Five to Try: Google's Santa Tracker delivers cheer, and Cardboard Camera turns photos into VR

Here's a look at all the Android apps you can't miss this week.

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December is here, and that means two things are more or less omnipresent: Santa Claus and Star Wars. And both are represented in this week’s roundup of new and updated Android apps. Google’s Santa Tracker returns, and while its best feature is still to come, you can dig into holiday games for now. Meanwhile, the updated Star Wars app brings the franchise into VR with a tie-in to The Force Awakens.

Sticking on that VR note, Google’s Cardboard Camera app is a neat new tool that lets you transform a panoramic photo into a virtual reality flashback. Free-to-play platform-action sequel Rayman Adventures and Adobe’s new Premiere Clip tool round out the week’s offerings, so if it’s new apps and games you seek, look no further.

Google Santa Tracker

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Santa Tracker takes its ultimate form on Christmas Eve, but it offers fun diversions ‘til then.

One of Google’s most delightful traditions continues with the return of Santa Tracker. As the name suggests, its centerpiece is the Maps-based tracker tool, which goes live on December 24 and shows Santa’s trajectory as he delivers gifts all around the world. Luckily, you don’t have to wait ‘til then to have some fun with the app.

It’s loaded with simple mini-games for kids, including a memory-matching game, a tilt-to-roll gumball puzzler, and a game in which you snag lost presents as an elf on a rocket-powered sleigh. One snowball-tossing game optionally uses Cardboard VR, as well, plus there are animated videos—including this charming trailer—and Android Wear watch faces to enjoy. Savor the Christmas spirit on all your Android devices.

Cardboard Camera

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I can forever relive how messy my living room is with a train-obsessed toddler.

Most VR content today is simply meant to be consumed—but here’s something you can actually create. Cardboard Camera is Google’s own app for generating 3D photos that you can view in virtual reality with your phone and a Cardboard viewer. Simply take a panoramic photo of your surroundings, as you’re guided, and then pop on the headset and marvel at the results. 

It’s impressive, albeit limited: you’re not creating a full photosphere, so there’s no top or bottom to the frame. Still, for about a minute’s work, the depth and immersive nature of the photos are impressive, and you can add a quick bit of sound or narration for atmosphere. Cardboard Camera could be a perfect way to store past memories of events and places: grab a photo and then experience it again later in VR.

Star Wars

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It’s Star Wars in VR! It’s BB-8! It’s… over in a flash.

The official Star Wars app launched back in July, but there’s a big update out this week: Jakku Spy is an episodic Cardboard VR video series that ties into The Force Awakens, which hits theaters on December 18. Nine total episodes are listed, all set to release a couple days apart until the movie’s out, and the first entry already brings fan-favorites like the Millennium Falcon and the new BB-8 droid into virtual reality.

And then, about a minute later, it’s over. Surprise! It’s a short one: after the iconic text crawl, there’s just a glimpse of those iconic sights before the clip ends. But it’s a tantalizing start to what will hopefully be one of the more memorable VR experiences on Android, and if you don’t have a Cardboard viewer, you can just watch it in full-screen on your phone. 

Rayman Adventures

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A well-timed swipe will punch these shielded goons right out of the way.

Rayman Fiesta Run is one of the most delightful platform-action games on Android, and now the side-scrolling hero is back—and free-to-play. Like its predecessor (and Jungle Run before that), Rayman Adventures distills a console-like 2D action experience into a series of taps and swipes. As your hero or heroine runs, you’ll jump, punch, swing, leap between walls, and more. Precise timing and careful input selection is needed as the levels get trickier along the way. 

Adventures looks even better than before, with gorgeous hand-drawn artwork throughout, although the new freemium approach isn’t for the better. It clutters up the experience with little creatures you need to collect, feed, and hatch (with timers!), although the core play seems largely unaffected. In other words, you’re trading a price tag for some extra annoyances, but much of the fun remains intact.

Adobe Premiere Clip

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Want to condense a long video into a quick clip? Let Premiere Clip do an auto-edit set to music.

Adobe has tailored more of its apps for mobile of late, and Premiere Clip is another fresh option that maintains the essence of the desktop video program without the complexity. Once you have footage, you can use the included tools to trim down and tweak the clip as desired, or simply have Premiere Clip automate the process. Choose a song and the app will auto-edit a short clip based on the beat, making social media-ready footage in seconds.

Premiere Clip has value to anyone, but it’s especially useful for those already entrenched in Adobe’s Creative Cloud. For example, you can pull in custom looks designed in the Capture CC app, or transfer your project to Premiere Pro CC on PC or Mac for more advanced tinkering.

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