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Updated: Best free Android games 2016

Updated: Best free Android games 2016

Best free Android games

Android

As Android phones and tablets have increased in popularity, the number of apps available for the platform has rocketed.

And that means more free Android games. There’s a lot of junk out there but, fortunately, there are gems among the junk.

We’ve worked our way through a whole load of Android games to reveal the ones you should download to your phone.

So without delay, here is our pick of the best free Android games available.

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New this week: Hue Ball

Hue Ball

Flash game Gimme Friction Baby heavily influenced a number of mobile titles, each featuring a little oscillating gun that fires balls into a single-screen arena, said balls then having to be destroyed by subsequent shots.

Hue Ball presents its own spin on the theme, which is respectful to the original source but smart enough to succeed on its own merits.

Here, balls don’t expand to fill space but instead grow another layer when a pulsing disc retreats to the center of the screen. When balls have too many layers, they’re converted to indestructible skulls that take up valuable screen space.

You must therefore quickly destroy any on-screen balls, while also taking care not to return one over the ‘line of doom’ that depletes your small selection of lives.

Perchang

Perchang

We’ve heard Perchang called a mix of Lemmings and Marble Madness. That’s a touch ambitious, but this is nonetheless a smart puzzler to test your brainpower and reactions.

The idea is to lead a stream of ball bearings to various exits placed within contraption-filled levels. Your only means of control is two buttons, used to trigger colored items such as flippers, magnets and fans. At first, bridging gaps is simple, but Perchang quickly ramps up the complexity, turning the game into a kind of frantic juggling act, balls flying all over the place as you struggle to contain the chaos.

Every few challenges, an ad roundly flings ball-bearings in the face of Perchang’s minimal ambiance, but you can be rid of them with a cheap one-off IAP.

Final Freeway 2R (Ad Edition)

Final Freeway 2R

In 1986, Sega released a racing game called Out Run. Being that this was in the days before boring, gray ‘realism’ became mandatory for a number of years, the visuals were colorful, the controls were simple, and the traffic tore along at insane speeds, suspiciously all heading in the same direction.

Final Freeway 2R is a loving tribute to Sega’s title. You get the same breakneck arcade racing, forks in the road, cheesy music, and a car flip when you crash. (You also, in this free version, get ads, but they’re not intrusive, and are easily ignored.)

If you’re old, you’ll be in gaming heaven; if not, the speed and carefree nature of Final Freeway 2R will finally make you understand what retro gamers are always wittering on about.

Train Conductor World

Train Conductor World

You might moan about trains when you’re – again – waiting for a late arrival during your daily commute, but play this game and you’ll thank your lucky stars that you’re not in Train Conductor World. Here, trains rocket along, and mostly towards head-on collisions.

It’s your job to drag out temporary bridges to avoid calamity while simultaneously sending each train to its proper destination – it’s exhausting.

From the off, Train Conductor World is demanding, and before long a kind of ‘blink and everything will be smashed to bits’ mentality pervades. For a path-finding action-puzzler – Flight Control on tracks, if you will – it’s an engaging and exciting experience.

Raider Rush

Raider Rush

We do wonder when light-fingered archaeologists will learn. No sooner has the hero of Raider Rushgrabbed a massive hunk of bling than the ancient temple he’s in starts filling with lava.

To escape, he must bound from wall to wall, like a hyperactive flea, making his way towards beautiful daylight, before realising he’s merely stuck in the next tower to escape from.

With 30 bespoke levels and an endless mode, there’s lots of leaping to be done in Raider Rush, and the two-thumb controls (for hurling the hero left or right) make for a pleasingly frantic arcade experience, akin to juggling your little explorer to the surface (while presumably scolding the idiot for not leaving other people’s possessions alone).

Pokémon GO

Pokemon Go

Although a far cry from classic Pokémon titles, there’s no getting away from the sheer impact of Pokémon GO. It’s resulted in swarms of smartphone users roaming the streets and countryside, searching for tiny creatures they can only see through their screens.

In all honesty, the game is simplistic: find a Pokémon, lob balls at it, amble about for a while to hatch eggs, and use your collection of critters to take over and guard virtual gyms.

But despite basic combat and the game’s tendency to clobber your Android’s battery, it taps into the collector mentality; and it’s a rare example of successfully integrating a game into the real world, getting people physically outside and – shock – interacting with each other.

AirAttack 2

AirAttack 2

Bad news! It turns out the Axis of Evil needs overthrowing immediately, on account of having access to a ridiculous number of planes and tanks, some of which are the size of small villages. Sadly, we’ve had some cutbacks, which means our air force is now, er, you.

Still, we’re sure you’re going to love your time in AirAttack 2, cooing at gorgeous scenery shortly before bombing it, surviving bullet-hell, and puffing your chest to a thumping orchestral soundtrack.

Sure, you might have to turn down the graphic effects a bit on older hardware, and it’s a bit of a grind to reach later levels, but you’re not going to get better freebie shooting action this side of World War III.

Hammer Bomb

Hammer Bomb

Take an early 1990s FPS, smash it into an auto-runner, add a dash of Pac-Man, and you’d end up with Hammer Bomb. You’re dumped in dank mazes and dungeons full of hideous beasts and must stomp along, finding keys, loot, weapons and the way out.

Levels are randomised, adding a Roguelike quality to proceedings, and the entire game’s underpinned by a levelling up system. This means XP being awarded for killing loads of monsters, rapidly finding the exit, or performing other tasks, such as completing quests (which, in a nod to Ms. Pac-Man, involves hunting down roaming foodstuff).

Every few levels, you face off against a massive screen-high boss, darting towards it with whatever weapon you have to hand, before fleeing like a coward. Survive long enough and you can swap coins for upgrades.

Top tip: as soon as you’ve 150 coins and level 3 status, grab the radar, because Hammer Bomb is much friendlier when you can spot monsters on the top-down map.

Sparkwave

Sparkwave

Like an escapee from Super Hexagon, but now stuck traversing endlessly shifting flat terrain, the heroic ship in Sparkwave only wants to survive. You veer left and right, attempting to remain on an evolving and disintegrating path, avoiding obstacles, and keeping your lunch down as the screen lurches and shifts.

The dazzling art style and thumping soundtrack add to the game’s dizzying but engaging nature; and although Sparkwave lacks Super Hexagon’s elegant simplicity (there are multiple tracks, unlocks and customizable options), it also lacks its price-tag, making it a no-brainer download.

One Tap Tennis

One Tap Tennis

The best of tennis is about the rallies, and in One Tap Tennis that’s all there is. Matches are won by you prodding the screen when a returned ball moves over an orange line. Successful thwackage builds your power bar, enabling you to hit a smash when it’s full and win the match.

This is an oddly compelling title, and surprisingly tricky once you’ve won a few cups and everything’s moving at breakneck speed. To keep you interested, there are loads of characters to unlock, and you can restart part-way through any cup by saving your spot in return for watching (read: ignoring) an ad.

Leap Day

Leap Day

Touchscreens should be a poor fit for platform games, which typically require the kind of precision that only comes from a physical controller. This is why so many mobile titles opt for auto-running, distilling platform gaming to its core essence of timing jumps.

In Leap Day, your little yellow character is tasked with getting to the top of a tall tower. You can jump, double jump and slide down walls, but that’s it. You must therefore carefully leap past cartoon foes and gigantic spikes, grabbing fruit along the way.

At various points on your climb are checkpoints, which can be bought with 20 fruit or by watching an ad. This means you don’t have to start from scratch on coming a cropper. And when you do reach the summit, you can come back the next day for an entirely new level to try.

Imago

Imago

There are a lot of Android puzzle games that involve you sliding blocks about, but Imago is one of the best, even giving Threes! a run for its money.

You drag numbered tiles around a grid, merging those of the same colour and shape. On doing so, their numbers combine, but when merged groups reach a certain size, they split into smaller tiles, each retaining the score of the larger piece. Successful games require careful forward planning, with only a few moves it can be possible to ramp up scores dramatically, into the millions or even billions!

The game’s relative complexity is countered by a smart modes system that gradually introduces you to Imago’s intricacies. There’s also a Daily Flight mode that provides a regular influx of new challenges, for when the standard modes begin to pall. On Android, we noticed a few minor visual glitches here and there, but otherwise this is a must-download puzzle game that’s among the best on the platform.

Ridge Racer Slipstream

Ridge Racer

Asphalt 8 is arguably king of arcade racers on mobile, with its breezy and often ludicrous take on driving recklessly through famous cities. But Ridge Racer used to rule the arcades, and Ridge Racer Slipstream makes a decent stab for the chequered flag on Android.

This is a much more involved test than Asphalt, initially feeling stiffer and even a touch pedestrian. But as you get to grips with the handling model and gawp at the gorgeous scenery, it soon becomes clear Ridge Racer is a first-class mobile racer, and one that provides a stiff challenge at every step of the way.

As you might expect, there’s some IAP whiffing the place up, but you can play through for nothing if you’re willing to persevere and grind a bit; and with courses as great looking as the ones found in this game, re-racing them isn’t exactly a hardship.

Disney Crossy Road

Disney Crossy Road

We’re big fans of Crossy Road, which is both a lesson in how to update a classic arcade game (Frogger), and create a free-to-play business model that isn’t hateful. (In short, throw free coins at players, don’t make anything pay to win, and add loads of tempting but entirely optional characters to buy.)

With Disney Crossy Road, anything could have happened, but this is far from a cheap cash-in. Sure, it starts off very much like Crossy Road – just starring Mickey Mouse. But unlock a few characters (you’ll have at least three within ten minutes) and you suddenly find yourself immersed in chunky takes on famous movies, such as Toy Story, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Lion King.

Even better, these aren’t mere skins on the original. Each world has unique features, from tiny graphical details that will thrill fans, through to subtle shifts in how the game is played that force you to dramatically change your approach.

