iPad App Review Marathon

iPad App Review Marathon

We’re going in and reviewing as many iPad apps as possible – LIVE – right now and updating throughout the day. We’ll start with the essential apps.

This is only the first part of our app review marathon, for part 2 go here.

Note: For all apps, we’ll show the portrait screenshot on the left and the landscape on the right, so you can see what both look like.

Marvel Comics

Geometry Wars Touch

NYT Editor’s Choice


we first saw the screenshotsiTunes


Smule’s Magic Piano


The Lifestream is a little weird, pulling in Facebook, Twitter, delicious, YouTube, MySpace and Digg streams from what seems to be your AIM contacts. By adding Twitter to this I expected the Twitter stream to function like an actual Twitter app, but it seems to only grab updates from whoever you have on AIM. Not that good, and I’d rather just use a standalone Twitter app. Free. [iTunes]

Adobe Ideas

LogMeIn Ignition

Digits Calculator

It’s a calculator app. It’s also $1.19. It works nice, and it looks good, but there should be free ones soon. You should wait. [iTunes]


It definitely looks nice, with the portrait view showing current weather (plus other meteorological data), a two-week forecast and the landscape mode showing just the forecast. There are also other slick views, like a circular hourly mode, video weather forecasts and the weather map. What’s goofy are the settings: There are a couple bugs here, like not being able to properly add a city in the landscape mode, which should be worked out quickly. Otherwise, it’s a good free app, with the only downside being that the stupid ad pops up from the bottom occasionally. If you want, you can pay $1.19 to get rid of the ads. [Free, Paid]

Definitely prettier than TweetDeck, which we reviewed earlier. Twitterific is an entirely different paradigm for Twitter though, and the large fonts, big individual tweets and spacious design should be more than enough for regular users that don’t have a dozen searches going on at once. There’s only the free version now, so get used to ads. Update: There’s an in-app purchase upgrade to go to the non-ad version. [iTunes]

Tap Tap Radiation

It’s essentially the same as Tap Tap Revenge on the iPhone, but bigger and the targets move around. You know if you want this thing already, but we’re kind of over the whole Tap Tap type of gameplay. [iTunes]

This is the same Fieldrunners you know and love from the iPhone, it’s just had its resolution jacked up for the iPad. And it looks beautiful. Gameplay is smooth, the sound effects are great, and having that extra screen real estate keeps you from accidentally tapping the wrong turret when you’re upgrading them. Tower defence games don’t get much better than this, really. $10. [iTunes]

It’s like Labyrinth on the iPhone (you can even play iPhone levels), but in 3D and on a bigger screen. The 3D is pretty awesome, and you can even play user-created levels. There’s a free version and an $10 version. Try the free one first to see if you like it. [iTunes]

MLB At Bat
The super-popular official baseball app has been upsized for the iPad, and it delivers everything you’re used to from the iPhone version. You get live game stat streaming with a strike zone graphic that’s automatically updates. You can also stream live TV broadcasts of games, provided you aren’t in a blackout zone. And even if you aren’t live streaming, you can watch highlight clips from the games you’re following soon after big plays happen. For hardcore baseball fans, this one is gonna be tough to pass up, even for $18.

A very clean and snappy interface. Looking up movies and actors is extremely intuitive and elegant since you can easily scan through top titles on the splash page or dive into the search bar up top. Taping the Browse button accesses TV schedules, Top 250 Lists and Moviemeter. Photo galleries are fine-tuned to play well with the iPad and produce crisp, clear images that can be browsed as easily as your local photo collection. But it’s not without a few glitches. When switching from portrait to landscape mode the lower IMDB and Browse buttons seem confused where to position themselves and end up flickering back and forth between the left and and centre of the screen. Movie trailers fail to launch and if you quit the app it does not resume where you left off, making for a tedious few moments while you renavigate. We’ll have to see how soon this gets patched, but it’s off to a fantastic start. [iTunes]


The Dossier
This app is kinda super awesome. It has one entry per person in your Contacts list, which you can then fill out with notes and photos, plus tie in their Twitter stream. You basically pretend to be the world’s nerdiest private investigator, making little observations (and clothing size reports) on your friends. It’ll be very awkward when someone finds all your notes on people, but until then, this is unique for sure. $6. [iTunes]

M+ is an instant messenging app that allows you to connect not only to popular messenging services like AIM and GTalk, but also to Twitter and MySpace as well. It also has a built-in browser so you can surf the web while you chat. It’s nice in theory, but in practice it feels really janky and hard to use. It crashed on me a couple of times and half the time I pulled the keyboard up the area to type into didn’t show up with it. If you want to be connected to lots of services at once and be able to surf the web while you chat, this should be a decent option once they iron the bugs out. But as of right now, it’s not worth the money. [iTunes]

