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Best AR apps in 2020: Augmented reality comes to your phone

best ar apps
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

There's never been a better time to try some of the best AR apps for mobile devices. Augmented reality has arrived on your smartphone, as today's handsets feature more powerful cameras capable of superimposing immersive graphics on your smartphone screen.

The Galaxy S20 Ultra, for example, features a time-of-flight sensor, and while that's largely designed to improve bokeh effects on portrait shots, it can also better support AR apps. Apple's iPad Pro 2020 features a LiDAR sensor to support more powerful AR apps, and that feature is all but certain to come to the iPhone 12 this fall.

As impressive as future phones may be when it comes to AR capabilities, don't overlook the present. From augmented reality viewers that provide immersive print and advertising to clever AR games, social media toys, and practical utilities, check out some of the best AR apps available for Android and iOS devices. (And if you're an iPhone user, Apple's constantly updated ARKit developer tool has led to the creation of impressive iOS-only offerings — check out our look at the best iPhone AR apps.)

The best AR apps for Android and iOS

Just a Line (Android, iOS: Free)

best AR apps: Just a Line

(Image credit: Google Creative Lab)

Doodles are now a lot more interesting. Google used its own ARCore developer tools to create Just a Line, which brings your drawings to life using augmented reality. While Just a Line started as an Android app, iPhone users can join in on the fun, too, with an iOS version.

All you need to play with Just a Line is a smartphone, your finger and plenty of imagination. After you've finished your AR masterpiece, you can capture on video and share it with friends. Although Just a Line can be a fun solo activity, it's a lot better with a friend or two, making it one of the best AR apps for experiencing augmented reality.

Google Lens (Android, iOS: Free)

best AR apps: Google Lens

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Google's not fooling around when it comes to the best AR apps. Google Lens is the latest iteration of the Google Goggles concept, with the search giant using the power of its computing cloud to help identify text, images, objects and landmarks in your photographs in order to get more information. 

The app is available in a standalone version in Android, and is also integrated into the latest versions of Google Photos on Android and iOS as well as the Google app for iOS.

Google Maps (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR Apps: Google Maps

(Image credit: Google)

Google's interest in AR extends beyond photography and creativity, bringing a more practical use to Google Maps. The popular mapping app features an AR mode that helps you navigate to your destination by adding virtual signs and directional arrows over the live view on your phone in order to point the way. 

It's a definite improvement over the old way of navigating, with the arrows adding a handy visual cue that takes the guesswork out of getting from Point A to Point B.

Civilizations AR (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR Apps: Civilizations AR

(Image credit: Media Applications Technologies for the BBC)

BBC's Civilizations AR is a tie-in app to the broadcaster's Civilizations documentary series. It uses the power of augmented reality to bring to you more than 30 different artifacts from across the many epochs and great civilizations of the world. Civilizations AR is the next best thing to being able to handle these ancient treasures and works of art. 

Each artifact can be viewed in lifelike 3D renderings using your phone as an AR viewfinder. You can also check out interactive features on one of the best AR apps like x-ray views and narrations, and learn about the secrets, origins and history of these global cultural treasures. 

Quiver (Android, iOS: Free)

best AR Apps: Quiver

(Image credit: QuiverVision Limited)

Kids can also get in on the augmented reality fun with apps like Quiver, an augmented reality coloring book and app that can bring your child's colored pages to life. 

You can download a free and premium image packs from quivervision.com filled with a variety of cartoon characters and animals or educational scenes and images that you can then print out and color with your child. Once done, you can fire up the Quiver app, aim it at the colored page and watch the image come to life with animations and special effects.

SketchAR (Android, iOS: Free)

best AR apps: SketchAR

(Image credit: SketchAR)

SketchAR turns your smartphone screen into an augmented reality drawing aid, overlaying a sketch or line art image on a blank piece of paper that you can then trace over or use as the basis of your own sketch. 

Users can choose from a library of sketches included in the app, or transform their own photos into traceable line art with the app. SketchAR is designed to work on A4 sized paper, or any paper with four reference circle markers drawn on it to provide scale markers to the app. 

SketchAR won't substitute for a proper drawing class by any means, but it's a cute software toy to play with and one of the best augmented reality apps we’ve seen lately.

Mondly (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR Apps: Mondly

(Image credit: ATi Studios)

Language learning app Mondly adds an augmented reality-assisted spin with a module for ARKit and AR Core-enabled phones. Mondly's AR features engage language learners with an animated chatbot as well as visualizations of objects and words to help make learning more dynamic, as well as providing instant feedback on pronunciation and any errors. 

