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This Week's Best Apps

In this week’s totally awesome app round up: Splodes, sploded; nearby lightning strikes, pinpointed; the apocalypse, rendered in adorable 8-bit style; free turn-by-turn navigation, improved; Xvid files, played on your iPad; and so much more!

iPhone

Splode: A beautiful chain-reaction game from the dudes who made Dr Awesome and Doom Resurrection. Though the gameplay’s pretty simple right now – just tap a cluster of Splodes and hope they splode enough other Splodes – the developers are promising updates with more music and game modes. It takes some swag to obscure a decent amount of the screen, which Splodes does with its grassy border graphic, but it manages to pull it off. $1.19.

The Incident: Stuff is constantly falling on Sam’s head. Let’s hear what he has to say:

Borrowing the simple joy of the 8-bit era at its finest, The Incident is a wonderful take on casual iOS gaming. A nostalgic, chipper soundtrack, wonderfully bright graphics, gameplay that’s perfect for several-minute stretches and an extremely disturbing premise.

The Incident’s protagonist is glumly waiting for a cab when, in true cartoon irony, a taxi falls from the sky and nearly crushes our pixelated pal. Hah! Cute, right? But wait. A slow trickle of beach balls, fences, couches, cars and countless other doodads turn into a torrential downpour of urban detritus. Tilt your device from side to side to scurry out from under incoming objects (indicated by a blinking line at the top of the screen), and tap to jump up the pile. It’s lively enough in a cartoonish way – Yikes! Where did all this stuff come from! – until you reach the end of the game’s second level, giving you a skyline panorama of your town.

And then you see it. The smashed dome. The crunched crane. Plumes of smoke. My God. They’re dead. They’re all dead. Avenge the destruction of your townspeople and keep on ascending, collecting power-ups, coins and trophies along the way. At $2.49, The Incident is a fantastic game (and commentary on consumerism? You decide!) with a terrific sense of humour, perfect to play in tense, frantic bursts – and really a visual pleasure despite its intentional simplicity.

Sounds more like a Situation to me. $2.49.

Also works on the iPad.

Pinpoint Lightning: I’m not gonna act like everyone needs to run out and buy this $8 location-aware lightning-tracking app. But I’m definitely not gonna think you’re a freak if you do run out and buy it. Lightning’s awesome! Visually, the app’s a little rough around the edges, but in my one test it did seem to track lightning quite accurately! Unsurprising, considering the data is beamed to your phone straight from the THE NATIONAL LIGHTNING DETECTION NETWORK. What a world we live in. $8.

NinJump: NinJump, from the makers of the incomparably diverting Paper Toss, is a fun, free climbing game with all those ninja trappings you love. Not quite as complex or clever as some other games, but it’s free! And it has ninjas.

Waze: Waze, the free, light-hearted turn-by-turn navigation app, just got its upgrade to 2.0, and it’s a more viable replacement for the Navigons and Telenavs of the world than ever. In addition to being generally snappier and shinier, Waze 2.0 adds a neat group feature for organising carpools and a system of rankings and achievements, you know, for making your commute fun. Wonderfully free.

iPad

Slate: Web magazine Slate has rolled out their official iPad app (I heard you like slates so I put Slate on your slate, etc), featuring the publication’s blogs, videos and articles and focusing on readability in lieu of bells and whistles.

The app, which is free and currently sponsored by Marriott (as you’ll be reminded, from time to time, by kinda-annoying full-screen ads), largely lets the text stand on its own, which is a good thing. The main page has NPR app-style rows for different sections, each of which you can flick through independently.

Once you’re reading an item, you can drag your finger vertically to scroll through the text but also horizontally to slide from article to article. If you ever were intimidated by the complex navigational systems of some of the glossier iPad magazines, you’ll welcome Slate‘s simple approach.

