Trying Out A New Look

I’ve been trying out a few new looks for the A/W 2011 season. What do you think?

Ha, don’t worry, I don’t think it does anything for me either. Not a bad get up with Halloween on the horizon though, is it? Anyway, it’s not real, the chances of me succumbing to zombiefication are small, I’m well prepared! These four fetching looks were achieved with the magic of ZombieBooth , an app I downloaded for my Samsung Galaxy Pro.

I think it says a lot about my personality that one of the first things I searched for on Android Market was ‘things to do with zombies’ (that’s ‘stuff pertaining to’, as opposed to ‘ways of entertaining’ the walking dead). This is one of the best I’ve found. And it’s not just still images either, the transformation is quite impressively animated and complemented with suitably creepy groaning.

If you touch the screen your zombie will leap upon the opportunity to punish your lack of care and chomp on the offending digit, complete with blood splatters and squelchy noises. Awww, cute! And, speaking of cute, you can even zombify your pets. Though I actually find the results a lot more scary than ‘normal’ zombies. My cat already takes great delight in biting me for no apparent reason and seems to be plotting to kill me as it is (why else would he sleep on the stairs?), so zombie kitties might be a step too far for me. See what I mean?

This is a great app to have on your device, especially as we are now in the month of all things spooky. It’s incredibly easy to use, you can quickly snap photos of all your mates, store them on your phone and turn them into your army of undead before you can say “George A. Romero!”.

On the Game (Samsung Mob!lers)

Today someone on my Facebook friends list proclaimed they were an ‘Angry Birds Widow’ and that her husband had been MIA since downloading said game an hour and a half ago. We’ve all been there, be it as the marginalised, slightly confused Other Half, or as the addict themselves, repeatedly promising to turn off the phone after ‘just one more level‘.

When I first investigated apps and games I developed a strong love/hate relationship with ‘Arachnadoodle’, which I only managed to shake off when I was distracted by ‘Peggle’. After that it was ‘Plants Vs Zombies’ which kept me entertained for months until I downloaded ‘Angry Birds’ ‘just to see what all the fuss is about’. While I’m not about to rush out and buy a plush ‘Angry Bird’ and I won’t be first in the queue when the rumoured movie comes out (if the game manages to stay relevant and popular in the time it will take to make), it *is* a highly entertaining way to pass a few minutes (hours? days? MONTHS?!) when you’ve got nothing (or anything that you particularly want) to do.

I also find phone games more convenient than carrying around a gaming specific device which, truth be told, won’t fit in most of my handbags. Besides, it’s much less obvious (embarrassing? tragic?) to be sat fiddling with your phone on the bus than it is a pink Nintendo DS or some such.

I love the fact that so many games on Android Marketplace are free (my favourite price!) which gives you the opportunity to sample them without shelling out. A lot of free versions are often XYZ ‘Lite’, so, much like your favourite neighbourhood dealer, the first hit is free but when you want to go further down the rabbit hole, you have to put your hand in your pocket. Not to matter, prices are, in the main, super reasonable and, even if you’re too skint for a 69p treat (times are indeed hard), there are plenty of free options to keep your fingers very happy.

Downloading the little beasties couldn’t be easier either. Locate your Google Android Market icon (HINT – it’s the one with the little green fella on a shopping bag) and open it right up. Select the ‘Games’ icon (or, if you know the game you are looking for just type the title in) and pick your category, depending on your own gaming predilections.

Scroll down until you find a game that takes your fancy (I tend to go by the handy star rating underneath each title), check the description, screenshots, reviews and, if you’re not a ‘scattercash’ type, the price.

Then click ‘Install’. You will then be shown a list of what access the game will require to run (ie. network communication/access to Internet, reading your phone state and identity, or modifying the SD card), if you’re happy with the terms, click ‘OK’ (middle left) and  just wait for the game to install.

In a matter of minutes you’ll be good to go.

