The Week's Top Android, iPhone, iPad, and Windows Phone Apps

By Tom Pritchard on at

Something that's been on my mind recently: Lego. In particular I have pondered whether or not its really a kids thing anymore. Have you looked at the price of Lego recently? It's not cheap, and a lot of those sets are pretty intricate and don't strike me as the sort of thing kids should be playing with. Maybe it's because I'm getting old, or maybe because the Lego I'm looking at is more aimed at adults.

Speaking of which, there is a small mention of Lego in this week's list of apps. Plus a whole lot more.

Android: YouTube Kids (Free)

There's plenty of web content that isn't suitable for kids, even on sites like YouTube. Thankfully Google has launched its child-friendly YouTube Kids app here in the UK, so you can make sure your kids can't go off watching inappropriate stuff. You know, like the angry Call of Duty videos posted by people who are also kids.

It uses an automated system that excludes restricted content, but nothing is actually reviewed manually. With that in mind, Google has also included a flagging system to make sure the videos that slip through the cracks can be dealt with. The final control system is letting parents decide whether search should be on or off for kids. With search off they're limits to recommended content that appears on the homepage. The over all idea being that innocent eyes will find it difficult to discover something unsuitable.

Setting up is incredibly simple, and only takes a few seconds. The main problem with it, however, is that the app doesn't prompt you to create your own security PIN. Until you do, it'll just ask you to type in a random four digit number that is displayed on the screen as words. That's great if you're giving the app to a toddler, but once kids can read it rather defeats the purpose.

There are four different sections for kids to navigate with: videos, music, learning, and 'explore'. These are fairly self explanatory, and the content the app throws up is the kind of stuff you'd expect: Sesame Street, Peppa Pig, and all sorts of kids' shows that I have zero knowledge about.

The final points to note are that the app has a custom timer, which will lock after a certain amount of time and limit how much it's used. Plus, it's compatible with Chromecast so kids can enjoy whatever it is they're watching on the big screen.

YouTube Kids is also available on iOS.

You should also try

Patreon: The crowdfunding app use to support artists, YouTubers, and all sorts of creative types now has an official platform on Android. [Free]

Pool - Photo Sharing Assistant: A tool for sharing photos between smartphones running both iOS and Android. Pool lets you privately share photos with friends and family with a single swipe. No fiddling with email, or Bluetooth connections. [Free]

Lego Mindstorms: The official app for programming Lego's Mindstorms sets. There are pre-made programs to run, and you can design your own. [Free]

iPhone: LaunchCode Shortcut with Notification Center (Free/£2.99)

iOS isn't great for creating customisations for the home-screen user interface, and by not great I mean there are basically none. That means it's a little bit trickier organising your apps to get to the stuff you use regularly quickly and easily. Enter LaunchCode Shortcut, an app allows access your apps with a custom touch-screen gesture.

The first thing to note is that you can't just throw the gesture onto your homescreen and expect the app to open, you have to physically open the app to let its do its thing. Plus, just in case your controls slip your mind, a selection of your saved gestures circle the screen.

Sadly when you open up the app a bunch of the stock apps you have will already have gestures assigned, and since the free version limits how many gestures you set you'll have to delete each unnecessary one manually. Doing this (and adding your own gestures) causes the app to prompt you to buy the premium version, and when you say no it'll pull up a video ad. Every. Single. Time. It's a massive pain, and while I appreciate devs have to make money somehow these kinds of intrusive ads tarnish the experience. Especially since there are banner ads as well.

Adding new gestures is simple though, and all you have to do is select the app in question from a list and choose your own gesture. There's even a list of compatible apps that you haven't downloaded, which will take you directly to the app store to get yourself kitted out.

The last thing to note is that there is a Notification Centre widget that has a very small list of apps that you've assigned gestures to; the widget does not include the gesture box to pull open anything else though, which is a shame. That is an annoyance to the user, and in my opinion throwing in that functionality would make it an awful lot more convenient. Still, if you'd rather not have to sift through several pages and folders to find your stuff, this is a great way to save a few seconds here and there.

You should also try:

Real Talk: A crowdsourcing app that puts people in touch with professionals from all sorts of careers. The idea is they have valuable experience and wisdom to pass on. [Free]

Noodler: Noodles are the staple part of every student's diet, and Noodler gives you some inspiration to improve them in the form noodle soup recipes. [Free]

Castro: High Fidelity Podcasts: (Update) Castro is a podcast management app that's just been updated with a bunch of iOS 9 features. It's got gestures, Spotlight search, and 3D Touch (if you have and iPhone 6Plus) [Free]

iPad: Lrn (Free, with in-app purchases)

Coding is a fairly useful skill, but learning it can be hard work. Lrn is designed to make it easier, using step-by-step lessons to teach you one of many different coding languages. Included is HTML, CSS, Python, Ruby, and Javascript.

Simplicity is key to how Lrn works. Each language has six or seven different lessons focused on different important lessons you'll need to use them in the real world. Each one of those lessons is then broken up into several different ways. To start with you're told about the different aspects of coding, and told to put each individual piece of information into practice. Before long the app then starts quizzing you to make sure you've actually retained some of that information.

It's a nice way to be taught different aspects of the world of coding, mainly down to the fact that everything is done one step at a time and you can work through it all at your own pace. HTML and CSS are free, but the rest of the language courses cost £2.29 each, or £0.79 for individual lessons.

You should also try:

uMake: A design app for letting you sketch out your ideas in 3D. You can even import your own photos to use them as reference. [Free]

ShareTheMeal: An app from the United Nations specifically made for donating money to feed starving children across the world. All it takes is a tap. [Free]

Windows Phone: Duolingo, Free

One of the biggest names in language apps has finally arrived on Windows Phone devices. So now dedicated Windows Phone users can take full advantage of its learn-at-your-own-pace language courses.

For those speaking English as a first language, there are 12 different languages to choose from (10 of the major Europe languages, plus Turkish and Esperanto). Choosing a language is the first thing you do, with many more available to be added at a later day. After that, you choose how many words you have to learn each day (10, 20, or 30). I started off with French, and learning 10 words a day.

The actual learning is pretty easy as you start off that day's course. Things kick off by giving you a word and asking you to select the corresponding image. Each image has the foreign translation to help you learn each word. After a few rounds of that, you're told to translate a sentence. Sometimes you have to type out the answer, but for others you just need to select words from a jumble. Through the whole thing, getting it right sends you to the next section and getting it wrong causes you to lose one of four hearts. Run out of hearts and you have to start over.

It's a nice way to slowly build up your vocabulary, and provided you stick with it you'll be speaking a brand new language in no time. Comprende?

You should also try:

6Tin: (Update) There's still no official Tinder app on Windows Phone, but it doesn't really matter because 6Tin has just been updated with Tinder's latest features. [Free]

Truecaller: (Update) This one is a crowdsourced Caller ID system that lets you know if you're being called by a scammer, telemarketer, or other nuisance people. The new version has been optimised to use less data, has a slightly revamped design, and Live Tile improvements. [Free]

MeeDJ: Want to DJ but don't have the equipment? This one is an app designed for mixing your music on your phone with a nice simple interface. [Free]