After a tumultuous April, we’ve finally arrived into May, with the sun shining and the temperatures finally rising over most of the United States. With the weather finally looking positive for the next few months, you’ll probably end up heading outside more often than not. There’s plenty to do this summer around the world, whether you’re looking to travel or you’re just looking to stick in your own backyard for the fun of it. Music festivals, county fairs, swimming pools—from the grand to the small, everyone’s making plans for what they’re gonna do this summer, and chances are your smartphone is gonna play a major part in it all. From providing music for your backyard barbecues to navigating you to your new vacation destination, from paying for the groceries you’re taking on a trip to capturing photos to keep the memories of this summer alive, you’ll want to make sure you have a wide library of apps, games, music and more to your disposal.
We’re here to help. This past month has seen a whole slew of new apps and games for you to download for your Android phone. Looking for games to play on a long road trip? We’ve got you covered with a port of one of last year’s most popular PC games, a reimagining of one of the oldest mobile games ever developed, and a brand new game from one of our favorite active game developers. If you want to keep track of everything leading up to your vacation, we have a brand new tasks app that syncs directly with your Google account to keep your to-do list in check. If you need some new recipes for Memorial Day weekend or some brand new restaurant suggestions in your vacation town, there’s an app that keeps you covered. All that, plus all of last month’s apps and games to keep you occupied.
Whether you’re looking for a brand new game or just to try out some new apps, we have a lot of additions for you this month that are as exciting as anything else we’ve seen in 2018. Whether you’re ready to jump into the car to head to your vacation spot or you’re just looking for a place to grab some food, this month’s apps are perfect for the upcoming summer season. These are the best apps and games for May 2018.
For some, nothing is more enjoyable than a night out eating at your favorite restaurant. Depending on where you live, you might have a favorite taco stand, or an Italian place with the perfect pasta. Maybe there's a diner you love to frequent where the staff knows your name and your order. Whether you like to stick to your old favorites or you love to try out new foods in your area and when travelling, ChefsFeed is the perfect app for you. Recently relaunched with a brand new application, ChefsFeed is perfect for reading up on restaurants in your area, looking for the hottest places in your next vacation spot, and for reading some great takes on food, drinks, and more.
ChefsFeed is the mobile app version of the website of the same name, offering a wide variety of food and drink coverage and publishing expert advice on what and where to eat. The app starts by syncing to your location, in order to offer hot spots and restaurant suggestions close to you. This, unsurprisingly, works best in metro areas. Testing the app with rural, suburb, and urban areas, the app picked up the best coverage for both editorials and restaurant suggestions in high-activity areas like Los Angeles and New York City. Moving outside of large metro areas and your results for restaurants and articles begins to slim. ChefsFeed will tell you the nearest popular location, though depending on where you live in the country, it could be hours away. If you manage to live near—or you often visit—popular locations in North America, you'll likely have a better time with this.
The homepage of the app lists the trending content in your area, giving you a solid list of articles and editorials, videos embedded within the application, and opinion pieces on how we eat. The hot spots tab gives you nearby popular restaurants, though again, you'll need to live in a fairly popular metro area to get much out of this. Looking at two nearby cities, it became obvious that ChefsFeed was much more oriented towards the larger of the two cities. While the more populous area has more than two dozen suggested places, the smaller area—despite some fantastic places surrounding the city—only featured a few well-known establishments, with three of them known as local tourist traps more than "essential" places to eat.
If you're focused more on the features aspect of ChefsFeed, there's an entire tab of videos, articles, and most importantly, guides to the area you've chosen. This tab is one of the best options within ChefsFeed, offering a whole selection of content to choose from and allowing you to easily find the videos and articles you want to read. This goes without mentioning the entire tab devoting to finding and creating good drink mixes. Each restaurant and featured food item have a full list of open and closing times, phone numbers, maps and more, making it easy to find new places to eat. Ultimately, ChefsFeed is a fun app to keep on your phone for foodies everywhere, even if it might be limited to high-profile metro areas like New York, LA, Chicago, and more. Early users seem to love the app too: it's sitting at a 4.9 on Google Play.
