12 best Android apps and games, according to Google

Whittling down the best Android apps from nearly 3 million to just 12 is a tall order, but that’s exactly what we saw happen at Google IO 2017 in May.

While Google’s impressive AI and VR initiatives took center stage at its annual conference, it did take some time out to focus on the apps that make its Android platform popular.

Here are the 12 apps that were honored at the Google Play 2017 Awards this year.

“Games from indie developers that focus on artistic design, gameplay mechanics and overall polish" is exactly why Mushroom 11 won this Google Play Store award and beat contenders like Reigns, Mars: Mars, and more. 

The game received plenty of praise in its time as a PC platformer, with clever physics puzzles, solid visuals, and music by The Future Sound of London. The Android port came out in March to favorable user ratings. If exploring a toxic wasteland as a sentient, amorphous blob sounds appealing, then Mushroom 11 is worth checking out.

Almost 200,000 people have given Hooked an average of 4.4 stars in the Google Play Store in the lead up to its win as the Standout Startup. This category was for "apps from new developers that offer a unique experience while achieving strong organic install growth," and it pulled that off with stories told on a text message conversation medium. 

This out-of-the-box literature app had to be doing something right to beat out the likes of Discord, the ever-popular chat and voice app for gamers. While some reviews seem annoyed with the payment model for the app, the overwhelmingly positive comments suggest that it does indeed get readers properly hooked.

Runtastic Running & Fitness has been one of the best apps to prove that technology isn’t always turning us into inactive hermits. Android software has been doing a fine job at improving our fitness routines. 

It does just that, with loads of distance and routing tracking tools, a voice coach and cheering feature, and even a built-in music player. Loads of reviews give the app a solid 4.5 stars in Google Play, and it’s functionality with Android Wear helped it earn the award for Best Android Wear Experience.

The award for Best TV Experience is for "apps or games built for the large-screen format to provide an intuitive experience," and there’s only one  that has bikes careening downhill, high-octane motorsports, pros carving the slopes, surfers and cliff divers, and documentaries about these wild sports. 

Red Bull TV has what extreme sports viewers want. The app must have scored extra high marks for intuitive navigation because it beat out even the likes of Netflix for this award. While the app might not stream your favorite Disney movies, it has plenty of sports content, music festival footage, and even a GoPro channel.

While the award in this category is for "Highly engaging and immersive experience with optimal use of Daydream UI,” Virtual Virtual Reality takes it a step further by putting virtual realities inside a virtual reality. 

Players enter the VR world when they put on their Google Daydream headset and within the game, they’ll put on more headsets to explore other virtual realities.  Stylized and cartoony, the game looks impressive, and the concept is novel, as players jump from world to world to avoid their in-game manager at work.

Pokemon Go and Snapchat might be the best known augmented reality apps, but you should check out the breakout hit Woorld. Whether you want to have mushrooms growing out of your carpet, or to have a faucet coming out of your TV and flooding the living room, Woorld makes that possible – at least visually. No surprise, this whimsical experience comes from the mind of Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi. 

The app, powered by the advanced AR technology of Tango, lets users add all sorts of things to the world around them, creating interesting and colorful environments. While devices with Tango are few and far between, it seems likely that as augmented reality becomes more prevalent, more devices could see Tango incorporated, or at least feature similar AR capabilities.

If you have a child and are looking for "apps or games with family-friendly design that encourage creativity, exploration and education," then Animal Jam - Play Wild! might be just the ticket. The app is something of a social network, designed as a “safe online playground for kids.” 

It lets them become an animal and explore a game world where they can meet and interact with other animal players. It has built-in minigames and includes opportunities to learn about wildlife. Other contenders in this category were Hot Wheels: Race Off, Teeny Titans - Teen Titans Go!, and Toca Life: Vacation.

With over a million reviews and a 4.4 star rating, there’s no arguing that Blizzard had another overwhelming success with HearthStone. The Warcraft-themed card battle game is playable on mobile devices and computers, allowing for friends to play one another without needing the same devices. 

Players can build their own decks of characters, devise their own strategies, and compete with real or computer-controlled opponents. Like Heroes of the Storm for the MOBA genre, Blizzard’s HearthStone is simple enough for players new to the genre while offering deep enough complexity for diehard players.

Memrise is an insanely useful app for learning. It allows users to create their own custom study sets – think flashcards but way more advanced – and tests users on a regular basis to keep their knowledge fresh. 

It’s also already loaded with study sets created by other users, so new users can dive in and learn advanced Japanese or what different horse breeds look like. There’s so much to learn. But that’s only part of why Memrise landed the title of Best App. The award is aptly for "a true representation of beautiful design, intuitive UX and high user appeal."

Pokemon Go was beaten out not only in the Best AR Experience category but also in the Best Game category, as Transformers: Forged to Fight took the title, meeting Google’s requirements of “...strong mechanics, stellar graphics and strong engagement and retention tactics." 

The game has several different elements, with a swipe- and tap-based arcade-style fighting game at its heart and base building and defense on the side. A whole host of fan-favorite Autobots and Decepticons are available for players to use, making the unlock and upgrade system all the more addicting. Best of all, it has impressive graphics and keeps the action fast for a mobile game.

