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TechRadar – Latest computing news http://www.techradar.com/rss/news/computing

Your next Chromebook could be powered by the Snapdragon 845 http://www.techradar.com/news/your-next-chromebook-could-be-powered-by-the-snapdragon-845 http://www.techradar.com/news/your-next-chromebook-could-be-powered-by-the-snapdragon-845
Recent versions of Chrome OS make mention of Qualcomm’s next-generation chip. Sat, 23 Dec 2017 12:09:12 +0000techradar.com
We know Qualcomm's powerhouse next-generation chip, the Snapdragon 845, is going to be fitted inside many an Android flagship of 2018, as well as a host of always connected laptops, but it sounds like the silicon could be making its way into Chromebooks too.

That's according to the folks over at XDA Developers, who have spotted some hints inside the Chrome OS code that suggest it's being prepped to run on the mobile chip. Some Chromebooks already run on chips designed for phones, including the Samsung Chromebook Plus, but this would be another step up in performance.

Of course the Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 is a very good fit for Chromebooks, offering decent performance alongside excellent battery life, plus some extra AI smarts. Your 2018 Chrome OS-powered laptop would run longer than ever between charges.

Problem solving

Attempts have been made to get Chromebooks running on Qualcomm processors in the past, but there have been problems getting the necessary drivers working properly with Linux. It would appear those problems are about to be resolved.

This year we saw Google up the Chromebook stakes with the Pixelbook, a premium Chromebook running on i5 and i7 chips from Intel, but these lightweight laptops have had most success down at the less expensive end of the market.

Exactly where the new Snapdragon 845-powered Chromebooks would fit into the various ranges, and who is going to make them, remains to be seen – but if this development does turn out to be real, you've got another bunch of reasons to make a Chromebook your next laptop.

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The best laptop of 2017: the top laptops ranked http://www.techradar.com/news/the-best-laptops-of-2017-the-top-laptops-ranked http://www.techradar.com/news/the-best-laptops-of-2017-the-top-laptops-ranked
In the market for a new laptop? Our best laptops list now includes the Huawei MateBook X. Fri, 22 Dec 2017 12:33:10 +0000techradar.com
Although pundits were bickering just a few years ago that laptops were on their way out along with the rest of PCs, there’s no denying the permanence of the best laptops. In fact, with the powerful yet affordable Asus ZenBook Pro coming soon to a table near you, it’s clear at this point that laptops are gradually nearing their golden age.

With hybrids, Ultrabooks, traditional clamshells and more portable than ever gaming laptops in tow, these are the best laptops you can buy. To get straight to the reviews, check the links below:

Best laptops

Slim, light, powerful and majestic, Dell’s 2017 flagship XPS 13 is the best laptop in the world at the time of this writing. Perhaps stifled by the fact that a more aesthetically pleasing Alpine White model is on its way, the version we’ve reviewed ought to satisfy your craving for a top-notch Windows Ultrabook in the meantime. Whether for its powerful Intel Kaby Lake processors ranging from i3 to i7 or for its nigh-bezel-less ‘Infinity Edge’ display, which shoves a 13.3-inch screen into an 11-inch frame, the Dell XPS 13 makes a significant splash on the competition. Not only that, but the port selection is equally on point. Compared to Apple’s exclusive USB-C approach, Dell’s flagship notebook impresses with – in addition to USB-C – USB 3.0 along with the elusive SD card slot. Bearing in mind those facets alone, it’s no wonder the Dell XPS 13 is the most popular WIndows laptop in the world. Yet it gets even better. You also get the choice of a super high-res or multi-touch screen as well as a breadth of options for storage and memory. Or you can save on cash and opt for more conservative specs.

Read the full review: Dell XPS 13

The Asus ZenBook UX310UA is the perfect replacement for the much pricier Dell XPS 13 without compromising on any department. Well, obviously the look and feel is not as nice as the XPS 13, also, the battery isn't as great too. It's not that the notebook is ugly, as you get an all aluminium frame and factastic performance using a 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor. 

Additionally, you can choose between a full HD and an immersive QHD+ screen. No matter what model you go for this laptop is a solid choice no matter whichever model you go for. 

Read the full review: Asus Zenbook UX310UA

If you're after the latest and greatest laptop from Apple, we suggest you welcome the 13-inch Macbook Pro with Touch Bar. Despite Microsoft’s claims that its Surface Book 2 is twice as powerful as Apple’s flagship MacBook Pro, it’s also more expensive at the starting level. Of course, the headline feature is the Touch Bar – it's a thin OLED display at the top of the keyboard which can be used for any number of things, whether that be auto-suggesting words as you type or offering Touch ID so you can log in with just your fingerprint. If you're a massive fan of the Macbook Pro 2017, you'll be happy with this model but there are some serious reasons why you should consider one of the Windows alternatives. As we said before, it's not as powerful, the screen is lower-res versus the competition and isn't touchscreen friendly, plus the battery is a bit disappointing, too. So, if you're open to switching to a PC, definitely consider the XPS 13 as a more modern, cheaper alternative. But, if you're a steadfast Apple diehard, this is definitely the best laptop for you!

Read the full review: Apple Macbook with Touch Bar (2017) 

The Macbook Air is dead, but it’s only the beginning for the new Apple MacBook. Not only is it the slimmest, sleekest and best-looking Macbook Apple has ever built, it's one of the most popular and best-selling laptops on the planet. It will not serve as a main productivity machine – it's a lot less powerful than the Macbook Pro and has only one IO port in the form of USB Type-C. But, in terms of being a super slim and light Macbook that you can take anywhere without even noticing the weight, and giving you the same slick OS X performance, the Macbook is a beautiful machine.

Read the full review: Apple Macbook 

Part of a new generation of Max-Q gaming laptops in 2017, the  Asus ROG Zephyrus is both ridiculously powerful and astonishingly thin and light. Make no mistake, this thing is large compared to a Macbook Pro or Dell XPS 13, but compared to gaming laptops of the past this effort from Asus is something of a holy grail achievement. Your expectations of a 15-inch gaming laptop will never be the same after seeing the Zephyrus in action. It's expensive of course, but with powerful Core i7 CPU and GTX 1080 graphics it'll be easily powerful enough to play the best games for many years to come on the built-in 1080p screen. It's an ideal top-end desktop replacement that is, possibly for the first time ever, also extremely portable.

Read the full review: Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 

If you're after a new gaming laptop and you don't have the kind of money that you need for the Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501 above, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming laptop is your best option. It comes in at well under half the price and offers absolutely fantastic value for money. The Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti graphics chip is easily powerful enough to lubricate the best games on the built-in 1080p display while general performance in Windows is super slick thanks to the Core i5 CPU. If you're going to be moving around a bit, you'll be pleased to know that the battery life on this laptop is also superb – we got nearly 8 hours out of it while watching HD video. A gaming session with Tom Clancy's The Division on medium settings for two hours only dropped the battery to 66%. This is far better than similarly priced rivals. So in the reasonably-priced category, the Dell Inspiron 15 7000 is definitely the best laptop around at the moment.

Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 7000 Gaming 

The Microsoft Surface Pro 4 is 2017's best laptop for you if you're looking for the perfect cross between a nimble Windows tablet and a fully functional laptop. The base version of the Surface Pro 4 is just a tablet – you get the main unit itself with kickstand but if you want the Surface Pen or the fantastic Type Cover keyboard you'll need to pay extra for a bundle or buy it separately. Often the best value option is a bundle but even the tablet on its own represents pretty good value. The Surface Pro, alongside the also-excellent Surface Book laptop, is to Windows what the Pixel is to Google's Android. It's the benchmark Windows device, with software and hardware working together in perfect harmony. So if you need a new laptop and a tablet, the Surface Pro is the best does-it-all 2-in-1 option. If you want this but need something a little cheaper, check out the Acer Switch 3 below!

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Pro 4 

The 13.3-inch version of the HP Spectre x360 may not boast the SD card slot of its 15.6-inch sibling, but what it does pack are the same hardy internal components in a more portable physique. Then there’s the keyboard which, with 1.3mm of travel, feels like a significant improvement. What’s more, despite having a lengthy battery life of 8 hours and 45 minutes, the HP Spectre x360 still manages to weigh no more than a mere 2.85 pounds. Just when we thought there wasn’t a laptop that’s cutting-edge in every category, the HP Spectre x360 proves us wrong.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360

Best laptops

If you've ever wanted a MacBook Pro without the mortgage sacrifice, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin not only delivers the style and glitz of Apple's professional-level laptops, but it even adds a touchscreen to the mix at an approachable starting price. For a hefty 2-in-1 with a Core i7 CPU, 12GB of RAM and even a discrete Nvidia GPU, the Samsung Notebook 7 provides top of the line specs considering its value. But, as Samsung probably asked while devising this quintessential hybrid notebook, why stop there? The company even went as far as to implement an HDR screen in the Notebook 7 Spin, and although it’s a feature that isn’t widely supported, the deeper blacks and more vibrant colors are appreciated to say the least.

Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 7 Spin

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The best gaming PC 2017: 10 of the top gaming desktops you can buy http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/pc/10-of-the-best-gaming-pcs-you-can-buy-in-2015-1304263 http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/pc/10-of-the-best-gaming-pcs-you-can-buy-in-2015-1304263
These are the best gaming PC 2017 has brought forth. Thu, 21 Dec 2017 23:25:00 +0000techradar.com
If you feel like you’ve been missing out on some of the best PC games because you didn’t have powerful enough hardware to run them, we’re here to assuage your despair a little bit. It’s never too late to get into PC gaming, and all you have to do is shop for one of the best gaming PCs. There might be a lot that you find intimidating when you’re out there shopping, but the rewards will blow your mind – you’ll get way more than the just the newest Assassin’s Creed, that’s for sure.

When you’re out shopping for one of the best gaming PCs, one of the first problems you might run into is the vast differences in price that different retailers and PC builders charge. Your goal when navigating all of these confusing prices should be finding a computer that strikes a nice balance between price and performance. Just as we’re sure you don’t want a PC that can’t even run solitaire without chugging, you also don’t want to spend a fortune on a PC that doesn’t have the specs to backup the high price. You should aim to get exactly what you pay for. Luckily, however, gaming PCs are becoming more affordable every day, and today they are more accessible than ever – even the gap between building your own PC and buying one pre-built is getting narrower every day.

But, don’t worry about anything, because we here at TechRadar have you covered. We’re one of the biggest tech sites around, and we’ve had the pleasure of being able to test, review and rank the best gaming PCs in the world – and we’ve reached a consensus on what exactly the best gaming PCs are. Some hail from recognizable brands like Alienware, while others – like the Chillblast Fusion – will come seemingly out of nowhere. Don’t worry, it’s all by design.

best gaming pc

The Alienware Aurora R5 impressed us with its clever, compact design and impressive power and the Aurora R6 doubles down on the latter. By introducing Kaby Lake processors and up to two Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti's in SLI, it's every bit as capable as the Alienware Area 51 Plus and half as small to boot. Even with the small chassis, there's plenty of room for more RAM, storage for the years to come.

Read the full review: Alienware Aurora R6

The Chillblast Fusion Spectrum might sound like the sweetest water gun ever made, but is in in fact a gaming PC, and it’s the first of which we’ve reviewed to contain an AMD Ryzen 7 processor. Although it’s pricey and perhaps even unnecessary for a lot of our readers who haven’t made the jump to 4K resolution displays, this computer delivers exceptional performance, especially for streamers and multi-taskers.

Read the full review: Chillblast Fusion Spectrum Ryzen 7 Gaming PC

  • This product is only available in the UK as of this writing. US and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Corsair One.

It’s not uncommon anymore for PC makers to brandish their pre-built desktop rigs as VR-ready. What is unusual is to do so with a computer that’s also ready to conquer any game you throw at it at well over 60 frames per second and for under two grand. That’s exactly what MSI has accomplished with the Infinite A, a tower whose graphical efforts aren’t thwarted by its preparedness for VR, nor is it so expensive that it would see your head turn the other way.

Read the full review: MSI Infinite A

  • This product is only available in the US as of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Overclockers 8Pack Asteroid.

Positioned as a ’console killer,’ the MSI Trident 3 looks a lot like an Xbox One S and is more powerful than a PS4 Pro, but at the end of the day, it’s a PC that feels just right in your living room. Complete with all the ports you could ever dream of, the MSI Trident 3’s advantages are clear. Still, in trying to be as thin and light as possible, the MSI Trident 3 comes equipped with a 330W external power supply brick, resembling some of the most less attractive console designs.

Read the full review: MSI Trident 3

best gaming pc

If you’re buying a pre-built PC, upgrades should be simple, right? That’s the philosophy behind the Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900. Embellished with red lights all over, the front of its chassis is bespeckled with textured patterns that’ll no doubt make your friends jealous. On top of offering support for a VR-ready GTX 1080, the Lenovo IdeaCentre boasts SLI support and room for up to 64GB of RAM, which are thankfully complemented by a convenient tool-less design.

Read the full review: Lenovo IdeaCentre Y900

  • This product is only available in the US and UK as of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Corsair One.

The Dell XPS Tower Special Edition is a shining example of how to make a gaming PC subtle. Without all the superfluous RGB lighting effects and tempered glass enclosure, this is a machine that puts its money where its mouth is and competes on the merit of performance alone. Well, performance and also state-of-the-art customer service. You won’t find a version of it with a GTX 1080 Ti housed inside, but its tool-less design makes it easy to upgrade nevertheless.

Read the full review: Dell XPS Tower Special Edition

  • This product is only available in the US and UK as of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Corsair One.

best gaming pc

Sure, for the price of an Origin Millennium PC, you could buy a halfway decent car. But why would you need to leave the house when you can play games in 4K at a buttery smooth 60 fps? Between its pair of EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Founders Edition twins and the Intel Broadwell-E Core i7-6950X processor, there is nothing the Origin Millennium can't handle – and on the best of the best displays at that. Of course, it's expensive; it's like ten years worth of future-proof. 

Read the full review: Origin Millennium

  • This product is only available in the US as of this writing. UK and Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Overclockers 8Pack Asteroid.

In classic Alienware fashion, the Area 51 Threadripper Edition pushes the limits of both technology and your wallet. It’s wildly powerful, markedly featuring the latest AMD Ryzen Threadripper 1950X across all of its configurations. The Area 51’s triad-design hasn’t changed much since its introduction back in 2014, but on the inside this machine is essentially tool-less to upgrade, not that you would even need to.

Read the full review: Alienware Area 51 Threadripper Edition 

Both in its appearances and temperature, the MSI Aegis 3 is one of those few examples of a gaming computer that’s way cooler pre-built than what you could probably assemble yourself. Not only does its chassis look like an anime mecha robot, but it also features customizable, interactive lighting. What’s more, it’s similar in size to the Alienware Aurora, but with a Kaby Lake processor rather than a Skylake. 

Read the full review: MSI Aegis 3

Known in part for putting out RAM that’s faster than your processor, Corsair has made a name for itself in nearly every PC component category there is. Be that as it may, the company has only begun to flirt with assembling its own rigs. Luckily, with the Corsair One, the first time was the charm. This is a machine that prides itself in power, speed and portability and succeeds on all fronts, save for maybe upgradeability, which is all but impossible on the Corsair One.

Read the full review: Corsair One

Joe Osborne and Gabe Carey have also contributed to this article

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Best free iPad apps 2017 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/70-best-free-ipad-apps-2013-692418 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/70-best-free-ipad-apps-2013-692418
We’ve dug out some real gems for your Apple tablet – iPad apps so good you won’t believe they’re free. Thu, 21 Dec 2017 16:25:00 +0000techradar.com
OK – you've probably noticed on the Apple App Store that iPad apps cost more – sometimes a LOT more – than their iPhone equivalents. But trust us, it's worth the extra cash.

Many of the best free iPhone apps cost money in their iPad incarnations, and the quality level of what's still free for the tablet is often ropey. But among the dross lie rare gems – iPad apps that are so good you can't believe they're still free.

Of those we unearthed, here's our pick of the best free iPad apps. Note that apps marked 'universal' will run on your iPad and iPhone, optimising themselves accordingly.

New this week: Lego Life

Lego Life is a social network for kids whose lives revolve around plastic bricks. Once you’re signed up, you explore feeds and follow themes, to become a better builder, or just see what’s current in the world of Lego.

Unsurprisingly, there’s a nod towards advertising of a kind, in new product videos being liberally sprinkled about. But mostly, this is an app about inspiration. You’re regularly offered building challenges and knowledge tests; during lazy days, you can slap stickers all over a virtual Lego kit, or build a mini-figure for your profile.

Given that it’ll mostly be kids using the app, it’s worth noting usernames are anonymized. You can’t type your own, and instead select from semi-random word lists. EmpressSensibleMotorbike, meet ElderSupersonicJelly!

Wondering which iPad to buy? Check out our guide video below.

TED is a video app designed to feed your curiosity, by watching smart people talk about all kinds of subjects.

Although the organization’s name stands for ‘Technology, Entertainment, Design’, it’s fundamentally interested in ideas. Example talks we watched during testing included a piece about screen time for kids (and why related fears are not true), not suffering in silence from depression, and mind-blowing magnified portraits of insects. What we’re saying is: this app has range.

It also has smarts. Along with a standard search, you can have the app ‘surprise you’ with something courageous, beautiful, or fascinating, and revisit favorites by delving into your watch history and liked talks, which sync across devices.

TED’s perhaps not an app you’ll open daily, but it’s a breath of fresh air when you desire brain food rather than typical telly.

Epicurious is a massive recipe book for iPad. It provides access to over 35,000 recipes, and offers a magazine-like presentation. The entry screen is awash with new recipes with vibrant photography; you can quickly flick between that and dedicated pages for themed recipes and new videos.

The app’s search is excellent. You can select by meal type, and filter available recipes by selecting specific ingredients, cuisine types, and dietary issues (such as low-fat and wheat-free). Flicking back and forth between filters and results can irk, but the app at least does so quickly and efficiently.

The actual recipe pages are a touch basic – there’s no hand-holding like the step-by-step photos you get in Kitchen Stories. Still, if confident in your abilities, it’s a great app to broaden your culinary horizons.

Beatwave is a grid synthesizer/sound toy, loosely based on Yamaha’s Tenori-on. This means you tap notes by turning on the grid’s lights. When the endlessly looping playhead collides with one, you get an explosion of color, and a sound plays.

Notes towards the top of the grid are higher, and those at the bottom are lower. Some instruments use the bottom two rows for drum sounds. Most importantly, though, Beatwave is designed to always make output listenable.

It’s actually quite difficult to create anything horribly discordant, short of filling every square on the grid.

For those who fancy more depth, the app offers plenty of alternate sounds, automated morphing, and the ability to save patterns to the sidebar, which you switch between with a tap. So it’s fun whether writing songs or just playing with sound and color.

7 Minute Workout is designed to give you a complete fitness workout in just seven minutes. It’s far from alone on the App Store, but we like this take because it’s straightforward – and also properly free (rather than being riddled with IAP).

The exercise screens are basic, but bold. It’s always obvious where you are in a routine, and if you’re unsure about the next step, you can tap a video playback button to view a demonstration.

Beyond the exercises, the app enables you to track your weight and set the gap between exercises, which are regularly switched during the routine. The only downside is not being able to block specific exercises if, for example, you don’t have access to a chair, or cannot perform them due to accessibility reasons.

Tayasui Sketches is a drawing tool, designed to be realistic, versatile, and usable. And although various IAPs lurk for the full toolset (which includes a ruler, extra layers, and pressure sensitivity), you get an awful lot for free.

You start by selecting a paper type, or use an imported photo as the basis for your masterpiece. Then it’s time to get cracking with the pens and brushes. Although it’s perhaps a stretch to call them totally realistic, they all offer pleasing results. The watercolor brush in particular is lovely, bleeding into the paper and leaving splats on the canvas when you tap the screen.

In fact, the app as a whole is very pleasant to use, offering the right balance between trying to help and getting out of your way when you’re busy painting. And as a final neat touch, if you’re stuck for inspiration there are some coloring book pages thrown in for free.

Dropbox is perhaps the most famous of cloud storage providers. For free, you get 2GB of space for your documents and photos – and more if you pay to upgrade.

In the early days of iPad, Apple wanted to hide the file system away, and Dropbox – which was quickly supported by a great many apps – became a kind of surrogate. And even in these days of iCloud Drive, it’s very much worth installing.

The main Dropbox app is smart and straightforward, with speedy previews, the means to save content offline, passcode lock functionality, and optional automated backup of your iPad photos.

As of iOS 11, Dropbox can integrate directly into the Files app, too. Given Dropbox’s cross-device and cross-platform nature, this makes it worth grabbing even if you only use it rarely. Chances are, though, you’ll use it a whole lot more often.

There are other decent cloud storage apps too, such as Google Drive, but even if you already have that it’s worth grabbing Dropbox for a little extra space.

Google Maps is an app that might seem an odd fit for an iPad, but we’d argue it’s an essential install. First and foremost, it’s much better than Apple’s Maps for figuring out journeys: Google Maps can more easily find points of interest, and ably deals with public transport information.

Local areas can be explored in terms of amenities (food, drink, and sometimes entertainment), and in a more direct sense, with the road-level Street View. The latter is a great way to familiarize yourself with a place before you visit.

If you always have your iPad on you, Google Maps can save maps for offline use as well, so you don’t even need an internet connection to use it. Alternatively, sign up for a Google account, and the searches you make will be synced with the app on your iPhone.

Snapseed is a photo editor that’s suitable for all iPad users. If you’re a beginner, you can import a photo, tap a filter (Snapseed calls them ‘looks’), venture briefly into the tools menu to crop and straighten your masterpiece, and export the results.

But there’s so much more on offer. Tools include perspective editing, adjustments, vignettes, text, and textures you can use to merrily wreck the pristine nature of your digital snaps.

Every edit is non-destructive, and stored in a ‘stack’ found in the undo menu. Previous edits can be removed or adjusted at any point – and that goes for any built-in ‘look’ you may have applied, too.

You can also save your own adjustment/edit combinations as a ‘look’ to use on other photos.

About the only thing we don’t like about Snapseed is its light grey background. (Bring back black in an update, please!)

Pic Collage has you create collages from photos and images. In Grids mode, select some pictures, and the app automatically places them in a layout. If you’re not keen, switch to a different layout; you can also adjust background colors and border sizes.

Select an individual image and you can move and rotate it, and perform the kind of edits and adjustments you find in a slew of photo apps. Using the + button you can further customize your creation with stickers, text and doodles.

Beyond this mode, you can craft cards and ‘freestyle’ layouts. For free, it all comes across as an astonishingly flexible, usable and feature-rich take on digital collages. The only real downside is watermarks on your exported collages, but you can be rid of them forever by paying a single $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP.

Doctor Who: Comic Creator does what you’d expect from its name. When you’re between seasons of the hit sci-fi show, you can satisfy yourself by fashioning custom adventures about everyone’s favorite regenerating time traveler, who goes everywhere and everywhen in a beaten-up old time machine.

Creating comics is akin to slapping down stickers – only you can move things around later. And you get a pleasingly diverse range of page layouts, along with a monster maker, so you can combine parts of the Doctor’s enemies into something suitably horrific.

The main downside is most foes lurk behind various IAPs – would it have killed the BBC to throw in a Cyberman for free? Sadly, there’s no way to use the app to get all timey-wimey and change people’s minds when the app was being made.

Sandbox offers an interesting take on coloring apps. Instead of virtual paper and pens (as per the excellent Pigment), Sandbox gives you a quirky combination of painting by numbers and old-school pixel art.

Select an image and it appears in grayscale. A tap zooms you in to a grid of numbers. Select a palette color and tap relevant grid squares to start coloring things in. Tap the wrong squares and your colors remain – but the numbers stick around in zoomed view, reminding you of your ‘error’.

Because you have to tap every single square, Sandbox might for some feel tedious. But there’s a meditative quality to proceedings, and there are plenty of images to color for free. A drag-to-color brush wouldn’t go amiss though.

Google Earth is about exploring our planet. Search for somewhere specific and the app swoops and dives to its target. Important landmarks are rendered in 3D that’s surprisingly effective – if you don’t zoom in too far.

This is an entertaining, tactile app that encourages investigation. You can drag and spin the screen, and flick through cards that point towards local landmarks. Fancy looking at something new? Hit the random button, or tap on the Voyager icon for stories based around anything from UNESCO World Heritage Sights to trekking about Kennedy Space Center.

The app is effortless to use, and the iPad’s large screen enables you to more fully breathe in the sights; the result is armchair tourism that’s far more effective than what you’d get even on the largest of iPhones.

Townske seems to bill itself as an app akin to Foursquare – a place to find the best local cafes, restaurants, and sights in major cities. But really it’s more of a place where photo-bloggers can publish their unique take on amazing locations, thereby providing you with gorgeous photos and succinct chunks of writing to devour.

You can jump right into the main feed, or focus on a specific city. You then tap on a photo to open an individual story. Every one we tried was rich in superb imagery, with just enough text to add meaningful context without interrupting the flow of the visuals.

Neatly, you can tap a map icon to see where the various photos were all taken; and if you sign up for an account, favorite stories or individual images can be bookmarked for later. But even if you simply treat Townske as a regularly-updated lean-back digital take on a newspaper travel supplement, you can’t really go wrong.

Py wants to teach you to communicate with computers. You provide some information about the kind of coding you fancy doing, and it recommends a course – anything from basic HTML through to delving into Python.

Lessons are very reminiscent of those in language-learning freebie Duolingo. A colorful, cartoonish interface provides questions, and you type out your answer or select from multiple choice options.

Py could be more helpful when you get something wrong, but its breezy, pacy nature gives it a real energy and game-like feel that boosts focus and longevity.

Unlike Duolingo, Py doesn’t have any interest in being free forever. A premium tier locks a chunk of content behind a monthly fee (along with access to mentors, who can help you through tough spots via an integrated chat). But for no outlay, there’s still plenty here for budding website – and app – creators to get stuck into.

Boldomatic comes across like a social network for people who like making bold statements – in bold colors and with bold text. Imagine Twitter, but with a chunky font, eye-searing backgrounds on every post, and a user base that’s perhaps a little too full of itself.

Which all sounds a bit unflattering, we’re sure, but Boldomatic is actually rather fun. You can zip through the feed to find random thoughts, tiny nuggets of philosophy, daft jokes, and little bits of poetry.

Fashioning your own slice of creative genius is simple, too: just type out your words, select a background color (or a photo), and share it with the world.

Boldomatic also works as a means to create content for elsewhere. Your creations can be hurled at Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr, to share them with the wider world (or Photos, if you want to keep them just between you and your iPad).

Swift Playgrounds is an app about coding, although you’d initially be forgiven for thinking it a weird game. Early lessons involve guiding oddball cartoon cyclops Byte about an isometric landscape by way of typed commands, having him trigger switches and grab gems along the way.

This is, of course, sneakily teaching you the fundamentals of logic and programming, and the lessons do then gradually become more involved. However, at no point does Swift Playgrounds become overwhelming. And the split-screen set-up – instructions and code on the left; interactive world based on your work on the right – feels friendly and intuitive.

It’s not Xcode for iPad, then, but perhaps a first step in that direction. More importantly, Swift Playgrounds can act as a first step for people who want to start coding their own apps, but for whom the very idea has, to date, simply been too daunting.

Adobe Acrobat Reader is a popular app on the desktop for viewing, annotating and signing PDFs. On iPad… well, it’s much the same, albeit with a reliance on cloud storage, and a nicely-designed touchscreen interface.

On importing a PDF from another app, Dropbox, or iCloud Drive, you can rearrange its pages, add a signature, slather the thing in comments, and highlight bits of text. If your document arrived from Adobe Scan, you can search the text, and select/copy some to paste elsewhere. Annoyingly, copying must be done manually – there’s no ‘grab all text’ option.

In the main, though, this is a friendly, usable app, and you get the bulk of its functionality for free, including the means to share edited PDFs with other apps. (IAP is mostly for converting PDFs to other formats for editing in the likes of Microsoft Word.)

Adobe Scan turns your iPad into a handheld scanner. This in itself isn’t anything special – there are plenty of paid and free scanners for iPad, including inbuilt support with iOS 11. However, in Adobe Scan’s case, it’s mostly about the ecosystem.

The basics are present and correct – place a document in front of Adobe Scan and it will automatically be captured. This feature is sometimes a bit over-eager when scanning multiple pages (in one case during review, it took a fetching angled picture of a trackpad), but you can subsequently fiddle with cropping, page order, and recoloring.

The best bit, though, is the way in which Adobe Scan also captures words. You can’t actually get at them in Adobe Scan, frustratingly, but fling your PDF at Adobe Acrobat, and you can copy and paste text to the likes of Notes. Accuracy is pleasingly high, too. 

Groovebox is a really clever app for anyone interested in making electronic music. The smartest bit is in the app being approachable for newcomers, yet offering power and features for seasoned noise makers.

The basics involve selecting a track type (drums, bass, or synth), and then a sound, whereupon Groovebox starts playing a loop. If you’re not happy with what you hear, tap the dice and Groovebox will spit out a different pattern.

Most apps of this ilk are samples-based, and so grind to a juddering halt at this point. But Groovebox goes further, offering a keyboard for live play, and a piano roll grid for tweaking a loop’s notes – or removing them all to add your own.

The lack of a song editor is a pity (you’re limited to 16-bar loops), and advanced instrument features sit behind various IAP. But for free, Groovebox offers plenty of head-nodding entertainment.

Dribbble is well known among designer types for being a hub of creativity. It’s used by thousands of illustrators, graphic designers, typographers and the like to upload ideas and see what everyone else is up to.

The discussion forums are a great way to get feedback on in-progress work and to talk about weird and wonderful sketches and experiments.

For those in a creative industry, the Dribbble app gets the bulk of the experience neatly onto your iPad. You can browse, chat, flag favorites, and adjust the toolbar to include buttons for quick access to your preferred streams.

For everyone else, it’s a hive of inspiration – a great way to explore what’s hot in visual design, perhaps even sparking some ideas to drive your own creative endeavors.

Despite being lumbered with an awkward name, Pixel art editor – Dottable is a usable and nicely-conceived app. Choose a canvas size and then the interface is split between your drawing area, layers, and tools.

The basics are all there for creating old-school pixel art, but beyond brushes and fills, Dottable adds some fairly sophisticated shapes and transform tools.

If you want to trace an image, it can be imported, and optionally converted to pixel art form. Exports are also dealt with nicely, either exporting your image as a PNG, or converting each layer into a single frame of an animated GIF.

None of this is enough to trouble the pro-oriented Pixaki, but as a freebie for pixel artists, Dottable is mightily impressive.

There are plenty of apps for doodling on your iPad, but Thoughts differentiates itself by going for a kind of razor-sharp minimalism that’s vanishingly rare these days.

On creating a new document, you can draw with a finger, and resize the canvas with a pinch. There’s also an eraser, a small palette to change colors, an interesting night mode (which flips black to white) and that’s pretty much it.

It sounds reductive, but in reality frees you up. You’re not thinking about line thicknesses and the like – you’re just drawing. Export is a little disappointing – it would be good if you could have a vector format rather than a fairly low-res bitmap – but otherwise Thoughts is a nicely simple sketching tool for iPad.

With Numbers, Apple managed to do something with spreadsheets that had eluded Microsoft in decades of Excel development: they became pleasant (even fun) to work with.

Instead of forcing workmanlike grids of data on you, Numbers has you think in a more presentation-oriented fashion. Although you can still create tables for totting up figures, you’re also encouraged to be creative and reader-friendly regarding layout, incorporating graphs, imagery, and text. On iPad, it’s all tap – and finger – friendly, too.

With broad feature-parity with the Mac version, iCloud sync, and export to Excel format, Numbers should also fit neatly into most people’s workflow.

And although updates robbed the app of some friendliness (whoever removed the date picker needs a stern talking to), it still excels in that department, from nicely designed templates through to the handy action menu, ensuring common tasks are only ever a tap away.

The idea behind Documents 6 is to be a central hub for all your files. It can pull in documents from various sources, which can then be collated and sent elsewhere. There’s a media player, smart search, PDF annotation, and document archiving (by way of zipping files) too.

However, Documents 6 also points to one particular future of the iPad many people would like to see: drag and drop between apps. Yes, this is coming in iOS 11 – but if you want it now, this is the app to start with.

Because this is a proprietary solution, it only works with Readdle apps, but it feels entirely natural in Split View to drag a file from Documents 6 to PDF Expert. And this alone may nudge productivity-oriented users towards Readdle’s apps until the official solution finally lands around September.

There are quite a few DJ apps for iPad, but they mostly tend to make the assumption you’re a master of the decks already. With its bright colors, straightforward nature, and lack of a price tag, Pacemaker feels rather more approachable to the typical wannabe deck spinner.

You can mess about with demo tracks or load tunes from your iPhone and Spotify. Then it’s a case of messing around with virtual decks, sliders and buttons to crossfade, beat-match, and add effects. If you hit on something especially great, record your live performance and share it with your friends.

It’s worth noting the app does have IAP lurking, but that’s really only for people properly bitten by the bug. Splash out and you can grab new effects or a premium subscription for precision mixing. For free, though, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Another filter app, but this one’s more about creating semi-abstract works of art than aping a bunch of photographic effects from the 1970s (although you get those too). With Trigraphy, the most interesting bits are the art filters, which can totally transform even the most mundane snap into something visually arresting.

You get four for free – more styles lurk as various IAPs – and they’re all pretty amazing. With a single tap, you can turn your photo into a landscape of isometric blocks, or overlay fragmented reflective surfaces.

With the brush tool, you can then paint out the effects layer to let parts of the original image show through, before exporting at up to 4K. It’s certainly a lot more creative than tapping a button to make a pretend Polaroid.

Automation is something you’d usually associate more with a PC than an iPad, but Workflow, can perform strings of tasks on your behalf. This means instead of dipping in and out of several apps to do something complex, you can just tap a button.

The app’s gallery includes over 200 pre-made workflows, such as turning a web page into a PDF, creating an animated GIF, or finding the nearest coffee outlet. These can be saved to your Home screen as an app, to Workflow’s Today view widget, or even as a Share sheet action extension.

Should you want to construct a workflow of your own, you can do so using a straightforward drag-and-drop interface. During creation, workflows can be tested and each step tweaked until you’re happy.

Now Workflow’s owned by Apple, its future is a little unclear, but it’s also free, so you’ve no excuse not to delve in.

There are two things a good flight comparison apps needs to be: easy to use, and useful results. Broadly speaking, Momondo ably does the job in both cases.

Looking for flights is simple; the app allows a pleasing amount of vagueness regarding locations (including regions with multiple airports, such as ‘London’, or even entire countries, such as ‘New Zealand’), and it’ll happily enable you to search for singles, returns, or multi-city jaunts.

As search results gradually load in, the app points you to the cheapest and quickest options, along with what it considers ‘best’ when taking into account price, time and convenience. For some routes, a calendar graph lets you check nearby dates to see if you can snag a bargain.

Additional filters are available to further refine your results, and you can create an account to save favorites and receive fare alerts – plus hotel listing can be added in too, should you want a more comprehensive.

On the iPhone, Prisma has become many people’s go-to app for transforming photos into tiny works of painterly art. Bafflingly, an iPad version of the app has yet to materialize, so fortunately Pixify is on hand to plug that particular gap.

In fact, in many ways Pixify is superior to Prisma. It has the same level of immediacy: load a photo and select what artwork you’d like it to resemble. But the app also provides a modicum of control over the output, in you being able to adjust brush sizes and how heavily the painterly style is applied.

The one downside on iPad is the final rendered image displays quite small on the screen. And even the $0.99/99p/AU$1.99 IAP, which unlocks higher-resolution artwork to export, doesn’t affect this oddity.

Making apps approachable is a good thing on mobile, but sometimes photo editors go a bit far, flinging all kinds of detritus into the mix (stickers; gaudy frames; a million indistinguishable filters).

With Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, you instead get a more sedate and distinctly professional offering – although one that nonetheless retains plenty of immediacy.

The basic toolset includes cropping, rotation, a bunch of measured and genuinely useful presets, and an editor for adjusting tones, vignettes, colors and lens issues. Edits aren’t burned in and so you can experiment and revert as you wish. When you’re done, you can send the result to your Camera Roll.

If you’re an Adobe Creative Cloud subscriber, you also get DNG support, and selective adjustments. But even as a pure freebie, Lightroom’s a must-have for any iPad owner interested in improving their photographs.

MediBang Paint feels like one of those apps where you’re always waiting for the catch to arrive. Create a new canvas and you end up staring at what can only be described as a simplified Photoshop on your iPad. There are loads of drawing tools, a layers system (including photo import), and configurable brushes.

Opening up menus reveals yet more features – rotation; shapes; grids – but palettes can also be hidden, so you can get on with just drawing. Judging by the in-app gallery of uploaded art, MediBang is popular with manga artists, but its tools are capable enough to support a much wider range of digital painting and drawing styles – all without costing you a penny.

There are two ways to approach Seaquence, where the first is as a really bizarre interactive album. Select a track and a bunch of little creatures swim about on the screen, which results in spatialized sound mixes. (Stick some headphones on to hear how their movements affect the placement of sounds being played.) You can manually fling the creatures about, or tap-hold to remove them.

But Seaquence also enables you to edit. Add a new creature and it’ll instantly change the track. Tap a creature and you can delve into a scale editor, sound designer, and a sequencer for adjusting the notes of the current loop.

A $6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99 IAP opens up a bunch of pro features; but for free, Seaquence is entertaining whether you’re just listening and occasionally bothering the digital sea life, or figuring out how to construct your own tunes.

If you often find yourself rooting around the web for images to use in projects, Google Images will do. But it can be tricky to know whether you have the rights to use whatever you download – and you very often don’t.

Pixabay does away with such concerns through its images being released under Creative Commons CC0. In plain English: you can do whatever you like with them.

The downside is the selection can be sparse for niche subjects, and quite a lot of the vector art is of poor quality. But for general imagery to add to a brochure or website when you’re lacking a budget for pictures, there are plenty of decent photographs to choose from, easily accessible from the app’s straightforward search.

On an iPhone, music-making app GarageBand is mightily impressive, but on iPad, the extra space proves transformative. In being able to see more at any given time, your experience is more efficient and enjoyable, whether you’re a beginner tapping the grid view to trigger loops, a live musician tweaking a synth on stage, or a recording artist delving into audio waveforms and MIDI data.

Apple’s app also cleverly appeals to all. Newcomers can work with loops, automated drummers, and piano strips for always staying in key. Pros get seriously impressive track controls with configurable effects, multi-take recording, and Audio Unit support for bringing favorite synths directly into GarageBand.

If you don’t feel terribly creative sitting in front of a PC, GarageBand’s the perfect way to unleash your Grammy-winning songwriter in waiting.

Instapaper acts as a time-shifting service for the web. You can send pages to it from any browser (PC, Mac or mobile), whereupon Instapaper strips away everything bar the content. When you open the app, it’ll quickly sync your article collection. You can then read anything you’ve stored in a mobile-optimized layout that’s entirely free from cruft.

On an iPhone, Instapaper is handy for commuters wanting to catch up on saved pages while belting along on a train. But on iPad, the larger display transforms Instapaper into a superb lean-back reading experience – your own personal periodical that’s free from the gimmickry and iffy curation found in glossier fare, and that’s instead all about the content.

You won’t trouble Hollywood with PicsArt (or PicsArt Animated Gif & Video Animator to use its unwieldy full name). However, it is a great introduction to animation and also a handy sketchpad for those already immersed in the field.

A beginner can start with a blank slate, paper texture, or photo background, on to which an animation frame is drawn. Add further frames and previous ones faintly show through, to aid you in making smooth transitions.

Delve further into the app to discover more advanced fare, including brush options and a hugely useful layers system. When done, export to GIF or video – or save projects to refine later. That this all comes for free (and free from ads) is astonishing.

Although Photoshop started out as a tool for retouching imagery, plenty of people use it for creating art from scratch. It’s presumably that line of thinking that led to Adobe Photoshop Sketch, an iPad app that enables you to draw with virtual takes on ink, paint, pastel and markers.

The tools themselves are broadly impressive and configurable. You can adjust brushes in all kinds of ways, and then utilize blend modes and layers for complex art, and grids/stencils when more precision is needed.

Export feels a bit needlessly restrictive – you’re mostly forced to send drawings to Adobe’s Behance network – even Photos isn’t an option. 

Also, while tools work well individually, they don’t really interact, such as when dragging pen through a glob of paint. Still, for free, Adobe Photoshop Sketch gives you a lot – and even if you don’t use the app for finished art, it works (as its name suggests) as a pretty neat sketchpad.

There are quite a few apps for creating ambient background noise, helping you to focus, relax, and even sleep. White Noise+ is perhaps the best we’ve seen – a really smartly designed mix of sound and interface design that is extremely intuitive yet thoroughly modern.

It works through you adding sounds to an on-screen grid. Those placed towards the right become more complex, and those towards the top are louder. Personalized mixes can be saved, or you can play several that are pre-loaded.

For free, you do get an ad across the bottom of the screen, only five sounds, and no access to timers and alarms. But even with such restrictions, White Noise+ is pretty great. Throw $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 at it for the extra features and noises, and it borders on exceptional.

Although Apple’s Notes is far more capable than it used to be, it can feel a touch sterile. Notebook mirrors a lot of the functionality of Apple’s app, while injecting a touch more tactility and fun.

Your notes are grouped into little notebooks, which when opened display as a grid of sticky notes. Individual notes can have a bespoke background color and contain text, imagery, audio recordings, checkboxes, and scribbles. The drawing tools lack the ruler from Notes but offer far more colors and tooltip sizes. Back in the notebook, notes can be grouped and browsed through with subtle flicks.

Export is weak and sync rather annoyingly requires an account with the developer rather than iCloud; but for a freebie note-taker on a single iPad, Notebook fits the bill.

Often, third-party apps improve on bare-bones equivalents provided as the ‘official’ take on a product, but Wikipedia is an exception. This freebie app for browsing the online encyclopedia is excellent on iPad – and probably the best option on the platform.

The Explore page lists a bunch of nearby and topical articles; after a few uses, it’ll also recommend things it reckons you’d like to read. Tap an article and the screen splits in two – (collapsible) table of contents to the left and your chosen article to the right. Articles can be searched and saved, the latter option storing them for offline perusal.

It’s a pity Wikipedia doesn’t rework the Peek/Pop previews from the iPhone version (by way of a long-tap), but otherwise this is an excellent, usable encyclopedia for the modern age.

On the desktop, Adobe Illustrator is more about enabling creative types to work up pin-sharp illustrative fare than freehand drawing. But on iPad, Adobe Illustrator Draw concentrates on doodling. You can experiment with five highly configurable brush tips, which feel great whether drawing with a stylus or a finger.

But dig deeper into the options and the professional sheen of this app becomes apparent. There are perspective grids, a layers system for mixing and matching artwork and imagery for tracing over, and stencils you temporarily overlay when extra precision is needed.

Completed images can be exported to Camera Roll or the clipboard, and Adobe Creative Cloud users can also send art to Photoshop or Illustrator with layers preserved.

A straightforward vector export option would be nice, although that’s perhaps too big an ask for a free app designed to suck you into a larger ecosystem.

Given the acres of space you get on an iPad display, it’s a bit odd that Apple’s own clock only provides a single timer. Fortunately, MultiTimer – as its name suggests – goes somewhat further by offering multiple options.

In fact, depending on the layout you choose, you can have twelve timers all ticking away at once. Each one of them can have its own icon, color and default time assigned, for those people who need to simultaneously exercise, boil eggs, and cook a turkey.

Smartly, the app works in portrait or landscape, and if you want a timer you can see clearly across the room, a single button press zooms it to fill almost the entire screen.

Should you want a bit more flexibility by way of multiple or custom workspaces, there’s a single IAP to unlock those features. 

It’s fair to say that Music Memos is primarily designed for the iPhone, enabling musicians to quickly capture a song idea, which can later be expanded on. But if you’re in a studio – home or otherwise – strumming away on a guitar, and with an iPad nearby, the app can help you compose your next chart-troubler on a much more user-friendly screen size.

You kick things off by tapping a circle in the middle of the screen, whereupon Music Memos starts recording. Tap again to stop. The app then attempts – with some degree of success – to transcribe the chords played, and enables you to overlay automated bass and drums.

It’s when tapping the audio waveform in the recordings list that the iPad’s value becomes clear – you get the whole screen to see your in-progress song, which is great for playing along with or when considering further tweaks. And with iCloud sync, you can always record on iPhone and peruse later on iPad.

A halfway house between full-fledged writing tool and capable note-taker, Bear provides a beautiful environment for tapping out words on an iPad.

The sidebar links to notes you’ve grouped by hashtag. Next to that, a notes list enables you to scroll through (or search) everything you’ve written, or notes matching a specific tag. The main workspace – which can be made full-screen – marries sleek minimalism with additional smarts: subtle Markdown syntax next to headings; automated to-do checkboxes when using certain characters; image integration.

There’s not enough here for pro writers – they’d need on-screen word counts, customizable note column ordering, and flexibility regarding notes nesting. Also, for iCloud sync, you must buy a $1.49/£1.49/AU$1.99 monthly subscription. But as a free, minimal note-taker for a single device, Bear more than fits the bill.

Fancy creating a slice of dubstep, hip hop, or deep house? Largely bereft of musical talent (or just feeling a bit lazy)?

Don’t worry – Remixlive has you covered. Using the app, you select a genre (others are available via IAP – and some extras are even free), and then superstardom is just a case of triggering loops by tapping large colored pads.

The app’s pretty much idiot-proof – pads are labelled, everything’s always in time or in tune, and you can record your efforts by tapping a big REC button. Lovely.

But if you fancy going a bit further, the app’s happy to oblige: there’s a mixing desk for adjusting levels, live effects, and an editor to mix and match pads from different genre sets. Want to import/export your own sounds? Grab the relevant IAP ($5.99/£5.99/AU$9.99).

The web’s pretty great, apart from the bits that aren’t. And those bits are the manner in which your journey online is monitored by countless trackers. They look into what you’re viewing and where you’re going, aiming to serve up targeted ads. Beyond privacy issues, these trackers can slow down web pages and even crash browsers.

Enter: Firefox Focus. The app itself is a brutally stripped-back, privacy-oriented browser. You go online, tracker-free, do whatever you want, and then stab Erase to delete your session. Which probably sounds ideal for nefarious purposes, but this is mostly great for basic efficiency, and also handy if someone wants to quickly get online using your iPad but not leave their accounts live when handing your device back.

Beyond this, Firefox Focus can also integrate with Safari, blocking trackers and web fonts from that browser and, potentially, increasing its performance.

If you’ve any interest in wildlife films, Attenborough Story of Life is a must-have. It features over a thousand clips picked from Attenborough’s decades-long journey through what he refers to as the “greatest story of all…how animals and plants came to fill our Earth”.

The app is split into three sections. You’re initially urged to delve into some featured collections, but can also explore by habitat or species, unearthing everything from big-toothed sharks to tiny penguins skittering about. Clips can be saved as favorites, or grouped into custom collections to later peruse or share with friends.