Slate itself wasn’t too hot on that first wave of magazine apps for the iPad, contending that it was ultimately easier and more satisfying to read those publications’ websites in Safari. But by focusing on simplicity and legibility – as well as giving readers the ability to peruse previously downloaded content when they don’t have an internet connection – Slate‘s app is a fine complement to their site.

Times for iPad: The iPad version of the popular visual feed reader for iPhone and Mac is no less beautiful than its counterparts – Times lays out RSS feeds into a nice personal newspaper – and in terms of design the attention to detail is impressive. But hardcore feed demons will be disappointed that there’s no Google Reader integration whatsoever. A bit on the expensive side but for a certain type of user, the one who prefers perusing feeds as opposed to jackhammering through them, it could be just the ticket. $10.

Chaos Rings: A new original role-playing game from Square Enix (you may know them as the dudes who make Final Fantasy), Chaos Rings is a largely successful effort at putting a fully realised, console-style game on the iPad. The graphics, for the most part, are excellent, and the gameplay (especially the turn-based battles) is fun and satisfying. And you get something that’s relatively rare for the iPad: a story! With characters! Who develop. It’s not cheap, but for fans of the genre it’s worth checking out. $19.

Discover: Take it away, Kat:

Why bother downloading iBooks when there’s a wealth of free information on Wikipedia just gagging for your brain to wrap itself around? Discover is a cool app for the iPad that arranges Wikipedia articles into magazine articles for easier reading.

While it’s only available for the English version of Wikipedia for now, the developer has plans to port all the other languages over to Discover at a later date. That’s just as well, as I’d hate for Italian users of Wikipedia to miss out on seeing their 500,000 articles rendered in the style of a glossy rag.

Just a shake of the iPad brings up a random article on Wikipedia, and swiping left on an article page will bring up any maps, statistics or facts buried within the article. Little tricks like that just make this free app sound well worth checking out.

Discover’s free, just like knowledge.

CineXPlayer: Native playback for Xvid files on your iPad? For free?! What are you waiting for? Go, go, go.

Android

Retro Camera: It’s another app that transforms your Android camera into one of those hipstamatic/FX Camera-type deals. Why? Because turning modern day pictures into vintage, artsy shots never gets old! Kat says:

It’s got four film cameras to “shoot” with, that in turn produce four different lomo-esque effects.

It does, however, take almost 15 seconds for the photo to “develop”. Which is kind of ridiculously long. But that’s the price to pay for perfectly aged photos, I guess.

TweetDeck: It’s still in beta, but it’s TweetDeck for Android. And if you like TweetDeck, you’ll download it. They’ve added a “blended column” that combines all your feeds (Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare) into one column and other small features to make updating any network a breeze. It’s also rather nice looking in an Android sort of way, too.

Crush the Castle: The premise of the game is simple: destroy the “castle” on the screen using an arsenal of projectiles. All you do is load up your trebuchet and fire away (tap, tap) to cause as much destruction as you possibly can. It’s simple, addictive and really fun. Only 99 US cents.

Smart Lock 2.0: Getting everything set up is a little complicated but Smart Lock gives you some useful security options for your phone. The general idea is that with Smart Lock enabled, your phone can only use a predetermined set of apps (like simple games and such). Basically, it’s so your kid won’t accidentally go explore the dangers of the world wide web and your friends won’t see those, ahem, intimate photos.

Chrome to Phone: The awesome Android 2.2 feature that connects your desktop PC and Android phone together is now live. And all you need is this Android app and a Google Chrome extension to get it to work. Jason explains:

This is the Android’s cloud-to-device messaging, so it can know what you’re sending to your phone and will optimise what it’s showing. For example, if you’re watching YouTube, it’ll send a YouTube link to your phone and will automatically start playing the video. Another is if you’re reading a page on the browser, it’ll load up that same page on the mobile browser.

It works for Maps, businesses and other things, too.

We are so crazy about apps right now you wouldn’t believe it. If you have recommendations, tips or just want to let us know about your own app, drop a note in the comments or shoot me an email.

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