Developer RebelApes released Blocky Snakes earlier this year, combining endless runners with the classic Snake gameplay from early Nokia phones to great success. The visual appearance used in the retro-stylized app reminded us of the visual style of Minecraft or Crossy Road, the app the game was clearly trying to ape off of in an interesting gameplay twist. Perhaps inspired by the endless runner version of Snake, RebelApes has now developed a more standard version of Snake using the same graphics engine created for the original version of the game. With this new version of Snake, you can both enjoy the original gameplay mode in a multitude of levels while playing with some great-looking graphics along the way. Let's take a look at what's offered by the game.
First things first: as mentioned, the graphics here look excellent. The block-filled world translates well into a grid-shaped format, making it easy to see where the snake is when you're moving around the map. Everything is pretty cute here, with the fruits you're gathering throughout the level appearing as blocky as the snake you're controlling in your gameplay. The graphics are honestly simple enough that there isn't much more here to discuss. They look great, with a modern-yet-retro aesthetic that has become popular throughout the 2010s, and the only thing you could really say negatively about them is that they're a bit derivative of similar titles.
When it comes to gameplay, things are equally simple. Starting with the settings, Classic Snake Game includes two different modes to control the snake with. A virtual D-pad (pictured) is available here, allowing you to select up, down, left, and right with ease. You can also play with just the left and right buttons on the bottom of the system, making it closer to what the original game was like twenty-plus years ago, where pressing right rotates the snake 90 degrees clockwise, and pressing left does the opposite. When starting a game, you get the choice to select from eight different map patterns, starting with a blank screen and getting progressively more difficult as you work your way through the maps at hand.
Like most free to play games, there's a certain level of gimmicks and additions in the game you should expect to have to deal with while playing. Coins are collectable throughout levels, which grants you the ability to unlock new snake colors, customization, and map themes from a loot box-style game mechanic. There are ads as well, though these can be removed by dropping $2.99 on the ad-free version (either through the Play Store or by paying with an in-app purchase). Overall, Classic Snake Game is a new addition to the popular retro genre, taking a classic style game and combining it with a wonderful design aesthetic to bring Snake into 2018.
Released at the tail end of 2017, Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy is the newest in a long line of meta-style games that are self-referencing, winking to their audiences of players worldwide. Games like Doki Doki Literature Club, Undertale, and Garry's Mod use the trappings and tropes of their respective genres to either say something interesting about how we play, to comment on our society, or to reinvent and reference gaming ideas that, as the public, we've all widely accepted. Getting Over It doesn't quite follow the leads set by those games, though; instead, we're supposed to take that subtitle—with Bennett Foddy—quite literally, as game developer Bennett Foddy narrates the entire game while you play.
Let's start from the beginning. Though you might not be familiar with Foddy's name, you're definitely familiar with his output. The Australian-born, New York-based game designer (who also happens to be a trained moral philosopher with a focus on drug addiction) who became a game instructor at NYU after the popularity of his browser-based 2008 game QWOP. You've probably heard of QWOP; it was a viral success that became well-known for its intense difficulty in 2010 after appearing in multiple press outlets and, eventually, landing a featured spot on The Office in its final season. QWOP was a game designed around being frustrating, a game where you had to control an athlete by using the Q, W, O, and P keys on your keyboard. In some ways, Getting Over It is a spiritual sequel ten years later, albeit with a much deeper well to dig from.
The game revolves around a silent man who exists in a hellscape of a world that exists to force you, as the man, to get to the top of a mountainscape in the world. The man is stuck in a cauldron from the waist down, and has only a hammer in his hands to help him navigate the world. Using (on the Android version) your finger to swing the hammer around the world, you must latch onto objects, swing yourself around the world, and work through trial and error to navigate the world around him. Needless to say, the game gets frustratingly hard very, very quickly, and if you don't have a solid sense of patience, you're probably going to find the game infuriatingly difficult to play.
While you work through the game world, a voice will begin talking to you early on. That voice represents the dulcet tones of one Bennett Foddy, effectively playing himself as the designer of the game. Foddy discusses various topics while you're playing his game, typically focusing on various philosophical ideas about what you're trying to do and the various ineffectiveness of it all—not to mention your major failures. The entire idea comes off as something of a joke, but there's a real message here, narrowing down to Foddy's love of older, extremely difficult titles (as well as a 2002 Czech game Sexy Hiking). Foddy, who has spoken at length about the joy he gets from difficult games, looked to older titles like Jet Set Willy, along with newer games like Dark Souls and Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice (the latter of which would erase your save data if you died) as a rebirth of love for difficult games.
