It’s usually a pretty big deal when Google releases a new Android app, and that’s doubly true this week. Allo is the company’s new chat app, which bundles in the brainy Google Assistant for good measure, while Google Travel makes it easy to plan for and make the most of your next trip without putting in a ton of work.
Google’s own apps lead our latest look at the Play Store’s hottest new releases, but they’re not alone this week. Also worth a look is the charming Paper Planes, which debuted at I/O this year, while Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition brings a popular survival game to Android and Dog Sled Saga turns the grueling activity into a fun arcade game and management simulation.
There’s no shortage of popular chat apps on Android, but that didn’t stop Google from taking another stab at the concept. Out this week, Allo is a mobile-only (Android and iOS) chat app that’s tied into your phone number, much like Google’s recent video-chat app, Duo. In conversation, it might seem much like any other app, letting you swap text, stickers, photos, and more, but there’s an added dose of intelligence thanks to the new Google Assistant.
The Assistant provides quick reply options at a tap, but it can do a lot more than that too: it can also pull a movie time or sports score from the web, search your images for a particular snapshot, do quick math, play a trivia game, and quite a bit more. Google’s A.I. should get smarter and more useful as it learns your tendencies (and everyone else’s too), and we’re keeping our fingers crossed for a web version at some point.
Just note that messages aren’t end-to-end encrypted by default. You can turn that option on, but in doing so, you’ll disable the Assistant as it relies on reading your data to function.
Not content to release just one big app this week, Google also just debuted Trips—and it seems like a potential lifesaver for anyone on the road, especially internationally. Trips works with the reservation emails in your Gmail account to automatically store flight, hotel, and other travel details, then acts as a support system once you’re on the ground. You’ll find ample suggestions for sights, eating, and transportation, as well as details on local customs, currency, and more.
And if you’re in one of the 200 big cities Google paid extra attention to, you’ll have access to Day Plans. Each city has a handful of these mapped-out agendas, which loop you between tourist attractions and other hotspots, helping you get a full vacation day without doing any of the research to sort it out. Best of all, every single bit of data can be saved offline with one tap, ensuring you have what you need at all times regardless of connection availability or quality.
Like many of the Android Experiments, Paper Planes is a small but worthy delight. Shown by Google at I/O this year, Active Theory’s app has you drop a localized stamp onto a sheet of virtual paper, fold it up, and then toss it out into the world by motioning with your phone. You can even catch someone else’s plane by scooping it up with a net, dropping your own stamp on the sheet, and sending it back out into orbit.
Tracking your planes’ various destinations is fun, and Paper Planes smartly sticks with pre-made stamps to keep things clean and friendly. What’s especially cool is that you can fire up the website on your computer’s browser and see the plane soar from your phone into the global view—and you don’t have to register an account or pair devices to make it happen. Paper Planes is a breezy little distraction that warrants a few minutes of your time.
Like Minecraft but want something with a little more bite? Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition ($4) can fill that role. After selling millions of copies on PC, consoles, and iOS, the grim survival game has just arrived on the Play Store—albeit in an “Unreleased” beta version that could have some bugs. Like Minecraft, Klei’s game drops you into a randomized world and tasks you with staying alive amidst the open terrain. However, when you die here, the game ends.
That’s true whether you’ve played for minutes or hours, and Don’t Starve doesn’t even have a tutorial to start things off. That gives you a real chance to figure things out for yourself, whether it’s gathering resources, crafting, or defending yourself, and the Tim Burton-esque aesthetic is attractive. The Pocket Edition doesn’t have the full feature suite of the larger and pricier versions, but there’s still plenty here to enchant fans of tough, open-ended games.
Real-life dog-sledding seems like it’s both physically and mentally exhausting, but Dog Sled Saga ($4) is thankfully just fun, upbeat, and charming. Split between arcade-style, side-scrolling races and a gradual career progression, this indie game puts you in command of your own team of pups, who must be fed, trained, and properly rested in order to move your way up the rankings and become the ultimate sledding champ.
The races aren’t terribly complex: you’ll hold and release to fling snacks to your hard-working companions and tap as needed to dodge hazards. However, there’s quite a bit to manage between races, including your team makeup and positioning, budgets, sponsorships, employees, and even breeding the next generation of winners. Slick pixel graphics, great music, and amusing dialogue bits give Dog Sled Saga a very chill appeal.