Whether you’re an avid gamer or you just want something to pass the time while travelling to work (those of you that use public transport that is – I’m not advocating ‘Angry Birding’ while driving!), there is bound to be something that does the job. For just this reason, I found my Samsung Galaxy Pro invaluable last week while hanging around Manchester and (on the return leg) Barcelona airports when I got bored with people watching and mooching around Duty Free.

In short, downloadable games are great fun, mostly free and help pass the time/drive you slightly insane. So, if your phone has the capabilities, go get some! There is, admittedly, an amount of sorting the wheat from the chaff required so, being the helpful little sprite I am, I’ve compiled a list of my current favourite five free downloads from Android Market, just for you.

Bubble Blast II has been holding my attention for a couple of days. It’s basically a logic puzzle. You have a certain amount of ‘taps’ (moves) with which to set off the bubbles popping which, in turn, pops other bubbles (depending on their size/colour). The resulting chain reaction should pop all the bubbles within the amount of ‘taps’ you have. Not particularly taxing but moderately addictive. I’m just as taken by the satisfying ‘POP!’ sound and the round of applause when you complete a level as I am with the ease of gameplay and cute graphics.

Angry Birds is ‘The Daddy’ of addictive games, it’s the one with its own help groups, for those people who just can’t stop catapulting those avian assailants at those poor piggies. It’s colourful, humorous and fiendish in its execution. I have lost literally hours playing it. Do give it a go to see what all the fuss is about, but please don’t send me the therapy bill when you get stuck on Level 19 and forget to eat/shower/go to work for a week.

Pumpkins Vs Monsters is another recent discovery of mine and it’s (*ahem*) nothing like Plants Vs Zombies….. honest. Actually, it’s only vaguely similar, insomuch as you’re fighting undead nasty monsters. Line up your coloured pumpkins and flick them at the approaching evil hordes. Great graphics and totally beguiling. Just the right level of skill/tactics needed to keep you coming back.

Being a bit of a wordy type I can’t help but enjoy Wordfeud, a ‘cross-platform multiplayer puzzle game‘ which allows you to basically play ‘Scrabble’ with anyone (real friend or ‘Internet’ friend) who also has the game on their device and wants to whoop your ass with their verbosity.

Finally, though this isn’t strictly a game, I think Androidify is an entertaining way to pass a few minutes between bus stops. Turn yourself, friends and family into an Android avatar – change the hair, clothes, height and accessories to create little green versions of everyone you know. You can then save, send and share them to your heart’s content. You can even use them as contact icons to pop up when a person calls your phone.

I hope you try/enjoy some of my suggestions and if you know of any games/apps that you think I may like, please let me know.

Android Vs RIM (Samsung Mob!lers)

My first ever mobile phone was a second-hand Motorola MG1-4C11, which, even back then (12-ish years ago) was commonly known as ‘The Brick’. It weighed a ton, had about three ringtones (being either ‘ring, ring’ or ‘riiiiing, riiiiing’ or possibly ‘ring riiiiiiiiing ring’) and the contacts didn’t link to the messaging so I had to type the numbers in every time I sent a text. On the plus side, being the size of a small dog, I never lost it in my bag. It made texts and calls – that was it. Imagine that.  How quaint.

Flash forward and I currently hold in my hands the new Samsung Galaxy Pro which is more powerful than the computers which sent men to the moon in ’69. It weighs less than a banana, allows you to have any ringtone you might desire (*cough* the theme from ‘My Neighbour Totoro’) and, with the right app, all you have to do is speak a person’s name to send them a text, call or email. Yep, we’ve come a long way baby.

As wonderous and magical as these functions may have seemed back in the late 90s when I was working my biceps and number recall abilities with ‘The Brick’, they are fairly standard features of smartphones on the market today. I’ve come to realise that the main criteria for choosing a phone now is not automatically the size/style of the handset but the operating system (OS) on which it runs. Two phones of similar style can have vastly different functionality depending upon the featured OS. Which brings me to the meat of this post.

