Chomp for Android is a new release from Chomp, a company's whose search engine for iPhone apps launched last year. Available as both an online search engine and downloadable application, Chomp offers an attractive user interface for finding new Android applications which improves on the official Android Market application in many ways.
Unfortunately, where the service's search algorithm breaks down is in one of the most important aspects: the nature of what it indexes and how it ranks its results. This is why a search for "fitness" yields dozens of results but a search for "navigation" returns nothing.
Pros: Chomp Looks Beautiful, is Easy to Use
In terms of sheer design, Chomp is the clear winner when compared with the Android Market, in our subjective opinion. Within the Chomp for Android app, search results are displayed as cards you flip through, swiping from side-to-side with your finger. Below the results are related tags which will take you to a new page of results for similar titles. Also on each search result card is an image of the app, a "Get It" button, a truncated item description, a link to read more and a chart showing Chomp's user ratings for that particular app. Buttons at the top of the search results let you quickly narrow down the items with filters for showing "paid" or "free" apps and "games" or "not games."
Chomp also offers app suggestions as you type. For example, start typing "Puzzle" and you'll be directed not only to categories and tags like "puzzle games" and "jigsaw puzzle," but also to specific titles like "Kids Shape Puzzle Lite" and "Puzzle Blox Arcarde!" The order of these items' listing is based on Chomp's relevance algorithm.
Con: A Mixed Set of Results
Unfortunately for Chomp, its actual search results are a mixed bag within its Android application. At first, it seemed as if Chomp was only indexing application titles and not descriptions, which is why a search for "navigation" returned zero results in Chomp - perhaps the navigation apps out there didn't include "navigation" in the title? But a comparative search on the official Market proved that theory incorrect. On the first page of the Android Market's search results was a listing for "Waze: Community GPS Navigation."
Chomp says that, actually, its algorithm returns results for apps based on what they do - that is, their topic, description, etc., in addition to the title. It also notes that a "search by developer" function is underway.
A second test search for "fitness" (inspired by the screenshot on the Chomp's Android Market listing page) returned dozens of results, but some of those were odd inclusions. For example, the fifth result was "Lightning Bug - Sleep," an ambient noise generator that helps you relax and fall asleep. It may be vaguely health-related, but sleeping is not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking "fitness." Similar white noise applications followed in subsequent results.
Meanwhile, the same search on the Android Market returns results where first page listings are all actually related to working out, training, bodybuilding and diet/exercise tracking. No "sleep aid" apps to be found. In our opinion, Google's algorithm did a better job here and in several other test searches we tried.
On the flip side, though, the blog Android Police noted that a search for "mail" returns "Gmail" as the first result in Chomp, but that same search on the Android Market doesn't see Gmail on the first page of results. This test, says the blog, "demonstrates the superiority of Chomp's category-based algorithm."
To be fair, some reviewers have also found this algorithm to be the better choice, including those at LifeHacker and TechCrunch. However, ThinkMobile and Phandroid gave Chomp more mixed reviews. Your experience will likely vary, too, depending on what type of application you're looking for.
In Short: Promising but Needs Work
At the end of the day, a search tool for apps needs to function at least as good as the official counterpart it aims to replace, if not better. Chomp has the good looks to make it a promising alternative - in fact, it's one of the most attractive mobile search user interfaces we've seen to date. But without a better algorithm for helping surfacing relevant apps, it won't see the adoption it could have otherwise.
That being said, Chomp for Android is still a very new application and will be improved upon in time. Already a top mobile search destination for finding iPhone applications, it's worth seeing how well its Android search technology improves over the months ahead. Assuming it can address some of the concerns cited here, and better its results set, Chomp could be a contender as a viable Android Market alternative. For now, however, it will only serve to supplement, but not replace, Google's official Android app store.