George Tinari

    George started writing about Apple rumors in high school on his own personal blog. Over five years later, he's thrilled to have built up enough experience at various online publications to cover a wide expanse of technology news and reviews. Currently a university student, George is studying journalism and business administration. When he's not passionately writing or reading about all things tech, chances are he's listening to music, eating, trying to be funny or actually being funny.

  • Puppet Punch brings arcade action to center stage, literally

    Puppet Punch is a new game for iPhone and iPad. Originally only in the Canada, Brazil and Austria App Stores, the title is now available in the United States. The game has a clear bias against puppets. Gameplay is similar to a whack-a-mole concept, just tapping to punch the puppets. There are various power-ups that come your way as well, plus coin bags to collect for missions and level up. Take out all your stress on some harmless puppets: Puppet Punch is free with in-app purchases for iOS. Don't be mistaken, Puppet Punch is far more than the aforementioned whack-a-mole comparison. It's just the core playing that's similar. Outside of that, the game feels like much of what you'd expect from games in its genre in the App Store. Naturally, there's a path to follow when leveling up, plus the app has loads of in-app purchase opportunities. The story revolves the character Pablo, whom you play in the game. Pablo enters an arcade and finds a hidden room with a game called Puppet Punch where he slips on boxing gloves and climbs a ladder to get punching. The various objects require different levels of force. Standard puppets need three punches to defeat while coin bags need one punch to collect. Puppet Punch also has bosses which require numerous punches to defeat. If you're affected in any way, you lose one "heart" or life. Lose all of them and sayonara. The puppets are just as angry at you as you are at them for some reason, since they all carry weapons of some sort. If you don't defeat them quickly enough, they unleash their weapons, which need a separate punch of their own to get rid of. To aid are a variety of power-ups like a slingshot, gun, fireballs and more. It's worth mentioning that Puppet Punch is an indie game, and for an indie game it's truly impressive. It's well-developed with excellent graphics and negligible bugs or hiccups. Playing the game is genuinely entertaining too. It definitely keeps you on your feet and if you miss a beat, you risk the chance of losing. What I'm not a huge fan of is all the in-app purchases and unnecessary complexities. While the game is free, the coins and mechs you earn go toward skipping obstacles, playing on after losing and "aura" shields for Pablo. Plenty of other games use this method for monetization, but in a simple punching game it feels off. I'd gladly pay US$0.99 or even $1.99 for the game in its entirely straight from the App Store to ditch all the bells and whistles that come with the now standard freemium model. That said, Puppet Punch is both charming and alluring. The graphics alone can attract anyone to the game, but chances are they stay for the fun playing experience. It's not that addictive or frustrating, but it's still quite gratifying in its own right. Grab Puppet Punch for iOS, out now.

  • Grow: Cuby's Quest is an intriguing space adventure game

    Grow: Cuby's Quest is a new space adventure game for iOS. You control Cuby. No one's entirely sure what Cuby actually is, but at the very least it's a cube-shaped character that survives and thrives on "pecs," crystals in the game. The short version: collect as many pecs as possible to grow Cuby and avoid as many asteroids as possible so Cuby doesn't shrink. However, in its entirety the game features several power-ups and missions to complete to stay alive and soar through the levels. Grow: Cuby's Quest is free for iPhone. Grow's gameplay reminds me of Jetpack Joyride, a game that achieved moderate success in the App Store a few years ago. At first glance it looks like there isn't much to either title, but after downloading you find that the opposite is true. While the game is intuitive enough to not be intimidating, its plethora of missions and power-ups ensures that Grow doesn't totally lack complexity either. Remember the objective: collect pecs to grow Cuby and avoid asteroids, which shrink Cuby. This is done by tilting your iOS device left and right to maneuver that personified cube through space. Now, let's add on the rest of the layers. If you collect 10 pecs in a row without missing any, your combo bar fills and provides a shield good for protection from a single asteroid. If you go a long period of time without collecting any, Cuby starts to shrink on its own. Next in the game are power-ups, which come in all shapes and sizes. The black hole temporarily sucks in surrounding pecs, the death ray destroys incoming asteroids with the tap of a finger and the ice cube temporarily stops the shrinkage while also protecting Cuby - just to name a few. Additionally, four missions are always listed to complete in-game and earn points toward leveling up. The tutorial teaches you about all of these and at first it seems like a lot to take in all at once, but when you start playing the collecting-and-avoiding tactic present in multiple aspects of the game starts to come naturally. I find that succeeding in Grow is all about balance. While collecting pecs is useful to grow, avoiding asteroids inevitably becomes more difficult the larger you are. You have to let Cuby shrink and grow at a standard pace to succeed. The design and controls of Grow are both outstanding. The graphics are pleasantly above expectations for this genre and animations have me shouting "I can't believe it's not butter!" Plus, the motion sensing to control Cuby is as fluid as fluid gets. Cuby is also customizable itself with various accessories and looks, but the feature isn't particularly attractive or necessary. The game does include in-app purchases in its shop, which has various upgrades and power-ups that sell for different amounts of pecs or standard currency. If you collect enough pecs during the game you won't ever need to spend a dime. Grow: Cuby's Quest is undoubtedly a gem. The design is as intriguing as its gameplay. While there isn't anything terribly unique about the objective, this title offers more than enough to stand apart from the rest and shine in its own light. Grow Cuby's Quest is available now in the App Store.

