Things have come on apace since we last looked at free gaming on Android phones. For a start, a certain avian-based game has come along and surprised everyone by costing absolutely nothing, which is not only a complete bargain, but also provides another legitimate reason to laugh at iPhone users.
But, while the bar for free titles has definitely been raised, the games section of the Android Market is still full of lazy clones and dubious emulators. With this in mind, we've done our level best to ferret out five of the best freebies currently available.
Search for the titles on the Market, or use the Barcode Scanner app on the QR codes below. Feel free to tell us your own faves in the comments section, and check out more free Android apps here.
Nestled among all the cheap knock-offs in the Android Market are a few genuine gems. This one is particularly easy to spot, since it actually has the word 'gem' in the title. Gem Miner has you playing as a pickaxe-wielding miner in search of ore. Dig to reach the precious stuff, fill up your backpack, then return to the surface to sell your goods and return below the surface for more.
The game is much more strategic than it sounds. You need to manage your resources (ladders, supports and so on) and upgrade your tools as you go, RPG-style. It's lots of fun and the cartoony graphical style is a cut above most freebies, too.
No prizes for guessing which popular game Jewels is a carbon copy of (we'll give you a clue -- it starts with 'Be' and ends in 'jeweled'). You're given a grid of coloured gems and the idea is to match up lines of three or more gems of the same colour by tapping to switch pairs of gems around. Earn enough points and you'll move up a level.
It sounds -- and is -- very simple to play, but that doesn't make it any less compulsive.
Graphically, the developers have done a good job of lifting it beyond some of the crude visuals that blight many other free puzzle games in the Android Market.
A lovingly crafted homage to early video games, Radiant Lite mixes in elements of Space Invaders, Asteroids, Galaxian, Centipede and more into a nostalgic shoot-em-up. The game does retro chic well, with familiar-looking blocky aliens and vector-type asteroids all in authentically glowing colours. Gameplay is similarly simple -- steer left and right using either the touchscreen or the trackpad, if your phone has one.
The text conversations between levels are witty and knowing. But it's also a highly playable arcade shooter in its own right and the free version offers a surprisingly generous amount of content. Paid-for versions cost £1.20 or £1.80 and add extra levels or, in the case of the more expensive option, higher-definition graphics.
If the hype for Tron: Legacy has you geeking out for the original film, but frustrated that the first movie is (unbelievably) currently unavailable on DVD, fear not. Light Racer is a Tron-inspired game that will gear you up for the sequel without costing a penny.
As the title suggests, the game recreates the light-cycle races from the film. Your bike leaves a trail behind it -- as does your opponent's. The trick is to survive longer than the other guy by not crashing into anything.
Light Racer is simple, honest fun, though you have to pay for the 'Elite' version (63p) if you want to play against anyone other than the CPU. Or should that be Master Control Program?
For the three people left on the planet who haven't already played Angry Birds till their index fingers have worn down to a nub, this is a terrifyingly addictive game that effectively consists of a series of increasingly fiendish physics puzzles. In each stage you are charged with catapulting a variety of birds, each with special powers, at evil green pigs and the structures they sit on. Points are awarded for popping porkers and smashing other stuff up; stars are awarded for completing stages, up to a maximum of three.
This is the exact same game that iPhone users have been shelling out for in their millions -- except on Android phones it's completely free. Also look out for the equally free festive spin-off, Angry Birds Seasons, and if you get stuck, have a look at our Bird Guide.