9 of the best augmented reality apps and games for iPhone and Android

Augment your smartphone fun with these AR diversions

Apple is making a big augmented reality push with iOS 11 and its new phones – especially the iPhone X – but you don't need a new handset to give AR a try.

Augmented reality apps, which pop digital images and content atop real footage or images, or combine real and virtual elements with ease, are already found on both iPhone and Android. Most of these apps are pretty simplistic, sure, but they offer a taste of what's coming down the pipeline with Apple's ARKit push and even Google's new ARCore software.

Want to give it a shot? Here are nine of the most amusing, helpful, and entertaining AR apps you can grab right now.

Google Translate (£free)

Google's hugely useful app frankly feels a bit like magic in practice. Using your phone camera, it can read words and translate them on the fly right in front of you, even in real time. Just point the camera at some text, be it on a sign, package, or anything else, choose the language you're translating to and from, and see the visual trickery in action.

And you'll get even more accurate results if you snap a photo within the app, choose the text that's most important, and give Google a second to give you the text in your language. It's the perfect pocket companion for an international voyage.

Download Google Translate here: Android | iOS

Pokémon Go (£free)

Not yet been bitten by the Pokémon Go bug? This mobile twist on Nintendo's juggernaut favourite sends you out and about on the hunt for virtual monsters in your city. Your real-world surroundings become the world map for the game, and it's populated with Pikachu, Charmander, and hundreds more familiar monsters (and Pidgey – loads of Pidgey).

Finding new Pokémon and competing in Raid Battles with other players can be a blast, and Pokémon Go is good fun for a while – at least until the grind takes over and the tedium eventually sets in.

Download Pokémon Go here: Android | iOS

inkHunter (£free)

Planning to get tatted up – or conversely, trying to convince yourself not to make some huge mistake? Spare yourself the potential pain and expense and use inkHunter before you make any big commitments.

This ingenious freebie app lets you drop a digital tattoo design on to your body in real time, letting you see how it'll look on your skin. You can use existing designs or your own, and tweak them until you're happy. It could save you a laughable (or horrible) permanent fate.

Download inkHunter here: Android | iOS

Snapchat (£free)

Snapchat might be everyone's favourite way to send short-term disappearing messages, but the app's real best feature is its ridiculous lenses that transform your face in real time. The delightfully dopey filters are a blast to fool around with when you're bored, or need to amuse a small child.

They easily rearrange or embellish your face in silly ways with AR trickery, and we've since seen copycat versions show up in loads of other camera and messaging apps. The iPhone X's True Depth camera should only improve the quality of the results, too.

Download Snapchat here: Android | iOS

Ikea Catalog (£free)

Look, we all love going to Ikea – it's like an amusement park of retail bliss, but with cheap meatballs on top of the shopping splendor. But you won't know how any of that furniture is going to look in your flat until you bring it home and spend untold hours putting it together in a fit of rage.

Or will you? That's exactly what the Ikea Catalog app is for. Rather than just imagining how chairs, shelves, and bedframes will fit into your space, you can drop a perfect 3D version of each into view via augmented reality. Wonder no more… and don't waste time clumsily building something you'll hate.

Download Ikea Catalog here: Android | iOS

Ingress (£free)

Everyone knows Pokémon Go, but what about Ingress? See, Ingress is essentially the same core game, built by the very same developer, but it predates the Nintendo spinoff by a few years and never found quite the same wide, mainstream audience.

Why? Well, it's not nearly as colourful or attractive, nor is it very easy to get into. Ingress is heavy on menus as you capture points on the map for your faction, plus it's a lot more complicated. But Ingress has its die-hard devotees, and if you're willing to invest the time to figure it out and contend with high-level, longtime fans, then you might get sucked in.

Download Ingress here: Android | iOS

Night Sky (£free)

Can't tell your Little Dipper from your Ursa Major, or pick out any of the stars in the crowded evening sky? Well, that's exactly what Night Sky is for: it uses your location and GPS info to help you find exactly what's up above at any given time.

Just load up the app and point it skyward, and Night Sky will single out the real stars and constellations as you rotate your phone around. It's perfect for wannabe stargazers who don't actually know which stars they're trying to gaze at.

Download Night Sky here: Android | iOS

Transparent Earth (£free)

Transparent Earth is actually quite a lot like Night Sky, except sort of in reverse. Instead of pointing up to the sky and seeing what's all the way out there in space, you'll point towards the ground and see what's all the way on the other side… of this planet.

This simple freebie app approximates what's on the other side of the Earth based on where you aim the phone, answering the lifelong question, "What would happen if you dug a hole all the way to the other side of the Earth?" Well, you'd burn up in magma, of course. But don't tell that to young children.

Download Transparent Earth here: iOS

Quiver – 3D Coloring (£free)

Quiver is one of the better picks for kids as it can transform their colouring pages into proper 3D characters via your phone's camera, and even let them play little games with them. Specially marked pages are available via the Quiver website that let you accomplish the feat.

Just print one out, colour the images as you please, and then scan it with the Quiver app to bring your customised character to life. For example, this little tiger guy can play a little football on your dining room table. Plenty of free pages are available, but there are also paid page packs if your tykes end up being truly enthralled by it.

Download Quiver here: Android | iOS