Archive for July, 2011

Office 365 hits the skies and Thunderbird goes rapid-release

July 3rd, 2011

As we return from the long holiday weekend, presumably sunburned and slightly plumper, let’s take a look at some of the biggest stories to hit the Download shores over the past week.

Office 365, Microsoft’s answer to Google Docs, hit the market, and professionals and small businesses can use it to work from anywhere using familiar-feeling Web-enabled applications. Sure, we all like the idea of cloud-enabled collaboration, but are the subscription pricing tiers just a tad too high? You tell us.

In other news, Mozilla Thunderbird, Firefox’s open-source e-mail sibling and Outlook alternative, jumped up to version 5, and we do mean jumped. It incorporated nearly 400 fixes and skipped “version 4″ entirely.

On the mobile front, the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace finally got Angry Birds. While the game is sort of yesterday’s news, it’s still a big deal for the Windows Phone folks to have gained access, so we’re just going to be happy for them. Also, Skype 2.0 has arrived for Android, and at long last, it gives Android users video calling–sort of. The functionality is only available on four devices.

That’s it for this week. Happy peeling, folks!

Arcade auto racing for iOS

July 1st, 2011

When it comes to racing games on the iOS, you have plenty of choices. Whether you want to race cars, motorcycles, ATVs, jet skis, or planes, the iTunes app store has excellent options.

Probably the most recognized racing games would be Firemint’s Real Racing, the Need for Speed franchise, or the Asphalt racing games, all of which offer 3D racing action. But we’ve found that sometimes it’s the arcade racing games that can be more fun if you’re in the right mood.

This week’s collection of iOS apps is all about arcade racing games. The first is a recently released 2D top-down racer with unique controls and six-player local multiplayer. The second moves toward combat racing with upgradable cars and tons of levels to conquer. The third is an excellent physics-based racer with a focus on skidding and sliding around corners to get to the finish line.

Cut the corners close and jockey for position in this top-down 2D racing game.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

VS Racing (99 cents) is a true top-down racing game in the classic sense–there are no 3D effects or complex car models, but it’s still pretty fun. The control system offers up three types of steering (there is no gas or braking in this game). When you race for the first time, the game suggests you use a steering mechanism usually found in ball rolling games–tilt to turn so that the car is always traveling “downhill.” We tried a couple of races using the suggested method, but found the other two directional steering options to be much more reliable.

VS. Racing offers a single player campaign as well as local multiplayer over Wi-Fi with up to six players. In the single player game, you start off easy to get used to the controls in what are called the Local Qualifiers. As you progress, more racers are added to train you to jockey for position against other cars. After the qualifiers you move on to Regionals, then compete in the championship all the way to the Finals. A loose story line shows up as static dialogues between the game’s characters in between races, but there’s not much to it–in other words, you won’t be playing this game for the story. Still, the racing action is pretty fun with 34 races across six unique tracks.

Multiplayer would probably be the best part of VS. Racing, but it’s limited to matches played over local Wi-Fi. If the developers added racing online with GameCenter support, it would probably be great fun matching up against five other players online. We hope the developers are planning that for later versions. The game could also be improved by adding more tracks.

Overall, VS. Racing is a fun racing game, but might be a bit easy for serious arcade racing fans. If you want a top-down racer that’s reminiscent of classic arcade games, VS. Racing is a fairly good option, but it gets online multiplayer and GC support, it will be even better.

When you get behind in this game, use your weapons to take people out and improve your position.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Death Rally (99 cents) is an iOS adaptation of (and homage to) the classic, much-loved top-down PC racer of the same name. Much like its predecessor, Death Rally has a gritty feel (although much more PG than on the PC) and some of the best racing gameplay and graphics on its platform.

At its most basic, Death Rally is a 2D arcade racer in which you duke it out for pole position in short, brutal races against multiple opponents, with some help from your guns. You control your car with a virtual left joystick (the lack of fancy controls means you need to master sliding around corners), and you control your special weapon (you can unlock several in the game, from a shotgun to a mine-layer) with a virtual right joystick. Your primary gun is always firing if there’s something to shoot at.

