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Lara Croft GO review

Posted by wicked August - 31 - 2015 - Monday Comments Off
Lara Croft GO review AA Header

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that Square Enix as a whole is one of the more popular game developers in the Android space. Aside from the extremely popular Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest and Chaos Rings franchises, the developer’s Montreal-based offices have brought us hit titles such as the original Tomb Raider, Lara Croft: Relic Run and Hitman GO.

Square Enix Montreal released the turn-based puzzler Hitman GO to the Play Store last year, and for many, it quickly became one of the most popular titles available on mobile devices. So in an effort to marry two of the developer’s most successful franchises – Hitman GO and Tomb Raider – Square Enix has just released a new game called Lara Croft GO.

I’ve spent some quality time with this new game, and I think there are some important things you should know about it. Here’s everything you need to know about Lara Croft GO.

Be sure to check out a recording of Joe Hindy playing Tomb Raider Go and giving his impressions on Twitch.

Story

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Before we get into the game’s mechanics, let’s talk about why you’re here. You play as none other than Lara Croft, navigating through an ancient civilization in hopes to uncover the myth of the Queen of Venom. I’m going to be entirely honest here – I wouldn’t know that if I didn’t read through the game’s Play Store description. There’s no dialogue in the game whatsoever, which makes it very difficult to know what exactly you’re trying to accomplish in the grand scheme of things.

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Still, though, short-term goals in the game are quite easy to understand – avoid or kill enemies, collect ancient relics to unlock new outfits and do your best to make your way through each map. The game is split up into five different chapters: The Entrance, The Maze of Snakes, The Maze of Stones, The Maze of Spirits and The Escape. There are 75 puzzles in all, and you need to complete every one to finish the game.

Gameplay

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Much like its predecessor, Lara Croft GO is a turn-based puzzler that’s proven to be quite addictive. To navigate around the board, you simply swipe in the direction you’d like to move. There are no limitations on the number of moves you can make, which is something I needed to get used to from playing Hitman GO. With Hitman GO, I’d spend minutes at a time plotting every move to make sure I completed each level with the appropriate amount of moves. In Lara Croft GO, however, you can essentially navigate around as much as you’d like, which gives you much more freedom.

In order to make your way to the end of each level (usually signified by a glowing door or cave), you’ll need to defeat or avoid the onslaught of enemies standing in your way. There are three main enemies in Lara Croft GO: snakes, lizards and spiders. Snakes stay in one place and will attack if you walk right in front of them, while spiders move around a certain path with every move you take. Lizards are by far the most annoying of the bunch, as they follow you around the game board if you get too close. These enemies can sometimes be used to your advantage to hold down platform switches or to help open doors.

Lara Croft GO review AA 5

Remember: take your time

You can kill enemies by sneaking up behind them with your knife or by throwing spears. Fire can also be used to scare them away, allowing you to corner them or move them around the game board any way you’d like.

One thing should be noted when it comes to gameplay style, though, and it’s something that I often forget with this title. There is no limit on time or number of moves you can make. It’s easy to forget this when a giant lizard is chasing you around, or when a giant serpent is staring you down one space away. Just remember to take your time and carefully think about each move, otherwise you’ll end up starting each level over more times than you’d like.

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The first few levels are quite easy, and that’s alright. This allows you to get familiar with how the game works, how each enemy functions and what exactly you’re trying to accomplish. Once you start getting into the third and fourth chapters, though, each level gets significantly more difficult. I’ve had to put the game down due to sheer frustration at times, which, in hindsight, isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s challenging enough to keep you playing over a long period of time, yet satisfying enough to keep you interested.

Relics

Throughout the game, you’ll find little jars scattered around each level which hold pieces of lost relics. Once you collect all of the pieces to a certain relic, you’ll unlock new outfits for Lara Croft. Relics can be extremely hard to find in some levels, while sometimes they’re waiting for you out in the open. It’s easy to miss them at times, but really, they’re not all that important.

Relics don’t unlock anything more than extra outfits, so don’t expect any special weapons or abilities to come from collecting them all.

Final thoughts

Lara Croft GO review AA

Lara Croft GO is available in the Google Play Store for $4.99. It doesn’t feature any advertisements, and the small amount of in-app purchases are completely hidden from plain sight. In fact, if I didn’t go snooping around in some of the menus, I’d think this game is in-app purchase-free. If you’d like to spend some extra cash when you’re playing though, there are only two that I can find. You can spend $1.99 to unlock the Square Enix Universe Outfit Pack, which lets you change Lara’s appearance with outfits from Hitman GO, Deus Ex and Just Cause. The other one I found gives you a solution to every puzzle in the game for a flat rate of $4.99. I’m still trying to figure out why this is an option.

All in all, you should play Lara Croft GO. It’s a beautiful, addicting and challenging title that will keep you interested for a long time. Unlike ustwo’s Monument Valley which was incredibly short, it took me a few days to finish Lara Croft GO. It may not be as lengthy as some would like, but I believe it’s still worth the money.

Lara Croft GO is a must-buy, as long as you can get past one major caveat

The only real complaint I have is regarding the story. Maybe it’s because I was spoiled by Monument Valley’s mysterious storyline, but I can’t help but think Square Enix missed the mark here. I’ve finished the game, and aside from successfully completing 75 unique puzzles, I don’t really feel like I know any more information about the Queen of Venom or any of the ancient relics I collected along the way.

If you can get past that aspect, though, Lara Croft GO is a must-buy. Have you played Lara Croft GO? If so, how do you like it? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Download Lara Croft GO from Google Play

Review: Pac-Man 256 is a thrilling throw-back with the original Maze Runner

Posted by wicked August - 28 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off

PacMan256-Ghosts

Endless runner games are a dime a dozen these days. With respect to some of them, the graphical approach or design aesthetics are so nice that it’s a shame they couldn’t be adapted for a more traditional platformer or action title. One recent game that stood out was Crossy Road, a somewhat modern take on the classic Frogger format. The title was extremely successful, and the developers Yodo1 Games have now released their follow-up title, a collaboration with Namco.

Origins

To understand Pac-Man 256, we must first go back in time to the original game that started it all, Pac-Man. Due to limitations in programming, the game contained a problem, of sorts: If a player could successfully get to the 256th stage of the game, half of the screen would be “glitched” and filled with random numbers, letters, and shapes of all colors along the right hand side. It was thus impossible to actually clear the board as only half of it would appear.