These AR features come in addition to Mondly's lessons, games, and practice conversations designed to cover more than 30 different languages.

YouCam Makeup (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR apps: YouCam Makeup

(Image credit: Perfect Mobile Corp.)

YouCam Makeup is an AR-assisted selfie camera that doubles up as a makeup and fashion assistant, letting you preview a range of beauty products such as lipstick, blush, and eye makeup from brands like L'Oreal, Maybelline, and Urban Decay, generated in real-time with augmented reality. 

In addition to the makeup and accessories previews and your expected selfie cam editing features, YouCam Makeup also features a lively social element, allowing you to share looks, follow other users, and shop and review featured products.

The Machines (Android, iOS: $4.99)

Best AR apps: The Machines

(Image credit: Directive Games Limited)

The Machines is a competitive multiplayer strategy game that takes advantage of AR tools for Android and iOS apps to turn your tabletop into a virtual battlefield. 

Players take command of a force of machines to defeat their enemy, with your phone's screen serving as a viewfinder that you have to physically move around to position your forces and aim superweapons. Players can train and learn in the practice mode, and once they're ready, they can battle it out in online multiplayer or in local multiplayer with friends gathered around the same table. It's proof that the best AR apps aren't necessarily all work and no play.

Euclidean Skies (iOS: $4.99)

Best AR Apps: Euclidean Skies

(Image credit: A Captivating Brain Pleaser)

The mind-bending Escher-space-meets-Rubik's-Cube puzzles of Euclidean Lands get a worthy sequel in Euclidean Skies, where you must guide an adventurer past puzzles and perilous foes through a combination of clever moves and rotating the very level itself. 

Like its predecessor, Euclidean Skies features an augmented reality mode that lets you get a new perspective on the action, projecting the level and its characters right into your own living room.

  • Download Euclidean Skies: iOS

ARise (iOS: $2.99)

Best AR Apps: ARise

(Image credit: Climax Studios)

ARise is another one of the best AR apps, because it's excellent showcase of augmented reality's potential as a gaming medium. In ARise, the game's environmental platform puzzles are laid out in AR-space that you can then explore and interact with. 

Unlike traditional AR experiences, the marker-less capabilities of ARKit lets you turn just about any space into a play area, whether it's home, the bus stop, or the office break room.

  • Download ARise: iOS

Smash Tanks (iOS: $0.99)

best AR Apps: Smash Tanks

(Image credit: Dumpling Design)

Smash Tanks turns your tabletop into a battlefield, with players commanding cartoon tanks in an AR battlespace that sees you flinging your troops across the battlefield to destroy the enemy. 

Simple physics-based gameplay and single player and hotseat (or local) multiplayer give you a lot of ways to play the game. Unlike more involved AR experiences, Smash Tanks plays just as well on your carpet or on the floor of your living room as it does outdoors.

  • Download Smash Tanks: iOS

Inkhunter (Android, iOS: Free)

best ar appps: inkhunter

(Image credit: Inkhunter)

Tattoos let you show off your sense of style or immortalize something important to you right into your own skin. And planning out your tattoo is especially important as the results are going to be permanent. Enter Inkhunter, one of the best augmented reality apps for previewing what a tattoo might look like on your skin.

Simply draw a marker on yourself, point your iPhone camera, and Inkhunter shows you a dynamic preview of the tattoo, with the ability to rotate and customize the design. Users can try out a bunch of preset designs or upload their own, making sure that you'll never regret having that tattoo.

Thyng (Android, iOS: Free)

best AR apps: Thyng

(Image credit: Thyng)

Thyng is a toolkit for creating your own augmented reality experiences, with tools to enable a variety of AR effects, such as placing animated figures and 3D models on top of surfaces and targets, suspending videos and photographs in mid-air, and more. You can then take snapshots of your creations, or record 30-second videos. 

The app is available on Android and iOS, powered by ARCore and ARKit respectively.

Vuforia Chalk (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR apps: Vuforia Chalk

(Image credit: PTC)

Vuforia Chalk lands on our list of best AR apps by turning your smartphone into a powerful visual tech support tool. 

Once the app connects you and a friend or tech guru through a video call, you use your phone's rear camera as a viewfinder to show exactly what you need help with. Both parties can then draw on the screen with augmented reality chalk marks that work like visual annotations, letting you find the right buttons, dials, and controls, without the confusion caused by just verbal descriptions. 

