Don’t forget your mobile over the holiday season - there’s a lot that it can help with, from gift shopping to entertainment, and of course seeing what Santa is up to.
Free on Android, Apple & web
Still got Christmas gift shopping to do? Even if you have an idea of what to buy, where will you find it for the best price? Of course you could just go to Amazon, but if you want to check other options too then a good answer is PriceSpy, an online shopping aggregation site which aims to find you the best price for whatever it is that you want.
PriceSpy has apps for Android and Apple, or you can use its website optimised for mobile browsers. It covers a huge range of products, which are usefully categorised and can then be filtered by specification or property. As ever with online shopping, you will come across listed items that are actually out of stock. Some vendors have reviews from past customers too which can be useful if read with the sometimes-necessary grain of salt.
Useful features include the ability to set alerts for price and availability as these change - once an item hits your chosen price, you will get a notification or email. You can view an item’s overall price and popularity histories and drill through to see how its price has changed over time in a particular shop. PriceSpy also lets you compare products and read reviews, and it supports barcode scanning so you can run price comparisons on a product you have seen in a physical shop.
There are a couple of caveats, one being that like many shopping sites the headline prices on PriceSpy exclude shipping. You also need to double-check results with the online shop’s own website, because the information retrieved by PriceSpy may not reflect actual stock levels or the availability of specific sizes. Lastly, for the full experience - such as access to the alerting service - you need to sign up as a PriceSpy member; this is free but you must agree to receive their email newsletter.
Free with ads on Android & Apple
If you’re filled with horror by the thought of the usual Christmas CDs playing on a continuous loop, but your nearest and dearest love seasonal music, it’s time to find them something festive yet different. One answer could be Internet radio - amazingly, there are more than 40 online radio stations across the world which say they play nothing but seasonal songs.
Of course, you can find these and more via any Internet radio app, or search for Christmas playlists on YouTube, but the Christmas Radio app aims both to cover most of them and be very simple to use. Connect your mobile to a Bluetooth or wired external speaker, press play, and away it goes.
You can listen to the likes of New Orleans Christmas, Christmas Rock, Kristmas Kountry and channels that play only carols. The app should work over any network connection reliable enough for audio, although of course it will eat up your mobile data allowance if you’re not on Wi-Fi and don’t have an unlimited data plan.
Norad Tracks Santa
Tracking Santa’s travels on 24 December has been popular for several decades now, ever since the 1950s predecessor to Norad, the joint US-Canadian North American Aerospace Defense Command, took a Christmas Eve call from a young girl wanting to know if its radar operators could tell her where Santa was.
More recently, Norad has put up a webpage (www.noradsanta.org) each December, where its satellites, jet fighters and radar stations report the location of Santa’s flying sleigh.
Norad Tracks Santa is now available in app form for Android, Apple and Windows Phone. It has changed in recent years, not least since the military brought Microsoft on board as a corporate sponsor, and Microsoft in turn used the website to promote its software products, but it remains a fun piece of software.
As well as the actual tracker, inside the app you can read about Santa and Norad, play games and read about holiday traditions. It only briefly hints at just how Anglo-centric is the whole Christmas Eve Santa thing, though. For instance, in much of Europe the gifts are opened on the evening of 24 December, not the morning of the 25th.
Of the alternatives to Norad, the best is Google’s Santa tracker, also available as an Android app. There are lots more games here, plus new features to unlock each day in December.
Gluten Free Games
Bad Elf Simulator
$0.99 on Android & Apple
There comes a time when it all gets too much: non-stop Jingle Bells, the excess of chocolate and turkey, the enforced jollity.
Time to retreat into a world where you can blast elves and reindeer into oblivion with snowballs, knock out penguins and clockwork soldiers with a snow cannon, and blow up dangerous snowmen with exploding presents.
That’s the rather silly premise behind the Bad Elf Simulator. Driven crazy by life at the North Pole, one of Santa’s elves has gone postal and, armed to the teeth, is seeking revenge on its overly-happy inhabitants. They on the other hand are determined to defend their town to the last snowball.
As your elf defeats enemies and completes missions he gains experience points and can level-up for more health and more attack damage. You can also collect loot when you defeat the bigger enemies - the top one of course being to defeat Santa himself - and then spend this on upgrades such as new weapons and defensive silly costumes.
In many ways this is a fairly standard shoot-em-up, just in funny clothing. But it is easy to play, at least to start with, and while the graphics are pretty basic on a mobile phone and it takes a while to work out what’s where, the silliness of it all does have a certain appeal.