Android Games Review

Mobile Game Review – Marvel’s Avengers Academy

Marvel’s latest mobile game is Avengers Academy, which is one of those thing where they reimagine existing characters (hero and villain) as teenagers.  It works well here, as it seems like there’s some time travel-type shenanigans hinted at as far as the story goes.  It’s by TinyCo, and if you’ve played one of their other games, you’ll get the gist here right away.  Build buildings, recruit new characters, level up, all overlaid with an interface replete with ways to pay to hurry up your progress.


What makes the game work (mostly) for me is the art and voices.  As you upgrade the heroes (and uncover the truth of what’s happening), they begin to look more like their comic book counterparts, and the animations and designs are sharp.  It’s fun watching a giant Hank Pym hop up and sit on his lab, or Wasp and Falcon zipping around the quad.


As far as paying for things goes, the key is to treat it like a game you pick up and play a few minutes at a time, and not rushing through.  Some actions take hours, but I just pop in every once in a while and collect everything and start new actions and it progresses (albeit slowly).  Will I stick with it long term?  We’ll see, but it’s a fun diversion for now.

Android Games Review

Game Review – Tiny Death Star and Heroes of Dragon Age

I don’t talk about or review Android games very often here, mostly because I’m usually the last guy to try one.  But I want to speak about two games today, and the sharp contrast is enjoyment that has nothing to do with the games themselves.  Both Tiny Death Star and Heroes of Dragon Age are based on franchises I enjoy.  Both games are technically ‘free to play’ as well but oh, that’s the rub, isn’t it?

wpid-Screenshot_2013-12-12-18-36-25.pngTiny Death Star is game by Nimblebit via Lucasarts, a Star Wars spin on the company’s Tiny Tower.  The 8-bit pixel graphics are cute, with animations to match.  You need coins (earned from the levels you build as the game progresses) to buy new levels, and each one costs more than the next.  However, as more levels means more cash, there’s a progression.  The ‘bux’ (the currency you can buy with real money) can be earned by playing the game as well as by spending real cash.  It never seems like it’s hopeless if you want to get the updated elevators or whatever else you can buy with bux without spending real money, but if you want to, go for it.

That’s a stark contrast to EA’s Heroes of Dragon Age.  What amounts to a collectible card game with 3d graphics, I had a lot of fun building my squad of heroes and creatures.  The missions weren’t much more than a wall of text and a battle screen, but I enjoyed it.  Until I got to the first mission on the Carta map.  It’s got me ground to a halt.  I’ve been going back through the missions again, grinding away at the missions to get the crystals you can use to buy new randomized characters, but it still hasn’t helped.  There’s no progression, it just stops.  I am fairly certain that what I need is one more high-end character, but it might take weeks of useless grinding until I luck out and get something the one thing I need.  It stops being fun, and that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

Heroes of Dragon Age interested me as I hoped it would tie in to the forthcoming Dragon Age: Inquisition in some way.  It comes off feeling like a blatant cash grab for impatient DA fans.  Tiny Death Star is fun just on it’s own, but that can be enhanced optionally with cash.  Guess which one I’m still playing?


Nook Color Running Ice Cream Sandwich!

I had been meaning to do this since we got it for him, but I put a ‘real’ version of Android on my son’s Nook Color last night.  After checking to see what was currently available for it, I decided to try Android 4.0 – ‘Ice Cream Sandwich’.  I followed the instructions at NookDevs for putting it onto a bootable SD card, and after some initial difficulty getting adb communication issues out of the way (which may have been MY fault), it’s working great.  And if we want to go back to the normal Nook interface, we can just turn it off, take out the SD card, and turn it on.

The ICS interface looks great, though a bit laggy to swipe.  I know some folks upped the screen sensitivity too, may need to look into that.  But I installed some of the go-to games and apps, such as Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, and the like, and they look and play great.  The tablet/ICS version of the GMail app is quite nice, too.  I’m honestly a little jealous.  Looks like a great option for a cheap tablet, especially if you don’t need another device with a camera.  Might just get a cheap Nook Tablet for myself to play around with.  Until then, I’m stealing T’s NC at night.

