On macOS, Apple bundles a thesaurus with its Dictionary app, but this is absent on iOS, which merely attempts to correct spellings. If the files are named sensibly, Infuse downloads cover art and can optionally grab soft subtitles. Initially, the app feels a bit alien, given that people have been used to digital versions of desktop calculators since the dawn of home computing. Pages can be rearranged by drag-and-drop, and you can add or extract pages with a few taps. After years of eyesight deterioration, John Hull became blind in
The best free apps for the iPad, iPad Air and the iPad mini
Loosely based on its desktop cousin, it provides a raft of creative tools, whether you need to make a few tweaks to a favorite photo, or have a burning desire to craft a multi-layered composition comprising images, drawings, text and shapes.
Brush selection, for example, provides a full-screen view with large tappable previews. And although adjustment controls sit within a sidebar, this still feels friendly rather than complex; the last thing Pixelmator wants to do is pack the screen with palettes. If nothing else, this app also represents astonishing value for money. But also, this app does more than just scan. Your documents remain within the app and can be signed and annotated. OCR technology attempts — with some success — to create searchable text from your images, and to extract important details.
These are presented as action triggers, for example to kick off a phone call or visit a website. In all, then, probably more useful than a hardware scanner — and rather more convenient to carry around with you too. Lily invites you to make music from geometric, minimal spinning flowers. Open the flower and you then gain access to a pulsating playback head. At this point, you get to set notes by dragging bars across horizontal regions. This music can be exported, and you can save your current composition when you want to start a new one.
Lily is a very sweet app. Noted cleverly combines an audio recorder and notepad. Tapping this tag later will jump to the relevant point in the recording. This means you can spend more time in meetings and lectures listening, and later return to flesh out brief notes, adding context based on the audio. In all, then, an ideal productivity aid for a wide range of scenarios. Poison Maps is an app for finding points of interest — POIs — on maps.
This might strike you as unnecessary, given the existence of the entirely free Google Maps, but Poison Maps has some trump cards. First, it has interesting and useful interface components, such as signs that clearly denote the distance to and direction of off-screen POIs. Beyond static POIs, cycling and transport routes are built-in. Here, she comes across like the deranged offspring of HAL and a personal trainer.
The actual exercise bit is, broadly speaking, conventional, in that you partake in recognizable routines. Away is an ambitious, multi-layered relaxation aid. It depicts a single scene, focused on a large blossom tree near a stream. Chill-out music begins when you tap the play button, mixed with sounds from the scene. Tap the settings button to select from three background tracks and adjust the mix.
You can also shift the visual scene from sunrise to night time, with each period of day offering new sounds. Pause puts relaxation at your fingertip as you use a digit to slowly track a pulsating blob. It gradually fills the screen, whereupon the app urges you to close your eyes and keep mindfully moving your finger.
Slow, deliberate movements provide a sense of focus and calm, augmented by ambient audio. Pause could be more helpful in some ways — it stops if you move too fast, when an audible warning would be better, and you may find using it on iPad unwieldy.
With the right setup and frame of mind, however, Pause provides a beautiful, tactile route into mindfulness on your iPad.
Tinyclouds is an adorable weather app. Select a location you can store several within the app and it provides a big temperature reading at the top of the sidebar, along with a forecast for the rest of the day and an outlook for the coming week. The rest of the screen is an ever-changing isometric city, with cars zipping about, its weather mirroring that of your chosen location.
The app does, admittedly, feel like a sketch — it could do with more detail, and at least a wider range of views. Many apps in this space are a bit new age and flowery, and quite a few are, frankly, rubbish. Here, you get 16 slots, into which you drag icons that represent different sounds.
Those toward the top play more loudly, and those toward the right have more complex loops. You get a handful of sounds to play with for free, but the full set requires a one-off IAP. Streaks Workout wants you to get fit. The app then randomly sends exercises your way, which are impossible to miss on the large display. You can create bespoke custom workouts, too. Ventusky is a weather service that started out online, but feels like it was always destined for iPad. Select a location and the main view enables you to switch the large map between various weather layers, including temperature, precipitation, snow cover, and air pressure.
Even so, the wind streaking across your display as tiny white lines helps you understand why conditions are the way they are. In short, then, this app looks great, is wonderfully tactile, and is pleasingly different from its contemporaries. Samplebot on the iPhone is primarily about collecting sounds and using them to make a noise by way of live playback on a pad grid , or turning them into oddball songs via an easy to use built-in sequencer.
Retrospecs is a photo filter app that revels in the history of computing and gaming. Rather than turning any photo or image into a tiny Picasso with a tap, it instead reimagines whatever you load as if it was on the screen of a Game Boy, Apple Mac or C For properly authentic retro output, you can edit dither modes, add glitch animations, tweak CRT effects and more. Linia Sketch is an iPad sketching tool that deftly balances elegance and power.
Create a new sketch and all of the tools sit at the screen edges. Scribble nearby and they temporarily get out of the way, and you can also invoke full-screen with a tap. Blending with the small selection of pens is minimal, and the end results look digital, but this is a superb app for speed.