What makes Death Rally so addictive is how it rewards you for quick, pick-up-and-play races: you’re unlocking and upgrading weapons and cars–for cars, improving their speed, handling, and armor–and each race gets you slightly closer to a new or better weapon or vehicle, which in turn lets you compete on progressively more difficult races against increasingly craftier opponents. You get cash for a variety of accomplishments, including winning or placing, taking out competitors, and making or breaking course records. Death Rally keeps things fresh by continuously changing the available races, with enough maps, difficulty settings, and special challenges to always pique your interest as you work your way toward gaining fame and beefing up the hardware in your garage.

Death Rally is a racing gem, combining intuitive and visceral gameplay with a supremely satisfying RPG-style advancement system. It’s a must download for arcade racing fans, especially if you can find it on sale.

The physics in this racer are exceptional, but you’re going to have to master drift-like turns.

(Credit:
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Reckless Racing (99 cents) is just plain fun, taking some gameplay ideas from old classic console games like RC Pro-Am, and adding in modern graphics and physics to make a racing game that is a blast to play and looks great on the iPhone 4 Retina Display.

The game delivers on two major counts: graphics and controls. Reckless Racing is absolutely dazzling, with vibrantly colored cars and tracks that are just shy of photorealistic. And you get to choose from five control schemes–everything from basic left/right-gas/brake buttons to an onscreen steering wheel to accelerometer steering. We’re partial to the buttons, but we are also enamored with “tank” mode (in which your car just goes flat-out the entire time–all you do is steer).
Whatever control option you choose, you’ll find absolutely perfect arcade physics. Cars skid and slide and screech around corners (in varying amounts depending on whether you’re on gravel or asphalt). If you like drift, you’ll love RR.

The game’s half-dozen vehicle options include Otis’ flame-adorned pickup, Cletus’ old army jeep, Floyd’s cab truck–you get the idea. As far as we can tell, each car is identical in terms of handling and performance, which makes for a level playing field and a better game–you’re battling the track and your driving skills, not the car.

RR offers just seven tracks, which does seem a bit limited, though as you progress, you unlock reverse versions of each one. That more or less brings the total to 14, but we would still love to see EA add some new tracks in a future update.

Single-player options include Dirt Rally (your basic championship mode) and Hot Lap (in which you race for the best single-lap time). Then there’s Delivery, which is just like it sounds: you pick up and deliver as many packages as you can in a fixed amount of time (3, 5, or 8 minutes). This takes place on a larger, more open track–and it’s a blast.

Of course, any single-player racer gets boring after a while, which is why we like that RR offers online multiplayer races for up to four players.

Overall, if you’re looking for a classic isometric racer like the days of old, Reckless Racing takes the best of that classic genre and adds in modern graphics and physics to make for an excellent arcade racer.

Got a better top-down racing game that’s not mentioned here? Please let us all know about it in the comments.

EA game sale: 99 cents for most iPhone, iPad titles

July 1st, 2011
This weekend only, EA is offering nearly 50 iOS games for 99 cents apiece.

This weekend only, EA is offering nearly 50 iOS games for 99 cents apiece.

(Credit:
EA Mobile)

Nothing says “independence” and “I love America” quite like deep discounts on iOS games. Well, OK, maybe fireworks and pausing to reflect on what makes this country–for all its troubles and conflicts–so flippin’ awesome.

But getting back to that other thing. In honor of the the Fourth of July weekend, EA Mobile has launched a huge sale on iPhone and iPad games.

I won’t list all the titles here, as there are nearly 50 in all–most of them priced at 99 cents. But I will give a shout-out to those I think are especially buy-worthy.

First up: Max and the Magic Marker, which is arguably the single most popular game in my household. My kids (ages 11 and 8) have played it over and over and over. And what’s not to like? It’s like Calvin (of “Calvin and Hobbes” fame) meets “Harold and the Purple Crayon.”

Next, Dead Space for 99 cents is absolutely a no-brainer. (It originally sold for $9.99 for iPad and $6.99 for iPhone/iPod.) It’s an original chapter in the console-born saga, and one of the scariest action games ever (especially if you play with headphones on).

I also have mad love for Reckless Racing, which is good on the iPhone and great on the iPad (a game like this really needs a big screen). It’s a top-down dirt-track racer in the tradition of the arcade classic Super Off Road.

Finally, Madden NFL 11 for 99 cents? When it’s console counterparts sell for closer to $30? You can’t beat that with a stick–or a quarterback sneak.

This is definitely a good time to stock up on some good games. After all, you’ll need something to do while waiting for the fireworks to start, right?

