Phones aren't the single use machines they once were. Now your phone is expected to tell you the weather, deliver news, guide you around town, and entertain you. It's not all up to the device, though. You have to feed it the right apps to get the most out of it. That's what the Google Play App Roundup is here to do. Every week we bring you the best new and newly updated app on Android. Just lick the app name to head right to the Google Play Store to get the app on your device.
This week we've got a free VPN client, a game that's all about giant swords, and an app to help you find some chow.
VPNs have been a thing for a long time, but they've been notoriously difficult to manage on mobile devices unless you were rooted. Now there is TunnelBear, a user-friendly VPN app that is free for limited use and makes a number of good bear jokes. What more could you want?
With TunnelBear, you can make you device’s data traffic appear to be coming from a random server in the US or the UK. More countries are coming later, but this is a great way to get around geographical restrictions or network filtering on the internet. VPNs are also more secure, in the event you don't want anyone to know what you're doing online. You can use 500MB for free every month just for setting up an account. If that’s not enough, you've got some options.
By tweeting something about TunnelBear from within the app, you get an extra 1GB of data. You can only do this once per month, though. An in-app purchase will grant you unlimited data for the amount of time you specify. For $3 you get a month, three months is $8, and a year will run you $30. Not bad pricing, actually.
Throughput with TunnelBear will be slower than you’re used to with your direct connection. My speed tests are showing about 4Mbps down and up. That’s certainly enough to browse the web and even stream some video.
The TunnelBear UI is very clean and attractive. In the middle is an animated bear digging around in a tunnel (get it?). At the top of the screen is a dial that can be set to either the US or the UK. There is a second dial that turns on TunnelBear, which will cause a scary security prompt to pop up. Allow the connection, and TunnelBear will start routing all your traffic. I tested this, and my IP address does indeed appear to be in the UK.
You can track your data usage with the meter in the upper right corner if you’re on a limited plan. It continues counting just fine when you drop the app into the background. TunnelBear is super easy to use, and offers lots of free data. You should definitely have this around if you ever find yourself on a filtered network.
There are games on Android that pride themselves on being clever, and there are other games that are all about depth and artistry. Wild Blood is not one of those games, but it’s cool in its own right. In Wild Blood, you play the part of Sir Lancelot. King Arthur has gone quite mad, you see, and has unleashed demons in the kingdom. You have to slay the monsters and save Queen Guinevere.
The controls in WIld Blood are pretty much what you'd expect. There is a virtual thumbstick on the left that controls your movement. Looking and turning is accomplished with a swipe anywhere off to the right. There is a cluster of buttons in the lower right hand corner that covers the essentials like attacking, dodging, and special attacks.
Tapping the attack button lets you chain strikes together to perform combos. You can also hold the attack button down to do a charged strike. This is effective for knocking some of the more troublesome monsters back. Lancelot does a good job of landing blows on enemies without you needing to direct things too carefully.The special attacks need to be used liberally to beat back the hordes, but they do recharge quickly.
Each level in Wild Blood is arranged in a series of segments. You enter a new area, and everything is closed off with energy barriers. You can only progress when you’ve killed the demons in that zone. This makes the world feel less open, but I’m okay with that because it makes it more clear where you need to be going.
Sprinkled throughout the game will be fountains where you can save your game and upgrade your character. You can boost your attack, armor, or abilities. There is plenty of gold dropped in the game, but you can make in-app purchases to get a leg up. I don’t think this is going to be necessary, but the option is there for you.
The graphics in Wild Blood are very good most of the time. As you’re playing the game, everything looks crisp and the texture resolution is more than sufficient. Aliasing is visible, but not terribly noticeable. However, Wild Blood falls into the trap so many games do by getting all up in its own business during cut scenes. This does not do the engine any favors. Performance is mostly good, but I am seeing occasional slowdowns and even crashes on a Nexus 7. Not all users are experiencing this, though.
Wild Blood will take up over 2GB of space on your device, and it costs $6.99. It’s not a decision to take lightly, but it is a solid action-adventure title.
Google bought the restaurant review service Zagat a while back and integrated it with Maps. It can be handy to get some abbreviated reviews when you are looking for restaurants in Maps, but what about an option for more robust searches? Google has just released a new Zagat app to fill in the gaps.
Zagat requires that you sign in with Google+, but it’s a one-click process on your device. The interface is both clean and powerful. At the top are three drop down menus that let you constrain your location-based searches. There is a box for cuisines, scores, and features. This is great if you have something particular in mind. All the results are listed below, and break things down with scores for food, decor, service, and cost. Tapping on any listing will pull up its details page.
If you’re not familiar with Zagat, you can tap the question mark next to the scores to get an explanation of what they mean. The details page has a bottom line review, address, phone number, and loads of other info. If the establishment supports open table, you can book from within the app even if you don’t have OpenTable installed. Back on the main screen, you can always tap the Map button at the bottom to see Zagat rated restaurants shown on the built-in Google map.
Another thing I really like about this app is that it has a great tablet interface with multiple panels. You can plow through more listings in less time with this UI and it’s quite snappy.
Zagat has extensive coverage in a few dozen metro areas, but there is a reasonable amount of content in other areas. The Zagat app is free, unlike the old pre-Google Zagat. You really ought to have this one on your phone.