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The stage from the original that gave birth to this product.

GamersFTW

Given how seemingly impossible it was to beat even a dozen stages of the game for some people, the prospect of winning a several hundred is a daunting task indeed, especially given that in later stages, the Power Pellet invincibility power-up actually doesn’t have any effect whatsoever.

Play to Win

The goal of Pac-Man 256 is a simple one: try to get as high a score as possible before getting chomped by the various Ghosts that populate the board. There are a few ways to do this:

Pac-Pellets

The most basic point principal is the individual pellets that litter the board: they are cumulative and thus the more you eat, the more your score increases. Eat 256 in a row without breaking the sequence and all Ghosts on the screen will be immediately killed and the counter will reset to 1. The effect is quite nifty, though truth be told I have only able to accomplish it once, and via the Magnet power up at that. Which brings me to the next score factor:

Power-Ups

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The game makes use of 16 different power ups, each unlocked by eating a certain number of Pac-Pellets. As you gain access to more advanced ones, the game requires more pellets. There are several main types of power-ups, and then shall we say, variations on them. One of the basic ones, Fire, causes flames to trail your path, however later a superior version is unlocked where the flames radiate themselves in several different directions. Magnet, which I referred to earlier, is another, and basically sucks in all collectibles on the board within the circumference of the traction; it’s an absolute wiz for getting a big Pellet multiplier.

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Power Pellets

Always the staple of the Pac-Man world, Power Pellets grant temporary invincibility to The Yellow One. During this time, Ghosts can be eaten, with the first one providing a 10 point boost, and each additional Ghost being worth 10 additional points. Thus the second is worth 20, the third 30, and so on.

As the maze is endless and randomly generated, there are often times when you can actually manage to find a second Power Pellet before the first one’s time period has expired thus extending the duration and allowing you to wrack up some mad points.

Fruit

Another Pac-Man world staple, there are various Fruit items that appear on the board including Cherries, Melons, Strawberries, and Oranges. These temporairly provide an extra score multiplier and are often used in tandem with the various Prize Goals (more on that later). Each type of Fruit has a different multiplier value.

In App Purchases

Pac Man 256 Title Screen

The title screen offers a perfect introduction to the basic Credit system.

Personally, I loathe IAP, perhaps largely because I grew up in the days before DLC existed and hence gaming meant (1) purchasing a (2) finished product. These days, you have all kinds of nice looking games that are absolutely ruined by the freemium business model, at least in my honest opinion. Thankfully, Pac-Man 256 makes use of the IAP premise in a very well done, tasteful manner.

Credits

The game allocates 5 Credits (lives basically), and there are a couple of ways in which you can use them:

Power-Ups To play the game with any of the power-ups you have unlocked and selected for use, 1 Credit is required.

Continuing After you die, 1 Credit can be used to continue from that spot, with all nearby Ghosts eliminated.

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Game Over: After the second (Credit-required) death, it’s truly lights out. In this instance the “corruption” caused the death.

Assuming you do both, this means 2 Credits per game. After the first one is spent, a timer will immediately begin to countdown, signaling when the supply will be replenished (by one). This is basically the same mechanic that exists in many of these types of games. Thankfully, you can actually play the game without using any Credits, though doing so will negate the presence of any Power-Ups, except for Power Pellets; they are always present.

Of course, for a cost, you can actually unlock Unlimited Credits. While I was tempted to do this, honestly speaking the rate at which the Credits regenerate is much faster than in other games and thus seemed rather unnecessary. Beyond that, I worried that by having the ability to play endlessly would cause me to immediately tire of the game; there is something to be said by the moderation that down time enforces.

Coins

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Coins are used to Level Up your Power-Ups. Each has 8 levels, and activating a new level requires larger and larger amounts of coins to do so. For most of the improvements, only the duration improves, but with some like the Pac Men Power-Up above, the value of each Ghost chomped during the time period increases. Opting to spend coins and Level Up the Power-Up results in a down-time during which it is unusable, though you can swap it out for another.

Earning the Cheddar

Coins are normally earned by picking them up on the game board, and seemingly as a factor of your total score for each game. There is of course, another way to get them: spending real money. In the Pac Man Power-Up picture mentioned earlier, you will notice a small icon in the top right corner, which is used to bring up the IAP screen:

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At the moment, you can’t actually buy coins, just a Coin Doubler which will, obviously, double the number of coins you earn. Note however, the price for the feature, along with the aforementioned Unlimited Credit. As I am located in Japan the currency unfortunately will not convert to dollars even though I set the language to English for purposes of this review. For reference, $1 is currently around 120 Yen, so we’re talking in upwards of $5 here to unlock features.

Control freak

Control of the game is touch based, and simply requires you to slide your finger in the direction you want Pac-Man to travel. This can essentially be done before he even hits a corner or intersection, and thus makes the task all the more easy.

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The game does let you “stand still” when faced against a wall, perfect for those times when there is a nearby Power-Up you want to get but need to wait for your current one to expire before it will reappear. Note that if you wait too long however, the “Glitch” will creep up from the bottom of the screen and kill you if the majority of it touches you.

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It’s coming to get you.

Sound and Graphics

Given that the product we are dealing with is something from the 80’s masquerading in modern times, don’t expect much from the audio or visual department. What you see in these pictures is literally what you get: pixels. Likewise there is basically no music to be had save for the opening jingle, and the same basic sound effects that graced the original games.

Get it NOW!

While I very, very rarely play mobile games, Pac-Man 256 managed to truly impress me. It offers up a very interesting take on the series, yet doesn’t feel forced at all. This is, in a sense, exactly what Pac-Man has always been about: endless mazes. It’s just now there are no set boards, rather you have one long, eternal one that changes color and shape as you go up it.

The IAP content is well managed and never in-your-face, and the gameplay is extremely addictive and keeps you coming back for more. Any fan of the 80’s arcade gaming scene, or Pac-Man in general, owes it to themselves to at least give this a try.

Download from the Google Play Store

Hands-on with Agar.io: what the heck is it? Why is it so popular?

