30 June 2013

80 best free iPad apps 2013

On comparing iPad apps with iPhone equivalents, one thing rapidly becomes clear: apps for Apple's tablet are pricier.

Many of the best free iPhone apps cost 59p or more in their iPad incarnations, and the quality level of what's still free is often ropey. But among the dross lie rare gems – iPad apps that are so good you can't believe they're still free.

Of those we unearthed, here is our pick of the best free iPad apps. Note that apps marked 'universal' will run on your iPad and iPhone, optimising themselves accordingly.

1. AccuWeather for iPad

Annoyingly, some free iPad weather apps refuse to believe that the UK has any weather (or that the country exists), so AccuWeather gets props for merely working. Happily, AccuWeather also proves to be a decent – if quirky – weather app. The interface is odd (but fun) and there's a 'lifestyle' page that determines how your current local conditions might affect over 20 activities, including dog-walking and stargazing.

2. Facebook (universal) 

The social networking giant has gone back-and-forth with its mobile apps, finally settling on this smart, native implementation. Much like the slightly simpler iPhone equivalent, Facebook on iPad is such that you won't want to use the comparatively clunky website again for seeing which of your friends really shouldn't have internet access after midnight.

3. Air Video Free (universal)

Despite naysayers whining about the iPad screen's 4:3 aspect ratio, it's a decent device for watching video, although it lacks storage for housing large video collections. Air Video enables you to stream video (converting it on-the-fly, if necessary) from your Mac or PC. The main limitation of the free version is that it only shows a few items (randomly selected) from each folder or playlist.

4. Beatwave (universal)

Beatwave is a simplified Tenori-On-style synth which enables you to rapidly build pleasing melodies by prodding a grid. Multiple layers and various instruments provide scope for complex compositions, and you can save sessions or, handily, store and share compositions via email. You can also buy more instruments via in-app purchases.

5. Bloomberg for iPad

It used to boast an eye-searing white-and-orange-on-black colour scheme that was a little like being repeatedly punched in the eyes, but now Bloomberg has grown up, discovered a palette (a subtler, serious 'things on black', for the most part), and has subsequently become a much more usable business news and stocks app.

6. Comics (universal)

On the iPhone, Comics is innovative, but zooming each panel and constantly rotating your device gets old fast. By contrast, the iPad's screen is big enough to display an entire page without the need to zoom or scroll. And with dozens of free comics available via the bundled store, comic book fans should lap this app up.

7. Dictionary.com - Dictionary & Thesaurus - For iPad

We approached Dictionary with scepticism, since most free dictionary apps are sluggish interfaces to websites. That's certainly what this looks like, but it works offline, providing speedy access to over two million words and definitions. The app's search is also reassuringly fast.

8. Dropbox (universal)

Dropbox is a great service for syncing documents across multiple devices. The iPad client works like the iPhone one (hardly surprising, since this is a universal app), enabling you to preview many file types and store those marked as favourites locally.

9. Evernote (universal)

Like Dropbox, Evernote (a free online service for saving ideas – text documents, images and web clips – that you can then access from multiple devices) works the same way on the iPad as it does on the iPhone. It benefits from the iPad's larger screen, which enables you to see and navigate your stored snippets more easily.

10. YouTube (universal)

When the YouTube app presumably became a victim of the ongoing and increasingly tedious Apple/Google spat, there were concerns Google wouldn't respond. Those turned out to be unfounded, because here's yet another bespoke, nicely designed Google-created app for iOS. The interface is specifically tuned for the iPad, and AirPlay enables you to fire videos at an Apple TV.

11. The Guardian Eyewitness

A showcase for engaging photography, The Guardian Eyewitness provides a daily, visual reflection of global events. You get access to the most recent 100 photos, which can be viewed full-screen or with a caption and 'pro tip'. You can also save photos to your iPad or share them via email.

12. iBooks (universal)

Going head-to-head with Kindle, iBooks is a decent ebook reader, backed by the iBookstore. As you'd expect from Apple, the interface is polished and usable, with handy cross-device bookmark syncing, highlighting, and various display options. It's also a capable PDF reader, for your digital magazine collection.