  • WiFi Map uses community power to share network passwords

    WiFi Map is a crowdsourced tool for finding all of the Wi-Fi hotspots in your area as well as the passwords to certain security-protected networks. Anyone in the area is able to comment on a WiFi network and leave the password for others to use, plus WiFi Map lets you save these in a collection so you never forget them. Contribute to the community too by adding Wi-Fi networks you're connected to that aren't publicly listed. The app is free for iOS, though there is a Pro version that sells for US$4.99. Both require iOS 7.0 or later. The days of unlimited data plans are just about over. Instead, we all have to face the reality of data caps. A solid Wi-Fi connection helps soothe that pain though, since none of your data usage over Wi-Fi counts toward your carrier usage. As an added bonus, Wi-Fi is typically faster than cellular networks, though the gap between the two continues to shrink. Finding a hotspot isn't always so easy though. WiFi Map intelligently lists all of the Wi-Fi networks in your area by distance from your current location. These networks include public or private. Public networks, like say Wi-Fi at a McDonald's, are more clearly labeled and often don't require a password. Private ones are only added by someone connected to that network, so fear not: your privacy should not be in danger. However, being that WiFi Map is crowdsourced, many of the listed networks are user submitted. These appear as a custom name determined by the user often include comments revealing the password if needed. There's no verification system so whether the password is true or not depends on the reliability of the commenter, but it does no harm to try them. WiFi Map also conveniently tells you the address of the location nearby, so if you desperately need a connection you know exactly where to find one. Although, don't let yourself get too desperate because the app itself requires some sort of Internet connection to pull up the list of networks. The pro version, which is a separate app for $4.99, allows for saving of your favorite network names and passwords to access offline. It also lists full details of networks beyond a one mile radius unlike its free counterpart. Of course, WiFi Map wouldn't be complete without a map. It acts just like any other one on iOS - markers scattered around your area to pinpoint the locations of Wi-Fi networks. If you live in an urban area, chances are it's harder to efficiently navigate using the map because there are so many Wi-Fi networks that the map is just cluttered when zoomed out. Using the map alone might work better in suburban areas. The app also has a handy search feature for finding Wi-Fi based on the type of venue giving out a signal - arguably the best feature to quickly check if your destination can grant you temporary relief from the physical and emotional pain that result from a glance at your phone bill. WiFi Map is undoubtedly practical for travelers and in general a nice tool for just about anyone to have, especially those with low-end data plans. The $4.99 price point of the pro version is a bit too steep, but I suspect the free version offers enough for the average user anyway. Both WiFi Map and WiFi Map Pro are available universally for iOS.

  • Location-sharing Waldo takes different approach from Swarm

    Many have tried pushing location-sharing services to the mainstream and pretty much all attempts have failed. Almost on the brink of true success, Foursquare and Swarm arguably has yet to capture the interest of the masses. Even Apple tried with Find My Friends and didn't get very far with it. Armed with a slightly different approach to sharing location, Waldo emphasizes a mixture of both location and photo sharing that's more direct with friends than merely broadcasting where you are. The social networking app is free for iPhone, requiring iOS 7.0 or later. Despite taking a unique approach to location-sharing, it appears Waldo at least took a glance at Foursquare - especially the new redesign - and used it as a foundation. The design structure is reminiscent of Foursquare's while the color scheme seems to take a page from Swarm's book. Straight out of the gate, Waldo wants to use your location in the background and send you push notifications. These are crucial to the functionality of the app. The app uses your location in the background because it's constantly monitoring your location for sharing. In fact, when you open the app after the initial setup, it asks you to specify what type of location you're at: home, work, school, etc. At the top of the app is a placeholder for an image. Eventually, that'll become whatever image you snap with your camera. This is because on top of just mindlessly sharing your location with friends, Waldo encourages sharing images so your friends know about your travels and get to paint a picture of what you're up to. If you tap this area, the app takes a photo and keeps it as a header image of sorts. Waldo also includes optional auto-upload, but that's prone to backfire. These photos are also used as the backgrounds for each your friends listed in the app, which are sorted by the most recently active. Three gestures dominate these tiles and most of the interactivity that takes place within Waldo. Swiping left on someone's name sends your location directly to them, swiping right sends them a request to update their location and tapping and holding on the name sends an "a-okay" (read: like) on the status. It's an interesting concept and ensures socialization within the app instead of just relying on background location sharing, which is essentially what Swarm does. None of my friends were on Waldo already. If this is the case, the app asks you to select some of your top friends and it cleverly displays them. If you try to interact with them (like send or request locations) it sends an invite via text message to get them to join. I found this out when my friend sent me a screenshot asking "Uh, what is this?" Waldo is basically like Swarm, but with more and arguably better features.It ditches the egocentric stamps in favor of actual human interaction with peers. Plus it does so with solid design and minimal effort on the end user's part, so long as you don't mind the background location draining your battery a tad more. Waldo just needs to recruit some tastemakers to use the app and get everyone else on board. If you want to be one of them, download the iPhone app for free.

  • Bowling Central adds twists, surprises to classic bowling

    Bowling Central is a new bowling app for iOS that includes both swipe controls and motion gestures reminiscent of the Nintendo Wii. Plus, the gestures pair with Apple TV mirroring so it's easy to play with friends using the big screen. The game has a standard classic bowling mode as well as a unique challenge mode with various obstacles appearing on the lanes as you make your motions through the levels. Bowling Central is free for iPhone and iPad with in-app purchases and requires iOS 7.0 or later. If you're a frequent bowler or just have a decent amount of bowling experience, you might be surprised when you push the "Play" button in Bowling Central. The standard game doesn't use the typical scoring system. The main objective is to just move up the levels and reach the target score for each one. A few levels in, obstacles begin to appear on the lanes. These vary from simple wooden blocks prevent the ball from moving forward in certain areas to a giant levitating bar that moves up and down to allow or disallow passing through. They vary as you make progress in the game. How you bowl in Bowling Central is up to you. If you want the Wii-like experience, an Apple TV is necessary. Using AirPlay, the game broadcasts on the telephone leaving your iPhone to act as a remote. (The AirPlay functionality doesn't work with iPad.) Swing the iPhone forward to throw the ball on-screen. If you don't have an Apple TV or just prefer to play entirely on your iOS device, your fingers do the trick. Swiping up sends the ball straight forward toward the pins or making a hook with your finger curves it. I found that the game isn't as responsive as I would have liked. It's far from terrible, but the ball doesn't always seem to follow the guidance I provide with my finger. It's also hard to difficult just how much the ball is going to curve based on the way I turn my finger or even where it's headed just swiping straight up. The graphics and animations are a tad subpar as well. A decade ago they would have been stellar, but with the power the iPhone 6 holds, I expect better. I love that the ball changes with every shot though. It alleviates the hassle of having to pick out a ball (albeit some people do prefer that) and the 24 ball designs are all to my liking. If you fall into a trap of consistently not reaching the target scores for the levels you play, eventually you're presented the option of buying extra turns. This is Bowling Central's only in-app purchase and it's US$0.99. I've played a few bowling games in the App Store. Bowling Central isn't my favorite, but it's decent and offers a unique gameplay experience. I hope to see improvements in the control and design departments here, but other than that there isn't much to complain about. The game is available for iOS for $2.99.

