In 2014, The Guardian’s regular roundup of the best Android apps and games is going monthly, although the emphasis remains on highlighting the most useful, innovative and/or fun apps released for Android smartphones and tablets.
January saw plenty of activity on the Google Play Store, from children’s apps to DJing tools, new social apps to Candy Crush Saga follow-ups. And, of course, the latest mobile gaming craze: Flappy Bird. Read on for last month’s recommendations, and make your own thoughts known in the comments section.
Released by book publisher Penguin, this is aimed mainly at schoolchildren preparing for their first phonics screening check, with three space-themed mini-games designed to test their spelling skills. Multiple difficulty levels mean it should be suitable for a wide range of ages and abilities.
This app’s designed for couples trying to get pregnant – yes, it can be used by men and women alike – tracking fertility cycles and predicting when’s best to hop in the sack. Both partners can enter data, with social features to encourage one another if it doesn’t happen quite as quickly as you’d hoped.
There was a lot of hype around the launch of Jelly, although the nagging suspicion remains that a visual, crowdsourced questions-and-answers app might be more exciting for Silicon Valley folk than regular smartphone users. Still, this is slick, easy to use and quite moreish once you get into it.
For now, streaming music service Beats Music is only available in the US, but it’s expected to come to the UK soonish. Launched by the popular headphones brand, it has a strong emphasis on curated playlists by experts and artists, as well as personalised mixes for your current situation.
Issuu is the latest company trying to aggregate digital magazines, promising a mammoth catalogue of more than 15m mags – yes, not all of them are well-known – for you to flip your way through. The app aims to learn from what you read to offer recommendations for new magazines you might like, too.
The latest app aiming to help Brits watch TV on their Android devices, this offers up channels from the BBC, and commercial broadcasters, with Now and Next feature to see what’s coming up, and the ability to browse around while still watching your existing channel. It works well, so far.
iOS is well stocked with DJ apps, but Android users have had to kick their heels a bit by comparison. That’s changing though: Cross DJ is an impressive app for mixing, beat-matching and monkeying about with all manner of effects, accessible to enthusiastic amateurs, but also possibly appealing to experienced DJs too.
Apple won’t be too pleased with this app, given that it enables people to save iTunes Radio stations played on their PC or Mac to their Android device. Is this legal? Developer doubleTwist reckons it’s fair use, just like recording traditional radio in the US. Higher-quality recordings are possible after an in-app purchase.
Styling itself as a “video concierge”, this app is the work of website StumbleUpon, promising to provide a stream of web videos based on your interests, current mood and the time of day. Good if you just want to sit back and watch... something, but you’re not quite sure what.
Udemy is one of the companies in the fast-growing space of online education, offering a huge choice of courses from photography and cake-making through to programming and starting your own business. The courses are a mixture of audio and video lectures, as well as other materials, with offline access included.
MakerBot is one of the leading lights of the 3D printing world, and this is its official app for showing off the things its community have been designing and printing out. You can browse the latest and most popular 3D-printable items, add them to your collection and share your own efforts too.
Here’s another DJ app. Well, sort of. This is the work of Pioneer: an app that turns your own music collection into “unique non-stop mixes”, complete with DJ-like mixing in between the tunes. It aims to organise the songs in mixes by their tempo and melody, to ensure everything flows nicely.
Based on an existing website, this collects together more than 400 walking guides across the UK, showing you where to go, what you’ll see along the way, and how to stay on track as you walk with its live map. Importantly, the guides are stored on your Android smartphone, so a reliable connection isn’t required.
I’m not super-keen on the “parents who want to TAKE BACK CONTROL of their children’s tech” pitch for this – their capital letters – but if you’re having some issues with your kids’ usage of their Android device, this could help: it can restrict usage to specific hours, and send warning alerts.
This sounds niche, but is pretty clever. It’s an app for taking group photos while ensuring the photographer still gets to be in the frame. The method: you take two photos – with different people shooting each time – and Groopic then blends them together. An in-app purchase adds ‘save and share’ social features.
GUARDIANISTA KLAXON: this is an app to encourage your children to get into organic gardening. It’s an educational game starring “Connie the Compost” and friends, with a firm focus on crop nutrition, sustainable farming and cute creature characters.
Looking for an alternative to the official Twitter app for Android? Talon is the latest challenger, and there’s plenty to like about it. A slick KitKat-focused design, lots of customisation features, and plenty of neat little touches that you‘ll discover and appreciate as you go along. Better than official Twitter? Just maybe.
Sitting somewhere between Jelly and Udemy, this brings together more than 100 question-and-answer communities, with a similar mix of topics to the latter: programming, photography etc. It’s very handy for posting questions and then getting pinged when answers are posted: fast and easy to use.
This is fab, an analogue clock widget for Android devices that pulls in your calendar events from the next 12 hours and shows them as “marked zones” on the clock. The idea is to provide a visual representation of your day, and while it may sound strange, it’s actually a really effective method.
“The place to get stuff done,” according to this app’s Google Play listing. That means browsing a catalogue of more than 17,000 “trusted local people” who can handle tasks you can’t or won’t – from ironing to accountancy. You post what you want done, with your location, and get offers in return to choose from.
