SimCity BuildIt

SimCity BuildIt is the mobile version of the much-maligned, relaunched version of SimCity from 2013. It’s probably a lot simpler than the PC version (which I avoided due to the bad reviews) – and put simply, it works great as a casual, mobile game.

BuildIt combines the classic SimCity with the same timer-led resource management gameplay found in other mobile games like The Simpsons: Tapped Out. Here though, it fits in nicely rather than be a source of frustration. Classic SimCity was about balancing the mix of residential zones with commercial and industrial; in BuildIt, you don’t need to worry about this as much, just on making sure you have the resources needed to grow your city. Resources take time to craft, but in the original games this is the same time you would have spent waiting for zones to become occupied/grow and generate tax revenue to buy other zones.

What’s interesting is that you can’t “start over” at any point – you get one city, and it’s your job to manage it until the End Times. There are no real resource constraints, and no penalties for demolishing everything if you feel like a change, beyond the loss of time. In-game cash is the only non-time-limited resource, but is only used for purchasing certain speciality buildings and upgrades (and is constantly topped-up by growing your population). Everything else happens through crafting and/or combining materials. If you want, you can spend a second type of cash to speed things along (which of course can be topped up via IAP or earning achievements).

SimCity BuildIt upgrade fireworks

Combining this resource system with the ability to easily move buildings around if you want works very well for the game — players are free to explore various strategies to find the optimal way to layout and run their cities, limited only by how much time they want to put into it. This reduces a lot of the stress found in the original SimCity games, where you were constantly fighting against resources and the needs of the population, trying to stop everything from falling apart as poor choices in the early game came back to bite you, with no “do-over” other than starting a new city. With BuildIt, these elements do exist, but to a much lesser degree. Citizens want certain utilities in your city, and there is a juggle of the “area of effect” of certain buildings1 – but in the course of several hours days, I’ve never reached a point where I wanted to drop a nuke on my city.

I mentioned in a previous post that BuildIt is probably my favourite game on iOS at the moment. Even though the timers do get in the way a little, they’re less restrictive than in Tapped Out or similar, and the endless nature of the game gives it a very high replayability factor. You can while away an hour at a time in BuildIt; you can’t do that in Tapped Out.

  1. Both good — happiness from parks, protection by emergency services, and bad — pollution from factories, power plants, or sewage works, for example. 

Why doesn't the new Flickr app do automated

Why doesn’t the new Flickr app do automated background uploads like Google+ or Dropbox? Seems like it would be an obvious way to increase usage by reducing friction. Keep them private until I decide to share them, but do the boring bit for me. Add in some sort of “highlights” feature to surface the best of the batch and it would be a winner.

A Long, Rambling, Post on Switching My Smartphone

TLDR; I’ve switched from an iPhone 5 to a Google Nexus 4.

OK, so I’m behind on the times a bit. The Google Nexus 4 has been out for several months, and I’d paid it no heed. I’ve been chugging along with my bought-at-launch iPhone 5 in that time, and barely paid the Nexus any thought. I read the reviews, and concluded it was a great Android phone, but I had no wish to rush out and buy one.

Then something strange happened.

I’m not sure why, but I got disenchanted with my iPhone. I never had that with my 4S, or 3G/3GS, despite the 5 being – in every way – better than all of them. Once that feeling settled in all the little niggles started to grate1. The easily chipped and scratched aluminium casing (as gorgeous as it is to look at); the way the sharper edges of the back felt in my hand; the random network-stack drop-outs; the hoops you sometimes need to jump through to share files/data from one app to the next; the keyboard that seemed to miss random presses, and still took me longer to type on than I could on my 4S (where I could at times type whole messages without looking at the screen).

I caught myself checking out other phones in the stores. Clearly it was time for the iPhone and I to “take a break”.

I looked at Windows Phones, but decided there wasn’t enough there to make it last. Blackberry? Err, no. That left Android.

I have a history with Android. I bought the HTC Desire HD on pre-order, as it had been loudly proclaimed “King of the Hill” at the time. Before it was even in my hands its crown usurped by (I think) the Galaxy S. We had some fun times, but I could never get along with the Sense UI. I rooted and flashed the phone, trying ROM after ROM. The experience was akin to installing Linux on an early Centrino laptop (anyone who tried it, back in c.2002-2003 will know what I mean) – where a feature worked, it worked very well… but only if you could live with the unsupported stuff. In the end, as much as I enjoyed parts of Android, I ended back in the warm embrace of iPhone.

