Apps I’ve been into lately — December 2016

This isn’t necessarily a year end wrap up, best of 2016 list. Instead this is a rundown of the apps I find myself using most frequently. A handful of these apps weren’t originally released this year, but almost all of them saw major updates within the past year.

Polytopia — easily my favorite iOS game of 2016.

Reading / Productivity:

Pocket — There are a variety of “save it for later” reading apps, but Pocket is still the best. It allows you to save any link for later. The later part can be accessed offline, useful long flights and subway rides. I briefly switched back to Instapaper, the original app of this type. Instapaper saw a big relaunch this year, but there’s still some bits that aren’t quite there. Pocket also launched a new explore feature which is useful for finding interesting content to read.

Nuzzel — I still don’t understand why Twitter hasn’t bought this company. This would be so much more helpful than Twitter’s Moments feature. This app connects to your social media accounts to aggregate the stories your friends are sharing. You can filter backwards on a time horizon (8 hours, 24 hours, 1 week, etc.) and then it shows you what stories were shared during that time period. Its most useful time periods when you just need a quick catch up to what happened over the past few days.

NY Times — This year I finally bought a subscription to The New York Times. It has been well worth it. They started putting all of the virtual reality content from the VR app inside this one, which is really cool. This year NY Times shut down the NYT Now app which consolidated major stories into smaller more consumable features, but let you dive into the larger stories if you wanted. This is also now included in the main app, both of these changes pushed me to finally subscribe.

Notes — I finally dumped Evernote and so should you. Outside of privacy concerns, it became slow and bloated with unnecessary features. Apple’s default notes app has taken over. It sync between devices really well and keeps everything in very simple (almost) plain text.

Overcast — The default app for podcasting has always been terrible. Beyond a superior user experience, this app gets all the little things right. You can easily rewind or fast forward in thirty second chunks, helpful for going back to something you missed or quickly skipping over ads. It also has the ability to only download new podcasts while on wifi, a huge bandwidth saver.

Headspace — Over the last year I’ve made a big effort to be more zen about everything. This app offers an introductory 10 day trial to see if it’s right for you. I’ve been using it for a while and so far I like it.

Shopping:

GOAT — This app offers a marketplace of cool shoes. They have just about everything. This is one of those things you either totally love or just don’t get it. I love it.

Grailed — This one is more for fun browsing. It’s a marketplace that allows users to resell streetwear. I’m not about to spend thousands of dollars on clothing like this, but it’s fun to look and get ideas.

Security / Performance:

Lookout — In a time when there’s a new data breach announced just about every week, everyone should at least be taking some steps to protect their own data. This app helps you do that. It is easy to understand for even less tech savvy users.

1Blocker — Apple added the ability to block ads in the last big release of iOS. However, you have to download a third party ad blocker to enable this functionality. Of all the free options, I’ve found this one the most useful. The state of mobile web browsing is so bad these days that you have to install one of these just to make some sites work. Overall it can improve the speed of loading sites by as much as double by eliminating the loading of all the unnecessary bloat.

Games:

A quick note on the types of games I prefer. I have no problem paying upfront, don’t tend to like games where advancement and enjoyment is gated by micro-payments. I also only like games I can pay at my own pace. I hate games that put you into some sort of rat race against the general population of players. Also, my interests skew heavily towards strategy and puzzle games.

Polytopia — This has been the only game I played this year that I find myself keep coming back to even though I’ve beaten it. It’s a miniature Civilization game with fun quirky graphics. Lots of challenges to keep getting a higher score on a higher difficulty along with a randomized game make it endlessly replay-able.

NY Times Crossword — I try to do the crossword everyday. Unfortunately the stats features doesn’t work. The crosswords are smaller than the massive ones in the paper and much more reasonable to complete every day.

Lara Croft Go — I remember playing the original Tomb Raider series on my Playstation as a kid. The mobile version removes all of the action and just leaves you with the puzzles, which is just fine by me. It’s a turn based setup similar to a chess board, every time you move your character, other things happen on the board leaving you to navigate each puzzle in a specific order to solve it.

Hitman Go — This is basically the same exact game as the one mentioned above. It removes all the action of the Hitman games and just leaves some fun puzzles.

Hitman Sniper — If you absolutely need some action in your games, this one is solid. There are about 120 levels that take you through different sniper objectives. It gets a little beyond just shooting targets, but not much. You have objectives like staging accidents and doing things in a really specific sequence. There is also a zombie survival mode which is pretty fun.

Tiny Rails — Start out with a lowly steam engine running a train route between cities in the Northeastern US and slowly expand your empire. Over time you buy upgrades to your train to make it faster or able to haul more cargo. There’s quite a bit of strategy involved in planning your train routes and figuring out how to arbitrage cargo prices between regions to make the most money possible.

CSR Racing 2 — Found in the section of the app store to show off the new iPhone 7 hardware, this game is really pretty. There isn’t much to the actual racing, you just try to time your start and then shift at the right time. It’s pretty easy to advance and get new flashy cars. It’s almost worth downloading a playing for a few minutes just to see how powerful the iPhones have gotten.

Reigns — The app that spawned a thousand clones, Reigns is a puzzle game that puts you in charge of an ancient kingdom forced to make decisions. You have to keep various factions happy, but inevitably something goes wrong.

Punch Club — If you combined every fighting movie / video game into one (Rocky, Mortal Kombat, Bloodsport, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, etc.) you would get this game. You control a fighter and have to train him up and navigate various competitions. The storyline is pretty ridiculous in how it tries to blend together as many pop culture references as possible.

Fallout Shelter — I remember playing a few of these games as a kid. The series takes place way in the future after a nuclear war with everyone lives in giant underground vaults called fallout shelters. In the previous games it is all about your first person character going out and having adventures in the wasteland. The mobile version is all about trying to build up and expand your vault while keeping all of the dwellers happy.