Posted by wicked August - 5 - 2015 - Wednesday Comments Off

agar.io review
Agar.io is a new game in the Google Play Store that seems to be gaining a lot of steam very quickly. At first glance, the game doesn’t appear to be too much. Yet, the download counts keep rising and people are talking about the game everywhere. Let’s check it out.


agar.io review

Mechanics

Agar.io is amazingly easy to play. You start as a little cell and you must float around a game board collecting miniature cells. As you collect more, you grow in size and as you grow in size, you grow in power. The game play is strikingly similar to Osmos HD, and those who have played that game already know how this one works.

Each game board is populated by a certain number players. As you get bigger, your goal is to either absorb your opponents if they’re smaller, or avoid being absorbed by your larger opponents. Despite its simplicity, Agar.io requires quite a bit of patience as you roam around trying not to get trapped by the larger entities. Speed is determined by your size. You move slower as you grow larger and move faster as you get smaller.

Inside the game, there are various mechanics to either give you an advantage or put you at a disadvantage. There are green NPC cells that will split you off into many smaller cells. This can be detrimental if you’re trying to make yourself larger but potentially a lifesaver if you’re being chased by opponents as the smaller size lets you get away more quickly.

The controls are also fairly simple to grasp. It’s a touch-based joystick that controls your direction that works well about 98% of the time. Along with that you get two buttons. The first allows you to split into two cells, the second of which shoots off of your body like a weapon and can be used to absorb smaller players. The second button allows you to drop your size when tapped repeatedly to help you escape sticky situations.

The last thing we’ll mention in this section are the names. You can give yourself a name and you’ll be a random cell with a random color. However, there are a metric ton of Easter eggs that allow you to alter your cell. For instance, naming yourself “doge” gives you a meme-inspired cell. During my testing, I played against a guy named Obama and wouldn’t you know it, there I was being chased down by the President of the United States.


agar.io review

The premise

The premise of the game is to survive and become the biggest cell on the game board. This is much easier said than done. You start off pretty small and the room you’re in has generally matured to include players of massive sizes. There are right around 100 players per room and they range from being super small cells just trying to survive to gigantic cells that you try like hell to avoid. No matter where you’re dropped in, you have people to chase and to run from.

A unique aspect to the game comes when you play in the same room long enough. You start to get to know the other players in the room. For instance, during my game play, I ran into a player named Mars who was actually quite smaller than I was. 15 minutes later, I ran into Mars again and s/he swallowed me whole because s/he took up the entire game board. Players grow, shrink, quit, and join fairly frequently but those who are really into the game seem to be there a while.

Outside of that, there’s really not much to Agar.io. You start, you collect cells, you take out rival players, and you get really big. That’s really all that you do.


Agar.io screenshot 5

The good

Here’s what we liked about the game:

  • The entire game is online multiplayer which means you always have someone else to play with. Leaders can be easily displayed using the leaderboard button on the top right of the game screen.
  • The mechanics are easy enough for virtually anyone to understand. It’s not one of those games that’s easy to learn and difficult to master. It’s easy to master pretty much right out of the gate.
  • The game is lightweight. It’s not a large game and doesn’t consume a lot of resources. That makes it a great title for people that have old, midrange, or low-range devices.
  • The challenge comes from being in a room with a ton of other players who have just as quickly and easily mastered the controls. It is surprisingly difficult to play and requires a decent amount of focus and attention to do well.
  • The hidden Easter eggs add a little fun and humor to the proceedings. There are a lot of them and include things like Qing Dynasty, Doge, Obama, Mars, 8-Ball, and many others. It’s not hard to find them but we have no idea how many there are in total.
  • It’s free to play with advertising. It does state that there are in-app purchases but aside from removing advertising, we couldn’t find evidence that they affected gameplay whatsoever. In fact, we couldn’t even find the one that removes advertising. They likely haven’t been fully implemented yet so we’ll see how that goes when they are.
  • It’s easy to pick up and put down. There are also no timers, energy bars, or other nonsense to prevent you from playing when you want to.

agar.io review

The bad

And here’s what we didn’t like so much.

  • It really is just a simple time waster game. It’s a lot of fun and it’s very challenging, but there’s no actual content. Just gameplay.
  • Some of the mechanics can be finicky sometimes. The ability to split and shoot yourself at opposing players doesn’t work sometimes and the controls are a bit wonky, especially if you’re on a wall.
  • The game relies totally on an Internet connection. That means bad connection and lagging can happen sometimes.
  • While not necessary for a good experience, some Google Play Games achievements and leaderboards would have been a nice touch.

agar.io review

Wrap up

At the end of the day, this is a time waster game that’s flying off the hinges with how popular it is. In terms of viral value, it’s not too dissimilar from Flappy Bird or Threes! were when they were smash hits that everyone wanted to play. Thankfully, the mechanics are solid and the always-on multiplayer actually gives the game the kind of challenge that doesn’t want to make you break things. It’s free to download and not the worst way to spend a few minutes while you’re on the toilet or waiting in line somewhere. Click the button blow to give it a shot!

Download Agar.io from Google Play!

Angry Birds 2 review: how does it compare to the original?

Posted by wicked August - 4 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off
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The very first Angry Birds game was launched in December 2009. Since then, it has collected over 100 million downloads in the Google Play Store and currently holds almost 3 million 5-star reviews. This application is off the charts and continues to be one of the most entertaining casual games around, but we do have to say a successor was due after 6 years.

We have seen plenty of other Angry Birds iterations, but those were really just themed titles. Additional releases included Angry Birds Seasons, Space, Star Wars, Star Wars 2, Epic, Transformers, GO, Friends and even VR. But what about the true successor to Angry Birds? We finally saw it hit the Google Play Store last July 30th! It is plainly named Angry Birds 2 and I have taken the time (likely too much) to play around with it and gather my opinions on the game.

Is Angry Birds 2 a worthy successor to what could be the most popular mobile game in existence? We at least know it will probably be as popular, as it has been downloaded over 10 million times since its inception, last week. It definitely has its pros and cons, though, so let’s dig into the details.

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Gameplay

You have played Angry Birds before, right? If you answered “no”, you really need to get out of that rock you are living under. The game is very similar to what we have seen from Angry Birds titles in the past. Those annoying green pigs are back at it, taking all your eggs for themselves. Your goal is to recover these unborn birds by flinging fowl at structures and oddly colored swine. Just take them on before running out of birds.

Your score will be based on performance (birds used and structure destruction), which, in turn, determines how many stars you receive (limit is 3). It’s also possible to unlock spells and easily beat any stage.

