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Monday, February 7, 2011

Android Market Roundup: Time to Listen, Build, and Battle

It's time once again for the Android Market Roundup. As usual, we're going to sort out what's good, and what's not in the Market to save you some time. Just scan the QR code or open the link to head to the new Android Market Web Store. This week we're looking at a new music player, a tower defense game with a retro vibe, an app to help find your phone, a game about monkeys, and a game about building bridges.

Don't go anywhere until you've checked out all these apps!

Songbird (beta)

If you've ever used the desktop version of Songbird, you are familiar with the slick design and feature richness of the program. The new beta of Songbird for Android certainly delivers on one of those counts, and the other may be coming along soon. If you've grown tired of your current music player replacement (or if you're using the stock app), Songbird could be the breath of fresh air you need.

The app's main screen is composed of links to your music via the usual tags like Artist, Playlist, Album, Song, etc. Tapping on one of these will load up a scrollable list that you can drill down into through the usual hierarchical structure. A nice little feature is that if you pull up past the top of the list, you get a search box that you can use to find content. Whenever you are browsing, you can switch to a different view with the links at the top. Press the bird to go back to the main screen.

Playing content is shown in a pull up shade much like in Winamp. This interface has a large album art image with stylish playback controls at the bottom (these are persistent at the bottom of the screen even when the shade is closed). You can drop this shade down and continue browsing at any time, then come back to it later. Of course, you get the usual shuffle and repeat controls here. The seek bar seems strangely difficult to grab, though. We're hoping that gets fixed. One feature we like is the button to return to the currently playing list. This button will float to the top when you close the playback shade so you can access it at any time.

Songbird offers a few interesting features even at this early stage. In the playback shade, you can turn on Flickr streams that will find and display images of the artist you are listening to. You can scroll through these as you listen. There is Facebook integration to share what you are listening to as well. On the home screen, you have a widget that, while simple, is functional and attractive. We're hoping for some more features, like maybe lock screen player controls or an equalizer. But the Songbird beta is free, and a really nice looking player.

Crystal Defenders

It might not be a real Final Fantasy game, but Square Enix's Crystal Defenders is a capable tower defense game in the style of the popular RPG series. Instead of placing actual towers, you place characters from the games and can power them up with various crystals as they go up against enemies from the same saga.

The game has two different game modes called W1 and W2. W1 is an easier version of the game and does not use the power crystal game mechanic seen in W2. Both versions are worth playing, but the power crystals are quite useful once you figure out their use. Just stay alive as long as possible before 20 enemies get past you. It happens faster than you expect often. In both game modes, you drag characters from the right pane onto the map and set them where you please. Some are ranged, and other actually run out into the path of creeps to attack. This makes for a visually interesting battle.

In W2 you cal place three different types of power crystals on the map to boost your troops. They can impart increased attach rate, attack power, or attack range. You will need to plan ahead in placement as these only have a small effective range. As you move them around, your troops will dance around to let you know they are in a position to get the benefit. This is a nice touch. Tapping on any crystals or units will let you upgrade them. Gold is earned for each enemy killed.

The graphics are intentionally retro feeling. All the better to get that old RPG vibe. The sounds too are right out of an old Final Fantasy game. Performance has been good overall. We are seeing the occasional lag on the Nexus S, but it is rare, and restarting the game tends to fix it. This is no problem as there is a manual save option in the menu (something we wish more games had). Crystal Defenders is a little pricey at about $7.35, so be sure you want to risk it before proceeding.

Seek Droid

If you've ever been worried about losing your phone, Seek Droid is what you need. This app offers all the features you might need to find a missing device, and lock it down if you believe it to be stolen. All this for no monthly fee like some other apps require. The only drawback right now, is that it is for Android 2.2 and higher only. If you're still rocking Éclair or earlier, you might as well stop reading now, because you're going to want this.

