Showing Off a Tablet's Graphical Powers, Android Style

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Tablets are changing computing, there's no doubt. I realized this when I saw my 2-year-old son pick up an iPad and master its basic controls, including discovering a child's app, in about half an hour. The iPad led the way into this brave new world more or less alone at first. It has taken until now for the sheer pressure of innovation inside Apple's rivals to lead to some great Android-based tablets finally making a mark.

If you're a new owner of one of these, you'll be happy to know that there's many an app that will simultaneously thrill you, inform you and welcome you into the world of tablet computing.

For a great news experience, the free app News360 has to be one of the better news-aggregating ones I've seen on any platform. When you first open the app, you are presented with a long list of topics that it can aggregate for your convenience into different categories, from arts through science to zombies.

The app uses this profile to grab news from the Web and present it to you within its elegant interface. This is dominated by picture-based "tiles" for each news article the app collects. Each tile tells you the appropriate category, where the news item came from and when. Tapping on one of these tiles takes you to a new page that contains a screen grab of the original online source, alongside the text the app has collected from the article.

The pleasure of News360 is that you can either satisfy your curiosity by tapping on a link to read the original article or decide you have learned enough and navigate on. You can also mark the article as interesting, save it for reading offline -- perhaps on a commute -- or share it on a social network. These controls are also accessible from the initial "tiles" screen, where you flip over an article's tile to see the controls. The flip is accompanied by a very pleasing animation. It's just a little graphical touch, but small details like this make an app great fun.

Part of the fun of having a new tablet is showing off its graphical prowess. Games are a great way to do this. I've had immense fun with Edge Extended (about $3 on Google Play). In this game, you play a multicolored cube that you roll around a blocky terrain to collect targets. You swipe your finger on the screen to make the cube flop onto its faces to move. There are all the classic elements of collecting points, avoiding pitfalls, activating switches and so on. But despite its graphical simplicity, the app is swift-paced and very satisfying; it even gave me that sensation of falling from a height in some of its trickier parts.

If you really want to impress people with your tablet's screen, then you'll probably get a kick out of a game like Need for Speed Most Wanted ($7 on Google play). It's a racing game that uses motion to control steering and simple tap controls to brake, slide the car in a drift or turn on a nitrous turbo boost. True to the "Most Wanted" title, you race on regular roads, not racetracks, and can get in trouble with the police. This app has all the typical racing fun, along with the ability to earn points that unlock better cars and so on. But the standout feature is the attractiveness of the graphics, and the image rendering even includes reflections of passing buildings in puddles. It's really eye-popping, and it even works on a diminutive tablet like the Nexus 7.

If racing's not your thing, you may like SoulCraft THD instead. In this hack-and-slash role-playing game, you control your character from above as it fights its way through a fantasy landscape of dungeons and cities. As on a standard computer action game, you can earn spells and improve your character's powers.

The game is "freemium" so it's free to download and play, but you have to make in-game purchases with real money to advance quickly. The graphics are slick, but don't expect the kind of detailed rendering you would see on a gaming PC.

If you want to make your pals who own iPads jealous, turn on an animated background. This shows off the computing power of your tablet and Android's skills, too.

Right now my tablet is rocking the seasonal Autumn Tree Live Wallpaper, which is $1. You can control all sorts of aspects of the app, including what type of trees wave their autumnal leaves in the wind, and it's delightful. It's also something that a stock iPad absolutely can't do.

Have fun, but here's a big reminder for you: Not all Android tablets will play nicely with all tablet apps, and some features depend on installing the latest edition of the operating system.

Quick Calls

Fresh and free on Android and iOS is a highly unusual "experimental" game, Curiosity. It's a cube with faces made of millions of smaller cubes. Players all around the world hack away at these by tapping on their devices. A single prize is hidden inside an unknown number of layers. It's weirdly fun to play ... One of the earliest and slickest apps for Windows 8/RT devices is the official Wikipedia app (free), which shows the online encyclopedia in its most elegant, graphical format yet.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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