With hundreds of thousands of apps in the Google Play Store, there are plenty of apps that might suit your needs. The only problem is separating the ones that are worth downloading and the ones that will just take up space. In our weekly Google Play App Roundup, you can find the best new and newly updated apps on Android. Just click the app links to go right to the Play Store so you can pick them up yourself.
This week it's time to rock out in a social setting, race like never before, and get productive.
Turntable.fm finally arrives
After months of being an iOS exclusive, Turntable.fm has arrived on Android. Turntable.fm is a service (US only) that lets you create virtual listening rooms where people spin their favorite tunes for everyone’s enjoyment. Up to five DJs take turns creating a shared playlist, and everyone in the room listens to the songs at the same time. The app has some issues but it finally lets Android users get in on the fun.
You will have to log in with either Facebook or Twitter, but don’t let that scare you off. Once you’re in, you will be presented with a list of rooms. The name should give you a clue as to what kind of music will be played there. The main tab is “popular” and you probably won’t get a chance to DJ there. If you slide over to the “need DJs” tab, you can hop up on one of the spots and pick music for the room. You can also make your own room from the main list with the plus button up top.
When a song is playing, you can use the thumbs up and down to register your feelings. If enough people downvote, the song gets skipped. Your profile keeps track of your upvotes, and as you get more points you can pick crazier avatars. So there is a nice little element of gamification going on here.
The interface for a room is very compelling. The audience avatars are all real people, and when they’re digging a song, the avatar’s head bobs along. You can queue up music by tapping the music note icon at the bottom. This is also where you manage your queue. To find songs, fill in a search query and hit Done. Yes, this is odd, but Turntable will pull up a list of matching songs quickly. It has a fair amount of content, and you can upload tracks in the web version. While you can't upload from the app, anything you've saved online will be available for you in the app. You can buy songs from Amazon by hitting the drop down arrow at the top of the room.
Sadly, the strange search behavior is just the first indication that this port was less than loving. There is a sharing button at the top of the room interface, and it is a blatantly recycled iOS icon. Similarly, the headers for the room lists on the main page are taken from iOS. There are no settings, and the menu button does nothing. I would really like to be able to make changes to my avatar from the app, but that’s not happening either.
I want to visit the Turntable offices and scrawl the web address of the Android design website on the wall, but I trust they are already getting an earful about it. It might have been acceptable in past years to port an iOS interface, but not anymore. Despite the concerns I have with app features, Turntable.fm is really fun to use.
Audio quality seems passable to me, but it’s nothing to get excited about. This is as much a social thing as it is a music thing. Turntable.fm is free, and it does what it’s supposed to; it lets you share music and have a good time.
Mini Motor Racing is a wonderfully polished racing game
Yes, it’s another racing game. Don’t leave yet, though. Mini Motor Racing is one of the best racing games on the platform thanks to its great graphics, easy controls, and excellent track design. It’s a really huge download, but all those bytes make up a lovely whole.
I’ve gone over the various control schemes, and the default one is the best -- hands down. The game is a top-down affair, and the camera is fixed. To turn all you have to do is rotate a small virtual wheel in the lower left corner. The direction the wheel is pointing (as indicated by an arrow) is the direction your car is driving. This solves all those orientation issues that take getting used to in similar titles like Reckless Racing.
The game feels very intuitive right from the start. You can drift around corners with a flick of your thumb, and the car behaves just like you expect on long, sweeping turns. You don’t have to worry about accelerating, which is handled automatically and works very well. The nitro button will give you a little boost, but you can only carry two at once. More boosts can be picked up randomly on the track.
The races are fairly standard for this kind of game. Finish first after X number of laps, and get some cash. Win more races to unlock tracks, cars, and upgrades to buy. Speaking of the cars, they aren’t what you expect. They look like blown-up RC cars with fun proportions and colors. I really enjoy the aesthetic. The cars are polished and vibrant in the best way.
The only complaint I have with the gameplay is that the difficulty seems poorly balanced. The first few races are incredibly easy, then it gets a bit harder to manage a win. At some point thereafter, the game difficulty ramps up dramatically, and you have to grind along for a bit until you can get the upgrades you need to win. Is it still fun? Definitely.
The graphics in Mini Motor Racing are superb. The tracks look realistic, and there are environmental elements like water and sand strewn about. I’ve tested on both a Tegra 2 tablet and a Galaxy Nexus. Both devices are very smooth, but I feel like the game looks slightly better on the Tegra device. I don’t see any aliasing around the edges of objects at all, which is great.
Mini Motor Racing is running $1.99 in the Play Store, and I think it’s worth your attention. It’s beautiful, fun, and has tons of content. Be aware that it uses the Play Store’s built-in game data download. You will get a 100+ megabyte package of data before the game is actually installed, so make sure your connection is solid.
CloudOn is Microsoft Office on Android for free
A phone is a great device to do certain things, but office productivity isn’t really one of them. Word processing, spreadsheets, and the like are tough to do on a device with a small screen. Tablets are often the answer to this, but you need the right software to make things work. There are various office apps out there, but what if you need access to Microsoft Office files? CloudOn now has you covered on Android.
CloudOn, as the name might suggest, is an app that allows you to connect to a cloud instance of Microsoft Office. You have access to Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and it doesn’t cost you a cent. The only drawback to the basic implementation is that you need to connect the app to a cloud storage account through Dropbox, Google Drive, or Box in order to save and open files.
The file manager is a bit awkward because it doesn’t seem to remember which folder your CloudOn documents are in. It’s not a big problem -- just navigate the the cloud service you used, find the Uploads folder, and open your document. This interface is actually quite nice-looking. Your files are in a scrollable list with big, sharp icons.
Because this is a cloud app, the interface within Office apps is not blazing fast, and you will need a solid data connection. In my testing over Wi-Fi, I found the interface to be fast enough for office work. There is a very slight lag, but you don’t notice it when typing. If you’ve ever used a Citrix remote access app, it’s roughly that level of responsiveness.
All the functions you get in desktop Office are accessible through CloudOn. You just tap on the ribbon interface like you would on a desktop. There is also a bar of important keyboard toggles (i.e. shift, control, F1-12) floating above the keyboard. Tapping in the editing area will move your cursor, long-pressing is a right click, and swiping will click and drag. It’s a little odd, but you’re mapping a touch screen interface onto a desktop app. When you consider that, CloudOn does rather well.
I tested the files I made in CloudOn with the desktop version of Office, and all my formatting carried over correctly. This is something that never happens when using a third-party solution to save Office documents. Unfortunately, since this is a virtualized instance of Office in the cloud, you can't paste in from the Android clipboard.
The stability of CloudOn has been good for me. Some users report odd errors and crashes. I’ve only seen one error, and everything worked properly on a second try. I have seen the autosave feature fail once or twice, though. For free, CloudOn is a very cool app for Android tablets.
That's it for this week's Roundup. Feel free to let me know if you find an app worthy of being featured next week.