Best new apps

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Vue MONTAGE MAKER.

Free | vuevideo.net

Do you have a video or 20 of your cat, stashed on your phone? Of course you have. Or maybe of your — or a family member’s — baby doing something cute? Perfect. Vue can stitch them all together easily and simply, with a good selection of Instagram-esque filters and movie-like transitions. It promotes itself as a montage creator, producing videos that last as little as 10 seconds all the way up to three minutes. You can have as little as one continuous shot in your video, or as many as you care to throw in. Exceptionally well designed and easy to use, whether you’re loading in pre-existing videos or filming on-the-fly, videos can be adorned with captions, emojis, location and weather data. Wrap up shooting, and videos will be saved to your phone as an MP4 with the option to share them to social media or upload to cloud storage. Remarkably, it’s totally free as well, and the Vue watermark is small and unobtrusive in the bottom right hand cover of the video. [ PAUL TAYLOR ]

 
 

VLC THE MEDIA PLAYER MAINSTAY KEEPS IMPROVING.

Free | www.videolan.org

You might wonder why we’re reviewing one of the most enduring cross-platform media players now, since it’s been available for years. But it’s received plenty of updates throughout its life, and it’s worth returning to occasionally. For the fundamentals (ie, playing a large selection of video file types in a fuss-free, easy-to-use UI), VLC is still hard to beat, and remains one of the first apps installed on any new device. Chief among the recent updates, though, is Chromecast support. While it’s still in beta (though easily accessible through the publicly available app), this allows you to stream VLC to your Chromecast device, which for some might prove a more convenient way to get phone content playing on a TV. Meanwhile, scrolling through videos has been improved — it’s not as choppy as it once was — and local network file sharing is as simple as selecting the relevant local device and entering a password. [ SHAUN PRESCOTT ]

 

SKYLINE A LIVE WALLPAPER APP THAT DRAWS FROM WORLD MAPS.

$2.49 | tinyurl.com/tla75-skyline

While most are happy for their smartphone background to feature their kids, partner or some other utterly boring thing, others prefer something more dynamic, more interesting. And what is more interesting than the earth itself? Skyline is a live wallpaper app which draws from Mapbox, which is “an open source mapping platform for custom designed maps”. Basically, you can either search for your favourite location, let Skyline select one at random, or base your desktop background on where you’re located at any given time (the rate at which it refreshes can be customised). We preferred the random location, because naturally, it’s more varied than the probably less-than-30km radius you travel every day for work. But the ability to seek your favourite location is handy as well. It’s a priced app, but that price isn’t too steep, and once you’ve paid it, Skyline doesn’t ask you to fork out again. It shirks any functional aspects of a map app, and we’d like to one day see this functionality perhaps integrated with Google Maps or the like, but in the meantime, this is nice if you love, uh, maps. [ SHAUN PRESCOTT ]

 
 

Fella FACEBOOK’S NEW MATE?

$0.99 | tinyurl.com/tla75-fella

It seems unfathomable to pay for apps to access a service that is free, and the official app for that service is free, too. However, there is a key benefit to Fella, and that’s being able to scroll through your Facebook feed and access Messenger all in one app. Facebook all but forces mobile users to use the Messenger app to send messages, which requires either the regular Messenger app and all of the privacy compromises that go with it, or logging on to the mobile website and using Messenger with all of its privacy compromises, too. Fella is a wrapper — you log in, see your feed, and the messages icon is nestled in the row of icons at the top. Dig into the options and you can customise the appearance with different colours and textures. It’s all very snappy and easy to use since it apes Facebook, but there are a few quirks. The main one is that the app doesn’t scroll up when trying to comment, blocking the text entry box, but posting on your wall is fine. For the price, it’s possibly worth it for one convenience, but trading off for another may see you juggling between it and the mobile site. [ PAUL TAYLOR ]

 
 

Stations by Spotify A STREAMLINED SPOTIFY FOR CASUAL PLAYLISTERS.

