to the next level. If you’ve ever played Pathways you know exactly what I’m talking about… it’s a puzzle genre that can get pretty addicting, especially if you keep getting your ass kicked on a particularly tough level.

Pathways is fun but it seems to present you with the same kinds of puzzles over and over again. Nuclear Nova decided to mix things up in Escape by building in numerous tools and obstacles that make each puzzle map different. On any given map you’ll find bombs, switches, bomb-shooting contraptions, one-way gates, movable blocks, evil hooded bastards who want to murder you… I only made it through about 20 levels so there may be more surprises, but suffice it to say that Escape doesn’t make your escape artist’s life easy.

With 60 levels and so many puzzle variations, Escape is a lot of fun and very engaging. But, as several of the 11 reviewers in iTunes have already pointed out, the game has two minor faults that make it a little less friendly than it could be: (a) the map components, including your hero, are pretty small because of the size of the maps, and (b) the controls could use some work.

I have no idea what Nuclear Nova can do about the small-ness of the map elements outside of completely redesigning the game, but one thing they could improve right now is how you control your hero. To move left you touch the left side of the screen, moving right means you touch the right side of the screen, and so on and so on for up/down/diagonal maneuvers. A D-pad type controller would be a welcome change! Also welcome would be some type of global scoreboard. Escape keeps a record of how long each level took you to solve, but as always it would be way more fun if bragging rights were up for grabs.

Overall this is a fun game with a lot of really creative (and often frustrating) puzzles. $2.99 sounds about right if you can get past the tiny map elements and get used to the spread-out controls, and if you went completely ga-ga over Pathways you’ll probably become just as infatuated with Escape, if not more so.

SET

User rating: (3 votes, average: 3.00 out of 5)
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Up next is the mind-expanding SET from Pockent LLC.  This game was invented in 1974 by Marsha Jean Falco and now exists in several formats; the iPhone is the latest platform to feel the love. 

The goal is quite simple and will remind some folks of those tests you used to take in elementary school to see how ‘gifted’ you were.  You have to find ‘SETs’ of 3 out of 9 total cards with specific characteristics.  At the basic setting this is how many symbols (1-3), type of symbol (oval, diamond, squiggle) and color (red, green, purple).  The advanced setting adds 12 total cards and a shading (solid, striped, outlined).  A set then consists of 3 cards in which each individiual feature is the same for all…or different for all.  When you make a set, typically all 3 cards are removed and new ones take their places such that there’s never 2 of the same card onscreen at once.  For example the cards ’1 green solid squiggle’, ’2 green solid squiggles’ and ’3 green solid squiggles’ are a SET as their features are uniformly alike (all green, all solid, all squiggle) while the cards ’1 green striped diamond’, ’1 red solid oval’ and ’1 purple outline squiggle’ are also a match as their features are uniformly different.

The developer did their best to spice up this simplistc format with a few game modes, each playable in basic or advanced:

  • Classic – find 10 sets in the shortest time possible.  You aren’t penalized for taking all the time you want but the point of course is to challenge yourself to beat your best time.
  • Puzzle – find all the sets (4-6) in a static (cards are not replaced) set of cards as fast as you can.
  • Timed - find as many sets as you can in 1 min with each set adding a few seconds (literally) back to the clock. 
  • Arcade – find as many sets as you can in 1 min but sets add 30 more seconds each time.  Very similar (way too similar actually) to Timed but as you might expect a bit easier.

So let’s see, what this game is: mentally engaging and great for short stints in waiting rooms etc.  What this game is not: terribly exciting.  In fact it’s on that fine line between good puzzler and boring puzzler.  Possibly more interesting than the game itself is the story behind it’s creation; have a read if you’re keen to know.

I could see the game being more fun with multiple people present to help find the sets so that’s something to keep in mind if you have kids around for example.  In fact, kids might be the best candidates for this game period as the whole concept of pattern-matching seems appropriate to the younger population.  What’s sorely missing in general is the ability to save games in progress.  Basically if you have a great game going but don’t have time to finish you can pause but if you exit the app it’s kaput.  It might also be fun to see a rank attached to scoring in certain time ranges (for example SET Rookie or SET behind the ears or SET us up the bomb or SET-sational) which would give you more incentive to try and beat your score.  Speaking of score, a global scoreboard would of course be welcome.

