Published on May 3rd, 2010 | by Greg0
iPad Apps: Games, Art, Design, And Science
We have to admit to getting caught up in the swirl of publicity around the iPad, and especially the recently launched iPad 3G. Part of it is the excellence of the iPhone, mixed with dissatisfaction at our netbooks, and the obvious allure of the latest status symbol in computing. But a good part of the appeal for us is the battery life, the reasonable weight combined with a large screen, and the capability of using our iPhone apps on another, slicker device. We won’t be reviewing the iPad itself- there are plenty of other reviews out there that address it in every detail- but we would like to hit on some of the applications that have made it more than just a great web browsing and movie watching tablet.
It’s easy enough to be passive on the iPad. iBooks is great, and the New York Times Editors’ Choice app is the best news reader we’ve seen. But we’ve been exploring a wide variety of iPad apps, and have selected a few of our favorites to share. The library of quality software has grown slowly and steadily from the early days, and we’re happy to report that most of the apps below have been updated since release, fixing bugs, tweaking the interface a bit, and generally improving the experience. Since many developers weren’t able to actually get their hands on a device until after the general release, we have made every attempt to review the latest versions, and wait a suitable time since release to give them a chance to polish. All prices and information are accurate as of publication, and if in doubt, most apps do offer limited demos and free versions.
We’ll start off with the a few that we weren’t completely sold on. We’ve been enjoying ESPN’s Pinball for the iPad, but though impressed by the graphics, have to admit that the physics seem a bit off. The table has some fun features, but we ran into some times when the framerate would drop and motion would slow way down. The sounds are fun at first, but grow a bit tiresome as well. ESPN’s Scorecenter XL app is suited for a very different niche, but also left us dissatisfied. A sometimes slow-to-respond interface and some overwhelming menus left us cold, though the amount of information is staggering. Serious sports fans will likely appreciate the scores, statistics, previews, recaps, standings, and even live play-by-play, and we hope that future updates fix some of the bugs and clean up the interface a bit. $3.99 and $4.99, respectively. Another game that didn’t quite live up to expectations was AccordÃ©on, a cute single-purpose app that does what it says: makes your iPad look and sound like an accordion. It sounded pretty good and looked sharp, but the lack of animation or any particular special features left us flat, and the price tag has been all over the place. Right now, it’s $2.99.
For gamers in need of a quick timekiller, IUGO offers a few fun games that are fairly easy to play and hard to put down. Cliffed XL, Implode XL, and Zombies Attack! Second Wave XL offer quite a bit of fun on your new iPad but won’t set you back many coins. ZA!2 XL is a pretty great tower defense game well-suited to the screen, and is quite a bit less pricey than Plants vs Zombies. Implode XL is a physics-type game of, well, imploding things and offers a pretty amazing variety of levels, content, and challenges. We ended up having to pull the iPad out of reviewers hands to get them to stop playing those two games. Cliffed XL wasn’t quite as compelling. Head-to-head mode was found, but slowed things down a bit, and the core gamplay wasn’t as lasting or as addictive- great for a few minutes, but not one we ended up coming back to. Prices are $3.99, $2.99, and $1.99, respectively.
