Another week has dawned, and that means it's time to take a look at the comings and goings of the Play Store. There's plenty of new stuff to check out on a weekly basis, but it's hard to find without a little help like you get from the Google Play App Roundup. Just click on the links below to head right to the listings in Google Play.
This week we record tunes, run from worms, and send better text messages.
If you really wanted to, you could probably find an old cassette deck and record songs from the radio. It's perfectly legal as fair use, but technology has moved on to more advanced methods of music distribution. You can still record the radio with AirPlay Recorder… well, iTunes Radio. This app from doubleTwist acts as an AirPlay receiver that saves the audio output of iTunes Radio as a sound file. Neat, right?
All you have to do is get iTunes Radio up on your AirPlay-capable device (like a computer) and launch AirPlay Recorder on Android. Your phone should appear in the AirPlay list as a device you can play to, and that's what you do -- just connect and play.
The app is smart enough to tell the difference between songs and the ads, sounders, and interstitial filler -- that stuff is all skipped automatically. It will also skip and songs you activate AirPlay Recorder part way through. When everything looks good, AirPlay Recorder will archive the files in your music folder automatically.
One potential downside is that you can't actually hear the music while it's being recorded. You're saving it to listen to later, and that process basically diverts the sound output. The file you get is AAC encoded with no DRM (obviously). The file name is set as [artist] - [song] and the tags are filled in. You can let the recording go in the background and it doesn't seem to really drag the device down at all.
There are numerous points of failure with this setup, but I got it to work with iTunes on Windows and a Moto X without issue. The free version of AirPlay Recorder lets you record in low quality (32kbps) to test the functionality. It you like it and want to record in full quality VBR AAC, then you can make an in-app purchase for $4.99.
You've seen one endless runner, you've seen em' all, right? Maybe not in this case. Worm Run is a simple, but intensely enjoyable game. All you have to do is keep on running and avoid obstacles while picking up coins. Oh, and there's a giant carnivorous worm chasing you.
A lot of endless runners simply require that you don't fall off the edge of the screen, but Worm Run leverages it's wormyness to tweak the conventional gameplay a bit. See, you're playing in a series of underground mines, so you don't just move from left to right -- you have to barrel through tunnels in all directions.
Each time you get hung up on a ledge or run into a wall, the worm gets a little closer. It follows the same approximate path you do, but swings around a little -- it might swoop in from an unexpected angle. As you might expect, being eaten is game over.
I like the controls in Worm Run because they're actually a little more complex than in a lot of endless runners. To move, you just swipe in the direction you want to go. The faster you swipe, the faster you'll go. Stop swiping, and you slow down. The game lets you accelerate in any direction, so you can jump and continue going up with boost from the rocket-shoes conveniently attached to your feet. Likewise, when falling down a mineshaft, you can speed up your descent to get a little farther ahead of the worm. A number of power ups will appear from time to time as well.
The coins you pick up can be used to revive yourself when you die, or to purchase extra power ups and abilities that help you make it a little farther. I know what you're thinking, but no, there aren't any in-app purchases. You pay $1 for Worm Run and it's all yours. As such, the balance is appropriate -- you'll get plenty of coins to buy neat stuff.
Google added SMS support to Hangouts a few months ago, but it hasn't been to everyone's liking. The SMS app category was never glamorous enough to attract a lot of developer interest -- the likes of WhatsApp and other IM solutions got more attention. However, EvolveSMS debuted on the Play Store recently and it's probably your best options for a straight-up SMS replacement.
This app comes from the same two-man development team that made Talon, the Twitter client we talked about last week. As such, the general look and feel is very similar with transparent status and navigation bars on Android 4.4.
The hamburger navigation menu has a list of all your conversations, but you can also swipe between them in the main window. The conversations themselves look quite a lot like Hangouts. At the top is a Google+ style header with the contact's avatar and a blurred backdrop of the same picture. Unlike Talon, the status bar remains transparent with the header sliding under it. I think this is a much more consistent look and really, EvolveSMS is far and away the prettiest SMS app on Android.
The free version of EvolveSMS has all the basic text messaging features including emoji, group messaging, MMS, lock/home screen widgets, and themes. There aren't any ads in EvolveSMS, but there are some in-app upgrades in the settings that add more features. The customization pack adds more themes and layouts, Facebook/Google contact photo integration, night mode, and more. The feature pack includes a private inbox, scheduled messages, extra MMS options, Dropbox backups, and a few more features.
You really have to decide if having SMS and IM in one app (Hangouts) is more important than having a ton of options. There's no question that EvolveSMS is much better at text messaging than Hangouts is, but that's all it does. The great thing is that you can download EvolveSMS and use it for all your basic SMS needs. If you like it, all the features can be unlocked for about $3.