This Week's Best Apps

In this week's iPhone, iPad and Android app round-up: AT-AT's, brought down; Android input, Palm Pilot Graffiti-fied; Dracula, vanquished; calculations, beautified; Starfleet communiques, transmitted; deers, hunted; Firefox, synced; trains, conducted chaotically and more!


Star Wars: Battle For Hoth: Take it away, Casey:

Here's the deal: If you like tower defence games and love Star Wars, Star Wars: Battle for Hoth at $3.99 is a great buy. There's 15 levels, two different game modes and gameplay just lasts forever. Plus, you get to play as part of the Rebel Alliance and see clips of The Empire Strikes Back. There's also a few fresh control options that make Battle for Hoth feel a little different than other tower defence games, like being able to dictate which defence units can attack what and having to manually collect points. My only problem is that the icons, text and graphics just don't display well on the iPhone 4's screen. It's not a complete deal breaker, just a sorta underwhelming visual experience. Other than that, the gameplay and controls are fine (once you get used to them).

Helsing's Fire: I, Kyle VanHelsing, adore this game:

The game puts you in the wing-tipped shoes of Professor Helsing, who, along with his helpful assistant Raffton, is charged with banishing Dracula and his minions to the netherworld. To do so, he/you must strategically place a torch amidst a screen full of blocks and barricades, casting its righteous, vampire-killing light on whatever baddies may lurk nearby. It's not the most action-packed game play, but the light-puzzle dynamic is unique enough to hold one's interest. But where the game really shines is in the world it creates. New enemies introduce themselves with hilarious verve and the game is punctuated by reliably clever Victorian-era shit-talking. The puzzle-solving itself is captivating, but it's the writing of Helsing's Fire that really steals the show. All in all, it's the rare game that stands out in more ways than one, and for that it's well worth your $1.19.

MapHook: A clever social networking app based around "hooks" - places or events that supplemented with text, photos or links that can be easily shared with friends (or published to all users, or kept private). Built in location functionality makes it a pretty convenient, archiveable way to let your friends know about that cool restaurant you just stumbled across. Free.

CalcBot: Joining the distinguished Bot App family, including Papa Pastebot, Cousin Convertbot and Wally Weightbot, is Calcbot, a stylish, simple calculator for both iPhone and iPad. It has swipe access for advanced functions and calculation history, and is currently just $1.19. Also works with the iPad.

Star Trek Original Series Communicator: Ah yes, straight from CBS, here is the official way to turn your iPhone into the Star Trek communicator (and that's really how you think of it anyway, right?). The nicely designed app lets you call your contacts just like you would normally (in the future, in space) and it has all the bells and whistles of the Starfleet gizmo, along with sound effects and clips from the show. It's a little glitchy sometimes, but presumably it'll gain some polish in future updates. $2.49.

StarDunk: StarDunk - that's kinda like Space Jam, and that should be enough to make you run over to the App Store and download this game straight away. But if not, it's gravity-enhanced hoop-shooting with a huge multiplayer component. $1.19.

Firefox Home: Rosa tells it:

It's been a while since we first heard about Firefox Home, an app which allows you to sync your desktop browsing session to your iPhone, but it's been approved by Apple and is available in the iTunes store now.

The app is free and basically means that your iPhone will show your "Firefox history, bookmarks and open tabs, just as you had left them on your desktop computer.

Train Conductor 2: Casey, an amateur train conductor himself, says:

If you've ever played Flight Control, Harbor Master or the original Train Conductor, you'll love Train Conductor 2. If you haven't played any of those, you'll still probably love Train Conductor 2. It's a fast-paced, time management game.

Train Conductor 2 is in America (instead of the original's Australia). The five levels in the game include New York City, Miami Beach, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon and Nashville, with improvements from the original being a new HUD and iPhone 4/iPad graphics. The goal is still the same: direct trains with your finger to avoid Amtravesties. These type of games are so easily digestible that they get incredibly addicting. I'd say it's definitely worth the $1.19.

Also works on the iPad.


Deer Hunter 3D: It's just like the Deer Hunter you play when you're drunk, except that you're tapping a screen instead of a wielding a plastic orange gun, and you're doing it in the privacy of your own home instead of the back of some bar. Whether that's a good thing or not is for you to decide! But the app itself looks great, with a variety of detailed, expansive environments and animals for the huntin'. One especially nice feature: an interactive map that lets you travel around the areas to make your kills. The price, $13, is a little steep, but if you're into shooting guns at animals there's a lot of thoughtful detail here to love.

Fruit Ninja HD: Not all great iPhone games make sense on the iPad, but Fruit Ninja totally does. The bigger screen lets you slice those flying fruits with more fingers (up to 8 at a time) and play head-to-head against a rival ninja. It's everything you love about the iPhone version, just bigger, brighter and riper. $6.

HelvetiNote: A clean, minimalist note-taking app to match your clean, minimalist tablet, HelvetiNote smartly lets you type notes on the iPad's keyboard or scrawl them in with your finger or a stylus. There are a few features that would make it even more attractive - syncing is chief among them - but for the design-oriented note-taker, HelvitNote's got a fresh look. $4.

Spider: Bryce Manor HD: Another iPhone stand by that gains a lot from the iPad's size, Spider: Bryce Manor HD is an evocative, beautiful mystery told through the eyes of a spider. Like the best iPad games, there's a certain resonance between its various components - story, game play, controls, soundtrack, etc - that make the whole experience all the more powerful. $6.


Swiftkey Keyboard beta: Finally Android users have a keyboard that's actually good. The star feature of Swiftkey is its predictive text, it literally learns the way you type. We're not kidding, Swiftkey will scan your SMS messages to see what words you're most likely to use. Plus, it looks better than the stock Android keyboard. Free.

Goby: If you ask yourself what you should do this weekend every weekend, go and download Goby. Goby gives you suggestions on what to do based on your location. It covers pretty much every city and has 350 categories of activities, so anything that resembles fun will be suggested. Free.

Antennas: If you didn't know, signal strength has been a pretty big issue these days. With Antennas, you can see your actual signal strength and the cell towers closest to you. Pretty handy for general testing or in times of weak signal strength (to see where you need to go). Free.

Onion News Network: The local news is depressing. The Onion is not. The Onion just released their own app for Android and it gives you all the satirical fun that you come to expect from America's finest news source. That is, a deep video catalogue of all their craziest antics and episodes. Free.

Graffiti for Android: For all you PalmOS fans still kicking around, the original Graffiti text input app has been ported to Android. Graffiti for Android lets users use shorthanded gestures in lieu of a keyboard for text entry. Because drawing crude symbols gives you all the nostalgic fun that typing can't. 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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