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Google Play App Roundup: Floating Notifications, Crayon Physics Deluxe, and Color Zen

By Ryan Whitwam

New notifications and a lot of puzzles.

There’s always something awesome happening on Android. There are killer apps, amazing games, and utilities unlike you’ll find on other platforms. The goal of the Google Play App Roundup is to find the best of the best in all those categories so you don’t have to hunt them down manually. Just click on the app name to head right to the Play Store.

This week we’ve got a new way to get notifications and two different, but very good new puzzle games.

Floating Notifications

Android notifications are already excellent as they currently stand. But they can always get better, right? The developer-friendly approach Google takes to apps makes it possible to graft new functionality onto the system, and Floating Notifications is an example of that. This is basically a take on Facebook’s Chat Heads feature, but it gathers notifications from any app you have installed.

Floating Notifications requires a little setup, but that’s a good thing. You wouldn't want notifications from any app on your phone popping up. After enabling the app as an accessibility service, you may choose which apps produce foreground notifications, and how they appear. You can also tweak almost anything about how the notification pop up looks and behaves.

Floating Notifications gives you very fine-grained control over exactly how intrusive the popups are. Each app has to be enabled, then you can check off the features you want. Long-pressing indicates what each option does. The app can do things like wake the screen up when certain apps produce notifications, show expanded notification text, stack multiple notifications, and even pin the notification icon for an app so it’s always accessible.

When an app receives a notification, the icon will appear on top of whatever you’re doing at the edge of the screen. This icon can be dragged anywhere on the screen or double tapped to dismiss. Tapping once opens the notification within the floating UI so you can see the contents. If there are multiple apps stacked, tapping also fans them out so you can select the one you want to interact with.

This app is not quite the same as Chat Heads, or the more expansive Halo feature from Paranoid Android. Floating Widgets doesn’t run the app in a window and never will. This is just notifications. If you tap on a notification to open it, the full app will open. Because of Android security restrictions, Floating Notifications cannot clear the notifications from the shade. If you only have a few apps piped into Floating Notifications, it shouldn’t be a problem.

This app seem to cause no additional battery drain, and it’s very snappy in practice. I rather like having Hangouts plugged into the floating system, which is surprising. I thought it would be annoying at first.

There is a 30-day free trial version of Floating Notifications in addition to the full app. It’s about $2 to use it beyond that time frame.

Crayon Physics Deluxe

Puzzle games have a tendency to be rigid and simplistic, but not Crayon Physics. This game made a splash on that other platform a while back, but it’s just arrived on Android. Your goal in each level is to get the little red ball to where the star is. Sound easy? Not so much.

The gameplay in Crayon Physics is completely open ended. You’re provided with various platforms and obstacles to use or not as you see fit. New structures are added simply by drawing them in. Ramps, ledges, barriers, giant swinging hammers -- just about anything you can come up with is possible.

The hinge locations are used to make things that swing and roll, just attach something the dangles or spins, and you’re in business. The concept of balance comes into play as well. Some levels require you to build a giant lever, or tip a large platform this way or that by adding more weight. The gameplay ends up varied and extremely compelling.

The game is split into islands with a few levels on each. As you pass the stages, you are awarded stars, which unlock more islands. The levels start out very easy, but after a few islands you really have to think it through.

You can probably take a guess at how the graphics look just from the name. It has the look of a sheet of paper with scribbles all over it. Your crayon-based creations fit in perfectly with the style and the colors are nice and bright. Each time you draw something, the game randomly assigns a new color, which is a nice touch.

The quality of the touch interaction can really make or break a game like this. Crayon Physics is, for the most part, very good about detecting your finger. Straight lines can be a little tricky, but the objects you draw don’t have to be perfect. If you have a capacitive stylus (or better yet a Galaxy Note) this game is going to be even more interesting.

Crayon Physics Deluxe will run you $1.99 in Google Play. It’s a reasonable price for a unique puzzle experience.

Color Zen

Another puzzle game? It's worth it. I thought Color Zen looked too simple when it first popped up on my radar. A color matching puzzle game? Been done. However, I gave it a shot and I’m completely hooked. Color Zen is somehow both relaxing and addictive at the same time.

In each of Color Zen’s 100+ levels has the same goal. You need to eliminate all the colorful shapes and make the final color match that of the slim border around the edge of the game board. It sounds easy, and indeed it is at first. It gets more and more complicated as time goes on. It only takes a few levels for Color Zen to start throwing nested shapes and wild-card colors at you.

You basically have to bring two matching shapes together to trigger a chain reaction that makes the background that same color. Anything that matches the shade will be cleared from play. Your last move in each level needs to be carefuly planned for. If you have a leftover block, or the last reaction doesn’t match the frame color, you fail.

Another twist is that not all the objects can be moved. The game indicated movable blocks with a glowing animation. Just tap and drag any of these to bring them into contact with a matching shape. It’s a simple concept, but you really have to wrap your mind around the logic of it to pass some of the later levels.

Graphics are not Color Zen’s selling point, but I will say it looks fine for what it is. The shapes are crisp, and the game is extremely responsive. I like that the objects you move around have momentum. You can flick things where you want them instead of dragging precisely. It makes the experience feel much more polished.

There are a ton of stages in Color Zen, and it’s just $0.99. If that isn’t enough, you can get an entirely new set of levels with a “nature” vibe via a $0.99 in-app purchase. This isn’t just an up-sell -- this is a new game with its own unique gameplay elements. You can even try out a few levels from this pack for free.

That’s all for this week’s Roundup. Hopefully something here keeps you going through the work week.