  • TapBoom! game literally keeps you tapping and booming

    TapBoom is a rare game in that the title pretty much explains the entire story. You have a square and you have a line. The line moves quickly toward the square and then past it. When the line is at all touching the square, tap the screen. If you're too early or too late, you lose. Otherwise, tapping while both are touching causes the square to rapidly explode into a series of blue squares in celebration. Tap. Boom. That's seriously the whole game. It's free for iPhone and iPad and requires iOS 8.0 or later. The design of TapBoom stays as bare bones as possible. It's a black background with white text and shapes. The end. The only shred of color present in the app reveals itself if you're successful at tapping the screen with perfect timing - the "boom" part of TapBoom. Don't even try to predict the app and build up skill using muscle memory. The first three levels are a natural progression from a slow-moving line to fast-moving. After that, the speed of the line and the placement of the square completely varies. Level six could have the line moving at lightning speed while seven brings it to a slow crawl, which is a huge throw-off. When you tap at the wrong time, the game is over. There's no turning back, sorry. TapBoom keeps track of your score and your high score. If you tap anywhere on the "Game Over!" screen, your very last move fades in. This allows you to stare directly at your mistake indefinitely, which is what I always love to do during my spare time. There's no real multiplayer mode in TapBoom either, at least outside of the Game Center integration with achievements and challenges for other friends. What's incredible is that out of all the players, the all-time high score according to Game Center is only 34. That's how difficult this game is. The simplicity of TapBoom is fantastic for luring you in though. If you download it, chances are you might be addicted for a while. It's not so difficult that it's frustrating. Rather, the pace of the game is so fast that it's easy to get lost in the cycle of replaying it just to keep trying for a new high score. The gameplay and design both remind me a bit of Circle, in which the object is to keep tapping so the circle never touches the line it surrounds. It saw moderate success in the App Store, so if you enjoyed that title you might benefit from giving TapBoom a try. The difference is TapBoom's rounds come in short bursts and aren't continuous. Overall, the game has a significant amount of the right ingredients to be solid, addictive, but not overly frustrating or difficult. It has no in-app purchases either and only a small banner ad at the bottom that stays out of the way. TapBoom is a completely free title available universally for iOS in the App Store.

  • P.A.C.O. is why you should never help bandits escape prison

    P.A.C.O., an acronym meaning "prison action climbing obstacles," is yet another game that falls into the genre of ridiculously simple to play yet ridiculously challenging and addictive. The one-armed bandits are trying to escape from prison switching from ladder to ladder and you're helping them out. When the timing is right, you have to tap the screen so the bandit makes the jump from one ladder to the other. Tap too soon and he misses and falls, but tap too late and the security guard catches him. Timing is key. P.A.C.O. is free with in-app purchases for iPhone and iPad and requires no earlier than iOS 7.1. The app description boasts that the title is "the hardest game you've ever played." I'm not sure if that's objectively true, but I don't doubt that many players agree it's pretty difficult. A quick scroll through the ratings and reviews in the App Store support that theory. P.A.C.O.'s controls don't expand any further than a single tap on the display. The bandits move on their own up the ladders pretty quickly, but your tap is what switches them between the two ladders, or more like pieces of ladders. There are four different characters: Paco, Peco, Chico and Rico. You're randomly assigned one as your own player every time you play or replay. Right below the currently active bandit is the security guard chasing him, whom you have no control over. The tutorial does a pretty poor job of explaining anything about the game other than to tap at the perfect time to avoid losing. For the first few rounds I thought I was controlling both the bandit and the guard. The ladders also have green lines toward the top of them and I had no idea what those meant. It turns out they're guides for when to switch ladders. It's best to tap when the bandit's entire body is above the green line, but this doesn't always guarantee success. P.A.C.O.'s design is very retro and it's clear the game overall got some of its inspiration from the notorious Flappy Bird. P.A.C.O. is the more challenging of the two. Timing matters in Flappy Bird too, but this makes Flappy Bird look amateurish in terms of difficulty. Somewhere in the world someone must hold that sweet formula for making a successful game that's easy to play, hard to win, yet captures everyone's love and affection. If it's just a little too hard or even a little too easy, it loses its magic. Unfortunately, P.A.C.O. seems to err a tad too much on the side of being difficult. It's fun to keep trying, but after making so little progress, it becomes downright frustrating. P.A.C.O. also integrates with Game Center for achievements and leaderboards, plus includes one in-app purchase for US$0.99 that gets rid of the admirably modest ads. The game needs to get a tad easier so it reaches that sweet spot of euphoric gameplay and desperately needs to improve upon the tutorial for beginners. It's rough around the edges, but I look forward to that update, if or when it ever arrives. At any rate, P.A.C.O. is free in the App Store for iOS.

