Where would smartphones and tablets be without apps and games? Mostly in your pocket, because your rounded rectangles of joy would be… boring. But any old app won’t do – you want the good stuff. So let’s dig into the best mobile apps and games of 2022.
Our top two apps arrived right at the death. Until then, 2022 had been oddly quiet in this space. (On Android, read ‘quiet’ as ‘deathly silent’.) Luckily, the end of the year shook everything up.
As for games, it feels like the gold rush years are long behind us, with creators who work on larger projects now mostly focusing on dedicated game platforms. Still, that leaves space for cracking indie titles that made mobile shine in the first place.
Mobile app of the year: Affinity Publisher 2
Serif has spent five years conducting an audacious land grab in the creative space. While Adobe continued to force subscriptions on everybody, Affinity Photo rocked up in 2017 as 90% of a Photoshop at a wallet-friendly price. A year later, we got the Illustrator-ish Affinity Designer. Astonishingly, both apps were full-featured on iPad, including almost everything from the Mac and Windows editions.
Affinity Publisher 2 completes the set on iPad, bringing desktop-grade page-layout creation (akin to InDesign) to Apple’s tablet. You might question why you’d want that on an iPad, not least when Apple’s promises regarding external display support are yet to materialize. But as many creative pros maintain, direct tactile control over layouts can be transformative, and the iPad’s distraction-free nature is a boon.
Naturally, Publisher continues Serif’s no-subscription stance, and there’s also a new cross-platform all-in universal license for the creative-curious. Nice.
Highly recommended: LumaFusion
A frustrated being an Android fan is watching the Apple mob get all the new toys. But with LumaFusion, Android (and also ChromeBook) device owners can enjoy first-rate desktop-grade video editing – and without the hideous subscriptions that saddle broadly equivalent apps already on the system.
Although in beta at the time of writing, the Android app is essentially the same as the one that’s long held a spot in our best iPhone and iPad apps list. You get up to six video and six audio tracks, magnetic timelines, and a slew of layer effects and color-correction tools.
Whether that’s enough to propel you up Hollywood’s ranks remains to be seen. But there’s nothing better for giving a pro-sheen to your videos on Android than this app.
One area where Android is giving Apple a kicking rather than playing catch-up is emulation. Daijisho (Android) is a superb front-end that’s ideal for occasional retrogamers through to folks who fancy transforming a phone into a classic games machine.
Ableton Note (iOS) finally brought Ableton music-creation software to iPhone, albeit in a manner that’s more like a sketchbook than a full canvas. Still, for getting down song ideas you can later work on back on your computer, it’s an excellent buy.
Barcodes (Apple Watch) stops you having to search your ever-bulging wallet for the right plastic card to enter a gym, borrow a library book, or secure 0.005p in supermarket rewards, by putting barcodes right on your wrist. Handy! Or should that be wristy?
Mobile game of the year: Knotwords
Zach Gage has formed in subverting newspaper-style puzzles and rethinking them for the touchscreen. Knotwords (Android, iOS) looks like a bunch of miniature crossword puzzles, but play a few games and you’ll realize it’s something very different.
Each puzzle is broken into pieces that resemble Tetris-style blocks. You’re provided with letters for each section, but they’re scrambled. Your job is to place each letter and make sure the entire crossword makes sense.
For free, there’s a daily challenge and a set of monthly puzzles. A clever share system lets you post online how you did on a puzzle (and how long it took you to complete it). Splash out on the full-game IAP and you unlock additional modes, along with the entire puzzle archive. Much better value than paper tomes – and more fun too.
Highly recommended: Horizon Chase 2
Apple Arcade had a good year, with one-thumb eco-adventure Gibbons: Beyond the TreesYu Suzuki’s shooting Water Twisters and the mobile exclusive of Football Manager 2023 Touch. But speedy racer Horizon Chase 2 took the checked flag for us.
Like the original Horizon Chase, the follow-up is a blazing-fast arcade racer, where you barrel along roads where everyone is suspiciously all driving in the same direction. Aside from spangly revamped visuals, the sequel adds a bunch of new challenges and welcome multiplayer modes.
In all, it’s like having 90% of an OutRun 2 on your phone – or a modern remake of the Amiga classic Lotus 3 or Top Gear on the SNES. In short, it’s vrooming great.
Otteretto (Android, iOS) wowed us online and won a well-deserved spot on our best browser games list. The mobile take builds on the original’s well-based palindromic puzzle with new game modes and worldwide cross-platform leaderboards.
Pawnbarians (Android, iOS) fuses chess-like mechanics to dungeon crawling. You partake in turn-based battles on a tiny five-by-five grid, trying to outwit opponents by way of chess-piece moves and special power-ups. A one-off IAP unlocks extra modes and dungeons.
Automatoys (Android, iOS) is more tinkering than torturous high-score housing. You get three colorful, oddball contraptions (and another nine if you pay) and use a single finger to trigger moving parts to help a ball towards a goal – or fling it into the ether.
About The Stuff Gadget Awards
The Stuff Gadget Awards are where we reward the best tech we’ve seen during the year with gongs that celebrate their status as the cream of the gadgety crop. Read more about The Stuff Gadget awards.