Some of the footage is noticeably low-res on an iPad – there’s nothing here to concern your Blu-Rays, and that’s a pity. Still, for instant access to such a wealth of amazing programming, this one’s not to be missed.

For reasons unknown to us, Prisma’s not on iPad, but Matissa provides a similar take on transforming photos into works of art. You know the drill: load a pic, select a filter, watch as the app turns it into something that looks more akin to paint on canvas, share, print, rinse and repeat.

Matissa’s filter selection is quite diverse, even if the results aren’t as convincing as Prisma’s. Still, there are some interesting ‘dynamic’ styles, which animate the end result, in a flickering loop that’s oddly hypnotic.

Everything does feel a bit too much like a blown-up phone app, though, and we wish Matissa could delve into shared albums rather than just Camera Roll. Still, it’s free, it works, and it does the job if you want to add a little art to your snaps.

The iPad and App Store combine to create an extremely strong ecosystem when it comes to art apps, but that's not terribly helpful if you don't have an artistic bone in your body.

Fortunately, there are apps like Fingerpaint Magic that enable a much wider range of people to create something visually stunning.

As you draw, feathers of color explode from your fingertip, bleeding into the background in a manner that feels like you're drawing with an alien material atop viscous liquid. You can adjust your brush and color – 'neon' from the former coming across like sketching with fire.

Artwork can be further enhanced using mirrors or background filters prior to export. The process is at once aesthetically pleasing, fun and relaxing.

A single $0.99/£0.99/AU$1.49 IAP unlocks a set of premium brushes, but Fingerpaint Magic's free incarnation has more than enough to unleash your inner artist, regardless of your skill level.

Sago's range of straightforward, play-oriented educational apps tend to go down well with tiny humans, but Sago Mini Friends and its lack of a price tag should also please your wallet. It's a generous and heart-warming game in terms of content too, promoting empathy, sharing and creativity through play.

On selecting a cartoon character, you knock on doors to colorful houses and play little mini-games, such as dress-up, taking a bath, and having a snack. In the last of those, feed too many items to one character and the other looks sad, hopefully prompting your own tiny person to figure out that sharing is a good thing.

On iPad, Sago Mini Friends shines, with its bold colors and smartly designed interface. There's no advertising, nor any IAP, meaning toddlers can play in safety without interruptions.

The App Store's awash with alternate cameras with editing smarts, but MuseCam warrants a place on your iPad's home screen nonetheless. As a camera, it's fine, with an on-screen grid and plenty of manual settings. But on Apple's tablet, it's in editing that MuseCam excels.

Load a photo and you can apply a film-inspired filter preset (based on insight from pro photographers), or fiddle around with tone curves, color tools, and other adjustment settings.

The interface is bold, efficient, and usable, making it accessible to relative newcomers; but there's also enough depth here to please those wanting a bit more control, including the option to save tweaks as custom presets.

IAP comes in the form of additional filters, but what you get for free is generous and of a very high quality, making MuseCam a no-brainer download.
 

On YouTube alone, something like 60 hours of new video is uploaded every minute of the day. So keeping track of the best video from across the web is impossible.

Hyper aims to cut through the dross, serving up a daily selection of videos selected by a team of award-winning filmmakers.

The app can download videos overnight for offline playback, and presents your daily selection as a Harry Potter-like magazine page, video loops playing behind bold headlines. Simply tap to play, drag across videos to scrub, and tap to pause. On supported iPad hardware, click the home button and you can continue watching the current video with Picture-in-Picture mode.

Chances are even Hyper's considered selection won't always be to your tastes, and it's often a bit too US-oriented; but Hyper is nonetheless a great place to start your daily trawl through online video, and frequently serves up interesting things to watch.

Slash Keyboard is a custom iPad keyboard that makes sharing online content easier. Tap the slash key for a list of commands, which you can filter by typing a letter or two, and then enter search terms and prod a result to insert it into a document.

This makes it a cinch to quickly find and add links (Wikipedia articles; SoundCloud songs; App Store products; and so on) to notes, documents and social media posts. Additionally, Slash Keyboard speeds up typing with gestural single-finger scribbles in a manner similar to Swype and SwiftKey.

It’s not a perfect app by any means, as links are US-focused and sometimes use a proprietary link shortener rather than giving you the entire URL. Also, long-pressing the top row of letters cuts off the menu displaying related special characters.

But Slash's usefulness counters such drawbacks, and it's at the very least worth considering as an occasional alternate keyboard when wanting to link to a bunch of things you've found online.
 

As iOS has evolved, Notification Center has become a far more useful and robust part of the iPad experience. It can now house all kinds of useful information, which is accessible via a single downwards swipe. The idea behind Cheatsheet is to create a place for tiny things you need to remember, such as luggage combinations, phone numbers, and Wi-Fi passwords.

The Cheatsheet app enables you to configure your list of items and their sort order; a custom icon can also be assigned to each one. On iPad, the screen is big enough to show two rows of 'cheats', meaning the widget rarely takes up much space.

Note that for free, you get all of this without even any ads, but there's a single IAP ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49) to extend Cheatsheet further; this gives you extra icons, iCloud notes sync, a custom keyboard, and an action extension, along with allowing the developer to eat.
 

There are loads of apps for making basic edits to photos and slapping on some words, but Little Moments stands out primarily through being rather jolly (if a little twee at times) and being extremely easy to use.

Load in a pic (or use the camera to shoot a new one), and you can quickly add a filter, adjust things like saturation and contrast, overlay some text boxes, and get creative with quotes and stickers.

Weirdly, the last two of those things are pixelated when browsing through the app, but look just fine when added (and sadly many of the categories also sit behind in-app purchases).

But everything else about Little Moments is a joy, from the non-destructive adjustments (unless you select a new filter, whereupon everything resets) to the friendly, intuitive interface.
 

Part meditative relaxation tool, part sleep aid, Melodist is all about creating melodies from imagery. All you have to do is load something from your Camera Roll, and the app does the rest.

On analyzing your photo or screen grab for changes in hues, saturation and brightness, a music loop is generated. You can adjust the playback speed, instrument and visual effect (which starts off as a lazily scrolling piano roll), along with setting a timer.

Although occasionally discordant, the app mostly creates very pleasing sounds. And while it’s perhaps missing a trick in not displaying your photo as-is underneath the notes being played (your image is instead heavily blurred as a background), you can export each tune as audio or a video that shows the picture alongside the animation.

These free exports are a pretty generous gesture by the developer; if you want to return the favor, there’s affordable IAP for extra sounds, animation and MIDI export.

One of the great things about the app revolution is how these bits of software can help you experience creative fare that would have previously been inaccessible, unless you were armed with tons of cash and loads of time. Folioscope is a case in point, providing the basics for crafting your own animations.

We should note you’re not going to be the next Disney with Folioscope – the tools are fairly basic, and the output veers towards ‘wobbling stickmen’.

But you do get a range of brushes (of differing size and texture), several drawing tools (pen, eraser, flood fill, and marquee), and onion-skinning, which enables you to see faint impressions of adjacent frames, in order to line everything up.

The friendly nature of the app makes it accessible to anyone, and there’s no limit on export – projects can be shared as GIFs or movies, or uploaded to the Folioscope community, should you create an account.

After years of eyesight deterioration, John Hull became blind in 1983. Notes on Blindness VR has six chapters taken from his journal of the time. Each is set in a specific location, marrying John’s narrative, binaural audio, and real-time 3D animation, to create an immersive experience of a ‘world beyond sight’.

Although designed as a VR experience, this app remains effective when holding an iPad in front of your face, moving the screen about to scan your surroundings. The mood shifts throughout – there’s wonder in a blind John’s discovery of the beauty of rain, disconnection when he finds things ‘disappear’ from the world when sound stops, and a harrowing section on panic.

Towards the end, John mulls he’s “starting to understand what it’s like to be blind,” and you may get a sense of what it’s like, too, from the app, which ably showcases how to craft an engaging screen-based experience beyond the confines of television.

Among the various finger-painting apps for iPad, Nebula is one of the weirdest. You draw by dragging two fingers on the screen, which results in a set of neon lines atop the background. Twisting your fingers changes the nature of the futuristic ribbon you’re creating, and subsequent taps and twists add to its length.

Using the app’s settings, you can play with the thickness and density of the lines and switch between angled and wavy compositions. The results are very abstract whatever you do, but Nebula’s a fun app for creating something visually different on your tablet.

There’s no saving your work in the free version, though (beyond snapping a screen grab) – you’ll need the $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 Tools IAP for that, which also adds symmetry functionality and high-resolution PDF export.

The thinking behind Auxy Music Studio is that music-making – both in the real world and software – has become too complicated. This app therefore strives to combine the immediacy of something like Novation Launchpad’s loop triggers with a basic piano roll editor.

For each instrument, you choose between drums and decidedly electronic synths. You then compose loops of between one and four bars, tapping out notes on the piano roll’s grid. Subsequent playback occurs on the overview screen by tapping loops to cue them up.

For those who want to go a bit further, the app includes arrangement functionality (for composing entire songs), along with Ableton Link and MIDI export support. Auxy’s therefore worth a look for relative newcomers to making music and also pros after a no-nonsense scratchpad.

It’s become apparent that Adobe – creators of photography and graphic design powerhouses Photoshop and Illustrator – don’t see mobile devices as suitable for full projects. However, the company’s been hard at work on a range of satellite apps, of which Photoshop Fix is perhaps the most impressive.

Built on Photoshop technology, this retouching tool boasts a number of high-end features for making considered edits to photographs. The Liquify tool in particular is terrific, enabling you to mangle images like clay, or more subtly adjust facial features using bespoke tools for manipulating mouths and eyes.

Elsewhere, you can smooth, heal, color and defocus a photo to your heart’s content, before sending it to Photoshop on the desktop for further work, or flattening it for export to your Camera Roll. It’s particularly good when used with the Apple Pencil (still a funny name) and the iPad Pro, such is the power and speed of that device and input method.

The idea behind Canva is to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating great-looking layouts based on your photos. Select a layout type (presentation, blog graphic, invitation, and so on) and the app serves up templates to work with.

These are mostly very smart indeed, but the smartest thing about Canva is that these starting points can all be edited: swap out images for your own photos, adjust text boxes, and add new elements or even entire pages.

Because of its scope, Canva isn’t as immediate as one-click automated apps in this space, but the interface is intuitive enough to quickly grasp. Our only niggle is the lack of multi-item selection, but with Canva being an online service, you can always fine-tune your iPad creations in a browser on the desktop.

Many of us are caught in high-stress environments for much of our lives, and electronic gadgets often do little to help. Apple has recognised this, promising a breathing visualization tool in iOS 10. In the meantime, Breathe+ brings similar functionality to your iPad.

You define how long breaths in and out should take, and whether you want to hold your breath at any point during the cycle. You then let Breathe+ guide your breathing for a user-defined session length.

The visualization is reminiscent of a minimalist illustrator's take on a wave rising and falling on the screen, but you can also close your eyes and have the iPad vibrate for cues. For free, there are some ads, which aren't pretty, but don't distract too much. For $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99, you can be rid of them, along with adding themes and usage history stats.

Between quickly trimming a video in Photos and immersing yourself in the likes of iMovie sits Splice. This is a free video editor that on the surface looks accessible – even simplistic – but that offers surprising depth for those who need it.

To get started, you import a bunch of clips. These can be reordered, and you can for each choose a transition if you don’t want standard crossfades. Access an individual clip and a whole host of additional tools becomes available, including text overlays, speed adjustment, and animation effects. It’s also possible to layer multiple audio files, including on-board music and narration.

For more demanding wannabe directors, Splice might still not be enough – in which case, head towards a more powerful product like Pinnacle Studio Pro or iMovie. But for everyone else, it really hits that sweet spot in being straightforward, approachable, and powerful.

With a native weather app bafflingly absent from iPad, you need to venture to the App Store to get anything beyond the basic daily overview Notification Center provides. Weather Underground is the best freebie on the platform, offering a customizable view to satisfy even the most ardent weather geeks.

Current conditions are shown at the top, outlining the temperature, precipitation likelihood, and a local map. But scroll and you can delve into detailed forecasts, dew point readings, sunrise and sunset times, videos, webcams, health data and web links. The bulk of the tiles can be disabled if there are some you don't use, and most can be reordered to suit.

Although not making the best use of iPad in landscape, the extra screen space afforded by Apple's tablet makes the Weather Underground experience a little more usable than on iPhone, enabling faster access to tiles. And for free, it's a top-notch app, although you can also fling $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 at it annually if you want rid of the unobtrusive ads.

Formerly known as Replay, Quik is a video editor primarily designed for people who can’t be bothered doing the editing bit. You select photos and videos, pick a theme, and sit back as Quik pieces together a masterpiece that can subsequently be saved and shared.

For tinkerers, there are styles and settings to tweak. Post-Replay, the app offers its 28 varied styles for free, and you can delve into the edit itself, trimming clips, reordering media, adjusting focal points, and adding titles.

Alternatively, the really lazy can do nothing at all and still get results – every week, Quik will serve up highlights videos, enabling you to relive favorite moments. These videos are quite random in nature, but are nonetheless often a nice surprise. Still, anyone willing to put in the slightest additional effort will find Quik rewards any minutes invested many times over.

We’ve always found the Remote app a bit of an oddball. On the one hand, it’s sort of iTunes for iPad, streaming your Mac or PC’s library to your device. On the other, it’s also a means of controlling an Apple TV.

In the former case, it’s fine, if a bit slow to load large libraries. Still, the interface is in many ways superior to Music’s, which now seems determined to sideline anything that isn’t Apple Music.

As for controlling an Apple TV with a massive glass-screened tablet, that might seem ridiculous until you’ve grappled with the Siri Remote. After that point, you’ll be glad to have Remote installed, enabling you to navigate your Apple TV and quickly input passwords, rather than getting frustrated to the point of wanting to hurl everything you’ve ever bought from Apple into the heart of the sun.

There’s a tendency for relaxation aids to be noodly and dull, but TaoMix 2 bucks the trend. You get the usual sounds to aid relaxation (wind, rain, birds, water), but also an interface that nudges the app towards being a tool for creating a kind of ambient personal soundtrack.

The basics are dead simple: tap the + button, select a sound pack, and drag a sound to the canvas. You then manually position the circular cursor within the soundscape, or slowly flick so it lazily bounces around the screen, your various sounds then ebbing and flowing into the mix.

This makes TaoMix 2 more fun to play with than its many rivals. Of course, if you just want to shut the world out, that option exists too: load a soundscape you’ve previously created, set a timer, and use TaoMix 2 to help you nod off.

Should you want something other than what’s found within the generous selection of built-in noises, packs are available for purchase (including whale sounds, ‘Japanese garden’ and orchestral strings); and if you fancy something entirely more custom, you can even import sounds of your own.

Although it’s apparently designed for kids aged 9-11, Seedling Comic Studio comes across a lot like a free (if somewhat stripped back) take on iPad classic Comic Life. You load images from your Camera Roll (or take new ones with the camera), arrange them into comic-book frames, and can then add all manner of speech balloons, filters and stickers.

Decided that your heroic Miniature Schnauzer should have to save the world from a giant comic-book sandwich? This is your app! Naturally, there are limitations lurking. The filter system is a bit rubbish, requiring you to cycle through the dozen or so on offer, rather than pick favourites more directly, and a few of the sticker packs require IAP.

But for no outlay at all, there’s plenty of scope here for comic-book creation, from multi-page documents you can output to PDF, to amusing poster-like pages you can share on social networks. And that’s true whether you’re 9 or 49.

Although Photofy includes a decent range of tools for performing typical edits on photos – including adjustments, cropping, saturation, and the like – this app is more interested in helping you get properly creative.

Within the photo editing tools are options for adding in-vogue blurs and producing collages; and in ‘Text & Overlays’, you’ll find a wealth of options for slapping all kinds of artwork and text on top of your photographic masterpieces.

The interface works well through bold, tappable buttons and chunky sliders (although it takes a while to realise the pane containing the latter can be scrolled). And although some filters and stickers require IAP to unlock, there’s loads available here entirely for free. (Also, Photofy rather pleasingly gives you alternatives for its watermark, if you don’t want to pay to remove it, but aren’t too keen on the default. Nice.)

With a noodly soundtrack playing in the background, WWF Together invites you to spin a papercraft world and tap points of interest to learn more about endangered species. 16 creatures get fuller treatment – a navigable presentation of sorts that hangs on a key characteristic, such as a panda’s charisma, or an elephant’s intelligence.

These sections are arranged as a three-by-three grid, each screen of which gives you something different, be it statistics, gorgeous photography, or a ‘facetime’ movie that gives you a chance to get up close and personal.

Apps that mix charity and education can often come across as dry and worthy, but WWF Together is neither. It’s informative but charming, and emotive but fun.

Rather neatly, stories can be shared by email, and this screen further rewards you with origami instructions to make your own paper animal; once constructed, it can sit on the desk next to all your technology, reminding you of the more fragile things that exist in our world.

GarageBand offers a loop player, but Novation Launchpad was doing this kind of thing years before, and in a manner that's so intuitive and simple that even a toddler could record a track. (We know — ours did.)

The app comprises a set of pads, where you choose a genre, tap pads, and they keep playing until you tap something else in the same group. Performances can be recorded, and you can also mess about with effects to radically change the output of what you're playing.

Whether you're a musician or not, Launchpad is a great app for making a noise. And if you fancy something a bit more unique than the built-in sounds, there's a $6.99/£6.99/AU$10.99 in-app purchase that lets you import your own samples.

The iPad’s well catered for in spreadsheet terms with Google freebie Sheets and Apple’s Numbers, but the reality is the business world mostly relies on Microsoft Excel. Like Microsoft’s other iOS fare, Excel is surprisingly powerful, marrying desktop-style features with touchscreen smarts.

You can get started with a blank workbook or choose from one of the bundled templates, which include budget planners, schedules, logs, and lists. Wisely, the app has an optional custom keyboard when you’re editing cells, filled with symbols, numbers, and virtual cursor keys. This won’t make much odds if you’re armed with a Bluetooth keyboard, but it speeds things up considerably if you only have your iPad handy.

You might be wondering what the catch is, and there aren’t many if you own a standard iPad or a mini. Sign in with a free Microsoft account and you’re blocked from some aesthetic niceties, but can do pretty much everything else. If you’re on an iPad Pro, however, Microsoft demands you have a qualifying Office 365 subscription to create and edit documents, but the app at least still functions as a viewer.

You might argue that Google Maps is far better suited to a smartphone, but we reckon the king of mapping apps deserves a place on your iPad, too.

Apple’s own Maps app has improved, but Google still outsmarts its rival when it comes to public transport, finding local businesses, saving chunks of maps offline, and virtual tourism by way of Street View.

Google’s ‘OS within an OS’ also affords a certain amount of cross-device sync when it comes to searches. We don’t, however, recommend you strap your cellular iPad to your steering wheel and use Google Maps as a sat-nav replacement, unless you want to come across as some kind of nutcase.

The original Brushes app was one of the most important in the iPhone’s early days. With Jorge Colombo using it to paint a New Yorker cover, it showcased the potential of the technology, and that an iPhone could be used for production, rather than merely consumption.

Brushes eventually stopped being updated, but fortunately went open source beforehand. Brushes Redux is the result.

On the iPad, you can take advantage of the much larger screen. But the main benefit of the app is its approachable nature. It’s extremely easy to use, but also has plenty of power for those who need it, not least in the layering system and the superb brush designer.

Adult colouring books are all the rage, proponents claiming bringing colour to intricate abstract shapes helps reduce stress – at least until you realise you’ve got pen on your shirt and ground oil pastels into the sofa.

You’d think the process of colouring would be ideal for iPad, but most relevant apps are awful, some even forcing tap-to-fill. That is to colouring what using a motorbike is to running a marathon – a big cheat. Pigment is an exception, marrying a love for colouring with serious digital smarts.

On selecting an illustration, there’s a range of palettes and tools to explore. You can use pencils and markers, adjusting opacity and brush sizes, and work with subtle gradients. Colouring can be ‘freestyle’, or you can tap to select an area and ensure you don’t go over the lines while furiously scribbling. With a finger, Pigment works well, but it’s better with a stylus; with an iPad Pro and a Pencil, you’ll lob your real books in the bin.

The one niggle: printing and accessing the larger library requires a subscription in-app purchase. It’s a pity there’s no one-off payment for individual books, but you do get plenty of free illustrations, and so it’s hard to grumble.

For a long while, Paper was a freemium iPad take on Moleskine sketchbooks. You made little doodles and then flipped virtual pages to browse them. At some point, it went free, but now it’s been transformed into something different and better.

The original tools remain present and correct, but are joined by the means to add text, checklists, and photos. One other newcomer allows geometric shapes you scribble to be tidied up, but without losing their character.

So rather than only being for digital sketches, Paper’s now for all kinds of notes and graphs, too. The sketchbooks, however, are gone; in their place are paper stacks that explode into walls of virtual sticky notes. Some old-hands have grumbled, but we love the new Paper. It’s smarter, simpler, easier to browse, and makes Apple’s own Notes look like a cheap knock-off.

There are loads of iPad apps for reading and annotating PDFs, but LiquidText is different. Rather than purely aping paper, the developers have thought about the advantages of working with virtual documents.

So while you still get a typical page view, you can pinch to collapse passages you’re not interested in and also compare those that aren’t adjacent.

There’s a ‘focus’ view that shows only annotated sections, and you can even select chunks of text and drag them to the sidebar. Tap one of those cut-outs at a later point and its location will instantly be displayed in the main text. Smartly, you can save any document in the app’s native format, export it as a PDF with comments, or share just the notes as an RTF.

Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system.

Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It's also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.

And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).

We’re not sure whether Slack is an amazing aid to productivity or some kind of time vampire. Probably a bit of both. What we do know is that the real-time messaging system is excellent in a work environment for chatting with colleagues (publicly and privately), sharing and previewing files, and organising discussions by topic.

There’s smart integration with online services, and support for both the iPad Pro and the iPad’s Split View function.

Note that although Slack is clearly designed with businesses in mind, it also works perfectly well as a means of communicating with friends if you don’t fancy lobbing all your worldly wisdom into Facebook’s maw.

Podcasts are mostly associated with small portable devices – after all, the very name is a mash-up of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your favourite shows when armed with an iPad rather than an iPhone.

We’re big fans of Overcast on Apple’s smaller devices, but the app makes good use of the iPad’s extra screen space, with a smart two-column display. On the left, episodes are listed, and the current podcast loads into the larger space on the right.

The big plusses with Overcast, though, remain playback and podcast management. It’s the one podcast app we’ve used that retains plenty of clarity when playback is sped up; and there are clever effects for removing dead air and boosting vocals in podcasts with lower production values.

Playlists can be straightforward in nature, or quite intricate, automatically boosting favourites to the top of the list, and excluding specific episodes. And if you do mostly use an iPhone for listening, Overcast automatically syncs your podcasts and progress, so you can always pick up where you left off.

The prospect of drawing can fill people with terror, and so the idea of animation probably sends such folks fleeing for the hills. Animatic might calm their nerves, being the friendly face of iPad animation. Start a new project and you get a small canvas and a bunch of effective and broadly realistic tools – markers, crayons, pencils, biros – for scribbling with.

Once you’ve composed a frame, Animatic makes use of traditional ‘onion skinning’ techniques to help you produce smooth motion thereafter: up to three previous frames are shown in translucent fashion behind the one you’re currently drawing. Tap ‘Next’ and you’ll see your animation looping. Its speed can be adjusted, and you can export to video or GIF.

Beyond Animatic’s approachable nature, we’re big fans of its flexibility. You simply return to the main ‘My Animations’ screen to save (which we recommend doing often with lengthy projects, because a crash can take work with it), and can later edit any frame from any animation – nothing’s fixed forever.

And while, as the bundled examples suggest, you’re more likely to end up with Roobarb and Custard than Pixar’s finest, Animatic is a superb way to explore making drawings move – entirely for free.

The majority of comic-book readers on the App Store are tied to online stores, and any emphasis on quality in the actual apps isn't always placed on the reading part.

But with many more publishers embracing DRM-free downloads, having a really great reading app is essential if you're into digital comics. Chunky Comic Reader is the best available on iOS.

The interface is smart, simple and boasts plenty of settings, including the means to eradicate animation entirely when flipping pages.

Rendering is top-notch, even for relatively low-res fare. And you get the option of one- or two-up page views. For free, you can access web storage to upload comics. A single $3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99 pro upgrade adds support for shared Mac/PC/NAS drives.

VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are becoming very popular, due to issues people increasingly face when browsing the web. A VPN can be used to circumvent region-blocking/censorship and security issues on public Wi-Fi. Such services can baffle people who aren't technically adept, but TunnelBear is all about the friendlier side of VPNs. With bears.

After installing the app and profile, you'll have 500 MB of data per month to play with. That said, TunnelBear’s exclusive TechRadar plan offers a far more generous 5GB, 10 times the amount you get if you sign elsewhere. 

Tunnelling to a specific location is simply a case of tapping it on the map and waiting a few seconds for the bear to pop out of the ground.

Tweet about the product and you'll get an extra free GB. Alternatively, monthly and annual paid plans exist for heavier data users.

Learning a musical instrument isn’t easy, which is probably why a bunch of people don’t bother, instead pretending to be rock stars by way of tiny plastic instruments and their parent videogames.

Yousician bridges the divide, flipping a kind of Guitar Hero interface 90 degrees and using its visual and timing devices to get you playing chords and notes.

This proves remarkably effective, and your iPad merrily keeps track of your skills (or lack thereof) through its internal mic. The difficulty curve is slight, but the app enables you to skip ahead if you’re bored, through periodic ‘test’ rounds. Most surprisingly, for free you get access to everything, only your daily lesson time is limited.

Maybe it’s just our tech-addled brains, but often we find it a lot easier to focus on an app than a book, which can make learning things the old fashioned way tricky. That’s where Khan Academy comes in. This free app contains lessons and guidance on dozens of subjects, from algebra, to cosmology, to computer science and beyond.

As it’s an app rather than a book it benefits from videos and even a few interactive elements, alongside words and pictures and it contains over 10,000 videos and explanations in all.

Everything is broken in to bite-sized chunks, so whether you’ve got a few minutes to spare or a whole afternoon there’s always time to learn something new and if you make an account it will keep track of your progress and award achievements.

We elsewhere say nice things about the official Twitter client, but Twitterrific is a better bet for the more discerning Twitter user. It has a beautifully designed interface that's a delight to use, helpfully merging mentions and messages into a unified timeline, saving you mucking about switching tabs.

Customisation options give you the means to adjust the app's visual appearance (and the app can optionally automatically switch to a dark theme at night), and powerful mute and muffle features block users and hashtags you want no part of.

Pay $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 and the app adds notifications, Apple Watch support, and translation support, along with removing ads.

It’s not like Microsoft Word really needs introduction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that itself is under a pretty sizeable rock, you’ll have heard of Microsoft’s hugely popular word processor. What you might not realize, though, is how good it is on iPad.

Fire up the app and you’re greeted with a selection of handy templates, although you can of course instead use a blank canvas. You then work with something approximating the desktop version of Word, but that’s been carefully optimized for tablets. Your brain keeps arguing it shouldn’t exist, but it does — although things are a bit fiddly on an iPad mini.

Wisely, saved documents can be stored locally rather than you being forced to use Microsoft’s cloud, and they can be shared via email. (A PDF option exists for recipients without Office, although it’s oddly hidden behind the share button in the document toolbar, under ‘Send Attachment’, which may as well have been called ‘beware of the leopard’.)

Something else that’s also missing: full iPad Pro 12.9 support in the free version. On a smaller iPad, you merely need a Microsoft account to gain access to most features. Some advanced stuff — section breaks; columns; tracking changes; insertion of WordArt — requires an Office 365 account, but that won’t limit most users.

Presumably, Microsoft thinks iPad Pro owners have money to burn, though, because for free they just get a viewer. Bah.

According to the developer's blurb, Zen Studio is all about helping children to relax and focus, by providing a kind of finger-painting that can only exist in the digital realm. Frankly, we take issue with the 'children' bit, because Zen Studio has a welcoming and pleasing nature that should ensure it's a hit with every iPad user.

You start off with a grid of triangles and a column of colored paints. Tap a paint to choose your color and then tap individual triangles or drag across the grid to start drawing. Every gesture you make is accompanied by musical notes that play over an ambient background soundtrack. Bar the atmosphere being knocked a touch by a loud squelch noise whenever a new paint tube is selected, the mix of drawing tool and musical instrument is intoxicating. When you're done, your picture can be squirted to the Photos app, ready for sharing with the world.

This is, however, a limited freebie in some ways. You get eight canvases, which can be blank or based on templates. If you want more, you can buy an IAP to unlock the premium version of the app. Still, for no outlay at all, you get a good few hours of chill-out noodly fun — more, if you're happy drawing over the same canvases again and again.

As you launch Kitchen Stories, you catch a glimpse of the app’s mantra: “Anyone can cook”. The problem is, most cooking apps (and indeed, traditional cookery books) make assumptions regarding people’s abilities.

Faced with a list of steps on a stark white page, it’s easy to get halfway through a recipe, look at the stodge in front of you, reason something must have gone terribly wrong, and order a takeaway.

Kitchen Stories offers firmer footing. You’re first met with a wall of gorgeous photography. More importantly, the photographs don’t stop.

Every step in a recipe is accompanied by a picture that shows how things should be at that point. Additionally, some recipes provide tutorial videos for potentially tricky skills and techniques. Fancy some Vietnamese pho, but not sure how to peel ginger, prepare a chilli or thinly slice meat? Kitchen Stories has you covered.

Beyond this, there’s a shopping list, handy essentials guide, and some magazine-style articles to peruse. And while you don’t get the sheer range of recipes found in some rival apps, the presentation more than makes up for that — especially on the iPad, which will likely find a new home in your own kitchen soon after Kitchen Stories is installed.

Beatwave is a simplified Tenori-On-style synth which enables you to rapidly build pleasing melodies by prodding a grid.

Multiple layers and various instruments provide scope for complex compositions, and you can save sessions or, handily, store and share compositions via email. You can also buy more instruments via in-app purchases.

In a sense Evernote is an online back-up for fleeting thoughts and ideas. You use it to save whatever comes to mind — text documents and snippets, notes, images, web clips, and even audio. These can then be accessed from a huge number of devices. (We suspect any day now, Evernote will unveil its ZX Spectrum app.)

The app itself could be friendlier, and there’s a tendency towards clutter. But navigation of your stored bits and pieces is simple enough, and the sheer ubiquity and reliability of Evernote makes it worthy of investigation and a place on your Home screen.

When the YouTube app presumably became a victim of the ongoing and increasingly tedious Apple/Google spat, there were concerns Google wouldn’t respond.

Those turned out to be unfounded, because here’s yet another bespoke, nicely designed Google-created app for iOS. The interface is specifically tuned for the iPad, and AirPlay enables you to fire videos at an Apple TV.

PCalc Lite‘s existence means the lack of a built-in iPad calculator doesn’t bother us. For anyone who wants a traditional calculator, it’s pretty much ideal. The big buttons beg to be tapped, and the interface can be tweaked to your liking, by way of bolder and larger key text, alternate display digits, and stilling animation.

Beyond basic sums, PCalc Lite adds some conversions, which are categorised but also searchable. If you’re hankering for more, IAP lets you bolt on a number of extras from the paid version of PCalc, such as additional themes, dozens more conversions, alternate calculator layouts, a virtual paper tape, and options for programmers and power users.

Although you get the sense eBay’s designers can’t get through a month without redesigning their app, it’s always far superior to using the online auction site in a browser.

eBay for iOS works especially well on an iPad, with images looking great on the larger screen, and browsing proving fast and efficient. Speedy sorting and filtering options also make it a cinch to get to listings for whatever it is you fancy buying.

Instagram might be the current online photo-sharing darling, but it’s clear veteran Flickr remains up for a fight. On iPad, it’s a lovely app, with a refined and minimal UI that makes browsing simple and allows photography to shine.

Another smart aspect of Flickr is its extremely generous 1 TB of free storage. You can set videos and photos to automatically upload, and they stay private unless you choose to share them.

There are compatibility issues with the most modern Apple toys as Live Photos end up as stills on Flickr. Even so, Flickr makes Apple’s free 5 GB of iCloud storage look pathetic by comparison; and even if you use it only as a belt-and-braces back-up for important images, it’s worth checking out.

SkyView Free is a stargazing app that very much wants you to get off your behind and outside, or at least hold your iPad aloft to explore the heavens.

Unlike TechRadar favourite Sky Guide, there’s no means to drag a finger to manually move the sky around – you must always point your iPad’s display where you want to look – but there’s no price-tag either. And for free, this app does the business.

There are minimal ads, a noodly atmospheric soundtrack, an optional augmented reality view (to overlay app graphics on to the actual sky), and a handy search that’ll point you in the direction of Mars, Ursa Major, or the International Space Station.

Find my iPhone would perhaps be better named ‘Find my Apple stuff’, because it’s not just for figuring out where a missing iPhone is – it can also track iPads, iPods and Macs. The app is simple, elegant and, generally speaking, provides an accurate location for devices. It also enables you to remote-lock or wipe a device.

We tend to quickly shift children from finger-painting to using much finer tools, but the iPad shows there's plenty of power in your digits — if you're using the right app.

Autodesk SketchBook provides all the tools you need for digital sketching, from basic doodles through to intricate and painterly masterpieces; and if you're wanting to share your technique, you can even time-lapse record to save drawing sessions to your camera roll. The core app is free, but it will cost you $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 to unlock the pro features.

The description for Cove is rather noodly — all about self-expression and creating soundtracks to capture your mood. In reality, it’s a somewhat controllable instrument for creating ambient music loops. You start with a mood (which determines the scale), ‘base’, ‘melody’ and a filter (effect).

You can then play your creation, or save it alongside a kind of diary entry, noting how you feel. Unlike many simple iPad music apps, Cove does enable you to create discordant output, but beyond the hippy vibe, there is the potential here to fashion great beauty.

It’s as ugly as they come, but XE Currency is the best free currency app you’ll find. You define which currencies you want to see, along with the number of decimals to show. Double-tap a currency and you can set it as the base currency by tapping 1.0 in the calculator, or do bespoke conversions by typing any other value.

One for the graphic designers out there, desktop publishing giant Quark’s DesignPad is an astonishingly useful app for figuring out layouts on the move, or knocking about ideas in meetings. Plenty of ready-made documents can give you a head-start, and your finished work can be exported as a PNG or emailed for use in a QuarkXPress document.

Because of its single-app nature and big screen, the iPad’s become a tool many people prefer to a PC or Mac for email. However, if you’re reliant on Gmail, Apple’s own Mail is insufficient, not providing access to your entire archive nor Gmail’s features. Google’s own app deals with such shortcomings and looks as good as Apple’s client.

Apple's Photos app has editing capabilities, but they're not terribly exciting — especially when compared to Snapseed. Here, you select from a number of from a number of tools and filters, and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image. You get all the basics — cropping, rotation, healing brushes, and the like — but the filters are where you can get really creative.

There are blurs, photographic effects, and more extreme options like 'grunge' and 'grainy film', which can add plenty of atmosphere to your photographs. The vast majority of effects are tweakable, mostly by dragging up and down on the canvas to select a parameter and then horizontally to adjust its strength.

Brilliantly, the app also records applied effects as separate layers, each of which remains fully editable until you decide to save your image and work on something else.

The iPad is the perfect mobile device for composing music, with its fairly large display and powerful innards. This has resulted in a range of involved and impressive music-creation tools, such as Korg Gadget. Sometimes, though, you yearn for something simpler for making some noise.

This is where Figure comes in. Within seconds, you can craft thumping dance loops, comprising drum, bass and lead parts. The sounds are great, being based on developer Propellerhead Software’s much-loved Reason. They can be manipulated, too, so your exported loops sound truly unique.

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Best free iPad games 2017 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/60-best-free-ipad-games-692690 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/60-best-free-ipad-games-692690
So you’ve got an iPad and now you have no cash left to buy any games. Have no fear, because there are plenty you can get for no money at all. Thu, 21 Dec 2017 14:58:00 +0000techradar.com
So you’ve got an iPad, but have come to the dawning realisation that you’ve got no cash left to buy any games for it.

Have no fear, because the App Store offers plenty of iPad gaming goodness for the (unintentional or otherwise) skinflint.

  • Haven’t bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We’ve got them listed on our best iPad ranking – or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.

Our updated pick of the best free iPad games are listed right here.

New this week: Up the Wall

Up the Wall is an auto-runner with an edge. Or rather, lots of edges. Because instead of being played on a single plane, Up the Wall regularly has you abruptly turn 90-degree corners, some of which find you zooming up vertical walls.

The speed and snap twists make for a disorienting experience, but the game’s design is extremely smart where, most notably, each challenge is finite and predefined. Up the Wall isn’t about randomness and luck, but mastering layouts, and aiming for that perfect run.

It nails everything else, too. The game sounds great, and has sharp, vibrant visuals, with imaginative environments. It’s not often you’re frantically directing a burger in an abstract fever dream of milkshakes and ketchup bottles, nor a skull in a world of flames, lava, and guitars.

Can't figure out which iPad to buy? Watch our guide vide below!

Into the Dead 2 finds you in a race to save your family, in a world overrun by zombies. Unfortunately, because you’re a massive idiot, you crash your truck while heading their way, and must then travel on foot. Across 60 stages, you grab ammo, dodge the lumbering undead, and occasionally shoot them in the face. It’s a frequently exciting, nerve-racking experience.

Also, it’s an auto-runner. So instead of stealthily sneaking about or being able to hide, you’re always blundering onwards (apart from during odd moments where you find a massive gun to satisfyingly mow down dozens of zombies in seconds).

The controls feel a bit weird – you kind of ‘drift’ left and right; but these limitations the game imposes ramp up the tension when you’ve dozens of undead before you, and are down to your last bullet.

Twisty Board 2 is an excellent example of how to make a sequel. The original was a throwaway effort, with you zig-zagging like a maniac on a hoverboard, to throw pursuing missiles off the scent. It got old fast.

But it turns out that was a training ground for the real fight. Twisty Board 2 dumps you in an alien war-zone, where – for some reason – the protagonists mostly jet about on hoverboards.

You’re still scything about, but now blast endless hordes of enemies, trying to carve a path to hostages. Once they’re all rescued, you set about blowing the living daylights out of a massive boss. It’s a tough, intense challenge, and you’ll need the skills of a dozen Marty McFlys to succeed.

Flipflop Solitaire is another of designer Zach Gage’s attempts at subverting a classic game. This time, spider solitaire caught his eye, and has been revolutionized by way of a couple of tweaks.

Like the original table-based card game, Flipflop Solitaire still has you arrange columns of cards in descending order. But now you can send cards to foundation piles, and also stack them in either order. (So a 4 or a 6 can be placed below a 5.)

These may seem like small changes, but they prove transformative. Every hand is possible to complete, if you can find the right combination of moves. This turns Flipflop Solitaire into a fascinating and surprisingly fresh puzzler, with you utilizing endless undos to untangle your web of cards.

San Giorli is a strange arcade game set in a neon city that’s seemingly been deserted. Mostly, it involves you plugging things in (or unplugging them), which doesn’t sound terribly exciting – but trust us on this one.

The levels scroll horizontally, and at any given point bits of cabling are strategically positioned. You must connect cables to activate machines that clear the way forward for your ship – which often requires careful timing and plugging/unplugging in a specific order. Also, your character rotates around your ship, attached to it by a cable, rather than having free movement.

It’s the limitations and the game’s slightly unusual nature that make San Giorli work – and especially on iPad. It’s tense when you need to perform a bunch of actions in order, spinning this way and that, your little hero’s head missing nearby scenery by a whisker.

In cmplt, every challenge is a blocky object with a bit of it missing. The entire game looks like it’s been crafted out of paper squares and dumped on your iPad’s screen.

You tap squares to ‘draw’ the object’s missing parts, which you’d think would be easy. And sometimes it is. One picture is a gamepad, and merely requires you to mirror the side you can already see.

But sometimes the shapes are abstract to the point of confusion. It’s embarrassing to think how long during testing it took us to crack a decidedly minimal take on the Statue of Liberty.

Still, ad-funded hints exist if you get stuck, and you’ll often chuckle on figuring out a level’s subject matter, before quickly tapping out its missing squares so that you can see what’s next.

Stranger Things: The Game is a rarity: a free tie-in videogame that’s not rubbish. In fact, it’s a really good old-school action-adventure that should delight old-timers and also click with people who follow the TV show.

The idea is to figure out what’s going on in Hawkins, Indiana, where things have gone deeply weird. You start off playing Officer Hopper, who scowls and punches his way about, but soon find kids to join your crew, including Lucas and his wrist rockets, and bat-swinging Nancy.

Occasionally, the game echoes old-school fare a little too well, with set-piece sections that are tough to crack (although you do get infinite attempts) – and the map is if anything too big; for the most part, though, Stranger Things: The Game is a clever, engaging, and compelling slice of mobile adventuring.

AuroraBound is a puzzle game that’s all about matching patterns. Each level provides you with a tiled board, onto which you place colorful pieces. The aim is to ensure that all the lines and colors join up.

This isn’t the kind of puzzler designed to smash your brains out – for the most part, it’s a rather relaxing experience. But as the boards increase in size, with patterns on each tile that are only very slightly different, you may eventually find your ego and complacency handed back to you.

Even so, AuroraBound never becomes frustrating. There are no time limits, and you can experiment by shifting pieces around at will. Neatly, the level select screen is a tiny puzzle to complete as you go, too.

Power Hover: Cruise is an endless arcade treat loosely based on the boss levels from the superb Power Hover. Your little robot gets to tackle four distinct environments on his hovering board, weaving between hazards. The aim is to last as long as possible before being smashed into scrap metal when you inevitably mess up and fly head-on into an obstacle at insane speed.

The game is visually stunning on the iPad’s large display, whether descending into Dive’s hazardous underwater tunnel, or zooming along Air’s tubular road that winds snake-like through the clouds.

But controls make or break this kind of game, and Power Hover: Cruise is blessed with a simple left/right system with plenty of inertia. Initially, it feels unresponsive, but before long you’ll be scything through levels like nobody’s business, in one of the most beguiling endless games on iPad.

Drag’n’Boom is a breezy, fast-paced arcade game that marries Angry Birds, Tiny Birds, Sonic the Hedgehog, twin-stick shooters, dragons and The Matrix. No, really.

Each level finds your baby dragon zooming about hilly landscapes packed with castles and tunnels, roasting guards and grabbing coins. Movement and unleashing fiery breath alike happen by way of ‘drag and fling’ directional arrows, and everything slows down while you aim, Matrix-style.

This all makes for an interesting combination, enabling deliriously fast zooming about and violence across the tiny worlds, but precision when you need it. Over its 40 levels, Drag’n’Boom could perhaps do with more variety – there are scant few enemy types to defeat. But it’s an exhilarating thrill-ride while it lasts.

Little Alchemy 2 is an exploratory logic game. You start off with a small number of items, which can be dragged to the central canvas. Items are then merged to create new ones.

At least that’s the theory. If you just set about randomly shoving items together, nothing happens. Instead, you must utilize rational thinking – or a little whimsy. For example, combine a couple of puddles and you’ll get a pond. Obvious, really. But also you can create a blender from a blade and ‘motion’, and a rocket from ‘metal’ and ‘atmosphere’.

In all, there are over 600 items to discover, and although Little Alchemy 2 can irk if you hit a brick wall, you can always pay for hints via IAP if you get stuck. Alternatively, tough it out and feel like a genius when you hit upon a suitably clever combination.

Battle Golf Online is a golfing game that’s thrown out the rulebook. You still use a stick to smack a tiny ball into a distant hole, but there’s no mucking about with fairways and club selection. Instead, you and an opponent stand at different edges of a lake, from which holes periodically appear. The first to five wins.

Play is fast and furious – more a race than precision sport. And fortunately, the controls are easy to grasp, merely requiring two taps to set your shot’s direction and strength.

But it’s the ‘online’ component that really helps this one shine – knowing you’re facing off against a human rather than your iPad adds an edge that’ll have you frantically blasting shots at everything from sea monsters to submarines, and wondering whether real-life golf could do with a similar blast of high-octane weirdness.

Silly Walks is a one-thumb arcade game, featuring wobbling foodstuffs braving the hell of nightmarish kitchens (and, later, gardens and gyms), in order to free fruity chums who’ve been cruelly caged.

The hero of the hour – initially a pineapple cocktail – rotates on one foot. Tapping the screen plants a foot, causing him to rotate on the other foot and changing the direction of rotation. Charitably, this could be called a step, and with practice, it’s possible to put together a reasonable dodder.

And you’ll need to. Although early levels only require you to not fall off of tables, pretty soon you’re dealing with meat pulverizers, hero-slicing knives, and psychotic kitchenware in hot pursuit.

It’s admittedly all a little one-level – Silly Walks reveals almost all in its initial levels – but smart design, superb visuals, and a unique control method make it well worth a download.

Topiary is a game of concentration, involving a single digit, and an on-screen plant you’re aiming to grow into a mighty oak – albeit a decidedly odd-looking, geometric, psychedelically colored oak.

You start off with a pulsating disc, and the aim is to prod the screen when it’s at its largest, thereby giving you the biggest base on which to build. Once that’s done, you get the next slice, which you try to tap when it exactly matches its predecessor.

Fail and your tree gradually narrows until you drop the final, super-skinny twig on top. Get five perfect matches in a row (which is no mean feat) and that tier will grow again. It’s all really simple stuff, but Topiary proves to be an entertaining and relaxing one-thumb arcade test of timing and nerve.

Flippy Knife finds you hurling dangerous knives, mostly at wooden objects. Which we admit doesn’t sound particularly thrilling – and you might also have had your fill of ‘Verby Noun’ games with colorful, chunky visuals, whatever the hook. But Flippy Knife does plenty to demand a space on your iPad.

The basic Combo mode has you drag upwards to hurl your pointy weapon into the air, Angry Birds style, aiming for it to flip and stick into a wooden platform on landing. It’s a good way to get a feel for your virtual knife.

Beyond that, there’s the thoughtful Arcade mode (lob a knife through an endless cabin), the frenetic Climb (a vertically scrolling pursuit of a thieving drone), and the archery-like Target. That is, if archery involved lobbing bloody great big knives at bullseyes strapped to trees – which we totally think it should.

Vertigo Racing is a sort-of rally game. We say sort-of, because although you’re pelting along a twisty-turny track, it happens to be at the top of a wall so high its base is lost in the clouds below.

Also, you’re barreling along in old-school muscle cars, to a classic guitar rock soundtrack, and you can’t steer.

Instead, the game does the steering for you, leaving you merely able to prod the accelerator or slam on the brakes, to stop your car plunging into the abyss. This transforms the game into a decidedly oddball take on slot racing, reimagined as a roller-coaster. Or possibly the other way around.

Either way, it’s fun, even if handling and camera issues make progress in later tracks tough. Still, the upgrade path is smart (with a generous dishing out of virtual coins to upgrade your cars and buy new tracks), making for hours of grin-inducing arcade action.

