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Arcade Highlights: Crossy Road Castle

Anti-gravity rainbows, cute animal characters, prize machines, co-operative play, and endless tower platforming: if this all sounds like the perfect diversion during a long stay indoors, you’re absolutely right.

Crossy Road Castle is a long-awaited sequel to the original Crossy Road and one of the newest Apple Arcade titles. But don’t let the word ‘sequel’ mislead you – Crossy Road Castle offers an entirely different gaming experience than its predecessor. Think less “crossing the road” and more “climbing an endless tower, one micro-level at a time.”

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HeartWatch 4: A Streamlined Dashboard for Your Health

HeartWatch 4 released today on the App Store as a major redesign of the health dashboard app from David Walsh, creator of the popular AutoSleep app.

HeartWatch takes the existing heart and activity data captured by your Apple Watch and presents it in a different way than Apple’s own Health app. The app has long offered fresh approaches to visualizing your data, but the sheer amount of information, and how it’s organized, can easily feel overwhelming. The main goal of HeartWatch 4 was to simplify everything, making it easier to navigate and thus more approachable. Spend just a couple minutes with this update and it’s clear that it succeeded.

I’m not going to re-hash all of the functionality of HeartWatch, since we’ve covered that in the past. You still have access to important metrics like your heart’s average daily bpm, sedentary bpm, sleep data, movement stats, and more, accompanied by charts, graphs, and comparisons over time. But the way everything’s organized has been drastically improved.

In the last version of HeartWatch, a navigation bar divided the app into four main sections: Vitals, Dashboard, Activity, and More. The difference between each of these screens wasn’t immediately obvious, so until you spent significant time getting situated in the app, it felt like work trying to find what you wanted. All of that’s changed now thanks to a design that puts everything in a single scrolling view.

The new HeartWatch design is broken into Wellness, Activity, and Workout sections that are stacked vertically in the new one-stop dashboard. Inside each section is a collection of tiles for different data points, not unlike what Walsh did with the Today dashboard in AutoSleep last year. The tile design provides a great overview of data, and it’s entirely customizable so you can, from the Settings screen, disable any tiles you don’t want to see.

All of HeartWatch's great graphs and charts are just a swipe or tap behind its tiles.

All of HeartWatch’s great graphs and charts are just a swipe or tap behind its tiles.

At first glance, HeartWatch’s tile design may seem like it’s eliminated much of the valuable data comparisons and visualizations previously found in the app, but all of that is actually just hidden behind each tile. You can swipe on a tile to flip it over and get more info, or tap, or even tap and hold to view more details; personally I think loading different screens depending on whether you tap or tap and hold is overly complicated, but regardless the whole system remains a major improvement. The simple data is kept front and center, and when you want more, you can easily get to it in an intuitive way.

HeartWatch 4 includes other improvements too – like its custom activity metrics as an alternative to Apple’s rings, support for automatic system switching between light and dark modes, and an upgraded Watch app – but the highlight here is definitely the redesigned iPhone app. If you ever found HeartWatch and all of its data overwhelming, version 4 is a compelling reason to give the app another try. It’s strong evidence of the power of iteration and simplicity.

HeartWatch 4 is available on the App Store.


Arcade Highlights: Roundguard

Roundguard by Wonderbelly Games is a delightful mashup of genres that I highly recommend. Like a lot of our readers, I’ve been looking for distractions. It’s easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of bad news delivered to our devices, which feeds an unhealthy stress loop. One effective way I’ve broken that cycle is with video games, and the more absorbing and lighthearted, the better.

Roundguard fits the bill perfectly. The game has been universally described as a combination of Peggle and a dungeon-crawler RPG. That’s a strange mix to be sure, but it’s absolutely true, and it works.

The mechanics of Roundguard are simple. You shoot your character out of a medieval-style cannon from the top of the screen at pots, potions, mana, enemies, and other items. When you collide with something, you bounce off pinball-style until eventually you reach the bottom of the screen, which ends your turn. The game requires skill and planning, but also a heavy dose of good luck as your character careens off items in unexpected ways.

Colliding with enemies, including goblins, spiders, and skeletons, causes both of you to take damage. At times, enemies can also poison you or will shoot arrows at you as you bounce around, adding elements of strategy and timing to the mix. Along the way there will be XP to earn, items to collect, abilities to acquire, and difficult boss levels like any good dungeon crawler. Of course, when your health runs out and you die, you have to start from the beginning too.

