Better streaming audio and a unique puzzle game: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include an audio-streaming app with a slick interface, and a fun and addictive puzzle game that will test your math skills.

iPhone (Credit: CNET)

As most people know, the thing about buying anything in the computer and gadget world is that you run the risk of your item becoming obsolete after the next revision. People often complain about Apple in this way (first-generation iPhone, anyone?), but it's mostly true across the board: with advances in technology coming so rapidly these days, the neat gadget you got this year will probably be mainstream by next year. It's just the nature of the tech business.

Even though I was armed with knowledge of the "early adopter" phenomenon well before I bought my iPad, it still hurt to read rumors over at AppleInsider saying a refresh of the iPad complete with a front-facing camera might be coming sooner rather than later. Sure, I have the ability to use FaceTime on my iPhone 4, but all that screen real estate is certainly going to make video calls better on the iPad. Much better.

So, here's your chance, readers! Go ahead and gloat--you made the right choice and waited. You didn't fall prey to the keynote for the "magical" device and now you're in the perfect position to get a better version. Congratulations! Now, try not to be too hard on me.

This week's apps include an streaming-audio app with a slick interface, and a fun and addictive puzzle game that will test your math skills.

Spark Radio

Once tuned in to a station, Spark Radio displays the station name along with animated Equalizer graphics.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Spark Radio lets you stream more than 24,000 radio stations from around the globe to your iPhone, and it comes with some extra features that make it a worthy choice as your most-used streaming app. Like many streaming radio apps, Spark Radio lets you swipe to scroll through stations, but you also can sort music by genre, local stations in your area, sportscasts and sports talk, or news and talk radio. With such a large pool of streams to explore, the list for each category gives you an enormous number of choices. The sound quality and reception is exceptional for most stations, and we found in our testing that some streams even survive (what we know are) low-connectivity areas.

Spark Radio is not just a great streaming-audio app, though. It also offers excellent stream management options so you can find the audio streams you want quickly, return to streams you already discovered, and save the best ones to your favorites for easy access. Once you're tuned into a station, Spark Radio also offers its own visualizer--a strange, but surprisingly enjoyable option, particularly if your iPhone sits in a cradle on your desktop. You can even switch between several different visualizer styles for when you really want to zone out on your music. To top off all the extra unique features, Spark Radio has an enormous number of settings you can play around with to customize your listening experience exactly to your specs.

Spark Radio is new to iPhone 4 but has been a great way to stream audio on your iPad for some time. With more than 24,000 streams from around the world, a built-in visualizer, community features (with a quick sign-up) that let you share and discover streams, and a slick and customizable interface, Spark Radio is tough to beat. Anyone looking for a well-made streaming-audio app should definitely check out Spark Radio. You can also get Spark Radio for iPad.

Slice It

Once you've cleared a level, Slice It shows you how well you did making your pieces equal.

(Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Slice It is a unique and challenging puzzle game that truly makes you think as you slice geometric shapes into smaller pieces based on each level's requirements. When I first picked up this game, I figured it would be a knock-off of popular slicing game Fruit Ninja; I couldn't have been more wrong. With Slice It, your geometry skills are put to the test, with levels often challenging you to slice polygons into equal pieces in ways that are not immediately obvious. As a basic example of gameplay, an early level challenges you to cut a square into four pieces requiring that you create one vertical cut and one horizontal cut in the shape of a plus sign. You start by placing one finger on the beginning of the cut, and the other at the end, and you can move the vertices (before letting go) to adjust your cut. The levels become more challenging as you're given complex shapes with a required amount of both cuts and resulting pieces in order to complete a level.

The interface for Slice It has a sketchy, draft-table-like feel with hand-drawn interface elements that make it feel quirky and childlike, though the game is anything but. With extremely challenging levels, it is very helpful that Slice It offers a point-based hint system; earn enough points and you can "buy" hints that show you how to make the first cut on difficult levels. My only issue with this game is the somewhat shoddy English in menus and hints, sometimes resulting in level tips that don't really make sense. Fortunately, I was able to decipher what the developer was trying to say, but it would definitely help to have someone go through and edit for clarity.

Overall, Slice It is an excellent puzzle game for the iPhone that's plenty challenging, often resulting in a feeling of accomplishment at the end of particularly difficult levels. With three chapters of 20 levels each and two more chapters promised in coming updates, Slice It should keep any puzzle lover busy for a long time. For an even better experience, check out Slice It for iPad.

What's your favorite iPhone app? How do you feel about the latest iPad rumor? Are there any first-gen iPad owners feeling cheated? Do you use a better streaming-audio program than Spark Radio? What do you think of Slice It? Let me know in the comments!

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