Virtua Tennis Challenge is an iPad reimagining of a classic Dreamcast tennis game. Although Sega claims it’s the most realistic game of its type on mobile, Virtual Tennis Challenge is in reality very much an arcade outing, with you darting about, attempting to defeat your opponent by way of lobs, top spins, and dramatic ‘super shots’.

The gestural controls leave a lot to be desired, resulting in tennis as if your player had downed a few too many drinks in the bar prior to their match.

But plump for the on-screen virtual D-pad and buttons (or use an external MFi gamepad) and you’ll find an entertaining take on repeatedly smacking a ball over a net, while the virtual crowd presumably gorges itself on virtual strawberries.

Splashy Dots is a puzzle game that wants to unleash your inner artist. It takes place on canvases with a number of dots sprinkled about. Your task is to figure out a path from the start to the end point that takes in every dot.

This is a familiar concept – there are loads of similar games on the App Store, but the execution of Splashy Dots ensures it stands out. Every swipe you make smears paint across the screen; and these brushstrokes and splats fashion a little slice of geometric art as you play.

Over time, the canvases become increasingly complex, as you slowly build a gallery of abstract virtual paintings. A relaxing jazzy soundtrack and unlimited undos add to the relaxing vibe – only interrupted with a jolt when ads appear. But if those irk, you can silence them with a single $0.99/99p/AU$1.49 IAP.

Rocklien Run is a hybrid endless runner/shooter, featuring a little UFO blazing along space lanes populated by hordes of deadly creatures who’d very much rather the UFO wasn’t there. You tap left and right to avoid being horribly killed, attempting to scoop up bonus coins and stars along the way.

The stars are the key to Rocklien Run. Pick up a green one and your little ship starts spewing bullets. Grab a yellow one and you zoom along, temporarily indestructible. Keep on shooting, dodging, and picking up stars, and Rocklien Run transforms from a frustrating staccato experience into an exhilarating high-octane arcade blast.

Just be aware that for every breezily crazy game where you’re belting along at insane speeds, you’ll probably have another where you’re killed in approximately three seconds.

Hoggy 2 is a platform puzzler, with a firm emphasis on the puzzling. It features some cartoon slime molds, who’ve got on the wrong side of the villainous Moon Men. These rogues have taken the heroes’ kids, and so parents Hoggy and Hogatha vow to get them back.

The Moon Men’s fortress is a huge maze peppered with jars. Within each jar is a room filled with platforms, enemies, hazards, and fruit. Eat all the fruit and you get a key. Get enough keys and you can venture further into the maze.

The snag is that getting at the fruit can be tricky. Hoggy 2’s levels are cunningly designed, often requiring you perform actions in a specific order and manner, making use of power-ups that transform the protagonists into trundling granite squares or screaming infernos.

Add in lush console-style visuals and a level editor, and you’ve got one of the biggest bargains on mobile.

You know a game’s not taking itself too seriously when it begins with the hero trudging through a blizzard, only to be faced by a giant heavily armed walrus guarding the fortress of a megalomaniacal genius.

But Evil Factory is just warming up, and subsequently revels in flinging all manner of mutated madness your way in its hard-nosed top-down arcade battles.

For each, you dart about using a virtual joystick, while two large on-screen buttons activate weapons. Unfortunately, your bosses are colossal idiots, and have armed you with the likes of dynamite and Molotov cocktails. Bouts often therefore involve dodging bullets to fling wares at a giant foe, before running away like a coward.

It’s silly, relentless arcade fun – or at least it would be relentless if the ‘fuel’ based freemium model didn’t butt up against one-hit-death and tough later levels. Still, if the stop-start nature of playing becomes irksome, fuel limitations can be removed with a $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP.

With a name that sounds like something an angry railway employee would yell before slapping you, Conduct THIS! actually starts out as a fairly sedate railway management game. Little trains amble along, picking up passengers you have to direct to stations that match their color.

The controls are extremely simple: tap a train and it halts until you tap it again; and switches can be triggered to send a train the most optimum way at a junction.

However, the layouts you face very quickly become anything but simple, with multiple trains to control and vehicles to avoid – both of which sometimes unhelpfully disappear into tunnels.

This is a smart, colorful mix of arcade smarts and puzzling – even if it does have the capacity to drive you loco(motive).

If you’ve ever played the last level of PC classic Driver, with its psychotic police vehicles, you’ll have an inkling what you’re in for in Reckless Getaway 2. You pick a car and barrel about a little wraparound city, driving around like a maniac, until your inevitable arrest.

Well, we say ‘arrest’, but these police are crazed. SWAT vans will hurl themselves at your vehicle, oblivious to the carnage around them. Eventually, airstrikes will be called in, at which point you might question if the law’s applying a bit too much zeal towards grand theft auto these days.

Over time, the game’s repetitive nature palls a bit, and the physics is a bit floaty; but otherwise it’s a great fun freebie for virtual joyriders armed with an iPad.

This one’s all about counting really quickly. That admittedly doesn’t sound like much – but stick with it, because Estiman is actually a lot of fun.

It begins by displaying a bunch of neon shapes. The aim is to prod a shape that belongs to the most numerous group, and work your way to the smallest. Do this rapidly and you build a combo that can seriously ramp up your score. Now and again shapes also house credits, which can be used to buy new themes.

On iPad, the game looks great, and although some themes (such as gloopy bubbles) make the game easier, that at least gives you a choice if the minimal original theme proves too tricky.

And despite Estiman’s overt simplicity, its odd contrasting mix of relaxation (chill-out audio; zero-stress timer) and urgency (if you want those combos) proves compelling.

Its overhead viewpoint and tiny players might evoke arcade-oriented soccer games of old, like Sensible Soccer and Kick off, but Retro Soccer is very much a mobile oriented affair. In part, this is down to the main mode taking you through loads of challenges, rather than a league, but mostly it’s about the controls.

There are no virtual buttons and D-pads here – everything in Retro Soccer is about taps and gestures. You tap to move somewhere, dribble with the ball or pass. A swipe unleashes a shot if you’re within sight of the goal, or a scything sliding tackle that carves up a fair chunk of the field if you’re near an opposing player with the ball.

It takes a fair bit of getting used to and really needs the iPad’s large screen for you to have any hope of mastering the game. But stick around and you’ll find Retro Soccer an entertaining take on the beautiful game.

With its chunky graphics and silly demeanor, Westy West isn’t an entirely accurate recreation of the Wild West – but it is a lot of fun.

You hop about tiny towns, deserts, and mines, shooting bad guys and being rewarded for being the kind of sheriff who doesn’t also shoot innocents.

Although the controls mirror Crossy Road (albeit with a tap to shoot rather than leap forward), progression is more akin to Looty Dungeon, with you having to complete each miniature room (as in, shoot all the bad guys) before moving on.

The net result is a game that’s ultimately an entertaining arcade title, but that somehow also feels like you’re exploring a tiny universe – and one with character. It’s amusing when you’re facing a duel, and a pianist is rather conspicuously outside, furiously playing an ominous score.

We’re in broadly familiar territory with Bomb Hunters, which twins Crossy Road with bomb disposal. This means you get chunky graphics and a swipe-based take on Frogger, but must also quickly locate and deal with high-explosives that are soon to go off.

This twist transforms Bomb Hunters into a relentlessly frantic experience, and keeps you on your toes regarding the route you’re taking. Everything becomes markedly tougher when enemy snipers and grenadiers appear, and when some bombs only disarm when you complete a dexterity mini-game.

The swipe controls can be a touch iffy at times, but otherwise this is a smart take on an otherwise tired genre – and one that rewards repeat play through unlocks that boost your survival rate during subsequent games.

The clue’s in the title in this entertaining and arcade-oriented engineering test. In Build a Bridge!, you’re faced with a vehicle, a gap over which the vehicle would like to travel, and some materials to build your bridge. You lay down a structure on virtual graph paper, press play, and see what happens.

If your bridge falls to bits – as it invariably will on the first few attempts – you can go back, rebuild and try again. Should you want to properly test out your engineering skills, you must minimize the materials used to get a three-star award – tricky when you hit levels requiring outlandish solutions that incorporate jumps and hot-air balloons.

Some of the building can be a bit fiddly, but on an iPad Build a Bridge! proves a compelling test of your engineering skills.

Yes, we know: you’ve seen a dozen games just like this, essentially endless runners with a puzzle solving edge, complete with teleporters and multiple routes. But wait – all is not quite as it seems.

One thing DROP NOT! does have in common with several other games is you auto-tumbling about an isometric world, prodding the screen to abruptly change direction. Get it wrong and chances are you’ll fall off of a narrow elevated pathway into oblivion.

But unlike the competition, DROP NOT! isn’t algorithmically generated; instead, it has 20 handcrafted levels, transforming the game into an adventure you can master.

Beating it in one go from the start requires some serious memory and timing skills; if that all seems too much, points buy keys to unlock checkpoints you can start from, in order to discover all of the game’s secrets. Either way, this title’s far more than it first appears to be.

Here we have another endless runner mining gaming’s past for a hook to hang everything on. This time, Bomberman has been shoe-horned into the genre. Fortunately for Tiny Bombers, this works.

The basic premise, as ever, is your little character must keep running, lest they be eaten up by a game world falling into the abyss. To push ever onward, they can obliterate walls and other hazards by dropping bombs and then fleeing before they explode.

During each game, you can grab power-ups, collect coins to spend on new characters, and coo at the pretty graphics. From a longevity standpoint, Tiny Bombers is probably not another Crossy Road, but even so it makes for a fun and explosive change.

We shouldn’t encourage them, really. Transformers: Forged to Fight is packed full of horrible free-to-play trappings: timers; gates; a baffling currency/resource system. And yet it’s a horribly compelling title. Much of this is down to how much fun it apparently is to watch giant robots punching each other in the face.

If you’re unfamiliar with Transformers, it’s based around robots that disguise themselves as cars and planes as a kind of camouflage – and then they forget about all that, transform into bipedal robots, and attempt to smash each other to bits.

This game has various Transformers universes colliding, which for fans only increases the fun – after all, old hands can watch with glee as old-school Optimus Prime hacks Michael Bay’s version to pieces with a massive axe. But for newcomers hankering for one-on-one Street Fighterish brawls on an iOS device, it’s still a freebie worth grabbing.

With Darkside Lite, you rather generously get the entire arcade mode from superb blaster Darkside. What this means is a slew of fast-paced and eye-dazzling shooty action, where you blast everything around you to pieces, while trying very hard to stay in one piece yourself.

The twin-stick shenanigans echo the likes of Geometry Wars (or, if you’re really old, Robotron) in terms of controls, but the setup is more Asteroids, obliterating space rocks – and also the spaceships that periodically zoom in to do you damage.

The entire thing’s wrapped around planetoids floating in the void, making for a dizzying, thrilling ride as you attempt to locate the last bit of flying rock before some alien attacker swoops in and rips away the last of your shields.

This one’s from the Pac-Man 256 folks, but this time the classic titles being mined appear to be Dig-Dug and Mr. Driller. And, yes, that was a terrible pun, because Digby Forever is all about mining, your little hero drilling deep into the ground on a quest for bling, trying to avoid regular cave-ins and various underground ‘one touch equals death’ denizens.

Bar a baffling card power-up system, Digby Forever is a breezy arcade blast. Its little world feels very alive, with explosions blasting pixels across the screen, and various creatures going about their business. Intriguingly, it also deftly deals with that problem in endless games of starting from scratch – here, you always restart from where you were last defeated.

There’s a good chance Little Alchemy would make a scientist angrily hurl their iPad at a wall on their first experience with the game, on account of how fast and loose it plays with the laws of nature.

However, this portal of discovery, thinking outside the box, and, frankly, random guessing, is nonetheless a lot of fun.

You start with the classical elements (air; fire; water; earth), and combine them to create new objects. The aim is to figure out how to make over 500 things, from volcanoes to unicorns.

Some combinations are logical and amusing – a vacuum cleaner is a broom combined with electricity. But a helicopter? That requires you merge an airplane and a windmill. And now we really want to see someone combine those things in the real world.

For the most part, side-on endless runners tend to be ideal iPhone fare, but Archer Dash 2 has a twist that makes it a much better bet for your iPad. In this world of retro-style pixelated graphics, a little archer dashes along, aiming to scoop up blue gems, and jumping to avoid getting fried on electrified fences.

The twist here is the ‘archer’ bit – drag across the left-hand side of the screen and time temporarily slows, so you can aim and unleash an arrow to destroy obstacles or collect out-of-reach bling. Now and again, there’s a frantic boss battle to survive.

On iPhone, the game works fine, but only on iPad are you afforded the precision needed to have a lengthy dash rather than a short sprint.

With Dashy Crashy, the iPad shows bigger (as in, the screen) really can be better. The basics involve swiping to avoid traffic while hurtling along a road. New vehicles are periodically won, each of which has a special skill (such as the UFO abducting traffic, and the taxi picking up fares); and there are also random events to respond to, such as huge dinosaurs barreling along.

On iPad, the gorgeous visuals are more dazzling than on the smaller iPhone, and in landscape or portrait, it’s easier to see what’s in front of you, potentially leading to higher scores.

Also, the game’s multi-touch aware, so you can multi-finger-swipe to change several lanes at once – fiddly on an iPhone but a cinch on a tablet, making for an addictive, just-one-more-go experience.

We shouldn’t encourage them. Infinite Stairs is yet another endless game, almost entirely bereft of innovation – and yet it has two really clever bits that transform it into a surprisingly absorbing offering.

First, the visuals include plenty of large characters bursting with personality. But more importantly, the controls are clever. You get two buttons – ‘turn’ and ‘climb’ – for working your way up a zigzagging staircase to the heavens. ‘Turn’ not only flips you round, but also has you climb a step.

That might not sound like much, but as the timer rapidly depletes, you’ll mess up often in the more winding sections of staircase, curse your thumbs, have another go, and realize you’re once again glued to another endless runner.

Although Solid Soccer has the visual appearance of Amiga classic Sensible Soccer, this is a much more sedate affair, with decidedly strange controls that have more in common with Angry Birds than footie games.

As your little players scoot about the pitch, you use drag and release gestures to tackle and shoot, or drag back and slide left and right to dribble.

This all feels a bit floaty, but a few games in everything clicks, and you’ll have fun kicking off against online opposition. There is a sense of shallowness, however – there’s no offline mode and none of the extensive depth found in the likes of Active Soccer 2. Still, as a freebie iPad kickabout, Solid Soccer manages a scrappy win.

Snake meets land-grabbing in Paper.io. On entering the arena – populated by other players – you swipe to guide your little square about. Encircle a section of space and it fills with your color, boosting your territory score.

You must be careful to not collide with the walls surrounding the arena. Also, square trails are player’s weak spots. Run over an opponent’s and they’re removed from the game, leaving gems you can munch. But the same’s true for you – so watch out.

Paper.io’s a bit heavy on ads and bereft of audio, but the game itself is nonetheless compelling, not least because you can dive right back in for revenge should someone abruptly terminate your go.

Here’s yet another game with a ‘Verby Noun’ moniker, and blocky voxel graphics. But although Guessy Stars riffs off of Crossy Road in those areas, it’s in fact a nicely-designed trivia game, in which you have to guess 300 famous faces, grouped into 12 item rounds.

In each case, you get a basic clue and a figurine to spin. Tap in an answer (using a suitably blocky custom keyboard) and the figurine explodes all over the screen if you guess correctly. If you’re close – just a small misspelling away – the game amusingly moves into game show host mode, asking “Can we take that?”

Should you get stuck, ask for more clues – but note: replenishing your clue token stash requires IAP or watching ads.

On consoles, fighting games tend to need millions of buttons and players to have an eidetic memory to recall all the various combinations for special moves. Mercifully, Marvel Contest of Champions simplifies things for the touchscreen, and gives you the added bonus of having your favorite comic characters smack each other’s faces off.

The plot’s thin, but the side-on one-on-one scraps pack a punch, with you swiping to unleash attacks and holding the screen to block. Visually, it’s a treat, and the fighting element is entertaining and accessible.

And the freemium angle? Well, that can irk in the long term, but – like a Marvel movie – this one’s good for a quick blast every now and again, even if it’s a bit lacking in depth and longevity.

The world’s stretchiest canine’s found himself in a world full of sticky desserts and a surprising number of saw blades. His aim: get to the other end of this deadly yet yummy horizontally scrolling world. The snag: the aforementioned blades, a smattering of puzzles, and the way this particular pooch moves.

In Silly Sausage: Doggy Dessert, the canine hero doesn’t pootle along on tiny legs – instead, you swipe to make his body stretch like an angular snake until he reaches another surface, whereupon his hind quarters catch up.

The result is an impressive side-scroller that’s more sedate puzzler than frantic platformer – aside from in adrenaline-fueled time-based challenge rooms, which even Silly Sausage veterans will be hard-pressed to master. 

Do you like brick-bashing Breakout? Do you like ball-whacking pinball? If so, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy Super Hyper Ball 2, which mashes the two together. Here, you get flippers to smack the ball around but also a little bat you move back and forth at the foot of the screen. Oh, and there are power-ups, too, which can be triggered to blow up hard-to-reach targets and bricks.

If that all sounds a bit like patting your head while rubbing your stomach, that’s not far off. Super Hyper Ball 2 can be like playing two games simultaneously.

Curiously, given its heritage, it can also be oddly pedestrian at times, but it’s mostly giddy fun, whether facing off against a laser-spewing skull boss, or smashing your way through a whirling disc with colorful bricks glued to its surface.

We’ve lost count of the number of puzzle games where you swipe to force a couple of blocks simultaneously slide about, aiming to make them both reach a goal. And on first glance, that’s Waiit.

But this title cleverly differentiates itself from mundane contemporaries by welding itself to the guts of an endless runner.

In Waiit’s vertically scrolling world, a universe-devouring entity is in hot pursuit. You must rapidly figure out routes to the next exit and deftly perform the swipes required to get both of your squares through unscathed.

Tension is mixed with charm as the little squares holler to each other by way of comic-style balloons. And although you’ll initially fail quickly and often – perhaps even hankering for a hazard-free zen mode – it’s Waiit’s relative toughness that’ll keep you coming back to beat your high score.

The best way to think about Brick Shot is as a radically simplified Tetris where you happen to be hurtling along at insane speeds. There’s just one shape here – a rectangular brick – and it must be fired along one of four columns, with you aiming to complete rows and make them disappear.

For the first fifteen shots, it’s pretty much impossible to mess up. The screen scrolls slowly, ensuring your aim is always true. Then Brick Shot ups the pace considerably, and even only having four columns to decide between can sometimes feel like three too many.

On the iPad at least, your fingers have space to rest and your eyes can more easily track incoming walls. Ongoing success unlocks alternate modes, although the straightforward original’s probably the best.

Coming across like Civilization in miniature, The Battle of Polytopia is all about dominating a tiny isometric world. You explore, capture villages, duff up opponents and discover new technologies in order to build more powerful units.

But the empire building is stripped back, with smart limitations for mobile. The ‘tech tree’ is abbreviated (trust us, you’ll understand when you play), and only one unit can sit in any given square. Also, by default you have a 30-move limit – although hardcore players can opt for a mode where you continue until only one tribe is left standing.

Despite its relative simplicity compared to Civilization, Polytopia has plenty of depth, and can be tough as you delve into the higher difficulty levels. Rather generously, you get the entire thing for free – IAP exists purely to unlock new tribes and boost the number you can face beyond three.

If you know your arcade history, you’ll know that Galaga is one of the earliest single-screen shooters. The sequel to Galaxian – where aliens started fighting back by way of dive-bombing – Galaga added ‘Challenging Stages’, where strings of ships would flit about rather than marching back and forth in formation.

Galaga Wars combines both approaches, increases the pace, adds glossy modern cartoonish graphics, and gleefully ends your war should your ship take a single hit. You must therefore weave through projectiles, efficiently offing opponents, and grabbing power-ups whenever they appear.

Regular boss battles up the ante in what’s a vibrant and compelling shooter. The excitement does eventually wane – levels never change and it’s a grind to reach later ones – but for a time this is a solid free blaster for your iPad, and for many of us that’s just the way we like our tablet gaming.

The original Flappy Golf was a surprise hit, given that it was essentially a joke – a satire on Flappy Bird. While Flappy Golf 2 is a more polished and considered effort, it’s essentially more of the same, giving you courses from the most recent Super Stickman Golf, and adding wings to the balls.

Instead of smacking the ball with a stick, then, you flap it skywards, using left and right buttons to head in the right direction. If you’re a Super Stickman Golf 3 aficionado, Flappy Golf 2 forces you to try very different approaches to minimize flaps and get the scores needed to unlock further courses.

For newcomers, it’s an immediate, fun and silly take on golf, not least when you delve into the manic race mode. The permanent ad during play also makes this a far better bet on iPad than iPhone, where the ad can obscure the course. (Disappointingly, there’s no IAP to eradicate advertising.)

This fast-paced rhythm-action game has you swiping the screen like a lunatic, trying to help your tiny musicians to the end of a piece of classical music without them exploding. Yep, things are tough in the world of Epic Orchestra – one bum note and a violinist or pianist will evaporate in a puff of smoke.

The entire thing is swipe-based. Arrows descend from the top of a narrow column at the centre of the screen, and you must match them with a gesture. At lower difficulty levels, this is insanely easy.

Ramp up the speed, though, and your fingers will soon be in a twist, despite the apparent simplicity of the task. A $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 IAP unlocks more songs, but you get five for free.

One of the most ludicrous one-thumb games around, Brake or Break features a car hurtling along the road. You can hold the screen to brake, and if you don’t, the car speeds up. Sooner or later, it’ll be hurled into the air and start spinning, thereby awarding you with huge points – unless you land badly and smash your vehicle to pieces.

There’s a lot of risk-versus-reward and careful timing here, with gameplay that offers a smattering of Tiny Wings and a whole lot of weird.

Most of said oddness comes by way of the environment, which lobs all kinds of objects at your car, and regularly has it propelled into the air by a grinning tornado. Stick out the game long enough (or open your wallet) and you can unlock new worlds and cars to further shake things up.

Instead of blazing through larger-than-life takes on real-world cities, Asphalt Xtreme takes you off-road, zooming through dunes, drifting across muddy flats, and generally treating the great outdoors in a manner that will win you no favors with the local authorities.

As per other entries in the series, this is ballsy arcade racing, with bouncy physics, simple controls, an obsession with boosting, and tracks designed to make you regularly smash your car to bits.

It’s also, sadly, absolutely riddled with freemium cruft: timers; currencies; nags – the lot. But if you can look past that and dip in and out occasionally to allow the game to ‘recharge’, there’s a lot to like in this racer that’s decided roads and rules are so last season.
 

There’s a delightful and elegant simplicity at the heart of Mars: Mars. The game echoes iPad classic Desert Golfing, in providing a seemingly endless course to explore. But rather than smacking a ball, you’re blasting a little astronaut between landing pads.

The controls also hark back to another game – the ancient Lunar Lander. After blast-off, you tap the sides of the screen to emit little jets of air, attempting to nudge your astronaut in the right direction and break their fall before a collision breaks them.

Smartly, you can have endless tries without penalty, but the game also tots up streaks without death. Repeat play is further rewarded by unlocking characters (also available via IAP), many of which dramatically alter the environment you’re immersed in.

Like a simulation of having a massive migraine while on a stomach-churning roller-coaster, Groove Coaster 2 Original Style is a rhythm action game intent on blasting your optics out while simultaneously making your head spin.

It flings you through dizzying, blazing-fast tracks, asking you to tap or hold the screen to the beat of thumping techno and catchy J-Pop.

The game looks superb – all retro-futuristic vector graphics and explosions of color that are like being stuck inside a mirror ball while 1980s video games whirl around your head.

Mostly you'll stick around for the exhilarating tap-happy rhythm action, which marries immediacy with plenty of challenge, clever choreography tripping up the complacent on higher difficulty levels.

It never becomes a slog though – tracks are shortish and ideal for quick play; and for free, you can unlock plenty of them, but loads more are available via in-app purchase.
 

So crazy it has an exclamation mark in its name, Crazy Truck! is essentially a reverse Flappy Bird. Your blocky vehicle bounces around like a hyperactive hybrid of a 4×4 and a flea, abruptly returning to terra firma when you hold the screen.

This sounds simple enough, yet the controls are oddly disorienting, not least when your chunky vehicle's tasked with avoiding waves of deadly bombs and rockets that litter the screen.. which is at pretty much every moment.

Games are therefore very short; and, frankly, we shouldn't encourage this kind of iPad game, given that there are so many of them. But Crazy Truck! is colorful – if frequently frustrating – fun, and neatly has you tackle the same 'course' until you beat a virtual opponent. (Well, we say 'neatly'; whether you'll think that on your 27th attempt…)

Initially, Rings baffles. You're served some colored rings and told to place them on a three-by-three grid.

But you soon realize you're in color-matching territory, rings exploding when colors match on a horizontal, vertical or diagonal line.

The twist is that there are three sizes of ring, and sometimes pieces have multiple rings with different colors. You must therefore carefully manage where you place each piece, otherwise the board fills up in a manner that will have you desperately hoping for a tiny green ring before the game bats away your trifling wishes and mercilessly ends your game.

That won't happen for some time though – the games tend to go on for too long, unless you're paying no attention whatsoever.

However, if you can carve an hour out of your day, a session with Rings should prove a satisfying and relaxing diversion that gives your brain a bit of a workout. 

Rather than requiring you to build a tower, Six! is all about demolition, tapping to blast Tetris-like shapes from a colorful column. The tiny snag is a hexagon sits at the top, and the second it falls into the void, your game is over.

In theory, Six! is the kind of game that should be ridiculously easy. In reality, the hexagon is big and unwieldy and the tower narrow enough that you must take care removing blocks, lest the plummeting shape spin and fling itself to certain doom.

When that happens, the simple fun rather nicely concludes with a frantic 'last call', where you tap like a maniac to grab a bunch of extra points before the screen dims.
 

We have absolutely no idea what’s going on in Masky. What we do know is that this is a deeply weird but thoroughly compelling game.

According to the game’s blurb, Masky’s all about some kind of grand costume ball, with you dancing to mystic sounds and inviting other masked dancers to join you. What this means in practice is shuffling left and right, adding other dancers to your merry band, and ensuring the balance meter never goes beyond red. If it does, everyone falls over – masks everywhere.

Beyond the lovely graphics and audio, there’s a smart – if simple – game here. Some masks from newcomers added to your line shake things up, flipping the screen or temporarily removing the balance meter.

Inevitably, everything also speeds up as you play, making keeping balance increasingly tough. We don’t doubt the unique visuals count for a lot regarding Masky’s pull, but the strange premise and compelling gameplay keep you dancing for the long haul.

Perhaps our favorite thing about Level With Me is that it’s, really, very silly indeed. The premise is to balance things on a massive plank, precariously perched atop the pointy bit of a tower.

Said plank’s position is shifted by tapping water at the foot of the screen, launching massive bubbles. These counter whatever’s lurking on top, unless you mess up and everything slides into the sea and explodes.

Tasks come thick and fast, often lasting mere seconds. You must quickly figure out how to balance 10 people when they’re being chased by zombies, construct a hamburger when its component parts are being lobbed from the heavens, and pop balloons by using a trundling hedgehog.

The themes admittedly repeat quite often, but everything’s so charming (and your games are so short) that this doesn’t really matter.

It’s safe to say that subtlety wasn’t on the menu of whatever service Ding Dong Delivery represents. This is a brash endless runner of the tap head/rub belly variety. You control a delivery vehicle, smashing its way along a road, attempting to hurl takeaways at waiting hungry people who might think otherwise about ordering from you in future.

This is a two-button effort, one lobs food and the other switches lanes. Games mostly involve frantically mashing the throw food button, hoping for the best, while maniacally weaving between parked cars and avoiding idiots driving into the middle of the road without looking.

It’s part Paperboy, part Flappy Bird, and while the action eventually palls, it’s always good for a quick blast – especially when you start unlocking vehicles and get to deliver pizza using a massive tank.

The BAFTA-winning INKS rethought pinball for mobile, breaking it down into bite-sized simple tables that were more like puzzles. Precision shots – and few of them – were the key to victory. PinOut! thinks similarly, while simultaneously transforming the genre into an against-the-clock endless runner.

The idea is to always move forwards, shooting the ball up ramps that send it to the next miniature table. Along the way, you grab dots to replenish the relentlessly ticking down timer, find and use power-ups, and play the odd mini-game, in a game that recalls basic but compelling fare once found on the LED displays of real-life tables.

PinOut! is gorgeous – all neon-infused tables and silky smooth synth-pop soundtrack. And while the seemingly simplified physics might nag pinball aficionados, it makes for an accessible and playable game for everyone else.

There’s not a lot of originality in King Rabbit, but it’s one of those simple and endearing puzzle games that sucks you in and refuses to let go until you’ve worked your way through the entire thing.

The premise is hackneyed — bunnies have been kidnapped, and a sole hero must save them. And the gameplay is familiar too, where you leap about a grid-like landscape, manipulating objects, avoiding hazards, finding keys, unlocking doors, and reaching a goal.

But the execution is such that King Rabbit is immediately engaging, while new ideas keep coming as you work through the dozens of puzzles. Pleasingly, the game also increases the challenge so subtly that you barely notice — until you realise you’ve been figuring out a royal bunny’s next moves into the wee small hours.

From the off, it’s obvious Ollie Cats isn’t taking itself seriously. The aim is to ‘ollie’ (jump) an endless number of cats heading in your rad skateboarder’s direction. You can perform all manner of tricks (including grinding along fences when loads of cats suddenly appear), but the game in miserly fashion only bestows a single point per cat cleared, regardless of your amazing skills.

However, you can also be the cat. That’s right – it’s possible to play the game as a black moggie on a board, aiming to become the coolest feline around. There are fewer stunts in this mode, but it’s so ridiculous that the cat version of the game fast became our favorite.

In a marked departure from the impressive Phoenix HD and its procedurally generated bullet hell,Phoenix II shoves you through set-piece vertically scrolling shoot ’em up grinders. Every 24 hours, a new challenge appears, tasking you with surviving a number of waves comprising massive metal space invaders belching hundreds of deadly bullets your way.

A single hit to your craft’s core (a small spot at its center) brings destruction, forcing you to memorize attack and bullet patterns and make use of shields and deflectors if you’ve any hope of survival. You do sometimes slam into a brick wall, convinced a later wave is impossible to beat.

To lessen the frustration, there’s always the knowledge you’ll get another crack at smashing new invaders the following day. Regardless, this is a compelling, dazzling and engaging shooter for iPad.

Sharing DNA with Super Hexagon and ALONE…, Barrier X is the kind of game that merrily smacks you in the face for having the audacity to blink.

Hurling you at insane speeds along minimal 3D tracks that some idiot’s peppered with walls, all you have to do is head left and right to avoid crashing. But this isn’t so simple when blazing along at about a million miles per hour.

Comically, Barrier X speeds up every 15 seconds; and if you survive long enough further challenges are unlocked. Suddenly, you’re told to travel through (rather than avoid) certain barriers, and to shoot rivals, all while attempting to not become so much space dust.

Minimal visuals and a thumping soundtrack further add to Barrier X’s brutal charms – it’s an exhilarating, exciting title among the very best of its kind.

If you’ve experienced Colin Lane’s deranged take on wrestling (the decidedly oddball Wrassling), you probably know what you’re in for with Dunkers. In theory, this is side-on one-on-one basketball, but Dunkers is knowingly mad.

You only get two buttons, one of which dodders your player back towards their own basket, while the other lurches them into the air and in the opposite direction. All the while, their arms whirl like a hysterical clock.

You battle as best you can, grabbing the ball from your berserk opponent, fighting your way to the basket, and slam dunking victoriously. The entire thing is ridiculous, almost the antithesis of photo-realistic fare like NBA 2K; but we’d also argue that it’s a lot more fun.

An excellent example in how iteration can improve a game, The Little Fox was almost impossible upon release. But a reduction in speed and some restart points proved transformative, enabling you to immerse yourself in a sweet-natured, great-looking pathfinding arcade outing.

The titular fox is on a quest that takes the bounding carnivore through 13 varied lands. Pathways comprise hexagons littered with collectables and hazards, and at any moment you can only turn left or right or continue straight on.

At the original breakneck pace (still available as an in-game option), this all feels too much. But when slowed down, The Little Fox reveals itself to be a clever, imaginative, fun title, with surprises to be found on every planet the furry critter visits.

It’s hard to imagine a less efficient way of building and maintaining a zoo than what you see in Rodeo Stampede. Armed with a lasso, you foolishly venture into a stampede and leap from animal to animal, attempting to win their hearts by virtue of not being flung to the ground.

You then whisk beaten animals away to a zoo in a massive sky-based craft – the kind of place where you imagine the Avengers might hang out if they gave up crime-fighting and decided to start jailing animals rather than villains.

Despite overly familiar chunky visuals (Crossy Road has a lot to answer for), this fast-paced, breezy game is a lot of fun, with you dragging left and right to avoid blundering into rocks, and lifting your finger to soar into the air, aiming to catch another rampaging beast.

Much like previous entries in the series, Super Stickman Golf 3 finds a tiny golfer dumped in fantastical surroundings. So rather than thwacking a ball about carefully tended fairways and greens, there are castles full of teleporters and a moon base bereft of gravity. The Ryder Cup, this is not.

New to the series is a spin mechanic, for flipping impossible shots off of ceilings and nudging fluffed efforts holewards on the greens. You also get turn-by-turn battles against Game Centre chums and a frenetic multiplayer race mode.

The spendthrift release is limited, though, restricting how many two-player battles you have on the go, locking away downloadable courses beyond the 20 initially built-in, and peppering the game with ads. Even so, you get a lot for nothing, should you be after new side-on golfing larks but not want to pay for the privilege.

Apparently the national sport of Slamdovia, a country where blocky people look like they just stepped out of a Commodore 64, Wrassling is like wrestling combined with a dollop of sheer stupid.

You’re dropped into the ring and must fling your opponents into the inky gloom before they do the same to you. Ridiculous controls (spin your arms with all your might!) and absurdly bouncy physics add to the game’s oddball nature, which will put a smile on your face before it’s promptly smashed into the canvas and then rudely hurled into the air.

With more than a hint of Fruit Ninja about it, Bushido Bear finds a sword-wielding teddy defending the forest against endless waves of evil demons. You get a brief warning about where your assailants will appear, and must quickly drag paths to move your bear about; it’ll then get suitably slashy and stabby, hopefully not blundering into an enemy in the meantime.

It’s a fast-paced affair, and you’ll need swift reactions to survive. Over time, you unlock additional frenzied furry animals, each with their own particular skills. And, amusingly, when a bear is killed, its colleague can be thrown into the fray, ready for some angry ninja bear vengeance!

If you like the idea of golf, but not traipsing around greens in the drizzle, WGT: World Tour Golf is the closest you’ll get to the real thing on your iPad. Courses have been meticulously rebuilt in virtual form, based on thousands of photographs, and WGT’s control scheme is accessible yet also quite punishing.

There’s no mucking about spinning balls in mid-air to alter your shot here – mess up and you’ll know about it, with a score card massively over par. But this is a game that rewards mastery and perseverance, and you feel like a boss once you crack how to land near-perfect shots.

WGT is, mind, a touch ad-heavy at times, but this is countered by there being loads to do, including head-to-head online multiplayer and a range of tournaments to try your hand at.

In Clash Royale, two players battle online, sending out troops to obliterate their opponent’s three towers, while simultaneously protecting their own. It comes across a bit like animated chess, if chess pieces were armed to the teeth and ranged from a giant robot with a huge scythe to an army of skittering skeletons.

The troops you have available come by way of cards you collect, from which you select a deck of eight. In matches, elixir gradually tops up, which can be ‘spent’ deploying said troops, forcing you to manage resources and spot when your opponent might be dry.

Clash Royale is very much a freemium game. You can spend a ton of real-world cash on virtual coins to buy and upgrade cards. However, doing so isn’t really necessary, and we’ve heard of people getting to the very highest levels in the game without spending a penny. But even if you find yourself scrapping in the lower leagues, Clash Royale is loads of fun.

Following in the footsteps of Tomb Raider and Hitman, Uncharted: Fortune Hunter has been squirted into your iPad in puzzle-game form. Hero of the hour Nathan Drake must nab loot by working out how to not-horribly die across dozens of grid-based puzzles. Fortune Hunter lacks the polish and atmosphere of Lara Croft GO and Hitman GO, but it’s still worth grabbing.

The puzzles are smartly designed, and ideal for mobile play, taking only a few minutes each to solve. And if you own the latest PS4 Uncharted, some of the iPad achievements can benefit Drake on your console (even if said benefits might only be a natty new hat).

Tie-ins between indie game companies and major movie houses often end badly, but Disney Crossy Road bucks the trend. It starts off like the original Crossy Road — an endless take on Frogger. Only here, Mickey Mouse picks his way across motorways, train lines and rivers, trying to avoid death by drowning or being splattered across a windscreen.

But unlock new characters (you’ll have several for free within a few games) and you open up further Disney worlds, each with unique visuals and challenges.

In Toy Story, Woody and Buzz dodge tumbling building blocks, whereas the inhabitants of Haunted Mansion are tasked with keeping the lights on and avoiding a decidedly violent suit of armour.

Elsewhere, Inside Out has you dart about collecting memories, which are sucked up for bonus points. And on the iPad, the gorgeous chunky visuals of these worlds really get a chance to shine.

This smashy endless arcade sports title has more than a hint of air hockey about it, but PKTBALL is also infused with the breakneck madness associated with Laser Dog’s brutal iOS games.

It takes place on a tiny cartoon tennis court, with you swiping across the ball to send it back to your opponent. But this game is *really* fast, meaning that although you’ll clock how to play PKTBALL almost immediately, mastering it takes time.

In solo mode, the computer AI offers plenty of challenge, but it’s in multiplayer matches that PKTBALL serves an ace. Two to four people duke it out, swiping like lunatics (and hopefully not hurling the iPad away in a huff, like a modern-day McEnroe, when things go bad).

As ever, there are new characters to unlock, each of which boasts its own court and background music. Our current favourite: a little Game Boy, whose court has a certain famous blocky puzzle game playing in the background.

At first glance, Looty Dungeon comes across like a Crossy Road wannabe. But you soon realise it’s actually a very smartly designed endless dungeon crawler that just happens to pilfer Crossy Road’s control method, chunky visual style, and sense of urgency.

You begin as a tiny stabby knight, scooting through algorithmically generated isometric rooms. You must avoid spikes and chopping axes, outrun a collapsing floor, and dispatch monsters. The action is fast-paced, lots of fun, and challenges your dexterity and ability to think on the move.

As is seemingly law in today’s mobile gaming landscape, Looty Dungeon also nags at the collector in you, offering characters to unlock. But these aren’t just decorative in nature — they have unique weapons, which alter how you play. For example, an archer has better range than the knight, but no defensive shield when up against an angry witch or ravenous zombie.

Endless 3D avoid ’em ups have been a mainstay on the App Store ever since Cube Runner arrived way back in 2008. Geometry Race, like the older title, is keen on you learning a fixed course over repeat attempts, rather than battling your way through semi-randomised landscapes. Unlike Cube Runner, though, Geometry Race is a visual treat.

For reasons unknown, your spaceship finds itself zooming through worlds packed full of geometric obstacles, such as huge toppling letters and marching cubes. Beyond not colliding with anything, you must grab fuel to recharge your ship and coins that can be used to unlock better spaceships and additional worlds.

The lack of variety may eventually dent the game’s own long-term survival on your device, but for a while Geometry Race is bright and breezy fun.

Although Hectic Space 2 looks like it’s been wrenched kicking and screaming from a 1980’s 8-bit console, this is a thoroughly modern bullet-hell shooter. You slide your finger vertically on the left side of the screen to move your ship and the sole aim is survival, which involves avoiding projectiles while your ship’s automatic weapon blasts anything in your path.

The gaudy graphics oddly prove beneficial, making it easy to spot enemy fire (red — so much red), and are occasionally dazzling when facing off against inventively designed bosses.

You know you’re not sitting in front of an old Atari when a giant skull bounces around the screen, or a bunch of Space Invaders changes formation, becoming a massive gun that fires countless bullets your way.

The original iSlash came across a bit like a thinking man’s Fruit Ninja combined with arcade classic Qix. Each challenge involved slicing off bits of a wooden box, carefully avoiding the shuriken bouncing about within.

iSlash Heroes is more of the same in freemium form, albeit with revamped graphics, a load of new levels, bosses that muck about with the board as you play, and some infrequent irritating social gubbins that occasionally blocks your way for a bit.

Despite some niggles, it remains a smart, engaging arcade effort, which works especially well on the iPad, given that the large screen enables you to be a bit more precise when slicing off those final slivers of wood required to meet your target.

This block-merging puzzle game is based on dominoes, where you place pieces on the board, and when three or more identical tiles sit next to each other they’re sucked into a single piece with a larger number.

Should three or more sixes merge, they create an M. Merge three of those and they obliterate a three-by-three section of the board, giving you temporary breathing space.

The claustrophobic nature of Merged! means you must think carefully when placing every piece, and try to create cascades that will quickly increment tile values. It’s a bit too random at times, and has some distasteful freemium trappings, but otherwise this is a fine puzzler for your iPad.

Touchscreens have opened up many new ways to play games, but scribbling with a finger is perhaps the most natural. And that’s essentially all you do in Magic Touch, which sounds pretty reductive – right up until you start playing.

The premise is that you’re a wizard, fending off invading nasties who all oddly use balloons to parachute towards their prize. Match the symbol on any balloon and it pops, potentially causing a hapless intruder to meet the ground rather more rapidly than intended. Initially, this is all very simple, but when dozens of balloons fill your field of vision, you’ll be scrawling like crazy, desperately fending off the invasion to keep the wizard gainfully employed.

The first thing that strikes you about Into the Dim is that it transforms your iPad into a giant Game Boy – at least from a visual standpoint. Its chunky yellowed graphics hark back to handheld gaming’s past; but to some extent, this is also true of Into the Dim’s mechanics.

It’s a turn-based RPG, featuring a boy and his dog exploring dungeons, outwitting enemies, and uncovering a mystery. But whereas most modern mobile fare offers procedurally generated levels, Into the Dim’s dungeons have all been carefully individually designed. It rewards planning, strategic thinking, and patience; and although the game’s finite nature means it can be beaten, doing so will make you feel like a boss, rather than a player being put through the ‘random mill’ time and time again.

Taking the most famous video game character of all and shoving him into an endless freemium title could have ended disastrously. Fortunately, Pac-Man 256 is by the people behind Crossy Road – and it’s just as compelling.

In Pac-Man 256, our rotund hero finds himself beyond the infamous level 256 glitch, which has become an all-consuming swarm of broken code that must be outrun. Pac-Man must therefore speed through the endless maze, munching dots, avoiding ghosts, and making use of power-ups dotted about the place.

And there aren’t just power pellets this time round – Pac-Man can fry ghosts with lasers, or implement stealth technology to move through his spectral foes as if they weren’t even there.

Routing cabling in the real world is a source of fury, and so it might not be the smartest procedure to make into a game played on a device with a glass screen. But Aux B turns out to be a lot of fun, routing INs and OUTs, across increasingly large and complex patch boards, striving to make music blare forth.

There are 80 levels, although towards the end, you wonder whether someone should have a quiet word with the gig organiser and suggest a set-up that’s a wee bit simpler. (And once you’re done with the 80, the game continues randomising levels forever, placing you in a weirdly entertaining mixing desk ‘purgatory’.)

Time travel weirdness meets the morning rush hour in Does Not Commute. You get a short story about a character, and guide their car to the right road. Easy! Only the next character's car must be dealt with while avoiding the previous one. And the next. Before long, you're a dozen cars in and weaving about like a lunatic, desperately trying to avoid a pile-up. For free, you get the entire game, but with the snag that you must always start from scratch, rather than being able to use checkpoints that appear after each zone. (You can unlock these for a one-off payment of $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49.)

With its numbered sliding squares and soaring scores, there’s more than a hint of Threes! about Imago. In truth, Threes! remains the better game, on the basis that it’s more focussed, but Imago has plenty going for it. The idea is to merge pieces of the same size and colour, which when they get too big explode into smaller pieces that can be reused.

The clever bit is each of these smaller pieces retains the score of the larger block. This means that with smart thinking, you can amass colossal scores that head into the billions. The game also includes daily challenges with different success criteria, to keep you on your toes.

With iPads lacking tactile controls, they should be rubbish for platform games. But savvy developers have stripped back the genre, creating hybrid one-thumb auto-runner/platformers. These are entirely reliant on careful timing, the key element of more traditional fare.

Mr. Crab further complicates matters by wrapping its levels around a pole. The titular crustacean ambles back and forth, scooping up baby crabs, and avoiding the many enemies lurking about the place. The end result is familiar and yet fresh. You get a selection of diverse levels for free, and additional packs are available via IAP.

Having played Planet Quest, we imagine whoever was on naming duties didn’t speak to the programmer. If they had, the game would be called Awesome Madcap Beam-Up One-Thumb Rhythm Action Insanity — or possibly something a bit shorter. Anyway, you’re in a spaceship, prodding the screen to repeat beats you’ve just heard. Doing so beams up dancers on the planet’s surface; get your timing a bit wrong and you merely beam-up their outfits; miss by a lot and you lose a life. To say this one’s offbeat would be a terrible pun, but entirely accurate; it’d also be true to say this is the most fun rhythm action game on iPad — and it doesn’t cost a penny.

We imagine the creators of Smash Hit really hate glass. Look at it, sitting there with its stupid, smug transparency, letting people see what's on the other side of it. Bah! Smash it all! Preferably with ball-bearings while flying along corridors! And that's Smash Hit — fly along, flinging ball-bearings, don't hit any glass face-on, and survive for as long as possible.

There are 50 rooms in all, but cheapskates start from scratch each time; pay $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 for the premium unlock and you get checkpoints, stats, iCloud sync, and alternative game modes.

One of the most innovative multiplayer titles we’ve ever played, Spaceteam has you and a bunch of friends in a room, each staring at a rickety and oddball spaceship control panel on your device’s display. Instructions appear, which need a fast response if your ship is to avoid being swallowed up by an exploding star. But what you see might not relate to your screen and controls. Spaceteam therefore rapidly descends into a cacophony of barked demands and frantic searches across control panels (which helpfully start falling to bits), in a last-ditch attempt to ‘set the Copernicus Crane to 6’ or ‘activate the Twinmill’ and avoid fiery death.

A somewhat chessish two-player effort, Outwitters finds teams of angry sea creatures battling to the death, first helpfully arming them with surprisingly dangerous weapons. (It turns out crabs eschew claws when they’ve a mortar cannon to hand.)

Despite the cartoonish visuals, this is a deep and immersive strategy experience. Games are further complicated by a ‘fog of war’, which means units cannot see any further than they can move. This makes Outwitters tough to master but more rewarding on doing so and chalking up your first victories.

