September is here now, and that means the weather is starting to turn to hell as Autumn creeps up on us. Soon we might even have to turn the heating on! It's about time my umbrella got some use anyway. It's been hanging up by my the front door for far too long.
Enough of that, let's take a look at this week's list of must-have apps.
Android: Opera VPN (Free)
It's been out on iOS for quite some time, and now Opera's VPN service is available for Android users to download. VPN users are useful for a variety of different reasons, but all the good ones cost money – or at least don't stay completely free for very long. Thankfully Opera's VPN promises to be free and unlimited until the end of time. Or, at least, until the day Opera (or the internet) ceases to be.
There are a lot of reasons why you'd want this on your phone. For starters it's capable of spoofing your virtual location to one of five regions across the world (with more coming soon), the option to test Wi-Fi security, a built-in adblocker, as well as 'Guardian' which prevents trackers from keeping tabs on your browsing habits. It also offers encryption to protect you while you're online.
Region-wise we've got most of the usual suspects you'd expect to see on any free VPN plus a couple more: Canada, Germany, Netherlands, the US, and Singapore. You can also pick the closest location, which is Netherlands if you're here in the UK. Unfortunately I couldn't use it to access a foreign Netflix catalogue, which is worth keeping in mind.
Opera advertises the VPN as one of the fastest out there, and it doesn't seem too bad. Connecting lowered my home Wi-Fi speeds from 40Mbps to 25 Mbps, though obviously the state of your own connection is going to be slightly different. It's a reasonable dip, but it's not like it caused my fibre connection to offer up pre-broadband speeds.
It's all a pretty simple offering, but it's good at what it does and Opera has pledged to keep it free forevermore. Just be aware that the app itself offers up ads, so that ad-blocker isn't 100% ad-free.
You should also try:
Fitbit (Update): Fitbit's hitting the Pokémon Go fad with its own real-world game features. Basically it's geocaching, but all tied up with your fitness data. [Free]
Night Mode Enabler: One for Nougat owners, letting you access night mode quickly and easily by turning the toggle into an app icon. [Free]
smartWake: One for personalising how you wake up your phone, without having to use any buttons. Pick it up, tilt it, wave in front of it, the possibilities are (almost) endless. [Free]
iPhone: Mimo (Free - with subscription)
Think of this one as an interactive textbook of sorts, focused on helping you learn to program computers and write code from scratch.
While some learn-to-code apps will immediately put you to work, or just explain everything, Mimo talks you through all the ins and outs of different coding languages, testing your newly acquired knowledge along the way. But rather than having set tests, it gets you to deal with a single question or task as you're going through everything. That way you don't need to worry about memorising and regurgitating information, since you're constantly expanding on what just came before.
There are quizzes you can do at the end of each chapter, but it doesn't seem as though that's the main focus of testing what you've learned. It also tells you how long each chapter should take, and how far you've gone already. That's a nice way of visualising exactly how much you have to invest into learning.
In Mimo you can learn about the basics of programming, HMTL, Javscript, Swift, CSS, C++, Java, SQL, Ruby, Python, and C#. Courses that have been announced for the future include Hacking, Git, Terminal, Machine Learning, Raspberry Pi, and R.
Mimo lets you download and go through each coding language's introduction free of charge, but if you want to unlock full courses you'll need to subscribe. Subscribing unlocks everything Mimo has to offer, along with unlimited access to any updates and course extensions that might pop up. That's £40 for a whole year, and you have to pay it all in one go.
You should also try:
Melodist: An odd one I'll admit, but one that's probably going to interesting for you to use. Basically Melodist turns all your photos into unique melodies, and then plays them for you. [Free]
Trigger: Watches the stock market so you don't have to, giving you real time alerts about what's going on based on pre-set conditions. [Free]
Sky Tripping: This one wants you to relax by watching aerial views of stunning locations up and down the California coast. [£2.29]
iPad: De-motivate Me (Free - with in-app purchases)
This one is a nice little change from all the happy-go-lucky confidence-boosting motivational apps that we see all the time. Sometimes you're having a bad day and you don't need all that. Maybe you're already happy enough, or maybe you just want to revert into some sort of goth. Whatever the reason might be, De-motivate Me is there to help.
Basically, it'll serve up a different deprecating quote every single day, in order to keep your mental state less-than top notch. Unfortunately the free version doesn't let you see more than one quote a day, and it limits you to ten quotes. So if you want to unlock them all you'll have to cough up $0.99/£0.74 to be able to see them all.
It's incredibly basic, but if you need whatever the opposite of cheering up is, give it a go. Also read the FAQs, they're rather amusing.
You should also try:
Mondly (Update): One for learning 33 of the world's most popular languages, and it now has a chatbot you can practise with. Speak to it, and it will speak back. [Free]
Patter - Design Drawing: A design app focusing on simple basic necessities of design, rather than fancy effects. [£2.29]
Windows Mobile: Office Lens (Free)
This has been about for a while, but it just arrived on Windows 10. About time too. In case you didn't know already, Office Lens is a scanning app that lets you snap pictures of real-world text and convert them into more useful digital documents.
It's a nice and simple app, and by using Office Lens to take a picture of something you can instantly digitise it. Whether it's an important work document, notes on a whiteboard, or business cards, you're all sorted. It integrates itself with Microsoft Office apps, if you have them, so once the picture/document/whatever is loaded into the phone, it can be processed and opened up in a different app.
Office Lens also has a built-in OCR feature if you convert your image to a Word or PDF document, meaning any text on screen becomes text that you can search through and make adjustments to. It's not perfect, but if it can get a decent shot of the text in question then the conversion is pretty accurate. If the picture isn't good, obviously things tend to come out looking like gibberish.
It's basic, and this new version is hardly groundbreaking, but if you need a scanner on your phone that's easy to use and (perhaps most importantly) completely free, this is a must have.
You should also try:
Instagram (Update): It seems Instagram is really taking the whole updates thing seriously with Windows 10. It's a bit later than iOS and Android, but the official app now has support for the new Instagram stories feature. [Free]
Fanband: One for Microsoft Band owners who want more control over their gadget's theme. There are over 2,000 of them available, waiting for you to pick them. [£1.49]