13. IM+ (universal)

Although the iPad enables a certain amount of basic multi-tasking, anyone who constantly juggles a number of instant messaging services will soon be tired of leaping between apps. IM+ is a good solution, enabling you to run a number of IM services in a single app, and there's also a built-in web browser for checking out links.

14. Kindle (universal)

Amazon's Kindle iPad app for reading myriad books available at the Kindle Store is a little workmanlike, and doesn't match the coherence of iBooks (you buy titles in Safari and 'sync' purchases via Kindle). However, Kindle's fine for reading, and you get options to optimise your experience (including the ability to kill the naff page-turn animation and amend the page background to a pleasant sepia tone).

15. Movies by Flixter (universal)

One for film buffs, Movies figures out where you are and tells you what's showing in your local cinemas – or you can pick a film and it'll tell you where and when it's on. The app is functionally identical on iPad and iPhone, but again the extra screen space improves the experience.

16. PaperDesk Lite for iPad

Effectively a souped-up digital notepad, PaperDesk Lite for iPad enables you to combine typed words, scribbles and audio recordings in user-defined notebooks. Be mindful, though, that this free version restricts you to three notebooks, each of which can only have three pages, and there are no export options.

17. PCalc Lite (universal)

PCalc Lite's existence means the lack of a built-in iPad calculator doesn't bother us (in fact, we'd love to replace the iPhone Calculator app with PCalc Lite as well). This app is usable and feature-rich – and if you end up wanting more, in-app purchases enable you to bolt on extras from the full PCalc.

18. Reuters News Pro for iPad

Spurious anti-competition complaints meant the BBC News app took a while to come to the UK; in the meantime, Reuters offered the next best free news app for iPad with its Reuters News Pro for iPad. It's a little US-centric, but can be skewed towards UK coverage via the Settings app, and it's worth downloading for a more international take on news coverage than BBC News provides.

19. Cooliris (universal)

Long ago, Cooliris lived within browsers, converting online galleries into 3D walls of thumbnails you could zoom along. On the iPad, the concept seems more at home. It's of course a gimmick, but it's a great-looking and tactile one, and more fun than using the Photos app to rummage through your snaps.

20. Wikipanion for iPad

The Wikipedia website works fine in Safari for iPad, but dedicated apps make navigating the site simpler and faster. We went back and forth between Simplepedia and Wikipanion, eventually plumping for the latter, largely due to its efficient two-pane landscape view with excellent bookmarking and history access.

21. eBay for iPad

Use eBay for iPad and you'll never touch eBay in a web browser again. It's fast and efficient, beautifully showcasing important details and images in its main results view. Gallery images can often be displayed almost at a full-screen size, which is particularly useful on an iPad with a Retina display. Speedy sorting options are also available.

22. Soundrop (universal)

Soundrop is a minimal generative sound toy that offers an endless stream of balls, which make noises when they collide with and bounce off user-drawn lines. The overall result is surprisingly fun and hypnotic. For more advanced features – save, multiple instruments and gravity adjustment – there's an in-app 'pro' purchase option.

23. Granimator

Wallpaper apps litter the App Store, but are mostly dull, offering photos of brick walls or bored animals. Granimator is a bonkers art tool, enabling you to choose a background and spray all manner of shapes around. Compositions can be fine-tuned by dragging objects, and then shared to Flickr, Twitter or your device's Photos app.

24. Google Earth (universal)

It's not the smoothest app in the world, and it lacks some elements from the desktop, but Google Earth is nonetheless a joy on the iPad. Touch gestures are an intuitive means of swooping around the planet, and the optional layers enable you to display as much or as little ancillary information as you wish.

25. Explore Flickr (universal)

Explore Flickr provides an engaging way to discover new photography. On launch, your iPad screen fills with a grid of thumbnails, drawn from Flickr.com's top daily images. Tap one to view (and, if rights permit, download to your device), or just leave the app lazily updating (every now and again, a thumbnail spins to reveal a new image) while your iPad charges in its dock.

