Android Market Roundup: Impress Your Friends with These Great Apps

By Ryan Whitwam

5 apps to start the week right.

It's time again for the weekly Android Market Roundup. If it's new, or newly updated, you'll find it here. Just scan the QR code we've included with Barcode Scanner or Google Goggles to head right to the Market. Make sure to check out the screenshots at the end of the post so you know what you're getting into. 
 

 

PSX4droid



Set up of the app will be familiar to those who have used emulators before. After installing the app, you need to find the correct PS1 BIOS file to run the emulator. This file can be found around the internet, sometimes in the shadier corners. PSX4droid tells you up front the file will be called SCPH1001.BIN, so a search should turn it up easily. Finding the game ROMs themselves can be a little shadier still, but you won't have to look far since you're backing up your own games, right? 

You may be wondering how an app can replicate the PlayStation controller with its collection of buttons. Well, the buttons are on the screen, but they're not as bad as you'd expect. The D-pad, triggers, pause button, and square-circle-triangle-x cluster are all there. They are all semi-transparent, and very responsive to touch. The left analog stick is replicated by a hardware trackpad/trackball. Your play would be limited without one of these. There is support for a Bluetooth controller connection, which could solve all the control issues, but requires you to haul a controller around.

We tested with Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics, and Resident Evil 2. These all worked well enough to play, but Resident Evil's already aggravating controls were a problem in the emulator. Attempts were made to get Persona 2 to load, but were unsuccessful. There will be some games that just won't work should you take the plunge. The games that worked looked good on a Nexus One. Frame rates were solid, with minor lag in some more graphically intense scenes. There were some issues with sound quality. On some games it was crackly and tinny. We can't say for sure if this was the ROM, or the app, but be aware. If you've been waiting to dive back into some favorite games of yesteryear on your phone, PSX4droid is going for $5.99 in the Market. 

Watchdog



The risk of a runaway process draining the battery is a real one on Android. You have to trust developers to build quality apps that won't crash in the background and pull CPU cycles. Most people that have used an Android phone for a while have had this experience. You reach into your pocket/purse/man-purse to find your phone is warm to the touch, and the battery has shed 20% charge in half an hour. This is what Watchdog seems to be able to prevent. 

To test the app, the threshold was set to 10% and the phone was used normally. After a few minutes, a notification indicated that an app (PSX4droid) was using too much of the CPU, indicating it was out of control. Tapping the notification opens Watchdog. Of course, you will want to run Watchdog at a more realistic threshold. The default 80% should be fine.  

You can enable real-time monitoring while in the app to aggressively poll the CPU looking for an app you believe is currently misbehaving. Leaving the app disables this, as it uses a huge amount of battery itself. Apps that show up in the alert list in Watchdog can be killed, or added to the white list with a long press. This seems like an excellent middle ground in task management. Rarely do users need to be ending background processes; Watchdog just makes sure you can identify and end the ones causing problems. Using the standard polling settings, we didn't see any negative impact at all on battery life. Watchdog is $3.49 in the Market, but a free ad-supported version is also available.  
 

Audible



The real highlight here is the excellent player controls. You have the ability to create bookmarks, jump around chapters, skip back 30 seconds, and use precision seeking. The seeking controls seem to be borrowed from the iPhone's iPod app. When dragging the cursor around a chapter, the further down on the screen you slide your finger, the finer the control of your location. It's a nice touch. The app has the ability to speed up the playback so you can get through a book faster, but in our testing, this caused some glitches requiring resumption of 1x play speed. The 1x4 home screen widget is very responsive and attractive though.

There are a few bugs in this first official version, but the overall quality of the app leads us to believe it will be worked out. The app is about 9MB when installed, but there is support for app storage on the SD card for Froyo. If you've been holding off on getting Audible books because of a lack of Android support, don't let that stop you anymore. The Audible app is free in the Market. The books on the other hand, will cost you.      

Crush the Castle

Armor Games to try it if you want. 

The premise is that at some point in the Middle Ages, you are tasked to destroy a few dozen improbably constructed castles. To accomplish this feat, you get a trebuchet with an assortment of ammo. You start with a single small rock, and as you progress, you get larger groups of rocks and other goodies. At the start of each level you get a look at the target, then simply tap once to start the trebuchet arm moving, then again to release the projectile. Your timing determines where said projectile will hit. Each level awards metals if you can eliminate all the occupants of a castle in a certain number of volleys.  

On a Nexus One, the game runs fairly well. Sometimes the game speed felt faster or slower, and we couldn't tell exactly why that was happening. But there was no stuttering, and no noticeable lag. Some users have reported such problems in reviews, but we didn't see it on our end. Older phones might have some issues playing. That said, test it out on your phone and return it if it isn't up to snuff. The game is a little big, about 12MB installed, and there's no app2sd support yet. This is a 1.0 release, so we're hoping it gets cleaned up a bit. It's unclear if the price is going back up, or if this is a permanent drop. Crush the Castle is available in the Market if you're interested.  

Gesture Search 



Gesture Search lets you draw letters on the screen to search your phone for content like contacts, bookmarks, music, and apps. The interface starts as just a black screen, but as you spell your search out, a list of matches is populated. You must do one letter at a time, but the app analyzes your character quickly after you stop drawing. The bar at the bottom shows what you have to far. If you swipe left in that area, you delete the last letter; swiping right clears the entire search. 

The problem in the past was that the app wasn't very convenient. Users had to find the app, launch it, then search. Now all you have to do to launch the app is a "double flip". What Google getting at with this questionable term is that you start with the phone in you palm, facing up, then rotate your hand so the phone is upside down, then back. Google included an animation of the double flip when you first launch the app as well. The double flip will launch the app even if you are in another app. The sensitivity of this maneuver can be adjusted, but with the default setting to launch Gesture Search, we haven't accidentally triggered it. Gesture Search is free in the Market.  
 
That's all the apps for this week. Let us know if you have strong feelings about any of these. As usual, we'd love to hear any app suggestions you have, so post them in the comments. Have a great app filled week!