Welcome to the 10th edition of Weird + Small Apps, our weekly roundup of mini tools, games, and truly bizarre releases in the App Store. This week, we have a lot to share with you: a couple of noteworthy conversion utilties, neat clock, relaxation, and beat-generating tools, three games, and a section we’ve titled “two types of FAIL.”
Our top picks this week are the flashy free clock Uniqlock Season 5 and the inexpensive, all-ages puzzle game Chuck The Ball, with “Say It! Bar Edition” debuting as the weirdest app we’ve seen all week. Read on for the details.
We’ve seen our fair share of currency converters and similar Mac widget-like applications, but 3 Numbers ($5) from Politepix takes a novel approach: it uses two skins called Navigator and Incognito to offer alternately steampunk and clean interfaces for its features. The grayscale Incognito is very straightforward—gray gradients behind its buttons—but Navigator is dressed up with richer golden tones, cogs, green buttons, and more ornate layouts. Most interesting is the app’s multi-functional approach, which includes a live updatable currency converter, a separate converter for area, length, speed, temperature, volume, and weight, a one-screen tip calculator with splitting functionality and a multi-country tipping guide, organized by region, a simple calculator, and an alternate notepad with no Comic Sans font, and the ability to “publish” notes to a Bonjour-enabled network. Though small stability issues impacted our enjoyment of the app, and the $5 asking price is a bit steep given that two of its features mostly duplicate ones built into the iPhone, 3 Numbers is a nice little app, strongest in its currency and tip calculation features. iLounge Rating: B.
Though we really liked a $1 multi-function conversion utility from TapBots called ConvertBot, Edovia has come up with a similarly clean but less flashy tool that just does one thing: currency conversion. Currencies ($1) presents users with a super-clean interface that has glowing currency icons and numbers, a simple keypad, and the ability to easily rearrange both the lengthy list of currencies and the order that your currently selected two currencies are converting to and from. To update the rates, you just shake the iPhone or iPod touch, the only non-intuitive part of using the app. While we definitely prefer to see this functionality folded into a multi-unit conversion tool, we like how this app presents and manages currency conversions—if you don’t need all the tools or animations found in a more aggressively-priced app like ConvertBot, it’s a nice pick. iLounge Rating: B.
We’re huge fans of Failblog, a blog devoted to chronicling photographic examples of real-life stupidity and nonsense—pictures generally marked with the simple white tag “FAIL.” (See our tribute on page 110 of the 2009 iPod + iPhone Buyers’ Guide.) Quietly released some time ago, FAIL Maker (Free) from Griffin Technology enables you to easily create FAIL images directly from your iPhone’s or iPod touch’s photo library, appending the pre-typed words “FAIL,” “WIN,” “EPIC,” “PWND,” or “WRONG,” or custom words of your choice; all you need do is swipe them into your preferred position and hit the “Done” button. At that point, the image gets outputted into your Photos library, ready to e-mail to Failblog or others—the app can even add Failblog to your contacts. There are some issues with the app, namely that it doesn’t make the most of images it edits, compressing a 600×450 sample down to 320×241; it also doesn’t permit resizing or rotating of its text or images. But for a free app, it’s a cool idea; we’d love to see it get a more powerful 2.0 update. iLounge Rating: B.
As the App Store has raced up to 35,000 different programs and over a billion downloads, it’s unfortunately been filling up with a lot of “solution in search of problem” releases. Say It! Bar Edition ($2) from The Directors Bureau is one of them, an app that’s supposedly designed to help users break the ice at a bar. How does it accomplish this feat, you might ask? By providing a collection of pick-up lines and dialogue—yes, seriously—that you can have your iPhone or iPod touch say to someone else in video clip form. These clips appear as oversized mouths of male or female actors, and the app helpfully gives you the choice of “light skin” or “dark skin.”
There are so many things wrong with this application that it’s hard to know how much time to waste enumerating them: it’s virtually useless, the voice acting’s bad, the videos are heavily artifacted, the various “pickup,” “comeback,” “deal breaker,” and “DUI” lines are ridiculous in dialogue and concept, you have to shake the iPhone—a bunch—to activate a video, and oh yeah, both of the women actors are “light skinned.” This is seriously one of the most ill-conceived apps we’ve ever seen, and the amount of work put into it is frankly just surprising. iLounge Rating: F.
Back in November of last year, we reviewed Uniqlock, an extremely distinctive clock application for the iPhone, developed by Japanese clothing retailer Uniqlo. Now the company has released Uniqlock Season 5 (Free), which updates the graphics to include Spring season videos and photos of Japanese girls and guys dancing, adds some new music, and fixes one of the issues found in the prior app—we’ve never experienced any crashes. The result is an app that may be highly similar to its predecessor, but now runs stable while looking and sounding even better than before.