  • Geocannon lets you travel anywhere and conquer the city

    You can conquer the world if you try hard enough. I'm sure some adult told you that at one point when you were younger. It seems like kind of a stretch though, doesn't it? Well, conquering the physical world is probably best left off your bucket list. It might be nice to conquer the world in virtual form instead. That's cool, right? Less casualties, too. With Geocannon, that power is in your hands. Pick any location on Earth and battle it out with other players on a real map to claim that area as your own. The game is free with in-app purchases for iPhone and iPad. Did you know that every single city in the world is actually covered with giant crates? It's true, well, at least in the game of Geocannon. These crates are the secret to slowly but surely conquering the world. Visit any city and Geocannon loads a 3D version of its satellite imagery as a playing field. The technology is just mind-blowing. Being able to visit any city in the world alone is just stunning already, but add a gaming layer to that and the concept gets slightly better. Your initial weapons are just a magnet and a bomb. Crates are scattered all around the territory. Launch the magnet (green) to collect as many of these crates together as possible. Then tap the pin to switch from the magnet to the bomb (red) and destroy them. The more you're able to bomb in one shot, the higher your score is. Geocannon plays online or offline, but offline is boring. When you log in with Facebook, you battle against every other Geocannon player to own that city. Whoever scores the most points during their short visit in that city claims ownership. It's also important to monitor your "geopower" which is basically a number representing how likely you are to score well relative to other locations. Your geopower is at its greatest when you're closest to your current location. It's wise to start off playing in cities nearby to strengthen your abilities and geopower, then expand outward. When you get to level three, you unlock another important weapon: black hole. This acts like the magnet by gathering crates wherever you launch it, but takes the functionality a step further by sucking them up and dumping them right where you place your pin. That, as well as the ability to move your pin around the city, are two free upgrades. Other upgrades are available for in-app purchases of US$0.99 and up. They mostly just enhance what is already possible though. It took me a little bit to really get into this game, but it has a very peculiar charm to it. The game isn't even in my preferred genre, but there's no denying that visiting cities all around the world and earning points is entertaining. Collecting crates and bombing them also has a soothing effect too, almost a stress reliever. My one real gripe with Geocannon is it takes too long to level up. I've been playing for days and own multiple cities, yet I'm still on level one. It's kind of disheartening. Geocannon is free with in-app purchases and is universal for iOS devices.

  • Spread kind messages far and wide with the Ripple effect

    Messages in a bottle evoke a feeling of awe and power in many of us because such a simple message has the ability to go a very long way. Chances are it'll end up somewhere you would never imagine, but it's fascinating to know where and the impact it could have. That's the concept behind Ripple, an app that lets you post your thoughts or photos to people nearby and lets each of them choose to share it around their own location. Who knows how far your post might travel? Ripple is a free app for iPhone and requires iOS 7.1 or later. Of course, with the amazing power of the Internet comes lightning speed and viral content not possible by just sending something off in a bottle to float across seas. Using Ripple, you get to be right in the middle of all the action. The default view on Ripple is your Inbox, which is a collection of ripples that have crossed your path from others nearby. The design is a bit like to popular social networking app Yik Yak, but for the most part the similarities end there. Every ripple has three possible actions associated with it. Swipe right to spread it forward to your own radius of people, swipe left to get rid of it, or tap it for more information. While spreading posts might be the point of Ripple, my fascination revolves around tapping each ripple and getting more information. Beyond being able to comment, the post overlays a world map with every location where someone shared that ripple. It's frankly mesmerizing digging through the posts and seeing every unique story attached to them, all starting on one person's phone somewhere in the world. My favorite post rippled 40 times all around the United States and even once in Poland. It talks about the hostage situations in France and wishes for safety there should the post make it there. It hasn't yet, but I shared it with the hope that I contribute to the domino effect. I wish the app included a feature for monitoring where certain ripples end up traveling, but that's already somewhat possible by just switching from Inbox view to the Spread view. This showcases every ripple you passed along. The final view is Started, which is every image or text post you compose yourself. On top of just sharing other ripples, it feels very gratifying to contribute to the stream. If you opt to create an account, Ripple enables a point system for leveling up based on the reach of your posts. If the wonder of seeing a post travel around the world doesn't entice you to start rippling, perhaps this might. While Ripple clearly isn't a mainstream app yet, it didn't entirely seem to be lacking content either. I had plenty of ripples in my inbox. It's not clear what the exact location radius is but it's large enough so that I was never bored. Ripple is a beautiful app that demonstrates the immense power of the Internet. It has all the right ingredients for success: great intention, great design and emotional appeal. Hopefully the app is able to make a ripple of its own. Download for free in the iOS App Store.

  • Lucha Amigos is Angry Birds meeting a cultural game of pool

    What would you get if you crossed Angry Birds with a classic game of pool? There's no real answer, but if I had to place a bet, my money would be on something similar to Lucha Amigos. It's a Mexican-inspired game starring "Wrestlers Turtles" and evil cacti. These supernatural turtles crawl into their shells and ricochet toward the evil cacti to destroy them relying on your aim. The multiple stages make for a natural progression of both ability and difficulty, too. Lucha Amigos is available for iPhone and iPad for US$1.99 in the App Store. Lucha Amigos is all about aim. It's essentially a puzzle game. The first few stages are easy enough to get a feel for how everything works, but eventually the real challenges kick in. Various walls and other objects separate the turtles from shooting directly at the evil cacti, so you have to strategize. You propel the turtles using one or multiple slingshots. You're given three turtles per round, so use them wisely. Try to also defeat the evil cacti while gliding through stars to collect all three. Yes, it sounds a lot like Angry Birds. The similarities don't end there either. Some turtles even have special powers as well. Shortly into the game, you're introduced to the red turtle which, when tapped after already in motion, fires off in another direction to cover two bases. Colored turtles outside of green have their own unique abilities, up to seven of them. When you're playing, you have an aerial view of that stage. Dragging the slingshot back to prepare for release projects three lines forward which foreshadow which path the turtle will take when you remove your finger and fire away. This is the aspect of Lucha Amigos that reminds me of pool because the placement of the cacti are like cue balls and the slingshot is like your pool cue. Compared to Angry Birds, I would say that this game is a bit more difficult as it requires more concentration. In Angry Birds it's pretty easy to get lucky if you're aim is inadequate because you might topple over one structure that ends up destroying the rest of the pigs easily. In Lucha Amigos, there's really nothing to help you except for the seven special powers various turtles possess. I definitely recommend Lucha Amigos as a game to play if you're looking to temporarily take your mind off something. Since it's packaged up in short stages it won't take up too much of your time, plus it requires focus and strategy which sucks you right in pretty quickly. It's also formed around a "comical plot" according to the developers, but it's not essential to the gameplay. The storyboard format and the graphics overall are pleasing to the eye though. For $1.99, Lucha Amigos isn't a great value. It'd be better off priced at $0.99 or even free with in-app purchases. Playing was just past the line of enticing for me, but I seriously mean it was barely over the line. It grabs your attention short-term, but I don't know that I'd be able to complete all 100 rounds without eventually getting bored. Lucha Amigos is a universal game for iPhone and iPad in the App Store.