26. Rj Voyager

One for budding iPad DJs, Rj Voyager enables you to choose from a selection of bundled tracks, turn parts on and off and edit parameters in real-time via an intuitive, futuristic interface. Play through headphones or a decent sound system and the result is infectious.

27. BBC News (universal)

Although the BBC News website works nicely on the iPad, BBC News is still worth downloading. Rather than trying to provide all of the news, it instead concentrates on the latest stories, with inline video. Categories can be rearranged, stories can be shared and the app's layout adjusts to portrait and landscape orientations.

28. Epicurious (universal)

Tens of thousands of recipes at your fingertips (as long as you have a web connection) ensure Epicurious is worth a download for the culinary-inclined. The app even composes a shopping list for recipes; it's just a pity it doesn't include measurements for those of us who use that new-fangled metric system.

29. WordPress (universal)

This official WordPress app has a reputation for being a bit clunky, but it's fine for authoring the odd blog post on the go, along with making quick edits to existing content and managing comments. It also offers both text-based and visual approaches to crafting posts, so you're not stuck with HTML.

30. Speedtest X HD (universal)

Truth be told, we're always a touch suspicious of apps that claim to test your connection speed, but Speedtest X HD seems to do a decent job. It's also handy to have installed for when your broadband goes all flaky and you need to record the figures for a subsequent moan at your ISP.

31. Adobe Photoshop Express (universal)

With people regularly moaning about bloat in Adobe's desktop applications, it's great to see the giant create something as focused and usable as Adobe Photoshop Express. Its toolset is strictly for basic edits (crop, straighten, rotate, flip, levels and lighting adjustments), and applying a few effects, but the app is fast, stable and extremely useable. Top marks.

32. App Shopper (universal)

Prices on the App Store go up and down like a yo-yo, and Apple's own wish-list mechanics leave a lot to be desired. You're better off using App Shopper, which lists bargain apps and also enables you to compile a wish-list and be notified when an item drops in price.

33. Find my iPhone (universal)

Find my iPhone would perhaps be better named 'Find my Apple stuff', because it's not just for figuring out where a missing iPhone is—it can also track iPads, iPods and Macs. The app is simple, elegant and, generally speaking, provides an accurate location for devices. It also enables you to remote-lock or wipe a device.

34. Flipboard (universal)

Initially, Flipboard looked like a gimmick, trying desperately to make online content resemble a magazine. But now it can integrate Flickr and other networks, beautifully laying out their articles, Flipboard's muscled into the 'essential' category – and it's still free.

35. Find My Friends (universal)

While perhaps less practical than on the iPhone, Find My Friends on the iPad nonetheless works well, enabling you to track any pals that are happy with you digitally stalking them. The iPad's large display improves the app's usability, simultaneously displaying your friend list and a map.

36. IMDB (universal)

IMDB might be a wee bit US-focused at times (much like the movie industry), but the app is a great way to browse more movie-related info than you could ever hope to consume in a single lifetime. Settings enable you to define which sites IMDB and Amazon info is taken from, and the show times finder works pretty well.

37. Pocket (universal)

Pocket and Instapaper have long battled it out for 'article scraper' king, but Pocket trumps its rival in appealing to iPad-owning cheapskates. Instapaper requires a purchase for iPad goodness, but Pocket is free. It's also very fast, offers tagging, includes a great original article/plain-text toggle, and has a vaguely Flipboard-like visual grid-based index.

38. TED (universal)

TED describes itself as "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world". The app pretty much does as you'd expect – you get quick access to dozens of inspiring videos. However, it goes the extra mile in enabling you to save any talk for offline viewing, and also for providing hints on what to watch next if you've enjoyed a particular talk.

39. Twitter (universal)

This app used to showcase some breathtaking iPad UI innovation, but in its quest for cross-platform consistency, Twitter has refashioned its tablet offering as a blown-up version of the iPhone app. The result is a far less exciting experience, but one that's nonetheless very usable, and which unlike third-party apps rolls in the service's Interactions and Discover tabs.