Alto’s Adventure

Alto

You might think there’s little new in Alto’s Adventure, which is essentially endless leapy game Canabalt on ice. But refined visuals best even Monument Valley, with an eye-popping day/night cycle and gorgeous weather effects; additionally, there’s a delightful soundtrack, and a kind of effortless elegance that permeates throughout, propelling Alto’s Adventure beyond its contemporaries.

Ostensibly, Alto’s Adventure is a game about collecting escaped llamas, but mostly Alto is keen on mucking about on snowy slopes. You zoom down hills, catapult yourself into the air, and try to somersault before face-planting. Extra challenge arrives in the form of chaining stunts to increase your speed, and outrunning elders, angry you’re having fun rather than sitting in a stinky llama pen.

Sage Solitaire

solitaire

Having been mercilessly ripped off by a pretender (who cynically thanked the original’s developer for "inspiration"), Sage Solitaire finally made it to Android. It rethinks solitaire for mobile, mostly by smashing it into poker. Cards are removed using poker hands, with the added complication each hand must use cards from at least two different rows.

Clearing the deck and amassing points requires careful strategy and a little luck, not least given how rapidly the lower stacks empty. Win three times and you unlock Vegas mode, where you can try your luck making bets on your skills (and, in all likelihood, lose a boatload of virtual money). Regardless of the mode you favour, Sage Solitaire’s one of those seemingly throwaway casual games that manages to take hold to the point of obsession.

RGB Express

RGB

In RGB Express, your aim is to build up a delivery company from scratch, all by dropping off little coloured boxes at buildings of the same colour. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? Only this is a puzzler that takes place on tiny islands with streets laid out in a strict grid pattern, and decidedly oddball rules regarding road use.

Presumably to keep down on tarmac wear, roads are blocked the second a vehicle drives over them. Once you’re past the early levels, making all your deliveries often requires fashioning convoluted snake-like paths across the entire map, not least when bridge switches come into play. Despite its cute graphics, then, RGB Express is in reality a devious and tricky puzzle game, which will have you swearing later levels simply aren’t possible, before cracking one, feeling chuffed and then staring in disbelief at what follows.

Threes! Free

Threes

In Threes! Free, you slide numbered cards around a tiny grid, merging pairs to increase their values and make room for new cards. Strategy comes from the cards all moving simultaneously, along with you needing to keep space free to make subsequent merges, forcing you to think ahead.

On launch, it was a rare example of a new and furiously compulsive puzzle-game mechanic. Within days, it was mercilessly ripped off, free clones flooding Google Play.

Now, though, you can get authentic Threes! action entirely for free, and discover why it’s 2048 times better than every freebie 2048 game (personality; attention to detail; music; small elements of game design that make a big difference).

You get 12 free games to start. Add groups of three more by watching a video ad. And you can always upgrade to the paid version if you get suitably hooked.

Bejeweled

Bejeweled

There are loads of freebie Bejeweled knock-offs on Google Play, and so if you fancy a bit of gem-swapping, you may as well download the original. For reasons beyond us, Android owners don’t get the multitude of modes available on some other platforms, but there’s the original match-three ‘classic’, the can’t-lose ‘zen’, and the superb ‘diamond mine’.

In the last of those, matches smash a hole into the ground. You’re playing against the clock, and over time uncover harder rock that needs special moves to obliterate. It’s a frenetic, intense experience considering this is a match-three title, although high-score chasers might cast a suspicious eye over the offer to extend the time limit by watching an advert.

Bean Dreams

Bean Dreams

Although there are exceptions, traditional platform games rarely work on touchscreens. Fortunately, canny developers have rethought the genre, stripping it back to its very essence. In Bean Dreams, you help a jumping bean traverse all kinds of hazards, by sending the bouncing hatted seed left or right.

Each level is cleverly designed to offer optimum paths, boosting your points tally when hitting the goal having made the fewest bounces. Timing is everything, then, but there are further challenges that reward exploration. To find the pet axolotls spread across the map, or collect all the fruit, you must use different approaches, which adds plenty of replay value.

Platform Panic

pp

Nitrome’s fashioning quite the collection of smart Android games, which subvert existing genres in interesting ways. Platform Panic initially comes across as a vastly simplified platform game. You swipe to move and leap, and it’s game over the second your little character comes a cropper.

But really every screen is a tiny puzzle that you must learn how to solve; and then every game becomes a memory test, with you in an instant having to draw on your experience as each challenge — sometimes mirrored — is sent your way.

Rust Bucket

Rust Bucket

In Rust Bucket, a cartoon helmet with a sword dodders about a vibrant dungeon, offing all manner of cute but deadly adversaries — skittering skulls, angry armoured pigs, and spooky ghosts. This is a turn-based affair, echoing classic RPGs, but its endless dungeon and savage nature transform it into a puzzle game perfect for quickfire mobile sessions. You must learn how foes move and react, plan every step and always keep in mind a single error can spell doom.

In its current incarnation, Rust Bucket cleverly balances enough depth to keep you coming back with the brevity that makes it ideal for on-the-go roguelike larks. Future plans include finite puzzle modes and expanded endless content.

Super Stickman Golf 2

Super Stickman Golf 2

Super Stickman Golf 2 is a big-hitter on Android, with the superb 2D puzzle golf game doing insane business. It’s free, albeit propped up by in-app purchases, with heaps upon piles of golf courses to whack yourself around, challenging your knowledge of physics and angles as much as your sporting abilities.

Looks great and even manages to head online to offer turn-based multiplayer against friends or randoms.

Battle Golf

Battle Golf

Miserable people will tell you that Battle Golf is stupid and that you should go and play a proper sports game instead. Pay them no heed, because this title might be very silly, but it’s also a blast. Two rivals stand at the edge of a lake, from which tiny greens periodically emerge. They must then land a hole in one to take a point. Occasionally, a whale or huge octopus will be the ‘hole’, and you can bean your opponent with the ball. Just don’t bean them with their Android device if they sneak a win with a jammy shot.

Fast like a Fox

Fast like a Fox

Although it’s yet another auto-runner, Fast like a Fox has plenty going for it. The game looks gorgeous, with atmospheric low-poly artwork providing an artsy take on chilly frozen hills and dark urban haunts.

There’s also some smart level design, with each of the short challenges demanding you learn every pathway, and understanding the speed with which you approach the many jumps, in order to not send your furry friend to its doom.

But mostly we were taken by the control method, which involves drumming your fingers on the back of your device to speed up the fox. Sure, it’s a gimmick, but this approach gives you a much greater sense of connection with the sprinting mammal, although grumpy traditionalists can instead opt for a much more boring two-button system.

Chess Runner

Chess

We’ve seen several mobile games put a new spin on chess, but Chess Runner amusingly turns the age-old favourite into a frantic arcade battle. You take on the role of a white knight, darting about in L-shaped bounds. Your aim: to fight your way through black pieces and capture a golden king.

Different twists are peppered throughout the game’s levels. The most basic mode involves ensuring you don’t end up in a position to be taken by static or patrolling black pieces. But sometimes you must fend off a barrage of attacks from pawns or rooks, or quickly get to the king during a speed-run test. It’s particularly in those against-the-clock challenges that Chess Runner bares its teeth, temporarily making you forget everything you ever knew about chess, before blundering into a bishop.

Clash Royale

Clash

There’s always a whiff of unease on recommending a game from a developer nestled deep in the bosom of freemium gaming, but Clash Royale largely manages to be a lot of fun however much money you lob at it. The game is more or less a mash-up of card collecting and real-time strategy. Cards are used to drop units on to a single-screen playfield, and they march about and duff up enemy units, before taking on your opponent’s towers.

The battles are short and suited to quick on-the-go play, and although Clash Royale is designed for online scraps, you can also hone your strategies against training units if you’re regularly getting pulverised. There are the usual timers and gates for upgrades, but the game largely does a good job of matching you against players of fairly similar skill levels, meaning it’s usually a blast and only rarely a drag.

Road to be King

Road

This endless survival game eschews typical side-on leapy shenanigans or an overhead land-based approach. Instead, Road to be King has you drag the royal protagonist around the screen, attempting to avoid all manner of foul creatures and deadly traps. Along the way, crystals are there for grabbing, as are power-ups for a temporary reprieve against your foes. Mostly, it’s the control method and design that ensure Road to be King is worth sticking with. Both oddly echo bullet-hell shooters as much as endless runners, and as you begin to recognise patterns in the challenges you pass, the game becomes a kind of zen-like experience.

Splash Cars

Splash

In the world of Splash Cars, it appears everyone’s a miserable grump apart from you. Their world is dull and grey, but your magical vehicle brings colour to anything it goes near. The police aren’t happy about this and aim to bring your hue-based shenanigans to a close, by ramming your car into oblivion. There’s also the tiny snag of a petrol tank that runs dry alarmingly quickly.

Splash Cars therefore becomes a fun game of fleeing from the fuzz, zooming past buildings by a hair’s breadth, grabbing petrol and coins carelessly left lying about, and trying to hit an amount-painted target before the timer runs out. Succeed and you go on to bigger and better locations, with increasingly powerful cars.

Angry Birds

Angry Brids

The amazingly popular iOS game earned over two million downloads during its first weekend of availability on Android and despite myriad sequels and spinoffs, it is still a great game to play.

The Android version of Angry Birds is free, unlike the Apple release, with maker Rovio opting to stick a few adverts on it rather than charge an upfront fee. The result is a massive and very challenging physics puzzler that’s incredibly polished and professional. For free. It defies all the laws of modern retail.

Heist

Heist

We’re pretty sure this one’s going to confuse a bunch of people, but if you’re of a certain vintage, Heist will have you squee with nostalgia. It’s essentially a Nintendo Game & Watch for your Android device, featuring a little chap robbing a bank. The visuals perfectly evoke those ancient handhelds, and although the game is very simple — move left and right, avoid falling objects, load pilfered cash into a balloon — getting high-scores requires serious concentration and thumb dexterity.

