As 2017 is now just about under way, we thought we’d have a look back over the best app releases from the past year. 2016 was perhaps not the most notable year in terms of great technological leaps in the world of smartphones. Lenovo made the Moto Z with some cool ‘mods’ and Xiaomi made the Mi Mix with a bezel-less display but otherwise it was generally business as usual on the hardware front.
That’s not to say it was a bad year for smartphones. Google shook things up with the Pixel, possibly the best phone of the year, the Moto Z was far more impressive than expected and OnePlus finally knocked it out of the park with the OnePlus 3(T). But despite all this, 2016 seemingly featured fewer device launches which really pushed the envelope – at least compared to some recent years past.
However, one thing we were certainly not short in 2016 was great new apps to play with. Of all the apps that came onto the Play Store in 2016, here are some our favourites:
The name Luke Klinker might be familiar to some of you. He’s the developer behind Talon, one of the more popular Twitter clients. He also created EvolveSMS an old fan favourite among SMS apps. Now he has developed an even better alternative to the built-in texting app your phone came with: Pulse.
Several months ago Pulse entered a private beta, then known simply as “Messenger.” I was fortunate enough to have a part in that testing group from the beginning and I knew right then it would become good alternative to the likes of Google Messenger or the SMS apps from OEMs.
In terms of design it almost perfectly follows Material guidelines. The animations are spot on and the colour themes are very nice to have. It takes some cues from Inbox as well. For instance, when you are at the bottom of a conversation you can swipe up to leave that chat. There are “mark all as read” ticks to press and you can even pin favourite conversations to the top of the list. Those pinned conversations also then show as app shortcuts in Android 7.1 (if you are using a launcher that supports them such as Pixel, Google Now or Nova launcher).
Pulse also offers the fastest and most seamless cross device SMS functionality I have ever used. Phone, Tablet, Wear, PC and even Android TV are supported! Within seconds of pressing send on your tablet the phone will have sent the message. It looks and feels as if you were using SMS right from that device. This part of the app does come with a cost however, requiring you to pay a small one-off fee or alternatively by subscription (either monthly or annually). This cost pretty understandable though, given the infrastructure needed to support this.
If you’re looking for something to replace your current SMS app and/or a way to send SMS from your PC, TV, watch or tablet then you can’t go wrong with Pulse. It’s beautiful, functional and reliable. Even if you don’t want to pay the subscription for cross-device sync you can still use all of the other great features for free.
Flamingo for Twitter
Twitter has been around for a long time now and there is no shortage of different clients you can use. However, one of the best to launch in the past year is Flamingo by Sam Ruston. It is full of the beautiful, buttery-smooth animations you would expect from an app which prides itself in having a Material Design aesthetic. One of my favourite features is the theme editor. As well as having built-in themes, Flamingo lets you make your own by changing everything from the UI colours, tab layouts and status bar colour.
Flamingo supports notifications properly too. Unlike many other 3rd-party clients Flamingo doesn’t hog your battery when it syncs with Twitter. Like with Pulse, the new app shortcuts are also supported by this app. These include: compose a new tweet, send a new DM, open your profile and start a search. I’m glad to see this feature is being utilised so quickly.
What you have here is a slick, fast and full-featured Twitter client that delivers quite possibly the best mobile Twitter experience available right now.
Ever since Google released Android Lollipop in 2014 one thing has always irked me. While the status bar often tints to match the colour of the app you use, the navigation bar on phones with on-screen buttons almost always stay black. Not only is this an annoyance, but on AMOLED displays it can actually cause uneven display wear – giving you that horrible burn-in.
This is where Navbar Apps by Damian Piwowarski comes in. Navbar Apps automatically colours the background of the navigation bar to match the app colour. As you switch between apps there is a lovely material fill animation to make the colour transition smooth (although this can be turned off if you prefer).
If you don’t like the auto-detected colour for an app then you can easily set a custom one yourself. You can do so on an app-by-app basis or you can even set one colour to show all the time. If you are going with a single colour then I think this looks particularly good if you set it to match your keyboard.
As well as changing the colour, Navbar apps also lets you add icons/images. This lets you can really mix up the look of the navbar using your own images or from a list of templates. There is even a template to your phone look like a Pixel.
What’s most incredible about this app is that it does all of this without the need for root access. Anyone with a phone running Android 5.0 Lollipop or above can join in with the fun!
Lego Star Wars: Force Builder
Of all the games released in 2016, the most notable was undoubtedly Pokémon Go. But that isn’t my pick. I’ve never been a fan of that particular sensation, probably because I sold my soul to an even larger franchise: Star Wars.
In this game you take the role of a ship builder, channelling the force to build bigger and better ships. Additional parts for the ships can be unlocked by completing quests for different characters from the entire saga.
You can also fly your creations onto an assault course that tests speed, steering, fire-power and size. You can then pose the ship in front of numerous backdrops and save or share images of them. All-in-all this is a fun way to pass the time if you enjoy the Star Wars universe. Be sure to watch out for subtle references made by the characters!
Force Builder is a rarity in the mobile games space. Not only is it free to play, the game also has no in-app purchases whatsoever. This combined with constantly updated content, (including Rogue One locations and characters) helps to make Force Builder one of the best games of the year.
Now that 2016 is over, we have another year of new apps and tech to look forward to! I hope it’s as good as this past one!