40. Virtuoso Piano Free 2 HD 

There's not a great deal to piano app Virtuoso Piano Free 2 HD, but it's not bad for a freebie. You get a dual-keyboard set-up, with optional key labels, and you can shift octaves and notes by prodding arrows. A really nice touch is the 'duette' [sic] button, which creates a second, mirror image, keyboard, so that two people can play at once.

41. BBC iPlayer (universal)

BBC iPlayer is a must-have download for iPad users. The slick interface makes it easy to browse/watch recent shows and current broadcasts. You can also choose from two quality settings and toggle subtitles, and there's AirPlay support for an Apple TV. Recent updates also enable you to download shows to your iPad, so that you can watch them on the move.

42. Dolphin Browser 

Safari for iPad is a great mobile browser, but if you hanker for more features, Dolphin is a decent alternative. The browser has an Opera-like 'speed dial' that provides one-touch access to favourites, and you can create personalised action gestures. There's also a distraction-free full-screen mode for when you really want to get into a website.

43. Skyscanner (universal) 

Skyscanner's website is pretty good, but the iPad app's another great example of how an app's focus can really help you speed through a task. You use the app to search over a thousand airlines, and it provides straightforward competitive journey lists and comparison graphs. If you're planning a flight, it's an indispensable download.

44. Dragon Dictation (universal)

There's always something slightly spooky about voice recognition software, as if Skynet's listening in or something, but such tools had for years been out of most people's reach. Now, Dragon Dictation is free for iOS.

It's eerily accurate, trainable and, despite the dev recommending you use an external microphone, the app works fine with the iPad's built-in one. And unlike Siri, Dragon Dictation works on any iPad running iOS 4 or later, and it also has a bigger buffer than Apple's service.

45. Remote (universal)

Although pretty basic on the iPhone, Remote on the iPad is akin to a stripped-down iTunes when it comes to accessing network libraries and playing music. It's also indispensable if you have an Apple TV and want to control it with something other than the hateful metal chewing-gum stick that ships with the device.

46. Pulse News Reader

When unveiled, RSS reader Pulse was divisive, with an unresponsive oddball interface. But it's evolved to become free and fast, and is now a tactile, enjoyable way to catch up on news. The image-oriented interface, with slider-based RSS feeds (akin to those in the BBC News app) and configurable tab groups, makes it particularly suitable for anyone who subscribes to image-heavy sites.

47. Fotopedia Heritage (universal)

Rather like The Guardian Eyewitness, Fotopedia Heritage is perfect for anyone who enjoys awe-inspiring photography. The app enables you to browse tens of thousands of photos of beautiful locations worldwide. It also provides information about each location, and can be used for travel planning through favourites and links to TripAdvisor.

48. Yell Search

If you're in an unfamiliar place or travelling somewhere new, Yell Search is a great app for figuring out what amenities are available locally. The interface is responsive and efficient, and you can handily add any business you find as a favourite for easy access later on.

49. XE Currency for iPad (universal)

It's as ugly as they come, but XE Currency is the best free currency app you'll find. You define which currencies you want to see, along with the number of decimals to show. Double-tap a currency and you can set it as the base currency by tapping 1.0 in the calculator, or do bespoke conversions by typing any other value.

50. Airport Utility (universal)

With apps like Airport Utility, it's increasingly clear Apple now sees the iPad as an independent unit, not merely an accessory to a PC or Mac. The app provides an overview of your Wi-Fi network, and enables you to view and change settings, restore or restart a base station, and get terribly angry at a flashing orange light that denotes your ISP's gone belly up.

51. Skype for iPad

In theory, we should be cheerleading for FaceTime, what with it being built into iOS devices, but it's still an Apple-only system. Skype, however, is enjoyed by myriad users who haven't been bitten by the Apple bug, and it works very nicely on the iPad, including over 3G.

52. Skitch for iPad (universal)

Skitch is a screen-grab and annotation tool that was snapped up by Evernote. In its iPad incarnation, it enables you to scribble on grabs, photos, maps and web pages and then fling the result to Twitter, email or Evernote, or fire your work at an Apple TV.

