Anki Drive – video games in the real world

When I was at school in the late 80s and 90s, you would sometimes see people in the playground playing with or trading Micro Machines. These were tiny toy cars that, if I remember correctly, were part toy and part collectible.

A video game soon followed; a top-down racer that had you zooming round locations like your bedroom floor, a pool table, and the kitchen counter.

What if you were to take the fun of the physical Micro Machines toys and, while still keeping that physical nature, introduce the video game element? Well, I think you’d end up with something like Anki.

Anki Drive CarsAnki is a system of little toy cars that you race on a mat. But they’re more than just toy cars… you control them using and iOS or Android device which acts as the brain of the game. From the mobile device, you can fire weapons, drop mines, steer and control the speed of your physical car. While each player does require their own mobile device, if you find yourself wanting to play alone you can set one of the cars to act as an AI opponent.

The cars apparently learn as you drive as well. Whether that unlocks new features on your own car, or whether that’s about the AI getting better as you do I’m not quite sure, but it certainly sounds interesting.

A starter set is available that includes two cars and a track, while additional cars and tracks can be purchased later as addons. Each type of car brings it’s own set of abilities and weaponry and the different tracks lend themselves to different driving styles.

While it could be argued that this is nothing more than a high-tech version of Scalextric, I think the inclusion of the video-game-like combat elements makes this a really cool and innovative product.

If you’re hungry for more information, check out the video below:

If you’re looking to make a purchase, the Anki range is available from both the Apple Store and Currys in the UK.

What do you think of Anki? Do you already have a set and want to share your thoughts? Say your piece in the comments :)

Apps for Downtime and Productivity: Make Your Smartphone Smarter

This is a guest post by Lauren Schmidt. Lauren loves to blog, play golf and sing in the rain.

Woman on smartphoneFor several years I stuck with my itty-bitty phone whose functions were limited to making calls, sending texts and waking me up in the morning. Why would I want to spend a few hard-earned Benjamins on a smartphone? Well, I drunk the Kool-aid and now I’m never more than a few feet away from my phone. Here are some apps that get used on a daily, or near-daily, basis:

Flipboard

Flipboard helps me keep tabs on social media; it integrates my Facebook and Twitter streams with the RSS feeds of my favorite blogs and news sources. Instead of looking at the boring interface of Google reader, I just open Flipboard and see pics and headlines of the latest posts, tweets and status updates in a magazine. Just tap the picture to read the rest of the post and share it with others. Set up is really easy and, best of all, it’s a free app.

Instapaper

During the week, I never have enough time to read even a fraction of what catches my eye so I use Instapaper to save and read the article later. Instapaper lets me save articles so I don’t spend precious minutes searching for them later. The one-time $4.99 cost is comparable to what I’d spend on just one issue of my favorite magazine. Besides archiving up to 500 articles, I can share them with others via email, Twitter and Tumblr through the app.

Break

To relieve the day’s stresses, sit down and open up funny pics on Break.com’s app to get a few good laughs. The ever-increasing collection of pics are cracking me up have created such an addiction, I have to limit myself to 15 minutes a day! The app is available for iOS, Android and tablet devices and best of all, it’s free!

Evernote

My organization management tool since my husband first introduced it to me as a desktop application a few years ago. Evernote is a virtual file cabinet that can be installed, and synced, on all of your digital devices for easy access to your documents no matter where you are. I keep notebooks, as the files are called, for each member of my family, my business, recipes, my never ending to-do list and projects. I use the basic service which is free, but the premium service allows you to store a larger amount of data and have changes of documents saved.

Mint

Whether you’re trying to dig out of debt or just want to stick to your budget, the folks at Mint have you covered with this handy app that integrates your bank accounts so you can keep better tabs on your money. I like the user interface — it lets me track my spending with a few taps. Say goodbye to racking up $30 overdraft fees for a $3 coffee!

