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Apps and games: The best of 2012, so far

Android app for Viggle. Viggle treats users to

Android app for Viggle. Viggle treats users to trivia questions, polls and tweets related to the programs they are watching. Credit: Handout

With half of 2012 already in the books, now is a good time to showcase the best apps and games released so far this year. Whether you are a social butterfly or couch potato, a shutterbug or a drawing game fanatic, these apps are worth downloading.

Camera Awesome
(iPhone, iPod Touch; free)

Camera Awesome is so easy to use and has so many features that after using it you may not buy another stand-alone digital camera ever again. Created by 10-year-old photo-sharing site SmugMug, Camera Awesome offers several ways to "awesomize" your pictures, including automatic levelization and color adjustment. The interface is gorgeous. Most casual photographers will have more than they need from Camera Awesome without ever paying a dime, but there several additional presets and filters for 99 cents a pop (or all at once for $9.99).

(iPhone, iPod Touch; free)

Highlight is one of several new and innovative apps that help users identify Facebook friends and other people with similar interests who are nearby. The app works best when you are at an event or urban location where other users have Highlight downloaded to their devices. When you enable push notifications to allow the app to alert you when a Highlight contact is nearby, you might realize that your old high school buddy works in the building next to you, or that there is an attractive person in line at Starbucks who shares your taste in music.

(iPhone, iPod Touch, Android; free)

Viggle lets users check in and earn loyalty points from the likes of Amazon, Starbucks and the Gap for watching their favorite television programs. Beyond earning credit for vegging, Viggle treats users to trivia questions, polls and tweets related to the programs they are watching.

(iPhone, iPod Touch, Android; free)

It didn't take long for Instagram to become a household name after it made its debut on the iPhone in late 2010. It did take awhile, however, for the photo-sharing app to arrive on Android, which it finally did in April. It was worth the wait, both for the company and its community. Within a week, Instagram attracted more than 5 million downloads. Shortly thereafter, the 12-person company was acquired by Facebook for what was then a 10-figure valuation.

Draw Something
(iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android; free)

Modeled after Pictionary and adapted for touch-screen devices, Draw Something was downloaded more than 50 million times in its first 50 days of availability, making it the fastest-growing app of all time. The collaborative game works well when played between Facebook friends or complete strangers. It's accessible enough that young children and tech-illiterate adults can pick it up in a flash.

The foregoing compilation was created with reports from and Tribune Media Services

Tech bytes

Amazon eyes smartphone market

Amazon is developing a smartphone to vie with Apple's iPhone and devices that run Google's Android system, two people with knowledge of the matter said. A smartphone would give Amazon a wider range of devices that bolster its strategy of making money from digital books, songs and movies. Amazon has already made a successful foray into tablets with the Kindle Fire. -- Bloomberg News

Surf, stream and watch TV

A new set-top box allows owners of high-definition TVs to multitask from the couch. Vizio's Co-Star Stream Player ($100) connects to a cable or satellite box and has picture-in-picture, so viewers can surf the Web, stream movies and play games while keeping tabs on live TV. Users can also run thousands of apps via the built-in Google TV feature.  -- Peter King

'Showrooming' is mushrooming

When shoppers whip out smartphones at a store, most are not taking pictures for their photo album. More are snapping a product's barcode to find a better price online. A comScore survey found that 63 percent of consumer electronics shoppers bought an item online after seeing it at a brick-and-mortar store. Best Buy recently blamed the practice, known as "showrooming," for lower sales. -- Peter King

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