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This Week's Best Apps

In this week’s totally tasty roundup: Gourmet, back and more beautiful than ever on the iPad; Mario Batali, in your pocket; vegetables, endeared to your children; reminders, set; international texting, made free; and more!

iPhone

Mario Batali Cooks!: It just wouldn’t be Food Week without celebrity superchef Mario Batali stopping by, now would it? Thankfully, he released his first official iPhone app, Mario Batali Cooks!, earlier this week, offering a nice collection of signature recipes with video, images, shopping lists and built-in timers to keep you on track. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce – there’s also a nice glossary of cooking terms, advice on food and wine pairings and more. Keep in mind that this is Mario Batali, so some of the recipes are a bit fancy, but overall it’s a very nice package that won’t disappoint fans. $6.

Awareness! The Headphone App: A smart-looking app with a smart aim: to make sure your headphones don’t keep you from hearing important stuff. Like the horn of a car that’s about to hit you. Basically, the app keeps track of the things that are sounding off around you when you’re blissfully ignorant in headphoneland. If a sound is loud enough, Awareness turns on your iPhone’s mic and pipes that audio in on top of your music. I wouldn’t take it as carte blanche to start biking around town wearing your Dre Beats, but even if it potentially keeps you out of harms way one time, it’s worthwhile. $6.

Ruler 2: Lemme tell you about Ruler 2:

For a device with a 3-inch screen, the iPhone has a pretty impressive resume: phone, map, camera, sketchbook, dedicated Doodle Jump playing machine. And for $1.19, the newly revamped Ruler 2 app makes it a pretty decent measuring thinger too.

Ruler 2, an overhauled version of an apparently less-good Ruler 1, offers a simple, functional ruler that you can drag to measure things smaller than the size of your screen. Measuring things that are longer than your iPhone (or your iPad – it’s a universal app) isn’t quite as precise: You swipe the ruler to extend it a length and then physically move your iPhone, keeping track of where the left side of the screen should be with your finger. It sounds kind of confusing, but a nice how-to video that plays when you first launch the app brings you up to speed quickly.

Measurements can be labelled and saved to a folder, so you don’t have to mark them down elsewhere, and overall the app has a nice, straightforward design. If you think you’ll ever need to measure something small with accuracy, or measure something slightly less small with slightly less accuracy, Ruler 2′s worth your $1.19.

$1.19. Get measuring!

Due: Due is a super clean and super quick way to set up timed reminders for yourself. It’s far from the only app that does this, but I’m a sucker for apps that do one thing and one thing well, especially if they look nice while they’re doing it. $4.

Pickin’ Time: Remember that time you wished you had a really cute and engaging app to give your kids that would make vegetables FUN while also teaching them to distinguish their strawberries from their schnozberries? It’s here and it’s called Pickin’ Time, made by the same group behind Twitterrific. If your kids are on your iPhone or iPad all the time anyway, you might as well give them something healthy to play with. $2.49.

Gangstar: Miami Vindication: Miami Vindication, the latest title from the Willy Wonka Factory of iPhone games that is GameLoft, is basically I Can’t Believe It’s Not GTA Vice City. On your iPhone. Which is to say, it’s pretty awesome. $9.

HeyWire: Useful for compulsive texters, and especially for compulsive international texters, HeyWire gives you a new number and lets you SMS any of your friends, anywhere, for free. It also supports Facebook chat, with more services on the way. It seems a little bit too good to be true, and the app did seem a little bit janky from time to time, but generally it works, and it’s free. Free!

Android

Gmail: Gmail received an update and it’s available in the Android Market… but only to Android 2.2 users. That’s sorta lame because it’s a solid update! According to Jason, a man who has his priorities in order, the update brings:

Besides “limited support” for Priority Inbox and better handling of replies and quoted text, you also have the improved UI, with starring, reply and more always visible at the top.

Even more reasons to want Android 2.2 already.

Twidroyd: Before Twitter for Android was released I used Twidroyd, the first best Twitter Android app (and previously known as twidroid). After seeing this latest update and Twidroyd’s new LivePreview feature, I want to go back. It’s the first Twitter Android app to preview linked web pages, photos and videos in the app. That means I don’t always have to jump out of Twitter to see what people are linking to anymore.

SwiftKey: Even though SwiftKey has only been available in beta form, it’s still managed to gain a sizeable following. How? Because it’s a ridiculously good keyboard replacement for Android. The standout feature is its text prediction, which is scary good to start with and gets even better when it learns your habits. You’ll feel like it’s reading your mind. It’s finally out of beta and it costs $US0.95, until September 30 when it jumps to $US4 after, so I’d buy in now.

Kindle for Android: Kindle! The uber-popular ebook reader/platform/app has been updated, and it’s becoming more like its iPhone brother. Which means, in this case, it’s getting better. Kat the reader says the new Kindle app can do:

Full text searching, scribbling notes and highlighting sentences. It can even look up unknown words in Wikipedia. Other additions include the screen-lock orientation, which now supports both landscape and portrait, and Shelfari compatibility for looking up further information on a book.