IFTTT, meaning “If This Then That,” enables all sorts of automation with your phone. It's integrations with a wide array of apps allows it to do things like open your garage door and text your significant other “Honey, I'm home” when you pull into your drive or publically broadcast every text message you receive as a Twitter post. 

The idea is simple: if a given set of variables are met, a defined task will be performed, and the possibilities are nearly endless. For the less creative users, there are all sorts of pre-made automations available on the IFTTT website.  As an app that enables so much, it's no wonder it was able to take the award for Best Accessibility Experience, which is for "apps or games enabling device interaction to serve people with disabilities or special needs." 

The United Nations’ World Food Programme has made it easier to make a difference for people who are going hungry around the world. Its ShareTheMeal app lets users donate simply and directly from their phone, so after ordering a pizza on GrubHub, they can make a quick little donation to help out someone else in need of a meal. 

The app lets users decide how much they want to donate, and even lets them start teams to work together on big donation goals. ShareTheMeal boasts 13.3 million meals shared at the time right now, which definitely qualifies for the award for "apps that create meaningful social impact for a broad spectrum of people around the world.”

We have more great Android app suggestions from our editorial team, not just the best Google picks.

If you're looking to extend your games and app library on an Android phone or tablet, look no further than our official:

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Microsoft is reportedly developing a new phone and software to go with it

Looking at reduced support for Windows 10 Mobile over the past year, combined with plummeting sales of Windows phones, we wouldn't blame you for thinking Microsoft's last big push into the mobile space would be its last.

However, it looks like the technology bigwig is warming up for another crack at bat as industry sources tell Thurrott that Microsoft if actively developing something new for Windows Mobile.

According to the report, Microsoft is testing not just hardware, but also an extension of Windows Mobile software. While few specifics were given, it may be an entirely reinvigorated OS that could cut support for Silverlight — Microsoft's mobile development tool which is already on life support.

Shutter the Windows (Mobile)

While we take this report with a grain of salt — not a lot of hard details could be given at this time, with Thurrott adding that Microsoft's supposed project is "still in early development and plans may change dramatically — we have heard of Microsoft's continued interest in mobile from a much more...official source.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said in a podcast last month that the company had not put smartphones behind it — adding the caveat that what it has in mind may "not look like phones that are there today."

The executive went on to describe the success of Microsoft's 2-in-1 Surface line, possibly suggesting that whatever we see may be more of a hybrid device than a conventional handset. 

While the long-rumored Surface Phone is still far from confirmed, we can't help but wonder if a Windows Mobile successor (perhaps running on a modified Windows 10 S?) isn't far behind.

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Samsung Galaxy S8 unlocked price in the US: here’s how much it costs today

The Samsung Galaxy S8 unlocked price accurately reflects this Android phone's elongated screen: it's bigger than you'd ever expect, even if it gets you the best phone in the US.

It's the classic tale of 'you get what you pay for' as the Samsung Galaxy S8 costs $724, while the larger Galaxy S8 Plus costs even more $824.99 in the Midnight Black color only.

Both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus cost more than their Apple counterparts, the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, as well as the Google Pixel, Pixel XL and LG G6.

The phones are now being sold through the official Samsung online store and Best Buy. Samsung is even offering trade-in programs for up to $350 off to sweeten the deal.

Why the Samsung Galaxy S8 costs so much

The price for the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus is more than you've probably ever paid for a phone, but there are several reasons as to why it costs so much.

It comes with top-of-the-line specs (the first with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 chipset), including 64GB of storage, not 32GB, like the latest iPhone, LG G6 and Google Pixel.

That means storage wise, it's a better value, plus it comes with a microSD card slot and is a waterproof phone (up to 5m). The Pixel has none of those features. Oh, and it has a headphone jack unlike the iPhone 7. Simply put, it's chock full with features.

The Galaxy S8 also has one of the best smartphone cameras and can turn into a phone-to-desktop solution with the Samsung DeX accessory. The list goes on and on, just like Samsung's dazzling Infinity Display.

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Galaxy S8 digital assistant Bixby delayed another month from internal goals

It may be in the later weeks of June before Galaxy S8 users will get to talk to Bixby. The assistant's reportedly trying to wrap its head around English.

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Galaxy S8 digital assistant Bixby delayed another month from internal goals

It may be in the later weeks of June before Galaxy S8 users will get to talk to Bixby. The assistant's reportedly trying to wrap its head around English.

The post Galaxy S8 digital assistant Bixby delayed another month from internal goals appeared first on Pocketnow.

Android O is coming to the OnePlus 3T and OnePlus 3

We don’t even know the official sweet-treat name for Android O yet, but OnePlus has already confirmed that once it’s available it will come to the OnePlus 3T and OnePlus 3.

The company’s CEO, Pete Lau, said as much in a tweet, though no time frame for the Android O update was given. 

Android O itself isn’t likely to land until late 2017, probably launching on the Google Pixel 2, and it usually takes phone makers at least a couple of months to get the new version running on their phones.

