Android Market Roundup: Go Fast, Edit Photos, and Be a Cube

By Ryan Whitwam

The Market overflows with a bounty of apps, and we are here to harvest them.

What's the next killer app for Android? We'll never know unless we keep looking every single week. There might be hundreds of thousands of apps out there, but the Android Market Roundup will continue on until we unearth that one immaculate app that every user must download. Just scan the QR code with Google Goggles or Barcode Scanner to go straight to the Market. Alternatively, click the app name for a link to the web Market.

This week we're going over an app for editing your pics, a fast racer, a game about cubes, and more. Let us begin by puzzling over some shapes.

Edge Extended

Let’s just get this out of the way first: we love Edge. Why do we love it? It’s a puzzle game with a simple game mechanic that manages to stay fresh and even flummox us from time to time. Edge eases you into its clean 3D world, and just when you’re starting to worry about getting bored, it tosses you a curve ball.

The goal in Edge is to get your technicolor glowing hypnocube to the end of the level as fast as possible. To do this, you simply have to tip it end over end without falling over the edge. The block-based levels are devilishly clever in Edge, and that’s thanks to the unique rules at play here. Your cube can go up one block level each time you flip it over. So a platform that is one block high is accessible, but two blocks high, and you have to find another way up. Additionally, the space behind you has to be clear so your cube can rotate freely.

There are three control schemes: buttons, accelerometer, touch. The touch controls are the default, and are by far the best. Press and drag across the screen in the direction you want to tip your cube. If you leave your finger in place, the cube will keep on rolling at a good clip. This is actually risky because the edges of platforms come up faster than you expect. You don’t have to drag across the cube itself, but can start your gesture anywhere. This is the entire control scheme, and that’s refreshingly brilliant.

You have to make use of that one type of movement in the levels to trigger switches, get on board moving platforms, and evade falling blocks. When the game introduces a new kind of obstacle, there will be a hint block that you can stop on to see a holographic cube negotiate the new danger. We really like this subtle helping hand. For a game this superficially simple, you never know what’s going to happen in Edge.

As we’ve alluded to, the game is graphically simple, but very sharp. Your cube color pulses rapidly, but it’s not annoying as we initially thought it might be. It makes your avatar easy to pick out as you trundle around the level. There are some places where you have to go behind the terrain, leaving you partially obscured, and it’s nice to have a good visual bearing on the right cube. The music has a strong electronic bent, but it’s subtle and rather nice overall.

Edge is a phenomenal game, and you can get the full version with 48 levels for $2.99. The free demo comes with 12 levels of its own, but we didn’t find them quite as engaging as the full version levels.

Likes!

The Facebook Like system is an interesting, although disturbingly pervasive part of the social web these days. You can check out your friends’ pages to see the things they are interested in, and many websites will let you know which of you Facebook buddies have Liked them. That’s all well and good, but Likes! takes all that data and aggregates it for you so you can find the best stuff from your social circle.

Sign in with your Facebook account, and the app will pull down all your Facebook friends and their associated Likes. The app’s interface is fairly good-looking, but a little text heavy. On the plus side, it implements the Ice Cream Sandwich Action Bar correctly. There are two main tabs in Likes: Places, and More Likes. The app is billed as a way to find things to do, so we can understand the desire to make places the focus, but we’d like an easier way to drill down in the other sections.

Each category will show you the number of total Likes on the right side. Open any group, and you will seen the individual items with the number of Likes. For all the places, you can choose to filter results based on distance from you with the buttons at the bottom of the screen. Going one step further and tapping on individual items will show who in your friends list Liked it, and offers you the ability to jump to the Facebook page for that entry, or to Like it from the app. Businesses that have contact and location info properly listed also get call, website, and map links in the app.

Moving away from the intended utility of this app, it’s also a really cool way to get a bird’s eye view of your friends. You might have no idea that 30 of your friends Liked a particular movie or book, but this app lays it all out for you. The app does what it’s supposed to do, and we’re not too bothered by the uninspired interface. Likes! is free in the Android Market.

A Long Way Home

Here we have another puzzle game, but this one isn’t about speed and flashy effects. A Long Way Home is all about the experience, atmosphere, and accuracy. You’re a valiant explorer, stranded far from home. With a little luck, you might be able to get back with some help from a wormhole or two.

In each level of the game, you have to jump from one space rock to the next in order to pick up dark matter that fuels your wormhole generator. The physics engine is accurate insofar as you cannot alter your trajectory after jumping. You line it up, and make the leap. Some dark matter will only be accessible from certain directions due to obstacles, so you have to sort out which asteroid to head to at what point.

As you float near a space rock after jumping, your spaceman will flip around and land feet first. Should you miss, it’s off into the depths of space you go. You can restart the level as many times as it takes to get the three dark matter rocks. Once you’ve taken care of business, the spaceman opens a wormhole, and you just have make one last jump to enter it. This last leap might end up being the hardest of the level.

