Everybody’s screen time time is up, but we don’t need to feel guilty about it. There is a lot to be gained from apps, whether that’s learning, relaxing, or cooking. Here is a collection of my favourite 7. None of them involve exercise, and all are free.
- PictureThis, for the newly green fingered
Nature is at it’s most vibrant at the moment, and perhaps a little more wild and unkempt than usual. I don’t know if I would have made the concerted effort to go and experience this beautiful spring we’re having if it wasn’t a once a day lockdown treat. This app is like Shazam for all things botanical. You just take a picture of the plant and upload it to find out the details of the floral displays growing along your walk, or in your garden (especially useful for first-time kitchen gardeners – that’s not a weed, its a potato!) You can also look at a map and see what other users have seen growing nearby (or anywhere in the world, for that matter). It will also tell you where the plant’s name comes from, what it symbolises, and it’s a guide to its growing preferences.
2. SuperCook, for the lazy or thrifty cooking newbie
Lockdown is making home chefs of us all, but with limitations of what’s available from the shops. I have been searching for weeks for bicarbonate of soda to no avail, and eggs are just an urban myth to me now. This app asks you to add the food you have in your storecupboard/fridge/spice rack to your digital ‘pantry’, either by scrolling through the list (neatly categorised into dairy/meat/baking & grains etc) and selecting what you have, or using its voice recognition tool so you that you just dictate what you see in your kitchen. Then, it pulls recipes from all over the internet, that you can make without leaving your home or buying anything new. I can currently make 4,475 things, which holds a refreshing feeling of potential.
3. BlockuDoku for the anxious type A
This is like a really peaceful version of Tetris. You do have to change your mindset from best game to come out of the 80s in that 1) there is no time limit to make decisions, 2) you get rid of 3×3 cubes, as well as 9×1 rows, and 3) there is no gravity – your blocks don’t descend from above. You can also see what would happen if you placed the block where you’re thinking and then change your mind. It’s satisfying, soothing, and takes you to such a safe place that I used to look forward to my commutes, just so I could play it. What a sad little life Jane, I hear you cry. Perhaps so. But my dishwasher loading skills have greatly improved, so who’s laughing now?
4. Bird Song Identification AI, for the wannabe twitcher
It’s like Shazam but for bird song. The user interface is pretty beta, and it said it was 99% sure it heard a Eurasian Eagle-owl hoot 11 times, when the only thing that was making a sound was a wood pigeon. Still, if your daily walk is often accompanied by birdsong, it’s a great way to find out which extra shy birds are hiding in the canopy, and it satisfyingly loads them into a stream for you to read more about, and playback their song.
5. Vivino, for the borderline alcoholic who wants to justify their drinking
Again, another Shazam type app, but this one shows you the average rating for the wine, plus price, and taste notes just by scanning the bottle’s label. I used to use this in the supermarket, but now with the queues building and a social responsibility to get in and out as quickly as possible, I scan my booty once back home to work out which one to drink first. The better wine should always go first, before your tastebuds get drunk and don’t give a shit about notes or noses (not that they do when I’m sober). You can also use this to decide what to select if you’re getting home deliveries of wine. My wine aficionado friend says anything over 4 stars will be really good. It’s also worth mentioning there is a serious wine community here and that your comments on the wine are public. Note to self: they are not notes to self. ‘Not as nice as the one last night’ does not help anyone.
6. Duolingo, for those optimists planning trips already
Yes, I may well have got an A in French GCSE with no revision (pause for applause), and I may well have been fluent in French until the age of 3 (pause to absorb impressed face of the reader), but there’s no time like lockdown to brush up on lost skills or make good that lie on your CV about being of ‘conversational’ level. Plus, the lessons are really easy. They asked me to translate the sentences ‘un croissant’ and ‘une pizza’ the other day. Feeling pretty good about getting that right, 15 years post failed attempts at verb congregation.
7. TikTok, for the cool cats and kittens who need to keep their finger on the pulse
I can’t floss. Hell, I can’t even dab. I swear it must be an evolution thing, and people over 25 were not genetically predisposed to move their bodies like Gen Z, Gen Alpha or beyond. But you’ve gotta keep your finger on the pulse lest you reemerge from quarantine a Luddite. And there is something deeply satisfying about watching people move so in sync to new snippets of new music (Absolute 80s listener over here), and heartwarming when the olds are invited to do join their grandchildren. Also, where else would I get my Tiger King fix, other than seeing two teenage girls transform themselves into Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin and then rapping about it to the beat of Savage.