That, plus the fact that OnePlus will almost certainly prioritize the OnePlus 5 for Android updates, means that we probably won’t see Android O on the OnePlus 3T or OnePlus 3 until 2018.

Increased support

But the fact that it’s coming at all will be reassuring to owners of those phones, especially as the OnePlus 2 and OnePlus X haven’t even been updated to Android Nougat.

They each only got one major Android update, but the move to Android O will be the second for the OnePlus 3T and OnePlus 3. It’s unlikely they’ll officially see Android P, but even this shows a greater commitment to keeping them updated than OnePlus has shown in the past, and bodes well for long-term OnePlus 5 support.

The move to Android O, whenever it comes, should be worth the wait too, as Google’s operating system update is set to add a picture in picture mode, improve boot times and allow you to respond to notifications in more ways, among other things.

Via 9to5Google

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Samsung set to launch Bixby Voice in the US next month

Bixby on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus is about to finally become more useful, as reports state it will gain its much-needed voice capabilities in late June.

Samsung first showed us Bixby, its promising, new virtual assistant that’s set to take on the likes of Siri and the Google Assistant, on the S8 when it launched a few months ago. 

But there was a problem: it debuted without voice-recognizing capabilities, setting it far behind the competition from the start. It wasn’t a good look, especially since there’s a hardware button dedicated to activating it right on the brand new phones.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Bixby’s lack of voice recognition at launch stems from its struggle to “comprehend English syntax and grammar,” something that its competitors have years’ worth of data to work from.

Coming soon


However, Samsung’s team seems to have cracked the code and the update will begin to arrive in the 'coming weeks'. 

The brand needs the voice element of its virtual assistant to be a success after the other elements - Vision especially - failed to impress in a world where Google, Apple and Amazon are steaming ahead with impressive AI counterparts.

We’ve reached out to Samsung to see when the Bixby’s voice feature will launch around the globe and will update the story when we know more.

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IDC predicts large smartphones will continue to rise in popularity, overall market growth also expected

The global smartphone market should "rebound slightly" this year, according to IDC research, and continue to grow at a decent pace through 2021.

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OnePlus 3 and 3T will get Android O eventually, OnePlus 5 retail box choice is all yours

The hype around the OnePlus 5 is (slowly) growing with a poll over what box to sell the phone in, while the 3 and 3T are confirmed for Android O updates.

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Essential Phone: what do we really have here?

Wowee wow that Essential Phone, huh? Andy Rubin, the father of Android has returned to the lime light with a big splash. A high quality, feature packed, new smartphone made with premium materials and engineering. And there’s a lot more to the story. This is a big deal, and it’s a lot to take in, but I had some thoughts I wanted to share.

My thoughts on the Essential Phone can be summed up in one sentence:

“OnePlus is making the Xiaomi Moto Z Mix, the Next Big Thing.”

Let’s break that down

Now, there’s a lot in there, so let’s break it down a little bit. The first item on the agenda is OnePlus, and believe it or not, this is a favorable comparison. I could have said Jolla, or NextBit, of the vaporware that is the Saygus V-divided-by-0, or any number of other companies that are no longer with us. OnePlus started off as a plucky little startup that was fighting to get its name out there in the general public. OnePlus quickly developed a tight-knit fan base, and I’m certain Essential will do the same.

But coming from out of nowhere into being a respectable manufacturer did not come easy for OnePlus. OnePlus’s main “feature” was high end specs at a midrange price – a truly compelling offering. Essential’s main selling point seems to be premium construction and materials – a durable though not waterproof phone. That’s a tougher sell, to be perfectly honest, but not completely crazy. Going up against the likes of Samsung and Apple in that price range will be no small feat. That nearly bezelless screen though could be an x-factor.

Bezels begone

Except we’ve seen that type of screen before – look no further than the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+. Let’s also remember the Xiaomi Mi Mix, which sports an equally bezelless screen, but without the divot in the middle. Sure, arguments are going to be made that the divot won’t matter because of the notification tray, yadda yadda. I’m not convinced, but we’ll give it the benefit of the doubt for the moment. The point is, that the bezelless screen is not a new concept, and some companies have arguably done it better. Let’s continue.

The modular – maybe let’s call them “friends” – concept is also not necessarily new, though when compared to the Moto Z, it may well be better executed. Having two magnetic connectors in the corner of your phone is likely going to result in a more future proof concept going forward. Moto married its form factor when it introduced moto mods – it will be hard pressed to make a bigger or smaller phone without rendering previously bought mods obsolete. So Essential has a leg up here.

Plus, it’s also fun to see the 360 camera concept as its first venture into the accessory market – especially when it’s so flipping small. But how these mod-friend-things will evolve going forward will be interesting to see. But it’s important to stress that the accessories will [...]

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Sony Xperia XZ Premium launches in the US on June 19 at $800, XA1 Ultra and Xperia Touch also get dates

It's as far from affordable as we imagined, but at least the 4K HDR-enabled Sony Xperia XZ Premium smartphone is finally coming stateside soon.

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