This month we’ve been birding, soaking up the view, checking out airports, streaming movies and music from our desktop media library, writing these reviews and getting twelve somethings for nothing.
Having occupied the top of the charts for so long, you’d think the Angry Birds wouldn’t be quite so angry any more. Yet here they are, back for more with their furrowed brows and daft gobbling little voices, back in the same old groove, this time with a winter theme in Angry Birds: Seasons (£0.59).
We’ve already taken a look at this festive turkey-shoot for Android handsets, but for anyone unfamiliar with the birds’ schtick, it’s simple.
Each level presents a rickety structure, inside which hide the birds’ nemesis – the green pigs – together with a selection of brightly coloured presents. Your job is to knock down the structures, killing the pigs and popping the presents by catapulting the birds into the middle of them.
The result is mayhem, much harder than Crush The Castle (an early favourite of the same genre) – and funnier, too, mainly because of the constant grumbling soundtrack, the clever animation and bizarre powers’ exhibited by different types of bird. Some explode, some are jet-propelled, some drop massive eggs.
The festive special comes with a nice advent calendar twist, with levels remaining locked until the corresponding day in December. Not much else is new, but we’ve included the game here in recognition of the fact that the best iPad titles are constantly evolving, adding new levels and features (and angry avians) as they go.
Sometimes you just want an app that takes over the whole of the iPad’s gorgeous screen and then makes merry with it. As the year ends and the weather closes in, we’ve been greatly enjoying the company of Gaze HD – Beautiful Views (£1.19), a collection of soothing high-definition videos of waterfalls, clouds, fire, rain and generally tranquil scenes.
Part of the pleasure of Gaze is that it doesn’t really do anything – you can display the date and a clock, tell the screen to fade after a pre-set time, re-order the videos and change how long each one is displayed. Apart from that, it’s just you and a selection of evocative, natural scenes that turn the iPad into a beautiful electronic picture frame.
We’re not frequent flyers these days. But if we were then Airport Ace (£1.79) would be high on our shopping list. This app includes details of 55 airports from around the world (well sort of, since the US is way over-represented and Africa, India and China are nowhere to be seen). For those airports covered, there’s plenty of useful information – including car parking, getting there, restaurants, shopping and other services, terminal maps and ‘information’, which is just the Wikipedia entry for the relevant airport.
Limited as the app is, at this price it’s worth it just for the terminal maps and travel info. The former are attractive, easy to navigate and – used alongside the amenities list, provide you with all the info you need to get fleeced before you fly. The latter should ensure you get there in plenty of time for the aforementioned fleecing. There’s loads more that could be done here, but recent updates indicate the author’s on the case.
Part of our regular routine is moving TV programs and movies that we’ve recorded from one computer to another. No more. Thanks to Zumocast (FREE), we can now stream the contents of our Mac or PC to either an iPhone or iPad.
Once you’ve download the app you need to grab the desktop program and then link the two via your free Zumocast account. Finally, select the folders on the computer you’d like to share and then navigate to wherever your songs or films or photos are stored. Zumocast supports a wide range of video formats and these are transcoded on the fly and adjusted to fit your device and the snappiness of your connection.
It’s possible to download files to the iPad as well, but one of the reasons we like Zumocast is because it saves space – every show we stream is one less to store on our iPad. Video’s not as consistently rock-solid as we’d like, but overall we’re deeply impressed. Oh – and you can also get at your own music and video from any web-connected computer via the Zumocast web site. Not bad for a free app. Not bad at all.
Given that distraction-free writing is all the rage, we’ve been spending time with Writer (£2.99) name-checked by English comedian, actor and writer Stephen Fry and – if it’s not a misnomer – one of the most sophisticated offerings of its type for the iPad. Text editors like this remove the clutter and screen furniture associated with programs like Pages by offering up a blank page, a simple command bar and no formatting options, making it easier to concentrate on what you’re writing.
In addition, Writer also includes a ‘focus view’ which fades out all the text on the page apart from the three lines you’re currently working on. This is disconcerting at first (it disables scrolling, for example), but it’s an interesting feature, designed to help you negotiate tricky passages of text by blanking everything else out.
Writer includes a running word count and an odd, less-than-convincing timer which estimates how long it’ll take to read the text you’ve typed. There’s Dropbox sync too (which by itself gives it a profound advantage over other text editors, which rely on e-mail or iTunes to get documents on and off the iPad). But where Writer really scores is by re-arranging the keyboard to add common punctuation marks in a line along the top of the keyboard, together with left and right cursors (hurrah!) and ‘Word’ keys which move back and forth a word at a time.
Finally, there are plenty of things we don’t like about the way Apple runs the iTunes Store, but this isn’t one of them. 12 Days of Christmas (FREE) lets you download a free gift from the store between December 26th and January 6th. If last year’s giveaway is anything to go, by it’ll be a mixed bunch – but among the apps, songs, movies, books and TV shows on offer, there’s sure to be something to tempt even the most skeptical soul. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Company: Apple via the iTunes Store
Various, as above.
All apps available via the iTunes Store.