Shop Savvy

You know that feeling you get when you see the same dress you bought last week at a different store, but for $30 less? That may very well be a thing of the past if you employ Shop Savvy on a regular basis. You simply input the item that you’re planning to purchase and it will compare both brick and mortar the virtual shops to find the lowest price. And if that wasn’t good enough, shopsavvy.com states it will give you the closest location so you can decide if the cheapest price is worth it, even if it requires a half-hour drive or let you purchase the item via the app if you’re making an online purchase.

OverTo You

Do you use any of the apps we detailed here? Or do you have suggestions for other apps that should have made the list? We’d love to hear your thoughts – please do share them in the comments and tell us what you think.

Dreaming of Devices

David Lumm is a professional programmer and all round geek with a passion for making technology simple.

I can’t really remember when Samsung became the Android powerhouse it now clearly is. It wasn’t always that way, I don’t really remember Samsung being much of a player in this market at all three or four years ago; but now if you’re in the market for an Android device or at the very least anything not-Apple, you’d be foolish not to give Samsung a look.

I love my S3, despite it being so much larger than any phone I’ve ever owned (I’d wager it’s even bigger than the Sony Ericsson P900 I used for a while) it is just so useful. That’s partly to do with the incredible improvements to Android over the years and the great apps available, but of course the hardware has been a huge selling point of the Samsung range.

It’s the vast range of devices in their range that fascinates me, everything from basic Android handsets to the top of the range S3; then there’s the phablets (I think the S3 only narrowly escapes being a phablet itself) and tablets great and small. Whatever you need Samsung have a device that will suit.

I’m particularly impressed by the Note range; when I was looking for a new phone it was a toss-up between the original Galaxy Note and an S3, and the S3 won by a whisker. I like how you can use your fingers or the pen, I like how you can use it to do so much.

Right now I have the S3 that I use for most things and access to a first generation iPad that doesn’t get much use at work, I’ve also got a fairly ancient 7 inch chinese Android tablet that I bought before Android tablets were cool. It doesn’t get much use, but that’s mostly because of it’s age. Most of the apps I use just don’t work on it anymore.

One of these days I’m going to get myself a new tablet and it’ll probably come from the Samsung range. I like the size/shape of my 7 inch tablet, but the iPad has it’s uses too. Decisions, decisions. In my imaginary world I’d have one of each size, but that’ll never happen; so I think for me it’ll be the Galaxy Note 8.0. It just seems to be that perfect balance between usability and holdability.

The other good thing about picking a Samsung device is the wide array of Galaxy Note 8.0 accessories available, despite this still being a relatively new device! It certainly gives me confidence knowing that I’ll be able to protect it and make the most of it without spending as much on accessories as I spent on the device itself.

What’s your dream device at the moment? Tempt us in the comments.

7 reasons to love the Nexus 7

Google Nexus 7Another round in the battle of the tablets, Nexus 7 and iPad Mini go head to head to take over the tablet market. Nexus 7 is a keen contender for the prize, despite the domination of iPad in the past. We’ve compiled a list of reasons why, we think, everyone should give Nexus 7 a try.

Open Source App store
Apple are notoriously fussy with what does and doesn’t make it onto the App Store, however, Android have created a software developer’s playground with the Google Play Store. Designers can bring to the market pretty much whatever they want, and can update, tweak and develop until their heart’s content. Meaning, as a user, you get the very best of the good, the bad and the downright weird Apps available.

Portability
It’s smaller, slimmer and lighter than other tablets, meaning it’s the perfect size for using whenever and wherever you please. It’s been likened to an all-powerful e-reader, a handy size which you can use comfortably in one hand, whilst simultaneously being a market leading tablet.

Quad core processor
The Nexus 7 boasts a Tegra 3 Quad core processor and Jelly Bean software; it’s sleek, smooth, fast and powerful –which completely floors the iPad.

Google integration
Whether you’re a Google lover or not, there’s a lot to be said for Nexus 7’s seamless integration of Google products, of course, it’s no less than you’d expect, but it is dreamy. All the Apps an average user would want are there straight out of the box, and Google developments and updates continue to make it effortless to sync all your technology and devices. The Nexus 7 is set to feature Google Now, a clever App which utilises all your current information, such as location and browsing history to compile a collection of things which might be of interest to you in the local area. Google has you covered, wherever you are.

