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Android Market Roundup: A Wide-angle Retro View

By Ryan Whitwam

You like apps, right? Of course you do. So read this article!

Psst. Hey, over here. You lookin' for apps? You just have that look about you. We've got some great leads on the apps your Android needs to feel complete. Hey, you're not a cop, right? Then welcome to the Android Market Roundup. This is the time when we go over the best new apps in the Android Market. Just scan the QR code with Google Goggles or Barcode Scanner to pull up the app on your phone. Alternatively, click the app name to go to the web Market.

This week we're got a photo app with a different perspective, a solid space combat sim, a game that forces you to make good on your getaway, and more.

Pano

It seems that photography apps are becoming a bit of a theme on Android as of late. The latest addition to the Android Market in this category fills a much needed niche. Pano is not the first app to offer panoramic image capture on Android, but it is the best so far.

This app is dead simple to use. When you open it, you are presented with a viewfinder not unlike the one you are used to seeing in a standard camera app. There is a large shutter button at the bottom of right side, depending on orientation. Speaking of orientation, you have to hit the flip button right next to the shutter to move between portrait and landscape.

Start by framing your first shot at the left end of your panorama. After you take the picture, Pano will make the right edge of that image a semi-transparent overlay. This will float on the left of your viewfinder so you can line up the next shot. You go along in this fashion, taking images one after another until you get the panorama you want.

Viewfinder blank due to Android SDK limitation

The app will let you take images to your heart’s content, but it will probably only take a few to get the results you want. Just hit the check mark by the shutter to finish the project. Pano will then stitch together your images taking into account perspective and brightness. The final result is very impressive. The borders between shots are almost imperceptible. Even differences in lighting are smoothed out in all but the most extreme cases.

One thing that is a little annoying is the total lack of settings. We’d like to have some say over how the app works, perhaps to trade longer processing times for higher resolution. Most shots are around 600 pixels high and many more long. Taking your panoramas in portrait mode means more shots, but slightly taller images.

If you’re about to go on a scenic trip, grab Pano before you go. Even if you’re not, Pano is really fun to play around with. $2 in the Market.

ApzOrb HD

Retro is the new current thing, in case you were not aware. ApzOrb is the absurdly named app-ification of retro with not only retro-inspired graphics, but retro game play as well. Imagine Snake, but with a 3D skin and a clever color-based game mechanic. You have just played a game of ApzOrb in your head.

The game is straight forward right from the start. You will need to steer your snake-like creature around in search of blocks to eat. Why blocks? Because your snake is made of blocks as well. Everything is made of blocks in the bonkers world of ApzOrb. You control the snake with a sort of virtual joystick, but since there is only the one control, you can press and drag anywhere to maneuver.

The only issue we have with the movement mechanic is that it seems to be a little under-sensitive. This is a digital choice, either you drag far enough to move, or you don't. If you don’t drag far enough in a direction, your snake can end up chasing its own tail. You’re going to be steering a lot, too. You can’t just eat anything, so there are things to avoid.

At all times in ApzOrb, your snake is a certain color. If is your goal to eat blocks of that same, or similar color. For example, if your snake is red, eating a red block will get you the most points. But chasing down an orange, or yellow-ish block will also net you points. But don’t pick up a blue or green. If you totally miss your color four times, it’s game over.

The twist comes in as you consume blocks. Each one mixes with your current color, changing it instantly. You have to watch closely as you shift through the visual spectrum so as to get the right blocks. It’s a bummer, but those with color blindness aren’t going the be able to play this game. There are standard, and 30-second timed game modes.

As we said, this game is really retro. The blocks are 3D wireframes of various colors. it actually looks like you’re driving a Tetris block around the level. The game manages to feel expansive thanks to the layering of floating blocks in the background. You may even see other snakes off in the distance.

ApzOrb is a solid game, but we wish there was more to it. This game is best played in small doses in its current state. The developer is promising some new features over time. A system of unlockable content might help keep things fresh. ApzOrb HD is running about $2 in the Market. A little pricey, we’ll agree.

SILPHEED Alternative

Don’t ask us what the name means. We’re assuming it just something that doesn’t translate well from Japanese. What matters is what the game is; a killer space combat sim with high productions values.

Like a lot of air combat sims, this is game is a series of missions that are held together loosely with a story you probably won’t care about. At the start of each mission, your fighter launches from your battleship, the Asgard. You have to either protect your own forces, or take out the enemy. The only difference is whether the mission is competed by holding off the waves of enemy craft, or by annihilating the target. Sometimes you have to do a little of both.

The fighter is controlled with the virtual joystick on the lower-left corner. This game isn’t quite a full-on sim as you do not turn by executing rolls. Push the stick to the left, and you bank to the left. Easier, but a little less authentic. The game defaults to ‘Up’ on the stick going up, which is the opposite of most flight games. You can change this in the menu.