Free | spotify.com/au

Music streaming mammoth Spotify has snuck a new ‘experimental’ app dedicated entirely to playlists onto the Google Play Store. Stations is incredibly streamlined compared to the fully-fledged Spotify app, featuring little more than a list of curated playlists to scroll through, as well as some of the service’s personalised options, such as Discover Weekly, that use algorithms to suggest new and relevant music. You can customise which of the pre-selected stations appear in your menu, but you won’t be able to create your own. The current playlist will begin to play as soon as you open the app and the only options you’re given is to pause or favourite the track, or scroll to a different playlist. If you already have a Spotify account and are logged in on your device, the app will automatically log you in and pull your user data for its personalised playlists. Otherwise, you’ll have to create a free account and select a few artists as a starting point. While the latest from Spotify certainly is streamlined and will suit those after a background soundtrack, there’s never been an easier way to slip into repetitive music habits. [ HARRY DOMANSKI ]

 
 

Smiling Mind MEDITATE WITHOUT STRESSING ABOUT YOUR MONEY’S WORTH

Free | smilingmind.com.au

There are a lot of meditation apps available, but Smiling Mind differs from most of them in two key ways. First, it’s completely free, which is refreshing when rivals like Headspace and Simple Habit require monthly subscriptions to access most of their material. Second, Smiling Mind is aimed at children as well as adults, with a range of meditation courses available for different age ranges, starting at 7–9 years. It even includes lesson plans and activities for educators trying to teach meditation. If you’re not a kid or an educator, there are plenty of other plans that might appeal, from meditation basics, to programs focused on everything from digital detoxes to improving your productivity and sporting skills. There is a mix of audio and video meditations of varying lengths, you can set up sub profiles so multiple family members can all use the app, and you’ll see your progress over time, with stats and charts showing how long you’ve spent meditating, how many sessions you’ve done and on which days. [ JAMES ROGERSON ]

 
 

PIXELBOARDPRO WHITEBOARDS FOR VIRTUAL MEETINGS

$14.99 | getpixelboardapp.com

Virtual meetings can be useful, but they often lack a crucial component: a virtual whiteboard where you can sketch ideas. That’s something that Black Pixel encountered, and so created a virtual whiteboard app. The app enables you to share three boards with up to nine people. The free trial is fully featured for two weeks; you can permanently unlock Pro for $14.99 to keep using multiple boards, collaboration features and gesture support. The interface is very simple and straightforward, so nobody’s wasting time trying to make it work when you’re supposed to be working together. It works just like a real whiteboard does, with the rather brilliant addition of disappearing ink that remains on the board for only a short time. The gesture tools make it easy to highlight or point to elements of the current board, and you can save screenshots to refer to them later. It’s not perfect, though. You can save images but not import them, and if you don’t have a stylus, your scribbles (like ours) will look rather childish — even on an iPad Pro. Also, the app requires iOS 11, so older iPads aren’t invited to the party. However, if you have dainty fingers and up-to-date iPads to work with, then it’s a useful and well-priced tool for your collaborative work. [ CARRIE MARSHALL ]

 
 

Polyjamer BECOME A MUSICAL GENIUS, NO EXPERIENCE REQUIRED.

Free | www.polyjamer.com

The world probably doesn’t need another music app, but it definitely needs Polyjamer. At least people like yours truly, who have absolutely no musical training, need it. This app helps anyone create music either on their own or with friends and family. The app employs the power of artificial intelligence and a new algorithm to turn anyone into a rock star. And it’s super easy to use — choose your favourite genre of music, then move your fingers (up to four if you’re dextrous enough) around the screen of the four tabs, choosing percussions, bass, chords and melodies. That’s it, you’re creating music! Add more beats or melodies if you need, mute any if you want to experiment, delete — everything with just a single tap. Change notes or speed of the tune by swiping up and down or left and right, respectively, then save your creation when you’re happy with it. Want to start a band? Up to 20 devices can use the app simultaneously when connected over the same Wi-Fi network for a jam session. Just make sure everyone is not more than a couple of metres away from each other. If you’re a first-timer when it comes to creating music, there are tutorials in the menu to take your music to a crescendo. [ SHARMISHTA SARKAR ]

 
 

Squigglish! WIGGLE, WIGGLE, WIGGLE, WIGGLE, WIGGLE... YEAH!