Widgets, widgets, widgets
Most people who are proud of not owning an iPhone can contribute their attachment to their Smartphone to the widgets. Widgets are something which until you discover, you’ll never miss, or appreciate, however, once you’ve discovered the simplicity, personalisation and functionality of a widget, you’ll never go back. Widgets give you more of the App on the homescreen, you can use the App and levels of its functions without even going into the App itself. This is great on phones, and even better on tablets.

The price
Most of all, the price of a Nexus 7 blows the iPad out of the water. An Apple iPad Mini 32GB will cost you around £349, a 32GB Nexus 7 will cost you £199 – so, very little competition in terms of cost.

What do you think about the Nexus 7? Are our reasons enough to make you fall in love with it, or do you have a different preference? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

This is a guest post by Les Yates, on behalf of The Snugg. The Snugg offers a range of cases and covers for all leading Smartphones and tablets, including cases for the Nexus 7. Check out their entire range at thesnugg.com. 

5 Best Features of Samsung’s Galaxy S4

This is a guest post by Will Judd

Samsung Galaxy S4The Samsung Unpacked event has come and gone, and we’re left with the announcement of a new phone: the Samsung Galaxy S4. The phone has gotten a mixed response from critics – some have complained about the phone’s design, which is very similar to last year’s S3, but others have praised its boosted specifications and comprehensive software additions. In this article, I’ll share what I reckon are the new phone’s five best features.

5. Smart TV remote
The Galaxy S4 comes with an IR blaster and WatchOn software, allowing you to use your phone as a visual TV guide and universal remote. While the HTC One includes similar technology, Samsung’s app looks more fully featured and easy to use.

4. Gesture control
One of the coolest software add-ons included with the Galaxy S3 was ‘smart stay’. Basically, the front-facing camera watches for your face. Whenever you’re looking at the screen, the screen won’t dim or lock.

With the Galaxy S4, Samsung have upped the ante and included a wide range of gesture controls. There’s ‘smart scroll’, which allows you to tilt your phone in order to scroll up or down. ‘Air gestures’ let you swipe left and right in the air in front of your phone to skip songs or look through photo galleries. ‘Smart pause’ automatically pauses playing videos when you look away from the screen. There’s even an improvement on the Note 2’s ‘Air view’ feature – now instead of hovering a stylus over the screen to preview content, you can just use your finger.

I worked on gesture controls as my final year project in university, and I’m fairly convinced at this point that they’ll continue to become more mainstream as more use-cases are discovered.

3. Improved Hardware
I couldn’t really mention the Galaxy S4 without making some mention of its utter power – while it may be overkill, it looks like Samsung have crafted an industry-leading beast once more. The phone includes an octa-core processor (yup, eight cores) and a five-inch Super AMOLED 1080p display. That should translate into flawless performance, whether you’re whizzing around your home screens or in the most demanding game on the platform.

2. Comprehensive Cameras
One fairly significant hardware and software upgrade is the 13 megapixel rear camera, which is backed with a host of software upgrades. Samsung’s Android-based camera, the Galaxy Camera, has made its influence felt here, with an on-screen mode dial and new scene modes. For example, there’s an ‘Eraser’ mode that takes a quick series of photographs, then allows you to remove any motion it detects in the background (for example, people walking past or photo bombers).

There are a whole bunch of other ways to take a picture too – from ‘DualShot’, which allows you to shoot pictures or video from both cameras simultaneously, ‘Drama Shot’ which makes a composite photo of someone in motion and ‘Cinema Photo’ which is basically Cinemagraph for Android.

According to The Verge, the camera experience remained fast and fluid throughout, which is hopefully a reflection of both well-tuned software and the powerful hardware at the core of the device.