You control your space dude with on-screen buttons. You can walk clockwise, or counter-clockwise to line up your jump. Each asteroid is spinning slowly, so you have to take that into account before hitting the jump button. There are accelerometer controls too, but we prefer the buttons.

The game has the feel of a hand-drawn cartoon with its simple, but attractive style. The star-speckled backdrop is understated, but perfect for the game. You need to see just where the edges of things are, and a busy image wouldn’t help. We also like that the game throws in the occasional colorful planet to spice things up. The only graphical issue is that he game looks slightly stretched on the Galaxy Nexus screen, which isn’t uncommon for iOS ports. The soundtrack is a delightful ambient number that fits well with the relaxed vibe of the game.

There are 100 levels across 10 galaxies in A Long Way Home. The difficulty ramps up slowly, but it will eventually get quite tough. There is no way to select levels, unfortunately. This is an experience from end to end; you have to dive back in where you left off. Our only complaint about the gameplay is that there's no way to manually restart a level when you know you've messed up. A Long Way Home is $1.99 in the Market.

Aviary Photo Editor

Aviary is a scary-good web-based photo editor, and now it can be on your Android phone for the low price of $0. This app comes with a ton of features like cropping, red eye, rotation, drawing, and filters. If the included content gets boring, Aviary will offer up some in-app purchases for additional features.

Instead of making a standalone app, Aviary decided their photo editor would act as a plug-in for the Android sharing menu. As a result, some of the reviews in the Market slam Aviary for not opening. Just ignore those. To edit a picture with Aviary, just find an image in any app on your phone, and share it to Aviary Photo Editor. The editor will open, and you’re off to the races.

The interface is very easy to figure out. Your picture is up top, and the tool panel is down at the bottom. This panel of tools is scrollable, and all the icons are fairly self-explanatory. There are a lot of great tools in Aviary, so we’ll just tell you about some of the real standouts. Enhance is great if you need to give a snapshot a little extra juice. Maybe it was taken in strange light, or the colors are off. The cropping interface is very robust with various ratios and sizing options. The drawing toolbar is easier to use, and more accurate than many standalone apps we’ve see, as well.

When you make a change with one of these tools, make sure to tap the Apply button up top to confirm. If you just hit the back button, your changes are cancelled. When you’re finished editing, tap Done, and the files will be exported to your Gallery (the original is saved). Aviary scales the finished image down to about 1600 pixels wide, which is a little sad. We’d like to have the option to save a full-resolution image.

The in-app purchases can be accessed from the Store link in the menu. There are free stickers, as well as two paid filter packs: Grunge, and Nostalgia. Both are $0.99 and include some great filters for making hipster-y pictures, if that’s your thing. We like Aviary because it’s a really robust image editor, and can apply filters as well as anything else on the Market. Pick it up now.

GBikes

Racing cars? Pshh. That’s so last century. Why obey the laws of physics when you can race anti-gravity speeders through a variety of awesome environments? That’s what you get with GBikes, a new racing game on Android. This highly-configurable game looks great, and plays smooth too.

It’s a pretty straightforward experience that anyone can pick right up an play. Your GBike is hovering in the middle of your view, and when the race starts, you accelerate. This is a little more on the rails than most racing games; there’s no control over throttle, just steering. The tracks are both indoor and out, but are always some sort of winding tunnel. Your bike will either be stuck to the inside, or outside of said tunnel, and you can move around the entire 360-degree surface. Just tilt the device side to side to steer, and use the arrow buttons to dive left or right in an emergency.

The challenge here is to avoid the red barriers that are sprinkled throughout the track. Hitting one doesn’t stop you dead, but your speed takes a hit. To win, you’ll have to keep that speed up most of the time. With a winding tunnel, it can be tough to see what’s coming unless you’re toward the outside of the turns. GBikes offers up a HUD that shows you the right place to be in order to get the best view. Just keep the green line under your bike, and all should be well.

The HUD also tells you your current speed, position, and lap number. This is all well and good, but we’d like a little more information; perhaps a radar showing where the other racers are. You might also find a power up occasionally that gives you a little speed boost. This helps you make up for hitting a few barriers.

You need to place in each of the 18 races to move on to the next, but you also get credits based on performance. These credits can be used in the Tuning menu to upgrade parts of your bike. This is how you really hit those higher speeds, and mitigate the effects of hitting barriers. It’s essential for victory in the later races.

Visually, this is a great game. The environments are detailed, and textures are nice and rich. There isn’t much aliasing, but the game could do with some cleaning up where different textures meet up. We’ve seen few hiccups in performance with the Galaxy Nexus, but phones under 1GHz single-core are unlikely to work. A couple of tracks are a little too heavy, and you might need to turn off particles in the settings.The soundtrack is a fast electronic beat, and it’s not bad.

GBikes is going for about $3 in the Market. It’s a little steep considering it only has 18 races right now, but the game is brand new. We’re hoping for more content later.

That's the Roundup for the week, folks. Hopefully something here struck your fancy. If you've got an app in mind for a future Roundup, let us know. Check back next week for more great apps.