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 – they also run on iPad 2. (Note that apps marked ‘universal’ will run on your iPad and iPhone, optimising themselves accordingly.)
You can also check out our quick video run down of the top 5
1. AccuWeather for iPad
Annoyingly, most 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. Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad
Adobe Ideas 1.0 for iPad is a digital sketchpad that offers simple vector-based drawing tools and works nicely as a standalone app for jotting down creative ideas or as a companion to Adobe Illustrator. Usefully, you can trace over photos, email drawings as PDFs and avoid worrying about mistakes, because there’s a 50-level undo.
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
With an eye-searing white-and-orange-on-black colour scheme that’s a little like being repeatedly punched in the eyes, Bloomberg isn’t an app you’ll want to spend all day staring at. However, for business news, stocks and major currency rates, it’s a usable and efficient 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 a million words and 90,000 thesaurus entries. 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. Feeddler RSS Reader for iPad
Feeddler RSS Reader for iPad is fairly basic as RSS readers go, but once you’ve pointed it at your Google Reader account it’s efficient, stores text offline, enables you to browse by feed and has a built-in browser so you’re not booted to Safari when you want to visit a link. As with many iPad apps, you get a full-screen view in portrait mode.
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.
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 (if not quite up to the standards of iPhone app Eucalyptus), and on downloading the app you get a free copy of Winnie the Pooh.
13. IM+ (universal)
Although third-party multi-tasking is coming to the iPad this autumn, it’s not here yet, making things tough for instant messaging fans. However, IM+ Lite enables you to run a number of IM services (including Twitter and Facebook) 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 over 500,000 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. Pages can be emailed (typed text is sent along with a copy of the entire page as a PDF), although be mindful that this free version restricts you to three pages per notebook.
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. Twitterrific for iPad
The iPad version of Twitterrific reportedly marks a new beginning for the app, which the developers think has become too complicated on iPhones. On iPad, things are more bare-bones, but this ensures Twitterrific is a simple, good-looking and usable Twitter client.
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 betweenSimplepedia 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. The app also enables quickfire sorting and drag-based definition of price-ranges. It’s a little feature-light (no notifications), but eBay promises aspects of eBay Mobile will be integrated soon.
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 a £1.19 in-app ‘pro’ purchase option.
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 (such as street view), 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)
With the BBC’s website still reliant on Flash video, this BBC News app – now finally available in the UK – provides access to latest stories, including video elements. 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, open-source WordPress app is perhaps a bit basic for composing anything but text-based blog posts from scratch, since the editor is HTML-only (sorry, WordPress Visual editor fans – both of you). However, it’s great for making quick edits to existing content, and for managing comments.
30. TV Guide for iPad
It’s crazy that TV Guide for iPad omits the website’s search and the iPhone version’s ability to flag upcoming shows with alarms, but otherwise this is a first-rate TV guide for UK viewers. The interface is silky smooth, and you can easily omit channels you don’t watch.
31. Adobe Photoshop Express
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
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
Surprisingly freed by Apple from the shackles of the paid version of MobileMe, many users rapidly discovered they needed a 2010 device to sign up to Find my iPhone. Luckily, the iPad is a 2010 device, so it can be used to create an account; you can then add older iOS devices to keep an eye on where they are.
Initially, Flipboard looked like a gimmick, trying desperately to make online content resemble a magazine. But now it can integrate Google Reader, Flickr and other networks, beautifully laying out their articles, Flipboard’s muscled into the ‘essential’ category – and it’s still free.
35. Friendly for Facebook
Since Facebook doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to update its great iPhone app for the iPad, download Friendly instead. Its main advantage is speed – despite some oddball interface elements here and there, Friendly’s mostly, well, friendly. It also supports multiple accounts, offers customisable colours, and while it’s ad-supported, the ads aren’t obtrusive.
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. Read It Later Free
Read It Later and Instapaper battle it out for ‘article scraper’ king, but Read It Later trumps its rival in appealing to iPad-owning cheapskates. Instapaper requires a ‘pro’ purchase for iPad goodness, but Read It Later Free is, suitably, free. It’s also very fast and has a great original article/plain-text toggle.
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.
It’s a bit of a love-it-or-hate-it app, but Twitter showcases some breathtaking UI innovation; if you can deal with its unique way of presenting timelines and associated content, you’ll find it an efficient and intuitive means of using Twitter.
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
Although not quite as satisfying as the desktop version, 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, although there’s no AirPlay support to an Apple TV.
42. Sky News for iPad
Offering ‘three views on the news’, Sky News for iPad aims to do something a bit different to most video-based news apps. You get a timeline of recent stories, a prioritised scrollable grid of top stories and ‘rewindable’ live coverage. It’s all very tactile and usable, and it has AirPlay support.
43. LoopJ Interactive DJ Station
LoopJ is a loop-based DJ-style tool with two virtual decks. Select a deck, position the crossfader accordingly, tap play and then prod loops to cue them up. It’s less versatile than Looptastic but more immediate, although getting your own music into the app is a chore, so stick with using it as a fun audio toy.
44. Dragon Dictation
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.
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
Rather like The Guardian Eyewitness, Fotopedia Heritage is perfect for anyone who enjoys awe-inspiring photography. The app enables you to browse 25,000 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.
If you’re in an unfamiliar place or travelling somewhere new, Yell 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
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. Classical Guitar
In some ways we prefer this freebie virtual guitar to the one in Apple’s impressive GarageBand for iPad. With Classical Guitar, you can strum, pick strings and use a sliding fretboard. Importantly, though, you can create user-defined chord sets, making this a useful app for writing basic acoustic songs.
Best apps for your new iPad