Grab your phone and prepare to shoot some new apps and games over to it from the Google cloud. It's time for the Google Play App Roundup where we tell you what's new and cool in the Play Store. Just click the links to head to each app's page to check it out for yourself.
Google released an app last year for iPhone called Motion Stills, which jived nicely with Apple's Live Photo feature. Still, Android users like GIF photos, too. So, Google has finally gotten around to releasing an Android version of Motion Stills with an improved image processing pipeline. That means it's faster, and fast things are good.
Motion Stills is basically a GIF camera, but it's a really good GIF camera. It's got amazing image stabilization, which results in very smooth animations that look like you had your phone on a tripod. All you need to do is tap the capture button, and the app takes a three second video. You can scroll down to see the video, and it's ready instantly. Google's improved processing renders each frame as it's captured to make this happen.
The clips default to having the super-stabilization on, but you can turn it off just for fun. The app basically crops a bit out of each frame and lines up the action so nothing moves in an undesired way. The videos can be exported as the native MP4 or as GIFs. You'll probably do GIFs because they're more easily shared, and that's what this app is aimed at. Make sure to take a peek at the settings to tweak the GIF quality. You can increase this setting for a smooth GIF and it's only a little bigger.
The gallery itself is rather mesmerizing after you've taken a few videos. All the clips play as you scroll through with stabilization enabled. It just feels very alive. Sort of like live photos for iOS, but with longer clips and higher quality animation.
In addition to the motion stills, this app also supports "fast forward" mode. Think Microsoft Hyperlapse, but from Google. Here, you can take videos up to a minute long, then adjust the speed of playback between 2x and 8x. Just as above, you get Google's powerful image stabilization features.
Motion Stills is a simple app, but it does what it's supposed to do. There's nothing to complain about here, and Motion Stills is free.
After all these years of reviewing games on Android, I'm becoming increasingly convinced it's the simpler experiences that offer the most enjoyment for me. A complex 3D game might be fun on occasion, but we're mostly talking about phones. Playing a complex game can be tedious, and what happens when you get a phone call? Something quick and clever like Leap On is right up my alley. All you have to do is press and hold at the right time.
Leap On is a game of timing and awareness as your tiny round avatar spins around a central spiky ball, tethered by a stretchy line. When you press the screen, your character spins clockwise while bouncing off the floating white circles (mostly, you get other shapes later in the game). These will drift around and spawn across the screen. Each one you bounce off of is a point, and getting multiple bounces in a row increases your score multiplier. That central spiky ball is not worth any points. In fact, it's game over if you hit that.
Thus, you need to press and hold to make sure you land on the white orbs and not fall into the center of the system. Additionally, some of the orbs floating around have white and black halves. If you hit the black side, that's also an instant kill. In addition to your score, Leap On keeps track of your maximum distance from the center. There's a dotted line out there to give you something to shoot for.
The other side of Leap On is that you gain more altitude for each bounce. After a minute of playing, you could be stretching way out on your line. The central spiky ball might not even be visible. It's a real challenge to navigate from one bounce to the next without running into a black surface. Keep in mind you can only go in one direction—clockwise.
In addition to the orbs you bounce around on in this title, there are power ups floating around. These can be hard to snag, but they'll boost you in various ways. Some will launch you around in a loop, bouncing off multiple orbs, and others will launch spikes that pop nearby orbs and give you points.
The visuals are very simple, as you might expect for a game with only one control interaction. It's all geometric shapes and bright colors. As you earn more points, you unlock more background colors, and floating shapes. The game doesn't change dramatically, but the varying look gives some sense of advancement.
Leap On is free with a few ads. I get the feeling there will be more ads later, but right now you are simply offered the option of watching an ad to get a second life. There's an ad removal in-app purchase for $0.99 whenever that happens.
How about a nice, relaxing round of golf. That's what you get in Vista Golf, and you'll be able to say that to yourself every few days, knowing there will be a new course to play. The developers of this miniature golf title have committed to churning out three new courses every single week. That's a lot of mini golf!
The controls in Vista Golf are easy to learn, and the first hole includes a quick tutorial. Simply tap and drag in the circle surrounding your ball to indicate a direction and power for the swing. If you want to rotate your view, tap and drag outside that circle. To zoom in and out, you can use multitouch gestures.
The mechanics of the game are standard miniature golf rules, so I won't bore you with the specifics. Just aim to get the ball in the hole in the required number of strokes. The fewer, the better. The physics at work in this game are solid. For example, hitting the ball too hard could send it vaulting over the railing. Going out of bounds like that costs you a stroke. There are also ramps, pits, and other obstacles in the courses that affect where the ball ends up.
The three courses are split into easy, medium, and hard. The easy one is just that—easy as pie. Perhaps a little dull, actually. The medium one is more lively, and the hard one gets a bit wacky. In the current hard course, there are moving platforms, windmills, and other neat things with which to deal.
With each set of courses, you're competing with other players to get the best score. It all resets when a new set is released. Again, this is supposed to happen every week. If the developer can keep to that, Vista Golf could remain a fresh experience every time you pick it up.
Vista Golf uses that low-poly style that's so in lately. The courses are smooth, with blocky protuberances and facets making up the ramps, spinners, and slopes. The trees planted around the course are bundles of polygons, but it all works together. I like that the trees actually feel like part of the course. You often have to rotate the camera to get a good view through the trees.
Vista Golf is still in active development, but it's free and there are no ads. Check it out.