Best Apps to Zone Out With

By Chuck Gray

I'll admit it: at the end of the workday, I want little more than to sit in front of the TV and do nothing. This is an indulgence I allow myself far more frequently than I should. Of course, no one just watches TV anymore, do they?  Thanks to wifi, laptops, and now smartphones and tablets, our lazy time is much more engaging. Who said technology has to be productive? Here are my top smartphone and tablet apps to zone out with.

Google Earth - iOS download | Android download

Being able to spin the globe on your screen with a swipe of your fingers and randomly zoom in and out by pinching the screen is still, even after the many years since its release, really, really cool. I love to get a bird’s eye view of the places I used to live and even take a street-level gander at them with Street View. Many major cities and natural wonders are now rendered in stunning 3-D—taking a virtual fly-through of the Grand Canyon is just stunning. And, on a related note...

GeoGuessr -

This is a great game for the traveler in all of us. GeoGuessr plops you down in a random Google Maps Street View of some place. Your goal is to use the terrain, landmarks, buildings, street signs, cars, and people around you to identify where you are and mark that location on a world map. You have the full range of movement that you would in a normal Street View, so if your initial view leaves you clueless, you can still proceed in any direction until you’ve gotten enough information to make an educated, or as is so frequently the case for me, a random guess. Though the main site works fine on mobile devices, the new beta site linked to above has been designed with them specifically in mind. Additionally, it links to location-specific games. If you’ve traveled extensively in the U.S. but nowhere outside the country, you can limit the geography to just the United States.

SketchBook - iPhone/iPod Touch download | iPad download
Android Phone download | Android Tablet download

I’m no artist, but I am a doodler. The margins of my school notebooks, even throughout grad school, were lined with nonsensical squiggles that led to many lowered grades. That didn’t do squat to discourage my artistic mediocrity though. These days I’ve got my smartphone and Sketchbook, a free app with all the tools you’ll need to sketch, ink, and color a true piece of art . . . or just mess around. Sketch with your finger or grab a cheap stylus from Five Below, and you’ll be drawing dinosaurs in spaceships in no time!

Ski Safari - iOS download | Android download

Mobile games can feature controls almost as complex as those of their big brother consoles, but most of them just involve tapping and swiping.  Ski Safari might be my favorite tap-based game, and believe me, there are a lot of them.  Ski Safari has you racing across a variety of frozen terrain in a hopeless attempt to escape an oncoming avalanche.  You’ll jump off cliffs, grab rides on the backs of yetis, fly through the clouds holding onto eagles, and eventually die, but have a lot of mindless fun doing it.

Vine - iOS download | Android download

Twitter’s answer to ADHD will have you ignoring the TV to watch six-second clips of both brilliance and idiocy. Vine creators must make every one of those six seconds count and the results are often hysterical, moving, beautiful, thoughtful . . . or stupid. Vine has different categories of videos to help guide your watching experience, or you can just take the luck-of-the-draw. Either way, you’ll be entertained.

Internet Movie Database (IMDb) - iOS download | Android download

IMDb is the app you’ll use if you want to actually engage further with the movie or TV show you’re watching. Curious to know who that actor is who seems to be in all of Joss Whedon’s shows? Or, who composed Blade Runner’s sublime music? I wanted to know, and IMDb told me that and more! Actor biographies, quotes, trivia, trailers, news, and so much more are a touch away with IMDb.

StumbleUpon - iOS download | Android download

Mindlessly surfing the Web takes so much effort. Wouldn’t it be great if you could just tap a button and be instantly presented with interesting content? There’s an app for that, and it’s called StumbleUpon. Once you create a profile, you can tailor your stumbling tastes with a wide variety of interests. You can share, bookmark, and either like or dislike a Stumble to help further customize your results. Here’s a taste of the Stumbles that came up based on my interests when sampling this app for this post:

  • Top 10 Ways to Break Into and Out of Almost Anything
  • How to Become a Hacker
  • An insanely cool manipulated photo of a roller-coaster
  • 99 Songs to Make your Homework Awesome
  • 110 Predictions for the next 110 years

Blueprint 3D - iPhone/iPod Touch download | iPad download | Android download

Another brilliant mobile game has you rotating “exploded” images in order to find just the right 3-D perspective at which the image comes together as a recognizable whole. Increases in difficulty result in more complex images separated into a greater number of smaller pieces strewn in even more bizarre fashions. Think of a connect-the-dots puzzle in three dimensions, and you’ll get a decent understanding of what this game is about.

Tumblr - iOS download | Android download

I am addicted to Tumblr, and I don’t get Tumblr. It’s just a microblogging social network. Much of its capability could be, and is, replicated by Facebook. But unlike Facebook, it is a far more open and explorable network of content creators and curators and far less restrictive. I don't create content for Tumblr, I only use the dashboard to follow blogs I’m interested in.  Actual bloggers can edit their pages to appear how they like and post whatever content they want. Tumblr will also suggest blogs to follow based on your interests. Posts are minimalistic and often of an artistic or at the very least, original bent. Tumblr is home to a culture of self-expression and creativity indicative of the modern Web. Let’s hope Yahoo, which acquired Tumblr last year, doesn’t mess it up.  

Pinterest - iOS download | Android download

For the curator in all of us, Pinterest is a fantastic way to share discovered content on the Web. Users create themed “boards” and then “pin” pictures and links to them. Other users can then follow those individual boards or everything a particular user pins. Let’s say you’ve got a bookmarks folder full of great low-carb recipes. With Pinterest, you can visually share those links with everyone. Or maybe you’re a technologist, like me, and you want to share interesting articles about the latest and greatest tech toys. Pinterest has you covered! It is, in a sense, the polar opposite of StumbleUpon, in that you have very precise control over what you share and what you view.

Dots - iOS download | Android download

Connect the colored dots. It’s free. Try it. You’ll like it. I promise.