As with the previous iteration, each bird has its specific characteristics and abilities, which can be triggered by tapping on the screen when the bird is in mid flight. The red bird sends a blow to anything in front of it, the smaller blue bird splits into three, the white one throws an egg bomb, the yellow one can fly faster and the new gray character can fly drop straight down and smash its opponents.

There are 240 stages to play, so you won’t exactly run out of fun, especially considering there is now the addition of the Arena, in which you can play for as long as your birds will last you. Users can then compare high scores with friends and see who is the true king of the perch.

Angry Birds vs Angry Birds 2

You have probably figured out some of the differences in the new Angry Birds iteration just by playing it or watching some of the trailers. There’s quite a bit, though, so we thought it would be important to touch on them so you know what you are getting into.

Choosing bird order

Every time you start a stage, you will be given the ability to use all available birds. These will show up as cards in the lower-left corner. The real kicker here is that Rovio is no longer choosing which bird you use first and which after. The user now gets the freedom to pick which bird to use at any given fling.

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Each stage has levels

Instead of playing only one scenario, Angry Birds 2 has multiple levels within each single stage. There’s usually 2-4 areas per stage, all with different structures and pigs. This makes it imperative that you choose your birds intelligently and form a good strategy. You don’t want to run out of birds before reaching other areas of the stage.

Red bird has an ability!

While we are used to seeing the red bird have no added ability, such is not the case in Angry Birds 2. The lead protagonist now emits a blow (or shock waves?) that will blast anything in front of it.

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The new gray bird

Some say it’s silver, some say it’s gray, but whatever color you prefer to call it, one thing is for sure – this bird is awesome. Just send it flying in any direction and tap on the screen when you want it to swoop around and drop downward, smashing anything on its way.

Spells!

The original Angry Birds did something similar with the “Mighty Eagle”, which allowed users to obliterate all green pigs whenever things got tough. The new spells are certainly not all as powerful, but they can be used to give you that added advantage you need during difficult levels.

You can do things like create a rain of yellow ducks, inflate pigs, convert all blocks into ice and turn pigs into bombs. And yes, the Mighty Eagle is still around.

Bosses

Every few stages you will be presented with a boss. These larger pigs are especially harder to beat. You can’t destroy them with a single hit and will need to get creative with your surroundings. Drop bombs on them, throw boulders at it; just do what you need to do to give these tough guys some damage!

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Compete against your friends in the Arena

Angry Birds is no longer a single-player game. Rovio has added the Arena to the second iteration of the series, making gameplay much more social. The only trick is that you will have to beat the first 25 stages before unlocking this special feature.

The Arena is an endless mode you can access once a day (for free). You can play a second time if you watch a commercial. The purpose of this endless stage is to get through as many levels (or rooms) as you can, only using a limited amount of birds. You will then get a score and have it compared to other fellow players.

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Business model – cash money!

We thought this change was a bit more important, so we gave it its own section in the review. Rovio has changed things up quite a bit here. Instead of asking for a one-time payment or making the game free (with ads), the developer decided to make money by taking advantage of the addictive in-game currency system we are now so used to.

They also started doing something similar with the original Angry Birds, which allows you to buy the Mighty Eagle spell for actual money. Things are obviously a bit different this time around, though. Let’s go into detail about how it all works.

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The new Angry Birds 2 game uses gems, which are quite important. Gems can quickly become necessary, depending on the level of difficulty or amount of time you play. It’s really easy to run out of lives if you don’t finish your levels successfully, for example. This starts happening very often after levels get more difficult. Getting more lives immediately, or repeating the lost game, costs gems. Alternatively, you can wait 30 minutes to keep playing.

There are ways to get free gems, but you shouldn’t depend on them too much, because the flow of free gems slows down after some time. You can get free gems by accomplishing objectives, watching ads and competing in daily challenges. Otherwise, you will have to pay real money for them.

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Conclusion

Overall, Angry Birds 2 is a very fun game that keeps its classic essence, yet adds enough improvements to keep it fresh and lively. The game looks good, thanks to its animations and improved graphics. It also plays very well. I personally love that Rovio is giving users more choice in bird selection and strategy. And game physics are as good as they have always been.

My one gripe is the new monetary system. Relying on in-game currency and limited lives is no surprise, as that is the proven way to make more money. But as a heavy user, I do feel like it crosses that line where it starts breaking my experience, especially when trying to binge fling past all these levels in one sitting. I personally would have much rather dealt with a larger one-time charge.

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With that said, you probably won’t find any annoyances if you are truly a casual gamer. This system is great for those who play sporadically, in shorter sessions. If you are patient, you can get through the whole game without spending a dime. The one upside is that Angry Birds 2 is completely free to download and play, so it costs you nothing to go ahead and try it for yourself!

Give it a go and let us know what you think of the game in the comments below. Do you like the improvements? Where you hoping to see more changes? Do you like the new business model?

Download Angry Birds 2 from the Google Play Store!

We Play: Blood Brothers 2

Posted by wicked May - 26 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off

Blood Brothers 2 is a strategy RPG released by DeNA. It’s the sequel to the acclaimed Blood Brothers game that amassed over ten million downloads during its run. It’s a strategy RPG with some monster collection elements and a bit of online multiplayer thrown in. It was a fairly solid game already but DeNA recently released a huge update to make it even better. Let’s take a look.
Get it on Google Play


blood brothers 2

Game Play

For those who have never played the game before, here’s how Blood Brothers 2 works. You play as a tactician and your role is to deploy your heroes and win battles. Each hero has a small contingent of soldiers that also make up their hit points and they also have special abilities. Once you deploy your heroes and their troops, they clash with the enemy heroes and troops and that process repeats until someone wins the battle.

The game operates on a trio of roles. Each hero will either control a group of archers, a group of ground troops, or a group of cavalry troops and at that point you’re playing rock, paper, scissors. Archers beat ground troops, ground troops beat cavalry, and cavalry beats archers and that dynamic is the foundation from which all decisions in battle are made.

Each mission in the campaign contains several battles and you’ll have to fight through all of them to finish the mission. Each mission generally has a boss battle at the end. After missions are completed, you’ll earn various resources, mostly gold, which can then be used to upgrade and train your troops. During battles, you can also capture enemy commanders and convince them to join your cause and grow your army that way.