On a suitably sized smartphone, you’ll almost think you’re playing the real thing. (And if anyone from Nintendo is reading, how about some official Game & Watch on Android? Better that than any number of dodgy freemium games based loosely on Nintendo’s famous characters.)

Flappy Golf

fg

Objectively, Flappy Bird was a bit rubbish, but it did kick off a ton of ‘tributes’. Most of them were rubbish too, but Flappy Golf very much isn’t. It started off as a joke — the developer fusing the excellent Super Stickman Golf 2 and Flappy Bird mechanics. Instead of aiming your ball, it has wings and you flap it towards the hole by tapping ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons.

Somehow, this all comes together and Flappy Golf equals the game it’s based on — it’s fast, funny and challenging, with loads of courses and multiplayer. The on-screen ads are a bit intrusive, mind, but otherwise this is one of the best free games you’re ever likely to find for Android, despite ‘Flappy’ being in its name.

No More Kings

NMK

It’s probably fair to say that No More Kings is on the basic side regarding aesthetics, but then that merely puts you in mind of those chess puzzles you find lurking in newspapers. The difference here is you capture the king by taking pieces and immediately becoming that piece. By way of example, grab a bishop with a rook and it’s ‘diagonals only’ for your next move.

Finding your way to the crown is easy at first, but gets much trickier in later levels, when the board becomes littered with pieces and the pathfinding is no longer obvious. The masterstroke: tying the stars awarded for completing levels to the speed in which you reach a solution. Speed chess players will have nothing on your deft digits in this game.

Angry Birds Star Wars

Angry Birds Star Wars

The Angry physics phenomenon took a turn for the weird late in 2012, with Rovio acquiring the rights to blend Star Wars characters with its popular Angry Birds play mechanics.

Angry Birds Star Wars is actually pretty nice, with players using Star Wars weaponry to smash down scenery alongside the usual destructive physics action. Not the car crash IP clash we were expecting.

Down The Mountain

Mountain

With its cute isometric visual style, hoppy instadeath mechanics, and a range of characters to win in a semi-randomised lottery, you might be forgiven for thinking Down The Mountain is Crossy Road upended. While there are similarities, it quickly becomes clear Down The Mountain is a very different game to play. Borrowing from Q*Bert rather than Frogger, it has you tackle leaping down an endless mountain, on which hazards come thick and fast. Even on the easy mode, you must think quickly, leaping left or right to avoid TNT, bounding cars, and vicious spikes. On hard mode, it’s not so much Down The Mountain as Down T— Oh. Dead again.

Dream of Pixels

Dream of Pixels

We all love a bit of Tetris, but Tetris doesn’t love mobile — previous and current incarnations for Android are mostly hideous IAP-infused abominations. Fortunately, then, Dream of Pixels exists, more or less flipping Tetris upside-down, having you use those very familiar shapes to take chunks out of an endless cloud bank.

The game’s floaty and slightly hippyish vibe hides an endless puzzler with serious bite. Once the cloud’s moving at speed and you have a few ‘orphaned’ bits that need reconnecting with the main body, Dream of Pixels becomes a frantic speed test of shape-matching abilities. If it all gets a bit much, there’s a static ‘zen’ mode, where you fill static shapes with pre-defined tetromino sets. And when you’re ready for action again, a one-off IAP unlocks three tougher variations on the main game.

Cally’s Caves 3

CC

Poor Cally. It’s like she can’t go for five minutes without her parents being kidnapped. It’s third time unlucky for her in Cally’s Caves 3, but lucky for you, because you get an excellent old-school platformer that costs nothing at all. Cally leaps about, shooting and stabbing enemies in a gleeful manner you might consider unusual for a young girl with pigtails.

The game’s brutal, too, with a checkpoint system that will have you gnashing teeth when you die a few steps before a restart point. But the weapon upgrade system is clever (keep shooting things to power up guns!), there are loads of items to discover, and unlike on iOS, the free Android version has several extra unlocked modes.

Gem Miner

Gem Miner

In Gem Miner you are a sort of mole character that likes to dig things out of the ground. But that’s not important. The game itself has you micro-managing the raw materials you find, upgrading your digging powers and buying bigger and better tools and maps. Looks great, plays well on Android’s limited button array. Go on, suck the very life out of the planet.

Trap!

Trap

Not the best-looking game you’ll ever play, with its shabby brown backgrounds and rudimentary text making it look like something you’d find running on a PC in the year 1985. But Trap! is good.

You draw lines to box in moving spheres, gaining points for cordoning off chunks of the screen. That sounds rubbish, so please invest two minutes of your time having a go on it so you don’t think we’re talking nonsense.

Neon Shadow

Neon Shadow

We’re always a bit twitchy about recommending first-person shooters on mobile, because pawing at a glass screen is no substitute for having a gamepad in your mitts. Neon Shadow, though, has a good crack at providing high-octane shooty action on Android, mostly through smart level design, simple controls, and having a protagonist that’s surprisingly robust.

The story finds you aboard a sentient space station that’s gone nuts and turned all its on-board mechanoids evil. Somehow (and we’re really not sure how), this has placed the entire galaxy in jeopardy. So you need to go about blowing everything up, and not get horribly killed. It’s quite old-school, looks fab, and never lets up. Only occasionally will the on-screen controls make you swear at your thumbs.

Sling Kong

SK

There’ll probably come a point when cute video game animals will gain sentience and revolt against the appalling situations they find themselves in. Until then, we have Sling Kong. From the off, you’ll know what to do: stretch your little critter and let go, to ping them from peg to peg. All the while, avoid the hazards (saw blades; exploding pegs; blocks of wood smashing together) and a sticky end (quite literally in the case of the octopus when it’s squished).

The graphics are cheerful, with the animals looking amusingly shocked at their circumstances and surroundings; the gameplay is challenging and compulsive; and there’s even originality evident when winning new characters, involving bouncing your animal around a pachinko machine, rather than played-out Crossy Road-style gift boxes

Flow Free

Flow Free

Flow Free is free up to a point. You get a ton of levels that you can play without having to pay anything, then it will start costing you once you get more than a little addicted. And you will. You will.

The object of the game is to pair all colours that come flying at you and cover the entire board. Do this and you win the level – it’s that simple. You can play on a level up system or against the clock. Both are fun – just don’t let the pipes overlap!

Alchemy Classic

Alchemy

There are a few variants on Alchemy out there, each offering a similarly weird experience. In Alchemy Classic you match up elements to create their (vaguely) scientific offspring, so dumping water onto earth makes a swamp, and so on.

It’s a brain teaser thing and best played by those who enjoy spending many hours in the company of the process of elimination.

Scrambled Net

Scramble

Scrambled Net is based around the age-old concept of lining up pipes and tubes, but has been jazzed up with images of computer terminals, high score tracking and animations.

Still looks like something you’d have played on a Nokia during the last decade, but it’s free – and looking rubbish hardly stopped Snake from taking off, did it?

Dropwords

Drop Words

Dropwords is laid out like your standard Android block-based puzzle game, the difference here is we’re not dealing with gems – you make blocks disappear by spelling out words from the jumbled heap of letters.

There’s not an enormous amount of point to it, but you can at least submit your scores and best words to the server, where an AI version of Susie Dent will pass her approval.

Wordfeud

Word Feud

Wordfeud is a superb little clone of Scrabble, with a big, clear screen and online play options that actually work.

The game’s been offered for free with some hefty advertising over it thanks to the developer being based in Norway – which only received paid-for app sales support recently. However, a paid version is now available if you’re so inclined.

The Path to Luma

luma

The ‘eco’ side of things is a bit on the nose in The Path To Luma, and there are points where you wonder whether the energy company that paid for it only just stopped short of having the protagonist yell "Solar and wind power are amazing!" every few seconds.

But along with being quite right-on, Luma is a beautiful and thoughtful puzzler, with a decidedly tactile feel. Your aim is to explore tiny planetoids, unlocking sources of energy that will bring life to otherwise barren environments.

There’s quite a lot of hand-holding from the game’s companion AI, but spinning tiny worlds beneath your fingers and watching explosions of sunlight transform landscapes never gets old.

Meganoid

Meganoid

A stunning little retro game, Meganoid plays and looks like something that ought to be running on a Nintendo emulator. But it isn’t. It’s new and on Android.

It’s a speed-based challenge, using on-screen or accelerometer controls to jump and bounce through ever-hardening levels. Developer Orange Pixel is aggressively supporting it, too, with constant map packs, characters and more regularly appearing for download.

Grave Defense Holidays

Grave Defence

As with Angry Birds, the maker of this superb tower defence game has spun out a separate version it fills with seasonal levels.

Recently updated with an Easter map, this free version of the game also includes Valentine, Christmas and St Patrick’s Day themed maps. Grave Defense Holidays is easily one of the best examples of the tactical genre.

Pac-Man 256 – Endless Maze

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If you’ve played Pac-Man before, the goal of Pac-Man 256 should seem pretty familiar: eat as many pellets as possible without being caught by a ghost. This time, however, it never ends. You’ll get power-ups along the way, and it actually has a reasonable approach to in-app purchases.

PewPew

PewPew

Very similar in style and concept to Xbox and Xbox 360 retro classic Geometry Wars. In fact, one might legally be able to get away with calling it a right old rip-off. Android PewPew is a rock-hard 2D shooting game packed with alternate game modes.

It’s a bit rough around the edges and requires a powerful phone to run smoothly, but when it does it’s a fantastic thing.

Beats, Advanced Rhythm Game

Beats

A standard rhythm action, button pressing music game for Android. Beats manages to outdo the official music games by including a Download Song tab, where it’s possible to install new song files created by users.

It’s very hard and very fast. Just like they should be. Runs perfectly on an HTC Desire, too, so there’s no blaming glitches for not doing very well.