Gamers looking for longer games or a bit more depth can be satisfied with a few other titles. If you haven’t had enough zombies, try the pretty great FPS Call of Duty: World at War: Zombies HD. Sure, it’s a long title, and the price is a bit too high at $14.99, but it’s a ton of fun, runs well, looks great, and offers an impressive and immersive control scheme. It’s much better on the iPad than the iPhone, and makes a pretty convincing argument that this might be a gaming device capable of making us leave our Nintendo DS and PSP on their shelves. Galcon Fusion offers a completely different experience, though fans from the original iPhone/iPod Touch version will find themselves right at home. The best touchscreen strategy game that we’ve played, it’s essentially a rapid-play infinitely variable arcade space game, distilled down to a bare essence of ships and planets. Multi-player, multiple modes, many difficulty levels, a quite satisfying depth of achievements, rankings combine with a better soundtrack and slick graphics. A must-buy for strategy fans at $7.99. Finally, while we’re talking about games suitable for all ages, we’d be remiss not to mention to Labyrinth 2. The original on the iPhone and iPod Touch convinced any doubters that the tilt sensor had utility in gaming, and the updated version looks sleek and plays well. The free version here offers quite a bit, but at $7.99, it’s a sure-fire hit at parties or with kids. It’s immediately understandable, cross-cultural, and you can set a 5 year old up in about 5 seconds. Plenty of fun additions like magnets and resizers mean that the levels stay interesting, and there are tons of them, including user-created ones. You can even create your own.
Artists and designers can immediately grasp the appeal of the iPad. Phaidon Design Classics uses the large screen and multi-touch interface to offer an interactive take on their authoritative collection. Compiling and discussing 200 years of product design in chronological order, the app could have benefited from one more round of design tweaks itself as occasionally the interface is awkward. But as a spell-binding way to kill hours browsing some of the best mankind has to offer, it can’t be beat. You’re sure to learn plenty, about nearly everything under the sun, and the write-ups can even bring one to tears at times. Beautiful, and certainly easier to lug around than the massive 3-volume original set, but still a bit hard on the wallet at $19.99. Much less expensive (1/10 of the price at the moment) is the app Beautiful Planet HD, ‘A Photographic Journey Around the World’. Offering little more than a bunch of pretty pictures wrapped in a tight package, we liked the global take and geo-specific images. It works as a great timekiller for kids in the car, or as something to do when wifi isn’t available. The images themselves are well chosen and few are short of stunning, though navigation can be a bit awkward since it’s linear and in individual galleries. Also, you oddly can’t change the orientation. And while we don’t discuss many productivity apps here, one that shouldn’t be overlooked is Air Sharing HD. It essentially turns your iPad into a wireless external drive, easily allowing you to share files from your other computers, and mounting the iPad as a network drive. For those don’t transfer many documents or files, this is strictly optional, but it’s a lifesaver for those who want to view PDFs (as it includes an excellent PDF viewer, and can also view files in many other popular formats like Excel, RTF, HTML, and more. You can also unzip archives, even password protected ones. You can print as well, as long as you have a OSX or Linux computer (sadly no PC support at the moment), and even share files with other users of Air Sharing. Other apps are out there, but at the moment, this is the best of it’s sort, even if it feels a bit too pricey at $9.99.
But wait- that’s not all! We’re saving two of the best for last, and that without even discussing Shazam or Pandora; both are excellent music apps that seem a bit like magic, but both of their iPad versions offer little more than the ones on the iPhone. For the sweet spot between meditation and frustration, you can’t do better than Zen Bound 2 for $7.99. Atmospheric, gorgeous, absolutely unique, and offering a control scheme that fits the device quite well, you might be put off at first by the simple-seeming gameplay. Basically, you’re trying to wrap a rope around various structures of different shapes, and you’re given a limited amount of rope and specific goals. There is depth here though, and plenty of it, with interesting additions offering an incentive to continue past your inevitable frustrations. It’s replayable, consumable in small 1-minute chunks, and feels real in a way that few apps match.
One app that feels even more real, though, is Star Walk, another app that uses the potential of the device to it’s fullest. The tilt sensor, geolocation, and big screen combine to offer a stargazing helper unlike any other- easily spot constellations by holding your iPad up to the night sky. Helpful information, a time machine feature to show changes, even a picture of the day, offer astronomy fans a hit. The iPhone version was featured by Apple as one of the best of 2009, but this version ups the graphics and responsiveness, and offers a friendlier way for more than one person to view the application. Skeptics of the device are immediately convinced by the app, and it’s educational, visual, and even emotional appeal are hard to top. At $4.99, this is a must-get.