Your speed is controlled with the throttle along the right side. You can close distance between you and the enemy quickly if you crank it to Afterburn. The only drawback being that this eats up your shields. The weapon buttons are in the lower right corner. You start with a minigun and a multi-homing missile launcher. The minigun is fine for attacks on capital ships and close range fighters, otherwise stick to the missiles. As you progress, you can buy better weapons in the hangar.

Graphically, Silpheed is impressive. The 3D models for ships are fairly detailed, and the lighting effects from weapons fire and engine exhaust is very well done. The background is filled with wispy nebular clouds and stars. It looks good, and the ships stand out well against it. We’ve not seen even a bit of lag on the Nexus S. That’s pretty impressive each time we skim the surface of a capital ship to light it up with our lasers.

The sound is fine, consisting mostly of futuristic sounding electronic tracks. One thing we’re a little concerned with is the strange computer overlay on the screen. We realize it’s supposed to look like a cool futuristic user interface deal, bit it can actually make it harder to see what is going on. Additionally, the aiming can be a little touchy. It’s fine if you sweep your crosshairs across a target, but fine tweaking is less doable.

There is a 150MB additional data download when you install Silpheed. The missions are a little similar at times, but the objectives will occasionally change up a bit to keep things lively. Silpheed might get a little old after a lot of play, but we’re still enjoying it after a couple of days. This game is going for about $3 on the Market.

Skitch

The folks at Evernote, one of our most favorite online services, announced a bit of a surprise last week. They simultaneously acquired Skitch, and released the Skitch Android app. On the Mac, Skitch is a screen capture utility, but the Android app is a photo markup/ drawing tool. It doesn’t have all the features of an app like Fresco Pro, but it will be enough for most people, and it is tied in with Evernote.

On the main screen of Skitch you have the option of taking a new picture, loading one from the Gallery, or just opening a blank canvas. Whatever your choice, you will have the same tools at your disposal. The drawing tools are on the bottom bar, and the app options are along the top.

In the lower left corner is the brush control. Several of the tools will have brush dynamics you can adjust here. It controls both color and line thickness. Next over to the right is the pencil tool for drawing free-form lines. A second press lets you switch to the highlighter tool. One jump to the right is the arrow, which is of use only when you want to point something out in a picture.

Shapes and lettering can be added to your image with the two buttons on the bottom right. With all these lines everywhere, you might want to select something to change the color or remove it. That’s what the finger icon is for. Just draw a circle or line through the elements you want to modify.

Up at the top of the app are several useful buttons. The delete button lets you get rid of all your modifications, or if you have something selected, just delete that. The undo button will get a lot of use too. When you press this, it also gives the option to redo in the same kind of small popup that lets you change some of the tool functions. There is an Android Share button at the top of the screen as well. Then there is the dedicated Evernote button. This will upload your image as a new note as long as you have the Evernote app installed and are logged in.

Overall, Skitch is a nice little app and it is totally free. Check it out, especially if you are an Evernote user.

Reckless Getaway

Quick! Get the cash, hit the gas. Here come the coppers! In Reckless Getaway you have to make good on your escape from your latest bank job, but the cops aren't going to make that easy. This game combines surprisingly good visuals, simple controls, and fun game mechanics. Can you get all the way home?

There are 16 different tracks to blast through in this game. In each of them there will be obstacles, other cars, and a lot of police looking to stop you. In the regular game type, you have to perform stunts and avoid crashing to earn stars to unlock more levels (maximum of 4 stars per level). Passing a car, hitting jumps, and picking up coins get you closer to filling up that star meter in the top left corner.

The question mark pick ups give you a special power to be used as need be. You can get things like turbo boost or jump. Each time you crash, another star is unobtainable for that run. The Reckless mode calls on you to take out all the cars you can, and gives you a big truck to do it.

You only have two controls to worry about: left and right turn. Tapping in the lower corners of the screen controls this, and your car will keep accelerating on its own. Actual handling feels moderately realistic. The car can slide and fishtail, but it is still rather “on-the-rails”.

Polarbit’s last game of this type was Reckless Racing. This game had a perspective and steering system that was a little hard to grok at first. But once you get the hang of it, the game is very entertaining. With Reckless Getaway, Polarbit has simplified things so anyone can pick it up and play. But we can’t help but wish this had a more open-world feel.

The graphics in Reckless Getaway are surprisingly good. Polarbit has this nasty habit of putting out games with heavy aliasing. Although, we’re happy to report that this new title has been smoothed over and looks very solid. Almost no jaggies to be seen. The animations are well done, and you also get flashy car explosions. We also love that money is flying out of the car the entire time. What more could you want?

Reckless Getaway is a little too controlled, but undeniably fun. You can pick this up in the Market for $2.99. Be aware there is an additional data download when you first launch the game.

And that's it for this week. Check out these apps and tell us how you like them. Feel free to alert us to any new apps you want us to check out.