The best puzzle game on mobile, Threes! has you slide cards about a grid, merging pairs to create ever higher numbers. The catch is all cards slide as one, unless they cannot move; additionally, each turn leads to a new card in a random empty slot on the edge you swiped away from. It’s all about careful management of a tiny space.

On launch, Threes! was mercilessly cloned, with dozens of alternatives flooding iTunes, but 2048 and its ilk lack the charm and fine details that made Threes! so great in the first place. And now there’s Threes! Free, where you watch ads to top up a ‘free goes’ bin, there’s no excuse for going with inferior pretenders.

“Expect retro graphics and megatons of enemies,” says the developer about this twin-stick shooter, adding: “Don’t expect a story”. With its vector graphics and Robotronish air, PewPew brings to mind Geometry Wars and Infinity Field, but without a price tag.

Despite being free, PewPew nonetheless boasts five modes of shooty goodness. These range from the aptly named ‘Pandemonium’, where enemies spin around the screen on dying, to the more thoughtful (but still manic) ‘Chromatic Conflict’, where you can only shoot foes whose colour matches your ship.

At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft’s Asphalt series dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality.

Here, in Asphalt 8, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren’t acceptable according to the car manufacturer’s warranty. It’s admittedly a bit grindy, but if you tire of zooming about the tracks in this game, there’s no hope for you.

In Triple Town, you have to think many moves ahead to succeed. It’s a match game where trios of things combine to make other things, thereby giving you more space on the board to evolve your town. For example, three bushes become a tree, and three trees become a hut.

All the while, roaming bears and ninjas complicate matters, blocking squares on the board. At times surreal, Triple Town is also brain-bending and thoroughly addictive. Free moves slowly replenish, but you can also unlock unlimited moves via IAP.

Pinball games tend to be divided into two camps. One aims for a kind of realism, aping real-world tables. The other takes a more arcade-oriented approach. Zen Pinball is somewhere in-between, marrying realistic physics with tables that come to life with animated 3D figures.

Loads of tables are available via IAP, including some excellent Star Wars and Marvel efforts. But for free you get access to the bright and breezy Sorcerer’s Lair, which, aside from some dodgy voice acting, is a hugely compelling and fast-paced table with plenty of missions and challenges to discover.

Who knew you could have such fun with a five-by-five grid of letters? In Letterpress, you play friends via Game Center, making words to colour lettered squares. Surround any and they’re out of reach from your friend’s tally. Cue: word-tug-o’-war, last-minute reversals of fortune, and arguments about whether ‘qat’ is a real word or not. (It is.)

With almost limitless possibilities in videogames, it’s amazing how many are drab grey and brown affairs. Frisbee Forever 2 (like its similarly impressive forerunner) is therefore a breath of fresh air with its almost eye-searing vibrance.

There’s a kind of Nintendo vibe – a sense of fun that continues through to the gameplay, which is all about steering a frisbee left and right, collecting stars strewn along winding paths. And these are a world away from the parks you’d usually fling plastic discs about in – here, you’re hurled along roller-coaster journeys through ancient ruins and gorgeous snowy hillsides.

Argh! That’s pretty much what you’ll be yelling on a regular basis on playing this endless racer. Cubed Rally Redline shouldn’t be difficult. You can go left or right on five clearly defined lanes, and there’s a ‘time brake’ for going all slow-motion, Matrix-style, to weave through tricky gaps; but you’ll still be smashing into cows, dinosaurs and bridges before you know it.

You’ll persevere if you’re particularly bloody minded, or just to see what other visual treats the developer’s created for hardcore players.

In Smash Cops, you got to be the good guy, bringing down perps, mostly by ramming them into oblivion. Now in Smash Bandits it’s your chance to be a dangerous crim, hopping between vehicles and leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. Smartly, this can all be done with a single finger, which is all you need to steer, drive and smash.

The game also amusingly includes the A-Team van and a gadget known only as the Jibba Jabba. We love it when a plan comes together!

If you liked this, then make sure you check out our best free iPad apps roundup!

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Best free iPhone apps 2017 http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/70-best-free-iphone-apps-2013-663484 http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/70-best-free-iphone-apps-2013-663484
TechRadar wants you to have the best apps going – so here’s our regularly updated list of the top free iPhone apps around. Thu, 21 Dec 2017 10:29:00 +0000techradar.com
There are now hundreds of thousands of apps available for your iPhone 7 (and others), surprisingly, many of the best are free.

The following list showcases our pick of the best free iPhone apps, and includes iPhone applications for social networking, travel, news, photography, productivity and more. Most of these apps are also compatible with the iPod touch as well.

What's going to be interesting is how the iPhone 8 affects this list of best apps, because the larger screen is going to mean developers have to code their wares differently to cater for the new audience.

But no matter which phone you've got, as long as it's made by Apple )and it's not too old) you'll be able to enjoy these titles that have been crafted by TechRadar's expert app reviewers, who parse through the App Store regularly to see just what's bubbling up… and whether it's worth downloading.

New this week: Habitica

Habitica is a to-do list tracker. But before your eyes glaze over, Habitica does something very different in this particular app category, transforming boring lists into a game.

The idea is that you input all the things you need to sort, including one-off items and daily goals. As you check off tasks, your little on-screen avatar gets powered-up, acquiring armor, pets, skills, and quests. Get some friends suitably invested and you can battle monsters alongside them – or just keep everyone honest.

In short, this app makes productivity fun. And while there’s some satisfaction deleting an item from a boring bullet-point list, it’s a lot more interesting when taking the trash out results in your tiny hero beaming with delight at their shiny new sword.

Wondering how the new iPhone X stacks up? Watch out our video review above.

Squigglish! is a very silly drawing app, on account of the fact that its brush strokes wiggle. There’s quite the variety on offer, too, from thick, snaking, gloopy lines that just jiggle a little, to spiky electrified offerings that give the impression that your artwork has just been jabbed into a socket.

Given its oddball toolset, you’re probably not going to use Squigglish! as the basis for some highbrow iPhone art. But because you can import a photo, it’s perfect fodder for making yourself or a friend look vaguely ridiculous, with some silly blue hair, a pair of wibbly glasses, and the kind of animated mustache Dali would have killed for.

Naturally, your tiny animated masterpiece can be exported to GIF or a movie.

JigSpace is an education app that reasons we learn things better in 3D, on the basis that this is how we experience the real world. And that’s a good point. It’s all very well to learn how a car’s transmission works by reading about it, or even pore over an exploded illustration in a book. But being able to fiddle around with a real engine is much more helpful.

This app isn’t quite that level of magical, but it does use iOS’s augmented reality smarts to project various objects onto a flat surface. These can then be explored and fiddled around with, in a manner that hints at the future of anything from repair manuals to textbooks.

And even though you’ll perhaps exhaust the items on offer fairly quickly, JigSpace is a nicely immersive educational experience while it lasts.

Meteor is an internet speed tester designed for human beings. It eschews complex information – and even advertising – and instead provides you with straightforward, colorful buttons and readouts.

An inviting ‘Start Testing’ button kicks things off, whereupon the app sets about checking your internet connection’s performance, a little meteor animating on-screen as it does so. Once the tests are done, speeds are scored, and are subsequently available from the History tab.

Meteor also attempts to estimate how well your connection would fare with popular apps and games, six of which can be added to an ‘app performance’ bar. These values should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt, but this freebie nonetheless impresses for being a no-nonsense, user-friendly, ad-free way to check internet connectivity.

Sweat Deck reimagines exercise routines as a deck of cards. You assign exercises to certain suits, and lob in a couple of ‘jokers’ for good measure. The app then has you define how many cards/reps you want to try your hand at.

The app’s semi-random nature keeps you on your toes (or hands and back, depending on the exercise). If you draw a three of spades, that might mean three squats; then a nine of diamonds could mean nine push-ups. It’s a novel interface that’s a bit different from other iPhone exercise apps.

Sweat Deck could do with a way to switch cards other than tapping the screen (shouting perhaps), but you can always use prodding your iPhone as an excuse to rest for a few seconds, having suitably worked up a sweat by that point.

Trips by Lonely Planet is an app for sharing travel experiences – or just reveling in the journeys made by others. It’s a bit like a travel-oriented Instagram mixed with a smattering of travel guide and blog. If you like gorgeous photography and a touch of commentary for context, it’s a must-have install.

New top picks are regularly showcased on the app’s Home tab, and you can favorite those you like, and/or follow the authors. Annoyingly, there’s no search, but you can delve into themed categories, such as ‘cities’ and ‘adventure’. (Think of it more like a magazine than a website and you should be fine.)

When you have an adventure of your own, you can upload your own story. The layout options are a bit basic, but the app is really easy to work with, making for stress-free sharing.

PCalc Lite is a version of leading iOS calculator PCalc, aimed at people who aren’t keen on spending money. In terms of functionality, it’s more stripped back than its paid sibling, but the app’s guts are identical.

What this means is PCalc Lite is undoubtedly the best free traditional calculator for iPhone. It’s fast, responsive, and friendly, and bundles a small set of useful conversions for length, speed, temperature, volume, and weight.

If you want to bolt on something from the paid version, IAPs exist, such as for multi-line support, or extra conversion options.

When iOS 11 arrived, Apple’s built-in calculator proved buggy, leading to people scrabbling around for an alternative. With PCalc Lite installed, that need never happen to you.

Housecraft is an augmented reality (AR) app that wants you to have fun redesigning your home. Waggle your iPhone about in a room with sufficient space and the app rapidly scans the floor. You can then drop virtual chairs, tables, and bookshelves into place – and then move around them using the power of AR.

The app proves to be an interesting mix of useful, elegant and fun. There’s a range of furniture, which can be recolored, resized, and copied – the last of those being useful when you want to add several of an item to a space.

But also, you can go berserk with Housecraft’s bouncy physics, dumping dozens of chairs in place when you’re bored of being productive and just fancy being a bit silly.

Google Maps is an app that’s been a mainstay in this list for years – and it’s easy to see why. Although Apple’s own Maps app has hugely improved since launch, Google Maps retains the lead in almost every way. It’s superb at locating points of interest –whether you’re looking for a distant town or local restaurant – and offers robust public transport suggestions.

Beyond that, it just proves handier than Apple’s app. Street View is great for virtually scoping out a location, looking for landmarks that might prove handy during a drive. You can draw a route to measure the distance between two places.

And best of all, you can download maps to your iPhone, transforming Google Maps into a free sat-nav equivalent that works entirely offline.

Snapseed is a photo editor that marries simplicity and power. At its most basic, it can be a tool for loading a photo, selecting a filter (referred to here as ‘looks’), and exporting the result. But it’s when you delve into the app’s tools and stacks that its true potential becomes clear.

The tools menu, while a bit cluttered, offers a huge range of options for adjusting your photo. You can crop, adjust perspective, edit curves, and add all kinds of filters and effects.

But stacks are arguably Snapseed’s best component. The stack is where your edits live, each of which can be updated at any time.

This offers far more flexibility than editors that ‘burn in’ each change you make. Furthermore, you can save any combination of edits as a custom look – and use stacks to deconstruct pre-loaded ones. Brilliant stuff.

Google Earth simply gives you our planet in the palm of your hand, and encourages you to explore. You can manually rotate and zoom, search for specific locations, or take your chances with the dice icon, to check out somewhere random.

Wherever you end up, Google Earth provides local photography and information, becoming something of a virtual tour guide. Places others have explored nearby are provided as cards, which prove genuinely useful for giving crowdsourced points of interest or recommendations.

This concept reaches its logical conclusion with Voyager – a selection of journeys you can take to some of the world’s most amazing sights, from ancient wonders to modern ones like Kennedy Space Center.

Google Earth’s visual majesty is lessened on the smaller screen, but it’d be churlish to scoff at an app that in an instant provides access to so much of our planet.

Arty initially resembles yet another filter app – and, to be fair, it does have a bunch of filters lurking that can turn a photo sepia, or make it so vibrant that your eyes hurt. But this one’s mostly about its other tools, which have been carefully designed for jobbing artists working with real-world media.

There’s a grid, and various image-tweaking settings to fine-tune a photo for the magic bit, which is comparing your photo with whatever’s lurking under your iPhone’s camera.

So if you’re in the midst of making a lifelike drawing from a reference photo, your iPhone can now be a handy guide to see how you’re getting on, rather than a tool primarily for procrastination.

Sticky AI is all about selfies. Shoot one (or a short video, by holding the shutter button) in the app, and Sticky AI will instantly remove its background – often with a frightening degree of accuracy.

You can then get to work, resizing and rotating your beautiful face, slapping on a text label, mucking about with colors and filters, and then sharing the result to your social networks of choice.

It’s naturally geared a bit towards the self-obsessed, but there’s plenty here to like: the technology’s mightily impressive, for one, but also Sticky AI neatly hangs on to your previous edits, so you can at any time peruse your collection and make a change to a favorite snap.

Lingvist is a language-learning app that claims to be able to teach you at light speed. Naturally, that’s hyperbole, but Lingvist nonetheless has a methodology and interface that gets you going in your chosen language (French, Spanish, German, and Russian are supported) at serious speed.

Mostly, it’s about plugging words into sentences, in a drill-like fashion. Imagine interactive flash cards thrown your way in quick-fire fashion and you’re there. The underlying algorithm tracks words you’re finding tricky, and in-context explanations for things like verbs pop up as and when they’re needed.

Will Lingvist make you fluent in hours? Probably not. But as a refresher, or even a first step in learning a foreign tongue, it’s the best freebie around on iPhone.

Bricks Camera is a novelty camera app that will strike a chord with anyone who has an affinity for plastic building blocks.

The app’s essentially a live filter. Through its camera, the world’s transformed into a universe of brightly colored ‘bricks’, the size of which you can adjust with a swipe. Hold down the shutter and you get a short video rather than a still. Also, if you’re not feeling the vibe in live mode, you can import a photo instead.

Your blocky masterpiece can be saved or shared – unfortunately only with a three-brick-wide watermark. It’s a pity there’s no cheap IAP to be rid of that, but otherwise this is an entertaining – if slightly throwaway – camera freebie.

WLPPR is a wallpaper app that’s apparently not keen on vowels. But what it lacks in letters, it makes up for with beautiful satellite imagery, which you can save to Photos and later apply to your home or lock screens.

Unlike many wallpaper apps, WLPPR has been crafted with care and respect. Every image has a credit but also explanatory copy regarding what you’re looking at. You can bookmark favorites for later, apply a custom blur, and download imagery in standard or ‘parallax’ sizes.

Neatly, there’s a preview mode, too. Tap the eye icon and you can load a realistic-looking home or lock screen to see how your wallpaper would look. Not convinced? Swipe to get the next one.

Note that WLPPR is a freemium app, with IAP for extra photo sets; but for free you get 86 high-quality shots – more than enough for most – and an extra 58 if you’re happy to spam your social media feed one time.

Mood wants to add some visual style to your writing. It’s not about crafting a novel, but fleeting, simple thoughts, which can be assigned a dazzling layout. Think Twitter if you were armed with your own personal graphic designer.

Using the app is very straightforward. You start typing, and Mood reformats your text on the fly. Open the styles draw and you can flick between all kinds of appearances. Once you’re done, your tiny literary masterpiece is rendered to an image, which can be saved to Photos or shared on a social network.

Rather nicely, your creations aren’t transient, either – they’re also saved in the app and can later be edited. And there’s an amusing Easter egg, too – flip your iPhone upside down when in the styles section for some decidedly weirder themes (including an unnerving wall of bacon).

Green Riding Hood subverts a much-loved fairy tale, re-imagining Grandma as a hip yoga teacher, and having the Big Bad Wolf gradually learn how tasty healthy food is. Which might all sound a bit like brainwashing for tiny people if the story bit wasn’t so well designed.

Each little scene in the book is interactive, so you can tap animals to make them exercise, have the wolf angrily lob a bone into the forest, or – our favorite – fashion a cacophony as the animals try to wake a dozing granny with whatever objects they have to hand.

Beyond the book, you get some recipes and stickers for free. If all that takes your fancy, IAPs unlock exercise and dance routines – but, really, just the fairy tale bit alone makes this one very much worth a download.

Today Weather provides a sleek, elegant take on weather forecasting, marrying modern design, usability, and a slew of data.

Set a location and you get current conditions below a supposedly representative photo. (The photo is, frankly, a bit rubbish but can fortunately be disabled.) Scroll to delve into predictions about the coming hours and days, and details about UV index and pressure, the chances of imminent rainfall, air quality, sunrise/sunset times, and what the moon’s up to.

Sadly, these components can’t be rearranged, and anyone who wants a rainfall radar will have to pay for it. But these drawbacks shouldn’t stop you downloading what’s a great freebie weather app.

Also, Hello Weather has a trump card in its data source menu, which lists conditions and temperatures from five different providers. If one regularly seems better than the others, you can switch with a tap. Nice.

ClippyCam is a camera app that makes use of both iPhone cameras. You shoot a still – or hold the shutter to record a short video – and once that’s done use the FaceTime camera to overlay a second photo or video.

At first, you might end up with what looks like a screengrab from Skype, but play around with the various options and you can get a bit more creative. For example, take a snap on holiday and then add a video of your family waving to a loved one; or load a movie poster and unsubtly insert your head into the scene.

Smartly, the app can save your ‘vanilla’ snap alongside your ClippyCam creation, although note the latter has a watermark unless you splash out on a one-off $2.99/£2.99 IAP.

Clarity is all about creating wallpaper for your iPhone’s home and lock screens. The name comes from the app’s ability to create artwork that improves the legibility of the content above it.

Three options are available: Gradient, Blur, and Mask. Gradient has you choose two colors and decide on the direction of the gradient. Blur has you take a photo or picture and assign a blur level. And Mask allows you to overlay a color-to-transparent gradient atop an image.

It would be good to have positioning options for imported images (Clarity just crops as it sees fit), but otherwise this is a great freebie for quickly creating sleek and effective wallpaper for iPhone.

Steller is an app about stories. On first opening the app, you get a scrolling pane of photos to explore, each with a title overlaid. It kind of resembles a minimal virtual bookstore.

Tapping a picture allows you to delve into a story, which is presented as a little flick book. Depending on the author, you might just get a few pages of photos; some also add a little commentary – although text content is typically succinct in Steller stories, because pictures do the talking.

Creating a story yourself is simple, too. Pick a theme, import up to 20 photos and videos, choose a template for each page, and then share with the world. And although your output’s best enjoyed within the Steller app, people can visit your creations in a desktop browser, too.

Infinite Music says it will help you “rediscover your music library”, through “smart remixing and mashups”. What this really means is the app rifles through all the DRM-free music on your iPhone, throws it up in the air, and plays the result.

The theory is that Infinite Music figures out the dynamics of songs and then has everything flow together, potentially forever. And sometimes it works. Often, though, it’s more akin to a hyperactive DJ with no attention span over-excitedly live remixing your music collection.

In short, then, Infinite Music is often more a mad and jolting musical journey than seamless magic, but it’s certainly interesting. And given that it’s free, it’s worth grabbing for a distinctly different take on a music collection that might have become all too familiar.

This app is one for perfectionists who also happen to spend a lot of time on Twitter. Often, people post links to articles, but want to highlight something, and so they take and attach a screen grab. With OneShot for Screenshots, these screen grabs becomes a whole lot more useful.

After you’ve taken a grab, you open the app and load a screenshot. You can then crop it and even highlight the bits you want people to notice. Comments and source URLs can be added before the resulting composition is hurled at Twitter.

The workflow within OneShot is admittedly not that sleek, requiring bouncing between it and other apps. But highlights on screengrabs help get across your point much more than a wall of text.

With 8bit Painter, you can pretend a couple of decades of technology evolution never happened, and create digital images like it’s 1984. On firing up the app, you select a canvas size – from a truly tiny 16 x 16 pixels, all the way up to a comparatively gargantuan 128 x 128. You’re then faced with a grid and a small selection of tools.

There’s nothing especially advanced here – this isn’t Pixaki for iPhone, and it lacks that tool’s layers and animation smarts. But you do get the basics – pencil; flood fill; eraser; color selection – needed for tapping out a tiny artistic masterpiece.

And, importantly, you can pinch-zoom the canvas for adding fine details, and export your image at scaled-up sizes, so it’s not minuscule when viewed elsewhere. For a freebie, this one’s pretty great.

Smartphones are supposed to save you time, but certain actions may require you to dart in and out of several apps, which can be fiddly on an iPhone. The idea behind Workflow is to create triggers that automate a string of actions.

If you’re new to this sort of thing, Workflow does its best to be friendly. The interface primarily comprises big, colorful icons, and the drag-and-drop workflow creation is surprisingly approachable.

Should that still sound like too much work, dozens of workflows (such as GIF creation, making PDFs, and finding local coffee shops) can be downloaded from the gallery to use as-is or experiment with. Usefully, these are not only available from within Workflow itself, but also can be saved to your Home screen, Today widget, Apple Watch, or Share sheet.

If your friends and family are very much of the opinion that your singing voice resembles a particularly unhappy wounded yak, Vanido might be just the ticket. It’s akin to personal music teacher Yousician, only the instrument you spend time improving is your voice.

Vanido works by way of short vocal exercises that change daily. As you attempt to sing, you get real-time visual feedback, so you can see how accurate your pitch is compared to what’s required. Got a wiggly line? Try to hold a note. A line heading north? Dig deep for those bass notes.

Given enough time, you probably still won’t be troubling the pop charts – but perhaps those around you won’t visibly grimace when you start singing along to your favorites.

We’re in one-trick pony territory with Moodelizer, but it’s quite a trick. The app’s all about adding custom soundtracks to videos while you record them, and all you need is a single finger.

You select a genre, and ‘rehearse’ playback by dragging your finger about the square viewfinder. As you move upwards, the music’s intensity increases; rightwards adjusts variation.

Just messing about with the audio alone is quite fun, but it all properly comes together when making a video.

Now, when you’re shooting yet another clip of your cat being mildly amusing, Moodelizer can add much-needed excitement by way of rousing club music or head-banging guitar riffs. Quite why you can’t import a video to add music to, however, we’ve no idea.

A sister product to the more capable iMovie, Clips finds Apple making a foray into stripped-back video apps. It’s designed for impulsive on-the-fly video capture, with scenes grabbed by holding a big red button.

Recordings can also feature live captions, which work brilliantly. You’re not restricted to footage captured in the moment either – Clips can import existing video and photos. You can also add stickers, emoji, and effects to individual shots, before flinging the result online and impatiently awaiting a call from Hollywood.

The lack of clip transitions is a pity, and Apple’s app feels cluttered compared to some sleeker rivals. But for no outlay, there’s plenty of fun here for fans of video who dislike extensive, time-consuming editing. And the live captions are really great.

There’s no getting around the fact that Emolfi is ridiculous – but it’s also a lot of fun. Self-described as the “first empathic selfie app”, it has you take a photo of your face, whereupon the app’s wizardry attempts to figure out your mood. The app then cuts out the background and adjusts the rest of the image accordingly.

If you’re feeling happy, you might be surrounded by bubbles and sunshine. If you’re angry or scared, you’ll get something that looks like a horror movie, or a massive spider on your face with your eyes animating towards it in worried fashion.

It certainly beats yet another app unconvincingly transforming you into characters from fantasy and comic-book movies.

Prisma is the best-known app for transforming photos into tiny works of painted art, but Pixify takes things further, largely by offering you more control. Although you can just select which artwork you’d like your photo to ape, the Custom tab provides tools to tweak the result through changes to brush size, style amount, image resolution, and style influence.

While ramping up settings can greatly increase rendering time, the results are often worth it – Pixify simply does a better job than Prisma of fashioning a realistic virtual painting. The app also works with video – although results there are a mite more variable.

Output gets a Pixify logo added to it, but the Pro IAP ($0.99/99p/AU$1.99) removes those for good, along with unlocking higher-resolution artwork and longer videos.

There are plenty of ambient noise products on the App Store, designed to help you relax, or to distract you from surrounding hubbub. TaoMix 2 is one of the best, due to its gorgeous interface and the flexibility of the soundscapes you create.

You start off with a blank canvas, to which you drag noises that are represented as neon discs. These can be recolored and resized, and positioned wherever you like on the screen. A circle is then placed to balance the mix, or flicked to meander about, so the various sounds ebb and flow over time.

For free, you get eight sounds, can save custom mixes, and can even import your own recordings. Many dozens of additional sounds are available via various affordable IAP.

Billed as ‘your smart travel guide’, Triposo elevates itself above the competition. First and foremost, it’s comprehensive. Whereas other guides typically concentrate on a few major cities, Triposo drills down into tiny towns and villages as well, helping you get the best out of wherever you happen to be staying.

50,000 destinations worldwide are included, complete with information on bars, restaurants, hotels, tours and attractions.

Beyond that, the app is easy to use, and it optionally works offline, enabling you to download guides on a regional basis. This is perfect for when you’re ambling about somewhere new, without a data connection. And if you’re unsure where to head, Triposo can even build an editable city walk for you too.

If you wonder what your iPhone would be like if graphics technology hadn’t moved on from the age of the C64, Famicam 64 can enlighten you. This camera app uses live filtering to replicate the visuals you might once have seen on a classic games system – or other old-school kit like oscilloscopes.

Filters can have their properties adjusted, and you can add text, retro-oriented stickers, freeform scribbles, and borders to a photo, before sharing the results.

Note that some options are limited in the free version, and output adds a Famicam 64 banner to the bottom of the image. You can get rid of all that with the PLUS IAP ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99), but in either incarnation, Famicam 64 is a fun, quirky, usable way to do something different with your camera.

If you’re bored with watching the same old movies or relying on rental charts, Popcorn may be just the ticket, as the app instead aims to catch your eye with hand-picked lists. This means you delve into anything from ‘movies starring robots’ to the comparatively oddball ‘most harrowing kids’ movies’ (complete with a gruesome still from Watership Down).

Open a list and you get offered a few cards, which you swipe Tinder-style: left consigns them to oblivion and right adds a film to your watchlist. If you’re not sure about whatever’s on a card, you can have a quick look at a trailer first. It’s a fast, simple, effective means of building a movie watchlist in an unusual way.

Adobe apparently has no interest in bringing full Photoshop to iPhone, but the brand’s focused Photoshop-branded apps offer a smattering of the desktop product’s power in the palm of your hand. Adobe Photoshop Sketch is a drawing and painting tool, designed for anyone who fancies dabbling in natural media.

Select a canvas and you can work with virtual pens, markers, acrylic, ink and watercolor. Acrylic is nicely gloopy, and watercolor can be realistically blended as it bleeds into the ‘paper’. A layers system provides scope for complex art, and stencils enable precision when required.

For free, the app’s hard to beat; and for Creative Cloud subscribers, work can be exported to layered PSD for further refinement in full-fat desktop Photoshop.

With its large display and the Apple Pencil, the iPad seems the natural home for a coloring app like Pigment. But if you fancy doing the odd bit of coloring-in when you need to relax, Pigment’s great to also have installed on the device you always have in your pocket.

Even on the smaller screen, it excels. You get quick access to a set of top-notch coloring tools, and a range of intricate illustrations to work on. Sure, buy a subscription and you gain access to a much bigger range; but for free, you still get an awful lot.

Amusingly, the app also offers options for staying inside the lines. By default, Pigment automatically detects what you’re trying to color and assists accordingly – but you can go fully manual if you wish!

The iPhone version of GarageBand has always been ambitious. Aiming at newcomers and professionals alike, its feature set includes smart instruments that always keep you in key, multitrack recording/editing functionality, a loops player, and superb guitar amps.

But 2017’s major update takes things much further, with new synth Alchemy improving the app’s previously slightly ropey sound set. Smart piano strips have been expanded to all keyboard instruments, helping anyone to play perfect melodies.

And Audio Unit support exists to load third-party synths directly inside of GarageBand, similar to how plug-ins work on desktop music-making apps.

Because of these things, GarageBand is now even more suited to musicians of all skill levels – although be aware on smaller screens that the app can be a touch fiddly, what with there being so much going on.

Although the app is listed as $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 on the App Store, it’s free for anyone who’s activated a compatible device after September 1, 2014.

It’s so easy to click links you plan to get to later, and at the end of the day realize you’re left with dozens of unread tabs. With Instapaper, such problems vanish.

The app is effectively time-shifting for the web. You load articles and it saves them for later. Even better, it strips cruft, leaving only the content in a mobile-optimized view ideal for iPhone. The standard theme is very smart, but can be tweaked, and there’s text-to-speech when you need to delve into your articles eyes-free.

Should you end up with a large archive, articles can be filtered or organized into folders. Want to find something specific? Full-text search has you covered. It’s all great – and none of it costs a penny.

Although creative giant Adobe doesn’t seem keen on bringing its desktop software to iPhone in one piece, we’re nonetheless getting chunks of its power reimagined as smaller, more focused apps. The idea behind Adobe Photoshop Fix is to enable you to rapidly retouch and restore photos on your iPhone – using the power of Photoshop.

Some of the features aren’t anything outside of the ordinary: you get commonplace tools for cropping, rotation, and adjustments. But Photoshop Fix has some serious power within its straightforward interface, too, as evidenced by excellent vignette, defocus, and color tools.

The best bit, though, is Liquify. Using this feature, you can mash a photo to bits or make really subtle changes, depending on the subject matter. And if you’re facing a portrait, you can specifically fiddle with features, in a manner usually associated with high-end PC software.

Unsurprisingly, Wikipedia is an app for browsing Wikipedia, the massive online encyclopedia that makes all paper-based equivalents green with envy. It’s the official app by Wikipedia and is easily the best free option, and only rivaled by one paid alternative we’re aware of (the rather fine V for Wikipedia).

Wikipedia gets the basics right: an efficient, readable layout; fast access to your browsing history; a home page full of relevant and potentially new articles. But it’s all the small things that really count.

Save an article for later and it’s also stored offline. Finding the text a bit small? You can resize it in two taps.

Also, if you’ve a fairly new iPhone, 3D Touch is well-supported: home screen quick actions provide speedy access to search and random articles; and when reading in the app, the Peek gesture previews a link, and an upwards swipe displays a button you can tap to save it for later.

If you need some ambient noise around you, White Noise+ proves an excellent app for blocking out distractions. The free version offers a small selection of sounds to soothe your soul – white noise, rain, wind, thunder, and wind chimes.

To create some ambience, you simply drag one or more noise icons to an on-screen grid; the items towards the top play at a higher volume, and those towards the right become more complex in nature. Happen upon an especially pleasing combination and you’re able to save your mix for later use.

The app smartly includes built-in mixes to provide a little inspiration – and to showcase a wider range of sounds that’s available via IAP. A single $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 purchase also removes the ad bar, unlocks a sleep timer, alarm, and dark mode, and allows you to fiddle with the 15 additional sounds – in both the bundled mixes and also your own creations.

But whether you pay or not, the combination of excellent sounds and a modern, usable interface make White Noise+ a best-in-class product on the iPhone.

Many apps attempt to emulate film stock, but most go for an over-saturated, larger-than-life take on old-school photography. By contrast, Filmborn is all about realism, arming you with tools to make you a better photographer.

The icon-heavy interface takes some getting used to; but once you know where everything is, Filmborn quickly replaces the stock camera app – or any other app you had previously favored. Much of this is down to features such as manual controls and a superb blown highlights preview, which covers problematic areas of your potential snap in red.

But it’s the filters that will most wow anyone keen on real-world stock. They’re few in number but extremely realistic, and Filmborn also assists regarding when to use them, thereby adding educational clout.

Beyond that, there’s an editor for making post-capture adjustments, and some pro-oriented features you can unlock using IAP, such as curves and multiple set-up slots. But even in its free incarnation, Filmborn is an essential download.

This music-creation app manages the tricky combination of being broadly approachable to the masses yet providing real scope for advanced composition. Designed to be used on the go, Tize has you lay down drum, melody or audio tracks (the last of those being recordings made using your iPhone’s mic).

The app automatically loops recordings, can align notes to the beat, and gives you options for adjusting tempo, scale, and effects.

Its main differentiator over the competition is speed. Once you crack how it works, you can very rapidly fashion loops comprising several overlaid drum tracks, bass, keyboard arpeggios, and lush chords.

Need some help? Easy Chords will play chords for the current scale when you tap a single note. Want to tweak things? Delve into the piano roll and move individual notes. For free, this is astonishing stuff.

The only limit is the available sounds, but these, naturally, can be expanded via various affordable IAPs.

You might not associate taking medication with a hip and cool iPhone, but technology can be a boon to anyone with such requirements. Round Health offers great pill tracking and dosage notifications – and it doesn’t do any harm that the app also happens to be gorgeous.

It’s split into three sections: in My Medicine, you add medications, and for each you can define a name, strength, individual doses, and schedules based around reminder windows of up to three hours. In Today, you view and log the day’s medication.

Flexible preferences enable you to set up cross-device sync, push notifications, and to export data – and reminding users to refill will be a real help too.

That the app is free is generous, given the job it does – and how well it does it. Also, the system is flexible enough that Round Health might work as a reminders system for other repeating tasks, albeit one in which jobs are labelled as ‘taken’ rather than ‘done’!

Apple’s pre-loaded Clock app has a perfectly serviceable timer – but you only get one countdown at any given moment. MultiTimer, as its name might suggest, gives you multiple timers that you can set going simultaneously.

On launching the app, you’ll find six timers already set up. Each has a different color, name and icon. Tap a timer and it starts, tap again to pause, or double-tap to reset. Easy. Long press and you open the timer’s options, so you can adjust its default time, label, color, icon and sound.

You also have plenty of preferences to delve into, including adjusting the default workspace. Should you want extra workspaces – or a custom layout – grab the $4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99 MultiTimer Pro IAP.

An app rooted in a deeply personal story, Notes on Blindness VR is a VR experience based on the notes of John Hull, who went blind in 1983. Each of the six chapters explores a specific memory, moment and location, utilizing surround audio alongside Hull’s spoken notes, and glittery visuals akin to echolocation.

Purely as a documentary watched on a standard iPhone display, Notes on Blindness VR is well worth experiencing, as Hull adjusts to his new life and experiences – objects ‘disappearing’ as their related sounds fade, and how rain makes the world beautiful because for Hull rainfall gives objects form.

But the full VR experience (assuming you’re also using headphones) takes things further; you gain greater insight into Hull’s life as your own senses are taken over, leaving you with flickers of light but a world of sound.

MuseCam dispenses with the gimmickry seen in many iPhone camera apps, instead concentrating on manual control over shutter, ISO, white balance and focus. There's no means to use a volume button for the shutter, nor RAW support, but otherwise it's a solid camera.

The app is also an editor. You select a Camera Roll item, add film-inspired filter presets, and make further adjustments. Again, this feels like serious fare, but MuseCam wisely provides enough tools for pro-oriented iPhone photographers while remaining accessible enough for newcomers.

Interestingly, edits made on Camera Roll items remain accessible in MuseCam regardless of whether you export your final work, meaning you can later return to and update in-progress projects.

All in all, MuseCam feels refined and mature. That it's free (bar the option of splashing out on additional presets by way of IAP) and also ad-free is remarkable.
 

It’s safe to say that the original promotional video for Bohemian Rhapsody – which popularized the medium – is on the weird side, but it doesn’t compare to The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience.

This experiment by Google aims to send you on a journey through Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind, and recreate the sensation of being on stage with the band.

With VR glasses strapping your iPhone to your face, the experience is at once deeply strange and excitingly varied. Wherever you look, something’s happening, whether on stage with a distinctly stylized animated take on the band, and then looking behind you to see the crowd, or standing before a rock face, watching singing creatures in the distance, only to peer down and see a stomach-churning chasm below.

Smartly, the app also works as a standard 360-degree video, which might not have the same immersive clout, but remains impressive all the same. 

Google and Apple may be rivals, but that doesn't stop them building on each other's work, as evidenced in Motion Stills, an app which takes the idea of Live Photos and runs with it.

Putting your Live Photos through Motion Stills adds Google's stabilization technology to them, reducing the amount of visible camera shake, but that's just the beginning.

You can also transform them into GIFs which can be shared in messaging apps, or even combine your Motion Stills into longer movies, and do cool things like invert the direction of the action to make your subject look like it’s dancing.

If you like the idea – but not the reality – of Live Photos then Motion Stills is the app for you, and you're not limited to using it for new images – you can also fix up any Live Photos you've already taken.

If you lack the patience for working with full-on stop motion apps, but nonetheless fancy yourself as a mini-Aardman, Loop by Seedling is just the ticket.

You shoot frames using your camera, and can handily overlay your previous photo in semi-transparent form, to ensure everything is properly lined up.

Once you're done, you can play your photos as an animation, where tools are available to adjust the frame rate, add a filter, and mess about with grid collages, creating a Warhol-like animated GIF to share.

The interface is a bit opaque – quite a lot of controls need to be 'discovered' before you become comfortable with using this app.

But once you know where everything is, Loop becomes a smart and efficient way to create charming miniature animations; amusingly, it also works within Messages, so you can reply to friends with a tiny movie should you consider the written word passé.

VPNs have become commonplace in a world where countries routinely block internet access to key content. In some cases, you may merely be blocked from accessing media libraries; elsewhere, even news and social media may be beyond reach. The idea behind Opera VPN is to enable anyone to access otherwise inaccessible online content, entirely for free.

Set-up takes only a minute or so, and the VPN itself is toggled in the Opera VPN app. You get a small selection of regions to choose from, after which point your iPhone effectively thinks it's in whatever country you selected.

During use, Opera VPN typically feels snappy, rivaling paid VPNs we've used elsewhere. Although it won't unlock all overseas services (Netflix, notably, is wise to VPNs these days), it's at the very least a good first place to try if you find you can't get at a particular corner of the internet.

From the brains behind game-like language-learning app Duolingo comes Tinycards. The aim is to enable people to memorize anything by way of friendly flashcard sets.

Duolingo itself offers a number of sets based around language, history and geography. Smartly, though, anyone can create and publish a set, which has led to hundreds of decks about all kinds of subjects, from renaissance art to retro computing.

The memorizing bit is based around minutes-long drills. You’re presented with cards and details to memorize, which the app then challenges you on, by way of typing in answers or answering multiple choice questions.

Some early teething problems with typos and abbreviations (for example, stating ‘USA’ was incorrect because ‘United States of America’ was the answer) have been dealt with by way of a handy ‘I was right’ button. Just don’t press it when you don’t really know the answer, OK?

With Google having extended its tendrils into almost every aspect of online life, Google Trips is the company’s effort to help you explore the real world more easily.

Tell the app where you want to go and it’ll serve up a selection of things to do, itineraries for day trips, food and drink recommendations, and more.

This being a Google app, some of the smart bits are somewhat reliant on you being ensconced in the Google ecosystem – reservations need to be sucked in from Gmail, for example.

However, with offline access for any downloaded location, Trips in tandem with Maps (which can also work offline) is an excellent app to have handy while on your holiday, and with the included ‘need to know’ section (emergency numbers; hospitals; health centers) could even be a life-saver.

Following in the footsteps of MSQRD, FaceRig enables you to embody a virtual character by controlling it with your face.

Everything happens entirely automatically – you just select a character and background, gurn into the camera, watch a seemingly sentient floating hamburger mirror your very expression, and have a little sit down to think about the terrifying advance of technology.

For those not freaked out by the hamburger to the point that they hurl their iPhones into the sea, FaceRig provides plenty of characters, unlocked using tokens earned through regular use or bought using IAP.

You can also snap and share photos of your virtual visage, or record entire videos where you pretend you’ve turned into a sentient goggles-wearing raccoon, an angry dragon or a slightly irritated-looking turkey.

One-time darling of the digital check-in crowd, Foursquare in 2014 reworked its app to focus entirely on local search. Although this irked fans who’d been there since the beginning, it’s hard to criticize the app we’ve been left with.

On iPhone, you start with a search field, beneath which sits a handy list of relatively local places of interest. Tap an item and you gain access to a photo gallery, basic details, and a slew of reviews.

In the main, Foursquare is quite obsessed with food, drink and nightlife, but the ‘fun’ and ‘more’ categories house plenty of additional places to visit, from gig venues and cinemas to rather more sedate options like parks and historic sites.

Filters and ‘tastes’ options within the app’s settings enable you to further hone down recommended choices, and anything you fancy reminding yourself of on a more permanent basis can be added to a custom list.

Although most fans want to cheer on their soccer team by hollering from the stands or, second best, yelling at a TV in a pub, that’s not always possible. When you’re otherwise busy, Onefootball is a great means of keeping track of your favorites.

The app’s a cinch to set up. Choose your teams, allow Onefootball to send notifications, and then let the app work its magic. On match days, you’ll be notified of every goal, which, depending on your team’s fortunes, may make you thrill at or dread hearing the notification sound.

If you at any point need a little more detail, venture into the app and you’ll discover everything from live tickers to customized news feeds.

If you like the idea of editing home movies but are a modern-day being with no time or attention span, try Quik. The app automates the entire process, enabling you to create beautiful videos with a few taps and show off to your friends without needing talent – surely the epitome of today’s #hashtag generation.

All you need do is select some videos and photos, and choose a style. Quik then edits them into a great-looking video you can share with friends and family. But if your inner filmmaker hankers for a little more control, you can adjust the style, music, format and pace, along with trimming clips, reordering items, and adding titles to get the effect you desire.

Cementing its friendly nature, Quik offers a little pairs minigame for you to mess about with while the app renders your masterpiece. And there’s even a weekly ‘For You’ video Quik compiles without you lifting a finger.

We've seen quite a few apps that try to turn your photos into art, but none manage it with quite the same raw ability as Prisma. The app is almost disarmingly simple to use: shoot or select a photo, crop your image, and choose an art style (options range from classic paintings through to comic book doodling).

The app within a few seconds then transforms your photo into a miniature Picasso or Munch, and it's instantly better than most of us could ever hope to achieve with Photoshop.

On trying Prisma with a range of imagery, we found it almost never comes up with a duff result thanks to some insanely smart processing. But if you find the effects a bit jarring, a slide of your finger can soften your chosen filter prior to sharing your masterpiece online.

Our only criticism is the app's fairly low-res output, making Prisma pics only suitable for screen use – but it's a real must-have.

The camera sitting inside your iPhone is pretty amazing. In fact, plenty of people think it's too amazing, the clarity and purity of digital shots having lost the 'character' found in photography of old. Retrica brings a sense of creativity and randomness to iPhone snaps – and more besides.

Filters are Retrica's main trick. You can manually select one from a list (which can be managed, for faster access to favorites) or try your luck by stabbing the shuffle button. A selected filter's strength can be adjusted, but there's sadly no quick 'filter off' switch.

The filters, though, are varied and interesting, and you can optionally add a blur and vignette. It's also possible to apply Retrica filters to shots taken elsewhere, if you prefer taking 'clean' pics and messing around with them later.

Retrica also plays with time. You can take multi-shots, your photos subsequently being stitched together on a grid (there are well over a dozen options to choose from), or played in sequence as an exportable GIF.

Alternatively, hold the shutter and the app starts recording video, using your chosen filter. For five dollarpounds, we'd have written a glowing review about Retrica, but for free this is an astonishing gift – a superb and unmissable creative camera app.

If you used to sit there at school, doodling flick-animation masterpieces in the corner of your jotter, Animatic is the iPhone equivalent. You use simple tools to scribble on a small canvas, and then build your animation frame-by-frame.

The app uses a basic onion-skin approach, meaning you can see the previous few frames faintly behind the current one, ensuring whatever you draw doesn’t lurch all over the place. Once you’re done, you can adjust the animation speed of your creation and export it to video or GIF.

Given that you’re scribbling with what amounts to the iPhone equivalent of felt pens, you won’t be crafting the next Pixar movie here. But Animatic is fun, a great way to get into animation, and a useful sketchpad for those already dabbling. The app also includes a bunch of demos, showcasing what’s possible with a little time, effort and imagination.

Plenty of apps claim they can get you making music in seconds, but Figure really means it. The app’s heritage helps, as it comes from Propellerhead Software, creators of the legendary Reason and ReBirth.

In Figure, though, working on loops and beats is stripped right back from what you’d find in those complex PC apps; instead, you tap out drums, and slide your finger around to fashion monster bass and playful leads.

Sounds can be tweaked or swapped out entirely at any point. Once you’re done, finished tracks can be uploaded and shared online. For serious musicians, there’s even Audiobus support.

There's a tendency for weather apps to either bombard you with facts or try to be too clever with design Hello Weather, by contrast, simply wants to get you all the weather information you need, but nothing you don't.

This focused approach doesn't mean Hello Weather is an ugly app. On the contrary, it's very smart, with a clean layout and readable graphs. Mostly, though, we're fond of Hello Weather because it eschews complexity without limiting the information on offer.

The single-page view is split in three, covering current conditions, the next few hours, and the week's forecast. If you need more detail, a swipe provides access to things like sunrise/sunset times for the current day, or written forecasts for the coming week.

The app doesn't quite check off our entire wish-list – the lack of a rainfall radar (or at least a precipitation prediction graph for the coming hour) is a pity. But as a free no-fuss weather app, Hello Weather is hard to beat.

The idea behind Cheatsheet is to provide fast access to tiny chunks of information you never remember but really need to: your hotel room, your car's number plate, Wi-Fi passwords, or, if you're feeling suitably retro, the Konami code.

Set-up is pleasingly straightforward. Using the app, you add 'cheats' by selecting an icon and then typing your info nugget. When you've got yourself a number of 'cheats', they can be reordered as you see fit. Once you're done, the entire lot can be displayed on the Today widget or an Apple Watch.

Cheatsheet saves some features for a $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 'pro' upgrade – a custom keyboard, an action extension, some of the icons, and iCloud sync. But the free version is nonetheless useful and generous, along with making really good use of the Today view on your phone.

With the vast range of movies available at any given time, keeping track of what you’d like to see and what you’ve watched already isn’t easy. TodoMovies 4 aims to simplify the process and aid discovery.

The app starts off with the discovery bit, having you check out lists that range from Academy Award nominees to those with the ‘greatest gun fights of all time’. Beyond this, you can browse by genre, explore upcoming films and what’s on in theatres, or perform a search for something specific.

Selecting a film loads artwork, and most have a trailer. Tap the big ‘+’ to add the current film to your To Watch list, which can be searched or browsed (alphabetically, by date added, or by release date).

Watched films can be removed or sent to your Watched list, whereupon they can be rated. This mix of focus and friendliness – along with some very smart design – makes this app a no-brainer download for movie buffs.

If you live in or visit one of the supported cities (which include London, Paris, Berlin and New York), Citymapper is an essential download, assuming you want to find your way around more easily.

It’ll zero in on your location and then intelligently get you from A to B, providing all kinds of travel options and routing, and, where relevant, live times for transit.

Sometimes with apps, it’s the seemingly little things that make a big difference. With Overcast, for example, you get a perfectly decent podcast app that does everything you’d expect: podcast subscriptions; playback via downloads or streaming; a robust search for new shows.

But where Overcast excels is in attempting to save you time and improve your listening experience. Effects (which can be assigned per-podcast) provide the smartest playback speed-up we’ve heard, voice boost for improving the clarity of talky shows, and smart speed.

