Pinworthy 3: This week’s Marketplace highlights

Welcome back, everyone. It was a solid week for Marketplace; I found it little tougher to winnow the 400-odd new entries down to five. Check out my latest picks and tell me about your own new discoveries.

A few folks have asked about my methodology. It’s pretty simple: I pour over all the new apps that land in Marketplace during a single week—usually from Wednesday to Wednesday—and download anything that looks interesting. I try them out for a little bit, pick five that I like, then tell you what’s good and bad about them.

Occasionally, I’ll pick an app based solely on looks, promise, or early feedback from other reviewers—even though I haven’t tried it personally. When I do, I’ll let you know (there’s one example this week). That way, you can take it with the appropriate grain of salt.

By the way, have you noticed that a couple games discussed here in recent weeks have since rocketed up the most-downloaded charts? I’m talking specifically about Quadra and Ice Ball, two free casual games definitely worth a look. (Check out my earlier review.)

Finally, I learned a good lesson this week: Don’t judge an app by its icon. Some really great apps in Marketplace have really lame-looking icons. I won’t mention any names. But if you’re writing an app, you might want to put a little extra polish on your icon—and Marketplace description—because the reality is that’s how most folks do judge whether your creation is worth their time and money.   A little extra work can really make your app stand out from the crowd.

Happy hunting!

 

Top 100 Speeches

Top 100 SpeechesTop 100 Speeches

Here’s an example of how your smartphone can truly make you smarter. Ever wondered what Martin Luther King said at the Lincoln Memorial just before uttering his now-famous “I have a dream” line? Or how JFK ended his 1961 “ask not” inaugural address? The new Top 100 Speeches app transports you back in time so you can hear for yourself.

The app provides streaming access to the 100 best speeches of the 20th century—orations you’ve probably heard about, but never truly heard. (Among them: Ronald Reagan’s eulogy for the astronauts aboard the space shuttle Challenger, which exploded 25 years ago today.) The speeches were picked by a group of 137 scholars, who ranked candidates by rhetorical artistry and historical impact. As far as I can tell, they’re available here in their entirety. A must-have for students, armchair orators, and anybody else curious to hear history in the making.

Download it from Zune Marketplace

Received: Jan. 22. Price: free

 

Art Museum

Art MuseumArt Museum

Here’s another great choice for anybody weary of corny gag apps: Art Museum. This artsy app provides capsule biographies of more than 30 famous painters, providing the Cliff’s Notes version of their life, career, and most famous works.

But the real reason for getting Art Museum is that it’s packed with art—more than 1,700 paintings, according to its official Marketplace description (I’m taking their word for it). You can zoom in on the paintings, view them as a slide show, or—best of all—save them to your phone. They make great wallpaper (see How do I customize my lock screen). My only gripe with the app was that navigation was a little confusing at times. But Art Museum definitely earned back my dollar.

Download it from Zune Marketplace

Received: Jan. 21. Price: $0.99

 

Akiak

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Man, is it tough deciding which game I like best each week. I started out the week glued to the simple yet addictive Cascade Lite. Then I discovered Eggie. Then I got really excited when Back from Earth arrived, since it’s a Doodle Jump-clone with fetching cartoony graphics (but ultimately a disappointing number of power-ups).

I still recommend giving each of those a spin. But it was Akiak that ultimately won my heart.  In this game, your task is to guide this plucky penguin across miles of obstacle-strewn ice fields on his quest to win the Coral Fish Crown. You tap and tilt your phone to dodge ice cracks, trees, logs and sharks and other dangers. Along the way, you’ll find fun accessories like glide wings, live preservers, and super-speed candy canes to assist your quest.

Download from Zune Marketplace

Released: Jan. 25. Price: free.

 

Media Buddy

Media BuddyMedia Buddy

Do you use Windows Media Center to record TV shows at home?  Then you should take a close look at Media Buddy.  This app lets you browse your TV guide, schedule new recordings, watch shows you’ve recorded, and take care of some basic housekeeping tasks like deleting old recordings. All from your phone. To use Media Buddy, you’ll need a PC running Windows 7. You’ll also need to install a free Windows Media Center add-on called Remote Potato.

Full disclosure: I haven’t had a chance to try this app out myself. But it’s gotten enough positive early reviews that I thought it worth including this week. If you try it, report back and tell us couch potatoes how it works out!

Download from Zune Marketplace

Released: Jan. 19. Price: $3.99 + free trial

 

Pro Sports Scores

Pro Sports Scoresimageimage

The perfect app for sports junkies has yet to be built. But Pro Sports Scores is certainly in the ballpark. You can check out scores and stats for most major-league sports: MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL. (But if you’re looking for college scores, you’re out of luck.)  The app makes nice use of horizontal scrolling, so you can see games and results from today, yesterday, and tomorrow with a flick of your finger. Tap a game to see details stats and what channel to watch it.

Poking around the app settings menu, I noticed the author is planning on Live Tile support sometime in the future—so you’ll be able to see scores at a glance.

Download from Zune Marketplace

Released: Jan. 21. Price: free.