Blood Brothers 2 has one of the better stories out there for a tap to play game. You kind of get thrown into the action to start with but you get a real sense for what’s going on fairly quickly and it grows from there. It’s a dark fantasy story that’s very gritty and dirty. You’re commanding monsters and fighting in the trenches and the game does a good job of relaying that feeling to the player.

Along with all of that, you can engage in PvP combat in the arena, engage with weekly events to get extra resources and gear, and there is a tree of research that you can assign your commanders to research that will give you extra abilities, benefits, upgrades, and more.


Blood Brothers 2 review

The new stuff

DeNA has added a lot of new stuff to the game in a recent update that changes things a whole bunch. By far the biggest change is the inclusion of guilds. Each guild can have up to 50 members and there is a dedicated guild chat. Everything is fairly straight forward and typical of mobile game guilds except for a few things. Let’s discuss some of the exceptions.

Guilds have a shared mastery tree similar to the ones each player has. Guild members can contribute and complete the guild mastery stuff and each member benefits from it, even the new ones. Also, if anyone buys any Blood Sigils through in-app purchases, everyone in the guild gets a gift which is kind of a nice idea.

One of the other new features is a new slew of daily events. This is to help keep the game fresh and give players something else to do a little more frequently. DeNA has said that there will be seven dungeons that will be rotated out daily and players will be able to use these to win more stuff like gear, gold, various souls, and other stuff.

There are other new features as well. One is daily pacts that help players buy specific commanders based on what day of the week it is. This is great for those who have been around for a while and have some Blood Sigils to spare. DeNA has also included a random loot box that will drop at random times after random battles.


Blood Brothers 2 review

The good

Here’s what we liked about Blood Brothers 2:

  • The game play is consistent, simple, but still fun. You’re not asked to do a whole lot but you do have to pay attention and think a little bit in order to win. This not only includes battles, but upgrading, skill research, and pretty much everything is easy to do, but you have to make sure you’re doing it right.
  • The guilds are fantastic. During my testing, I went to bed one evening and woke up with around 45 gifts thanks to the actions of my guild members. The chat is useful for strategy and discussion, and the guild skill trees are very helpful. It was a very positive addition to the game.
  • The story is actually pretty decent for a mobile game. It’s not super deep but the dark fantasy grittiness is refreshing. Usually in mobile games you have cute little monsters and you’re trying to do good. It always looks polished and friendly. In this game, you get the trench-warfare feel and the people you work with don’t look friendly. At all. It’s nice.
  • There is a lot of stuff to do. Between the campaign, the events, the daily missions, upgrading your troops, recruiting new ones, and getting the skill trees mastered, it’s going to take you a long time to beat this game. Don’t forget the new guild stuff, the achievements, and the PvP arena also. There is just a lot to do.
  • The developers get a lot done. You already had a lot of stuff to do and DeNA came back and gave players even more with the guilds, the daily missions, etc.
  • Blood Brothers 2 does include cloud saving. It’s not Google Play Games cloud saving, but it’s definitely good enough to get your stuff to your next device.

Blood Brothers 2 review

The bad

And here’s what we didn’t like so much:

  • The menu system probably could’ve been laid out a little better. It’s not bad, but it’s a bit overwhelming at first and I feel like things could have been better labeled. Of course, once you pour a few hours into it, you’ll learn where everything is so this is a minor nitpick. Still, a few things are kind of hard to find at first.
  • The PvP arena dynamic is a bit weird. I assume that they’re going for an idea where players blindly choose their commanders not knowing what the other player will pick. The problem with this is the game relies heavily on choosing based on what you see on the field so a blind match takes away a lot of control. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it operates on different mechanics than the rest of the game and it feels off.

blood brothers 2

Wrap up

Overall, this is about as good of a time waster game as you can get. It pulls from a lot of genres, including card collecting, strategy, MMO, and RPG elements which really allows players to delve into the game and gives you a whole lot to do. The new addition of daily missions and guilds help keep the game fresh and gives it a bit more of a social aspect so you have someone to talk to while you play which we liked a lot.

There were a few things here and there that didn’t mesh well with the overall feel of the game, but at the end of the day these are minor nitpicks. The game is free with in-app purchases in the Google Play Store which means it costs nothing to at least check it out and you’ll be showing your support for Android Authority and the Android Apps Weekly show. Who knows, you may actually love it!
Get it on Google Play

TRANSFORMERS: Battle Tactics review

Posted by wicked May - 19 - 2015 - Tuesday Comments Off


TRANSFORMERS: Battle Tactics is a new game out of DeNA where you get to play as your favorite Autobots and Decepticons and duke it out against others in live PvP action. It features simple game play, plenty of Transformers characters, and the unique ability to play with both Autobots and Decepticons on the same team. It has a lot going for it, so lets take a closer look! If you want to skip the review and download the game for yourself, you can download it here.


Transformers Battle Tactics

Game Play

Transformers Battle Tactics is a PvP battle game where you assemble a group of Transformers and duke it out against other people live to see who built the better team. This title is unique because you can use both Autobots and Decepticons together in your team and the entire game takes place online in PvP battles.

Here’s how the game works. There are various parts of the menu that do various things. Using the menu you can manage abilities, your team, enter into the chatroom, obtain out-of-battle drops, the settings, and once you join one, you can check out your league there and you have a dedicated league chat should you want to use it. This is also how you engage in battles which we’ll get to in a second.

During battles, you earn resources that you can use to repair, upgrade, and recruit other characters that you gradually unlock as you level up. If you want to go a bit faster, you can use coins that you gradually earn or you can buy them. I know not a lot of people like this paradigm but take it from me, you can still enjoy the game without them.

Everything else is frosting on the cake. The global chat lets you talk to people and leagues allow you to join up with friends or strangers on the web to gain additional advantages. There is also a section where you can get free resources through drops. The game gives you two different ones that you can use at various time intervals or you can buy more with coins.


Transformers Battle Tactics

Mechanics

Okay folks, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of this game: the battles, the characters and the abilities. To engage in battle, you have to have use Energon which is this game’s energy counter. If you have no Energon, you can’t battle and you must wait for some to be replenished.

All battles are played against real life opponents with no exceptions. Truth be told, some battles you’ll absolutely dominate and others you’ll be totally dominated, but in the battles I took part in, the vast majority were decided on tactics with a little bit of luck thrown in.