There truly isn't much to the gameplay here. You make your way around the mountain, attempting to climb over your various minutes, hours, or days playing the game (the game can be completed in under two minutes if you're good enough; you probably aren't). No matter how calm you try to enter the game, you'll likely feel enraged at certain points, especially if Foddy's philosophical musings managed to get under your skin. At $4.99, however, Getting Over It is an innovative title, something absolutely worth playing for its unique outlook on games as a whole, for its unique challenge, and for the sense of success you'll feel when you hit the top of the mountain. Just try not to break your phone in the process.
For years, Google's software has largely been praised by users and the tech press alike, both for its visual design and the general usefulness of many of the apps shipped by the company. Google Duo has seen its fair share of success as a cross-platform FaceTime alternative. Google Photos allows for full cloud backup of high-res copies of your favorite photos and memories. Gmail recently received a full redesign with a modern app appearance, incorporating some of the ideas Google has had for email since rolling out Inbox a few years ago. Unfortunately, not all of Google's software has been a home run. Google Allo, for instance, was recently sidelined after flailing for more than a year, and Google Play Music has stalled in terms of updates as Google attempts to prepare to relaunch the app under the YouTube branding.
Google Tasks has spent much of its life in the second category of Google's software suite, with the app's major problem coming from a lack of a centralized location for users to add, view, and remove tasks from their to-do list. Tasks have been accessible from within Gmail, Inbox, Google Calendar, and even secondary apps like Google Keep and Google Assistant, but without a hub for Google users to turn to when they need to accomplish things or finish tasks on their lists, Google Tasks has largely been ignored by a large percentage of Google users. So, when Google finally announced they were rolling out a brand new Tasks applications for Android and iOS (alongside the reinvention of Gmail), people were pretty excited for what was coming down the pipeline.
Ultimately, Tasks is something of a mixed bag, especially depending on what you're looking for from Tasks. This isn't the most powerful application we've ever seen, both from Google and from other third-party to-do list apps, when it comes to managing your tasks. There's a lot to love here, starting with the visual design. The general appearance is clean and clear, with the app using the newer version of material design we've seen them slowly rolling out to apps. This app is all white, all the time, which may bother some people looking for a dark theme that the app, admittedly, would look fantastic in. The rest of the app is laid out fairly simply, with your tasks at the top of the page, your completed tasks listed below (in a drop down menu), and the option to add a new task to your device's list at the bottom of the page.
Once you've created a task, you have a few options available for editing. Each task has its own additional notes field, allowing you to add extra information to a headline. You can set a date the task is due by, making it easy to add the task to your calendar automatically. Finally, each task has the option for subtasks, so you can add information like "buy wedding gift" to "make hotel reservation for wedding." The app does have support for both multiple accounts and multiple lists, with the option to change accounts available by tapping on the left-side menu button. Here, you can create a new list, change between multiple lists (say, for home and work), and switch to the other Google accounts running on your phone. Tapping on the menu button to the bottom-right allows you to reorganize and rename your lists, but outside of those options, Tasks lacks any major settings menus.
The main critique surrounding this application is simple: is this Tasks app even enough if all it can do is some basic functionality (sub tasks, additional details, and due dates)? The major problem comes from the similar apps offered by Google. Keep has the ability to create reminders, to-do lists, and more, while syncing to a full web client that makes it easy to pair your notes together. Tasks lacks any sort of reminder option right now, which means you have to manually check your tasks as you work through your list. In our tests, Tasks didn't seem to sync with Google Assistant in any way, despite Assistant syncing directly with Google Reminders, an app that also syncs with Calendar.
Considering the strict competition for fully-featured to-do lists on Android, Google Tasks has a lot of catching up to do in the next few months to make it a more interesting option than what's currently offered. Combining Tasks and Reminders would be a start, as would building a web-centric hub where you can view your tasks on your computer in addition to your phone. Ultimately, there's still a lot to work to be done with Tasks, though the base of a solid app is there. The visual design is striking and modern, a sign of things to come for Google with Android P. Hopefully the next few months show a ton of improvement for Tasks, though as of writing, the app is still on its initial release.