  • Gifx adds animations to your photos to create movies, GIFs

    Gifx grants anyone the ability to create animated movies and GIFs using a photo or video, plus custom animated effects that the app includes. Overlay one or multiple animations and play around with the opacity to get the desired result on the content you imported. Plus, optionally resize and rearrange the effects to fit specific portions of the image or add masks for more decoration. The app is free with in-app purchases for the iPhone. Animated GIFs were originally popular in the far earlier days of the Internet - I'm talking in the 1990s, but they were basic compared to what they are now. They've been slowly making a comeback for the past few years and now it's hard to visit a popular website without seeing one. Gifx is pretty bare bones in terms of functionality but it does have over 200 animated GIF effects to apply to your photos and videos. This is not the type of GIF creator for making short films or loops. Rather, Gifx is more like an enhancer, turning ordinary photos or footage into something a bit more decorative and flamboyant. Start off by importing an existing photo or video or snapping a new one with the camera, then head straight into the GIF creation process. For testing purposes, you're better off tapping "Free GIFs" to browse the preloaded selection. Most of the options are just wavy, trippy designs that loop continuously over the media in the background. The pink slider adjusts the transparency. Dragging all the way to the right completely hides the underlaying media, which arguably defeats the purpose. I found that in most cases, applying an effect with just about 10 percent opacity makes for a masterful look. It's as if an image itself has movement, as opposed to blatantly appearing as a random effect laid on top of it. Many of the effects have either Instagram icons or locks on them. That's because many of the effects require an in-app purchase to unlock. However, the Basic pack and Mixed pack are free to obtain by completing tasks like following Gifx on Instagram. Otherwise, to get the most bang for your buck, chances are you should take the plunge and buy the "Unlock All" pack, currently 50 percent off at US$3.99. The pack is both a curse and a blessing. It's a curse because many of the features it unlocks should really already be in the app. For instance, to save the images as animated GIFs of high-quality, you need to purchase the pack. For free, Gifx just saves the animations as low-quality, 15-second movies. Even masks cost money. It's almost a bit misleading that the title of the app has "GIF" in it, yet in order to authentically create one you have to pay up. Gifx works well and has decent animations, but most of its potential is hiding behind the in-app purchase. Without that, you get a few effects and the ability to essentially create movies. Gifx is really only worth your time if you splurge on unlocking everything it offers. It's available in the iPhone App Store.

  • Air Race Speed: Futuristic jet racing with stellar controls

    Air Race Speed is a high-speed jet racing game with a futuristic theme. Travel through 36 different tracks in what looks like some sort advanced science lab or factory using one of nine vehicles. Compete with yourself to beat your own high score each time or challenge friends. The game includes multiple controlling options and an important speed boost toggle to cut down on time and improve your ranking. Air Race Speed is available universally for iPhone and iPad for US$2.99. The detailed graphics falsely give the perception that Air Race Speed is a sophisticated game with a thick storyline and varying functions, but it's actually quite straightforward. When you start the game, you get to choose your preferred track and jet. At the very beginning, only one of each is made available so you're forced to follow along and complete tracks to unlock new ones and eventually unlock the other jets as well. I love that the game gives you the option to use either on-screen controls or tilt. People tend to prefer one or the other and sometimes developers don't have a nice fluid tilting mechanism, but I'm happy to report that's not the case in Air Race Speed. I usually prefer on-screen controls for this reason, but tilting the phone was so much fun thanks to its responsiveness. Plus, the removal of on-screen controls means there's more room to view the playing environment. The object is mainly to make it to the finish line for each track as fast as possible, beating any previous records. Once you make it to the finish line you automatically unlock the next track anyway. Air Race Speed is one of those games that doesn't necessarily need a concrete reward to be entertaining, because I personally just found gliding through the various tubes at lightning speed fun on its own. Your speedometer is on the top right. Generally, the very first "Fall Leaf" jet flies at around 115 mph. When in speed mode, it easily excels past 400 mph, but be cautious that the speed boost comes with a lacking ability to control and maneuver your jet. Each vehicle has ratings on a one to five scale for speed, nitro and handling. The Fall Leaf, as the beginner jet, aptly scores just a one for each of these. To unlock other jets, you need to collect certain numbers of stars. You get up to three stars per race based on your performance, similar to Angry Birds. Air Race Speed integrates with Game Center for achievements and challenging other players. Other than that, there's really not much more to Air Race Speed. That's not a bad thing -- in fact, I found that the opposite is true. Air Race Speed manages to be an exhilarating racing title without useless complexities and controls. While bells and whistles appeal to a certain gaming demographic, the best games are ones that are elegant just by successfully executing all of the basics. Air Race Speed is a superb example of this. Grab it for $2.99 in the iOS App Store.

  • Spell World is a hard, confusing adventure powered by words

    Spell World takes you on an adventure that only moves forward with the power of your vocabulary. At its core, it's just a grid of letters with words hidden in them and you are only able to create words out of letters that are either diagonal or adjacent to each other. Throw in a story line and more enticing objectives and you have Spell World in its entirety. Completing the puzzles and moving forward helps save the "Dudes" from their evil king. The game is free with in-app purchases for iPhone and iPad and requires iOS 7.0 or later. Above the grid of letters is a progress bar. Every time you form a word, it fills a bit and turns green. As time passes when you're trying to figure out words though, the progress bar slowly depletes and turns from green to red. This is my hell in Spell World. It puts the pressure on you to not just find a word in the grid, but do it in a timely fashion. Finding a word is hard enough. I'm not joking - this game is seriously difficult. It doesn't seem like it would be, but trying to find patterns in the letters only diagonal or adjacent on such a small grid doesn't immediately come naturally. SpellTower executes this far better. Words only need to be three letters long, but my instinct is to always go for the longer word to gain more points, but that actually seems to put one at a disadvantage. Spell World isn't difficult in a cutesy, addictive way. It's frustratingly difficult. Although once you start to aim for the smaller words, the game gets a bit easier, but even then that progress bar remains to haunt you and starts to drain faster with each round. Of course there's also the storyline of the game to follow along with. At the very top is a small Dude making his way through the level with your guidance. It's a side-scroller but the only way he moves, defeats enemies and reaches goals is through the words you make. The longer the word, the farther he moves each time, though making smaller words more frequently is also effective. There are some in-game tools to help you out. Along the bottom are three colorful squares, but I promise they're more than just shapes. These buttons are for swapping out for an entirely new board of letters, picking out one letter and swapping its place with another or even finding a word for you. When you run out of the few cheats you get to start with, you have to buy more stars to get more cheats. A pack of five stars is US$0.99, which is a little pricey. The game also has other in-app purchases like packs of lives for when you fail or bonus letters in the grid. The current version of Spell World crashed every other time I played the game, at least. That was as frustrating as the game itself. Plus, even though many apps have not updated with support for iPhone 6, the graphics here look particularly fuzzy. Spell World tries to be too many things at once and ultimately falls flat. The word game portion passes enjoyable addictive territory into just plain annoying, the storyline is less than exciting and the in-app purchases are on the expensive side. It's an interesting attempt, but doesn't fare in the end. The game is available for iOS in the App Store.