Featured Gadgets

HTC Rhyme – This Really Bothers Me

Take a look at that phone.  It’s got a lot going for it.  Verizon will probably be pricing it low, and it would fit very well at the low to mid-range of Android handsets.  No 4G, but a better processor than my Optimus S, front-facing camera, a dock with speakers.  Color is odd but hey, if it’s in a case who would know?  I had a purple phone for a year before my HTC Hero because I broke mine and the purple one was the only suitable refurb I could get on the cheap.

But this, this is going to be marketed to women.  It’s not released yet on the Verizon site, but I can imagine it already.  The copy will talk up the ‘charm’ that you can hang on your purse to see when messages come in.  The color will be ‘plum’ or ‘dusky rose’ or some such.  But most of all, it will be clear that this is the phone for women.  Nevermind that women who’d actually use the features of an Android phone to their fullest extent would be better served getting something different.  Can HTC and Verizon not imagine a woman whose choice in phone is not primarily based on color?  While there are ladies (my wife among them) who like to have a phone that is a ‘girly’ color, she also wants it to do the things she needs.

Stop marketing stuff ‘to girls’ or ‘for guys’, and just make good stuff.  If you need color options, take the Dell example and make the backplates swappable.  You can include it as a pre-installed option during purchase at your website, or aftermarket at your partners like Best Buy or Radio Shack.  But to have a completely different, less feature packed phone for women is doing them a disservice.

End rant.


Gingerbread on my LG Optimus S

Woke up this morning and was quite surprised to see a major update for my phone waiting – Gingerbread!  That’s Android 2.3 for the uninitiated.  I was a bit surprised, as I figured it had been long enough that I probably wasn’t getting it.  I fired up the install and am now running from the new build.  The first thing you notice will be the notification bar and interface.  It’s no longer white but black, with green and gray.  I know some people were bothered by the white bar, so there you go.  It is supposed to run faster and be a touch better at saving your battery – that remains to be seen for me.

There are a few quirks.  I charge my phone at work via the USB cable.  I had to install drivers for this to work after the Gingerbread update.  This may not be possible for all of you in a corporate environment, so be aware you may want a wall plug option.  Some others have noted other charging issues, but I haven’t yet.

The new keyboard – be aware you won’t see all the new features unless you select the Android keyboard from input method (in settings or long press on a field you can type in).  I like Swype, so I’m sticking with that myself.  Unfortunately the new copy/paste kind of takes over there as well, I will see if I can get rid of that.

The phone and some of the slower apps do seem a bit snappier in response, though whether that is just me looking for them to be faster since that’s part of the update, I can’t tell.  Fruit Ninja seems to lag less, and the Yahoo! Fantasy Football app seems light-years better, so take from that what you will.

Should you do this update?  My answer would be a qualified yes.  The charging thing is annoying, as the less tech savvy people out there will have a difficult time getting the drivers installed, and the keyboard quirks could confuse.  For me, though, it seems to be a pretty solid upgrade for my LG Optimus S.

Gadgets Sci/Tech

Friday Finds – Coronal Mass Ejection!

First, here are my posts from this week:

And a few new things you might find interesting:

Wired’s GeekDad column tells parents what they need to know about Cars 2.  Sounds better than what I’m expecting to be honest, and I’m from a place that worships at the altar of NASCAR.

Also at Wired, the Sun has sent a Coronal Mass Ejection towards Earth.  The phrase ‘Coronal Mass Ejection’ just sounds awesome to me.

Netflix is now on a few select Android devices, with more to come.

Lifehacker has a whole series of Night School posts – they take a subject and give a layman the basics to improve themselves at it.  The current series is about photography, including how best to use the automated and manual settings on a camera, helping to understand ISO and aperture settings, and the like.  They’ve also covered video editing.

New trend in movie posters – Diagonal!

Finally, looking back on old posts here I found this:  the Ultra-fast, Ultra-intense Laser.  The applications they are looking at for this tech are awesome, whether it’s bonding replacement joints to bone, killing cancer cells, or, you know, creating Wolverine.

Featured PC Games

Old Game Tuesday – The Oregon Trail

I’ve spoken about educational games before, and this is one of the big ones, The Oregon Trail.  Most people in my generation (or close to it) played this in school, on the Apple IIe or IIgs in my case, and it was one of the first ‘edutainment’ games I played that was actually fun.