This could fit into the games section below, perhaps. It’s a second-screen app for children, designed to be used while watching CBBC show Ludus, which currently airs on Monday evenings – although the app also works with the catch-up version on the BBC’s iPlayer. It’s playable puzzles synchronised with the TV show.
Swing a cat in appworld, and you’ll hit a dozen startups trying to sort out email – something I’m certainly in sore need of, given the state of my inbox. This is an innovative email app that blends messaging, email and photo-sharing in a neat interface, whether used on your Android smartphone or tablet.
Okay, so the appeal of this app may be as much to show off as for security reasons. It’s a “biometric authentication” app that switches the standard Android unlocking feature for one that requires you to unlock your phone with... your ear! The theory being it’s more secure than a password or PIN.
Many and varied apps are trying to kill off the humble SMS, with the likes of WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger leading the pack. EvolveSMS takes a different tack: replacing the default messaging app with an impressively-usable multimedia tool – complete with useful widgets and lockscreen feature.
Finally, one more messaging app, although for this one, the spin is anonymity. You sign up with Facebook or Google+, then ping messages back and forth – complete with clues to help people guess who’s sending. Hopefully it’ll be used for fun rather than cyberbullying.
Yeah, Flappy Bird. Don’t give me that look. So, Flappy Bird is already a mobile gaming craze, and there are plenty of reasons why it’s not A Good Game, from the simple graphics and animation to the annoying ads and ridiculous difficulty level. But the latter is why it’s catching people in its addictive grip.
Developer Lucky Frame has been bagging awards and critical acclaim all over the world for this game, and justifiably so. It sees you running your own hotel, defending it from rats, yetis and other invading critters in a tower defence style, but with the music (brilliantly) synchronising with your actions. A marvellous indie classic.
The latest in a series of follow-ups to Candy Crush Saga from publisher King, although I wonder if people who’ve gone hundreds of levels down the former’s rabbit-hole will have the stomach for another. Anyway, swap fruit’n’veg, collect magic beans and compare your scores with Facebook friends.
The latest in Square Enix’s campaign to bring its classic Final Fantasy RPGs to Android in order, this is my favourite by far: a polished port of the 1994 game with a familiar mix of questing, fighting and characters getting all emotional up in your grill. I may have rose-tinted glasses on, but this is fab.
“It’s not just racing... it’s racing transformed!” chirps the Google Play listing for this. Well, it’s certainly racing with a hedgehog and his mates, with the twist on the genre involving vehicles turning from cars into boats and planes as you race. It’s a bit buggier than you’d like, but there is still fun to be had.
Publisher EA is attracting a few brickbats from gamers unimpressed with its freemium strategy, but Dungeon Keeper is actually pretty good. A new version of a 1997 PC hit, it sees you stocking your dungeons with monsters to fend off invading enemies, expanding as you go. It does like to nudge you towards paying, which may raise hackles of some fans of the original.
The original Minigore remains one of my favourite pick-up-and-play mobile games, and this sequel has plenty to add to its dual-stick shooting formula. Shooting, looting and upgrading your character form the backbone of the game, with challenges and lots of playable characters giving long-term depth.
Glu Mobile’s Eternity Warriors is into its third incarnation, with a freemium mix of action/RPG, er, action including lots of demons to smite. Graphically, it’s a step up from the previous game in the series, and there is plenty of strategy to master. It’s fairly keen for your in-app purchases, but not dreadfully so.
More from Square Enix, this time a new Deus Ex game created for smartphones and tablets. Expect lots of shooting, spiffing visuals and a mysteriously murky global conspiracy of the kind that usually makes itself known in first-person shooters.
Miniature cars and vans duke it out across eight table-top tracks in this very playable racing game from developer Playrise Digital. Varied vehicles, excellent handling and lots of championships and special events to hold your interest make it one of the best driving games for Android yet.
Marvel is the latest megabrand to take a look at the endless runner genre, and decide it might quite suit some of its characters. This sees you running, jumping and, yes, smashing as a range of superheroes, Hulk, Iron Man and Spider-man included. It’s colourful and fun.
If you, like me, are a sucker for a decent dungeon-crawler, Archangel is well worth a look. Released by Unity Games, it’s an atmospheric clash of good and evil that sees you trying to “inflict a justice so brutal and uncompromising that none will ever again defy the will of Heaven”. Well, they have been very naughty demons...
Part game, part digital toy, Morphopolis is a beautiful curiosity on the Google Play store that deserves to find a big audience. It sees you exploring a succession of animated scenes solving puzzles, and morphing into progressively-bigger insects along the way. Very different, but very very good.
And some more dungeon-crawling in this polished action-RPG, with more goblins and golems than you can shake a (magical) stick at. It looks good and plays well, but my favourite feature is the ability to create your own quests and make them available to other players – or simply play those of your peers.
Down the years, there have been a number of games adopting a microbiological theme. Amoebattle is the latest, and it’s well worth your time. You have to fend off an infection with your mini-beasties, mutating to adapt to new challenges in this small but perfectly-formed real-time strategy game.
By necessity, this is a personal selection, so tell me why I’m an idiot (but ideally accompanied by constructive suggestions of apps and games that came out for the first time in January that I’ve missed) in the comments section.
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