  • Hess Space Cruiser is a solid companion to the Toy Truck

    Hess Space Cruiser is an action/adventure game in space where as pilot of the space cruiser, you must dodge asteroids, collect coins and power-ups and head straight to the goal to hopefully receive a medal. Play in quick mode for some brief travels through the universe or choose the full game to browse through the levels and universes. The game is completely free and available for iPhone and iPad. The game is in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary Edition Hess Toy Truck, which originated in 1964, so the brand is unsurprisingly sprinkled throughout. Your Hess coins you collect through the game add up over time to unlock new power-ups for your interplanetary vehicle. Some sounds that the latest truck makes are included in the game as well, which is a nice touch for users who are pairing their ownership of both the truck and the app. If you choose a quick match, the truck launches your space cruiser into space where the game begins. The controls vary from swipes to taps. Swiping in any direction moves the cruiser in that direction temporarily to dodge an asteroid. Tilting the phone itself moves the vehicle just enough to maneuver slightly, but it's a very fluid and responsive motion. There are also some basic power-ups that recharge every so often during the game. On the bottom right is a repulsor charge switch to eliminate surrounding obstacles for a few seconds and on the bottom left is a power booster to speed up. This could technically make it harder to avoid the asteroids, but if you want to get that gold metal, you need to reach the end goal as swiftly as possible. If you go through the full version of the game, you get the privilege of being a bit more picky with how you play and what you play with. To do this, tap "Choose Universe" instead of the quick mode. Easily the coolest universe and perhaps most impressive in Hess Space Cruise is the "Your Space," which overlays the game on the rear-facing camera view for an augmented reality effect. After you pick your universe, choose the difficulty - either easy, medium or hard - and even the ship. The default is the space cruiser but opting for the smaller "Scout" vehicle swaps out the repulsor charging power for teleportation. When you collect enough Hess coins, trade them in for additional powerups like shield generators, repulsor charges, extra armor and more. I didn't come in to playing Hess Space Cruiser with high expectations. I just assumed it was probably a gimmicky way to increase brand awareness for Hess and the toy trucks, but I was wrong. It's a pretty decent game. For what it is, the graphics are solid. Plus there aren't any in-app purchases, which is always refreshing. Hess Space Cruiser is great for Hess Toy Truck owners, but even by itself it's more than capable of squeezing in your folder of time-killing apps. The game is free in the iOS App Store.

  • Recall where the fox buried the eggs with Chicken Recall

    Chicken Recall is a free game that requires good memory and concentration. In an typically peaceful green pasture, a fox comes along and steals the chicken's eggs. As part of the game, it buries them in various piles, which expand into larger rows and columns as the game progresses. As the chicken, you must retrieve your eggs by focusing on where the fox buries them and remembering which pile the egg is in by the time you catch up. The title is available for iPhone and iPad. Chicken Recall reminds me of a classic arcade game that could in theory use a joystick as a controller, or a fun mini-game as part of a full video game. It comes with three playing modes: Classic, Timer and Guess It. Classic is the default mode and the only one that's unlocked from the start. The game plays a quick introduction video explaining that the fox has stolen the chicken's eggs, then instructions on how to play to get the eggs back. At the start, there are four rows of dirt piles and two per row, but the grid slowly expands The fox hops around between the columns and it's up to you to remember where it goes burying the egg. Bear in mind that the fox is at the top of the screen before you even get to start, so it's not as simple as just following in the fox's footsteps. It's time to put that cerebral cortex to work. In Timer mode, Chicken Recall gets a bit more complicated as you have to dig through the piles at a faster rate to keep up with the fox before it escapes, otherwise the game ends. Luckily, the only mechanism necessary in any of the modes is just tapping, so it's quick to speed through. In Guess It mode, the fox isn't even visible so you're forced to just guess which pile holds the egg until you're wrong. This mode is truthfully pointless. Timer and Guess It modes are unlocked via an in-app purchase for US$0.99 that also removes ads or by sharing the game with your friends on Facebook, the latter of which I suspect to be the more popular option. The upgrade price is still inexpensive enough though. Chicken Recall is also flexible in that it allows you to customize the game by tapping "Customize" on the menu screen. Set the starting number of holes per row, the maximum number of holes in a row and how many correct answers it takes to progressively increase the number of holes. It's great for fine-tuning and challenging yourself if it becomes too easy or if you have supernatural memorization capabilities. The graphics are a bit amateur, but it's easily overlooked. I also wish the introduction video and instructions didn't display every time you play the game. It's an entertaining and distinctive memory game with plenty of customization options. The in-app purchase is a worthy upgrade for the price, but even otherwise the free portion of Chicken Recall is perfectly fine on its own. Find the app for iOS in the App Store.

