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Google Play App Roundup: Afterlight, Deep Under the Sky, and Snapshot

By Ryan Whitwam

Photos, photos, jellyfish.

It's time to make your phone better not through hard work and determination, but by installing some apps. That's a lot easier. This is the Google Play App Roundup where we find the best new and newly updated stuff on Android. Hit the links to open the Play Store.

This week we've got a few new ways to get better photos, plus some alien jellyfish.

Afterlight

In the realm of image editing on iOS, Afterlight is one of the most popular options. This app has amassed a huge number of downloads in spite of the $0.99 price tag in a sea of free alternatives. Surely there must be something to it then, right? Now is your chance to find out as this image editor has arrived in the Play Store.

Afterlight, like many other editing apps, lets you either choose an existing image from your device, or snap a new one on the spot. The built-in camera app is reasonably good, but on Android you're further ahead to use the stock camera interface on your phone. You can use the gallery app of your choice to select the image, and I quite like that it gives you a larger preview of the selected image before importing. It's great if you've taken a few pics of the same scene to make sure you got a good one.

The buttons along the bottom of the screen open up different sets of tools in a row directly above them. As you can probably guess, each one tweaks a different facet of the image. The far left button is for general edits. There are tools for brightness, saturation, color temperature, highlights, exposure, and so on. Afterlight has more tools than most other apps, but it's still a long way from something like Photoshop Touch. Cropping, rotation, and other tools of that sort are available under a different button. There's also an auto-fix tool that seem fairly accurate, though it seems to have a tendency to blow some images out. Annoyingly, the icons for individual tweaks aren't all easy to work out, and there are no labels.

One of those buttons down there opens the filter menu, which will be contentious as usual. If you're into adding filters to photos, the ones in Afterlight are pretty good. There are a few dozen of them split up into categories, and you can change the strength of each. They don't seem to destroy detail like some filters do. There's an irksome little detail here--several of the filters are locked until you share Afterlight on Facebook. Technically, you just have to tap the share button and back out, but still. The only other bit of walled-off content is the instant film effect pack. If that's the sort of thing you need (why), you will have to pay an additional $0.99 via an in-app purchase.

At the end of all your tweaking, Afterlight gives you direct sharing to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and a local save option. The Android sharing menu is also supported. The tree-level quality selector at the top of the screen is a nice touch as well. If you're just sending something to Instagram, there's no reason to save it at full res. Note, the default top setting maxes out at 2048 px wide, but you can change that in the settings so you don't lose any quality.

Deep Under the Sky

The real Venus might be an inhospitable world covered in a thick, choking atmosphere of carbon dioxide and sulfur, but Deep Under the Sky has a more fanciful idea of what could be lurking on the dark side of Earth's sister planet. This game follows the life cycle of a strange species of jellyfish-like creatures, swimming through an alien sea. It's up to you to see to it they survive by capturing all the nests scattered throughout the levels.

A glowing jellyfish creature settles in for an evening of reproductive activities in each of Deep Under the Sky's 80 levels. Your goal is to direct the spores it fires off to the nests around the level. All you have to do is tap, but it has to be done at exactly the right time. At its most basic, Deep Under the Sky is a physics puzzler.

The spores behave differently in each of the game's three worlds. After you launch, another tap activates the spore's special ability. In the first set of levels, it's a water jet that pushes it in a predetermined direction. In the second, you can curl into a ball and roll around the level. The last section has a grappling hook system that lets you fling the spore over obstacles. After you've deployed the special skill (sometimes you get more than one), the spore will detonate on the next tap or when it hits a wall. You need to make sure it's close enough to the nests to capture them.

Deep Under the Sky doesn't limit you to a certain number of spores, but it does keep track of how many you use and how long it takes you. Ideally, you should be able to figure out how to reach all the nests and collect the two bonus stars hidden in the level, but that's not always easy. This game isn't highly difficult, but it's not a breeze either. I actually appreciate the more casual gameplay in this instance because Deep Under the Sky looks really neat.

The graphics are a real treat with tons of lighting and particle effects. The colors are also super-vibrant. Everything around you looks alive, but completely alien with glowing spines, waving cilia, and swirling tendrils. It's an eerily beautiful game. I actually find myself replaying some levels just because they look cool and I want to poke around more.

Deep Under the Sky is currently on sale for $2.99 (25% off) for the launch window. Even when the price goes up it's probably worth checking out. It's not the kind of game that comes along every day.

Snapshot

Some phones have a built-in way of accessing the camera quickly while the device is asleep, but for everyone else there's Snapshot. This is a simple app that solves a single problem, but it does it so, so well. All you have to do is wake up your phone in landscape mode, and boom--camera app.

I was incredibly skeptical of Snapshot when I first installed it as there are a variety of apps that can launch actions based on accelerometer input. The main drawback of these apps is that they poll the accelerometer too frequently and cause wakelocks. Happily, this is not the case with Snapshot.

It doesn't matter how you wake the phone up, so long as you're holding it sideways at the time. So on most phones that will mean pressing the power button, but LG devices with the tap to wake functionality are especially convenient. When the camera app is triggered, you'll get a slight vibe from the phone as the camera app opens. This works with secure lock screens as well as the regular swipe version, and it only takes about a second to happen.

There is essentially zero battery usage from Snapshot on any of the devices I've tested because it's only accessing the accelerometer when the device wakes up. So there's no wakelocking from the background service. The default settings place a Snapshot notification in the shade to make sure it stays in memory, but disabling it hasn't caused any issues for me. You'll probably also want to enable the start at boot option.

All the basic functionality works with the free version, but the $0.99 Pro key is needed for activating the camera in other orientations like upside-down and 270-degree (the other landscape). I don't know for sure why you'd need this, but you can support the developer at least. Snapshot is a really neat app and it's free to try.