Review: Enjoy slick Web apps on your desktop with Cubiez
At a Glance
Web apps are great when you're on your PC, but they require a browser. Mobile apps, on the other hand, require nothing but a smartphone, but are not very convenient to use while working on your computer. So why choose? A new platform called Cubiez (currently in public beta) offers the best of both worlds: Light and responsive apps that feel almost like mobile ones, don't require a browse, and run on your computer. Very similar to the better-known Pokki, Cubiez is an online marketplace for apps through which you install and then run a variety of apps.
Cubiez is fairly new in its field, and therefore doesn't offer many apps yet. While its biggest rival Pokki includes hundreds of different apps, Cubiez has only a few dozen at the moment. There's no way to view Cubiez apps online, but you can check them all out by installing Cubiez and clicking on its taskbar icon. You can look at all available apps, only new apps, or apps you have installed. There is no way to view apps by category, but since not many apps are available, this doesn't make much of a difference.
Cubiez sits on the leftmost side of your taskbar—right next to the Start button (if you still have one)—and each app you install adds an icon on the taskbar as well. This is nice at first, but when you've installed seven apps, it starts to get crowded, and there's no way to put Cubiez to sleep or collapse all the icons into one. Installing apps is a breeze: After choosing an app from the marketplace and clicking the install button, you can't even count to five before the app is installed and available for use. Cubiez and its apps are all highly responsive, and there were no unexplained lags, sluggishness or unresponsiveness in any that I've tried.
Of all the apps Cubiez offers, about half are games. Among these, you'll find some big names such as Kingdom Rush, Little Alchemy, and Plants vs. Zombies, some classics such as Pacman, and some super-addictive ones such as Unicorn Robot Attack. Aside from games, you'll find useful apps such as Calculator, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Search, NewsHub (an RSS reader), and Weather. If you're looking for a specific app, you can use the search box to find it quickly, but note that search strings are case sensitive, so searching for "facebook" will yield no results. The apps all run in a small window that can be moved around the screen, but cannot be resized.
Looking closely at some of the apps, I found that while they're all generally good, some are still somewhat lacking in features. The Facebook app, for example, is a great take on a Facebook client, with a News Feed, birthdays and events calendar, a photos tab, an inbox, and a notification area. Some actions, such as comments and likes, can be done straight from the app, while others, such as writing a message or viewing a friend's profile, send you to your browser. The app even includes badge and pop-up notifications, but it doesn't manage to refresh properly, and keeps showing old updates when there are in fact newer ones to be seen. The Weather app can only show one location at a time and doesn't let you save locations, and the RSS reader includes a tiny number of publications, which, combined with an inaccurate search feature, forces you to enter the exact feed URL for almost any website you want to add.
These problems are in the minority, though, and most of the Cubiez apps are a joy to use. The games, especially, are a very nice combination between Web-based games, mobile games, and PC games, and literally give you the best of all worlds: instant, browser-less gaming. But don't let the browser-less apps fool you: All Cubiez apps, even games, require an Internet connection in order to work, and when one isn't available, most will not return any error, but will simply fail to load.
Considering its beta status, Cubiez is a very impressive take on the fairly new world of HTML5 desktop apps, and is open to developers who want to add apps of their own. It's still missing too many big names to be really useful, but more apps, new features, and some polishing, will surely turn it into something we would all want to have on our computer—even quicker access to productivity tools, information, social networks, and entertainment.
Note: By default, Cubiez's installer also includes a browser add-on called Cubiez Shopping Buddy. Despite the unfortunate name, this is a legitimate shopping add-on, and is one of the company's revenue streams. You can easily opt out of installing it. If you choose to install it and then change your mind, uninstall it through the control panel. The Download button on the Product Information page takes you to the vendor's site, where you can download the latest version of the software.