We usually try to throw the spotlight on brand new apps with our weekly Five to Try column, but sometimes massive updates steal the show. It’s actually a little of both with Android Pay: the app itself is a totally new experience, although it’s being released as a rebranded update to the old Google Wallet. In any case, if you’re eager to tap and pay with your phone, it’s the app to get this week.
Spotify’s update is more traditional, but it’s still a big deal: the running-focused enhancement brings playlists designed to scale with your speed. When it comes to fully new apps this week, we’ve got fun Tetris-esque puzzler Shades and the silly NBA Live Companion for turning yourself into a hoops star. And if you have a non-Samsung phone, then this week’s wider release of S Health will certainly be new to you.
Google announced its rollout last week, but Android Pay—which replaces the old Google Wallet app (there’s a new Wallet app, remember)—started hitting most phones this week via the Play Store. It’s the new tap-and-pay system for NFC-enabled phones, letting you load up your credit and debit cards, gift cards, and store loyalty cards, and then easily pay for things by tapping your phone to a compatible terminal.
It’s easy to set up and use, and seemingly secure—transactions are carried out with approval tokens, so the vendor never gets your credit card number. Plus, you’ll need a lock screen enabled on your device to even use Android Pay. Getting your cards into the app only takes a minute or two, and then you’ll be able to access them all whenever you need ‘em. No more fumbling through your wallet to use the last couple bucks on a Starbucks gift card, or to pay at Walgreens, Whole Foods, or any of the many thousands of places that accept NFC payments.
Spotify as a service and Android app certainly isn’t new, but there is a major new component this week: Spotify Running. Sure, many of you already use the streaming music service to provide the soundtrack to your jogging adventures and treadmill jams, but Spotify Running is a smart, adaptable solution to keeping pace.
If you need tunes to motivate you when running, simply pull up one of the many playlists provided in the Running tab of the app. The original compositions are the real star here: these beat-heavy tracks are built to scale based on your average steps per minute, and shift on the fly if you decide to speed up or slow down. But there are also playlists of popular songs in various genres, and they’ll pull up different tracks as you tweak your tempo—there’s never a break in the action.
There’s truly nothing flashy about Shades: this color-centric, line-clearing puzzler will hook you only with gameplay, not graphics. Luckily, this freebie is up to the task, delivering an experience that takes a bit of inspiration from Tetris without coming close to copying it. Here, the goal is to blend colored bricks to create complete lines, which then disappear from the board.
Each play session brings a different color scheme, but like-colored bricks combine to form darker ones, and a line only clears when it’s the same color all the way across. It’s easy enough on the lowest difficulty, but Shades can quickly devolve into chaos if you’re not careful on the higher speed levels; a fumbled brick placement will really come back to haunt you. The prominent ad banner is annoying, and the in-app purchase for removing it isn’t working, but this free puzzler is still worth a look.
S Health has long been a part of Samsung’s default app assortment, allowing phone owners to track basic fitness stats and pull in data from other services and devices. But as of this morning, Samsung has opened the gates wide on the app, allowing other phone owners to tap into its ecosystem. But if you don’t have a Samsung phone, why would you want S Health?
It’s a fair question. The most prominent reason may be the impending launch of the Gear S2 smartwatch, which sends its tracking data to your phone via S Health. But even if you’re not planning on grabbing that sleek wearable, S Health provides basic step counting, sleep and food tracking, and a way to keep all your fitness data in one spot. It might not be much different than Google Fit in that regard, but it has a clean, easy-to-understand interface—and if it gets you active and more aware of your everyday wellness, then that’s what really matters.
EA Sports’ long-running NBA Live console game franchise has been a mess since relaunching a couple years back, but next month’s NBA Live 16 sounds like a solid step up from last year’s entry. One of the more interesting perks of the latest edition is the ability to create a custom player—with your very own face mapped to it—using your phone, and the Android app just launched this week.
Whether or not you’re planning on playing the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 game, the free app is worth a look if only to see what kinds of monstrosities you can generate. My created player, Tork Borkington, took my face and added a whole bunch of extra forehead to it—which I then augmented with terrible hair. EA’s app is really finicky about phone compatibility, however: it wouldn’t work with the Galaxy Note 5 I’m using, but my old Nexus 5 was fine.