Ketchapp is one of our favorite developers on Android, with a wide variety of Android games available that we've recommended in a number of "Best Games" roundups. The team at Ketchapp excels at creating fun, innovative, and minimalist games for mobile platforms designed around limited gameplay time. In some ways, Slashy Sushi, their newest title in a long list of games designed for playing for minutes at a time, might be one of their best yet. Not only is the game fast-paced and fluid, with a gorgeous art style that makes it one of the best looking games on Android today, the entire gameplay structure is perfect for two minute-sessions when you're standing in line at the supermarket or waiting for your Lyft to come pick you up. Let's take a look at this quick, quirky title.
In a lot of ways, Slashy Sushi acts like a combination of two classic titles, one mobile and one from fifteen years ago. The first game, Ridiculous Fishing, is a 2013 mobile game for iOS and Android that features a similar visual design to what you'll see here with Slashy Sushi, a minimalist and flat appearance that shines on all sorts of mobile devices, especially with high-resolution displays. The other game Slashy Sushi seems to grab its influence from is older and far more well-known, especially in the gaming audience: WarioWare, the 2003 game (and its various sequels) designed around "microgames," where you had a limited amount of seconds to accomplish the goal in a game. Slashy Sushi acts similar to this idea, giving players a general idea of the goal of the mission given early on.
Once you jump into Slashy Sushi, you're presented with a basic mission: follow the goal on screen before time runs out. Each small mission presented in the game gives you a general how-to before quickly dropping you into the game and leaving you on your own to figure out the game. In some ways, the game presents itself as a sort-of virtual Bop It, a game designed to force you to think fast and to perform the correct task, with each small game based around preparing sushi. Sometimes you'll have to tap on the screen to cut the sushi a certain number of times; sometimes you'll need to hold toast in a toaster or grind a carrot on a grater to create a certain amount of food. The background color changes to act as an in-game clock (of which there is also one, but it's definitely easier to see the background change).
The real challenge of each minigame is having to pay attention to how much you do an action. It isn't enough just to complete the task in a matter of two or three seconds; you'll also need to pay attention to your actions. If the game asks you to chop a piece of sushi three times and you tap four times on your display, you'll lose your run—the game's over. That means it isn't just enough to recognize what the task Slashy Sushi is asking you to accomplish; you need to finish the game fast while also making sure not to overdo it.
Like most of Ketchapp's games, Slashy Sushi is free with both ads and in-app purchases. As far as the latter goes, the game seems to only have one in-app purchase available: removing ads. You can remove ads from the game if you want by tapping on the "no ads" icon in the top-left corner, which gives you a prompt to delete advertisements from the game with one $2.99 ad. There is in-game currency you can use to purchase the hands that are accomplishing your tasks (by default, it's a squid tentacle), some of which can only be gained by syncing the game with your social accounts. You gain coins for both completing runs (you can find coins scattered throughout the level) and by logging into the game each day (with streaks gaining you more coins throughout a full week).
At its core, Slashy Sushi is an excellent addition to the free-to-play games offered by Ketchapp, another winner focused squarely on providing minutes of fun at a time for free whenever you find yourself with a bit of spare time. It's not something that will likely addict you the way Getting Over It is such a winner, but ultimately, Slashy Sushi takes the gameplay style of WarioWare and converts it to a mobile game in an interesting and unique way.
How often do we see a mobile game released on Android prior to iOS? It's pretty rare, which may make Card Quest an important outlier for anyone who wants to support more Android-first (or, at least, Android and iOS-joint releases) in the future. Making the Android-first release even more surprising is Card Quest's lineage. First released on PC in November of 2017, Card Quest is the same style of game we're used to seeing come to iOS as a total or timed-exclusive (see: Hearthstone's eight month delay in 2014, The Witness, FTL: Faster Than Light, etc). With any luck, Card Quest will help to prove that PC-first games can do well on Android in the same way gamers on iOS have proven this for years.
Developed by WinterSpring Games and published on both PC and Android by Black Shell Media, Card Quest is a lite-deck-building, resource management dungeon crawler with an 8-bit retro style that looks fantastic on modern Android devices. Similar to games like The Binding of Isaac, Card Quest uses roguelike elements but combines them with card-based gameplay you might see from games on PC like Slay the Spire. The game starts with you choosing a class to play as inside the game. You're offered four selections: Rogue, Wizard, Hunter, and Fighter, each with their own specific traits, abilities, and cards, and offering three subclasses for more customization in-game. The visuals are the game are clearly designed around PC-based RPGs of the late 80s and early 90s, and frankly, the entire package looks fantastic.
