We’re never sure what to expect when we begin to compile a given week’s collection of Weird and Small Apps, but it’s generally not hard to find a new bunch of either type every seven days. This week’s picks are a real variety, ranging from a few small games to a couple of utilities to new photo apps and finally some truly trash-worthy weird apps.
Our top picks of the week are Drop7, ConvertBot, PhonoCam, and RealCamSP. Read on for all the details.
Of the three mini-games we review today, Drop7 ($3) by Area/Code Entertainment is definitely the best: it’s a cleanly designed and appealing little puzzle game that draws inspiration from both Sudoku and Tetris. There’s a 7×7 well that fills up with numbered and grayed out circles; you deposit each number in the well as it falls from the sky, then watch as numbered circles disappear every time they represent the current number of circles in a horizontal or vertical cluster. In other words, if only two blocks come to sit next to each other, 3 and 2, the 2 will disappear; if the 3 then comes to rest next to a 5 and a 7, the 3 will disappear because it’s the third in the cluster. You’ll only eliminate 7s when the well is fully stacked either from left to right on a line, or up and down, and grayed out circles are only revealed as removable numbers after adjacent circles have been successfully targeted for removal. If the concept sounds a little confusing, don’t worry—it makes sense as you play it, and quickly becomes engrossing. Rare is the $3 puzzle game that we’d recommend strongly to readers sight unseen, but Drop7 is actually smart and well-developed enough to be worth the investment. Decent music fits the design, but wouldn’t find a spot in our music collections outside the game. iLounge Rating: B+.
FreeThrow ($5) by Global Net Value isn’t quite as smart. We’ve previously reviewed Skee-ball titles and limited free throw basketball games, including last week’s relatively amazing Hoopster, so it’s no huge surprise that there’s a simulation out there of the arcade-style free throw games where you’re given a bunch of little orange balls to pitch at a distant basket for points. Unlike Hoopster and the better Skee-ball games, however, the entire control mechanism here is just to shake your iPhone or iPod touch forwards, letting the accelerometer determine the strength of your throw, while lacking any sort of way to track left or right motion. All this is set against the backdrop of some limited and highly annoying sound effects. The only really good thing about the game—its inclusion of a hoop that can be set to sometimes move around to make shots more challenging—is offset by the fact that the only way to really adjust for it is to hope your always-centered shot lines up with it at the correct time. Touch screen flick gestures would have been a much smarter way to make this game play properly, and we’d never consider spending even half the current price to buy a title that’s so partially developed. For now, we consider FreeThrow to be demo-worthy; if it was less expensive and received some significant control and audio enhancements, it could be better. iLounge Rating: D.
Given the number of tile-moving games we’ve looked at over the last few weeks, we don’t have a lot to say about MangaTiles ($2) by Bumpkin Bunny, which is yet another of these titles, this time with 27 manga-drawn cartoon girls whose pieces need to be moved around to reassemble the images. You play through the puzzles in sequence, they become more challenging as you advance, and pleasant enough but repetitive music plays in the background. Manga fans might find the title interesting; given the number of other, similar titles out there, it strikes us as fine but not extremely compelling. iLounge Rating: C+.
Two interesting small utilities caught our attention this week, one thanks to its interface, and the other based on its functionality. ConvertBot ($1) by TapBots is, in a phrase, an amazingly executed little conversion application. It’s not the features—your ability to convert units of mass, power, pressure, speed, temperature, time, volume, work (joules/calories), angles, area, currency, or length—but rather the way that ConvertBot presents everything and makes the rote process of conversion actually interesting. The interface deliberately animates little things in a manner that recalls the stop-motion animation of Tim Burton’s Batmobile shields going up, letting you spin and click on a collection of tiles that pop out and retract based on what you’re trying to do, complete with computer-like noises. Thanks to the animations, ConvertBot succeeds in transforming the iPhone or iPod touch into a fun little tool, taking you away from the norms of its interface, and offering little thoughtful conveniences such as converting into or out of feet plus inches rather than inches as expressed as decimal units of feet. Though this isn’t the most powerful conversion tool we’ve tested, for instance offering only 11 currencies, and a required “confirm your selection” step with a buzzing error tone is occasionally annoying, it’s definitely one of the coolest interfaces we’ve seen on any iPhone application. iLounge Rating: B+.
WallCalendar ($1) by Kray is a different story. With a relatively plain interface, it attempts to do something simple and obvious that Apple has heretofore failed to do for the iPhone, namely, to let people transform the device’s splash screen into a view of upcoming calendar events. This, it accomplishes through a relatively simple mechanism: you give it your username and password for Google’s calendar service, tell it how many of the account’s calendars you want to import, and then let it create a photo that sits in your photo library, ready to become your splash screen image without any additional formatting. Turn on your iPhone’s screen and the calendar details will appear directly inbetween the clock and the slide to unlock bar, against a black background. While WallCalendar isn’t fancy, and currently requires you to manually go to your picture library. set the image up yourself as a background image, and then replace it when you need a calendar update, it does what it promises to do. Apple should implement a similar but better feature for professional users, but until it does, this app does a fine job. iLounge Rating: B-.