Originally posted at iPhone Atlas

Windows Phone 7 Marketplace now has 25,000 apps?

July 1st, 2011
How many apps are available to Windows Phone 7?

How many apps are available to Windows Phone 7?

(Credit:
CNET)

Microsoft’s mobile-app marketplace might now feature more than 25,000 applications, one report claims.

According to Windows Phone App List, a Windows Phone 7 Marketplace app tracker, Microsoft’s store currently has 25,076 applications available to users. However, another Windows Phone 7 Marketplace tracker, WP7applist, claims the store has 24,878 applications. What’s more, WP7applist claims 4,044 of those programs are currently “inactive.”

Either way, it’s worth nothing that neither Windows Phone App List nor WP7applist offer the official stats on available applications in the Windows Phone 7 Marketplace–that is reserved for Microsoft.

When Windows Phone 7 launched last year, 1,000 applications were available for the platform. At the end of March, the company reported that that figure had jumped to 11,500 applications, including 7,500 paid apps.

In comparison, Apple’s App Store at the time had 350,000 available applications, while the Android Market featured more than 150,000 apps. At its Worldwide Developers Conference last month, Apple reported that there are now 425,000 applications available in its marketplace. At Google’s I/O Conference in May, the company said there are 200,000 apps available in its Android Market.

Though Microsoft is still far behind in the total number of apps available, the company has consistently said that application quantity doesn’t matter to it. In March, Microsoft said that in the mobile space, it’s a matter of “quality over quantity.”

Microsoft did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many applications are currently available in its Windows Phone 7 Marketplace.

Originally posted at The Digital Home

Adobe tries discounts to woo Final Cut Pro ranters

July 1st, 2011

Adobe Systems has fired another shot over Apple’s bow.

The company today announced its Switcher Program, which will allow people who have purchased any version of Apple’s Final Cut Pro (or Avid Media Composer) to receive a 50 percent discount on Creative Suite CS 5.5 Production Premium or Premiere Pro CS 5.5.

“We’re hearing from video professionals that they want pro level tools that address cutting edge work but also allow them to use legacy footage and workflows,” Jim Guerard, general manager and vice president of professional video and audio at Adobe, said in a statement. “At Adobe we’ve been in the trenches with video pros for years and with Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 and CS5.5 Production Premium we’ve delivered professional-grade tools that are already being battle-tested by some of the most innovative filmmakers, broadcasters and video pros.”

Adobe’s Switcher Program is a direct response to the outcry from video professionals over Apple’s launch of Final Cut Pro X. Last week, Apple released a complete rewrite of its flagship video-editing software and left out some key features that video pros were unhappy to see go. The biggest issue is that users can no longer open and edit video projects from previous versions of Final Cut.

Just days after Final Cut Pro X’s launch, a petition surfaced on the Web, entitled “Final Cut Pro X Is Not A Professional Application.” It calls on Apple to bring back the last version of the software. As of this writing, the petition has over 6,600 signatures.

Last week, late-night TV host Conan O’Brien took aim at Apple on his program by showing a comical video that featured editing mistakes caused by the new version of Final Cut.

All that outcry reportedly led Apple to go against its own policy and thus offer refunds to disgruntled customers who purchased the $299 software.

Adobe’s attempt to take advantage of Apple’s troubles is the latest in a long line of public spats between the companies.

As of late, the biggest issue between the firms has been Apple’s decision to not support Flash in the Safari mobile Web browser on its line of iOS-based devices. Last year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs wrote an open letter on his company’s Web site outlining its decision to ban Flash from its mobile products.

“Flash was created during the PC era–for PCs and mice,” Jobs said in the letter. “New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future, and less on criticizing Apple for leaving the past behind.”

He went on to say that Flash would drain the iPhone’s battery life and that he was concerned with it being unstable on his company’s platform because, Jobs said, “Flash is the number one reason Macs crash.”

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal following Jobs’ letter, Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen said that the Apple CEO’s comments were a “smokescreen.” He added that Jobs’ claim that Flash causes Macs to crash is not an issue with Adobe’s technology, but actually something “to do with the Apple operating system.”

Since that spat, there has been no love lost between Adobe and Apple. And Adobe’s latest offer might only further the divide.

Adobe is offering its 50-percent-off deal through September 30. Apple did not immediately respond to CNET’s request for comment.

Originally posted at The Digital Home

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