Its only issue: tapping once on the screen switches from animated video mode to a rotating photo mode that can cause audio problems, and this is necessary in order to change the settings in order to keep the app from deactivating along with the iPhone’s sleep timer. Other than this little issue, and the absence of certain extra graphical flourishes found in the full web version of Uniqlock, Uniqlock Season 5 is an app that we really like a lot: the music’s super cool, the video concept remains one of the most interesting forms of marketing we’ve ever seen, and it’s free. If you’re a fan of fashion, marketing, dance music, or Japan, consider it a must-see. iLounge Rating: B+.
We reviewed quite a few zen-style relaxation applications and noise generators last year, but haven’t revisited the category much since then. Chill Unlimited ($1) from Underworld Entertainment attempts to step beyond earlier similar products by fusing a simple 3-D graphics engine with looping audio effects, giving you a choice of six visual effects and 20 different sounds. The most interesting effects include 3-D $100 bill and bubble generators, while others – feathers, leaves, snowflakes, and flower petals – seem comparatively weak, and the sounds are more of the same of what we’ve heard in similar applications: various types of nature and rushing water effects, plus bubbles and a crackling fireplace. One thing we liked was that moving the iPhone seems to shift your camera’s position within the floating objects, but we didn’t like the interface one bit, as touching the screen seems to invariably screw up the settings: choices of graphics or sounds are handled with button and drag controls rather than through a safer pull-down system. In its current form, Chill Unlimited doesn’t do as much for us as it would with additional polish, more interesting visual options, and a better user interface. iLounge Rating: C+.
While we don’t have a ton to say about Tempo ($1) from Frozen Ape, we wanted to make readers aware of it because it’s affordable, and does what it’s supposed to do: generate simple beats to a tempo of your choice. You set the tempo meter from 20 to 220 main beats per minute, adjust a meter to add additional beats and types of beats, and pick either digital beeps, analog chimes, or a simple drum kit to keep pace. Additional settings permit you to create a steady reference tone, make the screen flash on the first beat, and change the display orientation. As a musician’s utility, Tempo is cheap, runs stable, and offers plenty of features; our staff musicians noted that they liked the interface and the ability to use either visual or audible cues, but said that an option to select tempo ranges by name, and an option to emphasize specific beat groupings would make it even better. iLounge Rating: B+.
The last three titles in today’s roundup are mini-games: Chippy, Chuck the Ball, and Zero-4 Racer. Starting with the best first, Chuck the Ball ($1) and its free version Chuck the Ball Lite from Makeshift Games are simple puzzle games that seem ideally suited to a low price: you control a soccer ball that needs to be guided through fields littered with stars and obstacles. All you do is swipe in a certain direction on a specific part of the grid-like mowed field of grass: that action creates an arrow that the always-moving ball will follow. You need to create multiple arrows, one at a time, to guide the ball to collect all the stars before a timer runs out. As you continue to play, you lose points for every additional arrow you create, gain them back every time Chuck the Ball rolls over the arrows, and receive “medals” for completing the stage quickly. Move too slow and Chuck will run out of time, which can be aided with clock bonuses if you find them on the fields. We liked the theme, cheery music and art of this game, but didn’t like the controls so much: most likely due to pacing or programming, the screen’s just a little too insensitive given the speed that the ball’s moving at, and we found arrows a little hard to create properly at will. Still, Chuck is appropriately challenging, original, and cute; it’s also packed with 145 unlockable levels, which make it worthy of our strong general recommendation for the price; the Lite version lets you sample 20 levels for free. iLounge Ratings (Both): B+.
By comparison, Chippy ($1) from Cramzy is a derivative title: a clone of Capcom’s Pang and Buster Bros. arcade games, which later came to home consoles as well. In these games, you control a character who walks on platforms at the bottom of the screen, firing a grappling hook-like device towards the top in order to shatter bubbles that come in contact with its screen-height cable. Once the cable touches the top of the screen, it disappears, and as you progress through the stages, you get more challenging bubble and platform patterns to deal with. Chippy is a second-rate clone with no additional imagination and relatively simple graphics and sound effects, plus the annoying requirement that you restart the whole level every time you die. For fans of the original series needing a fix until the real game comes along, this is okay; Cramzy has ironically found a better title for Capcom to port from its collection of classic games than anything Capcom has released on its own. iLounge Rating: C+.
Finally, there’s Zero-4 Racer ($1) and Zero-4 Racer Lite (Free) from Systom Software, a set of games that we can only describe as sort of sad. You pick a cartoony car, “customize it” with additional cash, and then race it down a series of 2-D drag racing tracks in an effort to get the best time; the Lite version includes two cars and two classes, while the full version adds more cars, another class, and a device handoff-based multiplayer mode. All you’re doing is starting your engine, then using your clutch and gearbox to shift into different speeds—in utter silence, which helps to make this title feel like not just a demo, but a really primitive one. We’re officially ready for apps this amateurish to drop out of the main App Store into a junior programmers’ section: it’s sad when an app doesn’t feel like it was worth the time it took to download or load up. iLounge Ratings (Both): F.