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Best augmented-reality apps

Augmented reality has long sounded like a wild futuristic concept, but the technology has actually been around for years. It becomes more robust and seamless with each passing decade, providing an astonishing means of superimposing computer-generated images atop a user’s view of reality, thus creating a composite view rooted in both real and virtual worlds. Although AR apps run the gamut, from interactive map overlays and virtual showrooms to massive multiplayer skirmishes, each piece of software hones in on smartphone GPS and camera functionality to create a more immersive experience.

Related: Want to master Pokémon Go? Here’s every tip you need to know

The available selection of augmented reality apps is diverse, encompassing both premium and freemium offerings from a variety of big and no-name developers, but sometimes choosing which apps are worth your smartphone or tablet’s precious memory is tougher than using the apps themselves. Here are our top picks for the best augmented reality apps available, whether you’re searching for iOS or Android apps.

The best AR apps

Pokémon GO (free)

Pokemon Go (Android/iOS)

It wouldn’t be a list of the best AR apps without mentioning Niantic’s Pokémon Go, a game that has quickly captured everyone’s attention and given them a reason to go out into the world, walk around, and catch Pokémon. The game uses GPS to mark your location, and move your in-game avatar, while your smartphone camera is used to show Pokémon in the real world. For the most part, it works, provided the game hasn’t crashed or frozen. There aren’t a lot of instructions when you first start, or information regarding game mechanics like the colored rings around wild Pokémon, but thanks to the nature of the internet, figuring out what to do isn’t that tough.

Players of Ingress, another creation from Niantic, will see many similarities between the developer’s two games, right down to the locations marked as PokéStops and Gyms. The implementation of the original 150 Pocket Monsters is definitely the biggest thing Pokémon Go has, well, going for it compared to its predecessor. Niantic is set to continue updating the game to improve its performance, however, and add new features like trading, so hopefully Pokémon Go will stick around for a good, long while.

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Android iOS

Ink Hunter (free)

Ink Hunter is the app you should use when deciding on a tattoo and where to put it. The app lets you try out pre-made tattoos, as well as your own designs, and they can be oriented in whatever position you like and placed on any part of the body. Tattoos placed on the body using the camera look as close to real life as you’re going to get — without actually going under the needle that is — and that’s all thanks to the in-app editor and the way Ink Hunter renders tattoos. The app previously only supported black-and-white tattoos, but its latest update added support for color tattoos as well, meaning you can get a better understanding of what the design will look like before you make it permanent.

Currently, Ink Hunter is only available on iOS, but there are plans for Android and Windows Phone versions. So, if you’re planning to get a tattoo sometime soon, but don’t have an Apple device, maybe consider holding off on that tattoo for a bit, or borrow a friend’s iPhone or iPad.

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WallaMe (free)

WallaMe lets you leave hidden messages in various locations around the world that can only be read by other people using the WallaMe app. When using the app, you can take a picture of a nearby wall, street, or sign, then use the in-app drawing and painting tools to create your own special messages. You can also attach pictures to the areas you’ve chosen, if only to prove you were actually there. The augmented reality really comes into play when you’re in a location that has a hidden message, but it can only be found by using WallaMe and your device’s camera. Messages can be made private, too, so that only friends using the app can see them, or they can be made public for everyone to discover.

WallaMe’s biggest strength also works against it, in a way. Those that aren’t aware of the app’s existence, or those that don’t regularly use it, may never see the clever messages created by others. That being said, fans of the app may want to keep it that way, in order to maintain the feel of exclusivity.

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Android iOS

Star Chart (free)

Star Chart may be an educational app, but it’s a really cool one that’s sure to appeal to people of all ages. When Star Chart is opened on your Android or iOS device and pointed at the sky, the app will inform you of what stars or planets you’re currently facing, even during the day when the stars are at their hardest to see. It does it all in real-time, too, without you having to press a button to initiate it. Functions don’t stop there, either, because the app can even let you know what the night sky looks like on the other side of Earth, as well as show you where in the sky your star sign is located. If that wasn’t enough, there’s a feature called Time Shift, which allows you to move up to 10,000 years forward or backward in time to see where the stars once were or will be located.

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Android iOS

Google Translate (free)

Google Translate isn’t strictly an AR app, but it does have one AR feature that’s incredibly useful for translating text. That particular feature is part of the app’s camera mode. Simply snap a photo of the text you don’t understand, and the app will translate the text in your photo in real time. When connected to Wi-Fi, the app supports a vast number of languages — 13 of which were added in a recent update — but users can also download a number of language packs if they want to continue using the instant translation feature while offline or without a cellular connection. Next time you take a trip to a country with a language you don’t fluently speak, Google Translate could be your best friend and the very thing that will keep you from getting lost in a strange land.

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Android iOS

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