Every round, a coin flips to decide who gets to go first. As far as I can tell, it is totally randomized and you can increase your chances with buffs, although the advantage really isn’t that big. There were rounds where I got first strike every round and there were rounds where I got none so at least it’s mostly fair.

From there, your team attacks the opposing team and vice versa and this continues however many rounds it takes before someone wins. Opponents can also back out, resulting in an instant victory for you. When you defeat bad guys individually you get resources and when you win, you get bonuses. If you lose, you still walk away with a little bit so it’s not totally worthless.

You can obtain various bonuses depending on a number of factors. Most playable characters have passive abilities give individual buffs. You can also assemble teams of certain playable characters and earn team bonuses that way. In battle, you can combine the powers of certain Transformers to create much more powerful attacks.

As you progress, you’ll level up your profile. As you level up your profile, you will have the ability to recruit new playable characters, unlock new abilities, and otherwise progress through the game.

The last thing I’ll talk about are the abilities. They range from re-rolling your damage to targeting a specific opponent and there are abilities that add buffs, damage opponents directly, and do all kinds of other stuff. You can equip four at once and every round in battle gives you three ability points that you can dump into these abilities to try to earn an advantage in battle.


Transformers Battle Tactics

Pros

Okay here’s what we liked about the game.

  • It’s the good mixture of a serious game and a time waster. Battles are only about five minutes each so it doesn’t require a huge time commitment to play. On the flip side, the leveling up, unlockable content, and leagues offer surprisingly good depth that gives the game longevity.
  • You have access to literally all of your favorite Autobot and Decepticon characters. You can mix and match or form teams based on who you like and I thought it was nice that you don’t have to pick sides this time. Just assemble a team of your favorites and go nuts.
  • The game is very liberal with bonuses. You can get at least two free prize drops per day and you get Energon points for doing practically anything. Within my first hour I was able to recruit Optimus Prime twice and unlock four other additional characters along with three additional abilities. Yes, there are a few walls like running out of energy and there’s no getting around that fact, but it definitely handles these walls better than most.
  • The game play mechanics, menus, and general game actions are simple to understand. There isn’t much of a learning curve to do anything here and that makes the game very accessible for casual gamers, kids, and pretty much everyone else.
  • Transformers: Battle Tactics encourages people to play in leagues by throwing large league events. Unlike most games where only the top ten or so guilds actually win anything, this game gives rewards to the top 30,000 leagues which means practically everyone in a league gets something. Events in general are held weekly.
  • There aren’t any Google Play Games services, but you can still manage a cloud save. It’s not super flexible but if you’re upgrading your device or you want to play on your tablet also, there is a built-in way to do that which we appreciate.
  • Lastly, the game currently has over a million downloads, tens of thousands of leagues, and hundreds of thousands of active players. That means battles are generally easy to find and there is, for now at least, a healthy player base to enjoy.

Transformers Battle Tactics

Cons

And here are the things we didn’t like so much.

  • Yes, there could have been a short campaign mode. The tutorial was good enough to learn the basics, but it would’ve been nice to go on even a few missions to earn a bit of resources before being thrown to the wolves. It’s not that big of a deal because the matchmaking isn’t bad, but still more content is better.
  • The game does get a tad repetitive after a while. Being able to unlock all the various Autobots and Decepticons, along with the battle powers and combo attacks help mitigate this as you are free to explore various combos, but we recommend not playing too much too fast your may get burned out.

Transformers Battle Tactics

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is a solid game. The mixture of quick playing and deep level growth is a paradigm I wish more simple games would pursue and this one did it about as well as you can do it. There is a surprising amount of content for a game that touts only live PvP battles and fans of the Transformers will most likely have a positive experience. The near constant events help keep you engaged which is always nice and they even have a huge event going on right now.

There are a few issues here and there but these are minor details and most of them have already been fixed. The game is free with in app purchases and it’s less than 50MB so you won’t lose anything by trying it out. Click the button below if you want to try it out.
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Enjoy some classic art on your lock screen with Muse Art Lock Screen

Posted by wicked May - 13 - 2015 - Wednesday Comments Off

Muse Art Lock Screen
Art has always held a spot close to the hearts of human beings. We’ve been painting scenes to describe life since before we could write words and there have been some truly prolific artists over the years. Even if it’s not as popular a medium as it once was, almost anyone can appreciate art and with Muse Art Lock Screen, you can view it on your lock screen. Let’s take a closer look.


Muse Art Lock Screen

Functionality

What Muse Art Lock Screen actually do? As the name implies, this is a lock screen replacement application that aims to replace your current lock screen with a random piece of artwork. It’s really very simple to use. You download the application, open it, and then it will replace your lock screen. You then go into the settings, disable the stock lock screen, and from that point forward, you’ll be greeted by a piece of art every time you turn on your device.

The app allows for light customization. You can browse art by the publication it was published in, the museum its held in, in art collections, or by the artists themselves. From there you can find the art that you like. Once you do, you can give it a favorite. Muse Art Lock Screen will use art that you’ve favorited to try to show more art that you would like based on the art you’ve viewed and favorited. All art that gets favorited also shows up in My Gallery so you can view them whenever you want.

On top of all of that, the app will also let you check out various art blogs and sites including the Huffington Post art section, The New York Times, and other prominent sites. It’s hidden a little bit inside of the app and you’ll have to browse to find that sort of stuff but it is there.

That’s really it. Muse Art is a very simple application with a lot of content. You just set it up then you can browse art or just wait for it to appear on your lock screen. There isn’t much else to it!


Muse Art Lock Screen

The Good

Here’s what we liked about Muse Art Lock Screen:

  • It’s very simple. No ridiculous set ups or anything. You download it, enable it, and it goes.
  • There is a lot of content. Currently over 100,000 pieces of art that you can browse through.
  • You can find additional information about each painting by swiping your finger to the left. This lets you see additional details about the artist and the artwork.
  • You can pseudo-customize the kind of art you get by browsing through the collections and finding your favorites. This helps the app choose art that is better suited to your tastes.
  • It’s free with no in-app purchases.
  • You can sign up for a Muse Art account if you want to or not. The app works either way.
  • The developers do a fairly good job of listening to customers. For instance, a recent update removed nudist art from the lock screen portion of the app after users complained about it.