  • Lingopal 44 is your own personal foreign language guidebook

    Lingopal 44 is a language translation app that acts as a travel companion. Rather than just automatically translate any words or phrases you type in the app, it provides a lengthy, categorized list of common words and phrases to listen to and use on demand. Lingopal 44 supports - you guessed it - 44 different languages around the world and includes dozens of categories for communication. The app is free for iOS with in-app purchases and requires iOS 7.1 or later. Typical translation apps and services have you type in any sentence you need to learn in a foreign language, but Lingopal 44 takes a different approach, one that's arguably better or worse in various circumstances. It acts as more of a digital guidebook. It comes without a label, but upon first launch the app is asking you to choose your native language, followed by your sex, then the foreign language you want to use to boot. It also asks you if you want to enable some content for ages 17 and up. For free, Lingopal 44 includes the Essentials category and if you choose to view the aforementioned mature content, you also get the Flirting category. I thought this was a little odd. Of all categories to include at the get-go, flirting is really a top priority? Not the categories for directions, traveling or even numbers? Okay then. The other categories range from Days & Time to Dining to Making Conversation to Business Talk. If you were skeptical about this app lacking categories or phrases to say just because it's preloaded, fear not. The amount of content is here is truly plentiful enough to get by. If you choose to allow the mature content, the app includes the main Flirting category plus eight other subcategories for flirting, a gay category (which is basically just same-sex flirting,) and X-rated insults, vulgar yet hilarious. However, the first "Flirting" is still the only one available for free. Each category comes with plenty of relevant phrases. Tap one to view the translation in your selected language, which is adjustable in the Settings tab. Additionally, use the buttons underneath to view the translation in full-screen mode, play a recording, turn on repeat to continuously play the recording or save the translation to your favorites. If you're having trouble finding what you need or browsing through categories and lists is becoming tedious, Lingopal 44 comes with a Search tab to filter down what you're trying to say by keyword. Without paying anything, the app won't get you very far. An in-app purchase is necessary to unlock the rest of the categories and phrases, either per language or for all languages. Each language pack is US$0.99, but for a limited time (until Jan. 30, 2015) unlocking all languages is only $0.99, down from the normal rate of $9.99. If you're interested in downloading Lingopal 44, now is a good time. The app lacks a bit in the areas of design and stability. In fact, it crashed on me multiple times during my time of review. Plus, I'm not sure if having this preloaded guidebook for languages offers any practical benefit over just using a translator and typing in what you want to say. Perhaps this might be better for learning and memorizing foreign languages as opposed to on the fly translation. Either way, the choice is yours. Especially now with the in-app purchase sale, Lingopal is a solid tool for travel and translation. It's free for iPhone and iPad in the App Store.

  • Answer: Don't Be Stupid game impractically expects just that

    Answer: Don't Be Stupid is a game that makes you feel ever so slightly, well, stupid. That's because it's based off of simple math problems most of us learned in the first grade. However, when put in this format, it's not so easy. The objective is to determine if the number on the left is less than, equal to or greater than the sum of the numbers on the right as quickly as possible. If you're not quick enough, you lose. If you're wrong, you lose. Time to recharge that brain with fast-moving numbers. The game is free for iPhone and iPad and requires iOS 7.0 or later. In every round, a blue box holding a random number is steadily in place on the left. A mathematical expression slides in on the right in its own box, creeping closer to the other number. Before the two boxes touch, you must use the three buttons below: the less-than symbol, the equal symbol or the greater-than symbol. Tap these in accordance with the numbers and expressions and how they relate to each other. Don't worry, the expressions don't get too out of hand. For instance, if the number in the blue box is nine and the expression is eight plus one, tap the Equal button. The game is in a constant rapid fire mode, so there's no time to pause and celebrate each time you finish. After the first level, you're on to the next. As Answer progresses, it gets more difficult. The expression on the right starts sliding at a faster pace giving you less time to choose the correct answer. The numbers get more complex, too, growing larger and eventually broadening to include all integers rather than solely natural numbers. This means you might come across some negatives. I have yet to get far enough to see if Answer transitions into harder problems like multiplication or division. There's some subtraction at times, but my suspicion is that it doesn't go beyond that based on the app description stating it's for "practicing addition." Answer has two modes to boot: Normal and Hard. The Hard difficulty seemingly just starts off on a similar intensity to when Normal is about 25 levels in. Math was always a pretty strong subject for me in school, but don't let that fool you. The "Don't Be Stupid" slogan in the title gets somewhat challenging to fulfill. To score well, you have to act quickly, wisely and under pressure. The game integrates with Game Center to store your rankings and unlock badges for each level you pass. You won't find a multiplayer mode, in-app purchases or settings. Down the road, it might be nice to have modes for multiplication, division and other kinds of math so Answer can train your brain to learn more than just addition. Answer is a fun title that simultaneously gets easier and harder the more you play. The levels get more difficult, but it really does train your brain to respond quicker and with the correct answers. "Fun" and "educational" are two concepts that don't always coexist, but Answer: Don't Be Stupid accomplishes just that. Get it in the App Store for free.