First, read this article about how The Oregon Trail came about.  It’s a very well put together story that covers the history of MECC, including some infographics and timelines.  Great look at how things worked in the early days of the software industry (including a cameo from the Steves at Apple).  Check this, for example:

For the next two weeks, Dillenberger and Heinemann spent each night wedged into a tiny computer office—a former janitor’s closet at Bryant Junior High School—tapping code into a teletype machine. The teletype was a screen-less, electromechanical typewriter connected via telephone to a mainframe computer that could issue prompts, receive commands, and run primitive programs.

How cool is that?

The various versions of the game have varied a little over the years, but the gist is always the same – you are planning your expedition via the trail, with a limited amount of funds to buy supplies and wagon parts.  Then you travel the trail, with choices to be made and events happening which require your response – maybe you or your kids get sick, leading to the famous ‘You have died of dysentary’ message.  Break an axle and didn’t bring a spare?  Better hope you can trade for one.  And be careful how you choose to ford that river, choose poorly and you’ve drowned your whole family and lost your food.

As you can probably tell, it was by no means easy, but it had that hook – you wanted to try again, this time I KNOW I’ll pick the right option!  Some of my fondest computing memories are from elementary school, playing or watching someone play The Oregon Trail, Carmen Sandiego, Number/Fraction Munchers and more.  You mocked your buddy who failed completely at hunting (okay, that’s me), laughed at the ridiculous epitaphs the class clown put on their kid’s tombstone, and the game snuck in some knowledge.

If you want a somewhat recent copy of it, try this link: Oregon Trail 4th Edition, though keep in mind it may take some work to get it running on modern computers, possibly using Dosbox or VirtualPC or something.  You can also get a version of it for your iOS or Android smartphones.  And you have to see this.

Featured Review

Review: Sprint LG Optimus S

The time came this month, where I could get a new phone.  I wasn’t really planning on it, considering I loved my Hero and there’s no 4G here yet via Sprint.  However, I kept hearing AWESOME things about the LG Optimus S, and when it went on sale basically for free this past weekend, I couldn’t pass it up.  I’ve been playing around with it for a while now and thought I’d give some impressions.

First – it’s fast.  The processor isn’t near the EVO or anything, but it DOES have the same graphics chip as the EVO while still being faster than the Hero.  The end result (with a smaller screen compared to the monstrous EVO) is zero lag between screens, and quite solid performance in games (such as Angry Birds).  I’ve never once been left waiting long enough that I’d consider tapping an option or an app again, not sure it started.  Smooth.

Another improvement over the hero is buttons – the Optimus S has a whole mess of ’em, 4 on the face (Home, Settings/Menu, Back, Search), On the left is the slot for the SD card, the right has the volume up/down, a dedicated camera button (YES!) and a dedicated speakerphone button.  The top has a dedicated power button, along with a headphone jack.  For me, the buttons are a huge selling point, especially a quicker way to get the camera app open.

The experience is standard Android, rather than HTC Sense.  I thought I’d miss it, but I don’t.  The five home screens are plenty, and a year of experience with Android let me figure out what I really need on screen and what is fine to use a few taps and swipes to get to.  I LOVE the look of the interface, from the fonts used, the white color, the smooth animations, it all just feels above and beyond other phones I’ve used.

One thing I miss from the Hero is the LED notification light.  Seems like such a minor thing to not put on.  Beyond that, I could not be happier with the device.  I put my 8gb class 6 microSD card in, loaded it down with my typical apps (Angry Birds, AK Notepad, barcode apps, TweetDeck, Handcent, Yahoo Football and Hockey, SportsTap, and so on) and it’s been smooth sailing all the way.  Battery life seems solid, going to see what a full workday is like but normal weekend use has been what I’d expected from previous Android experience.

Listen, if you don’t have an Android phone, and Sprint is good in your area, get this phone.  Especially if you don’t yet have 4G, or don’t want to pay the extra per month.  Even without the discount, the $50 pricetag it carries for new service or an upgrade is super-cheap, and worth every penny.
Here’s a link to accessories for your Optimus S if you need them.

