In this special edition of YALSA’s App of the Week series, our app reviewers bring you their selections (listed in alphabetical order) of apps that make great gifts for teens. A gift card to the Apple App Store or Google Play might also make a great gift for a teen.

Before reading the suggested gifts in our Gift Giving Special, nominate two of your favorite apps for teens in 2012. You’ll be able to come back and see all of the nominations and place your vote on December 20.



Angry Birds Star Wars app logoAngry Birds Star Wars HD
Cost: $.99 for iPhone/iPod Touch; $2.99 on iPad
Platform: requires iOS 4.3 or later and optimal for iPhone 5

What can be better than Angry Birds and Star Wars? The new Angry Birds Star Wars game, that’s what! Complete with all the fabulous elements that make Angry Birds games cult classics, this new game released on November 29th inherits a Star Wars twist. The birds are back and this time their mission is to escape the pigtroopers and AT-ATs who have just discovered their secret hiding place in the desolate ice-filled world of Hoth.

This game comes complete with many new birds with awesome capabilities including a darth vader-looking bird who when launched emits a blue glowing force field which further destroys the pigtroopers and their structures. It is a tough match against the pigtroopers who fire off lasers at every chance they get. Even the Darth Vader birds fall vulnerable to the pigtrooper’s weapons at times, but that is certainly part of this game’s appeal. In past Angry Birds games the birds didn’t have to combat the pigs. The only mission of the fearless foul was to destroy the pigs, yet in this edition of Angry Birds there proves to be more of an underlying challenge. These games provide hours of entertainment to whoever plays them. Give the gift of total satisfaction to your teen this year. — Erica Guarquier

Brian Cox's Wonders of the Universe app logoBrian Cox’s Wonders of the Universe
Cost:: $12.99
Platform:: iPad Requires iOS 5 or later

This is the perfect app gift for all those star and universe-gazing teens that you know. When I first saw the app I was fascinated by how well it integrated visuals and text. That fascination hasn’t gone away. With a swipe up or down the page readers/viewers move seamlessly between text, images, and video. Each section of the app starts with a video that gives a good overview. The videos are narrated and hosted by Brian Cox who also wrote the text. Cox has a great talent for making the wonders of the universe understandable and compelling.

The app, like a book, is divided into a series of chapters and sub-chapters. Each sub-chapter includes text, video, and images that help to tell the story of the topic covered. Topics include everything from galaxies to time travel. If in the past you have purchased a book for the universe and star-gazing teens that you know, this year try this app instead.

Watch the video below to learn more.

–Linda W. Braun

Dragonvale app logo DragonVale
Cost: Free to download with lots of in optional app purchase opportunities
Platform: iOS and Android

Give the gift of adorable cartoon dragons with DragonVale.  Raise, breed, and create a collection of dragons in this engrossing game. A bunch of cartoon wizards guide you through the process of choosing and hatching dragons, building their habitats, and cross-breeding to discover new varieties. Create the best dragon park you can by organizing the layout of dragon habitats and other dragon-related buildings. The game is playable without participating in its variety of in-app purchases, but spending money speeds up various loading times, and gets you more dragons more quickly. Recommended for tablets, as playing on the larger screen really lets you have a good look at your dragon park, while smaller phone and iPod screens require a lot of zooming in and out. The variety of dragons, including special ones that are only available on certain days, and the way that the dragons grow as they gain levels, will appeal to fans of Pokemon. There is also a social component, where you can view the dragon parks created by your game center friends. These dragons are really cute, or in the words of this oft quoted review from TouchArcade.com: “Just between you and me, dragon parks are pretty rad.” — Erin Daly

Minecraft Apps:
Minecraft Explorer Pro
Minecraft Skin Studio
Minecraft Seeds Pro
Platform/Cost: See review for platform and cost information.
minecraft app logos - Explorer, Skin Studio, Seeds Pro

I’m sure many people have a Minecraft obsessed young person on their holiday gift list this year. Give them a different window into their favorite game universe with three Mojang endorsed apps for iOS that provide useful reference material and creative customization options.

Minecraft Explorer Pro ($1.99) gives you access to all the  information from the official Minecraft Wiki in a visual, easy-to-use style. Use the search box to type in any block, item, or mob in the game and get instant information about crafting recipes, uses, and threats. Minecrafters can research in-game specifics while on the go on their devices.

Designing the look of your in-game avatar is one of the easiest ways to make Minecraft your own. With Minecraft Skin Studio (1.99), players can design avatars for the game with an easy point and click editor. Start with a reference skin, choose from a variety of color palettes and edit pixel-by-pixel. Save your new skin and upload it to your Minecraft account. Save several skins and change which one you use whenever you like. You can also browse and use skins made by other app users.

They say location is everything, and in Minecraft that can mean the difference between an intriguing mountain shape that demands you build a castle and an endless flat field full of nothing but sheep. Minecraft Seeds Pro (.99) can get you where you need to go. See pictures of all kinds of biomes and landforms before you choose which seed to play. Save your favorites, share with friends, and upload your own seeds all in the app. — Erin Daly

Wordlens app logoWordLens
Platform: iOS and Android
Cost: $5 (Android) with additional languages $5 each; Free (iOS) with $5 language packages.

For English-language learners and tourists alike, making sense of signage used to mean grappling with print and electronic vocabulary resources. QuestVisual’s WordLens app, which works on iOS and Android devices with camera input, transforms the printed word into your native tongue before your eyes.

Downloading the iOS app gives you access to sample lenses which reverse and erase text so you can get familiar with the software’s operation and capabilities before you invest in the language tool. The $5 Android app purchase comes with one language translation package, and while the iOS app itself is free, the Spanish-, Italian-, and French-to-English packages cost $5 each, less than you would pay for a pocket dictionary. Reverse dictionaries are also available to translate English into those same languages.

The app has been rather critically reviewed, perhaps because it is not really practical to scan and translate an entire page of text, but the enhancements, including a steadying mechanism, make WordLens excellent for on-the-fly meaning extraction, and perhaps most excitingly, offers a glimpse of how augmented reality layers can improve our lives very soon. An excellent, practical, and tech-savvy gift for the teen bound for foreign places for study abroad or Spring Break. — Wendy Stephens

Wordlens app logoYALSA’s Teen Book Finder
Platform: iOS 4.3 or later
Cost:Free

Do you know teens that are always looking for recommendations for what to read next? If so, then check out YALSA’s Teen Book Finder. It is the perfect book location app for teens to carry around in their pocket. The last three year’s of YALSA’s awards and lists are searchable in this easy to use tool. Search by author, title, genre, or list or award. Save favorite titles to create a personalize list and find out what library in the area has the book available. It’s also possible to share titles on social media including Facebook and Twitter.

Check out the video on the Teen Book Finder below to learn more.

The app was developed by YALSA with funds from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation. An Android version will be released in the future.

–Linda W. Braun

About Linda W Braun

Linda W Braun is a YALSA Past President and the Youth and Family Learning Manager at the Seattle Public Library.

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