Android Market Roundup: Ring in the New Year with Great Apps

By Ryan Whitwam

The weekly Android Market Roundup.

Welcome to the first Android Market Roundup of 2011.  This is where we bring you all the best new and newly updated apps Android has to offer.  Just scan the QR code we've included with Barcode Scanner or Google Goggles to head right to the Market. This week we're looking at a game about taking a nice flight, an app to help you trim your videos, a game that takes the platform to a new level, an app to track your data usage, and a game about dogfights in space. 


X-Plane 9

When you start up X-Plane for the first time, you will be thrown right into the pilot's seat. The game will offer you helpful hints to get you off the ground, but most of the rest is up to you. Tilting the phone left and right will affect your roll. Likewise, tilting up and down affects pitch. Most of the other controls in the plane are on screen, but invisible until you interact with them. Throttle is on the left, flaps on the right, and the rudder control on the bottom will control yaw. Over all, we found the planes fairly easy to control and responsive to commands. 

If you tap towards to top of the screen, you get a number of buttons. Most of them are to switch out of the cockpit view, which is great if you want to get a good look at the plane, but bad if you don't want to crash and die. Just make sure you aren't in a precarious situation when you check out these views. The top right button in this area is the pause setting, but replays are also here. If you pull off a daring nighttime landing, you can replay it and checkout all the angles. The bottom left pulls up your instrument panel. Some more advanced controls are here, and it is different for each of the seven planes in the game. Many of these panels are scrollable to accommodate all the goodies. 

You can pick from six regions and four times of day for your flights. The game can also set you up for landings and takeoffs on several runways in each region. All this functionality is in one of the buttons at the top of the screen. This is also where you can choose your plane, and calibrate the accelerometer. If you really want to get into the experience, you can even change the plane's weight, and do Wi-Fi network play with friends.  

The game runs very well on the Nexus S with no slowdowns. Graphics look great for the planes themselves. Though, the textures for the ground are a little blurry. We like the authentic sounds in the game too (especially the nosedive effects). But make no mistake, this game is a battery drain. Aviation enthusiasts will definitely want to shell out the $10 the developer is asking. Everyone else will want to consider it carefully. But know an high-quality, leisurely experience awaits within should you decide to take the plunge. 

VidTrim Pro

The app will open on a list of your videos. The oldest ones will be at the top, and the newest at the bottom. If you have taken a lot of videos with your phone, it can be a little inconvenient to get to the newest clips. There is currently no way to sort this list, but we hope the developer will add this. All the videos have thumbnail previews to help you figure out which is which. Once you find the right file, tapping on it will bring up the editing interface. Long-pressing will also let you delete, or rename a file. 

Trimming a video is very easy. The file will start playing with the seek bar at the bottom. There are large handles like in the new YouTube app that you can use to drag your start and end points around. Whenever you move one of these, the video will start playing the segment you have selected. Tapping on the video will pause it. Once you have decided on a crop, press the scissor button in the corner. 

The app will pop up a menu asking if you want to alter the original file, or create a new one. If you create a new one, it will use the same file name as the original file, but with a time code slapped on the end. All the files we made with this app were recognized and played fine by the integrated Android Gallery app. The pro version runs you nearly $1, and includes no ads, app2sd capability, and file renaming. The free ad supported version is a good way to test the app.  

Dungeon Defenders: First Wave

After downloading the game, you will need to launch it when you're around Wi-Fi to download the game data to your SD card. This download will be over 600MB, and could take 30 minutes to complete. So forget about taking advantage of that 15 minute return window. Once you get up and running, you will probably want to go through the tutorial. This will show where all the important buttons are and how to get around the maps. Before you play a game, we suggest you go into the settings and turn down the Video Upscale Percentage. We found the game very laggy with this maxed on the Nexus S when there were a lot of enemies on-screen. 

When you start a level, make sure to pick your difficulty at the bottom. There is a lot going on here, and the learning curve can be steep. Each wave of enemies is preceded by a build phase, where you can find power ups and  build your defensive structures. Take note of choke points and enemy spawn points. When you're set up, head to the Eternia Crystal and hit the start button. You can attack enemies all you like, but make sure you repair towers too. It's much cheaper to repair rather than rebuild. Mana will be dropped from defeated creeps, as well as found in chests. You'll need this to heal yourself and repair/build defenses.  
As your hero levels up, you will get points to spend on increasing your own power, but also that of your towers. Also keep an eye out for new equipment to be dropped. The local game runs well for us on the Nexus S. Online multiplayer is much smoother than we expected it to be. It's a blast to play a level with other people using different hero classes.  

This game looks great. No one can deny that. However, it is also an pretty serious battery hog. Using this while out an about is risky if you don't know when you'll next be around a charger. Still, it is tempting to take on a couple waves in line at the bank. Our only real concern here is that the game does not seem to save progress mid way through levels. If you don't finish, you have to do it again when you come back later. In fact, you need to reload the game completely if you leave it. We understand this is a heavy game, but some sort of suspended state would be nice. But if your phone can run it well, $2.99 is a great deal for this title.   

3G Watchdog Pro

The main screen in 3G Watchdog will show you all your plan details. You have the option of seeing your usage laid out in a graph, table, and text description. Any of these can be turned off with the buttons up top. The other tabs for Day, Week, and Month have similar data, but just for those periods of time. You will need to enter your plan details into the app when you first launch it. It will keep track of start and end dates for you each month. If you are part way through your billing cycle, you can set your counters manually so it reflects actual usage.  

If you want to take a closer look at your data usage. Hit the History button at the bottom of the screen. This shows the data usage over time organized based on the tab you are viewing. For example, the Day tab will show you a list of each day, along with the data usage for that day. Pressing the graph button at the bottom will give you a handy bar graph of the data. All of this can be exported to a CSV file.  

The widget has gotten a much needed overhaul. Now you can choose how you want the data displayed. Amount used, remaining, and predicted usage are all options. The widget can be used to show just daily usage, or total plan usage as well. The visual style can be changed with different text and background colors. If you want a quick visual queue, the text color can be set to reflect usage.  

3G Watchdog is indispensable in this age of data caps. If you're a user of the free version, the Pro version will import all that data for you. You can pick this app up for just over $3 in the Market. 

Galaxy NGC3D

All your steering is controlled by the accelerometer. Speed is linked to a throttle control on the right of the screen. You can either slide this control, or just tap where you want it to go. Below the throttle is a nice, big fire button. The top of the screen has both front and rear radar displays, as well as a health indicator for your ship. The control scheme works well, but we did end up turning the accelerometer sensitivity down a bit. It can be hard to maintain a firing angle at times with the sensitivity turned up. 

The graphics are solid, and remind us a little bit of an old Starfox game. Most of the ships are polygons in space with just a little texture to them, but everything moves fluidly and the enemy ships can pull some crazy maneuvers. Don't get too carried away with taking out all the enemy craft if that is not your mission objective. They may actually lead you away from an important resource, or isolate the rest of your squadron. That usually doesn't end well.  

You can tweak the graphics in the setting menu. We were able to max it on the Nexus S and play smoothly, but your mileage may vary. This is a compelling, attractive 3D space shooter, and it’s only going to cost you $0.99. Take a look at this one. 
We hope you found something you liked in this week's Market Roundup. Drop us a line with any hot app tips you might have. You can also let us know what you thought of this week's picks. Have a happy new year and enjoy the apps.