Once you've selected you class, you can start building your deck, examining cards and choosing which to use and which to put away. You build your character using this content, choosing a primary weapon, a secondary weapon, a subclass, and any armor, bags, or trinkets you may have to equip. You can view the cards in your deck by pressing and holding on each card, and it's important to know what's in your deck before you're going into battle. Like any other card-based game, there's a tutorial option inside Card Quest that we suggest you use to get a handle on how the game functions at its core.
Inside the game, you'll begin making your way around the dungeon, running into enemies that appear at the top of your screen (in some ways, it feels similar to Darkest Dungeon). On the right side of the screen is your health and attack power, which can raise or lower depending on which cards you use. Your cards are found at the bottom of the display, and attacking your enemies is as simple as dragging the cards up from your hand to your target. Sometimes you'll face multiple enemies at once instead of one large enemy, in which you can select which enemy you want to attack with your cards. If we have one complaint about the visual design of the game, it's that dragging the cards shows a blue transparent arrow that doesn't match the visual aesthetic of the rest of the game.
Each of the cards have their own specific powers, whether is be to deal out straight damage, to regain power (denoted with a lightning bolt), to dodge attacks from your enemies, or anything else. Learning to fight your way through each dungeon in order to win naturally involves learning how to take advantage of the powers given to users by these powers and taking advantage of how each power works. Early battles are pretty easy to skate through, but the farther in a match you make it, the more you'll need to pay attention to what you're doing in the game or face failure. At $4.99, the Android version of Card Quest is half the price of the same game on PC. It's well-built, looks great, and is a blast to play for 20 minutes or two hours straight. If you have the $5 to drop on a mobile game, picking up Card Quest is a no-brainer.
Fans of games like Monument Valley will want to listen up for this one. First published on iOS in February before reaching Android a couple weeks ago, Florence is an interactive visual novel-style game that follows the titular character through a notable chapter in her life. Florence was published on Android and iOS by Annapurna Interactive, the publisher behind console and PC games like What Remains of Edith Finch and Gorogoro, and a subsidiary of Annapurna Pictures, the film studio behind the likes of some of the most inventive and critically-acclaimed films of the last several years. Florence won't be a game for everyone, but it's worth looking into what makes this specific title so magical, why it captured the gaming and mobile press alike when it released on iOS in February, and why you should drop $2.99 on it.
First, we should note that Florence is not a game for those who prefer their games action-oriented, or don't care for plot-heavy video games. Florence comes closer to TellTale's episodic adventures or, perhaps more fittingly, games like Gone Home and Annapurna's own Edith Finch. Hardcore gamers might call the game a new entry in the "walking simulator" genre, but indeed, you don't actually do all that much walking here. Instead, Florence plays like a cross between a living, moving graphic novel and a WarioWare entry. The first chapter of the game, "Adult Life," puts on full display what you should expect from the game, introducing players to the titular character and following her throughout a full day of her life.
As you play the game, you'll be asked to perform minor tasks on your phone screen to continue the narrative. For example, when the story begins, Florence is being awakened by her alarm clock. You tap on the clock to silence the alarm, and the story jumps fifteen minutes into the future, where the alarm resumes its feature after finishing its sleep mode. The game moves to a new panel, and you're greeted by Florence in front of her bathroom mirror about to brush her teeth. Using the toothbrush displayed in a box on the screen, you move the toothbrush around the display to make a meter fill as you progressively brush Florence's teeth. When the meter is full, the story progresses to show her on the way to work, where she likes or retweets content on a social network.
As this continues, you'll hear soft, piano-laden music in the background of the game. The game's progression changes every chapter, and the chapters are short enough to be played within a few minutes at most. While chapter one has you mostly selecting options in the bottom portion of your display, chapter two presents the opening moments in a far more standard comic book style before flashing back to Florence's past to paint a portrait of both her mother and her, along with their relationship and why Florence has ended up where she is. The game presents you, playing as seven-year-old Florence, with the opportunity to create some crafts. When Florence's mother arrives, she pushes her daughter to perform math problems instead, and as the player, you too will have to complete some basic addition and subtraction.
