It's time again for us to dive into the Google Play Store and see what treasures we can dredge up. The Google Play App Roundup brings you the best new and newly updated Android apps and games each week. Just click on the links to head right to the Play Store.
This week we've got a beautiful alarm clock, a new racer, and an app to take to the store.
Android apps are always getting better as the platform itself improves. These days we benefit from better developer tools, app distribution, and extensive design guidelines. Just because the Holo guidelines exist, that doesn't mean all apps have to look the same, though. The new alarm clock app Timely is a perfect example of Android design that uses Holo without looking like everything else.
The middle of three tabs is your clock, which also displays your next active alarm time. The number flip effect is on display here, and it's really cool -- all the numbers morph smoothly into the next. Slide over to the left and you'll get the alarm screen. Each alarm is in a floating box along the right. Adding an alarm is really slick. Just drag in from the left and slide up and down to select the time. Timely uses a few interactions like this that aren't immediately obvious, but it's smart about explaining them. The tutorials don't interrupt usage of the app, either.
The tab on the right is the timer/stopwatch. This too has an interesting and slick UI. Swiping up and down toggles between the two modes, and the animation when the clocks are running is very cool. You have to see it to believe it -- it's like Timely is somehow alive.
The style of the app is visually amazing. If you've ever seen the Phase Beam live wallpaper from stock Android, it has that same vibe. Animated lines and shapes slowly shift around, glowing and pulsing. It looks cool with the defaults, but each of the three tabs can be customized with different colors and patterns.
Most of this functionality is included in the free version, which also has ads. There is a 5 day Pro trial, but for $2.99 you can remove the ads and unlock everything (backgrounds, sounds, and so on). Upgrading to Pro also brings one very useful feature -- Timely will sync your alarm settings to multiple devices. So if you make a change to an alarm on your tablet, it also shows up on the phone you use to wake up in the morning. If you're the drowsy type, Timely Pro includes various optional puzzles that you have to complete to stop the alarm, as well.
Timely is definitely the best alarm app on Android. Check it out for free, and strongly consider the full version.
Gameloft has earned both the admiration and scorn of mobile gamers with its high-end games and proclivity for in-app purchases (IAPs). Perhaps the most well known series of games from this developer is the racing franchise Asphalt. These titles have gone from an $8 up-front cost to a $0.99 buy-in with IAPs. The newest incarnation, Asphalt 8: Airborne has a lot of content and polish, but at what cost?
The controls in Asphalt are solid as far as racing games go. The tilt controls feel mostly good -- perhaps a bit sluggish at the defaults. You accelerate constantly unless you press on the left side of the screen to brake. That's also how you enter a drift -- simply tap the brake while turning and you'll powerslide like there's no tomorrow. Tapping on the right side of the screen activates nitro for a little speed boost, and you'll be doing this often.
Whenever you drift, hit a jump, or do something else impressive, the game rewards you with nitro. You can just trigger it and ride the wave of acceleration, but if you time a second press right, you can get a special double boost for more speed. Asphalt 8 handles the nitro mechanic very well.
There are various event types like head-to-head sprints, multi-lap races, eliminations, and more. There is a lot to do in this game, and a lot of officially licensed cars. There are different tiers of vehicles, so you'll need to have a few rides at any given time. I feel like the game is a bit on the difficult side if you don't do any IAPs. Even if you're way out in the lead, the other racers tend to catch up pretty fast near the end.
The visuals are top notch in Asphalt 8. I was not too impressed with the graphics in Asphalt 7, but this one looks killer. The textures are much more clear, and aliasing is kept to a minimum. The reflections and lighting effects are really what set this game apart. It gets a little JJ Abrams up in there at times, but even excessive lens flare can't take away from this game's visual appeal. The way it pans around when you wreck an opponent is just awesome.
As for the cost, $0.99 is a reasonable purchase price for sure. It's going to be a little grindy if you don't pony up any more, though. You earn cash from events, which can be used to buy upgrades or new cars. Of course, you can buy bundles of cash via an in-app purchase to speed things along. Strangely, car packs can also be bought directly, but they're really expensive. If you want to spend $20 on virtual cars, that's your call, but I'm not into that. You simply don't need that many cars. one or two from each tier is more than enough.
At the end of the day, I think Asphalt 8 is a solid racing game. It's tricky if you don't buy anything, but not impossible. It's a high quality game, so a few IAPs are probably okay.
This app is about the essentials -- getting things done. Just because you're doing mundane things like going to the grocery store, that doesn't mean you can't have a cool app to help out. Buy Me a Pie is a new shopping list management app with solid features and clear design.
Buy Me a Pie is a Holo-style app, but the developers embellished the standard Holo UI a bit with some fun patterns and colors. To add an item to the list, you just have to start typing in the text field at the top. Buy Me a Pie has a ton of items built into its default list, so it will immediately start filtering things down as you type. For example, if you type 'ap' the app will suggest apple, soap, napkins, grapes, and more. You can finish typing, or tap on one of the suggestions. If you add your own new item to the list, it will also show up in the filtered guesses next time.
This app supports color coding for all your list entries. The default items already have colors assigned, but you can change them and add new ones as you like. Tapping on an item crosses it off the list, and moves it to the bottom of the UI in the grey section. The next time you go shopping, you can scroll through the lower portion and tap on things to easily restore them to the main list.
This basic functionality is included in the free version, but if you want a bit more out of your grocery app, the $3 paid edition adds multiple lists, sharing via SMS/email, and list sync. That last one is a must-have feature for many users. List synchronization allows you to share the same lists on multiple devices, for example the ones used by other members of the family.
This is not the first app to do shopping list sync, but it does do it very, very well. Many similar apps are unreliable or slow. Buy Me a Pie syncs incredibly fast and hasn't failed me yet. The only problem I have with the sync feature is the strange persistent notification. I have to assume this is an oversight, as it appears to serve no purpose. It can be removed by disabling notifications for Buy Me a Pie in the system settings. Otherwise, it's a splendid app.
That's it for this week. As usual, there will be another installment of the Roundup next week, so check back with us then.