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We're getting close. The Big Guy is putting some last minute touches on the Naughty & Nice list, Dasher and Dancer are going through their checklists, the elves are grumbling about double shifts, and kids everywhere are trying desperately to behave. At least, some of them are. But how do we know what's going on up North? And what can we do to track the travels of that miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer?
Of course, no one's tracking Santa right this very minute and there isn't anything to track anyway, not until December 24th. So when you fire up the free NORAD Tracks Santa from Visionbox, Inc., you're taken to a countdown timer. This ticks down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Santa climbs aboard his sleigh and takes off.
Not much to see here
Across the bottom of the app are boring buttons about Settings to turn off the holiday snow falling through the app and to contact the NORAD trackers and all about NORAD. Ho hum. Below the countdown timer though are two links, one to Track Santa and the other to play a built in game Elf Toss.
They're tricky to toss, these elves
Because until Santa's drop date, these apps don't have much to do other than count down the time. So we need something to distract us from how long we have to wait until the toys arrive. Tap on Track Santa and you get told to come back later. You can also watch videos from last year or go back to the main screen. Elf Toss is an 8-level game where you slide an elf on a sled down a long candy cane and try to get him to land in Santa's sleigh. It's entertaining for about 30 seconds, but at least that's half a minute closer to Christmas.
RD Productions has solved the problem of what to do until Santa begins his long trip to your house by packing in a few more features to their Santa Tracker ™. Open the app and we see the right jolly old elf himself as snow falls all around him. A direction pole guides you through the app. Want to see their countdown? Tap the sign, though this clock counts down until Christmas itself, so it'll look a little longer than NORAD's.
OMG OMG WE CAN HARDLY WAIT!!!
Below that the Naughty or Nice scanner will scan your fingerprint to find out just how good you've been. Unfortunately this part seems broken, as we know we were very nice this year but Santa keeps saying "naughty." Sightings shows thumbnails of Santa caught in action shots like surfing and riding in parades.
Santa on a surfboard!
The Letter sign lets you write a quick note to Santa explaining why the Naughty scanner needs some work, while Picture lets you add your face to the scene. Lastly, Rudolph takes you to a page where if you tap the top of the North Pole, you can see that most famous reindeer schnoz of all glow.
Nothing to see here...yet
Back on the home page, the big Tracker button in the app's center is where you'll go come Christmas Eve. This brings us to a map of the world. A red line slides back and forth across the map. If you tap Track, it tells you to come back December 24th. Bummer.
Seeing that same problem, Onteca's Santa Tracker in iPhone and iPad flavors opts for the same route of keeping you entertained until the big day. Using a similar north pole based navigation, Santa Tracker has eight signs on the pole directing you to other parts of the app.
Where do we go from here?
Advent Calendar gives you 25 buttons to push. Press one and see photos of Santa caught by users all around the world, but you can only see the pictures up to the current day. Countdown also has Christmas as the final date, and includes a big red number telling your kids how many more times they have to go to sleep (naps not included). Sightings has up to date pictures similar to what you'll find under the Advent Calendar.
Santa 2.0 is blogging up a storm
Like all good social media savvy institutions, Santa is also blogging up a storm, keeping us in the loop of what he's got going on. Good on Onteca for securing publishing rights to these behind-the-scenes accounts. They've also got the latest news of shipments heading north, information on elves, and more. And if you want to send Santa an email, they've got you covered there too.
Chase view lets you follow Santa
Where Onteca gets their info is certainly more insider-y than RD Productions because under Where is Santa? they catch St. Nick slipping out for supplies and a little R&R for breaks from the hectic schedule. This opens up a 3D globe view and you can even tap the globe to chase along Santa's path to see a bit more what his travel is like. We can't wait to follow along come Christmas Eve!
Also splitting up your tracking app into iPhone flavors and iPad jumbos comes Talus Media LLC's Santa Tracker 2011s. A consensus is building against NORAD's Christmas Eve countdown, as these apps also use Christmas day as their go-to deadline.
Where he is and countdown in one
Open the app and you are presented with a globe showing Santa's current location (the North Pole, until he splits) and your own location (having allowed the app to use Location Services to pin you down). Drag your finger over the 3D globe and see the view from different angles -- something we're sure will be much more fun on December 24th.
Across the apps bottom are five buttons. Track is the home page where you land upon opening the app. Extras lets you make some in-app purchases of jokes, recipes, crafts, and texts from Santa directly to your child. Parents will need to configure this, as there are many children from all over the world wanting to text the big guy, so be sure to go into the Settings app to ensure your messages are received and replied to accurately.
Settings makes sure you're set up right
The List button shows you a sampling of children who've made the cut in with the other Nice ones, but tap Naughty and you might just see your name there (our editors oddly enough dominate this category). The News Feed button gets you other news stories direct from up North, mostly inter-office communications, but it's another fascinating peek behind the scenes.
We bet you know someone on this list
Message is the best part, as you can ask some FAQs like what he does all summer, but if your parents have made sure your settings are correct, you can even receive personal messages from Santa himself. We're sure even seeing your name on the Nice list won't satisfy some customers, so kids can find out just how Santa knows if they're really, truly nice after all. Double check to make sure Santa knows what you want too! It never hurts to have a direct line with the Claus.
We don't want to come off as Grinches here, but NORAD has a great price but little else to offer eager kids. Sure, they've got the scoop directly from the Air Force's tracking and we'll be checking them out this Saturday. And that's the rub of Santa Tracker apps. You don't know how good their tabs are on that sleigh until it's too late for a review to do you any good. We'll reserve judgment on the tracking or update this review as time and necessity permits.
But until the big day, we'd go with Santa Tracker 2011. Sure it's two separate purchases and the extras are in-app, but how can you put a price on texting Santa directly and having him respond to you personally? And the relief of knowing you're on the Nice list is incomparable, as is the early warning to shape up if you find yourself populating the Naughty list. Santa Tracker ™ is certainly slick and entertaining and definitely has some decent background info, so it's not a bad choice, though we still think that fingerprint scanner needs a bug fix update.