I often say I have a bad memory. In fact, it is perfectly possible for me to lose track of what I’m writing in the middle of a . . . um . . . never mind. To improve my memory and enhance my other brain skills, I love doing mental math, logic, and word puzzles. Nowadays, my smartphone hosts a whole range of tools to help with this.
Lumosity Brain Trainer
Free for iOS
Lumosity Brain Trainer is one of the better-known brain-training apps. It is split into several sessions of three games each that are supposed to help you improve your memory, problemsolving ability, or flexibility of thinking. The games are played against the clock, and they are all different.
One challenging game shows two colored words on the screen, each the name of a color. Your task is to read one word and tap on “match” if the color it describes is the color the second word is written in. It sounds easy, but your brain can easily be fooled by reading the word “yellow” and ignoring the fact that it’s written in red. Other games ask you to solve arithmetic puzzles or to replicate patterns of colored squares from memory.
The hope is that if you do about one session a day, practicing the different memory and thinking tasks in the games, you will improve your skills. To track your progress, you get a “brain profile” that charts details like speed, problem-solving, and memory.
Lumosity is likable and simple, but there’s a catch: Only five sessions are free. You have to pay to unlock more, along with some other functions, such as comparing your scores against averages for your age group. Yearly access costs $10.
Brain Trainer Special
Free for Android
Android users might enjoy Brain Trainer Special. Like Lumosity, this app contains different games aimed at honing different brain skills. But it is much simpler in design, and has fewer games. It is also less structured. You could choose to play the analytics game, where you have to spot the missing number in a sequence, many more times than the “phone numbers” memory game.
A bar chart tracks your previous scores so you can see your progress. It’s more fun than Lumosity — maybe too much so. It feels more like a game than serious mental exercise, and that might not suit your tastes.
Free for Android
Mind Games is similar to Brain Trainer, but has a few added niceties, like a schedule feature that you can set to remind you to play. Its games cover a broad range of tasks, like expanding your vocabulary and assisting your spatial memory.
Graphs track your performance over time in areas like memory and concentration. Mind Games is carefully designed, and guides you through each task in a less confusing way than some rivals. But to unlock its full features and the complete range of mind games, you have to pay. It costs $5 for three months or $10 for a year.
The Clockwork Brain
Free for iOS
The ClockWork Brain is great to look at and includes an upbeat cartoon robot teacher to explain the sections. It doesn’t, however, offer the detailed statistics on your progress that its rivals offer. The Clockwork Brain games are similar to those on other apps mentioned here, but they’re a little trickier. Tap on the “how to play” button before you begin, or you might find yourself playing a memory or math game against the clock with no idea what you have to do. The free version has a decent range of games, but to get more you have to pay. Typical expansion packs cost $1 each.
Fit Brains Trainer
Free for iOS
An offering that really seems serious about the brain training task is Fit Brains Trainer. Its games and puzzles, aimed at stretching and improving your mental agility, are carefully structured, leading you through various tasks. Observation, estimation, and mental math skills, for example, are tested in a game where drops of color fall down the screen into graphical paint tins. When the clock runs out, you have to tap to say whether one tin caught more, less, or the same number of drops than the other.
Kit Eaton writes on technology for The New York Times. Hiawatha Bray is not writing this week.