The final chapter of the first act of the game switches to landscape mode, forcing your phone to rotate in the process, and introduces the main hook of the story, when Florence sees a cello player in the park, following his music notes through the air. Act II picks up when Florence and the cello player, Krish, finally meet for the first time, and the rest of the game explores their relationship, Florence's own life goals and feelings, and so much more. It would be a disservice to the game to include future plot points beyond the basic setup for the game however, because this really is something that isn't justified by words and photos alone.
In fact, words don't factor into the game much at all, with the story mostly told through animation and drawings and displaying as little dialogue as possible throughout the entire title. The game is best experienced with headphones on, to take advantage of some of the music the game has to offer. Overall, Florence isn't something designed for someone looking for a game to waste time playing in the line at the supermarket. The story is about the length of an hour-long television show without commercial interruptions, and even played at a relaxed rate shouldn't take more than a full hour of your time. Still, for just a couple dollars, it's worth experiencing this interactive graphic novel tell a story about love and creative minds. Florence is affecting, touching, and a gorgeous story worth your time.
It seems like augmented reality is the biggest thing in technology right now. After spending years perfecting their own AR filters, Snapchat rolled out an option to create custom lenses right on your computer. Pokemon Go popularized the idea of AR back in the summer of 2016 when it swept the nation (even if the real hardcore players almost always turned off augmented reality). Apple has gone all-in on augmented reality, showing off a demo at last fall's Apple event and rolling out new Macs and software suites to develop cutting-edge AR content. And then there's Google, whose work on ARCore began several years ago with Project Tango and its multitude of cameras before extending its reach at the end of 2017 and launching version 1.0 of ARCore in March. Since then, we've seen a number of AR-based experiments hit Android, including Just a Line, a brand-new camera app from Google themselves.
There isn't much to this app to explain, because the app is pretty basic in practice. Assuming you have a phone that supports ARCore (more on that in a moment), you can install the app on your device and begin testing out Just a Line. Once you have the app on your phone, it opens the camera on your device in a video-only mod, and activates ARCore to map the space around you. After your phone has found its place in the geometric space around you, you can start drawing white lines on your phone. These lines are added to the physical space on your phone; writing a word, for example, places the lines and letters in a row, and when you move the phone closer or farther away from what you drew, your objects will move with the area around you.
Along with that basic feature, you have a few options for your lines and drawings. You can control the size of the line in your image, with three different sizes of lines available for use. This allows you to change the look of your drawing, though the three sizes are all pretty similar overall. Also, the lack of the ability to add color to your lines is questionable. Once you do paint something on the image on your display, you can remove lines you accidentally drew, and you can start over by tapping on the trashcan in the corner of the display. The record button in the bottom portion of the display allows you to start creating your work of art, though the lack of photo option is pretty disappointing overall. Hitting record takes a 10-second snapshot of whatever you're aiming the camera towards, but you can't create anything longer, so say goodbye to the idea of using Just a Line to create a music video or short film.
The app works well for what it is, but it's definitely more of a proof of concept than a real app meant for photography. The photo quality on our test Pixel 2 XL definitely seems to be lower than usual within the app, despite being made by Google. No telling if phones with lesser cameras than something like a Pixel 2 will experience a drop in quality. One thing that is clear: this app will not work on every phone on the market today. Google is slowly pushing support out for more phones, but if you don't have one of these devices:
- Pixel or Pixel 2 (and XL models)
- Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge, S8/+, S9/+
- Samsung Galaxy Note 8
- LG V30 and V30+
- Asus Zenfone AR
- OnePlus 5 (not 5T, as of writing)
If you don't have one of those devices, you're out of luck when it comes to running Just a Line, or any of the other experiments and applications that have been slowly rolling out over the past several couple months. Overall, Just a Line is a really neat experiment from Google, something to show off what ARCore might be capable of in the feature. We'd love to see more features rolled out to the app, or even better, to see Google take this content and spin it into something resembling the options given to users on Snapchat (text options, colors, and more). If you have a supported device though, definitely check this out.
For years, there hasn't been a better choice for third-party Android launchers than Nova Launcher. First launched back in the days of Android 4.x, Nova Launcher has seemingly been recommended by every technology and Android site on the web, including by this very publication. Nova's always been quick to add new features to their launcher in order to create the feeling of using a device like the Nexus phones or their successors, the Pixel and Pixel XL. As Google rolls out changes to the default Android launcher, Nova has followed suit, making it the obvious choice to anyone who wants a close-to-stock experience.