Wikipanion for iPad
Straight up Wikipedia. The iPad version of the world’s most popular iPhone Wiki is as speedy as ever and should keep time wasters or pub trivia cheats extremely satisfied. Bookmarking pages is a snap and quitting out of the app is without qualms since you can resume right where you left off. Browse the main page for something that suits your interest or stumble around with the infamous random page button to read about the most obscure stuff ever. The article text itself can be tweaked to suit your style – big or small, serif or sans, there’s no wrong way to read your favourite entries. The more 3G centric geolocation feature lets you be your own tour guide and read up on relevant articles from around your immediate area. Switching from portrait to landscape is not as snappy as I would have liked, but that’s really a minor gripe. Spend six bucks on the Plus version and you get offline viewing capabilities. [iTunes]

Air Sharing HD
Air Sharing is one of our favourite iPhone apps, and it only gets better on the iPad’s roomier screen. It lets you wirelessly mount your iPad as a drive on your computer so you can load it up with files. You can then view, share or print everything from PDFs to Excel documents. For anyone complaining about the lack of a file system on the iPad, this gives you one. And on our first testing of it, it’s speedy and stable. Highly recommended. [iTunes]

Command and Conquer
Review here.

Flight Control
Flight Control is one of the most popular iPhone games, and with good reason. It’s simple enough to figure out how to play almost immediately, but it’s challenging enough to keep you coming back for more. And the new iPad version uses the bigger screen to improve upon the original in almost every way. You have the same gameplay as the iPhone version, but with bigger, more complicated levels with more runways and types of aircraft. You can play with friends either sharing one screen or over WiFi. And the higher resolution allows for a nice boost in the quality of the graphics. Awesome. [iTunes]


If you’re into organisation and you like your organisation beautiful, then Bento’s $6 iPad app is a solid listmaking solution. It has 25 templates for managing just about any type of information you throw at it, be it contacts, to-do lists, collections, etc. As with all of these types of things, you’ll probably get the most mileage if you use it with its corresponding Mac app, Bento 3, but even on its own, Bento’s a good fit for the iPad. The aesthetic of the lists, which take the form of clipboards and journals, matches the iPad well, and Bento makes it easy to select individual items in greater collections either by selecting them from a list or browsing them with a swipe. [iTunes]

Use your iPad as a second monitor! Review here.

Comic Reader Mobi
Yes! The Comic Reader Mobi app lets you put your own comics (zip, cbr, rar, cvz, pdf support) and read them on the iPad. You can either use the app’s built-in FTP server support and FTP over files, or you can use iTunes’ new file transfer, which is a lot easier. In either case, once the files are on, you can swipe (or tap) to go between pages, and it’ll even auto-detect which orientation to place the image in depending on the image size. This solves the problem of needing to go to landscape view that we complained about in the Marvel app reader. The only downside is that this is $18, but if you get your comics from somewhere other than Marvel’s app, then you’ll want this. You know what I’m talking about. [iTunes]

Delivery Status Touch
If you needed proof that the iPad could make anything beautiful, look no further than Delivery Status Touch, a bigger, shinier version of the iPhone app that is dedicated solely to tracking your packages. The premise is pretty straight forward: if you’re a person who’s buying or selling a lot of stuff online, Delivery Status will keep track of all those tracking numbers, from the big guys like UPS and FedEx, Apple and Amazon, all the way down to the nobodies like Sagawa Express and Aramex. It shows each tracked item in a side pane with colour-coded tabs and provides large, multitouch maps of their whereabouts on the right. If you create a free account with the developer, Junecloud, it’ll sync your tracking numbers between a desktop widget, iPhone and iPad, which is pretty nice. All of this, though, seems like overkill unless you routinely have at least four or five incoming shipments at a time. And for $6, it’s almost certainly an unnecessary extravagance. [iTunes]

SketchBook Pro
Ten bucks and a stylus turns your iPad into a Wacom tablet. Obviously I can’t draw as well as a first grader or come anywhere close to the advertised samples on the iTunes page, but SketchBook Pro is an amazing app that hints at the iPad’s content creation potential. It flings you into its interface after a crash course on how to adjust, resize and manipulate your brushes, then you’re let loose on a blank canvas to do your worst (or best). Using your fingers is a tad cumbersome since any unwanted input from your palm is interpreted literally and can add some stray strokes to that magnum opus, but thankfully there’s an undo button. A stylus helped keep the line fidelity steady so consider purchasing one if you’re serious about drawing. Recommended for artists and doodlers everywhere. [iTunes]