You can quickly surround a selection and transform it in various ways. Fire things up and a T-rex stomps about and bellows while pteranodons fly overhead. Interaction is limited tap the ground to make a dinosaur move, tap it repeatedly to unsportingly knock it down, and record any of your escapades , but this is nonetheless an entertaining take on augmented reality for kids of any age. OmniOutliner 3 is a desktop-quality outlining tool that aims to bring structured writing to the masses.
Essentials is about quickly getting down and organizing ideas hierarchically. This pushes the app towards word processing and spreadsheet territory, adding automation, styling options for document types lists, book drafts, mathematical and so on and section navigation from a sidebar.
In either incarnation, the app is excellent, and a free two-week trial lets you switch between both versions to see which best suits. FileBrowser makes it easy to grab documents from just about anywhere, then view and edit them.
Think of it like a companion app to Files. The lack of Share sheet support is also a pity. Typorama is about adding text to your photos — or creating typographic designs from scratch — with a minimum of effort. Other apps in this space let you select fonts, but Typorama has you select designs. Enter some text, tap a design style, and what you typed is instantly transformed.
You can add multiple type layers, and apply shadows and gradient effects to each one. Office gives your kids a chance to play out what they imagine their working parents get up to all day — albeit in exciting environments likely more colorful and interesting than the real thing.
In all, this is another superb Toca Boca creation that ticks all the right boxes. The live filters and liquify tools are particularly impressive, responding to edits in real time. Core Animator is an app for creating motion graphics on your iPad. The app also demands time and patience, but give it both and you can end up with superb results.
Things 3 is a powerful task manager based around to-dos. Its ultimate aim is to ensure you get more done, and this is achieved by a smart and sleek workflow model that makes it simple to collect your thoughts, figure out your day, and plan far into the future. The app can be as expansive or as simple as you need it to be.
You can live in the Today and Upcoming views, working from basic to-dos, or add extra context and nested lists for more complex tasks. With iOS 11, Things 3 adds support for Split View and drag-and-drop, so you can drag links or emails right to a to-do. This is the kind of app where you quickly wonder how you lived without it. Bandimal is a music toy for the rest of us. It offers three slots into which you swipe an animal.
A quick tap opens a dotted grid, on to which you assign notes by prodding the dots. These trigger loops when the playhead moves over them, and there are no wrong choices.
Concepts is an advanced vector-based sketching and design app. Every stroke remains editable, and similar flexibility is evident elsewhere, with varied grids dot; lined; isometric , definable gestures, and an adjustable interface. Unlike most competing apps, this one has many settings for adjusting properties, such as vignettes, stroke width, hatching angle, and color saturation.
MindNode 5 is a mind-mapping app. That might sound dull, given that such tools are associated with boring business meetings that involve massive whiteboards But MindNode 5 is different. You can start with a Quick Entry list, which the app then turns into a mind map; or you can manually create and position nodes.
Human Anatomy Atlas represents a leap forward for iPad education apps and digital textbooks alike. In short, it turns your iPad into an anatomy lab — and augmented reality extends this to nearby flat surfaces. You can explore your virtual cadaver by region or system.
Additionally, you can examine cross-sections, micro-anatomy eyes; bone layers; touch receptors, and so on , and muscle actions. But the AR element is a real prize, giving you a captivating, slightly unnerving virtual body to explore. Ideal fodder for medical students, then, but great even for the simply curious. Snap it up if you see it cheap. The default Files app merely lets you peek inside a ZIP and extract items one at a time, but Zipped is far more capable.
If you need to unpack an archive, that can be done with a couple of taps. The files within are then saved to a user-defined location — either as they are, or within a named folder. Creating archives is simple, too, and works via drag and drop in Split View or — an often better option — Slide Over. The one snag is Zipped only recognizes specific file formats, although the most common are covered.
Still, the low price makes it worth grabbing even if you only use it to quickly get at files within ZIPs, rather than laboriously extracting them one by one. And we mean that almost literally — Clip Studio looks pretty much identical to the desktop release. There are loads of brushes and tools, vector capabilities, effect lines and tones for comic art, and onion skinning for animations.
It also takes full advantage of Pencil, so pro artists can be freed from the desktop, and work wherever they like. The app could do with better export and desktop workflow integration, and even some fans might be irked by the subscription model. Zen Studio is a unique, beautifully conceived painting and coloring app. Instead of giving you a blank canvas for free-form scribbling, Zen Studio opts for a triangular grid. Tap spaces and they fill with your selected color as a note plays.
This combination of coloring and ad-hoc melody proves very relaxing — for children and adults alike. This lets you save unlimited drawings rather than just eight , and unlocks white paint, which acts as an eraser on compositions with white backgrounds.
It also provides access to a slew of tutorials. These have you build up a picture by coloring inside stencils, which even a two-year-old should be able to cope with — and then subsequently scrawl over when the stencils disappear. Mostly, though, we were impressed by Percolator because its effects range from the bizarre to the beautiful.