1. S Health
The big surprise of the show – at least for me – was S Health. I’d been looking into getting a fitness tracking accessory and app for a while now, but Android seems to have been getting the short end of the stick in terms of support from the major manufacturers.

S Health seems to be a fitness app much more powerful than anything we’ve seen on the platform before, and doesn’t require a separate accessory. The Galaxy S4 has a built-in pedometer (which is just a simplified accelerometer, after all) as well as humidity and temperature sensors, allowing the Galaxy S4 to automatically track your environment and ‘exercise levels’. Of course, there are also options for inputting other information that the app can’t glean by itself – stuff like food you’ve been eating and how much sleep you’ve been getting. There are a host of health-oriented Galaxy S4 accessories too, from a wrist-band to a scale.

Ultimately, S Health could be a great app for Galaxy S4 owners, and may pave the way for other Android manufacturers to look at including similar features.

Conclusion
In writing this article, it was hard to pick just five features to distinguish the Galaxy S4 – for example, I wanted to include the S Translator app, which looks jolly useful for anyone that’s multilingual or travels.

Samsung’s presentation was certainly gimmicky in places, but I feel that there’s a lot of lasting value in the additions they’ve made to the Galaxy S4. While the IR blaster and gesture controls may be niche use-cases, the new camera software and the S Health seem like strong apps that I’d use many times a day, and just aren’t matched by the Galaxy S4’s competitors.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

SGP Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen Protector – Review

SGP Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen ProtectorI’m pretty much an Apple-only person. I’m writing this on my iMac. I use my iPhone daily. As a family, we bought a generation 1 iPad, which still does great service around the house. However, I recently decided I wanted to learn more about the world of Android, so I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet for use in my work as an IT consultant.

I have to say, I’m very pleased with it. I don’t think it will pull me away from the Cult of Mac, but I can certainly understand why people enjoy using Android devices so much. As with any new piece of gadgetry, though, my thoughts soon turned to how I could ensure it stayed in tip-top condition for as long as possible. So it lives in a neoprene pouch… many of the protective plastic films are still attached… and I thought I’d better just take good care of the screen.

See, I don’t like screen protectors. My experience has always been that they degrade the quality of the display and, often, change the physical feel of the glass. Given that tablets are mostly controlled by touch, the feel is important. All of which means, when I was offered an SGP Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen Protector to review, I was a bit skeptical.

The SGP is a rigid surface – it feels like a thin sheet of glass rather than the flexible plastic films I’ve seen before. That does two things for me: it gives me confidence that it will actually protect the screen against scratches, and it makes it much easier to get it stuck to my tablet in the first place. So long as you line it up properly along one edge (reviews suggest lining it up with the tablet’s camera lens), you’re pretty much guaranteed that it will fit properly. I did have to move it ever so slightly as I was a couple of millimetres out and had left an annoying lip, but that was easily sorted.

Any air bubbles are dealt with by a plastic squeegee. You can just push them towards the edge of the screen and they’ll disappear. Any particularly large or troublesome bubbles can be eliminated by gently lifting the protector back off the screen, and carefully reapplying it. I didn’t need to remove the protector entirely to do this, just lifted it on one side and used the squeegee to ensure I got a good fix when letting it down again.

Dust… dust is the bane of my life when it comes to screen protectors or skins. What you get with the SGP is a couple of little stickers. If you do get dust underneath the protector, lift it up again with your fingernail, and use one of the stickers to remove the offending particle. Doing that with your finger, even if you’d just washed your hands, would leave a print on the underside that, believe me, would get annoying. So having these stickers, which don’t leave any marks, is a great idea.

If you’re still with me, we’ve now got the SGP Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen Protector installed, but what is it actually like?

First, the feel. There’s a slight dragging feeling at first – it’s hard to explain but just just feels slightly more difficult to swipe your finger over the protector than it does when it’s just the ‘naked’ screen. That has faded quickly, though, so I’m not sure if it was a case of there being some chemicals that needed to rub off, or my skin putting down some sort of coating, or whether I just got used to it. Whichever it is, it now feels no different to how it did before I installed the SGP. Using the Note’s stylus is also just as it was before.