For the price being asked, I think it would be good to offer a lite version so people can see if this is the kind of casual puzzler that’s worth the dough.

Version reviewed – 1.0.1
Reviewed on – iPhone 3G 8GB 2.2.1
Global scoreboard – no
iTunes music support – yes if you completley disable ingame sound
Lite version available – no

App Sale Alert!

User rating: (2 votes, average: 3.50 out of 5)
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So I did it. I put up a poll (sidebar, just above the tall skinny ads) and I asked if you would visit my review-only site, and after about 3 or 4 people said “yeah” I went and made AppSale.net. I’ve never been known for being patient! Truth is I had already decided to do the site and I was just looking for a little validation.

It went live over the weekend and lots of developers are already sending me descriptions, sale dates, screenshots, and Youtube videos to post with their sale announcements. You know what this means, right? It means that I’ll be in the know when cool apps become free! And some apps that simply drop to a lower price might also be worth mentioning here and there.

So here’s the first-ever App Sale Alert:

$0.99 Free until 03/20/09: Ambiance Classic

I reviewed this app a long time ago when it was just a humble sound machine with a limited number of sound loops, and now that Matt Coneybeare has released a completely overhauled version, he’s putting his original Ambiance out there at no cost for a little while so you can see what you missed. If you’re looking for a sound machine to help you relax or sleep at night, Ambiance Classic will do it (but his new version will probably do it better).

$2.99 $0.99 until 03/15/2009: Carambole Pool Puzzles

Swain reviewed Carambole Pool Puzzles recently and would have loved the game if it hadn’t crashed on him every 5 seconds. ADS Software Group says they’ve fixed the crashing issue, so this one might finally be worth trying for a buck.

That’s all I got for now… there are a few other apps listed at AppSale.net that are free, but right now Ambiance is really the only one that stands out as a possible must-have.

Q&F: Tap Tap Revenge 2

User rating: (4 votes, average: 4.75 out of 5)
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For whatever reason I wasn’t all that impressed with the original Tap Tap Revenge when I tried it last summer while the App Store was still in its infancy, but this new iteration adds a killer component that makes it far more interesting: an entire catalog of downloadable “real” music to play to!

If you’ve never played Tap Tap Revenge before, it’s a little like Guitar Hero in that you try to match the beat of the music by tapping and occasionally shaking, and you get to do it to the tune of over 150 songs from mostly-indie artists with a few from bigger names like Weezer, Nine Inch Nails, and Death Cab for Cutie. Naturally, if you like what you hear you can tap your way over to iTunes and buy the music for your iPod collection.

Tap Tap Revenge 2 comes with lots of bells & whistles including online play, two-player, and challenge modes, but for me it’s all about tapping to some new music from a lot of up & coming artists. Radio is dead to me and it’s been years since I had the patience to watch MTV, so I’ll find new stuff to listen to any way I can.

The graphics are awesome and it’s a pretty fun game, especially if you like the music you’re tapping to, so you should probably get Tap Tap Revenge 2 before Tapulous figures out they could charge a buck for it and become instant billionaires.

BallRing

User rating: (3 votes, average: 4.00 out of 5)
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If you can legitimately claim to be good at BallRing that means you’ve got more patience and steadier hands than 99.9% of the world’s population! Of course I’m not basing that figure on anything scientific, but it really does take a special kind of talent to master this incredibly frustrating puzzle game.

The object of BallRing is simply to put the balls in the ring. Tilt your iPhone this way and that, and eventually a couple of the little orbs will either float or bounce their way through the gap in the ring. And if you’re me, they’ll either float or bounce their way out again. :sad:

What makes this game so hard are the various conditions you find yourself playing under… Classic mode makes the balls more susceptible to gravity than the ring, just as if they were objects sitting on a dry, flat surface. Bouncer makes everything slide around like it’s an ice rink, DuoRing doubles the fun with two rings and twice as many balls, Hypnotize creates a weird optical illusion that you kind of have to see for yourself, Liquid makes everything move around the board more or less in unison, and Sequential demands that you work only specific balls into the ring or it’s all over.

Each mode can be relatively easy with only 3 or 4 balls to contend with, and if you’re a true masochist you might find yourself trying to negotiate as many as 8 of them. All the while a timer sits quietly in the corner of the screen as a not-so-subtle reminder that being good at BallRing means being fast at BallRing.