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Vector Pinball

Vector Pinball

It’s far from the most sophisticated pinball effort on Google Play, but we’re nonetheless very fond of Vector Pinball. It has a kind of old-school sensibility regarding the straightforward table designs, and each of the four layouts requires you to learn its intricacies and basic missions, in order to score big points.

Aesthetically, it also tries something different from its contemporaries. Instead of aping real tables, Vector Pinball is all skinny lines and bright colours — as if someone’s squeezed a decent pinball simulator into a Vectrex — and pleasing electronic effects and music accompany your ball-smacking.

Vector Pinball’s laudably open, too — it’s an open source game, and there’s even an experimental editor for creating your own tables.

Winter Walk

Winter Walk

Winter Walk is madness. You play the part of a gentleman, out for an evening walk. From time to time the wind picks up, so you have to hold on to his hat to stop it blowing away.

While this is happening, the chap’s internal monologue appears on screen, giving you an entertaining and distracting read in the process, too. Very simple, but a perfect little high score challenge game for the touchscreen era.

Crossy Road

crossy road

At its core, Crossy Road is an endless take on Frogger. The little protagonist hops about, weaving in-between traffic, and carefully navigating rivers by way of floating logs.

Adding to your problems: train tracks, where you can catch the 10:47 to Waterloo in a rather more abrupt and splattery way than you might hope, and a giant eagle that strikes should you dawdle.

Really, it’s nothing particularly innovative, but where Crossy Road shines is in its implementation. The graphics are gorgeous (and have subsequently been frequently aped); the F2P system is fair — even generous; and the characters you can win or buy often transform the game, the most overt example being ‘Crossy Pac-Man’, a tie-in with the similarly excellent Pac-Man 256.

Stardash Free

Stardash Free

Developer Orange Pixel has a knack of creating excellent retro titles, with Stardash a fine example.

Designed to look like a Game Boy game from before many of you younger readers were born, Stardash is clearly a bit of a Mario homage – but it’s done exceptionally well and is endlessly replayable. If you like it, and you probably will, there’s an alternate paid version that removes the adverts.

Dead on Arrival

Dead on Arrival

Dead on Arrival is a very impressive looking 3D survival horror game, which dumps you in a hospital infested with zombies. You then try to not get eaten by buying new weapons, boarding up doors to keep the brain-eaters at bay and using wall-mounted weaponry to quicken the zombie mincing process.

As with many of today’s Android titles, there’s the option to pay for stuff within the game to unlock features and remove ads – but you don’t have to.

Stick Cricket

Stick Cricket

Stick Cricket is a fantastically simple little game that reduces cricket to its core values – you just smash every ball as hard as you can. There’s no worrying about field positioning, just a bat and a ball coming at you very quickly.

Initially it seems impossible to do anything other than make a complete mess of things and having your little man smashed upside-down, but it soon clicks.

Draw Something Free

Draw Something

Draw Something Free was a phenomenon that’s taking the world by storm. Now four people play it. It’s basically a mobile version of Pictionary, where you’re given a choice of three words of varying difficulty, then tasked with drawing them so someone can tell what it is.

Syncs with Facebook, too, for easy cross-platform play. If you like the free trial, there’s a paid accompaniment with more content.

Fragger

Fragger

The popular web-based Flash game Fragger is now on Android. It’s pretty much a clone of Angry Birds, mind, offering simple physics-based challenges based around chucking grenades all over the place to make stuff blow up. It comes with some rather intrusive ads, but that’s the price you (don’t) pay for sticking with the free version.

The Sims FreePlay

The Sims

Global mega-corporation EA has gone literally mad, giving away its Android version of The Sims for nothing in the form of The Sims FreePlay.

In return for sitting through some full-screen adverts every now and again, players get a decent mobile version of The Sims, complete with pets, plants, lifestyle points and all the usual mundane activities that make the series popular. It’s not perfect, but does fit in most Sims core features.

Super Bit Dash

Super Bit Dash

Super Bit Dash is a retro-style 2D platform game, with controls as simple as its pixel art design. The game runs at a constant pace, so all the player has to do is jump and super-special-jump at the right time in order to avoid smashing into the scenery. Obviously it’s a lot harder than that makes it sound.

Chrono And Cash Free

ChronoandCash Free

Chrono&Cash Free is very hard and sweet little one-screen platform game, where players jump about collecting bags of cash while avoiding enemies.

And that’s all there is to it, aside from some mini challenges to boost your score multiplier and online sharing of your scores to goad friends into trying to beat you. Looks cool, is a tiny download and a great laugh to play.

Autumn Walk

Autumn Walk

A weird little gem, Autumn Walk sees players controlling a man and his dog as they stroll through a Victorian park landscape. The challenge here is dog management, with the hound either running ahead or hanging back – both precarious scenarios that could cause the lead to snap. It’s basically a high score challenge, to see how long you can stand the weird experience. Worth it for the awesome comic dialogue that accompanies your stroll.

Fallout Shelter

Fallout Shelter

After making a splash on iOS, Fallout Shelter is now available on Android for all you Wasteland nuts. In Shelter, you create a vault and fill it with post-nuclear-war survivors, expanding your underground property, levelling up your dwellers, and sending them out to explore the surface left behind.

Bad Piggies

Bad Piggies

A shock move from developer Rovio, in that this one isn’t a simple take on the Angry Birds style. Bad Piggies is a clever building game, which dumps you at the beginning of a big map with a pile of component parts. You then build a flying machine using the given elements, then try to fly it to the end of the level. A really nice, original little idea from the physics game specialists.

Shooty Skies

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The creators of Crossy Road turn their hands to vertically scrolling shooters in the aptly named Shooty Skies. Your little biplane fends off endless attacks from all manner of deranged enemies, mostly comprising arcade cabinets spewing joysticks, angry robots, cuboid bats, and laptops running video loops of oddball pets.

You can pick up wingmen along the way and power up homing missiles by remaining stationary for a bit (not often a smart move, given the number of projectiles typically heading your way). Every now and again, you get to face off against a huge and bizarre boss, such as an American Eagle flinging missiles and ‘patriotism’ in your general direction. It’s all very strange, compelling and surprisingly challenging; beat three bosses and you’re doing better than us.

Agent Dash

Agent Dash

Agent Dash is another take on the infinite runner genre that’s come to dominate the smartphone gaming landscape, only with a comedy spy angle. As well as swiping to dodge objects, Agent Dash incorporates weaponry and spy gadgets, making it more of an interactive and action-based experience than most of its "Step Right" peers.

Whale Trail Frenzy

Whale Trail

Whale Trail Frenzy is an updated version of the iOS original, with the developer heaping in more levels for the Android release of its bonkers flying game. You just fly a little whale around the sky (for reasons never explained), collecting things, avoiding bad clouds, building up a multiplier and generally being wowed by its unique and gorgeous style. A really sweet experience.

Radiant Defense

Radiant Defense

Radiant Defense is a fantastic tower defence game, given a dazzling modern look. You do all the usual tower defence stuff like building up your weapon strengths and deciding how best to stop the endless marching enemy, with some "super weapons" to unlock and hundreds upon hundreds of waves to beat. And it all looks astonishingly pretty on a big screened device.

In this age of austerity and scrimping, we’ve all long since sold our last set of dominoes and melted down our Monopoly counters for scrap.

Temple Run 2

Temple Run 2

The original Temple Run made staring at a man’s bottom on public transport a wholly acceptable pastime, and this sequel augments the endless-running fun with slicker graphics, more power-ups, obstacles and achievements – plus a bigger monkey hot on your heels.

Dead Trigger

Dead Trigger

That zombie shooter Dead Trigger is set in the dystopian future of 2012 is testament to its lasting appeal. Frantic first-person missions set in realistic 3D environments are sure to get your heart racing (unless you’re a zombie), even on smaller screens.

Cut the Rope Full Free

Cut The Rope

Cute critter Om-Nom in Cut the Rope is the Daniel Day-Lewis of puzzle games, with a BAFTA amid his haul of gaming awards. The simple premise (cut the ropes to release Om-Nom’s lunch) sustains over 400 well-pitched levels, packed with character and cartoonish charm.

Hearthstone

Hearthstone

Yes, the insanely popular online card game Hearthstone has been squashed down to fit your phone or tablet screen – and it works surprisingly well. With less space to play with, the creators have rejigged the design slightly; it’s still the same game, just a bit more considerate to your thumbs.

It’s also still compatible with the tablet and desktop versions so you’ll be able to play against your friends on the move.

Scrabble

Scrabble

Yes, the proper Scrabble, not some copyright-infringing clone that’ll be pulled by the time you read these words. EA bought the license, tidied it up and stuck it out on Android, where it’s a remarkably advert and in-app purchase free experience.

It’s been beefed up with a few new modes, but stuff like the ability to sync with Facebook and play multiple matches is actually exactly what you need. A classic that’s not been ruined. Hooray.

Blip Blup

Blip Blup

Blip Blup is the kind of original little idea we love stumbling across. It’s a sort of geometry-based puzzle game that has you pressing squares on the screen to fill in areas of colour.

Your light beams are limited in the directions they can travel, so, once you’re through the troublingly simple tutorial levels, it soon becomes insanely tough and will soon have you scratching through your skull’s skin and bone until you actually itch your BRAIN in confusion.

Doodle Jump

Doodle Jump

Doodle Jump is ancient, but there’s a reason it’s still on our list – it’s still damn solid. It’s also updated for today’s higher resolution displays and, better still, been stuck up on Google Play for free. If you haven’t played it, or played it years ago on iOS, give it another spin. It’s a timeless bit of upwards bouncing action.

Real Racing 3

Real Racing 3

Extremely controversial thanks to its use of in-app purchases to buy your way to better cars, quicker play time and much more, there’s one reason you really ought to give Real Racing 3 a go – it’s the best looking 3D racer on Android by a mile.