There’s a lot of depth to Roundguard. Early on, it’s fun to play the game like you would Peggle or an idle tapper game. Along the way, though, Roundguard pulls you in deeper with helpful tips without being overbearing. Before long, I found myself managing my inventory of items and planning my approach to levels in a way that was reminiscent of classic RPGs. It’s a gradual, evolutionary process that keeps the game interesting and engaging.

Source: wonderbellygames.com.

Source: wonderbellygames.com.

I’ve been playing Roundguard on a variety of devices, including my iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPad mini, iPad Pro, and even the Apple TV, and it’s hard to say which I like best. The game features excellent controller support, which I’ve been using with my iPad Pro and Apple TV. Bigger screens add dimension to the fun artwork and sound effects of the game, which gives them the edge over my iPhone. Even so, Roundguard is a truly mobile game at heart, which makes it fun to play in short bursts on the iPhone, where the rich colors really stand out too. As a result, I expect to continue to play across all of my devices, which is seamless because my progress is synced between them.

Facing a Roundguard boss.

Facing a Roundguard boss.

Stepping back, Apple Arcade feels like it is starting to really come into its own with games like Roundguard. The service started out with an extensive catalog of excellent games, but many felt like they were modified free-to-play games or were adaptations of games previously released on other platforms.

In contrast, Roundguard was released on Arcade, Switch, Xbox One, and Steam simultaneously, and it shows. Instead of feeling like it’s been retrofitted for Apple’s platforms, Roundguard was clearly developed with touch in mind from the start. The pace of new releases on Arcade has slowed considerably since its launch, but if that means more games like Roundguard and the recently released Crossy Road Castle, that’s fine by me.

It’s always a good sign when I struggle to finish a game review because every time I launch it to test something, I get sidetracked and wind up playing longer than I intended. That has absolutely been the case with Roundguard. There’s a depth of gameplay, personality, and good humor here that has made it one of my favorite Arcade titles yet. If you subscribe to Apple Arcade, Roundguard is a fun distraction you don’t want to miss.


Things Debuts Modernized Apple Watch App

The Apple Watch has come a long way in five years, and apps are only starting to catch up. Many Watch apps received the majority of their development attention with the first or second versions of watchOS, before the days of LTE service, independence, and SwiftUI. Those early Watch apps were hamstrung by OS limitations, but in the last few years as the platform has evolved, most apps never adapted to what’s possible now.

Things 3.12, releasing today, exists for just that purpose: it addresses the task manager’s former Watch client shortcomings, making it a truly capable companion for Things on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

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NetNewsWire for iOS and iPadOS Review: The Perfect Complement to the App’s macOS Counterpart

NetNewsWire, which was relaunched on the Mac last August, is now available on iOS and iPadOS. Like its Mac counterpart, the iOS and iPadOS version is built on a foundation of fast syncing and sensible, bug-free design. As with any 1.0 app, there are additional features and refinements I hope to see in future releases. Unlike most 1.0 releases, though, you won’t find lots of rough edges and bugs. NetNewsWire is ready to be your primary RSS client today.

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abode iota Review: A Flexible HomeKit Security Solution

For years, I had a traditional security system in my home that cost hundreds of dollars each year for the monitoring service that went with it. I ditched that system about two years ago in hopes of finding a cheaper, smarter solution, but I’ve had mixed success.

The products I’ve tried in the past have been plagued by unreliable hardware and limited functionality. That’s why I was interested in trying abode’s HomeKit-compatible iota Security Kit when they offered to send me a test unit. After several weeks with the kit, which is available in the US and Canada, I’ve been impressed with both the reliability and flexibility of the hardware.

The iOS app doesn’t match the quality of abode’s hardware, but the issues with the app are mitigated by a solid web app and HomeKit compatibility that provide alternative ways to control the system. I’d certainly prefer a better iOS app. Still, even as is, the combination of abode’s hardware and the services offer a flexibility that other systems I’ve tried just can’t match.

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Unread 2 Review: The Elegant RSS Client Leaps into Modernity

Unread has always been one of my favorite RSS clients due to its clean, elegant, gesture-based design, but as competing apps have continued advancing at a steady pace, Unread’s development stalled leading up to its acquisition in 2017 by Golden Hill Software. Since that time, the app has received new life in the form of regular updates, but nothing on the level of what’s debuting today.

