Wake up refreshed and kill zombies with plants: iPhone apps of the week

This week's apps include an alarm clock app that wakes you at just the right time and a tower defense game where you use plant units to defend against shambling undead.


Before we get to the apps today, I have a couple of news items to tell you about. First, there is a sale right now for the game I wrote about in last week's post, Space Miner: Space Ore Bust (was $4.99; now $1.99). I really can't recommend this game enough (I'm still playing whenever I get a chance), so if you were waiting for the price to come down, now is the time to pull the trigger.

Also, a new Apple patent application, reported by AppleInsider, suggests that a future handheld device will have a forward-facing camera. Whether it's planned for a later version of the iPad, or one of the new features on Apple's next iPhone in June, a forward facing camera might mean you will be able to make and receive video calls. In the diagram, you can also see a different treatment for what is traditionally the Home button on iPhone handsets that appears to be a nod to older iPod controls. Though we can't put too much stock in rumors and patent applications, this diagram certainly adds fuel to the ever-growing Apple rumor fire. Hopefully, as we get closer to the next iPhone launch, more new features will be unveiled.

This week's apps include an alarm clock app that wakes you at just the right time and a tower defense game where you use plant units to defend against shambling undead.

Sleep Cycle alarm clock
The app suggests where you should place the iPhone, but will it really stay there? (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Sleep Cycle alarm clock (99 cents) claims to use your natural sleep patterns to wake you up during your lightest sleep phase, leaving you feeling more rested. The app requires that you sleep with your iPhone face down on your mattress so that it can detect your movements. When it gets within 30 minutes of your designated wake-up time, the Sleep Cycle analyzes your movements to predict the precise moment you should be woken. The app comes with instructions for use, information about sleep patterns, and an alarm clock (with several relaxing alarm tones) you can set for your preferred wake-up time. With this latest version, you also get a detailed graph of your sleep patterns through the night that you can then compare with other nights. Obviously, you'll want to have your iPhone attached to the charger to ensure your iPhone won't run out of charge before the alarm goes off.

Sleep Cycle alarm clock is certainly an interesting concept, but I've only been able to try it once, and I'm not yet convinced it works as advertised. My main problem is figuring out where to place the iPhone so I don't knock it off my bed in the middle of the night. In my first night with Sleep Cycle, the iPhone managed to stay on my bed, but I wonder just how reliable it will be. I hope some of you will try the app and report back in the comments so we can all compare notes on how effective Sleep Cycle alarm clock really is.

Plants Vs. Zombies
Choose your plants wisely because your garden will fill up quickly. (Credit: Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET)

Plants vs. Zombies ($2.99) is a tower defense game that first gained popularity on Mac and Windows machines, and was just released for the iPhone. In this game, you're charged with defending your house from an onslaught of zombies by planting defensive plants to eliminate the undead before they reach your house. There are 49 different defensive plants to choose from and 26 different types of zombies. Like many tower defense games, you'll have units that shoot projectiles, units that slow the advance of enemies, and specific units that are more effective against certain types of enemies. To plant (or buy) new units, you'll need to collect sunlight by tapping your finger on falling sun animations and planting sunflowers which generate sunlight on their own. You'll also find coins while killing zombies that you can spend on upgrades supplied by your crazy neighbor. The game offers two game modes: Adventure mode, which serves as a tutorial game to familiarize yourself with the many plant units, and a quick play mode you'll need to unlock by playing through the Adventure mode.

Plants vs. Zombies is quickly becoming one of my favorite tower defense games just with the enormous amount of possible units you can use to defend your house. The different zombie types also add further challenge, with some that vault over your obstacles, for example, and others that block your shots for a certain amount of time before you can inflict any real damage. The graphics are not the most complex you'll find on the iPhone, but the cartoon-like zombies and cute but deadly plants make the game both charming and extremely fun to play. There are also minigames within Adventure mode that will have you bowling objects to take out incoming zombies and others that challenge you to use randomized plants as they come off a conveyor belt. Overall, with the amazing amount of possible units and several different strategies you'll need to learn to fight different zombie types, Plants vs. Zombies is an excellent addition to your gaming app collection. If you're a tower defense fan or just want a time-waster with a lot of variation, this game is a great choice.

What's your favorite iPhone app? Do you think the forward facing camera will appear on the next gen iPhones? What's your experience with the Sleep Cycle alarm clock? What do you think of Plants vs. Zombies? Let me know in the comments!

About Jason Parker

Jason Parker has been at CNET for more than 13 years. He is the Senior Editor in charge iOS software and has become an expert reviewer of the software that runs on each new Apple device. He now spends most of his time covering Apple iOS releases and third-party apps.