On to my biggest complaint – degraded visuals. Well, and I’m almost disappointed to say this, the SGP is excellent in this regard. Honestly, you wouldn’t know there was anything on top of the screen – it all looks just as it did before. In fact, the only reason I know I have a screen protector at all is that I missed one speck of dust at the edge and haven’t bothered to remove it as it isn’t actually on the screen part.

The SGP Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen Protector comes in at a shade under £30 at the time of writing, and you might think, “It SHOULD perform well at that price!”. Maybe you’re right, but I’d say that’s a fair price to pay for protecting your screen with no noticeable downsides. My verdict? Highly recommended.

Thanks to GearZap for the opportunity to review the SGP Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 Screen Protector. GearZap sell a range of Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 accessories, as well as accessories for a number of other portable devices. 

5 Amazing Android Apps for Coffee Addicts

Roasted coffee beansThis is a guest post by William Judd.

Good morning everybody and welcome to this article! Today we’re going to be looking at five brilliant Android apps for coffee lovers. If coffee is the secret to your ebullient nature, then this is the app for you. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

5. Hidden Menu Coffee Drinks
There’s something about ordering a drink that’s not on the menu that’s quite exciting – particularly when you actually get it! This app taps into that excitement, offering a range of secret menu items you can ask for at Starbucks. These are all modifications of existing drinks, ensuring that your barista doesn’t need to be in on it to be able to fulfill the order. You’ll get both a plain English version and a Starbucks-specific code for each drink, allowing you to easily show or tell the barista what you’d like. With twenty-five recipes on tap and a further 50 available by purchasing the Pro version, you’ll definitely have some experimenting to do.

4. Coffee Recipes
This app is similar in idea, but offers a much broader execution. While the Hidden Menu app offered only Starbucks drinks, this app shows you 90 different coffee recipes that you can make yourself or ask your friendly neighbordhood barista for. With a range of apps including both well-known options and rather esoteric ones, even the most jaded coffee orderer will find plenty new to try. This is a good app for trainee baristas, as it’ll widely expand the range of drinks at your disposal.

3. Coffee Finder
This app is again for the lovers of the big American and Canadian chains – Starbucks, Tim Hortons, Dunkin’ Donuts and the like. These and five other chains are shown on a map, allowing you to easily find the nearest coffee outlet wherever you are. This is, however, limited to the United States and Canada – when I used the app in the United Kingdom, I found that only Starbucks offered up any results. If you are in North America, this is definitely a great app, but those in other nations are probably best off using the standard Google Maps app.

2. Coffeemania
This app is similar to our number 4 entry, but offers an even greater number of coffee recipes. There’s more than 250 in total, with a wide range of options including hot and cold drinks and even coffee-based food. There are also some informational sections, which contain educational material on brewing methods and vessels (although some options, like senseo pods, aren’t shown). The app is not brilliantly laid out, but it gets the job done and is more than worth the free install.

1. Baristame
This is the best app on the list by far, as it offers both solid educational content on espresso based drinks and a beautiful design. With excellent diagrams of each drink in its database, you’ll find Baristame is a pleasure to use. Each drink also contains information on its origin and any variants that exist. If you want to test your coffee knowledge, you can do so in the quiz mode that the app offers. The Pro variant is probably the most worthwhile of any of the apps on this list – for $1, you get a lot of additional educational content, including information on brewing methods and even coffee-producing nations. A well designed app that’s perfect for coffee lovers!

Conclusion
So there we have it – five coffee app selections for Android. Thanks for reading the article and be sure to let me know in the comments below what you thought of it. If you find any great coffee apps that you’d like to share, please do so in the comments or message me on Twitter @wsjudd – I’m always interested in finding out that next great app! Have a good day and I’ll see you next time.

Drawing on Water

Holding expensive tech over a fish tank - ooer. When I first heard that “creative technologist” Daniel Kupfer had done something that had never been done before, drawn on water, I was a bit doubtful. After all, we’ve created some great pictures using marbling paint and water before with the children. I wondered what was going to be so clever about Daniel’s project.