If you want something that gives both, all four, or even the full eight of your phone’s cores a full workout, this is the one. And you don’t have to pay for anything, as long as you don’t mind staring at timers and waiting a lot.

Gunslugs

Gunslugs

Another awesome little 2D pixel art classic from developer OrangePixel, Gunslugs is your standard sort of action platformer given a gorgeous old fashioned retro look.

It’s been optimised for play on Sony’s old-but-popular Xperia Play buttoned Android model, plus the Moga controller and Green Throttle systems will also let you experience it with proper, physical buttons. A random level generator makes it different every time, too.

Nun Attack: Run and Gun

Nun attack

Frima Studios’ popular battling nun series has been transformed into the modern trend that is the "runner" game in Nun Attack: Run & Gun where your favourite of the four available nuns smash though levels, equip weaponry and, inevitably, earn the gold coins that can be used to unlock extra features. Or you can pay real money to buy coins. Real nuns wouldn’t approve of that.

One More Dash

omd

This one should be absurdly easy. All you have to do is tap the screen at the right moment, so you dash to the next safe zone. The trouble is, there’s a timer — lurk too long and you explode. And safe zones are often surrounded by rotating spikes, or shields that deflect you into the deadly void.

One More Dash therefore becomes a steely test of nerves and reactions, where a single mis-timed tap can spell the end of even the most impressive feat of dashing.

Flatout: Stuntman

Flatout

Supposedly a spin-off from the home console racing titles, Flatout: Stuntman takes one of the more shocking elements from the driving games – the crash dummy physics of drivers thrown from their cars – and turns it into a whole game.

The idea is you have a crash, trying to ensure as much damage is caused to your little ragdoll character. Possibly the sort of tasteless thing that might trigger a ‘Ban All Games’ campaign, but… fun. And free. So your wallet won’t get hurt.

Pocket League Story 2

Pocket League

Mobile developer Kairosoft went down the "freemium" route with this sequel to its superb man-managing football business sim, so Pocket League Story 2 is playable for free if you don’t mind suffering a little more than those who pay for upgrades.

It’s still a great little game, in which you take charge of managing the ground, scouting for players, coaching matches, building facilities and much more.

GYRO

Gyro

GYRO is exactly the sort of thing we like – a clever new idea that makes the most out of today’s touchable devices. It’s a bit abstract. You are the circle thing in the middle, and you rotate yourself to absorb the incoming spheres, matching the balls with the right coloured segment.

Shields and score multipliers then fire in, and, inevitably, it all gets quicker and harder. Perfect even on older phones and tablets of modest performance.

Galaxy on Fire 2 HD

Galaxy on Fire 2

Galaxy on Fire 2 HD is one of the most visually impressive 3D shooters to be found on Android, Galaxy on Fire 2 also chucks in some trading and exploration play to add a little more depth to the combat, making it into something similar to having your own little portable Eve Online. You also get to play as a lead character called Keith, which is quite an exciting rarity.

New Star Soccer

New Star Soccer

New Star Soccer is a previously paid-for game that has undergone a complete refresh, with the developer making it a freebie – but adding in the scourge of modern software in the form of "stars" to buy with real money instead. If you can tolerate the effort needed to bypass the new emphasis on paying to progress quicker, it’s still a staggeringly good game, offering a mega-deep football management sim for mobile.

Badland

Badland

This is a right old gem. Badland is an abstract physics platformer kind of thing, where you play a flapping monster that has to navigate some gorgeous maps while listening to bird song. Power-ups and power-downs increase and decrease the size of your blob, also multiplying it until you control several of the things. Weird and dark and interesting. Definitely try it.

Angry Birds Star Wars II

Angry Birds Star Wars II

The original was so beneficial to furthering consumer recognition of both major brands that they made another one – aptly titled Angry Birds Star Wars II. It’s really free thanks to being ad-supported, which, it turns out, is nicer than being asked to buy imaginary space money every 30 seconds. Loads of levels and stupid Star Wars references galore make this a no-brainer for fans of either enormous super-franchise.

Sonic Dash

Sonic Dash

Sonic Dash is a really stylish and very pretty endless runner, that is indeed free to download and play. The happy Sega experience is then ruined by overbearing and endlessly menacing reminders that buying a lot of stupid in-game tokens will make progress easier, though, which is a shame. How we wish games didn’t all demand direct debit access to our bank accounts these days in order to work properly. Very nice game apart from that, mind.

Deep Loot

Deep loot

A charming little undersea adventure, in which your little chap dives to hunt for treasure. It does feature in-app purchases, but it’s dead simple to grind a little to collect treasure and unlock most of the game’s content manually, although the £2.49 coin doubler starts to look tempting after a while. It’s a lovely little game, though, so grinding its quirky maps is really quite a joy anyway.

Daddy Long Legs

Daddy long legs

This is weird and initially feels like a physics puzzler someone knocked up in three minutes or so, but stick with it and it becomes a one-more-go addiction you’ll be throwing hours of your life into. It’s simple — tap the screen to make the monster walk.

Only he’s gangly and awkward, so it’s actually quite a timing and precision masterclass. Download Daddy Long Legs here.

Batman Arkham Origins

Batman

A big name franchise for free? Yes, of course it’s packed with in-app purchases, but still. Critical feedback to this has been superb, with Arkham Origins combining your standard fighting business with a bit of RPG depth to help pad it out via the need to level up — and provide more of a reason to pay for stuff inside the game.

The Silent Age

Silent Age

You’re a man and you walk around. Thing is, humanity’s been virtually wiped out, so it’s quite a grim experience, made all the more bizarre thanks to its abstract soundtrack.

The Silent Age is a touchscreen puzzle game at its core, one that’s much more interesting in approach than the thousands of other adventure games that clog up the Play shop. Note that the second part is a $5 (or equivalent) in-app purchase — but you’ll know by then if you want to discover how the story ends!

Ice

Ice

A super-minimalist strategy game, in which the warring factions are portrayed as neon shapes and assorted beams of light. It’s the sort of "game" you might expect Ensign Wesley Crusher to be seen playing in Star Trek: The Next Generation, were he given to wasting his valuable time and the ship’s immense-but-finite computing power on such frivolous pursuits.

Retry

Retry

In which the Angry Birds developer has a go at pulling off a Flappy Bird style game. Retry is more than a simple clone, though, introducing plane piloting, wobbly terrain to navigate and simple landing missions. It’s very, very hard, but you do at least get more of a sense of progression and reward than was present in the interminable Flappy.

Up, Down, Left, Right

up down

Literally utterly infuriating. The concept is simple. You press up, down, left and right continuously, but there’s a scrolling set of alternative patterns on the screen. These ask you to substitute one direction for another, requiring your eyes to speak to your brain and fingers in a manner that’s bordering on the impossible. An extreme test of your mental problem solving skills.

Angry Birds Transformers

ABT

About as "free" as your delicious first free hit of one of today’s fashionable party drugs from your friendly local dealer, this is packed with in-app purchases to help speed up play. But, it’s free to install and play at a slower pace, with Rovio creating a weird shooter in which the birds have been turned into robots. Several marketing departments are over the moon with the resulting brand synergy explosion.

RollerCoaster Tycoon 4 Mobile

RT

An official reworking of the actual PC game everyone loved ages ago, only with its content rearranged so it fits today’s freemium mobile use pattern. Which means free to download and play, but with plenty of arbitrary barriers inserted to try to convince today’s impatient youths to blow some real money on getting everything quicker, as if they have anything better to do with their lives than grind for pretend money.

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Review: Nikon D3400

Review: Nikon D3400

Introduction and key features

Ever since its popular D40 model back in 2006, Nikon has done well to dismantle the idea of a DSLR needing to be a large, cumbersome machine. Of course, since then the company has released many even more compact mirrorless 1-series cameras aimed at a junior audience, although it’s maintained its footing in the entry-level DSLR sector with a slew of compact and easy-to-use alternatives for those after something more traditional.

For a number of years, Nikon has chosen to split these into two camps. The D5xxx series has presented an approachable but reasonably powerful solution for those wanting to get going with DSLR photography, but have a little extra growing space as they become more confident, while the D3xxx series has adhered to a no-frills template, one that prioritises small size, light weight and a simple design, all the while maintaining the benefits of an interchangable-lens system.

The D3400 is Nikon’s latest contribution to the latter series, and a follow-up to the D3300. Not only has the company managed to shave a little of the D3300’s weight off the body for this new iteration, but it’s also boosted its battery life and improved a number of features to make it a mightier proposition for the novice user. It’s also launched the camera alongside a redesigned kit lens, one that sports a retractable inner barrel and a more streamlined design that eschews the focusing and Vibration Reduction switches we’re used to seeing.

But, after so many warmly received models and a raft of fine competitors in both DSLR and mirrorless categories, does the D3400 have enough going for it to make it worth the beginner’s attention?

Features

  • APS-C CMOS sensor, 24.2MP
  • 3.0-inch screen, 921,000 dots
  • 1080p video capture

As is the case with every entry-level DSLR, the D3400 has been furnished with an APS-C sized sensor, which is believed to be the same as the one inside the D3300. Its 24.2MP pixel count is very respectable – certainly we wouldn’t expect this to be any higher at this level – and this is heightened by the lack of an optical low-pass filter, which should help it to capture better detail than would otherwise be the case.

This works over a reasonably wide sensitivity range of ISO100-25,600, which represents a one-stop expansion over the native ISO12,800 range of its D3300 predecessor. Once again it’s paired with Nikon’s Expeed 4 processing engine, which, among other things, allows for 5fps burst shooting and Full HD video recording up to an impressive 60p. Nikon’s familiar Picture Controls are also on hand, although for those wanting their images and videos processed into more distinct styles immediately, Effects such as Super Vivid, Illustration and Toy Camera are also accessible through the mode dial.