The Samsung Mob!lers team furnished me with the Galaxy Pro (released April 2011) and asked me to compare its OS to that of the BlackBerrys. Just looking at the Pro you can see why such a comparison is appropriate. I’m not saying it is an outright BlackBerry wannabe but, on looks alone, you could easily mistake the Samsung for a BlackBerry Curve, given a dark night and one too many sweet sherries. The attractive candybar design with the QWERTY keyboard and touch screen combo appeals to those who like to mix business (emails/messaging) with pleasure (games/social networking) but, putting the physical hardware aside, the defining criteria is definitely the OS.

In the (cute) green (robot) corner we have Google’s Android (the 2.2 version on the Galaxy Pro) which was listed as the best-selling world-wide smartphone platform in 2010 and seems to be going from strength to strength.

While in the blue corner we have BlackBerry’s RIM (Research In Motion) which, after being named as the fastest growing company in the world in 2008, has recently suffered reduced revenue, job losses and falling stock. It is, as far as I have gleaned, in very real danger of being left behind. Not simply because it is starting to feel old-fashioned but also because of the newer companies nipping at their heels.

I have never personally owned a BlackBerry but I’ve fiddled with a few (“That’s what she said!”!) and I’ve donned my researcher’s hat to gen up on the pros and cons of the system. I’m aware of the devotion the brand incites and the ‘Crackberry’ moniker so there must be a reason for the high level of appeal. Regarding Android, I’ve had the Galaxy Pro for over a week now and have enjoyed playing with the various bells and whistles. While it’s obviously different to the Apple iPhone OS that I’ve been used to for the past few years, it is by no means dissimilar (in terms of the icons and touch screen operation) and it took me seconds to figure out how to access the main functions. My experience with BlackBerry phones has been almost the opposite, they are less intuitive and take real investment to get to know.

One of the main selling features of the smartphone is the plethora of ‘apps’ available. I remember a friend telling me about her iPhone a few years back and all the free apps that she’d downloaded. Of course my ears pricked up and my ‘owt for nowt’ sensor kicked in. Free? Free stuff to play with? I’m having a bit of that! Where Apple has iTunes, Android has its Market and RIM has Blackberry App World.

Android currently has around 200 000 apps available with the lion’s share being free. BlackBerry has significantly less (37 000) on offer and, more often than not, you will find yourself having to fork out for the privilege of downloading them. Initially developed for the business world, BlackBerry has been playing catch up when it comes to the more entertainment focused apps and, while there are some cracking little doodahs to be had,  it may be a case of too little too late. Android is light years ahead in terms of what’s on offer. If you’re a virtual social butterfly you’ll be pleased to know that all the major social networking apps are available for free on both OS. I can’t say I found Android Market overly user-friendly to navigate but this may be more down to the relatively small screen on the Galaxy Pro rather than any issue with the feature itself. I particularly like the Voice Search/Actions apps which almost negate the need for any kind of keyboard (QWERTY or otherwise) altogether. Just tap the app and tell it what you want to do – make a call (even if the number isn’t saved in your contacts), search the web, send a text, even dictate an email. It’s all very 2001: A Space Odyssey – without the murderous HAL 9000, of course, I hope *eyes phone warily*.

Rather predictably, I also got a great kick out of the (free) ZombieBooth app which will ‘zombify’ your pictures, complete with freaky animation and sound effects.

Phones are no longer just about function, they’re as much an extension of our personalities as cars, hairstyles or ‘amusing’ slogan t-shirts. Call me tragic but one of the first things I do upon unboxing a new phone is change the ringtone, message alert and wallpaper to something more ‘me’. It’s like moving into a new house, isn’t it? It never truly feels like yours until you’ve slapped a bit of paint on the wall, changed the curtains and, if you’re like me, spilt something on the carpet! The makers of Android obviously understand this as the OS is set up for all manner of customisation – themes, ringtones, wallpaper, widgets – all totally changeable with very little effort. You can have up to seven home screens, placing apps and icons wherever you like and even the messaging skin is open to modification. Conversely RIM is a lot more rigid, allowing for very little self-expression, you can change the ringtone and the wallpaper but that’s about the size of it. I almost feel like the BlackBerry is telling me I’m here to work, not to enjoy myself, and that I should straighten my tie and tuck my shirt in while I’m at it.