The last of those attempts to shorten silences. You won’t use that setting for comedy shows, but it’s superb for lengthy tech podcasts. As of version 2.0, Overcast is free, and betters all the other iOS podcast apps that also lack a price tag. (Should you wish to support the app, though, there’s an entirely optional recurring patronage IAP.)

  • Now you've downloaded Overcast, check out our list of the best podcasts

Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It's also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.

And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).

It’s interesting to watch the evolution of an app. Starting out on iPad, Paper was something of a design industry darling, offering a beautiful and stylish, if ultimately slightly limited, digital notebook of sorts.

Then it went free, the developer positioning Paper as the perfect app to use with its Pencil stylus.

But the latest update not only brings the app to iPhone it also radically reimagines and expands it. Alongside existing sketch tools, you now get notes and the means to add photos, transforming Paper from nice-to-have to essential.

Back in 2009, Jorge Colombo did some deft iPhone finger painting using Brushes, and the result became a New Yorker cover.

It was a turning point for iOS and suitably handy ammunition for tech bores who’d been drearily banging on about the fact an iPhone could never be used for proper work. The app sadly stagnated, but was made open source and returned as Brushes Redux.

Now free, it’s still a first-rate art app, with a simple layers system, straightforward controls, and a magnificent brush editor that starts you off with a random creation and enables you to mess about with all manner of properties, from density to jitter.

We keep hearing about how important coding will be to the future of everything. That's all very well, unless code makes about as much sense to you as the most exotic of foreign languages.

The idea behind Lrn is to gently ease you in. Through friendly copy and simple quizzes, you gradually gain confidence across a range of languages.

For free, you get courses on HTML and CSS, along with introductions to JavaScript, Ruby and Python. You can complete any course for $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49; but even if you don't pay anything at all, you'll get a lot out of this app if you've an interest in coding but don't know where to start.

The science of sleep is something few people delve into. But you know some days that you wake up and feel awful, even if you think you’ve had a decent night’s sleep. Sleep Cycle might be able to tell you why. It analyses you while you sleep, using sound or motion, and provides detailed statistics when you wake.

Additionally, it’ll constantly figure out what phase of sleep you’re in, attempting to wake you at the best possible time, in a gentle, pleasing manner.

That probably all sounds a bit woo-woo, but here’s the thing: this app actually works, from the graphing bits through to helping you feel refreshed and relaxed on waking up.

Developer Pixite is best known for its eye-popping filter apps, and so Assembly was quite the surprise. The app is all about building vector art from shapes.

Individual components are dropped on to the canvas, and can then be grouped or have styles applied. It feels a bit like the iPhone equivalent of playing with felt shapes, but you soon realise that surprisingly complex compositions are possible, not least when you view the ‘inspirations’ tab or start messing about with the ‘remix’ projects.

For free, you get loads of stuff to play with, but inexpensive IAP unlocks all kinds of bundles with new themed shape sets to explore.

It’s interesting to see how far the App Store has come. Time was, Apple banned apps that gave you the chance to build prototypes. Now, Marvel is welcomed by Apple, and is entirely free.

Using the app, you can build on photographed sketches, Photoshop documents, or on-screen scribbles. Buttons can be added, and screens can be stitched together.

Once you’re done, your prototype can be shared. If you’re not sure where to start, check out existing prototypes made by the Marvel community.

The Weather Underground app (or 'Wunderground' to your iPhone, which sounds like an oddly dark Disney film) is one of those products that flings in everything but the kitchen sink yet somehow remains usable.

Whatever your particular interest in the weather, you're covered, through a slew of 'tiles' (which can be moved or disabled to suit) on a huge scrolling page.

At the top, you get a nicely designed tile detailing current conditions and showing a local map. Tick and cross buttons lurk, asking for input regarding the app's accuracy. During testing, we almost always tapped the tick — reassuring.

Scroll, though, and you find yourself immersed in the kind of weather geekery that will send meteorological nuts into rapture. There are rainfall and temperature graphs for the next day and hour, along with simpler forecasts for the week.

You get details on humidity, pressure and dew point. Sunrise, sunset and moon timings are presented as stylish animations. You can investigate local and global webcams and photos, and then head to the web if not satisfied with that deluge of data.

Weather Underground is funded by non-intrusive ads (which you can disable annually for $1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99 if you feel the need), and is easily our favourite free iPhone weather app; in fact, it even rivals the best paid fare on the platform.

On the iPad, Novation Launchpad is one of the best music apps suitable for absolutely anyone. You get a bunch of pads, and tap them to trigger audio loops, which always sound great regardless of the combinations used. This isn’t making music per se, but you can get up a good head of steam while imagining yourself as a futuristic combination of electronic musician, DJ and mix genius.

On iPhone, it shouldn’t really work, the smaller screen not being as suited to tapping away at dozens of pads. But smart design from Novation proves otherwise. 48 trigger pads are placed front and centre, and are just big enough to accurately hit unless you’ve the most sausagey of sausage thumbs.

Effects lurk at the foot of the screen — tap one and a performance space slides in, covering half the screen, ready for you to stutter and filter your masterpiece.

As on the iPad, you can also record a live mix, which can be played back, shared and exported. This is a really great feature, adding optional permanence to your tapping exploits.

We’re big fans of iMovie. Apple’s video editor for iPhone is usable and powerful. In our lazier moments, we also really like Replay, which takes a bunch of videos and edits them on your behalf. But there are times when you hanker for a middle ground, and that’s where Splice fits in.

Getting started is simple — select some videos and photos to import (from your Camera Roll, or online sources like Facebook and Google Photos), along with, optionally, a soundtrack. Name your project, choose an orientation, and the app lays out your clips. These can be reordered by drag and drop, and transitions can be adjusted with a couple of taps.

If you want to delve deeper, individual clips can be trimmed and cut, and you can apply effects. Several filters are included, as is a speed setting, and the means to overlay text.

These tools perhaps won’t worry the Spielbergs of this world, but a few minutes in Splice can transform a few random iPhone clips into something quite special — and all without a price-tag or even any advertising.

The nature of social media is it’s all about the ‘now’. With Timehop, you get the chance to revisit moments from this day, based around your online history.

The service connects to whatever accounts you allow it to, and then shows you what was happening in your world. It’s a simple concept that’s perfect for iPhone.

The world's biggest social network brings a tightly honed experience to the iPhone and iPod touch, but nonetheless still enables you to access your contacts, feeds and other important information. This sense of focus makes it in many ways superior to using Facebook in a desktop browser.

If you pick up an iPhone 7, Facebook will likely be one of the first apps you'll want to download.

AKA ‘Stalk My Contacts’, but Find My Friends does have practical uses: if you’re meeting a bunch of iPhone-owning friends and want to know where they’re at, for example, or for when wanting to check where your spouse is on the road, to see if it’s time to put the dinner in the oven/pretend to look busy when they walk through the door. (Or maybe that’s just what freelance tech writers do.)

It’s all opt-in, so you won’t be able to track your friends / be tracked without explicit consent, so you can rest easy once you start using it.

Plenty of apps exist for transferring content between your computer and your device, but Dropbox is free and easier to use than most of its contemporaries.

And even now that Apple’s provided easier access to iCloud Drive, Dropbox remains a useful install, largely on the basis of its widespread support (both in terms of platforms and also iOS apps). The Dropbox app itself works nicely, too, able to preview a large number of file types, and integrating well with iOS for sending documents to and from the various iPhone apps you have installed.

Love Dropbox? Then check out our article Essential tips for every Dropbox user.

Google’s own YouTube app works much as you’d expect, enabling you to search and watch an almost limitless number of cats playing pianos, people moaning about stuff to their web-cams, and more besides.

Despite Google’s adherence to its own distinct design language, YouTube tends to be a good iOS citizen, supporting AirPlay. It also naturally integrates well with your Google Play account, providing access to purchased films, which can be watched or flung at your telly if you’ve the relevant hardware.

A great many Today view widgets seem quite gimmicky, but Vidgets provides a great mix of monitoring and utility.

The standalone app enables you to add and organise the likes of world clocks, network indicators, and widgets outlining remaining space on your device. These are then immediately available in Notification Center.

Although you get the sense eBay’s designers can’t get through a month without redesigning their app, it’s always far superior to using the online auction site in a browser.

eBay for iOS works nicely on the iPhone, with browsing proving fast and efficient. Speedy sorting and filtering options also make it a cinch to get to listings for whatever it is you fancy buying.

Shazam is an app that feels like magic when you first use it. It’s deceptively simple—hold your iPhone near to a music source, and wait while the app listens and tells you what track is playing.

But the sheer technology behind this simplicity is mind-boggling, and while Shazam doesn’t always guess right, it’s worth a download.

The revamped keyboard in modern incarnations of iOS is far better than what we had before, not least because of the predictive word bar, but SwiftKey takes things a step further.

Rather than laboriously tapping out individual keys, you just glide your finger across them. This can make for some comical typos initially, but SwiftKey soon speeds up iPhone text entry.

For the most part, Yousician Guitar feels quite a lot like Guitar Hero, only you use a real guitar and the app is cunningly teaching you how to play it.

Things start with the absolute basics, but before you know it, you’re strumming and picking with the best of them. The app’s free, although with limited daily play time. Subscriptions enable you to learn more rapidly.

For the paranoid souls out there (or the unlucky ones who’ve had their devices pilfered), Find My iPhone is a must-have download.

Assuming you’ve a 2010 or later iOS device, you can set up a free account and locate your devices within seconds. (Note that older devices can also be added to Find My iPhone – you just need a recent one to get things going.)

Google Translate is a bit like an insanely portable and entirely free gaggle of translation staff. When online, you can translate written or photographed text between dozens of languages, or speak into your device and listen to translations.

And for English to French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish (and back), the app will attempt to live-translate (even when offline) any text in front of the camera.

Skyscanner’s a great website, which enables you to punch in airports and find out the cheapest way of getting from A to B.

The Skyscanner app is the same, but it’s on your device and with a spiffy AI. Well worth a download, even if only to check flights for an upcoming holiday.

The thinking behind Slack is to free teams from the drudgery of email. It’s essentially a real-time messaging system, where people have group conversations based around user-defined hashtags, or send private messages to one-another.

Support for inline images, videos and Twitter-like summaries boost pasted content, and the app integrates with cloud storage from the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive.

It’s worth noting that while Slack is clearly aimed at businesses, it works perfectly well as a means of communication for groups of friends who aren’t thrilled about storing their personal insights and details on Facebook.

The prospect of Nike+ but better and for free might sound unlikely, but that’s what RunKeeper provides. Previously split into ‘pro’ and ‘free’ versions, the developer now generously includes all the features in one free app.

That means you can spend no money, yet use your iPhone’s GPS capabilities to track your jogging and cycling routes, and examine mapping and details of your pace and calories burned.

Activities can be shared online, and treadmill runs and other exercise details can be entered manually.

Over two million definitions, synonyms and antonyms are available in the palm of your hand with this free, offline dictionary and thesaurus.

The app is fast and efficient, includes phonetic and audio pronunciation of words, and its interface seems perfectly suited to the iPhone.

XE Currency is a fine example of an app that does what it needs to, without fuss. You configure a list of currencies, and it shows current conversion rates.

Double-tap a currency to set its base rate or to define values for custom conversions.

Don’t bother buying a DAB radio – just install TuneIn Radio instead and plug your device into a set of speakers.

TuneIn Radio has a great interface for accessing over 100,000 digital stations; it also has AirPlay support, and you can use it as an alarm clock.

TED is brain food. The app provides access to talks by insanely clever people, opening your mind to new and radical ideas.

You can also save your favourite talks locally, for even easier access, or ask the app to inspire you, based on your mood and available time.

The App Store has so many to-do apps that it’s in severe danger of tipping over, due to the sheer weight of digital checkboxes, but Wunderlist is one of the very few that really stands out.

The interface is very usable, and the app’s ability to seamlessly sync across devices and platforms makes it a great download.

“But Gmail works in Apple Mail,” you might say. And this is true, but it doesn’t work terribly well. For the best of Gmail, Google’s own offering is unsurprisingly the app to opt for.

The Gmail app provides a full experience, enabling you to search, thread, star and label items to your heart’s content – and is far better when your connection is patchy.

We're told the 'S' in Vert S stands for 'speed'. This is down to the app being an efficient incarnation of the well-regarded Vert unit converter.

The older app had you browse huge category lists to pick what you need, but Vert S is keener on immediacy. There's a search, but the app's core is a Favorites page, where commonly used conversions are stored.

Tap one and you enter a basic calculator, enabling you to convert between your two chosen units, which can be quickly switched by tapping the Vert button. (Note that currencies are behind an IAP paywall — $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 for 'Vert Pro' — but conversions for other units are free.)

Apple’s Music Memos is all about getting music ideas down — fast. You launch the app, hit record, play your guitar or piano, and your riff is safely recorded, rather than vanishing from your head the moment you see something vaguely interesting outside.

Smartly, the app provides additional toys to experiment with. There’s a tuner, and during playback, you can add automated electronic bass and drumming. The virtual instruments attempt to match tempo and energy with whatever you recorded (and with some success, although more complex inputs can confuse this feature to an amusing degree).

Music Memos also tries to transcribe the chords being played; its accuracy is questionable beyond the basics, but not bad as a trigger when you later want to learn how to play your own spark of inspiration.

Usefully, you can fling recordings at GarageBand and Logic (bass and drums going along for the ride as separate tracks).

Less usefully, you can sing into the app, and still add bass, drums and chord transcription, for some kind of madcap tech-based cacophony of awfulness that we felt entirely compelled to try in the name of a thorough review. Expect our effort to (not) trouble the charts shortly.

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The best 2-in-1 laptop 2017: the best convertible laptops ranked http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/laptops/best-2-in-1-laptops-top-5-hybrid-laptops-reviewed-1258451 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/laptops/best-2-in-1-laptops-top-5-hybrid-laptops-reviewed-1258451
Flip them or snap them any way you’d like, these are the best 2-in-1 laptops around. Wed, 20 Dec 2017 20:10:00 +0000techradar.com
We wouldn’t blame you for thinking the hype surrounding the Surface Book 2 was overblown. It’s not the best laptop ever made, nor is it the best hybrid infusion of a laptop and a tablet. What it is, however, is a powerful demonstration of what can be accomplished by 2-in-1 laptops. 

Because, years ago, you would have no choice but to buy a Wacom tablet if you were into drawing, or an iPad if you were into staying up late and watching Netflix from the dimly lit comfort of your bedroom, the best 2-in-1 laptops provide a utility that simply didn’t exist before them. That is, the utility of convenience.

With any one of these notebooks, you’re investing in their multi-faceted sets of functionality. Each one can either be detached entirely from their keyboards or they can flip inside out using a flexible hinge. Both options make it easier to hold your laptop as you would a tablet or sit it upright atop a desk. Whichever your preference, you can be certain that we’ve tested every last one of the 2-in-1 laptops you’ll find below prior to classifying them as the best.

The Samsung Notebook 9 Pro can go head-to-head with the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and for a substantially lower cost. Though it’s limited to only one configuration, albeit across two different sizes, the Samsung Notebook 9 Pro is as powerful as it is pragmatic. Defined in part by its inclusion of the S-Pen, this heavy-hitting hybrid is every bit as capable as Microsoft’s Surface Book and without the need to recharge its stylus.

Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 9 Pro

Google’s new Pixelbook does something that we couldn’t have seen coming. It takes the Chromebook platform and shoots it straight into the stratosphere, competing with premium products from Apple and Microsoft. It’s able to accomplish this herculean task by beefing up the internals and, more importantly, by including full Android app support. This means that this device tears down the barriers that would prevent macOS or Windows users from jumping on the Chromebook bandwagon. It might cost a lot more than other Chromebooks on the market, but the Pixelbook is truly the future of the platform.

Read the full review: Google Pixelbook

We get it, the Pixelbook is enticing, but it’s also out of your price range. In that case, the Asus Chromebook Flip C302 is a choice alternative. Having introduced a touchscreen and convertible design to Google’s cloud-based Chrome OS, the Asus Chromebook Flip is made better by its compatibility with Android apps. That’s right, just like the Pixelbook, you can use the Asus Chromebook Flip for Google Play apps, albeit after installing an out-of-the-box update.

Read the full review: Asus Chromebook Flip

Gamers ought to look elsewhere, but for everyone else, the Lenovo Yoga 920 is a passable alternative to the ludicrously expensive Surface Book 2. For those who value, well… value over a screen that can be detached completely from its keyboard, the Lenovo Yoga 920 has a lot of good to offer. The design, for instance, is less pronounced and has the subtlety of a more traditional Ultrabook. Meanwhile, it’s thin and powerful all the same.

Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga 920

To be fair, we loved the Surface Book already. So, when we first caught word that a Surface Book 2 was in the works, our expectations were admittedly amplified. In the end, Microsoft’s second 2-in-1 laptop couldn’t do everything justice, but what we did receive was an impressive feat held back by a handful of (frankly necessary) concessions. For starters, this machine is powerful in all seven of  its 13.5- and 15-inch configurations. It features cutting-edge 8th-generation Intel processors and two different options of Nvidia 10-series graphics.

Read the full review: Microsoft Surface Book 2

Best 2-in-1 laptop

With Kaby Lake now ruling the roost in terms of CPUs, HP decided it’s high time to flip the switch on its Spectre 2-in-1. With an overhauled keyboard and suave new logo, the HP Spectre x360 holds its own against anything Apple can show. At the same time, none of this stifles the battery life, which exceeds 8 hours of straight use. What’s more, the HP Spectre x360 can now be configured with a 4K screen and 1TB of SSD storage, too.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360

Best 2-in-1 laptop

Equipped with a Skylake i7 CPU and discrete Nvidia graphics, the Samsung Notebook 7 Spin is nearly as fashionable and powerful as a 2016 MacBook Pro, but for roughly half the cost. With all the trackpad real estate in the world paired with a snazzy, full-size keyboard, the Samsung Notebook 7 is a real treat even without accounting for the fact that it’s a 2-in-1. You’ll flip once you realize that your laptop does too – and with an HDR-capable screen at that.

Read the full review: Samsung Notebook 7 Spin 

  • This product is only available in the US and UK as of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Asus ZenBook Flip UX360.  

If the 13-inch Lenovo Yoga 720 is a caterpillar, the 15-inch model is a majestic butterfly, freshly hatched from its snug cocoon. Outfitted with the choice between only the best HQ series Core i5 and i7 processors, this 2-in-1 is competitive spec-wise with the 15-inch MacBook Pro while remaining but a fraction of the cost of Apple’s flagship machine. What’s more, it even has the ports you know and love in addition to the still-blossoming USB Type-C interface.

Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga 720 (15-inch)

Best 2-in-1 laptop

More than just a basic hardware refresh, the HP Spectre x360 is as easy on the eyes as it is to use. Because the keyboard feels natural to the touch, there’s no debate as to whether this 2-in-1 is better as a laptop or as a tablet; it comes equally recommended as both. If it made a peep, what with its silent fans and subdued chiclet keys, the HP Spectre x360 15 may even garner a few jealous stares.

Read the full review: HP Spectre x360 15

Best 2-in-1 laptop

If the 13-inch Yoga 720 is too small and the 15 incher is too big, the Lenovo Yoga 910 brings a happy medium to the table. Miraculously fitting a 14-inch frame into a 13-inch body, this notebook boasts a ritzy, all-aluminum finish with a watchband hinge that’s impossible to ignore. Add a 4K screen and stunning built-in audio to the mix and it’s no wonder we’re in love with Lenovo’s flagship 2-in-1.

Read the full review: Lenovo Yoga 910

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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Best gaming keyboard 2017: the best gaming keyboards we’ve tested http://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/10-best-gaming-keyboards-1295703 http://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/10-best-gaming-keyboards-1295703
All of these keyboards are as beautiful as the components in your PC Wed, 20 Dec 2017 19:45:00 +0000techradar.com
So, you’ve just dropped over a thousand dollars building the best gaming PC you’ve ever owned – including that graphics card that all of your friends have been drooling over. The only thing you have to do now is buy a keyboard to go with your new rig. It’s tempting to save a few bucks and go with that cheap membrane keyboard you saw at Best Buy the other day, but seeing as you’ve spent a small fortune on a new PC, you should get a keyboard that is at least of the same quality. You should get one of the best gaming keyboards – there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about having your desk lit up like a Christmas tree.

Using a cheap membrane keyboard for gaming is ill-advised to say the least. The best gaming keyboards will allow for much deeper and accurate travel, so you never have to worry about accidentally killing your teammate when you’re just trying to reload. And we would be remiss if we didn’t mention RGB lighting – the golden feature for any gaming peripherals.

With just a week of shopping before Christmas shows its head, we present this list of the 10 best gaming keyboards you can buy today. And even if you’re on a tight budget, we’ve got something for you – price alone does not determine the value of a keyboard. We’ve made strides to ensure that every MLG typewriter on this list strikes a balance between price and performance. You shouldn’t have to empty your savings account to play in style, and you also won’t find any cheap, flimsy keyboards on this list either. Every keyboard on this list has been tested by the TechRadar editorial team, and has passed every test we threw at them with flying RGB colors.

This beautiful keyboard has been lovingly engineered for a lightning-fast actuation point of 1.5mm and this alone makes the Logitech G413 Carbon a force of nature. This mechanical power-house is defined by its extremely affordable price tag in addition to its use of Logitech’s Romer G switches, which have time and time again proven to be all but equal contenders to the switches made by Cherry. It also manages to keep a low profile, thanks to its stealthy frame and its nigh silent keys.   

Read the full review: Logitech G413 Carbon 

Best gaming keyboards

Hoping to find a gaming keyboard that matches the rest of your Chroma-lit accessories? Then this is the one you want. Not only does the BlackWidow Chroma V2 carry an equal balance of comfort and performance, but it went a few steps further in the process. Complemented by the fact that Razer has tacked on five macro keys that can be assigned to virtually any in-game action, the BlackWidow Chroma V2 supports 16.8 million colors worth of LED lighting as well.

Read the full review: Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2

Following in the footsteps of Kingston’s first HyperX-branded gaming keyboard, namely the HyperX Alloy FPS, the HyperX Alloy Elite tweaks the company’s first winning keyboard to provide only a few subtle changes. For only $10 USD more than its predecessor, you’re getting media keys, a light bar and even a palm rest, all of which were previously absent. They’re also a series of delightful treats, making for a value proposition that shouldn’t be ignored.

Read the full review: HyperX Alloy Elite

Corsair K70

The Realforce RGB is a multi-talented keyboard that feels incredible to type on due in part to its capacitive Topre keyswitches, which offer superior tactile feedback compared to their Cherry MX equivalents. Boasting high-quality PBT keycaps and depth from 1.5mm to 3mm, the Realforce RGB is a hugely versatile keyboard that suits whatever task you’re doing at the time. Yes, even typing since its keyswitch stems are compatible with both Topre and Cherry MX keycaps. 

Like the Corsair K70 Rapidfire before it, the K95 RGB Platinum is a gaming-first mechanical keyboard with plenty of versatility to get the job done, whatever that job may be. It even packs in 8MB of memory dedicated to storing the profiles of its six macro keys. This keyboard is not only backlit by up to 16.8 million colors, but it’s the perfect travel buddy too, made better by its military-grade aluminum finish, including the wrist rest.

Read the full review: Corsair K95 RGB Platinum

Razer Ornata

For too long there's been a divide between mechanical and membrane keys but now Razer has finally brought the two together with its 'Mecha-Membrane' Ornata keyboard. These new switches pull from everything Razer has learned over the years. The result is a grand typing experience with shorter keys, the tactile feel of the green switches from the Black Widow X Chroma and a loud audible click.

Cherry MX 6.0

Lending it to fast response times, the Cherry MX Board 6.0 is defined by its Cherry MX Red switches, hence the make and model. However, because the keys are positioned fairly close together they're excellent for typing in addition to gaming. What’s more, housed in an eye-catching aluminum chassis, the MX Board 6.0 certainly doesn't feel cheap and its blood-red key lighting is deliciously ominous.

Logitech G810

Sporting Logitech's own Romer G switches, which aren't quite as squishy as Cherry's various switches, the G810 possesses a snappier feel than other gaming keyboards whether typing or gaming. And, with smart media keys that work equally well on both Windows and macOS, this board is a solid all-round offering. If you're fed up with the weird markings, LCD screens and strange parts that come with competing "gamer-focused" keyboards, the G810 might be for you.

M500

Unlike most gaming keyboards in its class, the SteelSeries Apex M500 gets straight to the point, omitting unnecessary additives along the lines of RGB lighting and discrete media controls in favor of a compact design that wastes no space. Although the M500 neglects to let you choose your key switches beyond the standard Cherry MX Reds and Blues, these are damn fine options for a mechanical board in this price range.

Ultor

Because it packs an extremely durable, rugged aluminum body, the Cougar Attack X3 RGB is one of the best gaming keyboards you can buy if you’re on a tight budget. Equipped with Cherry MX switches and RGB  backlighting that can be customized to illuminate up to 16.8 million colors, this keyboard is a steal considering it doesn’t come close to the price of the Razer BlackWidow Chroma V2. N-Key rollover and a 1,000Hz polling rate are merely a bonus.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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Macs may run iOS apps in 2018 http://www.techradar.com/news/macs-may-run-ios-apps-in-2018 http://www.techradar.com/news/macs-may-run-ios-apps-in-2018
Apple is rumored to allow Macs run iOS apps in 2018, aping Google’s own trick of bringing the Play Store to Chromebooks. Wed, 20 Dec 2017 17:32:45 +0000techradar.com
Apple may allow Mac computers to run iOS apps as part of its autumn 2018 macOS software update, according to a Bloomberg report. However, said iOS apps on Mac would rely on mouse and keyboard navigation in lieu of a touchscreen, something Apple remains hesitant to include on Mac computers.

Citing “people familiar with the matter” (Apple declined to comment), the effort to bring iOS apps to Mac is known as project ‘Marzipan’, and is expected to be a marquee feature of the 2018 macOS release. As such, we could see this rumored at Apple’s 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference – where we always see the next versions of iOS and macOS.

Bloomberg’s sources haven’t said whether Apple will merge the iOS and macOS App Stores as part of this push to unify the two operating systems’ (OS) app ecosystems. That said, we haven’t seen a Mac App Store redesign since 2014, so it’s prime time for an overhaul.

Right on Google and Microsoft’s tail – again

For those in the computing scene, this news comes with a strong wave of deja vu. Recently, Google finally completed a years-long project to bring the Android Google Play Store to Chromebooks with touchscreens, with its Google Pixelbook. This allows any Android app to operate on a Chromebook so long as the laptop in question offers touch control.

While Microsoft’s phone business has all but come to a halt, the firm developed Windows 10 and its new Universal Windows Platform – regardless of its debatable success in getting traction for the latter – Windows apps and the OS to support every computing form factor available, from smartphones to desktop computers and everything in between. But, again, without a phones business this may be a moot point.

Apple, of course, has been staunch in its separation of its iOS and macOS platforms, right down to the apps that are available to each and how they’re developed. That said, the firm has in recent years expanded its practice of developing processors in-house for its iPhones and iPads to its Mac computers, with the T1 coprocessor found in the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and since as well as the T2 coprocessor included inside the new iMac Pro.

With rumors abound that Apple will only continue this practice with future Mac iterations, it makes sense for the company’s software division to follow suit where and how it can. Not to mention that its competitors have been at this sort of software unity for years.

While we’re likely a long ways out from a MacBook with a touchscreen, we Mac users may be quite close to clicking rather than tapping to make Mario jump in Super Mario Run. But, since that’s up to the developer, Nintendo needs to get on that – stat.

  • These are the best Macs that could be made even better with iOS apps
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GTX 1070 Ti: stuck in the middle http://www.techradar.com/news/gtx-1070-ti-stuck-in-the-middle http://www.techradar.com/news/gtx-1070-ti-stuck-in-the-middle
Nvidia taps another nail into Vega’s suspiciously empty coffin. Wed, 20 Dec 2017 14:28:03 +0000techradar.com
 

2017 has been a great year for computing, with more major CPU launches in a single year than we can recall ever seeing. We’ve also had a lot of excitement in the GPU arena, with the GTX 1080 Ti, Titan Xp, Volta GV100 for deep learning, and AMD’s RX Vega.

The last was disappointing, because on paper Vega looked like it might be a contender. Instead, we got a power-hungry GPU that couldn’t even claim a decisive win over Nvidia’s parts that launched a full year earlier.

But competition in the graphics card market can be brutal. The 1070 trails Vega 56 by as much as 10-15% in specific games, and overall it’s a few percentage points slower.

Never mind the supply problems AMD continues to experience several months after the official launch, with higher than expected pricing.

Never mind the distinct lack of custom Vega cards – a few are on the way, but graphics card vendors seem to be just as unimpressed with Vega as we are, and cooling a card that can pull well north of 350W when overclocked is no mean feat.

AMD winning at any level simply won’t do, says Nvidia, so here’s an upgraded 1070 Ti.

Nvidia is pouring salt into the Vega wound, and it hurts. The 1070 Ti slots in nicely midway between the 1070 and 1080, in price as well as performance.

But did we really need another high-end $450 Pascal-based GPU? No, but it gives Nvidia a new product SKU for the holiday shopping spree, which is never a bad idea. More importantly, the 1070 Ti provides a solid 10-15% performance boost relative to the vanilla 1070.

That’s enough to clearly beat Vega 56 and match Vega 64; but what we really wanted was a GTX 1060 Ti to fill the void in the $300 space. Maybe next year.

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What’s the best Linux firewall distro? http://www.techradar.com/news/whats-the-best-linux-firewall-distro-of-2017 http://www.techradar.com/news/whats-the-best-linux-firewall-distro-of-2017
You can’t build a moat around your network, but you can protect it with a firewall – so which is your best Linux option? Wed, 20 Dec 2017 11:32:38 +0000techradar.com
This article was provided to TechRadar by Linux Format, the number one magazine to boost your knowledge on Linux, open source developments, distro releases and much more. Subscribe to the print or digital version of Linux Format here.

You don’t have to manage a large corporate network to use a dedicated firewall. While your Linux distro may already have an impressive firewall installed as well as an equally impressive arsenal of tools to manage it, the advantages don’t extend to the other devices on your network. 

A typical network has more devices connected to the internet than the total number of computers and laptops in your average small or home office. With the onslaught of IoT, it won’t be long before your router is doling out IP addresses to your washing machine and microwave as well.

The one thing you wouldn’t want in this Jetsonian future is having to rely on your router’s limited firewall capabilities to shield your house – and everyone in it – from the malicious bits and bytes floating about on the internet.

A dedicated firewall stands between the internet and your internal network, regulating the data flowing from one to the other. Setting one up is an involved process both in terms of assembling the hardware and configuring the software. However, there are quite a few distros that help you set up a dedicated firewall with ease, and we’re going to look at the ones that have the best protective open source software and roll them into a convenient and easy to use package.

Specifically, in this roundup, we’re going to dissect and compare five different distros: IPFire, OPNsense, pfSense, Sophos UTM and Untangle NG Firewall.

How we tested

While you can test these firewall distros on a spare physical PC, it’s more convenient to take them for a spin inside a virtual machine. Create a virtual network by firing up VirtualBox and heading to File > Preferences > Network. Switch to the host-only network tab and add a new network using the screwdriver icon to assign it an IP address e.g. 192.168.56.1.

Next, create a VM for the firewall distro and make sure it had two network adaptors – the first one in bridged mode, the second one as a host-only network. After installing the distro, you can assign a different IP address such as 192.168.56.2 to the second adaptor and configure it as a DHCP server to assign an IP address range of 192.168.56.20 – 192.168.56.50. From here on out, any other VM connected to the host-only adaptor will be routed through the firewall VM, so you can experiment with it safely. 

See our guide to running Linux in a Virtual Machine here.

IPFire contains a number of security measures such as an IDS (Intrusion Detection System) and a GeoIP block which can block hackers by country.  

The distro can also compartmentalise networks based on their respective security levels using a simple colour-coded system. IPFire also allows you to create custom policies to manage individual networks. For more elaborate control, you can also manage outbound access to the internet from any segment.

IPFire uses a Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI) firewall that’s built on top of the utility netfilter. It facilities Network Address Translation (NAT), packet filtering and packet mangling. You can set up the firewall for everything from forwarding ports to creating a safe DMZ between your network and internet. The project’s wiki also hosts a 'security hardening' guide to create firewall rules for common scenarios.

The pfSense distro uses the p0f OS fingerprinting utility to allow you to filter traffic based on the operating system initiating the connection. You can also choose to log traffic matching each rule. The OPNsense distro was forked from pfSense and offers pretty much the same features for the firewall and other aspects of the system.

Sophos UTM, unlike the other distros, cuts off all traffic and then enables you to allow specific types, such as web and email, during initial setup. The server also includes an innovative category-based web filter that blocks sites based on the type of content and includes categories such as Drugs, Spam URLs, Nudity, Weapons and so on. It also offers to scan emails sent over POP3 for viruses.

Untangle’s hosted firewall can be set up through an easy to use interface that makes it very straightforward and simple to define rules for firewalling traffic. You can also gain granular control over the traffic by defining complex rules that combine multiple parameters. This might seem like quite an involved process, but it’s made more accessible by abundant use of relevant pull-down menus.

Verdict

  • IPFire: 4/5
  • OPNsense: 4/5
  • pfSense: 4/5
  • Sophos UTM: 5/5
  • Untangle NG Firewall: 4/5

All the distros in this roundup bundle a lot of other functionality besides a basic firewall. Some distros offer these features as free add-ons while others charge for them. While we’ll list all the functionality provided by each distribution, in order to be fair to the FOSS distros, we’ll rate all of them based on the modules that are available free of charge.

IPFire can be used as a VPN gateway, infrastructure server, content filter, proxy server, caching name server, an update accelerator and much more. When used as an internet gateway the distro can connect to the internet through various technologies, encompassing all popular types of broadband access, as well as mobile access, including VDSL, ADSL, Ethernet and 3G/4G.

Both pfSense and OPNsense can operate as a traffic shaper, load balancer and VPN. They both offer three options for VPN connectivity including IPsec, OpenVPN and PPTP. Similarly, you can use the Sophos UTM server as a site-to-site VPN solution and configure it to handle VoIP connections and balance load.

Untangle allows you to choose which features to install via its App Store style interface. If you selected the recommend package during setup it'll install over a dozen applications and services including: a web filter, virus blocker, spam blocker, application control, captive portal, WAN balancer as well as the firewall itself.

Some of the applications that Untangle doesn’t install are an ad blocker, intrusion prevention and web cache. The latest version of Untangle also supports VPN through the Tunnel VPN app.

Unlike the other distros, some of the Untangle applications are paid options with a 14-day trial. 

Verdict

  • IPFire: 5/5
  • OPNsense: 5/5
  • pfSense: 5/5
  • Sophos UTM: 5/5
  • Untangle NG Firewall: 3/5

While servers require more involvement and active maintenance, some aspects of the installation process are, in fact, streamlined i.e. a server distro is designed to take over an entire hard disk which eradicates the need to define partitions. The firewall distros in this roundup go to great lengths to help you mould the installation as per your network configuration. All of them employ browser-based interfaces that can be used to monitor and modify the various components of the firewall. 

Having a graphical interface is crucial – a technologically sound base isn’t enough by itself. A convoluted or illogically arranged management interface will have a direct bearing on a distro’s usability and prevent users from getting the most out of it.

We’ll break this slide down into mini-reviews of the deployment experience, starting with…

IPFire

IPFire is written from scratch and has a straightforward installation process. The installer will detect the number of NICs (Network Interface Controllers) attached to the computer and ask you to assign them to one of the four colour-coded zones. Each of these zones caters to a group of machines that share a common security level. Later on you’ll be asked to assign an IP address to the NIC that’s connected to your internal network. An IP address will be doled out via DHCP.

Once you’ve installed the distro, fire up its browser-based admin interface which is available on the IP address you assigned to the NIC connected to the local network. Head to the Firewall section in the admin interface to define the rules for the firewall. While the interface is simple to use, it requires some expertise for effective deployment. You should also read the documentation thoroughly. 

Score: 3/5

OPNsense

This distro was forked from pfSense and follows the same straightforward installation procedure. After installation, the distro boots to the command-line dashboard which also includes the address of the browser-based admin console. The admin interface is the one major visible difference between the distro and its progenitor. The interface takes you through a brief setup wizard prompting you for information about your network.

Once it’s rebooted with the right settings, head to the Rules section under Firewall. The rules definition interface is presented logically and includes a switch to display relevant help information to explain the various settings. Similarly, configuring the other components of the firewall distro is also a relatively intuitive process. Since the distro has a vast number of settings, you can enter keywords in the search box at the top of the interface to locate the relevant setting.

Score: 4/5

pfSense

The FreeBSD-based distros, pfSense and OPNsense, use the same fairly automated installers, though the original pfSense version offers more advanced options, including the ability to install a custom kernel. Again, just like OPNsense, pfSense boots to a console-based interface that gives you the option to configure the network interfaces on the installed machine.

Once they're installed a browser-based console will take you through the firewall setup wizard. The web interface for pfSense has recently been updated giving it a much smoother and more streamlined feel. 

The distro requires you to put some time into learning it, especially if you’re going to use the add-on packages, but the documentation is worth its weight in gold (if printed out).

Score: 3/5

Sophos UTM

To get started with Sophos UTM you have to download the ISO, register on the project’s website, get a user licence and upload it to the server for further configuration. During installation, Sophos asks you to select the NIC connected to the internal network and assign it an IP address, which you can use to access the distro’s browser-based admin interface. You'll also be asked to agree to installation of some proprietary components which are necessary in order to use the distro.

Once installed, you can bring up the browser-based management interface and run through the brief setup during which you can upload the licence. Sophos then locks down all traffic and enables you to 'poke' holes for the type of traffic you wish to allow.

Score: 5/5

Untangle NG Firewall

The Debian-based distro Untangle NG is very easy to set up and is the only distro in this roundup which restarts automatically after installation into the web-based setup wizard. Untangle NG asks you to set the password for the admin user, then to choose and configure the two network cards. One of these connects to the internet and the other to your local network.

Once setup is complete, Untangle prompts you to create a free account in order to configure the server. You’ll then have to install applications, such as the firewall, to enable specific functions. Almost all the applications are preconfigured and run automatically after install. You can also customise each application by clicking the Settings button under it. Untangle’s dashboard also enables you to analyse the traffic passing through the server, and each application will show statistics for its own traffic as well.

Score: 4/5

Virtually all the distros in this roundup offer a range of paid services. IPFire offers paid support through Lightning Wire Labs who provide custom solutions to businesses deploying the firewall. The company also offers customised hardware appliances  to integrate into your network infrastructure.

OPNsense has multiple commercial support options. The annual subscription to the business support package costs €299 (around £265, $355 or AU$460)  and includes three hours of technical assistance. You can purchase additional hours if you wish. There are also gold, silver and bronze professional services designed for larger deployments, integrations and custom changes to the distro.

You can also purchase support packages for your pfSense deployment which include technical support, configuration assistance and a configuration review. Furthermore, the pfSense project offers pfSense Training, with the cheapest course starting at $899 (around £670, AU$1,170).

Besides selling a retail version of the Sophos UTM for larger organisations, Sophos offers support packages via its resellers. The firm also has over 40 online and offline training courses on different aspects of the distro. Fees for the courses vary but an introductory two-hour webinar costs $249 (around £180, AU$310). Sophos also offers a free weekly ransomware webcast.

Untangle sells several components to extend the functionality of the firewall. If you purchase NG Firewall Complete it costs $50 a month (around £40, AU$65) for up to 25 devices. There's a 10% discount for paying annually.

Untangle also sells several hardware appliances with its firewall server preinstalled ranging from the small u25 appliance for $399 (around £300, AU$520) to the firm’s m3000 for $7,599 (around £5,670, AU$9,900).

Verdict

  • IPFire: 5/5
  • OPNsense: 5/5
  • pfSense: 5/5
  • Sophos UTM: 5/5
  • Untangle NG Firewall: 5/5

Just like paid services, all projects behind the firewall distros in this roundup offer a hefty amount of documentation and support in the form of guides, wikis and forums to help you through the deployment process.

The IPFire project hosts detailed documentation in wikis, as well as its English and German forum boards in addition to an IRC channel and dedicated mailing lists.

OPNsense also has forums, a wiki, IRC and very detailed documentation covering every aspect of deployment. Furthermore, the project has over a dozen how-tos on popular configurations/setups, such as configuring traffic shaping, web filtering and setting up a guest network.

The best source of documentation for the pfSense distro is its handbook which comes with a gold membership subscription. Besides this there’s a wiki, forums, mailing lists and IRC. The wiki hosts a large collection of how-tos, most of which are clear and to the point. The project developers are also very active on social networks, such as Reddit, where users can seek help.

The Sophos website hosts PDFs of the quick-start guide and a 600-page administrator’s guide, in addition to community-supported bulletin boards. There’s also the Sophos Knowledge Base which hosts articles on different aspects of the distro. 

Finally, the Untangle project hosts forums, a FAQ, and its wiki pages have screenshots where applicable, along with some short tutorials.

Verdict

  • IPFire: 5/5
  • OPNsense: 5/5
  • pfSense: 5/5
  • Sophos UTM: 5/5
  • Untangle NG Firewall: 5/5

A firewall server – just like any other server – needs constant upkeep, whether it’s to install updates or new add-ons. IPFire ships with Pakfire, an extensive package management utility that makes it fairly simple to expand on the basic installation. The package manager also enables updates to address security issues.

Similarly, pfSense also includes a package manager which can be used to install and update packages. The packages are grouped under categories, for example Services and Utility, Security and so forth, and include a wide range of applications, such as FreeRadius2, Snort, Squid and many more. The distro is configured to automatically install new versions of firmware and includes a host of diagnostic tools and utilities to troubleshoot the installation.

OPNsense also supports add-ons via the use of plugins, but doesn’t offer as many packages as you get with pfSense. Like pfSense, OPNSense can fetch and install updates for all the installed components.

There’s no package management option in Sophos UTM as all features are shipped in the distro and you can enable them as required. The distro includes the Up2Date utility for installing updates to the firewall’s firmware, as well as for fetching newer patterns for components, such as the antivirus and the Intrusion Prevention System.

Untangle requires you to use the interface to fetch any components you need. The Reports application monitors and prepares detailed and visually appealing reports about the server as well as its different components. The distro also includes the ability to update the installation and its components. You can configure it to install updates automatically during setup, as well as use the web interface to customise the schedule for the automatic updates.

Verdict

  • IPFire: 5/5
  • OPNsense: 4/5
  • pfSense: 5/5
  • Sophos UTM: 4/5
  • Untangle NG Firewall: 5/5

While IPFire is based on Linux From Scratch, its browser-based interface is borrowed from the older firewall distro IPCop. The interface has a simple and easy to navigate layout with the different aspects of the firewall server grouped under tabs listed at the top of the page. The System tab houses options to configure the overall installation. This is where you’ll find the option to enable SSH access and create a backup ISO image of IPFire with or without log files. The Status tab shows you an overview of the various components, while the Services tab lets you enable and configure individual services besides the firewall.

The dashboard in pfSense is more verbose than IPFire’s but has pretty much the same layout. The Firewall drop-down menu houses options to define the filtering rules as well as configure the traffic shaper. Settings for other services, such as the load balancer and captive portal, are housed under the Services menu. VPN has its own menu and enables you to configure the various supported VPN protocols. The CLI console on the firewall server displays a dashboard of sorts, as well. In addition to the addresses assigned to the different NICs, it allows you to reset the configuration of the install to the default state and even upgrade the install.

OPNsense has a more refined interface than pfSense. Certain sections, such as when adding firewall rules, include a toggle labelled 'Full Help'. When enabled, this option appends relevant information to fields to help you make the right selection.

Sophos UTM also has a loaded dashboard interface. Among other things, it displays information about the threats that firewall components have blocked in the last 24 hours. You can also use the Search box to narrow down the list of options.

Untangle also has a polished interface. Once you’ve installed an application, it’s enabled automatically and listed in the app rack. Each app has a Settings button for tweaking parameters. The rack also supplies a snapshot of traffic it has processed.

Verdict

  • IPFire: 3/5
  • OPNsense: 4/5
  • pfSense: 2/5
  • Sophos UTM: 4/5
  • Untangle NG Firewall: 4/5

Deploying a server is as much about personal preference as it is about a product’s technical dexterity. Despite objective testing, the results and our recommendation are influenced by our own preferences. Also, all firewall servers offer much the same functionality, but since this is delivered by different applications, one product might perform a certain task better than the others.

The one distro we definitely do not recommend is Untangle. This isn’t a reflection of its technical inferiority, but the fact that similar functions from its competitors are available cost-free. The majority of Untangle’s apps in the free version are 14-day trials. Even with the paid components, the distro doesn’t offer anything compelling over the others.

We’ve docked pfSense a few points for similar reasons. The distro is a tweaker’s paradise – you can flesh it out into any kind of server. However, unless you’re used to its tools and FreeBSD underpinnings, it’ll only end up confusing you with a myriad options. 

OPNsense, which is a fork of pfSense, has a much better user interface and rewritten components, such as the captive portal.

The runner-up prize goes to IPFire which has an impressive list of features. Its Pakfire package management system helps you to update and expand the initial installation. The distro’s UI also makes it easier to configure several components, such as OpenVPN, when compared with the other offerings here.

The top honour goes to Sophos UTM which is free for managing a network of up to 50 IP addresses, and bundles Sophos Endpoint Protection for up to 10 computers. The distro includes an impressive list of tools, many of which are identical to the paid enterprise edition. We also like that the distro enables the firewall as soon as it’s installed, and allows you to poke holes in the firewall to enable the flow of required traffic. Not only is this the proper way to deploy a firewall, the Sophos wizard makes it easier for inexperienced users to reap the benefits from the get-go.

So, our final rankings are as follows:

1st Place: Sophos UTM – bundles all the essential features with an intuitive UI.

Overall score: 4/5

Web: https://www.sophos.com

2nd Place: IPFire – a secure and expandable distro with a functional management interface.

Overall score: 4/5

Web: http://www.ipfire.org

3rd Place: OPNsense – all the benefits of pfSense with a reimagined UI.

Overall score: 4/5 

Web: https://opnsense.org

4th Place: pfSense – feature rich and fully functional distro, with a simple interface.

Overall score: 3/5

Web: https://www.pfsense.org

5th Place: Untangle NG Firewall – the free version is little more than a demo for the paid version.

Overall score: 2/5

Web: https://www.untangle.com

One popular firewall distro we didn’t include in this roundup is Smoothwall Express. It hasn't had a stable release since 2014, but is still one of the most well-known firewall distros out there. 

Then there’s also the feature-restricted community edition of the Endian Firewall as well as the Zeroshell firewall router distro for embedded devices. You can also add firewall functionality to your existing gateway server. ClearOS and Zentyal are two such systems which can be adapted into firewalls.

If you are the DIY type, it’s possible to build your own firewall appliance with little effort. One approach would be to use an ARM-based computer such as a Raspberry Pi. The website for the IPFire distro provides ARM images to download and install to your Pi’s SD card.