Nikon D3400 side

The camera’s 11-point AF system features a single cross-type point in the centre of its array, with a maximum sensitivity down to -1EV. You can set the system to focus continuously on a subject, including with Nikon’s 3D tracking technology, and the camera can also continue to autofocus in live view and when recording videos. Manual focus is also possible, selectable through the menu and performed with a ring at the very front of the camera’s kit lens.

Not that they’re not bettered elsewhere, but the specs of both the viewfinder and LCD are in keeping with what we expect at this level. The viewfinder is based on a pentamirror construction and shows approximately 95% of the scene, while the LCD measures 3in in size and has a respectable resolution of 921k dots.

Nikond D3400

Wi-Fi hasn’t been included inside the body, although wireless image transmission is still possible through the SnapBridge feature. First incorporated inside the D500 earlier in the year, this uses always-on Bluetooth Low Energy to deliver images straight to smart devices, either as they are captured or afterwards. It’s not possible to control the camera’s shooting settings remotely in any way, although this is not too great an omission on such a model.

To help the first-time user understand their camera better, Nikon has once again implemented its Guide mode feature. This provides an alternative to the main menus and helps the user quickly capture specific types of images. There’s also the familiar ‘?’ button that can be called upon to explain camera functions.

Nikon though has made a few omissions from the D3300. Gone is the microphone port around the camera’s side, which means that you’re restricted to the built in monaural microphones, although this is not a critical loss when you consider that it’s aimed at beginner users. The flash has become weaker too, its guide number dropping from GN 12m at ISO 100 to just 7m here. Perhaps most importantly, built-in sensor-cleaning technology has also failed to make the cut, which means you have to use a more tedious process that requires you to take a reference photo before processing it with the included Capture NX D software, or raise the mirror and physically clean it with a swab or blower.

The core specs – notably the sensor, AF system and video specs – compare well with the camera’s chief rival, the Canon EOS 1300D, although these and others are essentially unchanged from the D3300. Some may lament the lack of built-in Wi-Fi, however, as well as a touchscreen.

Build, handling and AF

Build and handling

  • Polycarbonate construction
  • Design little changed from D3300
  • 650g

The D3400 is designed to be small and lightweight, but Nikon has ensured there is enough grip to get hold of the camera and space on the rear for the thumb to rest without knocking into any controls. At just 650g with its battery, memory card and kit lens in place the model is one of the lightest DSLR combinations around, around 40g lighter than the Canon EOS 1300D and its own 18-55mm kit lens and around 200g lighter than the Pentax K-50 and lens.

Naturally, such a small and light body does have its downsides. Mounting anything but Nikon’s smallest and lightest lenses makes for an imbalanced partnership, for example, and it’s easy to get your nose in the way of the menu selector pad on the rear which can make adjusting the focusing point tricky. The camera also lacks the build quality of its D5xxx siblings, which is to be expected given its lower billing, but harder to swallow given that they currently reside in a very similar price bracket.

Nikon D3400 top

Still, there are many positives elsewhere. A soft rubber around the grip improves the model’s feel in the hand, and this is complemented with the same finish on the thumb rest. The mode dial is easy to grip and rotate, and while buttons are somewhat flat and lack much travel they are reasonably sized and well marked. The customisable Fn button to the side of the lens mount is very welcome, particularly in the absence of a direct control for ISO, although this can be assigned three alternative functions. Also nice to find is a dedicated drive mode button, which you’ll no doubt find useful if you tend to call upon burst-shooting and self-timer options with any frequency.

Autofocus

  • 11-point AF, 1 cross-type AF point
  • AF-assist illuminator
  • 3D-tracking AF

In line with many other APS-C based rivals, the camera’s 11-point Multi CAM 1000 AF system covers a healthy proportion of the frame, the points arranged in a diamond-like formation. This is essentially unchanged from previous models, although the new AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens has been engineered to provide fast and quiet focus.

It is indeed very quiet, with just a slight burr as it works, and something that’s easily masked by most ambient noise. Overall speed is also very good, with the system bringing subjects to focus as promptly as expected when shooting in good light. Naturally this slows in poorer light, although the AF assist lamp is relatively bright and readily springs into play.

Although only the central AF point is cross type for enhanced sensitivity, the points immediately above and below it also prove to be more sensitive than the other surrounding points. I found this triplet could focus on very low-contrast subjects where the other eight could not.

When set to track a moving subject the system is capable of keeping up as a subject moves around the scene, although as points are positioned much further apart from each other than on cameras with a more densely packed array, it can often lose subjects if they don’t occupy enough of the frame to begin with.

Nikon D3400 image quality

There’s a slight focusing slowdown in live view, although a comparison with a similarly-sized Nikkor lens with an SWM motor shows the newer AF-P version to be both faster and quieter. In good light it still manages to find the subject without too much hesitation, although during this review there were occasions in poorer light where the system could not find focus at all. Still, for studio and other tripod-based shooting, this is completely usable.

Performance and image quality

Performance

  • 5fps burst shooting
  • SnapBridge connectivity
  • 1200 shot battery life

The camera’s metering system can be alternated between multi, centre-weighted and spot options, and on its default multi setting it behaves with a pleasing predictability. We were pleased to see it didn’t tend to overexpose when faced with a predominantly dark subject, although, as is the case with many DSLRs, it does appear to lean slightly towards underexposure when faced with brighter areas. Still, with a dedicated exposure compensation button on the top plate that works in conjunction with the rear command dial, any intervention here is fast and straightforward.

D3400

The camera’s Auto White Balance performance is similarly very good, with just a handful of slips during the course of this review. It did better than expected under artificial lighting, with just a little warmth taken away from some scenes, although performance under the traditionally difficult mixed natural/artificial conditions remained commendable.

With a fast memory card in place and the camera set to its 5fps burst mode, the D3400 manages anywhere between 13 and 28 JPEGs captured at their finest setting before it begins to slowdown. Set to capture Raw images this decreases to eight frames and raw and JPEGs captured simultaneously reduces this to six. The D3400 is unlikely to be anyone’s first choice for action photography and so this performance is likely to be deemed adequate, although those wanting to capture prolonged bursts may find it tricky to do so when shooting raw files.

The camera’s viewfinder doesn’t throw any particularly surprises, with a pleasingly clear, colour-accurate and reasonably bright rendition of the scene. The LCD screen beneath it is fixed in place and not sensitive to touch, but these are not features we should expect as standard on an entry-level DSLR (even if a handful of rivals do offer one or the other, or both). The key thing is that it can reproduce the scene faithfully and show details clearly, and with 921k dots it does a good job to do both in balanced conditions and indoors. One thing that may cause concern is that the screen appears to be positioned far back behind its protective panel, something that easily causes reflections and compromises visibility in brighter conditions.

Nikon D3400

Wireless image transfer takes place over the camera’s Bluetooth-running SnapBridge system, for which you need Nikon’s dedicated app of the same name. This has not been well received since it introduction earlier in the year, and it was not possible to establish a connection when paired with an iPhone 6 for the duration of this test, despite both devices recognising each other.

The Vibration Reduction system inside the AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR kit lens is activated through the menu system rather than a switch on its barrel as is traditionally the case, although there appeared to be no difference in its performance next to other VR lenses with the same claims of effectiveness. The system has a clear effect on the stability of the viewfinder image (which helps with composition) and analysing images afterwards showed to have a positive effect on sharpness at lower shutter speeds.

It doesn’t come as too great a surprise that the camera doesn’t quite stretch to recording 4K video, offering Full HD instead, although good results are possible. Manual control over exposure may be enabled and while a little rolling shutter is visible in certain scenes, this is only really an issue if you pan the camera at speed. The kit lens appears to focus smoothly and very quietly (if a little slowly) while recording, although results appear somewhat weaker at the wide end than at the 55mm setting, so an alternative lens may be called for for wider compositions.

One feature that deserves high praise is the 1200-shot battery life. Having initially charged it fully, the camera maintained a full three bars after two days of being tested. Battery life is an issue for many compact system cameras, whose small batteries often have to power both LCD screen and electronic viewfinders, although the D3400’s battery is far juicier than most other DSLR batteries too (certainly in this class). This places the D3400 at a huge advantage over other models.

Nikon has also included in-camera Raw processing among the D3400’s features, a feature offered in previous D3xxx models but typically confined to more advanced cameras elsewhere. This allows for quick editing and multiple versions of the same image to be created without recourse to a computer, and you can view changes as you make them before committing. Whether or not the intended audience will use this is another matter, but it’s a genuinely useful feature that’s pleasing to see on board.

One small annoyance is that Nikon has maintained the same ‘this option is not available at the current settings or in the camera’s current state’ error message from previous models. This is particularly unhelpful when faced with unselectable options as it doesn’t explain exactly why they cannot be chosen, and it may cause the first-time user to have to check their manual more often than should be necessary.

Image quality

  • ISO100-25,600
  • No low-pass filter
  • Picture Control image effects

With no low-pass filter in front of its sensor, it’s possible to record a very good level of detail in images, particularly if you use a high-quality prime lens, a macro optic or one of Nikon’s pro-oriented zooms. One thing that lets down image quality is the standard of the 18-55mm VR kit lens, particularly at the wideangle and telephoto extremes.

D3400 image quality

At wider apertures images are somewhat soft, particularly in corners and at the edges of the frame, although when used in an intermediate focal length it’s possible get some very good sharpness in the centre of the frame. As with many similar kit lenses, lateral chromatic aberration and curvilinear distortion can be visible in Raw files, although both are successfully and automatically dealt with in JPEGs.

D3400 image quality

One thing those processing images will appreciate is the camera’s healthy dynamic range. I found images underexposed by up to around 3-3.5EV stops could still be rectified (depending on ISO) without noise becoming an issue – at least not one that can’t be dealt with by way of careful noise reduction.

