Augmented reality is set to become one of the next big things in smartphones. Both Google and Apple have plans underway to push it to the next level, and you’re quite possible already using it without realizing. The face filters in Snapchat and Instagram are based on AR, as was the biggest mobile game of last year: Pokemon Go.
But what else is there, aside from these big names? Here are 12 of the best augmented reality apps for Android that you can try today.
1. Star Walk 2
There’s no quicker or simpler demonstration of the wonders of augmented reality than Star Walk 2. Just load up the app, point your phone at the sky, and all the planets, stars and constellations will be laid out right in front of you.
This pocket planetarium is great for teachers, amateur astronomers, or just anyone who wants to identify whether that light in sky is a star, Mars, or the International Space Station.
Download: Star Walk 2 (Free)
2. Google Translate
Google Translate is one of the best apps for travelers. It enables you to have full conversations with people, even when you don’t speak the same language. But it isn’t just limited to the spoken word.
In one of the best uses of augmented reality to date, you can point your phone’s camera at a road sign, menu, or any other piece of text — and you’ll get an instant translation. This feature works in 38 languages (the app supports 103 overall) and you can download language packs to use offline.
If you prefer not to use Google for whatever reason, you can also give Microsoft Translator a try. It works in similar ways, although it doesn’t have quite the same visual flair when translating written words.
Download: Google Translate (Free)
Many of us would probably love to be able to draw, but our attempts to learn just don’t work out. There are loads of apps and websites that promise to help you learn how to draw. SketchAR takes a unique approach, using augmented reality as a guide.
Grab a blank sheet of paper, then load up an image in SketchAR (there are several provided, or you can convert your own photos) and the app “projects” a virtual copy of the image onto the page. All you then need to do is trace it.
You can create A4-sized pictures in the standard app, or if you have a Project Tango phone, you can use it to make wall-sized artworks.
Download: SketchAR (Free)
Wikitude is one of the oldest smartphone AR apps, and it’s still going strong. It combines local search with augmented reality to give you more information on the world around you. It points you towards nearby restaurants and coffee shops, hotels, or places of interest.
The recommendations are pulled from sources such as Google Maps, Trip Advisor, and Wikipedia. New results pop up all the time as you walk or point your device in a different direction.
Alternatively, you can use Wikitude as a more traditional travel app. You can perform normal text-based searches, and get information on and directions to local businesses.
Download: Wikitude (Free)
You might have expected the world’s favorite virtual band to have embraced AR, and they have. The official Gorillaz app uses augmented reality as the entry point to a treasure trove of exclusive content.
As you walk around your home (and beyond), you encounter various objects from the band’s videos. Tapping on these takes you to a series of rooms crammed with extras.
What you’ll encounter incorporates many of the other apps and features on your phone. Sometimes it’ll send you out into the Spotify app to play you an exclusive track. Other parts need a Google Cardboard or other VR headset to enjoy. It’s a real feast for fans.
Download: Gorillaz (Free)
If you’re planning on getting a tattoo, the last thing you want to contemplate is regretting it afterwards. One way to reduce the chance of this happening is to use the Inkhunter app before you get started.
Inkhunter uses AR to display your chosen tattoo design on your arm or other part of your body so that you can see what it will look like before you take the leap. Moving your arm or phone allows you to check that it’ll look great from every angle. It’s easy to save and share the results, too.
Download: Inkhunter (Free)
7. Ghost Snap AR Horror Survival
A short but sweet take on the found footage movie genre, Ghost Snap is best played with headphones on and the lights turned off.
The game uses your camera’s flash to illuminate your surroundings, and switches the display on the screen to a green-tinted night vision mode. All you need to do is explore your home, snapping photos of any strange occurrences when you chance upon them.
The ghost is not terribly convincing when it finally arrives, but the game’s fun and atmospheric enough while it lasts.
Download: Ghost Snap AR (Free)
Lumyer is built around the same kind of face filters you see in Snapchat and Instagram. Unlike those apps, though, these aren’t applied in real time. Instead, you snap a selfie, then add some animated eyes or hair to the image and save it as a GIF. You can also use photos that you’ve already taken.
Lumyer works with video, too, and these do get applied in real time. You can add fireworks, confetti, and other party-style effects. Lumyer doesn’t beat the big names at their own game, and processing is a little slow. But if you’re getting tired of what Snapchat has to offer, it’s a fun alternative.
Download: Lumyer (Free)
9. Silent Streets
Silent Streets is a traditional point-and-click adventure game that replaces the pointing and clicking with AR. Instead of swiping around a 2D world, tapping on objects to investigate, you need to physically walk toward them. It’s a fun twist on a classic genre.
The story is interesting and engaging as you investigate crimes in a Victorian setting. There are plenty of puzzles to keep you hooked. The first section is free, but you’ll have to pay to keep playing after that.
Download: Silent Streets (Free)
10. IKEA Catalog
Wouldn’t it be great if you could see how a piece of furniture would look in your room before you buy it? You can with the IKEA app.
Working with over 300 items, you can place a chair in the corner and a lamp on the table, and get a feel for how they fit and whether the color scheme works. Using the app on its own has limitations, since you need to size the products manually.
If you have a printed copy of the latest IKEA catalog, you can scale them perfectly and even walk around them in a fully immersive 3D room.
Download: IKEA Catalog (Free)
WallaMe is the kind of idea that you can easily imagine being adopted by the big social networks in future. It lets you share secret messages with others by turning the whole world into a blank canvas.
Point your phone’s camera at an empty wall and write or draw a message on screen, then share it. No random passersby will even know that a message is there. But people with whom you have shared your creation, and who stand in the same location, will be able to see exactly what you’ve done.
Download: WallaMe (Free)
Long before Pokemon Go existed, Ingress had already converted millions to the wonders of augmented reality gaming. Set in a complex sci-fi world, the game requires that you pick a side, then roam around capturing or protecting locations.
While it may lack the accessibility you get from other big games, if you do give it a go, you’ll find Ingress has a very large community of hardcore players ready to welcome you to the ranks.
Download: Ingress (Free)
What’s Next: Project Tango
But there’s a catch. You need a compatible device, and you almost certainly don’t have one. At the time of writing there are just two Tango devices: one from Lenovo and one from Asus.
But until then, you can still get a taste of what AR is all about. And with Apple’s recent attempts to push it into the mainstream with the iPhone X, you can be sure that the number of options is only going to increase in future.
What’s your favorite augmented reality app? Are you excited about Tango? Share your thoughts and opinions with us in the comments.
Image Credit: Julia_Tim/Depositphotos