Welcome to this week’s special, early edition of Weird + Small Apps. For the first time we can recall, we’re happy to report that over 50% of this week’s mini-applications actually rated general or high recommendations—a record.
Skip straight to Cablink if you’re looking for a cheap, fun game, True Drums for a neat new music app, and Separate Checks for a cleanly-designed tip calculator. For the craziest app of the week, check out the bacon cooking simulator iBacon.
We were initially really intrigued by Mail Point’s new BabyPhone ($4), an application that’s supposed to turn an iPhone into a baby monitor, but our excitement dissipated after we actually tested it and thought through its practicality. The concept: you’re supposed to activate the application, tell it a phone number, set its level of audio sensitivity, and then leave your iPhone in a baby’s room—connected to a power source—to wait until the baby cries. It doesn’t take pictures or do anything else while it’s sitting there; it is basically just a noise-triggered alarm that calls your telephone number to let you know that a baby’s stirring. A second and separate feature, BabyRecorder, automatically starts to record baby noises whenever a similar sensitivity level is passed, and stops when the noise abates. As parents with babies of our own, we’d have a hard time giving up iPhones to use for such a simple purpose—the idea of using an iPhone to call another phone as a baby alert only makes a little sense, and then at night time for users with land lines. iLounge Rating: C-.
It’s not often that we see dollar iPhone games that are actually worthwhile, but Cablink ($1) from NextWave Solutions is an example of a puzzle title that doesn’t need fancy graphics or sounds in order to make its gameplay compelling. The concept is simple: there’s a grid with rotating cable-like pipes that must be turned to their “correct” positions in order to channel electricity from one point on the screen to every point on the screen. Cablink’s audio consists of three or so simple sound effects and no music, with graphics that are as simple as blue walls, gray inactive pipes, and yellow active ones; you can rescale the grid using pinch and expand commands – a free version called Cablink Free scales from a 4×4 grid to a 7×7 grid, and the paid one goes all the way up to a monstrous 15×15. While it’s entirely worth checking out the free Cablink app, the full version adds Twistier and Blackout modes to make the maps more challenging. As simple as they are, we recommend both versions; the developer could push the app further by adding a structured challenge mode and of course more exciting aesthetics. iLounge Rating: B+.
Quote of the day apps and web sites generally don’t do much for us, and though Kim Chi Studios’ Get Wise ‘r Die Tryin’ ($1) isn’t fantastic, it actually has a nice interface for displaying the scattered quotes that it includes. Click on any name from its list of authors—Abraham Lincoln and Adam Sandler to Yogi Berra and Zig Zigler—and you can choose from somewhere between 1 and 17 quotes, typically on the 1-2 quote end of the scale. The quote appears as gently scaling text, while the author’s name smoothly moves on the bottom of the screen, a nice little effect; you can click on a Wiki button to learn about the author or email the quote to a friend. One design hangup gets you stuck without a back button after selecting an author’s name, forcing you to use buttons at the bottom of the screen instead. Despite the app’s odd, 50 Cent movie-derived name and conceptual simplicity, it’s a decent enough repackaging of wisdom to appeal to some people, and would have rated higher had its quote collection been more substantial. iLounge Rating: B-.
Qualifying for this week’s “insane” award is iBacon ($1) from G-Monkey Productions, an app that attempts to cash in on the bacon-as-hip-food fad. Load it up and you’re presented with looping video of four strips of raw, sizzling bacon and a pair of individually controlled tong arms. Described as a “game,” iBacon is really just a series of good-looking but poorly-assembled video sequences that are triggered based on your actions or inactions. Moving the tongs around or bringing up an on-screen menu of buttons starts playback of video clips showing the bacon being flipped, and if you leave the bacon cooking for too long, a smoke alarm goes off after a while and the screen goes gray. At some point, you can tilt the device towards your mouth to “eat” the bacon, which triggers a series of poor chomping animations and a voiceover: “Mmmm, bacon.” It’s intentionally moronic—just one more of the tens of thousands of apps that make the App Store what it is today. iLounge Rating: D+.
After our big look at iPhone tip calculators, we haven’t felt a great need to hunt for more, but when TightApps sent along Separate Checks 2.0 ($1), we were impressed enough to feature it here. The app loads with an attractive initial screen featuring a mocked up bill from “Alice”—funny—and an obvious set of buttons. Most prominent is the “Separate Your Checks” option, which lets you split the bill “accurately,” “approximately,” or “equally,” along with buttons to save checks and create groups of people for repeat meals. Through smart menu options, you can enter the bill as generally or specifically as you want, set a tip amount, and allocate items to individual patrons. Apart from a few issues, including the lack of a check export feature and the use of the Marker Felt font we hate, this is a really nice app. iLounge Rating: B+.
As one of the more ambitious budget apps we’ve tested, True Drums ($2) from Benjamin McDowell places you in control of a fully 3-D-rendered drum set, complete with a subtle colored lighting system overhead. Though you can rotate the drums around and zoom in or out to your heart’s content, even activating a camera that moves around the set automatically, the real thrill of True Drums is a substantial library of pre-programmed, genre-specific beats that can be easily activated with a pop-up tray, then customized to your preferred speed; you can also record your own drum compositions for looped playback, recolor the drums, and change their sounds. Equal parts style and substance, this is a great little drum kit for the price, and a nice demonstration of the iPhone’s graphics, audio, and interface capabilities. iLounge Rating: A-.
Hundreds of additional iPhone app and game reviews are available here.