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Google Play App Roundup: Falcon Pro, Locale, Sailboat Championship

By Ryan Whitwam

Tweets, automation, and boats.

The Google Play Store is constantly growing and adding new features. It's easier to find the apps you want than it used to be, but there is still spam blacking your path. In the Google Play App Roundup, we'll show you what's worth your attention in the world of Android apps. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store.

This week a new Twitter client hits the scene, Android automation gets even better, and you can take a relaxing boat ride.

Falcon Pro

I've been a big fan of Plume as a Twitter client for some time now, but Falcon was impressive when it debuted a few months ago. Now Falcon Pro is in the Play Store. Unlike the old Falcon app, this is a full Twitter client that does everything you expect it to do. It's not without its problems, though.

The first thing that struck me about Falcon Pro is that it is amazingly, buttery smooth. The touch response is perfect, and it makes the app really great to use. The main timeline had embedded media and there's a built in browser that's fairly good. There is as tablet optimized UI, but it's really only different in landscape. It shows your currently chosen stream and the last selected tweet in a larger panel next to that. It's better than nothing, but I'd like to see a configurable two column setup.

You can switch between tweets, mentions, and DMs with the buttons at the top of the screen. Most clients use swiping to accomplish this, but Falcon Pro uses this gesture differently. Swipe to the left column and you get settings, search, and account info. The right column has trends and lists.

Strangely, Falcon Pro does not have its own built-in widget. I assume the developer intends us to install the classic Falcon widget. This works fine, but you often get stuck in the widget's UI when you might prefer to be in Falcon Pro. Notifications are robust in Falcon Pro (you'll want to disable the notifications in Falcon classic). Users on Jelly Bean devices get expandable bars with reply buttons built-in.

Being a new app, there are some bugs. It has force closed on me a few times, and it sometimes fails to update in the background. The update issue seems to be happening less often after a new version was pushed over the weekend. So it might have been fixed. Falcon Pro is a great app on phones, and reasonable good on tablets. The message here is that Falcon Pro has potential through the roof. It's $1.99 in Google Play.

Locale

I’ve been using (and occasionally writing about) Locale for years. It was one of the first Android apps that hooked me on the platform way back in 2009. Locale runs in the background and adjusts your phone settings based on conditions like your location, time, and battery level. It’s a bit like Tasker, but easier to set up and use. A new update to Locale has added some cool features that make me love it even more.

Tasker gets a lot of attention from the Android community for doing the same job as Locale, but Tasker is also devilishly complicated with many more features. Locale has a limited selection of conditions, but they’re the ones people will actually make good use of. When you create your first situation, the app even offers to load up a template to get you started.

One of the new features is the VIP Calling template. This is something I built myself a while back, but now it’s very easy. The app sets the condition as a phone call from any of your starred contacts. When triggered, this situation turns your phone’s volume up so you can hear the call. This way you can silence your phone at night and still get an important call.

You can still create your own custom situations based on whatever conditions you like. For example, a work condition can be location dependent. Show up in the morning and your phone automatically silences itself, turns off Wi-Fi, and changes your display brightness. Locale add-ons can be obtained in the Play Store to add even more functionality.

Another new feature on display here is better guidance of adding conditions. If you add two different conditions, like time and location, they are treated as AND variables. You have to be in this location, and the time has to be between x and y. Duplicates of the same condition are OR variables -- you can either be in this location, or this other one. Locale now properly points this out and makes it easier to set up the previously hidden OR variables.

For a lot of folks, leaving an icon in the status bar is a major deal breaker. Locale has done this for a long time because that’s just what is necessary to keep Android from closing the app in the background. In the new update, Jelly Bean devices no longer need a persistent icon. The Locale icon works like Google Now notifications. If you pull down the status bar the Locale notification is there, but it takes up no status bar space. This is more awesome than it probably sounds like.

Locale uses as close to zero power as any app on my phone. It never shows up in the battery usage menu, but always works flawlessly. Locale is $4.99 in the Play Store, and it is very worth it.

Sailboat Championship

There are all kinds of racing games on Android, and Sailboat Championship is a bit of a different take. It’s not just about constant acceleration and tight turns. This is a game that requires finesse. It takes some getting used to, but it’s also lovely, which helps.

There are two ways to control Sailboat Championship: an easy way, and a more realistic/difficult way. Navigating the waves requires that you control the steering of your boat with the wheel in the lower right corner, but the sail needs to be adjusted to catch the wind too. The game gives to the option of hiring a sailor to control the sail, or you can do it yourself.

If you decide to handle the sail, you have to watch the direction of wind. The motion of arrows under your boat indicate the direction and strength of the wind. The tutorial does a somewhat good job of explaining exactly where to position your sail for maximum speed. If you choose to do all the hard work yourself, the game shows a rope along the edge that you have to pull up or down in order to tweak the sails. If you hand that responsibility off, you just have to give the crew enough time to swing the sail around as you navigate.

Winning races gets you experience, which can be used to improve your boat’s stats. The sailor handling your sails can also be improved, leading to better maneuvering. There are tons of races to run, and it’s not as repetitive as I thought it might be. The courses are challenging with buoys to pass through and rocky shores to get around. This is a racing game that’s more about skill than speed. It’s a refreshing change.

The graphics on display here are really great. The game isn’t huge, though, and I’m quite surprised it looks as good as it does. The water shimmers and sloshes around realistically. The boat animations look cool, rocking back and forth with the waves. The lighting and water reflections are also wonderful. I don’t see a bit of aliasing on the edges either.

If you’re looking for a change of pace in your racing games, Sailboat Championship is worth a look. It’s $1.99 in the Play Store.