This list unearths apps and games we reckon are entertaining, quick to get into, and have enough longevity to last you for a flight. More importantly, they’ll leave you with enough juice to call a cab on reaching your destination.
THE METHOD TO OUR MADNESS
Stuff tested all of this properly, rather than winging it, because we’re nice like that.
Using an ageing iPhone 6s and an Nvidia Shield that’s seen better days, we used games and apps solidly over set periods of time, methodically logging battery levels. Many titles were discarded, since the aim was to have apps not ronch much more than ten per cent per hour.
Your mileage might vary, obviously, but you should get similar results using a device in airplane mode and with the screen set to around 50 per cent rather than to ‘eye searing’.
A GOOD SNOWMAN IS HARD TO BUILD
A little monster has no friends, so decides to make some from snow. However, snowman building is a precise art, requiring three balls of specific sizes, and the snow is packed into tiny fenced-off areas of land.
So: a drag-based Soko-Ban-style puzzler, more or less, but with gorgeous graphics, and plenty of devious challenges. Fortunately, you have access to several at once, rather than remaining frozen when stuck.
Battery munch: less than five per cent per hour.
The most famous comics app of them all, now owned by Amazon, naturally needs some setting up before you fly. But load some comics on to your phone and you’ll be entertained by everything from the superhero spandex brigade to more thoughtful indie fare.
Do avoid excitedly yelling BIF!, POW! and WHAM! during the entire flight, though, or you might be arrested on landing – or at the very least hated by everyone in your immediate vicinity.
Battery munch: almost nothing – a couple of per cent per hour. Then again, comics are essentially just images.
This one’s something of a mobile classic, with you ushering a trundling cube to each isometric level’s exit.
As you progress, the game reveals more surprises, and you’ll need strong reactions, a good memory, and a beady eye on the mini-map to emerge victorious with the best times and ratings. If you like it, sequel Edge Extended for Android and iOS is also superb.
Battery munch: a smidge more than ten per cent per hour.
Euclidean Lands combines the turn-based puzzling of Hitman GO with a minimal aesthetic that echoes Monument Valley, and wraps the lot around a Rubik’s Cube.
Even the early levels are brain-bending as you figure out how to position your hero to off his opponents with a pointy stick. Late on, you’ll probably be spending more time staring at the screen whimpering than interacting. Par for the course for the very best puzzlers.
Battery munch: despite all the 3D shenanigans, about 12 per cent per hour.
We wanted something arcade-y in this list, just for a change of pace, but advanced 3D games were right out, due to battery concerns. Enter, then, Brandon Williamson’s superb mash-up of a dozen classic arcade games.
Your little square is dumped in procedurally generated arenas, tasked with eating flowers, staying alive, grabbing a key, and making for the exit. With every maze full of demented denizens seemingly hell-bent on the destruction of everything around them, the ‘staying alive’ bit can be tricky in this endlessly repayable mobile classic.
Battery munch: just more than ten per cent per hour.
If you’ve not used the Instapaper service before, it’s more or less a PVR for the web. You fling interesting articles its way, which are then downloaded and stripped of cruft. The end result is a very readable personalised newspaper of sorts that fits neatly into your smartphone’s display.
Naturally, you’ll need to populate Instapaper over time, and download your saved articles when you have an internet connection; but get in the habit of doing so and you’ll always have something to read when on the go.
Battery munch: in the region of eight per cent per hour.
This puzzle game is all about creating new objects by mixing elements. You start off with the four classical elements (earth; fire; water; air), but before long you’re figuring out how to fashion everything from household boilers to dinosaurs.
Some of the combinations are fanciful to say the least, and it can be a tad frustrating when you can’t find anything new. But it’s always rewarding when you do. Note that there’s progress sync when signed in, so do sync before you go offline, unless you want to start from scratch.
Battery munch: less than five per cent per hour. But then this is essentially an offline web app.
Podcasts! When you’re up in the air, they’re the perfect way to avoid listening to the rabble around you. And Pocket Casts is the best premium player around, with a great range of features whether you’re looking for new things to listen to, or wanting to improve a talky show by speeding it up, trimming silences and boosting its volume.
Because it’s so easy on the battery and plays in the background, Pocket Casts also works nicely with some of the other apps in this list, such as Instapaper and Little Alchemy.
Battery munch: a few per cent per hour, especially if you use it with the screen off.
One of the finest mobile puzzle games in existence, Threes! has you swipe numbered tiles around a grid, aiming to merge them and make new tiles with higher numbers. The way the game’s designed cleverly forces you to think several moves ahead, and it becomes increasingly claustrophobic as your room for manoeuvre reduces.
There is a free version of the game, but you’ll need to ‘charge up’ how many goes you have by watching ads. Frankly, just spend a few quid on the paid version, and settle down for hours of Tetris-style obsession.
Battery munch: pretty much ten per cent per hour on the dot if the game’s ‘conserve battery’ option is on.
This entry plonks you in a spaceship hurtling towards the centre of the galaxy, using a drive mechanism built by aliens who’ve mysteriously vanished. You periodically stop along the way to trade, mount expeditions, and recruit crew.
It’s all algorithmically generated and text-based, and so comes across like someone glued space-trading classic Elite to a Choose Your Own Adventure book. And, although it can get repetitive, it’s amusing to blaze through a virtual galaxy when soaring through the air in a tin can with wings.
Battery munch: about 12 per cent per hour.