There's no reason you wouldn't want the best apps on your Android device, but the Google Play Store makes that hard sometimes. Don't worry, though. That's what the weekly app roundup here on Tested is all about. This is where you can go to find out what the best apps are, and why they're the best. Click on the app name to go right to the Play Store web site to grab the app for yourself.
This week we crown a new king of Twitter clients, dive into a new Kairosoft game, and get some reading done.
Plume does what the stock Twitter client can’t
Android has sporadically been lacking in good Twitter clients for a long time now. Before there was an official client, we had mediocre and unattractive options. When the official client came out, it proved to be passable, but not good. TweetDeck offered a great experience for a long time, but its innovations stagnated after being acquired by Twitter. Through it all, Plume has been a good client with a somewhat awkward UI. A recent major update has changed all that, though. Plume may be the best Twitter client on Android now.
All Twitter clients do more or less the same things; compose tweets, display a timeline, push background notifications, and so on. Plume does all these things, but it does them well, and it looks phenomenal after the update. The client has a very nice Ice Cream Sandwich vibe with swipable columns for the timeline, replies, and direct messages. At the same time, it retains its individuality.
The top of the interface has a properly implemented action bar, but I really have to commend the developers on keeping their own visual style intact. This app follows the idea of Holo, but it doesn’t just take the Android image assets and recycle them -- the icons are recognizable, but distinctly Plume's. Tapping on a tweet opens a drop down of options like viewing a conversation string (if one exists), replying, retweeting, following links, and more.
The look of the timeline in Plume has a reputation for being a little too busy, but it has been slimmed down in this update, thanks in large part to the action bar. The gradient effect on tweets, and the stripes used to mark replies can be changed in the settings, but that’s only necessary if you feel strongly about a minimalist approach.
The other thing of note with Plume is that is has an absolutely great tablet interface. The Play Store is terrible at letting you know when an app properly supports tablets, but this is one of them. Plume is an entirely different app when you open it on an Android 3.x or 4.x tablet, but it’s the same APK.
The tablet interface is composed of three vertical columns filling the screen: timeline, replies, and direct messages. This makes use of the fragments API to change the layout when the tablet is in portrait mode. You also get a great UI that takes up the right two-thirds of the screen when you tap on a tweet in order to reply to, or otherwise work with it. The ICS style is carried through for tablets, and I find it fits in well with the system without feeling too derivative of Android itself.
The home screen widget included with Plume is absolutely the most functional of any client I’ve used. It supports resizing on Honeycomb and ICS, and is scrollable. You can tap the buttons up top to switch between the timeline, and other main columns, and tapping on tweets offers up all the options you could ever need.
The performance of Plume on Android is very good these days -- which is more than could be said when it first launched a few years ago. The code is tighter, phones are faster, and Plume is bug free in my experience. The free version of Plum has ads, but a full-version key can be had for just $4.99. The official client tends to be sluggish on phones, and scales terribly on tablets, so give Plume a look. I believe it’s currnetly the best client on Android.
Cafeteria Nipponica is more of Kairosoft’s time thievery
Kairosoft has this app thing figured out. Time and time again, the Japanese developer comes up with a seemingly mundane situation to simulate and gamify in its newest app, and it somehow ends up incredibly addictive. I’ve been waiting for one to be a flop and break the spell that Kairosoft has cursed us all with. This is not that game. Clear your schedule, because Cafeteria Nipponica is another winner.
Cafeteria Nipponica is a little slower to start than something like Dungeon Village or Mega Mall Story. There isn’t as much to do in your small starter restaurant other than watch your staff trundle around. After a little time, and some coaching from your assistant, the crowds start to pick up, and you have to learn how to manage your business fast.
Hiring staff is the first order of business. If there aren’t enough cooks in the kitchen, or servers in the dining room, customers will just get up and leave. Not only is that lost revenue, it’s bad word of mouth. I found it a little more challenging to make money in Cafeteria Nipponica than in some past Kairosoft titles, but that’s a good thing. The game forces you to plan ahead and make good decisions if you want to succeed.
The system of choosing a menu is one of the most compelling parts of the game. Each night, your staff will work on improving a dish of your choosing. You’ll be asked to pick ingredients to facilitate this, and you can’t just toss anything in. Items that go well together will make the food better, and allow you to charge a higher price. Perfect combinations can also result in the discovery of new dishes. If you can suspend your disbelief when a chef claims to have no idea how to make an omelet before you hand him some eggs, this is very enjoyable.
You will also need to decide on the layout of your establishment. The game offers you various types of seating, from general purpose tables to intimate booths. Combine this will some atmosphere in the form of sculptures, plants, and TVs to encourage more customers to come in. As the game progresses, you can expand to more locations, and that’s when the game starts to require more micro-managing. Different locations can have different menus and designs to attract different clientele.
If there’s anything to complain about, it’s the look of the game. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Kairosoft’s distinct pixel-art aesthetic, it just doesn't seem to be evolving. Each game looks like the last with only minor changes. Other franchises manage to change things up a bit while keeping the same vibe (for example Hexage). It would be nice if Kairosoft evolved its style, but it’s hard to fault them when every game sells so well.
Cafeteria Nipponica is selling for $4.99 in the Play Store, and it’s everything I’ve come to expect from Kairosoft.
Papermill makes reading the news beautiful
Instapaper is a wonderful service that lets you save articles you find around the web for offline viewing. The service is great, but the official app has been restricted to iOS, and that hasn’t changed. What has changed is that an excellent third-party Instapaper client has arrived on Android called Papermill.
There are definitely some tradeoffs, but the experience of using Papermill is very, very good. The app has a Holo sort of feel without being a clone of Android’s new UI. The three tabs are across the top (where they’re supposed to be), and you can swipe between them. The indicator used to show you which tab you are on is ICS-blue, but has a different look than Google suggests. Overall, it’s a fine interface that looks unique, but works the way you expect it to.
There is no landing page when opening the app; it just pulls up your list of saved web pages. Instapaper strips out all the fluff from anything you save to the service. Tapping on an article will open it in the standard Papermill interface pulled right from your Instapaper account.There are no ads, no sidebar links, and very little in the way of formatting. I used to see some odd text spacing in Instapaper, which was a little annoying, but most of that seems to be cleaned up.
While reading an article, you can double tap to hide or show the action bar. Papermill has properly used the action bar to show contextual functions, like favorite and archive when reading an article. You can also adjust the text size. Back on the main screen, the second and third columns are the favorites and archived sections, respectively. If you check out the app settings, you can set a time for Papermill to automatically check for new content from your Instapaper account. There is also a setting to control how many articles from each column will be synced.
The app itself is excellent, and I like that it ties in properly with the Android sharing menu for saving articles on the go. The only drawback with Papermill is a financial one. Since this is a third-party app that needs access to the Instapaper API, you have to pay for a premium Instapaper account. It’s not expensive, though, at just $1 per-month. The app itself is running $3.99, but it's definitely polished enough to justify a few dollars.
That's everything for this week. If you see something in the Play Store that deserves some attention, drop me a line.