In the absence of any sort of updates from Apple itself, third-party developers have continued to try and come up with applications that make the iPhone’s integrated camera more useful, and generally succeeded—even though the sheer number of apps with individually useful features put users in the unenviable position of having to switch between multiple programs just to make the camera do one or two things it really should offer without third-party assistance. PhonoCam ($2) by Audibles is a little outside the conventional box, though: it’s an app that adds limited voice recording to the iPhone’s camera. By activating the iPhone’s mic when the app loads, it is capable of saving between two and ten seconds of audio along with whatever picture you take, creating a still image with ambient sound that provides a flavor of the circumstances of the shot. You can also have it save whatever audio was recorded between when the app was activated and when the picture was taken, assuming that you have the space to do it. Since such hybrid photo and audio files are unique—iPhoto for instance can’t import a picture plus sound—PhonoCam lets you extract its shots via a Wi-Fi connection and play them in iTunes, where the picture becomes high-resolution album art and the audio plays back as an AIFF file. Whether this is useful to you or not is obviously a matter of personal taste, but both the concept and execution in PhonoCam strike us as actually pretty cool, save for the very minimal control offered over the audio recording portion of the application. This mightn’t be a full replacement for the video recording features that users really want from their iPhones, but it’s a nice novelty until then. iLounge Rating: B+.
RealCamSP ($3) by SPmobile is a more conventional camera enhancer, designed to give the iPhone a composition grid, timer, tilt sensor, prior picture preview, white balance adjuster, and either sepia or black and white effects. Though the tilt sensor’s only as accurate as the iPhone’s integrated hardware—not always—and the 3×3 grid isn’t capable of being customized to any extent, like competitors we’ve tested, RealCamSP’s other features are actually pretty cool. You can choose a zone for the white balance to be computed from, and it actually works, if a little over-aggressively; the other features are all relatively intuitive, as well. The timer can be set to 2, 5, or 10 seconds, with the ability to take a second shot for anti-shake purposes, and the post-processing color balance adjustments give users a way to produce immediately e-mail-ready images that look more interesting—brighter, or more dramatic—than the ones naturally produced by the iPhone’s camera. RealCamSP creates images at 1600×1200, with the demo version RealCamLE Free limited to 480×360 output, a fair way to let users see what the software can do before a purchase. iLounge Rating (RealCamSP): B+. iLounge Rating (RealCamLE Free): B.
Even by the standards of a column dedicated to weird apps, CardMagic ($5) by Global Net Value may well be one of the stupidest and most overpriced iPhone applications we’ve ever tested. Picture, for a moment, the old card trick where a magician has you choose and memorize a card from a deck, shuffles the deck, asks you a question, and then produces the card you selected. Now picture that trick being done without a real deck of cards or a useful question: three names appear on the screen with the prompt to “please choose one,” which makes no sense. But that’s CardMagic: after all that, the iPhone just shows you the card you previously selected, apparently depending on the user to put on enough of a facade of a show to make the experience entertaining. Even if an app like this was free, it would be awful; nine months after the App Store’s debut, it’s amazing that people can still get away with collecting money for such garbage. iLounge Rating: F.
Earworm ($1) by TLR-Newmedia isn’t much better. The idea: you’re shown a bunch of photos of cars. An engine’s sound plays in the background. You need to guess which engine sound matches which car. Fail, which you’ll do often, and the game chides you. Succeed and the game tells you you’re great. Unless you’re the sort of car enthusiast who wants to be able to tell the sonic difference between various models of Renaults, you’ll find the experience to be very close to torturously mind-numbing, especially given the fact that you’re supposed to be training by making mistakes, and when you’re wrong, you’re not shown the correct answer, either. While we’re sure that there’s someone out there who would find an application like this appealing based on the car photography alone, we’d never, ever recommend it to our readers. iLounge Rating: D.
Finally, there’s iJellyfish ($5) by Global Net Value, which as fans of jellyfish tanks at certain aquariums we’ve visited, we actually had high hopes for. This app simulates one of those tanks, giving you control over the colors of the fish, the lighting in the tank, and the background the fish are displayed against. The fish are simple 3-D textured models that then proceed not to really do anything even vaguely interesting; they just sort of pulse there and rotate when you turn the iPhone, or move away when you touch the screen. Other than the loud, abrasive sound of calling up the menu to change the graphics, there’s no audio, either. Having witnessed jellyfish of various types doing all sorts of extraordinarily eye-catching things in tanks, we can’t help but feel that this app has completely missed the point of offering such a simulation, which would be to create a calm, visually intriguing view of some of the most beautiful aquatic creatures around; the idea’s a good one, but the execution’s way, way off at this point. The especially low rating is based partially on the ridiculously high price. iLounge Rating: D-.