53. Readability (universal)

The latest of the major read-it-later systems, Readability brings with it a clean interface and a lovely set of fonts. As with the likes of Instapaper, Readability strips junk from web pages, leaving only the content. As you'd expect, you can also send on anything particularly interesting to Twitter and Facebook.

54. iTunes U (universal)

If you're still convinced the iPad is only a device for staring brain-dead at TV shows and not a practical tool for education, check out iTunes U. The app enables you to access many thousands of free lectures and courses taught by universities and colleges, thereby learning far more than what bizarre schemes current soap characters are hatching.

55. 4oD Catch Up (universal)

Despite what we said in the previous entry, the iPad is, of course, a great tool for TV. (After all, once you're done studying, you need some downtime, right?) Channel 4's 4oD app enables you to view a selection of recent shows, along with a handful of classic programmes.

56. Google Search (universal)

Google Search might seem redundant - after all, the iPad's Safari app has a built-in Google search field. However, Google's own offering provides a superior search experience that's been specifically designed for iPad. Highlights include a tactile image carousel, visual search history and Google Goggles integration.

57. TuneIn Radio (universal)

Output your iPad's audio to an amp or a set of portable speakers, fire up TuneIn Radio, select a station and you've a set-up to beat any DAB radio. Along with inevitable social sharing, the app also provides an alarm, AirPlay support, pause and rewind, and a 'shake to switch station' feature - handy if the current DJ's annoying and you feel the need to vent.

58. TVCatchup Live TV (universal)

More TV! This time, it's the only partially inaccurately named TVCatchup Live TV; with it, you can watch TV for free, but it's not so much 'catch-up' as 'watch what's on now'. You get access to over 50 channels, although we're unsure about taking the developer's advice that you can "even watch TV in the bath" - iPads don't float.

59. Netflix (universal)

Netflix has been described by some in the UK as the perfect way to experience everything a DVD bargain bin has to offer. We do agree there's a lack of content compared to the US library, but Netflix is cheap and fine for catching up on older shows. And the iPad app includes AirPlay support and a resume function, so you can pick up where you left off on another device.

60. SoundCloud (universal)

SoundCloud is a popular service for sharing sounds, and the iPad app enables you to search and play myriad snippets and music tracks hosted on SoundCloud's servers. If you're a budding musician or oddball loudmouth, you can also record and upload sounds from your iPad, or record to upload later.

61. 30/30 (universal)

It's easy enough to ignore a to-do when it's lurking somewhere in the background on your Mac or PC, but on an iPad, 30/30's crystal-clear events (including optional repeating loops for work/break cycles) can't be so easily dismissed. Fortunately, it looks great and the tactile interface makes creating and removing items a joy.

62. Paper By FiftyThree

There's a certain train of thought that apps shouldn't ape real-world items, but we dismiss such talk. They just shouldn't ape real-world items badly! Paper by FiftyThree gets this right, with beautiful sketchbooks in which you can scribble, then share across the web. Books and the pen tool are free, and other tools are available via In-App Purchase.

63. Telegraph pictures for iPad

Rather like the Guardian Eyewitness app, Telegraph Pictures for iPad provides you with new imagery on a daily basis. In fact, The Telegraph's rather more generous than The Guardian, offering a dozen new photographs every 24 hours, and leaving a 14-day archive for you to explore at any time.

64. Sticky Notes for iPad

If you're a fan of sticky notes, but not the sticky nor the waste, Sticky Notes for iPad provides you with the means to bung colourful rectangular notes on your iPad's screen, even dictating the text should you wish. Just don't have someone think they can't get the note off and then attack your device with a scourer.

65. Architizer

There are two levels to this beautifully designed app directed at architects and anyone else with an interest in buildings. On entry, you can select projects from a grid that's updated in real-time. Photography can then be explored full-screen. However, you can also dig deeper, finding out more about each project and who designed it.

66. Pinterest (universal)

Social network Pinterest is one of the very few to challenge the big guns in the industry. It provides a means to find and share inspiration, working as a place to collect and organise the things you love. The iPad app has an elegant interface that pushes inspirational imagery to the fore, just as it should.

