This Week's Best Apps

In this week's app mix: translating, made magical; spooky old games, ported; contacts, managed; other contacts, stalked; Monkey Island, revisited; your friends' tweets and Facebook updates, beautified; and a whole lot more!


Word Lens: Here's what I said when it dropped:

Word Lens, an app that translates English text to and from Spanish on the fly, is a reminder of just how powerful apps can be. But how's it really work? It ain't perfect, but it's still pretty damn amazing.

I pointed Word Lens at all the Spanish I could find-the taco truck down the street, a Spanish-language newspaper, some signs on Google Street View and Google images-and I have to say that I was pretty amazed by how well it performed. Sure, sometimes words jump around like shapeshifters on crack, translating and retranslating rapidly as you jiggle the camera. And of course the translations are just done word by word, resulting in broken sentences that rarely have any semblance of correct syntax. But if you come into it with your expectations in check, Word Lens is still a terrific feat in mobile computing, even if its futuristic WOW quotient is, for now, a bit greater than its real world usefulness.

The app, which was released this morning by a company called QuestVisual, was two and half years in the making, according to founders Otavio Good and John DeWeese. Good admitted to TechCrunch that the "translation isn't perfect, but it gets the point across," and said that French, Italian and Portuguese were likely candidates for future updates. But even without knowing what updates lie ahead for Word Lens, it's already an undeniably exciting taste of the future, one of the rare apps that transforms our smartphones into something entirely new.

Free, $6 for language translation packs

Riven: The Sequel to Myst: Riven, the awesome, often frustrating sequel to Myst, has been ported in its entirety to iOS. It weighs in at 1.01GB, so you're probably gonna wanna download it on your computer and sync it over. $8. Also works on iPad.

The 7th Guest: Speaking of spooky old games, what say you, Jason...

While I was checking out The 7th Guest for iPhone, the one thing I couldn't help but think was: Why is this so much faster now than when I played it 17 years ago on a PC?

It's entirely possible that my computer was insanely slow back then. It's also possible that they've sped up the animations, because people can't be bothered to watch a five-second transition to get from the kitchen to the main staircase. Or, it could just be that the iPhone 4 is actually an assload faster compared the machines that ran this game back in 1993.

The 7th Guest is notable because it was it was one of the first games to be on CDROM, and one of the first ones to be comprised almost fully of FMV sequences, with CG puzzles. And it was really, really scary. I think 12-year-old Jason, playing this game in the dark, had to stop on more than one occasion just to not get freaked out.

The game translates well to the iPhone, except that sometimes the puzzles are a bit hard to click on, because they're slightly tiny for the screen. Otherwise, man, playing this game again brings back a lot of memories. It's just $4 for the iPhone version (seriously!?) and $8 for the iPad version. If you have an iPad, you should go for that one, for the increased size. I don't think I actually finished The 11th Hour, so I'm waiting eagerly for that to hit iOS.

$4 for iPhone; $8 for iPad

Surfline: I guess there's supposed to be some sort of zen element to surfing, but that doesn't mean you can't obsessively check your smartphone for the surf report beforehand. The Surfline app's extended forecasts and live cameras should do the trick.

The companion app to the popular surf site claims to be the only one with live HD cameras (at over 90 destinations around the US and Hawaii) though you'll need to be a premium Surfline member to enjoy them. Free users get a still camera image updated every 10 minutes, as well as surf reports that include wind speed, surf height, tides, weather and the like. The app also boasts surf forecasts (days days for free users, five days for premium) as well as the ability to bookmark favorite spots and watch various surf videos. Free.

Friends: A contacts manager to end all contacts managers, Friends lumps your Address Book contacts, Facebook friends, Twitter followees and more into one mega list. From there you can dive into a single contact and view their activity across social networks (or do regular stuff like text 'em, call 'em, write 'em a Facebook message, etc) or step back and view all your friends' activity - their Facebook posts, tweets and the like - in one huge aggregated feed. Right now the app supports Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, and Instapaper, though I wouldn't be surprised to see more in future updates. Read more in its App of the Day entry. $2.49.

Google Latitude: iPhone users can now get their creep on with the the official Latitude app from the world's most creep-enabling company. Free

Lab: A pretty app for finding out all the stuff your iPhone doesn't tell you about the photos it takes-how big they are, in pixels and in megabytes; when they were taken; where they were taken; their aperture, ISO, and shutter speed information, etc. All that is served up for every photo in your Photo Roll with a nice clothesline interface, a map for where the photo was snapped, and a histogram for a quick exposure overview. $1.19.

