App

Great apps deserving of a little more attention

Our mission is to help you get the most from your iPhone and iPad. This means scouring the App Store, to find and review for you the very best apps. But the App Store is huge and there’s no way we can cover everything.

So as 2021 looms into view, it’s time for our traditional round-up of new apps released over the past 12 months that we didn’t manage to cover in depth, and yet that deserve a place on your Home screen.

This year, there’s a theme of app creators approaching subjects in a new way, bringing innovation to the otherwise familiar.

Longplay

$3/£3 • v1.1.3 • 4.9 MB • By Adrian Schoenig

A big change with modern music is the fading importance of the album. When streaming, people are more likely to listen to curated playlists or endless feeds based on favorite songs.

Longplay aims to change all that, presenting your music collection as a scrolling list of cover art. Tap a cover and the album plays. You can skip tracks, but Longplay would sooner you didn’t. It wants you to get reacquainted with albums in their entirety, rather than briefly check out a song or two. And it’s effective, providing a sense of focus rival players lack.

Neatly, the app also aids discovery in how your albums are ordered. You can opt for alphabetical, but it’s possible to list by recency (newly added) and negligence (how long it’s been since something was last played).

Longplay

Stride: The Running Game

$4/£4 per month • v1.7.1 • 140.2 MB • By Location Games Limited

Years ago, there was a superb exercise app called Run an Empire. Beautifully simple, it combined outdoor movement with something akin to Risk. As you ran or walked, you secured territory on a map. If friends used the app too, you’d have added impetus to move around, lest you lose your turf.

Sadly, Run an Empire’s creators ruined it, bizarrely turning their masterpiece into an idle clicker game. Even more strangely, they’re now back with Stride, which is more or less the Run an Empire of old! Fortunately, like the original, this new take is devoid of cruft. The paid tier adds local leaderboards and other goodies, but works well enough for free – as long as you rope local friends into playing.

Stride: The Running Game

Sleep by Max Richter

Free • v1.5.1 • 85.2 MB • By U-Apps

Max Richter is known for his ground-breaking work in the fields of composition and classical music. Sleep is a masterpiece designed to mirror a full night’s rest, and features 31 compositions over eight and a half hours. In app form, it’s a mite more flexible.

Instead of you pressing play and getting over eight hours of audio, you’re invited to trigger a listening experience based around falling asleep, meditation or focusing on a task at hand. The compositions are reframed and reworked accordingly.

The experience works well. As a work or relaxation aid, Sleep blocks out external noise, without distracting you from what you’re trying to do. A journal also tracks how your sessions are making you feel over time.

Note that Sleep requires an Apple Music or Spotify Premium account.

Sleep by Max Richter

Voxel Max

$10/£10 • v1.0 • 73.3 MB • By Adrian Andreca

Pixel art is now a stylistic choice, having originally been down to technical limitations. That’s even more evident with voxels, which take chunky art into the 3D realm. Voxel Max is an app that allows you to create scenes and characters based around cubes.

There’s a learning curve. Grasping pixel art is simple – you fill in squares on a grid. But anything in three dimensions requires time to get your head around. Still, Voxel Max aims to ease you in with example art and a help center.

Grasp the basics and Voxel Max soon opens up with a range of versatile tools, from customizable brushes to non-destructive object transformation. On an iPad in particular, this is one of those apps that feels desktop-grade.

Voxel Max

Reeder 5

$5/£5 • v5.0.4 • 13.6 MB • By Silvio Rizzi

The problem with being bombarded by information online is the tendency to not focus on any of it. Reeder 5 gets around that by providing a dedicated repository for browser-based content.

This is achieved in two ways: you can subscribe to specific sites, so you never miss a headline; additionally, you can (in two taps) set-up a ‘read later’ service and send ad-hoc articles to it from Safari.

In either case, the reading view dispenses with anything unimportant, leaving only formatted text and images; and what you see can be customized – or reworked using ‘bionic reading’, a system designed to have you read with more awareness and sustainability. It’s a complete reading solution for anyone who feels vanilla browsers and social media apps don’t do enough to help you access information and take it all in.

Reeder 5

Zen Brush 3

$5/5 • v1.03 • 186.3 MB • By PSOFT

Many painting apps mimic the appearance of real-world tools, but Zen Brush 3 seeks to focus on the feel of an East Asian ink brush. That might sound limited compared to diverse feature sets found in other painting apps, but what you get here comes across like a mix of painting and mindfulness.

Although ideal for digital calligraphy, Zen Brush 3 offers features that enable more diverse output. Adjustable water tools and optional speed drying provide scope for bleeding, blurring and blotting, and a wide range of background templates gives you many alternatives to the standard blank white canvas. It’s superb whether you fancy a painting app to relax with, or are a digital art veteran seeking something beautiful and new.

Zen Brush 3