GRave Defense HD – Tower Defense Game for Android

I like tower defense games a lot, but find that most of the popular ones available for Android or iOS are largely unplayable (I love Plants vs. Zombies on my PC and Xbox…on my Android, not so much). GRave Defense HD is the first mobile tower defense game I’ve played that actually does a decent job of using the available screen space so the game doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Placing and upgrading defenses is incredibly intuitive, and the game gets very challenging as the levels progress without feeling like it’s trying to cram too much onto a 4″ screen.

URLy – URL Sharer for Android

Like a lot of people, I use my phone to share links over Twitter, email, SMS, etc. I have my own YOURLs-based link shortener running on this server, but typically I just use whatever built in shortener the app I’m running uses. This finally annoyed me to the point where I decided to see if there was an easy way to route around the bit.lys of the world.

Enter free Android app URLy. URLy bills itself as a “multi-purpose URL sharer” and is a very slick way to share links, photos, etc. to literally dozens of social networking sites, email, etc. But for my purposes its main advantage is that among the 40 or so URL shorteners it lets users choose from, it throws in support for custom YOURLs installations.

All I had to do was go into the settings, enter the URL for my YOURLs API script and the signature token and it just worked. URLy will let you assign a custom short link to any URL, and has more configuration options than you can shake a stick at. (If every app on Android were this high quality …)


backTrack Personal Travel Log for Android

I used to carry a GPS logger to keep track of where I’d been, but that tended to be expensive when I’d lose or run over the loggers, and the data wasn’t necessarily in a format where I could easily use it. There are GPS loggers for Android, but none of them worked very well for my purposes, so I stopped tracking my location for awhile.

A few weeks ago, however, I discovered backTrack Personal Travel Log for Android. backTrack uses GPS and WiFi access points to figure out where your phone is, and then gives you the option to log that information to Google Calendar. What is nice — and occasionally frustrating — is that backTrack only logs places you’ve visited for at least 5 minutes (this is a variable that the user can set, but 5 minutes is the fewest minutes it offers).

So, backTrack does not give me a record of my 10 minute drive to work. What it does do, however, is once I’ve been in my office for more than 5 minutes, it notes that. Once it detects I’ve left my office, it then creates an entry in my Google calendar showing an appointment spanning the time from when I arrived to when I left. It allows me to configure templates for place, so I can tell it if it detects my home WiFi, that place should be called “Home” in the information it writes to my Google Calendar.

The app is free an overall works very well. Some reviews complain about issues with accuracy, but so far I haven’t notice any issues with that. Of course a bigger issue is the potential misuse of such location data, especially once it is logged in Google Calendar. For me, the potential drawbacks are more than offset by the benefits, but your mileage may vary.

SMS Backup and Save MMS for Android

I put the unlimited texting plan on my phone to very good use, but texting wouldn’t be nearly as useful if it weren’t for SMS Backup and Save MMS.

SMS Backup automatically copies all of your incoming and outgoing text messages to your Gmail account. It can add a Gmail label to them — I use the very creative ‘SMS’ default label. And that’s it. Its nice, and in my case, very helpful to have the tens of thousands of texts I’ve sent and receive indexed and searchable from within Gmail.

Save MMS takes care of the one texting feature that SMS Backup doesn’t handle — photos, etc. sent via MMS. Save MMS will show you all the photos and other multimedia attachments that have been sent to you, and let you save them to the phone’s SD card.

Not very sexy, but extremely helpful and indispensable applications.

Android and VPNs

Over the past 6 months or so I’ve gotten to the point with my Android phone that I have started to use it for a lot of things I used to do only on my laptop. I typically run through about 3 gb of bandwidth a month, with 2/3rds of that being on public and semi-public wifi networks.

Since I’d prefer not to be spied on, I decided to go ahead and start VPN-ing whenever I’m connected to a wifi network I don’t own (which I’ve been doing for a couple years now on my laptop).

After doing a bit of research online, I signed up for a trial account at StrongVPN. And immediately ran into problems. From my experience, the PPTP feature in Android simply doesn’t work. It didn’t work on my Nexus One and doesn’t work on my TMobile G2, and it doesn’t work with either StrongVPN or another VPN service I use for my laptop.

I was able to get L2TP to work, however, using IPSec pre-shared key and keeping the L2TP secret disabled.

After sorting through that, the system has worked flawlessly. Android is smart enough to display a nice key symbol in the status bar so I can quickly verify that I am connected to the VPN as I am web surfing.

I set StrongVPN to use one it New York servers, and while I haven’t done any bandwidth testing to see what the speed hit is, that’s because whatever it is is so low that I don’t notice it in my day to day use of the network. I signed up for a 3-month subscription for $36.

Android really needs to add the ability to create a widget of a particular VPN network, but in the meantime VPN Show is a free app that will get you¬†VPN settings screen in one click where you can select from the networks you’ve configured.