Alternatively you could install a minimal Linux distro, such as Arch Linux, and then use the built-in iptables firewall. To assist you with creating and managing rules, you could also use a graphical tool such as Shorewall. Another approach would be to install and use Ubuntu’s command line tool ufw or its graphical companion Gufw to manage iptables.

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GPD’s sequel to its handheld Windows gaming PC is far more powerful http://www.techradar.com/news/gpds-sequel-to-its-handheld-windows-gaming-pc-is-far-more-powerful http://www.techradar.com/news/gpds-sequel-to-its-handheld-windows-gaming-pc-is-far-more-powerful
GPD’s Win 2 mobile gaming rig will outperform the first by mile, but not the price. Tue, 19 Dec 2017 18:26:48 +0000techradar.com
Chinese manufacturer GPD has carved out a niche for itself making some impressive portable PCs, and the firm – which produced the GPD Pocket that we recently reviewed and liked – is coming out with a sequel to its popular handheld Windows gaming PC.

The GPD Win 2 is being fired up as a campaign on Indiegogo, and the new model features some considerable upgrades over the original. However, the price has also been jacked up to $699 (around £520, AU$915), or $599 (around £450, AU$785) for those who commit to buying the device in advance on Indiegogo, when it goes live on the crowdfunding site sometime in the middle of January.

So, what upgrades are we talking about? The Win 2 goes with a half-inch larger 6-inch display – although it keeps the 1,280 x 720 resolution – and bumps up the processor to an Intel Core m3-7Y30 capable of Intel Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz (with integrated Intel HD Graphics 615). That’s a solid jump from the previous Atom CPU.

The machine doubles up system RAM to 8GB, too, and also doubles storage to 128GB, making use of an M.2 SSD this time around instead of slower eMMC flash. That will definitely mean much nippier general performance all-around.

Pricing and performance

While this spin on a handheld gaming PC is certainly a smart concept that will doubtless appeal to some, there are flies in the ointment here – pricing being the biggest.

The original GPD Win can be picked up for as cheap as $300 (or £230, AU$405) these days, at least if you import from a Chinese online retailer. It wasn’t all that much more expensive when it came out, and the Win 2 looks to be a considerable jump in price, which could be a definite stumbling block.

The other bone of contention is managing expectations around such a portable gaming device, and the sort of performance oomph it’s capable of mustering.

You obviously can’t expect the world, but the Win 2 looks interesting from some early benchmarks and clips, which include video of the device running the likes of Grand Theft Auto V. Detail levels need to be dialed right back, of course, to get anything like a smooth-ish frame rate.

That said, even that running these games is possible is pretty neat, even if they have to be cut back considerably in terms of the visuals. And, there are already lists of some quite nifty games which run well enough on the original GPD Win over on the Steam forums.

And, speaking of Steam, at least while you’re at home with the device near your gaming PC, you’ll be able to stream titles across to it, which is another definite boon.

Via and Image Credit: Liliputing

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Best iPad apps 2017: download these now http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/top-230-best-ipad-apps-2013-681998 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/tablets/top-230-best-ipad-apps-2013-681998
You’ve got yourself an Apple tablet, and you’re bewildered by the sheer volume of apps. Just download these, and your life will be better. Tue, 19 Dec 2017 14:54:00 +0000techradar.com
It’s the apps that really set iOS apart from other platforms – there are higher quality apps available on the App Store for the iPad than any other tablet. So which ones are worth your cash? And which are the best free apps?

Luckily for you we’ve tested thousands of the best iPad apps so that you don’t have to. So read on for our selection of the best iPad apps – the definitive list of what applications you need to download for your iPad now.

  • Haven’t bought an iPad yet and not sure which is best? We’ve got them listed on our best iPad ranking – or you can check out the best tablets list to see the full range available now.

If you are looking for games, then head over to Best iPad games – where we showcase the greatest games around for your iOS device. Or if you're using an iPhone 7 (or one of its excellent brethren) head over to our best iPhone apps list. And if you're a professional, you may want to head straight to our top business apps.

New: Clip Studio Paint Ex for manga ($8.99/£6.99/AU$11.49 monthly)

Clip Studio Paint Ex for manga brings the popular PC desktop app for digital artists to the iPad. And we mean that almost literally – Clip Studio looks pretty much identical to the desktop release.

In one sense, this isn’t great news – menus, for example, are fiddly to access, but it does mean you get a feature-rich, powerful app. There are loads of brushes and tools, vector capabilities, effect lines and tones for comic art, and onion skinning for animations. It also takes full advantage of Pencil, so pro artists can be freed from the desktop, and work wherever they like.

The app could do with better export and desktop workflow integration, and even some fans might be irked by the subscription model. But Clip Studio’s features and quality mean most will muddle through the former issues and pay for the latter.

Zen Studio is a unique, beautifully conceived painting and coloring app. Instead of giving you a blank canvas for free-form scribbling, Zen Studio opts for a triangular grid. Tap spaces and they fill with your selected color as a note plays. This combination of coloring and ad-hoc melody proves very relaxing – for children and adults alike.

In its free version, this is an entertaining app, but it’s worth grabbing the main $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.99 IAP. This lets you save unlimited drawings (rather than just eight), and unlocks white paint, which acts as an eraser on compositions with white backgrounds.

It also provides access to a slew of tutorials. These have you build up a picture by coloring inside stencils, which even a two-year-old should be able to cope with – and then subsequently scrawl over when the stencils disappear.

Percolator is a photo filter app for ‘brewing’ circular mosaics using a custom recipe. The coffee theme is fanciful, but it is admittedly lovely to see your photo explode into a bunch of bubbles that disappear and then reform when major changes are made to the ‘grind’ (circle size and effect) settings.

Mostly, though, we were impressed by Percolator because its effects range from the bizarre to the beautiful. Some have a kind of classical feel, a few look like high-end art posters, and with careful tweaking of ‘brew’ (pattern and blend) and ‘serve’ (effect and texture) settings, you can even approximate painterly effects.

It’s a pity you can’t save your own custom presets, although the app does at least offer some examples to get you started. For the most part, though, Percolator’s a tasty treat.

Dropped is an app designed to take advantage of the drag and drop feature that made its debut in iOS 11. It’s designed as a temporary resting point – commonly referred to in computing terminology as a ‘shelf’ – for various kinds of data, including URLs, photos, videos, text, emails, notes, and PDFs.

The idea is you can dump a bunch of things on Dropped, and figure out what you want to do with them later. Helpfully, the app automatically organizes items into categories (media; text; URLs; files), although you can also scroll through your entire list in the Recents tab.

Search and rename functionality would be helpful, but otherwise Dropped is a very useful app to have if you’re often moving content around on your iPad. It’s usable, straightforward, and works especially well as a Slide Over app.

Prompts is a writing tool designed for anyone having a hard time getting started. Create a new document and the app draws from over 300,000 unique starting lines and prompts. If you’re not keen on what it provides, tap refresh until you get something suitably inspirational.

As you’re typing away, the app then leaves you alone, but you can at any point tap the prompts icon to get a further helping hand. Often, the suggestions are rather obvious, but that doesn’t mean they’re not helpful.

The app also includes a tracking and statistics system, to try and get you writing regularly. On that basis, it’s a useful training aid to keep your writing ‘muscles’ fit and healthy, even if you naturally gravitate towards Scrivener and iA Writer when it’s time to get down to serious writing.

Little Digits is a new spin on finger counting, making use of the iPad’s large screen, and its ability to recognize loads of fingers pressing down at once.

The app’s most basic mode responds to how many fingers are touching the screen. Use a single digit, and the app chirps ONE! while a grinning one-shaped monster jigs about. Add another finger and the one is replaced by a furry two. You get the idea.

Beyond this, the app offers some basic training in number ordering, addition and subtraction, making it a great learning tool for young children.

But the smartest feature may well be multiple language support and recording. This means you can use the app to learn to count in anything from French to Swedish, and record custom prompts if your own language isn’t supported.

Kaleidoscope is a resolutely production-focused app, designed to take advantage of new functionality found in iOS 11 on modern iPads.

The app’s used to quickly compare the contents of files, images, and folders. It makes great use of drag and drop from Apple’s Files app, and uses colored overlays to clearly outline the differences between two text documents or whatever’s lurking inside a pair of folders.

When comparing images, there are various views (such as a basic A/B switch), but Kaleidoscope’s interpretation of a wipe slider is awkward, having two handles that must be separately positioned. And even with text, there’s one shortcoming, in the iOS app lacking the ‘text merge’ capabilities of its macOS cousin.

Still, if you routinely find yourself juggling folders or text documents, Kaleidoscope may prove an essential part of your iOS toolkit.

SoundForest is a creative sound toy that mashes up minimalist animal stickers and song-making.

Across four environments, you drag stickers from a strip at the bottom of the screen onto your canvas. Each one – be it animal, plant, or landmark – makes a sound that rarely recalls reality. A mandrill, for example, blasts forth a raucous slap bass. It’s colorful, entertaining, and encourages discovery and experimentation.

Once you’ve dotted your stickers about, you can fire up your composition. The sun or moon acts as a playback head, and your stickers animate as your oddball musical masterpiece blasts forth.

Pros may be frustrated by the app’s lack of export functionality, but really SoundForest is more for the masses than them – an approachable, fun way to make a noisy music loop, using a vibrant, unique interface.

Toca Life: Farm is an ambitious and rich exploratory title for kids, inviting them to manage a farm and fashion their own stories.

There are four locations: barn, house, field, and store. Each of them is packed full of elements to interact with. For youngsters, there’s plenty of fun to be had just poking around, making noises, and dragging colorful characters about.

Toca Life: Farm encourages older kids to think a little more. They can grow their own ingredients, which can subsequently be made into food. Animals can be fed and cared for, whereupon it’s possible to reap the rewards of eggs from chickens and milk from cows.

There’s no stress – this title is all about moving at your own pace. Importantly, it also eschews advertising and IAP, ensuring your little farmer can’t accidentally spend real-world cash on virtual hay bales.

Procreate is a powerful, feature-rich digital painting and sketching tool. You immediately get a taste for what’s possible by exploring the example art; and the more you poke around, the more you realize the potential on offer.

Procreate isn’t aimed solely at pros, though. Sure, they’ll love its advanced features – a perspective grid; custom brushes; layer masking; curves. The interface, though, is approachable enough for anyone. The thin strip across the top enables fast access to tool and brush menus; at the side is a bar for quickly adjusting your brush’s size and opacity.

The brush selection is immense, whether you’re into abstract doodling with strange textures, digital takes on traditional media, or something fantastical by way of brushes that paint with ‘light’ atop your creation.

In short: just buy this app, because it’s terrific.

Chambers Thesaurus is a thesaurus for your iPad. You might argue that doesn’t sound like the most exciting app in the world – and you’d be right. But if you do any writing on your iPad, it’s pretty much essential.

On macOS, Apple bundles a thesaurus with its Dictionary app, but this is absent on iOS, which merely attempts to correct spellings. Chambers’ offering therefore fills a void – and it does so in a straightforward, unassuming, highly usable manner.

Entries are clearly laid out, and you get a handy search sidebar in landscape. Pages can be bookmarked, and shared, or sent to equally impressive sister app Chambers Dictionary. If you fancy both, grab the bundle to save a few bucks.

Tayasui Memopad is a drawing tool for iPad that places an emphasis on speed. Its no-nonsense approach gives you a blank canvas on which to scribble, and a small but pleasingly diverse set of tools.

You get the usual brushes and pencils, but also more imaginative fare: blocky ‘pixel’ fingerprinting, and a slightly splodgy India ink pen – the latter being part of the one-off IAP pack. There are no layers or objects – everything you add is burned into the page (although you of course get an undo).

But it’s with image management that Tayasui Memopad really shows its stuff: your images are automatically sent to Photos, and your current canvas is copied to the clipboard when you exit the app, ready for pasting elsewhere.

As a drawing app, you might argue Tayasui Memopad is ultimately quite ordinary – if usable; but as a drawing app designed for efficiency, it excels where it counts.

MaxCurve is a professional-quality photo editor, designed for people who want plenty of control over the images they’re working on. Much of the app is based around curves you typically find in high-end editors such as Photoshop.

Adjusting curves is pleasingly tactile, enabling you to make dramatic or subtle adjustments to colors and exposure settings with ease. It makes many of MaxCurve’s iPad contemporaries seem comparatively crude. Smartly, edits are stored as virtual layers, which can be toggled, and there are also tools for cropping and vignettes.

The app feels at home on iPad, which provides enough space to see your photo and tools, without the latter obscuring the former. MaxCurve could probably do with some quick-fix solutions for things like exposure, but then perhaps that’s missing the point of an app more about careful, considered edits rather than speed.

The Brainstormer is designed to spark ideas when you’re working on a story. In its default state, it’s something of a visual oddity, with three wheels that you spin for a random set-up of plot/conflict, theme/setting, and subject/location. Individual wheels can be locked, and you can swap the wheels for a ‘slot machine’ interface if you prefer.

Although that might seem a bit gimmicky, The Brainstormer can be genuinely useful if you need a little nudge to get going. Also, the app is extensible, vastly broadening its scope. You can buy additional wheels via IAP, such as creature and world builders.

You can also directly edit existing wheels, or create your own from scratch. When you’re fresh out of ideas, a couple of bucks for endless new ones could be a bargain buy that sends you on your way to a best-seller.

Textastic is a text editor geared towards markup and coding. It’s an app that takes a no-nonsense approach – very evident the second you sit before its tasteful, minimal interface.

But that doesn’t mean the app’s heavily stripped back. As you work with Textastic, you realize it’s been cleverly optimized to speed your work along. The custom keyboard row is superb, providing fast access to a slew of handy characters.

Not keen on the way code is presented? Quickly flip to the settings, and tweak the fonts or choose an entirely new theme.

As ever, there are limitations to an iPad editor of this kind, most notably local previews when coding web pages. On that basis, you’re probably not going to create a site from scratch with Textastic.

But with its smart editor, useful settings, Split View support, and a built-in file-transfer system, it’s ideal for making quick changes or typing up Markdown notes when on the move – or on the sofa.

Thinkrolls Kings & Queens is a set of logic and physics tests for children disguised as a game.

Like other Thinkrolls titles, it involves rotund protagonists working their way to the bottom of a series of blocky towers. Their way is regularly barred by various elements that must be successfully manipulated to fashion a way onward.

For example, gears and racks might need combining to create a conveyor belt, or a mirror shifted to reflect light and remove a ghost.

It’s all clever stuff, and also broadly stress-free. There are no time limits at all, and multiple profiles can be set up to cater for several kids on a single device.

And although Kings & Queens is intended for kids between five and eight years old, the interface and design is such that younger children should be able to delve into the adventure, too – albeit perhaps with supervision to initially help them understand the trickier challenges.

Plotagraph+ is a photo editor designed to make snaps more animated. The results are essentially cinemagraphs – stills with subtle looping animations, such as a flowing river within a landscape, or waving hair in an otherwise stationary portrait. With Plotagraph+, though, you add movement to any existing single image, rather than working from a series of stills or a video.

After you load a photo, you drag ‘animation’ arrows across areas you’d like to move, and use masks or anchor points to define sections that should remain stationary. Speed and crop tools add a modicum of further control. It’s all very straightforward.

The effect is specialized, mind, and only works well with certain images. You won’t, for example, find Plotagraph+ successfully animate a human face. But it works wonders on flowing elements (smoke; clouds; water; hair), and can with care be used to craft visually arresting madness based around shots of architecture.

CARROT Weather is a weather app helmed by a HAL-like artificial intelligence that hates humans. As you check whether it’ll be sunny at the weekend, or if you’ll be caught in a deluge should you venture outside, CARROT will helpfully call you a ‘meatbag’ and pepper its forecasts with snark.

That probably sounds like a throwaway gimmick, but it’s actually a lot of fun – adding color and personality to a kind of app usually devoid of both. Most importantly, though, CARROT Weather is a really good weather app.

The forecasts are clearly displayed, the interface is superb, and the Today view widget is one of the best around. There’s even an amusing mini-game for finding ‘collectable’ hidden locations.

There are some downsides: the rainfall/cloud maps are weak, and there are no notifications. But if you’re bored of the straight-laced, dull competition, and fancy a weather app that’s informative and entertaining, CARROT Weather’s well worth the outlay.

Waterlogue is all about transforming photos – or any other picture you care to load – into luminous watercolors. You shoot a photo or open one already on your iPad, and then choose from one of 14 pre-set styles. Waterlogue will then rapidly ‘paint’ your photo in a manner that looks pleasingly authentic.

Although the app doesn’t offer the level of control (nor the endless playback) of Oilist, you do get a few settings. Brush size, lightness, and borders can be amended, each change providing a thumbnail preview you can tap to have Waterlogue repaint your image.

Export size is reasonable (at 250dpi, you’d get roughly an 8 x 6-inch/21 x 16cm print), and the app as a whole is approachable enough for everyone, while being just about authentic enough to appeal even to those who dabble in real paint.

Axel Scheffler’s Flip Flap Safari is an entertaining digital take on those children’s games where you create weird and wonderful (and occasionally terrifying) creatures by combining different body parts. Here, you get tops and bottoms to swipe between, in order to construct the likes of a ‘zeboceros’ or ‘crocingo’.

Each animal is nicely illustrated and comes with two verses of text, which the app can optionally read aloud. Also, note you don’t have to create strange new animals – you can instead match halves to make normal ones.

Perfect for when your resident tiny person is getting a bit perplexed at seeing a grinning elephant propped up by a spindly pair of flamingo legs.

With Hyp, you’re essentially in digital lava lamp territory. Drag about your iPad’s display, and you’re treated to an ethereal – if somewhat neon – light show that mutates and evolves as you experiment. Ramp up the volume and a soothing responsive soundtrack plays, sucking you further into the chill-out zone.

For the outlay, that alone would do the job, but double-tap and Hyp offers more. You can snap a shot of the current pattern, adjust the speed and complexity of the animation, or prod a randomizer to shake up what you’re seeing and hearing.

We’d love to see an autoplay option too, so Hyp could be played indefinitely with the iPad in a stand; otherwise, this is a simple, smart, engaging slice of digital ambience.

Affinity Photo is the kind of app that should extinguish any lingering doubt regarding the iPad’s suitability as a platform for creative professionals. In essence, the app brings the entirety of Serif’s desktop Photoshop rival (also called Affinity Photo) to Apple’s tablet, and carefully reimagines the interface for touch.

You’ll need at least an iPad Air 2 to run the app, but an iPad Pro for best performance. Then also armed with a digit and/or Apple Pencil, you can delve into a huge range of features for pro-level image editing, creation and retouching.

The live filters and liquify tools are particularly impressive, responding in real-time as you work on adjustments, and make for a surprisingly tactile editing experience. But really pretty much everything’s great here for anyone who wants properly high-end photo editing on their iPad.

Although Addy doesn’t really offer anything new, this is an app that does an awful lot right. It manages to make adding text to images fun, along with providing a no-nonsense interface that marries usability and power.

Load a photo and you can add art, text, and effects, before sharing it. ‘Art’ comprises slogans, shapes, and clip art. This can be recolored and resized, and you can add shadows and adjust opacity. Text is similarly easily added, and there are straightforward spacing and alignment options for tidying typography.

Finally, the effects comprise filters and overlays, the latter being eye-catching but limited in terms of application (you can adjust opacity but not, say, rotation). Still, as a package, Addy’s easy to love, given the speed at which you can work and the quality of the end result.

If you’re only occasionally adding text to an image you might be fine with a free app, but the ease of use and quality results make Addy worth a fiver for everyone else.

There are full-on screenwriting tools for iPad, such as Final Draft, but Untitled is more like a smart notepad – an app for a first draft until you feel ready for, um, Final Draft.

You jot down ideas, and don’t worry about formatting – because the app deals with that. In some cases, it does so automatically – write “Inside TechRadar HQ at midday” and Untitled will convert it to “INT: TECHRADAR HQ – MIDDAY” in the full preview (which can be exported to PDF or HTML).

For dialogue, place the character’s name above whatever they’re saying and Untitled correctly lays everything out.

Some other formatting needs you to remember the odd character – ‘>’ before a transition and ‘.’ before a shot. But that’s not too heavy on the brain, leaving you plenty of headspace to craft your Hollywood breakthrough.

On the Mac, PDF Expert 6 is a friendly, efficient, usable PDF editor. If anything, the app’s often even better on iPad.

You can grab PDFs from iCloud or Dropbox. Pages can be rearranged by drag-and-drop, and you can add or extract pages with a few taps. Adding pages from another document sadly remains beyond the app, but you can merge two PDFs in its file manager.

As a reader, PDF Expert 6 fares well, ably dealing with large PDFs, and the text-to-speech mode can read documents at a speed of your choosing. Similarly, the app makes short work of annotations, document signing, and outline editing.

Buy the ‘Edit PDF’ IAP ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 on top of the original price) and you can directly update text, redact passages, and replace images. You’re obviously a little limited by a document’s existing fonts and layout, but this functionality is great if you spot a glaring error while checking a vital PDF on your iPad.

With visible pixels essentially eradicated from modern mobile device screens, it’s amusing to see retro-style pixel art stubbornly clinging on.

But chunky pixels are a pleasing aesthetic, evoking nostalgia, and you know thought’s gone into the placement of every dot. Pixaki is an iPad pixel art ‘studio’, ideal for illustrators, games designers, and animators.

At its most minimal, the interface shows your canvas and some tool icons: pencil; eraser; fill; shapes; select; color picker. But there are also slide-in panels for layers/palettes, and the frame-based animation system.

Bar a slightly awkward selection/move process, workflow is sleek and efficient (not least with the superb fill tool, which optionally works non-contiguously across multiple layers), and the app has robust, flexible import and export options.

Perhaps most importantly, Pixaki’s just really nice to use – more so than crafting similar art on a PC or Mac, and although pricey it’s worth the money for anyone serious about pixel art.

The iPad may not be an ideal device for shooting photos, but its large screen makes it pretty great for editing them. And Mextures is perhaps the finest app around for anyone wanting to infuse their digital snaps with character by way of textures, grunge, and gradients.

The editing process is entirely non-destructive, with you building up effects by adding layers. In each case, textures, blend modes and rotation of scanned objects can be adjusted to suit, and you can experiment without fear of edits being ‘burned in’.

Particularly interesting combinations can be saved as ‘formulas’ and shared with the Mextures community – or you can speed along your own editing by downloading one of the many formulas that already exist.

There are quite a few dictionary apps on iPad, and most of them don’t tend to stray much from paper-based tomes, save adding a search function. LookUp has a more colorful way of thinking, primarily with its entry screen. This features rows of illustrated cards, each of which houses an interesting word you can discover more about with a tap.

The app is elsewhere a mite more conventional – you can type in a word to confirm a spelling, and access its meaning, etymology, and Wikipedia entry.

The app’s lack of speed and customization means it likely won’t be a writer’s first port of call when working – but it is an interesting app for anyone fascinated by language, allowing you to explore words and their histories in rather more relaxed circumstances.

First impressions of Oilist might lead you to think it’s yet another filter app. And to some extent it is, given that Oilist enables you to feed it a photo and end up with something resembling an oil painting.

However, Oilist also has much in common with generative creativity apps, since it keeps painting over and over, to mesmerizing effect. Additionally, it’s not an app where you select a preset and then sit back and wait – instead, while Oilist is painting, you can adjust settings, and even splatter the virtual canvas with ‘chaos’ paint if the mood takes you.

This is all entertaining in and of itself, but Oilist also has practical benefits – at any point, you can snap the in-progress painting, and the resulting high-res image can be exported for sharing online or even printing on a canvas.

There are so many amazing music-making apps on iPad that it’s hard to choose between them. With Audiobus 3, you sort of don’t have to, because it acts as a kind of behind-the-scenes plumbing.

Virtual cabling might not sound sexy, but it hugely boosts creative potential. You can send live audio or MIDI data between apps and through effects, mix the various channels, and then send the entire output to the likes of GarageBand.

Much of these features are new to Audiobus 3, and this latest update also adds Audio Unit support, enabling you to open some synths and effects directly in the app.

With support for over 900 iOS products in all, Audiobus 3 is an essential buy for anyone serious about creating music on an iPad.

Young children love wooden puzzles, where you plug a load of letters into letter-shaped holes (with a little luck, ones that actually fit). The thing is, those puzzles never change, whereas Endless Alphabet has over a hundred words to play with.

On selecting a word, a horde of colorful monsters sprints across the screen, scattering the letters, which must then be dragged back into place. As you do so, the letters entertainingly grumble and animate. Once the entire word’s complete, a short cut-scene plays to explain what it means.

From start to finish, Endless Alphabet is an excellent and joyful production. The interface is intuitive enough for young toddlers to grasp, and the app’s tactile nature works wonderfully on the iPad’s large display.

The ‘pro’ bit in Redshift Pro’s name is rather important, because this astronomy app is very much geared at the enthusiast. It dispenses with the gimmickry seen in some competing apps, and is instead packed with a ton of features, including an explorable planetarium, an observation planner and sky diary, 3D models of the planetary bodies, simulations, and even the means to control a telescope.

Although more workmanlike than pretty, the app does the business when you’re zooming through the heavens, on a 3D journey to a body of choice, or just lazily browsing whatever you’d be staring at in the night sky if your ceiling wasn’t in the way.

And if it all feels a bit rich, the developer has you covered with the slightly cut down – but still impressive – Redshift, for half the outlay.

Generally speaking, music apps echo real-world instruments, as evidenced by the piano keyboards found in the likes of GarageBand. KRFT is different – along with creating loops and riffs (either by bashing out a tune on a grid of pads, or tapping out notes on a piano roll), you also create the play surface itself.

Designing your instrument in KRFT is all based around shapes and icons – diamonds trigger loops, dials adjust sound properties, and squares can be set to trigger several loops at once.

Admittedly, staring at a blank canvas can intimidate, because you must consider composition and instrument construction as one. But KRFT bundles several inspirational demos to show what it can do – and they’re so much fun they might be worth the entry fee on their own.

Billing itself as a kind of 3D sketchbook, isolad is designed for people who want to quickly draw isometric artwork. Its toolset is simple – you get a line tool for connecting magnetic dots, a shape fill tool, undo, panning and zooming.

That might sound reductive, but isolad’s straightforward nature means anyone can have a crack at doodling the next Monument Valley, and you end up focusing more on what you’re creating rather than being deluged by a load of tools you’ll never use.

Future updates promise the addition of selections and layers, but for now isolad’s elegant simplicity is enough to make it a winning app.

The idea behind Printed is to transform your photos into vintage printed art. You load a photo (or choose from one of the demo images), press a filter, and are suddenly faced with something that could have fallen out of a 50-year-old book, or been posted on a wall many decades ago.

But Printed is more than a tap-and-forget filter app: beyond the filter selection are tools for adjusting dot pitch, brightness, borders, and color saturation.

There are some shortcomings: changes to settings are initially displayed as a thumbnail you tap to approve, which only then gets rendered at full-size (whereupon it may look different from how you thought it would); and landscape orientation appears to have been an afterthought.

But on a large iPad display, the actual filters – which are excellent – are shown off to their fullest, in all their retro dotty glory.

If you’re the kind of person who likes spinning virtual decks, you’ll tell right away with djay Pro that you have in your hands something special. On the iPad – and especially on an iPad Pro – the app has room to breathe, lining up all kinds of features for being creative when playing other people’s music.

You get four-deck mixing, a sampler, varied waveform layouts, and useful DJ tools like cue points and beat-matching. There are also 70 keyboard shortcuts for quickly getting at important features, such as matching keys and adjusting levels.

For a newcomer, it’s perhaps overkill, and the similarly impressive djay 2 is cheaper. But if you’ve got the cash, djay Pro is a best-in-class app suitable for everyone – right up to jobbing DJs.

Even iPads with the largest amount of storage can’t cope with a great deal of on-board video. Infuse Pro is designed to access your collection, without any of it needing to be on your device.

The app connects to local drives and cloud services, and plays a wide range of file types, including MOV, MKV and VIDEO_TS. If the files are named sensibly, Infuse downloads cover art and can optionally grab soft subtitles. The interface throughout is superb.

On iPad, you also get full support for Split View and picture-in-picture, so you can pretend to work while watching your favorite shows. And if you continue on another device – this universal app is compatible with iPhone and Apple TV – cloud sync lets you pick up where you left off.

Reasoning that sketchbooks aren’t complicated, and so nor should your iPad be, Linea offers a friendly approach to digital sketching. The main interface puts all of the app’s tools within easy reach – colors on the left, and layers and brushes on the right. Scribble nearby and they get out of the way, or you can invoke full-screen with a tap.

There’s Pencil support, but no pressure sensing by other means. Also, although some of the pens offer blend modes, the end result still looks quite digital rather than realistic. Even so, Linea’s straightforwardness and smart design tends to make it a joy to use, even if the app lacks the range of some of its contemporaries.

If you find iMovie isn’t quite doing it for you from a video editing standpoint, take a look at LumaFusion. This multitrack editor is designed with the more demanding user in mind, and is packed full of features to keep you editing at your iPad rather than nipping to a Mac or PC.

The main timeline provides you with three tracks for photos, videos, titles and graphics, and you get another three audio tracks for complex audio mixes involving narration and sound effects. Should you wish to take things further, LumaFusion includes a slew of effects and clip manipulation tools seemingly brought over from the developer’s own – and similarly impressive – LumaFX.

Occasionally, the app perhaps lacks some of the elegance iMovie enjoys, and LumaFusion is certainly a more involved product than Apple’s. But if you want fully-fledged video editing on your iPad, it’s hard to think of a better option.

On iPhone, Hipstamatic lets you switch between a virtual retro camera and a sleek modern camera app. On iPad, it all goes a bit weird, with the former option giving you a camera floating in space, and the latter making you wonder why you’d use a tablet for taking snaps.

But Hipstamatic nonetheless gets a recommendation on the basis of other things it does. Load an image from your Camera Roll, and you can delve into Hipstamatic’s editor. If you’re in a hurry, select a predefined style – Vintage; Cinematic; Blogger – and export.

Should you fancy a bit more fine-tuning, you can experiment with lenses, film, and flashes. And plenty of other adjustments are available, too, such as cropping, vignettes, curves, and a really nice depth of field effect.

Wikipedia is, in reality, a massive web of articles, but when browsing, it looks more like a sea of links. WikiLinks rethinks exploring Wikipedia through the use of spider diagrams, providing a clever visual overview of the relationship between subjects.

On iPhone, you switch between views, but the app makes use of the iPad’s larger display by splitting it in two. On the left is your mind map, which grows as you tap on new articles. On the right is your current selection to peruse.

As a reader, WikiLinks is less remarkable – article sections irritatingly begin life collapsed, and it all feels a bit cluttered. But when using Wikipedia for research, no other app is so helpful in enabling you to see the links between the site’s many pages.

If your iPad’s sitting around doing nothing while you work on a Mac or PC, Duet Display can turn it into a handy second screen for your desktop or notebook.

You fire up the app on your iPad and a companion app on your computer, and connect the two devices using a cable – like it’s 2005 or something. Minimalist fetishists might grumble, but a wired connection means there’s almost no lag – even when using Duet Display’s highest detail settings and frame rates.

With macOS Sierra, you also get one extra goodie: a virtual Touch Bar. So you needn’t splash out on a brand-new MacBook Pro to check out Apple’s latest interface innovation – you can use Duet Display instead.

Carl Burton’s Islands: Non-Places is listed in the App Store as a game, but don’t believe a word of it. Really, this ten-scene artistic endeavor is a surreal, mesmerizing semi-interactive animated film.

Each ‘non-place’ is somewhere you’d usually ignore or stay only on a very temporary basis, but here, the mundane is subverted through unusual and unexpected juxtapositions.

You’ll find yourself staring at a luggage carousel, before the bags begin a lazy Mexican wave. Elsewhere, palm trees ride mall escalators, while a run-of-the-mill seating area is suddenly flooded, a warning siren slicing its way through inane background chatter.

The result is frequently disorientating, but Islands also has the capacity to surprise, and is often oddly beautiful.

There are plenty of apps out there that attempt to transform images into something that might once have appeared on the screen of an ancient piece of computer hardware, but none match Retrospecs.

You either take a photo or load an image from your iPad and then select a preset. You get everything from the chunky character-oriented Commodore PET, through to relatively powerful fare such as the detailed 16-bit graphics of the SNES and Atari ST.

From an authenticity standpoint, Retrospecs wins out, but the app also affords plenty of tweaking potential. You can switch modes for those machines that offered multiple resolutions, choose alternate dither patterns, and adjust contrast, vibrancy, and other settings. Best of all, you can use any of the existing presets as the basis for your own unique slice of retro-filter joy.

It’s concert time for the motley crew of Toca Band, in this toy designed to help kids explore music creatively. (And, um, adults who might get sucked in a bit.)

It’s all very simple: drag weird cartoon characters (each of which plays their own instrument) to spots on the stage, and they automatically jam along with the only song that Toca Band appears to know. Lob a musician at the star and they start a unique solo improv with a modicum of user control.

Toca Band is a very sweet app, which even toddlers should be able to grasp. A word of warning, though: that Toca Band riff will quickly become an earworm you’ll be hard pressed to remove. 

iA Writer provides a writing environment suitably focused for iPad, but that also makes nods to the desktop.

The main screen is smartly designed, with a custom keyboard bar offering Markdown and navigation buttons; if you’re using a mechanical keyboard, standard shortcuts are supported.

Further focus comes by way of a typewriter mode (auto-scrolling to the area you’re editing) and graying out lines other than the one you’re working on.

Elsewhere, you get an optional live character count, iCloud sync, and a robust Markdown preview. We’d like to see a split-screen mode for the last of those (as per the Mac version), but otherwise iA Writer’s a solid, effective and affordable minimal writing app for iPad.

1972’s ARP Odyssey was a classic of the era, and reborn in 2015 with a smart new design and modern connectors. Now, the duophonic synth is on iPad and, if anything, the digital incarnation beats the hardware original.

With ARP ODYSSEi, you still get the many synthesis controls of the real-world kit, allowing for a huge diversity of sound. The sliders are a mite fiddly, but any frustration is mitigated by the wealth of presets and ability to save your own.

The best bit, though, is the programmable arpeggiator, which transforms sounds into rich, exciting loops. Sadly, the feature is omitted from ODYSSEi’s Korg Gadget incarnation, but as a standalone synth for iPad, this one’s hard to beat.

We're not sure what makes this edition of the famous mockney chef's recipe book 'ultimate', bar that word being very clearly written on the icon.

Still, Jamie Oliver's Ultimate Recipes is certainly a very tasty app. The 600 recipes should satisfy any given mood, whether you're after a sickeningly healthy salad or fancy binging on ALL THE SUGAR until your teeth scream for mercy.

Smartly, every recipe offers step-by-step photos, so you can see how badly you’re going wrong at any point. And when you've nearly burned down the kitchen, given up and ordered a pizza, you can watch the two hours of videos that reportedly tell you how to "become a real kitchen ninja".

Note: this doesn't involve wearing lots of black and hurling sharp objects at walls, sadly.

Music-creation apps can overwhelm, even when trying to be friendly. Lily neatly takes a rather more playful – if slightly twee – stab at having you make tunes.

You start by selecting a color and shape. The former dictates an instrument and the latter the number of leaves on your lily. Tap + to open the flower, and then the flower itself to access a pulsating playback head.

You then tap spaces to lay down notes, which can be shifted entire octaves by prodding adjacent vertical lines. Repeat the process with more lilies and you'll soon have an oddly delicate cacophony serenading your ears.

Lily's a very sweet app. It's perhaps a touch too abstract to be as immediate as it wants to be, but all becomes clear with a little play. We do wish songs could be saved (although you can export a recording) – the lives of these lilies are all too fleeting.

So, you’ve picked up an iPad synth to compose music, play live, or bound about like a maniac, pretending you're on stage at Glastonbury. Fortunately, Poison-202 is ideal for all such sets of circumstances.

The moody black and red graphic design is very 1990s, but it's Poison-202's sounds that hurl you back to the halcyon days of electronic music. Aficionados of The Prodigy, Chemical Brothers and Orbital will be overjoyed at the familiar (and brilliant) sounds you can conjure up simply by selecting presets and prodding a few keys.

And if you're not satisfied by the creator's (frankly awesome) sound design smarts (in which case, we glare at you with the menace of a thousand Keith Flints), all manner of sliders and dials enable you to create your own wall-wobbling bass and ear-searing leads.

There are iPad synths that have more ambition, and many are more authentic to classic hardware; but few are more fun.
 

For free, Ferrite Recording Studio provides the means to record the odd bit of audio, bookmark important bits, and mash together a few such recordings into something resembling a podcast. But pay the $19.99/£14.99 IAP and this app gives desktop podcast-creation products a run for their money.

Using the smartly designed interface, you can import clips and sounds from various sources, craft multi-track edits that make full use of slicing, fading, ducking, and silence stripping, and add professional effects to give vocals that bit of extra punch.

On an iPhone, this is an impressive app, but on iPad, the extra screen space you get makes for significantly faster editing of your audio and a far superior user experience compared to the cramped screen.

Rather than be all things to all people, Zen Brush 2 is a painting app with a sense of focus, emulating the feel of an East Asian ink brush. It's therefore suited to flowing, semi-abstract artistic effort with your finger to offer a digital take on calligraphy.

On iPhone’s teeny screen this app feels a little redundant, but it comes alive on the iPad's larger display, especially if you have a stylus. The selection of tools is intentionally limited to keep you focused, but you can still swap between a red and black brush, experiment with alternate brush sizes or dryness values and swap out the underlying canvas.

There is a sense of give and take about Zen Brush 2's level of realism: strokes are applied wonderfully, but inks don't interact with each other nor the paper beneath. Still, the strong sense of character gives artwork created in Zen Brush 2 a unique feel and it's a relaxing, almost meditative, app to spend time with.
 

There are loads of great painting apps for illustrators and artists, but Amaziograph tries something a bit different, introducing you to a world of tessellation and symmetries. This makes for an app that has plenty of potential for professional use, but also one that anyone can enjoy.

To begin, you select a style. The simplest is a split-screen mirror, but there are also kaleidoscope-like options, and those that create tiled, repeating patterns. It's then a question of scribbling on the canvas, and watching a pattern form before your eyes.

The toolset is quite basic (with a bafflingly overthought color palette selector), but Amaziograph chalks up a big win when it comes to flexibility.

At any point, you can adjust the settings of the current grid, or choose a different symmetry/tessellation type. This propels the app far beyond 'toy' territory, opening up avenues for creativity regardless of your level of artistic prowess.

As a combination clock and weather app, Living Earth works well across all iOS devices, but use it with an iPad in a stand and you've got something that'll make other clocks in the immediate vicinity green with envy.

As you might expect, your first job with the app is to define the cities you'd like to keep track of. At any point, you can then switch between them, updating the main clock and weather forecasts accordingly. Tap the weather and you can access an extended forecast for the week; tap the location and you get the current times and weather for your defined locations.

But it's the Earth that gets pride of place, taking up the bulk of the screen. It shows clouds by default, although weather geeks can instead choose colors denoting temperature, wind speed or humidity values. Then with a little swipe the globe rotates, neatly showing heavily populated locations during night time as lattices of artificial man-made light.

Whether you need a few minutes of peace or help to fall asleep after hours of stress, Flowing offers meditative splashy reflection. Choose from six scenes, plonk headphones on and then just sit and listen to gorgeous 3D audio recordings of streams, waterfalls and rivers.

Should you feel the need, noodle about with the parallax photo – although that’s frankly the least interesting bit of the app.

There is room for screen interaction though – the slider button gives you access to a mixer, to trigger ambient soundtracks by composer David Bawiec, and add birdsong and rain; while the Flowing icon houses guided meditations by Lua Lisa.

There’s also a timer, so you can fall asleep to a gently meandering brook without it then burbling away all night. In all, even if you don’t make use of every feature, Flowing is an effective, polished relaxation aid.

Animation can be painstaking, whether doing it for your career or just for fun. Fortunately, Stop Motion Studio Pro streamlines the process, providing a sleek and efficient app for your next animated masterpiece.

It caters to various kinds of animation: you can use your iPad’s camera to capture a scene, import images or videos (which are broken down into stills), or use a remote app installed on an iPhone. Although most people will export raw footage to the likes of iMovie, Stop Motion Pro shoots for a full animation suite by including audio and title capabilities.

There are some snags. Moving frames requires an awkward copy/paste/delete workaround. Also, drawing tools are clumsy, making the app’s claim of being capable of rotoscoping a tad suspect. But as an affordable and broadly usable app for crafting animation, it fits the bill.

Scanners for iPad have come a long way from their roots as souped-up camera apps, and Scanbot 6 is making a play to be the only one on your iPad – by doing way more than just scanning.

The basics are ably dealt with – the app automatically locates documents in front of your iPad’s camera (assuming there’s contrast with the desk underneath), and you can crop, rotate, color-adjust, and save the result.

Buy the Pro IAP, though, and Scanbot becomes far more capable. It’ll run OCR text recognition on any document, and attempt (with a reasonable degree of success) to extract details for single-tap ’actions’, such as triggering a phone call or visiting a website, based on what it finds.

There are annotation and PDF signing tools, and the means to reorder pages in multi-page documents. So rather than being a tap-and-done scanner, this app keeps helping once the scans are done, making it an essential purchase for the office-oriented. (We do miss the smiling robot icon, though – the new one is so dull.)

For the majority of iPad users, Apple’s iMovie is the go-to app for cutting footage and spitting out a movie. However, Pinnacle Studio Pro is a great option for anyone who wants a more desktop-like video editing experience.

The interface is efficient, enabling you to pre-trim clips, and quickly navigate your in-progress film by way of a standard timeline, or quickly jumping to scenes by tapping clip thumbnails. Additionally, there are tools for complex audio edits across three separate tracks, and adjusting a clip’s rotation.

The only downside is an initial feeling of complexity and an ongoing sense of clutter – this isn’t an especially pretty app. However, it is a usable, powerful and effective one, and that more than makes up for any niggles.

Another example of a book designed for kids that adults will sneak a peek at when no-one's watching, Namoo teaches about the wonders of plant life. Eschewing the kind of realistic photography or illustration you typically see in such virtual tomes, Namoo is wildly stylized, using an arresting low-poly art style for its interactive 3D simulations.

Each of these is married with succinct text, giving your brain something to chew on as you ping the components of a plant's cells (which emit pleasingly playful – if obviously not terribly realistic – sounds and musical notes) or explore the life cycle of an apple.

There are plenty of apps that enable you to plonk text over photos, but Over excels when it comes to control. Load a photo (or start with a blank canvas) and you can add words, stickers and additional imagery, gradually fashioning a card, poster or slice of social media genius.

For free, you get the basic app, but a one-off IAP unlocks handy additional features, such as drop shadows and adjustments. In combination with editable layers and saved projects, these things make Over resemble something you’d find on the desktop, albeit with the kind of intuitive and immediate interface you only find in the best iPad apps.

On the desktop, Scrivener is widely acclaimed as the writer’s tool of choice. The feature-rich app provides all kinds of ways to write, even incorporating research documents directly into projects. Everything’s always within reach, and your work can constantly be rethought, reorganised, and reworked.

On iPad, Scrivener is, astonishingly, almost identical to its desktop cousin. Bar some simplification regarding view and export options, it’s essentially the same app. You get a powerful ‘binder’ sidebar for organizing notes and documents, while the main view area enables you to write and structure text, or to work with index cards on a cork board.

There’s even an internal ‘Split View’, for simultaneously smashing out a screenplay while peering at research. With Dropbox sync to access existing projects, Scrivener is a no-brainer for existing users; and for newcomers, it’s the most capable rich text/scriptwriting app on iPad.

At the last count, there were something like eleven billion sketching apps for iPad, and so you need something pretty special to stand out. Concepts shoots for a more professional audience – architects, designers, illustrators, and the like – but in doing so presents a far more flexible product than most.

When scribbling on the infinite canvas, you’re drawing vector strokes, which can be individually selected and adjusted. The tools area is customizable and colors are selected using a Copic color wheel.

Pay the pro IAP and you unlock all kinds of features, including precision tools and shape guides, endless layers, and the means to export your work as high-res imagery, SVG, DXF or PSD. In use, whether using a finger or stylus, Concepts is elegant and usable but powerful.

So for free, this is an excellent tool for wannabe scribblers, and for the price of a couple of coffees, a high-end digital sketchbook suitable for professionals. Sounds like a bargain either way to us.

Your eyes might pop at the price tag of this iPad synth, but the hardware reissue of this amazing Moog was priced at a wallet-smashing $10,000. By contrast, the Model 15 iPad app seems quite the bargain. To our ears, it’s also the best standalone iOS synth on mobile, and gives anything on the desktop a run for its money.

For people used to messing around with modular synths and plugging in patch leads, they’ll be in heaven. But this isn’t retro-central: you can switch the piano keyboard for Animoog’s gestural equivalent; newcomers can work through straightforward tutorials about how to build new sounds from scratch; and those who want to dive right in can select from and experiment with loads of diverse, superb-sounding presets.

There are plenty of apps that enable you to add comic-like filters and the odd speech balloon to your photos, but Comic Life 3 goes the whole hog regarding comic creation. You select from pre-defined templates or basic page layouts, and can then begin working on a Marvel-worrying masterpiece.

Importing images is straightforward, and you get plenty of control over sound effects and speech balloons. For people who are perhaps taking things a bit too seriously (or actual comic creators, who can use this app for quick mock-ups), there’s a bundled script editor as well.

Oddly, Comic Life 3’s filters aren’t that impressive, not making your photos look especially hand-drawn. But otherwise the app is an excellent means of crafting stories on an iPad, and you can export your work in a range of formats to share with friends – and Stan Lee.

It’s been a long time coming, but finally Tweetbot gets a full-fledged modern-day update for iPad. And it’s a good one, too. While the official Twitter app’s turned into a ‘blown-up iPhone app’ monstrosity on Apple’s tablet, Tweetbot makes use of the extra space by way of a handy extra column in which you can stash mentions, lists, and various other bits and bobs.

Elsewhere, this latest release might lack a few toys Twitter selfishly keeps for itself, but it wins out in terms of multitasking support, granular mute settings, superb usability, and an interesting Activity view if you’re the kind of Twitter user desperate to know who’s retweeting all your tiny missives.

This music app is inspired by layered composition techniques used in some classical music. You tap out notes on a piano roll, and can then have up to four playheads simultaneously interpret your notes, each using unique speeds, directions and transpositions. For the amateur, Fugue Machine is intuitive and mesmerising, not least because of how easy it is to create something that sounds gorgeous.

For pros, it’s a must-have, not least due to MIDI output support for driving external software. It took us mere seconds to have Fugue Machine working with Animoog’s voices, and the result ruined our productivity for an entire morning.

(Unless you count composing beautiful music when you should be doing something else as ‘being productive’. In which case, we salute you.)

There’s a miniature revolution taking place in digital comics. Echoing the music industry some years ago, more publishers are cottoning on to readers very much liking DRM-free content. With that in mind, you now need a decent iPad reader for your PDFs and CBRs, rather than whatever iffy reading experience is welded to a storefront.

