CTR Weekly - July 30, 2014
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Three Noteworthy Apps This Week, plus ScratchJr for iPad Launches Today

We have treats for each age group this week, starting with Drive About: Number Neighborhood, a new $2.99 app from Artgig Studio. Apps of this quality, being sold at just $3, represent the single biggest threat to the traditional textbook industry, as well as specialized edu-hardware makers like Amplify, Leapfrog and VTech. 

Next, we were thrilled to test World Landmarks Explorer, which represents a slightly new direction for Peapod Labs. Pairing a carefully curated photo library of world landmarks with Google Maps is a brilliant idea. 

Thomas Was Alone was a featured title in iTunes, so we decided to have a look. We agree with Apple. This app is worth the download.  It is proof that good narrative trumps expensive design, and that the best character development happens inside your head.  It is a required download for any serious game designer. Or, at the very least, have a look at our preview video. 

Finally, the long, long awaited ScratchJr for iPad is here! Perhaps one of the most important iPad apps ever created is being released today. It's free, because you already paid for it -- It's the grant funded ScratchJr. I've already started my testing but I want to know what you think. Please download a copy and leave a comment; either on iTunes directly, or on CTREX or Facebook. Some questions:
  • It's designed for children aged 5 to 7 years of age. Do you see it working with this age?
  • How does it compare with Tynker?
  • How does it compare with Hopscotch?
  • Any strengths and weaknesses? 
Watch for complete notes in your August CTR (coming via email on Friday).

YOUNGER CHILDREN
Drive About: Number Neighborhood
, Artgig Studio, ($2.99 on iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch (iOS 5.1.1 or later) ), for ages 3-5. 

Why we like it: The perfect "back to school" app for any preschooler headed for Kindergarten, this set of nine mini-games lets children drive, fly and sail through Number Neighborhood, discovering school readiness skills. This is an excellent, no-fail download. 

Need to know: The games have no ending, and the journey never ends, so you find yourself thinking "when does this end?" despite having a board-game-like map. You can toggle the sound on/off in the parent's menu.

ELEMENTARY
World Landmarks Explorer
, Peapod Labs, ($2.99 on iPad (75 MB), for ages 4-up. 

Why we like it: Here's a good way to bring geography to life. Good for all ages -- both children and adults, this 23rd title from Chicago-based Peapod Labs contains the same familiar swipe-and-explore navigation you've seen in the ABC Explorer apps. But there's a new twist -- satellite views of 112 world landmarks from 53 countries by way of Google Maps. When combined with YouTube videos and 336 jaw droppingly clear photos, this app puts a lot of "wow" at your fingertips. 

Need to know: No reading is required which is both a strength and a weakness. The addition of short paragraphs would increase the language enrichment value of this app. We also wanted a way to turn off the looping background music. 

Video review: http://youtu.be/BNdJnbm2Yu4

UPPER ELEMENTARY - MIDDLE SCHOOL
Thomas Was Alone
, Bossa Nova Studios, ($5.99 on iPad, Android, iPhone), for ages 10-up. 

Why we like it: Here's a game that is proof that interactive design and narrative trumps high budget graphics. Ideal for an older child in need of a challenge, this one player spatial/problem solving game asks you to move a small colored square (named Thomas) through a series of 100 maze-like levels that range from simple to very complex. Progress is saved and it is easy to jump from one level to the next.

Need to know: There are no hints so children will get frustrated at some point, despite the excellent leveling. Note that the story line has some mild swearing, such as "Think damn it."  

Video preview: http://youtu.be/gR1EJKK87AE

Have you used these products? Did you notice inaccurate information? Leave a comment at the CTREX (Children's Technology Review Exchange) database.

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