Stumbleupon is a community that acts as a springboard to most of what’s good, or popular, on the internet. Input your interests, get recommendations, and then give your recommendations thumbs up or thumbs down. Simple. The trouble is this app kinda blows. It’s slow to load pages and only offers a maximum of 16 choices per category to view at a time. If you go to the actual website via Safari you’ll find you get better functionality and speedier page loads. The recommendations are not always consistent as well. It’s kind of like a 4chan image board free-for-all in terms of what you may or may not see on a given splash page – making it a pain to try and find something again if you didn’t add it to your favourites. Also, I couldn’t log in to save my life, probably just a launch hiccup, but a huge downside nonetheless. Free. [iTunes]

Popular Science +
One of the biggest promises of the iPad is to save the magazine industry. PopSci’s app offers a digital version of their famous magazine. Rather than flicking from left to right through pages, you flick through whole articles in this manner. To actually read content, you scroll down the page (with more flicking). This left right up down pattern is odd at first, but you’ll adjust after about a minute – thanks largely to the pretty pictures and overall speediness of the interface. My main qualm is simply that in the April 2010 issue (the only one available at this time), text is always presented in the same skinny column layout (in landscape and portrait). We want to keep the magazine style around for its artistic layouts, and tablets are a place to take those layouts to new heights. $6 with one free issue included. [iTunes]

ESPN ScoreCenter XL
If the iPad is going to be your new newspaper, then it has to replace box scores, too. ESPN ScoreCenter XL does that and more, letting you put together a custom package of the sports and teams you care about, enhanced with video, play-by-play rundowns and live stats. The app is a gateway to a wealth of information, but the layout isn’t super intuitive, so it still seems like a wealth of information – too much, at some points. The basic things – stats, scores, standings – are all laid out plain and simple, but there doesn’t seem like there’s a unifying element that brings it together as a manageable package. And at $6, it might be best to wait and see how the sports app scene shakes out. [iTunes]

Every Giz writer is loving the NPR app, and it’s obvious why: You can’t question the app’s sheer robustness. You can scroll through tons of content on the mainpage, look up any NPR station to livestream and even play some of the most premium content like This American Life on demand. Plus, the iPad’s speaker makes for the perfect, cheap radio effect – allowing you to ditch AM receivers once and for all. But if the app fails in one place, it’s that there’s simply too much content presented in too many different ways. Flip through icons, use forward and back functions, scroll through lists, search by radio station to find more lists – everything is jumbled. We’d just love one simple view option for every major show. [iTunes]

Facebook isn’t showing signs of letting up anytime soon, and even if you’re currently in your personal Facebook Backlash stage, as I am, the idea of dumping all your Facebook friends into the Contacts app on your new iPad isn’t a bad one. Sadly, ContactPad is not the app to do it. The $4 app offers a list of all your Facebook friends, in no discernible order, which you’re forced to peck through one at a time to dump into contacts. I don’t know if it’s a function of my friends’ privacy settings or what, but for most of the friends I checked out, the only syncable options were Image and Facebook URL, so the contact the app created was basically a thumbnail shot of my friend with a link to their Facebook page. And that’s not saving anyone any time, now is it. [iTunes]

Plants Vs Zombies HD
It’s been widely acclaimed on almost every portable platform known to man, but I admit, I avoided Plants Vs Zombies, much because I knew it was coming to the iPad at a higher resolution. The game is beautiful, and tower defence titles (of which I’m a huge, huge fan) obviously work wonderfully on a large touchscreen. I was quickly suckered into way too much “test” time with Plants Vs Zombies, despite it being far simpler than the hardcore tower defence games I usually play (you don’t route enemies through a maze like other games, and towers don’t have quite the same rock, paper, scissors effects). It’s just charming, addictive eye candy. My only real complaint is that this, along with many other “HD” games don’t include a free version for my iPhone. $13. [iTunes]

National Geographic World Atlas HD
I don’t know what I expected this app to be, but even at $2.49, World Atlas HD let me down. It’s essentially a world map (coupled with limited demographic data) that you can look at in a few different styles. If you’ve used Google Maps/Earth for more than five minutes, this will feel antiquated and pointless – especially as locally saved maps fail to download, the app crashes and, when you zoom in too far (which you will), you’re rerouted to Bing’s maps that don’t match the old school map experience. $2.49 of app spam. [iTunes]

SplitBrowser, as its name would suggest, offers a browser that’s split into two independent, resizable panes, each with their own address bar, navigation buttons, and pinching and tapping functionality. The idea here is that you could watch a YouTube video, in that disengaged, glancing way that we’re all used to watching YouTube videos, while surfing around in the other pane. That’s not the only use for two panes – any streaming service, like, say, Pandora, would work in this setup – but it’s the arrangement that makes the most sense to me. Anyway, in practice, it’s OK but not great. The bar splitting the browser windows is a little too thick and unsightly, and watching a video in one pane makes the flicking and scrolling in the other one a little choppy, which, especially on a device as elegant as the iPad, is a big ding. The iPad’s screen seems big compared to an iPhone and opens up a lot of new possibilities for new apps, but I’m not sure it’s quite big enough to justify two paned browsing. Still, it’s only $2.49, and if you’re someone whose surfing includes a lot of reading up on one thing while glancing at a video of another, it works as advertised. [iTunes]