IKEA Place (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR Apps: Ikea Place

(Image credit: Inter IKEA Systems)

Furniture giant IKEA has experimented in the past with AR in its catalog apps, but the  IKEA Place app is a marked improvement, taking advantage of AR developer tools to help users easily visualize how a variety of IKEA furniture designs would look like in their home. 

Users scan their floor plan with their phone, and then you can select furniture designs and drag and drop them into place using your smartphone as a viewfinder.

MeaseureKit (iOS: Free, $2.99 for all tools)

best ar apps: measurekit

(Image credit: Rinat Khanov)

MeasureKit might not be as flashy as the other best AR apps like games and drawing tools, but it provides some really handy utility functions, turning your iPhone into a pocket measuring tool. 

The free version of the app comes with a ruler function that lets you measure the length of surfaces, with a chaining tool for measuring more complex lengths. A $2.99 in-app purchase unlocks full functionality, with tools for placing AR marker pins, measuring angles, trajectories, a person's height, and checking whether a surface is level.

Keep in mind iOS 13 features a built-in Measure app that offers a basic virtual tape measure and leveling tool if your needs aren't as extensive.

  • Download MeasureKit: iOS

Measure (Android: Free)

Best AR Apps: Measure

(Image credit: Google)

Not to be outdone by Apple and iOS app makers, Google has its own augmented reality measuring tool, aptly named Measure, that takes advantage of ARCore as a testbed and showcase of Android's augmented reality capabilities. 

You can measure the length and height of flat surfaces or objects, switch between imperial and metric measurements, take photos of your measurements, and copy measurements to your clipboard.

Star Walk 2 (Android, iOS: $2.99)

best AR apps: Star Walk 2

(Image credit: Vito Technology)

One of the best stargazing apps for mobile phones is also a top AR app. Star Walk 2 takes augmented reality to the heavens by using your phone's sensors and location data to present an interactive view of the night sky. 

All you need to do is point your mobile device skyward, and Star Walk will display a matching view of custom-rendered constellations, planets and other celestial bodies in real time, with more details available on demand. 

Other features include a Time Machine mode for viewing starscapes at past or future dates, an overlay to see skies at different wavelengths and a built-in Night Mode, which makes the app more comfortable to use in the low light.

Holo (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR Apps: Holo

(Image credit: 8i LTD)

Holo lets users place a variety of holographic models and figures into a scene for photo and video capture. 

The app does limit you to a single hologram at a time, but it's still one of the best AR apps you can download today today due to its extensive library of content available. You can also easily share all of your creations directly from Holo’s built-in access to popular social media platforms.

Snapchat (Android, iOS: Free)

Best AR Apps: Snapchat

(Image credit: Snap)

Snapchat's self-destructing messages have been a hit among its users, but this social media app also includes augmented reality elements in the form of a variety of real-time transformations, filters and special effects called Lenses that you can add to Snapchat video message which you send to your contacts. 

The right lens can transform you into an animal, swap your face with another person's, or make you barf rainbows, making for a fun and silly addition to your Snapchat messages.

Instagram (Android, iOS: Free)

best ar apps: Instagram

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

After adding Snapchat-style filters to its own app, Facebook has also ported them over to Instagram. These AR face features work both via the front-facing and rear cameras on your phone and with all of Instagram’s photo and video capture modes as well. 

Interested users can try on various crowns, turn themselves into a koala or a rabbit or choose to have math equations float around their heads.

WallaMe (Android, iOS: Free)

best AR Apps: WallaMe

(Image credit: Wallame)

The world becomes your canvas with WallaMe, one of the best AR apps for creating geotagged works of virtual art drawn or painted on walls, sidewalks, or buildings without having to spill a single drop of paint. 

You can share the locations of your messages or artwork with your friends so that they can view your work with their own smartphone camera using WallaMe. You also can make your work public for any WallaMe user to discover with their viewfinder. In addition to using your phone as a viewfinder, you can search for other user-created WallaMe walls using a map interface.

Google Translate (Android, iOS: Free)

best ar apps: Google translate

(Image credit: Google)

Google Translate is already a handy text and audio translation tool, and it gets even better with its augmented reality real-time visual translation features. All you need to do is hold up your smartphone camera and focus on the text, and Google Translate will provide real-time translations of words and phrases from a variety of languages. 

Users can download language packs, allowing for select offline translations when away from a cellular network.