But there are a few reasons not to use Nova. There's something to be said about simplicity, and while Nova Launcher is no doubt one of the best launchers on Android, it can be pretty difficult for newcomers to learn and use with any expertise. That's where the brand-new Lean Launcher comes in, offering people looking for a stock, Google-like experience on Android devices without the baggage or price that comes with unlocking Nova. Lean Launcher is free without ads, and comes with a number of reasons to check it out.
If you've used a Pixel 2 device, you'll be right at home as soon as you start up Lean Launcher. The home screen is mirrored almost identically to what we've seen from the newest version of the Pixel launcher, with the day and date at the top of the image, a Google search bar at the very bottom of the image, and a sliding drawer of apps that opens from the bottom of the display at the dock and moves vertically. There are some to-be-expected differences, of course. Long-pressing on the apps on your home screen open the option to delete or view the info for each app, but you can't use the shortcuts usable on the standard Google launcher. The weather isn't displayed at the top of the app, and the app doesn't have the standard Google feed to the left of the home screen.
There are a good amount of options in Lean Launcher, certainly more than what we've seen in the standard Google launcher. You can plug weather and calendar events into your At A Glance widget on the phone, though this requires a companion app and, because it doesn't correctly work on Pixel devices, we were unable to test it. You can also enable the Google feed, though you'll need to grab a debug build from Github instead of downloading the Google Play version. Despite the build obviously being based on the Pixel launcher from the Pixel 2, you can change the location of the Google search bar by enabling or disabling it and then using the widget. Look and feel options are here in numbers, unlike the standard launcher on Google's own devices, and it allows you to change basically everything about the design of the app, from the colors and theme to the sizes and icon appearances. And yes, there's support for icon packs here.
Some other settings to quickly mention: support for gestures and actions that allow you to change various aspects for your phone, the option to add shortcuts for content on your home screen, a toggle for adding new apps to your home screen automatically, a "lock" option for your desktop, extra padding for the search bar at the bottom of the screen, and the ability to hid and rename apps on your home screen as needed.
Ultimately, there isn't much else to say about Lean Launcher, other than it's fast. Very fast, like a slimmed down Nova designed for the modern age. As modding and customizing Android becomes more and more of a niche community, it's pretty obvious that apps like Lean Launcher are going to become more popular when it comes to launcher choices. One of the best parts about the app is its price: the app is free and open-source, available through both Google Play and through Github as mentioned. If you're looking for a Pixel-esque experience with some added settings and customizations that also happens to be available for free, this is one of the best apps you can grab today.
Podcasts seem to show no sign of slowing growth, as the medium continues to gain new followers. What was once relegated to the nerds of the internet and their "internet radio" became a massive phenomenon after the success of podcasts like The Nerdist (now ID10T), WTF with Marc Maron, and most notably, Serial season one, and it seems that the podcast train will keep rolling on. Though Apple was almost accidentally responsible for the name 'podcast' replacing the more-generic terms netcast and internet radio thanks to the popularity of the iPod, the term is certainly not limited to Apple devices. There's been popular Android podcast players for years, from paid apps like Doggcatcher and Pocket Casts to Google's own (retired) Listen app and the added feature to Play Music. This month sees a new competitor arrive to battle against the major players in the field: Playapod.
At its core, Playapod features a basic goal: make it easy to listen to your favorite podcasts for free while offering cloud sync at no additional charge. It's easy enough to say that Playapod has achieved its goal here and to move onto other apps, but it's worth looking at both what Playapod does right and what it needs to make improvements on down the line. That basic utility is there though; launching the app for the first time brings you to a featured tab, similar to the Discover section inside of Pocket Casts, an app we've called one of the best applications on our own round-up list of the best podcast apps on Android. You can browse through new shows in Playapod, search for shows you already listen to in order to subscribe and add them to your list, and playback content at your own discretion. Playapod doesn't even require an account making it a bit better for newcomers to the genre than other apps that require a login.