Chunky is the best comic-reader on iPad. The interface is simple but customisable. If you want rid of transitions, they’re gone. Tinted pages can be brightened. And smart upscaling makes low-res comics look good.

Paying the one-off ‘pro’ IAP enables you to connect to Mac or Windows shared folders or FTP. Downloading comics then takes seconds, and the app will happily bring over folders full of images and convert them on-the-fly into readable digital publications.

You’re probably dead inside if you sit down with Metamorphabet and it doesn’t raise a smile — doubly so if you use it alongside a tiny human. The app takes you through all the letters of the alphabet, which contort and animate into all kinds of shapes. It suitably starts with A, which when prodded grows antlers, transforms into an arch, and then goes for an amble. It’s adorable.

The app’s surreal, playful nature never lets up, and any doubts you might have regarding certain scenes — such as floaty clouds representing ‘daydream’ in a manner that doesn’t really work — evaporate when you see tiny fingers and thumbs carefully pawing at the iPad’s glass while young eyes remain utterly transfixed.

Pop music is about getting what you expect. Ambient music has always felt subtly different, almost like anything could happen. With generative audio, this line of thinking became reality. Scape gives you a combined album/playground in this nascent genre, from the minds of Brian Eno and Peter Chilvers.

Each track is formed by way of adding musical elements to a canvas, which then interact in sometimes unforeseen ways. Described as music that “thinks for itself”, Scape becomes a pleasing, fresh and infinitely replayable slice of chillout bliss. And if you’re feeling particularly lazy, you can sit back and listen to an album composed by the app’s creators.

Illustration tools are typically complex. Sit someone in front of Adobe Photoshop and they’ll figure out enough of it in fairly short order. Adobe Illustrator? No chance. Assembly attempts to get around such roadblocks by turning graphic design into the modern-day touchscreen equivalent of working with felt shapes — albeit very powerful felt shapes that can shift beneath your fingers.

At the foot of the screen are loads of design elements, and you drag them to the canvas. Using menus and gestures, shapes can be resized, coloured, duplicated and transformed. Given enough time and imagination, you can create abstract masterpieces, cartoonish geometric robots, and beautiful flowing landscapes.

It’s intuitive enough for anyone, but we suspect pro designers will enjoy Assembly too, perhaps even using it for sketching out ideas. And when you’re done, you can output your creations to PNG or SVG.

Typography is something that doesn’t come naturally to everyone. And so while there are excellent apps for adding text to images, you might want more help, rather than spending hours fine-tuning a bunch of misbehaving letters. That’s where Retype comes in.

You load a photo or a piece of built-in stock art, and type some text. Then it’s just a case of selecting a style. The type’s design updates whenever you edit your text, and variations can be accessed by repeatedly prodding the relevant style’s button. Basic but smart filter, blur, opacity and fade commands should cement Retype’s place on your iPad.

The lofty boast with RealBeat is that you can use the app to make music with everything. The remarkable thing is, you really can. The app has eight slots for samples, waiting for input from your iPad’s mic.

You can record snippets of any audio you fancy: your voice; a spoon smacking a saucepan; a pet, confused at you holding your iPad right in front of its face. These samples can then be arranged into loops and songs using a familiar drum-machine-style sequencer and pattern editor.

Completed masterpieces can be exported using Audio Copy and iTunes File Sharing, and the app also integrates with Audiobus.

On the desktop, Panic's Transmit is a perfectly decent FTP client. But when it was first released for iPad, Transmit felt rather more like the future. It was smart and elegant, utilising all of the then-new iOS features, such as Share sheets.

Even today, its interface seems a step beyond its contemporaries — the vibrant icons and dark lists look gorgeous and modern. Most importantly, the app remains very usable, with an excellent drag-and-drop model, smart previews, and support for a huge range of services, including local shared Mac folders.

Calling Editorial a text editor does it a disservice. That’s not to say Editorial isn’t any good as a text editor, because it very much is. You get top-notch Markdown editing, with an inline preview, and also a TaskPaper mode for plain text to-do lists.

But what really sets Editorial apart is the sheer wealth of customisation options. You get themes and custom snippets, but also workflows, which can automate hugely complex tasks. You get the sense some of these arrived from the frustrations at how slow it is to perform certain actions on an iPad; but a few hours with Editorial and you’ll wish the app was available for your Mac or PC too.

Previously known as iDraw, Graphic is now part of the Autodesk stable. Visually, it looks an awful lot like Adobe Illustrator, and it brings some suitably high-end vector-drawing smarts to Apple’s tablet.

All the tools and features you’d expect are present and correct; and while it’s admittedly a bit slower and fiddlier to construct complex imagery on an iPad than a PC, Graphic is great to have handy when you’re on the move. Smartly, the app boasts plentiful export functions, to continue your work elsewhere, and will sync with its iPhone and Mac cousins across iCloud.

One of the curious things about the iPad is the absence of major Adobe apps from the App Store. The creative giant instead seems content with smaller, simpler ‘satellite’ apps, assuming users will continue to rely on the desktop for in-depth work. Pixelmator thumbs its nose to such thinking, reworking the majority of its desktop cousin (itself a kind of streamlined Photoshop) for the iPad.

Given the low price tag, this is an astonishingly powerful app, offering brushes, layers, gorgeous filters, levels editing, and more. You need to invest some time to get the most out of Pixelmator, but do so and the app will forever weld itself to your Home screen.

There are plenty of apps that provide the means to turn photos into messages and poster-style artwork. Elsewhere in this list we mention the excellent Retype, for example. But if you hanker after more control, Fontmania is a good bet.

This isn’t the most complex or feature-rich app of its kind, but it is extremely pleasing to use. On selecting your photo, you can add a filter. Then it’s down to business with typography. The ‘Art’ section houses frames, dividers, shapes and pre-made ‘artworks’. The ‘Text’ section is for typing out whatever you like, and you can choose from a range of fonts.

Really, it’s the interface that makes Fontmania. The simple sidebar is clear and non-intrusive, providing quick access to tools like Color and Shadow. All items added to the canvas can be manipulated using standard iOS gestures, avoiding the awkwardness sometimes seen within this sort of app.

Perhaps best of all, though, Fontmania is a pay-once product. Download and you get access to everything, rather than suddenly discovering a drop shadow or extra font will require digging into your wallet again.

iPad video editors tend to have a bunch of effects and filters lurking within, but with VideoGrade you can go full-on Hollywood. On launch, the app helpfully rifles through your albums, making it easy to find your videos. Load one and you get access to a whopping 13 colour-grading and repair tools.

Despite the evident power VideoGrade offers, the interface is remarkably straightforward. Select a tool (such as Vibrance, Brightness or Tint), choose a setting, and drag to make a change. Drag up before moving your finger left or right to make subtler adjustments.

Smartly, any tool already used gets a little green dash beneath, and you can go back and change or remove edits at any point.

All filters are applied live to the currently shown frame, and you can also tap a button to view a preview of how your entire exported video will look. Want to compare your edit with the original video? Horizontal and vertical split-views are available at the tap of a button. Usefully, favorite filter combinations can be stored and reused, and videos can be queued rather than laboriously rendered individually.

Korg Gadget bills itself as the “ultimate mobile synth collection on your iPad” and it’s hard to argue. You get well over a dozen varied synths, ranging from drum machines through to ear-splitting electro monsters, and an intuitive piano roll for laying down notes.

A scene/loop arranger enables you to craft entire compositions in the app, which can then be shared via the Soundcloud-powered GadgetCloud or sent to Dropbox. This is a more expensive app than most, but if you’re a keen electronic-music-oriented songwriter with an iPad, it’s hard to find a product that’s better value.

There are quite a few apps for virtual stargazing, but Sky Guide is the best of them on iPad. Like its rivals, the app allows you to search the heavens in real-time, providing details of constellations and satellites in your field of view (or, if you fancy, on the other side of the world).

Indoors, it transforms into a kind of reference guide, offering further insight into distant heavenly bodies, and the means to view the sky at different points in history. What sets Sky Guide apart, though, is an effortless elegance. It’s simply the nicest app of its kind to use, with a polish and refinement that cements its essential nature.

Every now and again, you get an app that ticks all the boxes: it's beautiful, audacious, productive, and nudges the platform forwards. This perfectly sums up Coda, a full-fledged website editor for iPad.

The app's graphic design borrows from the similarly impressive Transmit for iOS, all muted greys and vibrant icons. It's a style we wish Apple would steal. When it comes to editing, you can work remotely or pull down files locally; in either case, you end up working in a coding view with the clout you'd expect from a desktop product, rather than something on mobile.

Naturally, Coda is a fairly niche tool, but it's essential for anyone who regularly edits websites and wants the ability to do so when away from the office.

When you’re told you can control the forces of nature with your fingertips that probably puts you more in mind of a game than a book. And, in a sense, Earth Primer does gamify learning about our planet. You get a series of engaging and interactive explanatory pages, and a free-for-all sandbox that cleverly only unlocks its full riches when you’ve read the rest of the book.

Although ultimately designed for children, it’s a treat for all ages, likely to plaster a grin across the face of anyone from 9 to 90 when a volcano erupts from their fingertips.

For most guitarists, sound is the most important thing of all. It’s all very well having a massive rig of pedals and amps, but only if what you get out of it blows away anyone who’s listening. For our money, BIAS FX is definitely the best-sounding guitar amp and effects processor on the iPad, with a rich and engaging collection of gear.

Fortunately, given the price-tag, BIAS FX doesn’t skimp on set-up opportunities either. A splitter enables complex dual-signal paths; and sharing functionality enables you to upload your creations and check out what others have done with the app.

You might argue that Google Maps is far better suited to a smartphone, but we reckon the king of mapping apps deserves a place on your iPad, too. Apple’s own Maps app has improved, but Google still outsmarts its rival when it comes to public transport, finding local businesses, saving chunks of maps offline, and virtual tourism by way of Street View.

Google’s ‘OS within an OS’ also affords a certain amount of cross-device sync when it comes to searches. We don’t, however, recommend you strap your cellular iPad to your steering wheel and use Google Maps as a sat-nav replacement, unless you want to come across as some kind of nutcase.

Adult colouring books are all the rage, proponents claiming bringing colour to intricate abstract shapes helps reduce stress – at least until you realise you’ve got pen on your shirt and ground oil pastels into the sofa.

You’d think the process of colouring would be ideal for iPad, but most relevant apps are awful, some even forcing tap-to-fill. That is to colouring what using a motorbike is to running a marathon – a big cheat. Pigment is an exception, marrying a love for colouring with serious digital smarts.

On selecting an illustration, there’s a range of palettes and tools to explore. You can use pencils and markers, adjusting opacity and brush sizes, and work with subtle gradients. Colouring can be ‘freestyle’, or you can tap to select an area and ensure you don’t go over the lines while furiously scribbling. With a finger, Pigment works well, but it’s better with a stylus; with an iPad Pro and a Pencil, you’ll lob your real books in the bin.

The one niggle: printing and accessing the larger library requires a subscription in-app purchase. It’s a pity there’s no one-off payment for individual books, but you do get plenty of free illustrations, and so it’s hard to grumble.

Podcasts are mostly associated with small portable devices – after all, the very name is a mash-up of ‘iPod’ and ‘broadcast’. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your favourite shows when armed with an iPad rather than an iPhone.

We’re big fans of Overcast on Apple’s smaller devices, but the app makes good use of the iPad’s extra screen space, with a smart two-column display. On the left, episodes are listed, and the current podcast loads into the larger space on the right.

The big plusses with Overcast, though, remain playback and podcast management. It’s the one podcast app we’ve used that retains plenty of clarity when playback is sped up; and there are clever effects for removing dead air and boosting vocals in podcasts with lower production values.

Playlists can be straightforward in nature, or quite intricate, automatically boosting favourites to the top of the list, and excluding specific episodes. And if you do mostly use an iPhone for listening, Overcast automatically syncs your podcasts and progress, so you can always pick up where you left off.

On opening Toca Nature, you find yourself staring at a slab of land floating in the void. After selecting relevant icons, a drag of a finger is all it takes to raise mountains or dig deep gullies for rivers and lakes.

Finishing touches to your tiny landscape can then be made by tapping to plant trees. Wait for a bit and a little ecosystem takes shape, deers darting about glades, and fish swimming in the water. Using the magnifying glass, you can zoom into and explore this little world and feed its various inhabitants.

Although designed primarily for kids, Toca Nature is a genuinely enjoyable experience whatever your age.

The one big negative is that it starts from scratch every time — some save states would be nice, so each family member could have their own space to tend to and explore. Still, blank canvases keep everything fresh, and building a tiny nature reserve never really gets old.

The fairly large screen of the iPad means you can access desktop-style websites, rather than ones hacked down for iPhone. That sounds great until you realise most of them want to fire adverts into your face until you beg for mercy.

Old people will wisely suggest ‘RSS’, and then they’ll explain that means you can subscribe to sites and get their content piped into an app.

Reeder 3 is a great RSS reader for iPad. It’s fast, efficient, caches content for offline use and — importantly — bundles a Readability view. This downloads entire articles for RSS feeds that otherwise would only show synopses.

Like on the iPhone, Reeder’s perhaps a bit gesture-happy, but it somehow feels more usable on the iPad’s larger display. And we’re happy to see the app continue to improve its feature set, including Split View and iPad Pro support, font options for the article viewer, and the means to sync across Instapaper content.

Although Apple introduced iCloud Keychain in iOS 7, designed to securely store passwords and payment information, 1Password is a more powerful system. Along with integrating with Safari, it can be used to hold identities, secure notes, network information and app licence details. It's also cross-platform, meaning it will work with Windows and Android.

And since 1Password is a standalone app, accessing and editing your information is fast and efficient. The core app is free – the company primarily makes its money on the desktop. However, you’ll need a monthly subscription or to pay a one-off $9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99 IAP to access advanced features (multiple vaults, Apple Watch support, tagging, and custom fields).

The vast majority of iPads in Apple’s line-up don’t have a massive amount of storage, and that becomes a problem when you want to keep videos on the device. Air Video HD gets around the problem by streaming video files from any Mac or PC running the free server software. All content is live-encoded as necessary, ensuring it will play on your iPad, and there’s full support for offline viewing, soft subtitles, and AirPlay to an Apple TV.

Perhaps the best bit about the software is how usable it is. The app’s simple to set up and has a streamlined, modern interface – for example, a single tap downloads a file for local storage. You don’t even need to be on the same network as your server either – Air Video HD lets you access your content over the web. Just watch your data downloads if you’re on 3G!

Apple's own Calendar app is fiddly and irritating, and so the existence of Fantastical is very welcome. In a single screen, you get a week view, a month calendar and a scrolling list of events. There's also support for reminders, and all data syncs with iCloud, making Fantastical compatible with Calendar (formerly iCal) for macOS.

The best bit, though, is Fantastical's natural-language input, where you can type an event and watch it build as you add details, such as times and locations. On iPad, we do question the layout a little – a large amount of space is given over to a month calendar view. Still, in portrait or, better, Split View, Fantastical 2 is transformative.

You're not going to make the next Hollywood hit on your iPad, but iMovie's more than capable of dealing with home movies. The interface resembles its desktop cousin and is easy to get to grips with.

Clips can be browsed, arranged and cut, and you can then add titles, transitions and music. For the added professional touch, there are 'trailer templates' to base your movie on, rather than starting from scratch.

And should your iPad be powerful enough, this app will happily work with and export footage all the way up to 4K, which will likely make anyone who used to sit in front of huge video workstations a decade or two ago wide-eyed with astonishment.

Touch Press somewhat cornered the market in amazing iOS books with The Elements, but Journeys of Invention takes things a step further. In partnership with the Science Museum, it leads you through many of science’s greatest discoveries, weaving them into a compelling mesh of stories.

Many objects can be explored in detail, and some are more fully interactive, such as the Enigma machine, which you can use to share coded messages with friends.

What’s especially great is that none of this feels gimmicky. Instead, this app points towards the future of books, strong content being married to useful and engaging interactivity.

It’s not like Microsoft Word really needs introduction. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that itself is under a pretty sizeable rock, you’ll have heard of Microsoft’s hugely popular word processor. What you might not realize, though, is how good it is on iPad.

Fire up the app and you’re greeted with a selection of handy templates, although you can of course instead use a blank canvas. You then work with something approximating the desktop version of Word, but that’s been carefully optimized for tablets. Your brain keeps arguing it shouldn’t exist, but it does — although things are a bit fiddly on an iPad mini.

Wisely, saved documents can be stored locally rather than you being forced to use Microsoft’s cloud, and they can be shared via email. (A PDF option exists for recipients without Office, although it’s oddly hidden behind the share button in the document toolbar, under ‘Send Attachment’, which may as well have been called ‘beware of the leopard’.)

Something else that’s also missing: full iPad Pro 12.9 support in the free version. On a smaller iPad, you merely need a Microsoft account to gain access to most features. Some advanced stuff — section breaks; columns; tracking changes; insertion of WordArt — requires an Office 365 account, but that won’t limit most users.

Presumably, Microsoft thinks iPad Pro owners have money to burn, though, because for free they just get a viewer. Bah.

There are loads of note-taking apps for the iPad, but Notability hits that sweet spot of being usable and feature-rich. Using the app’s various tools, you can scribble on a virtual canvas, using your finger or a stylus. Should you want precision copy, you can drag out text boxes to type into. It’s also possible to import documents.

One of the smartest features, though, is audio recording. This enables you to record a lecture or meeting, and the app will later play back your notes live alongside the audio, helping you see everything in context. Naturally, the app has plenty of back-up and export options, too, so you can send whatever you create to other apps and devices.

For a long while, Paper was a freemium iPad take on Moleskine sketchbooks. You made little doodles and then flipped virtual pages to browse them. At some point, it went free, but now it’s been transformed into something different and better. The original tools remain present and correct, but are joined by the means to add text, checklists, and photos. One other newcomer allows geometric shapes you scribble to be tidied up, but without losing their character.

So rather than only being for digital sketches, Paper’s now for all kinds of notes and graphs, too. The sketchbooks, however, are gone; in their place are paper stacks that explode into walls of virtual sticky notes. Some old-hands have grumbled, but we love the new Paper. It’s smarter, simpler, easier to browse, and makes Apple’s own Notes look like a cheap knock-off.

Apple's Photos app has editing capabilities, but they're not terribly exciting — especially when compared to Snapseed. Here, you select from a number of from a number of tools and filters, and proceed to pinch and swipe your way to a transformed image.

You get all the basics – cropping, rotation, healing brushes, and the like — but the filters are where you can get really creative.

There are blurs, photographic effects, and more extreme options like 'grunge' and 'grainy film', which can add plenty of atmosphere to your photographs. The vast majority of effects are tweakable, mostly by dragging up and down on the canvas to select a parameter and then horizontally to adjust its strength.

Brilliantly, the app also records applied effects as separate layers, each of which remains fully editable until you decide to save your image and work on something else.

Soulver is more or less the love child of a spreadsheet and the kind of calculations you do on the back of an envelope. You write figures in context, and Souvler extracts the maths bits and tots up totals; each line’s results can be used as a token in subsequent lines, enabling live updating of complex calculations. Drafts can be saved, exported to HTML, and also synced via Dropbox or iCloud.

Initially, the app feels a bit alien, given that people have been used to digital versions of desktop calculators since the dawn of home computing. But scribbling down sums in Soulver soon becomes second nature.

We’re big fans of the Foldify apps, which enable people to fashion and customise little 3D characters on an iPad, before printing them out and making them for real. This mix of digital painting, sharing (models can be browsed, uploaded and rated) and crafting a physical object is exciting in a world where people spend so much time glued to virtual content on screens.

But it’s Foldify Dinosaurs that makes this list because, well, dinosaurs. Who wouldn’t be thrilled at the prospect of making a magenta T-Rex with a natty moustache? Should that person exist, we don’t want to meet them.

When someone talks about bringing back the sounds of the 1980s, your head might fill with Human League and Depeche Mode, but if you played games, you’ll instead think of Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway, chip-tune pioneers whose music graced the C64, leveraging the power of the MOS Technology 6581/8580 SID (Sound Interface Device) chip.

SidTracker64 is a niche but wonderfully designed iPad app that’s a complete production package for creating SID tunes. It’s unashamedly retro in terms of sound, but boasts a modern design, with powerful editing and export functionality. If you’re only into raw chip-tune noises, Audiobus and Inter-App Audio are supported; but if you’re an old-hand, you’ll be delighted at the bundled copy of Hubbard’s Commando, ready for you to remix.

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The best free iPhone games on the planet http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/60-best-free-iphone-games-on-the-planet-669893 http://www.techradar.com/news/phone-and-communications/mobile-phones/60-best-free-iphone-games-on-the-planet-669893
The must-have iPhone games that won’t cost you a thing, including the latest top free releases Tue, 19 Dec 2017 11:45:00 +0000techradar.com
The days when you had to buy a dedicated gaming rig and spend a load of cash for a quality gaming experience are long gone. Thanks to the iPhone (and iPod touch) and the App Store, you can get an excellent mobile gaming experience for just a few bucks (or quid, for that matter), or even less.

In fact, a lot of the games out there are free. But can you get great games for nothing at all, or is the 'free' section of the App Store just a shoddy excuse to bombard you with in-app purchases?

The answer is, of course, both. The trick is finding the gems amongst the dross, and what follows are our picks of the bunch: our top free iPhone games, presented in no particular order, including both long-time classics and brilliant cutting-edge recent releases. We've even included a VR game for you… aren't you lucky?

New this week: Cally’s Caves 4

Cally’s Caves 4 continues the adventures of worryingly heavily armed pigtailed protagonist Cally, a young girl who spends most of her life leaping about vast worlds of suspended platforms, shooting all manner of bad guys. For once, her parents haven’t been kidnapped (the plot behind all three previous games in the series) – this time she’s searching for a medallion to cure a curse. But the gameplay remains an engaging mix of console-like running and shooting, with tons of weapons to find (and level-up by blasting things). But perhaps the best sections feature Bera, Cally’s ‘ninja bear cub’ pal. His razor-sharp claws make short work of enemies, resulting in a nice change of pace as the furry sidekick tears up the place.

Infiniroom is an endless runner set inside a claustrophobic room. The dinky protagonist leaps from wall to wall, going in circles and avoiding electrified boxes that periodically pop-up.

Every now and again, a chunk of surrounding wall turns orange, before vanishing and opening things up a bit. But sometimes space within the room turns red – a warning that it’s about to become wall again, and that you really shouldn’t be there when it does. Lasers and whirling saw blades add further complications.

Each character in the game has a special power, designed to increase their longevity. But make no mistake: this is intense twitch gaming of the Super Hexagon kind.

Managing to survive for a minute requires almost superhuman reactions. Just be aware all those short games add up – Infiniroom might be brutal and frustrating, but it’s also hugely compelling.

Sonic Forces: Speed Battle re-imagines Sega’s long-time mascot’s adventures as a 3D lane-based auto-runner. Which is to say that it’s an awful lot like Sonic Dash and Sonic Dash 2, which you may have already played.

The twist here is in the ‘battle’ bit, which pits you against three other human players. As you belt along the track, avoiding traps, you can grab pick-ups – many of which happen to be weapons.

This transforms the slightly throwaway Sonic Dash format into a tense and competitive on-rails racer closer in nature to Mario Kart.

Naturally, there’s still a load of freemium shenanigans stinking the place up a bit, but even for free there’s plenty of blazing fast fun to be had.

BotHeads looks like a low-rent Badland game, with its colorful backgrounds, and levels full of silhouettes. But BotHeads plays very differently, being more about precision than semi-controlled chaos – even if you’re often pelted along against your will.

Your BotHead has two thrusters to keep it aloft. You travel rightwards, towards periodic checkpoints that allow a few seconds’ breathing space. Levels are full of hazards, from pinball-like bumpers that hurl you off-course to giant saw blades.

That wouldn’t be so bad, but the aim is to get through the entire game in one go. By means of ‘encouragement’, the trails of ex-BotHeads from failed attempts appear in the background of subsequent attempts. It all combines to make for an immediate, compelling blend of styles and ideas that’s perfectly suited to iPhone.

Super Phantom Cat 2 is an eye-searingly colorful side-scrolling platform game. Like its predecessor, this game wants you to delve into every nook and cranny, looking for hidden gold, unearthing secrets, and finding out what makes its vibrant miniature worlds tick.

It’s also a game that never seems content to settle – and we mean that in a good way. It revels in unleashing new superpowers, such as a flower you fire at walls to make climbing vines, or at bricks to increase their fragility. It also wants you to experiment, figuring out how critters who are ostensibly your enemies can be coerced into doing your bidding.

The only downside is the presence of freemium elements (ads and an ‘energy’ system) – although both can be removed with inexpensive IAP if you agree this is one cool cat to hang out with.

Anycrate takes the idea of a gunfight and hurls it headlong into absurdist territory. There’s no ‘20 paces’ nonsense here – instead, the two protagonists are on floating stone platforms, leaping about like maniacs and blasting each other with gigantic bullets.

You can share your device to play against a friend (which is admittedly more suitable with an iPad) or play against the AI.

And given that we’re firmly in arcade territory, it should come as no surprise that there are all sorts of power-ups that affect the game in various ways. Medical kits patch up your tiny soldier, but you’re just as likely to blast a crate that unsportingly sends fiery meteors your opponent’s way.

Given that you only get two buttons (Jump and Shoot), there’s a surprising amount going on in Anycrate, not least when you venture into the co-op mode with a friend, and find yourselves battling to protect a pile of bling from tiny ‘magical’ thieves. No, we weren’t expecting that twist either.

Train Bandit isn’t exactly nuanced. It depicts a showdown on top of a train, where a bandit faces off against an endless stream of foes, all of whom are quick on the draw – and armed to the teeth.

The bandit’s not going to take his impending demise lying down – instead, he’ll take as many of the enemies with him as he can. You therefore tap left and right to dart between carriages, kicking enemies in the face before they shoot you.

Make one wrong move and you’re dead. Misread the type of enemy you’re facing and you’re dead. Pause for a fraction of a second too long and you’re dead. You get the picture. But the great thing about being a bandit in a videogame – you can always be resurrected for another quick go.

Data Wing is a neon-infused story-driven racing adventure. It’s also brilliant – a game you can’t believe someone has released for free, and also devoid of ads and IAP.

It starts off as an unconventional top-down racer, with you steering a little triangular ship, scraping its tail against track edges for extra boost. As you chalk up victories, more level types open up, including side-on challenges where you venture underground to find bling, before using boost pads to clamber back up to an exit.

The floaty world feels like outer-space, but Data Wing actually takes place inside a smartphone, with irrational AI Mother calling the shots. To say more would spoil things, but Data Wing’s story is as clever as the racing bits, and it all adds up to the iPhone’s most essential freebie.

Tappy Cat is a rhythm action game, with you playing as a musical moggie. Your cat sits before a ‘tree guitar’, and notes head out from the middle of the screen along two rails. These must be tapped, held, or tapped along with another note, depending on their color.

This is routine for a rhythm action game, but it’s the execution that makes Tappy Cat delightful. It feels perfectly tuned for iPhone (your thumbs can always reach the notes), and there’s a cat-collection meta-game, rewarding you with new kitties when you totally nail a tune.

The only bum notes are a lives system (a video ad will give you five lives – although there is also a $2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49 endless lives IAP for those who want it), and the way in which a single major blunder ends your latest attempt at musical superstardom of the furry kind.

Flat Pack wraps a two-dimensional platform game around three-dimensional shapes. You control a little flying creature tasked with collecting every side of a cube before finding a level’s exit.

But figuring out where to head isn’t straightforward, because in applying a 2D game world to 3D wall surfaces, you can end up facing a different way when entering a plane from a new direction.

Fortunately, the game has a gentle difficulty curve – death means restarting a level, but not collecting cube parts you’ve already found. And Flat Pack slowly introduces its new ideas, such as enemies defeated by smashing them from below.

Should you find the main game discombobulating, there’s also an augmented reality mode, which has you walk around a puzzle with your iPhone. It’s a weird but effective experience.

Memory Path is a simple memory test that showcases how polish and smart design can transform the most basic of concepts into an essential download.

Across 50 levels, you tap left or right to move along a path toward a goal. The twist is the path disappears shortly after you enter a level. Initially, remembering where to go isn’t tough, but later levels are likely to find your adventurer regularly impaled before you finally succeed.

Levels complete, you’ll feel fully trained for the endless modes. Random shuffles the order in which you tackle levels; and Race Path is all about speed – how far you can get before the road ahead vanishes. Sharp isometric graphics, a gentle soundtrack, and unlockable characters further boost the game’s longevity.

Power Hover: Cruise is three endless runners (well, surfers) for the price of one. It borrows the boss battle levels from the superb, beautiful Power Hover, and expands on them. You get to speed through a booby-trapped pyramid, avoid projectiles blasted your way by an angry machine you’re chasing through a tunnel, and whirl around a track that snakes through the clouds.

This is a gorgeous game, with silky animation and minimal, but vibrant objects and scenery. The audio is excellent, too – the rousing electronic soundtrack urging you on.

There are a couple of snags: games can abruptly end due to difficulty spikes, and the controls initially seem floaty. But we grew to love the inertia, which differentiates Power Hover: Cruise and makes it feel like you’re surfing on air. As for the difficulty, spend time learning the hazards and mastering the game, and you’ll soon be climbing the high score tables.

Finger Smash is more or less whack-a-mole with fruit – and a big ol’ dose of sudden death. You get a minute to dish out tappy destruction, divided up into seconds-long rounds.

In each case, you’re briefly told what to smash, and set about tapping like a maniac. Hit the wrong object, and your game ends with a flaming skull taunting you. (Lasting the full minute is surprisingly tough.)

This is a simple high-score chaser, and so there’s understandably not a lot of depth here. However, there are plenty of nice touches. The visuals have an old-school charm, and the music is suitably energetic.

But also, there’s the way you can swipe through multiple items, the bomb that ominously appears during the final ten seconds, and varied alternate graphics sets if you feel the need to squish space invaders, fast food, or adorable cartoon robots. Great stuff.

Spin Addict is an endless runner set in a landscape of endless industrial cogs and sparks. You control a piece of metal you set spinning with a swipe, subsequently tapping to leap, and swiping downwards to flip the ground beneath you.

In the endless mode, played in portrait, you try to get as far as possible – easier said than done when massive pieces of machinery regularly want to flatten you, and your power must be constantly replenished by grabbing golden targets.

There’s also a 15-level challenge mode, which plays out in landscape. This is more about pathfinding – getting to the end of each course intact, having collected as many gems as possible along the way. However you play, Spin Addict is a wonderful app with a properly premium feel (bar the inevitable ads, which can be removed for $0.99/99p/AU$1.49).

Leap On! is an endless jumper with a sadistic streak – at least as far as its bounding protagonist goes. The two-eyed ball is tied to a central spiked star by a huge piece of elastic. Whenever you hold the screen, the hero moves in a clockwise direction.

The snag is hitting the spiked star spells instant doom – as does touching anything else that’s black. At first, this mostly means jumping on white orbs, and avoiding the odd lurking blob, but before long, the star starts lobbing all manner of ball-killing stuff your way.

You can fight back by grabbing power ups and smashing the white bits of projectiles, while chasing dual high scores – how many white orbs you hit, and your furthest distance from the star. Leap On! is admittedly a bit one note, but the pacy, chaotic gameplay very much appeals in short bursts.

Built for Speed is a top-down racer with chunky old-school graphics, and a drag-and-drop track editor. Make a track and it’s added to the pool the game randomly grabs from during its three-race mini-tours; other users are the opposition, with you racing their ‘ghosts’.

Handling’s simple – you steer left or right. Winning is largely about finding the racing line, not smacking into tires some idiot’s left in the road, and not drifting too much.

Initially, though, the game’s so sedate you wonder whether someone mistook an instruction to make it “very 80s” by having it seem like the cars are driven by octogenarians. But a few upgrades later and everything becomes nicely zippy.

The only real snag is the matchmaking doesn’t always work, pitting you against pimped-out cars you’ve no chance against. Still, even if you take a sound beating, another tour’s only ever a few races a way.

Knight Saves Queen is a turn-based puzzle game, based on a knight leaping about a chess board. He moves in a standard ‘L’, aiming to bump off every adversary on the board, before rescuing the queen.

Initially, he’s only faced by pawns, but soon other pieces enter the fray, forcing you to carefully plan your path. Over time, allies also appear, allowing you to further manipulate the opposition, which takes pieces every chance it gets.

The bite-sized nature of the game combined with the smart puzzle design make it ideal freebie fare for mobile. We do, however, take exception at needing perfect runs on every level set to unlock the next – unless, of course, you buy coins via IAP.

Still, if nothing else, this forces you to properly tackle every puzzle, rather than blaze through with the least amount of effort.

Flick Soccer is all about scoring goals by booting a ball with your finger. It looks very smart, with fairly realistic visuals and nicely arcade-y ball movement. You can unleash pretty amazing shots as you aim for the targets, and occasionally bean a defender.

The game includes several alternate modes, providing a surprising amount of variation on the basic theme. There’s a speed option that involves flicking at furious speed, and the tense sudden-death Specialist, which ends your go after three failed attempts to hit the target.

Rather more esoteric fare also lurks, demanding you repeatedly hit the crossbar, or smash panes of glass a crazy person has installed in the goalmouth.

Like real-world sport on the TV, Flick Soccer is a bit ad-infested. You can, though, remove ads with a one-off $0.99/99p/AU$1.99 IAP, or – ironically – turn them off for ten minutes by watching an ad.

Drop Wizard Tower is a superb mobile take on classic single-screen arcade platform games like Bubble Bobble. Your little wizard has been thrown in jail by the evil Shadow Order, and must ascend a tower over 50 levels to give his enemies a good ‘wanding’ (or something.)

It’s all very cute, with dinky pixelated enemies, varied level design (skiddy ice; disappearing platforms; watery bits in which you move slowly), and fast-paced boss battles against gargantuan foes.

Most importantly, it’s very much designed for mobile. You auto-run left or right, and blast magic when landing on a platform. Said blasts temporarily stun roaming enemies, which can be booted away, becoming a whirling ‘avalanche’ on colliding with cohorts.

The auto-running bit disarms at first – in most similar games, the protagonist stays put unless you keep a direction button held. But once the mechanics click, Drop Wizard Tower cements itself as a little slice of magic on your iPhone.

This blast from the past (of PC gaming) masquerades as a racer, but often feels like you’re hunting prey – albeit while encased in a suit of speeding metal.

The freeform arenas find you in a dystopian future where people and cows blithely amble about while deranged drivers smash each other to bits. Victories arrive from completing enough laps, wrecking all your opponents, or mowing down every living thing in the vicinity.

In the 1990s, this was shocking to the point of Carmageddon being banned in some countries. Today, the lo-fi violence seems oddly quaint. But the game’s tongue-in-cheek humor survives, sitting nicely alongside bouncy physics, madcap sort-of-racing, and deranged cops attempting to crush you into oblivion should you cross their path.

One Tap Rally distills the top-down mobile racer into a one-thumb effort. Press the screen and you accelerate; let go and you slow down. In the nitros mode, you can also swipe upward for an extra burst of speed.

It feels a bit like slot-racing, but the tracks are organic and free-flowing, rather than rigid chunks of plastic. Learning each bend and straight is essential to get around without hitting the sides – important because such collisions rob you of precious seconds.

You’re also not alone – One Tap Rally pits you against the online ghosts of other players. Each time you better your score, you improve your rank on the current track, ready to face tougher opponents. This affords an extra layer of depth to what was already an elegant, playable mobile racer.

Crazy Taxi is a port of a popular and superb Dreamcast/arcade title from 1999. You belt around a videogame take on San Francisco, hurling yourself from massive hills, soaring through the air like only a crazy taxi can, and regularly smashing other traffic out of the way.

Given the ‘taxi’ bit in the title, fares are important. Getting them where they want to go in good time replenishes the clock. Excite them and you’re awarded bonuses. Go ‘crashy’ rather than ‘crazy’ and the fare will take their chances and leap out of your cab, leaving you without their cash.

Crazy Taxi looks crude, but still plays brilliantly, and even the touchscreen controls work very nicely. For free, you must be online to play, however – a sole black mark in an otherwise fantastic port (and one you can remove with IAP).

Yeah Bunny is an enjoyable platform game featuring a speeding rabbit, who blazes along in a cartoon world, collecting carrots, grabbing keys, and trying to not get impaled on the many spikes some irresponsible dolt has left lying about.

It’s an auto-runner, so controls boil down to tapping the screen to jump at the most opportune moments. This nonetheless affords you plenty of control, such as double-jumping in mid-air for extra distance, or wall-jumping like a bunny ninja.

The game looks superb, with plenty of neat touches like the smoke trail behind the rabbit. And although it can be frustrating when the furry hero is spiked yet again, you can always continue your progress by watching an ad or dipping into your reserve of collected carrots.

In Fish & Trip, you command a single smiling fish, happily swimming in the ocean depths. Using your finger, you direct the fish towards eggs and other stragglers, the latter of which join you to gradually form a school. Unfortunately, everything else in the sea is hungry for a fish dinner.

At first, you’ll spot spiky anemones and the occasional sluggish green fish with big teeth. But eventually, you’ll be zig-zagging through claustrophobic seas, trying to find new friends to keep your school alive, and avoiding massive sharks that show up to the theme from Jaws.

It’s all rather simple, and may eventually pall. But in the short term at least, Fish & Trip is one of those wonderful and rare iPhone games pretty much guaranteed to plaster a smile on your face.

Topsoil, like its subject matter of gardening, is something that only really works if you’re willing to put in the investment. And that’s because it’s a puzzler that’s easy to grasp within seconds, but that rewards long-term play, as you slowly master new strategies to lengthen your games.

The board is a four-by-four grid, into which you add plants. Every four moves you can harvest a plant – or group of adjacent plants – which turns the soil. A reckless approach soon leaves you with non-contiguous chunks of land and no chance of removing loads of plants at once.

Even when planning ahead, the game’s inherently random nature can rapidly end a game. But Topsoil’s charm and gradual drip-feeding of new items to plant makes for a leisurely and enduring brain-teaser ideal for filling spare moments.

There’s a lot going on in 3D racer NASCAR Heat Mobile. There’s the racing bit, obviously, which is rather nicely done. You find yourself on an oval of tarmac, attempting to slipstream and weave your way to the checkered flag, avoiding a horrible pile-up along the way. It all looks rather smart, even if vehicle movement is occasionally suspect; the controls are simple and responsive too.

Away from the racing, you can delve into a meta-game of sorts, erecting buildings to generate resources that support your little race team’s efforts. This can be a bit of a distraction, but adds depth to the game.

And while the entire package doesn’t hold a candle to the madcap racing in the likes of Asphalt, it works nicely if you fancy speeding along in a manner that’s a bit more grounded.

rvlvr. is an easy game to dismiss. Despite the pleasant piano soundtrack and clear visuals, it doesn’t seem like anything special. You get a bunch of interlocking circles with dots on, and must select and rotate them so the puzzle matches the image at the top of the screen. Easy!

Only rvlvr. is anything but. Once you’ve blazed through the initial levels, everything becomes a mite more complicated. You end up staring at half a dozen or more rings with dots liberally sprinkled about, realizing one wrong move might wreck everything you’ve to that point worked so hard for.

This mix of progression and challenge, alongside rvlvr’s quiet elegance, will keep it rooted to your home screen. And that you can skip any of the 15,000(!) puzzle combinations is a nice touch, ensuring you won’t remain stuck on a single test you can’t get your head around.

There’s ambition at the heart of Full of Stars, which so easily could have been yet another run-of-the-mill tap-based survival game.

Much of your time is spent in space, tapping screen edges to deftly weave your ship through space debris. When possible, you scoop up stardust to charge up your weapons system and a hyperdrive that blasts you towards your destination at serious speed.

But Full of Stars is also a role-playing game of sorts, finding you immersed in a plot that puts humanity on the brink. Along with your deft arcade skills, you’ll need to manage resources and make vital decisions to ensure your survival.

It can get repetitive, and the arcade sections are sometimes harsh, but Full of Stars is a commendable effort at trying something different – a story-driven journey that demands both arcade and strategic smarts.

Swordigo is a love letter to the classic side-scrolling platform adventures that blessed 16-bit consoles. You leap about platforms, slice up enemies with your trusty sword, and figure out how to solve simple puzzles, which open up new areas of the game and move the plot onwards.

The plot is, admittedly, nothing special – you’re embarking on the kind of perilous quest to keep evil at bay that typically afflicts videogame heroes. But everything else about Swordigo shines.

The virtual controls are surprisingly solid, the environments are pleasingly varied, and the pace ranges from pleasant quiet moments of solitude to intense boss battles you’ll struggle to survive. All in all, then, a fitting tribute to those much-loved titles of old.

It appears we’ve got to the stage where taping up boxes is considered a viable subject for an iOS game. Bizarrely, though, Tape it Up! appeals.

It takes place on an endless scrolling conveyor belt, with your little dispenser leaping from box to box as you swipe. It’s easy to grasp, but tough to survive when everything’s moving at breakneck speed.

Grab enough coins and you unlock rather more esoteric dispensers that give the game a surreal edge. You might end up sealing boxes with milk, while cows moo in the background, or controlling a little console-style dispenser while an exciting-looking shoot ’em up taunts you by playing itself below.

Ah well – everyone knows taping up boxes is more fun than blowing up spaceships, right?

Playing football on your own can be dull – that is, unless you’re the sporty hero of Footy Golf. As ever, scoring is the main aim – and there’s a goal to be found somewhere on each course. But along the way, you can also collect coins someone’s generously left lying around.

The controls are straightforward (aim with a directional arrow and then let rip); much of the challenge comes in trying to maximize your star rating by reaching the goal using the fewest possible kicks. You’ll also have to navigate increasingly complex courses as you move through a city, caverns, a factory, and a scorching desert. 

The game’s a bit ad-infested, with a mildly hateful level unlock mechanism that encourages grinding, but played in bite-sized chunks, it’s definitely more ‘match winner’ than ‘own goal’.

You know when a game’s entire App Store description is “an exciting new thumb-sport” that you’re probably not heading for a title with oodles of depth.

And so it proves to be with Jelly Juggle, which is more or less a one-thumb take on Pong that you play by yourself.

Here, a little fish swims in a circle whenever you press the screen, aiming to keep a square jelly in play. If you don’t think that’s hard enough (and, frankly, it is – this game’s like juggling at speed), crabs eventually mosey on in to complicate matters, and new levels open up where you’re juggling multiple jellies.

A simple title, then, but one with immediacy (given how simple it is to grasp) and relentless intensity. Plus, games are short enough that you can probably have several attempts to beat your high score while waiting in a queue at the grocery store.

It’s always the way: there you are, a mage, supplying everything for your town’s increasingly slovenly citizens, when the ruckus from a particularly rowdy party causes a beaker of something potent to fall into your cauldron, blowing up your tower and turning you into a living skeleton. A typical Friday, really.

In Just Bones, the skeleton appears to be in a kind of Groundhog Day scenario, collecting up his various parts across tiny 2D platform game worlds, before flinging himself into a portal and repeating the process somewhere new.

It’s all very silly, but also a novel take on a platform game; and for those who like a challenge, there are some seriously tough speedrun targets to beat.

In this auto-running platformer, titular hero Yobot dodders about cavernous rooms within a robot manufacturing plant. Using his not-very-super powers of jumping and being able to stop a bit, you must help him to the exits, grabbing switches and keys along the way.

The stopping aspect of Yobot Run is complicated by you only having limited stop power – you can’t just sit there for ages, waiting for a moving platform to be just so.

The result is a game where you’re always anxiously searching for a route to the next waypoint, trying to avoid dying on one of the plant’s many hazards.

(Although, frankly, someone needs to have a word with the architect, given the number of spikes the plant has, and the exits being on impossible to reach platforms.)

Although, at its core, this is a fairly standard lane-based survival game (swipe to avoid traffic; don’t crash), Dashy Crashy has loads going on underneath the surface. It’s packed full of neat features, such as pile-ups, a gorgeous day/night cycle, and random events that involve maniacs hurtling along a lane, smashing everything out of their way.

It also cleverly adds value to mobile gaming’s tendency to have you collect things. In Dashy Crashy, you’re periodically awarded vehicles, but these often shake up how you play the game. For example, the cop car can collect massive donuts for bonus points, and an army jeep can call in tanks – just like you wish you could when stuck in slow-moving traffic.

Flinging a plastic disc about isn’t the most thrilling premise for a game, which is why it’s a surprise Frisbee Forever 2 is so good. The game finds a little toy careening along rollercoaster-like pathways, darting inside buildings and tunnels, and soaring high above snow-covered mountains and erupting volcanos.

You simply dart left and right, keeping aloft by collecting stars, and avoiding hazards at all costs – otherwise your Frisbee goes ‘donk’ and falls sadly to the ground. Grab enough bling and you unlock new stages and Frisbees.

This game could have been a grindy disaster, but instead it’s a treat. The visuals are superb – bright and vibrant – and the courses are smartly designed. And even if you fail, Frisbee Forever 2 lobs coins your way, rewarding any effort you put in.

Pixel Craft takes no prisoners. No sooner have you found your feet in your little auto-firing spaceship than hordes of aliens blow you into so much stardust.

Before long, you clock formations and foes, learn to dodge huge arrows fired by a massive space bow, figure out how to avoid kamikaze ships, and discover how to best an opponent that’s apparently ambled in, lost from arcade classic Caterpillar. Then you face a massive boss and get blown up again.

It’s staccato at first, then – even grindy. But Pixel Craft has a sense of fun and urgency that makes it worth sticking with. The aesthetics and controls are impressive, and death always feels fair – to be blamed on your fingers failing you.

But with perseverance comes collected bling and ship upgrades. Then you’re the one dishing out lessons in lasery death!

(At least until you meet the next boss.)

Depending on your way of looking at things, Narcissus is either a weird platform game for one or an amusing 50-level leapy game for two.

The basics are essentially based on the game Canabalt – Narcissus leaps from platform to platform, lest he fall down a gap and go splat. But if you recall your Greek mythology, Narcissus had a reflection; in this game, the reflection is visible on the screen.

The snag is the world in which the two characters jump isn’t a mirror image. For the single player, this makes for a tough challenge, keeping track of two tiny leapers, who often need to jump at different times. With a friend, it’s easier, so long as you don’t hurl your iPhone at a mirror should one of you badly mis-time a jump.

If you’ve played Super Dangerous Dungeons, you’ll be well aware developer Jussi Simpanen knows how to make a cracking platform game. Even so, Heart Star is a disarmingly charming treat.

You aim to guide two friends to a goal in each of the 60 tiny single-screen levels. The chums are typically surrounded by platforms, spikes, and switches – and that’s before you consider the perilous drops into a bottomless void. Also, there’s usually no obvious way for both to reach the goal.

It’s a head-scratcher until you start utilizing Heart Star’s world-swapping. Prod a button to switch character, whereupon the other friend’s platforms vanish. With a combination of brainpower, deft finger-work, and having the friends collaborate – often by one hopping on the other’s head – a solution should present itself, allowing you to continue on your journey.