Muse Art Lock Screen

The Bad

And here’s what wasn’t so great:

  • Organization could have been a little better. If you’re browsing artists, you can search but there’s no easy way to just browse artists whose names begin with M without scrolling all the way down to M yourself.
  • The app will occasionally show you the same piece of art multiple times. This only seems to happen if you only have a few pieces of art favorited and you don’t have an account logged in.
  • This is both a pro and a con. Muse Art itself does not have any security settings. However, it does allow for the stock Android lock screen to remain enabled in case you need it for security purposes. It’s a bit annoying going through two lock screens but if you use an actual lock on your lock screen, you’ll have to get used to using both this and the stock Android lock screen.

Muse Art Lock Screen

Wrap up

Overall, this is a fairly simple and easy lock screen. It has a lot of art and it shows right up on your lock screen. The app itself is a bit of an after thought but still a fun place to browse around and check out artists and build your collection of favorites. Obviously, for maximum enjoyment, you’ll probably want to disable the stock lock screen unless you use it for security. In our testing, both configurations worked very well and we have no complaints about the basic functionality of the app.

It’s free with no in-app purchases so there’s no real reason not to try it out. If you’re interested, check out the button below!
Get it on Google Play

NYTimes has revamped their app and here’s our review!

Posted by wicked May - 8 - 2015 - Friday Comments Off


One of the hallmark struggles of print journalism over the last several years has been converting their operations to the Internet with websites and applications. The New York Times is among the few that have managed to make the journey successfully. Now, they’re re-releasing a totally revamped Android app and we’re going to take a look at it.


NYTimes review

What’s new?

Perhaps the most prominent change in the NYTImes app is the user interface. They have abandoned their prior design almost entirely in favor of a much newer, far fresher interface that contains heaps of Android Holo with a pinch of Material Design thrown in for good measure. We can’t emphasize enough how quick and smooth the new interface is and it’s clear without resignation that a lot of work went into it.

Upon starting the app, you’ll see categories lined up across the top of the screen. You can swipe left and right between them to browse the various sections of the NYTimes. In the overflow (3-dot) menu in the top right, you can customize which categories you see across the top of the screen. In the hamburger menu on the top left, you’ll also see your 10 favorite categories along with a list of all categories and NYTimes properties that you can engage with.

This new swiping functionality is consistently present across practically all screens. You can easily swipe to the next article (or back to the old one) and some articles even have a comment section that you can swipe around as well. At any point you can open the left menu by swiping in from the left side of your screen. There are also dedicated phone and tablet interfaces so you can enjoy content no matter the size of the screen.

It is also worth mentioning that the articles themselves now follow a singular format with richer media than before and that makes them more enjoyable.


NYTimes review

Functionality

The UI definitely takes center stage but the app does contain a number of other useful features. In the Settings menu, you can control things like notifications, categories, and your account settings if you decide to sign up for a NYTimes subscription. You can use the app for free although you are limited to 10 articles per month whereas subscribers generally get full access.

You can expect two kinds of notifications from this app. One is a breaking news notification that will pop up whenever big news is happening. During my testing, I received one when the NFL draft started and a few others. The second type of notification is called The Morning Brief that occurs every morning. This serves up the important news from overnight to get you caught up quickly.

There are two kinds of widgets you can use as well. The first is a fairly standard widget that shows you the latest headlines. You can scroll through the widget and tap on stories to launch the app and read them. The second is a brand new widget that shows interesting photographs from the day. Tapping on the photographs will launch the relevant article.

In addition, you also have a Twilight Mode to darken the screen for easier reading, the ability to switch between the U.S. and International editions of the NYTimes, and multiple links to send feedback about the app if you have comments, complaints, or suggestions.


NYTimes review

The good

Here’s what we liked about the new NYTimes app:

  • The new interface is simply stunning. We’ve seen few news apps embrace the Android design language and fewer still who have done it as well as the NYTimes has here. We especially enjoyed the consistent swipe controls on the main interface and articles as well as the grid layout on tablets.
  • It is one of the best performing Android news apps that we’ve ever used. Articles load quickly (Internet connection permitting). Swiping between categories and articles has a satisfying smoothness that just screams high class when combined with the simplistic elegance of the new interface.
  • The notifications are consistent enough to be useful but not so consistent that it becomes an annoyance. The Morning Brief is an excellent way to get caught up on what’s going on and we liked that both types of notifications can be configured in the Settings.
  • You have the ability to save articles and read them across multiple devices (subscription permitting). This means you can start reading a story on your phone and continue reading it on your tablet or computer later or vice versa.
  • The widgets included are simple but effective. They can be re-sized to an extent to fit your home screen needs.
  • We’d like to talk for a moment about the subscriptions. The NYTimes offers more than a half a dozen subscription options and three of them are for their online content. Subscriptions are generally an all-or-nothing proposition and we appreciate the ability to go with a cheaper or more specialized options. For instance, if you don’t own a tablet, you can get a smartphone-only subscription.

NYTimes review

The not so good

Here’s what wasn’t so great about the NYTimes app:

  • The app is a total refresh. That means many features from the old app are now gone. This has irked some folks but the developers have been attentive in fixing issues and taking suggestions to re-integrate popular old features. You can expect the app to change a great deal over the coming months.
  • When scrolling through the photo widget, we noticed that there were only about a half a dozen photos. We would’ve liked to have seen more photos. It does auto-update over the course of the day so this really is just a minor nitpick.

NYTimes review

Wrap up

The NYTimes app developers clearly wanted to go in a new direction and they succeeded in their endeavor entirely. The emphasis on quick loading and buttery smooth performance meshes well with the high standards of the publication’s content and the two combined create one of the greatest news reading experiences available on Android today. That said, the app is in its infancy and we expect more features to be rolled out over time to make up for all the features lost in the transition.

Overall, it’s a fantastic application. You can read articles and test the app for free before committing to a subscription so there’s no actual harm in trying it out for yourself. Just click the button below to get started. Don’t forget to check out the gallery below!
Get it on Google Play

Get a closer look at your network speed with nPerf Speed Test

Posted by wicked May - 4 - 2015 - Monday Comments Off

There are only a few big names when it comes to Internet speed tests. Speedtest.net, for instance, is a name many people know and trust. However, there is another speed test app that you should know about called nPerf Speed Test and we’re going to take a look at it right now.


nPerf Speed test review

Functionality

nPerf Speed Test tests not one, but three different metrics. It’ll test your Internet speed including upload, download, and ping. It can also test your browsing performance by opening a slew of websites and seeing how long each one takes. It’ll conclude the test with a YouTube streaming test that streams video at 260p, 360p, and 720p to see how long it takes to load, how much data is used, and buffer time if there is any. This far more testing than your traditional speed test and it makes nPerf feel like a real all-in-one kind of test.

