Five to Try: Google's VR Expeditions goes solo, and the Nintendo Switch Online app arrives

Here are this week's most intriguing new and updated Android apps.

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Andrew Hayward/IDG

Got big plans for the weekend? If not, try strapping into Google’s Expeditions app. Thanks to a new update, now you can explore many of the world’s most dazzling sights on your own in VR, instead of needing another nearby user to act as the leader.

It’s one of this week’s big Play Store picks, along with the Nintendo Switch Online app, which lets system owners interact with friends and enable voice chat in today’s new Switch release, Splatoon 2. Elsewhere, Layton’s Mystery Journey is a fun Android puzzle adventure, Google’s Motion Stills lets you create GIFs with ease, and Adobe’s latest Lightroom update revamps the photo editing interface to make it more approachable. Clear some space and check out these apps!

Expeditions

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Who needs a travel buddy? Go solo!

Google Expeditions grew out of the company’s Cardboard VR initiative, allowing teachers to guide their classrooms through interactive explorations of the world’s great sights. Last year, Google released the app outside of the educational setting, but you still had to have a local person serve as a leader for others to follow. Now that limitation has been eased.

The original approach is still there, but thanks to a new update that is rolling out right now, you can also embark on solo Expeditions without the need for a pal or secondary device. Expeditions includes more than 600 different adventures, and the option to virtually travel alone makes it better for home usage—or even homework from school. It works with both Cardboard and Daydream viewers, and if you don’t see the updated version in the Play Store just yet, then it should land on your phone within the next couple of days.

Nintendo Switch Online

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Today's release of Splatoon 2 makes use of the Switch app.

Online has never been Nintendo’s strongest suit, whether it’s awkward storefronts, or arcane limitations on interactions and connections with other players, but the company is trying to change all of that with its new Switch console. Part of that attempt just launched this week with the debut of the Nintendo Switch Online app, which will serve as an Android hub for keeping tabs on Switch friends, managing invitations, and even handling voice chat. 

Unfortunately, in a very Nintendo-like fashion, it’s a bit of a fumbled start. For now, Nintendo Switch Online only works with Splatoon 2, the multiplayer-centric, paint-blasting shooter that releases today, and the big complaint is that you must have the screen on and app open for voice chat to work. If your phone screen turns off or you briefly switch to another app, say goodbye to your session. 

Hopefully that’s a limitation that is addressed very soon, as Switch fans are rolling their eyes the world over right about now. More games will support the Nintendo Switch Online app in time, and more online features will also be added to the Switch. Let’s hope the app improves, as well. 

Layton’s Mystery Journey

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It's a charming, colorful puzzle adventure.

While not quite the massive icon that Mario is, Professor Layton has been one of the most reliable stars on Nintendo’s handheld systems over the last decade. And now his puzzle-solving franchise has made the leap to mobile with an all-new entry. Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionaires’ Conspiracy ($16) is both a full-fledged sequel to the past games and an ideal entry point, as it stars the professor’s daughter on the hunt for her missing dad.

Katrielle sets up shop in London as a private detective, and you’ll put her enviable skills to use solving crimes and seeking out curiosities—the first of which involves a talking dog and a missing clock hand on Big Ben. True, $16 is a lot for an Android game, but Layton’s Mystery Journey features great production values, brainy puzzles to solve, and a pretty meaty adventure to unravel. It’s also the same game that’s coming to Nintendo 3DS later this year at a higher price, so when you look at it that way, it’s actually a deal.

Motion Stills

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Make quick GIFs—at regular speed or super sped-up.

For the last year, Motion Stills has been one of those weird anomalies in Google’s mobile lineup: an app only available for iOS, not Android. That was mostly out of necessity, as Motion Stills was designed to complement Apple’s Live Photos—but now that it has been reworked and expanded, it's finally available in the Play Store.

Essentially, Motion Stills is a dead-simple GIF maker, letting you capture a quick bit of video footage and instantly turn it into a shareable, looping clip. Motion Stills lightly stabilizes your footage, too, plus you can use the fast-forward feature to capture longer stretches of video and speed it up to keep your GIF brief. You also can combine clips to make longer videos, up to a minute in total. It’s effective and easy to use, with no complications or fuss. 

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

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Lightroom's new Android look makes it easier to tweak your shots.

Adobe’s Lightroom has long been the go-to pick for pro-level photo editing and enhancement, and that’s true on desktop as well as mobile—and now the Android experience has gotten a significant update. Lightroom had lagged behind on the iOS version for a while, but now this week’s update is meant to deliver a “natural, native" Android experience.

Functionally, it’s not dramatically different, but the revised interface makes it easier to find the tools you need and swap between them for speedy, slick edits. Lightroom can play friendly with RAW format photos, too. You can access the basic features for free, but a paid Creative Cloud membership is needed for more advanced features, such as accessing your stash of photos from another device and using additional Adobe apps alongside Lightroom.

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