Doodle Jump Christmas Special: I'm not that ashamed to admit that I still play Doodle Jump on a regular basis, and the new Doodle Jump Christmas Special, with not just a touch of tinsel here and there but a fully reworked winterised look, is as good an excuse as ever to be waving my iPhone back and forth like a madman for apparently no reason. And that's really all I want this Christmas. $1.19.

SlingPlayer Mobile: The best way to get real TV on your iPhone just got much nicer looking - SlingPlayer Mobile 2.0 brings a new program guide and - and! - high quality streaming (if your bandwidth is up for it)! $37.


Flipboard: Flipboard's been celebrated as one of the iPad's finest apps, and deservedly so - it does a great job of taking the torrent of text links that occupy our Facebook and Twitter feeds and arranging them into a beautiful little pseudo magazine. The new Flipboard update crunches and beautifies even more content-a small but cool stable of sites (Uncrate, Williams-Sonoma, All Things Digital, Washington Post Magazine, etc), RSS feeds via Google Reader, Flickr, and individual facets of Twitter and Facebook (@replies, Twitter lists; Facebook groups, photos in your feed, videos in your feed, etc.). The update also brings the ability to compose tweets and Facebook updates from within the app, giving you less reason to leave than ever. Free.

CNN for iPad: CNN's redesigned iPad app feels how a tablet-optimized news app should-it offers several ways to sift through news, most of which are image-based, it makes commenting on and sharing articles a snap, and it's got high quality video baked in at every turn. Free.

Tales of Monkey Island: Episode 1: After having reinvigorated our love for old Monkey Island favorites, the iPad now has fresh high seas adventures in the form of Tales of Monkey Island. The first installment of five is available now for $9. Swashbucklin' ain't cheap.


Google Maps 5.0: It makes Google Maps even better (even though it was already the best). Here's what Matt thinks:

Google Maps 5.0 for Android is here, and it makes every other maps app-including older Google Maps and Google Maps on the iPhone-seem straight-up Stone Age. Just watch.

Google's fundamentally changed the underlying architecture of Google Maps with 5.0-before it was tile-based, but now it's all done with vector graphics to dynamically draw the maps, so Maps uses around way less data than before.

Need For Speed: Shift: Need for Speed: Shift was already one of the best racing games on Android, the only problem was that it only came pre-installed on certain phones. Not anymore! For $5.14 you can enjoy the rich graphics and buttery smooth gameplay. It's totally worth it, if you dig these kind of games.

Spider-Man Total Mayhem HD: More games! Spider-man Total Mayhem HD is available for $US5 on Android (through the Gameloft mobile store). It's been on iOS and it's all kinds of awesome, where the action game is uber-popular and is fun to play (its fighting mechanism is solid and it's quick paced). At $US4.99, it's quite a steal for such a full featured game, really.

Trillian: Whitson from Lifehacker says:

The stable version of Trillian has a few neat features that weren't in our first look at the beta, like the ability to stay connected to Wi-Fi even when the phone is asleep, as well as the ability to go into a "battery saving mode" where poll times are longer but won't kill your phone as quickly. The Push to Email feature is also nice (though it's been there for awhile), allowing you to suspend Trillian and push any incoming emails to IM so you don't miss any messages.

It's $5.14, though.

LinkedIn: LinkedIn finally has an official Android app (albeit in beta) that lets you keep your professional social network in order. Most everything is there but full access to inbox, sharing and commenting and "people you may know" will come in future updates.

Facebook: Kat says:

Hey, fire up the ol' Android, and update that clunky Facebook app. Notice anything? It's not as buggy! Plus, it now has Chat integration (with push notifications). It's a free download.

Finally, a good Facebook Android app?

Comics from Comixology: Comics! Move with the times and get them on your phone. Comixology is the largest digital comics store and it sells comics from DC, Dark Horse and Image, so you'll have a ton of options to choose from. The app has been around, so now Android have their chance at reading 2500 digital comics and over 300 free comics from 40 different publishers.

Chumby: It turns your Android device into a Chumby, which means you can make your Android phone run Chumby flash-based apps and use it to stream media like photos, tweets, various status messages and more. It's supposed to be ideal for tablets and docked phones. If you're totally in love with Chumby (and you should be as it's $5.14), it's Chumby on your phone (but less cute).

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.

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