Well, it is actually pretty smart. Daniel has taken 400 submerged pumps, and used them to disturb the surface of a water tank to create water “pixels”. Then, by drawing on a Samsung Galaxy Note II, the individual pumps fire to recreate the drawing in water droplets. Have a look at the YouTube video below to find out how it’s done, and to see the effect:

There are several points during the video where I think, “Aaah! Electronics and water!”, most notably when Daniel is leaning over the tank holding his Note, but that’s just me worrying because I know I have a tendency to drop things! The vision and execution of the project is really clever, not to mention the engineering required to make it happen.

As a showcase for the Galaxy Note, it’s genius. When you see the Note in the shops now, one of the things that comes to mind will be this video and, no doubt, you’ll at least decide to go and take a second look at it. I haven’t played with the Note II, but I do have a Note 10.1 tablet, and can say that’s a great piece of kit. If the Note II is anything like it’s larger brother, it’s well worth a look too.

Find Samsung Galaxy Note II on Amazon.co.uk, or on the official Samsung website.

White Nexus 4 coming soon.

This is a guest post by William Judd

When you look at the differences between two smartphones, it’s almost never black and white. But this time, it is.

The white Google Nexus 4 will be available exclusively from TalkTalk in the UK – at least as far as we know. That’s because while TalkTalk launched the preorder page a few days ago, it’s since disappeared from the web. A cached version was available through Google, but this has also now been removed.

Apart from the white colour, which hasn’t yet been photographed outside of crude fan mockups, the phone is expected to be otherwise the same as the black version on sale from Google and other retailers, with Android 4.2 backed with a quad-core Snapdragon S4 Pro processor, 2 GB of RAM and 16 GB of internal space.

TalkTalk’s deal isn’t particularly good, it has to be said. You do get a Nexus 7 and a Nexus 4 in white, but you have to get a £30 a month, 24 month contract with TalkTalk with 200 MB of data, 100 minutes and 250 texts. TalkTalk is the worst in the UK for customer satisfaction, so on top of the meagre plan you’ll have to deal with their shoddy customer service – overall, not brilliant.

I hope that we do see the white Nexus 4 from other providers (and Google themselves). Otherwise, a better course of action might be to grab a white Nexus 4 case instead – it’d certainly be a lot cheaper!

Chrono Trigger comes to Android

This is a guest post by Will Judd. If you’re waiting for the interview with Robert Llewellyn, don’t worry – it’ll be online later in the day.

chronotrigger The Super Nintendo was an brilliant gaming console, producing some of the best RPGs that have ever been made. While Final Fantasy VI, 7th Saga and Breath of Fire are excellent titles, the one that sticks out in most people’s minds is Chrono Trigger.

If you haven’t played the game before, suffice it to say it is a unique RPG with a wide and memorable cast of characters, a good progression and battle system, and an awesome setting. If you have, you’ll understand my excitement.

Chrono Trigger has been released for Android. While you could quasi-legally play the game on an emulator before now, without a controller connected it wasn’t an ideal experience, and with a controller it was a bit of a bulky conveyance.

The new release works much better on touch screens and still supports controllers, allowing the best of both worlds. Better yet, the Android version is a port of the 2010 Nintendo DS re-release, which includes extra areas, items and cutscenes.

If you’re looking for a long and epic RPG to devour your time on the go, then this is an excellent choice. While the price is relatively high for an Android app, it’s much cheaper than finding an original SNES cartridge or even the Nintendo DS re-release.

While the app works on both phones and tablets, I reckon that probably the 10″ tablet will be the best way to play this title. This game could be an essential Google Nexus 10 accessory – I know I’ll be playing it once mine arrives!

Chrono Trigger is truly worth it – if you haven’t played it before, you’re in for a treat. If you have, prepare for a trip down memory lane. Now all we need is an Android version of Chrono Cross, and we’ll be set.