The best mobile apps and games of the year
Another year is drawing to a close, which means it's time to reflect on the 12 months that have gone by – and in this case the best mobile apps and games we've seen released for Android and iOS. From puzzle games to photo editors, these are the apps of 2017 you really should be trying out.
We've focused mainly on games here, which is where most of the best new titles can be found. New apps appear in their droves all the time, but with the big-name apps dominating the listings, it's hard for new entries to bring something fresh or interesting to the table.
It's been a quiet year for significant new apps releases from the major developers like Apple and Google. Instead, they've concentrated on improving the tools they've already got. That said, we have managed to find a few non-gaming apps released in 2017 that are worth a look.
1. Affinity Photo
If you want a serious photo editing suite on your iPad, then Serif's Affinity Photo, ported to iOS this year, is a strong contender. Not even Adobe has managed to cram as many features into an app as this does, from unlimited layer support to real-time filter previews.
You will need a newer iPad to run this (check the listing for details), but with so many effects, filters, and image adjustments to pick from, it's certainly going to appeal to those who can run it. The app supports a host of file formats for importing and exporting, too.
Affinity Photo – US$15.99 on iOS
2. Monument Valley 2
Monument Valley 2 doesn't depart too far from the 2014 original, but if the formula works, why change it? Once again players are tasked with traveling through a mesmerizing series of isometric puzzles, across gardens, palaces, and other impossible-looking scenes.
The mother-daughter dynamic has added some necessary freshness to the game, and story takes more of a role this time around too, but whether you're new to the series or not, this is undoubtedly one of the best-looking and most engaging games released during 2017.
3. Flipping Legend
Described as a "pattern-based adventure,"Flipping Legend moves at a frenetic pace, features a host of fantastically rendered backdrops, and pushes your reflexes and muscle memory to the max, making this an absorbing and fresh take on the endless runner genre.
Like a bishop on a chess board, you need to always be thinking diagonally, and while that might sound a bit odd in theory, it works perfectly in practice. Like all the best mobile games, it's easy to pick up but hard to master, and it's got a great sense of fun at its core.
4. The Witness
One for the puzzle fans to puzzle over, The Witness came to Android and iOS in 2017 so gamers could go mobile with their mysterious island adventures, exploring this fabulously well-crafted open world and moving from conundrum to conundrum in their own time.
It's not just about the puzzles though – it's about the sense of discovery, and the sense of loneliness, and the sense of wonder that the game manages to build up, even on a smaller screen. One of those engaging games you'll find yourself coming back to again and again.
Earning the honor of being named Google's app of the year, Socratic isn't for everyone but will be invaluable for some. It's a homework helper that you can use to take a photo of a math equation or other question and then get some guided help with finding the answer.
It's almost magical in the way it can untangle the thorniest of math problems, and it can actually have a go at any kind of homework question, although it's the equations that work most consistently. As an added bonus it's free, so won't cost you a penny to use.
6. Reigns: Her Majesty
It's often the case that the simplest games are the most fun, and so it is with Reigns: Her Majesty, which reduces the challenge of ruling a kingdom into a series of Tinder-style card swipes. You always end up dying, in the end, but how long can you manage to last for?
Like the original Reigns game, this sequel has a fiendish sense of humor, and you might be surprised at just how addictive the gameplay is, considering it's so simple. This time around though, you take the role of the queen, which brings its own set of challenges.
7. The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth
After debuting on Windows in 2011, a classic of the RPG genre made its way to iOS this year. There's no Android version unfortunately, and the price of admission is rather high, but this is still worth a look for its gameplay, its graphics, and its all-round atmosphere.
As the titular Isaac you must blast your way past 100+ enemies in a randomly generated environment that offers up hundreds of hours of gameplay and secrets. Its darker mood won't suit everyone but even at this price it's one of the best-value games of the year.
The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth – $14.99 on iOS
With Apple launching ARKit and Google announcing ARCore, it's been a big year for augmented reality, and SketchAR demonstrates some of its potential on your phone. It's main trick is laying digital drawings over paper, so you can carefully trace over them.
In that respect it's a "how to draw" app, but it's also so much more than that – it's a glimpse at how AR can be genuinely useful, and a way of sparking creativity. You can also sketch out pictures from photos and make timelapse videos of drawings to share with others.
9. Thimbleweed Park
Originally springing to life on Kickstarter, Thimbleweed Park is the new game from point-and-click legend Ron Gilbert, he of Monkey Island fame, and the same combination of dark humor, memorable pixelated settings, and winning gameplay can be found here.
Just like Gilbert's other adventure games, this one will engage your mind and your emotions as well as your sense of humor. With five playable characters, the game calls itself a neo-noir mystery set in 1987 – though the truth is a lot weirder than that.
10. Framed 2
Full marks to Framed 2 (and indeed Framed) for bringing something genuinely different to the table: A gameplay mechanic where you're presented with a series of comic strip panels and it's up to you to put them in the correct order and move the story to the next screen.
If that sounds a bit too pedestrian, it absolutely isn't, and you'll soon be engrossed in getting these nameless characters through the story and working out exactly what's going on. There's not always one solution to each panel either, adding some extra replay value.
11. Old Man's Journey
With smaller screens and shorter gaming sessions, mobile games lend themselves to quieter, more reflective experiences, and that's certainly the case with the excellent Old Man's Journey – which essentially is exactly what the title suggests it's going to be.
There's not really all that much gaming to do, just a path to follow and some thoughts to reflect on, and if that sounds like something you'll like, you'll love this. It looks and sounds gorgeous, and the game has been specifically built for phone and tablet touchscreens.
12. Newton Calendar
Newton Mail is a well-established, premium-level email client for those who don't mind paying for a bit of extra polish and a few extra features, and now Newton Calendar has arrived to upgrade your scheduling as well, bundled in the same $50/year subscription.
Like the email app, the minimal, aesthetically-pleasing interface hides a lot of smarts underneath, including the option to send automatic alerts to your contacts if you're running late, and smart scheduling for finding slots in the busiest of calendar schedules.
Newton Calendar – free on iOS (requires $50/year subscription)