Does this update make the Kindle app the best ebook app on Android?

HandBand: A simple app that allows you to create music loops by just tapping randomly on the screen. Well, only randomly if you’re not musically gifted like me. If you have talent, I’m sure you can make decent music with the instruments they offer. For the digital age Mozart, $US1.49 isn’t too high a price to pay.

Box.net: Box.net is a cloud-based file storage system that’s pretty popular with those money-making business types (and other people too!). The app was previously available on iOS and makes its way to Android with better performance and better searching. You can use the app to upload files, browse files, share files and view files. Files, files, files, yes!

Air Visibility Monitoring: I’m the type of guy who doesn’t want to know the horrors of our environment. Save me the gory details, please. But if you are braver than me, point your phone to the sky and get all the info you want about the pollution. Kat says you can take a photo of the sky and the app will spit back:

Once [the data is]crunched, a message is relayed back to the user informing them of the air pollution, and the information is stored on the server for future research. Personal information on the app’s user isn’t stored, of course, but over time – if enough people use it – it could be a valuable tool for highlighting environmental issues.

You’re also helping out science collect data when you use this app.

iPad

Gourmet Live: It’s food week at Gizmodo, and to help us celebrate, Gourmet cut the ribbon on their swanky new iPad app (OK, that’s not exactly how things went.) Here’s what I had to say:

Gourmet was one of the more heartbreaking causalities of the Condé Nast’s purge last year. But now, the beloved food mag is back as Gourmet Live, a beautiful iPad app that’s filled with great foodie content, new and old.

Unlike many of the big name iPad magazines that simply mirror the print version’s content, Gourmet Live is something else entirely, an attempt to give a popular print magazine a life after death in digital-only form. For the most part, they’ve succeeded beautifully.

Gourmet Live includes articles, recipes, videos and more, presented in an attractive, clean grid with bold photos. Much of the content is new – including articles plucked from new partners Eater and SeriousEats – though some has been dug up from Gourmet’s extensive print archive, dating back to 1941. Pieces that launched with the app include a look at Obama’s White House menu, a profile of New York’s new mega-markte, Eataly (from Eater), and a guide to fall cocktails.

The app has a somewhat daunting “rewards” component, allowing users to unlock new content by linking the app with their Facebook or Twitter accounts. Aside from that, Gourmet Live, which is free, for now, and doesn’t have any ads, is light on the bells and whistles that have come to define other iPad magazines. Most of the time that’s a good thing, though at one point I found myself wishing for some more explicit navigation after I stumbled upon a hidden (and mouthwatering) Fall Recipes section and couldn’t figure out how to get back to the main screen.

But all in all, Gourmet Live is a great new take on an old food lovers’ favourite, and one that could well prove that there’s life after print death.

It’s free, and yummy, so check it out.

iA Writer: Most apps appear in the App Store with little fanfare. Information Architects’ Writer arrived with a manifesto. And it shows: Writer, which was designed to be the perfect writing app for the iPad, has a strong sense of purpose. It’s minimalist to the point of being slight and dismisses things that many would consider features, like autocorrect and cut and paste, as “distractions”. Still, it’s a clean app that succeeds in its aim to keep you focused on your text, and I’m sure many easily excitable writers will find it indispensable. $6.

Foosball Hero: A few of these foosball apps for the iPad had crossed my path, and I had always thought, “Foosball? On the iPad? That sounds about as fun as trying to play soccer underwater.” But Foosball Hero came along looking all gorgeous and I was forced to try it out. I’m glad I did! The game’s graphics are great, but even more impressive are the physics, which make for a foosball experience that’s about as faithful as the original as you can get when you’re playing it on a centimetre-thin touchscreen tablet. And only $2.49!

Minimal Folio: The iPad is a gorgeous device that’s capable of some gorgeous presentations. But it kind of breaks the spell when someone’s showing you something and they send you flying back to the main screen of the Photo app with an accidental double tap. Minimal Folio is an elegant way to show off photos and video without letting any unsightly behind the scenes stuff pop up in between. You can arrange your media into rows and columns and swipe up and down or sideways between both. If you find yourself using your iPad to show people things in even any vaguely professional context, Minimal Folio is a must buy. $4.

The Secret of Monkey Island, Special Edition: Jesus, our resident Monkey Island expert, was bananas about Monkey Island 2 on the iPad, with its immersive, transparent control scheme. Now, the O.G., The Secret of Monkey Island, is back in the App Store outfitted with the same great controls as the sequel. $6.

VLC Media Player: Apple deigned to let VLC, the play-whatever-you-throw-at-it Swiss Army Knife media player, into the App Store. Hooray! But don’t start dreaming your big no-more-transcoding dreams just yet – performance isn’t too pretty. It could well get better with updates, but in the meantime, consult Lifehacker’s excellent guide for squeezing the most out of the app. Free.

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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