There’s no global scoreboard so you’re playing strictly for the personal challenge, and if you think you’re a Puzzle Master you haven’t tried this game yet. It may not be for everyone, but if you count steadiness and concentration among your best “skills” then you should consider dropping a buck on on this game… but make sure you have the suicide hotline on speed dial because you just might need to make that call!

Camera Timer

User rating: (10 votes, average: 2.90 out of 5)
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If you threw a pebble at the app store, it would bounce off about 10 camera apps before coming to rest.  So how does Camera Timer from Nuno Carvalho Entertainment stack up against the glut?  Well, it does exactly what it’s namesake implies…and nothing more.  This app allows you to specify whether the iPhone will take a picture in 15, 30 or 45 seconds.  Optional SFX will let you know when it’s just about to snap.  In what is easily my shortest review ever, that’s it, the end.

I have a couple gripes while we’re all here.  First a generalization; there are 2 types of camera apps out there if you loosely categorize: those that add value to the native camera app and those that strive to be a replacement for it.  Camera Timer has positioned itself as the former when to me it makes much more sense to shoot for the latter.  What you get is something in between that I think would be a struggle to find a permanent home for on your iPhone.  There’s no stabilization feature using the accelerometer.  There’s no autosave option.  The camera roll is accessible from the app but the author inexplicably overlays his logo on each one, reducing the viewable image area for no justifiable reason.

When apps exist that do what Camera Timer does plus considerably more and for less jack (such as Darkroom Premium), it’s impossible to recommend this app unless you simply must have an extra icon on your iPhone that serves the singular purpose of timing the camera shutter release.

Version reviewed – 1
Reviewed on – iPhone 3G 8G 2.2.1

Little Red Sled – 3D Racing

User rating: (3 votes, average: 4.67 out of 5)
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What a delightful surprise; here now is Little Red Sled – 3D Racing from Imangi Studios LLC.  If this game doesn’t sleigh you (seriously you knew I would work that in) with its cuteness first, you’ll have a great time sledding down the old snowy slopes like it’s Christmas day every day.
 
To start, you select whether your young sledder will be Max or Maya then you pick your trail.  At the beginning this is a linear progression but later more will open up at a time as you ‘level up’ and you can always go back and play any trail you’ve completed to try and best your score.  In increasingly cute fasion, levelling up here consists of you gaining a new title such Cottontail or Treecrasher and the goals get more and more challenging.  For example you may go from the simple task of just swooping up 6 gifts (by running over them) to needing 85k points in the next to gathering 20 gifts and 140k points in under 40 sec flat.  Obstacles pop up (sometimes literally) to slow you down including trees, ramps, snow banks and OMG teh bunnies!  There’s powerups too as some presents increase your speed or make you temporarily invincible.  Each run is controlled very simply by rotating the phone to turn, touching the screen to brake and shaking to execute a roll when you catch air off a ramp (for bonus points).  There’s no need for an acceleration control as this is handled automatically by the natural gravity of the situation.  The game never gets you going so fast you feel like it’s Days of Thunder and never so challenging that you feel frustrated; it’s basically just right for a light and fun experience but is by no means a pushover at the higher skill levels.
 
I’ve no gripes with the game but I do have a suggestion.  I’d love to see the game allow you to save and playback your favorite run on each trail for both the pure fun of it and to show others how you beat the trickier courses.  Of course, this being the iPhone after all, it would always be great to see a global scoreboard.
 
Talk about endearing, special mention simply has to go to the original music score composed by the very adorable Natalia Luckyanova (‘nattylux’), check it:
 
 

Little Red Sled – 3D Racing might be the most wholesome game you’ll ever play and it goes without saying that it’s essential gear for any youngsters you have around (that you allow to play with your i<device> anyway).  For the polish, presentation and gameplay it’s easily 1.5 thumbs up so throw in the highly original music and it’s a full 2 for an unpretentious, pure-hearted gaming experience with universal appeal.  In a sort of existential way the game kind of reminds me of my little son, very genuine and (as yet) untainted by the nuttiness of the world.

Version reviewed – 1.0
Review platform – iPhone 3G 8GB 2.2.1
Global scoreboard – no
iTunes music support – yes
Lite version available – no