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Google Play App Roundup: Smart Volume, Hyperwave, and Apollo

By Ryan Whitwam

Volume, lasers, and an elusive music player.

Your Android phone is capable of a lot of cool things, but not because of what Google built in. Developers have access to all sorts of hooks in the system to make your phone do amazing things, you just have to find the right apps. That's what the weekly Google Play App Roundup is all about -- helping you find the right apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store and pick it up yourself.

This week we've got an app that makes volume control a snap, a game made of lasers, and a new music player some of you might be familiar with.

Smart Volume

Most of the time, you’re probably content to manage your phone’s volume with the handy hardware toggle on the side of the device. This is only scratching the surface of what Android can do with volume control, though. Smart Volume is a new app that lets you keep your volume right where you want it for a variety of situations, times, and uses.

In Smart Volume, you’re going to set up a series of sound profiles. Maybe you want one where media volume is off so you can play a game without constantly disturbing people, but you still want your notification ring to sound at a low volume. That’s doable. A completely silent profile for night time? Also feasible. Maybe you want everything completely silent, except your alarm, which needs to be blaring loud in the morning. Done.

Once you have profiles set up in the profile tab, you can slide down to add scheduling to each profile based on the day and time. There is also GPS-dependant location awareness for profiles. Smart Volume lets you pick areas where different profiles are activated. Never again will your phone disturb you up in the middle of a meeting because you forgot to turn it off.

There are a lot of neat features in Smart Volume, like automatic settings changes based on headphone plug status and a full suite of widgets. There are other apps that do this, but this one does it well. There is one feature here that’s new to me, though. Speed volume is a feature that allows your phone to modify the volume based on how fast you’re moving. If you listen to audio on public transportation, you probably have to turn up the volume to drown out a bus engine or your fellow passengers. Smart Volume can do that for you. Neat, right?

The app itself is very polished. Everything is organized into tabs that behave like Holo interfaces should. There is also an on-screen menu button right where it’s supposed to be. This app does not simply copy Holo, though. It has a slate gray look, and uses very subtle gradients. It’s easy for gradients to go wrong, but everything looks great in Smart Volume.

This app will run you $2.49 in Google Play. The free version has all the volume controls, but location and scheduling support is missing. There are also some fairly annoying ads at the bottom of the UI. The full version is worth a look.

Hyperwave

There are plenty of shooters on Android, but this one is notable because of its very cool visual style. Hyperwave is an arcade-style shooter with slick neon visuals that feel a little like Geometry Wars. Can you save humanity from the technicolor alien terror? Probably going to be a close one because this game is not a walk in the park.

This is a 2.5D top-down shooter. Enemies drop down from the top of the screen and make for the bottom. Unlike all those Space Invaders clones, the baddies in Hyperwave are trying to reach the bottom to weaken the energy barrier protecting humanity. The large shield strength indicator at the bottom of the screen tells you how you’re doing in that respect. If it hits zero, you fail the mission.

Your ship can only move left and right at the very bottom of the screen. Hyperwave uses a dual-slider interface to control that movement, and it takes some getting used to. The slider on the left moves you from side to side, and the right slider aims your weapons. Autofire is on, so you just have to worry about keeping the guns pointed in the correct direction. This is a nice system because you can move to one side to grab a power up, and still fire at enemies in a completely different area.

My only issue with the controls is that it’s easy to lose them under your thumbs. The active control area is fairly small, and this is not the kind of game you want to find yourself dead in the water for any length of time. I find that it’s best to never release your thumb from the controls, Even if you’re not moving, keep contact with the controls so you don’t lose them. That said, everything is properly sensitive and accurate.

The game consists of 50 waves, which are split up into 5 stages. You have to make it through an entire stage in a single run with just one continue. Yes, this game is hard, but there are loads of weapon power ups, special attacks, and shield recharges. The game really tests your skills and reaction time. Do you go for the shield recharge, or the special weapon? Can you keep your weapons aimed at the enemy on the way? You can buy more continues through an in-app purchase, but you really shouldn't bother.

The visuals are something to behold. Everything is a glowing wireframe exploding with neon colors. There are stunning lighting effects, neat animations, and interesting creep designs. You can tell a lot of care went into the crafting of the visuals. Although, I sometimes feel like there is so much going on with the frantic gameplay that it can be tough to enjoy the graphics.

Hyperwave also has pumping techno beats going on in the background. It fits with the visual style, but I can see it getting a little grating after a few failed runs at a stage. Hyperwave is running $0.99 in Google Play right now, but it’s going up to $1.99 after the introductory sale. Choose wisely, but also choose quickly.

Apollo

When I listen to my purchased music, I usually use the official Google Music app. I’m not doing this because I feel like it’s the best experience out there, but because of the Google Music cloud access. The app itself is a little clunky and looks dated. A new third-party app in Google Play might force me to go back to local files, though. Apollo has been the built in music app for CyanogenMod custom ROMs for a while, but now you can have it on any phone. Last minute update: Apollo has just been removed from the Play Store temporarily. There was a copyright concern over how it pulled lyrics. The developer is currently working on getting it restored.

Apollo is Holo done right -- it is absolutely gorgeous to look at and blends into Android perfectly without looking like a raw template. The main interface is a series of scrollable columns for artists, albums, songs, and so on. Each page has large images in a grid. For the albums it’s the cover art, but the artist list actually downloads shots of the band or performer. I love this feature, and it works flawlessly even on more obscure groups.

Like Google Music, Apollo has a persistent ‘now playing’ bar at the bottom of the UI. Tap on that to go to the player interface. It’s a little more stripped down in Apollo because some functionality has been dropped in the action bar, which is the way things are supposed to be done. Seeking, skipping, and playlists all work as expected.

Apollo plugs into all the modern Android media playback features you get in the stock app. There are expandable playback notifications, lock screen controls/widgets, and awesome home screen widgets. You can also make album shortcuts on the home screen.

I think that Apollo looks wonderful, but if you disagree, there is a full skinning system that’s compatible with the Apollo themes in the Play Store. My only UI gripe is that tablet support is currently lacking. This is supposed to be coming soon.

The elephant in the room is lack of Google Music support. If you rely on cloud streaming and syncing, you’re out of luck. Apollo can’t read the locked Google Music files you download from within Google’s app. The developer is looking into a way to maybe one day support this, but no promises.

Even with this shortcoming, Apollo is a truly great app. The ad-free version is just $0.99 and you should definitely consider it (as soon as it’s available again).

That's all for this week. Make sure to check back next time for the lowdown on more Android apps. Feel free to contact me with suggestions for apps to include in future roundups.