The camera’s slight tendency towards underexposure when dealing with bright areas also means that more highlight detail is retained than would otherwise be the case, although these areas can be tamed in post-production too. Against high-contrast edges it’s also easy to spot purple fringing, and this remains in JPEGs, so this is one area of attention for raw post-production.

In the kinds of conditions in which high ISOs would be called upon, images captured up until around 800 range are still well coloured and troubled to no great degree by noise, although it becomes harder to process this out from images captured after this point. It’s a shame there is no control over high-ISO noise reduction past on and off, as some may prefer to adjust this in finer increments. Fortunately, the effective VR system inside the kit lens means you shouldn’t immediately need to call upon higher options as light levels fall.

D3400 image quality

Nikon’s Picture Control options provide a sensible array of color options, and it’s great to see the Flat option that first came along in the much more advanced D810. This can be used when recording videos, as a means of providing a better starting point for grading. Otherwise, the Standard mode is suitable for everyday shooting, neither saturating colors unnaturally nor leaving them lacklustre. The Vivid mode is a lovely choice for flowers and foliage, and gives colours just the right pep, although all can be adjusted fairly comprehensively with regards to contrast, saturation, brightness and so on.

Verdict and competition

Verdict

Viewed in isolation, the Nikon D3400 is a fine performer and more than enough camera for most people just getting started with DSLR photography. Its body is small and light and its specs, while very similar to its predecessor’s, are perfectly decent for a model of its class. Image and video quality is more than satisfactory too, and with the further benefit of in-camera raw processing, you can also polish up your creations quickly and easily for immediate use.

As a Nikon DSLR, its compatibility with decades worth of top-quality Nikkor glass is another major advantage. Furthermore, the benefit of its optical low-pass-filter-free sensor means that you can get the best out of these optics.

Nikon D3400

The advantage of the 1200-shot battery shouldn’t be overlooked too, and means that it’s much more likely to be taken to a festival, on holiday or elsewhere where you may not always have easy access to a power supply. Yet, the fact that its mammoth battery life is it’s only real USP means that it struggles to stand out in a sea of also-credible alternatives.

After all, those with £500/$650 or so to spend have an overwhelming number of options across mirrorless and DSLR categories, while many mirrorless models manage to not only better the D3400 for size and weight, but also arrive with more flexible touchscreen LCDs and far better connectivity options. Particularly when you consider the D3400’s likely audience is smartphone users, the lack of a touchscreen and a reliable connectivity seems are a real pity.

Competition

Nikon D5300

Nikon D5300

No longer Nikon’s latest and greatest entry-level DSLR, but almost

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 24.2MP | Screen: 3.2-inch articulating, 1,037,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 5fps | Movies: 1080p

The D5300 may have been updated by the D5500, although its impressive spec sheet, ongoing availability and similar price point makes it well worth considering. Currently, for only around £50 more, you get a host of superior tech inside a better-built body, including a 39-point AF system, Wi-Fi, GPS and a larger, higher-resolution articulating LCD screen. Once the D3400 starts to drop in price it may well represent better value, but for now, the D5300 easily has greater appeal.

Read the full review: Nikon D5300

Canon EOS 1300D

Canon EOS Rebel T6 / EOS 1300D

Great camera that replaces the EOS 1200D

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 18MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 920,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 3fps | Movies: 1080p

On paper the EOS 1300D isn’t quite as well specified as the D3400, with an 18MP sensor, 9-point AF system, more restricted ISO range and a battery that has nowhere near as much juice per charge, although it does offer Wi-Fi which the D3400 does not. It’s main advantage, however, is price: having been launched at a lower RRP and with a six-month headstart, you can currently find it quite a bit cheaper. If you can find the even more compact EOS Rebel SL1 / EOS 100D, it’s also well worth adding to your shortlist.

Read the full review: Canon EOS Rebel T6 /Canon EOS 1300D

Pentax K-50

Pentax K-50

Great camera that replaces the EOS 1200D

Sensor: APS-C CMOS | Megapixels: 16.2MP | Screen: 3.0-inch, 921,000 dots | Continuous shooting speed: 6fps | Movies: 1080p

Pentax may not have the market share of Canon or Nikon, but don’t let that sway you into overlooking the K-50. For less money than the D3400 you get a plethora of extras, such as a pentaprism (not pentamirror) viewfinder with approx. 100% coverage, together with a faster 6fps burst rate, higher maximum sensitivity of ISO51,200 and a top shutter speed of 1/6000sec, all inside a weather-resistant body.

Read the full review: Pentax K-50

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Mac Week: The Apple of your eyes: how Apple’s AR and VR plans might take shape

Mac Week: The Apple of your eyes: how Apple's AR and VR plans might take shape

Apple’s AR and VR plans

Virtual reality is grabbing the headlines, with Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR headsets already on sale and Sony’s PlayStation VR imminent. But, while Apple thinks virtual reality (VR) has some "interesting applications," Tim Cook seems to believe that augmented reality (AR) will be even bigger.

We know that Apple has likely hundreds of people working on VR and AR technologies, but we don’t know when or if an Apple AR/VR product will ship – or what it’ll be like. But, there are plenty of clues that can help us make some informed predictions.

AR vs VR: what’s the difference?

Virtual reality is when you see an entirely virtual world: everything before your eyes has been computer generated. AR doesn’t do that. Instead, it augments the real world – think Pokémon Go, or a heads-up display on a car’s windshield.

You can be pretty confident an Apple headset won't look like this

As Tim Cook says, AR enables you to be "very present" when using the technology. You’re not bouncing around your living room with the best part of a motorcycle helmet on your head.

We expect Apple to be working on both AR and VR projects. But, we think AR is the one Tim Cook is more excited about.

Who’s involved?

Apple’s AR/VR team includes some big names, including computer science professor and immersive 3D interface expert Doug Bowman, former Magic Leap computer vision engineer Zeyu Li and former Oculus research scientist Yury Petrov.

Lytro is one of several VR-related firms Apple has hired people from

Apple has also acquired multiple AR/VR companies, including real world object-tagging company Flyby Media, facial capture firm Faceshift, augmented reality developers Metaio, 3D sensor firm – and Kinect creator – PrimeSense, computer vision startup Perceptio and facial analysis developer Emotient.

In addition, Apple is believed to have hired people from Microsoft’s Hololens AR project and from innovative camera firm Lytro.

How long has Apple been working on this?

Years. Apple filed multiple patents in 2008 for head-mounted displays, some of which resembled Google Glass and others which took the same "phone on your face" approach as Samsung’s Gear VR.

In 2011, Apple filed a patent for augmented reality map displays, and it has also filed multiple patents involving 3D interfaces and sensors.

When can we expect to see some products?

Don’t hold your breath for exciting new hardware. While Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster says that Apple is working on several "mixed reality" projects, he projects that initially they will be software-driven and on iOS devices.

According to Seeking Alpha, Munster predicts that Apple may offer a VR/AR API to hardware developers, much like the Made For iPhone program by 2018 – but a glasses-style "mixed reality" headset is at least five years off.

Munster’s predictive track record is a bit patchy – he’s been banging on about an Apple television set for years, to the point where it’s become a running gag among Apple watchers. But, the prospect of an Apple headset taking its time to appear seems reasonable.

We’ve seen the challenges of getting enough power and battery into the Apple Watch; to miniaturize that even further to fit into something like normal glasses or sunglasses won’t be easy.

Current technology means a VR headset has to be bulky

What’s Apple up against?

There are lots of smart-glass models on the market, but they’re limited, bulky and expensive – and mainly for niche markets such as professional cyclists. The closest to an all-purpose headset is probably Vuzix’s M100 Smart Glasses, which cost $799 (about £615) and work with both Android and iOS; or their imminent successor, the M300, which began shipping to VIPs this week, as of this writing.

But, while both systems are undoubtedly impressive and well suited to their target market of business customers, they’re also rather bulky. They’re not Oculus-style monsters, but they aren’t something you’re going to want to wear as you walk down the street, either.

What we’re likely to see first is Apple AR in software, and the iPhone 7 Plus is a pretty big clue that that’s not too far in the future. Its dual cameras aren’t just useful for getting creamy bokeh into portraits.

More importantly, they’re also useful for 3D mapping, whether that’s of a space or your face. That opens up a whole world of potential applications from interior design and online retail to funny FaceTime filters.

AR needn't be visual. AirPods put Siri in your ears

And don’t forget, AR isn’t necessarily a visual technology. The new Apple AirPods put Siri in your ears, just like in the film Her, and that has potential for adding descriptive information to the world around you.

Smartphone screens are our primary way of receiving information because that’s how technology has evolved, but the future is much more modular. The phone will still be the engine, but increasingly we’ll get our information in multiple ways: a haptic tap here, an auditory signal there, an icon or an alert in our field of view.

What would an Apple headset look like?

Back in 2007, Apple patented a head-mounted display that would "resemble ski or motorcycle goggles" – but, that was before the iPhone debuted, and mobile tech has improved considerably since. A more recent patent filed in 2015 and granted in 2016 shows a lighter, less goggle-y headset designed to work with an iPhone.

Some Apple prototypes resemble Microsoft's Hololens, reports say

The Financial Times reports that Apple prototypes have resembled both Oculus Rift headsets and Microsoft Hololens, but that doesn’t mean Apple will ship either. It was building VR prototypes at the turn of the century, and those projects were ultimately scrapped most likely.

When it comes to a new product line, Apple tends to do three things: it learns from others’ mistakes; it waits until it thinks there’s a big enough market for the product; and it obsesses over the details that others missed.

Remember, Apple didn’t invent the MP3 player, the smartphone, the tablet computer or the smartwatch, but it’s followed the same pattern with all of those categories. Nothing about that strategy should change with its headset.

What will an Apple AR or VR headset look like? The answer’s obvious. First, look at what everybody else is doing. Now, think different.