Once the app has completed its workout, you’ll see the total results of the test along with an aggregate score. Your score can be compared to other ISPs and shared with others if you wish. The app is able to discern what kind of connection you have (3G, 4G, WiFi). On the History page in the app, you can also see and keep track of where you did you speed tests on a map so you can compare speeds based on your location.

In the Settings, you can tweak your experience to a degree. You can set things like your network type, bitrate units, default test, language, background style, and whether or not to record your GPS location. There is also an option to set a warning to let you know you’re about to reach your data plan limits (if you have limits). The developers also claim to use less than half of the data for their tests that other test apps use.


nPerf Speed test review

Design

nPerf’s UI is fairly straightforward. The interface is simple to understand with Holo-style hamburger menus so navigation is simple and reasonably predictable. It is very simple to use. You select your test type and hit the go button. Then you sit around and wait.

The design itself is colorful and enjoyable. The buttons are large and easy to see and nPerf manages to look good without overdoing it. Animations were fluid in our testing although we’re sure you’ll see some stutter on older devices.


nPerf Speed test review

The Good

Here’s what we liked about nPerf Speed Test:

  • Doesn’t just measure speed like most competitors. It also measures streaming performance and website loading performance as well. The app also measures averages along with maximums for more metrics than most competitors.
  • It’s very simple to use. You can run a full test as soon as you open the app or choose an individual test in the hamburger menu by tapping in the top left corner.
  • The ability to map where you do your speed tests, review testing history, and compare to other ISPs and phone services are pleasant extra features for those who are seriously into network testing.
  • The design is very clean.
  • Contributing your speed test data to nPerf also helps them compile information like this from France where they can put together graphs and charts about what carriers do the best.
  • According to nPerf developers, their official website will soon host coverage maps and network data performance.
  • nPerf uses dedicated and optimized servers for a more accurate speed test.

The Bad

Here’s what we didn’t like so much:

  • nPerf has a function to warn you when you’re about to reach your data plan limits. For instance, if you have a 1GB plan, you can have it warn you when you’ve used 800MB. Android has this functionality built right into the OS so we didn’t see a real need for this feature. It’s not bad, just redundant.
  • Like most benchmarks, you probably won’t be using an app like this every day.

nPerf Speed test review

Final Thoughts

Overall, this is a very solid Internet benchmark app. The various levels of testing give it more of a real-world feel and the design is simple enough for anyone to use. It has a few features that aren’t really needed or necessary, but they can be easily turned off if you don’t want them. If you’re interested in trying it out for yourself, click the button below!
Get it on Google Play

Opera Mini Browser updated – we take a quick look

Posted by wicked April - 22 - 2015 - Wednesday Comments Off

Opera Mini Browser received a huge update recently that seemed to change everything about the browser. The UI saw a significant revamp and more features were added such as gesture controls, new omnibar support, and even some data compression and data saving features were implemented. With all these changes, we figured it was worth taking a quick look!  It might as well be a whole new browser so we wanted to take a closer quick look.


Opera Mini review

Design

Opera Mini’s new design is both clean and functional although it does take a moment to get used to. The omnibar is at the top along with a plus symbol for adding bookmarks. The bottom houses the menu button (which is just the Opera logo), tab controls, a button to take you to the Speed Dial feature, and back and forward buttons.

Inside the menu, you’ll see your data savings but more on that in a minute. Below that you’ll see four buttons for history, find-in-page functionality, a share button, and a button to close the tab. You can also access your downloads and the app settings below that.

In the settings you’ll be able to change the app layout depending on your preferences, determine new tab behaviors, change text size, access full screen features, and some advanced features like cookies, text wrap, protocol, and network test to see if you have a functioning connection. For power users, and others that like to have more control over their browsing experience, these features are a boon for control and functionality.

Overall, I found the experience to be quite nice and refreshing, as Opera puts a lot of controls in a relatively small amount of space and made them large and noticeable enough to find easily. That’s something that other browsers could definitely learn from.


Opera Mini review

Functionality

Along with the app comes a data compression feature that attempts to minimize how much data you use when you browse the web. In many cases, it’s highly functional and we managed to use about 10% of the data we would have using other browsers. If you’re one to want to conserve data consumption on mobile, or for other reasons, this is something to definitely take note of.

Opera’s data compression system is very aggressive which should help those who live in areas with slower network connections. The compression will also almost certainly help those on capped data plans to save more data.

The Speed Dial feature has been present in Opera’s main browser for a while and Opera Mini is no different. The Speed Dial allows you to set up sites you go to frequently so you can get there very quickly. You can also find your bookmarks, sites you saved for offline reading, and even a somewhat customizable news feed to keep you caught up on whatever kind of news you enjoy.

During our testing, we visited 50 websites in total and all 50 of them loaded relatively quickly. A few had some graphical and text formatting errors that are likely a result of Opera’s data compression but at no point did the websites cease to function as they should. A few larger websites may load more slowly than expected but there were very few instances where it was so slow that it was annoying.

Also included in the latest update is private tabs similar to Google’s incognito mode. You can also swipe to close tabs, swipe to delete bookmarks, and swipe up to search.


Overall

Pros:

  • The new UI revamp is clean and functional.
  • Dedicated tablet layout and two phone layouts that you can switch between.
  • Data compression saves you a lot of data.
  • Bookmarks can be synced across devices including computers.
  • Speed Dial is as useful as ever.
  • New private tab lets you browse without saving cookies or web history.

Cons:

  • Occasional graphical glitches on websites, likely from data compression.
  • likely from data compression.
  • Some sites may load slowly.
  • There doesn’t appear to be a way to turn data compression off.

Overall, this is a positive update for Opera Mini. It brings a lot of the features and looks from Opera’s full fledged browser and the performance is still very good. The data compression is fantastic and very helpful for those with limited data plans and connections. With the new features and looks, Opera Mini is now brought up to date with current browser options which is only a good thing. If you want to check it out, click the button!

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