Free | tinyurl.com/tla75-wiggle

Comic artist Olivia Walch knows a thing or two about art, and about drawing apps, too. She’s already got one under her belt. Her new app, Squigglish! adds wiggles to any artwork, then exports it as a GIF or video file — it’s a great way to add dynamism to static drawings or photos. The app was built based on code Walch had developed during a hackathon and was inspired by the design of Squigglevision cartoons. The app does just one thing and one thing alone — and does it well — make your lines all wiggly and animated. You can start by importing a saved drawing or photo, or begin with a blank canvas if you want to doodle. There are currently nine different brushes (or styles and thickness of wiggly lines) to choose from, plus an eyedropper tool to select colour. However, colours can also be changed by just tapping on the colour dot on the bottom toolbar. The rest, as they say, is up to your imagination. Draw faces that wiggle or add squiggly touches to your photos, then share with friends and family or on social media. [ SHARMISHTA SARKAR ]

 
 

U-Dictionary “WORDS, WORDS, WORDS — I’M SO SICK OF WORDS!”

Free | www.u-dictionary.com/home

U-Dictionary is one of those apps that is as useful as you make it. Dictionary, translator or language learning. It’s primarily an app for English-as-a-second-language users, but that’s not to say you can’t use it if you’re a boring native English speaker, like your humble reviewer. If you need it to be a simple translation device, it can do that easily for 38 languages, providing you with contextual sentences including the word you’re looking up or a translation of a whole sentence. But as far as helping English-speakers goes, that’s pretty much it, unless you want to sink some serious hours into the Synonym Game. If you want it to help you speak English, it has planned tests and conversations you can practise. If you want to brush up on your vocab, it has a variety of ways to help you do that, too. There are groups to discuss certain topics or words. And lots of videos. Does it suffer from trying to do too much? That’s hard to say, but the interface could probably use some work. In order to find out what the app can do, you have to scroll through all the different activity types, rather than see them all in a dropdown menu or hideable sidebar. It’s all potentially very useful, if you can find what you’re looking for. [ CARMEL SEALEY ]

 
 

Workouts++ DOSE YOURSELF WITH DATA.

Free | david-smith.org

There are many different ways to monitor your progress on the road to being fit and healthy — see page 22 for examples. Workouts++ is probably the most in-depth app we’ve ever used and it’s even better in the second version. There’s a ton of info here that we lapped up. Which workout do you do most often? What time of the day is your favourite for running? What’s your total elevation climbed? Where did you run today? What was your average heart rate? Workouts++ can tell you all this and more. Each workout type is a different colour, which makes them easy to find — but you can also apply filters to see only one kind. Customising your data is simple and the UI is a cinch to navigate. As this app buddies up with your Apple Watch, you can customise your watch face with Workouts++ data. It also allows you to play podcasts through your watch, although we prefer inspiring music to sweat to rather than comedy. If you’re not using Strava (in fact, even if you are using Strava), we suggest you give this thoroughly in-depth app a try. It’s colourful and complex, and even inspires us to get our runners back on and plot a new course for tomorrow morning. Now, if that isn’t reason enough, we don’t know what is…! [ CARMEL SEALEY ]

 
 

NOTESHELF2 CAN IT RIVAL APPLE’S IMPROVED NOTES?

$14.99 | noteshelf.net

Noteshelf 2 has tools for marking PDFs, lets you add photos, and handles typed and handwritten notes. However, there is a limitation to the handwritten content (which we’ll go into in just a sec). You get a choice of two pen tools, a pencil, a highlighter and intelligent shape tools. It can even record audio as you jot or type, although you can’t link your jottings to locations within the soundtrack. Noteshelf 2 lacks the handwriting recognition of the native Notes app, so you can’t search entries with Spotlight, and when you export a handwritten page, it will transfer as a PNG or PDF. If you want to export in a more usable format, try Nebo. Notes are synced between iOS devices through iCloud, but there’s no macOS version. The app also integrates with third-party cloud services like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Drive, OneDrive and Box. Version 2 introduces numbered lists, bookmarks, bulletpoints and checkboxes, and you can now group notebooks. There are three new paper sizes — A4, ‘mobile’ and 12.9 inches. Noteshelf 2 is affordable, but it’s missing a couple of features. Its compatibility with Evernote and other third-party cloud services is tempting, and plugs the gap of a missing macOS edition, but there are more flexible options if you look around. [ NIK RAWLINSON ]