Every year toward December, Google releases a list of the best apps it recommends from the Play Store. It's a great way for Android newcomers to discover interesting apps they might want to install on their devices and for platform veterans to find apps that might have flown under their radar. This year's list is out, divided in 8 categories of 5 apps each, with a few added at the top, but the choices are if anything, a little weird.
You'll likely see different lists according to where you live. Some apps seem to be globally recommended like Skype, Google Photos, Twitch, and djay, while others will differ based on where you're consulting the list from.
If you pay for cable, you probably pay for ESPN. Disney's sports empire is practically inescapable, especially if you watch college sports, and it's essentially impossible to pay for conventional television without getting ESPN thrown into the package, whether you want it or not. So if you're paying for it, you might as well get it on your phone too, right? ESPN's live streaming service WatchESPN is now available within the primary ESPN app itself. Previously WatchESPN was a separate Android app.
As a former student of archaeology, Machu Picchu is a place that has always fascinated me. As someone direly afraid of heights, Machu Picchu is a place I will almost certainly never go, barring the invention of personal air transport. As such, today I was quite pleased to learn that Google's globetrotting street view team has mapped the ancient city-temple-palace-agrarian-center with a backpack of many, many cameras.
Machu Picchu sits nearly 8000 feet above sea level, and its real purpose still largely eludes archaeologists and ancient historians to this day. While it's clear it housed royalty and peasants alike, was used for religious purposes, commerce, and extensive agriculture, exactly why it made sense to the Inca to build what essentially amounted to a mountaintop city remains unclear.
Aralon: Sword and Shadow HD, is one of the most ambitious 3D mobile RPGs in memory. It also had nary an in-app purchase, something that has become sadly uncommon in this day and age of freemium. After two-and-a-half years, Crescent Moon Games has released the sequel. Meet Aralon: Forge and Flame.
Visuals look very substantially improved from the original, which is probably to be expected given how far mobile graphics have come since early 2013. The game promises a "massive" world to explore, three races and four classes to choose from, real-time shadows, first and third-person views, and dynamic day and night cycles.
This may come as a surprise, but some people really hate spending money on apps. They're willing to deal with banner ads, pop-ups, videos, and any number of intrusions before approaching a button in the Play Store with the letters b, u, or y. Amazon figures there's money to be made off these folks, and Amazon Underground is its effort to do so. Now the retailer is expanding the service to Italy, Spain, and fourteen other parts of Europe.
Risk, The Game Of Life, and Scrabble [Blitz 2...] are all classic board game franchises that would really benefit from the Chromecast treatment. And that's exactly what Hasbro's done today, releasing all three games in brand-new Chromecast "big screen" editions for Android. The best part? While they do have in-app purchases, they're the kind that make sense. While you can play all three games for free up to three times a day, one-time unlock IAPs offer players unlimited play (and usually some bonus content) from then on. It's $5.99 for Risk and Life, and $3.99 for Scrabble.
The catch, of course, is that everybody who plays must pay for this unlock if they also want to play unlimited rounds of the games, meaning a family of four would need to pony up a little under $24 for everyone to get in on endless games of Risk or The Game Of Life, or a little over $15 for Scrabble Blitz 2.
There's a surprisingly wide variety of content available for Google's dirt-cheap Cardboard VR system, but not many ways for end users to make use of it for their personal media. Enter Cardboard Camera, a new Google app that allows you to take a series of photos and automatically format them for the stereoscopic, 360-degree headset. (You don't need the headset to take the photos, but you'll need one to view the results in VR.) The app even records a little of the ambient sound in the area while you're taking all the necessary photos, so you can create a complete scene.
It really stinks when you've been saving up your Google Opinion Rewards money, but you're just a few cents short of buying something. Google has not thus far allowed you to apply that credit and pay the difference, but it looks like that's changing. We've gotten multiple tips from readers who have been offered just that option in the Play Store.