  • Stayful is a must-have money saver for travelers

    Stayful is a travel app that finds hotels in a number of cities across North America based on exactly what you're looking for, then gets you the best price possible. Browse photos of the hotels, view a list of amenities and reasons why you might like your stay there, then quickly make a reservation right within the app. Customize your price range, type of hotel or stay, location and time frame all in a few taps to focus in on what you're looking for. Stayful is free for iPhone and requires iOS 8.0 or later. Good design means looking and functioning beautifully. Fortunately, Stayful achieves both. The app design is among some of the better ones I've seen since the launch of iOS 8. Interestingly, many of the animations remind me of Android's new Material design language. It's quite charming though to say the least. What's more important than some subtle animations is how the app works, and Stayful so nonchalantly throws away all the unnecessary complexities that often come with booking hotels. The app asks you a simple question: "What are your travel plans?" Then you fill in the blanks. Choose from one of the supported locations: Anaheim, Boston, Charleston, Chicago, Dallas, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Orlando, Palm Springs, Phoenix, Portland, San Antonio, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Fe, Savannah, Seattle, Telluride, Toronto, Vancouver or Washington, D.C. Next, pick your ideal hotel. Are you looking for a luxurious vacation spot? Do you prefer a low-key stay that's particularly kid-friendly? Perhaps opt for a delightful bed and breakfast. Either way, the customization options are here and abundant. While you're at it, choose between a budget, mid-priced or premium stay. After you just put in which days you want to stay, Stayful finds all independent and boutique hotels that meet your criteria and serves up the best price possible for each. I tested this out and the claim seems to ring true; multiple competitors I tried couldn't match Stayful's prices. Note that you may not always get hotels matching what you're searching for. Stayful only searches through independent hotels, so don't expect any Hampton Inns or anything of the sort to show up in your search results. This somewhat limits the diversity of the options, but at the same time it's arguably unreasonable searching for a "luxurious" hotel with a "budget" price. When you do get results, the app displays gorgeous photos for each hotel plus the price per night. Tapping a hotel brings up further information like ratings on TripAdvisor, amenities, a map and cleverly organized bullet points with some benefits about staying there, jargon-free. If you do decide to book with Stayful, bear in mind that the price initially listed does not include tax recovery charges and service fees. Still, those included, it's difficult to beat what Stayful offers. From start to finish, finding the perfect hotel with Stayful is an easy, elegant process that makes you want to abandon any other travel service. Though it doesn't support chain hotels, it's superb for anyone looking to support local businesses or stay somewhere that's uniquely admirable on its own. Stayful could largely benefit from an iPad version of its app, which it currently lacks. Do yourself a favor and at least download Stayful free for iPhone in the App Store.

  • Selfit takes selfies to a new level with mixed reality

    Selfit takes selfies to the next levels, incorporating mixed reality to give the effects of various backgrounds, animations and wearable accessories among other things. It's similar in nature to Photo Booth but has a wider array of customization options and uses slightly different technology. Plus, Selfit allows for multiple effects to be on at once to create unique combinations of playful photos and videos. The app is free for iPhone and iPad. The app requires that it detect your face before you move forward with any of the effects. These aren't the typical effects you see in fun photo editing apps that just alter the colors or distort the pixels. Selfit's effects revolve around the location of your face and facial features. The face detection was very good at detecting my face in standard lighting. It offers up some tips beforehand as well suggesting that you stand in a well-lit environment and ditch the glasses if you have them. Selfit has various types of effects but I'm going to attempt to categorize all of them down to three: backdrops, facial effects and face replacements. Backdrops are the most generic of the three but they work pretty well and Selfit gets creative with the options. In giving the effect that your face is in front, it fairs just okay. Keeping in mind that the app is free, though, it's pretty good - better than Photo Booth on my Mac, that's for sure. It doesn't require you to step out of frame as it samples the background and applies the backdrop. Instead, the app seems to determine the border around your face and body and then feather it while applying the effect around all sides. This means it's not exactly picture perfect, but certainly adequate. Facial effects are where Selfit shows off its capabilities best. These are the effects that track specific aspects of your face. As a result, the mixed reality allows you to "wear" funny sunglasses, masks, facial hair, face paint and a remarkable amount of additional items. The face paint especially is eerily realistic and even accurately adjusts if you move your eyes or lips. Face replacements make up the smallest category but they're too hilarious to ignore. These cover your face entirely with some odd character and effect like an ogre and a skull, but they follow your movements. On top of being able to mix and match all of these effects, Selfit bundles a few together for you in Scenes. The underwater scene puts goggles around your eyes and has fish swimming around in the background. When you take a photo or video, it's up to you to save it within the app, to your camera roll, or share it elsewhere. You may notice that not all of the effects are readily available for use. Some have locks on them. To unlock them, you need to "buy" them with sharing points. It's an in-app currency, but it never requires spending real money. Instead, you earn sharing points every time you share a photo or video using Selfit. Major props to Selfit for not taking the conventional give-me-your-money route. Selfit is a terrific amount of fun and works well to spice up those selfies with some imaginative decorations and mixed reality effects. The design is simple enough to navigate and with loads of customization options, anyone can find at least something to get a chuckle out of. Get Selfit in the App Store for iPhone or iPad.

  • Quiptalk reveals what friends are saying before they say it

    Quiptalk is a social networking app for communicating with friends in topical chat rooms. Its spotlight feature is live typing which shows other users your message as you type it, eliminating the need to wait for someone to tap "Send" before you get to see the message. Additionally, Quiptalk boasts that the app doesn't store any conversation history, so it's easy to hop on and send some private thoughts without having to clear the log later on. The iPhone app is free and demands iOS 7.1 or newer. Unlike many other chat rooms, Quiptalk is not interested in hooking you up to talk with strangers online. The upside is that the app is only useful for people you already know and have a desire to chat with. The downside, however, is that the app is only useful for people you already know and have a desire to chat with. No need to blink, I'll explain. Basically, while Quiptalk is great for connecting with friends in somewhat of an atypical fashion, it does require that your friends are actually using it. When I downloaded Quiptalk, no one in my contacts had the app already, so it suggested I send out some invites. If no fish latch on to your hook, the app is useless. As always with these types of app, the critical hassle is making that magical leap from being unknown to known. The beginning process was a bit confusing. I entered in a username to identify with, then I had to choose a name for my "quip," (read: chat room.) The example was "monsters" so I went with that. When I sent out the invitation for someone to join my quip, it only signs the person up for the app and didn't enter them in my room. I resent the invitation and once both parties already had accounts, it worked. Then I started typing to monitor if it was truly live. Unfortunately, the typing lagged significantly from my screen and the receiving end. When I typed one word it did appear almost instantly, but as I started to type at normal speed, it took over 10 seconds to appear on the other phone. That's not live in my book. Where Quiptalk does earn points is delivering on the promise to not store conversation history. In fact, as soon as everyone leaves a quip it asks you if you want to close the room, which makes sense unless you like talking to yourself. When you do this, it along with the messages within it vanish forever. The biggest problem with Quiptalk is just the lack of necessity. I don't see why anyone would really need or even want to read messages before they're sent. It's like asking someone in person what they're about to say before they say it. Furthermore, the requirement to create topics or at its core, group names, for the conversations just add to the perplexity. A neat idea in theory, Quiptalk falls short on the execution. It's free for iPhone in the App Store.