This article is part of TechRadar’s Mac Week. This year marks not only the 10th anniversary of Apple’s unibody MacBook, but the triumphant return of macOS. So, TechRadar looks to celebrate with a week’s worth of original features delving back into the Mac’s past, predicting the Mac’s future and exploring the Mac as it is today.

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In Depth: Contact-less: NFC is good for payments but not much else

In Depth: Contact-less: NFC is good for payments but not much else

No future clarity

NFC (short for Near Field Communication) has long been tipped to change our lives for good, from how we shop to the way we exchange information.

While NFC is part of our daily routines, that’s mainly in the form of contactless payments and, erm, toys – beyond that things are pretty limited. Weren’t we promised more?

Google ‘NFC’ and you’ll see there are all kinds of other ways startups and big brands are trying to make NFC happen. As of yet, the successful use cases are pretty rare.

For those unfamiliar with NFC, it’s a type of wireless data transfer. It’s able to detect and enable tech (within close proximity) to communicate without the need for additional forms of connection – no internet or Bluetooth required here.

  • What is NFC? Everything you need to know

You’ll find NFC in your contactless bank card, and in the same way that augmented reality has become synonymous with Snapchat filters, you’d be forgiven for thinking NFC is all about payments.

The thing is, the convenience it offers means there have been plenty of interesting applications and prototypes in the past, yet few seem to have had mainstream appeal.

NFC in 2016

Love

If you define success by mainstream pick-up, then the most successful application of NFC has been in using our debit and credit cards for contactless payments.

Geoff Barraclough, Head of Proposition at EVO Payments International, told us: "It’s taken some years to take hold, but now we’re seeing £2bn per month spent on contactless cards in the UK and it’s growing swiftly. Waitrose, for example, is now reporting 35% of transactions on contactless."

In London, meanwhile, the option to leave your Oyster card at home and use a bank card to tap in and out instead has had high adoption rates. According to TfL, more than 30 percent of all pay-as-you-go journeys were made with contactless cards.

But for many, NFC is synonymous with smartphones, and they’re changing the way we pay too. Recent stats suggest those using the likes of Apple Pay are often signing up and trialling the service, introducing them to the benefits of paying contactless.

But, out of 20 people who sign up for Apple Pay, only one will actually continue to use the service afterwards, so drop-off rates are just as high.

NFC has been used a lot in the ‘toys to life’ gaming accessory space, which enables gamers to essentially move around small objects offline and have them remember gaming narrative and interact in the same way in the game.

Nintendo’s amiibo and other NFC-enabled figurines from the likes of Disney’s Infinity, and Activision’s Skylanders, are great examples of how NFC can be applied far beyond payments, bridging the gap between gaming and real-life toys.

According to reports, Nintendo sold a staggering 24.7 million Amiibo figures during the last fiscal year, and those numbers are only expected to rise if the ‘toys to life’ trend continues to gain momentum – it’s sustained consumer interest for a few years now, so there’s no saying that won’t continue.

As NFC is such a crucial element of how the figurines, work, behave and have such mainstream appeal, along with payments this proves the sustainability of this kind of tech.

Another application of NFC you might have heard of is NFC tags – stickers or dedicated tags created to let you interact with advertising, for instance. The latter has been stuck on widespread bus stops, but despite promising ‘coming soon’ advertising promotions that those savvy enough to tap on will get access to, the system has utterly failed to catch on.

Personal tags are also still, years after being introduced, a ‘potential’ tech. They should be amazing, letting you start music or fire-up car-specific functions when docking your phone in your vehicle, but it too hasn’t caught on due to a complex set-up.

Many devices brandish the NFC logo, which means that by holding your smartphone up to them you’ll be able to connect via Bluetooth much faster than by pairing devices manually.

And, while you may not have noticed that it’s been baked into every iteration of Google’s mobile OS since Android 4.0 Ice Cream, Android Beam is an app designed to make the most of NFC, enabling the sharing of pretty much anything, whether it’s a contact card, picture, web page or YouTube link.

What does the future hold for NFC payments?

NFC

When it comes to the near future of NFC, we can expect to see contactless payments taking off even more, in terms of both consumer and retailer adoption rates. In fact, recent data from Juniper Research suggests the global value of mobile and wearable contactless payments is expected to reach $95 billion annually by 2018, up from less than $35 billion last year.

All the experts we spoke to agree that for NFC to have staying power in either phones or contactless cards, it needs to make the in-store retail experience better, or make paying more convenient.

EVO Payments’ Barraclough argues that this is why smartphone payment systems haven’t yet taken off to the extent that was expected.

"Apple Pay is clever, but usage is low as it’s slower and less convenient than tapping a plastic bank card. It’s the same for Android Pay and Samsung Pay," he says.

"These services are wonderful for making in-app payments but don’t improve the customer experience in-store."

Considerable work needs to be put into either improving this in-store experience, or changing the user journey so people don’t fall back into their old ways.

Jeanette Tena-Jones, VP, Payments and Loyalty at MBNA, says one of the big things needed in order for contactless payments to really take off is to get those who aren’t early adopters to feel comfortable with a different payment method – and give them an incentive to try it out.

"Future solutions will need to provide things beyond payments to become mainstream," she says. "Integration with loyalty and membership cards is the clear choice, but that won’t be enough."

When it comes to smartphone payments, we’ve already seen Apple introduce a £5 iTunes gift card for those who use Apple Pay because it’s so eager to make the contactless payment system second nature. But users ingrained in their habits will likely need more of a push.

Losing the leather

Another answer, Tena-Jones suggests, would be to add NFC tech to a wider ‘digital wallet’ proposition.

She says: "Our hectic lifestyles [mean] we might all like to have solutions that allow us to… read, chat, browse, play and shop, so NFC payments will need to be part of a wide digital wallet proposition to break some of the barriers and achieve mass adoption in the future."

The idea of the digital wallet has been around for decades, and NFC has the potential to activate it – imagine being able to send sensitive medical data, financial information or just trade Pokemon by tapping phones together, confirmed by your own biometric data.

The convenience would be the biggest draw – but the issue is making sure the systems exist to enable the tech, which feels like an impossible target right now.

Having said that, right now financial experts are agreed that it’s still the best kind of tech for payments. So there’s no reason why it won’t continue to be the go-to tech for transactions.

Barraclough added: "There’s no simpler way to pay [than contactless], the technology is tested, deployed and globally interoperable.

"Your contactless bank card will work in Australia just as easily as Aberdeen. Anything involving mobile phones, apps, beacons, check-ins and two-factor security will be slower and less elegant than this."

What about wearables?

NFC

Now that the Apple Watch allows you to pay with Apple Pay, and with Fitbit having bought wearable payments tech from financial tech startup Coin earlier this year, wearables are becoming a viable way to pay on the go, offering convenience by always being around.

Fitbit is yet to reveal official details, but given that it still sells more wearables than any other company (yep, including Apple) this could be the tie-in that will make using wearables to pay for stuff take off in a big way.

And in the future NFC could well become part of your body, rather than being attached to a device. Earlier this year, Microsoft Research and MIT’s Media Lab published details of Tattio, a temporary tattoo that contains NFC tags that can act as your digital identity – if people started to implant the chip onto their person, the ecosystem would begin to flourish pretty swiftly.

The future

If NFC is going to grow in usage, it’ll need to be integrated with enough daily transactions for it to become a ‘mandatory’ technology in our lives.

And there are signs that it’s moving into new areas: for instance, a number of hotel chains are enabling guests to get into their rooms with their phones using NFC.

It’s similar to contactless payments – ditch that swiping room key (or actual key) and use your phone instead.

The huge appeal here is that, if it’s done right, you can bypass the front desk entirely. Even those wary of using their phones for paying or getting on flights might like the appeal of cutting down on queueing, and having to go through a lengthy hotel check-in process after a long-haul flight.

If that benefit could be marketed well – and if the tech works seamlessly – these simple security applications of NFC could become second nature as we travel.

Enhancing the retail experience

One space in which NFC is often peddled out as ‘revolutionary’ is in product packaging – but it doesn’t seem to be that way right now. Brands pushing NFC-loaded packaging as giving consumers a ‘better experience’ by allowing them to find out more about their products hardly seems futuristic.

It would be cool if tapping a jar of coffee to our smartphone triggered the kettle to start boiling – but that would require a unified system that every device works to, and we’re a long way from that.

NFC

A contactless future?

What we need are NFC solutions that are connected to wider strategies, so they feel less like standalone solutions and more integral to our day-to-day lives.

To be properly part of our future, NFC needs to become interwoven with smart homes and connected ecosystems, where it’s currently just a novel accessory, beyond payments.

All the experts we spoke to agreed that NFC payments would become more successful when the ‘digital wallet’ becomes a reality. The technology is in a strange position – a mainstay in smartphones for years, but (beyond contactless payments, which still aren’t any more useful than a bank card) largely a luxury addition.

Barraclough doesn’t imagine contactless payments will be on the way out any time soon, nor gravitate towards being only on smartphones.

"Human behaviour changes at a glacial pace when it comes to payments," he says. "I fully expect us still to be using contactless bank cards in 10 years’ time.

But he agrees that the future of NFC calls for some streamlining and integration, so we could use it for all manner of purposes and, crucially, not have to worry about carrying anything extra around.

"However, the card credentials will be embedded in our clothing and accessories so they’ll be no need to take a wallet when you go for a jog," he adds.

"These credentials will also be used for access control at home and work, as well as authenticating us for gym membership, library books and a host of other everyday uses."

The future? It still feels like NFC is being endlessly trialled years after launch, and when it comes to mainstream adoption, gaming and payments are the only two spaces that actually seem to have short-term potential.

The biggest hurdle doesn’t seem to be the tech itself, but convincing people to try it and, crucially, changing their behaviour so they persevere with it, and don’t fall back on old-school solutions.

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