67. Cards (universal)

Yes, the cards that you can send from Cards cost four quid each, but the app itself is free, providing the means to experiment in making cards for your loved ones, based on your own images. Without spending anything, it's a fun toy; even when you send cards, it might work out cheaper than shop prices - and the images will be far more personal.

68. Quark DesignPad

One for the graphic designers out there, desktop publishing giant Quark's DesignPad is an astonishingly useful app for figuring out layouts on the move, or knocking about ideas in meetings. Plenty of ready-made documents can give you a head-start, and your finished work can be exported as a PNG or emailed for use in a QuarkXPress document.

69. Gmail (universal)

Because of its single-app nature and big screen, the iPad's become a tool many people prefer to a PC or Mac for email. However, if you're reliant on Gmail, Apple's own Mail is insufficient, not providing access to your entire archive nor Gmail's features. Google's own app deals with such shortcomings and looks as good as Apple's client.

70. Solar Walk: Saturn (universal)

Really, this is a promotional app for Solar Walk, but what a piece of promotion it is! There's a ton of information and interactive components that concentrate on perhaps the most fascinating of planets in our solar system, and it looks particularly impressive on a Retina iPad.

71. Netbot for App.net

App.net is a bit like Twitter, only it eschews adverts, has a subscription fee, and is hugely keen to attract (rather than repel) developers. Netbot is one of the finest clients for the service (having been created by the team responsible for the excellent Tweetbot, which it mirrors), and it's free.

72. Cloze (universal)

If you ever have one of those conversations where a friend swears blind they did reply, you say you didn't get the email, and they sheepishly mutter "on Facebook", Cloze is for you. It bungs all your social communications (email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn) into a single inbox and also prioritises people who you most often deal with. It's a great time-saver.

73. Haiku Deck

If we're honest, we rather liked the original version of Haiku Deck, which stripped back presentations, only enabling you to add to each slide a single image, a heading and a sub-heading. The minimalism's gone (Haiku Deck now includes charts, graphs, bulleted lists and other 'improvements'), but it's still fun and easy to use, which is the main thing.

74. Tumblr (universal)

Tumblr has a perfectly serviceable mobile presence, but the Tumblr iPad app gives you a more tablet-oriented interface for using the site. It's therefore a cinch to manage your blogs, post new entries and reply to messages on your iPad. Additionally, there's also offline support, enabling you to queue posts, likes, replies and reblogs without a web connection.

75. Homestyler

In the professional world, Autodesk is best known for high-end 3D products: Maya, 3ds Max, AutoCAD. On the iPad, the company's been using its 3D smarts to churn out interesting consumer-focussed 3D tools. Homestyler enables you to photograph a room, then paint colours on the walls and add furniture, light fittings and accessories.

76. Podcasts (universal)

Podcasts was once one of those Apple apps that people looked at in disbelief, wondering whether anyone at the company had ever really used it. Now, it's a different beast: the interface is slick, and you can create custom stations that auto-update across iCloud, and on-the-go playlists with custom episode lists.

77. Calorie Counter HD

The iPhone version of Calorie Counter is a great way of ensuring you're not eating for several, but the HD iPad release takes things to a whole new level. The extra space enables the interface to breathe, providing plenty of room for charts, calorie breakdowns and interaction with fellow dieters.

78. Google Drive (universal)

It's curious to think how rapidly Microsoft made Office irrelevant to so many. Most people just want a simple app for documents and spreadsheets, and that (along with a storage repository) is precisely what Google Drive provides. Like Dropbox, it's also possible to store documents locally, for when you've no web connection.

79. Fotopedia Wild Friends (universal)

iPad displays have always been a fantastic way to explore photography (especially the newer Retina models). Fotopedia Wild Friends is one for nature lovers, packed with thousands of stunning images taken during hundreds of missions in dozens of countries. Being a conservation initiative, the photography's also backed with interactive maps, stories and information.

80. PlainText (universal)

The iPhone incarnation of PlainText is good for the odd bit of note-taking, but on the iPad PlainText is transformed into a minimal but highly usable writing tool with Dropbox sync. The lack of clutter provides a real sense of focus - even the single iAd is hidden from view once the on-screen keyboard appears.

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