The area where BlackBerry really ruled the roost and, initially, left others in its wake was the BlackBerry Messenger (BBM) feature. It is also the reason they became the handset of choice for businesses to distribute to their drones – sorry – staff. All that is needed is an exchange of PIN and users can message each other to their heart’s content, in real-time, with no character limits, without incurring any additional costs. Pretty appealing. The only slight drawback being that BBM is only available to BlackBerry owners, so if you’re not in the club (and you don’t know the password) you don’t get to play – boo. Pretty mean, huh? Clearly RIM’s parents never taught them the benefit of sharing and inclusion. Android, on the other hand, are all about the sharing and openness. The Samsung Galaxy Pro comes with a great little app called ‘What’sApp’. It works on the same principle as BBM but across various platforms (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android and Symbian) and requires no PIN, it integrates directly with your contacts. You’ve also got ‘Social Hub’  preloaded (this is Samsung specific) that pulls in all your email, text and social network messages, so you don’t have to deal with separate apps and windows.

I’m not a huge fan of listening to music on my phone (though I am a huge fan of music). My iTouch does the ‘music on the move’  job nicely and, to be brutally honest (though I’m always open to convincing) I can’t be bothered investing the time and effort into using another device. While both RIM’s BlackBerry and Google’s Android have provision for music, the Android set up, once again, has more applicable apps and a more rounded, accessible experience.

It would seem to me then that Android puts the ‘fun’ back into functionality that RIM had taken out. The BlackBerry OS is very business orientated with the focus on getting things done quickly and easily with little time wasted on fripperies. Android does all this PLUS has the scope for indulging the users’ sense of fun and entertainment needs, while also allowing them to express their individuality. Android has taken the popular functions of BlackBerry and elevated smartphone usage to new levels with higher integration and constant expansion. The ‘either/or’ conundrum no longer applies – if you want it all, I know a little green robot who can help you out.

Investing In The Not Quite Dead

I don’t have a stock portfolio to speak of, I’ve got an ISA and some premium bonds but that’s about the size of my financial investments. My Dad (Working Lunch‘s biggest fan and compulsive checker of Teletext’s share price pages), is always less than impressed at my disinterest in his favourite hobby.

But now I’ve made an investment which I look forward to dropping into any relevant conversation (cue my Dad shaking his head in exasperated disappointment) – I’ve become a movie producer (*breaks out big fat cigar*). But not just any movie, a movie about a subject very close to my heart (no, NOT food!) – zombies!

OK, so there isn’t a financial return (that’s not the point!) but I do get to help an aspiring film-maker realise his dream, along with a version of the finished film and (something that has been on my ‘bucket list’ for a long time) the chance to be a zombie extra during filming.

The brains (or should that be – “Braaaaains!”?) behind this movie (Invasion Of The Not Quite Dead) and the epic fundraising venture is a guy called A. D. Lane (@Indywoodfilms) who is either the most dedicated bloke I’ve ever come across or totally bonkers (or perhaps a lovely mixture of both 🙂 ). He practically lives on Twitter (when he’s not jaunting off to Bulgaria to film or following Wheatus around) where he is doing his best to raise the cash to bring his dream to life with some truly epic Tweetathons.

He’s already got a lot of support (financial and figurative) but could always do with more. And what better incentive than a free movie and the chance to get your Romero on and eat some brains* (*no actual brains will be eaten during filming)?! Producer packages start from just a tenner (and go alllllllll the way up to 5k) and you can donate by PayPal.

Whaddya think? Have you come over all Duncan Bannatyne (*pulls a face*)? Are you in? Check out the Indywood website  and the teaser trailer below.