Addictive, must-have time-wasters.
$2.84 (Android); $.099 (Apple)
Tegra 2 graphics have given Android tablets a massive lift, nowhere more visible than in Pinball HD (which only works on Tegra-equipped tablets and the iPad). There are three tables to choose from: Wild West, Jungle Style and (our favourite) the underwater-themed The Deep. The graphics are impeccable, zooming in and out on parts of the table when necessary, and coping with multiple balls zipping around without a single dropped frame. If you have a pair of stereoscopic glasses handy you can also experience true 3D graphics, although that left us reaching for the Nurofen. That aside, with its perfect physics and ultra-responsive controls, it’s a blast.
There are plenty of impressive-looking 3D racers in the app stores, not least the Need For Speed series. However, Bang Bang Racing’s top-down approach has an old-school arcade charm and bags of playability. You hurtle your car around a variety of courses, with collisions causing the engine to splutter and force you into a splash-and-dash pit stop. The “split-screen” controls with thumbs on either side of the screen is also magnificent.
Speedball 2 – a futuristic hybrid of soccer and American football, married with the violence of Leeds United in the 1970s – was a cult hit on the Amiga and Atari ST. This iPad remake pulls off the rare feat of retaining the original’s character, while applying a welcome polish to the graphics. Swerve the awkward gyroscope controls in favour of the onscreen D-pad and savour this retro gem. “Ice cream! Ice cream!”
The PC&TA office favourite makes a well-judged transition to the iPad, sensibly jettisoning huge player databases and the 3D match engine for a more old-school footie-manager sim feel. SI Games’ famed attention to detail remains, and although the touchscreen controls are occasionally awkward (particularly when trying to drag players into new positions), it retains the authenticity and addictiveness of its PC forebears.
Cut from the same cloth as Settlers, Royal Envoy sees you attempt to rebuild a series of islands that have been all but washed away. Early levels are almost patronisingly simple and the gameplay is frustratingly linear – but stick with it, since this graphical treat builds in complexity over 63 against-the-clock challenges. You certainly can’t afford to dither on your strategy for completing the level if you wish to earn the time bonus.
This bizarre, almost transcendental game requires you to tilt the tablet to roll a ball around a hidden game world, with the “walls” becoming visible only when the ball makes contact with them. Levels are completed when 70% of the game world has been exposed. An inexplicably mesmerising treat.
World of Goo was revered long before the iPad, but it feels like it was born to be played with touch controls. This spotlessly presented physics game requires you to transport Lemmings-like blobs of goo from one end of the level to another, by arranging the malleable little globules into ever more elaborate constructions. Hints arrive in the form of wittily written wooden signs dotted around the levels and, if you go wrong, a tap on one of the white flies buzzing around the screen will undo your last move. The physics are spot on, and there’s generally more than one way to complete each level, some of which are mercilessly tough. Praise be for the Skip Level option.
Social and Communication
Keep in touch with your friends, family and social network groupies.
If you spend even a fraction of your time reviewing or approving PDF documents for a living, iAnnotate is an essential download. A swipe of the finger is all that’s required to highlight, underline or strike out text, which you can annotate with your comments using the iPad’s onscreen keyboard. Want to move a photo up? Use the predefined shapes to issue your instructions, or drop an Approved stamp on pages that are ready to go. When you’ve made all your mark-ups, you can email the PDF with your annotations overlaid to your colleagues, who can see all your marks using the latest version of the free Adobe Reader software. Seamless integration with the online synchronisation service Dropbox (see p26), slick performance and excellent onscreen help prompts round off a highly polished app for professionals and students alike.
If your tablet is 3G-enabled, the Opera Mini browser may well save you from smashing through your data cap. Instead of downloading full-resolution images on every website you visit, Opera Mini compresses the page on the company’s servers before squirting the slimmed-down page to your device. This can lead to blurry pictures, but that’s better than a stonking data bill. If you’re running on Wi-Fi, Opera Mobile offers better support for HTML5 and Flash (although only on Android).
There’s no more attractive way to keep abreast of your social networks or favourite news sites than the coffee table-friendly Flipboard. By converting plain-old RSS feeds into a stunningly presented magazine-style flickbook, you can thumb through galleries of friends’ photos on Facebook, read articles shared by associates on Twitter, or skim beautifully formatted news from content partners such as The Telegraph.
An app that brings surfing on an iPad closer to the full desktop experience, 360’s support for various plugins opens up a host of features. These include an advert-free Readability mode that leaves only the text and images to scroll through, foreign-language translation and the option to share web pages through social networking sites. There’s also tabbed browsing and an option to synchronise bookmarks through Firefox Sync. It easily surpasses Safari.
$18.97 (30-day free trial)
This feature-rich email client outstrips the default Android app. Setup is simple, requiring nothing more than an email address and password if your Exchange Server is configured appropriately. All your email, contacts and calendars are contained within the single app, with support for push updates. Two features stand out, especially for business users: data encryption and a brilliantly effective remote wipe facility, which allows you to send an email with a kill code and wipe data from a lost or stolen device. That’s worth the price alone.
The multi-platform Taptu keeps tabs on your newsfeeds and social networking accounts in one enormous scrollable grid. Feeds can be dragged and dropped into your preferred order and resized, allowing you to give greater emphasis to the photos shared by your Facebook friends, for example. It lacks frills, but it offers an efficient, at-a-glance update of your social life.
TweetComb brings the distinctive look and feel of the popular Twitter client, TweetDeck, to Android tablets. Utilising the same column-based approach, this application is capable of displaying far more information than many paid-for alternatives. With support for multiple accounts, push notifications, and the option to send tweets longer than the traditional 140-character limit, TweetComb is a valuable freebie.
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