It’s another vertically-scrolling endless survival game, where you’re pursued by a world-eating evil, but Remedy Rush is novel in subject matter and the way in which it plays.

The basics are familiar: you direct the protagonist by swiping about, aiming to keep ahead of your inevitable demise for as long as possible. But in Remedy Rush, you play as an experimental remedy (such as a cookie or sunglasses) exploring a grid-like infected body.

As you scoot about, toxins are destroyed to open up pathways, and health bursts can be collected to take out any cells and germs that are in your way. Over time, the host gets sicker and the fever more ferocious; when the end comes, you can try again with a new remedy, each one having its own game-altering side-effect.

King Rabbit has some unorthodox enemies. Having kidnapped his rabbit subjects, said foes have dotted them about grid-based worlds they’ve filled with meticulously designed traps.

Mostly, this one is a think-ahead puzzler, with loads of Sokoban-style box sliding. But instead of being purely turn-based fare, King Rabbit adds tense swipe-based arcade sections, with you running from scary creatures armed with rabbit-filleting weaponry.

Really, this isn’t anything you won’t have seen before, but King Rabbit rules through its execution. Visually, everything’s very smart, from the clear, colorful backgrounds to the wonderfully animated hero (and the little jig he does on rescuing a chum). But the puzzles are the real heroes, offering a perfect balance of immediacy and brain-scratching.

This one’s not freaky, nor is it even a racing game – so, sorry for luring you in with that. Instead, Freaky Racing is an endless runner of sorts. With visuals that appear to have lumbered in from 1981, the game has you steer a blocky black car along a vertically scrolling track. The problem is, you haven’t got any brakes – and things speed up really quickly.

Before long, you’re weaving through chicanes, avoiding your doddering racing chums, and trying to avoid going near the road edges, which are apparently made from some kind of material that makes cars instantly explode. Chances are, you won’t last long in Freaky Racing’s strange little world, but it’s a weirdly compelling title that’ll keep you coming back for more.

There’s a bit of cheating going on in Moveless Chess. Although your opponent plays a standard game, you’re some kind of wizard and apparently don’t want the hassle of moving pieces.

Instead, you’ve limited action points, which are used to transform pieces you already have on the board. (So, for example, with three points, you can cunningly change a pawn into a knight.) The aim remains a game-winning checkmate, and, presumably, avoiding the ire of your non-magic opponent.

It’s chess as a puzzler, then, and with a twist that’ll even make veterans of the game stop and think about how to proceed at any given moment.

After all, when you get deep into the game’s challenges, you might find wizarding powers don’t always make for a swift win when you can’t move your pieces.

We’re sort of in Crossy Road territory here, but instead of a chicken hopping along an endless landscape of roads and rivers, Redungeon finds a little knight dumped in a seemingly infinite dungeon full of traps.

Credit to whoever wanted to make the knight suffer, because said traps include endless inventive ways to kill someone, from squelching blobs of goo to massive metal panels that slam together, squashing flat anyone daft enough to get in their way.

As ever, you’re being chased by some kind of unrelenting evil (here depicted by loads of spooky red eyes) and so can’t hang about.

As such, you’ll mostly fail by swiping the wrong way when in a panic, thereby impaling your knight. Still, grab enough bling on your journey and you can upgrade your character (and unlock new ones), giving them a fighting chance – well, at least an extra 30 seconds.

In Icarus – A Star’s Journey, you help a fallen star get back to the heavens. To make each little leap upwards, you drag back and release to catapult the star, like a celestial Angry Bird. Over time, energy is used, your star eventually exploding; to avoid that, you temporarily lurk inside other stars for a quick top up.

Much of the challenge involves successfully navigating hazards – usually spinning shapes you awkwardly ricochet off of – before you burn through your health.

Grab enough orbs along the way and you can lengthen subsequent attempts through leveling up and gaining extra health. If only you could burn through the ads, too, since they obliterate the tranquil vibe – but, inexplicably, there’s no IAP for that.

Given Laser Dog’s tendency to make infuriatingly difficult games, Don’t Grind at first seems like a departure. You control a little cartoon banana, keeping it in the air – and away from massive saw blades – by tapping the screen and swiping to move a bit. It’s like a pleasant keepie-uppie effort – for a few seconds.

After that point, all hell breaks loose, with your worried-looking fruit having to escape a squishy, painful death by avoiding laser guns, rockets, and all manner of other hazards intent on shoving it towards the blades.

Collect enough stars while tapping the screen and you can unlock new victims. If you’re terrible, there are no shortcuts to bolster your collection either – the only IAP is to get rid of the ads. Brutal.

With eye-searing colors and jagged pixels, Tomb of the Mask looks like it’s escaped from a ZX Spectrum, but this fast-paced twitch maze game is very much a modern mobile effort. In a sense, it feels a bit like a speeded-up and flattened Pac-Man 256, with you zooming through a maze, eating dots, and outrunning an all-devouring evil.

But the controls here are key – a flick hurls you in that direction until something makes you stop. Hopefully, that’s a wall. If it’s a spike or an enemy, you’re dead.

The procedurally generated Arcade mode increasingly ramps up the intensity as you strive to reach the end of each tomb, while a stage-based mode pits your flicking finger against 60 deviously designed set challenges.

If you’re a fan of knocking metal balls about, you’re likely frustrated with iPhone pinball. Even an iPhone Plus’s display is a bit too small, resulting in a fiddly experience replete with eye strain. Enter PinOut!, which rethinks pinball in a manner that works perfectly on the smaller screen.

In PinOut’s neon-infused world, you play against the clock, hitting ramps to send your ball further along what’s apparently the world’s longest pinball table. Rather than losing a ball should it end up behind the flippers, you merely waste vital seconds getting back to where you were. When the clock runs out: game over.

The result is exciting and fresh, and the relatively simple mini-tables are ideal for iPhone. Moreover, the game’s immediacy makes it suitable for all gamers, overcoming pinball’s somewhat inaccessible nature.

One of those games happy to repeatedly punch you in the face, Nekosan is a brutal single-screen platformer. The premise is that the mice have stolen all the stars, and hidden them in a dungeon. It’s up to the heroic Nekosan to retrieve them.

The snag is that, unlike most platform games, Nekosan only affords you control by way of tapping anywhere on the screen. Depending on where the kittie’s positioned, said tappage might fling him into the air, have him leap from a wall, or help him bound on a mid-air switch.

You must therefore figure out how to traverse each puzzle-like level, using perfect timing to ensure the jumping feline isn’t killed. And while you do, suitably, get nine lives, you’ll find they disappear extremely rapidly.

At a glance, Super Cat Tales looks like it’s arrived from a 1980s console. Bright colors, chunky pixels, and leapy gameplay put you in mind of a Mario or Alex Kidd adventure.

But although Super Cat Tales twangs the odd nostalgia gland, the controls make it a thoroughly modern affair. Character movement happens by tapping the left or right screen edge – hold to move or double-tap to dash. While dashing, your moggie will leap from a platform’s edge; and if sliding down a wall, a tap in the opposite direction performs a wall jump.

At first, this feels confusing, as muscle memory fights these unique controls. Before long, though, this smart design dovetails with succinct levels packed with secrets, collectible cats with distinct abilities, and gorgeous aesthetics, to make for one of the best games of its type on mobile.

The Mikey series has evolved with every entry. Initially a speedrun-oriented stripped-back Mario, it then gained swinging by way of grappling hooks, before ditching traditional controls entirely, strapping jet boots to Mikey in a kind of Flappy Bird with class.

With Mikey Jumps, the series has its biggest shift yet. Scrolling levels are dispensed with, in favor of quick-fire single-screen efforts. Now, Mikey auto-runs, and you tap the screen to time jumps so he doesn’t end up impaled on a spike or plummet to his death.

It sounds reductive, but the result is superb. Devoid of cruft and intensely focused, Mikey Jumps is perfect for mobile play, makes nods to previous entries in the series (with hooks and boots peppered about) and has excellent level design that sits just on the right side of infuriatingly tough.

Minimal arcade game Higher Higher! is another of those titles that on paper seems ridiculously simple, but in reality could result in your thumb and brain having a nasty falling out.

A little square scoots back and forth across the screen, changing color whenever it hits the edge and reverses direction. Your aim is to tap a matching colored column when the square passes over it.

The snag is that the square then changes color again; furthermore, the columns all change color when the square hits a screen edge.

To add to your troubles, Higher Higher! regularly speeds up, too, thereby transforming into a high-octane dexterity and reactions test. Combos are the key to the highest scores and, as ever, one mistake spells game over.

Satellina Zero is a somewhat abstract game that borrows from endless runners and rhythm action titles. You play as a white hexagon, sliding left to right to scoop up green hexagons streaming in from the top. You can also tap, which jumps you to the relative horizontal location while simultaneously switching deadly red hexagons to green (and greens to red). It sounds complicated, but it really isn’t.

Survival is reliant on observation and quick thinking, where you must constantly ensure whatever hexagons are coming up are the right color, jump across at the perfect moment, and slide to scoop them all up. Last long enough and you unlock new modes and music.

It would have been interesting to see choreographed levels with percentage scores, rather than games comprising semi-randomized waves that always end on a single missed hexagon; nevertheless, Satellina Zero is a fresh, compelling arcade experience.

Blokout is a furious, high-speed color-matching game that punishes you for the slightest hesitation. The initial mode plonks you in front of a three-by-three grid, and you have to swap colored squares, Bejewelled-style, to make complete lines, which then vanish.

The timer is the key to the game. A clock sits in the upper-left of the screen and rapidly counts down, giving you only a few moments to complete a line. If the timer runs dry it's game over; make a line and it resets, giving you another few seconds.

The intensity is therefore always set to maximum, nicely contrasting with the game's friendly, bold colors (which amusingly turn stark black and white the instant you lose); and if you stick around, you'll find further challenges by way of boosters and tougher modes.
 

There are few arcade games as refined and perfectly considered as Forget-Me-Not – and we're talking across all platforms, not just iPhone.

The game places you in procedurally generated dungeons, tasking you with eating all the flowers, grabbing a key and making for the exit. All the while, you auto-shoot ahead, blasting away at each dungeon's denizens.

What sets the game apart from its contemporaries is its energy, vitality and variety. Multiple modes shake up strategies, and the many different foes that beam in have distinct personalities to keep the gameplay varied.

Some relentlessly home in on you, whereas others are content blowing anything around them to pieces – including the maze. Suitable for one-thumb play in portrait or landscape, Forget-Me-Not is an arcade classic.

Aptly named, given that it has loads of platforms and aims to make you panic, Platform Panic is a high-speed single-screen platform game. Whenever you enter a new screen, you’ve a split second to work out what’s going on before you forge ahead, trying to beat its various traps. As is so often the way on mobile gaming titles, a single slip up spells death.

There’s auto-runner DNA in Platform Panic, since your little character never stops running – although you can change their direction with a swipe and, crucially, leap into the air. Over many games, you’ll figure out how to beat each screen, and then it’s just a question of chaining together a number of successful attempts.

This is easier said than done, mind. Scores of over a dozen are something to be proud of in Platform Panic’s world. Still, games are short enough that when your little cartoon avatar is rudely impaled, there’s always time for another go.

One of the most absurdly generous deals we’ve ever seen on the iPhone, Cally’s Caves 3 is a monstrous platform adventure that’s given away entirely for free. Many dozens of levels across eight zones find the titular Cally searching for her parents, who’ve managed to get kidnapped by an evil genius – for the third time.

Unsurprisingly, Cally’s not overly chuffed with this turn of events, and she also happens to be worryingly heavily armed for a young pigtailed girl. She leaps about, blasting enemies, finding bling, and making for an exit, in tried-and-tested platforming fashion.

This is a tough game. Although you can have endless cracks at any given level, Cally’s Caves 3 is based around checkpoints, forcing you to not just blunder ahead. But smart level design and a brilliant weapon upgrade model keep the frustration to a minimum and ensure this is one of the best games of its type on the iPhone.

Apparently turned off by chess’s commitment to beauty, elegance and balance, the developer of Really Bad Chess set out to break it. You therefore start your first game with a seriously souped-up set of pieces: several queens, and loads of knights. Your hapless computer opponent can only look on while lumbered with a suspicious number of pawns.

One easy win later and you’re full of confidence, but Really Bad Chess keeps switching things up. Rather than the AI getting better or worse, the game changes the balance of your set-up. As you improve, your pieces get worse and the computer’s get better, until you’re the one fending off an overpowered opponent.

It’s a small twist on the chess formula, to be sure, but one that opens up many new ways of playing, whether you’re a grandmaster or a relative novice.

In Maximum Car, you careen along winding roads, smashing your chunky car into other similarly Lego-like vehicles. When possible, you lob missiles about with merry abandon, boost, drift, and generally barrel along like a lunatic. It’s a bit like a stripped-down Burnout or a gleefully violent OutRun.

Your terrorising of other road users (through near misses and blithely driving on the wrong side of the road), rewards you with coins to spend on powering up your ride. Do so and Maximum Car speeds up significantly, veering into absurd and barely controllable territory.

Takedowns (as in, smashing other cars off of the road) are also positively encouraged; destroy the same car over enough races and it’ll be unlocked for purchase.

Along with a tongue-in-cheek commentary track, this is all very silly entertainment – great for quick bursts of adrenaline-fuelled racing, and absolutely not the sort of thing to play before a driving test.

This third entry in the Dots series, Dots & Co, will be familiar to anyone who’s played the previous efforts. The aim is to collect a pre-set number of colored dots on each level, which is achieved by dragging out paths through dots of the same color. Manage to draw a square and all dots of the relevant color vanish.

Complications come by way of odd-shaped levels that often leave you with small groups of dots stranded within awkward shapes, and obstacles that need clearing. Cartoon ‘companions’ help a bit here, blasting away at the board once you’ve powered them up, and there are also a few special powers to make use of.

It’s here the charms of Dots & Co fade slightly – as the game progresses, you can’t help but feel you’re being given impossible tasks, and that an awful lot of luck is required to beat levels without resorting to buying tokens to spend on powers or extra moves. Despite this, Dots & Co remains a pleasant and engaging time sink.

They don’t come much simpler than Kubix, which sums up the aim of the game in what follows the hyphen in its full App Store name: ‘Catch the white squares and avoid the black ones’. There is, fortunately, a bit more to it than that. As you’re tilting your device to sneak past black squares and scoop up white ones the latter add to an ever-depleting energy reserve.

You’ll also regularly see squares with a question mark barging their way into the arena. Catch one when it’s white and you’ll get a nice surprise, such as all of the squares temporarily turning white. Grab one when it’s black and you’ll be in for a nasty time, trying to survive in a sea of black squares, or avoid such pixels of evil while piloting a suddenly awkwardly unwieldy white circle.

Two games in one, Big Bang Racing offers a breezy single-player trials experience on trap-filled larger-than-life tracks, and then multiplayer races across similarly crazy courses. The visuals are very smart, with your odd little alien rider imbued with plenty of personality; the controls work well, too, with two pairs of buttons for moving and rotating your bike.

The game’s infested with the usual trappings of modern freemium titles – chests; timers; in-game gold; in-app purchases – but, surprisingly, this doesn’t make much difference nor really impact negatively on the experience. With a little patience, you can play a few races every day, gradually improving your bike, winning races, and mastering courses.

Collect enough bits and bobs from chests and you can even have a go at creating and sharing your own tracks, using an excellent built-in editor.

Poker and Solitaire have been smashed together before, in the excellent Sage Solitaire, but Politaire tries something new with the combination.

At all points, you can see the next three cards from the draw pile. You then swipe away unwanted cards from your hand with the aim of those remaining and any newcomers forming a poker hand, which then vanishes, automatically bringing in more new cards.

When possible, you want to score 'combos', through multiple hands subsequently occurring with you doing nothing at all. Naturally, this requires a little luck, but there's also plenty of skill here, in terms of managing your cards and figuring out what's coming in the pile.

It sounds confusing, but give it time and it'll dig into your very soul.

For free, you generously get the entire main single-deck game, which rapidly becomes furiously addictive. Splash out for the one-off IAP ($1.99/£1.99/AU$2.99) and you unlock double-deck mode and alternate card designs, along with getting rid of occasional ads.

illi is a quaint one-button puzzle platformer that simply requires you to tap the screen to jump from ledge to ledge and collect all the crystals in a stage.

Its beautiful visuals will draw you into its simplistic yet engaging gameplay, while its puzzles will challenge you with bonus requirements and unique tricks. And there’s the 60 levels too that are sure to mesmerize and impress as you dodge through this cheeky little title.

Loop Mania is an addictive arcade game that is sure to challenge your reflexes and timing skills. In order to increase your score you need to collect as many dots as possible as your circle races around a circular loop, while avoiding bigger balls on its path.

The trick is to tap the screen to launch your ball onto the others to destroy them for extra points. Just don't tap at the wrong time or your race is over.

Choose your own path and explore the gothic avenues of the Victorian city of Fallen London. Define your destiny and craft your character’s fate with each choice you make and quest you complete.

This literary RPG boasts excellent writing that is sure to pull you into its dark yet comedic world as you befriend the locals and choose the path you think you want to go on.

Spellspire rewards you for having a large vocabulary as each dungeon you plunder requires you to come up with as many words as possible to defeat its enemies and reach that elusive treasure at the end.

The money you get from all that looting can then be used to upgrade your spells and weapons to make each word you spell deal even more damage. How many levels can you clear?

As its name implies, Looty Dungeon tests your survival skills as you loot your way through endless dungeons teeming with traps, bosses, and falling floors.

Pick up coins to purchase additional heroes, each with different powers and stats, keeping the game fresh. Hidden dangers can easily put an end to your looting, so tread carefully and carry a big sword – which is just good advice for life really, isn’t it?

Well, maybe not a sword. Perhaps a sense of self-confidence… life can sometimes be about metaphors too.

PKTBALL takes ping pong and turns into an endless arcade addiction. Outsmart your opponents to get the best score you can, get money, and unlock lots of colorful playable characters, each with their own court and soundtrack.

Once you’ve mastered the basics you can challenge your friends in local multiplayer matches or simply smash your way to the top of the leaderboards. This is the kind of game that you’ll start playing while making dinner and only look up from when the fire brigade are breaking down your door.

A kingdom of Disney characters can be unlocked in this alternative look at the popular road-crossing game – intelligently titled Disney Crossy Road.

It's a 'magical take' on a game that has been downloaded over 50 million times, and designed to attract a new raft of players.

Cross as many roads as you can and collect coins to purchase even more stars spanning various Disney films, each with their own music and world for all you film fans out there.

And as you can imagine (if you've played the 'normal' Crossy Road before), you'll see how far you can survive with your favorites from Toy Story, Lion King, Zootopia, and many more.

Sparkwave is a simple yet addictive game where you guide a spark of light through an endless path composed of traps, collectibles, and power-ups. You’ll need to have fast fingers if you want to stay alive as obstacles will spawn seconds before you rush into them. You can also pick up crystals to unlock new sparks and power-ups which can completely change the way you play.

The classic run-and-gun franchise takes on the tower defense genre in Metal Slug Attack. Missions in this colorful title ultimately come down to destroying your enemy’s stronghold using your own deck of troops. You can also play online with others, and go on missions to rescue prisoners, weapons, or items that can aid your campaign.

Tennis Champs Returns is a robust remake to the 1995 Amiga tennis game and brings with it plenty of great additions and mobile-friendly controls. You can move up the ranks in career mode and challenge the computer to increasingly difficult matches. Or, compete with opponents all over the world in quick bouts. Daily challenges and mini games help to keep the interest levels going.

Bring some color into a drab world in Splash Cars, a racing game that lets you drive around literally painting the town red, green, and other colors while avoiding the cops. Pick up gas to keep driving and collect coins to unlock power-ups that make completing each level’s paint requirements a whole lot easier.

A beautifully pixelated adventure, Sky Chasers requires you to use your fingers to guide your character along side-scrolling paths collecting coins and completing side-quests for his friends. Your cardboard ship has a limited fuel supply, so you’ll occasionally have to stop by checkpoints to refuel and avoid any pesky enemies that add an element of danger to your otherwise peaceful trip. Solve simple puzzles and upgrade your ship as you enjoy its rich colorful worlds.

Rust Bucket turns the concept of a turn-based game into a puzzle-like roguelike that is a blast to play. Each level requires you to navigate your way through a dungeon to reach its goal, but with every step you take, your enemies also move in different patterns. Strategy is key to surviving since you don’t want to step in front of an enemy knowing it may kill you in your next turn.

Planet Quest is a rhythm-based arcade game that has you play as an alien who abducts animals to the beat of some catchy music. Time your taps well for perfect abductions, but avoid zapping any flowers since aliens apparently don’t like them very much. Over an hour of electronic, techno, and diverse music await your ears as you aim for a better score each time you play.

Learn about clean energy as you play through beautiful worlds in The Path to Luma, a puzzler that has you traveling from planet to planet to power them back up. Rotate entire planets and use the power of natural energy like sunlight and wind to power up switches and open the way forward to your next destination. With a little hard work, dying planets come alive as you play through 20 relaxing levels.

Searching for his lost grandpa, a little boy gets lost underneath a lighthouse and now must escape from a labyrinth filled with traps and secrets. Each inventive dungeon must be rotated in order to guide the boy to the tunnel leading to the next one. You’ll need to prepare yourself for spikes, levers, crumbling platforms, and other challenges that amp up the difficulty as you try to survive Beneath the Lighthouse.

Does Not Commute is a curious puzzler that requires you to drive cars to their destination, but the catch is that previously-solved routes play live as you figure out the next one. A timer is constantly ticking down, so not only will you need to be mindful of the traffic, but you’ll also need to be fast and pick up power-ups to extend your commute. Your driving and logic skills are sure to be tested.

Choose from one of five races and classes and take on an expansive world in Order & Chaos 2: Redemption, a robust MMORPG that is made for mobile play. Whether you team up with friends or go it alone, Redemption’s plethora of rewarding quests will keep you coming back for more as you explore the beautiful and menacing kingdom of Haradon. Daily quests, challenges, and PvP duels are sure to keep you on your toes no matter how you play.

Collect teddy bears and use them to aid you in making words in the adorable Alphabear. Daily boards and challenges require you to come up with words with the letters that appear on your screen. Each time you do, bears will populate the board and get bigger the more letters you use around them. Make the biggest bear you can and rack in the points and the bragging rights.

Homage to 16-bit platformers of the past, Super Dangerous Dungeons is sure to bring you back in time with its pixelated visuals and SNES-inspired soundtrack. Forty-eight colorful levels that feature classic traps are sure to keep you challenged as you solve puzzles, turn on switches, and find that elusive key to open the door to the next one. Avoid those bottomless pits and dangerous water and you’ll be fine.

We’ve seen quite a few spot-kick flick-based efforts on the iPhone, but Tiny Striker also brings to mind old-school arcade footie like SWOS. It’s all goalmouth action here, though, with you scoring from set-pieces, initially against an open goal, but eventually by deftly curling your ball past walls of defenders and a roaming ‘keeper.

You know that popular Fallout 4 game we’ve all been getting excited about? Why not get in the post apocalyptic mood with this Bethesda made spin-off game? Fallout Shelter sees you take control of a Vault from the game series as you try to keep all its dwellers happy whilst protecting them from the horrors of the outside world. It’s a funny little way to get excited about the upcoming game whilst also being great in its own right.

You have to give Stranded: Mars One a little time to properly get its hooks into you. At first, it appears to be yet another auto-runner. The blocky retro graphics are cute, but, well, we've seen it all before. But then you notice the smart level design, and the way in which you have to keep your little astronaut's speed up, lest they run out of oxygen. Sliding, jet-packs and wall-jumping are lobbed into the mix as the game flings increasingly complex caverns in your direction. The result ends up akin to an 8-bit Rayman in space — and that's before you've even delved into async multiplayer races!

You can’t help but get a sense of having seen it all before when first playing Fallen. Pretty soon, though, you’ll be hypnotised by its subtly engaging mix of pachinko and colour-matching, along with a pleasing soundtrack that feels like someone’s sneaked Kraftwerk into your iPhone. The game itself is simple: balls drop from the top of the screen and you must rotate your coloured wheel so they hit the right bit. Three errors and you’re done. Spin all the way round between hits and you get coins that can be spent on boosting upgrades that occasionally fall from the top of the screen.

This sweet survival game is full of character, as you assist a Victorian gent, out for his evening constitutional. The problem is it’s a bit windy, and the gent’s hat is in danger of blowing away during a gust – press the screen and he holds it in place. Each step increases your score and also the chances of seeing thoughtful comments from the hatted chap.

Sky Force 2014 celebrates the mobile series’s 10th anniversary in style, with this stunning top-down arcade blaster. Your little red ship, as ever, is tasked with weaving its way through hostile enemy territory, annihilating everything in sight. The visuals are spectacular, the level design is smart, and the bosses are huge, spewing bullet-hell in your general direction.

At some point, a total buffoon decreed that racing games should be dull and grey, on grey tracks, with grey controls. Gameloft’s Asphalt 8: Airborne dispenses with such foolish notions, along with quite a bit of reality. Here, then, you zoom along at ludicrous speeds, drifting for miles through exciting city courses, occasionally being hurled into the air to perform stunts that absolutely aren’t acceptable according to the car manufacturer’s warrantee.

Three bushes make a tree! Three gravestones make a church! OK, so logic might not be Triple Town‘s strong suit, but the match-three gameplay is addictive. Match to build things and trap bears, rapidly run out of space, gaze in wonder at your town and start all over again. The free-to-play version has limited moves that are gradually replenished, but you can unlock unlimited moves via IAP.

Few free games are quite as polished as Hearthstone, but then this is a Blizzard game, so we hardly expected anything less.

There are dozens of card games available for iPhone, but Hearthstone stands out with high production values and easy to learn, difficult to master mechanics, which can keep you playing, improving and collecting cards for months on end. Matches don’t generally take too long either so it’s great for playing in short bursts.

Think you know stress? You haven’t experienced stress until you’ve played Spaceteam, a cooperative multiplayer game that requires you to all work together as a crew (and bark orders at your friends). Sounds easier than it is; failure to cooperate will probably end with your ship getting sucked into a black hole.

In this game, golf met solitaire and they decided to elope while leaving Mr. Puzzle Game to fill the void. What’s left is an entertaining bout of higher-or-lower, draped over a loose framework of golf scores, with a crazed gopher attempting to scupper everything. You get loads of courses for free with Fairway Solitaire Blast and can use IAP to buy more.

The clue's in the title – there's a quest, and it involves quite a lot of punching. There's hidden depth, though – the game might look like a screen-masher, but Punch Quest is all about mastering combos, perfecting your timing, and making good use of special abilities. The in-game currency's also very generous, so if you like the game reward the dev by grabbing some IAP.

Tap! Tap! Swipe! Rub! Argh! That’s the way this intoxicating rhythm action game plays out. Groove Coaster Zero is all on rails, and chock full of dizzying roller-coaster-style paths and exciting tunes. All the while, you aim for prodding perfection, chaining hits and other movements as symbols appear on the screen. Simple, stylish and brilliant.

This latest rethink of one of gaming’s oldest and most-loved series asks what lies beyond the infamous level 256 glitch. As it turns out, it’s endless mazey hell for the yellow dot-muncher. Pac-Man’s therefore charged with eating as many dots as possible, avoiding a seemingly infinite number of ghosts, while simultaneously outrunning the all-devouring glitch. Power-ups potentially extend Pac-Man’s life, enabling you to gleefully take out lines of ghosts with a laser or obliterate them with a wandering tornado.

Although there’s an energy system in Pac-Man 256, it’s reasonably generous: one credit for a game with power-ups, and one for the single continue; one credit refreshes every ten minutes, to a maximum of six, and you can always play without power-ups for free. If you don’t like that, there’s an IAP-based £5.99/$7.99 permanent buy-out.

The endless rally game Cubed Rally Redline is devious. On the surface, it looks simple: move left or right in five clearly-defined lanes, and use the ’emergency time brake’ to navigate tricky bits. But the brake needs time to recharge and the road soon becomes chock full of trees, cows, cruise liners and dinosaurs. And you thought your local motorway had problems!

In Smash Cops, you got to be the good guy, bringing down perps, mostly by ramming them into oblivion. Now in Smash Bandits it’s your chance to be a dangerous crim, hopping between vehicles and leaving a trail of destruction in your wake. The game also amusingly includes the A-Team van and a gadget known only as the Jibba Jabba. We love it when a plan comes together!

If you’re of a certain vintage, you probably spent many hours playing Solitaire on a PC, success being rewarded by cards bouncing around the screen. Sage Solitaire‘s developer wondered why iOS solitaire games hadn’t moved on in the intervening years, and decided to reinvent the genre. Here, then, you get a three-by-three grid and remove cards by using poker hands.

Additional strategy comes through limitations (hands must include cards from two rows; card piles are uneven) and potential aid (two ‘trashes’, one replenished after each successful hand; a starred multiplier suit). A few rounds in, you realise this game’s deeper than it first appears. Beyond that, you’ll be hooked. The single £2.29/$2.99 IAP adds extra modes and kills the ads.

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The best John Lewis Boxing Day sales 2017: 4K TVs, consoles, and more top tech to be discounted http://www.techradar.com/news/john-lewis-boxing-day-sales-are-now-live-online http://www.techradar.com/news/john-lewis-boxing-day-sales-are-now-live-online
Time to pick up a bargain before the new year? Tue, 19 Dec 2017 10:34:12 +0000techradar.com
The John Lewis Boxing Day sales are almost here. It's your chance to pick up a good deal on all that Christmas stock that didn't sell. And online is the way to go as John Lewis high street stores are closed on Boxing Day itself to give its staff a an extra day off, which is nice.

John Lewis is a popular retailer for big electronics items like TVs as well as white goods and laptops, due to the customer service and five-year guarantees. John Lewis is a huge retailer though and doesn't just focus on tech products, so you'll also be able to find deals on furniture, home and garden items, clothes, beauty products and lot more.

John Lewis is also, of course, famous for price matching its highstreet and online rivals like Currys and PC World. So if you spot anything from highstreet brands online, you should be able to get John Lewis to price match if you'd prefer to buy there.

Boxing Day sales at John Lewis might even be better than the deals we saw on Black Friday. The retail chain didn't actually do much on Black Friday, instead choosing to promote a small number of deals while price matching popular TVs and a range of smart devices and gaming hardware.

It was probably a good strategy as it limited the number of products it was selling for below the usual amount. But the Boxing Day sales are a different animal – they're all about shifting stock that has built up over the Christmas period so it's possible that John Lewis will be the place to be on Monday.

We'll be rounding up all of the best Boxing Day sales deals right here on TechRadar so keep coming back for the latest updates.

Boxing Day Sales: Quick links

Just straight to the deals at the UK’s biggest retailers. Links will open in new tab:

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Counter-strike: Global Offensive’s new mode could follow in footsteps of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds http://www.techradar.com/news/counter-strike-global-offensives-new-mode-could-follow-in-footsteps-of-playerunknowns-battlegrounds http://www.techradar.com/news/counter-strike-global-offensives-new-mode-could-follow-in-footsteps-of-playerunknowns-battlegrounds
Rumor mill reckons that PUBG mode could be parachuting into the classic competitive shooter. Tue, 19 Dec 2017 10:27:18 +0000techradar.com
The latest from the PC gaming grapevine is that Counter-strike: Global Offensive is getting a ‘Battle Royale’ mode in the style of massively popular hundred-player-shootout PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG).

Before we go any further, we should clarify this is firmly in rumor mill territory, with the speculation springing from a video courtesy of Valve News Network (VNN) which does some digging into CS:GO’s code.

VNN combed back over 10 patches for the last year and a half, finding references to compound bows, unarmed combat, parachutes, supply crates, breach charges, beacons, and loads of stuff in a similar vein, and many mentions of ‘survival’ spawn points, phases and the like.

There’s also a reference to a still unreleased ‘island’ map which is another potential clue.

All of which, when put together, possibly point to the foundations of a PUBG mode in CS:GO – but then again, these files could mean nothing, or could be related to something else. Or it could be an idea Valve had at one time, and has now abandoned.

At any rate, you can check out the full gamut of VNN’s detective work in the video below.

Trip to troll town?

As VG24/7, which highlighted the clip, suggests, there’s even a remote possibility that Valve could have inserted these references just to troll folks and have a little fun at everyone’s expense (and get a bit of PR exposure for its game, naturally).

Who knows, ultimately, but the whole Battle Royale concept has got so popular these days, you could hardly rule out the idea of Valve jumping in on the act to inject fresh life into the veteran game.

Although we’re sure a lot of players would prefer something truly fresh as opposed to a spot of bandwagon-jumping.

Given PUBG’s massive success on Steam, where it has even managed to tilt the gaming platform’s statistics monitoring operating system usage (apparently due to the influx of Chinese users playing the game), it’s hardly surprising to see a lot of development along these lines. Even GTA Online introduced its own spin on PUBG back in the summer.

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If Microsoft’s Surface Phone ends up like this concept, count us in http://www.techradar.com/news/if-microsofts-surface-phone-ends-up-like-this-concept-count-us-in http://www.techradar.com/news/if-microsofts-surface-phone-ends-up-like-this-concept-count-us-in
Designer David Breyer’s concept art borne of Microsoft patent images hype up a would-be Surface Phone device. Mon, 18 Dec 2017 21:26:03 +0000techradar.com
We’ve already seen Microsoft’s meticulously-detailed patent illustrations for a handheld, dual-screen tablet or phone, but now they’ve been made into something far more beautiful. Designer David Breyer has used those patent images to create an incredible concept for what might – and probably should – end up being a Surface Phone or other phablet-like computing device.

The 3D concept art is nothing but a designer’s dream of what such a device should be, but it nevertheless fuels the long-running hype around a Surface Phone device.

As seen in the patent images and now in 3D, the device will have two displays sandwiched between covers, which become a single display when the device is opened up flat like a book.

The concept images depict the device being used in many form factors, like the patents, but omit the rendering of a keyboard on one of the screens a la the Yoga Book. Also, the images reference rumors that this device will use a Surface Pen stylus as well.

These concept renders also imagine a third display set on the hinge that holds the whole thing together, with side-orientated text notifications for alerts, like emails or text messages.

If Microsoft released a Surface Phone or more PDA-like product like this, we’d be all over it. Here’s hoping Microsoft makes good on these, again, purely conjectured concept renders with a slam-bang 2018 phone release that blows our right minds. After all, CEO Satya Nadella promises Microsoft’s next phones won’t be anything like the phones we’re used to.

Via The Verge

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The best gaming laptop 2017: the 10 best gaming laptops we’ve reviewed http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/laptops/best-gaming-laptops-top-5-gaming-notebooks-reviewed-1258471 http://www.techradar.com/news/mobile-computing/laptops/best-gaming-laptops-top-5-gaming-notebooks-reviewed-1258471
The best gaming laptops you can buy, always up to date with the latest hardware configurations. Mon, 18 Dec 2017 19:23:00 +0000techradar.com
For what it’s worth, we here at TechRadar spend a lot of time playing games. Truthfully, we’re about as thrilled about chucking snowballs at each other in Destiny 2’s The Dawning as the next person, but we also recognize that not everyone has been introduced to the best way to play games yet. Yes, we’re talking about your PC, with a mouse and keyboard and the graphics settings cranked all the way up to 11.

At the same time, there’s been a shift in the mindset of the average gamer since the introduction of the Nintendo Switch. Now everyone wants portability – a feat that gaming PCs can only clumsily pull off. Luckily, console gamers aren’t the only ones graced with the luxury of being able to take their games wherever they go. Your Steam account is equally mobile, much thanks to the versatility brought forth by the gaming laptop.

In the below list, mobility was a huge factor in considering the best gaming laptop you can buy. As was performance. As was design. As a matter of fact, every machine on this list has been thoroughly vetted, tested and reviewed by a gamer just like you. So, whether you plan on grinding away at an MMO or pursuing chicken dinner after chicken dinner in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, we guarantee you’ll be satisfied with your purchase of one of the following.

Kicking Nvidia’s Max-Q technology off right, the Asus Zephyrus GX501 combines the heralded thinness of an Ultrabook with the performance of a gaming PC to bring the best of both worlds to your feet. Despite exhibiting subpar times in our battery life benchmarks, this svelte powerhouse of a notebook is one for the books when it comes to both portability and style. Plus, it’s virtually silent if noise is a cause for distraction in your everyday routine.

Read the full review: Asus ROG Zephyrus GX501

best gaming laptop

You may not be able to stick a bigger hard drive in it later, but the Razer Blade is otherwise built for stamina and, of course, high quality visuals. On top of boasting a battery life of over 7 and a half hours, it can handle up to 4K Ultra HD gaming with the help of a Razer Core V2 external graphics box and a spare monitor. Or you could opt for the more recently added integrated 4K display option. Either way, you’re in for a treat, we assure you.

Read the full review: Razer Blade

Best gaming laptops

The Asus Strix GL502 may not boast the most innovative design, swapping out the usual black and red color scheme for one that makes it feel like Halloween year-round. But, it's undoubtedly one of the best when it comes to gaming in 1080p. In fact, we were able to crank the settings all the way up in Overwatch without taking a hit below 60fps. The battery life is janky, sure, but the screen, performance and onboard sound system more than make up for it.

Read the full review: Asus ROG Strix GL502

Unlike most laptops its size, the Alienware 13 R3 bears a hinge-forward design. By moving the heat sinks behind the screen, the chassis is allowed to be thinner, at 0.81-inch (0.22cm). Unfortunately, this means you won’t find many 13-inch laptop bags that will actually suit the Alienware 13 R3. While you may be tempted by the inclusion of a full-size Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060, it’s the OLED touch display that caught our attention. 

Read the full review: Alienware 13 R3

best gaming laptop

At long last, Razer has introduced a true desktop replacement that won’t weigh you down. Measuring in at only 0.88 inches thick with the option between a 17-inch 1080p display running at 120Hz or a G-Sync-laden 4K touchscreen, the Razer Blade Pro also introduces the company’s ultra-low-profile mechanical switches to a notebook for the first time ever. That’s a deal that’s only sweetened by an unusual trackpad placement that makes it comfier to boot.

Read the full review: Razer Blade Pro

  • This product is only available in the US and UK as of this writing. Australian readers: check out a fine alternative in the Alienware 17 R4

For less than a grand and a half, you might not think it, but the Gigabyte SabrePro 15 is a bargain. In its price range, you won’t find a laptop with this level of performance. Although it’s only available in one configuration, the GTX 1060 is a nice change of pace considering most affordable gaming laptops struggle to run triple-A games beyond medium settings. That goes without mentioning the fantastic RGB keyboard and Microsoft Precision Touchpad.

Read the full review: Gigabyte SabrePro 15

Donning a 7th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Nvidia Pascal-series GPU and a screen resolution that soars above 1080p, this laptop is more affordable than a comparably specced Razer Blade or Alienware 13 R3. At the same time, it fails to compromise in terms of portability and performance. Factor in the a reasonable battery life and 190-degree hinge, and it’s easy to see why the Gigabyte Aero 14 made the cut.

Read the full review: Gigabyte Aero 14

To be frank, Alienware hasn’t been a name typically associated with value. That seems to be changing with the Alienware 17 R4, which bears so many different customization options when it comes to specs that you can practically name your own price. Bespeckled with all of the signature elements we’ve come to expect from the brand, such as RGB backlit-accents and tons of ventilation, our only real qualm with the Alienware 17 R4 is a disappointing battery life.

Read the full review: Alienware 17 R4

In a world full of overpriced (and overcompensating) gaming laptops, the Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming is a breath of fresh air. An anomaly that ditches the Alienware moniker, Dell has crafted yet a gaming laptop that’s masked as one of its more productivity-centric machines. The discrete graphics options won’t blow you away, but the price certainly will. Plus with a battery life recorded at 7 hours and 38 minutes, it’s unparalleled in that department.

Read the full review: Dell Inspiron 15 Gaming

best gaming laptops

In defiance of the stigma that gaming laptops simply can’t shake their heavy duty form factors, the MSI GS63VR 7RG Stealth Pro is an anomaly that deserves your attention. Although it owes much of its strength-meets-mobility design to the same Max-Q graphics technology leveraged by the Asus ROG Zephyrus, the Stealth Pro does more than lean into Nvidia’s engineering approach. It gives you a handsome array of ports, a gorgeous screen and more.

Read the full review: MSI GS63VR 7RG Stealth Pro

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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The best PC 2017: the best computers we’ve tested http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/pc/10-of-the-best-desktop-pcs-of-2015-1304391 http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/pc/10-of-the-best-desktop-pcs-of-2015-1304391
Consider splashing out on one of the best PCs of 2017, handpicked by our computing experts. Mon, 18 Dec 2017 19:00:00 +0000techradar.com
If you’ve previously looked at the best PCs and despaired because you either couldn’t afford a good one or there just wasn’t a PC that really fit what you needed it to do, we’re here to tell you that today might be the day. The first thing we need to dispose of is the outdated myth that the ‘best PC’ is the same as the ‘most expensive PC’ – it’s just not true. You should look for a PC that truly strikes a balance between price and performance. The computers on this list weren’t chosen by going on an online store and setting a filter to ‘most expensive first’ but rather with true value in mind.

At the end of the day, the best PC is going to be determined in no small way by your own personal preferences. Do you need the best graphics card to play PC games in stunning 4K? Do you want something like the Surface Studio so that you can materialize whatever you can imagine? Whatever you’re looking to do, this list is sure to have a PC that tailors to your own individual needs.

We approached this list with a variety of definitions of ‘the best PC’ and the widely varied budgets that most people have. And with these tools, we’ve created a pretty rock-solid list of the best PCs that we’ve personally tested over the last year or so. They’ve all earned our seal of approval after passing our various tests and benchmarks so you can be confident that you’ll get your money’s worth with any of these PCs.

Dell Inspiron 3000

For lack of a better word, the Dell XPS Tower Edition is stealthy. Looking quite similar to that old computer that your parents had hidden beneath the desk, this boring exterior belies an exciting array of components. Inside you’ll find your choice of the latest in GPU tech, in addition to a blazing-fast 7th generation Intel CPU and a spacious hard drive and/or SSD. Now, the Special Edition is only available in the US, but our readers in the UK and Australia will still be able to buy the regular Dell XPS Tower and beef it up to the same level through Dell’s configuration page. 

Read the full review: Dell XPS Tower Special Edition

The Microsoft Surface Studio is one of the most glamorous PCs you can buy. It shakes up the all-in-one formula of putting all the components behind the screen, and instead moves everything to the base. The resulting device has one of the thinnest 28-inch PixelSense Displays that puts even most 4K screens to shame. What’s more, the fully-articulating stand makes it a versatile tool for work and play with Surface Pen support. All in all, the Surface Studio is an exceptional work of, and for, art.

Read the full review: Surface Studio

See more like this: The best all-in-one PCs

The Zotac Magnus EN1060 is practically as small as the Apple Mac Mini, but it’s an exponentially more powerful gaming PC, potent enough to drive virtual reality experiences. Thanks to its small size and understated features, users can place this mini PC under an entertainment center and it won’t draw attention to itself. Keep in mind, though, this system doesn’t come with storage or RAM pre-installed, not to mention it lacks an operating system, so interested users will need buy these components and software separately.

Read the full review: Zotac Magnus EN1060

The Alienware Aurora R6 is an excellent gaming PC that offers brilliant performance in a conveniently compact body. The affordable price is pretty great as well, considering the power on offer and users itching for upgrades will have room to pick up a second graphics card, plus more RAM and storage.

Read the full review: Alienware Aurora R6

See more like this: The best gaming PCs

Positioned as a “console killer,” the MSI Trident 3 looks a lot like an Xbox One X and PS4 Pro, but it’s a far more powerful PC that feels just right in your living room. Complete with all the ports you could ever dream of, the MSI Trident 3’s advantages are clear. Still, in trying to be as thin and light as possible, the MSI Trident 3 comes equipped with a 330W external power supply brick, resembling some of the least attractive console designs.

Read the full review: MSI Trident 3

Apple iMac

You wouldn’t see it coming based on the logo alone, but Apple’s latest iMac is neatly priced when compared to other all-in-one computers out there. In fact, the Surface Studio costs three times as much as the iMac to start. Despite lacking the fancy trimmings of its Microsoft-contrived competitor, e.g., a touchscreen and adjustable stand, the option for a 4K P3 wide color display and 7th-generation processor make the 21.5-inch iMac not only gorgeous, but up to date as well.

Read the full review: Apple iMac (2017)

See more like this: The best Macs

HP Pavilion Mini

Though at first you might confuse it for a fabric-woven Mac Pro refresh, the HP Pavilion Wave is anything but. This compact Windows machine packs in 6th-generation Intel Core processors and optional discrete AMD graphics with a uniquely integrated Bang & Olufsen speaker. Wrapped in a handsome fabric exterior, this is the perfect PC to have on the desk, as it radiates crisp sound while you browse the web or watch movies.

Read the first look: HP Pavilion Wave

HP 260 G1

No, this isn’t a USB thumb drive you’re looking at. The Intel Core Compute Stick might look like something you would store a PowerPoint presentation on shortly before losing it, but it’s actually a palm-sized personal computer that plugs into any screen with an HDMI port. Configurations start at a lowly 1.33GHz Intel Atom processor running Linux, and at the highest end is a notebook-class Intel Core m5 processor.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this article

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2018 may be good for Apple and Microsoft despite declining PC sales http://www.techradar.com/news/2018-may-be-good-for-apple-and-microsoft-despite-declining-pc-sales http://www.techradar.com/news/2018-may-be-good-for-apple-and-microsoft-despite-declining-pc-sales
PC market set to continue to decline next year, but it’s not all bad news, as Apple and Microsoft will continue to perform well. Mon, 18 Dec 2017 12:00:13 +0000techradar.com
With 2018 rapidly approaching, there’s been some sobering news from an analyst forecast, which predicts that the PC market will continue to decline as more people switch to using smartphones for tasks usually reserved for computers.

The report, by credit rating house Moody’s, isn’t all doom and gloom, however, as it suggests that IT spending growth will actually rise in 2018, possibly by around 4% (following a 3% rise this year). In 2016 this actually saw a decline of 2%.

The report states that “revenue growth will be driven by equipment and software purchases and services related to the ongoing migration to cloud-based IT systems from legacy IT architectures”.

Financial results

Source: Moody’s Financial Metrics and Moody’s estimates

Big beasts

In the report, two companies are singled out as having a particularly strong 2018, with Microsoft and Apple “collectively account[ing] for about half the industry’s operating profit,” according to Moody’s.

So, as companies replace their ageing hardware and move to cloud services, Microsoft and Apple will lead the charge, and due to their size and influence on the market they will help raise the aggregate revenue of the entire sector.

Meanwhile, earlier in December analysts Evercore ISI predicted that Microsoft could reach a $1 trillion market cap by 2020 – if not sooner – as reported by Yahoo Finance.

So, while the PC market is still struggling, its two biggest companies look like they will continue to do well. No matter what your opinions of those companies are, their continued success should be welcomed, as it will help keep the entire market afloat. For now, at least.

Via Barron’s

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