When you first run it, Seek Droid will need to be set as a device administrator. The app on the phone is just a settings menu where you choose a login and password, and enable various features. All the action happens at From here you can locate your phone quickly and easily. There is a large Google map with the location right there. We found it to be very accurate, and the location was displayed in only a few seconds. If you think your phone is just misplaced, or in the hands of a benevolent stranger, you can use the alarm function. This will let you make the phone buzz and display a message. It works even if the phone is asleep using the cloud2device push service.

If you are less confident about the scruples of the person in possession of your phone, you can pull a call log in It shows both incoming and outgoing calls, and is usually retrieved in a few seconds. The app itself can be hidden from the launcher by clicking Hide on the website. This is great to keep people from disabling the service, though few would know to do that.

The last two functions are really the nuclear option. You can lock and wipe the phone, but these must be enabled in the app on the phone. You can even allow wiping of the SD card. We're really happy to see these options in an app that does not require a subscription. This app works flawlessly and as far as we can tell, has no impact on battery life. The app is on sale for $0.99 in the Market, so grab it fast.

Tiki Towers 2

In the new Tiki Towers 2, you have to build a structure that can get your crate of monkeys to the goal, while scooping up as many bananas as possible. Sound confusing? Well, the game is actually really intuitive, and if you've played World of Goo, you'll be extra familiar with the game play.

In each level, you have a set number of bamboo pieces. You have to build a structure that bridges the location of you crate of monkey, with the level exit. You can get bonuses for picking up all the bananas in the level as well. You press and drag to place your bamboo bits. There is a preview showing the structural elements before you let go. Some levels have additional materials you can attach to your construct. For instance, there are vines that pull upward to help orient the finished product toward a goal. Double tapping will zoom in and out.

When you have finished building, tap the action button in the corner, and the moneys will be released. They climb and swing on your structure to reach to goal. If there is a banana accessible, they will grab that as well. If you have not properly supported everything, poles may break, and drop you monkeys or leave them stranded. Pieces of the structure will turn red as more stress is placed on them. This will let you troubleshoot if things don't go well. You will sometimes have to remove bamboo from the structure to let it sag in just the right way to reach the goal. All the simians must make it to the goal to complete the level, and the number varies by stage.

The graphics in Tiki Towers 2 range from great, to a little unpolished. Most of the app's elements are crisp enough for our tasted, but the background in the levels can sometimes look poorly done. Still, the animations are top notch as the monkey start flinging themselves across your hastily built configuration. The only real problem we have with the game is that panning your view is a little difficult. You have to over-exaggerate for the game to realize you want to pan, not place a stick. There are 30 levels to complete, some of them quite challenging. The game is going for $2.99 in the Android Market if you're interested.

X Construction

In X Construction, it's all up to you to create a serviceable bridge out of various materials so that a train can cross it. This game makes use of solid graphics and realistic physics to make the experience much more fun than it sounds.

In each of the 12 stages (more apparently coming soon), you will need to take stock of you materials. In the early stages, you only have girders. Start by laying out the deck by making a series of segments across the ravine. Then you just need to figure out how to support it. To add supports, you just need to connect new segments to an existing joint. Some levels will offer extra connection points to build support towers. In later stages you will get cables to make suspension bridges. Cables can connect points much further apart, girders are for short lengths only.

The game uses a color-coded circle around the touch point to let you know when you are properly connecting two points. This is a smart move since fingers tend not to be transparent. You can remove items with the wrench, or by hitting the undo button. Zooming is accomplished with the on-screen buttons. We wish there was multitouch zoom, though. When you want to give a bridge a shot, just hit the play button at the top. Stress on your bridge sections is shown in red. If it fails, the train will plunge into the valley and you'll have to try again. You can modify the bridge as many times as it takes.

The game has a really nice look to it. Almost cartoon/cell shaded, in fact. The animation when/if a bridge fails is very entertaining to watch. As a parts of it break, you can see how other bits are affected until it all comes down, along with the train. We don't see any lag, and touch input is accurate. Once the regular stages are done, you can go wild in the sandbox stages. This alone makes the game worth the $1.37 the dev is asking.

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