If anything throws us off from recommending Playapod without reservations, it's the visual design of the app. It's not necessarily bad, with a modern, material-esque design, floating action buttons and sliding menus that allow you to easily access different parts of the menu. It's when you look at the stuff in between these visual designs, however, that you realize everything looks a little lackluster at the moment. The grey bars that fill the app in order to separate sections of content looks odd, as does the fact that the floating action button to add shows to your library is a different shade of blue than the rest of the app. The playback bar that displays how far into an episode you are looks pretty rough as well, and everything seems to have a feeling like the app came from 2012 or 2013, especially when held up to the design of its contemporaries.
Playback works well on Playapod, though again, the visual design leaves a lot to be desired. Comparing the now-playing display on Playapod to something like Pocket Casts, it's easy to see that obvious design decisions here have been left on the cutting room floor. The title of the podcast episode you're listening to appears at the top of the app instead of somewhere where it's easier to view, and most of the display is wasted on whitespace to the top and bottom of artwork (especially when you have episode artwork enabled, which is on by default and can take up even less room on screen). There is a sleep timer, but by default, it's set to 1 hour, and you'll need to dive into settings every time you want to change that setting, and there's no custom option to speak of here.
Ultimately, it seems like the now-playing display suffers the most from If we're being honest, the best thing Playapod has going for it right now is its price. As a free app without in-app purchases, unlocks, or advertisements, Playapod is one of the few dedicated podcast apps on Android to feature full support for cloud sync on both Android and iOS for free, with a web player coming soon. It's difficult to judge Playapod too hard right now, because it's clear that it's a work in progress. While plenty of the visual elements on the app haven't come together quite yet, it's far from the worst-looking podcast application on the Play Store. You'll be signing up for an early access-style application, but if you want to try out a new podcast app and you're willing to strap in for some early experiences, Playapod is promising.
Retro-stylized games are a dime a dozen on the Play Store, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't pay attention when one comes along that's truly worth looking at. Stereobreak is one of those games, a retro-shooter designed to look like a game you'd see in an arcade in the 80s or early 90s but paired with some modern action and gameplay elements that make it truly fun to play. There's a lot to love about Stereobreak; it's basically the anti-Florence, this month, a game designed for mindless arcade fun capable of entertaining any gamer on the go. While our top pick most certainly goes to Card Quest or Florence for the best new Android game of April, but Stereobreak is cheaper than both titles—and includes a demo to entice new players. Let's take a look.
Stereobreak is an arcade shooter-meets-boss rush that revolves around a simple combat system, easy to learn but difficult to master. You jump into the game as the main character, a nameless hero who has taken it upon himself to defeat the enemies that stand in his way. Each stage places you on the left side of your display and your enemies on the right. The beginning of the round spawns several enemies, but only one of them is your target. That's the boss, an enemy that looks larger than the other opponents. Defeating the boss is the goal of each stage, and you'll need to stay sharp to defeat them without too much damage. At the bottom of the screen is the boss's health bar; each time you attack the boss, you'll reduce their health down one step farther, making it easier to take down the enemy. Finishing off the boss clears the level, so you'll want to target them as much as possible.
Making things a bit more difficult are the constantly-respawning enemies that stand in front of the boss. These characters can be taken down in a few hits, but it takes up time you could be devoting to the boss and finishing the level, raising the chances you take damage in the process. The strategy in the game comes from managing to damage the boss while also managing to dodge the attacks coming at you from both the boss and his minions. To do this, you'll need to move around your side of the arena in order to make sure nothing hits you, something that may be easier said than done. Your arena is based on a five-channel grid, with circles on the floor of where you can move. You can only move to the circles you're touching, which means moving from one side of the field to another is a two-step process.
The final step of the game, making things more complicated, are the enemies' various attacks on the field. Attacks aren't just projectiles—you'll also find a number of attacks that hit hard on the spots your avatar is standing on. This means you'll have to dodge out of the way of attacks while also making sure projectiles aren't going to interrupt your movement. It's a tough balance, and combining it with the difficult of aiming your own attacks (accomplished by tapping on the right side of the screen) means that, for an arcade shooter, it's going to require your attention. Overall, Stereobreak isn't a revelation in mobile gaming, but it is a blast to play if you have some time to kill. It's a tough game too, with enough challenge to make it worthy for both casual and hardcore mobile gamers alike. It's $.99 for the full game, but a demo featuring the first stage means you can try it out before dropping a full dollar.