Our weekly app picks
You walk through the door of a dimly lit hole in the wall, and as you head to the bar at the far end of the room you notice shady characters all around you. The man behind the counter is polishing a collection of phones and tablets from all over the world, and as he sets down the second to last slab of plastic and glass you catch the word Nexus in the reflection from the mirror behind him.
"What can I do for ya, stranger?" the man asks is a gruff, tired voice. It's clear from his casual expression and the lack of any sort of response from the rest of the people in the room that these people are accustomed to all sort of travelers wandering through here. It may be worth sticking around to hear a good story or two, but for right now you've got one thing on your mind.
"I need apps. Good apps, not the crap you find out there on the corner. What would you recommend?"
The man behind the counter smiled, and all at once the shady characters from around the room stood up, pulled their phones from their pockets, and took a stop forward. "Oh, I reckon we've got somethin' for ya." he said with a sort of twinkle in his eye, and one by one the people in the room start to tell their tales.
1. Phil Nickinson — Ski Safari 2
I'm a big fan of time-killing games that don't require a lot of thought. (Sometimes it's nice just to shut down the brain for a little while.) So I was pretty stoked to see the sequel of one of my old favorites. And Ski Safari 2 mostly picks up right where it left off. That is, you're headed downhill, with penguins, the Yeti and eagles in front of you, avalanche coming up from behind. You jump and flip your way as long as you can, collecting coins and meeting challenges while you go.
But that's just the start this time. There are new animals. New levels. And new tricks to be done. That also means there's a little more headspace required (though you certainly can play just like you did before — nice and easy, both skis pointed downhill). But it also means there's a lot more gameplay than in the previous version. Graphics are updated, too — though I'm on the fence whether that's actually an improvement. Regardless, you'll find yourself with a good time-wasting game that's easy to play. Give it a shot.
2. Jared DiPane — Snapchat
Hold on, before you judge, let me explain why I think Snapchat is worthy of my weekly pick and how I use it. Snapchat is known by many, and most tend to think it's a place to do naughty things, but it can be (and is) much more than that. Snapchat is perfect for those times you want to send someone a picture that doesn't necessarily need to live in your camera roll forever.
I tend to use Snapchat to send random pictures, videos, and even add my own drawing or text to an image easily. It's so easy to open the app, snap a picture, make a few customizations and send it off to your family and friends. This works for me, I don't have a camera roll full of random findings from Target, or funny things that I see on a daily basis. Those pictures are sent, and then they disappear. Some of the new filters are fun to use, and it's a quick and easy way to keep in touch with your friends.
Give it a shot, and if you don't have anyone to send snaps to, you can add me (jareddipane).
3. Jen Karner — Does not Commute
I'm a sucker for any game that can pull me in, and then make me compete. Double points if I end up competing against myself. That made Does not Commute right up my alley. You play as every character in a small town trying to make their way on their daily errands. One after another you'll need to drive their cars across town avoiding both buildings, and the cars you've already driven to their destinations. You need to make sure that you don't run out of time, since it's counting down as soon as the vehicle is in motion.
Each level has upwards of ten trips you need to make within the time limit, though you can get extra time by picking up coins along your way. The vehicles you'll drive include cars, trucks, ice cream vans and ambulances to name just a few. The game itself is free, but to start from checkpoints after closing the game you'll want to upgrade to the premium version for $1.99. It's an easy start that becomes more difficult as you progress and requires you to think ahead to avoid collisions down the line. It's a lot of fun and definitely worth checking out.
4. Richard Devine — Skymaster Pilot Watch Face
The trouble with Android Wear is that there are just too many watch faces to choose from in the Play Store. Granted, that's an awesome 'issue' to have, but it sometimes makes settling hard. Here's what I'm on right now though and I think it's going to stick around for a while.
I like the look of chronograph watches and that carries over into my preferences on Android Wear. The Skymaster is a digital recreation of what a pilot's watch may look like and it's pretty hot. With the latest version of Android Wear it got interactive, too, allowing you to customize what the little dials display or get rid of them altogether. You can also change the accent color, the thickness of the hands or even what the text says.
I'm using it on the Zenwatch and it looks fantastic, but it's such a great design and it'll probably look even better on something round.
5. Russell Holly — The Martian: Bring Him Home
I've read the book, interviewed the author, seen the movie, and now I'm playing the game. The Martian: Bring Him Home puts you in the hot seat at NASA, where you communicate with the one and only Mark Watney as he struggles with survival on Mars. It's a text-based adventure similar to Lifeline, which plays nicely with the way the book was laid out. As you communicate with Watney, NASA will occasionally send you emails with additional information to help keep him alive. If you're very lucky, or you've already read the book, or you're paying attention the way the story plays out in the game, you'll eventually get Watney home.
Like Lifeline, The Martian: Bring Him Home is broken up into story elements you don't control. Watney could message you at 2AM asking for help with something, or he could message you all day with questions about making adjustments in the HAB to increase his chances of survival. While it's a fun game now, the developer is promising Android Wear support in the future, which could make brief encounters with Watney a lot of fun.
6. Andrew Martonik — ipiit - Scan Food Ingredients
While I don't have any abnormal food allergies myself, it's a good idea to be conscious of allergies your friends or family members may have. ipiit lets you scan barcodes of U.S. food products and find out just what's in them, and how that interacts with various food allergies.
If you're going to be scanning for your own benefit you can set your food preferences ahead of time — whether it's allergy-related or just ingredient preference — and every item you scan will be checked against those preferences, or you can just scan an item with no preferences if you're checking quickly for someone else.
It isn't the most up-to-date designed app out there, but this one's all about its functionality. And it seems to have what it takes to be a really useful tool.