Top ten apps for 2013
Got a new Android device this Christmas? Or maybe you're just looking for great applications for an older phone or tablet? Our regular apps of the week features are a great place to find new and interesting apps for your device -- but with 2013 drawing to a close, we've decided to take things a step further and reflect on our personal top ten apps of the year.
So here are my top recommendations — these are all fantastic apps that have either launched in 2013, or have been updated with significantly awesome new stuff. Head past the break and check them out!
Despite being upwards of two decades old, SEGA and Christian Whitehead’s mobile ports of the classic 16-bit Sonic titles are among my favorite Android games of the year. That’s not just because the console originals have stood the test of time, it’s also due to the care and attention taken to bring all three into the twenty-first century.
Sonic 1, Sonic 2 and Sonic CD for Android feature smooth 60-frames-per-second playback, the ability to save your game and widescreen graphics, so you’re not dealing with any unsightly blank borders. Each game also has some extra surprises for fans — Sonic 1 lets players play as Tails and Knuckles, Sonic 2 includes a hidden level cut from the original, and Sonic CD also adds Tails as a playable character. So there’s a lot to like here if you grew up playing these on your Mega Drive or Genesis.
Veteran iOS title Dots also arrived on Android this year. It’s one of the simplest and yet most addictive puzzle games I’ve played on mobile — connect a line of colored dots to clear them and score points, or complete a loop to clear all dots of that color. In the two main game modes you’re limited either by time or the number of moves you can make, though a recent update to the game added an “endless” to let you keep going forever.
Dots is a great example of a game requiring a potent combination of skill and luck — and importantly for a mobile title, it’s one you can easily dip in and out of when you have a couple of minutes to spare.
Making a useful, attractive multipurpose Android widget isn't easy, but DashClock Widget manages to nail it. Available as a lock screen and home screen widget, DashClock lets you customize your own digital dashboard, with extensions to show things like unread a Gmail, upcoming calendar appointments and missed calls.
The DashClock widget ecosystem expanded further in 2013 to include support for apps like BBC Weather and Tweedle (see below). And for me, there's no widget that does a better job at summarizing relevant messaging, social and other app info.
There's a ton of good weather apps available for Android, but I've eventually settled on BBC Weather as my forecaster of choice. The interface is simple and intuitive, quick and easy to navigate and it manages to show a surprising amount of detail without being visually overwhelming. For the UK, too, I find it’s generally more accurate than Google’s own forecasts through Google Now and on the web.
Best of all, it’s a free download, and fully supports DashClock Widget.
Another essential for UK-based Android owners, the BBC’s TV and radio streaming app has come a long way in the past twelve months. A visual overhaul has brought an attractive, “Holo”-inspired, tab-based interface to the phone and tablet versions of iPlayer. There’s support for favorites, and crucially, the ability to stream live TV or radio for free (though for the former you’re still technically required to hold a TV license.) A recent update added download support, too.
As with the web-based iPlayer, the Android app only works for users in the UK. Sorry, America.
I hopped on the Feedly bandwagon shortly after Google Reader was put out to pasture earlier in the year. It hasn’t always been smooth sailing, but the current version of Feedly for phones and tablets is fast, responsive and shows me headlines in a way my brain can easily process. In other words, it’s easy to arrange things into a chronological list that lets me keep track of goings-on throughout the day without too much visual fluff.
Everyone’s news needs are different — for folks who don’t need to keep track of everything right as it’s happening, there are other views that let you discover stores with more serendipity. But for me, nothing beats being able to quickly flip through stories and be caught up on tech news in a matter of seconds.
SwiftKey is my Android keyboard of choice, and the one I end up installing on most devices I own. Right now I’m using SwiftKey 4.5 beta, which introduces Emoji support and an optional number row — great for larger devices. Before that, SwiftKey 4.3 made it easier to type on devices of various sizes by adding two new layout modes, and the ability to scale to five different sizes. And SwiftKey Cloud made it much easier to juggle prediction data across multiple devices, which is extremely handy given the number of phones we’ve handled this year.
As good as stock keyboards are getting — Google Keyboard in particular is pretty slick these days — nothing beats the accuracy of SwiftKey’s predictions and corrections.
While smartphones cameras are getting better all the time, a phone isn’t always the best device for photo editing. Pixlr Express manages to cram a surprising amount of functionality into its powerful mobile app. Many of the most commonly-used Photoshop tools are there, from curves to color options (hue, saturation, lightness), contrast tweaking, blurring and sharpening. If you’re the kind of mobile photographer who wants to crop and filter, you’ll find a wide array of those kinds of features too, arranged in an expanding grid layout that makes it easy to see all the options available to you.
All in all, Pixlr Express rivals Google’s own Snapseed in terms of feature set and ease of use, and best of all it’s free, too.
Another UK-only pick, TVCatchup lets you stream most free-to-air UK TV channels over Wifi, 3G or 4G. Unlike BBC iPlayer it’s ad-supported, as a trade-off you get a much wider range of channels available to peruse. The video quality has gotten pretty good with successive updates, and there’s a built-in TV guide, letting you easily see everything that’s on at a glance.
As you might suspect, TVCatchup is only open to UK-based users, and you’ll need a TV license to remain on the right side of the law while streaming out and about.
Since the official Twitter app for Android started sucking recently I’ve switched to Tweedle, a lightweight yet feature-packed client that’s far better designed than Twitter’s own app. You get a customizable array of tabs at your disposal, with a clean, card-based interface and the option of inline image or website previews. In fact, dig deep and you’ll see a host of advanced options and settings, such as Themes, tweet filters and a built-in webview window for handling tweeted links.
Tweedle is a free download, but you’ll need to pay a small amount (£0.92 in the UK) to disable ads.