Prompts is a writing tool designed for anyone having a hard time getting started. Create a new document and the app draws from over , unique starting lines and prompts. The app also includes a tracking and statistics system, to try and get you writing regularly. Use a single digit, and the app chirps ONE! Add another finger and the one is replaced by a furry two. You get the idea. Beyond this, the app offers some basic training in number ordering, addition and subtraction, making it a great learning tool for young children.
But the smartest feature may well be multiple language support and recording. SoundForest is a creative sound toy that mashes up minimalist animal stickers and song-making. Across four environments, you drag stickers from a strip at the bottom of the screen onto your canvas. Each one — be it animal, plant, or landmark — makes a sound that rarely recalls reality.
A mandrill, for example, blasts forth a raucous slap bass. The sun or moon acts as a playback head, and your stickers animate as your oddball musical masterpiece blasts forth. Farm is an ambitious and rich exploratory title for kids, inviting them to manage a farm and fashion their own stories. There are four locations: Each of them is packed full of elements to interact with. Farm encourages older kids to think a little more. They can grow their own ingredients, which can subsequently be made into food.
Chambers Thesaurus is a thesaurus for your iPad. On macOS, Apple bundles a thesaurus with its Dictionary app, but this is absent on iOS, which merely attempts to correct spellings. Entries are clearly laid out, and you get a handy search sidebar in landscape. Pages can be bookmarked, and shared, or sent to equally impressive sister app Chambers Dictionary. If you fancy both, grab the bundle to save a few bucks. Much of the app is based around curves you typically find in high-end editors such as Photoshop.
Adjusting curves is pleasingly tactile, enabling you to make dramatic or subtle adjustments to colors and exposure settings with ease. Smartly, edits are stored as virtual layers, which can be toggled, and there are also tools for cropping and vignettes. The app feels at home on iPad, which provides enough space to see your photo and tools, without the latter obscuring the former. Although that might seem a bit gimmicky, The Brainstormer can be genuinely useful if you need a little nudge to get going.
Also, the app is extensible, vastly broadening its scope. You can buy additional wheels via IAP, such as creature and world builders. You can also directly edit existing wheels, or create your own from scratch. Textastic is a text editor geared towards markup and coding. The custom keyboard row is superb, providing fast access to a slew of handy characters. Not keen on the way code is presented? Quickly flip to the settings, and tweak the fonts or choose an entirely new theme.
As ever, there are limitations to an iPad editor of this kind, most notably local previews when coding web pages. Like other Thinkrolls titles, it involves rotund protagonists working their way to the bottom of a series of blocky towers.
Their way is regularly barred by various elements that must be successfully manipulated to fashion a way onward. It then converts them into a streamlined personalized magazine you can peruse at your leisure. The default iPad interface is an appealing grid, and individual articles are stripped back to words and images.
This can be a major improvement over the original websites, letting you delve into content without distractions. This turns your reading list into an on-the-fly podcast. Infuse 5 is a video player that lets you get at video from pretty much anywhere.
Instead, you can quickly copy across items as and when you want to play them — or just stream from local network storage. Set-up is a breeze, and even when streaming from your local network, metadata cover art; item information is automatically downloaded.
The free version has restrictions that require an annual subscription to unlock: Fiery Feeds is a full-featured RSS reader. Most free RSS readers are clunky, but Fiery Feeds bucks the trend with a sleek two-pane interface, and a slew of customization options. It feels modern, but gives you very direct control over what you read, unlike the likes of News or Flipboard. Whichever flavor you plump for, Fiery Feeds is well worth installing on your iPad. VLC for Mobile is an iPad take on the popular open source media player.
On iPad, it has two main uses. The first is offline playback. During said playback, you can fiddle with the picture and audio, and use gestures to skip through boring sections — or backwards if you missed a bit. VLC is also good for streaming. JustWatch solves one of the biggest problems with the way we consume television and movies.
With streaming services and on-demand increasingly rendering traditional schedules redundant, the key is usually finding out where and how to watch something, not when. JustWatch asks you to confirm your location and the services that interest you. Whatever you want to see, JustWatch makes reaching it a whole lot easier. Letterboxd is an iPad take on a social network for film lovers.
Beyond that, you can add tags, a review, and the date when you last watched the film. The app is split into three sections. Clips can be saved as favorites, or grouped into custom collections to later peruse or share with friends.
Our staff has tested hundreds of iPad apps and highlighted the best of the best. If you're a glutton for punishment, you could dig through the depths of the App Store for user reviews, but that demands a lot of time. Plus, little-known apps of high quality may have only a handful of reviews.
Just sit back and let us deliver the gems to you. For your convenience, we've divided our selections into eight easy-to-navigate categories: We've also included links to in-depth reviews where available. Rest assured that even those apps that haven't been fully reviewed are included because they've impressed us after some serious hands-on time.
The former aren't included because default apps are easy to find—they already live on your iPad's home screen. The latter aren't included because we've broken out the best iPad games into their own dedicated article. Looking for apps for your other devices?