Unread 2, on one hand, brings a lot of change and propels the beloved RSS client into the present. It does this, however, with almost no design changes. Unread 2 looks and feels just like Unread 1, but with more power and a roster of modern features under the hood.

If Unread wasn’t the app for you before, then version 2 almost certainly won’t change your mind. But if you already appreciated the elegant RSS reader, Unread 2 provides a lot more reasons to love it.

There are so many big and small upgrades in Unread 2, for my review I’ve chosen to break its noteworthy improvements into three different categories: RSS, iPad, and OS features.

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Tot Review: Collect and Edit Bits of Text

Tot for iPhone, configured with SF Mono as a custom font.

Tot for iPhone, configured with SF Mono as a custom font.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been on a quest to discover the best iPhone and iPad apps to collect and edit various bits of text I come across every day. The result of this research was a collection in Issue 211 of our Club-exclusive newsletter MacStories Weekly, in which I rounded up the six most interesting plain text apps I’d found browsing the App Store. Members can check out the full collection in the newsletter archive, but, for context, here’s how I led the story:

I often find myself wanting to store random bits of plain text in a document, which I don’t want to save in Apple Notes or iA Writer where my more important notes and documents live. I just want a quick way to stash random, disposable pieces of text – phone numbers, addresses, URLs, etc. – that I will discard shortly after. Inevitably, my research led me to discover a bunch of apps I wasn’t familiar with.

[…]

For the purpose of this roundup, I have excluded apps like iA Writer, 1Writer, Drafts, and other, more complex text editors that go beyond the simple act of just saving text in a scratchpad. While it is possible to use those apps for that kind of task – and I believe plenty of folks use Drafts like that – I was effectively looking for iPhone and iPad alternatives to Apple’s TextEdit for Mac.

I use Apple Notes for general-purpose note-taking, but I’ve started moving some of my videogame-related documents and notes that require heavier formatting to Noto (which Ryan reviewed here). All my writing happens in iA Writer, where I do not want to store any other plain text (Markdown) content that won’t end up either on MacStories or Club MacStories. Lately, however, I’ve found myself searching for a tool that lets me jot down (or otherwise collect from Safari or Mail) random bits of text that are important for the moment, but ephemeral, and as such not a good fit for the richness of editing tools available in Notes or Noto. You may be familiar with this problem: maybe it’s a phone number you need to keep handy for a couple minutes, or a list of three items you need to buy at the supermarket, or a URL to a webpage you need to share with a colleague. To me, using Apple Notes or Drafts for this kind of plain text content expiring soon feels excessive; I just want a scratchpad that frees my brain of the responsibility to hold this text with as little friction as possible.

Enter Tot, the latest release from The Iconfactory. At a high level, Tot is a plain text editor that lets you swipe across seven documents from a single view; each document is represented by a colored dot, and the color is also used for the document’s background to make it visually stand out from the other six. You can switch between plain text and rich text editing modes with the tap of a button; there are word and character counts above the keyboard; when you’re done editing, you can share your text as .txt or .rtf documents with other apps. On a superficial analysis, Tot may not seem that different from the plethora of lightweight Markdown or rich text editors available on the App Store. What sets The Iconfactory’s latest app apart, however, is the combination of embracing constraints and adopting system technologies with a thoughtful, balanced design. Allow me to explain.

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Noto Review: Beautifully Modern and Versatile Note-Taking

Top-tier note-taking apps don’t come along very often. For years Evernote was king, then Apple Notes gained new life in 2015, and since that time apps like Bear and Agenda have made compelling entries to the notes market. Noto, a recent debut across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is the first new note-taker in two years that I’ve been thoroughly impressed by.

Noto reminds me a lot of Notion, but in the form of a native app rather than a web wrapper. It offers a clean, elegant design and a diverse array of tools so you can mix and match different content types inside each note. But it also integrates with key system technologies like drag and drop, multiwindow, iCloud sync, and more.

It’s these dual strengths of Noto’s modern integrations and versatile toolset that make the app compelling. A few minor drawbacks aside, it’s one of the most powerful and beautiful note-taking apps available on Apple’s platforms.

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