Gadgets Review

Sprint Hero on Android 2.1 – One Year Later

In case it’s useful to you, I thought I’d go over how the Hero I bought just about a year ago has held up.  I know it hasn’t been on 2.1 for that whole time, but I upgraded a few weeks early with a custom rom (on stock now), so close enough.

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the device and how well it’s held up.  There’s one pixel (at least I think it’s the same one each time) that seems to get stuck once in a while, but otherwise, the screen is still in fine shape.  I don’t use a screen protector, just a soft rubber case for the occasional drop.  The only other cosmetic complaint are the home and back buttons, where there is some peeling, making it hard to tell what the icon originally was.

Android 2.1 is quite responsive on the Hero, even now, though there’s definitely lag with some more intensive apps (like Angry Birds).  Maybe twice a week, the phone will drop me to the white HTC screen when exiting an app, which forces you to wait to load the Sense interface back.  No other issues, really.  Very solid.

For the apps I use, other than the standards GMail and Google Calendar, are Handcent SMS, TweetDeck for Twitter (Seesmic was good too), AndroZip, Yahoo Fantasy Football and Hockey (although they take up a TON of the limited app space on this phone).  For games, beyond Angry Birds, I have mostly stuck to puzzle games and word games.  Other than that, I use Tasker to manage the volume of the alarms in the morning and the ringers at work.

I know the phone is being surpassed by many more models, and I drool over having and HDMI out or 1ghz processor, but the Hero served me well.  HTC definitely seems like they have some solid hardware.


Android 2.1 on the Hero

The Sprint Hero recently got the official Android 2.1 update, and I was running it via the DamageControl ROM before that.  Some thoughts:

  • It’s fast – you don’t see as many little hiccups when scrolling through apps or switching screens.
  • Google Navigation is legit.  Need to play with it more, but seems more user friendly. Better integration.
  • Battery life – I know there’s an app or two I didn’t reinstall, but I seem to get MUCH better battery life with similar use.  Normally, with heavy use during the day, the battery bar is yellow.  I’ve yet to see yellow in that situation since.
  • Shake Awake actually works pretty consistently.
  • I think this is new, being able to bring in two Google accounts in the GMail app is great.

I liked my Hero before, but it’s even better now.  Just wish we hadn’t had to wait so long!  Hopefully 2.2 won’t be another 6 months off.

Boring site stuff

A Bit Of Housekeeping

Just a heads up: If you normally browse HIYLJ from a handheld device (and I am impressed at how many of you do), you should now get a much more small-screen friendly display thanks to the WPTouch plugin. If you’ve seen the Willful Caboose via a mobile browser, you’ve got the right idea. buried movie premiere

Gadgets Software

Android Apps

As a follow-up to my review of the HTC Hero, the notable apps I have installed:

  1. Locale – Lets you change your phone’s behavior based on numerous factors, including location, time, and more. I love it, I can turn off my ringer automatically when I get to work or turn it on automatically when I get home (more important, as I use my phone for an alarm clock).
  2. ShopSavvy/CompareAnywhere – I use ShopSavvy myself, but there are several barcode scanning apps out there, for when you want to be sure that the DVD or book or cereal box you are holding isn’t cheaper down the street (or at Amazon). Handy.
  3. TwiDroid – Just a slick-looking Twitter client. Buttons to do replies/retweets if you are not a fan of the long press.
  4. Toddler Lock – Not for everyone, but gives a screen where kids can draw and tap and make noise while not shifting around all of your icons.

Now, for fun stuff. Games are spares for the Android platform, compared to the iPhone anyway, if only for the fact that you can’t yet store apps on the SD card without hacking. You can play Doom, which is cool if hard to control. There are plenty of time-wasters, like Bejeweled (and many clones), WordUp! (sort of like Boggle), and so on. For paid games, there’s a SimCity game available at HandMark, though I’d like to be able to try it first. Looks really cool though. One other thing – there’s a WordPress app (WPtoGo or some such), that is neat, even if you aren’t using it for creating new posts, it’s nice for quick spelling fixes or approving comments. Any other app questions, hit me up in the comments.

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