Voice Memos
Voice memos. On your iPad. Pretty much a no brainer and I’m sure you’ve probably downloaded this already. If you’ve used any voice recorder ever you know the drill: Record, Stop, Playback, Delete – oh, look, a new VU meter! That’s the gist. The trouble is this first version has a HUGE flaw. You can only toggle the playhead in landscape mode and when you try to – let’s say fast forward to the 35-minute mark in a 40-minute lecture, the playhead glitches the fuck out and completely fails. Meaning you’d have to physically sit there and listen until the part you wanted cued up. This is sure to be fixed, but renders this app essentially useless in the mean time for practical purposes. Sound-wise it does the job. Audio is crisp and captures voices relatively well. Plug in your iPhone headphones and use the built in mic for more candid functionality. Background noise can be an issue in a crowded setting, so keep that mind if you have to interview the elderly at a dirt bike rally.

EXO-Planet is a local Bluetooth or internet Wi-Fi-based third-person shooter that’s actually pretty decent. It has only capture the flag mode, so if you’re not a fan of that and would just want to deathmatch or team deathmatch, this isn’t for you. But jumping around space in zero gravity and grappling around avoiding gunfire is hard to turn down. $9. [iTunes]

Dungeon Hunter HD

Until Blizzard brings Diablo to the iPad, Dungeon Hunter HD is the closest experience you’ll find to the classic, top-down action RPG. You’ll notice a few shortcuts (like grainy icons) that were taken in porting Dungeon Hunter from the iPhone version, but you’ll quickly look beyond these minor blemishes as you hurl lightning bolts, develop skill trees and, of course, dungeon crawl for loot with superb graphics and some of the best controls you can find on a touchscreen. For $9, it’s a no-brainer purchase if you enjoy the genre. [iTunes]

Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies for iPad

It’s essentially the same game as the iPhone one, complete with the second add-on DLC map and larger-sized screen/controls. It looks better than you’d expect on an iPad – definitely not as good as a 360, but you’d be impressed. Two of the three control schemes are good. The dual stick and the touch screen are usable, but tilt, the best one on the iPad, is really awkward with the increased weight.

Single player is lots of fun, and 4-player multiplayer, both internet and local Wi-Fi, work well. The only problem is that connecting to each other is really finicky and dependent on your wireless connection, so it might not work well for you. It’s $18 though, so you have to weigh out how much you really want this game compared to the previous two relatively-similar incarnations. [iTunes]

NetNewsWire for iPad
If you use an RSS reader on the Mac, you know NetNewsWire is the best tool for that job. But the $13 iPad version fell short of my expectations. It handled my countless subscriptions smoothly enough – no small feat – but actually browsing the content was cumbersome, largely because the app puts all navigational buttons at the top of the screen (which makes no sense when you actually hold the iPad). Such design elements may seem trivial, but as soon as you want to casually skim your feed, you’ll realise that the interface is constantly fighting you. You can share links to places like Twitter, but beyond that, it’s just a $13 means to clunkily experience RSS. [iTunes]

Touchgrind HD
Basically a higher resolution port of the popular iPhone game. You have a skateboard and use your fingers as makeshift skater legs to ollie, grind and pop shuvit to your heart’s content. The learning curve and turning are a bit hard to grasp initially, but once you get the hang of things the potential for fun really opens up. Sound effects are fantastic and pitch perfect for the most part as you grind from rails to wood to wipe outs, making completed tricks all the more satisfying. Since the game lacks its own music iPod integration is essential – and thankfully present – just create your own custom playlist and skate an endless jam session. The parks are a tad bare and you’ll be staring at concrete a lot while you grasp the ins and outs of doing tricks. Unlockable boards are plentiful and keep things engaging while you try to climb the global point leaderboard. Ten dollars is a pretty reasonable price considering some other HD titles are inflated rather ridiculously. [iTunes]

You’ve probably bought PAC-MAN five to 10 times by now on various platforms, and the new iPad version is a most barebones classic version. But I enjoyed the experience enough for it to be worth $6. Why? Nostalgia. And not just PAC-MAN-exclusive nostalgia. I mean, playing PAC-MAN specifically on the iPad reminded me implicitly of the old Coleco game from the ’80s. Still, for most people, I have a feeling that $6 for another repackaged version of the game feels a little steep. [iTunes]

Zen Bound 2
Review here.

We ran out of space! For part 2 of our app review marathon go here.