Anyway, as I was saying, Android seemed the obvious choice, but which phone? I immediately gave up any notion of trying to get a phone that would be top of the specs pile for more than a few weeks2. I also ruled out those ridiculous “Phablets” like the Galaxy Note 2. The recent HTC phones look brilliant, but they’re still packing Sense. Sony’s Xperia line look distinct, but seemed to come with another GUI skin and a load of unneeded apps. Samsung… well I’ve never had a good experience with Samsung’s phone build quality, and they have the TouchWiz skin3… lets just say I ruled them out quickly. There’s the also-rans, but I was keen to get a phone that would get at least a few regular OS updates in its time.

I think I’d initially dismissed the Nexus because there was nowhere locally I could find one to try it out. Eventually I found somewhere with a display model, but I still couldn’t test it because the security system used by the store blocked most of the screen. In the end (after a couple of weeks mulling it over) I went ahead and ordered one through the Play store anyway4. A little over 24h later and the phone arrived.

First impressions were good. The unboxing experience was nice, and the first switch-on and setup was very fast. Within a few minutes my phone was syncing all of my Google services. If you use Google apps, then the experience is very, very smooth – everything “just works”. Contacts, Calendars, GMail, Google+, Picassa, YouTube, Music… all setup with just one login during start-up. I had some data issues with contacts and calendars, due to the way I had my iPhone setup, but that’s the subject of another post.

Of all the apps I regularly used on my iPhone (a decreasing amount recently), the only one I haven’t don’t have is Everpix, but I can keep using that one on my iPad Mini. Everything else either had an Android version – even my banking apps5 – or a suitably good equivalent (Falcon Pro instead of Tweetbot, for example).

Android itself has come a long, long way since I last used it. Jelly Bean is amazingly well polished, and the experience is very smooth. Coming from an iPhone, things do take a while to adjust to. I’ve found myself missing notifications on the lock screen, and application badges as indicators of which app just beeped at me. This is something I’ll get used to I guess.

If I can get round to it I’ll post a more comprehensive look at the Nexus 4, but for now I’ve not had it long enough to form more than first impressions. What I will definitely write-up is some of the experiences of moving my data from iOS/iCloud into Android/Google.

  1. These are all anecdotal, and in no way intended to imply they are common issues, or even that they’re not “all in my head”
  2. I think by now, in the age of quad-core CPUs and multi-GB RAM that Smartphone specs are good enough for most tasks they need to do.
  3. What is it with Android OEMs and custom GUI skins?
  4. I recommend going this route. Despite the £10 delivery charge, it’s at least £150 cheaper than buying at a retail store.
  5. I wasn’t too impressed by one of them insisting I needed to install anti-virus on my mobile…

MG Siegler: Sent From My iPad

MG Siegler has – much like myself – converted to using the iPad full time as his mobile workstation:

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a quick note signaling my intent to predominantly use my iPad as my main computer when I travel going forward. What started as a successful two-day experiment led to a long weekend away last week. That went well enough that I’m confident in my choice. The iPad is my new road machine.

MG went for the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, which was my second-choice after the Apple Wireless Keyboard. He believes Apple will eventually release their own “keyboard in a cover” accessory, citing the Microsoft Surface as a potential reason/influence. I don’t think Apple will release their own accessory – for one, it’d be a bit “me too”, with several options available on the market for quite some time (not to mention following in the wake of the Surface announcement); secondly, as one of the most-touted features of the Surface, I’m pretty sure Microsoft would see their “Smart” keyboard cover falling under the “don’t copy” patent licensing agreement held between the two companies.

Everything Wrong with the Facebook Mobile App, in One Picture*

screenshot of the facebook mobile app, highlighting the wasted space and wrong priorities

screenshot of the facebook mobile app, highlighting the wasted space and wrong priorities

I don’t know about you, but if I’m checking Facebook on my iPhone, my priorities are one of two actions: add something new, or see the latest from my friends. So it baffles me that they would devote so much space at the top of the main view to friend suggestions. That feature is not important to 99% of mobile users, 99% of the time (yes, numbers plucked out of thin air… so sue me). By all means include the friend suggestion feature, but put it in the friends view.

[*] Yes, the image is slightly contrived by showing the screen in landscape orientation, but not much. I see one extra status update if in portrait view.