Is it any surprise “app” was voted the Word of the Year last week? Probably not. When you own a smartphone—as many of us now do—you tend to spend a lot of the day with apps on the brain: talking about them, playing with them.
And especially hunting for the best of the best of them.
Welcome to Pinworthy, a new column about apps I’ll be posting here every Friday. Each week I’ll sift through the newest gems and stinkers to land in Marketplace (and, no, I’m not just talking about fart apps), and tell you the five worth pinning to your Start screen—at least until the next week comes along.
These are definitely exciting times for Windows Phone owners like us. With roughly 6,000 apps in Microsoft’s app store, and dozens more pouring in each day, there’s a lot to choose from. The downside? Well…there’s a lot to choose from! Sometimes I find it pretty overwhelming. Scanning chart topping apps with Zune or Bing helps. But I often have the nagging feeling that I’ve missed something great. Those are the ones I’ll be hunting each week.
But I hope Pinworthy will ultimately be more than just a weekly showcase of my quirky tastes. I’d like it to become a forum for app junkies and aficionados. What’s the best Google Reader app? What new game might be the next Pocket God? Does Marketplace really need another flashlight app?
Anyway, check out this week’s picks—then tell me what I missed. Happy hunting!
OK, I’ll confess: I had no freaking idea what the heck was going on while I was playing this game. But I was having a blast anyway. Best as I can tell, in Quadra your beef is with a bunch of malicious circles and squares (malsquares?). The goal: stop them from taking out your base—that big circle in the center of the screen. You have two ways to defend yourself. Your base unleashes a constant spray of missiles, aimed by sliding your finger around the screen. You also have a limited arsenal of bombs, which can nuke everything in sight with a quick tap.
But here’s what really makes Quadra cool: if you blow away enough enemies, you get a second missile launcher, controlled by another finger. With two fingers twisting around the screen, gameplay is fast and furious (although it can also be tough to see what’s happening). I loved Quadra’s retro graphics—which reminded me of the ‘80s arcade classic Tempest—and its groovy thumpety-thump soundtrack. If Quadra looks a tad familiar, it’s probably because the game’s creator, Elbert Perez, has another eighties-tinged title, Impossible Shoota, bubbling up Marketplace’s free app chart. Indie game lovers: Keep your eyes on this guy.
Released: Jan. 6. Price: free.
Picking the best app to land in Marketplace last week was a no-brainer. Of course, this is old news by now, but the Kindle app for Windows Phone has arrived. Whether you’re a Kindle owner like me—or you’re just looking for a way to buy and read books on your phone—this is a must-have download.
The app lets you shop the Kindle Store for new books (or download free copies of a Victorian-era classic you blew off in high school). If you’ve used other forms of Kindle, you’re probably already familiar with the joys of Amazon’s Whispersync technology and how it automatically syncs bookmarks, notes, and highlights with your Kindle reader or other Kindle apps, so you never have to remember what page you were on.
Released: Jan. 5. Price: free.
Heads up closet crooners: The first karaoke app in Marketplace has arrived.
OpenMic comes with hits from Kelly Clarkson, Jordin Sparks, and Ke$ha. You can opt to perform a duet with the divas, or show off your American Idol skills solo. If you’re a fan of Rock Band, you already know the drill. As you sing into your phone’s mic, you’ll be graded on your performance using the app’s built-in pitch detection technology. While the app itself looks great, I’m spotlighting it with reservations—three songs is a pretty thin catalog to pick from. And these aren’t the kind of tunes that I normally sing in the shower.
Still, OpenMic is fun, well made, and has lots of potential. Here’s hoping future updates add even more songs to the mix.
Released: Jan. 7. Price: $2.99.
When your fingers tire from Quadra, you can exercise your noggin with Wordrix. The goal of this maddeningly entertaining game (maddening because I‘m so bad at it) is to find as many words as possible before the countdown timer hits zero. You spell out words by dragging your finger from one letter to the next.
Like Scrabble, different letters in Wordrix have different point values. So the longer the word, the more points you score. Some tiles can double or triple your score if you include them (actually, the point system is even more complex than that). Once you’ve spelled out a valid word (note to self: words generally require a vowel) the tiles are removed from the board and replaced with new ones. The game’s three difficulty levels and dictionary of 170,000 possible words should keep you busy—or frustrated—for hours.
Released: Jan. 7. Price: $0.99.
If you’re old enough to remember the quirky ‘80s arcade hit Qix, or its desktop successor JezzBall (part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack for MS-DOS in 1992), then you’ll immediately take to Ice Ball.
The object of this deceptively simple game is to block off more than 75% of the screen by drawing boundary lines with your finger. The trick is completing your boundary before a bouncing ball smashes into it. If that happens too many times, you lose. Each time you win, a new ball is tossed into the arena. Ice Ball proves yet again that many of the best games are also the simplest.
Released Jan. 8. Price: free.